Monday 28 January 2008

Reader recommendation - Gill's Diner

Gill's Diner
Gills Alley (rear 360 Little Collins Street), Melbourne (map)
9670 7214

Gill's Diner kitchen

The lunch I had a week ago at Gill's Diner represented a first for me - the first time a Melbourne Gastronome reader had requested that I review a particular venue. Andrew, I was only too happy to oblige - and thank you so much for recommending Gill's Diner, I was wowed by the lunch I had!

When Andrew suggested it the name Gill's Diner rang distant bells in my head, but it was only once I'd done a quick check on mcity that I realised I had eaten there before - albeit when the space was still just the Commercial Bakery backroom and the menu was limited to bakery/cafe fare.

Gill's Diner

As you can see, now it has become a bustling restaurant! The food has an Italian/Bistro focus, and the rather exxy-for-lunch prices mean I'll need to find a sugar daddy if I wish to make this a regular haunt of mine. As it is, I dined with M and C and paid my own way, thanks very much... :)

Risotto at Gill's Diner

M had the risotto of carrot and prawns with slow cooked leek ($22). As you can see, the carrot was entirely blended within the risotto. We all thought carrot and prawn sounded like a slightly odd combination, but it worked well. I wished the rice had had a touch more bite to it, though.

Quail at Gill's Diner

I'll admit that I felt a teensy stab of Dish Envy when C's plate of dukkah spiced whole quail with sumac, tomato fondue and mint salad ($23) arrived before him. The dukkahed crispy quail meat with minty tomato tasted as good as it looked. Next time at Gill's, I'll find it hard to go past this one if it's still up on the blackboard.

Conchiglioni at Gill's Diner

But when my dish arrived, any flicker of Dish Envy I'd had was extinguished. This, my friends, is the conchiglioni filled with Moreton Bay bugs, squash and lemon zest ($24.50). It was easily the best pasta dish I've had in a restaurant in months, and the memory of it will linger for quite a while.

The conchiglioni (Italian for big seashells - it may look like a small dish, but these suckers were huge) had been boiled, then roasted, THEN lightly pan fried. See the crispy underside of the foremost conchiglione? The taste and texture of the shells was incredible. The thrice-cooked pasta was filled with a delicious creamy puree of the ingredients listed above, with finely chopped tomato and green olive sprinkled over the top with a drizzle of good olive oil. Mmmmmmmmm.

Gill's Diner interior

On my way out, I stopped at the Commercial Bakery counter to pick up some chocolate custard tartlets and mixed nut tartlets, as I was going to a dinner party that night after work and wanted to bring something along. The fellas in the office kept trying to snaffle them all afternoon, but they made it intact to North Melbourne that night and were a great success.

Thanks once again for the recommendation and request, Andrew!


Anonymous said...

I am pleased you enjoyed it. Your review certainly does the place justice.

I wonder if you could be persuaded to inspect another favourite, though of more years standing. It is my local: France-Soir. Much has been written about it, some of it pretentious, some of it lazy and some with a distinct lack of understanding of the place. To me there are few things as pleasurable in Melbourne than to walk back from the opera or a show at the Spiegeltent late on a balmy Friday and have supper at 11:30, say - perhaps some mussels in an onion broth or the quenelles de perche sauce crevette with a few glasses of an inoffensive pinot blanc from Alsace. It's a place where I've had my birthday lunch the last few years: table for twelve, closest friends, dozens of freshly shucked oysters, vats of Perrier-Jouet and then, after two more courses stretched over hours, strong coffee and Calvados to finish. It's also a place where I love to come on my own with a book and have the steak-frites with a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape. It is necessarily South Yarra, though to me it never quite feels entirely of it, unlike the Botanical or Cafe e Cucina; there is a sense in which, if you feel like it, you can remain a detached flaneur and be respected for it, a co-conspirator of the old waiters who are amused by the ever higher mini skirts of the St Cath's alumnae who started coming with their parents and now also come with their boyfriends or by the raucousness and mutual desire to impress of the Friday lunchtime table of estate agents or mortgage brokers. It is a place where you can wear cashmere and Hermes or a t-shirt with torn jeans, or a tweed coat and tie; regardless, you will be accepted (it helps if you are a regular, naturally) and let be.

It is a place where, over 12 years, I've had one or two outstanding meals and never had a bad meal. I would be interested to read your thoughts.


jfox said...

Great to see a review of Gills.
I had mixed feelings about the place when we went for dinner a few weeks ago and was debating whether to return.

We also ordered the conchiglioni (my dining partner is always drawn to Moreton Bay bugs!). The dish we tried sounds different to your description: our filling wasn't pureed to a smooth texture and our shells weren't toasted. So although the flavour was great - really light and subtle, the texture wasn't quite right.
Unfortunately, our service was a little inconsistent (a little unforgivable given that it wasn't a busy night).
Having said that, the wine list looked interesting and the churros were delicious: chewy, cinnamon-y and generous chocolate!

Perhaps I will give it another chance and then blog about it? (i really should just post my thoughts officially ;D)

ps: am so very green that you saw bjork in sydney. no probs if you can't, but could i possibly add to your reader's requests /homework for a review ;)

claire said...

Thanks for the new suggestion, Andrew. I'm afraid I've never eaten at France-Soir: although it's only just over the river from me in Cremorne, I'm not really a South Yarra kind of gal. The only SY restaurants I like are Da Noi and Pacific Seafood BBQ House - Botanical looks too expensive and glitzy for my liking, and Caffe e Cucina has been ordinary for over ten years). Next time I've got a special occasion coming coming up and I feel like French, I'll check it out!

Thanks, jfox! I'm sorry to hear the conchiglioni were different when you went. As you could no doubt tell, the texture of the dish was half the fun for me! I'd be very interested to read your 'official' views on your blog if you do decide to give it another chance...
Oh, and as requested, I've written up a Bjork review for you. Writing about music is very different to writing about food, and I was in a bit of a weird mood when I wrote it. Anyway, hope you like it! :)

Miles said...

Hah! I was just about to write you an email to ask if you'd visited Gill's Diner before as part of your lunchtime food quest, but a quick Google revealed you already had. Some seriously good sandwiches and cakes if you're in a hurry, although sadly they don't have their mortadella one anymore, which was my favourite.

claire said...

Hey Miles, thanks for dropping by. It's been ages since I've been to Gill's Diner: thanks for reminding me that I'm due for another visit! :)

daisy dawn said...

Claire, can you review some restaurants which are allergy or intolerance friendly. I'm sick of being treated like a second class citizen!

Take Gill's diner for example: I went along with 5 others on a recent Friday night. Although I'd been for lunch a while ago, I was excited about spending the evening with out of town guests who enjoy the hidden nature of Melbourne's culture.
I have an annoying food intolerance to Salycilates (red onion, tomatoes, chilli, peppers, mushrooms, oranges, pineapple, strawberries, garlic etc). After a lengthy discussion with the waitress about what I could and couldn't eat, I chose a dish. The waitress had visited the kitchen to ensure I was well informed of the ingredients and I felt confident in my choice.
The first time the meal arrived it was apparent either the chef hadn't communicated all the ingredients or the waitress had ignored everything we talked about as sitting atop of the pasta was tomatoes.
The second time the dish came out it was covered in chilli and mushrooms, and when the dish finally came out the third time all the chef had managed was soggy pasta with steamed broccoli. No oil, no seasoning, no dressing, nothing! Based on the conversation I had with the waitress they could easily have thrown some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and basil on top to give it some flavour. But no, it arrived as just plain pasta.
I am astounded that a trained chef couldn't do any better than that. Talk about lazy, or maybe he's just incompetent.
Also, if, as a waitress, I'd had a dish returned to the kitchen twice, I would have made sure on the third attempt I had re-iterated to the chef the situation, esp. as they weren't overly busy and it's not like her attention was needed elsewhere.
On a side note, my friends all loved their meals. So while they, and you would rate it highly, intolerance or allergy sufferers are clearly not welcome!