NOT: Authentic Thai Taste, 92-94 Johnston St, Collingwood

Thai Taste Collingwood Johnston St

Authentic Thai Taste is renowned for being one of the best Thai restaurants in Melbourne – the full house of Thai people on a weeknight is evidence of that. So where did we go wrong?

We’ve had two attempts at weekday takeway from Authentic Thai Taste now and neither of the experiences have really encouraged me to recommend it.

The first time: RM ordered chicken satays (4 sticks for $6.60), Cashew Pag ($9.90) and Panang Duck Curry ($15.90) and requested the dishes to be hot. Given our previous experience with ‘Thai hot’ at Mamanee Thai, we even readied ourselves with glasses of milk to temper the chilli burn.

Then…nothing. And it’s not because we’re chilli-mongers – honestly, not even a hint of heat in any of the dishes.  Evidently ‘hot’ when requested by a Westerner still means ‘just spicy enough to be served to a Thai toddler’.  RM even suspected that they had written up the bill with some sort of secret code telling the kitchen that he was a ‘gweilo’.

Other than the disappointing lack of heat, the dishes were only a little above average Thai – the curries were ok but the chicken satays were extremely stringy and overcooked.

The second time: We ordered a seafood pad thai ($11.90) and a red curry with chicken ($11.90), both requested at ‘Thai hot’. We were slightly concerned when we were told that the red curry had been pre-made, so they would just chuck some fresh chilli in it  and that they would just add a heap of chilli flakes to the pad thai as well. I’m not sure whether that’s usual practice but talk of ‘pre-made’ didn’t give us any confidence in the quality of the food we’d be receiving. Anyway, the red curry was pretty good, but the pad thai was disappointing – the chilli flakes and the unevenly wok-fried rice noodles gave the dish an unpleasant charred flavour. Neither of the dishes had the wow factor of the pad thai or penang beef curry from Mamanee Thai.

We’re determined to find out why Authentic Thai Taste continues to get rave reviews, so we’re going to give it one last chance by dining in and hoping that there are different dishes on the menu.  The Thai people of Melbourne can’t all be wrong…

Authentic Thai Taste on Urbanspoon

HOT: Auction Rooms, 103-107 Errol St, North Melbourne

Auction rooms errol street north melbourne

Auction Rooms is a casual cafe/restaurant set inside the old WB Ellis auction house in North Melbourne. In fact, the long wooden floorboards, exposed beams, distressed brickwork and high ceilings hoisting a series of whirring fans reminded me a lot of the interior of an airy Queenslander home. It seems like the kind of place where the dress code should be to kick around in shorts and despite its large size the atmosphere was still warm and cosy. Unfortunately my iPhone photos don’t really do it justice.

Auction rooms errol street north melbourne

Auction rooms errol street north melbourne

Already in love with the stylish interior, we delved into the extensive dinner menu which contains about twenty dishes ranging in small bites to full meals. In the interests of research, we tried something from all parts of the list: extremely moreish rosemary polenta chips with a slightly bland smoked paprika mayonnaise ($7.50), melt-in-your-mouth tender salt and pepper squid with caramelised lemon mayonnaise ($13), a light and spicy coconut duck salad with wombok, green papaya, snake beans and tamarind which could easily have been a meal in itself, and a rich beef cheek ravioli with hommus and braising reduction ($28). Every dish was punctuated by exclamations of ‘OMG this is so good!’ ‘Delicious’ ‘We’ve got to come back!’. We didn’t have room for dessert unfortunately, but my choice would have been the chocolate and banana spring rolls with vanilla bean labna ($12).

Auction rooms errol street north melbourne

Auction rooms errol street north melbourne

The food at Auction Rooms is so fantastic that I would happily cross town to try the rest of their menu of hits. Apparently their coffee is very good too and they are one of a slew of speciality coffee shops (with siphon coffee) that have recently opened in Melbourne. It’s the sort of place where I think there’s something for everyone, whether you’re on a date or with a group of friends, looking for brunch options or a glass of wine and nibbles before a night on the town.

For more delicious food in North Melbourne, try the Court House Hotel and  Sosta Cucina.

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon

HOT: Tony Wheeler, The Hive, Collins Quarter, 86A Collins St, Melbourne

Tony Wheeler Lonely Planet The Hive Collins Quarter 86A collins st melbourne

The Hive closed off 2009 with a bang as  Tony Wheeler addressed over 200 eager listeners with the story of his journey and his passions as one of the founders of Lonely Planet. In fact, interest was so huge that the event had to be moved to bigger premises at Collins Quarter.

Tony was a self-effacing, down-to-earth media magnate if you consider the fact that he’s the co-founder of the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world.  In 2007, a 75% stake in Lonely Planet was sold to BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). It’s been a 30 year climb for a company which started off with husband-and-wife team Tony and Maureen arriving in Australia with 27 cents in their pocket and deciding to self-publish one of the first backpacker’s guides ‘Across Asia on the cheap’.

Some interesting factoids for Lonely Planet fans:

  • The company name comes from a lyric in ‘Space Captain’, a song by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell. The actual words are ‘lovely planet’ but Tony misheard ‘lonely planet’ and liked it.
  • Tony’s tips to entrepreneurs? Have fun! Sure, it’s great if you can make some money from your ventures – but even if you don’t, at least you’ve had fun.
  • Tony’s been to approximately 140 countries and his next destination of choice  – Congo and Zaire. When asked to name his most inspirational travel experience, he explained that he finds the people that he meets the most inspiring part of travelling.
  • Around 25% of Lonely Planet’s content is now sold online via downloads and iPhone apps.
  • Tony and Maureen bought their first computer to do invoices, and then discovered the possibilities of…word processing! Back in the early 80s, Lonely Planet was the first company in Melbourne to have a computer for every employee.

After the session my companions (including Miss Kish, Sashaka Fernando and Tim Bull) discussed whether we could start up a potentially multi-million dollar company in this day and age if we were broke, naive but passionate. Frankly, I’m not sure that it’s possible, even if it’s just an internet start-up. Or maybe I’m just an old risk-adverse fuddy-duddy. What do you think?

If you missed the meeting, you can access the podcast feed through iTunes. You can also read the review of a previous event by The Hive, featuring, here. The next event will be held in February next year.

Finally, just a little plug – MEL: HOT OR NOT is now being syndicated on Lonely Planet’s Melbourne website!

HOT: Thread Den Market, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

I LOVE markets. I will even travel across town for an hour on public transport on a Sunday morning to get to a market if it’s being organised by the lovely ladies of Thread Den.

I’ve written about sewing lounge Thread Den before, and they’ve now have expanded their little empire to encompass an occasional craft and vintage market. They recently organised their second market and it looked like such a roaring success that I suspect that there will be more coming.

On offer in the labyrinth rooms of the Lithuanian Club was a community of crafters and vintage collectors selling all sorts of desirable things. My picks:

Handmade toys and vintage children’s clothes from Nettle and Brier. I absolutely fell in love with this adorable sailor’s dress ($20) and Red Riding Hood coat ($30) that I HAD to have them – now I have to find a 3 year old girl to give them to. (Don’t worry, I’m not that crazy – my god-daughter is three).

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

Colourful swirls and patterns from the crazy retro lamps at Retro Print Revival.

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

If only my Dad hadn’t cleared out his youthful wardrobe – I could have been selling his polyester flares for $5 each.

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

Madonna-esque ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ 80s shoe/sandal/boots. Originally from Hunter Gatherer in Fitzroy.

Thread Den Market Lithuanian Club Errol Street North Melbourne

Update 20 January 2010: The Thread Den Market has now turned into the bi-monthly North Melbourne Market, with the first market happening on Sunday 28 February from 10am with $2 entry.

HOT: O’Connell’s Centenary Hotel, 407 Coventry Street, South Melbourne

O'Connells Coventry Street South Melbourne

After a brief wander through the South Melbourne Night Markets, C and I found ourselves in a South Melbourne black hole. Both of us were familiar with daytime cafes in the area, but where to go for dinner?

Fortunately, we remembered the gastropub O’Connell’s. This beautifully restored pub is in a quiet residential area of South Melbourne and at 6:30pm on a Thursday night most people were lounging at the leafy pavement tables enjoying a drink and the sunshine. C and I were the first people to settle into the surprisingly starched dining room adjoining the bar, but it didn’t feel silent or stuffy.

O’Connell’s menu ranges from sturdy pub grub to more fine dining options. C and I went somewhere in the middle – chicken and pumpkin sausages with lentils and mashed potato ($26.50), and a large salad of calamari, fennel, watercress and blood orange segments ($28).

My tender calamari had a big kick of spice offset by the crisp salad ingredients. C’s  sausages were almost crumbly in texture, with the pumpkin keeping the whole mix together and lending an unexpected sweetness to the hearty dish. Both of the dishes were generously proportioned and although we were tempted by the dessert menu old classic favourites (chocolate fondant, sticky date pudding, crumble) we couldn’t fit another thing into our satisfied stomachs.

O'Connells Coventry Street South Melbourne

O'Connell's on Urbanspoon

HOT: Berlei Bus, Federation Square, Melbourne

Berlei Bra bus

Have you noticed the big red inflatable bra at Federation Square?

Ladies, this one’s for you. Berlei has wheeled their plush red Berlei Bus to Federation Square to provide free bra fittings for all of us crippled with back pain, shoulder pain, rubbing and red raw indents in our skin. Helpful matronly types helped me check that I was wearing the right size (I am) and gave me a size and style prescription to claim my goodie bag filled with girly products and a trashy mag for some lunchtime reading.

At the nearby stand you can buy 3 Berlei bras for the price of 2, or if you head to David Jones Bourke Street you can buy one Barely There bra and receive 50% off the seamless matching briefs.

For more girly fun, Pacific Brands (owners of Berlei) are also hosting the Voodoo Magic launch pad at Federation Square from 4:30-8:30pm tonight. It’s apparently ‘a luxury dressing room style retreat complete with styling bars, a mobile hair salon and make-up artists.’ Sounds like a good after-work stop before a night out on the town.

  • Berlei Bus 19-20 November 7:30am – 3:30pm Federation Square, Melbourne

HOT: Brunetti, 214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Brunetti City Square Flinders Lane Gelato

Given the heatwave that we’ve been experiencing in Melbourne lately, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to eat icecream for lunch. Scooping gelati under the shade of a big umbrella makes me feel like I’m on holiday!

Brunetti in City Square is perfectly located for a working icecream lunch. The small counter has a selection of about a dozen flavours, ranging from lighter fruit options to rich chocolate and nut combinations. Between us we had a child’s cup each of ($3.30) of lemon, apple and mint and choc chip gelato.

brunetti gelato city square

The lemon was a little bit too tangy for my liking, but apparently lemon gelati is a great digestive aid.  Here’s an interesting medical story for you: my friend A once entered an impromptu ribs-eating competition against a big burly Swedish man, and almost passed out from over-eating. Her friends carried her to the nearest gelati shop to force-feed her some lemon gelati in a bid to help all the meat go down. And she felt better afterwards (but is now vegetarian – not sure whether there’s a link)! True story, scout’s honour.

My mint and choc chip number was good but nothing particularly spectacular, so the winning vote went to the seasonal apple gelato. What I can say, it tasted really….apple-y. Kind of like concentrated apple juice in gelati format. It was unusual and refreshing for a hot day and given the weather forecast for the rest of this week, I’ll think I’ll be heading back for a scoop of it another lunchtime.

Brunetti on Urbanspoon

HOT: Beautiful Losers, Anode 2009, Speakeasy Cinema, 1000 £ Bend, 361 Lt Lonsdale St, Melbourne


Beautiful Losers begins with an amusing introduction by two middle aged men in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: “Hello Melbourne! Hope you enjoy the film. We brought cocaine!” Who are these people? You wonder. They look like two ordinary, non-descript guys, the kind you see down at the hardware store in the suburbs.

Aaron Rose and Chris Johanson are two of the artists interviewed in Beautiful Losers, a documentary about the diverse collective of young punks, rockers and skaters who congregated in New York City in the 90s to create art. Jilted by the mainstream, they gathered at the grungy Alleged Gallery in the Lower East Side, partied hard, slept on concrete floors, and created a form of DIY art that reflected their no-rules, no-barriers, no-obligations approach to life. Together they kicked off a wave of graffiti-based street art, which profoundly influenced the direction of contemporary art, fashion, music and film.

The film splices interviews, film footage and photographs of the key artists of the movement – the ‘beautiful losers’ – including Thomas Campbell, Cheryl Dunn, Shepard Fairey, Geoff McFetridge, Mike Mills, Barry McGee, Harmony Korine, Margaret Kilgallen, Steven Powers and Ed Templeton. It paints a picture of New York City in the 90s as a whirlpool of inspiration. The group’s original approach to art-making fostered an intense cross-pollination of ideas, and the fertile, creative atmosphere was one of encouragement – there were no stakes, no money, no fame in what they were doing – it was all just about making stuff.

In one of the key interviews of the film, the artists discuss why they feel compelled to make art. Universally they speak of rejection, dispossession, frustration and wanting to antagonise those on the ‘inside’. They were bored, creative kids with no formal training who used art to explore their individuality and to discover their place in a world, which they felt had shunned them. In their eyes, there was beauty in imperfection and a richness in the undervalued, and thus they chose to display their art on the streets – billboards, train carriages, painted walls – as it was a platform for broadcasting their views in a raw and uncut manner.

However, as the film progresses, you suspect that the sense of ‘otherness’ that pervaded the sub-cultural creative aesthetic of the beautiful losers will eventually be lost – otherwise how come some of the artists’ names are familiar now?

And so it happened. Their commercial success began with the Minimal Trix skateboard art show in 1992, which was written up in Thrasher Magazine. This led to an exhibition in Hollywood, the seminal Independents Show at Alleged Gallery in 1997, and exhibitions in the US and internationally at mainstream galleries and festivals.

It’s ironic that these social outsiders eventually end up being legitimised and celebrated by conservative culture, exhibiting in established galleries and having their work turned into corporate advertising. By the end of the film, you see that the group’s approach has started to fracture as commercial success impacts differently on each of them. Some of them pronounce that they don’t want any part of it. Others are defensive of their success, claiming that they are still true to their art. The beautiful losers are no longer making art by kids, for kids – have they sold out or merely grown up?

This review first appeared in Trepass Magazine.

Read the review of the Speakeasy Cinema experience here.

HOT: Speakeasy Cinema, 1000 £ Bend, 361 Lt Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Speakeasy Cinema 1000 £ Bend Lt Lonsdale St Melbourne

Speakeasy Cinema is one of the newest cinema experiences in Melbourne and I loved its hip, low-fi aesthetic. A ramshackle collection of mismatched chairs. Nostalgic lolly bags and ice creams for sale. Milk crates to steady your drinks. The whole experience made me feel like I was going at an underground film event crossed with going to the ‘flicks’ at the steamy cinema of a small country town in the 30s.

Speakeasy Cinema 1000 £ Bend Lt Lonsdale St Melbourne

At the same time as purchasing your film ticket you can buy a saganaki or roo burger plus a beer or wine. We tried both of the juicy, tasty burgers and they were just the thing for a pre-cinema snack.

As much as I loved the general thrown-together aesthetic, I do have a couple of middle-aged gripes regarding the upstairs cinema:

  • For your own comfort, get upstairs reasonably early and try to select your seats based on whether they are padded.  You’re going to be there for 2 hours and hard plastic seats = sore bums.
  • Given that the floor is flat, maybe Speakeasy Cinema could consider placing the lines of chairs in staggered positions? The sight of heads craning further and further out towards the aisle was almost comical, like an armless Mexican wave leading away from the screen.  It’s quite torturous watching a film with a neck crick or having to constantly shuffle your position.
  • I’m not entirely sure why being a young, hip art student entitles you to be rude and loud during a film. Yes you could bring drinks into the cinema but never before have I been to a film where there was so much up-and-downess for loo breaks. And chat! I hate chat in movies. Especially if you’re not talking about the film.

Speakeasy Cinema is the opposite of your slick, multiplex, blockbuster movie-going experience. It shows independent art-house films in a grungy setting and is altogether very cool. Just a little more consideration for the audience’s comfort would make it perfect.

Check out MEL: HOT OR NOT tomorrow for a review of Beautiful Losers, part of Speakeasy Cinema‘s opening season of films.

HOT: Tour of the Obsure, Church Street Enoteca, 527 Church St, Richmond

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

One-hat Church Street Enoteca is one of the more notable Italian restaurants in Melbourne’s inner city, so I was very excited when Ron O’Bryan, the head chef at Church Street Enoteca, offered myself and other bloggers (My Food Trail, Melbourne Gastronome, Tammi Jonas and Cooking with Goths) the opportunity to join other food lovers in the restaurant’s Tour of the Obscure.

The premise of the five course dinner was to take a journey through the more unknown grape varieties of Italy, matched with a series of the dishes from the various regions.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

Our arrival we started with a deliciously refreshing Prosecco di Valdobbiadene from Sorelle Bronca and then were shown to our candelit tables and provided with some deliciously crusty bread and olive oil.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

First course was my favourite – a salad of shaved Fratelli Galloni prosciutto topped with raw artichoke, fennel, broad beans, almond and lemon. This melange of Italian colours was also a perfect mix of contrasting textures, from the softness of the ham to the crunch of the fennel and almonds and the firmly bulbous beans. The robust food flavours were matched with a very dry Toscano Biano IGT 2007 from Montauto in Toscana near the coast.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

Second course was a rabbit, fennel and cotechino brodo with rabbit cappelletti and spring herbs. Unfortunately my photos of the dish didn’t turn out well enough to post here. Who knew that the sheen reflecting off a bowl of broth could be so hard to capture on film? The wine was a Verdicchio di Matelica DOC 2008 from organic winery Collestefano. The winery is situated in a cool and dry hilly area in the hinterland of the Marche, 420m above sea level, and thus produces grapes with a long ripening period. This lends a tautness and acidity to the wine which contrasted well with the rich sausage.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

Third course – 12 hour pork belly with apple puree and broade. In a table of food bloggers none of us could work out what ‘broade’ was but we assumed it was either the shavings of spicy pickled turnip or the gravy-like sauce that was drizzled over the perfectly crackled and moist slabs of pork. The meat was served with Refosco IGT 2007 from Primosic winery in Fruili. Refosco is an indigenous grape variety of the area near the northern border with Slovenia and the wine had an unexpected aroma of blue cheese and a high level of acidity, again contrasting with the richness of the pork belly.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

My second favourite dish of the night – twice cooked duck with couscous, cinnamon and orange. A perfect North African inspired dish to match the southern Sicilian Nero d’Avola IGT 2007 from Gulfi winery. This pinot noir-like wine was my favourite wine of the night, with a fresh and tight structure.

Tour of the obscure church street enoteca richmond

Dolci was a platter of tastes and textures – lemon, passionfruit, blackberry and olive oil. My picks were the honey-sweet torrone with pistachios and the fluffy passionfruit marshmallows. Dessert was matched with a glass of golden-hued Passito Bianco DOC 2006 from La Cappucina in Veneto near Verona, a sweet but not sticky dessert wine made from aerated rack-dried grapes aged in oak.

The dinner was immensely enjoyable from start to finish, from the careful selection of food and wine to the friendly and efficient service. I highly recommend Church Street Enoteca for anything from a special occasion to a midweek meal – just make sure you make a booking soon, as Ron’s last day in the kitchen is 23 December, after which he will be embarking on a new venture in St Kilda.

Thank you to Ron O’Bryan and Church Street Enoteca for inviting me to be a guest. For more blog reviews, check out My Food Trail and Tammi Tasting Terroir.

Church St Enoteca on Urbanspoon