Outside the comfort zone

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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!

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Over The Moon

There are a lot of good dining experiences to be had in Melbourne, but it’s pretty rare for me to have one that, for the occasion/price/company/hunger level and every other variable, I could honestly say was a perfect experience. Last Saturday night my partner and I went out with his parents for dinner at Moon Under Water (Gertrude Street, Fitzroy). And I have to say, it was pretty damn near perfect. 

Moon Under Water is the higher-end dining section of Builders Arms Hotel, a lovely white-on-white dining room tucked away at the back of the building. The decor is a little bit French, a little bit Melbourne and very me, with crisp white tablecloths paired with edgy arrangements of gin bottles and autumn leaves on the dining room’s buffet table and side boards. The service was professional, yet still warm – happy to get us extra bread (which came in a very cute enamel lunchbox) with a smile and recommend anything from a Belgian or British beer to a great Pinot from the Mornington Peninsula. 

  

I knew I was really on to a good thing at this restaurant though when, on letting the waitress know I was a vegetarian, she took away my menu and returned with a dedicated vegetarian menu. At Moon Under Water you can opt for 3, 4 or 6 courses, with non-vegetarians having a choice of two different items for each course. We all opted for four courses, with my partner and his dad choosing to have the matched wines. You can also add in a cheese course, which, of course, we had to do!

For the first course three of us had a tomato salad with a sheep’s curd yoghurt. It was really zingy and fresh. The tomatoes and curd were quite sweet and the taragon and tiny crumbs of black olive balanced it out with savouriness and saltiness. My partner braved it with a cured bonito dish which was really well done and not overpowering. For the second course I had a fennel dish with crispy quinoa. I’m normally not a huge fan of either of these ingredients, but the fennel was super soft and creamy, served with a tasty vegetable broth, and the quinoa was just a nice garnish that added crunch. There were a lot of nods and happy faces from the non-vegetarians too, who were tucking into a pretty little duck and lentil dish for their second course which was matched with a very popular pinot. 

   

 

For the third course I had pan fried gnocchi with heirloom carrots. Good gnocchi always makes me happy and this was no exception. My dining companions’ pork with lovage and anchovy was not my thing obviously, but was reported to be very well cooked and a highlight of the meal. Finally, dessert arrived and happily, even after a multi-course dinner we still had room for these little treasures. My partner and I had the chocolate parfait with spiced oats and milk sorbet and his parents had the almond cake with a lemon verbena custard and fresh raspberries. The chocolate parfait was, well, perfect. It was basically like a fancy icecream sandwich with dark rich parfait squeezed between two thin chocolate oat cookies, topped with a dollop of salted caramel and a quenelle of smooth milk sorbet which just tased like a nice chilled cream. 

  

Each course was relatively small, but very satisfying, plus there’s complimentary starters, bread and butter served throughout and the course before dessert (the ‘main’ I guess) is served with green salad and absolutely delicious whole roasted baby potatoes. For $75 a head (plus drinks) for four courses, we were very happy customers. We left feeling quite full (and maybe a little tipsy) but not stuffed, appreciating the meal for its balance, great ingredients and thoughtful presentation. 

  

Moon Under Water on Urbanspoon

The Flour Market

At 7:30am this morning I was awake and out of bed. On a Saturday. There could only be one reason for this very uncharacteristic behaviour: the pursuit of pastry!

This morning I went to the Flour Market, a pop up bakery market in Fitzroy. There was one held late last year which I missed, so I was determined to get in early and go into a cake-induced coma at this one. There were about 12-15 stalls at the indoor market, which was hosted by The Baron Said in Fitzroy, just near the corners of Johnston and Brunswick Streets. All the stallholders were artisan bakers of some description, plus there was a coffee stand and milkshake stand to help wash it all down.

I arrived about 8:40am to a line maybe 80 people deep. The crowd was mostly young locals, foodies, plus quite a few parents with (surprisingly well behaved) kids. Doors opened at 9am, except for people with early bird entry tickets. Given how crowded and crazy the place got, next time I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on an early entry ticket. I think one issue was that there was no crowd control, so when the doors opened at 9am, everyone poured in rather than say letting 50 people in at a time. The crowd was great though, everyone was polite and really happy to be there. We formed relatively orderly queues at our chosen stands, accidentally elbowed each other and greedily eyed each other’s choice of treats. Traffic flow and direction was a bit of an issue though, with half the crowd going left upon entry and half going right and everyone smooshing together at the central stands!

Anyway, enough about crowd control, on to the important stuff, like salted caramel donuts. So there were so beautiful looking goods at the stalls, I didn’t really know where to start. There were gorgeous solid looking savoury pies by Pure Pie, big stacks of waffles at Waffle Jolie, fresh artisanal breads, vegan cheesecake, homemade donuts of several shapes, sizes and flavours, glossy bagels, homemade oreos at Bakewell & Co, pecan pies and lemon tarts.

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crumpets

I started off by perusing all the stalls and buying a couple of bags of Dr Marty’s Crumpets, as I’d heard of them before but had never tried them. They are currently sitting in my fridge, ready to be toasted and covered in honey and butter, as they conveniently last a couple of days in the fridge. Then I joined the bagel line for 5 & Dime, which was epic! I think it must be the current obsession with American diner style food in Melbourne at the moment, but everyone wanted a bagel. I grabbed myself a plain and a sesame seed bagel. I was tempted by the more unusual sounding white chocolate raspberry bagel, but resisted as there were a lot of sweet options on offer at the Flour Market that I needed to get through. I’ve just had one of the bagels for lunch with a big smear of cream cheese and spinach dip from the Queen Vic markets. Oh baby. There was a reason for the line. Melbournians know their food. 5 & Dime don’t have a store sadly, but do sell at farmer’s markets. They also supply to some very cool cafes across Melbourne, include Pope Joan and Bowery to Williamsburg (which I recently visited, a CBD brunch gem!). The bagels are super soft and just a little yeasty on the inside and have a chewiness on the outside which comes from the traditional boil then bake method. My only criticism was an aesthetic one – the bagels are so generous and puffy that they basically have no hole in the middle, so when you cut them in half, they don’t really look like a bagel to me.

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Then it was on to the sweet stuff, starting with a milkshake at MilkBar. I went with the ‘Choc Haze’ milkshake, essentially a nutella flavoured milkshake. The ingredients were delicious but the texture wasn’t brilliant, it lacked bubbles and volume because they were using dinky little blenders with hardly any power. But I do love a good milkshake and expect a lot from them, so perhaps I’m being too tough.

I think the highlight of the morning was the salted caramel donut from Cobb Lane Bakery. It was just unreasonably soft and delicious. So light and doughy and then the salted caramel filling was very salty, very sweet and very smooth. It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat out of a paper bag, but hey, it was worth getting powdered sugar on my nose for! Cobb Lane Bakery is based out in Yarraville, but Twenty & Six Espresso on Queensberry Street stock their donuts, so they could become a regular and extremely dangerous habit of mine.

We left around 10am and things were already starting to sell out, including Cobb Lane’s donuts. I noticed La Belle Miette’s macaroons weren’t selling as quickly though, suggesting to me that the Melbourne love affair with macaroons is well and truly over. They are still very beautiful though, and great if you’re wanting gluten free. If you haven’t been, their shop in Hardware Lane is super cute and their pastel coloured gift boxes elevate their macaroons into a very stylish little gift I think!

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

It was great to be reminded of what a wonderful foodie city Melbourne is with such passionate producers and purveyors. And the best part? I was back on my couch, bagel at the ready and air conditioning on by 12 o’clock today, the time when I’m normally just emerging from the doona covers!

Cobb Lane on Urbanspoon

La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon