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).