Saturday, October 13, 2012

That's not a diner, this a diner @ Parlor

I was sitting outside on what feels like the first day of Spring, having just made myself the all-American staple breakfast of Huevos Rancheros.  For the uninitiated, it's two fried eggs, sitting on a bean/tomato/chilli/coriander topped mix served with corn tortillas - and for me it came with guacamole, because everything tastes better with guacamole.  With all the news of the impending US presidential election, and mid-devouring my huevos, it got me thinking about the US and the almost endemic influx of US themed dining into the Melbourne scene.

I visited US style 'Parlor' on the new-bar-a-month Windsor end of Chapel a couple weeks back and loved the set-up and diner style chic. However, lamentably, the food couldn't match the decor.  I had a Dynamite Burger (burger with Chipotle and Asian slaw) and my first bight (and a number after) was a nice crunchy piece of grissel - sorry guys but it don't fly in this town, especially when there are so many solid burger joints flipping around.  Simply put, you gotta fork out the dough for the better quality meat, not the fat loaded 3 star Safeway variety!  The side serve of onion rings came with a side serve litre of oil and the Ruben dog (corned beef, cheese, sauerkraut, pickle) was nothing special.

Anyway, I digress, my point to this is that as much as a hipster or two flipping a burger in a stylised venue is the newfangled Melbourne version of a diner, the real authentic diner, the heart and soul diner, the home away from home, can be found in the US of A.  And I've been to one, and I have extremely fond memories, which I thought I'd share.

The Florida Avenue Grill in Washington DC is a real authentic US diner.  At the Florida Avenue Grill they don't just serve everyday food, they serve "soul food". This place is an institution - it has been around since 1944 and it looks like it. It is located only a short walk from Howard University, a predominantly African-American college, and the area in north-west DC called Colombia Heights which is a mix between gentrifying and down-right dangerous.  The best part about the Grill is the waitresses - they only call you "Sugar" and they refer to each other with a "Miss" before their names, so "Miss Maple can you pass the ketchup?".  The guy on the grill is the guy on the grill - he is there every single day, he owns it, he lives it, he breathes it and if he rides a bike to work, it's not by choice.

But let's talk about the food because this is where it gets interesting - breakfasts are US obesity super-sized. Most breakfasts come with home fries (basically fried potatoes) and you choose between biscuits (basically scones) and toast. I used to get corn beef hash (some sort of meat but really not sure what it was), and there are other things on the menu which I'm still not sure of (halfsmoke? scrapple? grits?).  If you're a sweet tooth, the buttermilk pancakes are incredible and ginormous!  The coffee ain't much to get excited about but the half litre iced teas which you can load up with sugar are perfect for a hangover.

My only regret about the Grill was that I never made it for dinner which was true southern fare (fried chicken, collared greens, catfish, pork chops, ribs, etc). So team, you want a diner, this is a diner, get yourself to the US of A and go to a real one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Argentinean Dining @ San Telmo, 14 Meyers Place, Melbourne

My last experience with Argentinean food was fortunately in the country itself.  For those unfamiliar with Argentinean cuisine, it is heavily focused on meat (carne).  After travelling from bustling and cosmopolitan Buenos Aries to the home of Malbec wine production in Mendoza, then up through the northern heart of the country from Cordoba to cities like Salta and then further north to the Bolivian border, there was one consistent theme throughout the country and that was expressed in a Mendozan supermarket I went to - the choices at the butcher section was beef, simply different cuts of beef.
Morcilla (Blood Sausage) and Chimichurri 
Menus at restaurants throughout the country would make you feel like you had de ja vu - there was "lomo" (Steak), there was "milanese" (Schnitzel) and then various sausages, for example "Chorizo" (spicy pork sausage) and "Morcilla" (blood sausage).  Sides were usually a small serve of crunchy thin chips or maybe a couple of lettuce leaves, lest to detract from the main event. I remember leaving the country with a severe red meat addiction and after being wary of the carnivorous offerings in Bolivia, I got True-Blood-like withdrawals.  

Vaccio (Flank Steak)
My fondest memory of eating in Argentina was a meal out with friends with their families in Palermo where the steak from the parilla (traditional Argentinean barbecue) was the most succulent and tender I've ever had (see "Pound-for-Pound Winner" at France-soir for some local options).  Less appetising was arriving in Salta after an overnight bus ride and ordering an early lunch/late breakfast parilla comprising Morcilla and various other barbecued treats like heart, liver, tripe, etc.  

Whereas the Morcilla in Salta actually tasted like what it was - coagulated blood - at the Melbourne based Argentinean restaurant San Telmo (named after a beautiful old suburb in central BA), the Morcilla was flavoursome, perfectly cooked and overall excellent.  San Telmo is a perfect venue for late night dining (like they do in Argentina, with most people not eating out till 9/10pm).  With it now impossible to travail Melbourne's streets without reservations between regular eating hours of 7 till 9 pm, the late night Argentinean style of dining is a good option.  
Papas (Crispy Potato Galette)
San Telmo has a great set-up in terms of seating options - there are the Meyers Place facing bar stools (recommended to avoid the heat/people-watch), there is the main dining area, there is a private dining area, there is a long bar at the back and there is the rear garage looking onto Windsor Place (again recommended to avoid the heat, and really nice for a date).  The big downside about San Telmo is the stifling heat - it was South American Summer sweltering hot inside, which may have been due to the sultry Melbourne evening, but probably more likely the huge Argentinean parilla being used to cook the meat.  The biggest disappointment was the chimichurri sauce, a traditional accompaniment, that was way too oily and was far from the pungent and aromatic sauce that I remembered in Argentina.  

We were happy with the Estrella Galicia beer on tap, the Flank Steak (Vaccio) which was tender but I prefer a little more rare, the crispy potato galette (Papas) was a nice accompaniment.  I also really enjoyed the Empanadas which had a crunchy exterior and were loaded with beef, olives and eggs.  The Morcilla was really memorable and I'd like to go back to sample some of the other items on the menu, especially some of the other steaks (striploin, scotch fillet, hanger steak) plus sweetbreads (Mollejas - google it, this is one for the brave!).  This certainly ain't an old-school Palermo parilla house in BA, but it'll do...for now! 

San Telmo
14 Meyers Place, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9650 5525

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Club Well Fed @ Club Med, Nusa Dua, Bali

Decorative Watermelon Sculpture (+ sauce selection)
You may be wondering how you can have the fun and excitement of cruise ship travel without the risk of being at the mercy of a maniacal Italian captain playing chicken with an island (and losing - see the Costa Concordia tragedy).  Well, I think I've found the answer.  Try Club Med.  You get all the buffet meals, C-grade entertainment, team building sing-a-longs and kid's clubs with the added bonus of being on dry land.  How can you lose?

Braised Chicken Congee
I was in the middle of water aerobics on the third day of our stay at Club Med Bali when I realised how far my travelling experiences had come.  My most vivid memories of travelling are generally the first moment you leave the airport when you arrive overseas - there was the humidity and bustling roadways of Bangkok, the empty streets of the brisque early morning of Vienna, the bullet-ridden slavic style concrete high rise buildings of Sarajevo and the view of South American city Bogotoa nestled in the Andes mountain range. I sensed Club Med would be somewhat different.

Breakfast Pastry Selection
For those uninitiated in the ways of Club Med, the resort is such that you don't need to leave at all.  There are 3 all-you-can-eat buffet meals a day, numerous sporting activities (tennis, squash, archery, beach volleyball, golf, etc), watersports (snorkelling, wind-surfing, kayaking, etc) plus nightly entertainment.  The employees who run most of the activities are called "GO's" (Gracious Organisers) who are like the leaders we used to have on school camps who were idolised by kids, but in any other circumstances (in reality), wouldn't be that cool.  

Indonesian seasonings / sides
Club Med is laden with cult-like undertones - there is a Club Med philosophy which incorporates the concept of "living together - based on a very special concept of tolerance and mutual interest involving people from very different backgrounds, religions, nationalities and walks of life." There are ubiqutious Club Med cheesy pop songs with choreographed dances which are wheeled out multiple times throughout the day.  There are very friendly group welcome, ind[o]uct[rinat]ions and sad hand-waving farewells.  
With 3 meals a day for 8 days served from the buffet, there were plenty of opportunities to sample the food and there were some definite hits, misses and question marks.  Everyday I would tell myself that I would eat just one main and one dessert, but inevitably I would get back from the buffet with 10 different types of food on a loaded Jackson Pollock-eque plate where Indonesian ayam chicken would be sitting precariously close to the Hoisin sauce from the prawn dumplings which would be inadvertently touching the salad greens, all whilst precariously balancing a bowl of steaming soup.

Cheese selection
Some of the hits of the buffet were the steamed prawn dumplings (consistently good and perfect to eat whilst navigating the buffet for other food), soups (best was a rice cake soup and notable was a rich coconut based beef curry soup), Indonesian tempe, mashed carrot, moussaka, pork ribs, congee, roast chicken, breakfast pastries (especially escargot), crepes, waffles and ice cream (especially Green Tea) and homemade marshmallows with chocolate fondue.  

Honourable mentions go to the breakfast potato gems and lunchtime onion rings which I tried so damn hard to avoid but couldn't.  

Century Egg Challenge
Overall, my favourite was a dead heat between the cheese platter (nicely melted blue, gorgonzola, brie, camembert and goats cheese) and the endless tap beer. 

The disappointments were the pizza (looked bad enough for me not to try it), sashimi (just not good enough quality fish, especially with Japanese guests present), salads, fruit (except for tamarillo and coconut) and generally the desserts aside from those mentioned above.  

The absolute lowlight was the Pasta, Goats Cheese & Walnut Fritata (probably a leftover concoction and tasted like it).  A couple of memorable moments as the tour of the kitchen (including meeting the specialist watermelon carver) and Day 3 Breakfast which included the "Century Egg Challenge" being my first tasting of the Chinese delicacy of preserved eggs - they smelt like off eggs and tasted like normal eggs with a hint of off eggs.  

Club Med Bali
Nusa Dua, Bali
+62 361 771 521

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mashed up @ Potatohead Beach Club, Seminyak, Bali

This post comes direct from the tropical climate of Bali where I am based for the next 4 days to escape the inclement mid-Autumn arctic chill of Melbourne.  Today we checked out the well renowned Potatohead Beach Club in Seminyak.  This is easily one of my favourite places in Bali and the perfect place to laze away an afternoon in the sun.  

After passing through the security ring and down a long driveway, you are greeted with an imposing wall of shutter blinds that make up the outer layer of this structure.  You then walk past a concrete wall of flowing water, onto a walkway that leads you past the interior of the shutter wall and snakes through to the maitre-de (and further security check).  
You are then led out from the horseshoe shaped building into a picturesque setting of palm trees, manicured lawn and infiniti pool surrounded by day-beds in front of you (sitting atop the nearby beach) and then bars and seating to your right.  Fortunately we managed to secure a table for a big group without a reservation.   

Now, let's get down to business - the cocktails and other drinks here are outstanding.  The drink of choice was a light sangria concoction which was served in a fishbowl and included fresh pieces of mango and lemongrass.  Previously I've tried the Drake Mojito which was doused with mint, lime and rum and came with a fresh spring of cane sugar.  I also tried a mint julip which was a strong mix of brandy and bourbon and I'd also recommend this one too.  

The unfortunate part of the Potatohead experience is definitely the food. For a place that is so aesthetically appealing, it is disappointing that the food is so far off the mark.  How would I describe it?  It is like a dingy outer suburban Melbourne pub which just converted to a gastropub, but kept the original chef, who still can't cook, with Gordon Ramsay screaming profanities whilst tasting the food shrieking: "Dear oh dear. What the $%@& is that? You can't send that out like that!!" I had a wagyu burger that came out a full 25 minutes before the the other 6 dishes - the patty was a perfect circle and exactly 3 cm thick (which tells me it came like that off the hamburger conveyor belt).  Tasted passable, but had nothing on some really great wagyu burgers (for example, Cafe Vue, Rockpool, Barney Allens, etc).  

The rest of the table were scathing in their criticism - a Tuna Nicoise salad contained canned black olives, canned potatoes and low grade canned tuna. I can hear Ramsay pleading with the owners in the kitchen: "C'mon guys, canned ingredients in a fresh salad.  What the #$%!"   I tried the beer battered fish and chips which, although the batter was crunchy and tasty, the fish itself was so dry it was amazing to think that it had lived its life in water.  

The remaining dishes were pasta which although the pasta was cooked al dente, the respective sauces were each bereft of a pulse (Ramsay: "Taste that.  Come here and $%##en taste it NOW.  Did you taste that before it went out?  $!%@$ If you tasted, it you would know it tasted like #$%!") 

I always like to leave you with something positive, so I would say don't avoid Potatohead because of the above.  Go for a drink, a swim in the pool, then another drink.  But stay away from the food (maybe a short walk up the road to Sea Circus is the way to go).  

Potato Head Beach Club
Address: Jin Petitenget, Seminyak, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Contact: +62 (361) 473 7979

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No bullshit @ Nobu, Crown Casino

Sushi plate at Nobu 
Some love to loathe Crown Casino, whilst others swear by it.  I lean towards the loathe side.  I love the restaurants (Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons, Rockpool, et al) but pretty much hate the rest. Why?

  • I hate ending up back where I started when trying to take a short-cut through the gaming room;
  • I hate Club 23 for its tacky decor and tackier clientele;
  • I hate walking the death gauntlet on the Southbank promenade late at night;
  • I hate waiting in the endless line at the cab rank on Spencer Street;
  • I hate the tempting grease in mid-casino food-court; 
  • I hate not being certain whether the security guards are attacking or defending; and
  • I hate the fireballs mainly because I'm a red head and I think James Packer is mocking me in some way. 
Crispy Rice with Tuna at Nobu
I previously wrote that I loved Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons because when you are there you actually don't feel like you're in the casino. Similarly in the Melbourne branch office of worldwide chain Nobu you can escape the hoi polloi and live in another world, you can almost imagine yourself on the Paris end of Collins Street!  Although, can you really?  We went on a Saturday night on grand prix weekend and the place was busy.  So busy that I was sitting back-to-back with an unknown acquaintance on the table behind me. But that doesn't faze me.  The crowd is a little different though, not quite the same crowd you would get at a Flinders Lane hole in the wall or a Gertrude Street eatery.  The crowd is not Melbourne, it more often than not, imported.  But I'm no xenophobe, so I won't complain about that.  
Miso Cod at Nobu
Beef Tataki at Nobu
Let's talk about the main thing here and that is the food.  Thanks to some very deft choices by our gracious hosts, we were able to sample an incredible selection of food from the Nobu menu without opening its cover.  
The first dish was Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna which consisted of a deep fried block of sticky rice which you dip in a spicy fresh raw tuna mix. Very high quality, soft tuna, great level of spice and combined with the crunchy texture of the rice, this was a great starter.
Second up was Beef Tataki - this is a dish I could never get sick of eating, especially with such quality tender beef.  Third was a Black Cod Miso which was an incredible piece of fish with a sweet flavour topped with ginger.  Fourth was a bowl of miso.  

Fifth was Wagyu Gyoza - this was a really interesting dish as usually you would get pork gyoza.  The texture of the dumpling casing was spot on, the meat was really rich which made it hard to eat too many (and with a big plate of these in front of us, it made for a real battle between stomach and mind).  
Sixth was some sort of beef which was easily the highlight for me, perfectly cooked medium rare and so damn tender.  Seventh, and as the food coma was really starting to kick in, a big plate of mixed sushi was laid before us and this was easily the closest thing I've had to Tokyo sushi since I left Japan. 
Some sort of incredible Beef cooked to perfection
Overall, I would recommend going to Nobu but a couple of pointers - (1) If you are going on a date, it might be nice to sit upstairs rather than downstairs because there were a lot of big groups down there (which was fine for us but might be a bit noisy for something romantic) (2) Be prepared to spend - Nobu does not come cheaply and (3) Drive - you really don't want to be queuing for a cab home from the casino on a Saturday night. 

Crown Casino Melbourne
Address: 8 Whiteman Street Melbourne, Victoria, 3000
Contact: +613 92927879

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Valentine's Day Guide

There was an article describing the perfect place to take a girl on Valentine's Day - a woman responded that if a guy to took her to Bar Lourinha and ordered her oysters she would surely be his.  

With the day fast approaching, I was thinking about where to take my significant other and I thought it would be helpful to list a few suggestions categorised by girl:

1.   For the sultry and sensual girl who wants to sit close to you while you share tapas
Bar Lourinha  (
Alternative: On a warm night, The Aylesbury upstairs ( or Anada (

2.  For the laid back, down to earth girl who loves rustic home-style Italian food
Bar Idda ( 
Alternative: Il Solito Posto ( or for something more classy Becco (

3.  For the European girl who loves her family's home cooking but still wants to be taken somewhere her mother isn't working the grill
The Crimerian (
Alternative: Borsch, Vodka & Tears (

4.  For the girl who waits outside the house for delivery of The Age on Tuesday mornings so she can read The Epicure, thinks Broadsheet is the new New Testament, and wants to make her friends jealous about where she went for dinner
Attica (
Alternative: Ezard ( or Cumulus Inc. (

5. For the girl who you just met on and who you are brazen enough to take out for the first time on Valentine's Day
Maha ( - dark enough so you look good
Alternative: City Wine Shop ( - casual but cool and if things go well, you can always head to Siglo to keep the night going. 

6. For the girl who will strangle both you and the waiter simultaneously if she gets an entree sized main and thinks share plates are for the underpriveleged
The European (
Alternative: PM 24(

7.  For the fashionable just alternative enough girl who whilst saying she might just want something "low key", would love you to impossibly pick that perfect place that is both understated and mind-blowing. 
Albert Street Food and Wine (
Alternative: Rumi (

8. For the girl who is taking her 2012 New Year's Resolutions 'life-and-death' seriously and accordingly flatly refuses to eat anything other than sashimi 
Kumo Izakaya (
Alternative: Yu-u (google it for details)

9.  For the rich bitch who you're going to unceremoniously break-up with and walk out on after mains
Vue de Monde (
Alternative: Cutler & Co (

10. For the girl who simply says: "Fuck dinner, let's get a drink" 
The Everleigh (
Alternative: Eu de Vie (

Monday, January 23, 2012

Yes Summer @ Scorched (17 The Esplanade Torquay)

Full time employment and summer were never friends.  There is nothing worse than sitting in an office breathing in re-filtered 22.3 degree air while staring out the window and seeing a sun soaked city ripe for the picking.  And this particular January may be even more difficult to be cooped up in the sky prisons, with most professionals returning to much quieter economic conditions than previous years.  So what should you do?  Dip into your precious annual leave and make the most of the glorious weather - not only will you be thankful, but your employer will be too.  
That is what I decided to do this week, having just returned from a few glorious days in the Torquay / Jan Juc region.  This is another fond place in my heart because it was where our family used to come for weekends to on the beach.  A lot has changed since then (not least of all I've dispensed with the fluro coloured rashy).  On the development front, some looks passable, others atrocious, note the monolithic Torquay golf club development towering over the course and no doubt obstructing some previously magnificent views.  

But on the plus side, and in addition to the stunning beaches, there is some incredible food available around this region so I strongly recommend a visit.  The lovely mother of our very hospitable 'host family' recommended 2 almost  diametrically opposite culinary items - (i) the deep fried dim sims at Torquay fish & chippery Flippin Fresh (a great hit but definitely not one for the calorie conscious) and (ii) the duck pies at the more up-market Scorched (outstanding - see below).

Scorched is the kind of place you walk into and pray the  signature dish isn't Oyster Kilpatrick.  By this I mean, the aesthetics here don't give anything away - it could be an incredible beachside restaurant sourcing exceptional local produce or it could be a run-of-the-mill gastro-bistro under new management.  Thankfully for us, it was the former.  On a sultry January evening, the extremely well thought-out middle eastern inspired menu made for much selection anguish amongst our team of 7.  

Here is the run-down of some of what we had: 
- Octopus salad, white beans, picked red onion & dill (photo 1)
- Beetroot & pistachio salad with whipped goats fetta (photo 2)
- Bastourma & baby tomato salad, housemade and ricotta & sumac (photo 3)

- Lamb kofta, hummus & tabbouleh (photo 4)
- Little duck pies, sweet cinnamon (photo 5)
- Dessert tasting plate (photo 6)

Although it might sound obvious and simple, we really appreciated that even though we ordered everything together, the dishes came out in 3 waves, the more meze lighter dishes first, the heavier meatier dishes second and the dessert last.  The highlight was by far the duck pies - they were the perfect segue between main and dessert with the light pastry and rich, almost pate like duck filling, covered with sweet cinnamon icing.  The highlight of the dessert was definitely the vanilla fairy floss.  Our group also made special mention of the service which hit the sweet spot of being attentive and friendly without being annoying. 

Overall in terms of middle eastern food, I recently ate at Maha in the city and a while back at Rumi in East Brunswick.  There is no reason at all why Scorched couldn't sit at the same table with these Middle eastern super powers. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Swan lake @ Einstein's 251 (251 Hawthorn Road Caulfield)

One of my co-workers once told me a line I will always remember about working in a law firm: "You should appear to your clients like a swan, gracefully gliding across the water while peddling ferociously underneath the water." Restaurants, cafes and bars are no different.  Service staff gracefully circumnavigate the room stopping only to dip their heads down to the water to take orders, whilst the kitchen-staff are frantically peddling away under the water.  

I always wonder how new venues can do this so well in such a short period of time.  I remember visiting Chin Chin early on and notwithstanding the massive space, huge number of diners and probably 20+ staff, all I saw were the swans gliding around.  Similarly, I was at my local coffeehouse Patricia on its second day of business and everyone was in total control.  

Most recently I visited Hawthorn Road Caulfield newbie Einstein's 251 and found it incredible that a place could deliver such outstanding results so quickly - surely here the fittings have only just been bolted in, the barista is getting familiar with the brand spanking new La Marzocco espresso machine, the staff are still memorising the table numbers and the kitchen crew are working out the nuances of the menu.  But as a paying customer, they could have been operating for a decade. 

Einstein's fit-out hits the mark - it has that modern, minimalist, deconstructed feel which has become ubiquitous throughout Melbourne, but without the contrived-sterile-de ja vu feel you get from the Newmarket Hotel, the Middle Park Hotel, the Royal Saxon, et al.  Whilst most places would unceremoniously rip off all the plasterboard to leave only chic exposed brick walls, Einstein's has left some of the plasterboard - unique - it says that all parts of a place's history are equally important, not just the parts that look good.  I like it. Looking forward to the courtyard too. 

In terms of food, with Hebrew being exchanged in the kitchen, Einstein's offers Israeli staples like shakshuka (pictured) plus many more.  My lovely companion had the most popular dish on the breakfast menu, a combination of poached eggs, grilled haloumi, hash brown, guacomole and others which was exceptional.  I had the Einstein breakfast which was like the breakfast meze option with lots of different bowls of goodies (e.g. olives, feta, tuna dip, tomato relish, etc) to go with perfectly scrambled eggs.  The coffee (Small Batch) as you can see, looked as good as it tasted - spot on.  

The main part I like about Einstein's is that it sits on what has to be one of the most desolate retail strips south of the Yarra, comprising one bottle shop, a milk bar and various other nondescript offices.  Early afternoon on a shining Sunday and with tables basking outside, people were already flocking to Einstein's from nearby residential streets.

So as I have previously noted here, you don't need to waste time trekking between Batch and Los Chicas on Carlisle to see which has the shorter queue, there are plenty of exceptional places you can go for breakfast and for most you won't even need your car to get there.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Country Goodness @ Hepburn Springs

On Friday I got a dressing down from a client at work because I was wearing casual (on casual Friday) because, as he said, casual Fridays were an insult to country-folk.  Why?  Because what you wear on Friday is what you would wear to the country on the way to your weekend retreat, and therefore wearing casual on Friday presumes that you dress down to go to the country.  Therein lies the insult.  Follow the logic? Me neither! 
We were in our casual clothes on our way to the country a few days after new years.  Hepburn Springs has a warm spot in my heart - as I have written previously here.  It's easy to get comfortable when you go up there so this time, we thought we'd try and experience a few new places, which produced some incredible results.  Here is the lowdown of some of the highlights:
1.  Breakfast at Breakfast & Beer
You know on those lazy holidays days when you wake up late, and finally get moving, and then you realise it's early afternoon, like 130pm?  The upside of this is that at Breakfast & Beer you can start the day with a hearty breakfast and wash it down with a cleansing ale.  We both had bacon, avocado, tomato and pickle sandwiches.  And what beer, you might ask, goes well with breakfast?  I was recommended Manly microbrewery 4 Pines Brewing Company's Kolsch - a crisp light citrusy drop perfect for a humid morning and an empty stomach.

2.   Brunch at the Glenlyon General Store
Glenlyon is only a short scenic drive from Daylesford - This is a great local general store that houses a small kitchen that serves up all sorts of goodies.   

3.  Afternoon drinks at Wombat Hill
This place is the one - you drive through the scenic tree-lined road up Wombat Hill to the picturesque Wombat Gardens.  As you walk over the hill, you see Wombat Hill nestled amongst the trees.  Wombat Hill is the recently opened sibling to Alla Wolf-Tasker's well known Daylesford luxury hotel complex the Lakehouse.  

In terms of siblings, the Lakehouse is that older, confident, brash, attractive sister who you see at all the family functions (but you've kind of gotten over her after staring at her for so many years) whilst Wombat Hill is the younger, down-to-earth, understated and hidden beauty that is destined to eclipse her older sibling.   This is the perfect place for a refreshing afternoon beverage and snack in the back garden.  Great for brekkie or lunch - outstanding menu.

4.  Dinner at The Perfect Drop
 If I'd only eaten here a few days earlier it probably would have taken out all the categories in my "11 Awards for 2011".  The Farmers Arms was previously my number 1 in Hepburn until I ate here.  It was just superb, outstanding, flavoursome, quality food all sourced from local country produce.  We started with beef carpaccio topped with dehydrated black olives, grated pecorino and micro-herb, all of which just rocked (sorry John Lethlean, Larissa Dubecki et al, but I can't describe it better than that).  

For main we shared/fought over perfectly cooked duck with roasted apricots and cabbagey salad, pictured below left - OMG (apoligies again professional food critics).  The tender and beautiful texture and flavour of the duck combined with the sweetness and softness of the apricot was incredible.  

And we thought that it couldn't get any better - but then dessert arrived - a winning trifecta of delicious creamy rich panna cotta, crunchy sweet baklava cigar and sumptuous rose water ice cream, served with mint and figs (see below). 

5. Drinks at Horvat's Wine Cellar
Listening to the dulce tones of a jazz pianist, we enjoyed some locally produced shiraz in the relaxed and salubrious atmosphere of Horvat's Wine Cellar.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why Hobba? @ Hobba (Vail Chowder House)

Out with the old and in with the new.  2011 was a massive year for the culinary industry with many exciting new openings throughout Melbourne.  For just one example, Asian inspired Melbourne powerhouse Chin Chin opened, where the secondary question to “how was the food” was always “how long was the wait?” (with the answer to both usually being “whatever, it was worth it”).  On the breakfast front 2011 saw countless new additions, see Coin Laundry in Armadale, Friends of Mine in Richmond and Pope Joan in East Brunswick – it seemed like the more new venues opened up, the longer the lines became. 

One of these new places was Hobba in Commercial Road, Malvern.  In typical new opening style, Hobba has been constructed in a generously sized stripped out tyre garage with minimal furnishings. I really liked the different seating areas comprising regular tables, larger share tables and my personal favorite, wooden booths.  I also thought the service here was outstanding and we dealt with multiple staff members and each were friendly, non-pretentious and helpful.  The coffee (5 Senses) was also exceptional.

On the downside, Hobba represents a trend in breakfast eating that I’m not particularly fond of.  Similar to a recent session at St. Edmunds in Prahran, Hobba has gone for the OTT-uber-gastro-gourmet menu e.g. "62.5c egg, asparagus, myrtleford butter poached salmon, goat’s cheese, pickled celery, apple, peas" which will set you back a lazy $21!  I know this is Malvern but this is only $10 less than a very decent main at one of Melbourne's top restaurants.

So my lovely companion ordered the bubble and squeak (fried egg, bubble and squeak, farmhouse slab bacon, roast tomato, brown butter hollandaise at $15.90) – she asked me what it was and I said it was basically something you would make yourself if you came home smashed after a massive night out and saw bacon, potatoes, eggs and onions in the fridge and threw it in the frying pan.  I expected it would look more glamorous here. And it was, I would describe it as precious (pictured left). 

Similarly the Hobba breakfast I ordered was equally precious (eggs, tomato, bacon, mushroom, cumberland sausage, sourdough grain & relish at $16.70 - see pictured below).  So precious it looked like the kitchen had measured each element of the dish so that it would not exceed the pre-ordained weight.  1 roma tomato 38 grams – check, 1 sausage 63 grams – check, tablespoon of relish - check, etc.  The bacon was undercooked, the bread relatively tasteless, the dollop of tomatoey relish scooped out of a Maggie Beer jar.  The upside was the eggs which were cooked at 65 degrees and come out somewhere between poached and soft boiled.

And this takes me to my point – before breakfast was cool it was a necessity.  You needed it to cure a hangover or you needed it because you were about to work a 12 hour shift on a building site.  I hate this trend of precious, delicate breakfasts that sound impressive on the menu but leave you asking “where’s the beef” (or bacon!). 
That leads me to wish a very solemn condolence to one place that knew what a real breakfast was – you would never leave this place hungry. Never.  For less coin than the Hobba breakfast, at Hepburn Springs’ Chowder House you could get freshly home baked sourdough bread (3 slices buttered), 2 poached eggs, shredded salty hash brown, lashings of crispy bacon, generous serving of spinach, multiple perfectly cooked mushrooms and 2 baked tomatoes.  This was a rustic big breakfast.  This would cure a hangover.  This is the sort of breakfast you would order before winning a war! 

Unfortunately after so many great breakfasts here, with exceptional hospitality and service, best non-city coffee, mornings doing the newspaper quiz with the rest of the diners, discussions about football and so many fond memories, Chowder House seems to have closed its doors.  So vail Chowder House and vail the big generous breakfast.  Might have to stick to the Bircher from here on in.