For vegetarians, scanning an Italian menu can feel like a game of chance. Spot the right words (stracciatella! brown butter!) and you’re in for a good time, see a bland risotto and the night could be ruined. But at Kindred, Matt Pollock’s homey 40 seater in Darlington, plant-based options dominate the menu, so the odds are ever in your favour. In the 18 months since the neighbourhood Italian opened, the former A Tavola chef has shifted towards a bigger line-up of vego dishes that aren’t just cheaper, but — in many cases — more popular.
It’s easy to see why regulars are embracing the switch. An entree of smoked chicken liver parfait is a classic. But against the sparklier promise of asparagus with gorgonzola fondue, or charred broccolini on an orb of glossy preserved lemon yoghurt? That’s stiff competition. Pollock makes everything in his tiny, two-staff kitchen – we’re talking pastas, bread, yoghurt, pickles, relishes and gelato – and the long list of house-made produce is what makes some of his simplest dishes shine brightest.
Start with the mixed pickles — a colourful display of the season’s best and brightest. The briny crunch from twirls of tangy carrots and red cabbage make a fun textural match with the herb-infused baked olives. Served warm with slices of house-fermented chilies, they’re a soft, shiny revelation.
Kindred is buzzy even on a school night. Stretched out on leather banquettes in the polished timber room are groups of off-duty creatives from nearby co-work spaces; chilled couples and bearded mates knocking back rounds of Wayward craft brew on tap, while nodding along to 90s classics by Blind Melon and the Cure.
While you ponder your next move, order a Paloma; a dreamy triumvirate of pink grapefruit, agave and Tromba tequila that’s a sweet $14 and just the right amount of tart. Or get straight into the list of natural, biodynamic wines. A Garagiste Cotier pinot gris ($13) from the Mornington Peninsular is a dry, skin-contact drop that drinks like a gentler ‘orange’ number, and goes well with punchier mains.
The menu changes regularly here, with elements of popular dishes often recalibrated depending on what’s in season. Batons of chargrilled octopus might come with a zingy rocket puree, or a bed of smoked eggplant draped in watercress tangles. Either way, it’s the softness of the tentacles you’ll remember — thanks to a five-hour sous vide before a last-minute sear on the grill.
All roads, eventually, lead to carbohydrates. Don’t skip the brown butter carrot triangoli entree, even if you have your eye on a pasta main. Four translucent parcels of egg pasta come dotted with a confetti of purple radish leaves, roasted pistachios and daubs of goat’s cheese. The caramelised carrot mousse filling packs a sweet, thyme-y punch and cuts through the richness of the amber burnt butter sauce. Get yourself a slice of the house-made sourdough — there’s liquid happiness to be soaked up here.
Regulars return for the al-dente pappardelle, tossed in a sticky stew of oxtail and portobello mushrooms. Or the bucatini guanciale, that hollow Roman noodle that’s a perfect vessel for the dish’s chilli-infused sauce and rich, cured pork jowl. But what shines brightest is the airy gnocchi in a dark, mushroom ragu. Layers of earthy caramelisation comes through from a stock of mushroom trimmings, sautéed in butter with roast onions and cooked down in a long, slow braise. It does to a vegetarian’s heart what boeuf bourguignon can do for a homesick Frenchman.
There’s a monastic simplicity about Pollock’s cooking that strikes at the heart of Italian comfort food. And that fact that he’s doing it all veg-forward, budget-friendly (2 courses for less than $45 per head) and by hand only makes you love it more.