Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mixed Bag

Sunday night is always a reflective time when you look back at the past week/end and think about what you have (not) accomplished.

I look back at the last week and thought it was a real mixed bag of eating out / going out / eating in. So I thought I would give you the highlights:

1. Saturday lunch - Sonido (69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) (8/10)

I wouldn't blog about about a place twice, but they hands down do the best coffee in Melbourne. My long black came with a description of the farm the beans were harvested from along with flavour notes. The Colombian arepa with black bean and feta plus a chorizo Empanada went down a treat too.
2. Sunday brunch - Cafe Ernest V (423 Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick) (8/10)

Glenhuntly Road can be dicy on a Sunday morning, with the chances of bumping into a friend's parents whilst battling through a raging hangover amplified to Fukushima levels, so I was sceptical about hitting this relatively new place. The fit-out reminded me of the tiled walls of Fez, Morocco or closer to home at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons in the city and I was surprised that it wasn't heaving with the bagel-belt regulars like the adjacent Loco at prime-time weekend brunching hour. The menu was loaded with great choices and I had poached egg on smashed potato hash brown with ocean trout. Wow. Great coffee too - highly recommend.

3. Sunday dinner / Dad's bday @ home (9.8/10)

So with 12 odd people attending for my Dad's birthday, Mum had gone all out in what seemed like a pitched battle against any restaurant I had and would eat at for the next 5 years. And like any staged warrior of the kitchen, she came through with the goods (and then some). I'm not going to go into the full repertoire but the main involved slow-cooked-falling-off-the-bone lamb shanks with two different types of cous-cous. But the piece de'resistance was a Moroccan Fish tagine with chermoula, preserved lemon and green olives. Mum's cooking is consistently exceptional but this really was a new level - the tagine was layered with flavours, the sour acidity of the preserved lemon mixed with robust Moroccan spices meant a different and complementary flavour emanated from within each heaped spoonful. It was her best yet. And for all of you wishing to similarly impress your dinner guests, here is the recipe:

4. Monday night - Cellar Bar (80 Bourke Street, Melbourne) (4/10)

I read John Lethlean's review in The Australian only a week ago where he trashed Grossi Florentino, the upstairs upmarket sibling of this city establishment, so I was nervous. (Lethlean: If anyone is at the wheel of Guy Grossi’s flagship dining room, he – or she – is asleep.") Cellar Bar had that old Melbourne charm that you can only get at a few places in the city but overall looked tired, filled with old-school Italian waiters (some endearing, others lamentable) - the food was no better than Pellegrinis or the Waiters Club. Better places to spend your time and money in the CBD.

5. Thursday night - Mess Hall (51 Bourke Street, City) (9/10)

In stark contrast to Cellar Bar, this IS the sort of place you went to spend your time and money in the CBD - this is the polar opposite to the above (young fashionable waiters, minimalist fitout, long wooden benches, etc). The menu was filled with multiple enticing choices and you know you're onto a good thing when you see a friend on the way in who almost gets out of his seat to impress on you how good the gorgonzola gnocchi is. And he was right, the food here was outstanding. We had a simple gnocchi ala romana, a perfectly cooked fresh piece of ocean trout on a bed of mashed artichokes and tuna carpaccio with watercress sesame seeds and crab oil. Overall, this is highly recommended.

6. Saturday night - New Wind (120 Chapel Street Windsor) (6.5/10)

This was a pretty decent viet meal. We had a good mix of bbq pork buns, sesame prawns, South Vietnamese Fish Claypot, Salt & Pepper Squid and Duck Vietnamese Coleslaw. Mixed in with a few el-cheapo Long Island Iced Teas and it was as close to any illicit substances I've gotten to in a long long time.
7. Late Saturday night - Borsch Vodka & Tears (8.5/10)

We scored a prime window seat late Saturday night and had an excellent round of cocktails. The one pictured was a "detox-breaking" Apple Pie, I had a dirty Vodka martini and the third was a great "cannot recall". A perfect place to people watch, stay dignified and avoid the 2am trash running between windsor station and Revolver.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Birthday Quid Pro Quo @ Bar Idda (132 Lygon Street, East Brunswick)

Birthdays are always difficult, especially for friends. What to buy? How much to spend? Do they already have one? Will they hate it? To resolve this annual questioning, my very dear friend and I, both avid food lovers, decided on an eternal compromise, a pact, a mutual exchange - a birthday quid pro quo. For each other's birthdays, we take the other out for a meal at a location of their choice (although, this is usually agreed upon after a short round of negotiation).
This year my friend suggested Bar Idda - I don't get to East Brunswick as much as it warrants so any time I get there I know I'm in for a treat. The last time I was there for a meal was a special occasion at Rumi (a great middle eastern restaurant), which following its relocation down the road had been replaced at #132 by Bar Idda, so I was in familiar territory. The place had old Italian rustic charm, the service was friendly and attentive and the food, exceptional (generally).

My friend and I often struggle with eating out because we come from European backgrounds where food is flavoursome, hearty, serves are sumptuous and small tapas-style share plates are frowned upon, in addition to having some outstanding home-grown family chefs. So there have been past Birthday dinners where we have left unsatisfied (both quantity and quality), mentally noting to ensure we choose somewhere where we are guaranteed to leave full (see the list of Birthday meals below to understand the evolution).

At Bar Idda we did not have a problem - the food was homely but delicate and substantial. I started with a great Sardinian beer called Ichinusa, which went well with the Cazzilli (potato and fennel seed croquettes) and the Pan fried ricotta gnocchi with new season mushrooms and autumn green, which were soft and delicious albeit heavily over-salted.
For main we shared Mulinciani (layered eggplant with tomato, basil and pecorino) and Madonie style braised lamb shoulder. Both were exceptional - the Mulinciani comprised generous layers of eggplant topped with sharp pecorino whilst the lamb shoulder was beautifully tender. We also had a delicious side Pepperonata Siciliana (burnt peppers with white anchovy, capers, caramelised onion, mollica and mint). Combined with a beautiful house red (half litre for $12 or $20 for a litre - very economic), it was an incredible Sicilian feast that left us both, for the first time, avoiding the desert menu.

The history of the Birthday Quid Pro Quo (so far):
2009 - Her Birthday - Seamstress (3/10)
2009 - My Birthday - Coda (6/10)
2010 - Her Birthday - Guiseppe Arnaldo & Sons (7/10)
2010 - My Birthday - The European (7.5/10)
2011 - Her Birthday - Bar Idda (8/10)