Etta Review Brunswick East Review 2022

60 Lygon Street
Brunswick East,

See the map

Opening hours Dinner from Tuesday to Saturday; lunch sat-sun
Features Bar, Takes Reservations, Licensed, Vegetarian Friendly, Outdoor Seating
Prices Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Call 03 9448 8233

It was a Friday night, the end of that day that happens every year in Melbourne when the weather suddenly turns from glorious autumn to devilishly cold, freezing rain whipping our faces as we rush out of the tram.

What a relief to step into Etta’s cozy glow, be relieved of our soggy raincoats, be seated at the bar and bask in the warmth of owner Hannah Green’s cheerful hospitality as well as the warm radiating from the wood-burning fireplace in the kitchen.

It may seem like a night for red wine and whiskey, but a strawberry daiquiri ($22) on the menu is impossible to resist. Shaken with lime juice and rum, then double strained to form a clear yet pink-hued drink, the fresh berries are distilled to their summery essence. One sip and the last traces of bad weather outside are eradicated.

Abalone and lardo skewers.

Abalone and lardo skewers. Photo: Chloe Dann

If I were to make a list of the most Melbourne restaurants in Melbourne, Etta would definitely be near the top. The soul of this city is so varied and hard to explain that it is instantly recognizable to those of us who live here, but there is something about the intimacy and energy of this space, the fact that unmistakably a neighborhood restaurant as well as a destination – at once laid-back, chic, low-key and a little rowdy – that makes Etta a star for restaurants in this city.

This designation is greatly aided by Chef Rosheen Kaul, who took over the kitchen at the end of 2020. It has been widely reported that Kaul was ambivalent about taking on the top job at Etta, despite having a resume. which includes many of Melbourne’s finest cuisines (Lee Ho Fook, Dining by Heston, Carlton Wine Room).

It’s one thing to properly execute someone else’s vision and quite another to write your own menu, build your own team, and deliver food that forms a cohesive narrative. A year and a half later, Kaul is doing all of these things and doing them in style.

Etta's chef, Rosheen Kaul.

Etta’s chef, Rosheen Kaul. Photo: Eddie Jim

Its menu is inspired by its varied heritage – Kashmiri, Chinese, Filipino and other parts of Asia – but with Australian sensibilities so modern that it all flows seamlessly.

Tender green-lipped abalone ($12 each) are skewered with lardo and then flame-licked, the two white-fleshed proteins doing wonderful things for each other.

Enoki mushrooms ($7) are fried in tempura and served with creamy tarator, a Middle Eastern sauce usually made with tahini; Kaul uses almonds instead, then drizzles on a generous dollop of chili oil. The dish is fatty, crispy, chewy and spicy – the perfect bar snack.

Mushroom enoki tempura with almond tarator and chilli oil.

Mushroom enoki tempura with almond tarator and chilli oil. Photo: Chloe Dann

One of the pleasures of Etta is that you can eat a vegan or vegetarian meal there without even realizing it. The wood fire in the kitchen works a kind of magic with the heirloom squash ($18), served with fried basil, and the cabbage flower ($30), served with a Sichuan white sesame vinaigrette. A bowl of stracciatella topped with shredded potatoes and burnt garlic ($18) is an absolute umami bomb, as salty, rich and decadent as any meat dish.

But I admit that my favorite dishes here are at least somewhat carnivorous. Crispy rice salad ($26), sprinkled with red curry pork sausage and shelled mussels, is an absolute star, flavored with galangal, cilantro and lemongrass.

Tandoori market fish ($41) – monkfish the day I had it – is wrapped in a smoked seafood curry and topped with tiny charred corn cobs, giving the dish hints of sweetness and crunch .

Essential dish: Crispy rice salad with red curry pork sausage and mussels.

Essential dish: Crispy rice salad with red curry pork sausage and mussels. Photo: Chloe Dann

It’s tempting to call Etta a wine bar, given the impressive list Green has put together, though I’m afraid that description might sell the place a bit short. Yet what other neighborhood restaurant do you know that has more than a dozen champagnes, many made by winemakers?

French, Italian and Victorian wines dominate the list, and there’s obviously been a lot of attention to matching bottles with Kaul’s food (the huge range of Gamays is delicious proof of that).

All the things that make Melbourne so wonderful – our cultural diversity, our sense of neighborhood community, our love of good wine and warm spaces – are represented at Etta.

Green, Kaul and their teams have created something intensely personal, but also broadly appealing. May their collaboration continue for many years to come.

Vibe: Just modern enough, but with a lived-in neighborhood feel

Essential dish: Crispy rice salad

Drinks : Fantastic wine list; delicious cocktails; wide selection of spirits

Cost: $120 for two, plus drinks

This review was originally published in Have a nice week end magazine

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