Cicciolina

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Christmas is soon to be upon us and with Christmas comes sentimental TV shows, countless family gatherings and general warm fuzzy feelings. It is with this in mind that I have chosen Cicciolina in Acland Street for the bumper SKN Christmas issue.

Why is that you say? Those above adjectives that come to mind around the festive season could also easily be attributed to “Cicc”. Located in Acland Street since 1993 it certainly has the family feel about it and the cosy interior dominated with dark woods and leather chairs lend an air of warmth and comfort that many of the currently popular polished concrete and metal do not.

Unfortunately like many family gatherings, there are often not enough chairs to go around – due to the sustained popularity and relative size of Cicciolina, it is very difficult to secure a table if you arrive after seven on most Friday and Saturday nights. They have been pioneering the no bookings policy for many years now and you can see the benefits – a full restaurant most nights of the week, no tables waiting for bookings that never arrive and, when they are booked solid, there are around 50 other restaurants within walking distance. In times of disappointment another option is to retreat to the Cicciolina back bar which serves excellent dirty martinis and the best meatballs south of Naples (make sure you order extra bread to soak up the meatbally goodness!)

When you do get a table though it is definitely worth the effort – the wait team are efficient and attentive and the wine list exhaustive with many affordable or big night out options to choose from. For our part we shared an excellent Italian Pinot Grigio.

After drinks are ordered you are presented with a basket of sliced white loaf. This bought back again those fond family memories of many Italian dinners at restaurants around Melbourne including the much loved Tiamo in Carlton. I am always interested in new gourmet bread options but for a restaurant like Cicciolina this more rustic option suits perfectly and sets the stage for solid Italian cooking.

Crab Souffle. Photo by Jaclyn Chang

First up we share the famous Cicciolina crab soufflé. I have been recommended this dish by so many people that it had cult status in my mind. Unlike many dishes with high expectations this certainly delivered – so much so that one between two was definitely not enough. Word of advice two diners equals two crab soufflés. Period. The soufflé itself is quite dense compared to most soufflés you may have experienced however this seems to suit the dish well with tender crab meat intermingled with the delicate flavour of the soufflé mix combined with a knockout sauce – if it were possible I would order these takeaway upon disembarking the 96 tram and eating them like an apple on the way home… Next up we ordered two pasta dishes. I was a little surprised at the limited amount of pasta dishes on offer at Cicciolina and although both were excellent, I expected more choice and would have preferred this over the larger amount of meat based dish options on both the menu and specials. The better of the two dishes was a mushroom and chestnut risotto. While it should not be difficult it is surprising how many restaurants stuff up risotto. The rice in this dish was cooked to perfection and flavoured exquisitely with a selection of mushrooms, the added texture of the chestnut and the fullness added with fresh parmesan. The other dish was linguine with salmon and capers. In most situations this would have been a great dish, but compared with the soufflé and risotto it didn’t quite reach the same heights.

For dessert I have been told by many that Cicciolina serve up an excellent chocolate tart however in this instance their location is both a blessing and curse to them as I am a sucker for Seven Apples gelato further down Acland street. Of course, many (including me) could argue that the best way to top off a great meal in the festive season is with a good cocktail or cognac which of course the Back Bar can service very easily.

It makes me happy as I hope it does you too, to finish off the year with an old favourite. Be sure to spend the festive season exploring the many bars and restaurants that St Kilda has to offer.

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