08 May, 2007

Cherry Lounge

359 Brunswick Street Fitzroy; 03 9416 0024

Quiet on this particular Friday night, Cherry Lounge is welcoming, with its conventional layout: a bench seat down one wall facing maroon leather chairs, a bar (with a considerable array of spirits) down the other, and a raised area with some larger tables at the back.

On being seated, we were presented immediately with the specials board. Tonight’s selection included Vitello Milano, Atlantic Salmon and Osso Bucco. I went for the Beetroot Gnocchi special – ricotta and chilli gnocchi served in a cheesy sauce ($18). SG was taken with the duck in a plum and aperol sauce with green beans ($25). Taking the menu description literally, SG also went for a side of wedges, which the quartered potatoes served with the duck made somewhat redundant, but more on them later.

The wine list offers reasonably priced wines by the glass, but mainly from small, interstate vineyards. I had a Warburn Estate Pinot Grigio from the Riverina.

So, to the food. SG enjoyed the duck, but I thought it was a little tough, and its dark purple colour indicated a little overcooked. It must be said though that the serving included both a breast and leg piece (though I would certainly have preferred one better-cooked piece). The aperol broth lent a lovely mix of citrus and stock flavours. For my dish, I was surprised that a ricotta gnocchi was served with a cheese sauce – I thought a light tomato sauce could have been kinder to the fairly delicate beetroot flavour. Having said that, the dish was not too heavy to be enjoyable. However, when something’s advertised with chilli, I want at the least to be able to feel some heat, even if I can’t taste it.

On the plus side food-wise were the wedges – they were outstanding. Quality potatoes, not just some leftover mangy bits, crispy coating, visible sea salt flakes and sour cream.

Each element of our dining experience at Cherry Lounge held surprise and/or disconcertion. First of all, the Polpette Insalata special was described as salmon fishcakes…does that strike everyone else as odd? The book-folded, laminated menu included a full page of their breakfast options, and the mains started out with a $15 chicken burger followed immediately by the duck. What are they trying to be – weekend café, foodie-bar or restaurant? During our meal we noticed that there was also a tapas menu on the wall, and near the bar there was also a completely separate by-the-bottle wine list. The restaurant is decorated with vintage Euro posters, giving it the chic bistro feel, but also has a permanent mannequin at the bar and crazy murals on the way to the toilets, making it feel more like a grunge café. Again, which crowd are they going for? The service was a little distant, given there were a handful of diners and four waitstaff, except for when my wine glass was (almost) empty, and three of the staff came over separately to offer a top-up.

Our overall impression was that the restaurant was well-priced for the quality it offers (I’ve never seen that much duck for $25), but that it’s trying to be too many things. It made us think of Gordon Ramsey and his kitchen makeovers –pick your niche and focus on it. Simultaneously it’s a bar, bistro, brunch café, retro and grunge. Maybe Friday dinner is in fact its sideline and if we’d gone at 11am on a Sunday we’d be raving about its vibe and scrambled eggs. But with that much competition in Brunswick Street, they’re unlikely to get repeat custom just to check if we missed something first time around.

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