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Special Report 2
St. Kilda - What does she mean to you? By Sandra Brown
The first time I heard her Siren Song.
It was way back in the late 1950's I first heard the whisper of her Siren Song. A teenager living with my family in Brighton and having just finished school, St. Kilda was something of a Mecca for me and my friends. The post war Italian immigration to Australia which had begun to transform the food and culture of St. Kilda, had yet to reach Anglo Saxon Brighton. Leo's Spaghetti Bar, situated on the South side of Fitzroy Street, a little further towards the beach than the St. Kilda Lawn Bowling Club became, at that time, "the centre of my universe".
Each time I entered its portal, I felt instantly transformed into the sophisticated young woman I longed to be, and all it took to bring about this state of being was to order and eat a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognaise. So utterly avant-garde. So daring, soooooo Italian. If I closed my ears to the Australian accent around me, and managed to give an Italianish inflection to the dish I was ordering, I could imagine myself a cultured Latino. Ah, such audacity as I sashayed my way out onto the pavement, complete with the finishing touch, a gelato in hand. I might as well have been, in my mind, approaching the Spanish Steps if, indeed, I had known that that iconic location even existed.
I remember, too, around this time when I was a newly licensed driver making my first daring navigation through St. Kilda junction with a girlfriend on board to bolster my courage, just as I had accompanied her on her baptismal traverse through this notorious traffic mayhem. With its multiple major roads feeding into and through the intersection it was a challenge. Yes, there were fewer vehicles but it was not a controlled intersection at that time. We emerged on the opposite side intact and with greater confidence.
The Second time she called me.
Some twenty years later, with deeper pockets and more sophisticated tastes, saw me respond to her Siren Song yet again, when seriously good restaurants were established in St. Kilda, one by Swiss Chef, Jean Jacques Lale-Demoz and the other by Italian, Leon Massoni.
Jean Jacques shifted his highly acclaimed “namesake” seafood restaurant in North Melbourne to the St. Kilda beachfront in 1985. The space was previously occupied by a derelict bathing pavilion, which he transformed into a very sophisticated establishment situated on the beachfront immediately behind the sandy beach, allowing you to
gaze across the sand to the sea beyond whilst dining on
his very fine food, only the best available fresh seafood and shellfish with his inspired preparation and presentation.
His Father had earlier cemented the family’s name and reputation for fine Italian cuisine when he purchased Café Denat at 82 Bourke Street, Melbourne in 1928 and changed the name to Café Florentino and the style to Italian. The restaurant was hugely successful and by the end of the 1930’s was enjoying an international reputation.
His North Melbourne
restaurant had already been
Melbourne’s most highly
restaurant, being voted
three times by readers of
“The Bulletin” as Australia’s
best seafood restaurant, which led to the good burghers south of the Yarra eagerly patronising his new version of “Jean Jacques”, by the sea.
Leon Massoni, son of Rinaldo Massoni, established the other fine restaurant in Fitzroy Street, on the site of the former Tolarno Restaurant and Gallery, “Ristorante Massoni”.