Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pasta Masterclass at Olivigna

Disclosure: We were invited to attend the Olivigna masterclass and lunch.

This post is a collaboration between Rob (from Eat Melbourne), who’s done the words, and I’m so Hungree, who’s done the pictures!

Stepping out of the house on an icy cold winter morning in Melbourne, breath condensing into clouds of vapour, it was hard to imagine that less than an hour later we would be standing on a terracotta dotted patio, bordered by regimental cypress trees, watching the sun melt the frost from the olive groves in the distance. Rob (from Eat Melbourne) and I had been invited to learn the art of making pasta at Olivigna estate, and while emerging from the warm comforts of bed on a frosty Sunday morning might not have been the the most appealing thought at the time, stepping into this slice of Italy just 15 minutes from home (with Sunday morning traffic) made it all worthwhile.

Built by Anna Gallo and husband John Di Peitro, Olivigna captures the heart of the Amalfi region, where Anna was born, with only the mob of kangaroos lounging around in the morning sun to remind you that you are on the other side of the world. Surrounded by eight hectares of orchard, vineyard, olive groves and gardens, the passion for the freshest produce is instantly visible. Their own wine, olive oil, herbs and vegetables appear throughout the menu at the estate's restaurant La Sala, as well in their providore to take home.

Before we could settle in to enjoy a lazy Sunday lunch, there was the small matter of making it. Led by the estate's pasta maker Piera Benini, who hails from Bologna and was more recently the pasta zia ('auntie') at Ladro, the pasta masterclass is one of series of hands-on classes run by Olivigna (there are salami and dessert classes also). Nestled into a corner of the restaurant, with full-length windows overlooking the lush rolling hills of Warrandyte, we gathered around a rustic butcher's block table.

This is not one of those classes where you sit in an auditorium watching a tiny figure on stage with video screen close-ups of hands, pans and chopping; there is rolling up of sleeves, clouds of flour and dough-covered hands. Starting out with a basic pasta dough, swirling flour into a pool of egg, while trying to avoid the crater wall collapsing, it is not long until you have a rough, knobbly dough to work. Not very experienced with making pasta myself, it was a good learning experience kneading the dough by hand; there is something oddly therapeutic about transforming the flaky, dry dough into the silky end result.

Having never actually made pasta myself before, the class is taught so that there is something for beginners as well as those who might have dabbled before. I was quite surprised at how easy it appeared to be, having no trouble getting the dough to the consistency I needed.

After making the dough, it was all about rolling, cutting, shaping and filling. Sheets of glorious dough sliced into thick pappardelle ribbons - one the easiest pastas to make if you do not have a pasta roller and/or cutters at home. 

Then paper-thin ravioli filled with broad (fava) beans and pecorino cheese. With the final moments of the class, Piera nimbly showed off the various filled pasta shapes that can easily be made by hand; tortellini, tortelloni, agnolotti, cappelletti, crimped, hat-shaped, rolled, domed, the combinations are endless.  Yet it was not the process of making it that was so engaging but the stories that Piera told of her family and life in Bologna; growing up making pasta with her nonna, frying scraps of pasta in butter and dusting them in sugar as an after school treat. It is stories like these and the genuine passion behind the love of food that transforms an experience into something special.

While we wandered the garden to pick parsley and radicchio for lunch, the kitchen, led by head chef Colin Swalwell, cooked up the pasta we had prepared. Where the La Sala restaurant combines modern and traditional Italian influences in its decor, the private dining room transports you to another world. The imposing wooden doors open to a low-lit but inviting space, equal measures Game of Thrones and cellar, with a beautiful long dining table, wine barrels stacked around the room and wrought iron candle holders. We immediately thought how perfect a space it would be for a medieval banquet of roasted game and red wine, but today it was a bountiful lunch of the Italian persuasion.

House made bread and fresh olive oil, antipasti platters scattered with translucent prosciutto, bowls of warmed olives from the estate's own groves set the scene, matched with Olivigna wine. 

Our pappardelle was served all'amatriciana, a hearty garlicky tomato sugo with pancetta and a kick of chilli; and the broad bean and pecorino stuffed pillows were matched with a smoky eggplant sauce. One of the highlights was the scialatielli alle frutti di mare, ragged strips of pasta with tender, juicy clams and zucchini. Scialatielli (pronounced shah-lah-TEE’EHL-lee) is an unusual pasta, first made on the Amalfi coast, with the name coming from the Neapolitan word scigliĆ  ('to tousle', someone's hair), which is a dough made with milk, giving it a soft texture.

While it is usually something eaten at the start of the meal to waken up the taste buds, we finished the meal with immaculately thin slices of lemon from the orchards, lightly sprinkled with salt. These are not the viciously bitter lemons we tend to find in most shops in Australia, they were lusciously sweet with a gentle acidity. With that we took our content selves, as well as our ball of pasta dough homework, for one last stroll across the sun drenched terrace before leaving this Italian oasis behind.

If you would like to join one of their upcoming classes you can find all the details here. Classes are generally $130, including lunch and a glass of wine, running from 10am-1pm.

54-56 Brumbys Road
Warrandyte South 
VIC 3134

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Sunday, August 31, 2014


"Happy Birthday honey! I'm going to take you to Huxtable for your birthday…because I want to go." Cue cheesy little smile. 

Honestly, Brad would probably be perfectly fine if I didn't do anything for his birthday, but it's too perfect of a reason to treat ourselves (or maybe just myself really) and go somewhere we wouldn't go regularly. 

And hey, he wasn't actually supposed to be home for his birthday this year, but decided to cut his Europe trip short, so we had to do something!

So forsaking our usual Sunday brunch, we made plans to be at Huxtable for lunch instead, where we had the whole place to ourselves at exactly 12pm. 

The last time I had visited Huxtable was when they were still doing brunch…which means yes, it was indeed that long ago. So I was quite keen to see what the rest of the lauded menu had to offer. 

After giggling over yellow bread bowls that sat awkwardly on their side and toppled about, and sipping on a pinot noir, I swooned over the generous serving of duck liver parfait, spindled with sea salt and looking a treat. Smooth, with plenty of flavour, but almost too much to get through!

We had to naturally also order a serve of the jalapeno and cheddar croquettes, which were just perfect. Thin and crisp exterior, giving way to the cheesy filling with a surprise chilli kick, cutting through the richness. Such a great combination. 

I've forgotten exactly what was in this dish, but what most interested me was the buffalo haloumi, the pristine white cheese given a healthy tan from the frying, which was quite light, compared to the usual denseness of regular haloumi. It went beautifully with the greens, and a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts, drizzle of balsamic and a spot of poached pear, the sweet and earthy flavours mingling together nicely. 

I am never one to go past boudin noir (or black pudding, no point in being too fancy about it) especially with scallops, beluga lentils and an apple and cider puree with fried leeks on top. Although Huxtable's menu is mostly pretty innovative, it's nice to see them do a classic combination and do it exceedingly well. My favourite part might have been the apple and cider puree, rich and sweet, paired with the boudin noir. Match made in heaven.

From classic to fusion, we moved on to a serve of korean barbecue pork ribs with a spicy slaw and chilli gherkin. Goodness, just so many levels of delicious, the ribs are just the right amount of meat and fat, juicy and tender, again with a nice hint of heat. The slaw is refreshing, with all that mayo, but is not quite as spicy as I expect it to be.

However, the delicious smoked mozzarella with sweetcorn, chipotle and garlic shoots immediately coats the mouth with warmth. Mingled with the smokiness of the mozzarella, and it's unctuous texture, alongside the sweetness of the corn, it's massively comforting. I'm always amazed at the vegetable dishes that many chefs are turning out, which are often designed to be sides, but often end up being one of my favourite dishes…such as this! I am immensely sad that this has been removed from the menu currently…

…along with this beauty. A dark chocolate delice with chestnut puree, cinnamon sponge and vanilla ice-cream. This is pretty much all of my favourite things in one (almost). The shiny dome of chocolate delice looked like it might be firm, but we had no fear as it just easily jumped into our spoons like mousse. I could not get enough of the chestnut puree, earthy, with a touch of sweetness, complimented by the cinnamon and the vanilla. I really enjoyed that this wasn't too sweet, which Brad obviously appreciated as well, helping himself to more than the regular two scoops he usually goes for. 

Although there were high expectations set for Huxtable, it certainly did not disappoint, as we were wowed and excited by all the dishes coming out. If you're asking why we didn't go for the $60 feed me menu…it's simply because I love putting my own menus together! 

The only thing that I did think was that it was almost eerily quiet when we were there at 12pm, the room only beginning to fill at 1pm. Once full, there was a nice vibe going, but it felt a tiny bit stiff before that happened earlier on our meal. 

Regardless, I'm sure to be back soon, with new desserts on the menu positively teasing at me that I'm not there to try them already...

131 Smith Street
Collingwood 3065

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Panama Dining Room

Panama Dining Room is so unexpected and so cute. Sitting on my wishlist for ages, but conveniently being passed over, I finally scheduled a visit with Caryn, as we had been eyeing off the $1 oyster happy hour deal, to check out this hidden little spot on Smith Street.

Well, it's not super hidden, but it's not entirely obvious as well. Caryn and I had to question ourselves as we climbed several flights of stairs to get up, barren of decor or any indication that we were going the right way, other than the slim rectangle signage above the door. 

But opening that door at the end of the corridor reveals a quirky, somewhat retro and bustling little spot. 

The patterned wallpaper, soft glowing lights, old school arched floor to ceiling windows, worn white bricks and an eclectic mix of chairs, the combination was a little funny, but I love it all together. On one side of the room beer and cocktails flowed from the bar freely, and the other side where we were, tables were neatly arranged, wine glasses all in a row. 

Our waiter was soft spoken and so attentive, chuckling at our enthusiasm for $1 oysters, which we swiftly ordered a dozen of. They were a touch warmer than I would have liked, but still plump and sweet. 

Panama Dining Room sported a delicious looking cocktail menu, so Caryn and I dove in to indulge. I think I might've had the Green Mamba, gin muddled with cucumber, elderflower and lime…but don't take my word for it…it disappeared pretty quickly…!

We started our meal with marinated wild foraged mushrooms with confit garlic and served with crunchy flat bread. I was initially surprised that these were served cold, but after getting over that (pretty quickly), I loved how sweet the mushrooms were in the marinade. A little vinegary, sweet, and oh I am a sucker for pine mushrooms. Just perfect, especially since we were in the heart of mushroom season!

I naturally could not resist the chicken liver parfait with truffle and port wine jelly, cornichons and toast. The parfait was delightfully rich, and the toast so, so crunchy. What's to dislike? The serve was pretty big though and between the two of us, we did struggle through it a bit.

Our mains were rich and hearty, perfect for the nippy and drizzly July weather we were having. 

A huge slab of beef cheek, that lazily fell apart upon touch, sat upon a creamy bed of mashed potatoes in a shallow moat of jus, and decorated with delicate little chanterelles. Do I need to say much more? Pure comfort food, at it's absolute best.

The chestnut gnocchi with pumpkin and parmesan puree, morel mushrooms, spinach and salted ricotta was also delightfully hearty. I loved the richness of flavour in the gnocchi, a subtle nuttiness and earthiness coming through. With everything on it though, it was a very, very rich and filling dish. 

And of course, Caryn and I could not resist the hand cut fries with a side of truffle, parmesan and chive aioli, which totally blew our minds. Although we couldn't finish our mains…we did do a very good number on those fries. Sure, not the usually crispy goodness that I like, but lots of flavour. Mmhmm.

Although we very much wanted dessert, by the time we got through all of our food, we basically rolled back down the flight of stairs and out onto the street. I couldn't believe how full we were! 

It's always so lovely to have a great experience, somewhere where you really don't know what to expect, which is exactly what we had at Panama Dining Room. If we weren't so lazy, Caryn and I would probably be there at least once a week, hoeing into those $1 oysters at 6pm...

Level 3/231 Smith Street

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