Sunday, 20 April 2008

A New Patch on the River - Seagrass Restaurant

Regrettably this post had been languishing forgotten in draft for quite some time so hopefully our experience hadn’t become too redundant. But the restaurant is still quite new so it’s worth posting about. It is obvious that we at Spot4Nosh have a fondness for seafood. So it didn’t take much time for us to hear about a new seafood-centric fine diner that opened in the city during the latter part of 2007 and it didn’t take much longer after that to find an excuse to visit, given that decent restaurants with such a focus are rather scarce in Melbourne. That the occasion was to celebrate a new job offer with anticipated salary increase made the pleasure all the more guilt free. Seagrass Restaurant had opened for about 7 weeks when we visited a few days before Christmas, which might be just enough time for it to get over any teething problems and settle into some sort of rhythm. The new restaurant is actually a spin-off of ‘Pure South’, a pre-existing Southgate resident located immediately downstairs that spouts an admirable dedication to cuisine prepared from Bass Strait and Tasmanian sourced produce. Both restaurants apparently share the same owner-managers but are operated as independent entities with respective dedicated head chefs.

Classy interior with heavy comfortable white leather-bound chairs

Seagrass can be entered from either the ground level or the floor above (the mid-level) from within the Southgate complex at Southbank. We walked in from the river promenade at ground level and were led moth-like up the stairs by the mesmerising feature column illuminated by thematic multihued panels of aquamarine blues and yellows. The dining room itself however was in calmer relief, clean modern lines of glass, timber and concrete, dominated on the river side by large tilt-windows that provided a bright airy feel and good views out to the Yarra River below. We were led to a window-side table and with the big frame tilted open to let in the early evening breeze, it was almost as good as dining on an outside veranda. A handsome shimmering chandelier called attention to a separate function area dressed in opposing colour scheme and cordoned off by a glass wall. The overall feel however, was more corporate ‘clinching-a-deal’ diner than an intimate ‘special meal-for-two’ venue although the cosiness factor improved as daylight faded into the glittering night-time atmosphere of Southbank promenade and the city across the river.

The menu naturally concentrated on modern preparations of fish and other seafood dishes, although a couple of amusing entrée choices labelled as “refined classics” offered re-interpretations of the now out-of-fashion prawn cocktail and Oysters Kilpatrick. I suspect that as a consequence of the fresh seafood focus the menu could alter quite suddenly in response to the availability and quality of the provenance, which is not really a bad thing. On our visit even at an early sitting, we were apologetically informed that coral trout on the menu will have to be substituted for an alternative as the quality of remaining supplies no longer met chef’s expectations, and later on in the evening we overheard other tables being told that the John Dory (which I had) was also out. In those early days though, this could have been due to the kitchen still refining their supply and demand requirements. Following orders, really good sourdough baguette slices with a truly delicious crust were offered. An accompanying ramekin of good soft butter was also notable as it made a pleasant change from the ubiquitous pour of so-so vinegared olive oils that have pervaded everywhere else these days. There was also a complimentary taste-starter of a faintly smoky and very moreish salmon-based spread or rillette which called for more bread, happily supplied. I was sufficiently inspired by this to have attempted to recreate it for dinner guests at home!

Delicious slivers of 16-hour cured Petuna ocean trout

Our proper entrées consisted of the special of Slow Cured Petuna Ocean Trout served with Horseradish Cream ($16.90) which was pleasantly oily, ruby coloured slivers of premium ocean trout cured gravlax style to impart a delicious mix of rich, sweet and tart flavours highlighted by bitter points of dill. A good value and impressive starter considering the very generous serving. We also tried the Roast Quail, Boudin of Chicken, Herb Salad, Shallot and Sherry Dressing ($17.50) to detour slightly from the fish courses. Another successful call with crispy skinned quarters of roasted bird contrasting well with cute little creamy chicken sausages, roast potatoes and fresh salad dressed with a faintly sweet and tangy salsa. Of the Mains, there was Pave of Atlantic Salmon, Moreton Bay Bug Tails, Crushed Kipfler Potato, Crustacean Oil ($34.90), a perfectly pink tile of salmon saddled over a textured mix of waxy potato and diced crustacean meat. On a similar fish over spuds and crustacean theme was my Crispy Sautéed John Dory, Yabbies, Silky Potato Puree, Zucchini Flower, Saffron Jus ($37.90). For a fish with a quick tendency for tough dryness if not done with care, the couple of dory fillets had been cleverly pan-roasted to produce a nice crispy golden skin yet retaining flaky tenderness and moisture in the flesh. Accompanying the fillets were a good piping of creamy mash potato, a nicely tempura’d zucchini flower stuffed with what was possibly goat’s cheese, and shelled yabby tails that may have been briefly roasted, the lot arranged over a saffron jus which had the deep rich flavour reminiscent of a reduction over roasted crustacean shells. We also shared a refreshing herbed salad ($8.50) of sliced cucumber, baby cos, radish and extremely flavourful cherry tomatoes, testimony to the attention paid to the sourcing of quality produce.

An outstanding and hearty entrée of roasted quail

Service was unobtrusively friendly and helpful and mostly provided by the same waiter dedicated to our corner of the restaurant. The wait staff at seagrass were smartly uniformed but could look just as comfortable re-glueing soles back on your shoes as they did waiting on tables, their grey-brown striped three-quarter length aprons reminded us of a team of old-school cobblers. Our overall impression of the food at Seagrass however, was a determined attempt by the kitchen to ensure that quality seafood can be showcased if unadulterated by careless preparation. Dishes were uncomplicated with the main focus certainly being the fish on offer. No precariously balanced Jenga-like stacks of bits and bobs on plates here although that being said, at this fine-dining end of the price range perhaps a little more imagination is needed in plating than the same final fingerful of mixed salad leaves on every dish?

Perfectly crisped skins on John Dory fillets over saffron jus

Back to that evening though quite full and content, we were nonetheless persuaded to try the dessert special ($16.50), a pot of luscious dark chocolate ganache served with a refreshingly bitey pineapple granita and a lightly scorched (blowtorched?) toffee-topped banana half. Like the dishes that preceded it, this was eye-openingly delightful in its simplicity.

Food: 4 spots – Finely done seafood with good choices of fish.
Service: 4 spots – Professional and amiable.
Value: 3.5 spots – Good value entrées, Mains definitely at fine dining territory.
R-Factor: 4 spots – Worth a return visit to see how it has settled.
Spot Score: 16/20

Seagrass Restaurant
MR6 Mid-level Southgate, Southbank Melbourne, VIC.

Edit: Spot4Nosh regretfully believes that the Seagrass Restaurant at Southbank is no longer in business.


Agnes said...

Sounds really good - I do love my seafood. :) Congratulations on the new(ish) job!

Towser said...

Thanks Agnes! Yes...the new-ish job (feels very old now), more pay, more challenges, but also more hours, more stress, and less time to blog!

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