Saturday, 2 August 2014

Dell'ugo South Bank - another one bites the dust

I'm not really a sentimental guy.  In fact, I've pretty much been pragmatic about most things in my life and while I sometimes mourn the loss of a restaurant here and there, it's normally a case of the free market in action.  Where I start to feel a touch of outrage is when when my sense of fairness is triggered, which happened recently with the news that South Bank restaurant Dell'ugo would be forced out of its Grey Street home.  You can read the article here, but essentially the Italian fine diner is being moved on because it didn't meet the future mix of traders that South Bank see in the well known restaurant strip's future.  That's ten years of history to be wiped - sorry, you need to go.  Outrage!

While Dell'ugo is not one of my favourite restaurants around, I have been a few times, both to the South Bank restaurant and their older and slightly more traditional establishment over at New Farm (see post here).  Given the news that the restaurant would soon close it's doors, I thought that I'd better get back over to South Bank, check it out and hopefully have a great parting memory.  Oh, and also hopefully, spark just a little outrage about the injustice.

South Bank has not always been a 'happy hunting ground' when it comes to dining out, with about a fifty percent success rate. I've had some amazing meals (Stokehouse) but I've also had some terrible experiences (Fifth Element).  We'd arranged to have a Saturday night meal, which has been one of the common factors in not having a great experience, it seems as if the very high volume of diners pushing through South Bank really does effect the quality on the night.  It had been a cold and rainy Saturday, but the weather cleared enough for us to walk from the CBD to South Bank, a walk we always enjoy.  

Arriving at the restaurant, there were no signs that anything was amiss, we were greeted warmly and placed in a seat that would have been prime in Summer, right out the front (alfresco style), but on a cold and rainy day was not a great spot.  In fact, if it weren't for the dual heaters right beside us, it would have been a terrible location - but thankfully, it didn't rain while we were there and the heaters kept us mostly warm.  As is often the case with South Bank restaurants, the dining room was pretty full by the time we arrived and we witnessed a few walk-ups turned away without reservations.

Our waiter for the night brought over our menus and preceded to list out the specials for the night in the most charming Italian accent, we could barely understand him, but he seemed so happy to be serving us.  The menu has been put together by the duo of Bart Avenia, a local boy who'd been working at Dell'ugo for over four years and born-and-bread Sicilian Domenico Romano, who together have created a menu that was good enough to pick up an Australian Good Food Guide Chefs Hat (not to be confused with the Brisbane Times equivalent).  I'd been eying off the degustation on their menu but SC declared that there would be no way she could get through a five course dego.

With quite a number of lovely looking starters, it was tough to narrow down to a final choice but eventually we did, with SC opting for the gamberoni in guazzetto: tiger prawns with risoni and bisque. The dish came presented in a ceramic blow and was chock full of four massive tiger prawns that completely dominated the bowl. Filling out the spaces under the gigantic prawns was a risoni pasta which was bathed in a slightly sweet seafood bisque.  The prawns were cooked expertly and had a beautiful flavour, especially bathed in the bisque but there had been little thought on how to eat the dish.  There was no consideration of how to cut off the heads and tails of the prawns, and SC struggled, she even had some of the bisque splash over her glasses and top trying to manoeuvre the prawns about.  This was definitely a case of a beautiful looking dish, full of flavour that was just hard to get to.

I'd loved the look of the degustation and while I couldn't get it on my own, I could order some of the a la carte items that appeared on the dego.  I love gamey flavours and was really interested to taste the salsiccia e fasul; wild boar and white pepper sausage with cannellini puree and toasted ciabatta. Looking quite refined on a flat slate, the dish didn't marry up to the Gaelic version I'd had in my mind, which had a fat sausage presented in a more rustic manner.  The wild boar and pepper sausage had a wonderful and very meaty flavour, which was lovely but it was the only thing I liked on the plate. The cannellini puree was cold and had no flavour at all and placing the crunchy ciabatta on the beans made the toast soggy and not pleasant to eat at all. 

It was pasta all round for mains with SC checking out the trofie alla contadina: trofie pasta with cauliflower, almond cream, roasted pumpkin, spinach and pine nuts.  Trofie pasta are small thin rolled out pieces of pasta that works very well with simple flavours that allow the pasta to speak for itself. Traditional Italian is very much about simple flavours working in perfect harmony and this was a study in perfect traditional fare.  Each of the ingredients were simply put together with complimentary flavours that united to make the dish whole.  It was really enjoyable and very well cooked.

Continuing on with my a la carte meal that had mirrored part of the five course degustation, I opted for the linguine scampi e porcini: tomato linguini with scampi, porcini, truffle as a seafood bisque.  I was a little dubious about the presentation, with a huge scampi sitting atop my linguini but once I got over the shock of those beady eyes staring at me, it actually looked quite beautiful.  It was not just beautiful to look at, it tasted sensational, with rich and wonderful flavours that centred around plenty of scampi meat and a sweet sauce that was intensely flavoured.  I didn't get much truffle flavour in the dish, but I'm not sure it really needed that earthy truffle flavour any way.  I very rarely consume a whole plate of pasta, but this was one of the rare occasions where I completely devoured every singly morsel (minus the scampi shell).

SC was completely stuffed and opted out of dessert and I was rather full myself, so chose one of the lighter dessert options.  I'd not normally order a chocolate panna cotta, favouring the flavours of vanilla and berries but never the less chose the panna cotta al cioccolato e amaretti: chocolate panna cotta, amarena cherries and amaretti biscuit.  The dessert was presented on a slate and looked quite messy, it didn't have the refined look that you usually see with a dessert.  What it lacked in refinement, it sure made up for with flavour, which was a beautifully mild chocolate flavour enhanced by the cherries and a little crunch from the biscuits.  After trying this dessert, I'm not sure why I've avoided chocolate panna cotta in the past?  It was delicious!

The last time I'd eaten at Dell'ugo over at South Bank, it had been a wonderful meal with beautifully presented food that was delicious to eat.  Our latest visit had not quite been to the same standard but had still been really enjoyable and with a few tweaks, could have been spectacular.

I really do enjoy going to a restaurant with white linen and respectful wait staff who know their business well and leave a lasting impression.  Given it was a busy Saturday night at South Bank, our service was excellent and even though we didn't always understand what our waiters were saying, there was a real authenticity about the service. We were thankful that it didn't rain while we were there, we were so close to the edge of the awning out front that we may have had to move and as it was, one of the heaters was moved and there was a tinge of the cold creeping over us.

Our visit would likely be our last at the South Bank Dell'ugo, with the restaurant to close later this year.  When I think about the injustice of a restaurant being forced out of its home of ten years, I do get quite angry.  It seems that South Bank are wanting to move away from fine dining options and lean more towards a generic but popular type of dining, which is all well and good....  But what about diversity?  I guess I'll have to wait and see what replaces Dell'ugo, it may be something wonderful, but I've seen a move to homogenise dining precincts recently, making them all very similar.  I'd really hate to see a chain restaurant move in.......

White linen and silver service - a step too far for South Bank
It was a busy Saturday night with a busy restaurant and lots of turn over
Will South Bank lose it's character without Dell'ugo - time will tell

Dell 'Ugo South Bank on UrbanspoonDell'Ugo South Bank

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