This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
– Henry V
Saint Crispin is the new restaurant from chefs Scott Pickett (Estelle) and Joe Grbac (most recently at The Press Club), opening on the ever buzz-worthy Smith Street, Collingwood. In a previous life the space was a cobbler’s shop, inspiring the name Saint Crispin, patron saint of cobblers, yet dining here is more likely to bring to mind the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V than footwear. “We few, we happy few” have another inspiring restaurant opening in Melbourne, one which is already serving a memorable dining experience, despite having only just opened.
There is going to be comparisons to Pickett’s Estelle and there are similarities between the two: contemporary cuisine driven by seasonal produce, accessible fine dining (without the outrageous prices) and a warm, casual atmosphere; however Saint Crispin feels more like the refined older sibling. The restaurant is sleek and sexy, the high ceiling and long room gives the space a chance to breathe; with tables running along the length of the room and ample bar seating as well. The open kitchen anchors the room and already shows a perfectly choreographed performance by the chefs. The concept differs from Estelle in that the menu offers the choice of two or three courses at prices that belie the heritage of the produce and techniques that go into each dish, which will help to entice regular diners. They also offer a seven course tasting menu as well.
A potato crisp with tart tomato puree allows you time to settle in with a glass of wine and take in the atmosphere of the room before the meal begins.
The seasonal approach to the menu is showcased in the first course, sautéed mushrooms and a mushroom-infused sponge with a 65 degree pullet egg and puffed black rice to give a much needed contrast of texture. It is warm and comforting with a richness coming from the parmesan and black truffle; a perfect winter dish which highlights the ‘contemporary comfort food’ style of the menu. A Grimaud duck terrine is moist and tender, with a hedonistic foie gras parfait and shavings of black truffle elevating the whole plate; heirloom beetroots add a crunch of texture and tart cumquat lightens the dish and refreshes the palate.
When working with amazing produce, the simplest approach is the best, and the Flinders Island lamb is a triumph. The perfectly cooked lamb has a fine layer of meltingly delicious fat, and the accompanying jus is the best I have tasted all year, making it hard to resist licking the plate. A nettle puree and blanched nettles give a depth of flavour, with radishes adding a counterpoint to the richness of the lamb. The puffed potato crisps are best eaten right away, before the jus makes them soggy, but it will be the lamb and jus that you remember. Another main sees veal cheek and sweetbread, both perfectly cooked, paired with long hand-rolled macaroni, miso eggplant (although the miso is quite subtle) and flakes of almond. Once again, the highlight of this dish is the beautifully cooked veal and rich jus, served in generous lashings that you do not see often enough in most restaurants.
The standout dessert plays with different preparations and textures of carrot, showing the mastery of technique in the kitchen: dehydrated, paper-thin shards, nuggets of fresh carrot, as well as fresh and lightly dehydrated carrot cake. The cake is lightly spiced and moist, working well with the essence of almond and honey floating through the dish, tied together with barely-set cream that melts in the mouth. The chocolate tart, while not as daring as the carrot dessert, will satisfy anyone looking for a decadent finish to the meal. The rich, bitter dark chocolate marries with the sweetness of the ice cream, balancing each other out. After dessert a medieval book arrives at the table, containing a final treat, which I will not spoil here, closing the meal.
Saint Crispin is one of those restaurants that oozes warmth and comfort, where you immediately feel at home when you walk through the doors. At many new openings you can feel the tentative nerves, but the team here are on fire, a credit to their professionalism and experience. They aim to build a neighbourhood restaurant for regulars that serves top quality produce, executed perfectly, and they nail it. In a highly competitive year, this is going to be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, new restaurant opening this year and it is going to find a loyal following of food lovers quickly. I for one look forward to the promise of a feast on Saint Crispin’s Day (October 25), until then “We few, we happy few” have a new gem in Melbourne dining to savour.