A pictorial guide for the adventurous:
So last year I passed a small milestone. I turned 30. Not one to generally pay attention to the whole passing of time thing, I figured I was mostly immune from any sort of anxiety or insecurity at having reached a new notch on the belt of life. I leave that kind of thing to women with ticking biological clocks and guys hoping to be millionaires by the time they’re 40 who’ve realised they have bugger all chance of that ever happening. So with neither a hormonal imbalance I’m aware of, nor a particular desire to achieve anything, I thought I was in the clear.
That was of course, until I awoke on the morning of my birthday, looked into the streaky mirror of my windowless room in Melbourne’s crappiest hotel and noticed a crease right between my eyes that I swear was not there the day before.
With the panic of my diminishing youthful beauty starting to kick in, I managed to remind myself that perhaps the lead up I’d had to that morning was not the most skin rejuvenating way to approach such a milestone. But then I figured if it was going to happen, it was going to happen in style. So after finishing the bag of salt and vinegar chips, that had seemed like such a good idea the night before, I dragged myself out of bed and lurched into my future…
As a way of making it possible for me to even contemplate writing this up, and to keep the casual reader entertained whilst reading what can only be described as one man’s quest to develop gout as quickly as possible, I’ll try and concisely recount the events of the week I spent in Melbourne for my birthday.
This is going to be a work in progress post, so I’ll go back and update details for each place I’ve mentioned when I get a chance, and when prompted by the hordes of Melbournites looking for details on each one :) For now i’ve just included the names of each restaurant / cafe I went to and the photos I took at the time.
So it goes a little something like this…
Fly in Monday 14th of September at some ridiculous hour. Head to Hotel Enterprize (yes, it’s spelled with a Z) on Spencer St, henceforth known as The Crappiest Hotel in Melbourne (TCHIM). Drop my bags into a windowless box of a room next to an air vent, and head out looking for coffee. Along with me were Ben and Jen, long time sufferers of my gourmet wankery and fellow birthday road trippers (BRT’s), as Jen’s birthday is around the same time.
So I had a relatively forgettable flat white at The Dancing Goat (looked nice, but pulled too long and had a funk to it), then met up with the Frenchies for extremely good value pizza at +39. I loved the menu and even the excessive number of business people didn’t dampen the bustling vibe. Everything looked and tasted great, particularly liked the calabrese and pumpkin varieties. Let just say $12 pizzas look a lot different where I come from.
Brother Baba Budan
Then it was over to Brother Baba Budan for coffee. If you haven’t heard of this place then I’m not sure where you’ve been. BBB was the second cafe opened by the godfather of the Melbourne speciality coffee scene, Mark Dundon. It’s tiny, ridiculously cramped, and consistently has a line out the door. I tried a Kenyan Wamugump through the Clover and recall it tasting delicate and fruity.
A little more wandering around and with a lingering thirst, I stopped by Caboose on Swanston St for a glass of wine, although apparently I was in entirely the wrong place and should totally have gone to La Vita Buona (according to That Jess Ho), which is way better. Regardless the petit chablis and rose du provence went down nicely and imbued my adventuring spirit. The fit out is done like an old timey train carriage, which more or less works. Though sitting outside and swatting a billion little flies away from my wine glass meant most of it was lost on me.
The Grace Darling
And so to my first meetup with some of the Melbourne Food blogging Mafia (Ed, Jess, Claire). I’d done some pre-arranging and Jess decided that The Grace Darling in Collingwood might be a decent spot to catch up with a few people for a casual drink and something to eat. With the Frenchies and BRT’s in tow we navigated the trams and made it there early. The Grace Darling apparently used to be quite a dive until it was done up recently, and I quite liked it for the most part. My pork chop with apple and fennel salad was tasty and stealing Ed’s chips from his deconstructed parmiagana was entertaining. Like poking a bear with a stick. After a bottle or two of the Wolseley Pinot Noir and a whole bunch of lame food talk, we did what any self respecting food bloggers should, and went for more drinks.
The Black Pearl
This would become a faithful friend during the short week I was in Melbourne, and the end point to a number of big nights. The bar tender Chris Hysted has a huge reputation in Melbourne, and the greater Fitzroy area as a cocktail master, as his recent awards would attest, though apparently noone elses agrees with me that he looks like Johnny Depp. Ed seems to favour a drink called the “fog cutter”, which to me tasted like pure alcohol poured into a tiki mug. Fortunately there were plenty of other things to my liking, and requests for virtually any drink were met with keen interest and a historical breakdown of all methodologies for making it.
The other great thing about the Black Pearl is that it’s open late virtually every night of the week. Meaning you get a bunch of hospitality crew hanging out there after work, and would explain why we ran into Teague Ezard (Not the last name I’ll drop) and some of his staff from Gingerboy there. Awesome place.
HuTong Dumpling Bar
It’s the next day now. We’ve woken a tad later than expected and it’s close to midday, and I have dumplings on my mind. There are two schools of thought on the internet as to where to go for dumplings. One is cheap and cheerful Camy, the other is better quality HuTong Dumpling Bar. So HuTong gets the vote and off we go, this time with a couple of extra people in tow who’s taste in “ethnic” food could be described as rudimentary (but should actually be called nonexistent). Arriving outside we find the place is full, and it’ll be a little wait to get in. I peer eagerly inside to the small windowed kitchen with chefs rolling thin dumpling skins and deftly twisting the tops to well formed peaks.
The meal however, does not impress. I’m not sure if it’s that fact that our dining companions ordered sweet and sour pork right off the bat (seriously, why is that even on the menu??) or that they just didn’t like my face (it’s happened before), but the service was rude beyond recognition. Food got dumped unceremoniously on the table, with long gaps in between each, and no explanation of when the next was coming.
The dumplings themselves were good, the soup inside rich and warming, but the skin on the xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings) tore nearly every time i picked one up, regardless of how delicate I was. I’d probably go back again If i were there and reassess because I love dumplings. But a place that looks as fancy as HuTong, with suited waiters and fancy cutlery, should not be giving back yard dodgy dim sum house service.
Gertrude St Enoteca & Bahn Mi on Smith St
Cutler & Co
St Ali Outpost
Rockpool Bar & Grill
Seamstress & Siglo
Mr Tulk & Dali Exhibition
High Vibes @ Northcote & Supper Inn
In a city where it’s all too easy to lose your faith in good service, who would have thought that a couple of lapsed Catholics would restore mine ? Such is the quality of character of the men behind the bar at The Stanley, Wembley’s best and brightest small bar.
The Stanley is the brainchild of Paul Fowler and his partner in crime Gerry Shields, Stanley being the namesake of the bar and the name Paul’s alter ego when he was a rowdy youngster out hitting the turps a little too hard at Uni. None of that in this establishment however. The Stanley is all about quiet sophisticated charm in relaxed surroundings.
The main room gives a doff of it’s cap towards a British era that I can never actually identify, but likely ends with “ian” (Victorian, Edwardian, Elizabethian… you get the drift), it features an eclectic collection of leather and suede bound furniture that all cry out to be lounged on… and would be the perfect place to smoke a cigar if such things were permitted. Of course they’re not, but you can do so in a little courtyard at the back with tardis like proportions that stretches down and around the building.
The front room features a long wooden bar and sturdy bar stools with a row of lights slung casually above, and quirky touches around the place point to Paul and Gerry’s sacrilegious sense of humour. The thing I like about The Stanley though, is that it’s not complicated. It isn’t staffed by a team of young hipsters mixing the latest trend in cocktails, and it doesn’t necessarily attract the in crowd. It’s a great suburban bar that everyone can feel welcome in without worrying about pomp or pretence.
The wine list is short but done very well. There’s some excellent choices to suit very discerning palates (Cherubino Riesling, Cape Goose GSM, Millbrook Viognier) and Paul has made an effort not to take the piss over bottle prices, with what I’d call some of the lowest markups around on full bottle prices.
There’s also a decent list of international beers and Becks on tap for the diehard pint lovers.
The other great thing about The Stanley is it’s symbiotic relationship with Flipside burgers next door. Order your burger and ask them to deliver it next door, then go in and relax with a drink and wait for the burger to arrive. It’s a partnership that just makes sense and an irresistible option when thinking about a quick weeknight meal. Just wait for McDonalds to cotton onto it…
So the next time you’re wandering the suburbs of Perth thinking about heading out for a quiet drink (or 5), you now have somewhere to go.
294 Cambridge St
Phone: (08) 9387 4481
Normally I’d take issue with a name like “Coffee Specialists”. It’s draws parallels with fast food chains calling themselves “Burger professionals” or “Sandwich artists”. Sure it’s a catchy title, but it in no way makes me think the person behind the counter with the pimples and the hair net knows anything about making quality food.
Of course the difference in this case (aside from a distinct lack of hair nets) is that crew at Elixir Coffee Specialists are in fact, coffee specialists. Ignoring for a moment the slight issue of another cafe recently opening with the name Elixir in it, and a need to adequately distinguish themselves, you don’t get much more of a coffee dream team than Justin Kenny and Jonny Nease.
If you’re a Perth coffee lover, you’ll have likely seen Justin’s face around town. He’s been owner and operator of many excellent establishments in their time, the likes of which include Grind in Trinity Arcade, Fix in West Perth, and most recently Velvet Espresso on King St. It was at Velvet that Jonny came on board, and now Elixir is the culmination of Justin’s long legacy in the Perth coffee scene.
A consummate professional who goes about his business without pomp or ceremony, Justin describes Elixir as the goal he’s been building to all along. A place where he has the space to do what he wants. To create a boutique cafe and a small batch roastery where he can finally do coffee his way.
Elixir is in the building formerly occupied by The Grocer (a fact they’re constantly reminded of by the regular flow of people coming in and asking where The Grocer is, expecting to buy saffron threads and truffle oil). The good thing about this though, is that not only do they pick up new business from every person who gets a whiff of the amazing smell of their coffee, but it also means that there’s plenty of storage room out the back for the new arrived roaster, a coffee lab, and hopefully soon a whole lot of interesting green beans.
With the roaster to be commissioned in the coming months it’s an exciting time for Justin, Jonny, Gemma, Ruth, and the rest of the Elixir team, who all genuinely seem to want to be there… which is a nice thing to experience. Jonny, Justin, and Gemma run the coffee, and Ruth and Jen are the girls who make the food sing. All the meals are done on site with ovens out the back to get some serious cooking going. The menu changes often and has a focus on simple cafe classics done well. My last visit included a steak sandwich with roast tomatoes and a garlic creme that really hit the spot.
Coffee is an increasingly difficult thing for me to comment on. Being involved in barista competitions and knowing more people in the industry, it would be unfair of me to start throwing out unfettered opinion on every cafe I go to. Knowing more behind the scenes, you soon start to realise that one flat white or espresso can not be assessed on it’s own, but rather appreciated knowing the various factors that have gone into it. Where the beans are from, how they’re roasted, how they’re stored, what equipment you’re using, how well it’s maintained, and how busy the cafe is at any given time of the day are all big deciders in the overall quality of the cup.
So I won’t be rating 7 out of 10’s or 4 stars or giving you a detailed break down of the flavour profile of the coffees I tried.
What I will say however, is that Elixir is the kind of place where continual improvement and the pursuit of great coffee is the underlying goal. So regardless of the make up of their blend, the single origin they happen to be using on the day, what new and zany tamping technique, or grams per shot ratio they’re using, it will be part of an evolving process that I’ll happily take part in.
Elixir Coffee Specialists
Chelsea Village, 145 Stirling Highway
Phone: 9389 9333
Open Monday – Saturday: 7.00am – 4.00pm
This is a fake post. Just to make you think I’ve written something when I really haven’t. But seriously, look at that lamb ! Is it not the sexiest looking thing you’ve ever seen in meat form ? I think so too.
I cook my lamb racks whole, first rubbing them all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, and then smooshing as much rosemary as I can into them. I then searing it all over in a very hot pan til it’s nice and brown. Finish it off in the oven for about 15 minutes on 180C to cook through to a lovely pink and juicy rare. Slice down through the gaps and enjoy the succulent pleasure of natures lamby bounty… always remembering that If God hadn’t wanted us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.
Incidentally, these would go fantastically well with a West Australian wine. I’d pick a Great Southern Shiraz from Frankland River (a Howard Park Scotsdale if I was feeling fancy), or something from Margaret River like a lovely Cape Grace Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also if you’re interested in seeing how crappy my photography used to be, check out this lamb based blast from the past: Rack of lamb with honey/balsamic sauce
I find it simultaneously strange and wonderful that I’m writing a recipe for the dish that single handedly made me loath pasta.
As a younger man I once graced the hallowed halls of an institution who’s culinary aspirations were not what I’d call astronomical.
I’m sure some of you may have fond memories of your school days, but my final years of high school were spent confined to a boarding school who’s idea of catering was to open a large can of something mysterious and pour it over toast.
The list of things that boarding school food turned me off was actually fairly extensive. Among them, steak diane, ham steaks with pineapple, lasagne, meat pies, hot dogs, and pretty much all forms of vegetable. There was very little that the lovely ladies in the kitchen could not make taste disgusting and industrial. I’m quite surprised I developed any kind of food obsession at all after doing my time there.
The carbonara of course was on it’s own existential plane of badness. A thin, watery, creamy sauce, with stodgy pasta and either thick chunks of mostly raw mushroom or a slurry of mushroom goo (depending on whether you were the first or last table to get your food). The older and wiser would pick out the bacon and chicken (or whichever meat they’d decided to add), and leave the rest, and then intimidate the young and new into handing over theirs.
It should come as not too much of a surprise then that it’s not the first thing I’d ever order on a menu at my local Italian restaurant. But then as is often the case, it seems I’ve had carbonara wrong all these years, and it took Mr Vincenzo Velletri to set me straight.
Vincenzo is a man who’s love of food and his Italian heritage knows no bounds. A chef, caterer, butcher, and educator. It was after talking to Vincenzo at a Slow Food Perth event that I realised he had in his possession some very special cured meat, namely Guanciale, that he’d made himself from a friends pigs.
Never having heard of Guanciale before I did what any good food nerd does, and headed to the internet for enlightenment. Soon discovering that it’s the meat that should be used in a traditional carbonara. My investigations into carbonara then led me to the shocking revelation that the traditional recipe contains no cream, mushroom, or watery goop whatsoever ! Amazing !
Armed with new knowledge and a hefty chunk of cured meat, it was time to reinvent my taste buds.
How I made mine
Now I know this is going to be annoying to the majority of the world, but the simple fact is that Guanciale is hard to find. Unless you have a great traditional Italian butcher or know someone who makes it, then your chances of stumbling across it in a shop are relatively slim. It’s a particularly fatty piece of meat, and is actually the pigs cheek which has been cured in salt, pepper, and chilli for a few weeks. All I can say is that is gives the dish an intensity that you don’t get with just bacon. Pancetta (being cured pork belly) is probably the closest thing you’ll find to use as a substitute.
So firstly slice your meat up into small pieces, mince the garlic and fry it in a hot pan with olive oil until it’s soft, then add the meat and fry them together. The fat will start to come out of the guanciale, and create a lovely slick.
Put your pasta into a pot with plenty of salt and boil it til it’s al dente (or a little before, because it’ll continue to cook once it comes out of the water).
Once the pasta is done, drain it well and then add it to the pan with the guanciale, tossing it well.
Now comes the magic. Crack the eggs and mix them together with the cheese, take the pan completely off the heat and then pour the eggs into the pasta, stirring constantly to combine it. What you’re making is a very simple sauce where the egg cooks just enough from the heat of the pasta to bind it all together with a lovely creamy texture. Add a little of the pasta water if you need to get some more movement happening.
Toss it all together well, add the handful of parsley and a sizeable portion of fresh cracked pepper to give it the bite it needs, a little salt to taste, and that my friends, is that. No cream, no mushroom, no white wine… Just some very basic ingredients combining together to make a very beautiful result.
Now to get started on changing my opinion of chicken nuggets…