On our first visit to Theodore's, we really put them to the test - we were a big group booking, toting a teeny baby and all its accoutrements, with a mix of dietary requirements, and it was still 40 degrees at 6pm. They vastly exceeded our expectations under these temper-fraying conditions.
I arrived first, took a moment to wash up in the bathroom, and then sat down to a house-made soda ($5). The flavour of the day was orange, it was perfectly juicy and icy, and I ordered one or two more before our dinner was done.
The menu is a short, single page of fresh and slightly fancy plates that evolve with the seasons. There weren't any dietary markers, but the key ingredients were clear and the staff confidently guided us through where the dairy and gluten would be. As a group, we agreed to try everything that was vegetarian.
Our waiter offered us a glimpse into their daytime menu, mentioning that they had just two of that morning's baked pretzels left ($10 each). It was a pleasure to clear their stock.
The salad of heirloom tomatoes, peaches, ricotta and shiso ($16) confirmed me as a first-visit fan of this restaurant. It was exactly what I wanted to eat in this unyielding heat. (They were also kind enough to separate the ricotta on the side of the plate closest to our dairy-free diner.)
A table-wide favourite was the North African spiced cous cous ($13) a complex bowl with broccoli, tea-soaked raisins, pepitas, and thoughtfully separated dressing of sumac tahini yoghurt.
There were chips ($9). Chips are great in just about any setting and weather.
This plate of white bean dip, crudites and crackers was a special, off-menu, gluten-free option. It was just as special as the dishes they'd planned ahead.
Asparagus is another summer night classic and they served it here with more effort and flavour than I often see, adding radicchio, tamarind, chilli and almond ($18).
Our final shared plate was one of nicola potatoes ($16), served with miso roasted onion and brown butter. While they were very good, arriving at the tail-end of a mid-summer dinner wasn't their best setting.
Theodore's had me at house-made soda and tomato-peach salad, yet their best feature proved to be their staff. We received exceptionally friendly and informative service throughout our visit, including checks on what the baby and his parents might need, and tips on other restaurants and bars they like in the neighbourhood. Instead of pushing their own dessert menu on us, they cheerfully recommended a gelato shop with dairy-free options a few blocks away. This approach established a welcoming, neighbourhood feel that we'll be drawn back to.
Theodore's has received positive coverage on messy veggies, mamma knows north, and Gastrology.
4 Saxon St, Brunswick
Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Most tables are densely packed booths, but there's a bit of room for a pram around the free-standing tables, and the staff are very welcoming of children (our group had a newborn among us). We ordered at the table and paid at a high bar. We can't remember the toilets, although we think they're individual cubicles.