[Stoke] Bar + Kitchen head chef Sam Webb has a lot of respect for his upstairs colleague Ollie Gould, executive chef of Stokehouse City, but when it comes to eating out himself, he’s not really into the white linen trappings of fine dining.
“I don’t like dining in a restaurant where you feel like you have to sit up straight, wear a dinner jacket and keep very quiet,” he laughs. “I like to get in, share things and have a laugh, make a bit of noise. We kinda wanted to go the polar opposite of upstairs.”
Webb’s been given free rein over the downstairs bar, re-branded as [Stoke] Bar + Kitchen, and he hopes to rekindle a bit of the old hustle and bustle of the St Kilda venue that was sadly lost to fire. “After bringing Stokehouse to the city, we were trying to find a bit of a new identity I guess,” Webb says. “It was so hectic at the beach, and we’re just to trying to inject that fun atmosphere into the city.”
Focusing on the sort of comfort food he likes to share with his mates, Webb’s lighter bites at [Stoke] will include finger-licking salt cod and speck croquettes served on a sweet corn puree, and a hearty plate of Blackmore's bresaola and salami. Confit chicken wings are drenched in buttermilk and come with a tangy Japanese BBQ dipping sauce. There’s also a beef tartare with capers, celery and bonito.
There are some heftier dishes too, like sugar-cured kingfish with avocado and fennel and a selection of pizzas. “On the mains side of things we do a great steak frites with local Victorian beef, which is proving very popular,” Webb says.
The Stoke burger with house-made pickles is served with fries. “That comes with a truffle béchamel sauce which makes it nice and rich and gooey.” Um, yum.
Alongside Ollie’s fish pie, Webb will also have a daily market-fresh fish dish. “We call the fishmonger in the morning and see what we can get straight off the boat, then serve it with a kale and pumpkin seed risotto and a little bit of aged balsamic vinegar.”
With the lunch rush pulling in a big office crowd, he’s really keen to attract more after-work punters. “One of the new sides is half a roasted cauliflower we serve with a nice cheesy sauce,” Webb says. “We put a big steak knife right in the middle so you can cut it yourself at the table, which brings out a little bit of fun interaction. It’s approachable food, something you can get stuck into with your hands and have a bit of fun, that takes the formality away from dining.”
[Stoke] Bar + Kitchen has been given a bit of a mood-lit makeover by Rabindra Naidoo, who did the interiors for Journal and Self Preservation, and Webb says it’s a far more relaxing place to share a relaxed bite with mates over a glass or two of wine or some craft beer. “It was a bit sterile before, but now it’s a nice little spot. Basically I’m cooking food that I’d like to come out and eat and that I know people will enjoy.”
[Stoke] Bar + Kitchen is open from 12pm - 12am
Image Credits: Nick West for The Urban List