Monday, July 30, 2007

St Kilda's David Moyle & Stokehouse

My parents were in town for a week and they wanted to take me out for dinner on Wednesday evening as an early birthday celebration. We ummed and ahhed about where to go, until I remembered Downstairs Stokehouse has guest chefs on Wednesday nights. The deal is $39.50 for 2 courses and I was certain such good value would book up quickly. However 4.30pm on Wednesday afternoon there was still room for 4. Mum, Dad, S-bo and I turned up and not only was there space for us, we’d been seated at the window. Score!

I haven’t eaten upstairs, but downstairs had the laid back feel you expect from a casual eatery, with warm, low lighting to add just a bit of “specialness” of an evening. Service is relaxed, as you would expect, with very bubbly and endearing waitresses. Perhaps the setting on its own isn’t quite enough for a special dinner but throw in a guest chef and hey presto! On this particular evening we were catered for by David Moyle from Circa, St Kilda. Like upstairs Stokehouse, Circa has also earned two hats.

The menu: For entrée Mum & Dad had smoked eel and roasted potato soup, bacon and crème fraiche, whilst S-bo and I both opted for slow cooked organic carrot salad, white onion, shanklish and sorrel.

The flavours of the salad were very delicate, with none overpowering the others. I’ve never eaten shanklish before, nor did I know what it was. I now know its cow’s milk cheese made in Syria or Lebanon, although some sources say sheep’s or goat’s milk as well. My take? It’s like a smooth version of feta. Apparently it comes in a ball, almost like a dirty tennis ball according to Wikipedia, however on this occasion it was crumbled through the salad. There was a form of creamy yellow dressing of which I’m still not sure what it was. I’d guess that it included some pureed carrot. The carrots themselves, little dutch ones with stems still attached, were sweet and tender but they were just carrots. What brought this dish alive were the flavours together as a whole. The white onion deserves special mention as well for bringing excellent tangy bursts to the plate.

Mum and Dad both enjoyed their soup. I tried some of the eel and it tasted, well, smoked. Funny that. They were both very impressed.

Mixing up the combinations for mains, Dad and I had confit lamb brik, parsnip and yoghurt puree with roasted lamb sauce whilst S-bo and Mum had wood roasted calamari, grilled radicchio, black Victorian olives and pink fur potatoes. S-bo enjoyed the calamari very much, whilst Mum found the sauce a little spicy. The sauce was actually quite mild but I’m sure my mother isn’t the only person around with a very low tolerance to spice. I think it should have been stated on the menu to ensure everyone had the best chance to fully enjoy their main.

Dad and I were a little dismayed when our dinner arrived. It appeared to be a small slice of lamb fillet, some strange rectangular thing and a couple of broad beans. Of course the strange rectangular thing was actually the brik and it was choc-full of flavour. Shredded lamb mixed with a myriad of flavours, including parsnip I guess, was drizzled with the yoghurt puree. Use all this to mop up the roasted lamb sauce and I was in heaven. Interestingly enough the rare slice of lamb was very tough to cut, almost like sticking a knife into rubber, but once in the mouth it was so very tender. Second to the lamb were the amazing tomatoes on my plate. You wouldn’t think that little tomatoes could stand up to a dish such as this but they must have been so fresh and ripe when picked off the vine. The last time I remember eating a tomato that tasted so good was on our road trip from Sydney to Adelaide via the coast. We picked up some ripe organic toms from a growers market and I decided to shed my childhood hang-up of not eating tomatoes. I’ve never looked back.

Dessert didn’t tempt us quite so much at the time. We skipped malted milk parfait with sherry and prunes for cake and coffee on Acland St. Always a winner…if you know what to choose, which of course varies from person to person.

Before ending this post I should mention the wine. We ordered a bottle of Underground Pinot Noir. Whilst not your most stunning Pinot it was still particularly enjoyable and at $33 a bottle restaurant price, is probably much better positioned for most of us than your stunning Pinot. Coincidentally Mum, Dad and I drove past Underground the next day on the Mornington Penninsula. We were going a little fast to stop and returned a different way in the afternoon, but it’s definitely a vineyard to keep your eye out for.

Downstairs Stokehouse has a couple of different weekly events including the guest chefs on Wednesday and some lunch specials. You should check it out if you’re after something a little different without paying the earth. You are also welcome to order off the standard downstairs menu too.


Rami Zurayk said...

ali, shanklish is made from strained yogurt without using rennet (the cheese making factor). It can be made from a variety of milks, and is quite pungent and strong tasting, unless it has been smoothened for western tastes by not allowing it to acidify long enough to develop the typical taste of sour yogurt. It is then rolled in a ball and then the ball is covered with thyme which gives it its dirty tennis ball appearance. To eat: crush a portion of the cheese in a plate and mix with finely chopped tomatoes and onions and drench in olive oil. eat with pitta bread.

Ali-K said...

Every day is a school day huh! Thanks Rami for helping me out with that one, I'm sure you've enlightened others too.