Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Estelle by Scott Pickett, Northcote

Inside ESP

At Estelle by Scott Pickett (ESP) in Northcote – the sophisticated sibling of Estelle Bistro next door (formerly Estelle) – the whole is more than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say the parts aren’t impressive: there’s a light fixture by Christopher Boots reminiscent of the illuminative trail created by sparklers in photos; wine glass storage that doubles as art cut into concrete wall tiles and a calligraphy ‘E’ engraved into custom Laguiole knives and hand-stitched on charcoal napkins.

With black marble, black steel and luxurious black banquets, this is the kind of place where money wants to be seen and people come to be spoilt. But at $130 a head for polished service and seven courses of some of Melbourne’s most refined food, it’s bloody good value. Along with architects Hirsch Bedner Associates, Pickett designed the space around his dream kitchen, which is as open as they come and overflowing with a copper pot collection worth more than my life savings.

There’s space for 50 diners and while groups can sit on locally designed chairs at locally designed tables, couples can bask in the drama of the kitchen at the raised bar seating. Up here there’s plenty of room for elbows, a great vantage point for people watching and the opportunity to giggle at Pickett the potty-mouth.

It’s also wide enough to ensure that clumsy gestures don’t result in wasted alcohol as you progress through wine-matched menu (booze assembled by sommelier James Dossan at $90 for ‘Premier’ or $120 for ‘Grand’). Speaking of staff, customers are in especially good hands with front-of-house guru Stuart Neil. Always friendly and constantly calm under pressure, those with a keen eye might notice he’s one of few Pickett doesn’t raise his voice at in the heat of the kitchen.

Back in front of the flame, Pickett, who also co-owns Saint Crispin in Collingwood with Joe Grbac, is joined by head chef Josh Pelham, and together they squeeze every inch of flavour from the kind of produce we’ve come to expect from Melbourne restaurants: seasonal, local and exemplary of the best. You’ll kick things off with house bread (pray for the option that stirs memories of Bakers Delight cheese and bacon rolls, but are oh-so-much better) as a log of butter is rolled onto a cross section of a tree standing in as crockery.

What Pickett refers to as “snacks” comes next, an assortment of bites that should be packaged up like potato chips and offered in bulk. There might be paper-thin pillows filled with potato soufflé and crowned with cod roe, a jerusalem artichoke wafer with crisp saltbush leaves or a parmesan finger biscuit with lemon myrtle (albeit barely detectable). If you visit soon, you’ll get all three.

The main affair ranges from produce at it’s finest (supple kingfish with ribbons of calamari, ink and burnt carrot) to downright comfort food (pink White Rocks veal with deep-fried mustard leaf and al dente hand-rolled macaroni) to a little bit of luxury (faultless risoni with generous black truffle shavings and spanner crab with cauliflower and a creamy vadouvan smear).

A dessert featuring a velvety chocolate disk with chocolate ‘soil’, milk ice cream, mint-infused violet leaves and deep purple dots of violet gel is a highlight, while impossibly light lemon aspen bomboloni and a rich raspberry vinegar ganache truffle complete the degustation. If I’m being picky, the vinegar component could have been dialed up a few notches, but who am I to judge the judge of Channel 9’s Hotplate?

Estelle by Scott Pickett opened to the public on July 17. I attended the media preview a couple of night earlier, but with a chef of Scott Pickett’s caliber at the helm of his dream restaurant, I’d be surprised if anyone walked out of ESP disappointed.

245 High Street, Northcote 
(03) 9489 4609 
Tuesday to Saturday (dinner) 
Friday (lunch)

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