Epocha, 49 Rathdowne St, Carlton. Tel. 9036 4949.
Great location, great value: the worker’s lunch at Epocha, 49 Rathdowne St, Carlton. It’s at the city end of Rathdowne, opposite the Carlton Gardens. Owners Angie Giannakodakis (ex-Press Club) and Guy Holder have turned the place (which was once a ‘gentlemen’s’ club) into an impressive restaurant.
The menu is a mixture of small and large plates, to be shared – although you could eat them on your own, sharing isn’t compulsory. Like a venison carpaccio with mushrooms a la grecque and hazelnuts (it’s like eating autumn), or gravlax with potato salad, apple and fennel. Maybe a whole fish as a large plate, or whatever the roasted bird is, or beef rib… now that is to be shared, 550g is far too big for one.
Back to the worker’s lunch, which is available Tuesday to Friday. Last week we began with a demi-tasse of pumpkin soup, accompanied by some pate on a crouton, and a mushroom arancino. There was a choice: penne with pesto, served from a big hollowed out cheese wheel; chicken thigh with couscous, or fish and chips. We had the penne, lovely creamy cheesy pesto, and added glasses of wine, green salad, and cauliflower cream, and finished with coffee. Still a great value lunch, in comfortable and engagingly quirky surroundings. I like the use of second-hand dishes – lots of Royal Albert and old glass.
Some excellent cheeses, and stunning dessert cakes.
Sunday lunch is a roast. Dinner is from the menu. Upstairs is Hannah’s bar, where I’d be starting with a drink and a snack before something more substantial.
Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston St, Fitzroy. Tel. 9416 5055
Long-time hotel, at the corner of Napier Street, and it’s had another facelift by its owners Harry Lilai and his wife Michelle. Nothing major: when they took it over a few years ago, they made some bold decisions and painted the downstairs dining rooms red. Big bold happy red. The red has given way to white – although there are some flashes left. The effect is clean and fresh, and very assured. Upstairs, also white-painted, there are excellent function rooms.
The food hasn’t changed. It’s as good as ever. Harry made a big name as chef with Cecconi’s at Crown (it moved to Flinders Lane) . His cooking style is Italian, and an engaging combination of traditional and innovative. The cicchetti (snacks) include a great take on devils-on-horseback (or is it angels?) – hot dates filled with taleggio, wrapped in pancetta. The baccala arancini are a knockout.
The menu offers small, medium or large plates. Does no one dare to say entrée or main course these days? Here, it makes sense. However smart the bistro, it’s still part of a pub, and the mood is as dressed up or casual as you want it to be. The bar menu is a ripper, with steak sandwich ($18) or veal and pork polpette ($10).
In the bistro, don’t miss the osso buco ($30). Prices are sensible here – main courses are $30, the steaks a few dollars more. The bombolone (Italian custard-filled donuts) are the signature dessert, and just lovely to eat. Sweet, creamy, rich, brightened by orange blossom water.
Closed on Mondays.