Sunday, 26 February 2012

bel mondo

Melt in your mouth carpaccio

Once you find this little gem tucked away in the upper levels of The Rocks you open the doors to a very enjoyable experience for all the senses. The architecture and decor is an eye opener, and you don't know where to look first. The barman gives you a very warm welcome, checks you off the reservation list, and offers you a pre-dinner drink in the lounge area around the bar, or out on the balcony. We chose the balcony, where despite a slight breeze, we were beckoned by the view and enjoyed the space exclusively to ourselves. Out there, the view to the Harbour Bridge in between buildings was magical, and we probably would have been able to see the Opera House if someone hadn't parked a cruise ship in the way. If my camera phone was better there would have been some great shots to demonstrate, but sadly all it produces are grainy close ups like the one above.

Photo courtesy of bel mondo website
 As we made our way in to the restaurant sheer curtains were pulled to the side, and we were lucky enough to have our table located right next to them. I commented that it felt like we were entering the first class section of an aircraft. The four of us sat down, had the specials presented to us by the waiter, and then studied the menu. Normally at a restaurant there will be an element of a dish that will make me skim over it, think no, and move on to the next option. Not here. Every dish on the bel mondo menu read well, and the four of us had a lot of deliberation about what we were going to order.....and that is why it is always great to go out with good friends. You see, Darragh and I were tossing up between duck pappardelle and a gnocchi dish. When the waiter came and took our orders Darragh went for the duck and I went for the gnocchi. And when I tasted the first little parcel of the lightest, most delicious gnocchi I've ever had, I loaded up my fork and insisted everyone try it. My gnocchi with a delicious pesto sauce, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes was perfectly balanced. The gnocchi was the star of this dish, and the chef clearly stated that by not hiding it under a powerful sauce. Darragh's pappardelle duck had just the right amount of citrus to balance the fattiness of duck (something that I love, but Niamh hates, yet she enjoyed her taste test). Niamh's barramundi had an interesting mix of vanilla and fennel which was so complex it put your taste buds in a joyful spin, and Mark very nicely ordered slow cooked lamb shoulder with pea and mint risotto, caramelised garlic and honey puree. I can recommend everyone one of these dishes, and would be hard pressed to pick a favourite.

Our entrees (which naturally we started with) were equally as delicious. The beef carpaccio was sliced so thinly that it melted in your mouth, the mushrooms that accompanied them were cooked to perfection and the pecorino smelt so good when the plate arrived at the table that I couldn't help but lean in to my plate and take  big breath in. I deliberately stayed clear of the chicken liver parfait and ordered the carpaccio as I'm addicted to parfait, and last time I ordered it Mark challenged me not to get it the next time we were out and it was on the menu. Whilst I won the challenge, I missed out on the best parfait I have ever tasted, I'm ordering it on our return to this restaurant. There is some serious skill in the bel mondo kitchen for them to get parfait that smooth and still packed full of flavour.

The chef's true skill shone through when Mark and I decided this was the place to try souffle for the first time. Since this dish is so well known for being temperamental and hard to do well we've never bothered ordering it. However, there was so much faith instilled in us throughout the course of the evening that we decided to give it a go. Oh My Gosh! It was A.MAZ.ING! The flavour, the texture, the way it danced in it's little pot and did it's best to hold its shape whilst we kept gently digging in to it. It was more exciting than a roller coaster ride (lets forget the fact that it stays with you longer too). The homemade ice cream and honeycomb crumble that was served next to it was also very special.

Souffle with homemade ice cream and honeycomb-WOW!
bel mondo excited the four of us, and had me saying "I love food" on numerous occasions. Mark and I were seriously impressed with a) the wine list and b) Niamh's knowledge of the wines and skills to pick so well. Keep in mind that you won't get a bottle of wine for much less than $45, but for that you will get something that is very enjoyable. I think I'm going to have to hunt down a few bottles of 2010 Two Italian Boys Sangiovese from the Riverena, NSW because it went perfectly with every dish we had.

bel mondo is well worth the exploration tour of The Rocks to find it. Just make sure you have your GPS on.

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