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Gazi: Greek Funtimes

16 Aug
Terracotta pot lined ceiling

Terracotta pot lined ceiling

IMG_1895[1]Its been a while since DDO posted – not necessarily a reflection of suddenly becoming hermits, but more of the fact that our little one has sucked up any spare time (and energy) that we previously had for blogging…but I digress.

So to celebrate our (N&J’s) recent wedding anniversary (4 years!), we paid a visit to Gazi – the latest slightly schizophrenic, neon clad addition to George. C’s already bursting culinary empire.  Whilst it was probably the complete opposite to the romantic venue we had hoped for (a la Jacques Reymond, which by the way is closed on a Sunday) it wasn’t a poor choice food-wise, and given J’s selective auditory issues (i.e. I usually have to repeat everything I say at least once) shouting across the table was no divergence from the norm (although I do blame the noise for ordering a cocktail with ouzo in it – either that or the waiter omitted this ingredient).  But if you do value your space, the place will probably induce claustrophobia, with tables so close that even the wait staff have difficulties passing through – the terracotta pot lined ceiling, whilst visually impressive, don’t really help to create the illusion of space either (to quote J: ‘I don’t get the pots – it’s a health and safety hazard’).

So noise and space aside, the food (self described Greek street food), whilst being good, is probably very far from being authentic, and is certainly not priced as street food.  There is also a slightly over-priced wine list, which is certainly a little adventurous with its Greek offerings (we went for a Bordeaux red, which J said tasted fine, but to my ouzo inflicted tastebuds, was a little bit too spicy?).

Saganaki

Saganaki

Taromasalata and Prawns

Taromasalata and Prawns

To start we ordered the Taramosalata dip – which comes dotted with broken prawn crackers and a small serving of fluffy flat bread. YUM.

We also ordered some Ethnika Vromika (Hellenic Dirty Food) Saganaki and prawns which wasn’t really ‘dirty’ at all, and unfortunately not much to write home about – I much prefer the basic (and ‘dirtier’) versions served at tavernas like Jims.

Lamb Cutlets

Lamb Cutlets

From the ‘Wood Fired Grill’ we ordered some lamb cutlets (priced per cutlet) – which were tasty but a little bit too fatty for my liking, and J had half a corn cob, which came glistening with butter (or perhaps olive oil) and topped with cheese, and by all accounts was delicious.  At the same time our side – a big fat plate of thick chips – was served up, golden and crisp.

At this point I am slightly dreading the sight of our Souvlakakias (I was suffering some abdominal discomfort from a mild case of gastroenteritis passed on from the little one – the lunch we had earlier at Matteo’s was a struggle…) which arrive momentarily – lucky they are small compared to the traditional souvo bar offering.  J had the beef brisket and I the chicken.  Both were wrapped in fresh fluffy flat bread and came stuffed with shoe string fries (turns out we really didn’t need those aforementioned chips! – although no one told us that).  The meat inside both were delicious and quite succulent, although I probably preferred the beef brisket.  There are less traditional souvlaki options such as duck and crab for the more adventurous that we didn’t get to sample this time around.

IMG_1893[1]

Fat Chips

IMG_1892[1]

Soulakakias

 

No dessert for us – as both J and I are well and truly stuffed – but the menu is certainly varied with modern takes on traditional favourites such as rice pudding (Risogalo Jar which comes in a smoking glass pot) and Loukomathes (cocoa nibs, honey as described on the menu).  For those wanting a smaller sweet snack, there are ION chocolate bars and blocks from the Periptero (Greek Milk Bar) on offer.

If you’re after a fun night with a bit of a gimmicky menu, then Gazi is your place – vibey, good food in a good location.  Personally, if I want good Greek food or a stinky souvo, I am pretty happy with my favourite tavern / souvo bar.

Gazi

2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne

http://gazirestaurant.com.au

+61 (3) 9207 7444

Bistro Guillaume

8 Nov

It’s birthday season – when I say season I mean it… managed to drag out this twenty something birthday with a whole week of eating drinking and being extremely excessive.  And as tradition would have it the DDO duo once again indulged and so celebrated with a feast at Bistro Guillaume at Crown.  I’m choosing not to bore you with the details, but thought visual show and tell of our glorious 4 hour dinner would be of interest!  I suggest putting on a bib… images may provoke excessive drooling…

The famous silk light features

Steak Tartare

Escargot persillade

Rack of lamb on a bed of ratatouille, tapenade and zucchini flower

Barramundi with carrot and ginger purée, coriander butter and pommes allumettes

Beef Daube – braised beef cheek

Leg of duck confit with brussel sprouts, spring onions and speck

Tea served with Guillaume green macaron and Passionfruit Creme Brulee

Dark Chocolate, salted caramel and hazelnut tart with raisin ice cream and lemon tart

Happy Birthday!

Bistro Guillaume

Crown Entertainment Complex

(03) 9292 4751 

The Meatball & Wine Bar

2 Oct

The mid week hump can be as much a glorious occasion as a rather excruciating one.  So depending if you’re a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person, you’ll most likely read the next sentence and be thankful that I’m becoming increasingly lazy at writing about my dining experiences and would much rather just show you photos (coz lets be real… I am THAT Asian you frown upon in the latest eatery too busy taking photos of everything on the table before allowing anyone to eat!)  This particular hump day turned out to a be rather glass half empty kind of night… I’d begun my evening at an ‘art show launch’ … i don’t have enough eye rolls and i don’t know how to insert emoji’s on wordpress to illustrate my lack of excitement!!!

So a (very bad) cheap wine later I left the artists/VCA students/hipsters to meet my favourite people N and Z at the newly opened Meatball & Wine Bar for a feed in good company!  My glass was finally on the verge of getting filled!!

We arrived (after a short wait in which I began my glass filling with a proseco on the house at GoGo bar) t0 a friendly waiter and prompt service.  I can’t be bothered talking about the lovely, very USA style interior!  Going to cut straight to the Balls!!

There’s a few options with the Meat Ball menu.  You can get it just balls and sauce, or Balls and All which entails balls, sauce and some sort of substantial base (i.e. something carbie) to go with the slice of bread that comes with the balls.  We decided to start with a Burata, and chose a balls and all situation each (weirdly enough, I was the one that chose the Vegetarian option.  Obviously my stars were out of whack that day and even my brain had given in by choosing the vegetarian over meat).  Our meal went something like this:

500ml 09 Montepulciano, Abruzi $30

Burata $16.50

Veg- Cauliflower, Chick peas, Corriander with Pesto sauce $18

Pork balls served with red italian sauce and italian beans $18

Beef balls with creamy polenta $18

Whoopie Mac: Pistachio macaroon ice cream sandwich $11.50

All in all, I’m not likely to rush back – although the novelty of the place makes it worth trying.  To continue my downer glass half empty mentality, I’m going to say I’ve most certainly had better meat rolled into a ball!  The Balls and All situation was kind of dry and the ball to sauce ratio wasn’t quite right – it would have been better with a more generous serving of sauce.  Thank god for the exceptional company, lovely interior (which brought back warm and fuzzies of living in the states) and a good carafe of wine… the only saviours to an otherwise rather underwhelming hump day!

(Oh and a word of warning if you are going for the whoopie pie – its massive!!!)

 

The Meatball & Wine Bar

135 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

(03) 9654 7545

McConnell Marathons

1 Jun

Sorry for the absence!! It seems DDO have been too busy eating or breast feeding to properly document our culinary adventures of late!  But rest assured… we are still eating… rather excessively in fact!  So whilst the other part of DDO is busying herself tending to the little chub – little babe is gaining the weight of a block of butter every couple of weeks! – I thought I’d give y’all a little look into what I’ve been stuffing my face with in her absence from society!

I’m going to start with an oldy but a goody!  It’d been a successful week on the fitness front and i’d just completed my second workout session at the gym.  Feeling pretty excited by my commitment to working on my fitness I thought i’d treat myself to CUMULUS INC… Something about cold weather and craving carbs!  I needed some of that Fried Bread that Cumulus does so damn well!  I called my favourite mid week dining companion Z to help celebrate my new found lease on life.

Filling the Void: Fried Sour Dough!

I don’t know how Z felt about this bread.  Especially given how much I harp on and on about this stuff, but I enjoyed it!!  This was Z’s first time at Cumulus so I let her do most of the decision making (bar the bread and cauliflower salad).  We decided to get 2 starters, 2 mains and a salad.

Smoked mussels, escabeche $9

First to arrive were the smoked Mussels, with the escabeche giving it a nice vinegar-y kick!  Soon after came the soft shell crab which came with lettuce for wrapping up, and kewpie mayo!

Fried soft shell crab, kimchi, lettuce & kewpie $18

I’ve always been partial to soft shell crab!  Only because you generally, you can’t really f*** it up!  Having said that, credit to Cumulus for getting their batter/crab piece size ratio perfect!  SO many textures and flavours topped with smooth sweet Kewpie!  Winner!

Tuna tartare with crushed green pea salad $32

I think by this stage i’m already getting pretty full, and rather boozy.  Some thing about exercise and making you get drunk really quickly…? The Tuna Tartare came at a good time though, as it’s cold, and light.  I forgot almost instantly about my almost full stomach …

Roast Aylesbury duck breast, toasted grains, lentils & quince $36 (back) & Cauliflower Salad

The duck was delicious and completely unnecessary.  And while  I’ve always been a firm believer of not winning friends with salad, for this Cauliflower salad, I always make an exception!  There’s a bit of greenery, a good smack of paprika… those mouthfuls where you get the pop of pomegranate and pine nut crunch!  It’s a pretty good mouth party!

I left feeling it was all a pretty great way to celebrate my new found fondness for working on my fitness and discovering the genius invention that is ‘skins’.   Sadly, I have since fallen off the fitness train.  But I am still wearing my skins, and eating out!

Our next adventure was also an Andrew Mc Connell establishment.   This time we decided to take new DDO mum out on the town while getting a rest from baby duty, with Little L, Z and I meeting her at the newly renovated The Builders Arms Hotel.

Bread & butter

It didn’t take long for us to settle in, order some wine and get our orders in!  It’d been a while since we all got to hang out and try somewhere different, so amidst me losing my shit over the bread being served  (…yeh don’t get too excited!  It LOOKS like fried bread… but it paled in comparison to that of Cumulus… think it was just a regular sour dough!) and trying to participate in the verbal diarrhea happening at the table, we almost let the waiter open a Magnum bottle of  Valpolicella!

We’d ordered the 2010 Ca’Rugate Rio Albo Valpolicella, which the waitress somehow assumed we meant ‘bring us the biggest bottle of it you have!’.  Love a night out with my girls, but I personally don’t want to imagine the state of us (we’re kind of small, driving and 75% of us asian…) after having 1.5 Litres of wine!

Anyway, crisis averted, normal sized wine served, back to the talking at each other and food on its way!

Pig ear scratchings $6

We decided to get an appetizer and an entree to share.  Between the Pig Ear Scratchings and the Roast Chicken Hearts on the menu, I was right in assuming no one would be into eating hearts…which was annoying because I was sooo intrigued by the tiny little things!!  No matter.  The Pig Ear scratchings were given the go ahead and were tasty, salty and crispy!  We also ordered the Corned duck, raw brussels sprouts and prune ($16) which I have no idea how, but I decided not to take a photo of it.  Come to think of it, I can’t even remember what it tasted like… I guess that’s enough said…?!! (The other DDO – it was amazing! raw brussel sprouts were delicately sliced and surprisingly tasty and the duck was pretty amazing)

Fish pie, smoked trout, prawns, hapuka, sorrel $32

For main’s, both N and I decided to get the Fish Pie (it’s seems N has grown soft since her recent birth giving, and has now relaxed on her ‘everyone order something different’ rule).  It was a very generous serving, with really big, fresh chunks of trout and hapuka in a béchamel type sauce inside.

Z and Little L went for the Dry Aged, grass fed Rib Eye, Cape Grim 800g ($69) to share (that big chunk of meat in the back of the photo) which by all accounts looked cooked to order (Rare!  Of Course!!) and juicy.  We also ordered the obligatory side of fries and baby cos.  Z couldn’t finish her steak, but feedback was positive from both of them.  We all sit back rubbing our rather over stuffed bellies as they clear our well demolished dishes… until the suggestion of dessert seems to magically revive us instantly.

Poached meringue, frozen curd, sour quince jelly $14 (front) & suet pudding

We share the poached meringue and the suet (i.e. animal fat – really) pudding special which the waitress convinces us is the BEST thing on the menu.  Thankfully for her, we aren’t instantly turned off at the sound of animal lard baked into a small cake… because that’s all I remember of the little syrup covered cake to the back.  And she was right!  While the meal wasn’t bad, I think the only redeeming factor of this whole meal (from start; with the lack luster bread, and almost catastrophic mis-serving of the magnum to finish) was in fact this dessert.  You probably won’t see me rush back to the Builders Arms in a hurry….but if I had to, it would be for that pudding.  Animal fat – baked and served with cream!

Cumulus Inc- 45 Flinders Lane  Melbourne VIC 3000 | (03)9650 1445
The Builders Arms Hotel- 211 Gertrude Street  Fitzroy VIC 3065 | (03)9419 0818

The Aylesbury

21 Oct

Arriving at The Aylesbury a bit later than I wanted to, I was not keen to find out how long the wait would have to be for a table (yes its one of those places with a no bookings policy unless you have more than 6 people – but more on that later). Luckily at ten to 7 the next available table was at 8:30, and the low-key roof top bar was the perfect place to while away the time with my good friend BFM who had come home for 2 weeks from London (thank you Melbourne for not raining that evening).  Buzzed through by the waitress we arrived at the roof top to the pleasant buzz of end of week drinks – but thankfully not to a sea of suits that is typical of many a bar in the CBD on Fridays.  Perched on a stool overlooking Exhibition Street and sipping a cold drink, time went by pretty quickly – oh and if you’re hungry then there is a good menu of bar snacks that broadly reflects the larger menu of the restaurant downstairs.

As it approaches 8:40 (we have been joined by JP and JT) we head down to see if our table is ready only to be told ‘no its not ready as the table was not been rebooked when the guests sat down so no time limit was given, and they have only just ordered dessert’.  And therein lies the awkward situation you get when you have a mixed booking policy.  Honestly you either take bookings or you don’t.  Plus given the hype surrounding the place and the no booking policy for small groups, wouldn’t you think to tell people that there is a time limit – because the no booking thing pretty much guarantees that there will be a waiting list.  So back we go upstairs and just as I am about to keel over from hunger and fall off the top of the roof, the lovely hostess comes up to show us to our table (its 9:10 by now).

The menu itself is not super extensive, and if you are vegetarian you might struggle to find a decent feed as the focus is squarely on meat and seafood.  They use Warialda Belted Galloway beef and Glenora Heritage Produce – both wonderful local Victorian suppliers – as well as some produce straight from the chef’s garden.  Struggling to choose (hunger has well and truly taken over now), we opt for the very reasonably priced Feasting Menu for $65 a head, which offers up the best from the menu (10 dishes plus 2 sides).

Beef Tartare

Garden on a Plate...

Mackarel with Gazpacho

We started with Coffin Bay Oysters – shucked fresh with a squeeze of lemon, followed by the beef tartar which comes with the most delicately toasted bread.  Both dishes focus on the freshness of the produce which is fantastic.

Next comes the garden on a plate (I can’t recall exactly what it was called) – which is a colourful dish of small bits of various raw vegetables arranged artistically on a black plate.  Not much to say about this one really…

Asparagus and Curd

Wagyu, Marrow & Morcilla

Lamb Cutlets

The aired dried wagyu with marrow and morcilla  is a bit on the salty side and the asparagus with curd is surprisingly refreshing – the curd being extremely light in flavour.  The mackerel with green gazpacho cream was not extraordinary.  And then what turned out to be my favourite dish of the night – the lamb cutlets delicately baked in dehydrated peas and lemon zest which were wonderful accompaniments to the tender and juicy cutlets.

Aylesbury Duck

Salt Baked Flathead

For the bigger dishes we had the Salt Baked Rock Flathead – which certainly looked impressive, but lacked a little in flavour – and the Aylesbury Duck which was served a little pink with a beetroot puree.  In the midst of all this a side of carrots and a side of potato in duck fat appears on our table.

For dessert we opt for the Beignets with chocolate and the Chocolate Slice.

Chocolate slice

Beignet with Chocolate Sauce

The Beignets are rather large – but are soft and fluffy on the inside and the dark chocolate sauce is the perfect consistency.  The Chocolate Slice is a bit too rich – lucky there isn’t too much of it.  It is past midnight by the time we fix the bill and bade our farewells.

Top marks for the fresh produce and the creativity of some of the dishes, but all in all a little overpriced and a little bit bland.  The food doesn’t have the same wow factor as Anada does (well what I remember of it) and that mixed booking policy means I won’t be a regular at the Aylesbury – well not the restaurant at least…but that rooftop has a lot of promise!

The Aylesbury

103 Lonsdale Street Melbourne

(03) 9077 0451

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

Hardware Societe

3 Apr

People that know me will doubt what I am about to admit.  But as of today, I am in love!  They say the best way to a Man’s heart is through his stomach… turns out, I am a man and Hardware Societe has won my heart.

Hardware Societe has been on my ‘brunch must try list’ for a quite some time now and arriving on this brisk Saturday morning to find a cluster of hopefuls waiting for a table , I must admit made my stomach turn.  I hate a line.  I live to be waited on, not to wait!  But thankfully, the extremely efficient and super friendly staff were quick to take our name, and assure us it was only a 5-10 minute wait.  And sure enough the DDO duo (N and I) were seated within 10 minutes in a cosy bench seat overlooking the open kitchen.  Tick and Tick!

view from the bench

As soon as we were seated water was brought to us, our coffee orders were taken and a menu was offered.  This place is busy.   But they run a tight ship.  Tick number 3!

It was a pretty hard decision choosing from the wide and tempting offerings, with Noisette breads, a range of eggs and of course the lighter cold offerings (one being the continental, which included an extremely tempting mix of fruits, crumble, fresh Bio yoghurt which I can’t recall exactly but it sounded delicious) as well as an AMAZING looking fried brioche.  I wanted to eat EVERYTHING on the menu, but decided to go with the Fried Eggs with Jamon, pesto and snow pea shoots.   They also have daily specials, which on this day was Pork belly served on a bean ragu with poached eggs.

Plating up.  Pork Belly to the front, Croque Monsieur to the back. 

I’m actually really glad we were seated where we were.  It gave N and I the opportunity to have a cheeky perve on how the dishes looked when plated up.  Given my indecisiveness on choosing a dish (if only I had the 4 stomachs of a cow…) seeing the finished product helped me decide on something.  N decided on the Mushrooms served on Brioche with eggs en cocotte.

Coffee’s come served with mini cinnamon donuts

Our dishes arrived just as I finished the last sip of my coffee and everything perfect.  I can’t actually remember the last time I went out for a brunch and (despite the crowds) was genuinely excited and happy to be amongst it!! My fried egg’s were cooked to perfection.  Still a little runny in the yolk, but beautifully crisp edges of egg white stacked atop 2 thinly toasted slices of whole grain Noisette bread. This is the perfect example of good quality produce, cooked and served to its full advantage.

Fried Eggs with Jamon, snow pea shoots, pesto and grated cheese ($13)

Of course N and I have a mutual understanding of the sharesy situation, so we got half of each.  And i’m glad, because I definitely would have got food envy if we hadn’t.

Mushrooms on toasted brioche and olive tapenade with eggs in a pan ($15)

The mushrooms were earthy and meaty (oh yeh, vegetarian options too…) atop a tapenade covered, thick cut brioche finished with cheese in the grill.  And then paired with some runny egg yolk… Flavour nation!!  These guys sure know how to impress a girl!!  Having grown up hearing the phrase, “there is no such thing as perfect” you do leave Hardware Societe questioning that very suggestion.  And if their only fault was how (understandably) in demand they are causing a 5 minute wait, I’d say the service, food and that sweet little donut that comes with my coffee is enough for me forgive and forget. Love is a many splendid thing.  And Hardware Societe, you are Love!!

Hardware Societe  20 Hardware Street Melbourne VIC 3000

(03) 9078 5992

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

Little Press. Big feed.

12 Feb

My good friend (M) had come home for Chinese New Year from London and missed being spoilt by Melbourne’s culinary offerings.  This time he wanted to catch up for lunch over Greek food, so i jumped at the opportunity to finally eat at Little Press & Cellar.  (Out of George Calombaris’s Greek restaurants I’d only tried Hellenic Republic).

We decided to go with selection of share plates so we could try as many of the different flavours as possible.  And with our bottle of wine ordered, it was safe to assume, this was about to be a long, gloriously boozy lunch.  All my Greek dining experiences had been Tavern style, where everything is quite rustic and (usually involving bountiful piles of meat and the freshest seafood available that day) brought out on big plates.  But this is one of the main reasons The Press Club and Little Press had been on my list of ‘must try’s’.  Greek fine dining.  I don’t get it or neccessarily agree with it, but willing to be convinced otherwise.

Fresh Oysters with lemon & olive oil dressing

We started with Fresh Oysters with dressing of the day – lemon and olive oil.  They were a little small, but fresh and tasty enough.  Besides, apparently good things come in small packages.  We ordered 2 each, but I offered my second to my dining companion (M)… and glad I did.  For the next 2 dishes included the piece de resistance of all Greek dining… Taramasalata!!! It’s one of my favourite condiments/dips when we have greek food.  It’s made of salmon roe and is the perfect combination of salty salmon-y goodness.  And if that wasn’t enough, its served with the crispiest, home cut potato fries!  AMAZE-BALLS!

Taramasalata with chips

Of course, what’s some amazing chips without some sort of beef!! The Wagyu burger is pretty much the first thing (M) and I agreed on immediately.  Now don’t be fooled by its seemingly small size.  This tiny little bun encases a succulent Wagyu beef patty, soft and juicy, it melts in your mouth as you bite into the soft brioche casing.  The melted Haloumi oozes out and the patzari (roasted beetroot with cumin & yoghurt) is just the right ingredient to balance the smooth warm textures.

Wagyu with Mikro bifteki, patzari & haloumi

So it’s official.  Good things do indeed come in small packages.  If I’d had the chance for a do-over I would probably just order 6 of these little TASTE-bombs and some chips and leave one very satisfied customer… But alas, the menu had too many other temptations.  So the dining continued:

Pork Hock with fresh pita and grilled zucchini

The Pork Hock was actually quite delicious (as if i’m EVER going to not enjoy some pig).  The meat was really tender and salty and perfectly matched with the coolness of the yoghurt and grilled zucchini.  Probably could have left the fresh pita, which had cooled by the time we got to eat it and so was a little awkward and crunchy.  Then again, serve me some of that AMAZING Pork on anything, and I will more than happily eat it.

At this point, I think we were both at the stage where you probably know you’re full.  But you’ve enjoyed consuming all those flavours thus far, you kind of don’t want it to end! (plus we still had more wine … so we decided to order more).

Now M wanted to have another Wagyu burger, and I was tempted to as well.  But we both managed to fight the Beef temptation (until next visit)  and ordered 2 other dishes.

Kingfish - Marinated with pomegranate & zucchini

The Kingfish and the prosciutto pretty much arrived at the same time.  By which stage, I actually realised I was pretty full.  The Kingfish was a little lack lustre.  It probably didn’t help that the last flavour in my mouth was that of the Pork Hock, in all its salty glory.  Thank god for the burst of pomegranate!

Prosciutto with pickled white peach & endive

So 4 hours, 6 dishes and a bottle of wine later, we kindly asked our friendly waitress for the bill and spent the rest of the afternoon nursing our extremely satisfied bellies.  I thoroughly enjoyed my (semi) fine dining Greek inspired experience (although I will always be a Greek Tavern girl at heart), and it wasn’t just the exceptional company, or the booze talking.  Good quality food, friendly knowledgeable staff, and THAT WAGYU BURGER.   You can’t really go wrong…

Little Press & Cellar

72 Flinders Street, Melbourne 3000  Tel + 613 9677 9677

http://www.thepressclub.com.au/menu.html

Passion Flower Superstar

27 Jan

It’d been open for a while, and like every other human that walks past, I’ve often wondered why this place is ALWAYS packed and open until so late.  I’d resisted entering this late night haunt (apparently a favourite of many international students) until that fateful Monday night.  My sister had finally returned from her holiday to Hong Kong – her first trip without me –  and I was feeling Hong Kong-home sick and envious, and wanted to eat my emotions.

After our catch up dinner up the road, and hearing all her Hong Kong food stories, I had a yearning for dessert.  Asian dessert.  And so begins my love affair with Passion Flower.

Before my first dine-in experience, I thought it was just another ice cream shop with seating and VERY loud R&B/club music – despite my sister’s insistent proclamations that she had taken me to a Sydney Passion Flower, I was unconvinced as I am sure I would have remembered such an eventful experience.

As soon as I opened the menu; thick and weighty full of categorized desserts ranging from crepes and waffles to jelly with fruit and Ice Kachang (all served with at least one scoop of Ice Cream), my heart skipped a beat from excitement.  FINALLY.  An ice cream heaven full of ‘Honky’ style sweet adaptions (complete with romanticised names like ‘heartbreaker’, ‘lasting love’; and ‘ooh lala’)

a page (one of many) from the menu

It took me a while to decide on one item.  But I finally decided on the Superstar.  An offering of sticky rice ice cream, red bean ice cream with homemade glutinous balls covered in Black Sesame and sprinkled Peanuts all served in a martini glass…classy!!

'The Superstar'

Because at some point in a girl’s life, there comes a time where we have to make some tough life decisions; do I go out, joining the never ending queues for the bar, then the bathroom, then the cab line, spending a lot of money getting boozy and hating myself the next morning.  Or do I indulge in a late night treat of a different kind, and give in to the plethora of sweet party-in-my-mouth goodness.  Both come in a martini glass… I’m going to opt Passion Flower, all the time.  Every time!