Napier Quarter review

Toast with the most: Anchovy toast loaded with with egg sliced, salsa verde and mayonnaise.
Toast with the most: Anchovy toast loaded with with egg sliced, salsa verde and mayonnaise. Photo: Eddie Jim

359 Napier St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Mon-Thu 7.30am-10pm; Fri 7.30am-11pm; Sat 8am-11pm; Sun 8am-10pm
Features Licensed, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9416 0666

Australians each eat 47 kilograms of chicken a year. Surely that's too much, not least because it's sad to see a special occasion meal relegated to cheap protein, eaten unthinkingly in nuggets and wraps, but also because few of those chooks are as delicious as the roasted chicken at Napier Quarter. Like all the meat there, it's carefully sourced and adoringly cooked, as though every bite matters, which it does.

The half-bird is served with humble ceremony. Glossy golden-brown skin, a touch of flaked salt, a bread sauce made with rye, and crisp sage leaves: it's comforting yet contemporary and all-round lovely.

There's a lot of "lovely" here, actually.

The daily roast could be this chicken, bread sauce and crispy sage number.
The daily roast could be this chicken, bread sauce and crispy sage number. Photo: Eddie Jim

The place – a small, corner bluestone building, probably built in the 1860s and seating a neat 25 (plus more and their dogs on the footpath).

The feel – a warm and friendly neighbour who always has the kettle on, the corkscrew handy and something good in the pantry.

The menu – concise and ever-evolving (the chicken just happened to be the daily roast on my visit; you might luck onto slow-cooked lamb shoulder or a plate-sized snapper with lemon verbena butter).

Neighbourhood gem: Corner cafe and wine bar Napier Quarter.
Neighbourhood gem: Corner cafe and wine bar Napier Quarter. Photo: Eddie Jim

The all-day situation – they'll sort you for a croissant at 8am, sandwich at noon, olives and wine at 5pm and pasta at 8pm.

It's simple, careful stuff with many of the basics nurtured in the petite kitchen: pickles, butter, creme fraiche, spaghetti and ricotta are all made here. That fresh, fluffy ricotta is spooned over a salad that makes zucchini a hero, sliced, dressed and tossed through hazelnuts and farro in a truly honourable version of the ubiquitous ancient grain salad.

Life is better on toast which goes some way to explaining why the anchovies on crisp sourdough make me so happy. The big dollops of mayonnaise, sliced egg and outrageously verdant salsa verde must have something to do with it too. This dish straddles the "before noon" and "from noon" menus and is the kind of classy nibble you could eat in Lisbon or Lyon but, hey, you don't have to because it's here.

Zucchini, hazelnut and farro salad with house-made ricotta.
Zucchini, hazelnut and farro salad with house-made ricotta. Photo: Eddie Jim

Napier Quarter is owned by Daniel Lewis and Simon Benjamin, cousins-in-law who each live about 10 steps from their restaurant. Lewis is a Brisbane-ite who saw greener hospitality pastures down south; Benjamin has recently departed Bar Lourinha, where he was a co-owner. There's wine from near and far from a bright little list; a by-the-glass selection is announced at the table. Head chef is Daniel Price, who has hopped over from Hobart.

The kitchen has just one cake on the go at a time, a big loaf of sugary goodness that sits on the counter daring you to eat it.

If you're lucky, it will be the chocolate and coconut cake staring you down, moist, dark and topped with so much buttercream it just about reaches the ceiling. It's decadent but charmingly unpretentious and unadorned.

Cake of the day could be this chocolate and coconut cake with a thick buttercream topping.
Cake of the day could be this chocolate and coconut cake with a thick buttercream topping. Photo: Eddie Jim

Simple pleasures tumble easily to the sublime, a fact that Napier Quarter well understands, and expresses in every morsel from morning to moonlight.

Rating: Four stars out of five.

http://napierquarter.com.au/