Shop J, 535 Little Lonsdale Street (enter via Healeys Lane)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9973 1761
When I heard that Middle Fish owners Pla Liamthong and David Holtum were opening up a Thai restaurant around the corner from my office, I was more excited than I was yesterday when Australia reclaimed The Ashes. I’ve been to and loved Middle Fish, so I knew that Mr Nice Guy, their city venture, was going to be something special.
Unfortunately, due to laziness and my propensity to bring lunch from home in order to save money it took me a while to get my arse down to Mr Nice Guy. It took not only a quiet work day (and thus, an extra 15 minutes for lunch), but also a colleague’s two thumbs up for Peter and I to give this place a go – and we were glad we did.
Like Middle Fish, Mr Nice Guy is decked out with shabby-chic fittings courtesy of Thai artist, Torlarp Larpjaroensook. Colourful Pantone-style tiles and friendly waiters completed the look, while loud hip hop music provided the score. In the ‘burbs, we’re used to seeing Thai restaurants decked in elephants, Buddha statues and lots of purple so this was a refreshing change (even though I’m not a fan of hip hop). In saying that, I have no idea why they went with a non-stereotypical name for the restaurant – who is this Mr Nice Guy anyway?
Thai iced milk tea
It was a reasonably warm spring day so my iced milk tea went down a treat. While it could have done with less ice, the tea itself was creamy and sweet without being overpowering.
Kha na: Stir-fried Chinese broccoli and twice-cooked pork belly served with shallow fried egg on rice ($14.90)
Pete settled on the kha na, a rice dish. The twice-cooked pork belly was sweet with subtle hints of spiciness and saltiness. Chinese broccoli provided greenery while the shallow-fried egg was cooked beautifully – crispy on the edges, and soft in the middle.
Pad thai with tiger prawns ($14.90)
I decided to be a bit of a gweilo by ordering the pad thai (please don’t judge). As far as pad thais go, this one was pretty good. I received a generous serving of chewy rice noodles and they weren’t tight with the prawns either. It may have been a little sweet but thankfully, there was enough tamarind water in the sauce to make me happy. I guess the only bad thing I have to say about it was: why so many carrots on top?
It wasn’t an expensive lunch (though to be fair, neither of us try to spend more than $10 on lunch if we were to eat out so we forked out more than what we’re normally used to) and I’d definitely come back to try their dinner menu. These days, I stay back in the office twice a week to get other work done so there is definitely no excuse for me not to pop down to Mr Nice Guy after dark for slightly out-there Thai dishes. Hurstbridge pork belly and oyster sauce foam, anyone?
12-14 Claremont Street
South Yarra VIC 3141
I think it’s fair to say that most of us know who Adriano Zumbo is so my introduction will be brief. He’s the bald-headed dude whose face launched a thousand shits on Masterchef when he gave the contestants the task to create a croquembouche. He’s the dude partly responsible for making macarons a ‘thing’ in Australia. And he’s the dude who made a savoury-over-sweets-thanks person like me go crazy over his dessert train at The Star in Sydney last year.
Thankfully Melbourne’s Zumbo lovers do not need to hop on a plane to Sydney if they’re craving Zumbo’s macarons (or ‘zumbarons’). Zumbo’s first Melbourne store opened two months ago and as predicted, a huge crowd rocked up to the party on the first day of trading.
Dave and I decided to wait it out before heading to the store. We both finish work at a reasonable hour and so we agreed to meet in the South Yarra store at 4:45pm on a Tuesday afternoon. We were stoked to see no line outside the door; however we were not prepared to be told that they had sold out of little cakes and tart! Nor were we prepared to be greeted by the sight of these strange-looking seats – they looked like they were covered in some strange marshallow-soapy-fairy-floss thing.
Passionfruit curd and pâté sucrée ($6)
Luckily, Dave got there minutes before I did and was able to snag the very last tart, a passionfruit curd one.
The tart was beautiful. From the crumbly base to the tangy and velvety filling, the tart proved to be a hit for us self-confessed carnivores.
Strawberry Danish ($4.50)
There were a few Danishes left so I grabbed a strawberry one for myself and one for my workmate, Amy.
Despite the fact that it was towards the end of the day, the pastry was still crispy and flaky. I was also impressed with the filling – the strawberries were sweet and fresh, while the custard was creamy with the slightest hint of tartness.
Zumbarons ($2.50). Left box: pineapple & lime, apple pie; right box: pandan & sticky rice, yoghurt & passionfruit).
Of course, one can’t leave a Zumbo store without taking home some macarons – sorry, zumbarons. At $2.50 each, they’re pretty good value for money when you think about the fact that some places sell crappy ones for about the same price. Upon Daisy’s recommendation, I grabbed the pandan & sticky rice zumbaron – it almost felt like I was eating a pandan-flavoured bika ambon in macaron form. Meanwhile, I liked the piquancy of the yoghurt and passionfruit one and the tanginess of the pineapple & lime. My favourite, however, was the apple pie one – it was tart with hints of cinnamon. Somehow Zumbo also managed to capture the essence of the crust for I could taste a hint of pastry dough. This, I reckon, prevented the apple pie zumbaron from tasting too one dimensional.
This Zumbo store is a worthy addition to the growing Claremont Street repertoire, and one that Melburnians have embraced like today’s sunshine (we’re in the middle of December and we’re finally starting to see legit summer weather!). I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to try one of Zumbo’s cakes though knowing my luck, I’ll probably have more luck hopping on a plane to Sydney and scoring one at The Star than in Melbourne!
Shop 18, Pacific Fair Shopping Centre
2-30 Hooker Boulevard
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5558 0300
I don’t normally blog about chook shops. However, I think it’d be kind of dumb to finish off my Gold Coast series without mentioning Red Lea Chicken, arguably my favourite chicken shop on the Gold Coast – and possibly the world.
Red Lea has its origins in NSW and its most famous store is the one in Cabramatta. Despite Cabra’s notorious reputation, its food is king and if you don’t feel like Vietnamese, there is always Chinese, Malaysian, Cambodian… and Red Lea.
Their chips are amazing. The ones from the Cabramatta store were piping hot and insanely crunchy – and sprinkled with a liberal dose of equal parts chicken salt and paprika. For all we know, there could have been a bit of crack in there too – that explains why they’re so bloody addictive!
For some reason, Red Lea hasn’t quite crossed the NSW/VIC border (why the hell NOT?), yet Queensland managed to score a Red Lea store. Granted, it’s located in Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast, which has got to be one of the strangest-looking shopping centres in the country (castle? moat? Tudor-style buildings?). But hey, Gold Coastitutes should consider themselves lucky.
Crumbed chicken piece ($1.80 each)
The chicken is, as you’d expected, delicious. From memory, Red Lea does have a small range of free-range chickens but most of their birds are conventionally grown. Nevertheless, their roast chooks ($8.50 for a family-sized bird) don’t taste like they’ve been plumped up with water or hormones like the chooks you get at Woolies or Nandos. They actually taste like real chicken and their crumbed chicken is better than piece of KFC chicken.
Marty disagrees with me, but I think the chips they serve at the Cabramatta joint are better. The Pac Fair ones are still great but they’re not as crunchy and you don’t have the option of helping yourself to extra seasoning.
The Poms are more likely to win this Ashes series than for Victoria to have their first Red Lea store in the next couple of years. Until then, Red Lea will be my first (well okay, only) destination for hot chips and chicken when I’m visiting the northern states.
Also: Red Lea Chicken Cabramatta, 57 John Street, Cabramatta, NSW 2166
Lido Promenade, Robina Town Centre
Robina Town Centre Drive
Robina QLD 4230
+61 7 5580 8181
Gold Coast isn’t exactly known for being the yum cha capital of Australia (on the other hand, if you’re looking for ridiculous sleeve tatts and fake tans…). So if you’re craving siu mai on your Gold Coast trip, you’re better off waiting until you get home. Having said that though, Marty and I had yum cha at the innovatively-named Yum Cha Robina one Sunday – and we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was great. Definitely the best yum cha meal I’ve had on the Gold Coast (however, my only two previous yum cha experiences were these ones which doesn’t say much).
At 1:15pm on Sunday, the restaurant was packed so we were told to wait. Thankfully, we only had to wait 5 minutes before a waitress ushered us to an outside table overlooking the small lake in the middle of the promenade. I would have taken a photo of the lake but the sun was too bright and by then, a nice little queue had formed, thus blocking our view.
Pork and prawn dumplings
I mistook these pork and prawn dumplings for shark fin dumplings, but I wasn’t too pissed off – they were plump and full of flavour.
Scallop and prawn dumplings
The scallop and prawn dumplings were tasty but the skins were perhaps a bit too soggy thanks to spending so much time in the steamer.
Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)
Deep down, I know that xiaolongbao dumplings are usually best avoided at yum cha restaurants. However, I never seem to learn my lesson so before I knew it, I was ordering a steamer of XLBs.
As expected, there was no soup in it but at least the pork filling was nice and hearty.
Egg custard bun
I’m going through a salted egg custard bun phase at the moment so it was imperative that we order these. I just love the harmonious balance between salty and sweet, enveloped in a lovely fluffy white bun and these did not disappoint.
Marty isn’t a fan of ginger tripe (actually, hardly anyone I know likes them) so I was glad to enjoy these on my own. The tripe dish was a solid performer – a decent portion size combined with lovely flavours.
Zhaliang (Chinese dough stick wrapped in rice noodle rolls)
Zhaliang is normally ordered separately at yum cha – as in, they don’t come at ya via the yum cha trolleys. My dad, despite being Chinese, could never pronounce this dish properly so he was always struggling whenever we wanted to order this dish. Thankfully, the folks at Yum Cha Robina provide a menu on each table so we can point to whatever we feel like ordering in addition to whatever we take from the trolley.
Anyway, the zhaliang here was pretty good and bonus points for the dough stick remaining super crunchy even after being drenched in all that sauce. That said, most places also chuck in a few Chinese broccoli pieces wrapped in rice noodle rolls and Yum Cha Robina didn’t.
Har gow (prawn dumplings)
The last things to arrive were the har gow, my favourite yum cha dish of them all. The filling was lovely, though the dumplings themselves were smaller than what I’m normally used to.
We were sad that we didn’t get to order any more dishes. I would have normally added more fried dishes to the table but we both had very limited appetites that day so we didn’t. All up, I thought it was a very decent meal and it wasn’t overly expensive (yum cha dishes ranged from $3.80 for a small to $6.80 for a ‘special’). Without having been to Dragon Cove in Sanctuary Cove, I’d have to say that this is probably Gold Coast’s finest yum cha restaurant.
Shop 1004, Robina Town Centre
Robina Town Centre Dr
Robina QLD 4230
+61 7 5580 8159
Robina Town Centre may boast a decent collection of retail outlets but when it comes to eateries, you’re better off going elsewhere. That said, there is a Squires Loft and a couple of places where you can get dumplings so all is not lost on the foodie front. They even have a sushi train restaurant.
Now I’ve never been one to proclaim my undying love for sushi train restaurants but I have to say that Sushi Bay has its place at RTC. Not because it’s super-fantastic but because it’s cheap and quick and the food isn’t awful either – perfect for a pre-movie snack if all you want is a few bites. Marty and I weren’t going to the movies that night but we did have somewhere else we needed to be so we thought a few plates of sushi would do the trick.
- Salmon, tuna, avocado sushi ($3.50)
The salmon, tuna and avocado sushi was a safe first choice and while I can’t really say the salmon was the freshest, the sushi did the job at $3.50 a plate.
Chicken teriyaki temaki ($4.50)
Marty enjoys the chicken teriyaki temaki, which is made to order. I didn’t actually get to have a bite of it but given how quickly Marty gobbled it up, suffice to say that it would have been pretty tasty.
Tuna and salmon sushi ($3.50)
I noticed that every other plate that rolled past us essentially contained different permutations of tuna, salmon, avocado and cucumber, not least this fishy number that just so happened to have a random slice of orange in the middle. Like the first sushi dish we had, it wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t sublime either.
Crab croquette ($3.50)
I must say that I have a weakness for crab croquettes and these babies came fresh out of the fryer so they were crunchy and delicious. Sadly, I had to leave room for my stomach for whatever we were doing later that evening or else I would happily ordered another one.
While I wouldn’t recommend Sushi Bay for those flying in from out of town, it’s nevertheless an alright place if you just want a quick bite and ain’t particularly fussy about food quality. The service is super-fast so if you have only 20 or so minutes to spare before your movie starts (or if you happen to work at nearby Foxtel and are on a 30-minute lunch break), then Sushi Bay will hit the spot.
23 Park Avenue
Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
+61 7 5534 3877
Burleigh Heads has got to be my favourite area in the Gold Coast. It’s in a central location, the beach is right at your doorstep and there are more than a handful of decent restaurants to sate your appetite. The thing I have to whinge about is that it’s always packed and it can often be hard to find parking, even on weekdays – do these beach bums not work?!
Regardless, Marty and I found parking near the bowls club and off we went up Park Avenue for some breakfast at Canteen Kitchen, the then-new sister café to Canteen Coffee, a coffee kiosk that’s been giving Burleigh residents their coffee fix for quite some time now.
Cold-pressed latte ($6)
With the Gold Coast sun blaring down on us that morning, I thought a cold-pressed latte would be the perfect thing to cool me down. It was beautifully milky with only the slightest hint of sweetness. Obviously having the milk and ice there meant that it wasn’t as strong as a hot latte but it did perk me up.
West African iced chocolate ($6)
Marty had the West African iced chocolate, presumably called so because the cocoa beans come from West Africa. It was a stronger drink than my latte but we both preferred my latte – the iced chocolate was a bit too strong for my liking.
Lamb kofta burger, beetroot relish, Lebanese cucumber, minted yoghurt ($16)
Canteen Kitchen’s menu dabbles into Middle Eastern territory, thus it is no surprise that lamb koftas, broad beans and labneh make regular appearances on patrons’ tables. Marty ordered the lamb kofta burger, which was full of fresh ingredients.
Marty thought the burger was alright but not fantastic. I had to agree – the lamb could have done with a bit more spice, especially since both the minted yoghurt and beetroot relish, although fresh, had muted flavours.
Scrambled egg, za’atar flat bread, labneh, green olives, lamb kofta ($18)
My scrambled egg with lamb kofta dish was much more flavoursome. The za’atar spices gave the dish a generous dose of oomph, while the flat bread and scrambled eggs got me full even before the halfway mark. Still, I managed to finish the whole thing off – after all, I can never waste good green olives!
Our breakfast at Canteen Kitchen pretty much cements Burleigh’s reputation for being the best area for food on the Gold Coast. While I wouldn’t be recommending the lamb kofta burger to anyone, I can definitely recommend their cold-pressed coffees and the Middle Eastern-inspired menu is a fresh change from the eggs/avocado/savoury mince dishes and Merlo coffee combo that most Gold Coast cafés spruik.
T2/3240 Surfers Paradise Boulevard
Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
+61 451 150 732
After Marty and I had demolished ribs at Hurricane’s, we decided that we’d chill over some shishas. What’s a shisha post doing on a food blog, you say? Well, I had Turkish coffee there. Plus this place has Middle Eastern sweets. Granted, I did not end up buying any sweets but they’re there, okay?
Arabesque Bazaar is a newbie on the now-gaudy Surfers Paradise scene. Although Surfers is pretty much full of decrepit nightclubs and the odd bikie trying to avoid detection, there are still some places worth going to and Arabesque is one of them.
Arabesque is more than just a place to smoke shisha (water pipes) and drink Turkish coffee, it is also a retail outlet. You can buy anything from home wares to your own shisha pipe to clothes. Most people, however, go here to chill with their shishas.
Marty and I ordered a green apple shisha to share (around $20-25), along with a tea and Turkish coffee. All up, it was 30-something dollars. A dude in an ill-fitting Aladdin-like costume then got the whole thing set up for us.
Once the burning charcoal bits were set, it was on like Donkey Kong. It was my first time taking shisha so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have to admit that I wasn’t in the right mindset to begin with – I hate cigarettes and I still had a nasty 8000-word essay to submit online the next day (and I was nowhere near close to finishing so naturally I was freaking out).
I wouldn’t say my Turkish coffee was fantastic. ‘Dirt’ was the first thing that came to mind when I took a sip. Marty also didn’t rate his tea. I guess a baklava would have gone down well that night but I just wasn’t in the mood.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed my shisha experience. I didn’t get that nasty cigarette feeling, yet I was still relaxed. It’s not something that I’d do every weekend though – I prefer my wines – but I wouldn’t say no the next time someone invites me to go to a shisha café. One word of advice: you’re best off ordering a shisha to share between several people. Marty and I tried to finish one off but we gave up just after the halfway point as we got bored.
Not that Arabesque Bazaar is boring though. It’s just a bizarre fixture in a bizarre part of Australia (in a good way, of course).
4 The Esplanade
Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
+61 7 5503 5500
I’ve been wanting to try the ribs at Sydney institution, Hurricane’s, for the longest time. Unfortunately, time constraints usually mean that I could never squeeze in a Sunday session there (too many other restaurants to visit, you see). Thus, when I heard that Hurricane’s had opened their flagship Queensland restaurant in the heart of Surfers, I got Marty to make a late dinner booking the night I was to fly into the balmy Gold Coast.
Nestled on the first level of Soul Tower, Gold Coast’s second tallest building, Hurricane’s is a spacious 300-seater restaurant overlooking the beach. It was Wednesday night in Surfers; the schoolies hadn’t quite arrived and the whole area was a construction site so there weren’t many people wandering about. Inside, however, was a different story.
The restaurant was more than half full, with mostly locals making up the numbers though there were a couple of tables full of Japanese tourists (what, Japanese people still visited Goldie?).
The fit-out screams out raw and industrial – kind of like inner-city Melbourne or Sydney. It was hard to believe you were in Surfers. The faux chandeliers made out of bare light bulbs, however, added a bit of warmth as did the homely services we received from our waitresses throughout our meal.
Black Forest: Belvedere Vodka, Crème de Cassis shaken with mixed berries, mint and lemon juice ($18)
Marty loves his cocktails and he’s a bit of a fake German so I wasn’t surprised when he ordered the Black Forest. Although Marty has a sweet tooth, even he found it really sweet – think slushie pump cocktails.
Elderton Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($10)
I stuck to a glass of Cab Sauv just because I didn’t feel like a cocktail. The cocktail list wasn’t terribly remarkable but I did muster a smile when I saw the Queensland Iced Tea with its ingredients being Cointreau, lemon, mint sugar, ginger beer and Bundaberg rum (of course).
Foreground: Half pork ribs ($34.90); Hidden in background: half pork ribs ($34.90) and half beef ribs ($31.90)
Onto the food! Marty decided to give both the beef and pork ribs a go, along with monkey gland sauce ($2.50) on the side. I just went for half a rack of pork ribs with mushroom sauce ($2.50). We were both given the option to have either chips or baked potato with our ribs and obviously, we chose chips.
We decided that both ribs were very good but not the best we’ve had. The meat on both were tender but they weren’t exactly falling off the bone. The beef ribs were on the sweet side and the pork ribs, while better, were not as good as the ones we’ve enjoyed at Mike’s Kitchen and Squires Loft. For one thing, both Mike’s Kitchen’s and Squires Loft’s ribs have more meat and sauce on them. The ribs at Hurricane’s also suffered from a lack of tanginess that I’m used to. Marty even went so far to say that the ribs had a bit of an industrialised Lonestar feel to them. I’ve never been to a Lonestar restaurant so I couldn’t make a fair comparison but in all honesty, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about…
In saying all that, the ribs were still good. ESPECIALLY with the mushroom sauce. I can honestly say that Hurricane’s makes the best mushroom sauce out of all the steak houses we’ve been to. It is THAT good. The monkey gland sauce wasn’t too bad either – what’s monkey gland sauce? It’s a South African sauce that’s sweet and chutney-like; no monkeys were harmed in the making of this sauce (at least none that I know of). It was delish but oh my, nowhere near as good as the mushroom sauce! Part-Campbells canned mushroom soup (but in a good way, of course) and part-creamy garlic, we pretty much licked the whole tub clean.
Even though our minds weren’t blown, we still had a lovely meal. After all, great service, excellent views and super-friggin’-awesome mushroom sauce made up for the fact that the ribs weren’t excellent. On the night, I wasn’t sure if it was because I was expecting too much (thanks a lot, friends) or if the ribs are actually a lot better in Sydney. My friend later told me that she reckons the Sydney restaurants aren’t as good anymore so maybe it’s an organisation-wide thing.
In saying all that though, Hurricane’s definitely deserves a spot in the heart of Surfers Paradise because goodness knows that this area needs a bit of a foodie revamp. With a bit of Sydney style rolling in, hopefully we’ll see an overall increase in quality dining once all the construction work is complete.
Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Towers
525 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3888
Disclaimer: Peter and Libby attended this event as guests of Nespresso and Weber Shandwick.
It’s not every day you receive an email from a PR company acting on behalf of Nespresso, inviting you to an industry dinner event at one of Australia’s best restaurants. Watching your colleague eat raw meat and then seeing their reaction when you tell him that it was, in fact, wallaby is also something you don’t see every day.
Then again, Vue de Monde is not exactly your ‘every day’ restaurant.
My first visit was almost four years ago to celebrate an anniversary with an ex-boyfriend. I must admit that I cringed when I re-read the entry – was I really that twattish back then? Wait, don’t answer that. In any case, I might have been on the Jacques Reymond>Vue de Monde fence that time but things can change in four years. In that time, Vue de Monde moved from Normanby Chambers to Rialto, head chef Shannon Bennett revamped Vue’s direction (and menu) and I lost two dress sizes. All in all, it looked like things changed for the better – and we were about to find out that night.
Crealto Nespresso Martini
Pete and I might have felt slightly out of place with our bummy office attire but we were nevertheless greeted with warm smiles and espresso martini cocktails as soon as we stepped in.
‘Would you like some wallaby?’ asked the waiter, shoving a tray of what looked like dabs of dark, raw meat in our faces. For some reason, Pete heard him say ‘val-la-wee’ rather than ‘wallaby’ so he eagerly swallowed a piece, thinking that it was a fancy name given to a raw beef canapé or something like that. Thus, you can imagine his surprise when I was like, ‘Have you had wallaby before?’ (‘THAT was wallaby?’)
The oyster wrap was essentially puree was wrapped in a gelatin casing, making this canapé a visually interesting one – I was thinking ‘fancy oyster dumpling’ here. Also not pictured was the smoked eel with white chocolate, which sounded WTF to begin with but actually tasted really nice. I loved the beautiful contrast between the malty white chocolate crust and the smoky eel meat.
We were then shown to our table which was decked in some pimpin’ Christofle cutlery and beautiful people including two fellow bloggers, Catherine and Amy.
Throughout the dinner, Vue Head Chef Shannon Bennett told us why we were all congregated in this little room, 55 storeys above ground level. Bennett, along with Tetsuya Wakuda, had been appointed as a Nespresso Culinary Ambassador for Australia. I didn’t know this beforehand, but apparently Nespresso is used in over 700 Michelin-stared restaurants worldwide. This makes them a pretty big deal. Once Bennett finished talking about how fantastic Nespresso was (and about truffle farms), it was back to the food.
I love butter but ARTISAN FRENCH BUTTER?! Oh, Lordy! Needless to say, I applied this stuff liberally all over my bread.
Duck, leek, Gascony
Our entrée was the duck, which was tender and flavoursome. And while I’m normally on the anti-Chardonnay brigade, I thought the accompanying 2010 Tarrawarra ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay was smooth and peachy rather than EW GROSS OAKY. Each drop had a bit of zest which meant that it cut through the fatty duck meat beautifully.
Barramundi, Crealto, potato, squid, mustard greens
We had barramundi for our main – and it had coffee in it! Well, not a lot. In fact, I couldn’t taste it. In any case, the fish was pefectly cooked and I loved how the other elements – all cooked beautifully – did not overpower the fish. And while I initially thought it was odd that we were given a glass of red to go with the fish, the very fragrant 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir added a bit of pizzazz to this dish.
Aussie-style petit fours
We were then instructed to wander over to the dessert buffet table on the other side of the room for dessert. A very impressive Australia flora-themed ensemble greeted us, enticing us to sample the Aussie-style petit fours which were all inspired by the lollies Bennett enjoyed as a child.
Next to the dessert table, a guy was brewing cups of Nespresso Crealto Grand Cru for guests to try. I actually wanted to go to sleep that night so unfortunately, I missed out on trying the coffee (never mind that I had an espresso martini earlier that night, hah). I suppose I could have gone for the decaf version which was also available but sif anyone can be bothered with decaf coffee anyway.
Clockwise from top: chocolate mousse with jam ‘lamingtons’, salted caramel slice, musk ‘eucalyptus’ leaf, berry and cream tarts and gin penny jujubes
I was really impressed with how creative the desserts were. Even the boring caramel slice got a bit of a makeover with a bit of saltiness thrown in the mix. If I had more room in my stomach, I would have also grabbed a lemon meringue tart which received lots of praise from my fellow diners but on the other hand, I was just as happy with my lamington.
If a French cuisine purist rocked up to this dinner, they may cry ‘SACREBLEU!’ on what seems like a rude Aussie assault on French food. However, I reckon Bennett nailed it. The food is cooked and presented perfectly as always but you also can tell that Bennett has applied a more confident and relaxed approach, resulting in dishes that are more enjoyable to eat. It’s amazing what four years can do.
5 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda VIC 3182
+61 3 9534 9666
Disclaimer: Libby and her guests received a Best Restaurants $100 gift card from De Groots media which was used to pay for part of the bill at Sapore.
I don’t normally dine out on Monday nights – to me, Monday nights were specifically reserved for Eastbound & Down and Hello Ladies. But now that those shows have had their season’s run (and for Eastbound fans, it’s pretty much goodbye Kenny Powers forever), my Monday nights are free. And recently, I’ve come to realise that organising dinners on a Monday night is a good thing – restaurants are quieter and more often than not, they have specials on.
With that in mind, Daisy, Ricky, Dave and I decided to take advantage of Sapore’s Signature Dinner Menu. Available from Sunday through to Tuesday, you get a glass of wine and two courses for $38 per head (shared entrée and a choice of pasta for your main) and if you want dessert, it’s an extra $10. Given that Sapore has been around for seventeen years, collecting hats and awards here and there, we thought it was a pretty good deal. We also had a Best Restaurants $100 gift card to use thanks to the guys at De Groots media, which can be used at any participating restaurant on this list.
Head Chef and owner Simon Moss’s aim is simple: classic Italian food in a relaxed atmosphere. He pretty much got it down pat with the help of the restaurant’s casual beachside location and his staff’s warm hospitality throughout our meal. Daisy and I even got to sit on a banquette so comfortable that we were pretty much laying on it like gluttonous Roman senators towards the end of the night.
Oh, and the food wasn’t bad either!
Raven Park wines: 2012 Shiraz and 2011 Chardonnay
I love red wine but I don’t always order it as I’m self-conscious about walking around with stained teeth. That night, however, the white option was Chardonnay which I hate with a passion so Shiraz it was. No regrets, it was very plummy all over with lovely dabs of cherry notes.
I thought olive oil and bread died out along with molecular gastronomy five years ago? That said, the olive oil was very fruity and delicious – I still would have preferred butter though. Oh, we also received complimentary plump olives from Gippsland which was a nice touch.
Salumi plate: selection of cured meat with pickled peppers; salt & pepper calamari with aioli, bitter leaf salad and lemon vinaigrette
We started off with some nibbles to share: cold cuts on one side and salt & pepper calamari on the other.
Although I only had a slice of mortadella and salami, I thought the cold cuts were lovely in their simplicity. The cornichons and peppers were also there to break up all the salt.
I don’t normally order salt and pepper calamari at restaurants but I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was. The tentacles were amazingly tender and the batter was thin and crunchy. The aioli that came with the calamari wasn’t bad but I preferred to enjoy the calamari pieces sans-aioli.
Bruschetta with duck liver parfait, fig vincotto and toasted hazelnuts
The other entrée we had was the duck liver parfait bruschetta, which received shouts of praise all around the table. The parfait, which was velvety, was bursting with fatty flavour that would have been divine in little doses. The bruschetta slices, however, were loaded with a helluva lot of duck liver so I felt a bit overwhelmed. Thank goodness for the hazelnuts – they balanced out the fattiness really well.
Saffron risotto with calamari
Daisy ordered the saffron risotto for her main. None of us are big on risotto dishes but we were pleasantly surprised at how delicious this was. Each vibrantly-coloured grain was well-cooked, soaking up the lovely seafood stock. Meanwhile, the little calamari bits were amazingly tender. I was kicking myself for not choosing this dish.
Spaghetti with prawns, chilli, basil and blue swimmer crab bisque
Dave had the spaghetti with prawns, another excellent dish. The pasta was beautifully al dente, while the bisque provided a fragrant backdrop to the beautiful prawn, chilli and basil sauce.
Seafood linguine with calamari, fish, mussels, prawns, chilli and parsley
Ricky’s seafood linguine was probably my least favourite dish, but only because the other dishes shone so brightly that this dish was merely reduced to a quiet achiever. The medley of fresh seafood made this dish beautiful and would have been the highlight of any given dinner if the other dishes weren’t so good.
House-made potato gnocchi with braised rabbit and truffle butter
My gnocchi was probably the heaviest of the four. In fact, it was so rich and heavy that I couldn’t finish it all (see below).
I’m not one to order rabbit dishes because, let’s face it, rabbit is a very hard meat to cook properly and I’ve often been disappointed whenever I order rabbit at restaurants. Not this time, though. The rabbit was unbelievably tender and nothing like the dry stringy mess I’m used to.
The gnocchi pillows stole the show though – they were soft and velvety like a phone sex operator’s voice (sorry, was watching The Carrie Diaries last night) and soaked up the sauce effortlessly. If I had to complain, I’d say that the pungent truffle butter smell initially threw me off-balance but that feeling quickly went away when I dug in.
Dining with Daisy means that we can’t leave without dessert no matter how stuffed we are. Tonight was no exception but we did manage to compromise by sharing two desserts between the four of us.
Affogato: coffee with macadamia nut gelato, shortbread and orange & vanilla liqueur
The Signature Dinner Menu only gives us three dessert options so it was a bit like choosing the lesser two evils. First up, we had the affogato. Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it because I really wanted to sleep that night. I do remember the macadamia gelato being creamy and not overly sweet, though.
Banana donuts with salted caramel sauce and hazelnut ice cream
The banana donuts, however, were excellent. They were more like banana fritters though, as the filling was all banana and no dough. Not that we were complaining! Although I couldn’t really taste the salt in the salted caramel, I did like the very earthy hazelnut ice cream.
Thanks to the Best Restaurants $100 gift card, we only paid $18 each that night. Even without the gift card, though, we still thought $48 per head represented amazing value given the quality of food we had that night. I’ll definitely come back to have the saffron risotto to myself – and a banana donut or two if I still have room in my stomach. Not necessarily on a Monday either.
On that note, Best Restaurants is giving away two $300 Best Restaurants gift cards to be used at any participating restaurant in Australia. All you need to do to be in the running to win this awesome prize is to take a photo of a meal you’ve enjoyed at a restaurant listed on http://www.bestrestaurants.com.au and upload it on the Best Restaurants competition page. The two photos with the most votes will win.