Friday, July 27, 2012

Restaurant Review: La Spaghettata

Location:  238 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: 03 9663 6102
Link: laspaghettata.com.au
Cuisine: Italian
After 30 years, La Spaghettata still remains focused on three things - food, family and love. La Spaghettata was the first restaurant in the Lygon Street precinct to make its own fresh pasta, a fact for which its owners (Tony and Giovanna Cattafi) are understandably proud. Set within a double storey terrace house, the atmosphere is vibrant and energetic.
The décor is warm and welcoming, with wooden tables and an eclectic mix of artefacts lining the exposed brick walls. Put simply, it feels like stepping into the Cattafi family's home for dinner - an impression further reinforced by framed photos of Cattafi family members proudly displayed on a small mantle. The menu boasts an array of traditional dishes that pay homage to rustic Italian cooking.
Bruschetta Siciliana
Ciabatta topped with tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, bocconcini and prosciutto
Moreton Bay Bugs
 Grilled Moreton bay bugs served with are served with green salad and tartar sauce

The Moreton Bay bugs were fresh, succulent and chargrilled to perfection. A beautifully simple dish.
Gnocchi Bocconcini
Potato dumplings, olives and tomato sauce, topped with melted bocconcini

The potato pillows were soft and fluffy, acting as a wonderful canvas for the simple but classic trio of tomato, bocconcini and olives.
Scaloppine Deliziosa
Veal medallions with demi-glace brown sauce, prawn cutlets, cognac, tomato and chilli
Quail and polenta
Grilled quail with demi-glace brown sauce, peppers and onion, served with cornmeal polenta

Whilst not earth shattering, the mains were unpretentious and generous.
Cassata Siciliana
 ice cream slice layered with vanilla, chocolate and mixed fruit
Tiramisù
savoiardi biscuits dipped in coffee and strega liquor, layered with mascarpone cream

The Tiramisu was delicious, with the strong coffee balanced perfectly against the strega liquor and mascarpone cream. The savoiardi biscuits were not soggy and retained some texture.
At the end of the day, the food is but one reason to visit La Spaghettata. Tony and Giovanna Cattafi's legacy is that they have created a warm, inviting, home away from home where you can enjoy rustic Italian food with friends. And from the passion and warmth displayed by Tony and Giovanna's sons Mauro and Fabio (who was our fabulous host for the evening), this legacy looks to be in safe hands.

La Spaghettata on Urbanspoon

Gastrology bloggers dined courtesy of La Spaghettata.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Restaurant review: Wasabi Japanese Restaurant

Location: 315 Clarendon St, South Melbourne
Phone: 03 9699 8874
Cuisine: Japanese
Overall Impression: 6/10

Wasabi Japanese Restaurant is a neighbourhood gem. Located on bustling Clarendon Street, this cosy little eatery is popular during the lunch hour on weekdays. On weekends, the restaurant is fairly quiet so it is always easy to get a table despite the fact the restaurant is very small (it sits about 20 people). My favourite thing about the restaurant is its authentic Japanese offerings. I can never go past the brilliantly fresh and delicious sushi and sashimi.
Complimentary side dishes
Chirashi
Assorted raw fish served with sushi rice
Gyu Teriyaki
Pan grilled beef with teriyaki sauce   
Unajyu
Grilled eel with sweet soya sauce, served on a bed of rice

Wasabi Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Restaurant Review: Panama Dining Room and Bar

Location: 3/231 Smith St, Fitzroy
Phone: 03 9417 7663
Link: thepanama.com.au
Cuisine: European, French
Overall Impression: 6.5/10

Of late, the trendier the restaurant, the more obscure its location. Going by this logic, Panama Dining is certainly on the right track to becoming an extremely trendy restaurant – the entrance is a door with a small sign and when you enter, you are greeted by a dimly lit staircase that goes on for a while before you reach the restaurant itself at the very top. 
Mt Zero manzanilla olives marinated with garlic, bay and orange
Crispy fried spiced chickpeas
We had a booking for 6.45pm but most of us arrived at 6.30pm. We were greeted with slight hostility as 2 of our dining companions had yet to arrive. Our waitress made it clear to us that she was not impressed. We were promptly reminded rather rudely that the table would have to be vacated within 2 hours. When the other 2 arrived (at 6.50pm), we quickly put our orders in. Given our unfavourable first impression of the place, both J and I wondered if this “standard” would correspondingly be reflected in the offerings. 

As we received our entrees, we were pleased to see that the level of service had no correlation to the food delivered. 
Zucchini flowers stuffed with two cheeses, roasted red peppers, tomato, chilli and capers
Grilled goats cheese with candied walnuts, beetroot, apple and honey

We were particularly pleased with our entrée of grilled goat’s cheese with candied walnuts, beetroot, apple and honey as it had perfectly balanced flavours. The grilling had increased the intensity of the luxurious goat’s cheese and each element of the dish matched the other. The slight acidity from the beetroot and apple brought a lovely tanginess that cut through the creaminess of the cheese. It all came together beautifully. 
Chargrilled quail on a grape and hazelnut salad with a coriander and sumac yoghurt 
Ranger Valley flank steak (med rare) with slow cooked beef, white onion puree and shimeji mushrooms
Morrocan spiced slow cooked organic lamb with date and purple carrot puree, eggplant, mint, preserved lemon and pistachio 

The mains were equally as impressive. The dish of the night was the Moroccan spiced slow cooked organic lamb. It was far from what we had expected (even visually). The description of the dish made it sound like it would appear in the form of a Moroccan stew. However, what we received was perfectly seasoned lamb meat that had been pulled from the bone and pressed together to form a cylindrical shape. The lamb meat was incredibly tender and full of flavour. The purple carrot puree, eggplant, mint, preserved lemon and pistachio brought the dish to another level when eaten together. The flavours were complex and interesting.  
Potato and porcini gnocchi with Gorgonzola dolce and radicchio
Western Plains pork belly with butter poached Morton Bay Bug, celeriac & caramelised fennel
Romate ‘Iberia’ Cream Sherry Jerez, Spain 

We had ordered a few bottles of wine and levels of intoxication were rising. As those levels reached their peak during the evening, M accidentally spilt her glass over. We quickly wiped down the mess with our napkins. I stood up and asked for assistance from our waitress and again, her facial expression showed that she was not impressed. She did not hide her irritation. As she came over to our table to wipe the very negligible amount of mess that was left, M joked, “I promise, the glass toppled by itself!” to which our waitress responded, “Yup, I bet it did.” with a vivid glare.
Sheep’s milk yoghurt pannacotta with poached rhubarb, raspberry consommé and pistachio praline 
Banana semifreddo with poached mandarin, dulce de leche, a malt biscuit mousse and brandy snap 
Steamed ginger and treacle pudding with ricotta ice cream and pears roasted in brown butter 
 
A selection of cheese served with quince and muscatels

When we had finished our mains, we were pleasantly surprised when that same waitress asked us if we wanted dessert. By this stage, we were well past the 2 hour mark that she had warned us not to cross. Since she asked, we couldn’t resist and our dessert orders were promptly put in. Like our previous courses, the desserts were of a good standard. 

What would have been an incredibly pleasant dining experience was unfortunately undone by a level of care that could only be described as “service with contempt”. Our score of 6.5/10 reflects this. Ignoring the service we had, the dining experience would have been a memorable one. While the good food is certainly persuasive in relation to gaining our patronage in the future, the fact of the matter is this: Melbourne has too many brilliant restaurants that will likely take precedence over a re-visit to Panama Dining where the service leaves much to be desired.

Panama Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Restaurant Review: David's

Location: 4 Cecil Pl, Prahran
Phone: 03 9529 5199
Link: davidsrestaurant.com.au
Cuisine: Chinese
Overall Impression: 8.5/10

Awarded a total of ten Chef's Hats by The Age Good Food Guide over the past fifteen years, David’s has become a Melbourne culinary institution. This degree of success would leave most restaurant owners content, but David Zhou (the man behind David's) closed the doors to customers for a gastronomic intermission whilst he worked to refresh and reinvent his pride and joy. And on the 5th of July 2012, the reinvigorated David's reopened its doors.
To Start:
Drunk Chick: soft, boneless chicken marinated in chinese wine with green soy beans
Green n' red: green soy beans, bok choy and chilli
Spicy beef with white radish and cucumber
Spiced oolong tea quail eggs with bean curd and wolf berries
'One bite' soft shell river prawns
Pan-fried spring onion pancake

The design of David's is clean, simple and honest, with white dominating the refreshed colour scheme. In the centre of the split level dining room sits a wooden "station" that holds, amongst other things, extra bowls, napkins and cutlery that diners are free to help themselves to. David Zhou explained that this station is designed to make patrons feel like they are at home by having the option to help themselves, or their fellow dining companions, to anything extra they might require.

When speaking with David Zhou, it is clear that he is passionate about authentic countryside Shanghainese cuisine. The menu is inspired by the cuisine from Zhouzhang, a riverside rural town in Shanghai. Whilst the dishes retain their authentic flavour, many of the recipes have been tweaked and modernised. As expected for a Chinese restaurant, the menu encourages sharing.
DIY shredded duck and vegie wrap

A memorable entree was the Drunk Chick which had been marinated in Chinese wine. The flavour of the rice wine permeated the tender chicken pieces and the dish was seasoned to perfection.
David Zhou (the man behind David's)
Various teas
Tofu and field mushrooms
Country comfort: sticky pork belly and chat potatoes
Soy peppered beef with radish and whole chillies
Grandma's 8's: Shanghai medley of scallop, shrimp, pork, chicken, chestnut, cashew, bamboo and shitake

Our favourite dish was Grandma's 8's (a shanghai medley of scallop, shrimp, pork, chicken, chestnut, cashew, bamboo and shitake). In Shanghainese culture, every family has their own rendition of this dish. David's version is a deliciously well balanced concoction with depth and complexity. The untraditional inclusion of ingredients such as scallops and chestnuts highlight David's fearlessness in breaking with tradition.
Peasant's crab: diced scallops, fish and egg white tossed in the wok
Auntie's fried rice with chinese sausage and egg

David's started as a small tea store on Chapel Street and has grown to become the restaurant it is today. It has not forgotten its roots, however, as David's boasts a generous variety of gourmet teas. We sampled two and they were both wonderfully soothing and beautiful.
Osmanthus and red bean black sticky rice pudding
Traditional Chinese Almond Pudding
Whilst very traditional, the desserts at David's are very well executed and delicious. The Osmanthus and red bean black sticky rice pudding had the perfect level of sweetness. Any greater and the complexity and depth of the dessert would have been masked; any less and it would have ceased to be a dessert. The proportion of red bean to the sticky rice was expertly judged. The Traditional Chinese Almond Pudding was refreshing. It had been pan fried, granting it a deliciously gooey texture on the inside and a delightfully crisp outside. There was also a slight smokiness that added to the complexity of flavour.
Overall, David's restaurant is wonderful for Chinese cuisine and it is no wonder that this eatery is so highly regarded. David Zhou's pursuit of constant improvement and reinvention will ensure that David's remains one of Melbourne's premier Chinese restaurants for many years to come.

David's on Urbanspoon

Gastrology bloggers dined courtesy of David's.