Hungry Hinch


Crown Complex
Southbank, Melbourne
03 8648 1999

A few months ago, while watching Neil Perry’s luxurious new eatery rising on the banks of the Yarra as part of Crown’s rebuild, I posted the following suggestion on Twitter:

With Rockpool and Wokpool, wonder if Neil Perry was tempted to call Rosetta, new Italian eatery at Crown, Wogpool?

I put it to the king of the pony-tails but he didn’t take the advice. Wouldn’t have gone amiss in Melbourne after Wogs out of Work and The Wog Boy movie (in which I played a journo called Hinch).

And so Rosetta it is. And what a fine establishment it is rising next to his bar and grill at the Crown Towers’ end of the entertainment complex. It completes a great row of world class eateries. And three of them are Mr. Perry’s. Rockpool, Rosetta and Spice Temple. Add those to Bistro Guillaume and the Atlantic and you’ve got a helluva choice of nosh-houses.

The opening of Rosetta Ristorante was behind schedule but it was worth the wait. On date night, Saturday nights at Rockpool, Mrs. Nosebag and I had watched this mysterious space- age edifice slowly rising. Especially the flyaway roof-within-a-roof covering an outdoor dining space with white wicker chairs reminiscent of Hollywood places like the Four Seasons and the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. (Inside, behind soaring tinted curved dark windows, is a more opulent eatery).

Feeling distinctly disloyal to Rockpool’s staff and my favourite marinated wood-fired split prawns, I actually picked up the mobile phone on a Saturday night and phoned next door to make a booking. What the hell, he owns both of them.

That association is so good they share the goss on regular customers. By the time we walked into Rosetta they knew I always brought along a bottle of non-alcoholic wine, Mrs Nosebag would need the vegetarian-coded menu and that she liked a glass of ice with her white wine. That’s pretty impressive.

Speaking of impressive. Rosetta is. We were booked for inside, but, on a balmy night, chose a more casual, but still intimate, outside table. They’re well-spaced. Private enough for us to sit shoulder to shoulder and discuss my future TV plans without it making the gossip pages.

For parties of six and eight they have comfortable padded benches down one side. Typically, near us, four women occupied the benches – the four male partners sat across the long table.

The marble floors are also heated so ambient warmth is the perfect antidote for unpredictable late night Melbourne chills.

It’s a clever, big, authentic Italian menu with Perry brand touches. All the way from crudi & carpacci through primi, secondi and dolci.

Now, 18 months after my liver transplant, and feeling terrific, I’m allowed again to eat such favourites as raw oysters and raw fish. At Rosetta they offer four raw fish and meat dishes for starters.

I had slivers of raw tuna in oil with Sicilian sea salt, grapefruit chunks and pine nuts. Loved it. Watch the slim breadsticks though. A dentist’s delight – they’ll break your teeth.

Chanel had a beautifully presented seafood salad with scampi, prawns, calamari, mussels and clams in a salty sauce.

It was the night after my final Drive program, on 3AW -- after a decade of hosting that timeslot. I certainly wasn’t celebrating but I obviously felt I deserved a treat. Ordered something as a main I haven’t had in years. Expensively broke my rule of always having two entrees. Maybe I was pining for my regular marinated prawns from next door.

I ordered the market price ‘wood fire roasted lobster with herb butter’. It was $160 and was stunning. Heaps of succulent tail meat. Not much in the legs and claws but didn’t matter. It was perfect lobster.

It brought back two childhood memories from New Zealand when Dad, a bus driver, would bring home hessian sacks of crayfish given to him by the Maori women around the mouth of the Mokau River when he drove between Auckland and hometown New Plymouth. It was hardly a luxury – not like the way it is now like rare whitebait.

Eating the sweet roast lobster at Rosetta, with the melted butter running through the fingers, it struck me that we never, ever, had hot lobster in Kiwiland. Mum boiled them whole with a brick on the big saucepan lid and then refrigerated them.

We always ate crays cold with a condensed milk dressing. It tasted only marginally better than frozen cotton balls. Well, what I imagine frozen cotton balls would taste like. What a waste.

Mrs. Nosebag did get a few bites of my lobster but also had an entrée-sized spaghetti with prawns and pistachio – an under-used and under-rated nut in this country.

She was drinking white wine by the glass and their prices for Italian wines are cheap. Only $10 for a glass of pinot grigio and $11 for a Soave.

We did share a dessert. The menu description got me in: Frozen chocolate, peanut and coconut semi-freddo. Oh, yes.

The verdict: Rosetta is a great addition to Melbourne’s quality restaurant field. Proves yet again that Crown can be a one-stop shop for real foodies.

Hinch’s Hunch: From now, through February, you’ll be hard-pressed getting a seat outside. Book ahead. It’ll be worth the wait.

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