16 Feb Palinka, Fitzroy
Eastern European restaurants and bars are not too common in Melbourne at the moment, but Palinka is one of the few. Tucked on the corner of Brunswick St and Kerr St, they keep a large range (over 70) of its namesake spirit and European beers, serving up Eastern European-inspired tapas to go alongside them.
The food menu is divided into ‘Yummy’ and ‘Fancy’. The fancy plates are not only bigger, but also feature more complex flavours and techniques. As a separate menu item, the thrice cooked smoked pork hock sounded amazing, but alas, the only size available that night would prohibit us from trying the rest of the menu so I had to let it go.
We sampled one of the night’s specials – a Portobello mushroom stuffed with an orange macadamia pesto then topped with melted halloumi – and also the sausage-shaped cauliflower croquettes made of a creamy mix of cauliflower, pecorino and herbs.
The slow roasted lamb ribs were marinated in a smokey and slightly sweet tomato Worcester glaze, and while the meat was tender, they were a little too gamey for my liking.
Dalmatian meatballs used both beef and lamb mince and are flavoured with cheese, capsicum, coriander and parsley. Their fine coating is constructed using a mix of white and wholemeal breadcrumbs. The process of making the meatballs involved plenty of hand-pressing to compact the meat and remove excess oil, leaving a thin and crispy coating that neatly encased the almost perfectly spherical balls of meat. Three meatballs arrive on the platter, each laid atop dollops of different condiments. There’s herbed aioli and mustard, but my favourite is the Ajvar, a spicy Serbian sauce that had a pleasant chilli kick.
Another special was the gypsy-style fish paprikash with tagliatelle. This paprikash was prepared with barramundi, and started its life similar to the goulash so the flavours were similar, but more creamy and less intense. We weren’t too sure about the goats curd, but the tagliatelle was smooth and cooked well.
I’ve never had a proper goulash or stroganoff before. Sadly my only experience thus far has been on a plane, or from frozen supermarket meals, so I was excited to taste one for real. Though the stroganoff was creamy, it didn’t feel heavy. The eye fillet had first been pan-fried then finished in a sauce of cream, mustard, bacon and pickles. The highlight of the night was the Hungarian beef goulash, slow-cooked over six hours. Hearty, flavoursome and comforting, tender chunks of beef had been seasoned with onion, tomato, capsicum, and Hungarian sweet paprika, and was accompanied by a potato latke and pickles.
Palinka is a Hungarian fruit brandy, and given that it’s their specialty it would have been a shame not to try any. I sampled one produced by Gusto Honey and it was incredibly strong but smooth, with floral notes from the use of Elderflower, and hints of citrus.
I wasn’t certain if I’d enjoy the somloi galuska, a dessert of sponge layered with walnut, Belgian cocoa and creme Anglaise, then topped with fresh cream and dark chocolate sauce. Also known as a Hungarian trifle, it was reminiscent of tiramisu, though obviously without the coffee component, and the abundance of chopped nuts helped break up the soft texture of the dessert. We ended our feast with the apple strudel and homemade custard. It had a strong cinnamon flavour, which I loved, and the finely chopped pieces of walnut found throughout the apple filling was also an interesting point of difference.
With its heated outdoor seating area and plenty of Eastern European dishes to snack on, Palinka is a great place to begin to explore the regional delights of Hungary.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Palinka as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own and not influenced by them in any way
356 Brunswick St
Fitzroy, VIC, 3065
(03) 9041 4270