Wednesday, November 03, 2004

More than a fruit - Arintji

What does it mean to be a Modern Australian? If we classified ourselves like we do restaurants, a Modern Australian could originate anywhere from Spain to Vietnam, passing through France, China, Thailand and anywhere in between. If we were anything like this café/restaurant/bar, we’d be a modern, down-to-earth bunch with good substance who loves to share and be wonderful to look at.

Arintji, meaning ‘orange’ in an indigenous Australian language, is classified in The Age Good Food Guide 2005 as ‘Modern Australian’. Owned by the Reymond family, who also owns and runs the long-standing award winning formal dining restaurant, Jacques Reymond in Toorak, you know you’re in for a treat.

Through the large glass panes of this prominent corner of Federation Square, is a warm, welcoming, split-level room with dark timber flooring and large paper lanterns. On the rare occasion that we are blessed with good weather, outdoor dining is also available under the large umbrellas at the front of the café. Fortunately, it is just as pleasing to watch the view of the Yarra and the Arts Centre from the windows at the back of the room, whatever the weather. Equally entertaining is to peek at the chefs working away through the narrow filmstrip-like rectangular window in the timber wall.

Always the good Australian, sharing is no embarrassing affair – it’s expected, and I would highly encourage it in order to sample the diverse menu.

This ‘Modern Australian’ offers an all-day menu, consisting of a range of small and large dishes, often along with a couple of specials. It is an invitation for a culinary ‘round the world expedition with a unique take on dishes such as 'Peking pork' pancakes, a jazzed-up, modern rendition of the classic burger and fries, wok-tossed chicken with flat rice noodles, all at very reasonable prices.

Despite my hunger, I avoided the unremarkable bread basket of pale-crusted baguette slices, and for good reason too, because the croquettes that came later were much better. Two crumbed potato, cheese, and chorizo parcels came on an oval dish with a thick, garlicky aioli. The sauce is something you wouldn’t want too much of if you were still planning to speak for the rest of the day, but the pungency of this almost yucky gooey sauce is the perfect compliment for the crisply fried crumb and the floury potato mixture within.

The roast vegetable couscous was even better executed. The vegetables were perfectly roasted, locking in the produce’s natural moisture and flavour and finished off with a dollop of fiery harissa. The flavour of the barbequed chicken that followed reminded us of good fast food chicken – I can’t decide whether or not that is a good thing. The meat itself was wonderfully juicy, something that requires much skill and experience, as slight under/overcooking would leave it either too raw or too tough. This balance is hard to achieve, which showed in one slightly undercooked piece. No biggie.

It is lovely to see families being able to dine out together in seemingly ‘adult’ places with quality food, and despite the significant number of children in the restaurant on both my visits, “yuck” was something I never heard. Difficult when you have desserts such as chocolate fondue and hot chocolate presented as a steaming glass of frothy milk with a self-serve pot of molten chocolate on the side.

There were no complaints from this child either when presented with a creamy white panna cotta carefully placed on top of translucent, bright slices of syrupy orange, with sticks of coconut macaroons artfully crossed upon it. The fruity marmalade on the side retained only enough bitterness to capture the character of the orange, and added to the crisp macaroons, created the perfect contrast to the silky panna cotta.

Sometimes it may appear that they are a little understaffed, but when they do come to serve you, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. Also, the timber surroundings can make it a little noisy when busy, but this is a small complaint.

Arintji is a celebration of the unique melting pot of cultures that is contemporary Australian society. With its solid, unpretentious food at café prices, it is definitely the kind of place Melbourne should have more of.

Arintji **CLOSED**
Federation Square
Corner Flinders and Swanston streets
Melbourne 3000
Tel: +613 96639900

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