Our last day in Rome we decided that we hadn’t quite had enough of the Burrata and Pesto pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli so we met our friends there that were also staying nearby and yeah, well, let’s just say we had pizza for breakfast. Afterwards we all made our way to the airport to catch an afternoon flight. Not sure if I have mentioned it already but we are all actually in Europe for a good friends wedding. Many of us have flown over from Australia to attend the wedding which is in London next weekend, so obviously we decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it.
We were meeting more friends in Polignano A Mare, a small seaside town in the city of Bari in Puglia for a bit of pre-wedding drinking, eating and relaxing. Puglia is well known for a few things, most importantly Taralli – a savoury biscuit shaped a bit like mini donut that I nicknamed the Italian Jatz because of their addictive nature. Secondly, Puglia is known for its Burrata. Some of the best Burrata in the world comes from Puglia and in both Rome and Florence I found menus with Burrata from Puglia on it. And thirdly the small little round pasta known as Orecchiette is also famously from Puglia.
When we arrived at Bari airport the five of us collected our two rental cars with MS and I upgrading from our Toyota Yaris to a Renault Clio. It was cheap to upgrade and the Clio had built in Navman. Funnily enough our friends upgraded from their Alfa Romeo Giuletta to a Ford Mondeo wagon which proved to be an extremely bad idea when we arrived in Polignano to find the narrowest streets in existence. Thankfully both cars got away from the trip unscathed but only because of some absolute standout driving from both MS and the Ford Mondeo driver, PS.
The town of Polignano A Mare is one of the prettiest little places that I have ever had the opportunity to visit. It is a quaint little town with a labyrinth of laneways filled with restaurants, cafes, shops and breathtaking lookouts over the Adriatic Sea. Unbeknown to us before we arrived Polignano was also gearing up for their second ever hosting of the Red Bull Cliff Jumping competition. Had we known that we probably would have stayed a couple more days but we had flights booked to leave the day before the competition began. I don’t want to ramble on too much about Polignano because to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur of drinking and repetitive pasta and pizza eating so I am going to try and condense it into one (or two posts).
On the first night in Polignano we checked into our Airbnb (La Casetta Nel Vico) and reunited with our friends at their Airbnb which wasn’t far from ours. We made our way to a popular little cocktail bar called La Casa Del Mojito down one of the laneways. There wasn’t much to it… a few metal stools to outside to sit on and some nearby steps but man did they do good, cheap cocktails! 7 Euros for a huge selection of cocktails that were certainly not stingy on the pours. I started on the Aperol Spritz and moved onto the Negroni’s which wasn’t the smartest move since I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast pizza. Over the next four days we visited a couple more times. La Casa Del Mojito was a definite highlight of our time in Polignano.
During our stay in Polignano we dined at so many places that it really is just a blur for me now but I do have a few highlights. Fresh seafood is the name of the game in Puglia and there is a tonne of seafood places to eat. Il Pescato was on my radar after it was recommended to me by our Airbnb host Francesco however since much of the group (there was 9 of us) weren’t the biggest seafood eaters so 5 of us made a booking for lunch while the rest fended for themselves. The Grilled Swordfish on the menu was only 9 Euros (an absolute steal) so most of the table ordered that as a starter. It was freshly caught, perfectly grilled and with a squeeze of lemon over the top… Bliss!
I had the Tagniollini with Clams, Red Prawns, Squid and Fava Bean Puree. Fava bean puree with pasta is a first for me but hopefully not the last!
I sampled my fair share of pastas over the week with plenty of memorable ones and some not so memorable ones however the best one for me was at a restaurant called La Locanda Porta Picc. The Spaghetti with Seafood or as they say in Italy ‘Spaghettoni ai Frutti di Mare’, which sounds far better than the English version was a standout for me and the others at the table that ordered it. You can’t beat the simple flavours of top quality olive oil and garlic with freshly made pasta and seafood caught that very day!
I did really want to go to the Grotto Palazzese (a restaurant built inside a cave) but after reading some reviews about it and looking at the price of the menu I decided that it wasn’t really worth it at all. It seem you’re really just paying for the view and no doubt it’s amazing but I don’t need to spend 40 Euro per dish just to look at a view like that. I mean I work on a ship so that kind of thing isn’t all that foreign to me. Plus according to many a review the food wasn’t spectacular and the service was woeful so yeah, nah.
Polignano is a popular spot for Italian’s that want a seaside holiday where they can lie on the beach in the sun and work on their golden tans. The actual beach at Polignano absolutely tiny. There are so many people crammed into one little spot, it’s quite a contrast to what we are used to in Australia. Not to mention that but the beach is also mostly rock. The ones in the know have special plastic slip on shoes that they wear to walk on the beach and swim in the water – kind of like a cross between a Croc and a reef walking boot. We missed the memo on that one so ended up painstakingly making our way in and out of the water. I also found the beach to be quite dirty. The Italians love a good cigarette and there is no shortage of cigarette butts littering the tiny beach. We even found a sanitary napkin right where we decided to lay our towels which just grossed me out and made me wonder what else was hiding amongst the rocks.
Earlier that day we took the car north to find a sandier type beach about 7km away at the town of Monopoli. What we found didn’t really qualify as my idea of a beach and the large red graffiti on the seawall that said ‘Die Bitch’ was also slightly disconcerting so we had lunch and headed back to Polignano. Other friends had also been scouting for a good swimming spot and found somewhere just north of the main beach in Polignano where we spent a bit more time. I think we are pretty spoilt in Australia in terms of beaches and space as it sure is a premium over here.
We had a fabulous 4 days in Polignano A Mare. In fact it makes me kind of sad that it’s all now just a memory – a much treasured one at that. Afternoons on the terrace with Aperol Spritz’s, cheese and white anchovies and good friends is certainly something I could get used to but sadly all good things must come to an end. Next up Florence….
We didn’t have anything in particular planned for our fourth day in Rome which just so happened to be a Sunday. Apparently quite a few restaurants and cafes were closed on Sunday’s. At least all the ones I wanted to go to were anyway. But after reading a few reviews and one in particular by Katie Parla (a New Jersey born, Rome based blogger) I had my sights firmly set on De Cesare Al Casaletto, just outside of the main part of Rome. According to her blog Cesare is the place that she takes journalists that want to write about pasta and also where she takes Roman friends. Sounds pretty near perfect to me and they were open on a Sunday so I asked reception at our hotel to book a table for four for that very evening.
Earlier in the day we explored more of the city and I took us on a wild detour to find a gelato shop that had been recommended to me (again thanks Johanna). Il Come Latte seemed a little off the beaten track as it was out of the main tourist areas and we found ourselves to be the only ones around which made me wonder if we had taken a wrong turn. Turns out we did find it and my navigating was on point as usual. Il Come Latte Gelateria was the cutest little gelato shop I think I have ever seen. Very Pleasantville if you have ever seen that movie with Reece Witherspoon. The menu was in Italian so we really didn’t know what all the flavours were but I was able to make out a couple of words including Pistachio and Ricotta so that’s what I ordered. The inside of the handmade waffle cone was also drizzled with white chocolate (you could get milk chocolate if you prefer) with a chocolate dipped wafter chip on top. Perfecto! The server was lovely, even gave MS a warm cloth to wipe chocolate sauce off his shorts.
After our gelato we found ourselves back at the Colosseum eatery that we had eaten at on our first full day in Rome – Angelino Ai Fori – for a late lunch. I had the Caprese Salad with some Bruschetta and MS had the Grilled Provola Cheese with Smoked Ham that we’d previously had.
We both thought the Grilled Cheese was pretty epic but my Caprese Salad was only ok. For such a big and busy restaurant the waiter remembered us and was super friendly in his own brash Italian way.
Back to our hotel for a costume change and then off on the no.8 tram to head to De Cesare Al Casetto. Upon arrival I had a look at the wine menu which seemed ridiculously expensive me. Even my Google Translate app didn’t offer up any help so I asked the waitress if the prices were for a glass of wine. She assured me that all the prices were for bottles of wine. Phew. 15 Euro for a bottle of white Italian wine? Winning!
One of the dishes Cesare is known for is the Fried Gnocchi with Pecorino and Black Pepper Sauce so that’s exactly what we ordered for our starter. When it came out it was far bigger than I expected and it turns out the four of us probably could have just shared the one dish. I could see why it’s a popular dish. Mmmm it was delicioso!
For my main (or as they call it First Course) I had the Tonnarelli All’Amatricana (9 or 10 Euros). Two of my dining buddies ordered the same and the other ordered the Carbonara. There was a slight mix up with the type of pasta that we received but that can only be attributed to the small language barrier.
Oh My Goodness… The Cured Pork Cheek was just to die for! This pasta was something special and to date the best pasta I have eaten on my journey so far, in fact the four of us all agree that our pasta dishes are the best we have eaten.
This was also our last night in Rome so dinner at Cesare was a fitting end to what was a fantastic four days in Rome. I honestly didn’t think I would like Rome, visiting mostly because it has quite a few ‘must see’ places that one needs to visit in their lifetime (i.e. Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel) however I really enjoyed my time there, despite much of the city smelling like p*ss, and would love to go back again one day.
I have been meaning to get my webpage up and running again and what better time to do it than when I am on holidays? Europe has never really been high on my list of places to visit. Just ask my best friend SS who has been trying to get me over for close 7 years I reckon. Now she’s getting hitched in London in a few weeks time and I find myself at Brisbane International Airport at 5am boarding a plane to Rome. It’s not that I never wanted to visit Europe, I guess I just had a few places that I wanted to visit beforehand but now we’re making a holiday of it!
Fast forward about 24 hours – 14 ish hours spent on the plane from Brisbane to Dubai where neither MS nor I slept a wink and then another 5.5 hours from Dubai to Rome. To say it was a long trip would be an understatement and whomever said that flying with Emirates is amazing must have rocks in their head because I have had better service on Jetstar (not even kidding).
We waited a ridiculously long time at Immigration, grabbed our suitcases and made for the train station. Catching trains in a foreign country I find is always a bit of a risk. You never really know if you’re on the right train until you actually pull up at the station and breath a small sigh of relief knowing that – yes you got on the right train and yes it was going in the right direction. Another short taxi ride and we were at our hotel in Travestere, Hotel Ponte Sisto. If you’re coming to Rome anytime soon I definitely recommend it. It seems to be very well positioned to see all the sights in Rome plus most importantly very close to some of the restaurants and cafe’s that I wanted to visit.
Dinner was next on the agenda so we found ourselves at popular pizzeria Dar Poeta, only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. As I said it’s a popular choice amongst the locals and tourists so we put our name on the list at the door and within 10 minutes we had a seat inside away from the wafts of cigarette smoke from the outdoor diners. Pizza was the name of the game at Dar Poeta and after reading through the extensive menu we ordered a pizza each, some still water and half a carafe of white house wine. The place was buzzing with people and it was packed to the rafters but our pizza arrived within about 15 minutes.
Despite eating plane food all day and stuffing ourselves in the Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai we were still quite hungry. I ordered the Bufala – Tomato Sauce, Cherry Tomatoes, Mozzarella Cheese and Basil for the bargain price of only 9 euros while MS chose the Rustica – Mozzarella Cheese, Speck, Potatoes and Soft Cheese (also 9 euros). I don’t like to describe the food too much because I think the picture kind of speaks for itself. Yes it was as good as it looks.
We loved Dar Poeta so much – awesome prices, delicious food and a buzzing atmosphere – that we are seriously considering going back again. I’ve heard so many people complain about the simplicity of food in Italy but I think simplicity is often the key to good food because it ensures fresh, quality ingredients and that really rung true to me after our first meal in Italy at Dar Poeta.
Last week with my partner in crime and ‘Chief Pizza Eater’ in tow I headed out to Martinelli Pizza Bar at Trinity Beach. Clearly the two of us don’t get out there often enough as we tend to hang out mostly in the city (Swamp Donkey’s was what my old Chief Engineer used to call us) but I am attempting to branch out a little more.
Martinelli’s has only been open for a few months and we were both keen to test out the only Roman style slab pizzas (that I know of) in town. We arrived just behind a couple of bare-footed bogans whom I overheard asking the chef and owner Peter if they also sold ’round’ pizzas. Some people really do astound me. As ignorant as they were, not to mention stupid, surely they realise that pizzas tend to taste the same no matter what shape they are. Nevertheless Peter convinced them to try one of his popular Roman style pizzas and they took a seat.
Initially MS and I were only going to get takeaway because I wanted to watch The Bachelorette (don’t judge me) but after a bit of careful consideration we decided to stay. First up we ordered the Garlic and Herb Focaccia with Garlic Oil, Herb Butter and Rosemary Salt and I tell you what we were in for a treat. Does anyone remember the old Donnini’s when it was on the first floor at the Pier – back in around say 1990? Still to this day they had the best focaccia that I have ever eaten and a hell of a lot better than the focaccia they have on offer at the new Donnini’s (now Ciao Italia at the Hilton), which is actually really crap. I have to say that this focaccia at Martinelli’s is on par with that amazing focaccia from the old Donnini’s. Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the side… It’s bloody superb and must try when you go there!
Martinelli’s are currently running with a Spanish theme this month and I couldn’t go past the Smoked Reef Fish Escabeche, South Australian Mussels, Chorizo, Olive Tapenade, Romesco Sauce and Basil, served with Charred Lemon. Pretty much what dreams are made of.
Despite me trying my best to convince MS to order the Melaleuca Smoked Beef Brisket, Housemade BBQ Sauce, Slaw and Mozzarella pizza – he went for the Potato and Sausage with White Reduction, Shaved Potato, Italian Sausage, Mozzarella and Provolone Dolce. We ordered and waited at our table with baited breath for our pizza to arrive.
Next to us, the bogans that had originally asked for round pizza were pretty much making love to their brisket pizza. They were certainly enjoying themselves and it was pretty much like that scene in Where Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm, except they weren’t faking. It was clear to both MS and I that these two were now converted and they would never look at a round pizza the same again. After they finished they thanked the chef profusely, vowed to return again and happily left just as our pizza’s arrived. Not since the NRL Grand Final have I seen such a turnaround – not that I watch football.
A lovely older man with a thick Italian accent whom I can only assume was the chef’s father showed me how to squeeze the lemon over the top of my Spanish style pizza for full flavour effect. We dug in. The Romesco Sauce and the fresh Basil leaves on top of my pizza gave it the perfect sweet kick. It was just divine and I don’t know what the hell the chef does to those pizza bases but wow. MS loved his Potato and Sausage pizza but we both agreed that mine was the pick of the litter.
To top it all off we had a couple of pieces of freshly made Chocolate Cannoli to satisfy our sweet tooth before we pretty much rolled out of the store. We were full as a goog. The cannoli’s were not too little but not too big and the perfect was to top of our meal. Without getting into the nitty gritty of the delicate flavours, textures of the meal because that’s just not how I roll I can highly recommend Martinelli Pizza Bar. It’s seriously some of best pizza I have ever eaten and that Focaccia bread, well you will just have to see for yourself (just don’t forget that the Spanish theme runs until the end of October). The pizza’s here take a little longer to cook and aren’t entirely cheap but if you want a round Domino’s pizza thrown together on a production line with absolutely no love then knock yourself out. Martinelli Pizza Bar is where it’s at.
Martinelli Pizza Bar – Shop 2 11-13 Rabaul St, Trinity Beach QLD 4879 Ph: (07) 40575895. Open Wed – Sun 12pm – 10pm.
New York was such an epic part of our trip that it would take me a million years to detail what we got up to over there and since this is essentially a blog about food I figured I would just include the most important part of our trip – the food. I have taken it upon myself to just write solely about the most memorable food spots that we visited starting with Smorgasburg in Brooklyn…
Smorgasburg: I had been following the mouth watering Instagram page of this outdoor food market for quite some time now. Suffice to say that Cairns is severely lacking in the outdoor food market department so anytime I see or hear about a food truck or food market I make a beeline straight for it. At the time of writing Smorgasburg is held outdoors every Saturday in Williamsburg and every Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5. I had planned for us to do the Brooklyn Bridge walk on our one and only Sunday in New York and then onward to Smorgasburg at Pier 5 on the waterfront to fill our bellies.
The walk across the bridge only took us about 20 minutes and it gives you fantastic views of the city. Only problem is that it’s quite a popular pastime for tourists and New Yorkers alike so you can expect to spend the walk with literally hundreds of people which can get a little annoying because everyone is constantly stopping to get photos. Be careful of the bike riders going past because they aren’t going slow and some of them definitely aren’t friendly. Never mind that Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed, all MS cared about was that Jay Z had taken a photo on it and we spent a significant portion of our trip across attempting to recreate said photo.
On the otherside in Brooklyn we found ourselves walking amongst beautiful old buildings and warehouses on our way to Smorgasburg. Brooklyn is clearly the more family friendly and affordable part of New York judging by the amount of young couples and families we saw going about their business and if you’re a Sex and The City fan then you would know that Miranda was horrified when she realised she had to move to Brooklyn to raise her family. Seemed like a pretty nice place to me!
Back to the food – Smorgasburg kicks off every Sunday at 11am and we arrived there at about 11.45am. By that time a reasonable sized crowd had gathered so we lined up at the first stall that was selling Bao’s. A bao is kind of like a Chinese style pork bun if you haven’t had one before – you know those heavenly sweet buns filled with delicious pork and MSG? We ordered two share for US$9 – a Red Coconut Curry Chicken Bao with Peanuts, Cilantro, Fried Garlic and Shallots and a Braised Pork Belly Bao with Cucumber, Scallions, Hoisin Sauce and Jalapeno’s. Neither of them particularly floated my boat and they didn’t seem to be very fresh. The accolade for Best Bao still goes to the wondrous hidden gem Wonderbao in Melbourne IMO (if you’re in Melbourne it’s an absolute must!)Next up MS was chomping at the bit to get his chompers on his own bit of meat from popular stall Carnal. He had seen other big manly men wandering the markets with big bits of meat on the bone and needed one of his own so we joined the line for a Beef Short Rib with Bone Marrow, Ramps and Black Pepper for US$13. Carnal was easily one of the most popular stalls out of the more than 100 at Smorgasburg that day so the wait was a little longer than anywhere else but by the end we were met with a freshly grilled and extremely juicy beef rib that MS sprinkled with a mixture of fried garlic and chicken skin. Yep you heard it here. That salty/fatty goodness. Onward we wandered to the next stall – another one that I already had pegged from Instagram the Ramen Co. Stall for a Ramen Burger while MS stood off to the side in a state of bliss as he navigated his enormous piece of juicy meat on the bone. While waiting in line at the ramen burger place I chatted to a friendly Chinese guy who was originally from San Francisco but had moved to New York to start a job in IT. I told him that we were going to SF so he gave me a few tips on where to go to get good food over there – namely egg tarts. The Ramen Burger was essentially a bit of meat between two ‘burger’ patties that were made out of fried ramen noodles and Kewpie mayonnaise. It does sound kind of amazing but it was just so fatty that all I could taste was oil. It failed miserably against my very high expectations. Whilst waiting for my ramen burger MS had gnawed the last remaining piece of meat of his rib and already cased the next stall he wanted to try – the Scotch Eggs stall so aptly named The Imperial Egg. Much to the delight of my London friend SS who is a connoisseur of Scotch Eggs (or so she says) this was to be my first ever Scotch Egg. Since it was MS’ baby he chose the Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg which was so expertly cooked that when they cut it open the golden yolk was still oozing and just perfect! They must have a technique after cooking hundreds if not thousands of scotch eggs and I can safely say they have it down pat. I will go as far to declare the Scotch Egg the best thing we ate at Smorgasburg that day. After that we were pretty much stuffed and knowing full well that I still had plans for us to go to a famous Brooklyn pizza joint for ‘afternoon tea’ we called it there – ok after we ate some Red Velvet Cupcakes.
So many food stalls, so little time but there were so many more that I wanted to try like the lobster rolls, the ice cream sandwich and all the other flavours of Scotch Eggs. One stall that I did find particularly interesting was the Von Kava stall with a three course tasting menu that they call ‘Flash Fine Dining’ for only $15. Pretty cool idea if you ask me! Would I recommend the Smorgasburg food market? Hell yeah! Just make sure you get there early because by the time we were leaving at about 1pm the place was absolutely packed with people and lines were enormous with some places selling out of food. Places that we missed out on in Brooklyn because we just didn’t have enough time (or room in our stomachs were):
Brennan and Carr – another Man Vs Food gem famous for it’s French dipped Roast Beef Sandwiches (pretty much a sandwich dipped in gravy). Sounds kinda foul but apparently it’s amazing.
Roberta’s – a pizza joint that has been named as one of America’s top 15 pizzeria’s.
Brisket Town – A bbq joint that well, the name speaks for itself really.
Till next time x
If you haven’t heard about Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken then you must be living under a rock – or in Far North Queensland. I do understand we are a little sheltered up here in our beautiful part of the world. Heck, the Mexican food fad that took over our southern states about 3 years ago hasn’t even reached us up in Cairns yet (and no Cactus Jacks doesn’t count). In fact I am pretty sure we are still in the midst of the frozen yogurt phase that is so, like, totally 2012. Being an avid reader of Gourmet Traveller and Delicious magazines thanks to my monthly subscriptions (friends and family know the way to my heart for birthday’s and Christmas) I like to think (hope) that I am pretty up to date on the food trends. Along with Mexican food there has been cupcakes, macarons, hot dogs, anything Vietnamese, dumplings, gelato, burgers, Korean food and god knows what else! But now it’s the Taiwanese’ turn with Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. A chicken franchise brought in by some savvy travellers which has taken the cities of Sydney and Melbourne by storm, one deep-fried chicken breast at a time.
People are lining up down the street for these Taiwanese street food inspired protein pockets. It’s pretty basic to say the least but at Hot Star Chicken they take a whole chicken breast on the bone and smash it flat, marinated it for 2 hours, coat it in tapioca flour and then deep fry it in Cottonseed Oil till it’s crunchy on the outside and deliciously moist on the inside. Having recently travelled to Sydney with my family Hot Star wasn’t really somewhere that I was hell-bent on seeking out but more hoping to stumble upon. It certainly didn’t take long to spot a small crowd of people (mostly young Asian’s) huddled on the street waiting for the latest batch of chicken to be deep-fried. Before I knew it my whole family with MS in tow was lining up to try Hot Star Large Fried Chicken.
It’s a CASH ONLY kind of gig and for a mere AU$7.90 a hit, it’s a pretty good deal, especially when it’s cooked to order – that way you know it’s fresh – freshly fried anyway. The guy at the counter asked if we wanted Original or Spicy to which MS and I decided that we wanted ‘spicy’. He gave us a small plastic bag and a ticket with a number and we stepped aside, laying in wait for our ‘afternoon snack’. We waited about 10 minutes until with expert precision the guy working the deep fryer began to pull each chicken breast from the bubbling hot cottonseed oil, bag them up and call the individuals numbers of the hungry chicken lovers waiting curb side. MS and I spotted a couple of breasts that were basted in some sticky brownish sauce and then coated in sesame seeds. We had no idea what they were (possibly the lemon chicken?) but we both wished we had gotten that one – the grass is always greener.
Additions of deep-fried mushrooms and sweet potato chips on the menu at Hot Star also rate very high on the culinary Richter scale according to various reports on social media and other online reviews. Those deep-fried goodies would have to wait till the next time I crossed paths with a Hot Star Chicken joint because I had to save room for dinner – even if this was classed as ‘research’.
A couple of minutes later the ‘spicy’ coating was sprinkled onto our piece and our number was called. The pictures of it in MS’ hand just doesn’t do it justice. This thing is seriously about a foot long and with the breast itself weighing on average 250 grams. MS and I shared one but I could have easily polished one-off on my own despite it’s size. I refrained because technically we had just eaten a late lunch including BBQ pork puns and Deep Fried Sesame Balls with Red Bean Paste. Seriously those things are the best damn sweets ever invented!!!
The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is kind of like a big chicken schnitzel crossed with KFC I guess. It was tongue searing-ly hot having just been pulled from the deep fryer seconds before but a perfect way to warm you from the inside out on what was a ridiculously cold and windy afternoon in the city of Sydney. The spice was spicy but nothing major. Hey, if MS can eat it without many complaints then it’s definitely not very spicy – he is a total pussy when it comes to spice after all. The batter was thick and crunchy and although the whole thing was encased in a little paper bag it didn’t seem overly oily.
There’s really not a whole lot for me to say about it especially considering that Hot Star Large Fried Chicken has been blogged about and reviewed to death since it opened in Australia about six months ago by people far more in the know than me. At the end of the day although tasty, succulent and a sh*tload better than a 5 piece feed from KFC (much kinder on the wallet too), it’s really just a big deep-fried chicken breast. Typically, MS was more smitten with the $4 slice of greasy Meatlover’s pizza that he bought from the pizza place directly next door while we waited for our chicken. In his own words that was his ‘culinary highlight’ of our trip to Sydney. Ah such a typical male.
Hot Star Chicken
96 Liverpool St, Sydney NSW 2000
429 Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000
231 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm 7 days
I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks now… I started it a little while ago and just wasn’t in the mood to finish it plus MS was home from work so I had (ok wanted to more like it) spend some quality time with him, plus it was Christmas. I get very little blogging done when MS is home because I have way too many distractions. I have the attention span of a goldfish (about 3-4 seconds) so when I do my posts I can’t have any distractions – that means silence and no Facebook. So yeah…
What was supposed to be a takeaway night for me on a Saturday including watching the final episodes of Dexter (yeah I still haven’t gotten around to it) on my living room couch turned into a family dinner at Fasta Pasta. Fasta Pasta was the place that I had originally planned to get my takeaway from since I had a craving for pasta and it was just down the road for me. I hadn’t actually been to Fasta Pasta in years but my ex (not the alcoholic/loser one) and I used to go there quite a bit and take advantage of their AU$9.90 lunch special (I think it’s gone up in price a little since then). At the time we found it to be quite good but like I said that was years ago. I have heard good things about Fasta Pasta over the last couple of years plus it’s always packed (but then again so is Sizzler). I’m pretty sure the Cairns branch of Fasta Pasta received a locally voted award for the ‘best service’ by The Cairns Post at some point. As you may have already guessed my family loves food, cooking and eating out just as much as I do (where do you think I got it from?) and they all jumped at the chance to go out no matter where it was – so we headed on down for a 7.30pm booking.
We arrived on time and took some seats at our table of 6 (5 of us plus my brothers girlfriend). The waitress bought us over some menus and a couple of baskets of bread with butter. As is the norm with me I had already had a good look over the menu on the net so I knew what I wanted. The rest of the group needed a little bit of time and by the time we went up to order at the counter there was a line of about 10 people waiting although the restaurant was only about 1/3 full. I guess it was a bit of a peak time for them – for ordering I mean. Anyway we all ordered our meals (some of us separately) but on the same table number. I ordered my meal last. The man taking the order whom I am assuming is the owner since he has been there ever since I can remember was super friendly and made some funny comment about my mum looking more like my sister than my mum. Mum’s love that kind of thing.
We sat down at the table and awaited our food happily lathering butter on our pieces of bread and eating them in the meantime. I had ordered a main sized Fettuccine Puttanesca which was fettuccine (der) with a tasty Mediterranean sauce of garlic, basil, capers, olives, anchovies, oregano, chilli and Napoli sauce for AU$13.40. Not exactly bank breaking prices here at Fasta Pasta that’s for sure. Much to my surprise my dish arrived first, before anyone else at the table, despite me ordering my meal dead last out of the 6 of us. I did the right thing and waited for everyone else’s dishes to arrive, because I have good manners (I like to think so anyway). The next meal didn’t arrive for another five minutes and it was a Margherita pizza that mum and dad had ordered to share between themselves. Another five minutes later my sisters Ravioli Milanese arrived and then over the next 10 – 15 minutes the rest of the meals arrived in a scattered mess. So much for bringing everything out in some sort of order or at least in a group so one person’s (namely mine) didn’t go cold whilst waiting for the others to arrive.
So anyway, eventually all of our meals arrived and we were able to eat our dinner, together (after I took photos of everyone’s meals of course). The main thing that attracted me to the Fettuccine Puttanesca was the fact that it was Fettuccine and the anchovies of course. I know you either love them or you hate them but I frigin love those little furry fish. Only just last week I found a huge bottle of anchovies in my mum and dad’s pantry (yes I have posted about eating anchovy’s out of the jar at their place before) and I got a little carried away trying to be sneaky and spilt half the contents of the jar including the oil through their cupboard. It took me a long time to clean up and was totally not worth the 2 or 3 furry fish that I got to eat. Serves me right for being sneaky I guess. Although I ordered a main serving I managed to gobble down the lot and still be hungry. It was a reasonable sized serve but I thought it should have been a little bigger for a main size. Having said that I really enjoyed my dish – however a little Tabasco sauce on it for a bit more flavour didn’t go astray. The pasta still had a bit of bite to it and tasted like freshly made pasta.
Across from me my sister had ordered an entrée sized Ravioli Florentina which was meat filled pillows of pasta, tossed with bacon, baby spinach and white wine in a Napoli and cream based sauce for AU$12.40. She reckons that is the same dish that she gets every time she goes to Fasta Pasta (which isn’t very often) and always enjoys it. In contrast to my main sized dish, her entrée was quite large. So much so that even she couldn’t finish it. Never mind – there were plenty of people at the table that were willing to give her a hand, like my dad or as I like to call him ‘Garbage Guts’. He’s a human Labrador that’s for sure.
My brother on the other hand wasn’t quite as happy as my sister and I with his pasta meal. He had ordered the Spirali Calabrese in a main size which was described as spirals of pasta sautéed with pepperoni, olives, chilli, garlic, basil, oregano, mozzarella and Napoli sauce for AU$14.40. I tasted it and it was pretty flavourless with not a whole lot going on. He doused it in parmesan cheese and then only ate half of it. For my brother to not eat all of his dinner then that says a lot to me because as a growing boy (he’s not even 20 yet) he has a massive appetite. He pushed it aside and finished off the remains of his girlfriend’s Canneloni.
I’m not a big fan of Cannelloni. Not because of anything to do with Fasta Pasta but more so because of the cannelloni that my ex’s mother (JC) used to make when we came over for dinner on occasion. Yes, I am talking about my ex again (the same one that I used to go to Fasta Pasta with). I am still very good friends with his parents, particularly his mum JC. You might remember that I wanted to take MS there for dinner but he thought it was a little weird to go to his girlfriend’s ex boyfriends parent’s place for dinner but he has since gotten over that as he has gotten to know them better. It’s only weird if you make it weird hey? So anyway JC used to make this cannelloni with heaps of onion and capsicum which just so happen to be two of my most hated foods at the time, only now to be overtaken by celery. Being the polite and well mannered individual that I am I always thanked her for dinner and told her how delicious it was. It was a vicious cycle because I was trying to do the right thing and show my gratitude for her cooking dinner while nearly gagging on this cannelloni and here JC is thinking ‘wow she must really love this cannelloni, I must cook it again next time’. It took about three years until I finally came clean that I really didn’t like JC’s cannelloni and it turns out that JC thought that the Pumpkin Risotto that I had cooked for her and her husband one night was equally disgusting. This was about seven years ago and I like to think that my risotto making skills have significantly improved. There you go – an insight into the impact that cannelloni has had in my life and something that JC and I still joke about. She reckons she will give me the recipe one day so I can cook it myself. Yay.
GH (my brothers girlfriend) thought her cannelloni was delicious, although she may have been being polite also. From closer inspection by me it looked like there was no onion or capsicum lurking in her dinner. The Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni was fresh pasta tubes filled with ricotta and spinach, oven baked in a Napoli sauce and served with basil, garlic and cream sauce for AU$15.40 for a main. It was a large serve and she couldn’t finish it all, hence why I said my brother finished it off when he didn’t want to eat his.
Next up was my mum and dad’s pizza was a Margherita Pizza – large size with fresh tomato slices on a tomato and mozzarella base topped with shaved parmesan and baked in the oven for AU$13.90. Hmmm, well, it was probably the worst pizza I have ever had whilst dining out. Except for a Hawaiian Pizza that I had in Phuket. You don’t order Western food in Asia IMO. Always stick to the local cuisine whatever that may be. This pizza that mum and dad had ordered tasted like a McCain’s pizza and a crappy one at that. The base was thick and hard like cardboard, the cheese tasted like plastic and the other toppings were so flavourless that only half of the pizza actually got eaten and that was more out of curiosity by the people at the rest of the table than anything else. It was truly horrible and how you could stuff a pizza up this bad was beyond me – even the human Labrador didn’t want it. I suspect it had been pulled straight from a box in the freezer.
Mum and dad also ordered a Puttanesca – the same as me – but mum changed the Fettuccine to normal pasta. She thought that the pasta was undercooked and didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I wouldn’t exactly give them any points for presentation either. It just looked like all the meals had been slopped into their respective dish with no care really taken, not even a sprinkling of parsley around the edge (that’s a joke).
So there you go – our family dinner at Fasta Pasta wasn’t exactly a memorable one, not that we really expected it to be. I was hoping for a quick, tasty meal to cap off my week so I could go home and sit on the couch in my undies. I know that Fasta Pasta is a family restaurant and it is busy because of the fact that you can feed your whole family for between AU$50 and AU$100 – not to mention the friendly service from guy taking your orders at the counter. Another thing is that it’s also nice and loud in there so the kids can scream and do what they do and I doubt anyone would batt and eyelid. But… that doesn’t excuse the way our meals were staggered to arrive at our table over about a 20 minute period. I must admit it put a sour taste in our mouth pretty much from the get go. And that pizza! WTF?! The food at Fasta Pasta definitely represents good value for money however it’s not difficult to bring all the meals out at once so everyone can eat together! It might be good value but it certainly ain’t fast.
68-72 Shields Street, Cairns QLD 4870
Ph: (07) 4041 0388
Opening Hours: 7 days 11.30am – 3pm, Sun – Thurs 5pm – 10pm, Sat & Sun 5pm – 11pm
After our massive binge in Sydney the last thing that MS and I wanted to do was come home and continue on our downward spiral… NOT! We started out with the best of intentions but at some point in time on our flight home we decided that we would re-start our healthy eating the next day and not that afternoon as originally planned. (Disclaimer: I’m not going to be one of those people that harp on about healthy eating and me being on a diet and other boring sh*t like that because when it comes down to it I normally eat what I want, within reason, but like I said I have a particular goal in mind – no it’s not just to lose weight – and all this is part of the story, ok?)
Then the conversation of just where we were going to eat that night began. MS, true to form, wanted to go to Bel Paese since he had quite a penchant for large creamy bowls of pasta and cheesy garlic bread. I was a little reluctant to go to Bel Paese, firstly because our last dining experience there wasn’t anything to write home about and because, well, I have already written about that place. If I was only allowed one cheat meal a week then in theory it needed to be somewhere that we hadn’t already been so I could post about it on foodvixen later. So, we decided on the pasta theme but couldn’t think of where to go. I suggested Fasta Pasta, La Fettuccina and Villa Romana but neither of us were really excited by any of those suggestions. Last time I went to Villa Romana, which was years ago, my dining buddy found a giant moth in her salad and last time MS and I went to Fasta Pasta we ordered two completely different dishes to find they both tasted exactly the same. As for La Fettuccina, well, I am saving that one for a special occasion. Then I remembered a little place that we had walked past on Sheridan Street about six months ago. Hell, we drive past it nearly every day. So off to Little Ricardo’s we went.
Little Ricardo’s is located on the strip of cheap motels directly across the road from Cairns High. Everyone has driven past and seen it there, as have I. It’s just inside, near the pool area of the Adobe Motel. I don’t know how long it’s been there but at the very least it’s been there since 2008 because an outdated sign out the front claims that Little Ricardo’s was voted Best Pizza in 2008 by Cairns locals. We went inside and found ourselves in a quaint little restaurant with dim lighting, a stocked wooden bar over to the left and the air conditioner turned up full bull. We were greeted by a friendly waitress whose name was Julie Ann and since there was no one else in the restaurant at the time she let us choose our table. With a bit of a shiver from the aircon MS and I chose one-off to the side out of the direct breeze. Julie Ann asked if we would like her to turn the fan above us off to make us a little more comfortable to which we happily obliged. She then brought us over a couple of menu’s and a jug of water with some glasses and left us for a few minutes returning to take our drinks order. I was happy to stick to water but MS asked if he could have a glass of Coke to be brought out with dinner. The menu had the usual Italian fare and although the pizza’s were voted the ‘Best in Town’ in 2008 we were both there for the pasta.
There was no dilly dallying in deciding what we wanted at Little Ricardo’s, even MS made up his mind quickly for once. We chose the Garlic Bread (AU$5.90) as our entrée but asked if we could have cheese on it as well. Julie Ann happily obliged and assured us it wouldn’t be a problem. Then for his main meal MS chose a large Boscaola with Tasty Cheese, Mushroom and Parmesan for AU$23.90 with Fettucine. He also added bacon, chicken and a hint of chilli to his dish (we’re not difficult customers I swear!), which Julie Ann said was also not a problem at all. After tossing up between the Amatriciana and the Marinara pasta I ended up going with the Marinara which was described on the menu as Fresh Local Seafood Combination with the choice of Cream or Tomato Base for AU$25.90. The Fresh Local Seafood Combination sold me pretty much straight away. I also chose the fettuccine and opted for the tomato base as opposed to the heavy cream base. Ok, ok I have a confession to make… I ordered a large serve too. Don’t judge me.
While we were waiting for our meals to arrive a couple more tables filled up and then a couple more until there was about 5 more occupied tables in the restaurant. I was pretty impressed considering that it was a Monday night. Many restaurants in the city would struggle to get that amount of people in on a Monday. Julie Ann brought over a big bowl of ‘stinky cheese’ as MS calls it whereas I just call it powdered Parmesan Cheese and some little plates and cutlery followed closely by our entrée of Cheesy Garlic Bread. We got three pieces each and after fighting over who got the three biggest pieces we dug in. The Garlic Bread was simple, yet tasty and with just the right amount of cheese melted over the top. It was really yummy and not as yellow as it looks in the picture below. We even managed to save a couple of pieces to mop up our pasta sauce with. I have a massive weakness for Garlic Bread and if I were religious I would ask god “Why, oh why did you invent Garlic Bread?” Just when I think I am going good and eating well. BAM! Someone brings out a loaf of Garlic Bread (or I order it) aaaaaaand I’m screwed.
Right before our meals arrived and without prompting Julie Ann brought MS over a glass of coke and placed it on the table in front of us. Again I was impressed. I hadn’t had service this pleasing in Cairns for a long time (with the exception of Waterbar and Grill). The owner of the restaurant Richard brought us out our main meals which were placed steaming hot in front of us. He saw me whip my iPhone out to take a couple of pictures of the food and politely offered to take a picture of the two of us. Errr, yeah sure! Richard was lovely and friendly and we had a bit of a laugh with him about him covering half of the photo with his thumb. Never mind, nothing a little photo cropping won’t fix and I have sh*t tins of photos of MS and I at dinner anyway. The large serve really was a large serve. Each of our bowls were overflowing with large mounds of pasta. There was plenty of extra bacon and chicken mixed through MS’ Boscaola and he was beside himself as he twirled his first mouthful of fettuccine around his fork. After a few mouthfuls the only sentence that escaped his mouth was ‘Oh god this is good’ as he twirled more fettuccine around his fork. It was that good that he ate till he couldn’t fit another mouthful in, leaving only a couple of strands of pasta in the bottom of his bowl and announced that Little Ricardo’s was his new favourite restaurant.
Looking down at my pasta I could see two big fat juicy scallops with the bright orange roe on them (as it should be!) and my mouth began to salivate. There was also prawns, fish and super tender pieces of squid mixed in as well. My Marinara was absolutely to die for and I was glad that I had chosen that over the Amatriciana (even though I hadn’t had the Amatriciana yet). The pasta was cooked ‘al dente’ and the bountiful bits of seafood throughout my dish were all full of flavour and cooked to perfection. My mouth is seriously drooling thinking about this dish. There was just the right amount of sauce, not too little, not too much and with a bit of ‘stinky cheese’ sprinkled over the top I too ate nearly the entire bowl and mopped up the remaining sauce with my ‘smaller’ pieces of Garlic Bread. The only thing that I think it needed was a little hint of chilli but that was my own fault for not asking for it. Where’s my bottle of Tabasco sauce when I need it?
MS and I joked that we had just traveled to a foodie lovers paradise (AKA Sydney) and then flown back to Cairns and had the best meal and service of the entire weekend. Even though the restaurant picked up with more arrivals after our own Julie Ann didn’t miss a beat and delivered fantastic, efficient and friendly service from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. The atmosphere and dining setting isn’t fantastic and to be honest it’s pretty dated but you know what? I think it works. On doing a little bit of online research it appears that Little Ricardo’s is ranked 5th in Cairns out of over 200 restaurants on Trip Advisor, which doesn’t mean a whole lot since I am still trying to figure out why an ice cream shop is number one, but it definitely pays homage to the wonderful things Richard and his team are doing down there at the Adobe Motel. (No offence to the ice cream shop.) The only problem with going to Little Ricardo’s for the first time is that now MS and I want to go there all the time and have already been back again (this time for more Cheesy Garlic Bread and to try the Amatriciana). Little Ricardo’s where have you been all my life?
191 Sheridan Street, Cairns QLD 4870 (Adobe Motel)
Ph: (07) 4051 5266
Opening Hours: 6 days Mon – Sat 5pm till late