- 03 9525 3333
130 Acland Street,
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June 12, 2012
Have your say
Photo: Eddie Jim
''INNOVATION'' is a weasel word beloved of marketing and management consultants, often used most profligately by the least innovative of organisations. The assumption is that constant fiddling and fussing and tinkering is the mark of a good business when, in fact, it may just be the sign of a business that hasn't a clue - or conviction in - what it stands for.
It's not the sort of word or viewpoint that Cicciolina would bother with - the grande dame of Acland Street hasn't changed in years, knows exactly what she stands for, and why her besotted admirers return, despite her no-bookings policy (except for lunch), her outdoor lavatory and her wooden tables squeezed in so tightly that you can measure every half kilo gained or lost since your last visit.
Apparently Cicciolina's had a ''freshen-up'', although you can't really tell, which makes it the best of ''lifts'' - none of her haughty, demimonde character has been erased. She has good bones, the old Cicciolina, and while she's advancing in age (she turns 20 in September next year), she's still got it.
There have been rumblings that these days her food sometimes misses the mark, and that some nights she's off-colour or even complacent, but I challenge you to resist her charms on a busy day or weekend evening, when she's heaving with people, everyone talking loudly and at once, familiar-faced waiters weaving through a crowd spanning generations and tribes, from old European couples to ageing rockers with long grey ponytails and paisley shirts, to lone diners such as the silver-haired woman who was shouting herself birthday lunch during one of our visits. A first-timer, she was impressed, particularly by Cicciolina's eavesdropping merits. She liked her leek and blue-cheese tart, too, and her celebratory affogato, sumptuous house-made, hand-churned vanilla bean ice-cream doused with coffee and liqueur. As a newcomer, she wouldn't have noticed that Cicciolina's menu reads much as it did a decade ago, with the same old favourites - yellowfin tuna carpaccio, risotto with mushrooms, spinach and truffle oil, and soft-centred chocolate pudding, with a 20-minute wait - although there are interesting finds on the huge chalkboard that lists the daily specials.
Cicciolina has been a hatted restaurant for the past decade - indeed, she had two hats in 2001. But in that time, Melbourne's culinary landscape has flourished. Our expectations have risen accordingly, so that while Cicciolina is doing the same thing, it no longer seems like the fare of a hatted restaurant. You might say, so what? And I'd say you have a point. Does Cicciolina's food detract from an evening's bonhomie? Not at all. Some dishes, it must be said, just aren't as good as I remember from earlier years, such as the aforementioned risotto, which used to be a creamy sensation, the balance of truffle oil, spinach and mushrooms just right. The one I had recently, though perfectly acceptable, lacked the buttery lushness of a really good risotto, and the truffle oil verged on the overpowering. A dish of home-made chestnut pappardelle, with big chunks of pine mushrooms, peas, spinach and mascarpone cheese was more filling than refined, the truffle oil again overriding. There also seems to be a tendency to cook fish just a fraction too long. This is a pity when it comes to mains such as a wild barramundi fillet with a brioche and walnut crust, served with lovely golden baby beets, celeriac fondant, smoky seared scallops and a velvety saffron beurre blanc sauce - a great dish, beautifully presented, with a bright combination of flavours and which could have been brilliant had the barramundi not been roasted a fraction too long. A roasted snapper fillet, simply served with octopus, buttered potatoes, olives and green beans, was also on the dry side.
But there's much to recommend. The tuna carpaccio remains a dashing starter: a large plate lined with translucent, veil-thin circles of tuna, drizzled with lime-infused olive oil, topped with peppery watercress, dotted with capers and served with crisp, buttery chargrilled sourdough.
The natural Tasmanian oysters served with a tangy dipping sauce of cucumber and chardonnay vinaigrette are also marvellous. More rustic is a starter of pan-fried quail, topped with a fried quail egg and crisp-fried sage, served with grilled cotechino and sweet smashed peas, in a rich and homely prosecco, shallot and butter sauce. Desserts, too, are a strength, particularly the swooningly good creme brulee - whether simply served with a small dish of berry compote, or more decadently with a scoop of chocolate and pistachio ice-cream, and a wonderfully rich and moussy chocolate tart. As befits a grande dame, gossip about Cicciolina abounds, such as the rumour her days were numbered, especially since the opening of sophisticated younger sister Ilona Staller across the highway, in Balaclava. But, as a message scrawled on the Cicciolina chalkboard defiantly declared on one of our visits: ''We are staying in Acland Street until we are pensioned out!'' Cicciolina's lease has been extended for 15 years and the owners are negotiating for more.
Influential 18th-century French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote that the pleasures of the table ''go hand in hand with all our other pleasures, outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss''. The pleasures of Cicciolina are like that. Many of us have grown up with her - the ghosts of our younger, wilder selves linger on in her back bar. She's the last true bohemian on Acland Street, a relic of the old St Kilda, hidden behind wooden blinds, standing her ground while the street around her disintegrates into a rubble of chain stores, cheap clothing outlets, bloated chemists and vacant shops. Long may she revel.
- 03 9525 3333
130 Acland Street,
View on map
- Starter, $19.50, main, $39.50, dessert, $14.50
- Mon-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10pm
- Michelle Elia
- Barbara Dight, Lisa Carrodus & Virginia Redmond
- Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating
- Cards accepted:
- AMEX, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa