Tucked neatly along the stretch of cafes on Darby Street is The Autumn Rooms. Newly renovated and redesigned from its previous look and feel, there is raw timber flooring and tables, dark chocolate colour accents, mood lighting and a kitchen hidden away from the rest of the dining room.
While it sits nicely in the breakfast and lunch family, The Autumn Rooms has decided to trade five nights a week for dinner as well. With a focus on fresh seasonal food, the menu aims to include as much locally-supplied produce as possible, created in a way to showcase flavours and textures cleanly and simply.
The menu isn’t large, but it’s interesting. Five starters, six mains and four desserts points to a kitchen that’s concentrated and confident.
Feel free to kick things off with an Aperol spritz and some roasted nuts and chilli olives. Alternatively, head straight into the dishes: try vine ripened tomato with haloumi and chimmichurri, or a brie fondue – paper-wrapped gooey cheese served with assorted dipping options.
For a starter that you’ll want everyone at your table to share, the garlic prawns can’t be missed. Pre-tailed plump prawns are hidden beneath an arrangement of pretty herbs. The confit garlic is creamy as well as chunky. It coats the crustaceans in a sweet pungent puree and with the tiny hits of chilli, every bite is packed with flavour. Crusty sourdough is on hand to mop up the leftover juices. A glass of 2015 Peter Drayton semillon is a cosy bedfellow too.
The mains are a meaty affair; even the vegetarian option in the form of a mushroom lasagne is hearty. Layers of pasta, mushroom puree, asparagus, pumpkin, walnuts come together to feel like a walk through a forest. It’s dark, earthy and rich, although the listed truffle oil is a little too shy to be detected.
If you actually want flesh, try a Tarra Valley scotch fillet, pork ribeye or lamb cutlets. Instead of the obligatory dry chicken dish, there is a spatchcock option.
I don't know all that much about spatchcocking, but if this style is the norm, I'll be ordering it more often. Juicy, tender, full of flavour with a slight crispness on some of the edges from the searing. It's still got the same texture, but the flavour stays more delicate than roasting or frying. A plate of four pieces means you've probably got more to eat than your usual poultry option. Vibrant broccolini and big flat mushrooms add bite and another layer of richness, as does a lovely sauce of roasting juices drizzled over it all. A side dish special of buttery whipped mashed potato with cheese melted through, sitting on more broccolini is a delicious way to complete the feast.
A lovely summery, light finish to the meal is the lemon tarte Eton mess. Even this deconstructed mess looks effortlessly pretty, adorned with fresh summer berries (strawberry, raspberry and blueberry) and plenty of colourful flowers – marigolds and pansies as well as flashes of green cress. Folded through the vanilla chantilly are bites of sweet shortcrust pastry, crumbly broken meringue and bursts of tart coconut lemon cake. It’s sweet and sour and perfect for sharing.
Like the food offering, the drink list is contained and thoughtful. Service is attentive without being overbearing, and will only get better over time. With the nesting birds in the trees outside on Darby Street, the balmy evening breeze blowing through and good company, this could be a fun go-to all year round.
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