The Commoner is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. It is unpretentious, friendly, cosy and the thoughtful food has a strong focus on local and seasonal produce. Everything they do demonstrates care and a passion in the hard work of their producers and chefs. It’s a restaurant with heart.
For the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival this year they hosted deluxe Rioja wine producer Bodegas Roda and matched the red wines with a multi-course lunch with a paddock-to-plate ethos. I was invited to share lunch amongst friendly food-and-wine-loving strangers at one of the communal tables.
The wines of Bodegas Roda are unique because all of the fruit comes from old vines ie over 30 years old (and some up to 80 years old). The vines are grown organically and the wine is neither filtered nor fined.
During the meal the background and tasting notes of each wine was explained by one of Bodegas Roda‘s winemakers who was visiting from Spain along with the owner of The Spanish Acquisition, a specialist importer of Spanish and Portugese wine, spirits and beer based in Melbourne.
To start, freshly baked potato and rye bread with hand-churned butter from The Butter Factory or dipped in the creamy mellow flavours of Roda’s extra virgin olive oil Daruo. I could not get enough of the oil and apparently it is selling gangbusters in China – so maybe it appeals particularly to an Asian palate?
We were then offered freshly shucked oysters from the clean waters of Tasmania’s St Helens, served atop a bed of foraged seaweed as well as the usual rock salt. The oysters were very fresh and quite mild in flavour, so I enjoyed their brininess without the traditional mignonette that accompanied them.
Out of the seafood options I particularly liked the freshness of the the fleshy slices of cured kingfish topped with foraged, slightly crunchy coastal herbs which I didn’t recognise.
The starters continued with a delicate choux pastry puff filled with a creamy chicken liver parfait and an unexpected pop of sweetness in the form of a splodge of cherry vinegar jelly. My neighbour opened up his pastry and slathered the inside onto bread – a great idea.
Vegetables were given star billing in the platter of pickled vegetables, all bottled by visiting chefs to The Commoner’s kitchen since August 2012. Pickles are not normally my thing but who could resist this picturesque rainbow assortment of beetroot, radish, carrots and other baby vegetables I couldn’t identify.
The pickles were a refreshing interlude between the richness of the parfait and the best looking charcuterie plate I’ve ever seen. All of the charcuterie was made and hung at the restaurant and included thin slices of Greenvale pork salami with fennel pollen, bresaola made with grass-fed Warialda beef, a knobbly, rich black pudding and a partridge and pistachio ballotine. With all that cured milk I loved the refreshing hit of sour cherry, cantalope and Gentleman’s Relish on the plate as well. Give me a hunk of bread and some of that delicious olive oil and I could have happily feasted on nothing but charcuterie for lunch. The charcuterie plate was matched with the Roda Sela 2009, a wine not actually made with old vines but made for an earlier market release and appealing to a younger target market.
For the main course each table shared Plains Paddock hogget forequarters slow cooked in milk, creamy steamed kipfler potatoes sprinkled with crispy salt bush, wild foraged mushrooms from Macedon sauteed in butter and just-picked salad greens.
Plains Paddock raise Dorper sheep which is a South African meat-producing animal with a high fat content and this translated to a succulent and rich braise. I don’t think I’ve ever had hoggett before and in fact did not know what it was until this meal. Basically it’s like the ‘teenager’ of lamb – about 14 months old so with the heightened flavour of mature meat but without the toughness of mutton. I’m very enthusiastic about trying to buy it now as my first tasting of the meat is that its the perfect confluence of tenderness and flavour.
The wines that were chosen to match were the Roda Reserva 2008 and Roda 1 Reserva 2007. Interestingly the two very distinctive wines are produced by the same grapes when they’re red and when they’re blue-black.
Roda’s Cirsion 2009, a vineyard project and produced in miniscule volumes, was matched with a cheese plate of Holy Goat‘s organic, hand-made and multi-award winning goats cheeses – the La Luna min and a Skyla log. Not being much of a goats’ cheese eater I preferred the milder flavour of the La Luna which had been house-smoked by The Commoner.
Finally, dessert. A tart of buttery biscuit base holding a light baked custard with uncommonly purple-hued roasted peaches and a drizzle of cherry. To die for!
Roda en camino, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013, The Commoner, 122 Johnston St, Fitzroy +61 3 9415 6876