So.. it’s been a long time between blogging. It’s just simply too time consuming.. coupled with the guilt that I have all these other things I should do and don’t do, namely work and tax. But, Saturday night’s experience was so delightful I really want to just tell everyone how wonderful it was.
Rosa Mitchell has returned to the CBD and is now dishing up delicious Sicilian fare in Punch Lane.
Small intimate venue, seating approx 40.
Chalkboard menu which rotates every fortnight or so. Antipasto, 4 pastas, 5 mains.
I love a small menu, quality over quantity any day I say.
We started with the antipasto platter.
We opted for the small serve, which was pretty substantial. There was fried ricotta, cauliflower fritter, charg-rilled eggplant, pickled zucchini, olives, some cured meat (I forget what!) and a tomato salad. Everything was fresh and delicious. Wonderful start.
For the main affair, I couldn’t decide between a pasta and a main, so the wonderful Miss M went halvies with me so we could have the best of both worlds.
The orchiette was cooked perfectly al dente. The dish was well balanced and very rustic. Simplicity at it’s best.
Oh. My. God. Heaven. After my first bite of the calamari I wished I wasn’t sharing. I’m not sure what the calamari was stuffed with exactly but I think perhaps some breadcrumb mix with garlic? This dish was executed perfectly. I couldn’t think of a way to improve it.
We ended with a massive slice of chocolate and orange cake which was big enough for the three of us to share. It was perfectly light and fluffy.
Service was impeccable, and the wine list was brief but thoughtful. We drank Soave $10.50 (my favourite!) and Grillo $9.50.
Rosa’s kitchen. Simple, but stunning. Exceptional value, I can’t wait to go back.
will you be my nonna?
22 Punch Lane, CBD
Open: Tues-Sat, Lunch and Dinner.
5 Separation St
Northcote Victoria 3070
Hours: Tues – Fri 7am – 4pm, Sat – Sun 8am – 4pm
Espresso Alley sits right opposite Northcote Shopping Centre on Separation Street, in a refurbished house with a deceptively small shop front which accommodates 5 bike posts, for those inclined to bike it.
Full of natural light and fitted with a mezzanine level, the illusion of space works in Espresso Alley’s favour. For those on the lower level of the cafe, it gives a whole new meaning to “looking up” to the coffee machine.
With the food-prep area proudly located in the middle of the cafe, the piadinas, tiramisus and vegan-friendly friands are displayed for all to see.
The quirky tables were a highlight for me, simple wooden tables given a lick of black paint with silhouettes of various food-related implements left bare and a clear lacquer applied over the handiwork. I guess the Vinces Mazzone & Colosimo, or their decorators, have a good eye!
Food-wise, they’ve stuck to a short, simple menu which includes toasties, somethingh I consider an entirely underrated cafe food.
I chose to have smashed avocado on toast, a personal favourite of mine. My avo was mashed to the perfect consistency of “smashed”, smooth enough to spread chunky enough that I can spear a hunk of avocado should I choose to, the cheese was salty and herby and perfect and the mixture was worked through so I couldn’t throw anything out.
The only letdown was that my toast was slightly burnt around the edges and difficult to cut through due to over-toasting.
In their defence, I did rock up far too early on a Saturday morning (8.30am!) on a 39 degree day.
They take great pride coffee-wise, with the barista personally coming out with my cappuccino in order to apologise for the “slight bubbles”. Apparently it’s calving season and they’re giving the cows a different feed, leading to more bubbly milk (?).
I didn’t mind. The (Coffee Supreme) coffee was fantastic overall and if the cows don’t want to cooperate, I’m not one to shoot the barista.
Overall, I’d go back. It’s very early days yet and I can see potential.
495 Collins Street, Melbourne 3000
T: +613 9614 7688
F: +613 9614 7211
Hours: Mon-Sat Lunch & Dinner. Closed Sunday.
Merchant is the latest venture by Guy Grossi, adding to his empire which includes includes the fine dining institution Grossi Florentino, and adjoining Grill and Cellar bar, and Mirka at Torlano. It is situated at the base of the newly revamped Rialto building, with a wooden boat outside to add to its Venetian theme.
Merchant is a casual restaurant - the staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the decor colourful and unpretentious. Guy Grossi envisaged an osteria – as wiki defines where “the emphasis is generally placed on maintaining a steady clientele rather than on haute cuisine.” Osteria in Italian literally means a place where the owner “hosts” people.” And the night we dined – Guy Grossi himself was only two tables away from us, hosting his guests. It is Venetian themed – to celebrate the culture of his family.
The large open kitchen churns out items at amazing efficiency from the menu which is broken down into cichetti (small eats), pasta, risotto, meats, seafood, sides and desserts.
We begin with a Bellini – which are brought to our table, a champagne flute filled with a yummy peach puree – topped up with sparkling wine and then stirred gently at our table.
From the chicetti – we choose
The fòlpo saorio – tender slices of well marinated octopus.
The mixed salumi – containing salami, prosciutto, and a couple others I can’t remember. These were nice enough, but the most impressive part was watching them being sliced to order from the large meat slicer sitting on the end of the bar.
The aranzini de zafferan (saffron risotto balls) – were delicious. I can’t look at a menu with risotto balls and not order them. These did not disappoint, though admittedly I am very easy to please when it comes to risotto balls.
The patè de figà de anara (duck liver pate) was rich and creamy and not at all gamey. A reasonably generous serve, I really enjoyed this dish.
I asked our helpful waiter what he would order – and he strongly suggested we get the spaghetti co le caparele (spaghetti with clams). I wasn’t expecting much from this dish, but my god was it good. I can’t articulate how this dish was so good, but I guess my best way to describe it is simplicity at its finest. Perfectly cooked aldenti spaghetti, in such a light yet wonderful sauce of chopped tomatoes, herbs and olive oil. I’ve had so many dishes like this in the past (I’m a massive fan of pasta marinara and pasta with seafood), but this was the best I’ve had.
I had previously being mortified by squid ink, as I’m sure many have due to its unappetizing, dark, murky colour which seems to stain everything ugly. However a trip to Venice changed that, and having had a wonderful squid ink risotto there, I am a convert – although I do hate how it can leave squid ink particles on your teeth and lips (yes had the awkward meal where I had been sitting there chatting happily, only to go to the bathroom much later to see squid ink all over lips and teeth). If it is not prepared well, or not fresh, squid ink can taste very fishy – but when done correctly, it has a wonderful fishy creaminess. This was a great specimen – and this risoto moro (squid ink risotto) was my favourite dish of the night.
Upon the recommendation of the waiter – we ordered the quaje a la diavola in piastra (grilled quail, chilli). It was flayed then grilled lightly and served with a quinelle of some form of parsley pesto. It was well cooked, and tasty enough, but it seemed to be lacking in something… When it comes to quail – I firmly believe that us Asians do it best.
For some sides, we also went the
patate alla Veneziana (sautéed potatoes in garlic) and
salata tridà (Venetian chopped salad).
These were both very nice – I can’t fault either of these, well cooked and great balance of flavours.
Despite Grossi’s fame, it seemed Merchant has had a relatively quiet opening with few people I’ve talked to even knowing of its existance. When I visited in December, the only post I could find of Merchant was Melbourne Culinary Journal‘s. The restaurant was busy but not full, and it was not hard to obtain a booking. Though Merchant has recently been reviewed in The Age’s Epicure (scoring 14/20), so I imagine it will quickly become more difficult to get a seat.
Taste: 9. I have dreams of the squid ink risotto and clam spaghetti. Take me back.
Value: 9. Surpisngly cheap for the quality of the produce. Serves are not large, but that only means you can order and try more
Service: 9. Our waiter was extremely friendly and attentive. Food comes amazingly quickly
Overall: 9. Merchant isn’t a dining experience that is defining new styles or setting new trends, it is what it sets out to be – an osteria - a casual dining experience. Good, simple food, done extremely well. I love this way of eating – small plates designed to share (I’m a variety is the spice of life kinda girl, and I love the communal aspect of dining too). Can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu!
23 Bank Place, Melbourne
Phone 03 9670 1777
Hours: Mon-Fri: 7:30am til late
. Sat: 6:00pm til late
Syracuse is a delightful little wine bar hidden away in an old Victorian building in Bank Place. It’s one of those places I’ve walked past a gazillion times without even noticing it. Despite google-mapping it before I got there, I still struggled to find it on my first visit.
I took the delightful M there for her birthday in July (yes, I am very slack with these posts), so forgive me if these items are no longer on their ever changing seasonal menu.
As you walk through the arched doorways in Bank Place, it feels as though you are transported to Europe. This small dining room is nothing short of grand, with soaring ceilings, pillars and arches. There are racks and racks of wine, which allude to the fact that this is a place which takes their wine seriously.
The wine list is extensive, and well thought-out, with a good mix of new and old world wines. We ordered a bottle of Domaine Wachu Gruner Vetliner – an Austrian wine varietal that I am a huge fan of.
The menu consists of some wine snacks, some sharing plates and only a few mains, all chosen undoubtedly with an emphasis on food that may be enjoyed and enhanced by wine.
We begin with
A spanner crab remoulade, which consists of delicate pieces of spanner crab with a tart creamy sauce, topped with a boiled egg. A nice refreshing way to begin our meal.
Next was the pig’s head, which was one of the specials of the night. I had images of chunks from the head (hey – I’ve never had pig’s head before..!), but in fact it seemed like little morsels of fried almost creamy meat. I’m not sure how it was prepared, but they were yummy, and if you hadn’t have told me it was pigs head, I would have been none the wiser. These worked well with the little fried quail eggs they were served with.
We also had mussels which were cooked with chorizo – adding a nice smokey spice to the dish. The sauce was promptly soaked up with the bread.
Overall we had a great night, I love this little bar – good food, good wine, how can anyone complain.
I have since revisited, however I only had pitiful photos from my phone camera, but the experience was just as good.
Taste: 8. Food is very rustic, prepared well.
Overall: 8. A hidden gem in Melbourne. I rate it.
Simon’s Peiking Duck Chinese Restaurant
197b Middleborough Road
Box Hill South
Although there is an extensive menu at Simon’s Peiking Duck restaurant – patrons come for one thing.
The duck banquet.
The Peking duck banquet consists of a whole roast duck – which, as described on the website is prepared
“at least a day in advance. First air is pumped into the duck body to stretch and loosen the skin, then boiled after is repeatedly spread over the duck, before carefully drying the duck. The duck is then roasted in a hot oven for a period of time until the meat is becomes tender and the skin crispy.”
We dined on a Monday night, and a full restaurant was emptying out and turning around for another full second sitting. No surprise, given he was recently reviewed in The Age’s Epicure, and the word was spreading around Melbourne that Simon Lay – the famed Peking Duck Nazi, was back. Simon had set up and made Old Kingdom an institution but sold it three years ago and whilst they kept the Peking duck banquet, it had gone steadily downhill, as reviewed earlier.
Much like the system at Old Kingdom, when I called to make the booking, Simon barked the questions
“How many people”
“6 o’clock or 8 o’clock?”
Can I have 7 o’clock?
“No. Two seatings. 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock”
Ok.. 8 please.
“How many duck?”
umm.. how many do I need?
“For 8 people.. usually… around 3. <chuckle> Though some like to have 4.”
This duck is served in a three part banquet -
The first course with the peking duck skin, served with 15 pieces of home made pancakes, spring onion, cucumbers and a special plum-hoison sauce.
The second course takes the duck meat, which stirfried with either bean-shoots or noodles. Without noodles, the banquet is $55 per duck, with noodles, the banquet is $63 per duck. You can have the choice of hand-made noodles, rice noodles, egg noodles, or hor fun noodles.
The third and final course uses the duck bones to make a soup with bean curd.
I had ordered three ducks, to the dismay of my friends, who insisted we needed at least one duck for two.
I sighed, and said I would ask Simon if there was extra duck, my friends were convinced they had to make spare ducks.
He chuckled, and said “only if you smile at me”.
What a charmer. I gave him my biggest smile so my friends wouldn’t bitch (even though I did ask them several times how many duck and no one said anything until we got there!!) and four duck it was.
I asked if this was too many, and Simon laughed and said “The table before you, four people three duck.”
Before our duck began to arrive, we could see ducks being carved around the restaurant, and devoured by each and every table. There were a few token other dishes, but everyone was here for the duck.
Our duck came, its skin glistening..
Simon himself carved our first duck, expertly and deftly cutting slices of skin, finishing the duck in a matter of minutes.. a real joy to watch.
The slices were piled high onto a plate and presented to our table..
A plate of 15 pancakes were presented, as well as 15 lengths of cucumber and 15 slices of spring onion.
Simon began by throwing some pancakes at our plates (which he missed, but was close!), and began by assembling my wrap -
“Spring onion, cucuumber at quarter past three! Duck, then sauce, now fold! “Six o’clock, Nine o’clock, three o’clock!”
resulting in a perfectly wrapped Peking duck wrap. The pancakes were delicately thin, yet surprisingly springy being able to hold the contents without tearing. These are the best duck wraps I’ve ever had. We eagerly bit into our wraps, which made a wonderful ‘crunch’ as our teeth bit through the crispy skin, releasing the juices and oiliness.
Simon, the King, is back.
We devoured the skins of our four ducks, they were just simply amazing.
For the stirfry – Simon suggested we do two with vegies, and two with noodles. He suggested we get the crispy noodles – which served Canton style which was deep fried noodles, shiitake mushrooms and gravy.
I preferred the noodles, but my friends preferred the stir fry, but they were both delicious, and despite the fact that we were stuffed, we managed to finish these.
Simon also suggested we order a vegetable and he said he’d bring us something we’ve never tried before.
Out came a mixture of asparagus, eggplant, okra stir fried in a spicy shrimp paste.
And indeed, I had never had this before, and I found it really yummy as I love asparagus, eggplant, okra and chilli.
To finish, the soup arrived, with thick chunks of soft tofu.
We all went home, stuffed, happy and pretty tipsy. Corkage is only $2/head. Bargain.
The night was perfect. The duck was amazing, and Simon was good fun throughout the night, coming around and joking with us all night. He even drank some wine with us, which he drank out of his tea-cup.
The only downfall of this place is its location – there isn’t really any form of public transport, which can be a problem if you consume too much Pinot with your duck.
Taste: 9. Best Peking Duck I’ve had. Stirfry and noodle were amazing, soup was ok. I’d be interested to try the other dishes, though that takes away stomach room for the ducks.
Value: 9.5. Great value, we were completely stuffed, and corkage is an absolute steal for only $2.
Service: 10. Simon is such a charmer. We all love Simon.
Overall: 9.5. Amazing experience, we all loved it.
The king is back.
505 City Rd
South Melbourne 3205
(03) 9699 6410
Hours: Mon-Sun Lunch 12pm-3pm
The Palace is not the kind of place you stumble into… I often drive up and down Bay Street to go to Thomas Dux green grocers, and although I knew roughly where I should be expecting to find it, it still took me a couple of times driving past to spot the Palace.
Basically, it’s on City Road, South Melbourne just before it turns into Bay Street, Port Melbourne. Even though I’ve now been there twice, I still need to keep my eyes peeled for it so I don’t drive past it.
Drive towards the bay, look left, and it’s just after a petrol station, in a blue double story period building.
Inside, there is a pub with the standard bar, but behind it a small, but warm dining room with white linen table cloths. The first time I went, we were seated in the dining room, which was very comfortable. The second time, we were seated just outside the dining room which wasn’t as comfortable, sort of in a dark space between the bar and the dining room.
The wine list is approachable and reasonably priced with some pretty good quality drops. There is a selection of around 8 entrees priced around the $20 mark, around 5 mains around the $35 mark, a choice of 5 steaks and three main dishes to share, with a few changing daily specials. The best way to the describe the cuisine would be Modern Australian I guess.. though it is heavily influenced by other cultures such as Italian, or Chinese. Though, I guess that probably is the meaning of Australian cuisine – dishes with inspiration from the best from other cultures to highlight great quality produce. We’re lucky to be Aussies.
Anyways, I digress.
The only entree I tried on the two separate visits I had was the steak tartare.
I have this horrible habit of staring at other peoples dishes shamelessly. During my first visit to the Palace, I noticed that half the tables seemed to be ordering the tartare. Thus, I vowed to order it second time round, however, when I arrived I was devastated to see it was no longer on the menu. My pout turned into a massive grin when the waiter said that the kitchen could make the dish for us.
The steak tartare is chunky tender minced eye fillet mixed with herbs and topped by a quail yolk. This is mixed up, and eaten on mini toasts with your choice of the perfectly quinelled condiments which I believe are minced gherkins, white anchovies, capers, shallots and Dijon mustard. A small bottle of Tabasco accompanied so spice could be added if required. The steak was wondrously soft and the condiments went well to highlight the flavour of the meat.
I’m a big believer of variety is the spice of life, but after my first visit, I had to order the next dish a second time around.
The photos really don’t do this dish justice. I fell in lust at first sight, and in love at first bite.
The Chateaubriand consists of 500g (yes, half a kilo, this is why it’s for 2) of tender steak, cooked to order served on top of a bed of brussel sprouts and pancetta lardons, crowned with onion rings and served with bordelaise sauce. Accompanying is potato mash and rocket and parmesan salad.
This dish is as close to perfect as I’ve come in a long time. The steak is wonderful. I’m not the type to order steak unless we’re at a steak restaurant, but i would say this is one of the best steaks I’ve had. Juicy, tender, the accompanying sauce wonderful. My dining companions all claimed they didn’t like brussel sprouts, but I argued that they just hadn’t had well cooked sprouts. A taste of these buttery, perfectly cooked sprouts quickly changed their minds (the fat pancetta lardons accompanying also may have helped sway them). The mash was perfectly smooth and simply divine. And onion rings. Really. Palace – you had me at onion rings. These certainly did not disappoint.
At $42 a head, an absolute bargain, especially considering the quality of the meat and the fact it comes with two sides. It reminds me of a similar dish of a hanger steak for two to share that the Station Hotel in Footscray do, but I prefer this one. Though the one at the Station Hotel is fricken amazing also.
Sadly, I must admit that I went to the Palace a few months ago and I can’t remember the exact components of the next couple of dishes we tried.
The jewfish was well cooked, the seafood was quite fresh. The dish was good, but not exceptional. I did enjoy it though.
I really liked this dish, I am a massive fan of duck though, but it was well cooked and the lentil stew was a great accompaniment.
Excuse the blurriness of the photos of the desserts, I was losing the steadiness of my hands as I increasingly consumed the wonderful wine (who can resist Bass Philip Pinot Noir?!?!)
The desserts were nice but not amazing. The fondant was wonderfully chocolately, and seeing the chocolate ooze from the pudding is visually orgasmic. The brulee was well flavoured, and the eton mess was a compliment from the kitchen (which I suspect was because we spent a lot of money on wine).
The service was exceptional both times I went. Questions were answered thoughtfully and knowledgeably. I often put myself in the hands of the wait staff, and I hate nothing more than when asking for a recommendation, receiving a response like “I dunno… what do you like,” or worse yet “I don’t know, I haven’t tried them.” There was none of this here, the staff were happy to guide us in our decisions and were very attentive and friendly throughout.
Taste: 9. I think the food is amazing. Each dish is full of well balanced flavours.
Value: 9. For the price you pay, you’ll be hard-pressed to find similar quality. Food is surprisingly well priced for the quality and quantity you get.
Service: 9. Hard to fault.
Atmosphere: 8. The dining room is wonderful. The side part next to the bar is a bit dingy.
Overall: 9. Love this lace. Can’t stop raving about how much I love it. Can’t wait to go back. Best of all, only a 5 minute bike ride from home.
162 Elgin Street Carlton 3053
(Corner Elgin Street & Drummond Street)
Phone 03 9347 9838
Lunch: Mon-Fri from 12 noon
Dinner: Mon-Sat from 6.00pm
Located on the corner of Elgin and Drummond Streets lies Esposito, the restaurant by Maurie Esposito. Esposito brings us ‘seafood dining’ with a strong focus on sustainable, yet the freshest, highest quality produce, with an Italian flair.
With entrees priced between $21-26, and mains $26-$42, this place is not inexpensive. However, Esposito have a weeknight special Loaves and Fishes menu – $35 for 2 courses with a glass of wine. Available Monday to Thursday lunch and dinner. This sounded too good to be true, so we had to go for it..
We began with an amuse;
A light seaweed salad, served with toasted sesame, a delightful way to whet the appetite.
For entrees T had;
This dish was perfect. Big call, but it was incredible. The hand-rolled pasta was perfectly cooked al dente, filled with fresh mud crab in a rich, warming broth. Although this was T’s dish, I ended up eating most of it.
Unfortunately my entree was not as nice. The idea of this dish sounded good on paper, but in execution there was an excess of ‘greenery’. It was over-powering in a ‘grassy’ sort of flavour.
Onto mains; I had the
The fish fillets were perfectly cooked and well seasoned. The calamari ragout was well restrained in flavour and a great accompaniment to the fish.
At $42 on the a la carte menu, this is the most expensive item on the menu. T was curious as to how you could make fish & chips (which is essentially what this dish is) special. My god, Esposito nailed it. This is the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Bar none. The fish was perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth tender. The house made tartare was also great. Again, I would say this dish is perfect. I cannot imagine how this dish could be better.
Note – I am a terrible blogger, I visited months ago so the menu has changed since.
Taste: 9 – high points T’s dishes, didn’t enjoy my entree though
Value: 10. With the glass of wine that accompanied the meal, $35 each for 2 courses made this meal good value. cheap. Good value is an understatement. With the quality of the produce cooked the way it was, it was really a bargain. I believe the serves are slightly smaller in the loaves and fishes menu – and although we were not stuffed, we were perfectly satisfied.
Ambience: 9.5. Fine dining at its best. White linen table cloths, ambient background music, and just the perfect amount of mood-lighting, accentuated by the candle light on each table. A warm greeting from the staff, accompanied most importantly with a smile makes you feel instantly welcome.
Service: 9.5. Exceptional, the staff made us feel comfortable and at home.
Overall: 9.5. Wonderful.
Esposito has also opened a new restaurant St Peter’s in Melbourne Place at the old Canary Club with a similar menu, which I have recently visited and loved. Review to come soon.