Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a free salt and pepper set - offer ends 26 March, 2017

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

Fast autumn dinners

Autumn weather signals the arrival of soups, broths, roasts and more hearty meals.

Roasted cauliflower salad with yoghurt dressing and almonds

The cauliflower is roasted until it starts to caramelise, which adds extra depth of flavour to this winning salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

Roti canai

Here, we've made the dough in a food processor, but it's really quick and simple to do by hand as well. If the dough seems a little too wet just add a little more flour.

Saint Crispin, Melbourne restaurant review

Ambitious, sincere, powerful – the food Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac create at their joint venture, Saint Crispin, is a work of heart, writes Michael Harden.

Now that it's almost obligatory for ambitious young chefs to pack their knives and head overseas in search of experience and marketable CV addenda, there's nothing particularly remarkable about a couple of Melbourne chefs ending up at the same London two-star. Hell, the stints Scott Pickett (Estelle Bar & Kitchen) and Joe Grbac (ex-Press Club) did at Philip Howard's The Square didn't even coincide.

But Pickett and Grbac bonded over their shared experience and the friendship has now spawned a restaurant, Saint Crispin in Collingwood's thriving Smith Street. Now the mutual résumé DNA looks a little more significant, and sifting the menu for Howard's influence seems that little bit more reasonable.

It's not difficult to spot the Square-ish influences at Saint Crispin, if you're looking for them. In fact, most of the dishes on the menu could be said to pay some degree of homage to Howard's well-documented combination of modern and classic French technique and artful plating.

Take the Grimaud duck salad entrée. It combines slices of roasted breast, salt-cured leg, Madeira jelly terrine, foie gras parfait and slivers of salt-roasted heirloom beets, all lolling about attractively in a thicket of frisée. The salad is ringed by blobs of caramelised cumquat jelly that add punchy sweet-sour notes to the bird and the beets, and unmoor the salad from its trad French bistro roots. (The hideous triangular brown ceramic plate on which it arrives might already have snuffed out any thoughts of this being a classic French bistro, mind you.)

The same modern-classic French influence appears at the other end of the meal with a dish of chocolate, Earl Grey, milk and ginger, a gorgeously minimal dessert where the centrepiece, a block of classic, creamy chocolate délice, faces a quenelle of subtly perfumed Earl Grey tea-flavoured ice-cream across a small pool of pale ginger milk. Classic technique, modern twist, happy diner.

But Saint Crispin, which occupies the space once home to the Brooklyn-leaning Cavallero, is not just an antipodean hipster version of The Square. For starters, both the owner-chefs have since notched up impressive runs on the board in Melbourne kitchens both big and small, formal and casual, and this latest venture seems to be as influenced by those experiences as anything picked up in the English capital.

Pickett in particular seems to have influenced the structure and feel of Saint Crispin. It may eschew the dégustation path of his Northcote restaurant Estelle Bar & Kitchen, but his new venture is still a set-price affair ($50 for two courses, $60 for three), with a further option of a multi-course chefs' tasting menu. And, as at Estelle, there's a series of small individually priced dishes - carefully handled oysters served with just a lemon wedge, knockout eel croquettes served on sunny saffron rouille, fancy pork scratchings called "snap, crackle and pop" - that head the menu, reading as either bar snacks or bite-sized drum rolls to the main set-course event.

The other Estelle parallel comes with the décor.

As he did with that restaurant, Pickett has taken on a space with a very particular style - Cavallero was a masterclass in beautiful, high-ceilinged austerity - and made quite significant changes without compromising the essence of the room. The most obvious of these changes is the extension of the open kitchen; the marble-topped bar is now overhung by a sizeable bulkhead built to house the utilities. Far from losing the airy, warehouse feel of the space, the bulkhead seems to make its dimensions less cavernous, cosier even, and may also have something to do with the lowered noise levels.

With its banquette seating, upholstered chairs, rustic timber tables, rendered walls, timber ceiling and '70s-era light fittings, it's a casually elegant room, a little edgy but comfortable, which makes a snug fit with the food. The enthusiastically eclectic soundtrack (Rufus Wainwright, Pixies, 10CC, Rodriguez, Neil Young, Gorillaz, Faith No More) also strikes an amusing, unpretentious balance some way between raucous and refined.

The well-drilled, professional floor team led by ex-European long-timer Ashley Firman follows suit. They provide the kind of service where the waiter can deliver the bread to the table, deftly explain that it's served with both an unsalted butter and a dip-like caramelised onion cream (cream cheese, butter, onion flakes, caramelised onion) and be on his way without making you feel as though you're being lectured about provenance, sustainability or the chefs' life histories. And if you really want to know that stuff, you'll get a considered answer.

The wine list is fairly succinct. Its couple of pages devote equal time to the New World (New Zealand chenin blanc, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, South African shiraz) and to ticking the Burgundy, Rioja, Wachau and Piedmont boxes. It's a great compact list, well curated and well priced, with a good mix of the familiar and the fresh. Add the presence of sommeliers Christian Burge and Ben Skipper dispensing wine advice and a night of happy drinking looks certain.

The availability of solid wine advice is helpful because Grbac and Pickett's food, though not particularly complicated, is often quite complex with sudden bursts and rushes of unexpected flavour.

Take their ode to the ocean. It comprises New Zealand king salmon, cured in sugar and salt, then cooked confit style, resulting in an almost jelly-like lusciousness; shavings of poached calamari dressed in a vinaigrette briny with oyster juice; natural oysters; a slightly sinister blistered squid-ink and tapioca cracker; squid-ink mayo; and saffron-heavy rouille. Served on a black plate scattered with nasturtium leaves and herbs, you'd never confuse the dish with rustic home cooking, but neither does it seem like the kitchen is showing off. It's a dish where texture - soft, crisp, slippery, chewy - plays as important a part as flavour, and both are in abundance and balance.

Similar textural goodness arrives with an egg, rice and mushroom dish that sealed a return visit for me.

It starts with the slow-cooked pullet egg and runs to sautéed mushrooms both wild and cultivated (slippery Jacks and pines among them), black venere rice, crisp puffed wild rice, parmesan jelly, parmesan foam and mushroom sponge. If they opened for breakfast I'd be lining up in my slippers.

Possibly the best-looking dish in a tight field is one that combines pan-fried John Dory with chickpeas, fennel, a remarkably smooth celeriac purée and pieces of octopus, dark hued from being slow cooked in red wine and aromatics for about 10 hours. Served on the closest thing to a white plate that Saint Crispin possesses and topped with chickpea shoots, it's a dish that's about light and shade both in looks and taste, with the big-flavoured, almost black octopus and the golden brown of the Dory skin contrasting beautifully with the near-translucent fennel and pale chickpeas.

Flinders Island lamb - braised shoulder, loin, a piece of leg, a rack - also looks the goods, sharing the plate with an intense, grassy nettle purée, radishes, turnips and little crunchy, puffed-up slivers of potato, as do slices of venison, deep pink at the centre and laid out along a "muesli bar", containing quinoa, oats, dried cranberries and chocolate, as well as Sichuan pepper, juniper and white peppercorns that's a little too powerful and intrusive for its own good.

Also powerful, though in a more inclusive way, is the Sichuan pepper that coats the long grissini-like Italian meringue poking out of a dish of poached rhubarb, marshmallow, more meringue and blood-orange gel. The pepper is surprising and unexpected, adding crunch and tingle to the sweet and citrus flavours of this, once again, artfully plated dish. Phil Howard's presence hovers, but faintly, like a memory.

Spotting the influence is a great game for people who love that sort of thing, and Saint Crispin, like any other small, focused restaurant that's passionate about cooking and is up with what's going on around the world, has its influences. But it also has sincerity. There seems to be no cynicism in the Pickett-Grbac partnership, no eye on what they "should" be cooking. Instead, there's an enthusiasm for the job and for this model of chef-run restaurant that hands them the freedom to cook the food they truly want to cook. Enthusiasm and sincerity are attractive. And so is Saint Crispin.


Saint Crispin
300 Smith St, Collingwood, (03) 9419 2202.
Licensed.
Open Lunch Fri-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Tue-Sun 6pm-9.30pm.
Cards AE MC V EFT.
Prices Two courses, $50; three courses, $60.
Vegetarian One entrée, one main course.
Noise Exuberant.
Wheelchair access Yes.
Plus A touch of The Square on Smith Street.
Minus Outside toilets on a chilly night.

Saint Crispin
300 Smith St, Collingwood, (03) 9419 2202.
Licensed.
Open Lunch Fri-Sun noon-3pm; dinner Tue-Sun 6pm-9.30pm.
Cards AE MC V EFT.
Prices Two courses, $50; three courses, $60.
Vegetarian One entrée, one main course.
Noise Exuberant.
Wheelchair access Yes.
Plus A touch of The Square on Smith Street.
Minus Outside toilets on a chilly night.

GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

The dishes that define Melbourne dining in 2016

For our 50th anniversary issue in 2016, we scoured Australia...

Melbourne’s Rosa’s Kitchen has closed

A kitchen fire has forced Rosa Mitchell’s Punch Lane restaur...

David’s

David's hums with renewed energy since its transformation t...

Ladro Greville

Overdue a Roman holiday? With its well-groomed, Aperol-swig...

San Telmo

The number of all-male tables at San Telmo is an instant gi...

Akachochin

Unlike the tumbleweed territory of Docklands, there's a sun...

Cafe Di Stasio

Cafe Di Stasio represents the ideal of dining as a particul...

Cicciolina

Timelessness. It's not, perhaps, a quality one automaticall...

Cookie

The elegantly dishevelled Curtin House is a multifaceted ve...

Bacash

From sourcing to saucing, Michael Bacash marries an intuiti...

Bar Lourinha

Turning 10 has added spring to Bar Lourinha's step. Not tha...

Bellota

Expect to be seduced by Bellota. This Europhile wine bar's ...

Bistro Gitan

Gitan means gypsy but there's nothing itinerant about the m...

Dandelion

Once upon a time Elwood locals would have to hike across to...

Dainty Sichuan

The Dainty Sichuan fleet continues to expand, but the South...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×