15 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
(03) 8488 8150
I’ve been meaning to rave about this place for ages, but somehow my life has become even busier since I was retrenched from my design job about 2 months ago. I’m just another victim of the current financial climate I guess, and yet rather than blogging more with my new found spare time, I seem to be blogging less! Go figure.
My housemate Miss R, Miss B and I met for dinner one night at the still fairly new Casa Ciuccio (pronounced “choo-cho”), Italian for “donkey house”. Run by the guys who brought us Bar Lourinhã, Chef Matt McConnell (brother to Andrew McConnell), his wife Jo Gamvros and Simon Benjamin have created a playful yet modern gem at the museum end of Gertrude st. Dotted around the place are images of donkeys, a strange choice for a mascot yes, but with a McConnell brother at the helm you know at least the food will be serious.
Building on their Spanish formula that has seen the success of Bar Lourinhã, the menu here is further inspired by the flavours of Portugal, Greece and Italy. When I spy “free range local prosciutto” ($18.00) on the menu, I can’t help but salivate. I have a weakness for prosciutto, and this one is particularly good. Salty, velvety and entirely dreamy to lovers like me.
When our newbie waitress tells up the specials, the padron peppers catch my attention as I quite enjoyed them at The Commoner, around the corner on Johnson St. Around one in ten of these little green chillis is hot, which makes for entertaining eating – wondering if you’re one of the unlucky (or lucky if your a chilli fan) 10%.
Finally from the para picar or “bites” section of the menu, Miss B and I order a baccala croqueta each, a small deep-fried potato parcel, stuffed with salt cod ($4.00 each). The croquetas, which are filled with mashed potatoes rather than the traditional bechamel, arrive uncrumbed, so that the potato creates a crisp casing that contrasts nicely with the velvety mash and salty fish inside. After having these, I tried to recreate something similar for my races catering, cooking the less fancy though still tasty tuna croquettes.
Miss R, who has an aversion to seafood ordered a Fiore di burrata instead, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream ($7.00 each). Made in Melbourne by That’s Amore Cheese, it arrives simply with a basil leaf, a drizzle of oil and a dash of chilli salt. The simplicity of the dish makes me think that both the McConnell brothers have a similar approach to their food, with the confidence to rely heavily on the quality of their ingredients without needing much else. It’s a bold move but it pays off, as it allows the beauty and craftsmanship of this cheese to shine.
For mains, we couldn’t go past the daily ‘pit roast’, which on this occasion was lamb. Cooked for a minimum of 3 ours over a coal pit, the meat was literally falling off the bone. With a unique, subtle smoky flavour, to me it was a highly memorable incarnation of what could easily have been an ordinary dish.
Alongside the daily roast, two chilli sauces and baby potatoes are served. There’s nothing special about the potatoes, though I was too impressed by the lamb to really care.
So from the sides menu, we chose the spiced cauliflower with almonds, feeling the need for greater variety in our side dishes ($13.00). Quite often a forgotten vegetable, the cauliflower with it’s smoky spices is a lovely accompaniment to the lamb, offering an almost Middle-Eastern dimension to the meal.
For dessert, Miss B and I both chose the Dulce de leche cream pot with peanut praline ($12.00). If you are thinking of visiting, you should order this. The little shards of praline will stick in your teeth, while the caramel cream is deliciously smooth and luscious. It’s generous enough to share between two, not that you’d want to.
Miss R chose the Chocolate buñuelos with hazelnut sauce ($12.00), though was a little disappointed with the lack of chocolate in the dish. Similar in appearance to the croquetas, they are more like home made doughnuts.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Casa Ciuccio. To me, the simplicity and quality of ingredients reminded me of Cumulus, though with a Mediterranean twist. One of my favourite things about this place though is that you can book! Horay! So do yourself a favour and book a table before it becomes impossible and they go the way of Cumulus and set up a walk-ins-only policy so you have to line up 3 hours before you want to eat.