It was a at-least-one-bottle-of-wine kind of Friday, and the best part, it was so for my friends too. We plonked ourselves into a booth at Merchant, demanded a bottle of Pinot Noir and started a long overdue bitch about work and boys. The waiter, realising quickly that we were a bunch of suits celebrating our end-of-week liberation from our desk chains, ensured we received prompt service.
I can’t remember when Merchant became one of my favourite restaurants. It could have been when I discovered their delicious cookies (my favourite is their pistachio yo-yo cookie with chocolate sandwiched in between) and their perfectly al dente risottos that flirt with being a touch undercooked, or when I realised it never turns the hungry away (it it is one of the rare restaurants in the city that serves amazing food which doesn’t require advanced booking or waiting) or it could be because I’ve spent many a hang-out (be it coffee, lunch or dinner) there with my dear office pod peeps (we call ourselves AKBA). Actually who am I kidding, of course it is the last that tugs my sentimental heart and stomach back to that warm, bare bricked restaurant. The spatchcock, scotch fillet and fried potatoes are all time favourites of AKBA. Indeed, Merchant has taught me many things including the knock-your-socks-off strength of Italian coffee, the depth of friendship, love and some would say most importantly, that salumi is not a cross between haloumi cheese and salami.
For this particular Friday night, we ordered a dozen fresh oysters, a board of 4 types of salumi and the stewed octopus (also an AKBA favourite, this is a bowl of tender, melt in your mouth stewed octopus italian mama style – fresh af and with fresh tomatoes and capers).
We soon got to that time of the night (which most of us know all too well) when a decision had to be made about whether we wanted to venture and try to find greener pastures, or remain lounging and be rewarded with the within-reach second bottle of red (instant gratification is hard to resist).
We were brave that night, and armed with a designated driver, we headed on a night time adventure to… the Claypot Evening Star at the South Melbourne Market (mind you I only found out the establishment’s name weeks later when…I was more ….clear minded).
Don’t judge the Claypot Evening Star by its name. It is a casual, European gypsy back alley haven, with metal fold out chairs and wooden communal tables, live string music, and…seafood to die for. We couldn’t resist ordering another dozen oysters, which were fresh and plump and creamy and chilled to perfection. The chilli mussels served with char-grilled bread was steamed and swimming in a chilli sauce which I can only describe as spicy, tangy and silky and the best union between a crab bisque and spicy prawn oil. We also ordered the grilled octopus skewers, which was a little too chewy for my liking.
And the main event, a mixing bowl size of the Evening Star Classic Marinara Bianca. This is hands down the best Marinara Bianca I’ve ever had, including all the Marinaras I’ve tried in Italy. The pasta is somewhere between spagetti and angel hair pasta – the perfect thickness. The pasta under normal conditions I would have described as over cooked, but the mouth feel and ease of give with each bite complimented the delicate, pure seafood essence of the marinara bianca sauce (which I imagine would simply be a good white wine, garlic, parsley and the freshest of seafood). As full as I was, it was sliding down my trap with no resistance or guilt – the kind of clean eating that is just utter bliss.
It was truly a night filled laughter and wine and friendship and amazing seafood – till next time!