Chefs are to me what football players are to giggling sixteen year old girls, and food commentators in my world are equivalent to the Eddie McGuires of AFL. When Dani Valent, accomplished food journo for The Age, tweeted me a spag bol recommendation I giggled like one of those school girls. Ciao Cielo in Port Melbourne was her tip. I decided not to read her review until after I had dined and made my own judgment about the place. I was excited to be visiting a restaurant I knew nothing about.
The wait time was extraordinarily quick – the dish came out minutes after ordering. I learned that this is because only fresh pasta is used, cooked in Ciao Cielo’s own kitchen.
I had a lengthy chat with the owner, Kate, about stirring through vs. spooning on top. She raised a good point stating that some patrons don’t like it stirred (like the friend I was dinning with), and that if people want it blended they can do it themselves. My theory is that if it’s stirred through, the pasta-to-sauce ratio is more likely to be balanced and well…I just like it stirred through, OK?
Surprisingly It wasn’t the presentation I noticed first, it was the smell. This Spaghetti Bolognese had a sweet fragrant aroma like no other. There were certainly some non-traditional spices being used here.
First bite I immediately noticed the star anise infusion, which is what I smelled earlier. It worked. It complimented the nine hour slow cooked ragu beautifully. The use of orange in the sauce was also clever – a sweet subtle note that tied it all together. The sauce texture was perfect – no big clumps in this one! When discussing sauce texture with one of the staff, she made the perfect comment “it’s Spaghetti Bolognese afterall, not meatballs.” True that. There was the ideal amount of thick in this sauce with no juices seeping to the bottom of the bowl.
Now to the pasta. It looked right, the flavour good and I wanted so much to love it after such an effort was made. Unfortunately, it passed al dente and the element of bounce, bite and chew which I prefer was slightly lacking. Overall this Spaghetti Bolognese was special. The alternative flavours were enjoyable, surprising and exciting, despite being outside of the realm of my search for the best traditional Bolognese.
Thanks Dani, for the recommendation.