Tivoli Road Bakery – South Yarra – Saturday 31 May 2014 – Breakfast

Ham, cheese and tomato croissant

Ham, cheese and tomato croissant

What an autumn we have had in Melbourne! It’s been the best in my five and a bit years over here. The reward for a 4km walk is breakfast at Tivoli’s!

There is something uniquely comforting in a bakery. Tivoli is where bakeries go to die. This heaven on earth for bakeries was originally the base for MoVida’s provision of breads and pastries for Frank Camora’s empire of eateries.

The reason for Tivoli being king isn’t solely related to being an incredibly good artisan baker. It offers good quality coffee, and a small but comfortable place to eat both inside and out.

We’ve been here for the great gourmet pies, to get our fill of hot cross buns over Easter, and for delicious cakes. Today I had croissants on my mind. We got lucky with the last couple of ham, cheese and tomato croissants, which completely offset the good work walking there, but that was the point!

Like another favourite, Chez Dre, Tivoli is worth an extended walk or drive. Put ordering the hot cross buns in your calendar for Easter next year!

Tivoli Road Bakery on Urbanspoon

Post script:

Back at Tivoli today (Wednesday 12 November 2014), one of the several times since the above review, and there is a few new menu items to enjoy. Pictured is a delicious pork roll that has a bit of crackle to it, some coriander, kim chi, and plenty of other goodness. I didn’t photograph Catherine’s sausage roll but they have replaced the usual lamb with chicken, which is equally great!

Tivoli's pork roll

Tivoli’s pork roll

Nieuw Amsterdam – Melbourne, City – Saturday 24 May 2014 – Lunch

Nieuw Amsterdam – Melbourne, City – Saturday 24 May 2014 – Lunch

Jerk chicken

Jerk chicken

American barbeque seems to be grabbing hold of Melbourne and I didn’t even realise it! What I thought was unique around here in Meatmother, has been starting to spread itself around.

The latest instalment I have tried is Nieuw Amsterdam. It might have the facade of simplicity done well, but there is more to doing a great barbeque than slapping some meat on a plate with some accompaniments. More than that, I think adding the Melbourne sensibility helps – as flavoursome, but not quite as large!

Nieuw Amsterdam is in a big space and it feels like they’ve taken a big risk. It is a nice place to eat – striking dark wood the feature. The service is professional but without the quiet confidence you often find.

We were having a catch up after a long time between drinks so we didn’t order for ages after we’d arrived. But I knew what I wanted. I had been on a pulled pork diet during the week so I needed to mix things up and the Jerk Chicken caught my attention straight away. Catherine order the brisket. There is also a pork belly chops option for the bbq trays and you are served the meat with a red cabbage salad tossed with some chilli, mash potato, sauce, pickle, and some bread and butter.

The chicken was perfectly cooked maintaining its juiciness, and the combination of spices used as a rub is delicious. The mash is great with a beautiful consistency, no doubt from lots of butter! I love the large pickle – enough for each bite, and the simple cabbage salad kept things fresh. I tasted the brisket too and it was absolutely delicious – melting in the mouth!

Nieuw Amsterdam is by no means a copycat. Finally we are getting great North American food from both sides of the Mexican border. The more the better – especially at these prices!

Nieuw Amsterdam on Urbanspoon

Bellota Wine Bar – South Melbourne – Thursday 22 May 2014 – Dinner

Pork Schnitzel

Pork Schnitzel

There is always something intangible that separates good and great. It is normally a feeling that makes you want to stay; want to come back. I get that feeling at Bellota Wine Bar in South Melbourne.

The first time I came across Bellota was for a wine tasting. Eight excellent wines (some incredible) and a couple of nightcaps in the bar following the end of the tasting was enough to keep it at the forefront of my consciousness. We felt like a drink and there is almost no better place in Melbourne.

The menu is all about classic bistro dishes that lend themselves to wine. The selections are not necessarily numerous, but there is seemingly a dish to match to each wine, and a wine that will match each dish. We could have nibbled on terrines, salumi or cheese, but decided to be traditional.

I had the pork schnitzel with celeriac remoulade, egg and peppers. The schnitzel was perfectly cooked providing the crunch to offset the luscious remoulade with the slight chilli in the peppers adding some bite. Catherine ordered the bavette of beef with pomme frites. It had the normal slightly chewy texture, with some delicious tarragon butter (which could have been more generous), and packed plenty of flavour. A dish perfect for her Southern Rhone, and mine was a great match for the Bourgouge I had recommended to me.

One of the aspects that added to our enjoyment of the meal, besides the initial taster of Chablis and the great bar / dining room that is so conducive to relaxed conversation, was the service. Having been there once (for a few mind you) it was nice to be recognised a month later. More than that, the staff love their wine and are genuinely happy to be working. It doesn’t hurt that the sommelier from Stokehouse transferred here after the amazing restaurant came to a temporary close though fire.

Having somewhat settled in, we indulged in a valrhona chocolate almond cake with hokey pokey ice cream. For once it was not deconstructed! The chocolate was not overly rich or sweet, and combined nicely with the almond meal based cake which had a nice macaron style crust to it. The ice cream again wasn’t over the top on sweetness and left us wanting more!

Valrhona chocolate almond cake and hokey pokey ice cream

Valrhona chocolate almond cake and hokey pokey ice cream

Thursday nights don’t get much more enjoyable than this. An inner city wine bar with great food, completely packed, with staff having fun and the customers having a ball.

Bellota on Urbanspoon

Little Pantry – Subiaco – Sunday 11 May 2014 – Lunch

Almost ten years ago I lived a couple hundred metres down the road from the corner of Nicholson Road and Derby Road on the border of Subiaco and Shenton Park. I had learned from locals that across the road used to be a pub, which would have been extremely handy. Instead it was now a retirement village, and there was very little else decent in what used to be a nice little suburban village. A fish and chip place opened (sister to one in Kalbarri) that was great but that was it.

Travelling back in time to my old neighbourhood, I was pleased to see a build in activity and one particularly busy cafe. Little Pantry is aptly named given the front room is tiny. Luckily there is space out the back to utilise the amazing climate Perth has to offer, and a beautiful lawn in the sun where we were seated for lunch / late breakfast.

It might have been May, but Perth doesn’t seem to do autumn and skips straight into winter so the weather turned it on for Mother’s Day! Glorious is the only way to describe it. Besides doing breakfast at lunch (I’m not sure if this is always the case), the cafe offers authentic Italian dishes centering around pasta. Several of our group tried the macaroni which I had a quick taste of (very nice) but I was focussed on breakfast. The Boston beans were exactly what I felt like. Beautifully slow cooked, but still with some texture, in a rich tomato sauce, with delicious sourdough. Some of the group had cake for dessert which was worth coming back to have more than a little try!

The staff and the owner was great and having brought a group along they were eager to please. The coffee was good quality, as it should be when prepared by Italian expats! I wish Little Pantry was here a decade ago – I would have been there five times a week!

Little Pantry on Urbanspoon

The Trustee Bar & Bistro – Perth, City – Tuesday 13 May 2014 – Dinner

It is always difficult to distinguish between your satisfaction from an experience and that of others you are sharing your experience with. When there is such divide in the personal opinion of each diner, it dampens the memory. The Trustee Bar & Bistro, part of the new(ish) dining precinct in Perth, literarily dished up this conundrum.

I had been to the bistro previously almost exactly a year prior. The modern European food was good and I thought the prices were really reasonable at the time, for Perth. So, at late notice, and without a booking, I was glad that four of us could grab a table at 8.30pm right in the middle of service.

This time around I must admit that the menu didn’t grab me. I’m almost positive prices had gone up too. There are some really great sounding options including a bone marrow dish and a marron dish. It could have been the fact we were really there to have one course and the menu is more suited to trying a couple of dishes. I balance that with the fact that it is a “bistro” and if I feel comfortable going to a bistro in Paris for a one dish that will satisfy me, I should feel the same ability in Perth. After all, bistro basically means inexpensive casual dining. I settled on the duck confit with my fingers crossed.

As it turns out, my duck confit with braised faro salad and chorizo aioli was good. The duck leg confit was nicely cooked and the faro salad was flavoursome. However, the aioli didn’t provide the necessary link between duck and salad and the overall dish was a little dry as a result. I thought the faro salad was a modern touch, but it didn’t have the impact that more traditional accompaniments have. At $39.50 I probably would not order the dish again.

Some of my work colleagues I was dining with did have menu envy though. They had ordered the chorizo peasant pasta which had an arrabiatta sauce on orecchiette pasta, which I thought sounded okay, especially at $22. The service initially had been quite professional but a bit cold. We had waited 40 minutes before we finally, through hunger, enquired whether our food was on its way and whether we could be served some bread (nothing had been placed on the table). We had to ask again five minutes later and by the time some bread had arrived we also had our meals. There was no apology or attempt to explain. I think the sour taste from the service had impacted the flavour of the pasta and although my work colleagues finished their dish they were left a bit flat.

The usual script of “how was your meal” was met initially with my “very nice” and then my work colleague noted “we waited 45 minutes and it was not great”. Our waitperson stalled and wasn’t sure how to react but came back from the kitchen offering a discount and an apology which we all accepted. We were not looking for a discount. It was a nice touch but letting us know there was a wait after 20-30 minutes and offering some bread would have been a better reaction.

At the end of the day, I had enjoyed my meal. There was a vast divide in my feeling to that of my fellow diners and I couldn’t help but be impacted. It all comes down to the way challenges are handled, and service that runs off a script, in this case, did not mitigate the situation. With many other restaurants in close proximity these types of experiences need to be kept to a minimum or diners are lost for good.

The Trustee Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Supernormal – Melbourne, City – Saturday 17 May 2014 – Lunch

Supernormal – Melbourne, City – Saturday 17 May 2014 – Lunch

New England lobster Roll

New England lobster Roll

Envy is one of the deadly sins. With my work colleagues eating at Supernormal on the Monday night after it opened, and me eating at the Oxford Hotel in Perth, I was embodying this deadly sin.

The week prior I had tried to ease my sorrow at being away during this upcoming auspicious occasion, only to find that Supernormal, despite having had the “opening event” was nevertheless not open. I told myself “I’ve had the lobster rolls at Golden Fields anyway” but my usual ability to justify was missing.

Sesame Cucumber

Sesame Cucumber

We were both a little bit under the weather, but Catherine and I ventured back to Flinders Lane two Saturday’s after the first attempt, to try and experience Andrew McConnell’s latest. This time it was open and the friendly maitre’d told us “there’s no need to rush” and we didn’t need to start eating at midday – “come back when you like, 30 minutes is fine”. A quick espresso at Sensory Lab (Bar Americano was unfortunately closed) and we were back and ready to dive in.

The menu is mainly dishes to share and feels like it caters to two people almost as well as a larger group. We couldn’t resist ordering the lobster rolls again, had been recommended dumplings by my work colleagues, wanted to try the duck bao, and wanted something to break it up so ordered some cucumber. The bbq pork had also been recommended but was $74 for a group, so next time! The wines by the glass are imaginative and we started with a very reasonable prosecco and finished on the (not so reasonable but very nice) German riesling.

Boiled prawn and chicken dumplings

Boiled prawn and chicken dumplings

The sesame cucumber wasn’t quite what I was expecting when it came out whole, but it was fun and fresh and still helped break some of the stronger flavours through the meal. The lobster roll was just as I remembered from Golden Fields. Incredible. The fluffy brioche bun, the generous serve of fresh, beautifully cooked lobster, and a delicious aioli tasting sauce. We reconsidered a couple of times whether having both dumplings and bao was a good idea.

The boiled prawn and pork dumplings can only be described as artisan. The wrapper is that perfect balance of glutinous and strong, and filled with impeccably treated ingredients, topped with a delicious vinegary and salty dressing that adds a little chilli punch. The duck bao ingredients come out separately to allow you to have some fun preparing each one. The twice cooked duck is leg meat still on the bone that easily tears away in chunks to place over cucumber in the bao, which themselves are like folded over pillows. You then slap over (lots of) plum sauce and dunk into the vinegar at your leisure. Interactive and delicious. Getting both dishes is far from a mistake!

Duck bao - twice cooked duck, vinegar & plum sauce

Duck bao – twice cooked duck, vinegar & plum sauce

Having enjoyed a terrific lunch, we had to see if dessert did the savoury dishes justice. We shared the almond cake with vanilla ice cream, mandarin (both fresh and dehydrated), and plum wine granita. It’s a type of slightly deconstructed dessert that we’re all getting used to (I forget the last time I had something actually constructed!). The flavour itself was excellent and it was interesting trying the elements separately and together both with and without the granita. The sponge was the right texture and sweetness and the granita elevated the dish to the level you would expect from an Andrew McConnell restaurant.

Throughout most of the experience service was very good, but it might take some time coordinating service on the bar and tables, especially at busy times. While there was a certain confident air in the staff, it shows itself in friendliness rather than arrogance. It was nice being greeted by the chef on the bar in front of us, as you are never sure whether to converse while they are busily working in front of you.

Almond cake, vanilla ice cream, mandarin, plum wine granita

Almond cake, vanilla ice cream, mandarin, plum wine granita

I believe Supernormal is elevating some typical Chinese/Asian dishes by using the best ingredients and a great deal of care in the kitchen. It is a formula that separates it, and a handful of others in the genre, from the pack of standard cheap and cheerful establishments. It feels like another step in the renaissance of modern Asian restaurants in Australia.

Supernormal Canteen on Urbanspoon

Fonda – Richmond – Friday 9 May 2014 – Dinner

Fonda – Richmond – Friday 9 May 2014 – Dinner

Tacos and Sir Veza

Tacos and Sir Veza

Describing the surge of great, clean, flavoursome cuisines such as Mexican as dude food, especially when used in a belittling sense, is little minded. Closer to Mexico, Mexican food is and has always been properly associated with what we are finally getting a taste of in Australia. Personally I like good food and there is nothing that is fad or short-lived about that.

Fonda slotted into a space created by Mamasita characterised by reasonably priced (but not dirt cheap like other versions of barely Mexican food that I grew up with), fresh and full flavoured dishes. However, unlike Mamasita’s city cool, Fonda brought a certain suburban hip. It has expanded since, such is the success of the “brand”.

What we call modern Mexican is normal in America. In any case, when I think modern Mexican I think of great tequila (no shooting when you are paying over $15 a nip!), tortillas etc all handmade including the delicious corn chips, fresh vibrant salsas and ceviches, balanced spice and chilli, and exceptional star ingredients such as pulled pork and sweet corn.

I go to Fonda regularly and stopped by on this evening with Catherine on the way to the Arctic Monkeys. She enjoyed a fine version of a margarita catchily called “basil darling” and I tried a beer I haven’t previously had that was an excellent pale ale called “sir veza”. It may have been the name that attracted me!

We shared some tacos – fish, pork and wagyu beef. I love the light, thin tortillas used for the tacos. The fish has a golden crumb that adds terrific texture with the pickled carrot and onion, chipotle aioli and cabbage. The pork is juicy and slow cooked, adding extra depth of flavor with small pieces of pineapple, onion and coriander to compliment. The wagyu shin is plentiful, and strong, but maybe a little overpowering to the other ingredients of lime, poblano (mild chilli pepper), jicama (crisp edible white flesh of the yam bean), pickled red onion and coriander. We also had some corn which is grilled and topped with delicious ricotta cheese and chipotle aioli.

While the burritos are more filling, and the quesadillas potentially more satisfying with all the meat, cheese and crisp tortilla, I can’t go past the tacos here which have such a good balance of flavour and a nice amount of spice. Everything is pretty good to great though including the salads.

Fonda has found a nice niche in the new world of great Australian Mexican. It is not a fad, and neither are the trucks, and I’ll never refer to it as dude food!
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