Late last year I noticed that a new restaurant had opened on the North Carlton side of Nicholson St in the cafe strip north of Pigdon / Scotchmer streets. It’s mostly a daytime scene, with A Treat of France and Natural Tucker bakeries and Figs and Birdie Num Nums cafes all being popular.
Night time is different. Bar Fred can be packed and draws a younger crowd for beer and excellent pizza, but the strip is not known for good food. The newish restaurant (it’s now been open for about 9 months), Bramble and Vine, has been on my list for some time and I finally got to eat there on Saturday night.
When I called to book I experienced a very enthusiastic greeting and that was replicated on the night when the girlfriend and I arrived. The interior is conventional, with simple furnishings and dark furniture, and the typical low light that I consider the restauranteur’s revenge against the food blogger. The entrance area looks awkward, with a sofa and bookcase, but once you’re properly inside it is comfortable with an open kitchen where you can see heads and shoulders bobbing about busy at work.
I prefer not to disturb other diners with flash, so there are no photos to accompany this review, which is a shame as the dishes are rather photogenic. We decided to share entrees and mains and ordered wine. The list by the glass is limited, but the Willunga 100 pinot gris was a suitable companion to the seafood entrees: grilled spiced prawns and a special of scallops with black sesame, which was divine.
For mains we shared the entree of fresh rag pasta with scented blue pumpkin, pancetta, sage butter and lemon and the main of sticky cider soft pork belly with a red cabbage and macadamia nut salad served on pear and juniper puree (descriptions straight from the menu). We also had a side of green beans, nuts and verjuice.
As good as the pork belly was, the pasta was the outstanding dish for me. With these we drank the Willunga 100 grenache (one of my favourite varieties). We had arrived for a 7pm booking, ahead of groups at 7.30pm. The early service was very prompt, then we had time to enjoy our mains.
By then the restaurant was full, and the staff were stretched. The front of house and kitchen staff seemed to be struggling to keep up, but they did a fantastic job of it. Nothing was forgotten and no mistakes were made. We were advised that there would be a delay in the preparation of dessert but the amount of time we waited was no more than you would experience in other places with no warning, and we appreciated their candour.
This gave us time to assess the food and the clientele. We loved the food. The style is modern Australian with an emphasis on local seasonal produce and shared plates. It rates well against comparable restaurants like Albert St Food and Wine, Gorski and Jones and Hell of the North (where I’ve eaten but did not review it owing to a similar lack of photos).
The diners told a different story. Older and casually dressed, they appeared to be mostly locals enjoying meals with family or friends. They were not there to be seen or to impress. It was a hipster free zone (North Carlton’s hipsters were all in Bar Fred a few doors north). The food is of a fine standard and very contemporary, but the restaurant itself is not quite fashionable. It’s more smart suburban than inner city chic.
Bramble and Vine has a menu focused website and a Facebook page but that is hardly a scene of fervent promotion. Compared to the carefully implemented online presence of Grace cafe, for example, Bramble and Vine is underachieving. It’s comfortable, and I like it, and if the full house we experienced is typical then they are doing well.
I suspect, however, that it would be more popular if more people knew it existed. Chicken and egg, I know. Smith St is so hot right now, and if you’re on sleepy Nicholson St you need to try harder to be seen. With so many places to choose from, it’s all too easy to be reminded to go somewhere if you read 5 reviews of it in a week, and until I went looking I hadn’t seen any for Bramble and Vine.
It has been reviewed recently by the Melbourne Times Weekly, 3AW and the Indolent Cook. You can also read more about the owners’ background. The first two appear to reflect the media tastes of the predominant clientele. The lack of fashionable clientele may be related to the lack of food blogger attention, but I dare not make too much of that. Correlation is not causation.
Now to dessert. I chose the sticky date pudding with burnt honey and fig, pistachio nut ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Predictable but delicious. The girlfriend had the rose geranium baked custard with filo crust and pine nut praline. It came in a ramekin and looked and smelled divine. I don’t remember getting a taste it went so quickly.
Bramble and Vine is a restaurant you may have overlooked or simply never heard of if you don’t happen to walk past. That is to your detriment as it is a lovely place to eat, with welcoming staff and stunning food. If you’ve already been to the wonderful Bistro Flor a few blocks south, I recommend trying something newish in the form of Bramble and Vine.