Cheeky Monkey – Richmond – Sunday 2 July 2017 – Breakfast

Peking pork pancake – spring onion + ginger pancake, crispy hock, cucumber, herbs, fried egg

It must fill the owners and staff with a sense of pride to see a cafe develop to the point it can move down the block into a much larger, and nicer space, due to its popularity. From humble beginnings, one Swan Street cafe has stood the test of time.

I have not been to Cheeky Monkey since New Year’s Day in 2010. The talk that day was about a huge New Year’s Eve and about one particular bucket that was used for more difficult duties than it was built for, by a guest at my place. Given the hangover from the night before, it was all about bacon and eggs to soothe us, but I do remember it being a good experience.

There wasn’t however anything notable to make a revisit necessary. There were many locals in Richmond equal to Cheeky Monkey, and they were closer to home in the northeast of the suburb. Somewhere along the way the quality increased to an extent necessary to grab big crowds. Today we are eating one hundred metres further up the road in a modern designed and furnished room, adjoined to a florist, making the scene even more attractive.

Peking pork pancake

As I thought might be the case, the menu is enticing, and the coffee makes an instantly good impression as we choose. The Peking pork pancake stands out and I’m glad I followed through and ordered it. The pancake itself is well made and holds the crispy pork hock, along with its classic Asian counterparts in spring onion, cucumber, and an array of herbs, topped by a fried egg. It feels like a brunch classic, although I don’t know how long it has been on the menu.

Corn fritters and crispy bacon, tomato + avocado salsa, coriander yoghurt

Catherine goes for the corn fritters, served generously, accompanied by bacon, and plenty of tomato and avocado, sitting in a coriander yoghurt. It’s a good dish, perhaps a bit large, but that isn’t a criticism. In fact, it is probably a sign of why Cheeky Monkey is bustling most days of the week.

While we haven’t yet been back, there is no doubt it will not be seven years again between visits! The coffee is particularly good, so I’ve had a few here since, and have even used the florist multiple times. It seems the combination of these businesses appeals in more ways than purely providing a good looking (and free) fitout for the cafe.

Cheeky Monkey Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Sloane Ranger – Richmond – Sunday 23 July 2017 – Breakfast

Smashed Peas – Broccolini, Meredith feta, smoked almonds, poached eggs, toast

It is staggering the number of above average cafes now open in Melbourne. Once, you could look through anyone’s list of the top 20 cafes in Melbourne, and it was easy to have tried half of them. These days, that is simply not the case.

In fact, there are more good to excellent cafes opening each year then is possible to try. Giving up is strong language, but really the odds of getting around to each and every great Melbourne cafe, from Pascoe Vale to Elsternwick and Beaconsfield to Northcote, is impossible. Why am I talking about this very obvious situation?

It’s because Sloane Ranger opened up several weeks ago, literally a kilometre down the road, and this is the first time Catherine and I have been for breakfast. I did pop-in for coffee once, but that was all. It struck me at the time that staff (including the one looking like an owner) were extra enthusiastic. Not in an annoying way; just genuinely excited about Melbourne cafe life.

Cheesy roast cauliflower fritters, smoked tomato chutney, chorizo and poached egg

This time for breakfast, it is hard to think of more accommodating people. Again, going out of their way to be helpful, but certainly not in an over the top way.

Looking down at the menu, there are around a dozen dishes, but there is nothing that is shouting out at me. Sometimes this is a good sign because I often try something a bit left-field in these situations. Today I go with the cheesy cauliflower fritters and chorizo.

Topped with a poached egg, and accompanied by a smoked tomato chutney, the fritters are excellent. It is not something I’ve tried before, but the combination does work, the chorizo bringing some nice spice, as well as saltiness. Catherine’s smashed peas is great too. Nicely presented, this well known combination of greens, feta, and runny poached eggs, is well executed.

The fitout here is pretty standard. It’s comfortable, with plenty of communal seating, and a curious bar type space out front that will be far better utilised in summer. Coffee is well made.

I’ve noticed a sudden rise in the quality of cafes across Melbourne with very little room for mediocrity these days. Sloane Ranger is another quality player that is hopefully here to stay. With all the action on Swan Street, there is a lot of pressure, but the sheer enthusiasm goes a long way when backed up with quality food and coffee.

Sloane Ranger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bills – Surry Hills – Saturday 1 April 2017 – Breakfast

A big change is needed for tourists enjoying holidays in the Sydney CBD. There are very few worthwhile breakfast options in the city that have great coffee and diverse food choices. Not loving the thought of eating at a hotel buffet, we had no choice but to go out to the inner suburbs.

It is surprising, but there are not a huge amount of must try cafes near the city, and several good options are shut on the weekend. In the end we took the easy option and chose to meet friends at Bills in Surry Hills.

Bills is an institution. It has all the ingredients that you need for a successful café. Fame, quality food, decent coffee, good waitstaff, and a nice good looking fitout. It is a script that Bill Granger has used around Sydney and as far as London. I can tell you right now that you could not do exactly the same in Melbourne and expect as much success.

We were here for a good time but not a long time, which factored in the obligatory 20 minute wait. Ordering quickly, most of us had scrambled eggs and bacon, which was good quality. Catherine changed up to avocado toast, and again it was a nicely executed classic. The orange juice was fresh and sweet, and the coffee was nice enough, albeit plain.

There are little things here that you need to deal with though. For a start, our friend Simon (a chef himself) couldn’t believe there was no option for eggs on toast other than scrambled. Putting two and two together it would appear that the chefs don’t want to do poached, or the kitchen is too small to do regularly, or a bit of both. There are poached eggs offered as part of some dishes, and fried too, but not simply with toast and a side or two.

I came here knowing these things, and still decided to come. The reason is simple. There are not a lot of good options on the way to Randwick and I know you can depend on Bills. There is a good chance I’ll be back again next time, or the time after.

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

Eating In The Same Place Twice

The famous Tipomisu at Tipo 00

I have slowed down the number of reviews I am writing and there’s a combination of factors.

The main one is I’ve been going back to a lot of restaurants for the second time (or more) since I started writing back in 2014. Sometimes I feel compelled to write another review, or add to my previous one, but often the experience is similar and there is no need to.

It is an excellent sign if I step into a restaurant multiple times. I do my best to only go back if I’ve been particularly impressed, and the overwhelming impression on me is quality food. If I walk back in the door it is not predominantly for any other reason, putting aside places I feel need a second try, or that I had a limited experience at. For ease of reference, the restaurants named below either link to my review, or the restaurant webpage.

Pancakes at Lolo and Wren are out of this world!

Breakfast is more accessible but it is worth listing off a few of my favourites, where repeat visits mean half a dozen or more times, not just two or three. Pope Joan (Brunswick) is consistently impressive with the added feature of a great casual outdoor space, and a menu that is at home with coffee, or your chosen alcoholic beverage. Top Paddock is a local I’m proud of, dominating in the flavour stakes; dishes are as terrific as they look, and the coffee is exceptional. Out in Brunswick West, Lolo and Wren is a destination in itself with pancakes that are not to be messed with. Further afield The General Food Store in Emerald is always worth the drive. In the city, The Grain Store, is a bit of razzle dazzle with a decidedly American brunch feel.

Arabesque has been on the menu at The General Foodstore in Emerald for a long time, and for good reason

When it comes to lunch and dinner I’ll combine unless specifically mentioned. There is no good way to do this than travel through my mind along city streets, and through the inner and outer suburbs as best I can.

600g Ribeye Steak at Cumulus Up was the kind of special we love

It wouldn’t surprise anyone that when I first think of going into the city I start with Flinders Lane. Like most restaurant lists in Melbourne you can’t get away from Andrew McConnell (and why would you want to?) I’ve been to both Supernormal for modern Asian, and Cumulus Inc (and Up) and I’ve always left wanting to come back. Around the corner Lucy Liu is on a par with Supernormal, and back down Flinders to the corner of Exhibition Street you have Gazi and its delicious souvas.

Fantastic “duck bao” at Supernormal – twice cooked duck, vinegar & plum sauce

Wandering North between Exhibition and Spring is a food paradise with Bar Lourinha serving up consistently spectacular tapas, San Telmo celebrating Argentinian barbecue like no other in Melbourne, Gingerboy doing justice to expensive Asian hawker food, and Longrain serving up Thai excellence. City Wine Shop has a knack with simple wine friendly dishes full of flavour, and upstairs The Supper Club does my favourite Croque Monsieur in the world (sorry France), plus every late night drink you could hope for.

The Croque Monsieur at Supper Club is the pre-bedtime hangover cure

While there are great Italian restaurants all over Melbourne, with honourable mentions to Guy Grossi’s establishments (including The Merchant), Becco, Rosa’s, and a host of others, I keep going back to Tipo 00 and I am addicted. They have nailed what I love. A few doors down you have Brother Buba Budan if you need some caffeine before or after during the day. Not far up the hill on Little Bourke you have my latest and greatest wine bar find, Kirks. The food here is wine friendly and it feels a bit like being back in Paris.

Huxtaburger hits all the right buttons for my taste in burgers

It might be on the cheaper side, but Huxtaburger and Gami are quality faster food options. With places like Belle’s, Meatball, Jimmy Grants, Fonda and Grill’d all over the place, including down the road from home, I don’t often go into the city for faster food though.

Fried custard at Supermaxi is just as epic as the Maxi pizza, and other terrific offerings

Back on Italian and our favourite suburban haunt is Supermaxi, which has been the venue for celebrations, pop-ins on the bar, take away pizza, and semi-romantic dinners! It is brilliant. Still in the North and D.O.C. Carlton is consistently my favourite pizza in Melbourne.

An Easter Egg from Burch and Purchase is both delicious to look at, and eat!

If you want a bakery I can’t stop going to Tivoli Road for its versatility. Great, actually better than great, sourdough; pies and sausage rolls that are a proper feast; treats that have addictive qualities. Not far away Burch and Purchase is serious business on desserts and chocolate. At Easter you can get some hot cross buns from Tivoli and Easter eggs at B&P and you are a hero. For more classical cakes, my favourite is easily Beatrix, which has a selection that could literally kill you with pleasure!

Tulips DIY at Attica is on the border of too much, but it works

It is harder with the fanciest and most expensive places. If you stretch out the time that bit longer I can recommend (based on return visits) Attica, Ezard, Flower Drum and Cutler & Co (also check out Marion next door, which is great in itself). Closer to home in Richmond I’ve been to Mister Jennings and Noir more than once in more recent times.

Any chicken dish at Cutler is special – this roast chicken is accompanied by house ground polenta, baby corn & miso

There is only one way to keep up with the enormous number of restaurants in Melbourne and it is to limit your return visits. But if you want a quick list of where you are likely to hit a home-run this above should clear the fence, and probably the stadium!

Fitzrovia – St Kilda – Monday 26 December 2016 – Lunch

img_6405We are fickle. It is like going out to bat in cricket. You make a long walk out to the middle; get your bearings by taking centre; and if you don’t perform you make that long walk back to the pavilion, sometimes never to return to the middle. It might be a stretch but that is a metaphor for a café’s first performance.

There are a range of customers that allow café owners to make a profit. The base, or annuity if you like, is the regulars. The cream is the others. Those who come once but recommend to others (who themselves will hopefully visit more than once), and those who are patrons, but just less regular.

The regulars are easier. If the café walks out to the middle, bats a bit too far out of their crease, and makes a wild shot only to be caught out, they’ll still get selected to return and give it another crack. Some of the less regular patrons might even do the same. But what about when there is an off day, or an off section of the café, and a potential multiple visitor comes in?

We visited Fitzrovia for the first time on Boxing Day. It took us some time standing at the entrance to be greeted by the ticket seller. When we eventually sat in the stand we noticed others had better views of the wicket. Fitzrovia went out to bat and seemed to defend its wicket in a reasonable manner.

It was like we were watching a different game though. The flashiness we’d heard of in the reviews was missing. There were no wild shots being made, but eventually the tired forward defensive shot led to an edge, and Fitzrovia was caught in the slips, making a walk back to the pavilion that was no more memorable than any of the other batsmen I’ve seen in the tail. The performance left a lot to be desired and it’s unlikely they’ll be chosen to bat again. Maybe they can carry the drinks?

This might seem harsh. The toastie was great; a generous serving with cheese oozing out like you love, and plenty of meat. The thing is there are hundreds of great cafes that can serve the same quality of food. The coffee was good, without any frills or any flavour note that piqued my interest. The point is that there are too many cafes in Melbourne that are killing it, to go back to one that should not be open on Boxing Day.

The holiday period is important. There are less options meaning there is more of a need to experiment with new places, or travel for the privilege of a decent meal. That means there are more first timers coming through the doors. In other words, if you are going to stay open, performance potentially matters more over the Christmas holiday period than any other time during the year.

Contrast that with staff who would probably rather be doing anything other than working, on the day after Christmas (which can be a very tiring day). The question is whether I should be apologising for going for a post-beach feed on Boxing Day? I have decided I don’t. It is incumbent on the café to provide as close to the same performance each time a customer steps in.

Today we waited for a long time to be seated which is fine normally, but several staff saw us and didn’t approach or even gesture. We actually thought it must be full and we would have to wait for the manager to put our names down but it wasn’t. There were several tables upstairs completely empty. Then we were seated by the one person who seemed to care, but it was not her section so no menus came until we asked for them. In fact, it felt like the section was not part of any of the floorstaff’s portfolio, so it was again up to the one staff member to come and take our food order. We left to pay before the plates had been cleared.

Looking at the reviews (that attracted us to going to Fitzrovia in the first place) this is not the usual experience. Unfortunately it was ours and there is unlikely to be a reason to go back again. Fitzrovia has been retired from our Starting XI after one uncharacteristic performance.

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

Mr Hendricks – Balwyn – Wednesday 12 October 2016 – Lunch

Charcoal Australian king prawn roll with cos, celery, apple and mayo

Charcoal Australian king prawn roll with baby cos, celery, apple and mayo

Painting a picture of the economy is something business journalists have to do regularly. As much as they might try to make these narratives relevant to the populace, generally it is something that the majority skip past when reading the paper. So, saying the number of smashed avos going around is one of the reasons first home buyers can’t afford their deposit, was always going to be more interesting than fundamental economics.

Obviously, the two have almost nothing to do with each other. Though when you venture out to the suburbs for lunch on a Wednesday, you don’t necessarily expect a full cafe that is turning over tables multiple times. Sure, Mr Hendricks has a great reputation, and while this is a sign of an affluent economy, I’m not going to draw the long bow that this means housing deposits are being overlooked for another smashed avo.

Guatemalan single origin long black

Guatemalan single origin long black

If you were to be neglecting your housing deposit for breakfast or lunch, I wouldn’t blame you for starting here, with an enticing menu, and a couple of single origins on hand. On the latter, I tried both single origins and they are expertly crafted, with distinctive flavour, sourced from Guatemala and Panama by Padre Coffee. Catherine had Greene St Juice Company’s “The Hamptons”, which is the first we’ve seen of this brand, but it is certainly worth sampling.

For lunch, I instantly was intrigued by the charcoal prawn roll and had no trouble in narrowing down my order, until I realised there are many other great options. The charcoal bun is more a gimmick to me than about adding flavour, but it does look cool. The prawns on the other hand, plump, juicy and fresh, on a cos leaf, plus some soft shell fried prawns on top, are abundant and delicious. The cubed celery, and apple, works well with a nice mayo bringing it all together. The fried prawns in their shell did add texture, but I must admit that a couple of them gave me a sting in the mouth!

Fried buttermilk chicken brioche roll with Asian slaw

Fried buttermilk chicken brioche roll with Asian slaw

Catherine ordered the fried buttermilk chicken brioche roll and I was close to having some menu envy. It was delicious, as fried chicken generally is, and the accompanying Asian slaw added to the flavour, with shredded cucumber, and slightly hot kewpie mayo finishing off the combination, all housed in a fluffy brioche bun. I enjoyed my multiple tastes.

We drove out to Mr Hendricks on a pretty depressing rainy day. Once we were inside, there was an instant warmth in the food, coffee and service, making it abundantly clear why this cafe has such a good wrap. It is completely worth the drive out to Balwyn if you are not a local.

Mr Hendricks Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheerio – Richmond – Saturday 8 October 2016 – Breakfast

Sticky ham hock, fresh Asian herbs, chilli, black vinegar, tamarind hollandaise, and poached eggs on toasted sourdough

Sticky ham hock, fresh Asian herbs, chilli, black vinegar, tamarind hollandaise, and poached eggs on toasted sourdough

There are several places that have been on the extended list for as long as I can remember, but for one reason or another, fate has not aligned to allow a visit. In the case of this cafe, Catherine and I have attempted to eat there more than once, and it has always been closed when we’ve decided to try!

It’s funny sometimes when these visits don’t line up, and all of a sudden you have not tried a place years later, that is walking distance away. Cheerio is one such place. For this reason I’ve noticed consistently good reviews and high scores on formats like Zomato over that long period.

One reason cheerio is always full is that it’s tiny. So we were pleased to find a spot on the communal table for two on this particular morning.

Buttermilk coconut pancakes with mango, lemongrass ganache, kaffir lime cream, and toasted coconut

Buttermilk coconut pancakes with mango, lemongrass ganache, kaffir lime cream, and toasted coconut

The menu is quite diverse with the dishes you would expect, but often with twist; some Asian influences especially noticeable. The dish I chose, is one that is infiltrating many cafe menus, and I find this to be an excellent thing. Traditional eggs Benedict with ham, is being taken over by indulgent pork hock as the dominant staring ingredient. Cheerio’s Asian influenced version is excellent, with Asian herbs, chilli and black vinegar, not to mention a tamarind slant to the hollandaise and perfectly poached eggs. We noticed around the cafe that it was popular choice for good reason.

Catherine was fairly envious of my dish, because she was not enjoying the texture you would ordinarily expect from pancakes. The reason was the strips of mango had their skin left on, and were dispersed through the pancake stack, making it unpleasant to eat. Having had a taste, the pancakes were nice, but trying the mango with its skin made each mouthful difficult to eat. She couldn’t finish, but we did notice several others around us did, meaning it could just be an acquired taste. However, it is not unreasonable to think the description on the menu would warn you about eating the skin of a fruit that is not traditionally eaten. While my research tells me it is generally healthy to do so, I couldn’t find anywhere that says it adds flavour through its leathery outer layer.

Coffee by Five Senses is well made, and service (besides not conceding that the mango skin should be identified on the menu) is good. It is a healthy business with an excellent following, and definitely worth a try. Hold the pancakes.

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