HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

So here’s my two bob on Two Bob.

The café is an airy, high-ceilinged transformation of a former bank (remnants of the secured bank vault are still there) based in leafy North Fitzroy/Clifton Hill. Inside it’s all white and blonde wood with a few dashes of greenery here and there. Very calming and Scandi-chic.

Two Bob is a daytime venue and their breakfast menu is something to behold. The kind of list of breakfast classics-with-a-twist which makes it impossible to choose…until you flip over to the reverse side of the menu and discover the equally tempting lunch menu.

Paralysed by indecision by the time the waitress arrived the five of us ended up with 2 x steak sandwiches, 1 x slow cooked baked beans and ham hock cassoulet, 1 x crumbed poached eggs and 1 x ocean trout. A balanced menu traverse between breakfast and lunch, filling and light, hot and cold.

My slow-cooked cassoulet arrived with hearty chunks of meat, a poached egg floating on top, a sprinkling of feta and coriander and a hunk of multigrain toast ($16.50). A solid dish and the kind that soothes you with its familiarity.

M said that his crumbed poached eggs ($16.50) were very slightly overcooked and he actually didn’t enjoy the crumb very much as the frying gave the eggs an oily coating that lingered on the tongue. However the grilled asparagus and floret of smoked salmon got a thumbs up (but really they aren’t ingredients you can stuff up).

The baked miso ocean trout came with a cold noodle salad, Asian coleslaw and a sweet-sour tamarind dressing ($18). Perfect as a lighter choice if you’re not feeling so hungry but J definitely got food envy (as did everyone) from the winning dish at our table, the steak sandwiches ($17.50).

Mainly because of the presence of fried onion rings – we all went ‘wow’ when we saw those! The black Angus steak was carefully grilled and combined with a traditional filling of cheese, tomato, rocket plus some sweet beetroot relish and dijonaise instead of mayonnaise. A two-hander of a sandwich full of smashing colours and textures.

For dessert we each had a pick of the very moist carrot cake topped with a light cream cheese and walnut frosting ($5) which by itself, along with that steak sandwich, is worth returning to Two Bob.

While Two Bob is not pushing any major gastronomical boundaries it does what it does well, without fuss and pretence and with care in the use of ingredients and presentation.  I used to frequent the owners’ former cafe in Brisbane (Cirque) and Two Bob is definitely an extension of a winning formula.

For other great cafes in North Fitzroy, try Mitte and Mixed Business.

Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North +61 3 9482 5444


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Two Bob on Urbanspoon

HOT: Queen Margaret, 356 Queens Pde, North Fitzroy

The pizzeria Queen Margaret is not named as a reference to QEII’s sister, but to Queen Margherita of Savoy, the first Queen of the united Italy and for whom the magherita pizza was named.

Queen Margaret boasts eighteen (!) pizza varieties on its chalkboard menu, spearheaded by not just one but three riffs on the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil margherita pizza.

My Italian friend tells me that the only way to judge a pizzeria is by its margherita, but I’m actually not such a fan of it myself so I’ll leave someone else (namely Melbourne Gastronome, who was sitting at the next table) to report back on the comparative qualities of the three margheritas.

Instead, our table of three ordered three pizzas – Sock it To Me (tomato, hot salami, mozzarella, olives, roasted peppers $17), Easy Tiger (tomato, prawns, fior di latte, chilli, cherry tomatoes, basil $18) and Just Magic (mushrooms, thyme, pancetta, mozzarella $18) plus the QM Salad of rocket, pear, fennel, parmesan, wanuts and balsamic dressing to share.

The pizzas came out promptly and hooray! presliced. I loved the heady aroma of the earthy mushrooms and crispy pancetta on the Just Magic and the prawn pizza had a satisfying chilli heat to it, compared to the hot salami which wasn’t very hot at all.

As for the bases, they had the bubbly misshapen texture that I like and a base that held the fresh ingredients without turning into a soggy mess. However, if I’m nit-picking the  base was a little too bready – I prefer a bit more chew to my dough (my pizza gold standard is still Ladro and Supermaxi). Having a glance around at other diners it seemed that most people had also left the puffy crusts on their plate.

Our salad was deliciously fresh through relatively pricey at $9.50 for a small bowl given that the pizzas range from a very reasonable $15 to $19.  If you must eat something green with your meal you might be better off with spinach, greens and lemon for $6. For those who don’t want pizza there are two non-pizza option – lasagna al forno or a spinach and ricotta agnolotti with tomato sauce (both $18). They also cater for those who can’t eat the wheat-based pizza bases with gluten-free pizza at an extra $2.

Although I think we could have quite happily skipped dessert, a bit of pressure from the blogger at the table decided that we’d share two desserts – a flourless chocolate cake with sour cherry and coconut ice-cream and an apple galette with rum raisin ice-cream (both $12). While both sweets were quite good they were not remarkable and I think if your appetite is not up to it the desserts are not a must-do. The rum raisin icecream was missing a lot of the rich rum flavour and the chocolate cake was a fairly standard affair.

The restaurant was buzzy and casual on a Friday night, full of friends, families and local couples. Service was prompt, though our sweet waitress seemed a little unexperienced and unsure of herself – I’m sure time will cure that.

Our total bill came to a very reasonable $30 a head without drinks and we walked out with bellies extremely full, with much talk of unbuttoning waistlines and having a lie-down.

Queen Margaret, 356 Queens Pde, North Fitzroy +61 3 9482 5988
Tue-Sun 5pm – late
Queen Margaret on Urbanspoon

HOT: Squirrel Cafe, 23 Groome St, Clifton Hill

squirrel /ˈskwər(ə)l/
Noun: An agile tree-dwelling rodent (Sciurus and other genera, family Sciuridae) with a bushy tail, typically feeding on nuts and seeds.
Verb: Hide money or something of value in a safe place: “the money was squirreled away in foreign bank accounts”.

Squirrel Cafe makes the most of its name by taking both those meanings at once.

It is squirrelled away in a quiet side street in residential Clifton Hill, the site of a former milk bar and corner shop (the sign for milk has been retained for nostalgia’s sake). Inside it’s been revamped to become a homely, comfortable little nook of a cafe and in the two rooms the squirrel artefacts abound everywhere.

The owners must have had a lot of fun scouring vintage and antique shops for all their squirrel-alia!

It opens on 7am on weekdays and while it is quiet it is the perfect place to draw up a chair, sip a hot drink and browse the day’s papers. From about 7:30am the first customers come loping in for their morning coffee and by 8am there’s already quite a crowd waiting for their takeaway lattes.

As befits a place that caters for the breakfast crowd, the breakfast menu is pretty extensive. Two pages list sweet and savoury options, including a whole 3/4 page dedicated to eggs, eggs and eggs. A little befuddled by the number of egg choices I went for the easy (sweet) option – hotcakes with marscapone and berries ($12).

Basically these were pikelets but that’s not to say that they weren’t good. The plate contained four fluffy rounds topped with luxurious marscapone muddled with berries and syrup – a very sweet treat. So sweet in fact that I felt the need to chase it down with something savoury such as the breakfast roll ($4). This was actually the perfect end to my topsy-turvy breakfast – a small Turkish roll with fried egg, tomato, cheese, avocado and fried bacon in the middle.

I get the feeling that Squirrel Cafe has a devoted cast of regulars – nearby residents who love it for its laidback ambience, retro-fabulousness, solid food and (judging by the lineup) good coffee. It’s near the bike path and there are tables outside for warmer weather so I’m sure I’ll be back.

Squirrel Cafe, 23 Groome St, Clifton Hill +61 3 9489 2077

Open Weekdays 7am-4pm; Weekends 8am-4pm

HOT: Mixed Business, 486 Queens Pde, Clifton Hill

After what seemed like endless weeks of packing, I’ve finally moved into a new house. As we boxed up our worldly goods, I cursed RM’s penchant for book-buying and RM banned me from buying any more kitchen gadgets.

So even though I spotted a waffle maker for $20 recently, I resisted temptation. Which is a roundabout way of explaining why, out of all the delightful items on the breakfast menu at Mixed Business, I honed straight into the waffles.

Mixed Business is a popular cafe in Clifton Hill that is worth a special visit for breakfast. While it’s at the very end of a strip of shops on Queens Parade, it’s not in a place with constant foot traffic (or parking), yet on a weekday morning it was consistently busy. It seems particularly popular with people with kids, as the airy spaciousness and quaint rough-and-tumble wooden furnishings make it an ideal place for young tots to roam around and with plenty of space to park prams. There’s also a sunny garden area where you can sit in amongst delightfully unkempt flowering herbs punctuated by the gentle rumble of the Epping line.

I sidled into the restored church pew padded with summer-stripe cushions that’s positioned against the communal table. A pixie-haired waitress immediately greeted me with a menu and a glass of water and I think I halfway fell in love with the cafe right there thanks to her huge friendly grin.

The breakfast menu contains items that are a little out of the ordinary. The aforementioned gingerbread waffles with vanilla bean ice cream, roasted apples and candied walnuts ($14) is listed amongst poached eggs with sourdough accompanied by half a dozen different sides – from ham hock white beans, pancetta, tomato and parmesan to potato and rosemary rosti with avocado (all $13.50). While normally I’m not much of an egg person I was very much torn between a sweet or savoury breakfast, but in the end compromised on sweet so I could take away one of their hot rolls.

Two freshly baked waffles arrived heaped with topping. I have a fear of doughiness  in pancakes and waffles but these two wholemeal rectangles were perfect – crispy on the outside, springy on the inside. The toppings provided contrasting textural interest, with cold, hot, crunchy and smooth all sounding out together.

For lunch that same day I had a toasted ciabatta roll tucked with salty corned beef, tomato relish, tangy Dijon mustard, Swiss cheese and rocket ($9). A classic 50s combination which was still satisfying after a couple of hours.

Given its popularity on a weekday I imagine weekends at Mixed Business can get very busy, but nevertheless I urge you to try it out for breakfast or lunch – you won’t be disappointed.

For more blog love for Mixed Business, check out Food Rehab, “…it pleases us”, Eating Melbourne and The Real Melbourne.

  • Mixed Business, 486 Queens Pde, Clifton Hill +61 3 9486 1606

Mixed Business on Urbanspoon

HOT Chat: Pip Carroll of Melbourne Bikefest

Finally we’re experiencing some warmer weather in Melbourne – and have you noticed the increased number of cyclists these days?

It all bodes well for the upcoming Melbourne Bikefest, a 5 day festival being held at 1000 £ Bend which will celebrate all things cycling related in our city. Today’s HOT Chat is with Pip Carroll, the director of Melbourne Bikefest. Thanks Pip!

Pip, tell me a bit more about your background and what inspired you to start Melbourne Bikefest?

My background is pretty varied, I’ve been running a business called Ambiguous Horse since 2006 that specialises in management, marketing and producing for the arts and cultural industries. So I’m always working on something different. Ambiguous Horse, supported by a volunteer committee produced the Melbourne Bicycle Film Festival from 2007 to 2009.

Earlier this year we decided to branch out from the BFF and create a new event designed especially for Melbourne – and Melbourne Bikefest was born!

We wanted to celebrate and support an emerging bike culture in Melbourne, one that is less focused on sport and recreation and more interested in bikes as a means of daily transport, integrated into other parts of life. The more people that choose a bike over a car, the better the road conditions will be for everyone, including motorists. For people to choose to ride however they need to identify as bike riders, and through Bikefest we hope to create something more people can see themselves being a part of.

What is Melbourne Bikefest all about? What can visitors expect to see or experience?

Melbourne Bikefest is about celebrating bikes in everyday life. This doesn’t mean that you need to ride one everyday to enjoy it though! In fact there are only one or two events in the entire program that actually requite you to be on a bike. Most of the program is devoted to other cultural activities – art, design, music, fashion, shopping, forums, workshops, and advocacy projects. Bikefest really is more of a cultural festival about bikes than a ‘cycling’ event.

The majority of our activities are held right in the middle of the city at 1000 £ Bend. We will offer Bicycle Valet Parking for anyone that rides, but it’s a very easy place to get to via public transport. Over 5 days the space will host events and activities from morning to night, all against a backdrop of art and interactive installations. Plus a bar!

At the end of the day it’s really just about having a good time and giving people a glimpse of life on two wheels.

What is your one must-do recommendation for Melbourne Bikefest?

I’m always reluctant to choose just one thing! We’ve programmed Melbourne Bikefest so that you have the opportunity to experience several different activities all in the one visit. However I would say that the Bikefest Great Debate will be a night to remember, we’ve got together some amazing local comedians to put a light hearted spin on the argument that ‘Bikes are the best form of transport’. It features Charlie Pickering, Hannah Gadsby, Bart Freebairn, Lawrence Leung, Harley Breen, Andrew McClelland and is moderated by Josh Earl.

My other recommendation, for those that like to dress up (and who doesn’t?) would be the Melbourne Tweed Ride. Leaving from the State Library steps, it’s a slow cruise in salute to times gone by. Hopefully it will help redress some of the crimes against Lycra we see all too frequently on the streets of Melbourne.

Why do you like cycling, and particularly in Melbourne?

Wow I like riding a bike for so many reasons, where do I start? First up would have to be sense of freedom I get riding. If I have a frustrating day, chained to the desk, feeling like I’m not getting anywhere, stuck in the treadmill of life, riding home just unravels all of that immobility and delivers a palpable sense of achievement.

I’m also one of those people that has subconscious punctuality sabotage syndrome – I think I can get anywhere in 20 minutes. Thankfully on a bike in Melbourne it’s mostly true.

And do I need to mention the great things it does for your butt?

Finally, what are your HOT tips for Melbourne where you like take your bike?

I like going to the Penny Farthing Espresso (206 High St, Northcote +61 3 9482 2246). It’s just up the road from my house and has a welcoming and relaxed vibe. The coffee is good, the food uncomplicated and satisfying and they always seem to be exceptionally well staffed with polite and good-looking Gen Y employees. What more could you ask for?

Down the road is The Movie Reel (69 High Street, Westgarth +61 3 9486 8866). It’s a great old school DVD hire place that’s good for a bit of eavesdropping on a Friday night. They have an amazing range. I reviewed some bike movies last year and they had every title I asked for. Plus they don’t mind if you tell them the fine belongs to your ‘housemate’.

I’m partial to popping down to the Ceres Organic Market & Shop (Cnr Roberts and Stewart Streets, Brunswick East +61 3 9389 0100) on a Saturday morning. It’s a lovely ride down along the Merri Creek and it’s great to see the chickens that have laid the eggs you’re about to eat. There’s also something very satisfying about whipping your credit card out in the open air.

Also nearby is Fowlers Flowers (488 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill +61 3 9489 9114). It’s next door to another favourite café, Mixed Business (486 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill +61 3 9486 1606). Their arrangements are simple and beautiful and inspire me to clean the house so the flowers have a more fitting backdrop.

Melbourne Bikefestt is being held from Wednesday 24 November to Sunday 28 November. CycleStyle is one of the sponsors – if you see me at any of the events or speaking on a forum, please come say hi! For more program information, click here.

HOT Chat: Alex Hume of Eco Fashionista

This week’s HOT Chat comes from Eco Fashionista. Alex Hume chatted to me about fashion, living eco-conscious and being a business-owner with a young toddler.

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Alex, how did Eco Fashionista come about?

Eco Fashionista was launched almost a year to the day my son Max was born. Max’s arrival (and the huge sense of responsibility that arrived with him) was the catalyst for me to make a bigger commitment to being “green” – and, ever the keen shopper and fashionista, I realised the “greening” needed to extend to my wardrobe!

As I began to explore whether there was such a thing as “designer eco fashion”, I became so excited about the amazing labels I was unearthing – many of which weren’t available in Australia and in the one shopping destination. If I was going to seek out these chic pieces for myself, then why not share the love and let others in on my discoveries? I believe most people want to be eco-conscious about their lifestyle, but they also don’t want to give up the things that matter – such as style, quality and individuality. And that’s where Eco Fashionista comes in….

With so many fashion designers out there, how do you select the stock for Eco Fashionista?

A lot of brand research lies behind Eco Fashionista‘s collection and the designers must demonstrate serious design and eco credentials.  How they achieve their “eco fashion” mission differs – from using organic, sustainable or vintage fabrics,  eco-friendly production, making small quantities to order or by hand and ensuring fair work conditions. We have given “eco attributes” to each piece in our collection with these symbols.

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Where do you turn for eco-fashion inspiration?

I’ve always devoured fashion magazines, and it’s wonderful to see titles like Vogue, Madison and Marie Claire now turning out green glamour and eco chic issues. I also read the stylish Australian eco fashion magazine Peppermint, and inspiring eco fashion blogs –  Eco Stiletto and Green Lashes and Fashion just to name two. For high-end designers with a conscience, it’s hard to go past Philip Lim (who launched his “Go Green Go” line in 2008) and Stella McCartney.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Three words have guided me over the last few months  – patience, perseverance and perspective. Having a clear vision of your business and its direction is essential, but equally important is the flexibility to adapt to the challenges that will be inevitably thrown at you. I’ve also had to learn that sometimes I am not the best person for the job! You need to concentrate your energies on your strengths, and in areas where you lack experience or skills – delegate or outsource if /where you can.

What are you wearing at the moment?

I’m wearing one variation of my “home with Max” uniform – Good Society jeans, Sublet Courtney top and  Beyond Skin Tilly floral ballet flats. It’s all about comfortable style these days.

I do love to dress up when I get the chance though! My fiancé and I have a rare dinner date tonight, and I’m looking forward to wearing my Minna Maria vintage print dress, accessorised with a pendant from fair trade jeweller Fifi Bijoux and Ashley Watson’s super-soft recycled leather oriole clutch.

What are your tips for what’s HOT in Melbourne?

We love our morning coffee, and breakfast is really the only meal we go out for these days! Our local favourites are Mixed Business (486 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill +61 3 9486 1606‎) and Palomino (236 High Street, Northcote +61 3 9481 0699) which both make a great soy latte and exude an arty community vibe.

A little further afield, we recently discovered St Ali (12-18 Yarra Pl,South Melbourne +61 3 9686 2990) – a funky converted warehouse with specialty coffee blends and chocolate brioche, yum! Joe’s Shoe Store (233 High St, Northcote +61 3 9482 7666‎) is a very small bar with a whole lot of atmosphere – enjoy a glass of red with pizza from next door at Pizza Meine Liebe (231 High St, Northcote +61 3 9482 7001), along with a game of French boules out the back.

For something more special, we love Cumulus Inc (45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne +61 3 9650 1445) for fine wine and adventurous food in a vibrant setting.