There a little bit of Basque country foaming away in Northcote, at the relaunched The Estelle, best known previously for the knitted cuts of meat hanging on the wall.
How much foam diners in Northcote – or indeed Melbourne – can take is the question that perplexes me. The food (and foam) coming out of the kitchen of the newly installed chef Ryan Flaherty, which was recently bought by The Point’s executive chef Scott Pickett, is terrific.
And unlike may purveyors of foam, the delicate successor to rich jus and butter-enhanced sauces, Flaherty knows what he is doing. His resume counts working at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck for two years, experimenting in the laboratory of Arzak in San Sebastian for a year (while working at Afuego Nero) and spending seven months in the kitchen of Ferran Adria’s El Bulli before returning to Australia in March 2010 and working at The Point.
But Australian diners have seen so much poorly executed foam that however it is used, it has lost its currency and is treated with suspicion.
What Flaherty is bringing to Melbourne is a bit of contemporary Basque-style cuisine and represents a complete change of direction at The Estelle. He brings plenty of humour and whimsy with dishes such as sweetbread nuggets, sweet paprika mayonnaise presented in a smily-faced cardboard container challenging anything any fast food outlet may serve.
The sardine fossil is one of Flaherty’s innovations in San Sebastian; sardines and split and dried, then deep fried in tapioca to the point of becoming a cracker, served in a martini glass with a foamed sour cream.
Another glimpse of Basque cuisine comes with leatherjacket cheeks and orzo peeking out under a green snow pea foam and Blue Eye Bakala (salt cod), fennel & lemon and Skate, white onion gel and black olives – an homage to the classic skate with black butter and capers.
The dishes are available as snacks (from $6 to $13) or plates ($19 to $25) or a seven course degustation for $70.
Finish with the Rhubarb & musk which, as is the case nowadays, is much more complex and gorgeous-looking than it sounds.
High Street Northcote is increasing becoming worth a detour for dinner but now with The Estelle open during the day is worth a lunchtime trip too. Prepare yourself for foam.