Cheap mid-week eats at Mezzo

DISCLAIMER:  Kitchenwench and R dined at Mezzo with compliments of Restaurants.com.au, but all images, words and opinions are my own.

I’m very proudly Korean – and these days, most people even know a little about where that is on a map (compared to 10 years ago when the most common response I got was “umm…so like North Korea?” *facepalm*).

Of course, I thank the surge of interest in Korean food that has taken over the world in the last 24 months…as well as a certain pop singer by the name of Psy (but I swear that the next motherf*cker who sings Gangnam Style is getting a punch in the kisser).

Why is this relevant? Well, because I have absolutely no problem playing on some of the many Asian stereotypes that are out there.

For example, I drive like I’m in the Fast and the Furious, but can’t park to save my sorry ass (an endless source of amusement to R).

I completely lose my shit like an Asian schoolgirl when I see cute furry things. Such as puppies. Kittens. Ducklings. Penguins. If it’s fluffy, it’s almost guaranteed to make me lose braincells at an exponential rate.

And bargains. Oh man, I LOVE me a good bargain. After spending many a year shopping in the markets of Korea and never paying the ticket price, I absolutely believe that my mother has passed on some crazy bargain-loving gene to me that means I will pounce on a good deal. Which explains why I have three of the EXACT same skirt in my wardrobe (hey, they were 80% off RRP – so sue me!)

So when Restaurant.com.au hit me up and told me about their service, my reaction was “Oh hell yes baby!”

Melbourne is practically bursting at the seams with fantastic eateries, and while any place that is en vogue will often be full to the brim throughout the week, there are many others who find themselves with quite a few empty tables midweek when we’re all being sensible and going straight home from work for dinner.

So what Restaurant.com.au are doing is providing a little extra incentive to eat out – participating restaurants list their quiet days and times, and you can make a booking online for $8, which guarantees you 30% off the total bill when you get there.

So in order to give this service a try, R and I hopped up to Mezzo Bar & Grill on Lt Bourke Street for a quiet Thursday night dinner – a very rare treat for us. Since we’d juggled our schedules in order to have a mid-week date night, we both had our fingers crossed that the meal would be a memorable one.

Once we found the restaurant, we wandered inside to a clean, spacious room where everything was polished and sparkling, in anticipation of the diners to come. A chat with the owner, Silvio, revealed that since they are up near the theatre end of town, their crowds depend very much on the shows that are on. When the show at the theatre is crap with low attendance, unfortunately this means there are less hungry theatre patrons to feed. Thankfully, the current production is South Pacific, which appeared to bring quite a few folks along even on a Thursday!

As we relaxed in the corner booth (nice and intimate if you’re a couple!) and nursed a few ciders while perusing the menu, we also had a chance to chat with the super-friendly staff, which made me very happy. Every single staff member that we interacted with had a smile and a laugh for us, which created such a lovely atmosphere that I almost felt that I was in someone’s personal dining room. Almost. Not quite enough for me to kick off my shoes…but not far off!

And despite the fact that it takes me half a lifetime to decide what I want to eat when presented with a menu, there was absolutely no impatience displayed, just a “hey – no worries! Take your time!” which helps to alleviate any pressure that I start to feel when I just can’t make up my mind. However, after half an hour and the better part of a bottle of Rekorderlig pear cider later, I settled on a few choices which were jotted down with a smile and whisked away to the kitchen.

First up? As an entree, we had the wonderful braised “sher” wagyu meatballs, with a rich tomato sauce sitting seductively on a bed of fregola, tomato and herb salad. Silvio explained that fregola is couscous-like Sardinian pasta, though I found the texture to be quite superior to any couscous that I’ve tried in the past!

This dish, ladies and germs, is a must have. Despite the warm weather, we found that the meatballs married with the cold pasta salad beautifully, and both R and I made very short work of decimating the dish – though I may have been a bit more greedy in scooping the fregola salad onto my plate…

The meatballs were seasoned simply to let the flavour of the meat come through and were perfectly cooked so they were still soft and juicy, but it was in combination with the fregola that made the dish shine. It is a world away from your typical “meatballs and spaghetti” dish, and to be honest, I don’t think I’d want meatballs any other way after this!

As my main, I chose the twice-cooked western plains pork belly, served on an apple and honey vinegar marmalade alongside a salad of faro, fennel, walnut and radish salad.

Oooh, pork belly. Even though the surge in demand for pork belly has doubled market prices, the one thing I adore is that it’s a cut that I can find so easily now – great for me since I love it! And the chef here did an incredible job with it – the meat is compressed then cooked so it is achingly soft, yet with a crisp and crunchy layer of crackled skin that had me in rolling back into my chair in fits of pure pleasure!

R decided to go with the bird, and was presented with this plated beauty - rolled chicken involtini filled with ricotta and a semi dried tomato and capsicum mousse, served on braised savoy cabbage with agro dolce sauce.

Despite proclaiming to be a man of little appetite who’d more than hoovered his two meatballs and fregola, from the way that he attacked this dish, I’d say it was a winner! Well that, and the way that he was whimpering and going “oh my god! Oh my god!” as he savoured every bite.

Of course, by this stage of the meal, we hit that point.

You know what I mean.

The point when you know just how little stomach space you have left, and need to make a decision as to whether you finish your main and forego dessert, or you stop eating the delicious foods in front of you to have a bite or two of something sweet.

While it was a bit of a struggle, we managed to put down our cutlery and reserve the rapidly-shrinking amount of empty stomach that we had for dessert…

R has a TERRIFYING sweet tooth – I mean, I’ve seen him put away almost an entire dessert platter at a restaurant (5 “mini” serves of every dessert on the menu) and he loves dishes that are rich and creamy. So it made sense that he ordered the house-made tiramisu, served alongside a white chocolate gelato and kahlua jelly.

While I ordinarily do not like this dessert, I decided to steal a bite just to see what it was like.

Then I took another.

And another.

And just one more.

Rich, but not overwhelming. Sweet, but not cloying. Moist, but not soggy. Definite coffee flavour, without feeling like my tastebuds were being brutally assaulted by coffee dregs. In all honesty, I didn’t know that a tiramisu could taste like this. Being an ice-cream fan, I’d ordered the gelato and while I didn’t regret it – I just wished I had my own slice of tiramus to shove my face into.

Speaking of ice cream – here is the delightful quartet of iced delight that arrived for me – and I must give a special shout-out to the chocolate gelato. Silvio had mentioned that he had a brand-new industrial ice cream maker so they could make all their own ice creams and sorbets, and my god I’m glad they did because you just cannot get these sorts of flavours from a packet! The vanilla was fragrant and speckled with vanilla seeds, the lemon was tart and fresh, and the chocolate. OH, the chocolate! I can’t remember the last time I ate chocolate ice cream since I usually find it FAR too sweet and rich for my liking, but this stuff was like crack – I just couldn’t stop myself from going back for more. Rich and chocolately, but melted away cleanly on the palate without any of that residual sweetness or creaminess that you get from your standard chocolate gelato – it was almost enough to make me renounce my status as a sometimes-chocolate lover!

And as for the bill?

$115 for the two of us to stuff ourselves silly till we were bursting at the seams, yet with the Restaurant.com.au discount, it brought it down to just $80 – which means we got our entree for free and a dessert at half price. And hey, how can that be anything but a good thing, right? :)

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