Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sketches Cafe Bar - Burwood

Address: 273 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria
Phone Number: (03) 9889 8925

Price Range: $7 - $13 for a meal, another $4 - $7 for dessert

Reviewer: BEVIS
Date: 26th February, 2006


Riss took me out to lunch the other week, and we went to Sketches because it was close by (and something new neither of us had visited before).

Being the kind of guy I am, I ordered the beef burger. (So sue me.) Riss ordered the tomato and spinach quiche with salad. Here are Riss' own thoughts on her meal:

"The quiche was a complete mini-quiche, not a slice of a large one, and the pastry was beautifully moist. Completely melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Fresh salad, lovely. (Didn't need the sliced olive garnish though.) We were seated promptly and our meals, pre-ordered, arrived instantly. The elderly gentleman behind BEVIS moved seats at his table so that he could stare more openly at me (I think, but I could just be paranoid). (Or you could just have tickets on yourself - Ed.) The service was unobtrusive and efficient; very civilised. The noise level was fine for conversation - not so loud that we had to shout but not so quiet that we would feel like the only people talking in the place and that everyone could eavesdrop. There was a happy buzz in the place. If there had been more people dining or a particularly raucous table then the acoustics afforded by the wooden floor would have amplified the sound in which case I probably would have asked to move to an outdoor table rather than shout. The Texas chocolate muffin I took away with me was also entirely scrumptious - moist and very chocolate-y.

"Overall rating, four and a half french fries (out of five). Great meal, excellent service, I'd definitely recommend the cafe to others and go back myself. Have also eaten breakfast there on another occasion and they dealt well with a large table mostly all having different sorts of eggs on toast. Big thumbs up."

Wow, what a fantastic guest review! Thank you Riss, you've made my job a lot easier!

As for me, the burger was unlike any other I'd ever tasted. The meat was a special homemade mince pattie which was cooked to perfection (not too chargrilled; not too rare), and complimented the fresh bun and salad items (tomato, cos lettuce, carrot and Spanish onion) brilliantly. It was extremely tasty and delicious, and I was pleased to note that the fries were also hot, cooked just right, and oil-free. Crisp and golden, they were. Delightful.

All told, it was a lovely meal - not to mention charming company.

(Especially for Riss.)

As the full menu (which can be viewed online) will testify, there are vegetarian meals available, and they serve their breakfast items all day. So if you're in the mood for bacon & eggs after work, that's no problem.

The prices were more than reasonable, and with friendly staff serving and preparing the food behind the counter, it really was a wonderful dining experience.

Rating: I give Sketches Cafe Bar in Burwood five out of a possible five stars. There really is nothing they could have done better; I couldn't fault them on a thing.

Stars: *****

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tom Phat - Brunswick - South East Asian influence

One of the newcomers to the oh-so-up-and-coming lower Sydney Road area is Tom Phat. They've been around for a good 18 months or more and unlike many of the cafes in the area which do most of their business in coffee and eggs, Tom Phat have made a name for themselves as a relaxed place to get good food at any time of day.

The owner comes from working for 11 years in the outrageously busy Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. I have often stared into the hellmouth that is the Vegie Bar open kitchen on a busy night and thought that the pace would certainly not be for the faint of heart. None of this poncy shmoozy television cheffery here: we're talking tightly muscled urban kitchen guerillas. The kitchen at Tom Phat would seem quite restful in comparison, though it's a far cry from retirement for one who has certainly paid heavy dues.

All the dishes feature an asian spin, including cafe staples such as bacon and eggs. I enjoyed the scrambled eggs on roti with bacon, which comes as a deliciously messy pile of the elements mentioned as well as a tomato, basil, spring onion and coriander salsa with a lime juice and fish sauce dressing and two fragrantly spiced fried potato dumplings. These were not mentioned in the menu description and it was a nice added touch to the plate. Coffee was excellent.

Service is usually fast and friendly. On this occasion the waitress forgot to bring (or the kitchen forgot to make?) a side of mushrooms which I ordered. Just as well because I was very pleasantly full at the end of breakfast but it's worth noting especially as the side appeared on the bill.

Tom Phat seamlessly blends breakfast to lunch to dinner which seems to reflect the way we eat. Breakfast at 1pm on a Sunday is served alongside people sharing braised duck and a bowl of sweet thai fish cakes alongside people having cake and coffee. The atmosphere is always relaxed and there are always plenty on newspapers and glossy magazines if you are there on your own.

Scrambled eggs and bacon with roti bread and salsa $9.00

Tom Phat
184 Sydney Road
03 9381 2374

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chef's Essential

17 Puckle St
Moonee Ponds 3039
(03) 9375 7102

I thought about doing a food review here, but decided it was about time we ventured into the world beyond food. Okay, I know there is no world beyond food.

Chef's Essential is a hidden gem - most people go to the city or somewhere in their 'burb to shop for their cooking essentials. I work in the area so I was just overjoyed to find this place. Chef's Essential is owned by the very capable David, who is as charming as he is knowledgeable on all things cooking.

If you are after anything from Chasseur Cast Iron pots and saucepans to KitchenAid mixers, egg timers and aprons, frilly lipped sundae glasses and pretty pastel bread bins. If you are serious about using the best equipment in your culinary endeavors then please don't pass up a visit to this little store.

Puckle St area is very busy, if you go and you want something to nibble on after spending hours in Chef's Essentials as you're bound to do, walk down the bustling street, dodge the Moonee Ponds workers, the Essendon Footy Club boys and the sweet elderly dears and make your way to Tutto Deli. It's a few shops from the Moonee Ponds Train Station but it's very worth it. The best coffee in the Ponds, and their lunch menu is innovative and delicious - pastas, soups, antipasto and risottos. My recommendation would be to have the small antipasto platter with a glass of whatever suits your palate. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Melissa Cakes – Altona – Continental

34 Pier Street, Altona Beach
03 9398 8898

Often skipped over in favour of Williamstown, Pier Street, Altona has a quaint shopping centre with a dozen or so cafés and restaurants, all providing good, wholesome food with an almost ‘old world’ kind of service.

On the corner of Pier and Queen Streets, Melissa Cakes has a wonderful view of the historic Logan Reserve across the road or if you prefer to sit outside, Altona Beach.

In my humble opinion, this café is the star of the street if you are looking for cake and coffee. It doesn’t have the range of an Acland Street patisserie but there is a lovely selection of continental cakes and pastries rivalled only by Salt ‘n’ Pepa across the road, whose selection is supplied by Routleys.

This café is relatively new but has blended in well with the good feeling of the street. My friend and I were welcomed and served shortly after we arrived. Having had a coffee there the day before, I was treated like an old friend.

A Big Breakfast will cost you $10.00 plus drinks. Focaccias, baguettes and bagels in the under $10.00 range. We sat at a table inside, although there is a lounge area, where the wide screen was at one stage, providing the entertaining shenanigans of Humphrey B Bear.

Melissa’s cakes are delivered each day. Slices, sponges topped with glazed fruit and slivered almonds, syrup cakes, cookies, cannoli – some available in bite-size and who-needs-lunch-I’ll-just-have-dessert portions. These are cleverly showcased behind glass for those of us who drool too closely.

I chose a bite-size baklava, proving, on my part, a high level of self-discipline (together with a low level of income). It was everything baklava should be, the lightness of filo lavished by a sweet, heavy syrup jealously enveloping crushed almonds (or were they walnuts – damn it, that ruined the whole ambiance of the moment didn’t it?). It left me wishing I had chosen the meal replacement size.

My coffee was enjoyable and nicely presented although, I do prefer my coffee a little stronger than what must be the average. I took the photo of my mates hot chocolate because well, you can see why.

For those with a later curfew than mine, there is a bar and through the week the café stays open until about 11.00 pm depending on when the stragglers leave. Bar food is available and as is written on its board, ‘smiles are free’.

Incidentally, I’ve found one of the best places on the street for a quick and very good coffee is at Pier Street Charcoal Chicken. Its manager is quite a gifted coffee maker so this has become a meeting place for many. Alternatively, grab a take away and wander down the Pier.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Comedia Del Latté

I like to think of the collaborative team at We Do Chew Our Food as a hand picked League of Food Justice, doling out the good (and sometimes, the bad) word about the world of food for the benefit of all the regular people out there. And, like the League of Justice, AKA "SuperFriends", each member had their own merits which bring the powers of the team as a whole to fullness. In time you'll get to know us all, as we'll get to know each other. After the first couple of times we save the world by the timely reviewing of the foods you'll come to feel safer just knowing we're here.

We actually live here. Sweet eh?

"Super" wise, I bring my own warm yet powerful brand of domesticity to the team. While the others are out doing the fancy stuff I'll be shaking the panatone crumbs out of the Hall of Justice toaster and grating a fine layer of Parmigiano Reggiano onto a tray of hot polenta.

But no type-A individual is that "up an at 'em" all the time. No, like you, we supers put our tights on one leg at a time. And when we wake up in the morning are our faces not all puffy and scowly, and does not our breath smell a little stale? So the first thing I like to do of a morning before the rest of the League wakes up is put on a pot of coffee.


Without being a dull purist, I'm quite particular about my coffee. If you're unfamiliar with the workings of the stove top coffee pot, it does its thing by forcing boiling water at pressure through ground coffee and into a separate chamber. Reportedly, they can explode though thankfully I've never seen it happen first hand. If you're keen on some nice coffee at home on the old stove top (not technically an espresso but the closest thing you'll manage without buying a $1000+ machine) try Illy's sensational Caffe Macinato 250g can at home. It's vacuum sealed and will make a nice pssssst sound when you open it the first time. It's kind of pricey at $16.95 for 250g (that's about double what I pay for freshly ground beans at my local coffee shop) but it will look sexy on the kitchen counter so it all balances out right?


Having a coffee away from home should always be an indulgent and smug Fitzroyesque moment, whether you're slumming in Brunswick or being a hot young architect lounging in the window at Mario's. There's not a bad coffee worth drinking when there's so much good coffee about, so here's a handy rating system which can help you work out whether to tip your barista or simply run screaming.

********** Excellent coffee in your favourite café. The barista has written your name with love hearts around it in the froth. Served by an extremely attractive and attentive waiter or waitress who gives you a wink and all but fondles you when handing you your change. (sidenote: see Hospitality Crushes.) You order a second cup just for the hell of it.

********* Still a class "A" coffee, but (distracted by the hospitality crush?) you accidentally stir in a teaspoon more sugar than you intended. Not wanting it to go to waste you drink it down anyway but it leaves you with an unpleasant road rage edge to your coffee buzz.

******** Still an excellent coffee, and served by the same hot wait-person, but in a slightly strange glass which you're not that comfortable holding.

******* There's some grounds which escaped the filter and you swigged them down with the last sip. Now they're floating around your mouth and getting stuck between your teeth.

****** Coffee made by your mother is always on the bitter side or 'bittersweet'.

***** Coffee made by a trainee barista who over-steams the milk, essentially filling it with water. You try to go back when the other barista is on but they've swapped their shifts around and now the trainee is there on all the days when you usually go.

**** The foam is like fine bubbles rather than a creamy silky foam. Too much separation between the foam and the liquid, usually caused by inexpert foaming of the milk. In Queensland and Western Australia they seem to make a point of this separation and serve lattes in tall Irish coffee glasses to make the layers more prominent.

*** Coffee from a fast food restaurant such as McDonalds. American's favour drip filter coffee which is a far cry from what we've come to expect from our Italian inspired coffee culture.

** Coffee from almost any beachside resort in any tropical area in any country in the world.

* You are travelling in the country and stop into what appears to be a nice café. It looks cheery enough and there's plenty of people chatting happily and drinking coffee which from all appearances is coffee as it should be and eating generous slices of a nutty country cake. You order coffee from an eager to please young waitress and sit back with a copy of Women's Weekly c.1998. Coffee arrives and one sip tells you something is very, very wrong. Later investigation proves that the café uses a rainwater tank in which a large possum had drowned months previous. The locals had acclimatised slowly to the change in flavour.

Before you ask, no the last thing never happened to me. Though my mother did find a very bloated dead possum in a rainwater tank when she lived in the country as a little girl and they had all been drinking the water.

Rightio. Time to pop on a second pot for the League.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Las Chicas - Balaclava - Las Breakast

VenueAddress- 203 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, Victoria
Phone- 03 9531 3699
Hours : Open 7 days, Breakfast and Lunch (Breakfast all day – hoorah!)
Price – breakfasts from $5-15

This bright and cheery café is one of the highlights of the Carlisle Street strip. Located at the foot of Balaclava station, Las Chicas’ location ensures it does a roaring trade in commuter breakfasts (coffee and muffin/croissant) on weekdays but this is the least of its attractions (except when I run out of coffee at home).

Though the tables inside are small and it gets a bit cramped inside, there are large tables outside (covered and sunny, with pram access) that can accommodate larger groups. If you turn up with a large group on the weekend, expect quite a long wait.

My most recent visit to Las Chicas was on one of those 40 degree days and I sat inside. I was asked if I would like a drink as soon as I was seated and a bottle of water arrived automatically before my coffee. My soy latte was fantastic and was delivered promptly despite the busy-ness of the café. It was strong and smooth, with a thick crema and no ‘grit’ or bitterness.

The menu is extensive and creative. It is largely comprised of breakfast items but with a section at the back of the menu for café staples (toasted ciabatta, salads etc.). I must say that I am constantly inspired by the breakfasts and haven’t ventured into this terrain. Then again, breakfast is my favourite meal so this isn’t much of a surprise.

Divided into sections - healthy, favourites, vegetarian, non-vegetarian and pancakes – there is something that will please anyone. From regular or bircher muesli ($5.50) through baked beans with pumpkin and polenta bread to the Bikini Benedict Blowout ($15) which consists of a toasted bagel topped with avocado, bacon, poached eggs and lavished with hollandaise.

Egg breakfasts come in half and full serves (one egg or two) and favourites such as eggs Florentine ($8.50/$11) or build your own ($5.50/$8) plus extras from $1.50 - $3 include standards as well as unexpected items such as sweetened ricotta. I love this as it means that on a hungry day you can order a two course breakfast – a half serve of eggs followed by breakfast dessert – sweet!

It is the set breakfasts where Las Chicas really shines. On the veg side there is a Japanese inspired omelette with enoki mushrooms or the brekky bruschetta (scrambled eggs and pesto on bruschetta sprinkled with pine nuts). Both are substantial enough but don’t leave you unable to move.

Bacon lovers tell me that the non-veg brekky burrito is a winner, with bacon, scrambled eggs, spinach and tomato folded inside a tortilla. This breakfast is popular with the irritating carb-conscious make-up and strappy heels at breakfast set that can be seen around St Kilda but contains enough fat and taste to please others too.

On this occasion, I ordered from the healthy section of the menu; stewed fruits with pistachio ricotta and cinnamon toast ($8). When it arrived, it gave the people sitting next to me order envy. Two pieces of sugar and cinnamon encrusted ‘fried toast’ pide is hardly healthy, especially when eaten in concert with the generous amount of creamy ricotta with which it comes. Lucky that the rest is fruit, right? My bowl included two types of separately stewed fruit – rhubarb with cloves that isn’t overly sweetened and apple with cardamom and nutmeg. The rich red of the rhubarb and pale apple provided an aesthetically and tastebud pleasing contrast.

The toasted flaked almonds sprinkled on top provided a really nice crunch and texture contrast with the smooth fruit and ricotta. In case it isn’t obvious I will point out that I was really happy with my breakfast and will definitely order it again.

Despite the Las Chicas being really busy, I never felt rushed to vacate my table even though I lingered over the crossword with nothing but water after finishing my second coffee.

I highly recommend Las Chicas, through gritted teeth as I don’t want it to get even busier on the weekends!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Roberto's - Richmond - Italian

Venue - Roberto's
Cuisine - Italian
Address - 428 Bridge Road, Richmond
Tel : 9428 3845
Hours : Open Mon-Sun 4-Late And they do take away.
Price: around $25 for shared Pizza and Main Pasta
Just cruise on down if you want to go. They are most accommodating.

Back when I was a troubled teenager giving my parents grief by forming punk bands, sneaking into nightclubs and growing my hair into dreadlocks, I was also a vegetarian. In order to make up for some of the grey hairs I caused my parents, I was often called in to work for them. Luckily for me they weren't butchers, and there was even a brief shining moment in my father's not always illustrious career when he was employed as a food critic.
Being the proud carnivorous Kiwi man that he is, and never one to miss an opportunity involving free steak and lamb's brains, my father needed someone unafraid to order the vegetarian dishes, in order to be able to give his vegetarian readers the balanced reviewing they had become so used to by the early '90s.
So I got to be his 'Vegetarian Daughter'. My father's name for me up in shining lights! The naive opinions of 'Vegetarian Daughter' were duly stolen and printed in the magazine or newspaper shortly thereafter.
So it is with much joy and delight that I now get to write my own words, for printing on our own esteemed blog, and therefore I christen this, my first review, with a review of a vegetarian meal.
The Italians occasionally understand the need for an all vegetarian meal, and this meal at Roberto's did not disappoint. The owner is the son of another Richmond local, a bottle shop owner whose small business could not compete when Dan Murphy's moved in. Being raised in Richmond, he felt the need to create a restaurant of his own in his home suburb. And you can tell. There is none of the glitz and glamour of the newcomers to the inner-city. Roberto's is smart but thoroughly unpretentious, much like my companions for the evening. It's like one of those friends who gives you a much needed kick back down to earth when your head starts to swell, and is definitely about content over style.
Not to say that it's not stylish. Far from it. The decor is simple and smart, and there are none of the unfortunately over-popular ugly, garish paintings (always done by unknown 'well-known local artists') that too many restaurants stick on their walls in an attempt to appear cultured. If you don't know art, and you can't afford to hire someone who does, it's better to have plain white walls.
The atmosphere is light and friendly, the service fairly attentive (although they could have been a bit more attentive towards our wine bottles) and polite, and, apart from a slamming door that made the whole restaurant stop and stare at me on my return from the toilet, with the added bonus of my table pronouncing me a 'drama queen' (what did I say about the kick back down to earth?), the night was easy and relaxed.
We started with a pizza; simple, traditional Italian style, a margarita with fresh herbs. A thin crust, generously sized, it was delicious and went beautifully with our bottle of Marlborough Sauvingon Blanc (what else would one expect from a table of 5 New Zealanders?).
For the main course I had the Vegetable Fettucine (as a bonus you can choose your own kind of pasta, I adore restaurants where you can do this), in a Napoli Sauce, which was full of many different sorts of vegetables and fresh herbs in a proper tomato Napoli. Again, a generoso molto with regards to size. The pasta was aldante, the parmagiano plentiful, and no annoying waiter persons appeared brandishing giant pepper grinders and asking with the enthusiasm of an eager to please Irish Setter 'Cracked pepper? cracked pepper?'. (I'm sure I will be writing more about this annoying, conversation interrupting trend). This was a little bit of the real Italy, in dirty ol'Richmond.
My only criticism would be the lack of entree sized pastas. Not everyone can eat that much in one sitting, even food-obsessed bloggers. In particular one of our group, whose a wee little thing, and we wanted to taste both the pizza and the pasta as they are both well worth trying. In fact there wasn't much at all in way of entrees, and my wee friend had to suffice with an entree plate of calamari (which she nonetheless pronounced to be very good).
One of my other companions, who is a chef, had the stuffed pollo. This he eventually, (once he took a brief pause from eating), pronounced very tasty, in his esteemed opinion, and noted the unusual addition of sundried tomatoes in the stuffing.
It wasn't Italy 1, but it was a far cry from La Porchetta. If you're looking for decent pizza and pasta at a reasonable price, in a nice environment, check it out before everyone else discovers it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Kingdom - East Hawthorn - Chinese

Venue: Kingdom Chinese Restaurant
Chinese Cuisine
46 Tooronga Village East Hawthorn
Star date : Sometime in Dec 2005

MLI and I went here during the peak of the holiday season, hot and desperate for some cool air and edible food. Kingdom was our only option as everyone in Camberwell goes to the Bahamas or something over Christmas so I'm told.

Tooronga Village is a shopping precint in tatters and Kingdom Restaurant is one that saw its glory years sometime in the 1980's. Have you seenBlue Murder? Well this is the sort of restaurant Australia's underworld would have frequented. Seriously. I expected Neddy Smith and Detective Sergeant Roger Rogerson to be discussing a million dollar drug deal at the next table, smoking up a storm and knocking back Fosters.

As all good gangsters stories note, it is in the little details that the story is told. For instance on arrival we were seated at a lower level table, presented with poor wine menu and opted for corporate cola instead. This is where the vestiges of 1980's service presented itself. We were served WARM DAMP TOWELS! Heavens! The last time I saw that sort of service was on a Air New Zealand flight in 1988.

Other service tics observed at adjacent tables were unfashionable and outdated, causing MLI and I to feel we were in a time warp. Therefore I can't for the life of me remember what we ate, except that it did taste much better than I expected...and that we left before dessert, to the absolute surprise of the wait staff.

Cost:About $50.00 would have been much more with decent wine, the glugger that I am.

Conclusion: Food was a poor second to the time warp affect of the restaurant's service and decor. Seemingly a place that has had a glorious past and could do with some young blood, a revitalised catchement, a makeover and a decent wine list to see it through. 4 out of ten.
Reviewer: Ladycracker x 2