Amongst the hustle and bustle of bars, cafes and restaurants which line Brunswick Street, lies St Jude’s Cellars. A wine bar/restaurant that boasts modern Australian gastro pub fare matched with a range of imported and Australian wines. From the outside this place looks and feels expensive, take a closer look and find an affordable menu, relaxed serving staff and bar food specials on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Although the food needs a rework, the staff are incredibly friendly, the atmosphere is industrial but warm and inviting.
The kitchen is graced by Head Chef Tom Stanislavski (ex Next Door Diner Northcote), who combines modern European fare with a gastro pub influence, while focusing on a naturalistic organic approach. The large industrial barn-like interior is cleverly organised to avoid looking empty, which ensures that you are not part of the adjacent tables conversation, but still visible to be served. The interior is dressed up with mood lamp lighting, dark modern fittings and homely 70s wooden tables and furniture. It is these touches, a combination of modern and vintage ,which make the place much more enjoyable.
Escaping the rain and arriving without a booking, we gladly sat adjacent to the bar when we were given the option of the ten dollar bar special. Being students, Mr M and I happily sat at the corner of the bar. Being able to sit in privacy, is one of their perks, something many Melbourne restaurants refrain from doing. Personally, I love my space even though I am privy to gossip. Despite the bar special of goat ragu sounding incredibly hearty, we are both drawn instantly to the sound of the ’Dirty Burger’. The name alone was enough to make up my decision. We each ordered a ‘Dirty Burger, a share plate of rabbit chips, southern fried buttermilk chicken and an iced cold Mountain Goat organic steam pale ale.
The service staff was excellent, relaxed yet clued, knowledgable without appearing pompous. They were happy to serve us the ten dollar special despite the fact that we were not even sitting at the bar. Although I am no beer aficionado, the beer was crisp and fruity, apparently it should have had an aroma of fresh bread, but I failed to pick it out. Our rabbit chips were an oddity. The name obviously suggests that they would actually taste of rabbit, however all I could taste was polenta. Somewhat dry and soggy, it was the case of a great idea, badly executed.
A combination which seemed like a winner on the menu, was badly paired with yoghurt. Authentic or not, the only chicken I want with yoghurt is Tandoori, the actual buttermilk chicken was good, crisp and tasty, but desperately needed a better dipping sauce. The ‘Dirty Burger’ consisted of a beef Pattie, olive mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, mustard, pickled onions and iceberg lettuce wedged between two pieces of lightly toasted brioche. To me the combination on paper was magnetic. In practice, it came off rather average. Firstly it looked like a McDonald’s burger, secondly the olive mayonnaise overpowered the meat, thirdly the brioche was too sweet and dry to soak up the burger juice. The bread is the most important part of a burger, too hard and the burger slides, to dry and it becomes all about the bread. In short, it was disappointing. The chips were chunky and well spiced, which somewhat kept me in good spirits. Although the burger was not bad, I have tasted better for far less money.
Despite the food experience on the night, this place has serious potential and I would like to come back for a bar feed, this time however I may stick to the specials list. On Tuesday and Wednesday night the bar offers ten dollar bar specials, which are well worth the money. The staff was very welcoming and although this may seem minor, it is the only thing which will make me return. Good floor staff hold a restaurant together and deal with the toughest act of all, calming disgruntled customers when the food is not up to scratch. Worth a visit to relax by the bar, or to people watch by the open windows….