Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Baby Cafe & Pizzeria - Chin Chin's Sibling

My second visit to Baby Cafe & Pizzeria in Richmond turned out better than my first. After attempting to take on the hipsters and hungry mob in general on a Saturday night after drinking frenzies at Ponyfish IslandDer Raum and Bar Americano, not to mention a hedonistic lunch at Movida, a one hour wait during my previous visit finally yielded a table however after waiting fifteen minutes for a menu or some sort of service after being seated - any service - we abandoned hope and left.

So it was with great anticipation of better things that I dined at Baby yesterday, commencing the New Year with hearty food, a few tasty alcoholic beverages and words shared by exordium to commence a new era of reviews on this blog. As Baby was one of the few places in Melbourne actually open and serving a full menu on New Years Day, I was not only excited to get some sustenance but finally be able to experience what the sibling to Chin Chin had to offer.

Feeling a bit energetic even though I had not fully shaken off the effects afforded to my body from a wild and rampant New Years Eve, I had the great idea to start 2013 off on a healthy foot (sic) and walk to Richmond via the beautiful banks of the Yarra River with the epicurean emo in tow. It was a beautiful day and by the time we presented ourselves at Baby after a 45 minute walk, I was very thirsty.

Cans of Red Peroni were delivered. Cans? I suppose Chris Lucas never professed that this is a genuine Italian clone, but seemingly more of an interpretation of what is fun and can work. The cans would become a fixture on our table after ordering the Banchetto. Like how Chin Chin offers the "Feed Me!" banquet, Baby does the same for $66 per person and I was happy to permit the restaurant to make the hard choices for us.

Offerings for the banquet are extracted from nearly all parts of the menu. Salumi misti (mixed daily selection of cured meats) are served on a board with optional bread along with marinated vegetables before the carpaccio di kingfish (kingfish carpaccio with lemon zest and mint) arrived. The vegetables and meat were a nice way to start and cleansed my palate which in turn  prepared it for the delicate carpaccio.

The San Daniele prosciutto pizza followed. Heavy on the rocket and proschiutto but highlighted by the fried crust which I thought was tasty but also leaves the Baby signature on your experience. This is a new and very interesting way to prepare pizza. I liked it because the crust was thin. As a contrast, the bloke at the table next to us was complaining that his suckling pig pizza tasted too "cheesy" which I thought was an odd thing to say.

A hearty Pappardelle con ricotta di bufala pasta followed. The mix of copious amounts of ricotta, basil and pinenuts made this my favourite dish however when it was finished, I was left holding my engorged stomach not even thinking that I could drink any more beer. Service was kind enough to give us some time before the next dishes came out thankfully. Speaking of which, service remained interested and thoughtfully refilled our water and was always there to restore our cans of Peroni when required.

Pesce al forno (blue eyed cod, clams, tomatoes with salsa verde) along with a piselli prosciutto e mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella, san daniele prosciutto, shaved pecorino, peas and mint) finished the Insalate course. The latter being the most visually appealing dish of the night called out to me to finish my fair share. On occasion I would look passionately at the long padded bench that I was sitting on against the wall and ponder how nice it would be to have a deep and long sleep. I certainly was not going to walk back to Southbank.

The restaurant was not finished with us yet. Two desserts from the Dolci menu arrived to finish off the banquet - gelati e sorbetti (red, white and green sorbet and gelato) along with sfinci al cioccolato (hot cinnamon doughnuts and chocolate sauce) and despite struggling hard, I was able to finish my fair share and win this Test match.

Toward the end of the banquet, the restaurant was filled nearly to capacity and it was 2:30 PM. It reminded me that the place does get loud when busy but given the nature of the menu is to share, the restaurant is casual in nature, with a good area outside to languish around drinking whilst waiting for a table, or even whilst waiting for your takeaway, the noise can be excused as you do not go to Baby to fine dine. More so to be with friends, have a wild time and not have your palate challenged.

It took quite some time for me to roll up to the Swan to have a few more pints and recover from the onslaught of food at Baby. It doesn't leave such an intense impression on you after you leave that its sibling Chin Chin does however for a casual eatery, it will give you what you want and some sense of satisfaction despite the time of day that you visit. There was a steady flow of people ordering coffee and pizza and I know that I will certainly be back with to pick-up a suckling pig pizza to takeaway as if that other bloke would go out of his way to complain that something is too "cheesy" really makes me want it more.

Baby Pizza, Richmond, Melbourne
Baby Cafe & Pizzeria
631-633 Church St  Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9421 4599
My Rating: 13.5/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 4/5

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 61% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Baby Cafe & Pizzeria.

Baby Cafe & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Monday, 31 December 2012

The Best of 2012 - Live While We're Young

The links on this page take you to my respective review.

It has been six months since I started this writing this blog. What started as a novel and interesting experiment has turned into a ritual for me and has made the time that I have spent in Melbourne since relocating here from Sydney earlier in the year much more fulfilling. Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling posts and for the support.

In the spirit of adding to the hundreds of "best of" lists that are on offer, I thought I would summarise what received the highest scores on my weighted rankings page and extrapolate a few of the scores into words.

My best overall dining and drinking experience that I had in 2012 was at Jacques Reymond. It not only received my highest score for "ambiance" and also for "service" but the complete experience was the most memorable and enjoyable.

Flinders Island Wallaby starred in two of my favourite degustation menus for the year. First of course it was featured in my sublime experience at Jacques Reymond but I first enjoyed it at Attica and after musing about them both for hours and talking to people (and probably boring them) for just as long, I prefer the way Ben Shewry of Attica has devised the way to serve the beast. There are two distinct contrasting styles too so the diner wins in the end ultimately. Best regards to Flinders Island Meats for providing this meat to these extremely talented chefs so plebeians like me can enjoy it. 

With Attica in mind, it received the highest score with "quality" in mind. Running the gamut of the high quality produce grown on site, the much maligned potato prepared in its own dirt which I thought was brilliant, the King George Whiting in paperbark, the marron, the aptly named Plight of the Bees, the multiple playful amuse-bouche, and of course the simple but truly divine Flinders Island wallaby, Attica was a stand-out for excellence not only in the quality of food but also the matching beverages. I was blown away.

Although I could not fault the "service" that I got at Jacques Reymond, another and more important consistent example is the professionalism afforded to you at Flower Drum. After visiting Flower Drum for the better part of a decade I can not recall a time when service was not "perfect" and when you get to the chance to watch the team prepare and serve Peking Duck, you know that you are in the midst of professionals who go out of their way to make the diner comfortable.

Value for money can be interpreted in many different ways. I think of it as having both variation and quality, yet an amusing and professional experience which is memorable for positive reasons at a reasonable price. This theme has taken on a few different incarnations since I started writing the blog. One of the most surprising finds for me was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy on a weekday afternoon. Besides the infused vodkas and craft beer on offer, they provide a wide variety of pinxtos (Basque for snacks or tapas) for $1 per serve at the bar. You simply save your toothpicks and pay when you are finished and are on the "honour system" throughout your drinking and grazing experience. I have always found the pinxtos to be tasty, colourful, fresh and exciting and they certainly enable you to polish off a fair share of their extensive list of infused vodkas. Besides having an interesting ambiance and back-story, I think this one of the hidden gems of Melbourne. After priming yourself at Naked For Satan, it is easy to wander across the street and play the latest video games and drink some strong cocktails at Mana Bar, or even enjoy the hospitality of my favourite find with respect to bars this year, Black Pearl.

With Black Pearl and bars in mind, the appreciation of bars is always subjective and directly relates to your company, ambiance, service and is indeed more experience based than many other things in life. For that reason time after time this year, I have found myself sitting on a stool at Der Raum in Richmond and consider it about as perfect you can get, at least using my personal criteria. Der Raum is currently being renovated and will re-open in February 2013 and I am really excited to see what Matthew Bax and the team will come up for its next iteration. I had the pleasure of attending Bar Americano many times over the year which is the little (and I mean little) sister to Der Raum, in the CBD and along with Black Pearl, those bars are my favourite finds for the year. My most pleasant surprise though took place at The Den (under) The Atlantic restaurant at Crown Casino. I was never expecting to find such a cool yet comfortable bar at Crown that features live music. It is now one of my locals.

Not to digress from the "value for money" theme, I can't help think what Virginia Plain and chef Andy Harmer and sommelier Raúl Moreno Yagüe have on offer. The first time I was there, I experienced the $89 seven course "chefs choice" degustation and was able to leave not only full but very satisfied not only with the quality of food and ultimately paired beverages (for a surcharge) but with the experience in general. I have since returned a few times, not only for a quiet beer at the bar but also for a hedonistic custom degustation and wine pairing extravaganza. Virginia Plain in my opinion most effectively uses Twitter (@virginiaplainau) to best disseminate propaganda that is both fun and engaging and and along with South Wharf Promenade (@swpromenade) I always feel confident that when I scroll through my timeline at any given part of the day I will find some useful information from one of those sources.

Moving over to the South Wharf Promenade, my jaw dropped when I visited Akachochin. This place just surprised me and exceeded all of my expectations. Besides being a great Japanese Izakaya, they have a wonderful sushi bar with some of the best and freshest fish that I have had the pleasure of experiencing in Melbourne. Along with the service and ambiance, this was the surprise find of the year for me. Being a big fan of Maedaya in Richmond, which is one of the best value for money izakayas around, I thought Akachochin took the whole experience to the next level though.

Breakfast is always a meal that I never took very seriously but in recent times I have found myself at various places that specialise in it around Melbourne. With the aim mainly to prepare myself before watching the cricket (read, have a full stomach to absorb beer) these venues were not only fun but relaxed and strangely, served great food and coffee. My last review of the year was all about St Ali in South Melbourne and it certainly left the most profound impression on me. Three Bags Full in Abbotsford and Chez Dre in South Melbourne are also stand-outs and experiences that I really enjoyed.

Looking to the future, when the next The Age Good Food Guide comes out in 2013, I not only predict but expect Neil Perry's Rosetta to be awarded two hats and Sake Restaurant to end up with one respectively. Rosetta was my most anticipated opening of 2012 and it did not disappoint. This is the best Italian food in Melbourne and when combined with the almost opulent yet classy fit-out, professional service and location, it made it a true contender for my experience of the year.

Mexican-themed restaurants were the big rage, if not a trend in Melbourne in 2012. I love Mexican inspired food and I rushed to try every place a few times. Time after time, Senoritas in the CBD delivered. It is as close to "authentic" as I have found and when mixed with the dark ambiance, great bar and most importantly the menu it is a true winner. The team certainly knows how to make a good fish taco and along with tacos al carbon and a balmain bug dashed with habanero chilli, they kept me coming back repeatedly.

Finally I thought about where I would eat every day in a perfect world. My hedonistic personality demands a quality yet malleable menu, great wine list and a flexible environment. Another contender for one of my best experiences of the year, Movida ticks all of the boxes. I never tire of the tapas on offer, the wine list, the affable and professional staff and the convenience of it being centrally located in a quirky laneway in the CBD. I have found myself stumbling into this place unannounced on multiple occasions over the last six months and have always left happy and giddy. The hedonist in me demands that I frequent this place more often in 2013 because you really do not have to enjoy everything on the tapas menu to be satisfied and can instead have a couple of dishes at the active bar, a bottle of wine and toddle off to other venues highlighted above and truly be content. I even bought one of Frank Camorra's cookbooks... that is how in to Movida I am.

Best wishes for a great and safe 2013 and here is hoping that your wine bottle never goes dry.

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

Sunday, 30 December 2012

St Ali - Big Morning Out

Following on from good breakfasts and equally good times in the last few months with the highlights being Hardware Sociéte, Three Bags Full and Chez Dré I was told that I would not be considered one of those "cool kids" if I did not attend St Ali in South Melbourne before the years end and of course before I compose my much anticipated "Best of 2012 list" which is forthcoming.

St Ali, like the aforementioned fine morning establishements was packed when I presented myself with one other hungry and thirsty soul. The wait time I was advised would be a mere fifteen minutes which passed quickly. The eatery is housed in what appears to be a converted warehouse on a side-street in South Melbourne that shows some of the typical Melbourne "character" that the locals have come to appreciate and almost expect. Metal roller doors act as windows and the loading dock when opened exposes part of the dining room. The place is easy to find if you keep an eye out for a crowd hanging outside a random building on Yarra Place.

When our name was called and we were shown to our place at a communal table, the hostess immediately asked if we would be keen to order coffee. I thought that was very efficient as normally you are seated and wait a while for the pleasure.

The place had a good vibe with background music that did not intrude, but yet complimented the environment. The staff actually smiled when you dealt with them and everyone in general that worked there looked like they were enjoying themselves which was remarkable if not refreshing in the morning. Posters for the Big Day Out 2013 are affixed to the wall and the menu even has a Big Day Out theme which made me fondly recall concerts from yesteryear, which I thought was fun and convenient enough for those who haven't thought about the forthcoming festival which is touring in January 2013. You have the opportunity to purchase a ticket direct from St Ali along with a premium beef burger for the package price of $165. One stop shopping indeed.

The clever menu highlights a breakfast called My Mexican Cousin, which inspired the name of the restaurant at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Despite being intrigued as what could be so delectable that would cause the naming of a restaurant when I also like, I chose the Full Spanglish ($21.50) breakfast which included two eggs cooked at 63c for 63 minutes, house beans, blood sausage, Istra bacon, portobello mushrooms and house-dried tomato on sourdough. Freshly squeezed juices complement the one-source coffee, which lives up to expectations and the plaudits as so many of the "cool kids" that have recommended this place told me to go for the coffee (and to stop walking to St Kilda for my poor alternatives) and I wholeheartedly now agree with them. I may have to start wandering by for takeaway coffee in the new year. Dining in, you are provided a small flask of hot water so you can make, in my case, your long black, as strong (or weak) as you want which I thought was a nice touch.

The food was served in a reasonable amount of time and when I requested another long black, it was delivered with a smile. The eggs on the sourdough were great and the blood sausage and gourmet quality bacon complimented them well. Such care was taken with the eggs (or at least it appeared so) that I thought I was holidaying on Hamilton Island at Qualia as that was the last time that eggs have made an impact on me not withstanding fights I had with them as a randy teenager on Halloween.

Paypass facilities made payment a quick one when we decided to go and I left feeling not only satisfied but a bit happier compared to when I arrived. For that alone, it was worth the money.

I am not sure that the "cool kids" will consider me one of their clique now that I have been to St Ali but I reckon I am a better person for having the experience. If you fancy driving to this place, be aware that on Sunday you can park on the street without having to worry about being fined as there are no parking restrictions on Sunday.

St Ali, South Melbourne
St Ali
12 Yarra Place  South Melbourne VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990
My Rating: 13/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.25/5
Quality: 3.25/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: Unrestricted street parking on Sunday

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

At the time of this post, 79% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like St Ali.

St Ali on Urbanspoon