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Ela heads to Orto Kitchen and Garden

Posted by: Ela Carte | 30 October, 2012 - 3:14 PM

Orto Kitchen and Garden – 302 Burwood Road Hawthorn www.orto.com.au   

If the address sounds familiar, that’s because you may have been there before. This large modern building just shy of the Glenferrie & Burwood Road intersection has had a few different culinary identities in the last few years. First there was Canvas, the much lauded Moroccan restaurant, then Chester White - with a decidedly porcine theme. Now, they’ve started again, and with Orto Kitchen and Garden the interior is probably the warmest and cosiest it’s been. That’s no mean feat, because it’s a huge space, and previously part of the problem may have been making it feel simply like a “room” in which to dine rather than a cafeteria or cavernous space. But, the warm colours, wooden box-adorned walls, timber seating and checkered ceiling go a long way to make it feel more snug.

The fare now is Italian, and as Orto literally translates as kitchen garden, the expansive deck is filled with herbs and vegies in planters (and gumboots) amongst the outdoor furniture.

Chef Luigi Buono is Neapolitan through and through, his Melbourne pedigree boasts stints at classics like Caffe e Cuccina, and Enoteca. The menu is pure Italian, and it’s good.

Two thick round slices of grilled cotechino sausage were perfectly fatty and flavoursome, and they were served on tasty braised lentils. A lovely dish to start, perfectly shared between two and excellent value at $11.

The calamari took a while to arrive, and when it did it was quite a small serve at $20, but what was there was delectable. Thick slices dusted in semolina flour, sitting on a fennel and rocket salad with a balsamic aioli. They were cooked to perfection, nice and chunky, and wonderfully tender.

Having tried the arancini with smoked mozzarella and the zucchini flowers previously, I can assure you there are some terrific grazing options in those starters if it’s a crisp glass of wine and a snacky lunch you’re after on the sunny deck.

Mains are divided between the classics – pizza and pasta, and some larger protein based meals. Despite Buono’s Neapolitan heritage, I bypassed the pizza and went straight for the carbs – it was an impressive list of pastas. Offerings include house made gnocchi with smoked mozzarella, and a casarecci with swordfish and eggplant.

For me, though, it had to be the pork neck ragu wtih capunti pasta, and it was good as it sounds. Berkshire pork neck is left overnight in red wine with diced vegetables, garlic and thyme to marinate. Next day, the neck is seared in a hot pan, the sautéed vegies are added back in with wine and stock and it’s cooked at a low temperature for two and a half hours.

The result is a beautiful, rich, balanced sauce with succulent pulled pork, and precisely al dente pasta. It was the sort of Italian meal that makes you wish you’d grown up in a less Anglo household.

Spaghettini with crab meat & zucchini is a quicker affair to produce, but sure to be a crowd pleaser. Zucchini, garlic, chilli and white wine quickly cooked in a hot pan, stirred through with fresh picked crab meat from Shark Bay WA, pasta and a sprinkling of tasty lemon pangrattato. A  simple pasta that somehow still packs an absolute punch when it comes to flavour.

From memory there were a few dishes on the dessert menu, but I had donut blindness, so I couldn’t tell you what they were. There is little as joyful as two petite, nutella filled round Italian donuts on a plate. And at $10 for the pair, you may as well order four!

There’s a real effort to make Orto more of a destination for locals, over summer they’re holding their “Deck Series”, a set of alternating classic Italian films and cooking classes on that great outdoor deck – think Cinema Paradiso, or the secret to making gnocchi.

It’s quality food, and a much more inviting interior, service was a little slow but if they get that right, hopefully Orto Kitchen and Garden will be the one that sticks around.

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