Bawa – Hawthorn – Numerous Occasions – Lunch

I love free parking. Being used to paying for parking is something that has taken a long time to come to grips with. Luckily these days the car parking apps make it feel like you are not actually paying, and at least you don’t need to stress about constantly having change. I mean my wallet doesn’t even have a pocket for change in the first place!

The free parking at Bunnings is not the only reason I go to Bawa Cafe a fair bit. It helps, but the high standard of food and coffee, and easy nature of the service, are the main reasons.

Most times I go to Bawa with work friends, the superfood salad being a huge hit, through to the counter sandwiches and everything in between. B2 even used to enthusiastically tuck in to some of the larger breakfast dishes on offer. On one of the more recent occasions I ordered the Vietnamese chicken salad and it is one of the tastier, fresh and lively lunch dishes I’ve ordered lately on a work break.

Vietnamese chicken salad, pickled carrot, wombok, glass noodles, nam jim, fried tofu, herbs, roast peanuts

Today is the first time Catherine has come along and I have decided to indulge in the soft tacos with pork belly. As you can imagine, the combination makes for an uppercut punch of rich flavours that are mildly softened by the slaw and avocado. This is yet another dish I “would go back for” but it is a special and I always seem to order new things here.

Soft tacos, twice cooked pork belly, slaw, green chili salsa, fried eggs, avocado

Catherine tries another of the specials. This one is the marinated heirloom tomatoes with a host of accompaniments. The poached eggs play their part by oozing yolk to provide an additional sauce; jamon and mozzarella figure prominently, and ricotta and basil finish it off. The natural question is why haven’t we been here together earlier?

Marinated heirloom tomatoes, whipped ricotta, basil, mozzarella, toast, crispy jamon, poached egg

Bawa punches above its weight given the location backing on to Bunnings on a nondescript part of Burwood Road. What is assured is that these days a trip there doesn’t need to feature a detour through Bunnings, and the sausage sizzle out front is a far poorer cousin!

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


Three Bags Full – Abbotsford – Sunday 29 July 2017 – Breakfast

Three Bags Benedict – Poached eggs on a truffled rosti with green hollandaise, apple cider ham hock and herbs

When I reflect on some of the cafes that have opened early on during my time in Melbourne, and realise they’ll be breaking ten years soon, it is a little scary. I associate Three Bags Full with the same vintage as Proud Mary. While I have kept on going back to Three Bags Full, it remains what I would say is an underrated cafe in comparison.

This is not to say the owners are struggling with this business. Many years ago it expanded to the premises immediately next door, and it has continued to be full ever since. Besides that, I haven’t notice a huge amount of change. With a great menu, a fashionable vibe, excellent coffee, and knowing staff, why should it?

Today the same ingredients that made TBF successful over many years are still going strong. My Benedict with ham hock and green hollandaise over perfectly poached eggs is terrific. This dish is now quite a modern Melbourne breakfast classic, and this particular one is nicely done.

Sweet potato and carrot fritters – two poached eggs, whipped goats curd, shaved pickled fennel and pomegranate salad, almond dukkah and herb oil

Catherine’s sweet potato and carrot fritters with goats curd, and a fennel and pomegranate salad, are great too. The almond dukkah is not overpowering but adds distinct flavour. The fritters were expertly cooked to the right consistency, and the freshness of the salad added the right amount of zing.

TBF is always busy, so as much as we’d prefer the main room of the cafe, we always accept the likelihood we will be in the second room. It is still nicely fitted out, and there is something satisfying about being in a pre-Scandinavian movement cafe, complete with warehouse surrounds in Abbotsford.

The only reason we are not here more often is the depth of new, and closer, cafes in our area. But there’s little doubt we will keep coming back from time to time to enjoy the familiarly great offerings here.

Three Bags Full Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope – Mornington Peninsula – Thursday 7 September 2017 – Dinner and Breakfast

Infinity over the vines

So much beauty is hard to take in over a 20 hour period – we do our best.

Jackalope boutique hotel and its restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, opened on the first of April this year, and is the most beautiful art inspired hotel I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. There is no pomp and ceremony here, but the fine detail, and incredible wonder of design is breathtaking.

Behold the Jackalope!

There is a country vibe but not in a “laid back” fashion, with professionalism not watering down the hospitality. Being boutique is not just down to size. The front of house have time to see you to your room and show you around, and you feel comfortable to have a chat as you do the obligatory walk around for photos of the Jackalope itself (a mythical creature), the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, and the design elements that see a merging of functionality and art.

Besides the beautiful rooms, some complete with Japanese bath, all with a free mini-bar and sublime furnishings, there is a restaurant that is becoming increasingly renowned, despite its name. Doot Doot Doot is the flagship restaurant. By night, Doot Doot Doot is an edgy fine dining restaurant, and by day it operates as the anything-but-ordinary breakfast venue.


If this hotel isn’t luxurious enough, the distinct advantage of staying here is the short stroll to dinner, via a cocktail hour drink at Flaggerdoot. The bar for Jackalope is extraordinary with its artistic vice, combined with several comfortable spaces, and a bar surrounded by huge vessels filled with paraffin wax. Somehow the obscenity of the fitout comes together seamlessly.

The fascinating light installation

Back to the restaurant. We are seated in the middle, with Catherine on the banquette, which forms a divider in the room. Above us are hundreds of amber coloured light fittings that brighten and fade in a slow rhythmic pattern. Across in the back corner is the envy of the restaurant with a table for two that has gigantic lounge style chairs with high backs stretching almost to the roof. We missed out at breakfast the next morning too, but never mind.

Pea, broadbean, goats curd, capers

There was something about the hospitality here too. It was almost as if the sommelier had been chosen to provide an actor (with great wine knowledge) that could work with the eclectic feel of the room. We had some great conversation in a way that only a long dining experience can allow. There is that country hospitality, and it only needs a slight sharpening to be perfect.

Quail eggs

Bread made with cumin, fennel and linseed was a sign that the food was going to be good. After the amuse (a cracker with quail egg), the first course added to the intrigue. A deliciously fresh beginning of peas and broadens with goat’s curd, capers and a lemony dressing. After one beautifully presented dish, the scallops looking amazing was not a surprise. Thinly sliced into three pieces of sashimi, this scallop is served with ginger and finger lime, completed with a fabulous sauce.

Scallop, ginger, finger lime

Then came one of the highlights of the night. A generous serving of spanner crab sitting in a potato puree. Bottarga adds to the depth of flavour, with furikake used as a seasoning to further enhance the dish. We were enjoying the 2015 Robert Weil ‘Trocken’ Riesling which had been selected by the sommelier for the first few courses, but especially for this one. I would quite happily return to Doot Doot Doot just for this dish, and this wine.

Spanner crab, potato, bottarga, furikake

Not reaching the heights of the spanner crab, the beetroot soups were still an attractive and tasty dish. One side was yellow beetroot, infused with saffron, and the other was the more traditional kind. In the middle sat a hay infused cream. I think it may have acted as a cleanser between dishes, but was probably a touch too large.

Beetroot soups, hay cream, coffee, sunflower

Tuna quickly seared but over a high temperature hit our table next. It was served simply with some Japanese salt plums (Umeboshi), olives, and mushrooms. By this stage the skill of the kitchen was obvious, and the Japanese slant of the hotel intricately applied to the food.

Tuna, umeboshi, olive

As we finished our 2013 Willow Creek Chardonnay, which also showed the winery next door is no slouch. The tide turned with a dish of sweetbreads, shiitake mushrooms, clams and walnuts in a crumb. Matched with the 2005 Cabernets by Yarra Yarra (wonderful) this expression of offal is a dish to behold. That earthiness, savouriness, gaminess, and downright rusticity, cannot be beautifully presented, but that doesn’t detract from this being one of the dishes of the night. Yes there is more than a hint of Asian there, but it takes me straight to the backstreets of Rome, dining at Checchino dal 1887. Stunning.

Sweetbreads, clams, shiitake, walnut

Thankfully for Catherine we were back in more well-trodden territory next, finishing our savoury courses with flank steak, cooked medium rare, with a spectacular pumpkin puree, and onion rings. As you would expect, a cut like flank steak that is done well, exhibits so much flavour, and this one hits the mark. We wash down the remainder of the red wine, turning our thoughts to dessert.

Beef, black sesame, onion, pumpkin

With a figurative bang, out comes the toasted marshmallow with rhubarb and blood orange sorbet. It is a little dismissive to call this a refresher, when it is as good as most desserts going around. The toasted marshmallow coats your tongue and you are taken back to other times in the country around a camp fire.

The main dessert is comforting, but in a fine dining way. The malt ice cream again bringing back flavour memories of childhood, with a very grown up honey sponge, and meringue scattered through. A satisfying way to finish.

Malt, burnt honey, dark ale

The whole meal had been engaging and entertaining. With terrifically executed dishes, excellent wine service, and art filling the restaurant, it is a fascinating take on modern dining. With our senses fulfilled we strolled back to our room, ready to do it all again tomorrow morning for breakfast.

As breakfast goes, the biggest surprise here is picking up the menu to find a treasure trove of stylish offerings. There is nothing of the hotel classics (using the word classics quite loosely). It is actually akin to the fine dining take on breakfast that is so beautifully done by cafes in Melbourne like Top Paddock and Higher Ground.

Five spice and pistachio waffle – berry compote, vanilla cream, Oreo crumb

I think I was being a good sport leaving Catherine to order the five spice and pistachio waffle, but at least I got a few tastes. Complete with berry compote, vanilla cream, and Oreo crumbs, the waffle is quite spectacular to see, and to taste.

Spanner crab omelette – served with shiitake relish, chicken dashi

No less fancily presented, my spanner crab omelette is served with shiitake relish and chicken dashi (but curiously no toast). The omelette is perfectly constructed, and the spanner crab is gorgeously generous, making for a highly indulgent breakfast. Funnily enough this dish would not be out of place on the dinner tasting menu such is its quality.

It is wonderful that a hotel can do this menu at breakfast. It is not an out-of-this-world concept, but it is so rarely done that it is extraordinary. As we wander around the grounds of the hotel, walking off the omelette and waffles, it reveals that there is nothing ordinary about any of this experience. Simply stunning!

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


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!