170 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 6778
Whenever my birthday comes around each May, I can never decide whether to feel excited, because birthdays mean gluttony and presents; or feel depressed, because I’m another year closer to wrinkles, inelasticity and age thirty. Or indifferent, because it’s just easier to feel that way. Regardless, birthdays give me an excuse to go siiick with food without feeling guilty at all. For those of you who
regularly read stalk my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been making an effort to stay lean this year by limiting my bad carb consumption and upping the protein, healthy fats and green vegies. Come birthday week, however, and all of that healthy eating and exercising bullsh-t flies out the window. At Il Bacaro several Thursday nights ago, I was able to go crazy over crispy-fried morsels of goodness, comforting plates of pastas and desserts with Shirley as her way of saying, ‘Happy Birthday, Libby! I BUY I BUY I BUY you dinner because you’re awesome.’
It was pissing down rain when I left the gym that evening so walking to Lt Collins Street was a pain in the buttocks. Especially when I was juggling 10 billion bags on one hand and simultaneously holding a brolly and sending giggly text messages to a special someone in Queensland in the other. When I entered the cosy and diminutive one-hatted modern Italian restaurant, however, a smiling Shirley and warm heat (from the heater, idiot, not from Shirley) greeted my frazzled-and-water-logged self. Immediately, a waiter took my bags, my brolly and my coat and from that point on, it was smooth, seamless and pleasant service from him and his chums until it was time for us to leave.
I had a wine. I really can’t remember what wine I had that night because I was an idiot and forgot to take notes (and keep in mind that this dinner occurred more than a month ago). It was most likely a Riesling, though, and Shirley either ordered a fruit juice. Or a coke. In any case, we sipped our drinks with some warm seeded bread and some olive oil. Butter was also happily provided when Shirley requested it too.
Shirley’s entrée: Calamari St Andrea (Shallow-fried calamari with rocket and balsamic dressing, $24). I’m not sure why Saint Andrew’s name is attached to this simple dish. It wasn’t done any differently from any of the fried calamari dishes I’ve had at Italian or quasi-Italian restaurants. I DO know that Saint Andrew is a patron saint of fishmongers and there is somewhat of a causal linkage there but anyway, before I digress… I liked that they were generous with the calamari, given that a lot of places skimp on it and load the rest of the plate up with salad greens. Here, lightly fried and lightly battered wisps of tender calamari were on centre stage, while tendrils of rocket leaves coated in a tangy balsamic dressing remained in the background. A wedge of lemon was there for a bit of added flavour, though it wasn’t really necessary.
My entrée: Quaglia con fichi, formaggio di bufala, pancetta e indivia (twice-cooked quail served with figs, buffalo curd, pancetta and endive, $24). I’m not really into quail so I didn’t know why I chose this dish – I think I just got excited seeing “figs” in the item description. Still, this dish provided an exciting study of wonderful textures and flavours that could almost pass for a Pro Hart painting had there been a bit more colour on the plate. Pair crispy fried quail, with insides beautifully tender and moist, and the season’s freshest figs, then add a bit of mild buffalo curd and a couple of bits of crispy pancetta for a dish that will delight the senses.
Shirley’s main: quadretti all’ortica con guancia di manzo, carote e parmigiano reggiano (Thistle quadretti with braised wagyu beef cheek, baby carrots and parmigiano reggiano ($36, for a large-sized plate). It might have looked like a hella ugly dish (undoubtedly partly due to my low-light photography inaptitude) but it was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve had. You know what they say, folks, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ (I’m looking at you, circa 2008-09 Marty). Upon asking what nettle tasted like, the waiter explained that it had a mildly bitter, yet pleasant, taste. This sounded good to Shirley, but upon trying a few strands of nettle pasta, I struggled to taste any of the supposed bitterness. Whether it was because the taste was masked by the super-rich and flavoursome ragu or whether the bitterness was that mild is something that I’ll never know but when you have a dish that tastes THIS good, well, who cares?! The postage stamp-shaped pasta pieces were, for some reason, chewier than most pastas I’ve had, a good thing. This, in conjunction with the literally-melted-in-my-mouth beef cheeks and peppery sauce that would have undoubtedly been cooked slowly over the burner for hours and hours made it a pleasure to eat.
My main: cres tasa di polenta con funghi, cervo e pecorino al tartufo (Hand-cut polenta pasta with wild mushrooms, venison carpaccio and truffled pecorino ($37, for a large-sized plate). I love polenta and I love mushrooms so it made sense for me to order this dish. I was also curious to see how the restaurant would incorporate carpaccio (venison carpaccio, no less) into a pasta dish, though I would be lying if I told you I ordered the dish without a sense of apprehension. ‘Apprehension?’ you ask. Well, yeah, a dish incorporating a combination of wild mushrooms, venison and truffled pecorino has got to be an attack on one’s senses, right? My apprehension was somewhat justified though. Like Shirley’s main, it was rich and comforting but taste-wise, maybe too rich. While I applaud the generous serving of venison carpaccio (which was fresh and gamey, but minus the distinctive smell that can make one’s nose hurl), there was just way too much and the beautifully chewy pasta strips, which were made with polenta instead of flour and which were supposed to be the star of the show, were, instead, playing second fiddle. Oh yeah, and the dish would have been better off with non-truffled pecorino. That’s all.
I did like the polenta pasta though.
In hindsight, we both should have got the entree-sized versions of our pasta dishes ($28, for a small-sized plate) but we seriously didn’t think that they were going to be that big and that filling. Oh well, next time.
If you thought there wasn’t enough carbs in the last few photos to send a gym junkie to a tizzy, we decided to share a bowl of patate e forno (roasted potatoes with marjoram, pecorino and garlic, $9) as a side. They were amazing, but in hindsight, unnecessary. Heh.
Of course, dining with Shirley means that you won’t be able to leave the table unless dessert is consumed. She ordered the Budino al cioccolato e nocciola con puree di arancia e gelato al mascarpone (Valrhona chocolate and hazelnut praline pudding with aerated chocolate, orange puree and mascarpone ice cream, $20), though I think it came without the orange puree because I vaguely recall her asking the waiter if it was okay to omit the puree (or maybe it was all in my head). Anyway, the pudding was nutty, rich and decadent and the aerated white chocolate ‘soil’ pumped the saccharine level to peak AUD/USD exchange rate levels. Although, it was hella sweet, the pudding and chocolate duo was a combination that warmed the hearts of even those who aren’t into chocolate-y desserts. The mascarpone ice cream was lovely – sweet, refreshing and with the slightest hint of saltiness, it provided a light and cooling balance to the pudding.
Meanwhile, I ordered the bomba alla nocciolina e cioccolata, con caramello salato e gelato al banana (peanut butter and marshmallow chocolate bomb with salted caramel and banana ice cream, $18). Why? Because I saw ‘peanut butter’ and I saw ‘salted caramel.’ Duh. I’m not a fan of banana-flavoured anything (though I do like bananas in their natural form) and I’m not normally one to make substitutions when ordering dishes so I attacked my banana ice cream with a bit of reluctance. I didn’t have to worry about it tasting mediocre though, it was light and not overly sweet so that got a tick in my books. Meanwhile the ‘bomb’ was essentially one giant marshmallow that was filled with smooth peanut butter, and then covered with a lovely chocolate sauce. It was rich, yes, but not too decadent. The salted caramel cubes were there not only to please Ms Libby but to also provide a lovely salty counterbalance to all the chocolate-ness.
It was a fantastic meal, not just because of the company and the conversations (“So, who’s bigger?”) but also because the food was, overall, amazing. Any shortcomings that we came across (i.e. a particular dish being too rich) were made up for by a knowledgable team of staff, efficient service and Shirley’s fantastic quadretti, a dish that I’m going to order again (in a small plate, though) when I return.