First it was Tonka, emerging from the ashes of Honky Tonks. Then it was Pony, re-emerging as the new-look Boney. Now, in keeping with Melbourne’s current trend of the city’s (grungy, slightly dirty, incredibly well-loved) party places of yore being completely revamped into trendy eateries, the Corrs Lane space that was once Eurotrash has of late begun a new life as Croatian/Balkan restaurant and bar Brutale.
Those of a certain mid-twenties vintage will no doubt remember the nights of debauchery that Eurotrash were conducive to, and will consequently have their minds blown just a little upon walking into Brutale. We’re going to go out on a big ol’ limb here and declare this: we definitely, conclusively prefer Brutale. Is that because we’re a little older, or because the food and drink and ambience at Brutale is just plain better? Whatever the reason, we’re going to stand by it.
Head chef and co-owner Daniel Dobra’s Croatian-Australian upbringing provides the inspiration for Brutale. Nigh-on all the dishes on Brutale’s menu are either inspired by the dishes of the Dobra family dinner table, or directly use a recipe handed down from grandparent to parent to son.
According to the friendly and heavily-tattooed Dobra, “Father’s Chips” were a nightly fixture, served with every family meal. The wild boar-stuffed paprikas are inspired by dad, with grandma providing the recipes/inspiration for the traditional cabbage rolls stuffed with smoked ham, beef and rice, as well as the Croatian donuts.
“Everything’s made with love.” Dobra explains. “Nothing’s on the menu for the sake of being on the menu, everything has its place and is there for a reason.”
The stories behind Brutale’s menu and journey to being are fascinating, and obviously close to Dobra’s heart, but how does the hearty Balkan fare taste? We can confirm: delicious. To start, try a plate of fried pickerels or grilled calamari, or the roasted red paprikas alongside a ‘kajmak’ sauce that caused my banquet companion to throw caution to the wind in order to fill up on sauce soaked bread. The aforementioned cabbage rolls and stuffed paprikas were also highlights, as were the Croatian donuts.
Even more than those high points however, Brutale’s (five hour) spit roasted pork caused some rapturous mouth-full cries of delight from our table. Served with an apple sauce and crackling (as well as those kick-ass ‘Father’s Chips’), it’s one of the stars of the menu.
In keeping with the Balkan theme, Brutale offers a number of the region’s beers, as well as a number of Croatian wines. Of particular interest however, is the extensive collection of Rakija available, apparently the alcoholic “inspiration for the many poets and drunkards that wander the Balkans”. Have some to get you going before dinner, and then to keep you going halfway through.
For those feeling especially indecisive and you’re in possession of a ravenous appetite, try the Dobra Family Banquet, an epic (in the truest sense of the word) selection of dishes that invites you to become a member of the Dobra clan for a night and results in a hell of a contented food coma (#truestory).
There’s a sense of fun about Brutale, a vibrant and slightly mischievous air to the goings-on. This is a good thing, one which complements the sort of raucous shared dinners that the hearty menu and endless varieties of Rakija are conducive to. Dobra himself adds to the restaurant’s friendly family dining room ambience by greeting diners, and welcoming those who partook in the banquet into the family for the night. Hand-claps from the kitchen herald the readiness of a dish, a disco ball hangs from the ceiling, and a pig carcass hangs in the doorway. Old-world portraits adorned with pigs heads line the walls, and a DJ spins records all night, even on a Tuesday evening. On the weekend, a selection of dishes are available until midnight.
Brutale’s just as good for a late-night weekend detour for a snack and a raucous beer with pals as it is for an epic banquet of hearty Croatian family favourites taken to town and to a high quality restaurant setting. Come with a big appetite, a posse of friends, and the right mood for a relaxed night of good eating and good drinking (and probably a subsequent food coma).Brutale 18 Corrs Lane
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