HOT: The Cool House, Rokeby Studios, 1/90-94 Rokeby St, Collingwood

The Cool Hunter is a website/newsletter that does exactly that – hunts out the cool, unique and unusual in design, travel, art, food, fashion and events from all around the world and collects them all in one drool-worthy portal. So it makes sense that founder Bill Tikos has decided to bring the website to life with a pop up boutique concept called The Cool House, with Melbourne being its first stop.

The Cool House has transformed the warehouse space of Rokeby Studios into a temporary showroom of furniture, design and artwork from Australia and around the world. Here is a selection of the products that I liked but mostly couldn’t afford – it’s all very high end stuff…

Gorgeous leather pencil case by Dutch company Travelteq

The cutest miniature swivel chair – I didn’t catch the designer.

This amazing leather-framed round mirror resting casually by the bedside – again I didn’t note the designer, sorry.

I don’t have a pooch but these bags are adorable!

If you’re in the area and hungry for more design goodness then drop into Crop at Lightly Showroom for another design pop up retail event.

The Cool House, Rokeby Studios, 1/90-94 Rokeby Street, Collingwood
29 November – 2 December

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

HOT: Crop at Lightly Showroom, 3 Glasshouse Rd, Collingwood

Melbourne loves pop up design shops and this weekend there are three worth your attention – The Design Files Open House,  The Cool House and Crop at Lightly Showroom. Not to mention the popular twice-yearly Melbourne Design Market at Federation Square. Make that four!

Design studio Lightly have opened up their two-level warehouse and showroom to 25 other Australian designers showcasing jewellery, homewares, stationery, accessories and toys. They even have free wine tasting by Jamsheed Wines to get you in to the shopping mood.

Here are some of things that caught my eye…

This decorative sculpture, a Christmas nest, by Wona Bae. I’m not sure that it’s for sale but it would certainly make an eye-catching Christmas wreath for someone’s massive door. She has also made some miniature hand-tied Christmas trees in the same organic sculptural style which are for sale.

I loved these Jumble macrame rope plant holders by Jessie Tucker but as I was on my bike I couldn’t figure out how to get the poinsettia home.

This teepee from Gather. I want one for my back yard!

These sustainable cork and rubber placemats by Lightly come in a range of designs, sizes and colours and are named after the founder’s grandmother’s bridge playing friends (cute!). I bought a red one and green one for my festive table. Also note that during Crop you get to save 20% off all Lightly products.

To match my new table setting, some reindeer glass place by Fi Fy Fo Fum.

And finally, my gifts beautifully gift-wrapped. Thanks!

Crop at Lightly Showroom, 3 Glasshouse Rd, Collingwood

10:00am-7:00pm Friday 30 November
10:00am-6:00pm Saturday 1 December
10:00am-5:00pm Sunday 2 December

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

HOT: Paris to Provence Festival, Como House & Garden, Cnr Williams Road & Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra

Paris to Provence, Melbourne’s favourite festival celebrating all things French, is back in the bucolic surrounds of National Trust’s Como House this weekend.

There’s market stalls, music, food and festivities and the festival gets bigger and better every year (this is its third year). Here are my highlights:

Grab some charcuterie, cheese and a baguette for a picnic lunch from the large stall by Carlton favourite La Parisienne Pates. If you want a sit down meal you can also try the pop up restaurant by Chez Olivier but personally I think it’s better to make the most of the lush garden surrounds.

Go to La Tropezienne and try some of the best French pastries (as stocked at Monsieur Truffe and L’Atelier de Monsieur Truffe) and the best macarons in Melbourne.

Buy a  ceramic Christmas decorations from Durance, great as stocking stuffers or Kris Kringle for only $2.50. Also check out the homewares from Malmaison. Sadly their pocket advent calendar that I bought last year is no longer available but there is still lots of French provincial chic to drool over.

As the weather heats up cool down with a creamy ice-cream sandwich from Pat and Stick’s. The biscuits actually make this treat surprisingly mess-free given the wedge of melting ice-cream inside plus the ice cream itself is high quality. I am going to look for my nearest stockist!

Over the weekend there is a timetable of presentations about French life and French cooking demonstrations plus you can participate in games such as croissant throwing, escargot eating and Notre Dame 3D puzzle reconstructions.

If you can’t afford to go to France then head to Paris to Provence for a fun, foodie, Frenchy day out in the sun. Take a wad of cash with you (there is a NAB atm on site but it wasn’t working when I arrived), slather on some suncreen, bring a large bottle of water given the heat (otherwise you’ll need to buy it) and Bon appetit!

Paris to Provence, Como Houe & Garden, Cnr Williams Road & Lechlade Avenue, South Yarra

Friday 23 November 4.00pm – 8.30pm
Saturday 24 November 10.00am – 6.00pm
Sunday 25 November 10.00am – 4.00pm

Adults $15 online -$20 at the gate, Youth $5, Children under 12 Free

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

HOT: Melbourne Bike Share En Masse 2012, Silo by Joost, 123 Hardware Lane, Melbourne

Friday is the most relaxed day of the work week for most of us, so I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a bike ride and free stuff.

In 2011 Andy White aka cycling personality Fyxomatosis gathered together cyclists from all over Melbourne to create a new World Record for the most bike share bikes in one place at the one time.

In 2012 Cheryl Lin from Business Chic and I joined the group in another world record attempt at En Masse. So we didn’t reach a higher number this year but we did grab our free Melbourne Bike Share bike, pedal our way to uber-sustainable cafe Silo by Joost and enjoyed free coffees (Cheryl was very jittery after drinking numerous coffees in the quest to win a Giant Via bike!), a filling egg sandwich and pork sandwich between the two of us, muffin and a chat with Melbourne’s cycling community.

If you missed En Masse this year then look out for event details in 2013. You can also see more bike goodness from Fyxomatosis at the inaugural Australian Custom Bicycle Show coming up on 1 and 2 December at  167 Gladstone St, South Melbourne.

HOT: Union Dining, 270-272 Swan St, Richmond

The weather has finally started to warm up! One by one Melbourne venues are starting to slowly embracing the sunshine and long daylight hours by opening up their terraces, rooftops and balconies (though with outdoor heaters strategically placed, just in case), including Union Dining.

Union Dining is a restaurant focusing on local produce served with a European sensibility that’s owned by Nicky Riemer in the kitchen (ex-Melbourne Wine Room) and Adam Cash at front of house (ex Cutler & Co). It’s a large handsome space which used to be a Greek restaurant but now looks more like a relaxed French bistro. I was invited to try some dishes from their new Spring menu while viewing their new upstairs terrace.

Their rooftop area overlooks the quiet back streets of Richmond with a pinpoint of the city skyline over yonder. Adorning one wall of the terrace is the first winner of ‘Two Years on the Wall‘, a biennial art competition run by Union Dining in conjunction with TarraWarra Estates. Forty-five entries were received from contemporary Victorian artists vying to have their mural on show for two years (and a cash prize) and the winning entry was a paste-up of a self-portrait of the Melbourne artist Baby Guerilla.

Along with big shady umbrellas, ample seating and its own bar service serving beer, cider, cocktails and summery mixers like Pimms, Campari and Aperol, the terrace is a great place to watch the sun go down with a group of friends.  To go with your drinks you can order from the ‘Terrace Food‘ menu of light, small, sharing finger food such as these loosely packed ocean trout croquettes.

The Spring menu includes a selection of items to suit all-sized appetites and tastes – you could choose to share, partake in a formal three course meal or loosen your belts for a multi-course night of indulgence.

To start we tried the cuttlefish salad with raisin and anchovy relish, pangrattato and tomato vinaigrette ($21) and artichokes barigoule, soft eggs, borlotti beans, parmesan and parsley ($28).

I enjoyed the chargrilled tenderness of the cuttlefish coupled with the crunchy breadcrumbs and sweet pops of raisin though I was less excited by the artichokes entree, despite its floral prettiness. This could be explained by the fact that I love seafood but generally avoid artichokes, but I also felt that the relative blandness of the latter dish lacked the vivid flavours of the cuttlefish.

From the mains we shared platters of spatchcocked baby chicken adorned with Otway shiitake mushrooms, a creme fraiche based sauce, confit shallots and roasted garlic ($35.50). This was my favourite dish of the night – I loved the fact that the chicken had been boned for easy slicing, you could press the soft garlic right into the skin and the earthy sauce just begged to be mopped up with a hunk of crusty bread.

The spatchcock was accompanied by an entree to share – pickled and roasted Spring vegetables with a brightly coloured parsley cream, crunchy walnuts and Meredith goat curd ($18). I would prefer this dish as a side rather than as an item on its own, as intended by the menu, but if you’re vegetarian it is one of only two entrees to choose from (the menu does say to ask your waiter for additional vegetarian dishes).

We were then presented with a tasting of a second meat dish, the Abbachio of Spring lamb with oregano, green chilli, pecorino and broad beans ($39). The meat was fork-tender and coupled well with the other Spring-like ingredients, but like the starters I felt that it paled in comparison to the ‘wow’ factor of the earlier dish.

The lamb was paired with an artfully arranged platter of sweet roasted zucchini and black quinoa, whipped goat curd, crisp red witlof and those plump sweet raisins again ($17/$26).

To finish we tried the trifle ($15) – not a dish I’d normally choose but this version is far removed from Grandma’s sponge-soggy dessert. The bottom is lined with tart tamarillo then layers are built with pistachio sponge and sweet zabaglione, before being garnished with a line of crunchy pistachios echoing the pale greeness of the sponge.

Finally, I’d like to applaud the polished and professional service I encountered at Union Dining. Water was proffered at regular intervals, plates were removed promptly and a rolled up blanket was quickly procured for my aching back when requested.

Union Dining, 270-272 Swan St, Richmond +61 3 9428 2988

Dinner from 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch from 12pm, Friday to Sunday

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

Union Dining on Urbanspoon

HOT: Rockwell and Sons, 288 Smith St, Collingwood

Hello hump day, hello Fried Chicken Wednesday!

Every Wednesday night American inspired Rockwell and Sons offer a bargain meal that will challenge the Dirty Bird for finger lickin’ value. For $60 you get a whole Southern style fried chicken plus a whole lot of sides that could easily be meals in themselves – fluffy buttermilk biscuits (otherwise known as scones in our vernacular), a big bowl of comforting but rather salty mac ‘n’ cheese, creamy potato salad, coleslaw and minted snow peas and broad beans.

It’s a meal that must be shared and I’d recommend going with 4 people. I went with 3 people, two of them hungry food bloggers with large appetites, and we still didn’t finish everything. It’s because it’s all very carb heavy – bread AND pasta AND potatoes AND breaded crumbing can fill you up very quickly, not to mention 8-9 pieces of chicken. Imagine eating 3 or more plates of the below photo!

Is it the best fried chicken in town? Hard to say, as I’ve not eaten a lot of the dish. I did find the crisp crumbing a bit too dry and over-fried though admittedly that’s probably authentic. The meat inside still retained its juiciness but I think the whole offering could be improved with some gravy or barbecue sauce, which may push it past the boundaries of authentic soul food but would counter the dryness a little.

My favourite part of the meal were actually the amazingly light buttermilk biscuits, which would be right at home slathered with cream and jam. Apparently the biscuits lift so well thanks to good buttermilk and building layers through the dough. I wonder if I could just buy them to have for afternoon tea?

Rockwell and Sons also serve more Americana such as burgers, hot dogs and home fries, though I challenge you to eat anything else after the fried chicken.

You will need to pre-book your order by calling 8415 0700 as they only offer a limited number every Wednesday.

Rockwell and Sons, 288 Smith Street, Collingwood 61 3 8415 0700

Monday: 12pm-10pm
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 6pm-10pm
Thursday: 12pm-10pm
Friday: 12pm-11pm
Saturday: 10am-11pm
Sunday: 10am-10pm

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

HOT: Taste of Melbourne 2012, Pelican Lawn, Albert Park

Happy Friday! The weekend weather is looking like it will hold up for Taste of Melbourne‘s new outdoor setting by the banks of Albert Park lake.

Thanks to Taste of Melbourne I attended the first night of festivities and here are some of my highlights to act as a guide for your visit…

For a savoury start I highly recommend the fresh-off-the- chargrill tender Moorish lamb skewers from MoVida (mop up the juices with the provided bread), though I was also mighty tempted by the large pan of Fideua Mejillones (braised pasta with mussels and calamari) presided over by Frank Comorra himself.

Draw up a chair and learn tips and tricks from chefs at the free Dilmah Chef’s Skillery. Nick Creswick from Libertine showed us how to bone a chicken while we sipped on cups of hot tea and tried a taste of his chicken, pistachio and orange terrine with pickled apple salad.

You’ll get to take home a copy of the latest Australian Gourmet Traveller and some Dilmah tea samples.

The winner of Best Dish at Taste this year was Albert St Food & Wine‘s ‘Minted Mermaid’ – a pea and mint soup garnished with smoked trout and apple. It’s a very evocative of Spring, with smooth and crunchy textures combining into a refreshing starter. When you’re there make sure you don’t miss dessert queen Philippa Sibley’s meyer lemon tart. A deservedly famous classic dessert comprising a beautifully set sweet/tart citrus filling within a delicate buttery casing. It’s quite large so share between two.

Sadly my appetite didn’t extend to sampling the first runner up for Best Dish at Taste was from Mamasita – the Cerdo en Nogada (mulato rubbed pork fillet, walnut sauce, soused raisins) nor the second runner up was the Yuzu cloud, coconut peral and guava sorbet dessert from The Botanical.

If you’re a dessert fan I also recommend the fancy-pants Eton mess from Mr.Hive Kitchen & Bar AND the warm chocolate mousse from Livingroom Restaurant with some hidden marshmallow gems nestled in the bottom of the cup. Oh and grab a box of their mince pies as well, generously filled with sweet and lightly spiced fruit mince ($20).

Burch and Purchese are selling sweet treats from their sweet studio plus what they’re claiming to be the ‘best ice cream you’ve ever had’. Decide for yourself – certainly my Chocolate Hazelnut brownie was worth my 8 crowns (the currency used at the festival that you have to pre-purchase) and beat a supermarket Magnum hands down.

If you’re overwhelmed as to what else to eat at the festival, you can always stick to each restaurant’s ‘Icon dish’ – each chef’s signature dish.

Finally, some further tips:

  • the closest public transport stop is Wright St on the #96 light rail tram – you’ll still need to walk about 10 minutes to the gate;
  • the outdoor waterside setting means that it can get cold when the breeze is blowing so bring a warm layer and wear closed toed shoes. And wear flats or wedges, heels will sink into the grass!
  • there may be patchy showers throughout the weekend so be prepared with an umbrella or raincoat.

Happy eating and drinking!

Taste of Melbourne, Pelican Lawn at Albert Park Lake, Thursday 15 – Sunday 18 November 2012

Tickets start at $25.00 from Ticketek on 132 849 or visiting

HOT: Ballet & Fashion, National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne

As soon as I found out about NGV’s latest fashion exhibition ‘Ballet & Fashion‘ I knew I had to visit. I love ballet, I love ballet costumes and I love fashion, and I was curious to see what kind of items they had on display.

Given the number of fashion designers who have collaborated with ballet companies around the world over time, including The Australian Ballet, I was surprised by the small scale of this exhibition. There are only about 20 costumes in total – albeit designed by famous local and international designers such as Collette Dinnigan and Christian Lacroix. I’ve visited the costume department of The Australian Ballet and believe me there are a lot more fabulous tutus in the archives!

Nevertheless, if you’re going to NGV International anyway then the two rooms are worth visiting – the exhibition is free. I particularly loved the wild headdresses made by local milliner Richard Nylon and the delicate brocade, silk tulle and organza embroidered costumes designed for Romeo and Juliet by Akira Isogawa.

From the cheap seats you don’t get to appreciate the intricate detail and craftsmanship that goes into making a ballet costume and the accompanying video is interesting for its insight into Akira’s work with the cast and then watching the dancers bring the clothes alive.

Finally, for those with little ones you may be interested to know that Collette Dinnigan has collaborated with The Australian Ballet and Target to design a range of ballet-inspired party wear for girls aged 3-8 years. The collection will start selling on November 21 online and in store. Judging by the Collette Dinnigan tutu on display at this exhibition, I’m sure it will all be beautiful and adorable!

Ballet & Fashion, NGV International 180 St Kilda Rd

3 November 2012 – 19 May 2013

WTC Wharf Progressive Dinner + Giveaway

Sponsored by Nuffnang

Picture this. It’s a balmy evening. Trees gently sway, creating dappled shadows. You sit by the water’s edge and watch boats pootle along the river, the sunset glistening on your skin as you sip your drink and prepare yourself for a night of feasting.

Queensland? Bali? The Mediterranean?

No. Right here in Melbourne! To be precise, at WTC Wharf, for me an undiscovered side of the Yarra right across from the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, the wooden beams of Polly Woodside and the neon brights of Crown.

As a previous Queenslander it has always seemed remarkable to me that Melbourne has always been an inland-facing, underground-burrowing sort of city, turning its back from the river in the hunt for an unmarked laneway. Granted the Yarra river is not Sydney Harbour but still, there are some beautiful relaxing views which can be found along the water of which I don’t think we take enough advantage.

WTC Wharf is a city-fringe dining precinct hosting three restaurants which make the most of their waterside frontage – you can even reach it via the WTC Water Taxi service leaving from Federation Square. I was invited to try a progressive dinner at the precinct, dining at each of the three restaurants during the course of an evening.

Entrees were hosted by Byblos, a modern Lebanese/Mediterranean restaurant. The food is hearty and rustic and the servings are so large that you’ll be groaning out the door.

Of our selections I recommend the Rekakat – flaky filo pastries filled with feta and mozzarella with a hint of herb and onion in the mix; the very tender marinated lamb fillet and chicken tenderloin flame-grilled skewers served with a punchy garlic and lemon yoghurt sauce; and the labne blended with garlic and mint, partnered with a baba ganoush and hummus in a dips platter.

Less successful were the very dry kebbi (minced lamb and beef balls with nuts and spices) and the over-seasoned batata harra (crispy fried potatoes).

For mains we readied ourselves for a complete change in cuisine – Japanese. Kobe Jones offers a la carte riverside dining and theatrical teppanyaki and we tried two items from their teppanyaki a la carte menu.

First up was a hot salad combining oyster and enoki mushrooms flavoured in a seaweed butter atop mixed salad green. I thought it was quite an odd East/West combination and while it is included in all of the set menus I wouldn’t choose to order it a la carte for $17.

The salmon cooked on the teppan was much more to my taste. For me Japanese food is about fresh produce shining through with simple flavours and in this case the fish was enhanced with a choice of three dipping sauces – a ponzu sauce, miso citrus sauce and traditional teriyaki. I’m not sure whether the teppanyaki set menu normally provides three fillets per person but it was a very large dish – apparently 200g of fish per serve.

With barely enough room for dessert we stumbled to The Wharf Hotel, a casual bar which also serves food in the dimly lit booths at the back of the venue. The Wharf Hotel caters predominantly for a pub-going, sports-watching crowd with bar snacks, pizza, comfort food favourites and huge desserts. Hence we sampled gigantic apple pies floating on custard and topped with a silky cinnamon icecream and slabs of fluffy sticky date pudding with crunchy butterscotch sauce and caramel icecream will set you back only $12.

Of the two I preferred the pie as the pastry was flaky and the ice cream, spicy.

WTC Wharf currently hold progressive dinners at the three restaurants every Thursday night for the reasonable sum of $45 a head. Choose a sunny day after work, eat and drink your fill and enjoy the views.

Giveaway! Thanks to WTC Wharf I have 1 x $100 voucher for any restaurant in the WTC precinct. To win all you have to do is answer the question ‘If you were to go to the WTC Wharf which restaurant would you go to?’ by 5pm Friday 16 November in the comments below. The most creative will win and further terms of the competition are here.

WTC Wharf, World Trade Centre (Riverside), Siddeley St, Melbourne

HOT: Thirty Eight Chairs, 4A Bond St, South Yarra

Amongst the glitz of Chapel Street you’ll find an unexpected slice of unpretentious Italian charm behind a concrete facade.

Turn down unprepossessing Bond Street and draw up a seat at Third Eight Chairs. I promise you won’t regret it.

This tiny all-day cafe/restaurant is the work of an ex Caffe e Cucina manager, an ex Caffe e Cucina chef and a third Italian partner. Their quick professionalism, attention to detail and customer-focused friendliness is a lesson in good hospitality. It doesn’t hurt that the (male) staff are easy on the eye and every female is greeted with the most adorable Italian accent and called ‘bella’ :-)

On a Saturday night the narrow corridor of thirty-eight chairs is buzzy and busy, with a stream of apparent regulars/friends coming in for a glass of wine, a meal and a chat. There are a few seats by the window for solo diners and given the casual ambience and opportunities for people watching at close quarters you won’t feel exposed eating alone.

The dinner menu is tight (with about four specials) and focused on the Centro Meridionale region – the eight provinces comprising the centre of Italy as depicted on their paper placements. Though curiously their olive oil comes from Heathcote’s McIvor Estate….

I started off with school prawns with mayonnaise ($16). I can never resist these crunchy, spiky morsels and these prawns were fried to perfection. They were presented in their own little wire fryer basket and wafted the most heady seafood aromas towards me such that even the next table exclaimed ‘wow, those prawns smell gooooood’. The mayonnaise on the other hand was bland and I didn’t bother dipping the prawns in it after a while. A hearty squeeze of lemon sufficed.

It seems for mains I chose well as one of the owner’s favourite dishes is the pappardelle with slow cooked duck and porcini ragu ($29). It came out piping hot with thick shavings of pecorino as soon as my entrée was whisked away. Fresh pasta waits for no man (or woman) and this hearty, richly flavoured bowl of carbohydrates will sate your appetite for comforting Nonna food. Definitely a dish to be accompanied by a glass of red on a chilly night.

Dessert was a difficult decision – tiramisu, coppa al cioccolato (chocolate cup, cream, biscuit crumbles), strawberry meringue and crema al’arancio. On my waiter’s recommendation, I chose the latter, a version of creme brulee with orange cream ($13). The ramekin held a wafer thin sugar crust shielding a lightly set custard with just the merest hint of citrus. While I enjoyed it next time if my appetite permits I think I’ll go with something more richly chocolate – more to my taste. If you want an espresso to finish it’s made on a beautifully rounded 50s style Elektra machine.

Third Eight Chairs is a smart yet sophisticated local that caters for well for singles, romantic couples, friends out for a night and boisterous families. It’s a gem of a dining experience in amongst the somewhat hit-and-miss of Chapel Street dining – if you go on a weekend I recommend making a booking.

Third Eight Chairs4A Bond Street, South Yarra +61 3 9827 5553
Monday: CLOSED 
Tuesday – Friday: 7.30am to 11pm 
Saturday – Sunday : 9.00am to 11pm 

View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

Thirty-Eight Chairs on Urbanspoon