Scott Picketts Nostalgically New Smith St Bistro
In his new Melbourne venue, chef and restaurateur Scott Pickett has beautifully combined the excitement of somewhere new with a sense of european nostalgia.
When the doors of a new restaurant are opened in Melbourne, peek into the kitchen and there’s a good chance you’ll spot Scott Pickett at the pass, inspecting plates of his refined-yet-welcoming signature fare being bustled out into the dining room.
All of Melbourne hums with Pickett’s culinary spirit, the chef and restaurateur behind almost a dozen venues including Matilda, Estelle, Chancery Lane and beloved contemporary Thai institution Longrain.
But it’s 300 Smith Street in Collingwood that serves as Pickett’s Olympus, the site home to some of his most noteworthy openings. Now, as Melbourne begins to emerge from a challenging period – particularly for the hospitality industry – the site that once housed St Crispin and Lupo will be reborn once again.
“[The site] sat there dormant during Covid while I worked out what I wanted to do,” Pickett explains, outlining the factors he considers when deciding what to bring to any new space. “When I look at a location, I think about where I’m at in my life, where the market is, and what fits that location. That’s especially true of Smith Street.”
The outcome of this introspection is Smith St Bistro, a nostalgic tribute to the convivial bistro-style venues Pickett fell in love with while training in Paris, where classic French dishes are offered in an unpretentious, accessible setting.
“I want it to be one of those ‘locals’ that feels like it’s been there for 50 or 100 years,” says Pickett, who grew up on a farm in Kangarilla in South Australia and cut his culinary teeth at Peter Jarmer’s eponymous Adelaide institution Jarmer’s. “Beautiful deep-red burgundy booths, funky tunes, and the kind of food I really love to cook.
Above: Scott Pickett's Souffle Recipe
“Maybe you drop in on a Tuesday night for a tuna tartare or a cheeseburger and a couple of dirty martinis, or it’s late at night and you want a creme caramel or a soufflé.”
Offering something for any appetite or mood, the menu was designed by Pickett and head chef Daniel Southern – whose French credentials were signed many times over during tenures at Melbourne’s L’Oustal, Comme and Bar Margaux, among others.
It ranges from a rotating plat du jour, offering a bowl of soup, slice of quiche Lorraine or similar light meal with a glass of wine for under $20, to the more extravagant fricassée of chicken, served spectacularly in a burnt orange Le Creuset pot fle Recipe dotted with summer vegetables and a mountain of herbs.
Left: Fricassee of chicken; Right: Summer Vegetable Tartlet
Old School Vibe
Like the Parisian institutions that inspired it, securing one of the comfortable booths – part of a fitout by Melbourne-based design firm Anthology, who, Pickett says, have designed the space, “to have that grungy, old-school, back streets of Paris bistro-feel, like it’s been there forever” – is as appealing a proposition at brunch as it is late at night.
“This will be the kind of place you could drop in once or twice a week, the kind of place that transitions throughout the day and runs from 11 to midnight,” Pickett explains.
It’s a malleable approach equally reflected in the broad drinks list drawn together by Clint Fox, Beverage Director for the Scott Pickett Group, pitching boutique beers, natural, biodynamic, and new world wines, and classic cocktails.
This may be a more playful, relaxed approach than diners expect from Pickett, but he concedes that seeing the future of the hospitality industry threatened by months of forced closures afforded him the opportunity to reflect on his roots and rediscover his love for the dishes he first learned to cook.
“There are no rules anymore,” Pickett says. “Covid made me question what we do and how we do it. There’s more freedom now to not feel pigeon-holed into just doing what we have done before, which has always been top-end dining. Not that this can’t be a great experience with great food, but it can be accessible, and it can be fun.”
Left: Whole Flounder Recipe; Right: Leek Vinaigrette Recipe
He adds that while 18 months of sudden, extended lockdowns have proven challenging, the current mood among diners and within the industry is enthusiastic and optimistic. “Everybody’s just champing at the bit to get out of the house and to have that human contact.”
Smith St Bistro’s unveiling caps off a busy late-2021 for Pickett. As well as preparing for the re-opening of The Continental Hotel in Sorrento after a $100+ million makeover, he now appears as co-host of Chanel Nine’s new cooking show, Snackmasters, alongside Poh Ling Yeow. But, he says, despite the effort required in running multiple venues, there’s still one place he feels most at home.
“Fundamentally I’m a cook. I happen to have a few restaurants, but I love being in the kitchen. I love to please people by cooking wonderful, seasonal, tasty food.”