Hidden in the lakeside suburb of Valentine is a small shopping strip. It’s got all the usual suspects: a takeaway, a post office, a pharmacy, a newsagency and so on. But it also has Star Anise – a cosy little bistro serving up surprisingly good food.
Formerly Graze, new owners Victoria and Rowell Davidson took over the small space in October last year. They renamed it, renovated it and re-did the menu.
What’s resulted is a lovely neighbourhood venue, perfect for intimate dinners, dates or for catch-ups with friends and family. I counted only 24 seats inside, with a few more outside. There are lots of twinkle lights on the roof, their tiny glows reflecting off the menu as your read through the options. The kitchen is open, but the bulk of the noise was coming from the tables of diners – laughing, chatting and scooping up their food. The atmosphere is convivial and relaxed.
We are placed at a little table for two in the corner. The rest of the room looks to be filled with regulars; they make comments about what they ate last time and how they should try something different. Loyal, repeat customers give Star Anise a lot of love.
The menu is flexible, and there are changes and specials every week, although favourites feature as the kitchen learns what the diners love.
There are tapas and share plates, with entrees, mains and desserts if you prefer a more structured approach.
We begin with garlic prawns and chargrilled quail. I have to admit, I was expecting a sizzling bowling club offering when it came to the prawns. What arrived was a carefully placed pile of crustaceans, packed with flavour and pretty in presentation. Four big prawns are drizzled with a restrained cream and white wine dressing that doesn't smother the seafood. Acidic tomatoes, sweet onion and crunchy shallots make this an ideal entree that leaves the palate pleased.
The quail is moist and tender with a crispy skin. Sweet bright pumpkin purée and parmesan-crusted green beans add some colour and freshness to the dish. It’s simple – just three elements – and they are all that is needed.
The wine list has a local focus with the majority coming from the Tempus Two catalogue. There are also a few beers.
Five mains are on offer this evening – prawns, grilled kingfish, pork cutlet, lamb ragout fettuccine and beef bourguignon. There’s a hint of coolness in the air, and we’re enjoying a bottle of shiraz, so beef and lamb seem the best choices.
The rich beef bourguignon has tender, fall apart fatty beef and is served with great creamy mash, green beans, dutch carrots, roast beetroot and the unctuous gravy of the stew. The portion is restrained to balance the heartiness of the dish.
A bowl of lamb ragout fettuccine is sweet and rich and tomatoey. Shavings of Grana Padano melts into the hot pasta and sauce and every swirl of the fork scoops up an al dente bite of starchy yum.
After two courses, dessert must be shared. A goats curd cheesecake is surprisingly light. It comes with caramelised figs and a beetroot reduction which adds a savoury element, taking away the risk of too much sweetness. The poppy seed short bread crust is lovely and crumbly and the figs are a little charred from blow torching, adding a smokiness that works. It’s perfect for that end-of-meal indulgence.
Service here is eager, a little too much sometimes, but that’s much better than being ignored.
The kitchen at Star Anise is surprisingly clever. While they are still finding their feet, locals are lucky to have this team delivering a lovely dining experience.
- What: Star Anise
- Where: 3/28 Allambee Pl, Valentine. 4942 8331
- Hours: Wed 8am-3pm; Thurs-Sat 8am-9pm; Sunday 8am-12pm.
- Owners: Victoria and Rowell Davidson
- Head chef: Rowell Davidson
- Drinks: Tempus Two wines, $8-10 glass, $32-45 bottle. BYO wine, corkage $10 per bottle.
- Vegetarian: A couple of share plates, but check with kitchen for options.
- Wheelchair: Easy access.
- Bottom line: Entrees $12-14; mains $27-30, desserts $12.
- Do try: The garlic prawns and leave room for dessert.