On a mild autumn day with a typically shifty Melburnian forecast, we ventured to the pretty seaside town of Sorrento, on Mornington Peninsula’s tip, to see what we could find for this edition’s Culinary Cruising.
A favourite Port Phillip Bay road-trip/boating destination around 90 minutes out of Melbourne by road, Sorrento has hosted generations of families for the summer holidays or on weekend getaways. First settled in 1803 (30 years before Melbourne), the township is peppered with grand limestone buildings dating to the 1870s alongside Hamptons-style homes and beachy weekenders.
There are plenty of places to tie up the boat close to town, as well as a three-lane boat ramp with lots of parking. And everything is walking distance from the beach – including accommodation, food, shops, golf, and even the oceanfront surf beach.
So, fuelled by the town’s best vanilla slice from Just Fine Food, and buttery croissants with awesome coffee at Baked in Sorrento (both on Sorrento Village’s left as you stroll uphill into town), we went for a wander to forage for something more substantial.
And we didn’t have to go far – with the aroma of Italian food wafting across the street from Sorrento Trattoria, we were soon dunking crusty bread into flavoursome pan juices and plates laden with pasta, meat and seasonal veggies.
Our dinner date was at The Baths (which is literally on the beach) to savour the gorgeous view along with some delicious seafood, served in a crisp ambience that’s a favourite among bridal parties and well-heeled locals.
And on the road home after a comfortable night at the elegant Koonya Apartments, we stopped at Blairgowrie Café to test whether the burgers are really as good as they’re rumoured to be.
You’ll find the recipes for what we tasted on the following pages.
We stayed at …
While Koonya Apartments’ guests often include bridal parties and groups in town for the golf, we found the secluded layout and beachside location an ideal place to retreat to after a day exploring the beaches and enjoying way too much good food in Sorrento.
A boutique selection of the 35 privately owned luxury apartments (all fully equipped) are available to rent at surprisingly good rates – in the cooler months, two-bedroom apartments start at $195 and three bedroom at $250.
Our two-bedroom, two-storey abode included a large private courtyard with barbecue, a fully equipped kitchen and a toasty fireplace. Among the other stylishly furnished apartments is a lovely three-bedroom option on the original limestone building’s first floor which boasts beach views, a wrap-around balcony and two sitting rooms.
Featuring limestone accents in a nod to the site’s heritage, the apartments are gathered around a spacious, landscaped courtyard and include a large underground car park with secure entry, and an indoor heated swimming pool with spa.
Guests can stock their fridge with goodies and ready-made meals from nearby Stringers Stores Sorrento (licenced), or follow in our footsteps and stroll to the many top-notch restaurants close by.
3356-3374 Point Nepean Road, Sorrento
Mary-Anne Brasacchio: 0412 025 108
Where to eat …
For an authentic, southern Italian food experience, head to Carmela D’Amore’s Sorrento Trattoria in the heart of Sorrento Village.
Bring the whole family and a bunch of friends to share a feast, or book a romantic courtyard table for two, and enjoy the best of cucina povere – ‘poor kitchen’, Italy’s simple and tasty food made with seasonal produce and whatever you have in the pantry (which, at the Trattoria, is well-stocked with locally grown produce and delicacies from Sicily).
Carmela loves to bring people together at the table to share food, laughter and stories, adding her Sicilian heritage and culinary traditions, handed down from nonna to mamma, to everything she does. And if eating her food isn’t enough, you can learn to cook it too, with cooking classes in the restaurant and food tours to Italy.
We devoured the veal Siciliana (pan-fried veal with a lip-smacking sauce that we unabashedly dipped house-made bread into), and the Trattoria’s signature gnocchi dish – pillowy bites of Italian goodness coated in rich, wholesome sugo. This dish is a family collaboration – Carmela’s son, Joe, makes the gnocchi to his own recipe, daughter Josie put the sauce ingredients together and Carmela “added some flavour.”
20 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento
(03) 5984 5655
Sorrento Trattoria’s gnocchi
2 strips long streaky bacon, thinly sliced
10 slices salami
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
100g jalapeño peppers, sliced
100g capers from Salina (see note), rinsed in water and drained
½ to 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
3 tblsps olive oil
4 cups cooked Napoli sauce (or Napoletana – Italian tomato-based sauce)
1 cup cream
Dash of chilli and freshly crushed garlic
Around 250g fresh (preferably homemade) gnocchi
¼ cup fresh basil, torn
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (also called Parmigiano-Reggiano outside of Italy)
Warm the olive oil in a non-stick frypan on high heat. Add bacon, salami, olives, jalapeños, capers and mushrooms. Cook through, tossing or turning with a wooden spoon/tongs while frying.
When golden brown, add the Napoli sauce and cream, and then the chilli and garlic and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring or tossing occasionally. Add the gnocchi, basil and some freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (which will thicken the sauce and add flavour). The dish is ready when it has reached a thick consistency.
Serve with fresh pasta dura bread – e mangia!
Carmela uses capers from the Sicilian island of Salina, Italy, which are hand-harvested and carefully preserved in salt. Pickled capers have a vinegar taste that would spoil this dish.
Carmela D’Amore’s veal Siciliana
4 veal pieces, about 80g each, tenderised
1 large eggplant, diced about 1in thick Oil, to deep-fry the eggplant
4 tblsps extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup capers from Salina (see note), rinsed in water and drained
½ clove garlic, crushed
¼ tsp fresh crushed chilli in oil
Sea salt and pepper
3 cups cooked Napoli sauce (or Napoletana – Italian tomato-based sauce)
¼ cup fresh basil, torn
Salt the diced eggplant and rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain off the resulting fluid and pat eggplant dry with paper towel.
Deep fry or pan fry in sufficient hot oil the eggplant. This can be done in advance in bulk for when you need a quick, nutritious meal (refrigerate in an airtight container).
Using a non-stick, ceramic frypan over high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and briefly fry the olives, capers, eggplant, garlic and chilli. Set aside to let the ingredients release their aromas.
In another frypan, heat up the remaining olive oil to a high temperature. Add the veal and seal it, turning for about a minute. The veal should still be rare at this stage as it’ll cook through in the final step – veal cooks quickly and will be tough if overdone. Remove from the heat, but leave it in the frypan to rest and keep warm.
Place the veal in the frying pan with the other ingredients and warm through on medium heat. Add the Napoli sauce. Keep turning the veal and allow it to cook for about another 4 minutes. Season, and toss the fresh basil in the pan just before serving.
Serve with fresh pasta dura bread and a salad or fresh cooked greens.
Located on the site of the historic Sorrento Sea Baths (built in 1875), The Baths boasts an unbeatable location on the beach with a ridiculously photogenic pier and sweeping bay views.
Recently reopened after fire destroyed the original building, the modern white weatherboard has bright and airy dining spaces, including under straw umbrellas on the deck, and a sandy beach where kids can play and pelicans drop in for a feed. The restaurant can get quite busy in peak season and is often booked for weddings, so call ahead to avoid disappointment.
But guests don’t just come for the ambience – the food is also superb and features lots of seafood and modern Australian dishes.
Start with fresh oysters (natural or done several ways), Hervey Bay scallops, soft-shelled crab, or beetroot-cured salmon.
For mains, try the Gippsland rib eye with truffle mash, jus and heirloom tomatoes, the classic crowd-pleasing fish and chips, or some seafood linguine tossed in a garlicky white-wine sauce – best enjoyed with a 2016 Beelgara ‘The Vines’ chardonnay/semillon (SA) while watching the sun sink and the stars come out.
3278 Point Nepean Road, Sorrento
(03) 5984 1500
400g whole-wheat linguine
4 tblsps olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup shallots, brunoise
160g squid tubes, scored and cut into 16 pieces
8 cubes diced salmon
8 whole prawns
20 clams, scrubbed and cleaned
2 small mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
32 cherry tomatoes
4 tblsps fresh chilli, chopped
½ cup white wine
1 tblsp flaky salt
½ tsp freshly cracked pepper
4 tblsps parmesan cheese
4 tblsps parsley, chopped
20g chives, chopped
Dill sprigs, to garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add pasta and cook until tender (2 to 4 minutes). Drain and rinse, dress with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots, stir until they begin to soften (around 3 minutes). Increase the heat and add all seafood to the pan.
Add tomatoes, chilli, wine, salt and pepper. Simmer for a minute.
Add the cooked pasta, cover and cook for a further 3 minutes.
To plate – twirl portions of pasta onto a barbecue fork and divide among four bowls. Spoon the sauce and seafood over the pasta and sprinkle with chopped herbs and parmesan.
Fried fish and chips
With house-made tartare sauce
150g shoestring fries
4 large flathead fillets
¼ cup plain flour, for dredging
Canola oil, for deep-frying
4 lemon wedges
1 cup plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground pepper
1½ cups soda water
To make the batter: in a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour (1 cup), baking powder, salt and pepper. Whisk in the soda water.
Heat oil in a deep-fryer or a sufficiently deep pan.
Dredge the fillets in flour, shake off excess, then dredge in batter one piece at a time and place in the hot oil. Deep-fry until golden brown.
Deep-fry the shoestring fries in the hot oil for 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.
Serve on a board with a lemon wedge, a spoonful of tartare (recipe follows) and crisp golden fries.
4 large gherkins, finely chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
50g capers, finely chopped
20g olive oil
Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. While not strictly in Sorrento (it’s in neighbouring Blairgowrie), Blairgowrie Café is where the locals go for really good burgers and pies, or a coffee pit stop when cycling along the bay.
You’ll find plenty of outdoor seating (dogs welcome) with overhead heaters and blankets when it gets cool. Inside, there’s a large bookcase at the end of the room, interesting memorabilia, and classic films on a flatscreen telly – everything, including the staff, is inviting and friendly.
Brekky includes fresh sourdough or croissants and house-made jam or ginger marmalade, toasted muesli, and a variety of full breakfasts. Add a smoothie, cold-pressed juice, thick milkshake or some great coffee and you’re ready for the day.
The display is full of house-made sausage rolls, pies, cakes and other traditional café fare … but we came for the burgers. While the Ferger Burger is café owner Daryl Ferguson’s favourite, we tried the Dagwood Bumstead burger. It’s everything you want in a bun (including double cheese, double bacon and an egg).
We also ordered the apple, pear and walnut cake with butterscotch sauce … because who can resist cake made the way it was 20 years ago.
2837 Point Nepean Road, Blairgowrie
(03) 5988 8188
Apple, pear and walnut cakes
3 cups plain flour, sifted
2 ¼ tblsps baking powder
3 tsps mixed spice
150g walnuts, chopped roughly
3 cups caster sugar
1½ cups vegetable oil
3 tsps vanilla essence
3 apples, cored, chopped finely
3 pears, cored, chopped finely
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with patty cases. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Toss the raisins and walnuts through to coat with flour.
In a larger bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. With a large spoon, gently stir in the apples and pears until just combined.
Scoop batter into the patty cases. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden and an inserted wooden skewer comes out clean.
When warm to the touch, drizzle a little butterscotch sauce (recipe follows) over the tops and serve with double cream.
80g unsalted butter, chopped
265g brown sugar
2 tblsps golden syrup
250ml cream (pure or double)
In a heavy-based deep saucepan, add all ingredients and stir over medium heat for a few minutes until well combined. Bring to a boil and simmer for around 8 minutes (stir regularly), or until the sauce begins to thicken a little. Cool to room temperature (or for at least 30 minutes) before serving.
Blairgowrie Café’s Dagwood Bumstead burger
For one patty/burger
170g lean beef mince
1 tblsp onion, finely diced
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
Combine ingredients well and form a patty to suit the size of the bun. Fry on both sides in vegetable oil or on a barbecue until nicely browned and done.
In your bun of choice, make a burger with (from bottom to top):
Tomato, thinly sliced
Red onion, a few thinly sliced rings
Pickles, thinly sliced
The beef patty
Two slices cheese (cheddar)
Two rashers bacon, fried/grilled until crispy
1 egg, fried sunny-side up
Some beetroot relish
A scoop of mayonnaise
Blairgowrie Café uses its house-made secret-recipe mayo and beetroot relish, but go ahead and use your favourite store-bought varieties.