Mary-Jane Daffy reviews Jack & Jill Restaurant.

Jack and Jill Restaurant

16:14:PM 03/04/2013
Mary-Jane Daffy

Baked polenta, asparagus, gorgonzola & fresh figs
Baked polenta, asparagus, gorgonzola & fresh figs
The adage “don’t sweat the small stuff” should never, ever be applied to a restaurant. If it fails to get the basics right, even moments of greatness fall flat. You could complain – about the pushy service, the over-sugared mojito, the unpalatable taco, and the solid panna cotta – or pay the tab, quietly leave and almost certainly never return.

I’d like to say this wasn’t my experience at Jack & Jill Restaurant. But I can’t. Almost four years ago Jack & Jill Restaurant emerged high on the hill (hence the catchy name) in the digs that once housed late-night pit stop Joes Café. A much-needed modern facelift has given the space sparkle, with dark wooden tables and leather chairs adding a sophisticated edge alongside those youthful coloured light fittings and playful prints. The kitchen is partially open and, given its proximity to the tables, does a remarkable job keeping the noise at a minimum. The same can’t be said of the live acoustic music played in the rustic beer bar upstairs. It charges down the flight of stairs in fits and bursts that make even the feature fur wall appear tame.

The fantastic beer list diverts my attention. It reads like a who’s who of the Australian craft beer industry with flavour descriptors accompanying each of the nearly 40 craft beers and ciders on offer. The wine list isn’t so compelling; it’s more about function than fanfare, but it works.

What doesn’t work is the service. Admittedly the restaurant is double booked and I arrive 10 minutes late to the first sitting, but after showing myself to the table where my companions await, a waitress abruptly demands not only my drink order but our meal order too. My seat is still cold. My tentative request for help with the menu is met with a bothersome hand-on-hip stance and a response that’s more of a statement: “Well, what do you want to know?” I understand the need for swift service during a double sitting, but curt service bordered on insolent as the rush hour loomed.

Filo parcel filled with braised forest mushrooms & couscous
Filo parcel filled with braised forest mushrooms & couscous
It’s not all bad. Owner and head chef Leonie Mills grows most of the produce integral to the menu at her property on the outskirts of Geelong. Edible flowers, heirloom tomatoes, purple beans, berries and eggs straight from the chook house are on display this evening. The menu is an adventure of small tastes from around the globe, with a choice of three for $30.50 or four for $35.50.

The menu promises “Swordfish taco, Mexican street food”. I envisage zesty, bright flavours full of heat and liveliness, but what arrives is a swordfish fillet crowned with smoky, thick tomato sugo and a lick of yoghurt. It rests on a cold, doughy taco that requires a quick sizzle in a hot pan to make it edible.

A golden filo parcel hits the mark. It’s a lesson in stylish simplicity, stuffed with heady braised forest mushrooms and couscous for added texture. It arrives resting on a strip of garlicky aïoli with two balsamic-roasted cherry tomatoes.

Baked polenta is a winner, too. The square of creamy polenta proved the perfect base for a teepee of asparagus spears, quartered juicy figs, and gorgonzola chunks.

A smoked-eel croquette could use more punch, but it’s a pretty dish that showcases more of that produce. A golden baby beet, a sun-kissed miniature zucchini, and a zucchini flower stuffed with chorizo are skewered alongside the croquette and placed on a tomato-infused yoghurt. There’s too much going on in the dish, but individually the components thrive.

Rockmelon yoghurt is an interesting accompaniment to a tomato stuffed with eggplant curry and rice. The spiciness of the curry allows little room for other flavours to shine. I like the mini pappadum, even if it had lost its crunch by the time I got to it.

Smoked-eel croquette
Smoked-eel croquette

For dessert I tackled a peach and baked-ricotta tart. It wasn’t constructed with care. The baked ricotta carelessly spooned into a precooked shell and scattered with juicy baked peaches. Decorative toffee and a spiral of Persian fairy floss attempted – but failed – to conceal the mess.

Jack & Jill would have served more than 90 covers that Friday evening and, aside from my table, I didn’t see anyone else looking forlorn. I’d like to put my experience down to Mills having taken a night off and try it next time with her at the helm.

Eat this

Jack & Jill Restaurant, 247 Moorabool Street, Geelong

Cuisine International

Chef/owner Leonie Mills

Prices Focaccia $12.50-$15.50; mains $30.50-$35.50; desserts $12.50-$14.50

Open Saturday to Wednesday 6-10pm; Thursday-Friday noon-2.30pm, 6-10pm

Phone 5229 9935

Score Worth a look

Jack and Jill on Urbanspoon

Curved burgundy window awnings and a commanding double-storey brick façade belie the smart, modern design inside. Contemporary black-and-white prints dominate white walls in the ground-floor restaurant, and are subtle alongside vibrant coiled lightshades. High-backed leather chairs and a long banquette butt against simply set black tables. A brick wall with a grand archway adds character at the rear. Things get interesting upstairs with a 1920s-inspired beer bar. Exposed-brick walls, wood furnishings and dim lighting create a moody space that’s bolstered by leather couches and a great outdoor deck.

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