date of visit: Friday 12 April 2013
A few years ago, a group of us headed to Mantra for a friend’s birthday. It was my sole outing to the restaurant and when I heard last year that it was changing hands and closing in one fell swoop I was disappointed that I had managed just the one visit.
But, fortunately, as Mantra closed, Faraja opened and the quiet, city end of King William Road remains host to some interesting dining. It’s taken me a while to get there but I’ve finally managed it in my own roundabout way. A friend owed me lunch as a result of wedding present buying. No sooner was lunch scheduled than it was unscheduled by someone kindly writing off my car. Before I knew it, I owed said friend lunch (yes, I need to have cheaper taste in wine) and three months later, he took a day off work and we managed to wander into Faraja at 1pm on a Friday.
Because I am that type of person I had booked. Unsurprisingly unnecessary but it was gratifying to see that a few tables were occupied and, as we ate, a few more customers wandered through the door.
We settled ourselves in and had a look over the menu. Unfortunately, Faraja sports only a Facebook page, and not a proper website, so I was hoping that the menu on Facebook was up to date (it’s not) because my toddler had been on and on about sausage as soon as I told him we were going out for lunch.
The menu is focussed on sharing, so there are “pots and plates” and “small” sections, with a brief regular main course section. We ordered whitebait (mainly for the toddler’s benefit), the pork and fennel sausages with a tomato, onion and capsicum sauce, roasted pumpkin with goats curd and crispy prosciutto, pork belly with a mustard glaze and orange and fennel salad, and duck fat roasted potatoes. We asked that the food come out as it was ready, which meant we were able to graze our way through lunch.
While we waited, we nibbled on some very good bread and olive oil. It’s always a good sign when a venue has paid some attention to the bread: this was lovely, chewy, sour, textural stuff – just how I like it!
The whitebait were a massive hit with the toddler. I thought they could have been a bit hotter (thermally, not spice wise) but they weren’t at all greasy. The pork and fennel sausage was delicious and I’m sure that’s quite a crowd pleaser. The roast pumpkin with goat curd and crispy prosciutto was a great mix of flavours but I thought its presentation a little clumsy. The two large pieces of roast pumpkin, skin on (which I don’t like, so that’s just personal preference) seemed a bit like they’d been plonked on the plate, with the (delicious) goat curd and prosciutto added to pretty it up.
In contrast to the pumpkin’s presentation, the pork belly was very pretty: two neat squares of pork belly, with a mustard glaze and delicate orange and fennel salad. Perhaps a very safe dish but one that works deliciously: the anise and acidity of the salad working as a foil for the richness and unctuousness of the pork. Somewhat miraculously, I didn’t even have to share my piece of pork belly with the two year old eating machine.
All this was wrapped up with, or mopped up by, the duck fat potatoes, which did exactly what they said on the tin – especially once I’d given mine a good sprinkling of salt!
Drinks wise, the wine list was quite short. As it was lunch, I only looked at the by the glass selection which wasn’t particularly exciting: I settled on a Kilikanoon Riesling (which, to be honest, rather tasted like it had been open just a little too long). My lunch partner chose a Prancing Pony Pale Ale.
By the time we finished our spread, we were full enough to not need dessert, so we just wrapped up with coffee and tea.
While we ate, we were able to do some good spotting of other dishes, which all looked good. One of the main courses (from the grill) looked so impressive my dining companion suggest I ask the recipient if I could photograph it (rest assured, I did not do that!). And later in the meal a huge dessert appeared too.
Faraja has a spacious dining room, an area that can be used for private dining, a massive bar and a courtyard area. For a midweek lunch, the vibe is suitably relaxed, with very friendly service but I daresay that come Friday beer o’clock the ambience at Faraja picks up a notch.
The bottom line: lunch for two (& a bit), with drinks $85. A few small niggles but somewhere I’ll definitely head again.