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The Stokehouse (Melbourne, Australia)

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30 Jacka Boulevard / St Kilda 3182 / Melbourne / Australia / Tel.:+61 3 9525 5555 / Fax:+61 3 9525 5291 / Email: stokehouse@theprince.com.au.

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      02.05.2006 12:08
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      A Fabulous Beachside Restaurant In One Of Melbourne's Best Locations

      Set right at the heart of the St.Kilda foreshore, in a large weatherboard building resembling a beach house, or perhaps a Surf Life Saving Club, the Stokehouse is a Melbourne institution. It's in an absolutely glorious setting, right on the beach, with a large outdoor seating area overlooking the bike path, the sand and the sea beyond. There's no better place to relax on a deck chair, beneath a collection of old palm trees, watching people stroll or rollerblade past, with sunbathers lounging on the sand and bright yachts bobbing on the horizon. In the early evening, with the sun setting gently over Port Phillip Bay, outdoor lanterns flicker prettily at the fringes. Inside, there is an informal bistro incorporating a stylish bar and dining area, with an attractive wood-fired pizza oven nestled to the one side.


      Meanwhile, upstairs, extending out onto a wide wooden balcony, there's a more formal restaurant with a menu and wine list to match. The food downstairs isn't necessarily brilliant, but it's always very good, and always very reliable. The views are striking but perhaps not spectacular. At the Stokehouse, however, everything pulls together somehow, and the final affect is sheer magic. There isn't anywhere in Melbourne to match its ambience, its style or its enviable setting, and in my opinion no visitor to the city should miss it.


      ST.KILDA was Melbourne's most fashionable suburb in the 1920's and it still has all the Art Deco treasures to prove it. Things went spectacularly wrong in the 50's and 60's and the area degenerated into a haunt for vice in all the usual forms. It's still a little rough around the edges in places, especially late at night, with streetwalkers trawling the pavements & the odd junkie begging for change, but all of the run-down mansions and apartments have been lovingly restored and the young professionals are well & truly ensconced. Across from Luna Park, an antique amusement park with an entrance concealed beneath a massive, gaping mouth, stands the Stokehouse, housed in another building that dates from the decadent 20's. It was lovingly restored two decades ago, and the restaurant has never looked back since. Routinely featured in Good Food and Fine Dining guides throughout Australia, the Stokehouse is one of Melbourne's most popular restaurants.


      THE BISTRO: If entering the Stokehouse from Jacka Boulevard, during the day, you're immediately confronted by a large space, backed by a wall of massive, open glass windows. The first thing that strikes you is the dim light within, but the eyes adjust quickly, and a bustling, friendly space emerges from the gloom. Smiling waiters dart between the tables. At the Stokehouse, the patrons are generally an eclectic lot, from noisy, suntanned teenagers, to couples and family groups. The polished wooden tables are a deep brown colour, almost burgundy, and the floors are tiled in dark terracotta. The overall affect is welcoming, and pragmatically stylish.


      THE DOWNSTAIRS MENU is a classic illustration of casual, Modern Australian cooking. Fresh fish, salads, and wood-fired pizzas predominate. There are a couple of 'Flatbread wraps' starting from $12 (£5) including one with bacon, lettuce, tomato & melted mozzarella. The flatbread, which is also served with a selection of home-made dips for $8 (£3.30) is a revelation; light, plump and delicious. It is more akin to Turkish bread than to the sort of flavourless, cardboard-like Tortilla often 'wrapped' around fillings elsewhere. There are freshly shucked oysters, seasonally available, BBQ Prawn skewers served on Rocket salad for $14 (£5.80), and an excellent Calamari salad with 'Asian Herbs and a Mint Lime Dressing' for $16 (£6.60).


      The wood-fired pizzas and pastas are inventive and well executed and cost between $13 and $18 (£5-£8). Finally, there are a couple of grilled fish dishes, Fish & Chips, and the classic 'Stokey' hamburger with shoestring fries for $17.50 (£7.25). There are also about half a dozen desserts.

      The wine list is simple, thoughtfully selected, and well priced. A good selection of beers and cocktails are also available.


      It's close to a perfect menu, really, for a casual, family-oriented place on the beach, and it has changed very little since I first started going to the Stokehouse with my friends in the very early 90's, when I was 16 or 17. In fact, I had lunch at the Stokehouse on a couple of occasions when I was in Melbourne last year, and was astonished by how little it has changed, and how well it has aged. St.Kilda has completely transformed itself over the past couple of decades, with new bars and bistros springing up, and often closing again, with alarming regularity. The Stokehouse, however, is there for the long haul, and Melburnians wouldn't have it any other way.


      THE RESTAURANT UPSTAIRS, with its innovative menu and those superb views across the bay, is renowned as a truly iconic Melbourne dining experience. The Stokehouse website, which displays a 360 degree panoramic view, boasts that 'even Charlize Theron has got her stiletto caught in our famous balcony'. The Chef, Anthony Musarra, has an excellent reputation in Australia, and has headed up several award-winning restaurants, both in Melbourne and in Sydney. His menu, which has a seafood bias, includes an engaging selection of Amuses Bouches, including Cumin Crusted Scallops with Pancetta and Watercress and Fish & Chip cones. Entrees, which start from $20.50 (£9) include 'Seared red mullet fillets on a fresh picked mud crab remoulade with soft herbs' and 'Spicy calamari filled with prawns, served on slow roasted cherry tomatoes and couscous' both at around $25 (£10.50). Mains start from around $36 (£15) and include, amongst other gems, a 'Fillet of Barramundi with green olive and white bean puree and warm calamari salad' and 'Crispy skin John Dory fillets with green tomato, cucumber and basil relish, crayfish stuffed zucchini flower and crustacean oil'. The dessert menu is absolute divine, and prices start from around £8.

      The wine list is almost preposterously comprehensive, extending over twenty-four pages. Two sommeliers travel the globe, apparently, to secure the best possible wines to complement Musarra's menu, and the resultant list includes some particularly eclectic (and expensive) wines, as well as a handful of Magnums, presumably for those 'Charlize Theron' moments… Notable inclusions are the 2002 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands Echezeaux- grand cru, priced at $1250 (£520) and a Spanish wine, the 2001 Alvaro Palacios 'L'Ermita', at $1295 (£540). Interestingly, there are also a number of Penfolds Grange wines listed. Finally, at the more modest end of the spectrum, there's the 2004 Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay priced at just $45 (£18).

      The restaurant upstairs is undoubtedly excellent, and if I were in a position to do so, I'd dine there every single time I visited the Stokehouse. I can almost picture myself now, sunning myself on that gorgeous balcony and gorging on local oysters, washed down, perhaps, with an icy Yarra Valley sparkling. Happily, however, the more egalitarian experience downstairs is equally enjoyable… and a lot more affordable!


      http://www.stokehouse.com.au/

      30 jacka boulevard
      st kilda 3182
      melbourne australia

      t:+61 3 9525 5555
      f:+61 3 9525 5291
      e:stokehouse@theprince.com.au
      functions: +61 3 9536 1135

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