Friday, November 05, 2010

Charcoal Lane

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.

Charcoal Lane
136 Gertrude St

(03) 9418 3411

Monday, October 25, 2010


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
(03) 9521 4807

Spoonful on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Breakfast with, and at, Friends Of Mine, Richmond

Parking on Swan St Richmond, just near the netball courts, has probably never been so tight. But with faithful Melbourne foodies chasing the next big thing and milling around outside in near sub-zero temperatures at brunch rush hour, you can bet you'll do a couple of laps.

After opening last Thursday (11th), Friends of Mine has been trickling onto blog posts Melbourne-wide. SwanBridgeVic and The Social Marketplace for being so prompt. The place certainly stands out with its Verve-Clicquot-Yellow awnings. Ok, so they're not actually Verve branded awnings, but the cheery colour just screams champagne to me. Fortunately, if you are that way inclined, you can enjoy a glass of bubbles with your eggs (Champagne Henriot NV at $18 a glass).

So, lets re-cap what others have said. We'll do it quickly because word travels fast and most of you probably know this by now and have done so for a little while, given how hungry us Melbournians are to be 'in the know'. So, a) The newest venture of Jason Jones, of Porgie and Mr Jones, Snow Pony and Bright Young Things fame; b)Decked out in vintage industrial style; c) Offering menu favourites from the other venues, including herb and cheesy toast and smashed avocado and mushrooms; and d) offering the best of ingredients from the best of Victoria's producers (FOM are so proud of this that they've listed said producers on their menu and website. Check it out.)

I'm a big fan of the front two rooms. Infact, I'd like my own kitchen to resemble this, if only I had Jason Jones' eclectic style and a bit of space. The third room is a slightly different style, a little more bistro to me. Maybe there's future plans for this space or maybe its a deliberate ploy to get people talking about the decor in general. If its the latter, its working.

We couldn't have arrived at a worse time, bang on 10.15 am; but, we were told a mere 15 minutes and I think we waited for less. I was a little disappointed to be seated in the more formal room (I swung by on open day and immediately knew I'd enjoy breakfasting on the communal table); but, beggars and choosers and all that. Besides, we were right under the heater which was delightful after waiting in the cold.

I had the herb and cheesy toast with bacon and eggplant kasundi. Its surely an art to have crust so crunchy and bread so soft, probably a combination of noisette bread and chef prowess. The cheese was pretty mild but boy, did the eggplant kasundi pack a punch. It was delicious, but so generous and so spicy that I left a fair dollop on the side. All dishes were pretty generously proportioned and I didn't really need to finish off my toast, but I couldn't bear to leave it.

Friends of mine, those I was eating with that is, had Smashed Avocado with Thyme Buttered Mushrooms (and poached egg) and Jack+Jill Smashed Avocado (with poached egg) and and they were generous enough to give me a little taste of the delicious Green Eggs. You can read about these on pleases us and SwanBridgeVic respectively. Not bad places to check out some photos either, along with The Social Marketplace and Broadsheet Melbourne. I felt Saturday breakfast service wasnt the best time to start snapping around.

What have I forgotten? Hmm, the coffee? Fantastic. I'm not exactly sure what beans they're using, but it went down a treat. Oh, and the waitress uniforms ... interesting that the female waitstaff, all two of them, were decked out in bright yellow pinafores while the guys kicked around in their own funky style. That struck me as a little odd.

Courtyard seating is apparently in the pipeline, which could ease the breakfast squeeze. Its easy to be cynical of us fanatics who rush from one 'next big thing' to the next 'next big thing' and I've been a little slack at checking out new places recently, but when the food lives up to the hype you remember its more about hunting down and supporting great venues who are good at what they do, than it is about being in the in-crowd.

Anyone keen to do it all over again tomorrow?

506 Swan St
7.30 - 4 Mon - Fri
8.30 - 4 Sat - Sun

Friends of Mine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taste of Melbourne

Taste of Melbourne hit the Carlton Exhibition Building with style over the weekend, not hard to do when inside the walls of such a beautiful building.

Having not been to Taste before I was expecting jostling crowds and fierce competition to try the "it" dish, enter the Gourmet Traveller kitchen or snap-up the latest samples. Instead, I was surprised by the easy-going crowd, possibly the result of the copious quantities of wine flowing from every corner. I hope the exhibitors sold a few bottles because they certainly dished out their fair share of samples. We enjoyed the offerings from Dalwhinnie and Pizzini, as well as the broad range at Wine Selectors.
I had carefully planned my menu (thanks to Taste publishing the selection online), only to be disappointed by Mezze Bar and Grill running out of Pork Cheek (instead check out the description at Melbourne Gastronome). Disappointment turned to frustration when, having returned later for Cavatelli di Messini with Prawns, Peas, Pecorino and Lemon oil, I was told the snaking queue was waiting for pork. The assistant apologised profusely for not telling me there was more to come. Luckily I was in a pretty jovial mood by this stage and the pasta was fantastic. I dubbed it Macaroni and Cheese for Grown-Ups.

Keen to try the Hopkins River Beef due a family connection, S'bo's Mum purchased the Seared Hopkins River Beef with shitake and aged soy dressing from maze Restaurant and maze Grill. A cool dish, thanks to the logistics of the whole set-up, with tender slivers of beef doused in sesame oil that showcased the produce perfectly.

Unable to stop there, we tried Duck Rilletes from Libertine, with a subtle blend of flavours that allowed the smokiness to come through, and Seared Kingfish, Red Curry and Puffed Rice from Charcoal Lane. S-bo called the latter "a cold fish curry", an uappetising name that doesn't do the dish's spice and delightful coconut foam justice. Perhaps the best value dish was maze Restaurant and maze Grill's seared marlborough salmon with warm sweet corn and potato salad. Like the beef this was a prime exmple of allowing quality ingredients, in this case Salmon, to speak for themselves.

Dessert was a vanilla tapioca pudding from Longrain that reminded me I'm not a fan of jackfruit. Light on vanilla but heavy on coconut milk, this was a complex dessert that called for a few spoonfuls before your tastebuds could adapt.

For more desserts we hit to exhibitors. Avoiding the long Ben & Jerry's queue we tried delicious Gundowring from the Kiewa valley and Movenpick. Charmed by the producers, the former won our hearts.

The other highlight of the day was catching Nicolas Poelart from Embrasse in the Taste kitchen. Unassuming yet passionate about his food, the Frenchman charmed most of the audience. Personally I enjoyed the plants that were handed around, showcasing the benefits of foraging if you know what to look for. Nibbling on some borage I was astounded to discover that it really does taste "a bit like oysters"!

Overall, a great way to spend Saturday afternoon munching on goodies and chatting to producers, chefs and punters alike.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pizza in Albert Park

View Pizza in Albert Park in a larger map

  • Dine in & Takeaway

  • 180 Bridport St
    Albert Park
    03 9699 4288

The best pizzas in Albert Park, served by friendly, efficient staff. The woodfired oven means this is a great place to be in winter.


  • Dine in & Takeaway
  • 175 Victoria Ave
    Albert Park
    03 9699 9933

Great selection of gourmet and traditional pizzas, with gluten free available. Takeaway pasta also available.

  • Dine in & Takeaway

  • 149 Victoria Ave
    Albert Park
    03 9699 9386
Al-fresco tables and fantastic family atmosphere. Generous toppings sometimes lead to a slightly soggy base, especially if you are taking away. Don Dinos is a locals favourite, especially on warm summer nights.


  • Dine in & Takeaway
  • 85 Victoria Ave
    Albert Park
    03 9699 3157
Conveniently located next to Jock's Ice Cream, Favori is always popular however it is my last pick of the bunch.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mirrool Creek Lamb

Sixth of April! There have been no posts since that date, shame on me. Still, I've been somewhat distracted by the hoard of lamb in my freezer. That's right, lamb, my favourite source of protein. And this is not just any lamb, believe me.

Sam Hayes from Mirrool Creek Lamb is a friend mine from Sydney and as a wedding gift she presented S-bo and I with seven cuts of fantastic lamb. Some might find meat a strange wedding gift, but if you're reading this blog you obviously like food as much as I do and I doubt you would even blink. As Mirrool Creek Lamb is a finalist in the 2010 Delicious produce awards S-bo and I feel very spoilt indeed.

Mirrool Creek Lamb comes from the Riverina region of NSW, an area renowned for high quality lamb production. All stock is bred free range and pasture fed, vital to ensuring the produce benefits from the unique soil, climate and rainfall conditions of the Riverina. Low stress handling throughout the lifecycle, particularly prior to processing, ensures exceptional quality and consistency. For more information check out Mirrool Creek Lamb's website.

All cuts come in a cryovac and will keep for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator. The rack was prepared so finely, it was a pleasure to work with. A neat strip of muscle that could almost be described as elegant, with a fine edging of fat for flavour and moisture was an exciting prospect. The rack was seasoned and then seared before being roasted for 20 minutes in a medium oven. Homemade olive and rosemary tapenade formed a crust on the outside during cooking and filled the room with a mouth-watering smell.

Cooked to medium-rare, this was the most tender lamb I can remember eating, what's more, it tasted like lamb. That sounds like a funny claim to make, but too often I find lamb is either too light on flavour, or too strong, conjuring images of mutton at boarding school (fortunately those dark, dark days are behind me).

My first attempt at cooking this beautiful wedding present demonstrates how successful anyone can be in the kitchen when using good quality ingredients. What's more, I have 6 cuts to go. Dinner anyone?

If you're heading to Sydney you can find Mirrool Creek Lamb at various markets and food stores. Unfortunately there are no stockists here in Melbourne, instead you can sample this great produce at Longrain.

You can also find Mirrool Creek Lamb if you're lucky enough to be headed to Noosa Food and Wine Festival. As a finalist in the 2010 Delicious produce awards the lamb will be on display in the Grand Marquee on Saturday and Sunday and Martin Boetz from Longrain will be serving the lamb on his Spice Trail. And if you see Sam up there, send her my thanks!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Three lovely quinces from our march long weekend on the peninsula. A little on the green side, I think poaching these might be the only option. Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Mr Wolf

It's been a little while since I've been to Mr Wolf in St Kilda, but it still holds a little piece of my heart. It was one of the first restaurants I went to in Melbourne upon moving here, it was where I took S-bo when he completed his last CA exam and it's where I had potato on a pizza for the first time ever. The patate pizza comes and goes as the menu shifts, but Mr Wolf is still getting it right.

Specials for the kiddies make the venue ideal for families; but, if you're not blessed with little angels you should choose to eat a but later. Whilst providing a laid-back, casual vibe, the marble table tops and timber interiors can also bounce sound around rather effectively.

Don't be fooled into thinking Mr Wolf is just about pizza, infact the antipasto items are so moreish you might not even make it to pizza. Mt Zero mixed olives are sophistacated nibbles, but why not consume an entire course worth of food? Crumbed eggplant fritters, served with lemon yoghurt mayonnaise, have a creamy texture inside a batter so light you'll believe its healthy, and the salted fish cakes dance to a similar tune.

The famous pizzas are supplemented by a few other options, including lasagne, a wet dish of the day and, on the night we visited, a nicoise salad special, which GB enjoyed. I stuck with the basics and, just like the patate pizza experience four years ago, this visited heralded an eating epiphany: I ate anchovy on a pizza and actually liked it! Diavolo (tomato, mozzarella, anchovies, olives, capers, chilli, oregano, basil) had no overpowering fishiness, instead a mild salty seafood flavour greeted this sceptical eater.

That's not to say I'm an anchovy convert, I'll definitely try anchovy on a pizza again but on this evening I was happy to stop at one piece, particularly when we'd ordered a few other winners. Signore Lupo (my pick; roast tomato, roast cauliflower, mozzarella, sausage, pancetta, chilli) was dominated by the chilli but had a wonderful chewy texture thanks to the sausage and mozzarella, and Funghi (porcini, roasted garlic paste, mozzarella, roast mushrooms, thyme) shifted the focus onto the fantastic Mr Wolf bases (also available in gluten free). Unfortunately, a chorizo pizza special had too many toppings and the flavours got a little lost, but hey, you win some, loose some. The chorizo itself was great, it could have been served on cardboard and I'd still be happy.

One unexpected winner, particularly given the quantity of pizzas with chilli on them, was the cabbage salad. A not-quite-coleslaw offering was GR's suggestion and thank goodness we obliged. Many a diner has been known to walk out the door with a copy of Karen Martini's Cooking at Home book just so they can make this salad at home.

We glossed over Mr Wolf's dessert menu as we had another dessert venue in mind (St Kilda, dessert? Melbourne foodies will know exactly where I mean). Still, we couldn't resist a scoop or two of Mr Wolf's vanilla icecream made with the deliciousness of Heilala Vanilla pods. Thanks to the kitchen for sorting this little sampler out for us ;-)

Mr Wolf on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival

Does anything get Melbourne foodies as excited as the annual food and wine festival? Probably not. But as I sit on a plane flying to Brisbane, in the process missing the much-hyped hawker street market, I can't help but feel on the outer.

Every year my full-time job, the one that funds this food obsession, seems to get in the way. This festival sees me travel to Sydney from 13-14 March for a friend's wedding, followed by a work trip from 16-17 March. I get a quick respite over the weekend then it's off to a week-long, residential management course.

Shouldn't the entire world stop during Melbourne's food and wine fest?

Melbourne hardly leads by example, packing a multitude of festivals into one little March. We've seen the madness of Moomba parade past and launch into the yarra and we're currently enjoying worldly flavours and washing it all down with wine. Some of you may even be wishing you hadn't indulged quite so much as you squeeze into the latest trend to attend the concurrent Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Once those obsessions wrap-up we can laugh our abs back into shape at the Melbourne comedy festival. But wait, want to know how to grow all the fabulous produce you enjoyed? If you miss the Metlink Edible Garden you can head along to the International Flower & Garden show or, in stark contrast, continue your decadence at the Australian Grand Prix.

Its no wonder we're all go, go, go. Its a callenge to juggle day-to-day commitments for some, throw a "what's on" calendar at people and the city is upside down with sensory overload. The Victorian Government's attempts to bring people to Melbourne yield polarised opinions due to taxpayer funding but there's no doubt such events add to the diversity of our city. I wonder if we'd have such a vibrant food scene without the help of festivals, events and celebrations which make the city such a popular place. I'm sure it'd have some impact.

So, I have 3 days to enjoy the festival and I'd better pack as much in as possible. I sometimes find the plethora of available options overwhelming and I always miss out on tickets to hot features. It certainly doesn't help that I'm reluctant to buy tickets too far out incase I need to travel. Although that attitude is clearly justified.

To all of you who are going to many events, right down to those attending just one, enjoy!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tamar Valley Tasmania

Seven days in Tasmania. So much to eat and drink yet so little time. Planning a wedding didn't leave much time for planning a holiday in Tassie and scoping out scrumptious dining destinations. Still, one can achieve a lot with help from a tourist information centre and an iPhone, right? Wrong. Launceston's tourist centre boasted a few brochures about the Tamar Valley Wine route and that's it. What's more, mobile reception, and therefore iPhone internet access, deserted us mid way through day one. Oh!

Still, S-bo and I bravely ventured forward with our wine route brochure in hand. Our first destination was Velo, a great little winery that I have previously mentioned. What I didn't know back in 2009 was that the vineyard was originally planted in 1966 by Graham Wiltshire, who is not just a pioneer of wine in the Tamar Valley, but in the whole of Tasmania. Velo's reserve shiraz was a standout with rich flavours yet none of the brashness found in shiraz from hotter regions.

With longing eyes we bypassed Ninth Island. I knew we could taste the Ninth Island Wines just across the river at Pipers Brook (and at your local Victorian bottleshop) and we were far too early to enjoy lunch with Daniel Alps at Strathlynn. Poor timing became a feature of our trip, missing the much-hyped Angasi at Binalong Bay, new star Granite at Bicheno and Gourmet Traveller favourite Piermont at Swansea, despite staying at the resort. I guess chefs need days off too.

Instead we continued on to Rotherhythe, not a cellar door I would recommend due to their limited range, but we did have a rather interesting conversation about the importance of marriage, the local's reaction to the proposed Pulp Mill and other such meaning-of-life-musings. S-bo and I had decided not to visit any Gunns Ltd Wineries whilst in Tassie, as a stand against the pulp mill, but I'm still not sure if that was the right thing to say at Rotherythe.

To get back onto the topic of wine we aimed for Stoney Rise, which was actually the site of Rotherhythe's vines until Joe Holyman bought it and pulled out the existing cabernet savignon, planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay instead. Two labels, Stoney Rise and Holyman, deliver wine made in two different ways. Stoney Rise presents easy drinking wines with the Pinot fermented in old oak and the chardonnay bottled early. On the other hand, the Holyman label aims to produce wines for cellaring, with more complex structures. I will be seeking out a bottle of the 08 Holyman Pinot Noir from Prince Wine Store here in South Melbourne. The only problem will be finding the discipline to cellar it for a few years (or more).

Many wineries from the Tamar have limited distribution on the mainland but developing a collection of your favourites isn't a problem, despite the baggage restrictions of cheaper airlines. Tasmanian Wineries will happily send mixed cases (or part thereof) for merely the cost of freight. Leaving a case at the last cellar door you visit will be met with a smile and "no problem". It cost us just $16 to freight our case back to Melbourne.

Fortunately we had prepared ourselves a picnic lunch before leaving Launceston, because enticing providores and delis were hard to come by, something I found surprising in a wine region. A quick trip to Goaty Hill, another of my stops from last year, revealed that the Clover Hill cellar door may have been open, a very rare event. Across the river into the Piper's River region, three wrong turns and lost mobile reception later we found the rumour to be untrue.

Still, we weren't too poorly done by when our consolation price was a visit to Jansz Jansz and a bottle to enjoy with our dinner.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cottage Point Inn

So, after a nine month engagement, a fun-filled wedding and a 10 day honeymoon, I am back to the blog. But where to start after so long away?

It is tempting to skip straight to our 7 days in Tasmania, but our visit to Sydney's Cottage Point Inn deserves a mention. Whilst the boat ride from Palm Beach highlighted waterways more reminiscent of a QLD tourism campaign than Sydney's better known sights, the destination was far more important than the journey. A filling entree of house-smoked salmon, delicately layered into a terrine and served with scampi and basil mayonnaise kicked off a fabulous meal. If a rich start is not your thing, the pan fried Hawkesbury River squid with leek and squid ink risotto delivers just a much flavour, but in lighter form.

The menu is unsurprisingly seafood-you could almost imagine the fish was caught off the outdoor deck that morning. Duck leg confit was certainly tempting, but when in Rome! So instead I opted for pan fried ocean trout which flaked away beautifully to reveal a vibrant mango, chilli, cucumber and coriander salsa underneath. The citrus vanilla and hazelnut dressing was mostly citrus but overall the meal was a perfect follow on from my rich entree.

The boat allows a mere two hours or so to complete your courses, and you're encouraged to notify staff upon arrival if you want three. The caramel banana soufflé and citrus pannacotta, among others, failed to tempt me. Instead I opted for the palate cleanser from the degustation menu. A spherical scoop of strawberry sorbet served in a glass topped with Moet. I wouldn't have accepted anything less than French, it was our honeymoon afterall.

As we finished our Jules Taylor ’07 Pinot Gris, from an extensive international wine list, we peered from the deck to the water below and waited for our return boat-trip. Decadence might have increased had we taken the seaplane or stayed overnight, but I couldn’t think of a more relaxing, luxurious was to spend day 2 of the honeymoon.

Photo courtesy of Cottage Point Inn

Cottage Point Inn on Urbanspoon