Uncomplicated, unfussy. St Katherine’s is a heaven-sent dining gem to appease difficult relations.
Quoting from two of MoMo & Coco’s favourite authors, all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. It is therefore a truth universally acknowledged that everyone has relations who are difficult to please. If the CBD is too far, immediate local is lacklustre, fine dining is too expensive because there is no special occasion, casual is not adequately classy and often too noisy, where does one go? As one of a handful of new restaurants awakening in nearby, sleepy inner-city suburban surroundings, St Katherine’s ticked MoMo & Coco’s initial recconnaissance criteria. Located at the intersection of busy tram routes, behind a somewhat inconspicuous Mediterranean-inspired white-washed frontage, through heavy doors, a babble of hearty greetings welcomes you. Melding the energy of a popular dining dining spot with a certain degree of the understated refinement characteristic of Melbourne’s well-heeled eastern suburbs, it is decked out in warm caramel honey tones, glossy white tiles, and exposed industrial lighting. Towards the back of the venue, there’s a huge communal table for inter-generational family gatherings, while a semi-open kitchen provides views of a hefty rotisserie and wood-fire oven.
Given that the the venue is suprisingly large, decibel levels were, surprisingly, at a comfortable range. Another surprise was the casualness of the table setting — no linens, dining ware reflecting Grecian flag colours, cutlery and napkins in a tin can. That latter must be a first for a Western restaurant! Nevertheless, as the cutlery gleamed, we did not need to embark on the somewhat ritual cleaning in hot tea that one might in a dingy Asian restaurant. Contrast this with luxe touches of L’Occitane handwash and candles in the bathrooms. MoMo & Coco visited for a leisurely weekend family luncheon. The sharing-plate-style a la carte menu featured a mostly Middle Eastern/Meditteranean focus, with a few incongruous Asian touches. It was divided into “starting stuff, wood fired oven, turkish grill, side stuff, sweet stuff.” Our dining party selected the little more deep south American St Katherine’s version of fried chicken, deep-fried brown without the thick fat layer found in the fast-food version, albeit somewhat dry, presented in a paper bucket and accompanied by BBQ sauce ($13.50/$24). Next, tender lamb was warm off the rotisserie, doused with a lovely and simple olive oil, lemon and spice concoction, accompanied with pilaf rice, fluffy as it should be, rather than grainy ($27.50). The higlights were the pides ($15 each) — we devoured a satisfyingly flavoursome boat of mint, ricotta, haloumi sweetened with peppered figs; and a meat-lovers dream of lebanese lamb sausage, candied onions and vine tomatoes cradled as the pide’s cargo hold. We are delighted to add that the dishes did not suffer from any Eurozone-debt-induced size rationing so common in many so-called shared plate dining venues.
MoMo & Coco especially love Middle-Eastern sweet irresistibles, so despite being comfortably full after the above-detailed sizeable dishes, we cast our eyes to the dessert menu of. Bypassing boring icecream pots, a dressed-up fruit salad and oft-seen panna cotta, we selected as our first irresistible, the “Jam Doughnuts and Coffee” ($14.90). Two orbs of deep-fried golden goodness contained a slick of jam made from dates. Although we love better the turkish-delight filled doughnuts from a restaurant under the same business umbrella, Maha, we polished these off quickly. Underneath, the crackle of rice bubbles was a playful touch to a more mature, smooth and creamy panna cotta, strappingly flavoured with coffee and spiced with cardammon.
The second irresistible took us to the sweet heaven in which Saint Katherine resides. The “Peace Baklava” ($14.90) was the small baklava slices from Brunswick bakeries…on steriods. Perched on a lattice of honey, it was a divine construction of walnuts, pistachio, and chocolate, wrapped in thin filo pastry, and crowned with a dollop of lightly-flavoured, halva icecream. Although a little more honey would have been ideal to moisten and balance the nut-filled creation, this irresistible pacified both MoMo & Coco’s sweet cravings, and the related entities’ troubles. Simply, hmmmmm…irresistible…
Sometimes, one cannot expect much of young wait staff, who are all too often, surly and sulky. At St Katherine’s however, service was unexpectedly bubbly, brilliantly efficient and uniformly conscientious. A perfect complement to the vibrant ambience and food.
In this day and age, the papers are dotted with the many ways in which ill-managed subsidiaries and related entities can become the downfall of the parent company. Two restaurants in the same corporate family — the seductive harem den of Maha and the polished Little Press — have provided some very memorable dining experiences, and are two of MoMo & Coco’s long-standing, consistently reliable favourites. We now add St Katherine’s to our list, a less rowdy, less rustic version of Hellenic Republic, but just as soulful, with an extra dash of class. Possessing the broad palate appeal of Mediterranean cuisine, the food isn’t memorable in the same way as at Maha or Little Press. It’s uncomplicated, unfussy. Generational bridge-mending and family-friendly in the other, just-as-important aspects of a dining-out experience — price, service, atmosphere, locality. A heaven-sent dining gem to appease difficult relations.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: St Katherine’s Restaurant, 26 Cotham Road, Kew, Vic 3101.
- ☑ Budget: $$-$$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Restaurant dessert. Neo-classical Mediterranean.
- ☑ Must-eat: The seasonally-changing doughnut dish.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Uncomplicated, unfussy. St Katherine’s is a heaven-sent dining gem to appease difficult relations.