Where: Faye, Shop 1/22-30 Lygon Street Brunswick East
What: Inventive and experimental yet never gimmicky locally sourced food
Who: Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian, Curly Endive, Glu-Ten Things I Hate About You
Bloat score: 4 – If I were lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
I’ll concede now that the thing that first attracted me most to neighbourhood restaurant Faye was its illustrious use of offal – past perusals of its constantly shifting menu revealed a chicken heart terrine served with smoked prunes and grilled sourdough, and a blood pudding agnolotti with smoked mushroom broth, while a mainstay on its current menu is a tripe ragu served alongside grilled baby octopus and rye garganelli. Before I knew it was termed ‘nose-to-tail’ eating, I had always begged my reluctant mum to pan-fry chicken livers in the way she did best – with lots of onion and red chilli till they were crisp – and while travelling throughout the UK, not a day went by without me having black pudding for breakfast.
But Faye does other things well, and though I have made it sound like they specialise exclusively in meat and meat offcuts, the opposite is indeed true – the menu is largely vegetarian and pescatarian, with only two meat dishes, only one of which we ordered because Conflicted Pescatarian wasn’t conflicted on the day we visited. Faye’s menu is divided into three sections and though it’s unlabelled, the first comprises entrées, the second medium-sized dishes and the third large dishes.
If you’re walking past, it’s easy to miss Faye. The entrance is somewhat obscured and it’s at the bottom of a block of apartments. The mood within is similarly unassuming; when we visited, a steady rotation of Interpol and The National was playing. As Curly Endive – who is an expert in all varieties of the endive family, and whose luscious curly tendrils match that of curly endive’s leaves – observed, Faye has a bistro vibe and in Melbourne, that’s not a sought after vibe. However, everything else about Faye – its creative and daring food, its fastidious and well-informed service – means I’m visiting again in exactly two weeks because I loved it that much. When we visited, Faye wasn’t as packed as it should have been and that made me really sad – it deserves to be packed out every night.
Glu-Ten Things I Hate About You, as his name suggests, is more a fan of 19-year-old Joseph Gordon Levitt than he is of gluten, so we largely stuck to the gluten-free items on the menu, which was everything bar three dishes.
We started off with Faye’s housemade wood-fired grilled sourdough and cute gluten-free waffle hearts for Glu-Ten Things I Hate About You, paired with kefir butter. The sourdough was fluffy with smoky undertones.
Glu-Ten’s cheesy, salty gluten-free waffle hearts were perhaps the best gluten-free bread substitute I’ve tasted. Made from buckwheat and fermented grain, it was akin to a denser version of Cheds.
The whipped flathead roe and red radish topped with fragrant fig leaf oil ($6 – one portion is enough for the table) was the first of our entrées to arrive. At Faye, the chefs themselves bring out the dishes and you’re treated to an abundance of information about each one’s provenance – the flatheads in this dish were from Lakes Entrance.
If you’re a fan of taramasalata where salted cured cod roe is whipped, you’ll be a fan of this delightfully creamy dip. The sharp, slightly bitter red radishes were a wonderfully fresh counterpart to the richness of the roe.
The grilled squid with fermented chilli and preserved lemon ($6 each) topped with diced spring onion was exceedingly fresh and smoky with pleasantly charred edges from the grill. I especially appreciated the slight tart bitterness of the preserved lemons.
In her Good Food review of Faye, food writer Gemima Cody termed arancini “the restaurant world’s way to punish people for being dull enough to order a deep-fried rice ball” before lavishing praise upon Faye’s arancini. Everyone has tasted a subpar deep-fried rice ball carted around on trays at a catered corporate event that they obligingly ingested to soak up the alcohol, but Faye’s broccoli and saltbush one ($6 each) banished all memories of such mediocrity. Spotlighting Australia’s underutilised outback herb saltbush, which adds a salty herbiness to anything it’s in, these expertly battered and deep-fried arancini were so umami and rich they tasted almost meaty. The arancini came served atop cumquat kosho, a stand-in for the Japanese heat-filled condiment yuzu kosho, which was equal parts piquant and salty, and cut through the richness of the arancini.
My absolute favourite entree, however, was the smoked mussel, salt and vinegar potato and bullhorn pepper ($6 each). Belying its size, this tiny flavour-filled morsel was a culmination of several meticulously prepared components – the mussels were smoked and then pickled in their own juices, the potato crisps had been soaked in salt and vinegar powder, while the bullhorn peppers (a sweeter version of capsicum) had been grilled and glazed with sherry vinegar. The result was, as Curly Endive aptly remarked, not unlike a sublime barbecue chip.
The second part of our meal was rich in fresh produce and seafood, each prepared to dizzyingly high standards.
The lemon thyme ricotta, black figs, semi-dried capsicum and olive ($18) featured capsicums smoked until sweet and chilli-salted black olives. The saccharine sweet black figs sitting atop the creamy bed of housemade lemon thyme ricotta was a match made in heaven, particularly when coupled with the second serving of bread we received. (I took two Lacteeze before having this, because nothing screws my gut up faster than soft creamy cheese.)
The heirloom zucchini, macadamia cream and pickled zucchini ($19) tasted much more impressive than it looked. Zucchinis of different sizes were hollowed out, filled with macadamia cream and then topped with zucchini confit and a macadamia vinaigrette, resulting in a multi-layered dish which utilised the French method of slow-cooking something in fat or sugar that I’ve only previously seen applied to duck.
The cured spotted trevally, gribiche and purple congo wafer ($19) was perhaps the most visually arresting dish we had. Paper thin wafers of purple congo potato – presumably used solely for its colouring – obscured a heap of cured diced trevally laced with gribiche, a French mayonnaise-style sauce emulsified with hard-boiled egg yolks. Faye’s gribiche was made with yoghurt and mustard, which punctuated the fish with a pleasant tang and dill was scattered throughout, which I loved, but which Resident Photographer and Glu-Ten Things I Hate About You found a touch too overpowering. We each used our purple wafers to scoop up the trevally, making this a highly tactile dish.
The last medium-sized dish we got was the blue mackerel, grilled radicchio, currant vinaigrette and hazelnut ($20). The blue mackerel was served as a whole fish, head and all. The flesh was soft, absorbing the sweetness of the vinaigrette (about the only time I’ve willingly eaten currants, which I normally abhor), and the smoked hazelnuts added a pleasant crunch. If you haven’t already noticed, smokiness is the name of the game with many of Faye’s dishes.
We chose three larger dishes to close off our meal, starting with the rye garganelli, grilled baby octopus and tripe ragu ($30), except we substituted the garganelli with gluten-free pasta made from brown rice flour and tapioca starch so Glu-Ten Things I Hate About You could partake. Octopus heads were braised alongside tripe, mushroom and lemon zest in this dish, resulting in a fragrant and deceptively light dish. I wasn’t, however, the biggest fan because my tingling tongue alerted me to the fact that Szechuan peppercorns or something similar must’ve been used – while people love the tongue numbing properties of Szechuan peppercorns, I find it too overpowering. This is purely a personal preference, and everyone else enjoyed this dish greatly.
Conflicted Pescatarian’s favourite dish was the roast carrots, pickled wakame, tarragon and endive ($26). Vegetables receive premium treatment at Faye, and this dish was an illustration of that. The carrots had their skin burnt off and made into a silky pâté, which was served alongside chunks of roasted carrots compressed with pickled wakame, endive and tarragon – topped with a thin buttermilk dressing. This was indulgent and full-flavoured, and the perfect complement to our last savoury dish of the night.
The sand flounder, poached cos, wild fennel and roe butter ($38) was a crowd favourite. Also from Lakes Entrance, the sand flounder was deboned, butterflied, roasted and then bathed in a velvety butter sauce seasoned with wild fennel flowers and roe. The wild fennel, picked from Merri Creek just a few days ago as the chef dutifully informed us, was poached in a stock made from the fish’s smoked bones.
The exceedingly buttery sauce elevated the delicate, slightly sweet flounder without overwhelming it, and the bed of poached cos lettuce at the bottom was suffused with the same sauce, providing a pleasing textural accompaniment to the flounder.
Faye’s dessert menu is every bit as inventive and experimental as its savoury menu, with four flavours of ice-cream available – white balsamic, bay leaf, parsley and peach (the ordinariness of the peach sorbet was offset by the fact that it came with green chilli ice and Thai basil).
I chose the white balsamic ice-cream with chocolate caramel and semi-dried cherry ($10). Funnily enough, Curly Endive had decided the pairing of chocolate and caramel was more offensive than the white balsamic ice-cream – “just pick one!” was his exact sentiment – but after each of us had tried each other’s ice-creams in what can only be described as a violation of covid-safe dining, we collectively decided mine was the best. It was like a salt and vinegar chip reimagined as ice-cream – the immediate first taste was the sharp tartness of vinegar, which then dissolved into a creamy sweetness. The sticky pipings of chocolate caramel and semi-dried cherry coating the balsamic ice-cream added a welcome bittersweetness, which Curly Endive echoed. I’m not typically a big ice-cream fan, but I adored this.
Curly Endive enjoyed his parsley ice-cream, which was surprisingly the most familiar tasting of the lot, while the other three went for the bay leaf ice-cream, which they equally enjoyed.
From an intolerances perspective, I felt fine, until I trundled home and realised that I was, in fact, extremely bloated and had bad heartburn. Everything fermented, preserved and smoked is off-limits on a low-histamine diet, as is an abundance of sauces, so it was no wonder my body reacted such.
But I can’t sing Faye’s praises loudly enough. The bill was incredibly affordable for such a sophisticated fine dining experience ($80 per person, including two drinks each) and unlike so many of these experiences, I wasn’t tempted to grab McDonalds after. The service was exemplary – the level of detail and care put into every dish was mirrored by the chefs’ fastidious explanations about where each ingredient came from and how the dishes had come together, effectively dispelling the inscrutability of fine dining. It was also an incredibly inclusive and locally sourced menu, with vegetarians, vegans and gluten-intolerant diners well-catered for.
In Melbourne’s fickle dining landscape where style sometimes wins over substance, I hope Faye’s dishes speak for themselves and garner more well-deserved fans.
Faye is open Wednesday to Friday from 6pm to late, on Saturday from 12pm to late, and on Sunday from 12pm to 5pm.