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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Arbory Bar and Eatery

New: Arbory Bar and Eatery, Flinders Walk, Melbourne


When I heard Arbory Bar and Eatery had opened along one side of Flinders Street Station, I was surprised that I'd managed to skip any pre-launch hype about it. (a) A new bar, (b) in such a central location, and (c) such a big venue - how had I missed this?! But no matter. I was able to get along and check it out only two weeks after opening. Redeemed.

Drinks with a river view


So - this place is pretty cool. Arbory (Flinders Walk, Melbourne) runs the length of the old Sandridge platform (up to 150 metres, depending on which source you believe), along the river side of Flinders Street Station. The Sandridge railway line, which went to what is now Port Melbourne, ran for 133 years from 1854. Since it was decommissioned in 1987, its dedicated Flinders platform had been left terribly sad and unused.

Flinders Street Station backs onto one length of Arbory


The combined powers of Metro Trains and the HQ Hospitality Group (operators of many of the refreshment stalls at railway stations around Melbourne) have resulted in Arbory, apparently in the works for around four years. Named for the canopy of trees along the river, initially, the idea was to create a central go-to coffee spot. But, according to Tim Botterill, Director of the HQ Group, the idea "grew legs" and expanded to what is now Arbory. The brand new venue will be open every day of the year for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks until late, with beautiful river views and extensive people-watching potential. At dusk, it is an unbeatable spot to wile away time watching teams of energetic rowers do their thang.



Unfortunately, there is no direct access to the bar from Flinders Street Station itself (how cool would that have been!). However, the venue is easily accessed at either of its ends: from the underpass which runs from Elizabeth Street through to the Yarra, or near the Princes Bridge (down the stairs from St Kilda Road).

Princes Bridge (St Kilda Road) entrance to Arbory


It blends neatly into its surrounds; in fact, you wouldn't necessarily notice it unless you happened to look up from the riverside path or across from Southbank.

A short swim over to Southgate


But its proximity to one of the most central hubs of Melbourne (Flinders Street Station) - not to mention Melbourne's "Tourist Central" (Southbank) - guarantees it trade, and therefore probably longevity.

View from Flinders Street Station looking across to Arbory


Once onsite, the first thing you notice is the venue's length. Arbory seems to stretch on forever, dotted by large green umbrellas, wooden decking, balustrade and seating. Its design, by Melbourne architectural group Jackson Clements Burrows, is predominantly alfresco. (I am hoping they have a good heating system in place for winter - this is Melbourne, after all!)



It was allegedly inspired by a linear park in New York, The High Line, which made use of an unused, elevated section of railway in Manhattan. The main difference at Arbory is that it also provides a place to eat and drink - two of my (and Melbourne's) favourite things!

Container bar


Drinks are obtained from one of two bars at either end of a 60-metre long container, which also houses the kitchen, servery and bathrooms (with cool rainforest wallpaper and matte black taps). Food is ordered at the bar and delivered by staff who find you via a number system (poor fullas - that will be a panus in the buttus at a place as long as this). Staff are obviously getting used to the venue themselves, but seem young, friendly and astute.

Water with a water view


When I was there, an additional serving cart had been set up at the Elizabeth Street underpass end, apparently for some kind of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2015 event cart


Storage seems scarce and therefore confined to a shed down the Princes Bridge end of the venue, or upon a stretch of the platform behind the bar. Unfortunately, it is cordoned off by a black tarp sheet, which isn't the prettiest to look at. That would probably be my only gripe about the look of the place - I hope it is only a temporary solution. Removing it would increase the feeling of space, being able to see through to the station almost all the way along one side, and the river on the other.



I have been to Arbory twice now, and each time drank delightful wines which I will never recall the names of - the first was a beautifully light rose (not too sweet, just the way I like it), and the second, some kind of Spanish varietal like a Grigio. Ish. (I just went to the bar and asked for "that Spanish white". Works for me.)

That Spanish white


The wines by the glass were a teensy bit on the pricey side but they were pretty lovely and, again, considering the venue's location, it could be expected that prices might be slightly higher in general. However, the food all seemed quite reasonably priced.




On my second visit, a friend and I tried some of the food. She ordered the mushroom and haloumi burger, which she quite enjoyed - apparently the sauce was delicious.

Mushroom and haloumi burger

Saucy goodness


We each had a mushroom and cheese croquette - nicely crisped on the outside; a bit too mushy for my liking on the inside, but still tasty.

Mushroom and cheese croquettes


I tried the steak tartare - unusual in two respects: there was a lot of steak provided (most other venues seem to skimp on the main ingredient!), and it was served with foccacia-style bread that had cheese cooked into its middle. Sounds weird, but it was delicious and complimentary to the strong meat flavour and accompanying creamy, tangy sauce (perhaps a mayonnaise, but less eggy?). Does it sound weird to say it had a Scandinavian flavour? Regardless - I was quite impressed.

Steak tartare


Executive Chef Nicholas Bennett, who jumped the river from Fatto Bar and Cantina at Hamer Hall (formerly Trocadero), wanted a contemporary European angle to the food, but also needed to cater to the variety of folks likely to patronise the venue. Considering Arbory is open from 7.30am every day, I'd also like to sample its breakfast fare. Will keep you posted! (Or this post posted... you know what I mean.)

Facing the Elizabeth Street underpass entrance


I enjoyed the music (the likes of Lorde, Phoenix... light, alternative-to-mainstream stuff), amusingly punctuated on occasion by the blare of a train horn.

The trains are JUST THERE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE


The crowd was mixed - there is definite appeal for the after-work crowd -- just stumble onto the train home, guys! -- and obviously, tourists. But I think Arbory will attract a wider crowd, probably mid-20s onwards, right up to your distinguished greys. It's great for anyone wanting a buzzy but relaxed environment; central, with great views ...And that is the clincher, people! I'll be continuing to visit, at the very least, for that.





Arbory Bar and Eatery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Saint Crispin

When Smith Street had just become a local area for me, I used to walk past Cavallero and think about how I 'must try that place soon'. But as everyone knows, Smith Street (and surrounds) is not short of venues, and I must have been busy checking out all the others first, because before I knew it, Cavallero had closed and I had missed my chance. Apparently it had been struggling. Who then, would dare to take on the site, and what would they make of it? Smith Street is a prime location, but it's also full of competition. This would have to be good.



Enter Scott Pickett (Estelle Bistro) and Joe Grbac (The Press Club). Two chefs who used to work together at London's fancy-pants The Square (which boasts not one, but two Michelin stars), they joined forces to open a brand new venue as both business partners and co-head chefs. The result: Saint Crispin (300 Smith Street, Collingwood).

Named for the patron saint of shoemakers, Saint Crispin acknowledges its site's origins as a cobbler's workshop. The restaurant is large and airy, and retains a rustic sense of history with exposed bricks on one wall and an arched exit to the tiny back courtyard, but the historic references pretty much end there.



The marble bar was retained from Cavallero's former occupancy and marks the edge of the small but busy open kitchen. Black leather bench seating lines the wall and the overall design scheme is simple, with muted natural dark and light shades, grey-ish wood, and lots of natural light. Serving plates are smooth versions of that chunky matte crockery so in fashion right now, and the occasional wooden board.



Saint Crispin had been open for a while before I managed to get there, so my anticipation had built wildly. Accessible fine dining on Smith Street? A connection with the much-lauded Estelle? Beautiful plating and interesting food? Positive reviews and blog posts galore? Needless to say, when I arrived for a group dinner, my expectations were high.




The food did not disappoint. We opted for three courses at $65.00 per head, plus drinks and any extras. A group of five meant that between us, we had a fair bit of variety. Everything was beautifully plated, and some of the flavours and textures were really interesting.

"Snap Crackle Pop" appetisers

Even the spreads were pretty


A few members of our party found some flavours a bit overpowering - for example, the salmon dish. Apparently the accompanying foam was very 'sea-flavoured' which they didn't really like, and the salmon was served partially cooked, which was surprising at first, but by the end of the dish they found it quite tender.

I was surprised by the inclusion of blood sausage with my veal cheek, which was not listed on the menu and is not my favourite item in the world. Partially due to that, the dish was very rich in flavour, but the veal cheek itself was lovely.

Another friend exclaimed that words could not describe how happy the pork dish had made her. High praise indeed from a self-proclaimed pork belly aficionado!

I, and the others who also ordered it, absolutely loved the dessert of Saint Agur (blue cheese) with maple (i.e. sweetened) bacon, and radicchio (among other things). The flavours were so unusual, but the perfect mix - creamy savoury, sweet meaty, bitter and fresh. Just fantastic.

It was obvious this was very carefully crafted food (lots of technique) and the impressive flavours were on par with how impressive the dishes looked. Here's what we ate:


Entrees

Yellowfin tuna, calamari, mussels, tapioca and rocket

Asparagus, roasted parmesan custard, radish and gazpacho

Marron filled chicken wings, scallop and white asparagus

Quail, chorizo, polenta, sherry and South Australian olives


Mains

Atlantic salmon, parsley risotto, prawn, broad bean and peas

Veal cheek, onion consomme, black garlic, broccolini and coffee

Western Plains pork, fennel, burnt carrot, orange and miso


Sides

Chickpea, roasted cauliflower, tahini and cumin

Baby salad leaves, red wine and palm sugar dressing


Desserts

Peanut butter parfait, spiced pineapple, golden syrup and rum

Saint Agur, maple bacon, blueberry, apple and radicchio

These weren't on the menu but they were like melting moments,
complimentary at the end of the meal


Most of the staff were lovely and extremely competent. One (American?) girl in particular was very polite and thorough, responding to any queries we had about the somewhat obscure menu. However, in light of my high expectations of the evening, I was disappointed that one waiter seemed quite rude. A few of us noticed his strange tone of voice and felt pressured by him to order quickly. I brought it up with Saint Crispin via Twitter and they asked for my feedback by email, graciously accepting the criticism, and advised that the staff member had been spoken to about upholding their preferred standard of service. The pressure to order was clarified as being due to our early sitting for dinner, particularly on a Saturday night - and I am completely sympathetic to the fact that the table was needed by a certain time for the next sitting - but it had felt a bit off-putting at the time. I was happy with their handling of my little whinge, and it was the only hiccup in an otherwise perfect evening.



Saint Crispin also boasts an upstairs bar, Thomas Olive, which I have not yet had the chance to patronise. Entry is via the restaurant - walk all the way through to the back, and then up the stairs. Its hours are somewhat limited (currently from 5pm, Wednesday to Saturday), but I imagine it'd be a nice place to wile away some time whilst waiting for your later sitting downstairs.

The restaurant is also involved in the occasional special event: its current project is a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival pop-up collaboration with Pierre Roelofs (famed for his dessert degustation evenings at Cafe Rosamond) at the St Kilda Bowling Club. (Two saints... Coincidence?!)



I would absolutely recommend Saint Crispin for its amazing food, pristine environment and extreme professionalism. One friend described it as 'quality, without being super pretentious'. It's best for a date or intimate group dinner - just try and get the later sitting, if you can! Booking is definitely recommended due to its popularity - despite booking at least a month ahead, we were only able to secure the early sitting on a Saturday night. Saint Crispin is deserving of its two Good Food Guide hats and well worth a visit.

Saint Crispin is open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner, and for lunch on weekends.




Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon