Amuse-bouches (or is it amuse-gueules these days) arrive in the form of sweet and salty black olive macarons and mini hibiscus marshmallows with a dusting of tart crystals. Nothing like a meal that starts with dessert to win this girl over.
Set up in what was once a cobbler’s shop on Smith St, Collingwood, Saint Crispin was an early entry into an area that has since become a foodie hub. The collaboration between Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac has produced a winning formula; a fine dining experience without the pomp or hefty price tag, with a clear design concept and spot-on service to round out the package.
The updated space is casually hip – comfy, plush green chairs at timber tables, white walls scrubbed back to expose the underlying brick work, a (tiny) open kitchen at the back, and retaining Cavallero’s spectacular green marble bar – with coolness factor amped up by an eclectic rock soundtrack (cue rocking out to Faith No More with Austrian riesling in hand). Two wait staff work the floor in workmen’s aprons, cheerfully casual demeanor belying a comprehensive and enthusiastic knowledge of their wares.
Needless to say, the eating is excellent. Reading like an ingredients list, a largely European menu provides a canvas for combining chef-y elements and ingredients du jour, with Asian flavours seamlessly worked into the mix. Attention to detail from start to finish makes the experience, from the caramelised onion cream cheese that calls for second rounds of warm bread and umami kick of sumac salt dusted over pork crackling puffed to prawn cracker-esque lightness, to ice cream enlivened with hints of earl grey and ginger.
At the heart of it, however, the produce is the hero. An entrée of lightly seared yellowfin tuna on a bed of lightly sweet cabbage is enhanced, not overpowered, by salt and smoke, with a bright ham hock consommé poured at the table. Fresh petals, shaved calamari and striking squid ink, tapioca crackers freshen and add contrast to a luxuriously rich combination of confit Atlantic salmon and saffron aioli.
In mains territory, Sunday roast has been updated with fine-dining flare. In keeping with the nose-to-tail trend, tender slices of Greenvale pork tenderloin are served alongside a meltingly soft slab of pork jowl with requisite crackling. Sweetness is delivered in the form of heirloom carrots, puréed and shaved, with a punchy curried raisin gel dotted on the plate with experienced restraint. Another dish of Flinders Island lamb cutlets, shoulder and leg, cooked to bring out the best of each cut, pillowy gnocchi, broad beans and golden wild garlic is a far cry from the standard meat-and-veg.
Saint Crispin has embraced the vegetables-in-dessert fashion. Their spin on pumpkin pie (any other fancy restaurant would have called this ‘Textures of Pumpkin’) is a winning number; lightly spiced pumpkin mousse with cubes of pumpkin, topped with pecan crumble and iced pumpkin seeds, further American-ised by the addition of cream cheese and maple syrup. Those feeling less adventurous might opt for a decadent chocolate mousse, mainstream but no less impressive.
And just when you think it’s all over, sour apple jellies are delivered with the bill. They’ve really thought of everything. I don’t think there’s much more to say other than that you have not experienced the best of what Melbourne has to offer unless you’ve eaten here.
If there was one dish that could convert me to veganism, it would have to be Footscray Milking Station’s incredible coconut quinoa porridge. Beautifully creamy, with an intense coconut flavour, topped with sweet papaya and a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts and coriander (yes, coriander), for a titillating savoury contrast. In keeping with the theme, a well-spiced, brewed chai that works very well with nutty soy milk is a nice change from the morning coffee.
Located on a quite suburban corner, Footscray Milking Station brings a touch of South Yarra’s cafe style over to the west-side. Clearly popular with the locals, the interior and street-side tables are typically filled by 9 on a weekend, with plenty a passer-by popping in for a Padre coffee with Jonesy’s milk and takeaway toasties and pastries. There’s much to love about the Mexican-inspired menu; the eggs are amazing, whipped up into a silky scramble, perfectly poached and topped with tomato hollandaise and peppers or served with spicy beans on top of a crispy tortilla base in the popular huevos rancheros. For lunch, more-ish pulled pork and jerk chicken panini are rave-worthy, washed down with a cold jarritos soda. And how about corn cakes with guac and chorizo for a tasty gluten-free option?
Before you head out, check out the deli in the back, a nostalgic touch harking back to the building’s cornerstore days.