Imagine the richest guy in town throwing a massive party that everyone, and I mean everyone, is invited to. It lasts for weeks and keeps getting better and better until he (or she) has nothing left. Literally nothing. All of their assets gone. Left only with the respect and gratitude of their peers. It would never happen, right? Certainly not in the society most of us who read this would be used to. But in Nagaland it does, and it’s called the Feast of Merit. It’s an honourable tradition about sharing and connecting with the whole community. The people of Nagaland, a state in far North-eastern India, believe that merit lies with those that choose to give away what they accumulate. It’s a philosophy that resonated with YGAP and became the inspiration for their third social enterprise, a communal dining house in Melbourne’s inner city suburb, Richmond.
YGAP is not your usual not-for-profit organisation. They like doing things differently; an observation made fondly by the father of the YGAP CEO, a man who is no stranger to empowering disadvantaged communities himself. His name is Tim Costello, you may have heard of him. His son, Elliot founded YGAP as an incubator for social change and brought together a passionate team of volunteers, supportive suppliers, generous donors, and inspiring individuals for the Feast of Merit project.
YGAP kindly invited me to the pre-opening launch where I was treated to numerous tastes from Ravi Presser’s (founding head chef of Fonda Mexican and previously of Circa, Bar Lourhina, Mrs Jones and Cumulus Inc) exciting menu. Think Yottam Ottolenghi on holiday in Melbourne: local, seasonal flavours, share plates, with a focus on delicious, healthy salads and grains.
As a local I have since returned under my own steam for breakfast. The only difficulty I had with the breakfast menu was in deciding what to have: the housemade Feast of Merit supergrain white organic toast with Myrtleford butter and a fig and rosewater conserve (5.5), or maybe Beetroot pickled, raw, roasted wild rice, candied walnuts, salted ricotta and za’atar spices (13.5)? In the end I went for the Backyard fruits, chia seeds, orange blossom, yoghurt ice and smoked almonds (12.5). Seriously, if this is what you get from a backyard, maybe I should rethink living in an apartment!
The simple approach to lunch at Feast of Merit will appeal to both tastebuds and budgets alike. Each day will see a selection of salads on offer. Diners can feast on one (5), two (10) or three (15) and choose to add a protein (+8): Charred Hopkins River Beef, horseradish, garlic paste, Roasted Milawa Chicken or a BBQ market fish with chermoula.
At dinner the focus is on sharing. Start with some small plates like Spiced runner beans with shanklish (a very moreish crumbly, salty, dried and aged cheese common in Syria and Lebanon) (6), Smoked eggplant, lemon, pomegranate (6), or Cuttlefish, chilli, parsley, lemon, fresh oregano (7)
Then add some vegetables and grains (15). Perhaps Fried cauliflower, blackened onions, hung yoghurt, sour cherries or the Forgotten raw vegetable slaw.
Then round out your meal with one of the protein options from the Evening Feast (15) – similar to the lunch offering, but more substantial and for a minimum of 2 people.
The St David milk pudding with fig and caramelised sugar (6) from the short but sweet dessert list was a wonderful finale.
The same level of care about product and provenance has gone into the drinks list. It’s thoughtful and well curated with a range of Ayurvedic tonics one of the highlights. At the pre-launch I sampled the Ginger Digestive (3.5). A warming fire boosting elixir to stimulate the metabolism.
They must see themselves as a potentially good date place, because The Basilenko – an apple, orange, pineapple, strawberry and mint juice on the menu which is on the house if you are on a Tinder date and have proof of the Tinder match!
YGAP CEO Elliot Costello explains, “All profits generated by Feast of Merit will be channelled into YGAP’s youth education projects in developing communities across Africa, Asia and Australia. We are so proud of our outcomes that with Feast of Merit we are hoping to offer a simple way for people to get involved and support our projects while eating great food and having fun with friends.”
Feast of Merit is at 117 Swan St, Richmond and is open for breakfast, lunch and drinks seven days and dinner Tuesday to Sunday.
For reservations or function enquiries contact the welcoming team on 03 9428 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
I think it is a great addition to the neighbourhood and look forward to working my way through all the menu.