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Kate reviews: Porters — ‘It’ll certainly get me back’

49 Nelson Place Williamstown
www.porterswilliamstown.com

Situated on a Williamstown thoroughfare that isn’t known for pushing the culinary, Porters Williamstown seems to have snuck into town somewhat. Right down the end of the shopping and hospitality strip, at the bottom of a new residential development, its dark tinted windows make it difficult to see what’s going on inside. What looks like a pretty standard new neighbourhood café offers a little more. It’s a stylish, all-day eatery that’s really more restaurant than café once you take a look at the menu.

In the mornings there are definitely plenty of takeaway coffees flying out the door, or locals sitting on velvet couches to savour their hot brews. It has the expected breakfast staples like bircher muesli, avocado on toast or a more creative option of goats cheese hash brown with figs, roasted red onion and balsamic glaze.

A mate told me she popped in for a look but was put off by what looked like a hotel lobby. Yes, it’s new and shiny, it’s very on-trend design-wise, but the laid back friendly service and hearty meals do make it feel more homely than first appearances suggest.

Come lunchtime and dinner, and it’s a more structured menu of starters and mains that could be described as “modern Australian” but that seems to have a definite Asian leaning. Something we learned on an early visit was that chef Ryan in the kitchen does south-east Asian well – he  beautifully balances those staple flavours of sweet, sour, salt and spice.

On this wintry Friday night, we started with one of those Asian entrees – a braised beef cheek with mandarin kaffir lime gel, Asian papaya salad, chilli salt and tamarind jim jaew. It’s a brilliant explosion of texture and flavour. The beef is actually twice cooked, yes it’s braised slowly for 12 hours for that gorgeous melt-in-the-mouth flesh, but then it is quickly deep-fried for a stupendous Asian crunch on the outside. It comes with a simple, beautifully balanced papaya salad, and the sweet and sour combo of a mandarin kaffir lime gel and tamarind-laced traditional dipping sauce. The only problem with this one, and it’s hardly a deal-breaker – it’s seriously generous. It would have sufficed for main.

There’s always a celebration of the humble veg on the starter menu, and over the colder months it’s simply titled the “winter harvest”. In this case, it’s a colourful collection of roast sweet potato, charred Brussel sprouts, balsamic red onions and snow pea tendrils all brought together with a romesco sauce. It’s an unassuming dish, but tasty and comforting.

For main, the roasted rack of lamb was an ambitious choice given the size of the beef entrée. The central Victorian lamb was possibly a touch-overcooked for mine, but the finished product that brought together fresh broad beans, roasted parsnips, balsamic red onion, a vibrant mint pea puree & rich honey jus was a perfect winter dish. And yes. I finished it.

And we had to try one of the Asian mains. Yes I adored the lamb, but I’d go back to order the Beef Shin Massaman curry. Slow cooked meat, potato, snake beans, bamboo and coriander with that typically sweet, complex massaman sauce and just a hint of spice. It’s the kinda thing you want to slurp right until the end.

Let’s be honest, with the giant entrees, we were no hope at dessert. But locals tell me we can easily head back, pick our way through the equally creative bar menu and cocktails, and then smash the sweet stuff, so it is definitely on the cards.

I’d almost like to see a more relaxed lunch menu here, some of those entrees are easily standalone dishes for the middle of the day; but the formal entrée, main set up can make it seem a little extravagant for a daytime visit. That said, it would have been easy for these guys to open “just another café”, so it’s admirable to see them proffering something a little more substantial gastronomically.

At the end of the day, this is a quality option that should be drawing both locals and visitors beyond the obvious tourist hub that is the heart of Nelson Parade. It’ll certainly get me back.

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