02 October 2007

Buried Treasure

Brunchtime, heading north of the city.
It’s spring and the pretty boulevard is flush with the delicious pale hues of new leaves. We pull up near a weary beige vinyl couch slumped on the verandah of an ornate, Hawthorn brick Victorian era terrace house. A few doors away is North Carlton’s Rathdowne Street Food Store. Outside, the smokers cheerfully brave the wind and as we enter a waitress carefully places a fresh sheet of butcher’s paper on a recently vacated table.

The café is full to the rafters with women, no children and just a couple of men. A waiter races from table to counter and back again, multi tasking as he goes. My heart goes out to him. The poor dear is stretched to the limit, a weary smile stretched over his face. But with brisk professionalism he hands us breakfast, lunch and brunch menus. Seated on a bentwood chair with my back to the wall, I watch the world pass by, joined by Mr Stickyfingers who watches it all in reverse courtesy of the mirror behind me.

The coffee is perfect, the OJ freshly squeezed and the hot chocolate looks velvety. But what takes my breath away is my omelette. Buttery, richly flavoured, melt in the mouth eggs dissolve on my tongue. The next mouthful is offset by sweet braised leeks. Then the first of the prizes is revealed: hidden within are a half dozen barely cooked oysters. As I cut my way in, the first oyster releases its briny juices into the tarragon and champagne butter sauce, adding a flavour that flashes to mind the salty peat taste of the wind on a rocky beach in Scotland.

I am in brunch heaven. So much so that I close my eyes to concentrate on the simple but masterful combination of flavours. The soft textures are a culinary cashmere on my tongue. After this ecstatic surprise, Mr Stickyfinger’s dish of scrambled eggs with avocado, lime, basil and smoked salmon on toasted brioche, pales into insignificance.

The Rathdowne Street Food Store is the kind of place people say they’d love to have as their local. For the last ten years the team here have been plating up well executed, simple comfort food from 8:00am until well into the evening. They’re also known for their take home meal options and catering. Decorated in pared back French bistro style it is a popular weekend venue, in a shopping strip featuring a number of other quality dining options such as La Luna and Zum Zum. Best seats – with a view to the shopfront or by the fire, or perhaps a table on the street to enjoy a warm summer’s night. Our generously sized meals were priced at $19.50 & $18.50 respectively.

Rathdowne Street Food Store,
617 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, Victoria. Phone. 9347 4064


Anonymous said...

You'vre reminded everyone Stickyfingers that this joint has been around forever, no mean feat these days. It just goes to show that we dont always hav eot be in pursuit of the 'new'
Is Ricky Holt still the owner?
I'll also add that who would have guessed than in the lottery of cafes & restaurants that this little place would morph into an institution?
Perhaps like the Gurus, the Violent Femmes & the Celibate Rifles each new gereration 'picks them up' as their motif of the times? This way everyone gets to say they 'discovered them!'

stickyfingers said...

Yes Gobbler, there is certainly a place for both old and new. Though I admit that the more hype a venue has the greater my reluctance to go - case in point, Nobu. It must be the punk in me.

Although I'm loathe to use the term, RFS is definitely a Melbourne institution, but sadly it went into receivership last year - I think as a consequence of investing heavily in the Nicholson Street Bakery. RFS was sold to Danielle Podmore and Judith Mottram, while the bakery was sold off to two others. Ricky is I think still there however, and thankfully their omelettes are as beautiful as ever.

I remember dining on Ricky's tucker many moons ago at Donlevy's some time after my phase of pogoing at the Seaview Ballroom. As you know I value anyone who knows how to bring out the best in their ingredients without needing to over complicate things and Ricky has stuck to honing his techniques without jumping on bandwagons. I hope that up-and-comers will appreciate his prowess as much as the master's of Fusion.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear to that!
I do detect a whiff of indifference for some of these elder craftspeople who have paved the way earlier, creeping in from a few new-ish to cooking professionally. It seems unless your foaming, atomising or setiing it with agar your not on their radar.
Curiously I have noticed the media overseas are painting Ramsay as somewhat 'old hat' with his food, compered to the more exciting exponants of Molecular Chicanery.
This caused me to have a squizz at Marco P Whites first book, 'White Heat'as he was Ramsay's mentor, you know get back to the source.
Guess what, technically thrilling as it seems, it does look too fussy, to symmetrical & actually a bit dated when alsongside some photos of say Dan Hunters food.

stickyfingers said...

Gordon Ramsay I would suggest was part of the backlash of rustic comfort food that kicked in after the miserly portions of Nouvelle Cuisine, but I believe that he still has his place in the current scheme of things. The Molecular movement is reflective of global trends influenced by an apocalyptic outlook, which has been fed by Global Warming and Global terrorism.

As someone who has had to predict the coming zeitgeist in their professional life, I think that Molecular Gastronomy may eventually go the way of Cuisine Minceur and Nouvelle Cuisine. When the current razzle-dazzle has passed, elements of it will be incorporated into general fine dining fare - like Fusion has - to be replaced by the next phase of dining.

Already emerging on a low key basis is the next wave - a kind of think global, act local movement. It's a trend towards sustainable eating, low food miles, rare breed meats, heritage vegetables and all the things that make us look inwards for comfort and empower us to feel like we are making an impact on the world with our new found habits.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more Sticky
(I will abbreviate your name fronm now on, I hope you dont mind?!)
I have bypassed the whole Molecular Chicanery gambit although I do appreciate & admire its disciplines.
Howver to me the main game has always been regionalism.
The sheer logic of sourcing & reflecting the produce from one's area needs not the slight of hand parlour tricks nor the look-at-me-cleverness that some chefs employ.
It relies on a solid repetoire of technical applications, a deep understanding of what works with what, a cultural sensitivity born by travel, experience & or reading & a commitement to knowing when enough is enough. It will always for me at least, be about the provenance of the produce.
Too may (typically but not exclusively city) restaurants recognise your sage words Sticky & try to gain leverage from them, to the detriment of those who are committed fully. To thenm it is merely another weapon in their arsenal of getting bums on seats.
This shits me no end when you find out that the long rosey mission statement on the menu is as shallow as a pick up line at Chapel Streets old 'Hard and Fast'
at 3am.

I am curious as to what you are doing now Sticky, are you a consultant of sorts?

stickyfingers said...

Gobbler - Sticky is fine by me. Thank you as always for sharing your thoughts.

Now this is not a criticism, but would I be correct in my sleuthing that a foam actually appeared on your menu? In support of this I think that new techniques can add to a dish if used intuitively and not - as happens too often - a trendy add-on item placed merely for the sake of contemporising a menu.

As for my profession I am happy to share the details with you via email

Anonymous said...

Your powers of deduction are impressive Sticky however I am without restaurant thes days & have beeen since April.
I did use a 'Stout foam' once, to varying degree but one puff does not make a stoner.
On the other hand the chef that took over couldn't wait to use his Bunson burners, cream dispensers & Petri dishes!
Me, I steer away from all those dark arts & just try to let the sun shine through the amazing produce.

GS said...

I think the RFS has been around closer to 20, than 10, years now. I was sad to hear when it went into receivership, which came hot on the tail of divorce as well as other investments which no doubt had a big financial impact. 10 years ago Ricky opened Margot in Toorak Rd which was also short lived. It's a pity when diversification risks the whole kit and caboodle.

I was a long time fan of the food store but I felt that that over the years with significant price hikes (and possibly smaller servings), along with having a greater seating capacity than the kitchen can keep up with, has put me off.

I am lucky to have it as a local but they need to keep up with the locals as well. The competition is getting fierce around here and even the loyal regulars move on after a while.

stickyfingers said...

Yes, I think you're right about the age. I have the year 1987 rattling around my brain when thinking of its inception but noticed the ten year claim on their website, which is probably now outdated and redundant.

Thanks for stopping by.