MELBOURNE | Lady Carolina Brunswick East is the latest of the recent wave of new openings to hit this northern portion of Lygon Street. There have been great places to eat in this part of town for a while now, with 400 Gradi, Rumi, Bar Idda and Hellenic Republic providing locals with great food for several years. Even so, it’s never been as popular as the Carlton portion of Lygon Street – part of this can be put down to distance, the other part down to ignorance of the area’s offerings.
As more and more apartments have bee built along the strip, and the demographics have changed, the area is taking the next step as far as its food offerings are concerned. People are starting to take notice of the area and a lot of the “dead spots” are starting to fill up with a range of food and drink options. The most recent of these is Lady Carolina by experienced Melbourne chef and restaurateur Paul Wilson. It takes over the space previously occupied by Jimi Jamz, which never quite hit it off with the Brunswick East locals, with the owner of Jimi Jamz, Alby Tomassi, still remaining involved in the new venture as co-owner.
Lady Carolina offers a Latin American inspired menu. Wilson and Tomassi travelled around South America earlier in the year to find inspiration for the menu and as a result the menu doesn’t just focus on one style of cuisine. Food from Mexico, Peru, Cuba and Los Angeles all form part of the menu at Lady Carolina. The front houses the Paladar (a term used in Cuba to refer to restaurants run by self-employers if you were curious) restaurant portion of the venue, with a focus on sit down dining and food while the Carolina Back Bar contains a beer garden and “street kitchen” focusing on pisco, rum, beer and street food. The kitchen will be headed up by Blair Williams (Piqueos and Bluebonnet BBQ) and Cameron Dening (Circa and Acland St Cantina).
The City Lane was invited to the launch of Lady Carolina and, being Brunswick East based ourselves, we weren’t going to say to seeing what this new addition to our neighbourhood had to offer, crocodiles (yes, real crocodiles) and all.
Everyone was keen on trying the food, of which there was no shortage during the night. Scenes like these were not uncommon as the food came out of the kitchen but snappers had to be quick as it understandably didn’t take long for people to grab the food and enjoy it!
A range of spirits, cocktails and craft beer were on offer during the night but the highlight for a lot of people that I spoke to, myself included, was the pisco sour which used ginger infused pisco to give it a bit of a twist. Super refreshing, I can imagine these will be a hit over the summer. The Two Birds Taco beer on tap was nice to see, and completely appropriate given Lady Carolina’s focus.
The scallops were served with a blood orange sauce, the acidity of which really worked well with the scallops.
A range of tacos are offered at Lady Carolina, with a blackboard listing the offerings on any given day. The tortillas are perfect, being made by masters La Tortilleria using Nixtamal Australian corn. On the night pork tacos with pineapple, fish tacos (grilled not fried Baja style) and black bean were on offer. All of them tasted really nice with well balanced flavours. Many places rely on sauces to cover a litany of sins but the tacos we sampled really let the key ingredients shine.
A good example of one of the vegan offerings were these pumpkin and black bean quesadillas. Perhaps could have had a bit more textural complexity but tasty nonetheless.
That Cuban sandwich which is hard to find in Australia makes an appearance on the menu at Lady Carolina. Lots of filling jammed in between a beautifully light, toasted bread roll made us very happy. The pulled pork and cheese cubano was delicious as expected but in one of the surprises of the night the vegetarian option which used jackfruit was just as good. In fact, there’s a lot on the menu to satisfy vegetarians.
A range of ceviche was offered on the night, including prawn and tuna, both of which were very tasty. The tuna ceviche was especially punchy in flavour and heat.
There was also a smoked kingfish ceviche with horseradish, finger lime and pecan which wasn’t bad, but didn’t quite hit the highs of many of the other dishes of the night – the balance wasn’t quite right.
The oysters with corn were tasty enough, but the corn did seem somewhat lost – the oysters would have worked better left to shine with the sauce to bolster the flavour. The corn just didn’t add anything.
One of the more simple dishes of the night was what could best be described as zucchini tempura. If it wasn’t for the zesty Mexican sauce I’d have almost been convinced that these were Japanese. Very tasty.
Char grilled baby corn with a spicy sauce. Very decent.
Tijuana Lamb Chops
On the full menu there’s a dish called Tijuana style lamb barboca. That dish comes with not just the lamb, but pickles and tortillas. At the launch we were treated to the lamb chops by themselves and there was a consensus amongst many that these were the dish of the night. The lamb was perfectly cooked – charred on the outside and slightly pink on the inside and the intense flavours of the marinade really worked well.
Paletas are a type of Mexican ice-pop or ice-cream. It’s somewhat of a combination of the two, and is very creamy and icey at the same time. Those words probably don’t mean much without actually trying the things for yourself but you can be assured that they are very tasty. Chillibro Paletas were there at the launch serving up these delights and the strawberry with condensed milk and coconut versions were real standouts.
These tostadas were different than usual in that they used green bananas as a key component for their base. The theory is sound however in practice they didn’t quite work. Not bad as such but in this case the traditional tostadas base would have been preferable.
We were surprised at how much of the menu we were treated to at the Lady Carolina launch and overall we were very impressed. The flavours were punchy and the focus on taste and quality ingredients was apparent throughout. What we really like is that Wilson and Tomassi are upfront about what they are trying to do here – food inspired by a range of South American cuisines and a willingness to experiment with local ingredients and twists while staying true to the ethos and inspiration of each dish. We know we’ll be spending more than a few days at Lady Carolina – after all, there’s still so much more on the menu to try.
175 Lygon Street
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Tur – Thu: 6:00pm to late
Fri – Sun: 12:00pm to 4:30pm; 5:45pm to late