Five friends meet in London, bond over a shared fondness for neighbourhood restaurants, return to Melbourne and open one of the most-talked-about wine bars of the year. Who knew it was that simple?
Of course, it helps if one of the crew packs a resumé like that of owner Josh Begbie: MoVida, Embla, Bar Liberty, Sydney’s Poly and London’s Brawn among the highlights, and fellow co-owner Phil Bracey was a co-owner of genre-defining London wine bar P. Franco. And it couldn’t hurt if the chef, Simon Ball-Smith, packed experience from the likes of London restaurant Bright, Public Wine Shop, and Carlton Wine Room, could it?
Enter Brico, an instant-winner of a bar and bistro at the Carlton North end of Nicholson Street. The restaurant gets its name from the French word bricolage, a term that translates roughly to “the process of improvisation” and that evokes a kind of DIY energy in its native tongue. But while the breezy atmosphere and leafy aspect of this 19th-century corner spot might appear laissez-faire to the untrained eye, the precision and elegant restraint that shapes the menu, coupled with the shrewdness of its drinks list, feels much less off the cuff.
From chickpea panisses with cheese custard with a glass of wine to flatheads roasted whole and enjoyed in the sun-dappled courtyard, here’s owner Josh Begbie guiding you through the wealth of deliciousness you’ll need to consider when you dine at Brico.
How about a drink?
We’re super-proud of our house Martini. A riff on a Valencia Martini, using Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin from the Yarra Valley, a salty, bone-dry fino sherry in place of the expected vermouth, and a dash of local drinks wizards Marionette’s orange curaçao for a touch of citrus, garnished with a healthy slug of Mount Zero’s citrus-pressed olive oil.
If you prefer more of a thirst quencher, the house Spritz contains bitter curaçao from Marionette, spiced yellow nectarine verjuice and a vermouth from Mauro Vergano, a retired Piedmontese pharmacist. Charged with soda, it provides maximum refreshment.
Where’s the best spot in the house?
When the Melbourne weather plays nicely, the courtyard is primo. The setting sun turns the green-leaved walls golden – a perfect spot for a touch of afternoon aperitivo. It’s walk-ins only from Wednesday to Saturday, but you can take advantage of bookings in the sunshine on a Sunday.
How does this here menu work? What’s the best way to crack in?
Our menu (and the restaurant itself) is best meant for sharing. Long lunches and fast dinners. Simon Ball-Smith’s food is European-leaning and seafood- and vegetable-heavy, showcasing a lot of Victoria’s great farmers. You’ll leave full but energised and hopefully a touch boozy.
I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Chickpea panisse with cheese custard! Carlton North is nowhere near the coast, but these Southern French-style chickpea fritters bring a little cool coastal relief alongside a glass of ice-cold rosé. Extra points if a yacht-rock record is on the stereo.
Got anything light and fresh?
Crudité all day! A selection of raw fruit and vegetables from local farms Day’s Walk (in Keilor), Dog Creek Growers (Yarra Ranges), and if you’re lucky, some insane apple cucumbers from Muddy Creek (Belgrave). Zingy taramasalata on the side for dipping.
What if I like tasty food but don’t eat animals?
We serve a fresh goat’s curd from Dreaming Goat Dairy in Macedon Ranges topped with vibrant mixed zucchini dressed in agrodolce: a moreish sweet-and-sour combination.
Which dish best captures the Brico vibe?
We didn’t make either item on the bread and butter plate but we’ll take full responsibility for introducing Tom Edwards’ sensational Iris Bakery baguette to cultured butter by Lard Ass from Ocean Grove. Combine that with some anchovies, boquerones and marinated bullhorn peppers for extra credit.
I’m feeling famished and dangerous. What have you got for me?
Ordering a whole roasted rock flathead from Corner Inlet with brown butter and caper sauce and topped with agretti from Dog Creek Growers shows you mean business. Eating good fish on the bone is one of the food world’s most underrated experiences.
And to close?
A decadent little choccy pot with whitecurrant jelly and double cream, accompanied by a yellow Chartreuse served from the fridge. Night done.