Franco Choo’s Italian
Disclosure: I was invited to dine at this restaurant
179A High St
Prahran, VIC 3181
03 9529 7310
Lisa from Hellier Consulting sent a warm invitation, asking if I would be interested in coming in to Franco Choo’s for a meal & a chat with chef Steven. Curious… I said ‘yes’, and brought Shing along as my dining companion. We made our way there on a cold Wednesday night after work, manoeuvring past busy traffic and a number of boorish drivers (typical of the area), secured a park…
… and walked into a beautiful, intimate space. I think I released an almost audible sigh of relief on entering its doors, the restaurant felt like a quiet haven of cosy dining right in the pulsing heart of Prahran. After a pretty long (11 hour) day at work, I felt transported away from the bustle of Melbourne and into someplace else entirely.
The menu is succinctly handwritten onto a blackboard, with rustic Italian dishes that changes every three weeks. It’s accompanied with a thoughtful wine list featuring small producers and less known varietals. In fact, I enjoyed the unique wine pairings so much during my visit here that it has actually kindled a personal interest in wine appreciation for me (finally).
Housemade pappardelle, porcini & Swiss Brown mushroom ragu 14 (Sangiovese Cabernet, Ball Paddock, Beechworth 2011 ~ 8.5)
Vialone nano risotto, King prawns, peas, broad beans 15 (Pinot Grigio Frinlano Chardonnay ‘Pobblebonk’, Quealy, Mornington Pen 2011 ~ 10)
Shing and I decided to do away with the traditional three-course framework of eating. Instead, we agreed to share all our dishes and have a taste of everything. We started off with a spectacular mushroom dish served with lovely textured homemade pappardelle.
The King prawn risotto came as a lighter offering, with a more vegetable-based rather than seafood-based broth. Incidentally, we learnt that Vialone Nano is one of the best varieties of rice used for risotto, the rice in our dish had a good bite and soaked up the broth nicely.
Braised beef cheeks in red wine, celeriac puree, pine nut gremolata 28 (Montepulciano D’Abrazzo, Collefriso, Abruzzo, It. 2010 ~9.5)
Mariale al latte, free-range pork shoulder stew in white wine, milk & pancetta, grilled polenta roasted fennel 26 (Pinot Noir, Coombe Farm, Yarra Valley, 2012 ~12)
Shing and I had a hard time deciding which main dish we enjoyed more. The beef cheeks were fall apart soft and I loved the creamy veggie lift accorded to the dish by the celeriac puree. The sprinkle of pine nut gremolata also made good sense and balanced the dish nicely.
Meanwhile, the milk braised pork somehow reminded me of Mr Frenchman’s super delicious (homemade and staunchly French) rabbit stew that’s cooked with apple cider and bacon. And I fell quite in love with the roasted fennel. The pork dish was paired with a winsome, flowery fragranced pinot noir.
Chef Steven came out to have a chat with us at around this point. We learnt that Malaysian-born Steven had lived in Italy with his partner and used to work as a landscape architect. But cooking seemed to be his natural calling and eventually he took the leap and here he is. The photo of that mountain of crates piled on to that small truck was snapped by Steven himself, next to a market in Sicily.
Crespelle, chocolate, chestnut sauce, baked pear 12
Vanilla panna cotta, lemon almond cake, rhubarb 12
The desserts here also won our hearts. Delicate crepes filled with a mild chestnut paste served with dark chocolate sauce and pears baked with butter. And a deconstructed panna cotta… smooth, rich, and nicely counterpointed with squares of rhubarb and lemon semolina cake.
We had peppermint teas with our sweets, uniquely served in Chinese porcelainware. Unbeknownst to myself, there’s quite a large Italian Chinese community in Italy.
Franco Choo’s such a cosy, intimate place… one that’s perfect for date night. Shing was so smitten with this place that she wanted to take her partner here.
Not that I get many, but this was by far one of the best restaurant invite meals that I’ve dined at. There’s a great sense of balance and freshness in Steven’s rustic dishes. I’d like to thank Steven as well as Lisa from Hellier Consulting for inviting us in. And also a sincere thanks to our lovely waitress, Anna, who took care of us so well and with such warmth right through the evening.