Friday, December 19, 2014

Nora




Nora doesn’t feel like a cafe. With a bright, white and minimally decorated entry, with just the few pops of colour here and there, you might think you’re in some gorgeous homeware retail shop instead of an eatery.


Even the menu is accompanied with a ‘look book’, that provides blown up macro shots of the food, and tiny little previews of what the dish might look like. It’s like as if food and fashion met each other and had a baby. 


I visited Nora with a couple of colleagues before heading into work, and the 5 of us quickly occupied most of the small cafe, which had quite limited seating. Would definitely recommend keeping your numbers low if you're intending to visit, you might not fit otherwise!


The small menu made it quite easy to order since many of us were there; we almost got one of everything!



Although there was no chai latte to be had (they had run out!), everything was okay when I got to know their House Breakfast tea, with ceylon, red poppy petals, chamomile, lavender and blue cornflower petals. Not just beautifully presented in it’s glass teapot, but I instantly fell in love with this tea that was so floral and sweet on the nose, which also translated to the palate. Just stunning. One of the best teas I’ve encountered this year!




For breakfast, I decided to try the lightly smoked and jasmine cured salmon, with young coconut, nashi and nasturtium. This wasn’t a plate, this was a work of art! A gorgeous array of colours and textures, it was a lovely light and bright start to the day, although I must say I probably could have used a little bit more salmon to bulk up the meal for me. 


The bacon dish with onion consomme, rice, pickles and corn smelt amazing when it was popped down, although I thought it was surprisingly modest in size for breakfast, although it did look like my colleagues who ordered it had solid thick cut chunks of bacon underneath the garnish.




I had quite a bit of food envy at my friend who got the ‘Flakes’, with polenta, wild rice, quinoa, crystallised nut and milk. She struggled to finish the serve, and when I chomped on it, I just loved the nuttiness and all the crunchy and varied textures throughout the dish. Definitely what I would order next time!


I did feel a little sorry fro my friend who ordered the ‘Flour, Water and Salt’ dish, although it sounds awesome on paper, sourdough with semi churned butter, chicken liver parfait and jam, it is a very tiny looking serve. I guess once eaten, it is probably enough for one person for breakfast, but on presentation alone, it’s a little bit sad looking. 


Nora is definitely not your average cafe, I would never bring Brad here as I highly doubt he would be full enough from any of the dishes he would be likely to order, and would never likely order the dishes that would fill him up (like the Flakes). If you want wholesome, comforting breakfast food, I would not recommend Nora for you. However, if you are looking to have something different from the usual Melbourne scene (like I frequently am these days), Nora definitely pushes your breakfast boundaries and dishes up something a little bit different. 


Plus that tea was amazing. That and I missed out on charcoal tarts because we were in for breakfast!

Nora
156 Elgin Street
Carlton 3053

Nora on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grand Trailer Park Taverna

Disclosure: I was invited to the launch of Grand Trailer Park Taverna, but returned on my own dollar

Burgers. We’re saturated in them. How much better can minced cow, squashed between two buns get? When you think about it, surely there’s not much more we can do, but then you come across Grand Trailer Park Taverna, and there’s nothing else you can think about.


But when you’re carrying the prestige that Dandenong Pavillion has with you, for some of the best darned burgers in Melbourne, you had better live up to it! And fortunately they do. Grand Trailer Park Taverna has opened up in the city with a bang, and damn. They’ve really cut the mustard. They do good burgers. 



I was lucky enough to snag an invite to the launch, and bounded up the hidden set of stairs on the corner of Bourke and Exhibition, up into a room with caravans retrofitted as booths, picnic style wooden tables and chairs, and a whole lot of kitsch cuteness. It was colourful and playful with the beats spinning in the background; but I had a whole lot of tummy rumbling going on!


Fortunately, they were quick to dispense the mini burgers, and we were not disappointed. We tucked into McDowell’s, classics with Aussie beef patties, American cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, lettuce and McDowell sauce. The ‘Chunk’ was a serious hit amongst the group, with jalapeño’s and gherkins and caramelised onion adding a real bite and depth of flavour. 



The Francis Underwood also totally slayed us towards the end of the night, with beef patties, American cheddar cheese, tomato, burger lettuce and the creme de la creme, a potato mac and cheese croquette. Slay me!


Let’s not forget the chips, which may not be as crunchy as I usually like them, but damn, hand cut chips are just the bomb. Hints of potato skin left, heaps of flavour. Loving it.


We also got to try the delightfully boozy salted caramel milkshake, healthily spiked with Markers Mark Bourbon. Whoo! Don’t let the kids get this one! Although boozy, it was still super tasty with the sweetness of the caramel coming up in the aftermath of the punch of bourbon. 


Just as we were about to leave, desserts came out, and I certainly had no regrets staying to try them. The Return of the Mack; premium vanilla ice-cream, warm chocolate sponge cake, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream was one of the most simple, but most enjoyable desserts I have had recently, the quality of the chocolate and ice-cream really coming through. 


We also got a little sample of their Wizz Fizz Ice-cream, 3 mini waffles cones filled with that delectably smooth ice-cream, and coated with house made Wizz Fizz. You should have seen me. I was a sight, with my happy little kids dance as the Wizz Fizz fizzled and tickle the mouth. So playful and so much fun. I felt like I was 5 again.


Since the launch party, I have revisited with Brad and a friend, where I tucked into an Ivan Drogo, but ‘protein style’ (or that’s what they call it at In-n-Out…which is one of their inspirations), which means it’s sandwiched between lettuce leaves instead of bread. So it’s gluten free, and gives your waistline a little more peace of mind. Just a little.


The Ivan Drogo is a sexy little beast, with premium Aussie beef patties, American cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, black Russian tomato, sliced beetroot and tsar burger sauce. Just yum. Juicy, well rounded in flavour, and that tsar burger sauce? Mayo-y heaven. I was contemplating removing my bacon, I know blasphemy, as I was feeling a little bit ‘meated’ out for the week (mum had picked up a giant leg of ham and loads of bacon from Istra earlier in the week), but once I had it all in one bite…there was no changing anything! Loved the crunch of the lettuce as well. 


We also tried the Ace of Spades dessert, a Nutella parfait with Nutella ice magic, house made marshmallow and roasted hazelnuts. If you’re not a chocolate lover, you better stay away. If though, like me, you would like to regularly bathe in a bath of chocolate…by all means, this is your dessert! I loved the texture of the ice magic when it had hardened, as there was still a nice and smooth softness to it and it was densely rich in chocolatey flavour. Swoon.


We also had more of the milkshakes, this time the salted caramel milkshake can topped with maple bacon (as every bourbon cocktail should). The kinder surprise with frangelico and baileys was a smooth and chocolatey delight, you could hardly taste the alcohol in it, but the peanut butter and jelly on the other hand, solidly smacked you in the face with rum. Woah. But like the salted caramel, the peanut butter and jelly flavours sneaked up as the flavour of the rum subsided in the mouth. 

I was certainly a little bit more intoxicated than I had planned to be that night!

Grand Trailer Park Taverna is already pumping, full steam ahead, but even on a Friday night, I found the turnover time very reasonable, we only waited for about 10 minutes or so and they were very keen to make sure we were seated as soon as possible, and the ordering at the bar system makes ordering and receiving your food very simple and straight forward. I was immensely impressed during my second visit just how fast our burgers came out after ordering. It could not have been more than 5 or 10 minutes. Maximum. 

And on top of that, even with how busy they are, all the staff are just so darned nice, which to be honest, is a little bit unexpected in what you would think is a super hipster joint. 

I’m popping by later this week with the whole office, and I’m super excited, because that means waffles for all….

87 Bourke Street
Melbourne CBD

Grand Trailer Park Taverna on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mastic

Often when Brad and I get up in the morning on a weekend, he’ll ask me where I want to go for breakfast and I’ll freeze in a moment of panic as I try to recollect everything I had been reading the last week about new openings, or places I had yet to visit and what was still sitting on my wishlist after ages and go into a spinning frenzy of names and options and have a mini freak out until I had it nailed down to three options, before randomly picking one of the three.

So it was most refreshing just this past weekend to wake up in the morning, wash up and know exactly where we were going, since I had planned it earlier in the week.


It feels like Mastic has quietly opened, without too much hype…and right around the corner from me! Well, actually a 5 minute drive, but you know what I mean; it’s in my hood! 

My boss had given it great reviews, and once you have a good anecdotal review of a new place, it’s hard to resist. That and my bosses had stolen a menu into the office and once I saw there were some egg dishes on the menu, I knew I could bring Brad on a weekend. Phew!


Mastic is located right next to, or more technically, in Hellenic Republic at Kew Junction, with what was the private dining room (or so I’ve been told) being renovated into an all day, 7 day a week cafe with a focus on whole foods and healthy eating, without skimping on the flavour.


Mastic was bright, poppy and colourful, and a shiny silver sliding automatic door made me feel like I was in the future. I found the cafe itself once you stepped through the door quite dark and cavernous, despite the bright cheery pops of colour, so opted to sit out in the mezzanine area (I guess you could call it that), looking out over the street. 


I was smitten with their gorgeous dark blue coffee cups, with white lips, which exactly matched their takeaway coffee cups as well, which I thought was a gorgeous touch (and great brand consistency!). Obviously the coffee is provided by Will & Co.; both Brad and mum (who I brought a takeaway coffee for) approved. 


There was no chai latte here for me, so I opted for the green smoothie with apple, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, kale, kiwi, lemon and chia seeds. Delicious. Sweet, but incredibly zesty, with the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and lemon really making a stand in flavour. I contemplated that this is what a green smoothie with an Asian twist would taste like! The price felt a little steep at $9, but in comparison, a pre-made smoothie at Pressed Juice costs the same, for a smaller bottle, so I could justify it when putting it in that perspective!

There’s a healthy selection on the menu for breakfast and lunch, with everything coming in under $15, from bowls of granola and porridge, to egg dishes, to ‘Greek Style’ sandwiches (which can be made with gluten free bread!) and salads. Believe me, it was tough to decide what I wanted to have!



I settled on the Hellenic grain salad (as I had been feeling a bit bloated and heavy as of late), which came with grilled yellowfin tuna. Fresh, textural, with nice vibrant hits of coriander and mint throughout and sweetness from raisins, George’s grain salad has always been a hit at his other joints, and at Mastic it was no different. I loved the addition of the tuna as well, cooked just the way I like it, still a little rare on the inside, so that the knife just melts through it, and it melts in the mouth. So clean, so easy, very delicious.



Brad got the other dish I probably would have got, which was the poached eggs with vegemite, heirloom tomato, avocado, and gluten free toast. The one bite I had was all levels of yum. Their gluten free pumpkin bread is lovely and nutty, with a nice little crunch on the crust. The vegemite layered underneath the fresh produce also added a nice amount of depth in flavour, a richness, and a nice hit of salt. 

Although I also had my eyes on the sweets, I figured I would save them for another time. Since Mastic is just at Kew junction, which is on my way to work, I think it’ll simply be too easy to pop in for a quick nibble. 



I really like Mastic’s approach to healthy eating, it feels holistic, not preachy, and quite approachable indeed, which is how it should be really! Will definitely be back, especially in the lead up to Christmas when I’m trying to make sure I’ve got some room for those big meals coming up…

Mastic
26 Cotham Street
Kew 3101

Mastic on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pidapipo Gelateria - Here to stay!

Disclosure: I was invited to visit Pidapipo Gelateria as a guest


Cool marble counter, shiny Pizzetti lids, raw concrete walls and bright pops of colour amongst fresh fruit and Italian produce on the shelves. Pidapipo Gelateria has reopened in Carlton, with a whole lot of style.



I, like many I’m sure, was greatly saddened when the Pidapipo Pop Up closed down, as besides Spring Street Gelato, Pidapipo had my favourite gelato in town. But then news of their reopening, in a permanent home this time, lifted spirits again, especially since it’s now just around the corner from the pop-up location (so one doesn’t have to go too far)! In what seemed like a flash, the shop has gone from construction site to very stylish and European gelateria. 



I had the pleasure of getting a sneak peek before opening date and having a little meet and greet with Lisa Valmorbida, bright-eyed and bursting with energy, who enthusiastically took us through her now 20 flavours available. 


So exciting. I felt just like a kid in a gelato store…wait a minute…


Lisa’s actually got a background as a chef, and spent some time working at Donovan’s where she felt she needed to specialise in something, and found she always gravitated towards the patisserie and sweet side of things. With her Italian background, she noticed a gap for really authentic Italian gelato, and made the jump (or flight I guess) to Italy, where she went to the Carpigiani Gelato University to learn how to make gelato.

Just for the record, surely that’s the best university to exist ever?


Her dedication and hard work have certainly paid off, as each flavour we tried, which are made fresh each day with the best ingredients she can find, are simply delicious. Not just in richness and authenticity of flavour, but in the simply stunning texture her gelato’s also have. 



Some of my favourite flavours of the night included the peanut butter, which is just a burst of flavour in the mouth and intensely creamy; the pistachio, one of my favourite’s in town, which actually tastes of nuts with a lovely strong  flavour; and Christmas pudding.

Yeah, you head me right. Christmas pudding. All cinnamon, raisins and rich spices. It actually tasted like Christmas. We had so much of it they ran out the night we were there! 


As you can tell, I’ve got a bit of a bias towards slightly richer flavours, but fruity flavours like watermelon, rockmelon, pineapple and passionfruit did not disappoint. Nor did the bannoffee. Or the bacio. And the coke float flavour, a special for about a month, made in collaboration with Raph Rashid of Beat Box Kitchen, is surprisingly tasty too!




Lisa also introduced us to Luca Calcaterra from La Formaggeria in St Kilda, who makes the ricotta she uses in her ricotta, honey and cinnamon gelato. The honey she gets from Honey Fingers, who’s set up a rooftop hive on the roof (obviously)! 




It takes just eight minutes once the gelato mix is made and put in to the machine, for the gelato be made. Like most things, it’s simply divine fresh. The texture just can’t be compared, as it’s so dense, velvety and smooth, and even better when topped with a dollop of honeycomb, compliments from the hives upstairs as well. So, so, so good and a perfect marriage with the ricotta ice-cream. 




The honeycomb will be available as a topping, so do make sure to try it out, along with never ending running chocolate that comes out of a tap…that wasn’t working on the night we were there, but should be by now!


Lisa will also be offering frappes made from the gelato, as well as brioche, which the gelato is scooped into and topped with whipped cream. Take all my money, take it now!


I know I always get excited for sweet things, hell I get excited for just about anything delicious and food related, but believe me, I’m really excited that Pidapipo is back and with vigour from today (12th of December). Even though I’m sure the cosy little space is going to get crowded, you’re gonna see a lot of me here, probably with the pistachio gelato in hand and a goofy grin on my face. 

Like a kid in a gelato store…


…wait a minute….

299 Lygon Street
Carlton 3053

Pidapipó on Urbanspoon