With true aristocratic bearing, the Duchess of Spotswood rises above Melbourne geographical rivalry to provide an elegant yet unique experience worthy of anywhere in town. Deciding to take up digs sleepy Spotswood took some gumption, but it's paid off. This light-filled cafe is best known for its sublime British-inspired breakfasts and brunches with chortle-worthy names, like "Poetry (In Motion)" for warm prunes and homemade oat biscuit. They now step it up a notch by opening for dinner.
It's a prix fixe menu with three courses for $55. This could be a little surprising if you were just after a bite and a glass of wine, but there's a certain intimacy about a small fixed menu that changes daily. I remember working in hospitality at places with larger menus and inwardly grimacing when someone ordered something I knew wasn't the menu's best. A small, seasonal, set menu means there's little chance of a dud order.
Bonito with cardamom pickled vegetables
Bonito is a fish similar to tuna, most commonly seen dried and used in Japanese cooking (eg, the flakes on top of agedashi tofu). It is occasionally for sale fresh at Footscray market. This silky-skinned specimen was towards the richer end of the fish spectrum, like tuna or mackeral, but still delicately flavoured. The darker flesh married well with the crunch of lightly pickled vegetables.
Roasted chestnuts with Jerusalem artichokes, goat curd, and wild mushrooms
Here, many elements of non-meat-based umami came together to create a most harmonious symphony of flavours and textures. If I were to carry on the Duchess' punny naming traditions, I could have called this one "Nuts, I missed out". The bite I scored was delicate yet oh so satisfying. Jerusalem artichokes, incidentally, are neither artichoke nor from Jerusalem - they're a potato-like tuber native to North America.
Belly, cheek and trotter of pork with black pudding, soft semolina, and apple puree
Each element of this plate was quite exquisitely formed. The meat and skin of the round trotter was luxuriantly jelly-like, while the cheek was dark, dense and rich in a syrupy glaze. The sweet black pudding crumbled effortlessly. I loved the soft semolina - like superfine mashed potatoes. In an inversion of expectations, where pork belly is normally considered rich, here the pale, delicate strip of belly meat was a lighter foil to the richer secondary cuts.
Dory fillet with parsnip puree, mushrooms, and red wine sauce
A gentle dish of light, tender fish with cloud-like, satiny parsnip puree. This was gorgeous, well balanced against the deeply-flavoured mushrooms and baby brussels sprouts.
Chocolate cake with puffed grains
S and I had gone all good girl/bad girl up til now - she with earthy yet lighter flavours of chestnuts, mushroom and Dory, while I had swooned into dark, rich fish and lip-smacking pork. We tipped the scales back with dessert, she going for this intense, mousse-like chocolate cake with a hint of ginger.
Cambridge burnt pudding
I tested British/French rivalry with this "Cambridge burnt pudding" (ie, creme brulee) infused with bay leaves. It was quite luscious, almost yoghurt-like in texture, with buttery undertones. Duchess has fabulous coffee (Small Batch, plus rotating guest blends). If dinner was a gentle sonnet, a tart-sweet short black was, for the last line, a satisfying full stop.
This was an indulgent, exquisitely-crafted meal in an elegant yet still neighbourly setting. The portions are well considered as the fare is rich, although we would have loved the choice to add a bowl of lemony green leaves as an extra. I don't think a whole menu of sides is necessary, but a little palate-cleansing salad would be a welcome option.
Breakfast at the Duchess
If you haven't visited the Duchess for breakfast, you really should. It's quite divine, gently pushing the boundaries with smoked eel (above - not on the menu at the moment, sadly!) or pork jowl, as well as sandwiches like a lovely dry-aged steak number that I would very much like to make the acquaintance of. For the calibre of the food, the breakfasts and lunches represent extremely good value.
Afterwards, a dainty stroll around Spotty is quite nice, and did I mention parking is a breeze? It doesn't really get much better than this.
87 Hudsons Road, Spotswood
Phone: 9391 6016
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