Cafe Bellino and the Demise of the Local Italian Restaurant.

Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.

Dean Martin sings ‘Cha cha cha d’amour” in the background; locals drop in for a quick chat or a coffee, groups greet each other warmly with ‘auguri‘ or buona sera‘. Introductions are swift- meet Dino or Toni- as working men greet their friends and gather for an antipasto or a hearty bowl of pasta and a glass of rosso. Poking one’s head in to greet the chef at work in the semi open kitchen seems to be the norm. The style is distinctly Italo- Australiano and I feel very much at home here. Front of house is a charming young waiter from Milano, no doubt working on a 457 working visa, like so many other young Italian camerieri in Melbourne, and the pizzas are truly excellent, dare I say, the best I have had in a long while. At $13- $15 for a large hand crafted thinly crusted pizza, they are a steal. ¬†But here’s the sad news. Cafe Bellino in Victoria Street, Brunswick has less than 90 days left to run! Like so many others in the district, the couple responsible for the excellent cooking here is about to retire. The signora is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren: restaurant life is hard work, she explains. The young Milanese waiter hopes to be able to work for the new lessee, but no one really knows what kind of business will replace the beautiful little Cafe Bellino.

Young Italian Camerierie at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick
Italian Cameriere at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick

It’s a common story around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, as more Italian couples reach retirement age and sell up. A recent closure was Cafe Mingo in Sydney road, when Jo, his wife and helpers retired. Their simple Italian restaurant became home away from home for many. I loved the way that Jo would slide over a complimentary plate full of sweet wafers and a tall bottle of grappa at the end of a meal. Sweet memories. The place has since become an Indian restaurant. It’s always empty, there is no licence and no ambience. It has lost its soul. Last week when we dropped into La Bussola Ristorante e Pizzeria in Lygon Street east, we found that retirement had struck again! La Bussola, home of the simple pizza and cheap pasta, a warm retro space where you could bring your own wine or buy a caraffa di vino da tavola for $10, has become the Compass Pizza Bar. The emphasis is now on the word “bar” as this seems to be how the young Brunswick cafe managers make their money. It’s all about mark up and less about the food. We were ushered into the old retro space but shock horror, a head-phoned ¬†DJ had been installed, playing extremely loud music at 6pm. We were told curtly that our BYO bottle was not welcome, and no, we couldn’t pay extra for corkage or glasses. We promptly left.¬†Another wonderful family run institution had become gentrified and in my humble opinion, wrecked. Crap bottled wine, of unknown source and vintage, was offered at a starting price of $32 a bottle. Most were more costly.

Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.
Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.

The simple joy of stepping out for a pizza or a bowl of pasta with a shared a bottle of wine is quickly vanishing. I have nothing against licensed restaurants. Most of the old style BYO places hold full licences as well, offering the diner a choice. What disturbs me are the ridiculous mark ups on wine at these new hipster places. Take a bottle of ordinary wine that retails for $8 and mark it up to $35 or more. Why? Isn’t turnover and ‘bums on seats’ more important in these leaner times? Cheap, affordable wine, as well as BYO wine, has made the Melbourne suburban restaurant scene dynamic and lively in the past. These practices enabled families to regularly dine out at their local restaurant, introducing children to restaurant life and the culture of food. Simple places with prices to match. Hipster joints with their huge mark ups on wine will attract only one type of customer, young affluent singles and childless couples. A sad trend indeed, and one that would never happen in France!

If you’re in the area, footloose and fancy free or loitering with intent and in need of a drink, a coffee, or a bowl of something authentically Italian, try Cafe Bellino, 281 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056. ( Just around the corner from Sydney Road). Open from 10 am to 10 pm. Closed on Sunday. You only have 80 days left.

Cha cha cha d’amour
Take this song to my lover
Shoo shoo little bird
Go and find my love

Cha cha cha d’amour
Serenade at her window
Shoo shoo little bird
Sing my song of love

The Italian Balinese. Massimo’s Ristorante, Sanur.

It’s not hard to find a pizza in most towns in the world, and Sanur in Bali is no exception. What is often hard to find is a genuine Italian restaurant. Wood fired pizza ovens have taken off here and there are some rather sad versions being pumped out to satisfy the Western palette, especially along the beach front restaurant strip but also in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main tourist drag and restaurant belt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARistorante Massimo is as close to authentic as you can get. Let’s start with the decor. The walls are covered with photos and paintings of Massimo, as well as images of Massimo with famous people: they fill every spare space on one lengthy wall as well as on the columns throughout¬†the room. To personalise a restaurant that has a large and passing clientele seems particularly Italian, reminding me of a famous Italian pizza chain in Melbourne. There are also many framed black and white photos of Lecce, his home town in Puglia, Italy, assorted other subjects such as Alberto Sordi, in the famous spaghetti eating scene in “Un Americano a Roma“, together with other kitsch prints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe table service at Massimo’s is fast and efficient. Massimo employs a staff of 30 or more on the floor, in the bar, the gelateria and pizzeria. I didn’t get back into the kitchen area to count the chefs and kitchen staff. The wait staff are very well trained, the best I’ve encountered in Sanur, and, while Balinese, they have picked up lots of Italian brio and style from whoever trained them. The service is fantastic.

Free little starter at Massimo's, Sanur.
Free little starter at Massimo’s, Sanur.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a resonably priced drop. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a reasonably priced option. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.

The food is good in a traditional way. There are many dishes scattered throughout the menu from Lecce in Puglia, marked with a code, Salentu. For those who have spent time in Puglia, these dishes will bring back memories. Mr Tranquillo had linguine with granchio, fresh crab ( AU $6.90) and I chose Spiedini di pesce alla griglia, three grilled seafood skewers with prawn, tuna and squid, which came with polenta chips and greens. ( AU $7.50).

The pizzas are excellent, the best you will find in this part of Bali. They start at around IDR 65,000 (AU$6.50 or¬†‚ā¨4.70) and come directly from the wood fired oven. We had a Napoli one lunchtime and found that one pizza was ample to share. Massimo has all bases covered with a relaxed open air bar, a gelateria, and a wood fired pizzeria facing the street, as well as the formal, spacious restaurant. There is also an excellent choice of freshly made tarts and cakes from the little caffe`.

Napolitana alla Massimo

This place is hugely popular with expats, tourists, and also middle class Balinese. It is a cavernous place with inside and outside areas and is always busy. It is advisable to book at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassimo Sacco has been in this restaurant for 10 years, is married to a Balinese woman, and has two children. A real autentico Italiano Balinese. And as for that man in the photo below, Massimo and I both share a love of the old films by Alberto Sordi!

Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Torta. Too Easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA little anniversary passed by the other day : I published my 200th post on this site, making me wonder whether my blog has a secret life of its own. What started as a journal to record my obsession with cooking and all things Italian, interspersed with the odd travel and garden post, has acquired its own weekly and monthly rhythm and character.¬†I enjoy the weekly travel prompts provided by Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack, and the photographic challenge offered by The daily Post at WordPress. ¬†A month doesn’t pass by without popping into Celia’s ‘In my Kitchen’ at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and I attempt to record my vegetable garden efforts in the monthly Garden Share Collective. I have met some wonderful folk along the way: my virtual world is a positive and palpable part of my life. These friends have encouraged me to make my own sourdough bread ( Celia) explore new recipe books, taking me out of my comfort zone, thanks to Leah at The Cookbook Guru, acquire wonderful vintage cookbooks due to scholarly accounts by Debi at My Kitchen Witch, visit a most fabulous garden and seaside in New Zealand at Julie’s¬†Frog Pond Farm, read the most enticing recipes by the best cook in Melbourne ( Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe), be amused by Lorraine’s antics at Not Quite Nigella, feel envious of Jane’s energy and her volume of baking at The Shady Baker, reflect on the wisdom and beauty of Ardys desert photographs at Ardysez¬†and the storytelling of¬†Ella Dee. There are¬†so many more, newer friends, too numerous to mention, especially the documenters of Italian life, those residing near Lucca and travellers in that great country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy top rating post of all time is Apricot Almond Cake with Amaretto. Easy Frangipane quickly followed by In My Kitchen. February 2014 ,

My ostracised posts,those languishing at the bottom end of the stats page, are Travel Theme: World Cups  and Travel Theme: Energy.

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Thanks to you, dear reader, for encouraging me along the way with your comments, ‘likes’ and views. As a way of celebrating, I’m including the original Pear Frangipane Cake recipe as it’s pear season and I believe it is the best version of this cake. I love this cake because it impresses most guests, is easy to make, and doesn’t have a pastry crust, which is a bonus. ¬†Also check out the blueberry version by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert¬†¬†as well as my raspberry version here.

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Torta di Pere, Mandorle e Amaretto. Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Tart.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  • ¬†150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • Two large pears, peeled, cored and cut into thick wedges
  • 25 g flaked almonds for top (optional)

 Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180c. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin. Line base.
  2. Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
  3. Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin and smooth top.
  4. Arrange pear wedges over the top, pressing them down so they partly submerge. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. ( optional)
  5. Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin.
  6. Serve dusted with icing sugar, cream or mascapone.
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Pasta for Tired Cooks. Bigoli in Salsa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes I feel too tired to cook and just want to sit in my garden and be waited on! Sadly there are neither cooking fairies here nor any take away food shops nearby. In times like these, a simple recipe is called for. Bigoli in Salsa, pasta with onions and anchovies, is one of these. Believe me, even if you aren’t fond of anchovies, they vanish in the sauce, imparting a thick saltiness. I happen to be very fond of the little salty fish.

Bigoli in Salsa is traditionally eaten on the evening before the Venetian festival of La Festa del Redentore on July 19th, an event that commemorates the end of the year-long plague that struck Venice in 1575, killing 50,000 people.

Bigoli pasta is very similar to spaghetti, only a little thicker, and available only in and around the Veneto.  Casareccia makes a comforting and redeeming substitute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecipe

Bigoli in Salsa/Pasta in onion and Anchovy sauce. For two as a main.

  • 2 large brown onions, sliced
  • 2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt, pepper,
  • finely chopped parsley
  • 200 g casareccia or other pasta. ( 1oo g¬†per person)

Heat heavy based frying pan and slowly cook the onions in oil for at least 10 minutes. Watch it like a hawk as the onions must soften, not brown or caramelise. Or use a heat mat to slow down the cooking.

Add the anchovies and squash into the sauce. Add the wine, salt and pepper, and continue cooking very slowly for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in ample salted water until al dente, then drain.  (Never rinse the pasta after cooking, as this destroys the starch which helps the sauce adhere.) Add the pasta to the pan of onion sauce and turn around a little, adding the parsley.  Serve.

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I like mine plain while Signore Tranquillo likes his with shaved parmigiano, reggiano or padano.

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The Outback and The Black Sheep of Burra

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On the way to the Flinders Ranges and the South Australian outback, it is customary to stay in the historic town of Burra. In the past, and I mean less than ten years ago, Burra was a sleepy historic town: attractive, but definitely ‘olde worlde’. ¬†Today, the town is buzzing with new energy. More old houses in the back streets are being restored, the Burra Hotel has a new publican and chef , and the arrival of an Italian Osteria in an old tin shed is an exciting addition to the town. One can sense the brio!¬† Given that Burra is only 200 kilometres from Adelaide, it was bound to happen.

The Burra Hotel: Micheal the new manager is bound to do well.
The Burra Hotel. Michael, the new manager, is a friendly chap with vision.

After setting up camp at the central but extremely basic camping ground in town, we wandered the historic streets of Burra in search of a cleansing ale, or to be precise, a cleansing Coopers Pale Ale. ¬†This search wasn’t long or arduous. The Burra Hotel is centrally located ¬†and has had a makeover since our last visit, but still retains that old pub feel, ¬†that is, spruced up but not gentrified. Michael, the new publican, had just taken over some days before and he certainly enjoys a chat. The menu looked great, and we would have stayed, but something caught my eye on the way : this sign, on this shed.

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An osteria, La Pecora Nera, in the middle of a little outback town? A beacon in the twilight. Off we trotted after our beers to find a packed and thriving authentic pizzeria and osteria complete with domed wood fired oven and a noisy, convivial atmosphere. We were seated at one of the larger communal tables. Wine is displayed on the wall shelving, so it’s a matter of choosing one and taking it to the table. Our 2009 Mt Surmon Nebbiolo from nearby Claire was the perfect wine for the occasion. ¬†( $35.00)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter ordering, a plate of rustic wood fired¬†bread, drizzled with good oil, arrived at the table. Really good bread, really good oil. Then a Pizza perfetta arrives, a Napolitana with a fine, thin crusted base, ( $17.00) large enough for two.

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We ordered a delicious cheesecake to share and then the lovely Clare did the rounds of all the tables with her limoncello bottle. ¬†It’s mid week and no one wants to go home.

Clare and her partner Paolo run this successful osteria: Paolo is the pizzaiolo and Clare makes everyone happy with little extras. It is indeed authentically Italian. Suddenly we feel like guests at her party.

Clare of La Pecora Nera
Clare of La Pecora Nera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t wait to go back to Burra, but next time for a longer stay, to walk around the town at leisure and to stay in a little renovated Cornish miner’s cottage.

My Favourite Soup. An all year silverbeet recipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Leah nominated Marcella Hazan’s¬†The Classic Italian Cookbook for this month’s Cookbook Guru title, I was in two minds. Don’t get me wrong. I went through a Marcella Hazan stage from the late 80s ¬†and I believe she has influenced my cooking profoundly. I was studying Italian at the time and her discussion of things like the importance of ‘soffritto’ and ‘salt’ changed my cooking style. At the time, Marcella became my cooking mentor,- I loved the sound of the Italian titles; the two obsessions in my life, Italian language and cooking, complemented each other so well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In those days I owned two other cookbooks written by Marcella. They preceded her The Classic Italian Cookbook¬†which I don’t enjoy as much. So I am sure you won’t mind if I share my favourite soup recipe, taken from her earlier work. This recipe is a family favourite: we have adapted it along the way but it is still close enough to the original. Marcella, I recall, flavours the oil with whole garlic cloves and then discards them. I chop it and keep it all-¬†it flavours the stock beautifully. It has become our ‘chicken soup’, a pick me up. ¬†I have attempted to list quantities here: normally it’s a handful of this, a bunch of that and a couple of cups of beans. The beauty of the soup relies on fresh ingredients and it costs almost nothing to make. The costly items are the Parmigiano cheese and good quality oil.

Zuppa di Bietola e Fagioli Bianchi.

(or less romantically, Silverbeet and White Bean Soup)

Ingredients

  • one small branch of fresh rosemary, stripped, chopped.
  • 5 Tbles EV olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic or more, finely chopped.
  • 6 fillets anchovies

Make a soffritto with these ingredients in a large pot. Melt the anchovies down in the oil, stirring well, being careful not to over colour the garlic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • one large bunch silverbeet
  • 500 gr cooked cannellini /great northern beans ( from 300 dried)
  • salt
  • two small handfuls of macaroni/digitali/small shaped pasta
  • grana padano/reggiano parmigiano cheese
  • best¬†EV olive¬†oil for serving.

Wash and trim the silver beet. Finely slice, including the stems, and add to the soffritto, stir around and coat with oil till they wilt.
Add beans. Add enough water to barely cover ingredients. Cook on a steady heat for around 5 minutes. Add pasta, some salt, and cook until the pasta is al dente.

A balanced mix of green and white
Attempt to obtain a balanced mix of green and white in the cooking pot.

Adjust salt, stir some grated parmigiano through the soup.  Serve with a little stream of fine oil and extra parmigiano.

This is a piatto unico, a one course meal, with good bread.  Serves 4-6.

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