Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Green Park Dining - Brunch

Easy, comforting, reliable. 

Sometime’s that’s all you need. And that’s exactly what I got with Green Park Dining when I needed to take my American friend for a distinctly Melbourne brunch right after new year. So damn hard to figure out where to go when half the places in town are closed!

The breeze was balmy, the beautiful big windows open, with kids ducking in and out and lots of people fitter than me in their lycra and on their bikes. Green Park Dining had a nice buzzing, but also low key energy that’s quite refreshing to be immersed in.

My American buddy was craving the closest thing he could get to American percolated coffee and was tickled with his flask full of filter goodness. The coffees and chai’s are flawless, smooth and creamy. 

We convinced my buddy to get baked eggs, cause it’s such a Melbourne thing, although since Brad and I hadn’t had them before at Green Park Dining we were a little nervous that perhaps they wouldn’t be how we would usually like them.

Never fear, Green Park Dining know what they’re doing, lovely and saucy, with a touch of labne to cut through, meaty lamb Merguez sausage and perfectly soft yolk eggs swimming around in the middle. Mix it all up and dip in that bread. Goodness. 

There are a couple of things on a menu that will always make my heart skip a beat. One of those things? Black pudding, or fried morcilla (either will do). So when I saw the fried morcilla with a fried duck egg and chickpeas on the menu? Despite many other delicious options, I knew that’s what I had to have. And what a protein hit it was! Delicious, and quite rich, but a bit of lemon helps cut through.

Since I was making friends with the morcilla, I somewhat insisted (although he was already considering it anyway) that Brad get the cornbread with avocado, scrambled eggs and a tomato chipotle relish. I loved the corn bread, which is gluten free, with a generous smattering of corn kernels throughout, and a lovely fluffy texture. The scrambled eggs are perfectly fluffy, gentle golden folds and waves, just as the should be. 

To finish, one surely has to be tempted by the alluring little display of sweets at the front counter. Popcorn anything simply delights me, so my buddy and I settled on this nibble with banana, popcorn and caramel flavours, which are simply one of the best flavour marriages ever. 

We left satisfied that we had given my American friend a great representation of what a solid Melbourne brunch is like. Sure, something like Top Paddock or Hammer and Tong speaks of Melbourne's creativity with brunch, but to get back to basics and give you the goods, Green Park Dining is doing a solid job. With a little twist on dessert I suppose; can't completely ignore the quirk Melbourne brings to just about everything!

815 Nicholson Street
Carlton North 3054

Green Park on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 2, 2015

Shimbashi Soba & Sake bar

Little places that do good food that take bookings. 

There’s not many of them in Melbourne, but they do exist!

Although I didn’t realise Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar took bookings until after I got there with Brad for a cheap and cheerful eat before a friends drinks later in the evening. It had been on my ‘want to visit’ list for a long time, but I kept forgetting to visit in the midst all the pretty Scandinavian interiors and fermented everything that keep popping up.

We had just booked our trip to Tokyo (which won’t be until November this year) a few days prior to visiting Shimbashi, so once we stepped in, I was almost quivering with excitement, as it almost felt like I was back in Japan and made me wish our Japan trip was coming up much much sooner! 

The staff are sweet and friendly, obviously Japanese; the cocktails all play off J-pop band names or popular karaoke bands and general Japanese culture, but what we’re really here for, is the soba noodles that are not only hand made, but the buckwheat flour is even ground by them, with the buckwheat sourced from Tasmania. These guys are legit.

Prior to our soba, we received a complimentary potato salad, and some cold sake for a balmy night.

Brad got the warm Sansai Soba, which is served in a hot soup with mushrooms and vegetables, and I opted for chilled Soba with tempura on the side. 

The noodles were definitely the star, with a nice firmness, and a smooth texture, my plate was definitely empty a lot faster than I had expected! I really enjoyed the tempura as well, the batter was very light and crisp; almost reminiscent of the amazing tempura I had in Tokyo last year, but not quite there yet. Brad’s soup was very tasty, and as he finished up his noodles, I kept reaching over the table to slurp up what was left of the soup. 

Shimbashi really is a slice of Japan in Melbourne, and I would absolutely visit more frequently…if my office wasn’t on the other side of town. Sigh! 

17 Liverpool Street
Melbourne 3000

Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Japan - Koyasan

Following a night on my own in Osaka, I spent the next morning slowly met up with my other friends who came in at different times from different countries…and squeezing in a quick game of DDR of course!

After we had all congregated, we grabbed a quick soba meal at Nanba train station (with wasabi root that you have to grate to get your wasabi…loving it), which has a vast selection of food before making our way to Koyasan.

Koyasan is a World Heritage site, and the centre of Shingon Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi who brought it to Japan from China. Following the building of the first temple by Kobo Daishi in 826, when he deemed that Koyasan was the best place for to be the home of the religion, more than 100 temples have been built there since. 

It’s a pretty straight forward trip, roughly a 2 hour train ride from Nanba station in Osaka, just be conscious that you may have to get off the train and move to a different carriage, as they shorten the train as it continues up the mountains! It’s a beautiful and relaxing ride, with the scenery constantly changing. Bring a good book, or load your tablet up with episodes of Ink Master (or maybe that’s just me).

My friends stocked up on Krispy Kremes for the train ride up. Just how cute is the snowman one? Highly recommended!

Once the train pulls into Koyasan station, you change on to a cable car, which climbs an impossibly steep slope through the forest, to take you up to the very top of the mountain. I can’t help but feel like I’m in a Hayao Miyazaki film, with nothing but dense trees surrounding, lush and green, with a couple giving away to the chill and turning orange as autumn creeps in. 

And once you’re up at the top of the cablecar, you will need to take the bus (there’s only one route fortunately!) to get to your accommodation. 

At Koyasan, there are no ‘hotels’ as such, instead, you stay in temple lodges that are looked after by monks. But don’t get it twisted, you can get some very, very, very nice accommodation here, which surprised me immensely.

My friend had organised for us to stay at Fudouin, and it is impeccably looked after. Although definitely traditional, it’s looking very new and clean, with beautifully kept gardens and an overall zen feeling, although I suppose you would expect that at a buddhist centre now right? 

I was fortunate enough to stay in one of the nicest rooms in the lodge, which was simply ginormous, with a room for the futons to be set up, a room with a kotatsu (a low wooden table covered by a futon, that has a heater underneath…it’s the best), and a brand spanking new bathroom that had a bath tub that filled up with the press of a button.

I hadn’t gotten much information from my friend before we arrived, and safe to say, this was far more than I expected. We even had wifi! 

We were a little early for dinner, so we walked around the small town, picked up some snacks for our evening meeting, as well as beer for dinner, the temple lodging obviously don’t supply alcohol but you’re welcome to BYO, and jumped like lunatics in front of temples. Just your average Thursday night out right?

So accommodation at these temple lodges include dinner and breakfast, both of which are vegetarian. Although some of my forum mates were bemoaning this initially (boys…), once we actually went to sit down (in the dining room that is over 150 years old, the oldest in Koyasan apparently) and eat…we were all simply blown away.


Composed of lots of little dishes, from cold and silky tofu, a range of pickles, to simple the best vegetable tempura I’ve ever had, to a couple of slices of potato seasoned just right; this was the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever had. There’s also a bowl of hot udon in soup waiting for you, and the monks, who speak excellent English, bring around plenty of rice. I was surprised how full I was at the end of the night!

The next morning, if you wake up early enough, you can join them for morning service, which is around 6:30 or 7:00am, and is quite a surreal experience in the dim candle light as the monks chant, and go through their rituals which includes a variety of bells and instruments. At the end, the head monk actually gives you a little history lesson on Koyasan and Fudouin (most facts I’ve mentioned earlier in this post), before guiding you to breakfast…

…where you’re treated to another beautiful laid out vegetarian meal. I’m surprised how much care they take into presenting the meal as well, a visual feast before you even get to eating! And just in case you think the bright orange liquid in the egg cup is an egg yolk…it’s actually a carrot juice/puree. Tricked all of us. 

The thing most people come to Koyasan to see, is Okunoin, a ginormous graveyard with more than 200,000 grave stones that lead up to Okunoin Gyobo, a mausoleum that was erected by Kukai’s disciples when he passed. 

Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the mausoleum, which is beautiful, the graveyard itself is a stunning walk, where forestry has taken over most of the stones, and you do indeed feel like you’re suddenly in a Miyazaki film. I loved all the Buddha and deity statues that had been draped with little bibs or aprons, adding a flourish of colour to the forest.  

We also stumbled on to Torodo, the lantern temple, which is simply one of the most beautiful spaces, it’s walls lined with temples, some of which supposedly have been burning for thousands of years (with some maintenance I’m sure though). 

Just before we headed back to the cable car to make our descent down the hill, we popped into one of the only cafes in Koyasan, the Bon On Shya International Cafe. The small and cosy spot is very earthy, and once again, makes me feel like I’m in a Miyazaki film. Here, we have a delicious flourless chocolate cake, and a surprisingly good chai latte, who would’ve thought? My friends are also very appreciative for excellent coffee as well (especially after that early morning service!)

It was quite sad to be leaving Koyasan, where the air is so crisp and fresh, and the atmosphere is always calm and relaxed. If you’re ever visiting Japan and have an extra day or two to spare in Kyoto or Osaka, I would highly recommend an overnight stay, as it was definitely one of my highlights of the trip.