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Posts Tagged ‘melbourne’

Image courtesy Rockpool

It’s after 11:30 pm and I haven’t eaten. In Spain, this is normal. In Melbourne, however, options dwindle quickly.  As fortune has it, Partner and I are at Crown Casino. As fortune also has it, we have both been freshly eliminated from a seven hour poker tournament and we need a feed. A franchise burger ain’t going to cut it.

We’re not in a gambling mood; but we have to play dinner lotto nonetheless.

There are plenty of dining options at Crown, more than 40 eateries in fact, but few of them offer a full menu close to midnight.

After what seemed like a 10 km trek from the poker room we ambled into Rockpool Bar & Grill, arriving at the maître d‘s desk looking faint and dishevelled. Were they still serving dinner?

No.

If we promised to order just steak and not dawdle over our food, were they still serving dinner?

Yes.

I don’t normally beg, but it turned out to be my first winning move of the day. I’m not sure whether it was our desperation or our disappointment that got us over the line into the dining room. Whatever the case, seconds later we were seated and given time and space to review the menu.

Not that we needed much time. We were here for the celebrated steak, so it was a matter of choosing between the different cuts and varying qualities. The menu delineates between the all lower-case ‘david blackmore full blood wagyu’ (the priciest), ‘cape grim dry aged 36 month old grass fed’ (I ordered the T-bone, medium rare), and ‘rangers valley dry aged 300 day grain fed’ (partner ordered the fillet, rare). Most of the steaks here cost around $50, with prime cuts of the wagyu creeping above the $100 mark.

There are plenty of other enticing looking options on the menu, like steamed live Tasmanian clams with Joselito Iberico ham, chili, tomato and chickpeas, but here the wood fire grill is King, with quail, pork sausages, lamb, chicken and seafood all getting a lick of it’s complex charry goodness.

It’s my second visit, so I have a vague idea of what to expect. In fact, I’m not sure if my first visit actually counts because I was little bit too high on beer and poker to notice anything but the perfect steak and substandard “mac-and-cheese”. The home-style dish was grainy; a mac-and-cheese no-no.

It’s late and I want a fat-and-carb side dish so I’m tempted to order it again.  But, I figure if my drunk brain was critical, my sober one would be even more unimpressed.

We order a modestly priced half bottle of 2005 Château Bernadotte Haut Médoc from an encyclopaedic, wonderful, steak-friendly list. I can barely make out its brick red meniscus. It’s dark in here, but it is almost midnight. I’m a bit nervous about finding my way to the bathroom and back again without running into something or getting lost.

The steak-friendly sides like potato puree and creamed silverbeet hover at around the $10 mark, likewise the salads. We opt for the chopped cos calad and tomato, olive, and basil salad. They’re good. The steak is perfect. The wine is invisible but wonderful.  The service was efficiently cheerful. I wished we’d been here earlier so we could dawdle. Here, the atmosphere is of the lingering kind.

Rockpool Bar & Grill

Crown Casino Complex

8 Whiteman St, Southbank
Ph: 8648 1900

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MoVida Aqui

Anchoa, Cantabrian anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet

I do get a little bit twitchy when a great restaurant expands. As a business spills into an adjacent shop front, I bite my nails as an appetizer. Sometimes, I can move happily on to the next course. St Kilda mainstay Ciccolina extended some years ago with great success. We habitués now ride out the no-bookings policy at the bar, noshing on the same glorious antipasto plate served in the restaurant.

Up the food chain a little, there are restaurants that replicate themselves. A visit to Nobu, for example, proves that cloning can be a very risky business.  Recipes can suffer and a TGI Fridays franchise feel is what passes for a “vibe” in some of the high end chains.

It’s impossible to reproduce the chemistry of an original restaurant. The best we can hope for is a really good translation.  When I heard that Frank Comorra had parlayed the back-lane MoVida into a huge Bourke Street locale, I started biting my nails again.

Out of the test-lab come new restaurants, MoVida Aqui and the adjacent outdoor Terraza. The original MoVida appeal is found not only in sensational food and wine, but in its cloak-and-dagger location.  There’s a particular romance to the Hosier Lane joint.  Tiny and tucked away, this place always made me feel very Boho. Seated with my small plates and rioja at the bar, I was a subversive diner.

At Aqui, one feels more upright. The place is large, bright and a million airy miles away from it’s forebear in terms of ambience. Massive windows afford views of the Supreme Court. Here, the legitimate city, and not the back alley, is part of the experience.

Perhaps the shift from cobblestone to avenue is not yet complete.  There are some mild kinks in the service. I was offered a choice between sparkling or “Melbourne” water.  When offered “Melbourne” water, all I could think of was muck from the Yarra. So confused and embarrassed, I asked for tap water specifically. Odd.

For the most part, Comorra sensibly offers a distinct experience. But he has been unable to resist a little decorative tribute to his original. The light fittings housed in milk crates are a design misstep. It’s as though the feel of a laneway has been transposed into an airline club lounge.

There’s no hint of airport in the food, though.  Many old favourites have made the transition intact. The Anchoa, Cantabrian anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet, has survived the trip up the Bourke Street Hill without melting. The braised beef cheek, however, didn’t seem to like its new surrounds so well.  It was a little dry and unappetizing.

New offerings include Bocadillo de calamares.  It’s a little like a calamari mini-burger, served with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise. It’s super-garlicky, the calamari was perfectly tender, and I could have eaten two. Codorniz, charcoal grilled quail served with housemade morcilla and chickpeas, hits all the right sour BBQ notes. An octopus salad appears that is OK but forgettable.

Paella del Marisco, Bomba rice cooked with seafood and saffron, is generous and flavoursome. I’d like say that it was spiked with a little too much rosemary; but I’ll concede the possibility that my membership in the original MoVida cult is clouding my judgement.

This new MoVida-for-the-masses ticks enough boxes for a return visit and a further education in some of the best Spanish cuisine in the country.

MoVida Aqui & MoVida Terraza, 500 Bourke St. (entry via Little Bourke Street)  Ph: 9663 3038.

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