24 September, 2006


182 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento; 03 5984 1246

The array of stickers on the front window of the Smokehouse, Sorrento, indicates it’s a staple of food critics’ recommendations. Situated at the southern end of Ocean Beach Road, the Smokehouse is open for dinners only. The interior is cosy, with wooden floorboards and tables, but a decent size (seating about 80). On this Saturday night, it’s rammed and a booking would have been a good idea. We get a table right by the front door, which allows us to witness not only the pizza preparation area but also the steady stream of customers collecting take away orders: this is definitely a local favourite.

One corner of the Smokehouse kitchen features a large, stone pizza oven and we’ve come to sample its wares. The menu features eight pizza options, all priced between $11 - $19. Pizzas are available on gluten- and yeast-free bases. There are other mains, including seafood risotto and pasta, Moorish barramundi, lamb shanks and salads.

SG goes for the Barbecue Chicken - when it arrives it seems to have at least a full chicken breast sliced on top, and a sizable spread of bacon, topped with caramelised onion. I’m informed it tastes as good as it looks. I’ve gone for the Boursin, a garlic and cheese overload. And to be honest it is a little overloaded - given it features garlic boursin cheese as a topping, perhaps they could have gone easier on the mozzarella. I find it a bit filling, though very satisfying, with the ‘hot salami’ more tasty than hot, though the oil residue on my plate (perhaps from the pesto base) is a little disconcerting.

I want to leave room to sample their dessert menu and am thirlled with their sensible approach to doggy bagging - the food is foil-wrapped, with a sticker detailing heating and storage instructions and the current date and time to indicate the food’s use-by. Dessert is happily shared - chocolate, strawberry and vanilla Norgan Vaas ice cream, with mars bar sauce and shaved almonds. Sounds like something you’d dream up at home to go with a mushy DVD, and between two it’s a nice, sweet end to the meal.

05 September, 2006

Grace Darling

114 Smith St, Collingwood; 03 9416 0055

The Grace Darling is a winner on a Tuesday night - a full-sized, quality pub grub menu with almost everything under $15. We first ventured there weeks ago for the $12 steak: with creamy garlic mash and a decent jus it is extremely good value. After a few too many heavy meals of late I had a craving this time for something Thai, which the Grace also offers from its Thai This menu. I went for the prawn stir fry with spring onion, garlic, chilli and cabbage. SG stuck to the pub mood and went with the steak sandwich.

Since the start of August the Grace has introduced trivia on a Tuesday night as well, and I did wonder how the kitchen would cope - that's a lot of $11 parma to carry upstairs. With a 20 minute or so wait the smells of heartier pub fare - fries, breads and pie pastry - left me a trifle disappointed when my stir fry arrived. I'd been hoping for a Thai taste explosion, but the first few mouthfuls were closer to (well) dressed coleslaw. The rice though was well cooked - not at all dry, and the kernels nicely separating. Despite a visual presence of red chilli I didn't detect any heat in the dish. It was saved, however, by the presence of four, fat king prawns. They had been lightly fried and I perhaps would have preferred them having some more time getting to know the marinade. The use of more delicate spring onion rather than its crunchier cousin saved the dish being over-powered, which made up somewhat for the runny, not-so-flavourful sauce.

Definitely on the plus side though, it filled me up, without a heavy feeling, which left room to polish off the remaining crispy fries on SG's plate.