Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Estelle Bar and Kitchen Northcote

Estelle Bar and Kitchen, revisited

Address: 243 High Street Northcote, VIC

Phone: (03) 9489 4609 

Open: Tuesday to Thursday, 6pm until late 

Friday to Sunday, midday until late 

This was not the first time I had dined at Estelle Bar and Kitchen, nor will it be the last. One of the reasons Estelle is arguably one of the best degustation experiences in Melbourne is because it is consistently fantastic. Another reason is because it’s in a small, casual space serving dishes one would expect from the best restaurants in the world. This has a lot to do with the fact that Scottie Pickett (formerly executive chef at The Point) and Ryan Flaherty (Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and Ferran Adria’s el Bulli) are at the helm of this ‘must-eat’ experience for any Melburnian who claims to love food. 

I have already blabbed on about the people behind Estelle, the service, the décor and the atmosphere. If you want to read about it, click here. You will also get a peek at some other dishes not covered in this blog post. I visited this time around with two lovely ladies who I met over Twitter: Veda (@thehosp_widow) and Amy (@amys_town). Amy wrote about the night here as well. 

The menu is centred around the incredible ‘Chef’s Tasting Menu’ with the option to add oysters and house-cured charcuterie. We decided on the seven course menu (you can also choose five or nine courses at dinner, or three at lunch) which seemed to turn into nine courses over the meal. Our edible event kicked off with amuse bouche, which varied slightly to last time I visited. 

The chilled melon cubes were still wrapped in a fine, translucent casing and topped with baby basil, but the base had shifted from cantaloupe to honeydew. The martini glass filled with a generous amount of sour cream mousse arrived again, this time making subtle use of beef instead of sardine flavouring. There was still some mousse remaining after we had finished off Estelle’s version of prawn crackers, so we mopped it up with our fat chickpea chips, rolled in olive salt. 

The first course was very similar to my last visit: ‘Beetroot, orange and ashed goats cheese’. This time, the colorful beets were done three ways, my favourite being the candied beet; it appealed to my sweet tooth, of course. A sphere of soft chèvre rolled in ‘ash’ made from olives and black sesame was the nucleus of the dish, bringing together the heirloom beets with daubs of orange puree, slithers of radish and fresh green shoots. 

Next came ‘Smoked eel, camomile and carrot’. Again, this was something I had previously tried, but it was interesting to see how the kitchen had refined it. The most obvious change was that there was significantly less of the carrot reduction, which allowed the smoky flavour of the eel and camomile essence of the cream to come through. The crisp brioche crumbs and celery poached in apple juice took the textural component of the dish to the next dimension. 

A veggie friendly creation arrived next, ‘Eggplant, soy and sesame’. A soft eggplant log hid beneath a 'Japanese dukkah' of sesame, miso and seaweed. It was similar to furikake but the dehydrated fish component was absent. It was also much crunchier. The eggplant was finished with a mild, creamy sauce and fine slices of white, daikon radish that kept with the Japanese theme. 

The fourth course was quite possibly my favourite. A silky and thick Jerusalem artichoke soup was presented in a stemless wine glass, resting on a wooden board beside a gourmet toastie. The toastie was topped with house-cured wagyu bresaola (a sneak peek into the charcuterie menu) and a quail’s egg. The wagyu hid a shredded celeriac salad beneath it and was peppered with thin shavings of chesnut. It came with a small glass of sherry; Toro Albala Amontillado Viejisimo, Montilla-Moriles Spain, to be precise. We were instructed to sip the sherry, have a spoonful of soup, and then repeat until the beverage lost its dryness and tasted sweeter on the palate. Soon enough, hints of maple and toffee shone through. It complemented the soup wonderfully. 

Lamb, leek and sweetbreads was the heaviest course. Two medallions of lamb were full of flavour and cooked so they remained pink inside. They were incredibly tender but had a thin, crisp top layer reminiscent of crackling, but not nearly as naughty. They were paired with crumbed sweetbreads and a leek puree, before being drizzled with a sweet gravy made from the juices of the meat. 

After the lamb it was time to move onto dessert. The first sweet course was simply named ‘Ginger, rosemary and apple’, but was so much more. A deep, white bowl containing a rosemary ice cream quenelle decorated with a purple flower and surrounded by ‘faux ginger’ was placed in front of us. The waitress poured a warm, clear sugar syrup over the dessert before instructing us to guess what fruit the fake ginger was made from. We were even given a plate of the fruit in its original form to help us guess, but it only took me a second to realise it was nashi pear, a fruit I snacked on almost every day growing up! 

On to the next course: ‘Sour cream, pumpkin and salted caramel’, an old favourite I have raved about before. Being reunited with the airy vanilla and olive oil sponge topped with frozen sour cream, crunchy pumpkin seeds, squiggles of salted caramel and a secret mix of spices was like being reunited with a long lost love. And that’s probably an understatement. 

But then Estelle truly outdid itself. An extra dessert course dubbed ‘Albert’s chocolate garden’ arrived in a shallow, black bowl. All I know is this: Albert, I love you. It may have not been the prettiest thing (someone commented on my Instagram, @fi_bird, saying “that’s some well presented kitty litter!) but it was simply delicious. It was described to us as a forest floor, comprising of chocolate soil, honey crystals, smoked chocolate ice cream, white coffee crème analgise and Chinese licorice. The combination of textures was genius. I don’t know which forest Albert has been walking through, but I need to be taken there. Now. 

That took us to the end of our meal and it did not disappoint. I’m starting to wonder if Estelle can ever disappoint; it’s near impossible to find a fault. Eating at Estelle brings to mind a famous George Bernard Shaw quote: 

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food…” unless of course that love is the love of food, at Estelle. 

Where is your favourite degustation experience in Melbourne?

  The Estelle on Urbanspoon


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