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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Saint Crispin

When Smith Street had just become a local area for me, I used to walk past Cavallero and think about how I 'must try that place soon'. But as everyone knows, Smith Street (and surrounds) is not short of venues, and I must have been busy checking out all the others first, because before I knew it, Cavallero had closed and I had missed my chance. Apparently it had been struggling. Who then, would dare to take on the site, and what would they make of it? Smith Street is a prime location, but it's also full of competition. This would have to be good.



Enter Scott Pickett (Estelle Bistro) and Joe Grbac (The Press Club). Two chefs who used to work together at London's fancy-pants The Square (which boasts not one, but two Michelin stars), they joined forces to open a brand new venue as both business partners and co-head chefs. The result: Saint Crispin (300 Smith Street, Collingwood).

Named for the patron saint of shoemakers, Saint Crispin acknowledges its site's origins as a cobbler's workshop. The restaurant is large and airy, and retains a rustic sense of history with exposed bricks on one wall and an arched exit to the tiny back courtyard, but the historic references pretty much end there.



The marble bar was retained from Cavallero's former occupancy and marks the edge of the small but busy open kitchen. Black leather bench seating lines the wall and the overall design scheme is simple, with muted natural dark and light shades, grey-ish wood, and lots of natural light. Serving plates are smooth versions of that chunky matte crockery so in fashion right now, and the occasional wooden board.



Saint Crispin had been open for a while before I managed to get there, so my anticipation had built wildly. Accessible fine dining on Smith Street? A connection with the much-lauded Estelle? Beautiful plating and interesting food? Positive reviews and blog posts galore? Needless to say, when I arrived for a group dinner, my expectations were high.




The food did not disappoint. We opted for three courses at $65.00 per head, plus drinks and any extras. A group of five meant that between us, we had a fair bit of variety. Everything was beautifully plated, and some of the flavours and textures were really interesting.

"Snap Crackle Pop" appetisers

Even the spreads were pretty


A few members of our party found some flavours a bit overpowering - for example, the salmon dish. Apparently the accompanying foam was very 'sea-flavoured' which they didn't really like, and the salmon was served partially cooked, which was surprising at first, but by the end of the dish they found it quite tender.

I was surprised by the inclusion of blood sausage with my veal cheek, which was not listed on the menu and is not my favourite item in the world. Partially due to that, the dish was very rich in flavour, but the veal cheek itself was lovely.

Another friend exclaimed that words could not describe how happy the pork dish had made her. High praise indeed from a self-proclaimed pork belly aficionado!

I, and the others who also ordered it, absolutely loved the dessert of Saint Agur (blue cheese) with maple (i.e. sweetened) bacon, and radicchio (among other things). The flavours were so unusual, but the perfect mix - creamy savoury, sweet meaty, bitter and fresh. Just fantastic.

It was obvious this was very carefully crafted food (lots of technique) and the impressive flavours were on par with how impressive the dishes looked. Here's what we ate:


Entrees

Yellowfin tuna, calamari, mussels, tapioca and rocket

Asparagus, roasted parmesan custard, radish and gazpacho

Marron filled chicken wings, scallop and white asparagus

Quail, chorizo, polenta, sherry and South Australian olives


Mains

Atlantic salmon, parsley risotto, prawn, broad bean and peas

Veal cheek, onion consomme, black garlic, broccolini and coffee

Western Plains pork, fennel, burnt carrot, orange and miso


Sides

Chickpea, roasted cauliflower, tahini and cumin

Baby salad leaves, red wine and palm sugar dressing


Desserts

Peanut butter parfait, spiced pineapple, golden syrup and rum

Saint Agur, maple bacon, blueberry, apple and radicchio

These weren't on the menu but they were like melting moments,
complimentary at the end of the meal


Most of the staff were lovely and extremely competent. One (American?) girl in particular was very polite and thorough, responding to any queries we had about the somewhat obscure menu. However, in light of my high expectations of the evening, I was disappointed that one waiter seemed quite rude. A few of us noticed his strange tone of voice and felt pressured by him to order quickly. I brought it up with Saint Crispin via Twitter and they asked for my feedback by email, graciously accepting the criticism, and advised that the staff member had been spoken to about upholding their preferred standard of service. The pressure to order was clarified as being due to our early sitting for dinner, particularly on a Saturday night - and I am completely sympathetic to the fact that the table was needed by a certain time for the next sitting - but it had felt a bit off-putting at the time. I was happy with their handling of my little whinge, and it was the only hiccup in an otherwise perfect evening.



Saint Crispin also boasts an upstairs bar, Thomas Olive, which I have not yet had the chance to patronise. Entry is via the restaurant - walk all the way through to the back, and then up the stairs. Its hours are somewhat limited (currently from 5pm, Wednesday to Saturday), but I imagine it'd be a nice place to wile away some time whilst waiting for your later sitting downstairs.

The restaurant is also involved in the occasional special event: its current project is a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival pop-up collaboration with Pierre Roelofs (famed for his dessert degustation evenings at Cafe Rosamond) at the St Kilda Bowling Club. (Two saints... Coincidence?!)



I would absolutely recommend Saint Crispin for its amazing food, pristine environment and extreme professionalism. One friend described it as 'quality, without being super pretentious'. It's best for a date or intimate group dinner - just try and get the later sitting, if you can! Booking is definitely recommended due to its popularity - despite booking at least a month ahead, we were only able to secure the early sitting on a Saturday night. Saint Crispin is deserving of its two Good Food Guide hats and well worth a visit.

Saint Crispin is open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner, and for lunch on weekends.




Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon