So I'm about 10-12 blog posts behind, with posts from the Philippines and Shanghai to get up, but I thought I would skip forward and do this one first (it is my blog, I'll do as I please!), as it was celebrating a little special night for me and the Mister.
Brad and I had our one year anniversary a few nights ago, the month prior to it I had been away in South East Asia for 2 weeks and then just before I got back, he left for Europe with his band for about 3 weeks (he likes to argue 2 and a half to make himself feel better) and got back 2 days before our little special date.
So we planned the whole thing when we were overseas, pretty much, because I tend to be a little bit of a control freak (just a wee bit), and for us, we don't make a big deal out of christmas, valentines and birthdays (although we may treat ourselves to a slightly nicer than usual restaurant), so we thought we could afford to spoil ourselves a little more than usual.
We spent a night in the Olsen on Chapel Street, which was absolutely lovely. Airy, contemporary and slathered with gorgeously and richly saturated coloured art, it was impeccable. Our room was on the top floor in the 'Lily Pond Penthouse' with an awesome view of Chapel street, which was lovely lit up at night.
I had originally wanted to dine at Cutler and Co, but seeing as we were staying in South Yarra, it didn't make much sense to go drive elsewhere for dinner, and Brad also did point out my birthday would be coming up next month anyway (dying for Cutler and Co dessert....).
So after doing a bit of research, we settled on Da Noi, which I had surprisingly not really heard about until very recently. I always sort of assumed it was a Vietnamese restaurant based on the name, but after fully reading through some reviews, I was a little embarrassed that I had judged a book by it's cover!
So what is Da Noi? It is small, narrow, moodily lit and quite rustic feeling. It would be so easy to walk by without noticing the rather unpretentious Sardinian restaurant. Sardinia is an island about the same size of Tasmania, off the west coast of Italy and Da Noi, is the only restaurant (that I am aware of) in Melbourne that does this kind of Italian.
As I had booked a week before, we were given a gorgeous little window table, surprisingly with a lovely fresh bouquet of flowers on it, the only irk is that there was a great big yellow sign in the window for some council renovations or something of the sort (which is why a lot of my pictures have this funky coloured background...). It was a nice feeling in the restaurant though, it really was tiny, with the few tables (maybe 10?), lit with candles, really taking up all the space there was inside.
Once seated we were immediately presented with some foccacia to start us off, which I would have liked to be slightly warm, but was really just quite delicious and I couldn't resist nibbling on it. Fluffy and absolutely covered in herbs, but not overly buttery or oily, it was a nice way to get into the munching mood.
So whilst there is an ala carte menu at Da Noi, it was highly recommended that for $89 you take the chef's menu, which changes daily (the ala carte might too, I'm not entirely sure), is 4 courses long, can be catered to your preferences (no pasta for me please!) and well...a bit of a surprise really. As Brad and I are usually terrible with deciding what we want to eat, often mulling over the menu for ages, this option sounded easy and fun.
We started with a very elegant little tuna carpaccio, I can't remember exactly what was part of the lengthy description of it, but I do remember hearing English fish roe wrapped up inside it, which may explain the delicious salty hit, and I can't remember exactly what cheese the little wafer of cheese was, but I'm assuming something along the lines of manchego, as it was rich and sharp and biting and had me melting quite happily all over the dish. The micro herbs and little salad that went with it really balanced out the flavours as well.
As we were slowly munching away on our tuna carpaccio, a myriad of other small dishes continued to parade out, leaving me a bit confused as to exactly how big our first course was...
This was a typical Tuscan bread salad....bread salad? What a curious notion. The bread had been softened, was buttery and accompanied with tomatoes and onions and garlics, which made it light and punchy. I really like it. Shame it was bread.
Next was some baby octopus marinated in vinegar, with a couple of potatoes for good measure. These were perfect nibbles, springy in texture and perfectly marinated, slightly tart even.
Eggplant with something...and something...and a whole lot of garlic we were warned. I personally didn't find it too garlicky and the eggplant was presented in a way I don't think I've really had it before. It was quite simply cooked, but was a nice texture, right in that very small spot between too hard and too mushy. Wouldn't have minded it a little bit warmer though.
The waiter didn't need to start telling me what this was, as I was already drooling as he popped it next to me on our little table. Tomatoes (skin off, can't remember if they were cooked in anyway before hand...) with a hint of basil and buffalo mozzarella. Oh man, I need to know where they are getting the mozzarella from, it was absolutely divine and especially with the tomatoes, lacking skin, they are just much softer and juicer and instead of providing the usual crunch I get when I have a caprese salad, it just melds with the mozzarella beautifully and goes down quite silkily.
And as if our first course wasn't big enough still, along came a bell pepper stuffed with ricotta. So doing this at home sometime. It was delicious. No more needs to be said.
Second course is usually a pasta dish, but as I am gluten intolerant, they were very quick to accommodate me and said they would bring us out a risotto instead. Ours was with peas, rocket, zucchini and crab. I loved the clean white with punches of green. I did not however, enjoy the rocket so much and both Brad and I felt it was a bit too strong, bitter and smoky, overpowering the beautiful subtle sweetness from the crab (whenever we could taste it). A slightly unfortunate balance of flavours (although it does't also help we're both not huge on rocket), although we both still finished the dish...(obviously we were just hunting for the crab in it). The rice was cooked perfectly as well, al dente, and it was quite nice to have a well cooked risotto that wasn't creamy. Not that I'm saying creamy risottos are bad, it's just nice that they don't have to be creamy to be good! Something a bit different and fortunately, not so heavy!
Ah protein. Lots of it. Our third course consisted of a generous serve of pork belly with lentils and a good portion of suckling pig each.
I'm not quite sure what it was, but Brad and I both really struggled to finish, I suppose we could have been getting quite full by that point though. The pork belly meat was quite lovely, it wasn't the super wobbly, fatty type of pork belly and I actually kind of enjoyed that it was a little bit leaner than usual. The skin was a bit disappointing though, it was hard to cut, chewy and not crispy at all like I might have expected, maybe left out a little bit too long before serving? The flavours in the pork belly though saved it and it went so well with the lentils which I quite happily gobbled up.
The portion of suckling pig though, I really found a bit harder to eat, whilst I do enjoy eating pork like the next person, it's not my favourite out of the meat proteins and I think after the pork belly it was a bit too much and too rich for me! The skin on this piece was amazing though, crispy like a cracker! I think I might've otherwise found this a little bit too oily and fatty for me overall? Or maybe we just got over porked....
For our last course, we were greeted with a plate to share, with 4 different desserts. A green apple sorbet, rhubarb cake, trifle and a pannacotta. It was really quite a treat for the sweet tooth in me!
The green apple sorbet was so lovely, it is exactly what you would expect, crisp, refreshing, palette cleansing. But yet with a bit of sweetness in there. Delicious.
The rhubarb cake, whilst it wasn't our favourite of the four, it is simply because the other 3 desserts were just so outstanding. To be fair, the cake was lovely and light, moist and absolutely full of rhubarb flavour. If I had had this on it's own, I would have been more than happy with it!
The trifle was a mix of passionfruit, berries and slices of cake (I think?!). I'm not too experienced with trifle or how it should be, but I thought the presentation in the little shot glass was very cute and very much enjoyed the rich mix of fruity flavours.
Lastly, the pannacotta, I think, was a chocolate or hazelnut flavoured pannacotta, served with apple slices on the side and dusted with cinammon. Oh lordy. I really kind of wished that I just had one big serving of this all to myself. It was to die for. Perfectly light and wobbly, and just bursting with flavour. I'm pretty sure I didn't let Brad eat a lot of this. But that's okay, he loves me right?
So overall, there were a few misses in our meal, but we did enjoy ourselves and the experience. The waiter who served us most of the time was friendly and accommodating to us, although I found the other waitresses a little bit cooler than I felt was appropriate in the intimate surroundings.
It is a dining experience you probably won't come across so easily in Melbourne, to try so many dishes and flavours. For the money you're paying, the food on the whole is fresh, hearty, different to what you may usually find at an Italian restaurant and as I said, you get to try so many different things, in the first course alone there was what, 4 or 5 different things we tried?
I may not come back regularly, but I would recommend it and may save it again for a special occasion. Brad and I certainly enjoyed it and hopefully in another year I'll be telling you about another anniversary dinner...