ESP – 245 High St, Northcote

Well, hello there! It’s been a while since my last post. In fact, I’d dare say that my vain attempts at even considering myself as a part-time food blogger would be stretching the truth. But in an effort to possibly be the first person to publish a review of Scott Pickett’s newest incarnation, Estelle by Scott Pickett (aka ESP), I’ve decided to come out of food blogging hibernation.

Scott features heavily in my blog. There are a couple of reviews of the Estelle… maybe three, plus a couple of truffle dinner posts hosted at The Estelle. Some might also call it a man crush. For the record, he’s just a really top bloke who just happens to cook awesome food that I dig in a big way. Also, I am slightly biased towards fellow South Australians.

It felt as though ESP was a bit of an enigma, through lots of local council bureaucracy that delayed inevitable deliciousness; what was meant to be an April opening finally took place on Friday, but it was well worth the wait.

The Menu

The fit out is incredible. It’s dark and moody, but in a good way. All the focus is on the open-plan kitchen, with ample bar seating around the perimeter for diners to watch in awe during and between courses. Why you’d want to sit at a boring table is beyond me.

Hard at work at the Pass

So, what’s the difference between ESP and the ‘old’ Estelle, before it was reinvented as a bistro? Basically, things have gone up several notches. In a sporting parlance, it’s the ‘one percenters’ that should take ESP to that higher level and happily reside with Saint Crispin as a solid two-hatted establishment.

Some of the aforementioned one percenters are the dark linen napkins and the Laguiole knives, both fashioned with the well-recognised ‘E’ emblem, the house-made butter perched on its own little wooden log plate, which accompanied the warmed miniature bacon and onion scroll or (actually, in my case AND) pretzel roll and of course, there’s the theater in the dexterous and attractive presentation.

Bacon Scroll or Pretzel Roll? Have both!

But thank God we do not just eat with our eyes; the flavour combinations were outstanding! My new favourite dish – Mud Crab, Cauliflower & Vadouvan (for the uninitiated… like me, before I googled it, is a sweet, mild, aromatic Indian spice blend, said to be developed by the French colonists in India). The aromatic curry flavours were incorporated into the cauliflower puree and highlighted the sweetness of the mud crab.

Dish of the night... Mud Crab, Cauliflower & Vadouvan

A serendipitous July opening meant that there was sure to be truffles featured on the menu and there were, featuring in a truffle-infused custard and onions executed with different techniques, burnt, pickled and as a consommé… with a generous shaving of truffle as a garnish.

Black Truffle & Onion

Scott’s homage to mentor Philip Howard was delivered in the form of hand-rolled macaroni, a delicately tender sweetbread and the equally tender loin of White Rocks Veal and Mustard Leaf.

White Rocks Veal, Mustard Leaf & Hand Rolled Macaroni

Tasting menus are funny things, you get to course two or three and you’re happy, you’re smiling. You have a large chunk of the night still ahead of you and you’re so, so thankful that there are still a good number of courses to go. Time passes, courses come out, wines are poured and you begin to lose count… is this the sixth course or the fifth? Before you know it, dessert is being placed in front of you.

Then you know it’s really all done when the Lemon Aspen Doughnut and Raspberry Vinegar Ganache ball arrives. It’s over. You fondly look over at the people across from you. They’re newbies, only just tucking into their Cod Roe & Potato Soufflé amuse bouche. They have so much to look forward to (sigh). You want to be those people.

When these arrive, you know it's over...

Still, all good things do come to an end and ESP’s eight-course tasting menu will set you back $130. There are two wine matches apparently available, Premier ($90) or Grand ($120), although on the night, I wasn’t given the option. Service was relatively slick and will get even better with every service they chalk up.

Man crush aside, this is a real winner. Standing outside waiting for my Uber at the end of the night, I stood on the footpath, looking into a very full Estelle Bistro and an equally full ESP next door and felt proud for Scott, Josh and his team; they’ve worked long and hard to build up the Estelle brand and we deserve places like these. As for ESP, book now or you probably won’t be able to get in for a while.

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