Monday, 30 June 2008

When you're good to Mama...

Mama Ganoush
56 Chapel Street, Windsor (map)
9521 4141

Mama Ganoush

The appearance of favourable reviews of Mama Ganoush (complete with beguiling photographs of dreamy starry interiors) on Stickyfingers' and Ed's blogs late last year ensured I tucked the Windsor restaurant into a corner of my brain, ready to suggest it as a venue to try next time I found myself southside. It may have taken a while but lo and behold, best-friend-K and I were going to a 30th at the function room at the Rails just across the road, so dinner at Mama Ganoush it was!

Mama Ganoush exterior

According to the Epicure review, the restaurant is housed in a former shoe shop (the Epicure review goes on to quip: "With a thorough and stylish makeover elevating the place well beyond its Elsternwick sibling [Arabesque] in the glamour stakes, Mama looks and feels more Blahnik than Bata" - am I the only one who threw up a little reading that last phrase? What is this, the freaking Sunday Life magazine?! Did Lethlean really write that, or is it the unfortunate result of some lame copy editor trying to add a touch of "journalistic bling"? Ughh).

Anyhoo, the point is that Eric Hendry's kitchen is churning out damn fine Middle Eastern food with a modern twist, in a dark sexy restaurant that continues to be packed on weekends (five days in advance, we were only just able to squeeze in a reservation for two at the last available table). The menu has changed quite a bit from when Sticky and Ed reviewed it, so here's a sample of what's currently on offer (apologies for the poor-quality photos due to the mood lighting):

Quail with za'atar crumbs, eggplant fattouche and goat curd

Quail with za'atar crumbs, eggplant fattouche and goat curd ($17.50). I've freely admitted in the past that I don't know much about Middle Eastern cuisine, so I had to do a little googlestalking to learn that za'atar is a mixture of spices used as a condiment, and fattouche is a salad characterised by small pieces of toasted or fried pita bread. The quail was juicy and tender, and the salad was tangy and studded with pomegranate seeds, so I was happy as a sandboy.

Aleppo style 'wagyu' beef tartare, salsa harra, fresh mint and jou-jou bread

The other small dish we shared was the Aleppo style 'wagyu' beef tartare with salsa harra, fresh mint and jou-jou bread ($21). I've been reading up on Aleppo, a Syrian city which was awarded the 2005 Grand Prix of Cultural Gastronomy by the Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie in Paris - read a snappy article about Aleppo by Melbourne-Lebanese legend Greg Malouf (his brother Geoff is an owner of Mama Ganoush) here.

This dish wasn't quite what we were expecting: the construct-your-own meat, spicy salsa, fresh lettuce and mint on soft round bread topped with a pickled chilli felt a little like a posh Middle Eastern version of fajitas! That said, we really enjoyed it.

Middle Eastern spiced fried duck with honey and currant pilav, mint labne

We got one main to share: Middle Eastern spiced fried duck with honey and currant pilav, mint labne ($37), which was similar to the quail (spice-encrusted poultry with gooey deliciousness on the side - I suppose in hindsight we should have chosen something different for more variety) but it too was excellent. Loved the flavour of honey that really came through in the pilav.

Cucumber salad with sumac, chevre and pine nuts

Our side was the cucumber salad with sumac, chevre and pine nuts ($10). Simple, delicious.

Hazelnut and milk chocolate mousse, chocolate fairy floss, praline

We felt sated. That is, until we saw the dessert menu and b-f-K talked me into sharing the hazelnut and milk chocolate mousse with chocolate fairy floss, and praline ($13). I'm SO glad she did - the mousse had just the perfect amount of sweetness and richness. It turned out to be the second time that day that I'd had Persian fairy floss (I'd made JP cupcakes just that afternoon) - think I prefer the chocolate to the pistachio. And how cute is this dessert - it looks like a little toy head with a greying wig!

So all in all a rave review for Mama Ganoush from me. I want to revisit soon to try a few more dishes - the Turkish style Mussaka, the salt roasted black bream, the winter tabbouleh with chicory and red lentils... mmmmm....

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons: Disastrous Decadent Tuesday

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons
Crown Casino Complex, Melbourne (map)
9694 7400

Since it first opened and the first gushing write-ups appeared on other food blogs, I was excited about Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, Maurice Terzini's contribution to the new generation of über-restaurants springing up along the promenade at Crown Casino. Yes visiting GAS would mean breaking my self-imposed boycott of all businesses in the Crown Casino complex, but my conflicting desire to check out the gamberetti with aioli, the salumi and the spaghetti in a paper bag won out in the end...

I arranged to meet up there with some good friends for dinner on a Tuesday, which I dubbed Decadent Tuesday in my lengthy, excited email invitation to them. Decadent Tuesday would involve us meeting early to sip aperitifs at the bar while we put our name down for a table (as they have a no bookings policy); we would then proceed to (a) order THE most fabulous-sounding items on the menu, (b) spend far too much money and (c) drink like it was a Friday night - all in the name of decadence.

Having tiptoed out of work at a relatively early hour, I felt a surge of excitement as I crossed over the river and the first Casino flames billowed up into the cold evening air. I met CJ nursing a Negroni at the bar (she'd been the second person across the threshold at 6pm, ensuring we'd get a good table) and ordered a Spritz Aperol (the drink to have this summer in Italy, dahling - if my brother is to be believed). B-f-K also arrived and also ordered a Negroni. We received word that our other dining companion A wouldn't be able to make it, but that was okay. The shiny-domed bartender was doing a fine job and the venue looked simply fabulous.

Spritz Aperol

THEN IT ALL STARTED TO GO WRONG. Holding our drinks, we went up to the girl assigning tables and asked to be seated, informing her that there would now be only three of us dining instead of four, if that helped matters at all. She made an adjustment on her piece of paper and marched us through the mostly empty restaurant past the Wild Salumi Enclosure, past the theatrical Wall of Bread, past the tables with Turkish steam bath tiles both under and above them, to... a tiny little table right next to the kitchen's prep station. A table which would have been cramped even for two people - but for three people, it was ridiculous. The people facing each other had no elbow room as the table was jammed lengthwise hard up against the wall. And as for the person facing the wall (papered with celebrity autographs and customer testimonials, La Porchetta-style), the cramped conditions meant that her paper placemat/menu was almost entirely covered by the other two placemat/menus, making it impossible to read. Our cocktail glasses, water glasses, olive oil bowl and bread basket took up all available space in the middle of the table.

Sitting cheek by jowl to such a battery hen degree is fine if you're nursing a single bowl of teriyaki don and chopsticks at a venue like Don Too. Not if you're ordering multiple courses at a stylish pricey restaurant it isn't. Our biggest mistake of the night was failing to then and there request a different table.

After a few minutes our labcoated waiter walked up to our table and without any preamble asked what we wanted. I explained we wanted to share a bunch of items and requested the warmed mixed olives, the guanciale from the salumi cabinet, the gambaretti (sic), the spaghetti all'arrabbiata and the eggplant parmigiano. His face completely expressionless, he scribbled the items down with his stylus into his electronic gizmo and left without another word. Charming. Three tables away, I could see a poised professional waiter beginning his spiel to a smiling table of six: "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. First and foremost, can I recommend that you try the following antipasti...". Sigh. So near, yet so far! Feeling a little like second class citizens, we craned our necks and observed the rapidly filling restaurant.

Ten minutes later Captain Charming approached our table and deposited the guanciale, then quickly reappeared with ALL of the other dishes. Simultaneously. We looked at him is disbelief: "We can't fit all of those plates on this table. THIS TABLE IS TOO SMALL." He shrugged, mumbled something about how you'd be surprised how much stuff can be made to fit, and crammed it all on anyway, so that plates were protruding off the corners of our table. By this stage, we could see that there were no empty tables in the restaurant. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows and with some reluctance started eating.

Minuscule table

So how was the food? Well... it was good but it wasn't great. The guanciale was fatty and had a flavour so delicate it left me underwhelmed (though in retrospect, I should have chosen a bolder cut of meat). The eggplant was excellent. The spaghetti with chillied tomato and crab reminded me of a risotto done upstream at Tutto Bene. The gamberetti were crunchy and tasty, but were cold by the time we got around to eating them. Because everything had arrived at once.

Argh! I lay a lot of blame at the Converse-sneakered feet of Captain Charming. I can only assume (and hope!) that he's a student/part-time waiter and not a professional. Surely a professional waiter, taking in the size of our table and our order, would have suggested "How about I bring out just the olives and the salumi to start, then I'll bring out the gamberetti, then the rest?". The GAS staff seem to be under a lot of pressure to rush customers through and ensure a high turnover (we were out in a little over an hour after sitting down), but again: this isn't Don Too. SURELY our dishes could have been staggered somewhat.

You know that sad sinking feeling when you've realised your special evening is turning into a disaster but you pretend it isn't happening, because once you acknowledge it with your friends it'll be OUT THERE and you won't be able to pretend otherwise? Well, that's how we felt: very deflated, but still valiantly trying to salvage the mood. B-f-K commented that she loved these little wild Australian olives, and launched into telling us a funny story. As CJ and I were laughing, Captain Charming whisked away our remaining plates - including the olive plate which still had about a dozen olives on it. We were too surprised to stop him, and sat for a few moments in bewildered silence. What the hell was going on?!

At no time did anyone come to enquire how our meal was going. How I wish they had! I felt like tugging our waiter's sleeve and pleading "You don't understand... there seems to have some mistake... this is supposed to be Decadent Tuesday, not Disastrous Tuesday!"

Did we want dessert? Well we had discussed in advance the possibility of ordering the Zuppa Inglese (which Lethlean had that very day fawned over in his Top 20 dishes so far for 2008). I asked Captain Charming whether we could get the Zuppa Inglese. He stared at me for a moment, then monotoned "Oh, you want the zuppa." (pronouncing it to rhyme with 'supper'). The corners of my mouth tightening, I forced a smile and nodded.

Zuppa inglese

I don't know what Mister Epicure got himself so worked up about. The almonds, pistachio and raspberries on top were nice, but the jelly layer was far too thick and more importantly the trifle contained no discernable grappa (or any other liqueur for that matter). I acknowledge that by this stage of the meal we'd all admitted what a shit time of it we were having, which no doubt clouded our judgement to an extent. I doubt that we'd have been so critical of the food if we'd had a different table and a competent waiter. What a difference good service makes, eh. As it was, we couldn't wait to get the hell out of there!

So there you have my bitterly disappointing night at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. I certainly hope that this review doesn't sound petty - it has been very unenjoyable and difficult to write. Regular readers of Melbourne Gastronome will know that I very rarely write negative reviews (if I don't like a place I prefer to just omit writing anything), and am not a overly fussy, difficult customer. On the contrary, I'm pretty easy to please - with GAS my hopes were high but throughout the night I kept trying to see the upside, kept trying to justify the situation, despite the increasingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But put plainly, our experience sucked.

So much for Decadent Tuesday! :_(

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Whoo hoo kangkung!


A few weeks ago at the Vic Market I happened upon a stall selling a green vegetable that I couldn't name but looked oddly familiar. After a few moments examining it, I realised with a jolt that it was in fact kangkung, a variety of water spinach I'd become obsessed with on my trip to Bali last year. I snapped up a bunch of it (only $1.60!!) and took it home to try and recreate kangkung plecing (with sambal). It was a great success, and left me jonesing for more.


Alas my search for it yesterday at Prahran Market was unsuccessful, despite the best efforts of the woman at the Asian grocer and the nice young bearded chap at the gourmet mushroom place. But such was my craving for it that this morning - after brunch with my parents back at Auction Rooms (FYI, today I got around to tasting the Auction Rooms home-made baked beans with thyme - they're awesome) - I begged them to prop the car outside the Vic Market so that I could dash in and buy a few bunches. Hoorah!

Stir frying kangkung

Now I just improvised my recipe using minimal ingredients, but AOF from Confessions of a Food Nazi wrote up a proper recipe for kangkung plecing which I'm looking forward to trying next time.

I heated up oil in the wok and threw in some garlic, sambal oelek, palm sugar and lime juice. After half a minute or so I threw in the stalks of the kangkung, then twenty seconds later the leaves, tossed them through for twenty seconds, then served it. Easy peasy.

Sunday dinner

Tonight I served the kangkung plecing with Nigella's Mirin-glazed Salmon (from Nigella Express) - also very tasty and quick to prepare, as Sarah recently attested. Kangkung is my new favourite vegetable and I don't care who knows it - plus its introduction into our house has given my housemate DJ a new favourite c-word variant... :)

JP cupcakes

JP cupcake

The lovely T gave me this cupcake recipe book for my birthday earlier this year. I made the Cloud Cupcakes for a lunch in late February or early March, but must confess that since then I hadn't revisited the book - mainly out of trepidatious feelings of inadequacy regarding my baking abilities.

[Tangent: I was also put off by the fact that many of the recipes require "500g prepared fondant" as an ingredient to make fondant icing. "What the hell IS fondant, exactly?" my housemate had heard me mutter grumpily. Is this something I needed to pre-purchase, or to make separately? I'd examined the book carefully to see if there was a separate fondant recipe, but there wasn't. Is fondant available only at specialist cake shops, or is it at supermarkets? I've never noticed it on the shelves. The Women's Weekly recipe books have a special place in my heart, but this book's glossary seemed to be mocking my fondant ignorance - why would they include an entry for "rind" ("also known as zest" - !!!), but not one defining what they meant by "fondant"?! Whatevs, man.]

Then on Saturday I was gripped by a sudden desire to bake, so decided to give cupcakes another go. I was going to a 30th that night - I figured I'd drop the cupcakes in to the birthday boy the following day to help with the hangover... :)

Making JP cupcakes

To makes the cupcakes for JP, I used the cream cheese lemon cake recipe from page 16 and the cream cheese frosting recipe from page 8 (no fondant required!) - and I decided to top them off with wisps of the pistachio flavoured Persian Fairy Floss I bought in a recent bout of fiscal madness at Leo's.

JP cupcakes

JP CUPCAKES (a combo of recipes from "The Australian Women's Weekly Cupcakes")

Cream cheese lemon cake
90g butter, softened
90g cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
2/3 cup (150g) caster sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup (50g) self-raising flour
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour

Cream cheese frosting
30g butter, softened
80g cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups (240g) icing sugar

Beat butter, cream cheese, rind, sugar and eggs in a bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add sifted flours to mixture, beat on low speed until combined. Divide mixture among paper cases in cupcake tray.

Bake 20 mins for a 12-hole standard muffin pan (or 30 mins if you're using a 6-hole texas pan). Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool.

To make frosting, beat butter and cream cheese in a small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in sifted icing sugar.

JP cupcakes

Oh, and a tip for young players: only add the Persian fairy floss, if you choose to do so, at the very last minute - or it tends to melt a bit... :)

JP cupcakes

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Mangio bevo lavoro

As of this week, Melbourne Gastronome is a featured blog for the next few months on I eat I drink I work, a fairly new food/drink website that (as the name suggests) has a hospitality industry focus. As well as featured blogs, the content includes commissioned articles and videos, and hospitality job postings. Check it out!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Somewhat drunken dinner chez Gingerboy

27-29 Crossley Street, Melbourne (map)
9662 4200

Gingerboy interior

We were hungry, it was 9:30pm on a Friday night and with several vodka and tonics under our trenchcoat belts, CJ and I stood in the crowded city bar and acknowledged that dinner could go one of two ways. Either we traipse down to Camy Shanghai Dumpling House and fill up on cheap, cheap chili oil dumplings and more booze from Vintage Cellars (as is usually the case)... or we treat ourselves and dine somewhere just a little bit fabulous. Decisions, decisions!

We were both totally up for revisiting Gingerboy. I've been a fan of Teage Ezard's cooking ever since 2002 when, in brazen defiance of my impoverished student status, I shouted my then-boyfriend (who'd that very day handed in his PhD) and I a night at the Adelphi and the full degustation menu at ezard. So naturally I was thrilled when he (Ezard, not my ex) opened a second, less formal restaurant a few years later.

I've been to Gingerboy four or five times now and have always enjoyed it, though looking back over my comments after my first visit in November 2006 (on mellie's Gingerboy post on tummy rumbles - which was certainly pre-Melbourne Gastronome and I believe may have been the first time I (as mutemonkey) ever left a comment on a food blog - hopefully my writing is not still as long-winded and pompous as it was then!), I'd had some initial nitpicks.

Gingerboy interior

But all was well on Friday night when CJ and I sauntered in at 9:45pm and nabbed the only empty table. The blaring hip hop mixed with nouveau reggae beats that so offended my delicate musical sensibilities in 2006 was now toned down and the staff were friendly and helpful. I love the constellations of pinprick lights scattered over the walls and ceiling, though the waiters must get sick of constantly knocking that fringed curtain as they serve the front tables.

Steamed prawn and ginger dumplings

I'd mumbled something about dumplings as we'd sat down, so we started with the steamed prawn and ginger dumplings with peanut chilli soy ($13 for three; at our enterprising waitress' suggestion, we'd only ordered two so as to have room to sample more small dishes). The dumplings were nice and all, but didn't really have a wow factor.

Chilli salt cuttlefish

What DID have a wow factor was the crispy chilli salt cuttlefish with lemon and roasted sesame ($13). CJ had never had cuttlefish before and wasn't expecting it to be so exquisitely tender. The dusting of chilli salt together with the lemon juice was delightful. Although we were both somewhat the worse (or better) for alcohol, our appreciation of the food was by no means diminished.

Lemon in muslin

I must be growing more tolerant (or pretentious) in my old age. In 2006 best-friend-K and I thought the wedge of lemon wrapped in muslin was completely wanky and pretentious, but I must admit that now I kind of love it... :)

Son in law eggs

And then it was time for my favourite dish, the son in law eggs with chilli jam and Asian herbs ($12 for three; again, we just got two). I know these particular ones aren't that pretty (and okay, they may even look a little like they have leprosy) but TRUST ME on this one. They're awesome. To eat them you simply MUST place the entire egg into your mouth and chomp down on that deep-fried goodness so that the still-runny warm yolk slides its way down your throat followed by a fabulous jumble of sweet-minty-spicy-piquant Thai flavours. The son in law eggs double as a sensational hangover cure, and a quick version of the recipe can be found at Totally Addicted to Taste.

Red duck leg curry

The red duck leg curry with shallots, Thai basil and coconut cream ($33.50) was thick and rich, particularly when we matched it (perhaps foolishly) with the creamed coconut rice ($7.50). But CJ and I are both coconut maniacs, so we loved it. Much less showy than the other standouts, but still really really really good were the wok greens ($7.50), which had an intense smoky flavour and were very moreish.

Although it wasn't listed on the dessert menu, when we'd arrived I'd crossed my fingers in the hope that the Steamed Pandan Dumpling in Spiced Gula Syrup was still part of the dessert share plate. As it turned out, CJ and I couldn't possibly fit in anything else after the coconutathon so I never got to find out. But that's all the more reason to return again soon...

Wok greens, creamed coconut rice

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Tequila Madness (with Siglo postscript)

Cafe Vue
430 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
9691 3899

Cafe Vue bar

As the month of May gasped its last (increasingly chilly) breath, a small posse of us trooped along to Cafe Vue for another of their Cocktail Nights (five themed cocktails and five dishettes from the VdM kitchen for $75 per head). I'd loved the Christmas night, but had been less enthusiastic with the Chinese New Year night.

The May menu and cocktail list (theme: Tequila!) had piqued my interest - I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn a bit more about Mexico's favourite spirit made from native agave azul. Ay caramba.

Blanco Rickey

First up was a Blanco Rickey, a tequilised version of a Gin Rickey, using tequila blanco. The unaged white tequila had a herbaceous taste, which married nicely with the lime and soda. The cocktail was topped with agave foam which was fascinating to try, and surprisingly sweet and tasty.

Eggplant chips, baba ganoush and pickled eggplant

The Blanco Rickey came with eggplant chips, baba ganoush and pickled eggplant. I know the relatively inexpensive price of the night means that the dishettes are often on the small side, but this really was disappointingly miniature. Still, the chips had a smoky flavour and the pickled eggplant was good and zingy, featuring lemongrass and lemon zest.

Pomegranate Punch

The Pomegranate Punch also used tequila blanco, together with pomegranate liqueur, herbs, fruit juices and a fresh basil leaf. Very refreshing - I just love the taste of pomegranate.

Blue fin tuna tartare with yellow pepper sauce

The second dish tasted as good as it looked. Blue fin tuna tartare with yellow pepper sauce, which was slightly curried. Yummmm. My pal S was brought a vegetarian option straight from the kitchen: Swiss brown mushroom risotto with mushroom air (yep, it's ALL about the air, foam and gel here at the Cafe Vue Cocktail Night...).

Gold Apricot Fizz

The third cocktail featured tequila reposado, aged in American oak for anywhere between 60 days to 11 months and consequently having a bit more whack to it. The cocktail was a Gold Apricot Fizz, which differed from a traditional Fizz in that it substituted apricot juice for citrus fruit, then added vanilla and mixed in some egg yolk to give it that emulsifier mouthfeel. Loved it.

Beef terrine on corn bread

The Fizz was matched with a beef terrine on corn bread. As you can see, the terrine was extremely cute (wagyu beef chequered with polenta) but wasn't particularly exciting taste-wise. I preferred S's vego option of tomato cannoli with goat's cheese.

Pear Treacle

The Pear Treacle was also made with tequila reposado, plus pear juice and Peychaud bitters from New Orleans. I'm a big fan of bitters and pear, so this one was a no-brainer for me. I'm sorry I'm so boring in that I loved all of these cocktails! I'm also sorry this pic is fuzzy and murky... the tequila was starting to take its toll by this stage...

Mint and vanilla crème with almond nougatineMint and vanilla crème with almond nougatine

Unusually for the Cafe Vue Cocktail Nights, two of the five courses were desserts. The first was a mint and vanilla crème with a delicate casing of almond nougatine over the top (promptly bashed in by yours truly, as the before and after shots attest). The crème didn't have any egg in it, but had a wonderfully smooth consistency, broken up by the shards of nougatine. I scraped up every last bit of it.

Pineapple Shrub

The final cocktail was the Pineapple Shrub. The good folk at Kaiser Penguin wrote a handy little article explaining that a shrub is a cocktail preparation of fruit syrup, generally using rum. This shrub used pineapple, orange, sugar, Tokay, Angostura bitters and tequila añejo, aged for over a year. I think this was my favourite of the cocktails - although it had this lovely winter warmer oranges-and-bitters feel to it, the counter-balancing pineapple flavour was sensational!

The Shrub was paired with the second dessert, my favourite of the dishettes: warmed poached oranges with champagne foam, cream cheese sorbet and eight spice (not five, not nine, but eight!). But where is the photo of this dishette, well may you ask. Um, well, while I remembered to photograph the Shrub before it was entirely finished, the same cannot be said for its partner! Hey, I'd had five tequila cocktails by this stage...

When we'd had enough tequila, S and I left the others and tottered up the hill to meet friends at Siglo, the newish bar set up by Con "European, Melbourne Wine Shop, Melbourne Supper Club" Christopoulos on the rooftop of the Supper Club.

Level 2, 161 Spring St, Melbourne (map)
9654 6300

Parliament House from Siglo

It was a coooold night but we sat under the large heat lamps while N and F smoked, and we admired the sensational view of Parliament House.

Siglo, wall of Princess Theatre

I just LOVE the distressed Southern wall of the Princess Theatre and its Haussmann/Parisian-style grey roof, but I'd never noticed either feature before. The wines at Siglo aren't cheap but they do a damn tasty goat's cheese and roasted capsicum toasted sandwich, which S and I shared - all the foams and airs had left us still feeling somewhat hungry... :)

Princess Theatre roof from Siglo

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Clearing the blog backlog

Enoteca Vino Bar

Given how hectic the last fortnight month has been, I'm doing another "bitsa" post (bitsa this, bitsa that) to clear some of the blog backlog and write up a few places I've visited recently and wanted to share with you, dear reader. Please excuse the longer-than-usual length!

Enoteca Vino Bar
920 Lygon St, Carlton North (map)
9389 7003

Enoteca Vino Bar

When family friends R&S were in town, we took them out to dinner at Enoteca Vino Bar (the Enoteca Sileno restaurant up near the cemetery). It was an unusually warm night, so we braved the sitting outside in the pretty courtyard and while we were waiting for our food to arrive we had a sticky-beak inside at all the gorgeous Italian imported produce and wines on offer.

Assaggini at Enoteca

Enoteca Vino Bar does some great assaggini at very tapas-y prices. From top left and working clockwise we shared: sinful yet sensational stuffed Ascolana olives ($8.50), octopus stew with capers, olives and tomatoes ($8.50), baccalà and potato salad with onion, parsley, EVOO and lemon ($9.50), vitello tonnato ($10), eggplant and smoked mozzarella involtini ($12.50) and duck breast with carrot and celeriac salad and vincotto dressing ($11).

Smoked mozzarella eggplant involtini

All the assagini were delicious but the one that really stood out was the eggplant involtini - they had been roasted in the oven and filled with smoked provoletta and buffalo mozzarella, resting on a bed of fregola (a couscous-like Sardinian pasta I'd not tried before). The intense smokiness of the cheese embedded in the eggplant had a real wow factor - be sure to try this if you visit!

Bistecca alla FiorentinaSaltimbocca di conigilio at Enoteca

It had been far too long since I'd had one, and I felt in need of a year's supply of iron, so I ordered the bistecca alla Fiorentina: a 450g slab of Black Angus cooked to medium-rare perfection, with cannellini bean puree and wilted spinach ($42). Outrageous. Dad went for the saltimbocca, which was rather unusually a rabbit saltimbocca ($33).

Bonet alla PiemonteseSemifreddo at Enoteca

The dessert standouts were the Bonet alla Piemontese - amaretti biscuit and chocolate pudding - served with caramel sauce and fruit ($12.50) and the panettone semifreddo with candied fruit and orange vincotto ($10.50). Both tasted very authentically Italian.

The food is ottimo but the mains are expensive, so I'd advise skipping them: some clever ordering of assaggini and desserts will still get you a brilliant meal for much less moolah.

458-460 Bridge Rd, Richmond (map)
9429 3402

Clare's birthday - belly dancer

On CJ's birthday a big group of us went to Kanzaman. It was my first time dining there, despite having walked past it many times over the years (marveling at the lurid blue lighting outside and the lavishly painted walls inside). We went on a Saturday night and the place was packed. Just before our mains arrived at the table there was a burst of amplified jangly music and a belly dancer shimmied her way into the room, proceeding to dance the dance of the seven veils (well, a family-friendly version)...

Clare's birthdayClare's birthday

The food wasn't bad, but I'm not in a hurry to get back there. I had the Sultania ($23): lamb eye fillets sauteed in pomegranate molasses, mustard seeds and herbs. The pomegranate gave it a nice flavour but the meat and rice were on the dry side. For dessert my neighbour and I shared the Mahalabia ($9): custard topped with pistachio nuts and a lemon orange blossom syrup.

40 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern (map)
9509 5365

Shark fin dumpling
Close encounter with shark fin dumpling
The macro setting on Mum's new camera is fully sick
Fuck me! I wish I had a digicam that could take food porn pics like this

Spinach dumplings

Yeah okay, there's actually not much I want/need to say again about Ripples, other than (a) check out that cool shark fin dumpling macro photo! and (b) how wicked crazy fluoro are their spinach/ectoplasm dumplings?? :)

Tutto Bene
Mid Level Southgate, Melbourne (map)
9696 3334

Stuffed mozzarella Burrata

M, a nice young gentleman, asked me out on a dinner and theatre date the other week. He took me to Tutto Bene, which was one of the first places I wrote about when I started Melbourne Gastronome just over a year ago.

We started by sharing the Mozzarella del Giorno ($13.50) which was a Burrata, a mozzarella ball hand-filled with a soft mixture of mozzarella and cream. It was served with artichokes and a vegetable dressing, and the gooey texture and creamy flavour was utterly delightful.

Risotto al Presidente

While M went for a risotto with sugo, I tried the Al Presidente ($20) - a unique combination of 3 year old parmigiano and balsamic vinegar, produced from a 1912 mother must, created by our chef for the Italian President visiting Australia. Like pizze, I reckon the best risotti are the simplest ones... and this is the best risotto I've had at Tutto Bene. The rice had juuuust the right amount of bite to it, and the cheese had a superior flavour.

The Press Club
72 Flinders St, Melbourne (map)
9677 9677

Saganaki martini

And finally, it was back to The Press Club for another Kerasma, this time with the family and R&S. More saganaki martinis, yay!

Scallop with apple foam

Last time I'd had the Kerasma we'd also been served scallops, but they'd been embedded in loukoumades and deep fried. This time they were served topped with green apple foam (alas the foam had lost its mojo by the time I took the photo). When our lovely waiter told us what the foam was I though to myself "that sounds so damn crazy it just might work!", but Birdie and I didn't care for it. The foam gave the scallop an unpleasant synthetic, slightly medicinal taste. I suspect it's due to whatever foaming agent was used... soy lecithin maybe? I came across the same unpleasant taste at the molecular gastronomy-berserk Chinese New Year Cocktail Night at Cafe Vue.

Press Club salads

The other items that differed significantly from the previous Kerasma were the salads. This time both of the salads were fruit-based (what with the apple foam as well, George was clearly feeling very fruity that night): one salad contained watermelon, chilled tomato egg, smoked Dodoni feta and black olive oil... the other consisted of fresh figs on a landing strip of labna, served with slivered almonds and a balsamic reduction. Both were excellent.

Goat at Press Club

Because Mum hates lamb, we asked for the kleftiko ("stolen") goat instead, which was served in wonderful little cherry red and white Le Creuset casserole dishes and had a melomakarona crust. Even Birdie, who'd pulled a face in squeamish teenage disgust when she'd heard we were ordering goat, agreed that the exquisitely tender meat tasted fantastic, and that the humble cabbage and feta salad on the side was very very moreish.

Press Culb dessert
We finished with the ever-scrumptious dessert platter. R&S, our gourmand friends from the UK, were suitably impressed!