For our last night in Melbourne, Monsieur Poisson and I decided to take Anna’s suggestion and have Italian at Bottega which is situated a couple of doors down from two-hatted Grossi Florentino.
We have a confirmed table reservation and are seated in the corner of the front window just around from the doorway in an already half-full restaurant. The atmosphere in the restaurant is warm and the background conversation buzzing when we are offered complimentary sourdough bread with butter.
I order a bellini with berry purée which unfortunately does not arrive until after Monsieur Poisson enquires about it after finishing our first course. The funny thing about our primi is that Monsieur Poisson has ordered the ‘Pancetta-wrapped scallops with truffled mash and sauce vierge’ while I have ordered the ‘Peppered beef carpaccio with truffled aioli, capers and parmesan’; and because carpaccio is seemingly such a more masculine dish, it is routinely placed in front of Monsieur Poisson instead of me. (We politely waited until the waiter had turned and walked away before swapping our dishes around.)
Both primi are amazing. The scallops are wrapped in paper-thin pancetta strips which have been grilled crisp. These are then rested on top of dollops of truffled mash. Cubes of tomato are balanced on top of these before being drizzled light-handedly with sauce vierge. The beef carpaccio is easily the best I have ever had. The plate is entirely covered with thinly sliced discs of beef fillet which are dressed in thick, creamy aioli and a drizzling of olive oil. The capers and parmesan add just the right amount of salty pungency.
Our waiter, we’ve discovered, has a habit of extending his hand to place and collect dishes through the gap between Monsieur Poisson’s seat and the adjacent window pane instead of walking around our table so that we can both see him. This gives us several small frights throughout the evening.
In the meantime a table of two couples has been seated next to us who are perplexed by my photographing of food and proceed to discuss it in loud whispers. We try our best to ignore this when our main meals arrive. Monsieur Poisson has the ‘Roasted pork with celeriac, roasted shallots and apple slaw’ which is warming and earthy with its pork crackling and fragrantly smooth celeriac purée. There is also a massive shallot roasted until sweet served alongside. However what I love is the refreshing crunch of the tangy apple slaw which I keep picking at from Monsieur Poisson’s plate.
I opt for a serve of the ‘House-made tagliatelle with blue swimmer crab and nettle’. I am attracted by the mention of crab but somewhat intrigued by the inclusion of nettle, which I know only to be a stinging plant. Later research reveals that both soaking and cooking the nettles removes its stinging quality and that it is rich in iron. In this particular dish I think the nettle has first been flash-fried before being incorporated into the sauce, so some bits are slightly crispy. Overall the taste is mildly herby and the house-made pasta is wonderfully slippery and soft.
For dessert I cannot go past the ‘Affogato with house-made vanilla ice-cream, chocolate sauce and house-made biscotti’, as affogato is a favourite of mine. And when there’s chocolate included in the mix? Even better!
I am pleasantly surprised by the array of biscotti and am much more full after this dessert than expected. Monsieur Poisson has the ‘Cannoli filled with ricotta, hazelnut and chocolate candied orange with bitter chocolate ice-cream’ which has thin, crisp tubes of cannoli enclosing a light and slightly nutty filling. The bitter chocolate ice-cream lends a jaffa taste when paired with the candied orange.
To finish, Monsieur Poisson orders a caffe latte which arrives with a couple more pieces of biscotti and we are thoroughly stuffed full of food before heading back to the hotel to pack and return to Sydney the next morning.
74 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC
Tel: (03) 9654 2252
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 12pm-3pm (lunch)
Sat 5:30-11pm (dinner only)