Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mirka at Tolarno Hotel

While visiting friends in St. Kilda I had the opportunity to visit one of Guy Grossi's restaurants, Mirka at Tolarno Hotel. Currently serving up a special fixed-menu Sunday lunch of sneak-peak recipes from Grossi's upcoming cookbook 'Recipes from My Mother's Kitchen', a chance to eat at Mirka was not to be missed.

Mirka at Tolarno is the namesake of French-Australian artist Mirka Mora, who opened the location with her husband as a restaurant/gallery/studio called in the early 1960's. Grossi's father Pietro was one of the original chefs and it was in this kitchen where Guy spent the very earliest years of his cooking career. Having now taken over ownership of the restaurant, Grossi has revamped the building in it's original spirit as a restaurant and bar and planned gallery space. Mora's vibrant murals still adorn the dining room wall, making for a a very unique dining atmosphere.

As you can imagine, a traditional home-cooked Italian Sunday lunch is somewhat epic. The 'From my Mother's Kitchen' menu is certainly no different and would be challenging to get through if it didn't taste as good as it does. Our menu included Cauliflower and Gorgonzola soup, Chestnut and Mushroom Gnocchi, Carpaccio of White Fish, Calzone, Cassoulet, Roast Salmon with Letils, Tripe Sausage, Stewed Fruit, Rhubarb Pudding and the most amazing Honeycomb Semifreddo I've ever tasted. That's a LOT of food, even between four of us. We made an attempt on everything but there was a lot left over despite our best intentions.

For the most part the courses were top-notch; the soup was a stand out, perfectly balanced and with the cauliflower pureed just right to retain a bit of texture. Tripe sausage might not be everyone's cup of tea but all I can say is don't knock it until you try it. Besides, you're in very good hands here. Out of everything I probably ate the most of that. The desserts on the other hand were a little polarizing. It may have been that the semifreddo was so bloody good that it eclipsed everything else but the other two selections were a little lacking. The rhubarb pudding was boring and the stewed fruits didn't seem to be trying to be anything than stewed fruits (not that there's anything wrong with that). That semifreddo on the other hand, wow. It was like they got a cow on a massive sugar-high, let a bunch of bees sting it, milked it and chilled the cream. I could not get enough of the stuff. Total knock-out.

My only serious complaint (and this is something I see a lot of restaurants, no matter how good they are, tending to do consistently badly) was the coffee. We ordered a round of espresso at the end of the meal to finish off and after such a tidal wave of beautiful food I was so disappointed to find a thin, light, over-extracted shot of watery espresso in my cup. I don't understand why restaurants who take so much care selecting the best ingredients, wines, equipment etc. and doing the most with them don't seem to care about coffee. It's an odd experience drinking terrible espresso from a clearly custom made, Grossi crest emblazoned, porcelain demitasse. There are a few restaurants out there doing it the right way; sourcing their beans from local specialty roasters, using good equipment and training their staff properly, but for the most part I still see cheap equipment, bad technique and imported beans that are long stale by the time they reach our shores. I wouldn't suggest that all restaurants become specialty coffee merchants but as it stands, it's not good enough. Grossi is taking the time and care to brew his own beer (which is actually decent - very sharp and hoppy) but is still using a certain ubiquitous omnipresent imported Italian coffee that's just not up to scratch. And it's letting the food down.

Now that the rant is done, Mirka is definitely worth visiting, especially if you can book in for Sunday lunch and get a sneaky taste of some very good traditional Italian cuisine before it hits the bookstore shelves.

Mirka at Tolarno Hotel
42 Fitzroy St.St. Kilda, Victoria
03 9525 3088
Mirka at Tolarno on Urbanspoon

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