She invited her fellow food bloggers to join her in her self-imposed Amnesty Week, exhorting us to "post those stories you haven't quite finished; just the images, list the important bits in point form, do whatever it takes, just get the bloody things up so you/we can all move on".
I was very much taken with the idea, only I've had to make it Amnesty Fortnight, given the amount of social stuff I'm doing at the moment. So while I apologise for the fact that the following reviews are all rather slapdash, the beauty of Amnesty Fortnight is that I can just get the damn things out there and out of my drafts folder! I've got at least twenty random places I initially wanted to write about, plus there'll be a post of five places in Richmond, a bumper edition of the King / Bourke Quest and my long, long, long overdue review of Attica. Here's part one of the twenty random places:
357 Victoria Street, North Melbourne (map)
Tucked on Victoria Street near the corner of Errol and run by a charming couple, Citrus Mint is a sassy little restaurant serving classy Thai. As well as crowd-pleasers such as nam sod and pad thai, Schatzi, A and I really enjoyed the rockling fillets in red chilli paste. Definitely worth a look if you're in North Melbourne.
180 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn East (map)
Purple Sands is a great little restaurant just next to the Rivoli in Camberwell Junction, serving rather fancy Cantonese food. When I went there with the family we particularly loved the minced pork and eggplant hotpot with Szechuan sauce, and the tender juicy eye fillet in black pepper sauce.
186 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn (map)
Choi's is also decidedly in the upper echelons of inner-suburban Chinese restaurants. It ain't cheap, but their Heart and Soul Chicken is a standout, as is the spread-eagled quail.
445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
I may be picky with my Italian restuarants, but I do rather like Benito's, in Little Collins Street. I was going to include it in my King / Bourke Quest, but really it's the sort of place where you want a good hour and a half and a glass of wine for lunch. I know these dishes look very similar, but they were both so nice: simple lasagne tarted up with a dollop of pesto, and meltingly soft gnocchi alla romana.
Oh, and they do good breakfasts there too!
Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar
80 Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
Another deservedly popular Italian bistro in the CBD. I think I actually prefer it to The Restaurant and The Grill. I went to the Cellar Bar several months ago with K&J, and J had some marvellously authentic agnolotti di zucca. I can also recommend the gnocchi al gorgonzola!
Camy Shanghai Dumpling
25 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne (map)
Really, what can be said about Camy's that hasn't already been said? We love it, we hate it, for years we've visited it. We guzzle chilli oil dumplings and bottles of Coopers bought around the corner at Vintage Cellars. We marvel that after ten years they keep playing the same damn CD featuring Cher's "Do You Believe" and Celine "My Heart Will Go On" Dion. We fill up bowls with soy sauce from the coffee urn then watch the bowls pirouette on the wet tabletop. We give a wry smile every time someone tells us that they just discovered "this great little place in a laneway that does really cheap dumplings". We love that the queue for Camy's on a Friday night often far outstrips the queue for Section 8.
The original group I set up on good ol' bookface called "I ate at David and Camy's Shanghai Dumpling and survived (but only just)" has 950 members. Go figure. :)
112 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
For those that get their cheapo dumpling places mixed up, Shanghai Village is easily distinguishable by its lurid pink plumage, used to attract hungry, unsuspecting mates. I also love the staricase leading up to the low-ceilinged mezzanine: it reminds me of an old-fashioned tavern.
I felt for years that Shanghai Village was the thinking man's Shanghai Dumpling - just as cheap, but with friendlier staff and slightly cleaner plates. The dumplings were generally reliable and of good quality. However on my last visit the chilli oil dumplings had a rather nasty spam-like texture, and I am yet to return. Now if only North East China Family would add chilli oil dumplings to their menu, I'd happily make that my one stop shop for dumplings in the CBD!
330 Bridge Road, Richmond (map)
Okay, so this isn't exactly earth-shattering news - and I'm sure people would say I'm dead wrong and that the burgers at Andrews or Urban Burger or Misty's are better - but I say it's pretty hard to go past the Mustard & Pickled burger ($9.90) at Grill'd...
Sichuan Dining Room
723 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn (map)
I'll admit I first went to Sichuan Dining Room entirely on the strength of my all-time favourite Lethlean article, describing his epic comedy-of-errors initial visit:
Some friends wandered in; I asked them to join us and finish the wine.
"What's the place like?" asked one.
"Hilarious," said I. "The food is really good, too, and from what I know, authentic."
Sichuan Dining Room is definitely an acquired taste, but I've been impressed with the food each time I've visited. Damn fine dan dan noodles and dumplings with very delicate casing.
I can also recommend the gongbao chicken, the beans with minced pork and the steamed fish buried under a spring onion and sliced chilli mountain.
La Vita Buona
City Square, Melbourne (map)
9663 4448/9654 7855
La Vita Buona was first recommended to me by a Melbourne Gastronome reader. Because this is Amnesty Fortnight and I'm allowed to be lazy if it means the thing gets written, I will cheat and quote liberally:
"You must try (if you haven't already) a new place [it opened last August] in the City Square called La Vita Buona. It's a delicatessen/wine bar/wine shop on the same principle as Wine Shop, but much more reasonably priced on what is an excellent choice of Old and New World wines. There is an enormous selection of wine and you can drink it there at $15 more.
The difference is that the base price here is much lower, being a true retail price, e.g. 2000 Chateau du Courlat from St Emilion (a bottle of which a friend and I shared last night) is $32 per bottle, the same price as at Europa Cellars. A whole lot of wines are under $30 and even under $20, and you can have any bottle in a 500ml carafe if you don't want to drink the entire bottle. The balance (if you choose to finish it off, you'll just be charged the bottle price) will be available by the glass to the others and, if not finished, will be polished off by the staff later on (as we were told).
Very pleasant atmosphere; not unlike one of those cavernous places in the centre of Perugia - warm, darkish, exposed brick, a few nooks and crannies.
The staff are young, friendly and knowledgeable - even a little cheeky but in a totally pleasant way.
A good, small selection of well-priced snacky food - salumi (no bresaola that I could see last night, I'm afraid!), a few cheese specials, good smoked salmon. And I think there is also a proper main dish every night at around the $18-20 mark.
Sorry for the staccato delivery, but I thought you would really enjoy this place."
And indeed I did! The menu is sparse but good (antipasto, soup of the day, fish of the day and braise of the day if memory serves), the range and price of wines are excellent and the staff were exceptionally lovely about finding my umbrella when I once left it there in a drunken haze...