By definition, a canteen is a restaurant provided by an organisation to its students or staff. The so named Punchbowl Canteen certainly meets that description in that it's a restaurant feeding, for the most part, the workers of the area — but that's where the similarity between Punchbowl and any other canteen stops.
Head Chef Elizabeth Milroy's motto to "keep it simple but do it well" is evident in her carefully compiled menu, which showcases her take on simple, delicious, and locally-sourced food. Originally from country Victoria, Milroy has worked in restaurants across Europe and, more recently, at St Ali, Fitzrovia and Wide Open Road.
House favourite — and one that has food bloggers scrabbling to open their Instagram accounts — is the fish cake Scotch egg with radish, pear shard, shaved beetroot salad and curry mayo ($18). But don't discount the simpler options; the cabinet showcases a range of good looking sandwiches and buns and big bowls of interesting salads which you can have as they come or accompanied by a piece of wood-fired meat like chicken, beef or pork.
If you feel like something a little more substantial from the kitchen, they have that too. There are, of course, the aforementioned Scotch eggs, but the semolina gnocchi ($18), pork and veal meatballs ($19) or the wood-fired pork belly ($20) have a certain allure as well.
Punchbowl is a light and airy converted warehouse with white walls and a Gorman-esque colour-popping mural on the wall by acclaimed Australian illustrator and designer, Leah Bartholomew. Walk in past an outside AstroTurfed seating area and past the custom-made wood fire. The waft of wood fire smoke at the entrance makes for an enticing welcome.
Coffee is by Industry Beans, roasted in a six-kilo roaster in Fitzroy. The usual suspects are indeed on offer, but check out their cold drip with brewed coffee cubes or their golden lattes if you feel so inclined.
The juices, smoothies and thickshakes have been given some pretty cute names, although these and the menu seem to hint at a slight bitterness towards relationships. Dad's Secretary, Two Ex You and Bangin' Chard are big names for liquid refreshment — and when the sides are described as, 'extra-marital (on the side)', you've got to wonder, don't you?
There was a common lament as people flocked in the door, and that was the challenge of finding a car park. It's a dense industrial area and now that Punchbowl is drawing in those from outside the zone, parking is tight. And it's busy. If you arrive at peak lunchtime, it can be hard to get a table. Luckily, a lot of the offering can be taken away — but don't just go back to your desk and consume while you work, take it to nearby Murphy or Garden City Reserve and give it the attention it deserves.