Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Epic sandwichcraft at Beatrix

Beatrix Cafe and Bake-a-way
688 Queensberry Street cnr Lothian Street, North Melbourne (map)
9090 7301
Monday: 8am-4pm
Closed Tuesday
Wednesday-Friday: 8am-4pm
Saturday-Sunday: 9am-4pm

Beatrix sign

I'd heard good things and had been meaning to check out Beatrix ever since it opened at the start of the year. But it was my friend Matt, a fervent Beatrix devotee, who inspired me to lunch there the other weekend. He'd visited Beatrix on consecutive days, SMSing me each time to rhapsodise about its sandwiches.

Our texts to each other are almost invariably food-related. It's great.

Matt loves Beatrix

The cafe is tiny and tucked in a quiet corner of North Melbourne. Inside, the cuteness is dialled up to Frankie levels, with a collection of vintage eggbeaters adorning the back wall and sweet, friendly staff serving up the Allpress coffee, Art of Tea teas and food.

When you visit you may recognise one of the staff members as muso Evelyn 'Pikelet' Morris: when we had lunch there, a beardy young male customer was breathlessly fanboying her ("Oh yeah, I remember at that gig you were drumming with those guys. It was awesome!").

The savoury menu at Beatrix is very short, consisting of granola, a few toasties, a soup special and one or two ciabatta specials (check their Facebook page in advance for details of that week's specials). As Matt had promised, the ciabatta sandwiches were SERIOUSLY good. Right up there with EARL Canteen, Pope Joan, and the Auction Rooms knuckle sandwich.

Beatrix beaters

I ordered the St Brigid, the roasted chicken ciabatta that had so enraptured Matt. It came in two sizes, $12 and $10, and included fennel mustard mayonnaise and cos-slaw. The free range chicken was succulent, the mustard mayo was perfectly balanced and the ciabatta roll (from Let’s-A-Loaf bakery, in Caroline Springs) was very fresh and neither too dense nor too chewy. A perfect sandwich.

Beatrix chicken

Matt and his lady friend S shared the St Brigid and The Phoenix ($9/$11), a vegetarian option which included sweet roasted pumpkin (the provenance of which was listed on the menu, but alas I cannot recall), smoky baba ghannouj and chopped chickpea salad. I had a small taste, and loved that the baba ghannouj was smoky but not so smoky as to smother the other ingredients.

Beatrix vegetable

My one regret with my visit to Beatrix is that I didn't order a slice of cake to take away. Owner Nat Paull, a much praised pastry chef and baker, keeps the counter filled with amazing-looking cakes that are the main focus of the business. What can I say?? I was stuffed full of sandwich and wasn't thinking straight. But just look at those lemon squares, and that coconut buttercake. Sigh. NEXT TIME, MY PRETTIES!

Beatrix cakes

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Kumo Izakaya opens in Brunswick East

Kumo Izakaya & Sake Bar
152 Lygon Street, East Brunswick (map)
9388 1505
Monday-Saturday, 5:30pm-late

Kumo Izakaya exterior

Of the handful of izakaya in Mebourne beyond the confines of the CBD, most are located Southside (En Izakaya in Balaclava, Ichi Ni in St Kilda and the South Melbourne branch of Izakaya Chuji) or in Richmond (Maedaya). See my previous Melbourne izakaya rundown here.

But now the Northside has an awesome izakaya to call its own, with Kumo ('cloud') Izakaya opening last week in Lygon Street, Brunswick East (just up the road from favourites like Rumi and Bar Idda). As a new resident of the Northside, I'm pretty rapt.

Kumo Izakaya

Restaurant owner Andre Bishop also ran the two Chuji restaurants, Nihonshu and Robot bar, but this is the first izakaya he's had the opportunity to build from the ground up. A trio of talented women have been enlisted: lending her fine dining nous is restaurant manager Sally Humble (former Cutler sommelier), and running the kitchen are Japanese chefs Akimi Iguchi (Yu-U and Bar Lourinha) and Eriko Hamabe (Kobe Jones and Royal George Hotel).

Kumo Izakaya

The fitout is extremely impressive: the corner site used to be a bank that was built in the 1950s, but the only original elements of the bank that remain are the glass wall separating the dining area from the kitchen, and the old bank vault. The bank vault is now the sake vault, but Andre laments the fact that practicalities and safety considerations forced him to ditch the vault's gargantuan sealed door.

The long communal table with framed downlights is reminiscent of a teller's counter, and the antique green lights along the bar beneath the mezzanine level are equal parts bank and State Library reading room.

Kumo IzakayaSake vault

Andre visits Japan at least twice a year, and is an unabashed professional sake nerd. Helping with the sake side of things is Todd Eng, aka @ToddtheSakeMan from San Francisco who is only too happy to help educate your sake palate. There are also several beers on tap and a wine list selected by Sally that includes some bespoke Mt Langi wines on tap. House wines on tap are beginning to crop up more frequently in hot new Melbourne restaurants, most notably Chin Chin.

Sake fridge

I visited Kumo early on Friday night with the lovely Kate. To begin with, Sally brought us a selection of otsumame (drinking snacks): shichimi crispy soy beans ($6), grilled edamame with Murray River pink salt ($8) and pu-er tea infused walnuts ($10). I've noted the prices on the menu but for those keeping score at home, these three snacks were comped. I'd usually indifferent at best to walnuts, but these fragrant, tea-infused ones were freaking brilliant.

Make sure you order some.


We ordered the tuna yukke with onsen-poached (!) quail egg sitting in a crispy cup ($18) and the salad of thinly sliced seared ox tongue with tomato, wild rocket and horseradish cream ($17). Loved the yukke with its slow cooked egg, but was less convinced by the rocket and tomato in the salad. The ox tongue itself was wonderfully tender though.

Tuna yukkeSeared ox tongue

A serve of kushimori (assorted skewers) included chicken skin, thigh and breast ($12). Another standout dish was the king prawns swaddled in strips of potato, fried and served with green tea salt (but at $16 for two seemed rather pricey).

KushimoriKing prawn fry

But my favourite dish of the night? The succulent, incredibly rich, braised Kurobuta pork belly pie ($16).

Pork belly pie

Kumo is definitely at the chic, Den end of the izakaya scale. In keeping with izakaya tradition the servings are small (so as at Den, the total bill can creep up on you a bit), but I love that the kitchen is taking a few risks and straying away from purely traditional fare. Looking forward to returning with a big group so that we can take over the traditional tatami room at the back of the restuarant and really make a night of it!

Kumo Izakaya

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Love love love the Duchess of Spotswood

Duchess of Spotswood
87 Hudsons Road, Spotswood (map)
9391 6016
Breakfast and lunch, open seven days

Idle Tongues

I don't often write about the same place twice, but I felt compelled to share my most recent visit to the Duchess of Spotswood (a cafe I wrote about last year). In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Duchess of Spotswood is my FAVOURITE breakfast cafe in Melbourne. Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons why:

- The location, in downtown Spotswood (it's a fun excursion over the West Gate for us, plus there's a great vintage collectibles shop just down the road);
- The fitout of the cafe, including the huge front window, the chandelier and the eau-de-Nil painted ceiling;
- The red La Marzocco FB/70, which looks like the shiny lovechild of an espresso machine and a Vespa;
- The Small Batch (Auction Rooms) coffee expertly used with the aforementioned La Marzocco;
- The friendly staff, who will on busy mornings offer to take down your phone number and call you when a table becomes free (and then try to tweet you to alert you to your table when your phone has an OptusFail);
- The menu, right down to the puntastic names for each dish and the use of Oxford commas; and of course
- The FOOD, especially the virtuosic use of British ingredients, the sensible portion sizes (which are often on the smaller side, to take into account the richness of the food) and the always perfectly poached eggs.

Below are photos and menu descriptions of the dishes we enjoyed when T and I visited with some close friends of ours one Saturday a few weeks ago. Every dish rocked.

Duchess of Spotswood

'The Breakfast of Champignons' ($17.50): potato and barley hash with field mushrooms, English Stilton, and poached eggs.

'Idle Tongues' ($16.50): seared ox tongue with smoked semolina, crispy pork neck, and fried duck egg.

Breakfast of ChampignonsIdle Tongues

'Prince of Wales' ($15.50): house smoked salmon fillet with potato pancake, poached egg, and sourdough toast.

'Royal Fanfare' ($18.50): salt cured trumpeter with spicy lamb sausage, home made chutney, and crumbed poached egg.

Prince of WalesRoyal Fanfare

'Simple Pleasures' ($15.50): globe artichoke with sauteed potato, goats curd, and warm chestnuts - pictured with poached eggs ($2 extra) and gluten free bread.

Simple Pleasures