Divido: Back to Balkan – first class value

Once every six weeks, Divido in Mount Hawthorn hosts a special set menu titled Back to Balkans, inspired by Greek, Macedonian, and Croatian food. Priced at $65 per head, it is a contender for Perth’s best value quality dining set menu.

The woodfired oven in the kitchen produces incredibly flavoured food prepared by chefs with cultural heritages that match the cuisine. Head chef Jon Archondakis started his apprenticeship in 2007 under owner and executive chef Jason Jajnovic.

“I absolutely working with Jason – he is a chef who always gets it right,” Achondakis said.

Karlovačko Croatian beer

Karlovačko Croatian beer

The wine list had enough choices of different varietals weighted with Italian and European wines, offering the best in category for price, rather than pandering to the parochial. It’s great to see a wine list with reasonable priced wines. The Croatian Karlovačko was the perfect aperitif on a warm day: malty, crisp beer.

Friendly professional service, a warm inviting restaurant with soft chocolate decor, cosy booths and first class food make it hard to fault Divido. Put it this way, I didn’t need to reach for the salt once or the wine to top up our glasses all night.

Like Divido on Facebook to stay up to date with their special dinners and events. They have a special Melbourne Cup luncheon at $80 per head includes a three course meal and a glass of Moet & Chandon on arrival. The menu looks fantastic and I’ve been told bookings are necessary if you don’t want to miss out.

This is our Back to Balkans dinner, a celebration feast of St Andrew of Constantinople:

Entree:

Sarma - pickled cabbage rolls with veal mince, rice and smoked ribs

Sarma: Pickled cabbage rolls, veal mince, rice and smoked ribs. Hearty, great chunky terrine like texture, and the pickled leaves cut through the richness of the filling. The accompanying delicate tomato based sauce was flavoured with the smoky rib. There wasn’t much meat on the rib, however the cabbage roll was very generous.

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Tarama - fish roe dip

Tarama – fish roe dip

Tarama: Fish roe dip. My mother in law makes fantastic tarama, but Divido’s one would have met her standards. It was silky smooth, buttery texture, salty and drizzled with olive oil. Teamed with crusty crunchy bread thins, I honestly wanted to buy a tub of it to take home. Salty, savoury, smooth, creamy but a little grainy, it was the perfect pink tarama. I wish they sold it by the tub!

Bakaliarossalata: Spring sald , broad beans, peas, salt cod.  Fresh crisp palate cleansing salad.

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Kazunakia - Cretan feta and mint pies, and Guba - Macedonian pumpkin pastries

Kazunakia – Cretan feta and mint pies, and Guba – Macedonian pumpkin pastries

Kalzunakia: Cretan feta and mint pies drizzled with honey. Unusual sounding, these little mini samosa looking bits were a bit dry, but full of salty feta, sweet pea, fresh mint and the drizzle of sticky honey over the top added a sweet finish.

Guba:  Macedonian pumpkin pastries. Succulent sweet pumpkin flesh incased in buttery flakey pastry. Rich, sweet, and something I’d love to eat every single day. An unusual dish – I’ve not come across too many pumpkin pastry dishes before, but it was perfectly executed.

Mains

Moussaka

Moussaka

Moussaka: Layers of rabbit stew with eggplant and potato. Succulent delicate chunks of rabbit (no strong gamey taste), with meaty eggplant slices and cinnamon, orange zest and bay leaf infused sauce.

Perfectly matched to the Barossa semillion we had ordered (bottle $50).

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Woodfired whole roasted lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovy

Woodfired whole roasted lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovy

Arni:  Whole lamb, roasted in woodfired oven for the duration of a Greek Priest’s sermon, with garlic, anchovy and rosemary, served with rosemary and salt infused bread.

The lamb fell off the bone, the meat was juicy, balanced hints of garlic, fragrant rosemary and the saltiness from the anchovies came through with each mouthful.

My husband would have thought he’d died and gone to heaven eating Divido’s lamb. Faultless.

Kupus Salate - Croatian coleslaw

Kupus Salate – Croatian coleslaw

Kupus Salate: HERO dish. Coleslaw, Croatian coleslaw. Who would’ve thought I would have loved coleslaw so much? I always avoid the gluggy cabbagy overly tangy dish at every bbq.

Divido surprised me with their version. Finely shredded savoy cabbage, shaved carrot, red onion, radish, all dressed with a balanced white wine vinaigrette. Not a dollop of mayonnaise in sight, thank goodness.

Fresh and crisp, it cut through the richness of the other dishes and left my mouth feeling cleansed.

Gosak sa slaninom: Peas and bacon

Gosak sa slaninom: Peas and bacon

Fidhe: Greek macaroni and cheese.  Made with risoni, a pasta shaped like swollen grains of rice, this dish wasn’t overly cheesy and with all the other glorious food in front of us, didn’t excite me.

Grosak sa slaninom: Green peas and bacon. Much like the Italian piselli e pancetta. Flavour marriage made in heaven and a perfect side dish. Exactly like my mum makes.

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Dessert

Palačinke - baked crepes with fruits, Kourambiethes - Greek short bread

Palačinke – baked crepes with fruits, Kourambiethes – Greek short bread

Kourambiethes: Greek shortbread. Imagine nutty denser melting moments that crunch, crumble then melt away on your tongue in an instant. Flavoured with almonds and cloves, topped with a thick layer of icing sugar, my Greek mother in law would have approved of these ones.

Kosiniak - Macedonian brioche with almond filling

Kosiniak – Macedonian brioche with almond filling

Palačinke: Baked crepes with spring fruits. My favourite dessert. Thin layers of crepes, filled with vanilla, orange, marmalade and brown sugar. Sweet, fruity, with a bit of acid from the orange and the mellowness of the vanilla and a sticky syrup over the top – almost a perfect dessert (just needed chocolate, somewhere – I love chocolate!)

Kosiniak: Macedonian brioche with almond filling. This was like a cake and given the above two desserts was perfect and my tummy full, the brioche didn’t capture my attention.

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VERDICT:

Divido has consisted been listed in Perth’s top ten best restaurant for years, with good reason. The food is beautifully prepared, rustic and tasty, the service is first class and the ambience is the right balance of buzzy and intimate. For what you are paying, it is terrific value for exceptional dining. Best thing of all, it’s open on Monday nights making it a perfect choice for birthdays and other anniversaries that happen to fall on a Monday. A winner, every time.

FACT FILE:

Divido
170 Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn WA
Tel: 08 9443 7373
Divido Facebook Page

Open Monday to Saturday 6pm to late. Closed Sundays. Fully licensed

Divido on Urbanspoon

Progressive Fine Dining – Eat Drink Perth tour

The Fine Dining Progressive Dinner as part of the Eat Drink Perth food festival happening in WA’s capital city during the month of March, is a great way to experience three of the city’s finest restaurants.

Led by Perth’s popular walking tour specialists Two Feet and Heart Beat, the progressive dinner itinerary featured entree at the Print Hall, main meal at Lamonts Bishop House, and dessert at the Terrace Hotel.

Firstly, before a decadent dinner, Two Feet and a Heart Beat owner Ryan took our small group of seven on a short secret art walking tour.  It’s secret because we saw some art in a secret city alley way that hardly anyone knows exists. I’m not sure I should give Two Feet and a Heart Beat’s secret away by telling you where it is? You might have to message me on Facebook and ask very nicely if you really want to know.  We found it  interesting and eye opening.

Onto the Print Hall. This was Zorba’s first time to Brookfield Place and he liked it. Thank God. Trying to get him to agree to a night out in the city is a challenge.  I think it’s going to be a bit easier from here on. He loved it.

We were spoilt with two entrees; two types of freshly shucked oysters – South Australian (bigger and delicate flavour) and Albany (smaller more intense flavour). It was interesting to compare the two types.  My allegiance to WA was put to one side for a moment as my taste buds preferred the South Australian oysters for their delicate flavour.  Others preferred the creaminess of the Albany oysters.  The two vinaigrettes were beautiful, but I still prefer just a squeeze of lemon when the oysters are as good as these.

Two types of Oysters, Print Hall

Two types of Oysters, Print Hall

Print Hall has an oyster special on Tuesdays, two dozen oysters for $50.  That’s just over $2 per oyster. A bargain. Zorba (who loves a bargain) and another tour goer Barry decided to get another two dozen to share. Totally indulgent – I love it!

I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir from the USA. I know, I know, I should have chosen bubbly or white wine, but the red just sounded (and tasted!) so good. I broke the sacred wine with food rule. Oh well, rules are made to be broken.

Tasting platter, Print Hall

Tasting platter, Print Hall

The second part of our entree at the Print Hall was a tasting platter featuring a gorgeous pistachio and pork terrine, serrano jamon, air dried shaved beef, salami, a chorizo like sausage, pickled vegetables, and yummy rye grissini bread sticks as well as fresh bread. The house made butter was a little cold and hard to spread at first, but boy was it creamy and delicious after a few minutes.

The terrine was an absolute standout. Firm texture with the added crunch of the pistachio made it something really special.  Beautifully flavoured. Everything on the platter was gorgeous, but fairly standard fare in our house, besides the terrine.  It was so good.

Next stop, Lamonts at Bishop House.  Bishop’s House is tucked away behind Rigby’s bar between Mill Street and Spring Street in the city.  Many moons ago, a fresh spring once ran under neath where the house is built, hence the name of Spring Street. The heritage listed house was built in 1859. It is so lovely and who ever did the interior design really did a outstanding job – it’s beautifully furnished.  It has a warm and welcoming ambience – the vibe the building exuded made me feel instantly comfortable, like I had been there before.  We sat on the balcony overlooking the gardens that provided a natural shield to the traffic on Mounts Bay Road.

Barramundi at Lamonts

Barramundi at Lamonts

The food at Lamonts, at any Lamonts restaurant, is unbelievably good. Tonight was no exception. Barramundi with a fried zucchini flower and roast pepper and tomato salsa. The zucchini flower, that wasn’t stuffed, was delicate and crispy – as good as any I’ve had in Italy. The barramundi was gorgeous, flakey and soft. The roasted pepper and tomato salsa was amazing. Everything worked beautifully. And we got two pieces of bread and house made butter also. The Germans in our group were very excited about the quality of the bread, saying it was just like bread they got back home.

The Lamonts Shiraz was delicious. Yes, I know, again I had red wine with seafood.  Seriously, with red wine this good, I’d have it with cereal. Perfect Shiraz.

Off for another short walk. Tour guide Ryan pointed out some more interesting pieces of art on the corner of the St Georges Terrace and Milligan Street, before leading us into the Terrace Hotel.

Delicious fortified dessert wine

Delicious fortified dessert wine

Italian waiter Antonio explained the complex process of how the fortified wine was made; the wine is distilled in one wine barrel for a set time before being moved to a series of older barrels, until it reached the oldest mother barrel, which was made in 1927, which was also the name of the wine.  He said it could be called a sherry. Call it what ever you like – but can I have another glass? It was yummy, like a light port.

The dessert wine accompanied a cheese platter.  By far the blue cheese and the quince jam was my second favourite. My favourite was the dessert wine, whilst not technically a food group, I’d happily skip dessert just for the wine.

We sat in a private dining room surround by a gazillion dollars worth of wine and champagne.  I had cellar envy for sure.

If I was to make any criticism, it would come from my sweet tooth. Cheese I love, but not as much as chocolate. It would have been a fitting end to a delicious and delightful night to have a chocolate dessert or petit fours.

It was 10.15pm and our night came to an end.  We were grateful that we had a good group that chatted and gelled well together. This was helped along by tour guide Ryan, a Canadian, who has a really lovely way with people. It’s no surprise that his tourism business is doing so well.

It was a terrific way to experience three of Perth’s newest fine dining establishments in one night, at the cost of having just one night out at one of these venues.

Don’t delay, the progressive dinner is only on again next Monday and Tuesday. It costs $140 per person.  A glass of wine or beer is included with each course.  The wine was most generous at Lamonts as the friendly waiter continued to top up our glasses. Thanks Lamonts.

We hope Tour operators Two Feet and a Heart Beat are able to continue the Fine Dining Progressive Dinner as part of their tour offerings as planned. A great idea and it was fun to be tourist in my own city. Try it, like me, you might discover some new secrets.

We paid for our own tickets to this event.

FACT FILE

Eat Drink Perth runs for the month of March in the City of Perth.

Two Feet and a Heart Beat offer interesting walking  and small bar tours in Perth and Sydney.
Print Hall Bar and Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Lamont's Bishop House on Urbanspoon

The Terrace Hotel on Urbanspoon

Evening of magnificence – Vue De Monde, Melbourne

An evening of magnificence began with a drink at Lui Bar on level 55 of the Rialto building in Melbourne.

The table, with uninterrupted views of the open kitchen, had a leather top, the cutlery was leaning against gnarled pieces of wood much like chop stick holders and smooth stones had been machined with grooves to hold candles and salt and pepper.  Our leather bucket chairs had the kangaroo fur line their outer side. One could be forgiven for not noticing those details because the view across Melbourne was breathtaking-beautiful.

Before we had even seen a menu, some morsels of food were put in front of us:

  • Oyster
  • Salt cured wallaby
  • Smoked eel, white chocolate, caviar
  • Peas, pistachio, strawberry

The salt cured wallaby (kangaroo) was prepared at our table. The dish that sound most unusual is the smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar. Who would think of such a combination? Shannon Bennett, that’s who. He has really put his mark on the Australian culinary scene. Back to the smoked eel – it was delectable!  The white chocolate was a subtle thin and crispy shell over each piece of eel that added a hint of sweetness next to the saltiness of the caviar.

Smoked eel with white chocolate and caviar

The peas, pistachio and strawberry was also interesting because it came out initially looking like a soup, but in fact it had a frozen lid that we had to crack through.

Peas, pistachio, strawberry under a frozen lid

It was refreshing and tasted amazing.  I was getting so excited with what was to come.  Hopefully a menu!

Before seeing a menu, we were presented with freshly churned French butter with an array of different breads.  One of my dining companions is gluten intolerant and they happily brought her out some gluten free bread so she could taste the butter.  I had to add salt to the butter as it lacked something, despite being soft and creamy. I also love salt and especially the lovely salt flakes you see in restaurants of this quality.

The waiter did arrive with our menu and we took the conservative option of four-courses at a cost of $150pp.  As you will read on, we had much, much more than four courses. We each had over 11 dishes each!  Ok, some of those were mere tastings, but for what we paid, it was seriously good value for first class execution and produce quality.

Sadly with our conservative menu choice, matching wines were not available. However, the sommelier guided us on which wines by the glass would suit our dish.

The recommended wine for my entree of Greenvale farm Pork, marron, egg cream was a 2011 Henschke ‘Eleanor’s Cottage’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Eden Valley, South Australia.  The wine was delicious and I don’t say that about white wine flippantly.  Fresh, slightly buttery balanced with acidity. A lovely drop. The pork belly was amazing.  Delicate, moist, salty set off beautifully next to the sweet marron.  I was in heaven. Really, I was.

Greenvale farm Pork, marron, egg cream

Time for a palate cleanser.  Micro-herbs were presented to each of us in a bowl, to which the waiter poured liquid nitrogen. So dramatic with smoke rising from our bowls as the herbs were snap frozen. We were then given a mortar each to smash and grind the frozen herbs into small pieces.  Fun!  Then a quenelle of lime grapefruit sorbet was placed on top for us to mix with the herb crumbs.  So fresh and, um, cleansing.  Perfect palate cleanser that was fun to put together.

Liquid nitrogen being poured into our palate cleanser

Main course was next. What wine should I have with beef?  Obviously a red. When the 2004 Torbreck ‘The Steading’ Grenache Blend, Gomersal, South Australia was recommended, I was delighted.  Torbreck has a fabulous reputation, deservedly so.  The wine was luscious, smooth, slightly chocoloately, hints of tobacco – I could go on, it was complex and delicious.  I savoured every sip.

The Blackmore beef, nettle, potato was scrumptious. The beef was tender, it just fell apart. The white swirls on top in the photo below are actually sheets of potato. It took me a little while to figure that out because the texture was in between crisp and soft and the shape was nothing like any potato dish I have seen anywhere.  Delicious with an awesome sauce.  More red wine, a little beef – oh yes, foodie heaven for sure!

Blackmore beef, nettle, potato

How excited did we all get when the cheese trolley came around? The smiley Italian waiter explained the different cheeses on offer.  Whilst some of the girls chose what they wanted because they have an aversion to strong blue cheese, I was happy for the choice to be made for me as I love almost all cheese.

Smiley waiter at the cheese trolley

With my four delicious cheeses, I enjoyed the crisp lavash style bread that came with them and a glass of NV Alvear, ‘Vino de Licor’, Moscatel, Morikes de Montilla, Spain.  

Dessert, my favourite course. How was I going to fit it in?  An almost impossible task. The chocolate soufflé was put in front of me and the waiter place a knife in it to create a cavity, to which he poured into cream.  Oh my.  However, on tasting, the dish was not my favourite. I could really taste the egg in the soufflé and no enough chocolate.  I love chocolate and to be honest, would have preferred just a straight block of chocolate!  It was cooked beautifully, but I was so full, I wasn’t going to force myself to eat something that wasn’t transcending me further into food heaven.

Petit fours came out next – what more food?! This was not on the menu, but a cute touch to finish the evening.  The eucalyptus leaves made out of pink musk invoked childhood memories of eating musk sticks.  I also remembered that I didn’t really like them when I was seven years old, and not much has changed since. The mini lamingtons were cute and tasty and the two-up gums were clever but not that tasty.

After our last course, we were given a tour of the kitchen.  Of course I spotted a couple of thermomixes among the appliances. We were shown the commercial vats that were cooking stock for the next day, the chill freezer, and the private dining room. What a treat!

All in all, we had a brilliant night.  Four of us girls felt fussed over by the waiters who were very patient with our constant questions about the food, the wine, and requests for more bread.

Our four course meal was really an 11-course journey into foodie heaven.  And not to forget the bread.  What we thought would be a two hour meal was a four and half hour night of magnificence.

Thanks Holly Hands, Anu Malaviya, and Jessica Wyld for a great night out in one of Melbourne’s top restaurants.

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FACT FILE

Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Tower
525 Collins Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9691 3888
E: vuedemonde@vuedemonde.com.au

Open for dinner Monday to Saturday, lunch Tuesday to Friday and Sundays. Bookings essential.

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Cape Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia

Conde Naste Traveller magazine voted Cape Lodge as one of the top ten boutique hotels in the world in 2011 and 2012 and it’s easy to see why.  It is fine dining done with understated elegance.  Tables are nicely spaced apart, the wait staff are well briefed and carry out their duties like European professionals, and the restaurant is beautifully appointed with views over a little lake (aka a dam).

Head Chef Tony Howell changes the menu daily to reflect the fresh produce he has been able to source that day.  It is magnificent for dinner and breakfast. This is a dining experience no foodie would want to miss.

This terrific clip, put together by Tourism Western Australia, showcases Cape Lodge’s restaurant and head chef Tony Howell.

I could eat here every day and never grow tired of it.  Never ever. Although I’m not sure I’d be a able to fund that – it is pricey, but for what you get, it is extremely good value. Especially breakfast.

It’s no surprise that world’s best chefs are all staying at Cape Lodge during the Margaret River Gourmet Escape that is coming up.

FACT FILE

Cape Lodge
3341 Caves Road, Yallingup Western Australia.
Tel: +61 8 9755 6311
Stay@CapeLodge.com.au

Restaurant is open every day for breakfast and dinner. Bookings essential.

 
Cape Lodge Restaurant on Urbanspoon

InContro, South Perth – review

Could InContro be a candidate for my new favourite restaurant in Perth?

This beautiful South Perth restaurant offers not only superb food, but uninterrupted sublime  city views across the Swan River.  The views are hard to beat.

Inside the restaurant at the view of the city beyond

The setting has an air of sophistication, the waiters are well versed, some donning French accents, and the napery, glassware and cutlery are what one would expect in a fine dining restaurants.  It’s all lovely.

It not just about the views though is it? It’s about the food.  InContro, which means “meeting” in Italian, offers first class Mediterranean style cuisine.  You can dine on the ‘piccolo’ menu – much like tasting plates or Italian tapas, the regular menu, or mix it up like we did and choose from both.

As one comes to expect when dining at a fantastic restaurant in Perth, it ain’t cheap.  No sir.  But for a special occasion, it is seriously worth splashing out for a food experience at InContro.

Leo, Katie, Matthew and John

Our family was celebrating a special occasion, Zorba‘s mother’s 70th birthday.  She is as fit as a fiddle and enjoys nothing more than sharing a meal with her family. Dining with us was Zorba’s sister Marnie and her triplet boys, Leo, John and Matthew, who are seven years old.  There is never any hesitation taking the boys out for dinner with us because they are nearly always well behaved in restaurants and thanks to their Greek and Italian heritage, they love food and eat everything!

Pizza Margherita

As most seven year olds are starving by 5pm, you can imagine how famished the boys were at 6.30pm. We ordered a couple of fresh pizzas for them straight away.  It was enjoyed by Masters Seven with gusto!

Entree was a selection from the piccolo menu; zucchini flowers stuffed with salmon mousse, Rottnest scallops and king fish carpaccio.  It was presented beautifully on a tiered  tray. I could not fault anything, simply beautifully cooked, delicious flavours, and the perfect way to start dinner. The zucchini flowers were my favourite – crispy on the outside, smooth mousse on the inside. YUM! I could have eaten a whole plate of those!

Zucchini flowers

How good do these dishes look?!  Are you hungry yet?

Rottnest Scallops

For main course, we decided to choose our own.  I couldn’t go past the Turkish Sticky Black Angus Short Rib ($45).  Marnie had Linley Valley Pork Belly Vanilla Pear Pomegranate ($36), Zorba and Katie both had Duck Confit Cauliflower Puree Quince Salad ($38).

Turkish Sticky Black Angus Short Rib

My beef rib was nothing short of sensational. Slightly sweet, oh-so sticky, rich with smoky undertones, and the meat was so tender, sliding away from the bone with just the gentlest nudge from my fork.  I have never had a beef rib as good as this one – and that’s a big call.   Whilst expensive, it was a decent sized serve which is just as well or I would not have shared any of it!  The boys all agreed that it was the dish of the night.

Marnie loved her pork and really enjoyed the pomegranate salad.  Katie and Zorba seemed to thoroughly enjoy their mains as well.  To accompanying mains, we had Albany asparagus and shaved fennel pear with candied walnut salad.

Finalmente!  Dessert time.  The seven year old nephews were chomping at the bit waiting for dessert, especially once they heard that fairy floss was a feature.

We all had the Eaton Mess with Fairy Floss and ordered some desserts from the piccolo menu to share. A two-course dessert – now that’s my style of eating!

Eaton mess with floss

The wine list was fairly extensive, but on the high end of pricey.  We shared a bottle of bubbles, a prosecco, to start ($70) and then went for one of the cheapest shiraz blends on the menu on advice from the waitress. I love my red wine but didn’t want to spend upwards of $90 for a decent drop. The waitress’ recommendation was perfect.  The 2010 Sons of Eden shiraz blend ($65) was a beautiful smooth easy drinking red.

The only other time I have been to InContro was for a friend’s wedding late last year.  For a function, it was the best food I’ve ever had. I was excited to finally be going back there again.  And it didn’t disappoint.

It would be hard to imagine anyone being disappointed dining at InContro. It is first class in every sense and really worth splashing out for for a special occasion.  Impressive and highly recommended.

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FACT FILE

InContro
79 South Perth Esplanade, South Perth WA 6151
Tel. 08 9474 5566

Open Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday

InContro on Urbanspoon

Food Wine Sleep

L’Arco dei Cappuccini – restaurant review Taormina

Hurrah, finally we had a meal at a restaurant I had been trying to get into for days, L’Arco dei Cappuccini on via Cappuccini, a small street tucked around the corner from the city gate of Taormina, Sicily.

It was my sister Susie’s actual birthday and due to a series of events mostly surrounding my three year old nephew Sam’s bad behaviour, Mum, Dad, Zorba, Susie and I went out for dinner.  Ben took a hit for the team and stayed home with the kids :(.

The restaurant was set in a small outdoor courtyard with its high walls covered in climbing vines. Carmelo was one of our friendly waiters and when he explained to Dad that there weren’t any beers large bottles of beer, much to Dad’s verbalised disappointment, Carmelo responded in Italian, “It’s not the end of the world, just drink two small ones!”  I thought that was brilliant!

For antipasti, Susie and I both had Tuna Tartar, raw tuna with lemon juice.  It was fresh, meaty yet tender and amazing.

Tuna tartare

Zorba had the white bait which consisted of hundreds of tiny fish formed into fish cakes and fried crispy on the outside. They were crisp, salty in a moorish way, and sensational.

Mum and Dad both had marinated anchovies and they were so delicate and so, so delicious.  Before you screw your face up, the marinated anchovies are little slivers of white fish marinated in a olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of vinegar. They are seriously good and do not resemble anything like the ‘hairy fish’ on pizza that we think of in Australia when anchovies are mentioned.

Marninated anchovies

For main course, our friendly and funny waiter Carmelo showed us the fresh fish that was available.  The sea bass looked so fresh and when he described that it would be cooked with a Sicilian sauce of tomatoes, capers and olives, I was sold. No one else wanted any, so I pretty much had the whole fish to myself.  It was a bit too much for me to finish – but never fear, the Greek was near!  Zorba enjoyed helping me finish it off.  Yum yum yum!!

Zorba had home made fresh pasta with tuna and he thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much so that he wolfed it down fast and I didn’t even get a taste!

Susie, Mum and Dad all had linguine alla vongole – linguine with a clam / pippis.  They ooh and ahhed with every mouthful.

We can thank Antonia our land lady for the restaurant recommendation.  Zorba and I tried to get in on Tuesday night but the restaurant was fully booked. On Wednesday we went back to make a reservation, but it was closed.  While we were trying to figure out if the restaurant was indeed closed or if we were too early, we met a couple of Scandanavian boys who were also trying to make a reservation.  They said that they had eaten there once before and the food was phenomenal and there were no tourists in the place, only Italians. This only made me more determined to experience a meal there and I’m so glad we did. It was fantastically fabulous.  From the friendly chatty service, the intimate garden courtyard setting, to the unforgettable food, it is worthy of its Bortoletto holiday title of ‘The meal of Sicily’.

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FACT FILE

L’Arco dei Cappuccini‪
Via Cappuccini, 1, 98039 Taormina, Sicily, Italy
Tel: +39 0942 24893

San Michele Restaurant, Trastevere (Roma)

San Michele Restaurant and Pizzeria on the road that runs along the Tiber River, on the Trastevere side, was another top recommendation.
Foto di San Michele, Roma
Questa foto di San Michele è offerta da TripAdvisor.

It was our last night in Rome for a while and both Zorba and I wanted to have a fantastic farewell meal.

The setting of San Michele is just beautiful. It is like a large private courtyard filled with jasmine, trees, potted plants, water feature and the odd sculpture.  The pretty little lights take away the darkness with a subtlety and a huge canvas market umbrella provides shelter for the middle few tables.  Short stout Italian men in black trousers, white shirts, vests and bow ties were scurrying around with haste to service the Italians dining in.  No stranieri or foreigners here, just well dressed Italians.

Antipasto was mozzarella di buffala, stuffed zucchini flowers with mozzarella and anchovies, and stuffed crumbed olives.  A trifecta of yum! The mozzarella had a very light outer with gorgeously soft silky almost sweet mozzarella centre.  Absolutely heavenly.  Zorba said it was the best mozzarella he has ever eaten – and that’s a big call because he eats it at every opportunity.

The delicate zucchini flowers were crispy, slightly salty from the anchovy and again, deliciously moorish.

Zucchini flowers and crumb stuffed olives

For main course, Zorba and I shared a 900 gram bistecca Fiorentina – or Florentine t-bone steak.  This is no ordinary steak. There is a special breed of beef that this meat comes from. It is cooked over coals, slightly charred on the outside and served rare to medium rare.  It is so succulent and tender that the meat just melts as soon as it hits your tongue. I was in food heaven.

Fiorentina

It was also really great to eat meat again after all the unintentional Italian carb loading we have been doing. Although it was not so great when Zorba picked up the bone and started gnawing on it to ensure that he had eaten every last scrap of meat! I was mortified! No no no no NO! As much as I secretly love to do that also, not in public and certainly not in a nice restaurant! Thankfully, no one seemed to bat an eyelid – after all, we are in Italy and Italians really do appreciate good food.

For dessert we shared a chocolate gelato.  Always a winner.

Naturally, we had to digest and luckily we had the help of a couple of Amaro liqueurs that were served in a glass half-filled with frozen water, which when it melted slightly, turned into huge ice cube. It was pretty cool actually.

Thanks to my my Aussie friend Cat who has been living in Rome for six years for this fab recommendation.

This wins meal of the trip so far. Ten out of Ten.

FACT FILE

San Michele
Lungotevere Ripa, 7, Roma 00153 (zona Trastevere)
Tel +39 06 584 826

Osteria La Quercia, Roma

We experienced another culinary delight dining at Osteria La Quercia, near Piazza Farnese, last night.  Thanks for my lovely girlfriend Cat for a great recommendation.

Before meeting for dinner at 8.30, Zorba and I had an apertivo without food at Enoteca Il Picolo not too far from Piazza Navona. This cute little wine bar has tables that spill out onto the street busy with locals going home from work, tourists looking around, street performers entertaining anyone that will pay attention – in our case it was a quartet of Brazillians doing summersaults, cartwheels, and handstands.  Zorba and I had a drink here in 2010 and couldn’t resist going back.  A lovely start to our evening.

La Quercia is lovely.  A Roman restaurant offering amazing food and a good wine list.  I chose the Nero D’Avola from Sicily, not only because I know that this wine is good, but also because it was only 15 Euro a bottle.

We shared antipasto of stuffed zucchini flowers – light and crispy stuffed with cheese and an anchovy an absolutely delicious – and classic bruschetta with tomato and basil that didn’t disappoint.

Next was pasta. Zorba chose the Roman classic spaghetti carbonara and I went for a special – tagliatelle with asparagus and truffle.  Our friends Cat had vegetarian lasagne and Carmelo had the same as me. It was a smart choice. There was so much truffle in the sauce that my taste buds were throwing a party. The pasta was freshly made and I could have eaten two serves of it – it was that good.  Zorba thoroughly enjoyed his carbonara as did Cat her vegetarian lasagne.

Tagliatelle with asparagus and truffle YUM

The best part? Il conto – the bill. The total bill that included sparking mineral water, came to 94.50 Euro. That is 23.63 euro each.  Or A$28 each. SO CHEAP compared to what we pay in Australia. And this was a nice restaurant with waiters in white shirts and back vests, cloth napkins, and nice tableware.

Cat talked us into taking a walk to the famous Gelateria Della Palma near the Pantheon. This gelateria boasts over 150 flavours – there’s about 12 different chocolate flavours alone.  Gelato in Italy is rarely disappointing and this was no exception.

Thanks to Cat and Carmelo for a great night out.

 

Chocolate gelato flavours

FACT FILE

Enoteca Il Piccolo
via del Governo Vecchio, 74-75, Roma
Tel: +39 06 6880 1746

Osteria La Quercia
Piazza della Quercia, 23, 00186 Roma
Tel: +39 06 6830 0932

Gelateria Della Palma
via della Maddelena, 19, Roma  00186
Tel: +39 06 6880 6752

Tetsuya’s Restaurant, Sydney

O. M. G. Tetsuya’s is one of the most expensive dining experiences I have ever had and it was also one of the best, making the saying ring true, “you get what you pay for”.

It’s all about the food and excellent service at Tetsuya’s.  As it should be.  At prices that make it one of the most expensive restaurants in Australia, my expectations were high, and they were surpassed!  At $210 per person for the ten course degustation menu plus another $95 for matching wines, I was already $300 lighter and that was without an aperitif, digestive, and water.

The menu:

Our menu

and the paired wines:

Matching wines

The second spectacular course, savoury custard with avruga. Avruga is a type of seafood – a black caviar if you like, and a new taste sensation for me. This dish was Hubba’s favourite by far. She is still talking about it!  The balance of flavours was dazzling.  Delicate and delectable as well as warm and comforting.

Savoury custard with Avruga

Salad of the sea

The next course, salad of the sea, was visually beautiful and again, deliciously tasty. A lovely mix of textures and flavours.

The NZ scampi with chicken liver parfait and walnut vinaigrette was lovely too. The servings are very teeny tiny, makes me wonder if the effort of putting that dish together was all worth it.  Not complaining – it was delicious.  Just a comment.

Following was Tetsuya’s signature dish, Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with fennel, unpasteurised ocean trout caviar.  Oh yes.  Silky, soft, amazing and it felt really fresh.  The salty caviar with the sublime ocean trout was one signature dish that I’ll remember for years to come.

Tetsuya’s signature dish: Confit of Petuna ocean trout with fennel, unpasteurised ocean trout caviar

I haven’t mentioned the wine! The Riesling, a 2009 Tunkalilla by Brian Croser from Oregon in the USA was so moorish.  Best riesling I think I have ever had.  Do you know the most exciting part – the next wine we had, was the 2010 Pierro Chardonnay from Margaret River!  One of my favourite wineries in the Margaret River region, renowned for top quality expensive wine. I felt a bit worldly knowing about this wine when it was presented! All the wines were good, but these were the two that stood out for me.

The rest of the dishes were phenomenal – I could describe each one in detail, but it would be a lie.  Why? Because I was having too much of a good time catching up with great friends, and enjoying the matching wines…that everything after the first five courses is slightly blurry in the memory banks. But luckily, my photos are not!

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There is no fancy decor, themed rooms, expensive artworks, ornate chandeliers or the like – the decor is pleasant, refined, elegant, and understated.

Dining at Tetsuya’s is a once in a lifetime experience.  It is hideously expensive, seriously ridiculously expensive, but you know what, I’d do it all again. It was sublime and the sort of dining experience I will think about and relish over again and again and over again.  So, if you were to average the cost of each memory, it’s not that expensive really…

Thank you Tetsuya’s for a wonderful night x

FACT FILE

Testsuya’s Restaurant
529 Kent St, Sydney
Tel: 02 9267 2900
www.tetsuyas.com

Ten course degustation menu starts from $210pp and matching wines at $95pp.
There is valet parking at $20 per vehicle.
It’s open for Saturday lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Booking is essential.

Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon

My top 5 restaurants around the world

This list for my favourite restaurants I have had the delectable pleasure of experiencing across the parts of the world I have travelled to.  All these restaurants below hold special food memories for me.  Disclaimer: This list is subject to change at any time :)

There are many, many fabulous restaurants and cafes that I’ve dined at – and many that I haven’t – but the ones I have listed have stood out from the crowd.  Here’s why:

Astrid y Gaston:  This restaurant was highly recommended in the trusty Lonely Planet under the heading “Splurge”.  Mum and Dad happened to be in Lima the same time Hubs (long time buddy) and I were there (it was a weird fluke – check out this post for more).  The restaurant ambience was oldy-worldy formal with a dedicated entrance reception and waiters wearing white gloves in the main dining area.  The service was impeccable and every dish that our party of six had made everyone ooh-and-aaah with delight.  This restaurant is one that we keep talking about over and over again.

Cape Lodge:  Conde Naste Traveller magazine voted this one of the top ten boutique hotels in the world and it’s easy to see why.  It is fine dining done with understated elegance.  Tables nicely spaced apart, the wait staff are well briefed and carry out their duties like European professionals, and the restaurant is beautifully appointed with views over a little lake (aka a dam).  Head Chef Tony Howell changes the menu daily to reflect the fresh produce he has been able to source that day.  It is magnificent for dinner and breakfast.

Irati:  This tapas bar with a restaurant out the back was a recommendation given by a local more than 12 years ago and it was so good back then we ate there twice.  When Hubs and I were in Barcelona in 2010, we went back and it was so good, we ate there twice!  The tapas are delicious and plentiful.  The restaurant has modern exquisitely executed dishes that won’t disappoint.  Price point was higher than average, but not hideously expensive.

Yin Yang:  After reading a review in Gourmet Traveller or Conde Naste where the Australian critic named this restaurant as serving “one of the best meals of my life”, I made Zorba and I a reservation. Classed as a private kitchen, owner Margaret Xu grows her own organic produce that she prepares sophisticated five course meals with.  The restaurant is tiny with only four tables on the ground floor.  The staff were attentive, each course was delicious yet unusual – think waterless soup – and the complete dining experience was one to savour.  Zorba also surprised me by proposing at a jewellery store in Hong Kong an hour before our dinner, so really, we could have eaten baked beans on stale bread and loved it. There as a lot of love in the air that night.  Yin Yang is expensive (especially when you have two bottles of wine with your meal!). It has had some vastly mixed reviews on Trip Advisor recently, but it gets a big thumbs up from me.

The Press Club:  Owned by Australian-Cypriot celebrity chef George Colombaris, the Press Club is a wonderful experience.  Fine dining, sophisticated menu and dishes, and a buzzy happening atmosphere. Angie, the maitre de, has been there for years and it excellent at her job.  The elements of each dish are vastly complex – some a little unnecessary (like liquid chips = lines of mashed potatoes, oh come on!).  The Sommelier was really helpful with our wine choice.  We had the degustation menu over five hours.  It is a real night out. Expensive, but worth it. Just once (or twice).

This list is likely to change after our trip to the Mother Country in a couple of weeks.  In fact, it is hard to believe that there aren’t any restaurants in Italy that feature in my top five.  I guess because there are so many great classic honest trattorias and restaurants all over Italy, choosing one would be near impossible.  Still, I’ll be doing some research to update this list soon ;)

I’d love to hear your favourite food experiences and why – leave me a comment!