My sister has been living in Melbourne for about 2 years now. She has completely submerged herself in the Melbourne art scene, so it’s probably no surprise we usually have some sarcastic banter back and forth over which is the better city. So when she came to visit recently and asked me to pick a restaurant to meet for dinner, I knew exactly which one to choose to silence her Melbourne’s number one jokes. I told her to make a booking for us at Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar; she commented it was a Thursday night during winter in Adelaide so we would have our pick of tables. I’ve been there enough times to know if you arrive the moment they open you may get a table, but from 6:30 pm onwards you best make yourself a booking. So we arrived as soon as they opened and were offered a table which was reserved from 8 pm, giving us plenty of time to enjoy some excellent food. While she noted it was empty within 5 minutes of opening, by 6 pm almost all the tables were occupied and after her first bite her jokes had been silenced.
We went with the ‘Menu Fisso’ option this time around, which is a great value. For $65 per person, you are served 5 dishes comprising 2 starters, 1 pasta dish, 1 main (which actually comprises 3 plates) and a dessert. We had a lovely lady serving us, I’m terrible with names so I don’t recall hers but every time I have eaten here everyone is always so friendly and professional. They all do an amazing job of knowing everything about every item on the menu and are happy to accommodate any dietary requirements or in our case incorporating our love of arancini balls onto our Menu Fisso.
The first dish to come out was a Carpaccio of swordfish, capperi, mint, anchovy & raisin salsa, pistachio serviced with some deliciously warm bread. For years I would refuse to eat any raw meat but after giving it a go during the Festival of Food I’ve learnt to be a little more adventurous and trust, the chef knows what they are doing. This dish was absolutely delicious! The fish was a delicate firm texture that just melted away in my mouth and the flavours were amazing, everything complemented each other so perfectly. I even used the bread to mop up the flavoured oil which was served over the dish, which is also a huge deal for me as I rarely enjoy the taste or texture of oil. (Yes, I’m that girl who will ask for butter when the oil and balsamic is served, but not this time!)
The second dish was our beloved arancini balls with funghi, mozzarella & smoked potato. The crust was perfectly crunchy and thin, and inside the rice was perfectly cooked (spot-on texture) with a mushroom centre and the smoked potato throughout. Smoked potato…. why have I not tasted this before? It was delicious; roasted, almost sundried tomato type flavour sitting on top of a white puree and parmesan cheese. It just all worked so well together.
Next up was the baked gnocchi with chorizo, and I’m pretty certain another kind of meat because there was something in the sauce that had the texture of amazingly tender lamb. I will not lie; when the server served us the dish, it looked amazing so the room kind of went silent for me for a little there while I took in the amazing aroma and inviting presentation. The gnocchi was perfectly soft and silky and the sauce… wow the sauce; it was a beautifully rich tomato sauce with plenty of body. I would gladly take a few bottles home and cook it with everything. This was by far my favourite dish of the night. It’s everything I want out of a warm, comforting winter dish. Let’s just take a moment while I remember that dish…mmmmmm.
Now, this is where I let you down a bit because by this point I was so engrossed in the food that I stopped long enough to take a quick photo but I was so taken by the flavours I don’t remember all the ingredients, I was in a bit of a food trance, I couldn’t even tell you what my sister was talking about during this time. The main dish was Duck which came off the bone so easily we didn’t even need a knife. They served this with Polenta Con Spinaci E Gorgonzola Dolce and a lovely salad which had ribbons of carrot and range of leaves. The polenta was creamy, cheesy and rich, which went well with the meatiness of the duck and the freshness of the salad. Again, I could tell that the chef had thought about every ingredient in all three dishes and made sure they all complemented each other perfectly. Not to mention the wonderful ratio of textures, I’m always happy when the textures are just as thought through as the flavours.
And lastly, we were served the famous Zeppole accompanied with vanilla custard, caramello and almonds. They have served these at their Mangia, Mangia stalls at various events so if you haven’t tried them yet I don’t know what you’ve been doing. They are perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The additional flavour and texture the inclusion of the custard and almonds bring are just spot on, it turns a simple dessert into a mouth-watering delicacy. It’s not too sweet and the perfect size to finish a satisfying meal.
The first time I visited Andres years ago was just for the novelty of trying some food cooked by a Master Chef finalist but what’s kept me coming back time after time is the amazing, knowledgeable and friendly service with delicious high-quality food that has never disappointed. This Restaurant has completely nailed the dining experience from the comforting decor to the intimate feel even though the room is full. I’m always proud to bring locals and visitors to this restaurant. Amazing job to everyone at Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar.
I hope you enjoy my favourite as much as I do