30 Jacka Boulevard Saint Kilda, Victoria 318203 9525 5445
|Opening hours||Tuesday-Friday noon-midnight; weekends 8.30am-midnight.|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Bar, Licensed, Views|
WHERE AND WHAT
Does it really need an introduction? Stokehouse is the bayside playground's favourite fuel stop, where sunny days bring half of Melbourne to clamour for a seat. Stokehouse's upstairs/downstairs apartheid has been addressed, with the ground-floor cafe given a makeover to pull it into line as the affordable little sibling of the fine diner above. It's chic, it's frenetic, and it's one of the best spots for people watching. Just don't forget the sunnies and don't get queue rage - there are no bookings for tables for fewer than eight.
WHERE TO SIT
The Cape Cod-style weatherboard is a familiar icon on Jacka Boulevard, near Luna Park, and removed from St Kilda beach only by a relentless procession of dog walkers, roller bladers and joggers. The downstairs fitout has been done in the inimitable style of owners Frank and Sharon van Haandel, incorporating buttery tan leather banquettes, a terrazzo floor, a great bar and lots of glass through which to take in the views.
The cafe menu has a broad ambit of Continental-style snacks and solid ''main plates'', some of them from the schmancy Josper charcoal oven. Start at breakfast (weekends only) and make a beeline for the hotcakes with passionfruit curd and fresh fruit for guilt and virtue combined. The all-day dining menu kicks off in familiar territory with salted cod fritters and lemon aioli, a pork belly slider (this one's done with slaw and onion jam) and a nicely cooked ''pizette'' with sausage and peppers, provolone and olives. Ocean trout is a bright young thing, its attributes enhanced by avocado, lemon and horseradish; the Josper does a fine line in ''smoke-roasted'' steak, with a half-kilo of grain-fed ribeye that's best shared. Don't let the service - which can be distracted, slow and, occasionally, a little bit attitudinal - get you down.
Vodka, lime and bitters slushee? Stokehouse knows its audience; the mushy iced alcoholic beverage features prominently on its list. Not a fan? How about a ''Sex on St Kilda beach'' cocktail? Alcoholic levity aside, Stokehouse Cafe drinks from the same well as the restaurant - certainly not so flashy, but if you cannot find something that appeals, you clearly aren't trying hard enough.
Shiny, happy families and glamour couples.
The sun's shining, the beach beckons.