Monday, May 13, 2013

Pinocchio's South Yarra

Pinocchio’s: the dinner that made me turn down dessert  

Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal, Pinocchio's invited me to dine free with a  guest at my convenience. The opinions reported below are based solely on my thoughts at the time of my visit.

Address: 152 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Phone: (03) 9867 2772 

Lunch: 7 days, 12pm until 3pm 
Dinner: 7 days, 5pm until late 
Pizza & bar menu: 7 days, 12pm until late 

Pinocchio’s will from this day forth be known as ‘the restaurant that made Poppet’s Window turn down dessert’. I was utterly over-satiated by the time I commanded dinner to stop that I had to say ‘no thank you’ to dessert—despite my sweet tooth’s best ‘Occupy Mouth’ protest efforts. 

Only Italian restaurants can feed diners like we were fed on that fateful night. It all started with uncertainty: unsure of what to order, we asked the chef to bring us some dishes that best reflected the whole menu. The result? We were served enough food for six people. 

I could tell you that Pinocchio’s is the worst thing to ever happen to the suburb of South Yarra, but my nose would grow like the restaurant's namesake, and that’s hardly something I need. Pinocchio’s is in fact a charming restaurant with a long history. Founded by three brothers 42 years ago, the restaurant received a revamp from its current owners last year. 

The space still has a romantic feel, with dim lighting, a long marble bar and butchers’ paper tablecloths, but it’s been reborn to reflect its sister restaurant in Hampton, which opened in 2011. Both venues cook their pizza on rotating Italian wood fire ovens and the smell sneaks into your nostrils, down the back of your throat and onto your tongue as you walk in off Toorak Road. 

To drink, there are local and Italian wines, as well as boutique beers from Italy. Logically, I went for an espresso martini. It was a spectacular decision. I took along an old school friend who I hadn’t seen in much too long and we had a wonderful time. If he had bored me (he didn’t) I could have sat back and enjoyed the illustrations on the walls, reminiscent of my old Pinocchio storybook from the days when I was called ‘Poppet’. But I had better things to do, such as stuffing my face. 

The edible marathon began with an antipasto plate. Crusty bread dipped in oil, young green olives, classic Italian salami and buffalo mozzarella were presented on a wooden board. If you closed your eyes, it was easy to imagine yourself slouching in a café you’d stumbled across in the backstreets of Roma, a glass of red in hand. I was so lost in my daydream I nearly missed the Pinocchio illustration on my enamel plate. 

Panino di Agnello, scrumptious mini floured ciabatta rolls overflowing with sticky pulled lamb shoulder, baby cress, punchy garlic aioli and a touch of sliced chilli were a highlight, as were the arancini of the day (golden spheres of pea and saffron when we visited). 

Two squares of perfectly poached Atlantic salmon with spiced yoghurt made our eyes widen, accompanied by crunchy green beans, broccoli, baby roma tomatoes and beetroot chip slithers. 

The standard dropped with the Risotto Al Nero, a squid ink dish that usually makes my stomach sing. This particular risotto—blackened with squid ink, served with calamari tentacles and crowned with prawn—was indelibly salty. 

Thankfully things picked up when the braised veal shin and pancetta ravioli was served. Stunningly rich and swimming in creamy sage butter, the ravioli was deliciously naughty—I can’t imagine eating an entire bowl. 

After slurping rustic lamb ragout pappardelle with lemon gremolata and pangrattato (toasted breadcrumbs), it became clear that Pinocchio had perfected pasta. We came to the same conclusion when we bit into the thin crust of their prosciutto pizza, a simple combination of tomato, mozzarella, San Daniele prosciutto, parmigiano, balsamic and wild roquette. 

At this point, I was so full that I can’t tell you what the supple white fish was that brought our meal to an end. I took a single bite, felt the round beans on my tongue and tasted the tang of tomato and lemon, swallowed, and then held my breath in case my eyes decided to pop out of my head. 

I can’t remember the last time I felt as full as I did when we finished our dinner at Pinocchio’s. The funny thing is that technically we weren’t even finished; I had to repeatedly tell the waitstaff to stop bringing food (I had to go and check on my little brother on the way home as my parents were out that night). “One more,” they insisted, more than once. By the end, I was so stuffed that I turned down dessert. Yep, that’s right: I, Sofia Levin, said “no” to dessert. I said no to chocolate cannoli. I even said no to wood-fired lemon tart. What on earth was I thinking?

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