Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published March 15th 2017
A great family friendly restaurant only minutes from home
In Italy, there are tiny eating places called trattoria, which are less formal than restaurants, but more so than osteria, which serve simple wine and limited food often at shared tables.
There is no exact equivalent in Australia, but we do have tiny restaurants in shopping centres basically operating as storefront eateries apart from the proliferation of fast-food outlets, serving burgers and the like.
These shop-front restaurants vary tremendously in quality, but in the truly viciously competitive market in which they operate few are very bad and some are surprisingly good.
Chocolate,popcorn and salted caramel (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
In Wattle Grove there is a small shopping centre in which can be found Quills - a bistro-style shop-front restaurant where I ate one of the most pleasant meals of recent memory.
Whenever I review a restaurant, as I am now, I usually compare them, not to some mythical high standard, but against what I think they are trying to achieve. It's hardly fair, for example, to contrast Gerties's Greasy Spoon against The Loose Box's standards.
We arrived at Quills as a happy group of six (it was my son's birthday) into a larger than expected dining hall, with several tables outside under umbrellas. There was a happy buzz and lively chatter as we seated by a charming hostess and had a look around.
Tash and Rebecca at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
The place appears to be decorated by someone with lots more imagination and taste than budget. The floor is plain cement, rather well rendered in pleasing shades of blue and grey, the bar is backlit with light glowing through golden booze.
The logo/name has a nice feather as the stroke which is repeated throughout. The roof has no ceiling but is painted a velvety black and the tables are polished wood and the chairs comfortable.
The wait staff are swift, friendly and efficient dressed in a neat uniform black. We had been sitting for only a few minutes before our vast menus arrived and we entered foodie heaven.
Side salad at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
This was dinner and we spent quite a lot of time browsing the menu which is quaintly divided into 'Scratchings', 'Small eats', 'Full rations' and 'Sweet pickings'.
Considering the high quality of the service and, as we later discovered, the excellent food the prices are remarkably modest. Garlic Focaccia bread as an appetiser was $5; Grilled chorizo with lemon ($8); Shaved Parma ham ($8) and pork crackers, fennel salt ($5) and so on.
Duck Liver Parfait at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
This was carried through into the entrées (small eats) - James ordered the Duck Liver parfait with onion jam and charred bread ($16). Parfait is, as I'm sure you know, pate passed through a fine sieve, so that it's particularly smooth and light.
I pinched as much off his plate as I could and it was particularly delicious, the flavour delicate, light, rich and the onion jam beyond reproach.
Bratwurst and chips at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
My own entrée was the Pork and fennel bratwurst, chips, curried ketchup and slaw ($18). I am particularly fond of bratwurst and these were magnificent examples, sourced locally from a clever butcher who hand makes them. The addition of fennel gives it a delicious subtle flavour and I have seldom had as good.
Before I leave this dish I must draw your attention to the 'slaw', which as freshly made and superb. All the portions were generous in spirit and in size.
Chorizo ragu at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
With so many sitting at the table I got the chance to see several dishes and taste most. Angela, for example, had as entrée the Chorizo ragu, pappardelle pasta and parmesan ($20) a rich and delicious bowlful. It's hard to make such a dish look good, but chef managed - and it tasted better than it looked.
Main course for me was Roast confit pork belly, pig croquette and carrot, crackling and a fennel and orange salad ($24) The dish was beautifully presented, the pork belly superbly tender, wonderfully flavoured and the salad absolutely delicious, although it did taste to me more like grapefruit than orange.
Roast confit pork belly (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
This was an incredibly sophisticated dish, perfectly balanced in flavours and textures, the crackling in neat little piggy tails with a pulled pork croquette glued to the plate with some creamed carrot.
The croquette was tasty, but I'm not sure what it was doing there as it added very little to the dish. Similarly, Jess's Pan roast salmon, grilled zucchini salad with zingy tomato dressing ($28) came with two fish cakes of rather less quality than the rest of the dish, which was very superior indeed.
Rack of lamb at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
And Keelan's Lamb rack, pea puree and carrots ($30) came with a neat, but sizable shepherd's pie, so really more a 'Lamb two ways' the taste was amazing, the rack perfectly cooked.
No one leaves Quills hungry, that's for sure. As well as the handsome portions, you can add side dishes of garlic mushrooms($2); grilled lemon garlic prawns ($6) Quills chopped salad, LTO, cucumber, feta with French dressing ($8) and so on.
Mini doughnuts at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)
Dessert was entirely beyond me, but Angela felt able to order a portion of mini doughnuts. There were five of them, so I helped her out a bit - delicious, freshly cooked and liberally sugared.
We washed our dinner down with pints (in lovely pint glasses) of draft cider and rounded off the evening with some excellent coffee, although the cheese boards looked pretty tempting, too.
The wine list is considerable and varied, also at reasonable prices. I'd have liked to see more local wines, but that's personal prejudice. As well as cider, there's beer on tap, bottled beer, spirits and some interesting-looking cocktails.
Cider on tap at Quills (Photograph by D Sutherland-Bruce)