• Mr Collins (Docklands)

I have a friend who will only eat Italian food.

“Of course!”  She says when I comment on it.  “Italian is the best food in the world.”

Last weekend I was at a barbeque with an Italian ex-chef.  He cooked me a delicious frittata.

“Italian food is the greatest,”  he equally confides,  “I mean the French learnt how to cook from the Italians, but then they just over complicated it.”

In Melbourne, with  a still thriving community of first generation Australians with Italian roots, it is interesting to see more and more go back to their heritage with a passion for its food.  Frank Nesci, the man behind Mr Collins, is passionate about the restaurant industry and travels to Italy regularly.  How can one dispute the quality of the food when it is “nonna’s recipe”?  My friend and I had been invited to his new venture, Mr Collins, for a bloggers’ lunch.

Whilst it might appear like a food court at first, Collins Square is opening a number of quality restaurants on the city edge of the Docklands.  Like, Long Shot, Mr Collins is attractively designed – this time with a modern but classy feel.

We began with prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Torralta.  With lots of sparkle, it was like sherbet on the nose but mature cheese on the palate with a middle of red apples.  It went very well with the parmigiano, taleggio and asiago cheese board.  The taleggio was my favourite and I gobbled down several slices.  Beautifully soft, but still strong and fresh, it was served with a drizzling of balsamic and pears with a hint of lemon.  The parmigiano was with honey and walnuts, the asiago was lighter.  The cheese flavour of the prosecco was brought out with the taleggio, whilst it sweetened with the parmigiano.

Mr Collins serves three types of bread, but be careful, as only the plain one is vegetarian.  The bread, like the pastas and pizza dough, is made on site.

The tomato bruschetta was a stand-out.  Or as my friend said:

“It’s beautiful – real, authentic Italian.”

The tomatoes were sweet.  The bread was oily and crisp.  Garlic.  Basil.  Salt.

It was different to other bruschetta for its strength in flavours.

An antipasto plate showed artichokes, olives, roasted capsicum and fetta stuffed peppers.  The artichokes were cold and tasted like they had been cooked in stock.  The olives were fresh and bright green  - but actually held a subtle flavour, freshness and moisture.  The capsicum was intense in its own flavour and colour (highlighting the importance of fine produce) and herbed with rosemary.  The peppers were hot and the fetta subtle with a chunky texture.

White wine was an Alhambra 2011, which was apparently a blend of riesling and chardonnay.  Its appearance was clear with a tinge of pale yellow.  It’s aroma was of fresh riesling and whilst the acid cut through it, the fruit was not strong enough to break down the heat of the stuffed peppers.  It was also soft against the bruschetta, dry, mineral and not really my style of wine.

Pizza caprese was served with strong tomato, soft, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.  The base was thin and slightly charred.  The cheese spotted the pizza, rather than covering it.

This time, I tried the red wine, which was a 2009 Sante Lancerio from Mentepulciano and much more suited to my palate.  It was dusty with tannins, a tart finish but an open wooded flavour in the middle.  It had length like velvet on the tongue.

We tasted pastas: a ravioli and a gnocchi.  The ravioli was filled with spinach, ricotta and herbs.  It was al dente with a soft middle and flavoured with sage butter.  The red wine did not really match this dish, but it suited the tomato based gnocchi.  The gnocchi was tiny with buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese baked and melted into it.  It seemed to be semolina based but still delightfully soft.

“It’s very authentic...I think it’s the slow cooking process or something,” said my friend, whose parent migrated from Italy and by now was speaking in bursts of Italian.

We summarised the meal, before we got to dessert, and agreed the bruschetta had been our favourite.

“It was the best bruschetta I’ve ever had,” she admitted, “because it was simple but had a depth of flavour with the roasted tomatoes.  It was very fresh.”

When the tiramisu arrived it was the new highlight.

“This is something else.  It puts all other tiramisus to shame.  It’s light.  Really incredible.  The detail with the rim of chocolate at the rim of the cup.”

The sponge had not been soaked fully through but it was still strong with coffee and the mascarpone was wonderfully creamy.  The rim was dusted with cocao.  It wasn’t sweet but refreshing in texture and temperature.

“It feels like Christmas, just perfect, not too much and not too little.”

I’ll be interested to see how Collins Square develops with the high bar of its eateries.  In the meantime, I am happy enjoying Italian cuisine from another Australian born Italian.  It’s the closest I will ever get to nonna’s cooking.

Mr Collins
Shop T12 / Collins Square
747 Collins Street
Docklands 3008
03 9629 7055
Mr Collins Cafe on Urbanspoon