There's never been a good reason not to go to Stokehouse. View-deprived Melburnians have been packing the joint for years to perch above the boardwalk and stare thirstily at beach and bay, swarmed and glittering in summer or hazy watercolour grey in winter. At times it can feel like a clubhouse for the buffed, filled and botoxed, but Stokehouse still projects a particular relaxed, Aussie egalitarian vibe, remarkable in a place that serves some of the most expensive fish and chips in town. But it was always worth considering because of the view.
With chef Jason Staudt in the kitchen, however, what's outside the window needs to do less of the heavy lifting. Staudt's food is clean-edged and sure-footed with a penchant for excellent ingredients and pretty but uncomplicated plating. It's a perfect match for the room's pared back style that channels idealised beachside dining with its blushing sun-kissed colours, the sand-coloured timber floors and soft pink light fittings evoking nostalgic memories of summers (and sunburns) past.
The fish and chips, still up there at $42, is both excellent and generous. The fish, perhaps dusky flathead, is coated in an airy and commendably crisp batter that comes with block-like triple-cooked chips and a particularly compelling house-made tartare sauce with lemon juice and capers given starring roles.
Spend some time with the snack menu, particularly if the tuna belly bites are present, teeny little numbers filled with raw tuna flavoured with brown butter and truffle. Also worth your time is a glorious spiced corn tart, a pretty thing filled with corn custard and topped with puffed sorghum for crunch and lime zest for tang.
A hand-chopped beef tartare is successfully flavoured with an oyster emulsion and crowned with slivers of pickled green tomato while a side dish of lightly pickled asparagus spears (apple cider and juniper are part of the pickling equation) partnered with buffalo curd turned pale purple with the addition of mountain pepperberry comes close to stealing the show.
The long-time Stokehouse dessert The Bombe has been retired for less bombastic sweet stuff like superb house-made gelato that's flavoured seasonally (go the cherry if it's there) and a vanilla slice with caramelised puff and a passionfruit sauce.
Wine list and service, always Stokehouse strong points, have emerged from lockdown unscathed and the view, of course, is delicious as ever. The direction in the kitchen has made the always persuasive package even more so.