After three years of running damn fine Fitzroy tapas bar Anãda, Jesse and Vanessa Gerner have dived head first into the big kids' pool with a dual level restaurant and rooftop bar in the city. We’re sad that Italian eatery Barbagallo no longer lives on Lonsdale, but if anyone was to fill the long, light, strangely peaceful inner-city spot, we’re glad it’s a pair who have the same respect for simple produce-based dishes as Barbagallo himself did. And we’re not just talking about a trendy use of the ‘we-love-fresh-produce’ catchphrase, we’re talking putting on wellies and rooting around in the garden for the menu’s fruit and veg. We’re also talking use of rare breed beasts and fish, and having an in-house smoking, curing and pickling workshop. Think piquant cauliflower florets and smoky, dried pork sausage on your plate. Hot diggidy!
Before you get too invested in the restaurant menu, jump in the elevator and ascend to one of the nicest rooftop bars in town. The lift opens into a bright room with copper sheen bar, silky drapes, and glass panels that give panoramic views of the city. Hit the ground running with a bracing Montegroni – which is basically a Negroni (campari, vermouth’n’gin) with Amaro Montenegro playing the bitters role. There’s a kitchen entirely dedicated to this upstairs space, making it an entity in its own right rather than a holding pen for the restaurant downstairs. Try the morcilla (Spanish blood sausage), served warm with a scattering of broad beans for fresh contrast. When you’re ready for the main event, get a seat downstairs at the bar of the open kitchen.
It’s another all-the-rage bites and big share plate menu here, but being Spanish inspired, they at least have an excuse. The meat here is of a quality that lends itself to simple executions, making their rough diced Belted Galloway beef tartare a go-to for meat fans. The raw beef is topped with a whole quail egg yolk and loosely intertwined with capers, raw onion and mustard rather than being minced to a uniform paste. It puts you in the flavour driving seat, allowing you to choose how much mellow yolk or acid caper you want to add to the beef. Boasting an equally impressive pedigree is the Wessex saddleback pig. These porkers are so tasty, even the off-cuts are worthy of a starring role. A crumbed and fried tail is like chewy pork calamari, while thin strips of sliced pig's ear are fried crisp to near shattering point, adding bacon-flavoured crunch to the plate. The gelatine-set terrine made from the pig's head, is slightly lacklustre (more salt, perhaps?) next to the far more flavoursome folds of cured tongue- think ham with roast pork texture. This is ear-to-tail eating at its finest.
After this meat feast, try the zucchini flowers stuffed with mild goat’s curd, fried, and drizzzzled with honey (acquired from the rooftop honey project). It’s subtle – very subtle, but amidst the smoke, salt and vinegar of the other dishes, it’s a welcome taste break. We’ll be coming back to try the confit (read: cooked in fat) legs of Aylesbury duck, but we can’t go past a whole flathead baked in a shell of rocksalt. Despite having to crack through this wall to get to the sucker, the fish is sweet, having taken on just enough of the salt to be properly seasoned – although it’s a touch drier than we would like. If you still have space, stick 'em up for a side of pink fur potatoes cooked in duck fat, or jump straight to a dessert of beignets with dark chocolate sauce (think mini doughnuts crossed with profiteroles) to really do yourself in.
This venture is a big undertaking, but the Aylesbury team is thus far swimming as strongly as the duck it was named for.