The Commoner

Let me start by saying that there is nothing common about The Commoner.  It’s located in an unpreposessing shop front on Johnson street but as soon as I opened the door I knew I was somewhere special.  The tiny space is filled with bric a brac from wooden shoe lasts to vintage kitchen utensils while tables are set with white linen, flowers and flickering candles.  Every detail has been thought of and catered for with love and flair.  There are a few more tables in the courtyard out the back which has its own woodfired oven to provide a bit of heat and to cook The Commoner’s famous Sunday roasts.

Padron peppers and The Commoner’s charcuterie board

I was invited to try The Commoner’s lunch and while the restaurant has a great little menu my best advice to you is to ignore it.  Instead, put yourself in the hands of the staff and The Commoner’s “Feed Me” menu.  It’s degustation style where you are brought whatever the chef suggests and costs $65 a person but the menu can be expanded or reduced as you like.

Table set for lunch at The Commoner

We started with a glass of the Renier Pineau des Charentes ($9) which is an apertif made by adding fresh grape juice to cognac.  It was sweet but not saccharine and I honestly have not tasted anything like it before.  Served on ice it was a brilliant start to what was an epic lunch.

The Renier Pineau des Charentes on ice

On our visit the Feed Me menu kicked off with one of my favourite things in the world – boccerones ($3).  These salty little Sicilian white anchovies were served on a paper thin crostini on top of sweet pepper and a lick of garlicky aioli.


We also enjoyed playing pepper Russian Roulette with a plate of lightly salted padron peppers ($9), waiting with anticipation for the one in seven which is tongue tinglingly hot.  However, the highlight of the starters was the charcuterie board ($24). All the charcuterie is made in house (a practice which I very much approve of and which appears to be catching on around town with the likes of La Luna also making their own sausages and charcuterie) and it was terrific.  I loved it all from the perfectly seasoned pheasant terrine to the peppery bresola and black pudding which was served hot and almost sticky.

The courtyard of The Commoner complete with wood fired oven

Slightly more pedestrian but equally tasty were the seared scallops ($16).  The scallops were slightly burnished from the pan and served with a cauliflower puree then topped with slivers of apple and walnuts.  They were sweet but satisfying.

Seared scallops

The show stopper dish was the special of the day.  Meaty, earthy pine mushrooms cooked in rich stock and served with globs of bone marrow on toasted brioche.  Our waiter described the dish as requiring a “one kilometre to two kilometre jog” but I can only sum it up as so wrong but oh so right.  Truly one of the best dishes I have eaten this year.

Pine mushrooms with bone marrow on brioche

The wood fired oven out the back came into its own for our main course of spatchcocked chicken ($32) which was served with slow roasted onions and sweet, sticky roast carrots.  The chicken had a great smoky taste and we quickly abandoned our knives and forks to gnaw on the bones and make the most of the sweet young meat.  It was served with a crisp and refreshing salad of baby cos garnished with croutons and slivers of radish ($9).

Collection of bric a brac at The Commoner

I should make special mention of The Commoner’s wine list.  Alongside the list at the start of each service they open a couple of interesting bottles to be served by the glass.  It’s a great policy and one that payed dividends in discovering a delicate floral Sorrenberg Gamay from Beechworth ($59 a bottle) alongside the sweet but complex Chateau Jolys Jurancon ($11.50 a glass).

Spatchcock chicken

What is clear from all this is that someone can cook at The Commoner, specifically chef Brook Petrie.  What is a little more intangible is the lovely attitude of the staff and the restaurant along with the quirky but welcoming feel to the place.  Tragically we did not have room in our stomachs or time in our schedule to tackle the dessert menu.  Another very good excuse to return in my view.  I am already excited in anticipation of my next visit when I plan to get a big group of friends together and head to The Commoner on a Sunday when there is likely to be a whole roast saddleback pig or goat on the menu.  I can’t wait to return.

I was invited to review The Commoner. 


Update – July 2012
I went back to The Commoner for my friend Tim’s birthday and the food was just as sensational as I remembered.  We ate in one of the private upstairs rooms and loved the atmosphere and the menu provided for groups.

Details: The Commoner, 122 Johnston Street  Melbourne 3065 (Ph: 03 9415 6876) Open Wed – Thurs 6pm – late, Fri – Sun 12 -3pm, 6pm – late.
Damage: Pricey.  The Feed Me menu is usually $65 a head but on this occasion I did not pay.

The Commoner on Urbanspoon


  1. Probably my favourite place to eat in Melbourne. Exactly my style…

  2. Dear Gourmet Chick,

    I think cauliflower puree is being done do death by Sydney restaurants. Clever take on the bone marrow since the mushrooms absorb flavours like a sponge.

  3. I’d totally forgotten about the existence of Pineau! We’ve drunk it on holiday on Ile de Re near La Rochelle in Charentes Martimes area and it’s such a soothing drink, possibly the closest I’ll ever come to knocking back whisky!

    Mushrooms on bone marrow looks incredible, I know I’d definitely have ordered that in a shot.

  4. I’d run far further than 2km for those mushrooms and bone marrow brioche. Gorgeous stuff.

  5. I’m going to the Commoner next week so your post has me excited! 🙂

    That mushroom dish sounds and looks amazing. If I don’t get to have it next week, I’m going back again for it!

  6. Tim – And very conveniently located as well

    Chopin and my saucepan – Yes it gets quite a bit of restaurant air play doesn’t it but it worked well here.

    Sarah – Wow I can’t believe you have heard of it – hope it brought back happy memories.

    Tori – Worth a marathon in my books

    April – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Fingers crossed for the mushroom and bone marrow dish.

  7. I’m hungry, hungry, hungry now! It’s on my list for my next Melbourne trip 🙂

  8. Went here on Saturday and was not disappointed at all. Excellent value for money (i think i have been in Australia too long!) really well put together dishes, each one had us waiting to try the next one and for me i think it was the desert that really pulled it out of the bag. Interesting wine menu as well, we had a nice German style pino noir which went well with the dishes. The staff even were expecting us on entry into the place despite booking over the internet and being early which is a first. My only gripe was the cocktails which were quite pricey for what they were.

    But otherwise another excellent review that had it on the top of the list of places to try when we came to melbourne for the weekend.

  9. Vintage Macaroon – Good to hear

    Dex- So glad to hear you enjoyed it – I agree I think it’s great value for money.

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