Oh Loretta!, Northcote

Where: Oh Loretta!, 324 High Street Northcote 

What: A chaotic good time

Who: Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian, Indo Food Bud

Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach

As chronicled in my last post, we celebrated Indo Food Bud’s birthday by going out for two dinners because we couldn’t choose between Vex and Oh Loretta! I wasn’t as lucky with my post-bloat outcome at Oh Loretta! as I was at Vex, but it was a more indulgent experience. 

Oh Loretta! opened several months before the pandemic, but I must’ve been one of the few who live inner north to have not heard of it, judging from the multiple diners squashed into its bustling, deejayed confines. Where Vex was light, well spaced-out and refined, Oh Loretta! was warm, compact and loud – observations that could be extrapolated to their food. We showed up at 8.30pm for our late sitting, but were told we’d have to take a temporary seat in their courtyard because the previous diners hadn’t finished their dinner yet. It was a lovely, gradually cooling summer’s day and we took no issue with that, but Oh Loretta! very generously gifted us the first bottle of wine we ordered (my favourite Dirty Black Denim ‘electric marsanne’ amber wine) on the house! It was a completely unexpected move (if not we would’ve ordered a more expensive wine, lol jokes) but utterly appreciated.

Oh Loretta!’s menu is an eclectic one – like Vex, it’s a mostly pescatarian sharing menu where freshly shucked oysters, school prawns and raw kingfish crudo sit alongside heirloom tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and stuffed zucchini flowers. The only meat options were beef ones, from a carpaccio to a wagyu shin croquette, and the menu’s influences ranged from Italy to Japan to southern America. The menu changes daily to utilise fresh produce and make up for the small kitchen’s lack of storage, but I hope for your sake the wagyu shin croquette is on the menu when you visit. 

We couldn’t go past the blackened okra with spices ($14). The much-maligned okra is one of my favourite vegetables – whether it’s stewed in a curry, pan-fried with spices on the pan, or roasted until lightly charred. I grew up in Malaysia referring to it as ladies’ finger. Blackened okra is a popular side in the southern states of America, but okra is also prepared in a multitude of ways across South Asia, the Caribbean, West Africa and the Middle East. 

Oh Loretta!’s okra had been sliced in half lengthwise, tossed in spices ranging from cumin to paprika, and pan-fried until lightly charred on its exteriors. It was a treat with a squeeze of lemon, dipped in a sauce I now can’t remember the composition of. This was spicy, smokey and salty – the holy trinity of my three favourite flavours. My only complaint was that the serving size was too small – we could’ve devoured two full bowls of this, it was such a moreish snack. 

After the refined flavours of Vex, we were craving a deep-fried something and found that in the form of school prawns with crustacean aioli ($16).

The lightly floured school prawns were so crispy you could eat them head, tails and all – as is customary with deep-fried school prawns – but what we were especially taken by was the crustacean oil aioli, which had the thick and sticky consistency of melted cheddar. Resident Photographer said eating crustaceans alongside a crustacean sauce was akin to that widely circulated photo of a water polo player pouring water over his face. I didn’t disagree, but I wasn’t opposed to it either. 

Branching out from our exclusively pescatarian night up to that point, we ordered the beef carpaccio with wild rocket, lemon, pecorino and truffle oil ($24). Conflicted Pescatarian didn’t partake – raw beef was a step too far into the omnivore’s camp. The thinly sliced raw beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with enough fresh vegetation in the rocket and enough tartness from the lemon to underline the dish’s fresh simplicity. Far from being its usual overwhelming self, the drizzle of truffle oil added a faint earthiness instead. 

At this point, the steady flow of our dishes stalled and it was another 45 minutes until our next one arrived. We ordered the cheese platter with lavosh and red grapes ($24) after checking up on where our wagyu shin croquettes were, and though we expected the cheese platter to arrive after the croquettes as a denouement to our meal, it arrived ten minutes after we’d ordered it.  

Since we weren’t playing by the normal rules of dining out that night, we embraced our savoury dessert in the middle of our dinner. I uncharacteristically cannot tell you much about the cheeses served – you could speculate at this point about how much I’d had to drink – except there was a nice blend of soft, crumbly cheeses and hard ones (I believe there was a manchego, but don’t quote me on that). 

Because I’m an ardent fan of everything deep-fried and oily, the wagyu shin croquettes ($14) – which arrived at some point after we’d finished our cheese platter – was the highlight of my night.

Expertly crumbed oblongs of braised wagyu beef shin were perfectly complemented by an exceedingly velvety, umami black garlic dressing. Both evoke strong opinions and even stronger flavours, but give me black garlic over truffle oil any day. 

By this stage, we were pleasantly full and more than a little drowsy after our eating marathon, so imagine our surprise when an extremely apologetic waitstaff brought a  complimentary plate of Hibachi-grilled wagyu with pesto ($28) to our table to make up for the long wait for the croquettes. I’d wait any amount of time to taste this again – if I thought the wagyu shin croquettes were my favourite dish of the night, I was mistaken. While the richness of the croquettes catapulted me to the point of fullness faster than any other dish, the thin strips of wagyu beef – slightly fatty, a touch charred around the edges – was a surprisingly fresh counterpart, particularly when topped with the zingy, herby basil pesto and a generous squeeze of lemon. 

It was a chaotic night where we oscillated between receiving complimentary food and drink, waiting for said food, and eating. While Resident Photographer was more wowed by the elegant fare at Vex, I preferred the rich, fatty goodness of the comfort food dishes at Oh Loretta! – the blackened okra, the wagyu shin croquettes and the Hibachi-grilled wagyu were particular highlights. 

It’s no surprise that I finished the night with three bloats, the culmination of two dinners and multiple glasses of wine. I’ll be sure to revisit Oh Loretta! – while their kitchen struggled under the strain of so many diners, the hospitality was second to none. Oh Loretta! has the retro feel of a local where you can while the night away without being forced to leave (at least if you dine during the second sitting) – and that’s exactly what we did, leaving at close to midnight when there were only a few stragglers like us and winding down waitstaff left. 

Oh Loretta! is open Thursday to Saturday 5pm to 11pm and on Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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