Mister Bianco – Sicilian Great

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It was a combined dinner for myself and V and the place that we decided on was Mister Bianco. Mister Bianco, which is named after a municipality in Sicily, is located on High Street in Kew and is amongst other restaurants such as Estivo and St Katherine’s in that strip. This great Sicilian restaurant is a stylish and romantic restaurant brought to you by Joseph Vargetto (Mezzo Bar & Grill) and serves food and flavours from Southern Italy.

When you walk into Mister Bianco there is warm and welcoming feel to it – there is soft lighting and classy touches. There are two adjoining dining rooms – one at the front-  where the wooden bar is housed with tables surrounding it – as well and one further behind which houses more tables. There is also extra space upstairs which includes a private dining room. It really is like a typical Italian Bistro Style restaurant, which further adds to the comfort and feel. The tables are decked out in crisp white linen, topped with monogrammed wine glasses and completed with a variety of salts and olive oil for the bread to come. There is abstract art work in bright tones that stick out on the white walled background, which is further emphasized from the soft glow of lighting.

The menu comes from Vargetto’s extensive experience coupled with his traditional Sicilian roots and brings it together to form a modern take on Sicilian food – flavours, ingredients and cooking methods. The menu is divided into different sections –  stuzzichini (little starters), entrees and mains and a separate heading for shucked shells, steaks as well as pasta and risotto, and finally sides. On the main menu there is also a box which is titled – “Save some room for dessert” which I think is quite a good idea. I mean who doesn’t have room for dessert?

There was 6 of us at dinner so we decided to share a combination of stuzzichini and entrees and then get a main meal each. Yes, we were all really hungry on this day! First we recieved the Our Meatballs ‘Messinese’, Cous Cous + Tomato Sugo. The others really enjoyed these meatballs which also had a hint of chilli and paprika which enhanced the tomato and meat flavours. The Cous Cous comes with pine nuts, sultanas and saffron and was cooked perfectly and was the great addition to the meatballs.

We also ordered the Arancini of Blue Swimmer Crab + Stinging Nettle with Romesco Sauce. The Arancini was perfectly crumbed and was crunchy and tasty with a soft gooey centre of crab. The Romesco Sauce was a strong flavour but with the addition of the lemon gave a great tang and lessened the flavour. A tasty dish all in all.

Next up was the Burrata Mozzarella (money bag style), Roasted and Raw Heirloom Beetroots, Candied Walnuts, Grissini and Balsamic Reduction. I was intrigued by this dish as the Mozzarella on the menu stated that it was money bag style and indeed when it came out it did resemble a money bag and was the centre piece of the dish. It was surrounded with the other ingredients, with the Grissini topping the dish off in criss cross style. The combination of the mozzarella, beetroot with its sweet taste coupled with the tang of balsamic reduction and the walnuts was delicious. It was a really interesting dish and a great light entree.

The last share dish we had was the Tuna Carpaccio ‘Alla Zingara’, Avocado Puree + Cucumber, Fennel Bread. This was a spectacularly presented dish – the tuna is seared on the outside and comes in the form of three mini hamburgers. There are three tuna pieces which make up the hamburger and are sandwiched between tomato, cucumber and avocado. The tuna “burgers” are topped with sesame seeds just like a real burger would be. Its little details like this that make a difference. Surrounding the “burgers” are shaved bottarga, pistachios, fried capers and greens, together with fennel bread. This is really a fantastic dish and a must try!

For mains there was a variety of dishes chosen but the clear favourite was the Hand Cut Cavalo Nero flavoured Tagliatelle, Poached Spanner Crab and Grilled Scampi, Chilli, Garlic with three of us selecting this dish. And this dish certainly didn’t disappoint – the pasta (all hand made) was fresh, tasty and green as it was flavoured with cavalo nero. The flavours were rich and full of flavour and just yum – my one comment would be that there wasn’t much poached spanner crab in the dish and there was heaps of oil around the dish. I love how the dish was topped with grilled scampi and it certainly was the highlight of the dish – it was once again cooked perfectly and flavoured nicely.

Another dish around the table was the Potato Gnocchi with Slow Braised Organic Chicken, Farmed Rabbit, Corn Ragu and Crispy Parsnips – the pasta once again was soft and fresh and literally melted in your mouth. What caught V to pick this dish was the corn ragu – it was an interesting concept to the dish. She enjoyed the dish and as gnocchi dishes usually are was quite a heavy dish – the addition of both the chicken and the rabbit intensified this. C ordered the Slow Braised Organic Beef Cheek in Red Wine, Creamed Spatzle and Pickled Raddichio – which was another impressive dish. The Beef Cheek was glossy and cooked so the point where it literally fell off the “bone” and coupled with the creamed spatzle and tanginess of the raddichio was delicious. H ordered the Slow Cooked Otway Ranges Pork Belly with Peppers, Capers + Raisins, Sauce ‘Agrodolce’ – which he enjoyed quite a lot as well.

Next up was dessert – and since there was 6 of us we decided to order 4 different desserts and share them all. This way we got to sample and try a variety of what they had to offer. Desserts are done by pastry chef Maria Lantelme. The first of the four desserts was the Sicilian Style Donuts with Chocolate Gelato + Strawberry Jam. This has to be one of my favourite dishes as of late – the most interesting part of the dish was that it came with a syringe of jam which you use to inject the jam into the donuts yourself. I love this concept – its a bit different and allows you to interact with the food in a different sense, rather than just putting it in your mouth and eating it. The donuts itself were warm, delicious and had the right amount of sweetness topped with icing sugar. My only qualm would be that more jam was needed – perhaps two jam-filled syringes? =p The next dessert we tried was the Our Pineapple “Sundae” – Pineapple Carpaccio, Prosecco Jelly, Roasted and Glazed Pineapple, Pineapple Sorbet – it was all about the Pineapple. It came out in a martini glass that was covered with pineapple pieces on the outer edge and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The different ways that the pineapple had been encapsulated was interesting and it was quite a sweet tasting dessert. The other two desserts were the Strawberries + Cream Soufflé, White Chocolate Chips + Strawberry Sorbet + Raspberry Crisps and the dessert special of Orange Almond Sponge Cake with Creme Fraiche. Both of these desserts were exceptionally tasty as well. The souffle was warm and gooey and the sorbet oozed with the tangy and sweet strawberry flavour. The Orange Almond sponge cake was moist and full of the orange flavour, with the creme fraiche helping to smooth out the strong orange flavour.

Overall, the staff are friendly and always helpful – just a pity on the night it seemed quite hard to get their attention when we wanted to order a drink or something off the menu. The place is soothing, calming and generally all round cozy and serves up great Sicilian food with a modern twist.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – Main Menu – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/images/PDF/mister_bianco_menu.pdf. Dessert Menu – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/images/PDF/mister_bianco_desserts_drinks_menu.pdf
The generic link for the menu can be found at http://www.misterbianco.com.au/index.php/menu
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Comfortable, Cosy, Romantic – great for date night or celebrating that special occasion.
Standout Dish: Roasted Marron, Tarragon Butter
Service: Friendly, Welcoming and Knowledgeable. Just a note on the night that we went – there were about 3 waitresses – but it just seemed hard to get anyone’s attention at times if we did need something – but having said that they were really great in ensuring that our glasses were always topped up.
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.misterbianco.com.au/
285 High Street, Kew
Tel No:  9853 6929

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Wednesday – Friday: From 12:00pm
Dinner
Monday – Saturday:  From 6:00pm

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Annie Smithers Bistrot – Warm, Stylish Country Bistro

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N and I headed into Kyneton for lunch on a cold and rainy Sunday for lunch. Kyneton is located about an hour from Melbourne and is a quaint little country town. It is known for being a country town with good food with many establishments being recognised in the Age Good Food Guide, as well as having many cafes that have been listed in the Cheap Eats Guide. Kyneton has many bluestone buildings that are the main feature of the town that date back to the Gold Rush era, where Kyneton was a major supply town for diggings. For lunch we were going to Annie Smithers Bistrot and I was thoroughly looking forward to it.

Annie Smithers Bistrot is located in a historic bluestone building on Piper Street which now known as one of the most popular eating precincts in the state. Annie Smithers Bistro was recently bought by Tim Foster and his wife Michelle. Tim was the head chef at the Healesville Hotel in Yarra Valley. Annie Smithers herself will instead be focussing on her other restaurant – Du Fermier (located in Trentham, and a place I really want to try – it is next on my list!), her gardens as well as putting out a second book.

Annie Smithers instilled a farm to plate philosophy (which is also instilled at her Du Fermier restaurant) – which means that almost 90% of the produce supplied to the bistro is from the properties gardens and adjacent farmhouse. You can be sure that you are getting a fantastic meal with that type of philosophy. The venue itself is quite stunning – set in an old bluestone building with exposed brick on the inside coupled with high ceilings in both of its rooms and fitted out with modern wooden comfortable furniture. There are also beige leather cushion like seats along the walls. A huge arch shaped window in the main dining area allows lighting to stream in from the outside, further adding to the warmth and charm.

We were given our menus once seated at our table. On this Sunday the restaurant was not quite at full-house and there were three wait staff. One small glitch for the whole day was that it took me twice to gesture to someone for them to come over to give us water and take our orders. This tainted our experience a tad bit, however from then onwards it was smooth sailing. We placed our orders (we got an entree and a main each  – yep we were a bit hungry) and were given a choice between two house made breads – olive sourdough and normal sourdough. We both picked Olive Sourdough and it was delicious, fresh and warm! It also had the perfect crunch on the outside -yum!

For entrees there was Grilled Par Boned Quail, Braised Organic French Style Lentils, Istra Chorizo, Cauliflower Fitter, Holy Goat Fromage Frais, Chervil and the Twice Baked Mushroom and Taleggio Souffle, Mizuna, Nashi Pear & Walnut Salad, Walnut Oil. The Mushroom Souffle was beautifully presented and looked like a little nest amongst the leaves – which was made out of salad. The Mushroom Souffle with Taleggio was scumptious – from the mushrooms to the cheese paired together with the sweetness of the Nashi Pear and the texture and nuttiness of the walnuts – it was all fantastic. I haven’t eaten anything like this before, and feedback from other patrons was to the same tune – they all loved this dish. N enjoyed his quail dish as well, and said the mix of the cauliflower fritter and lentils together brought together some great flavours and textures to the perfectly cooked tender quail. The cheese added a smooth texture together with a tangy yoghurt taste.

Next up was mains – Ricotta & Herb Gnocchi, Australian Heirloom Pumpkin, Cavolo Nero, Truffled Pecorino, Crumbed Hen’s Egg, Herb & Fennel Salad and Brined and Grilled Loin, Baked Spartan Apple, Jerusalem Artichoke, Braised Cabbage, Fennel & Seeds, Cider Jus. With the mains you are given a side of vegetables which is the choice of the kitchen, we got Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Butter and Salt. Can I just start off by saying I am not a fan of Brussels Sprouts, but these were delicious – the flavours were simple and easy but tasted fantastic! I might just become a Brussels Sprouts convert. Both the main dishes once again came out beautifully presented as expected. The Ricotta & Herb Gnocchi was freshly made and was soft and squishy, with a semi-hardness to it on the outside – just what you would want in a gnocchi. They were off-shaped but that’s what added to the homeliness of the dish and had the perfect amount of herb seasoning. The Crumbed Hen’s Egg was in the middle of the dish and was a crumbed and crunchy. This is something of what you would expect on a brunch menu, but together with the gnocchi and the veggies it worked. The egg was gooey and runny on the inside and when you mixed it with the a piece of gnocchi, pumpkin, some fennel and cavolo nero and some gratings of truffled pecorino it was a delicious mix for your tastebuds. It should also be noted that is quite a filling dish!

Eventhough I was pretty full from the entrée and the main meals – of course I had to get something from the dessert menu (besides it was pouring with rain outside and it was cosy and warm at the bistro =p). I decided to get the Soft Centered Dark Chocolate Pudding, Honey Cream, Praline, Honeycomb & Hazelnut Ice Cream. The dish came out with the Chocolate Pudding, Ice Cream and Honey Cream in a glass to pour over the pudding. I knew from just looking at how good it would be! Before I could do anything I cut the Chocolate Pudding and let the warm chocolate ooze out, and ooze out it did! Perfect. The combination of the honey cream and the chocolate was delicious. Another highlight was the Honeycomb and Hazelnut Ice Cream. The Honeycomb was sugary, rich and crispy and together with the walnut and ice cream was so yum! Even N who doesn’t like sweet things much – ate most of the ice cream. You really do have to try it!

Another little sweetener is that you are offered a selection of their home made petit fours. On this day we had a selection of a Rose Meringue, White Chocolate Fudge and an Almond Biscoti (we got to sample all of them =p). They were bite sized portions of sweet heaven!

Annie Smithers Bistrot is a charming little place with some of the freshest and tastiest food I have had. The service is friendly and staff always have a smile on their face and will happily have a long conversation with you and answer any question. Annie Smithers is definitely worth the drive up to check the place out. The town itself is quite cute and you can definitely spend a whole day here.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – The menu tends to change daily – refer to http://www.anniesmithers.com.au/uploads/files/ASA%20Menu%20main%2023%20May%202013.pdf for the Lunch / Dinner Menu and http://www.anniesmithers.com.au/uploads/files/ASA%20Menu%20Dessert%2023%20May%202013.pdf for the Dessert Menu
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Cosy, Warm and Welcoming. Great for a day trip and for great food.
Standout Dish: Twice Baked Mushroom and Taleggio Souffle, Mizuna, Nashi Pear & Walnut Salad, Walnut Oil
Service: Fantastic, Friendly and Warm – always helpful and interactive
Online Booking: No, only phone reservations are taken – NOTE: To avoid disappointment, try to allow at least 3-4 weeks in advance as weekend services book out well in advance.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.anniesmithers.com.au/home
72 Piper St, Kyneton
Tel No: 03 5422 2039

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Friday to Sunday: 12pm – 4:00pm
Dinner
Thursday to Sunday: 6pm – 11pm

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Builders Arms Hotel – Restored Bistro & Bar

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My work friends and I were after a place for dinner on a Sunday night and decided on Builders Arms. It was one of the places on my list for a while now and luckily it was one of the places that was open on a Sunday night. Builders Arms is located on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy and is housed in a landmark public house, which has been restored and renewed. The team behind this is Andrew McConnell (Cumulus Inc, Cutler & Co), business partner Anthony Hammond and chef Josh Murphy they have turned this place into not so ordinary pub.

The team has mostly left the Builders Arms unchanged, but the addition of wooden floors and white interior is reminiscent of McConnell’s other places like Cumulus. It is somewhat a modernized classy pub. The dining room in the heart of the Builders Arms Hotel is called Moon Under Water, and is a place that I want to come back and try. The name comes from George Orwell’s essay. Moon Under water provides a degustation menu of 4 courses and you can book dinner from Wednesday through to Sunday, as well lunch on Sundays.

As you walk in through the entrance, you are greeted by the pub, where there are high tables that you can sit at. If you keep walking through into the next section there is a smooth transition into the bistro area which is where we were seated for dinner. The night that we were there, Grossi Florentino himself was seated at the table next to us. The tables are wooden and comfortable and really do set the scene from an old school movie with modern touches of leather and white crockery. We are given the menu and decide on some entrees and what we want for our mains. Two of us order the Olive Toast, Oritz anchovy, pepper and I share the Chickpea salad, Marinated Carrot, Green Chilli and Shanklish with H. The Olive Toast was crunchy and flavoursome with the olive tapenade being the hero of the dish. The Chickpea Salad I think was the dish of the night for me – I loved all the flavours and textures that were presented. The marinated carrot with the chickpeas was a great combination and there was just the right amount of tang and the pleasant surprise of almonds. A definite must try dish!

For mains I was struggling to decide between the Fish Pie and the Roast Snapper. I went for the Roast Snapper, Lemon Suace and Fennel in the end, as I didn’t really feel like smoked trout which was in the Fish Pie. The Roast Snapper was a great dish and the lemon sauce was a delicious. The texture of the fish was perfect and it was grilled to just the right amount. The zucchini that was under the fish added the extra flavour. Initially I thought the serving was a tad bit small, however by the end of the dish I was quite full. For any fish lovers out there – I am sure you would enjoy this dish. H had the Fish Pie and he allowed me to try it. This dish came highly recommended by our waitress and rightly so – the pastry on the pie was out of this world – it was perfectly made and tasted buttery and magnificent! I could sit there eating this pastry all day. I don’t have a picture of what was inside, however it had Smoked Trout, Prawns, Rockling, Sorrel – all these were baked in a creamy sauce and the addition of each individual flavouring from the prawns, trout and sorrell made for a great dish. C had Steak Tartare with Traditional Condiments and said it was fresh but he has had better Steak Tartare’s before. V had the Pork Schitznel, Shredded Cabbage and Bulldog Sauce and said the dish was not bad, but her pork had lots of fat in it, so it made it a bit hard to eat the dish.

Next up was dessert – and when looking at the menu nothing really grabbed me. I was interested in trying out the Strawberry Cream, Rhubarb, Shortbread and Lemon and as L was getting it, decided to try some of his. C got two homemade scoops of ice-cream. The dessert was nice but not something that I could really rave on about. I liked the mix of strawberry and rhubarb with the crunch of the shortbread. The shortbread was quite tasty.You should also note that there is a Rotisserie Royal menu with a different type of meat being cooked each day of the week. Something that no other restaurant in Melbourne has.

Overall, dinner at the Builders Arms Hotel was pretty good especially for a chilled out Sunday dinner – it was the perfect atmosphere – casual, homely yet stylish. Builders Arms is the kind of place that people would frequent quite often for homely and delicious dishes, as well as for a casual drink with mates. Builders Arms is a great casual bistro in a great location.

NOTE:Builders Arms Hotel is also available for private functions and events which are held in the upstairs Private Dining Room

Rating :
3 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – A la Carte – refer to http://www.buildersarmshotel.com.au/bar-bistro/menu/. Each night there is a different Rotisserie Royal Menu (can also be found on the above link). There is also an over the counter menu – http://www.buildersarmshotel.com.au/bar-bistro/over-the-counter/
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience:
Standout Dish: Chickpea salad, Marinated Carrot, Green Chilli and Shanklish
Service: Friendly
Online Booking: No- you will need to call up
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.buildersarmshotel.com.au/
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Tel No: 9417 7700

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 12pm to 10pm
Saturday & Sunday: 11:00am to 10pm
NOTE: The Bar is open from noon till midnight every night, except Friday & Saturday till 1am

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Union Dining – True Melbourne Style

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Union Dining is a joint venture between Adam Cash (Cutler and Co) and Nicky Riemer (ex-Melbourne Wine Room) and provides an European feel similiar to that of a trattoria or bistro. It is located in the old heritage-listed Union in Richmond, which used to be a Greek Restaurant, and has been re-styled and fitted to slot perfectly into the true Melbournian style.

The restaurant has a contemporary feel to it, and is divided in two different sections – a small front bar and a larger dining room. There are lots of timber finishes from the tables to the surrounding furnishings as well as low lighting and the warm brown and caramels tones laced with green and white to create a rustic ambience, with an European bistro vibe. There is also an upstairs dining area which opens out into a terrace area – which is for casual drinks or can also be booked for private functions. Refer to their website for more details – http://www.uniondining.com.au/terrace/

My friend and I went to Union Dining for dinner, and were seated in the front part of the dining area. From the streets, you don’t expect this restaurant to be quite so big. We are seated at our table and promptly given our menus and water for the table, followed by bread. The menu is described as provincial European and features some Italian dishes with some French influences or vice versa. The menu is structured around starters, entrees, mains, cheeses and desserts  – most of these dishes can be shared. Looking at the menu, its hard to decide what you want – you want to try it all! I decided to go for all three courses (the glutton that I am =p). To start with we ordered the Oysters Rockefeller which come covered with spinach, chives, watercress and baked golden brown with breadcrumbs. My friends oysters had the addition of pancetta, mine didn’t. These oysters were simply divine and a definite must try when you come to eat here.

My first dish was the Risotto of spanner crab, asparagus & red chilli in an entree size. Eventhough, this dish was an entree size it was a very generous serving and almost looked like what would be classified as a main in other restaurants. The risotto had a generous amount of spanner crab and the flavours I found surprisingly worked well together. The hint of chilli added finished the dish perfectly. My friend had the Roasted zucchini & black quinoa salad, whipped goat curd, raisins in verjuice, red witlof in a main size serving. The added figs were a welcome addition and added that little bit of sweetness to go with the other flavours and elements. My main was a fish dish which was covered in the same golden brown breadcrumbs and surrounded by a thick green herb flavoured sauce. This dish was refreshing and the fish was delicious and once again, it was a very generous serving. For dessert I had a white chocolate cake with cream and topped with strawberries. This wasn’t my favourite dish of the night, and I was a little disappointed. The combination of white chocolate, cream and strawberries sounded fantastic and it fell a bit short of that. I think I have to come back and try out the chocolate tart or the trifle.

Overall, I enjoyed dining at Union Dining and would definitely come back to try out the rest of the tempting menu. The staff were friendly, informed and cheery and the atmosphere was vibrant yet homely. I am very interested to see what the terrace would be like on a nice summers’ day.

Rating : 3 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – A la Carte Menu – can be found at http://www.uniondining.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/Spring-Mains-Dessert-11.10.12.pdf and Sunday Menu – can be found at http://www.uniondining.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/Sunday-11.11.12.pdf
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Classy – a room with a view of Melbourne from 55 floors up
Standout Dish: Roasted zucchini & black quinoa salad, whipped goat curd, raisins in verjuice, red witlof
Service: Friendly, informative and cheery
Online Booking: No. Bookings are highly recommended.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.uniondining.com.au/
270 Swan St, Richmond
Tel No: 9428 2988

Opening Hours:
Lunch:
Friday to Sunday: 12pm onwards
Dinner:
Tuesday to Sunday: 6pm onwards
CLOSED MONDAYS

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