Royal Saxon Richmond is ostensibly a gastropub, and when you walk through the establishment it’s all very textbook. Sleek lines, a bit of exposed brick here and there and metal finishing – not quite rustic, not quite industrial. The spot is popular with the after work crowd and on a Friday night it’s pumping with creatives from nearby businesses and suits returning home after a long day’s work. It’s the kind of place you could find in any middle/upper class suburb in Melbourne.
We were invited to sample a range of dishes from Royal Saxon’s new winter menu, and accepted the offer, keen to find the answer to what a place like Royal Saxon, which appears quite generic at first glance, does to stand out from the crowd.
For starters, food is not an afterthought here. Head Chef Simone Righetto’s menu is influenced by his home town of Veneto on Italy’s north east coast. He “prides himself on paying a certain respect to the classic recipes with which he works but also branding them as his own with a contemporary twist”. Seasonality and freshness of ingredient is important, and the menu changes every 3 months to reflect the changing seasons. Ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible.
The menu itself is a combination of traditional and modern Italian cooking – yes there are pizzas on the menu, but move past that section of the page and onto the rest of the menu and things get interesting. The winter menu, as would be expected, is a more rustic, heartier affair than the other seasons, with some light options to balance out the flavours, and some interesting twists along the way.
The cocktail menu and wine list is also quite impressive, with cocktails that combine traditional Italian ingredients with modern elements gracing the pages of the list, and wines that capture varied styles from across the world.
Antipasto of Olives & Prosciutto Wrapped Bread Sticks
To start we were brought this simple antipasto dish which contained red, black and green olives marinated on site along with prosciutto wrapped bread sticks. Simple and tasty.
Baked Haloumi Wraps
The baked haloumi was wrapped in filo pastry with artichokes and mint, roasted tomatoes and bottarga. This was one of the evening’s highlights, and had a complexity of flavour and texture that really highlighted the individual ingredients. Lauren, who doesn’t normally like haloumi, even commented on how much she enjoyed this dish – the balance of flavours was just right.
The pork croquettes were very dense and surprisingly lean yet moist. Combined with the buffalo mozzarella, each mouthful had a nicely contrasting texture to it. Soft, crispy and very melt in your mouth. The bed of du puy lentils, guanciale and aged balsamic vinegar that the croquettes and mozzarella were lying on were very tasty, with just the right level of acidity. They didn’t add anything to the croquettes and mozzarella when eaten together, but worked well on their own.
Risotto with Blue Swimmer Crab, Saffron & Stinging Nettle
The risotto was on of Lauren’s highlights, and I quite enjoyed it to. It was creamy with a sweetness that really came through from the blue swimmer crab. It was quite light for a risotto, and the saffron and stinging nettle provided a unique fragrant element. The only criticism of the risotto was that the rice was a touch too al dente.
Pumpkin & Amaretti Ravioli with Burnt Butter, Sage & Grana Padano
The ravioli was one of my highlights (Lauren couldn’t try it as it contained nuts). The pasta was cooked perfectly and the sweetness of the pumpkin combined with the nutty sweetness of the burnt butter to create a velvety delight. The sage and Grana Padano served to cut through some of the sweet, rich element of the dish and it all came together really well.
Potato Gnocchi With Veal Ragu, Porcini, Pine Mushroom & Pecorino
This dish shouted out winter from the rooftops. It was the kind of dish that you’d expect a nona to make – simple, rustic and comforting.
Snapper ‘al Cartoccio” with Rainbow Chard, White Wine & Sicilian Anchovies
We both agreed that the snapper and accompanying salads were the lowlight of the night. The snapper was oven baked in paper and was perfectly nice, but after some of the amazing dishes that we had eaten earlier in the night, there was nothing that made it stand out. The ancient grain and bean salad with roasted pumpkin, caprino, pomegranate and currants didn’t really hit the mark – we both felt that it was missing something and in fact it was. Because of Lauren’s nut allergy the toasted almonds that usually form part of this salad were omitted. Even so, we’re not sure that the inclusion of almonds would have elevated the dish.
I was a big fan of second salad – a simple dish of rocket with shaved fennel, grapes and vincotto that had a good balance of sweet and sour flavours. Lauren thought it was a bit tired.
Moving onto desserts (and the discovery of a nook that had much more sympathetic lighting for photography!) and we were both really impressed. Bomboloni are a traditional Italian doughnut that has a more “bready” texture than regular doughnuts. The one we tried was filled with lemon curd and was delicious. The pastry was light and not at all oily and the tart lemon curd had a nice subtlety about it and wasn’t overly sweet.
Peanut Butter Ganache, Banana Bread & Yoghurt Sorbet
I really enjoyed this dessert and, like the doughnut, it was lighter than I anticipated. The banana bread was dense and moist and the peanut butter was neither too oily nor too salty. the nuts added some much needed texture to the dish. The yoghurt sorbet was very tasty, and worked better as a fresh palate cleanser after the banana bread had been eaten. It worked well combined, but separately it was even better.
We couldn’t leave without trying some of the house made limoncello. You could tell that this was house made as it really packed a punch. We can’t remember what the exact percentage of alcohol was in this limoncello, but we remember being surprised when told how high it was.
So back to our original question. What does a place like Royal Saxon, which appears quite generic at first glance, do to stand out from the crowd? In this case, the answer is quite simple. Hire a chef who is clearly passionate about what he does, and give him the freedom and flexibility to make food that allows him to embrace this passion. Don’t skimp on quality ingredients, and voilà. The pizzas at Royal Saxon might tempt you, but trust us, take a look at the rest of the menu if you want to try food that’s a lot better than you were probably expecting.
545 Church Street
Mon – Thu: 12:00pm to 12:00am
Fri – Sat: 12:00pm to 1:00am
Sun: 12:00pm to 11:00pm