Circa at The Prince and Serrat Wines

My first day in Melbourne I head to St Kilda. A stroll along the beach led me to Stokehouse. I had heard good things, but it was a bit too early for lunch so I kept walking until I came to The Prince Hotel. The Prince has been a ’boutique’ hotel in St Kilda for a long time now along with Circa, the restaurant tucked away inside the hotel. I have had it in my sights for a long time and decided it was time to satisfy my curiosity.

I was still slightly early for lunch service so the waiter found a table in the bar area with a paper and a gin and tonic to tide me over. I was in no hurry, so I sat happily until I was shown a table in the main dining room. It’s beautiful, filled with light from the glass rooftop, a wall of planted herbs and light furnishings. The kitchen garden on the wall of the main dining room extends to the deck upstairs. It was designed by the innovative Joost Bakker, who is also behind The Greenhouse series. I could imagine this would be a very popular place for ladies that lunch (yes, it’s one of my aspirations, so I took note).

The very friendly staff helped me narrow down the seasonal menu, by head chef Jake Nicolson. First up was the miso glazed eel with dancing bonito flakes, avocado puree and apple ($24). This was my favourite dish. I love eel anyway but it’s even better glazed with miso. The bonito flakes kept me entertained for a while too and I couldn’t work out if it was an air-conditioning breeze or electric static, (like when your hair goes crazy and stands on end) but they were definitely waving to me for sometime. Such an unexpected combination but it worked perfectly well. The tiny, baby prawn-like crackers were a great contrasting texture to the puree and eel. 

I wasn’t feeling like a heavy meal so I chose the fish which was a NZ king salmon with roasted salsify and local grown shitake mushrooms ($37). The first hit when it arrived was a truffle aroma. I couldn’t really work out where they had dropped the truffle, maybe in the parsley and shallot puree.

I had previously been quaffing a 2010 Frankland Estate ‘Isolation Ridge’ Riesling, but I thought I would try something different to have with my salmon. I chose a 09 Serrat Chardonnay and was completely stunned. This wine was beautifully elegant and would certainly be the best Australian Chardonnay I have had to date. It has the aroma of light oak, citrus and a fine minerality to taste. Imagine how good it would taste if it was cellared for 3-5 years as recommended by Serrat. Of course I am no expert but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed if you manage to get your hands on one of these bottles.

Tom Carson and Nadège Suné, are the couple credited with making Serrat wines. Nadège is French and, of course, it is evident that their wine is heavily influenced by the time they have spent in France.

Tom used to work for Yering Station for many years before he started Serrat. As their website explains Serrat is a Catalonian word meaning ” high density planting”. Serrat have 8,800 vines per hectare, producing less than one bottle of wine per vine.

It just so happened that Tom and his team were at Circa, in their private dining room, celebrating end of harvest. Lucky for him or I may have invited myself over to their table. As I was singing the Serrat praises to the restaurant manager, Madeleine  Morgan, she informed me I could purchase some from the wine shop next door. Of course I did. I haven’t tried the Pinot Noir yet but I have been told it’s just as good and I’m sure it will be.

The dessert menu read well but as has been my trend lately I went for the cheese. You can choose from a large selection of cheese which remains under watch in the kitchen. I was wanting to stay drinking white wine so the sommelier, Matt Brooke, came up with a 2002 Richer ‘Braunenerger Juffer-Sonnenunhr’ Auslese to accompany my cheese. 

Even though I took notes I deleted them from my phone. The hard cheese was one I had not come across before, so I easily forgot it. I think a sheep, and goats milk blend, definitely from the UK, served with poached quince, fruit and nut log, crisp salty cracker bread and fruit bread.

Needless to say by this stage I had had my share of wine but with unlimited tap water top ups I was fairing ok. It was my birthday weekend after all!

Greenhouse by Joost

Now this is what I expect from Australia. A restaurant with eco, sustainable, renewable, reusable and waste free in mind. Greenhouse by Joost has been seen in Melbourne, and as a permanent feature in Perth and now it’s Sydney’s turn. It’s creator, Joost Bakker, is a guy with alot of energy.

The floor is made from tiny pieces Joost cut from mining conveyor belts which were potential landfill. Chairs are welded together from old pipes and leather off cuts from a saddle maker in Ballarat. The produce is sourced from local ethically conscious suppliers. Butter, cheese and yogurt are made on site from scratch and oats are rolled fresh. Herbs are grown on the rooftop and fresh strawberries on the side of the building.

To top it all off the place has the best spot in town, camped between Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House in Campbells Cove the view is nothing but stunning. Greenhouse by Joost is only a pop-up, a fleeting experience open until the end of March after which Joost is packing up to recreate the installation for the International Furniture Fair held early April in Milan .

We arrived early, 1130, and were promptly served a lemonade full of zesty flavour and background sugar. We were hoping lunch would be served from 1200 and we were happy to wait and enjoy the view. Lunch service was a little slow as the waiter recited the short menu to each table and others who ordered after us were receiving their food.

Ok it was their first week open and they were still finding their feet. I really wanted to love the place. How could you not with the waste free ideals they strive for.

Both my sister and I wanted the beef salad but I decided to have something different. It ended up being a case of…oh I wish I had yours, so much. The wagu beef ($27) was tasty and the vietnamese style salad full of spice, sweet and sour.

My red mullet, currently the most sustainable fish in Australia according to Joost, with heirloom tomatoes ($25), was juicy and rich. Although after tasting the mouth awakening wagu beef salad it was hard to compete.

It was a bit difficult to get specific details from the waiter but the wines served are natural wines, mostly from South Australian. I had a well balanced sangiovese rosé ($9), perfect for the balmy Sydney day. The prices for our food are from memory peering over the counter as our bill was tallied. There are no paper menus.

Saying all that please don’t get the impression that I don’t love the place, I do. You don’t go for menu/service perfection but the experience. Maybe I’m not explaining myself well, the food is good the view is to die for, the concept is inspiring…what’s not to like. Would I go back, definitely but I had better be quick.