Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Estelle Bar & Kitchen

Estelle Bar & Kitchen
243 High Street
VIC 3070
Ph: (03) 9489 4609

Wednesday 6pm till late
Thursday – Sunday 12pm till late

Most of the time, my memory is vaguely intact, and decision-making processes remembered, but apart from a general idea that I somehow surfed my way there online, I can’t remember what it was that brought me to Estelle Bar & Kitchen.

Whatever it was, I am thankful that I made the decision, as it turned out to be my favourite meal of the trip. It was also the one involving the least amount of decision-making required, as dinner at Estelle amounts to making one of three choices from the chef’s tasting menu :

3 courses for $50pp (with matching wine $70)
5 courses for $70pp (with matching wine $100)
7 courses for $90pp (with matching wine $130)

In addition, you can select from a range of charcuterie (including terrines and parfait) and oysters from Cloudy Bay and Coffin Bay.

The menu on the night of my visit, Saturday 26th November 2011, was as follows :


Cauliflower sausage, cous cous & curry oil
Beetroot & ashed goats cheese
White asparagus, 63 degree egg & brioche

Smoked eel, carrot & camomile
King salmon, baby peas & shiso
Yellowfin tuna, red cabbage & horseradish

Pork, cheek and ear
A taste of spring lamb and heirloom carrots
Kangaroo loin, celeriac & black mushroom

Sweet stuff
Rhubarb, rose & musk
Strawberry, vanilla & basil
Sour cream, pumpkin & salted caramel

The diner only has to choose how many courses they wish to have and to list any allergies or food that they can’t eat. After making that one (food) decision the kitchen, manned by Scott Pickett and Ryan Flaherty, will take control. It's great for those who find themselves paralysed by indecision when given too much choice, and an exercise in letting go for those who like to carefully compose their meals and want to know what is coming next.

It is also interesting to see what other tables are having, as the chances are high that you will get a different series of dishes to your neighbours.

Sardine 'fossils' and chickpea chips

We chose to have three courses, and these were preceded by two amuse bouche.

“Sardine fossils”, best described as an intensely fishy cracker which was like eating really crispy fish skin, are made by mashing sardines with tapioca, and then frying the mixture until it becomes a bubbly crunchy fishy snack. They are slightly salty, very addictive, and eaten with whipped soured cream. The second item was chickpea chips. I admit that I didn’t really take to these taste-wise or texturally, nor did my dining companions. Interestingly, their taste seemed to alter slightly when eaten cold. 

First to appear was the Yarra Valley smoked eel with camomile tea-infused cream and carrot reduction. It was explained to us that the celery in this dish was poached in apple juice; this turned the celery from something that I am not that keen on eating to a sweet (but not overly so) vegetable that added sweetness to the fragrant rich smokiness of the eel and so-subtle-you-almost-miss-it camomile cream. A beautifully presented dish with a happy balance of flavours, and a pleasure to eat. 

The next dish didn’t appear on the menu we were given, but was described as “lemon air, Blue Eye and fennel”. The fish had hints of bacalhau to me, and the lemon air was best when mixed with the other components of the dish, turning the soft fish flesh into something memorable, with a nice acidic tang lifting the richness of the fish.

A peppered kangaroo fillet was the final dish. Given that we’d already had the fish, I’d assumed that the final course would be a dessert, so this was a surprise. I love eating roo, and this turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening, the flesh tender, pink, and served with a baby leek, half a turnip and what was called a mushroom ‘splatter’. Any raised eyebrows at the ‘splatter’ soon dissipated upon tasting, and I scraped every last bit off my plate. It was pure essence of mushroom, and I shudder to think of how many kgs of mushrooms had to be used in order to reduce it to that level of intensity. It was delicious and incredibly more-ish. It occurred to me that if they could put that mushroom reduction in jars, I’d love a bit of it on a toasted brioche, or smeared onto toast for mushrooms on toast.

To our surprise, a complimentary dessert, the “rhubarb, rose & musk”, came out. All pink and summery, it was musk flavoured meringue, rose syrup, and quite sweetened rhubarb. Great for those who like rose or musk flavours, like me. A fairly light dessert, and a perfect ending to an evening with food cooked with thought combined with friendly service in a comfortable setting.

One of the things that I really liked about the places I visited or walked past in Melbourne was the popularity of bar spaces for eating (a habit which I’d love Sydney to pick up on). It gives the place a whole different feel, and for solo diners for example, it means that there are places which feel more accessible. There were a couple of people dining at the bar that evening (by choice, as the restaurant was not full) and they seemed to really enjoy the interaction with the staff behind the bar.

Estelle is bang for buck. For the prices they're charging, it's a bargain given the thought and work going into the dishes. There's a lot of hard work, but they are also fun dishes, and a pleasure to eat. It’s slightly out of the way at Northcote, but I enjoyed myself there so much that I'd definitely visit them again if I was in Melbourne.


The Estelle on Urbanspoon


Mim said...

Looks and tastes scrummy! Wish I had been there...

kewpie said...

definitely a place i'd visit! just need to work out the logistics of getting to northcote.

Sophie said...

I'm a Northcote resident, there's some great restaurants round these parts but I have to say that Estelle's is one of the best, great review!

The Sydney Tarts said...

@Mim - it was a nice place, you'd have liked it.
@kewpie - there are definitely trams which go to Northcote.
@sophie - Thanks. I will have to investigate your suburb more when I'm next in Melbourne. Any suggestions? Really liked Estelle.