Sunday, February 26, 2012

Restaurant Review: Sapore

Location: 5 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Phone: 03 9534 9666
Link: sapore.com.au
Cuisine: Italian, Modern Australian
Overall Impression: 8/10
As part of our Valentines Day weekend, J surprised me with lunch at Sapore. The weather was incredible that day so we had a lovely stroll along St. Kilda beach before heading to lunch. This was J and I's third visit to this one-hat Italian restaurant. The last two occasions had been for dinner. Although we had enjoyed the food, we found the entire setting extremely claustrophobic. The manner in which the tables had been set were far too close in proximity for our liking. The organisation of the furniture is understandable given the limited space but it certainly affected our enjoyment as a whole. The walls are fitted with trendy looking sound absorption panels. Although aesthetically pleasing, they were clearly (as their description would suggest) to control the level of noise. However, they appeared to provide little comfort. The restaurant, during our previous visits, had been far from calm. J and I had to literally shout at each other to have a conversation eventhough we were seated quite cosily together. As such, it was interesting to see the stark day/night contrast in the restaurant's ambience.
The beautifully fresh baked bread was served with an amazing extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the olive oil is always such a telling indication of a restaurant's care and approach to food.
As we enjoyed the far more relaxed and peaceful ambience (the perks of dining here during the day) and took in the soft breeze drifting in from the ocean, we browsed through the menu. We noticed something - the downside of dining here during lunch. Two of their mains were only served during dinner (I would have liked to devour their Duck ‘tre modi again but it was only available after 6pm).
House-made potato gnocchi with braised rabbit, truffle butter and Parmesan

The meal started with an explosion of flavours in my mouth. The gnocchi was light and fluffy. The braised rabbit was tender and aromatic. An intense flavour of truffles permeated the dish. It was a decadent and delicious inception to the meal.
Hopkins River eye fillet with garlic mash potato, salsa verde and red wine sauce

This deceptively simple looking dish was good. The steak was incredibly tender and juicy. It had been beautifully seared and was flavoursome. Unfortunately, the eye fillet was cooked 'medium-well done' although we had requested for it to be cooked 'medium'. However, it was an enjoyable dish non the less. The red wine sauce was exquisite. It was sharp and had a well-balanced flavour.
Barramundi with kipfler potatoes, prawns & chervil and a lemon butter sauce

The Barramundi was cooked to perfection. The skin was delectably crisp and amply salted and the flesh gave way easily.
Banana bombolone with salted caramel sauce & toasted hazelnuts

The end to the meal was as amazing as the start. The bombolones served at Sapore are the best that J and I have ever had. The bombolones were puffy and beautifuly light on the inside and deliciously crisp on the outside. The banana flavour was tenaciously strong. The perfectly salty, sweet and creamy caramel sauce brought the whole dish together while the hazelnuts added a lovely crunchy element to the dish. It was sublime.

Sapore (meaning flavour in Italian), is indeed a restaurant that emphasises flavour. The food is modern but retains a lot of that traditional Italian 'soul'.

Sapore on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Restaurant Review: Ootoro

Location: 530 Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9078 7186
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 5/10
Ootoro is a Japanese restaurant tucked away in 530 Collins Street.  The standard of food meets expectations and the menu is well priced. The service is incredibly prompt which makes it a popular CBD weekday lunch spot.
Ootoro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Bertha Brown

Location: 562 Flinders St, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9629 1207
Link: berthabrown.com.au
Cuisine: Modern Australian, Pizza
Overall Impression: 6/10
The main thing that stands out about this place is how much they value their customers. The level of service afforded to us was incredible. There were a few of us with food allergies (lactose, frustose, gluten) and every one of us was catered for individually. This is a great place for lunch time get together with friends etc as they certainly have the capacity to cater to a large group (given the large space) and are incredibly flexible and understanding of dietery requirements. The food certainly meets expectations. My Peri Peri Chicken breast with spiced rice and sweet potato crisps was well cooked and the portions were incredibly generous.
Bertha Brown on Urbanspoon

Cafe Review: Chez Dré

Location: 287 Coventry St (rear), South Melbourne
Phone: 03 9690 2688
Link: chezdre.wordpress.com
Cuisine: Bakery, Coffee, Desserts/Ice Cream
Overall Impression: 7/10
Like most of Melbourne's good coffee places, Chez Dré hides in an unassuming alley way.
When we saw the Synesso label on the coffee machine, we rejoiced. There is always a very good chance the coffee will be brilliant.
And as we predicted that first visit, it was and still is. Chez Dré is a consistently good place for coffee. J and I have yet to be disappointed with our caffeine hits.
They do a range of desserts but the most popular among these are their macarons. We have enjoyed them on occasion but their coffee is definitely what keeps us coming back.
Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 24, 2012

Restaurant Review: Shanghai Village Dumpling

Location: 112 Little Bourke St
Phone: 03 9663 1878
Cuisine: Chinese, Asian, Vegetarian
Overall Impression: 5/10
I can see how it is a “bargain” but I’m not sure if the hype is justified. Shanghai Village Dumpling has a loyal band of followers and I have yet to understand why this is the case. I have visited this eatery on a number of occasions but to be perfectly honest, I have only ever been there when I have not been able to get a table at HuTong Dumpling Bar, located a few seconds away.
My misconceptions that Shanghai Village Dumpling merely catered for the overflow crowd from HuTong Dumpling Bar became clear when I started reading reviews of this place. It is certainly well-priced but not more so than a lot of China Town dumpling eateries. That said, it is what it is – BYO, generous serves of dumplings and other noodle-ly goodness for a small price. Would I recommend it? Sure, why not.
Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings
I highly recommend their steamed vegetarian dumplings. They are delicious. 
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings
Shanghai Village Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Restaurant Review: Hare & Grace

Location: 525 Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9629 6755
Link: hareandgrace.com
Cuisine: Modern Australian
Overall Impression: 6.5/10
I have visited Hare & Grace five times since the start of the year. Given it is only mid-February that is a lot but it seems to be the hottest lunch spot when it comes to lunching with my colleagues. I have only been able to take photos during this fifth visit. Unlike the other occasions, this time, I visited this restaurant with friends I know from university, including Picci (from Melbourne Culinary Journal). They are far more accepting of my “taking photos of food” habits and although they think are aware that I am crazy, our friendship is such that they always overlook my iniquities.
Hare & Grace has a beautiful dining space. There are branches hanging (literally) above your head. They look slightly dangerous but give the place a warm and cosy feel. Strange, I know. Maybe it gives you that outdoor effect (sitting under a tree) whilst being inside. Whilst I am unsure what it is, the décor certainly works.
What works even more, is the food. The restaurant serves delicious Modern Australian fare that focuses on traditional flavour combinations that work.
Everything is cooked well and the flavours are always well-balanced. My dining experience has consistently been pleasant.
Something that both Picci and I rate highly is their aioli. Delicious. It’s these little touches that have truly made my meals at Hare & Grace. So, expect what you order and whatever else comes on the side to be yummy.
Hare & Grace on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: Hunky Dory

Location: 252 Clarendon St, South Melbourne
Phone: 03 9696 4025
Link: hunkydory.com.au
Cuisine: Burgers, Fish and Chips
Overall Impression: 6/10
South Melbourne is such a wonderful pocket in Melbourne. Walking around the boutique little stores selling all sorts of trinkets always makes me feel like I’m on a holiday somewhere far away, as opposed to the reality of being five minutes away from the CBD. One of J and I’s favourite stores is Macphee’s wine store. Stocking all kinds of wine-related paraphernalia, it is always fun to browse through and pick up a few things to go with J’s ever expanding wine cellar. Just around the corner is a trendy little Fish and Chip shop called Hunky Dory.
Old School Pack – Fillet of flake, chips, lemon and tartare
Grilled Fish Pack – Fish of the day grilled with rice or chips and salad

As expected, you can get your usual battered fish with chips on the side but there are quite a few other options available. I like their ‘grilled fish pack’, for a mere $13, you get an extremely big plate consisting of a grilled fish fillet, beautifully cooked brown rice and a salad of your choice. Nothing revolutionary, but it is a great and healthy option to have especially when your dining companion(s) prefer something a lot greasier and you do not!
This place serves honest, simple food in a pleasant atmosphere. I also like how you can still grab lunch there at 4pm when every other café in the area appears to have closed kitchens. It is great for those days you live a jet lagged existence, looking for lunch at 4pm after hopping off a plane.
Hunky Dory on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cafe Review: Chocolateria San Churro

Location: 277 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 03 9419 9936
Link: sanchurro.com
Overall Impression: 5.5/10
Churros are one of my guilty pleasures. Sweet deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar and dunked in copious amounts of chocolate. What’s there not to like?

So far, the best Churros I have ever had have been from Movida. But if you don’t want to have to visit a 2-hat restaurant every time you want some of these Spanish doughnuts, the much more casual San Churros might do the trick. The churros are pretty darn good and they come with a choice of four dipping sauces: white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and caramel. As an avid dark chocolate eater, I have to say that Churros don’t go very well with dark chocolate but it’s good to know that that option is available.
The other thing that you can indulge in at San Churro is one of their decadent shakes. Pictured above is one of my favourites – Banana Lambada.  

Chocolateria San Churro on Urbanspoon