Melbourne

El Mirage (Brunswick East)

June 25, 2018

El Mirage is one of those places that when walking past you blink and you miss it. Set back from busy Lygon st, inside El Mirage is adorned with warm wood and small details that impress a homely feel. Out the front are scatterings of tables which is great when dining with a canine companion or if you’re like me, watching the world go past.

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, we wandered into El Mirage in search for delicious, yolky eggs. But first, coffee and chai;

I ordered the Jalapeno Corn Fritters with salmon, which arrived as three, plump, crispy fritters with 2 goopey eggs waiting to be pried open. This dish checked all of my boxes; jubes of haloumi, charred corn, corriander puree, smokey salmon and eggs poached to perfection. It was a well-rounded, substantial dish but didn’t leave me feeling heavy. Perhaps my only gripe was the lack of jalapeno spice given the name of the dish.

Next up, the drool-worthy Mac & Cheese Benny. This was one of the more inspired brunch dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Melbourne.  A mac and cheese croquette (yes!), covered in pulled, juicy beef atop of a truffle cauliflower puree made for a delightful flavour combination. At first, the pungent flavour of truffle dominated the dish, but once the gooey egg was mingled with the other components and the decadent hollandaise  sauce served on the side, the dish really shined.  The pulled beef fell-apart in each mouthful, in juicy surrender.

I really enjoyed brunching at El Mirage. The service was friendly and the menu was a refreshing break from the onslaught of smoothie bowls that seem to be dominating the scene. I will be returning for the Mac & Cheese croquette…this time in stretchy pants.

El Mirage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Le Jolie (Pascoe Vale)

May 27, 2017

‘Black as night, sweet as sin.’ – Neil Gaiman

Le Jolie is a charming café located in Pascoe Vale, right next to Pascoe Vale train station. Le Jolie’s menu gives a positive nod to French delights, featuring sweet and savoury crepes, and for those who revel in cheesy, calorific delights, there’s the Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame.

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I ordered the avocado tartine, which featured smashed avocado, marinated feta, fresh tomato salsa, olive oil, salad greens, multigrain toast. I added a poached egg on the side because what is the point of breakfast if it doesn’t feature a gooey egg? The flavours were fresh and light and perfectly balanced.

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My ma went with the “Le Jolie Bacon and Eggs” which was served in a sweet, bouncy brioche bun. It was brimming with delicious cheese and scrambled eggs and a good go-to when you want a big breakfast served up in a bun.

The coffee at Le Jolie is deeply robust and creamy . We each knocked back down 3 cups each which is an unprecedented amount of caffeine so early on a Saturday morning.

Le Jolie will be soon offering art classes run by the owner, Guy Trinquet, whose wonderful art adorns the walls of the café. While not a local to the area, I will be sure to return whenever I find myself in Pascoe Vale again.

Le Jolie Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Bluebonnet (Fitzroy North)

April 12, 2017

“If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?” – John Cleese

Bluebonnet has moved around Melbourne, slinging their delicious trays of meat from venue to venue before discovering home in a revamped pub in the too-cool suburb of Fitzroy North.

We decided to share a selection of meats and a couple of sides.  Pro-tip; the beef brisket is an absolute must order when visiting Bluebonnet, or any smoke house for that matter.

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The tender, smoky brisket had a pleasing hint of pink ring dotted along the spice- rubbed edges. The lamb ribs had a crispy exterior which, when gnawed upon,  exposed a flavourful, lardy and meaty interior.

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The beef cheek was the highlight of the meal; barely resisting the pull of my fork to reveal a juicy, gelatinous mass of smoked beef. If you are only able to order one meat at Bluebonnet, for whatever heartless reason, the beef cheek should be your go-to. It’s what dreams are made of.

The potato salad at Bluebonnet is on the smaller side, however, it is superbly creamy. The herbs interspersed added a fresh offset to the smoked meats.

The brisket chilli cheese grits with pickled jalapeno , sour cream and cheese is a hearty mush of well-ground corn kernels and cheese. This is the epitome of comfort food. The pulled brisket was very generous and we struggled to conquer the entire side.

We managed to get through about 4/5 of the tray before the meat sweats and side cramps could no longer be ignored. The fabled meat sweats is truly a scientific phenomenon and is also known as thermogenesis.

The thermogenic effect of protein is higher than carbs, and so the temperature of the body will rise after consuming copious amounts of meat giving rise to the sensation of “meat sweats”.  We decided to admit defeat and our server generously gave us a take home box to ensure we could enjoy a midnight snack of brisket and grits.

Bluebonnets service is quick, friendly and knowledgeable. You can tell that everyone involved has a shared affection for all things smoked meat. This is my third pilgrimage to Bluebonnet to enjoy their tasty offerings and I doubt it will be my last.

 

Melbourne

Woodstock Pizzicheria (Brunswick)

April 8, 2017

“Language is wine upon the lips.” – Virginia Woolf

Whenever I am seeking comfort, it is usually discovered in the form of hearty Italian food.

With not much open on a public holiday, my wonderful dining partner and I sought sanctuary in pizza and red, red wine at Woodstock Pizzeria on a sunny Monday afternoon.

We ordered the ever-so decadent sounding carbonara pizza special and a side of caprese salad to share. And of course, a carafe of red pinot noir to sip in-between gnaws of pizza.

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Soon after, the carbonara pizza arrived, with an unnecessary (but not at all unwelcome) side of warm bread. The crust was supple, thin and crisp – perfection. The topping was a creamy amalgamation of cheese, large slices of smoky ham and egg. Notwithstanding the rich, creamy appearance, the pizza was wolfed down easily between two.

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The caprese salad was also delicious. The tomatoes was fresh and robust with sweet acidic flavours. The large segments of bouncy DOC mozzarella harmonised perfectly with the basil and tomatoes. The piquant flavours of the tomatoes perfectly offset the heady creaminess of the pizza.

Woodstock Pizzeria is located on Lygon St, on the East Brunswick side of town. Whilst it is located close to the (previously) revered 400 Gradi, the base and quality of the toppings is on par. Service was friendly and well-timed. I would certainly return again the next time I crave comforting Italian food.

Woodstock Pizzicheria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Hakata Gensuke (CBD)

January 25, 2017

I don’t believe I had ever seen the front of Hakata Gensuke without a line of hungry-eyed patrons eagerly awaiting their turn to slurp one of the best Tonkotsu broths in Melbourne. And so it was fate that I decided it had been long enough between bowls of steaming noodles and I ventured to Hakata Gensuke, completely prepared to line up for as long as it would take, only to find there was no line.

The ordering process is via a checkbox card, with 4 types of broths to select from and then any additional trimmings are charged around the $1 to $5 mark. The standard bowl comes with a single slice of delicate chashu, ramen noodles, black fungus and broth. I opted for “normal” taste and “normal” noodle hardness and an extra flavoured egg and a shared side of chicken karrage.

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Soon after, two hot bowls of steaming ramen arrived with the pungent, wonderful pork-marrow smell wafting. The pork broth had incredible depth and rounded flavour, without being fatty at all. The noodles were perfectly chewy and I my only regret was not ordering a refill. The flavoured egg was the weakest point of the meal because it wasn’t soy flavoured at all. It was just an average, regular soft-boiled egg plonked onto the ramen.

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Ginger, spicy tobanjan and a pot of garlic were on the table to allow us to enhance the flavour of the ramen. I am a big fan of garlic bombed ramen and added a healthy dose of garlic, ginger and tonbanjan ( a spicy broad bean paste) to my ramen. I revel in plentiful condiments.

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The chicken karrage was pleasantly deep-fried, crisp, and contained flavourful dark meat.

Hakata Gensuke may have the best tonkotsu broth. The broth is reminiscent of the bowls I slurped throughout Tokyo and Kyoto. The noodles are also high quality and held their firmness throughout the slurp-fest, however, paying for each extra topping can become expensive. The milk-white pork bone broth is worth lining up for.

 

Hakata Gensuke Ramen Professionals Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Byron Bay, Travel

Orgasmic (Byron Bay, Australia)

December 29, 2016

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot

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Located on a small street just behind the main Byron Bay beach is Orgasmic, a middle-eastern inspired café who fries up delightful small bites of felafels for hungry beach-goers. They also serve Turkish coffee which smelled fantastic but unfortunately I had reached my caffeine quota for the day.

We entered the open-front café and quickly ordered a mixed plate with felafel and pita chips and a whole felafel roll.

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The felafel roll arrived in a soft pocket, oozing out hummus, pickles, salad and felafels and it was a challenge to engulf the whole package into my mouth without smearing the delicious sauces all over my face. This exposure to embarrassment was worth it because the felafels were the crispiest, most flavourful felafels I have ever had the pleasure of eating. The medley of sauces and astringent pickles made every bite packed with flavour. For $13, the felafel roll was on the expensive side of typical rolls but it was so filling that it tied me over for the entire afternoon of walking along the beach.

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The plate was almost a deconstruction of the felafel roll and included pleasingly, pillowy pita chips. The thick, garlicy hummus was the perfect accompaniment to these decadent chips which we were told were “not healthy but worth it” and I have to agree on both counts.

For those wanting a quick, healthy and portable lunch option to take to the beach, Orgasmic delivers on all fronts.

Orgasmic Food Byron Bay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Byron Bay, Travel

Miss Margarita (Byron Bay, Australia)

December 29, 2016

“Don’t judge your taco by its price” – Hunter S. Thompson

Mexican, in my experience, is a cuisine that can either be executed very well or terribly. There is no in-between. Luckily, Miss Margarita and her tantalising tacos delivers interesting and scrumptious tacos that make for the perfect drinking union.

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In our case, it was mid-afternoon and sangria’s were being enjoyed while watching locals and tourists. Offering a $15 lunch special for 3 tacos, we opted to try every single type of taco – from pulled beef to squid.

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The pork pulled taco had a pineapple relish which resulted in a sweet and messy experience. The beef, also pulled, was super juicy and imparted a smokiness.

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The star of this taco binge was the squid taco which offered a textual difference from the pulled to oblivion meats, which while still delicious were not really discernible from one another.

Miss Margarita is rated highly by Byron locals and passing-by tourists.  The service is quick and super friendly – actually everyone in Byron seemed so friendly and relaxed. I recommend popping by after a beach visit to re-energise and to take advantage of the wonderful lunch special.

Miss Margarita Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Tiamo (Carlton)

October 28, 2016

“If I start feeling down I’ll gorge myself on pasta. That usually does the trick. It’s the Italian blood in me.” –  Natalie Imbruglia

Tiamo, Ti amo. Tiamo is considered an Italian institution on Lygon St, offering respite from the vexatious spruikers and tourist trap restaurants located on the south end. Here you know you are in good hands when the wine is poured into short tumblers and is poured in doses of 500ml.

Being one of the few restaurants on Lygon St that lures its patrons back, a pack of hungry table-waiters can usually be found out the front. Thankfully there are two Tiamo branded restaurants side-by-side which offer similar, if not the same, menu options.

We immediately scored a seat out the front just before 6pm on a Friday night, so it is worth swinging by early. We ordered a carafe of Cabernet Sauvignon which arrived in the form of a crisp red.

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Across the way, I was suffering food envy with the mountain of beef sauce proudly sitting atop several delicate layers of creamy béchamel and bolognaise sauce. With addition of copious amounts of parmesan cheese, this was the epitome of comfort food and perfect for a dreary, chilly evening.

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In front of me, there was a wonderful entanglement of pasta, eggplant and small, garlic-laden meatballs. The Maccheroni della Zia was so flavourful. I am not usually one to order pasta when I eat out because I like to think I am fairly accomplished in pasta-cooking, however, if I was going to order any pasta dish, it would have to be this. The meatballs were so moist and the large cylinders of pasta was perfectly al-dente. Using the crunchy garlic bread to mop up the remnants of Napoli sauce was exactly the Italian experience I yearned for.

Tiamo is bustling, and it is bustling for several reasons. The food here is delicious, the service quick and the people watching on this end of Lygon St is unbeatable. Pro-tip; If your wine isn’t being served in tumblers like proper nonna-style, go to Tiamos.

Tiamo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Rice, Paper, Scissors (CBD)

August 20, 2016

“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.” –  Mitch Hedberg

Rice, Paper, Scissors has perfected the humble approach to shared fare and invigorating cocktails.  Pull up a stool at the bar and peruse the one-page menu which is intended to be shared over conversation and  between sips of their Vietnamese inspired boozy concoctions.

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Rice, Paper, Scissors offers 5 dishes for $59 – a very cost effective way to sample the menu. First up arrived the Crying Tiger – beef wagyu, chunky relish and a tart dipping sauce. Messily enveloped in the crisp lettuce leaves and then dunked into the sauce made for maximum enjoyment of the melty wagyu beef.

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Next up were the Galloping Horses to keep in the theme of animal-named dishes. Sweet, caramelised, sticky pork and crushed peanut balls atop of bold slices of pineapple. So very sweet and oh-so moreish.

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The special offering of the day was a must; betel leaves with scallops and zesty green mango salad.  Wrapping these bite size morsels into the slightly bitter betel leaf provided a juicy mouthgasm.

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The mini banh mi bites filled with homemade pate, soft shell crab was soft, sweet and the exact right level of crunchy was imparted by the gangly limbs of the soft shell crab.

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The Filipino BBQ pork was beautiful – check out that pink ring. Served alongside lettuce to act as impromptu wraps, these bite size melt-in-the-mouth pieces of pork were the highlight of the meal.

The ever-so popular Rice Paper Scissors is a great place to stop by to share a few small bites and delicious cocktails. The service is vibrant and our server expertly taught us how to wrap and combine our dishes for a guaranteed trip to flavour-town. Pro-tip – Rice Paper Scissors offers lunchtime bookings and it is well worth booking ahead to secure a seat.

Rice Paper Scissors Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Japan, Travel

Katsukura (Kyoto, Japan)

July 2, 2016

“The Japanese say, If the flower is to be beautiful, it must be cultivated.” –  Lester Cole

Who knew that the tastiest food could be found deep inside a train station? All of Japan, apparently.  Situated on the 7th floor of the structurally beautiful Kyoto Station behemoth is Katsukura. Having spent the day walking, and walking, around Universal Studios in Osaka, fried pork cutlets were all I could think about.  I had read about Katsukura previously, but I had not expected the well-appointed, wood embellished restaurant inside.

The menu is broken up into ‘sets’ and I opted for the larger pork katsu. Each set comes with unlimited refills of cabbage, miso and rice.

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First arrived was a bowl of sesame seeds which we were instructed to grind away using the pestle, to later add to the sauces

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A number of sauces were available on the table to mix at will into small bowls – spicy katsu sauce, traditional sauce, mustard and a light sweet vinegar for the shredded cabbage

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The flaky, juicy pork katsu that arrived was love at first bite. In-between each tender bite, I couldn’t help but be incredulous as to how the breading can be so thick and flaky, yet adhere to the juicy tender cutlet.  The miso soup added a slurp of saltiness between bites and the crispy, thinly shredded cabbage was the unsung hero.

The service at Katsukura was patient and helpful – especially when we were fumbling to try and work out what each of the empty bowls was destined for. They also have an English menu and the waiter had good basic English skills.  I recommend an accompaniment of a Whisky highball for a Suntory time.