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When the wonderful Fiona Brook from Harvey Publicity contacted me about whether I would like to attend Philippa Sibley's new restaurant launch, il Fornaio, I think you can guess the outcome. If you've read this blog before, you know I'm the biggest dessert fan and that I order my food in reverse at restaurants, starting with desserts and working my way backwards to entrees.
Philippa's CV speaks for itself, having worked at numerous top restaurants and winning The Age Good Food Guide Chef of the Year Award in 2004. Not many chefs can claim that on their CV, let alone a pastry chef. So you know that her desserts must be amazing. I had seen her on Masterchef making her famous Caramel Parfait Glace with Salted Peanut Caramel and Milk Chocolate Mousse, nicknamed the "Snickers". I was told that Philippa would be serving the Snickers at the launch, so my excitement levels were through the roof.
il Fornaio is probably best known as a bakery/cafe, but with this relaunch, they're hoping to be known as a restaurant, a restaurant that does fantastic desserts. I asked Philippa whether she was excited about the launch, and she said that she was nervous all day, but that nervousness had turned to excitement at the launch party. Also, I asked about the theme of the restaurant and she said that she wanted it to be known as a relaxed place where people could share small tapas style food and then finish that off with some tremendous desserts.
Philippa was looking sensational in a frilly black dress, with a touch of fun with the red rose in her hair. She definitely looked very different than her appearance on Masterchef in her chef's white. Of course, being a massive Masterchef fan, I had to ask Philippa about her appearance on the show. She said that she was so nervous on the show, as you could tell from her shaky hands when plating the dessert. She also said that it was extremely tiring, with that shoot taking 20 hours. Can you imagine that? She had to reshoot the "Your time starts now" scene half a dozen times. While we chatted, the wonderful Joyce helped me take some photos.
I was really impressed with how skillful Philippa and her team were. They plated up the canapes and desserts with such accuracy. You can tell how Philippa has managed to make it to the top as her standards are very high. I saw her fixing even the smallest imperfection in the Snickers chocolate piece and also tell a waitress to hold the plates more horizontal. The food rolled out of the fairl large kitchen into the jam packed restaurant that was buzzing with noise. Drinks flowed freely while people mingled and enjoyed themselves.
To the food itself, there were a lot of canapes served throughout the night. There were fresh oysters with a pickled vegetable topping, salmon rolls, terrines, vegetable canapes and a few other that I forgot to photograph (ok so I was too busy eating to remember to photograph the three Prawn and Saffran Arancini that I ate).
The desserts were definitely a highlight for me. Look at the rows and rows of Chocolate Mousse wrapped in Chocolate with Raspberry and Liquorice.
The Rhubarb Ice Cream with Pomegranate, Rose Petal Served in an Almond Tuile was sensational. Philippa's famous Lemon Tart as served at Bistro Guillaume was beautifully tart with a crispy pastry.
But of course, for me anyway, the Snickers was to die for. All the elements just worked so well together. The dacquoise gave a bite to the dessert whilst the parfait was so smooth. That hit of salted caramel amid the chocolate mousse and sheet really made the whole dessert just pop.
The night was a great success I thought, with the guests staying until well into the night. From what I tasted of the food, I think it would be a great place to go for a meal. The desserts are definitely to die for and I must go back just to eat those again. I hope Philippa the best of luck and I'm sure her restaurant will succeed.
Thanks to Fiona Brook from Harvey Publicity and Philippa Sibley from il Fornaio for inviting me to the launch party and being so generous with her time.