There are plenty of must-eat places in Melbourne when you ask for recommendations, ranging from the trendy (like Golden Fields), to the established (like Flower Drum). And one such establishment that is a favourite amongst the up market crowd is Cafe Di Stasio, known for its attention to detail and modern style of Italian cooking.
So I made a reservation and off we went, to the trendy neighbourhood of St Kilda.
We ordered the Crayfish Omelette (pictured above) to start. Chunks of crayfish were dense in a juicy and light egg mixture, covered in a decadent bisque sauce. Crusty toasted bread was provided to mop up all the errant juices. While thoroughly enjoyable, this particular omelette wasn’t quite what I imagined an omelette to be – I had thought to have creamy egg curds (much like set scrambled eggs) encasing moist crayfish meat. If I were after an omelette, I would’ve thought the eggs in this dish to be overcooked. The bisque sauce, however, more than made up for anything that wasn’t quite perfect in this dish, and left us cleaning the plates using our bread with as much elegance as we can muster.
We ordered the pasta of the day – recommended by our waiter – which was Angel hair pasta with crab meat.
As we had ordered everything to share, the kitchen had thoughtfully split the pasta into two portions for us. Flecks of crab meat peeked out at us through delicate strands of what looked to be fresh house-made pasta, and the deep seafood flavour was set off by a fruity olive oil. Light and delicate, this dish showed finesse in execution, which again challenged my expectations, since I was expecting an explosion of citrus and chilli, for some reason. The flavours in this dish were subtle, and showed off the lovely texture of the pasta. A pinch of sea salt lifted the whole dish, and it proved to be quite satisfying when we had our last mouthful.
Our share plates were changed between courses and out came the roast duckling with its mound of spatzli. Our waiter poured over the jus with a flourish, and the first pierce of my fork came up promising – the meat fell off the bone. The spatzli – which is a Germanic noodle/dumpling that is first cooked in boiling water, then – in my experience – sautéed with butter and served with a saucy meat dish. This particular spatzli was finished with olive oil, not butter, and so provided a fruity note to accompany the duck.
My first bite into the thigh of the duckling told me that maybe I needed more gravy than was provided. It was tender, but stringy, and needed pieces of the skin and swabs of gravy to provide flavour and moisture. Not as well executed as the previous two dishes, and left us wondering whether maybe we should have stuck to the seafood options.
Dessert was ordered to round out the meal and the Tiramisu – which means ‘pick me up – seemed like an appropriate option to finish an Italian lunch. Out came a little square set in the middle of a large plate, and the liquor soaked sponge squished slightly as I pressed my fork in. In that first bite I got the light, creamy texture of the mascarpone cream…and the sharp finish of the Strega and coffee soaked sponge. It got to a point where it felt like all I could taste was booze, and we eventually had to leave the bottom layer of sponge uneaten in order to restore balance to our palate.
In all the food had its high and its lows, but for the price tag I would’ve expected slightly more consistency in execution. The service – executed by waiters in starched white coats that made all the appropriate actions – was slightly intimidating, as they hovered over you with sombre expressions while you made your choices. The atmosphere made sense – a quick look around at the lunch crowd told us that there were no customers under 40 – but it did feel a little bit ‘stiff upper lip’ for trendy and vibrant St Kilda.
We ate at:
Cafe Di Stasio
(03) 9525 3999
31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda VIC 3182