Italians do it better
A different world is a very appropriate name for a restaurant, in my opinion. Remember when restaurants weren’t uber trendy and the customer was always king? Intimate, peaceful, romantic, and a welcome escape from your busy life! The sort of venue you hope to stumble across on holiday in one of the great European cities. Having just returned from London and Rome, this was indeed my recent therapy.
In my opinion, Albert Park’s very own L’Altro Mondo has a great opportunity to realise its potential to become one of those local gems due to the overwhelming enthusiasm and talent of Chef Domenico De Marco. With Italian food seemingly being one of those cuisines that has survived all the whims and fancies of our growing metropolis, this well travelled chef has some intriguing challenges ahead.
Let’s start with the venue. As you enter the humbly appointed dining room, there are some great quality assurances, freshly baked homemade bread, linen clothed tables with well heeled and mature locals dotted around the dining room entertaining their families. Attentive, respectful, and detailed service. The menu is a lively list of mostly great seasonal cooking, but there were a few culinary clangers.
I was joined by some of my hard working and well heeled local friends who were excited by another addition to this ever evolving competitive strip! We reviewed the wine list, small, rustic, great value and unpretentious - a great start!
We were in the mood to share, relax and feast!
Being served chunks of crunchy house made bread, it was great to see a fine listing of house cured meats. Pancetta, capocollo, noce di prosciutto, and mortadella were all perfectly executed.
The Maître d was hovering, anticipating our hungry eyes surveying the intriguing menu - degustation is a very French way to dine with elegant wine and special occasions - I could sense she was hoping, but, with our $38 Chianti and some fine cured meats under our belt, the chef's creative crusade into Italian Fusion was not on our new world horizons.
So, more seasonal antipasti, pickled fennel with a stain of saffron, a nicely balanced scapece of eggplant ticked my vegetarian's happy box. More authentic, and less adventurous, was our spirit for the evening.
Choosing seafood fregola (a wonderful dish of Sardinia), homemade tagliatelle amatriciana, and snapper caponata kept our Mediterranean feast alive. Supported by a sporty healthy option of grilled porterhouse with rocket & parmesan, served a la tagliata, we were excited and confident with our choices.
I continued to study the chef's menu and pondered if this is a tactical culinaria decision to complement the rollickingly busy DOC next door(?). Time will tell whether, indeed, this well travelled chef’s Baccala croquettes, miso, eggplant, tomato chutney or Risotto ‘ferron’ Pecorino Romano, schezuan pepper, raspberry will tempt them next door. Complex food requires time and recourses.
Our mains were expressed by our guests as noticeably slow, whilst the kitchen dispatched to the neighbouring 2 tables. Indeed, the chef himself appears to be part of the excellent service, appearing at every table with a wonderful charm and humility.
Our mains arrived presented with Avant guard flair. The Snapper skin was removed and twice cooked for visual appeal, the fish perfectly moist and garnished with restraint and flair. The fregola was colourfully dotted with Aduki beans for more Japanese bling. Tagliatelle was good and proper, whilst the steak was presented respectfully, but just a shade too rare and lacking the wonderful charcoal crust of a great Italian bistecca. But it was clear from the well balanced flavours and clean plates that this kitchen has the potential to match its neighbours crusading culinary path
Desert menus were presented with a longing look at me! A look at me! Followed by the chef, a smiling sweet and persuasive assassin. How could we say no?!
And I am glad we didn't. Probably the highlight of the night were the chef's modern interpretations of Italian dolce, L’ altra Zuppa Inglese. Sweet potato mousse and strawberry gelato was as good as your find at any Michelin starred restaurant. Light, refreshing, and striking in their presentation, which demonstrated the obvious skill and training the chef has.
It brought to an end an interesting dining experience from a talented chef who is capable of seemingly many diverse culinary experiences. Which one this hard working outfit will settle for, only time will tell.
All I can say is, after my recent culinary capers around Europe reaffirmed, less is more and Italians do indeed do it better!
What Wilson says - Some great cooking and value on offer, just needs to find a unified culinary spirit.
When can we go -
Breakfast: Saturday & Sunday 8am to 11am
Lunch: Tuesday - Saturday 12noon to 3pm (Sunday long lunch 12noon to 4.30pm)
Dinner: Tuesday - Saturday 5pm to 9.30pm