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.

EARL Canteen

500 Bourke Street (enter via Lt Bourke), Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9600 1995

So after weeks of reading about pork belly rolls and macarons, I finally had the opportunity to visit EARL Canteen in the city for myself. And let me say right off the bat, the hype about the sex sandwich is justified.

EARL – named after the Earl of Sandwich, that eponymous inventor – serves up gourmet sandwiches/rolls/wraps, using high quality sustainably-sourced ingredients, with a focus on freshness and seasonality. The proprietors Jackie and Simon both have great food/hospitality pedigree, but you can read more about that elsewhere. I want to talk about the food!

Monday morning, I stopped in for breakfast. I’d hear EARL made their own crumpets, and they serve them with either a blood plum jam, or lemon curd. Lemon curd, people! Sour is one flavour which doesn’t get enough play, in my opinion.

The crumpet was soft yet springy. I’ve never had fresh crumpets before, but this one made me want to try making them myself one day. It being a Monday morning, I also had a coffee. I don’t know much about coffee, but I’m sorry to report this one wasn’t great. However, I did learn through twitter later in the day that was indeed looking to hire a barista, so I’ll chalk this one up to them being understaffed on this one occasion.

I came back for lunch. The girl that served me remembered me from that morning, which is always nice. It was time to get down to business, though. “I’ll have the pork belly, thanks.”

Juicy slabs of belly pork, replete with crisp, crunchy crackling, nestled on a bed of apple, cabbage and fennel coleslaw and some wilted silverbeet. All of that goodness is somehow -just- squeezed into a Dench sourdough baguette. Here’s another shot:

I’ll be honest – it’s hard to eat. And I was very glad it came with a knife ad fork, because at one point, I had to lift a slab of pork belly out with my fork and eat it sans bread. So I could then jam the bread into my mouth. I think that’s part of the reason they put napkin dispensers on the tables instead of only giving you one when you order your meal.

As you can see, I did manage to get through it without making TOO much of a mess. BTW, is it just me, or is Harry Kewell being a little overexposed right about now? Not that I would complain about Harry Kewell exposing himself.. but I digress. See what a sex sandwich does to you?

I stopped in the next afternoon to pick up a few macarons on my way home, because I had been informed that the legendary salted caramel macarons were back (it’s the one on the right). I also had one each of the coffee and rose-flavoured ones. The salted caramel was clearly the stand-out, though. I like these macarons, because they’re not overly large like the Lindt ones – there’s only so much sugar and almond meal one should ingest in a minute.

Cut to Thursday lunchtime: the other item on the menu which most had me intrigued was the truffled mushroom. Oh, and yes, I am aware there are also wagyu meatballs on the menu. I’m a sucker for mushrooms, though. This time, I got the order to go – all the tables were full!

Again with the Harry Kewell. I did it to myself, so maybe it is just me…

The mushroom and truffle concoction comes with a gooey, runny egg, and wilted spinach, all wrapped in a soft, floury tortilla. Again, this was a messy eat. The amount of fungal juice (I say that in the best possible way) was a little overwhelming, and it dripped steadily into the container. I restrained myself from drinking the fluid after I’d finished the wrap, but only because I was in public. Take the wrap back to your office and close the door, so you can have your way with it, is my recommendation. It was another success, flavour-wise, though I wish it would’ve had something with a crunchier texture in there – it was all a bit soft.

EARL is a bit pricier than your regular sandwich joint, even for the city, but what you get for your money is still excellent value, in my book. Now, to convince my boss to shell out another $3,000 so I can spend another week at a training course in the city…
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