Having some Greek heritage, I was curious to try George Calombaris’s take on the cuisine whilst in Melbourne. The Press Club has been transformed into the more relaxed Gazi, which has a bold menu, including souvlakakias and fries with fetta that literally every table seemed to order. I started with the chicken souvlakakia ($11), with onion, mustard mayo, chips and parsley. Whilst I found the bread a bit dense, everything else about this was perfect. I loved the charred, smoky, tender chicken, which was included in generous quantities for the price. I loved the thin chips and the plentiful mayonnaise and the parsley that brought a waft of tabouleh to the whole thing. I loved the casual, hands-on experience of enjoying this delightful wrap. Mum ordered the 400g baby snapper ($28), which was an impressive whole fish we ended up sharing. The walnut crust on the outside was utterly divine, and the snapper meat just melted in your mouth. We enjoyed the slower pace of working our way through the fish, and greedily lapped up every last morsel on the plate. With equally good service and food, Gazi is an affordable, fun, tasty must-visit for any Melbourne trip!
Gazi, 2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC, http://gazirestaurant.com.au/
I set myself the goal of visiting 5 little towns I haven’t been to before this year, and Mittagong crossed another off the list for me. We booked in for breakfast at The Shaggy Cow (not, as I had mistakenly read the sign, The Sloppy Cow) and were enthusiastically directed to our table. Let me say right up, the service here was excellent – we were well looked after by friendly and highly professional wait staff. I ordered the Eggs Benedict with bacon ($18.50) and a fresh orange juice ($5.50 for the small size). The Benedict came out with two perfectly poached eggs, plenty of hollandaise and two hash browns instead of bread, which was definitely a winner for me (no knife vs bread battles where one loses dignity). There was a lot of bacon and it was crisp and tasty – just right – and a smattering of rocket leaves broke up the richness of the hollandaise. The juice was delighfully fresh and free of ice, so great value for the portion. Everyone enjoyed their food and we were left feeling nicely full. I would highly recommend stopping by – the outdoor tables will be perfect for spring.
The Shaggy Cow, 112 Main Street, Mittagong NSW, http://www.theshaggycow.com.au/
Latkes? What are latkes? I usually try to order the unusual things on a menu, and this drew my eye for sure. I met an old friend for breakfast on a Saturday morning and we holed up along the long communal table at Bowery to Williamsburg, where you’re practically part of the kitchen. The Lox & Potato Latkes ($20) was a great side to a good catch up, with two perfectly poached, runny eggs, spears of asaparagus, a slab of cured salmon and latkes with horseradish. The mystery was solved on first bite – latkes are potato pancakes, and these were spiked with zucchini – they were filling and tasty and delicious with the kick of the horseradish. I’m generally not a huge fan of fennel, but pickled the way it was, it brought a great flavour contrast to the latkes. The cured salmon was more subtle than smoked, which was appreciated that early in the day. The asparagus was cooked nicely and had just the right amount of bite, without being stringy. This was a fun introduction to New York food for me – enough familiar elements to be comfortable and enough new things to be exciting.
Bowery to Williamsburg, 123 Hardware Street, Melbourne VIC, no website
After a fabulous savoury course, it was time for the sweets. We had tried to pace ourselves, but ended up only trying the least portable desserts, and getting the rest takeaway (thank you Buvette!). I started with the lemon meringue tart, as the lightest of all the flavours. The meringue was so glossy and soft, it just melted away into the sweet pastry and delicious lemon curd base. Yum. Next up was the profiterole – now usually I’m not a huge fan of these, as they can be bland compared to other sweets, but this one had such great quality chocolate and a caramel-flavoured filling, that it has change my mind about what a good profiterole can be. The tiramisu was a highlight, although by then I had reached dairy saturation, so only tried the coffee-and-liqueur-soaked cake – it was stronger on the coffee than the liqueur, which was probably good to counteract the sleepiness from so much eating. Of the sweets I took home, I particularly liked the strawberry friand – it had great flavour and actually smelt really great too – and the salted caramel square was also divine. Highly recommended for a special occasion, or just to celebrate the weekend!
Buvette, Hotel Realm, 18 National Circuit, Barton ACT, http://buvette.com.au/
I must say, I did judge the book by its cover with this one – I was enchanted by the décor at RPS, so we stopped in for a very late lunch-snack, grabbing a seat at the bar before the kitchen closed. The menu is an exciting exploration of South East Asia, and I couldn’t go past the temptation of soft shell crab mini banh mi ($13 for 2), plus a house made lemon iced tea ($4.50). Served in a fashionable jar, the iced tea had both lemon and lemongrass, but both were well balanced and not overpowering. The staff here are friendly and chatty, creating a welcoming atmosphere that we enjoyed. The food came out fairly quickly, and it definitely confirmed our order choice. Served on soft brioche buns, the banh mi were utterly delightful – the generous portion of crab was just the right blend of crisp and soft, bringing great flavour and texture to the dish. The house made pate added a creaminess to each mouthful, and I particularly liked the addition of pickled vegetables, which, with the fresh coriander, lifted this to a whole other level. I will definitely be back!
Rice Paper Scissors, 19 Liverpool Street, Melbourne VIC, http://www.ricepaperscissors.com.au/
I was so impressed by the variety at the Portrait Cafe that I really struggled to pick only one things for lunch – gourmet pie? Beetroot risotto? African stew? They have it all! I ended up going for something more classic – a Cuban sandwich ($15) with grilled ham, pork belly, sweet potato, gruyere, onions, pickles, aioli and mustard. Yeah, that’s quite a lot of delicious things packed into one sandwich. Luckily they all went together perfectly – pork is a perfect meat to pair with slightly sweet things, so the soft sweet potato and the sweet burger bun complemented the double pork hit perfectly. The pork belly had so much flavour and the saltiness from the ham was amazing. I’m also a bit aioli fan, so really this was a winner on all fronts. I hadn’t realised it also came with chips, which were nicely cooked (perhaps a tad soft for my taste) and generously heaped onto the plate. This was a great value, delicious lunch, and whilst I couldn’t finish all of it, I’d definitely come back to try some of their more exotic offerings.
Portrait Cafe, National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT, http://www.portrait.gov.au/content/cafe-and-shop
Manchester Press’s lunch menu is all about the bagels (oh yeah), so after a delightfully perfect soy hot chocolate (seriously, I had to confirm that it was dairy-free, it tasted so good), I ordered the Reuben closed bagel ($14), with smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and pickles. Also – bonus – the bagels are served with salted pretzels and a pickle. Yum! The bagel itself was firm but not too dense, and you get a sensible, serrated knife to eat it with dignity. There was so much pastrami on this bagel I couldn’t quite believe it – I particularly liked the spicy kick of the seasoning (it reminded me of spicy togarashi), but be warned that it isn’t for the faint-hearted. The meat was tender and tasty, just as it should be, and I loved the way that the pickles served in the sandwich were diced up and mixed throughout the creamy dressing. Mmm. The sauerkraut flavour was a bit lost amongst the strong tastes of the pastrami and the dressing, but there was enough of a tang to know it was there. Basically I’d happily eat this any day with no complaints – #cometocanberra?
Manchester Press, 8 Rankins Lane, Melbourne VIC, no website