The bastard love child of a calzone and a curry puff.

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Panzerotti, at the Elizabeth St end of Flinders Lane. The first few times I walked past here I thought “aw how cute, a street sign of colorful raviolis” but eventually my curiosity got the better of me, and how glad I am that it did!

Panzerotti are little half moons of pastry filled with delicious cheesy tomato-y pizza-topping-y goodness. They don’t have a thick crust like a pizza or a calzone though, it’s more of a pastry (having been fried in olive oil) which is a little chewy, and only the tiniest bit flaky on the very outside. The first thing that popped into my mind when I tried one was that this must be the bastard love child of a curry puff and a calzone.

Apparently Panzerotti are a traditional food from the town of Cerignola on the north side of southern Italy, and apparently Vince (the owner) is the first person to bring them to Australia. Thankyou Vince!!
The province Cerignola is in (Foggia) is known for its agriculture and produce. It’s not hard to imagine the evolution of this incredibly delicious pocket food made from simple but high quality ingredients. (Have you read my review of +39 Pizzeria? Similar thoughts about tomato sauce apply here.)

They come in a cute little brown paper bag (hand?) stamped with the company logo.

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The first time I tried one, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so I got a mini (in traditional flavour: mozarella, tomato and basil) and by the time I’d walked half a block I desperately wanted to turn around and go back for another. But I didn’t. But I have been almost every time I’ve been into the city since then. No more mini sampler for me.

Today’s was Calabria, a salami and cheese stuffed delight. The salami is thoughtfully sliced into strips for easier eating, but the stuffed-ness still threatens to overflow the pastry as you bite into it.

Calabria - hot salami, tomato and mozzarella

Calabria – hot salami, tomato and mozzarella

Frankly there is something about ANY product that oozes melted cheese when you bite into it that just makes me giddy with delight.

And to top it all off, you get a little loyalty card that gives you every 5th panzerotti free, and god knows I’m a sucker for collecting loyalty cards.

http://www.thepanzerottishop.com.au/

Elwood Food and Wine Bar

From Mon-Weds Elwood Food and Wine Bar has a tapas special – $10 for any tapas dish and a glass of house wine.

While it is, of course, still a house wine, it’s reasonably drinkable and considering some of the tapas dishes are normally $10 on their own you aren’t losing much. The service is helpful and the food service is quick. It was no issue separately ordering 2 separate rounds of tapas (2 dishes per person was enough for dinner) as you aren’t left waiting a long time after each order.

Croquettes: special of the day, chorizo and corn – while the crumb on the outside of the croquettes was golden and crispy, and the corn added a nice flavour, the chorizo inside them was a little tough and the majority of the croquette a bit too floury, sticking to the teeth a bit as you ate. I’m not a big fan of that furry coated feeling.

Chorizo – yes we ordered 2 chorizo dishes. Served with red wine reduction and spinach, this was a nicely spicy chorizo. Just enough to make you satisfied without being so much that the richness of it gets sickening.

Eye fillet skewers – these are fantastic. You get two skewers per serve each with 3-4 pieces of steak… Flavorful, fall-apart, melt in your mouth steak… Also comes with rocket and sweet potato mash. Sends me to my happy place. It was so good we ordered a second plate of it in round 2.

Haloumi – served with a wedge of lemon, fresh herbs, and caramelized figs. I may love haloumi more than people but I was a bit torn. While I do like figs with cheese I usually save it for a very strong soft cheese or a blue. Thu have such a sweetness and distinct flavor I think they detract a little from the simple classic taste of the haloumi.

Sweet potato wedges – farmhouse style fries with aioli. Again I’m torn. I like sweet potato, and these were done quite well with a reasonable amount of crispness. But I like my fries salty and I find the sweetness of sweet potato always detracts from this, even if they have a fair amount of salt. I’ll eat sweet potato fries but I’m never quite sure what box they tick, as they don’t quite kill a savory craving. The aioli was smooth and had quite a nice flavor but for personal preference I would have liked a lot more garlic. I mean a loooooot more garlic.

Although it was quite cold we ate in the outdoor area and it was plenty warm enough as they had plastic blinds and overhead heaters, but as a nice extra touch they had also put blankets out on the benches. We spent $55 for 5 tapas, 5 glasses of wine and the fries, and it was enough to fill 3 (only moderately hungry) people.

Peko Peko

If you work anywhere near the domain interchange, you probably already know about Peko Peko, and if you don’t, you should. This place is always, always packed (the only busier place in the area is possibly Don Don’s) and this includes in the evenings on weekdays when all the office types have gone home, so it’s popular with South Melbourne locals as well.

A sort of Australianised Taiwanese fusion, the highlight is the Peko box (expect to spend a while struggling to decide what to choose, as everything sounds delicious and several dishes have entertaining names like Pork Chop Addiction) a sort of Taiwanese bento of rice, your chosen dish, and two sides which are either a triangle of fried tofu or a spring roll with sweet chilli sauce, and whatever the vegetable side of the day is. This time it was tofu and steamed brocolli with a peanut and sesame oil flavoured creamy sauce, which was new and quite tasty. Let’s face it, sesame oil is one of those things that just make other things taste fantastic.

Having decided on a sort of rotation between my half dozen or so favourite dishes there, I was back up to the top of the list with Pop Chicken this time. Small bite sized pieces of chicken in a spicy salt and pepper batter. The crispiness varies but it’s usually pretty good. Better if you eat in – the takeout tends to sweat a little.

Pop Chicken Peko Box

The only problem with Peko Peko – oh but wait! I totally forgot about the entree! We tried the Peko sausage, which I’ve never had before (usually get dumplings or spring rolls) and I didn’t have high expectations but oh my god it was delicious. Looking like a kransky but tasting like a sort of… taiwanese jerky cross BBQ pork cross asian chorizo, with a crispy fried outside. YOU NEED TO BUY THIS SAUSAGE.

Ahem… anyway. The only problem with Peko Peko really is that most of their dishes tend to be a bit much. Not in volume, but in same-ness of strong flavour. I find I get a bit over the flavour of fried by about 3/4 through the Pop Chicken, similarly if you order one of the dishes with sauce, the sauce will start to get a bit overbearing before you’re actually full. Most of the sauces seem to have a lot of sugar in them.

Having said that, doesn’t seem to stop me going back over and over and over and over and over.

The vegetarian dishes and the satay beef fried rice seem to avoid this cumulative intensity issue.

If you order takeout prepare to wait 20-30 minutes to pick it up. Seems to only be about 10 minutes if you actually walk in there to order and wait in the store. If you want to sit at a table in the restaurant, make sure you  make a booking.

The Common Man – Urban Hangi

The alternate title for this post should be “The Etiquette of Eating with Strangers” – for this reason I also didn’t take any photos of the food, but more on that later.

I recently was very privileged to win two tickets through Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to The Common Man’s “Urban Hangi” event, as part of the 2013 Roast Collection. Having been to New Zealand several times and eaten a real hangi meal (food baked in baskets in the ground over hot stones/coals, or in volcanic activity reasons, baked in the naturally hot earth near active geysers) I found this a pretty interesting concept.

They achieved a ‘hangi’ style of cooking by filling a large skip with earth and building a firepit in it, then cooking the food on trays.

Source: The Common Man on Duke's Walk Official Facebook Page

Source: The Common Man on Duke’s Walk Official Facebook Page

The menu for the evening featured 3 courses.

  • Pan fried pheasant – I have wanted to try pheasant for quite a long time, thanks to Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World. I have to say I expected it to be somewhat larger though, closer to chicken sized, so I was quite surprised that it looked more like quail. Of course it has a moderate gamey flavour also. Served on ‘gratinated cauliflower’ which had a pleasant smokey flavour, and with a light sauce and some kind of fig paste, which helped to enhance the flavour of the pheasant whilst reducing the ‘gamey’-ness.
  • Slow cooked wild boar – The main we were served was wild boar ribs, which essentially looked and tasted much like regular pork. Had been marinated in manuka honey and served with a spiced gravy, purple potatoes, sweet potato and black pudding yorkshires, which to me were the star (well, maybe equal first with the meat) with a good ratio of black pudding to pastry, and a tasty pastry that wasn’t too greasy and just a little spongy on the teeth.
  • Vanilla Pudding – More of a sponge cake than a pudding, dessert was served with a pleasant honeycomb custard and ‘drunken’ apricots. They didn’t taste all that drunken to me but the pudding was warm, sweet without being cloying, and most importantly filled your nose with a comforting, rich vanilla smell the entire time you were eating it.

Overall, the food was pretty good, and even if I had paid I would have been pretty happy with the three courses provided for $45 (standard ticketed meal price, drinks extra). But I’m not so sure that the whole concept succeeded.

We were seated at large communal tables with people we didn’t know. With the exception of asking to pass dishes down, most of the time everybody spoke within their own groups (those they had come with) which was made awkward due to sitting side by side around a large table and having to twist your head to speak to your companions. Although the waiters were prompt in their table service and confident in their wine recommendations, they didn’t interact much otherwise, and there was a speech from the chef and restaurant owner after the main and before dessert but it would have been nice to have had the reasons for the choices of ingredients explained in a little more detail, so there wasn’t that real feel of urban community. The thing that stood out the most was that serving food communally amongst strangers really only works in a buffet setting, where there is serve-yourself-copious-everything, and people get up and move around. When there is the feel of a sit down set dining, it feels a little disjointed because there is really only so much of each item.

This stood out the most to me when everyone was about 3/4 of the way through their meal and the waiter came past and asked

“Has everyone had a piece of meat? Because some people on the other tables have missed out.”

Now, why the trays weren’t put on the table with the correct number of portions for the guests seated there, I’m not sure, but the issue is that everybody was insularly talking to their own companions and not really paying attention to what was going on around them. They were put in a position where it seemed like a help yourself situation, but really was a set menu with a measured quantity of food for each person. So as the waiter reached out to collect the meat tray from the table, the man next to me reached out and yoinked that last piece of meat off the tray and put it on his own plate, completely oblivious (or uncaring of) the fact that for some strange reason he was the only person on the entire table of 13 who had a second serving. And some poor sod on another table missed out.

So please.. if you are eating with strangers, mind your manners in more than just using the correct cutlery or not putting your elbows on the table.

Be aware of your fellow diners, their needs, what is going on around you, and how much of each item there appears to be on each plate so you take your fair share.

If there does appear to be an extra serve and nobody is eating it, at least have the courtesy to ask if everybody else has had some before you just snatch it without even stopping mid sentence to look around.

And yes, I do feel it is rude to take photos at the dinner table when I’m with people who I don’t know, especially when there are a mix of generations.

My dining partner was also pretty excited to see that The Common Man does $2 coffees until 11:30am (presumably on weekdays?)

http://www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au/

http://www.thecommonman.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/thecommonmansw

Shophouse Kitchen

Shophouse Kitchen Asian Eating House is the newest (I believe) addition to the restaurant/cafe offering at QV, next to Max Brenners.

Discovered quite by accident (we had tried to go to a recommended cafe in Brunswick, but were put off by the line of hipsters queuing out the door and retreated to the city) it lured us away from the promise of chocolate waffles for breakfast with thoughts of noodles and BBQ pork.

Which were duly had.

Similar to other Asian cafe eateries like China Bar, Shophouse Kitchen features wontons, various fried noodles, BBQ pork, dumplings, lots more pork, noodle soups, and rice dishes. I’d say the overall quality was above that of China Bar, while the price point is similar, so thats A+ in my books.

There were some interesting mocktail choices available (38. Shanghai Berries – earl grey tea and berries –  was delicious and extremely refreshing) and on top of this we had:

  • K08 Stir fried rice noodle (beef hor fun) – wide rice noodles, similar to char quay teow but without the seafood element. Now this sort of noodle dish has always been my favourite, but with that comes great expectations. With only a few ingredients (noodles, beef, bean shoots, shallots and soy sauces) this dish can either be somewhat bland, overly salty, or, as in this case, just absolutely perfect… tender beef, crunchy bean shoots, and just the right amount of the various sauces added in the give it a rich, lightly charred, noodley flavour. Just as good as the ones bought from hawker stalls in South East asian markets.
  • E08 Pork belly rice set – braised pork served with rice, cabbage and egg. Pork belly is, again, something that needs to be done perfectly, or it can be overly salty and/or overwhelmingly fatty. This pork belly was perfect, with the flavour infused right through the fat which just melted away in your mouth. Also, the egg had that exact amount of runny-ness in the centre that you want when you break it over your rice.
  • B13 BBQ pork buns – still good, but the more disappointing part of the meal. A little too much bread and just red BBQ sauce inside. Could have used a bit more pork.

As there were about 20 other things on the menu I wanted to try, I’ll likely be back again.

http://shophousekitchen.com.au/

 

OMG Omelette

Eggs are the quintessential quick and hearty breakfast for one, but they can rapidly get a little boring.

But they don’t have to.

The key to making great scrambled eggs or omelettes is to have a few key, prize flavour boosters in the fridge at all times. My favourite ingredients to this end include sundried tomatoes, marinated fetta, spring onions, smoked garlic.. the list goes on.

Normally I make scrambled eggs if I’m feeling this way inclined, but I felt like something a little different this time, so my key ingredient became a good piece of artisan cheese – namely, The Bastard (a hard cheese made of blended cow and goats milk) from the Bruny Island Cheese Company.

As far as I am aware there are no other stockists of Bruny Island Cheeses in Melbourne or otherwise. You can visit them directly in Tasmania, or you can order the cheeses to be delivered, either as a one off or through their Cheese Club (yes, I’m a member, and yes, it is difficult to avoid ordering every single cheese club offer).

So this is what I created:

15 June

Mushroom, chilli and spinach omelette with smoked garlic and The Bastard cheese crust.

It’s a fairly standard omelette, however unlike my usual ‘stir the marinated fetta through the eggs’ technique, this time it has a golden crispy crust of cheese on the outside. You know that little cheese crust that forms around the edges when you’re making a toasty and some melted cheese leaks out? Yeah, something like that, only all over.

How to do it: chop the cheese up into small pieces and scatter them in the pan once the other ingredients are cooked through. Leave them a little while to melt just a bit before you add the eggs, then DONT TOUCH IT!

Don’t worry about the cheese sticking to the pan. If it’s either been greased for the eggs anyway, or is a non stick pan, the cheese will come off with the rest of it.

http://brunyislandcheese.com.au/

Virginia Plain – Swine and Cider

I visited Virginia Plain for their Swine and Cider event (because seriously, who doesn’t find that an appealing title?) Unlike most of the other restaurants involved in the June ‘Roast Collection’ series of events, Virginia Plain changed their offering every couple of days, but each dish featured local free range pork and German Apfelwein.

Like many good restaurants, the meal started out with bread too good to resist which tempts you to fill yourself up before your meal. I know this yet I can never resist. Especially when there are salt flakes.

Charcuterie Plate

Charcuterie Plate

We ordered 2 entrees, the charcuterie plate, and some manchego croquettes (which were golden, crispy and perfect). I have to say I was really impressed, although the charcuterie plate was reasonably expensive for a starter ($27) it was plenty for 3 people even without the croquettes, and I would certainly class it as generous. There were in total 7 kinds of cured meat, as well as some manchego wedges, pickles and bread. I could easily imagine many other modern mid-high end restaurants charging the same amount for a substantially less generous serve of meat.

Braised pork shoulder with Lyonnaise potatoes

Braised pork shoulder with Lyonnaise potatoes

The braised pork shoulder was not what I expected, but was served in a charmingly rustic way in a little cast iron pot on a wooden board. It was a pretty cold and rainy day and it actually hit the spot pretty well, warm, rich flavours, and just that feel-good homely gravy laden goodness. Along with the cider you couldn’t help but feel sort of warm and content on the inside. We had pomegranate salad to accompany.

Passed on the dessert as we were quite full, really, although the warm madeleines with cream sounded incredibly tempting. Half an hour later when it all settled and belts were in need of loosening we were glad to have resisted them.

A few days after I went there, they apparently changed their name to Mercy Bar and Eatery, but the website doesn’t seem to have changed yet.

http://virginiaplain.com.au/