Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I don't usually particularly crave Italian food, but after a two week stint in Asia with a bit of a smorgasbord of Asian food (duh), my mind was drifting to different pastures. In my last few days in Kuala Lumpur, my thoughts were indeed on Italian food and in particular on Balzari.

I've been intrigued with Balzari for quite sometime, I stumbled upon it whilst googling all the restaurant websites that were in the Entertainment book (I love restaurant websites and menus!) and have become quite smitten with Balzari's website. It's so clean, chic and pretty and the menu looked quite tasty (which I suppose is the more important thing, although I am a sucker for pretty graphics), so I had always planned to go at some point.

Sometime on and I find myself actively on twitter and occasionally tweeting back and forth with head chef Joel Valvasori (@ChefValvasori) about botox, my use of the n_____n smiley and how my cupcake habit probably isn't helping my efforts at the gym! His friendly tweets have been a constant reminder that, I had not yet been to Balzari. Still. So finally, the day after I get back from Malaysia, I decided to make the executive decision (dictation) for Brad and I that we were going.


I'm honestly amazed how well Balzari is hidden amongst all the other restaurants in Lygon, I can't imagine the amount of times I must have walked by without even noticing it! It modestly sits, nestled in between the noisy and bustling restaurants, a quiet reprieve (although it ended up being completely full later in the night!) welcoming you upon entry. It just exudes charm and class, is smartly dressed but relaxed and homely with a spanking clean open kitchen (which I always appreciate and admire). It was a quite a cosy sized room, keeping everything quite intimate.

We were greeted and seated with a bright smile and some friendly chit chat from our waiter, which after being in Malaysia where service can be quite stoic, was a refreshing change. I don't mean to keep making people jealous of my travel, but if you ask, I can't help but answer!


We got a bottle of red wine, a Sangiovese if I recall correctly. Unfortunately didn't get the rest of the details down!


Ah, bread with olive oil, the real Italian way. David would've been a bit upset to not get his butter, but Brad easily wiped it all up.


We stared the night with ‘I frizzis o ciccioli’ Friulano style pork scratchings, spiced with chilli and herbs. Whoo! These little guys packed a punch! Although a small little portion, you definitely don't want more than that. These things are incredibly salty, fatty and rich, absolutely delicious, but absolutely sinful. They put potato chips to shame! There was a slight crisp to them, even for being very fatty and I loved the herbs accompanying the salt. I kept saying I was going to stop picking on them, but...once a snacker always a snacker?


We were then pleasantly surprised when this beautiful dish was brought to our table. Beef Carpaccio with broad beans, quail egg, ox tongue fritto, anchovy emulsion, shaved Montasio DOP. Isn't the presentation just beautiful? I love a bright and colourful dish. After the intensity of the pork scratchings the flavours in this were much more delicate and quite delightful, the creamy anchovy emulsion was so lovely over everything, it really enhanced the tender texture of the beef. Oh my goodness and that little square? That one lonely square? Gorgeous ox tongue, I shouldn't have split it in half to share with Brad (although I suppose that wouldn't have been very nice of me), and would have loved to just pop the cube in my mouth and be happily mellow as it just melted in my mouth. My only regret with it was there wasn't more of it!


Some might find it too simple, but I am absolutely smitten with how elegantly the pasta is presented. This was Brad's main, and if I could eat regular pasta, this would've been my choice too. Tagliatelle, Spanner crab, white wine, chilli and garlic. Balzari hand makes their own pasta in house and the results really speak for themselves, just look at all those beautiful looping ribbons! I only had one or two strands to try, so I can't fully comment on flavour, but the texture was memorable, cooked perfectly, al dente.


I don't tend to order a lot of meat main dishes when I go out, especially when they are individual portions, but the Char-grilled Berkshire pork neck ‘Tagliata’, sauteed chicory, Mostarda di frutta & orange sauce (if I can get the proper description from the website I will!) just kept drawing my attention. And I was very happy with my choice, I tend to think with meat in particular, how exciting can you make it really? Which may be why I don't usually tend to order it when I go out.

However, I did enjoy this, the fruit and orange sauce added a really interesting fruity sweetness to the pork, a bit of tang even from the orange sauce. The meat was lovely and tender as well, I thought initially it didn't look like too much meat (Aw yeah, I could eat all of that no problem) but as I slowly munched my way, whilst sipping away at my wine, I ended up being surprisingly full! Looks are incredibly deceiving!


When browsing a menu, my eyes have a tendency to drift immediately over to the sweets. I can't help it. I'm a sweet tooth (hence a lot of gym visits...)!

I had made up my mind earlier that I wanted to get the honeycomb semifreddo with dark chocolate mousse, but alas! They had run out! But with very little persuasion, we (I) opted to get the Dolci Selezione, which had a smaller sampling of my desired dessert (hoorah!), caramelised rhubarb with olive oil cake c/ rhubarb and vanilla ice cream (the dessert at the front) and in the middle there, a honey & Nonino grappa pannacotta, with fruits and toasted nuts.

I loved the variety, each dessert was quite different to the last! Rhubarb is not something I tend to go for in desserts, but I very much enjoyed it, especially with the ice-cream (but that's always a given!). The grappa pannacotta was surprisingly strong! I found it a little bit intense for my tastes, as I think I expected something a little more subtle, but the texture of it was quite lovely otherwise.

Ah, but I am so glad I got to have a nibble of the honeycomb semifreddo, cool and sweet, with lovely crunchy chunks of honeycomb within. Every crunch was a delight, and paired with the chocolate mousse, well it added a bit of depth and richness to the sweetness of the honeycomb. Smooth as velvet, whilst I enjoyed sampling the variety of desserts, I really wish I had a bigger portion of this last one!

Afterwards, I got to meet and chat to Chef Valvasori for a while. It was interesting to hear about his past experiences traveling and working in Europe and how these experiences have shaped how he would like to cook and his love of beautiful ingredients. It is a little sad to hear that he is moving on from Balzari, but I will be interested to find out where he ends up next or what he ends up doing.

Brad and I left, glowing happily (not just from the wine), back out into the cool Melbourne night. We genuinely enjoyed our meal and both felt very well fed, the service was impeccable with friendly and efficient staff (my only complaint might be that I wouldn't have minded my wine to be topped up a little faster) and I think the restaurant really just has a very comfortable ambience. If that semifreddo stays on the menu, I'll definitely be back!

130 Lygon Street
Carlton VIC 3053
9639 9383
Balzari on Urbanspoon


  1. "I don't usually particularly crave Italian food" - wait, WHAT?! I don't think we can be friends now!


    That pasta looks awfully good. Time for a revisit, I reckon.

  2. Awww, oh no! :c

    Haha, well it's not that I don't like it! But if you the choice was left to me I usually go for a Japanese or fusion/gastropub/modern australian place....but I am certainly enjoying my Italian more these days! ;)

  3. I've been there once and remember it as pretty good food. Great pictures!! Italian is usually very light, fresh and healthy, mmmm I am impressed you are chatting to chefs!

  4. I used to live in a hostel near lygon st and pass by balzari all the time on the way back and to college. I've considered of going there for lunch or something but this plan is long abandoned ever since i've moved to the northern 'burbs.thanks to your post, it reminds me that i should drag my arse there.

  5. Bryan - Thanks! :) Haha, I don't normally talk to chefs, but Chef Valvasori came over to my table and we do have a bit of communication via twitter too. :) Should try to do it more often though...

    Michelle - Ah, I've done to many a place! My list of restaurants continue growing! :)

  6. I've never heard of this place! Their tagliatelle looks beautiful. That is exactly my favourite kind of pasta - simple and aldente. Heaven! I love going out for good Italian., thanks for the review.
    Heidi xo

  7. Heidi - You're most welcome! I do hope you can pop by sometime, it's just a shame Chef Valvasori is leaving, but I'm sure a suitable replacement will be found. :)