Sunday 31 August 2008

Digable brunch in Richmond

2 Amsterdam St (right near corner Church St), Richmond (map)
9421 0690
7-3 weekdays, 8-2 Saturdays

I first became aware of Digable's existence by reading a message written in chalk on the pavement of Church Street: "DIGABLE CAFE - GREAT COFFEE THIS WAY" (with a couple of arrows pointing helpfully down a side street). Maybe it was because the chalk message reminded me of so many I used to see in my uni days (eg "LSS BBQ 1PM TODAY - SOUTH LAWN"), but I was instantly charmed by the resourcefulness of Digable's advertising.


Digable is the only cafe I can think of off the top of my head whose website is a MySpace page (with some catchy beats playing on it). It made a bit more sense when I learned that the cafe is operated by local DJs and musos who promise to "ensure the music selections are of top quality, bringing you the best in Soul, Dub, Hip Hop, Funk, Jazz, Blues and world music to enhance your dinning [sic] experience". The facade of the cafe is adorned with street art and the changing breakfast and lunch menu features organic free range green eggs and fair trade organic Coffee Supreme. I worried the people running it may turn out to be slightly wanky, but the girl who served us was completely unpretentious and rather sweet and chatty, and the food was great when DJ and I went for a housemate brunch a few Saturdays ago.

My favourite feature in the cafe was the decorative row of hand straps once used by standing passengers on W class trams (just visible in the photo below along the top of the window). Actually, the shape and look of the interior of the cafe reminds me a bit of the old W class trams...


I ordered the Vege Eggs - soft-poached with avocado, mushrooms, slow roasted tomatoes and spinach ($12.50). The dish was a simple one and done well - the mushrooms had a slight tartness to them that I liked.

Digable vege breakfast

DJ ordered the Brekky Sanga - toasted ciabatta with two fried eggs, ham, tomato, pesto, cheese and spinach ($12). I think I would've toasted the ciabatta slightly more and maybe wilted the spinach a little, but DJ was very happy with it.

Digable breakfast panino

From memory, the lunch menu had a few nice-sounding burgers on it, amongst other items. One of the only downsides from my perspective is that Digable, like the Cherry Tree and so much else in Cremorne, is closed on a Sunday. But it's a great low-key brunch venue - next time you're brunching in Richmond on a Saturday and, like me, miss out on brunch at Pearl Cafe because they stop serving breakfast on the dot of 11am (I promise I'll stop whinging about this soon!), check out Digable - it's just around the corner...

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Okay, admit it...

Bird on Cocoa Beach Pier

Matt Preston's article comparing Melbourne foodies to species of fictional birds in today's Epicure was pretty damn funny.

Which genus are you?

Sunday 24 August 2008

Ladies and gentlemen: Porgie & Mr Jones

Porgie & Mr Jones
291 Auburn Rd, Hawthorn (map)
9882 2955

Porgie & Mr Jones cupcakes

Okay, so it's time for a confession: I have fallen in love. Head over heels in rapturous love with Porgie & Mr Jones, a little gem of a cafe in Auburn Road, Hawthorn.

Porgie & Mr Jones

Even before I'd tasted anything, P+MJ looked promising: artfully distressed brick walls and casually cute decor, loaves of Noisette bread for sale, a counter crammed with delicious-looking goodies, and really friendly staff cheerfully interacting with each other and the customers. On my second visit (a week after my first - I couldn't wait to get back), the kiwi gal at the till greeted me with a big hello and a "you're back, and you're wearing those gorgeous earrings again!"... and as I was leaving, the barista gave me an enthusiastic wave goodbye as though we were old friends.

Porgie & Mr Jones breadPorgie & Mr Jones

Maybe the secret to the happy staff is they're all high on berocca (which is on the menu for $3 a glass, original flavour) and tic tocs (40 cents each). :)

Tic tocs

On my first visit I went with Mum and she had the smashed avocado with thyme buttered mushrooms and marinated fetta on toasted wholegrain bread ($14.90). It tasted lovely - the serving of avocado was very generous, and the fetta was creamy and yet had a sharpness that really cut through the dish. Highly recommended.

Smashed avocado

I was tempted by the all-day breakfast menu (none of that McDonalds-style "we stop serving breakfast at 11am" bullshit that I encountered at Pearl Cafe when I tried to breakfast there a few Sundays ago - more about that in a forthcoming post)... but it WAS after 2pm, so I went for something more overtly lunchy: the bruschetta of garlicky cannellini beans, slow roasted tomatoes, crispy prosciutto and vincotto ($13.90). This dish was also excellent - the addition of vincotto was inspired, as was the decision to make the prosciutto crispy.


I couldn't resist getting one of those golden vanilla cupcakes ($4.50). Moist and soft with sinfully thick icing! Incidentally, the cafe is named after two of its owners. Mr Jones himself was knocking back a coffee by the bar on my second visit...

Golden vanilla cupcake

I was in the area again on Saturday, so I dropped in for a second visit and a sample of the breakfast menu. I'd decided to eschew the Taste of Melbourne festival because I was singing that night in a concert and didn't want to be tired/cranky from shuffling around in crowds all afternoon - so what better option than a quiet brunch and a read of the weekend papers? Note the golden retriever outside that insisted on staring at me mournfully as I drank my chai latte... :)

Chai Latte and mournful golden retriever

This breakfast was what really sealed the deal for me vis-à-vis P+MJ. Toasted banana bread with maple syrup mascarpone, fresh banana, berry compote and crushed pistachio ($12.90). My fondness for banana bread has already been well documented, but THIS was in a whole new league.

Two thick squares of soft-but-then-toasted banana bread stacked on top of each other like a club sandwich, with a mortar of mascarpone and thin slices of fresh banana holding the two together. A drizzle of tart berries and syrup over the top, crowned with the crushed pistachio. It was a simply stunning dish, and I don't know how on earth I'll be able to convince myself to NOT order it again next time, despite my desire to steadily work my way through the P+MJ menu, one dish at a time...

Toasted banana bread with maple syrup mascarpone, fresh banana, berry compote and crushed pistachio

I mean, it's not as though the banana bread isn't up against some pretty stiff competition, what with all the other fabulous-sounding items on the menu vying for attention: poached eggs on toasted grain bread with spinach, red pepper pesto and hazelnut dukkah, anyone? Salad of baby beetroot and stems, red onion, blood orange, Persian fetta and pistachio?? Toasted piadina with Casa Iberica chorizo, roast sweet potato, fetta and olive tapenade???

Sigh. I'm in love with Porgie & Mr Jones.

Leunig and golden retriever

Friday 22 August 2008

In the bleak midwinter at Cafe Vue

Cafe Vue
430 Little Collins St, Melbourne (map)
9691 3899

Cafe Vue June lunchbox

Cafe Vue, the cheapest and friendliest of the Vue de Monde triumvirate of venues, sells four course lunchboxes for $15 a pop. The lunchbox menu changes (and is updated on their website) monthly.

July Lunchbox

I've already written about a few of Cafe Vue's monthly cocktail nights, and hereby present to you the Cafe Vue winter lunchboxes. I tried out the June, July and August lunchboxes with T, L and B, my fellow "ladies who lunch" (if by "ladies who lunch", one actually means "ladies who try to squeeze in an hour for lunch whilst beavering away in different law firms, but inevitably have to reschedule at least once or twice due to sudden deadlines, practice group seminars, meetings with barristers etc etc etc...").

August lunchbox

First course: the starter

Pea patéMousse

The June starter was pea paté, sandwiched in between two discs of pumpernickel. I really didn't like this one (but in all fairness I should point out that the main reason for this is that I loathe pumpernickel).

I much preferred the July starter: smoked salmon rillette with pommes gaufrettes. The potato crisps scooped up the mousse-like rillette beautifully. The August chicken and lettuce roll with dijonnaise would have been great, but because most of the lunchbox is prepared in advance, the lettuce was awfully droopy and sad.

Lettuce roll

Second course: the salad

Pumpkin and feta salad with yuzu dressing

In June we had a pumpkin and feta salad with yuzu dressing, which was just delicious. The pumpkin had just the right amount of softness, and the dressing had a real zing to it. I also really liked July's salad of cracked wheat and tabouli - it reminded me of the cracked wheat salad I'd had at Cumulus Inc only a few nights earlier. The tuna coleslaw in August was my least favourite of the three - for some reason the salad included bean shoots, which tasted pretty strange with tuna.

Cracked wheat salad

Third course: the savoury

Duck and mushroom pie

All three of the savouries were great - June was the duck and mushroom pie, July was the hare and pumpkin sausage roll (which is not a combination I'd have thought of for a sausage roll, but it worked), and in August a petite baguette with duck cassoulet. One of the great things about these lunchboxes is that although there are four courses, each is small enough to avoid feeling too full all afternoon.

RollCassoulet roll

Fourth course: the sweet

Poached pears in chocolate mousse
Choc caramel slice

The highlights for me were the desserts. The poached pears in chocolate mousse, served up in June, were heavenly - the mousse was so light, the pears were soft and the combination of flavours rocked. In July we were treated to Cafe Vue's chocolate caramel slice adorned with a fleck of gold leaf, which was also very good (be warned though that the chocolate layer is much, much thicker and richer than what you get in a run-of-the-mill choc caramel slice... the larger sized slices sold on the regular Cafe Vue menu look damn near impossible to finish).

And in August it was a selection of macaroons. Yes, according to VdM they're macarooooons - but there are those of us in the Melbourne food blogging community who know better. The (cough) macarons were honey, pistachio and chocolate flavoured and despite Duncan's low opinion of them (though admittedly, the one he tried looked like a radioactive hamburger in the photo he provided), the ones we had in the lunchbox were lovely - small and round and delicately flavoured. My favourite was the honey one. Of course, I'm no great expert in the macaron field, but I liked 'em.


I was all set to write up this post on the weekend, and then I discovered to my horror that I'd already accidentally deleted all but two of the August lunchbox photos from my digicam before I'd had the chance to upload them onto my computer. Crisis! Happily, the rest of the Ladies Who Lunch were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and revisit Cafe Vue on Tuesday - L (who hadn't been able to make it on the first August visit) got the lunchbox which she allowed me to rephotograph, and the rest of us got to try the Cafe Vue burger and french fries.

Cafe Vue burger

I had my doubts about the Cafe Vue burger as I'd heard it was made with a sweet brioche bun (like Maccas burgers??), but it turned out to be surprisingly tasty. Good fries too. I also liked the presentation - I know serving food on rustic wooden boards is the new black but I don't care, it looks great. The burger and fries only comes to $10, which I suppose is reflected in the smaller-than-average portion size (the bird's eye view below gives you a better idea of the proportions involved). Again, like the lunchbox portions, I appreciated the smaller size...

Cafe Vue burger

...because it left room for dessert! T and I both ordered a strawberry tart each ($4), filled with delectable crème pâtissière. You should TOTALLY order one of these if they're on offer that day. :)

Strawberry tart

Monday 18 August 2008

Hunter Valley Gastronome II: The Wedding

Halls Rd, Pokolbin
Hunter Valley (map)
02 4998 7330

Hunter Valley Vineyard

Two weekends ago my entire Aussie family spent three days of opulent bliss up in the Hunter Valley to celebrate the wedding of my Sydney-based uncle. The bride and groom put all of us up, from both extended families - booking out every room at the insanely luxurious Tower Lodge.

Tower Lodge

As well as being the location of our accommodation, Tower Lodge doubled as the venue for the twilight wedding ceremony and the reception. It looked sublime.

Tower Lodge

On the Friday afternoon, most of the men went off to play golf and we women went to a nearby day spa to get massages and facials and pedicures. The next morning (the day of the wedding), all of the family women had their hair and make-up done by professional artistes. When my little sister Birdie heard we'd be treated to all this, she looked me in the eye and said very seriously, "this wedding is like the best thing that's ever happened to our family". :)

Tower LodgeTower Lodge Oriental Room

Each of the rooms had a different theme. Birdie and I were in what I dubbed the Tally Ho Pip Pip Hunting Room - I got quite a fright one morning to wake up and find that green marble stag (or is it an elk?) looming directly over me!

Tower Lodge Oriental RoomTower Lodge
Tower LodgeTower Lodge

Clockise, from top left: Mum and Dad were in the Oriental Room, which was full of gorgeous antiques; the bride and groom were married in the central courtyard; the Bridal Suite featured a 300-year-old hand carved Rajasthani bed; we had breakfast each morning in the Blue Room.

RobertsWedding Bouquet

On the Friday night the bride's parents very generously shouted all sixty wedding guests a lavish dinner at Roberts, the nearby restaurant where we dined last time I came to the Hunter Valley.

Before the dinner, the bride and groom's families came together in the Tower Lodge main hall for a traditional Indian ceremony conducted by the bride's father to celebrate the union of our two families. One by one, a member of the bride's family would embrace a member of our family, accept us and welcome us into their family and then present a gift to the recipient. We were all terribly moved to be so welcomed into the bride's family, and filled with happiness for my uncle. :)

One of my "new cousins" was able to shed some further light on the ceremony for me:
The ceremony is called Milni. Found a small bit on it which describes it quite well, I've pasted it below:
"Milni Ceremony
When the groom's party reaches the wedding venue, milni ceremony is performed. The bride's close relatives give a warm welcome to the groom and his relatives with flower garlands. Rose water is sprinkled on them. In the milni ceremony, the girl's relatives give a welcome to the groom's close relatives. It is done in the descending order, beginning from the elder most. Cash and clothes are gifted."

Obviously ours was modified, was still a fun intro though I think.

Thanks, K!

Wedding party

In true cross-cultural tradition, India met Scotland. Whilst my mother's family is Italian my dad's side of the family is originally Scottish, and the groom donned a kilt for the wedding ceremony - so did Dad and uncle J! The wedding kilt is partially visible there on the left.

WeddingTower Lodge

And now to the food! I'm afraid I was having too much fun to properly analyse what we ate, but both the Roberts dinner and the wedding reception were excellent. On the Friday night one of the hors d'oeuvres was gravlax with juicy balls of salmon roe, and at the reception I yummed up a few of these puff pastry beauties containing very fresh kingfish.

Hors d'oeuvresHors d'oeuvres

Another wonderful hors d'oeuvre were the shots of black truffle and potato soup. I confess I did have seconds... :)

Truffle and cauliflour shot

A selection of the dishes (clockwise, from top left): ballotine of wood-smoked local quail with lightly poached pear, gorgonzola and radish shoots; fresh fettuccine with king brown mushrooms, sage leaves and garlic butter; marinated wood pigeon breast served pink, confit leg, sticky prune paste and baked pear tart; and grilled loin of Western Australian lamb with baby fennel, baked eggplant and chilli salsa.

Ballotine of Wood Smoked Local QuailFettucini with King Brown Mushrooms
Loin of Western Australian LambMarinated Wood Pigeon Breast

My favourite of the desserts was the passionfruit mousse, served with hot brioche and pearl sugar. Many thanks to Spanna, for providing me with her images of the mousse and the kingfish pastries. Span, your camera takes sensational pictures and I'm dying of jealousy... :)

Passionfruit mousse

The reception kicked on into the night, although many of the non-family wedding guests who were staying in nearby accommodation and the family oldies headed off to bed once the live music finished. But then Birdie figured out how to plug her iPod into the speakers and so most of we under-30 youngsters from the two families kept dancing in the Tower Lodge hall until after 2:30am... as you can imagine, grape grazing around Hunter Valley wineries the following morning was a bit of a struggle at first...

Such a fun weekend!

Wedding flowers