>Station Hotel Footscray

>59 Napier Street Footscray

A table at the Station Hotel is a hard thing to come by on a Saturday night. A few years ago Sean Donovan, he of the Botanical and various Michelin-starred establishments in France and London, headed way out west to craft the sort of gastro-pub he always dreamed of. Nobody thought it would fly, but they were wrong.

Located off the beaten track, near the police station and town hall on the outskirts of Footscray, you would drive past it a hundred times without glancing. The bar is still a regular old bar, although a lot more gentrified than the last time I visited over a year ago. The pool table is still there but no longer in pride of place, and the diners have spilled over into the bar on more casually-set tables. The only people sitting at the bar were also eating, and this time I believe Adam would have been quite happy waiting for me on a barstool, cheeky glass of red in hand.

It was a quiet Saturday night, our waiter said. A big bear of a man, he hit a perfect balance between friendly service, formality and knowledge of the menu. This place is famous for its steaks and we both gravitated to the listing. Our waiter patiently explained the difference between wagyu and Angus, grain-fed and grass-fed, Bavette and rostbiff, and the varying degrees of ageing.

The longest-aged steak on offer is a 450-day Sher Wagyu rostbiff, which is what I chose, with a terrine de campagne to start. Nothing like the gourmet equivalent of good 1970s food on a wet autumn night. Orlando chose the provencal fish soup to start, followed by a Gippsland dry-aged grass fed lump of Black Angus rump. I started with a glass of Mitchell’s Peppertree shiraz, which was served to me before I saw the Torbreck’s GSM on the listing. Never mind.

The fish soup was sensational. Dark red and smooth like tomato ketchup, it had the very essence of the sea in there, along with obscene amounts of garlic and good after-kick. I really need that recipe. Mystarter was also divine, but huge: it was a pleasure to wade through this hunk of ham terrine aided by some toasted sourdough, but towards the end I was not sure where I was going to fit my main course. The Peppertree shiraz went down like a dream and before I knew it my glass was empty. On to the Torbreck’s. Marvellous.

Our steaks were served simply with a handful of chunky hand-cut chips and a simple but delicious green salad which I devoured for once in my life. My rostbiff (which is a portion of the rump) was out of this world, like the last time I ate here. A good strong flavour and a texture that cut like butter. It was cooked medium-rare, perfectly seared outside and a deep pink inside. Orlando’s Angus was similarly beautifully-cooked to medium, another lovely steak but with a gentler flavour. We ate slowly.

The restaurant was still quite loud like last time, and could do with a few more wall hangings or other upholstery to soak up some of the noise. The clientele was a mixed bunch: a Vietnamese family at the next table with a single white man amongst them (probably the daughter’s boyfriend), two large tables of young people celebrating birthdays or some such, a couple of well-heeled foursomes of a certain age with Melbourne intelligentsia haircuts and avantgarde outfits, and a few local couples like ourselves out for a quiet dinner.

Overall a great evening’s food, and the change of vibe in the bar would certainly entice me down for a counter meal or two mid-week now I know you can eat at the bar in reasonably pleasant surroundings.

slow food saturday

Dinner with friends: the perfect excuse to spend a quiet Saturday doing what I do best. Focusing on food.

I was up and at Victoria Market by ten. A bit seedy after a glass or two too many the night before, I kept the sunglasses on despite the heavy cloud. For once, a sea mist was blanketing the city in blessed coolness, the humidity was high and it smelt like Ireland.

Vic Market was buzzing, as it always is. I strolled down the lines of produce in the fruit and veg shed first, comparing prices, tasting locally-picked fruit, getting sidelined by things not on my shopping list. The sellers shouted out their prices, competing with each other. Bananas $1.50 a kilo. I remember after Cyclone Larry when they went up to $15 a kilo. Seems like forever ago.

Laden already with plums, grape tomatoes, fresh basil, cucumber, sweet yellow chillis and mushrooms of different sizes, I headed for the meat department. Again the rows of perfectly-presented meats made me second-guess my menu plan. Perhaps it’s not too late to choose steak? Perhaps I should make hamburgers with that lovely mince? (it was the debut of our new barbecue after all.)

No. I steeled myself and kept walking down to the seafood. I browsed the counters, looking for the best prices, the exact tiger prawns I wanted, nice butterfish (which is not sold everywhere). Scallops winked at me; sushi-grade tuna begged to be bought and I capitulated. Something for me and Orlando, not this evening’s guests. Back to my usual butterfish man, I bought too much, knowing I would want leftovers. Two kilos of fresh shelled tiger prawns with the tails still on – perfect finger food – and I was done. Almost.

Over in the deli building, I quailed at the increasing weight of my various bags and rued my decision not to bring my wheelie trolley. Who goes to the market without a trolley?? Hungover me, that’s who. Plump Ligurian olives won over skinny kalamata. Bocconcini won over a more substantial piece of mozzarella. A sourdough baguette won over the other fifty or so breads on offer: this is always the hardest decision.

Last stop the chicken place for nice locally-produced free range chicken breasts, to round off the feast. Lucky I remembered.

Laden like a pack-horse, I sank to a seat in the food court with a strong flat white, two sugars. That’s better. A trip to Dan Murphy’s for wine and rum, and Safeway for a handful of remaining ingredients, and back home to take over the kitchen.

Half the prawns I marinated in a mix of red chilli, garlic and Punjabi Kitchen King Masala. It’s my favourite for shellfish and a real crowd-pleaser. The chicken was cut into more manageable pieces and coated simply in Italian herbs, garlic, a touch of chilli and green pesto. The butterfish got the Walkerswood jerk seasoning treatment.

Meanwhile more chicken was quickly browned off with some vegetables and slow-cooked in the oven with some of John’s seasoning. John Maughn is our friend who is a food wizard and his home-grown and produced seasoning is the best Caribbean flavour you can find. Seriously addictive.

A sit-down, a cup of tea and a Creme Egg later, I tackled the Greek salad and prepared the ingredients for an Italian pasta salad: grape tomatoes, bocconcini, fresh shredded basil, more pesto. Vegie skewers were constructed from yellow chillis, mushrooms and more grape tomatoes. The table was set and the mossie coils in place ready to be lit: all done.

The evening was a success. Two bottles of divine Brown Brothers 2002 Patricia Shiraz, and two more of Stanton & Killeen’s Rutherglen Shiraz Durif (2007), washed down the feast. The barbecue acquitted itself well, as did the chef. I thank you. Eileen’s cheese platter, Robyn’s handmade chocolates and Orlando’s orange muscat and flora rounded off the evening in style.

Even the washing-up went swimmingly.

>The Station Hotel

>Station Hotel
59 Napier Street Footscray

Adam and I ventured into the inner west for dinner tonight. A convenient fifteen minute walk from my house turned out to be more like half an hour, so I was late for our date and I found Adam outside on the pavement. The bar at the Station is still a bit of a standard suburban Melbourne hotel, and a little less fragrant than the boy is used to… I concurred when I wandered in, I have to say. I would not have been too relaxed sipping a nice glass of red at the bar by myself.

Undeterred, we presented ourselves at the dining room which upon first glance appeared a little crowded, a little noisy, a little lacking in atmosphere. We are usually more interested in the gossip and the wine than the food, but we both noticed it. A glass of 2004 McLaren Vale Brini shiraz grenache soothed us as we perused the menu: heavy on the steaks, and to my alarm very heavy on the seafood as starters. Adam does not do fish. Ever.

He reassured me that he would not starve, and we both chose soup for starter: mine a provencal fish soup and his a traditional French onion soup. Both were excellent.

Our charming Mancunian waiter took us through the complexities of a menu with no less than eight steaks on there. The provenance of each was listed along with where it was farmed, what it was fed, and the length of time it was aged. The only thing we were not privy to was the beast’s name.

Eventually we both settled upon the same thing: a 250g Sher Wagyu (Victoria) 450 day grain fed wagyu rostbiff. This means it comes from a cow from a particular breed which has been fed on a special grain diet for at least 450 days. A rostbiff cut is part of the rump – the rump without the cap, if that means anything to you.

For the uninitiated, wagyu beef is from a breed of cattle that is genetically predisposed to intense marbling of the flesh, giving the steak an incredible tenderness and flavour. I had never eaten one until tonight.

Our steaks were served simply, with a generous green salad, some chunky chips and some bearnaise and pepper sauces on the side. They did not disappoint. Without exception I can say this this was simply the best steak I have ever eaten. Adam reckoned a steak he’d been served in Chicago some months earlier came pretty close, but he was deeply impressed too.

We ate slowly, carefully. I put my knife and fork down after every second mouthful. This was a meal not to be rushed.

After carefully enjoying every morsel, we were tempted by dessert. My bread and butter pudding was feted as one of the best desserts in Melbourne: it was very good, but not the best I’ve had. Adam’s dessert special of pannacotta, berry compote and blood orange sorbet went down a treat. Again, he savoured every mouthful, and declared it the best dessert he had ever had. The strange tiny red berry-type things in his compote we could not identify until the waiter explained that it was sago.

Food aside, the decor of the restaurant area was fine, but the layout of the tables was a little institutional. It needs something to break up the monotony of three simple columns of tables, and maybe make things a bit more intimate at least in places. Some more comfortable seating would also be welcomed. Both us had numb backsides after the first hour.

Not bad for a simple straightforward suburban hotel, even if the new owner used to be the executive chef at the Botanical. If they could just make the bar more welcoming to diners before and after dinner, they will really be onto a winner.

Nevertheless, I am delighted such excellent steaks are being served so close to home. This will become a regular haunt, no doubt.