In the past year, we’ve seen a retro revival in restaurants across the country, with everything from devilled eggs to fondue finding its way back onto menus.
Emma Dawson, head chef at Fitzroy’s Poodle Bar & Bistro, interprets old-school dishes like Scotch eggs and loaded potato skins in a contemporary way, and better than most.
The New Zealand-raised chef got her start in cafes back home before moving to London where she worked for fellow Kiwi Peter Gordon at The Providores and Tapa Room. She also worked in the retail butchery at Meatsmith and left to help open Poodle at the start of 2020.
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Here Dawson shares her go-to bagel order, why France-Soir is still the best spot for special-occasion-eating, and the city’s best new date spot.
What’s your go-to for lunch on the go?
Mile End. My go-to is the brisket pastrami, hot ’n’ sweet mustard, cream cheese and pickles. Woodfired bagels with slightly sweet, smoky, salty pastrami, hot mustard, tangy pickles – what more could you ask for?
And for a drink and snacks?
Embla. Top-tier. It is such a staple in Melbourne for a bev and snack. Perched on your own at the bar or with friends at a table, it’s consistently fantastic. You’ve got to get the bread and butter; the tomato toast is an umami bomb; and I still think about their smoked duck liver parfait.
If it’s a special occasion where do you go?
France-Soir comes up a lot, but there’s a reason for that. Garlicky escargot, endless baguettes and the scallops with saffron just make me so happy. I love to have a spritz out the front after lunch and watch it all unfold again inside.
Best comfort food?
Thien Nga. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond. The banh khot is delicious! Mini savoury pancakes perfectly crispy outside, soft inside filled with poached tender prawns served with chilli and coconut milk – ooft. The food is fresh, the service is relaxed and the tea is hot.
If you’re recommending a spot for a first date?
I recently went to Brico in Carlton North – third-wheeling as I do with my friends – and thought, “This would be a really nice date spot”. The service was attentive, not overwhelming, and there’s a good food and wine selection. It’s just opened up, so get in there first to claim that fresh date spot feel.
If you have visitors from out of town?
Lilac, most definitely. I think what chef Kyle [Nicol] and the team are doing is unique, plus I love offal and Lilac does it so well. The space is large and relaxing; I always feel so at ease and well-fed.
Bucket list restaurant?
FKABAM in London. They take a nose-to-tail approach to cooking and I really want to eat their lamb offal flatbread.
Where can you find your favourite dessert or sweet treat?
The Yemabon from Kariton Sorbetes is a perfect treat. Salted egg, biscuit, miso fudge and malted milk gelato covered in a thin layer of caramelised chocolate – it’s a salty, sweet, textural delight.