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122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy   |  03 9415 6876   |
The Commoner

The Commoner : restaurant, Fitzroy


Reviews of The Commoner from Urban Spoon

Reviews of The Commoner from Yelp

The Age, Melbourne August 2010

IF the definition of a truly successful restaurant bar is one that develops  its own personality while still being aesthetically and philosophically linked to the mothership, the Upstairs Bar at Fitzroy’s Commoner is a blushing poster child for high-achieving success.

While mirroring the unique, attentive quirkiness of the downstairs restaurant, The Commoner’s bar has a moodier, darker level of eccentricity that somehow manages to feel both homely and sophisticated. It also has a thing for weathered sheep skulls, which always adds another level of appeal.

The award for best use of sheep skull goes to the sculptural chandelier in the first of the bar’s two rooms at the top of the steep, narrow stairs — a blend of barbed wire, chicken feathers and cutlery that sets the mood in the timber-floored room. There’s another less flamboyant chandelier in the front room that overlooks Johnston Street, plus whitewashed brick walls, tealights in china teacups and a banquette upholstered in old Swiss army blankets.

A wealth of small details — a pile of oranges  on a barstool, an old meat grinder spending its retirement as a decoration — sometimes skirts close, but never crosses, the border into twee.

There’s a relaxed looseness to the service style here that’s also very appealing. There’s no dedicated bar person, just regular visits from the downstairs service staff, all of whom are good with a suggestion. One of the best of these was the recommendation to try a Mendoza Bulldozer ($14), a simple combination of Pedro Ximenez sherry and Cardenal Mendoza brandy that makes perfect, delicious sense on a cold and chilly evening.

An excellent little collection of bar snacks — pieces of house-made morcilla served with a parsley salad ($7), a soft-boiled egg with salt-cod brandade ($6) — can be ordered individually or as part of a ‘‘Feed Me’’ option for which the small bites keep coming until you call a halt.

There’s also flexibility with the wine list, a reasonably priced mix of old and new-world labels, with a slight lean towards the Spanish and Portuguese.

Though still a pup, the Commoner’s Upstairs Bar already has its own personality and sense of place. Being a place fond of sheep skulls sporting feathered headdresses, how could it not?

Fodor’s International Travel Guide, 03/08

“The dining room here is packed with young couples enjoying some of the town’s best and most eclectic food. Chef Matt Donnelly’s menu includes taste sensations like quail marinated in pomegranate molasses and a “Middle Eastern platter” with a lamb-stuffed potato pancake. The wine list has depth in both Aussie selections as well as interesting international wines”

Michael  Harden, Melbourne Weekly Magazine, 03/08

“It’s hard to talk about a restaurant having “positive energy” without coming across as a bit of a patchouli-drenched hippie. But there is something so good-natured and hospitable about Fitzroy’s The Commoner that such a phrase seems like a totally legitimate description. Not that there is anything hippie about the menu, but from the comfortable fit out and welcoming staff to the user-friendly menu of Euro-influenced food, The Commoner presents itself as a unique and positive place.

The Commoner is a place that combines modesty and passion in a most appealing and disarming way. It can leave even the most cynical among us spouting recycled slogans from the Summer of Love.”

Matt Preston, Epicure, The Age, 28/07/07

“More “bistro” are plates such as simply grilled squid with harissa, which is a Moro staple, or the pan-fried gnocchi tossed with roasted mushroom and pecorino. On Sunday’s there’s a roast - maybe a shoulder of goat, or pork that could pop up the next day cold and generously sliced between the thick-cut white bread spread with a gooey quince aioli.

All this gives me that familiar tingle, but my feelings reach a fully fledged crush when their freshly fried beignets, the dark doughnuts dusted in lemon sugar, arrive. These are all crunch and hot air, making them sweet but light. They come rolled in cardamom sugar and with chocolate to dip in to ward off the winter chills

While The Commoner might be my latest love, I fully admit that next week will probably be someone else, but then the great thing about a restaurant relationship is that there’s no taboo on adultery. After all, they entertain others every night”

Scoop Traveller Magazine

“The Commoner is certainly part of a trend in Fitzroy towards better eating but, in it’s attitude, flavour and approach, it is a place that holds it’s own unique position”

Dani Valent, M Magazine, The Sunday Age 17/07/07, score 4/5

“Very nice food boosts the feel-good factor. Chef Matt Donnelly worked at Moro, London’s high-end southern Mediterranean restaurant, for eight months. His share-friendly menu isn’t strictly Moorish but there’s an easy facility with ingredients such as white anchovies; picos (the creamy Spanish blue cheese he crumbles over crazily cloud-like semolina gnocchi); and pomegranate molasses (drizzled over a flourless chocolate torte). Some offerings have a retro club-house skew that owes more to Corrigan’s time at London gastropub The Brackenbury: there’s skate on toast with parsley salad, and soft-boiled egg with celery salt. Other dishes nod to classics without being crippled by the pedigree. So, the fish stew references bouillabaisse with its saffron-infused broth and side dishes of rouille and croutons, then downsizes the classic soup by including just flathead, skate and tiny clams. It’s immensely satisfying.

All this is delivered by friendly, relaxed waiters who are concerned that you know about Sunday evening’s potluck dinner when the menu is chucked out and you’ll be fed according to the chef’s whim. As always, the fare is determined by what leapt out at the market as freshest and best.

Good food isn’t a rarity in Melbourne. Neither are well-designed, competently managed restaurants. Even so, it’s not very common that the whole caboodle gels as winningly as it does at The Commoner.”

Rita Erlich, De Groots Media

“Classic dishes are prepared beautifully; just when you thought you might give up chicken, along comes the Commoner’s pan-roasted chook. The day’s fish is cooked on a wood fire in the small courtyard, which is open to diners in summer. The wine list is small but well chosen and the cocktails are seriously interesting. So is Sunday night pot luck. Delicious.”

“Communal tables and the regular Sunday woodfired roast (a shoulder of goat served with Middle Eastern sides), as well as a full bar service, make this a great place to drink and dine with friends. Be sure to ask after some ‘cheeky food’ - a secret array of off-the-menu items such as beignets (enriched choux pastry doughnuts rolled in spiced sugar).”

Winestate Magazine

“There is something of a food and wine renaissance happening in Fitzroy as smart young food-savvy operators move in to challenge the dominance of mediocre cookie-cutter cafes. Hot on the heels of places like Ladro, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Panama Dining Room and Brunswick Street Alimentari is Johnston St newcomer, The Commoner. The Commoner’s owners, Jo and David Corrigan, and chef Matthew Donnelly have recently returned to Melbourne from London and have brought a sense of quirky, interesting British style to both the decor and the food that gives a freshness and originality to dining here.

Matthew cooked at Moro in London and his menu takes in influences from Spain, Morocco, Britain, Italy and France. The breakfast menu might include Arabic pancakes with poached quince and wildflower honey, while the dinner list includes both small, interesting snack food (plump marinated anchovies on crostini with red pepper and aioli) and heartier dishes like a potato cake stuffed with spiced lamb and pine nuts. The wine list is brief and well priced and maintains a democratic balance of Old and New World labels. With its friendly, charming service, excellent courtyard out the back (the scene of barbecues on Sundays) and cleverly interesting food, The Commoner is a further refreshing breath of tasty air in Fitzroy”

The Age Good Food Guide 2008, score 12.5/20

“Finding something decent to eat in the vicinity of Brunswick Street is mostly a needle-and-haystack experience. Hence the quiet swell of local rejoicing when The Commoner opened its doors early in 2007, looking like a bright and breezy cafe with its white terrazzo floor, wooden tables and style-on-a-budget fitout, but going above and beyond the call of cafe duty with its food”

Herald Sun Dining Out, Simon Plant, 19-06-07 Score: 14/20

“Don’t believe the next person that tells you there’s no place like home, they obviously haven’t been to The Commoner. They haven’t stood in the doorway of this friendly Fitzroy diner admired the artfully arranged feijoas and chestnut. Or been offered a woolen rug to fold over their chair during dinner. Or wandered out the back where roasted veggies blister and spit on an open flame.

The Commoner – decorated with all sorts of found objects – makes a virtue of its humble surroundings and creates an atmosphere at once comforting and experimental.

The first time I lunched here, I tasted tentacles of squid no bigger than 20 cent pieces, braised black cabbage with sheep’s pecorino, and an earthy amalgam of pan-fried apple, red capsicum and black pudding. Days later, when I returned for dinner, the list was entirely different”, score 14/20

“Just love this place!

It’s a simple small shopfront on Johnston Street that promises little and delivers a lot. The room is comfortable and staff welcoming, tables simply laid but with attention to condiments and glassware. The menu gives respect to the seasons and the menu changes with availability of fine produce. Cooking is modern Euro - with hints of the Middle East - and shows skill and passion. There  are options of “wine me, dine me” or simply “feed me” where you hand over control to your waiter after specifying a spending limit, and dishes flow until you’re satisfied. The wine list is very short but the selections are interesting and well priced. Lovely food, friendly, helpful and endlessly knowledgeable service make The Commoner rather special”

Bar None column, Sunday Herald (

“The inside story: Exposed brickwork and enamel cookware hanging from the wall conspire to make The Commoner feel like a friend’s kitchen. And when it comes to drinking, the kitchen is often the best place to be. The great outdoors: So-called ‘cheeky smokers’ get a neat rear courtyard with potted herbs and garden trellises to inspire more healthful habits.

To drink: A wallet-friendly compilation of local and imported beers and wines. Most vintages are under $40 per bottle.

To eat: Being a breakfast-to-supper kind of venue, there’s always something cooking and it will be seasonal.  Bar snacks are Spanish and including boccarones (marinated white anchovies, $6) and prawn and bacon croquettes ($4).

The crowd:  With its very ‘mi casa, su casa’ vibe, The Commoner tends to attract locals looking for a good-value regular haunt.

Best for: Languid wining and dining. You can start off with drinks, stay for dinner and go back to having drinks again”

Vogue Entertaining & Travel, Jun/Jul 2007

“When Sam and Sam Clark of London’s Moro were in Australia, for the recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, they were raving about a new spot in Fitzroy. Hardly surprising since head chef Matthew Donnelly at The Commoner used to work for them. It was certainly enough to pique our interest, it’s a laidback bistro and courtyard affair. There’s a rustic menu for lunch and dinner (breakfast’s on the weekend)  as well as the option of “small food” in the evenings. Owner Jo Corrigan was a chef at Alastair Little and The Brackenbury, both in London”

Meet Me for a Drink, The Age, EG Section 28/05/07

“The Commoner is like a scene from a movie perhaps starring Hugh Grant and revolving around the wholesome lives of mysteriously wealthy European thirty- somethings  who eat very well. Think white, white, white. Simple tablecloths, cosy candlelight, good wines, jolly groups of good-looking people and mild levels of sexual tension”

MX Newspaper, Christopher Hayes, 10/10/07 – Score 13.5/20

“And the food, well…ingredients that other restaurants buy, they make in-house and it shows.

Fish at The Commoner changes with fresh availability, ours was fillets of snapper served with perfect broccoli  and good mash, the anchovy paprika butter lifting the snapper’s fresh sweet flesh. A simple dish but exemplary both in cooking and saucing.

More rustic is the grilled leg of lamb, the meat slightly fatty (adding to the flavour) but with fine labne and a crunchy spring onion, it was gorgeous.

The Commoner may not be flash but it’s very comfortable. It has a feeling of hospitality that so many places with million dollar fit-outs don’t.

And I’d return often for the ever changing menu. The quality of the food at these prices make it a gem. Just love this place”

CitySearch Melbourne

“There’s nothing common about this place, with its very smart food influenced by the best of modern British cuisine with Middle Eastern influences.”  05/12/07

“It is obvious within minutes of walking into The Commoner that it is run by people who are passionate about fresh produce and good cooking. Tables are decorated with seasonal products like granny smith apples, lemons or pumpkins, condiments come housed in tiny baking tins and the walls are hung with colourful ceramic cookware. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and are always happy to explain the Middle Eastern-influenced menu to customers. After all, the food here is excellent, and they know it. .”