Where: Cornershop, 9/11 Ballarat Street Yarraville
What: Eclectic ‘modern Australian’ food at its best
Who: Biltong Babe
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
I don’t often venture to Melbourne’s inner-west, which is to my own detriment as there’s so much good food out there. On this particular occasion, I was catching up for a spontaneous Friday night dinner with Biltong Babe – my South African friend who is an ambassador for the country’s cured meat as well as my (biltong) supplier – and she suggested we meet at Yarraville.
We walked around the main high street of Yarraville, which had a busy and festive feel to it despite the cold, until we eventually settled on Cornershop – a cosy and inviting restaurant bathed in warm yellow light and clad in timber joinery, yet not so packed that we couldn’t get a seat.
Further research since has revealed that Cornershop is a daytime café that only opens for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday – a trend which is becoming increasingly common with the likes of Archie’s All Day (which incidentally, is only open all day from Thursday to Saturday) and Higher Ground (same deal) to name a few. Cornershop’s brunch and lunch menu derives influences from all over – its poached eggs come with the Indian staples of dahl and dosa, while its gammon steak comes with the Spanish accompaniment of patatas bravas – and its dinner menu is much the same.
Biltong Babe is always careful to check with me what I can eat, and so I tried to order things that I could (mostly) eat. We ordered the potato, manchego and pea croquettes (I can’t eat manchego, but the remaining ingredients were A OK), the roast cauliflower with white miso and furikake (I technically can’t eat sauces or seaweed, which is what furikake is derived from), the roast pumpkin and quinoa salad with Meredith goat’s cheese (I can eat everything in this!) and the patatas bravas with paprika salt and aioli (I forgot this dish comes with a tomato puree scooped over it). Considering what I could have gotten – spiced prawn and fish cakes (can’t eat prawns), spiced braised meatballs and parmesan (can eat the tomato the meatballs would’ve been braised in or the parmesan) and the sautéed mushrooms with chilli butter and pinenuts (can’t eat mushrooms), I think I did a pretty good job.
The croquettes arrived first. These thin oblongs of mashed up goodness were sharp and creamy, with the nutty notes of the manchego punctuating our every bite. They were so good we insisted on splitting the last croquette between us, minute as that portion ended up being.
Everything else arrived soon after. The sweet, caramelised roast pumpkin and velvety goat’s cheese elevated the quinoa, a grain I have much difficulty in liking, but alas, I didn’t realise this dish came with spinach, which has a really high amount of histamines. Spinach often trips me up – it’s too innocuous to be mentioned as a main ingredient on menus, but it often appears in things when I least expect it to. Not eating spinach makes me feel like a naughty child avoiding their greens, and so I ate it with the reluctance of someone who knows they’re going to be bloated later.
The roast cauliflower was my favourite dish of the night due to its inclusion of the well-balanced Japanese flavours of white miso and furikake butter. Fermented for a shorter time than the darker varieties, white miso is milder and more delicate in flavour, which only served to accentuate the cauliflower more, while the umami mixture of chopped seaweed, dried fish, sesame seeds and MSG (if Wikipedia is to be believed) in the furikake lent the entire dish an addictive savouriness. I couldn’t stop eating this dish, particularly because the furikake butter had pooled at the bottom of the bowl, which I happily dipped my roast cauliflower morsels into.
The patatas bravas thankfully didn’t come with its customary spiced tomato puree, so I probably ended up less bloated than I would’ve otherwise. It’s hard to dislike crisp potatoes with fluffy insides dunked in liberal amounts of aioli. While I can now eat garlic, I can’t eat sauces so I’m unsure where aioli lies on the spectrum of things that make me ill.
The restaurant gradually emptied until Biltong Babe and I were the only ones left at the relatively early hour of 10pm, and although we could have stayed longer, I was equally happy to head home and luxuriate in the sub-par warmth of my shoddily insulated Melbourne apartment because this is how I spend my Friday nights now.
I enjoyed everything about Cornershop, from its short yet inventive menu to the freshness of its produce rendered in familiar yet exciting combinations. The charming Yarraville is also my new favourite suburb in Melbourne. My three bloats didn’t make themselves felt until the next day, but I would hazard a guess that it was the spinach, furikake, aioli or all three.
Cornershop is open from 8am to 4pm on Sunday, from 7.30am to 4pm Monday to Wednesday, from 7.30am to 10pm Thursday to Friday, and from 8am to 10pm Saturday.