Never bereft of hyper-cool cafés and watering holes, we’re surprised it’s taken this long for Sydney Road to get serious restaurant credentials. It’s not far from Lygon Street, where Hellenic Republic, Kumo Izakaya, and Rumi cause a frenzy at feeding time, but unless you’re after beers, kebabs or the shiniest wedding dress known to man, Brunswick’s main drag leaves you hanging. Albert Street Food and Wine is changing that and the lady to thank is Melbourne’s queen of tarts Philippa Sibley.
The famed pastry chef packed up her whisk last year to write a cookbook (PS Desserts) and turn her attention to what she calls “normal cheffing”. Which, it seems, consists of transforming trout into pots of spreadable, smoky, bay leaf infused rillettes and working up a sweat at the pizza oven.
Albert Street is a well-designed cross breed of wine bar, restaurant and food store rolled into one light and airy semi-industrial eatery. There’s plenty of real estate, with booths, tables, and posts at the recycled-basketball-court bar for snack-and-dashers, plus all the Brunswick décor essentials like industrial light fittings and exposed beams.
The food is far more relaxed, use-your-hands gear than at Sibley’s former culinary homes (Bistro Guillaume, est est est – RIP), but everything has the chef’s finicky artful touches. Even simple cream of carrot soup has sweet, pan-fried scallop buoys, and is spiked with Italian Vin Santo dessert wine. Sibley ain’t no sugar-bound one-trick pony.
The pizze have bases that are a little thicker and more pillowy than we’re accustomed to – more like a thin focaccia, decorated with the likes of jammy caramelised onion, kalamata olives, anchovies that bite back, and salsa verde – a herb garden blitzed with garlic, capers, mustard and vinegar into a can-fix-anything sauce. It’s a potent snack, so you’ll want to share. Same goes for those trout rillettes. The flavours are gentle enough, but one pot with its bread and pickled gherkins could biblically feed thousands. Or four, at least. Hot off the grill, try the tender quail with zippy shallot and herb vinaigrette and charred fennel. It’s a fingers and gnashers job as you’ll want to extract the goodness from the tiny crunchy bones as well as the rosy meat.
We like that the wine list has half glasses so you can jump between shades as you bounce around the menu. You’ll at least want the lightly battered and flash fried white fish and vegetables with aioli (aka fritto misto – tempura of the Mediterranean) and probably the decimated lamb rump with creamy, malleable polenta too. Then again, you may just want to come for an after work beer (local Brunswick Bitter is on tap) with some grilled sardines. Or, of course, for the desserts, which Sibley hasn’t entirely forsaken, offering three numbers from her cookbook daily. You might want to call ahead and check when her famed Snickers bar dessert of caramel parfait, salted praline and chocolate is on, although everything, from her grilled fruits to basic ice-creams are works of art.
The store is no supermarket substitute (unless your diet consists of smoked butter and terrine), but there’s good gift fodder amidst the preserves and books, and we like that you can BYO container to fill with local olive oils.
It’s a good restaurant, that’s good for Brunswick and all who live or sell terrible dresses there.