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At the end of 2017, my wife and I headed over to the land Down Under for an epic month away visiting friends and family, and discovering as much as we could in a month about those Antipodean lands.

I have covered in some posts for Vinspire, a couple of very interesting wine based experiences that we had on our trip (two posts in fact: one about exploring the Hunter Valley and one about getting to know the wines of Waipara). As you would expect, however, we also ate plenty of delicious food whilst we were travelling around, but up until now I have not had time to write-up any of our experiences!

The first place that I want to describe to you was the best restaurant that we went to on our trip – Saint Crispin; situated in Melbourne’s trendy (and slightly edgy) Collingwood area. We loved wandering around this part of Melbourne, there were tons of cool little cafés and bars for you to while away your time, plus there were some great furniture and clothes shopping spots (not that we were looking to take any furniture back with us!). When doing my research about a nice place to take some friends to, as a way to thank them for putting us up for our time in Melbourne, one restaurant seemed to feature over and over again on the lists of must-visit restaurants and this was Saint Crispin. It also met the crucial criteria of being open on 23rd December – many other restaurants had already closed for their Christmas breaks.

As you will see from the photo of the façade of the building, the frontage doesn’t immediately scream high-end, fine dining at you. However, once you walk through the door, you immediately sense that the people here know what they are doing. Everything was very tastefully decorated, with an open-plan kitchen area that was buzzing with energy from the bevvy of staff that were on hand to cook up a storm for the patrons. The lighting levels were trendily low, but not so low that you couldn’t see your table.

As we perused the menu we sipped on a glass of NV Champagne Jacquesson Cuvée 740 Extra Brut, which was delightfully tart and mineralic, a perfect aperitif to whet the appetite! We opted for the five course Tasting Menu with matching wine-pairings; it was Christmas after all…

We started with Asparagus, Mushroom Ketchup, Shimeji and Hazelnut. Immediately we could see that this was a nicely crafted plate of food; the asparagus had just the right crunch to it that gave the dish some nice texture, particularly in contrast to the Shimeji mushrooms. There were little dots around the plate of a rich and deep mushroom ketchup; but I also really enjoyed the little crunches of hazelnut which gave the plate additional textural and flavour elements. Quite simply done, but well-thought out and constructed, a great start! This was served with a 2016 Tornatore Etna Bianco (made from Carricante and Cataratto grapes), which had a light and lovely citrus nose with a little bit of steeliness of stone fruit to even it out. On the palate it was nice and taut, with great balance; dominant flavours of fresh lemons. A decent match with the food.

Next up was a fish dish, Atlantic Salmon served with Cucumber, Radish and Smoked Buttermilk. You can see from the picture that this was another extremely attractive plate of food; the water-bath cooking of the salmon had allowed it to retain a really pleasing pink colour, which gave it a great visual contrast to the pickled vegetables. There was also a little smattering of grains on the plate, which were very welcome as a textural addition. The smokiness in the buttermilk came through really nicely and gave an extra dimension to the dish, which I really enjoyed. This was served with a 2016 Weingut Richter Riesling (Mosel), which had the most incredibly expressive nose with bags of tropical fruit notes, but also a curious aroma that reminded me of pear drops. On the mouth this was pleasingly off-dry, with a flavour profile of ripe and juicy Seville oranges. The slightly sweet element to this wine was a great foil for the fish as it held up well against some of the more acidic elements of the dish.

Given so much of Australia is by the coast, it was no surprise that we were then given another fish dish! This time a fillet of Humpty Doo Barramundi served with Shallot Puree, Smoked Eel and Pickled Kohlrabi. Whereas the last dish was quite dainty and elegant, this was a much more weighty and meaty take on a fish dish. The Barramundi fillet was quite firm and had a real presence; this was augmented by the fact that the skin had been cooked using a blowtorch to give it a nice crispiness (we were at St Crispin, after all… *groan*). However, this dish was still a very cleverly put together dish with lots of nice morsels to discover as you worked your way around the plate – for example, the little nuggets of smoked eel on the plate were sublime and the pickled sea vegetables reminded one that this was a dish celebrating the bounty of the sea. The wine match for this course was a 2016 Unico Zelo Fiano (Clare Valley); I was pleased as this was our first Australian wine of the evening! The nose was all buttery and nutty like a pleasingly-oaked Chardonnay, with a slightly waxy quality to it. On tasting it had a decent weight to the wine, which really helped it to stand up well against the complex flavours and textures from the dish.

For our meat course we had Spring Lamb served with Romesco, Sheeps’ Milk Yoghurt and a Savoury Muesli; another blockbuster of a course. The lamb was served two ways with a nice, pink cut (I can’t quite recall know what cut it was exactly..), alongside a slow cooked portion of belly which had lashings of beautiful fat on it, offset with a crispy skin. The muesli grain worked once more very well to provide textural elements to the dish, but for me the most pleasing addition was the sheeps’ milk yoghurt which had a lovely acidity to it and was a perfect foil for the fatty lamb meat; when this was added to the rich, nutty Romesco sauce it made for a very pleasing combination of flavours indeed. An interesting wine match was given with this course; a 2015 Le Pigeoulet (IGP Vaucluse). This is an interesting new appellation in the south of France which finds itself between the southern Rhone and Provence. The wine comprises of Carrignan, Syrah and Grenache and has a nicely perfumed nose with light red fruit notes. To taste, it was similarly light and delicate, but I think it could have done with something a bit more weighty; I would have loved a northern Rhone or a good ol’ Aussie Shiraz with this dish!

Time for the sweet stuff! Our dessert was a Chocolate Cremeaux accompanied by Raspberries, Eucalyptus and Coconut Sorbet. This was all kinds of delicious and very clever. The dish itself looked so pretty when it arrived on the table, with so much attention to detail having clearly taken place. The drama of the shard of chocolate on top, gives way to lots of morsels of deliciousness on the underneath, featuring decadent chocolate alongside juicy raspberries, fresh and herbal eucalyptus and creamy coconut sorbet. All of these flavours on their own were delicious, but when combined they really offset each other very nicely. The wine match for this dish was a 2012 Niepoort LBV Port (Porto), which was a nice, fruity, light port. This wine came into its own when drunk with the pudding as the sweetness of the port was evened out by the richness and creaminess of the pudding; a great match.

This was a really excellent meal and one that we enjoyed tremendously. The staff were on excellent form (I think being only a couple of days before Christmas everyone was in high spirits) and they were very patient with my incessant questioning of, in particular, the wines. The quality of the food was really very good, definitely Michelin-star quality (although interestingly, the Michelin restaurant guide doesn’t cover Australia so no Australian restaurants have Michelin stars…) and I thought that the wine matches were really smart and nearly-all spot on. I would have liked to have seen a little more Aussie wine though as I was keen to learn as much as I could about the local wines. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful place to spend time with great people and have an early Christmas treat.

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