We're big fans of Shannon Martinez's vegan cheffery and over the past few years have followed her food from the East Brunswick Club to Gasometer, South and then across the river to the Sweetwater Inn. We were thrilled to discover that she'd be opening Smith & Daughters on Brunswick St, in collaboration with Mo Wyse. Last night we were privileged to attend their First Taste Feast by special invitation.
Smith & Daughters takes a left turn from the pubby/American diner food that Martinez has offered these last few years. This is a Spanish/Latin American tapas bar and restaurant, and it's hip as all hell. Bluestone walls and sturdy wooden furniture are decorated with modern fixtures, a collage of vintage prints, candles and Roman Catholic tokens.
The menu is all vegan (including the drinks list!) and, although they're not specifically marked, offers lots of gluten-free options. You could easily build a meal from the small plates ($7-16) like guacamole and tortilla chips, patatas con chorizo and hearts of palm salad or focus on a big plate ($16-35) of paella, tacos or pasta. We received a taste of both menus and some desserts besides.
Our first course was a cup of oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche ($16 for unknown portion size) - actually dominated by gently pickled tomato and onion slivers - with starchy fried plantain chips on the side.
Next we sampled some stunning salty tuna and green pea croquettes ($7 each) with a dab of caper aioli and squeeze of lemon - these had a couple of the mock meat noobs near us completely flummoxed.
The rustic presentation of the tamales ($7 each) belied a fancy filling of mushrooms, nopales (prickly pear) and grilled corn.
We were treated to small bowls of the 'big plate' pazole ($18 for unknown portion size), a thick Colombian hominy soup topped with sauteed oyster mushrooms, pickled cabbage, a dollop of guacamole and a thick tortilla chip.
The chiles rellenos (to be served with red rice, $18) has to be tasted to be believed. The enormous, mild pepper is stuffed with a rich filling of chipotle cream cheese and chorizo, then battered and fried to a crisp, and topped with tomatillo sauce. I'd recommend sharing this fella with a friend or even two.
Shannon's biggest performance of the night was to cook a pan of her fourth-generation-family-recipe paella for the seventy or more of us (you can order it for a few as two people for $35). The plump rice is fragrant with saffron and studded with peas, calamari, prawns and sausage.
Mo sent us on our way with samples of their sweets - warm sugar-dusted, quince-stuffed Spanish donuts ($12 for unknown quantity) and a glorious tarta de chocolate Azteca (to be served with avocado icecream for $14) - sweet layers of biscuit, jam and chocolate with a warm chilli finish.
Melbourne has not yet seen a veg restaurant of Smith & Daughters' calibre. It's a sophisticated venue with a rare, plant-based take on Spanish and Latin American food. Mock meats are used judiciously to support (and not distract from) local and organic produce, and there are enough mock-free dishes to build a banquet if you prefer. This is rich, special-occasion food and we'd recommend budgeting around $40-50 per person plus drinks.
We are deeply impressed by Shannon and Mo's new venture and can't wait to go back - doors open to the public next Friday March 21.
Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
menus: first look feast, dinner menu, alcoholic drinks,
non-alcoholic drinks, brunch & late night
Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow; we're unsure of the standard table arrangements but they were very crowded on this night. The interior was loud and dimly lit. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. We expect that there'll be full table service.