175 Brunswick Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
|Opening hours||Tue-Fri 6pm-late; Sat-Sun 10am-late|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Licensed, Gluten-free options, Accepts bookings, Family friendly, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9939 3293|
Well, that's a relief. I don't care how hot it gets now, because I've found the key dish for summer. It's Smith & Daughters' spiced melon salad: fat bricks of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are casually jumbled with pickled pineapple, jalapeno peppers and mint. It's oh-so-fresh in attitude and flavour, hydrating and cold, chilli-spiked and sparky. I foresee baking hot north-wind days when this is all I want to eat.
The colourful salad is also a gateway vegan dish: even if you generally feel that a meal isn't complete without flesh, you won't miss it in this salad.
And that's more or less the mission of this rocking Fitzroy restaurant with a party-hard attitude: it's all about letting vegan dining be a celebration of what it is rather than a dam-building exercise against what it isn't.
Most diners here aren't vegetarian, let alone vegan, and the food is so exuberant and tasty that I bet no one ever sits here daydreaming about steak. The cocktail list helps too – it's a cracker.
Chef Shannon Martinez – a meat-eater, by the way – has been on a mission to improve vegan dining for about 15 years, first at the East Brunswick hotel, where her vegan parmigiana went gangbusters, and later at the Gasometer, where her vegan dishes sat alongside meaty pub classics. She ran a vegan food stand at Collingwood's People's Market where she hit it off with Mo Wyse, a hospitality entrepreneur who is a staunch vegan. The pair opened Smith & Daughters nearly three years ago. It's been an unmitigated hit, so much so that it has spawned Smith & Deli in nearby Moor Street, and a just-released cookbook.
The current menu is something of a hits-and-memories parade, starring dishes that are also in the recipe book. There are even page numbers next to menu items so you can run straight home and make them yourself. It's a generous gesture. The food is broadly Latin, derived from Martinez's Spanish heritage and eating adventures in Mexico and Latin America.
I love the ceviche, with oyster mushrooms standing in for fish and plantain chips offering crisp starchy balance to the salty sourness of the marinated vegetables.
The paella fritters are somewhere between croquette and arancini, but they're also a pea-studded, saffron-tinged homage to Martinez' grandmother.
The sopa seca ("dry soup", see recipe here) comes in a paella pan but it's made with dry-fried then sauced up pasta with black beans and chipotle. It's drizzled with lime-and-coriander-soused cashew cream.
There are some mock meat dishes – garlic "prawns" and tacos with "chorizo" – but I reckon the out-and-proud vegan dishes are the best.
If "vegan dessert" sounds as fun as getting your legs waxed then you need the myth-busting pot of chocolate topped with peppery olive oil and flaked salt and served with crisp toast. It's whipped with aquafaba (the magical chickpea soaking water that can be frothed like egg whites) so it's fluffy and rich at the same time. For Martinez, this dish recalls the chocolate sandwiches her grandfather fed her as a child (what a guy!).
She's a big fan of reconnecting with the past through food and is conscious that being vegan can be isolating – not only are vegans eating differently from many people around them, but they can also disconnect from food customs that include now-not-eaten meat. That's why she put on a vegan Christmas with mock turkey and trimmings at sister venue Smith & Deli.
Restaurants with missions can be po-faced but Smith & Daughters is anything but boring. It's built on a sense of abundance rather than deficiency and a passionate belief that vegans deserve choice, fine booze and rollicking restaurants, too.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)