Bimbo Deluxe

376 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 8600

Bimbo Deluxe is an odd place. From the large bulbous glass bottles of infused vodka above the bar, to the strange little bell-shaped room with the funny accoustics up the back, it’s got a mix of character and enterprise that never really gelled for me. That aside, cheap pizza is a pretty strong draw-card. With $4 pizzas at most peak periods (except Friday nights), it’s hard to argue. Especially with pizzas that are pretty good, even if they’re not on par with Ladro or D.O.C. And even when they’re not $4, they’re still pretty cheap (most under $10).

This visit, I was going to order the agnello (lamb) pizza, as I’ve had it before and it never fails to satisfy, but on Alex‘s Foursquare recommendation, I opted for the fontina and potato pizza.

Such intense cheese, and carb-on-carb goodness, how is it possible to go wrong? They didn’t go wrong, but I should note this pizza is pretty heavy going once it starts to cool. You really start to feel the stodge of the potato and cheese combination.

Mr D had the roast pumpkin and pine nut and rosemary pizza.

The pumpkin, again, is a little heavy, and its sweetness makes it quite rich. The rosemary is a naturally great foil for this, and pine nuts are well toasted and plentiful.

While it isn’t somewhere I’d go on a first date, or take my family out for a meal, it’s a casual, if somewhat grungy – both tables we sat down at had pizza debris and there were no staff around early evening bussing or cleaning – place which serves up decent pizza which is so cheap you can afford an extra beer or two!

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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.

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Charcoal Lane

36 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9418 3400

A while back, I was lucky enough to be invited to @jeroxie‘s birthday dinner, at Charcoal Lane. I’d been meaning to visit Charcoal Lane for a while, as it’s within walking distance of home, and has the twin attractions of a native ingredient-inspired menu, and being a chance to support Mission Australia’s training program for Aboriginal and disadvantaged youths. From their site:

Charcoal Lane enables Aboriginal and disadvantaged young people to gain experience in a supported, real work environment as part of an integrated program which includes personal skills development and accredited education in hospitality.

There was a big group of us, so we were upstairs in the function room, and Head Chef Damian Styles put together a six course menu for the event. We got to sample the highlights of the seasonal menu, as well as a couple of experimental dishes. An excellent night was had by all, and considering the size of our group, the service was very good.

The night started off with an amuse bouche of curried pumpkin veloute with native pepper berry. This was a nice way to start the meal, thought technically the size of it was far greater than an amuse should be. It was more of a mini-entree! The veloute was smooth and creamy. The richness of the pumpkin was well balanced with the sharpness of the pepper berry.

This was followed by the first of two entrees – an oddly named ‘ultra’ scallop, wagyu breasola, and tofu in dashi, with pickled daikon, shiso and native finger lime. This was great. The scallops were barely cooked; their sweetness married beautifully with the salt of the bresaola. The dashi was light, and kept lively with the pickled daikon and the little bursting vesicles of finger lime, which had the table guessing until we asked the waitress.

As you can see, I really liked this dish. I also really liked the second ‘entree’. Again, this was probably a little on the large side. But hey, I wasn’t complaining!

Native peppered kangaroo, bush tomato tart, with rosella flower jus. That’s what the menu read. Though looking back at the picture now, I don’t really see a bush tomato tart. Do you see it? Regardless, it was, again, wonderful. There were a few at the table who had either not eaten kangaroo before, or had a history of disliking it. Nobody at the table disliked this dish. The kangaroo was juicy and tender, and somehow lacked the distinct gamey-ness that usually makes kangaroo a bit of a divisive meat. While I like the gamey taste, this entree was certainly delicious even without it. Maybe it’s something about making native Australian ingredients more accessible?

Onto the main course! Bendigo duck breast, leg terrine, quandong and cluster fig. I’m not usually a huge fan of duck done in a Western style. Don’t get me wrong, duck is very likely my favourite meat, but I much prefer it in the various Chinese preparations. This, however, was memorable duck. The breast was cooked ever-so-slightly medium, a welcome change to the dry, well-done duck I’ve tried in the past in some French restaurants. It rested on a bed of wilted spinach, which was a clever way to soak up all the juices without adding a heavy, starchy component to the dish; clever because we were, after all, having six courses on the night. The terrine was packed with flavour – a touch too salty in my humble opinion – and the pistachios were an imaginative inclusion. This was well offset by the sweetness of the quandong puree and slice of fresh fig, which I left until last to cleanse my palate.
Because, apparently, you don’t go having two desserts, the first dessert was named a pre-dessert. Passion berry pannacotta. This pannacotta was smooth, and exceedingly fruity. I’m usually not a fan of pannacotta, only because my stomach objects to the lactose, but I felt very little guilt digging into this one.

Then the ‘real’ dessert followed. A slow-cooked lemon aspen tart, with yoghurt sorbet and maple syrup crunch. That lemon aspen tart, with a lightly bruleed top, was heavenly. It looks like a small-ish slice, but it was a big plate, and you really didn’t need much. It was super rich. I don’t remember exactly what the little pickled berry things were, but I remember them being a little unpleasantly bitter in the centre. The sorbet was refreshing, and the crunch was, well, crunchy! A texturally well-played dish.

For the quality of the food which is served, Charcoal Lane really does deliver good value. I’ll certainly be back soon.

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The Commoner

122 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9415 6876

Having lived in Collingwood for a year, and having been told by my housemates on a semi-regular basis that The Commoner does amazing breakfasts, I thought it might finally be time to put it to the test. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I caught up with a friend over brunch, and neither of us could decide between the Honky sandwich or the Arabic pancake, so we decided to share both. Two-course brunch win!

The honky sandwich isn’t the most impressive looking meal, I must say. When it arrived at the table, it was immediately overshadowed by the scrumptious-looking Arabic pancake. I’m not an organic-wholefood nazi by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s rare to see sandwiches served on untoasted white bread outside of a food court or arcade cafe these days, no? However, the bread is delightfully soft, and the second you pick the sandwich up, you understand what’s going on here. These thick white pillows are there to cradle and cushion the awesomeness inside. The asweomeness is bacon, fried egg, spinach, aioli, and my personal favourite element, harissa. The flavours are all bold, and they work together beautifully. It may be Honky, but there’s nothing off-key going on here!

The Arabic pancake is similarly satisfying. The stewed apple and berries have now been replaced by lemon curd and pistachio on the menu, sadly. They added just the right amount of tartness (along with the house yoghurt) to the sweet, fluffy pancake, which itself secretly possessed hints of cinnamon and rose essence. OK, so I’ve effused enough. You get the idea; both dishes are perfectly fine choices from the brunch menu.
For a refreshing alternative to juice, I had the Vimto (also on my housemate’s recommendation) because I wasn’t quite up to the Bloody Mary that morning!

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Joe’s Garage

366 Bruswick Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 9944

Joe’s Garage is somewhat of of a Brunswick St institution. Serving standard cafe fare, it’s usually bustling and it’s enough of a landmark with its neon signage for you to use as a reference point when giving people directions. I had a friend who used to work as a waiter here, back in the old student days, and though it was never amazing food, it was decent, and the vibe was fun and casual.

I haven’t eaten at Joe’s in years, but I stopped in for brunch with some friends recently, and found that things had changed somewhat. First of all, the service was definitely lacking. Yes, it was a Saturday afternoon (which is usually pretty busy for cafes along Brunswick St) and we were seated outside, but we were waiting at every turn, and the staff seemed more interested in cleaning the glass door than getting the bill to us.

The food itself was hit and miss. The miss first: my friend D ordered the poached eggs on toast, which came rather unappetisingly presented (see below) and we had to ask for butter. Butter! Really? Friends J and K both ordered the bubble and squeak, which were served with a poached egg, hollandaise and a hash brown. I’m a huge fan of hash browns, but this wasn’t a hash brown. This was a potato burger. Other than the carb-overload, this dish was pretty appetising, and both J and K were happily sated. I ordered the Caesar salad with chicken, which was pretty good! The egg could have been a little runnier, and I would’ve liked a little more dressing, but apart from that, it was a pretty good salad.

Joe’s Garage is one of those places you go when you don’t know what the tastes of your dining companions might be. I didn’t mind it, but I’m in no hurry to return.

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Little Creatures Dining Hall

222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 5500

I’ve been to Little Creatures a few times, and while I love the concept, there’s something not quite right about it. It might be the lack of accoustic planning, which leads you to have to speak rather loudly to your friends across the table. But that just encourages you to lean closer, and become mre intimate with your loved ones, right? Good thing. It might be that the service is a bit patchy, but then when a waiter or waitress does arrive, they’re almost unfailingly charming. I don’t know what it is, but much as I’m happy to go there, I wouldn’t plan a get-together there. But that’s probably just me.

Enough of that, onto the food. Mr N had the pizza with corn and chorizo – and feta? I forget – which had a satisfyingly crisp base, and good, clean flavours. I like the little dough bubbles on the edge.

I was feeling a little seedy, so I opted for a cheese kransky and some hand-cut chips. Which were so very moreish. I’m a sucker for potato skins. And aioli. Was it aioli? Was it mayo? I really have to post these things sooner – I forget. It was good, anyway.

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Cheese kransky at Birdman Eating

A waitress mistake (I think) left us waiting quite a while for our food, watching others who had arrived after us receive their food first. Which is always irritating. But once my breakfast came, I forgot abot the wait. The kransky itself wasn’t amazing, and the poached eggs were good, but the apple (and beetroot? rhubarb?) compote as well as the hot potato and cauliflower slaw were great. Another example of why choosing a dish based on the accompaniments/sides is often a good move!

Birdman Eating, Gertrude St, near the corner of Smith st.

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Breizoz French Creperie

Brunswick St & Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9415 7588

It might just be because of the reputation, or that I’m not a huge crepe fan, or perhaps they were just having an off night. But I was distinctly underwhelmed. First of all, they were out of sausage. And cider. And ice cream!? Sacre bleu! Anyway, the provencale (cheese, egg and ratatouille) was quite good, but just made me think I want curry sauce and Malaysian roti. the chestnut and rhum flambĂ© crepe was exciting, until I got to the rum-soaked bit. then, not so much. Better than the Pancake Parlour, if you’re a crepe fan.

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