Monday, May 29, 2006

From Melbourne to London: 6 weeks to go

I have renewed my passport and have purchased a one-way ticket. First stop London for some work experience at Waitrose Food Illustrated before heading off to Scotland in search of grouse and raspberries. Between now and then, I'll be posting some of my recent writing for de Groot Media as well as foodie things that make Melbourne, so Melbourne.

Breakfast in Melbourne

Favourite breakfast haunts in Melbourne. All copy is taken from my reviews for de Groot Media (Best Restaurants, CitySearch and the LifeStyle FOOD websites.)

green grocer (217 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy)

It’s the mecca of everything organic. Food store and cafe to devotees of all things fresh and wholesome, the green grocer does organic like nobody else. Seasonal vegetables and fruit – fresh and ripe, the way they should be - line the shelves, artisan breads arrive daily in every shape and size. There are organic meats, cheeses and ice-creams as well as wines and beers. Take-home meals are sold under the name, Slow food fast. Just as we like it! Enrol in the cooking school and be taught by Tanya Connellan (chef), the exotic dishes of a North African banquet or the secret of transforming lentils into elegant pulses.

Babka (358 Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy)

It’s not simply the bread that people queue for; it’s the warmth and comfort of a good breakfast. For thirteen years, Babka has been delighting us with its dumplings, borscht and blintzes and eastern European traditions. Eating at this Brunswick Street institution is like being given a collection of memories and recipes. It’s about journeys travelled and stories shared like the Russian women who bake their Easter bread in this bakery once a year. It’s this feeling of belonging, of traditions cherished and remembered, that explains Babka’s popularity.

The all day breakfast menu is good but be adventurous and try what this bakery/ cafe is famous for. The Russian blintzes filled with cottage cheese and served with a citrus sauce made for a sweet good morning. With the texture of a light pancake, folded and spiced with cinnamon and lemon, they are light but also sweet. The wild pine mushrooms, grilled kransky with green tomato sauce or Maroussias’s vareniki, handmade dumplings filled with potatoes and mushrooms are perfect for brunch. Order Beryl’s fizz (champagne infused with vodka berries) or one of the Kousmichoff of Paris teas - Smoky Samovar or Russian Morning Tea. Be sure to buy some shoo-fly buns on your way in, as they quickly sell out.

Ray (332 Victoria Street, Brunswick)

One of the original hole-in-the-wall cafes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ray was a local celebrity in Brunswick, so popular is this cafe. In this renovated shop, the atmosphere is buzzy: a futurist mix of funky music, industrial and word sounds. It’s a local hangout for the thirty-somethings, who brought in Brunswick because it was cheaper and edgier than nearby Carlton, and local students reading Noam Chomsky.

Arrive early to get a seat at the communal table – perfect for reading the paper, or go street-side on the outside crates. The menu reads like a shopping list of Middle Eastern ingredients from nearby Sydney Road. For breakfast, order the Arabian style bircher muesli with pistachio, poached fruit and honey or try the Turkish jams with toast. The poached fresh-range eggs with Lebanese sausage arrive bubbling and fragrant in an earthenware dish, topped with fresh coriander and served with Turkish bread. Lunch is toasted pides. Order the chorizo with sweet potato mash and dried tomato paste or the sardines, olive paste, tomato and parmesan pide. The lamb kofta balls with hummus and honey lemon yogurt makes a good non-bread alternative. On a weekend, it gets busy, but chill out like everyone else does. The kitchen closes at 4.00 pm.

Ici (359 Napier Street, Fitzroy)

Ici has to be one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. Hidden away in the back streets of Fitzroy, this converted milk bar is a place you either stumble upon or hear about from a friend of a friend. During the daytime, the narrow dining room is sun-drenched and perfect for reading; come dusk, the dark recycled wood interior glows under romantic amber lighting. Perhaps it’s the laidback atmosphere, the French bistro feel, or even the lucky 8 on the bar that makes this tiny cafe with its excellent menu such a local favourite.

Ici is open seven days. Start the day with French toast with chai mascarpone and vanilla soaked apples, or the organic rice porridge with everything wholesome. If you need a more hearty breakfast, order the eggs with buffalo sausages or vegetarian baked beans. For the late riser, brunch starts at midday. Order the cauliflower and coriander pancakes with horseradish cream, rocket and harissa. There are plenty of herbal teas and the coffee is always good. Dishes are seasonal and include non-diary and wheat-free. On weekends, it can get busy. Order a coffee and wait outside. By the time you’ve finished, your table will be ready.

Le Chien Cafe, 5 Gamon Street, Seddon 3011

Le Chien is one of those cafes that you keep on hearing about. Maybe it’s the arty laid-back feel, the good and somewhat quirky menu, or even the mural of Une femme, Un Chien, that makes this cafe so popular. “Fork in one hand and a glass of wine in the other” is how Andy Smith and Iain Munro (co-owners) describe the dog’s appeal.

Breakfast starts early at Le Chien. If you need a healthy wake-up call, reach for the Bircher muesli, otherwise order the eggs. The lunch menu includes some classic pides. Try the roasted pumpkin, goat cheese, basil pesto and rocket. But it is the specials menu that has Seddon locals talking. Order the Italian sausages with lentils and juniper berries or Andrew’s black pudding with mushrooms on toast. No prize for guessing the wee bit of English and Scottish heritage. More recently, Le Chien has opened for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Once the sun goes down, it’s a European-styled menu. Order the grilled polenta with a mushroom and tomato stew or enjoy a classic coq au vin, an intensive red-wine chicken dish finished with crisp parsnips. It’s no wonder Le Chien has a loyal following.