Red Hill Brewery Cafe is to restaurants what smart casual is to dress codes. In the middle of the Mornington Peninsula's cellar door mecca, this venue exudes neither the fine dining polish or the calculated casualness of others in the area. Instead it's the real deal rancho-relaxo. Choose the airy dining room with floor to ceiling windows, or the covered deck as you're presented first and foremost with the drinks list. Beer is not surprisingly the focus and if you can't choose between Golden Ale, Wheat Bear, Belgian Blonde or Scotch Ale you can purchase a tasing paddle for $12.
As the ideal venue for long, late lunches you'd be advised to take your time over the brief, but satisfying list of "Nibbles for Sharing". Belgian Nibblies' bite-size slices of Gouda is a strange concept but worth it to sample the salty dipping condiments, almost as moreish as the spicy, ale-roasted nuts. However neither should take precedence over the gooey Stoemp Cakes. Crumbed and fried, these cheesy mashed vegetable patties with housemade mayonnaise are sure to please all.
Mains are served quickly so it's not a bad idea to wait and order after you've enjoyed your nibbles. Still, most find it difficult to wait for the venue's star food attraction. An inch thick slab of tender corned beef served on-top of parsnip mash has fellow diners and waitstaff alike hovering like star-struck school girls. The Brewmaster's Ploughmans is the perfect canvas to showcase the Cafe's emphasis on local produce and includes a delightful chunk of pork pie, while another favourite beer standard, the Steak Sandwich, impresses all with its sheer size as it parades from the kitchen to tables. Disappointingly the pork belly fails to crackle but a special of chicken delights with its contrast of rich, creamy mustard sauce and crisp, fresh snow peas. Diners comment on the generous servings, exceptional value at less than $30, while washing it all down with more beer. Wine drinkers are not forgotten, with a brief list of locals by both bottle and glass. Vegetarians, on the other hand, may find life difficult.
Dessert specials are listed on the wall, if you have space after all that beer. Chocolate sticky date pudding has thick, dark chocolate sauce replacing butterscotch in spectacular fashion, while a rhubarb and almond tart is a civilised, although conservative, way to finish the afternoon. Not enough room? A serving of local cheese, matched to the seasonal beer will wrap things up nicely.
Stretching and rolling your way out the door you'll encounter afternoon drinkers enjoying the beer. You'll wish you could join them for just one more pot, if only your stomach had room.
Floor to ceiling windows through which to observe the bleak winter weather increase the appeal of the Fawkner Bistro Bar's open wood fire. Add a quality list of local and imported wines by the glass and a bowl of unctuous olives and you may stay put all afternoon.
Those feeling peckish may be tempted to cross the floor to the restaurant, perhaps motivated to try the widely renowned Fish and Chips. Beer battered King George Whiting fillets demonstrate that simple really is best. Elsewhere on the menu a rib eye cooked to perfection and a tender but under-seasoned duck confit deliver generous serving sizes. Unfortunately such portions are a stark contrast to that of the lone vegetarian main of roast portobello mushroom caps, stuffed with pearl barley and preserved lemon and served with a quenelle of goats cheese. You'll need to make use of the complimentary bread and extensive entree and pasta menus instead.
Service has its ups and downs with less than subtle waitresses often dampening the mood. Fortunately a dessert menu hitting well-loved standards, including a warm chocolate brownies and a creme brulee, rounds out the meal well and leaves diners happy to forgive most sins.
The Fawkner Bistro Bar 03 9867 5853 52 Toorak Rd West South Yarra Victoria
My iphone is a relatively new device when it comes to this blog. Sure I've had it for over 2 years now, but how many times have I blogged during that period (ok, don't answer that). It might now be slow and clunky - true Apple genius that ensures I upgrade - but tonight it has given me a fun trip down memory lane.
I rarely carry a camera, having realised long ago that my digi-handy-cam of the occasional tourist variety didn't do much justice to the food I was eating. However, I've happily snapped here and there with my iphone with only the best intentions to turn iphone snaps into blog posts. Trouble is, I download my iphone so rarely that the snaps never make it to the blog.
Two weekends ago, on my way to Moonee Ponds to listen to Food on the Page, with Melbourne Gastronome, I stopped at The Premises for a quick bite. I'd intended to sit down tonight and write about my delicious meal, but I've been severly distracted by the trip back in recent past that is my iphone's photos. Stretching back over this time includes the wine wall at Mr Wolf, hilariously kitsch interiors of a Daylesford Chinese Restaurant, a random cupcake from goodness knows where, the birth of my parents' vege garden and a lone tulip I managed to grow.
There's a muffin from Mart130 (circa October, based on the Melbourne Macaron comp snippet) and an intriguing bowl of cookie dough. It took me about a minute to remember that this was a Matthew Evans recipe I'd adapted to use up evey imagineable ingredient in my pantry. Perhaps it was this baking session that saw the oven dial break, warranting an email to my agent with photographic evidence. Moving quickly to December, there are some fuzzy photos of dessert at Hare & Grace for S-bo's office Christmas party. A hilarious evening where neither the non-foodie workmates nor half the staff really got the food in general, let alone the chocolate soil presented under dessert.
The no-man's land between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve passed blissfully on Sydney's northern beaches, including the day when all the "adults" caught the ferry to Cottage Point Inn while us "kids" sipped a delicious I-forget-the-label Pinot Gris and supped away the afternoon at Barrenjoey House. It was walking home from this event that I spied Coco Juice - if anyone can explain this strange product, your comment is most welcome.Post New Year's saw a trip down to Sin City proper and a visit to Victor Churchill before gazing on this coffee collage while enjoying pastries at Baker Friday, which is apparently now called Central Baking depot. Can any Sydneysiders clarify? There's random football photos, photos of products in my role as a Goodist, a half eaten tartine from Maison Ama Lurra (above) and indecipherable photos of winelists from some "proper" writing that I was doing. The cute little tartlettes are from Hausfrau and any foodie would recognise the pile of pumpkins from Melbourne's Metlink Edible Garden, earlier in the year. I did wonder, as I wandered, what would happen if I started eating all the plants right then and there. I've skipped the great photos I have from mine and S-bo's anniversary weekend in the Yarra Valley. They're all scenery shots, but if I captured any food you would have seen how much we over-ate. Harvest Cafe, De Bortoli, Yarra Valley Pasta, Yering Wine Bar, Healesville Hotel and Bella Vedere might've been just a bit too much eating for a 2 night stay. Needless to say we didn't get around to tasting much wine. And finally, testament to the randomness of my iphone photos, I come to a shot I took recently at Cafe Balderdash because I liked what they did with wine bottles and flowers. Something tells me they won't like what I did with iphone fuzziness. All of this is bookended by a shaky photo of The Premises' menu (because I panicked and didn't think I'd remember my dishes ingredients) and a delicious cauliflower salad. But, sadly, we've run out of time tonight, so I'll save my Premises photos for another day.
Ok, so I don't write often. I'm just beginning to realise that this is ok, so today I'm not going to make any promises that I'll write more often. Instead I'll promise to write whenever I feel like it!
Why am I writing again? For starters, Once a Waitress mentioned my blog in one of her recent posts about Friends of Mine prompting a desire to write again. For seconds, I was lucky enough to head to Golden Fields last night-what more inspiration do I need? (Apparently a lot, because this post is taking a while and I'm struggling to articulate the amazing evening I had).
The much anticipated addition to Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc quietly opened its doors last week, revealing super clean lines and serious attention to detail - and that's just the fit-out. We particularly loved the contrast of black chairs and towering lamps against white tiling and marble. Far from being an immediate attack of extraordinary, Golden Fields revealed its quirks to us gradually. The chicken's feet coat hooks emerged pretty quickly but it wasn't until halfway through the evening that I saw the blue grouting and taps in the bathroom. Why blue? Not sure but it definitely creates a talking point (or is it just females that talk about the bathrooms?)
The food was no surprise; it was seriously good. Far from analysing every dish for the purpose of a blog post, I simply sat back and enjoyed. Standouts for me included a Kumamoto oyster served with fresh wasabi, sauteed mushrooms with poached duck egg and braised Blackmore brisket, rump cap, wasabi butter and garlic shoots. What fascinated me most were the differing perceptions around our table. The "spicy as" braised runner beans gave a serious kick to noone but me, while the sauteed mushrooms, with duck egg richness that I loved so much were a little salty for another. Overall, the food has McConnell's trademark ability to intrigue and satisfy. It's an extensive menu divided into raw, to start, salads & vegetables and meat & fish. After all the delights we sampled (I've given a mere snapshot), I'm surprised we made it to dessert but super glad. Predictably, the peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate rocked all socks but the real adventure was found in the green tea ice cream, pumpkin and liquorice. Yup, pumpkin. And don't forget to look for hints of refreshing ginger hiding behind the lime in the black sesame, lime and yoghurt creation.
According to metlink journey planner, I can probably get from my house to Golden Fields in a mere 20 minutes. Something tells me this could become a habit.
(As a side note, and on a housekeeping front, I dined with a vegan and a coeliac who were both easily accommodated).
It's been a week since dinner at Charcoal Lane and I'm still gushing about the experience to anyone who will listen. A Sydney friend of mine, Mrs G, who works for Mission Australia and was down for the Melbourne Cup Pin and Win promotion, suggested the venue for our catch-up weeks ago and I'd been looking forward to it ever since.
The first thing that strikes me about Charcoal Lane is not the beautiful bluestone building itself, but the way the warm lighting shines through the windows, welcoming patrons and passers-by alike. Modern, interiors are clean and simple resulting in an overwhelming feeling of space.
We were greeted by pleasant staff and left to settle in and contemplate wine list and menu, before enjoying an amuse bouche of creamy salmon. An entree of poached WA marron was tempting, but the kangaroo tataki came highly recommended and didn't fail to deliver. Rich, tender red meat was lifted by the freshness of ginger and soy while occasional tastes of wasabi (or was it horseradish?) used an element of surprise to thrill. Serious food envy circulated around our table, with two of us enjoying kangaroo tataki, but it was largely unfounded. S-bo ate the marron which, whilst subtler than the kangaroo, was delicate in flavour and beautifully presented and Mrs G's risotto of garden peas, native mint and mascarpone cheese spoke loudly of spring, particularly with the addition of bright green broad beans.
Sitting on the receiving end of food envy continued with the arrival of mine and Mrs G's main: crispy pork belly, seared scallop, ginger glaze, apple salad and fried saltbush. I find pork belly disappoints more frequently than it delivers, probably due to its frequency of menu appearances across the city, so it's stars like this that make me realise the gamble is worth it. I will continue to order pork belly in the hope I get a dish like this, every time. A dish where crispy really means crispy and a generous slab of moist flesh can actually be found under the delicious fat. Two huge, tender scallops, amazing in their own right, were a mere garnish in the shadow of such great pork belly.
I told you I was gushing.
Elsewhere on the table, Mr G (not to be mistaken as Mr G off Summer Heights High) enjoyed barramundi fillet and S-bo ate slow cooked wildfire spiced king salmon, which, although delicious, could have upped the wildfire spice. I'd love to know what's in the peppery and herby blend and S-bo was craving for more.
The wine list is familiar and comfortable thanks to a selection of quality Australian drops and good value is a bonus. Of course it's fun to browse wine lists that rival War and Peace sometimes (a bit like this post), but the concise, reliable offering was somewhat relaxing. We still managed to change our mind three times and for that I apologise to the waitress. After downing an '08 Punt Road Pinot Gris (between the four of us, that is) we went a little bit gaga over a 2008(?) Warramate Pinot Noir.
The blow-by-blow monologue continues into dessert. Don't even try to consider what to have, order the selection of desserts for two. It cuts out indecisiveness and you get to try all 5. I want to describe each one in detail but I'll try to stick to a quick run-down. The selection is strikingly presented with orange crisps, mandarin mushrooms and a gravity-defying maple syrup snap all pointing skywards. A surprise favourite of mine was the rice pudding, cinnamon myrtle, strawberry gum and date icecream, the dark chocolate tart was always going to be a crowd please and I have to give a special mention to the Heilala Vanilla ice-cream accompanying the flourless blood orange pudding.
I didn't set out to document a chronological recollection of the evening, but every bit was good. How to choose which bits to write about? Charcoal Lane is a lovely story and a noble, successful pursuit; but, its also a great restaurant in its own right. We ate great food in a polished yet relaxed atmosphere, supporting a great cause along the way seemed like a bonus when, in actual fact, the bonus is the former.
A bon voyage coffee with a friend heading to Europe landed me at Spoonful a few weeks ago. The spoon was well and truly full but, by fluke of timing, we scored a seat at the front communal table, which we shared with families, book readers and posies. A late breakfast would have been acceptable but, having diligently eaten my weetbix and toast earlier in the morning, I headed towards the cake cabinet and eyed off a conservative serve of biscotti which rested politely beside a flamboyant chocolate roulade.
Fortunately my Europe-bound friend's delight at the roulade's presence convinced me that perhaps I could splash out a little. Langers had apparently been to Spoonful before just to try the Chocolate Roulade, only to find it unavailable.
I had long-forgotten the delights of morning (or afternoon) coffee and cake. Sweet, silky chocolate cream, fresh strawberries and chewy chocolate meringue at Spoonful certainly reminded me and I was glad to be sharing this; not just because the serve was so generous, but because such deliciousness should surely be discussed and enjoyed with others. 543 High St Prahran (03) 9521 4807