312 Drummond Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 3312
Every time I’m in Melbourne, I always inevitably end up at Embla. Situated on Russell Street just around the corner from New Armenian juggernaut Sezar, Embla is my favourite Melbourne wine bar thanks to its dynamic rotation of natural wines and an exciting grazing menu to boot. Before Embla was born, however, there was Town Mouse.
Town Mouse is a modern Australian-slash-European mid-end eatery in Carlton; its style is accessible, down-to-earth with a splash of effortless panache. It’s also versatile in that it’s a suitable venue for casual mid-week gossip sessions with your girl pals as well as an ideal place to take your better half for an anniversary dinner or some other restaurant.
Christian and Amber McCabe founded the Town Mouse along with Amber’s husband Jay Comeskey. They then grabbed Chef Dave Verheul from the other side of the Tasman and set up a restaurant that got Melbourne talking in 2013. Obviously, there’s been many staff changes here and there especially after Christian McCabe and Verheul opened Embla in the city in 2015 but Town Mouse remains one of Melbourne’s most loved restaurants.
Bean and I came here for a Saturday lunch session, straight after arriving from Sydney. It was a cold and drizzly Melbourne afternoon but Town Mouse’s warm and familial dining room more than made up for it. We started off with a glass of wine each along with some warm sourdough bread with roasted sesame butter. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t note the wine we had but it would have been a Pinot.
Our first starter was a duck liver parfait (split in two #becausetightarse). When you combine creamy parfait (with a hint of smokiness) with a crispy wafer-thin slice of potato and a pickled cucumber to even things out, your tastebuds will most definitely start wanting more. I refrained from ordering five more though – we still had more dishes to get through and quite frankly, the bread was starting to fill us up! (yes, we ordered more)
Next, we had a brandade made with olive oil and smoked eel rather than the traditional salted cod. I was quite taken back by the presentation as I was expecting the brandade to be served in a little bowl or perhaps a jar a la Melbourne hipster style, but this was nice. We had some toasted sourdough crisps to scoop up the yummy brandade though the crisp/brandade ratio was slightly off and we had to use our fresh bread to mop off the remains.
The beef tartare was probably my favourite starter. For the most part, I’m sceptical when chefs play around with native ingredients as it can go either way (usually the wrong way). Town Mouse, however, got it down pat. The textures and flavours all balanced out perfectly, with the beef and cream actually showcasing the naturally herby and tangy flavours of the saltbush and lemon myrtle respectively.
From beef to… beef. If you’re onto a good thing, why not roll with it, right? Our main dish was the beef oyster blade with was served with sautéed rainbow chard leaves and sprinkled with a walnut and rye bread crumb. Like Town Mouse’s other dishes, this one skilfully combined all the ingredient’s textures and flavours effortlessly – though I think Bean found the chard too bitter so he left most of that to me.
We chose the potatoes for the sides. They were nice enough but probably the weakest dish we had; I didn’t think the yuzu mayonnaise did much and I wish they seasoned the potatoes a bit more. They also made us disgustingly full but this was not at all the restaurant’s fault – just keep this in mind if you’re going to order them. In hindsight, I wish I ordered one of Town Mouse’s other sides such as their roast cauliflower with almond and broad bean miso or perhaps their slow roasted red cabbage with prune, parmesan and red apple. I didn’t because Bean hates most vegetables and doesn’t eat cheese (yeah, I know).
At this stage, we would have been happy rolling out the door and going home for a nap but when I’m dining with Bean, ordering dessert is pretty much mandated. I don’t like chocolate that much so I tend to stay away from the token chocolate dish whenever I scan dessert menus. Town Mouse’s chocolate option, however sounded so intriguing that even I couldn’t resist saying no. To be fair enough, the main ingredient was a pear poached in cider while chocolate played a secondary role. But still.
Anyway, this was probably the most interesting dessert I’d had in a long time – there were so many different flavours fighting for attention but there was no sign of overpowering. Even the liquorice remained subtle.
Given how many times I’ve been to Embla, it seems a little sad that I’ve only been to Town Mouse once. But given that I’m only usually in Melbourne for a short period of time, locations that are more convenient for me will often win over those that require a little more effort to get to. My next visit to Melbourne, however, will be a little longer so I’ll definitely make sure I squeeze a Town Mouse visit there. It’s a great little place and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a city worker who loves Embla.