HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 6 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

In a city that’s chock full of Mexican restaurants, what makes Touche Hombre special?

For me, it’s the fun atmosphere, punchy flavours and super-quick service right in the heart of the city. I call it ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am Mexican’.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 4 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The interior is all laneway brashness, with exposed brick, concrete, bar stools and kitschy touches. The hip hop playlist was from my era!

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 9 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I was invited to try their new menu which launched earlier this month in time for their third birthday. It’s pretty much the same Mexican-for-gringos street food that you know and love and it all goes well with their Mexican cocktails. The zesty Tommy’s Margarita is their signature but I personally liked their icy horchata.

Touche Hombre HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

I think the best way to tackle the menu is just to go with the chef’s selection. For a very reasonable $40 you’ll be filled up with 1 Street Corn, 1 Starter, 3 Tacos and 1 Dessert.

Dive straight into the Touche fried chicken, spiced up with habanero cream and lime ($10/$25). The crunchy outer coating made with maize flour was a popcorn party in the mouth though I’d be sparing with the cream and generous with the lime to cut through the richness.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 2 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

The spicy lamb ribs with merquin, coriander and honey ($13) were tender but far too fatty for our tastes so it was our least successful dish on the night.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 1 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Our plate of tostaditos (or crisp mini tortillas) had one of everything – blue crab, chicken tinga, tuna and pumpkin. The Asian-inspired tuna with candied peanuts, soy and black sesame was my favourite though of course the least authentic.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Next up, 6” soft shell tacos.  I highly recommend you douse them in hot sauce if you need a kick as I found the flavours of both the slow cooked pork cheek, habanero cream and BBQ corn salsa ($6.50) and the Chimichurri Chicken with melted Egmont cheese, toasted pepitas and coriander aioli ($6) quite mild. Other taco fillings include prawn, haloumi, fish and meatballs and the fillings are replicated in the burritos selection as well.

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 5 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Dessert veers away from Latin flavours to ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts. We tried the chocolate, chilli and peanut butter parfait ($8) which had negligible chilli in it, so I say turn it up! The biscuit was also rock hard so the whole dish was a bit difficult to eat.

Touche Hombre has obviously carved out a niche in Melbourne’s Mexican wave as it was jumping on a Tuesday night. The dishes we tried veered from OMG amazing to ho hum in my nitpicking opinion, but add a few drinks and the rapid friendly service it’s a great way to kickstart a fun night out – you can even head right next door to Burro Teca (Donkey Disco, I kid you not)!

Touche Hombre 233 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 8 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (03) 9663 0811

Mon to Sat 12:00 pm – late

 HOT: Touche Hombre, 233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 20 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

If you like high tea then shoot down the rabbit hole into the Adriano Zumbo-created dessert wonderland called Fancy Nance.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 18 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Fancy Nance is this famous patissier’s new high tea salon that’s named after his mother, Nancy. It occupies the site behind his eponymous patisserie on Claremont Street and is the former premises of George Calombaris’ Mama Baba and Manu Fiedel’s short-lived Le Grand Cirque.

Can another celebrity chef make a go of this site?

Based on the spectacular high tea I tried today, I hope so. This is high tea unlike anything I’ve tried in Melbourne.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 4 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The setting is quite unique. The space is cavernous and the industrial framework can be quite cold (literally and figuratively). But the designers have carved up the centre into cosy plush booths to give it a bit of warmth. There’s a sleek brass cocktail bar with chic brass detailing once the venue opens in the evening.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 5 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 16 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 6 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Both ends of the room are book-ended by exuberant, psychedelic Alice-in-Wonderland inspired street art and you can watch the long open kitchen at work preparing your delicacies.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 15 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

There’s no traditional three-tiered stand. Instead, you’re given three choices – $65 for twelve course degustation of sweets and savouries, $45 for seven mini savoury and sweet courses or scones with jam plus tea, coffee or hot chocolate for $15.

The courses come one after the other…and dessert comes first. I don’t have a problem eating dessert in any order during a meal but I did think it was curious…so I asked a waitress why the topsy-turvy approach. Apparently it’s just the way Zumbo likes to do it and in a traditional three-tier stand going from top to bottom you’d start off with sweets.

The ingredient combinations and attention to detail in presentation is quite stunning. Not everything was too my taste but 10 points for creativity!

To give you a rundown of the current menu:

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 1 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Linzer cake with vanilla chantilly, grapefruit with white chocolate ganache, olive oil and shizo and a tube layered with passionfruit curd, lemongrass pannacotta, lime tapioca and coconut espuma.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 3 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

Choux bun covered  in freeze-dried cherries and filled with…tarragon ice cream.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 7 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The dish is an wow-inspiring colour bomb but I can’t say I loved the savoury, anise flavour of the filling.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 8 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

A deconstructed apple pie with a cinnamon marshmallow and sorrel leaf plus Zumbo’s signature macarons (or as he calls them, zumbarons).

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 9 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

There’s a reason these macarons are famous – the texture is just perfect, with a crispy-shelled but still moist biscuit sandwiching a not-too-sweet ganache. It also comes nestled on top of a WHOLE BOWL of chocolate beads which you can dig into at leisure!

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 10 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The one concession to tradition – the scone – was perfect too, fluffy and light. [spoiler] What no one warned me about was that one of the jams was capsicum! I actually quite liked the unexpected peppery flavour and I worked out that one of the ‘creams’ was actually a whipped ricotta. The other jam is sweet (cranberry) and you can pair that with double cream…or cheese if you so wish!

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 11 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The pastries are a segue into the savoury courses, with a petite pain au chocolat, a raspberry and coconut danish and a tartlet with caramelised olives and topped with smoked ricotta.

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 13 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The traditional smoked salmon finger sandwich is turned into a cured salmon, crunchy rye, slices of fresh apple and creme fraiche. The other ‘sandwich’ is melting pork rillette inside a salt-flecked pretzel turned into a bun shape!

Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 14 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

The final course is a cube of osso bucco decorated with delicate pea shoots. 
Fancy Nance 21 Daly St South Yarra 19 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South YarraI really enjoyed my high tea at Fancy Nance. Their version of high tea is a playful take on an old tradition and you’ll be surprised at every turn. Given the menu changes periodically I can’t wait go down the rabbit hole again! Later the small space at the front will become a cafe and patisserie called ‘Little Frankie’.

Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra 1800 858 611

Wednesday – Sunday 11am-6pm

No reservations, walk-ins only

 HOT: Fancy Nance, 21 Daly St, South Yarra

HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 1 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

Queensberry Pour House in Carlton is the kind of cosy hangout I wish I’d had back when I was a uni student.

While my uni days are long behind me now, I can still pretend I’m part of the cool crowd that use Queensberry Pour House for their caffeine fix, meetings and a quiet study session.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 5 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The small cafe is on the corner of a main street but it still feels tucked away, its whitewashed facade dwarfed by the modern steely colours of surrounding high rises. The place has a quaint, handmade feel to it and it turns out that the couple who own the cafe made their own ceramics and hand built much of the cafe’s furniture. I particularly love the distinctive sideboard now cash register and their bone-handled cutlery.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 4 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The coffee (black, white or short) is a rotating selection of single origin coffee that is roasted on-site every Sunday. The filter coffee is bottomless!

For non-coffee drinkers they make their own nut milk so it’s worth trying the nut milk smoothie ($7) with different flavours every week. Mine was green smoothie, a sweet and creamy concoction of spinach, kale, banana and nut milk.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 2 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

The menu takes a simple and healthy approach. I go for the grazing bowl with a mixture of quinoa, chunky tabbouleh, roasted capsicum, smoky hummus and labne ($15.50). You can choose to add a soft-boiled paprika spiced egg for an extra $2.

Queensberry Pour House 210 Queensberry St Carlton 6 HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

I also try the mushroom toastie, inexplicably called the ‘Vladwich’. It’s a melting squish of provolone, grano padano, spinach, field and enoki mushrooms, spiked together with a jaunty pickle ($12.50).

The sweets cabinet was very enticing, with fresh cakes and biscuits coming straight out of the oven a few steps away. I dithered over the coconut muffin ($4) but decided that my stomach couldn’t handle any more.

Queensberry Pour House is a cafe full of cosy charm, a place to linger or hunker down with the books. The owners made and work in the place, and that care and consideration shows in the end result.

Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton 03 9347 1277

Monday to Friday: 7am – 4pm

Saturday: 8am – 3pm

Closed Sunday

minilink HOT: Queensberry Pour House, 210 Queensberry St, Carlton

HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 1 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

To stand out in Melbourne’s competitive dining out industry, you’ve really got to have a signature dish, something that gets Instagrammed to death. At Mjr Tom, Collingwood’s latest cafe/bar, that dish has got to be a banana hot dog.

Yes, you read right!

Before we get into this intriguing dish, a few things you should know about Mjr Tom. It’s an all-day eatery and bar that’s split into three areas for whatever mood you’re in.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 10 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

At the front is a small front area with the coffee station and simply framed seating nooks that give the space a Zen-like Japanese aesthetic.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 11 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Head back and there’s a lofty area housing a central bar with seating plus inviting booths that are surprisingly sunny despite being eye-level with the apartment block that overlooks the narrow laneway.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 2 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

The booths are the best seats in the house, and the raw plywood, corrugated metal and greenery that adorn the space give it an outside-inside feel.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 4 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 3 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Downstairs is the bluestone basement and private dining room, with a spanking new pool table and high stools and tables.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 9 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

The menu is eclectic, to say the least, with breakfast available 8am-3pm and lunch from 12pm. I count Asian, Latin, American and Italian influences –  then there’s that banana hot dog.

The dish is a roasted banana split into two and topped with bacon lardons, grated smoked scamorza, two banana-shaped garnishes cut from arepa, tomato marmalade.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 6 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

It’s a fun and tasty dish, albeit a bit gimmicky (and amusingly phallic). Ingredients like Brazil Nut get lost in amongst the heat from the green chili and coriander salsa and the riot of other flavours. The only reason I wouldn’t order it again is because it’s $17.50 for what is essentially one tricked up banana fritter and I was still hungry afterwards.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 8 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

If you’re after a breakfast classic with a twist then try the granola, which is also a more reasonable $12. It’s a chunky mixture of nuts, seeds and fresh berries surrounding a wobbly buffalo milk pannacotta and a slightly tart yoghurt sorbet. The texture of the pannacotta is perfect though I would have liked more flavour in it.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 7 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Lunch options include fish tacos and beef-cheek empanadas and an Asian chicken burger. C’s Israeli pearl cous cous salad ($14.50) is chock full of cucmber, zucchini, mint, herbs and nuts with a ball of labne rolled in black sesame on the side. It’s fresh and light but unless you’re vegetarian you’ll need the chunks of bacalao (extra $4) for flavour and protein.

The coffee is imported from Italian roaster Romcaffe and was smooth and creamy. The chai, while beautifully presented in crockery that reminded me of volcanic rock, was too watery in both texture and flavour.

Mjr Tom 108 Smith Street Collingwood 5 HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

Mjr Tom in the daytime is a relaxing place to hang out and its global menu means that there’s plenty of choice. At night I imagine it’ll be a fun place to eat and drink, making it a great addition to the Smith Street scene.

Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood (03) 9419 8048

Daily 8am–1am

minilink HOT: Mjr Tom, 108 Smith Street, Collingwood

 

HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 4 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

High Tea on the Rails was a one-off fundraiser organised by Elysian Afternoon Teas for McAuley Community Services for Women’s May High Tea Appeal.

Elysian Afternoon Teas is a vintage high tea business run by Therese Slee which offers small groups of 2-12 people the experience of high tea without the mess or the fuss.

Therese delivers high tea to your home by bringing her stash of vintage china (including a large collection of unique souvenir teaspoons), linen and table decorations. All the catering is done from her home kitchen. Some of the recipes come from the Ritz in London, some are treasured family recipes and some have been created by Therese.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 5 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

The location of this event was at the Newport Railway Workshops, which once used to be the largest industrial complex in Victoria. I never knew this place existed! The original 1880s workshops are now occupied by railway preservation groups Steamrail Victoria, Diesel Electric Rail Motor Preservation Association Victoria and R707 Operations and used by the Department of Infrastructure for the storage of disused trams and other rail rollingstock. The Australian Railway Historical Society Railway Museum is located south of the workshops.

I’ve eaten a lot of high tea in Melbourne, but never before in a vintage railway carriage! For this occasion we were very lucky to use the historic Avoca Dining Car, which was built at the Newport Railway Workshops and used for the Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of York on their visit to Australia in 1927. It was on loan from R707 Operations which charters locomotives, carriages and trains for private tours, corporate events, tours and filming across Victorian rail network.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 7 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 2 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

Our high tea began with a flute of bubbly or home made ice tea in the spectacular Art Deco interior of lounge car 708, which was built in the 1940s and further decorated with some items from Seddon vintage shop Once More, With Feeling.

IMG 1035 1024x1024 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

We were then ushered into the snug dining car. Each gorgeously decorated table held a plate of traditional crustless sandwiches and scones with home made jam while pots of Madame Flavour teas were brought around.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 14 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

 

The sandwiches were not terribly exciting to be honest as the bread was too soggy and thin. The traditional fillings included chicken paté and lettuce, cucumber and egg.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 12 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

The cake trolley was my highlight, filled to the brim with excellent home made treats. I dived into the moist Lemon Cheese Cream Butter Cake, a crispy hazelnut meringue filled with chocolate ganache and a tart with a hazelnut base and spiced apple butter filling.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 1 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

The ginger fluff sponge was simply amazing, like eating puffs of cloud sandwiching light whipped cream.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas Newport Railway Workshops Shea St Newport 13 HOT: High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport

From the hum of conversation a grand time was had by all as we dined to our fill in unique surroundings. Best of all, $10 of each ticket went to McAuley Community Services for Women, which provides much needed services for women and their children who are escaping family violence and for women who are homeless.

If you’re interested in the works of R707 Operations they restore and maintain heritage locomotives and carriages and can provide tours by appointment. They also regularly provide comfortable family friendly and affordable vintage rail travel day train trips to regional centres in in Victoria.

High Tea on the Rails by Elysian Afternoon Teas, Newport Railway Workshops, Shea St, Newport 

HOT: The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 1 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

Melbourne has so many eateries opening week after week that it’s easy to get caught up in the fervour of chasing new dining experiences.

But we musn’t forget the stalwarts of the city’s dining scene, places like The Grand Hotel in Richmond that have been serving happy customers for more than twelve years in Burnley Street.

I confess that despite moving to Melbourne twelve years ago myself I have never ventured to The Grand until last week. I was invited to attend one of The Grand’s special monthly events, The Grand Masters dinner to celebrate the old guard of Melbourne restaurant scene for AFR’s Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants, the only peer voted restaurant list in Australia.

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 2 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

Branco Cokesa, Alex Almatrah and Peter Watt  are three front of house staff that have worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years and together garnered over 165 (!) chef hats between them. While they served the diners in one of The Grand’s upstairs function rooms, they regaled us with anecdotes about ACDC, Billy Joel, Alan Bond and other celebrities, shared stories about their love for hospitality and the special place The Grand had in their hearts.

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 3 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

The night highlighted the skill of The Grand’s co-head chefs, two young Italians in their late 20s with Michelin-starred resumes.

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 4 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

First course was a Battuta di Tonno, a simple tuna tartare inspired by Olimpia Bortolotto’s dish served at Cafe Meni’s in St Kilda.

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 5 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

The pasta course was a dish that Stephen Downes rated as one of the 100 things you must eat before you die – chef Valerio Nucci’s Vincisgrassi Lasagne. It’s a traditional dish from the Marche region of Italy and not one you’re likely to find on many restaurant menus. The secret ingredients? Pot roasted chuck steak slow-cooked with vegetables and herbs, chopped kidneys brains and liver and lashings of butter!

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 8 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

The main course was a melting roast porchetta with baby carrots, beetroot and spinach inspired by Bill Marchetti’s Latin, THE place for the rich and famous to dine in the 80s and 90s.

The Grand Masters The Grand Hotel 333 Burnley St Richmond 7 HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

The finale was developed by the The Grand’s ‘Young Guns in the Kitchen’ a white chocolate semifreddo with caramelised rock melon. It’s not often you see melon on dessert menus these days and the refreshing sweetness was a perfect counterpoint for the richness of the previous savoury dishes.

The Grand is the kind of place that families visit over generations and it has consistently been awarded one hat since 2006.  It’s not flashy or cutting edge but serves authentic Italian food in a warm and inviting environment where you know you’ll be taken care of. Treasure it, Melbourne.

The Grand Masters Wednesday 20 May and Wednesday 27 May

The Como Room, The Grand, 333 Burnley Street, Richmond (03) 9429 2530

Mon – Sun 12pm till 11pm

Fri – Sat 12pm till 1am

minilink HOT:  The Grand Masters, The Grand Hotel, 333 Burnley St, Richmond

HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 10 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The layers of immigration that make Footscray such a fascinating place have now placed Small French Bar, a French fromagerie, charcuterie and cafe (and later wine bar) on the main street.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 6 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

It’s a small storefront set incongruously amongst the pho joints, wig shops and money exchange offices and you’ll just be able to spot it with the help of a little snail over the door.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 4 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Stephane Armentano is a new Footscray local and comes to Melbourne via a successful tapas bar in Fremantle. The space inside the Royal Hotel redevelopment has been completely rebuilt by Stephane and his family and transformed into what he hopes will become a little community bar like those in most French villages.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 5 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The sweetly humble space is a Gallic haven. French music plays gently in the background and the small menu is available throughout the day, every day.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 7 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Start your day with a bargain $5 croissant and coffee or French hot chocolate.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 1 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

The croissants and pain au chocolat are wafer crisp on the outside and so very airy on the inside – and it turns out that they have been made with French butter and other French ingredients and come direct from France (par-baked), along with the baguettes.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 3 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

Stephane simply couldn’t find the consistency in quality in any products here so for the moment you can enjoy these treats as if you were in the streets of Paris.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 2 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

For a main meal try the home made duck confit ($18), a moist maryland of duck with meat that falls off the bone and served with creamy potatoes dauphinois and steamed green beans. It’s an authentic brasserie meal which will warm your cockles in winter. You may see confit duck legs for sale in the near future, along with the  existing selection of French cheeses and charcuterie.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 8 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

To end don’t miss the house made chocolate fondant. The weight of the vanilla ice cream helps the melting chocolate centre flow out from the shell and it’s a luxurious treat for only $8.

Small French Bar Shop 3 154 Barkly St Footscray 9 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

At the moment opening hours are still in testing mode as Small French Bar is a one-man operation. Generally you can expect the cafe to be open from 10-4pm every day, sometimes opening earlier, sometimes closing later. The liquor license will hopefully come through in a few months so there will be an authentic wine bar in Footscray!

Small French Bar is a lovely neighbourhood addition and Stephane has obviously put his heart and soul into this venture so go support him!

Starting next Tuesday there will also be a regular French conversation class. From June 2 meet at Small French Bar  7pm till 9pm for charcuterie, cheese plate and a tete-a-tete. Limited tickets available, ring Stefan 0402952078.

Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray 0402952078

Open 7 days 10am-5pm

 HOT: Small French Bar, Shop 3, 154 Barkly St, Footscray

HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 8 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Brunswick Street Fitzroy is saturated with eateries, but it’s only till recently that it’s gotten its own wine and cheese bar. Bienvenue Shifty Chevre!

The French-themed cheese haven opened late last year but only recently got its liquor licence. The licence means it can now serve cheese with its natural partner, wine, and they have started opening evenings. I was invited to sample their dinner menu.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 3 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre has been opened by three young friends who decided to build a bar entirely based around cheese and make it the key ingredient to everything on the menu. The front counter displays a rotating selection of around 25 local and imported cheese, with the best-selling being brie. They also stock crackers, pastes, and cheese accessories (who knew a Jesus Grater existed?)

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 2 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

What they’ve built is a country-chic eatery in what used to be a clothing store. The natural tones, dim lighting, comfy couches and cute courtyard are an extension of your favourite friend’s home.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 6 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

In summer you can order a cheese takeaway box and take it for a picnic at nearby Edinburgh Gardens. But personally I think the winter is the more perfect time to visit Shifty Chevre because everything on the menu is based cheese that’s been baked, grilled or melted (there’s no stove in the small kitchen).

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 4 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

They even have a raclette on the menu, an item I haven’t eaten since visiting the French Alps. If you love cheese then this a must-try dish! Melt the oozy cheese over charcuterie, potatoes and bread and you’ll be set for the night.

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 5 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

The tartiflette, another Savoie dish I haven’t seen in a while, comes bubbling out of its ramekin. This comforting combination of baked potato, onion and bacon dish with melted French cheese will warm you from the inside out.

Sadly I didn’t have room for dessert but I’m told the tiramisu is excellent. Other sweet options include a cheesecake and pannacotta.

Just one last mention of the stunning bathrooms. It’s one of the few times I’ve taken my camera to the loo because this changing room transformed into goat mural/fernery has to be seen to be believed!

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 7 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre will be the stuff of my (cheese) dreams this winter. Who am I to dis a brie?

Shifty Chevre 375 Brunswick St Fitzroy 1 HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy 0423 694 763

Wed    12pm – 11pm

Thu – Fri 12pm – late

Sat        9am – late

Sun       9am – 11pm

minilink HOT: Shifty Chevre, 375 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 7 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

Hotel Lincoln (sometimes known as The Lincoln) in Carlton is one of the oldest pubs in Melbourne. Its most recent incarnation has turned it into a destination gastropub since new owners took it over late 2014.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 1 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, CarltonThe outside of the hotel still looks much the same ie slightly seedy and dim but a light refurbishment has turned the Art Deco front bar into a gleaming place for a drink and a chat, while the remainder of the space invites a proper sit down meal.

And the food by chef Lachlan Cameron (ex MoVida Aqui, Supernormal) is attention-grabbing and stunning. It’s not pub grub for uni students – this is fine dining done at affordable pub prices. There’s not a parma or burger to be seen.

The menu spans small plates (7 oz) to medium sharing dishes (schooner) to large meals (pint). Given I wanted to try EVERYTHING I left it in the chef’s hands – $45 for 5 courses of the chef’s choice (they can cater for dietary requirements). They also do a more extensive version of 8 courses for $60 but trust me, you will be very full after 5 courses.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 2 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

First course was from the ‘7 oz’ section – tersely described as ‘spanner crab, corn crackers’. It was a mixture of fresh creamy crab scooped into a delicate and aerated corn shell. Sublime.

Then onto a generous charcuterie platter of local and imported cured meats, including a melt-in-the-mouth jamon serrano, lap cheong-like peasant sausage with a hint of sherry and chilli, a ventricina and squid ink sausage which didn’t have any seafood flavour for me. All accompanied by some hunks of crusty bread and whipped butter.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 3 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

The vegetable dish was a lightly scorched cauliflower with crisp and salted dehydrated cauli leaves – a most unusual way to present a part of the vegetable I normally discard.  The underlying sauce was made of parsley with chunks of roasted almonds.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 4 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

From the main meals I received the only fish dish – salmon, chorizo, clams and stormy lager sauce. Lest you start worrying at this point about your pants spitting, the cut of salmon is about half size. Crispy-skinned and juicy it pairs well with the fattiness of the sausage.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 5 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

The main course comes with a pot of triple cooked chips, perfect in their fluffy/crisp ratio and a nest of cos hearts with house made curd. I’m not sure whether I receive one or two people’s portion of the sides but they were enormous and could not be finished, sad to say.

Hotel Lincoln 91 Cardigan St Carlton 6 HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

Because I needed to leave room for a dessert – a deconstructed lemon meringue pie. Flaked shortcrust pastry, dabs of lemon curd, cubes of soft meringue and freeze-dried raspberries, all artfully arranged on an ice-chilled plate.

As befits a good local the service was friendly and accommodating. I had stupidly only parked in a 1 hour parking spot so had to rush through my meal – and everyone was fine with that. They even let me take home a doggy bag of the chips!

While I didn’t delve into the drinks list a quick scan showed attention to craft beer and inexpensive wine.

Hotel Lincoln has got to be one of the best gastropubs in Melbourne and I’m floored by how reasonably priced it is. Get there quickly before it becomes over-popular and you can’t just walk in.

Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

Sundays to Thursdays – Noon to 11pm

Fridays & Saturdays – Noon to Midnight

7 Days Lunch & Dinner

Kitchen closes at 10pm

All Day Dining on Weekends

minilink HOT: Hotel Lincoln, 91 Cardigan St, Carlton

HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 2 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a handsome cafe hidden in a laneway – behind a laneway – next to a servo in Carlton.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 3 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

While the entrance to the former horse stables is small (and positively teeny tiny when they only open the bolthole in wet weather) once you get inside it’s like the Tardis.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 11 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 8 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

 A busy coffee bar greets you, then you walk back a bit further and the ceilings suddenly rise, cathedral-like.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 4 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

The lofty space is so amazingly bright that it’s hard to believe that there are no windows. The skylights that form the ceiling diffuse the light so beautifully across the wood and copper decor that even on a gloomy rainy winter’s day inside the cafe it feels like a spring day.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 5 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

 I take a seat at the banquette and I’m immediately enamoured of the greenery frothing over the custom-made metal wall planters. They were designed by Glasshaus in Richmond and are irrigated using a narrow pipe and drip system harnessing water from the roof.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 1 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

As the name suggest The Vertue of the Coffee Drink is a shrine to coffee. The unusual name comes from a promotional handbill from 1652 s advertising the first coffee house in London and the benefits of the brew.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 10 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

There’s a glossy roaster on site, a temperature controlled glass cabinet displaying various beans and coffee paraphernalia lined up along the wooden stairwell that leads up to nowhere.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 12 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

But if you’re a non-coffee drinker (like me) then there’s still a tea by Chamellia ($4.50), Mork Hot Chocolate ($4-5) and the Mad as a Hatter Chai with soy ($6) which comes in a hand beaten copper vessel.  They’re also licensed.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 6 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

And then there’s the food. Oh my. A series of all -day breakfast dishes that you’re unlikely to find on every second menu around town – plus I like the fact that their lunch menu starts at 10:30am!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 7 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

After some dithering between the scotch egg and chickpea chips I decide on the latter ($18). It’s an artistic array of charred zucchini, preserved pops of cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and two poached eggs, plus some unexpectedly fluffy sticks of deep-fried mashed chickpea. Even if you’re not vegetarian this is a dish worth trying.

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink 8 Raffa Place Carlton 9 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton

From the ‘something sweet’ section I try the warmed spiced fruit loaf ($14). It’s a hearty serve of almost cake-like fruit bread toasted into wedges and served with a hemisphere of poached peach, vanilla gelato and an amaretti crumble.

I feel like I want to keep The Vertue of the Coffee Drink a secret hideout just for me . But this oasis from bustling Lygon Street is so fabulous in every way – decor, service, food, drinks – that I just have to share. Enjoy!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton  (03) 8060 6987

Mon-Fri 7am-4pm

Sat-SuN 7.30am-4pm

 HOT: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, 8 Raffa Place, Carlton