This Easter: The Non Choc Shop

So I don’t want to stir anyone into a panic and/or food and gift buying frenzy, but it is officially ONE SLEEP until Easter! Last year I wrote a little wrap up of some of the nicest Easter chocolate gifts available in Melbourne at places like Koko Black and Haigh’s (check it out here: http://northmelbournelife.com/2014/04/07/eatster-i-mean-easter/

 But I have a dark and terrible secret in my family, which plagues us each Easter, and it is this: a certain unnamed member of my family (ahem little sister), who normally has impeccable foodie taste, does not like chocolate! Yes, you heard right, someone closely related to me eschews all things gloriously cocoa. I have checked, she’s not adopted. 

 The list below is for you, baby sis, and all the people out there who are not as addicted to the brown stuff as me. It’s a list of my top 10 non-chocolate gifts in Melbourne this Easter.

 1. Marshmallows: Yes they are great in hot chocolates, but they can also be a gourmet treat on their own and a fun addition to baking. Mork (Errol Street, North Melbourne) makes packs of 12 perfectly cubed vanilla bean infused ‘mallows for $10 a pack. 

2. Honey: For the chocolate-hating hipster or conservationist in your life, Rooftop Honey brings bees back into cities and produces small batch honey from different suburbs, so it’s possible to buy a jar of South Yarra honey or a jar of Degraves Street (CBD) honey. The Melbourne chapter sells online or at a whole bunch of fine food outlets across the city. 

 3. Macarons: Aparently these are ‘so over’ and have ‘reached saturation point’ in Melbourne, but I obviously didn’t get that memo. They’re brightly coloured, light and delicious, perfect for Easter. I’d recommend a box from La Belle Miette who are doing special gold, yellow and cream Easter pacakging and, wait for it, a limited edition hot cross bun flavour macaron! Boxes of 6 start at $15.90. 

4. Oxfam Unwrapped: Give someone who really needs it a chicken ($10) or a bunch of carrots ($52 for a whole veggie garden) this Easter. Cards can be purchased and downloaded online as e-cards, or you can buy them in store (Carlton, Chadstone and the CBD). 

 5. Hot cross buns: A total classic. They don’t really last more than a day or two fresh, but then, you’ll probably eat them all by then anyway! Vegans will appreciate the buns at Crumbs Organic Bakeouse in North Melbourne and Ascot Vale and gluten intolerant peeps might like the gluten free (also vegan) ones at Fatto a Mano (Fitzroy). 

 6. Jelly beans: Not the most sophisticated treat, but super fun, colourful and nostalgic. I still love Jelly Belly beans, available at David Jones and candy stores like The Original Lolly Store. Just avoid those cherry flavoured ones…gross! 

7. Caramelized coconut truffle: Koko Black does a super delicious white chocolate truffle filled with a caramelised coconut cream. They are about $2.10 each. Since it’s white chocolate and not technically ‘chocolate’ I think it qualifies for this list. My prediction is there will be zero elbow room in any Koko Black store this afternoon, but it might be worth the crowds for this delicious treat!

 8. Salted caramel spread: Pure decadence…possibly to be eaten with a spoon from the jar. Really good options for this are Lux Bite’s salted caramel spread ($10 for 190g jar), Burch & Purchese’s Famous Salted Caramel Spread ($14 for 300g jar) and Bonne Maman’s caramel spread, available at various supermarkets (approx. $8 for 380g jar). And don’t ask me why I know so much about jars of salted caramel…you know why (*hides empty jar behind back*). 

 9. Caramel kisses: More caramel, in biscuit form this time. These crazy good little biscuits are basically two small shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with caramel and cream icing. Available at David Jones’ Food Hall’s cookie counter. Yes, they have a cookie counter. Yes, I do go there a lot. 

 10. Baklava: Bring a little Greek Easter to your gift giving – head to a local Greek or Turkish bakery for a container of this gorgeous little slice of honey-nut-pastry heaven. And then attempt to refrain from eating it all before you manage to give it to your loved ones.

Have a happy and safe Easter everyone! Whatever you’re doing or however you’re celebrating, I hope it’s with great people and delicious food. 

Top ten on route 112

So my little tram route blogging project is back, with the route 112 tram. And because it’s almost Christmas, I’ve picked some of these with drinking, gift buying and beach holidays in mind. Yes, I am one of those rare grown ups (sort of) that actually adores Christmas and still loves things like wrapping gifts and sending old fashioned Christmas cards. Seriously, whoever invented e-cards is getting coal from me this Christmas. Not that they would care, since I’m assuming they must now be disgustingly rich, and not that I’m condoning the use of dirty coal…

Anyway, back to my top ten for route 112! Here they are:

1. Hopetoun Tea Rooms (282 Collins Street, Melbourne) has all the things required to make it a Melbourne institution: history, delicious but rather overpriced food and a line, always a line. It has been a tea room for well over 100 years, it’s situated just inside the lovely Block Arcade and the cakes are decadent and yet nostalgic – think strawberry sponge cakes, apple strudels and proper scones with jam and cream.

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Mmmmm decadent yet nostalgic cakes…

2. Lindt Chocolate Cafe (271 Collins Street, Melbourne) is a great option for a sugar hit, especially if you hate the wait for a table at Hopetoun. The ambience isn’t great but the chocolate infused menu is delicious, especially the Lindt chocolate ice cream sundaes. Plus you can pick up some stocking stuffer gifts for chocoholic family members while you’re there.

3. Naked For Satan (285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) and its rooftop bar, Naked in the Sky, are a nice choice for a drink and a catch up just out of the city. The rooftop is pretty glorious on a sunny day, but I personally prefer downstairs, where they serve a great selection of pintxos (little bites, each on a toothpick). It’s $2 a toothpick and you just hold on to your toothpicks, then hand them over and pay up at the end of the night.

4. Vegie Bar (380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is of course a vegetarian’s mecca but it’s also super popular with anyone wanting a cheap delicious meal made with tonnes of vegetables and creativity. Plus, if you have any other dietaries (gluten, dairy, raw, only-eat-green-things-grown-in-organic-hay diet) you will be well catered for here.

5. N2 Extreme Gelato (329 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy), which I’ve written about before on this blog (here) is not really that ‘extreme’ since Heston and Masterchef made using liquid nitrogen a thing, but the ice cream is very good, with cool off-beat flavours and a busy fun vibe.

6. Swimwear Galore (430 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is a shop that’s been recommended to me many times. Given my pale skin and aversion to water, I actually haven’t ventured in yet, but it does come well recommended by friends if you’re looking for some new poolside outfits on a tight timeframe.

7. Polly Bar (401 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is where you should head after swimwear shopping if, like me, you might want to drown your sorrows and forget the beginnings of cellulite which you are pretty sure you spotted in the change room mirrors. It’s hipster and girly and the cocktails are delicious.

8. Bimbo Deluxe (376 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is where you should then head for a good cheap pizza, to soak up a few of those drinks. It’s another Melbourne institution, but for a more college/university crowd. Little Creatures Dining Hall is another good option for drinks and delicious bar food too, at 222 Brunswick Street (yes, I did just sneak in an extra place on to this list).

9. Zetta Florence (197B Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is rather more highbrow – a gorgeous shop filled with handmade paper, cards, gift wrapping supplies, stamps, calendars, photo albums and anything else you can think of that’s pretty and paper related.

10. Edinburgh Gardens (Fitzroy North) is a lovely park with all the necessary stuff – toilets, BBQs, tennis courts, big shady established trees. It’s potentially the perfect spot to have a lazy Sunday afternoon picnic during your summer holidays. Plus you could pick up an N2 gelato on the way home…

Review: Cafe Court at Emporium

So I resisted, for several weeks, the lure of a new shopping complex. I tried to protect my credit card from the harsh realities of my addiction to shoes. But eventually all that shiny-ness got to me and I just had to check out Emporium, the new deluxe shopping centre wedged between Melbourne Central and Myer in the CBD. There are still a lot of stores ‘coming soon’, but it’s definitely starting to take shape, with a mix of high quality Aussie brands (e.g. Saba, Jac+Jack and Aesop) and new and exciting overseas staples, like Uniqlo.

To go with the deluxe feel, the centre doesn’t have a ‘food court’ but rather a ‘café court’ on level 3. Honestly, it’s just spin, like real estate agents calling a tiny apartment ‘cosy’ or chefs calling a nice sauce a ‘jus’. Emporium doesn’t really have a courtyard full of cafes, but that’s not to say that the offerings there aren’t a cut above your average shopping centre food court. There’s a lot more than a McDonalds and tired looking juice bars. In fact, there’s no McDonalds at all! Yay!

Given I’m likely to be spending a fair amount of time (and money) in Emporium in the coming years, plus its central location in the city, I decided it was worth surveying the food offerings there and reporting back.

There’s quite a few what I’d call ‘traditional’ Melbourne food court staples, like Spud Bar, Guzman Y Gomez and a host of non descript but okay looking Asian noodle/sushi places. There’s also Cafenatics, which is a chain I know well since they had two outlets near my old workplace. The coffee must be decent given its popularity with the often exhausted, caffeine addicted lawyers I used to work with, but the cakes and pastries at the court’s outlet looked pretty pedestrian. It’s very much oversized muffins and over glossed danishes. Personally I’d much rather walk through to Myer (I love that you can do that again after so many years being closed!) and get a cake at the Brunetti’s instore on level 3. My current Brunetti’s favourites include the Royale cake (flourless almond cake, lots of chocolate mousse, biscuit, caramel) and the French Custard Tart (short buttery pastry, smooth custard and juicy cherries).

The new Emporium "café court"

The new Emporium “café court”

Anyway, back to Emporium’s café court – in addition to these recognisable outlets and chains, there’s a few places I’ve never seen or heard of before, like ‘Bing Boy’ which describes itself as ‘urban Asian street food’ and looks quite cool – with wraps cooked on big crepe hotplates filled with things like prawns, smoked salmon or avocado and salad. There’s also ‘Thrive’ which offers super healthy sounding gluten free meals, smoothies and tubs of trail mix. The court’s juice bar – called Top Juice – looks fun and vibrant and more dynamic than the usual juice bar. They’re super popular, with the line to order constantly 3 to 4 people deep. I had a small ‘Happy Juice’ (pear, rockmelon and strawberry) which was delicious and served really well chilled too.

Then there’s a few special places, the Diors and Chanels of the café court, including Jimmy Grants and Earl. Jimmy Grant’s is George Calombaris’ latest venture into Greek-style street food. He’s also got outlets in Fitzroy and at the pop-up site at Rue & Co on Collins Street in the city. The reviews to date for the Jimmy Grants at Emporium have been a bit mixed and underwhelming, but it was popular when I visited. Souvas aren’t really my thing and it felt a bit naughty ordering chips for lunch, so I skipped Jimmy Grants, but will definitely have to try it in future, especially given how much I like Gazi. Earl, like Jimmy Grants, now has a couple of outlets across Melbourne. I think it is a great option for a healthy and tasty lunch. They sell big salads for under $10 that you actually want to eat, including my favourite ‘superfood’ salad, which has broccoli florettes, red quinoa and cranberries in it. There’s plenty of other salads to choose from too, with ingredients like broad beans, red salmon, kipfler potatoes and sumac flavoured veggies. Finally, the last big drawcard in the court is a rather flashy looking burger place called Charlie & Co Burgers. Unsurprisingly, they’re from Sydney originally, but it got good reports from my partner, who knows his burgers!

View of the seating at Emporium

View of the seating at Emporium

Top Juice's delicious looking display cabinet

Top Juice’s delicious looking display cabinet

Earl at Emporium

Earl at Emporium

While not exactly ground-breaking, I think it’s great to see a shopping centre recognise and reflect the city it exists within. Melbournians are foodies. We don’t like eating in dark food courts that smell like grease and we’re spoiled for choice in the city when it comes to tasty lunches and snacks. By attracting higher-end eateries into the centre, shoppers are enticed to stay and shop longer, which is exactly the point, I guess! I’m certainly one such swipe-happy shopper, having splashed out on a new winter coat to go with my lunch and fresh juice.

Top Juice on Urbanspoon

Earl Canteen Emporium on Urbanspoon