Northern Light Bar & Eatery on Collingwood’s Smith Street is a new eatery where diners can feel comfortable either snacking at the bar over a few drinks or sitting down to eat a proper meal (or as in my case, sitting at the bar for a proper meal and a few drinks).
Owners Adam Liston (ex Commoner) and Glen Bagnara (ex Chester White) have bought to the small space formerly occupied by Gigibaba, a Chinese and Japanese inspired menu, heavily influenced by Liston’s 2 years spent cooking in Shanghai. My wife and I spoke to Liston’s wife Genevieve about the food and it was very clear that they are passionate about what they are doing, with the aim of offering Melburnians the kind of food that they like to eat, using great ingredients and flavours that they’ve encountered over the years.
Exposed brick walls and a tangle of wires stretched across the ceiling suit the vibe of Northern Light well, and there’s hip-hop on the speakers and other eclectic tunes to match.
As with many of the new restaurants opening in this part of town, the menu is focused on share plates, and consists of a mixture of small and larger dishes to mix and match. The cocktail list is small and focused with a selection of local and Japanese beers and a small wine list also on offer
Southern Calamari, Yuzu Mayo & Apple ($13.00)
To start with, our least favourite dish of the night. The squid was nice and the crunchy texture of the apples went well with the soft and slightly chewy texture of the squid, but the mayonnaise was quite over powering and detracted from the light freshness of the other ingredients.
Oyster, Soy, Red Pepper, Ginger (Market Price)
The oysters were very tasty, $4.00 each and from Coffin Bay. I generally prefer my oysters to be plain apart from a dash of vinegar or lemon. I find that other additions take away from the point of the oyster, which is the amazing freshness that good oysters have. In this case, I was pleased that rather than overpower the oysters, the additions enhanced them.
Golden Egg, Caramel, Fried Shallot, Furikake
Another great dish, this one was all about the egg which had a beautiful gooey, orange yolk. As with the oysters, the additional ingredients didn’t overpower the egg, rather they enhanced it.
Daily Sashimi, Pickles, Katsuo Soy (Market Price)
The sashimi of the day was South Australian yellow fin tuna at $19.00. The tuna was very dense and meaty, with a beautiful soft texture. The freshness really shone through.
Braised Xinjiang Lamb Ribs with BBQ Peppers ($17.00)
My wife and I weren’t going to order the lamb ribs, which was the special of the day however when the woman sitting near us at the bar ordered them, the smell was amazing and there wasn’t a chance in the world that we weren’t going to get in on that.
The lamb was tender and full of flavour and the dish was (we were warned before hand) quite spicy. It was one of our favourite dishes of the night. The woman who had ordered the lamb near us asked us what we thought of the lamb before introducing herself as Anna, the farmer at Plains Paddock who supplies the lamb to Northern Light. It was great to hear about the ethical farming practices used in raising the lamb – all animals should be treated this way.
Scampi with Shellfish Mayo & Floss ($12.00)
The scampi is grilled over bincho tan (white coals) and has a beautiful flavour to it. In what’s a recurring them in this review, the other ingredients helped to elevate the dish without detracting from the simple fresh flavour of the main ingredient, the scampi.
Eel, Unagi, Squid Sauce, Salted Grapes, Mojama ($17.00)
My wife and I both agreed that this was our favourite dish of the night. A lot of people get turned off when they see eel on a menu but let me give you the tip – if you go to Northern Light, order this dish. The sweet and salty flavours combine amazingly and the eel itself is very delicate. We had been using the same cutlery throughout the night however when this dish came out, Genevieve brought out new cutlery and plates for us to ensure that there were no other flavours overpowering the delicate flavours of this dish.
Salted duck, cabbages & Kewpie Mayo ($18.00)
The duck was cooked perfectly and the kewpie mayo moved the dish into comfort food territory for me. One of my favourite comfort foods to eat is steamed Japanese rice, pan fried salmon with bulldog sauce and kewpie Mayo. Kewpie Mayo is becoming quite popular in Melbourne nowadays however Bulldog sauce is not something I’ve seen outside of Japanese restaurants. It’s only a matter of time, you heard it from me first!
Yuzu Curd, White Chocolate, Sable ($14.00)
The chocolate dessert that I had was tasty, but I’m going to have to say that my wife’s choice was the winner. The sweetness of the white chocolate and tangy bite of the yuzu curd played each other off brilliantly.
Broken Ice Cream Sandwich ($14.00)
This was very tasty, with all of the different kinds of chocolate working together nicely. The gooey caramel was what really completed each bite.
All in all, I really enjoyed my night at Northern Light. Great, friendly service, a casual vibe, people doing food that they are passionate about, mixing and matching the flavours that they like – designed to share and keenly priced. I really like that, apart from the first squid dish, there was a consistent theme of letting the main ingredient of each dish shine, with other ingredients being used to compliment the primary flavour rather than overpower it.
With a restaurant like this opening in January, I’m encouraged that 2014 will be another great year for eating out in Melbourne. I can’t wait to get back to Northern Light and try some of the other things on the menu.
102 Smith Street
Tue – Sat: 3:00pm to 11:00pm