St Domenico – Richmond – Thursday 14 May 2014 – Dinner

San Gennaro - Napoletana

San Gennaro – Napoletana

It is a very fussy diner that says a great Italian joint alludes them in their area of Melbourne. I have my specifics though.

For one, I want hand made. For two, I want affordable. And for three I want some ambience and service differential. That is much easier said than done.

A vibe can exist before you’ve even tried a place. I’ve walked past St Domenico and have noticed people sipping red wine in the sun in early autumn and thought “this place is worth a try”. That vibe is extremely important.

Catherine and I are seated at a table for two with a touch of space to the table next door. It is tight but atmospheric, clean and bright. There is already a happy table of four next door and we glance at what they’ve ordered as our order is taken.

San Domenico - Tartufo

San Domenico – Tartufo

They have great looking lasagne and cannelloni amongst pizza and we are instantly talking about the next time we’ll try this place! We have ordered pizza and are staying on this path without any diversion.

The pizza is great – both bases are well cooked under intense oven heat, with dough that suggests experience, with some blackening on the crust that is subtle enough to be additional good flavour. The San Gennaro (Napoletana) has particularly generous anchovies and olives scattered through the fior di latte cheese. It holds its shape and has great flavour, along with the simplicity I love in proper restrained Italian pizza. Equally the San Domenico is restrained but you can tell from the time the pizza hits the table that there is a touch of truffle lifting the ham and mushrooms beyond the (still delicious) norm. It is a smart pizza.

I have continued to be impressed by the thought being put into new venues opening in Richmond. With such heavy competition you need to have focus and purpose, and St Domenico has those characteristics, along with a certain vibrancy, and plenty of food worth coming back for.

St Domenico Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Toasta at Southside Social – Elsternwick – Sunday 17 May 2015 – Lunch

Toasta - Barry (cheddar, pulled brisket, dill pickle, smokey BBQ sauce) and Charlie (swiss, shredded chicken, bacon, basil and walnut pesto, roast capsicum)

Toasta – Barry and Charlie

It is May 2010 and I remember it well because it was my first modern day introduction to a food van. One of my best mates and I had been picked up from LAX by my cousin living in Santa Monica and we stopped in a carpark outside of The Brig on Abbot Kinney in Venice, California. Sascha explained that the food van tweets where it will be and the masses descend, especially on a sunny Sunday for lunch. It was a memorable few tacos for a combination of taste, cost, and of course, the holiday factor.

Five years have passed and now food vans are rife through Melbourne the same way they were in LA back then (and continue to be). The carpark outside of The Brig continues to be popular, and was made even more famous by scenes in “The Chef” which I can recommend as a decent feature film. Even though I love the concept of a food van I don’t get around to many. There are several councils who don’t allow them, and there are many other options on the way to driving to councils that do allow them.
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Today is different because Southside Social is a temporary collection of vans in a carpark for about six weeks in Elsternwick (ending very soon). It is a beautiful autumn day, perfect for eating outside, and because of the collection there is some more infrastructure than you would normally expect (ie tables, benches, toilet etc) as the carpark can be locked up when not operating. There are a few options, but the one we choose is Toasta which Catherine has heard good things about from a friend.
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Toasta serves up several types of toasties that are around $12. They also have some nice homemade drinks such as lemonade. We chose the Barry and the Charlie. The Barry features tender pulled brisket, stacks of cheddar, dill pickle, and gorgeous smokey BBQ sauce. The Charlie has plenty of swiss cheese, shredded chicken, bacon, basil and walnut pesto, and roast capsicum. In common is the salty, buttery taste, enhanced by all the toasted cheese, producing an incredibly flavoursome and guilt ridden experience. While I had chosen the Barry, I actually ended up having a soft spot for the Charlie. Both were a generous sized meals, especially considering the cholesterol!

These types of food van gatherings are getting more popular from Richmond to Yarraville. My suggestion is find out where Toasta is going next and seek it out.

Toasta on Urbanspoon

The Grand Hotel – Richmond – Friday 8 May 2015 – Dinner

Bombolini

Bombolini

Dining at The Grand Hotel in Richmond feels like a rite of passage event for a local. It simply needs to be done. Preferably, multiple times.

This oasis in a busy pub, the square room on the front right corner, is warm and inviting, with some familiar faces that have been here since my first experience almost a decade ago. Back then you needed to explain to many what a gastropub was, although I must admit the word still doesn’t really sit well for me. What it encapsulates, on the other hand, does it for me every day of the week.

Now, there are many gastropubs and a handful are probably better these days, but this was my first, and remains special. While the room is well spaced, there is hardly even room for the maitre’d to greet guests. Tonight we are close to the entrance, which isn’t quite as intimate as the back wall, but is still very nice.

Tagliatelle con ragu bianco

Tagliatelle con ragu bianco

There are minor hiccups on service such as not asking what water we’d like, and a bit of delay at certain times on ordering or food delivery, but what stands out is the down to earth nature of the floor staff, and genuine effort to help you enjoy your meal.

The touches you like and expect of good Italian such as olives, and bread with olive oil, are part of the experience. The pasta is homemade and we have to try at least one. We order the main sized venison and beef ragu with tagliatelle to share for entree. The pasta is al dente but on the border line of being too firm in the first few bites. Once the sauce has had some time to further cook the pasta, each mouthful gets better and better, with the richness and depth of flavour in the ragu absolutely delightful.

Anatra arrosto con gnocchi alla Romana

Anatra arrosto con gnocchi alla Romana

For main Catherine orders the duck and I get the goat which is a special tonight. We also share the zucchini and parmigiano as a side. My goat is stewed and the meat is delicious but such is the trickiness of goat that finding the meat amongst the bones is an adventure in itself. The potatoes, cherry tomato, and olives in the sauce are fantastic. The fried polenta is great to start but gets a bit heavy and I think soft polenta would combine better with the sauce.

Catherine’s duck was generous in size, basically a half duck covering the plate with a nice orange and juniper berry sauce, and semolina gnocchi. The duck is roasted, perhaps a touch overcooked, but still has plenty of gamy flavour. It definitely needed the side to balance some of the rich flavour, and the zucchini was nicely grilled. Given the duck was a touch dry it would have been better with some more sauce, but a good dish all the same.

Goat with fried polenta

Goat with fried polenta

We washed our main down with the particularly luscious Terre Del Barolo Barbera D’Alba 2010 from Piemonte. Sometimes I wouldn’t mention the full name, but this is as much a note for me as the review as I’ll be going out of my way to find this wine for the personal collection. That savouriness and body that I love in many Italian wines, along with fruit that is elevated when combined with food.

For dessert we tried to, but could not go past, the bombolini, which are crema pasticcera filled doughnuts with a side of caramel ice cream and honeycomb for some texture. They used to be filled with ice cream, but I like the new take, which is still perfect to share. Every component is well made and together this classical combination just makes perfect dessert sense.

Whilst in a pub (albeit a classier one than the usual), this dining room has a sense of luxury and elegance that is hard to manufacture. The food continues to be well above par, and the service meets the brief. The Grand continues to be an important part of Richmond dining.

Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Porgie + Mr Jones – Hawthorn – Sunday 3 May 2015 – Breakfast

Golden folded scrambles with goats cheese, chilli + basil on grain toast

Golden folded scrambles with goats cheese, chilli + basil on grain toast with a side of bacon

It is okay that someone is on their second day of service. It’s not easy finding waitstaff and everyone has to start somewhere. Support should be given to the newbie, and mistakes corrected. Initial training wouldn’t go astray either, like familiarity with the food and drink offerings.

There is a gap here and I’m not blaming the new waitperson. I am going to blame the support, and overall structure of Porgie + Mr Jones which was once at the top of its game and seemingly now is resting on its laurels.

I asked what the single origin is and got a blank look so I said I thought I saw on the board that there is one offered. Our waitperson apologised and said they didn’t know what a single origin was and would check. All fine. When they confirmed there was one, I duly ordered it.

My golden folded scrambled eggs with goat’s cheese, basil, and chilli came out neatly presented. Each mouthful was delicious, especially those with a good helping of the gorgeous goat’s cheese. I had a side of bacon that was nice and crispy, and adding it certainly didn’t take anything away from the other flavours.
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Catherine and her Mum tried the McPorgie which I had recommended to them. A while ago I could have sworn these were cooked fresh to order, but these days they certainly are not. The flavours of the Emmental cheese, ham off the bone, and scrambled eggs, are still nice inside the muffin, but not amazing. The egg is a little greyish inside confirming they are not fresh, and they are not consistently warmed inside either. When I used to order them they came out almost steaming with fresh golden scrambled eggs (like mine today) that melted the cheese into a gooey consistency.

Prior to receiving our food I started to wonder where my coffee had gotten to. I ordered as we had sat down, even before Catherine and her Mum ordered their juices. It eventually arrived after I asked (the table seated ten minutes after us already had their lattes so I knew it had been missed) but the juices didn’t come until after all of us had finished or were close to finishing our meals.

The second waitperson we had asked just expected they’d arrived (fair enough), but realised they were missed again just after we’d had to ask a third waitperson. It couldn’t have been an issue on juicing with at least one because it was out of a pre-packaged juice bottle (for $7). While Catherine’s Mum’s green kale based juice didn’t leave a sour taste in her mouth, the wait left had one in mine. We don’t often get an opportunity to take her to breakfast, and were a little embarrassed at placing our trust here.

I’ve been to Porgie at least five times. It is generally good, and started off great years ago, but you can’t have issues like this, not offer any apology or explanation (between three waitstaff), not offer any consolation whatsoever, and expect for me to come back. This type of thing only slips through when there is a more prolific issue underlying the operation of a cafe. There are too many other great cafes around Melbourne to let this experience pass through to the keeper.

Porgie and Mr Jones on Urbanspoon

Reunion & Co – Richmond – Saturday 2 May 2015 – Breakfast

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There is instantly a reason for coming back here. The Vic Meats bacon, is cut thick, and oozes with flavour, and the fat is rendered beautifully. It is not the only delightful ingredient being plated here though.

Being a regular to the area close to Lumberjack and Touchwood it was never going to be long before trying Reunion & Co. What I didn’t initially appreciate is that Reunion has only been open for six days!

When several of us tried to grab a table for lunch on Wednesday it was full. I noticed then that there is a lot of space in the cafe, and that the predominant table setting was for two. It’s a lovely old room, previously a furniture store, but with more history than that, and gorgeous stained glass windows welcoming your entry. Coming back this morning I thought Catherine and I must be a good chance for a table for two and we were only waiting for a couple of minutes when that table came up.

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The Allpress coffee is a good standard, well made by the barista using a La Marzocco machine. Juices are supplied by Noah’s; Catherine’s “Summer Lovin'” very nice with apple, mango, peach, kiwi and lime. The food is the focus here though.

Catherine asked about the bircher, which is done in a coconut milk, and our waitperson confirmed it was quite sweet so she opted instead for the staple bacon and poached eggs. I decided to adventure this morning, and ordered the “house cured trout congo & kipfler potato, beetroot relish, goats curd and poached eggs on toast”. The house cured trout was superb, the absolute star of the dish, and combined well with the other ingredients, especially the relish and curd. I’d suggest the generous serving of potatoes is reduced a touch, and cut thinner, as several bites were dominated by it, until I decided to leave half of them alone, and let the trout sing without competition. The presentation of the dish is immaculate.

The bacon serving is extremely generous, and is amazingly flavoursome. Catherine’s poached eggs were cooked perfectly too. The only critique would be toast that is not buttered, and then having to wait over a minute to get any butter. Personally, I think the toast should be buttered, but if it is not, at least have butter on the table.

Which brings me to the service. The maitre’d is great and was pinch hitting for some of the misses by the floor, which is good to see. Not realising the cafe was doing its first Saturday I can accept some of the service misses, especially since everyone was polite and friendly. I’m confident a few aspects will be ironed out quickly but I did notice issues from delivery to the right tables, to providing the right bill, but as I said it is the first week and nothing overly important impacted our enjoyment of our breakfast.

It’s good to see another attractive cafe in Richmond that is serving some differentiated dishes, good coffee, and has the makings of a potential regular.

Reunion & Co on Urbanspoon