A quick pizza run just a few doors down from Hairy Canary, its older, better-known sibling, six-month-old Hairy Little Sista is vying for attention.

Hairy Little Sista

15:05:PM 09/01/2012
Leanne Tolra

Chorizo sausage with mojo picon salsa
Chorizo sausage with mojo picon salsa

A quick pizza run just a few doors down from Hairy Canary, its older, better-known sibling, six-month-old Hairy Little Sista is vying for attention. Executive chef of both venues, 23-year-old Justin Beilin (Hong Kong Football Club, the Arcadia Hotel, MoVida and Stokehouse), joined the team in December and introduced his latest Sista menu at the start of March. Beilin describes the food at Canary as “more refined”, “more Middle Eastern”, while at Sista it’s “more North African”; admittedly, he says, a lot of it comes out of his own imagination, too. And most of it, including pizzas on request, is ferried down from the Hairy Canary kitchen. Share plates, “small, interesting things to share” feature strongly.

Beilin says the innovative dishes are the inventions of his young, culturally diverse kitchen team. There are eight Nepalese, four Indians, two New Zealanders and two Australians. Other than his 31-year-old sous chef, all are younger than him.

“Everybody takes it in turn to create a dish that goes on the tapas tasting plate,” he says. “I may put on a few finishing touches, or re-season a dish, but generally they have been created by my team.”

Patas bravas with spicy tomato salsa
Patas bravas with spicy tomato salsa
In the first week of the new menu, the tasting plate, which holds “four tasty little mouthfuls”, consisted of crispy pork belly on spicy apple chutney; mixed mushroom croquettes; lamb pinchos with mojo verde (green salsa) and baby wagyu polpette with mojo picon (red salsa). The lamb pinchos (Spanish for spike) were Beilin’s creation and are a staple. Made with lamb backstrap marinated in olive oil, cumin, rosemary and garlic, their strong flavour is lifted by his mother’s harissa recipe.

Beilin attributes much of his share-plate style of cooking to her influence. “When I was growing up there were always 10 or so share plates of food on the table, so even though it’s become popular in Melbourne in the last few years, this is the way I have always eaten.”

His mother is a Russian Jew and his father is Australian, so family food crossed cultures. Other share plates include excellent Middle Eastern-style buffalo wings with bleu de Laqueuille (French blue cheese) dipping sauce. “When we first put these on the menu, we called them chicken wings and they didn’t move,” says Beilin. “One day the barman and I were talking. He suggested we call them buffalo wings and create a wetter-style sauce.”

The sauce of red capsicum, tomato, hot paprika, dried jalapeno chilli and red onion, is spicy and sweat-inducing, and the blue cheese sauce is its perfect foil. The wings probably get a little lost, but at least they are popular now.

Lamb cutlets
Lamb cutlets
From the bigger dishes menu, labelled “slightly carnivorous”, the lamb cutlet cotoletta is worth a notable mention. It’s an Italian dish, traditionally made with veal cutlets coated in breadcrumbs. Beilin’s version features three large, lean lamb cutlets coated in mint, mahon (a salty, Spanish cheese) and parmesan, then mustard flour and finally a cinnamon, cumin and egg wash before being deep fried. There’s a room-temperature cauliflower puree underneath (more would have been nice) and a red-wine vinegar-soused salad of shaved fennel and roasted red capsicum. It’s easily shared, but an excellent meal on its own.

As a Melbourne bar, Hairy Canary has earned quite a reputation. Can its little Sista do what her big sister has done?

Verdict

This casual, comfortable city slicker suits any occasion: after-work drinks, casual business meetings, romantic interludes, daytime solo dining, family functions and more. Flexible seating arrangements, “happy to be here” staff and an eclectic, well-put-together menu are some of the reasons it should earn long-term success. But patronage seems unusually small, making Sista a well-kept secret.

Eat this

Hairy Little Sista 230-240 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Phone 9639 7778 Head chef Justin Beilin

Prices Share plates $10.50-$18.50; larger dishes $18.50-26; sweets $12.50-$14.50

Open Monday-Thursday 7.30am-11pm; Friday 7.30am-3pm; Saturday 8.30am-1pm

Bazaar-house furniture with a definite ’70s leaning, groovy wallpaper and interesting knick-knacks make the broad, diverse space at this city bar welcoming and appealing. There’s a “business end” with timber pedestal tables and cream vinyl bucket chairs for those dedicated to dining, but couch settings and low recycled tables are well suited to drinks and snacks. Hairy Little Sista took over the space that belonged to the upmarket, but short-lived Council House 2, tucked in the basement of the City of Melbourne’s ecologically designed office tower. Travel and band posters, an interesting timber “tree” sculpture and menu specials written on opaque glass add inner-urban edginess and daytime takeaway coffee orders keep conversation at the bar flowing.

Hairy Little Sista on Urbanspoon


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