NEW CBD brasserie Saint Peter’s plumps for seafood and lots of it. You’ll find schools of many briny beasts to choose from, and the cooking is good and sometimes better. It’s also often original, and always fresh and simple.
The restaurant’s two levels are compact but comfortable. Prices are a little high for both food and drinks, even if the wine list offers plenty of choice.
A PROBLEM with restaurants that specialise in seafood or steak, say is that we have higher expectations of them: better beef, better things that swim. It’s a very difficult situation for their connections because, in general, they’re sourcing their ingredients in the same way non-specialist eating places do.
Moreover, the sublime quality of dishes at many Melbourne restaurants means you can tumble on a great seafood offering in what might appear an unlikely place.
So more power to any restaurant concentrating on a particular protein. It’s brave.
Saint Peter’s begins its long list with eight “Tastes”, including oysters, venison carpaccio, sardines and a salt-cod croquette.
Numbering six, the entrees include a mud crab salad and seared Canadian scallops with “an essence of asparagus and spinach” among other things.
Our dishes sounded more complex than they were. A groyne of fine “mandarin-cured” ocean trout ($21) was topped with shavings of fennel and witlof, the odd straggle of anchovy fillet and a few tiny pipped and peeled segments of mandarin.
A thin line of good basil mayonnaise zigged and zagged among the troops. Seven medium-sized peeled prawn tails ($19) had acceptable flavour but hardly any crunch. They lined up like a collective of commas and rested on a terrific little salad of parsley choppings and baby capers in a lively sweet-sour dressing.
Tiny lemon segments added sharp bitterness, and the prawns were said to have been treated with a “white balsamic” marinade.
Saint Peter’s kitchen, you might have gathered, has a keen appreciation of balancing basic flavours salt, sour, bitter and sweet.
Five carbohydrate offerings precede seven mains, two of which are red meat. A two-point rack of oversized lamb ($39) was firm on the teeth but had good flavour. It sat on a smear of wonderful potato mash.
A very fine red wine sauce enhanced with chopped mustard fruit skirted the lot, and baby root vegetables such as carrot, beetroot and white turnip accompanied.
Two big fillets of john dory ($38) had acceptable flavour and were cooked through but succulent. They sat on a raft of halved white asparagus spears on a warm Cinzano Bianco mayonnaise. A squash ball sized sphere of cold mud crab salad, which blended vegetable shreds with a lively emulsion, sat to the east of the fish.
Five desserts included an absolutely sublime almond panna cotta ($19). It sat in fine caramel and was accompanied by a block of passionfruit jelly no pips, thank goodness topped with chewy caramelised almonds and squiggles of candied orange zest.
NO faults had been made by Saint Peter’s staff until a waiter tried to remove a wine glass without looking carefully enough or asking if we were happy to see it go. There was wine still in it.
THE drinks list here is very large and largely expensive. Luckily, Saint Peter’s offers
14 half-bottles at $27-98, and a few big bottles are in the
$30s and $40s but not very many. Five table whites, a rose and four reds are also sold by
glass at $10-15, and there
are 11 beers.. Plantagenet Riesling is $44. The list also includes several wines from Italy and France.
DESPITE close tables on its two levels, Saint Peter’s has a comfy feel. You sit on well-padded timber dining chairs at clothed tables and use white fabric napkins. Cutlery and glassware are fine. Walls and ceiling are white, the former hung with elegant fine-line drawings of food.
SERVINGS are generous, but Saint Peter’s is expensive and you can often find better seafood offerings in some of the more modest restaurants. Wines are also expensive.
HOW IT RATED
The food: 15/20
The staff: 8/10
The drink: 3/5
The X factor: 3/5
The value: 6/10
The total out of 50, 35
Address: Melbourne Place, City; ph (03) 9663 9882
Food: Seafood with a definite Italian flavour
Hours: Noon-midnight Mon-Fri; 6pm-midnight Sat
Chef/owner: Maurice Esposito
Wheelchair access: No
Parking: Commercial car parks
Price guide: Small plates: $18-$24
Large plates: $28-$42
Green guide: Line-caught fish: doughboy scallops
Snapshot: Seafood restaurant with Latin leanings