74 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 2252
I’m usually one to choose new or untried restaurants over places that I’ve been to before. I think it’s fair to say that the rate at which Melbourne’s restaurants are popping up is on par with Melbourne’s residential property growth rate. Seriously, it’s hard to keep track of all the openings but you can’t just help but get excited every time you read a twitter post on a hot new cafe that’s just opened up on Smith Street or when Epicure informs us that Guy Grossi is about to open yet another new restaurant with a casual flourish. But sometimes, I love to go back to the restaurants that have won me over many years ago. Take Bottega, for example. A generally positive experience but in hindsight, after eating at more than my fair share of Italian restaurants, I may have been a tad harsh (comparing Bottega to La Porchetta? Hah! Really?!) and my writing in 2008 honestly sucked (cringe). I was meeting legal eagle, Matt, for dinner last week and given that the choice of venue was up to me, I decided to revisit the Italian restaurant on Bourke Street hill that wasn’t part of the Grossi empire.
Because we’re geriatrics, we rocked up early enough to take advantage of their pre-theatre dinner offer: $40 for two courses or $50 for three, both including a glass of wine. The old Libby would have immediately gone for three courses but in the end, I settled for two only because sugar-fiend Matt wasn’t going to order dessert and I didn’t want him to sit there awkwardly while I gobbled down a tiramisu or coconut pannacotta. So an entree and a main each it was, from a selection of two choices respectively.
Matt chose a Chardonnay Viognier from All Saints Estate while I went for its red counterpart, the Sangiovese Cabernet because I was going for the veal as my main. Yes, Libby drinking a red. A travesty on par with accepting a £50 million offer to switch clubs (cough). But whatever, gotta do things properly as who on earth drinks white with veal?! Bread and butter was provided, though no photos are. Tough.
Matt’s entree was a semolina-dusted calamari accompanied by agro dolce and black olive vinaigrette. Although I didn’t try the agro dolce or the vinaigrette, I think the calamari tasted just fine on its own. The coating of semolina was delicate, yet contained a lot of punch in terms of taste. In fact, the first thing that came to mind was ‘OMG KFC’s original recipe chicken!’ something that head chef, Joseph Vitale, would probably not be pleased to hear. I do give it a thumbs up though.
I chose the warm Caprese salad, a perfect dish for such a balmy evening. A spectacular display of bright colours and flavours culminated to make a salad that was light, yet still filling enough to stop my tummy growling at least until the mains had arrived. The sweet heirloom tomatoes, the lovely Shaw River buffalo mozzarella and other sundries such as the chopped fresh basil, capers and marinated onions were seamlessly wrapped together in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and vinaigrette.
Matt’s house-made gnocchi was another winner. I love pasta, I love cheese and I LOVE LOVE LOVE mushrooms so why I didn’t chose this dish on the night is something that’s been bugging me ever since. Oh wait, it’s because I don’t normally order gnocchi at restaurants as I, more often than not, get disappointed. Gluggy, bits of dough drown by a very mediocre sauce is what I normally get even at high-end restaurants. Not this time though. Each pasta was a light, fluffy pillow of potato that formed the perfect catalyst for soaking up the creamy and earthy mushroom sauce. There was also a tint of truffle oil in the mix, but not an amount that would normally drive me nuts. Shreds of sharp and spicy provolone piccante, a semi-hard Italian cheese, completed the package giving it a not-needed but much-appreciated flavour boost. LOVE.
I also loved my veal osso buco, accompanied by a polenta bianca. Although more of a June-in-Melbourne dish, I nevertheless enjoyed the tender chunks of veal and the rich tomato-y broth that was characterised by shreds of bay leaves, cinnamon, chopped carrots and gremolata. The soft polenta mix provided the perfect accompaniment to the veal. Delicious.
Our decision to omit dessert was a very sound one as neither of us could fit any more in (just as well I chose not to order a side dish too, heh). Our meal was very good – on par, if not better than the meal that I enjoyed in 2008. The food was excellent and service on a similar level. I guess the only thing I have to whinge about was when I gave them my entertainment book card (which would have shaved 25% off the bill), only to be told that I was not able to use when ordering express lunches or pre-theatre dinners. While I understand that restaurants may choose not to honour the card in conjunction with another offer (in this case, the pre-theatre offer), I’ve been to other restaurants where they happily took my card in similar circumstances – in fact, this was the first time I’ve been told that I wasn’t able to use it. Fair enough, but still. I guess I’ll know to ask the next time I go for a pre-theatre or express lunch meal.
But, uh yeah, Bottega. Go there!