Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Estelle by Scott Pickett

In May this year, after finishing dinner at the Estelle Bistro, Rob, Glenn, Brad and I waddled over next door with Scott Pickett to get a sneak peek at his soon to be new restaurant. We laughed as we joked about how it was two thirds kitchen (looking pretty shiny and new) and one third dining space (still needing a coat of paint and the furniture to come in), and how basically, it was Scott’s dream kitchen. 

Fast forward to September, Rob tells me he’s back in town and if I wanted to go to Estelle by Scott Pickett with him. Who needs a special occasion? Hell to the yes!

So on a breezy hump day evening, we find ourselves in Northcote, stepping into a restaurant that almost looks closed, with it’s dark and hushed tones. It’s simply beautiful, understated, and designed so that your eyes are trained on the kitchen, an oasis of sparkling stainless steel, wafts of steam and delectable aromas. 

Although the dark and comfortable tables look inviting, we’re excited to be seated up at the counter…right in front of Scott podding lavishly green tiny spring peas (and peeling onions later in the night). Yeah, it’s not a bad spot. 

Estelle by Scott Pickett (shortened from here on to ESP) is exactly as the name might suggest, although the bistro is beautiful yet approachable food, at ESP, there is only the option of having degustation, and it’s the food that Scott wants to make. You’re kept in the dark as to what your dishes are until they come out…or well, that’s what’s supposed to happen, but I couldn’t resist peeking at the black envelope that sat on our table which had our running order for the night! Can you blame me? 

While Rob tucks into the wines, I’m on medication, so keep away from the booze, but the virgin options at ESP are also completely delicious. I am in love with the lemongrass and ginger infusion, which almost looks like a cocktail, served in a gorgeous delicate glass with filigree details. The flavour is strong, refreshing, but also comforting with the good hit of ginger. 

We’re offered the choice of pretzel bread or bacon and onion bread to start our evening…or to just have both, which we promptly agree with. Both are served lovely and warm, and are utterly moreish. I tell myself I’m just going to have a nibble, don’t want to fill up too quickly…but before long both the slightly salty and crusty pretzel bread has disappeared along with the soft and fluffy bacon and onion bread. It was more like a scroll really, with sweet caramelised onion jammy bits and hits of fatty bacon goodness throughout. 

ESP’s crockery is divine, especially their knives, which are custom made and stay with you throughout all your savoury courses. 

Our meal starts with a couple of snacks, just to warm up the appetite and get you excited about your meal. How can you not ooh and aah when you see a glass cloche filled with smoke and wonder. Underneath, a cured wallaby tartare served on a black rice cracker of sorts. As expected, there’s a lovely smokey undertone to the otherwise cool and sweet meat. 

Cod roe packed into little potato shuffle pockets look unassuming, but have me melting with happiness in my chair. Who knew such a little bite of potato could give the same sensation as a comforting bowl of mashed potatoes? It was so hearty, with a nice salty kick. 

It was such a lovely thing to be visiting ESP on the cusp of a new season, even if it had a bit of a turbulent start, especially coming into Spring, which produces such gorgeous dishes like this. A lovely plate of spring vegetables (it almost seems unfair to call it a salad), with ashed goats cheese hiding underneath. It’s much heartier than you might expect, especially once you get a mouthful of the goats cheese which is creamy and smooth in the mouth. I love that the vegetables are treated so lightly, still giving us the crunch and freshness we expect with Spring.

The yellowfin tuna with baby spring peas and foie gras, just casually shaved over the top, is a visual feast, a stunning ruby pink dotted with green. I just love the texture of the tuna, smooth, yet rich and almost jammy in the mouth, with pops of firmer peas throughout. It is gorgeously sweet and very refreshing. 

Another seafood course follows, but goodness, it couldn’t possibly be any more different to the tuna! The king salmon, with shaved asparagus, pickled mushrooms and seaweed is one of my favourite dishes of the night. The salmon marinade is rich and moreish, whilst inside it’s cooked perfectly, blushing furiously pink, it’s lush and succulent. This stuff melts in your mouth. There are very few times I’ve had salmon like this, and I certainly savoured the dish, taking my time to get through it (for a change…!)

Scott has the kitchen working like clockwork, and from my vantage point, I’m initially shy to take pictures of them working, but they’re so laser focussed…I needn’t really worry! The evening is paced well, time passes effortlessly as one dish finishes and another comes out after just enough gas bagging and wine/infusion sipping. 

Our next course is one of Flinders island lamb with broad beans and wild garlic, tender and gorgeously earthy. 

We opt in for the extra course of Sher wagyu (I mean Scott was right there, there was no way he was going to let us say no), which is cooked, yakitori style, over Japanese bincho tan coals near the front of the kitchen, sending clouds of steam billowing up into the exhaust. The aromas had our mouths watering. 

We’re served a solid cut of Sher wagyu (I’ve forgotten which!) with shaved broccoli stalk and a yakitori stick (more like Samurai skewer), of ox heart, beetroot and ox tongue. Oh man. I don’t often eat beef when I eat out, but if I’m going to, it needs to taste like this. There’s just something incredible that the coals do to the flavour, there’s this amazing rich and earthy charred characteristic, which just melts into the meat rich with marbling. It’s just stunning guys. I find I’m more of a fan of the heart over the tongue on the yakitori skewer, which is a little more tender (although both were great, don’t get me wrong), but I’m surprised how much I also enjoy the meaty yet sweet beetroot too.

As we begin to burst at the seams, an amazingly vibrant palate cleanser of blood orange and horse radish is popped down in front of us in the most exquisite glasses. Before I can even begin to say anything about the glasses, Stuart notices me admiring them and pops over to tell me that they’re sourced from a couple in Brooklyn who have handblown each glass individually. 

The cleanser itself, is one of the most delicious punches in the mouth I’ve ever had. There’s a savoury sweetness, but almost a wasabi-like wallop in the palate, which intensifies at the very end. 

Give me more. I love it.

Who designs a kitchen with a drawer just for the liquid nitrogen tank? 

Baller’ Scott Pickett is who! I couldn’t help laughing with amusement and excitement every time I saw the kitchen using it. The novelty will never wear off on me. I’m never going to grow up.

Our next course of rosella, sorrel and shaved macadamia had us strike up a conversation of what this transition dish between savoury and sweet should be called. The iced sorrel, matched with the macadamia was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten and was another of our favourite’s for the night. There was definitely a herbaceous savouriness to the dish, with a bit of earthiness and saltiness from the macadamias, but because it was frozen, it was so refreshing as well, with little sweet bites throughout. Such a delightful dish, that constantly surprised and delighted. It’s certainly not what I would call dessert, but it’s not really a savoury course either…

More liquid nitrogen sweet goodness followed soon after. Josh topping off our desserts of violet, milk sorbet and chocolate mousse, with liquid nitrogen chocolate pearls, or something of the sort. I just loved the theatre. 

Again, such a delightful dish, and surprisingly not as sweet as you might expect, the violet adding an unexpectedly vibrant tangy hit. Crisp chocolate pearls, lusciously smooth mousse and refreshing sorbet, there was a lot going on which all came together well. 

Josh also surprised us with a passionfruit souffle, which we watched him watch over intensely as it was rising in the oven. He was quick to pop it down in front of us, but looked very pleased with himself as he and the chefs sampled the extra portion (why wouldn’t you?).

Oh my. It rose so beautifully, so light and airy and so pungent. The passionfruit, especially with the lime curd ice-cream was sweet, but also tart. It didn’t just have some passionfruit flavour, the whole damn thing was like putting a lime and a load of passionfruit pulp in you mouth, in a refreshing and zingy way though.

In case you want to work off the calories you might have been ingesting through the meal, make sure to order a pot of tea to cap off your night. Rob guffawed as I looked in bewilderment at my little teacup, wondering how on earth such a pretty looking little thing could be so heavy! Tea drinking and weights at the same time, I could totally get into it. 

To finally cap off our night, a cute serve of petit four, which included a gorgeously sugared lemon aspen doughnut, blackberry vinegar ganache and a raspberry and hazelnut macaron. And maybe a mouthful of roasted coffee beans, if you’re like me and don’t bother brushing off the beans that stick to the ganache! 

If you can’t tell, Rob and I had a brilliant evening. The staff were a joy; despite the obvious fine-dining appeal to the interiors and food, there was a perfect balance of casual and professional, making light jokes with us and being amazingly attentive throughout the evening. You can certainly feel at home. 

And although the whole restaurant is moody and beautiful, I really have to say, it’s worth sitting up at the counter, just watching the chefs work in quiet unison, turning out beautiful dishes is a joy to watch. And the high seats are actually very comfortable. Rob and I were in them for three and a half hours with no problem! 

Value-wise, I’m impressed as well, a 6 course degustation meal (plus snacks, plus petit four, plus palette cleanser) will set you back $130 and unlike some fine dining restaurants…you won’t leave hungry. So although most may go to ESP for a special occasion…you says you necessarily need not to justify a visit…

245 High Street

ESP - Estelle by Scott Pickett Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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