I was invited as a guest of Yarra City Council and didn’t really know what to expect. And for a first-time go at running the Food Safari Picnic I thought it was remarkably successful. Melbourne’s temperamental weather even pulled out a beautifully balmy day for the outdoor event.
Picnickers were instructed to gather at O’Connell’s Reserve, a small park at the end of Bridge Road before you hit the Yarra River. As I pulled up my bike I could hear the jazz musicians playing and smelled delicious porky aromas coming from the barbecue set up on the lawn.
The nice thing about this picnic was that you didn’t have BYO anything. Instead for $85 ($45 children) each person was handed a neon green cooler bag which you could fill with four dishes from the participating Bridge Road eateries – including previous blog HOTs Touchwood, Laikon Deli and Richmond Hill and Larder.
The choice was impressive, from kale salads to shrimp rolls to cheese platters to tiramisu. Each dish was a full serving too so in fact the four dishes could easily have fed two people. As such I chose items I thought would last a trip home as leftovers – a rich overnight-smoked pulled pork brioche bun with red cabbage slaw from The Collection, the famous spanikopita and baklava from Laikon Deli, the Mexican chicken salad from Touchwood and high tea set of baked treats by Qualia Empire cafe.
To get you in the eating mode everyone was offered a coffee/hot drink from the coffee cart at O’Connell Reserve before being taken on a private ferry boat to putt along the Yarra to Herring Island, an environmental park in the middle of the river in South Yarra which is only accessible by boat.
Even though the river cuts through the heart of our city I think it’s rare for most people to view Melbourne from the water. I urge you to try it sometime! Look at the wildlife that lives along the banks, feel the serenity of the narrow waterway and gawp at the multi-million dollar mansions on the slopes.
After about 40 minutes of hearing nothing but laughter and gently lapping water we pulled up at Herring Island. Many people don’t realise that this secluded island oasis exists in the heart of inner Melbourne, and that you can visit in the summer months.
We were directed to the picnic area, stopping to appreciate some of the sculptures hidden in the forestry. At the picnic area again there were picnic blankets, scatter cushions, low seating under umbrellas and even some gentle live music to chill out to while you enjoyed your picnic hamper. Best of all, you could have some creamy ice cream for dessert from the Sicilian vintage Bianco Latte gelato cart (which they had to carry on board a boat and sail to the island!).
To walk off all that eating the Herring Island society ran free tours of the gallery and environmental sculpture garden every hour. Sculptures include works by Jill Peck, Ellen Jose, and Andy Goldsworthy.
The Food Safari Picnic was one of the most charming, good-value events I’ve participated in throughout my years of attending the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. For $85 you received four picnic dishes (about two more than you’d actually need), coffee, gelati, water, a picnic bag, return ferry ride and entertainment. I hope that Yarra City Council run it more often during the year as it’s a brilliant idea, not only to introduce people to the food and wine of Bridge Road but to allow Melburnians to appreciate their city from another point of view and to discover the unknown gem that’s Herring Island.
NB The Herring Island punt service only operates Saturdays, Sundays and certain public holidays. The punt will not run on Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, or Good Friday.
Why did the blogger (who doesn’t drink coffee) cross town to visit Axil Coffee Roasters in Hawthorn?
No, not to get to the other side. Because Axil Coffee Roasters do more than just roast coffee – they put on a magnificent spread from the kitchen, 7 days a week starting from the wee hours of the morning.
The signage outside the venue is understated and you wouldn’t imagine that behind the awning there’s a vast warehouse space filled with a black walls, polished concrete, greenery and timber. Not to mention a coffee roastery and barista training school too – all behind glass so you can have a gawp on your way to the loos.
This is one serious cafe.
Anyway, it goes without saying that the coffee must be excellent (the cafe won Best Coffee in The Age Good Cafe Guide 2013), so let’s switch to the food. It was pretty adventurous fare and made it difficult to choose.
Because I’m a huge smoked salmon fan I went with the housemade salmon pastrami ($20). It was a generous mound of thinly sliced and lightly spiced raw fish draped over a tangy yellow pickled zucchini and some crunchy celeriac croquettes. The wobbly poached egg on top oozed yolk so luckily for the spoonful of beetroot relish cutting through the richness. It was a beautifully presented tower of breakfast with lots of bright hues and vivid flavours.
Not content to try just one breakfast dish I ordered a breakfast dessert – red velvet pancakes. These are cupcakes disguised in pancake form! Three ethereally light deep crimson pancakes topped with a decadent mix of raspberries and a cream cheese ganache instead of the usual cream cheese frosting ($16.50). The cherry on top was the inky black sesame icecream which added a cool intensity to the mix. These spectacular pancakes are not to be missed if you have a sweet tooth!
I was delighted with the service at Axil Coffee Roasters too. They didn’t raise an eyebrow when I declined to order coffee and brought me newspapers and the food very promptly. As I was leaving the tables were starting to fill up with cyclists and young families doing the early morning shift.
With a reputation for good coffee and food of such excellent quality, no doubt Axil Coffee Roasters will continue to attract people needing that hit of caffeine and/or interesting, well-priced meals.
The Age Good Food Under $30 is coming out this Saturday and last night the 2014 award winners were announced. Here is a list of the 3 star places that scored 18-20 out of a possible 20 points. Places marked * have been reviewed previously on the blog as HOT!
Bar Nacional – Spanish tapas bringing life to Docklands.
Bomba* - Spanish tapas with awesome rooftop bar. Also winner of best bar menu of the year.
Chin Chin - Super funky Asian. So hyped and over-blogged I haven’t ever bothered writing a review, even though it’s excellent. Let’s just say it’s HOT.
Fomo Thai – fun and modern Thai.
The Grain Store* - beautifully made sandwiches, salads and meals.
Mamak - Sydney-imported Malaysian with some of the best roti in town.
Mamasita - The queues say it all. Another excellent restaurant that I’ve never blogged about because it’s been written up so much and terrible lighting for photography.
Nama Nama* - Gorgeous Japanese restaurant specialising in udon.
Ombra* - Salumi and other great Italian eats.
INNER SOUTH & BAYSIDE
Chez Dre* - Pastries and other delicious baked goods near South Melbourne Market.
The Petty Officer - Speciality coffee cafe in heart of Albert Park.
Salford Lads Club* – Bike-friendly cafe near Fisherman’s Bend in Port Melbourne.
Station Street Trading Co - Port Melbourne cafe from the team behind Coin Laundry.
B’Stilla - Moroccan restaurant in South Yarra, also winner of best restaurant in 2014.
Colonel Tan’s - Cool Asian on top of Revolver nightclub from head chef of Cookie and The Toff In Town.
Hobba - Warehouse cafe in Prahran.
Mr Miyagi – Fun Japanese at the Windsor end of Chapel Street.
Two Birds One Stone - South Yarra cafe from the team behind Top Paddock, winner of best new cafe in The Age Cafe Guide 2013.
INNER NORTH & WEST
Auction Rooms* - North Melbourne cafe, winner of best cafe in The Age Cafe Guide 2013.
Bistro K* – Inventive, modern Korean in Collingwood.
Carlton Espresso* - Super slick Italian cafe in Little Italy, Lygon Street Carlton.
Hammer & Tong* – Cool Fitzroy cafe and winner of best breakfast spot of the year.
Horn Please - Cheap and cheerful North Fitzroy Indian.
Jimmy Grants* - Those souvas are addictive! I’m there almost once a week.
Rockwell & Sons* – American diner in Collingwood with Wednesday fried chicken nights.
Small Victories* – Rathdowne St cafe and 2013 winner of best breakfast spot of the year.
Smith Street Alimentari* – Beautiful Collingwood foodstore with amazing take home pork and fennel lasagna.
Yong Green Food* - Raw, vegetarian and vegan food from quirky Fitzroy cafe. Also winner of vegetarian of the year.
Young Bloods Diner* – One of my Fitzroy favourites. I can never go past their kedgeree.
Bistro Goemon – Japanese fusion in Elsternwick.
Bombay by Night - Indian stalwart in Caulfield South.
Merchants Guild - Cafe in Bentleigh East.
True South – Restaurant and micro-brewery in Black Rock.
Dainty Sichuan - The Box Hill restaurant wins best new restaurant this year.
Hawthorn Common - Hawthorn bakery and cafe and winner of sustainable practice champ.
Izakaya Jiro – Japanese DIY charcoal grill in Hawthorn.
Life on Mars – Brunch spot with gourmet takeaway in Hawthorn.
Ora Specialty Coffee* – Inventive Kew cafe.
Bar Idda - Home style Sicilian in Brunswick East.
Lolo & Wren – Brunswick West cafe.
The Moor’s Head – ‘Inauthentic pizza’ in Thornbury.
Pope Joan - Excellent Brunswick East cafe with adjoining food store.
Wide Open Road - Coffee roastery and cafe in Brunswick.
The Premises - Kensington coffee specialists.
Fat Bob’s Bar & Grill - Gourmet burgers in Moorabbin.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Wye River General Store* – More than your average seaside general store.
Apple Annie’s* - Austrian bakery/cafe in Castlemaine.
Breakfast & Beer – European bier cafe in Daylesford.
Dhaba at the Mill - Indian food in Kyneton.
Du Fermier - French farmhouse style kitchen created by chef Annie Smithers in Trentham.
The Forge Pizzeria - Family-friendly pizzeria in Ballarat and winner of Traveller Country Champ.
Lucky Strike - Restaurant and wine lounge in Clunes.
Naam Pla Thai Kitchen – Authentic Thai in Castlemaine.
Taste of the Orient – Chinese yum cha in Castlemaine.
Wombat Hill House – Historic gardens, house and restaurant in Daylesford.
The Age Good Food Under $30 will be available for $5 with The Saturday Age on March 1 from participating newsagents, in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.
The decisive guide to Melbourne
Reviews of what's HOT and NOT in the city.