W is for Welsh

A Wale of a time!

I’m going to try not to offend anyone here but let me just cut to the chase: for ‘Welsh’ we went to The Last Jar, an Irish pub and restaurant.  I’m sorry, it’s the best we could do.
As we approach the end of the alphabet, it’s getting increasingly difficult not to bend the rules.  There are no Welsh restaurants in Melbourne (are there?) or any other feasible countries starting with W and so we figured Irish/Welsh, similar climate, similar culture, similar food?
There I go offending people.  Nevertheless it was a rule bend that paid off in spades as The Last Jar was absolutely fantastic!

Firstly, the place was pumping, we only just managed to secure a table but the staff (each served with a thick Irish accent) were super accommodating.  This place is half bar half restaurant and, as their website aptly states, ‘The Last Jar is everything you won’t see in a run of the mill Irish-Pub franchise’ so don’t go there expecting to order a parma.

We started the night with some shared entrees: crumbed garlic mushrooms, crispy pig’s ear and the special of the night, bone marrow with grilled bread.

Irish entree

The garlic mushrooms were sensational, garlicky, cheesy, fried goodness.  The pig’s ears were probably the let down of the bunch; mostly batter, rather than crispy salty hearing devices.   The bone marrow on the other hand was outstanding.  To give you an idea of how good it was, we had to rock-off to determine who got the last bit of perfectly grilled house baked bread and morsel of salty, fatty, warm bone marrow.  Needless to say I was ecstatic when my rock-paper-scissors strategy paid off on this occasion.

Next up was main, an ‘each to their own’ affair.  The special of the night was pork cheek with swede mash, kale and bacon, the most popular choice on our table.  I forced myself to try something else for the sake of variety and ordered the pot of mussels with cider, parsley and dill.  The other dish in our party was the salt ling potato cake, battered egg, watercress and apple salad.
The winner of the night was, surprise surprise, the special pork cheek.  Big, hearty servings, beautifully slow cooked and accompanied perfectly by it’s sides.

Of course, I can’t guarantee this or the bone marrow will be available when you go there… I guess you’ve got to count on the luck of the Irish!

Slow cooked pork cheek

The pork cheek was a hit and luckily for me I got to try some…’for the blog’.

Have you ever thought “my mussels are nice but I wish I had what he has”?  At the gym perhaps? Yeah, I thought so.  Well this is exactly what I was experiencing at dinner.
Although my mussels we really nice and cider was a welcome change to the usual white wine, garlic and chilli combo, I just couldn’t take my eyes off the delicious hunk of meat that was the guy at the bench press the pork cheek.  However, the mussels were a lighter choice which, after winning the last of the bone marrow, probably wasn’t a bad thing.

Mussels and cider

The salt ling potato cake below was by all reports a tasty, albeit a strange main dish to choose (a potato cake?).  Of course it wasn’t your run of the mill potato cake but it was a far cry from the 3 pigs cheeks and approximately 25 mussels on the table.
Don’t let this put you off though, this wasn’t a forced choice from lack of enticing alternatives.  The menu at The Last Jar is fantastic and includes many of the proteins you’ve always dreamed of, as well as vegetarian options, a steak section and an innovative spin on familiar foods.

Potato cake

Utterly satisfied, incredibly well looked after and a few beers and wines to the wind, we wanted to make our Last Jar experience…last.  So we went ahead and ordered what I like to call an Unnecessary Cheese Plate.  The UCP should be named as such on all restaurant menus, because by that stage of the night, you don’t really need more rich, delicious, decadent food…but hey, cheese is just so damn nice.  The outstanding feature of the UCP at The Last Jar was the amount of bread and crackers it came with.  At so many restaurants these days, I feel like I have to LOAD the cheeses up on each little bit of cracker for fear that I might run out of crispbread and simply end up shovelling the last of the dairy into my face with my hands.  This was different – finally, finally I’ve encountered a place where the cheese was finished and there was still bread left over.  Thank you, The Last Jar!

Cheese platter

As you can tell, our experience at The Last Jar was absolutely fantastic.  If I were to give you one piece of advice it would be to branch out a little; bone marrow, pig’s ears and any animal’s cheek aren’t nearly as scary as they sound and these chefs really know what they’re doing.  Do yourself a favour and take the opportunity to try some familiar flavours prepared in a really different way.

I’m no closer to understanding what typical Welsh food is like but I’m now a huge fan of Irish food and a lot more content after my visit here.  This definitely won’t be the last hoorah at The Last Jar.

8.5/10
The Last Jar on Urbanspoon

Food: Innovative, hearty, superb
Service: Accommodating and authentic, thanks to the accents
Atmosphere: Bustling – noisy but in a fun way
Highlight: The bone marrow
Cost: Mid range

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4 is for 4th July

Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of ribs.

Let me start by saying that I was kindly invited to Third Wave Cafe, Prahran (there’s one in Port Melbourne too) because of this blog and dinner was on the house.  Although the way to my heart is most definitely through my stomach, the post below is in no way skewed because of it.

When I first looked up Third Wave Cafe I soon realised it was right up my alley, their offering was simple: American BBQ and paleo.  Although it seems a strange combo, it suited us perfectly.  My boyfriend is male (enough said?) so inevitably loves American BBQ and I am a reasonably healthy female with access to instagram so hey, I love a bit of paleo and all that.
The dinner menu was more American, less paleo but understandably so, after all, if paleo was a person she’d be a morning person.

As I imagine is the case with every meal in America, we started with chips.  Beer battered, crispy and hot, just the way you want chips to be and surprisingly, not everyone gets this right.  Third Wave Cafe nailed it.  Despite the reasonably priced cocktail list, it was the interesting beers that caught our eye so one Rogue Dead Guy Ale and a glass of Pinot it was.

Shortly after this (probably a little too quickly) our mains arrived.  I guess the beauty of having a menu that is predominantly slow cooked is the flexibility on the flip side when it comes time to serve; however, I personally like to be teased for a little longer.  I feel the amount of time you have to wait is directly proportional to the sheer excitement you experience when the waiter arrives at your table with your meals, so this aspect was a little lost here.

Nonetheless, our helpful waiter with oodles of personality popped down half a rack of pork ribs and half a chicken so I certainly wasn’t complaining.  Along with the meats came the georgian salad: a wonderful combination of herbs, tomato, cucumber, red onion and vinegar, it was absolutely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to the rich meat dishes.

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The pork ribs were sweet, spicy and tasty but not as fall-off-the-bone as I would have liked.  The chicken, as the menu rightly warned was “not just another chicken”.  It was tender and moist with great flavour and was definitely worthwhile ordering, in fact, I’d go back just for the chicken.  The meat dishes were both very satisfying, particularly for a winter’s night but be aware that they are literally just that – meat and 2 sauces to sample – if you want sides, be sure to order them (seriously, get the georgian salad!).

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An unfortunate memory that I have from our otherwise lovely dinner at Third Wave Cafe was that I could see the microwave in the kitchen which seemed to be getting used a bit throughout the night .  Now, I have no doubt this is the case in most restaurants, it was just a shame that it was right in my line of sight; I’d prefer to be left in the metaphoric dark.

Last but certainly not least, we ordered our version of dessert.  Given that we aren’t really dessert people and we still were intrigued with what else Third Wave had to offer, we shared a pulled pork slider.  The slider was a hit! Juicy pork, sweet brioche bun and pickles with punch.  Thank god we shared this sucker too – it was a big one.

Overall we had a really enjoyable night at Third Wave Cafe.  The beers arrived extremely quickly (I don’t understand why that isn’t the case in all restaurants – the quicker the beer comes, the more we drink!) and our waiter was super lovely.  It was a coincidence that we booked in for the 4th July but what a perfect way to spend another country’s independence day!

There was no doubt we had a great time but I was surprised that the stand out was the salad and chips when slow cooked ribs were on offer.  Having said that, I’ll certainly go back for brekkie to try the paleo goodies and take some of those aforementioned instagram pics.

6.5/10

Third Wave on Urbanspoon

 

V is for Venezuelan

Say cheese! 

Venezuelan was one of the cuisines that we were looking forward to from the very beginning.  I had read about it after hearing of Cruzao Arepa Bar in Fitzroy, which has sadly now closed.

I read of fried corn parcels, of pulled pork and of ever-present cheese – Venezuelan cuisine could be the raw ingredients that dreams are made of.  So finally, two and a half years after we started at the letter A, the letter V had come around.

Given Cruzao’s closure, we needed to find another restaurant that was proficient in Arepas.  Sonido! was it.

Walking into Sonido! reminded me of the accommodation we stayed in in Cuba, where it’s commonplace to lodge at a family home for a small fee per night.  You eat with them, cook with them and sleep in their house, a truly great way to travel.  Sonido! feels just like a welcoming, colourful South American lounge room.

Although it isn’t strictly Venezuelan, the menu at Sonido! is predominantly made up of areapas.  In fact, if it’s not arepas or empanadas you’re after that night, you’d be best advised to head elsewhere.

Our table of 10 was snuggly accommodated at the only large(ish) table in the place.  We started with a selection of beef and vegetarian empanadas.  For those who aren’t familiar with empanadas, firstly, do yourself a favour and get familiar.  These little calorie bombs are usually made up of a delightful rich meaty (or not) filling, encased in a flaky, buttery pastry.  Sonido’s empanadas were bigger than the ones I’ve had in the past but just as tasty.

During our little entree, our spanish speaking waitress brought out endless amounts of cold Quilmes beers and happily renewed our bottle of red.

The choice of main was not difficult given that arepas were the only option, it was just a matter of choosing which ones.  We had: cheese, “old clothes” beef, black bean and fetta, chorizo and morcilla (aka black pudding).  We also token ordered some side dishes of black beans and salad even though these exact things came alongside our arepas.

The stars of the show arrived on our table and we dug in – sharing them in a similar fashion to how a venue of vultures might share a zebra carcass.

Arepas

Arepas

The chorizo was chunky, salty and of course delicious.
The black beans were hearty and tasty.
The beef was flavoursome, although not the stand out I expected.
The blood pudding was rich, not at all offensive (as some might expect) and a great order.
And the cheese…oh the cheese.  I can’t explain why the simplest of the arepas was by far the best.  I mean, what is it about a toasted cheese sandwich (on white bread) that makes it so good? Is it the saltiness, the gooeyness or the oil that drips down your arm as you eat it? Whatever it is, take that same x-factor and fry it.  Then you have a cheese arepa.

Although the metaphoric zebra carcass had been stripped to bare bones, the feeding frenzy wasn’t quite over.  I mean, for starters, we hadn’t had our national shot.  Upon asking the waitress if they had any Venezuelan spirits, she told us sadly that they did not.  Rum is the only spirit in the house at Sonido! so Havana Club it was.  However, she did hilariously suggest that she could get a Venezuelan to bring it to us, an offer which, in the absence of Venezuelan liquor, we gratefully accepted.

So out came our previous waitress who we now knew to be Venezuelan to serve us our shots.  The rum was nice; strong but manageable.  What was perhaps more pleasing was the variety of glasses that it came in (one, a super mini jug) and the old picture frame, complete with picture used as a tray to carry the 10 glasses.  Thanks Fitzroy.  As seemed to be the theme of the place, nothing matched.  The chairs, the plates, the glasses and the decor were all mismatched in a kitsch but ever so charming way.

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Following the shots, there were still some menu items we hadn’t explored.  Cheese and caramel, cheese and guava and hot chocolate (add cheese).  We’ll take one of each! Throw in four Portuguese tarts for good measure.  The cheese and guava was so-so, hot chocolate and cheese was just as it sounds – hot chocolate…add cheese.

Hot chocolate, add cheese.

Hot chocolate, add cheese.

The Portuguese tarts were of course fantastic, so much so that we ordered 2 more but the real stand out of the entire night was the caramel and cheese.  W.O.W.

There’s a reason why salted caramel features on the menus of nearly every eatery in town these days.  The combination of salty and almost sickly sweet is irresistible and I get the feeling the South Americans were on to this way before MasterChef.  Cheese and caramel was essentially the most basic, simple expression of the trend we all know and love.

Take a firm slab of slightly salty white cheese and on top of that, plop a huge dollop of extraordinarily sweet dulche de leche.  Eat by the spoonful.  So good we ordered another two.

Absolutely choc-a-block, we handed over $60 per person and rolled out of Sonido!

If you’re after variety or a light healthy meal, I dare say Sonido! isn’t the place for you.  However, if you’re after a fun place, quaint atmosphere, a drink or 10 and a satisfying bite to match, head straight to Gertrude St.

Embrace the Fitzroy vibe and explore cheese in all its savoury and sweet glory! Toilets are past the avocados to the left.

7/10

Sonido! on Urbanspoon

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U is for Ukrainian

Crimean river

Eastern Europe is sort of like the hairier, less polished sister of Western Europe.  We Aussies are so drawn to the pretty, proper, ribbon-in-her-hair-and-tucked-in-shirt that is Western Europe… but why? I understand the attraction, after all, I chose to live in Italy for two years but it is only now that I’m starting to question both myself and Aussies as a whole, as to why the appeal doesn’t extend to the east (OK current situation aside).

The Crimean, as it turns out, was such a great exhibition of Eastern European brilliance that it did not help me answer this question in the slightest but, it certainly reaffirmed why it is that I live in (and love) Melbourne.

I will get the one downfall of our experience at The Crimean out of the way early, as it happened early and was promptly fixed by dumplings.  Is there anything dumplings can’t fix? Married couples take note.

We made a booking for 7:30pm, our whole party probably didn’t arrive until 7:40pm.  We alerted the staff that we’d arrived for our booking and they didn’t quite seem to click but we sat down for a drink at the bar and enjoyed the scenery.  The Crimean is eccentrically and beautifully decorated; you really feel like you might be somewhere in Eastern Europe and that there’s a good chance it’s snowing outside. Bottles of known and lesser known spirits line the back wall of the bar, the lights are dim and solo drinkers sip at their nips of vodka or nurse their once crisp pints, occasionally engaging with the friendly bartender.

40 minutes passed and we were still at the bar so we thought we better speak up. We were finally seated at 8:20pm and I guess my only problem with that was the lack of information we’d received about our booking in the meantime.  It really didn’t matter though, after all, it was a Saturday night and it was snowing outside (somewhere in Eastern Europe).

Needless to say, we were hungry by this time, so we ordered two plates of dumplings straight up.  These were, of course, not the kind of dumplings you might find on Little Bourke St.  Since The Crimean, I’ve been enlightened to the world that is non-Asian dumplings.  These little edible presents are not just a feature of one continent; as it turns out, South Africa has Souskluitjies, Italy has ravioli (why of course), Hungary has nokedli, Brazil has coxinhas, Japan has gyoza and Ukraine as we now know, has vareniki.  We also ordered a plate of pelmeni, a dumpling I believe that is more typical of Russia.

The beef and pork pelmeni were accompanied perfectly by a paprika butter and came in a generous serve of 8.  The vareniki were potato and quark filled with a roast onion puree and orange zest.  Although my favourite would usually be the one that contained meat, this was different.  The vareniki were so delicate but so complex (where does that delightful sweetness come from?!) that they were a crowd favourite.
As a side note, if you don’t know what quark is, find out and get some in your life.

“Our dishes are designed to share” – boy am I sick of hearing that on the Melbourne dining scene.  If your dishes are just a normal main dish that your fellow diners could probably have a taste of, I’m sorry but your dishes are not ‘designed’ to share.  Restaurants of Melbourne: it is OK to shy away from this trend if it doesn’t suit your style of food.  Having said that, The Crimean’s dishes really are designed to share.  They are small dishes which aren’t presented in an overworked way, meaning you can order quite a few different things, get to try a great variety and have a scoop of this or a spoonful of that without a hassle.  So that’s exactly what we did. Starting with the board of smoked meats and fennel dusted calamari.

The board of smoked meats was perhaps the only underwhelming dish of them all (1 in 9 ain’t bad).  Perhaps this is where Western Europe does reign supreme – in a battle between cured meats vs smoked meats, I’d take cured every time.  That’s just a personal preference though, the board itself was not at all bad.  Meanwhile, the calamari: WOW.  This dish had every little element to make it POP! A well thought out, perfectly executed combo of sour, salty, herby flavours and tender calamari, topped off with sweet little currants – one of the standout dishes of the night.

Next up were The Crimean potatoes, the slow roast lamb shoulder and the ‘melan-cauli’ as it was presented to us – I definitely appreciated the pun, keep up the great work. Pun aside, that cauliflower was ANYTHING BUT sad! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it is the best cauliflower I’ve ever had.  So good in fact, that when I asked what the secret to the cauliflower was, our kind waiter replied that he could tell me but he’d have to kill me.  Fair enough.  I’d just about take that deal if it meant I knew how to make that cauliflower in heaven.  Perhaps I’ve talked it up too much but seriously, order the cauliflower.

The cauliflower

The potatoes were creamy, rich and lightly salted thanks to the anchovies.  The lamb shoulder was delicious – crispy on some of the edges and soft, tender and juicy in the middle – all accompanied by a lovely, fresh grain salad.

Finally, because we just weren’t quite done, we ordered the pickled herring and beetroot salad which the waitress had previously told us was her favourite.  This dish was sweet, vinegary and a kind foray into pickled fish for those who aren’t familiar with it.

Throughout the night, we’d seen and heard the clinking of the vodka trolley being wheeled around. Yes, the vodka trolley.  I think when I’m a grandma I’d like to have a vodka trolley instead of a tea and biscuits trolley.  3 of the people on our table each sampled a different vodka, some frozen, some not, some with 20 herbs and spices in the mix, some pure as they come.  Words cannot do the vodka trolley justice, go there and experience the joy of the clinking for yourself.

The Crimean vodka trolley DSC_0690

Given the food had been so wonderful up until this point, we figured it would be a shame not to try the dessert – even just one to share for the table.  We ordered the baklava filo but baklava is never usually my first choice.  My experience with baklava tells me that it is simply filo pastry drowned in a hefty insulin spike.  But, you guessed it, this was different.

This dessert was so light, so beautifully constructed and so mildly sweet that it was barely recognisable as a relative of baklava.  Minimal amounts of light, crispy pastry, firm not overripe stone fruits, a subtly sweet chantilly cream, all laced with a hint of bergamot and honey.  Wowee.

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the service.  For me, the service at The Crimean was spot on.  Friendly and helpful but not intrusive.  If we needed something, they got it for us, if we didn’t they left us alone.  I understand some diners want more attention than that (“how is your meal sir/ma’am?”, “can I get you any side dishes?”) but as far as I’m concerned, a good waiter should be just like a good umpire – make sure the game is under control but ultimately not influence the outcome.  The Crimean had this down pat.

Finally, after paying our bill which came to about $60 a head (wines and novelty vodka trolley included) we had a bit of a yarn with the very kind and passionate owner of The Crimean, one final drink at the bar and made our way outside to brave the fictional snow.  I would highly recommend The Crimean and, before the dreams of cauliflower subside, I will be going back to get my fix.

Za zdorovja!

8.5/10

The Crimean on Urbanspoon

Food: Brilliantly executed
Service: Hands off = spot on
Atmosphere: Possibly in Eastern Europe?
Highlight: The cauliflower
Cost: $60 per person including drinks

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HELP! What is X for?

Dear loyal blog followers (and welcome newcomers! Bored at work and perusing Urbanspoon were we?),

We are coming dangerously close to “X is for…” but we are far from deciding what we should do for it!

As there are literally NO countries that start with the letter X, we need to decide on how we can legitimately bend the rules but keep with the theme of the alphabet challenge, that is, exploring cuisines and restaurants that we might never have gone to otherwise.  This is where you come in.

Over the two years (yep, two years!) that we’ve been on our alphabet journey, the following suggestions have been made for X:

  • X marks the spot: go back to the restaurant/letter of the alphabet that we’ve enjoyed the most so far
  • X restaurant: go to a restaurant that starts with X – Xocolat for dinner, anyone?
  • X vs Ch: in some languages x and ch are interchangeable – could we therefore go to a Chilean/Xilean restaurant?
  • Xtreme food: could we go to a restaurant that serves the most bizarre delicacies that the world has to offer? Does a place like this exist in Melbourne?

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is, we are in your hands! If you have a suggestion or would like to vote on where we go for X, please comment below!

We are currently up to V (which is for Venezuelan) so you have 2 letters to decide our fate! Get voting – you can be as cruel or as kind as you like!

X IS FOR…

 

 

T is for Turkish

Cheapish, Yummyish, Turkish.

I’ve been to the great country that is Turkey.  The bread, the baths, the delights, yes Turkey has brought us many wonderful things.  Sure, it’s not as famous for its food as say, Italy or McDonalds but it certainly has a bit going for it, so Turkish it was.

There are a few Turkish restaurants to choose from in Melbourne, not as abundant as Mexican restaurants (any guesses as to what 2014′s cuisine craze will be?) but certainly enough to choose from.  We chose Alev Alev Turkish Kitchen in Elsternwick.

Overall, our experience at Alev Alev was a pleasant one but, I must say, I had my doubts when we pulled up out front.  I’d booked a table for 4 and the man on the phone had politely taken my name, number and preferred reservation time.  When we arrived, I realised that Alev Alev was little more than a take away joint with a few dine-in booths.  Woops.  I’m not sure it was entirely my fault as the name of the restaurant and the acceptance of my booking had, somewhat, sold me down the Halys River.  When we arrived, our waiter (who was presumably also the owner) guessed that we were the table that had made the booking.  Embarrassing.

Nevertheless we were prepared to make the most of a booth situation.  Our waiter was the friendliest, most accommodating waiter I’ve had in a long time and he was genuinely happy to share his knowledge of Turkish food with us, for which we were very grateful.  Dear hospitality industry: a few people skills go a long way.  By the way, I’m not just saying that because he was super buff and wearing a UFC t-shirt (although if I did have any complaints that night, which I didn’t, I think I would have just held my tongue).

As per UFC’s recommendation, we started with a Turkish pizza, Kiymali Samsun, a generous amount of Turkish bread and a variety of dips.  The dips were nice, though nothing to write home/to the internet about and the pizza was great.  Different to the pizza we know but still salty, carby and not-vegetarian.  A combo that will rarely let you down.

For main we chose two, yes two, mixed grill platters – there were 4 of us.  It also came served with rice and side salad but, given the saying about friends and salad, we focussed our effort on the meat.  The different grilled meats were fresh, hot and tasty and the two plates absolutely filled us to the brim.  There were actually plenty of other choices on the menu too but the mixed plate seemed to be the best way to try a bit of everything.

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Turkish cuisine, much like that of its Eastern European neighbours, is super flavoursome.  Lemon, garlic and chargrill are all things that seem to have been used in abundance and they sure do complement each other.

Although we were too full for dessert, my friend tried the sweet punch in the face that is Turkish coffee. UFC was so proud of his brew that it was hard to say no and, once again, he was right, it was absolutely delicious and worth trying.

Turkish coffee

We also couldn’t help but grab some Lokum (aka Turkish Delight) to take away.  I mean how can you go past anything that is described as rose flavoured delights coated in fluffy icing sugar? They were, reportedly, delightful.

In summary, it was our expectations that initially lead us astray but he meal was enjoyable and UFC was truly lovely.  Fine dining restaurants could learn a thing or two from him.

If you live nearby, Alev Alev Turkish Kitchen is definitely worth a visit for cheap and tasty take away or a bite to eat.

7/10

Alev Alev Turkish Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Food: Simple, salty, satisfying
Service: Knowledgeable and hospitable, if only it was this good elsewhere
Atmosphere: OK, so it’s essentially a take away joint…
Highlight: The service (see above)
Cost: Very affordable

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S is for Spanish

Thcottish or Thpanish Robbie?

When I googled Thpanish restaurants in Melbourne and the “Robert Burns Hotel” came up, I was sure google had made a mistake (something it rarely does unless you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry).

Sure enough, after checking with my ‘better’ half, who hails from the land of cho-ree-tho, the Robert Burns Hotel was a place he used to frequent with his even-more-Spanish grand parents, so I had it on good authority that this was the real deal.

So there we were at a pub in Fitzroy, named after a Scottish poet, with our Kiwi waitress, for our Thpanish meal.

When we arrived, we were ushered to our table by our friendly waiteress who promptly offered to just ‘feed us’, a suggestion we welcomed considering the extensive menu.  If only it was that easy at Korean.

The first couple of dishes arrived:

Bread (of course, we’re in Thpain now after all)

Garlic prawns (garlic with a dash of prawns)

More bread, this time covered in tomatoes and jamon (the real deal)

Seafood croquettes. Now let me just say I am a tough judge of the delightful little fried flavour parcel that is a croquette. Last year in Thpain we had a croquette-off.  Everywhere they were offered we tried them, so we’ve seen frozen, fresh, seafood, pork, jamon, extra fried, not quiet fried enough, what the, oh yeah, omg.
So where did these rate? Unfortunately, only somewhere between “hmmm” and “not bad”.

Gallician style scallops (give me scallops and I’m a happy woman).

During this time, we also selected a few beers and a bottle of Thpanish red, which I feel is generally fail-safe.
Will the concept of beautiful red wine for only 4 euro a bottle ever reach the shores of Australia?

Next up was the main affair.  2 paella (pa-yeah-ya!) and 2 char grilled steak dishes (there were 8 of us).

Paella

The paella was decent but lacked a lil somethin’-somethin’.  More lemon? More seafood? More paprika? Perhaps all of the above.  It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it but it didn’t come close to making the very short list of paellas that are out of this world.

The meat, I thought, was awesome.  Juicy, rare and flavoursome; however, the jury was out on this one.  Perhaps I got a particularly great piece, perhaps I’m more of a meat lover than I thought or perhaps, with a vegetarian sister and mother, I just really want meat to know how much I appreciate it and that I won’t bail on it any time soon.

Chargrilled steak

The bill rolled in and after coughing up $80 a head, we (unfortunately) didn’t ‘roll’ out. It seemed expensive for what we ate but I think this probably came down to the booze, though this still wasn’t an excessive amount.  The controversy, however, really came along when it was time for the scoring.

The Robert Burns Hotel had our crowd truly divided: on one end of the spectrum was the Spaniards (and neighbouring countries’ descendants) only handing out 5s and 6s.  Is that because every European thinks their Nonna/Abuela/Yiayia does it better or did they have a point? On the other was descendants of Robert and his countrymen with 8s and 8.5s, were we easily fooled or did it really deserve that?

All round it averaged out to a 7/10.  I certainly wouldn’t steer anyone away from giving it a go but I wouldn’t be screaming “pa-yeah-ya!” over it either.

Robert Burns Hotel on Urbanspoon

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R is for Russian

Great fun but not Russian back

Walking into Matrioshka is like walking into a Russian wedding that you didn’t realise you were invited to.  Tables are set for large groups, there is a feeling of celebration in the air and the dance floor is ready to be pounded.

One thing that takes you pleasantly by surprise (apart from the ‘BYO anything you like’ policy) is the fact that the tables are already fully – and I mean FULLy – set with entree.

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Smoked salmon, roasted vegetables, assorted meats (including meat jelly for the more daring carnivores), meat doughnuts, mushrooms, assorted pickled stuff and perhaps the only Russian dish I previously knew – Russian salad.  I feel the Russian salad should be as popular as its Greek counterpart, they really do it well.  As for the meat doughnuts, why doesn’t every restaurant have these on their menu? Delish.

As more dishes started to pour out, it seemed that not one got taken away.  You are there to EAT and don’t they let you know it.

Meat jelly

Meat jelly

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Meat doughnut

Another interesting highlight of the hot entrees (yes, there are two rounds of entree) was the ‘red salmon caviar with blintzes’ (described as traditional Russian crepes served with red salmon caviar).  Whilst my usual topping of choice for crepes is lemon and sugar, the caviar worked surprisingly well.  It seems the Russians have taken everything we are familiar with as a dessert (jelly, doughnuts, crepes) and turned them into something meaty.  The jelly aside, you can’t argue with that.

Check the website for their full menu and note that you do not order a selection off the menu, you get all of it (plus the good times) for a nice round $70 a head with no pressure to tip and no corkage.  Cash only.

Yes, Matrioshka is more focused on quantity than quality but that isn’t to say the quality is bad, just that you’ll remember the quantity you actually consumed that night long after the memory of the quality is forgotten.

The meat platter for main was the highlight in most diners’ eyes – a great assortment of tasty, quality grilled meats.  Pace yourself during the two rounds of entree and be sure to grab one of the shanks first – yum cha rules apply.

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Although dessert is scarce (some fruit, tea and coffee), by that time the urge to dance far outweighs the urge to fit another sliver of food into your already over-packed belly.

A mix of Russian favourites (I assume?) and top 40 hits, sung by leopard skin clad Svetlana and Tenille, goes down well with the crowd that spans about 6 generations.  Although an elderly couple was first to kick off proceedings on the dance floor (and you’re invited to dance between or even during each course), we were the last to leave.

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Our night at Matrioshka was incredibly fun and a wonderful experience.  It was certainly not your regular restaurant or somewhere I’d go to often but I couldn’t complain.  You get fed, you get drunk and you get your dance-on.  Russian style.

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7/10

Matrioshka Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Q is for Qatari

Rumi has it

Q was another letter we had to bend the rules on.  Of course we couldn’t find a Qatari restaurant (shame on you Melbourne, you call yourself multicultural?), so we settled for Middle Eastern as a whole.

When it comes to Middle Eastern dining, Rumi is the upper class.  If Rumi were a person, it would play tennis on Tuesdays and holiday in the Hamptons.   When it comes to the upper class, it’s in your best interests to accept everything on offer, which is why we opted for the 5 course chef’s banquet.

The enormous banquet began slowly with a selection of nibbles, the stand out of which was the sigara boregi, or as I more fondly remember them, meat cigars.  What a concept.

Then we really started to get into the good stuff.  BBQ lamb cutlets, curly haloumi salad and fried cauliflower, accompanied by a shot of arak each (kids, don’t try this at home).

Arak and water

Arak and water

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BBQ lamb cutlet, fried cauliflower and curly haloumi salad

Let us take a moment to give our thanks for haloumi.  The cheese that keeps on giving.
Rumi has created a dish so delicious it defies everything I thought I knew about food.  Take spaghetti, the humble carbohydrate that so many of us couldn’t live without, then, instead of making it out of flour (ye of little taste), make it out of salty, creamy haloumi.  Dress with zesty citrus and fresh herbs and you have Rumi’s curly haloumi salad.  Wow.

Course three was perhaps the most intriguing dish of the night, wonderful in my opinion but I don’t imagine it’d be everyone’s cup of tea.  Hot yoghurt soup.  3 words I bet you never thought you’d hear together.  The soup was sour from the yogurt, rich from the hot butter sauce and it housed a warm meaty, mushroomy dumpling.  If some foods are a party in your mouth, hot yoghurt soup is a strange, fabulous, dress up party.

Hot yoghurt soup

Hot yoghurt soup

Although my stomach’s capacity was coming to an end, our dinner was not.  Next up was the baked snapper, eggplant and rice pilaf.  The thing you can never fault Middle Eastern cuisine on is lack of flavour.  It is a bold cuisine which combines sour, rich, vibrant flavours, you can be sure you’ll never walk away thinking “well that was bland”.  Why have rice, when you could have rice, lentils and fried onions? Why have snapper, when you could have snapper, walnuts and tangy herbs?

Baked snapper fillet, eggplant m’nazleh, rice pilaf

Baked snapper fillet, eggplant m’nazleh, rice pilaf

Finally, we were on the home stretch (we politely declined dessert, for lack of room, not desire). Beef kebabs, braised chickpeas, roasted mushrooms and sweet n sour salad (a flavour I previously only knew possible with pork).  I wish I knew how to make those mushrooms.

BBQ beef kebabs, braised chickpeas, roasted mushrooms, cos and herb salad

BBQ beef kebabs, braised chickpeas, roasted mushrooms, cos and herb salad

A couple of 961 lagers and a bottle of Lebanese Tempranillo lasted us the duration of the evening and the entire shebang came in at $80 a head, good value for such a huge, great quality meal.

Rumi: spread the word.

8.5/10

Rumi on Urbanspoon

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P is for Peruvian

Newcomer Peruves it’s worth it! 

Piqueos is the new cool kid on the Carlton block.  It has all the makings of a great Melbourne restaurant: a menu designed to share, a fabulous cocktail list, wonderful food and of course, exposed brick walls.

Our national drink of the night was first up, Pisco Sours all round.  When I went to Peru in 2005, this was my drink of choice.  A light, sour, alcoholic cocktail which, when combined with malaria tablets, worked quickly.  With the exception of the malaria tablets, Piqueos replicated this cocktail perfectly.  Unfortunately at $20 a pop, it did not come with the price tag you might expect in Cuzco but, of course, one that you could expect in Melbourne.

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6 of us dined as the style of Piqueos demands, we shared everything, starting with one of the empanadas each.  An empanada to me is like pizza: when it’s good, it’s really good and when it’s bad, it’s still kinda good.  Take a combination of great ingredients (- beef, olive, egg – or – chicken and char grilled corn – or – cheese, potato, onion – in the case of Piqueos), wrap in a little carbohydrate parcel and fry.  These ones were exceptional.

Following these, we ordered the cebiche and mollejas.  The cebiche was truly out of this world.  A tangy, fresh combination of beautiful fish and vibrant flavours, the only downside being, there was just not enough of it.  The mollejas was ordered by my boyfriend, who is of Spanish decent.  I don’t usually question him when he pronounces double Ls as Ys and Js as Hs but this time was different.  He had just ordered us a plate of sweetbreads.

Some people know what sweetbreads are, some people don’t know what sweetbreads are and some people don’t know what sweetbreads are but are too afraid to ask at a fancy restaurant and end up with a plate full of char grilled beef innards.

I’m still not sure which category my boyfriend falls into.

Regardless, he came through with the goods on this occasion.  If ever you are going to try sweetbreads, Piqueos is the place to do it.

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Next came the larger dishes.  2 x Pollito – Peruvian spiced baby chicken (not one word you can fault there), 2 x Tira de asado - 48 hr slow cooked beef short rib with chimmichurri (hello gorgeous) and 1 x “Poon Boon” lamb rump (how could we not?).

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Pollito

Ribs that make you say OMG

Ribs that make you say OMG

Each of these three dishes was outstanding.  Their unbelievably powerful flavour caused a stir.  I think I might forever compare restaurant dishes to these in the future; I’ve already found myself saying “this is way more bland than Piqueos”.

After a bottle of Malbec (unfortunately there was no Peruvian wine on offer but it is sinister to complain about the fact that we had to drink Argentinian wine) and a couple of beers for each of the boys, the bill clocked in at $75 a head (note that ordering a la carte worked out cheaper than if we had have done the degustation).

In summary, I couldn’t rave enough about the quality of the food at Piqueos.  It was absolutely delicious.  Also, I am a person that understands and enjoys the fact that nice restaurants serve small portions (as opposed to some of the quantity haters on Urbanspoon); however, I feel a menu designed to share has to be a little more lenient.  My only criticism would be that the portion sizes for me just weren’t quite enough for the price.  Perhaps the menu is better suited to sharing between 2 or maybe 4, not 6 as we were.  Having said that, I would definitely go back, I have been dreaming about that cebiche…and the ribs, oh those ribs.

If you are the type that goes for quantity over quality, this may not be for you.  If you appreciate good food, no matter what the size, put it on your to do list.  Be prepared to try a few new things, expect that it will be a bit pricey and you will be very very pleased.  Just be careful of the bathrooms –  I can’t tell you which one is for the men and which is for the women but you’ll make new friends outside trying to figure it out.

I’d love to see South American cuisine take off the way Mexican has and if it does, this restaurant is my piq of the bunch.

8.5/10
Piqueos on Urbanspoon

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