When an email popped up with the text "We are going to Alio - its a Degustation dinner, and you're blogging about it" I got super excited. My two fabulous girlfriends and supporters of The Empty Fridge cause - The Boss Lady and Wiki Mel have embraced the idea that every dinner we have would be shared online. I count them, along with my mom - Mrs Fridgemagnet to be my most enthusiastic readers. "G, are you ever going to put that post on Alio up? You are being super slack on the blog front - unacceptable." Yup, this dinner at Alio was actually a Christmas catch up and they so kindly remided me of the delay.
There are times when my brain feels like mush and I am the worst decision-maker - it was actually great having the venue pre selected by friends. Having our 6 courses mapped up for us gave us more time whinging about all things non-food related and less time deciding and racking our brains as to what to order. Wine was easy - it was one of those weeknights where everybody needed a big glass of Vino. Demos' fuzzy logic of "It's an Italian place - we are having Italian wine" was in place and so a bottle of 2005 Beni di Batasiolo Barbera D'alva Sovrana was selected. Now i'm no where near an expert in wine - but I do find that Demos and I are always drawn to wines from the Barbera D'Alba region of Italy. Tonight's selection was light in acidity but still had a strong bold and fruity flavour making it easy to go down after a long day.
The first entrees that were brought out were a Spiced Pumpkin Soup, hand made grissini and home made foccacia. The pumpkin soup was like no other variety I had before, there was a delcious addition of ginger which really worked perfectly with the creamy pumpkin base. The next time I am caught with the flu - this would be the one thing I request on my deathbead. The flavour was more fresh with a big zing rather than being a monotonous and overly heavy soup. The grisinni and foccacia were dunked furiosly into our soup cups, trying to mop up any drops left behind. The focaccia was dense and very salty - with sprigs of rosemary baked in to give that authentic italian aroma.
We then share some chunks of 40 month old Reggiano Parmigiano which goes really well with the focacia bread. "There's plain bread - an there's italian bread". My addiction lies with soft cheeses but I did enjoy this bolder cheese with the bread - having it on its own would just be too strong for me at the start of the meal.
We pick on the Marinated organic olives and marvel at the size of some of them. Demos even eats the whole clove of roasted garlic to prove he is not a vampire. We each recieve our next plates - a serve of buffalo mozzarella with fresh peas and herbs, and the saltiest and crunchiest piece of bread I have ever had. Mushy peas is not something I would usually associate with mozarella but the freshness and texture of the peas work well together with the creamy mozarella.
The hero of this dish is truly that piece of toast - I dont even think I can call it toast. Its like one giant flat crouton - super salty and so very peppery, I think they used salt and pepper instead of flour to bake it. Mozarella can be a tad boring on its own and this really added that salty factor without a shaker in sight.
"What is gravlax?" the Boss Lady asks Demos and I like we are some sort of food authority - "Jeez we're just hungry bloggers getting a feed and trying to make it in this harsh world". We all look in unison to Wiki Mel who just knows absolutely everything. "Gravlax is a Nordic dish with raw salmon pieces and dill" I swear I would have done so much better in high school had I had an Iphone and google in my instant dispense, after giving us the answer, Wiki Mel puts her phone away and we tuck in to our Tasmanian salmon gravlax with mustard dressing.
A bowl of Crostini arrives and we notice the abundance of bread here. Lucky we love our Carbs! The gravlax is a very fresh and light dish, the tanginess of the mustard dressing goes very well with the salmon and the diced capsicum also adds a sweetness and crunch.
The arrival of the pan fried scallops wrapped in pancetta once again silenced our group. The scallops were perfectly seared, tasting very fresh - wrapping it with the salty goodness of pancetta and adding a crisp asparagus and cherry tomatoes with creamy dressing, this dish was divine
The seafood risotto arrives next, with Mussels and Prawns. I like my seafood risotto's to be more generous on the seafood part - almost like a paella.This risotto was very creamy, and if I was given the choice - I would hold the parmesan (not a fan of the seafood and cheese combination). At this stage, I was starting to get close to my stomach's limit but there was still the main course to come.
Carnivores rejoice, the lamb rack has arrived. Seasoned and cooked perfectly - we gnawed on this up to the bone! What we thought was ordinary mash turned out to be a celeriac mash. Not very exciting but these turnip like veggies aren't the most exciting in veggies in the patch. To get the most flavour with the mash, we drowned it in the dragoncello sauce. It is a very light "gravy" - very vingerary in taste with garlic and taragon giving it that bite.
Now to get ready for something sweet - A coconut and lime sorbet arrived to clean or palates and it is very refreshing indeed. Add some white rum and it would make one hell of a cocktail!
Since it was leaing to Christmas, the dessert set for the degustation menu was a homemade christmas pudding with cherries and brandy custard. Our waitress was very kind enough to offer us an alternative when us 3 girls were not too keen on the idea of the Christmas Pudding - but we relegated one to Demos for research purposes of course. Again being the indecisive and curious women we are, we all attacked his plate when the Pudding arrived. This pudding was very fruity - and (I get teased for this description so much) tasted like christmas. In my books anything with cinnamon or nutmeg tastes like christmas.
The alternative to the pudding was a Lemon berry tart. This was my first time at Alio but my companions had been here before and raved about their delicious desserts. This tarty tart did not disappoint at all, the biscuit base was buttery with a very cool and tasty lemon filling. The Strawberries and Blueberries were lightly sweetened with sugar syrup. It was a great way to end a wonderful meal and we were all bursting at the seams!
Now for The Empty Fridge scorecard:
- The Peak - $85 for a 10 course degustation, still remains as one of the more affordable degustation sets in Sydney.
- The Pitt - There was a bit of a wait in between the entree dishes and the risotto dish and lamb.. but we were patiently digesting. Had we been on a painfully dull first date the wait would be agonising.
- Empty Fridge Dish of the Day - it had to be the spectacular rack of lamb - although we were close to full capacity course-wise, it was a winner in everyones books.
And since we have your attention - The Empty Fridge blog is now like-able :
10 Course Degustation Menu - $85.00 per person, $120 with matched wine