Sunday, 31 May 2009

Poussin vs barramundi at Lau's

Lau's Family Kitchen
4 Acland Street, St Kilda (map)
8598 9880

So I went on a date on Tuesday night and he chose the venue: I was delighted to be taken to Lau's Family Kitchen. It had been nearly two years since my one and only visit to Lau's (in fact, it was one of the very first places I wrote about on the blog). I'm delighted to report that I loved the food there just as much this time, if not even more.

After an initial drink at the Prince, we walked round to Lau's. It was a lovely mild evening for May, so we were just fine seated outside under the heat lamp (but the starlit mood lighting meant that I was unable to take any photos of the food, sorry!). We started with the very good siew mai dumplings (prawn, pork and shiitake), served with soy and chilli sauce. A real cut above the average.

The two mains we shared were just exquisite. One was the crispy skin poussin, served with lemon wedges and five spice salt. The skin had been fried to perfection and the meat itself was wonderfully succulent (finger bowls were provided so we could dive in and eat with our fingers, mmmmmmm). The other dish we had was the steamed barramundi, served with steamed rice (which I'd had last time but couldn't resist ordering again). Many thanks to the lovely Cin from A Few of my Favourite Things for allowing me to use her photo of this dish from her last visit to Lau's.

The simple, clean flavours of the steamed barra, light soy, spring onions, ginger and coriander were so good that the first mouthful stopped both me and my date in our tracks, mid-conversation. I can't decided which was my favourite main dish, they were both amazing.

Steamed Snaper Fillets

An assured wine list and top-notch service rounded off a brilliant restaurant experience. If you haven't been to Lau's, I really do urge you to do so ASAP. Take note however that there are generally two sittings (6pm and 8:30pm) so you might like to call first.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Two years of Melbourne Gastronome

Cremorne tiki

So today marks the two year anniversary of Melbourne Gastronome. Last year the one year anniversary was completely forgotten by me, sandwiched as it was between Bar Lourinhã and Auction Rooms. But I've remembered this time!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all of my readers (an extra special thank you to those of you who leave comments!), and to those of you who've written to me offering your thoughts and recommendations. I'm really glad some people seem to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.

Cremorne tiki

My favourite feedback on the blog that I received recently was from a lovely girl who excitedly told me: "my brother got lucky because of you!". Apparently he wanted to wine, dine and impress a girl, so turned to his sister for a restaurant recommendation. She browsed Melbourne Gastronome and selected Maha on the strength of my review. So he took the girl to Maha and apparently it was a huge success. :)

Oh, and ONLY 24 MORE SLEEPS until my trip to New York and San Francisco! Thanks to those of you who have given me recommendations. If anyone has any more foodie tips for either city, they'd be greatly appreciated.

I'll leave you with my favourite terms or phrases that people have entered into Google, with a search result that brings them to Melbourne Gastronome. All of these search terms are genuine and date from the last three months, since I did my previous roundup of hilarious/dodgy search terms.

First, a few questions:
-'do koreans like nasi lemak'
-'parsley bolting how to stop'
-'how to kill caterpillars on mint plant'
-'is heinz spaghetti on toast unhealthy'
-'can peking ducks be trained' (not if they're wrapped up in pancakes they can't)
-'what does a herb mullet look like'
-'what are the gigibaba light bulb'

If anyone knows the answer to any of these questions, please chime in!

I love the really long/complicated phrases some people type in. Bonus points for the final one for colourful use of punctuation.
-'where is orange mushroom in a quest called to a fool a liar'
-'melbourne fashionista streets blog fashion lawyer chapel, degraves, albert coates'
-'bo & hope from days of our lives will be at melbourne's crown casino may the 2nd or 3rd'
-'waiter in london, restaurant for women only!!! ladies aww!'

Quite a few highly specific Melbourne-based searches this time:
-'melbourne restaurants starting with d' (??)
-'where to buy the container for sauerkraut in melbourne'
-'im looking for a restaurant that turns into a bar later on, in melbourne'
-'need a wonderful venue for 80th birthday in melbourne'
-'magic mushroom locations melbourne' (!!)
-'nearest competitor of movida restaurant in melbourne' (um... Movida Next Door?)
-'where can i buy a nice stew in melbourne'
-'melbourne restaurant you can get all dressed up'
-'melbourne restaurant if you can eat plates of dumplings then they are free hawthorn' (seriously, does anyone know where this is?)
-'melbourne restaurants friday night cute boys' (seriously, does anyone know where this is?)

People seem to keep mucking up the names of George Calombaris' restaurants:
-'hell eric republic greek restaurant melbourne' (LOVE this one. Hell Eric Republic would be a great name for a restaurant!)
-'the press gang restaurant melbourne' (err, I think you mean Press Club. But thank you for bringing back memories of my favourite tv show from my pre-teens - I had SUCH a crush on Spike when I was eleven!)

A few more favourites:
-'rhododendron salmon trout'
-'auction junkie melbourne'
-'blog site on the melbourne dinning scean' (sic) (sic)
-'hell's angels house lower templestowe'
-'eyebrow woman cottesloe' (who is this woman??)
-'rich ladies that lunch in richmond' (where would they lunch? Richmond Hill L&C and Church Street Enoteca, I guess?)
-'manhattan apartment with clawfoot bathtub'
-'muesli ocean beach'
-'jokes about pimms lemonade'
-'toffee fabulus vodka wikipedia'
-'industrial strength vinegar melbourne'
-'review melbourne 27 year old girl press club'
-'claire cupping' (at the time this search was done my post on coffee cupping with Slightly Intense Thirty-Something Metrosexuals was the #1 result. #7, by contrast, was some really poorly-written babysitter/teenager girl-on-girl erotica.)

Speaking of which, the prize for dodgiest search terms for Autumn '09 was going to be a three-way tie between:
-'mum with no pants on'
-'melbourne mums porno' and
-'cheapest brothels in melbourne'

But then yesterday, someone went and typed in:
-'incest mushroom tub'
Hold the front page, we have a winner. Truly, the mind boggles.

Let me know if any of these were YOUR search terms! :)

Urban/Rural = fabulous
Postmodern urban/rural intersect at Collingwood Children's Farm

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Merricks Beach Gastronome: Merricks General Store


Today's post has a bit of a travelogue feel to it. I spent last weekend away down at Merricks Beach with a few close friends, as I've been fortunate enough to be allowed to borrow A&P's fabulous beach house while they're overseas. I just love love love this part of the world: my family owned a part share in a vineyard in Merricks North for several years (including during the period when I was studying oenology), so I've spent a sizable chunk of my life on the Mornington Peninsula drinking pinot noir and exploring wineries.

Merricks Beach

On the Friday night we played an epic game of Rummy-O (aka Rummikub) that lasted until 2am. Housemate DJ came last in a most spectacular fashion. Ample quantities of red wine and Haribo Gummibärchen were consumed. (And on the Saturday night we played Fictionary Dictionary. Schatzi had never played Fic Dic before - she loved it!)


Sure it's not as flash as, say, the Sorrento/Portsea back beach (there are a lot more rocks and seaweed, and you can't really swim), but I have a real soft spot for Merricks Beach. Especially in winter.

Merricks Beach

Merricks General Store
3458-3460 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merricks (map)
(03) 5989 8088

Merricks General Store

On Saturday we had a late lunch at the Merricks General Store. When I were a lad, the MGS was charmingly grungy, with dramatically uneven floorboards and a fairground laughing clown sitting in the corner. It has since been substantially poshified and refurbished into a restaurant and cafe. Last year it also became a cellar door for Elgee Park, Baillieu Vineyard and Quealy Wines. I liked it, but I kinda missed the slanty floorboards.

Merricks General StoreRecession Buster

"Mushroom Madness in the month of May... Merricks is going mad for mushrooms" proclaimed the blackboard. We decided to share the Mushroom Madness in May platter ($33), which consisted of semolina gnocchi baked with mushrooms and taleggio, a petite suet pie of braised beef cheek, shallot and porcini mushrooms, and the best herbed mushroom soup I have ever tasted. It was like delicious hot liquid crack.

Mushroom Madness in the month of May... Merricks is going mad for mushrooms

Schatzi wanted more soup (you could only get the mushroom soup as part of the platter, alas!), so she ordered the cream of cauliflower soup with crispy prosciutto and crusty bread ($12). I ordered the crème fraîche and gorgonzola panna cotta with prosciutto and honey cardamom roasted figs ($16).

It was... as insanely rich as it sounds. Crème fraîche AND gorgonzola. I don't know why the hell I ordered it, I could barely eat half of it. Yowza. I mean, it was nice, but.... CRAZY RICH.

Cream of cauliflower soup with crispy prosciuttoCreme fraiche and gorgonzola panna cotta with prosciutto and honey cardamom roasted figs

Best-friend-K ordered a croque enfant ($8), an excellent little ham and cheese toastie with a hint of béchamel. M ordered a ricotta and pistachio slice which was, it must be said, a little on the bland side.

Croque enfantRicotta and pistachio slice

I was very partial to the Earls Ridge pinot noir b-f-K and I drank. The coffees however were frighteningly expensive - $4.50!

Merricks General StoreMerricks General Store

Gorgeous flowering gum outside the store! After lunch we went to Montalto and had a lovely gambol through the vines looking at their sculpture collection.

Flowering gum

Sunday breakfast consisted of toasted fruit bread, apple, pear, exceptional cantaloupe and leftover stewed rhubarb from the delicious baked ricotta and stewed rhubarb pudding Miss O had made for us the night before.


After we left Merricks Beach that morning, b-f-K and I decided to stick around on the peninsula for a few more hours to do some grape grazing and cellar door purchasing. I took her to the place that does the best coffee on the peninsula, the Foodworks supermarket at Red Hill (aka Red Hill Cellars). Who'd've thought you could get good coffee at a supermarket? But this is no ordinary supermarket: it's a foodie's treasure trove of gourmet and local produce.

Coffees at Red Hill

We followed the coffees with a very tasty chicken and chardonnay pie from the Red Hill Bakery, then went grape grazing. If you're interested in heading down to the Mornington Peninsula soon, consider going for the Winter Wine Weekend over the Queen's Birthday weekend. I'm sorely tempted to head back down there for at least some of it!

Chicken and chardonnay pie

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Trippy Taco dinner, Cutler and Co dessert

Trippy Taco
48 Smith Street, Collingwood (map)
9415 7711

Trippy Taco

Okay, this one will be short and sweet. I had a lovely time when the delightful Miss C and I met up for dinner recently. Our venue of choice was a place I'd read about on Tummy Rumbles and Where's the Beef: Trippy Taco. Yes the name is cringe-worthy, and the minuscule interior is rather basic, but their all-vegetarian Mexican food is very cheap and good.

On my way there on the 86 tram, I rang to ask whether we needed to book. The girl at Trippy Taco: "Oh, it's DEAD here at the moment. You'll be fine getting a table." Um, encouraging!

Trippy Taco

We shared two dishes, the Taquitos (three rolled-up, crispy corn tortillas with black bean filling topped with guacamole, salsa, cheese, salad and lime) and the Original Trippy Tacos (fresh home-made corn tortillas topped with cheese, black beans, salad, salsa, avocado and a squeeze of fresh lime). Each dish cost only $8.50 and both were simple, fresh and generous.

TaquitosTrippy Taco tacos

So, from $8.50 meals with a beer at Trippy Taco...

Cerveza $17 desserts and cocktails at Cutler & Co!

Cutler and Co
55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (map)
9419 4888

Aperol SpritzAperol sours

This really was very cheeky of us, but we kept justifying the lavish dessert by reminding ourselves how cheap the rest of the dinner had been. I felt compelled to introduce Miss C to my aperitif obsession du mois, the Aperol Spritz. Noting our fondness for Aperol, the incredibly nice barman then whipped up two incredibly strong Aperol Sours, using Belvedere orange blossom vodka, lemon juice, a hint of vanilla syrup and egg white for the froth. They were sensational.

Just as sensational as the chocolate ice cream sandwich with vanilla parfait and salted caramel ($16, already raved about by me here). Miss C had never had salted caramel before, and she loooved it.

Ice cream sandwich

We shared a second dessert too: the toffee apple ($17). The roasted apple was thinly encased in toffee over what turned out to be a sweet reduction of black olive (!), with cubes of cider jelly to the left and a length of spiced shortbread topped with daubs of fromage blanc to the right. What a dish. WHAT A DISH.

Toffee apple

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Exploring Brunswick (East)

Brunswick street art

This post is an overdue hangover from my recent Amnesty Fortnight. I've been to a few places in Brunswick/Brunswick East recently, so here they all are...

Brunswick street art

Sugardough Panificio and Patisserie
163 Lygon Street, Brunswick East (map)
9380 4060


It was a Saturday morning and Mum and Dad swung past to pick me up so we could all go market shopping together (aw!). A few minutes into the journey it dawned on me: "Hey wait, we're heading north! But I was going to see if there was any sel de fleur at The Essential Ingredient for the salted caramel and chocolate ganache tart I'm attempting tomorrow!"

Aha, but we weren't going to Prahran Market, they informed me. We were going to the Queen Vic, but first they wanted to take me to an undisclosed location for brunch. The location turned out to be Sugardough Panificio and Patisserie, a place Mum recently discovered by following her nose (literally - the smell of freshly baked pastries was hypnotic).


As the name suggests, it's a bakery that embraces both Italian and French style breads and pastries. As well as being a bustling cafe, there was a near-constant queue of people wanting to buy bread - loved the look of these baguettes in their little wooden bin.

Sugardough baguettesSugardough cakes

Dad and I shared a bacon and egg panino, which featured excellent bread (natch), tasty relish and the yellowed yolks I've seen in ages.

Sugardough panino

Mum ordered a bombolone, filled with crema pasticcera. It was very good, one of the best I've tasted in Australia.

Sugardough bomboloneSugardough cornetti

They also sell proper cornetti! The Italian cousin to the croissant, the cornetto is sweeter, less buttery/flaky, and more likely to be filled with crema or marmellata than dark chocolate (see an excellent article on croissants vs cornetti here). They're brilliant. They taste just like Italy. :)

Sugardough pastries

Wicked of us I know, but we also bought a slice of this delectable-looking sweetened ricotta and nutella crostata, to take away and eat later that afternoon. It was bloody lovely.

Sugardough crostata

Robbie's Stein
99 Sydney Road, Brunswick (map)
9388 9817

The following weekend I was back in Brunswick, helping CD inspect rental terraces. We walked through the open door into the first place, only to come across a gentleman sitting on the floor, fixing a drawer with a screwdriver. We greeted him somewhat uncertainly, asking where the real estate agent was. He politely informed us that he was the new tenant, and had been living there for the last three weeks.

"Oh. ... OH. So we're standing in your hallway then. I suppose we'd better go. Terribly sorry." I dithered, à la Hugh Grant. (Actually, if my life WERE a Hugh Grant movie, accidentally trespassing into a guy's house would have been a great/awful romantic comedy premise.)

We had lunch at Robbie's Stein to recover.

Robbie's Stein

As well as being a restaurant and wine bar, Robbie's Stein is a fish and chippery. It's one of CD's favourite places, so she wanted to show it to me. I loved the interior, especially the gorgeous pressed ceilings.

Robbie's Stein

CD ordered bacon and eggs but I wanted something fishy. I ordered and enjoyed the fresh and tasty lemongrass and coriander fish baguette with cucumber, lettuce, tomato and spicy peanut sauce ($15).

Fish burger

Mr Wilkinson
295 Lygon Street, East Brunswick (map)
9388 8578

Mr Wilkinson

From my selfish perspective the best thing about CD moving to Brunswick is that I'll have a close friend living there, so plenty of excuses to explore the surrounding bars and restaurants! Hopefully she'll be living close enough to Mr Wilkinson for it to be her local...

Mr Wilkinson

Mr Wilkinson is an effortlessly fabulous wine bar on Lygon Street. It's named after Thomas Wilkinson, the man who founded the suburb of Brunswick over 150 years ago. I found out about the bar from the lovely Lucy from The Design Files, whose partner is one of the owners. I dropped in there for a pre-Hellenic Republic glass of wine one Sunday evening and was suitably impressed. Beautiful but unaffected.

Mr Wilkinson

I just love the look of the place, particularly the use of lighting and natural light, and our table made from a repurposed wooden shutter door. As well as a carefully thought out wine, beers and booze list, a couple of snacks (olives and light tapas) are on the menu. As I said, we only had time to glug one glass of wine before our dinner reservation - but I look forward to returning sometime soon.

Mr Wilkinson

Hellenic Republic
434 Lygon Street, Brunswick East (map)
9381 1222

Hellenic Republic

For my birthday this year my zia P and her partner M, both fans of the blog, informed me that their birthday present would be buying Melbourne Gastronome dinner at the yet-to-be-visited venue of her choice! (I ask you, is there any better present for a food blogger??) :)

My venue of choice was Hellenic Republic (based chiefly on how amazing the kefalograviera saganki looked on Where's the Beef)!

Hellenic Republic

A contrast to Calombaris' slick CBD Press Club, Hellenic Republic is all friendly, rustic white-washed walls and blue-and-white decor. An Evil Eye on the wall kept close surveillance on us as we ate our meal.

Even though everyone had told us not to, warning that there'd be way too much food, zia P and M insisted we order one of the Trapezi banquets, so that we'd get the full treatment. We ordered the Trapezi Beta, at $59.50 per head.

Hellenic Republic

This is the kefalograviera saganaki, sinfully fried with sweet peppered figs. It tasted even better than it looks, if that's even possible. Olives and toursi (pickled vegetables) in the background.

Kafalograviera saganaki

The grilled kalamari was beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.


The taramosalata ($10) wasn't part of the set menu, but we ordered it as well because we'd heard good things. Somewhat unusually, it was made from white roe (pictured on the left, next to the dolmathakia and Greek salad). I'm really glad we ordered it: the taramosalata was my second-favourite item after the saganaki.

Taramosalata and dolmathakia

For mains, we had silverbeet, spanakopita and a seafood youvetsi (stew) not on the regular menu, and some lamb on the spit served with chips. The lamb was delicious but by the time it arrived we were all getting horribly full...

Silverbeet, spanakopita, seafood youvetsiLamb off the spit and chips

As well as a fruit platter, dessert consisted of a bowl of loukoumades donuts and a risogalo (rice pudding), then a piece of walnut cake (complete with birthday candle!).

Loukoumades and risogaloHellenic Republic walnut cake

A big GRAZIE to zia P and M for taking me out for a belated birthday dinner! xx

Hellenic Republic courtyard