Creating a culinary offering that's as high-quality as it is approachable can prove tough. All too often, a top-notch feed is served with a side of pretentiousness and a hefty kick to the hip pocket.
It's no mean feat, then, that Swan Street's Saint.Urban manages to nail the balance and make it look effortless to boot. The latest endeavour from two of the team behind Punch Lane in the CBD, this bistro and wine bar is ticking lots of boxes. It's a versatile operation where the calibre of the food and service suggests special occasion, but the price tags and ambience lend themselves just as well to a laidback midweek dinner.
Head in via the endearingly 'Melbourne' laneway entrance and you're greeted by a modern rendition of rustic charm. The space isn't huge, but it's been used to great effect — a central, horseshoe-shaped bar is the place to sip and be seen, while intimate corner tables are ideal date night stuff. It's inherently warm, with a European-tinged elegance derived from the lightly distressed walls, tiled floor and lots of polished timber curves.
The protein-driven menu has something of this same Euro-style classicism, though the cleverly compiled flavours hint at some innovative hands in the kitchen. This is no ordinary bistro fare.
Small plates do a fine job of rousing the appetite — sticky glazed lamb ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender ($10), and the sheep's haloumi offers a decadent flavour hit, the delicate slices topped with soft, peppered fig ($8.50).
Share-friendly entrees further reflect the kitchen's flavour-matching prowess, as in a Wagyu carpaccio ($19.50). Crowned with cress, dollops of silky manchego custard and meaty pickled king browns, it's a dish both complex and delicate.
Mains range from a scotch fillet ($33) to a burnt butter, pumpkin and amaretti gnocchi ($26). The barramundi, however, is a true standout, not only for the beautifully cooked fillet but for the ingenious partnership of chorizo and pickled rhubarb that rings the plate ($29). It'll be a while before you forget this one.
Well-travelled and fairly accessible, the wine list is another memorable Saint.Urban offering. Alongside an interesting range of bottles, a varied selection by the glass and the half bottle holds plenty of promise for lazy summer afternoon drinks. You can look forward to sipping a Fiore Nero Chianti ($12.50 glass) while you graze on charcuterie out on the streetside terrace.
An expansive, wine-friendly cheese selection features varieties from Europe, Tasmania and Victoria. Any inkling of a sweet tooth though, and you'll find it hard to resist the chocolate fondant – perfectly executed and matched with banana ice cream, sticky roasted banana and peanut butter ganache ($15).
Don't wait for a special occasion — for high-end eats, minus the fuss, get acquainted with Richmond's newest neighbourhood wine bar.