Samesyn review

Jerusalem artichoke with grilled radicchio and goat's feta.
Jerusalem artichoke with grilled radicchio and goat's feta. Photo: Joe Armao

24 Bell St Torquay, VIC 3228

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Opening hours Fri-Sat noon-2pm; Tue-Sat 5.30pm-late
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Degustation
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 5291 9117

Graham Jeffries and Nicole Dickmann coined the name Samesyn, which means togetherness in Afrikaans, ahead of opening in 2019.

But local border restrictions and general hullabaloo have meant this Torquay restaurant has slipped under the radar. That's a shame. Jeffries, the co-owner and executive chef of Tulip in Geelong, has created his most beautifully realised venue yet.

Terrazzo floors meet ink-and-chalk walls lined with oil paintings by local artists (all for sale), reflecting the nearby shore. Caramel timber finishes and soft lights bring cosiness to the dark-toned room – like watching a storm while you're sat by a fire.

Samesyn's cosy, moody dining room.
Samesyn's cosy, moody dining room. Photo: Joe Armao

The pitch fits, too. Jeffries' pays more than lip service to local producers and wild-grown foods. He has lived and breathed the Surf Coast for more than a decade, last year penning a book about the bonds he's built with suppliers from his time steering Tulip.

Thankfully, Jeffries' enduring mission to celebrate locals has been returned in kind. If Samesyn has been somewhat overlooked by the broader Victorian population in its inaugural year, it has survived, if not thrived.

And with a home-game winter ahead of us, Samesyn promises to be a standout for crisp coastal trips.

Seashore symphony: Oysters dressed with seaweed vinegar and  pickled fennel.
Seashore symphony: Oysters dressed with seaweed vinegar and pickled fennel. Photo: Joe Armao

It can be a trick for regional restaurants to balance accessibility for regular audiences and offering destination vim. I think Samesyn manages it well.

You can take an entirely casual approach – a snack or two, maybe that scorch-crusted sourdough with its fiery chilli salt, a few sardines and fermented garlic on toast, or the chicken liver pâté​ so light it practically floats.

Maybe you'll split a bottle of cabernet from nearby Bannockburn and the one-kilogram tomahawk steak between four. There again, every dish is complex, technical.

Raw kangaroo, pumpkin seed, saltbush.
Raw kangaroo, pumpkin seed, saltbush. Photo: Joe Armao

Zero punches are pulled and for $79 there's a nine-course taster of the lot that makes for a very serious night out.

Oysters, Sydney rocks or meatier Appellations, are dressed in slips of sweetly pickled fennel and little balls of seaweed vinegar captured in spheres thanks to molecular whizbangery. Brine meets tang and crunch in a little seashore symphony.

Raw kingfish is framed with fresh horseradish, a deeply verdant and earthy sea parsley oil and lacto-fermented zucchini (a salt-based curing style) that results in a nicely savoury version of the popular raw fish dish.

Great Ocean Duck with pine mushrooms.
Great Ocean Duck with pine mushrooms. Photo: Joe Armao

Veg get plenty of starring roles. Late-season Jerusalem artichokes are sweet golden orbs wrapped with wilted radicchio to dip in tangy liquified pools of goat's feta. Pumpkin is cooked down to a caramel, spoonable softness and buried in a blizzard of firm salted ricotta. Even side salad is more than a second thought, the cos leaves shrouded in chewy, crunchy fried shallots and enriched with a parmesan-based dressing.

But for those who eat meat, these are animals that have lived free, died well, and been used considerately.

Consider the Paroo kangaroo from South Australia, the one interstate-sourced exception, chosen for its impressive ethics. This meat is wild-harvested, from males only, dispatched in single expert shots, and brought down to temperature quickly so it remains far sweeter than the often aggressively iron-rich examples you might have had before. Jeffries shows off its delicacy as a raw tartare, with crisp saltbush and nutty pumpkin seeds.

Dark chocolate and peanut delice, milk sorbet.
Dark chocolate and peanut delice, milk sorbet. Photo: Joe Armao

Instead of a chicken dish, there is a spare offering of celeriac noodles, cooked in roast chicken juices, topped with shredded raw oyster mushrooms and tiny crunchy shards of the crunchy crackling.

The prize poultry here is Great Ocean Duck, raised by Surf Coast local Jodi Clarke on a diet of fallen figs, strawberries and slugs, overlooking what's left of the Apostles.

Jeffries dry-ages the breast for 14 days and cooks it just enough to crisp the skin but leave the flesh deeply blushed. Likewise, the beautifully confit-cooked leg is presented with paddle still attached. With pickled and fresh pine mushrooms, the last of the season, it's a bold, beautiful send off for extraordinary birds.

Plenty of restaurants across Victoria are bearing the scars of 2020, but there's good that came with the bad.

For much of last year, "togetherness" at Samesyn meant keeping the team intact, by offering takeaway for anyone who wanted it. A six-course 30th birthday feast was delivered in five car trips. A vegan dinner was ferried to Lorne. They lost just one staff member, and the smooth, informed and engaged service you get now is testament to that.

The food is good here. Right down to the rich chocolate pave sneaking a chewy peanut caramel centre, and the floral pourover coffee delivered in a locally made ceramic cup. But the energy is even better.

Drinks: Wines, beers and spirits champion the makers of the Bellarine Peninsula.

Pro Tip: The tasting menu is stunning value at $79 ($99 with that essential duck).