Saturday, January 29, 2011

Let’s Play Catch-Up Chicken @ Kinfolk

Kinfolk (673 Bourke Street, Melbourne)

With our increasingly busy professional lives, most people divide their social interaction time between two groups – the inner circle (weekends, some weeknights) and the outer circle (mid-week 50 minute lunches called “catch-ups”).  The mid-week lunch is a perfect way to retain a friendship by exerting the most minimal amount of effort. 

The build up to the Catch-up is generally like a game of chicken.  It’s like 2 cars driving towards each other, with the first to steer away, losing the game.  Often Catch-Up Chicken begins with a random meeting on the street with the words “we should catch-up for lunch one day soon” signalling the start of the game.  Then follows an extended email exchange whilst a date and time is set, outlook calendar invitations sent out and accepted to “lock it in”.  

Next is the most interesting part of the game.  More often than not, one person bails on the Catch-Up – just like the car steering away just before contact in the game of chicken. The date is usually then rain-checked and then starts Round 2 of the game.  

Thursday was the culmination of an epic game of Catch-Up Chicken with my friend Maggie. This 20+ round belter had been going on for over 1.5 years or so.  It had involved venue relocations, third party contestants, email address changes, proxy catch-ups, optimistic Friday night cocktail bar crawls and more rain-checks than I care to remember.  

But finally, on the prized 2nd last day in the CBD before I left for Japan, our game ended.  Maggie and I caught-up over one of the better city lunches I’ve had for a long time at Kinfolk, which is a Bourke Street café that is run as a not-for-profit and raises money for some great causes.  The food is rustic and fresh – we shared a Vietnamese Poached Chicken Coleslaw (great Viet flavours, fresh cabbage, tender chicken) and Dark Rye with fresh sliced tomatoes, basil and olive-tapenade (simple but perfect).  I’ve also done the brekky here and strongly recommend it, especially the coffee which rivals anywhere in the city. 

So for all those who regularly partake in Catch-Up Chicken, here are 4 Key Rules of Engagement:

1. Never schedule a catch-up on a Monday – you are much more likely to cancel on a Monday than other days.
2. Do not tolerate multiple cancellations – your time is valuable too.
3. Control venue selection – you don’t want to end up eating a kebab.  
4. Prepare a good excuse in case you want to bail early. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kiddush @ Caulfield Synagogue

Caulfield Synagogue 572 Inkerman Road Caulfield (FREE)

The bible tells us that God made the Jews walk through the desert in circles for 40 odd years until they had atoned for their sins and could be let into the holy land.  Similarly, on Saturday mornings, God makes the Jews wait for about 3.5 hours until they can get into the Kiddush.  For those uninitiated, the Kiddush is a meal at the end of the Sabbath Saturday morning prayers, usually arranged by either a bar-mitzvah boy's or a groom's family.  

This particular Saturday followed a long night at my own going away party at the Espy, so I woke up particularly dusty, praying that I had slept in my suit so as to avoid getting dressed.  Unfortunately Saturday morning followed casual Friday at work so I had no such luck and proceded to find something respectable to wear to the synagogue.  

The great part of the synagogue is that you can sit with your mates and stare up at the bride and all her friends who sit above you, like deities.  The rest is relatively over-rated.  As soon as we hear the Rabbi winding up proceedings it's like there's been a fire and in George Kostanza-esque tradition, everyone is pushing over the women and children to get to the exit first.  

The Kiddush is in a big room and the table is heaving with the usual goodies.  Fish is generally the preferred option (so as not to breach the dietary laws of mixing meat and milk) and for those who are not fish eaters, I recommend staying away.  I was delegated responsibility for the groom's best mate (who is not jewish) and made a critical error of walking behind him near the food.  Having been to many of these, I appreciate there is no room for pleasantries and the elbows come out and you can physically move people out of your way to get to the table.   

This Kiddush food is one of the greats (oily sweet fried gefilte fish balls, herring, salmon, fried fish, horseradish and more).  I had devoured 3 small plastic plates-full before remembering my dignity and saying hi to the bride to be.  I looked at the traditional Johnny Walker shots and unusually declined in favour of hitting the desert spread which was equally impressive, particularly the mini-chocolate Babka.

$25 will get you a big brekkie, coffee and a juice at Los Chicas after a 30 minute wait for a table.  If you have a suit, a couple of hours spare and are strapped for cash, the kiddush is a great way to eat well for free (and meet girls).  What more could you want?

Could this be the best breakfast place in Melbourne? @ Cowderoy's Dairy

Cowderoy's Dairy (14 Cowderoy St St Kilda West)

I had a bad experience once at Mart so for 4 years wrote off anything that was near Canterbury Road.  But after a big Friday night at the Toff in the city and a morning of apologies to my extremely tolerant girlfriend, I had to dig deep to win her heart back, with the handicap of a debilitating hangover.  

We got in the car and she enquired: "Where are we going?"  
Me: "It's a surprise" (thinking I'm screwed if I dont pull something out fast, as we turn right onto St Kilda Road into 3182)

Driving down Canterbury Road I just prayed the damn place was still open. And it was, and it was perfect.  Built in an old dairy adjacent to a park, this place is made for a chilled brekky, away from the queueing masses at Los Chicas and Batch.  The array of food available is immense (and intimidating because a lot is on display and it all looks as good as it sounds on the menu).   

I went for poached eggs on ciabatta with avocado and fetta.  The girl had toast soldiers with soft boiled eggs and anchovy butter (an extremely great novel concept).  Both were excellent in their simplicity and use of fresh quality ingredients.  Coffees were also pretty good as were the fresh juices (although maybe a little too natural in terms of pip content) and shakes.   They also do jaffles which can be made to go so as to be eaten in the park - Great idea! 

So would this be up there with one of the better brekkie places in Melbourne?  Easily.  Any place that can put a smile on a girlfriend's face would undoubtedly fall in the same category. 

Indispensable @ Movida Terraza

Movida Terraza (Level 1, 500 Bourke Street, Melbourne)

Other places in the city should watch, listen and learn.  This is how it's done.  

1.  Morning coffee
I'm usually comatose by the time I make it into the city and have navigated the stairs to get to the Terraza.  Lucky I bumped into a work-mate at Richmond station and we shared a table and ordered our coffees.  As usual I stare wistfully at the freshly baked goods and battle my conscience (Portugese Custard Tarts, Almond Croissants  - all outstanding).  My work-mate and I consider breakfast and then pass only due to lack of time but the brekkie menu has been tried and tested and is equally outstanding (Cous cous with honey almonds and raisins, Bircher with poached fruit, Serrano Ham over cheesy eggs, etc etc).   The best is the service - totally unflappable, friendly and sincere.  

2.   Lunch
The lunch menu is also unbelievable and is varied each day.  For $8 you can get a roll (Bocadillo) with fresh ham, cheese, marinated vegies, olives, etc etc.  For a bit more you can get perfectly cooked fish or delicate meats.  On a guilty day Marty's Lasagne (with chorizo, beef and pork) is one of the best going around.  

3.   Drinks
On a hot day there is nothing better than a post-work Moritz on the Terraza.  The young professionals swarm there as soon as they close their timesheets after a day of billing hours, especially on a Friday.  

This place rates as my #1 in the city.  If you are too lazy to walk up the stairs (from Earl), there is a lift too. 

French hysteria @ Pop

Pop - 68 Hardware Lane, Melbourne

I never trust a place where they need someone out the front to try and get you in the door.   It reminds me of the middle-aged women with microphones on Swanston Street trying to get you in to buy cheap jewellery.  My usual reaction would be to keep walking.  However, this is the norm for lunchtime eating on Hardware Lane in the CBD.  

This was a high risk lunch.  A Friday work going away thing, pre-ordering off the lunch special menu.  A Spanish tapas place, with an entirely French staff.  My nervousness was heightened.   

Let's just say, this place was like Faulty Towers.  

- One guy's role was clearly to fill the water notwithstanding our glasses were full. 
- They didn't bother to ask for drinks orders.
- The head waiter smashed his hands on the table at the pass when an order went wrong.
- The head waiter asked a girl whether or not she "knew her own name" after he called out the wrong name to give her a pre-ordered meal. 
-  In beautiful french accent, the young waitress presented bottles of "Cok" to the table.

And the food:
- I think the kitchen ran out of Aborio Rice for the Risotto because I definitely had white rice in mine. 
- The Gazapcho was so tart it made my eyes water.
- I saw my co-worker bounce a gnocchi of the floor and it actually landed back on the table (skills!) 
-  Others raved about the Chicken Salad, and were unimpressed by the pizza.  

Overall, out of 10, I rate this place "Never again."  But hey, if you like Faulty Towers, I'd give it a crack for comedic value alone.  

Hungry Beasts @ Squires Loft

Squires Loft (1 Albert Road, Albert Park)

To celebrate the impending nuptials of a very dear mate of mine, a 15 man team attended a "pre-wedding" carnivorous session at Squires Loft in Albert Park.  

1900 -  Seated.
19:25 - The animals were restless, hungry and a couple of beers in were getting very very antsy. 
19:35 - Ordered.
19:50 - A good friend next to me remarked (after taking a bite of his paper napkin), that he was famished.  And so we hastily asked our waitress for some bread just to tie him over. 
20:00 -  Bread arrived with some rock-hard butter that required a short defrost on top of the warm bread.  
20:15 - Butter defrosted. With a riot about the start, and after a third pint of Becks, the entrees arrived.  Fried onion rings (decent), mushrooms baked in feta cheese (well-received, but more due to hunger than finesse) and pork ribs (dry but passable).
20:30 - The group starts to look like Bear Grylls half-way through the Sahara.  The friend next to me who had ordered water an hour ago had given up and asked for a pint, which came quicker than the water.  
20:40 - More bread arrived (unordered - an implied message)
20:55 - With the waitress close to asking for a restraining order, she ran to the pass to collect the first round of steaks (12/15 arrive with 2 side Greek Salads straight out of the Sizzler salad bar) 
21:05 - The last 3 of us get our meals.  Eye Fillet Steak, decent cut, perfectly cooked.  Mushroom sauce, little bit packet for me but passable.  

Overall - if you want a steak for the same price, got to Francois.  The service there is worse but they're French so it's ok and the place is nicer (i.e. you dont have to share a venue with the people who only made the second round of auditions for Jersey Shore - Australia). 


Sunday, January 23, 2011

5 Reasons why the new Newmarket is not as good as the old Newmarket

1.         The door-bitch
I rolled up to the new Newmarket on Friday night only to be confronted by your quintessential door-bitch (i.e. a girl in her early 30’s, overly made up), holding a clipboard who insists “the Newmarket is a restaurant, not a bar” and without a booking, we couldn’t get in.  The old Newmarket had no door bitch and anyone could get in to do whatever the fuck they wanted (drink, eat, watch a strip-show, play pool, take a piss, shoot up smack, whatever). 

2.         The food
I’ve been to Mamasita and its inspiration La Esquina in New York, both of which are incredible places with highly memorable food. I also happen to be a lawyer.  If I was Matt Lane (of Mamasita) I would be putting in a call to my legal team.  The menu at the new Newmarket, apparently “Southern Californian” is more than “influenced by” Mamasita.  It’s a direct rip-off.  And just like a knock off Louis Vuitton hand-bag at Bangkok’s MBK centre, it’s nowhere near as good.   The menu is a massive hotch-potch of Mexican and Italian and when it came to the table, it was uninspiring.   The old Newmarket had the best food – 2 Hungarian women slaving away in a one-man kitchen whipping up Hungarian favorites like Schnitzel, Creamed Spinach, Goulash, Stroganoff, etc.   I never left there unsatisfied with my meal, and my family and I went many times.   It only took 1 time for me to know I wouldn’t be eating at the new Newmarket again.

3.         The fit-out
A famous American philosopher Francis Fukuyama once wrote that because of the end of the Cold War, there would be no more disputes about the type of ideology people would have (e.g. no argument of communism vs democracy).  So it goes with 6 Degrees and it’s fit out of venues in this great city – design is dead and 6 Degrees have conquered all.  6 Degrees have retained the façade of the old Newmarket and then firebombed everything else.   I walked in to the new Newmarket with a surprising sense of dejavu (being based on my visits to the Royal Saxon, Public House, etc).   The best thing about the Old New Market was that you could go from the dining room to the public bar through the men’s toilet.  If 6 Degrees had any skills they would have appreciated the uniqueness of that and retained it.  Instead they went Hiroshima on the entire place and destroyed it and the next 4 generations after it.

4.         The lack of tits
I’ll never forget walking behind my 2 grandmothers into the old Newmarket for the first time and seeing a topless bartender pulling pints in all her glory.   I think I was about 14 years old.  And then a few years later, I remember being accosted by a stripper in the dining room on a Thursday night when the old Newmarket developed its iconic reputation as “Schnitz and Tits”.  A stripper would walk around the room with an empty beer jug and wouldn’t start her show until she had enough coin in the jug.  Being uni students at the time our donations were usually borderline insulting, but there was always a guarantee – one of my mates would whisper in the stripper’s ear “It’s [insert name’s] birthday” which would result in special treatment.   So many great nights were had there – now, the new Newmarket (no strippers, no topless bartender) – Boring!

5.         No soul
Memo: Julian Gerner – you can’t buy soul.  The one thing that really struck me about the new Newmarket was that it has no soul.  The old Newmarket was run by a guy who looked like he was hanging onto life by a thread.  The bar was his life.  He was there every night – standing next to the bar in the kitchen, making sure the shows went off without a hitch, overlooking the kitchen with one eye and supervising the rabble in the front bar with the other.   There was no “floor staff” – the Hungarian lady in the kitchen frying the Schnitzel was your maitre-de and your waiter, the bartender was your sommelier.  She knew what was in the Goulash because she was the one slaving over it in the kitchen.   My brother and I used to have a sneaky pot of Carlton and play pool after ordering our meals. They were great times.  Whilst the old Newmarket front bar contained an eclectic mix of characters (junkies, prostitutes, drunks, tradeys, etc), the new Newmarket is your standard mix of gentrified urban professionals in their early 30’s.   I just hope that  they told the drunks sitting at a stool in the front bar before they brought in the wrecking ball. 

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