30 March, 2008

The Impotent Fury of the Privileged

"The world is a saddening mess, of unfathomable complexity and the simplest cruelty. And yet, rather than raging or weeping, most of us still manage to eat snacks, do crosswords and occasionally wash. But what if, what if we heave our compassion from wherever it's buried and with courage enough to seem naïve or underinformed or oblivious to futility, we reach for something better? Something more engaged, more humane and less snack-based."


27 March, 2008


194-204 Faraday St, Carlton; 03 9347 2801
Now at: 380 Lygon St, Carlton

First it was Stalactites, now Brunetti: I'm hitting the classic Melbourne destinations this week. The reasons have been a little different. With Stalactites, it was to introduce interstate friends to 24-hours-a-day-accessible Greek food in the city. With Brunetti, it was in order to find a cheap but varied lunch option, and to celebrate a friend's impending transition from Carltonian to Fitzroyite.

I hadn't previously investigated the savoury offerings from Brunetti. It is rather difficult to get past the pastry counter, after all. But venture further and you are rewarded with a stocked display case of piadinas, sfogliati and tramezzini. When choosing sandwich filling, Brunetti knows their market and stick with Italian favourites: popular fillings include proscuitto, eggplant and parmesan.

The sfogliati are similar to the Greek spanakopita: pastry sandwiches. A spinach and cheese option is available; however, I went with the melanzane, zucchini, mozzarella and feta ($8.80).The pastry isn't as flaky, or in as many layers, as on a spanakopita. The filling is simply delicious: each of the vegetables contributes strong flavour, so it has obviously been made with fresh ingredients. Cheese and pastry is always a wonderful combination and the mozzarella wraps everything in its gooey care and holds the whole together. The saltiness from the feta lingered a bit longer than I would have liked, though maybe only because I found it so enjoyable that I scoffed the whole slab.


25 March, 2008

Baker's Delight

Forgive me for having a Women's Weekly moment, but would you look at what I whipped up in the kitchen the other morning?This cider crumble slice came out of the oven looking fit for a country cookbook. The recipe asks for alcoholic cider too, so it's a wonderful excuse to have a drink while you bake (come on, it would be wasteful not to).

The recipe produces a doughy base from a small amount of butter, heated cider, flour, egg and ginger. One then melts more butter, along with sugar and golden syrup, stirs in a cored, sliced apple and spreads it on top of the base. Finish off the bottle of cider while it's baking!

While we're talking cider, is everyone aware of Henry of Harcourt? They produce exceptional apple and pear (Perry) cider. Any very long-term readers would know of my delight in pear cider, discovered in Estonia, and I'm thrilled to be able to source it here from such a commendable producer.


24 March, 2008

Gingerlee III

117 Lygon St, Brunswick East; 03 9380 4430

Given the timings of our previous visits to one of Brunswick's newer chic cafes, it would seem that Gingerlee + public holiday = our presence. On this occasion we'd met our out-of-town friends at the corner of Glenlyon and Lygon Rds, leaving open as many cafe options as possible (Poached, Sugardough, Small Block to name but some) to suit our brunch fancy of the morning. Savoury was where it was at for me, so the Persian-inspired dishes at Gingerlee got my vote.

The notion of a tagine for breakfast seemed an excellent method of delimiting the morning meal; and while I would in reality be on the footpath of an inner-suburban street, maybe my choice would connect me with a parallel version of myself, on safari somewhere in northern Africa. And perhaps in elevating my choice of breakfast to such metaphysical levels, I inevitably set my expectations too high.

The tagine houses baked beans, a yoghurt lemon dressing and coriander, accompanied by a terracotta side-plate of sourdough.It didn't provide the exotic, spice-filled satisfaction I was after, unfortunately. The beans (chickpea and a yellow bean) were granular rather than soft. My disappointment with the texture could just be down to personal preference, although I would argue that a softer bean indicates that it's been cooked for a more appropriate amount of time. Had the beans and tomatoes had more oomph then the dollop of yoghurt would have been sufficient, but as the sharpest taste on the plate I would have preferred an extra scoop. I should have called in some more butter for the toast too: added to the bean consistency it meant the dish was a little dry.

My next visit, however, will point me towards the poached eggs with rocket, ham, pork and fennel sausages and chutney.Runny eggs, sausages dotted with visible studs of flavour, and a chutney revealing chunks of garlic. If it's savoury you're after, that's a quality breakfast!

20 March, 2008


177-183 Lonsdale St, Melbourne; 03 9663 3316

When a restaurant's address covers four street numbers, you know you're dealing with an institution. And with interstate friends in town and a Comedy Festival show to catch, you know you can't go wrong settling in at Stalactites for a speedy serve of solid Greek food.

Stalactites has been around since the 70's. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provide an important service to Melbourne, in that they offer decent takeaway souvlaki ($9, now $10.50) anytime the craving hits. (The souvlaki is also available on the restaurant menu.)

The dine-in menu is long, but as the cuisine on offer is so iconic, we all found it easy to simply hunt out our Hellenic dish of choice.

Both the chaps at dinner went for the mixed grill. And frankly, why wouldn't you? $22 gets you more ovine and cattle on a plate than most sensible people could eat in a sitting: marinated lamb skewer, marinated giro, lamb chop, rissole and sausage. And just to be sure you supplement all that protein with both salt and vegetables, the grill comes with chips and Greek salad.

The Greek staple, moussaka, is expectedly dense.The eggplant is baked almost to the colour of the mince, and they both support a thick layer of potato, which has soaked up the bechamel sauce. To add even more weight, the dish comes with rice and baked vegetables. It's incredibly filling and full of the flavours endemic to Greek cooking.

Having had just such a craving earlier in the day, I looked no further on the menu than the kalamari. The dish is a mixture of squid and octopus, so tentacled pieces nestle amongst tender squid strips. The flesh is a bit hit and miss: some pieces soft and biteable, others tougher. Some bore slightly too close a resemblance to the live animal, and hence were used only for portraiture, and spared the eating! The accompanying Greek salad was nicely dressed, with two token olives and a small wodge of fetta. Masterfoods tartare sauce accompanied the fish: not my first choice of dressing.

We also had a bottle of retsina. My only other experience with Greek table wine was on the island of Paros, demolishing a very cherry-ish bottle of red on the beach in between taking an inordinate number of photos of the sunset. Many, many moons ago, the Greeks sealed their wine vessels with pine resin, and although barrels and glass bottles now adequately perform the task of keeping air out, the resin flavour is still added to the wine. It was a bit of a shock! The flavour improved (ie settled) somewhat after the wine had sat in the glass for a while.

The Comedy Festival show was Daniel Kitson, a very funny and intelligent man, who I heartily suggest you check out.


17 March, 2008

George ventures north

Exciting news from John Lethlean in last week's Epicure:

"The Press Club guys have a new restaurant opening in October. Just along Lygon Street from Rumi, in East Brunswick, Hellenic Republic will be a new-style old-style Greek taverna, according to [George] Calombaris."

On an evening sojourn to Gelobar last night I marked out the shopfront that I believe will house said taverna, just near Comfortable Chair. Can't wait for October!

Link to article

16 March, 2008

Lounge Bar

243 Swanston St, CBD; 03 9663 2916

Lounge is an excellent value stop-off in the middle of the city, particularly if you're after something other than noodles. Every day they offer a $10 lunch special, featuring a set dish and a glass of beer, wine or soft drink. During the week their lunch menu is augmented by various other $10 plates (sans drink).

Lounge is a well-integrated space, with the quirkily kitted-out bar and cafe downstairs - spherical drop lights weave through tree branches and 'flocked' isn't a strong enough adjective for the wallpaper - and a club upstairs. It also offers exhibition space and supports a record label and literary journal.

Our special of the day was a spicy beef salad.It came served on a mound of fresh and tangy vegetables, with olive tapenade dotted around the plate. It performed above expectation. For $10 I had no high hopes from the meat, but it was in fact quite tender and had been handled well to retain its tenderness in the warm salad. It was an amply sized serve as well.

SG's choice of chicken of chargrilled chicken breast didn't come off the specials menu.The serving was hefty, but the chicken meat was delicate. As if three chunks of chicken weren't enough, they rested upon a rosemary rosti. The carbohydrates were offset by a refreshing apple and avocado salsa. I agree, there are a lot of flavours going on here, but there are yet more to come. The white blob in the middle is a chorizo marscapone. It didn't compute for me on the menu, and it didn't blend well for me as a flavour combination either. That huge plate of meat, textures and taste experimentation was $17.50.


CERES cafe

Cnr Robert and Stewart Sts, Brunswick East; 03 9380 8861

It's hot. Very hot. It's also March, not January. Cars are going round and round in Albert Park, a week ago the leaves in the same park were starting to turn yellow in preparation for autumn, and yet here we are, venturing out into the heat to at least nurture our bodies with good food, seeing as we can't keep them cool at home.

CERES is close, so minimises the amount of exertion needs to get there. Sure, it's not air conditioned, but that wouldn't fit with the ethos of the place, whose menu offers organic, garden-grown options wherever possible.

After hanging out with that rogue penguin at Lambsgo Bar last night, a carefully-made, restorative, organic fair trade coffee is definitely in order.

For food, SG chooses the baguette of the day: kangaroo with rocket, goats cheese and tomato relish.The crusty bread clamps on thinly sliced fillet, the tender meat pieces contrasting against the nuts and seeds in the bread.

I faced a tough choice between Verity's famed baked eggs, organic housebaked beans with sourdough, or French toast. I went with the last of these, served with organic maple syrup and a choice of free-range bacon or fruit compote. I chose the latter, which on this occasion was blueberries.It was a wonderful choice. The thick brioche was giving rather than crusty, which also made it much more able to absorb the wonderful syrup. Rather than a sickly sweet pour of liquid sugar, this syrup was more viscose, like a thin honey, and added chewy, almost nutty notes rather than just sweetness. The berries were a great complement, balancing the dish, so that while satisfying it wasn't too filling.


Sala Thai

266 Brunswick St, Fitzroy; 03 9417 4929

It was time to take the penguin out for a night. He doesn't get to socialise enough, his resentment at which was demonstrated this Saturday last by refusing to squeak no matter how kindly I squeezed his beak.

Now you really couldn't lay blame for anything on a creature as cute as my penguin bag, but it was a direct result of taking him out for the evening that there is no pictorial record of our dinner at Sala Thai. He's too wee to hold camera, purse and water bottle; and the ambient candle- and fairylight atmosphere at the restaurant prevented my mobile from stepping into the breach.

So instead, merely a brief commentary on the food. The vegetarian spring rolls had a satisfying crunch, but the pastry seemed to mainly enclose cabbage: not a lot of diversity of flavour. The sizeable portion of pad med mamuang (cashew stir fry) came ladled with a commendable soy and ginger sauce and a colourful array of crisp vegetables (beans, capsicum), as well as a bowl's worth of cashew nuts on top. The pad see ew was disappointing. The soy sauce was quite watery and the beef, which I'd chosen as I rarely stir fry with it at home, was particularly tough: should have stuck with chicken.

Earlier trips to Sala Thai had been more promising. I've enjoyed good tom yum soup and pad thai there. If you're looking for a cheap mid-week dinner in Fitzroy, however, they offer a good value special dish each night, Monday - Thursday. Vegetarian green curry, with rice, for $9 would be a bargain, and you can wash it down with a $4 glass of wine, or just $5.50 for a bottle of Asahi.

07 March, 2008


163 Lygon St, Brunswick East; 03 9380 4060

Oh yes, that is a cup of liquid chocolate. It is heated, hence answers to the name of 'hot chocolate', but it is not a name that does it justice. The price of black gold may be through the roof thanks to the weak American dollar, and brown coal may be a source of environmental pariahism in Australia, but here we have brown gold, worth every striving Aussie cent of its $3.50 price tag.

It takes commitment to get through, but if you need pause while alternating between spoonfuls and sips, Sugardough are kind enough to serve their hot drinks on some very sweet saucers, which allow time to reminisce on tea parties past, or gatherings to come.

06 March, 2008

'Adverbs' - Daniel Handler

It has been some time between book reviews. I would struggle to draw parallels between the last book I reviewed, a novel of teen angst, and this one, Daniel Handler's intriguing, innovative and inscrutable collection of stories, Adverbs.

The book is a collection of explorations on the topic of love. In each story, a way of loving is examined - to love 'immediately', 'particularly' or 'wrongly' - and hence the book's title. The stories are loosely linked, with characters from earlier stories appearing strongly or tangentially in later ones. There is an overarching narrative voice: that of the author. One of the later stories is entitled 'Truly' and in this piece the writer speaks to the reader directly, giving details about writing the book and his personal experiences. Keeping track of each of the characters had been proving a challenge and suddenly, so far in, the author informs us that there are multiple Steves throughout the book, multiple Andreas. Just because two characters have the same name, doesn't mean they are the same character. What the reader should be looking for, he asserts, are the birds.

The stories are all founded on this level of irony. Can one love ironically? I think not, but one can undoubtedly discuss it ironically. Literature is, in fact, full of couples who are in love but spend most of their dialogue saying one thing when the audience knows they mean another. Handler, on the other hand, is masterful at saying exactly what he means in ways that I would postulate no one has thought of before. Why note someone as simply good-looking when they could be 'as handsome as a new truck'?

I am on record as being sceptical of books that come overly recommended. This one does not have international bestseller splashed all over the front, which, frankly, is not a surprise, since it is very far from the poorly thought out, overly accessible narratives that normally top the lists. What it does have are commendations from Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers. It could be a dissertation on the modern relevance of Handler's alter-ego, Lemony Snicket, and Jim Carrey's handling of one of her characters and I'd still crave to read it.

01 March, 2008

La Luna

320 Rathdowne St, Carlton North; 03 9349 4888

La Luna is known for its quality meat dishes. The restaurant houses its own drying room and the dining room provides ample food for thought while you wait to order or eat, with chalk drawings of a pig and cow, with the various meat cuts labelled, etched above the bar.

On this sunny, yet below-average cool, first Saturday in autumn we were there as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's Express Lunch series. Several highly-regarded restaurants around Melbourne offer a two-course lunch (chosen from entree, main and dessert) plus a glass of wine, for $30.

For entree, La Luna offered a lamb and lentil soup; baked figs; or house-made gnocchi in bolognese sauce. For mains, those not hankering for a meaty dish had the option of a silverbeet and two-cheese filo pie; or if after aquarian meat, house-cured salmon with chickpea, zucchini and tomato. Both of our mains, however, featured meat of the redder variety.

Firstly, the bull boar sausages, served with potato aioli, jus, roasted pepper and capers. The plump sausages had the coarse, dense texture of cured meat and were almost bursting against their skins with both fullness and flavour. This was offset by the moist aioli and the peppery and garlic flavours were balanced by the capers.

My main (my second preference after the bull boar sausages, to be honest, but where's the fun in ordering the same thing?) was chargrilled beef, dry-rubbed with sumac and chilli, served with green beans, fetta dressing and jalapeño dressing. The waitress had enthusiastically told us it 'packed quite a hit' (hence it's unsuitability for SG!) and she was quite right! It made for a great contrast, however. The meat was more grill-kissed, than chargrilled, so the spicy outer layer stood in for the crisp, sticky exterior of a longer-cooked piece of meat, and added grunt to the chewy flesh.

The desserts were just exquisite. A white chocolate and raspberry parfait had SG moaning in delight and threatening to establish a life long relationship with his dessert and even just looking at it I didn't blame him. I was experiencing similar feelings of devotion to my chocolate pudding, with ganache and espresso ice cream. It was so indulgent, with the cold creaminess melting into the chocolate sauce and both soaking into the spongey pudding, creating a fusion of those two great beans, cocoa and coffee.

A thoroughly civilised, enjoyable afternoon, spent in the company of notable food, happy diners and helpful staff.