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Pope Joan – A long way from Bethsaida but well on the road to sainthood

Words by: Geoff Ferres
Photography by: Miss SL

Pope Joan: happy words of brunching hope welcome to all sleepy heads waking up around Nicholson St on a Sunday morning. A sure fire provider of fine coffee, tasty bacon, gooey eggs and the crunchiest of crunchy toast. How strange then, to be approaching the papal silhouettes marking the entrance way of this Brunswick East regular, not in an AM time slot, but in the dark, as the witching hour approaches! What you’ve heard is true: Pope Joan is doing dinner… and doing it well.

Come evening the Pope converts to a charming, homely space filled with dim lighting and rich, tactile blonde wood. Maybe it’s because things are new and fresh, but the Pope Joan team were a pretty welcoming bunch and from the get-go were looking for ways to make the night a bit special. The communal tables, decked out with a brilliant table setting of glass-grown herbs, and a decidedly retro kitchen table feel gets you feeling settled in quickly … and ready to munch.

But where to start? Mulled wine, that’s where.  It was chilly outside and one glass of this hot, steaming, warm goodness quickly became two. I’m far from convinced you can have too much of a good thing and I’m not about to start with this yuletide regular. Bringing the earthenware mug to my nose, the intense citrus aroma shots deep into my brain. The mulled wine was delightful; rich, full and mellow.  The flavours were intensified by the companionship of an aniseed star, lemon skin and a cinnamon stick; it made for a busy drink, but a great one.

So, with my belly warming, the first tasty treat to arrive was the garlic snail croquettes and a bucket of little spuds with herbed salt, kasundi and mayonnaise.  The croquettes were encased in a brown shell of crumbs. With a crunch the melting, creamy mash inside revealed itself.  The flavour of the snail was rich, deep and salty. With appetite still in tact, attention quickly turned to the spuds.  Crunchy skinned and tossed in rosemary salt, the potatoes were well matched with a beautiful kasundi – crunchy mustard seeds included – and creamy, rich mayo.

And then, mains.

Goat curry; pea, mint & mascarpone ravioli; and cauliflower cheese.  Perfect!  The goat curry, which was immediately declared to be quite authentic by my dinner companion, was served with soft, fluffy naan, chutney and yogurt.  The goat was aromatic and tender, melting in the mouth with brilliantly intense flavour.  Taking a bite with the chutney I found it sweet, spicy and a little jelly-like in texture. Well-balanced with a follow up spoonful of the red onion salad filled the palate served with crunchy, fresh almonds.

The pea, mint & mascarpone ravioli, with sage brown butter, takes the humble pea and transforms it! It was literally peas three ways: peas firm and juicy that rolled around the plate teasingly; peas mashed and layered between the pieces of ravioli; and finally pea-filling blended within the ravioli. I really like peas, and that’s just as well! The ravioli was hand-made, the filling smooth and delicious. Every sheet was covered with crumbled, bitey, aged cheese and crispy, fried, mint leaves.

At this point, we were getting ridiculously full. Even the legendary separate desert stomach wasn’t a guaranteed starter. But was defeat really an option? Never. Not when I’d spied a particularly tempting, heavily iced, banana and walnut cake calling to me from the serving counter as I waltzed in. The Pope crew declare it to be straight from the Country Women’s Association bible of cake and to my bunt-loving eye it certainly seemed to hit regulation size! Sure enough this baked delight was moist, fresh and not too sweet. The base was thin and super crunchy – but nothing a little whipped cream couldn’t turn around!  The icing was made of cream cheese, with a little salt; it was thick but moorish – hardly thick enough.

As the plates were cleared away, we leaned back, sated. Not a morsel more could be eaten. From croquettes to ravioli, curry to cake, the team at Pope Joan had delivered on their new evening menu in full. Sipping the last dregs of mulled wine we bid farewell to Pope Joan, soon to return and explore more of their great offerings.

And so ended the feast.  Long live the Pope.

Opening hours:
Mon – Fri: 7.30am – 11.30pm
Sat – Sun: 7.30am – 5pm

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