My family sometimes go to Melbourne at Australian Open time, which is in the summer and is always lots of fun. Because the whole fam are just as obsessed with food as I am, we often eat at really nice places- in fact, that's when my love affair with Melbourne eateries first started.
One of the best meals I can remember having in Melbourne with the family, was at Caffe e Cucina which served beautiful Italian fare in a gorgeous, dimly lit, Italian restaurant in Chapel Street.
That's why, when my friends were shopping up a storm in Chapel street, and I needed a break, I wasn't afraid to step in and dine on my own. The only problem would be managing to snap a table in the almost always packed out eatery.
Luck was on my side and I was shown to a table just near to the bar, by one of the many gorgeous Italian speaking waiters, who, speak to you in a mix of Italian and English. I disappointed myself by not being incredibly hungry, but decided that I had best contain myself, because I had to save room for MoVida later that day. Talk about a day of great eating!
I have had the entree of Calamari Sant'Andrea before, and it is quite sensational so had it as a light option again. Dusted in flour, and shallow fried, served with rocket and house dressing it really drives me crazy. The calamari ($22.5 for entree size) is hot and tender and the bitterness of the dressing cuts straight through. This is some of the best calamari I've ever had, and I'm pretty happy I chose it again.
At this point in the week, after having eaten out all week, I was in serious need of a serve of vegetables and chose the verdure saltate for $10.5. This dish consists of beautifully sauteed Italian greens, served with some of the most moreish garlic chilly oil and contrasting pangrattato bread crumbs. I can not describe how perfectly this dish goes together. It just all works. Not that it is anything new, or different or amazing, but the point is, it was something old that could be dowdy or plain, but managed to blow my socks off. In fact, I considered ordering another serve, and would happily have devoured it.
I'm also pretty impressed with myself, managing to order two relatively light dishes and then not going for dessert. I did have my evening plans in mind, but would usually put them out of my mind if it means indulging a little more at the time. My meal was just right for someone who needs to keep shopping.
Shopping. Argh. It's not that I don't love it, it's just that I tire, whereas my mad friends shopped right through lunch without even flinching. Missing out on a meal, for me is a serious deal breaker and will only result in a tired and cranky G.G.
As I had to face another two hours or so of shopping, I decided that a glass of wine would probably not be the best idea, although the wine list is very tempting. I just couldn't risk it- or I would possibly fall asleep on the tram ride home. However, a gin & tonic ($9) or two did help make the afternoon more bearable!
Caffe e Cucina manages to amaze me every time I visit. The service is attentive and excellent, the staff know what they are talking about (in Italian and English) and the food is beautifully executed. It manages to be authentic, simple and sophisticated all at the same time. Bravo for Caffe e Cucina, which is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne and very deservedly so. Seriously, if you haven't been, you need to go.
When to go: When you are shopping up a storm in Chapel Street and need a little revival, or whenever you want that extra special Italian meal.
So, tell me readers, can you shop all day without eating, or do you need a little pit stop- like me?
Caffe e Cucina
581 Chapel Street
03 9827 4139