It was a wet day that brought us to Andre’s Cucina and Polenta Bar. Now Andre Ursini is perhaps best known for his appearance as a contestant on the first series of Masterchef Australia. Whilst that fleeting storm is over, we all now have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labour by means of his (relatively) new restaurant. Tucked away on Frome road off the main drag of Rundle street, lies his little patch of polenta heaven and to enter the place on this unusually wet and blustery October day was a welcome retreat from the cold.
The place has a feel somewhat like a gourmet delicatessen with pans hanging near the kitchen and various food ‘knick-knacks’ on the shelving around the walls of the restaurant. Seating is a combination of the usual chairs and tables and there is also a long bench down the centre of the restaurant, great for parties or communal dining. Overall, the general look of the place is pretty cool and quite inviting.
FRITTELLE DI POLENTA – $12
polenta fritters with chilli pecorino cheese
Our first polenta experience of the day. The polenta was light and fluffy and the fritters fried perfectly in their crumbed encasement which with the spicy dipping sauce made for a lovely beginning to our meal.
OLIVE ALL’ASCOLANA – $10
Olives stuffed with fine chicken, cheese and herb patè }
As the description says, the olives were stuffed with chicken, cheese and a herb pate and then crumbed and fried. Lovely little morsels that had pungency from the olives, substance from the chicken and a balance of salt and sweetness from the cheese and pate to make a sharing plate that was much enjoyed by the both of us. My only criticism would be that they were a little dry however we used some of the dipping sauce from the polenta fritters to solve this issue.
SFOGLIATINE DI BULBO DI GIRASOLE – $9
Delicately fried Jerusalem Artichoke wafers served with our lemon mayonnaise
Of all of our tasting plates to start our meal, this was our favourite. The artichoke ‘chips’ were very thinly sliced and fried to a uniform crispy brown-ness without being burnt. Accompanied by the lemon mayonnaise which added both body and ‘zing’, it was one of the highlights of our visit. Enough said…try this on your visit there.
It was interesting that all of the starters that we tried were fried. The oil bill there must be immense. However, what was good was that although all of these dishes were fried, none were overly oily. The oil used was fresh and clearly hot enough for the job and in all cases the food was sufficiently dried that the food was enhanced by the cooking method rather than brought down by it which is so often the case with fried food.
QUAIL SPECIAL ‘LA QUAGLIA’ – $ 30
Herb marinated quail prunes almonds and ruby chard
This was a very special dish. It not only looks lovely but my dining companion aptly described it as being like really good home cooking in the way that with this dish in particular, it really felt like you were eating a dish being prepared at the house of someone who really cares about you. The prunes and almond were a classic combination which with the herbs and marinade on the quail was right on all counts. Top marks for this dish.
POLENTA CON SALSICCIA ITALIANA E SALSA – $15
creamy polenta dressed with Italian sausage and tomato salsa
Being a polenta bar, it was my choice to go polenta all the way and having had a ‘harder’ version in the fritters wanted to try the soft polenta too. The choice as to house favourites was either this one or the mushroom one. I decided to go with this and it did not disappoint. The polenta was as described, creamy and soft but still with the distinctive slight graininess that comes with such a dish. The sausage was of the cured pork variety, sliced and fried and covered with a tomato salsa, I’m guessing a slight rework of the dipping sauce that accompanied the fritters I tried earlier.
POLENTA ICECREAM – $12
In all honesty, I didn’t know what to think when I saw this on the menu. Isn’t this taking things a bit far with the whole Polenta thing? Nope, clearly it isn’t. I initially asked if I could just have a taste of it as I was curious and I was disappointingly told that I couldn’t have a taste or even a half serve but ultimately I was happy to have been made to order the whole thing because it was really delicious. It has a somewhat grainier texture than your average icecream which was not unpleasant but the flavour was really fantastic and it really did blow me away. The popcorn was an interesting addition. For me, the jury is out on the popcorn but I guess you could argue that it did provide some textural contrast to the dish and just enough of a hint of savoury that seems to set sweet dishes alive. The strawberries provided a little sourness and freshness and the caramel added a bit of extra ‘naughtiness’…
BOMBOLONI – $14
These were exciting. They looked great and are a wonderful idea. My dining companion however thought that they were undercooked. Upon trying them out for myself, I had to agree. I would recommend trying them however as I suspect we were just unlucky. This dish has all the potential to be a real signature piece for this place and I would however retry these in a heartbeat, and likely will on my next visit.
Overall, this is a convincing and inviting place to dine out despite one or two shortcomings in the meal. All the polenta dishes were divine, including the icecream. The Quail was truly something special. In terms of food, the only let down were the donuts. I’m sure that a second visit would show this was a case of bad luck. I thoroughly recommend that you give this place a try. Andre is a young, motivated and passionate chef and it shows in his food which is charming owing to it’s hip presentation of traditional dishes. Weekend group dining here deserves to be a hit with the nightlife of Rundle St just around the corner. I look forward to seeing what Andre has in line for future presentation.
Andre’s Cucina & Polenta Bar
94 Frome St
Adelaide SA 5000
PH: (08) 8224 0004