Our visit to Russo & Russo has been a long time coming. Our first few attempts were thwarted – every time we tried to go something went wrong. Russo2 (or should that be Russo x 2? – a question for the mathematicians among you) was the place that started everyone saying we should detour down Enmore Road instead of finishing off King Street, because “there are so many cool places opening up there now.” They were right up to a point, but you know, rules are Rules. And also, in between the handful of shiny new things on Enmore Road at that time, there was still an awful lot of dross.
We had tried to get to Russo2 in the middle of the Quest, to celebrate a Strop birthday but decided we needed a larger venue for the celebration. As soon as we got to St Peters, Russo2 leapt to the top of our wish list. We even made a booking, but then I got the flu and we had to cancel. A month or so later we tried again, and this time the arrangements stuck.
So here we are, accompanied by that well-seasoned regular Quester, Mark, and relative newcomer Debra, previously spotted at the Botany View Hotel.
Russo2 is a serious foody type of place. Proper. And for the occasion we are having dinner at a proper dinnertime: 8pm. Which is worryingly close to my bedtime, but then I’ve always been a risk taker.
Before dinner we met up at that well known pre-Enmore-show-drinks venue, the Duke of Something, which happens to be next-doorish to Russo2. Debra was there first (keen) and had bumped into a work colleague and her husband who were pre-show drinking before getting their fill of RockWiz. I had noted the crowd outside the Enmore, on my way from the station. The footpath was full of grey-haired men of a certain vintage who looked as if they had once been well acquainted with stadium-scale rock shows, but were now more interested in superannuation than supergroups. My peeps really. Once we had a quorum, and Deb’s friends had trotted off to test their rock-n-roll knowledge, we adjourned to the restaurant.
The first thing we noticed was the noise. Popular restaurant + lots of hard surfaces x confined space = LOUD. Strop blamed the marble tabletops, but I tend to blame all the people enjoying themselves. Whatever the reason, we needed to have line of sight of each other’s lips before we could have a conversation.
The menus came in a series of glossy (and quite heavy) old 1970s coffee-table books. Luckily we only had to read the first few pages unless we really wanted to know about Old World Visions on a New Continent. The food sounded much more interesting. We ordered a round of cocktails and got on with negotiating the rocky terrain that lay between the menu and our collective food intolerances and prejudices. This took a bit of time but we seemed to have reached a solution in which Mark basically got to choose, as he has an issue with seafood, and the rest of us got to veto. This entente cordial seemed to be working a treat until the waitress arrived and Strop performed a neat little coup d’état, outflanking us all by the simple expedient of ignoring everything that had been agreed to that point. She left the choices up to the chef on the proviso that he respected the boundaries of our various cuisine-based concerns. By this stage the rest of us were all so hungry, that the only response to Strop’s beaming request for approval was a few muttered What-evers.
The cocktails were excellent. I have no idea what they were but they were refreshingly cold and lemony. The first dish to arrive was what looked like a plate of chocolate profiteroles but which turned out to be filled with yummy duck liver pate. Very Hester Blumenthal I thought to myself as I licked every last skerrick off my plate. El Yummo. Next up was a ricotta dish with herbs and something crunchy – there may have been a few beans in there too. Doesn’t sound like much, but you should try it, your mouth will thank you. So far, so good. By this time Strop’s coup d’état had been forgotten as we looked forward to the next dish. That is the great pleasure of this type of dining. Living on the edge, not knowing what you will be asked to eat next. In this case it was asparagus with garlic milk. And grapes. This was not just any asparagus; according to Mark this was the best asparagus I’ve ever eaten. I have to agree with him.
So far the food was excellent: imbued with Italian sensibilities, it was clever and surprising without being pretentious. Above all, it was delicious. Things got a bit more complicated with the next dish. Risotto. Beetroot risotto. Salt-baked beetroot risotto in point of actual fact. And it turns out that Debra has a previously un-mentioned intolerance to salt. Had we been ordering from the menu … well, the salt-baked bit would probably have been noticed and avoided. As it was, Deb couldn’t come at it, and I have to admit that the deep-red risotto was quite salty. Not enough to stop the rest of us from polishing off her portion, but for someone who doesn’t like salt it would be a challenge. I suppose those are the risks of leaving the food choices up to the chef. The staff were very good about it, and provided another round of asparagus for Debra.
The next dish was pork neck with celeriac and radicchio, less stunt-oriented than some of the previous dishes, but wholesome and excellent nonetheless.
This was followed by another surprise. A clever version of cheese on toast: crostini with cheddar and quince. And lastly a dessert that was described as a Sardinian brulée, with freeze dried blood orange. As far as I was concerned it was all YUMMY. I have no higher praise to give. It is the best meal this project has been presented with so far.
When the bill arrived it came in another book, this time a text on Italian Verbs. It is a pity that Debra didn’t enjoy the food as much as the rest of us. Next time we might have to go to the trouble of reading the menu and choosing for ourselves. Probably safer that way.