Crofter Dining Room & Bar
When landmark brunch spot Pope Joan closed in 2018, Brunswick East locals despaired. But now, with Crofter Dining Room, chef Matt Wilkinson is back in the neighbourhood.
The menu is veg-centric and snack-heavy, with most dishes costing between $8 and $18 so you can take a pick’n’mix approach to ordering.
Try sweet golden and green zucchini, lightly charred and stacked on parmesan clotted cream with a roughly chopped salsa verde, or a dish of tiny potatoes and charred corn tossed with green goddess dressing and grilled chillies – an unexpectedly spicy way to make spuds a headliner rather than a supporting act. Summer beans come with a house-made vegan XO sauce, and unconventional house-made breads include a pickle-infused sourdough and garlic naan.
When meat does appear on the menu, it makes a big impression. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder is a standout. A plate of gin-cured fish, made with rosy-hued saddletail set on punchy green harissa, is another highlight.
The Brit influence carries through to sweets. Wilkinson hates fussy, deconstructed desserts. So two iconic Commonwealth desserts – Eton mess and pavlova – meet in a light, bouncy roll of meringue, pastry crème and mascarpone served with a delicate sea-green basil ice-cream. There’s a lot going on, but there’s a sense of balance to it.
Crofter’s interior features a cosy bar area in dark blue tones, and a slight Victorian vibe thanks to a botanical print covering the back wall. A large communal table is made from elements salvaged from the former tenants and the original Pope Joan.
Booze-wise, there’s an emphasis on independent Victorian wineries such as Mac Forbes and Crawford River. There are also Stone & Wood brews on tap, a gin-centric cocktail list and house-made amaro and limoncello.
The restaurant is by Made Establishment, which is also behind the remaining Hellenic Republic in Brighton, Elektra (formerly Press Club) on Flinders Street, the recently-opened Hotel Argentina in Williamstown, and seven Jimmy Grants souvlaki restaurants.