NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

P1050824v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The Cullen is a glamorous boutique hotel in Prahran which has been inspired by artist Adam Cullen, and it’s one of the series of Art Hotel popping up in Melbourne.

While a hotel is not an obvious location for dining out, a high-end boutique hotel does have a certain reputation for quality to uphold, and that extends to its food options. On one side of The Cullen is the heaving branch of CBD’s Hutong Dumpling, while the other side is flanked by the much quieter Terrace Bar & Bistro.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro offers middle-of-the-road Mod Oz/Mediterranean fare at mid-range prices. The extensive menu spans antipasti, pasta/risottos, pizza and mains and there’s nothing particularly unexpected or unusual about it.

The décor is also uncontroversial, featuring polished floors, screen printed lamp shades and an open kitchen. The vibe is informal, the service friendly, there’s nothing really to complain about.

So why the NOT? Well, because I thought it was all a bit yawn-worthy.

P1050818v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

I had the antipasto plate ($18) with items selected by the chef. Normally it comes with cured meats or fish but feeling virtuous I asked for vegetarian items. Very pretty to look at, but no real taste sensations (and maybe that’s my own fault for discarding the meat and fish). Nice toasted ciabatta with drizzled with olive oil.

P1050817v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The mushroom risotto was liberally dotted with mushrooms and looked very hearty. D described it as ‘good’. I have no idea what was dotted on top but given how creamy it looked already I’m not sure whether another dollop of dairy was necessary to add richness.

P1050822v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

L had a rib eye with red wine gravy ($35) but had to order sides separately, so she went for the huge mound of buttery mashed potato. Main course meats or fish that come with nothing are a personal pet peeve of mine, but I know it is very common practice.

P1050826v1 NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The baby roast chicken looked the most appetising of the bunch but the meat was a little bit too dry and the plate was drenched with too much oil for J.

We shared an impressively large bowl of fries ($8) with tomato sauce and aioli which unfortunately consisted of mostly soggy chips. I hate soggy chips.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro was pleasant enough but left no real impression on me such that I would be hungering to return, telling you all about my amazing time there. I’m sure many others will disagree with me and tell me how great their pizzas are or their chocolate pudding or whatever, but it just drives a path that’s too safe for my personal preference. It’s arguable that my impression was coloured by the kind of dishes we ordered, but honestly our choices were very typical of the kind of food on offer generally. Just call me a food snob for that night! Meh.

minilink NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, David’s Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

DSC05178v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

What’s the best antidote for coldest day in Melbourne in 10 years? Why, bunkering down for dinner at David’s Restaurant in Prahran.

Thanks to David’s, RM and I, along with some other journos and the lucky winners of a Herald Sun competition, were invited to chat and dine with David Zhou, owner of David’s Restaurant and the Oriental Tea House, to celebrate the restaurant’s Winter Menu. Over several hours, we were treated to five delicious courses of traditional Shanghaiese dishes, a particular thrill since RM and I had only recently returned from eating very well in Shanghai and China generally.

DSC05186v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

First up, Double Boiled Chicken Soup. While my murky photo doesn’t do the soup justice, it was a very nourishing concoction of the kind my mum or grandmother would make, consisting of shredded chicken combined with wolfberries and bamboo shoots. Apparently it helps strengthen the immune system, an important side benefit for the onset of winter.

DSC05188v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Second course was individual steamers of pork siu mai. I’m normally not a huge fan of siu mai as it can often come out as one solid meatball, but these were very nice morsels of juicy pork encased in a thin silken pastry.

DSC05200v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Third course was a stir fry of shredded Peking duck meat with bean sprouts, shredded carrot and capsicum in sweet plum paste. This was the kind of tasty and hearty dish which was perfect with steamed rice. Though if I’d known what was coming up next I would’ve reduced my intake of rice.

DSC05208v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

DSC05213v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

The piece de resistance, Beggar’s Chicken. This dish is very hard to find in Chinese restaurants in Australia, as it’s time consuming and tricky to execute. The legend goes that a beggar stole a chicken. Chased by officials and with had no stove to cook it on, he wrapped it in leaves and mud and lit a slow underground fire. The fire caused the mud to form a tight clay crust and when the crust was cracked open, a tender aromatic bird was revealed. The beggar began to sell the dish to villagers and a Qing dynasty Emperor was so impressed with the dish that he ordered that Beggar’s Chicken be added to the list of dishes served at the Imperial Court.

DSC05220v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

These days, it’s a marinated chicken stuffed with a fragrant glutinous rice concoction of shrimp, pork shiitake mushrooms, ham, spring onion and carrot, all soaked in the juices from the chicken. The chicken is then wrapped in lotus leaves, bound and encased in a clay crust. This whole chicken (yes,  each person received a whole chicken!) was served with beautifully colourful stir-fried bok choy, broccoli, plump shiitake mushrooms and carrot, which unfortunately had to play second fiddle to that impressive bird. The dish was truly groan-worthy, both in taste and size.

DSC05239v1 HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

Thanks to several pots of David’s specialty tea, we squeezed in the dessert, three fried wontons filled with banana and a smear of red bean paste, dusted with crushed black sesame sugar.

As expected from a one-hat restaurant, the meal was truly delicious. What made the night particularly memorable for me thought was the very interesting conversations with David Zhou. I found that he has a lovely restaurateur’s demeanour – he’s friendly and personable, quick to joke, remembers customers (one of our number had held his birthday party at David’s 10 years ago and David still remembered him!), is attentive to detail and infectiously enthusiastic about Chinese food and culture. In particular, he is extremely knowledgeable about Chinese tea. I was intrigued to hear him speak about the aromas and flavours of tea and the varieties of tea leaves in the same way most people are used to hearing sommeliers speak about the qualities of wine and grapes. If you’re after high quality tea, often with medicinal properties, then after that dinner I am convinced that Oriental Tea House is the place to source it.

The Jetsetting Parents are arriving for another eating fiesta in a few weeks, and I’ve already raved to them about this menu. It’ll be interesting to see whether they’re as impressed with the Beggar’s Chicken as RM and I were.

Thank you to David’s Restaurant for inviting me to the event.

minilink HOT: Shanghai Cultural Session, Davids Restaurant, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran

HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

P1050776v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

Occasionally I have readers tipping me off about places to go and I recently received an email suggesting that I try  The Bell Jar.

So one cold, blustery afternoon I decided to trek up the nether-regions of Smith St (I rarely go past Johnston Street) to have a look. The cafe is quite hard to miss because it’s not really in a strip of shops, nor does it have a particularly noticeable frontage. I peeked through the window and thought that maybe they just did sandwiches for lunch (which I didn’t really fancy), but the whitewashed terrace house interior looked cosy and welcoming, so I decided to step inside and take the risk of eating stuff with bread.

P1050778v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I’m so glad I did, because it turns out that they have quite an extensive menu of breakfasty things, lunchy things, sandwiches and sweets, from what I could tell all made on premises. I settled myself in the back room, with the huge communal table and a striking autumnal floral feature which I’m going to pinch as an idea for my own house.

P1050779v1 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I decided on the corn cakes of the day, which came with smoked salmon ($14). I asked whether they could do a vegetarian option, maybe with some avocado instead, and the friendly waitress said no problem. The young chef then came out with a plate a two thick corn cakes, piled with a vibrant avocado salsa and topped with a fresh salad. For some reason I thought the dish had an almost Vietnamese scent to it, maybe because of the cucumber and red onion, but that freshness contrasted perfectly with the smooth avocado and unexpected pops of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. I told the chef that he should keep it on the menu permanently! He said that in fact the toppings for the corn cakes, along with the ricotta hot cakes, change every few days or so, to give him a chance to experiment.

As for the corn cakes, personally I prefer them with more corn and less batter, but they were by no means a bad version, especially smothered with that to-die-for topping.

photo 23 HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

I decided to stay on for something sweet. There were quite a few options available, from cake to Anzac biscuits, but I could sniff something chocolately coming out of the oven so asked for that instead. So, for $5, a plate of still-warm oozing chocolate brownie with a hint of coffee, served with a tiny doll’s jug of chantilly cream. I could have eaten a whole baking tray of it!

By this time, the rain had really started bucketing down outside and I didn’t have an umbrella. The staff offered to lend me an umbrella that I could just return ‘whenever’, which just goes to show the trust and care they show their customers. I opted to sit in the front window to wait for the rain to subside as I was feeling particularly contented and relaxed, just ‘being’, at The Bell Jar.

I very much hope that The Bell Jar continues to do well in it’s slightly out-of-the-way locale. The food is prepared fresh, there is an obvious care in using good quality ingredients and the atmosphere is welcoming. It’s the perfect little neighbourhood cafe.

For other fabulous cafes in Collingwood, try Proud Mary and Cibi.

  • The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood +61 410 336 019

minilink HOT: The Bell Jar, 656 Smith St, Collingwood

NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

P1050814v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Bokchoy Tang is a contemporary high-end Chinese restaurant which holds a prime position facing Federation Square and ACMI. The long narrow restaurant is impressively decked out in expensive-looking cabinets and feature tables, and a window table is a pleasant place to bask in the afternoon sun.

I haven’t been to Bokchoy Tang in years and was keen to try their weekend yum cha menu. You can choose between a la carte dim sum and other dishes, or go for a yum cha banquet. Their menu states that they use only free range eggs and poultry, some ingredients are organic and no MSG is used.

Between three people we shared the following items:

Steamed hand-made shao mai of pork, prawn & black fungi ($5.50 for 3). A bit solid and bland for my liking and to be very picky, the dumplings were not exact replicas but were slightly haphazard shapes.

P1050803v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Northern Chinese spring rolls filled with Beijing duck & garlic chives ($8.50 for 4). This was billed as a Bokchoy Tang speciality and it was disappointing. I liked the idea of crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, but the filling was again bland and the outside had a thick taro-like texture which I personally don’t enjoy.

P1050791v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Prawn balls with glutinous rice ($8.50  for 3). A not entirely successful dish consisting of mashed prawn and soft rice. Bland and the overall mushy texture was not very pleasant.

P1050798v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

A tasty pork and prawn fried rice ($12) and great value for $12, although curiously to be plated onto flat ramekins which made it very difficult to eat. It got a bit oily towards the end too but I think that’s just a function of restaurant fried rice, which will inevitably contain more oil than the home-made version.

P1050810v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

San choi bau – wok-fried chicken with finely chopped Chinese vegetables combined with Bokchoy Tang soy sauce & served in a crisp lettuce cup ($8). Nothing particularly remarkable though pretty to look at.

P1050808v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

Poached jiao zi of pork mince, prawn and garlic chives ($12). This lumpish mass was actually the most successful dish for me, as the pastry skin was thick (as per Northern style) without being gluey and the filling was flavoursome. I think a single plate of these with some Jasmine tea would make a good filling lunch.

P1050804v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

To end, egg tarts ($8 for 4). A beautifully flaky pastry holding a soupcon of sweet egg custard. But again, a little too much of an oil slick aftertaste.

P1050813v1 NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

All in all, our experience at Bokchoy Tang wasn’t so terrible that I’d never go back again, but based on our meal I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to recommend it. The setting is very pleasant but every dish, with the exception of the jiao zi and the fried rice, just didn’t quite hit the mark, and the prices are a little higher than usual. If I am to have yum cha in the future I’ll stick to my staple Shark Fin House or for high-end dim sum I’d rather go to David’s.

minilink NOT: Bokchoy Tang, Level 2, The Crossbar Building Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts, Melbourne

HOT: Felice’s, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

P1050712v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

Just last week I discovered that tucked in behind a lurid kebab shop on Smith St is the other-worldly Felice’s. The retro wood panelling and black laminex bar is reminiscent of an old-fashioned Italian social club, while interesting touches such as the giant model aeroplane suspended from the carved ceiling take the cafe out of the 50s and into contemporary Fitzroy.

P1050714v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

The vibe inside is homely and friendly. Friends gather around big tables (or the table football), families with young kids tuck into pasta and pizza and regulars slide themselves onto a bar stool and share some banter with the staff.

P1050717v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

L and I met there for a late lunch. The one-page menu is mostly bread or meat based – pizza al taglio, calzone, foccacia, fusilli with polpette, sausages, with the odd salad here and there. We ordered a slice of pizza with olives and boccocini ($5.50) and a ham and mozzarella calzone ($6.50). We had hoped to try some blood orange juice too, but it was sold out by 2pm.

P1050726v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

P1050722v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

Our food came out promptly, without fanfare. The pizza was delicious, with simple yet punchy flavours and a lovely soft base. The calzone unfortunately was not a worthy match and the dry crust suffered from the reheating.

P1050724v1 HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

For dessert we tried a slice of the delicious-looking baked ricotta tart and the last of the miniature chocolate cannoli. The ricotta tart was nice, not to sweet, but best shared, as it was quite dense. The cannoli’s pastry was also dense, and filled with a rather tasteless chocolate custard. I think it’d just been pulled out of the fridge and that fridge-chill made the pastry quite disappointing.

L and I debated whether Felice’s was HOT or NOT. I didn’t love all the food at Felice’s but I did love the atmosphere and the fit-out. I will return to try some other items on the menu and to go back for a slice of their delicious  pizza, so for that they scrape a HOT. Given my experience, I would suggest that you time your visit earlier in the day too so as to ensure you can order the dishes that you want with a better chance of freshness.

  • Felice’s, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy +61 3 9939 6267

minilink HOT: Felices, 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy

HOT: The Grand BBQ, Shop 6, Target Centre, 236 Bourke St, Melbourne

P1050708v1 HOT: The Grand BBQ, Shop 6, Target Centre, 236 Bourke St, Melbourne

Whenever I feel a bit blah, I often seek the aid of the comfort food of my childhood, which can mean a craving for soup noodles.

However, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to trying cheap-and-cheerful Asian restaurants unless they come with a recommendation – so one lunch hour I popped onto twitter with the following message:

“Need soup noodles. But can’t go to Ramen Ya for the 3rd time this week! Any other CBD suggestions?”

Wow! Quick as a flash, I had five suggestions and so I’m going to start a little ad hoc series called Soup Noodles in the CBD. First up, The Grand BBQ.

I’ve actually walked past The Grand BBQ numerous times as it’s located in the Target Centre, but I’ve dismissed it previously as another food-court-chop-suey kind of establishment.

How wrong. While the large menu of noodles and rice dishes is still order-by-number, it’s heartening to see that their barbeque pork and roast meats are all strung up on metal hooks for inspection and display. At lunch time the pace was fast and furious as noodles and accompaniments were cooked to order, so you know your food hasn’t been stewing in a bain-marie.

The seated space is small and crowded and the restaurant also does a busy line in takeaway, and I’d say that the number of people eating The Grand BBQ easily outnumbers all the other establishments in the food court.  I also love visiting the kind of places where people from all walks of life are enjoying the kind of food that I grew up with – on the day I was there the place was packed with Asian students, pinstriped office workers, inter-racial couples and rather a glamorously dressed middle-aged woman out shopping for the day.

P1050711v1 HOT: The Grand BBQ, Shop 6, Target Centre, 236 Bourke St, Melbourne

As for my egg noodles with barbecue pork and roast duck ($9.80), I’d say it was worth recommending but not amazing. On the positives, the barbecue pork was lean, the clear broth soup was flavoursome without being overly salty and the serving size was generous. On the other hand, I found the noodles soaked a little too soft for my liking and the roast duck skin was overly chewy.

For more reviews of The Grand BBQ, check out My Food Trail and Delishaz. Seems yong tau food (stuffed beancurd) is the thing to try!

  • The Grand BBQ, Shop 6, Target Centre, 236 Bourke St, Melbourne +61 3 9639 7228

HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne

The Italian HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne

Today we have a post from a new guest blogger, Huy – man about town, fine dining aficionado and on a mission to collect as many Michelin stars as possible. Take it away Huy!

Entering the foyer of 101 Collins Street never fails to take my breath away. Nothing gets my heart racing like water features and walls covered in gold leaf, and this building has both in spades. And tucked in the back of the building towards Flinders Lane is The Italian, a moody, sexy restaurant befitting of this prestigious address.

In terms of design, The Italian is pretty much faultless. I loved the dark wood floors, white linen and soaring double heighted ceilings, and the high backed red leather booths where our party was seated provided some welcomed privacy in the exposed space at the back of the restaurant. The elegant Tolomeo wall lamps that softly lit the booths turned the intimacy dial up a few more notches. All that dyed cow hide and flattering lighting makes this restaurant a superb date place. Not that I have yet lived to find out – I road tested The Italian (on the recommendation of Jetsetting Joyce) with the family.

I like Italian food, but don’t often find myself in Italian restaurants when I dine out. It’s sad, but I have begun to associate Italian food with the slap dash pasta dishes made with dried pasta and Dolmio sauces that have become a staple of my home life diet. You see, I’m male, in my early thirties, single – and I usually want a break from routine when I’m eating out. And so it was a joy to be reminded of the variety, sophistication and plain deliciousness of Italian cooking at The Italian.

I have always found the length of Italian menus laughable and The Italian’s menu continues the tradition of offering so much choice that I was a bit lost about what selections to make. The specials that night threw an additional two starters and three mains into the mix!

This is the point in the review where the wheels come off a little – I cannot remember the details of everything our party of six ate. I do recall that we weren’t particularly hungry and decided to share a few plates of fish topped bruschetta to start. It was heavenly, and a testament to the wonders of what good ingredients can do for a simple dish.

For my main, I had pappardelle with duck and mushrooms (one of the specials) which, despite being over salted, was still a very satisfying melt-in-your-mouth, stewish pasta dish ($26). The rest of the family also enjoyed their mains, with the most vocal praises being heaped on the char-grilled rib eye with shitake and oyster mushrooms ($39) and the grilled Yellowfin tuna with potatoes, asparagus, olives and basil ($37).

Take a hot date to The Italian. Don’t skip the starter because chances are that your date will be so impressed, you’ll probably wind up having “dessert” at home.

minilink HOT: The Italian, Level 6, 101 Collins Street, Melbourne

HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

Whenever visitors ask me to recommend a casual CBD restaurant for dinner, I tend to always direct them to Italy 1.

Why? Because it’s down a typical Melbourne laneway so it’s not that easy to find (though not so difficult that it’s going to freak out anyone tumbling down a dark alley), it’s small and cosy without being too quiet, and the Italian food is special without being too challenging.

There’s a reason Italy 1 has been in business for so long, and on a Tuesday night it was full to the rafters. It does an excellent job of selling a relaxed, sophisticated dining experience without pretension and theatrics.

P1050646v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

Our party of five managed to work our way through a lot of the menu – special of the day of grilled fresh scallops ($26), two serves of delicately fried arancini ($13) and some tender calamari with rocket ($24).

P1050648v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

P1050652v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

For mains I can never go past their lobster pappardelle ($38). I tend to shy away from ordering pasta at restaurants because very often I can do a pretty good job myself at home. However, Italy 1’s pappardelle is not really an at-home dish – fat ribbons of pappardelle (my second-favourite pasta shape, orrechiette being the first, FYI) with big juicy pieces of lobster and pops of salmon roe all mixed up in a creamy lobster bisque sauce. The luxuriousness of this dish is the reason I don’t tend to order anything else when I visit Italy 1.

P1050656v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

M enjoyed his scallop risotto mixed with chorizo ($32) while T and B had the special beef cheeks which were huge (a 3-cheeked cow?) and a little dry ($35).

P1050658v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

God knows why we decided on dessert as it really pushed us over the edge. The very rich chocolate fondant puddings oozed their molten centres ($16) accompanied by an almost-fudge like chocolate mousse.

P1050674v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

J and I shared the tiramisu ($14) voted the best tiramisu in Melbourne according to our waiter. Well, our tiramisu was quite good – I particularly liked the curlicues of chocolate – but the marscapone was solid, almost like butter in consistency. You can see the cracks in the cheese in the picture, and we suspected that the marscapone had been overwhipped. It really left a brick on our stomachs.

P1050668v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

On reflection M chose the best end to our rich meal, a selection of sorbets dotted with fresh fruit ($16).

P1050675v1 HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

Once again Italy 1 had delivered a great dining experience. Not every dish was perfect but we tumbled out into the night air, bellies full and in convivial company, vowing to return soon.

  • Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne +61 3 9654 4430

minilink HOT: Italy 1, 27 George Parade, Melbourne

HOT: The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne

OK, so I’m not a trendsetter. But sign me up to the long list of food bloggers who are in love with Hardware Societe.

I should’ve known that I would love it before I even stepped in the door when my friend D told me that the owners used to run Beetroot. Oh Beetroot, with the awesomest sandwiches that were worth the walk from the Beirut end of the CBD and the place that introduced me to the joys of hot chocolate topped with Persian fairy floss.

Hardware Societe fields a similarly interesting and varied menu – the creative choices for both breakfast and lunch are very enticing and it was difficult to choose.

Not being a coffee drinker and feeling a bit blah that morning, I ordered a some organic orange juice which came beautifully served in a Riedel wine glass. Some nice sunshine to start for $4.

P1050632v1 HOT: The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne

Then I spotted a neat pile of savouries in on the kitchenside bench and asked what they were. Bocadillos! Eat your heart out Maccas Bacon and Egg McMuffins, I had an absolutely scrumptious mini breakfast sandwich of smoked trout, a sprig of baby spinach and a lightly fried egg, all on lightly toasted bread for $3

P1050636v1 HOT: The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne

Which led nicely into the second (dessert) course of my breakfast, toasted brioche with poached quinces, vanilla labna, rose syrup and pomegranate seeds ($11).  Gosh, I think this was simply the most perfect version of French toast I’ve ever had. A generous serve of beautifully soft bread with a satisfying crust of pan-fried crunch, sticky-sweet with syrup but not too much so and with the wonderful pops of pomegranate seeds.

P1050638v1 HOT: The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne

I’ve also visited Hardware Societe for lunch where I had some lovely baked sardines and D had the empanada of the day. Unfortunately we were seated at an outdoor table bathed with red light, so all my photos turned out a bit…sunburnt. Rest assured that the food on a busy Friday lunch hour was equally good, with the evident use of fresh ingredients and care in presentation.

The Hardware Societe is definitely a place to return to – and now they open for Saturday for brunch until 2pm as well!

To read other gushing reviews of The Hardware Societe, check out I’m So Hungreeee and Tummyrumbles.

  • The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne +61 3 9078 5992

minilink HOT: The Hardware Societe, 120 Hardware St, Melbourne

HOT: Waffle On, Shop 9 Degraves St, Melbourne

P1050399v1 HOT: Waffle On, Shop 9 Degraves St, Melbourne

My French-speaking friend A introduced me to Waffle On when it first opened in 2003 and I’ve been a fan of this tiny establishment ever since. Even when I lived within a couple hours of France, I would still come to Waffle On on my visits to Melbourne to bask in some of owner Marc Laucher’s Gallic charm.

Waffle On first started its operations purely with waffles (served with coffee and hot chocolate). I’m told that Marc, while being French, studied and worked in hospitality in Liege, Belgium for around ten years, and it’s there that he  perfected his recipe for Liege style waffles (as opposed to Brussels style waffles). What makes these hot little treats so special is the caramelised crust is made from beet sugar imported from Belgium, as is the maple syrup he drizzles on them (though I prefer mine just dusted with icing sugar ($3)).

P1050456v11 HOT: Waffle On, Shop 9 Degraves St, Melbourne

Marc has now expanded his waffle stall to include daily house-baked baguettes filled with traditional French fillings ($8.50, $10 with a bottle of water). I chose the salami and emmenthal baguette with French pickles. The bread was chewier than I expected, rather than super-crusty, but the filling was good. I don’t even like pickles but they really lifted the sandwich beyond the ordinary, so I highly recommend those of you who dislike pickles to give it a go.

P1050403v1 HOT: Waffle On, Shop 9 Degraves St, Melbourne

So even if you don’t have a sweet tooth for waffles, you can join the office workers of the CBD as they line up for their baguettes. Or show your appreciation online – the baguettes even have their own (unauthorised) Facebook page!

For more great sandwiches in the CBD, try Migo’s and Pushka.

minilink HOT: Waffle On, Shop 9 Degraves St, Melbourne