Despite having Albert St Wine and Food on my list of places to eat at for months, I was not planning on going there on Saturday. I was trying to take the girlfriend to lunch next door, at Greenfield, a cheap and cheerful Vietnamese that comes recommended from friends. We’ve tried repeatedly to go there but we’ve failed.
We tried one Sunday (they’re closed) and on Saturday we arrived just after 12.30pm (they supposedly open at 12.30pm) but a staff member was loitering in the doorway, locked out. It was obvious nothing was happening there in a hurry.
So a supposedly simple lunch got seriously upgraded in style (and price), but you have to seize the moment for a quality adult meal when it arises (the small fry was at a play date). The lure of breakfast wine (our phrase for drinking at lunch when not having eaten breakfast) was irresistible.
We ordered quickly: smoked mackerel and albondigas for entree, and cassoulet and cous cous to share for main. The mackeral was lovely, and the goat meatballs were even better: baked with a spiced tomato based sauce and a preserved lemon flavoured yoghurt.
She ordered a Pennyweight amontillado (a favourite after our visit to the cellar door in Beechworth over the Easter long weekend earlier this year) and I had a majestic nebbiolo from Glenwillow in the Bendigo region, which was a perfect match for the cassoulet.
The cassoulet was very good but not authentic in that it had been compiled, rather than having been cooked all together. The beans lacked the genuine mushed and filled with flavour appearance of the real thing. The duck was amazing though, and the cous cous was fantastic – the duck and pomegranate combination in particular made this combination a great choice.
Winter cous cous with cauliflower, grapes and pomegranate.
Just was we were about to order dessert the phone call came. You know the one. The one that makes you think the day is over. The small fry had had a meltdown at the play date and wanted out. She was unexpectedly to be delivered to the restaurant by car.
Until now the service had been very good, but our request to delay ordering dessert pending the arrival of a stroppy refusenik led to us being neglected. Water glasses were not refilled, and when I ordered a coffee it came without sugar.
It turned out the junior refusenik had not been given lunch, leading to an inevitable energy crash and temper tantrum. The promise of pizza worked wonders and we got the meal back on track. We ordered pizza and dessert and the quality service returned.
The refusenik loved the pizza bianca, with garlic, rosemary and parmesan, and ate most of it except for some crusts that tasted ‘weird’ (in other words they had lots of caramelised garlic).
The girlfriend swooned over the sauternes crème caramel with mandarin and passionfruit, and the refusenik marvelled at the idea of edible gold on the caramel. I had a taste too and the intensity of flavour was most impressive.
I was intrigued by the idea of a dessert foccaccia, which featured grapes, goats cheese, rosemary and honey, and I enjoyed it.
Overall it was a very pleasant meal, albeit with a nervous twitch in the middle for us and the service. The food is excellent and the wine list is good. The design and decor are impressive and the feature colour, yellow, catches your eye all around the room, from light fittings to banksia flowers.
Albert St has been reviewed by every food blog you’ve ever heard of (and some others) and I’m not going to list them all. The opinions are mostly very positive. I thought the meal good value at about $160 and I’d be happy to return sometime, preferably when we’re not likely to be interrupted.