Snapshot: The Grain Store

Monday, 30 December 2013

Hope you're all having a stunning holiday season thus far. Yesterday  I celebrated my birthday in the mix - 21 again, obviously. For the lucky few who have this fortnight off, it is a fantastic time to be in Australia. The sunshine is consistently glorious, without it being too hot. Perfect days for lazing outdoors, watching the cricket and an all important weekend institution: a caffeinated brunch.

A very minimalistic white/black/timber interior has an almost 'calming effect' on the bustling commuter Photo credit: Urban Walkabout

Today I've got a newish Melbourne café for you. The Grain Store opened earlier this year on the business end of Flinders Lane. If you thought the Melbourne café market was saturated, think again. There always seems to be room for one more, and this one's a goodie. Chef Ingo Meissner (ex-St Ali) is at the helm at Grain putting emphasis on organic and sustainably sourced produce. The café is supplied by Brunswick's Ceres Market Gardens and are also serves as a drop off for customers to pick up their weekly groceries. A very nice idea if you work in the area.

St Ali bean blends rule the roost at Grain and as a result, the coffee is impeccable!

At Grain, they definitely know their stuff. The menu reads like a dream, everything looks so appetising. The options are both varied and many - that is where the difficulty lies! After several days of some delicious and very filling meals in Melbourne I needed a wee detox, but maybe after I'd tried their pancakes...

Apple, buckwheat & ricotta pancakes with orange nutella, apple puree, spiced marscarpone and pistachio streusel. This is certainly not for the faint hearted at 9 in the morning. The pancakes themselves looked quite dense but were very nice with all the 'accoutrements'. Be prepared to share this one!

Just what the Doctor ordered, haha. Grain Store toasted granola parfait with mandarin, chia seed yogurt and elderflower rhubarb, quinoa milk. For $10, this is the breakfast of champions, this is a textural delight. The chia seed topping was particularly tasty. You feel like such a health freak tucking in ;)

The Grain Store is a cracker of café, if you're ever down that end of the Melbourne CBD you should definitely give it a go. Nutritious, organic and delicious meals await in a very peaceful spot. They also cater for functions and offer a private dining room for something a bit more spesh. As we were readying to leave, the staff were bringing out the bloody lunch smorgasbord and our jaws dropped. Oh man. Do we have to go yet?

Lain out like that, everything little thing looked so tempting. The suits next door must be rejoicing right.

Pick up a delicious sarnie filled to bursting. It all looked incredible!

The Grain Store was a fantastic note to finish the Melbourne getaway on.   The food and service are second to none, even in this café motherland. We left with smiles all round - I highly recommend this one!

The branding work done by Nani Puspasari, quite Le Pain Quotidien-esque Photo credit: Design Nani
Thanks for reading (there's plenty more where that came from)! Have a fantastic new year's, here's to 2014 :D
xGourmand The Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Moon Under Water

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The plan was to go someplace nice, at least one. Attica was on the top of the list (for obvious reasons) but they were booked out for the rest of the year *eye roll*. Luckily Moon Under Water came in a close second, forming (yet) another part of the A. McConnell juggernaut in Melbourne. The restaurant takes it name from a George Orwell essay where he describes his ideal pub. For those interested, Tomatom features a review of with direct comparison to the original 1946 text. Sitting on a corner lot on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, the Builders Arms Hotel and attached dining room are sporting a renovated look circa 2012. Snazzy.

The swinging double doors make for a dramatic entrance Photo Credit: Richard Whitbread

You know me, I'm always a sucker for good design and boy, Moon Under Water is sure the looker. Once you've swung your way through the parlour doors you enter a gloriously peaceful dining room, in shocking white (on white on white). Designed by Projects of Imagination, it is almost ethereal and dreamlike (forget the food, let me just LOUNGE here). Responsible also for the striking interiors of Chin Chin and Half Moon, the big guns have come out to play.

The dining room can only be described as heavenly, wouldn't you agree? Photo credit: Pip Grenda

On the weeknight we went, it was almost a private dining room (bad for business but great for our meal). Each table had their little corner of the restaurant, to speak in hushed tones (at least it felt like that) and coo over the food & wine list. The service, as a result was excellent I might add. It's a rather tight outfit that can let the food do the talking. The menu is a prix fixe $75 for 4 courses which, for the 'unversed' is great value. At some of the top notch diners across town, a main costs upwards of $45 so if you do the math...You can eat for today and the next!

Seasonal at its best, the menu at Moon Under Water changes on a weekly basis (as it should)! Here was our Spring instalment:

Grilled baby corn and smoked yoghurt dip. Unravel the piping hot baby corn and dip away - so sweet, unusual to get the corn husk and all! Underneath the wooden lid was freshly baked bread with cucumber pickles and freshly churned butter. A nifty bit of kit

Wood grilled leek, fresh curd, Ortiz anchovy & lemon oil. A nice juxtaposition of flavours and textures. The slight string of the leek with the creamy curd and bite from the anchovies made for a very clean starter

Spanner crab, zucchini flowers, snow pea & almond. Surely my favourite dish of the night, I just love this crab to bits. Tucked under a seeming 'garden bed' of fresh  leaves like nasturtium and flowers (zucchini et al). The sauce (almost juice) poured on top married it all perfectly. Like a rather expensive dinner mint!

Mulloway, shimeji mushrooms, chrysanthemum broth & turnip. An Asian inspired fish dish, the chrysanthemum broth was so delicate. The fish cooked just right. Am quite glad we added on the optional 5th course - GO team!

Spring lamb, roast carrots, sweetbreads & lovage. Blushing pink lamb, the creaminess of sweetbreads (thymus glands, folks!) and baby carrots - what's not to like?! Lovage is something I had not come across before but this herb has a rather distinct flavour!

Rum ice cream, spiced meringue, pineapple, cucumber. The perfect combination of flavour and texture - the spiced meringue (cinnamon) and rum ice cream were da bomb

Moon Under Water was somewhere I had meaning to go (between Melbourne visits) for a while. Andrew McConnell is such an accomplished chef in these parts and I was happy to enjoy the surprises of the prix fixe this evening. Once in a while, a degustation is such a lovely way to celebrate an occasion (especially if you hang out with foodie types like I do). Meander leisurely through one course after the other, sip your decanted vino and keep an open mind. It's not a sensory overload because I delight in it.

Don't be fooled by the retro exterior! The Builders Arms itself also has a pretty decent menu if you're keen for a lighter meal Photo: The Company You Keep

Thanks for reading!
Moon Under Water on Urbanspoon

Snapshot: Hardware Société

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

120 Hardware St, Melbourne

It would be embarrassing to tell you how long we spent traipsing up and down Hardware Ln/St trying to find this place. Signposted with 'Mini Marché', Hardware Société is a double shopfront café brimming with patrons. Hardly the rough and tumble industrial block I was expecting, Hardware is a picture of French daintiness. Decked out with high hanging fluoro yellow lamps and shelves of fresh bread, preserves and foodie gifts the challenge is to find a stool on which to perch on. Bon chance!

This businessman has inadvertently taken centre stage, waiting for a coffee of some descript Photo credit: Breakfast Out

With glowing reviews across the air waves and inter-webs, I was happy to be in good hands. With a fusion-type menu, there is a bit of French and Spanish thrown in the mix i.e. the makings for a delicious breakfast or lunch. Dishes are seasonal with daily specials and new classics that people keep returning for. The service was good, geared towards fast turnover (but that I cannot fault).

Fish of the Day: pan fried snapper, prawn and fennel remoulade, shiitake and saffron broth ($21). Mind blown. This was a fish dish for royalty - so many layers, textures and totally refreshing (getting my veggie quota for the day). A plate of YUM.

Twice cooked pork belly: shallot & almond puree, mixed grain salad, apple & cider jus. A smart move by café standards, bung a tray of pork to slow cook for hours and voilá you have dynamite. Tender pork that you can tackle with a fork. The salad added a lovely texture but I would love more of that beautiful sauce please!

Baked Eggs: chorizo, potato, piquillo peppers, mahon cheese, toasted almonds, aioli. The go-to for Hardware this dish is surely one of their most popular

Hardware Société ticks all the boxes, with something for everyone it has been a stalwart for several years. Sadly, the café was damaged quite badly by smoke from a fire next-door in mid November. Co-owners (another husband & wife team) Will & Di are currently focussing their efforts at their second cafe, Bowery to Williamsburg. I am sure that Hardware will bounce back in good time!

The scripted logo Photo credit: The Bakeanista

Thanks for reading!
The Hardware Société on Urbanspoon


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gazi has a bit of a ring to it and it's not just the din coming from inside. George Calombaris' new-old venture is stirring up a storm, serving Athenian style street food or vromiko. Shunning the fusty traditions of the table-clothed (namely The Press Club, which is reopening on Flinders St), Gazi is a casual venue oozing styleLocated in the heart of the central business district, Gazi is a restaurant for all occasions (including take-away, office slaves). Not taking itself too seriously, it is destined to become a go-to for Melburnians and visitors alike (me!). 
Stepping in, you are hit with a trendoid crowd of suits and heels. This is lunch hour ramped up a few notches

The restaurant is named after the Gazi district in Athens, an industrial turned hipster area. The restaurant site itself has undergone a complete transformation itself, being completely gutted and (half) done again. The ceiling itself is unmistakeable; adorned with an undulating sea of terracotta pots. Oak booths along the windows look to have been 'knocked up', the exposed concrete adding a grungy, too-cool feel.

Another snapshot of Gazi's interior by March Studio, also credited with the ridiculously good looking Baker D. Chirico in Carlton Photo: Australian Design Review

In such a refined setting, you'd almost expect a two course lunch with glass of wine. If it weren't for the noise, the energy from the open kitchen and general hubbub and cheer you'd think you were in for fine dining. But no, the food is put together in a matter of minutes as meat is carved of the rotisserie and dishes are quick-fired in your direction. It is all about good food and drink for the masses with minimal fuss. Ouzo is optional, of course. Gazi is the very best of a souvlaki shop distilled and bottled.

Chicken souva with parsley, onion and mustard mayo and side of chips ($8.50). Unfortunately there is a distinct lack of greenery in this souva and I had to transplant some lettuce into it. I will mention though that the chicken is succulent and pull-apart tender

The Bend-Over Box ($27.50): the most popular lunch option, these babies were flying off left, right and centre. For when you want to try a bit of everything (or getting hangry)  there's a selection from the rotisserie, grilled fish of the day and a sweetie to finish

Signed, stitched, delivered: my photo editing skills are reaching a whole new level here (jokes, obviously). The taramasalata (fish roe dip), swordfish and chicken (both with delicious walnut dressing) and chips (topped with salt + feta) were the highlights

George Calombaris is another who seems to be amassing an empire in Melbourne. Gazi is Greek food for the everyman, to be enjoyed with a few drinks and the best of friends. Calombaris himself, was seen to be enjoying a coffee there the day we visited. He has succeeded in creating something thoroughly modern in a quickly shifting food culture.

After the rush: there is a frenetic 2 hour window on weekdays as the suits march in for a quick 'business' lunch (booze included)

More notes on Melbourne to follow <3
Thanks for reading!
xGourmand Gazi on Urbanspoon

Rhubarb, Pistachio & Orange Cakes

Thursday, 5 December 2013

This cake is a pocket rocket. With the last rhubarb of the year (in a surprisingly long season), I was scrounging for a new recipe. I'm usually asked to make the same old but I do get bored and decided to try something different. The even more amazing thing is that it worked and with spectacular results (others can attest)! This particular recipe is adapted from my old faithful, Gourmet Traveller magazine. Find the original link here.

The finished product: chuffed!

There are a couple of component bits to this recipe; one for the roasted rhubarb that tops each individual cake, the second for the cake batter. The roasted rhubarb will yield an incredible technicolour syrup with which to serve over the cakes for an extra dash of orange. 

6 egg whites
185g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
240g icing sugar (I used just over half this amount)
150g pistachio kernels, finely ground (I didn't quite have enough, so substituted in part with walnuts)
2/3 cup plain flour
1 orange, finely grated rind
To serve: crème fraîche

Roasted rhubarb with orange blossom
300g rhubarb (about 3 stalks), trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
1/4 cup golden caster sugar
1 orange, rind finely grated and juiced
1 tbsp orange blossom water

Shades of rhubarb


1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. For roasted rhubarb, combine ingredients in a baking dish, cover with foil and roast for 10 minutes or until tender. Cool and reserve cooking juices (liquid gold, I tell you)

2. Whisk egg whites in a bowl until frothy, add melted butter and whisk to combine. Add remaining dry ingredients and rind and stir to combine. Note: the mixture is supposed to be quite runny, I had a mini freak out when I saw how runny it was. But it works, trust me

3. Spoon mixture into 6 deep, lightly greased, 10cm diameter loose-bottomed flan tins (I used regular sized muffin tins). Arrange 3 pieces of rhubarb on top of each. 

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer withdraws clean (roughly 15 minutes for cupcake pan). Stand in pan for 5 minutes

Cakies fresh out of the oven

5. Serve warm, fizzled with reserved juices and crème fraîche

There's so much going for this, whether it be for tea or dessert - there are some nice little touches that give it an edge over your stock standard blueberry muffin or vanilla cupcake. The pistachio adds a subtle crunch and green tinge to the cake which is itself moist. The baked rhubarb and syrup are delicious in their own right

There's my little show and tell, now go forth and bake/prosper!
Thanks for reading

Cumulus Up

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Chef Andrew McConnell has cracked the big time in Melbourne, literally. With a fistful of venues around town he's given the whole dining scene a good ol' shake up and now he's moved into the domain of beverages with a new wine bar. Good man. Cumulus Up has only been open a short while but will be adored for years to come. Just upstairs from all day diner Cumulus Inc., you can literally spend the whole night quite happily at the same street number (45 Flinders Ln). Since visiting Cumulus Inc. and Cutler & Co. a couple of years ago I was impressed with the type of food he was serving all in a neat little package of service, wine and style.  

Some cumulus themed mirrors, perhaps? Gomes-McNabb does it again Source: Daily Addict

McConnell has teamed up once again with architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb to wave her magic wand over the place. It seems that together they are basically unstoppable! Similar to Cumulus Inc. in design, though upstairs the palette is darker and moodier, with mismatched chairs a bit of this and that. It is all ultimately welcoming. Like being invited to the cool kid's party, a Melbournian would never admit to it as such. He or she nonchalantly sips a glass of red, thinking 'Goddamn, I wish we could smoke in here'...

Sort of like an XL dining room, Cumulus Up is a great rendez-vous point Source: Good Food

If I knew more about wine I'd make some witty comment about the wine list but I do not and besides, I just had a beer. Beer + bar food = a resounding YES. The menu reads well, it all sounds good really (well wouldn't it?). The best thing is its versatility; pop in for a drink before dinner,  plant yourself for a proper meal or just a nightcap (and sweet) before bed. There's even a Chef's Selection Menu which sounds intriguing ($65). You can skimp or splurge, the ball is in your court.

Et voilà!
Kale fritters. Chips sans guilt, because they are dehydrated and not deep fried...right? Once you crunch into one, you forget that you're getting a serve of veg (justifying away here)! Perfect for lounging with a movie ;)

Duck waffle, foie gras and prune ($8). Though there were initial misgivings, I insisted we ordered this (like a crazy person). A seemingly odd combination yes, but it works (or McConnell has made it work). A genius creation of a buckwheat waffle mixed with confit duck (+ skin), piped with foie gras parfait and topped with prune purée. Everything about this is just so crazy it's perfect - all those textures and surprise of the duck inside. Di-viine.

Now, to a more traditional crowd pleaser: spiced lamb ribs with smoked tomato. The serve was so tiny I was a little bit disappointed! But at $7, it's not so bad. The ribs were ridiculously tender, you could pull the meat off the bone without any effort

Golden roasted chat potatoes - these were on special request, not usually on the menu. The C-Up kitchen was kind to accommodate. Oh and FYI, they can roast the hell out of potatoes. It must be all the duck fat they've basted them with!

This was a great way to end my first night in Melbourne (reunited, at last!). In all seriousness, it seems McConnell can do no wrong. Yet again, he has come up with the goods on this little standout bar. A decent wine list with excellent bar edibles will keep the masses coming. Will Cumulus Up stand the test of time? You betcha.

I couldn't help sticking another photo in, it is just TOO GOOD, okay. We had one of those "Are you serious?!" moments...the my mind is blown/good kind. Try it! Photo credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

Thanks for reading!
Cumulus Up on Urbanspoon

Snapshot: Sydney Cafés III

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Devon café has its head tightly screwed on. When it comes to coffee and café dining, it means business. Surrounding themselves with some proper talent (alumni from Guillaume and Toby's Estate), husband & wife team Derek Puah & Noni Widjaja have filled an apparent hole in Sydney's café market with Devon. A 2 minute walk from central station, this nook of Surry Hills is being revived of sorts. When we sauntered up to the shop front, both breakfast specials had been emphatically crossed off the specials blackboard. Dang it (great for them, bad for us). As is often the case in Sydney; you snooze, you lose.

The new golden arches? Uh, yes please Photo credit: The AU Review

Devon isn't just a bunch of hipster friends tinkering in the kitchen or with an espresso machine. The team is all about offering restaurant quality food with a decidedly casual mode of delivery. Devon's staff are proud that much of their pickles, preserves and cures are made in-house. The lengthy coffee menu goes into great detail about where beans are sourced and then you have the choice of espresso, cold-drip (already sold out on the day for us) or chemex. My head might explode with the choices. Amongst the camouflage netting the vertical herb garden in the courtyard is a nice touch.

The sunny plyboard interior with baby blue racing stripes Photo: The Urban List

The menu reads as a veritable feast. Most dishes I would regard as quite hearty with only a smattering of lighter/veg options. There's a bit of a fusion going on with some Indonesian/Japanese influences (all welcome). As you'll see, the portion sizes are very generous but so delicious you feel compelled to finish

Citrus cured salmon with split dill cream, apple, celery, cucumber, fennel, soft boiled egg and brioche. This dish is amazing, not to be missed. Everything gels together so well, or maybe I just love salmon so much. It could be the latter

Breakfast with the Sakuma's (L) and the Flying Chook (R). Miso grilled king salmon, smoked eel croquette, 63' egg, radish petit salad and kewpi mayo - a great combination, would have like the croquette to have had a tad more eel. The miso was cooked perfectly though! Our sanga: Portugese chicken, grilled zucchini, baby spinach, cheese, chilli mayo & side of fries - umm, delicious! Those fries had a great dipping sauce too

Ogre 'Happy Meal': ox-tongue, hash potatoes, cauliflower puree, pickled onion & fried egg. Hiding under the egg were slices of ox tongue, so completely tender and tasty. Another great dish, and filling

Gone Bananas: banana pancakes, palm sugar caramel, banana fritters, pandan ice cream. Okay, this is not for the faint hearted and no I did not eat this alone. The pancakes were slightly heavier than I expected. Like 'sweet' is going out of fashion, this dessert is on 'roids - hitting that sweet button with a 1-2. I. need. water.

My second Asian cousin: tapioca & coconut, burnt citrus, almonds, chia and poppy seeds. This was my favourite dessert, for sure. Light, refreshing and sort of healthy. It was gone in the blink of an eye i.e. much preferred ;)

I had heard great things from friends about Devon Café and I'm happy to say that it is different, but in a good way. My one gripe with Devon would be its soundtrack, it was quite disorientating. At times I felt like I was at a rave (at 2pm?) or in the middle of a video game. It was a very strange feeling, sipping a coffee and trying to enjoy the ox-tongue! Like the quirky kid at school, Devon excels where it counts most - food + coffee. And that's all a girl can ask for.

Caffeine, a serious business. Chemex coffee @ Devon Credit: Daily Addict

There's plenty more where that came from, including write ups from my most recent overseas trip :D
Thanks for reading!
Devon Cafe on Urbanspoon


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