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Lets call it the Melbourne look. Frequent diners will know it well that studied, once-industrial space of exposed brick and distressed paint, with a quirky-light-fitting-and-Bentwood-chair aesthetic that is de rigueur at any neighbourhood eatery aspiring to attract the in-crowd.
Not that theres anything wrong with the interior. In fact, its so familiar that I feel relaxed immediately and settle in for a fun night, even though its my first time here. Still, weve probably reached the tipping point with this particular look, dontcha think?
G&J is named for the three partners behind this instant Smith Street hit Paul and Linda Jones from Brunswick Streets popular Alimentari, and Meaghan Gorski, ex-Jacques Reymond and St Peters. Their hospitality stripes show through in the way the floor copes on a crammed Saturday night. Personable staff only neglect us once during peak feeding frenzy, and we mightnt have even noticed except we were waiting on more wine at the time. The music, meanwhile, is loud enough to scare older diners away and keep the vibe youngish and cool.
The important thing about the décor is that it does nothing to distract from the pleasures of Paul Jones food or the thrill of selecting an unfamiliar drop from the tight, varietal-heavy wine list. A Tiefenbrunner pinot bianco goes so well with the starters and pasta that we run dry quickly but are saved by an inspired selection available by the half-bottle carafe. Genius stuff.
Finely crumbed zucchini flowers are stuffed plumply with ricotta on a bed of roasted capsicum. Sprigs of dill add a fresh, almost healthy accent to the deep-fried dumplings.
Pollo tonnato sounds wrong but turns out to be a clever twist on the vitello version. Poached rounds of sliced chicken are drenched in tuna mayo and scattered with quartered egg and cherry tomato pieces. Some good anchovies and juicy capers round out the line-up. Purists might turn their pert noses up at the absence of veal but Im looking forward to diving into that plate again some time soon.
The food so far has been gutsy and rich, and the serves are decent. Perhaps thats why, by the time my linguine with seafood, chilli and white wine arrives, Im underwhelmed. Theres a standard seafood selection of two prawns, inoffensive white fish, mussels and cockles, and its all perfectly palatable but just doesnt punch as hard as its predecessors. The chilli is too restrained, so is the seasoning.
There is really only one dessert worth mentioning, but the baked peaches are nice, too. The shapely halves sit in a sugary cinnamon juice with an almost caramelly amaretto cream, but they almost defeat us at the end of our big blow-out.
And then comes the tiramisu. Its not much to look at, just a modest serve in a quaint crystal glass with all the layers in the right places. But this is eye-poppingly good pudding. At the bottom theres a morass of sponge blackened with cocoa and coffee until the colour of sump oil, overlaid with more ladyfingers, then plugged with a gorgeous gloop of creamy egg white and mascarpone that itself is paved with a bitumen of cocoa and chocolate. Best tiramisu Ive had in months.
Forget the décor. Just come for the cake.
Eat thisGorski and Jones
304 Smith Street, CollingwoodCuisine Mediterranean Chef Paul Jones Hip pocket About $60 a head for the full three-courser Open Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm Highlights The vibe, the vino, the victuals Lowlights Minor menu minuses Bookings Definitely Phone 9417 7779