Type of Venue: Restaurant, Bar
Cuisine: New Orleans style food
Highly Recommended: Homemade Cornbread, Cajun Seasonal Vegetables, Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Cajun Pork Belly, Ribs of the Day, Southern Fried Chicken Po’Boy, Louisiana Style Sticky Date (specials board)
Bringing some good ol’ southern hospitality to Melbourne, The Moldy Fig is a humble restaurant and bar with a rustic vibe, whose live jazz and blues music on certain nights injects a fun atmosphere into the venue. Mother Dorelle and daughter Vivian are immensely proud of their establishment, particularly as it nears its one-year-old birthday as Mardis Gras approaches.
Close to Dorelle’s heart, The Moldy Fig brings to life her passion for food and cooking, combined with her enjoyment in learning everything she can about New Orleans cuisine. Her journey in discovering more about this creative fusion cuisine began when a loved one gave her a New Orleans cookbook as a gift many years ago. Since then, countless travels to Southern Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, has taught Dorelle about the deep-rooted traditions of this unique culture, along with authentic family recipes passed on from welcoming locals eager to show off the best of New Orleans to us, the people of Melbourne.
Always up for a party, the region of Southern Louisiana is famous for its Mardis Gras celebrations, with their liberal festivities stemming all the way from the 18th Century. With a zest for colour, freedom and life evident from their multicultural and multinational population, it is also the merging of multiple cuisines and vibrantly-designed buildings (especially in the French Quarter) that make up the exuberant personalities of the people from this great state.
Aiming to recreate a genuine New Orleans experience, Dorelle and Vivian have designed The Moldy Fig as a tribute to its various influences. The street-facing side of the restaurant-bar mimics older, French-style apartment balconies overlooking the street with its black metal railings and multicoloured lights. A brick wall facing the bar is painted with an image of New Orleans’ cobbled streets and jazz nightlife. The window pass connecting the kitchen to the main dining room is fitted with French Quarter-style window shutters, whose colour coordination was carefully chosen by Dorelle and Vivian, mimicking the enforced colour coordination choices from which residents must choose when building a house in the French Quarter, thus maintaining a certain style and look that Southern Louisiana aims to portray.
And, finally, walk down the corridor of this Brunswick venue to admire local artist’s paintings hanging along the wall. This section of the venue mirrors the real Jackson Square in New Orleans, which is a public park for local artists, musicians and street performers to showcase their talents, and thus earn a living. Consistent with her desire to support the local community in much the same way, Dorelle encourages local artists to hang their paintings along this corridor of The Moldy Fig, with 100% of the money obtained from buyers given back to the artist.
Finally, arriving at the origin of the name of this venue, it is a tribute to original jazz music, which is seemingly becoming popular again in the modern day. According to stories told amongst New Orleans locals, “The Figs” were a New Orleans jazz band made up of musicians from the improv jazz era, and were nicknamed “The Moldy Figs” due to their perceptibly ‘outdated‘ genre of music. Although a little worn and rustic in their ambience, there is nothing “moldy” about The Moldy Fig.
The menu showcases a range of dishes traditionally recognised throughout Southern Louisiana, utilising local produce to infuse some Australian influence into the American-inspired menu. Based on the ingredients commonly used from the corn maize-producing farms throughout Southern Louisiana, many of the menu’s dishes are gluten-free and/or vegan-friendly. As New Orleans cuisine fuses French, Italian, Spanish, enslaved African-American and Haitian cuisines together, customers at The Moldy Fig should expect an exciting gastronomic experience.
Serious about their cocktails, a signature at The Moldy Fig is their Pomegranate and Passionfruit Hurricane cocktail, combining white and dark rum with orange juice, passionfruit and pomegranate to produce a moderately sweet version of the intensely sweet drink popular throughout New Orleans.
Pomegranate and Passionfruit Hurricane ($18.00)
Starting with the basics, Homemade Cornbread is amazingly soft and fluffy, served freshly warm with smooth squares of butter. Choose from original, chilli and garlic flavours (or a mixture of all three) to put other drier varieties of cornbread to shame.
Homemade Cornbread ($8.00 for serving of 3pcs)
Just one of the select few dishes on the menu showcasing cajun spices, the Cajun Seasonal Vegetables arrive as organic local vegetables simply cooked and tossed in a sundried tomato and fresh herb sauce. Not just a vegetable dish, the sauce elevates the flavours to another level, also providing plenty of texture from the chopped herbs and tomatoes.
Cajun Seasonal Vegetables ($14.50)
When deciding between the stew-like Gumbo, Creole and Etouffee, taking into consideration each dish’s distinct use of ingredients and flavours, we decide to try the Gumbo (the official dish of Louisiana) with Chicken and Andouille Sausage. As we learned, New Orleans locals are adamant that Gumbo can only be cooked with either a thick or thin consistency, nothing halfway.
Dorelle’s Gumbo uses a base of tomatoes to extract sweetness and flavour, accompanied by the addition of thyme, various spices, and the base ingredients used in almost all Southern Louisiana dishes: cayenne pepper, garlic, salt and onions. The intense aromas released from this stew are beyond impressive, further cementing the diner’s admiration for Dorelle’s skilful cooking techniques, and Southern Louisiana’s incredibly intriguing gastronomic fare. The simple presentation with a mound of white rice in the middle lets the Gumbo remain the focus.
Gumbo with Chicken and Andouille Sausage ($20.00
Discerning themselves from the crispy pork belly commonly cooked throughout Melbourne, New Orleans serves their pork belly with its fat and skin maintaining a soft, gelatinous texture, starkly contrasting the firmer texture of the meat. Within a single piece of pork, streaky lines of fat interject between layers of meat, resulting in an even infusion of flavour throughout the meat. However, this textural contrast will potentially not be enjoyed by those who appreciate crispy-skinned pork belly, or who don’t enjoy eating fatty parts of proteins. Served with a side of beetroot salad covered in Southern sour cream, the refreshing beetroot cubes adequately cut through the richness of the pork.
Cajun Pork Belly ($22.50)
Showing their extremely generous nature, Dorelle brings out a half-serve of the Ribs of the Day, after we expressed our interest in trying them but decided against it for fear of over-ordering. Slow cooked in a dry rub, the ribs are then glazed in a bourbon sauce and served alongside their famous Louisiana red cabbage slaw. Again, the slaw sufficiently cuts through the rich rib meat, which is immensely satisfying to gently peel off the bone and lick the glaze from your fingers.
Ribs of the Day (half serve)
($27.50 for a full serve)
Essentially a ‘New Orleans Style Burger’, po’boys are an extremely popular food item that is more familiar to us with other venues specialising in this sandwich. Choosing from a variety of protein fillings, the Southern Fried Chicken Po’Boy gets our vote, delivering deep fried chicken whose tender meat is coated in a moreishly crispy and crunchy spiced buttermilk batter. The traditional po’boy’s require the use of ‘egg shell bread’ (house made at The Moldy Fig), whose crispy and flaky layers contribute to the crunch of each bite. This particular type of bread is also designed to be able to hold all of the fillings inside its softly fluffy centre, whilst other types of bread such as sourdough would be inadequate to retain the fillings inside.
Southern Fried Chicken Po’Boy ($14.90)
Desserts follow suit with a classic American theme, featuring traditional Apple Pie and Mississippi Mud Chocolate Cake, alongside the more unique Kahlua Pecan Baked Brie. Excited to try a traditional American Apple Pie, thinly sliced apples are stewed in a sufficiently sweetened and cinnamon-spiced sauce, encased within a house made pastry. Although brilliantly contrasting textures of (exterior) crispiness with (interior) moisture were exhibited by the varying surfaces of the pastry, the middle section of the pastry was a bit too dry for my liking. Potentially, a thinner pastry could have avoided this slightly less enjoyable aspect of this traditional apple pie.
Apple Pie ($12.00)
An item on their specials blackboard, Louisiana Style Sticky Date arrives in quite a modest portion, surrounded by a sea of rum caramel sauce, strawberry and piped cream. The moist texture of the sticky date is highly commendable, particularly thanks to the use of banana in its mixture, however it is the rum caramel sauce that steals the show, warranting a whole bowl of that on its own, with the rum elevating and balancing out the bitter-sweet flavours of the caramel sauce.
Louisiana Style Stick Date ($12.00)
Known for their intensity of spices and flavours, New Orleans cuisine is slightly modified to suit the Australian palate at The Moldy Fig, with a milder use of spices. However, the customer is given the choice of adding Louisiana-imported Crystal hot sauce to any of their dishes, or Dorelle’s house made hot sauce, the latter of which is more robust in flavour, exhibiting a complexity that exceeds the Louisiana-imported hot sauce. Another Louisiana import is the Abita beer they use, available individually or in a bucket, as well as a couple of choices of beer available on tap.
Potentially the most authentic Southern Louisiana experience you will have in Melbourne, The Moldy Fig delivers an enjoyable dining experience complete with an authentic ambience and vibe. Located along a quiet section of Lygon Street in Brunswick, it can be difficult for passers-by to be captivated by the subtle nuances that this venue has to offer. Whether a more contemporary update in the style of their venue is needed, or just more exposure to the public, their genuine offering and passion for what they do should be more widely recognised and appreciated by dining aficionados throughout Melbourne.
Note: I dined as a guest of The Moldy Fig. Thank you to Dorelle and Vivian for their generous ‘Southern hospitality’ throughout our experience.
The Moldy Fig
120 Lygon Street
Brunswick East, VIC 3057
Ph: (03) 9042 7613
Hours: Tues-Sat 5pm-late, Closed Sun-Mon.
Happy Hour daily between 5-7pm, and all night on Wednesday’s.