Fratelli Fresh – Melbourne, City – Wednesday 27 July 2016 – Lunch

Pappardelle with braised beef cheek ragu

Pappardelle with braised beef cheek ragu

My first Fratelli Fresh experience was in 2008 at Potts Point, which wasn’t the original, but was one of the earliest branches. At the time I thought, “this place is amazing; I wish there were more”. And it did. Not only has Fratelli Fresh continued to expand, but it is now in Melbourne, ready to conquer from an initial flagship position in Alfred Place.

I have been following the Melbourne Italian dining scene for many years as a tourist and over the past 8 years as a local. For most of those years I think the sentiment was to hold the long running Italian restaurants as Melbourne treasures, untouchable by new entrants. While there is no doubt the old school remains extremely cool, there is a growing place for new entrants as the city heaves with growth. Tipo 00 is an excellent example of a break-out, but new, Italian restaurant in the city, that is still honouring Melbourne’s love of all things Italian.

More than any other restaurant undertaking in Melbourne, if you are going to do Italian, you need to do it carefully and properly. Fratelli Fresh is bringing Sydney’s A-game to our proud city, and nothing less would do. The entrance, as it was in the Comme days, continues to be impressive, but is now adorned with a triumvirate of attractive hosts representing both the cafe downstairs, and the steak house (Cut) upstairs.

The downstairs room of Fratelli Fresh is inviting and well thought through. For the first time this year, I’ve walked into a venue that isn’t Scandinavian dominant, and is sensibly (and well) decorated by flourishes of very Italian red, and plenty of Italian paraphernalia reminiscent of the Fratelli brand of the North. It’s comfortable, kept casual with paper napkins, and the artistic writing over the bar is kitsch but not over the top. Both the welcome out in the foyer, and inside the cafe, is warm and our waitperson is attentive, but leaves us to catch up for a time before ordering.

Cheesy Casarecce 'Cacio e Pepe'

Cheesy Casarecce ‘Cacio e Pepe’

There are plenty of good options to stretch out lunch or enjoy a single course. Andrew orders the pappardelle with braised beef cheek ragu, and while I would have been happy with the same choice, I decide on the cheesy casarecce ‘cacio e pepe’. The pappardelle looks great, served generously, and while Andrew says there are a few pieces that haven’t completely broken down, it is still a good dish.

I’m glad I had the warning of “cheesy” because my dish is full of cheesy goodness, making for a really filling main. The casarecce pasta is literally translated to “handmade” and is rustic small twisted fresh pasta, that is perfectly al dente. ‘Cacio e Pepe’ which I had to look up, is “cheese and pepper”, but really I ordered this for the pigs cheeks, which is served in cubes and has the salt and fat goodness that lifts the flavour, with some rapini greens to break it all up a bit. I’d suggest it would not be unwarranted to share the pasta if you are also looking at the wood fired pizzas, or some of the salumi and cicchetti on offer.

With a Butcher’s Bride American pale ale on tap to wash it down, all that is needed to finish today is a long black. My coffee is well made in the no fuss Italian style as you would hope for.

I’m excited about Fratelli Fresh and I’m hopeful they will open even closer to home in the next few years. This will certainly not be the last time I’m here, and it seems that all the experience gained over a decade in Sydney has been beautifully translated into this first offering south of the border.

Fratelli Fresh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Little By Little – Berwick – Sunday 3 July 2016 – Breakfast

Little Ben

Little By Little Ben

It takes dedication to drive for three-quarters of an hour to eat breakfast. Our love of this meal is extreme and there are good reasons, especially when you live in the best breakfast city in the world. All we needed for inspiration was the suggestion by Chayse from O.My that this place is top quality and it was immediately on the list.

Little By Little is not on the prettiest patch of dirt in Berwick with a dilapidated car park disguising a little house that has been turned into a café. A local in Berwick told me that originally an application had been made to demolish. While I don’t always support heritage restrictions, in this case it has worked well because the café that came about is a terrific vibrant meeting place for locals.

The main room in the café has plenty of light filtering in through the windows, and although packed, has a comfortable open feel. We are near the back door that in summer would provide a cooling breeze, but today when it opens it is like walking down the freezer aisle! Catherine has already been sussing out what the best offerings on the menu are, and naturally is in a much better position to order than I am.

Moroccan eggs

French Cassoulet

The Little By Little Ben is basically eggs benedict, but with pork. It didn’t grab me on the menu, but when it came out for Catherine it was glistening. Each element is quality, especially the hollandaise and the incredibly indulgent shredded pork. As a combination we all know the usual Benedict it is a classic, and this one is brilliant.
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My dish of French Cassoulet has a variety of beans and chorizo sausage, again with perfectly poached eggs on top. There is plenty of flavour in the casserole and it is a solid dish, great for winter. The coffee is well made here, and I’m pretty sure I ended up trying three to make sure. There is an excellent range of treats so the last coffee was joined by a Portuguese tart with nice thick custard and a denser base than usual.

Yes it is a long way to go, but the drive is well worth it. Sitting here lingering over some excellent food and coffee, with nice enthusiastic service, feels like we actually are away from it all. It is a feeling that is difficult for inner city cafes to achieve.

Little by Little Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Post script:

Catherine was back with a group of friends again (Saturday 25 July 2016) and had another excellent experience. Her Chai Panna Cotta dish was delicious, and is presented in spectacular fashion, and the hot chocolate is decadent, as it should be.

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Chai Panna Cotta - served with granola, dark chocolate soil, cinnamon meringues, dehydrated orange and fresh fruits

Chai Panna Cotta – served with granola, dark chocolate soil, cinnamon meringues, dehydrated orange and fresh fruits

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar – Mornington – Friday 24 July 2016 – Lunch

Radicchio salad

Radicchio salad

Walking around after lunch I came across a new “where to eat pizza” book that I’d recently heard of. When it comes to pizza, even the average ones are good, but there is such conjecture on which are the best. While it might not be everyone’s favourite food, or necessarily the topic of final meal conversations, it invariably is one of the favourites for many.

At D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar, whether you are in Mornington where we are today, or in Carlton at the original, the recipe is all about top quality ingredients, on a classic Italian thin base. While I don’t have a favourite pizza, I’m extremely glad that we turned the corner years ago, doing a complete one-eighty on the deep pan American extremism where you try to put every ingredient known to man on the one pizza.

Pizza DOC

Pizza D.O.C.

Now that we have properly acquainted ourselves with what is actually traditional, it has become apparent that merely sourcing quality ingredients is really the easy bit. That close to perfect base is actually the aspect that seems most difficult to attain. There have been a few reasonably high quality pizzerias that I’ve been to recently that just can’t seem to get there with the perfect balance of crispiness, but just thick and doughy enough to capture the ingredients without impacting the middle with sogginess.

The reason I am writing about the base, is D.O.C. does a particularly good one. One that has been consistent on each of the ten-odd occasions I’ve been to either branch. Today both our “pizza speck” with smoked prosciutto, fontina cheese, wild mushrooms and thyme; and our “D.O.C.” with DOP Buffalo Mozzarella, San Marzano’s tomato, and basil; have a base that is pretty close to perfect. The simpler D.O.C. is adorned with an excellent amount of impeccable mozzarella that is easily the star of the show. It doesn’t get much better than great tomato and mozzarella!

Pizza Speck

Pizza Speck

The pizza speck is full of flavour and certainly more complexity, some of it owing to the smoky meat, some of it to the less usual but very flavoursome fontina (cow’s milk cheese from the Aosta Valley in Italy), and a further level through the mushrooms and thyme which are a tried and tested combination. We also have the radicchio salad which is filled with gorgeous ingredients including walnuts, gorgonzola, thinly shaved fennel, and is dressed with balsamic.

I had a bit of a night out the prior evening at a Bellota wine tasting, so it is chinotto for me, but Catherine has a well made Aperol spritz, before we finish with peppermint tea and a pretty good double espresso. While our waitperson is quietly spoken, the service is always fantastic in that style that somehow always is present in Italian joints.

There are a lot of good pizzas going around, but like the book I was browsing through following lunch, there are only a few really great pizzerias, and D.O.C. in Mornington is one of them in my book.

D.O.C Mornington Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Good Things – Mosman Park – Sunday 26 June 2016 – Breakfast

The Hulk - smashed avocado with peas, fresh mint, pickled onion, papitas, sesame, whipped feta and toast, and a poached egg (on the side)

The Hulk – smashed avocado with peas, fresh mint, pickled onion, papitas, sesame, whipped feta and toast, and a poached egg (on the side)

I took for granted the winter sun in Perth. It came around every year and didn’t bring as much excitement as the heat of summer or the seasons in between that are hardly distinct from the summer I experience now in Melbourne.

If Good Things is anything to judge by, the long hibernation of winter is not as depressing in Perth anymore. Like all aspects of this city, winter is becoming more popular and with weather like this it is hard to see why it wouldn’t be.

In a non-descript part of Mosman Park, there are tables full of customers outside, with several groups standing waiting for the next table or their takeaway coffee. Interestingly, the tables here are mainly for groups of four meaning there are lots of spare seats on tables of three and two.

In any case it takes little time for us to be offered a seat on the window and with the sun beaming in we are happy to take it. Oddly, like many places in Perth, everything happens at the table, except the ability to order. It could have been a disaster because I forgot one aspect of Catherine’s order, but luckily the staff were quick to accommodate, and I was back in the good books.

Huevos Rancheros - smoked and pulled beef brisket with Mexican fry bread, charred corn, tomato salsa, fried eggs, jalapeño sour cream & cilantro

Huevos Rancheros – smoked and pulled beef brisket with Mexican fry bread, charred corn, tomato salsa, fried eggs, jalapeño sour cream & cilantro

My order of Huevos Rancheros with smoked and pulled beef brisket on Mexican fry bread is a well thought through combination. There is a generous serving of fried eggs, the yolks of which are needed to partially soften the fried bread, along with a good helping of tomato salsa, grilled corn, and jalepeno sour cream. It is a filling breakfast, but there is a freshness to it, and I’m sold.

Catherine’s smashed avocado nicknamed “The Hulk”, which is initially missing a poached egg (thanks to me!), is also generous, with plenty of avocado and peas stacked over two pieces of sourdough with whipped feta. As you would expect, it all works well together, and seems to be a staple of Good Things.

With the sun shining through the window we linger a bit longer than usual, ordering a second coffee. They use a rotating offering of single origins and today’s Proud Mary roasted beans are high quality. There’s a good portfolio of diverse coffees becoming available across Perth, which is excellent to see.

Good Things is popular for a reason. There is plenty of thought in the food we ate, great coffee, and all of this comes in a nicely fitted-out café. I’m glad we gave it a go and we’ll be back again.

Good Things Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nunam Thai – North Perth – Saturday 25 June 2016 – Lunch

Caramelised Crispy Pork hock with kimchi and a herb salad

Caramelised Crispy Pork hock with kimchi and a herb salad

Sometimes a lack of knowledge is the best tonic for pretention. For the record, our lunch at Nunam Thai was magnificent, but first I need to explain some discomfort.

When we arrived at Nunam my only expectations had come from the previous occupant, Nahm Thai, which has the same owners, and funnily enough, as I understand it, more or less the same food. I had been past many times when I used to live in Perth and I had taken note that the dining room is clean and good looking. On top of that I knew the food of the old Nahm Thai was excellent across many reviews and many years.

So I was a little surprised when we arrived. Actually, we had to ask if we were in the right place, and Mum had earlier arrived and done exactly the same. There is a café at the entrance and there is not exactly a royal greeting for what appears to be quite a fine establishment. Next we were seated in the café part with comfy banquettes and cushions, rather than where the linen and stemware is set. We asked our sole waitperson and he said that the dining room is for dinner, leading to the only conclusion (which the table next to us voiced at the same time) that lunch is not a popular affair here.

Duck pancake with spring onion, cucumber, coriander and hoisin

Duck pancake with spring onion, cucumber, coriander and hoisin

Never mind that, after all it is a very comfortable room and we easily settled in. When our waitperson took our BYO Perrier Jouet out to the café we had a sinking feeling that we might never see it again. I need to say that it was obvious he didn’t have a huge amount of experience, but equally experience does not dictate friendliness, or how hospitable someone is, and he did a great job. We had to have a little chuckle when he helpfully filled our Champagne glasses up with about 25ml, as if we were at a tasting (or a child at a wedding for the toast!)

Salt & pepper soft shell crab, charred watermelon and herb salad

Salt & pepper soft shell crab, charred watermelon and herb salad

What followed was an afternoon of impressive Thai food, lots of laughs and conversation, and the feeling we could go back again in a flash. The duck pancake to begin was about as good an entry into a meal that I could imagine. Smacks of flavour, classically combined, and duck that starred rather than falling into the background of the other flavours, as can happen in this amazing snack.

There was a resounding request for the salt and pepper soft shell crab dish, served with charred watermelon and a herb salad. While I’m not sure you can actually char watermelon, the combination again is terrific, and the treatment of the soft shell crab, which can be fickle, is extremely good.

Pad thai noodles with chicken, prawns, tofu, egg, sprouts, chives, dried shrimps, crushed peanuts

Pad thai noodles with chicken, prawns, tofu, egg, sprouts, chives, dried shrimps, crushed peanuts

For mains we have another highlight dish with the caramelised crispy pork hock with kimchi and a herb salad. This is seriously well executed food, and I haven’t had perfect pork hock since Ezard. The sauce is beautifully balanced to provide enough acid to cut through the fattiness of the pork, which has deep flavour under the impeccably formed crispy skin. Delightful stuff.

It is difficult for a pad Thai to live up to a dish as good as the pork hock, but it still does a good job in itself. The noodles are a touch soft, which is not unusual, but I have liked some recent renditions I’ve tasted where the noodles are a bit firmer (like al dente pasta). The prawns presented on top are not just garnish, they are fresh and juicy, and actually add to the dish. Lastly, the stir fry Asian greens with garlic, chilli, yellow beans and basil, is refreshing, but there is a strange lack of the first named ingredient. There seems to be a lot more tomato, and it is nice, but feels like we have received the wrong dish.

Black sticky rice, mango, ginger-palm sugar syrup, coconut cream

Black sticky rice, mango, ginger-palm sugar syrup, coconut cream

There were some decisions to be made on dessert and we ended up sharing the black sticky rice and coconut cream, with mango; and the lime tart with vanilla ice cream. The first was refreshing at the end of a heavy meal, but still having the impact of Thai flavours, some of which we don’t encounter enough. The tart on the other hand, while very nice, was a more familiar dessert, with some quite ordinary vanilla ice cream.

Lime tart, ice cream, passionfruit

Lime tart, ice cream, passionfruit

What a tremendous meal. Along with the ability to BYO wine there is very good quality Thai food with absolutely no pomp and ceremony about it. Really quite a find for weekend lunches.

Nunam (Nahm Thai) Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Duende – Leederville – Friday 24 June 2016 – Dinner

You know a restaurant is doing something right when you, and your pesky friends, have changed the booking four times, yet you continue to be accommodated. As we rock up to Duende, with barely a spare chair observed (other than our table for eight plus a baby), we are even more thankful our initial booking of five was able to be changed.

It is a big catch up with old uni friends and some of our other halves. We have many reasons to share a few drinks and a meal and as usual it has been too long. It is for this reason that I completely forgot to get the camera out, so this particular review is bereft of any of my amateur photography.

A couple of Moritzs in and we have started to be served some of the dishes we decided to order. The idea is more to share some food over a few drinks, rather than a big meal, so we order some smaller share plates, and not the reasonably priced banquet. The croquettas are a nice start (as usual), and we also have one each of the mini-paellas, which are single serves wrapped in a vine leaf with prawn and chorizo mixed through the rice.

The staff were great all night, and we are encouraged to share one particular platter which turns out to be a better liked dish than the marinated white anchovies (which a few of us are suckers for, but several others are not at all keen!) The platter contained chorizo, jamón serrano, longaniza (Spanish sausage), guindilla peppers (traditional Basque pepper), and caperberries. The patatas bravas are served as whole roasted gourmet potatoes, which is a positive touch, but the sauce could have been a bit more generous (noting that it is tradition to smother it on).

Towards the end the chargrilled octopus, chorizo, kipfler potato with squid ink aioli is superb, especially the chargrilled octopus. At the same time we had the Brussel sprouts, confit white beans, heirloom tomatoes and baked ricotta which again was a combination a bit outside the box, working well as we had a few beers and wines. We settle on these as enough for the savouries, meaning our caution for the banquet was warranted.

For dessert we shared some chocolate tarts, and the doughnuts. Having been told there were five doughnuts in each serve I should have known they were going to be tiny. Luckily, with the injection of either jam and/or crème patisserie, they were absolutely delicious. The chocolate tart was terrific too, but most chocolate tarts are.

It has been many years since I’ve enjoyed the offerings of Duende. When it opened it was certainly a trend setter, and now it seems that many years later it has settled into a comfortable and lingering groove of its own.

Duende Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Highgate Drink and Dine – Highgate – Wednesday 22 June 2016 – Dinner

Roasted Jerusalem artichokes za'atar harissa yoghurt

Roasted Jerusalem artichokes za’atar harissa yoghurt

It is becoming more accepted for restaurateurs to completely change their restaurant at the same location as they, or their customers, become tired of the current offering. It is not to say that the product in these situations is average, in fact the opposite is often the case.

One example is David Coomer changing Pata Negra to Fuyu for no apparent reason other than he felt like a change. The other recent example is Ace Pizza becoming Highgate Drink and Dine. More or less the same staff, at the same location, doing food that is almost completely different, in a restaurant that even has a different entrance. The fitout has changed enough to be almost unrecognisable, with the wood fired oven still used to full effect, but the kitchen now being hidden by a funky old school wooden bar.

Ace Pizza was initially a place I really enjoyed, but each visit was not as good as the last, until I stopped going after three meals. So it is not unreasonable that a freshen up was undertaken. The only critique of the makeover is the continued very dark lighting which is really just unnecessary. We all like low light but this must be the darkest restaurant I have been to in many years. Anything visual is a struggle, but most importantly, you cannot see the colours in your meal, meaning both the subtle and vibrant identities of each dish are impossible to detect.

Hogget confit cabbage

Hogget confit cabbage

Luckily, there is flavour and taste in the dishes that counteracts the loss of visual perception. The Jerusalem artichokes are beautifully roasted with za’atar, and work with the harissa yoghurt. The spiced carrots are just as well roasted, and work perfectly with the cooked-through dates, carrot leaf tops, and seeds, to form a delicious side or a meal in themselves.

The hogget (described as teenage lamb) has been smoked and roasted and is delicious. The belly in particular is the perfect balance of fatty flavour, and tender meat. The loin is still good, but the belly shines. The cabbage is a natural accompaniment, equally comforting as the hogget.

Serves are generous meaning that our reasonable attempt to completely finish the three dishes renders us unable to try dessert. Thanks to the helpful floorstaff we didn’t venture into the potatoes with ricotta and jamon, but I’m sure this dish would have been excellent too.

Spiced carrots tamarind dates

Spiced carrots tamarind dates

There are some weaknesses though. The glassware (stemless) is left over from Ace Pizza, and just doesn’t fit the new undertaking. The tables are not adept at sharing several plates, and feel like an afterthought. On the plus side, the wines are reasonably diversified, keeping interest to a broad palate. We try the Garagiste Chardonnay and the Tomfoolery Tempranillo which are both great with the food.

On the whole, Highgate Drink and Dine is a great place to share some quality food. The bar area is bigger than before, but the “Drink” part of the name seems a touch misleading given the venue really is more of a restaurant than a bar. Nonetheless the dining room is one of my favourites in Perth with the broad front windows holding your interest whether you are dining, or just passing-by.

Highgate Drink & Dine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato