July 4, 2013

152 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Earlier this week, Mr N and I took the train out to South Yarra for some Italian at Pinocchio’s in Toorak Road. Though I wasn’t aware of it until recently, Pinocchio’s has been around for some 30 years, serving pasta and pizza to a local clientele. Last year, it underwent a major facelift and menu revamp, and the results are pretty impressive, I must say.

I should disclose that I was invited as a guest to sample the food at the newly refurbished Pinocchio’s by PR Darling, so everything we received during this meal was complimentary.

Though we were obviously being well taken care of by the down-to-earth staff, I noticed that the service was attentive and friendly at all other tables, and the crowd (mostly younger couples and families) all seemed to be enjoying themselves. The fit-out is clean if slightly industrial, and the place is well-positioned to capture the local market of discerning diners.

Adorable little sketches of the puppet adorn the plates and wine glasses, a theme that is also carried across the walls of the restaurant where key scenes from Pinocchio’s adventures have been sketched onto the wall.

Prosecco to start, how lovely!

We were given a selection of small dishes to share over the evening, which meant we were able to sample some of the highlights of the menu. First up came a trio of starters, including a baked herbed ricotta with goats cheese, an orange reduction and pumpkin seed wafers. The ricotta had a lovely, omelette-like texture, light and fluffy, with a hint of thyme and rosemary.

This first course was served with an Italian white that was dry by Italian standards but on our palate had subtle sweet undertones. I should say now that the manager (who was taking care of us for the evening) did an excellent job at matching wines to the food, and was always happy to have a chat about the dishes or Italian cuisine in general.

Also on the sharing board were a trio of earthy mushroom arancini with a tallegio sauce (God help me I love arancini), and one of my favourite dishes from the evening, the panino di agnello aka pulled lamb shoulder sliders. Sticky and soft with a slick of aioli and a malleable brioche bun, these were a fantastic starter.

After such a substantial starter we had a bit of a breather before another wooden board was delivered to the table, this time carrying an attractive threesome of pasta dishes. For me, the pastas were the highlight of the meal, though I’ve read very positive reviews about the wood fired pizza too.

First up, Gippsland rabbit ravioli with a butter sauce. Wow-ee, this was incredible but very intense. Fantastic as a small serve, not sure I could finish an entire plate. Mr N and I both agreed the butter sauce worked well with the sweet rabbit, and the matching wine (a sticky, saccharine white from Italy) worked like a charm.

My favourite of the three was the squid ink tagliatelle with ocean trout and saffron, not least because of the pretty presentation. A very special dish, well balanced, and I would have happily enjoyed a whole serve all to myself. If I had to be picky, the tagliatelle was a tad overcooked, but not to a tragic extent. This was matched with an Australian Riesling (I’m personally not a fan of Riesling, but Mr N enjoyed it).

The final pasta was a small but dense serve of the vincigrassi, a 12th century lasagna made with porcini mushrooms, chicken liver, handmade Italian sausage and San Daniele prosciutto. As much as I applaud the use of traditional recipes and enjoyed the textural addition of chicken liver, this was a tad too bready and unexciting compared to the other two pastas we sampled.

As suggested by the manager, perhaps it would have gone down better had it been enlivened by a fresh green salad on the side. As it was, we were getting quite full by this stage so struggled to finish it.

To finish the meal, a final trio of sweets – tiramisu, wood fired lemon tart and a warm rhubarb and fig pudding with caramel sauce. While the fig pudding was a tad bready, the tiramisu was a solid version of an Italian classic and the lemon tart a triumph, especially having been cooked in a wood fired oven, where I imagine the temperature is much more difficult to control.

In all, a very satisfying meal at Pinocchio’s – a number of very strong performers out of the dishes we tried, with the lamb panino and squid ink tagliatelle particularly standing out. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area and in the mood for some quality Italian fare in a stylish setting. Thanks again for such a hospitable evening to the team at Pinocchio’s!

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Filed under: Italian, South Yarra