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Kate Stevenson (Ela Carte) reviews Camus in Northcote

CAMUS: 61 High Street Northcote

www.camusrestaurant.com.au

Let’s be honest, I’m not all that familiar with the works of philosopher Albert Camus, but what I do know now is that he is of French-Algerian origin, and so is the head chef and owner of this new Northcote eatery. Camus. The menu too, reflects those French-Algerian roots.

Right in the middle of the Westgarth strip (still one of my favourite ‘high streets’ in Melbourne) this is a stylish, modern, but not predictable fitout. There’s no big sign alerting you to its existence, so you’ll have to look out for the exposed brick, the neon symbol on the interior wall, and the very well stocked bar.

Chef Pierre Khodja has been wowing at various Middle Eastern eateries across Melbourne and Victoria for quite a few years since opening Albert Street in Mornington back in 2002.

The menu, as with many in Melbourne, is designed to share. Flavours were stupendous ? clearly these two cultures combine very well in the kitchen.

Burrata cheese came atop a spiced pumpkin puree. A beautiful, creamy ball of soft, curdy mozzarella, the flavour came from the crispy, fried coriander, and an earthy za’atar mix.

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I love the calamari ? stuffed with prawns, mushroom and sweetbreads, with a spanner crab bisque and coriander cream; I just wish they were bigger, the two small calamari didn’t go so far between four people, particularly at a $26 price tag.

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My favourite starter, though, was the marinated quail. The bird is deboned and stuffed with a mousse of chicken breast, scallops, dried figs, apricots and sultanas. It’s super tender and comes atop gorgeous salad with dried fruit and pomegranate ? I could have eaten the lot to myself.

So often these days I am disappointed by restaurants that boast creative, tasty entrees, but churn out more pedestrian mains. That is absolutely not the case here.

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The standout for me ? the duck bastilla; a gorgeous coming together of sweet and savoury in the form of a Moroccan pastry. Duck leg is cooked in goose fat for three hours with cardamom, cinnamon and star anise, shredded then mixed with caramelised onions, fresh ginger, mint and coriander. Encased in filo, the sweet arrives on the side with a fruit chutney, and a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon on top. Glorious, and easily shared between four at a reasonable $34.

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Slow cooked goat is on the menu, so was a must. Marinated then cooked overnight, again some sweetness from caramelised onion, apricots and it’s finished with orange blossom. Often goat dishes arrive on the bone and the meat can be scarce, this is a big-hearted serve of meat that will not require a knife.

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Rounding out the mains an Algerian paella, a little wetter than the Spanish variety and substantially spicier thanks to the ras-el-hanout. There’s plenty of fresh seafood and Algerian merguez sausage ? you won’t often get a dish like that with such plump, well-cooked scallops.

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Sides are well-sized and priced at $10, and if you can fit in dessert it’s worth trying Khodja’s signature Turkish Delight souffl? ? served with pistachio baklava and halva icecream.

It’s a gorgeous looking space, with thoughtful food to match ? you don’t have to get all philosophical to work out that Camus is a great option for the city’s inner north.

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