Saint Crispin

June 4, 2014

300 Smith Street, Collingwood
A few weeks ago now, Mr N and I went out for a bit of a special dinner – we were celebrating one year of being together, which is lovely – and we decided on Saint Crispin as our venue.It’s not often that I eat as a “returner” for special occasion dinners – I like to use the chance when I’m happy to spend a little more money by trying something new. It’s true that there were plenty of hot new restaurants I was keen to eat at, but actually it was really nice returning to Saint Crispin because it’s somewhat significant to the two of us. Not in a super-corny ‘we had our first date here’ way, but we both remember our last dinner here as a wonderful, delicious, intimate experience, and it seemed like the perfect place to celebrate our milestone.

You can read my gloating post about that first dinner here. Suffice to say, it was far and away my favourite meal of the year. While that’s a very positive thing, it also meant we had high expectations the second time around. Before ordering, and with the help of our waiter, we picked out a lovely bottle of Francois Labet ‘Vieilles Vignet’ Pinot Noir from Burgundy. With pinot noir being the red grape variety of the Burgundy region, we weren’t surprised that this was a beautiful wine with a really fleshy, plummy taste.

Before our meals, the amuse bouche of olive madeleines and an emulsion of soy milk, hay ash and olive with an olive crumb arrived. It was a very interesting combination, the madeleines were quite sweet despite the olive, and the emulsion had a pale nutty taste. Much better, I thought, was their signature caramelised onion butter.

We also ordered two of the creamy smoked eel croquettes, which went down an absolute treat. I particularly liked the tangy, sunny yellow vinegar emulsion they were served with, swiping up the last bits with my finger.

Mr N continued his tradition of ordering salmon entrees at Saint Crispin with the Atlantic salmon, smoked oyster, finger lime and sea vegetables. A beautiful pairing, the cured (I’m guessing) salmon was brought to life by the finger lime, roe and smoked oyster emulsion. I had one mouthful and instantly wanted it all to myself, it was just so refreshing and lively!

For my entree I picked the quail with shaved cuttlefish, shiitake mushrooms and kombu, with the kombu broth poured at the table. Two beautifully tender pink quail breasts sat atop an earthy pile of mushrooms and tender slices of cuttlefish. Regardless of how good the salmon was, this was the dish for me: gamey and umami rich.

In a choice that almost makes me think he’s a sucker for routine, Mr N ordered pork for his main. Last time it was Greenvale Pork with curried raisins and heirloom carrots, this time it was Western Plains pork jowl with miso, beans, charred cabbage and nashi. The pork jowl was the thing dreams are made of: soft, sticky and unctuous, with a crackling that could bring a man to his knees. There was also some pork neck that had been poached in miso, and the combination of the fatty pork, salty miso and sweet beans was out of this world.

I was tossing up between the John Dory (love me some Dory) and the chicken, and I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Chicken? Chicken, girl?’ Well, like I always say, there’s chicken, and then there’s chicken. This was chicken, and it was bloody delicious. Bannockburn chicken, specifically, with fermented garlic, black barley and pine nuts.

Much like my lamb dish from last time, or the venison dish recently featured on Masterchef, the chicken was done in a few different ways. The breast had been roasted (perfectly, mind you), the thigh pressed, and a chicken sausage shaved into ethereal slices. Much like the rotisserie chicken at PM24 (RIP), this reminds you what chicken should really taste like, juicy and sweet. A cauliflower tabouli with barley and currants, and what I think was a caramelised onion sauce, really had my tastebuds singing.

After such a wonderful run of entree and main courses, the desserts, I’m afraid to say, were a bit of a disappointment. Our first shared dessert was a hazelnut and honey parfait with apple, pear and chamomile.

The dish was beautifully presented, and showcased lots of technique, when you consider the parfait, the various gels and ices and poached fruit. But, you know, the taste was ok. Just ok. I enjoyed the creamy hazelnut parfait, but for some reason the combination of the hazelnut with the apple, pear and chamomile made me feel like I was eating a body wash rather than a dessert.

The other dessert we shared was the frangipane tart with Yarra Valley figs and a fig leaf ice-cream. This dessert I’m of two minds about. On the one had, I really loved the taste of figs, the tart was baked really well, and the ice cream was very smooth with a delicate flavour.

On the other hand, as yummy as this was, I feel like fig frangipane tart (ex-ice cream) is something I would get at a cafe to have with coffee. All of the other dishes had a certain sophistication to them, and a large amount of technique, and while this was delicious, I question whether it should feature on the menu of a restaurant of this calibre.

Anyway, desserts aside, this was another beautiful meal and a very fitting way for Mr N and I to celebrate together. Two chocolate truffles sealed the deal, and we leisurely made our way back into the city on the Smith Street tram, sated, the pair of us.

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