31/37 Artemis Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 8660 6300
I am a planner. I’m someone who likes to organise things to the very last detail and a bad morning for me would be one where I’m more than five minutes late to work. I’ve been known to create budget spreadsheets at least two financial years in advance and I’ve already printed out maps, complete with restaurant addresses and so on, for my upcoming sojourn to Sydney.
So when our planned-several-months-in-advance dinner at Portello Rosso fell through, I was cranky to say the least. Dan, his girlfriend Marian, her friend and I were stranded in the middle of the city at 8pm on a Saturday night – and pretty much all the restaurants we wanted to go to were full.
Long story short, Red Spice Road in QV were able to squeeze us in just after 8:30pm so with a huge sigh of relief, we plonked ourselves on the huge round table in the middle of the very crowded and noisy dining room at 8:45pm. Now the aim of the night was to try a restaurant none of us had been to (I’d already been to the RSR restaurant in McKillop Street and Dan and Marian enjoyed dinner at their newer QV restaurant not too long ago) but suddenly the call to RSR’s famous pork belly was getting louder and louder…
I gave in.
After having our booking at Portello Rosso cancelled, I decided that I needed a cocktail. Red Spice Road do a mean cocktail list with Asian-inspired flavour combinations and my chilli and passionfruit margarita hit the spot. I loved the flirty combination of El Jimador Tequila and Cointreau mixed with organic agave syrup, lemon juice, which was finished with a chilli salt rim.
The watermelon with sticky duck and cashew relish interrupted our discussion on investment properties and the current crappy labour market. The duck and cashew relish may have been slightly sweet, but there was still a lovely Moorish element to it, which contrasted beautifully against the refreshing watermelon square.
We then devoured a main-sized serving of raw kingfish. It was dressed with green tomato, Chinese celery, lemon grass… and lots of coriander. Now Marian hates coriander so she found it strange that they’d omit such a dominant ingredient on the menu description. While I love coriander, I did think that she had a valid point. The dish was alright, though I did find the flavours a bit too overpowering – and mouth-numbingly hot – for a fish that I’m used to eating with more delicate trimmings.
I can’t think of anyone who has visited RSR and has disliked Chef John McLeay’s signature dish, the pork belly. I’m not a huge pork belly fan myself (!) but I’ll happily order this every time I go to RSR. I just can’t get enough of the crispy pork belly skin and the gloriously fatty meat dressed in nuoc cham (fish sauce), black vinegar and chilli caramel and accompanied by a crunchy apple slaw. The flavour and textural combinations are seriously just so sublime.
A few of my friends and fellow food bloggers have recommended RSR’s lamb ribs so I couldn’t leave without ordering these. Once upon a time, I remember lamb ribs being a cheap cut of meat – hell, I couldn’t even call it a ‘cut of meat’ seeing as ribs don’t contain that much meat. Imagine my surprise, then, to see that RSR were charging $35 per pop. I guess you’re automatically given that licence when you add ‘twice-cooked’ or ‘slow-cooked’ when naming a ribs dish.
I took back my cynicism, though, when I tasted these beauties. They were FRIGGIN’ FANTASTIC. The ribs were firstly coated in a Moorish cumin, coriander and chilli salt rub, then braised, then fried. As a result, they were crispy on the outside yet surprisingly tender inside. And while we welcomed the mint, lychee and avocado salad for a bit of freshness and colour, the ribs would have stood out just fine on their own.
We were impressed with our dinner at RSR. Okay, so the rice that came with our dishes was a bit too mushy and the kingfish dish isn’t something I’d order again … but everything else got our nods of approval. We thought the pork belly and lamb ribs were standouts and despite the busy dinner period and our very last-minute dinner booking, the staff were not only accommodating but provided speedy service.
Moral of the story: planning doesn’t automatically guarantee a successful outcome and last-minute decisions can often equal winning situations.