Saturday, 13 April 2013

Casual Dining - Pane e Vino

There are a handful of restaurants around town that feel like second homes to me.  It's probably no secret that I don't eat too much at home and as such some of the restaurants around town have provided me with a de facto kitchen and dining room.  There are also restaurants around Brisbane that have that one dish that you keep going back for, sometimes it's Pizza, sometimes it's a great burger and more often than not it's dumplings!  For a long time, there was only one place that I would go to for Sunday risotto and that place was Pane e Vino.

There was an old TV program on a few years ago, with the catchy theme song 'wouldn't you like to get away?  Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name', you know the one, Cheers.  Well, thats what it felt like for SC and I on Sunday evenings, greeted by the same wait staff, getting pretty much the same meal, week in and week out!  I really loved the comfort of being welcomed and having my Sunday risotto.  I'm not exactly sure when or why, but we stopped going to Pane e Vino on Sundays and started doing other things.

I am sure I am not the only person with Pane e Vino tales either, its been around for such a long time, in fact it was established in 1995 and has become an Brisbane institution in that time.  Run by Tony and Gino D'Arienzo there is an interesting back story to Pane e Vino that goes back well before it was opened.  It starts with Luigi and Lucia D'Arienzo, who are the family patriarchs and first ignited the passion of Brisbane diners when they established Lucia's Cafe at Woolloongabba in the 1950's.  Luigi and Lucia retired in the 1970's but the D'Arienzo boys never forgot their heritage and were inspired to give up their day jobs and start a new family business with their parents.

It has been a while since my last visit to Pane e Vino so I thought it would be a great spot to catch up with a work colleague for lunch to talk shop and what was going on in my industry.  Pane e Vino could not be more conveniently located in the CBD, right on the corner of Albert and Charlotte Streets and offers alfresco dining on the busy footpath and a large double decker space internally.  The weather was looking a bit dicey so BD and I chose to sit inside for lunch.

The menu at Pane e Vino is a pretty traditional and has a good selection of options available including antipasti, pasta and risotto as well as mains like chicken and fish.  There is a daily specials board as well that without fail has a pasta, risotto and fish option.  Whenever I go to Pane e Vino, the first thing I do is look at the risotto special and could not believe my luck.  One of my all time favourite risottos was on the board, squid ink and calamari risotto, I was so excited!  However, my excitement was short lived when it was highlighted that the specials board was from the previous day and a new risotto special went up.

BD and I decided we would order some antipasti to share to begin with (I say share loosely as we each had a preference).  BD went for the tempura prawns with lemon and aioli which were surprisingly good.  The tempura batter was light and crunchy and the prawns were perfectly cooked, with a subtle salty flavour.  The aioli was really nice and when combined with the tempura prawn was a great match.

I went for the salt and pepper calamari with aioli and lime.  I am not sure if you could have called these salt and pepper calamari as there was no salt or pepper in the coating on the calamai.  Setting aside this minor issue, the calamari was supremely cooked and was wonderful, the calamari strips were so tender and delicious.  They were even better when adding a squeeze of lime and dipping in the aioli, which has just a very subtle garlic flavour.  Yummy, but could have been even better if the promised salt and pepper element was included.

BD decided on something a little more rustic and less traditionally Italian for his main and chose the roast chicken with ricotta, mushroom, spinach and mashed potato.  This was quite a hearty dish with well cooked roast chicken, which was very reminiscent of your typical Sunday roast, with lots of gravy and some vegetables.   We didn't notice it at the time, but the dish was delivered with only green beans and not the mushrooms or spinach.  Also, the chicken was stuffed with a blue cheese and not ricotta, which added a slightly unpleasant taste to the meal.  I am pretty disappointed that the meal was not presented as promised on the menu, this is pretty poor form.

There was never any doubt that I would order a risotto and with three options available to me on the day I chose the chicken and leek with sun-dried tomato and mushroom.  This was not a bad risotto, but it was not great either.  The risottos I had come to know and love from Pane e Vino were rich and creamy and perfectly cooked, this was a little on the dry side and was lacking a bit of seasoning and therefore a bit bland.  The chicken was well cooked and the sun-dried tomato added some good flavour to the dish, there was just not enough of it to save the dish for me.

BD decided that another red would suffice for dessert for him, but I thought that a pannacotta would go down well to finish the meal so ordered the homemade vanilla bean pannacotta served with raspberry coulis and fresh cream.  The pannacotta was set perfectly and was really nice, with the vanilla flavour coming through clearly.  The key issue with the dessert was the overall sweetness on the plate.  Normally the raspberry coulis would cut through the sweetness, but in this instance it was too sweet as well and when combined with the sweetened cream on the side, was just too much.  This would have been enhanced significantly with some tartness on the plate.

It had been a great catch up with BD and that helped to enhance the experience on the day.  We had arrived early, before the normal lunchtime rush and had received excellent service from the team on duty.  Pane e Vino is such a great lunchtime spot, it quickly filled up while we were there and there was a nice vibe emanating throughout.

After we had paid and were leaving the restaurant, BD and I reflected on the meal and came to the conclusion that it was good, but not great.  The entrees had been superb, but things fell away a little after that.  I also remembered why I had stopped coming to Pane e Vino after so many years of Sunday night risottos.  Simply put, the quality of the risottos started to fall away to the point that I just didn't enjoy them in the way that I had previously.  This was my experience with the risotto on this visit.

While it's certainly comforting to have a regular dinner spot and be recognised as a regular, it still comes down to the quality of the food.  It's just too competitive in the Brisbane market to not be on top of your game every single meal.  I am sure Pane e Vino will be on the Brisbane dining scene for many years to come, it's convenient and relatively cheap, but I think I have done my dash with the Pane e Vino risotto.


BD settled on a nice red instead of dessert 
Starting to fill up for lunch
One of the great alfresco spots in the CBD

Pane E Vino on UrbanspoonPane e Vino


  1. BD here - it was great to catch up with you too Anthony. Can't wait for next time.

    Your reviews are so candid and honest without being negative or bitchy....

    I now loo at your blog to see if you have reviewed where I am going - thanks for your insight :)

  2. Thanks mate, yep, will be a regular thing for sure.. Glad I can help shape your dining experiences.....


  3. Yum look at that big jiggly pannacotta. Its one of my fave desserts, I always order it if its on the menu.

  4. Yeah, a good pannacotta is a treasure, that's for sure!!


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