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Scorcher reviews: Woodcutters Kitchen

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Woodcutters Kitchen
69 Mackie Rd, Bentleigh East

Growing up in frigid Ballarat, I was the one lumbered with the job of chopping the firewood to feed our hungry Coonara.

We didn’t have central heating, and with Ballarat being so frigging cold, it meant that I had to split a lot of wood for winter.

All these memories of sharp axes and cold hands came rushing back as I sat down to dine at Woodcutters Kitchen, a relaxed, homely restaurant in the back lots of Bentleigh East. This is a place where fire reigns supreme.

Mercifully they don’t have a BYO firewood policy.

As you enter and look around the modern, Scandinavian-vibing dining room, your eyes will naturally settle on the two giant wood-burning ovens. Like two crackling cubby houses, the twin brick ovens take pride of place in the kitchen.

Chef and owner James Leplaw, who was a police officer in a former life, jacked in a life on the beat to open Woodcutters Kitchen after teaching himself to cook with fire in a custom-built, wood-fired oven in his backyard. After much blood and sweat, and many splinters, James tamed his fiery backyard beast and honed his cooking skills – working largely on perfecting his fermented sough dough to make bread, tacos and pizza bases – to the point where a leap into the hospitality industry seemed obvious.

The result is Woodcutters Kitchen, a warm and inviting restaurant where everything is prepared fresh and onsite, and cooked over flame.

Half the menu is devoted to rectangular wood-fired sough dough pizzas (all the classics, all with fresh ingredients) and the other a bevy of globetrotting comfort dishes.

We devoured hearty share plates of slow-cooked meatballs with housemade gnocchi in a tomato and red wine jus; pork belly with silky mash potato and spiced apple sauce; braised beef with potato and chive dumplings; and spicy Spanish stew with prawns and hunks of snapper accompanied by wedges of crusty focaccia to mop up the soupy sauce.

Also on the continent-hopping menu are two types of tacos (pulled beef and baked snapper), as well as mushroom risotto with white wine cream sauce, pumpkin gnocchi and baked haloumi for the vegetarians.

So fire up your friends and family (Woodcutters is a great venue for a family feed) and search out Woodcutters Kitchen in the back streets of Bentleigh for a warming meal this winter.

Check out what Scorcher has been up to on Instagram — @markjdavidson