Cafes and Restaurants » South Melbourne

Provincia, Albert Park – Honest, Unpretentious Italian

ProvinciaAfter being disappointed with the cheap italian feel that was Basilico in Albert Park I was certainly expecting something good from the unpretentious restaurant serving local style italian dishes that Provincia advertisers itself as. The food lived up to this expectation, it was good, honest, well presented and represented the flavours of provincial italy with class.

The space isn’t big, it is dominated by the bar and it’s ceiling-high wine rack and spirits shelves. The room is dark, with most of the light provided by tea lights set on each table and a few muted hanging and wall lights. There isn’t many tables, all set out around the perimeter of the space with settings for 2 or 4. The dining room is intimate and almost unwelcoming for a group of 4, but perfect for a dinner of 2. Unfortunately our table was in front of the door and each time the door we felt an unwelcome gust of cold Melbourne night.

Inside Provincia, Albert Park The service is as you would expect, perhaps a little too keen as I struggled to finish my whole glass of water before our waiter topped it up. I was disappointed with their wine service though. After we had ordered our meals we asked for a wine recommendation and the waiter told us that a particular wine was a nice italian variety. This has happened a couple of times recently and perhaps I’m not asking right, but I want to know what $60-100 bottle of wine will go nicely with our meals.

The menu consists of a variety of italian dishes under the premise of being each from provincial Italy. Beside most of the dishes is noted the area the dishes are from. The prices around the $30 mark and the quality of the food is easily worth it. The wine list is mostly international and as you would expect the majority are Italian. The bottles start at around $50 which seems a little excessive, perhaps they could provide a cheaper entry-level.

Negroni, Provincia

The Negroni was on the money. Personally I prefer a slightly more vermouth heavy Negroni but nonetheless it was a great start to the proceedings.

Pear, Gorgonzola and Walnut Bruschetta

The pear, gorgonzola and walnut bruschetta was an ordering afterthought but was amazing. Mild flavours accentuating each other all capped off with the texture and flavour of walnut. Brilliant.

Grilled Porterhouse and Mushrooms, Provincia

This great sized piece of porterhouse was cooked perfectly and served with grilled field mushrooms. It was a great piece of meat, cooked well, what more is there to say?

Bork Belly, Provincia This roasted pork belly with a coriander salad reminded me more of a chinese-style pork belly, yet further research suggests it is just as italian as chinese. Fatty, crisp, tasty, perfect.

Pasta at Provincia

I didn’t taste this pasta, but it certainly looked great.

Lamb at Provincia

This slow-braised lamb shoulder was exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth lamb with root vegetables. This was always going to be a winner for me as it’s one of my favourite dishes. It didn’t last long on the plate.

Pannacotta, Provincia

The pannacotta was lovely and rich yet not overly sweet with the Campari reduction adding the necessary sweetness and orange flavour.

Self Saucing Pudding, Provincia

While the meals across the board were exceptional, this stole the show. The chocolate self saucing pudding with vanilla-bean icecream was heavenly. The chocolate sauce was thick and rich. The texture of the icecream was subtly granular and the vanilla flavour prominent. The dark and light flavours work so well next to each other.

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Siphon Coffee Video – St Ali

Siphon Coffee is all the rage at the moment. Apparently it was developed in Japan and the coffee fiends at the “boutique” coffee houses around Melbourne are selling them like wildfire. It makes a great deal of sense to me. The coffee, served black, is more like the texture and consistency of tea rather than espresso. The brewing process is such that the individual flavours in the coffee are far more intense than in an espresso. Don’t get me wrong, if you want a caffeine hit, a short black certainly feels like it packs a harder punch, but when you want to enjoy a tempered coffee while you read or perhaps a gentler coffee to nurse your aching head, this stuff is the shit.

Here’s a video of the brewing process. Special thanks to St Ali.

Tomoshibi Japanese Restaurant, Middle Park

As our neighbour described it, Tomoshibi doesn’t look like much, but it is most definitely worth a look. The first thing you notice after negotiating your way to the front door, down the alleyway is that you seem to be in the entrance to someone’s house. The cash register is tucked under the stairs, the reservations book is behind the door and hanging from the walls in place of family photos are alcohol licenses, newspaper clippings and sashimi calendars. The sounds emanating from the stairs are either those of a party or a family’s everyday life, the kids running around give it away. This certainly isn’t the feel of a normal Melbourne restaurant, but this complete lack of pretentiousness coupled with polite japanese service is a breath of fresh air.

The dining room decor is dated, solid chairs and tables, almost too dark lighting, punctuated with elegant flowers and chopstick holders but the loud drunk girl was wrong when she crassly suggested that they “just get some new fucking chairs.” This setting is the background of a restaurant that is about much more than worrying about designer furniture and achieving what they want perfectly. Perhaps this fitout won’t endear itself to the materialistic yuppies among us, but what is served will leave an impression on the food lover.

The menu consists of a number of sections, starters, sashimi starters, sashimi mains and regular mains. The gyoza from the starters menu was  a brilliant start, steamed to perfection the lightly fried classic japanese dumplings were full of flavour, with a great texture. These are the sort of dumplings you could eat all day. The mixed sashimi starter, salmon, tuna, ocean trout and mackerel, was sashimi at its best. Fresh fish, good sized portions presented beautifully on an upturned oystershell and garnished with a pink orchid flower.

For mains, the chicken and fish soup was the only let down. The dish is served still boiling away with an impressive sizzling sound, the chunks of fish were tender and flavoursome, the chicken was nondescript and the broth lacked flavour. The grilled eel on the other hand, was the standout. The eel had been grilled perfectly giving the skin has a slightly crunchy texture, the soy based sauce’s (I’d love to know what this sauce was) richness was not overwhelming at all even when eaten just with the leftover rice.

Accompanying this great example of japanese cuisine was a very well priced, but minimal, wine and beer list. Topping off a great example of japanese cuisine, service and hospitality.

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Breakfast at Bastille Cafe, Clarendon St, South Melbourne

Not much to look at from the street but the set tables, open kitchen and French flag give this restaurant an impression of expensive, overdone arogance. The truth is the complete opposite.

Cafe Bastille Omelette The breakfast menu is a very basic affair, eggs, omelet, bacon, mushrooms and pancakes.. Don’t let the lack of options fool you though, the fare is produced with the finest of ingredients, ham off the bone, fresh tomatoes and amazing bread. The eggs were poached beautifully, the ham and mushroom filled omelette moist and the bacon not overcooked. Each meal was served with toasted, olive oil drizzle bread to die for and a dipping sauce of tomato relish. After the fact, the bread and relish could easily have replaced the entire meal.

Generally the coffee in Clarendon St is nothing to speak of, especially when compared with Lygon and Brunswick St but Cafe Bastille’s lattes were great. Caramelly, hot and quick to the table, they certainly helped my hangover turn the corner.

At the end of meal, the most pleasing aspect of the meal was the price. $7 for poached eggs plus $3 for bacon on the side. $12.50 for the omelette and $14 for 4 coffees. 2 very caffeinated and content diners walk out with not only change from $40 but also happy with the service and the quality of the food.

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