Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cumulus Inc.

45 Flinders Lane
Monday – Friday 7am – 11pm
Saturday 9am – 11pm

Cumulonimbus Inc may have been a more appropriate name for Cumulus Inc. As Melbourne was experiencing the most atrocious weather conditions, I was on a mission to get to this most highly publicised edition to the Melbourne eating scene. As the wind funnelled down Flinders Lane, recycling bins rebelled off the curb into the streets, rain lashed at me like a tormented child; I was a renegade battling against the elements. Unsurprisingly the love for good food proved enough motivation to see me through the storm.

Side stepping into the crevasse (doorway), I contract my now fan-tangled umbrella and step inside this much talked about eating house. Greeted by the man at the coffee machine he tells me that the tables are all full and offers me a seat at the bar. Often I feel short changed when stuck at the bar, however being elevated you really do get exceptional staring opportunities. I take a seat and gaze around. Jackets hanging off winkle pickers, chiefs intimately immersed into the layout, light fittings that are taking on a life of their own. The edginess of this place is uncomfortably cool; though kudos must go to the staff for off-setting this too-cool vibe through their warmth and loveliness.

The bar I am seated at is the drinks station; hot and cold. The coffee is hands-down the best I have had in Melbourne and judging on the care that went into squeezing my juice I would place a bet that this place does a pretty good job on its alcoholic beverages. Breakfast is basics done with a twist. Bircher Muesli with granny smiths and almonds ($8), Sardines with Parsley, tomato and lemon on sourdough ($11), blood sausage, fried eggs and fruit salad also slip in there. Edging closer to savoury o’clock I ordered the recommended Tom Cooper’s smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill ($16). My plate arrived after a 20minute (or so) wait. If you imagine grilled sourdough topped with sliced avocado, dressed baby spinach and smoked salmon then my 65/65 egg and grated apple, this is about what it looked like. Times this by 500 and that was the taste. The salmon almost evaporated into my mouth it was that succulent, the bread held its own against the egg yolk and the acid in the apple added the needed bite to a mouthful of avocado. I was full, but feeling good – not guilty. The Cumulus Inc. Breakfast was also a hit; an alliance of all your breakfast favourites in one.

For those who can’t do commitment but want to see what this place is all about I suggest a coffee and sugar hit from the morsels in the cabinet – or on the flip side a vino at the bar. Rain or shine, morning or night Cumulus has it covered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cafe Sweethearts

263 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
ph. 03 9690 6752

Love... love me do, you know I love you....for many people in Melbourne, not enough praise can be sung for South Melbourne’s Cafe Sweethearts. Basking in the sun with large glass windows set for a view of a lake lined with weeping willows, this cafe looks like it belongs in Daylesford – quite the contrast from other Melbourne haunts that pride themselves on their dark alluring hidden locations, emo-pop wait staff in order to manifest that much publicised Melbourne cafe culture.

Walking into Sweethearts you are greeted by wait-staff who acknowledge you with a smile then hastily run back to the counter, mutter amongst themselves and then in a cool calm collected manner graciously seat you at your table which can take the form of bar seats over looking Coventry Street or wooden tables against cushion seated walls – so country. Cosily placed on my cushion seat with my coffee order already in the system it was time to relax.

The gentle vibe of Sweethearts suits itself to brunch out with grandma and mum, visiting parents or a place to meet people who you don’t know so well –it won’t offend anyone and you can be assured the food will win hearts over.

Spanning over 4 pages the brunch menu exhausts all egg combinations known to man...and chicken. Everything from Benedict with ham, with salmon, with avocado to scrambled eggs on rye with this that and the next thing. They even managed to put a fried egg on the Lumberjack Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup.

A table favourite was the Eggs Benedict with Avocado. Essentially an English muffin split, toasted, topped with a couple of slices of avo followed by two very oozy bright poached eggs –Taa-da! Not rocket science but simple and fresh. The one thing I did however struggle with and have done many times before is; when they make the eggs that god-dam runny do they really think that a measly English muffin is going to soak it all up? Am I really expected to just say sayonara to all that delicious egg yolk on my plate? Maybe cafes should start a movement where they leave left over crusts in a basket on your table for you to mop up residual yolk. Genius.

The sweet pancakes are made with oat providing a great nutty taste – clearly egg whites have been well whipped before going into the batter to make a very light cake. The serving size is generous as is the side jug of thick maple syrup. If you are only looking for a little indulgence I would suggest opting for daily baked muffins on the counter. It would be ignorant to dismiss Sweethearts as an egg and pancake shop only; spinach and herb polenta, roesti and fruit toast and muesli/porridge variations also adorn the menu.

If I was to sum Cafe Sweethearts up in one word I would say consistent; consistently good coffee, consistently fresh ingredients, consistent service – consistent stream of customers. It is not the cheapest in town, nor the funkiest – we are talking a beige decor here. However like your first love, no one forgets Cafe Sweethearts and everyone likes to visit their ol’ sweetheart once and a while.
The Rocks
1 Schnapper Point Drive
Ph. 03 5973 5599

There is a lot to be said for the saying ‘there is a time and place for everything’. The Rocks of Mornington has its place and time – but breakfast is not it. Offering a “unique fresh air dining experience with an absolute waterfront setting” it is worth the visit...for a late lunch or dinner. However as visitors to the area we entrusted the local knowledge of Nancy from the Mornington Peninsula Information Centre and meandered down there for our bacon and egg fix. Just what we needed to gear us up for a day of wine tasting!

Sitting as part of what appears to be Mornington Yacht Club; The Rocks has a great sea-side vibe that slips you into holiday mode before you can say catch-of-the-day. Taking our seat in the undercover veranda area known as ‘The Deck’ we were left for a few minutes wondering if this was table or self service. Once our menu arrived things seemed to kick into action a little more; coffee orders were taken and water put on the table. The local brew of Five Senses Mornington coffee was on offer.

Salivating at the thought of bacon and eggs or some French toast we were a little disappointed to see there was no formal breakfast, let alone brunch menu – apparently this is only found in ‘The Dining Room’ – the formal part of The Rocks, for us it was either a muffin or straight into the salt and pepper squid. It had not yet ticked over 11am and I was struggling to make a decision. Sweet corn and zucchini fritters with thyme and sea salt roasted tomatoes came to my rescue and my male companions thought the Wagyu beef burger sounded like a pretty good compromise to the big breakfast.

Our meals arrived after a good 20 minutes of gazing at row boats, incoming fishing charters and tankers in the horizon. The fritters were deep fried which served well to line my stomach for the day’s activities but they were in dire need of lashings of salt. It was served with a basic salad and some crusty bread. The Wagyu burger was the winner on the day; flavoursome homemade onion chutney, gutsy beef patty without the greasy aftertaste and some corker potato chips on the side. From my opinion it the food was satisfactory, adjective. Giving satisfaction sufficient to meet a demand or requirement; adequate. Had I the chance to view and eat off The Dining Room brunch menu it may have been a different story with the likes of ricotta pancakes with poached peaches and basil ($15), Spanish style baked beans with eggs ($16) and of course the big breakfast ($19) which true to tradition, didn’t adorn one bit of seafood.

The Rocks is not cheap but if you have travelled to the Peninsula because you want to feel like you are at the peninsula then this is the place to be. With seagulls flying over the water, the smell of sea in the air the view works hard to make up for the mediocre cafe that is The Deck at The Rocks.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Going Home to Amiconi

Amiconi Restaurant

359 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
p. 03 9328 3710

Visually, you could be mistaken for thinking you had walked into someone’s house, waiters laze about the bar as if they were entertaining at home. Family portraits and newspaper clippings line the walls. The Italian lure of Amiconi cannot be ignored- the atmosphere is something that can only truly be manifested by years of hard work and relentless passion.

Immediately seated, the service is prompt and professional on the outside- however once comfortably settled the charade is over and you are time travelling back to Ma and Pa’s house in Napoli. Warmed olives are bought to your table, courtesy of the house. As you would bring a bottle of wine over to friends, Amiconi is BYO- a refreshing change from the bulk of many other Italian restaurants –‘$15 house’ red wine your grandfather made. No thanks.

Our waitress far exceeded our expectations not only was she attentive she was refreshingly honest. As someone that suffers acute Food Envy I find it hard to settle on one dish of choice; subsequently I only dine out with those who believe in the communal eating ethos i.e. stealing from one another’s plates. Our waitress was like minded and offered three of the best picks, and in the interim challenged the foreseeable ordering of garlic bread with a suggestion of Ciabatta alla Parma instead. Just enough to whet the appetite - we eagerly awaited our mains.

The Tagliatelle alla Carbonara provided us with a solid benchmark on which to measure Amiconi up against its Lygon Street counterparts. It was flavoursome and consoling without the need to say forty Hail Mary’s to your butt and thighs. Soft in texture and with a basic Napoli sauce enveloping it, the Gnocchi alla Mattriciana appealed to the simple palette. I personally found it a little dull, however arriving with Parmesan freshly grated on top (as opposed to the dehydrated form in a glass shaker on the table...not acceptable) accentuated the craftsmanship and love that goes into the preparation of food at Amiconi. The star main was the Tortellini ai Funghi; stuffed with savoury meat and blanked in a heady mushroom sauce it was delectable. For those inquisitive one’s savoury meat is (and I am only referencing one source here) meat that has been mixed in with spices. It was not until we asked this question that the waitress gave us that answer and truly reflected on how ridiculous it sounds. Not a place to mess with tradition I imagine savoury meat will stay on the menu for many moons to come.

The dessert menu covers the typical mainstream Italian fair; Tiramisu & Co. The ‘special’ was Chocolate Broulee, I don’t know how Italian that is but if theirs was anything to go by I would be first to adopt it as my country’s dessert. Its rich and decadent body was protected by a sugary crust, served with home-made Vanilla bean ice cream its bitterness was subtly controlled. Profiteroles came in a serving of four, fresh puffed pastry with a sweetened cream cheese like filling, dark chocolate coating them - Vanilla Bean ice cream to the side. Both dishes were accompanied with gargantuan chocolate dipped strawberries; the quintessential surprise and delight factor. Love it.

For the authentic Italian experience, side step Lygon Street and catch the 57 to North Melbourne. Amiconi will be waiting there like an old friend to welcome you with open arms.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

St Ali

St Ali _____________________________________________________________________
12- 18 Yarra Place. South Melbourne.
Ph 03 9686 2990

While this is not something I would normally preach, exposure to UV rays does have some benefits- the key one being; it assists in the body’s absorption of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in a variety of animal derived products such as eggs. So as I awoke to a crisp sunlit morning I thought me ‘best get me Vitamin D conversion happening while the sun still shines’. Yeah Ha
St Ali has the perfect combination of eggs and sun. Tucked away in a South Melbourne side street it is an industrial looking building both inside and out; exposed brick, roller garage doors that act as faux walls and concrete flooring sets a tone that is raw, honest and earthy.
As you approach St Ali there is a harmony that surrounds it, maybe it’s the sun streaming in, the light aroma of freshly roasted coffee or the uncluttered easy feeling decor. Whatever it was I liked it. I choose to sit by the elevated garage doors (I was now perfectly aligned with the sun for my conversion to take place...). My order was promptly taken with the waitress offering recommendations on request.
With over ten blends of coffee to choose from the concise brunch menu was appreciated. Eggs were the order of the day done poached, poached or poached. There was the standard fruit toast and Bircher options, all of healthy sizing’s and the ‘tasting plate’ which is a touch of brilliance for those who can’t make decisions; fruit toast, home poached winter fruits and a selection of toasted nuts-yum.
The roast of the day coffee-(done latte) arrived first, hot and milky. Not as strong as I was expecting for an on-premises roaster; what I would call a non-offensive coffee. Remaining on the vitamin conversion quest I opted for poached eggs on toasted pide with onion relish, haloumi and baby spinach topped with a rustic dukka. It arrived in good time and was presented well. The eggs were poached to perfection, still a bit runny with stunning bright golden yokes. On the downside, the dish was a little light on the relish which would have provided the oomph that it lacked. Overall it was not too heavy or salty however if your after a taste explosion you’ll be disappointed.
In addition to the menu there is delectable’s in the counter display including cupcakes, brownie, fresh pastries and slices. They serve the full Phoenix Organic drinks range and I shouldn’t forget to mention you can buy their coffee in take-home packs starting at $10 for 250gm of the St Ali blend.
It seems that everyone is in for a little Vitamin D action from the young families to recreational cyclists to the urban cool. In a city that prides itself on its poky laneway cafes it is nice to finally find an oasis where sunshine and eggs become one, I’ll Yeah-Ha to that!

Open: daily for breakfast and lunch
Price: brunch $8 - $13, coffee $3
Kid Friendly: Yes

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coming out of the closet

When the highlight of your day is getting home to cook I think your heart and/or stomach is trying to tell you something. Like most, I grew up fussy, a life of fish fingers and 2 Minute Noodles was for me. I cant pin down the date but there came a day when I made a declaration 'I want to be able to eat everything!'

Life seemed to short to discriminate against certain foods and as I went on to learn in my food studies no human is actually born to forever hate brussel sprouts, anchovies or anything for that matter - we can train our taste buds and brain to enjoy any food. It just takes practice.

Like a good servant I preach to my Food Messiah daily; eating, reading, thinking and talking food (much to the nuance of boyf); Gourmet Digs acts as my sound board where I come to share what I care about- Food