Acre is part urban farm – with a whopping 2500 square metres of agricultural land – and part home-style eatery, all set on the roof of ecologically responsible shopping centre Burwood Brickworks.
Fruits and vegetables grow in large garden plots all over the roof, housed in planter boxes and a hydroponic greenhouse. Jerusalem artichokes, eggplants, pumpkins, tomatoes, blood oranges and beetroot are just some of the 60 types of produce grown here, while inside the greenhouse there are 11,000 seedlings, soon to become leafy greens, herbs and micro-greens. There’s also a vertical strawberry garden, and even a quail coop.
One of these plots is lined with budding flowers and leads to the restaurant.
“[The flowers] are there because they’re cute, come on,” says farm manager Adrian Baiada, laughing. “But the truth is we’re on a rooftop. How do we get people to feel like they’re in nature, on a farm and connecting with the seasons? We do use the edible flowers on the plates, but they also add to the natural element of the space.”
Baiada looks after every aspect of the urban farm outside, while inside duties are tasked to executive chef Brad Simpson (formerly of Prahran pub The Smith). Simpson spent weeks travelling around the state speaking with farmers and producers to better understand their processes and food-growing ethos. He combines their produce with that of the rooftop to create a homely sharing menu that highlights the freshness of his ingredients – and leaves as little waste as possible.
You’ll see that philosophy – shared by Acre’s sister restaurant of the same name in Camperdown, Sydney – in dishes such as spaghetti with soft, charred eggplant, topped with fresh chilli, mint and caramelised walnuts for crunch; and in the slow-roasted pork, which has crispy skin and meat that falls off the bone, and comes with apple puree and a fennel and lovage slaw.
“Our pork supplier [Western Plains Pork] sells its hindquarter hocks to other restaurants, but nothing happens with the front end,” Simpson says. “So we’ve developed our own cut to use, which helps them move a product they normally don’t sell, which I think is cool.”
Elsewhere on the menu there’s a Port Phillip Bay snapper crudo dressed with horseradish and citrus zest, juice and pulp; a whole free-range chicken, roasted then broken down and served with kale and garlic salsa and a wedge of lemon; and a tart of tomato and caramelised onion with handmade burrata.
“I’m really trying to pare everything back – I always tried to be tricky when I was younger, and that wasn’t necessarily the best food I could’ve produced,” Simpson says. “Trying to work with less ingredients means it’s harder to come up with a good dish, but it’s definitely a lot more rewarding in the end.”
Wines are all Victorian, and the glasshouse cafe serves Proud Mary coffee, Turkish delight and halva milkshakes, and refreshing teas and spritzes – such as turmeric, orange and ginger, and lemon, honey and paprika. Sip yours inside the restaurant, with its large windows, timber fittings and warm farmhouse vibe, or head to an outdoor table that overlooks the sprawling farm. You can also order a takeaway picnic hamper for two, filled with local cheese, bagels, mini-sandwiches and a salad.
At the moment a lot of produce used in the restaurant is sourced from around Victoria. Baiada thinks the hydroponic set-up will help the team produce 80 to 100 per cent of its leafy greens and herbs, but he’s also upfront about what’s needed to sustain the restaurant.
“It’s an opportunity to have a conversation with our patrons. When they ask us if we’re able to do it, we say it takes a lot of time and energy and land to grow all of that food,” he says. “Then they can understand the extent of the work that goes into the food they’re eating. What we really want is to show the public what urban food growing can look like, so they can try and do that in their own spaces.”
Burwood Brickworks was designed by Melbourne firm NH Architecture in consultation with eco-pioneer Joost Bakker, who is best known for sustainability-focused projects Silo, Brothl and Greenhouse. The centre is set to become the world’s most sustainable shopping centre. First it has to complete the assessment required for the Living Building Challenge certification scheme for buildings that have zero carbon footprint, produce zero waste and more electricity and water than they use, grow agriculture on 20 per cent of the site, and are built using recycled materials.
Burwood Brickworks, 78 Middleborough Road, Burwood
0413 786 137
Hours – Eatery & Bar:
Wed & Thu 5.30pm–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–10pm
Hours – Cafe:
Mon to Thu 7am–3pm
Sat & Sun 8am–5pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 9, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.