Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cellar Bargains

Sorry, this isn't a post about wine - but if you want to have bang for your buck to the max, try out this Italian treasure, the cheapest sibling (as in least expensive, not lacking in class) of the Grossi Florentino trio.

More detail to come.

Meals: around $10-20

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar
80 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
Open: Mon-Sat 7.30am-midnight
Tel: +613 9662 1811

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Shhh....!

I've found coffee heaven in the eastern suburbs, but don't tell too many people 'cause this place isn't exactly big and the last thing i want to do (being the selfish caffeine addict that i am) is have to wait in line for 10 minutes for a coffee...

They roast on-site and you can buy a zillion different blends of coffee by weight to have at home, or just duck in for a take-out or a quick coffee (you won't be staying too long because they don't have food, apart from a few sweet things, and plus it gets so busy you'd feel awkward hogging a seat for too long anyway).

i had a long macchiato: strength - check. heady crema - check. textured milk - check. balanced aroma/taste - check.

i.e. the coffee is excellent. and i'm pretty conservative with word choice.

i suppose i needn't say more, except that we also tried out their vanilla slice and it's pretty damn good (although perhaps they just buy it off someone??) - just don't put sugar in your coffee 'cause it's sweet enough .

if you live in the eastern suburbs (of metro melbourne), you'll love me for telling you about this place.

caffe romeo
319 doncaster road
north balwyn vic 3104
australia
open: mon-fri 8am-6pm, sat 8am-5pm

[click here to see what others had to say about it]

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Taming of the Brew

Friends and family of caffeine addicts beware. Letting your coffee lover near Icoco is like releasing a five year-old in a toy store.

First, they’ll stand staring wide-eyed at the shelves, transfixed by the sight of espresso cups, shiny stainless steel milk frothing jugs and bags of coffee beans roasted on site. Then, they’ll see the scintillating silver espresso machine and the coffee menu on the wall behind the counter, and they’ll tug you gingerly by the sleeve with a smirk on their face that tells you that they want to take all this home. To really get them jigging, whisper to your five year-old that if they ask the lovely ladies behind the counter politely, they might be able to get a glimpse of the almighty roaster out the back. While they’re jumping up and down like a veritable preschooler, sit yourself down on one of the humble black tables and have a read of the coffee menu on the wall. It’ll tell you a single shot of espresso is made with 7-8 grams of ground coffee that is extracted for 25 seconds to give you 25 millilitres of their heavenly brew, and that your latte has a double shot of espresso (40 millilitres of extraction from 14-15 grams of coffee in 30 seconds) in a large glass with textured milk. No wonder it’s called a coffee ‘menu’. By now, even the occasional coffee drinker should be excited.

Only a coffee aficionado confident in their baristas would be bold enough to write in such detail without being labelled pretentious, so I decided have a go at their macchiato (“single shot in a traditional espresso cup with a ‘touch’ of textured milk” though I ordered a long macchiato, so I imagine it would have had a double shot). The coffee came, as promised, with no more than a dash of milk – purists would protest that milk is utter blasphemy, so by all means have yourself an espresso or a long black, because the coffee here is so heartbreakingly good, you won’t taste an ounce of unwanted bitterness; it just rolls around on your tongue like velvet with a fullness and complexity of taste akin to a good cognac.

To go with your coffee, there are several cakes, which are rumoured to be as great as the coffee, on which I unfortunately had to give up in place of a proper lunch, which wasn’t bad either. They have a range of panini and some specials, such as homemade pizza, soup and a healthy roasted vegetable lasagne. The Moroccan lamb panini came toasted with slightly spicy lamb mince, roasted eggplant, squash and baby spinach. An interesting and pleasing combination that breaks away from the café staples of roast veg and bococcini, roast beef and the like. If you happen to walk in wanting breakfast, they also have the usual suspects such as scrambled eggs on toast.

Coffee has often been reserved for adults, but for real kids (i.e. not the one begging you to buy the coffee machine), there are storybooks and puzzles, as well as a children’s menu, so mum and dad can enjoy their food and coffee in relative peace. Alternatively, soak in the sun on the pavement tables (if you’re lucky enough to see the sun in the gloomy Melbourne winter).

The star here is undoubtedly the coffee. The baristas are incredibly friendly, skilful and knowledgeable, and the coffees they make are sure to have even the most doubtful and unadventurous drinker excited.

Their beans are also being distributed in other cafés under the 'Woven' brand.

Average spending: AUD$5-15 p.p.

Icoco café and foodstore
143 Victoria Ave
Albert Park VIC 3207
Australia
Tel: +613 9690 7638
Open: Daily 8am-5pm

Seasons greetings

As winter dawns upon us (for those of us in the southern hemisphere), it seems harder and harder to get out of the house. The heater’s on, the kettle’s boiling, you’re in your snuggly booties and shapeless but warm trackie dacks, and the sofa looks more inviting than ever. But there are rewards for those who brave the chilling winds and venture into the depths of the country.

The Yarra Valley isn’t exactly so far into the country anyway. In about an hour’s drive from the city, you can have yourself an excellent sample of local produce. Of course, you can go and pick your own apples, pears and what not, but how about having the fruits of the regional harvest expertly prepared and presented in a quaint setting (à la wicker chair, Victorian garden patio and starched napkins)? Then off you go to Healesville Hotel.

They make it no secret that they were awarded ‘Country Restaurant of the Year’ by the 2006 The Age Good Food Guide; you’ll see signage all around the entrance of the restaurant displaying proudly the pair of hats (out of a maximum of three) they’ve earned.

To be frank, we were indeed lured to this place because of its title, but became slightly wary about seeing the aggressive marketing leveraged from it when we arrived, but we’d made reservations and we’d driven this far, so there was no backing out. Lucky we didn’t because if only for the slippery jack gnocchi, it would have been worth the trip.

We’d seen the slippery jacks for sale in the deli next door and weren’t particularly amused by the look of this large mushroom. Heaped into a basket, they looked flaccid and limp and had a colour that I could only describe as mouldy soil, but to our dismay these unwelcoming looking fungi were on the specials board for lunch, featuring in a dish of housemade gnocchi. As it turns out, slippery jacks are firm, almost to the extent of having a crunch, and have a wonderful grassy, smoky flavour that proved themselves as the perfect partner to the fluffy pillows of potato gnocchi. Burnt butter with herbs brings the best of both worlds together.

The menu tells us that the paprika grilled quail is from the Yarra Valley, and comes with roasted quince (very much in season), rocket and manchego cheese. It arrives butterflied, with a crisp, apricot brown skin, atop fresh green leaves and ruby red chunks of quince as promised. The quail is tender and juicy, however a little lacking in flavour.

The main of roasted duckling is charming, although not as architecturally appealing as the previous dishes, but the depth of flavours make up for whatever was lacking. Wonderfully savoury, especially with the surrounding pool of reduction, the duckling was well complemented by the sweetness of the cannelloni packed with brightly coloured grated carrot.

There are just enough choices for dessert to have any sweet tooth psychologically torn. Although my hazelnut pudding with figs would have satisfied anyone, dessert fan or otherwise, as it was never cloyingly sweet; the pudding even had savoury qualities, and the vine leaf in which it was wrapped provided an additional shade of flavour that made the dessert feel wholesome yet sophisticated. A sprinkling of roughly chopped hazelnuts adds texture and brings a slightly ‘wild’ side to an otherwise tame dish.

The winelist is incredibly long, and while the mixture of local, smaller labels as well as European selections is appreciated, brevity is what challenges the sommelier.

Despite its slightly above-average (only very slightly) prices, given its relative proximity to metro Melbourne, the restaurant is quite popular, so remember to book ahead.

Come on, produce this well used is worth getting out of your ugg boots for.

Average spending per person: AUD$40-50

Healesville Hotel
256 Maroondah Hwy
Healesville VIC 3777
Australia
Tel: +613 5962 4002
Open: Daily Noon-3pm, 6-10pm
Website: www.healesvillehotel.com.au

Thursday, June 08, 2006

and so it is...

after a horrifying removal of the 'reviews' section of my xanga blog sans aucune explication, i have decided to abandon xanga for all my food writing.

in case you have stumbled upon this by chance, allow me to say "nice to meet you".

the purpose of this blog is to share my thoughts on food, mostly in the form of restaurant 'reviews'. i use quotation marks as i feel quite inadequate as a 'reviewer' - i have never owned or run a restaurant, and my experiences working in the industry are limited to a single short waitressing stint (if you really wanna know, it was here!). yet i dare say that food is my life. i live to eat (please excuse the cliché, but clichés only become as they are because of their inevitable truth).

i want value for money - which means i try anything at (almost) any price. my only criteria is that it tastes good, and that the whole package is what i would expect for the amount i pay.

what i write is merely my thoughts - as a visitor, as an 'eater'.

right now i'm in melbourne, australia, but regretfully it's time to move on and i'll soon be leaving this foodie city for... well hong kong mostly, but i envision that it'll soon be a bit of everywhere, so eventually there should be more posts about places to eat around the world.

hopefully i'll be adding some writing here soon.

meanwhile, eat, drink and be merry~