Claypots Seafood – St Kilda
May 25 2010
I need to preface this blog post by saying, categorically, I am not a St Kilda girl. There’s something about this bayside hub that has always deterred me – except for the occasional summertime trip to Clamms or a gig at the Palais. It may have something to do with feeling like I could get mugged at any time, or that I’ll end up paying for parking. Or both. At the same time.
I do love how a plate of shellfish, so visually impressive it elicited a ‘Phwoar!’ from a neighbouring diner, could possible change all this …Claypots Seafood (St Kilda)
213 Barkly St, St Kilda VIC
My search for great seafood is over – and I didn’t have to frock up and fork out for Pearl’s excellent mud crab feast to taste it. Instead, I donned my heels and walked through the streets of St Kilda, in search of an informal but ultra-delicious Melbourne seafood experience for a family birthday celebration.
I wasn’t sure if Claypots was the best place for a birthday dinner: bookings are not accepted and close off-street parking is hard to come by but, knowing my Dad’s love of seafood, metered parking in a back alley would be fine so long as there was food and we had a table on which to eat. Just to be sure, Tubbymaster and I did a recon mission the Saturday night before the birthday extravaganza. At 6 pm, we found the bar pumping and the neighbouring restaurant semi-full.
Forget about flowing light fixtures, pretty wallpaper or funky chairs, Claypots’ food is very much the star of the show. Individual menus are not handed out; instead, the blackboards contain all the information you need to know. On one blackboard, you’ll find a selection of claypots ($20), with flavourings such as Malay, Kerala and Moroccan. On another blackboard, you’ll find ‘fish to share’: a line-up of seafood that all started to look similar the further I scanned down the list. As I stared blankly at the blackboard, unsure if I wanted a grilled or roasted piece of fish, whether that fish should be snapper or barramundi, or indeed if two servings of fish was too much, Tubbymaster mercifully suggested the shellfish stirfry, which the waitress said would comfortably feed both of us. (It also comfortably fed the man sitting at the table behind us, all alone in a world of seafood bliss.)
It was soon obvious that Tubbymaster had chosen well. The seafood was deliciously tangled and enterwined, just waiting to be picked apart – a drool-worthy mountain of crabs, prawns, mussels and yabbies piled atop of a bed of rice. I ripped open a plump prawn to begin the first stanza of an eating frenzy that resembled the Looney Tunes Tassie Devil character in both form and speed. It was all so fresh, enhanced by notes of lemongrass, coriander and ginger that beautifully soaked the rice and left me scouring the plate for every last edible morsel. Phwoar, indeed!
The downside: Our eating frenzy took place in the front section of the restaurant, which, unbeknownst to us, was smack bang on a well-beaten path to the kitchen and the back of the restaurant. The waitress placed a bowl for shells on the floor beside us – a large white bowl with a sheen so incredible it seemed to attract every person who walked through the door as they searched for service and a table of their own. Tubbymaster and I were fully sick and lost in a heady mix of crustacean love, but next time we’ll try not to sit at that high-traffic table for two.
Highlights of the family feast
The service: I had seen reviews that described Claypots as having excellent food but sub-standard service. On both occasions, the service was excellent and the food came out quicker than I expected. As I sat down by the window for the Birthday Extravaganza, the table for six was soon set for eight, and our waitress was offering suggestions about what was good to eat. We took her up on a couple of suggestions: the garlic king prawns, the crispy skin silver dory and the Cajun flathead. We then asked about the claypots, one of which would apparently give us a small portion each. Knowing this, we chose two: the Malay and Kerala. I felt very well looked after.
Garlic king prawns: Such a great way to start the meal. We ordered one each, but I could easily have devoured the bowl. They were deliciously garlic-y and pleasantly accompanied with bread for which to soak up those garlic-y, oily juices. The bread also padded out the solo prawn, of which my only complaint was the vein – and this was easily removed.
Cajun flathead: As good as the prawns were, the Cajun flathead was probably the best thing we ate that night – visually less impressive than the crispy skin silver dory, but slightly tastier, accompanied with greens and potatoes. It was packed with flavour, kind of smoky, and falling-off-the-bone fresh. The dory was hardly shabby – it was the first fish dish I tasted that night, the best I’d eaten in quite some time. We probably didn’t need the claypots, but they were a great contrast against the fish and rounded out the meal very nicely.
NOTE: The Claypots sign is positioned outside the bar, not the restaurant. The restaurant is next door to the bar, in the direction of Acland St. This confused my brother, who actually found a parking spot right outside – and no, he didn’t get mugged.