Mister Bianco chef and owner, Joe Vargetto, has had a long and awarded career in both Australia and Italy. Working at a number of places such as Florentino’s early in his career, a stint at two hatted Gaultiero Marchesi in Italy, he was also owner and chef at Oyster Little Bourke and Mezzo Bar + Grill.
We were invited along to his Kew restaurant, Mister Bianco, to sample their set menu as part of a blogger dinner. Mister Bianco is described on their website as “Melbourne’s destination to celebrate authentic Sicilian flavours and southern Italian inspiration. An amazing blend of modern european and traditional Italian influences”.
The restaurant has that slightly-nicer than your average neighbourhood italian vibe. Darkly lit, white table cloths, well dressed wait staff. It feels slick but not uncomfortably high end.
The set menu for the evening began with tuna “zingara”; seared tuna with cucumber gazpacho and avocado. Texturally perfect, with luscious slabs of tuna and zingy, crunchy cucumber, it had everything you would want from such a unique and was a great way to start the night.
Followed by arancino, which were crunchy and gooey perfection it was hard to not be enamoured. Helping them both kick off proceedings was also Burrata, pesto and candied prosciutto. Burrata seems to be a hot ticket in Melbourne right now.
The cream and mozzarella filled “bag” of cheese has been popping up a couple of places, most memorably on the menu at Bar Liberty, where the cream and mozzarella filling bursts to mix with black sesame sauce. While I’m not massive fan of the burrata – it always seems a fatty chore more than creamy delight – the prosciutto with this helped give sweet and salty balance to the decadence. I could happily eat a bowl of that proscuitto by itself.
Things got a little off the rails during the next course which was raviolo with prawn, scallop, truffles, caviar and a buerre blanc sauce. Everything until this point was hinting at being one ingredient over the line, but the textures and flavours managed to keep everything in check. Here hints turned to reality The truffle was generous and a real treat but completely overwhelmed the prawn, scallop and caviar. The Coco Chanel philosophy, that tells us to “take one thing off” before leaving the house, applied to this dish in spades. The caviar and prawn could have been removed and the dish would not have suffered at all. While there was something to be said for the soupy mixture of burst caviar and buerre blanc at the end, I’m not sure the juice was worth the ingredient squeeze.
Meat courses of duck breast with quince and asparagus, and black angus beef with salmoriglio and caponata were both cooked superbly well. The meat treated with all the respect it deserved and presented brilliantly. The one letdown for me, and this is a completely personal thing, was I don’t love caponata with steak. It was delicious on its own, with lively spice and crunch but the combination doesn’t do it for me. My guest, on the other hand, was completely taken with it and found the combination perfect.
The theme of the evening for me was textural perfection. The final dish, Cannoli alla Siciliana, really hammered that home. The pastry had just enough bite, while the filling was soft and unctuous. Setting this version apart were freeze dried raspberries piled atop. Their sharp, tart punch helped elevate this from bakery treat to restaurant highlight.
Mister Bianco, as a whole, feels a couple of beats short of being perfect. Nothing was bad, the service great, but at times things just had that one element too much. Would I go back? Yes, I definitely would. It’s an occasion place and one that lifts classic Italian dishes to a unique platform. Ambition will always lead to missteps along the way but what’s a few missteps between friends when the result is caviar juice swimming in beurre blanc.
Find Luke from AleOfATime at http://aleofatime.com where he spouts his knowledge as the guru of Australian (but mostly Victorian) craft beer. I have learnt everything I know from listening to his podcast – which you need to iTunes right now. Also Twitter and Facebook.