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Firechief

21 Jun

After a what felt like a very long departure from pre-baby (i.e my ‘normal’)life, the new mama finally ventured out into the world, celebrating her first night off with the girls (J, Z and L)at local eatery Firechief – the freshly baked ‘bun’ stayed home with dad.

Fried Calamari

Having perused the extensive pizza menu – pizzas are served in three styles: authentic naples style, modern artisan ‘hand styles’ and the Australian family pizza (think flavours like the Aussie and Meatlovers) – we were all pretty excited to give this new pizzeria a go.  There is also a good list of non-pizza things to choose from including a few pastas which unfortunately we didn’t get to sample, given the pasta-phobe amongst us.

To start we chose the calamari which comes fried in a light batter and served with a  tzatziki style dip.  Simple and fresh, it was the perfect appetizer ahead of the main event – the pizzas (oh and a side of tomato salad for good measure – light and fresh to balance the carb fest we were about to begin)

Naples Style Margherita

Artisan Funghi

We opted for a Naples style Margherita, artisan hand style Funghi and Calabrese.  The Margherita was my personal favourite – the balance of the sweet and slightly tart tomatoes in the napoli sauce base and the creaminess of the buffalo mozzarella was a wonderful combination topped with fresh basil.

Artisan Calabrese

The Funghi and Calabrese were tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary.  The artisan hand style pizzas had a thicker base, which we found to be a bit too doughy – not great if you want to take your time and pick at the pizza because you then end up with one big gooey, chewy mess.  The Naples style was much better.

Leatherwood Honey Pannacotta

Although feeling absolutely stuffed after our carb loaded feast, we all suddenly found new stomachs for dessert.  We ordered three to share (if you ask my DDO counterpart Pannacotta doesn’t count as a dessert…read on and you’ll find why I’m right).

Orange Torta

Deconstructed Tiramisu

We chose the Leatherwood honey pannacotta, Orange Torta and the dessert special which looked like a deconstructed tiramisu.  The pannacotta was light in flavour – in fact it tasted a little like leather, so wouldn’t recommend it.  The Orange Torta was lovely, served with some cream – it was fresh and not too sweet, and the right sort of slightly moist (sorry J I can’t think of another word to describe it) and crumbly texture.  The deconstructed tiramisu was surprisingly good – served in a glass, it reminded me of trifle, except this one was a mix of chocolatey, coffee and alcoholic goodness.

All in all, a great night was had.  Whilst the pizza didn’t exactly blow my socks off, Firechief is certainly a good dining option for where it is, and next time I will try the pasta! (Plus its BYO AND big enough to fit a large pram!!!)

Firechief

169 Camberwell Rd
Hawthorn East VIC 3123

(03) 9831 1700

Lupino

10 Sep

Situated inconspicuously next to Bar Lourinha and opening with little fanfare, I was SUPER excited to discover that the restaurant I had walked past on the way to yoga (in the space previous known as Champagne Lounge) was a modern Italian bistro called Lupino.  The new offering from Becco’s Richard Lodge and chef Marco Lori, had me even before ‘hello’ – and it did not disappoint on the night that Z, J and I visited, the start of the long weekend farewell for J.

Courageously undeterred by the no-bookings policy (I believe they have changed this – you can book now) we sent Z to scope out the table situation and see if we could put our names down and were pleasantly surprised – not only did we put our names on the list, we could specify when we wanted to dine.  So after a quick Prosecco at Siglo Bar we found ourselves seated at Lupino in the centre of the restaurant looking into the bustling open kitchen.  The space is modern and fresh, big enough to give everyone enough personal space, but not too big so as to be completely vacuous.  The service is prompt, friendly, unpretentious.  So far so good.

We quickly decide on a few things to share plus a main each.  The menu is full of small delightful morsels to be shared, a few enticing pastas and a selection of seafood and meats for main.

To share we have the polpette wrapped in lemon leaves and the sformata with a chevre-spiked sauce.

Polpette with lemon

Sformata with chevre sauce

The polpette is infused with a lovely and surprisingly pungent lemony fragrance – we could have easily eaten a whole plate of those and been satisfied.  The sformata is light and airy and very appropriately cheesey! Very decadent, and a must for soft cheese lovers!

For mains we each order something different.

Continuing with the cheesey theme I opt for the gnocchi quattro formaggi.  I normally steer well clear of gnocchi and this was a total leap of faith.  It did not disappoint however – the gnocchi is light and that cheese sauce is perfect on a cold winters night.

Gnocchi quattro formaggi

Z opted for the lasagne – an oldie but a goodie.  The Lupino version is baked and served in a ceramic dish with layer upon layer of béchamel, perfect pasta and delicately minced meat.

Lasagna

The non-pasta eater of the group, J went for the slow cooked osso bucco which comes on a bed of polenta and a sprinkle of bacon and peas, all served on a neat wooden plate.  The meat falls off the bone effortlessly and the jus is lovely and meaty and rich.

Osso Bucco

Eggplant Parmagiana

We had also ordered a side of the eggplant parmigiana – with much trepidation on Z’s part given her recent horror experience with the dish at another establishment. Despite waiting a while for it to arrive (the waitress admitted the order had been lost, but was appropriately apologetic – and at least she was honest), we weren’t disappointed.  Thin slices of eggplant (though not too thin) came layered with oozey cheese and pomodoro sauce, and all baked to perfection.  The flavours of the eggplant, tomato and cheese melting perfectly in the mouth.  Win!

Having eyed off the dessert menu well before the mains even arrived, we quickly settle on a serve of the bombolone and the apple strudel.

Bombolone!

The bombolone are huge and smeared generously with Italian Nutella and served with a yoghurt ice cream.  They are delicious – the bombolone cooked to perfection and not too doughy – if not a bit large – let’s just say Z was kind of relieved that she didn’t insist on ordering one for herself (in Z’s books Nutella is not shared – get your own!).

Apple StrudelThe apple strudel is also fantastic – another one of those classic dishes that Lupino executes so well on.  A light and crisp pastry wrapped around REAL apples that have been stewed with large raisins, all served with a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Comfort food done to perfection.

And that is what Lupino is all about. Simple, good Italian food – a new favourite in town (even more so as they have now scrapped the no booking policy!).

Lupino

41 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)

(03) 9639 0333

carlton espresso

28 Jul

Carlton Espresso

It’s wine time, which means nothing other than the fact that it’s past 11am. While other friends might consider an afternoon catch up as being centered around coffee and cupcakes I have the pleasure of being part of a friendship that isn’t that gay or juvenile. The cupcake trend is over, believe it – unless you’ve got a good red velvet then I’m down. But even if I did have a red velvet cupcake, my partner in crime this afternoon would have insisted that I drink match it with liquor – the stronger the better. She knows how to party on a Wednesday afternoon.

Braving the horse shit weather and considering we are both in Carlton all signs point to Carlton Espresso on Lygon Street, which has been the scene of many afternoon wines and even more eye rolls. I guess in this instance it’s not that I don’t like Italians, it’s that the Italians (read: waiters) don’t like me and don’t even bother with the carrying out the most basic function of their job – to connect me quickly and painlessly with whatever I am ordering. Admittedly, the entire scenario would be different if I had the grace, charm and charisma (and lady parts) of Jade but I digress. We sit down, order the usual and at this point I am surprisingly only moderately pissed off at the awful one sided flirting going on by Andre, or is it Mario, or Leonardo or Gogetta Da Wino? This seems to be the case every time we pay Carlton a visit – I wait patiently for the flirting to end so I can discuss whatever critical bullshit it is that I feel the need to discuss. I know, the trials and tribulations of befriending a drinking buddy who is devastatingly captivating to petulant Italian waiters.

I’m not particularly sour in my day to day life, there is just something about an overly confident European that grinds my gears.

Well, what is there left to say? The wine comes out, I drink it, talk about women’s rights and porn and consider eating a complimentary olive but something tells me it’s laced with Rohypnol.

An evening at Gerald’s

13 May

After a Cold Wintery Day in Willamstown on location for work and with a car FULL of clothing – my car looked like a $2 sale day at SAVERS – I’d made it back into the city in good time for what would normally be knock offs (drinks) time.  Feeling more then slightly unhinged after a day in the cold on nothing but 2 coffees, Z’s suggestion for some wining and dining at Gerald’s Bar was as soothing as a hot water bottle on a freezing cold night.

We’d been meaning to try Gerald’s Bar for some time now – with it’s glorious reviews and award winning reputation.  Walking into Gerald’s with it’s exposed brick walls and long booze filled bar could be likened to feeling like a kid in a candy store.  You are instantly greeted by Gerald himself, who you can tell, has a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to make one tired, hungry and slightly on edge human feel instantly at ease in his cosy bar… “What will I be pouring you this evening?  Red or white?”.  Like music to my popsicled ears!!!

Luckily it was still rather early (we walked in at about 6.30-7pm) so we had no trouble getting a table in the middle of the homely bar.  Gerald’s offers a mix of Old and New World wines that are reasonably priced, as well as an amazing selection of quality booze and a range of antipasti meats/cheeses and share plates that are all cooked by Mr Gerald Diffey himself.

Wines by the glass

Shortly after our wines are served to us (I went for a mid range Le Grain whilst Z went for the Shiraz) we were presented with a menu, unpretentiously hand written onto butchers paper and hung behind the bar.  Everything sounded DELICIOUS from the Antipasti meats – freshly shaven proscuitto, salami, sopressa, chorizo, pancetta, salmon, wagyu bresaola ($10 each or $25 for a selection), to the cheese selection (changes seasonally).  Choosing was tough!  And I was ABSOLUTELY at the risk of over ordering – what with my famished stomach, and no grasp on quantity control…

Luckily though, Mr Diffey dispelled all indecisiveness and gave us a platter of mixed meats, accompanied by a cheese platter.  The mixed meat platter was a generous platter of freshly shaven slices of meat, like soft ribbons of salty bliss piled high on the large square plate.

It looked monstrous next to the petite little cheese platter, which had a brie, a blue and some sort of semi hard cheese served with some red seedless grapes.  But as the saying goes, ‘good things come in small packages’… or in this case, good cheese comes on small platters!! The portions were just enough, with anything more being a waste.

Mixed meat plate and cheese platter

The Meats were a mix of Salami, Pancetta, and Wagyu Bresaola and were served with think crusty bread.

Crusty bread and meats

To be honest with you, this alone had more than satisfied my appetite and considering I’d already gotten up to my second wine shortly after this was served, that famished belly was now but a distant memory… I was filling up fast!

The thing that’s also great about this unpretentious bar is the exceptional service.  At no point, despite the place filling with more winers and diners with every sip of my fast draining wine, are you left with an empty glass!! Diffey’s ability to juggle a room full of boozey people is second to none.  As the place continues to rapidly fill, so does my emptying wine glass!! The second I finished my wine, he was there, ready to pour me another!

As we plowed through the starters (i don’t think we managed to finish it all…) and our wines, it was time to clear space for our slightly bigger share plates.

Next off the menu was the pork sausage and braised ox tail!  (should probably have just titled this Saturday Meat Fest…)  The pork sausages were served on a small oval plate, and sliced (oh yes.. and the additional meat is what we were yet to finish from the Meat Platter…)

Pork Sausage

This sausage had a nice mild flavour to it.  Its subtle hints of chilli and pork, after eating so much cream and salt, was kind a nice break from all the salt overload.  The Ox Tail on the other hand, was a different story!

Braised Ox Tail

This slow cooked, meat-falling-off-the-bone was PACKED with flavour!  Being cooked with potatoes and carrots added a natural sweetness to the thick sauce… FORGET what I said about being full… This just re-inspired my appetite!  This was pretty much the peak of my culinary evening!  So much so, that the combination of too much wine (despite me saying I had to drive after my third refill) and a food baby developing in the belly, by the time we actually also ordered dessert – rum baba and bread and butter pudding – I was too useless to take photos (by the way apologies on the extremely poor quality.  Flashless 2nd generation iPhone is not the greatest!)

So a few hours later, we stumble out of Gerald’s Bar, full bellied, rather boozy and more than satisfied.  For $80 each, I left feeling like Christmas came early; good company, eating, drinking and being Merry!

Gerald’s Bar

386 Rathdowne St

Carlton North

(03) 9349 4748

Merchant

31 Mar

‘HOT’ is how Merchant has most recently been described in a recent review featured in The Age magazine.  Whilst we’re a little disappointed that we dropped the ball in getting a review out before Ms. Dubecki  we will take this opportunity to revel in our own review which we hope will provide a little (lot) more substance than aforementioned foodie fraud (now you know how highly we rate her opinion).

Having suffered a dearth of good quality Italian in the city, Merchant adeptly fills the void.  Serving up Italian ‘Osteria’ style (translates to ‘tavern’, ‘bar’, ‘casual dining inn’) food inspired by the Veneto region, there is a plethora of dishes on the extensive menu that will please the pasta lover (me) as well as the ‘I eat everything but pasta’ diner (my DDO counterpart).  In fact, the menu (split into sections such as risotto, polenta, pastassita etc) can be a little mind boggling – but being a group of 5 we are able to try quite a few different offerings.

First up is the goose prosciutto which comes thinly sliced with a smattering of fennel and olive oil, all served on a wooden board lined with Grossi embossed paper.

Goose Proscuitto

The embossed paper is the only reference to Grossi’s other eponymous restaurant Grossi Florentino – as Merchant is everything that Florentino is not – relaxed and casual as an osteria should be, but with a modern twist.

Next up is the Squid Ink risotto and Gnocchi with spiced veal ragu.  Now both risotto and gnocchi can be a bit hit & miss at the best of Italian restaurants, but I am happy to report that both dishes served on this occasion was damn close to perfect.

Squid Ink Risotto & Gnocchi with Veal Ragu

The risotto was smooth and silky without being sloppy – its served quite simply on its own – no accompaniment needed.  The light, airy parcels of gnocchi melt in the mouth with the veal ragu – we had it with lots of freshly grated parmesan which added a little more bite to each mouthful!

The food journey continued with Char grilled sausages, Char grilled lamb cutlets and Polenta with duck ragu.  The sausages were probably the only slight disappointment – they tasted fine enough, but really weren’t anything to rave about (hence the lack of a photograph).

Char grilled Lamb Cutlets

The lamb cutlets were cooked well, retaining its lovely juices.  Served with some salsa verde, and a squeeze of lemon juice it was the perfect balance to the richness of the gnocchi and risotto that we had previously consumed.

But the real highlight of the meal was the polenta.  Perfectly cooked – nice and thick without being stodgy – and paired with the duck ragu, this dish was big on flavour.

Polenta with Duck Ragu

Now some of you may disagree with our assessment – in modern cuisine, polenta is more commonly fried or served as a cake (retaining a grittiness to it), and so for some palates polenta served up in a more porridge-like consistency may not appeal – but its not the first time that I have seen polenta served in this way by authentic Italians, and I love it!

Potatoes, Braised Cabbage

You may have noticed a distinct lack of vegetables in our food choices – which was made up with sides of Asparagus and eggs, Braised Cabbage and Sauteed potatoes with garlic.

Asparagus with egg

By this stage the group is feeling quite loaded with carbs, but with 4 of us being female there is no skimping on desserts.  We order a Venetian Trifle, Rice Pudding and Chocolate Tart with goats milk sorbet.

Venetian Trifle

Chocolate Tart with Goats Milk Sorbet

Of the desserts, the trifle is the most impressive – the layers of rich custard and cream melt in the mouth as the top layer of crumble creates little explosions in the mouth.  The 2 other desserts are also well executed, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Rice Pudding

All in all, the Merchant is a wonderful addition to the CBD’s culinary map.  And don’t let its casual aura deceive you with its bright lights, open kitchen and funky fitout – high quality food and attention to detail is something that Grossi has transplanted successfully from Florentino to the Merchant.  So if you want white table clothes and fine china go to Florentino – but if its just hearty, good food you are looking for then Merchant is right up your alley.

Oh – I forgot to mention the bread.  Its so good, O (one of our dining companions) is still dreaming about it 4 weeks later!

Merchant

Rialto

495 Collins Street

Melbourne 3000

http://merchantov.com/about

Rosa’s Kitchen

26 Jan

Its late Monday afternoon.  And after a day of meetings and running around, my friend (G) and I are am absolutely famished!!  Its hard to believe that in the middle of the city that is known for its exceptional culinary offerings, we struggled to find anywhere decent and still serving lunch.

Finally, after walking from one end of town to the other, we remember the existence of a Flinders Lane institution: Rosa’s Kitchen.  Over the years I’d heard so much about this rustic canteen style establishment.  Upon settling in with my Campari & soda (well earned after that epic hunt to cure our excruciating hunger) amidst the quiet green wood paneled interior I already feel the hunger pang subside a notch.

It’s well past lunch hour, (3pm) so the place is quiet.  The chalk board  menu has a selection of daily offerings that match the rustic interior; simple, home style Sicilian food.

Large Antipasti

We decide to share an antipasti ($27 for the Large… did i mention we were FAMISHED) and the Baked Zucchini with Tomato and Roquette salad ($24).  Simple.  Quick.  YUM!  and with room for dessert… Sour cherry tart with stove top coffee ($8.50).

Baked Zucchini with tomato and roquette

Now, don’t get me wrong, the food was good.  But given the rave reviews this place has received in the past, I did find it a little underwhelming.  Especially given the prices.  Yes.  The food is meant to be simple.  And rustic… blah blah blah.  But to charge $24   for that baked zucchini with some tomato and roquette… seems a bit cheeky.  And there was nowhere near enough meat on that Antipasti to make it $27 worth.

The saving grace was thankfully the Sour Cherry Tart… shame though, that the stove top coffee managed to take 20 minutes to be served despite us being the only patrons left.

Sour Cherry tart

So all in all, it wasn’t a bad meal, and aesthetically, this place has plenty of charm.  But not charming enough to make me rush back considering the final bill was $75 and all I essentially got was some grilled vegetables and cake.

Rosa’s Kitchen

253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (inside the city library)