A trend that has taken hold across culinary strongholds such as Paris, New York, London, and et cetera, is the very notion that diners should be able to have a fantastic meal, without paying through their nose for it, nor the need for excessive decorum. Some have even shunned the Michelin system, such that they have the freedom to forge their own path and culinary ideals. And Michelin had adapted by awarding stars to more casual joints, such as Tim Ho Wan dim sum in Hong Kong, or very austere sushi bars in Tokyo, with the focus more on the food quality.
Melbourne is truly embracing this belief, with casual, no-fuss restaurants such as Supernormal, and my next stop-off, Saint Crispin, leading the charge by using the best produce to make simple, but brilliant dishes that highlight the quality of the ingredients.
We were quite excited about this meal, and opted for the 7 course chef’s tasting menu, which would set us back A$120 each. It’s not very often that I get to visit Melbourne, nor able to catch up with good friends. So, why the hell not?
The meal started with some olive madeleines, served with an emulsion of soy milk, hay ash, and olive. Despite the savoury components, it was redolent of the typical sweetness with madeleines.
One of the true marks of a great restaurant, is the bread. Saint Crispin’s offerings had a wonderful crust and a pillowy interior. But what truly made it take off, was their addictive, caramelized onion jam. The interplay of sweet and savoury, with a flavour and texture slightly reminiscent of foie gras. Brilliant.
The entree to the meal was the Hiramasa Kingfish, with octopus, fennel and seaweed. The octopus was well cooked and had nice texture to it. The dish overall was a nice, light start to the meal, and one could taste every single ingredient presented.
Next dish was a salt baked celeriac, smoked walnut and cavolo nero. It was a good dish and the cavolo nero i.e. Black kale added a nice crunch, albeit in the end not particularly memorable.
Now for the snapper with leek, mussels, gnocchi, and curried pumpkin. It was quite robust tasting dish with solid flavours, and I certainly enjoyed the wonderful pearl onions that came alongside the dish.
Now for the true star of the meal, and it had to be pork. A nicely roasted pork jowl with beans, miso, charred cabbage and slivers of nashi pear. The crackling with the tender meat was absolute perfection, and the veggies added some brightness to the dish. Two weeks since my Melbourne sojourn, and I still can taste this dish. Oh praise the lard, indeed.
Now for the desserts. We started with a Jerusalem artichoke (or Sunchoke) and parsnip rice pudding, salted caramel. These root vegetables are not common ingredients for desserts, but has some intrinsic sweetness and nuttiness to it that actually makes sense. Not a common dessert that I’d might crave for, but tasty nonetheless. And did I mention, flatulence is quite a common side effect with the consumption of these ingredients? Thar she blows!
Next, we had a Brillat Savarin cheesecake, with mandarin sorbet, dehydrated mandarin segments, and beurre noisette. I have a penchant for good cheesecakes, and I actually liked this one, which paired well with the tangy mandarin sorbet and dehydrated segments.
To be absolutely honest, I don’t have a striking recollection of this dish. I do recall it was decent offering, but it did not make too much noise.
Cheese plate! We had the onetik chebris, ewe and goats milk cheeses from the Basque region of France, bordering with Spain. It was quite rich, and paired nicely with the sweet jams.
Overall, it was a very good experience, and truly displayed the wonderful produce that Australia had to offer sans the Basque cheeses. Flavour wise, it was definitely more restrained, with the focus to make the ingredients truly shine without complicated sauces or excess butter. One could truly feel relaxed and chat noisily here without fear, nor some stuffy waiter eyeing you repulsively. It’s a great place for a nice occasion, perhaps with friends or a partner for a casual date, as the price tag can be a bit hefty at A$50 (2 course) and beyond.
If this is the direction that the Melbourne culinary scene is taking, I’m quite excited of the things to come. Especially with the multi-ethnic, diverse backgrounds that populate arguably the World’s most liveable city, the possibilities are endless.
Saint Crispin – 300 Smith St. Collingwood, VIC 3066. +61 3 9419 2202.