NOT: Rita’s Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

P1100183 540x464 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

Rita’s Cafeteria had all the credentials of a place which would rate a HOT.

Cool inner city venue. Artisan pizza. Funky Melbourne-esque décor. Owners with experience running successful food businesses. Smiling staff.

So what went wrong?

Gourmet Chick and I visited Rita’s on a weeknight and the place was full to the brim. The friendly waiter suggested that we pull up a bar stool and peruse the menu while other patrons finished their meals.

P1100180 540x304 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

So we perched ourselves at the back of the room, feeling the heat from the roaring gas burners fan our faces and watching the back of house staff completely run off their feet.

P1100162 540x308 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

There’s lots of entertainment for diners with an open kitchen. But it’s one thing to watch your food being made and appreciating the skill of chefs, it’s another thing to feel the sting of the hot pans in your eyes throughout your meal. The ventilation in the restaurant desperately needs to be improved – I actually had trouble breathing from the smokiness permeating the small room and it was pretty embarrassing for my hair and clothes to smell like pizza on the bus ride home.

While it’s unpleasant to have to get your clothes dry-cleaned after a meal, it could be forgiven and put down to a new venue’s settling-in process if only the food was fantastic. And it was only ok.

The dinner menu contains antipasto, pizza, pasta, risotto and salads. Given the wood-fired oven dominating the room the obvious choice is a pizza so we had the pork sausage ($17 for large). The pizza base had a curious texture unlike other Italian-style artisan pizzas I’ve encountered – crispy instead pliable and chewy, with a thick cakey rim and no distinctive char or bubbling from the wood-fire treatment. The random scattering of rock salt also meant that you’d be surprised at alternative bites with a kick of thirst-inducing salt (and we had to keep asking for water top ups from our friendly but frantically busy waitress).

P1100169 540x351 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

While the toppings were delicious (how can you go wrong with sausage, tomatoes and cheese?) the pizza was best described as a sort of like pizza on a shortbread base.

P1100174 540x329 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

To share we also ordered a pappardelle with cavolo nero, rocket and broad beans ($16). A great way to get your health kick but regrettably not a very appealing dish for the eyes or the palate.

The dish was under-seasoned, the rocket was woody and the broad beans had not been double-podded so we chewed through thick, bitter, greeny-grey bean skins at every forkful. While double-podding is not essential to the presentation of broad beans and it’s a painstaking task, I’d expect a professional kitchen to double-pod their broad beans except if the beans were very young and tender (and they’re a spring, not autumn, ingredient). It’s like not stringing beans – you may skip doing it at home but you don’t want to be fish out strings (or pods in this case) from your mouth to leave on your plate at a restaurant.

P1100176 540x299 NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

Dessert was a choice of ice cream, apple and berry crumble and chocolate calzone. The crumble was pretty good – not spectacular but not disappointing, unlike our main courses, and they didn’t charge us extra for swapping out the cream with pistachio ice cream. The ceramic ramekin is a very generous size so it’s definitely a dessert for two, a bargain at $9.

Rita’s is an all-day venue so their breakfast and lunch offerings may be better. But based on my dinner experience, I’ll be sticking with my other pizza favourites – Ladro, Supermaxi and Espressino.

Rita’s Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford  +61 3 9419 8233

Daily 7.30am–late


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minilink NOT: Ritas Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

HOT: Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03403 411x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

My favourite English claymation characters Wallace and Gromit are in Melbourne for a cracking exhibition at Scienceworks.

DSC03376 327x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

If you haven’t been to Scienceworks since you were in school, now is the time to go and take your kids. As evidenced by the preview night that I was invited to, Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

In fact, I think the adults will get more out of the exhbition because a lot of the more serious, educational information is at adult height. And frankly if I was a kid I’m not sure how interested I’d be in learning about using and protecting intellectual property when there’s a Karaoke Disco Shower to enjoy!

DSC03414 376x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

The exhibition is set out in a life-size version of 62 West Wallaby Street, Wallace and Gromit’s home. Inside you’ll find some of the wacky inventions that have featured in the movies, including the Telly-scope II and Hat Barometer…

DSC03388 499x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03379 332x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

…plus original film sets such as the Vegetable Plot and Living Room.

DSC03416 415x5401 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03381 540x389 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

It’s worthwhile spending some time examining the sets as the attention to detail is amazing and quite often amusing. Look at the names of Wallace’s records and fridge :–)

DSC03407 540x270 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03406 540x367 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

Interspersed with the Wallace and Gromit displays is really interesting information about many Australian inventions such as plastic money, the Victa lawn mower and ByK kids bike.

DSC03387 378x5401 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

The exhibition contains lots of fun interactive elements – buttons to push, levers to pull, games to play and drawing and art activities – plus modelling clay right at the end!

DSC03392 540x366 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03394 540x384 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

But if you don’t fancy sharing the exhibition with children, Scienceworks will open up especially for adults on Saturday 26 May for Big Kids’ Cracking Night Out. For $22 (concessions and Museum Victoria members $20) you get to tinker and play in Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention, see the Fire and Light Show in the Lightning Room, play with lasers in the Playing with Light exhibition and chill out at the Planetarium. Beer, wine, drinks and food will be available for purchase and you will need to book as there’s only limited tickets available.

And once you’re done with the exhibition make sure you drop by the Scienceworks shop. I really want this set of nesting cake tins and I’m obsessed with the Porridge Blaster! Woohoo!

DSC03371 540x445 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

DSC03369 433x540 HOT: Wallace and Gromits World of Invention, Scienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood + Giveaway

Giveaway! Thanks to Museum Victoria I have 5 x double passes to see Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention, which includes entry into the general Scienceworks exhibits (but not the Planetarium or Lightning Room which is extra).

To win, all you have to do is leave a comment and the winners will be drawn next Friday 1 June. Good luck!

And the winners are….#7 Sienna, #10 Min, #19 Tim, #24 Viola, #28 Sebastian. Your passes will be sent out soon!

Wallace and Gromit’s World of InventionScienceworks, 2 Booker St, Spotswood

Daily, 19 May – 11 Nov 2012
10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

Adult $9, Child $6, Concession $7.50 + Scienceworks General Entry Adults $10, Child and concession free.

HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

P1100123 266x540 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

I’m a Melburnian and I’m a non-coffee drinker.

Gasp!

My hot drink of choice is actually tea and finally, in amongst the million excellent coffee shops in my neighbourhood, Storm in a Teacup has arrived to cater to those who are discerning about their tea leaves (and maybe even convert some diehard hipster coffee drinkers).

I can’t believe the venue used to be the garish orange Trippy Taco. It’s now a calming white and pastel space with seating starting from the window and wrapping around the bar, with a few small tables and a communal bench at the back. I love the stormy lightning bar stools!

P1100120 540x355 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

Storm in a Teacup is a teabag-free zone. Instead you receive three infusions from a tiny, single serve teapot of your tea leaf selection from a mind-bending choice of black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong and tisanes.

P1100118 540x373 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

I enjoyed the fine flavours and delicate aroma of my green tea served in a ceramic cup alongside my choice homemade sweet treats (they also have a small breakfast menu). I highly recommend the daily freshly-baked muffin – mine was a fluffy concoction of blackberry and spices – as well my giant hunk of macadamia praline cheesecake.

P1100128 540x367 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

You can go home with your tea of choice and they also sell tea wares from local and international artists.

P1100127 404x540 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

At night Storm in a Teacup offer dessert tea,  frappes and cocktails with a savoury menu and starting from Wednesday 30 May they’re hosting monthly sessions of Cake Bar – a pop up dessert degustation by Cake Boy (in the picture below). The first Cake Bar event has the theme of ‘art’ with three disparate artists providing inspiration – Pollock, Caravaggio and Mondrian. [Update: Event has sold out! Be quick to book for next month’s event, provisionally called ‘Will Contain Nuts’]

P1100125 367x540 HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

Storm in a Teacup is a modern tea salon that appreciates the ancient arts of tea and the tea making ritual. Yay a place for non-coffee drinkers! I love it.

Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood +61 3 9415 9593

Tue & Wed 10am–5pm
Thu to Sat 10am–11pm
Sun 11am–4pm


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minilink HOT: Storm in a Teacup, 48 Smith St, Collingwood

Art Melbourne 2012 Giveaway!

art melbourne Art Melbourne 2012 Giveaway!

Every year I visit Art Melbourne, Melbourne’s affordable art fair, and this year you could visit too…for free!

Art Melbourne is held in the grandiose Royal Exhibition Building and it is a hive of original, affordable, interesting art to suit every taste. As well as the 4 day exhibition there are talks, demonstrations, music, food and drinks plus the best thing is that you can chat to gallerists and artists directly about work.

This year they have a special event on Friday 25 May. You know that singer Gotye and his little ditty ‘Someone I used to know’? Well, artist Emma Hack and Gotye will be collaborating on a photographic piece exclusively for charity during at Art Melbourne 2012. The work will not be a recreation of the video still from ‘Someone I used to know’ but something made specifically for auction, with proceeds going to  The Thin Green Line and Make-A-Wish Australia.

Giveaway! Thanks to Art Melbourne I have 10 x double passes to any days of Art Melbourne to give away. To win all you have to do is leave a comment and the 10 winners will be drawn randomly on Monday 21 May so that the passes can be posted out to you in time. Good luck!

Art Melbourne, Royal Exhibition Buildings, Carlton

$50 Opening Night – Thursday 24 MAY 5PM – 9PM
$15 General Admission advance / $20 at door (Available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
$10 Concessions advance / $15 at door (Available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday)

And the winner of the Next Wave Festival 2012 Day Pass is…..Andy! An email has been sent to you with instructions as to how to claim your prize.

Fullscreen capture 18052012 73853 AM.bmp Art Melbourne 2012 Giveaway!

***This giveaway has now closed. Random Number Generator has told me the 10 winners are comment number #1 Julian, #2 Claire, #7 Lara, #16 Joni, #27 Anth, #34 Jenelle, #43 Mademoiselle G, #58 Madeleine, #61 Kate, #62 Fee.

NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

P1100111 540x331 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

Lunch at Money Order Office is a gloomy, macabre kind of dining experience.

The hidey-hole entrance is on Drivers Lane, off Little Bourke Street, and a set of stone steps descends into the dungeon (I mean restaurant) via an automatic door which opens on your approach with a creepy squeeeeak. I expected Lurch from the Addams Family to greet me rather than a smiling waitress.

I can only describe the décor as a glamorous haunted house – simultaneously plush and ghoulish. One side of the room is lined with intimate 4-person booths, leather couches abound and I seem to remember a claw-footed bathtub (with a skeleton?) the last time I visited years ago.

Given that the restaurant/bar is an underground cavern it’s not a venue that naturally comes to mind for lunch, particularly when the sun is shining bright. However, they offer a 3 course lunch for $35 which is good value in terms of filling your tummy but varies in quality. For dinner it turns into a tapas bar.

The menu has 3 options for entrees, 3 options for mains and 2 desserts and you can order each dish a la carte if you don’t fancy all three courses.

C and I chose a poached pear salad with wild rocket and valderon with lemon vinaigrette ($14) and the roast pumpkin and pomegranate salad with toasted almonds, goat’s cheese and pumpkin puree ($12). Neither of those dishes was particularly impressive and were more suited to being a side dish to a main meal than a course in itself.

P1100084 540x369 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

My salad was as a pretty pedestrian combination with no hint of the advertised dressing.

P1100080 540x364 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

C described the other dish as ‘pumpkin on pumpkin’ which would have benefited from a handful of the wild rocket from my plate for some colour and textural contrast.

P1100092 540x332 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

I can never go past pork belly when it’s on the menu so I had twice cooked pork belly with jamon, savoy cabbage and cider foam ($18). The meat was tender but the skin was not at all crispy (though not chewy, thankfully). The cabbage was too soggy and overcooked for my liking and the cider foam was ignored after one exploratory mouthful – it was like eating cold, alcoholic shaving cream.

P1100090 540x405 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

C fared better with her tempura monkfish ($16) which was lightly crusted and juicy inside and accompanied by saffron aioli but a slightly weedy watercress salad.

P1100101 540x366 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

Things picked up with the last course. A large slice of chocolate truffle cake ($9) was a familiar and filling dessert with lots of chocolate and a thin biscuit base, while the vanilla and goats curd mousse ($9) was a standout, a dense mousse (like cheesecake filling) served inside a miniature preserving jar with some spiced orange and figs and crumbled nuts.

P1100095 540x441 NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

All in all, C and I agreed that Money Order Office didn’t offer a bad meal. Overall the food was ok and the service attentive and it was easy to get a table for lunch. But the experience wasn’t so good that we’d be tempted to return, even to try the tapas, or necessarily recommend it to others given the myriad of other, better options in close vicinity.

But if you’re a vampire, Goth or albino Money Order Office might be just your kind of restaurant.

Money Order Office , 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne  +61 3 9639 3020

Tuesday – Friday 12pm-3pm
Bar: Tuesday – Saturday 5pm-late
Tapas: Tuesday- Thursday 6pm, Friday-Saturday 5:30pm


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minilink NOT: Money Order Office, 2 Drivers Lane, Melbourne

HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

P1100067 540x363 HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Argos Loves Company is a cute-as-a-button cafe in the previously unpopular but now revived end of Brunswick Street.

P1100062 540x360 HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I first noticed the cafe because of the brightly coloured wooden blocks lining the window sill. A peek inside elicited a little squeal of delight – a pretty pastel room complete with a vintage kitchen scale, biscuit tin and teapot collection, a shiny wooden bar-cum-cake cupboard and a large canvas picture of a gambolling pooch. It’s like your granny’s kitchen updated for the inner north.

P1100063 343x540 HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

The menu is equally quaint and homely rather than cutting edge – not a speck of quinoa to be found. There’s bread, muesli, fruit and eggs for the all day breakfast (eggs are RSPCA approved free range) and a variety of mixed nibbles and pressed sandwiches for lunch. I headed straight for the highlighted ‘famous’ Argos Egg, Bacon and Cheese toastie ($11).

P1100056 540x455 HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I was surprised when I was given cutlery to eat a toasted sandwich but I understood why when it came out presented on its own wooden platter. I don’t know about it being famous but it’s certainly rave-worthy. Buttery crusty sourdough paired with two fried eggs, slices of honey-sweet free range Otway Ranges pork (free range really makes a difference to the flavour I find), melted swiss cheese and a smear of sweet sauce. This is kind of sandwich I wish I had the dedication to make at home and it was so delicious I wanted two.

P1100058 540x424 HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

However, I decided to save room for waffles ($10).You don’t often see waffles paired with whipped cream and maple syrup or ice cream and chocolate sauce on menus these days. It took me back to my teenage pancake-eating feasts at Pancake Parlour, which was the only place open late in Brisbane that I could go to when I was thirteen.

Three golden rounds arrive in a floral arrangement, each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a squirt of chocolate sauce. While the combination was deliciously nostalgic, the actual waffles themselves were unlike any I’d ever had. More like a biscuit than a doughy baked good. Not bad, just different.

Sometimes a cafe doesn’t need to cook with trendy ingredients or be into third wave coffee to work. Argos Loves Company shines with personality and warmth and the food is comforting and familiar. Perfect for a wintery day.

For other cosy cafes on the revived end of Brunswick St, try Slowpoke Espresso and Newtown Social Club.

Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy +61 3 9417 7290


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minilink HOT: Argos Loves Company, 149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

P1090857 409x540 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.

P1090861 540x415 HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

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.

P1090864 540x429 HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

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).

P1090863 540x382 HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

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).

P1090867 540x451 HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

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.

P1090869 540x340 HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

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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minilink HOT: Two Bob, 270 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North

HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

DSC02867 473x5401 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

You know how there are some restaurants which are your go-to destinations? The default choice for a first date, the default choice for a family gathering, the default choice for Sunday brunch?

Well, before I got married Bottega was my default location for introducing boyfriends to my parents for the first time! I knew that the Modern Italian restaurant would be reliably excellent with lots of menu options, the service was friendly and it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t have a conversation yet not so quiet you felt like everyone was eavesdropping on you.

DSC02864 305x540 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

While Bottega has remained a consistent favourite even after marriage things have changed somewhat since my last visit – foremost being the fact that a new menu has arrived along with new head chef Gabriele Olivieri (who was previously the sous chef).

I was invited with some other food bloggers to try some of the signature dishes on their revamped express lunch, a la carte lunch and dinner menu.

DSC02885 540x349 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

First up, bruschetta with baccala mantecato and vincotto ($19). I really enjoyed the salt and sweet pairing of the fish and the vincotto reduction, but I didn’t particularly like the temperature at which it was served – stone cold. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done but I’m not partial to cold, cooked fish generally. Reminds me too much of schoolyard tuna sandwiches.

DSC02890 540x475 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

I have an unreasonable fear of offal but this char-grilled ox tongue with salsa verde, anchovy and croutons was my style of dish ($19). Shreds of meat fell away from my fork and the richness was cut through with the green tang of the salsa verde. Plus anything with anchovies gets my vote – hairier the better!

DSC02896 381x540 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

A curiously summery-like dish for the autumn season – zucchini flowers stuffed with buffalo ricotta and served with a  tomato and basil coulis and that sweet vincotto again ($22). I’d prefer the zucchini flowers battered to give the limp petals a bit of body in order to hold the filling inside, but otherwise the flavours worked well together.

DSC02882 540x435 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

Beef carpaccio has been on the Bottega menu since forever but now they’ve revamped it to a pretty floral clock of Vitello Tonnato ($21). The delicately braised pink veal was paired with some crunchy pickled celery heart and crispy capers and the traditional mayonnaise-like sauce.

DSC02904 540x359 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

Pasta is a speciality at Bottega and the two plates we tried were worthy of a return visit in themselves. Honestly, I’m still dreaming about these dishes!

The individually hand rolled strozzapreti (which translates to strangle the priest!) with seafood and prawn bisque ($26/$37) emanated a bouquet of heady seafood flavours and the twisted pasta held just the right amount of al dente resistance.

DSC02898 540x361 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

The folded parcels of roasted tomato and burrata agnolotti were served unusually with what was effectively a baba ganoush ($24/$32). The smokiness of the eggplant puree was an unexpectedly Middle Eastern touch to a very Italian combination of cheese, tomato and rocket and I’m going to steal this idea to use up the glut of eggplants I seem to be getting lately in my vege box delivery.

DSC02906 540x287 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

Out of the main dishes we tried the Western Plains pork belly, cooked sous vide then pan fried with a dash of peppered apple puree and a crisp square of crackling ($37). If you like pork belly, don’t look any further. The meat and fat melded into a single mouthful with a crust of herbs and spices to lend some body to the meat. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it just looks a bit brown, brown and brown.

DSC02910 425x540 HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

Along with pasta another of the kitchen’s main focuses is on housemade sorbetti ($18 for a selection). We were tempted with pear, mango, vanilla and chestnut and peach, each scoop declaring its provenance with clean flavours of fruit and nuts.

My visit to Bottega reminded me why this restaurant has been in business for 10 years now. It delivers excellent food, service and apparently an accessible wine list aimed at diners, not sommeliers in sophisticated yet unpretentious surroundings. Buon appetito!

Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne +61 3 9654 2252
Mon – Wed: 12:00 pm-10:00 pm
Thu – Fri: 12:00 pm-11:00 pm
Sat: 5:30 pm-11:00 pm

minilink HOT: Bottega, 74 Bourke St, Melbourne

HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

DSC03038 540x361 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

I lived in London for years and although I liked to visit the British Museum regularly I think I saw about 1/1000th of their vast collection. So I was quite excited to hear that a slice of the museum’s Middle East artefact collection was coming to Melbourne for the Melbourne Museum‘s winter exhibition for 2012, The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia.

My knowledge of ancient history is sketchy and I had to dig back into my primary school projects to remember where Mesopotamia actually was. It’s a region that’s now better known as Iraq and it’s inspiring to learn something positive about the region instead of hearing constant news of war and turmoil. While it can be hard to relate our existence to lives lived in thousands of years ago, we owe a lot to  Mesopotamia – the birthplace of writing, mathematics, astronomy and timekeeping.

DSC03039 324x540 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

The exhibition is split into three sections each exploring a different ancient civilisation – Sumer, Assyria and Babylon. Given the distance between Australia and the UK I was expecting displays of little household items and shards of pottery urns, so I was most impressed with the massive carved stone tablets that have been shipped over for us.

DSC03047 353x540 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

For me the carved stonework was also the most interesting because Melbourne Museum had layered over multimedia video over some the works, bringing to life scenes of battle and explaining how stories unfolded in each part the sculpture.

DSC03045 426x540 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

For families who are visiting the exhibition there are small plaques to engage kids as part of the Family Trail. Gilgamesh, the legendary hero of Mesopotamia, guides kids with questions to ponder and things to look out for in the display cabinets.  I actually think Gilgamesh pointed out some interesting points for adults too!

DSC03049 540x492 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

There are also a few touch-and-feel activities and you can purchase a Kids Audio Guide ($7) for a more multi-modal experience, but overall I think they could have included more ways to engage kids given a lot of the displays were static and required reading explanatory plaques.

DSC03051 540x471 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

And finally, who could resist a fluffy lion from the gift shop!

DSC03054 340x540 HOT: The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton

Giveaway! Thanks to the Melbourne Museum I have a double pass to The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment and the winner will be drawn next Friday 11 May. Good luck!

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton 13 11 02

Daily, 4 May – 7 Oct 2012
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thursday evenings, until 9:00 PM
Adults $24, concession $16, children $14, school groups $10 per student

Thank you to Melbourne Museum for inviting me to view the exhibition. 


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HOT: Martha Ray’s, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

P1090941 540x344 HOT: Martha Rays, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Who is Martha? And who is Ray? And why has a cafe set up shop in their house?

Martha Ray’s has transformed what seems like a wide corridor of a Victorian terrace house into a pared down cafe. There’s no sign, no hanging pictures and definitely no owls, bunnies or kitschy memorabilia adorning the white-washed walls. Furniture is an equally muted palate of warm timber and gun-metal steel.

With nothing about the place particularly eye-catching from the street front it’s easy to walk straight past. But Martha Ray’s equally pared back one-page menu is worth a stop.

For lunch they have exactly three sandwiches in addition to the all-day menu of exactly five dishes. I tried the braised pork belly with cabbage and apple slaw stuffed inside a baguette smeared with apple soubise, which is apparently a traditional French white onion sauce ($13).

P1090932 540x291 HOT: Martha Rays, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Though I’ve not tried the meatball or chicken (vego artichoke on request) sandwiches I’m still going to award this pork belly roll the prize ribbon. At 1pm I snatched the last roll from under the nose of at least two other patrons who had been less quick and decisive with placing their orders. And I’m guessing the reason this sandwich sold out so quickly is because the pork was so meltingly tender that you basically could eat it without your dentures in. But better still the sandwich combines the meat with a few crisp shards of cracking, just enough to give each mouthful a snap, crackle and pop without jabbing your jaw with something sharp.

P1090938 540x395 HOT: Martha Rays, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I also requested a half-serve of New England style corn chowder (full serve $11), a rib-sticking soup of sweet sauteed leeks, chunks of ladrons in a creamy potato and corn base. This will be a winner with the cold weather.

P1090935 540x342 HOT: Martha Rays, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Other dishes on the menu include Casa Iberica black pudding, a breakfast roll on the go and fluffy omelettes spied at the next table. Coffee comes courtesy of Costa Noosa coffee while tea is from Storm in a Teacup.

Thanks for having me over Martha and Ray. I’ll be back – save me a pork belly roll please.

Martha Ray’s, 85 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Mon – Fri:7:30 am-3:30 pm
Sat:8:00 am-3:30 pm


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