FEASTS OF MERIT

GRAM - - Contents - Sarah Hol­loway

When whis­pers started to trickle down the foodie grape vine about a pro­posed new venue that would com­bine ex­quis­ite din­ing with so­cial en­ter­prise, my im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was that these two con­cepts were mu­tu­ally exclusive.

Be­ing one of the most vo­ra­cious food­ies around town, I was hear­ing these whis­pers straight from friends at the source, who di­vulged full de­tails of the heavy hos­pi­tal­ity hit­ters who would be help­ing get the place off the ground –in­clud­ing head chef Ravi Presser, of former Cu­mu­lus and Circa fame and ex­pert restau­ra­teurs Mark Filipelli (Il For­naio, Brighton School­house) and Alby To­massi (The Banff, Jimmi Jamz) – and yet still, I was some­what scep­ti­cal.

My vi­sions of a con­fused sil­ver ser­vice soup kitchen sit­u­a­tion were very quickly ex­tin­guished when I first vis­ited Feast of Merit just af­ter its open­ing in early 2014. More than a year later, it is still one of my favourite places in Mel­bourne. Un­sur­pris­ingly, most of Mel­bourne feels the same way, and this beau­ti­ful Swan Street space never stops buzzing. Of five boxes – flavour, pre­sen­ta­tion, ser­vice, sur­round­ings, story – Feast of Merit ticks them all.

The story be­hind Feast of Merit is as beau­ti­ful as the place it­self (which has won mul­ti­ple design awards for its unique artis­tic blend of sus­tain­abil­ity and style). The name is drawn from a tra­di­tion in Na­ga­land, in northeast In­dia, where a com­mu­nity mem­ber who comes into wealth can in­vite ev­ery­one in the vil­lage to a fes­ti­val to en­joy a huge meal and share in the good for­tune. The fes­ti­val lasts un­til all the per­son’s as­sets are shared amongst the com­mu­nity. This al­tru­is­tic phi­los­o­phy is echoed in the val­ues of YGAP, the char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion that owns and runs the restau­rant (one tal­ented co-founder, Elle Critch­ley, of whom was in fact the award-win­ning de­signer.) All Feast of Merit prof­its di­rectly sup­port YGAP’s grow­ing move­ment of im­pact en­trepreneurs around the world. Pur­su­ing its vi­sion of a world with­out ex­treme poverty, YGAP finds and sup­ports com­mu­nity lead­ers who are chang­ing lives – as of mid-2015, YGAP im­pact en­trepreneurs have mea­sur­ably im­proved the lives of 91,956 peo­ple liv­ing in poverty. To al­lay any con­cerns about the trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity of char­i­ties, I can per­son­ally vouch for this one hav­ing been priv­i­leged to ac­com­pany YGAP to the Ntenyo School in Rwanda where I wit­nessed the work of YGAP im­pact en­tre­pre­neur, David Mwambari, first hand. In two weeks, we built two class­rooms and shared in amaz­ing de­vel­op­ments like the school’s first in­tro­duc­tion to tablet de­vices. Yes, that does mean Feast of Merit is close to my heart. No, it does not af­fect my (un-spon­sored, un­so­licited) re­view in any way.

In fact, that’s one of the most unique fea­tures of Feast of Merit. Whether or not it is a so­cial en­ter­prise makes no dif­fer­ence to the su­perb din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. To some, the fact that eating there can have a pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact is merely in­ci­den­tal. You can en­gage in its beau­ti­ful story if it in­ter­ests you, but you can equally dine there in a state of com­plete obliv­ion. Its elab­o­rate story could even lead you to think the food takes a back seat.

THE DE­LI­CIOUS MID­DLE EAST­ERN IN­SPIRED MENU AND ATTENTIVE SER­VICE BE­LIE THE LO­CAL, ETH­I­CAL AND SUS­TAIN­ABLE PHI­LOS­O­PHY BE­HIND THE OP­ER­A­TION. MELBOURNIANS, MORE THAN ANY­ONE, DE­MAND QUAL­ITY, IN­NO­VA­TION AND FLAVOUR IN THEIR FOOD AND FEAST OF MERIT DE­LIV­ERS.

But, prov­ing my ini­tial scep­ti­cism was en­tirely mis­placed, Feast of Merit is at once a so­cial en­ter­prise and an ex­quis­ite din­ing venue.

The de­li­cious Mid­dle East­ern in­spired menu and attentive ser­vice be­lie the lo­cal, eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able phi­los­o­phy be­hind the op­er­a­tion. Melbournians, more than any­one, de­mand qual­ity, in­no­va­tion and flavour in their food and Feast of Merit de­liv­ers. Care­fully crafted, cre­ative and flavour­some dishes in­cor­po­rat­ing the finest Vic­to­rian sea­sonal pro­duce are avail­able for break­fast, lunch and din­ner with an also lo­cally sourced drinks list. My sole griev­ance is that the menu changes each sea­son (as it should), and the crea­ture of habit in me reluc­tantly farewells my favourite go-to dishes only to be ap­peased by de­light­ful re­place­ments.

While the menu is not overly ex­ten­sive, break­fast of­fers a de­cent range of op­tions in­clud­ing sweet, savoury, lighter or heartier dishes. The “har­vest” is my usual – a spread of sea­sonal veg­eta­bles beau­ti­fully spiced and roasted to caramelised per­fec­tion with avo­cado and an egg. Lunch and din­ner are veg­e­tar­ian-friendly based on a range of fill­ing sal­ads with op­tional pro­tein ad­di­tions. Lunch could be a choice of two or three of six ex­otic Ot­tolenghistyle sal­ads. Din­ner is noth­ing short of game-chang­ing – think or­ganic 12-hour slow cooked lamb shoul­der ac­com­pa­nied by fried cau­li­flower, black­ened onions, hung yo­gurt, and sour cher­ries. And you can top it all off with a de­lec­ta­ble dessert – mine was a beau­ti­ful man­darin and pis­ta­chio topped crème brûlée. I highly rec­om­mend a visit to this gem.

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