It’s interesting seeing your home city through an outsiders perspective. The lovely Niamh, a friend from London and author of Eat Like a Girl, was in Melbourne last week for a press trip and the pressure was on to find the perfect spot for a dinner catch up. I settled on Saint Crispin in Smith Street As I think the cooking of owners and chefs Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac is interesting and adventurous. Others think so too, with The Age anointing Saint Crispin as Melbourne’s best new restaurant.
Saint Crispin is located in what used to be the cafe Cavallero, right in the heart of Melbourne’s dining out heartland, Smith Street. Although poor Niamh was given a bum steer by her hotel concierge who unhelpfully advised “You want to go to a restaurant on Smith Street? Which Smith Street? There are quite a few of them”. Seriously, it’s bad enough the taxi drivers in Melbourne don’t know where anything is, you would think the hotel concierges would have heard of Smith Street.
The major changes to Cavellero’s decor are limited to pulling out the booth seating and adding a bit of religious iconography giving Saint Crispin an established, settled feel. A long bar which you can perch at for a birds eye view, a partly open kitchen and a pumping soundtrack add to the restaurant’s buzz.
While Saint Crispin is the more casual sibling to Pickett’s Northcote restaurant The Estelle, there’s still a welcome amuse bouche to start of hibiscus marshmallow. From here the choice is two courses ($50), three courses ($60) or the tasting menu ($120). We went with the three courses along with some really stinky but delicious eel croquettes ($8). The chef also kindly sent out a plate of Saint Crispin’s “snap, crackle, pop” ($9) to try – dehydrated, puffed pork with an addictive sprinkling of spices on. Brilliant drinking food.
I started with the entree of Atlantic salmon. The fish was velvety to cut through and popped with freshness. It was teamed with shavings of calamari, a crisp made from tapioca and a pool of jet black squid ink – this dish was truly all about the sea. The Wagyu bresaola also impressed with its combination of cured meat on top of a tartare. Both entreés were really generously sized.
The standout main dish was the Greenvale pork which was served three ways – as a rich slow cooked cheek, thinly sliced almost like a green bacon and as a shard of crisp crackling. Curried raisins and saffron added an unexpected element to the dish.
From the dessert menu the chocolate cake with its subtle Earl Grey flavouring was incredibly rich and dense. More refreshing, the blood orange parfait was as pretty as a picture scattered with flowers and crumbled cake.
Impressively the wine list is up to the task of matching the food. We drank a Hunter Valley semillon ($65) which met our request for a distinctly Australian white wine. At the end of the meal, a glass of champagne with the chocolate cake was spot on and probably my preferred ending to all meals. From a visitor’s perspective when you are seated at the bar at Saint Crispin the view of Melbourne’s dining scene is pretty good.
Details: Saint Crispin, 300 Smith Street, Collingwood (Ph 93419 2002) Open Tues – Thurs 6pm – late, Fri – Sun 12-3, 6pm – late.
Damage: Pricey. Our dinner and wine came to just over $100 a head.