Scott Pickett is ready to have some fun. The chef's latest project – blending Northcote's Estelle Bistro and next-door fine diner Estelle by Scott Pickett (ESP) into a single entity called Estelle – is all about "mixing it up and cooking exactly what I want to cook."
"I've been in the kitchen for 30 years this year," says Pickett, whose stable of restaurants also includes South Yarra's Matilda, Collingwood's Saint Crispin and Pickett's Deli at the Queen Victoria Market. "The grind of that can take its toll so I really wanted to have some fun at Estelle, to be more relaxed and to show where I am as a cook and as a person."
He closed ESP in July last year, and after an extensive renovation, the biggest overhaul has been the transformation of the former bistro. The tiny kitchen has been stripped out, and the bistro converted into a wine bar complete with a new bar service area, banquettes, high tables and stools. Two large windows and a wide doorway now connect the wine bar and the dining room, but fans of the courtyard needn't panic – it's been given a spruce but remains intact.
As for the cooking, it all happens in Pickett's "dream kitchen", the one he designed himself for ESP. Complete with copper saucepans, gleaming black tiles and state-of-the-art stainless steel, it's where Pickett retreats to "have fun".
So how does fun translate on the new Estelle menu? "It's relaxed and flexible," says Pickett. "In the dining room, there's a choice of six snacks, entrees, main course and desserts. You can come in for a five- or six-course tasting menu or just come in for a glass of wine and one plate of food."
The same goes for the bar. "Come in and have a beer and snack or eat a couple of courses over a bottle of wine. You can share food if you want but the food's been designed for the way I like to eat – with my own plate of food," he says.
Asked to name some favourites, Pickett initially opts for the diplomatic "they're all my favourites". But he's happy to oblige when pressed. Here are some of the dishes he thinks you should keep an eye on when Estelle opens its doors this Friday.
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