Review: The Grain Store

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So it’s that quiet time of year (apparently) when cafes close for a few weeks of resting and menu revamping, which is perfectly fine, except that it does rather disrupt my brunching habits. Auction Rooms and Di Bella, my two brunch spot stalwarts, were closed for well over a week for Christmas. What is a girl to do? Certainly not poach her own eggs! Oh no!

Instead the great north melbourne brunch drought of 2015 (as I’m now naming it) motivated my partner and I to walk into the city for brunch on Sunday morning. Being a beautiful sunny morning we happily trotted down to The Grain Store on Flinders Lane. With a buzzy vibe, almost no wait and a truly excellent brunch, I was reminded how much I like The Grain Store. The service is professional, the coffee is excellent and their chefs accommodate my annoying request for very well poached eggs, since an oozy yellow yolk kind of makes me want to vomit, which, incidentally, is not a good look at a nice cafe like The Grain Store.

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I say cafe but really it’s more of a restaurant. I’m not sure how you delineate the difference exactly, but I think it’s something to do with them serving dinner and wine in the evening and having nice cutlery and glassware for all three meals of the day. Plus the staff there are professional waiters, not sleepy eyed party girls wearing onesies and under their aprons. Ouch – apparently 2015 has prematurely turned me into a grumpy old lady type! But you know what I mean, there’s a slick-but-friendly feel at The Grain Store that makes you confident your order will be correct and the coffee will arrive promptly.

The decor at The Grain Store is lovely and light – kinda Scandi and kinda French provincial style, with lots of pale wood and funky lighting. Tables are mostly designed to seat four, plus there’s a large communal table along one edge of the room, right next to the big buffet where they have chunky cookies, small cakes and savoury quiches, plus the odd baguette, on display.

The menu has just been reviewed and includes some really nice light summer options. I had a great polenta fritter with smashed greens, avocado, gazpacho dressing, hazelnut dukkah and a poached egg. The polenta was beautifully creamy and the smashed greens were delicious and comfortingly healthy looking (considering my cake-centric diet these last few weeks over Christmas…) There’s still plenty of classics on the menu though and The Grain Store does ensure its classics are really good – the toast is crisp and buttery, the eggs are cooked to order and salads taste fresh and well seasoned. Plus they still have on their new menu their crispy haloumi, which goes really well with eggs and avocado. I’m not sure what they do to the haloumi (I suspect a deep frier is involved), but it tastes a-maz-ing!

Plus if you’re still hungry after brunch, you can order cookies and milk, baked to order. I indulged in this treat a few weeks ago with a very good friend of mine. Four big warm buttery chocolate chip cookies arrive at your table on a wooden board, accompanied by a glass of cold milk. If you have room, do it. You will feel like a child again, in a good way.

So, while my Errol Street favourites are back in business this week, I dare say that I’ll still occasionally be making the longer but highly rewarding trip into the city for my brunching requirements this year.

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2013 In Review: Salted caramel, soda streams and quinoa

Hello! After a month off on holidays, I’m back at work, back eating (and sweltering) in Melbourne cafes and back blogging. I feel a little reflection and review of 2013 is in order for this blog before I move on to a few new foodie delights (including upcoming blogs on yummy new Mexican menus and what vegetarians really eat for dinner).

So my partner and I hosted Christmas this year for both our families. Luckily this just meant 8 people (parents on both sides, one sibling each and us), as that was definitely the most that would comfortably fit in our little apartment. The morning started with the two of us exchanging gifts and enjoying banana pancakes (or ‘drop scones’ as I like to call them thanks to my Anglo heritage) with homemade blueberry coulis and vanilla yoghurt.

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Being the wanna-be domestic goddess that I am, I had a lot of fun planning the table setting for the Christmas day lunch. We had a green and gold theme for the table, being both Christmassy and Australian in one!

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The menu, designed to appeal to, and cooked by omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians alike was:Image:

– smoked salmon on ricotta blinis with horseradish creme

– polenta rounds with guacamole, toasted pepitas and pomegranate

– tomato and goat’s cheese galettes

– a ham (not cooked by me obviously!) 

– chilli garlic prawns

– leek and cheese croquettes with red onion jam

– zucchini, hazelnut and baby bocconcini salad

– classic potato salad with organic dutch cream potatoes

– traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and homemade vanilla bean icecream

– raspberry custard tart with gold leaf

– pistachio slice, rocky road, rum balls, shortbread and lots of alcohol!

I’m feeling hungry yet exhausted just thinking about that meal, but it was great fun! We ate leftovers in a sort of lunch-cross-dinner on Boxing Day and I’ve only just finished off the last of the rum balls, which were made by my partner’s mum and are so so very delicious.

Moving on from Christmas though, to think more broadly about ‘the best of life, love and cake in North Melbourne’ in 2013, I have to say it has been a very big year for me. Some parts have been tough, some parts fantastic. I’ve felt very down during some weeks in 2013. I’ve completely changed careers and started re-thinking about what I want in life. I’ve had to let some things go and welcome other things into my life, whether I wanted to or not (including a couple of kilos!). A constant in 2013 has been the quality and variety of food in Melbourne and the joy I get from sharing a meal with family and other loved ones. Baking a cake is still the ultimate zen-like yoga for my mind. Putting down a delicious healthy meal in front of my partner for dinner still gives me immense satisfaction. And the opening of a new café, emergence of a new food trend or the purchase of a new kitchen appliance will always fill me with joy. To finish this review blog, below are my top 5 foodie trends from 2013 and what I predict is going to be the top 5 in 2014:

For 2013

– salted caramel: I’m not complaining, I love this flavour!

– coconut water: Miranda Kerr drinks it, now everyone else does too.

– cold pressed juices: I personally think these are overrated and overpriced, but a healthy trend and very big in South Yarra apparently.

– quinoa: I’m on board, it’s like couscous but hardcore.

– the soda stream: I hate bubbles in my drinks, so not one for me, but everyone seemed to be buying them in 2013

For 2014:

– artisanal ice-cream and gelato: given global warming and the arrival of N2 and Messina Gelato in Melbourne last year, I think this is on the rise

– cold drip coffee: Auction Rooms is doing it, Di Bella is doing it, everyone will be doing it in 2014! And again with the global warming thing, hot coffee isn’t so appealing in heatwaves…

– beyond Fair Trade: I read a great article recently on the problems with the Fair Trade system of certification (e.g. a global, non country specific pricing system and complex compliance rules) and what some people are doing to get more ethical and creative options out there

– blueberries: I’m not sure why, I just have a feeling about this one, I think this little berry’s time has come to shine.

– duck eggs: More interesting than a chicken egg and less cutesy than a quail egg, I can see the appeal, but to me they kind of taste the way ducks smell. This is coming from a country girl who had several pet clutches of ducklings, most people don’t know what ducks smell like, so it’s probably not an issue, hence the prediction on their growing popularity in 2014.

Thank you for following my blog in 2013, I hope to bring you lots more cookie-filled delicious joy this year!

Christmas, golden retrievers and stuffed olives

This morning on Errol street I noticed that Christmas banners had been put up all along the street. Myer’s Christmas windows open this weekend. Chadstone shopping centre is already well and truly baubled. It is November 10 people! I know I sound like the Grinch, but I do actually love Christmas. There will be many Christmas related posts forthcoming on this blog. There will be instagrams of my beloved Christmas tree and pics with #plumpudding and #tofurkey all over Facebook (not that I actually eat tofurkey – very weird concept I think). Importantly, however, these will appear IN DECEMBER. I will put up my tree on December 1st and no sooner. I will not be induced into Christmas shopping /cooking/cleaning/packing/wrapping hysteria any sooner than necessary.

This, I have realised, is a sign I am getting old. Or, at the very least, I’ve somehow strayed into that ‘being and adult’ territory where the phrase ‘Christmas is coming’ is kind of like ‘Winter is coming’ in the Game of Thrones. It’s not just your attitude towards singing Santas and aggressive television commercials with dodgy looking elves that changes with age. Your tastebuds and food preferences change with age too. You can, and do, learn to like foods over time. My first solid food was pureed bananas. Then it was mashed potato. Then, oddly enough, I think it was small boxes of sultanas. I’ve come rather a long way from there and my tastebuds are still developing. About ten years ago I came round to pumpkin and beetroot. Up until maybe five years ago I completely avoided goats’ cheese, now I think I eat about a kilo of Milawa chevre a week. Mushrooms are also a relatively new found love, and a handy one, since I’m a vegetarian.

Lately I’ve become aware that my tastebuds are becoming seriously grown up. Like, my tastebuds have a mortgage and a golden retriever and three kids. I think some of them are even dyeing their greys and considering buying a beach house in Rye.

For example, you know your tastebuds are getting older when you opt for dark chocolate over milk. This has started happening to me. I still love Lindt milk squares, caramello koalas and Cadbury hazelnut chocolate. But my favourite chocolate is getting darker by the years. I’m now really into dark milk chocolate (around the 60% mark) and can happily eat several dark chocolate Koko Black truffles in one go. My mum, who is…well, let’s just say she’s a fair bit older than me, all she eats is dark chocolate, 75% or above, the darker and more bitter the better.

I’ve also started enjoying olives, something which I’d meticulously pick off pizza when I was young. Now I love sampling olives with different stuffings or oils and those sexy little Ligurian ones at the Queen Vic’s delis. Blue cheese is another very ‘adult’ taste. I did recently try blue cheese ice-cream (see my blog on N2 here) and didn’t mind it, whereas normally, when I taste blue cheese, I feel like I’ve eaten an overgrown petri dish mixed with boys’ gym socks. Finally, I’ve started agreeing with those crazy celebrity chef statements about brussel sprouts or broad beans actually being delicious if cooked well with loads of butter.

Besides growing up, apparently your hormones can also affect your taste preferences. I mean, I get massive chocolate cravings each month (to be honest it’s really all month…) but you can also crave certain foods based on deficiencies you have and your hormonal cycle. Also, did you know that you not only have tastebuds on your tongue, apparently there are buds on the roof of your mouth and your throat? Freaky!

Anyway, because this is a food and lifestyle blog and not a science one I’ll get back to food and away from anatomy and hormonal cycles. Below is a photo of a meal that me and my somewhat aging tastebuds enjoyed a week or two ago – super soft pan fried gnocchi with zucchini, buffalo mozzarella and peas. Nom nom nom.

Gnocchi at The European on Spring Street

Gnocchi at The European on Spring Street