HOT: Il Melograno, 76 High Street, Northcote


I am a gelato snob. Nothing gives me more joy in a gelateria than seeing a row of gleaming metal pozzetti tubs – because it’s the best indication of good quality gelati without actually tasting it. As soon as I walked into Il Melograno (‘The Pomegranate Tree) in Northcote I knew that I was in for a treat.

il melograno

Gelati made the traditional way contains real fruit and nuts, high quality cream and no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. It disintegrates quickly and the metal containers help preserve the gelato in its best condition. An Australian gelateria that takes the time and expense to import pozzetti from Italy cares greatly about the quality of its product. And they’ve imported a Sicilian gelato maker to boot!

il melograno

I tried the pure milk fior di latte, the vibrant pink strawberry with crushed pips still evident and the exotic sounding Iranian pistachio and hazelnut, nubbly with crushed nuts. They were all fresh-tasting and had a fluffy lightness in texture that comes with being just-churned. Plus you can even eat the cups!

The gelati was so good I knew I wanted more of it…but I thought I’d probably better have lunch.

il melograno

I found a sunny nook in their narrow Italianate courtyard, complete with a lemon tree, and settled down in inspect their mostly Italian inspired breakfast and lunch menu.

il melograno

The sandwiches come on super-crusty loaves and traditional fillings such as melt-in-the-mouth San Daniele proscuitto, buffalo mozzarella, tomato and rocket ($14).

il melograno

I also tried a bowl of their hand-rolled fusilli, thin cigarillos capturing a creamy sauce of swiss brown mushrooms, pancetta and rocket ($17).

il melograno

For dessert instead of gelato again I compromised with the oven-baked pancake which came with a dollop of gelato. This was a rather dense and wet cake and while flavoursome probably not one of the better whole-pan style hot cakes I’ve had in terms of texture.

il melograno

If you’re still in the mood for sweets then a family friend of the owner makes all the authentic Italian cakes and pastries on the counter top. The coffee comes from the wood bean roaster housed inside a glass room.

Il Melograno is the perfect Italian pit-stop enroute to Westgarth Cinema but it’s so good that it’s worth a special trip. It’s one of my Top 10 places to enjoy gelato in Melbourne, check out the rest of the list.

Il Melograno, 76 High Street, Northcote, 9482 2092

Tue to Sun 11am–10.30pm

Il Melograno on Urbanspoon

HOT: Sookie La La, 593 High St, Northcote

sookie la la
American diner Sookie La La has set up shop on the Thornbury/Northcote border of High Street, where the 86 tram runs virtually empty and it’s easy to find a car park.

Sookie La La‘s aesthetic is pared back art deco, with wooden diner booths, high padded leather stools by the bar and two small tables fronting the unadorned glass window, making you the window dressing.

sookie la la

The small menu is classic all-American with a few touches of Central America tossed in. You’ll find burgers, fries, bagels and pie, along with serious ice cream sundaes like the ones I used to get at the Big Pineapple.

Unable to decide amongst the ‘shorts’ list I went for a buffet approach and ordered the Cortes taco ($12.50), the sorullitos ($7.50) and a half serve of the mac ‘n’ cheese with kaiserfleisch ($4.5).

sookie la la

The taco was a substantial beast. It wasn’t really authentic with the addition of scrambled egg but more of a hybrid Mexican/American breakfast dish. The tortillas were dry rather than pliable but the combination of black beans and the punchy tomato salsa zested up with fresh lime made up for the base’s unappealing texture.

sookie la la

The mac ‘n’ cheese came in its own miniature paella pan and was addictive. The cheese was creamy and mild, accented with little salty cubes, seeded mustard and rosemary and dusted off with smoky paprika. I could have easily eaten the full serve!

sookie la la

The sorullitos were billed as Puerto Rican hushpuppies, which turned out to be deep-fried cornmeal/polenta and manchego balls . The five balls came served in a coffee mug (cute!) accompanied by a very mild chipotle aioli. It’s the sort of dish that’s best shared – otherwise you won’t have room for dessert.

sookie la la

Ta dah! We shared the strawberry ice cream sundae with a drizzle of hot chocolate fudge sauce, a liberal sprinkle of honey roasted cashews and two jaunty syrup waffles wedged in the mountain of ice cream. It’s a bargain at $8 considering I paid $6 for a single scoop of ice cream recently. I’m returning to try their other flavours and for those with dairy intolerances or are vegan, you can even try the coconut silk sorbet sundae!

On my way out I spied a generous slab of pumpkin pie ($6.50) made by the owner. I couldn’t resist taking some away or you can have it at Sookie La La served with ice cream.

As befits an nostalgic favourite 50s diner the service at Sookie La La was friendly and welcoming and the solid food will want you coming back for more. 

Sookie La La, 593 High St, Northcote 03 9486 5417

Monday 10:00am-5:00pm

Tuesday CLOSED

Wednesday – Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm

Sookie La La on Urbanspoon

HOT: Barry, 85 High St, Northcote

Barry, 85 High St, Northcote

I’m usually of two minds whether to visit a cafe on their first day of trade. But when I found out that Barry was being opened by the team at award-winning Pillar of Salt I figured that they’d know what they were doing. Plus my view is that if you’re taking people’s money then you need to be on the ball with your operation from the get-go, though everyone is generally understanding of small errors.

Day 1 of trading and Barry already has the hallmarks of a successful cafe. Firstly, it was jam-packed on a Monday, to the point that there were queues out the door even though the space seats 110 people. The crowd was an eclectic mix of businessmen, hipsters, students typing on laptops, mums and bubs and even an elderly couple pushing walking frames. It’s on the corner of Barry Street and High Street, right next to Westgarth Cinema, so it will draw the cinema crowd no doubt (though it only opens till 4pm on weekdays and 4:30pm on weekends).

Barry, 85 High St, Northcote

Secondly, the fit out is what I’d consider to be a trade mark of Melbourne’s coolest cafes – whitewashed brick, lots of wood and steel, a big-ass coffee machine (in this case, a Synesso pumping out coffee with two dedicated baristas sporting Ned Kelly beards), exposed light bulb light fixtures and even the creamy green coffee cups and saucers I’m noticing everywhere.

Thirdly, the food menu is extensive and very trendy, which may date it in 5 years time but for now is very ‘of-the-moment’. Quinoa, freekeh, kale, baked eggs, wagyu beef burgers and coconut water all make an appearance though if you want fried eggs on toast (like my neighbours) that’s ok too.

From the breakfast menu I tried fatty slices of cucumber and gin cured ocean trout with a superfood salad of crunchy freekeh, roasted cauliflower, shredded kale and punctuated by sweet pomegranate seeds, with a soft boiled egg oozing at the top for extra protein ($17.50). It was a marvellous dish with plenty of textural interest and colour combinations, not to mention very good for you.

Barry, 85 High St, Northcote

On the less wholesome end of the breakfast spectrum was the brioche with pistachio marscapone, rose scented raspberries and halva ($15.50). While it was equally colourful with an interesting combination of textures I think it could be tweaked a little. The light and buttery brioche might have been better off a bit stale and then Frenched toasted as the juice of the raspberries soaked into the bread, making it a soggy mess if you didn’t eat it quickly enough. I also think the proportion of brioche to marscapone could be inverted, though I did love the crunchy pistachios inside the whipped cheese. And as for halva, it is my new favourite ingredient! Unadulterated sugar.

Barry, 85 High St, Northcote

Given the reception that Barry has been given by Westgarth locals already I suspect it will do really well in the area. Despite the hectic feel of the first day I found the service to be smiling and considerate (moving tables around to accommodate kids, bringing the bill to the table so I didn’t have to haul a baby capsule to the counter) and the food, and no doubt the Seven Seeds coffee, was excellent.

Barry, 85 High St, Northcote +61 3 9481 7623

M-F 7:30am-4pm

Sat-Sun 8am – 4:30pm

HOT: Red Door Corner Store, 70 Mitchell St, Northcote

While the demise of the neighbourhood milk bar is a sad testament of our time of mega-malls and supermarket duopolies, the silver lining is that Melburnians have managed to transform the humble corner store into some fantastic cafes, including Mitte, Squirrel Cafe and my latest find, Red Door Corner Store.

The owner/chef has retained some of the old-fashioned shop signage and the interior coffee and serving bench is reminiscent of the old shop of yore, when you’d be served by girls in beribboned aprons and mop caps reaching for the back shelves for your essentials. And given the cafe’s name of course the predominant colour scheme is a bright, cheery red. I love the red medicine cabinet-cum-cake cabinet in particular!

The cafe serves all day breakfast and lunch, 7 days a week, and on a weekday afternoon there was already a contest for the outside pavement seats by the locals (there’s also a leafy back courtyard which was under renovations on my visit). M and I grabbed the last, miniature, wobbly table and perused the off-the-beaten-track breakfast menu with a focus on seasonal, free-range and local produce. If you flip to the back there’s a section entitled ‘We Love’ where they give credit to their producers – a nice touch.

To the food! I decided to go the route of the 2-course breakfast and started with house-cured black cod, spicy cannellini beans, chorizo, poached egg ($17.50). A hearty combination of flavours only dampened by the fish lacking some punch in flavour to compete with the spicy beans and chorizo.

There was at least a couple of sweet breakfast options I could have devoured but decided on banana bread, whipped orange ricotta, oven-roasted stone fruit, cinnamon and hazelnut dukkah ($15). This dessert-masquerading-as-breakfast dish is amazing! Sweet, sticky, crunchy, creamy, all at once. It’s also extremely filling (although that may have just been after eating fish, beans, sausage and egg 2o minutes before).

The coffee comes from Maling Room and I highly recommend the iced Calmer Sutra chai latte ($4.50).

There’s a lot to love about cosy, delicious Red Door Corner Store. It’s so good that locals have asked that I keep it secret – but good things should be shared, no?

Red Door Corner Store, 70 Mitchell St, Northcote +61 3 9489 8040
Mon to Fri 7:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sat to Sun 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

Red Door Corner Store on Urbanspoon

HOT: The Age Good Food Guide 2012 Winners!

The winners of The Age Good Food Guide 2012 Awards were announced last night. Here is the complete list of winners, some with my previous reviews – congratulations!

Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year – Attica

Citibank Chef of the Year – Dan Hunter, Royal Mail Hotel

Regional Restaurant of the year – Loam

Best New Regional Restaurant – Mr Carsisi

Plumm Wine Glasses Best New Restaurant – Golden Fields

The Age Young Chef of the Year – Josh Murphy, Cumulus Inc

Champagne Louis Roederer Sommelier of the Year – Bengt Baumgartner, The European

Virgin Australia Service Excellence Award – Jason Lui, Flower Drum

Professional Excellence – Neil Perry

Dimmi Award for Innovation – TOYS Collective

Epicure Sustainability Award –  Maurice Esposito, Esposito at Toofey’s and Saint Peter’s

Donlevy Fitzpatrick Award – Gerald’s Bar

Dan Murphy’s BYO Restaurant of the Year – Osteria La Passione

Samsung Diners’ Choice Award – Cutler & Co

Vittoria Coffee Legend Award – Philippe Mouchel, PM 24

Best Short Wine List – Merricote

Regional Wine List of the Year – Lake House, Daylesford

Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year – Spice Temple

Lucky Beer Dish of the Year –  Barbecue Spare Ribs, Dandelion

The book, apps (from Samsung apps and iTunes) and website will be available from 30 August.

Here’s the list of 2011’s winners.

HOT: Grandfathers Axe, 171 High St, Northcote

Regular readers will know that I have a penchant for 20th century vintage furniture. What used to be a mild browsing interest has turned into a mission with a purpose as I’ve just recently moved into an Art Deco apartment which deserves to be filled with furniture that, for once, doesn’t come in a flat pack.

My latest project has been finding a two-seater couch for our lounge room. For some unfathomable reason RM insisted that he didn’t want open armrests on the couch so for the past few months I’ve been stalking couches on eBay and my local vintage furniture stores on a weekly basis.

My eBay trawlings led me to the recently-opened showroom of Grandfathers Axe (they also sell a selection of their wares on eBay). It’s a place that you have to go looking for, as there’s no fancy shopfront at all and the windows to the warehouse are a dirty frosted glass, so it looks like an unused storage space. From the street the only clue to the wonders inside is the butter yellow ute painted with Grandfathers Axe parked out the front.

The showroom is very large and filled to the brim with mid-century gorgeousness, mostly from Denmark. There is so much furniture here that it literally fills the walls from floor to ceiling and you have to wind your way through narrow walkways to inspect the items. They have an amazing array of iconic chairs, some interesting bric-a-brac like these ballot boxes and gasp! more vintage tallboys than you could ever want.  The prices are fairly reasonable too.

As luck would have it on my first visit to Grandfathers Axe I spotted the perfect couch – brown leather, two seater, low back, closed armrests. It also had beautifully curved back cushions and narrow short legs to reduce the visual weight of the couch. One of the owners, Ed, kindly offered to hold it for me for a couple of days and when I asked about delivery he offered to deliver it for free instead of charging $50. Excellent service.

So our vintage furniture buying is now complete (for the moment). To read about other places where I’ve bought vintage furniture in Melbourne, check out reviews of 84 Smith Street, The Bitch is Back and Smith Street Bazaar.

Grandfathers Axe, 171 High St, Northcote +61 (0) 404451663

HOT: Gypsy Hideout, 68 High St, Northcote

Sometimes a wrong turn can be the right decision.

I was cycling along the Merri Creek bike track one afternoon, intending to head up to CERES. However, at the junction for the path heading north I heard the loud rumble of excavation works and chainsawing and so I decided to take a right hand turn instead…and that’s how I found myself at the Westgarth strip of High Street looking for a place to have lunch.

I was attracted to Gypsy Hideout thanks to its bright, almost spartan, pine wood and white-washed brick interior. But then I spied the small courtyard out the back and slid into one of the jaunty outdoor industrial metal chairs, slipped off my shoes and felt the comforting ruffle of fake turf between my toes.

The crowd was your usual inner-city types, but with a little less polish than the increasingly gentrified Northcote. All the outdoor tables were occupied because there was more than your usual proportion of rollie smokers and I eavesdropped on an enlightening conversation about how to negotiate an agreement to have an open relationship when you owed the other person money.

Gypsy Hideout has an extensive breakfast and lunch menu and in order to sample as much food as possible I chose the Gypsy Plate ($17.50) while my curiosity was piqued by the Gypsy Elixir ($5). The scarlet concoction of the juice of red fruits – redcurrant, pomegranate, elderberry, red apple and grapes amongst others – was served in an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque vessel, a laboratory beaker. The drink, originating from Turkey, was very sweet with natural sugars, apparently high in antioxidants and deliciously refreshing on an unseasonably warm autumn day.

The quirky presentation of the Gypsy Elixir was carried through in other delightful details. Old-fashioned milk bottles were filled with tap water. The feta cheese on the Gypsy Plate was served in a doll-sized casserole dish and the olives were placed in a little cut-glass liquer glass. The plate also included Greek yemista (tomato stuffed with rice, herbs and feta), several meatballs, a few slices of toasted bread and some of the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had, with chunks of smokey eggplant punctuating the smoothness.

For dessert, I couldn’t go past another intriguing menu item – the Gypsy top secret hot chocolate ($4.50) – and accompanied it with the daily muffin of lemon, ricotta and rosewater. I had been advised that the hot chocolate was more like a dessert and it was sort of like a hot, liquidy chocolate mousse that you ate with a kitsch, souvenir spoon. I imagine it’ll be a very popular option as winter rolls around. As for the muffin, the rosewater aroma was strongly evident, lifting the cake beyond the usual cafe muffin offerings.

I was completely won over by the raffish charm of Gypsy Hideout’s food and presentation as well as their super-friendly service, so I will definitely be returning for more.

For other goodness on High Street, check out The Estelle and Penny Farthing Espresso.

    Gypsy Hideout, 68 High St, Northcote +61 (0)4 3316 6248

Gypsy hideout on Urbanspoon

HOT: The Estelle Bar & Kitchen, 243 High St, Northcote

Some people have strange hobbies. And I came across a particularly strange hobby when I visited The Estelle and discovered that one of the owner’s family friends knits smallgoods. As in, create objects d’art like sausages and a leg of lamb from knitting needles and wool!

The Estelle is a quirky bar/cafe in the vintage shop-baby store-second-hand bookstore strip of gentrified High Street. On entry I was greeted by the sounds of melancholy country and western (eg ‘You broke my heart, my lonesome heart, on the praireeeee……) and seated myself at one of the very comfortable vinyl seats. That’s when I spotted the knitted meat, hanging from butcher’s hooks backed against pastel tiles. The outdoor area, a throwback from a kitsch 70s garden party, was already occupied.

The clientele seemed to consist predominantly of hip youngsters dressed in penny loafers (girls) and battered Converse (boys) and the atmosphere was one of relaxed uber-quirkiness.

The lunch menu (hidden in a vintage cookbook) doesn’t take the quirky theme too far though, with familiar ingredients such as the daily carnivorous or vegetarian toastie to a roast pumpkin and saganaki salad. I decided to go down the safe route with a steak sandwich with the lot ($20).

Lunch was served as an open sandwich consisting of smoky grilled bread smeared with sweet relish, a thin slice of liberally peppered beef (bavette?), a perfectly fried egg, slivers of crispy pancetta, frilly lettuce and tomatoes. My Laguiole knife (nice attention to steak-cutting detail) sliced through the meat as if it was butter – hallelujah, no tough meat! An excellent rendition of a classic sandwich overall.

I like the look of their dinner and breakfast dishes as well, particularly as they advocate nose-to-tail eating, so if anyone has eaten those menus I’d love to hear your thoughts…

For more Northcote quirkiness, check out Penny Farthing Espresso and Palomino.

The Estelle on Urbanspoon

HOT: Penny Farthing Espresso, 206 High St, Northcote

Penny Farthing Espresso is a cute combination of the bygone era of top hats and handlebar moustaches with insouciant Northcote coolness.

The cafe first caught my eye because of the fabulous steampunk bicycle in the window. Apparently it’s a working apparatus, although the penny farthing enthusiast who built it has only ridden it twice…and fallen off twice. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful piece of art.

But if you’re not a bike fan, then Penny Farthing Espresso is a comfortable little spot with vintage wooden chairs and tables in the front room and a secluded courtyard in the back. Naturally the place is decorated with many minature penny farthings and other sepia-toned bicycle paraphernalia. It draws a crowd ranging from young families to pretty girls in vintage dresses.

The cafe has a page of all-day breakfast options and lunch options start at 10:30am, which means if you’re a bruncher rather than breakfaster there’s heaps of choice. For coffee aficionados the baristas make their coffee using Five Senses coffee beans using a Synesso machine, so I assume it means it’s good coffee? They also retail tea and coffee to take home. (To read coffee reviews, check out Backseat Baristas, Melbourne Coffee Review and Melbourne Coffee Guide).

Scanning the Spring menu, my stomach was drawn to two items: apple and rhubarb compote served warm with walnut ricotta infused with freshly shaved vanilla pods  and thinly sliced housemade almond biscotti ($10) and two slices of French toast drizzled with real maple syrup & topped with seasonal berry compote and garden fresh mint, with a side of Meander Valley double cream ($12).

I decided to go with the latter and not much longer a plate of eggy bread landed. It was neither the best or worst French toast I’d had, I just wish the plate had more than just a garnish of berry compote and the toast had been fried a little crisper. Next time I think I’ll go with the compote – the picture on the Penny Farthing Espresso website is pretty and mouth-watering.

For other Northcote cafe options, try the equally quirky Palomino.

Penny Farthing Espresso 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.