I posted a wishlist of restaurants for review, and managed to visit a few, but as it was the Easter holidays, quite a few of the places I wanted to try were closed. Here's where I ended up going:
Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (see review in another previous thread)
Excellent value for money. Beautiful food, pig's trotter is a must. Only qualms are the decor - 50s diner meets warehouse studio, and that most of the dishes seemed more suited to winter - comfort food to the max, which I love, but not so much in 25C+ weather.
Great coffee, good cafe food.
That ex-synagogue garden location seems to have bad feng shui - restaurants never seem to last long there. Trunk uses it well though - as a buzzy, industrial bar space with about a quarter as the restaurant - can get very noisy. Food is unimpressive modern Italian. Tried the Mediterranean Fish Soup (special of the day) - seafood was miles away from fresh - fish and prawns were mushy and tasted old/badly stored, a dead mussel was found, broth lacked depth of flavour. Orecchiete (excuse the spelling) was bland, beef carpaccio was ok, nothing to write home about. We couldn't be bothered with dessert.
There's a reason why I love Con Christopoulos - his formula is spot on. High-ceilinged refectory-like dining room attached to the Commercial Bakery, tucked away in a laneway, very reasonably priced, fairly tried-and-true menu cooked to perfection - no major surprises, just fabulous, honest food. If any restauranteur were to represent Melbourne, Con's da man.
How on earth did this place get one hat in the good food guide? Dry and over-salted chicken, oily pesto gnocchi, neighbourhood cafe-standard 'Spanish' platter, tasteless and tough duck confit... Why???
Easy going, medium-priced with decent food. Great for larger groups too (10+ people are fine) - I'm more than happy to kiss Sofia's goodbye.
My all-time 'local', even though I live on the other side of the Eastern Freeway. Nuff said.
Didn't plan on going at all, but was in town in time for a friend's bday dinner there. I'd always avoided it because I have reservations about 'fusion' - my experiences have usually meant 'CONfusion'. Had the 7 course degus, and was very, very impressed. Yes, this is fusion, but Jacques ain't no new age hippie. His techniques are undoubtedly classical French, and fine-tuned to unfathomable bliss. The fusion comes into play in the ingredients - soy, Asian herbs, the balance of sweet, savoury and beyond. The lemon myrtle ice cream in the dessert was amazing. Service is fine - not as perfect as the food, but good nonetheless.
Having flown in straight from HK, I wasn't expecting much, but this place rivals some of the best in HK & China. The winelist is great too - one of the owners is extremely knowledgeable and sources some of his wines directly from winemakers. Their award winning dish, a vegie puff-like thing, was actually the least impressive; the poached pork with garlic mince was brilliant, as was the simple but telling dish of stir-fried Chinese broccoli (aka kale). The only dodgy thing is that they don't like serving Asians - they like to keep their clientele western - less noise and fuss - and actively reject Asian walk-ins... unjust and quite ironic in my opinion, but their food is good, so call to book ahead (esp. if you are/look Asian).
So-so food, sloppy and smile-less service (maybe because it was Good Firday? But hey, weren't they getting 2.5 pay - and work is work, buddy). Mussels (special) were uber fresh , but both steaks (they had beef from 2 places - sorry I've forgotten where), from both regions, lacked flavour, chicken liver pate was fine, nothing special.
That was it (I think...) Unfortunately Bistro Guillaume wasn't going to open until the day after I left, and as for Rockpool - I had originally wanted to try it, but heard too many negative comments, which had me seriously deterred. Also wanted to try Maha and Mama Ganoush, but neither were open over the holidays. Oh well, there's always next time.