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

Advertisements

Union House – Richmond – Wednesday 16 August 2017 – Dinner and Lunch at the Bar

Veal Schnitzel

New places often spring up without an obvious explanation. I am often fascinated by the amount of due diligence owners conduct before opening a new cafe, restaurant, bar or other casual eatery. There are some inexplicable openings. Naturally they lead to closing in quick time.

For example there is a burger joint that opened on Swan Street that took longer to renovate, than the time it was actually trading for. Whether the reviews were accurate or not, it was empty every time I walked by. They opened across the road from a flashy, large branch of Grill’d, that was popular and cheap. To open across the road you need to be confident your product is better, and resilient enough to see it through.

Further down Swan Street, in the old Union Dining, a new bar has sprung up. I see eye to eye with whoever opened the now named, Union House. Only months before, Catherine mentioned how the food at most pubs in Richmond is too similar on the menu, and not differentiated enough in terms of quality. It seems to me that Union House identified this gap and acted on it.

Add a clean lined, spacious renovation, both upstairs, downstairs, and in the terrace, and you have the ingredients for a lengthy member of Richmond’s dining scene. There are the obligatory selection of beers on tap, and a balanced focus on eating and/or drinking.

Chicken and leek pot pie

Union House differentiates itself on food though. While I’ve eaten from the bar menu twice downstairs, the broader offering (as well as the bar menu) is available both upstairs and downstairs. It is not a “gastropub”. It is more a few focussed pub classics at a price reasonable enough to eat here multiple times over the space of a month or less.

I’ve tried the veal schnitzel and the “pub steak” and they are both simple meals that are well executed. Catherine has tried the chicken and leek pot pie, which comes out looking a bit bereft of greenery, but is again tasty and well made. In fact, don’t expect any greens or leaves with the pub steak either (not that I took any issue as it came with a good mash, and nice pepper sauce). A little bit more resting could have aided presentation, but it didn’t impact the taste.

Pub steak

At lunch, my work colleagues enjoyed the rockling burger, though Natalie thought the colour palate used during the renovation was unattractive. Lastly, Julie was a touch concerned with the chicken in her burger, still enjoying it as a whole, with the jury out on whether it was actually very slightly under-cooked. Horses for courses I think in this case, but something to be weary of nonetheless.

With counter service downstairs, it is certainly more your typical bar. On the couple of occasions I’ve eaten here I have found the staff to be fine, one of the managers taking time to offer Catherine and I a quick tour upstairs, such was the enthusiasm in the opening week.

While a bit further down Swan Street, Union House is a great option for more discerning diners off to the MCG or AAMI Stadium, though it will naturally stay quieter than places like the Corner Hotel, The London, Richmond Club and the Precinct on game days. The real test will be if locals come in regularly, and I think they will. Both the food and the price point are compelling.

Union House 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

Demitri’s Feast – Richmond – Saturday 29 April 2017 – Dinner

Feta, honey and figs
Salmon, fennel and celeriac

Transformations don’t always work. There was a famous one in Sydney very recently where Rockpool turned into Eleven Bridge and closed in the same breath. Having been a customer here at Demitri’s Feast for a number of years, I know why this significant transformation will work.

There is more than a couple of reasons, but the two most significant are custom, and experience. Demitri himself has many terrifically loyal customers and I find it impossible to know whether they were friends through the old cafe, or independently. After 20 years of operating cafes, he decided a change was needed and turned Demitri’s Feast from a daytime cafe, to a late morning to late night mezze bar. Ask anyone in hospitality and deciding to go back to working nights is not a decision taken lightly.

Greek salad

The cafe naturally had to be fully renovated to be true to the new formula. The Richmond premiership posters are gone, along with the classic cafe counter, and bright tones. Now there is a tasteful bar, featuring tanned wood. There is more seating inside, using stools to make best use of the smaller space. Outside has been updated too, but keeps the same feel, though I have chosen to sit inside both times I’ve dined here.

Calamari

Over those couple of times, both alone, and with Catherine too, every dish I’ve tried has been good. There are selections of both smaller and larger share plates. Of the smaller plates, the broadbean keftedes stand out as both delicious and surprising. Demitri himself recommended them and he was right. They are full of flavour, the broadbeans obviously enhanced with a variety of spices. A combination of feta, honey and figs, is generous. Initially it looks like a lot of feta, but we seemed to keep coming back for more. More intricate is the salmon, fennel and celeriac offering, which pays attention to the subtlety of the salmon, enhancing it with a scattering of fennel.

Chicken skewers

On our way to the more substantial offerings, there is a Greek salad that is exactly the way it should be. Tradition dictating its make up, and it is particularly pleasing to see no lettuce being used as a filler. The calamari is a good size, plenty of golden, briefly fried pieces. The chicken skewers are given a good dose of spice, and are cooked beautifully over a flame. They are a highlight from the larger plates. So are the lamb cutlets, which find the right level of cooking, and again are oozing in flavour.

Lamb cutlets

Demitri’s is offering a collection of simply cooked meats, done well, and a bunch of smaller dishes that show a bit more subtlety and technique. This formula works, and this mezze bar is not looking to change it. There is a well constructed, reasonably diverse list of wine and beer, including a lager that Demitri’s brews themselves. There is no particular zone for each of the floorstaff so you see them all a number of times. Coordination is not so important as the dishes arrive in a dispersed fashion and you are never long without a drink.

Greek salad

The only pain point, and I use this literally, is for people who are not tall using the stools. There might need to be a rethink on them as shorter types like Catherine and I were in a bit of discomfort after the first 45 minutes. It is an easy fix by dining outside, but I do like the atmosphere of being near the bar.

Broadbean keftedes

It is normally a risk to change up a good formula, and let go of the amazing margins on coffee. In this case I am sure it will be a success. Demitri’s Feast is offering a great range of mezze and drinks, with a warmth of hospitality. It is a place where you can go regularly without breaking your budget too.

Demitri's Feast Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Noi Thai – Richmond – Saturday 15 October 2016 – Dinner

Massaman beef

Massaman beef

It is rare that the phone conversation when booking makes such a difference to your meal as a whole. Tonight, Catherine and I, were tossing up several options including hopping on the train to the city.

We ended up at Noi Thai, pleased to have an early dinner booking at late notice, and rapt with the BYO wine option that was explained to us on the phone. The care shown in that conversation translates into the friendly and adept service throughout the evening.

Noi Thai had been suggested to us by other locals several times. It has been around for many years and continues to have excellent support and patronage. The menu is definitely more traditional Thai, rather than the now popular (and expensive) modern slant.

Aunty Moo's chive dumplings

Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings

With the meat samosas off the menu tonight, we decided to try Aunty Moo’s chive dumplings. The dumplings are an interesting take, with the usual gelatinous texture, but also lightly crumbed and briefly shallow fried. They are nice but next time I would order differently.

We really feel like curry tonight and we don’t hesitate to order both the beef massaman curry and roast duck curry. The beef massaman has large chunks of beef, which easily shred with tenderness, though the middle is a touch dry due to the size. The sauce is gorgeous and this curry is Catherine’s favourite for the evening.

Roast duck curry

Roast duck curry

Whilst fairly hot, the roast duck curry is definitely my favourite for the night. The duck is beautifully cooked and generously served, with delicious spices. There are a couple of surprise lychee and pineapple pieces that are not described on the menu (and probably not needed), but the dish is superb and a speciality of the house for good reason.

The BYO option makes an already affordable restaurant a cheap night out. There is no doubt why Noi Thai is a favourite amongst locals and the only disappointment I have is all the years I’ve overlooked it.

Noi Thai 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

Jethro Canteen – Richmond – Friday 7 October 2016 – Lunch

Chilli dog

Chilli dog

There are tens of apartment blocks going up in Richmond at any one time; all the time. That is not necessarily a good thing. On the flipside, the almost comparable number of cafes with good looks, sharp service, and great food, is a far more attractive element.

Given a moment to think, one could very quickly reel off half a dozen new cafes that have begun life in Richmond in the past year. Jethro Canteen, on Burnley Street, at the back East end of this great suburb, is the latest to be born.

There are some nice differences in the fitout that set it apart from many others in recent times, but it is still the clean minimalist look associated with this era in design. I particularly like the flourishes of green, and the exposed brick, in this wide rectangular double fronted old shop. Naturally with the length, the windows allow a lot of light through to fill the cafe with brightness.

As you would expect, on this first Friday of operation the cafe is full at lunch. We wait for a larger table of blokes to leave and our turn comes not long after arriving. If the wait time is too long, there is always Friends Of Mine a few minutes around the corner, or even better, Penny House just down the street.
img_6154
Instantly there appears to be a go-to dish in the form of the Jethro chilli dog. In fact, all three of the gentleman on our table instantly order it. I have a lower heat tolerance than Graeme and Ralph, so I use less of the jalapenos provided, but there is hot mustard on top of the brioche bun, and flecks of chilli in the frankfurter sausage, that gives the right amount of zing. It’s good, and I would go back for it again, but I would equally go for the fried chicken in charcoal brioche!

The coffee is good too. And I’ve been back twice to make sure! Each time there have been a surprising amount of staff, which is a great thing if it keeps up, because the crowds are already hitting up the cafe all times of day.

All I can say is keep the great new cafes coming, but please halt the number of new apartment blocks!

Jethro Canteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato