Volvo Prosecco-Road Trip

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A group of food and wine loving friends, and 2 brand new Volvos to test drive on a recent Autumn weekend saw us head to the King Valley in North East Victoria.

Just 3 hours from Melbourne, this is the birthplace of Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine in Australia, and is aptly known as the ‘Prosecco Road’.  It is also home to a number of other excellent red and white Italian varietals. Our destination was Pizzini Wines, a family owned and run winery in Whitfield, in the heart of the King Valley.

The Cars
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Silverstone Volvo in Doncaster very kindly loaned us a brand spanking new XC60 R Design as well as the newly released V40, the latest in a line-up of sleek and sexy designs from the Swedish car maker who has undergone a revolution in recent years, amping up its image from safe but boxy and much maligned to what are now some of the best looking cars around.

At the recommendation of  Allison Walker  from  Mansfield Farmers Market , we went via Mansfield and tested out the cars on some wonderful curvy roads, driving through stunning countryside, past rolling green hills dotted with cattle, with a quick coffee stop at the delightful  Tea Rooms of Yarck .

The V40 is essentially a 5 door hatchback, but feels much larger and more spacious than your average hatch. It is a classy, sporty number (ours had a stunning cream leather interior) and is fabulous for city driving, especially with its additional features like park assist, a blind spot warning system, pedestrian airbag, and pedestrian detection with an auto-brake function. You’d be hard pressed to find a safer car. It’is also incredibly fuel efficient, and comes with start-stop technology (it turns itself off whilst you’re waiting at the traffic lights). I have a huge car crush on this little lady and did NOT want to give her back at the end of our weekend. She is also surprisingly affordable, priced at around $40K, give or take.

The XC60 R Design, a family-oriented crossover SUV, goes head to head with the likes of the Audi A5 size-wise and easily holds it own with looks, performance, and features, as well as offering value for money. We drove the petrol version, which has a turbocharged engine with plenty of oomph and goes from 0 – 100 kph in just 5.8 seconds. And from one bass-loving hip-hop fan I can confirm the stereo is in fact THE SHIZZLE.

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The Pizzini family have been in the King Valley for over 50 years, starting out in tobacco farming and then transforming the land into vineyards, initially growing Riesling grapes for Brown Brothers in Milawa in the late 70’s, then adding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz vines, the fruit of which was then sold to winemaking companies all over Australia.

In the mid 80’s, Fred Pizzini started experimenting with the Northern Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and eventually expanded into other Italian varietals, including Il Barone, Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo, Brachetto, Prosecco and Picolit.

You will usually find Fred at the Cellar Door, sharing his passion for his wine, family and the region, together with winemaker son Joel, whose love of grapes has seen him complete vintages in Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula as well as in Italy at Marenco in Piemonte and Isole e Olena in Tuscany (one of the world’s top ten wineries and producers of one of the three top Sangioveses in Italy).

Check out wine writer, personal wine valet, and fellow road-tripper Catherine Whelan, aka Lady Of Oenotria for her take on our Pizzini Cellar Door experience.

The Cooking School – A Tavola

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Katrina Pizzini is passionate about the Italian recipes passed down from her mother-in-law, and her cooking classes are the perfect way to experience some of the flavours of the region, whilst learning some traditional skills like making gnocchi, pastry and pasta.

Katrina is the most gorgeous lady, patient and kind (and extremely diplomatic when you stuff something up!). Her cooking tips include some gems for even the most seasoned home cook, she makes everything look easy, and she’s so super lovely I asked her to adopt me (sorry mum if you’re reading this).

The commercial kitchen is equipped with everything you need to feel like a total professional, and to keep the magic alive you can also take home her beautiful cookbook, ‘A Tavola’. During our cooking class we made bolognaise, potato gnocchi, and apple strudel, (with fruit from Nonna Pizzini’s apple trees), and then sat outside in the Autumn sunshine and enjoyed the fruits of our labour with some Prosecco. Salute!

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The Dal Zotto family, like the Pizzinis, have a long history in the King Valley (the two families are in fact related).  Otto Dal Zotto and his sons introduced Prosecco to the King Valley in 2000, and indeed to Australia. Otto claims he has wine in his veins rather than blood, and he is infectious in his enthusiasm for Prosecco and how it brings people together.   He is quite simply my hero.

By 2011 there were another  5 wineries in the region all producing Prosecco, including Brown Brothers, Pizzini, Sam Miranda, Chrismont, and Ciccone. They formed together a gourmet food and wine trail now known as The Prosecco Road.  For me Prosecco is a wine that suits every occasion, is great with meals or on its own, is celebratory, fun, easy to drink and perfect shared with friends. It captures the spirit of Italian hospitality in a bottle, and I am working hard to consume as much Prosecco as possible in my lifetime. So far I’m pretty pleased with my efforts. Anyone who knows me will know that it is nearly always ‘Prosecco Time’.

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Apart from a great cellar door experience, the Dal Zotto trattoria is a must visit if you’re in the King Valley. The menu features Italian-inspired seasonal and regional produce, from simple yet stunning antipasto platters to delicious handmade pasta. The family matriarch ‘Nonna Elena’ is a keen gardener, and still works to produce fresh ingredients for the kitchen.

Dinner – the Mountain View Hotel

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The Mountain View Hotel is a boutique gastro pub owned by the Pizzini family, in the heart of Whitfield, and its modern European-inpired menu is the work of chef Scott Burness, who has worked in kitchens all over the world including New Zealand, Scotland, the United States and Australia.

The service  here is city standard with country charm, and the food is nothing short of delightful.

The highlights of our meal (apart from spending it in the company of Katrina, Nat and Carla Pizzini) included the Bundarra Berkshire pork belly special, the dry aged Black Angus porterhouse, with onion marmalade, baby carrots, truffle potato foam and jus, and a stand-out dessert of pistachio and olive oil cake, roasted peach and vanilla bean ice cream.

The Mountain View on its own is well worth the trip to the King Valley, and is also home to the ‘Lana’ label of food-focussed wines, made by Joel Pizzini.

 

Accomodation – Jessie’s Creek Cottage

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This gorgeous new addition to Whitfield offers beautiful modern accomodation, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, luxury furnishings, a stunning fully-equipped kitchen, huge back yard and most importantly, is in staggering distance to the Mountain View Hotel. Cheers!

Thank you to the divine Pizzini family for hosting us so beautifully, and we can’t wait to see you again very soon!

You can also check out my Pinterest album for our all our Instagram pictures of the weekend here .

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The Italian Cucina – Farm Vigano

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South Morang may not be the first place you think of for Sunday lunch, but thanks to Farm Vigano, it certainly should be.

Farm Vigano started life as the home of one of Melbourne’s most iconic restauranteurs, Mario Vigano, of Mario’s in Exhibition St. Together with the original Florentino, Mario’s was THE place to eat in the 50’s in Melbourne. My mum, now in her 70’s, fondly recalls celebrating her 21st birthday there.

Mario’s wife was Maria Theresa, a noted artist, and together their contributions to the arts and hospitality led to Farm Vigano being heritage listed.

This grand ole dame is situated on a large parcel of land overlooking the Plenty Gorge, and the gardens include a large orchard which is home to fig, persimmon, pear and citrus trees.

Loving and thoughtfully restored by the team behind Zonzo at Train Trak in the Yarra Valley, and the E Lounge in Richmond, Farm Vigano is a now a beautiful restaurant dedicated to bringing the authentic taste of Italy to the table, with wonderfully dedicated (and in one particular case, deliciously flamboyant) staff.

I’d been looking for an excuse to try Farm Vigano since hearing about it last year, and my mother in law’s birthday was the perfect opportunity for a casual family lunch.

Arriving at the flagstoned entrance, a yellow and white striped awning smiling brightly at us, we were welcomed like family, and ushered to a table overlooking the gardens.

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Starting with a bottle of excellent Prosecco (what else?) from Veneto, we sensibly decided on the Sharing Menu, which for $40 per person gave us a most generous platter of antipasto misto, a selection of pizza, and a large salad. Children eat half price for this option and also get looked after in the dessert department with a big bowl of gelato.

We also added a serve of the calamari fritti, and the slow braised lamb.

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The antipasto platter contained all the classics, just done beautifully. Italian salami, cheeses, grilled zucchini and eggplant, olives, and some sweet yet tangy onions marinated in balsamic vinegar which were a crowd favourite.

The pizzas were a huge hit: thin bases, with fresh, quality ingredients allowed to shine in their simplicity. A dusting of semolina on the pizza tray pre-oven ensured the bases were perfectly crispy, and for me the standout was the pizza con gamberi – tomato sugo base, fior di latte cheese, marinated tiger prawns, baby spinach and mini roma tomatoes. The sweetness of those little tomatoes with spicy, salty prawns and the mild silky cheese was a marriage made in heaven and it was all happening in my mouth.

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We also tried the margherita (perfect) and the carciofi e prosciutto – tomato sugo, Gorgonzola, artichokes, baby rocket and prosciutto. Again the mixture of salty rich flavours and textures played off each other creating perfect harmony for the taste buds.

We didn’t actually NEED the slow braised lamb but how could we resist? Paired with an Italian Sangiovese the tomato-based dish was juicy and tender, melted in the mouth and came served with small roasted potatoes. Delicioso.

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Of course we couldn’t leave without sampling dessert. My old favourite tiramisu was on the menu so we ordered a serve to share, as well as the canele which came dipped in pistachios and adorned with glacé cherries. Both desserts were perfectly executed and neither were overly sweet. The tiramisu was beautifully textured, and the canele were small delightful morsels and the ideal way to end our meal, complemented with an excellent macchiato.

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The service was faultless here – it was like being an extremely welcome guest in someone’s home. Mr 8 loved being able to run around in the gardens in between courses, and a stroll around the property at the end of a large amount of indulgence was the perfect finale.

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Farm Vigano can be enjoyed by couples and large families alike. They also do weddings which I can only imagine would be simply gorgeous given the setting. That has me thinking…vow renewals…hmmmm…

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Farm Vigano

Breakfast Balls – Meatball and Wine Bar

This morning, amidst a torrential downpour, Melbourne-style, I made my way to The Meatball and Wine Bar to try out the new breakfast menu. Having previously sampled the dinner balls (see my post here), there was no way I was going to turn down this invitation so I presented my bleary-eyed self at 7.30am and prepared to get my balls on with the lovely @FiBrook who was already wide awake and ready to party.

Things started well as our delightful waitress could sense my immediate need for caffeine and brought me a sensational piccolo (coffee by Dukes). As the good stuff hit my veins I gradually regained the ability for cognitive thought and grown up conversation, and started on menu perusement and at the same time caught up on Oscars goss with @amystown and @sarahcooks.

The principle of the breakfast menu is the same as for dinner – choice of balls, sauce and sides. Between us we tried:

1. Egg, charred corn and aged cheddar with hollandaise sauce and a side of smoked salmon
2. Creamy egg with pesto sauce and a side of avocado
3. Green eggs with hollandaise sauce and a side of mushroom with taleggio
4. A creamy egg slider with italian tomato sauce and a side of bacon

The balls in this equation were actually a gorgeous scrambled egg mixture which is slowcooked in a mould so it comes out in the shape of a ball. Genius. Perfectly sized portions, seemingly endless combinations, delightful happy staff even at such an ungodly hour, and damn fine coffee.

Breakfast jackpot hit again, balls and all. Loved it.

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Bright Delight

We have become regular visitors to Bright in recent years, for a myriad of outdoor pursuits, including cycling along the ‘Rail Trail’, paragliding and mountain biking (those last 2 are Mr GastronoMel’s domain). 3 1/2 hours up the Hume, turning off at Wangaratta, driving through lush green countryside, giving way to rows of vines, Bright is not only stunningly beautiful, but is the epicentre of foodie-heaven, with some of Victoria’s finest food and wine being produced and served in the area.

Breakfast (and lunch):

One of our new discoveries during our last visit was Ginger Baker, without doubt one of the prettiest breakfast locations of my eating career. Run by Tim Walton, with a slew of suburban Melbourne cafes under his belt, his family’s tree change is one I’m grateful for, as we couldn’t get enough of the place, returning 3 mornings in a row for breakfast, and then again for lunch. With plentiful undercover outdoor seating, rough hewn tables and benches, lights in glass jars suspended from the rafters like fireflies, and a playlist of cruisy house music, I would have been happy to move in here. The coffee was perfect every time and Tim has tracked down some of the region’s best quality fruit, dairy and smallgoods to offer up some truly memorable breakfasts. A particular highlight was the bacon sourced from a butcher in Mt Beauty. Lunch was also fabulous, with an interesting range of tapas.

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Dinner:

Simone’s of Bright is perhaps the best known restaurant in the area, serving up beautiful Italian fare making the most of the local produce. It’s something of a special occasion place, with multiple small dining rooms complete with carpet, mantlepieces and artwork that give the impression that you’re in someone’s (rather lovely) home, rather than a restaurant.
Thoughtful, beautifully presented dishes served by exceptionally professional staff , Simone’s is a delighful, grown up experience, and you can even buy Patrizia Simone’s gorgeous cookbook to take home with you (or better still, enrol in one of her cooking classes at the new cooking school).

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What to drink:

Anyone who follows me on Twitter would be familiar with my obsession with prosecco, in simple terms, Italy’s version of champagne and my very favourite drink in the whole wide world. Already a huge Brown Brothers fan from way back, they made me particularly happy more recently by introducing Prosecco into their extensive line up, and a trip to the Cellar Door in Milawa (near Bright and home to the magnificent Milawa Cheese Factory) meant trying a few different styles of bubbles, as well as the Limited Release prosecco. My tasting notes for this little beauty read: ‘senfreakingsational’. Who are we kidding. I made no notes. I just drank ALL the prosecco and other delights that the lovely Ernie put in front of us. Next time we’ll stay longer and do lunch in the amazing Epicurean Centre.

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Local hero:

Anyone who’s been to a Melbourne Farmer’s Market will be familiar with the Myrtleford Butter Factory‘s wares, but if you are passing through picturesque Myrtleford, it’s worth stopping in to say hi to the very delightful and hospitable Naomi and her mum Bron (I thought they were sisters!) who are not only producing the best butter I’ve ever put in my pie hole, but they do a damn fine coffee and breakfast, and have loads of lovely crockery, artwork and cookbooks to buy whilst you’re there.

They also offer tours of the butter factory itself, which they restored from its neglected state, after continually driving past saying ‘someone should really buy that place and do it up’, so Naomi tells me.
If you’re on Twitter you can find both of them chatting about country life and tasty buttery snacks: @thebutterfactor and @butterbron

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Where we stayed:

The Boathouse, Bright complete with outdoor bath (superb for lying in at night with candles and prosecco looking up at the stars)

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What else we loved:

Lunch at Sam Miranda Wines outside on the terrace, plenty of space for the kids (if you’re dragging them to the wineries with you) to run around, and a truly fabulous spread of share plates

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What we’re doing next time:

Two words. KING VALLEY. The birth place of Australian Prosecco. Home of the Prosecco Road. Dal Zotto, Pizzini, italian varietals, and the Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield. We are coming for you next.

And where to refuel on the way home:

The multi-award-winning Fowles Wines , home to ‘Ladies who shoot their lunch’, and other splendidly named wines, they do a delightful prosecco, and have a great restaurant overlooking the vines, with some fantastic share plates of local goodness.

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Captain Melville – Bushranger Chic in the City

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On Monday night we were treated to dinner at Captain Melville (formerly Miss Libertine) named after the self-styled ‘gentleman bushranger’ who did some of his best work in on the Goldfields of Victoria in the 1850’s.
Located on Franklin Street, near RMIT and the Queen Victoria Market, in a National Trust building, and Melbourne’s oldest pub, Captain Melville is what you’d call a hidden gem.

An open, inviting bar, with polished floor boards, and ample seating gives way to an atrium-style communal dining hall at the rear, with blue stone walls, native flowers in jam jars, giving it a relaxed, modern vibe, whilst still nodding to its rich history. I’m calling it ‘bushranger chic’.
The cocktail list pays cheeky homage to its bushranger namesake, including such concoctions as the ‘Macedon Gang Punch’, whose description reads ‘hard as coffin nails’. Involving rum, lemon juice, agave syrup, egg white, port and Booker’s Fire bitters, this is not something I would have ordinarily ordered, but it did not disappoint, and was a great way to kick off the night.

Our menu went like this:
Masterstock Chicken, coconut, chilli, lime and betel leaf
Slow cooked Wurrook Merino shoulder in brik pastry and smoked yoghurt
Quinoa Salad, asparagus, broad beans, yellow beets, shanklish and honey yoghurt
Bannockburn free-range chicken parmigiana, coleslaw, with hand cut chips
And
Salted caramel banana split with honeycomb

There was simply nothing not to like about the food. It was presented beautifully, using locally sourced produce, the quinoa salad was the best use of this super food that I’ve encountered thus far, and the parma was perfectly proportioned, with a great sauce to cheese ratio. The extra pork belly slider we squeezed in was also excellent.

This is the kind of place you can go with workmates, a group of friends, or your kids, and everyone would be happy. The large dining hall is perfect for functions, and the food would translate well for large groups.

Head chef, Shayne McCallum (ex Blake’s, and The Botanical) is keen to avoid the ‘gastro pub’ tag, aiming instead for ‘ pub classics at restaurant level’. Dude, you have totally nailed it. Thanks for having us and see you again.
34 Franklin Street
Melbourne CBD VIC 3000
Ph : +61 3 9663 6855
T: @CaptainMelville

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A man about Town – Ed Kenney’s Town, Honolulu, Hawaii

When the Gastronomy guide for the 2013 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival arrived in my letter box, the timing could not have been better. We were just about to leave for Hawaii and seeing Ed Kenney’s name featured in the ‘Earth MasterClass’ section, (Huxtable are bringing him out for the event) reminded me that I needed to book dinner at his restaurant ‘Town‘, in Honolulu.

A couple of tweets and a 10 hour plane flight later, we turned up on Town’s doorstep, to a super warm Hawaii welcome from Ed, and settled in to read a menu full of ingredients I’d never heard of. Town, which has multiple accolades and awards to its name, is renowned for utilising local produce and promoting indigenous ingredients. Ed is not only passionate about the food he serves, but where it comes from. He is on the Board of Directors for MA’O Organic Farms, Kokua Hawaii Foundation & Sustain Hawaii. His philosophy is that “Food is the unifying fabric of humanity, connecting us to the earth and each other.” Word.

I quickly decided the way to get the most out of this visit was to ask Ed to feed us his favourite dishes until we fell into a food coma, and he was only too happy to oblige. He started us off with the ahi (Hawaiian tuna) tartare served on a risotto cake, with balsamic vinegar, which was superb, both in texture and flavour, and came at us soon after with the cured opah (Moonfish) with pa’ i’ ai (made from taro root), watercress and persimmon which all worked beautifully together. Our extremely sweet and friendly waitress Randi patiently explained each ingredient to us and answered my incessant questions throughout the meal.

The salad came full of avocado, papaya, butter lettuce, pecans, and cucumber, and was served with a ‘green goddess’ dressing (apparently a West Coast US staple but again something I’d never heard of, typically containing a range of fragrant herbs, spring onions and mayonnaise or similar). I’m offically a fan.

We also tried the hand-cut pasta, which was served with a south shore he’e (octopus) ragu, and it was a knockout. I probably wouldn’t have ordered this if I’d known what it was, simply because I couldn’t imagine how you could execute it – more fool me and lucky I wasn’t in charge of the food selection, because this was one gorgeous, rich, hearty bowl of goodness. Slightly salty, beautifully textured with silken ribbons of perfect pasta.


We then had some more opah, this time served with farro, roasted root vegetables, purslane and salsa verde which was moist, sweet and delicious, as was the mahi mahi dish, served with local veggies, limu (Hawaiian algae) and meyer lemon. Then came the extremely sensational shinsato pork chop, served with an ulu (breadfruit) mash and bitter greens. I was only a little mad with Ed that he’d left this til last when I was already getting full because this was some of the best pork I have ever eaten IN MY LIFE. Juicy, tender, with incredible flavour, and the breadfruit mash was like velvet. Oh my. I needed a little rest, and another glass of wine whilst contemplating how I would finish this plate. (I privately congratulated myself at this point for wearing a loose-fitting dress). But finish it I did (I had help), and then it was on to dessert – obviously utilising my altogether separate ‘dessert stomach’ to fit this in.

The meal lost none of its momentum in the ‘wow’ stakes when it came to the dessert. We were spoiled with 3 different dishes – the beautiful satiny buttermilk pannacotta was first, made with local nalo meli honey and served with fresh tropical fruit, and some figs from the tree right outside the restaurant. We then tried the ‘financier’ (from the friand family of French baked goods) made with browned butter and almond meal, and served with prunes which had been stewed in Earl Grey tea, and some whipped creme fraiche. I’m still dreaming about this fluffy treasure 3 weeks later. The piece de resistance for me however, being a self-confessed chocoholic, was the stunning salted dark chocolate pretzel tart which had wafer-thin slices of candied tumeric on top. The tart base was made up of crushed pretzels, offering its saltiness as the perfect foil to the rich, smooth dark chocolate filling. The tumeric was hot and sweet all at once and it just rocked. This was a flavour explosion of the highest order and one of the best things I have ever put in my cake hole.



I cannot rate this restaurant highly enough, and it was truly one of the highlights of our visit to Hawaii. The hospitality at most of the places we ate was excellent but Town’s waitress Randi took it to a whole new level of awesome, to the point where when we left we were hugging her goodbye. For me, Town feels like that place that no matter who you are, or where you come from, you’ll feel right at home. And I can’t wait for Ed Kenney to come Down Under in March 2013 so we can return the favour, take him out and show him our town.

“Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always”. Amen.

Trocadero – Swoon with a view

As part of the Hamer Hall revamp at the Victorian Arts Centre, the very gorgeous Trocadero has opened its doors to Melbourne, with views overlooking the Yarra River, Flinders St Station, Federation Square, and St Paul’s Cathedral. The perfect spot to stop after work for a Prosecco, in the bright open bar, with stools facing the million-dollar view, the snacks on offer will have you swooning. The triple cooked potatoes with truffle aioli and pecorino are easily justifiable after a hard day at the office, as are the cocktails, including one that takes my particular fancy, called the ‘Elderflower Fizz’.

As this inviting space is in handy proximity to my office, I’ve found myself frequenting the bar with alarming regularity, which recently led to an invitation to try the menu in the brasserie. And now I am considering moving in.

General manager Marty McCaig (ex Comme) is the host with the most, passionate about this beautiful space and even more so about the beautiful dishes coming out of the kitchen, courtesy of chef extraordinaire, Nick Bennett. And when the first plate arrived it was easy to see why. We started with Kingfish with pomello, daikon, capers, and a salsa of chervil, coriander and basil, which was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. The rabbit terrine with pistachio sponge, and rabbit ‘floss’ was a gorgeous modern twist on a classic. Next was the herb gnocchi with scallops. The little fluffy pillows of potatoey goodness and sweet plump scallops were browned in butter, and served with broadbeans and a truffle emulsion. H.E.A.V.E.N. Following this, the tuna came encrusted in crunchy sesame seeds, topped with wafer thin slices of crispy eggplant, complimented by citrus mayonnaise, and miso crumbs.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, out came dessert at which point I may have lost my composure and uttered a few complimentary expletives. A more ridiculously good looking dessert I had not seen in some time. Comprising of rice icecream, black sesame sponge, miso caramel and its glorious crowning glory, beautiful pink shards of rhubarb, this little darling was an explosion of flavour and texture, surprising and unexpected and altogether delightful.

As a further dessert note, for those of you who read Larissa Dubecki’s article on desserts, featuring Trocadero’s caramel cooked cream with pear, popcorn crumble and chocolate, you need this in your life. It is EVERY BIT as delectable as it sounds.

The service at Trocadero is unfailingly consistent, polite but not intrusive, helpful, friendly and and always welcoming. It doesn’t hurt either that one of the waiters looks a little bit like Ryan Gosling. And the more Prosecco I have, the more he looks like Ryan Gosling.

With the addition of the eagerly-anticipated terrace opening this week, which will increase capacity to another 100 seats outside, with arguably one of the best views in Melbourne, this is going to be hard to beat as a dining destination – whether you’re interested in the Arts, or the simple art of enjoying getting the nosebag on. Either way, you’re going to have to arm wrestle me for a seat at the bar tonight. I’ll tell Ryan you said hi.

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Get Some Balls – Meatball & Wine Bar

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I was a guest recently at the newly-opened Meatball and Wine Bar in Flinders Lane. I had no idea what to expect but my interest was piqued, and arriving to a long cosy room, exposed rough-hewn red brick, the gentle hum of conversation and a warm welcome, I was already feeling at home by the time they offered me an Aperol Spritzer and a seat.

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We started the meal with some San Daniele prosciutto and excellent truffle and fennel salamis, but my tastebuds are still talking about the ‘diavoletta’ that came after that…smoked and baked cheese studded with olives and tomato. By god, that was some chewy bitey cheesy goodness. The mozzarella is sourced from cheese makers in local Donnybrook who apparently beat off some stiff competition from Italian-made cheeses, to be included on the menu. Happy days.

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And so to the balls. The menu is thoughtfully put together so you can get a taste of everything if you fancy it. You can mix and match balls, sauces and sides, and great care has been taken with the selection of suppliers of each ingredient. Listening to our host, Matteo, describing the lengths they’ve gone to in terms of sourcing the meat, experimenting with mixing cuts and various grinds, to achieve the perfect meatball, you realize there is real passion behind this venture, and when we get our first taste of the beef meatballs, slider style, we couldn’t be more appreciative of their efforts. This ball is pasture-fed Angus, served up within a brioche bun, flanked by Italian tomato sauce and some pickles, perfectly executed.

We also try the chicken balls, made with pistachio, muscatels and Parmesan, which arrive nestled on some glorious folds of house-made pasta, with a creamy white bechamel-style sauce. Heaven.

Our third ball of the evening was the pork, and this was also bursting with rustic flavour. The pork comes from Byron Bay, and is minced together with sage, fennel and orange zest, which provides both acidity and sweetness. This is classic Tuscan fare, served with a pesto salsa verde, and sits atop gorgeous creamy polenta. Bellissimo.

I need to make special mention of the wines, which were also superb, complimenting each dish beautifully. The bulk of what we drank came from Quealy wines at Balnarring, on the Mornington Peninsula, and I’m now hooked on the nicest wine with the kookiest name: ‘Pobblebonk’, which is a Super White and includes a blend of Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Chardonnay (to name about half of what’s in there). A glorious, perfect match for the chicken balls, and a new favourite. We also drank Quealy’s ‘Rageous!’ Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot blend, which is their interpretation of a Super Tuscan and a delight to drink with the beef and pork meatballs.
The rest of the wine list features mostly Italian red and white varietals with a few Aussie heroes thrown in from the Barossa, and Heathcote.

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As for dessert, if your idea of heaven is a gorgeous giant globe of home-made icecream in a choice of coffee, burnt orange, vanilla or chocolate, sandwiched between two halves of a giant macaron (chocolate, pistachio, berry, or coffee) then you, my friend, have come to the right ball hall.

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And for those of us who just can’t get enough balls, they are opening soon for breakfast – the menu is already up on their website. I may or may not have created the Twitter hashtag #getsomeballs. But you really should. http://www.meatballandwinebar.com.au/ 135 Flinders Lane Melbourne ph. 9654 7545

Phat Brats – Doing it doggy-style

At the Johnston St end of Brunswick St in Fitzroy, you’ll find Phat Brats – arguably the best hot dogs in Melbourne. After multiple visits since they opened, this opinion has been formed by everyone at our house, including the 7 year old who is apparently an expert on such matters.

Made with locally-sourced ingredients, including the gorgeous brioche buns which come from a Vietnamese bakery in Richmond, the Phat Brats boys offer a menu packed full of variety and doggy goodness.

Amongst others, there’s the wagyu beef, the chilli dog, the cheesy smoked kransky with sauerkraut, the lamb and rosemary with minted peas, gravy and raw slaw, the chicken and herb dog, and the very sensational vegetarian ‘Superfood Dog’ of sweet potato, quinoa, tamarind, chilli lime mayo, coriander and sour cream. All worth a taste, and now thanks to their snack-sized menu option you can try as many as you like in one sitting.

And don’t get me started on the cheesy fries – these bad boys need their own Facebook page and Twitter account, they’re that good. Seriously.

At the recent Phat Brats ‘DOGUSTATION’, put together by the fine ladies at Zilla & Brook the very lovely Tiffany Waldren (@beergirlbites) artfully matched a 5-course hot dog menu with an array of Southern Bay Brewing Co beers.

Not only were the dogs sensational, but Tiffany managed by matching the very delicious ‘Robust Porter’ to the dessert hot dog (a brioche hot dog bun filled with chocolate icecream, whipped cream, berry coulis, toasted coconut and crushed pistachios…hello!!!!) to officially covert me into a drinker of beer. And I have it on good authority that the dessert doggie may be making its way onto the menu, which makes me one happy little puppy.

Please enjoy the following food porn with my heartiest compliments. But be warned – resistance is useless.

Phat Brats, 320 Brunswick St, FITZROY www.phatbrats.con.au

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I attended the Phat Brats ‘Dogustation’ as a guest but was not asked to write this review. I did that because the dogs are awesome.

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