HOT: Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Rd, Travancore

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Phat Milk in Travancore is shaking up the run-of-the-mill cafe menus normally found in the area.

And where is Travancore you might ask? It’s a somewhat forgotten suburb between Flemington and Moonee Ponds. Phat Milk is right by the gates of Flemington Primary School, making it a perfect pre or post school hangout.

phat milk tranvancore

The frontage is deceptively small but a corner corridor leads to a whitewashed back room and then an undercover courtyard with narrow garden beds and a play area for kids.

phat milk tranvancore

You can also reach the courtyard from the gate along Mangalore Street for those with accessibility issues.

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The menu has a Middle Eastern influence thanks to the young owner’s Lebanese heritage. The recipes are his grandmother’s work, handed down to him in a fading, fragile notebook with handwritten notes. His mother helps out when she can but her health prevents her from cooking in the kitchen, a shame as apparently her sweets are out of this world.

phat milk tranvancore

Their Middle Eastern breakfast is their most popular dish and deservedly so. It’s a generous platter of grilled bread sprinkled with zaatar, a loose golden pile of scrambled eggs, beetroot relish, several falafel balls, humus, labne and the owner’s mother’s pickled olives.

For a mere $15!

I decided to add some grilled sujuk (spicy Turkish sausage) to my dish for an extra $4 but in fact I think it’s not really necessary. Save your money for one of their apparently excellent coffees instead (I don’t drink coffee so can’t judge for myself, sorry).

The falafels are a standout – delicately crumbly and deep fried to a crisp golden ball as if it’d been dipped in panko crumbs. They are possibly some of the best felafel I’ve ever had in terms of texture and flavour.

phat milk

We also share a lamb kofta burger, a gently spiced patty with vintage cheddar, cos lettuce, tomato, mustard on a brioche bun ($14). The burger is juicy and hefty and extremely satisfying but what really makes it amazing are the ‘phat chips’. Holy cow someone very skillful is working the kitchen’s deep fryer because these perfect chips are of Mr Blumenthal’s calibre.  Each chip is fluffy on the inside with an egg-shell thin outer crunch then sprinkled with oregano. The portion is very generous, so make sure you share!

phat milk tranvancore

For dessert we go back to the breakfast menu for a polenta hotcake with fresh berry coulis and marscapone ($14). It’s a pretty palette of pan-fried buttery batter, a rainbow of fruit and yoghurt. While not as wow-worthy as the savoury dishes, it’s very satisfying nonetheless and the plate was happily licked clean.

Phat Milk is a family-owned and family-loved business. It shows in the care in which they present their food, the sourcing of their produce from their own gardens and some of Melbourne’s best small-batch suppliers and the fact that they’ve built a space that’s welcoming of families.

Phat Milk, 208 Mt Alexander Rd, Travancore (03) 9376 6643

Monday – Friday 7:00am-3:30pm

Saturday – Sunday 8:00am-3:00pm

Phat Milk on Urbanspoon

HOT: Arbory Eatery and Bar, Flinders Walk, Melbourne

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The first weekend of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (Saturday 28 February – Sunday 15 March) hosted loads of special events along the Yarra as part of ‘Open Kitchen’, including ‘A Coastal Culinary Trail’ at the just-opened Arbory Eatery and Bar.

arbory melbourne

I was invited to visit the event and as I’ve been watching the building progress of this restaurant on Instagram I was excited to visit the week-old eatery.

arbory melbourne

Arbory has been built on part of the disused Sandridge railway line which runs along the edge of Flinders Street station. As a result, it’s a 120m long narrow wooden deck draped with gum trees which affords magnificent views of the Yarra, vibrant Southbank and the pedestrian bridges spanning the water.

arbory melbourne

The sound-scape is quintessentially Melbourne too, with the tooting of Metro trains, the splash of the water and cyclist’s bells dinging now and again.

A Coastal Culinary Trail was a one-off event showcasing Australian seafood. For $15 you could choose one of the four seafood dishes (which are not normally on Arbory’s menu) and a glass of DOC wine.

arbory melbourne

Out of the four dishes my favourite were the Pacific oysters, au naturale. Clean, fresh and slightly briny, they were perfect with a glass of pinot grigio. The barbecued calamari was surprisingly tender and made great snack food paired with the chunks of chorizo. Sadly the lobster roll failed to please, with a too-dry brioche bun and a mayonnaise-heavy filling with sparse pieces of lobster.

arbory melbourne

I’m keen to try their standard menu, which has been described as European-style snacks and no-fail comfort food such as burgers and sundaes. I predict Arbory will be one of my favourite places to enjoy Autumn’s mild weather and visitors will enjoy the novelty of imbibing at Melbourne’s longest bar. They are promoting the hashtag #stayawhile and the relaxed atmosphere, friendly service and stunning views certainly make it the perfect hangout.

Arbory Eatery and Bar, Flinders Walk, Melbourne, 9621 2260

Daily 7.30am-late

Click to add a blog post for Arbory on Zomato

What’s On – Australia Day 2015

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Happy Australia Day ! Here’s a list of what’s happening around town to celebrate our national day. They are mostly free. (Try this lamington jaffle from Bad Frankie bar while you’re at it!)

CBD/DOCKLANDS

NORTH / NORTH-EAST

SOUTH / SOUTH-EAST / BAYSIDE

EAST

WEST

Paris to Provence Festival – Giveaway!

Paris to Provence Melbourne French Festival, Como House, South Yarra

Being a Francophile and foodie one of my favourite annual family outings is the Paris to Provence French Festival at the National Trust’s Como House. Read my review of my previous visit.

This year French producers, retailers, entertainment and workshops will be turning the gardens into a French market village from Friday 21 November to Sunday 23 November. Relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy French inspired food, wine, fashion, books, music, toys, classes and home decor.

Paris to Provence French Festival

Friday 21 November 12-8pm

Saturday 22 November 10-6pm

Sunday 23 November 10-4pm

Tickets prebook online $17 adults,  $5 children (age 4-16) or at gate $20 adults, $5 children

Giveaway! Thanks to Paris to Provence French Festival I have 3 x family passes (2 adults, 2 children) valid for entry once on any of the three days to give away.

To win all you have to do is follow the instructions below. Three winner will be randomly selected and notified via email and tickets available for pickup. Competition closes midnight Wednesday 19 November. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Pushy Women South, Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, Sunday 2 March – Giveaway!

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City of Port Phillip is presenting She Spoke – Southside Women on Wheels with 3 months of rides, workshops and special events celebrating women on bikes.

One of their first events is happening this Sunday 2 March at Gasworks Albert Park. It’s Pushy Women South!

They’re smart, sharp, dirty, hot and hilarious and will push the envelope with tales of life, love, lust and everything in between. Town bikes, speed freaks, lycra lasses, dykes on bikes, pedal pushers, dinkers and BMX bandits – you name it, the Pushy Women have it covered.

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Eight of Melbourne’s most prominent writers, comedians, thinkers and performers will present their take on being a pushy woman. Featuring: Kate Miller Heidke, Chloe Shorten, Tracy Harvey, Monica Dux, Bev Killick, Sally Warhaft, Lally Katz, Nelly Thomas.

Hosted by writer, comedian, atheist postergirl and commuter cyclist evangelist Catherine Deveny, Pushy Women South will bring together Melbourne’s most fabulous and fiercely funny women to share their story of life on two wheels.

Pushy Women South, Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park

Sunday 2 March, 4 – 6 pm

Tickets: $35 full / $25 conc. plus booking fee

Book your place online, in person at any of City of Port Phillip’s Town Hall Cashier & Enquiries desk or by phone on 9209 6274.

Giveaway! Thanks to The Squeaky Wheel (who have help to organise this event) you can win 2 x Double passes to Pushy Women South. Just leave a comment on the post and the two winners will be notified on Friday 28 February and tickets emailed to you.

You can also buy tickets now with the discount code Pushy-VIP-10 for $10 off tickets.

Where to celebrate Chinese New Year 2014 – Year of the Horse

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Chinese New Year is a special time for our family because we’re half Chinese. Even if you’re not of Asian descent it’s a great time in Melbourne for firecrackers, lion dances and lots of yummy food!

Here’s a list of CNY festivals in Melbourne in date order which are all free:

  • Victoria Street Lunar Festival – Sun Jan 19, 11am-10pm. While technically the Vietnamese celebrate Tet there’s a large enough Chinese-Vietnamese population for Victoria Street Richmond to hold a CNY celebration. It’s very popular and gets a bit crowded but the street is closed off for food stalls and performances.
  • Springvale Lunar New Year Festival – Sun Jan 26, 9am-9pm Buckingham Ave, Springvale. Springvale has a large Vietnamese/Chinese population and this CNY festival coincides with Australia Day, so two holidays in one! See martial arts displays, lion dances, folk dancing and of course lots of Asian food stalls.
  • Crown’s Riverwalk Hawker’s Bazaar – Thu 30 Jan – Sun 2 Feb 11am-11pm Outside Crown Complex, Southbank. Chinese street food and entertainment by the Yarra. Some Crown restaurants will also have special CNY menus.
  • Federation Square Chinese New Year Celebration – Fri 31 Jan, noon-5pm & Sat 1 Feb, noon-3pm. Other than Chinatown this will be the main celebration in central Melbourne with lion dancing, Tai Chi and drop-in exhibition Mah Jong games.
  • Prahran Market – Sun 1 Feb 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra. The Market is offering a range of free cultural activities including traditional Chinese Cooking Demonstration, lion dance, Chinese music and a free gift for the first 1,000 customers to the Blanco Kitchen – Oriental Asian Sauce Gift Pack.
  • Box Hill Street Festival – Feb 1-2, 1pm-1am Market St & Main St, Box Hill. Box Hill is another Asian enclave in Melbourne and they’ll be celebrating CNY with cultural performances, game,  amusement rides and food.
  • FCA Melbourne Chinatown Chinese New Year Festival – Sun Feb 2, 10am Chinatown, Russell St, Melbourne. The big celebration in Melbourne, with the opening ceremony at 10am followed by the Dragon awakening ceremony and parade. There will be a dedicated Children’s Corner with activities and of course lots of food stalls.
  • East Meets West Lunar Festival – Sun Feb 2, 10am-10pm. Hopkins St, Footscray. This is the celebration we’ll be attending as it’s in our new hood! Food stalls, games and rides will fill the street.

Also try these Chinese restaurants for a special CNY meal:

– David’s 4 Cecil Street Prahran

– Tao Tao House 815 Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn

– Golden Dragon Palace 363 Manningham Rd Lower Templestowe

– Shark Fin House 131 Little Bourke St Melbourne

How will you be celebrating Chinese New Year in 2014?

HOT: Alice Nivens, Shop 13 Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Ln, Melbourne

Alice Nivens, Shop 13 Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Ln, Melbourne (1)

Who doesn’t love Christmas and storybook characters?

Well, next Thursday 25 July, Alice in Wonderland themed CBD cafe Alice Nivens is holding a special ‘Christmas in July’ day of sweets, treats and other festivities.

The bolthole cafe is hidden in a rather ugly flourescent-lit arcade between Flinders Street/Flinders Lane and you’ll recognise it by the ski chalet style take away windows, the Queen of Hearts black and white floor tiling and the large mural interpretation of Alice in Wonderland by Melbourne illustrator Sam Octigan (who was apparently too shy to sign his name to this work before making it big in New York).

There are a lot of rabbit motifs in the cafe – in honour of the the Lewis Carroll white rabbit but also because the owner Janet was born in the Year of the Rabbit!

Alice Nivens, Shop 13 Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Ln, Melbourne (3)

Having said that, the space is currently decked out in festive decorations and fairy lights for Christmas in July. It’s a very cute experience.

Alice Nivens, Shop 13 Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Ln, Melbourne (2)

They serve a small breakfast menu, freshly made sandwiches at lunch but their speciality is a daily selection of sweet treats. In fact, they have a ‘cake cage’ spilling with all sorts of gorgeous goodies – and if you follow their Twitter stream prepare to drool. Some of it is Alice themed – a white chocolate and raspberry White Rabbit Cake or a chocolate flourless Queen of Hearts cake decorated with red hearts – and at the moment there’s a whole Christmas theme happening as well.

Alice Nivens, Shop 13 Port Phillip Arcade, 228 Flinders Ln, Melbourne (4)

I tried their ‘Australian Christmas’ fruit pavlova ($6.50), a crispy meringue shell receptacle for fluffy cream and sliced fruit, with a drizzle of passionfruit coulis.

Alice Nivens is a lovely little pitstop if you’re down near the Federation Square/Flinders Street end of the city. Down the rabbit hole you go!

Alice Nivens, Port Phillip Arcade, Shop 13, 228 Flinders Street

Mon to Fri 7:30 am – 4:00 pm

HOT: Legally Blonde the Musical, Princess Theatre, 163 Spring St, Melbourne

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Confession: I love musicals.

My normally fine-tuned antennae for excessive sequins, tackiness and over-the-top-ness is wound right down when there’s two hours of singing, high kicks and jazz hands on stage. Like amusements parks, musicals are almost guaranteed fun!

Legally Blonde the Musical is an adaptation of the fabulous feel-good flick made famous by Reese Witherspoon over 10 years ago. When it came out I didn’t think I’d like the film but my law school buddies dragged me along and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story of Elle Woods, cheery underdog and sweet as candy floss fish-out-of-water at Harvard Law School.

I was invited to see the musical and it has a very similar feeling to the film – there’s a lot of pink, a lot of cheesy girlishness and a lot of potential for things to fall on the too-silly-to-care side. But the production pulls it back from being vapid and silly to make Legally Blonde the Musical a very enjoyable, witty, laugh-out-loud show, with sight gags like the recurring UPS guy Kyle and a very non-PC number entitled Is He Gay, Or European?. It’s been nominated for eight Helpmann Awards, including Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Male Actor, Best Female Actor.

There are great performances from all the cast, including Lucy Durack as Elle Woods. She’s super-perky but not annoyingly so and you really want her to come out on top even though she’s a spoilt sorority beach chick from Malibu. David Harris plays the daggy but smart Emmett endearingly and their blossoming love affair is believable. Rob Mills as her ex-boyfriend Warner is a bit of a nothing character by comparison, though I overheard one grandma in the audience exclaim ‘He’s HOT!’ when he first appeared.

I actually thought the best performance came from supporting actress Helen Dallimore as Paulette, the hairdresser that Elle befriends – she displayed impressive singing, dancing and comedic timing. Oh – and there’s some super cute canines who come and go to ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience.

In addition, my favourite staging was some whiz-bang choreography at the beginning of the second act involving skipping ropes and some killer abs by Erika Heynatz playing fitness queen on trial Brooke Wyndham. No one tripped, the unison was perfect and everyone sang, danced and skipped without any sign of puffing. Amazing.

Of course the good guys win, the bad guys lose out and justice prevails. Everyone on stage looked like they were having a great time and their joy is infectious. You’ll leave the theatre smiling and laughing and days later I’m still humming ‘Omigod, you guys!’.

Legally Blonde the Musical is closing its Australian tour on 14 July so you only have 2 weeks to see it. All remaining tickets are now $69.90 – just click on the Ticketmaster link and enter the password: FAREWELL.

HOT: Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

Smith Street can be a tough landlord. One minute you’re Cavallero, next minute you’re Saint Crispin.

I hadn’t even noticed the changeover until the foodies of Melbourne started buzzing about the pedigree of the owners of the new restaurant – Scott Pickett of The Estelle and Joe Grbac, former executive chef of the Press Club. So my anticipation and expectations were high when I walked through those beautiful filigree wrought-iron gates.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The location’s new moniker harks back to the premises’ original purpose as a cobbler’s workshop – Saint Crispin is the patron saint of cobblers, tanners and leather workers. There is a slight sombreness and religiosity in the decor – the main wall is utterly white except for a rip of exposed brick right in the centre (a bit ‘On the third day he rose again…’) and at night pillar candles flicker among unnerving plaster icons of Jesus.

Fortunately the food is not about poverty and denial. The one page menu allows you the option of choosing two courses for $50 and three courses for $60 and the kitchen focuses on using seasonal produce – so for autumn there’s lots of mushrooms and slow-cooked meats.

The food is tricky and sharp but the laid back ambience, friendly staff and stripped-back decor prevent the dining experience from being uncomfortably up-itself. Having said that, while you can choose to perch up at the marble bar I think that food of this refinement deserves a more mindful and formal approach to eating, so grab a seat at one of the tables instead.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

To start, some tissue-thin slices of fried chicken skin. I’m not even sure what was on top of them (tomato and vinegar jelly?) as I was so awed by the idea of using chicken skin as a vessel for other food!

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The bread was also excellent (and I like a place that provides a generous wad of carbs at the beginning) and came with some addictive caramelised onion butter as well as a pat of regular butter.

From the entrees we ordered ‘pullet egg, mushrooms, parmesan, goats curd and black rice’. The classic pairing of mushrooms and cheese was a comforting antidote to the freezing winds outside, though I have to say it’s not the most attractive dish – to me it looks a bit like Weet-Bix with yoghurt and bugs on top.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The Grimaud duck terrine with coil of foie gras parfait, hidden under a rustle of leaves and flowers, was similarly rich and warming with textural interest coming from the crunchy heirloom beetroots and some tart dollops of cumquat cutting through all that fat.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The king salmon was a revelation and isn’t it just the prettiest plate you’ve seen? Hidden under the edible lilypad-like floral arrangement was a generous slab of salmon confit to the point of ice-cream softness, with slithery and tender shaved calamari, some nuggets of oysters hidden around the edges and a slick of subtly salty squid ink rounding out the seafood extravaganza.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

We each selected one of the three omnivorous main courses available (the fourth option was vegetarian). Flinders Island lamb was an artful rendition of roasted lamb with concentric rings of nettle puree, spiky radish tops and slippery jacks. Loved the use of puffed potato pillows as well.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The veal cheek and sweetbread were also meltingly tender and the sweetness of the miso was an interesting combination. The only comment we had was that the dish could have done with some more jus and the long macaroni was overly doughy.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

My heart sank when the harpuka came covered in frothy foam. I really dislike the texture of foam and in this case I really didn’t think it it added anything to what was otherwise a beautifully balanced dish. The fish was fresh, sweet and paired well with the classic olive oil pomme puree. Again I enjoyed finding little mollusc treasures (this time clams) in amongst my fillet.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

After two courses you won’t be groaning from indigestion so I highly recommend that you sally forth and opt for dessert.

We tried all three available desserts and our unanimous #1 vote goes to the plate simply described as ‘carrot, star anise, almond and honey’. It’s a trail of colour and textures, with a crumbling of dehydrated carrot cake, tiny cubes of fresh carrot, a garnish of dried carrot shards and held together with a sweet cream tinged with a hint of almond. It was playful and masterful at the same time.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

The other dessert standout was the combination of blood orange poached rhubarb, spoons of burnt custard, sugar shards and Szechuan sticks. Again it was a clever play of autumnal colour and textures though don’t expect any tongue-numbness from the pepper sticks.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

Traditionalists will enjoy the chocolate delice with an earl grey icecream but after the riot of imagination offered by the other desserts a well-executed slice of set chocolate mousse seemed a bit ho-hum. We also couldn’t discern any earl grey flavour in the ice cream.

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith St, Collingwood

Saint Crispin is only new but the outstanding experience we had is evidently the outcome of a confident and professional team. Smith Street excels at good value mid-range food so it’s great to see Saint Crispin upping the ante with its sophisticated offering. Our party of three unanimously agreed that we had an excellent meal.

Welcome to the neighbourhood Saint Crispin. I like you a lot!

Saint Crispin, 300 Smith Street, Collingwood +61 3 9489 4609
Wed to Thu 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Fri to Sun 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm

Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon

 

HOT: The Farm Cafe, Collingwood Children’s Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

The Farm Cafe, Collingwood Children’s Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford (2)

Since my last review of The Farm Cafe at Collingwood Children’s Farm the cafe has been renovated, revamped and reopened for service. It’s more of the same, but better!

The kitchen and dining space have now been expanded to serve more customers. There’s a handy wheelchair/pram ramp to the takeaway area and plenty of room to park a pram or your shopping when you’re visiting the monthly Farmer’s Market.

The Farm Cafe, Collingwood Children’s Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford (1)

The wooden tables and rickety little stools lend a rustic feel to the cafe, in keeping with its situation in sight of the vegetable patches and chicken coops.

The menu at The Farm Cafe continues to pay homage to its locality and surroundings – a bit of the country for city folk – with a focus on local, seasonal and fresh produce. A list of their producers and suppliers is thanked on their menu.

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My Green Eggs were a burst of healthy green silverbeet and herbs, mandolinned radish, chunks of soft caramelised fennel and some fluffy, nutty quinoa sitting atop a swirl of garlic aioli – but I didn’t realise until after I’d taken the photo that they’d forgotten my two poached eggs! Luckily the mistake was quickly rectified and I was given two perfectly poached eggs oozing a bright orange yolk ($15.50).

When you can watch a cow get milked a few steps away from the cafe it only seems right that you should order a milkshake. The milk they use is thick and creamy, lending a indulgent frothiness to the drink. It arrives in a steel cup, keeping the contents properly cold.

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You can request any leftovers to be poured into takeaway coffee cup complete with jaunty paper straw while you go about your tour of the farm.

The Farm Cafe, Collingwood Children’s Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford (3)

The Farm Cafe is a showcase for wholesome, delicious food and the charming sunny setting is a great way to recharge after a trip to the monthly Farmer’s Market.

The Farm CafeCollingwood Childrens’ Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford +61 3 9415 6581
9am to 4pm Monday to Friday
8am to 5pm Saturday & Sunday