29 October, 2006

Spaghetti all' amatriciana, La Bussola

319 Lygon St, Brunswick

I once travelled seven hours by train and bus to Amatrice, to satisfy my travelling companion’s desire to try her favourite dish, bucanti alla amatriciana in its hometown. The journey, the food and the view of the glowing Appenine mountains were a highlight of that Italian sojourn. These days, I just have to jump onto a Number 8 tram to La Bussola and order the same dish to experience the subtle heat and bacon infused napoli sauce, in authentic trattoria surrounds. La Bussola’s menu covers all the traditional Italian staples of pizzas, pasta and sauces, meat and seafood. It’s all made fresh and simply, letting the flavour do the talking.

19 October, 2006

Grossi Florentino

80 Bourke St, Melbourne; 03 9662 1811

From all reports, one hasn’t dined in Melbourne until they’ve dined at Grossi Florentino. This notion is helped by the fact that the Florentino provides three levels of dining experience - the Restaurant ($155 food and coffee), the Grill (mains $28-$35) and the Cellar Bar (under $20).

The best value is reserved for the pre-theatre menu at the Grill, if you don’t mind eating between 6-7:30pm: 2 courses, plus a glass of wine and coffee, for $30. The great price still seats you at a table with linen tablecloth and napkins and quality glassware. The early time also means a ratio of serving staff to customers of almost 1:1. Service was at times too efficient, with a couple of conversations interrupted by offers to refill wine glasses (though at only $5 for truly good Willowglen 2005 Semillon Chardonnay or Shiraz Cabernet one shouldn’t say no).

The good thing about this theatre menu is that it doesn’t skimp on the extras. Diners are greeted with warmed black olives and a hefty sourdough. The set menu comprises three entrees, mains and dessert. Serving sizes are generous. The spaghetti with swordfish in tomato ragu has the complexity of a marinara, without being ’seafoody’. A hunk of pork and chicken terrine is another entree option. The Pollo al Forno featured pieces of dense chicken, on a bed of polenta swimming in a winey stock. This dish was also a great match with the white wine on offer. Steak or floured trevally with cold potatoes make up the other mains on offer.
Even if you’ve left yourself without dessert as an option, the coffee included in the price is so good it makes up for lack of a sweet plate.


11 October, 2006


308 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; 03 9620 7122

Flinders Lane is a competitive place, and a restaurant with only five tables occupied at 7pm on a Friday is perhaps not a great advertisement. But the menu options and prices from Decoy were right, so we were happy to take the punt. It’s an appealing room, with chocolate brown furnishings and exposed steel beams on the high ceilings. The walls feature long mirrors and elongated artworks.

The menu is succinct, with six pizzas, priced between $15.50 and $18.50 and a selection of mains ranging from Thai fish cakes or shredded chicken for $16.90, to steak of the day (eye fillet with rice and blackbean sauce) for $24.50. The wine list is similarly concise, and nearly all are offered by the glass from $6.50 to $8.50. If you’re celebrating they offer a 200ml bottle of sparkling for $8.00.

We didn’t have a lot of time to peruse our surroundings between ordering and the food arriving. As I had ordered the risotto (pumpkin and spinach with marcarpone and pinenuts) I would have been quite happy to wait longer. The mascarpone was generously dolloped on top for stirring in. The rice was tender and the dish neither too creamy or oily. The flavour of the diced pumpkin really stood out, but overall the dish had no depth or subtlety of herbs. My dining partner had the spicy salami, roasted capsicum and fior di latte pizza. The salami had some heat, and the fior di latte was a noticeable flavour change from the standard mozzarella, but again the dish overall felt one dimensional.

We enquired as to dessert options, which were limited to what was still in the display cabinets - eg sticky date pudding or mudcake (the dessert menu outside advertised various other options). Rather than being restrictive, this perhaps reflected the fact that this is predominantly a lunchtime laneway eatery with decent coffee, which has only recently extended into opening evenings.

09 October, 2006

The Deanery

13 Bligh Pl (off Flinders Lane); 03 9629 5599

Some different fare for us on this dining occasion. A generous relative, and his even more generous financial employer (trust me, I have no qualms taking a good meal off one of those evils!) made us happy to settle into the Deanery restaurant, rather than settle for bar snacks and a couple of beers (mind you, the bar food looked none too shabby either). The Deanery restaurant is more cellary than Deanery - low ceilings, ruby-brown and beige walls, and a room-length window separating diners from the rent-a-space wine cellar.

The mainly Moroccan-style menu is extremely approachable - one page, of around ten each of entrees and mains. And they all look fabulous. The food menu is contrasted with the wine ‘book’, with a full page of wines by the glass, and those by the bottle priced from $25-$1000. We settled on a 2005 Brokenwood Semillon for $35. Were we having entrees as well as mains, I couldn’t have gone past the slow roast lamb with dukkah crust, green olive tapenade and parsnip whip.

My main of king prawns in chickpea batter, with lentil tabouleh and feta looked a little insignificant on arrival, in comparison with the pork belly with cannellini beans and mustard labne; and the Porterhouse steak with parmesan polenta and porcini relish. However, the very fleshy prawns and legume accompaniment proved equally filling. The light batter was almost fizzy on the tongue, and the feta was a great complement - lending both saltiness and creaminess to the prawn flesh.

With the exception of the chocolate petit pots, all the desserts feature fruit. We shared a pear and apple crumble, with wonderul nutty ice cream, and indulged in some dessert wines, conveniently offered by the glass alongside the desserts.

Our empty plates testified to the quality of the food, but what also impressed me was that I came away with lots of cooking ideas - they weren’t off-puttingly complicated choices, instead just tempting combinations of tastes and ingredients.


04 October, 2006


169 Lygon St, Brunswick East

Upper Lygon St - the part north of Brunswick Road - already has a range of quality cafes and restaurants , covering most of the international food spectrum, with il Carusi and Kake di Hatti as notable highlights. In recent weeks at least three new places have opened up - Poached (at #169), Rumi (at #132 replacing a wood-fired pizza restaurant) and El Mirage (#329).

For breakfast on the divine Saturday morning preceding the Big Game (hard luck Swans fans) I tried the first of the three. Poached, as its name suggests, has a sizeable breakfast menu, covering the basics of build-it-yourself eggs, bacon, sausage, mush etc. I was excited to see that they had grilled potatoes as one of their optional extras. I went for the chorizo omelette, with haloumi and roast tomatoes. It came served with some very tasty, thick-cut sourdough, and a pad of butter. It was more crepe than omelette, with chunky chorizo pieces that were a little chewy but very flavoursome. The haloumi wasn’t too salty, and lent an almost calamari texture when mixed with the thin, folded egg. The table next to me was served a very impressive looking plate of pancakes with masses of strawberry and ice cream.

My latte was a on the milky side, with a high crema. There’s no chai tea on the menu, but a good range of other herbals. Most impressive about the menu was pricing, with none of the breakfast options over $12.50 (they also have a fine looking range of sandwiches for lunch). They serve a range of breads with meals, including gluten free. Home-made muffins and slices are available to take away if you think you’ll need a mid-morning (or afternoon snack). There’s outdoor seating front and back. The interior is light and basic, with a slate floor.

The food is well-priced, the service friendly (with regular water top-ups). The menu is perhaps a little predictable and would be helped by the addition of a signature breakfast dish.