Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant
‘Fusion’ food and cuisine. It’s everywhere at the moment! Sure it can be looked at with some contempt sometimes, but let’s face it, there are some amazing blends coming out from it! But when addressed, most of these address fusion in flavours…what about a fusion of a slightly different kind? The Grand obviously has some clever cookies in house, as they looked at Chinese yum cha (a personal favourite of mine), how that’s served, and asked themselves, why can’t this be done with Italian food?
And as I discovered when I visited The Grand this past weekend…there’s certainly no reason why it can’t!
Although The Grand has had the honour of receiving a hat for the last 9 years, and was previously named as best pub dining room at state and national level numerous times, it’s an incredibly down to earth space. Upon stepping in and meeting Barnie and Tiur, the owners, it was clear that none of the awards and accolades had gotten to their heads and the pub distinctively had a warm and smartly dressed but unpretentious vibe to it.
After a quick tour of the pub, checking out the gorgeous function rooms, the courtyard and the casual pub side, we then make our way to the dining room for the main event. Italian Yum Cha (yes it could technically also be called Italian Tapas, but the former title is far more amusing!).
You heard me right! As part of the Good Food Month, The Grand is partaking in the “Hats off Dinner Series”, where hatted restaurants offer up something a little different to their usual offering. The Grand is taking the dishes they do best, sizing down the portions and serving them up in traditional Chinese steamers. Oh and serving it up with wine instead of tea, making it ‘bere vino’ instead of yum cha.
Just like the traditional Chinese yum cha, there is an extensive list of food, a sheet on the table which is stamped every time a dish comes to your table, and a bevy of food that is brought by the table on trays…just that it’s all Italian food instead.
Personally, I loved the concept, after all, everything in moderation, and when the portions are this big, it’s certainly easy to have a little of everything! …that’s what moderation is about isn’t it?
We’re greeted with smiles and brought to our table, along with some ‘Aperol-tea’, which is a stunning shade of orange, perfect for spring, and slightly dangerous as it’s far too easy to drink!
We start with a serve of ‘Pana della casa con olive e puree di fagioli blanchi’…or in English, house-made bread with olives and white bean puree. The bread is not just any bread though, but a warm, golden, deliciously savoury focaccia, perfectly seasoned with a touch of salt and rosemary. With a lovely crust and fluffy interior, it was perfect with the creamy white bean puree. Was so hard to not fill up on all the goodness, but we were warned, there was so much more to come…and they weren’t lying!
The first dish that wafted by our table on trays was the stunning berry cured ocean trout, that instantly had me cooing over the colours and how fresh it all looked. The trout itself was cool, smooth, sweet and crisp. I simply adored the addition of the shaved celery stalk on top, that added a real freshness to the dish.
I had thought that the dishes would have slowly come out from the kitchen, but no! They were whipped out quite quickly and although in Chinese yum cha, I find it relatively easy to turn down dumplings to have them later, at the Grand when they were presenting dishes, I found it incredibly difficult to say no to anything…
The prawn and anchovy fritters didn’t have as intense a flavour as I thought they would, I was expecting a fair bit of saltiness with anchovies, but I didn’t find it. However, I did love the batter, which was so light and crisp, like a tempura batter.
The roasted capsicums were sweet, and so refreshing (especially after a big night at a friend’s wedding). It’s amazing how treating ingredients simply can work so well; bit of olive oil, bit of pepper, a scattering of herbs and it slips through the lips like a treat.
The cobia (also known as a black kingfish) with egg yolk, picked enoki mushrooms and some shaved parmesan, was another unique combination, and I couldn’t resist trying when the waiter sold the fish to me as the ‘wagyu of the ocean’. And I can certainly see what he meant! You could even see the marbling through it, the richness of the fish lending itself quite nicely to the parmesan. The texture was smooth and silky. Although cheese and fish isn’t a usual mix, it worked here…and very well indeed!
The suppli, very similar to an arancini, stuffed with porcini mushroom and rice and served with a truffle aioli was an aromatic delight, especially when sliced open. Although it came to the table crumbed and golden, the exterior wasn’t quite as crisp as I thought it might be, but this certainly did not detract from the lovely flavours.
A favourite of mine was the potato gnocchi with brown butter and sage, which the waitress kept subtly (or not so subtly) recommending every time she passed by the table. If you decide to pop in, you’d be wise to listen to her if she does the same to you, as it’s rich, creamy and fluffy and delectably moreish.
The seared scallops on squid ink zucchini spaghettini did not disappoint, the scallops cooked just right. The zucchini spaghettini was a curiously slightly crunchy texture, which complimented the tender scallops very nicely.
Just as we were about to throw in the towel on the savouries, I’m told I absolutely cannot stop until I’ve had the ox tongue with frizze, capers and mustard fruit. I must thank the staff for insisting this one on me, as I simply adored it. Three fine slices of ox tongue, incredibly tender, beautifully warm and full of flavour. Absolutely not to be missed as well.
Dessert is very classic, with just a couple of options to satiate the sweet tooth at the end of the meal. The description for the cannoli of ‘fried and stuffed sticks of heaven’ completely lures me in, and the stuffed sticks are indeed heavenly fried! There’s a touch of orange in the flavours as well, which is surprisingly refreshing after a relatively rich meal.
The chocolate mousse is dense and full of cocoa, the fresh and zingy strawberries adding a nice contrast and the bombolini is filled with a cream pasticcera (custard), which is a lot lighter than I expect as well.
Throughout the meal, I’m massively impressed by the waitstaff, who are both personable and non-intrusive. There’s an air of that old-school hospitality vibe, where you’re very much encouraged to just relax into the hands of the staff, who ensure you’re comfortable through the whole time you’re with them. Every time I went to reach for my glass of water, I had realised it had been refilled, but hadn’t realised that someone had come and done just that!
I can truly understand why The Grand has received the accolades it has, and based on my experience, can only imagine that going for a regular meal would be an absolute treat (and I’m certainly wondering when I can fit time in the schedule to be back!)
But back to Italian Yum Cha. Sounds weird, but it works. And it’s on at The Grand for the next three weekends of November. There’s no set price, just pay as you go along, with dishes ranging rom $6.50 to $14.50, there’s certainly something for everyone in there!
Italian Yum Cha at the Grand is available for lunch on the 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd of November. Bookings can be made via phone at 03 9429 2530
333 Burnley Street