Meat-and-Three-Veg outdid himself for my birthday this year. Of course this didn’t happen by accident. Some rather unsubtle hints meant I received the perfect gift of these earrings. But MTV came up with booking dinner in at Estelle Bar & Kitchen all by himself.
What I loved about the Estelle was the cutting edge food in a casual, laid back setting. The unassuming shop front on Northcote High Street feels relaxed and unpretentious with its retro tile clad walls, 1970’s style chairs and predominantly bar seating. But then we sat down and were presented with a slate of amuse bouches which were certainly not your high street standard. There was a black hand made rice cracker, a sliver of bonito tuna and a square of rockmelon cured and wrapped in edible, translucent paper made from potato starch. Impressive stuff.
Curing and pickling is a recurring theme throughout the menu which is offered as a five course, seven course or nine course degustation. This is clever cooking and the two owner chefs owner-chefs, Scott Pickett and Ryan Flaherty, likes to show off their skill and effort. But unlike some restaurants, the flavours actually all work together at the Estelle and taste is not sacrificed in favour of kitchen wizardry. The emphasis on flavour with a sense of fun was evident in a simpler dish of roasted and charred sweet corn was transformed with the addition of creamy goats cheese and grains of puffed rice.
Spanner crab mornay was a winter classic. I’ve only ever had tuna mornay before but the crab elevated this to a restaurant style dish while having all the comfort of lashings of Comte cheese sprinkled across the top. Similarly, a fillet of John Dory served with picked pine mushrooms and bonito flakes was perfect Winter fare thanks to the addition of a restorative mushroom broth.
The plating at the Estelle is seriously statement making. Served on beautiful crockery dishes like the octopus with beetroot look almost too good to eat. But dig in and you find the octopus has a lovely smoky char and the whole dish has a slight sourness from a liberal dousing with the spice sumac.
The ingredients used are also adventurous. While a hunk of slow cooked beef cheek is quite common on Melbourne menu’s now, teaming the cheek with a celeriac remoulade like the Estelle does then topping it off with a slice of tongue makes it instantly memorable. This was my first time eating tongue and I loved it.
Desserts were equally well executed although it would have been nice if one of them was warm on such a wintery night. Vanilla sour cream sponge with olive oil ice-cream was like a deconstructed birthday cake. While a sable biscuit topped with apricot gel was a refreshing way to end the meal thanks to the accompanying mint ice-cream.
There’s a great wine list as well which sadly I did not get to explore much of but quite a few options by the glass and by carafe meant I did get to enjoy the delicate Toolangi Estate pinot noir ($15). Despite the lack of wine it was a birthday meal that was whimsical and utterly memorable. There’s almost too much to love about the quirky and unpretentious Estelle.
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Details: Estelle Bar & Kitchen, 243 High St, Northcote (Ph 03 9489 4609) Open Tue-Thu 6pm-late, Fri-Sun noon-late.
Damage: Pricey but worth it. The only choice is degustation which is $70 for five courses, $90 for seven or nine courses for $110. We opted for the seven courses and our bill came to $240 for two with minimal wine. One niggle – The Estelle charges 1% for any card purchase even Eftpos which is pretty annoying and probably should be disclosed when booking.