Thursday, 26 February 2009

Back to Alphington: brunch at APTE

538 Heidelberg Road, Alphington (map)
9482 2991


Ain't it always the way - I'd never been to Alphington before and then I went twice in one week! First to Paladarr Thai Issan and then to APTE. When we shared an office last year J always used to wax lyrical about his local, APTE (he pronounced it "apt-ee"), and insist that I ought to review it for Melbourne Gastronome. Then best-friend-K started raving about it too (only she pronounced it "apt").

I'm still not clear on how it's meant to be pronounced (does anyone know?), but I do know that it's an acronym that stands for A Place To Eat, and that it's the sister cafe of Hawthorn's Liar Liar. I went one bustling Sunday morning a few weekends ago with b-f-K. Oh, but I should point out for the record that when I visited APTE I was suffering a monstrous, heinous, soul-destroying hangover... I'm amazed the photos are in focus.


We arrived at about 11 and the place was packed, with several groups waiting for tables and a seemingly endless supply of waiters sprinting from one end of the cafe to the other. It was chaos, but it was cheerful chaos. Nonetheless, I took in the polished concrete floors, the babble of conversations, the shrieking of babies and the barrista banging various metal objects, and quickly told b-f-K that with my head in the state that it was, it'd have to be a table in the back courtyard or nothing.

B-f-K ordered the smoked Tasmanian salmon with a pea, feta and corn fritter, avocado, rocket and a dill sour cream ($15.50). A very b-f-K sort of dish. I had a taste, it was bloody lovely - the additions of feta and pea made the corn fritter really interesting.

Salmon with pea feta and corn fritter

I ordered the toasted house made banana and coconut bread with honey labna, pistachios and roasted seasonal fruit ($13.50). Should have been a winner, right? After all, I adored a very very similar dish I had last year at Porgie & Mr Jones... Ah, but I wasn't hungover then. I'm afraid that although this looked and smelled amazing, in the state I was in this dish defeated me in about five minutes. I ate about a third of it, and felt ill. And I never thought I'd say this, but there IS such a thing as too much labna - too much, too rich. Too hungover, which is most unfair to APTE as I'm sure that this dish is in fact quite lovely in normal circumstances.

Food blogger FAIL, I know. Maybe it's best if you just judge from the pictures for this one, eh?

Banana bread

I don't have any kids, but if I did I'd be pretty happy to see these ample toyboxes at APTE. Bet the place is swarming with yummy mummies at about 10am on a weekday.

APTE toybox

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Ladies Who Lunch: Power Breakfast Edition at Cumulus Inc

Cumulus Inc.
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
9650 1445

65/65 egg

A few weeks ago the Ladies Who Lunch decided to mix things up: instead of our usual catch-up over lunchboxes at Cafe Vue, we made it a Friday morning Power Breakfast.

(Can I just say that Friday morning Power Breakfasts ROCK - we don't have to wear suits on a Friday, we can saunter in the morning sunshine all the way down Flinders Lane back to the legal district afterwards, and the combination of socialising with good friends and eating fabulous dishes puts us in great moods, making the last day of the working week that much easier to swallow.)

Cumulus Inc

The venue of choice was Cumulus Inc, Andrew McConnell's city restaurant that I drooled over when I wrote it up last year. I'd only ever eaten there in the evening, but had heard great things about their breakfast menu and was excited to say the least. We ensconced ourselves in the corner table and commented on how nice the lofty interior looked by daylight.

Miss T had the pink salad of strawberry and watermelon, served with rosewater, mint, pomegranate and yoghurt ($10). Sensational combination. The yoghurt was smeared on the plate under the cubes of watermelon, and Miss T drizzled the rosewater over the top. It tasted fantastic!

Pink Salad at Culumus Inc

Miss B and Miss L both ordered a dish described as smoked salmon, 65/65 egg, sorrel, apple and dill ($17). "Ooooh, 65/65 egg... is that what I think it is: an egg cooked at 65 degrees for 65 minutes?" I asked our waitress, a little breathlessly (if you can't tell from the food porn photo at the top of this post, I have a bit of a thing at the moment for slooooooow cooked eggs).

Out waitress confirmed with a smile that I'd guessed correctly. I didn't end up ordering it (I wasn't in a salmony mood), but Miss B and Miss L lurved it.

Smoked salmon with 65/65 egg65/65 egg

As for me, I had the Turkish baked eggs with spiced tomato, dukkah and labne ($16). I must say that the dish overall was slightly on the acidic side (too tomatoey), not sure I'd order it again. The dukkah was fabulous though.

Turkish baked eggs

Upon arrival I'd been delighted to see that the $2.50 lemon curd madeleines I'd so enjoyed when I'd had dinner at Cumulus Inc were also on the breakfast menu, so I'd promptly ordered four of them for the four of us to have as a cheeky little breakfast dessert. They arrived just as we were finishing up, hot lemon curd dribbling lazily out of them. Nom nom nom!

Madeleines filled with lemon curd

Despite the slight misfire with the Turkish eggs, Cumulus Inc is still one of my very favourite restaurants in Melbourne at the moment. I'm taking Dad there for an Oyster Tasting and Shucking Class during the Food & Wine Festival, hopefully I can talk him into dinner there too... :)

Iced coffee

Monday, 23 February 2009

Sydney Gastronome: Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat

View from N&N's balcony, Milson's Point

As I mentioned the other week, I spent last weekend up in New South Wales. I went up with the family to Newcastle to join in the celebrations for the milestone birthday of the mother of my new aunt-in-law.

We'd flown up to Newcastle, but the flight back was from Sydney so on the Sunday morning we drove down to Sydney, my uncle driving his brand new car, an Aston Martin DB9 (aka the car from the latest James Bond movies). The car was pale blue. It was outrageous. And sexy. And outrageously sexy.

It rained the whole time, which was slightly surreal for us bushfiery Victorians.

When I'd found out the week before that I'd be in Sydney for six hours on Sunday, I'd started planning my afternoon. I'd known from the start that I'd want to visit Adriano Zumbo's new cafe, and I was very keen to spend a few hours swanning around Surry Hills, taking the walking tour designed by Lucy of The Design Files fame. I'd emailed Sydneysider friends J and D, asking whether they were free to catch up for lunch or coffee. The charming J joined me for lunch despite feeling somewhat tender the day after Good Vibes, but as for D... he hadn't surfaced post-Vibes. What a piece of work.

Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat
Shop 5, 308 Darling Street, Balmain (map)
(02) 9555 1199
Open 7 days, 7am-6pm

Adriano Zumbo Patisserie

I stumbled upon Adriano Zumbo's pâtisserie last time I visited Sydney, and was happy to subsequently discover that A.Zum has quite the cult following amongst Sydney food bloggers. So when I read Not Quite Nigella's review of the Chocolat Cafe that he was opening a few doors down from his pâtisserie (plus NQN's extended interview with the very dishy A.Zum himself) I knew I HAD to visit.

I got down to Balmain a little early so went to check out the pâtisserie first. The girl serving was an absolute sweetheart (they're blogger-friendly, this lot) and was very happy for me to take photos of the cakes. I actually didn't end up buying any of the cakes but if I had, I would've gone for the Maxiadz, the Cloud 9 or that scandalously rich-looking Millefeuille.

Adriano Zumbo mogadorAdriano Zumbo cherry cherryAdriano Zumbo cloud 9Adriano Zumbo wheely good
Adriano Zumbo barbadosAdriano Zumbo Ed Knocked Me UpAdriano Zumbo millefeuilles à la vanilleAdriano Zumbo maxiadz
Adriano Zumbo scuroAdriano Zumbo fleur d'fraiseAdriano Zumbo odeonAdriano Zumbo da bomb

I DID however buy one of those vibrant passionfruit tarts to share with Mum, plus one of every flavour of macaron they had in the place to take home to Melbourne to share with housemate DJ. And yes, they're "macarons", not "macaroons". Those wanting to know more about macarons vs macaroons should read what Melbourne's foremost macaron expert has to say on the subject here.

Adriano Zumbo citron tartsAdriano Zumbo tartes aux fruits de la passion

And on to the cafe itself! It's down a little shopping arcade, with tables out the front and only one large table and a few couches inside. At the counter, there was a selection of chocolates (including the notorious Cameltoe chocolate, named for its shape - !!) and a few more macarons.

Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat

Cute, cosy interior. The dark, varnished wood reminded me of a ski lodge. I ordered a coffee and then kicked myself for not ordering a hot chocolate instead - J had a dark chocolate one and from the sip I had it was divine, natch.

Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat

J and I both decided to cut to the chase and just order sweet desserty things for lunch. I ordered a dish called "It's a Macaron not a Hamburger!!!" ($13.50), which is a big chocolate macaron filled with dulce de leche gelato served on a bed of banana caramel rice pudding and topped with "chocolate soil" (cookie crumbs). Very rich (couldn't finish it) but delicious, and nice textures.

My lunch: "It's a macaron, not a hamburger"

J went for the "Paris - La Vie en Rose" (also $13.50): rose crème brûlée, raspberry sorbet balls, fresh lychees and petit rose macarons, served with a coconut strawberry tapioca shake. And rose petals! It really was an extremely pretty dish.

Joel's "Paris" lunch

He didn't much fancy the shake, but J liked the brûlée a lot. He gave me a quarter of a petit rose macaron - it was fabulous.

Adriano Zumbo Cafe ChocolatJoel's "Paris" lunch - detail

Afterwards, we shared a cab to Surry Hills and I embarked upon Lucy's walking tour. I saw some gorgeous stuff, thanks heaps for posting the map Lucy!

Loved the interior of the Object Gallery and their exhibition Abundant: Highlights from the Australian Pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale.

"Abundant: highlights from the Australian Pavilion at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale" at Object Gallery, Surry Hills

Seen in Foveaux Street.

Foveaux Street, Surry Hills

Cute mobiles in Spence and Lyda.

Spence & Lyda, Surry Hills

Back at uncle and aunt's apartment in Milsons Point, about to split the passionfruit tart with Mum. The tart was TO DIE FOR.

Zumbo passion fruit tart

And here are the macarons!

Adriano Zumbo macarons

In descending columns in the photo below, from left to right, we have: chocolate; vanilla; cherry coconut with chocolate filling; pistachio, rose; citron; orange with chocolate filling; passionfruit; orange; earl grey; coffee; rice pudding.

Adriano Zumbo macarons

I would like to report to you that they were all delicious... but unfortunately DJ, best-friend-K and I only got through half of them on the Sunday night (highlights included the citron and the earl grey). Returning home from work on Monday night I was aghast to discover that I hadn't properly sealed the container I'd put the rest in, and they were infested with ants. Giant space ants. Bloody drought, driving all the ants inside! We hates them, my precious!!

Bushfire haze over Melbourne

Bushfire haze on the flight back to Melbourne. :-(

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Fabulous fabulous Paladarr Thai Issan

Paladarr Thai Issan
7 Rowe Street (corner Yarralea St), Alphington (map)
9499 9477 (bookings), 9497 5987 (take away)

Paladarr Thai Issan

A few weeks ago during the Heatwave From Hell best-friend-K and I decided to check out Paladarr Thai Issan, a restaurant I'd heard about through the grapevine. It's in Alphington, a suburb I'd never been to until that hot, hot Wednesday evening (for the uninitiated, it's just past Fairfield on the train line).

We were an hour late for our booking (b-f-K's car had been locked in the car park near her work, then train after train was cancelled so by the time we got there we were both hot and frazzled), but the extremely friendly staff at Paladarr had agreed to hold our table - just as well, as all other tables were occupied. Several glasses of iced water and a Beer Lao each and we were as relaxed as this guy.

Paladarr Thai Issan

With a Good Food Guide chef's hat to its name, Paladarr Thai Issan is the latest baby of chef Chaloem Chaiseeha and his partner Bryan Derrick. Upon entering it is immediately apparent how much love and attention they give the place, from the tasteful decor and beautiful courtyard to the mouth-watering menu (which features many interesting-sounding dishes, including Issan-style curries without coconut milk). I knew I loved this place even before I counted the number of times the menu uses the word "fabulous" (5. "Must bring DJ here!" I thought to myself).

We started with Miang Karm ($8 pp), a construct-your-own appetiser of chapoo (betel) leaves into which you fold all sorts of goodies like pickled ginger, chilli, toasted coconut, diced lime, dried shrimp, diced red onion and cashews, topped with a tamarind sauce.

Miang karm

B-f-K's hand is pictured below modelling a folded leaf. We shared an entree of Larb Thauhoo Hedt ($15), a salad of silky tofu and mushrooms mixed with coriander, spring onion, mint, chilli, lemon juice, fish sauce and ground rice. It was nice, but I wish we'd tried the crunchy salad of macadamia and cashew nuts instead - it looked fantastic.

Miang karmTofu and mushroom salad

And then it was the red duck curry. Ah, the red duck curry. It's such a staple of Thai restaurants I felt almost guilty ordering it, particularly as there are so many unusual dishes at Paladarr, but what can I say? I'm a sucker for red duck curry. And this Kaeng Ped Bet Yang ($33) with pineapple, cherry tomatoes and Thai basil was EXQUISITE - the duck had been roasted to perfection!

Red duck curry

In addition to regular steamed Jasmine rice, Paladarr offers Khao Neeow (Issan-style sticky rice) and Khao Neeow Dum (black sticky rice), $7 each. "You simply MUST try this traditional nutty fabulous rice", the menu enthused (sounding scarily like me when I get excited about something). We dutifully ordered some traditional nutty fabulous rice, and were glad we had done so... both were, well, fabulous.

White sticky riceBlack sticky rice

The other main we had was the Pad Ped Talay Pon Lah My ($35), an intriguingly fruity stir-fry of rockling, prawns, fresh pear and mango tossed in a light curry sauce. The mix of flavours was certainly unusual, but we both loved the way they tasted with the sticky sauce.

Prawn and fruit stirfry

I've very keen to head back to Paladarr Thai Issan soon to sample more of their dishes (preview them for yourself on their excellent website). Not only does Paladarr Thai Issan offer cooking classes with Chaloem, they also run culinary tours of Thailand. B-f-K and I have been half-planning a trip to Thailand in December, if only the next tour was then instead of September-October!

Paladarr Thai Issan