Comme has been transformed into the Stokehouse, city edition – a far more modern version of the St Kilda legend replete with a late-night disco bar
It may have been the Stokehouse that perished in January's freak fire, but in the end, it was the Van Haandel's Comme restaurant that took the hit. Stokehouse has moved into Alfred Place, ousting the crew and filling the grand old building with plenty of pink stuff and disco.
This isn’t just the Stokehouse re-homed, it’s the Stokehouse reborn.
Designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb has done a helluva job transforming the building of alabaster Victorian bones into a nautical party pad, installing boxy canvas light fixtures and blonde wood thatching around the downstairs bar, and bathing everything in a light pink hue. It’s still elegant, just a little punked up (brides with pre-booked receptions are going to be pissed about the rough painted arrows on the stairs).
There’s a party happening on the ground floor, where everyone’s piling in for post-work glasses of Moët and Fish House Punch (a classic party-starter of rum, peach brandy and Cognac), delivered by staff in pastel pink tees.
At lunch, the business crowd files in for oysters spiked with shallot vinaigrette and a fat sandwich of rare shaved beef, and celeriac remoulade on rye. Chef Nick Mahlook’s bistro menu cuts to the chase: 1.2 kilo T-bones with bone marrow and King George whiting wrapped in a light crunchy batter with chunky chips. It's simple bistro food with smarts. Pork rillettes see the salty, fatty quenelle of protein paired with a swipe of fresh apple sauce, dehydrated crackling crisps and an earthy crumble of dried blood sausage.
Upstairs, you get a far more formal vibe. They’ve done a good job of lowering the soaring ballroom ceilings by capturing the green chandeliers in coarse rope nets, but bring good company – this is a vast space that can feel imposing should conversation run dry.
Big hunks of steak and EMD menus aren’t going anywhere, but young chef Ollie Gould also delivers kingfish carpaccio, razzed with with sour cream, pickled fennel and flecks of mojama (salty cured tuna) with cellophane potato crisps. It’s a texture-taste miracle on a chip. He doesn’t shy from gut-busting richness either. Quail breasts are mousse-stuffed and bacon-wrapped with legs presented as pink meat pops over pepita-flecked faro risotto. It’s a juicy (if salty) win. He brings the fresh with a simple buttermilk dressed salad of shaved cabbage and fennel with a fine shaggy coat of manchego cheese.
The floor team hasn’t lost steam in the migration. Somm-cum-server Brodie Comer pushes half glasses of the Domenica Rousanne Marsanne from Beechworth and juicy ’11 Guimaro Mencia so you can jump around Lincoln Riley’s tight old-new world wine list. They also lay off on the lengthy dish monologues, which is nice. The retro cross section of bombe Alaska – raspberry sorbet and a thick, cheesecakey layer, shrouded in torched silken meringue – can express its own deliciousness.
Did we mention the downstairs back bar where they’re planning on bringing in DJs and taking advantage of their 24-hour licence? Yep, 3am Martinis with dance floor bangers just became a thing. Onwards and upwards, Stokehouse.