389-391 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 7411
The real Saint Jude is supposedly the patron saint of lost causes. But the wine bar on Brunswick Street with the same name as the dude who was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana and was later martyred in Persia is anything but a lost cause. Trust me. In the space of two weeks Shirley and I have been here twice, a sign that this place is nowhere near sucking. The first time was for dinner and the second time, for pre-dinner drinks. And St Jude’s Cellar is the ideal venue for both.
Situated in the heart of ever-bustling and forever-grungy Brunswick Street, it is a classy Victorian-style space with shades of eccentricity in the form of hipster bartenders who fail to do wrong (well, in terms of recommending wines and inventing wonderful cocktails on a whim) and desk lamps to provide much-needed bursts of lights when the sun retires for the day. Additionally, walls of iron comfortably hold bottles of wines from Australia and around the world – and we’re not talking about just your usual Liquorland stuff either. And although most would order a bottle to share with their companions while sitting at the long bar table or on any of the raised wooden tables around the room, one can also select a bottle to take home for a discounted price.
It was a Tuesday evening when we first walked into St Jude’s, and on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 6pm they offer $10 mains for those who consider themselves proletariat enough to sit at the bar. No prizes in guessing where we sat.
I quickly settled on a Pazo San Mauro Albariño ($16), a dry white with bold fruity flavours and a long finish while Shirley mulled over the cocktail list.
Not liking anything that was there, she asked the lively-as-Blake-Lively bartender if he had the skillz to whip up something for her on the spot. Not to be deterred by a challenge, he grabbed some fresh berries and pounded them like how a enraged female would love to pound an especially asshat-y ex-boyfriend. And some fresh lime. And a bit of Belvedere. And a spoonful of sugar. There may have been other ingredients but I don’t remember what they were (Shirley might remember though).
The result was a smooth, sweet cocktail with a hint of fruity tang – kind of like the person the cocktail was named after. Yes, he created a cocktail called The Shirley (but-not-Temple, $16). Awesomeness. Christian Louboutin needs to name a shoe after this dude.
Slices of warm bread and a motherload of Lescure butter kept us happy while we waited for our meals. (We managed to finish all the butter. Yep.)
If you were to choose a $10 main, there would normally be three dishes to choose from (a pasta, a meat dish and a vegetarian dish). Shirley decided to go for the spaghetti marinara, a simple dish that was full of fresh flavours. I gave a tick to the guys for not putting cream in the sauce but instead, using only olive oil, chopped flat-leaf parsley and lots and lots of garlic. I guess my only gripe about this dish was that the only ‘seafood’ that was in it was chunks of salmon and mulloway. But whatever, Shirley reckoned she could order three servings of this next time and be content and quite frankly, so could I.
I chose the ploughman’s plate, which was pretty much a fun DIY job for the diner. On the wooden board was a bunch of ingredients – slices of buttered bread, roast beef, horseradish mustard and aioli, cheddar, roasted pumpkin and mushrooms, pickled onions and rocket leaves – that we could use to construct a roast beef sandwich… or just eat straight off the board if you can’t be effed.
I could be effed so I got down to business, trying to create The Best Roast Beef Sandwich Ever. Shirley hates mushrooms with a passion so I was able to double-dose on them. Score.
Of course we were never going to leave without dessert. Shirley, a chocaholic, got dibs on a rather strange dessert which consisted of three seemingly disjointed bits – a dark chocolate mousse, a blob of raspberry mascarpone and a nectarine half ($12.50). An odd dessert, I thought furrowing as I bit into a spoonful of mousse. It wasn’t bad though. The decadently rich dark chocolate mousse would have been to much for me to handle on its own so thankfully the tangy and creamy raspberry-mascarpone quenelle and the fresh nectarine provided a sensory relief.
I chose the chilled strawberry soup ($12), a refreshingly light dessert which wasn’t short of taste. The ‘soup’ was naturally sweet with the addition of sliced fresh strawberries providing a lovely touch. A handsome squirt of lemon curd provided an additional tang, while a dollop of Urban honey labna kept things creamy and shredded mint kept things fresh(er).
For those who have dinner plans elsewhere on Brunswick Street, St Jude’s provides an ideal venue for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles.
A plate of freshly cracked walnuts wrapped in double-smoked bacon with apple ($7.50, but we had pancetta on the day we went and were only charged $6 for some reason) certainly did not look impressive. I mean seriously? A handful of walnuts wrapped in bacon/pancetta chucked on a plate with two slices of apple? For $7.50? Hahaha, don’t make me LOL LOL LOL! Fortunately for us, St Jude’s did not let us down. Although any idiot could now make this snack tenfold at home, using ingredients for less than $10 at Coles, praises go to the team at St Jude’s for being the first to come with the idea. It was bizarre, but it was simply delicious. And deliciously simple.
Since we’re both a bit nutty (well more so Shirley than I – hah!), we ordered another dish with nuts, this time a plate of char-grilled asparagus with toasted hazelnuts ($12). Again they kept things simple, with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper being the only seasoning to the dish. Although it did not achieve the dizzying levels of success that our friend walnut did, it was nevertheless a lovely and well-executed dish.
Because we have a penchant for all things fried and unhealthy, we couldn’t go past the fried chicken wings (three for $7.50). We would have liked the chicken wings to be more crispy – they were a bit placid – but we did love the creamy yoghurt sauce that was flecked with roasted sesame seeds.
Finally, we chose a dish from the ‘light meals’ section, a warm fennel salad ($14.50). It was described as a vegetarian dish, consisting of fennel, orange, asparagus and fior di latte so imagine our surprise when we saw a chunk of char-grilled salmon in the salad and a fingerful of fennel discarded to one side like Rachel Berry brushing aside one of her not-as-vocal and not-as-‘talented’ glee clubbers.
As you may have picked up, the theme at St Jude’s is random unconventional ingredients thrown into one plate to create a simple but beautiful combination of flavours and while they attempted to do the same here, I can’t say that this salad was as successful as the other dishes we tried. The elements were just too awkward together and not even a flimsy squirt of lemon juice could hold all everything together. Props for the salmon though, which was cooked beautifully rare.
Oh, St Jude, you took a sad space on grungy Brunswick Street and made it better with wines, and awesome bartenders and walnuts. Oh and most importantly, THE BEST PLAYLIST I’VE HEARD AT AN EATERY YET (New Order, The Righteous Brothers and Joy Division on repeat, yo!). Eff yeah, we’re coming back for more (but going to Coles to recreate our own pancetta/bacon-wrapped walnuts).