Saint Urban

Saint Urban is casual and comfortable.
Saint Urban is casual and comfortable. Photo: Simon Schluter

213 Swan St Richmond, VIC 3121

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Permanently Closed

Sometimes you can build a case for a venue on the back of a single snack. At Saint Urban it's the chicharron. Launching a facial assault on the Mex-inspired puffed-up pork skin clouds is like punching through a ball pit of bubble wrap. They're braised then dehydrated before being fried, resulting in maximal crunch. The chilli-salt-lime balance is just right.

It's not a big thing. It's a very little thing, in fact. But this is the kind of casual, comfortable venue where it's the little things that count the most.

This is the new wine bistro by the team behind 20-year-old veteran Punch Lane, and you can see the resemblance. They're doing the same breed of easy bistro food with really familiar service. Progressive looks aside – and it's a good look, all raw concrete walls and an arching deco bar – Saint Urban is the culinary equivalent of a really comfy couch.

Bavette steak served with charred onion, watercress and harissa.
Bavette steak served with charred onion, watercress and harissa. Photo: Simon Schluter

Saint Urban ticks the "Tuesday restaurant" box. It's a thing – the place that doesn't stretch you, where you might even go in stretchy pants. It's a locals bar with a local attitude where everyone is gently chided for walking through the wrong door, even though it's the one at the front (the actual entrance is in the side alley), and nobody minds. The effect of being mum-scolded then immediately offered wine is pretty appealing.

Take a seat outside where there's the added thrill of naked flames. They flicker up between the leather padded benches from one of those faux fires people in Toorak love. Inside you'll want to aim for the bar, lined with custom blue-green tiles, jutting out into the room like the control deck with a wrought iron halo hanging above.

Specials like an $88 T-bone for two are chalked on the wall. The rest of the menu is Med-flavoured, with snacks giving way to things from the grill. Sheep's milk haloumi is golden and slightly funky, with a juicy charred cheek of lemon and little fig jam. If you're still dipping your toe into the ox tongue realm, the casual presentation of thick grill-marked slabs mightn't win you over. The actual flavour might – charry, soft and silverside-like with candy-sweet mustard fruits.

Thick slabs of grilled ox tongue.
Thick slabs of grilled ox tongue. Photo: Simon Schluter

There's the occasional tendency to overdress. Beef carpaccio dressed with pickled baby trumpet mushrooms and fresh watercress is railroaded by truffle oil. Is the synthetic flavouring ever anything but a drunk gatecrasher, talking too loud and wearing too much cologne? 

Elsewhere on the menu is a crisp-skinned fillet of barramundi, nicely cooked, girt by a vinegary salsa of fennel, chorizo and rhubarb. There's a med-rare steak served with grilled onions and harissa. Cutting edge? Not really. And that's OK. Trend-chasing has never been owner Martin Pirc's​ game. 

The wine list is just as firmly subscribed to the school of easy drinking. There's nothing too hard to recognise, pronounce or drink. The Dominique Piron​ beaujolais is basically a fruit cup, as is the raisiny Flaxman Drone grenache-mataro-shiraz blend. The '13 Pelaquie is probably the ballsiest thing we drink – all apricots with sweet miso funk.

Saint Urban is not the new culinary apex of Richmond, but you can see exactly how it fits into the increasingly tasty landscape.

For anyone who's failed to notice, this once thriving retail destination has had a fair few boards on windows of late. Those are slowly coming down. You want bold and innovative? There's Mister Jennings and Anchovy for that. You want cult? Gelato Messina and Belle's Hot Chicken 2.0 are moving in. You want to listen to Michael Jackson and big band salsa in one of the prettiest rooms on the block? This is the place.

THE LOWDOWN
Pro tip Uh, head to the side alley unless you want a telling off for coming through the front.
Go-to dish Those puffy pork skin crackers will get you, every time ($7).
Like this? Big sister Punch Lane has been doling out the old school service and snacks for 20 years at 43 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne.

How we score
Of 20 points, 10 are awarded for food, five for service, three for ambience, two for wow factor. 
12 Reasonable 13 Solid and satisfactory 14 Good 15 Very good 16 Seriously good 17 Great 18 Excellent 19 Outstanding 20 The best of the best