Time Out says
Benchmark neighbourhood wine and dining await at Etta
There was a time when Brunswick East threatened to throw itself into a positive feedback loop of mince and suds. Wouldn’t have sucked. Alas, it’s now more likely to be a loop of polished neighbourhood wine bars – probably the better outcome –skippered by Hannah Green’s pick-of-the-litter Etta: the handsome 70-seater ex-fish shop that epitomises the maturation of the area and whose sharing-is-caring menu is about as date night as it gets.
That menu now belongs to Rosheen Kaul, the 28-year-old rising star keeping the focus on the fire in her first gig at the top. Black-framed, concertina glass doors presage something tasteful and show a smart-casual wine bar humming on a Wednesday night, fit with dark stools, textured light brown walls and some terrific outfits. Through the archway beckons Kaul’s semi-open kitchen on the left; a diligent, calm scene that projects confidence and control throughout the main dining space. That sense is corroborated by the overall venue design—clever use of levels and layers, covert booths bored into the walls, and a rambling jungle garden kept behind glass that evokes the memory of somewhere much more humid.
There’s a misconception that Etta is largely vegetarian. It isn’t. There’s plenty here to service vegetarian and vegans alike, and vegetables are often heroed – the heritage eggplant with crispy enoki and roast sesame is one of its flagship dishes – but you’ll find plenty of brilliant, considered meat options throughout Kaul’s menu, too. Split into thirds, it’s a snacks at the top, supporting dishes in the middle, flame-fed mains at the bottom kind of affair, with fire from the custom hearth featuring in each section.
From the top it might be greenlip abalone and guanciale skewers: a deliciously dignified use of both creatures where whisper-thin slices of the former, subtly rich like a young fig, still manage to show off the mollusc’s enigmatic texture. Slick with rendered fat from the guanciale, it’s a great way to begin. Dense salt and pepper corn fritters are another great opener and present like everlasting gobstoppers for grown-ups, matching both the hue of the tabletop and our minerally, mid-weight chardonnay from Beechworth’s Fighting Gully Road. It’s one of a few strong by-the-glass options on a modern list annotated with amusing wine quips and handy terroir CliffsNotes.
Woodfired oyster mushrooms served with lap cheong and mixed up in cured egg yolk are an autumnal pleasure, fried panko crumbs adding a welcome crunch, while the sweet, fermented notes from the lap cheong are as charming as they are disarming—a clever move that evokes that humidity again. Grilled lamb ribs are exceptional, plentiful, and subtly hot with pickled chili, with makrut lime the surprising kicker in another bold and successful combination.
Kaul’s pork belly rib has a reputation that precedes it and has top billing here, served with oyster and navets. You may have seen it in print at some point—it’s incredibly easy on the eye, and according to Hannah Green, “that pork belly got her the job”. That will be difficult to go past, but we’ll be damned if Etta’s half Milawa chicken isn’t one of the best uses of the dirty bird in our recent memory. A trio of chillies – bullhorn, birdseye and scotch bonnet –are lacto-fermented for seven-to-ten days, and marinate a chicken that itself has been brining for 24 hours. Savoury orange hues from the fermented chilli stain the soft flesh, with a perfectly charred skin bringing the crispy textural balance. It’s classy, it’s comforting—and that’s it right there: polished, neighbourhoody perfection.
It’s easy to understand why we’re seeing Rosheen Kaul on so many cover shoots: her exuberant menu is exciting not just for the restaurant, but Victorian dining in general—an agent of positive change in a traditionally male-dominated space. Match her talent with Etta’s tres Brunswick brand of breezy but informed service and it’s easy to see why Etta has remained in vogue for nearly half a decade. Brunswick East is no longer bereft of polished diners, but Etta continues to do it better than the rest.
60 Lygon Street
|Opening hours:||Wed-Fri 4pm-10pm; Sat noon-10pm; Sun noon-3pm|