Cicciolina @ 130 Acland Street, St Kilda
13 March 2011
Cicciolina is a St Kilda restaurant with a considerable cult following. Its regulars swear by its superb, produce-driven cuisine and its chic, lively atmosphere – it is an establishment that is said to epitomise the best aspects of St Kilda. Evidently, professional critics agree with that sentiment. Cicciolina has earned rapturous reviews and maintained for over a decade a one hat status in the Good Food Guide. As a result, our visit to Cicciolina was long overdue.
We went to Cicciolina for lunch and so I cannot speak to its reputedly bustling evening atmosphere. Nevertheless, the dining room was humming along nicely when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. Amplified by its layout, the Cicciolina dining room conveys twin senses of busyness and informality in a manner akin to an edgier, more casual version of Grossi Grill – not a bad thing.
Our meal commenced with a couple of very good entrees. The first, a soufflé of blue swimmer crab with shallots, lemon thyme and a champagne and chive veloute, appeared as a dense mound of shredded crab meat perched in a puddle of sauce. Despite that appearance, the dish worked rather well – the soft, delicate crab meat was delightfully fresh and sweet and had soaked up the well flavoured savoury veloute. The second entrée, consisting of deep fried chilli fish cakes with pesto mayonnaise, was simplier than the first, but no less effective. Deep frying the fish cakes gave them a crisp crust which sealed in the juices of the constituent fish meat. The light pesto mayonnaise imparted both acidity and fragrance to the enjoyable dish.
Cicciolina is renowned for its pasta and our first main course, an orecchiette pasta with Morton Bay bug meat, white and salted anchovies, shallots, spring onions and cream, amply demonstrated that prowess. The pasta, although a little thick for my liking, was expertly cooked and retained a slight residual bite. The other ingredients combined to create a wonderful complexity of flavour – the anchovies in particular added both seasoning and depth.
Our second main course was a dish of slow braised lamb shank with a potato galette, green beans and a roasted lamb strap stuffed with ricotta and basil on baby beets and pistachios. The dish was simple, homely and well executed. The lamb strap was, as promised, roasted to a tender and juicy pink and the slow braised lamb shank was, as expected, exceedingly flavoursome and "melt in the mouth".
For dessert, we shared a rather large sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. Consistent with the preceding courses, the pudding was well made and decadently coated in copious amounts of unusually thin butterscotch sauce. It was a pleasant dessert, even if the almond slithers, relatively few in number given the size of the pudding, were a little redundant.
Our visit to Cicciolina was not a particularly cheap one – our bill was approximately $125 – but then it is a restaurant with Acland Street rental expenses. The fact that our meal was generously proportioned and of high quality suggests that Cicciolina fares favourably as a value proposition.
Although Cicciolina has been on our radar for some time, I had few expectations upon visiting it. In the end, it provided a pleasantly surprising experience. Although its cuisine is solid rather than spectacular and its service is acceptable rather than immaculate, Cicciolina provides a resoundingly enjoyable meal. With that and the vibrant Acland Street evening atmosphere in mind, it is not difficult to understand the affection showered on it by its devotees.