After five years of occasions, all of which special, and falling between spontaneous and months in the planning, I would like to think I’ve worked it all out. But in reality, romance is a market never cornered, and each occasion and celebration is different and exciting in itself. There is a lot that can go wrong on a first date, a wedding anniversary, or any intimate celebration. We are outrageously lucky in Melbourne though.
There are big night restaurants aplenty, intimate French bistros, tucked away hip newcomers, gastropubs and atmospheric places that feel more like a bar than a restaurant. There are the institutions, the old trusties, and the local spots for comfort; and then there are places you’ve wanted to go to for ages like Saint Crispin that just make sense. I like celebrating with Catherine and I book a couple of months in advance crossing my fingers it lives up to the expectations.
Saint Crispin is on Smith Street in Collingwood and the room is like almost every other along the strip – long and rectangular with very high ceilings. On the left are a series of tables closely spaced, and on the right is a long bar with plenty of space for diners too. It’s a recent renovation and feels familiar and typical but is definitely sleek and warm. Although, we have arrived ten minutes before our booking and the restaurant is oddly quiet. Either the early sitting diners were incredibly polite and left well ahead of time, or most on a Friday night are opting for the 8.15pm or after second sitting. Twenty minutes later the restaurant is full and we feel like we set some sort of trend!
Reviewing the menu we decide for this first time to try three courses of our choosing, rather than put ourselves in the chef’s hands. Given the number of dishes jumping off the page, either choice would probably be equally fulfilling. To start I tried the Wagyu tartare and Catherine tried the yellowfin tuna. I knew this is one of the Melbourne restaurants pushing the boundaries but it didn’t sink in until both dishes landed on our table.
I’m not talking about really unusual flavours or any particular theatre. After a few tastes of the tartare, what I am talking about is very well thought through flavour combinations, treating the ingredients with respect, but using cutting edge technique. The egg yolk in particular on this dish was not your usual; it was somehow thickened and placed at strategic points of the plate to allow a small taste to be included in each bite of the tartare and braesola. Catherine’s seafood was beautifully cooked, and presented with flair. The salsa verde added punch and the cracker some crunch, as well as visual impact.
The good start was met by some superb mains. Catherine’s Atlantic salmon could not have been more perfectly confit-ed. Absolutely gorgeous green parsley risotto, fresh peas and broadbeans were a great accompaniment. My Western Plains pork was tricky to eat, but with crackling filling each mouthful with salty goodness, I didn’t mind a bit. The roasted (and fresh) fennel, burnt carrot sauce streaked over the plate, all added flavour and balanced the natural fattiness of the pork. A dish I would go back for in a dash.
Dessert hit similar heights. The deep mango taste in the cremeux, balanced by the yoghurt, with bursts from mango jelly and a dusting of something not at all resembling jasmine rice (except for the colour), was a terrific dish. Desserts seem to have a script in modern times, but there is definitely no simplicity in the execution. Similarly playful in its presentation was Catherine’s peanut butter parfait. Not too far away at places like Cutler & Co. peanut butter parfait is a feature but the one here has a tangent with spiced pineapple lining the bottom, and delicate toffee and crumb adding the texture to offset the creamy parfait.
The waitstaff allowed us to control the flow of the meal and were helpful with questions throughout. The sommelier had a night off but we still had good assistance with matching wines by the glass to our dishes. It was the first night the d’Arenburg 2010 Dead Arm Shiraz was offered and it didn’t matter what I ordered for main I was having a glass of that terrific wine.
Saint Crispin is the complete package at a stage in its evolution that is still extremely new and exciting. It must be the best of its type on Smith Street with the closest pushing the boundaries I can think of across the road a little further up at Huxtuble. To be the jewel in the crown of such an amazing collection of restaurants on the one street is a huge achievement.