Albert Street Food and Wine

June 23, 2013

382 Sydney Road, Brunswick

For Dad’s birthday this year (some months ago now, please forgive the tardiness of this post), he requested something ‘mediterranean’, but ‘not stuffy’. I leapt at the chance and immediately booked us a table at Albert St Food and Wine, on which I’d developed a strong food crush.

Philippa Sibley, doyen of desserts, has put yet another stamp on Australia’s food landscape with her new restaurant. Modern, refined and yet easygoing, Albert St has a lot going for it. It is, in fact, a triple threat – a trendy wine bar and fantastic restaurant with a great little food and wine shop to boot. What a killer.

Situated in the old State Savings Bank of Victoria on Sydney Road, the interior designers have taken advantage of the high ceilings and large space, even using the old vault as a wine cellar. The space is semi-industrial, semi-European bistro. As the evening goes on, the place fills up and the large air is filled with chatter, and the sounds of wine glasses clinking and forks scraping across dessert plates.

When we arrived, Ms Sibley herself was sitting at the bar having a drink with someone, before disappearing into the kitchen. The staff were all on trend with jeans and plaid shirts, and the clientele equally smartly dressed.

They start you off with bread for the table and basil butter, a sweet and summery spread that went perfectly with the stretchy ciabatta.

We were just seeing the tail end of the summer’s heat wave that evening, so forewent the usual bottle of red for a nice rose (yes, they exist!)

The smaller plates are great to share before ordering individual main meals: we kick-started things with some Padron peppers. Sadly, not a hot one among them! Salty delicious, though.

Alex put in a request for the duck and pheasant terrine with prosciutto and foie gras (really it was just the foie gras he was interested in). Despite appearances, the terrine wasn’t too heavy, had the perfect amount of wobbly jelly, and was freshened by a small salad of sprouts.

A pair of fat Portugese sardines with pinenuts and a caper and currant dressing were divine, one of my favourite entrees. I’m a huge fan of sardines, and these were beautifully done, just perfect with a squeeze of lemon.

Next, a terracotta dish of goat meatballs with yoghurt and preserved lemons. We all loved these – fantastic goat flavour matched by a thick sugo and brightened with the tang of yoghurt. We mopped up any excess sugo with the bread.

The last entree to arrive was my favourite of the lot, a small steaming pot of bacalhau with a accompanying ‘Green Goddess’ salsa, a tangy mix of capers, green olives and artichoke. Salty, creamy cod dip with crisp bread – I was in heaven. Also loved how this is more of a hands-on dish.

I’ve written several times before of my love of bacalhau, or salted cod. It’s the Greek in me, I suppose, though I do think it has the potential for wide appeal, given its salty, creamy nature when mixed with potatoes, garlic and lots of parsley. Do yourself a favour when you visit Albert St and order this dish.

Once entrees were over, they removed both plates and cutlery and laid new sets (the mark of a good restaurant). Service was stellar the entire night – our chatty and down-to-earth waitress was very helpful with any questions we had, and was enthusiastic about all the dishes we discussed.

Moving onto the mains, Alex went for a stellar piece of pork belly, roasted, with a three bean and green apple salad and some Dijon mash. The boy loved it.

Mum and Dad both ordered the John Dory, roasted and served with cauliflower and mussels a la Greque (in a light tomato broth) with fresh tomatoes to finish. A beautiful dish, light and sweet and perfect for the late summer evening.

I hesitated at the quail with fennel and bois boudran, but settled on the confit king salmon with summer vegetables and a buerre noisette. An undeniably rich dish, I struggled to get though such a large piece of fish, but the fennel salad did wonders at cutting through the buttery heaviness of the fish. I am tempted to say that I thought the dish was too rich with the addition of the buerre noisette, and perhaps was an unnecessary addition.

Finally, desserts. I’d been waiting, giddy with excitement, for this part of the evening, given Sibley’s mastery of desserts and the general consensus that the desserts here are an absolute joy to eat. A small but sophisticated dessert menu, a few classics and a few more inventive options that appeal to everyone.

Dad opted for the exciting sounding ‘Opera!’ (exclamation included), a layered chocolate cake with hazelnut and a sorbet tower, and absolutely loved it (I am reminded of the ‘soup tower’ from Black Books).

Alex hade a Meyer lemon tart, sublime in its smooth creaminess. I’ve simply never had lemon tart this good: the filling was like liquid gold yet held its shape perfectly. Sibley’s prowess really coming through here.

Despite the success of the boys’ desserts, I must assert with no small amount of smugness that mine was the best and was gazed at jealously by the entire table when it arrived (although I did share – how kind of me. Modest, too). My dessert was the pannacotta ‘Mirka Mora’, an homage to the great lady with blackberries, geranium, figs, and an angel’s wing of meringue. Such a beautiful dessert. Perfectly balanced, expertly executed, sublime. Sibley, you legend.

If you haven’t already got your phone in hand, ready to make a booking at Albert St Food and Wine, may I insist you do so immediately. At the very least pop over for a night cap and some dessert to share with a lover. Your tastebuds (and your lover) will thank you for it.

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Filed under: Brunswick, European, French, Italian

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