date of visit: Friday 6 May 2011
It might seem odd for a food blogger, but I have very little interest in Masterchef Australia. I loved the original UK version: the shouting, the food, and of course, Gregg Wallace and John Torode. But I find the Australian offering too personality focussed – it feels like a popularity contest while being unbelievably condescending to both participants and viewers.
However, Adelaide is home to Andre Ursini, former Masterchef contestant and now chef proprietor of Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar on Frome Street. And I guess that Masterchef was the catalyst for the restaurant so things aren’t all bad.
We first ate at Andre’s late last year and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. While I love Italian food and would happily eat spaghetti, chilli, oil and garlic every day of the year Andy is a little more picky and prefers Italian that goes beyond the tedium of bad spaghetti carbonara … oh, wait, that applies to me too! Andre’s suits us perfectly because it serves up interesting Italian food – something all too rare in a city awash with casual Italian restaurants.
The main food feature of the restaurant is the polenta. This is proper, soft, slow cooked polenta – nothing like the instant polenta the average punter (me, at least) cooks at home. There are a few staples on the menu as well as a special. The way the menu works is a bit different as the printed menu contains entrées and polenta staples, while the main courses are listed as specials on a chalk board. For a main course, you order a polenta dish and then one or two additional mains (assuming two people). This is not a place to go with people who are fussy eaters who won’t want to share. The whole premise of the restaurant is based around sharing.
Both times we’ve visited we’ve started with bagna cauda: the garlicky, oily, hot anchovy dip served with plenty of crudités. This is perfectly porportioned for two – and it’s very beautiful. On Friday night the dip came in a tiny copper saucepan, perched on the edge of a board decorated with the vegetables.
For mains we ordered two specials: polenta with duck ragu and Suffolk lamb cutlets with peas and Gorgonzola. Lamb is outrageously expensive in Australia at the moment (a few weeks back I asked the butcher for lamb backstrap which came in at $50-55 a kilo!) so the lamb option was not the cheapest choice but it was delicious. The gorgonzola sauce was set off by finely sliced (and hot!) chillis which was excellent and certainly something I’ll keep in mind. The polenta was also lovely: sloppy, soupy, with the duck ragu stirred through it. To be honest, I’d be perfectly happy to eat just that and not bother with anything else.
We were going to wrap up with just coffees but a last minute decision saw us order the mokacino panettone with vanilla icecream and chocolate ganache. Thank goodness we decided to share because it was a massive wedge of panettone. As with everything else – it was delicious. The cake was laced with some sort of chocolatey or mocha like cream, the icecream was sprinkled with pistachio nuts and there was just enough chocolate ganache.
Our final bill was $123 which included the food, a glass of wine, a few Morettis and a couple of coffees. Perhaps not the cheapest Italian but definitely one of the cheaper good Italian options.
The food at Andre’s is beautifully presented and perfectly proportioned. It’s also incredibly tasty. The one drawback is that the restaurant is busy and, consequently, quite crowded and noisy – but neither the food nor the affable, efficient service appears to suffer. On a Friday or Saturday night you definitely need to book.
Andre’s Cucina & Polenta Bar
94 Frome Street
Adelaide SA 5000
phone : 08 8224 0004