St Peter’s @ 6 Melbourne Place, Melbourne
8 January 2011
St Peter's is Maurice Esposito's newest venture and is, like the venerable Toofey's, a seafood restaurant. Given Esposito’s success in appeasing the Toofey’s faithful following his acquisition of the Carlton stalwart and with St Peter's currently offering all items on the al a carte menu at half price, a visit to St Peter’s seemed an irresistible proposition.
Any prospect of our recent visit being a positive one was savagely quashed by St Peter's appalling service. The service staff were exceedingly slow, frequently absent and pointedly unfriendly. The fundamental elements of good service, including, for example, ensuring customers’ glasses are never empty and providing brief but enlightening introductions to dishes, were routinely neglected. There was also an instance of a forgotten spinach side dish, which was overlooked by the kitchen staff but not by the wait staff in preparing our bill. Conveniently, the second bill issued also included the spinach dish and it was not until we requested that the bill be amended a further time that we were finally provided with a correct account for our evening. Notably, on each occasion, the act of flagging down a waiter was an exceedingly laborious one.
As with its service standards, St Peter’s food was riddled with problems. Our meal began with a selection of appetisers that was, on the whole, less than impressive. The salted cod croquettes were insipid balls of coarse and powdery mashed potato which, disappointingly, lacked any hint of the promised salted cod. The Sydney rock oyster was of questionable freshness and the semolina battered jumbo oyster was appetising but entirely unremarkable. The zucchini flower with smoked eel mousse was encased in a pleasantly crisp batter but, on account of the canned tuna consistency of the mousse, was ultimately forgettable.
There was an entree of seared Canadian scallops with "essence of asparagus and spinach”, salmon roe and baby parsley that was unfortunately spoiled by the presence of some gritty foreign substance – presumably sand. The scallops themselves were unexceptional – under-seared and dominated by the overpowering asparagus puree.
Mercifully, there were some positive highlights – highlights which served to underscore how painfully tortured the lowlights were. For instance, a Northern Territory mud crab salad with green apple, avocado and garlic mayonnaise was a simple salad with fresh and crisp flavours. The natural sweetness of the crab permeated the entire dish while the juicy julienned apple pieces provided a delightful acidic bite to cut through the rich avocado and garlic mayonnaise. It was a dish that demonstrated the best aspects of summer dining in a manner reminiscent of the terrific scallop carpaccio at PM24.
The main courses were similarly excellent. A spaghettini with bug tails, chilli and home grown rocket was wonderfully flavoured with aromatic garlic and robust white wine. The pasta was perfectly cooked and carried the requisite amount of bite. With generous servings of superbly cooked Morton Bay bug tails, the dish had all the hallmarks of a textbook seafood pasta. The other main course of beer battered King George whiting with thin chips was one of the best examples of fish and chips I have sampled. The batter encasing the succulent whiting had a slightly heavier consistency than the benchmark Japanese tempura batter but was similarly crispy. The thin chips that accompanied the fish were uniformly crunchy and exceedingly moreish.
Regrettably, the positive notes ended once the desserts arrived. The almond panna cotta was a visual disaster. How any self-respecting chef could allow a dish of that appearance to be presented to a diner is unfathomable. Thankfully, the panna cotta was decidedly more pleasant to eat than it was to behold. That was more than could be said for the unfortunately burnt strawberry and almond tart, which was characterised by a grainy texture and a fragile crust.
On the all important value equation, St Peter's fares poorly. Our meal, before the application of the promotional discount, totalled approximately $180. For that money, two people could eat at, for instance, Cumulus, Circa or Ezard – far superior dining establishments. In that light, and given the appalling service, St Peter’s appears to be hideously overpriced. That being said, with the half price promotion in effect, St Peter’s is fairly reasonable value. It is unfortunate that the promotion cannot continue indefinitely.
Our meal at St Peter's was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is understandable that a new restaurant will have teething issues. In St Peter's case however, the problems appear to be entrenched and systemic and it is difficult to envisage St Peter’s transforming itself into a respectable fine dining restaurant in the near future. Our meal at St Peter's was, for the most part, an unmitigated disaster and one which, absent the promotion, cannot be recommended.