If there was ever a quiz called ‘What Melburnian Suburb Are You?’, I’m pretty confident I’d be Brunswick East. Or at least, I’d hope with all my fingers and toes crossed that I would be. I love the fig, lemon and plum trees that dot the sidestreets; I love the handiwork of the yarnbombers on lampposts and bike racks; I love my love-hate relationship with the hipsters, so infuriatingly nonchalant.
Almost goes without saying too, that I love the food. Here’s a few bites of the local fare.
Beatbox Kitchen, North 'Burbs
The menu is simple - a Raph Burger ($11), a Shroom Burger ($10) and old school shoestring fries ($5). The Raph Burger is the stuff of foodgasms: a beef patty so tender the meat's still pink, cheese that melts perfectly and tangy stereo sauce that is as addictive as crack. Extra kudos for the aluminium foil wrapper which is sturdy enough to keep the sauce/juices off your hands and on the bun where it belongs. Ah...just look at how beautiful it is!
Small Block, 130 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
This place is just a great cafe: solidly good coffee and really tasty breakfasts. Everyone - staff, customers, canine friends - seems genuinely happy to be there, and it's impossible to leave without an extra bounce in your step. I caught up with my former-biomed-now-onto-grander-things-i.e.-med friend, A, there the other week. She had the Summer Breakfast ($16), a glorious assortment of the classics: poached eggs, goat's fetta, wilted spinach, beetroot relish and sourdough. I went for the Huevos Rancheros ($17.5), a stack of tortillas stuffed with beans and chorizo, salsa and a fried egg perched atop.
Kumo Izakaya, 152 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
G and I stopped here for lunch on a ridiculously hot Saturday. We opted for the Deluxe Bento Box ($35), which contained a cornucopia of delicious Japanese treats - sashimi, tempura, steamed chicken with sesame sauce, nanbanzuke (marinated deep fried fish), vegetables takiawase, potato salad, homemade tofu, miso soup, rice and pickles. The nanbanzuke and the sashimi were the pick of the box.
From the bar menu, we sampled the Fruity plum wine Karaage chicken ($12.8), fried chicken with a delicious Japanese kick, and the assorted Dengaku plate ($12.8), halves of eggplant cooked until soft and topped with a walnut or pinenut miso. Umami K/O!
Hellenic Republic, 438 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
This is most definitely one of my favourite restaurants; it's just coincidence that I happen to live in the almost immediate vicinity. I swear. G and I visited recently to conduct routine surveillance on our neighbours and were satisfied with what we saw/heard/ate. Alas, no visuals of the starters and mains, but I would highly recommend the Tyri Saganaki - kefalograviera cheese with peppered figs ($14.5), the Kipriaki Salata Dimitriakon - Cypriot salad of grains, pulses and nuts ($11) and the Arni Sto Fourno - slow roasted shoulder of lamb, garlic, oregano ($26.5). To quote a good friend, 'the lamb is one of those dishes that reminds me why I can never be vegetarian'. I did have the foresight to take photos of dessert: G went for the Ekmek Kataifi Pagoto, kataifi pastry, cherries, custard, mastic ice cream ($14.5) and I ordered the special of the night - an ouzo panna cotta with honeycomb wafer and mandarin and rapsberry pearls ($14.5). The panna cotta was both creamy but light and refreshing and a perfect way to end a meal. And just look at it - how is that not a happy dessert?
Mankoushe, 325 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
This place is cheap and cheerful, and friggin' tasty. The spinach and fetta triangle ($4.5) is amazing, with the salty, juicy, vibrantly green feta and spinach mixture in light pastry casing. The size of your head. The labneh offering is refreshingly tangy, with a hit of mint, and the falafel is great too. I'm slowly working my way through the menu: difficult job, I know.
Monsieur Truffe, 351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
Chocolate is the big drawcard here, but this is also one of those (rare) places where you want to eat absolutely everything on the menu. And yet, when it arrives, it's so beautifully presented, you hesitate before plunging your knife in. I opted for the Cannellini bean & lemon thyme spread, poached eggs, Ortiz anchovies and pea shoots ($17). My eating companion, C, freshly turned 21, went for a classic Croque Monsieur ($17) - thick cut ham, bechamel sauce and caramelised leeks between two thick slices of sourdough and grilled gruyere cheese atop to complete (an artery-clogging) perfection.
Pope Joan, 77-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East
Pope Joan is another of those cafes where everything on the menu wants to be in your belly. Immediately. On this occasion, I visited with two high school friends, names both beginning with C. (I now see how this letter thing is going to be an issue.) 'Newly-21 C' went straight for the Corn cake, smashed avocado and poached egg with garlic and harissa mayonnaise ($17), while 'commerce-genius C' ordered the Spanner crab omlette, coriander and chilli salt ($19). I couldn't go past the Parsnip croquettes, hot smoked salmon, slow cooked egg and beetroot remoulade ($19). Judging by the silence which descended almost immediately after our food arrived, everything was just perfect.
Finally, thanks to my super cool biomed-buddy A, who gifted me some figs from the tree in her backyard. Here are some of them, glistening like jewels...served with Greek yoghurt and crushed hazelnuts, for a damn fine breakfast.