HOT: Syracuse Wine Bar and Restaurant, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

Syracuse Wine Bar and Restaurant, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

I haven’t  been to Syracuse in over five years and it seems that it hasn’t changed too much. Still the dramatic draped curtain at the entrance. Still the strong attention to wine. Still lovely food to share.

I was thinking about why I hadn’t been back to Syracuse for so long and I think it’s because I’m not much of a drinker. If you love wine, then I’m told that this is the place to go to sample some gorgeous drops, and the cheapest bottle of wine starts at around the $40 mark. If you love food more (like me), then while I think the food is pretty good I think it does take second place to the focus on wine.

Between three of us we shared five small plates and a side and I think that was the right amount of food.

Pan fried calamari with wild rocket ($17).  This was a large plate heaped with tender calamari and rocket with a dressing that I’ve forgotten but also not memorable.


Garlic prawns with cauliflower puree and preserved lemon ($15). The prawns were quite juicy, while the puree was perfect with bread.

Syracuse Wine Bar and Restaurant, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

Grilled octopus with chorizo, potato, paprika and pickled garlic ($14.50). I generally enjoyed the mix of textures in this dish, especially the knobs of soft octopus, although the tiny bits of chorizo were a bit hard and bullet-like for my liking.

Syracuse Wine Bar and Restaurant, 23 Bank Place, Melbourne

Braised beef rump meatballs with Napoli sauce ($12.50). This was my least favourite dish – the meatballs, while well seasoned, were a bit firm and one-dimensional in flavour for me. The sauce was good for dipping with bread though.

Rabbit with white wine and figs ($18.50). As Matt Preston would say, the ‘hero’ dish of the night with tender rabbit pieces and tiny melting figs (sorry for the fuzzy pic).

Brussels sprouts with bacon ($9.50). This dish will convert Brussels sprouts haters, I promise. Far removed from the overboiled green sludge of boarding school memories, these were fresh pan-fried sprouts with charred edges and flecked with the saltiness of bacon.

Overall I enjoyed every dish we ordered, to varying degrees. I wasn’t blown away by the food, but it was solidly cooked so that I would be quite happy to return to Syracuse or to recommend it to others, particularly if they are wine lovers.

Syracuse on Urbanspoon

NOT: Dangerous Melbourne, Next Wave Festival, Fitzroy Town Hall, 201 Napier St, Fitzroy

When I was reading through the Next Wave 2010 Festival program, the show Dangerous Melbourne caught my eye.

“Is living in Melbourne a danger to your a) health b) wealth c) safety d) sanity? Are you taking outrageous risks a) riding down Collins Street b) walking home at night c) just waking up every morning?

Fear not – help is at hand.

The Dangerous Melbourne community information evening will provide you with the things you need to know to survive the terrors of our fair city. Be informed, not alarmed. Cups of tea and biscuits also provided.”

It sounded like it could a humorous show which exposed the potentially irrational fears of Melburnians subjected to news  stories of increasing CBD violence, the bashing of Indian students and innocent pedestrians being run over by packs of hoon cyclists.

On entry into the lovely Fitzroy Town Hall we were ushered into an area and provided with the promised tea and biscuits. The actors were already in character, fussing over us to be careful with the hot water urn and making sure we didn’t leave our things in the path of others who might trip. Dangers everywhere!

We were then seated in alphabetical order and the slide show started. It began with a flip through about a dozen innocuous Melbourne landscapes – St Kilda beach, Bourke Street Mall, Collins Street etc. Not very dangerous, right? Wrong. Paula van Beek, the creator and performer of the show, then repeated through every slide pointing out all the hidden dangers we’d missed. Bad tan lines, skin cancer, credit card debt….all of which ended in death.

This was amusing for about three slides but then the repetitiveness of the death finale wasn’t very interesting anymore.

After that, I wasn’t sure in what direction the show could go as I felt that perhaps the slide show might have been the complete joke done in 5 minutes. Well, it transpired that the remaining 40 minutes were filled with banalities which had me contemplating my to-do list, imagining my dinner and plotting an escape route.

First of all, a recitation of statistics. Yes that’s exactly as interesting as it sounds. I don’t know whether the statistics were real or not (she had conducted a survey of 18-30 year old females for the show), but it was sleep-inducing.

Next up, listening to an answering machine with hard-to-hear recordings of people’s fears. Then we counted the number of cyclists we could spot in each slide. A bit of audience participation of repeating the five principles of safety.

I can’t even remember what other dull segments followed because everything was overshadowed by what I am calling the Alphabet of Fears. Yes, we sat in the dark, looked at some photographs of deserted parking spaces and windswept streets while a recording intoned an alphabetical list of genuine, existential and silly fears.  Armed robbery, acne, ambush, ants and so on of about 20 fears starting with A, and then B…..

Oh. My. God. I watched my life draining away as I came to realise that the alphabet had 26 letters and we were going to have to sit through every droning one of them.

If I hadn’t left my coat on the other side of the room I would have quite happily got up to leave.

All this was sort of in aid of the plot twist at the end. I’m not sure whether Dangerous Melbourne will get another outing at another festival but read on if you want to know about the twist. [Spoiler alert] Basically a piece of paper that we’d been instructed to write on for the last 45 minutes was actually an order form for the ultimate safety device – a balaclava with yellow reflective strips sewn on it. The whole presentation was a ruse to sell us some crappy gear! I couldn’t even rustle up a smile at that point as the ‘twist’ was obvious from a mile away and I really couldn’t wait to leave.

Perhaps with more thought and development Dangerous Melbourne could have been a quirky, humourous, out-of-the-box take on the culture of fear and the nanny state. In its current form, it was about as entertaining as tax accountant’s powerpoint presentation. Or did I miss something?

Thank you to Next Wave for inviting me to Dangerous Melbourne.

Ask the Doctor: Alkaline diet and raw food


Help me Doctor!: As me and my man are trying to eat drink and live as healthy as possible after years of ABS FAB nightlife (and daylife) we are eating as much alkaline food as possible. Can you tell me where I can find places that serve alkaline diet food or sell it? If you can’t find a single thing about it… :–) Then maybe a raw food restaurant? – Kimberley-Joan

Your prescription: Hi Kimberley-Joan, being a fairly greedy omnivore I have to confess that I had to google what an alkaline diet was. Having a look at the list of alkaline foods it seems to be an approximately vegan diet.

Here’s a list of restaurants that I’ve reviewed previously which are vegan/vegetarian. Vegetarian Network Victoria has an extensive list as well.

Otherwise  a health food/organic store will probably be able to sell alkaline diet food that you’re looking for.  My regular haunts are:

Again Vegetarian Network Victoria has a list of great places to shop for vegan, vegetarian and organic goods.

As for raw food, try Le Cru (137 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park +61 3 9699 1144), as far as I can tell the only raw food restaurant in Melbourne. Here’s the review from The Age’s Epicure.

Happy health eating! – Jetsetting Joyce

HOT: Mutti’s, 118 Elgin St, Carlton

As winter approaches I am really starting to indulge in my love of hearty comfort food.

While I love all food, in all honestly I don’t get that excited by salads or a sorbet – but I love a good pork belly roast and melting chocolate pudding.

Mutti’s is a German endearment for ‘Mother’ and my German friend Lisa from Social Media Podcast found that many of the dishes on the menu were classics from her childhood, even though Mutti’s proclaims itself more of an Eastern European restaurant than a German one.

Six of us (Kimberley from The Value-Add, Penny from Addictive & Consuming, ThatGirl_Chloe, Cheryl from Business Chic, with Lisa leading our education in German cuisine) managed to work our way through most of the mains on the menu. Unfortunately Mutti’s famous housemade white sausages were not available for dinner (Thursday and Friday lunchtimes only) but there were still lots of interesting choices on the menu that didn’t involve the stereotypical sausages and sauerkraut.

I am a complete sucker for duck. With Triple Duck on offer, how could I resist ($32)? What came out was a huuuuge plate of poached duck breast with no discernible aroma of the advertised glühwein , a juicy leg of duck, and a cricket-ball sized potato dumpling filled with duck crackling, served with speck and braised cabbage and lingon berry jus. It was delicious and filling, with the only negative being a slightly dry dumpling.

Being a friendly bunch everyone had a taste of everyone else’s dish – we had Mutti’s free range pork schnitzel, with parsley potatoes, wild cranberry relish, lemon and salad greens ($24.50), risotto with large rounds of Italian sasuage ($24), a fist-sized slab of pork loin which was the day’s special and ‘Zwiebelroastbraten’ – pan seared beef steak with bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) and garlic beans ($28). Out of all of those dishes, including my own, I think the taste-test winner was the roast pork.  And as you can see, every single one of these dishes was enormous.

I had heard good things about the Apple Strudel so still managed to make room for a serving ($12). I was expecting a flaky pastry encasing apples and sultanas, but Lisa confirmed that in fact the almost pita-bread like pastry was more authentic. I didn’t like the strudel that much – I prefer my strudel filled with much more spice and there was a knob of hard, almost uncooked pastry right in the middle of it which wasn’t very appetising.

Kimberley on the other hand did enjoy her Bienenstich – honey and whey custard the consistency of a pannacotta, sandwiched between sweet puff pastry and fresh honeycomb ($13).

The sweet cinnamon bretzel with cream and lingon berry jam ($6) was also declared delicious by Cheryl (though I’m not sure how she managed to fit in after our huge mains).

I can’t say Eastern European cuisine is high on my list of culinary favourites, but for a huge dose of hearty, wintery fare which will have you waddling out the door, Mutti’s the place to go.

  • Mutti’s, 118 Elgin St, Carlton +61 3 9349 5008

HOT: Corporate Audio Visual, 103 Boundary Rd, North Melbourne

When RM and I were planning our wedding I vetoed a dance floor, wedding waltz or bouquet throwing – but the one thing he did insist on was speeches.

So I asked on Twitter whether anyone could recommend a good microphone/AV rental company. Thanks to Miss Kish, we found Corporate Audio Visual and spoke to Justyn Pawsey. Justyn personally delivered the radio mike on Friday, showed us how to how to plug it in and use it and picked it up on Monday.

In comparison to some other places I called, Corporate Audio Visual were very reasonably priced at $146.52 and in fact when I cheekily offered to pay $100 they took it!

Corporate Audio Visual provide all sort sof audio visual hire and staging for exhibitions, meetings, launches and special events. My experience with them was efficient and fuss-free – just what you need for a big event.

NOT: Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery Tea House, 141 Queen St, Melbourne

Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery is the art gallery of the International Buddhist College of Victoria – but most Melbourne foodies know it as FYG Gallery, the home of great Buddhist vegetarian food.

The tea house is not an easy place to find unless you know about it, as the street signage only indicates the presence of the gallery. As you climb up the steps the imposing foyer has an intimidating religious feel and all that mystical marble belies the warmth of the tea house inside.

It’s been about four years since I last had lunch at FYG Gallery and to my disappointment the menu has changed significantly. Before they used to have bento boxes and lots of hot lunch dishes served with rice – I remember a particular sweet and sour ‘chicken’ with fondness. Now the menu has been whittled down to dumplings, three noodle dishes and a huge and incongruous assortment of Western-style desserts.

Unfortunately at 1pm the crystal dumplings had already sold out ($7 for 4) so out of the three noodle dishes I decided to try the one served with ‘BBQ pork’ along with tofu, bok choy, tofu mince, preserved vegetables and bean sprouts ($9.50).

Now I know that running a restaurant is not really the International Buddhist College of Victoria‘s core business, but for a lunch hour they were really slow.  When I arrived the place was half full, there was one waitress serving and many gimlet-eyed diners looking like they were suffering from hunger pangs.  I waited a while then went up to the counter to place my order. Then waited some more for my noodles to be served to me as I watched the bowl sit on the counter.

In my haste to start eating I’m afraid I only took the time to take one fuzzy shot of my noodles. As you can see, pretty good.

The tastiness of this dish almost knocked FGY Gallery over to HOT. The noodles were springy and soaked in some soy-based broth and I loved all the different tastes and textures mixed together. Though mock BBQ pork tastes and looks nothing like the real, meaty-thing.

However, the limited menu, non-existent service and slowness of the kitchen serving a lunchtime crowd means that overall, I won’t be rushing back to FGY Gallery. Such a shame to strike an old favourite from the list.

HOT: Newtown Social Club, 180 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Newtown Social Club is a low-key neighbourhood café which the posers of Brunswick Street are unlikely to give a second glance.

That’s a good thing for the rest of us, as the small space only has  a window-facing bar and some vintage vinyl 60s swivel chairs tucked next to the small tables. It’s quiet and cosy and the food served is simple and honest fare.

For lunch you can select from the all-day breakfast menu (many people seem to be going for the baked eggs of the day), filled pides and bagels.

J and I shared a pot of earl grey tea and two pides, one filled with artichoke hearts and the other with prosciutto ($8). The standout ingredient for both sandwiches was the grainy fresh basil pesto slathered onto the springy bread and the fillings were obviously fresh despite the sandwiches being pre-prepared.

The staff are friendly and seem to know the regulars and I could easily see Newtown Social Club being an extension of my loungeroom, except with quirkier, funkier decor.

  • Newtown Social Club, 180 Brunswick St, Fitzroy +61 3 9415 7337

Newtown Social Club on Urbanspoon

The MEL: HOT OR NOT Editorial Policy

I received a comment recently that MEL: HOT OR NOT is becoming overly commercial and can no longer be considered an independent source of information.

I felt a bit yuk after hearing that and I take that feedback seriously. For the record, I earn an average of $25 a month in advertising and affiliate revenue from the blog. For that amount of money it is not worth my while to annoy my readers by becoming an unfiltered broadcast channel for press releases.

The comments also got me thinking that maybe it was time I clearly outlined my editorial policy for the blog, in true lawyer style. If you’d like to read it, click here. Last update July 2010.

I’m very interested to hear your views on the policy. In the meantime, I hope you continue to enjoy reading MEL: HOT OR NOT.

HOT Chat: Sarah Butler of Organic Angels

Fitting in the time to shop for good quality, healthy food is one of the challenges of my busy life. It’s too easy just to grab takeaway or fast food when you’re on the go, but I value my health and my wallet too much to do that regularly. So what to do?


Organic Angels is a Melbourne-based organic produce delivery service started by husband and wife team Scott and Sarah Butler. From their first delivery in 2006 they have now built their business to the success story nominated as a Victorian finalist for Telstra’s business awards in 2009. Today’s HOT Chat is with Sarah – thanks Sarah!

butlers3Sarah, tell me a bit more about your background and the story behind Organic Angels?

Scott’s background was in web design and he was working in insurance as a Business Analyst at the time of starting Organic Angels. After 18 months Scott resigned, hung up his corporate suit and starting working full time on the business. I’ve worked in hospitality and tourism and was teaching / training in these industries.

We have always been people who love good, tasty food. We enjoy entertaining and cooking for friends and family. After the arrival of our first son Charlie in 2004, life’s dynamics and priorities suddenly took a shift. As I was out doing the weekly shopping, I’d often come home dissatisfied with the tasteless food just purchased for the money spent, plus it was such an effort to get out with baby in tow. Shopping was not enjoyable, it was a hassle.

When it was time to introduce solid food to Charlie, we spent many hours educating ourselves about eating organic food. After reading into the benefits of eating organic and the frightening statistics on the high amount of pesticides and artificial hormones in foods today, we slowly made the conversion to organic.

We put a value on out time and we looked at where we could shop online for our organics and have it delivered, but found it hard to find a reliable, friendly organic home delivery company, with an easy to use website. This is when an idea was birthed and Organic Angels made its first delivery in May 2006.

Where do you source your fruit and veg and your other organic products?box of fruit and vegetables isolated

Our organic fruit and veggies are sourced from the wholesale market in Footscray (this is where growers from all over the country deliver their produce), Scott is the lucky one now up at 3:00am twice a week to go to the market! When we can, we source produce direct from the grower. All produce is Australian and certain times of the year majority comes from Victoria.

I think the general public holds a bit of scepticism about the benefits of organic or biodynamic produce – so what do you say to the naysayers?

There is plenty of evidence and research into eating organic foods and their benefits. I would encourage the sceptics out there to do some research and make an educated choice.

What may deter some people from eating organic is the cost factor – you do pay more for organic foods. Our view is that organic is the real price of food. Organic food prices represent the true cost of growing nutritious, high quality produce. Some of these costs include: more labour intensive practices, expensive natural fertilisers, soil regeneration processes, organic grain for livestock, lower yields, certification fees and higher transportation costs due to smaller scale distribution.

When we decided to start eat organic, we were not high income earners but we knew that by making a change to our diet and feeding our children organic was a priority. We looked at our budget where we could reduce other costs so we could afford going organic. We slowly introduced organic more and more in our diet and we can say that is the best choice we have made for us and our children.  Today, our diet is almost 100% organic.

We have noticed a big difference in our lives. Some of these are:

Our health has improved, we have noticed that we and our kids are hardly ever sick and recovery is faster. Research has shown that organic food has more vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients than conventional food.

We feel satisfied and fuller after each meal and we have especially noticed that our kids do not snack as much as other kids on a non-organic diet.

The big thing is organic food tastes better, you really notice the taste difference, therefore cooking healthy organic meals is so much more enjoyable. Many people say that organic food tastes “as it used to”.

It gives us great comfort knowing that we play such an integral role educating Charlie, and his little brother Jacob (who has since arrived on the scene) about enjoying good, tasty simple food, hopefully shaping the future for the next generation.

Beside the personal benefits, we also believe eating organic farming and production is better for the environment. Most people are aware that ‘organic’ means foods and products grown and processed without the use of synthetically produced chemicals such as fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides and is free from antibiotics and growth hormones. What consumers may not know that is that organic products are not genetically engineered or manipulated.

Excessive use of chemicals and modern farming methods have led to a decline in soil fertility and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over many years. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using sustainable farming practices such as physical weed control and animal/green manure.

Finally, organic farming places greater emphasis on animal welfare. Animals are treated more humanely; stocking densities are lower which means less stress on the animal and free range is the norm. Certain cruel practices are prohibited (such as beak cutting); animals are not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics.

What challenges did you face getting Organic Angels off the ground?

Initially we started the business as a part time job for me to do in and around kids, but we soon discovered we were onto a good thing and we did not expect the fast growth we experienced. This was challenging to keep up as we had to continually adjust our processes and working from home had its challenges.

What are your future plans for Organic Angels?

Our plans for Organic Angels is to become a ‘green’ business. Applying sustainable practices to our day-to-day running of the business has helped minimise our impact on the environment and reduce costs. In the near future we are looking to become carbon neutral and offset our emissions from our delivery vans.

vanboxhillWhat’s a typical work day for you and what advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Each day is varied however a typical delivery day goes like this…..Scott’s alarm goes off at 2.45am, he makes a cup of tea for the road, rugs up warm and heads off to markets in Footscray. Scott arrives back at the office around 5.30am unloads the van, staff arrive and we get prepared for a morning of packing. Making sure we get our delivery drivers out on time for a full day delivering.

I come in after school drop off with baby Jacob (our second son) and Scott goes home with Jacob, puts him down for a sleep, then jumps into bed for some sleep catch up himself. I stay at the office for the day, assisting staff in packing and does other business day-to-day tasks and gets home in time for dinner with the family.

Outside our delivery days, we work at the office doing admin, accounts and business development.

When starting your own business make sure you do plenty of research and write a good business plan, find someone who can act as a mentor and guide you in setting up your business. Don’t give up your day job; ideally you should have an alternative income when getting your business of the ground, so you can concentrate on getting the business right rather than worrying about how you are going to pay the bills. It may be frustrating not being able to spend time on your business but causes a lot less stress financially.

Finally, what are your HOT tips for Melbourne?

A new local haunt in called Red Cup Cafe (1124 Whitehouse Road, Box Hill) brings a little Fitzroy vibe to the eastern burbs. We go there once a week to treat ourselves to a beautifully made coffee and home-made muffin – great spot for our weekly business meeting.

Melbourne’s inner city alley ways are always vibrant and buzzing with colour, smells and bustling people. Here you find great little cafes (one particularly good organic cafe is TOFWD in Degraves St – opposite CAE), recycled fashion shops and other boutique stores.

For really special occasions and a memorable experience, we have eaten at Taxi in Federation Square and  The Botanical (169 Domain Rd, South Yarra 1800 787 299). The menu is spectacular and you’ll always find something organic or locally sourced on the menu.

We are big fans of Vietnamese food, so a walk to Indochine (51 Carrington Rd, Box Hill +61 3 9890 2966) is well known for its food, it’s always busy and the kids love eating there too.

You can read a review of Organic Angels’ fruit and vegetable delivery service next week on the blog.

For more chats with interesting Melburnians, click here.

NOT: Robin Hood

Robin-Hood-1Sht-PosterSo our film guest blogger Yalin didn’t think much of Robin Hood, giving it barely 3 stars…

I would have loved to be at Cannes to see the reactions of the critics after seeing Robin Hood.  Ridley Scott claims to have made the most historically accurate Robin Hood film, and while it may be the case, the film feels devoid of energy despite its attempts to appear epic. A visual and directorial quality that seems more appropriate for a TV series haunts the 140 mins.

Robin Hood is too focused on getting the story moving that it forgets to pay attention to its characters, which results in the same experience as watching The Tudors on TV. The only scenes where the film really grips the viewer are courtesy of Cate Blanchett, whose Lady Marion owns and rules the screen.

Unlike many previous films, Scott doesn’t deal with the traditional part of Robin Hood’s story. The film doesn’t involve his band of thieves who steal from the rich to give to the poor. The Sheriff of Nottingham is reduced to a mere side character.

Instead, Scott focuses on the origins of the man himself and how he became to be Robin Hood.  Granted, it is a very good story that involves familial separation, rediscovery of identity, a thirst for revenge, and unexpected attraction. As a common archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s army, Robin Longstride witnesses the death of the king on his return home from France. Through chance or some may call it fate, he intercepts the French who are trying to possess the King’s crown. This encounter sets him on a path back to England posing as a knight named Robert of Loxley, delivering the crown to King Richard’s brother.

Through many more story twists, he ends up leading the charge against traitors and the invading French and finally makes a stand for democracy, which obviously doesn’t go down well with the new King. Thus, he becomes Robin Hood.

I must say that I have never been a fan of Russell Crowe, and his performance as Robin Hood feels like Gladiator 2 to me. His acting range is very limited so the only character-specific changes I could notice were physical. Crowe is a bit puffier and meatier than before, but the range of facial expressions is still limited, not to mention he looks a bit too old for the character. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, once again convinces everyone that she is the living, breathing Marion Loxley. Blanchett is one of those few actresses who can really differentiate the characters she plays. If it wasn’t for her, my rating for the film would be lower.

But Blanchett can only do so much. The only epic moment in the film is either a copy or a nod to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and the washed out colors don’t help the cinematography become somewhat exciting.

Robin Hood leaves a lukewarm taste; it’s a not a bad film, but it’s not a great film either. It sits on the verge of acceptable, and that just won’t do for the great director Ridley Scott.