Farewell to the pink and blue tiles and goodbye to the degustation only menu. Northcote’s much loved Estelle restaurant has been reinvented as the more casual Estelle Bistro. The restaurant looks slicker with polished glass along the back of the bar and brass accents and moody lighting giving the front room an intimate feel.
I had dinner there with my friend Claire who was visiting from London and since we had both done a lot of eating over the Easter holiday (I don’t think we were the only ones) it was a relief to be able to pick a few dishes to share rather than having to strap in for a gourmet endurance event.
Estelle Bistro’s scotch olives ($6) are a brilliant bar snack. They’re essentially an olive version of a scotch egg with the olive encased in lamb sausage and breadcrumbs before being deep fried. Salty and crunchy they’re a perfect drinking food. Croquettes ($9) oozed cheesy filling but my favourite bar snack on offer were the chick pea fries with faux bacon ($6). Stacked up like a game of Jenga they were soft, slightly sweet and very moreish.
Octopus, tarama and squid ink ($23) looked spectacular with a plating showcasing inky black dots of squid ink and pearly white whipped cod roe. However the octopus itself was chewy and char marks promised a smoky flavour but didn’t deliver.
The brilliance of chef Scott Pickett is still on show at Estelle Bistro. The cauliflower and tallegio cheese risotto ($27) is a triumph: silky and rich, topped with wafer thin cross sections of cauliflower. Simple dishes are carefully constructed like the pumpkin roasted until it is soft and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch while a dollop of labneh adds tang.
The sweet end of the meal was a real highlight. The toffee and banana souffle ($17) was one of the best desserts I’ve had all year. The killer flavour combination was showcased in a towering, light-as-air souffle and accompanied by a creamy scoop of beurre noisette ice-cream. Quince and yoghurt ($16) also impressed with the slow cooked, sticky fruit given some crunch through the addition of shards of crunchy pastry imitating Autumn leaves.
Service was a little off kilter with our waiter asking us if we had eating “disabilities” and making a few other kooky comments. He may have been just trying to inject personality but it was a little strange. I felt the reinvented Estelle Bistro has lost a little of the specialness of the old Estelle, and I do wish they’d kept those tiles but I can’t blame Pickett for making the restaurant more accessible. For those (like me) still hankering after the Estelle that was, this month Pickett is set to open fine dining restaurant ESP next door.
Details: Estelle Bistro, 243 High St, Northcote (Ph 03 9489 4609)
Damage: Pricey. Our bill came to $159 for two with minimal wine.