Captain Baxter

Captain Baxter's snapper in banana leaf.
Captain Baxter's snapper in banana leaf. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Upstairs, 10-18 Jacka Boulevard St Kilda, VIC 3182

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03) 8534 8999
Opening hours Thurs, 5pm-late; Fri to Sun, noon-late
Features Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Danielle Rensonnet, Shaun Clancy
Payments AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, Diner's Club, eftpos

Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)

The spot that used to be vegetarian canteen Soulmama is now Captain Baxter, a huge, handsome, beachfront hang-out for drinking and eating. The dining area and deck offer 180 degrees of bay vista - it is tempting to say the view never gets old, except that it kind of does when the sun sets on to your dinner plate and turns the room into a glary hot box. Window shades may be expensive but they are crucial.

DJs and a bright, shiny bar crowd can make this a noisy place, but the mood is happy rather than raucous. Many drinks have a St Kilda theme, linking to the historical Captain Baxter, who helmed a convict ship and was granted St Kilda's first grazing lease in 1839. The Monk of Kilda, a cider cocktail served over crushed ice, is a refreshing knockout. If your gang can agree on a fancy tipple, some cocktails come in jugs, too.

Everything is ship-shape at Captain Baxter.
Everything is ship-shape at Captain Baxter. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The large kitchen points to a serious food angle that pushes beyond the oysters, prawns and pork rolls available in the bar. Chefs Danielle Rensonnet and Shaun Clancy are just back from three years in Spain and there are definite Mediterranean leanings in their menu of big flavours and bright colours. Among the small plates, the cuttlefish is a cracker, the subtle shaved seafood contrasted by chunks of sobrasada, a looser version of chorizo. Just as tasty is a poached veal dish with peas and anchovy relish. Quail - a little too pink - is served with a seductive dressing of almond cream and fat raisins. Larger dishes include red-curried snapper fillet grilled in a banana leaf to keep the fish moist.

Sides are good: the salt-roasted potatoes come with a spicy duo of sauces, and a grain salad is tossed with mulberries and lively hazelnut dukkah.

Desserts are oddly unseasonal - apples and pears while the markets are full of stone fruit and berries - but there are no complaints about a layered rhubarb panna cotta, which is all saucy jiggle.

Good glassware, cutlery and textured crockery add to the experience. Waiters in preppy uniforms are amenable and reasonably well drilled, though it's a shame they can't reach to the back of the deep horseshoe booth tables. Nevertheless, this is a fun place in a great spot with fine food, so I'm happy to say ''aye aye'' to Captain Baxter.

ALSO TRY

Stokehouse Cafe, 30 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, 9525 5445. Tues to Fri, lunch and dinner; Sat to Mon, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Downstairs at the Stokehouse is now an easygoing indoor-outdoor grill and bar with pizza, burgers, chilli dogs and music every Sunday from 4pm.

True South, 298 Beach Road, Black Rock, 1300 878 360. Tues to Sun, lunch and dinner.

There's no beach view but the Argentinian food and craft beer is drawcard enough. Try the crispy prawns with almond salt.

The Rocks, 1 Schnapper Point Drive, Mornington, 5973 5599. Daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Freshly shucked oysters, local steamed mussels and battered bay flathead are among the dishes you can eat on the deck or in the dining room with water views.

captainbaxter.com.au