Thursday, 30 June 2011

Artichoke + Whitebait - Much more than expected!

At Monash Uni, Clayton campus - open to everyone.

(degusted 30/6/2011) EOFY Lunch!
3 1/2 stars.

I’ve walked past this café perhaps a hundred times, had a few sit-down business meetings over coffee here as well. I’ve always known their coffee to be some of the best on the Monash Uni Campus, and I knew Artichoke + Whitebait offered lunches and breakfasts, but until now, had never had the pleasure of giving it a go. After today’s experience, I’ll be going back, and will be encouraging anyone in the area or even those driving past to give it a shot. The young and vibrant staff are the perfect example of friendliness and good customer service, and while it's not exactly fine dining, it's entirely worthy of a good degusting..

Good friends and good food.
A good friend is someone willing to share a few plates of food with you - so I am truly blessed to share an office with a good friend. I ordered all the dishes I wanted to try, and shared them. The dishes are very generous, and while I’m a big eater, I think I would have been satisfied with any of the stand-alone lunch meals.
Bread and Olive oil.

The complementary bread and olive oil, with salt and pepper was standard fare – nothing exceptional, but all of totally acceptable quality. We started with the antipasto plate – prosciutto, artichoke, olives and octopus. Suspiciously though, none of the café’s namesake - whitebait – which would have been a nice touch. The items were good quality, good flavour, and I would have been happy to sit down to just these items alone (hint: roll the artichoke in a slice of prosciutto for a really yummy canapé!).

Antipasto - Olives, prosciutto, artichoke (no whitebait!?) and octopus.

Beetroot, bocconcini and walnut salad
Ordering the beetroot salad was a wildcard in my mind (beetroot, bocconcini and walnut) – I had no idea how this would be interpreted, bit it piqued my interest and I went with it. I should not have worried – the big chunks of sweet beetroot, generous pieces of bocconcini, and crunchy walnuts all combined to make this a hearty and solid meal - ideal as a stand-alone dish. (The photo does not do this salad justice).

A new addition to their menu, the Moroccan lamb on a bed of mash was the second item to be ordered. Wow. Uber-tender lamb, great tasting marinade/sauce, and cooked just right. With it came one of the creamiest of creamy mashes I’ve ever had – smooth as silk. If I had to order one item again it would be this one. A winner, and something for which to come back again*.

Moroccan Lamb and creamy mash. Standout dish.

Spaghetti w/ bacon, chilli and capsicum. Yum.
I ordered the spaghetti with bacon, chilli and capsicum – on the basis of three facts: (1) who doesn’t love bacon? (2) Chilli is awesome and (3) to see how the chef would handle a pasta dish. First impression was that there was a good amount of heat from the chilli – a pleasant surprise for myself and my Vietnamese friend who assumes that western cafés tend to err on the side of mundane to cater for the bland masses.. The saltiness of the bacon was offset by the sweetness of the capsicum – so a great balanced dish. The spaghetti was not over-cooked, perhaps just a fraction past al dente, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare a one-chef café’s spaghetti to that of a multi-hatted chef’s 5-star Melbourne restaurant (I’m comparing in my mind to a recent Grossi Florentino dish). To the ordinary punter (or student), this is a dish really well done – hearty and full of flavour punch thanks to the bacon and chilli. If you order your Nandos with the lemon & herb dressing, then this might be a touch too hot for you.

A look and a small bite of the chicken parma was all I sampled – the parma itself looked to be of good size, it was well cooked and on the small corner that I sampled, was crisp enough to make it worth a try. I guess that because the kitchen is so small there is no deep fryer, so there are no chips, just veggies. If you can overlook the lack of chips, the parma seems to be a reasonable option and good value - although I probably wont be trying it myself.
Chicken Parma with Veggies (no chips).

A few others on the table had some risotto, which looked average, and is not something I'd waste my time with either here or anywhere else - unless there's something really nice or unusual about it, like duck, truffle and chocolate, or something equally quirky to sucker me in.

My overall impression of Artichoke & Whitebait is of a small café that has tailored its menu to its strengths – meaning it can reliably pump out good quality, and value-for money dishes consistently. The chef, Chandra (I believe that’s his name), is doing an amazing job – getting out our group’s 15 covers simultaneously, and handling orders from the other 20 or so in the dining area. He works behind a glass spash-back so you can see him in action, and watch the occasional flambé go up in style! I hope the management realises his value and holds on to him.

If you’re in the area, traveling past or just looking for something to eat around Clayton at lunchtime, I would suggest coming into Monash Uni for a bite to eat here – it is open to the public, and there are usually plenty of paid (meter) parking (see the Campus map I put together here).

NB: Not Licensed.

Espresso was good and solid, nice crema, full bodied. The barista’s seem to know what they are doing.

* My experience of this lamb was exceptionally good. Another friend reported that in one visit she had a much saltier version, but the next time she tried it, it was back to perfection. Perhaps the chef had a bad day?

Rating: NomNomNom!
Meh                  It’ll Do                   Nom(x3)                              Must go back!

 Done and Degusted @ Artichoke + Whitebait:
-Antipasto plate (4 items)
-Moroccan Lamb on creamy mash
-Beetroot, bocconcini and walnut salad
-Spaghetti with bacon, chilli and capsicum
-Chicken Parma
(+complimentary smiles)


artichoke + whitebait  Tel: 03 9905 3174

Grnd Floor, Building 10 - Centre Campus Monash Uni Clayton, VIC 3168

Open time: Monday to Friday 7am-6pm
Artichoke + Whitebait on Urbanspoon

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