Gills Diner

September 22, 2011

360 Little Collins, Melbourne
Having had three mid term exams and two assignments in as many weeks, I thought a small reward was in order, and so it was that D, H and I headed to Lily Blacks for some drinks on a balmy Friday evening. Sure, there are dumpsters in the background, but the conversation was so cheery and interesting that it was as if we were looking out onto the sun-filled steps of Parliament, or some other such view. H eventually went home, and D and I strolled along Little Collins to our dinner venue for the night, Gills Diner.

I had read about Gills in the Age Good Food Guide and on another blog a few days earlier, so when choosing where to eat it was the first place to come to my mind. Located on Gills Alley next door to the Commercial Bakery, Gills Diner was originally an extension of the bakery cafe, but in the past couple of years has branched out in rather fancy and delicious french/spanish bistro style food.

I loved the fit-out of Gills instantly; romantic cellar-esque with a high exposed ceiling, white walls, dim lighting, and large windows letting in the yellow light from the laneway lamp outside. The menu is written onto blackboards around the room, and there were beautiful tall candles on the tables and benches. I also loved the paneled window-wall separating the kitchen, and the tables and chairs that looked like old school furniture.

If I weren’t already on a date, I would have remarked to my dining companion, “Gee this’d be an awfully good place for a date!”. It has that perfectly easy atmosphere that isn’t stiflingly romantic, as there are other larger groups, but the crowd is sophisticated and quiet enough that you can sit and chat amongst yourselves without much distraction.

We were met at the door by a french sounding waiter who showed us to our table. We were given some bread and butter to start, and I was thrilled to see they were using proper french butter – the taste is so much better. Throughout the evening the waiters were very attentive and polite, if a little too keen to talk up the “heirloom vegetables” on this particular dish. But I’m not complaining – you can’t get a garden salad in Melbourne anymore without there being fancy heirloom vegies in it.

In addition to the interior, I was also instantly enamoured with Gills’ menu (basically I love this place very much). On the night we were there, entrees included leek + fontina croquettes with romesco sauce, some heirloom carrots with yoghurt, quinoa and harissa, and a farmhouse terrine with chutney.

The mains looked even better, and I had tough time choosing what to order. I liked the sound of the beef cheek with celeriac puree, three grains and horseradish, but then I’d heard great things about the zatar pressed pork shoulder, roast pork belly and black pudding with puy lentils. Then again, broccoli risotto with chilli and lemon also sounded interesting. Ahh, so many tempting choices!

In the end, D and I shared two pasta dishes. I began with the special of hand cut squid ink linguine with calamari, roast cherry tomatoes, baby sorrel, basil and lemon zest. This was devine, a delicious combination of flavours and excellently cooked, with a slight bite to the linguine. This was a fantastic dish, I loved the clean, fresh flavours of the tomato and lemon, and the soft pieces of calamari. Fantastic.

The second dish I ate (after we’d swapped) was the gnocchi with duck leg, jerusalem artichoke and pecorino. This was a COMPLETELY different dish, and quite strange to transition from one to the other in two mouthfuls. Nonetheless, also an excellent dish, a rich and mustardy sauce (though not hot) that I mopped up with my bread. I loved the duck with the super-soft pillows of gnocchi, and the jerusalem artichoke provided a nice contrasting crunch.

Unfortunately the photo is grainy from the low lighting.

D isn’t a big dessert eater, but I was keen on the warm chocolate pudding with caramel sauce, peanut butter ice-cream and peanut brittle. D hates all things peanuts, so he did well sitting and watching (and not turning away in revolt) as I ate dessert. I simply loved the ice-cream, combined in one mouthful with the intensely rich chocolate cake was like eating a snickers bar. The peanut brittle stick seemed to me a tad pointless, as it didn’t have much of a taste.

To conclude, I really really loved Gills, and will gladly return when I’m after a nice meal with a good atmosphere. Gills is somewhere where you can get top quality food, beautifully presented in a romantic, intimate setting but without the hype and wanky snobbery of the more famous places in Melbourne. Well worth it, I say.

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Filed under: French, Italian, Melbourne CBD