Hercules Morse Kitchen and Bar – Intimate, Relaxed and Great Food!

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Cocktail List:
Cocktail List at Hercules Morse Kitchen and Ba      More Drinks at Hercules Morse Kitchen and Ba

It was time for another catchup with A and this time my venue selection was at Hercules Morse Kitchen & Bar which is located in South Melbourne. Hercules Morse is the fantastic new venue by Kelly and Ash Cooke, which has been renovated from an old curry serving venue into a stylish and funky one. The name comes from children’s author Lynley Dodd’s series – Hairy Maclary and is the name of an English Mastiff (dog) in the books.

The central focal point is the bar and kitchen which is colourful striped feature. Depending on what you feel like there are high tables with bar stools located at the front and through the walkway of the venue, leading through to a comfortable and cosy back room which houses lower tables and cushion seats. There is also a tree mural and a fireplace to further add warmth. The tables are wooden and the chairs are black which tied in with the black and white circled plates (which I love!). There really was a great first impression!

The menu is created by Brad Cooke (formerly of Chin Chin) and combines a variety of ingredients in a style that is not seen in many places in Melbourne and has a modern twist to the Britannia era. The menu is split into three sections – Snack, Graze and Indulge. The menu is designed to share we are told by the friendly and helpful waiter. Reading the menu you almost want to sample each and every dish. Snacks consists from House Spiced Nuts to Oysters to Fish Fingers and their famous Morse Chip Butty (more on this dish later). Graze dishes are more of your larger dishes and consist of all your main proteins – such as beef, chicken, snapper, scallops, steak tartare and a vegetartian option of warmed barley and mushroom salad – which is a risotto dish. Indulge consists of 4 different desserts – 2 of which are cheese options.

We decided to get one Snack dish and one Graze dish each and share the Warmed Barley and Mushroom Risotto with Enoki and Melted Taleggio dish. A chose the Morse Chip Butty (she loves anything roasted in duck fat – I guess most people do!) as well as the Beef Cigars. I selected the Cheese and Cauliflower Balls as well as the Crispy Skin Snapper. We were seated on bar stools on the high tables near the kitchen so could see into the kitchen as our dishes were being prepared. Our first dish was the Cauliflower and Cheese Balls with Lemon, Rosemary Salt and a Dijon Dipping Mayo. I really loved the combination of the cauliflower and cheese – and I have never seen it done before. The addition of the rosemary salt mixed with the Dijon dipping mayo complemented the dish perfectly.

There was a crisp crunchy coating on the outside with the gooey yuminess on the inside – it really was a great dish! A had the Morse Chip Butty – Roasted Duck Fat Potatoes in a Truffle Buttered Roll and she loved it! It really is a pity I couldn’t try it. It came out in the form of a mini hamburger that was really tall. The potatoes looked crispy and perfectly coloured. For anyone that loves duck fat, potatoes or mini burgers this is a dish for you!

Next up were the larger Graze dishes. The Slow Braised Beef Cheek Cigars and Salsa Verde was visually stunning and vibrant dish and had a taste to match. Once again there was the perfect crispness on the outside to compete with the richness of the beef which paired perfectly with the salsa verde. The Crispy Skin Snapper, Prawn Brandade, Buttered Asparagus and Roquette Pesto was another Graze dish. The snapper was cooked just right with the crispness of the skin added not only texture but additional flavour to the dish. The pesto and asparagus was a great addition to the dish and together every aspect of this dish worked well. I really liked how the snapper was seasoned – so much that you could eat it on its own. A winner of a dish. The last Graze dish was the Warmed Barley and Mushroom Salad with Enoki and Melted Taleggio – which to me was one of their healthier dishes thanks to the barley. Even though the menu calls it a salad it really equated to a mushroom risotto. The barley was cooked well and the Taleggio melted on top added an extra depth to the dish. Yum!

We were both pretty full by this stage but who can say no to dessert right? So we decided to share and A let me decide which dessert to pick – I picked the Deconstructed Apple Pie – Tarte Tatin Apples, Pecan and Cheddar Crumble. This dessert was interesting – as you would expect in an apple pie you have apples and the addition of the pecan was a nice extra – but what threw me was the cheddar crumble. I must admit I wasn’t a big fan of the cheddar crumble and the harshness of this didn’t quite mix so well with me. However hats off for creating a very different apple pie!

There is quite a variety in terms of drinks at Hercules Morse and there are 2 pages of cocktails available as well! They are interestingly named such as XXX Expresso which provides a caffeine hit as well as drinks like Fields of Lavender and Goodie Goodie Gum Drop. Refer to the pictures for what is in each of these drinks.

Hercules Morse is relaxed and intimate restaurant/bar that is great for many occasions – from date night to a casual catch-up with friends. The wait staff are friendly and very helpful in assisting you in dishes and are really knowledgeable about each dish on the menu. It has a great menu which covers a variety of dishes and a fantastic drink menu to match – all in the funky suburb of South Melbourne.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Refer to http://www.herculesmorse.com.au/files/HM_MENU_2012.pdf for Food Menu. Refer to picture above for Cocktail List.
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Intimate, Cosy and Welcoming. Great for all occasions – from date night to a catch-up with friends or even a celebration!
Standout Dish: Crispy Skin Snapper, Prawn Brandade, Buttered Asparagus and Roquette Pesto AND Morse Chip Butty – Roasted Duck Fat Potatoes in a Truffle Buttered Roll
Service: Friendly, Knowledgeable and Helpful
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.herculesmorse.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.herculesmorse.com.au/
282 Clarendon St, South Melbourne
Tel No: 9690 9402

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Saturday to Sunday: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm

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Casa Ciuccio – Great for Sharing Dishes

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Casa Ciuccio has been on my list of places to eat for a fair while now and we finally got to check it out for Dinner on a Saturday night. There were four of us and we had made a booking for the earlier sitting of 6pm (and the table was needed back by 8:30pm). N and I arrived before the other two, and as we walked in we thought it was a lovely, quaint place that had a rustic, charming and homely feel.

Casa Ciuccio is the latest restaurant from the Bar Lourinha (CBD) team – Jo Gamvros, Simon Benjamin and chef Matt McConnell (brother of Andrew McConnell of Cumulus Inc, Golden Fields etc)- which is located on the trendy Gertrude Street. Ciuccio means cheeky Neapolitan donkey and there is evidence of donkeys around the place such as behind the bar on shelves alongside a burnt red brick wall.  There are various dining spaces which consists of a front room ‘picar’ bar, a first floor private dining (which can seat up to 22 people) which adjoins ‘Bar Chooch’ and deck and is completed with a European-style courtyard. At the front room you can sit at tables or high stools or head into the ‘kitchen table’ where you can watch the chefs cook right in front of you.

The menu is Mediterranean-inspired (flavors of Spain and Portugal) and consists of share plates (raciones) and small snacks (para picar), has a great drink menu and larger dishes from the grill and coal pit. All the meats from the coal pit are cooked long and slow over coal (for between three and six hours) and fruitwood and served with potatoes and condiments to create a smokey flavour. Sounds tempting right? There is also a selection of vegetables to choose from. The menu is designed to share dishes thereby being able to try many dishes which is the best possible scenario.

There was four of us for dinner and we decided to get a dish from each section. We got the Yellowfin Tuna from the Para Picar section, the Ocean Trout from the Racione, the Octopus tentacle and Garfish from the Grill and the Wagyu Brisket from the Coal Pit. The Yellowfin Tuna came in three chunky pieces of tuna atop of a piece of potato and was delicious. The tuna was cooked perfectly and had a great rustic flavour and texture. Next up was the Ocean Trout which was served cold served with a lime dressing and had added tanginess with the gherkins. The trout was fresh and quite tasty.

The octopus tentacle was next and is quite impressive when it comes out – served on a plate with a wedge of lemon. The octopus is seasoned with lemon juice, oregano and garlic and is steamed and is a paler shade of tandoori red. It comes chargrilled and when we cut into the tentacle it is soft, tender and has a punch of spiciness to it. It definitely was the dish of the night and is a must try for anyone coming to try the food here. You really could eat it all night long.

The garfish dish was quite generous in serving size and came with two whole garfish on the plate draped in pieces of pomegranate. Pomegranate is one of my favourite fruits and it added a nice tang and sweetness to the dish. The only issue with garfish are the tiny tiny bones that make it hard to eat. The garfish was cooked just right and was juicy and flavorsome.

Next up was the Portuguese Goat and Rice and the Peppered Wagyu Brisket and Potatoes from the Grill. The Portuguese Goat and Rice was similar to a Paella and everyone around the table thoroughly enjoyed it, but would have liked more pieces of goat. The other three said the goat was tender and the flavours mixed with the rice, tomato was fantastic. The Wagyu Brisket was tender and the smokey flavours added depth to the perfectly cooked dish.

Eventhough we were all quite full from the dinner meals there was no way we were going to refuse dessert. We decided on ordering two desserts and sharing them between ourselves. We got the Chocolate Buneuelos and Hazelnut Sauce and Dulce de Leche Cream Pot and Peanut Praline. I didn’t know what a Buneuelo was – it is like a chocolate filled donut and together with the hazelnut sauce was quite delicious. The Buneuelos pastry was soft and tasted like a delicious cake and had icing sugar over the top. The best dessert however was the second one we had ordered – the Dulce de Leche Cream Pot. It was smooth and creamy and the peanut praline on the top added the texture of the crunch together with the caramelized sugar. If you have to pick one dessert to try – pick the Cream Pot! The caramelized sugar was made perfectly and looked like glass which I think is the best way to judge a good caramelization.

The staff at Casa Ciuccio were friendly and upbeat and have a wealth of knowledge in terms of the drinks on the menu and the food. Our waitress was very helpful in suggesting what dishes we wanted and if we had ordered enough. There is nothing better than having these qualities in your staff. Casa Ciuccio is a great place to experience some European dining that has a homely and rustic feel to it.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Donkey Express Lunch Menu – There are two menu’s to select from and costs $35 for 2 courses and a glass of wine – http://www.casaciuccio.com.au/pdf/Casa-Ciuccio-donkey-express.pdf
Dinner Menu – http://www.casaciuccio.com.au/pdf/Casa-Ciuccio-menu.pdf
Private Dining Menu – You can select from the $65, $75 or $85 menus – http://www.casaciuccio.com.au/pdf/Casa-Ciuccio_Private-dining-menus.pdf (You will need to make a reservation for private dining)
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Homely and Rustic – classically European
Standout Dish: Octopus Tentacle
Service: Fantastic and Attentive and very helpful!
Online Booking:No, You will need to call up. They take reservations for Groups of 4 or more
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.casaciuccio.com.au/
15 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Tel No: 848 88150

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 12pm to 11pm
Friday: 12pm to 1am
Saturday: 12pm to 12am
Closed Sundays

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