*Thank you to the Food Critics & Bloggers Australia Community and Monte Alto Roasters for inviting us to this tasting. Thank you Cecelia (@_miss.t_), Victor (@eatingwithyoureyes), Judy (@judylyh), Sarah & Kurt (@aroundtheclockfoodie) and Sherina (@lazypandah) for your company.
Crows Nest has thrown down its collective gauntlet in response to Sydney’s demand for quality food at reasonable prices. We’ve been eatventuring in the area quite often in the last few months, having been to Los Vida and Bo Thai. So when we heard about Monte Alto Roasters, we had a certain expectation shaped by our previous experiences in the area.
Monte Alto is the new kid on the block vying for a share of stomach-space in Crows Nest. They aim to offer well-known favourites with a Vietnamese twist to reflect the owner’s background. We enjoyed our dining experience a month after their July opening.
Walking into the restaurant we immediately noticed two things: a nicely designed, spacious interior with small clusters of tables and an eye-catching setup of coffee paraphernalia on the counter that made us do a double-take. The counter also linked up with the bar which had a modest selection of spirits. Naturally, we started off the evening with a cocktail.
Harry Shaking up our evening with his mixology skills
When Sherina (@lazypandah) ordered the Japanese Slip up and received a cool bright green cocktail in a martini glass that almost glowed neon, Jay couldn’t help but do the same. Of course, Harry loved creating new and beautiful cocktails, so by the time Jay ordered her cocktail Harry added his own little twist to it.
The addition of darker citrus liqueur to the bottom of the drink added a nice little Christmas-like split between the bright green and rich burgundy. Taste-wise the melon liqueur worked nicely with the freshness of the lime juice, however the orange liqueur addition dominated the cocktail and skewed the citrus balance.
Although it was a fairly good cocktail, it might’ve been better enjoyed a little chilled as it was closer to room temperature. Overall we probably wouldn’t order this cocktail again. Not because we particularly disliked it, but because we are curious to try the other interesting cocktails on offer at Monte Alto Roasters.
Monte Alto’s take on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail was standard, but not in a bad way. It tasted as you’d expect an Old Fashioned to taste – sugar and cherry sweetness with some citrus notes. Wild Turkey was used as the base, which helped keep the cocktail light and refreshing.
Japanese Slip Up (Back) – Melon Liqueur, Orange Liqueur & Fresh Lime Juice
Old Fashioned (Front) – Wild Turkey Bourbon, Bitters, Sugar & Citrus
Whilst our cocktails tasted pretty decent overall, the time we spent waiting to place an order for them left a slightly bitter taste in our mouths. No doubt Harry probably hasn’t had the opportunity to train his wider team to mix cocktails yet, as he made them all for our whole table of eight personally. However, this did cause a bit of a bottleneck and meant we didn’t receive our cocktails until some members of our table had already finished theirs.
Grape seaweed and smoked salmon
Unlike the cocktails, our first tasting arrived pretty quickly. What a gorgeous, bite-sized dish to start with! We found that the fresh taste and soft texture of the salmon complimented the salty and briny pops of seaweed nicely. Monte Alto imports this variety of seaweed directly from Vietnam, reinforcing the heritage of the owner and emphasising Monte Alto’s Vietnamese twist.
Four cheese zucchini flowers
Taking us from the sea and to the garden, the cheese filled zucchini flowers were beautifully presented. The light batter showed off the flowers, whilst at the same time remained immediately crunchy when we bit into them.
What we enjoyed about this dish the most was that the batter was thin, light and crispy. This element was great as it didn’t dominate each mouthful, providing palate space to the four kinds of cheese in the dish. The cheeses added their salty element nicely and their softness paired well with the crunch of the batter.
One drawback for us was no apparent sharpness that we really enjoy from more pungent cheeses like stilton or aged cheddar, but overall it was a solid starter.
Mango Prawn Salad
Our next dish brought the union of the garden and the sea with a mango prawn salad. Nicely sized prawns were scattered amongst the leafy greens and we found this dish great for sharing, as the prawn-to-salad ratio was pretty generous.
The salad itself was light and fresh and made us feel a little less guilty for inhaling the cheese stuffed zucchini flowers that preceded it. We were a little disappointed that the prawns couldn’t give us the same enjoyment from the salmon starter – they were a little dry from being cooked a bit too long, and our palates couldn’t immediately recognise the mango flavour. However, their salty freshness did prevent the dish from being boring.
After our entrées, we had a brief liquid intermission in the form of a cold drip coffee. The beans in this brew were selected with care by Harry, who clearly knows his coffee.
The cold drip was really refreshing and had some great earthy and subtle cherry characteristics which we enjoyed. Overall a fantastic brew, though we couldn’t marry it with the Vietnamese twist Monte Alto loves to incorporate. An obvious one we could think of would be a side of a creamy, condensed milk jug so we could opt to add the Vietnamese style to the coffee.
Soft-shell crab burger
The next tasting was the Monte Alto burger. True to their style though, the burger came with a twist. Instead of a beef patty, in its place was a crispy tempura soft-shell crab! It was presented open-topped; imitating a small crab perched on a rock.
As we tasted, we noticed the salty freshness from the crab and the batter was just as crunchy as the zucchini flowers we previously enjoyed. The savoury bread helped mitigate the salty crab, though we felt a bit more sauce could have helped minimise some dryness which came from the batter and bun combo.
Salmon fillet with Fried pumpkin strips and purée
Continuing the coastal theme, our next course sailed out to the table – salmon fillet with fried pumpkin strips and pumpkin purée. This combination created a rather orange-looking dish that at first impression didn’t showcase itself too well.
However when we sampled the crunchy pumpkin strips we were hooked and couldn’t get enough. The general agreement of the table was that a large bowl of them to share would have been wonderful. They were fried perfectly, well seasoned and rather addictive.
Unfortunately though, the pumpkin strips were the sole highlight of the dish. We found the salmon fillet a little dry and on the bland side and so didn’t really provide any character to the dish. However, we could appreciate it was a quality fillet of fish.
There wasn’t anything wrong with the pumpkin purée, but it was just so overshadowed by its crispy brethren that we felt it could have just stayed at home. We would love to see a larger portion of pumpkin strips and perhaps a quick sear of the salmon, with a sauce that could be used for both elements interchangeably, in the future.
Happy Tree Pot – Chocolate crumb, Pannacotta & Fresh Fruit
Arguably the most attractive and creative course of the night was our dessert – a pannacotta in the form of a little pot plant!
Initially, we were a little unsure of what exactly was in the box, as when it was presented we only saw the ‘soil’ surface, which was in fact finely ground chocolate crumb. However once the dessert was unearthed, it gave way to a silken smooth pannacotta underneath, with light and refreshing fruit pieces such as banana and strawberry hidden throughout.
Now, we were brought up to not play with our food, but here was a dish that made us feel like we were playing a little game, discovering different tastes and textures and guessing what they were. It was simply a fantastic way to end to our tasting.
We had an enjoyable evening at Monte Alto Roasters, who are holding their own in the competitive Crow’s Nest area with some unique takes on crowd favourites. We really appreciated their commitment to bringing a touch of authentic Vietnam to their food and despite a few aspects to improve, it’s clear Monte Alto Roasters are focused on and passionate about fresh produce.
// Written by Lachlan Munnings (@mister_eats) facebook.com/eatventurestwitter.com/the_eatventures