Max’s Cafe and Wine Bar

1-3 Leake St, Essendon
Phone: 9374 2632

You can tell a lot about a person from the places they choose to take you on a date. When I’m in charge of choosing the place, you can tell that I’m indecisive and often disorganised. I’ll most likely suggest to meet somewhere in the vicinity of a few good options, then make us traipse around seemingly aimlessly, dismissing options out of hand because they’re too busy, not busy enough, or because I’ve heard something bad about it from friends. But I’d like to think that more often than not, I come up with the goods. That’s one good thing about being a food blogger, having other food bloggers as friends; you have a pretty good idea of where the good places to eat are.

Anyway, when I went out on a second date with Mr D – the first was just drinks at a bar – and we were in his ‘hood, naturally I decided to let him choose. The first alarm bell rang when he declared that he didn’t really like Asian food. I really should have said, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you.” then and there. But I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, and so we ended up at Max’s.

Upon walking in, we were summarily ignored by the three waitstaff who were managing three other tables between them. The place looked like a reputable establishment, so we approached one of the waitresses and asked to be seated. We were told to “just sit anywhere”, so we did, and waited for about five minutes before another waiter came over to us to ask if we needed anything. Yeah, menus might be useful. Well, they would have been, had they not been filled with the most banal of cafe/pub dishes. I can’t even remember what was on there – it’s that forgettable – but I’m fairly sure there was probably something like a tandoori chicken salad, some sort of steak, and two or three bland-sounding pasta dishes. So when in doubt, benchmark the place. We both ordered the chicken parma, with chips and vegetables.

Now I know my photography isn’t great – something I’m ironically proud of, actually – but the food was actually that insipid looking. To be fair, the chips were OK. The parma itself was pretty big, but the chicken was dry and bland; I have a suspicion it was one of those terracotta chicken tiles you can buy at the supermarket deli. But the most distressing thing about the whole affair were the ‘roast vegetables’. Yes, they had been roasted, but probably not that day. And that certainly wasn’t the last cooking process which had been applied to them. Ah, the uneven heat distribution that can only be produced by a microwave. Some pieces were still cold, while others almost burned my tongue. Interestingly, conversation over the course of the meal also ran hot and cold. We had a few things in common, but I found myself having to think hard for the next conversation topic, which is never a good sign. But I digress.

The fact that I am an insatiable glutton is well known to you regular readers. It’s a rare occasion that I don’t finish a parma, because I very rarely order one unless I’m actually hungry. As a result, the act of leaving chicken on a plate is a form of silent protest for me. I protested at Max’s. Sadly, I doubt any of the staff noticed.

I’m not going back. Nor were there any subsequent dates with Mr D.

 

Parkville Store

52 Morrah St, Parkville

I’m a pretty lazy guy, especially in Winter. So when I discovered the Parkville Store, a mere two blocks from my office, in the residential back blocks of genteel Parkville, I was a little excited. From the outside, it looks like a milk bar. And it is a milk bar. Just not only a milk bar. It’s a pretty classic example of a neighbourhood ‘mixed business’, run by a lovely older Greek couple. They serve up an array of homemade dishes which change daily. I associate the style of food there with visiting friends’ houses for dinner when I was growing up in rural Victoria; things like moussaka, quiche, roast chicken, and lasagne. Vaguely Mediterranean Western food is the phrase that comes to mind. Which isn’t exactly homely to me, but still evokes a certain nostalgia. Nostalgia of swimming pools in summer, climbing jacaranda trees, and that time Andrew accidentally put two prongs of a rake in my leg while we were playing ninja turtles in his backyard. Needless to say, he wasn’t so good at being Donatello, and next time, he had to be Raphael.

I have a friend who is working at the nearby RMH, and so after going to Parkville Store for lunch on my own to do some recon, I suggested we meet there for lunch one day. I was feeling a little vegetarian that day – his name was Roberto, no I jest – so I went for the zucchini slice. It was tasty and warming, the way you expect such a dish made by a yiayia would be. The salad was also quite nice – fresh and refreshing, with the exception of the adorable use of tinned beetroot. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like tinned beetroot, as unrefined as that may sound. Actually, I feel a little SWPL pretentious pointing out the quaintness of the tinned beetroot, so just pretend I didn’t say that.imageMy friend had the roast chicken, with potatoes and roast vegetables. It seemed a little rude to warn him right in front of the yiayia that the vegetables I had on the earlier visit were a bit over-salted, so I’ll just warn you all here. The vegies are a bit over-salted. He was quite happy overall with his lunch. imageAnd as if the place wasn’t kitsch enough, have you noticed the vintage plates? So cool!

Capri Cafe

43 Bridge Mall, Ballarat
Phone: (03) 5331 2683

One of the bonuses of driving all the way to Dunkeld to dine at the Royal Mail Hotel was I got to visit Ballarat for the first time in my life. When I was in Year 7, my best friend moved to Ballarat. I was pretty sad about it, because he was, well, my best friend. In hindsight, I probably had something of a crush on him too, but I was a little too naive to know exactly how that works back then.

When he would tell me over the phone about Ballarat, how it was a lot colder there, and it the landscape was hilly, and the town was much bigger than Swan Hill, I somehow built up in my mind that it was something like the rolling hills somewhere in England, with pine forests and lots of owls. I think I was reading a lot of the Famous Five back then.

In any case, on our way back from Dunkeld on the Sunday afternoon, @eatnik, @meatnik and I stopped in Ballarat for lunch. It being a country town, a lot of places weren’t open. And us being a little hung over and indecisive, we wandered aimlessly around looking for somewhere to eat. At first, there was talk of regional (Victorian) Chinese food – something with which I have a lot of experience – but then as we wandered through the town, the town hall bells pealing at every turn, we settled on the idea of something even more pedestrian; @eatnik wanted a toasted tomato and cheese sandwich.


Not surprisingly, we headed downhill. In more ways than one. We wound up in the Bridge St Mall. You may not have been to Ballarat, but you know this mall. Every medium-to-large sized town in Australia has one. It has some rather unappealing shops, a bunch of ATMs, and it’s probably where you’ll find the local Medicare office. And it has cafes. The one we stopped in at was the Capri.

Once we were seated, we were promptly told that the grill had just been closed down (it was rather late in the afternoon) but that things like focaccias were still available. Which was fine by us. I was ‘feeling healthy’, so I ordered the roast vegetable focaccia. What I didn’t realise, because I was facing the wrong way, and not looking at the sandwich bar, was that regardless of what focaccia or sandwich I ordered, it was going to be laden with the plasticky margarine from a tub that can fairly be described as a bucket. That being said, the focaccia was not bad, though I it was also nothing special. It fit the cafe perfectly.


I was feeling healthy, but I was also feeling hungry. So I made the sorry mistake of ordering a bowl of chips, and watched with dread as the waitress excised the chips from the heated display case at the front of the cafe. Bad chips. But that didn’t stop the three of us from too many of them.


@eatnik got her wish – a toasted tomato and cheese sandwich on white bread. Complete with plastic margarine. She was satisfied. So much so that she took to telling the elderly locals on her way to the restroom that they weren’t bitches.


In the same vein, @meatnik had the ham and cheese toasted sandwich.


There’s nothing wrong with this place, if you take it for what it is – a pretty standard cafe in a country town.They might actually have produced some great food when their kitchen was open too, but I’m not sure I’ll be back in Ballarat any time soon to find out.

Etro cafe

49 King St, Perth CBD
Phone: (08) 9481 1148

We’re back in Perth again. OK, so this was from the same trip as the one when I went to tiger,tiger. Only 24 hours later, and significantly more hungover.

Mr N and I met up with my friend Ms C, who’s a local Perth girl. We stopped in at Etro on King St, mostly because it was close to our hotel. King St in Perth is a funny place, with high end boutiques and smart cafes. Yet it all feels so pristinely clean, not unlike a movie set at Movieworld. In fact, a lot of the Perth CBD feels like that.

What shocks me, but really shouldn’t, given the warnings I’d received, and the fact the town has bloated on mining riches, is that food is generally more expensive in Perth than in Melbourne. Noticeably so. Which would be fine, if service was better. Which at Etro, it’s not. I made the comment at one stage that it’s almost justifiable that service is crappy in Perth on a Sunday, because the waitresses are the only people who have to work Sundays.

In any case, I ordered the big breakfast.

The eggs were good, but pretty much everything else on this plate was mediocre. The bacon was particularly unappetising – which is strange, given my hangover – being not quite crispy, but sort of dry.

Mr N had the omelette Marchande, which came without any bread, but was hefty enough not to warrant any. He said it was quite good, and struggled a little to finish it all.


Having already been to work that morning, Ms C was in more of a lunch mood, and ordered the calamari salad. Which seemed rather stingy with the calamari, if you ask me.


I wouldn’t really go back to Etro, apart from the fact that so many places in Perth are closed on Sundays. Still, there would have to be better options.

Etro Cafe Bistro on Urbanspoon

tiger, tiger

329 Murray St, Perth CBD
Phone: (08) 9322 8055
http://tigertigercoffeebar.com/

Recently I went over to Perth with Mr N for the weekend. Due to work constraints, Mr N got in a couple of hours later than me, so as I’ve never been to Perth before, I spent Saturday morning wandering around downtown Perth, in search of somewhere to have breakfast. The majority of places in and around the Hay St and Murray St malls were either insipid looking coffee shops fronted by al fresco dining on plastic rattan seating, or schmickity modern cafes filled with moulded plastic and chrome. And while that might be OK in a pinch, I was certain there had to be somewhere in Perth with a little more character.

So I kept walking, and down the far end of Murray St, I happened upon a little laneway, with two cafes tucked away inside.Mismatched furniture and bill posters for theatre events everywhere told me I’d found the little piece of Perth’s soul I was looking for. Little did I know that it was set up by an ex-Melburnian. It all makes sense now!

Of the two cafes in the laneway, I opted for the first one, Tiger, Tiger Coffee Bar, because Secret Garden looked a little more refined, and I was after something with a little more spunk.
I’d woken up at 4:30am that morning, to catch a 6:25am flight to Perth, so a coffee was definitely in order. I ordered a long macchiato, and was a little surprised when I was presented with this:
Apparently, long mac in Perth is the same as a strong latte in Melbourne. The waitress explained to me that a Melbourne-style long mac is referred to as a ‘traditional mac’ in Perth (or at least at tiger, tiger). All of this confusion aside, the coffee was really quite good. The waitress did offer to re-make it for me, but I felt bad for being a walking cliche – I was dressed in all black that day, so I must have been quite obviously a coffee nazi from Melbourne – so I just drank the latte.

Being my first visit to the place, I thought I’d try the eponymous ‘the tiger’ – poached eggs with avocado and tiger, tiger’s ‘rosamond sauce’ on sourdough.

This was, in a word, amazing. The eggs were perfectly poached, and the rosamond sauce, something like a chutney, with sultanas and something which was either tamarind or sour plum, still has me intrigued. The consistency was somehow heavy and jam-like, yet there appeared to be some sort of whipping or emulsification happening there, too. I’m going to have to set to work trying to recreate it soon. Its acid tang was a perfect match for the richness of the avocado and runny yolks. I also liked how the toast comes buttered, as it removes any chance of the sourdough experience being one of dry bread requiring sips of coffee to lubricate it down your throat.

If you’re after breakfast in Perth, I highly recommend tiger, tiger. Just be aware it gets pretty busy Saturday mornings (and, like most everything in Perth, it’s closed on Sundays).

Tiger, Tiger Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Chowhound

235 High St, Northcote
Phone: 9486 5885

Life is serendipitous sometimes. More so than facebook.

You know how you add your old high school or primary school friends on facebook, and then stalk them a bit, looking at their photos, maybe send them a message or two, and comment on a few of their status updates? Then you pretty much ignore them until they post a link to an interesting looking video. Then you ignore them again. Probably for good.

Life is a little more in your face, like when you run into your old best friend from primary school at the banquet of one of your close friends from uni’s sister’s wedding. You know how it is, right? Right. So I ran into Mr D at said banquet, and we promised that we’d catch up soon. It was another month or two in the making, and was of course facilitated by facebook messaging, but nonetheless we caught up. At Chowhound, a little gem of a place in Northcote, one of quite a few which seem to have sprung up in the last couple of years, since I used to live there.

Chowhound was set up by some of the former owners of Nudel Bar in the city, with a similar mish-mash of Asian and European dishes on their menu. The interiors are warm and relaxed, and I love a place that has booths along the wall. There’s a cute little courtyard out the back too, but it was too cold that day to entertain that notion. Service was very friendly, as well as prompt and unobtrusive.

I had the Spaetzli noodles, tossed with caraway seeds, with lamb goulash. It was such a perfectly hearty dish, which was just what I was after. The caraway seeds were a clever touch too, giving the Spaetzli a touch of fancy, making them more than just the accompaniment to the rich, lusty paprika-driven stew.

Mr D was in the mood for a lighter option, and had the green tea noodles with salmon and avocado. He said it’s one of his favourite dishes on the menu. The serve may look a little small, but it is from the ‘dishes to share’ section of the menu, so that’s to be expected. I’m not quite sure how easy noodles would be to share, however.
All in all, chowhound is a pretty laid back and unpretentious place, but it still serves up some fine and interesting food. I’d recommend taking your family there – there certainly were lots of them there that afternoon – the menu is quite diverse, so there should be something for everyone. Prices are mid-range. Expect to pay between $15-25 for a main.

Chowhound on Urbanspoon

Proud Mary

172 Oxford St, Collingwood
Phone: 9417 5930

When you move into a place, it’s a good idea to scope out what the local breakfast places are. Which place does the best eggs Benedict, and who has the best coffee? Two questions I never really asked, because I’m not a big fan of Hollandaise, and I didn’t drink coffee for six years of my adult life. Then there was the year in Viet Nam, where it was more about where do I get the best pho, and which banh mi lady had the best pate.


But times, they do change. And now I drink coffee, so it would seem. Luckily, my local happens to be Proud Mary, so I can indulge in true coffee wankery and drink my single-estate sourced Clover coffee. From a stemless wine glass no less! I think that’s the establishment’s way of telling me I should be approaching the consumption of coffee like you would approach the consumption of wine. The barista also made a point of coming over with my coffee and explaining the subtlety I should be noticing. I noticed that I could drink it without sugar, and that I didn’t get a crazy caffeine buzz with an attendant crash-bang-headache. Still, the glass is pretty.

Along with said Clover coffee, I had the ‘green eggs’, which as you can see, weren’t particularly green. They were, however, nicely soft and runny. How I like my scrambled eggs. The side of mushrooms was generous, but not particularly flavoursome.

I was with the lovely Miss K this morning, who shouted me breakfast for installing her new modem (I think we all know I got the better end of the bargain there), and she had the porridge with dates, almonds and banana. She said it was quite good – I’ve had the muesli there before, so I’m inclined to think she’s right – they know what they’re doing with grains there.


On the way out, we caught a glimpse of these great bruschetta-type-eggplant things. They looked yummy!

Proud Mary on Urbanspoon

Seven Seeds

106 Berkeley St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 8664
www.sevenseeds.com.au

I’m not really much of a coffee drinker. I’m that loser who gets sneered at by coffee nazis for having two sugars and soy milk in his latte. Yeah, I know, I may as well be drinking decaf, I’m that derivative. So while I’ve heard nothing but good things about Seven Seeds, I haven’t exactly rushed out to try their coffee. But I did finally get around to it last week.


First off, I have to say I really like the decor – the fit-out is a nice mix of post-industrial chic, with just enough wood and use of textiles, so the airy warehouse space doesn’t feel too cold or severe. The warm lighting helps, too. As did the cheery smiles of the waitresses on the day. Definite thumbs up for service here.

My lunch companion, Mr A, is something of a coffee addict, though by his own admission, he prefers his coffee “like a two-by-four across the back of the head”. He opted for a flat white. Being curious of the hype, I thought I’d finally give the Clover coffee a try. Mr A tried to explain to me how the Clover machine works – something about a vacuum and the coffee being dipped, then extracted… it was all a bit too technical for me.

Anyway, it comes out in a cute little flask-coffee-pot, and you pour it yourself, like you would a cup of tea. I tried a sip of it without adding sugar, and to my surprise, found that I didn’t really feel the need! Clover coffee, to me, seems much less intense in flavour, and I can understand what all those afficionados mean when they go on about the various hints and notes of different flavours in the coffee. Like wine. The other great benefit of this Clover coffee, as I was to discover as the afternoon wore on, was that I didn’t experience the manic buzz nor the headachey, heart-palpitating lows which normally forms the rollercoaster ride I go on after drinking a coffee. I felt mildly more alert, so some of the caffeine is definitely there, but I guess the pharmacokinetics are different.

Along with my coffee, I had the avocado mash with grilled haloumi and dukkah on toasted sourdough. Topped with rocket, the whole thing was a winner for me. The saltiness of the haloumi was offset by the creamy avocado and the acid of the lemon wedge supplied for squeezing. I wouldn’t have minded a touch more dukkah, but I’m just being picky now.

Mr A had the special pressed sandwich, with an omelette, cheddar cheese, tomato chutney and spinach. He seemed quite satisfied by his choice. It certainly looked appetising.

I was feeling a little cheeky, so I took a chocolate brownie back to my office for afternoon tea. It was lusciously moist, and I had to do a lot of finger-licking to get all the icing off my hands.

Seven Seeds on Urbanspoon

Babka

358 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9416 0091

There are certain things you don’t really like to admit. Especially if you used to live in the heart of Fitzroy. One of them is that you’ve never been to Babka. Well, I had that moment, and now it’s over.

Babka is something of a Brunswick St institution, a bakery cafe which serves up not only great baked goods, but as Alex of the MSG put it, “breakfast with a Russian influence”. We stopped in on a Saturday afternoon, around 3pm, and yes, breakfast was indeed still being served. It’s served until 6pm there. There was a bit of a wait for a table (there usually is on weekends) but it wasn’t too painful.


Bread for the table. It’s nice that they provide a selection of their breads; I particularly liked the seeded loaf (you can’t see it there, it’s hiding behind the big white slice!).

I ordered the lamb pelmeni, with a spiced broth, silverbeet and chilli. The little dumplings were good, but I’m more used to a Chinese dumpling, which is more about the filling than the wrapper. The silverbeet was nicely cooked – it still had some crunch to it – but the chilli was really quite superfluous. No heat whatsoever! They did look pretty, though.

Ms R had Maroussia’s dumplings, which were a mixture of mushroom and cheese dumplings, which came with a labne. I got to try one of the mushroom ones, which was a nice balance between earthy mushroom and the doughy wrapper.

Alex had the menemen – scrambled eggs with capsicum, fetta, parsley and mint. Not only pretty, but tasty to boot!

Ms J had one of Babka’s famous pies, and while I didn’t sample it, I know they’re famous for a reason.

Perennially popular, Babka’s one of those places it’s better to turn up to early-ish in the morning or later in the afternoon. Also, can e trickier fitting groups larger than four. If you just want to try the bread or the pies, they’re available for take away, too.

Babka Bakery Café on Urbanspoon

Foxy Brown

31 South Crescent, Northcote
Phone: 9481 4454
www.foxybrown.com.au

Tucked away in the backstreets of Westgarth along the Hurstbridge train line, is this little house-cum-cafe, which has on-and-off been a local institution for at least a decade. I met up with some friends here for brunch a while ago – one of them used to work there in an earlier, hippier incarnation, years and years ago. The current owners have been there a little over six months, and it’s certainly no hippie affair now, though the vibe and the service is certainly still warm and friendly.

Ms B and Ms L both decided to have the ‘Simply Foxy’ – a poached egg with avocado, tomato and Mungali Creek Feta on sourdough. Both enjoyed it immensely, though I’d have to say the combination of elements seemed a little on the dry side for me. In my mind, sourdough toast often needs a lot of lubricating.

Mr T – who I’m sure will appreciate that his name is shortened such, despite his lack of chunky jewellery – opted for the scrambled eggs, with a side of slow-cooked baked beans. I’m not a huge fan of baked beans, but on a brisk morning, they looked and smelled very inviting.

I had the ‘Sun’s Secret’, roasted tempeh and a fried egg on Crumb’s pumpkin sourdough with paprika relish, tahini and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Unfortunately, the tempeh was roasted a bit too much, rendering it dry and crunchy rather than soft and bean-like. Possibly bigger chunks would have been a good idea. Thankfully the paprika relish and tahini softened the dish.

I don’t usually have coffee, but it was a big day, so I did for once. Like many new cafes, Foxy Brown seems to be quite serious about its coffee (in fact, the full name of the place is Foxy Brown Espresso) offering single origin coffee with unhomogenised milk, and for those of you who know, or need to know – I personally have no idea – it’s made on a Synchro espresso machine.

All in all, it’s a pleasant place for brunch, though overall, I think the food was a little on the dry side. More sauces – or butter – please!

Foxy Brown Espresso on Urbanspoon