They had us at the piggy logo. And then sealed the deal with four meat-and-bread offerings that had us licking our fingers and settling in for night. Sitting on the site of a short-lived venture called Provenance Food & Wine, this place had been speedily refurbished and open only 24 hours when we paid a visit this weekend. But it didn’t show – except perhaps the smell of fresh grout in the bathroom.
Sparse interior with exposed brick, plywood partitions, minimalist stools, concrete floor – welcome to Smith Street’s latest ‘tongue to tail’ eating and beer joint (local brews from Hargreaves Hill and Cavalier Brewing meet international styles, Hite from South Korea, Green Flash from California and Nogne O from Norway).
But wait, offal and hops? Sounds a lot like Josie Bones at the other end of the strip. Hmmm, yes and no – I think there are enough points of difference and enough space for these two places to coexist in beery harmony.
Anyway, back to Rockwell. Like so many places in Melbourne, the menu encourages sharing with five nibbles, five mains and a salad, and then a halfway house consisting of four ‘sandwiches’. Feeling basic, we figured they were the best bet for a chilly winters’ evening. It wasn’t that we weren’t taken with any of the larger-sized mains – it was just a bit tricky to get a handle on what exactly you were going to get when faced with a list of ingredients (but then I guess Loam in Drysdale have been getting away with it pretty successfully for years). Anyway, having sampled the sangers, I reckon US owner/chef Casey Wall (ex-Cutler & Co.) and his team can get the other stuff right, too, so will have to branch out on our next visit.
We started out with a Double Patty Smash, Kraft and Special Sauce on a Seeded Bun ($10). The gooey sauce and melted cheese was studded with crunchy gherkins – similar to the Denise at Huxtaburger just a few doors. Was it better? Yes, and I’m not scared to say it.
Beautifully juicy meat, sweet brioche-style bun, savoury sauce – utterly satisfying, especially with a side of rough-cut Russet Burbank French Fries and Malt Vinegar Aioli ($5).
For something a little lighter, a minimalist/same-but-different take on the Po’boy came in from of a Crispy Calamari Roll, Kewpie Tartare Sauce, Pickled Celery ($11). Refreshing and crunchy.
Round two (and a couple of beers later, an fyi for wine lovers: one glass of red, white or fizz only. Not the end of the world, but just a heads up). Pressed Rib, Dill Pickles, BBQ Sauce, Fennel and Red Onion Slaw ($12) – dense and rich meat, beautifully caramelised with a hint of char sui tang.
Then the Merguez, Charred Eggplant, Harissa Aioli, Preserved Lemon ($9) for a Spanish/Moroccan hit of flavours. The eggplant (almost like a paste) was super-smokey but perhaps the snag was a little on the slim side. Hailing from New Zealand, and having worked at Attica and Stokehouse, owner/manager Manu Potoi has the front of house running smoothly and the service is laid-back and friendly.
Similarities to other Melbourne establishments aside, the sandwiches here really reminded us of Mishkins in London’s Covent Garden. This US-style diner had only recently opened when we were there in January, but seats at the bar and in the booths were in high demand with queues snaking out the door come 6pm each night. Serving up Reubens and other sandwiches stuffed with pastrami, sauerkraut, pickles and tangy dressings, alongside jugs of homemade lemonade, this place had tasty and affordable simplicity down pat. Be sure to pay them a visit if you are in town.
We had been meaning to check out Provenance for months, and then, one day, it had gone. We think this incarnation has what it takes to stand the test of time.
288 Smith St, Collingwood 3066
Mon, Wed, Thu, 11.30am-3.30pm & 5.30pm-11pm, Fri 11.30am-3.30pm & 5.30pm-midnight, Sat 9am-3.30pm & 5.30pm-midnight, Sun 9am-3.30pm, 5.30pm-10pm
Ph: (03) 8415 0700