Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cafe Bedda

Let's start with a couple of confessions. First, F and I went to Cafe Bedda some years ago and I had forgotten all about it. So this isn't a first time, but other than "it was good", I have no real memory of the place. Second, we forgot to take a camera, so the photos are taken with phones and correspondingly look like they we taken by the food stylist from Alcatraz. Nevertheless....

The magical blackboard. Not at all grumpy

Cafe Bedda is high on Rucker's Hill and has quite a few tables crammed into its small space while still having room for a big pizza oven in the front (and centre) of house. When we arrived at 6.30pm it was obviously a first sitting, and before we left most tables had emptied and been refuelled with gleaming new patrons. Despite at least 4o percent of our fellow diners wearing black (ummm.. including me), it was a perky, jumping vibe with much laughter, families, hilarity and somesuch, as well as a Northcote couple of handsome women with strong chins.

We shared a few entree dishes - baccala fritters and a small dish of warm, marinated olives from the a la carte menu; and tripe cooked with tomato, eggplant, onion and anchovy, and an artichoke stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs from the day's specials.

Artichokes. Funny, when you finish, there seems to be just as much on the plate as when you started.

The tripe was the stand out dish for me, although I scarfed my share of olives (which I love warm) and the baccala was popular all round. The artichoke was cooked perfectly and while its filling was ok, it's not easy to improve on a fresh artichoke and I'm not sure the filling did all that much.

W dipping bread in olive oil for the first time. It's all inner city middle class from this point

The tripe, on the other hand, had been cooked long, slow and was rich and strongly flavoured with anchovies, those perfect pixies of the salted seas. The tripe itself wasn't much more than a lovely soft texture to carry the sauce, which is all it needs to do as far as I'm concerned. Everyone enjoyed it, everyone went back for another taste and everyone was pleased when F committed to cooking it at home. Although perhaps we should wait until I tell the kids what tripe is; that it's the intestines of a young boy band, untimely ripped. Although, to be honest, that's unlikely to make it any less popular. Pass the pepper please.

At the end of the entree we all sat there with the sorts of satisfied smiles that verge on the manic. This was good. Very good.

A rich, plummy Nero d'Avola by these folks was decanted into, well, a decanter, by our waiter, a Sicilian Jeremy Clarkson in looks, but not in attitude. Let's face it, if a waiter is going to be like Jeremy Clarkson, better it's this way than the reverse.

Alex's ricotta gnocchi was like a Neighbours starlet, simultaneously cheesy and impressively lightweight, although with a much more buxom shape than the actresses playing our favourite nasal characters like Kazza, Shazza and Dazza. Impressively light, it was like melting clouds, only without the hassle of opening the window of a 737 at 10,000 metres.

Gnocchi of the gods, albeit the lightweight household gods. Photoshopped into submission

Shut up, I'm eating

Felicity's saltimbocca was obviously from the sort of veal that should make me feel guilty but doesn't. It came with a balanced, intense sauce and two triangles of fluffy polenta as light as the gnocchi. I had thinly sliced and grilled yearling (I think) under a cover of bitter rocket and a light sauce with pink peppercorns. It was almost a warm salad, with the leaves mixing with the meat juices, and the chunks of perfectly roast potato with whole garlic cloves were a perfect match. Of course, the vultures settled on the potatoes pretty quickly, so I say that based on only a couple of mouthfuls.....

Emily had paccheri con ragu maille - a penne-style pasta with a thick sauce of tomato, slowly braised pork and fennel. This was a real winter pasta dish with the tomato and red wine just balancing the richness of the pork. Wow. Oh, and if you don't know what paccheri is, here's a wonderful story...
"The commonly held belief that Paccheri was Italian for 'squid' (the shape reminds most of calamari) is a urban myth, and one that needs to be dispelled once and for all. This myth, part of a much larger plot by the originators of the Paccheri Pasta, served to obfuscate and hide the Paccheri's true place in history.

In fact, Paccheri served as a vehicle to smuggle banned garlic cloves across the alps from Italy into what is today known as Austria.To hear the story is to delve deep into Italian culture. In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Prussian garlic (Austria, today) was known to be small and rather weak. In contrast, Southern Italian garlic, with those large robust and pungent cloves, was highly sought after by Prussian and Hungarian Princes. In the early 1600's, in order to protect their own garlic farmers, the Prussian Excellency closed the border between Prussia and Italy to Italian garlic. Trade in Italian garlic ceased.

Southern Italians garlic farmers, whose livelihood depended heavily on the Prussian Garlic Trade were incensed.

Quietly, and now we know, quite successfully, Sicilian pasta barons created Paccheri pasta, perfectly shaped to hide a ducat's worth of Italian garlic (four to five cloves). Concomitantly, the pasta barons disseminated a litany of propaganda about Paccheri pasta designed to obfuscate Paccheri's true role." (source)
I don't care how true that may or may not be, it's a great story.

Photoshop, and the other one, two , three, four, five, senses working overtime

Dessert was a great story in itself. F had a rhubarb and marscapone tart which she raved about; Al a white chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo, which, if he was more talkative, he would have raved about; E a thrice-cooked chocolate souffle, although it was more a moist cake than a souffle; while I had a cannoli with a blintz-like ricotta and lemon filling. None of the desserts were rip-roaringly sweet, and so were exactly the way I like them.

And the coffee was perfect.

(Photo in black and white to hint that the photos are crap because we used clandestine technology, rather than crap phones)

Cafe Bedda is, to date, the highlight of our adventures on High Street. Warm staff, warm environment and beautiful Sicilian food that is both forthright and refined. Oh, and they trust the clientele enough to have little pepper grinders on each table, just as the gods intended.

They've also got a take away menu as well as a pretty impressive pizza list which we will, no doubt, progressively work our way through.
None of us would have any hesitation in going back and recommending it to others, as long as they don't recommend it to further-others and we end up not being able to book a table.
This is a sign above a door on the other (west) side of High Street. I just like it.

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