Friday, December 30, 2011

Richmond Hill Café & Larder - (Melbourne)

  Stephanie Alexander,  a Melburnian cook and renowned writer has together with her daughter and a cheese wholesaler Will Stuff opened this all day café,  before retiring her higher-end Stephanie’s restaurant which was held with high respect back in the 90’s.    Truth be told I’ve never really thought much about Richmond Hill Café and Larder.   I thought their cheese room wasn’t really up to international standards and the food were good rather than great.   But that is probably because I’d previously taken it for granted too much,  as a recent revisit convinced me that this is a place that you naturally tend to underestimate…   One cannot find this standard of a cheese room and café easily anywhere else,  even though there are already better alternatives within Melbourne itself.    Come to think of it,  I’m starting to miss here a lot.




In Richmond,
Very close to the city and accessible by tram.


A variety of Imported and Local Cheeses -
There are better Cheese shops in Aust,  but this shop is quite decent indeed…



Cheese Room -
Great by Australian standards,
but missing a few selections compared to the best in the world.



Strong Caffe Latte (Genovese Super Brazilian) -
This is a coffee blend which I am super familiar with,  I am pretty sure I have drank at least 2,000 cups of this over the many years (well,  I used to sell this too).  It is probably one of the best commercial coffee blends in the world.   It needs to be ordered as strong however as it is by default a little weak, so a double-ristretto base is usually the way to go.   This coffee was very well layered,  sweet yet hazelnutty with milk chocolate and just a tinge of earthiness and black fruit.   Sounds simple enough,  but try finding this cupping quality in Hong Kong.  Totally impossible!  The standards aren’t even on the same scale.  Little wonder I’ve quit coffee these days Sad smile There is simply nothing like it to be found here,  this is as addictive as it gets when it comes to milk based coffees   ~   9.5/10 




Corn and Coriander Fritters, with Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg, Spinach and Tomato and Capsicum Relish -  AUD $18
There are many signature dishes here (check the menu’s photo),  this was ordered on our visit because my mom loves eggs and I suggested to her this corn fritter,  which was slightly too sweet but fried well.   The poached egg was a little overcooked however,  which is rare to find as most shops cook them spot on in Melbourne.  This was nothing special but think again -  who even does such a dish in HK?  Absolutely nowhere to be seen…   ~   7/10


Wurrook Farm merino Lamb Ragu, with hand cut Pappardelle,  Red Wine,  San Marzano tomatoes, Meredith Goat’s Cheese and fresh Marjoram with grated Parmesan-  $27.5
The pasta was cooked perfectly.  I am sick and tired of excuses  that fresh pasta aren’t meant to be al dente -  nearly every shop in Italy and Australia I’ve visited cooks them to the right state.   It is funny reading that Westerners think Asians have preference over ‘textures’,  yet when they work in HK they try to convince the locals that fresh paste are meant to be soft.  Don’t really think so.  The lamb ragu was lovely,  so was the sauce and the goat’s cheese with the fresh herb.   I could eat this everyday.   ~   9/10




Grated Parmesan from Italy -
Sorry for being greedy but I emptied half the bottle Smile



Portuguese Tart - 
This was more floury and custardy thick than light-eggy,  which makes it more Portuguese than Macanese-Portuguese.  The pastry was done very well too.  I think these should be served warm rather than stone cold like here,  which will bring out it’s full potential.    We asked for this to be reheated and it was much better in the end.     8/10


Interior -




Ambitious Recipes -
Not everything is perfect,  but this is a place that is truly beyond a normal café’s scope,
I already regret that I didn’t revisit this place a few more times before leaving …
Next time !

Price: AUD $30 to $35 person
Food:  ♕♕♕♕♕

Opening Hours -
Sun to Thurs -   8.30am to 5pm
Fri to Sat      -    8.30am to 6pm

Address: 50 Bridge Rd Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria 3121
Ph: (03) 9421 2808

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons - (Melbourne)

  Owners Robert Marchetti and Maurice Terzini are very well known names in the Australian Italian dining scene.   Terzini first opened but then later on sold his successful Melbourne Caffé e Cucina business many years ago,  before traveling up north to Sydney to open very similar concept stores -   and at their peak now they also own a 2 Hatted restaurant Iceberg’s Dining Room in Sydney’s Bondi beach.    Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons was reintroduced back to Melbourne a few years back and much like what Neil Perry from Rockpool has done,  they have downscaled this Melbourne casino restaurant to sell simpler, approachable Italian fare.    Most produce such as Cured Meats are either proprietarily house made by Robert Marchetti himself or tailor made to their specs by suppliers (Eg. Olive Oils,  Beef, Cheeses, Wines, etc).     It kind of reminds me of Linguini Fini in HK,  although the latter group are even more ambitious in their projects!  



aka G.A.S -
Their food divide people and I agree.   Having been to this group of restaurants for many years,  I find that certain dishes are simply sublime -   whereas some dishes will have you scratching your head as to why they were ever let out of the kitchen or even off the drawing board.  It took me a lot of trial and error to work out,  and unfortunately I didn’t re-eat every dish in their staple as that previously took me years to achieve,  but lately I’m more confident of knowing what exactly to avoid.   (Their paper baked Crab Arrabiata Pasta for instance!   Which never fails to disappoint but everyone coming in the door orders one.  Or their now retired Sea-Urchin pasta in the past that was bitter and fishy everytime.)    Yet -   there are dishes here which are done perfectly indeed.



House Made Charcuterie Meats -
Using mostly black Berkshire Pigs,    I used to think they were decent but I hardly order them anymore these days,  but worth a try…  !



Even the Set Up inside -
Again reminds me of Hong Kong’s Linguini Fini.   Note the waitstaff are cladded in white laboratory ‘lab coats’.  A lot of Australian locals find this to be off-putting,  but the service was better these 2 times around than most previous visits.   G.A.S. has definitely died down a bit from its peak hype as it is much easier to get a table nowadays.  They’ve even lost their 1 Hatted Status,   but compared to some other over-hyped Italian restos in town,  they probably deserved 2 hats at its peak  relative to the rest of the world.  Minus some of the disastrous recipes appearing on the menu or executional flaws occasionally…



Bread and G.A.S. Olive Oil  (supplied by Fratelli Fresh) -
Their bread is good,  it has aroma,  unlike a lot of similar looking bread being handed up but tastes just like any white bread.    Their Olive Oil used to be one of my favourites and must-buys,  in fact I still had a 2.5 years old bottle opened and it was still amazingly fragrant!   HOWEVER,  the recent vintage of EVOO was a little heavier and less flowery fragrant,  even a little tad bitter.  I could not believe that my years old and already opened and exposed to air EVOO, performed better than this current bottle..  Sad smile



Raw Hand-dived Hervey Bay Scallops,  Pickled Dwarf Peaches, Lemon and Young Rocket – AUD$17
Those familiar with Iceberg’s Dining Room will instantly recognise the ‘dwarf peaches’,  which is truffle pickled and present in their crab with polenta dish,  and highly fragrant.   The raw scallops were of good quality indeed but needs more seasoning of sorts ~    6.9/10 



Marinated Raw Sardines,  Parsley Stalks and Lemon -  AUD $13
This is sensational and in fact worked better than some Japanese sashimi equivalents of iwashi ,  the same fish.   Not always available,  this was packed with flavours and this is one of the best raw sardine dishes I’ve tried!  ~   10/10



House Wine by the Carafe -
Some local wine that was quaffable.   They have good Italian wines here too but as a creature of habit I just don’t feel like paying the premium prices for better wines,  unless it is B.Y.O. corkage or at home.  Smile with tongue out


Parmesan Crumbed Lamb Brains,  Spring Onions with Italian inspired Tartare Sauce -  AUD $17
You see Lamb Brains a lot on the menus down South and after having a few,  I think this was the best one.  The brains were fried perfectly and not too raw-tofu like or for too long and dense.  I am not a big fan of eating brains usually but these aren’t so offensive in it’s usual ‘acquired’ taste which resembles something between gamey/fishy.   The tartare sauce was more like a gribiche sauce,  but it was the pile of curly spring onions on top which really helped to balance out the richness of this dish.   ~   10/10



Fried Lambs Brain -




Calamari Fritti,  with Zucchini and Mint -  AUD $28
This is again,  a dish noted with history,  as the old Caffe e Cucina started by the same people carried the best version around Melbourne so expectations were very high indeed!    The updated version here however,  could only be said to be disappointing.   The calamari rings suddenly became thickly cut strands,  which were fried to a very oily state and without enough batter coating.    Also without any of the original recipe’s Rocket Leaves doused with olive oil and the tartare like sauce,  this was definitely below its former standards.   A little disappointed especially considering the price tag ~     4/10


Zampone Pigs Trotter filled with our House Made Cotechino, Celery, Marjoram, Spinach – AUD$26
This was good stuff and all made in-house.  A little fatty with that gelatinous coating but the inside was correctly herbed and porky.   ~  8/10



Risotto ‘Nero’ with Squid Ink Rice, Calamari, Chili Parsley, Lemon and Garlic - AUD $29
Yet another dish with a history behind it, the Iceberg’s Dining Room’s dish is one of their signature dishes and this has trickled back down to the G.A.S. menu. Unlike the squid ink risotto I ate at Jamie’s Italian which was virtually tasteless,  the version at G.A.S. is as I remembered it from both here and at Sydney’s Iceberg’s Dining Room, full of squid as well as a balanced garlic flavour. This was also cooked al dente as expected, and the chopped up calamari pieces were flavourful.  And also unlike the Jamie’s Italian version this wasn’t overly chili hot either, with the final richness cut down with the lemon. Very great tasting dish except for too much olive oil, but even the rice grains were nice and fat unlike the cheaper one served at Jamie’s. ~ 9.5/10




Roasted Macleay Valley Organic Suckling Pig,
served with fennel, onion,  celery gratin, roasted peppers and potatoes.  (Avail on Suns) -  $38
This is only avail during Sunday lunches usually but the kitchen said they had left-overs from a quiet lunch.   I knew this was onto something disastrous but someone wanted to give it a try anyway.   Whilst the skin was crispy,  the meat was dried out tough and the garnitures were rather boring.   Even the potatoes were wet and chewy.   I suspect this might just become a better dish if it was ordered at the right time of when it is MEANT to be served,  but the kitchen should have known better to dish it out?    ~    2/10






Price: AUD $50 to $80 person (night)
Food:  ♕♕♕ 1/2 to  ♕♕♕♕♕♕  (Much like Linguini Fini in Hong Kong,  some dishes are of amazing quality and thoughtfulness,  but some are average only relative to the promised recipe.  It takes too many guesses by the customers to know what they should or should not order though that’s part of the fun when eating out!   It’s beautiful food only when you order the right stuff.)

Address:  8 Whiteman St Crown Entertainment Complex, Melbourne,  Australia
Ph: (03) 9694 7400

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Linguini Fini - (Hong Kong)

  I believe Linguini Fini doesn’t need much more introduction as it had clearly hit the HK dining scene with such a big bang,  it almost woke everyone up with its bold and ethical concepts and even managed to carry the concept through into a very successful business.  We already caught glimpses of hope from their preliminary intentions which had first began with their sister restaurant Posto Pubblico or Posto Privato upstairs.    Nose-to-tail dining are highly treasured here and not only for marketing purposes,  which is further substantiated and complimented by using sustainable local organic produce sourced within Hong Kong itself.    Such is the way that they persisted on practising this preached approach,  they also either ended up managing or farming their pigs and local vegetables and since then have began selling these vegetables under the wholesale arm of Homegrown Foods.   All of these,   fall under the umbrella of the IHM Group,  which wholeheartedly deserves a round of applause for their grandest efforts   -  and Linguini Fini despite some lapses of concentration was definietely deserving of its 2012 Michelin Guide recommendation on the local context of comparison…!


Concepts are concepts,
but how about the food taste?    After 5 separate visits and apparently I was purely by accident the 1st outsider blogger to have read its menu before the opening,  but was sworn in to secrecy,  and a pre-opening tasting event was totally completed without any tweets or premature blogger reviews possible,  I already suspected that this was really onto great things here.   Their nose-to-tail eating philosophy has really been carried into reality,  kudos to the team for pulling it through in the end…     Their lunch set menu @ HKD $98 is also a bargain which includes an Entrée, Main course as well as a Drink and they don’t even charge any 10% service charge, which gives extra motivation for the staff to serve you well. Even the lower priced Pizza Huts and Spaghetti House can’t lay claim to that approach and here it is fully trusting in its good will and service. Another reason to visit here, although not everything was flawless but is getting there.


Home Made Bread -
Yes,  the whole house made concept trickles down all the way to even their bread, or home made pastas,  SAUSAGES, or house cured meats and beef tongues,
   and they have a central supplying bakery which also supplies to other restaurants.   I thought the bread has improved as of late actually,  it has more aroma and is more aerated,  also arrives warmer than before.   ~  8/10


Entrée -  Polpettine
Meat balls made with Parmigiano cheese and tomato sugo sauce are a popular item here,  during lunch they’re served on grilled bread with arugula leaves.   This was quite soft and pillowy,  and for a meatball this was surprisingly light!   The sister version at Posto Pubblico seems to be slightly different in taste,  both have their own targeted audience.   ~  7/10





Main Course -  Salt Cured Egg ‘Genovese’ -
1 of the signature dishes here is the home-made pasta with Chinese salt-cured eggs and a Genovese pesto sauce with tomato.   I’ve heard some reviewers said that the pasta can sometimes be undercooked and I do agree on this part as I’ve tried at least 60 dishes here now.  Today’s pasta was cooked perfectly spot-on,  and today’s upgraded version came with shaved salted duck eggs.    This was a lovely dish and in concept,  although as much as I appreciated the loose herbs being chopped up rather than made into a thick Pesto Paste,  I thought the dish was slightly too Olive Oil oily or perhaps that is partly from pasta water too?    I also think this was slightly under-salted but that could be easily fixed with a pinch of salt by myself.   ~   6.9/10

Caffe Latte (La Colombe Torrefaction from Philadephia) -
As a former barista myself,  all I have to say is that past visits to Linguini Fini has landed me quite satisfactory coffees but those were made by the old Lavazza blends.  Their new change to a new Direct to Trade coffee supplier on this particular day has landed me a coffee which was bordering on bitter but strong enough to cut through the milk.   *Hard to explain,  but without knowing which bar tender made this today or the method,  it is difficult to pinpoint which variable it can be improved upon.   Nevertheless,  getting there but needs retuning!   ~  6/10



**********************Other Dishes that I really like **********************

House Cured Artisan Salumi Platter -  $118
With wild boar and pork salami milano,   mortadella ham and bresaola beef (front left).  Comes with pickled vegetables.   All of these are made in Hong Kong in house,  just as if it was being in Italy.  Seriously,  the effort itself is worth our support but the quality in the end is up there with Italian standards.   ~   8.5/10

Salami, Goat Cheese, Cherry Pepper Flatbread -  $88
I have already tried all 4 versions of their flatbread but this was easily the best.  Not much salami was apparent but there was an abundance of goats cheese and peppers,  with a tenacious flatbread base but just baked on the edges.  A lovely starter and definitely one of the best within the Hong Kong even counting in other dedicated pizzerie ~   9/10


Stracetti di Manzo -  $98
This warmed beef salad comes with artichokes,  gorgonzola dolce as well as anchovy dressing,  a perennial winner.  Having tried this over 3 visits I think sometimes the beef can be under-cooked and therefore a little chewy as the tendons/sinews/fat has not melted enough.   But overall this is one of the most memorable dishes in Linguini Fini bar the occasional executional slip  ~  9/10



I ♥ Milanese -  $68
A fried pig’s heart is what I’d really looked forward to the most.  Unfortunately the batter was a bit too crunchy hard and the heart a little over-fried.  Purely an executional problem,  but the concept was going to be fun.   ~   6/10 


Homemade Spicy Sausage -  $78
With roasted garlic mostarda!   Some have commented that the mustard lacked roasted garlic,  or the sausage was a bit too lean (I like them leaner though, as I’m prone to becoming fat too easily,  even though I love fatty tastes.  Sigh..)    I think the recipe of this was promising and it is a struggle to balance between it all.   Sausage aside,  I did think the sauce needed to taste more of its advertised flavour!    ~     7.5/10

Chitarra with Chicken Liver, Pancetta, Sage and Brown Butter - 
This dish took L.F. a few tries to get it right but at the end it was exemplary and one of the best dishes in the restaurant.  The livery paste is accentuated with the bacon and the herbs and browned butter,  and if you could disregard the cholesterol level this is a VERY ADDICTIVE pasta.  LOVELY! ~   10/10




Cured Beef ‘Lingua’ Tongue -  $68
Some have claimed this to be too soft after ‘curing’.   To be frank I have no idea what to expect from ‘cured tongues’ at all,  as I’ve had smoked tongues, grilled tongues or other versions of cured tongues but this seemed to be a thinner version with an acidic twist in the sauce, which is a bit soft, but appetising.  For Asian palates however I think tongues are meant to be slightly crunchy rather than flappy right?   But from a Western cuisine’s point of view texture isn’t as much appreciated?    I don’t want to pre-judge using my own standards,  but from a proprietor’s point of view I think making anything to do with tongues in Asia should ensure that it has some sort of crunchiness?    I loved the concept of this dish however    ~  6.5/10




Fazzoletti ‘Nose to Tail’ Bolo -  $78/118
Pork Testa head meat,  veal & oxtail ragu, with Parmigiano Reggiano and Tomato based sauce.  This dish is using over what are normally discarded meats from a carcasse and true to its intents,  are fully utilised in the dishes.  A lot of criticism had been received about this thick pasta and its ragu,  some say it is over-hyped and some think it doesn’t carry enough of the gravy like taste.  But at the end of the day this is still decent and using up meat muscles otherwise neglected.   Considering the lowish price-point,  this to me could have been better in richness and taste but is already more than satisfactory for the price range ~   7.5/10


Sweetbread Ravioli – $78/$118
Pork jowl and sweetbread,  with porchetta sugo di arrosto and ricotta cheese and onion puree,  I think most people expected a lot from this ‘sweetbread’ based dish,  but ultimately it is a little too simple in the final taste and often had too thick a ravioli skin at the edges.   I still think sweetbreads are better as fried or grilled to bring out its best,  but from an environmental point of view,  this pasta was decent rather than outstanding.  ~   6.5/10



On Top of Spaghetti – $98/118
Homemade meatballs covered with cheese.  This is lovely and a little less doughy-soft than the one at Posto Pubblico or Posto Privato.  I liked this version served with the al dente home-made pasta.   ~   8/10


Lamb Gnocchi – $68/118
With lamb and sweet onion ragu.  The gnocchi were potato-y and decently cooked,  but in this particular dish seemed a little too small in portion.  The lamb was cooked well enough though not as rich as I’d thought.    It is still good in this way as sometimes one wants a lighter dish ~  7/10



Dried Shrimps Diavola -  $58/88
A Chinese dried shrimps based powder was used to cook the homemade pasta with a slightly chili tomato sauce.  This was quite fragrant as expected and an interesting recipe involving both Hong Kong and Italian ingredients -  which come to think about it is not to strangely out of place,  considering many Chinese and Italian recipes share similarities.   I liked this dish,  but thought it could do even more with dried shrimps taste but at this lowish price,  it was more than enough decent  ~  7/10



Rotisserie Porchetta – $158
Belly wrapped with fennel sausage and served with chili mustard.   This comes in either whole round pieces,  or chopped up like tonight’s version.   People seem to prefer ‘either’ of these,  but I personally prefer the non-chopped up version.   The skin was crispy on 1 visit but a bit harder and chewy on another.  The pork meat meanwhile is decently done but seemed a little fatty.   ~   6.9/10




Cast Iron Charred Hanger Steak – $168
This was really good and served with a similar sauce to the beef salad above.  The steak was gamey and charry,  and at this price a bargain.   On 1 occasion this was slightly too undercooked and therefore a bit too chewy and red,  but that could be fixed easily.  ~  8/10


Olive Oil And Lemon Sponge and Poppy Seed Ice Cream -
This is everyone’s favourite.  Despite looking simple,  this was fully of egginess and olive flavours,  with a poppyseed essence filled scoop of gelato.   A must order ~   9/10



Tiramisu -
With mascarpone and home baked base,  and coffee gelato and just a touch of kahlua in the final version.  This is an ever improving recipe and to some -  this deconstructed version is a little ‘different’  but I do appreciate it for what it is.   ~  7 to 8/10



Caffe Latte -
This caffe latte was better than the one above I got at lunch,  which is made from another blend.  Once again,  hard to tell what went wrong in between.   But it was obvious that the foam in this cup was much better than the one above,  so it could well just be a barista issue?   8/10



House Cured Meat items -
Done pretty decent. 
The whole concept behind the restaurant is rather ambitious.
Some dishes clearly worked better than others but as far as I know,  it is still finding its feet and evolving as we speak.   And considering it’s lowish price point vs their goals,  this really is definitely a culinary feat.    It could easily charge double the price for what it is trying to achieve.






Price: $108 (Lunch)  to $200-250 per person (night)
Food:  ♕♕♕ 1/2 to  ♕♕♕♕♕♕   (Here it really runs the gamut depending on what is ordered,  but is highly recommended.  Concept is totally unbeatable,  but perhaps due to the lowish entrance price-point,   some dishes weren’t executed to its 100% potential.   I don’t mind paying a little more to achieve that level, really…  I definitely totally buy its concept over the execution and results,   but at half the price of more fancier Italian restos in town  this is already a success story which also carries with it,  an ethical approach.)


Opening Hours -
Mon to Thurs  12:00 - 14:30;18:00 - 22:30
Fri     12:00 - 14:30;18:00 - 23:00
Sat    12:00 - 16:00;18:00 - 23:00
Sun   12:00 - 16:00;18:00 - 22:30

Address: 中環皇后大道中139號
1/F, The L Place, 139 Queen's Road Central, Central
Ph: 2857 1333



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