Epocha : 49 Rathdowne St, Carlton

June 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm (Carlton, European)

There are two things you come to expect when dining at Epocha; great food and generous hospitality.  Probably needless to point out given their chef’s hat and recognition of service for co-owner Angie Giannakodakis by the Age Good Food Guide Awards.  Regardless, it keeps this diner returning for that nostalgic feel of heading home for a family dinner…. and for a love of fad-free, vintage flair, which this Victorian terrace has in spades; rustic tiled-top timber tables, wicker chairs, eclectic assortment of silverware and half-spent candles adorning the mantelpiece, old school crystal decanters and pre-loved China plates all add to a genuinely homely feel so far from that of a staged dining room.

With head chef Sascha Randle at the helm, the kitchen delivers a Euro-centric menu that revitalises age old classics, with the odd twist here and there to keep you guessing.  It’s a labour of love that begins with their house-baked black bread, dense, nutty loaves served warm in a cloth bag with house-churned butter; attention to detail right from the get-go.

Epocha - Wine

The menu is designed for sharing and there’s a ‘feed-me’ option if you’d prefer them to do the thinking for you.  Otherwise, start with some ‘snacks’ to whet the appetite; marinated olives, pâté, fluffy chickpea chips on a bed of espelette (Provençal chilli) mayo, seriously moreish pig ear crisps that will convert even the most squeamish of diners, and tangy vegetable piccalilli for those preferring to skip the bone marrow in lieu of indulgence to come.

Epocha - Chickpea Chips w Espelette Mayo

Smaller share plates are a canvas for showcasing the season’s harvest.  In summer, it’s hard to beat the simplicity of ripe tomatoes, basil and good quality olive oil (possibly the addition of sweet prawn meat), while the burst of sauerkraut salt punctuating a meaty salad of salt baked celeriac, chestnuts, crispy bacon and mushrooms demonstrates how the unassuming winter root can be elevated with TLC.

Epocha - Cucumber Salad

Epocha - Tomato Prawn Salad

The large shares are a hearty, rustic affair, but with technique and thought evidenced by the complex jus for dressing your succulent roast chicken, sweet pop of currents undercutting the richness of slow-roasted, fall-apart lamb shoulder and perfectly cooked whole fish.  There’s generally a pasta option for vegetarians, pumpkin and sage spaetzle for something outside-the-square or, if you’re very lucky, the Grana Padano cheese wheel might make an appearance.  What better way to ensure your pasta is well coated in melt-y cheese sauce than to toss it while hot in a giant wheel of cheese?  On the side, a dressed salad of bitter greens presents a lighter accompaniment, or you may as well go all out with golden, duck fat roasted potatoes.

Epocha - Roast Lamb Shoulder

Epocha - Grana Padano Orechiette w Zucchini and Ricotta

Epocha - Grana Padano Cheese Wheel

On Sundays, Epocha serves up a roast lunch with all the trimmings, upping the ante in June with a different farm and their produce featured each week as part of the Put Victoria on Your Table initiative.  This week, it was all about free range, Aylesbury duck, courtesy of Great Ocean Ducks.  Three savoury courses put a French spin on the traditional English-table duck, beginning with a velvety-smooth, duck-liver pâté for spreading on flaky, herbed scones baked in duck fat, with fig anchoaide (a sweet take on the French anchovy and garlic spread) to brighten the palate.  A vinegary cabbage slaw studded with nutty pine mushrooms and crispy duck skin followed, before the main event of roast duck on a bed of lentils, bitter radicchio, roasted beetroot and sweet flame grapes, served with requisite duck fat spuds.

Epocha - Duck Pate - Fig Anchoaide

Epocha - Duck Skin Salad w Mushrooms and Cabbage

Epocha - Roast Duck w Lentils and Radicchio

Ordering dessert is an exercise in self control when the dessert tray is brought to the table bearing pots of creamy panna cotta, boozy trifles and rich chocolate mousse topped with clouds of whipped cream and hazelnut sponge.  There may be a fresh batch of tarte tatin, plump apples baked sticky and golden, while the lemon tart is a lesson in fine patisserie, the silky smooth curd housed in an impossibly short pastry case.  Our latest meal ended with an ‘ice cream sandwich’ of vanilla ice cream served slider-style in a brioche bun; Epocha’s answer to the recent frankenfood craze, but the traditionalist in me would pick the rizogalo anyday.  There’s a serious cheeseboard if you didn’t already notice this strategically placed near the dining room entrance, particularly tempting when there’s real honeycomb to drizzle over your roqueforte.

Epocha - Ice Cream Sandwich

Epocha - Greek Rice Pudding w Figs

Wine is a must and, given Angie’s resumé, it goes without saying that there are some excellent drops on offer in the extensive pan-European menu.  Deferring to the knowledge of the sommelier is your best bet for navigating some of the boutique varieties and getting in on the off-menu offerings; particulary memorable was an un-labelled local red, “courtesy of a friend”.

Regardless of the occasion, whether you are looking to impress some out-of-towners, a fuss-free night out or just a spot to unwind with a glass of wine, you’re guaranteed to be treated well here.  Melbourne seems to be well and truly saturated with trendy eateries these days but pare it back to basics and it’s the tried and tested combination of good food and service that will outlive the fads.
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