Posts Tagged ‘risotto’
Gill’s Diner is another trendy creation from the man behind Journal, Supper Club and The European, Con Christopoulos. This means that the decor is likely to be rustic but innovative. The food is likely to be classic and hearty but with some slight twists, and the coffee is likely to be Romcaffe. Bloody Romcaffe. What Christopoulos’ obsession with Romcaffe is I have no idea. Why a man would put all that effort into this brand when there are plenty of far better local roasters around is very much beyond me, but whatever, I’ll let it slide.
The beauty of Gill’s Diner for me is all in the concept. Tucked away down a laneway off Little Collins Street (I’m sorry readers, it’s just too easy to use the words “tucked away” when talking about laneways and I have no intention of straying form this well-worn cliche for the time being), Gill’s Diner isn’t difficult to find. Just follow the neon “espresso & bread” and say hello to the jolly pig & cock that greet you, rustic indeed. The space itself is beautifully fitted out. The chairs are reminiscent of your old high school scout hall and aren’t super comfortable, but I’ll let comfort suffer a little in the name of design. Whoever does Christopoulos’ interior design is very good at what they do, the concept is executed perfectly, down to the finest deals like old-school speakers used for music (as The Age points out: Gill’s is an MP3 free zone“) and menus on blackboards (only on blackboards).
Best of all, the design creates a concept of space where there actually isn’t much. you can thank the high ceilings and perpendicular roof beams for that. Good show, Gill’s Diner! But onto the food. The entree I sampled, the house salted cod & smoked eel croquettes with “white sauce” and leeks.
Solid opening but nothing that blew me out of the water. The croquettes were delicately put together and fried, the sauce was intriguing and the leeks worked great but holy crap was this dish salty! The name of the game here was most certainly salt, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m sure I came away with more than my RDI of sodium. Luckily I actually like salty things.
For our mains, my dining companion selected the Kingfish Fillet with broad beans and peas (pictured above), whereas I had the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Taleggio (pictured below). I’ll let you in on a little secret, you know those things you see on a menu that you must order immediately upon discovery? Taleggio is one of those things for me. I love cheese and it is my favourite cheese so if I see it, I’m hooked.
And look at that hunk of taleggio! I was delighted when this hit the table, so much so that I didn’t have a great deal of my dining companion’s fish. Apologies, readers! I can tell you from what I tasted that it was decent but, again, nothing amazing. It’s a classic dish on a classic base, kingfish is a wonderful fish and there were no complaints from my dining companion either.
The risotto was splendid but not special. It was prepared in just the way I like my risotto, not too saucy and not too dry, arborio rice cooked to perfection. The mushroom risotto is such an old staple that it’s difficult to go wrong with, and the taleggio really added an extra level of awesomeness (though I think my sodium intake that day was equivalent to an entire recommended week).
I didn’t bother having coffee. I knew it would be Romcaffe and I wasn’t desperate enough on the night.
So the verdict on Gills?
Taste: 8. I can’t really complain about the execution of any of the dishes but none of them blew me away either.
Value: 4. This is a gripe. In my view, Gill’s doesn’t offer the same experience as other affordable fine dining options in the same rough price range, like Cumulus. If I’m going to pay $30 for a risotto then it better be a damn mind-blowing risotto, the hunk of taleggio notwithstanding (at least they didn’t scrimp), this risotto was good but not spectacular.
Service: 7. Rushed, efficient, impersonal, no complaints but nothing special.
Atmosphere: 10. I love it. I really love the fitout and everything about it. I don’t give 10s often but this one is deserved.
Overall: 7.88. This is a solid addition to Melbourne’s food scene, has proved its merit over the last few years and will be a long-term stayer but I just don’t think it’s up in the echelons of awesome that some other restaurants deliver. Not quite an 8 but more than a 7.5. Oh yeah and fail for coffee.
Trotters adds further fuel to my theory that the block of Lygon Street between Faraday and Elgin is by far the best block and possibly the only part of Lygon Street actually worth going to (though there’s also the corner with Lazzat & Il Dolce Freddo).
I have always told visitors to Melbourne that Lygon Street is our Little Italy, and yeah, sure, it is. But the inference one draws from that is that there is good pasta and pizza to be had, right? Mostly, wrong. It is actually kind of difficult to get good Italian food on Lygon Street and for the uninitiated it can be a little like playing roulette. You walk past shopfront after shopfront, some with touts offering you free wine, some with heaps of people sitting outside, but you still have a 90% chance of getting a glorified La Porchetta pasta with the cheapest possible ingredients or a glorified Pizza Hut pizza, but smaller and with less taste. And don’t even get me started on the coffee.
Forgive me if I sound bitter, but I studied at Melbourne University (just next door) for six years. Six years of the pain and suffering of wandering up and down that street looking for something decent to eat and getting bitten. But no longer! Rejoice! There is Trotters! A place you can go and be certain that for $15-20 you will get a decent pasta.
Now Trotters is not the only good restaurant on Lygon Street, I for one rather enjoy Tiamo and D.O.C. for example, but, unlike D.O.C., it’s a Carlton stalwart and enjoys the history and the well-deserved status of being an institution, while, unlike Tiamo, not being stuffed full of tourists and other suburban types. Also, its pig mascot is cute.
Though I have been to Trotters for breakfast before (and can tell you that it’s good), my most recent trips have been mostly dinner (and therefore, pasta) related. Here’s the breakdown of what I tried in a recent sitting (and apologies for the lacklustre photos, my compact held up badly in the dim light).
First up, the linguini with pork and fennel meatballs in a tomato ragu ($16.20), this dish was decent. It wasn’t subtle, but then meatball pastas rarely are. The meatballs were fresh and on point, the fennel came through really nicely. The tomato ragu was heavy, possibly a little too heavy but I’m nitpicking. If you’re looking for a pasta that’s hearty, this one’s your choice. Just don’t expect anything ‘light’.
The risotto of chicken, mushroom and braised leek ($17.50) was probably the worst dish I’ve had at Trotters. Now, I’m going to be careful here, because risotto is one of those divisive dishes that everyone seems to have a (conflicting) opinion on. I believe that the rice and the broth are both equally important to risotto, however, I do not think a risotto should be so drowned in broth that it almost becomes congee. This is what the risotto at Trotters tasted like to me. Not a fan.
Next up, the linguini tossed with prawns, tomato and broccoli, chilli and garlic oil ($18.60), to me, this dish is one of the stars. It’s by far the most elegant dish I tried all evening, the sauce was delicately light but delivered enough flavour while still allowing the seafood to work its magic.
Now, Trotters also do some great burgers, which I didn’t have that night so I won’t describe them in detail but I do recommend you try them. However, my regular dish at Trotters is the Spaghetti Putanesca, in a sauce of Western Australian anchovies, lilyput capers, kalamata olives and a hint of chilli ($15.50). Putanesca is one of my all time faves for a few reasons. The first, and simplest, is that I love all the ingredients. Anchovies, olives, capers, chilli is a recipe for delicious. The second is that it’s not normally overly saucy, which is something I prefer to heavy pasta dishes smothered in either half a litre of creme fraiche or a napoli sauce that sits in your stomach for a week.
Now I’ll be honest, the putanesca is objectively probably not as good a dish as the seafood linguini above. I mean, it’s not perfect, for starters it’s very salty and at times can be overpowering, but it’s still one of the most consistently well executed ones I’ve had in Melbourne. The saltiness is pleasant because it is of the natural variety but for those of you with sodium problems, stay away.
Oh and, by the way, their desserts are also delicious. Try the sticky date pudding. The coffee, not so much, but it’s better than Brunetti.
Taste: 8/10. You can rely on Trotters for decent, well-priced pasta. Not perfect, but consistently reliable. There’s also great burgers and desserts. It all adds up to a pretty great menu (apart from that risotto, perhaps).
Authenticity: 7/10. We’re talking relatively here. It’s Italian owned and run, much like other restaurants in Lygon Street, however it has not sold its soul for money and a slice of tourist dollar. Ingredients aren’t cheap and effort is taken to stay true to Italian roots.
Value: 8/10. $15-20 for a pasta is pretty standard and this is definitely the higher quality end for that price range.
Ambience: 9/10. What I like best about how Trotters feels is the authenticity of the place. Nothing here is contrived, there’s history (since 1988, that’s over 20 years) and there’s love, and you can feel it within the tiny walls. Oh and, as I mentioned earlier, the pigs are cute.
Service: 7/10. Well, they do take their time at Trotters, which is normally ok because service is still polite, attentive and personal. But sometimes they do give the impression of being slightly understaffed, particularly when they get unexpectedly slammed (such as… on a Sunday night with a thunderstorm approaching, maybe?)
Overall: 8/10. A true Lygon Street institution that has never let me down.