Situated in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, a neighbourhood flooded with achingly cool cafés, Charcoal Lane is one of Australia’s hatted social enterprise restaurants. Opened in 2009, the restaurant is a celebration of Indigenous Australia, from the unique cuisine to the cocktails and the fascinating stories that its Indigenous chefs and front-of-house team pass on to patrons. Even the building has a significant history as the former home of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.
During our visit, we sample tasting plates that are both creative and colourful; one such dish features karkalla, a plump and crunchy native succulent (with a taste reminiscent of anchovy) found on sand dunes and cliff faces around the country’s rugged shores; a medley of jewel-coloured berries and the ingredient du jour, the finger lime; and a smoked eel mille-feuille with a crunchy twig of saltbush and a slice of emu.
The chefs here are passionate about the protection of the native ingredients they use. “You can’t compare the kales and the quinoas to what we have got in our backyard,” says Spencer Holmes, one of Charcoal Lane’s third-year apprentices who will graduate this year. He explains that the Kakadu plum, a small green desert fruit that looks like an olive, has the same vitamin C content as around 20 oranges. “It means the world to me to have the chance to learn about the food my ancestors cooked,” he adds.
136 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne