Saturday, 1 June 2013

Seamstress - From Sweatshop to Unions

A few months ago, some mates met to dine at Seamstress on Lonsdale Street, and I was unable to attend. I was left a bit gutted as this adventure coincided with one of my frequent trips to Sydney however recently I was able to convince the epicurean emo to join me in a dining experience at this multi-level former textile factory and Buddhist monastery to resolve my inner turmoil of being excluded by chance.

With the kitchen wholly on the first floor and the dining room on the second floor, the adventure getting to the space which holds approximately fifty people is part of the fun. Warm greetings was received at the door and we were asked if the table being offered was suitable for our needs. This left me excited as from the point that I entered the restaurant I knew that service was going to be professional. I immediately ordered a Lord Nelson Three Sheets ($9) and started reading the wine list. Given that the restaurant is housed in an old textile factory there are gentle reminders of this bygone era with the decorations however they are smartly added and not just placed for the sake of having a theme. Fabric is rolled into the ceiling with wire hangers attached mischievously holding glass vases with plants. A Singer sewing machine was placed in the window next to our table. The decor is not over the top and set the stage for the menu.

A bottle of 2004 Delatite Reisling ($70) from Mansfield in the Victorian high country was ordered to accompany our first round of food from the aptly named Autumn Collection. With the desire to try as many dishes as possible in mind, we broke the food order up into ultimately two orders just so that we could reassess our choice for wine should it be required. The food menu is small but each item that is available comes in three sizes - small, medium and large and has a proportionally higher cost. As we wanted to taste as many dishes as possible, we opted for the small sizes where applicable. Four fried oysters ($13) with shiso, wasabi and yuzu dressing was the first dish to appear. Given this was a "small" dish, there was nothing small about these fried oysters. They were huge if not daunting although a tad bland. One thing I like about BangPop on South Wharf is that assorted condiments are supplied so that the patron can add various levels of spice, sweet or acid as they see fit to complement the dish however that is not the case at Seamstress. As a contrast though, the four betel leaves ($15) with confit duck leg and pickled mango were full of flavour and left a tingling sensation in my mouth. This was the sensation that I was expecting to have at Seamstress and this fresh and aromatic dish certainly delivered.

To conclude the first round of food orders, we were served both the maple seared scallops with smoked rainbow trout on an apple salad with crispy shallots topped witha Nan Jim dressing ($14) and a snake bean with golden sweet potato poached won ton topped with a green bean and coriander puree and tobiko roe and pea foam. Both dishes were visually appealing and I really liked the scallops which were cooked to perfection. The apple salad was a nice touch and complemented both the bivalve mollusk but also the wine. Like with the fried oysters though, I found the won tons a bit bland and would have enjoyed some spicy sauces on the side to add some fire and additional flavour but that is just a personal preference.

The next round of food included three dishes and a dessert. Although we wanted to attack more of the menu, the size of the "small" dishes remained consistently larger which although proved to be good value for money, limited us as gluttons however in the end, trying eight different menu items proved to not only be adventurous but also worth-while.

Who doesn't like soft shell crab? What Seamstress serves is the crab still intact on a apple and wombok slaw with sriracha mayonnaise ($13) which not only again was visually appealing considering the size of the crab, when matched with the slaw was a delight. I really liked not only looking at the dish but eating this one as well and made for an excellent match with the Reisling.

The spice-rubbed ocean trout with Thai pepper sauce, black rice, pineapple and Sambal salsa ($16) was along with the betel leaves were the highlights of the dining experience for me. The trout was full of flavour and the spices left an impression on my senses. Not only did this dish smell beautiful but tasted excellent and when matched with the remaining Reisling really impressed me.

Returning to Lord Nelson Three Sheets beer, we finished our savoury courses with the ballotine of tarmarind quail with a salted cashew, peanut and winter melon chutney, spicy pork sausage and a pomegranate glaze ($16). The texture of this dish was amazing and I am really happy that I transitioned to the ale to pair with the beautiful quail. The spicy pork sausage was a nice touch and provided the flavour and spice that my palate was begging for so it was satisfied.

This was a rare dining experience where I made the decision to have a dessert. Unless it is part of a degustation experience I tend to shy away from the sweets however I could not help ordering a sticky fig pudding with ginger caramel sauce and palm sugar ice cream ($16). Not only was this dessert sweet thanks to the combination of all of the elements naturally but the fig pudding was just awesome and did a good job at cleansing my palate at the same time.

Service was relaxed and consultative throughout the experience. A few laughs were enjoyed. A few jokes were told. The professionalism of the staff along with the attention to detail differentiated this experience from many others which I would segregate using a fine line between good and great. Although I thought a few dishes were bland, it is just my opinion and readers of this blog know that I am always up for any challenge when it comes to heat and spice so perhaps I just went in expecting the fire to be raging in all of the dishes. Given the portion sizes of some of the "small" dishes, I found it all to be great value for money and I would certainly return to Seamstress if I have the opportunity one again.

After we said our goodbyes, we walked up one flight of stairs to the cocktail bar. This is a great use of space which takes the textile theme one step further. An impressive amount of spirits are behind the bar and the two Singapore Slings that I ultimately drank gave me courage to step outside into the cold cruel world and brave the elements. On the weekend, the "Sweatshop" bar, located within the basement level of the building is also open so regardless of your intent should you visit the old monastery at 113 Lonsdale Street, you are in for a good time.

Seamstress was awarded one chefs hat in the 2012/2013 The Age Good Food Guide.

Seamstress Restaurant, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

113 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 5525
My Rating: 15.5/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.75/5
Quality: 3.5/5
Value For Money: 4.25/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon like Seamstress.

Seamstress on Urbanspoon