I had staked out a Sunday afternoon to spend at Stanley Street Station, a fairly new establishment taking over a corner of Stanley and Crown Streets. I was drawn in by the concept and the reasonably priced mains – it seemed like a great venue to wile away an afternoon with a bunch of friends, especially on a grey and wet day.
At lunchtime the menu features “smalls” as entrees or for tapas style sharing as well as “biggins” as bistro-style mains amid the casual café vibe. I like the flexibility as well as the creativity, quirks and kitsch as part of the interior decorating.
Sunday meals are often difficult to co-ordinate given some people only awaken around noon and thus, 1pm is breakfast time. For others, it’s brunch, lunch or even wine o’clock. It’s definitely a jumble for our table this Sunday afternoon with English breakfast tea and espresso orders directly followed by a carafe of house red wine (a smooth grenache shiraz blend) and for others still, lamb shanks for breakfast.
Pumpkin & macadamia boule sourdough with black truffle & mushroom paste, anchovy tapenade and olive oil
To start, it’s the entrées which turn into rather communal tapas. I find myself more attracted to the entrée menu rather than mains – which I often am – and we shared a good range of them across the table.
The board of sourdough comes with a couple of spreads along with olive oil to dip. Admittedly, the bread becomes a lesser focus with the scent of the black truffle and mushroom paste, so I wasn’t even aware it was a pumpkin and macadamia sourdough.
The truffle paste is not overpowering and much like Tetsuya’s truffle salsa, but almost completely black in colour. The tapenade is mostly olive and less anchovy, which is how I would prefer it as opposed to the other way around.
The batter is the first thing I notice on the squid – while thick, it looks like it should be crunchy and well flavoured; and disappointingly it is neither. It was nicely tender but I tend to think that, with the exception of lemon, fruit and seafood should not go together. The mango coulis would have been much better suited to plain Greek yoghurt than squid.
My love affair with school prawns is still going strong, despite the occasional prickly bit. I’m not sure if these have been sautéed or rather deep fried without a coating, but the prawn heads and shells were fantastically crunchy. The flavour was great: savoury with a touch of spice, freshened with lemon and lime juice, and enriched by generous dunkings into the aioli.
The terrine looks a little dry at first glance but isn't too bad with the sweet chutney battling the salty meat loaf. It's actually not as meaty a terrine as I'm used to and the flavours are a little flat, but that chutney makes up for most the flaws.
We’re collectively underwhelmed with the arrival of the ‘steak fries’. Looking more like the most normal chips I’ve ever seen, they may well have been twice-cooked (Belgian style) but were definitely not the thickly cut potatoes we were all expecting. Perhaps the menu needs a review – these were chips with mayo.
The quality chorizo slices have a wonderfully smoky aroma; its firm savouriness nicely contrasted with soft cubes of pumpkin and plenty of rocket leaves.
The salad is also a bit disappointing with a sad single bocconcini sliced atop a pile of mixed greens, cornered by wedges of a roma tomato. Even with lemon, it lacks any excitement and really just makes me think of the packed and washed lettuce section at the supermarket.
On to “the biggins”, there’s limited variety on our table as it seemed we all leaned in to the wintery comfort on offer. The beef cheek pie sounded like it could be a big, warm bear hug of a meal – but perhaps it was more like Goldilocks’ papa and mama bear experiences: it was exceedingly hot in temperature but a little lacking in the flavour territory.
The braised beef cheek – beautifully soft and yielding – sat in a decidedly soupy gravy with floating peas and very little shitake mushroom. A spoon might have been ideal, as well some bread to soak the soup – though there was the sheet of just-cooked pastry that could have been much more golden and crunchy. The beetroot jam was super sweet and overpowering if mixed into the soup, while the sauerkraut sat aside lonely and untouched on my serve.
The risotto comes as a gigantic serving, creamy with chicken breast pieces and the occasional cube of pumpkin. Having one taste of the risotto, it was very rich and creamy but completely oversalted – a shame really because the rice was cooked quite nicely; a touch past al dente.
The lamb shanks present yet more unexpectedness. I adore shanks in a thick and hearty, herb-heavy, tomato sauce, so I guess the thin soup disappoints pre-conceived notions – though it should have been expected as per the menu.
The disadvantage of this is that the lamb shanks don’t get any sort of sauce coverage to add flavour per mouthful, but perhaps it’s supposed to be a clean, subtle approach. Nonetheless, the shanks looked and tasted naked. Less subtle are the unmashed mash potato (much more like a salty, dry smashed potato) and the undercooked broccoli.
To distract from what was for some an unmemorable meal and to get the afternoon really started, we settled into the couches at the other end of the restaurant for cocktails and a board game.
Leather couches and random artworks litter this end, as well as a shelf of games including Monopoly (I forget which version), backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Scrabble and Balderdash – the latter of which I only recently discovered and my inner wordie geek (or bluffer) loves.
Armed with a bunch of Spreets vouchers, the cocktail list is at our mercy, as too our Balderdash opponents. It turns out the latter is more enjoyable and leaves more of an impression on everyone rather than the cocktails; most of which surprisingly are lightweights. The cocktail special was the peach bellini, thick with pulp at the bottom and made with a questionable sparkling wine.
I’m sold on the St Germain elderflower liqueur (love the stuff) of the Mr Dubord cocktail – named after a dude who studied how urban landscape affects our emotions and behavior, according to the menu. With loads of mint on top, this unfortunately was like a glass of apple juice, tending watery at that. There was the slightest hint of elderflower and barely a hint of vodka.
Sour cocktails aren’t for all, I think. This pink, egg white foam-topped concoction defied with its bourbon hit; the girly hue coming from a float of red wine, along with lemon for the namesake characteristic, and a blackberry and honey liqueur. A weird combination in all, but surreal?
The final cocktail order ends up being my favourite. More St Germain elderflower liqueur (but not much more) meets with jasmine tea, lemon, cucumber ribbons and dried rose buds for another girly drink, but with much more aroma and the feeling of actually drinking a cocktail.
A couple of hours pass before we realise that Balderdash is a really long game, especially when you’ve got the full six players and definitions that need to be read out three or more times amid disbelieving laughter. We concede a winner at ‘Q’ on the board and call it a night.
While there are positives in some areas of Stanley Street Station – the concept and sense of communal creativity – there are also some negatives – food, menu and cocktails – that need to be ironed out before it really gets a tick for all stations.