It’s actually a town in Victoria. About an hour away from Melbourne.
I assume most of you aren’t familiar with it, but since my partner’s family moved out that way mid last year, I’ve come to know the area relatively well, and as I’ve mentioned in Instagram snaps before, it’s absolutely lovely escaping out to the (semi) countryside every now and again.
Really good restaurants in this region, are a little less frequent than in the heart of Melbourne. I’ve become quite fond of the General Store in Emerald for breakfast, and the Yarra Valley isn’t far for a lunch trip. But dinner? Where to go?
Well, we’re actually super lucky, because the Independent is literally a three minute drive from Brad’s parents house – and it’s a gem. I can’t believe how long it took me to get there!
Step in, and suddenly you don’t feel like you’re an hour out of town. You could be in Fitzroy, or Northcote, but with much higher ceilings. The space feels like a lofty warehouse, slicked up with simple and clean decor, but with a personal touch; blackboard specials, friendly staff and a very low key and relaxed atmosphere.
When we arrived, I realised Brad and I hadn’t done a dinner date night for a while, and The Independent was really the most perfect spot to break the date-night drought.
A pint of The Independent’s own lager for Brad (that’s actually brewed by Coopers) and a glass of Argentinian red for me, which was young and vibrant, a little brash, but still very delicious.
The menu looks at the best of the local ingredients season to season, and incorporates them with chef Mauro Callegari’s Argentinian heritage. The menu reads very much like your typical tapas menu, with a couple of smaller dishes to pick through, bigger sharing dishes, vegetables and desserts.
Although there’s a $55 Chef’s Menu, which Brad’s parents have done and is an absolute feast…I couldn’t resist piecing together a menu for ourselves instead, so went entirely ala carte. As per usual really!
The first thing on my agenda? The morcilla of course! Crumbed, fried and served on a chickpea puree with tomato and chilli, these started the night on a very good note. The black pudding itself wasn’t very fatty, or strong in iron flavour, instead, there was a lovely heat and richness in flavour.
The carrots are smoked with maple syrup, making them slightly sticky and sweet, with chilli and peanuts over the top. Yum. Tender, but not soft, the maple syrup really brings out the sweetness, but without it coming across sugary, with the lovely warm and earth smokiness coming through. Could have eaten these forever.
The Provoleta (provolone) – baked cheese and chimichurri, was different to what I expected, almost like snails with herb and butter sauce…just without the snails and a lot more cheese (which I’m totally not complaining about)! This came hot, bubbling away; the chimichurri was lovely and rich with lots and lots of garlic. Good times.
Brad requested we get potatoes, and I’m glad he did. They were deliriously delicious, golden roasted potato gems which were so incredibly crunchy. With dollops of onion puree, garlic and thyme, this was a comforting dish, that was surprisingly elegant.
For a bigger dish, we opted for the Pollo, aka chicken, with sweet corn off the cob and as puree, and palm heart. The chicken was deep fried, with a lovely crunchy crust and tender meat, the richness partnering well with the sweetness of the corn. I also loved how vibrant the dish was, such a lovely mix of colours!
After letting the smorgasbord of food settle, I had to try some dessert, since I had seen plates pass our table through the night and been successfully tempted.
I opted for the chocolate trifle, and man, what a dessert.
Served deconstructed, the trifle is an enormous plate of sweetness. I’m so glad we only got one between two, because this could have easily fed three people very comfortably. Since I’m a glut, and a sweet tooth though, I smashed through most of it anyway. Chocolate soil, berries, caramel, chocolate sauce, brownie chunks, honeycomb and light meringue pieces on the top. So much tastiness, and it was quite rich. I would almost say it was like a black forest cake, without the cake shape!
By the end of the night, I was definitely not looking forward to standing up, positively rotund with a full and happy belly. Best of all, the bill was an amazingly reasonable $110. For all that food.
So although it’s a bit of a hike for the average Melbournian, The Independent is definitely worth a visit if you’re remotely near the area. Although we went for dinner, I think this would be a lovely spot for lunch as well, lofty and bright, and it even has a lovely backyard area with space for the kids to play, with a bit of a herb and veggie garden going on as well.
I for one am certainly looking forward to many more visits…seeing that Brad does only live three minutes away.