Friday, July 29, 2011
As my parents could tell you, getting me interested in maths is a losing battle (for years, my brain and trigonometry enjoyed pretending the other did not exist). Here's one calculation I enjoy making, though: taking a holiday and dividing it into maximum mealtimes and snack breaks – with no remainders left over. So this was my latest exercise in eating, drinking and arithmetic, courtesy of a trip to Melbourne.
Top of my list was Golden Fields, which opened to high-wattage levels of hype in May (it's contender for the year's most anticipated restaurant, surely?). This electric interest is understandable: it's the latest venture for Andrew McConnell (Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc) and it's no secret that it's really, really good. Everything we had on his Asian-focused menu was hit-the-mark impressive; the flavours are full of zap and zing – playful and wonderfully in tune with each other, rather than armed in some fight-for-your-attention warfare. Even simple things like Marinated Cucumber, Radish and Garlic were so lively.
We ate at the bar, where we could peer into the open kitchen and watch the most popular dishes (the famous Lobster Roll, which can now add Mel to its growing fan base; the Twice-Cooked Duck with Steamed Bread, Vinegar and Plum Sauce) get sent across the room. And the vegetarian options, thankfully, are not side-dish afterthoughts, but brilliant and zipping with flavour (especially the Steamed Eggplant with Silken Tofu and Pickled Chillies and Sauteed Mushrooms with Poached Duck Egg).
And just to knock us out completely, the desserts were sublime: Baked Meringue ($15) with lychee and rose, a good dusting of pistachio and a joltin' raspberry and rosehip puree, and the "hard to make" Peanut Butter Parfait with salted caramel ice cream ($15), which seems to disappear at a rate of 80+ a day (understandably). I'm already hatching plans to return, especially to try the breakfast menu.
157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda VIC (03) 9525 4488, goldenfields.com.au.
I love the story behind Mister Close: 28 years ago, Peter Knowles and James English met in an eighth-grade geography class; now they've opened a cafe and named it after the man who taught them about contours and capital cities. The cafe mascot is even modelled after a photo of Mr Close, who was their favourite teacher.
I'd heard that they'd invited him for a visit, so I asked the waitress if their former teacher had checked out the cafe yet. She said he had and that he enjoyed it. And, if you look at the eatery's blog, you can see that he looks exactly the same as the Mister Close mascot (except a tad more grey-haired).
I like how Melbourne studio Russell & George has designed the cafe like a classroom, with maps, books and school-style seating – with an edge, though, that makes it cooler than any place where I've had to answer roll call. My Mexican-inspired SOBO Eggs ($17.50) was quite nice, too. Pretty decent for a cafe in a mall.
Shop 13, Midtown Plaza, 246 Bourke St (entry via Swanston St), Melbourne VIC (03) 9654 7778, misterclose.com.au.
So it's pretty bad manners (apologies!) that I've gotten this far without mentioning that was actually a trip for work, organised by the lovely Danielle Poulos at Tourism VIC. Seeing as I'm on staff at a design magazine, Tourism VIC had kindly organised to send me down to check out the State of Design festival, as well as some bars and restaurants with interesting interiors and fit-outs.
So on the way to see the festival's Look.Stop.Shop, Danielle suggested we stop by Hoboken, a cafe that is as over-patterned with street art as everything else famously is on Hosier Lane. I had a sweet-fix hot chocolate, while Danielle had a coffee – she says Hoboken's brews are by Seven Seeds and they're very good.
Hoboken, 3 Hosier Lane, Melbourne VIC (03) 9078 2869. www.hoboken.com.au.
Danielle amazingly put together most of my itinerary and kindly lined up a tour of Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio for me – a place I'd been burning to visit after attending Ian Burch and Darren Purchese's amazing 'Sweet Architextural' collaboration with Bompas & Parr earlier this year.
As that night of all-you-can-eat sugar wonders made clear, Ian and Darren are stunning pastry chefs. Helping them run the Sweet Studio is Cath Claringbold, who has an impressive culinary background, too, and is also Darren's wife.
They took me through the shop – a place that inspires mental gridlock, because you simply want everything on sight, from the Mango Meringue Clouds to the Edible Flower Cards and Persian Delight Dark Chocolate embedded with rose jelly and Iranian pistachios. Even pressing your nose against the fridge causes a sugar rush, just thinking about the Butterscotch Popcorn, Spicy Roasted Pumpkin and Mint Chocolate Aero ice cream flavours.
I also got to see the kitchen, where I met "Dave" – that's the name they give their multifunction oven, because he's as hard-working and dependable as any member of staff. "He" tempers the chocolate, caramelises the white chocolate and even produces the ice cream. I joked that at least he doesn't chuck a sick day, but apparently he did have an off-colour moment recently.
Tucked up the back of the premises is the "spray room" (yep, it's as messy as it sounds) and the temperature-controlled "chocolate room" (the favourite word combination of any kid, surely).
One of the best parts of Burch & Purchese is the Ingredient Wall, which is a fascinating visual dictionary of what can go into the sweets: orange blossom, wasabi, poppy coloured candy, watermelon sherbet, lemongrass, many kinds of heat-packing peppers and various multisyllabic compounds that will confound my spellcheck.
The Ingredient Wall is part of the cake consulting area, which displays models of previous creations. It's nice to hear that not everyone wants a plain vanilla offering to slice up. One client recently requested something laced with white Szechuan pepper.
This is Burch & Purchese's witty and graphic interpretation of the royal wedding cake. Cool Britannia in sugar form.
The walls 'flourish' with flowers – they're longer-life (and more dentist-friendly) versions of edible kinds planted in B&P's cakes and cards. The lemon and raspberry choc blooms were my favourites from 'Sweet Architextural'.
The display cabinet is like the Miss Universe of cakes – each one is unbelievably beautiful to look at (none sport any judge-appeasing world-peace strategies, however). I was lucky to be sent home with these two gems, each with a dreamy cast-list of flavours: the Banana, Caramel and Rum which includes a crazy-good hit of caramelised banana cream, macadamia-spiced speculaas, passionfruit curd and jelly, caramelised white choc and vanilla mousse, finished in a chocolate velvet spray; and the Coconut, Passionfruit, Mint and Ginger, which has a ginger macaron and white choc mint wafer perched atop layers of coconut mousse and 'caviar', passionfruit curd and jelly, and salted oat and ginger crumble, coated in a brilliant white choc spray. Burch & Purchese is one of those great places that will make both your field of vision and tastebuds flip out.
Burch & Purchese, 647 Chapel St, South Yarra VIC (03) 9827 7060, www.burchandpurchese.com.
OK, so the vegetarian tasting menu at The Estelle was not the most inspired (our second course really was a green salad), but the desserts were great: sour cream ice cream & salted caramel with a lovely sponge cake, meringue with rhubarb and musk ice cream and a "wish we could have this for breakfast" rice pudding with passionfruit and toasty puffed grains.
The Estelle, 243 High St Northcote VIC (03) 9489 4609 estellebar-kitchen.com.
I had snuck in a cocktail earlier that night at Southpaw, a place I really liked (and not only 'cos they were sweet enough to let me juice up my battery-dead iPhone). For sequel cocktails, I went to The Everleigh, which is very "New York" in that it shares some DNA with Milk & Honey, the speak-easy style bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The people behind this new Melbourne joint are Lauren Schnell and Michael Madrusan, Australian expats who worked at Milk & Honey and its related venue Little Branch, and they've had a little help from M&H's Sasha Petraske in making this local venture happen.
The Everleigh is also quite "New York" in that it is a little tricky to find! If you stand in front of 150 Gertrude St, you will be thoroughly stumped by the unlit, clearly-not-open-for-business shopfront (as I was) – enter via the corner and go up the stairs, as the more savvy Rob worked out (he is a local, after all). Slight misdirection aside, I could not have loved The Everleigh more. It is exactly the bar I dream about – the interior is sophisticated but not showy (and the display of books won my nerdy bookworm heart), the seats are comfy and the room intimate, the staff is friendly, witty and the right level of attentive, you get table service (my lazybones self wishes this was the case everywhere), and the drinks are a lot of fun. One for Sydney, please?
The Everleigh, Level 1, 150-156 Gertrude Street (enter via the corner), Fitzroy VIC (03) 9416 2229, www.facebook.com/pages/The-Everleigh.
I wanted to visit St. Edmonds because I really like the work of Projects of Imagination, the clever Melbourne studio behind the cafe's the fit-out. The site used to be a garage, so the new space echoes that history - Projects of Imagination added mechanic's lights and preserved the petrol stains in the flooring.
The pot-plants are displayed in denim holders and the staff members wear very cute Scanlan & Theodore aprons in that same industrial fabric, too. There are also cool utilitarian touches, like the magazine racks made out of multiple coathangers.
Joining me for breakfast was the lovely Claire, who runs the excellent (and no-introduction-necessary) Melbourne Gastronome blog. It was nice – and such a fluke – to invite her somewhere she hadn't been before.
It was also great to see a breakfast menu that didn't just do the plain eggs and even plainer sides routine. Claire had the Spanner Crab and Chilli Omelette with Roti and Sesame Crumble ($19), which she enjoyed, while I got overexcited about the presence of Yuzu Dressed Avocado as a side (I am a yuzu tragic). I ordered that along with fried eggs, Harissa-tossed Swiss brown mushrooms and Woodside chevre-thyme gems. The yuzu tasted non-existent, sadly, and the staff served me poached eggs instead of the fried ones I'd asked for, but the cheesy potato gems were goo-ood and the mushrooms not too bad, either.
St. Edmonds, 154 Greville St (enter via St Edmonds Rd), Prahran VIC (03) 9525 0473.
Alex, Katy and I went to see the Vienna Art & Design exhibition at NGV International (where we witnessed so many great moustaches – Schiele, Klimt and Moser really rocked the facial hair – and a lot of great furniture, too; I had major cutlery, teapot and armchair envy after seeing this show). Afterwards, we had a tea break at the Vienna Kaffee Hause pop-up cafe that's been created for the exhibition. (It even has a cool lit-up facade that matches the design era of the show.)
It was fun to see how authentic the offerings were – I smashed some Austrian lemonade (the wonderfully titled Almdudler, which has this distinct herbal twist and cool graphic design on its can) while Katy had a great Gugelhupf (Viennese tea cake with a frilly choc hairdo) and Alex a wild mushroom soup and Kaffee Biedermeier (espresso with an intense shot of hazelnut liqueur and whipped cream).
The Vienna Kaffee Haus is a cute tie-in to the exhibition. The only time I've really come close to a gallery reflecting the artwork origins in a menu was when Will ordered the gateau "Monet-style" at the amazing Chichu Museum in Naoshima. It'd be nice to see more places offer something like this, especially when you have Gallery Legs or Museum Fatigue and need a good perk-up beyond the "Soup of The Day" or default gallery cafe choices.
Vienna Kaffeehaus pop-up cafe, NGV International, 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC (03) 8620 2222
My last stop was the Heide Museum, where I also had a nice lunch at Cafe Vue. The Gnocci with tomato, cumin and rosemary flowers was one of the most good-looking dishes I'd come across. Later, I walked the grounds, where I stalked some sculptures, accidentally went off-path into shoe-muddying regions and walked the cafe's kitchen garden, with its occasional cloud of spiky herb scents.
Café Vue at Heide, 7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen VIC (03) 9852 2346, www.heide.com.au/heide_cafe
Thanks to Tourism Victoria, especially to Danielle Poulos who made this trip happen. The organisation paid for my food at most of the places mentioned (I went off-itinerary for St. Edmonds and Southpaw) and I paid half of my dining companions' bill. While it was for work, and I wasn't under any obligation to mention it here, I thought it'd be worth blogging in any case. And if you do have a Melbourne detour planned, I hope there's something here that you might find handy and worth jotting down.