It’s a no-brainer saying that restaurant reviews are subjective and I’d read both positive and negatives about The Estelle (but mainly positives). However, a recurring theme, also uttered by a good friend who owns a pub a short distance from the restaurant gave me his superfluous two cents worth, even though he hadn’t been there: “You’ll be back here for a couple of South Melbourne Market Dim Sims”, implying that the food was all very much on the fancy side, but not too sustaining.
Boy was he wrong.
An interesting concept, the menu opens with freshly shucked oysters and a whole bunch of charcuterie items, individually priced between $12-$15. Alternatively, you can order a (very generous) selection of the above for $32, which we did, but more on that later.
The remainder of the menu is broken down into categories; something along the lines of vegetarian, seafood, meat, poultry and dessert with four or five small dish selections listed under each category. Then comes the fun part; you can either choose 3, 5 or 7 courses for a set price ($35-$75) or matched with wine for an additional price. If you choose 5 or 7 courses, you can place your trust in the good hands of the chef, also citing your preferences / allergies to ensure a more pleasant dining experience. The latter was a great relief to my partner, K, whom avoids degustation menus due to her allergies to seafood and eggs, as well as a great hatred for offal, amongst other things. She is truly my culinary antithesis.
We went for the middle ground, going for 5 courses and leaving it up to the chef to decide our culinary fate, although we discovered that we could exchange one of our courses to sample the charcuterie, which we chose to do.
Prior to the arrival of our charcuterie, an amuse-bouche was offered. If this was a hint of what was to come, we were in for an interesting night. My own efforts to make chickpea chips have resulted in some stodge, unlike the precise, crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-in-the-middle, chickpea ‘fries’ seasoned with olive dust. Awesome stuff.
The second offering came in the form of sardine ‘fossils’, which were essentially the dried flesh and bones of a sardine, transformed into ‘prawn crackers’ with the help of some tapioca flour and a deep fryer. Best darned prawn crackers ever. Three of these babies (which I unfortunately had to have by myself… damn seafood) sat fanned in a martini glass atop a crème fraiche foam.
We’ve generally used La Luna’s charcuterie board as a benchmark. We now have a new benchmark, presented with a generous serving of prosciutto, jamon, bresola, Foie gras parfait and duck terrine with some excellent condiments; precise quenelles of beetroot chutney and a peach preserve, cornichons, pickled cumquats, a mound of remoulade and some toasted sourdough. I’m already running out of superlatives.
For the second course, we agreed to share both dishes; a curried chicken paysanne salad, fresh and alive with the addition of a zesty orange reduction and some richness provided by some artful dots of egg yolk gel. The other dish was a dainty beetroot and ‘ashed’ goats cheese. The first hint of ‘Heston’ from Chef Ryan Flaherty, was the ash which was actually sesame. Deliciously deceiving, given you’re expecting the bitterness of ash.
The third course was definitely not for sharing. Well it kind of was, only I got to eat most of both dishes. My dish was a mussel risotto, made with orzo instead of rice. Crispy fried discs of leatherjacket cheeks provided some saltiness and texture. The snow pea foam provided some contrasting freshness. This was the first time I’ve tasted a foam that actually tastes like it’s description!
Unfortunately, K failed to inform the waiting staff of her egg allergy and was duly presented with a perfectly cooked poached egg on top of creamy polenta, with a generous shaving of truffle. This dish was further enriched thanks to the addition of (more) egg yolk. And you thought your bog-standard polenta made with butter and parmesan was rich? It was a shame for this dish to head back to the kitchen looking like it was untouched, unloved, so I had just a ‘couple’ of tastes to make it look like it was enjoyed. It was.
It was a rare night out for the two of us, sans children, which was only confirmed a few days beforehand so I took any availability that The Estelle had. As we were dining at 6:30pm, I had kind of expected that there would be a later reservation that would require our table, so it was no surprise when our fantastic waitress apologetically asked if we’d take our remaining two courses at the bar. And why not? It was a relaxed, casual atmosphere and it was fun. Plus a generous and complimentary wine top up salved any feeling of malcontent. Not that there was any to begin with.
The penultimate course was breast of lamb, carrot puree, crumbed sweetbreads, some tiny, soft gnocchi and lamb jus. This was the stand out dish for K; lots of lamb skin, almost like crackling and lots of fatty bits. Me, less so. I found it a little too fatty and cloying for my palette, with nothing on the plate to counteract the richness, perhaps pickled carrot instead of puree? As my plate was not licked clean (unlike K’s perfectly white plate), the waiter asked if there was anything I didn’t like. I explained the above and I genuinely believe my feedback was taken on board.
K, who is not big on desserts, unless it’s savoury, a crumble or a dish featuring lemon, was served a generous (at least 100g) portion of what I think was a raclette, served with toasted sourdough and quince jelly as a condiment.
My dish of the night was the last, which was totally surprising given it was based on something I do not care for in the slightest, musk. Musk stick infused ice cream, served with rhubarb, delicately thin sheets of rose meringue, a dab of yoghurt and raspberry dust… sweet, sour, tart, rich, crunchy, cold and not too musky thanks to the rhubarb and ice cream working so well together. Win, win, win! Oh and as for K, who apparently isn’t “big on desserts”, couldn’t stop having a taste, nor subtly cleaning the plate with her finger.
Chef Proprietor, Scott Pickett, was also working in the kitchen that night. He’d popped out to say hello to some friends of his that were dining, but also took the time to say hello to us and to see if we’d enjoyed ourselves and asked what we’d enjoyed most, etc. This encapsulated the whole night; dining in a casual environment with food that was of a high quality, knowledgeable staff that were fun and visibly enjoyed what they did, which was demonstrated in how they interacted with their customers. The icing on the cake was a chef / proprietor that really cared as to what we thought. This is what has pushed this place to the top of my list because it is all about the experience.
As for the cost, five courses; mine with matching wine and my partner opted to have wine by the glass and had three glasses of wine… plus I had a beer and K sipped on Cava whilst perusing the menu – my wallet was only $192 lighter, excluding tip. More than satisfied, delighted and definitely no Dim Sims required.
We are heading back on Saturday night for a quick bite and a drink before a friend’s party. Another rare night out for the two of us, but any excuse to head back, sit at the bar and try something we didn’t get to try the other night.
Or just have more of the same. I won’t care.
243 High St Northcote, VIC 3070
(03) 9489 4609
Good for: hot dates with a good chance of a favourable outcome, dinner with friends, sharing food, fun times
Not good for: picky eaters, people that like Sofia’s