Saturday, 19 January 2013

Pellegrini's - Cheap and Cheerful

After visiting the gym for the first time in many blue moons, I was not only tired but ravenous. I thought it would make for a good opportunity to visit Pellegrini's as it has not only been on my list of places to try for some time but I thought the indulging upon heavy Italian food could be forgiven after the sacrifices that I made on the cross trainer in honour of the sweat that was shed.

Just north of Grossi Florentino and not far from Gingerboy on the corner of Bourke Street and Crossley Street on the Hill of Content, you will find the unassuming Pellegrini's. A Italian stalwart of the neighbourhood for years, you are not greeted by a host or hostess per se but by very busy staff making coffees and working the bar in a bustling small but quaint space. You essentially have three choices when you come to this place: order something to takeaway (food and/or drink) find a seat at the main bar where you have some space to dine or take a stool at the plank opposite against the wall where you will have half the space and will be sitting side-saddle like a lady from the Victorian era when you eat. Every seat is sought after by the starved and dehydrated but it was with luck that we were able to secure two seats at the end of the proper bar.

A wooden board hangs from the ceiling that advertises what is available. We ordered the meat lasagna special and two granitas to start. Within about 30 seconds you are given a plate with buttered bread and about one minute later, the lasagne appeared. The first thing that came into my head after I had a taste was it was home cooking and something that you would expect in some laneway in Tuscany or from the kitchen of Tony Soprano's mother. Commands and requests flew through the air in Italian from the bar back to the kitchen and whilst sipping the granita and later an espresso (to give me the strength needed to see Les Miserables) you have a chance to admire the memorabilia.

The staff have service down to that of a well-oiled machine and when the $44 bill came, I was a bit shocked that it was so inexpensive. Certainly good value for money with a quaint and almost quirky ambiance where you are almost fooled that you are no longer in the Melbourne CBD. I thought such characters found at this place could only be found in an episode of The Sopranos, but I was wrong. It was good fun and it certainly gave me the strength needed to get through Les Miserables (which wasn't such a chore really) so now I can sing the song for Pellegrini's - cheap and cheerful indeed.

Pellegrini's Bourke Street, Melbourne
66 Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 1885
no web site
My Rating: n/a
Service: n/a
Ambiance: n/a
Quality: n/a
Value For Money: n/a

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

At the time of this post, 83% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Pellegrini's.

Pellegrini's Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 January 2013

Spice Temple (Melbourne) - I'll Leave You Numb, Part 2

This is the second part of a two part post. The first part can be found here which reflected on Spice Temple Sydney.

I always like walking through the Queensbridge entrance of Crown Casino. It is like living vicariously through the latest advertisement for the place there as the doorman tips his hat after you walk past a virtual showroom of motorcars after seeing Eddie McGuire (or any of the current popular AFL footy players) being whisked away in the lastest model Holden. If you aren't distracted by these themes, you will walk past Neil Perry's latest addition to the Rockpool Empire, Rosetta, and once you exchange pleasantries with the doorman for the Crown, you will be beckoned toward the entrance of Spice Temple.

After visiting the Sydney Spice Temple multiple times and it being a personal favourite, it wasn't until recently I got into Spice Temple Melbourne for lunch. The yum cha special remains a differentiating factor between the Melbourne and Sydney menus (the full menu is available for both lunch and dinner in Sydney whereas a special menu is available in Melbourne for lunch) and not only is it much heralded in the usual press, I really wanted to know whether it was better than the offerings that you would find at the Shark Fin Inn on Little Bourke Street. To make it simple, it was.

Unlike other yum cha offerings where you flag down a roving cart that is hell-bent on slamming into some unsuspecting patron's knee, you order directly off of a comprehensive yum cha menu from the attentive server. Whilst being refreshed by the Lord Nelson Three Sheets ($10) by the bottle, you have the opportunity to mull over the twenty items on the yum cha menu but that is just 25% of what is available. You do have limited access to the full menu, which I was very pleased to discover.

From the Har Gow steamed prawn dumplings ($11) to the boiled chicken and pork dumpings to the ominously red coloured king prawn wontons with aged black vinegar dressing ($11) on the menu denoting it is especially hot, everything was great. The staple BBQ pork buns ($12) didn't taste very common and in fact had the unique Perry flair whereas the chichen and crab xiao long bao ($12) had good complementary flavours.

One of the yum cha menu items has sichuan pepper - the crispy prawn wontons with hot and numbing sauce ($11) made my tongue go numb so I could slur as the result of the food instead of the alcoholic beverage for a welcome change.

Spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies ($15) and tingling prawns ($24) rounded out the numbing experience. Although you needed to work for your food with respect to the chicken wings, it certainly beat the chicken feet that you will find at various locations in Chinatown.

Water views and a contemporary fit-out with sometimes quasi-traditional music and at other times more lively but strangely selected hip-hop provided the background score. After dining in the bowels of the Sydney location and becoming used to the darkness where the light guides you to the surface, it is really the polar opposite at the Melbourne location where you get to see the usual travellers of Southbank Promenade provide some tertiary amusement whilst you consume reasonably priced food full of flavour. Although I will still end up at Shark Fin Inn on occasion merely for the authenticity and sheer and utter commotion of the place, I reckon that Spice Temple yum cha provides a suitable alternative for lunch and of course with their full menu on reserve during the evening, it is indeed one of the jewels in the Crown. 

Spice Temple Melbourne, Crown Casino, Southbank
Spice Temple
2 Acland Street, St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 8679 1888
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 4.25/5

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

At the time of this post, 70% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Spice Temple Melbourne.

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Acland St. Cantina - Little Prince

The corner of Fitzroy Street and Acland Street in St Kilda has had a few injections of botox over the last year. The wrinkles are there but they have been masked by some poignant changes at the Prince of Wales complex. Over the years, Circa has gone through a metamorphosis or three since Andrew McConnell (Cutler & Co., Cumulus, Inc., Golden Fields) moved on. Now in the place of the Prince Wine Shop (which now sits resolute off of Clarendon Street in South Melbourne) in the back bowels of the subterranean dungeon you will find the Acland St. Cantina, the latest culinary outpost from Julian Gerner's Melbourne Pub Group.

The rise of another Mexican cantina in Melbourne some may find boring or perhaps just feel that the market for this regional food is nearing saturation point however considering the offerings in the south, I think it is a welcome and exciting addition to the St Kilda edgy dining scene and compliments the other Melbourne Pub Group offering of seemingly Yucatan-Mexican inspired (read: suckling goat tacos) at the Cellar Bar at the Newmarket Hotel.

After being led through the catacombs under the Prince once you present yourself you could be confused and believe that you are actually in Mexico, just without the ethnic Mexicans, graft and cheesy gimmicks. Paul Wilson must have been inspired fully in his latest tour around Mexico and it shows in the design and the menu. Not only will you find the usual staple Mexican foodstuffs available everywhere and anywhere these days, a fair amount of space is devoted on the menu to those wanting vegetarian options which coincides with the demographic in and around St Kilda. Clever. The unintrusive Mole (no, not game on Moll!) - an ancient Mayan dish that features chillis, chocolate and sometimes complex flavours if prepared properly also stands out on the menu as a speciality where the punter can taste three Moles (with goat, pork and duck) for $30.

Although I was tempted to try the stuffed cactus relleno ($12) I really wanted to see if the foundations were intact so went for the cantina guacamole with chia and serrano chili salsa ($12) and lo and behold, it was perfect. Blasphemy was exclaimed out of happiness and more margaritas ($16/each) were ordered however in retrospect I should have ordered jugs ($32/each) which would have been better value for money, which I learned to do by default at Touche Hombre last month.

I have always been critical of Tacos Al Pastor, which the menu was advertising as "authentic" so it was with great fanfare and expectation that a few were ordered next ($7/each, minimum 2 p/p) and I was very impressed. Tender spit roasted pork merged with a pineapple salsa that was impressive as anything that I had at previously at Senoritas or Mamasita. Browsing the tequila menu, you are spoiled for choice. Besides the standard "Blanco" offerings, they have a few Reposado, Aneljo and my personal favourite, Mezcal in their vast inventory of alcohol however the bulk of it resides in their wine cellar.

Being critical and judgemental are fundamentally different things. Although I act like a pretentious wannabe food critic when it comes to Tacos Al Pastor, primarily because I just like them so much; besides the quality and construction of the fish taco ($7/each, minimum 2 p/p) my eyes always judge the way a restaurant prepares and presents carne asada as a benchmark for determining a success. Paul Wilson mixes up the status quo by making this main dish a user-assembled experience much like you would find if you ordered fajitas elsewhere; you construct your Oaxacan market style mixed grill of skirt steak, chorizo, assorted vegetables in a parcel of tortillas that are provided on the side. If Ed Sheeran was going to build a lego house, he would love making this one. It was a interesting way to present the dish which encourages more social eating however the volume of meat and vegetables are not proportional to the amount of tortillas that you are provided so we ended up needing to order more ($5) however it dragged out an enjoyable experience and enticed us just to order more maragaritas and enjoy the ambiance.

The service remained very cheerful and overtly helpful and when combined with the buzz associated with this place, both inside the cantina and out in the media, both St Kilda and the Melbourne Pub Group has another place to be proud of.

Acland St. Cantina
2 Acland Street, St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9536 1122
no web site yet
My Rating: 14.25/20
Service: 3.25/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 3.75/5

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

At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Acland St. Cantina.

Acland St Cantina on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Everleigh - Only When You Lose Yourself

I don't tend to pay much attention to "Best of" guides and instead to create my own using trial and error and judge based on personal experiences without preconceived notions. Most tell you what you should think or feel, that or what to drink in the case of bars and one person's gin may not another person's vodka. When I drink, I go about my business in a very non-standard way. If at all possible, I want the venue to highlight their specialities and allow the barstaff carte blanc access to devise drinks using their creativity and more importantly experience where the ultimate damage it does to my credit card is incidental. The Everleigh in Fitzroy not only met my challenge but exceeded all of the expectations that I had when I walked in.

The aforementioned guides and "best of" lists have always been very kind to The Everleigh and it was frequently topping many of these lists. With Der Raum (note: Der Raum has closed as of February 2013) being renovated, I needed to find a new, exciting and cutting edge drinking hole and I can't say how pleased I was to make the acquaintance of the staff at The Everleigh. (Note: Der Raum is meant to re-open in February 2013)

Entering the bar, you will feel that you are in a different era; one where professionalism, attention to detail, service and courtesy are not only exuded by the staff, but the key word - courtesy - is expected of the patrons. Being a very orderly person, I really liked that if you are going to drink at this place that you are expected to be seated and of course take advantage of the very efficient table service but also relax and enjoy the surroundings, the anonymity of the private booths and more importantly nobody knocks into you or jostles you as they attempt to get into position at the bar as standing around is simply not allowed. This creates a very relaxed and managed environment that allows the staff to do what they do best.

There were two bartenders on duty when I was there on Saturday evening. They have to be the two of the hardest working bartenders that I have had the pleasure of baring witness to. I didn't need to consult the menu but instead gave the opportunity for the bar to produce what they thought was suitable based upon known preferences, mood and of course with an end game in mind since the spirits and heaviness of what is concocted is gradually changed so each drink builds on your last experience and your palate is not destroyed. Some bars like Der Raum have been very successful with their cocktail degustation option however The Everleigh does not do adhere to a degustation menu per se, what they devise and deliver is based upon pure consultation and for a hedonist, I was in my zone - transported to a bygone era where people were consultative, polite and the expectation of courtesy flowed both ways.

I couldn't fault The Everleigh and it would have had to be my best bar-based experience in some time.

The Everleigh, Fitzroy, Melbourne
The Everleigh
1/150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy VIC 3065
(03) 9416 2229
My Rating: 20/20
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 5/5
Quality: 5/5
Value For Money: 5/5

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

At the time of this post, 95% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like The Everleigh. It is the first bar of 2013 that I have written about that I added the "Top 2013 Experience" tag to.

The Everleigh on Urbanspoon

Golden Fields - Dash and Splash

Across from the southeast end of Albert Park in the more gentrified area of St Kilda on Fitzroy Street stands Golden Fields. Even more minimalist in design compared to Coda with a long bar and high stools and nearly vacant walls, this one hatted restaurant, which is part of the Andrew McConnell empire certainly has a fair amount going for it, which I discovered when I took a much anticipated trip around its menu recently.

Inspecting the menu, I wanted to try everything on the "raw" menu but in the end ordered everything except the oysters. Given there is a fairly decent list of sake to choose from at the front of the wine list, it seemed appropriate to match the delicate raw flavours of seafood with  "Ippongi" Denshin Yuki Junmail Ginjo 720ml ($140) and judging from my recent positive experiences at Sake Restaurant and Akachochin, I knew a good sake would only bring out the best in what was scavenged from the sea.

Kingfish with salmon roe, scud chilli, ginger and lime ($16) was the first sacrifice that we would make all in the name of good dining. The flavours, further enhanced by the scud chilli, but most notably the sake pairing made an awesome first impression. I was floored when the dining evolved to an even higher level after I tried the offering of tuna, oyster cream and picked shittake ($18) which was my favourite of the raw dishes. The oyster cream was delightful and perhaps one of the best pairings with fish that I have found yet anywhere. Rottnest Island scallops with avacado, apple and miso ($17) followed. I have always fancied the bivalve mollusk from Rottnest Island over say the Hervey Bay region and the blend of avacado and especially the apple really did our dirty friends from the deep justice. The sake proved to be a great match and was recommended by our server, Rachel, who throughout the four hours that we were languishing at the restaurant remained very helpful and good humoured. She was kind enough to keep our bottle of sake on ice at the bar so she really had to go out of her way to ensure that our small glasses were always filled and for that I am very grateful.

One of the signature dishes at Golden Fields is the New England lobster roll - a hot buttered bun with cold poached crayfish, watercress and kewpie lovingly stuffed into the centre of said bun. Brilliant. Once this was devoured, another round of lobster rolls were ordered just because it was so damn good and I wanted to savour the taste with the remains of the sake once again. I found it intriguing when I learned that Big Day Out 2013 is working with Golden Fields and they will be providing not only lobster rolls but also fried chicken Bahn-mi and peanut butter parfait ice-cream sandwiches for sale at the festival. Considering that food at festivals is generally rubbish (I still think of the movie Kenny and his commentary on why festivals serve curries and other rubbish) I have really started pondering actually attending Big Day Out knowing the likes of Golden Fields and St Ali will be there adding a bit of taste and flavour to the proceedings.

With the sake exhausted, we moved on to the "Meat and Fish" part of the menu and decided that since it was Sunday, it was appropriate to order slow-roast lamb shoulder with cumin and salted lemon ($74) which was perfect to share along with a 2011 Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier, Story (Grampians, Victoria) which seemed a logical match. It takes about 35 minutes for this dish to come out and the time flew since we were engaged in pleasant conversation and still enjoying reminiscing about the beautiful "raw" menu. When the roast emerged, there was roughly of 800g of perfectly tender meat still on the bone. Although a knife was provided to carve it, it was not needed. You could use your fork to easily remove the meat and when enhance the flesh with a dash of cumin and a splash of lemon, it made for the perfect Sunday roast on what turned out to be a great Sunday afternoon.

The thoughtfully minimalist fit-out ensures that you focus on your dining companions and the food and wine. There are no gimmicks at Golden Fields which was refreshing and genuine professionals providing service just sealed the deal and makes me want to return and have more tasty delights soon; as I froth out of the mouth on the keyboard as I type out this article.

Golden Fields
2/157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9525 4488
My Rating: 15.75/20
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4.25/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 84% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Golden Fields and it is the first place of 2013 that I have written about that I added the "Top 2013 Experience" tag to.

Golden Fields on Urbanspoon

Monday, 14 January 2013

Coda - Baby Steps

I had been looking forward to visiting Coda Bar and Restaurant on Flinders Lane for many months now. After the restaurant won the Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year and Travis Howe won the Louis Roderer Sommelier of the Year awards respectively in the eponymous Age Good Food Guide, I knew that I was in for a special time.

There was a small furore in the press in May 2012 about Coda. Interestingly enough a happy couple presented themselves at the restaurant without a booking and asked if the restaurant could accommodate their hunger and provide a level of hospitality on the dark and cold Melbourne night. The restaurant said they could seat the couple at the bar so one of the patrons went outside and then pushed a large pram (with baby) into the restaurant. It was never communicated to Coda that the happy couple had a large pram with them (as they asked for two people to be accommodated) and when the restaurant informed the diners that in fact that they could not safely have the pram at the bar, a storm in a teacup ensued, The Age picked up the story and it was inferred that Coda refused service to the parents of the baby. After looking around Coda and inspecting the area around the bar, I can understand if the restaurant was filled to capacity why a large pram would have caused a hazard to the diners but also to the baby itself. How this story turned into something of national interest is beyond me however the tale still entertains me a bit.

The fit-out is minimalistic with exposed walls. As the restaurant is set virtually subterranean the windows that provide natural light from the street are located high on the wall. This causes the travellers of Flinders Lane some amusement as many people like to stop and glare down at the restaurant patrons. I don't know why this arrangement causes such surprise or entertainment to the casual wanderers of the street but I suppose some people are just easily entertained by other human beings. Still although you feel you are in a human zoo at times with the pedestrians  leering at you from the outside, the dining room is comfortable and doesn't get very noisy.

The menu is designed for diners to order multiple dishes and share. I always like this arrangement as it makes the experience more social. I couldn't wait to order the spanner crab with galangal, roasted chilli on a lime betel leaf ($6.80/each). It was fresh crab where the hint of chilli was playful and the lime betel leaf did not overwhelm the dish but actually complimented it. Sometimes I get concerned that chefs try to overdo dishes involving spanner crab but everything worked out well with this offering and I was very impressed. It tasted even better with the bottle of 2010 Punch Chardonnay which rested on its perch above our table and was quite restless during our afternoon dining.

A visually beautiful soft rice paper rolled with fresh tuna and wasabi ginger mayonnaise ($10/each) tasted as good as it looked. The Hervey Bay scallop with pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon cavier ($7.80/each) conjured up memories of being in and around Fraser Island and the delectable seafood that is sourced in the area. Normally I feign hesitation when ordering scallops but since my relaxed mate was keen to go down the road of the edible bivalve mollusk, I could not refuse and I was just as impressed with this choice and greedily ate mine off of its shell in the middle of my feeding bowl.

The aptly named "That's Amore" buffalo mozzarella, zucchini fritters, mint and pea salad ($22) reminded me that I enjoy dishes this style too much and that I really need to start visiting the gym again this week. The mint and pea salad were not only a beautiful bright green but crunchy and very fresh. The presentation of the dish and when matched with the fritters and consumed with the Punch Chardonnay was magnificent. Along with the mozzarella, the tempura bugs with Roy Choi's kimchi, chilli salt and the soy dipping sauce ($18/each) were my favourite dishes. Such a good contrast - the tempura and the bugs and the chilli sauce, like with the spanner crab, was a nice surprise and the chilli once again did not overpower the dish and it left me impressed.

The char siu pork bun with picked vegetables and most importantly the chilli jam ($8/each) was memorable and has encouraged me to want to try to prepare this at home. The chilli jam was both sweet and spicy and really brought out the flavours of the pork bun and motivated me to have small tastes just so that I could make the experience last longer. Of course I could have just ordered another round but that would have been too easy. The tour de force concluded with the blackened quail, daikon and shiso salad ($7.80/each) at the recommendation of the house.

If our engorged stomachs did not prevent us from consuming anything else we would have ordered more as there are some other very exciting items on the menu however after the positive experience, it will just cause me to return to Coda soon to continue the epicurean journey through the menu, the next time trying some of the larger share plates (the sizzling king prawns and the duck curry seem like they would be great) but also some of the desserts but that sort of reward should only be given after actually returning to the gym this week otherwise I will be rolling down Flinders Lane when I next stumble out of Coda.

Coda Bar and Restaurant, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Coda Bar and Restaurant
141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
03 9650 3155
My Rating: 14.75/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 3.75/5
Value For Money: 4/5

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

At the time of this post, 87% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Coda.

Coda on Urbanspoon