St Katherine’s

February 8, 2012

26 Cotham Road, Kew
St Katherine’s is George Calombaris and Shane Delia’s newest operation to grace Melbourne’s streets. However, since my visit George has managed to launch yet another eatery called Mama Baba in South Yarra – slowly but surely the man is positioning himself in every corner of Melbourne! Already his empire (under the group Made Establishment) includes The Press Club, Little Press & Cellar, Maha, Hellenic Republic, PM24, St Katherine’s and now Mama Baba!My family and I had been keen to go since it opened, but getting bookings are notoriously difficult because of all the hype surrounding it. Hopefully all the ballyho will quieten down soon, but if you’re finding it difficult to book dinner I suggest you do what we did and go for Saturday lunch instead – far less forward thinking involved and more time in the day to slowly digest all the good food you’ll eat!

The restaurant has a sleek exterior of pale lemon walls and a hint of middle eastern influence with stencils partly covering the windows. Inside, the room is very large (such is the benefit of suburban restaurants) with a casual and light-filled fit out. I did like the many bunches of flowers littering the place, which brought some colour to the room.

The laid back vibe of the place is continued on the tables, where cutlery and napkins are held in communal tins. The service throughout our meal was excellent, and they were very friendly and helpful in advising on how much food to order. The restaurant wasn’t completely full when we ordered, but nonetheless our food came out very quickly.

The menu is divided into “stuff”, “wood fired pides”, “turkish grill cooked over coals”, “side stuff” and “sweet stuff”. The word “stuff” to me seems like someone trying just a tad too hard to be cool. However upon further reflection, the generic meaning of the word did suit the varied contents of those sections: the menu spans from Middle Eastern to Greek to Turkish, plus various other Mediterranean flavours.

Our first dish involved an ingredient and a technique I am never unsatisfied with: kingfish; sashimi. Technically, this kingfish had been raki cured (raki being an aniseed flavoured spirit from Turkey, much like Ouzo), but it was still beautifully soft and raw, thus my mention of sashimi.

It was served with preserved lemon, orange blossom and popcorn shoots, and was freaking excellent. Fresh and lemony, and those popcorn shoots were crunchy and provided an excellent contrast in texture.

Next up was a dish I had sampled last year at the Taste of Melbourne exhibition (full blog post here), the KFC, St Katherine’s Chicken. Grease-free Lilydale free range chicken served old school style, in a colourful paper bucket with house BBQ sauce and Japanese mayo. Can I get a ‘HELLZ YEAH!’

Next up was the Turkish lamb dumplings, which I’d also sampled at St Katherine’s Taste of Melbourne stand. While I didn’t enjoy them in September, I love love loved them this time around. Maybe it was that better care had been put into them, or that there was more of that delicious garlic yoghurt. Regardless, these brilliant, doughy little parcels were great with a lemony kick from the sumac and dried mint.

From the list of pides, we chose #1: mint, ricotta, haloumi and peppered figs. This was nice, but somewhat pale in terms of flavour compared to the other dishes. That said, I did enjoy the combination of sweet figs and salty haloumi.

This next dish was one I was particularly keen on ordering. The only way I could have been more pathetic in convincing my parents to order this next dish would be if I’d thrown myself to the floor in hysterics over it. Chips and tarama. So simple. So brilliant. My parents were skeptical when we placed the order, but they soon changed their minds after dipping that first golden baton in the lemony white tarama. Needless to say the chips disappeared far too quickly. More I say! More!

To retain some semblance of healthiness, we ordered the “Ancient grain salad”. George Calombaris likes to use ancient grain a lot – I’ve also had these archaic kernels at the Hellenic Republic. And let me tell you – there is nothing “ancient” about them. They just happen to be most well known for their role in older Greek recipes, despite the fact that Greeks still eat them today.

Anyway, rant over. This salad came with various seeds, nuts, lentils, capers, currents and pomegranate. I liked it, but found it a tad too sweet to be truly refreshing.

Next up was another wonderful dish, the grilled quail with cumin, sitting on a bed of smoked eggplant, tahini and pumpkin seeds. The quail had a delicious smokiness to it, matched by the eggplant. The only thing I wasn’t convinced of was the texture of the rocket mixed into the base.

We also ordered a mixed rotisserie grill of lamb and chicken. Both were perfectly cooked and subtly flavoured. Brilliant if you’re going for a simple, wholesome dish. If you want something slightly more involved, I’d suggest choosing another of the meaty dishes on offer.

To finish our savory selection, a devastatingly simple but equally delicious grilled baby snapper. Snapper is such a lovely, delicate fish that you can’t help but love it done like this, eaten with but a squeeze of lemon over the juicy white flesh. That said, my interest was also piqued by the notion of boneless (bingo) garfish wrapped in vine leaves. Ah well, an excuse for a return visit, I suppose!

Despite having eaten so much already, the four of us managed to squeeze in a couple of shared desserts. Mum and Dad had the Mr Whippy #1, with loukoumathes, orange blossom honey and candied walnuts. The intense aroma of orange blossom radiating from this dish was amazing.

A and I shared the other Mr Whippy, a devilish concoction involving salted caramel, pomegranate brownie and a chocolate sauce. The pomegranate was a pleasant kick, and the ice-cream was more of a frozen yoghurt so overall this dish wasn’t too rich. It was, however, seriously, seriously cold. My teeth and head were aching after a few spoonfuls and I had to stop!

Despite suffering from ice-cream induced head trauma, we walked out of St Katherine’s feeling very satisfied. I think the food did live up to the hype: classic Calombaris/Delia flavours and styles, well executed and well thought out.

They also have a killer function room upstairs, which I may be using at some point in the future – I especially like the idea of having an open kitchen to see what food is being prepared for partygoers!

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Filed under: Greek, Kew, Middle Eastern, Turkish