Sep Cucinetta – We’ve found Little Italy in South Yarra

Happiness is cheese and pasta and you can find happiness at Cucinetta. The cosy Italian Osteria opened in 2017. Since then, the South Yarra osteria has transitioned to current owner, Giocomo of Caffe Cuccina. The ‘no fridge’, same day strategy is Cucinetta’s pizzazz. When there’s literally no room for frozen, you know it’s as fresh as Nonna’s. Head chef Attilio Nuscis, rotates his menu weekly, just like Nonna would. The only difference is the giant wine glasses – seriously, they’re hilariously large.

This article was written for the AGFG.

Simple small-plate dining 

We’ve all had BIG PLATE Italian food. Giant plates of bolognaise, ‘pineapple’ on pizza – oh the horror. “We want to focus on small plates, that emphasise all our Italian backgrounds”, explains Giacomo. Not only is Cucinetta exceedingly intimate (there’s only 21 seats), but the food is wonderfully simple.

Food inspired by the Italian regions

We visit Southern Italy, for Burrata flown from the foothills of Naples. The uncanny, milky creaminess, is settled by peperonata, a chunky ‘stew’ of sweet bell peppers melted in olive oil, onions and tomatoes. Pan roasted Octopus takes us to the Italian coast. Tender and elastic, bouncing against the god of the vegetables -potato. Luscious lamb rump is sous vide, the final touches, drenched in red cabbage and wine jus. Pasta is made in-house and boy it makes a world of difference. The gnocchi is soft and delicate, a texture difficult to find.

The verdict

At a mere 29 square metres, Cucinetta proves small size packs a punch. The food is small plate dining, inspired by the regions of Italy. I adored the delicious simplicity and homely charm. Cucinetta is underrated in the noisy world of Melbourne dining. The team have kept it simple and true to the Italian soul.Don’t forget the large wine glasses and wines picked out by the sommelier. Delizioso!

Rating : 4.0 cookies out of 5
Must order: The menu changes weekly!

Mar MPD Steak Kitchen – Just a Lil’ Bit Fancy in Berwick

MPD steak kitchen brings a touch of theatrics to the South Eastern burbs. For the Zagames group, the million dollar steak house, is the diamond in the rough. It’s lightyears away from the family-friendly Zagames next door. The residents of Berwick breath a sigh of relief, there isn’t much to eat, this far South. Now, there’s billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen and tomohawk steaks the size of a baby. But how does MPD compare to its CBD counterparts? Is it worth the trek down, for us spoilt inner city latte sippers?

You’d be pretty daft to miss the theme of MPD. Leather throw-rugs, portraits of cows, flame- lit skulls. It seems our bovine friend, features in both the menu and decor. You’d never guess that you’re in Berwick, with the world-class cellar and million dollar decor. There’s no minimalism here. It’s full blown sensuous cow decor, complete with fireplace, darkly lit ambiance and a bit of nitrogen magic. You’re in the meat packing district, now.

Lamb Ribs w/ Salsa Verde, Pickled carrots

Executive Chef, Chris Bonello, heads the MPD kitchen, with an evolving seasonal menu. As you’d expect, meat is prime and centre, with supplier’s including David Blackmore’s infamous wagyu, Flinder’s Island lamb and Moonlight Oysters. Expects pops of 63 degree eggs. Scoop cubes of fresh steak tartare onto slivers of crispy potatoes chips. Oysters are zesty, with pops of the Australian finger lime and granita. Finger licking lamb ribs, arrive with the cutest pickled orange balls. The starters are prime to impress.

For the big guns, 300g Scotch fillet, dredged in an indulgent bearnaise sauce beckons. Sides of duck fat roasted potatoes and truffle mac & cheese, complete the dream team. Dessert is a mixed affair. A crack of caramelised exterior reveals a Valrhona chocolate brulee. The apple tarte tatin arrives in flakey buttery pastry. The MPD Tiramisu drowns in a spectacle of liquid nitrogen, frozen intermittently to create a ‘snow’ of coffee. The appearance is theatric, but flavour wise, the intensity could be amplified.

Cocktails are another theatric affair. Put your googles on for another misty concoction. House-made gingerbread ice cream is made at the table, solidifying over the espresso martini. At this stage, the nitrogen starts to feel gimmicky. Melbourne has had its fair share of nitrogen ice cream. But… I guess it’s enjoyable all the same?

MPD outperforms certain CBD steakhouses. The prices point towards casual dining. But ‘casual’ in Melbourne is another level. Lunch specials include 3 courses for $45 or $95 for the chef’s tasting menu. Pretty accessible pricing for the calibre of food. The plating and style emulate the finer end of the dining spectrum. I still wouldn’t classify MPD as ‘fine’, but rather a suave cocktail bar, mixed with fancy-pants gastropub? If you’re heading down to the east, MPD is worth the pit stop.

Aug House of Hoi An – Taste of Central Vietnam

Enter Ms Vy’s House of Hoi An for a taste of Central Vietnam. Is it a blink and you’ll miss it hole-in-the-wall? Definitely not. At night, the psychedelic glow, lights up Windsor. The vibrant mural of a river scene, with glowing lanterns, lures diners inside. On a freezing winter’s night, it radiates warmth. Don’t make me go back outside!

Ms Vy is the Jamie Oliver of Vietnam – with three restaurants, a cooking school and books to her name. A venture to the southside of Melbourne, further expands the Taste of Vietnam empire. Hoi An  is part of Central Vietnam – the former port city is a cultural melting point. The trade of spices and other commodities, shapes the food of the region, making it spicier than its Northern and Southern counterparts. Being half Vietnamese, the food I’ve grown up with heralds from Southern Vietnam (Saigon specifically – where my parents were born).  Banh Xeo, beef pho, Vietnamese curry – is the food you typically associate with the cuisine. I’d thought I had tried every Vietnamese dish, but House of Hoi An has a few surprises. 

Starters commence with crispy fried wontons, topped with a fresh crab salad. Next, Banh Uot Thit Nuong, a dish that Dad throws together at home with his own variation. You might’ve noticed that the Vietnamese love rolling things – either in veggies, vermicelli or in this case rice paper. Fragrant BBQ pork cooked on skewers, is served on a wooden board with your ‘rolling’ accompaniments. Both dishes are banging.

Onto the heavier mains – this is where the spice of the region shines through. The stuffed squid is a signature for House of Hoi An. I was particularly keen , as this was a Vietnamese dish that I’ve never encountered. The squid is  juicy and ‘stuffed’ with minced pork. On its own, the peppery notes can be overpowering. This one is for sharing. The sauteed prawns are presented in a coconut. Lift off the lid to reveal the aroma of coconut and plump prawns, sauteed in a curry sauce.  Again, the saltiness can be  a tad overpowering. Dessert was a major thumbs up. Frozen banana is smothered in coconut three-ways, in a refreshing palate cleanser.

House of Hoi An goes beyond standard spring rolls and bowls of pho. It introduces Melbournians to Central Vietnamese cuisine – a lesser known region of Vietnam known for spice and heat.

Ten One Ate & Giant Marshmallow Hot Chocolates

Ten One Ate is two-faced. Not in the nasty sense, but in the sense that the menu can be clearly segregated. One side, is health driven, focusing on organic, sustainable produce. The other side, screams ADHD, with hyperactive, sugar laden dishes.  It seems most people, are attracted to the butt cheek expanding options. Who can blame them? The Steak Sandwich is a masculine choice, with Angus Scotch steak, sandwiched with creamy avocado and cheese. Accompanied with crispy chips, a more pungent cheese eg. gruyere would’ve made this even better. Not complaining though, this was darn tasty. Ordering salt & pepper calamari is high risk. It’s a stock standard dish found at EVERY family restaurant. Ten One Ate’s version is refined, with scatterings of organic baby corn, amongst other hipster approved greens.  If only all salt & pepper calamari dishes, were this good!

Onto the intriguing hot chocolates. The giant marshmallows arrive, toasted, as a delicious floatation device. We asked the owner where can we purchase giant Marshmallows? He replies jokingly ‘ I’ld have to kill you, if I told you’. Let’s just say it starts with a C ;). The slight bitterness of Matcha, provides a differential tasting point. The White Chocolate sits in the background. The slowly disintegrating marshmallow, further enhances the sweetness. Without which, the hot chocolate is quite mild. We prefer our hot drinks intense and thick – but each to their own?

Ten One Ate elevates the North West, replacing the Bricklayer’s Arm, as a new dining destination. Look to the floor and you’ll notice an underground private dining room. Look to your belly and you’ll notice a satisfying bulge. Go forth and make some food babies!

Salt & Pepper Calamari w/ Organic Baby Corn, Quinoa, Broccoli, Salsa verde, Pomegranate, Lime vinegar dressing

Steak Sandwich & Chips  – Angus scotch steak, Roast peppers, Cheese, Avocado, Onions, Lettuce, Aioli

Ten One Ate is two-faced. Not in the nasty sense, but in the sense that the menu can be clearly segregated. One side, is health driven, focusing on organic, sustainable produce. The othe