Albert St Food & Wine
382 Sydney Rd
Brunswick, VIC 3056
03 8354 6600
I should let all of you know that I have two ‘secret’ informants for newly-opened places. In my previous post, Willem gave me the heads up for Twenty & Six Espresso. And now coffee mentor, Lachy, is my second informant. I have such lovely friends, looking out for me, telling me where I oughta go. Otherwise I’d just be going to the same old traps, eating in a rut of (same-old same-old) food places. Yes… no? Anyone else wanna join the elite ranks of secret informants? :)
Albert St Food and Wine opened earlier this month. Lachy has been there thrice already and, I quote him, it’s been “a winner every time!”. If he hadn’t recommended me, I’d have been completely oblivious about this place. I hear from the grapevine that they took a year to open up this venture, and that the figurehead behind the restaurant is chef Philippa Sibley, who’d appeared in Masterchef. I don’t watch Masterchef, but I hear she’s something of a Queen of Desserts!
But screw all that big-name blah blah, I say. Let’s get on with how I feel about the place and its food. I came here with Fakegf and Ees. At the start, I actually felt quite under-dressed. Being summer, I was in shorts and tees, while other diners were a little more dressed up. But things somehow eased up as the night wore on and I felt a lot more comfortable. The space was just lovely. It’s like a bright, posh yet casual, high-ceilinged dining hall. I also loved the vibe as it got busier. The place felt buzzy with a tempo but it never got obnoxiously noisy like in other places. That’s either because of great acoustics, or the crowd was civilised.
Location was interesting as well, right on Sydney Rd. While I’m not too familiar with that part of town, it always felt like a messy place to me. Driving in, Fakegf and I mused at how we’re visiting Brunswick more and more often for food these days. And we both laughed when she said “I normally wouldn’t drive into this area”. The shops lining Sydney Rd feels like a mad painter’s splash of businesses, and then all of a sudden there’s this: an old-style corner building, painted a dark modern grey, housing something tasty and new. I like it.
I should also talk about the staff too. They’re friendly… although I have to confess our waiter (with a tall, rooster-like, swoosh of hair) was juuust a little too warm and intimate with us. We Asians have a rather large zone of personal space, so kneeling down and cooing chillax talk right beside my shoulder and into my ear just made me feel a wee bit squeamish. But at the same time, he was also quite cute and I kinda wanted to pinch his cheeks. Aaaa… kawaiii!!
Before I start talking about the food, I’ll want to voice out my one quibble with this place: the food came all at once. The menu seems to suggest a flow from appetisers to entrées and mains. But yes, all five dishes that we ordered came within the space of a few minutes, cramming our small table. I know our orders suggested that we intended to share everything, but we still preferred if the meal was paced out slower. Less food photography stress, and less dishes growing cold.
Anyway, I’ll blog the dishes as if they were served at the ideal flow and pace that I wished it to be. First up, we shared the heirloom carrot soup, vin santo, scallops $16. Fakegf and I are not really fans of thick, creamy soups or purées, but I have to admit this was good. Fakegf wasn’t keen though, it reminded her of pumpkin soup, she hates pumpkins.
The soup tasted like a smooth, creamy and brightly subtle lobster bisque. Very delicious, although Ees and I quickly started to struggle with the large serve and richness of it. If I had this bowl for myself, there wouldn’t be space for anything else.
I wished we could’ve enjoyed the Albert St speciale – roasted peppers, pork + fennel sausage, smoked mozzarella $18 pizza on its own, or with the soup before everything else. In reality, we did a frantic triage of what to eat first, and the pizza was deemed unimportant and left untouched for quite sometime. Still, we loved the pizza, such yummy ingredients, especially the warm juicy kick of fennel sausage. It was quite oily, but I could taste that it was actually a beautiful, earthy olive oil nourishing the pizza, so I didn’t mind. There’s always space in my belly for good oils, flat stomachs be damned.
Something as delicate as quail just had to be eaten quickly! This came from the grill: spatch-cocked quail, grilled fennel, Bois Boudran $18. It was lovely… just so pink-fleshed, charred-outsides lovely. Ees enjoyed the sauce so much that he used the sourdough bread pieces to soak up more sauce. Gorgeous dish.
I chose the ancient grain salad, pomegranate molasses, fromage blanc $9 to accompany our dishes. Ees and fakegf liked it, while I found it quite heavy. But .. duuh… I DID order grains. Hah! I guess I was just expecting a salad that was fluffier, like coucous or quinoa type salads. In terms of taste, it was pretty good, the molasses tasted like sweet aged balsamic vinegar.
The much enjoyed saffron gnocchi, braised veal, broad beans, sage $28looked like small portioned dish, but it was actually quite filling. I am not familiar with the flavour of saffron, Ees tells me it’s usually paired with many other ingredients like in a paella, so it’s hard to pick out saffron from everything else. Here, you could taste just the saffron itself inside the gnocchi, and that flavour manifested as a plasticky whiff at the back of my nose which I found oddly delightful. I’m starting to like gnocchis now. The veal reminded me of home-style rabbit stews, very nice.
I know putting the bread basket here seems to invoke chronological nonsense. But that’s what happened. All the savouries came in one big **boom**, then the bread came 1 minute later. Ahahaha! I tasted the dip and observed aloud that it was some sort of avocado and herb mousse with a strong butter presence. That stopped Fakegf from trying it, she’s terrified of butter (too fattening, lol).
Time to dive into the Queen of Dessert’s forte. We were all quite stuffed at this point, but thought we’d be doing Philippa a terrible injustice if we didn’t have a dessert each! When the desserts came, there was a somewhat embarrassing moment where I had trouble taking pictures in the fading light. That’s when a waiter came by with a smile and helped hold plates away from the table to release clutter. He was very amused at my tactics at getting the best light. Eeek… could I be any more obvious?
Our least favourite dessert was the Amoretti semi freddo, roasted apricots $14. I don’t know about you, but semi freddos sort of equates with me as ‘ice creams that aren’t cold enough’. No oomph! Nice apricots, though…
The cherry clafoutis, pistachio ice cream $15 was the dessert Ees liked most. Wow, talk about large serves, that’s such a big ramekin.. love it! The clafoutis tasted like a hot, eggy semolina pudding with pistachio, almonds and bursts of cherry. Quite nice. Oddly, the pistachio ice cream also had an almondy taste, which reminded me of Chinese almond tofu.
You know how most places have a specials board for lunches and dinners? Well, here it’s dessert specials, and there is no board where it’s written up. I had to ask mister waiter if they had any dessert specials. There was a short pause, and a knowing smile, before he once again knelt down at my shoulder and languorously described the “snickers limited edition special” to me. Ooh…. tingly tingly. Yeah, baby!
I believe Philippa’s snickers special – caramel peanut parfait, cheesecake base, chocolate ganache $15 was made famous by the Masterchef series. But if you think about it, any dish with caramel and peanuts is hard to not please. This dessert had a really lovely munch of said peanuts and caramel swirling everywhere in my head. Ees wasn’t as convinced though, he thinks it tasted too much like snickers, to the point that you might as well have a bar of snickers. Fakegf and I thought it was a really yummy dessert, but it was also a tad too sweet.
Aside for the timing of the dishes, we really enjoyed our meal here. Great space, friendly staff, vibrant buzz. I’ll have to say that I actually liked the food here more than the desserts. Even after our desserts were long cleared from our tables, the three of us stayed on and chatted through the night. The ambience, as the night moved on, made me want to stay, I don’t know why. No one got huffy at us for lingering. Then again, it’s probaby not a good idea getting huffy with an *AWC, lol.
*Asian With Camera – presumably an annoying, self-proclaimed food blogger.
I am quite keen to revisit, but the one thing that’s making me baulk is: the thought of Mister Waiter, once again kneeling beside me, and asking me with a cheeky smile “why aren’t you pinching my cheeks?”. Alamak… I’ll probably run off to the deli section to hide behind the bottles of olive oil and die…