It’s been all about mod-Asian, hot dogs, and sommeliers wearing trucker caps to prove they’re chill this year, but we’re giving props to the kids at the Estelle for not caring how passé it is, and starting a molecular gastronomy revolution.
For its first two years, the Northcote café/restaurant was suffering from multiple personality disorder, but since Scott Pickett (ex the Point) bought it and added chef Ryan Flaherty’s crafty bag of tricks to the mix, Melbourne hasn’t been able to shut up about it. It’s all about refined tasting plates now, and with Flaherty having done time at food science HQ the Fat Duck and ElBulli, they’re fun and interesting rather than pretentious and twee.
You’ll start off with a sardine fossil – sardine and tapioca, flattened, dried, and fried into a bubbly fish flavoured cracker. It’s a thinking snack while you decide on three, five or seven courses (go for the full throttle deg). At $45/$60/$80 you’re getting one hell of a bang for your buck, because the dishes flying out of Flaherty’s brain are both laboriously complex and tasty as hell.
A so-so sounding beetroot and goat’s cheese salad turns out to be a micro cosmos of detail. Pickled and candied baby beets knock stems with paper-thin slices of radish, an orange gel and sesame-lavosh ash coated cheese. Sharp, sweet, creamy – it’s awesome. But we’re more impressed with the oily rich baton of smoked eel. It comes with a stroke of sweet carrot reduction, apple juice poached celery, brioche crumbs for crunch, and dabs of chamomile ‘cream’ made with infused milk, thickened by agar agar and blitzed to a satin smooth finish. This is advanced flavour-texture tightrope walking, pulled off with such aplomb that even chef Andrew McConnell (Cutler and Co), Melbourne’s small plate maestro, is doffing his hats in Flaherty’s direction.
A reverse gelatine cauliflower sausage falls into the weird/awesome box. Heat sets this gelatine, so the cumin spiked mousse perches tenuously on a bed of buttery cauliflower ‘cous cous’, with a just-set custard consistency that softens as it cools. Crackle-tastic pork belly and an earthy, concentrated silverbeet puree makes amends for slightly bland tenderloin (we suspect vacuum-packed suvee poaching is responsible) while PINK! meringue, musk ice cream and tangy poached rhubarb is a foot stamping fun and strong finish.
These are two dudes, who are having a rip-snorting good time in the kitchen. Gold stars.