Tregan Borg reviews Pavlovs Duck
401 Smith Street, Fitzroy
Review by Tregan Borg
Sri Lankan cuisine was unknown to me before I stepped into Pavlovs Duck. On a dreary and wet Friday evening, Pavlov’s Duck was a great choice for casual, and budget friendly winter warmer. Luckily, Pavlov’s is situated on the sleepier end of Smith Street, which meant I was able to snag a park right outside the door.
It’s a casual space, mismatched furniture, exposed brick, and warm lighting. The first thing you see as you walk in are chef’s preparing food in what seemed to be a make-shift, yet purpose built kitchen. A large BBQ style hotplate alongside a row of gas burners almost gives off that street side-dining feel that you would see in most Asian countries. Sitting atop the gas burners are small yet deep circular pans, almost like a like a mini wok.
So what differentiates Sri Lanken cuisine from your stock standard curry? Two words. Hoppers and Kottu, two dishes I have never eaten nor heard of before, both of which I was super excited to try!
Before the hopper and the kottu, came a few deep fried snacks off the short eats section of the menu. Disclaimer: Everything on the short eats section of the menu is deep fried and delicious. Best value is the mixed short eats basket, $12 and you get a taste of everything. Savoury donut, deep-fried chicken dumpling, vegie pan roll and spicy fish cutlet.
What exactly is a hopper? Imagine this. A thin crepe, moulded into the shape of a bowl, fried to give a crisp exterior (in a special hopper wok), yet soft on in the interior. If you pick it up with your hands it acts as a standalone edible bowl, which makes perfect sense as the purpose of a hopper is to scoop up your curry, like what you would do with a naan or roti. Hoppers come plain or with the addition of an egg. The egg made it a little more challenging to manoeuvre with my hands, a skill I am willing to master in future.
The curries range from a $9 dahl, to an $18 braised brisket beef curry and the beef curry was worth every extra penny. Brisket cooked perfectly, soft and gelatinous in a dark and rich curry sauce. Deep in colour and almost gravy like in consistency, it had a distinct flavour. It’s one of those dishes you know you won’t really get anywhere else, and you have to return to the same place to taste it again!
Kottu was another first for me. Shredded roti, stir fried with egg in a spice laden sauce, add some blue swimmer to the mix and you have a substantial dish. This is one variation of the kottu, with meat being an optional extra.
Pavlov’s regular trade is breakfast and brunch, with dinner only being served on a Friday and Saturday night. You can still get variations of the hoppers and kottu on the breakfast menu, both traditional Sri Lankan breakfast staples. The breakfast menu offers some interesting choices incorporating what we know as western style breakfasts with a Sri Lankan twist. The Lankan Frenchy a croissant with chilli fried potatoes, fish and potato fritter and a poached egg ($18) would tick the box for me. Alternatively, if you want to keep it on the smashed avo trend the avocado hopper with goat’s cheese, cherry tomatoes and vegemite flakes ($14) will fit the bill.
A big drawcard for me is cutlery is absolutely optional, and I absolutely chose not to use it. Eating with my hands is my most favourite thing, whether it is acceptable or not. In this case it is totally acceptable and culturally appropriate to do so.
There was only one lovely waitress managing the floor, but this did not effect the service provided, she ran the floor like a breeze, food was prompt and drinks were on the table at a speedy pace.
Pavlov’s Duck offers a modest environment with a big focus on delivering honest and authentic cuisine. When the food is delicious (which it was) there’s no need for bells and whistles the food speaks for itself. If your up for trying something different, and don’t have any issue throwing the cutlery out of the window, Pavlov’s Duck is a sure go.
Only open Fridays and Saturdays for dinner, check website for full trading hours.