103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne (map)
Open 7 days for breakfast and lunch, PLUS NOW Thursday to Saturday for dinner
Disclaimer: the lawyer in me feels compelled once again in the interests of full disclosure to state that Andrew Kelly, one of the proprietors of Auction Rooms, is a friend of mine. But like I said last time, this fact does not unduly influence my opinion as to the awesomeness of Auction Rooms!
I've revisited Auction Rooms several times in the last few months, and continue to love it as much as I did the first time.
I'm writing about it again for two reasons: the breakfast/lunch menu has been substantially revamped for the warmer months, and Auction Rooms is now open for dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays!
The (many) photos below are compiled from several visits with different people (I think that with one or two exceptions, I've got every dish from the breakfast menu covered!).
In November, Auction Rooms hosted a great exhibition of black and white photographs, Burmese Dreaming by Tim Syrota. That's S and B admiring them below. They looked great against the distressed brick wall.
Some of the breakfasts: house-made banana and walnut bread served with honey on the side ($7.50), and toasted house-made muesli with yoghurt and poached pears, served with milk or soy on the side ($9.50). Upon tasting best-friend-K's banana bread, housemate DJ promptly ordered some as his SECOND course (!) when we all went for brunch. It was delicious - toasted but still moist.
I loved the original Counter Bid available during the winter months, but this one rocks too: avocado and soft ricotta on toasted sourdough with mint and chilli ($11.50). It's Mum's absolute favourite - she orders it every time, even though she usually doesn't like mint. The ricotta is ever so slightly grilled, so it keeps its shape beautifully.
The Real Deal and the Shady Deal. The Real Deal ($13.50) consists of grilled chorizo with cheesy onion polenta bread and slow cooked spicy beans. Love the beans, but the dish overall is a shade too hefty for my tastes. Less filling but still packing a real punch is the Shady Deal: fried egg with onion, garlic, chilli, spices, lemon and fresh mint on house-made flat bread ($14).
One of the best-looking dishes on the menu has to be the Sweet Deal, which is coconut pikelets served with sweet vanilla pineapple, crème fraîche and orange syrup ($14.50). I tasted cousine H's when she ordered them last Saturday - the touch of coconut was what really made the dish for me.
Another dish I like is the Eggs Catalan ($14) - poached eggs with Catalan tomato, anchovy, olives and fresh basil on toasted sourdough - the slightly acidic tomatoes were a great foil for the salt of the anchovy and olives.
And how cute are these Gingerbread people?! :)
Ex-office buddy J came along with me one lunchtime when we were doing our Masters subject. I tried the Shaw River buffalo mozzarella, with a citrus and roasted baby roma tomato salad and fig vincotto ($19.50). Gorgeous light lunch.
When Buster was in town, I took him to Auction Rooms for lunch. He tried the frittata of Goulburn Valley smoked trout and chive, served with fennel, red onion and grapefruit salad ($13). Andrew's partner G joined us - she had the calamari lightly fried and served on crispy Asian salad with a green chilli relish ($17.50/$22.50).
I had what is now my absolute favourite dish at Auction Rooms: the carpaccio of beef marinated in soy and black pepper, with confit egg, beetroot and miso aioli ($19.50/$22.50).
Just LOOK at that egg yolk!! It is poached in 65-70 degree water for two hours so that the yolk cooks but the white doesn't. It tastes fantastic and has a texture like gelatinous butter (I see from Ed's post yesterday that I'm not the only Melbourne food blogger currently obsessed with sloooooow-cooked eggs).
But it's not just the confit egg - the carpaccio is fresh and mouth-watering, and mixes beautifully with the miso aioli and the cubes and matchsticks of beetroot. Mmmmmmmmmm.
Andrew sent me an invitation to Auction Rooms' evening opening night, which I gladly accepted. As well as asking best-friend-K and CD, I invited along Lucy, Melbourne-based author of the fantastic design blog The Design Files. I'd been wanting to meet Lucy since I first started reading her blog, and I knew already that she liked Auction Rooms, so it all worked out very nicely. She turned out to be just as lovely as her writing suggests! :)
Likewise, Auction Rooms looks just as splendid at night as it does during the day. It was a lovely balmy night, so the huge front windows were wide open, letting in the faint breeze.
A special on opening night was a complimentary amuse-bouche of delicious Moreton Bay bug consommé, served in an espresso cup with a coriander leaf floating on top.
Faced with menus, we decided to share a selection of dishes between us. Of course I couldn't resist getting us the carpaccio with confit egg! We also had b-f-K's favourite, char-grilled asparagus. It came served with panne egg and a salad of persian feta, citrus, apple and herb ($18.50). Will have to check with Andy, but I believe it was a crumbed poached egg? However it was done, it was very tasty.
The consommé having whetted our MBB appetites, we all tucked into the Morton Bay bugs, which came with a green papaya and hot mint salad, and a chilli palm sugar dressing ($19.50). This was Lucy's favourite dish - the hot mint and chilli met their counterbalance in the cool papaya, allowing the bugs to speak for themselves. Bloody marvellous.
Special mentions also to the fillet of kingfish steeped in coconut juice with pickled cucumber, snake bean salad and steamed jasmine rice ($27.50), and the crispy pork belly with sautéed shitake, cabbage and baby corn served with an aromatic sweet orange sauce ($27.50). The crispy pork belly was v sinful but v good, and the sautéed shitake were equally memorable.
I love the photo below, the girl in white looks a bit like a ghost. The guy standing at the bar in a navy shirt is Mark, who was working the turntables that evening. I was pretty rapt when he played a song from Waltz for Koop, and then obliged me by playing the title track, my favourite song on the album. :)
Between the four of us girls we found the room to share two very nice desserts: roasted apricot and nectarines in botrytis jelly with crème anglaise ($9.50) and tiramisù served with Auction Rooms' own espresso and biscotti ($9.50).
That red beauty of a coffee roaster is still going strong: Andy has been roasting up different blends, including blends for milk-based coffees and blends for black coffees. The roasted beans are available for separate purchase, so be sure to sniff some out when you visit.
Finally, one of the coolest things on the dinner menu is the "coffee as cuisine": a siphon-brewed single origin coffee served black (cream on the side) in a brandy balloon, prepared personally at your table ($6 siphon for one, $9 siphon for two). I saw young Aaron here brewing one for my friend G and her dining companion on the night I was there, but I didn't try it myself.
Looking over my photos this week, I asked Andy to explain what "that coffee contraption" was to me. The full history of these vacuum coffee pots can be found here, but the basic process is this:
Water starts in the bottom chamber. A spirit lamp or other heating device such as a powerful halogen heats the water, forcing it up the glass tube into the 'funnel' (top glass bowl) where it mixes with the coffee. Coffee and water is agitated and allowed to brew for the determined best time, whereupon the heat source is removed, and the vacuum created in the bottom vessel causes the brewed coffee to be sucked down from the top vessel, leaving the coffee grounds up in the top vessel, contained by the filter that separates top and bottom vessels.
It's regarded as producing a subtle, nuanced, 'clean-tasting' brew of coffee, and became huge in Japan/Cantonese China and, in the last five years, amongst Anglo coffee afficionados, especially through Blue Bottle in San Francisco (which was set up, I was amused to read, but a "slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic"). :)
Sufficiently intrigued by the description, I asked Andy when I was over at his place yesterday whether I could give it a try (regular readers may recall that as a rule I never drink black coffee, cos it tends to make me feel sick). He demonstrated how to brew up a batch in the gorgeous siphon pot he has at home, using new Kenyan beans he'd roasted the day before.
Wow. I think I may have been converted! :)