The Commoner

August 17, 2013

122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

The Commoner is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. Owned by the lovely Jo Corrigan, who worked for a long time in London as a chef, the food is modern British, and rather underrated in the Melbourne food scene. Forget stodgy fish and chips and think instead of house smoked quail, juicy roasts, new season broad beans and stolen rhubarb and apple pie. As their website rightly says, ‘The Commoner is a small piece of country hospitality in the city’. Eating here is a relaxed and romantic affair, so I took Mr N for a surprise Sunday lunch last weekend. We had such a lovely time, I couldn’t recommend the place more highly.

On ANZAC day The Commoner very unfortunately experienced a fire in its kitchen which required several months of closure to fix it up. But happily the crew are back on their feet and I couldn’t be more glad of it!

As I said, I’ve eaten at the Commoner before, (you can read about my earlier post here, indeed I’m recycling some photos of the interior from that visit), but my latest visit absolutely blew me away. Last time I raved about their chandeliers made of cutlery – here they are again.

I feel like the service deserves a shout out too – we had a lovely young man taking care of us and he was incredibly helpful and down to earth. I know I say this often on the blog, but good service, I mean really intelligent, friendly and well-balanced service, is very hard to come by, with most places adopting a ‘brusque and cool’ attitude. At The Commoner, it is faultless the entire meal, a testament I think to Jo’s leadership.

We were after a bottle of white but weren’t sure about navigating the considerable wine list. Fortunately our waiter was very helpful in suggesting the 2011 Bird on a Wire Marsanne from the Yarra Valley. He was right on the money – it’s a fantastic wine to drink with food, and in particular, something you can have several glasses of without getting bored of the saccharine aftertaste. Sitting on the savoury end of the white wine spectrum, I’m well inclined to source this out to drink at home!

I would have happily eaten every single thing on the menu, and, despite my general love of food, this is not something I say often. Charcoal baby calamari stuffed with pork and sage tantalised me. House smoked quail with raisins, almonds and sweet vinegar waved its little legs from another table, beckoning me over. And how was I to resist the call of a sweet, pan roasted stripy trumpeter with new season courgettes and broad beans? “I suppose there’s always next Sunday”, I thought to myself as we placed our order. Next Sunday will be calamari and quail and trumpeter, just you see.

In the end, we ordered a few small plates to share before the main course. The rabbit confit on toast with bacon and pickled quince was an instant hit. Said Mr N after we’d wolfed them down, “that was delicious – shall we order two more?” I loved the gamey, herbed taste of the rabbit in combination with the sweet quince and almost caramelised strips of bacon. Palates whet, we eagerly awaited our next dish.

From the ‘small’ section of the menu, we shared a brightly hued plate of spiced and wood roasted heirloom carrots with soft egg and harissa. The sweet, nutty carrots were fantastic when coated in the yellow yolk and a dab of harissa. Having said that, as we were leaving, a beautiful plate of the beetroot salad with orange and fresh curd arrived at the next table and I experienced serious food envy – next time, my pretties!

In addition to their regular menu, The Commoner puts on a roast lunch every Sunday, with a particular cut roasted long and slow in their outdoor wood fired oven. Over the remaining August weekends, they’ll be serving up roast beef with spinach, horseradish and Yorkshire puddings, and to ring in the springtime, roast lamb with potatoes, peas and mint sauce in September. I chose last Sunday especially for the roast pork with cavalo nero, apples and onions, and I am so glad that I did because it was incredible!

Served like you would at home, the food here has a rustic and wholesome characteristic that is hard to beat. I must admit I’m not normally a fan of pork, but I loved this: cooked very slowly in a wood fired oven, the pork was unctuous and juicy, with glistening seams of fat running under tanned pieces of crackling. A lightly sweetened gravy, baby onions and soft pieces of stewed apple lifted the dish and were an excellent contrast to the sticky pork. And don’t even get me started on the ridiculously generous amount of crackling we each received!

Sunday roast lunch, possibly one of man’s best social habits. Dig in.

Then, THEN, because we weren’t already overwhelmed by how good the rest of the food had been, we had a side of duck fat roasted potatoes with celery salt, otherwise known on the menu as ‘schmaltzy potatoes’. They tasted like home and all manner of other good things.

To finish, we shared a piece of the warm brown ale pudding with salted caramel sauce and cream. Slightly savoury and with a delicate hint of bitterness (potentially the ale coming through), this was a great way to finish the meal.

I think what I most like about The Commoner is the atmosphere. The two of us were perfectly happy together, slowly working our way through our roast lunch and wine. Alongside us there were other couples, similarly enjoying a quiet meal together. When I wandered upstairs there was a family celebrating someone’s 30th, and downstairs the communal table was taken up by a larger group. Despite this, the restaurant still has a warm intimacy about it that makes a meal here a beautiful thing. Have lunch there yourself to see what I mean, you’ll thank me for it.

The Commoner on Urbanspoon

Filed under: British, FAVOURITES, Fitzroy