Published on 11 October 2021
Maria Kabal's new menu is exuberant, delicious and loaded with flavour – and that's just her sausage and egg muffins.
Maria Kabal joined the kitchen at Clifton Hill backstreet favourite Spensley’s back in March, bringing with her a love of flavour she honed in her time cooking at Añada, and in London and her native Estonia before that. That flavour-forward approach sits well with the philosophy of Spensley’s owners, Willow Humphreys and Vaughan "Spock" Kelly, and together they’ve piloted the ship through the challenging tides of 2021, always keeping deliciousness and good neighbourhood vibes as their guiding star.
"Our menu comprises of snacks and small plates with only three main courses," says chef Maria Kabal. "A fresh pasta, whole fish and a meat dish, as well as a daily dessert. We pride ourselves in serving the not-so-typical wine bar food. We do however always go hard on oysters, both natural and cooked. Mixing different proteins is my thing; what can I say, I love me my surf and turf. We aim to keep the menu ever-changing and affordable to encourage people to come past several times a week to try something new."
Here’s some of Kabal’s picks for reopening.
How about a drink?
We mix our house Negroni with Darling Distillery gin made 10 metres from our front door – a must. Simple, classic and a Spensley’s staple. We are still a wine bar and our co-owner, Willow, is passionate about sourcing wines from small and interesting winemakers, so our glass offerings change daily to keep it interesting and exciting for the locals. Personally, we love to recommend big whites and light reds; they suit our food well.
I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Order everything from the snack menu: mussel pâté with fermented potato focaccia and what we like to call "poor man’s Éspelette" (also known as dehydrated hot-sauce powder); a fried oyster with ’nduja wrapped in a nasturtium leaf; chicken-skin tacos with cured snapper, horseradish crème fraîche and coriander cress; O'Connor steak tartare served on a glazed marrow bone with cod roe served with puffed tendon for all you scooping needs, or what we like to call the DIY kebab – grilled ox tongue skewer served with whipped anchovy and a fresh salad that you can stuff into a grilled pita pocket.
Got anything light and fresh?
Our grilled squid noodles with mixed mushrooms and spring onion served in a clear, light broth made with smoked ham hocks. Or the whole pan-fried flounder, or John Dory with sauce Grenobloise and purslane, or a simple salad with mixed greens, radicchio with walnut tarator, passionfruit vinaigrette and a good handful of chives.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
I’m not going to lie, as a lover of offal, vegetables are not my main focus. But we always keep a fair few tasty vegetarian dishes on the menu. My favourites are whole globe artichokes with a generous dollop of sauce gribiche in the middle for dipping the outer leaves in, coal-grilled leeks in a Taleggio cream with pickled wakame and hazelnuts, or the roast baby eggplant with cashew cream and fresh honeycomb.
Name the dish that is quintessentially Spensley's right now.
Our house-made morcilla English muffin with a shiso relish and egg yolk. It’s cute, indulgent and has become a cult favourite. Squish the egg yolk and let it drip down the sides of your hands. Definitely a one-person snack.
Let’s go big, Lets go crazy. What have you got for me?
In this case I’d recommend going for the tasting menu; we love catering for adventurous diners, with maybe a couple of add-ons such as the morcilla muffin (because it really is a must) and some oysters to start.
Also, crack a magnum! At the moment Arpepe Rosso Di Valtellina nebbiolo is a team favourite, as is the biodynamic Laherte Frères Champagne.
And to close?
We keep it simple here. Three to four of our favourite cheeses from around the world with condiments (we love Spanish and French), and one daily sweet to top you off. A rhubarb and cream sorbet with sake granita and fig leaf oil, perhaps, or jasmine rice ice -cream with house-made amazake and davidson plum. There is always a dessert wine to match, and Amaro Montenegro is also a Spensley’s staple. Why stop at one?
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