To mention Smith & Daughters is to no doubt mention its award-winning chef and the pure embodiment of vegan cuisine, Shannon Martinez.
To talk about Shannon Martinez, you gotta be willing to leave your ego and your preconceived bullshit at the door. Martinez is a cook, first and foremost, and she cooks the shit out of some unbelievably creative and salt of the earth delicious food.
I suppose I should take you on the experience of Smith & Daughters, as we often do, beginning with a feeling. The feeling you get walking into a place. The feeling you get looking around, smelling, touching, and reading the room like a book.
There’s a lot of restaurants in Melbourne. A lot of books. The quirky. The kitsch. The glamorous. The casual. The corner shop. The takeaway. The chic. The eclectic. The modern with a classic twist. The classic with a modern twist. Melbourne is like a library of restaurants and no matter the taste or the want or the need, the library has a book for you.
Then there are the restaurants – Smith & Daughters – who, like a monolith in the middle of an empty field, just stand there and say ‘Here I fucking am’.
Smith & Daughters has, for lack of a better word, presence. It’s like stepping into an old pubby cave, a cathedral or secret church carved right into a deep cavern and locked away for an eternity. You half expect moss to grow at the seams, or a bunch of miners to walk in and demand some whisky after a month in the coal. The stone walls, thick and everpresent, are broken by the white brick feature at the far end, simultaneously giving you space while somehow adding to the cave-like presence. Above our heads is emptiness. Black and eternal. Underneath our feet is a classic deep wooden floor made to test every heel and certainly, it has, and certainly, it’s outlasted them all.
It is a bluestone piece of history. One of Fitzroy’s oldest pubs. But old pubs like these are hard to change. Made by hard hands in hard times they can only be moulded into something new by even harder hands. Reborn into something it could never have truly been, and this could not be accomplished without Martinez and her absolute vision, her integrity, her character.
Our aforementioned preconceptions of vegan cuisine are like most peoples, and Martinez knows it. Either hippies on philosophical journeys or over the top snooty high society showing off their taste. It’s hard to get away from those types of things, especially with cuisine. It takes time and important thinkers and tinkerers to carve the way for something new.
Martinez is a thinker, and a tinkerer, and she’s got a big ass knife to carve with.
Upon entering this monolith you’ll be greeted with a smile, shown to your table. You will get comfortable, order a drink, and prepare for the eighty dollars per person banquet. This is how it is, so it shall be, and you will not regret it. Her dishes are, to say the least, special. The menu finds a kind of absolute freedom in its ingredients.
Spanakopita, smoked pumpkin, feta. The Turkish mince, hummus, grape molasses is brilliant. Charcoal-grilled mushrooms with fermented dip. Fried pita, spiced chickpeas, garlic yoghurt, fermented chilli oil, pickled salad onion and brown-butter pine nuts will make you a believer.
Chocolate & buckwheat pudding, persimmon & vermouth marmalade, yogurt & fennel ice cream for dessert gave me chills in oh so many of the right places. And the dishes just kept on coming. You will be surprised as to the capacity for dishes these tables can withstand and how many you can get down. There is a sense of fun and imagination in each dish. Inspirations both subtle and goliath. Ingredients twisted and amalgamated in a way that you would expect a child-like playfulness to do. Martinez never seemed to let go of that pure unadulterated innocence. Her understanding of flavours and the way in which they can be mixed or juxtaposed is evident from the first bite.
The drink pairings are articulate and well thought out, and the staff, well the staff are pure joy through and through.
If you’re wondering would we recommend Smith & Daughters the answer is no. No, we wouldn’t. Because it’s ours. Ours damn it, and no one else’s. Find your own.
175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
(03) 9939 3293
Tuesday – Thursday: 6 pm – 10 pm
Friday – Satruday: Lunch 11 am – 3 pm
Friday – Saturday: Dinner 5 pm – 10pm