‘Seaside St Kilda icon Stokehouse still one of Melbourne’s best’

The following excerpt is taken from The Herald Sun’s Taste Confidential Review, written by Dan Stock.

‘On one hand, a restaurant is simply somewhere that serves something to eat and drink.

On the other, it’s a snapshot of society, a custodian of culture and a hotbed of politics personal and institutional; it’s a purveyor of myths and a teller of history where stories of land and sea and vine create a world that’s a galaxy away from mere sustenance.

On one hand, Stokehouse is simply a restaurant.

On the other, it’s a snapshot of Melbourne at its celebratory best, its name synonymous with sunsets and champagne and when it burnt to the ground it made headlines around the country.

But what many might not realise is that behind Stokehouse’s vainglorious glitz and glamour is a big heart that beats Melbourne.

Frank van haandel has been a towering presence over Melbourne’s hospitality for decades and when that fateful fat fire demolished 25 years of his life, rather than walk away he rebuilt a restaurant with future generations in mind.

Now, not only is Stokehouse the first Australian restaurant to achieve a 5-star green star for its design but such policies as hiring staff who can walk, ride or catch public transport to work, show a deep commitment to sustainability. It’s innovative and important leadership.

If you want to drink sparkling water, however, it’ll be an $11 bottle of Italian San Pellegrino offered.

But the Stokehouse has always been a restaurant of contradictions: a place for the people with $50 mains and where being seen dining was for many more important than the food.

Jason Staudt took over the kitchen at the end of ‘19 joining from Matt Moran’s restaurants in Sydney. I’m sure it pains him not to call it a scallop, but the salt and vinegar potato cake ($7), with its grown-to-spec spud, airy soda siphon-batter, a sprinkle of salt bush and punchy vinegar bite, is a knockout, as crunch-tastically good as the spanner crab “dog” is vibrant with lemony sweet sea and finger lime acid ($9).

Seafood is a renewed focus under Staudt and Stokehouse is all the better for it: the $48 a head seafood platter is worth the splurge, for it is a showcase of Australia’s best.

From a sublime scallop served raw with ginger oil through a meaty Queensland prawn with smoky Marie Rose sauce, stunning whipped brown butter to complement delicate WA marron to smoked Murray cod belly on an airy crumpet, it’s a triumph of letting quality do all the talking.

But it’s in other dishes where new ideas are artfully executed – such as the beef tartare.

Served more like a carpaccio, it teams Gippsland beef with confit onion, its caramelised sweetness countering the mild funky crunch of fermented brussels sprouts.

The velvety meat, the beef fat mayo, the cured yolk to finish – it’s extraordinarily good ($26).

Silky, shaved Corner Inlet calamari comes in a bone broth with meaty pine mushrooms and nutty black barley for an alluring autumnal entree ($28), while meltingly soft Murray cod served with meaty mussels and dexterous escabeche shows technical smarts and a sustainable heart ($50).

Perfectly pink lamb saddle served with more of that whipped brown butter is the type of decadence a long lunch is made for ($54), especially when you add some Andean sunrise spuds that are served, brulee-like, under a cloud of torched rosemary mustard foam ($14).

It’s the stuff of dreams that are all the sweeter with Ash Smith’s equally clever desserts, whether a picture perfect fluffy whisky baba with smoky pineapple and coconut sorbet ($19), or a wildly inventive cheesecake, with sweet-salty pepitas, honey jelly and sharp sherry vinegar ice cream ($20).

Over all the years and many meals I’ve eaten here, I haven’t enjoyed one more than this. I reckon Stokehouse has never been better.

Just as Stokehouse is looking to the future so, too, am I. This is my last missive to you from the Herald Sun’s food pages.

It’s been a privilege covering one of the most exciting food cities on the planet, helping — hopefully — to guide you to Melbourne’s best restaurants — and on occasion, warn you from the worst. It’s been a blast, but new adventures await.

Thanks for reading. So long, and thanks for all the fish and chips.’

Thank you to Dan Stock & The Herald Sun for the recent review. It is one we are very proud of.