Restaurant Reviews

Commis: Restaurant review

The art of hospitality is on show with Gerald's Bar alumni forging something new and excellent.

By Michael Harden
That picture on the wall, near the bar? The one that looks like a Miró? It's a real-deal lithograph by the Spanish abstract artist. It's also a kind of Easter egg, a clue to the something extra happening at Commis distinguishing it from other shopfront bars along this stretch of Collingwood.
As with the Miró, you might assume the bar's retro fit-out – terrazzo, warm lighting, vinyl soundtrack, leather and timber – is clever staging, designed to resemble a storied neighbourhood bar. It does, but it also has impeccable genes, the real reason it feels so established and venerable, despite being mere months old.
Commis has direct lineage with Gerald's Bar, the Carlton North watering hole that's become the de facto template for Melbourne's neighbourhood bars. Its three owners – Daniel Docherty, Gabriel de Melo Freire and Adina Weinstein Melder – all did time at Gerald's as did bartender Tom Hope. Inevitably, some of Gerald's came with them. There's the vinyl soundtrack, fastidious cocktails, a sharp, democratic wine list, quippy switched-on service. It's not a copy though, more shared DNA.
Commis co-owners Daniel Docherty and Adina Weinstein Melder.
That's certainly the case with de Melo Freire's menu. Like Gerald's, Commis' menu is an ever-evolving single-page list of Euro-ish, seasonally and sustainably conscious dishes. But there's also a distinct quirkiness and originality to it too.
Alongside the expected items on any wine-conscious food menu – oysters, pickles, charcuterie – Commis offers excellent takes on staples like croquettes (chicken soup-flavoured ones must be ordered) or risotto, like an earthy, textural triumph flavoured with globe artichokes and spring garlic.
There's great stuff for omnivores – an excellent venison osso bucco, local lamb strap served with caponata – and joy for the non-meat crowd with dishes such as a superb mushroom broth with dumpling-like nettle gnudi or a salad of broad beans, barley and pecorino that leaves you feeling both satisfied and virtuous.
Spend some time with the wine list. It provides two ways into the always interesting and regularly changing cellar here – "Traditionalist", listing wines by variety and style or, flip the list over, "Expressionist" with wines listed by mood ("It's Been a Long Day", "Drinking with the In-laws"). It's a fun trick and a strong list, equally happy in the Old and New Worlds. Both paths lead to happy drinking.
Like the Miró on the wall, Commis can be enjoyed without delving into its provenance. Pay attention though, savour the detail and authenticity of the approach and you'll get why there's nothing like the real thing.