Wednesday, 26 June 2013

From New York to Melbourne with love: new cafe Bowery to Williamsburg

Bowery to Williamsburg
16 Oliver Lane, Melbourne (map)
9077 0162
Open 7:30am-3:30pm Monday-Friday, cash and walk-ins only

It's been a great week for the sandwich lovers of Melbourne's Paris end. Last Tuesday EARL Canteen opened its long-awaited second store in the Collins Place food court (directly under Pei Modern). I can't tell you how glad I am that they're now located a mere block away from my office building.

And then on Monday a new cafe opened in Oliver Lane, the cobblestoned laneway off Flinders Lane that also houses Coda. Brought to you by Will and Di (the couple who brought you The Hardware Societe), the cafe is called Bowery to Williamsburg and as the subway-inspired name suggests, it's going to put Melbourne in a New York state of mind.

Bowery to Williamsburg exterior

Will and Di have made three trips to NYC over the last couple of years, planning the Bowery to Williamsburg concept. The care they've taken in realising their vision is evident in the fitout, which is elegantly understated yet cosy even on a three degree Melbourne morning.

Bowery to Williamsburg interior

BAGELS! In keeping with the New York deli theme, there are several varieties of bagel on offer - both savoury and sweet - all made by 5 and Dime. Start your day with a sour cherry bagel with a schmear of lemon curd, or perhaps a beetroot and rye bagel with a cream cheese schmear. There are cooked breakfasts too, like poached eggs with maple baked beans and a bacon slab.


Lunchwise, it's one of those sandwich menus you'll agonise over for minutes because they all sound so damn good. Will it be the Reuben, the pastrami on rye? The lox bagel with beetroot horseradish, limed onion, watercress and dill cream cheese schmear? The schmaltz chicken on walnut bread with apple celeriac slaw and prune relish??

Menu cropped

For a set price of $16.50 you get a sandwich plus a side plus pretzels and a pickle (or pay $12.50 just for the sandwich, gluten free bread available for $1 extra). In the end I picked a sandwich almost at random, winding up with the superb hot smoked salmon on rye with heirloom tomato, fried capers, radish and a caviar cream cheese schmear, with a zingy little side salad of zucchini, peas and Persian feta.

Hot smoked salmon

Last but most definitely not least are the sweets, all of which are baked on the premises. It's a veritable AMERICANA CORNUCOPIA, featuring New York cheesecake, key lime pie, caramelised pumpkin pie, vanilla cherry pie, maple pecan pie, s'mores bars and choc-blueberry brownies. I had a little taste of the maple pecan pie and it was heaven.


The coffee is Padre, but you might be tempted by a peanut butter hot chocolate (served with a Reese's PB cup). At this early stage they're only open Monday to Friday, but fingers crossed that weekends will follow soon. Bowery to Williamsburg is a VERY welcome addition to the CBD.

Pretzels and a pickle

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

No seriously, get down to Hihou to try the lunch menu

Level 1, 1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
9654 5465
Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30am-2:30pm, evenings Monday to Saturday 5pm-1am

Hihou - Hassun

It's been nearly a year since Simon Denton, Takashi Omi and Miyuki Nakahara opened their elegant, Japanese-influenced bar Hihou above their more casual canteen Nama Nama. For all of that time, Hihou (an approximate pronunciation is "he-haw" - it means treasure in Japanese) has been a strictly evenings-only affair, serving a compact menu of bar snacks to accompany your Negro-Kan (Negroni with an umeshu twist).

Recently Hihou decided to take full advantage of its daytime view overlooking Treasury Gardens, and started opening for lunch on Mondays to Fridays. While the menu features freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters, charcoal barbequed prawns and sashimi, the main focus is the two course set lunch - which at $35 a head represents terrific value, given the attention to detail and quality of the produce on offer.

Simon invited me as a guest to sample the lunch menu the week it opened, but I went back again last week with my lunch date as paying customers, because we couldn't stop raving about the experience and how perfectly balanced the meal had been.

Buckwheat and green tea saltOysters

The set lunch begins with a little appetiser, such as grapes with shiro-ae (a white tofu dressing) and buckwheat, or pickled wombok with kaffir lime and dainty ribbons of wonton crisps.

Grapes with shiro-ae tofu sauce and buckwheatPickled wombok

The hassun first course is a selection of cold starters that represent the season. Expect to see sashimi (the John Dory we had on our first visit was exceptionally good) and vegetables, perhaps with seafood-y accents like scallops or miniature house-dried prawns.

Hihou - HassunHihou - Hassun

For the main course you choose from one of three sets, each made with premium produce. The kodawari set, which I ordered on my first visit, included delicate sous vide Tasmanian red bream and soy beans in a mild gin-an sauce, with miso soup and rice.

Hihou - Kodawari set

The shichirin set, ordered on my second visit, included charcoal grilled (and beautifully tender) Cape Grim Beef rump with green tea salt, grilled daikon, yakiniku dipping sauce, sumashi clear soup and brown rice.

Hihou - Shichirin set

The set lunch finishes with tea or coffee. I *strongly* recommend shelling out a little more for dessert from the lacquered three-tiered treat box that will be laid out before you. The treat box is filled with all kinds of goodies, from traditional Japanese sweets to Western petits fours with a Japanese spin (such as tartlets filled with yuzu instead of lemon). The treats are $3-$5 each, or a plate of five for $18.

Hihou Japanese treat box

I couldn't resist ordering the sweet potato wrapped in miso paper, and the chestnut and buckwheat steamed manju. Both were exquisite.

Hihou sweet treats - sweet potato wrapped in miso paper and chestnut and buckwheat manju

And how kawaiiiii is this pumpkin-shaped shiro-an (white bean paste) wagashi?!

Hihou sweet treats - pumpkin wagashi and sweet potato in miso paperHihou pumpkin-shaped wagashi

It's great to see one of my favourite city bars becoming one of my favourite city lunch spots, and there's talk that in the near future Hihou may also open in the afternoons, offering a Japanese version of high tea. Here's hoping.

A note for the uninitiated: entry to Hihou is via the (unmarked) first door on Flinders Lane. Press the buzzer and you will be ushered in.

A note for herbivores: while the three main course options on the current menu contain either meat or seafood, the kitchen will happily provide a vegetarian option.