Pana Chocolate – Raw, Healthy, Handmade & Guilt-free!

panda 5 rating

Pana Chocolate was founded by Pana Barbounis – who is passionate about raw and slow-cooked food – and following on from the success of his 45 gram raw, vegan chocolate bars has opened his first standalone raw-dessert shop.

Pana Chocolate is a wonderful addition to the Church Street, Richmond area and serves up healthy handmade raw, delicious tasting and looking desserts, as well interestingly flavoured chocolate bars. Pana Chocolate uses natural, vegan and organic ingredients like cacao, nuts, coconut and 100% pure essential oils to create wonderful and unique flavour combinations – which include Fig + Wild Orange, Sour Cherry + Vanilla, Rose and Mint just to name a few.

Prepare to be overwhelmed with the number of selections here which leaves you wanting to try out one of each. As mentioned before no desserts are made or sweetened with sugar but are all natural and made from plant-based, organic ingredients sourced from all around the world. Cacao beans come from the Amazon, Coconut Oil has been cold pressed in the Philippines,  Dark Agave Nectar comes from Mexico, Cinnamon is organic and certified from Sri Lanka (where I am from!!), Cacao Butter is organic, cold pressed and fair trade from Peru and organic carob comes from Spain.

The space is simple and clean – with most of its offerings for takeaway patrons – however if you did want to eat in there is a row of seats available by the window looking out onto Church street. I love the décor of Pana Chocolate – there is an entire wall that is covered with clipboards that have cute, inspirational quotes and sayings on them. This adds color, brightness and wow factor in such an easy and simple manner. Such an awesome idea – Love it!

There are 10 different types of chocolate bars to choose from– Eighty (80 % Cacao), Raw Cacao, Orange, Coconut + Goji, Fig + Wild Orange, Rose, Sour Cherry +Vanilla, Cinnamon, Nuts and Mint. All chocolates are low in GI, have no dairy or soy, are Gluten Free and are handmade. In fact they are all handmade in a small scale kitchen located at the back of the shop. A major difference with these chocolates is that you can envision and see the love and care that has been placed into each bar of chocolate or dessert for that matter – down to the packaging and wrapping of each individual piece – it has been done by hand and provides a human connection.

I have tried the Sour Cherry + Vanilla, as well as the Fig + Wild Orange flavours. Between those two the Sour Cherry + Vanilla would have to be my favourite – the chocolate is smooth, silky and not overly rich and literally melts in your mouth – with the sour cherry adding a great tangy sensation that glides over your tastebuds. The Fig + Wild Orange was also great – the combination works brilliantly together and if you are into the citrus flavours this would be one for you to try.

The piece of resistance at Pana Chocolate is the cabinet of goodies. The first row is full of their raw cheesecake / desserts of the day which are in a slice format, that can range from Raspberry Ripe (their version of a Cherry Ripe), Chocolate Strawberry & Rose, Spiced Apple, Blueberry & Ganache, Banana & Chocolate – these range from $6.50 to $8.50.
Their second row has smaller bite sized treats such as Lamingtons, Lemon Slice (this is new!), Pana Pop (more on this later), Brownie, Vespa Wheel (their version of a Wagon Wheel – complete with a buckwheat wafer biscuit and a soft coconut marshmallow centre encased in a gooey raspberry chia jam and dipped in cacao) and Fudge just to name a few – these range from $3.50 to $5.50.
The third row is full of individual raw chocolates like hazelnut mousse, coconut barrels and truffles – in flavours such as Coconut & Mint Cream, Rose & Pistachio, Hazelnut Praline, Sneakers (yep spelt like this), Lavender & Macqui, Mango & Salted Caramel and Coconut Barrel – there are more flavours in store!
At the very bottom of the cabinet are their chocolate bars in all the 10 flavours mentioned above for sale ($6.50).
There are also other healthy goodies for sale – from coconut water, coconut + cacao balls to their very own hot chocolate sealed with the pana heart of approval.

After marvelling at the cabinet of goodies and spending a good 5 minutes oohing and aahing I decided to ask the friendly staff member of what she thought would be good try out and settled on the Pana Pop as well as the Fresh Mint & Raspberry slice.

The Pana Pop – was a white chocolate cheesecake with a berry centre coated in delicious cacao – represented a mini Magnum. From the very first bite you could tell this would be a memorable treat – the soft textured coating coupled with the creamy white chocolate cheesecake and zing from the berries worked perfectly together. You could almost eat the entire Pana Pop in one mouthful – but I would advise against this and instead treasure every mouthful; or you could just order another Pana Pop!

The Fresh Mint & Raspberry slice was another winner. There were three distinct layers – the bottom layer being a combination of cashew and brazil nuts, the centre layer being the mint and the top layer representing raspberry. The consistency of all layers was dense yet smooth – with the perfect level of sweetness across all three layers. I couldn’t really taste the mint flavour that strongly – although the strip of green at the very top held quite the minty flavour. I love the use of the fresh raspberries through the raspberry layer which not only added texture but extra flavour. The base was wholesome and added further texture and flavour bringing the whole slice together.

I enjoyed my time thoroughly at Pana Chocolate – I actually perched myself in a corner seat by the window and enjoyed these treats whilst working away on my laptop. On my way out I ordered a lamington to take away (as I had been told by a friend that these were simply superb!) which was packed away in a takeaway bag and sealed with a massive heart sticker – the Pana symbol – which I thought was really cute.

Whether you are into healthy eating, have certain dietary requirements or not – Pana Chocolate is definitely a place to check out. It produces great tasting chocolate that have been lovingly prepared using quality ingredients for anyone and everyone to enjoy.

Rating : 5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – The dessert menu changes daily but no doubt whatever dessert treat you get it will be delicious!
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Simple, Cosy and Enticing
Standout Dish: Pana Pop
Service: Very very friendly and helpful (especially when you are overwhelmed with choice and don’t know what you want)
Restaurant Details and Location:
panachocolate.com
491 Church St, Richmond

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 4:00pm

Pana Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/panachocolate
Twitter: @pana_chocolate
Instgram:pana_chocolate

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Mister Jennings – Come & Meet the Great New Guy in Richmond

panda 4.5 rating

Menu:
Mister Jennings Menu Mister Jennings Dessert Menu

Mister Jennings is a newly opened restaurant located in Bridge Road in Richmond by owner and head chef Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty has previously worked at The Fat Duck (UK) and El Bulli (Spain), returning home to build up institution The Estelle (Northcote) before leaving last November. Fast forward to 2014 and Mister Jennings is Flaherty is his first solo project and he has enlisted the help of sous chef Jack Ingram in the kitchen, Malcolm Singh (Pei Modern) as restaurant manager and sommelier Lincoln Riley to create the spectacular wine list.

Mister Jennings – named after his favourite childhood author: Paul Jennings as well as his favourite school teacher – can seat 36 guests and additionally has a private dining room that can seat 16.
The venue itself has a Swedish minimalist feel to it complete with ash blonde tables together with key blue feature items on display in the form of wooden posable artists’ drawing models that cling to various places around the restaurant in cheeky positions, navy plumbing pipes, shelving and light blue plates on top of the tables. You can tell that during the day the space will be drenched with lots of natural light and would create a light and airy feeling. Two things I love – the random addition of a blue chair amongst the ash blonde chairs and the wooden bar above the main strip of seating that creates a trapeze like effect for the wooden posable models. Another feature highlight is the spectacular artwork by Mike Pelletier which features a man that looks like he has been carved out of gold.

The bar is visual spectacle complete with hexagonal mirror panels set against a navy blue backdrop in a honeycomb pattern, finished with stunning looking stools that have an ash coloured wooden top with dark metal rods forming the base (which were designed by local designer Lauren Garner).

The menu reads like one of experience and ingenuity- dish after dish of interesting and clever combinations, surprises and innovations. Essentially split into four sections – Starters, Entrees, Mains and Desserts – Mister Jennings wants you to be able to pick and choose what type of meal you want to have – be it drinks and snacks or a hearty meal of steak and chips. There is also the option to order the 5 course tasting menu ($80) if you want the chef to pick for you.
The Starters include dishes such as Oysters (there are two varieties to choose from – Coffin Bay or Cloudy Bay), Fuet Anis (which I learnt was a type of Salami) as well as the highly popular and known dish Boudin Blanc/Dagwood Dog.
The Entrée section is where the star dish from Mister Jennings can be found – Frozen Kangaroo, Wasabi, Nashi. Other dishes include Smoked Eel Parfait, Bread & Beets, Ocean Trout, Barley & capers, Foie, Rhubarb & Caraway Streusel.
The Mains include a Pasta dish, a Pork dish, a Duck dish, two selections of Fish dishes (Whole Baby Barramundi or Whole Sand Flathead) as well as two options of Sirloin (250g or 350g).
Dessert presents five options including a Cheese option – all of which sound extremely enticing.

We had organised one of our usual work catch-up dinners and had a booking for 8pm. Unfortunately due to a crazy busy work period going on I only arrived around 9:45pm – so I missed out on the “entrees” that the table had ordered.
They had ordered the Boudin Blanc/Dagwood Dog – a battered and deep fried boudin blanc (a white sausage made of pork liver and heart meat with pork rice dressing) served with homemade tomato ketchup with smoked paprika.

The Frozen Kangaroo, Wasabi, Nashi was another dish they had ordered. This dish is all about the mastery and ingeniousness – thinly sliced peppery kangaroo carpaccio is served frozen and only defrosts in the warmth of your mouth. It is served with Nashi pear, pickled onions, red wine, veal jelly together with an avocado and wasabi puree – creating hot and cold accents around your palate. My friends were left a little underwhelmed with this dish but did enjoy certain aspects of it.

The Leeks, Brown Butter Bechamel dish was also ordered. The roasted leek is hidden amongst the béchamel sauce which has the extra added flavouring of brown butter and topped with olives, parmesan and breadcrumbs. V said she really enjoyed this dish and the flavour combinations.

The last dish they ordered was the Snapper, Warrigal Greens, Tendons – the pan-seared snapper fillet sits at the base of the dish, amongst a soup of jus and covered with warrigal greens and finished with beef tendons that are reminiscent of a prawn cracker – as it has the same crispy coating and texture.

When I arrived the waitress we had was very helpful and talked me through the menu as well as answering any questions that I had. She even gave me suggestions as to what dishes she would recommend. As I was starving I ordered both an entrée and a main – she was nice enough to get me the entrée in quick time to ensure that my main came out at the same time everyone else at the table did. Love the service!

For the Entrée I ordered the Crab, Salmorejo, Chilli, Black Pepper to start. When the dish appears you can’t help but utter “oohs” and “ahhs”. There is vibrant orange colour of the Salmorejo that your eyes are immediately drawn to with a fresh green leaf placed delicately on top. Under this leafy green is the hidden mound of crab goodness. The crab was fresh mixed with celery and a mayonnaise type sauce. The Salmorejo was a brilliant mix of pepper, tomato and creaminess and together with the crab was one delicious dish. A must try.
For my main I ordered the Cavatelli, Pumpkin, Goats Cheese on recommendation from our friendly waitress – and am I glad she did. I had asked her what Cavatelli was and she replied with the perfect description – “If gnocchi and a tortellini had a baby – cavatelli is what you would get” – and she was entirely correct. The flavours of this dish were simply divine – the creamy pumpkin sauce with a hint of spice coupled with the silky goats cheese and the crunchy texture of the pine nuts. The cavatelli was not entirely soft but added the perfect addition to the smoothness of the other ingredients. This was my first cavatelli experience and boy was it an enjoyable one!

C ordered the Pork, Lime Pickle, Silverbeet dish. When the dish arrives you are greeted with a shroud of fresh green silverbeet and the anticipation builds up of what is underneath. Once you peek under you are greeted first by the bright orange baby carrots which sit atop of the pork. The nettle puree acts as the base together with the lime pickle. C got thru his dish in a ridiculous amount of time – clearly enjoying the dish A LOT!

V ordered the Whole Baby Barramundi, Lemon Parsley and H the Whole Sand Flathead, Caper Beurre Noisette. Both dishes were simply presented – allowing the fish and their flavours to speak for themselves. The fish was placed on the plate alongside half a lemon and topped with parsley and capers respectively. They both enjoyed the freshness and simplicity of the flavours which allowed the natural fish flavours to shine.

L ordered the Duck, Satay, Turnips. Once again the element of surprise was used in the plating up of this dish – with thin slices of turnip topped with peanuts, providing cover for the duck that was shielded underneath, sitting in a satay flavoured sauce. L thought this dish was average – and found that the overall flavouring of the dish somewhat masked the flavours of the duck.

A few of us still had room for dessert. I ordered the Jaggery Cake, Apricots, Double Cream. The dish came out looking nothing like what I had imagined. My first thoughts was that it looked like something I would find at the beach – sea sponge with green dustings of seaweed. However once you start eating this dessert your mind will be blown –the jaggery cake is crunchy and fluffy billows of sponge made with prune sugar, topped with cream. But wait there’s more – semi dried apricots appear hidden underneath added additional sweetness and tang to the dish. A unique dessert that you definitely won’t find anywhere else.

C ordered the Chocolate, Cardamon, Crunch – which was described to us “Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate” – and that is exactly what it was. The dessert is presented to you and then followed by rich chocolate sauce being drizzled out of a copper pot. There are bursts of citrus through the chocolate biscuit and creamy yet light chocolate moussed with a mix of hot and cold sensations – pure awesomeness!

The staff are superb – friendly and very helpful – they make the running of a restaurant despite the crowds look easy. The menu is a mix of adventurous and simple dishes – both of which are simply done well. The look and feel of the place is cheeky whilst maintaining a welcoming and relaxed vibe. Mister Jennings is definitely a place that I would recommend to anyone looking for a great food and flavour journey – and one that I will be returning to!

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – Refer to picture
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience:
Standout Dish: Cavatelli, Pumpkin, Goats Cheese
Service: Fantastic! Super friendly, helpful and knowledgeable as well as being relaxed, warm and welcoming.
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
www.misterjennings.com.au
142 Bridge Road, Richmond
Tel No: 9078 0113

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Thursday: 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Mister Jennings on Urbanspoon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MisterJenningsRichmond
Twitter: @_MisterJennings
Instagram:_misterjennings

Dig A Pony – Uniquely Delicious

panda 4 rating

Menu:
Dig A Pony Menu Dessert Menu    halal (1)** ONLY DUCK IS HALAL**

We (there were four of us) had just visited a friend in the Williamstown area and needed to find a place to have early dinner. After a bit of googling dinner places around the area, we stumbled on Dig A Pony. A quick phone call and we found out that they wouldn’t be open for another 30 minutes, but that would be about the time we would take to drive there.

We arrived about 15 minutes before their opening time however since they knew we were coming they saw us hovering around the outside and let us come in early – which was nice of them.

Dig A Pony was opened by owners Mike and Hannah Bacarella in 2009, to create a place that they would enjoy – a place that was welcoming and relaxed to enjoy good food, wine, music with great friends. The name Dig A Pony is inspired by the name of a classic song by The Beatles which was features on their final album “Let It Be” – and was known as a whimsical and eclectic song – which is the vibe that this restaurant and bar is going for.

From the outside Dig A Pony looks like your normal corner bluestone pub, but once you step inside you are greeted with wooden tables, creative lamps and lighting along with a variety of seating – from leather lounges to antique chairs as well as bar stools and armchairs – there is bound to be a seating arrangement that you enjoy. During daylight hours the natural light is let in through the many windows, however once night time hits the only lighting is from the light shades and few down lights around the venue – it can get a tad dark.

The menu initially was based around Mediterranean Tapas with authentic recipes hailing from Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco and France – keeping firm the concept of food designed to be shared and enjoyed by all at the table. Enter in Mark Briggs (Vue de Monde, Sharing House) who added his touch of elegance and fine dining background to create an exciting menu that consists of delicious snacks, enticing small dishes as well some spectacular combinations for its larger plates. The concept of sharing, enjoying and having a bit of fun still remains.

The menu starts off with eight “Small Bites” – consisting of Oysters, Croquettes (Mac and Cheese) – how awesome do these sound! – just to name a few. Next on the menu are “Small Plates” (you can select from a selection of nine dishes – these include the likes of Mushroom Cannelloni (with Parmesan Mousse & Mushroom Ketchup), Moules Mariniere (Mussels in White Wine, Garlic & Cream), Chicken Kiev (with Crispy Kale & Broccoli), Tartare (Classic Beef with Egg Yolk Puree & ‘Chips’). There is only a selection of three “Larger Plates” to choose from – Duck, Goat or Wagyu Brisket. There are “Vegetables and Salads” to choose from as well as a “Charcuterie” section. If you find yourself not wanting to decide dishes on your own there are two Chef’s Selection Menu’s available – Five Plates ($45 per person) or Eight Plates ($55 per person).

Their drinks menu is quite extensive – consisting of wines, international and local boutique craft beers, spirits as well as a selection of intriguing cocktails. They also have unique combinations such as beer and whisky for those wanting a drink with a difference. In fact I think if you ask – you can mix just about any drink! I ordered a mocktail – which had flavours of Apple, Mint and Tang – a combination that quite refreshing on the palate.

There were two of us who had dietary requirements in the form of Dairy Free and Gluten Free and out waiter was very helpful in identifying which dishes could be consumed to suit. I also thought I would try my luck and ask if any of the meat or chicken was Halal – he found out that the Duck was – so of course we had to order it.

There were four of us at dinner so we decided to order a few dishes from each section.
We ordered three dishes from the Small Bites section. The first dish was the Cornetto – Ocean Trout & Granny Smith Apple – which came out looking as the menu read – in a cone shape sitting upright on a wire rack. Inside the cornetto cone was the mix of fresh ocean trout mixed with granny smith apple, capers and lime. I loved the mix of the crunchy cone together with the softness of the trout. The trout itself mixed with the apple was a brilliant combination – a hit of flavours for your tastebuds and a must try dish.

The next dish we received was the Cauliflower Popcorn with Roast Garlic Aioli – which comes served in a jar with the aioli placed on top. The cauliflower was crumbed and fried to create the popcorn effect and was seasoned well. The roast garlic aioli complimented the cauliflower well and tied the whole dish together. My only comment about the dish is to have the aioli in a separate little dish to make it easier for dipping purposes. The way it was with the aioli on top, when you got towards the middle or near the bottom of the jar you had run out of the aioli.

The last dish from the Small Bites section was the Buffalo Wings with Ranch Dressing. I didn’t try this dish; however I did try the Ranch Dressing which was absolutely divine – tangy with a kick of heat of it. Everyone around the table thoroughly enjoyed this dish as well and especially enjoyed the hint of chilli at the end.

From the Small Plates menu section we ordered the Confit Salmon with Clams and Savoy Cabbage and Scallops with Caramelized Cauliflower Puree & Sour Raisins.
The Confit Salmon usually comes with Pancetta, however we ordered this dish sans Panchetta. The dish was plated beautifully with flavours to match. The salmon had great texture and colouring and was cooked perfectly. The clams for me were the hero of this dish – delectable. Each of the elements brought a different flavour and depth to the dish – from the savoy cabbage laced in dressing to the pumpkin puree and finally the fried onions. A great tasting dish.
The Scallop dish was another good dish – the scallops were seared perfectly, the cauliflower puree worked brilliantly with the other elements on the dish and the raisins provided sweetness.

After these Small Plates we were onto our Large Plates of which we ordered two. First up was the Goat Hot Pot – Shoulder of Goat with Fennel and Rosemary. I loved the way this dish was presented – in a clay pot with a ring of scalloped potatoes on top. This was a clear favourite around the table – with the goat being melt-in-your-mouth, with the flavours being infused in the right proportions.
The next Large Plate dish was the Duck A L’Orange – Roasted Breast, Confit Leg & Brussel Sprouts. The duck was a bit on the tough side when you went into cut into it but the crispy skin on the outside was perfect. The velvety citrus sauce was rich yet subtle and really complemented the duck. This was my first experience of Duck A L’Orange and I must say I did quite enjoy it.

We also ordered the Quinoa with Pomegranate, Pistachio & Dates from the Vegetables and Salads section. The elements of tang from the pomegranate and sweetness of the dates, together with the nutty flavours worked well – you really cannot go wrong with this combination.

We were all really full from our meals but everyone needed a coffee for the drive home and so we looked at the dessert menu as well. There are five desserts to choose from and I was stuck in choosing between the Violet Crumble and the Parfait. In the end I went with the Parfait of Honey with Chocolate Mousse & Popcorn Granola. This was a really memorable and divine dessert. The chocolate mousse was rich, the parfait was creamy, the popcorn granola was caramelized and if you take each of these components together in one mouthful you will be heaven! If this dessert was this good – I can imagine just how good the other desserts would be!

Dig A Pony is the type of place that I wish I had stumbled upon a lot earlier as it serves up some great tasting food using simple ideas and a mix of interesting ingredients. The vibe is relaxed and casual – it’s a great place for a catch-up dinner with friends, as well as for a celebration. Staff are friendly and go out of their way to help in any way they can. If I was you I would definitely make a trip to Yarraville.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – Refer to picture above or http://digapony.com.au/wintermenu.htm
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Relaxed, Casual and Welcoming. Great for any occasion.
Standout Dish: Cornetto – Ocean Trout & Granny Smith Apple
Service: Friendly, Knowledgeable and very helpful
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://digapony.com.au/bookings.htm
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://digapony.com.au
58 Ballarat Road, Yarraville
Tel No: 9689 0110

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Thursday: 5:00pm – 11:00pm
Friday to Sunday: 5:00pm – 12:00am

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dig-A-Pony/199011662736
Instagram: Dig_A_Pony_
Twitter: @dig_a_pony_

Dig A Pony on Urbanspoon

Popol Nah – Latin American in Carlton

panda 3.5 rating

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After the footy one evening N & I needed a place for dinner and decided to venture to the Carlton area. We used to frequent this area quite a bit back in the uni days, but as of late this hasn’t been the case. Carlton (Lygon Street in particular) is best known for its abundance of Italian restaurants filled with pizzas, pastas and gelatos – and lesser known for other cuisines such as Thai, Latin American or even Modern Australian. I had come across Popol Nah a Latin American fusion restaurant located at the city end of Lygon Street and decided to try it out on this night.

Popol Nah – which can be roughly translated to “The Peoples House” occupies a medium sized space – set amongst the Italian competition of course – and has an interesting design element to it. There are wooden planks running along one wall, overlapping each other in a haphazard style that oozes creativeness along with a modern version of a moose head. On the other is a textured crinkled white wall, together with two antlers hanging. There are large sticks placed in a vase of water which is located at the bar. Quirky, fun and a tad bit strange but it works. There is a communal table at the front of the main dining area, along with wooden tables that seat from two to larger parties. There is also seating at the front on Lygon street itself, as well as small courtyard at the back. Popol Nah can seat around 80 people. The interior is created by Peter Strateas and Mario Luca Carlucci of Strateas (a Brunswick based label). Popol Nah is open 7 days a week for both brunch and dinner.

The menu is created by New York based, Honduran born Cali Rivera and constitutes of South American and Latin fusion cuisine. The dinner menu is split into three sections – Chicos (Small dishes), Intermedio (In Between dishes) and ends with Carnes (Meats). There is also a Desserts menu with a selection of 5 different dishes such as Dulce de Leche, Rice Pudding, Chocolate Cake and Poached Quince just to name a few. There is also a Brunch Menu available which is split into 7 sections – Licuados (Smoothies), Huevos (Eggs) – you can choose from Baked Eggs or Scrambled Eggs, Ensaladas (Salads) – you can choose from two different vegetarian salads such as Mixed Seasonal Fruit with Mint and Ginger or Zucchini, Kale, Cucumber and Pickled Veggies, Bocadillos (Sandwiches), Empanadas (Baked Pasties) – there is a vegetarian option – chickpea, sweet potato, silver beet with crème fresca or one with chorizo and potato with coriander mayo, Anafres (Hot Plates) – which constitute of cheese fondue and lastly Mas Comida (More Food) – which have dishes such as Lamb & Beef Meatballs, Patatas Bravas and Prawn skewers.

There is also an extensive drinks menu – from Sangrias, Cocktails to a variety of Wines – from countries like Spain, Chile, Argentina and Australia – to an interesting selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Carolyn Brown the sommelier has a great understanding and knowledge of drinks and has put together a great selection. I decided to try the Chicha Morada – a non-alcoholic drink which had Purple Corn, Pineapple, Cinnamon and Cloves. The drink was purple in colour – due to the use of purple corn of course. I have never had purple corn before – but I think that it essentially tastes the same as yellow corn but has better health benefits and a higher amount of antioxidants. The combination of pineapple, cinnamon and cloves made for an interesting taste – not too sweet with spicy hints. It was a non-alcoholic version of a sangria and I really enjoyed it.

The first dish we ordered was the Empanada De Chorizo Y Papa – Chorizo and Potato in Baked Pastry with Coriander Mayo. N really enjoyed this – the pastry was crisp, crunchy and tasty on the outside with the chorizo and potato filling on the inside flavoursome and light. The mayo was creamy and a delicious addition.

I ordered the Ceviche De Camaron – Carribean Style Ceviche – Shrimp, Red Onion, Lime, Coriander, Tomato and Chips. The combination of ingredients was refreshing – I especially liked the addition of the coriander and lime. My favourite part of this dish was the chips – they were crispy, crunchy and tasted delicious. They had just the right amount of seasoning and worked well with the ceviche. I also liked the presentation of the dish – it came out in a stone mortar and pestle and the way in which the ceviche and chips were positioned reminded me of a bouquet of flowers.

The last dish we ordered was the Cordero Ranchero – Slow Cooked Lamb Shank in Spicy Tomato, Fresh And Dried Peppers with Quinoa, Kale and Cucumber Salad. The lamb was cooked beautifully and fell off the bone – just what you want from a dish like this. The sauce looked spicy and N said it did have a hint of spice to it. I tried the Quinoa, Kale and Cucumber Salad – which was fresh, flavoured with a tang as well as a hint of chilli – the perfect combination. The dish was presented well again – the contrast of the blue background of the rectangular plate against the bright browny red sauce was magnificent.

The service of the staff is great – everyone that served us was really friendly and happy to offer us suggestions and ensure we had everything we needed.

The brunch menu looks really interesting and I will definitely be back to try out some of their dishes. The décor is interesting and very different to anything you would normally find on Lygon Street. Head down and check out some great tasting South American fusion food.

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – For the Brunch, Dinner and Drinks menu refer to http://popolnah.com.au/?cat=2
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Interesting, Unique and Funky. Great relaxed feel.
Standout Dish: Empanada De Chorizo Y Papa
Service: Friendly, Helpful and Warm
Online Booking: No, but Popol Nah takes bookings.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://popolnah.com.au/
171 Lygon Street, Carlton
Tel No: 9347 3293

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 11:30am – 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30am – 11:00pm
Sunday: 11:30am – 10:00pm

Popol Nah on Urbanspoon

Bar Nacional – Bringing Spain to Collins Street

panda 5 rating

Menu:
Raciones and Postres Bar Nacional Menu Comida Menu
D was down from Singapore visiting Melbourne and we needed a place to lunch in the Docklands area – what a perfect occasion to check out Bar Nacional. Bar Nacional is a partnership between Gavin Baker and Pete Evans who bring a bit of their time, memories and experience of San Sebastian to fruition.

Bar Nacional is a warm, inviting venue that is bustling with energy from the moment you step inside – be it at lunchtime, dinnertime, anytime. There is a central bar, with seats and tables surrounding it – the tables range from high to lower tables – and also ottomans and low chairs to sit comfortably. There are earthy tones together with bursts of orange. At the bar there are hanging cured meats to further complement the Spanish vibe.

The menu is created by head chef Alex Drobvsz (Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne, Gordon Ramsay’s Maze) with desserts designed and perfected by Shaun Quade (The Royal Mail, Quay, Biota). Jo Barrett (MoVida Bakery) and Tom Beaumont (coffee director at St Ali) round up the rest of the team. The menu has a selection of tapas (small bites), Raciones (larger dishes – designed to share), and of course ending with Postres (desserts). There is also a Comida Menu which is available for lunch, which allows you try out some of the larger dishes and add some tapas dishes at a cheaper price, as well as adding a half glass of wine for $5. Many of the dishes display the wealth of experience that comes from the Chefs – and has an interesting array of unique ingredients, flavour combinations whilst staying true to the Spanish theme.

There is also a great drinks menu which encompasses wines from Spain and Australia, as well as house-made Sangria, Australian craft beers, ciders – all which when put together with the food are complementary.

For all the cured meat lovers – this is your heaven. There are three types of jamón, including the magnificently rich and sweet 36-month-cured jamón bellota puro, the deep-flavoured lomo (cured and seasoned pork tenderloin), the dry-cured bull negro sausage and a very good chorizo. These are all cured and sliced to order – either in 30 grams or 60 gram lots, but you can just order a charcuteria to get a selection to try them all out!

We ordered a mix of tapas and Raciones dishes for the 4 of us to share. We started off with the Charred Broccoli Croquette. Each croquette was securely placed on the plate with lemon aioli under each croquette. The Croquettes were delicious – golden perfection the outside, a great crunch combined with the rich, creamy and nutty flavouring on the inside. It was refreshing to see broccoli (one of my fave vegetables) to be inside, instead of the usual mushroom / rice combination you find.

We then received the Prawn Salad, Avocado, Lemon Puree, Saffron and Rooftop Greens and the Patatas Bravas. However, V realised that when the Prawn salad came out, there was still a plastic film left on top of the flat solid puree. We notified the waitress and she apologised and brought us a fresh dish sans plastic film. (They didn’t charge us for this dish). The Prawn salad was an interesting dish – it was refreshing and the combination of the elements and textures worked well together. It was a fancy interpretation of a salad that worked well.

The Patatas Bravas was delicious – crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside and finished with a smoky tomato sauce. You cannot go wrong by ordering this dish.

We also ordered the Grilled Bread, Marinated Yoghurt dish. The bread was soft, fluffy and beautifully made and I absolutely loved the seasoning on the crust of the bread – a combination of seasame, poppy seeds, dukkah and spices. The marinated yoghurt got lots of interesting mm’s and sounds around the table – with the result of enjoyment. The tanginess of the yoghurt worked well with the spices in the bread.

Next up was the very, very and by very I mean very impressive Racione dish of the Baked Flathead, Smoked Eggplant and Salad Greens. This has been cooked on a cherry-wood plate in a wood-fired Josper at 400 degrees. For the preparation of this dish Drobysz gets the firewood supplier to cut various fruit woods – varying from peach, cherry, olive and almond – into disc sized pieces and puts the whole fish on the board. The fish is then brushed with garlic oil, salt and pepper and put into the oven. Here the oils from the wood are released and mixed into the fish. The result is a smouldering (literally) dish that comes out to the table together with the brilliant smell of the smoky char. The plating of the dish is fantastic – the fish is casually draped on top of the wood that it was cooked in – to the side is a dollop of the smoky eggplant. The fish was perfectly cooked and was soft with a smoky flavour – the only issue was the abundance of the little bones – however all is forgiven when you eat the fish. The smoky eggplant was the perfect accompaniment to the fish.

The others also ordered the Braised Beef Empanada – which look like mini pocket samousas. They all enjoyed this and loved how soft and flavoured the beef was on the inside.

I couldn’t leave without trying one of Shane Quade’s desserts. I couldn’t decide which of his desserts I wanted but in the end went with the Baked Sweetcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Toasted Maize and Brown Butter. And am I glad I did. The dish came out plated beautifully – and is up there with the best in terms of presentation. There was a smooth, ice cream like consistency mousse that resembled that of a corn cob, together with a perfect quenelle of Popcorn Ice cream – I MEAN ITS POPCORN ICE CREAM! How awesome is that!! Finished with Toasted Maize sprinkled on top together with milk powder and fried polenta. It was a mix of savoury and sweet and it really worked! This dessert is quite a heavy dish, but you simply cannot leave any of it behind – its just too good! You find yourself going back for more even after you tell yourself you cannot put anymore down. Definitely try this dessert out! IT’S A MUST!

I had a great time at Bar Nacional – the staff are friendly and really know their dishes – you can ask them to describe a dish of what exactly it is and they are do so with a smile. The dishes are of great quality with a taste to match – aside from the one hiccup with the plastic film (all is forgiven as the food overall was just delicious). Bar Nacional is definitely bringing a bit of Spain / San Sebastian to Docklands – and a result will increase foot traffic to this part of town. Try it out for yourself and see what I am talking about.

Rating : 5 Pandas
Price: $$$$
Menu – Refer to pics above or check it out at http://www.barnacional.com.au/menu
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Modern, Funky and Chilled out
Standout Dish: Baked Flathead, Smoked Eggplant and Salad Greens and for Dessert – Baked Sweetcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Toasted Maize and Brown Butter
Service: Fantastic, Friendly, Knowledgeable
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.barnacional.com.au
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.barnacional.com.au/
727 Collins Street, Docklands
Tel No: 9252 7999

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm

Bar Nacional on Urbanspoon

Portello Rosso – Terrific Tasting Tapas!

panda-4-5-rating4

Portello Rosso is a small tapas and Jamón restaurant located in a laneway off Little Bourke street in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. You walk into the restaurant via two big red rolling doors and are welcomed into a softly lit space that is filled with wooden hues. To the right hand side is a wall of wines, and as you enter there is a wooden table which is the share table from which you the kitchen is visible. There is also room to sit upstairs or at the bar. The atmosphere is romantic and casual all at the same time and is a fantastic place to just relax and chill. The staff are friendly and always have a smile.

The menu is absolutely delicious! The dishes are authentically Spanish from the way of dining and created by Aaron Whitney – sharing dishes-  to the huge variety of wine. Portello Rosso also serves Jamón which is commonly found in Spain, served on a Charcuterie Plate or simply wrapped around Prawns. The Patatas Bravas with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Spicy Tomato Jam & Aioli is my favourite dish on their menu and is the best Patatas Bravas I have had. The potatoes are fresh and juicy and the paprika is smoked to perfection. Roasted Baby Beetroot Salad with Pumpkin, Almonds, Goat’s Cheese & Sherry Caramel Dressing is another winning dish for me. The flavours just worked fantastically and it really didn’t feel like a salad dish. Mojama Air-Dried Yellow Fin Tuna on Grilled Garlic Crostini with Tomato, Cucumber & Herbs should be tried as well – the tuna tastes magnificent and paired with the tomato, herbs and cucumber really does make you feel like you are in Spain. Paella is also on their menu – there are four different types to select from and include a seafood and vegetarian version. They are made fresh to order and will require a 45 minute wait. Another thing to note on the menu is for groups of 8 or more- you can select from a Degustation menu starting from $32 up to $62. Bookings need to be made in advance for this and the different menus can be found via the menu link below.
The desserts are a must try as well – the menu has changed now – but the Spiced Chocolate Pudding and the Creme Catalana were delicious and flavorsome.

Portello Rosso is an intimate space and is great for a catchup with friends before you head next door to Murmur Bar or even a romantic night out that will definitely make you feel a little bit of Spain in Melbourne. Murmur Bar is another awesome place and make the best cocktails and mocktails around Melbourne. What a perfect night out – dinner at Portello Rosso followed by drinks at Murmur =)

The owners of both these establishments, have a third place as well – Brunswick Mess Hall – another bar and eatery which has the best atmosphere. They share the same philosophy of Portello Rosso and Murmur and is another definite must try. In the short time it has been around, it has drawn a massive crowd and Friday and Saturday nights are buzzing. Look for a review coming up in the near future .

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Tapas dishes – check out the menu at http://portellorosso.com.au/tapas.html. There are also a selection of Degustation menus which start from $32 up to $62 for groups of more than 8 (this needs to be booked prior)
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Casual and Relaxed, and a piece of Spain in the Melbourne laneway. Great for a first date or a night out / catch-up with a group of friends.
Standout Dish: Patatas Bravas with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Spicy Tomato Jam & Aioli
Service: Friendly and Laid Back
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://portellorosso.com.au/reservations.html
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://portellorosso.com.au/home.html
15 Warburton Lane, Melbourne
Tel No: 9602 2273

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 12pm to 3pm & 6pm-Late
Saturday: 6pm-Late

Portello Rosso on Urbanspoon

Murmur on Urbanspoon