Fight the fear, and winter, with fondue at Shifty Chevre

Fondue at Shifty Chevre
Fondue at Shifty Chevre Photo: Joe Armao

375 Brunswick St Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Wed-Fri 8am-midnight; Sat 9am-midnight; Sun 9am-7pm
Features Bar, Wheelchair access, Family friendly, Breakfast-brunch, Lunch specials, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Drinks Good mid-tier French wines, European and local beers, sakes and whiskies, all paired
Phone 0423 694 763

Friends, in hard, dark times it's important to remember the good in the world. The Halal snack pack has become a hate-fighting symbol of solidarity, and now it's time for cheese to do the same. Arguably, no one needs extra propulsion when raclette and fondue is being tabled – as it is nightly at this cheese shop, bar and kitchen on Brunswick Street – but it's never felt a more vital time to go to Shifty Chevre.

A magnet for French expats, the night we arrive follows that when a truck full of explosives ploughed into a crowd in Nice. It's hard to think of a better place to unpack that horror. Everything about the place – the work of Tom Petty, an architect, his partner Noemie Lacoste​, and best friend Alex Whyte, who opened in 2014 after one of those "let's open a bar" nights that actually went right – seems to wind the clock back to the '90s when nights hanging out with single friends didn't involve helping them swipe through Tinder.

The tall timber tables lining one wall (covered in political cartoons and books) each have in-built coat hooks for winter jackets. The top corner of the room is dedicated to couches and frilly lamps where you roll post-fondue to play Guess Who and Battleship in French. Couples lounge. Friends talk. Everyone is eating too much cheese. Everything is going to be OK.

Shifty Chevre Interior
Shifty Chevre Interior Photo: Joe Armao

Dairy in general is having a moment – Big Poppa's is Sydney's new cheese and hip-hop specialist and here, Maker and Monger's grilled cheese sandwiches and raclette are cheesing up every paper and blog in the city.

Here the concept is simple – three square meals of cheese a day. From the front cabinet you buy wedges of d'Affinois​ – basically cultured silk – local heroes such as Holy Goat and plenty in the stink-up-your-home Epoisse​ range. In the morning you come for reubens leaking Swiss cheese all over your plate and every version of eggs benedict/florentine turned into a fat croque monsieur/madame (aka put in a cheesy toastie and topped with an egg). Past 4pm, it's the stuff of future cheesemares.

This is definitely a strength-in-numbers scenario. Fondue, the smart Swiss farmers' solution to using ageing cheeses over winter and the '70s keys-in-a-bowl party highlight, serves four with ease. And it's good – semi-hard Abondance​ from the French alps and maasdam gruyere from Holland arrives already melted, a winey, garlicky mass you take in turns to keep moving between dipping cubes of stale baguette.

Cheese please: a cheeseboard at the Shifty Chevre.
Cheese please: a cheeseboard at the Shifty Chevre. Photo: Sunny Nyssen

A raw egg is provided for the traditional pot cleaning finale where you make the world's cheesiest scramble. Order extra cubes of saucisson, vegetables or more bread if you need, although for our money it's better just to get the raclette too which comes with the lot.

Sure, the mushroom-shaped table lamp doesn't have the romance of scraping the foot-ripe cheese from the giant wheel (instead you place slices under the lamp in little dishes) but the effect once easing the bubbling cargo onto cool waxy potatoes, and forking up some jambon and a pickle is much the same. There's no kirsch – the cherry brandy the Swiss swear by to help you push through – but mid-tier French wines starting at $40 and maxing out at $60 (the Immich-Batterieberg Mosel riesling is your friend; as is the crisp Loire Valley chenin blanc) will get you there.

Life is bad, here it's good. Come raise a tiny fork in support of France, and all that's still good in the world.

Fondue at Shifty Chevre
Fondue at Shifty Chevre Photo: Joe Armao

Spring Street grocer does evenings on request, as does Milk the Cow with similar whisky, sake and beer pairings.

Pro Tip: You need strength in numbers, bring friends

Go-to Dish: Cheese fondue, winter destroyer ($27/head, minimum serve 2)