Review: Da Vinci’s (Sydney, NSW)

25 Lackey Street
Summer Hill NSW 1230
+61 2 9716 9000
http://davincisydney.com.au/

I must admit that I’m not too familiar with the Inner West of Sydney, particularly the Summer Hill area. Though depending on who you speak to, Summer Hill is more Mid-West than Inner West … but that’s another debate for another time. Two things drew us to Summer Hill one weekend: the first one was the existence of a popular Italian restaurant called Da Vinci’s and the second one was Summer Hill resident Trish, an old friend of Bean’s and a new friend of mine.

Because it was a lovely evening, the three of us sat outside while we caught up on years of gossip over some booze. We also shared a serving of focaccia, aka wood-fried pizza bread that had been cut up and gently brushed with olive oil and dried herbs.

Focaccia ($6.50)

Da Vinci’s selling point is their pizza, made using dough that has been cold matured for at least 48 hours. Normally, traditional Neapolitan-style pizza dough goes straight into the oven without resting – this means that the yeast dies in the oven, creating all those lovely black bubbles. The Da Vinci method, however, allows the yeast to grow and then die before it reaches the oven, resulting is a crust that’s smoother, lighter and not so charred. Naturally, this method has attracted lots of fans though Bean and I preferred the traditional method (we want char, dammit!).

That said, the pizzas were still delicious; Trish ordered a vegetarian special (cherry tomatoes, eggplant and lots of rocket) while Bean ordered the diavola which was topped with San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, hot salami and olives ($19).

A feast fit for three hungry people

Although you’re meant to visit Da Vincis’ for their pizzas, that’s not to say that their pastas aren’t worth trying. My orecchiette was well-cooked (beautifully al dente and all) and served with a delicious Italian sausage, broccoli and extra virgin olive oil sauce. So simple, yet so tasty (though I did have a bit of pizza).

Orecchiette broccoli e salsiccia ($24)

Trish didn’t get to finish her pizza but the folks at Da Vinci were lovely enough to wrap it up so she can enjoy it for lunch the next day. As for us, we downed our food without any issues. Would we come back? Maybe. If we were Summer Hill residents, we would definitely not hesitate to make this our local pizza joint. But because we live on the other side of the harbour, getting here is too much of a trek without a car (it took us more than an hour!). Trish may lure us back to Summer Hill but we’re not sure if Da Vinci’s pizzas alone would be an incentive.

Da Vinci's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Sezar (Melbourne, VIC)

6 Melbourne Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9663 9882
http://sezar.com.au/

Last weekend, I helped Nee celebrate her twenty-something-plus-one birthday. In due course, you’ll hear about the time we all sat at a very awkward table at B’Stilla and then attempted to dance to some very terrible music at Poof Doof before my poor old head decided that it couldn’t take it anymore and so decided to spontaneously down a couple of whiskies with a fellow Twitterer at a random bar on Commercial Road. (hi Steve)

For now though, let’s recount the first dinner I had with Nee. We decided to meet up earlier this year after exchanging a few dating stories on Twitter and snapchatting each other. Yes, this is how ridiculously large my backlog is but now that I’m voluntarily living the semi-reclusive life, I’ll be up to date very shortly. Promise. For reals.

At the time, we were both working in Melbourne city so we decided to go to Sezar, the coolest (and probably only, as far as I know) Armenian restaurant in or around the city. Housed in the former St Peter’s restaurant, Sezar is owned by the guys who look after Black Toro in Glen Waverley. I wasn’t terribly wooed by Black Toro but was keen to see what Garen Maskal had in store for Sezar. Plus, I’d never had Armenian food before…

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I ordered the cocktail named after Kim Kardashian because why not? Like the lady herself, my cocktail was fruity and probably a bit too much (i.e. sweet) for some (i.e. me)…

Spanner crab manti (3 for $15)
Spanner crab manti (3 for $15)

Nee and I love dumplings and dumplings with crab in them? Bring it on, baby. The manti is the Armenian answer to the dumpling and we loved them. I especially loved the thick skins that house a generous portion of crab meat filling – all went well with the sumac yoghurt combined with the chilli oil.

Bastourma and egg (2 for $8)
Bastourma and egg (2 for $8)

I doubt that this is something  they eat back in the village – Armenian air dried beef, quail egg, toasted brioche and garlic jam, say what?! – but it was nevertheless another stellar dish. We loved the contrast between the crunchy brioche and the creaminess of the egg.

Slow cooked lamb shoulder ($70)
Slow cooked lamb shoulder ($70)

We expected the lamb shoulder to be a lot bigger than it was – after all, the menu said that a minimum of two people was required and after all, the dish WAS $70. The lamb came with some yoghurt sauce and tabouleh as well as flat steamed buns – think of it as a DIY dish.

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The lamb dish may have looked tiny upon first glance but it did well to fill us up pretty quickly. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth-and-sizzle-like-it’s-Queensland-hot-worthy (in other words, good) and the tangy yoghurt added a lovely creamy touch to each bite.

Spiced BBQ chicken ($28)
Spiced BBQ chicken ($28)

The chicken, however, was the highlight of the night. I normally don’t go out of my way to order chicken at restaurants because it’s so boring but because we’re gym girls who like to eat protein and all that jazz, we decided to order it. And thank goodness we did. The half bird was beautifully cooked; given that the meat was a bit salty, we reckon they brined it for a bit which explained the meat’s velvety soft texture. It was then served with bulgur, corn and herbed yoghurt; it was flavoursome within being too heavy, two thumbs up.

Zucchini and dill fritters ($9)
Zucchini and dill fritters ($9)

Just when you think we couldn’t fit anymore in (oh, har-har), out came the zucchini and dill fritters. I’m not a big fan of zucchini and I think Nee loves her fritters more than I do so I wasn’t initially keen on them. However, they were surprisingly tasty and we polished off the whole lot.

Semolina cake ($14)
Semolina cake ($14)

We had room to share a dessert between us, the semolina cake with slow cooked quince, almonds and crème fraiche ice cream. I normally love semolina desserts but this one erred on the rich side. That said, I supposed it could have been because we ate a shitload beforehand so we couldn’t enjoy it as much as we would have liked. It tasted lovely though – a little nutty, a little creamy and a little fruity.

I enjoyed our meal at Sezar just as much as I enjoyed hearing Nee recount a few Tinder horror stories. Unfortunately, my lack of experience with Armenian food meant that I have nothing to compare Sezar’s food too (and the one Armenian I met recently had to move back to Canada – hi Aaron!) so I can’t say whether this is close to the real thing or not. Regardless, the dishes were good enough for us to warrant a return visit – I’d totally have the chicken again.

Sezar on Urbanspoon

Review: Gyoza Douraku

147 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 5225

It feels really strange to be writing this at 7:30PM when it’s pitch black outside. It also feels strange to be recounting a dinner that happened way back in November but that’s what I get for not blogging regularly – and this is going to change. So just as I look forward to finally being able to leave the house in glorious day light each morning, I’m going to blog at least three times a week. Promise.

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So Gyoza Douraku was the place Peter and I dined at just before a John Safran talk last year. And while I love books and self-deprecating Jewish comedians like the next Melburnian, book talks do my head in sometimes so we picked a place that would have a good selection of strong alcohol.

Choya umeshu (plum liqueur)
Choya umeshu (plum liqueur)

We went halfies on a small bottle of Choya umeshu that was sweet enough to get our brains buzzing, yet lethal enough to get our heads fuzzy. If you happened to be at the talk and heard a female laughing uncontrollably during the bit where Safran uses the John Smith and Angel Moroni analogy – well, that was me and this umeshu. Sorry.

Sauces: Japanese grain vinegar, roasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, fresh crushed garlic, chilli oil, and sesame oil
Sauces: Japanese grain vinegar, roasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, fresh crushed garlic, chilli oil, and sesame oil

Look! A raccoon! Gyoza Douraku provides all your condiments and saucy (heeh) needs in one neat tray.

Salmon sashimi (five pieces for $12.90)
Salmon sashimi (five pieces for $12.90)

Pete wanted fish so we grab a small serving of salmon sashimi. At $12.90 for five little pieces, it wasn’t cheap but it was super fresh. Also, I always give props for homemade wasabi.

‘JFC’ or Japanese Fried Chicken ($7.90)
‘JFC’ or Japanese Fried Chicken ($7.90)

We then grabbed some karaage to nibble on. I don’t remember them being tremendously awesome but they were decent – tender chicken, tasty spices and reasonably crunchy batter.

Pork and cabbage gyoza (six pieces for $7.90)
Pork and cabbage gyoza (six pieces for $7.90)

Onto the main event! The pork and cabbage gyoza were definitely better than most I’ve had in Melbourne; the crunchy skins firmly held together a filling that was juicy and delicious. I still preferred the ones at Little Ramen Bar though.

Prawn gyoza (six pieces for $9.50)
Prawn gyoza (six pieces for $9.50)

I love prawn dumplings (or prawn anything for that matter) but I thought the prawn gyoza paled in comparison to the pork ones – the filling was kind of muted and verging on dry.

We would have loved to try more dishes but unfortunately we had a show to dash off to. At just under $40, Pete said that the food was okay but a bit too expensive for what it was (then again, he’s been to Japan three times and still can’t get around the fact that Japanese food will always be more expensive and not as nice in Melbourne).

I, too, thought the food was decent. However, I did have to agree with Pete – this place didn’t represent the best value for money because we weren’t completely full… in fact, we ended up having a second dinner after the talk. I’d recommend Gyoza Douraku if you fill like Japanese nibbles (don’t want to say ‘Japanese tapas’ because only morons say that) but if you’re on a budget and want to be full, well, there are cheaper options in the CBD.

Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon

UPDATE

Hi guys!

You’re probably wondering where the hell my blog has gone.

I’m currently making a few changes so that my blog will look prettier. It’s a job that shouldn’t have taken so long but because I’m currently having a ball in Jakarta and because I’m a complete idiot when it comes to computer-related stuff, this process might – no, WILL – take a while.

In the meantime, I would like to use this opportunity to thank all my readers – yes, YOU. Thanks for your readership, your support and all your lovely comments; you guys are the reason why I’m still doing this instead of watching Masterchef on weeknights.

Love,

Libby (TVVHC)

Pei Modern

45 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 8545
www.peimodern.com.au

Before the financial year was over, Dave and I had been working extremely hard at our respective workplaces. Dave had a multitude of work that needed to be done STAT while I had to deal with an imbecile who got on everyone’s nerves. Of course, hard work leads to great rewards so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at acclaimed Sydney chef Mark Best’s inaugural Melbourne restaurant, Pei Modern.

Best has taken Sydney’s fine-dining scene by storm with his Surry Hills restaurant Marque. Not only has it picked up six three-hatted awards, it has was also voted Sydney’s Best Restaurant in 2011 by the Sydney Morning Herald. Oh yeah, and Marque sits on #61 in San Pellegrino’s list of best restaurants. Not bad for a former sparkie, hey? So when Dave and I heard that he was opening up a restaurant in Melbourne, we knew we had to go.

You could be forgiven into thinking that Pei Modern serves Asian cuisine (Marty thought the name sounded very ‘Chinois’). While its cuisine steers towards the ‘Mod Oz’ direction, there are hints of French cooking techniques and ingredients. And here’s another French link: the architect who designed Collins Place, where the restaurant is located, happens to be the same genius who designed the Louvre’s glass pyramid. And he happens to be a Chinese-American. His name is I.M. Pei and that, my friend, is where we get the restaurant’s name.

At the time of writing, neither of us had been to Marque so we had nothing to compare it to. All we knew was that it wasn’t going to be going Marque Mark II (bwah!), though we were nevertheless looking forward to seeing what Best’s Melbourne team could do. I’ve heard that Best flies into Melbourne every fortnight to assist in the kitchen but when he’s up in Sydney, he leaves everything to head chef Matt Germanchis. Gerhmanchis used to work at Movida and Movida Aqui, so we knew we were in good hands.

Dave, as usual, was there early so he was already halfway through his glass of red when I rocked up. I chose a lovely glass of 2011 Crawford River ‘Young Vines’ Riesling, a local white from Henty ($12) to go with my meal.

The food at Pei Modern, in comparison to Marque, was reasonably priced. Entrées don’t go beyond $20, while mains are priced around $30-35. In my opinion, this represents decent value for a Mark Best restaurant and for a restaurant at the top end of Collins Street. That said, we both thought that the seven-course tasting menu was a much bigger steal at $90. So we went with that.

Pei Modern bake their own bread and churn their own butter, so it goes without saying that the breads were delicious. While I did like the little canvas sack that the bread was placed in as well as the Perceval knives that were to remain by our side for the duration of the meal, I didn’t like the fact that we didn’t get any bread plates. I asked a waitress for a plate and to my surprise, she rolled her eyes and said that Best doesn’t ‘do bread plates.’ The reason behind this was that plates prevent sharing and interaction (or some bullshit like that), hence why they don’t give them out. That said, she did offer to give us a plate each – probably because I was making too much mess.

We started off with an anchovy shortbread that had blobs of parmesan custard on it. The bread was appropriately sweet and the salty anchovies and parmesan custard provided a great counterbalance.

For some reason, the waitress took away our bread plates and they were never to be seen again. It was also annoying having to leave our cutlery sitting awkwardly on the table in between courses, too. Bleh, I thought, let them deal with all the crumbs on the table.

The brandade croquettes (four for $8) weren’t part of the degustation, but I wanted them so badly so we ordered them separately. Each croquette was crispy on the outside, and rich and creamy on the inside courtesy of mashed potatoes. Brandade is essentially a mix of salted cod and olive oil and when eaten in croquette form, it reminded me of Grossi Cellar Bar’s salted cod croquettes.

Our next course was an almond gazpacho with blue swimmer crab. In my opinion, this was one of the highlights of the meal. A gazpacho is usually lightly textured, but this was one creamier. The cold and slightly nutty gazpacho blended well with the sweetness of the fresh crab meat and the grapes. What a simple yet beautiful dish!

Next, we had the bonito, foie gras and citrus. Both Dave and I are used to eating bonito in dried form so we were surprised to receive fresh, raw bonito.

The bonito tasted like a cross between a white fish and a tuna. Combined with the sinfully luscious foie gras and piquant grapefruit segments, each forkful was fresh and delicious.

The beetroot tart with horseradish came next. The horseradish actually came in the form of spit-like foam that partially covered the tart so that only the baby beetroot slices were shown.

When you remove the foam away, however, you can see the actual layers of buttery puff pastry and caramelised onions. Sadly, neither of us really enjoyed this dish. We ain’t avid beetroot lovers to begin with, but we also thought the onions were too full-on. This was definitely our least favourite dish of the night.

Pei Modern did, however, redeem itself with its Dutch Creams dish. We were told that this was one of the few dishes that were imported from Marque, so naturally we were excited. And boy, it was amazing!

A thick layer of potato cream covered several pieces of potatoes. Amongst the mess, there were blobs of lovely bone marrow and the whole thing was topped with a bit of coffee and mojama (air-cured tuna). It was sensational! The fatty, creamy and luscious ensemble was perfect on such a cold winter night and although Dave was initially worried that the coffee would keep him awake, there was only enough ground coffee in the mixture to add a little bit of edge to an otherwise sinfully delicious creamy dish.

Our main came from the grill, a spatchcock with black cabbage and roast grapes. This was another dish well done. The spatchcock, cooked beautifully all the way through, was covered in an intoxicating mixture of spices including cinnamon. According to Dave, that plus the grapes made the whole thing smell ‘like a raisin toast’ which made me giggle. He wasn’t far from the truth though and I loved how the spices drew out the gamey flavour of the bird.

I was hoping to get the caramelised tomato stuffed with twelve flavours and star anise ice cream for our dessert course as it’s a Marque staple. Instead, we got the milk chocolate sorbet, quince, chestnut and dehydrated sponge. Not that we were disappointed, though. The chocolate sorbet tasted rich, but was still light enough for me to enjoy with the accompanying chocolate cake and poached quince.

Apart from the stupid ‘no bread plate’ protocol and the disappointing beetroot tart, we both enjoyed our Pei Modern experience immensely. If we took the ‘no plate for you’ waitress out of the equation, the service we received throughout the night was generally pretty friendly and efficient, even during the peak dinner rush. We will certainly come back again to try some of the dishes on the a la carte menu. Pei Modern may not be a Marque but it has certainly made a mark in Melbourne.

Pei Modern on Urbanspoon

WIN double passes to attend Better Homes and Gardens LIVE

I’m not normally one to spruik events, especially those that don’t centre around food. I will, however, make an exception this time because when a PR blast regarding the inaugural Better Homes and Gardens LIVE event in Melbourne landed in my inbox, I was intrigued. Essentially at BHG LIVE, the pages of Better Homes and Gardens magazine comes alive with live demonstrations and workshops to entertain, inform and thrill. Whether you’re into DIY, gardening, cooking or all of the above, there is something for everyone, including the kids. I, myself, squealed in delight when I saw that my favourite TV chef, Karen Martini was rocking up to do a few cooking demos herself – I was literally drooling when I saw that she was presenting a demo called “Oodles of Noodles.”

As luck would have it, I won’t be in town for the duration of the festival so I will have to give it a miss *sad face* The good news is that I’ve got a bunch of double passes to give away to my lovely readers. Simply post a comment, by telling me your favourite place(s) in Melbourne to have noodles (any kind), and why. I will accept entries up to Monday 20th February 5pm AEDST as it’ll be the last time I’ll be reading comments/e-mails etc before I fly off to sunny, sticky Cairns. Best answers will score a double pass to the event (RRP $20 each at the door). Simple! If you’re lucky to score a double pass, I will hold you onto two conditions: 1) You must tell me all about it afterwards and 2) Have fun!

What: Better Homes and Gardens Live

When: 24th – 26th February 2012

Where: Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton

For more information, go to: http://www.bhglive.com.au/melbourne