Given Philippa Sibley’s kitchen pedigree you’d think customers at her latest venture might be more interested in her food than her glassware. But no, it’s the glassware they’re mad about at Brunswick’s smartest new address, Albert Street Food & Wine.
Pale, amber-coloured tumblers, to be specific, of such comely shape and size that diners have been dashing straight to Cedar Hospitality Supplies on Brunswick Road to tap into this latest designer-tableware trend.
There’s been such a stampede that when the restaurant needed to replenish its supplies, it had to wait three weeks for more stock to arrive.
Albert Street’s ample interior once housed the State Savings Bank of Victoria, circa 1921. A slick refurb exposed the building’s original features – Tasmanian oak floors, raw ceilings of steel struts and timber joists – and married them with recycled timbers to create a theatrical space ready for its next role as restaurant/wine bar/café, with food and booze store on the side.
The vault is now the wine cellar, and above the bar a bank of bronzey mesh screens look like the underside of a rangehood but a waiter assures me they’re meant to symbolise teller screens. Either way, baffles concealed inside them and the ceiling keep the noise down to considerate levels.
Sibley has proven at past gigs such as est est est that she has remarkable taste and talent, but it’s a treat to see her handling savoury dishes here as capably as she does sweet.
Her mod Med menu has plenty to get excited about, from a plate of padron peppers simply fried and salted and left to speak for themselves, to more elaborate but equally enjoyable dishes such as a light summer cassoulet of confit chicken Maryland and mousse-like boudin blanc of chicken and tarragon.
There’s also plenty to get excited about on the wine list. Interesting local and imported wines appear to have been handpicked for quality and price, so you’ll find, for example, a viscous Villa Solais vermentino from Sardinia for just $35. That’s about $15 less than most other restaurants in town. And cocktails are only $14. Bargain!
During the day, when it is airy and light-filled, Albert Street feels much more relaxed, like a café. But at night, when the lights dim, the burnished wood gleams and floor staff kick into top gear, it becomes a serious restaurant.
The food, remarkably, straddles both moods pretty well (though I prefer Albert Street at night – much slicker).
The house bread is Noisette, which is a good sign, and delivered to the table with a basil-oil butter. Toasted fingers of it also accompany the bacalao, a more-ish mash of salty cod served with a refreshing “green goddess” salsa of artichoke, anchovy, capers, chervil, parsley, garlic and green chilli.
The versatile menu includes pizzas, and I can personally vouch for the virtues of both “the tomato party” with heirloom tomatoes, torn basil and pesto genovese, and a special pizza of morcon – a super-garlicky sausage with a paprika kick – with rocket, fetta and dollops of olive tapenade.
Five crunchy croquettes with gooey centres of jamón and a sliver of rabbit liver, which I can’t taste, arrive on a brilliant green pool of padron pepper sauce. The croquettes are good but the sauce is knockout and typical of Sibley’s admirably unconventional thinking.
Melbourne doesn’t need any more trendy restaurants with colour-by-numbers menus. It needs more Philippa Sibleys bringing original thoughts to the table, such as her terrific prawn spaghettini with black garlic and charred corn. The ingredients are cooked perfectly and complement each other, but the star of the show is a superb Mount Zero olive oil drizzled through the pasta.
Her “ancient grain” salad of lentils, various quinoas and faro spiked with pomegranate, mint and fromage blanc is another winner. You’ll be chewing it for hours afterwards and, if you’re lucky, might even find some wedged in your teeth in the morning.
The only dubious items we sample are the wagyu skewers with white anchovy and smoked eggplant puree. The puree is special but the beef and fish combo fails to fire. Wagyu almost always seems to over-promise and under-deliver, while the sliver of fish feels lost against the robust meat.
When it comes to dessert, I’m with Sibley, who confessed after the recent launch of her cookbook PS Desserts that, “I don’t have a sweet tooth at all”. But we dutifully order the Meyer lemon tart to share and it is, as expected, best in show. You’d expect nothing less from Melbourne’s pudding princess, though I think I prefer her new Mediterranean bent even more.
Albert Street Food & Wine
382 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Cuisine \ Mediterranean Chef \ Philippa Sibley
Hip pocket \ About $65 a head for three courses
Open \ Daily from 8am-late (closes 11pm Sundays)
Highlights \ Fit-out, food, wine and service
Lowlights \ Too minor to mention
Bookings \ Recommended
Phone \ 8354 6600