Thursday, December 14, 2006

Il Solito Posto

A pre-Christmas dinner with work friends took us to one my new favourite restaurants in Melbourne.
Il Solito Posto is tucked away in a basement down a side alley off the Paris end of Collins Street. It could have been a businessman's realm but managed not to be. Small groups in suits sat eating in casual surroundings on the upper level, but the real treat was further down the stairs into the basement proper.
From our corner table we could see everything. One wall was lined with shelves full of wine. The clientele was a mix of after-work diners, couples and slightly noisier groups of friends.
Alan and Jeanette our waiters were the ultimate in Melbourne hospitality: unobtrusive, but friendly and professional, they guided us through the menu, wine list and specials as if we were regulars.
The menu was not too lengthy, with something for everybody. Classic antipasti, an excellent well-chosen list of pasta and risotto dishes, and main courses ranging from rib-eye steak to snapper.
I chose the sea urchin for a starter from the specials list. Two spiky specimens arrived, each sitting on a bed of salt, the meat sitting atop a scoop or two of chopped onion, chilli and ginger in a light vinaigrette dressing. It was ultra-fresh and tasted of the sea. Divine.
For the main course I chose the fillet steak, roasted medium-rare and served on a bed of mashed potato. Every mouthful was a treat; the steak was perfectly cooked.
The wine list was superb: dozens of wines grouped by grape, ranging from under $50 to almost four figures. We chose a Chianti Classico (when in Rome...) from the lower end of the price scale, which complemented our food perfectly.
I could not resist the dessert menu (unusual for me) and chose a tiramisu. The girls helped me out with their coffee spoons. Like a good Italian restaurant, they had it just right. Not too boozy, not too runny, not too big.
Il Solito Posto translates as "the usual place" and I can guarantee that this little place will become one of my regular haunts in the city. Whether for a quick after-work bite in the bar or a perfect Italian dinner downstairs, it won't let you down.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Annette's Wine Musings #1: Cava

Cava is Spain's much loved answer to champagne, a dry wine made sparkling by the traditional method.
The majority of Cava is made from grapes grown in Penedes, close to Barcelona.
Here are 2 of my favourites worth trying:

Segura Vuidas Brut Reserva Cava
Pale in colour with small lively bubbles.
On the nose you will find lemon and lime with a hint of pineapple, green apple and biscuit.
A lovely rounded Cava that goes well with everything from a cigarette to a seafood platter. Pop a strawberry in on a balmy summer evening and enjoy!

Codorniu Pinot Noir
This is a wonderful pink cava, cherry in colour with pale and bright tones.
The nose is packed with raspberry, blackberry and strawberry hints, along with a slight citric aroma that gives an extraordinary freshness.
Recommended with dessert or some cheeses but perfect to drink alone in my opinion.
It also goes without saying that Cava will match well with any Spanish tapas - remember, any wine will match local food best.

As the Spanish toast goes:
" Salut, dinero y amor"

wine blogging wednesday #28

City Wine Shop is a lovely new addition to Melbourne's wine world. Right next door to the famous European restaurant, it is a small but friendly place to buy wine by the bottle, partake in tastings and classes, or simply enjoy a great wine platter with a glass or two of an evening after work.

Noela, Mena and I took our wine blogging work seriously. We'd researched where we could be sure of getting more than one sparkling wine by the glass, so that we could try more than one on the night without breaking the bank. On a warm summer's evening we convened seriously at a sidewalk table, and our waitress Theresa helped us choose.

Our first choice was a Yering Station Yarrabank 2001, the most expensive on the list at $11 a glass. Australia is well known for its excellent quality sparkling wines (although to be honest we seem to keep the good stuff for consumption on these shores). We were hoping for a Party Sparkler or even a Special Sparkler from this one.

How disappointed we were. After the first sip we looked quizzically at each other. It actually didn't taste of anything much. Our notes of the evening stated: "Neither dry nor sweet. Bitter after-taste. Bland."

Theresa could see we were disappointed, and offered us our choice of any of the sparkling wines being poured by the European as well as the City Wine Shop's selection. We chose a Pol Clement Brut, a French "vin mousseux" but not from the Champagne region. It was $8 a glass and I was expecting a Dud or perhaps a Party Sparkler if we were lucky.

Sensational! This wine had a fresh floral aroma and a crisp taste. The bubbles persisted for as long as it took to drain the glass. So we did. Then we ordered another, and then we threw caution to the wind and ordered a bottle: At $16 a pop (plus corkage), who wouldn't?

We sat for the whole evening watching the world go by, the Pol Clement flowing along with the conversation.

Every twenty minutes or so the Indian tram they commissioned for the Commonwealth Games floated past, lights ablaze. The lights of the Parliament building opposite made a fitting backdrop in the summer night.

Count us in for the next WBW!

christmas pudding ice cream

A colleague of mine at work gave me this recipe because he heard I was a foodie.


375g packet mixed fruit
¼ bottle brandy
2 oz dark chocolate
4 egg whites
150g icing sugar
600ml cream
1 level tbsp mixed spice
1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
1 level teaspoon nutmeg
2 oz slivered almonds, toasted

Soak the fruit overnight in the brandy. Next day beat the egg whites until stiff, then gradually add sugar into the egg whites, slowly so the mixture holds its air.

Melt the chocolate and fold carefully into the egg white mixture.

Whip the cream until it holds its shape, adding the spices. Fold the egg white and dream and fruit together, adding the almonds at the end.

Freeze in a covered metal or plastic container for at least three hours before serving.

Keeps up to three months in the freezer.

lazy mince pies

It is the Christmas season, and time for mince pies. But when you are busy there is no time for finesse, and if you (like me) dare to bake when it is 37C outside, you need to be as quick as possible.

I hate the mince pies you get from the supermarket, or even the local bakeries. They seem to be heavy on the pastry and light on the fruit mince. So I make my own every year, using shop-bought ingredients.

In Australia they sell shortbread pastry already rolled out so the work is even easier.

My three tips are:

1. Lace the fruit mince with a generous quantity of rum, sherry or brandy before starting.

2. Don't bother with lids. Just cut out circular shapes for the shells, fill with the fruit and bake.

3. Decorate afterwards with chopped glace cherries and blanched almonds.

Finally, dust the baked pies with Splenda or any other granulated sugar substitute instead of sugar. It gives you a reason to eat more than one at each setting!