Last year we wouldn't have sent you to the Saint Hotel without fair warning. At least, we wouldn't have sent you in pursuit of food. But since then, it's undergone a complete makeover, changed its name to the St Hotel and added a tight Thai menu to its dining room. And it's made all the difference.
With its floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch up three levels, the hotel — which sits proud on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Canterbury Road — is a bit of a glasshouse, save the clever break up of space. Walk in off the street and you'll hit the rowdy main bar, and beyond that, the dining room. The upper levels wrap around the building, with a cavernous space that allows you to see up to the mezzanine and the level above. Upstairs is more of a lounge vibe, hosting a late night supper club and a quasi-nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. Privacy is not a given here, but it does make for good dinner conversation.
The refurb has been carried through the dining room too; the exposed brick is predictable, the yellow neon sign that spells out bite me is a little tired, but it certainly looks a lot better than before. It's a place you want to sit down and eat, regardless of its pub status — and it's the restaurant menu that we're most excited about. Grilled scallops with pineapple nahm jim and a touch of chilli ($7 each) are totally on the money and a must-have if you love scallops, and the garlic and pepper soft shell crab comes out just as good, complete with satisfying crunch.
So who's behind the food? It's Sean Judd, who's worked in the kitchens of Chin Chin and Longrain. His experience certainly doesn't evade him, and it shows in the dishes he gets spot on, like the aforementioned melt-in-your-mouth scallops or the spicy duck curry ($24). Even the most banal of choices — the chicken stir fry — is somehow made into a memorable dish.
There are a few things that aren't so bang on though. The lamb tartare is ambitious and works quite well, but a steak tartare might have worked even better. Dessert is promising — a flat disc of meringue topped with lime curd — until you realise it's topped with toasted shallots as well as coconut. A culinary decision that was perhaps meant to inspire genius, instead left a lingering aftertaste of onion and overall confusion.
What isn't a mistake however, is making a trip to the old Saint. The dishes are full of character, they're well-priced, and if you drop in for lunch on a weekday, you'll be able to order from their nothing-over-$15 Bangkok Bites menu. The warning has been lifted, and a recommendation for the St Hotel sits in its place.