HOT: Smith Street Alimentari, 302 Smith St, Collingwood

Smith St Alimentari

It’s just too hot to cook!

Fortunately inner north favourites Brunswick Street Alimentari and Gorski and Jones now have a new sibling to add to the Holy Trinity of good food – the food store Smith Street Alimentari.

Smith St Alimentari

All of the three cafes/restaurants share a few things in common while carving out their own identity. Smith Street Alimentari is more deli/produce/takeaway meal driven than the other two establishments. That means there is very little seating – and what there is either in the outside tables or perch-upright bar stools. And you need to order at the counter which can mean a little wait during the lunchtime rush.

Smith St Alimentari

The counter is where everything happens. It’s hard to select just one thing for lunch – for wintery weather there’s a roast of the day with hot or cold sides ($16.50), for summery heat there’s a selection of freshly-made salads full of healthful ingredients like chickpeas and roast veg. For those on the go there’s a whole raft of sandwich options, from doorstoppers on white bread to pressed paninis.

Smith St Alimentari

 

Smith St Alimentari

We decided to try the poached chicken and coleslaw sandwich – a hefty handful of soft white Baker D Chirico bread and filling which was pleasant but not terribly exciting. The robust flavours of the pork and veal meatball sandwich were much more satisfying.

Smith St Alimentari

Cafe staple ham and cheese croissants were light and flaky but for the filling I prefer the chunky ham which is used at other places.

Smith St Alimentari

From the takeaway meal section, you’ll still find excellent pork and fennel lasagne in foil containers (it’s a staple in my freezer), the pork meatballs (so you can make your own meatball sub) as well as a range of items to stock up your pantry – fancy grains, oils and cheeses – and fresh provisions including olives and fresh pasta.

Smith St Alimentari

The whole place makes me salivate on every visit and their ready made meals have been a godsend in this stupid heat that we’ve been experiencing lately.

For another cafe with delicious ready made meals try Ashkelon Food Store.

Smith Street Alimentari, 302 Smith Street, Collingwood+61 3 9416 1666.

Daily 8:00 am – 7:00 pm

Smith Street Alimentari on Urbanspoon

HOT: Lee Ho Fook, 92 Smith St, Collingwood


lee ho fook

Happy Year of the Horse! Celebrate Chinese New Year at possibly the hottest Chinese restaurant in Melbourne at the moment – Lee Ho Fook.

When Lee Ho Fook opened in October last year expectations were high as the head chef, Victor Liong, had previously worked at Marque and Mr Wong. Now that the initial hype has died down the small one room restaurant is still going strong.

lee ho fook

The space fits only around 50 people at the bar and on tables and the room is sparsely furnished. There are no dragons or gold leaf in sight – in fact, nothing on the exterior or interior that would really alert you to the fact that it’s a Chinese restaurant, even if you noticed that the shape in the smoked-glass window was a panda.

lee ho fook

The menu is similarly understated with its Chinese origins. Every dish is Chinese-with-a-twist, which didn’t agree with my (Chinese) parents every time but still makes for delicious food. Plus I think what they’ve done with a traditional cuisine is pretty inventive.

We visited Lee Ho Fook with 7 people and when you book for over 6 diners you are forced to order a set 8 courses ($48 per person) or 10 courses ($68). The set menus are a sort of greatest hits selection and when the bill was toted up the set menu was better value than the dinner for two my parents had ordered the night before. We were all big eaters and we didn’t feel you needed the 10 courses to be satisfied.

lee ho fook

To start, we had the ‘Chinese Huxtaburger’ – addictive mini sliders of steamed milk bun skewered with a crispy hunk of candied pork, a slice of salted cucumber and fluffy pork floss.

lee ho fook

The prawn toast was just as awesome, finely minced prawn sprinkled with black sesame and domed over crispy toasts. It was served with some fresh butter which was an unnecessarily rich, Western, ingredient and no one touched it.

lee ho fook

Next up was the raw ocean trout and jellyfish salad served raw. It was an update on a classic Cantonese new year dish with sashimi-grade slices of fish, shredded jellyfish and topped with coleslaw and fried wonton crisps for colour and crunch.

lee ho fook

Another highlight was the crispy skin Shandong Chicken. Shandong chicken is basically crispy skin chicken that has been twice cooked (boiled then deep-fried) and served in a black vinegar, chilli, soy sauce and coriander sauce. It was like Chinese KFC and just as addictive. Crunchy, paper-thin crackled skin covering juicy meat on the bone and served with the classic Shandong dressing.

lee ho fook

More crispness in the form of lamb belly fried with chilli and garlic. A high impact, flavoursome dish perfect with steamed rice but a little too fatty for my liking.

lee ho fook

The best dish of the night for me was actually the most straightforward Cantonese dish that you’ll find in most Chinese restaurants – steamed barramundi with ginger and shallots. What was different here was that the fish was filleted, Western-style, meaning no bones or fins or popping eyes. It was steamed to perfection, with no hint of rubber and with the clean freshness of the seafood enhanced by the aromatics.

lee ho fook

The dessert was the most removed from traditional Chinese fare. Each person received an artistically laid out platter of miniature desserts – a subtle jasmine tea custard with burnt caramel, sort of like an Asian creme brulee, plus osmanthus jelly with a gently sweet white peach sorbet.

Lee Ho Fook is Liong’s first restaurant and it’s a great debut.  It will be moving to new premises in Duckboard Lane, CBD next year. I imagine that rents are higher in the city than in Collingwood (even eat-street Smith Street) so you may find prices will necessary be going up. Just in case, I recommend that you book yourself a seat at Lee Ho Fook before it decamps south.

Lee Ho Fook92 Smith Street, Collingwood (03) 9077 6261

Wed to Thurs 5pm – 11pm
Fri 12pm – 11pm
Sat 5pm – 11pm
Sun 12pm – 11pm

Lee Ho Fook on Urbanspoon

HOT: Ora Cafe, 156 Pakington St, Kew

Ora Kew

You’d never guess what was coming out of the kitchen of Ora, a plain little cafe amongst a functional set of local shops in Willsmere Village, Kew.

Ora Kew

It’s some of the most interesting cafe food I’ve had in a while – beautifully presented, restaurant quality dishes with an inventive combination of ingredients extracting influences from Asia to Europe to the Middle East.

The menu is a single page spanning breakfast to lunch and for the in-betweeners who like to brunch (Ora is open daytime only). There’s no particular order in the way the menu is presented – sweet and savoury, large and small plates are all intermingled together.

I headed for one of the more expensive options, the prawn toast with a slaw, avocado whip, lime and poached egg ($20).

Ora Kew

 

It was a glorious plate of a Canto-favourite with a European twist. The prawn had been minced with dill rather than the more traditionally Asian spring onions and then piled atop some thickly sliced La Madre bread and toasted buttery golden on the bottom and pressed with sesame seeds on top. There were also signs of dill in the salad and the avocado while the tangled slaw was tangy and garden-fresh in its crispness.

Ora Kew

In fact, if you stroll down to the backyard you’ll see the verdant veggie patch where they grow tomatoes and herbs. This is about as low of a carbon footprint as you can get, when freshly picked means literally opening the kitchen screen door with a pair of scissors.

Ora Kew

Anyway, as my lunch companion decided to eat most of the prawn toast I opted for a sweet second course. The summer pudding with vanilla pannacotta, fresh raspberries and tuile was an glamourously presented duo of dessert ($14). The pannacotta was richly velvety on the tongue and provided a slightly tart contrast to the concentrated sweetness of the intensely berry pudding. The paper-light decorative tuile was similar to the Asian egg rolls I’d eat by the tinful as a kid and provided a textural counterpoint to the two domes of pudding.

Ora is renowned for their coffee, which comes from Proud Mary (one of the owners used to work there). As a non-coffee drinker I was very impressed by the food on offer and would recommend an eating visit during the week when it’s generally just locals getting their takeaway coffees.

Ora Cafe, 156 Pakington St, Kew 03 9855 2002

Tue-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm

Ora Cafe on Urbanspoon

HOT: Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine

Public Inn Castlemaine

The frontage of Public Inn Castlemaine is restored gold rush circa 1850s but the inside is now a modern bistro and bar.

The eatery moves from formal to casual seamlessly. You can choose to sit on some drinking chesterfield couches by the fireplace, at the relaxed bistro tables or in the formal restaurant area overlooked by a magnificent wine barrel and stone mosaic wall by local artist Helen Bodycomb. The natural wood/Danish inspired decor creates a calming neutral colour palate.

Public Inn Castlemaine

At lunch time there are several options available at Public Inn. There’s the a la carte lunch menu, a 2 course set menu (available 12-3pm 7 days) and an all-day bar menu of pub favourites from small bites to substantial plates. This makes Public Inn a great all round eating house – especially if you’re trying to find a place open for an early dinner or just want some snacks to match your drinks.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To start we ordered a sharing plate of entrees ($28) consisting of piping hot Istra prosciutto croquettes with a squiggle of creamed sweet corn, mounds of rabbit rillette and my favourite, circlets of smoked Skipton eel wrapped in kaiserfleisch atop some sweet beetroot puree.

Public Inn Castlemaine

To mix it up we then had two courses from the $39 ‘INN and Out’ menu, which included a glass of regional Sangiovese from the barrel wall. The barrel wall is unique because wine is poured directly into goldfields style carafes at various volumes and because the wine is made less than 100 miles from Castlemaine it doesn’t need to be bottled, corked or packaged. They also serve local beer, wine and ciders and on our visit (during a summer heatwave) they even had a spiced radler on top – apparently a refreshing drink sort of like a mix between cider and iced tea.

Public Inn Castlemaine

From the set lunch we picked an entree of turkey breast terrine served with a grape and chilli salsa, dehydrated berry and coriander. The flavours were inventive but the texture of the terrine was too firm for my liking – you could pick up the whole thing with a fork, like a steak.

Public Inn Castlemaine

I much preferred the more classic dish of tender confit of rare Tasmanian farmed Atlantic salmon, served with a blanket of watercress and a shaved citrus and fennel salad.

Public Inn Castlemaine

The highlight of our meal was definitely dessert. Our chocolate plate had three types of chocolate mouse – dark, milk and white – resting on a sprinkling of chocolate soil and crunchy ‘aero’ chunks. One person would have struggled to finish it and it was only $15.

Castlemaine is a great day-trip or mini-break for Melburnians and  I recommend Public Inn for sophisticated dining in a relaxed environment. Because you don’t want to work too hard when you’re dining out on holiday.

Public Inn, 165 Barker St, Castlemaine 03 5472 3568

Open 7 days from 12pm till late

 
Public Inn on Urbanspoon

HOT: Hellenic Republic Kew, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew

Hellenic Republic Kew

I was sad to hear that one of my local faves St Katherine’s had gone. Fortunately the site has been transformed into Hellenic Republic Kew and given that I’m a fan of the original Brunswick edition the change is not such a bad thing.

I think St Katherine’s and Hellenic Republic are branches of the same tree anyway. The food is very similar – generally Greek with a broader Mediterranean influence – the service is fast, friendly and welcoming towards families and the atmosphere is lively and convivial. There’s always lots of chatter and plate sharing and kids running around.

The only real difference I can see is that the famous St Katherine’s popcorn chicken (KFC) and other American diner-style dishes are gone and the formerly cavernous St Katherine’s has now been split into two separate dining spaces with the entrance running up the middle. Dividing the space lends the restaurant a more intimate, buzzy air and I like it.

Hellenic Republic Kew

Another thing that St Katherine’s and Hellenic Republic have in common is amazingly good value lunch sets. On weekdays you can order Yia Yia’s Tapsi – a tin metal platter filled with the kind of food apparently a Greek grandmother would serve. I consider it the ‘best of’ Hellenic Republic – even if I was ordering a la carte I’d go straight for these dishes.

Hellenic Republic Kew

That means olives, some deliciously salty taramasalata and fluffy char-grilled pita, some rotisserie meat (juicy chicken in our case) and floury roast spuds, some of George Calombaris’ famous nutty, sweet and healthy Cypriot grain salad with pomegranate and yoghurt on the top and a sweet treat at the end.

Hellenic Republic Kew

It’s a bento box for the senses and is a tasty, healthy and filling lunch for the budget price of $25. We actually had to take away our baklava because we were too full – the lady fingers filled with cashew and with a hint cardamom were perfect for afternoon tea though the filo pastry was not so flaky by that time.

Hellenic Republic Kew

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bargain that the lunch set at Hellenic Republic….except if you follow them on Facebook and nab one of the $12 lunch takeaway packs which they advertise on their page! We took some home for our dinner that night (just can’t enough of that grain salad, I’m telling ya). The pack included some grilled salmon, crunchy triple-cooked chips dusted with oregano, more of that grain salad and Risogalo – a creamy rice pudding with a swirl of salted caramel and crumbled with shortbread pieces and pistachios. What’s in the lunch pack changes regularly but follows approximately the same formula – some sort of protein, a side dish and dessert. It’s substantial and again we left the dessert for another night.

Hellenic Republic Kew

I imagine that while Kew locals have mourned the passing of St Katherine’s they’ll be very pleased with the new Hellenic Republic set up. With excellent food at prices like these, I’m sure it will be a local favourite.

Hellenic Republic Kew, 26 Cotham Rd, Kew 03 9207 7477

Lunch, midday-4pm Mon-Fri; 11am-4pm Sat-Sun;

Dinner 5.30-till late seven days

Hellenic Republic Kew on Urbanspoon

HOT: Modern Love, Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View St, Bendigo

Modern Love Bendigo

Are you heading out of town for the Australia Day long weekend?

If you haven’t made plans to escape the city yet then I highly recommend taking a day trip or overnight stay in Bendigo. It’s the last week of Bendigo Art Gallery‘s amazing fashion exhibition, Modern Love , which closes on Sunday 2 February.

In this exhibition Bendigo Art Gallery has curated approximately 60 items of fashion from the collection of the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. The items come from the world’s most influential designers from the past 40 years, including Vivienne Westwood, Comme des Garcons, Dior and Versace.

Some of my highlights included:

Modern Love Bendigo

The neoprene dress by Melburnian Toni Maticevski‘s from his SS13/14 collection.  The skilful tailoring and draping of rubber-like material that would be required to form this dress  is extraordinary.

Modern Love Bendigo

The architectural back detail is particularly stunning and for me evokes the outlines of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Musuem. Also take the time to drool over his beautiful pieces in the video presentation of one of his recent catwalk shows. Maticevski is the only Australian designer represented in Modern Love and the first Asutralian to be included in the collection of the FIDM Museum.

Modern Love Bendigo

This fantasy evening gown by Alexander McQueen. I am a fan of the New Look silhouette and this dress was made especially for FIDM. Notice the delicate peacock motif recalling a ‘Britannia’ influence and the layers upon layers of tea-dyed cream tulle with frayed edges blurring one tier into another to create the 50s bell shape.

Modern Love Bendigo

Issey Miyake‘s bold sculptural coat and dress from his famous ‘Pleats Please’ range. The fabric has been heat-set into minuscule pleats, with the wearer’s body lending shape to the garment as they move.

There’s a large proportion of Vivienne Westwood garments in the display, with my favourite being this mini-crini and amazing ‘rocking-horse’ platform soled shoes. Who knows how you’re supposed to wear them but they look fabulous!

Modern Love Bendigo

The exhibition consists of only two rooms but if you read every plaque, listen to the audio intro and watch both video screens in their entirety then a trip to Modern Love will probably take 1.5 – 2 hours. Which leaves you plenty of time to explore other parts of historic goldrush Bendigo.

If you’re looking for tips on other things to do, places to eat and where to stay read my Bendigo guide (Part 1 and Part 2).

Modern Love, Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View St, Bendigo until Sunday 2 February 2014.

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