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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Assaggi Italiani

If you haven't noticed lately, my posts have been sporadic and spanning towards the monthly basis now - a cumulation of getting caught up in work, life and obsessively planning our trip to America at the end of the year. I feel major guilt neglecting my little food baby (my blog, not my stomach. My stomach is always well fed!) but the urge to relax after a long day at work always wins over writing and editing. Still, enjoying good food with loved ones is still a significant aspect of life I'm happily partaking in; and to celebrate our father this year, we decided to take him out to a neighbourhood Italian restaurant. At Assaggi Italiani, we are greeted with upbeat Italian greetings and heavy accented wait staff, while being led up the stairs to a private room for our table of nine.

While my parents are accustomed to the "quantity over quality" type of Italian establishments and would typically baulk at the idea of paying more than what they're used to, Assaggi Italiani was reasonably priced for the quality fare. The pastas are made fresh and on site; apparent from the silky and dainty texture of the fettuccine, with a plentiful array of fresh seafood.

Fettuccine Alla Sirenetta with fresh seafood ($25)

The cavatelli nestled the robust Napoli sauce, and was appropriately seasoned with a hit of saltiness from the pancetta and bacon.

Cavatelli Alla Matriciana ($19.50)

The gnocchi, barely holding their form after baking in the Napoli sauce, was sprinkled with a generous layer of parmesan and mozzerella cheese.

Gnocchi Alla "Nonna Maria" ($20)

The pizzas were cooked in the wood fire oven, allowing a distinct char to envelope in the flavours of the thin, crisp base, just solid enough to hold the ample toppings. While I equally enjoyed all the pizzas, I had a slight preference to the Campagnola for the decadent combination of bocconini, mushrooms, pungent Gorgonzola and pancetta.

Capriciosa - bocconcini, ham off the bone, mushrooms & olives ($18)

Campagnola - bocconini, mushroom, Gorgonzola, pancetta ($18.50)

Amalfi - bocconcini, mixed seafood ($18.50)

Aquolina - bocconcini, bresaola, lemon, parmesan & rocket ($20)

Between the nine of us, there was plenty of food to go around to satisfy the entire table. While the desserts didn't tempt us that night, there were the quintessential Italian desserts available on the menu. The service and food were equally as charming and enjoyable and we wouldn't hesitate to return for another visit.

Food: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Will I return? Yes, a great Italian restaurant not too far from home.

Assaggi Italiani
99 Glenferrie Rd
Malvern VIC 3144
(03) 9500 1624

Tues to Sun 5:30pm - 10pm

Assaggi Italiani on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lazy days in Kyneton, Victoria.

Kyneton is a small and sleepy town, with the locals all know one another and can be seen pulled over on opposite sides of the road and hanging out of their respective car windows having a gab. With a little time before dinner, we soaked in the Winter sun at Monsieur Pierre while enjoying a raspberry and coconut slice and their signature Gypsy spice hot chocolate. Now, I've never really understood the fascination with chilli chocolate but now may have been converted with a simple sip of this drink. Rich, thick chocolate liquid with a slight spice lingering on the tongue - an ideal pick me up after a long drive.

Gypsy spice hot chocolate with a raspberry and coconut slice

Monsieur Pierre
143 Mollison St
Kyneton VIC 3444
(03) 5422 1136
 

Mon to Fri 6:30am - 6pm
Sat & Sun 8am - 4pm

Monsieur Pierre on Urbanspoon

The reason for our trip to Kyneton was to celebrate a milestone together. We've never been the present-giving type, preferring to indulge our senses and enjoy a little getaway over anything else. Anything to take us from the reality of the day to day working grind. Originally, we thought of heading back to Tasmania (too lazy) or Beechworth for Michael Ryan's The Provenance (closed in August), so eventually we decided to drive out to Kyneton in the Macedon Ranges for Annie Smithers. Annie Smithers came highly recommended from my sister who rated it as one of her favourite dining experiences in Australia. It is a familiar, warm and inviting space and the staff are as equally charming.


We are looked after by one half of the team behind Annie Smithers, Michelle, while the other half of the team, Tim, mans the kitchen. Upon her recommendation, we order a bottle of the 2010 Pinot Noir from Cobaw Ridge, situated just thirty minutes out of town.



A complimentary starter of parsnip and fennel soup with goats cheese was an excellent stimulant to get our appetites going.

Parsnip and fennel soup with goats cheese (complimentary)

I was intrigued by the idea of lamb brains and couldn't help myself ordering it for my entrée. While there didn't have a distinct or prominent offal flavour to it, it's all about the contrast of the crisp exterior and smooth and creamy texture inside. The celeriac and apple remoulade lifting from the creaminess of the brains and shards of pancetta providing just the right amount of saltiness.

Hazelnut crumbed lamb brains, celeriac & apple remoulade, pancetta and garden rocket ($18)

Mr A's cheese soufflé would satisfy any cheese lovers' appetite. Underneath the caramelised crust, a mixture of chewy and oozing Gruyere cheese, perfectly complemented by the fresh nashi and walnut salad, studded with nuggets of pungent gorgonzola.

Twice cooked Gruyere cheese soufflé, nashi, tatsoi, gorgonzola and walnut salad ($18)

The confit duck leg falls apart like any good confit meat should, but the feature is the tender slices of smoked duck breast. With a lovely crisp skin, the flavour of the duck breast is robust and delectable.

Confit free range duck leg, brined & smoked duck breast, parsnip puree, broccoli shoots, witlof, pickled quince, jus, vincotto ($36)

My market fresh snapper lacks the promised crisp skin, but the fish is cooked just right. I couldn't get enough of the chunky creamed leek sauce which melded beautifully with the sweet flesh of the snapper without overwhelming it.

Market fresh snapper, creamed leek, cauliflower beignets & herb salad ($36)

We neglect to realise that main courses are complemented with a garden salad, but regardless, we are immersed in our mains that both the baby cos salad and garden salad remain mostly untouched.

Baby cos, cabbage, pear & Redesdale walnut salad with sherry vinegar dressing ($9) & house salad

After our years together, I can pretty much guess what Mr A will choose when dessert time comes. Cutting into the chocolate molten pudding, there is no trickle of chocolate liquid which worries us slightly; but our fears are quickly put to rest after a spoonful - rich, gooey and an incredibly light texture that just melts away.


Dark chocolate pudding, honey cream, honey & hazelnut ice cream and hazelnut praline ($16)

My panna cotta is dotted with a plethora of vanilla beans although I'm not completely sold by the combination of the sheep's milk yoghurt sorbet with the heady brandied kumquats - finding the combination almost jarring. Singularly, the elements are fantastic although ultimately, I appreciate the silky panna cotta and the fresh sheeps yoghurt sorbet.

Vanilla bean panna cotta, brandied kumquats, gingerbread & sheep's milk yoghurt sorbet ($16)

Ultimately, our meal and service are both impeccable and we walk out feeling fully satiated and buzzed from our experience.

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 9/10
Value: 8/10
Will I return? Yes, in a heartbeat.

Annie Smithers Bistrot
72 Piper St
Kyneton VIC 3444
(03) 5422 2039


Thurs to Sun: lunch from noon & dinner from 6pm - late

Annie Smithers Bistrot & Produce on Urbanspoon

After a comfortable night's stay in our beautiful room at the Mollisons, waking up to crisp country air was a refreshing change. Our plans were to head back home that morning, but not without first having breakfast. The reinvigoration of Piper Stret in Kyneton has seen expansion of Kyneton's dining scene to include a few new cafes. Duck Duck Goose & Larder offers a gourmet selection of fresh local produce as well as pantry goods and curated home wares. The adjoining cafe offers pastries, pies, ready-made rolls and an array of breakfast dishes.



Piccolo latte and unfiltered ginger ale

I've always had a bias for potato in any form - mash, baked, scalloped, et al; but when it comes to sweet potato, it reaches exponential proportions. Crisp sweet potato rosti with pools of egg yolk intermingling with the punchy harissa hollandaise, sharpness from the juicy tomatoes and sourdough to soak it all up - sensational.

Sweet potato rosti with poached eggs, slow roasted tomatoes & a smoky harissa hollandaise ($17.90)

Mr A's pumpkin bruschetta was a healthier breakfast choice, managing to still delight the taste buds with the appetising combination of pumpkin and beetroot relish, goats cheese and candied pancetta.

Pumpkin bruschetta with goats cheese, rocket,  beetroot relish and candied pancetta ($15.90)

Ending our trip on a high note, we had only fond memories of Kyneton on our drive back home. I would highly recommend a weekend getaway to Kyneton - a quiet and delightful town only an hours drive from Melbourne's CBD.

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Value: 8/10
Will I return? Yes, a sweet spot with wholesome dishes.

Duck Duck Goose & Larder
17-19 Piper St
Kyneton VIC 3444
(03) 5422 1653


Mon to Sat 8:30am - 5:30pm
Sun 10am - 5pm

Duck Duck Goose & Larder on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Champions Bistro at Bowls Clayton

There was a mad scramble for dinner reservations when word first got out about Champions Bistro. Occupying the dining space in an unassuming suburban bowls club in Melbourne's South, most sessions were booked out months in advance due to the limited span of the temporary restaurant. It is only now, after a few extensions due to popular demand, that Clinton and Ali are taking a short hiatus in September to rest and recharge. Without neglecting to signing in at the front counter leading to the bistro, we catch glimpses of smoke wafting up from plates and a collective of interesting looking bites which had us highly anticipating our meal.

It is said that sour foods increase the appetite and perhaps it did; the "chips", with a biting sourness and an evident "sea" flavour from the mussels, left us keen for our forthcoming courses.

Mussel and vinegar chips

The oysters impart a wonderful smoky flavour and leaves a delectable metallic flavour lingering on the tongue, long after we finish with the oysters.

Smoked oyster with apple and horseradish

Appearing more like a slices of tuna sashimi on a nutty flaxseed cracker, the acidity of the spicy home made pickles balances out the fatty neck ham.

Greenvale neck ham and pickles

Morsels of raw prawn nestled in a paper-thin wrap of swede were well suited with the mellow flavours of the nastutium and pumpkin juice. Although the serving plates weren't the most ideal serving vessel and forced the entire table to, somehow attempt in a subtly manner, tilt and manoeuvre the flavoursome liquid into our spoons to incorporate with the delicious packages, it only proved how tasty it was.


Prawn, swede, nasturtium, pumpkin juice

A surprising appearance of house made bread was warmly welcomed. Hot from the oven, we were smitten with the crusty edges and pillowy soft centre with the butter. When butter melts and disappears instantaneously into the bread like that, I can almost justify my rationalisation for more butter.

House made sourdough bread with butter

A pairing of freshwater trout with firm pink fir potatoes showed a lovely balance of flavours with a sprinkling of pine mushroom powder.

Pink fir potato, freshwater trout seasoned with pine mushroom

The next dish stirs up a bit of passionate discussion in regards to the underrated goose, which doesn't appear on menus in Australia as much as we'd love. With less fat than a duck and a slightly gamier flavour, it was tender and juicy in all the right places. The sticky plum, dehydrated berries and sorrel on the side were ideal in alleviating from the richness of the dish.

Goose, plum, last season berries and sorrel

While I'm more keen to get started on the sweets, the table readily accepts the cheese course. The flavours of this dish are punchy and salty with an array of textures from the savoury meringue and crisp shards of baguette.

Pynegana cheddar, mustard, muntries

While chocolate and beetroot isn't necessarily a new combination we've witnessed, this would be the most delicious rendition I've come across so far. A rich dark chocolate sorbet harmonised by the understated raw sweetness of the beetroot and dehydrated berries, finished with some chocolate crumbs sprinkled lightly to provide a textural counterpoint.

Native pepper berry, dark chocolate, beetroot

There is no anti-climax here at Champions Bistro - knocking the meal out of the park with a sensational final dessert. A musky sheeps yoghurt sorbet, possessing the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, and segments of poached pear and dried chestnut to add textured layers of sweetness and nuttiness to complete the dish.

Sheep’s yoghurt, chestnut, pear

Clinton manages to fine tune his previous experience in world-class kitchens and demonstrate his deft expertise through the considered and innovative dishes at Champions Bistro without the ostentation of a 3 hatted establishment. The nine course meal ($80 per person) is substantial enough for the table although, perhaps bigger eaters would need more to be completely satisfied; for that price though, quality is evident and the suggestion of a second visit isn't even debated.

Side note: A bit thank you to my besties for taking us out and completing spoiling me that night!

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 8.5/10
Will I return? Yes, a fine dining experience at affordable prices.

Champions Bistro at Bowls Clayton
37 Springs Rd
Clayton South VIC 3169
(03) 9544 9929


Lunch: Fri & Sat 12pm - 2pm
Dinner: Wed to Sat 6pm - late

Champions Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Supernormal

You shouldn't expect anything less than a crowd of people lining up, out the doors at one of Melbourne's hottest openings on a Friday night. Andrew McConnell, of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc fame, experimented with the concept of Golden Fields at his trial canteen out in Fitzroy last year and it has resulted in the evolution of the new city outlet, Supernormal. While we felt quite smug in our decision to pop by just before the dinner crowds flocked down, I enjoyed an refreshing yuzu sake beverage while Mr A went for a rice lager.

Saito Shuzo You's time light yuzushu ($12) & 2 Brothers Kung Foo Rice Lager ($12)

A rather uplifting combination of tuna and ama ebi prawns were matched with slivers of apple and a tart dressing with a hint of spice. The raw elements in this dish were perfectly showcased, especially the ama ebi prawns which were sweet in flavour and possessed a luxurious melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

While the lobster roll should be a must order for any first-timer (even if to just try it), my priority was to try something new and I wasn't disappointed with my choice of the pig's head bao which ticked all the boxes. A soft white bun encasing a crumbed meaty and gelatinous morsel of pig's head, topped with a chunky roast chilli sauce and pickled cucumbers. Mr A's braised spicy beef bun was pan fried and filled with a shredded spicy beef although it didn't reach the heights of the pig's head bao.

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6) and the pork bao with roast chilli sauce ($6)

We happened upon another winner with the pickled spanner crab salad accompanied with shredded cabbage hearts, watercress and a savoury miso dressing. A flawless display of complementary flavours and a great contrast of textures.

Pickled spanner crab salad with cabbage hearts, watercress and miso dressing ($18)

Despite the marron arriving partially raw (perhaps that's how it was supposed to be cooked), the flesh was sweet and silky and we found the seafood to be extremely well cooked and I enjoyed the heady sea-based broth. The process of how to attack this particular dish wasn't explained to us by our waitress nor were any bowls placed in front of us so we proceeded to pour the broth into the large plate containing seafood and then dip the al dente noodles into the broth and eat the seafood individually. Delicious, but very, very awkward.


WA Marron, mussels, clams, bass grouper and spicy miso broth with ramen noodles ($34)

To finish the savoury dishes, a succulent beef dish, done two ways. The beef loin was tender and flavoursome, the ribs underneath smothered in a rich pepper sauce, fell apart. The flavours were strong and punchy; while I felt that some rice would be ideal (I was much too full though), Mr A enjoyed it as it was.

Grilled Rangers valley strip loin and rib of beef with pepper sauce ($35)

Our seams were past bursting point but I was determined to order dessert as we wouldn't be back for a while. I decided to forsake the popular peanut butter parfait for the tart pink lady and miso soft serve. Mr A didn't enjoy it at all and found the flavours too peculiar leaving the whole thing for myself; I found it quite refreshing with the white and black sesame crisps but I felt the tartness of the pink lady apple overwhelmed the subtle flavours of the miso.

Miso and pink lady ice cream ($9)

We obviously visited on a busy night but found the service to be spotty and absent even with this in mind; and found that more often tha not, our tables were left with our dirty dishes for quite a while before noticed and cleared. Overall, we really enjoyed the food and the Andrew McConnell magic that is so prevalent in his other restaurants has struck again with his new outlet. I'm not a patient person so personally, I wouldn't wait more than 15 minutes for a table considering the plethora of great restaurants in the area, but it is worth a visit for its clever and well executed food.

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Value: 7.5/10
Will I return? Yes although, I wouldn't wait for a table.

Supernormal
180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8688


Sun to Thurs 11am - 11pm
Fri & Sat 11am - midnight

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

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