Estelle by SP
8/10 on Wednesday 20 December 2017.
The Walrus: Bit of a trek on the number 86 Tram from the City (even further out than our last venture to Recreation in October 2017!) to downtown Northcote, but we are happy to put in a bit of travel in pursuit of great dining experiences. Make sure you don’t fall into the old “sorry, this is the bistro, the restaurant is next door” trap as we did (although the looks on the staffs’ faces seemed to indicate this was a common thing). Once in the restaurant proper, it’s a very nice fit-out. Modern, dark and inviting.
The Carpenter: One of our longest tram rides yet - seemed like hours. A Christmas special - 8 course degustation although I still can't work out from the list how the thirteen dishes we had adds up to 8. No complaints though - well, not many. We started off heading into the wrong restaurant - a sleight of hand to make us feel even more excited having entered the bistro first before being sent next door to the formal dining - lovely intimate atmosphere great for a date night. Or a manly end of year dinner. We sat in the window - the bench seat was nicely padded and a good size for me - the Walrus had an animated number that walked him away from the table over the course of the meal - unexpected. Mildly dangerous. But manageable.
W: First shots were fired with our usual order of gin martini’s, slightly dirty with whole olives to accompany. What we received was a well-constructed version with the main ingredient being Applewood gin from Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills. Heavy note of lime. The pepperberry addition makes it nice and spicy as well. A good start to proceedings. 9/10
C: A cracking martini to start the evening - Applewood from somewhere in South Australia. Execeptional. 9.5/10
W: The food is offered as a seasonal eight course tasting menu, so there really isn’t much to contemplate other than the usual declaration of any food allergies etc. We kick off with a selection of starters to share. Firstly is a natural oyster with native mignonette (dressing of vinegar, shallots and cracked pepper) which was very nice with the vinegar really getting the tastebuds ready for more. We moved onto the salmon roe, Crème Fraiche and sourdough tuile. An interesting construction which is basically as described on the menu (a sourdough cracker with salmon roe and crème fraiche on it). It was a nice texture but the flavours were very subtle, still tasty though. Next was a delicious little open top pie of duck, black ginger and pear. The pastry was very well cooked and the filling was very tasty indeed. The duck flavour was nice and sweet and went very well with the ginger and pear. I could have eaten another 10 of those! Rounding out the entrée’s was smoked wallaby and black rice on an ever so light wafer/crisp. This was the strongest taste in the entrée selection and it was beautifully smoky with the tender wallaby meat really shining through with its flavour. It was a great way to finish of this section of the menu. A good tip is to ask the staff what order the entrees should be eaten in as there is a definite escalation in flavour and intensity if you get the order right and it works very well. I had a glass of the 2014 Faiveley (Mercurey) ‘Clos Rochette’ from Burgundy to go with entrée and it matched very well. Easy to drink with a nice mouthfeel, buttery with a long finish, absolute cracker. 9/10
C: In a degustation I've pulled the first four into the entree category. The wallaby dish was very good, but the wallaby was an extremely faint flavor hidden behind the delicious smoke. The duck vaguely remebered - but a bit bland if I'm recalling correctly. The salmon roe was a very clean taste - light in flavor. The sourdough super crunch yand delish. My oyster replacement was also yum, but buggered if I can remember what it was... 8.0/10
W: A series of mains were then brought out. First up was veal sweetbread, mustard seeds and nasturtium. Previously, I had never really been a fan of the old sweetbreads….but the way this tasted…I now understand why they are a favourite of many chefs! They were beautifully cooked, tender (not the texture I was expecting knowing what they are) and juicy. Perfect flavour to set against the accompaniments, really top rate cookery on display. Next was king prawn, pea and wagyu fat. Sounds odd, but the freshness of the prawn with the richness of the wagyu was an excellent taste and mouthfeel. Then we were served barramundi cooked in Warragul greens. As it should be, the fish was the standout on this dish. Excellently cooked and retaining its very delicate flavour nicely. Then we had Yukon gold potato, mussels and sea grape. A nice dish, but not up to the taste profile of some of the others. I felt it got a little lost in the crowd. We then got served what I considered to be the dish of the night, Macedon duck, plum, lemon verbena. A perfectly pink roast duck breast with the skin/fat rendered down into a form not unlike the crackling you find on good roast pork. The meat was tender and full of flavour and the “crackling” was exceptional. The plum and lemon verbena complemented the sweetness of the meat and helped cut through the richness. I have never had a duck dish like this before, it was outstanding. The mains were then rounded out by a dish of kohlrabi, fennel and marjoram. Whilst it was a perfectly fine dish on its own, I was still coming down from all the ducky goodness of the last dish to really be able to make a fair assessment of the last dish. In the end, it was nice, but got a little lost in the “caning of canard” I had just received! A very good overall main’s experience with a little of the “new” regarding the duck. All through mains I stuck with two more glasses of the 2014 Faiveley (Mercurey) ‘Clos Rochette’ from Burgundy. It didn’t let me down at all and went very well with the food. 9.5/10
C: Five dishes under the main. The veal sweetbread is a stand out - breaded. Sensational texture and flavor. The king prawn with the wagyu fat was also pretty amazing. Barramundi - yum. Potatoes very tasty. The duck another stand out dish - had a skin on it like pork crackling. Fantastic. 9.0/10
W: A nice strong tasting sorbet type of arrangement. Definitely cleansed the palate. If the flavor intensity wasn't managed properly, it could easily tip over to a palate stripper.... however, it just pulled up short of that for me and it managed to do what it said on the label. Judging by the facial contortions of the Carpenter...he was not enjoying the experience. 5/10
C: I love a good palate cleanser. Unfortunately while this one certainly cleansed the palate, with that fennel flavor running strongly throujgh it, the cleansing was about one step off a magic sponge in commercial cleaner. Definitely no confusing the palate between those rich delicious mains and the delights of dessert, but I choose to remember the twisted facial expression that goes along with the unpleasantness - reminiscent of the first fennel icecream disaster at Lume before they fixed it. 3/10
W: The Dessert round came in three sets, one after the other rather than all at once (which was good for pacing). The three were; strawberry, rose and elderflower (probably the best of the three) which was strong on individual flavours and nice and creamy as well – then came black star cherries and buckwheat which I found very good on the flavour of the cherries with good texture from the buckwheat (although the Carpenter was a bit miffed on the lack of cherry flavour) – and finally passionfruit and Geraldton wax which delivered a nice tangy cleanser to finish off the dinner. Overall not bad but it hit its peak on the first of the three dishes, which made the other two feel like they were not as good as they actually were on their own. 8.5/10
C: Strawberry and elderflower. I vaguely remember some sort of snow and a delicious rose taste. The black star cherries were a tad bland though. Wasted opportunity in my mind. Rescued by the cracking dessert wine we were plied with. The "petit fours" at the end was an interesting dish - delicious passionfruit icecream sandwich - literally a disk of icecream stuck betwen what seemed like two rounds of standard white bread, somehow magically maintained in that fresh spongy texture. Something very tricky going on to maintain that. Lovely stuff. 7.5/10
W: As we know, the most important part of dessert is picking the right dessert wine to go with it. Our sommelier chatted with us trying to figure out our requirements (botrytis affected, syrupy in texture and strong honey notes). He trotted off and came back grinning ear-to-ear declaring that he had found just the thing. We were presented with a 2011 Barossa Semillon “Sticky” by David Franz. To say it was impressive is not saying enough. I have a bit of a sweet tooth and love a good sticky and this one (with 210 g/Ltr of residual sugar)…is VERY Sticky. It was so good to drink with the desserts we had to have a second one just to keep the taste going! Great pick by the staff - 10/10
C: The somelier pulled a cracking unlisted number from the back room for us - hopefully the Wlarus remmbers what it was. But I say a hearty thank you. Pretty sure it was a sauterne. Probably. Or maybe it was a punt rd? yum. Great match to the desserts. 10/10
W: The service overall was very good. There was just a little glitch midway through the service were we were without any wine in our glasses for a good 10 mins or so even after giving them a couple of nudges to rectify the problem (in their favour, they were dealing with another table that for some reason or another couldn’t reconcile the wine they ordered vs the wine they got – which I don’t think was the staffs fault). 9/10
C: In general the service was great, but the further we get from the evening the more a little spat between our server and the somelier really sticks in my craw. It was obvious the wrong order was delivered to the table to our right - and facing the shop floor I got to witness the bitchy aftermath going on between the two. While all that in general is mildly good theater, when it impacts our access to a fine wine things have gone way too far - we went a whole course without a tipple. Glasses empty. Waiting. Well, not waiting - we ate, but it was a glaring gap in an otherwise attentive evening. 6/10
W: The space is warm and inviting, the staff very capable and welcoming, the food would have to be in the top 3 of all Melbourne restaurants at the moment (the duck breast is my new favourite dish) and the wine list is fantastic with some old world wines I have never seen before coupled with some Australian rarities you don’t often see (the Sticky we had was a Semillon grape from the Barossa??). 8.5/10
C: A couple of mis-steps in the service and the menu left me a little flat on leaving - reflective I reckon of the leadership style. Perhaps - might be reading a little into it. In any case, probably worth a second chance, but with all the choices around I don't think I'll be heading back in a hurry to see if they nail it next time. 7.0/10
W: None on the night.
C: No cap this evening.
W: I forced the Carpenter to drop me off on his way home via Uber which he got over quickly enough to have a quick but meaningful discussion about the dinner we had just partaken in. A very nice way to sign off 2017.
C: Uber home - did a special Christmas party round about to drop off the Walrus. An uneventful trip home with their seamless service and app interface. Gotta love the Uber!