January 15, 2021
From Lygon St, Old Palm Liquor looks like a dimly lit, fancy bar. I was baffled by the COVID-era sign out front warning that only 120 customers are permitted - where could they possibly fit? It turns out that they fit in the expansive, well-lit dining area out back. Here we shared the four course set menu ($75 per person) with a couple of friends on a cold and rainy night.
Rather than really being set, this allowed us to choose a fixed number of dishes across Old Palm Liquor's regular menu. It's not clearly labelled for dietary requirements, but the staff know what's what. We ordered almost all the vegetarian options, and they relied primarily on dairy for protein.
Course 1 lined our stomachs with wood fired flat bread and sumac-dusted labne (usually marked as $10 each, with perhaps two serves pictured). I was keen that we tried the fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cashew and sticky with peri peri honey ($9 each).
Our second course ($17) was layered up friggitello peppers, pickled onion, heirloom cucumber and basil tahini dressing. It looked bright and cheery but its astringent flavours didn't quite work for me.
The third course is intended to be one main and half a side dish per person - since only one of the four mains was vegetarian we arranged to swap a main for an extra side dish to increase our variety. It's a good time of year for local tomatoes ($12), and they were lightly dressed with soy, sesame and crispy shallots. Even more popular were the roast carrots ($12) dotted with Ossau Iraty, a sheep's-milk cheese.
The hand cut chips ($14) were stout, very crispy-skinned, and served with a whipped garlic mayonnaise.
I didn't think I was in the mood for tamarind eggplant ($25), but it won me over with its deeply savoury flavour. It was teamed with buffalo mozzarella, pickled grilled apricot, and salted almond dressing.
One of our friends, who had visited before, promised excellent desserts and Old Palm Liquor definitely delivered. Michael and I carefully divided a plate of chocolate creme, lemon myrtle chiboust (a meringue-pastry cream hybrid), garnished with shards of chocolate croquant (like a brittle; $12), and a bowl of mascarpone, cherry crumble and Luxardo cherry liqueur ($12).
As a vegetarian who rarely drinks, I'm likely missing out on Old Palm Liquor's best features. The drinks list runs to 37 pages, but the only non-alcoholic beverages rating a mention are coffee and tea. The meat-free dishes were enjoyable but slightly lacking a centrepiece, and not the same value for money within the set menu ($38 pork and steak dishes were interchangeable with our $25 eggplant). Typically for me, I was most taken by the starters and desserts. I can best imagine revisiting to enjoy the setting, perhaps try a cocktail if I'm in the mood, and pick one or two highlights from the menu as a snack.
Old Palm Liquor
133B Lygon St, Brunswick East
Accessibility: There's a small lip on the door on the way in. The front bar is dark and densely packed, but if you can make it through the flat, somewhat narrow corridor, it's much more spacious and well lit at the low tables out the back. We didn't visit the toilets.