date of visit: 20 April 2010
A friend is heading to Hong Kong for a 3 month stint and, as a final farewell dinner, requested something ‘not Asian’. Having walked through Leigh Street that same morning, I suggested Rigoni’s Bistro, which I last visited in November last year for a wine dinner with Nicolas Belfrage MW, hosted by East End Cellars.
We had an early booking (6:30pm) but even at this stage of a Tuesday night the restaurant was reasonably busy. We were tucked in the back corner, at a well sized round table, and immediately started with drinks and plenty of water.
The menu at Rigoni’s is seasonal (so you’re not faced with the same food, year in year out) and falls in to a category that I call ‘interesting Italian’. Many Italian restaurants feature a menu packed with spaghetti (or variation) carbonara, amatriciana, pesto … and a few token meat dishes and pizzas thrown in with little thought. It is always refreshing to come across an Italian menu offering variety. If you’re in Melbourne and after a similar experience I can recommend Balzari, in Carlton.
The great disappointment of the evening was that the prawn ravioli, my first choice for main course, had sold out at lunch. Our waitress informed us that the ravioli are made in house and there had been no time to prepare more. I turned to my (very close) second preference – the porcini tagliatelle with swiss brown mushrooms, taleggio, chestnuts and thyme. For an entree, I opted for the tomato bruschetta (in fact, it was bruschettas all round).
Being brutally honest, I felt that $5.90 for the tomato bruschetta was a little too much. I really enjoyed it (Andy thought it only so-so) but I suspect many would consider the portion too small. A single slice of (good) bread, laden with a fresh, garlicky tomato topping.
However, my main course was wonderful. The tagliatelle (also clearly made in-house) was itself flavoured with the porcini and so was a deep chocolate colour. The taleggio was cubed and melted gently against the heat of the pasta, the mushrooms were buttery and soft, the chestnuts provided a contrast in texture and the thyme added even more richness of flavour. The waitress had warned me it was a rich dish, but I think I would have had no problems demolishing a portion twice its size!
Andy’s choice was the venison with rosemary and juniper, served with pickled red cabbage. The meat appeared to be perfectly cooked and he said it was very tender. He commented that, on its own, it could be considered a little salty, but the sweetness of the red cabbage offset that perfectly.
Heading in to dessert territory, Andy chose the chocolate tasting plate (a very popular choice at our table of 7) and I went for the lemon tart. The lemon tart was lovely – served with a small salad of grapefruits and mint and, rather than cream, a yoghurt lebne. I’m not a fan of grapefruit but in this instance the salad worked very well: the extreme tartness of the grapefruit was balanced by the pink grapefruit and mint. The tart itself had super short pastry and was deliciously creamy, with a caramelised topping. In some respects, the yoghurt could be considered superfluous, but it was very light and acted as a counterpoint to the already rich tart.
I hope it’s apparent that the food at Rigoni’s exceeded expectations and I am keen to head back, if only to get my hands on the prawn ravioli. The service was excellent – attentive but not intrusive and I found the meal well paced. The only annoyances are that the restaurant is a little noisy and that it is only open Monday to Friday!
Rigoni’s is also open for both breakfast and lunch throughout the week.
Excellent Italian in the City Centre
Excellent service, excellent (and interesting) Italian food. What more could you ask for?