Prego, thank you, xièxiè, danke
When it comes to dining out, I find my tastes diverse but with certain cuisines I find myself getting a little bit more excited. Italian is definitely one of those, and so when a catch up for dinner rolled round for Linda, Jay and myself, the wintery weather seemed an ideal time to indulge in this very cuisine.
I'd never been to Prego before, and neither had Jay, though Linda had assured us both that it was phenomenal and one of her favourites. Since she lives south the river, I had to believe her because it wasn't a close location for her to get to.
We arrive for our Tuesday night booking at 6.30pm and I take note immediately that most tables are filled, and the rest would soon follow. For an early time and a weeknight, this is a great sign I think! The decor is beautiful and simplistic. Very low lighting with windows surrounding the entire dining area nearly. The cold weather outside and the bodies inside leaves those windows steaming up like that scene in Titantic!
Jay's running a little late but we're starving, so we each order a drink and some bread ($4.70) to start off with. Linda chooses a Mojito ($14) which isn't really an Italian cocktail but it's still a favourite of ours - rum, brown sugar and mint. This one's not sweet enough but there's a nice balance of flavours outside of that.
I opt for a nice glass of the Miles From Nowhere Semillion ($10 I believe) which I find refreshing, light and crisp. I offer Linda a sip and she's surprised that she likes it since she's not much of a wine drinker. One to remember!
For the price tag, the bread is actually quite a generous serving size. It's a house baked wholemeal bun sliced into thick rustic looking slabs, with accompanying olive oil and spice mix that reminds me of dukkah. I enjoy a couple slices of it, though I would have loved some butter to slather on it since it was so homely (and we ran out of olive oil).
It did surprise me slightly that it was wholemeal bread, which Linda then advised me the last two times she'd come it had been white. Not that I minded, as I only eat bread when buying food so it was still a treat for me!
When Jay arrives, we get to work quickly to decide upon our mains. Both he and I are (dare I say utterly) dismayed to realise the restaurant's menu differs to that on the website. We'd both cheekily looked ahead and falled in love with a particular brown butter and sage tortellini dish. But it seems that it wasn't quite meant to be so we dove into the alternative options with gusto.
For her main, Linda chooses one of the day's specials - the Twice Cooked Duck with Porcini Mushroom Sauce, Polenta and Beans ($30). It might not look pretty, but it's taste more than made up for it!
Jay's a little uncertain about what to pick after the absence of the tortellini is realised. But after some tooing and froing, we end up convincing him to order the Saffron Risotto with Grilled Scampi, Tiger Prawns and Squid Ink Salsa ($37). As the priciest item on the menu, we're all expecting big things!
It comes out not at all as we expected, but as a pleasant surprise. The use of a rectangular plate allows the risotto to be spread across as a base, with the seafood arranged on top. It looks so artistic and vivid, with the squid ink slicked down one side and on top of a couple elements.
I steal a bite of the risotto and it's deliciously al dente, with just the right amount of bite to the rice. The saffron is present in the colour but not so much in the flavour, though I do really enjoy the creaminess of the rice. For Jay, it's his first time trying scampi and he loves them, popping the meat out of the shell and munching away.
While I'm not quite sure risotto should ever be charged at this high a price, it was good to see that they weren't stingy with the accompanying seafood.
Now I know for those who read my blog semi-regularly, it must get really boring seeing me order gnocchi all the time. But when it comes to this potato based pasta, sometimes I just can't resist! Especially when the weather is chilly and you need something comforting and warm.
Here at Prego, the gnocchi dish was Gnocchi in Pumpkin Cream with Cherry Tomatoes and Proscuitto ($27). Just the description alone was enough to get me excited, let alone when the dish came out!
Forgive the photos by this stage the restaurant was getting very dark and I'm always too shy to use the flash, but I think you'll get the point of how yummy it looked.
These days it seems that pan fried gnocchi is all the rage - and don't get me wrong, I am a sucker for that kind of dish, but there's something quite special about boiled gnocchi too. These ones are light and viscous pillows of ethereal potato, folded gently through a sweet pumpkin cream. There's a good amount of parmesan on top, plus some fresh herbs to bring some colour and extra flavour into it.
I really like the use of the salty proscuitto slices torn and scattered throughout, which offset the richness of the sauce. The cherry tomatoes burst with sweetness and vivacity, renewing my palate every so often. I enjoyed this dish a lot... but I did get extremely full from the large serving! I think I rolled myself to the car.
What good Italian meal doesn't include a Caprese Salad ($10.90) on the side! While I did find the serving size a little on the smaller scale of things, this dish was as it should be. Fresh, firm tomao slices (though uneven in thickness), paired with creamy mozzarella slices (also uneven). There's pepper, olive oil and basil. This is something I make at home often so it is a simple dish, but as a self-confessed cheese addict, it would have to be seriously wrong for me not to enjoy it.
When it came to the conclusion of our meal, we're all too full to consider dessert so we call it a night. And with my entertainment card, we received a nice 25% off the bill which I guess you could say was our sweet ending.
It was a great evening, with home style Italian cooking presented in a modern setting. I can see why it has been getting rave reviews from those I know who have been. To them I say thank you - which seems so fitting since Prego in Italian means 'you're welcome'.