Friday, December 30, 2011

Got what you need @ Fitzrovia

Just as Collins Street has its Paris end (being the Spring Street side), so too does Fitzroy Street (being the St Kilda junction side).  It's amazing how different the street is once crossing Grey Street.  On the Paris end, the honour roll starts with Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields, upper market Chinese specialist Mahjong through to The Melbourne Wine Room at The George and Pizza E Birra on the opposite side of the street.  Cross Grey Street and the mood changes quite distinctively - Archie's, Leo's Spaghetti Bar and many others.  

In the month when North Korea farewelled it's dear leader, Kim Jong-il, the North and South of the Korean peninsula resembles the Eastern and Western parts of Fitzroy Street.  And when it comes to a Saturday night on Fitzroy Street, you sure as hell don't want to piss anyone on the other part of the street off, especially on the Eastern side (ask Ron Barassi).  Just like the South never wanted to piss off Kim Jong-il.  

Anyway, there was no such international brinksmanship on the occasions I visited Fitzrovia in the Paris end, adjacent to Golden Fields.  Fitzrovia's niche is that its produce is sourced from free range and organic ingredients with minimal food miles.  This place ticks all the boxes.  Hearty breakfast, leisurely catch-up, salubrious lunch, afternoon snack, early evening aperitifs or wholesome dinner. 

For lunch I had a Coconut poached Bacchus Marsh free range chicken salad with nuoc cham, cashews and snow pea sprouts (pictured above) - this is a dish I've had many times at Vietnamese restaurants but I feel like I never gave the dish much credit until I tried it here.  The chicken was supremely tender and the coconut flavour complimented the nuoc cham - a perfect Summer dish. 

My companion had Otway free range pulled pork shoulder ploughman’s, with Pyengana cheadar, Scotch quail’s egg, sourdough bread and  an apple, sour cherry and fennel chutney (pictured left). This was like a picnic with lots of different components, each excellent, especially the pulled pork.

The second trip was breakfast with a big group - in addition to the exemplary company, the coffee was as good as your top end places and the the food was impeccable (pictures left and below). 

Although we (being my initial companion, the Cook and I) did learn a valuable lesson - never publicly slander a decaf latte because the person next to you could have ordered it! 
Overall, I strongly recommend this place.  Great quality produce, friendly service and, one of my favourites, no 20 minute wait. 
On the left are free range poached eggs with House sugar cured Tasmanian salmon on sourdough with avocado and fetta mash and home made tomato relish.

This is Crème brulee French toast with vanilla poached pear, frangipani crust and rhubarb mascarpone.  
This is Istra Daylesford drycured bacon, smoked mozzarella and pear 
relish toasted doorstop sandwich.  This is like a croque monsieur on steroids. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Dumplings @ Auntie's Dumplings

Boxing Day - notwithstanding the online shopping epidemic, we thought it best to avoid Chadstone on the 26th of December this year.  We had planned a nice venture out to Windsor to see what bargains we could track down and support the Occupy Christmas movement (i.e. the movement asking shoppers to support independent local retailers). Even though the Boxing Day cricket test was warming up, we had been sitting around eating since Xmas morning and thought it best to get out of the house.  But in true Melbourne fashion, the rains came and our plans were dashed.  What to do? Where to go?  Boxing Day - what's open?  Hmm....With a movie booked for that afternoon, we decided that the best way to kill an hour would be dumplings. 
My last blog about dumplings was from Yokohama near Tokyo where I experienced some incredible Xiao Long Bao dumplings. Since then, I have gone through countless plates of the delectable morsels throughout Melbourne.  There was a professional work lunch at Hutong's off-shoot China Red, there was a mid-week catch-up of old friends at Flinders Lane dumpling strong-hold North East China Family and of course a late evening snack at Hutong itself.  Dumplings are now, and have been for a long time, an integral part of the Melbourne culinary experience.  
What about non-Melbourne CBD dumplings?  My experience so far has been limited.  But I was recommended Auntie's in Koornang Road, Carnegie and was told to prepare to queue.  Fortunately this Boxing Day, the rush for dumplings was not as manic as the Myer's rush for discounted underwear.  We walked straight to a table.  

In typical dumpling house tradition, the place was squalid with all the atmosphere of an opium den (if you were in China, and the place was empty, you would walk past) - dirty plates strewn everywhere, waiters run off their feet and service demanded not offerred.  But that's what you expect so you don't complain about it.  The junkies in an opium den don't care about the decor - they are there for the goods, and at Auntie's the dragon being chased is ingested, rather than inhaled (although sometimes you may think otherwise).

We shared steamed beef dumplings, steamed chicken & prawn (perfectly cooked, light pastry, reasonably good quality stuffing) and Shanghai mini fried pork buns (lightly fried, very generously proportioned, and overall excellent).  

Auntie's rates highly on the dumpling scale, probably behind Hutong but definitely well in front of North East China Family, Shanghai Village and China Red.  Do you have any other dumpling suggestions, particularly non-CBD? Happy to hear them!  

Friday, December 16, 2011

11 Awards for 2011

As the end of 2011 approaches and new years' resolutions are being prepared to be broken, we can reflect on what was a superb year, particularly on the dining front.  There have been some incredible highs (as you can see below), some definite lows (read my Paco's Taco's / closure of Movida Terraza blog) and of course, an earth shattering Tokyo earthquake.  One of my good mates always gets really excited to watch any tv montage highlighting the best of the year that was, so I thought  I would give some awards for 2011 reflecting on the year that has passed:

1.  Best Winter Dish - Gnocchi Tricolore with oxtail ragout and parmesan (The Mess Hall)
This is the ideal winter dish - each colour gnocchi is a different flavour (e.g. red - red capsicum) and the rich deep flavoured ox tail ragout melts.  The Mess Hall has earned my respect over 2011, they managed to deal with a big group of hungry family members on what had to be one of their busiest nights of the year, their jenga like polenta chips are outstanding as are most of their other dishes.  Overall, one of my top 2011 picks and the best part is you generally don't have to wait an hour for a table. Honorable mention goes to the recently crowned dish of the year by The Age - Rotisserie Chicken at PM24 and a bowl of steaming salty Ramen from Ippudo in Tokyo (try Ramen Ya in Melbourne). 

2.  Best Summer Dish 2011 - Muoy Grande Paella (Movida Aqui)
There is nothing better than seeing the sun creep out behind the clouds and basking in the sunshine on the outdoor terrace at Movida Aqui with one hand on a Moritz beer and the other hand furiously scraping at the crunchy rice at the bottom of a big paella dish.  This is the perfect way to not be working on a Friday afternoon.  

3.  Best City Lunch Venue - The Old Chamber / Manchester Press
I really can't split these two places for a city lunch.  Both offer incredible coffee at locations that are just so Melbourne - The Old Chamber being an old bank on Collins street, Manchester Press being in an old building down a ubiquitous Melbourne lane.  The Old Chamber serves beautifully freshly made sandwiches, roti wraps and a wide array of incredible salads.  Manchester Press doesn't mess around - your choice of bagel served with generous helpings of either salmon, cream cheese and capers or pastrami or plenty of others. The highlight was the Coronation Chicken special served during the Royal Wedding earlier in the year.  
4.  Best Coffee - Sonido
This Colombian treasure in Gertrude street won me over, not just for its chilled rustic vibe and exceptional Arepas, but the coffee was out of this world (as was the hot chocolate).  I have certainly drunk my fair share of coffee over the course of 2011 and I put this well ahead of the usual suspects in the coffee stakes. See here for more. Honorable mentions go to Manchester Press and The Old Chamber.  And as a prediction, the newly opened Patricia in Little William Street will be the place in 2012.
5.  Best Steak - France Soir
I still haven't had a steak that beats it and until I do France-Soir will retain its mantle. Perfectly cooked, classic atmosphere and served with perfectly crisp Pomme Frites.  If anyone asks you for a steak at Squires, the response should be: "How about France-Soir?" See here for more.

6.  Best breakfast venue - Hardware Societe
I can't go past Hardware Societe in the city.  This place consistently makes excellent coffee and perfect inventive breakfasts. I most recently had Bircher muesli served with pistachio nuts, yoghurt and stewed fruit which was a great way to start the day.  Previously I've seen companions devour baked eggs with chorizo right before my eyes without breathing.  Note, really not a great place for a catch-up because you end up not talking due to the quality of the food! 

7.  Best High End Restaurant - Golden Fields
Andrew McConnell's Golden Fields in Fitzroy Street won my heart this year for doing great simple, natural and fresh food.  Sitting at the bar watching the chefs preparing such incredible food that really looks straight from the ground, field or water makes your mouth water.  An easy winner (although I didn't make it to Attica this year!). Honorable mentions go to Maha and Giusseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

8.  Best Dessert - Cannoli (Farmer's Arms, Daylesford)
Just look at the photo - nothing more to add.  See here for more about the Farmer's Arms. 

9.  Best home-cooked dish - My mum whipped up Moroccan Fish tagine with chermoula, preserved lemon and green olives in May and I'm still thinking about it in December - the tagine was layered with flavours, the sour acidity of the preserved lemon mixed with robust Moroccan spices meant a different and complementary flavour emanated from within each heaped spoonful.  I have to give a very seriously honourable mention to my lovely girlfriend's sister Talya who presented an incredible chocolate pavlova at a recent barbeque held at our place - yes, chocolate pav, it was like chocolate mousse but lighter, textured with the mereingue and just wow.  

10. Best Beer - Moo Brew Pilsner This is the perfect beer - don't need to say any more.  If you find it outside of Tasmania, let me know where I can get it! The Sardinian Birra Ichnusa is one of the great pale lagers and goes perfectly with the pizza served at I Carusi II on a hot night in St Kilda.  
11. Best Wine - Mayer Bloody Hill Pinot Noir - I tried this earlier in the year at Chin Chin and really haven't been able to ween myself off it since.  I drank it again at Gill's Diner and then picked up a couple of bottles recently and am still drinking it.  Reasonably priced, great flavour and most importantly, a name you can remember when you're looking through an extensive wine list! 
So thanks everyone for reading my blog over the course of 2011.  I am looking forward to continuing the journey (as we referred to the recent series of the Bachelorette in our household) through 2012.  Have a great break and see you next year!! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Good for what ails you @ The Aylesbury

We are onto a good thing in this city - it seems like every couple of days you hear about a new place opening, each more exciting than the next.  What is really interesting is that we are seeing the proliferation of "sister" restaurants - where a big name restaurant leverages off the name of their flagship eatery and uses it to open a sibling.  This has been successfully done by top end players Vue De Monde with Bisto Vue (and others) Movida with Movida Aqui, to name but just a couple.

But now we are moving into the next phase of this era, where some of the less famous (but certainly not less deserving of praise), are taking the plunge and opening up sibling ventures.

One of those recent ventures is The Aylesbury in the theatre district of the CBD - younger sister to Gertrude Street's Anada.  Just like any sequel, I would have thought that there would a risk of failure, but parents Jesse and Vanessa Gerner have done a superb job with this place.

The venue is divided into a downstairs dining room / bar and an upstairs bar with a beautiful view of the CBD skyline. The food here is sophisticated, generous and overall exceptional - I like that the menu offers a great selection and that the waiter was more than keen to talk us through the items on offer. The highlight was the steak tartare served with quail egg (pictured above) - the meat was beautifully spiced and salty.

Almost equally as good was the "Hoggart" (which is lamb between 1 and 2 years old) served with a hearty aubergine puree.  On the sides, the highlight (although not for those looking to loose some pre-summer kg's) was roasted potatoes in duck fat, which was balanced nicely by a light salad with radicchio and green beans.

One of the best parts of this The Aylesbury is that despite not having a "no bookings" policy, we walked straight in and were seated straight away.  For those waiting 2.5 hours outside Chin Chin or balancing on the stairs at Mamasita for 45 minutes, it's time to look beyond to other locales.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Swapping a bear for a donkey @ Paco's Tacos (Vale Movida Terraza)

Like a big black grizzly bear, Movida Terraza used to hibernate during the bleak Winter Melbourne months.  It was mainly our collective sadness when Terraza closed that we knew that unlike the bear, we would have to grind through the long dark miserable season without respite, until Spring.  Until Spring.  You can hear people in Melbourne whispering it in the CBD laneways - October, when you buy your races' suit, when you start to lash on suncream on weekends (or regret that you didn't), when the beautiful people seem to come out of the shadows in Melbourne.  You aren't from Melbourne if you don't look forward to this time.  

At the tail-end of winter, I had a ritual - each Monday morning I would trudge up the 30 steps to Movida Terraza, hoping that the Winter hibernation would end for another year.  Because I knew that when the Terraza re-opened, Spring had truly sprung.  But this year, unfortunately, the bear stayed in its cave (yellow cage) and we were presented with a donkey, Paco's Tacos.
When I went up the stairs this morning, I knew there was trouble when the former pastry chef (previously responsible for beautiful Portugese Tarts, Almond Croissants and spongy fresh bread) was extolling the virtues of the new 'Taqeria"('taco shop') as I clocked Movida head chef Frank Camorra in the background.  My former regular barista and the ever-reliable, friendly Terraza team vanished like victims in a Ciudad Juarez drug cartel abduction.  This was bad news, and even with my limited Spanish, I could tell the worst was yet to come.  
With a crew of co-workers, we went back up the stairs come lunch time on a sunny Spring Melbourne day.  What was previously a beautiful open area spotted with tables and umbrellas had been butchered by a UFC style canary yellow steel cage ("to stop the rain" I was told).  Do people really want to sit in a cage?  Melbourne isn't exactly Seattle when it comes to rain so personally I would have taken the risk and left the place as it was.

More importantly, let's talk about the food.  There is a range of tacos (duck, carne asada/beef, camarones/prawn, pork, pescado/fish, etc) which will each set you back $6 a pop. Corn was $6 and nachos $10.  This puts Paco's on the same pay-scale as Mamasitas.  Let me not mince words - Mamasita rips this place to shredded beef.  In fact, for $10 you can go to MadMex and get more food that will taste better.  Served in cheap red plastic baskets (the same as MadMex or worse), the carne asada taco is passable and the pescado is average at best.  The worst are the tacos themselves - they were not soft enough and tore apart when lifted.

 I've been to the Baja California part in the west of Mexico and for $2 or even less you can get 3 fish tacos which are brimming with flavour, and that is made by an old Mexican lady serving it from a trolley - not by 2 chefs with an industrial kitchen!  In the Mission district of San Fransisco all the way down to Ocean Beach in San Diego, you can do so much better for so much less.

In terms of the other offerings, the Chicharones were pretty much inedible laced with chopped chilli and some indecipherable mince looking sauce (I'm no expert but I've tried these in Colombia and this version was insipid), the Nachos were juvenile and heaving under the weight of sour cream and the corn was like Mamasita's variety but not as good.  I'd be willing to risk Taco Bill in a Collins Street basement before going back. Positives? None, except the company.  If you see Matt Lane in the Paris end this week, he will surely be smiling

So Melbourne, if you think that you can be duped into believing that a bear can be swapped for a donkey right before your eyes, then you will be the one happily spending $18 for lunch on a handful of tasteless tacos.  If not, at 1pm on a weekday in the Melbourne CBD when pondering your next lunch venue, you'll be wishing you can get a fresh Bocadillo from the old Movida Terraza served with a mountain of goodies like olives, proscuitto, grilled eggplant, cheese, tomato and spinach with one of Melbourne's best coffees, all for only $12.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


When I lived in Ripponlea I used to frequent a Russian butcher there who clearly preferred dealing with Russian customers than non-Russians.  I'd always ask him whether the beef or the pork pastrami was better and he would respond deadpan in a heavy Ruski accent: "Depends which one you prefer."  Similarly the big-haired make-up heavy ladies working the counter at Carlisle Street institution Golden Rye Bakery don't have much patience when you ask them what the difference is between the Moscow and Vienna Rye.  But it was high time I lifted the Russo-indulgences from Saturday morning dalliances to a fully fledged Saturday night extravaganza.
So with an eclectic composition of people we ventured to "Matrioshkas" restaurant in Carnegie.  We walked in half an hour late to what looked like the sort of place you would beg your parents not to have your bar-mitzvah at.  We were late.  So when we walked in, everyone looked at us and we felt like we had just walked into the Red Square draped in American flags during the Cold War.  We sat down at a long table that was covered in a variety of cold dishes (there were at least 30 plates), which had me thinking that this was very far removed from the Russian bread lines a couple of decades ago.  The selection of food was outstanding and included a variety of Eastern European staples like cold meats, smoked salmon, rye bread, pickles, garlic pickled mushrooms (not for the breath conscious) and deep fried rockling.  The highlights/lowlights for the "cold entree" were Salad Olivie (traditional Russian potato salad), Baked Eggplant with nut sauce and Cholodetz (traditional Russian meat jelly - which basically tasted like a garlicky roast beef that had been left in the fridge overnight so that the gravy had coagulated).  I'll let you decide which was the high/lowlight.
Whilst we were working our way through the cold entree, the hot entree arrived and was stacked jenga-like on top of the cold entrees, there being no room elsewhere.  This included garlic prawns, roasted potatoes with dill and two of the more intriguing dishes of the evening.  Firstly red salmon caviar with blintzes (crepes) - my experience with caviar is limited but the caviar was like laying a Rex Hunt like kiss on Nemo.  Secondly, the Piroshki, which was a doughnut with ground beef, rather than sweet strawberry jam.  I always like a restaurant that has shot glasses on the table and a BYO policy so we worked through the litre bottle of Absolut Vodka we brought with us.
At around this time the band kicked into gear.  The band consisted of one guy who was a DJ (I think) / keyboardist/other and the two girls who didn't go onto become early noughties Russian pop duet T.A.T.U. (nor Eurovision).  The music traipsed through traditional Russian folk through to the Nutbush, the Chicken dance and then more modern pop hits.  The highlight of the evening was that for Adam's 21st two tables over, his friends used the venue microphone to say a very colourful speech.  After that, the main course, being a massive plate of different meats, was brought out and quickly devoured, washed down with more vodka, of course.
The slightly scary part was the end of the night when we were a little short on cash and got called into the manager's office to "talk about it" (very Sopranos!).  Overall this was an excellent night which didn't cost many rubles ($65 a person) - totally worth every cent! Nastrovia!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

4 Candles - 4 Events - 2 Birthdays

Only recently after turning 29 ad sitting on the train home, I read a lovely editorial piece in the scholarly journal known as "MX" about a girl who had turned 29 and was assessing her life in anticipation of turning 30. With this contemplation in mind, I have set out recent events relating to my 29th birthday celebrations:

1. Friday Work Lunch - Gill's Diner

Although this was not specifically part of my birthday, I can take credit for it because I organised it. With all of our superiors on a work junket, the juniors at our office attended a long salubrious lunch at city eatery Gill's Diner. The adjacent Commercial Bakery was a regular lunch haunt for us some time ago until it reduced the number of already limited lunch tables to not many at all, so it was a while since I had been back. We had 12 or so people on a long table in the big cavernous garage-stone-walled space and started with a bottle of Bloody Hill Pinot Noir (now becoming a bit of a favourite). Not long later the set starters of Croquettes and also some beautifully fresh Gravelax (otherwise known as smoked salmon) arrived and were quickly devoured. Mains were a choice between a Beef Cheek, Spaghetti Marinara and a variety of pies (I think this worked really well for a work lunch - set starters, choice of mains). The crowd voted with their feet and resoundingly chose the Beef Cheek - the popular vote was validated with most attendees discarding their knives and using their forks alone to cut through the tender meat. The Marinara was a distant second choice for a minority although was met with rave reviews and I admittedly was jealous looking at my neighbour's seafood laden bowl. Overall, I reckon it was about an 8 out of 10.

2. Saturday Evening Pre-Party Dinner - Pizza E Birra

I have blogged about my favourite pizza before and notwithstanding that I haven't yet been to DOC in Carlton, I still have Pizza E Birra on the top of the mantle for pizza. We started with white anchovies and warm olives for starters with an Ichnusa beer and wines. We then moved onto the main event - pizza. There were 3 - The Napoletana (Tomato Sugo, buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, parmesan and basil), The Porcino (Mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, asparagus, tallegio, parmesan and truffle oil) and The Broccoli (Mozzarella, broccoli, garlic, anchovy, tomato, caramelised onions and goats cheese). The only arguments over dinner were which of the three were superior. The ever reliable Napoletana won out, but only just from the Porcini then shortly followed by The Broccoli. The service was exceptional with the only downside being that I got the dreaded door seat on a blisteringly cold Melbourne night. Overall, I reckon 8.5 out of 10.
3. Saturday Night Party - The George

No photos for this one but we managed to organise to have our party down-stairs at the George on hip-hop night. The music was great, the bar-staff were friendly and the crowd was getting into it. With special guests the Wu Tang Clan rocking up after their earlier gig at Festival Hall, it was truly a special night!
4. Sunday Night Birthday Dinner - Parents' Home

Mum went seriously to work on a middle-eastern feast complete with menu and multiple dishes which would have made Greg Malouf swoon. The dishes included Crunchy Red Swiss Chard Felafel (pictured below), Pomegranate Glazed Kebabs, Pilaf Rice with chick peas, apricots and pistachio to name but a few. The highlight (by unanimous decision I believe) was Basil and Kaidifi Wrapped King Prawns with Pine Tarator (pictured).
I had thought that this was Prawns wrapped in desecrated coconut and other goodies but after googling Kadafi, it turns out that mum may have typod the Menu and that she was using the prawn dish as a political statement against Libyan leader, Muammar Gadafi.
I particularly wanted to note the Pedro Ximinez Sherry (provided by an expert sommelier and friend) that we had with the big chocolate/fig/something else birthday cake (with 4 candles for some reason) - wow.

So that is that: 4 candles, 4 events and 2 birthdays (yes, that includes my twin brother!).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Top 10 City Lunches

Today I had the good fortune of heading to the Paris end of the City (with most of my time spent at the Moscow end where my office is located). I jumped the tram up Collins and got off at Exhibition, again 1 stop too early, and sprinted the extra block up Little Collins and walked into the wrong place (which used to be the forgettable Champagne Lounge which has been replaced by beautiful looking Lupino which looks well worth a try).

Around the corner I saw a couple of stools on one side of the street and knew that was my destination, Liaison. A recently opened cafe owned by ex Cafe Racer owner. The two wheeling theme permeates this modern little cafe which was perfectly apt because I was joined by a devout rider who I last saw at a Tour De France corporate event he had organised (I neglected to confess to him that I cannot myself ride at all).

Whilst enjoying our meals, we spent a great deal of time considering what was going on behind of the elevated prison-like Melbourne Club walls and came to the conclusion that it was filled with FHM models and old money Melbourne establishment Hugh Heffner-esque octogenarians.

This place is great for a casual, reasonably priced city catch-up. Coffee was exceptional.
My current Top 10 lunch venues in the CBD are as follows:

1. Movida Aqui (closed for Winter, but otherwise a clear winner) / Movida Terraza (for something more, a great Paella and various other treats).

2. Manchester Press (a Saturday brunch place packed into a modern CBD lane environment, great bagels and coffee. Highlight was the Coronation Chicken bagel made as a tribute for the Royal wedding).

3. Benitos (Perfect for a corporate lunch that isn't too pricey, quality Italian food, a great Melbourne setting. Ensure you request a booth!)

4. Portello Rosso (Easy place to take a big group of co-workers and a really generous set lunch menu filled with tapas delights and finished off with Churos - admittedly only got back to work well after 3 pm after this one)

5. Kinfolk (Profits go to charity so leaves you feeling like you've done something more than just feeding yourself - rustic fresh quality luches with great coffee and extremely friendly staff)

6. Switchboard Cafe (Tiny hole in the wall which makes exceptional coffee, respects the use of avocado.

7. Trunk Diner (Perfect place for beers on a hot day, but also some of the best lunch-time burgers going around the CBD. Highly recommend this one).

8. Cafe Vue (A perennial city favourite and would easily rival, if not surpass the Trunk burger.)

9. Brim CC (Organic Japanese restaurant which makes a great warming Japanese vegetarian curry)

10. Elevenses (Great sandwiches and excellent coffee).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Am I clubbing or brunching???

Over the course of my life I seem to be moving further out of the CBD, I guess it's a natural progression which will end up one day with a general store in some rural town. But I'm not quite there yet. I started in St Kilda and still recall when brunch was just a meal and not a social event, going to the Galleon with my Mum and brother and eating home-made Spanakopita and their famous rice pudding.

That was before you had to write your name down, spend 20 minutes out the front of the next door laundry and then squeeze in for a table. I was astonished to hear that a very good friend's job was to essentially be a door-bitch at a famous South Melbourne cafe on weekends, and was even more blown away to see they had opened up an "overflow" cafe on the opposite side of the street. I drove past Three Bags Full in Richmond at midday three weeks ago and thought there'd been a natural disaster such was the length of the line of poached egg craving brunchers.

Lines, door-bitches, exclusivity and fashion - it's all sounding a bit like a South Yarra nightclub. The 60's/70's had LSD, the 80's/90's had cocaine, and we now have hollandaise.

Los Chicas on a Sunday morning is a body-bag filled war-zone, slipping into Batch for a quick coffee and a muffin at 12:30pm on a Saturday is a Jihadist's suicide mission with no guarantee of martyrdom and a foccaccia at my old favourite The Wall early Sunday afternoon could make you feel like an Australian soldier endlessly waiting for orders to evacuate Afghanistan.

So what does this mean for us? I say avoid the crowds and discover your local area. I started with nearby McKinnon and came across a couple of real hidden gems. I'll share them with you - but if I have to write my name down to go back to these secret places, I'll kill you all.

1. Relish Food Store (256 McKinnon Road, McKinnon). Reasonable coffee but really simple, quality breakfast. We had the "Eggs McKinnon" which had everything you need - poached eggs, bacon, hollandaise, avocado on rye. See Photo 1.

2. Mr Burch (124 McKinnon Road, McKinnon). Excellent coffee, great little place, menu requires careful selection - we had a hit and a miss. Photo 2 above was a hit, crunchy bacon, beautifully poached eggs served on a brioche with creamy hollandaise.

I've also included photos from Friends of Mine in Richmond, which has massive line-up potential but has lots of tables and we didn't wait. Great coffee, I had a Bubble and Squeak Corn Beef hash with spinach and a poached egg which was a wholesome hearty breakfast dish (see photo 3). My companion had photo 4 which is self-explanatory and gave it a big thumbs up, especially the mushrooms.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How not to get bashed by security at Crown @ Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons

There have been a number of reports lately detailing bashings by security at Crown. So when the men of our family arranged a trip to the Motor Show at Jeff's Shed, and we were contemplating our pre-vehicle-swooning meal, the conveniently located Crown was already at the forefront of our minds. Generally when you suggest a meal at Crown, the usual reaction is: "I hate the Casino" and yes, I agree, the Casino is a blight on this city. But, that said, food-wise it has some incredible restaurants and you can't knock the Packer clan for making the non-gambling part of the Casino a little more palatable.
Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons has a soft spot in my heart because it was the first place I recall being taken to for an upscale professional work-place lunch in my first year of work (twice, actually).

GA&S is great during the day when there are only a few other patrons and you can sit and eat all day, not really knowing how much time has passed because (just like the Casino) it is dark and there aren't any clocks. On those previous occasions I tried the Spaghetti "Arrabbiata" Crab, Tomato and Chilli baked in a paper bag (now regularly replicated throughout Melbourne for good reason) and the other time I had a risotto with marrow and peas (excellent but haven't really gone back to marrow since).

On this occasion, we started with some delicately sliced prosciutto which went perfectly with bread and olive oil. Then we each went separate ways with mains. For my companions it was solid Melbourne Winter fare including tripe stew with peas which was "not exciting but pleasant" and 'My Favourite Naples Style' Bucatini Pasta with Squid, Tomato, Chilli, Red Wine, Pancetta which was "beautiful, rich and hearty".

For me it was ox fillet minute steak cooked rare with watercress, horseradish and shallots. This was special - really you think of minute steak as being small and tough but this was beautifully cooked and great quality meat. The pea shallot and mint salad was a perfect accompaniment.
I should also comment that the service throughout our meal was exceptional, with our waiter being attentive, really friendly and making great menu suggestions without sounding like a cold caller.

So I will leave you with one thought, because besides the food being incredible, certainly the best thing about GA&S is that you don't need to walk into Crown to get in.

Note: for those of you are travelling to Sydney any time soon you should check out the North Bondi Italian ( which is the sister restaurant situated in a great location overlooking Bondi Beach and serving similar style food to GA&S.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ring-a-d-ding @ Chin Chin

I've always had some strange affinity with drinking beer out of a brown paper bag. It takes me back to the days of hanging out in St Kilda's O'Donnell Gardens drinking longnecks of cold Melbourne Bitter on a hot Summer night watching some dreadlocked fire-twirlers.
So when my compadre and I sat at the bar at recently opened Flinders Lane hotspot Chin Chin and spied beers being drunk out of paper bags, I thought back to those glorious days and was filled with the nostalgia and warmth of those hot summer nights, notwithstanding that this particular evening was bitingly cold.
Chin Chin is a big open New York loft style chic space with plenty of seats, a long salubrious bar and a serious buzz. After a swig out of my paper bag ensconced beer, I looked around the glamorous surroundings and loosened my tie after a gruelling day in the office. It was then that I realised I was a long way from O'Donnell Gardens and wistfully reminisced about those simpler times. Nonetheless we necked the rest of our beers and moved onto a more mature and beautiful bottle of Mayer Yarra Valley Bloody Hill Pinot Noir.
Historically I haven't been a fan of "modern hawker Asian" food and generally prefer a trip to Victoria Street over a Coda, Seamstress or the like. But I may just be converted. The lovely and attentive service staff were extremely helpful with food suggestions and there was plenty to choose from on the large paper placemat style menu.

Here is the run-down of our ventures through the menu: 1. Steamed Chicken Dumplings - a perfect start to the meal with a great vinegar/soy/chilli/spring onion filled sauce.
2. Salt and pepper squid with Vietnamese mint and chilli sauce - great follow up to the dumplings, very impressed with the chilli sauce and texture of the squid
3. Spanner Crab, lime & mint salad - my comapdre said it was excellent, a little too spicy for me
4. Duck - wow
5. Massaman Curry - great strong flavour
6. Pickles and mint - the perfect mix with the curry.
7. 3 layered pudding with violet crumble - incredible mix of textures and my personal favourite.

Overall I give this a strongly recommend 8.5/10. I wouldn't be surprised if within the next month (if not already) there will be lines out the door, Mamasita style.