The essence of Saint Crispin on Smith St

Scott Pickett at the pass at St Crispins Smith St

A fish dish was the essence of a rockpool. The pullet egg with truffles and mushrooms like a forest floor.
It was the evening before opening at Saint Crispin. And the restaurant was already hitting its stride. Chefs Scott Pickett of The Estelle and Joe Grbac, formerly of The Press Club, were working with the kind of seasoned intensity you only find in the world’s best kitchens.

king salmon St Crispin smith

Rewind 5 years. Smith Street was all but a culinary wasteland being colonised by The Panama Dining Room and Cavellero, both fresh and casual takes on drink and food. They were the precursors to Gorski & Jones, Hell of the North, Huxtable, Easy Tiger and the soon to come Lee Ho Fook.

Flinders Island lamb, nettles, radish tops and slippery jacks

Back in 2008 Scott Pickett , fresh from The Square in London, was at The Point in Albert Park before leaving to open The Estelle in High St Northcote. What was Albert Park’s loss was a huge gain for Northcote.

It’s with no joy I’ve followed the slide of the two businesses that broke ground in Smith St. The once shoulder-to-shoulder packed Panama has had its wings clipped by liquor licensing reducing its hours and patron numbers. Cavellero, despite a reasonably priced list of decent booze, slipped in the face of new competition, a food offering that required work and service that mostly was hipster.

What St Crispin offers is a similar idea to The Estelle, high end food that isn’t easily defined by continent or style in a casual and reasonably priced space where two courses cost $50 and three $60 – for now at least.

So back to the food, a pared back menu of 4 of each course and 3 sides.

Pullet egg, mushrooms, parmesan, goats curd and black rice shaved with truffle was what evoked earthiness and forest floor (with $25 worth of truffle). King salmon, shaved calamari, oysters, squid ink and saffron was the essence of rockpool.

Our mains were Flinders Island lamb, nettles, radish tops and slippery jacks; and Veal cheek, hand rolled macaroni, miso eggplant and almonds. Desserts: Chocolate, earl grey, milk and ginger; and, poached rhubarb, burnt custard and blood orange.

The old Cavellero kitchen has been upgraded. The booths have been replaced by simple yet stylish banquets as remarkable comparison to the similar Gorski & Jones space next door but one.

Like with The Estelle in Northcote, Saint Crispin is a huige gain Smith Street Collingwood. I at least like having Scott Pickett on my doorstep and will be back very soon.

 Chocolate, earl grey, milk and ginger Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon

Croce via di Stasio – the beautiful bar next door

bar-di-stasio-callum-morton

It’s 4.38am. My mouth is dry. My head is sore and I have hangover insomnia (as I call it).

Last night I dropped in for a quick bowl of pasta at the new Bar di Stasio. And that’s where I went wrong.

There has never been any such thing as a quick bowl of pasta at Cafe di Stasio nor will there ever be such as thing at Bar di Stasio, which last week celebrated its 25th year.

I know that about half of you out there are gong to disagree with me here as di Stasio is the kind of place that polarizes people.

Even before I’d met (and I should declare been watered) by Ronnie di Stasio or Mallory Wall (pictured at the bar above) I was a big fan of the restaurant. And for me it just gets better by the visit.

It’s starts off with the set lunch which I remember as far back as $15 for two courses and a glass of wine. It’s now $35 but you will never get out of there without a mugging by the charm of restaurant’s old school Italian waiters complete in their white jackets, black bowties and, sometimes, dyed black hair.

It’s insidious. Perhaps it starts with a glass on impeccably presented Campari ($13). An Aperol Spritz ($15). Or maybe a prosecco ($11). Kerching!

Watch out for the bottled water. And that second glass of wine. The caffè corretto (espresso with a shot of grappa) is mandatory. $35 is now $75. And I’ve started drinking so I have to finish off as much as I can from the bar.

In possible the most aesthetically designed bar I’ve ever been too – a collaboration between Ronnie, architects and artists – and it happened again. And since I started writing this post it has happened again and again. And again.

bar-di-stasio-waiter

I sat at the monolithic marble bar imported in two slabs (from Sicily as is the original bar next door) and sealed together in a near invisible paper thin seam. Behind me over the entrance is a fire engine red Callum Mortan sculpture appearing to give structural integrity to the single fronted space.

The pale rendered walls are finished to a polish with no addition of paint. It’s just expensive detail in a solid brick and plaster wall. It makes for quality and solidity. It gives you the feeling that the place has been here for ever and will remain forever.

The glass panels encasing the distressed walls show the history of the room in the tradition of classical museums.

bar-di-stasio-corridor

To anyone who will listen I’ve raved about the proportions of the room – the two doorways at the end of the long rectangular rooms and the two narrow spaces giving a peek into the main restaurant set of the room.

The corrridor leads to bathrooms that are floor to ceiling marble. Beyond is a hidden nook and a dead end. It’s a clever execution that shows the level of attention detail that has gone into this place.

And what of the food? It’s small bites. Melazane fritte – eggplant fritters – at $11. Tuscan Soldiers at $3 each. Hot goat cheese, tomato + basil salad for $9. You can move on to lasagne and other pasta and pigeon pie as you can see on the menu here.

As I’ve said I love it. I’ve returned. And I will return again. At this almost barren end of Fitzroy Street Croce via di Stasio and Cafe di Stasio are burning bright.

Café Di Stasio on Urbanspoon