507 Elizabeth St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Features||Bar, Breakfast-brunch, Family friendly|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9328 3213|
Rotisserie chicken. Who'da thunk the prize of country town takeaways would become the most hotly contested dish of the year. Philippe Mouchel's version is most highly prized by silvertails. The too-busy and too-hungover are getting theirs from Henrietta's via UberEats. Even Williamstown has its alternative to Charcoal Chicken in George Calombaris' Hellenic Hotel.
The latest from Pickett is a deli, rotisserie and wine bar on the corner of the Queen Vic Market serving roast rolls, quarter, half and whole Milawa chooks, bottles of plonk and fancy mustard; plus crumbed brains and soft-serve.
However you feel about the redevelopment of Melbourne's greatest food landmark, it's hard not to be enthused about the appearance of whole burnished hens, dripping-roasted veg and jugs of gravy for $34.
Ditto for crusty torpedos stuffed with roast pork and crackling, sticky gravy and a vegetable relish flecked with chilli. By day you walk in, grab a server's attention and order that roll feeling guilty for deserting your market bratwurst just this once. Only maybe it won't be the once. It's a compelling sandwich.
You can sit down to eat it on stubby chairs with short scooped backs beneath a Tron-like lighting structure of hollow illuminated rectangles, the walls of pickles and lemons and Simon Johnson sauces twinkling.
If you drove, you can get a viable alternative to Market Lane's coffee or a fresh watermelon juice, even though this costs nearly as much as your sandwich.
If you didn't, the dream of knocking back a mid-shop bottle of lightly fruity Sassafras fiano from Canberra, a grippier blaufrankisch rosé or a hyper-local spritz made on Okar – the Campari of Australia – has come to pass.
The brunch-to-night transition brings small plates, a boon for anyone with a love of guts and glory.
Pickett has always nailed what you might call elegant dude food. Herbed fingers of focaccia with an anchovy belted on by lardo sees those three ingredients high fiving each other as hard as they can.
Lightly crumbed lamb's brains bathe in a luxurious goo of leeks cooked to fudge and sauce diable – a sort of gravy enlivened with vinegar.
It's bold, ballsy but ultimately well-balanced snackage, albeit not for the faint of heart. Nor those keeping kosher.
Crumbed pig's ear strips have their porkiness enhanced by a shellfish mayo. The flesh remains gelatinous around the cartilage heart, which is a step up if the onlyversions you've previously tried have been fried beyond recognition.
Wagyu meatballs are drenched in an almost Vegemite-y squid ink-infused sugo and crowned with crisp cuttlefish tendrils and a jamon crumb. The beef-squid-pork mix is weird, but it works.
Our table is split over the bolognese made on prawns coating sticky slabs of gnocchi – it's one for those in your party who love the funk of prawn shells.
But you could sidestep it all for a straight chicken and a wedge of iceberg frilled in radish and ranch dressing, book-ended only by fat chips, grilled asparagus with a soft-centred egg. And maybe a juicy jar of mussel and pipi escabeche dotted with smoky saffron-tinged rouille.
The question then, becomes not so much a matter of if the place is good but when it's best to come.
As the sun sets the Deli is exiled and extra romance is needed. Solid doors and no outdoor signs can make you think it's closed. Inside when the bright lights are dimmed at 8.30pm, you realise this is essential to the mood.
Here's the thing. There's no toilet. And while we're no Michelin Guide wowsers, it's a big issue at wine o'clock when your options become trekking to the after-hours toilets down the block or "you could use the Maccas across the road". In other room for improvement news, a dedicated pro from the Estelle has always been on hand to manage the dining room each visit, but the floor staff under them are a little laissez-faire.
Still, when you can get their attention, they'll bring you a swirled soft-serve – quick melt chocolate and vanilla topped with a rich chocolate sauce and brownie crumbs.
There's also a teeth clatteringly sweet rhum baba in an ode to Philippe Mouchel – a super-light cylinder of aerated cake and char-grilled pineapple drenched in a spiced rum syrup at table.
We're not in Charcoal Chicken any more. Your world is the better for it.
Pro Tip: The space is at its best by day with the markets thriving.
Go-to Dish: Lardo and anchovy toasts; roasted chicken with gravy and vegetables.