There are a host of reasons we love to go out to eat. In a relative sense, there are not many restaurants that create more than the experience itself. Every now and then though, something more comes out of a visit. For Catherine and I, our first date at Stokehouse continued through to marriage!
I remember our lunch far better than I normally would. It was an incredibly hot November day. So hot that I brought a backpack with a towel so I could have a swim afterwards. St Kilda was pumping, and my taxi took at least 20 minutes just to get down Fitzroy Street. Catherine looked beautiful and had gone to a heap of effort.
We started off with oysters and I had no idea it was the first time for my guest. The things you do on first dates! The restaurant had a celebratory feel the day after Stakes Day at Flemington. Every aspect was wonderful and it goes without saying that it was the best first date (and the last) I’ll ever have.
When we found it had been razed by fire there was a sudden sadness. We knew with such an iconic place, rebuilding was likely, and that is why we are here tonight, a few months after the reopening. It is modern. These days, recreating the original would probably be as difficult and expensive as making a bold new statement. The design is stylish, making great use of the beach view, with enough detail inside to keep interest in both.
Our greeting, through to the goodbye, were warm and friendly. It seems the floor has found its feet. We took up the offering for a drink on the terrace to begin. Watching the sun go down is one of those added extras that is difficult to value. As long as the view doesn’t outshine the food, or give the restaurant something to hide behind, it is extremely valuable to the way you are feeling as you begin your meal.
Once seated and reading through the menu, I realised that Stokehouse wasn’t primarily about seafood anymore. In fact, only two of the six mains are fish. I was in the mood for seafood and ordered both the special ceviche of yellowfin tuna, and a couple of Sydney Rock oysters to begin, plus the fish and chips for my main. Catherine ordered the marron salad which would have been my choice, and also the market fish of Barramundi. We were undoubtedly going to try dessert too.
Our sommelier was particularly helpful at providing alternatives to the bottle I was thinking of, but in the end we stayed on course with the Louis Michel Premier Cru Chablis. He was right that the wine is quite light for a chardonnay, but it is exquisitely made, and was a pleasure to drink, especially with our entrees. The yellowfin tuna ceviche showed off the star ingredient. It had a pleasant amount of citrus, and was superbly presented. Interestingly the dusting on top was bayleaf, and that worked too. The Sydney Rock oysters were exactly what you want to eat on the beach and would be a great entree alone this evening. Catherine’s poached marron salad with a motley of fresh vegetables, was a brilliant way to start. The marron beautifully cooked and working nicely with the finger lime cream and rhubarb vinaigrette.
The fish and chips are not my usual order at a restaurant like Stokehouse but tonight I really felt like fish, and I wanted to try something different to Catherine. Her Barramundi was a perfect serve with a good fillet of fish, perfectly cooked, in a smoked almond puree, with a beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce, and carrot reduction. Each bite I tried was delicious, though I was very happy with my own choice. The lightly battered whiting, on top of a picket fence of thick chips in a pool of tartare sauce, was exactly how fish and chips should be, but rarely are. Our waitperson had suggested the heirloom tomato salad to cut through the oil, and that was a good idea, with several kinds of tomatoes all exhibiting good flavour. A simple enhancement would be some more basil throughout.
We definitely had room for dessert, and we needed it! Catherine’s ‘The Bombe’ was a terrific take on the classic dish. The white chocolate parfait in the centre, next to the strawberry sorbet, all housed in a well executed meringue, were all delicious and beyond. We like desserts that don’t hide the fact that they are sweet and this was a prime example, without being sickly (though it is a large serving). On the flip side, my dried lime cheesecake, was more restrained on the sweetness, but still delivered in spades. This version wasn’t your classic, but it wasn’t so much deconstructed as just not having a base. The mango and coconut curd are friends with the creamy cheesy lime, and while again it was a good serving, I could have kept going.
The original Stokehouse felt a bit more sleek at times, but the new version is still finding its feet. One thing is for sure, all the floorstaff were eager to make our night memorable, and they succeeded. The food we ate was up to scratch for what you expect of a place with the reputation Stokehouse must carry. That reputation creates expectation so we were careful, but it is impossible to not be excited by the potential embodied by this restaurant. Thinking about the experience brings a smile to my face.