Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Get those feet under - The Undertaker, Hawthorn

went to the undertaker tonight. but fear not, it's not a dead person typing here, and i'm not due to go to a funeral (touch wood).

the undertaker is the name of a new-ish restaurant in hawthorn. not your typical suburban thing, thank goodness, but not really city-standard either. prices are less reasonable than the city - probably due to lack of direct competition - there aren't many real restaurants in the eastern suburbs. let me be fair - to be precise, mains were reasonably priced, while 'small plates to share' and desserts were not. the 'small plates' were indeed 'small', but unless you have a scalpel on hand, not so easy 'to share'. desserts lacked skill - very little cooking or even assembly is involved, and the servings were small, but nonetheless they cost the price of a decent lunch with coffee (around $12). i had a chestnut cake with roasted quinces and a yogurt/cream thing. the cake was something i could have easily made, and the serving was easily one sixteenth of the whole cake. the quinces were cold. no, not room temp, cold.

anyhow, to their credit, nothing was bad. my little quail was actually quite tender and juicy, though a little lacking in flavour, but the combination with fresh grapes was pleasing and unexpected. the grilled sticks of polenta on the side were very well made. this is probably the only dish i'd ever recommend here. my gnocchi with black cabbage and something else (i've forgotten) was tiny - though it would've helped, visually, if it weren't served in finger bowl sized crockery. hmm, and i just realised - where was my black cabbage? i had loads of spinach but surely...

the wine list is decent; there are several choices by the glass, which was great cause it was just dad and i and he was having fish. (i hardly ever have white wine by choice.) my milkwood 2003 pinot noir was surprisingly nice for an australian pinot. flowery on the nose, light but rounded on the tongue - i shan't go into it any more cause i'm no wine commentator. i'm worse than an amateur :P all i can say is i want to go out and buy a dozen.

a value for money suburban place it is not, but for a mid week i'm-too-lazy-to-cook-or-go-out-and-i-feel-rich-this-week night, it's a decent bet. and apparently, they can do bookings for up to ten people (without it being a 'function' with reduced menus and all that crap), which is pretty cool if you tend to have dinners with extended family (yes, i am speaking from many years' experience). it's got a nice looking bar too, so it might be a good place to pop into for a late night drink and dessert with friends. speaking of good-looking, the decor isn't bad - you can tell they spent heaps on it; though i've never understood why restaurant interiors in melbourne are becoming increasingly ignorant of acoustics. too many places end up sounding like sunday yum chas on busy nights.

it's very popular with the easterners, so remember to book. (though beware that they do have one of those horrid "press 1 for X" recordings...)

the undertaker
329 burwood road (near cnr glenferrie road)
hawthorn 3122
tel: 98183944
open: daily noon-3pm, 6-10pm

forgot to say that this place has this funny name because they took over the site of a real undertaker... scaryyyyyyy kakaka

Friday, May 05, 2006

Intellectual property - Journal

Okay, fine. I admit. I’m a nerd. Letting me loose in a library or a bookshop is like dropping a strawberry into a chocolate fondue: you’ll literally have to fork me out; and simple conversations with me can lead to full-blown discussions about whether the concept of a truly global organisation is a myth.

Journal, a café on the corner of Flinders Lane and Degraves Street, tucked neatly into the City Library inside the CAE, is the perfect place for us nerds, ahem, intellectuals. And you needn’t worry about being glued to your book (and hence your seat) or have begun a never-ending debate, because fortunately, they’re open until late on weekdays, a rare sight for cafés in the CBD.

The timber bookshelves hanging above the communal tables complete the literary atmosphere without the stuffiness of an old bookshop thanks to the large windows opening up to the view of boho Flinders Lane and the equally chic Library.

In the evening they serve antipasto as well as a range of small dishes, such as salads, bruschetta and soup, and have ‘construct your own roll’ offerings greatly anticipated by the hungry CBD hoards at lunchtime.

My chickpea and vegetable soup was a tomato-based broth with small hunks of potato and carrot along with a generous handful (or two) of chickpeas, making it a very pleasant and comforting soup to have on that cold, rainy (aka typical Melbourne) night. It came with a slice of toast drizzled in olive oil, as do their salads, like the witlof, pear and ricotta salad, or the more traditional Italian rocket and tomato.

The roast pumpkin and fetta bruschetta was excellent. Thick, sweetly roasted golden wedges of pumpkin lay atop a large slice of toasted sourdough, the whole thing finished off with a generous slice of fetta and a sprinkling of spices.

As for sweets, they have several danishes as well as Portuguese egg tarts and little bars of rocky roads. They’re all displayed up front, so leave your debating opponent to conjure up new arguments for a minute and wander up for a glimpse. They act more as an accompaniment to the coffee (which is superb, so why you would want anything else to steal the show?), rather than shine on their own, but my pear danish was pleasing nonetheless.

The service is friendly enough, though timing could be better. Having arrived early in the evening with the place not exactly buzzing, we weren’t expecting to be asked every three seconds whether we were ready to order yet. We had made it clear we were to order food, so giving us a couple more minutes to study the menu (especially when written on a chalkboard a fair way from our table) would only seem natural. When we were ready to order however, staff attention seemed to have diverted from us.

Everything at Journal, the lighting, the surroundings, the general hum of the place, the food and the coffee (oh my goodness, did I mention the coffee?) is almost faultless, and it exudes that kind of welcoming sensation that you get when you arrive home and know you can just curl up with a book and forget about the trivial things in life like who’s going to do the dishes. I mean, when did you last hear of Sartre or Confucius worrying about chores?

253 Flinders Lane (corner Degraves Street)
Melbourne 3000
Tel: +613 9650 4399
Open: Mon-Fri 6.30am-late, Sat 8am-6pm

Fine wining - Gertrude Street Enoteca

What would Melbourne be without its rightful scattering of cafés? For a long time we’ve boasted the most restaurants per capita in Australia, as well as claiming our superiority for all things foodie. Recent years have seen the emergence an increasing number of casual but wine-focused eating places around town, such as City Wine Shop on Spring Street, and Gertrude Street Enoteca in Fitzroy.

Gertrude Street is definitely the food-lover’s street of the season, with an organic baker and food store, a great pizza place (Ladro) that’s worth every ounce of hype it’s received since opening, even a bookstore that specializes in cookbooks (Books for Cooks). Gertrude Street Enoteca (enoteca is the Italian name for a wine shop which could also be a bar/café) completes the landscape beautifully.

Passing by in a car, the enoteca’s humble exterior reveals little of the greatness within. Look into the deep space and you will gasp upon seeing the abundance of wines lining the walls. Step in and you will stand in amusement of the chains of garlic, bay leaves and cured meats descending from the ceiling, their aromas filling the Scandinavian-chic marble and blonde wood room, wafting amid the gratifying scent of coffee.

We arrive for lunch a little early, but unfortunately not early enough for breakfast, so we wait, musing at the range of wines – Italian (of course), French, Australian, New Zealand, but to list a few of the origins – while the small selection of lunch choices are being made in the back kitchen by the lovely Rosa with whom we chatted while enjoying a refreshing prickly pear salad. (Although I think poor Rosa was feeling less than refreshed about having to handle the spiky fruits.) The golden-yellow fruits have a pleasing texture, in between mango (a similar stringy, fibrous quality) and cantaloupe, and lay, assembled in a spontaneous manner, with rocket, prosciutto and parmesan. The salty cured taste of the wonderfully stretchy prosciutto, is helped by the shavings of parmesan to articulate how great antipasti ingredients can be. Though for more antipasti, they have a platter, which has been all the rave in Melbourne recently.

There are three sandwich-type offerings today – a focaccia with pickled artichokes, provolone and rocket, a panini with zucchini frittata, fetta, mint and rocket, and a porterhouse panini with horseradish mayonnaise, cheddar, caramelized onions and lettuce, which we chose. The porterhouse was thin, but would still be classified as a steak for its juiciness. The whole panini was spruced up by the great condiments, particularly the onions that were caramelized so well I thought those soft translucent strings were relish. We had been seriously prepared to ask them to warm it up for us, as we knew to do this by default in most cafés, but to our delight, it arrived crisp, tender, warm, and not too thick. The art of a good sandwich is revealed when the hungry customer raises it to a vertical and yet hardly anything falls out.

Gertrude Street Enoteca isn’t about fancy pansy food. It’s about having a relaxing time with good food, wine and company. I needn’t be reminded that I must be back soon for some late night drinks and antipasto, if I’m lucky enough to find a table, that is.

Average spending per person: $10-15 (excluding wine)

Gertrude Street Enoteca
229 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy 3065
Tel: +613 9415 8262
Open: Mon – Fri: 8.30am – late, Sat: 10am – late