Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

A glamorous, airy dining room upstairs

This restaurant is now closed.

It was a sad day when the iconic Stokehouse burned down on the St Kilda foreshore in Melbourne. This two-storey timber pavilion hailed from the 1920s and had been run as a restaurant for nigh on 25 years until that fateful night in January 2014. While its replacement on the Jacka Boulevard site (a rather more modern edifice it must be said) is planned to open in the southern spring, it literally rose from the ashes to relocate to a vacant space in the heart of the city – hence, Stokehouse City.

The city building has also had a proud heritage as a restaurant – it was home for many years to the late, lamented Mietta’s, the eponymous restaurant of one of Melbourne’s earlier gastronomic pioneers, Mietta O’Donnell. More recently it housed Comme, an upscale eatery from the same ownership team as Stokehouse – the van Haandels. With Comme’s demise came the opportunity for a quick transplantation.

It’s more than just a change of venue. While Comme stuck to the ground floor, Stokehouse has re-opened the soaring spaces upstairs, creating a grand effect. On a coolish Sunday night, just after the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix, we gathered to celebrate The Francophile’s birthday. With gluttonous husband a late scratching for the evening, it was left to the birthday girl’s better half, The Runner, Pucci Girl and a flying visit from Madame Lapine (formerly of Sydney, now of London) to raise a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne and wish a hearty ‘bonne anniversaire’.

While the Van Haandel family is responsible for a fair few eateries throughout Melbourne, Greedy Girl hadn’t dined at one of their establishments since Trocadero (now replaced by Fatto Bar and Cantina at Hamer Hall). Noted for getting some very talented chefs presiding over the hobs, Stokehouse City has Ollie Gould, named Young Chef of the Year in The Age Good Food Guide 2014 Awards. While the room was sparsely populated early in the evening, it soon filled up. Despite being surrounded by large-ish tables, the noise level never became overwhelming. We five could chat – and hear – with relative ease.

Stokehouse City does not offer a degustation, so we opted to choose from four courses – snacks, entrees, main and dessert (apologies to US readers – what Australians call entrees, you would call appetisers). While The Runner tucked into a half-dozen fresh oysters, we girls opted for a variety of pretty plates. The dining room, despite the picture above left featuring the dramatic chandeliers, is quite dark, so some of the images in this post are a little lacking in vibrance.

Pucci Girl opted for zucchini fritters. Two zucchini flowers were stuffed with a goat’s cheese and pecorino mix, crumbed and deep-fried. It was served with a slick of red pepper and anchovy cream. Pucci Girl pronounced it perfectly edible, if not a rave.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Zucchini flowers

The Francophile had the very pretty dish pictured at the top of this blog – scallop ‘crudo’ from Hervey Bay (in north Queensland) served with rockmelon, shaved prosciutto, fried quinoa and creme fraiche. It looked light and refreshing and she was very happy with the choice.

Madame Lapine, needing a carb hit, took the orecchiette (little ears) pasta. It was done with Moreton Bay bugs (a relative of the lobster), cuttlefish, zucchini, basil, saffron and bottarga. It was slightly spicy and Madame Lapine happily wolfed the lot.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Moreton Bay bug and cuttlefish orecchiette

Greedy Girl opted for the beef tartare which featured a mustard mayonnaise, salsa verde, charred cabbage and chorizo crumble, topped with a quail egg yolk. The chorizo crumble was very crunchy. The meat mixture had a nice tang and the addition of cabbage was a nice texture. Again, perfectly edible.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Beef tartare

And so to mains. The Runner took the opportunity for a steak and enjoyed the pasture-fed Angus beef tenderloin. It was served with Swiss chard, potato puree and mushroom butter. Not much remained!

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Angus beef tenderloin

Madame Lapine also took one of the main courses on the menu – a John Dory ‘fillet’ with almond gazpacho, Spring bay mussels, celeriac and wild-leek remoulade. Greedy Girl had also been tempted by the idea of fish and was intrigued by the ‘market fish’. Trouble is, no-one was particularly keen to tell us what that was. She contented herself with a taste of the John Dory which was nicely cooked but absolutely full of bones. Greedy Girl accepts bones as one of the hazards of eating fish but this was absolutely chock full of them – and quite large ones that the chef should have been able to see and remove during the filleting.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

John Dory fillet

We remaining girls all took a second dish from the entree menu. Pucci Girl had the beef tartare (minus the egg, not being a fan), while the Francophile opted for a roast pumpkin, witlof and nashi pear salad, with wild rice, Meredith goat’s curd and a pumpkin veloute. Her dishes were undoubtedly the prettiest presentations of the night.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Roast pumpkin, witlof and nashi pear salad

Greedy Girl took a Magret duck leg with caramelised black figs, lardo, black pepper crumble and a cauliflower puree. While the puree was perhaps a stronger flavour than she would have preferred, it was a very nice dish. The lardo (Italian cured ‘back fat’ – the semi-transparent strips on top) gave great depth to the dish and the figs helped cut through the richness. Greedy Girl cleaned her plate. We all shared a dish of greens, crunchy fries and a nice side of baby carrots dressed with creme fraiche and pine nuts.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Margret duck leg with caramelised figs

Only the Francophile and Pucci Girl could be tempted by dessert. Pucci Girl had the simplest concoction – an affogato, after checking the shot of espresso could be made with decaf (this was a school night, after all). Choosing Drambuie as her accompanying tipple, she commented it was enjoyable.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

Affogato with Drambuie

The Francophile went with the restaurant’s signature dessert, the Bombe. This was a white chocolate parfait, strawberry sorbet and toasted meringue. Greedy Girl’s teeth ached at the thought of so much sugar but it went down a treat with the birthday girl.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

The Bombe

And so, we prepared to depart, having had a very pleasant evening out. The food at Stokehouse City was better than Greedy Girl had anticipated but she felt the smaller dishes seemed to have more interest and flair than the main courses. The dining room is a pleasant spot and, as noted earlier, it’s easy to hear and be heard, despite a busy evening. The service was a little patchy. Not being advised of the day’s dishes ahead of ordering was a bit disappointing and getting water refilled later in proceedings was tricky.

Restaurant reviews Stokehouse City

The main dining room

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