The Drifter’s Table is a project by Zac Nicholson, Robbie Bell and Keelan Gallogly – three chefs with experience from Quay, Rockpool Bar and Grill Melbourne and The Fat Duck – who decided to start hosting pop up dinners in Melbourne at the beginning of this year. Their team inhabit the kitchens of cafes and restaurants around town, bringing normally daytime-only venues to nocturnal life with their Mod Oz/British/European influenced food and friendly service.
For each event they have a set menu of four courses for an amazing price of $65 a head or you can choose to match each course with a sparkling wine and three wines for $100. I reckon you can’t get a better deal than that in inner city Melbourne at the moment! The constantly changing location and one-night-only menu adds to the mystique of the whole experience.
I attended their third pop up dinner and their first at Small Block cafe in Brunswick East. We arrived earlier than their allotted start time of 7:30pm so had a quick drink at The Alderman a few doors down (which by the way is an awesome little local bar). I didn’t realise at the time of booking but while they state that dinner starts at 7:30pm you can actually book for whatever time you like – some tables were only starting their first courses as we were leaving.
The menu for our dinner started with an amuse bouche of pressed ham hock, pease pudding and a pornographically positioned cornichon. The dish was much more substantial than a traditional amuse bouche which I’d normally expect to be just a tiny taste to get the taste buds kickstarted. I didn’t love or hate the dish, other than noting that the terrine was too firmly pressed in my view, but that’s a matter of personal preference.
The entree was a perfectly poached silken fillet of blue eye with black olives, red capsicum, samphire and pine nuts. It was my favourite dish of the night as it showed real finesse in cooking technique and the combination of flavours, with the hard-hitting olives not overpowering the delicacy of the seafood. I know it’s a bit faddy but I loved the textural contrast of the crispy twist of fish skin cracker as well.
The main course was a huge serving of rotisserie lamb – fillet and cutlets, I felt like a nomadic hunter! It was served with a bulb of roasted garlic, perfect smeared onto the meat, a bed of cavolo nero with its bitterness cutting through the fattiness of the meat and an equally huge side of mixed roast vegetables – spuds, heirloom carrots and onions.
The dish was comfort food at its best – warming, weighty and wafting juicy robust flavours. Even though our stomachs were bursting to capacity I simply could not leave a single skerrick on the plate.
…but of course there’s always room for dessert! After stuffing us like a turducken for three courses I was amazed by the size of the chocolate, salted caramel and peanut tart. It was the size of a small saucer! Nevertheless we managed to clear our plates as the thin chocolate crust held together a wonderfully oozy caramel filling that was so sweet that you really couldn’t resist licking each spoonful clean. Good idea balancing all that sugar with a hit of salt as well and I liked the presentation with the crunchy praline reaching like a waterfall towards the sphere of ice cream.
The Drifter’s Table next event will also be at Small Block and is on Friday 24 May. The menu will be as follows:
- Chicory, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad
- Roast Quail with Muscat Grapes and Chestnut
- Red-wine Braised Beef, Carrots, Bone Marrow Toast
- Pumpkin Pie
I’m not sure how they go with dietary requests so best to ask on booking. The menu will continue to be four courses for $65 per person and local wine and beer will be available on the night. Seating is limited so send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking (and if you miss out on this event watch for future announcements on Twitter and Facebook). You’ll love it!
The Drifter’s Table, Small Block, 130 Lygon St, Brunswick East