Monday, 5 August 2013

B is for Brunch!

It's been so long since I wrote on my blog that:
a) I forgot what it was called;
b) I forgot the password to get access to it;
c) I forgot which folder had all my cherished foodporn.
Time to get my memory checked...

...But that can wait until after this blog post because this woman has her priorities right!

As has become my modus operandi, I'm going to throw together a mixtape, if you like, of a few of the best brunches of the last nine-ish months. "Best of" lists are great for knocking a lot of semi-related but not super coherent content out of the way. They're also catnip for people with short attention spans (i.e. me and everyone in my generation) because they're essentially a whole heap of different colourful pictures with short descriptions. Also food.

1. The Grain Store, CBD
Let's start with the new shiny stuff! This place opened a month or two back and while the general location is somewhat questionable (strolling down King Street at 9am on a Sunday morning is great way to meet the finest specimens of society, yay!), the actual cafe is beautiful. It's a haven of clean but soft lines, neutral but warm's like a Scandanvian couple renovated a New England home, turning the entire place into an extended dining room/kitchen (because who wouldn't?!).

The food walks the fine line of creative and comforting and wins. On a Breakfast Club expedition, E went for the Portobello mushrooms with poached eggs and hazelnut hollandaise ($18.0). Ordinarily accompanied by a potato rosti, E continued her boycott of the wonderous starchy tuber, choosing crispy fingers of haloumi instead. I suppose we can forgive her.

I ordered the Orange cured salmon and fried poached egg with truffle creme fraiche, smoked eggplant and crostini ($17.0), and what came was so pretty I almost didn't eat it. Just kidding, I ate every last bit and it was great to mix and match all the components. Admittedly I don't recall truffle, which is a bit odd, since it's usually pretty potent.

R was feeling a bit overwhelmed so she went for poached eggs on toast. Classic, maybe. Photogenic, not.

2. North Carlton Canteen, North Carlton
Have you ever walked past a soon-to-open store and thought 'damn, this place is going to be good!', purely on the basis of their font selections? No disappointments with North Carlton Canteen, a great space serving solidly good meals with genuinely friendly service. And kudos for filling a desperate need on the North Carlton stretch of Lygon Street.

The first time I visited was late last year, a few weeks after they'd quietly opened. A indulged her sweet tooth with the Banana bread pancakes with fresh strawberries, whipped cream yoghurt, strawberry and agave nectar and pistachio praline ($13). So it wasn't the prettiest thing, but looks aren't everything in this game. I had the delicious, delicious Pumpkin and fetta fritters with tahini yohgurt, poached eggs and rocket salad ($12).

A return trip for a quick breakfast in June this year confirmed the theme: delicious, homey and cheap! E, my companion, had an omlette of some description. I feel goats cheese and mushrooms were involved and the kitchen was more than happy to swap the meat for a decent hunk of avocado ($13.5). I went down the glorious fried path, opting for the Celeriac croquettes with a soft herb salad, poached eggs and  trout ($14.0). More substantial slices of smoked trout would've been appreciated.

North Carlton Canteen also does tasty takeaway lunchboxes: perfect for enjoying in the park when Summer rolls around!

3. Industry Beans, Fitzroy
How this one city can sustain so many roasting warehouses is definitely a #FirstWorldProblem, but if there's ever a bust, let's hope this one stays afloat for the sake of the food alone. If you're ever bored, you should just read the menu. Unless you're hungry and it's ten pm and there's a gale outside - that's only going to end badly for you. 

R and I had the loveliest waiter when we visited; she let us linger a few hours while hungry hoardes cursed and hissed silently. R had the Baked blackbeans, which arrived with a veritable cornucopia of vegetables, feta, sourdough and an intriguing side of cured egg yolk ($17). The yolk proved to be a winner, spread thickly on toast. Writing this blog post has made it apparent that I have an unhealthy affinity to goods finished in a deep fryer: in this case, Deep fried duck eggs (panko crumbed) on shaved fennel, watercress and toasted chestnuts with capsicum and orange infused sweet potato puree. ($18.0). I wish ducks laid bigger eggs.

4. Stovetop, Carlton
If you're feeling too alternative for Seven Seeds and Middle Fish, head down to Stovetop, which makes its caffeine old-school style, using Italian stovetop coffee makers. The food is also a plus. A ordered the Latkes made from sweet potato and chia with poached eggs, baba ganoush and rocket ($14.0). Clearly I have a memory problem: failing to remember my egg sizes, I went for the Duck egg baked in sautéed spinach, roast pumpkin, Persian fetta with house za’atar and toast ($13.0). If it wasn't so morally questionable, I'd genetically engineer ducks to lay bigger eggs. 

Since this visit, they now have a website, which features well-dressed individuals gazing distractingly into the distance. What is more distracting is the inclusion of a menu which contains Cinnamon waffles with pomegranate molasses, vanilla bean custard, agave and house almond dukkah ($13.0). Want.

5. Mart 130, Albert Park 
We interrupt this Northside broadcasting to bring you something a little different. Mart 130 is undeniably cute and has cleverly taken a tram station cottage hostage. And by 'taken hostage', I mean lovingly converted it into a cosy yet relaxed space to enjoy a great meal. E, R and I spent a very lazy Sunday here a few months ago, partaking in their famed Corn fritters (accompanied by smoked salmon, beetroot relish and creme fraiche in this picture - check out the glisten on that fish!), and Poached eggs with mushrooms and truffled polenta. Even with the truffle, polenta failed to impress E. Prices were a little on the high side, as one expects with Albert Park.

6. Luxbite, South Yarra 
Luxbite is better known for its decadent desserts and macarons - including a Kaya Toast specimen, an homage to the owner's Malaysian roots. However, the last time Mother visited Melbourne, we popped in for a quick savoury bite. We shared the Pandan chicken burger with sambal mayo, apple-kiwi relish and Asian slaw ($15) and 'LuxBite Pork Bun' 2 ways - one with pulled pork and kimchi, the other with homemade pork jerky and Kewpie ($15). I'm such a sucker for fusion food, and these guys hit and lit up all the right umami taste buds.

7.  Six & Twenty Espresso, North Melbourne
I still remember when this stretch of Queensberry became The Deadlands once you walked past The French Quarter; happily for all Northsiders with stomachs, Elceed, Beatrix and Six & Twenty Espresso have graced us with their presence.

I caught up with the sibling, an old family friend (also J) and her insanely adorable puppy-at-the-time, Alfred, for brunch here. Alfred, seeking to maintain his sleek Maltese/Shih Tzu figure, passed on the food offerings - his loss! G ordered The Revolution, a Nicoise-like concoction of seared tuna steak, olives, heirloom tomato and eggs ($18.9); I ordered The Hunter, a dream-like mountain of balsamic-roasted portobellos, chorizo, sourdough and black truffle oil, with a light snowy coat of parmesan ($16.9). Tragically, the shiver-inducing combination of balsamic, parmesan and truffle must forever remain a dream, as they've taken it off the menu! I do not remember the artistic name for J's dish, most likely due to my infatuation with The Hunter. 

Having just checked out the menu, there are a host of new dishes...return trip here we come!

8. Hammer & Tong, Fitzroy
Taking over the space which was previously home to the short-lived The Brix, Hammer & Tong is a sharp, sleek space that still has a great sense of humour, as evidenced by R's Buttermilk pancakes, blueberries, maple syrup and popping candy ice cream ($16.0). As if you'd say no to popping candy. They also do the classics well too: L's Bircher museli came with a Anzac biscuit granola and lush crop of granny smith apple shavings ($10.0); my Omlette with Meredith goats cheese and greens ($16.0) was textbook, if a tad anorexic; and E's Truffled duck egg (those poor ducks!) on toast with parmesan and grilled asparagus ($18.0) was just a little bit fanceh.

I would definitely want to return to have a crack at the Soft shell crab burger w sriracha mayonnaise ($16). And more crack(ling) candy.

9. Silo by Joost, CBD
I swear this is the last one. This was so long ago that the year was 2012, and R and I were wearing summer dresses...however, I have to mention it because it is simply amazing. In this tiny space, they make everything - yes, everything - on site. They even mill their own flour to make their own bread, so yeah, you could say they're committed. They are also waste-free, turning food scraps into compost for their producers to use and utilise reusable, returnable crates etc. for food. What's more incredible is that they do it without the hipster attitute: the place is friendly, airy, light (and clean, of course). R had the Asparagus served with slowly cooked hen egg yolk, toasted pumpkin, flax, camelina, sunflower seeds and hot butter ($12.0). I had the special; a beautiful mix of thin slices of beetroot and seared rump with toasty, buttery, crunchy quinoa ($18.0). The bread is orgasmic, by the way.

If you are still reading this, there is no way you have a short attention span. You deserve a reward...brunch, perhaps? 

Happy Eating!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Oms & Noms, At Home

You may have noticed that there weren't many oms and noms in the Winter months. This is largely due to the fact that I have hibernation-like tendencies, hate going out and am even less sociable (what? is that even possible?) when it gets cold. Foodwise, I tend to cook a little more at home.

I'm going to go easy on the words for this blog as I have used up my string-words-into-coherent-sentences quota for the day. Think of it as a self-indulgent PowerPoint presentation, but better (so I hope!).

La Belle Miette Macarons, Avocado
Strawberries, Basil, Goats Cheese, Balsamic
What a sandwich really should look like
Tomato, Thyme, Goats Cheese Tart
Duck & Parsnip Pie, Raddiccio & Rocket Salad
Pie Innards
Olive Oil & White Wine Cake
Turkey Meatballs, Roast Vegetables
Nettle & Goats Cheese Fritatta
Portugese Egg Tarts

Oms & Noms, August to October

My phone had been operating really slowly of late and finally this morning, refused to respond to my commands. At the store, the guy gave it a quick check, gave me a funny look and then told me that I should probably delete my photos to speed it up. I was about to leave when he asked, 'Do you have any photos on there that aren't food-related?'

Oh, snap.

In other news, I can't understand how formatting works, so the paragraph spacing in ths blog is a bit off. Apologies if you're OCD like me, and it's really irritating you.

1. L'atelier de Monsieur Truffe, Brunswick East 
I have blogged about this place on more than one occasion before, but forgive me - I have the misfortune of living in its vicinity. Plus, it really is one of those rare cafes with the full package - beautiful food presented with great thought, good coffee, and a wonderfully airy fit out. It tends to get quite busy on the weekends though, so I took advantage of the (now-a-mere-distant-memory) mid-semester break to visit a few times.

'Look, no hand(le)s!'
Which looks cool...
...but practically speaking, is kinda annoying.

The first time was a lovely and leisurely lunch with R and L. My lunch companions both opted for the 'Full Vegie Breakfast': eggs any way, spiced beans, oven dried tomatoes, sautéed spinach and avocado ($17), while I had the Free range smoked chicken salad with honey-glazed pumpkin, organic barley, wild rice, pine nuts and red grapes ($18), which was texture heaven.

On a second trip, I was joined by ye old faithful, A, for a brunch date. A zoned in, with an expert eye, on the Smoked salmon, Fuji apple and caper berries served on sourdough with a poached egg ($14). I feel that there may have been some fennel action involved as well. I was in an indulgent mood, so I ordered the 'Tartine Chocolat', a choice of either milk, 52% dark or 70% dark chocolate on toasted brioche ($11). The 52% was just perfect for moi, and the small mound of salt flakes for self-dispensing purposes was perfect for offsetting the sweetness.

Finally, I must make a plug for these awesome 'Magic Robots' they are currently selling for $4 a pop. Aren't they süber (super + über) cute? And best of all, there's more than meets the eye...

2. Small Victories, North Carlton
The Breakfast Club caught up here quite a while ago, with a surprise visit from X. In all honesty, I can't say I was wowed by the food; by all means, it wasn't bad, just nothing mind-blowing, particularly given the prices we were paying. I'm hoping that things have improved; a future visit is on the cards. E had the Organic eggs on toast (scrambled of course, because that preference really seems to be ingrained into her DNA) with Oven-baked mushrooms, garlic and rye crisp ($9.5 + $6); I went for the Baked eggs with house-smoked salmon, organic quark and fine herbs ($16); while R and L had the Granola with elderflower, poached rhubarb, lychee, organic yoghurt and berry powder ($12). I think the granola was probably the standout dish of the lot.

3. Sticky Fingers Bakery
In the month of August, $20 could secure one a seat to a dessert-related film screening and an appropriately-themed candy bar pack, courtesy of Sticky Fingers Bakery. G and I went to the screening of Waitress, a left-of-centre comedy about love, babies and making pies (no euphemisim, really) which is definitely worth a watch.

Our candy bar packs consisted of a Fantale Popcorn Slice, Choc Cherry Cola Cupcake, Coffee & Donut Cupcake, and in honour of the film, a Mini Cherry Pie. Woohoo!

Sticky Fingers Bakery also do deliveries of various delicious cupcakes, cakes and custom cakes (including this rad "Ghosty Cake", second photo), and occasionally throw themed dessert nights at the Gasometer Hotel; 'liking' them on Facebook is a wise move.

4. The Moor's Head, Thornbury
Home of 'inauthentic pizza', this relaxed restaurant focuses on pizza with a Middle Eastern twist. The sibling and I had the 'Inauthentic Banquet', which at $25 a head, is very reasonable. (Yes, they do like the word 'inauthentic'.) The aforementioned banquet began with a trio of starters: Radishes with salt, Pickled vegetables with olives and Baby peppers stuffed with feta and walnuts. Heaps of crunchy goodness.

The 'Omar Sharif': three cheeses, oregano, fresh mint, nigella, soused onions. A boat of cheeeeeeeeeese. That pretty much sums it up. Definitely best gobbled immediately with hands while still hot and oozy. Congealed cheese just doesn't quite taste the same.

The 'Fake Millionaire': minced beef, hummus, pine nuts, chilli, parsley. Also delicious, and a more zingy set of flavours which made a great foil to the Omar Sharif.

The banquet also comes with a choice of salad - from memory, we picked the roquette, shankleesh (a kind of hard, crumbly cheese) and Iranian raisins.

Really good value. And they do takeaway!

5. Wonderbao, CBD
I love the name of this place - you can't say it and not feel happy. It also reminds me of this hit, and also the expression, 'wunderbar!', both of which are excellent things.

This tiny space - down an alleyway, naturally - churns out delicious bao (or baozi, as I grew up calling them), delicious steamed buns with various fillings. Unlike most of the authentic bao-houses you'll find in Chinatown, this place is slick, clean and has white hipsters making your bao. Not that there's anything wrong with the last point, I just found it [insert some wank about cultures clashing/melding/juxtaposing]

Along with all the classics, like char siu bao (a very reasonable $2), these guys also do gua bao, which are kinda like taco-fied bao. I opted for the Roast pork belly gua bao, with cucumber, pickled carrot, daikon and hoisin sauce and a Fried silky tofu gua bao, with pickled mustard, coriander, sweet soy sauce and crushed peanuts ($3.8 each). Good stuff.

 The standout, though, is the nai wong bao, or egg custard concoction. When I first bit into this, it rendered me speechless. As in, I just kept wordlessly motioning to the uneaten half in my hand while my dining companions just looked at me with a mixture of concern and amusement. It's the perfect ratio of bun to filling, and the custard innards are substantial, sweet and fluffy all at the same time. Get one (or six) in ya!

6. Pope Joan, Brunswick East
This place, as I've blogged about before, does the kind of food which makes you wish you had a bottomless stomach and wallet so you could have one of everything. Recently however, I've been visiting this place for afternoon catchups with P, so we've been 'limiting' ourselves to a 'diet' of sweet treats.

In photographic order: Warm chocolate brownie; Orange and marmalade cake; Carrot cake; Lemon tart with an amazing vanilla bean cream (around $5 each).

Also, how cute is the way they serve their Boiled eggs, soldiers, bacon bits, herb salt ($9)?

7. Carlton Esspresso, Carlton
The sun was shining yesterday (in Melbourne?! No way!), so G and I made the most of it, doing a spot of people watching while lunching on Lygon Street. She had the Quinoa with pistachio pesto, asparagus, zucchini, yoghurt and lemon ($14), and I went for the Black rice salad with tuna and Tuscan greens ($16). I am now in love with black rice.

Also, a D.O.C. deli has opened up next door to Carlton Espresso, and stocks all kinds of deliciousness in a really lovely space. The samples of parmesan drizzled with truffled honey was a revelation.

Happy eating!