Pei Modern. The name of Australian restauranteur Mark Best’s newest venture in Melbourne’s CBD. Best is well known by many for his multiple award winning Marque Restaurant in Surry Hills, NSW. I have not been to Marque and assuming that the big wheels keep on turnin’ – I shall one day. I did visit Pei Modern for dinner in September 2012 and to be frankly honest - it was awesome.
Located at the base of the Sofitel Hotel on Collins Street, Pei has established itself as a premiere all-day dining venue offering a breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as a bar menu. Pei has recently been awarded the prestigious honour of ‘Best New Restaurant’ in Victoria for 2012, by the ever reliable Age Good Food Guide. Being awarded such a prestigious honor certainly pumped up my expectations (and appetite) before attending.
The cuisine is modern Australian incorporating gastronomic edge to many of the dishes. I was recommended by many to take advantage of the degustation dining experience. This consisted of 7 courses at, dare I say, a reasonable price of $90 per head (without tip or alcohol included) but I do think that it was quite reasonable for the callibre of the food. As such, we swooped in while we can still afford it. An a la carte option is available too.
Our palette was whet with freshly sliced sourdough, butter and salt – the key to this chommer’s heart. The simple combination of these three basic staples makes for a superb beginning to the feast. To cap it off, the hospitable staff replaced the full package as soon as we were done. Believe it or not – the upcoming feast was so large we only went through two rounds of bread!
The first course was the almond garzpachio with blue swimmer crab. This was a fabulous opening dish that was light but flavourfilled. Small pieces of fresh crab were hidden under a dressing that we felt tasted almost like hummus. Sweet red grapes were included too, which balanced the dish well.
We moved onto the cold smoked tuna with goat’s curd and mustard seeds. This dish was an artist’s piece and almost looked to good to chom. Almost! Possibly the finest tuna that has ever graced my lips. Add all that other craziness and liquid goat’s curd underneath – you have a delicious dish.
Just a little warning, don’t be a hater and just eat Peter – he tastes delicious. The rabbit meatballs with slow cooked carrot were to die for! Definitely in the top 7 dishes we had for the night. While these were not as visually appealing, they made up for it in sheer eating delight. Warm, soft and full of juice, lying in juice. The carrots were not the center of attention but were divine too and soft as butter.
From my understanding, this is quickly becoming Pei’s signature dish. This is Dutch cream potatoes with bone marrow, potatoe mousse and coffee grounds. While the name/description do not sound too desirable, I felt I was comfortably in safe hands. This was a massive serving of soft potatoes hiding beneath the super flavoursome creamy broth. Word’s cannot describe the flavours – a must try!
The fifth and final savoury course was the wood fire grilled hanger steak charred pablano pepper and harissa. A beautiful, rare piece of meat to take the centre stage with the harissa a ‘match made in heaven’ accompaniment. Truthfully, we were all full to the brim by this point. How did we manage dessert?
Dark chocolate sorbet with crushed chocolate and honeycomb. The photo does not depict this well, you may be able to make out the chocolate at the base of the cones. This is for dipping the ice cream into – need I say more? And, YES double dipping did occur – triple too!
The 7th course finally arrived – the one that we truly believed that our stomachs had no room for. It was white chocolate and yoghurt ganache with fresh mandarin and sorrel sorbet. I summoned to the almighty chomming gods for the strength to plough this dessert.
Pei Modern is truly something special. Save it for a special occasion or don’t – either way just make sure that you find the time to go down. Hands down I would recommend the degustation experience as an awesome way of trying a large portion of the menu. From what I am aware, the menu changes every day of the week but Sunday when Pei has a little rest. Open from 5:30pm all other days – Pei Modern is at your service.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Modern Australian / Gastronimic
Noise: Nice hum
Bookings: Yes – Praise the lord
Suitable for: Adults inclined
Dress: Work wear appropriate
Price: $90 per head (excluding alcohol)
My View: An affordable and scrumptious degustation experience
Address: 45 Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9654 8545
In the pursuit of becoming an all knowledgeable foodie (one can dream) I have found one cuisine falls by the way-side – Italian. I think it relates to a loopy mentality that goes something along the lines of, “I can make a spag-bol at home”, so why would you go out for it? You are now probably thinking that I am naive and slightly stupid. You’re probably right too.
We decided to steer clear of the burger bonanza, take a trip away from Thai and choose something other than Chinese. I had Franco Choo’s in Prahran on my list ever since it opened in 2011.
The menu consisted of three entrees, two main courses and two desserts. For a night out as a couple, this was a blogger’s paradise. It was suggested by the waiter that a 3 course menu was available for $43.00 per person. We did some calculations, assessed our hunger levels and naturally, obliged gracefully.
The vitello tonnato was a beautiful appetiser consisting of thinly sliced poached veal with tuna mayonnaise ($13.00). The veal was served cold and the pieces were much thicker than a carpaccio which is good for the big chommer. The thick dressing of mayo was full on but totally delicious.
If only this pasta came in a main course size – if not that – if only I could have a life time supply in my fridge. Either one, I will be happy with. The pasta was perfectly boiled – perfect al dente (none of that shmooshy/watery stuff). The pork mince gave it a meaty goodness that my heart desires, and the shavings of cheese was a great topping (especially when tossed through). Note: Photo does not do justice (PDNDJ).
Saffron braised free-range milawa chicken leg, artichokes and polenta gnocchi ($26.00). If the chicken falls off the bone without the use of a knife then generally speaking you have a winner. Each soft piece was dripping with chicken goodness as the remainder braised itself in the sauce on the plate. The polenta crisps were delicious without being over-fried and worked well to soak up the sauce.
Why not throw in an overused cliche – This dish looked too good to eat! Pan roasted barramundi, squid ink risotto and new season’s pea ($28.00). A generous portion of fish that possessed a crunchy and nutritious skin. Call me crazy but the highlight was actually the risotto. I don’t know if you buy the squid ink from a calamari store or Officeworks but it makes for amazing flavours!
Almond meringue rotolo (roll), strawberry and blood orange sauce ($11.00). Strawberries (check), cream (check) = happiness.
While dessert has become a staple conclusion on my eating adventures, it usually only consists of one only – we did manage with two this time. Warm semolina pudding, burnt orange caramel, pear and mascarpone ($12.00). Another very visually pleasing dish for the evening. A really interesting option that worked very well. The crushed pistachios are a great finishing touch.
I am sure these are not the typical dish you imagine when you hear of an Italian restaurant, but sometimes it is better that way. The combination of flavours, the beautiful arrangements and the high quality produce used in each dish, places this gem aside from the standard pizza/pasta charade. The menu changes every 2-3 weeks, so odds are we will have a different experience next time. Now it is time to tie up your shoes, because you can’t refuse a lovely night out at Franco Choo’s.
The Important Details…
Noise: Gentle background music
Suitable for: Adults – no children
Dress: Slightly above average
Price: $43 for 3 courses – no alcohol
My View: Small but great!
Address: 179a High Street, Prahran
Phone: (03) 9529 7310
In 1993 the widely popular St. Kilda institution Cicciolina, was established. She has now graced Melbourne with her presence for almost two decades. Serving up heavily influenced European fare in an authentically humble eating environment. You can count on being in good hands as soon as you step in the door. Interestingly enough the restaurant name La Cicciolina was inspired by a multi talented porn star, politician and singer, whose stage name was La Cicciolina (thanks Wikipedia).
When you find yourself in the middle of Acland Street you really couldn’t be positioned closer to the heart of St Kilda. Great location for a fabulous restaurant? – I would say yes! Funnily enough, finding an excellent meal on the the popular Acland Street (Chapel too for that matter) can be a hard pressed challenge for a foodie. This Chommer believes that the highly inflated rents, the stupid tourists and the overall commercial-ness of these streets would be key factors in deterring restauranters from opening. Cicciolina has proven to be one of the most (if not the only) worthwhile destinations on Acland Street.
The combination of the timeless fit out and the friendly staff have managed to create a relaxed environment with enough touch of European culture and sophistication to make Cicciolina one of the better restaurants in Melbourne. The eating space consists of a cosy, small dog leg space with a window front view of Acland Street and a bustling kitchen at the back. Behind the kitchen lies Cicciolina’s own ‘Back Bar’, which is a great place to lounge around on the leather couches, sip cocktails and enjoy a few small sharing plates while you wait for your table. Note: the main entrance is via the lane way adjacent to the restaurant. A strict ‘No Booking’ policy means that if you don’t get here early, you can stroll around St Kilda or drink up in the bar while you wait for your table.
Bread and butter – one of life’s most underrated simple pleasures. Cicciolina serves this to each table as they arrive. I felt the need to express that the bread WITH the butter is an epic combination here. Well worth the calories, carbohydrates and other naughties. Dig in!
I have a sneaking suspicion that the bread is sourced from Baker D Chirico on Fitzroy Street. If that isn’t enough, when your done with your plate, they will replace it with more. Heaven. I was full after 2.5 plates – Not really.
Selection of Antipasto ($20.50). This sharing plate consisted of: dried meats, chorizo slices, sun-dried tomatoes, capsicum, olives and feta with flavoursome accompaniments including a quiche, a frittata, assorted dips (pumpkin and whole white bean with avocado) and one arancini ball. This is an excellent plate to split between two or at a stretch three people. If you go with the latter a second entree would go down well.
Oven baked baby chicken served on chat potatoes and leek rounds with a dijon mustard cream and watercress salad ($35.50). The dressing combined with the leeks and the nicely plump chicky was a winner. The flavours were rich without being over-powering and complemented each other rather well. My only criticism is that I love to eat all that is on my plate however, gnawing on the bone in such a nice place is unacceptable – what a shame!
Premium eye fillet char grilled to order (medium rare – obviously), served with a roasted potato fondant, wilted spinach and a basil and olive oil paste ($40.50). This chommer doesn’t indulge in fine meat even close to as much as he should. Although, saving it for special occasions ensures the ‘wow’ factor remains in tact. Tender, well portioned and full of meaty juice makes for an epic piece of steak. After you have enjoyed this slice of heaven, The Chommery suggests heading on down to either Bistro Thierry in Toorak or France Soir in South Yarra, which also serve excellent fillets.
The only regret of yet another successful night out on the chom, was that we didn’t order the chocolate pudding. Quite frankly, even if we did, chances are there wouldn’t have been enough time to snap a photo before the destruction of it began. Take it from me, the pudding is a must order if you have room. Any how, if Cicciolina is a been there done that, or if you are looking for somewhere new, they recently gave birth to a young, sexy daughter called Ilona Staller at 282 Carlisle Street, Balaclava.
To leave this post on a different note…
Cicciolina fills out extremely quick
Head down early and it will do the trick (6:00pm roughly)
No stress if you get there late
Chill at their groovy bar while you wait
Maybe you could sip some beers
Everybody will say cheers
Once you manage to get inside
You know my heart will be filled with pride
Order from the superb menu
You will see this is a top venue
Cicciolina is the bomb
Go enjoy and chom chom chom
The Important Details…
Cuisine: European / International
Bookings: No, sorry
Suitable For: appreciators of fine chomming. Not suitable for babies.
Dress: Smart casual
Price: $60 per head with an alcoholic beverage
My View: Cicciolina is like a great bottle of red – keeps getting better
Address: 130 Acland Street, St Kilda
Phone: (03) 9525 3333