Jason Staudt may be taking the reins at Stokehouse St Kilda, but the proverbial straps will be loosened when the Canadian-born executive chef unveils the new menu at the Melbourne waterside restaurant. It's still Stokehouse, but the food and the mood will be more casual, laid-back, relaxed – fitting, considering its breezy beach location and its equally chilled-out proprietor.
"[Owner] Frank van Haandel is the most relaxed person and he should be reflected in this," says Staudt. "The first time I dined here in 2017, it felt quite stiff; we should have fun and feel like we're welcoming people into this home." To wit, Staudt's first move was to add a dive-in, share-style seafood platter to the menu; the second was to remove the salt-and-pepper grinders from the tables. "I'd love to change the linen too," he says.
There are snacks: a king-prawn taco, beef tartare on a crumpet, fish cheeks on pumpernickel toast. A raw bar serving oysters, cured ocean trout, kingfish sashimi. And Staudt is energised about Stokehouse's commitment to sustainability and minimal food waste. "We only buy whole fish now and make use of it from the tip to tail," he says. The fillets are reserved for the mains, the bones turned into a stock for the bouillabaisse, the trimmings used in an XO sauce. Even the specials menu is printed on paper that's studded with chamomile seeds for diners to take home and plant in their gardens.
But change is a dish best served incrementally. After leaving Sydney's Bea, Staudt officially commenced the executive chef role in November last year, right before the hospitality industry's bumper summer period – ergo, a poor time for a new leader to make sweeping wholesale changes. Since then, he's been doing his homework: developing recipes, building relationships with Victorian producers and farmers, and collaborating with the Stokehouse team including group sommelier Gavin Cremming, restaurant manager Hugh van Haandel and group pastry chef Lauren Eldridge, and getting them on board with his vision of lightening the restaurant. "It's a 25-year-old restaurant – it's ridiculous to say it's my menu," says Staudt. "We're a team. We did it together."
Here's what to order from Stokehouse St Kilda's new menu.
Flaked snapper cheeks, pumpernickel and nasturtium
"The cheeks are the sweetest part of the fish and have so much flavour," says Staudt. "People should be eating them more." After slow-poaching the snapper head, the cheeks are removed, flaked and combined with nasturtium mayonnaise, shallots and citrus zest, piled onto pumpernickel and garnished with nasturtium leaves. "It's a delicate but rich snack that's designed to get your mouth salivating."
Australian seafood platter
The selection varies depending on what's in season: scallop ceviche, diamond clams, Sydney rock oysters (though Staudt wants to source Pacifics from Tathra on New South Wales' South Coast). Mooloolaba spanner crab too, with the hand-picked meat served in the shell, and the crab's coral (head juice) whisked with cream to create a rich, mayonnaise-like sauce. Plus lightly poached scarlet prawns, with the crisp-fried heads served on the side: "It's the best, like a soft-shell crab," he says.
Hiramasa kingfish, housemade XO sauce, pickled radish
"It's important to have this familiar produce on the menu," says Staudt. "You can have weirder dishes, like crab-head-juice-sauce, but you also need familiarity too." He likes to thickly slice the kingfish sashimi to accentuate the texture and fattiness of the flesh, and serve it with a one-two umami hit of XO sauce made from fried and cured offcuts of fish. "It's a top-secret recipe, mostly because it changes every time."
Charred Fremantle octopus with n’duja salsa, olives and desert lime
We have Instagram to thank for making whole octopus tentacles a less confronting dish. "Diners are becoming more comfortable with eating it, compared to a few years ago," says Staudt. The tentacle is slow-poached for four hours, brushed with a sweet vinegar-and-oil glaze, then thrown on the gas grill. A woodfire grill is due to be installed at Stokehouse's kitchen, following from Staudt's time spent at smoke-and-fire restaurants Brae in Birregurra, Victoria, and Bea in Sydney. "It's part of my contract."
Heirloom tomato crudo, Meredith feta, stone fruit, almonds and their oil
"This is probably my favourite dish on the menu," says Staudt. There are up to five tomato varieties in the dish – including oxhearts, Black Russians, an "unbelievably sweet" pink tomato – all sourced from either Seymour's Somerset Heritage Produce or Ramarro Farm in Victoria's Dandenong Ranges. It's finished with feta, the crunch of crushed almonds, and a cold-pressed almond oil, specially made for Stokehouse. "I'm all about exclusive things," he says.
Stokehouse St Kilda, St Kilda Beach, 30 Jacka Blvd, St Kilda, Vic 3182
Open Mon-Sun, noon-late
(03) 9525 5555
Open Mon-Sun, noon-late
(03) 9525 5555