Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Estelle

What's new, Pussycat? For us it was a trip back to High Street where there's always something there to remind me. Whenever I have to cancel a High Street jaunt I just don't know what to do with myself.

Not knowing what to do with myself

If it wasn't obvious already, last night we went through
Hal and Bacharach, but I would still do it all again.

The Estelle (their definite article; not mine) was a recommendation (thanks
Niels) which might have otherwise skipped our attention, except that it was reviewed kindly by friend Essjay. While its spatial location is clearly high on High Street, its temporal location skips between the late 1950's and early 60's and the present.

The first thing you notice are the windows and door and decor. (The) Estelle has beautiful windows with a lovely view of High Street and its glorious wandering haircuts and horizontally-framed glasses. Inside, it's tiled walls, almost-kitsch decor and steel-framed vinyl chairs with studs on the back. In a word; swellegant. There's also a meat theme, with what could be a knitted leg of lamb hanging from one wall and a "Madonna and Lamb Leg" icon on the other. Felicity described it as polyester erratic with a soundtrack by Burt Bacharach, for Burt did indeed meet our musical requirements for the evening and then some.

The evening started quietly (we booked for 6.30pm) but later it was not an empty place. It was also strangely dim and I really struggled to read the menu, seemingly printed on apricot paper under apricot lighting. We ordered a jug of "Eldorado Gold" to start with. Now, I have to admit I'm a big fan of the jugged punch (such as the ones from Madame Brussels) and this jug of golden rum, dry ginger, strips of ginger and orange peel and possibly star anise was gloriously scented and fresh.

We ordered some warm olives, "Thornbury smoked meat" and a duck parfait to share. The olives were a mix of enormous meaty green ones and some almost spherical (ok, oblate spheroid) black ones. The "Thornbury smoked meat" (ordered out of suburban patriotism) was a thinly sliced dry(ish) salami with slices of a fresh pickle of cucumber. The salami was nice enough, as was the pickle on its own, but together the pickle had way too much upfrontage and the salami was left peering around the curtains in the background, mugging like crazy but largely being ignored.

The duck parfait, however, was perfectly light and creamy with just the right balance of fat and cloud-like fluffiness. Promises, promises, but in this case, well fulfilled.

Felicity ordered ox tongue which was melting and creamy, and perfectly undercut by a beetroot confit and soothed by a delicate celeriac puree. I thought the texture was a little slack, but tongue's never really been my cup of tea.

Emily's duck was a caramelly rich roasted duck leg on a settee of red cabbage that was lush with lardon flotsam. Just like Emily, we were ready to sing of our longing* for the duck.

Al and I shared a standing rib roast of pork which combined the best of old-school pork (crisped-fat flavour) and new-school (juicy and without an excess of fat). It came on a bed of gently but warmly spiced carrot puree , some chickpeas and with a thinly shredded fennel salad. The carrots were lovely and just sweet enough to balance the pork while the fennel salad was soft and paper thin (and so not very aniseedy, which wouldn't have been a bad thing).

The main dishes came with some braised mushrooms were beautiful and would be a perfect winter vegetable dish, especially if Melbourne ever has another winter, and although the small roasted chats in duck fat were nice enough, if I am roasting potatoes in duck fat I whip the skins off first.

We all ordered the Lemon Posset with Rhubarb as a dessert. Cheerfully good and just tart enough to wear a miniskirt in public without being vulgar.

The Estelle is an unexpected oasis of good modern food with a cheerful and self-effacing style where there is an awful lot of wank about. The food is damn good, the staff are cheerful and just attentive enough (one having a very fetching floral pocket on his apron) and the decor is both cheerful and interesting without being silly. The Estelle is a modern stand-out on High Street for us, and although it's not perfect, it has the courage to try something new. I'm prepared to say a little prayer and wish and hope that others on High Street will be as bold.

In short, Estel
le is exactly what the world needs now, and Estelle? If it wasn't obvious already, this guy's in love with you.

But although the night was almost perfect, there was one question left unanswered; "Do you know the way to San Jose?"

*The irony of a link to Karen Carpenter in a restaurant review is not lost on the authors.


  1. *sigh* you don't read my
    blog do you? I mean I read yours ... And link to it even.

    Ok so it's a nice tale, with good pics of my favourite bits of The Estelle, happy now?

  2. I had read yours but I'm not good at names! I hadn't connected the two. Will amend!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Ha! Not good with names at all Michael, I'm always thoroughly impressed with people that manage to misspell my name, but still find me in directories :-)

    Very glad you like the Estelle though, I am yet to have my fill of marrow on toast; I hope it still exists?

    Other cutesy point to note is the tables are recyled from the bowling alleys from the now defunct AMF on Victoria road (credit:

  5. Thanks Niels - my bad - corrected. That's brilliant about the tables! When we first moved to Northcote in the mid 1980s (yup, really) we were just around the corner from Northcote Bowl. I'm going to miss it... Thanks for the link!