Hacked By BALA SNIPER
It was Josh’s birthday last week. Unfortunately, Josh does not approach birthdays like I do. I like a little bit of birthday – not too much, mind. Not a big piss-up party or anything (okay, maybe, sometimes) but at least a nice dinner out to mark the occasion and a few nicely chosen presents from loved ones. That’s me. Josh? Nope. Don’t care. No, he didn’t want a party. No, he didn’t really care if I didn’t buy him a present*
But this is me, right? So I figured, it doesn’t really matter if he doesn’t think that highly of birthdays – he does like to eat. And I do like to eat. And we rarely get to go to a nice dinner with just the two of us anymore – so let’s just go out! And if there is a secret to Josh, it is that he is a little bit of a Italophile. And we live in Melbourne! How fortunate.
So after consulting a few blogs, Instagram and Twitter posts, I decided that Franco Choo’s it would be. It seemed like a nice little Italian place that Josh would like. I made the booking online (technology wins!) a week before hand, a phone confirmation on the day and everything was all sorted. Too easy.
We arrived at about 8pm on a Thursday night and took the last couple of seats. The place was already full and buzzing. Franco Choo’s is one of those tiny cosy restaurants – so tiny it must seat only around 20 people. It has that great small Italian hole-in-the-wall vibe that we both liked. Our lovely waiter (with his lovely Italian accent – let’s face it, we’re all suckers for Italian accent) went through the short menu on the blackboard (two choices of entree, two choices of main, two choices of side, two choices of dessert and a cheese platter). The menu, I’m told, changes often. The chef bases the menu on high quality produce that is readily available at the time.
Because there were only two choices of everything, of course, we ordered – well, everything. Because we were there on a week night and I had booked online, we were entitled to the fixed price set menu special ($35 for two courses and $45 for three.) We didn’t order any drinks because Josh doesn’t drink and I went on a complete bender the week before and swore off alcohol forever (at the time – you know how it goes) – we stuck to water. I always feel bad about not ordering drinks but our waiter was completely lovely about it (believe me the number of places that actually gives you attitude for not ordering drinks!)
Some fresh chewy bread and the fruitiest olive oil on the house were brought to us to whet our appetite. Followed by our entrees – I decided on the saffron risotto with asparagus and Josh on pork ragu and pasta (I think strozzapreti but I can’t remember that well.) My risotto was delicious – it was creamy while each grain of rice was still bitey and the asparagus was tender and sweet. Josh’s pasta was gorgeous with generous amount pork ragu (surprise factor being it wasn’t tomato-based) tossed through with radicchio and a few other bits and pieces.
For main, I had opted for the crunchy crusted barramundi fillet which was served with lemony potatoes and peas. The potatoes were gorgeous and the peas were sweet and poppingly fresh. It was amazing that the wow factor came from how well the simple vegetables were cooked and how amazingly fresh they were. Josh’s lamb was very tender and flavourful and the same can be said about the carrots and the mash – beautiful quality produce simply but perfectly cooked. Sure the meat and the fish were great but the veggies sneaked in and won the race.
The star of the show, unbelievably, was the sauteed broccolini with chilli and garlic that we ordered as an extra side. The broccolini were so fresh, tender and sweet. The fibrous stems were peeled back slightly to reveal the soft tender core. I was impressed by the care that went into this simple side dish. It was so delicious and well cooked that I actually ended up ordering two extra serves (3 serves in total.) – our waiter was very amused and I stopped feeling bad about not ordering drinks.
When it was time to choose desserts, I notice our fellow diners on both sides only ordered desserts to share. Weak. By then I was getting rather full but this ain’t a birthday celebration for no reason! So we said yes to a dessert each. Josh ordered the vanilla panna cotta which was served with pieces of figs that had been marinated in marsala and poached rhubarb. It was creamy and satisfying but light and refreshing at the same time.
I went for the dark chocolate semi-freddo with black olive caramel sauce. The sauce was rich, sweet and salty. Love the salt in desserts and the grapefruit, blood orange and orange segments balance out of the richness of the chocolate.
The meal was a lovely relaxed one and the courses were spaced out in that relaxed manner (I suspect there is only one person cooking) – so it is not a good place if you are after a quick in-and-out dinner. However, if you want a long lingering dinner in a cosy setting, preferably with someone you can really have a conversation with, and you want good simple Italian food then Franco Choo’s is definitely the place for you. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and will definitely be back.
Franco Choo’s Italian [ Website ]
Address: 179A High St Prahran VIC 3181
Phone: (03) 9529 7310
Hours: From 6pm – Tuesday to Saturday
Note: this post is about the visit I made to Sydney last April – I wrote it a year ago and never got around to finishing it. Until now.
Let’s get this out of the way. I am one of the biggest Jamie Oliver’s fangirls out there. And while I’m well aware that Jamie’s Italian is a chain restaurant that’s not even owned by him, I simply had to eat my words (‘I don’t queue for anything other than toilet’) and waited almost an hour on a Friday night to get into the restaurant.
I landed in Sydney quite late and we didn’t get to the restaurant until about 10pm. Somehow, miraculously, I managed to convince the Auntie Brigade (which comprised my mother and her two besties who were in town from Thailand for a long weekend – yes just for the long weekend. These ladies are crazy.) that we should get a cab to Jamie’s Italian and we may perhaps have to wait up to an hour before we are seated. Luckily, my Mum and her easy-going friends knew how crazy I was about Jamie Oliver and were okay with the wait (honestly, if it were me in their position, I would have cracked it.) I think the fact that they have already been to a Jamie’s Italian in London helped a bit as they had enjoyed their previous visit and knew what to expect.
(Antipasto plank – meat $13.0)
Once we got there, we were told that the wait would be about an hour an a half – biting my tongue, I said yes we’d wait (at this point for those of you know who me would understand how entirely uncharacteristic of me this would be) and so we duly put my name and wandered off (yes me + three aunties) to a bar nearby. Luckily, the bar had Australian Open live on to the keep the aunties amused and about 40 minutes later, they rang and said our table was ready. Hallelujah.
(Complimentary house bread served with fruity olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar)
We were led upstairs to share a tiny cafe table which I knew would present a space problem when all the food arrived. Starving, we decided on a serving of complimentary bread (I do believe you have to ask for it), a serving of meat antipasti plank and crispy calamari to start. My order of Bellini came a little on the warm side but it didn’t bother me so much as the food started arriving.
(Crispy calamari with garlicky mayo $12.00)
The calamari arrived slightly on the not-so-hot side (or was it that I spent too much time fiddling with my aunt’s SLR that I had no freaking idea how to use?) but it had a really good crunch and fastastic flavours with lots of crunchy garlic. The Auntie Brigade couldn’t get enough of them and lamented that I should have ordered two servings.
(Mozarella with herb dressing and shaved root vegetables)
The antipasto plank also arrived and placed on top of two tins of tomatoes (cheap stand, I see, rather awkard to try to not tip the whole thing over.) The cured meats (prociutto, bresaola and other things I couldn’t name) were lovely but I wasn’t blown away. The pickles (olives, caper berry, chilli) however, were fantastic. And so was the mozarrella (the Aunties couldn’t get into them upon finding out it was made from buffalo’s milk, score me).
(Crab and Squid Ink Risotto $15.50 – photo from lunch)
For mains, we decided on a few mains to share. By this time, I had given up on using my aunt’s camera in such low light. We started with mussels linguine, which were beautifully made. The linguine was perfectly cooked and the mussels fresh and sweet. Simple and beautifully done. The lamb spiedini was absolutely massive but well presented. The lamb seemed to lack of the lovely lamb flavour (but I suspect it must be a NSW lamb thing as I ran into exactly the same problem at Momofuku) but the bed of smashed potato with minted yoghurt and chilli dressing ($25.00) was great and I normally am not at all a potato girl. My mum opted for her usual steak – their rib eye ($38.00) was perfectly grilled and mum loved the peppery leafy salad on the side. Our final main was the crab and squid ink risotto was absolutely gorgeous. Salty, creamy, seafoody rice with crunchy garlicky crumbs and fresh crab meat. A little squeeze of lemon really lifted the whole dish.
We also had a couple of side salads to share and they were both very good. Desserts were absolutely fantastic: our choice of creamy panna cotta ($8.50) was indeed creamy and delicious and not too sweet. Our second dessert was the ‘ultimate brownie’ was rich and chocolatey but unfortunately we were very, very full. A fantastic first meal in Sydney.
(The bread counter at Jamie’s Italian)
So good, in fact, that two days later, the Aunties wanted to go there for lunch again (‘Also, you can get better photos at lunch!’ – how can you not love them?). This time though, we decided that we would go there for an early lunch and right on the 11.30am mark, we got there and were promptly seated. No queuing. Hallelujah Number Two.
(Almost empty dining at 11.40am on a Monday)
To my dismay, the Aunties had insisted on ordering some of the same dishes again. It was looking to be a repeat of the Friday night meal until I had to intervene to order one of the daily specials:
(Monkfish with tapenade and radish, fennel and rocket salad at Jamie’s Italian, Sydney)
The monkfish was fresh and lovely but I was slightly disappointed with the overall flavour. The tepanade didn’t compliment the fish. We also ordered the calamari, risotto and the antipasto plank again as the Aunties loved them so much. They were good the second time around. Especially the crispy calamari that was served hot this time.
(Monachelle puttanesca – $12.00)
The puttanesca, on the other hand, was spot on with its lovely dots of capers and crunchy, garlicky breadcrumbs to liven up the pasta.
(Travise and gorgonzola salad – $9.00)
My mum had also ordered the rocket salad again but our waiter made a mistake and put through the travis and gorgonzola salad. She realised her mistake and offered to bring us the correct salad. Frankly, I was quite happy she made this mistake because I never want to order the same dish twice at a restaurant. I was pretty happy with this salad. Mum, on the other hand, had her first taste of blue cheese. Suffice to say, it’s not an experience she cared to repeat.
We finished off with a really good tiramisu – which everyone enjoyed. Mum, who generally doesn’t like strong coffee taste, still thinks it was one of the best tiramisu ever. I was quite pleased with it too. The lemon zest really added the fresh zing to the dish which I loved – it also combat the richness of the tiramisu and made it somehow lighter.
The other dessert – gelato con brioche, brioche ice cream sandwich, wasn’t as good. I found the brioche slightly dry and didn’t really work with the gelato. Overall though, we absolutely adored the food and it was surprisingly good for the amount of money you pay for it. So basically it ticks the good and cheap box. I just wish there wasn’t a long wait for it.
(I clearly didn’t take this photo because that’s me punching my PIN into the EFTPOS machine in the corner)
And then it was time to bid the lovely Sydney good bye and we packed the Auntie Brigade off to the airport and I walked myself around town for a bit and then took myself back to Melbourne, where rain and wind chill greeted me.
I’ll be back soon, Sydney. I love you.
Jamie’s Italian, Sydney [ Website ]
Address: 107 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: 02 8240 9000
Hours: Open 7 days, 11.30 AM. – Late
(Antipasto plate – $18 as of ’09)
Note: pictures are from various visits over the years. So I might be a bit hazy with the description.
Be prepared for the upcoming gushing. The Cellar Bar is probably one of my all-time favourite Melbourne haunts. Sure, I’ve been to its big brothers Grossi Florentino: the Restaurant (where Josh proposed, now everyone, go awww) and the Grill but neither of them impressed me the way the Cellar Bar does and continues to do so over the years.
It’s a place we go back to when we find ourselves wandering in the CBD and want a nice meal for not a lot of money. It’s the place we go to for dessert and coffee at 11pm at night.
(Complimentary bread and dipping olive oil)
The menu at the Cellar Bar seems rotate itself around with a few pasta dishes and meat. I am yet to have a horrid dish from there and believe me, as much as I am against visiting the same restaurant over and over, we still manage to end up there 5-6 times a year. (more…)