Pork & Ginger Wontons
IMAGES DARRIAN TRAYNOR
When I first heard it, the name seemed inappropriate, conjuring seedy images of Grey Street and another style of grazing. But give me a shake; I think I’m the one in the past.
This is a precinct if not transformed, at least glowing brighter – day and night. No one could say bold developers and determined restaurateurs haven’t made a considered grab at this area’s upward and onward populace.
Karen Martini co-opened Mr Wolf in Inkerman Street in 2004, and across the road there’s last year’s reinvigorated Newmarket Hotel, which is about to add a high-end cellar bar, some spunky-looking cafés and Machi, a cute Japanese that’s jumped onto my review list for the charming way its enthusiastic young employee was on the street, touting for business. Dining business.
Two doors down from Graze on Grey, upmarket café Dr Jekyll has made its mark since 2010 too. So maybe grazing here isn’t such a bad idea. Let’s hope this lovingly construed enterprise by two first-time restaurateurs makes a fist of it.
Head chef and owner Muhammad Ahmat (ex-Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant, Apollo Bay) and his business partner Neil Perch had to take four coats of maroon paint off the walls and ceilings in the space that belonged to Middle-Eastern nomad Bedouin Kitchen when they opened last year.
WA-born Ahmat was head chef under Ian Curley at The Point in 2005 and 2006 and The European in 2007. He and South African-born Perch (Sebel Heritage, Oceania Cruises), a trained chef who takes care of front of house, met while working at The Point.
Flourless Chocolate Brownie
The menu is a flip through cultures, a flexible guide of sorts to recent trends. It’s not without imagination, but comprises what the trade calls “favourites” – you’ll graze on safe, familiar turf here. And, as the name suggests, it’s a selection of sharing, snacking options. The short wine list is well-priced and mostly from Victoria and South Australia, with the odd French or Spanish addition. There’s a nine-strong list by glass or carafe, a pithy cocktail list and beer, cider and spirit choices. We had the weekly special, a 2009 Château de Ruth Côtes du Rhône.
I would have liked a little more zing in the spicy prune jam that arrived as a smear on the big white disc holding our duck and mushroom cigarillos. It barely made an impact, particularly as the “mini cigars” were clunkers. The trio though, jauntily presented in a wide-mouthed, vase-sized glass, were filled with well-treated, finely textured duck meat and pleasingly infused with the earthiness of the mushrooms. The golden pastry’s texture could have been finer, but we enjoyed the surplus crunch where the layers wrapped and folded.
Pork and ginger wontons in a delicate chilli and coriander broth is a dish I would have preferred solo. Doling out a little broth on top of each parcel isn’t the same as tucking in and breathing the fumes. And five is a frustrating number to share between two. Again, the meat in the parcels was good, with definite texture and with a vivid flash of ginger. The chilli and coriander broth, based on a nicely clarified pork stock, was vivid and light, but needed a slightly bigger kick too.
Slow-cooked pork belly with lentils and apple and fennel jelly has been on and off the menu, depending on the weather. Ahmat’s version is quite fine. He removes the skin and rolls the meat, which makes for agreeable presentation and intensity of flavour. It’s topped with a big “prawn cracker” of crackling, and the lentils, in a pork-belly stock reduction, retained good form. The dish is enlivened by little pools of just-tart, melting, seaweed-green jelly.
Asparagus and goat’s cheese terrine, served with a roasted baby beet salad of orange, parsley and fennel, is a classic flavour marriage but needed a little more zip too. Perhaps some peppercorns, maybe a few herbs, some lemon zest, even a bit of garlic would have added interest. The smooth, creamy terrine, a vegetable-dotted tile wrapped in spinach leaves, was dressed with a fine drizzle of oil and served with the most divine ciabatta bread I’ve chewed on in a while. (I assume it was from the menu-mentioned newly established Woodfrog bakery in Barkly Street, and I will confirm that for myself soon.)
As for dessert options – share if you must, but maybe not the warm flourless chocolate brownie, divinely moist and topped with a super-white chocolate mousse, or the comforting apple and berry crumble with its fine cookie-dense topping.
Graze on Grey, 103 Grey Street, St Kilda
Cuisine \ Modern Australian
Chef \ Muhammad Ahmat Owner \ Neil Perch
Prices \ Lunch $11-$15; share plates $9-$22; desserts $10
Open \ Tuesday to Friday noon-late; Weekends 9am to late
Phone \ 9077 0421
The Verdict \ Put on your list
That fabulous, famous timber door, the lead-enhanced windows, ageing weatherboards and worn slate floors have been treated with care. Highlighted with hues of grey, they bring new life to the space. Inside, paler shades lift the once-mysterious mood and the old maroon ceilings have been spruced to white. Pre-loved timber furniture has received added gloss too, augmented by the slick black bar, shelving, stools and framed photographs of St Kilda. The 18-seat table in the central room and timber-decked courtyard invite boozy meals and dining under the stars.