Outside the comfort zone

IMG_2394

Sri Lankan feasts and a fancy burger restaurant are not my usual weekly dining experiences or blog topics. It has been a long while since my last post, so my apologies if you were hanging out for a review of something sweet and pink! At the moment I’m all about expanding horizons (and planning a move to London!), with surprisingly delicious results.

On Friday night I had a great girls’ night out with cocktails and Sri Lankan food at Araliya in St Kilda. The restaurant was quiet but had a really nice feel to it, with friendly staff and delicious slightly spiced smells wafting occasionally from the kitchen. We shared a stack of lentil based pancakes layered with fragrant vegetables to start. After that we ordered a whole range of dishes to share – red rice, lentil and spinach dahl, green beans in a warm and creamy coconut sauce, crusted fish with tamarind and cucumber, kipfler potatoes cooked with a tonne of spices and spring onions and vegetarian kothu roti. We also had an absolutely delicious shredded brussels sprouts dish which was extra impressive because I don’t normally like brussels sprouts. The only dish I didn’t love was a twice cooked eggplant and date dish which was actually far too sweet for me (again a surprise for this sweet-tooth). My tastebuds haven’t gone completely crazy though – we did of course order a dessert to share, mostly because they sounded so interesting and we wanted to try one even though at that stage we were pretty full. We had the baked coconut custard with banana sorbet. I was expecting something quite traditional, but what we got was a very modern looking plate with three slices of rich sweet coconut custard. The custard had obviously been cooked low and slow for a very long time until it turned a great dark caramelly-colour. These slices were separated on the plate by two quenelles of banana sorbet which tasted really fresh and clean and worked beautifully with the rich coconut custard. Including drinks the whole meal was about $60 each. I am normally a total sook when it comes to spicy food, but all the dishes were a manageable level of spiciness and the mains were served with cooling yoghurt which I made use of. In all, it was a lovely and new experience for someone who knows next to nothing about Sri Lankan food (but is now keen to find out more…)

On the Saturday night, I had dinner with a couple of friends at Rockwell & Sons in hipster-central Smith street, Fitzroy. Now this is not my normal vegetarian-friendly hang-out. I mean, the place has a cut up kind of pig as its logo and their signature dishes are burgers. Big, over-the-top, old-school burgers. But, even as a vegetarian, I could appreciate that the double pattie smash with bacon and special sauce that my partner ordered (don’t tell his PT) was epic. Yes, that, I believe, is the correct language to use for this kind of ‘dude food’.

Anyway, despite it being meat-central in there, I actually had a really great meal. It started off with a 70s classic – devilled eggs! They were smooth and creamy and really tangy and just a great way to start a meal. Then I had hand-cut french fries with home-made mayo, crispy broccoli (kind of like tempura broccoli) with a jalapeño sauce and parmesan cheese (such a good combination!) and a beetroot and savoury granola salad. The savoury granola was definitely a winner – it was like eating grown-up spicy cereal for dinner. Nom.

Of course, being on Smith street mere metres from Messina did necessitate a stop there on the way home. It was so cold that night that, I think for the first time ever, there was no line outside Messina. We waltzed right in and ordered a tub of gelato to takeaway. Messina has put their prices up a little since last time I was there (now $22.80 for a litre) but it was still completely worth it. We ordered half Uber Bueno (hazelnut gelato with white chocolate fudge, chocolate chips and cream-filled crispy wafers) and Agentasian (dulche de leche gelato with pear and ginger sauce and chunky coconut biscuit crumbs). Double nom.

Melbourne has such incredible diversity in its food offerings. It’s part of what makes it so special and so much fun. I stepped outside my usual brunch/cupcakes/veggie/yuppie comfort zone and it paid off! And now…I’m moving to London with my partner in 2 weeks (eeeek)! Another adventure (or twenty) awaits my tastebuds. I will be blogging about English restaurants, travel in Europe and London’s terrible rental market from my new personal site: hannahbfoster.com. It also has links to a whole lot of articles I’ve written in the last year or so (somewhat explaining my neglect of this blog), so check it out!

IMG_2392IMG_2395

Advertisements

Review: A European Sandwich

Last weekend was a European sandwich, in dining terms that is, with my weekend sandwiched between two awesome Euro-dining experiences. 

First up, on Friday night, was dinner at Epocha. This is an intimately lit on-trend restaurant tucked away on the edge of the city opposite Carlton Gardens. The back of the menu features a reproduction of a historic map of Melbourne, including Carlton Gardens and Epocha’s location, but it was what was on the front of the menu that really captured my attention. It’s a lovely mix of classic French techniques, hearty German inspired dishes and a few summery Italian style salads and sides. That sounds like a confused menu, but actually it all works well together. 

We started off with a few lighter dishes that I’d class as Italian: polenta chips and a fig and buffalo mozzerella salad. The salad was really special – sweet and creamy and tangy, with just a little crunch. I probably could have just had a big plate of that for dinnner and been more than happy! Then we went a little bit French with duck-fat roasted  potatoes (minus the duck fat for me) and an heirloom carrot salad. Finally, my friend and I shared a big plate of spaetzle, which is sort of like a mini German dumpling-cross-gnocchi. That was served with a summery topping of roasted and creamed corn, tomatoes and zucchini. Being vegetarian, I opted for a lot of vegetable based dishes, but non-veggies are well catered for in traditional European style – you can start with three different varieties of oysters and back it up with anything from quail to crispy pigs’ ears to beef ribs or confit duck. 



We were too full for dessert that night, but I have experienced their extremely tempting dessert trolley in the past – it won’t disappoint, the Europeans know what they are doing when it comes to cake! You can also opt for a sharing menu, which includes dessert and will leave you feeling about the size of Europe, but very satisfied. With a bar upstairs (not always open), the wine list is extensive and on the expensive side of things and the cocktails are excellent, if not a bit limited in range. 

This dinner was followed, on Sunday afternoon, by a trip to Paris. Not an actual trip (I wish), just a short visit for my tastebuds in the form of ‘High Tea in Paris’ at The Waiting Room at Crown Towers. The high tea is part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival calendar and is offered until mid March. I hadn’t been to The Waiting Room before and I have to say the ambience wasn’t really 5-star in that you do sort of feel that you’re half sitting in Crown’s lobby, with a lot of people passing through. The food and service though were excellent and definitely made the high tea worthwhile. The menu starts with champagne and finger sandwiches, which is pretty much the most delightful way a menu can start! The finger sandwhiches, served on individual wooden boards, included smoked salmon, a mini toasted croque monsieur (ham and cheese) and rock lobster and caviar. For vegetarians the selection included more classic cucumber and cream cheese, egg salad and brie with fig and quince paste. The brie/quince one was not a winner at my table, as it was weirdly sweet and kind of dry, but the cucumber sandwiches were a standout. 



Following sandwiches, you get to choose three showcase cakes each from a beautiful selection in glass cabinets at the front of the restaurant. I went with a hazelnut chocolate mousse cake, a raspberry creme brulee slice and a macaron and amaretto sponge cake. The cakes are glossy, multi-coloured and many layered creations which look almost too good to eat. Somehow we managed though! They were all very nice, though probably too large and rich considering they were part of a high tea and I did see a few guests take away elements of their high tea in boxes provided by the staff. In addition to these cakes, you are also served a small square of nougat, mini madelines, chocolate fudge and a mini fruit gel. Finally, you get a choice of three chocolates each, again selected from a glass cabinet at the front of the restaurant. For the chocolates, which I ended up taking home with me, I selected a rocher au lait, a cassis violet and chocolate rose praline. Yuuuuum. Seriously yum. We were both in a sugar coma by the end, but a happy one. Considering the high tea includes hot drinks and a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne, I think it is good value for $65. 





Review: B’Stilla

Like many a good Melbourne restaurant, B’Stilla is tucked away in a small semi residential street behind Chapel St. It’s unlikely to stay an in-the-know secret for long though, with it winning this year’s Best Restaurant in the Good Food Guide under $30 awards. The award was my motivation for wanting to try it out, though the prospect of Moroccan food done by the person who bought trendy Mexican (Mamasita) to Melbourne was also appealing! It’s also not technically north of the river, but I feel a little adventuring over to the dark side is allowed…

With two gorgeous girlfriends, Miss Pony and Dr S (as we decided they should be called in my blog after a cocktail or so) we worked our way through the $65 banquet. For $65 you get a really good sample of what B’Stilla has to offer. It was distinctly North African flavours, but very approachable, with slick plating, lots of colour and a friendly level of spiciness for sooks (not souks…sorry that was lame!) like me. As a vegetarian, I was well catered for with no fuss from the friendly staff.

The menu says $65 will get you 4 a course banquet including dessert, but those 4 courses are made up of several dishes, meaning the option did live up to its ‘banquet’ name. The very first dish was a winner – a little pile of artichoke and pumpkin covered in some sort of delicious sweet/spicy sauce. This also came with grilled ‘batbout’ bread and a spicy (but not too spicy) tomato jam. The batbout, which I later googled, was like a chewy rich pita bread with gorgeous chargrilled iron marks on it.

The first dish - a little pile of tasty goodness

The first dish – a little pile of tasty goodness

These first small dishes were followed by a second round of slightly larger small dishes. The lentil filled semolina crepe (very much like a fine flat bread) which I received in lieu of lamb ribs was very tasty, with something (not sure what, possibly zucchini?) which was pickled and zingy on the top of a creamy lentil mix and fresh flatleaf parsley. The ribs were well received by Miss Pony and Dr S, who were able to literally nudge the super soft meat off the bone with the pack of their forks. They also had the signature ‘B’Stilla’ dish, which was a parcel of duck and chicken meat dusted in spices, whereas I had super delicious cauliflower with pine nuts and spices. I’m not sure what they do to the cauliflower, possibly deep fry it, but I’ve had it this way once or twice when eating out before, including at both Anada and Coda. It takes on a whole different texture from your standard steamed cauliflower, it’s a little bit crispy, like a big hot chip, while still retaining its juiciness.

My kind of coleslaw: Moroccan style!

My kind of coleslaw: Moroccan style!

The main course was a large shared vegetable tagine, which looked fab piled high with fresh herbs and figs. There was also a duck sausage on the side for non-vegetarians to add, as well as a cabbage salad and couscous. The couscous was really nice and fluffy, but filled with large pieces of orange rind which were very overpowering I thought.

Dessert was a highlight for me, of course! It was an ice-cream cone each, topped with Persian (or Moroccan perhaps?) style fairy floss. The ice-cream was, wait for it, tahini flavour! It has to be tasted to be believed. It was sweet, not savoury. The balancing act to make it delicious and not disgusting is an impressive one. It was so unusual but really creamy and had just the right level of sweetness. Plus, hiding right at the bottom of the cone was a big dollop of dulche de leche – yuuuuum!

Tahini ice-cream cones

Tahini ice-cream cones

B'Stilla on Urbanspoon

Hipster-World Problems

You’ve no doubt experienced and likely complained of “first world problems”. I have them so often now I’ve almost forgotten what a non-FWP looks like. Can’t decide between sushi and rice paper rolls for lunch? Need to go to your friend’s wedding in Bali and your cousin’s birthday in Noosa on the same weekend? Have too many brands of organic milk to choose from? Feeling guilty about illegally downloading eps of Orange is the New Black? Yep, FWP.

But now there’s a new breed of problem out there, looming large in the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and even Adelaide, afflicting far too many. I’m even one of the afflicted on occasion. This plague is more specific, more brutal, and just more damn scary than the FWP. Scientists are unsure why, but rates of affliction are particularly high in certain suburbs, with the problem reaching epic proportions in the Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy, Brunswick, Kensington, North Melbourne and, increasingly, Footscray. Be alert and alarmed. But act like you don’t really care. We are now facing the growth of the hipster world problem, or “HWP”.

One of my attempts at hipsterness: Pimms in jars with paper straws!

One of my attempts at hipsterness: Pimms in jars with paper straws!

Don’t laugh, this is serious! There are hipsters (and a tiny bit hipster slash confused yuppies like myself…) suffering HWPs every hour of every single day. If you’re a hipster or know someone who might be, then no doubt they are suffering with HWPs. To help you, and them, out, here’s the top twenty HWPs I’ve seen (or possibly imagined) in North Melbourne. Be afraid hipsters, be very afraid:
1. Your favourite hole-in-the-wall cafe gets a write-up in The Age. People from Toorak now go there on weekends. Sigh.
2. Your mother gives you a jumper for your birthday that both fits snugly and lacks any holes whatsoever. Also, it is lolly pink or cream.
3. You sell your soul and get a corporate job, which means you can now afford to replace your milk crates with chairs.
4. You are discovered at a non hipster locale, such as at Coles buying non-organic non-soy toilet paper, eating Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream at Chadstone or sunbaking anywhere on a beach. So unoriginal.
5. You develop an allergy to beards.
6. You develop an allergy to coffee.
7. Someone gives you a non-hipster-friendly Christmas present of a Red Balloon speed sport voucher (can you spell mainstream?) and half way through the experience you realise how unsuitable yoga pants, oversized glasses and a natty beret are for jet boating on Sydney harbour.
8. You’re on Sydney Harbour. Like, ever.
9. Your beloved decides to send red roses/a teddy/chocolates/lingerie to your work on Valentine’s Day in an uncharacteristic display of mainstreamedness. Your boss, who wears crocs, thinks it’s cute.
10. Your Frankie magazine gets stolen by your housemate who uses it to line their hermit crabs’ tank. Yep, hermit crabs are back in. They’re so uncool they’re cool, right?
11. While reading Eat Pray Love in a completely ironic way you start to really like it.
12. Your preferred micro brewed beer becomes available on tap and all the College douche-bags from Melbourne Uni start drinking it.
13. You get a haircut that turns out looking like Jennifer Aniston’s circa 2000 (or 2013, ‘cause that woman’s hair seriously never changes).
14. The giant papier-mâché pirate ship you constructed with your housemates and put in your neighbour’s front lawn gets rained on. Now it just looks like a dog vomited up a phone book. Do people still use phone books? You are totally going to bring them back, anyway…
15. You run out of clean checked flannelette shirts. You run out of dirty checked flannelette shirts.
16. You forget to rinse your quinoa before cooking it and get that nasty bitter aftertaste which is most likely from non Fair Trade dirt particles.
17. You rock up too late for the independent Spanish film festival film you were planning to see and have to watch Last Vegas instead.
18. A nasty Chlamydia infection works its way through your Theatre sports team/ Zine store employees / ironic book club / apple pressing collective.
19. You have so much political election mail left over in your garage that you decide to build a small fort with it. For a short time the fort is so awesome that you eschew your bed and sleep inside it, until you realise Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey are staring at you from the left hand wall of the fort.

And yes, this is finishing on number 19, because 20 is a round and conformist number. And I’m not going to add yet another HWP (having your name forever attached to accidental-lame-numerical-conformity) to my increasingly long list.

Choco-ma-holic

I love Melbourne (quite obviously). I love lists. I also LOVE chocolate. So it was quite clear to me that today’s post was long overdue for my blog. Below are my top ten chocolate experiences in Melbourne, in no particular order. And yes, I am eating chocolate while I write this, it’s the only way.

1. Chocolate soufflé at Bistro Vue (see pic below). They bring this baby out on its own little purpose made dish. The waiter picks up a pot of melted dark chocolate, cuts a cross in the top of your soufflé and pours the molten chocolate into your soufflé. It’s just so light in texture, yet that sauce is so deeply dark.

2. Iced chocolate donut at Crumbs Bakery. This one is dangerously close to me, on Errol Street. The donut is super crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with tonnes of sweet sticky chocolate icing on top. And, as an added bonus, it’s vegan and organic. Nice!

3. Pear and chocolate tart at Dolcetti. I could eat everything at Dolcetti. The baked caramel cheesecake is crazy-good. But this chocolate pear tart is something really special, a great combination made with love by beautiful Italian women.

4. Handmade chocolates at Koko Black. I’m sorry, I can’t choose just one flavour as my favourite (and neither should you).

5. Giant chocolate chip marshmallow cookie at Patricia. The coffee is a bit too cool for school (though apparently very good), but this giant cookie is chewy, gooey goodness with very large milk chocolate chips.

6. Chocolate passionfruit brownie at Le Petit Gateau. There’s brownie, there’s some sort of hazelnut crispy layer, there’s passionfruit mousse, there’s chocolate mousse, there’s dark chocolate ganache and there’s passionfruit gel. Not for the faint hearted. Definitely for me.

7. Cherry ripe bar at Haigh’s. Not very sophisticated, but so delicious and nostalgic.

8. Death by TimTam cocktail at The Carlton Yacht Club. I don’t even know if they make these any more. But they were amazing. Think of an alcoholic chocolate milkshake with a whole TimTam floating on the top, all served in a martini glass to make it feel a little bit classy. I was certainty not very classy after a couple of these!

9. Chocolate coated almonds at the Lindt Café. Personally I don’t like the ambience or the service much at the Lindt Café, but you can eat these delicious little morsels on the go.

10. Ferrero Rocher ice-cream at Seven Apples. Sweltering 40 degree days are totally worth it for this St Kilda gem. The ice-cream is thick and creamy and full of crunchy Ferrero pieces. I’d also recommend their Turkish Delight flavoured ice-cream, which won a silver medal at the 2011 Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Show. Wouldn’t you just love to be a judge at that show…

Bistro Vue's chocolate souffle

Bistro Vue’s chocolate souffle