For a few months now, St Jude's Cellars have been running a vegetarian set menu on Tuesdays, with meaty supplements available at extra cost. In fact, the current menu boldly claims to be "entirely gluten free and vegan".
It was a little odd, then, to receive bread and butter as a precursor to the meal proper (even if they were very tasty).
The menu began with roast celeriac and Japanese pumpkin soup served in espresso cups, garnished with truffle oil and celery cress - though they probably supplied the most volume, the root veges were mere supports to the pungent oil.
As an entrée, we ate crunchy black quinoa, Spanish mushrooms, marinated enoki mushrooms and basil. They're a trusty combination for vegos, and I particularly enjoyed the few mouthfuls that had an extra jolt of salt.
The pearl barley risotto main was a gluten-free fail. Greens, walnuts and pomegranate work well together but the stock was weak and I found myself adding lots of extra salt at the table.
The optional side of nashi pear, radishes and red onion was lovely, and would have contrasted nicely with a richer risotto.
Props to the St Jude's team for bypassing the vegan dessert stereotype of fruit sorbet and giving dairy-free cheesecake a go! Unfortunately it was way too soy heavy for me, and the fruit-and-nut base lacked crunch. (Psst - Choc Ripple biscuits are vegan.) The garnishing mandarin compote and quince puree were the stuff of a high end dessert, though.
I really liked St Jude's fit-out - roomy and stylish with casual details like visible storage and paste-up art. Unfortunately the high ceilings and smooth surfaces meant that it was loud and echo-y, even when only half full. The service seemed half-hearted to match.
It's really great to see mainstream contemporary venues like St Jude's celebrating vegetarianism, and loudly - these vegetarian Tuesdays have been trumpeted in at least four Age articles. I'm not convinced that they're delivering on all they promise, though. The produce was nice, but the preparation was inconsistent and the protein was sparse. I doubt it'd convert any carnivores. And while I finished full enough, I know a few vegans who'd be sneaking a few doors down to Lord of the Fries afterwards for a top up.
That they didn't keep their vegan/gluten-free promises is also irksome. The staff did check up on special dietary requirements at the table and admit their error with the risotto before the meal began. There seems a good chance that they'd correctly address issues, but assess the risks according to your needs.
We haven't yet seen any other blog reviews of St Jude's vegetarian Tuesdays! In fact the only veg review we've spotted at all is a positive one from The Chronicles of a Dirty Flamingo in the Kitchen back in 2008.
Otherwise there've been many positive reviews, see Sharking for chips and drinks..., BarAmigo, This Food Guy, Sarah Cooks (sponsored), I Eat Therefore I Am (sponsored), MEL: HOT OR NOT (sponsored), The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, The moving beast, Eat Almost Anything, Mr Sparrow, The Jess Ho, "... it pleases us", Ronnie's Spots, Cooked and Bottled in Brunswick, Fitzroyalty, Fill Up On Bread and melbourne gastronome. Accounts are more mixed (though often generally positive) on Mouth to Mouth, Petit Miamx, Kit's Cucina Culinaria, kate eats melbourne, 1001 Dinners 1001 Nights, I'm so hungree, I Eat Therefore I Am, Sarah Cooks and Tomato. Diners were not at all impressed on food.loves.my.mouth, tabeats, Mighty Sword and Absolutely Famished.
St Jude's Cellars
389 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
3 veg courses $35, 4 veg courses $42, supplementary side $6
Accessibility: St Jude's has a flat entry and a fair amount of space around its tables, some of which are standard height and others of which are bar height with stools. There's full table service. Toilets are gendered and look moderately accessible.