213 Franklin St Melbourne, VIC 3004
|Opening hours||Dinner Wed-Sun|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9328 7667|
For fans of savoury, textural, flinty white wines, there may be no better value and excitement to be found anywhere in the world right now than in Jerez, the region in south-western Spain best known for producing sherry. The local tradition of non-fortified table wines was almost forgotten but is experiencing a revival – try one of the Palominos to see what I'm talking about, which is resulting in gorgeous wines at bargain prices.
One of the places you can explore these wines – along with many other delightful varietals from around the Mediterranean and Australia – is Patsy's, a new restaurant located in a charming art-deco building just south of Queen Victoria Market.
Wine is the driving force behind Patsy's, with most of the dishes from chef Matthew Guthrie inspired by the regions and flavours represented on wine director Sebastian Zotti's list. That list is one of the best reasons to visit this lovely, blue-and-white room, which overlooks the large roundabout at the quiet end of the market, but there are other reasons, too – especially if you're looking for an evolution in meatless dining.
"Evolution" is perhaps the wrong word, since Patsy's has, in some ways, gone back to basics. Pointedly vegetarian cooking has followed an odd path when it comes to the way it's presented in restaurants.
We started with hippy/health food, then seemed to go straight to strictly vegan restaurants that were either highly conceptual or served a lot of fake meat. I have no issue with any of these iterations: I understand that constraints and science can foster creativity in cooking, and Australia is probably one of the best places in the world to be a vegan, thanks to that creativity.
But I feel we missed a step – that is, the simple deliciousness of vegetables, used as they traditionally have been used around the world for centuries, presented without fanfare or trickery.
That's exactly what you'll find at Patsy's. There is no fake meat, the menu is vegetarian rather than vegan (dairy is used where appropriate, though there is plenty to eat for those who wish to avoid it, and much of the wine list is vegan), and the pleasure on the plate is dictated by the quality of the produce and the cooking, rather than twisting ingredients into behaving as if they are something they're not.
That means the deep sweetness of shallots, roasted and arranged atop butter pastry, accompanied by beurre rouge and thyme, coming together as a magnificent little tart ($18) that tastes like a mild French summer.
Socca ($20) – chickpea pancakes that are common in parts of Italy and France – have a consistency that's dense and moist, like a delicious, savoury clafoutis. Walnuts are used to great effect, fermented atop the socca and as a puree to ramp up the flavour of a cassoulet ($32) made with the traditional white beans, zucchini, haricot vert and fennel.
I was thrilled to see malfatti ($32) on the menu – the loose dumplings made with greens and ricotta, though it was a bit disappointing: the dumplings themselves were oversalted and slightly gluggy, their roasted tomato accompaniment oddly over-sweet.
And the fried olives ($12) that serve as a tempting bar snack had a coating that was leaden rather than crispy, a victim of a fryer that was not hot enough or breading that was too dense.
Service is still a bit green – a martini ($22) was delivered room temperature, a dish we ordered was forgotten – but it's very hard to fault those small missteps in the current labour market. And the spirit of hospitality here is alive and well: when that forgotten dish was discovered, a manager swooped in with a free glass of yet another wonderful Spanish wine to apologise and keep us busy while the dish was prepared. This is the type of place where everyone is trying their hardest, small mistakes happen, and a little patience goes a long way. (Have empathy, people! Hospitality is so hard these days!)
I am grateful for strictly vegan restaurants that are pushing the boundaries of what can be done without animal products. I'm grateful my vegetarian and vegan friends can enjoy the comfort of traditionally meat-based dishes that use plant-based substitutions and fulfil those comfort cravings.
But I'm especially grateful for vegetables, and for this unpretentious and friendly restaurant that is serving them in a way that is gratifying and straightforward. I hope more restaurants follow its lead.
Vibe: Breezy Mediterranean wine bar in a classic Melbourne art-deco building
Go-to dish: Shallot tatin
Drinks: Great wine list, with lots of unexpected and affordable choices, plus some blow-out bottles for the serious wine nerds. Shortlist of classic cocktails (the calvados sour is ace)
Cost: Around $50 per person without drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine