Life after porn
130 Acland Street, St Kilda. (03) 9525 3333.
I just couldn’t continue my European food odyssey without a trip to the temple at which Melbourne food lovers go to worship. Yes, children. I’m talking about Cicciolina.
The biggest pain about Cicciolina is that it doesn’t take bookings. So we went to the gorgeous back bar early – 7pm – put our names on the list and ordered a bottle of prosecco and a small jug of cassis. We were willing to wait.
We were seated by 8pm, which was a lovely surprise on a Saturday night and everyone knows Cicciolina is worth a much longer wait.
On the way into the restaurant from the back bar, I asked our waiter whether brains were on the menu that night. He laughed in a slightly maniacal way and informed me that if brains weren’t on the menu, they wouldn’t be able to open the doors. A good sign, children, a good sign.
The thing that struck me before I’d even looked at the menu was the extremely well-priced wine list. We went with an old favourite, a Bollini Pinot Grigio, and it was under $40 and absolutely delicious – perfect for the hot, balmy weather.
It will come as absolutely no surprise that I ordered the brains wrapped in proschiutto, eggplant and basil, deep fried and served with roasted capisicum, fried chives and roasted garlic aioli ($15.50). This is a serious dish for the serious brain-lover. This ain’t no wallflower. This ain’t for wimps. This is richer than Bill Gates, more powerful than Warren Buffet.
Less than a week before I had brains at Bistro Thierry, so it was an interesting comparison. The Thierry dish was lighter and more subtle. The Cicciolina dish is more robust and crispy, from the deep fried pancetta, providing a nice contrast of textures. The only aspect that let the Cicciolina version down was the portion size – it was huge. And because I am a pig, I ate it all. Then I spent the space between entree and main feeling sorry for myself. Apart from that, they were completely different dishes – and wonderfully so.
For a main course, I had another entree, with a soufflé of blue swimmer crab meat, shallot and lemon thyme and served on a champagne and chive veloute ($19.50). Another extremely rich dish but light. The soufflé was so packed full of crab meat I expected to find a whole claw in the middle as a prize. The veloute required copious bread dipping once the soufflé had disappeared (didn’t take long).
My dining companions had roasted local snapper fillet served on a leek and black mussel & parmesan fondue with gnochette pasta and squid ink crumbs ($39) and eye fillet with kipfler potatoes, sautéed silverbeet, tempura baby zucchini and truffled mushroom butter ($42.50).
Something quite strange happened after Shtick Radish ordered his dish, the steak. Originally he ordered the rib eye. But the waitress, after consulting with the kitchen, returned to the table and explained that while there were two rib-eye left, the chef didn’t feel they were good enough to serve. It was disappointing, but also really pleasing that rather than just cooking it up and sticking it on a plate or telling us it had ‘run out’ they were honest and up front. Our waitress turned out to be one of the most pleasing aspects of the whole meal. She was friendly but not intrusive. Humorous but not cheesy. And I have to say that every other staff-member we encountered, from the back bar to the front of house, were funny, pleasant and really set the tone for a magnificent evening.
Anyway, back to the food, the steak and the fish both got glowing reports. While all the food was of the high quality we’ve come to expect from Cicciolina, the thing that stunned us was the size of the portions. I had two entrees, my dining companions had a main course each and we were completely stuffed. We couldn’t even fit in a slice of Cicciolina’s world-famous-in-Melbourne tarte tatin.
It’s been a while since I’ve venture to this stalwart of Melbourne restaurants, but it never disappoints. The day it opens its doors on Carlisle Street, less than two blocks from my house, as it plans to do, will be a very happy day indeed.
Value for money: 8/10