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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Sydney: Riverview Hotel, Oaks Hotel

For my first night back in Sydney for Christmas (which happened to be Christmas Eve), my parents wanted to show me a great little pub they'd found in Balmain called the Riverview (29 Birchgrove Road). The upstairs dining room was booked out, but bar food was available in the main pub area on street level from 6pm. We had arrived rather hungry at 5.30pm! So we perched on semi-uncomfortable stools around a long tall table and chewed the fat for a bit.

The waiter was chummy, the wine plentiful, and the food (post 6pm) very tasty. All of us wanted the duck salad, but each ordered different things for the purpose of variation! I had the mushroom gnocchi, which was just the right amount for gnocchi, which can often be too much/too filling. My mother's prawn pizza looked great, but she hasn't expected the hidden jalapeños and extra water was required! Dad was content with his steak, and my sister's duck salad looked OK but probably not as great as all of us had hoped.

Prawn pizza

Yummy pear, walnut, rocket side salad

Steak & chips

Duck salad

Mushroom gnocchi

The pub is old-school but modernised; typical Balmain in that it is small-ish, two-storey, and on a street corner among weatherboard houses and hilly streets - but friendly, warm and efficient. We checked out the upstairs dining room before leaving - it seemed more formal, but still nice. Possibly a great venue for a party or event.

My sister and I then headed to the Oaks in Neutral Bay (118 Military Road) for apparently ritual Christmas Eve shenanigans that I had never heard of. The Oaks is a HUGE, classic pub my family have gone to since I was a little girl in the 1980s. It has been renovated and restructured since then of course - losing some features for the worse, I think (e.g. several years ago, the night before I left for Melbourne, they wouldn't serve my parents and me a shot - MY PARENTS! - and seemed to have no hot chips as a menu item, despite serving them as a side). Nonetheless, the huge oak tree in the huge beer garden is still a huge drawcard, plus there are so many bar sections, you're bound to find one to suit you. There's not much better than sitting at the Oaks on a sunny afternoon, sipping your troubles away and then sizzling up a steak on the self-cook grill plates. It's one of the few places I always make the effort to visit when I'm in Sydney.

The Oaks Hotel - beer garden


Sexy carpet in the Sports Bar of the Oaks

On Christmas Eve, the joint was packed. I'm talking wall-to-wall bodies in every bar. It was great, and fun, but obviously a bit hard to get a drink, or pick your way to the loos, only to have to wait in line. There were mainly young-ish patrons, on average probably 23-26 years old, but a few older, including a few friendly tourists... (I'm a sucker for an accent!). When I lost my sister around 1am (both our phones had died), I cabbed it home. Awesome fun; but possibly not a pace I'm cut out for anymore?! (How sad!)

Riverview Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Oaks on Urbanspoon

Monday, 24 December 2012

Three Bags Full

On a 39-degree day, two days before Christmas, I wisely set out on foot (!) to find a half-decent cafe in my new 'hood. The one I'd aimed for, New York Tomato, was shut (boo hiss) and the next closest I knew of (proximity being the key factor when walking in 39-degree heat) was Three Bags Full (39 Nicholson Street, Abbotsford). Technically, I'd walked through three suburbs to get there (East Melbourne, Richmond, Abbotsford), so I was pretty adamant I wanted a table, water and caffeination ASAP. Fortunately, being on my own meant no waiting time as it is much easier to seat one patron than two, even at a place as regularly busy as Three Bags Full. (I should drop a 'four' in here somewhere, but frankly my brain won't extend that far today.)

Happily seated at the window in brisk air-con with ice water at hand, I started feeling better. Much more so when my delicious 45ml shot coffee arrived, neatly accompanied by a sugary shortbready biscuity thing (possibly for Christmas-festivity-purposes? or possibly a regular fixture). I was far too disgruntled to easily make a food choice, so I just picked something off the menu (mushrooms on toast) and asked for an egg to be chucked on.

Best. Mushrooms. Ever.

Coooooffeeeeeeeeeeee nom.

Mushrooms, goats cheese, dukkah, poached egg

I don't know about you, but I luuuuurve mushrooms, and definitely judge breakfast places by their mushroom abilities. Three Bags Full cheffies had grilled the large serve of mushies perfectly, lobbed on some soft goats' cheese, sprinkled over some nutty dukkah and served it all up on tasty toasted bread with aforementioned requested poached egg. All most impressively delicious. My stomach is making weird appreciative noises as I write this.

My only gripes: it took me a while to get the attention of waitstaff for a second coffee (they were chatting) - but otherwise they were all very friendly, helpful and efficient - and, there were no good bits of the paper left! Pretty small issues in the scheme of things.

Total thumbs up!

Additional comments, 13 March 2013: 

Popped in here again the other day and thought I should share pics of the deliciousness for your viewing pleasure.

Twice-baked French toast with creme pattiserie, peaches and almonds


Again - blown away. Thanks, guys.

Additional comments, 13 April 2013: 

Once again, popped in for breakfast and some pre-IKEA caffeination. This time, I tried the rice pudding. It was beautifully creamy, with popping berry flavours and the satisfying crunch of toffeed almonds. Again, as always... delicious.

Rice pudding

Additional comments, 19 July 2013: 

Recent breakfast goodness... 

Smashed avocado on toast, with feta, tomato, radish, and a side of mushrooms

Three Bags Full Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Jimmy Watsons, Small Victories, Black Cat

It started with afternoon drinks on the rooftop bar of Jimmy Watsons (333 Lygon Street, Carlton). Rooftop bar, you say? Yes, rooftop bar! Venture through the staid, old-style restaurant part at the front, into the back courtyard and bar area, and just up the staircase you'll find a colourful haven covered in fake grass, bench seats, low tables, colourful cushions, fairy lights, lanterns, candles and pot plants. Quite a surprise, but a pleasant one. (I will take photos next time, promise.)

The upstairs bar and downstairs back bar seemed to be closed (this was at 4pm on a Saturday), prompting a bit of confusion as to where one buys a drink. So we traipsed back to the front entrance, bought our drinks and traipsed back upstairs to our garden paradise haven. After a while, some staff appeared every so often, offering COD table service which helped matters somewhat.

We got a bit hungry, so ordered some char-grilled bread with dips. They were standard flavours but tasty, well-presented and the waitress even provided more bread free of charge (win!). I hate it when there's not enough bread provided to use up all the dip.

This is one of my new favourite places. It's very near the corner of Lygon and Elgin Streets.

Christmas dinner with my new housemate was booked for Small Victories, a six-month-old baby on the trendy bit of Rathdowne Street, Carlton North (number 617). For the first few months it offered cafe food only, but for the past few it's also been doing dinners Thursday through Sunday. I'd heard about it for a few months but hadn't had a chance to get over and try it yet.

It's a very relaxed affair, run by a Kiwi bloke named Ben, who seems quite happy with its progress so far. I've no idea what it's like as a cafe (they use Wide Open Road coffee, so it can't be awful), but as a dinner venue it was relaxed and very professional. Our waitress also seemed very relaxed but helpful, and they were quite happy for us to float through some drinks and food at a pace slower than most snails. There were some interesting beers on the list, including a chocolate coffee porter, and my riesling was lovely. For nibbles, we ate pickled vegetables (very pickled, but I liked that), cured pastrami, and ewes' milk cheese croquettes with a honey sauce. Then cheese! A sharp cheddar and soft blue with a peach compote and quince paste. All served with plentiful thinly sliced bread. Very European and very pleasant.

On the way home we stopped at Naked For Satan, wanting to get up to the new rooftop bar to check it out and say hi to a friend who works there. But once we got past the (fairly quick-moving) front door queue, there was a half-hour wait list to get into the lift and up to the roof. The whole place was apparently at capacity, but I do find it a bit of a wank when there are a thousand bouncers around, tripping on power. Nonetheless, I'll get there eventually...

So instead, we stopped at the Black Cat (often confused with nearby club The Night Cat, as they're both in Fitzroy, but completely different) for a nightcap. The Black Cat is a cafe by day and bar by night, with chilled, vine-covered street-side communal seating. We took our high-filled wines (plus!) and perched at the end of someone else's table. Everyone was wearing drapey designer stuff and hats - sooo Fitzroy, baby. Still, it was a cool vibe. Perhaps a better venue for weekend beer-garden style grazing.

I'm gonna have to slow down soon! Silly season is killing my liver...

Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Small Victories on Urbanspoon

Black Cat on Urbanspoon

Birdman Eating

Birdman Eating (238 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) is one of those places I've been to for coffee or walked past heaps of times, without ever thinking to try the food. My new housemate informs me whenever she goes there, the breakfast special that always sounds really good has sold out, and she ends up getting the next special, which never sounds as good but is usually still yummy. I'd attempted to go for brunch here recently but it was packed, so we'd relocated. This time, it was happening! In a hangover-induced, zombie-like caffeine mission, we trudged in and sat ourselves at the window. It was hot and noisy outside, so we tried to swap to one of the footpath tables when someone left, but it had already been allocated so we had to wait. Third time lucky, we finally got a table outside (such a mission!) and our Espresso Syndicate coffees arrived quickly.

Our friend simply wanted a manly plate of eggs and bacon, something sadly missing from Birdman Eating's offerings. All the food sounded nice, but more 'bitsy' - definitely aimed more at girls, or people of short stature and small stomach. He ended up getting scrambled eggs with toast, which looked good, if simple:

I scored the vegie breakfast special, baked eggs with pumpkin, zucchini and pine nuts - tasty, but quite rich:

I liked how it was served on a bit of printed paper. Call me kitsch. The coffee was so good, I had two.

My housemate had the house-made crumpets, which looked, and apparently were, amazing:

For such an over-hyped, well-known hipster establishment, I'd expected a bit more from Birdman Eating. Something about the layout inside and the slightly snobbish attitude from staff made it not quite as enjoyable as it could have been. But the food and coffee certainly hit the hangover spot. Plus, it's local, and I'm intrigued about further breakfast specials! I'll go back.

Note: 12 June 2013

I discovered over this weekend that Birdman Eating is owned by the same crew that runs Backstreet Eating in Fitzroy, a place I very much enjoy. Read my blog post about it here.

Birdman Eating on Urbanspoon

Tazio, Virginia Plain (closed)

*Virginia Plain is now closed.*

So I completely forgot to take pics this night. At least publishable ones that don't have my friend's face in the middle. But that's okay, because this place is worth blogging about, even without pictures.

One of my best friends and I have a regular catch-up, and this one fell the week before Christmas, so we decided to make an event of it and try the much-hyped new kid on the Flinders Lane block, Virginia Plain (31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne). We were early, so went for a drink first at Tazio Birraria & Pizzeria on the corner of Flinders Lane and Exhibition Street. We sat on the upstairs balcony, which was far less sleazy-old-man-filled than the downstairs section, and had a lovely glass of Prosecco.

When we got to the restaurant, I almost walked right past. It's so unassuming-looking. It is literally next door to Cumulus, which might make it easier for me to find it in future...

I had booked for the $75 pp degustation menu (including matched wines), but this didn't seem to have been noted, as the waiter brought us menus and wine lists. Once clarified, the first wine was promptly poured though, so we were happy. And it was delicious. I wish I could remember what it was. They were all delicious. Damn my hazy alcoholic memory.

The entree was a gazpacho - pretty good, although my friend found the croutons too dry. The second dish was some kind of white fish, cooked well and quite simply. The third was an beautifully presented assortment of meat-related items, including a stuffed bone marrow thing which we both found very odd. It was basically a bit of bone with stuffing sitting on it. Obviously you couldn't eat the bone, so the stuffing bit was the marrow somehow dressed up, and it was just kind of tasteless and pointless. There was also a roasted onion, a bit of wagyu steak, and a few other quite tasty bits and bobs. Dessert was a deconstructed Banoffee Pie served in a glass. It looked lovely but neither my friend nor I like banana, so it was somewhat wasted on us. Very rarely is banana served as the main ingredient of a degustation dessert - it's not something we'd had to deal with before! Fortunately the banana part was quite chunky and easy to pick out - the rest: toffee, ice cream, saucy creamy stuff - was wonderful, and untainted by the evil banana!

Virginia Plain is a large space, coolly decorated in contrasting tones with lots of glass and solid surfaces. It felt a bit empty, even though most tables were filled, which was surprising for a place that's had so much buzz around it. I'd expected it packed and bustling! The service was fantastic and I would love to go back to try it again, without degustation-ing.

Update: 17 June 2013

Virginia Plain is currently undergoing an identity transformation. As of Thursday 20 June 2013, it is no longer schmancy restaurant Virginia Plain, but is being rebranded (but run by the same team) as the more casual Mercy Bar. Check out the official statement here. Official opening night is Wednesday 19 June 2013 - free entry for all. New Mercy Bar post coming soon!

Tazio Birraria Pizzeria Cucina on Urbanspoon

Mercy bar + eatery on Urbanspoon

Plan B, Saint & Rogue, Touche Hombre

It's always hard trying to figure out where to meet a friend from out of town. You want to suggest somewhere near them, easy for them to find, easy for you to get to, a place where you can hear each other talk to catch up, but somewhere with atmosphere so it doesn't feel dull. Plus, somewhere with a touch of Melbourne's personality is always a bonus. It's a true art form!

Unfortunately, Richmond doesn't have these places in abundance. At least, Bridge Road doesn't. (There seem to be plenty more on Swan or Victoria Streets.) My old school friend was here from Sydney with her brand-new husband and the three of us caught up for a 5 o'clock drink last Friday. I suggested Plan B Lounge (274 Bridge Road, Richmond), as it was near where they were staying, and I remembered it being fun and vibey.

When I arrived, no one was there bar a bored-looking bar girl checking her phone among the tacky lighting and loud, outdated music. Inside, the music was so loud conversation was going to be nigh impossible, and the few seating options around didn't exactly look comfortable or inviting. There were tables outside, but no chairs for them - the bar girl informed me the previous ones had been damaged and the new ones hadn't arrived yet, but I could take stools out from inside. So I bought a $5 Happy Hour vino (only good thing so far!), dragged a stool outside (no help offered), and watched the world go past on Bridge Road til my friends arrived. It's a noisy area with a few undesirables hanging around, but there was a semi-pleasant view of the town hall beyond the passing traffic:

Luckily, I was so excited to see my friend and her husband that the not-awesome venue didn't matter so much in the end, and the Happy Hour drinks made us quite Happy. Still, Plan B is less of a destination and more of a necessity. But it is probably better than the shonky old-man pubs that seem to be the only alternatives along Bridge Road.

Following the catch-up, I headed into town to meet friends at Saint & Rogue (582 Lt Collins Street). We had intended to meet over the road at The Bottom End (579 Lt Collins Street), a place I've been wanting to try for a while (their Happy Hour and American-style food sounds quite appealing), but apparently the '80s disco tunes had kicked in a bit early and propelled my friends out. Saint & Rogue was fairly filled with casual office types, beer in hand, and is a darn sight comfier than Plan B with leather armchairs, wooden decor, walls of old-fashioned books, and a much more cosy feel. I enjoyed the few hours we spent there, although the wine choices were somewhat limited and the food a bit overpriced.

We were still hungry, so we jumped a tram to Touche Hombre at the corner of Lonsdale Street and Tattersalls Lane. This place was pumping, with bright, quirky, industrial decor, loud music and attractive staff - not to mention the promise of nachos. It was really very loud, which hindered conversation somewhat, but it was 10-ish on a Friday night in December, so I'll forgive that. I spent a while enjoying the surroundings:

Because it was so late, they were only serving a few items off the menu, so we shared a bottle of wine, some nachos-y thing (Totopos, according to the menu on Urbanspoon) - pretty good, but surprisingly lacking in punch - and some Tostaditos de Pollo (chicken-y things that were deLIcious).

Tostaditos de Pollo at Touche Hombre

I liked Touche Hombre, but would like to go back at a less busy time next time, maybe earlier in the evening on a weeknight. Getting home was a bitch, too - the city was jam-packed, the buses had stopped, trams were sparse. I ended up sharing a cab in a homeward direction with some complete randoms - possibly not the best thing for a single gal to do on a Friday night. I blame alcohol. For pretty much everything. All the time.

Saint & Rogue on Urbanspoon

Touché Hombre on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 December 2012

I Am Gatsby

OK, so I'm not really Gatsby. But I might as well have been with these quaint and classy homemade Tanqueray gin and sodas with blueberry ice, courtesy of my housemate: 

Tanqueray gin & sodas with blueberry ice

They almost look like: “I’d like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around.” 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dandelion, Blue Tongue, QPO, Prince Patrick

Last week was Double-Christmas-Party-Day for me. First up, my immediate team and I went to Dandelion (133 Ormond Road, Elwood) for a late lunch - one of Geoff Lindsay's AWSBALLZ venues that we'd all heard a lot about, but never tried. Put quite simply: it was amazing.

There were seven of us (including one vegetarian and one non-seafood-eater), so we shared a bunch of entrees and then ordered one of every main we could see on the menu (from the Curries/Claypots and Coconut Grill sections). Entree standouts were the tiger prawns - HUGE and so fresh - and the soft shell crab and avocado with "Mrs T's magical sauce" - no idea what was in it, but it included shredded coconut and was fantastic. The mains I can remember were goat curry, fish curry, BBQ ribs (their signature dish - a must-try), pork belly, clams, and wagyu steak. Needless to say, the vego/non-seafood members of our party didn't fare overly well, but at least almost every dish came with a side salad.

Unfortunately, I was too busy/tipsy to take many photos, but I did take this one of my manager's dessert:

I had mini pancakes for dessert, which were topped with a shredded coconut mixture. Delish!

Our waiter was also fantastic. He knew we were 'hospitality types' and was very accommodating and friendly. I asked for a dessert wine and he gave me the leftovers of a high-end French bottle, opened but not finished by a party the night before. It was so good, I could have drunk that all day in lieu of food! But the food was great too :)

Following Christmas Party #1, we traipsed down the road to Blue Tongue (62 Ormond Road, Elwood), apparently an Elwood institution. Meh; I thought it was OK. We sat outside in 29-degree heat (fortunately, there was a canvas shade overhead) at unassuming-looking wooden benches, and had a few beers. The waitress was a cutie-patootie and my work boys very much enjoyed her looking after us! I could see how Blue Tongue would be a stalwart for locals, but I won't be going out of my way to go back.

Christmas Party #2 was in the upstairs function room of QPO (186 High Street, Kew), right on the forked junction of Kew. As this was a sit-down dinner for around 70 people, the menu and drinks options had obviously been limited. However, we did get to choose our own entree, main and dessert out of a few choices, and if I could have eaten any (I was soooo full from lunch), I'm sure it would have been quite serviceable. The wine was nice! And the young service-folk (I'm showing my age here, ha) were bright and accommodating, if somewhat bored-looking. Everything ran quite smoothly, so I'm sure QPO could be recommended for similar functions. There was also a pleasant view of the sunset from the windows.

Embarrassingly, I then went on to meet friends at the Prince Patrick on Victoria Parade - my new local. I am already on a first-name basis with most of the staff there, after having lived in my new place for only three weeks. Shameful! I was quite trolleyed and it was late, so I only managed one Frangelico on the rocks there before heading home for further shenanigans with my friends in the privacy of my own walls!

Dandelion on Urbanspoon

Blue Tongue on Urbanspoon

QPO Restaurant, Bar & Events on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Minh Minh, The Aviary, The Vic

As part of a recent challenge to try every restaurant along Victoria Street, Richmond (since I am newly local to the area), I met friends on Sunday night and we chose to dine at Minh Minh, 94 Victoria Street, Richmond. The restaurant choice was mainly made based on the fact that Minh Minh had a number of "Cheap Eats" stickers in their window, and a fair few customers inside.

We were shown to a table immediately, near the entrance and window, which was pleasant. The service was a bit hit-and-miss - but I have a feeling it's not really the focus of most Victoria Street restaurants. We'd brought a bottle of wine, which was promptly opened and poured, and our order of prawn and pork rice paper rolls for a shared entree also arrived very quickly. The dipping sauce was delicious: sweet and thick, with peanut and onion bits.

Pork & prawn rice paper roll

Between four girls, we ordered and ate almost every trace of Mongolian duck (absolutely fantastic - not too fatty or chewy, nicely charred and with not-too-much sauce), flounder with ginger and fish sauce (delicious, but a bit boney - flounder doesn't have a lot of flesh on it, unfortunately), a chicken and vegie stir fry (pretty good; no complaints), and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (for greens). It was tasty, well-cooked, very reasonably priced (less than $25 per person for everything) and served quickly. Fortunately, we were able to make a lot of loud girly noise, as there was no one seated right next to us.

Chicken & vegetable stir fry

Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce

Flounder with ginger & fish sauce

Mongolian duck

As a starting point for Victoria Street dining - I'm sold!

Following dinner, we had some delicious white sangria at The Aviary (271 Victoria Street, Abbotsford side) - it included mango and lychees, so it was really fresh and fruity - and a Hendricks & soda with cucumber at The Vic (281 Victoria Street, Abbotsford), where the bar girl interestingly suggested cracked pepper over the top (delicious, although I was fairly trolleyed by this point so anything would have been delicious!).

Hendricks, soda & cucumber with cracked pepper

It was pretty quiet at The Vic, although I guess it was a Sunday night, but I'd expected it to be a bit more vibey. It'd be a great place for a date, with its booths down the back, but wasn't exactly warm and friendly feeling. Maybe I should try the front section next time.

Planning to head back to the Aviary soon, as (a) it's walking distance from my house, and (b) my housemate and I want to try their "Cheesy Tuesday", where you get two glasses of wine and a cheese board for $25. However, I am saddened and unimpressed that, some time ago, they stopped making my favourite cocktail in ALL OF MELBOURNE: the Sticky Lips Martini. It featured vodka, Frangelico and Cointreau, with an orange peel garnish and ginger marmalade around the glass rim (hence the 'sticky lips' part...). Friggin' delicious. Then again, it's probably better they did take it off the menu - if they brought it back, I'd never leave!

Minh Minh on Urbanspoon

The Aviary on Urbanspoon

Behave yourself

A timely article (since it is the silly season, and all) in The Age today about good service being a two-way street between vendor and customer.

Bottoms up

Oh hi, blog-world.

A good friend recently suggested I write a blog about the many, many places I go to eat, drink and be merry. It does happen frequently, so I didn't think it too bad an idea. Thus: Melbourne Patron has been born.

I tend to frequent Fitzroy, Collingwood and the city most often; however, being not-from-Melbourne originally, I am always open to exploring new areas and awesome venues. Particularly if they're cool and serve alcohol. I also fly back to Sydney several times a year, and wouldn't discount the possibility that I may well blog about my adventures there, too.

My social adventures generally comprise venues of the pub, bar and restaurant varieties, but I work in the coffee industry by day, so do appreciate a darn-good dose of caffeine and smashing brunch. Not much of a clubber or picnicker, I'm afraid, but the food and drinks at those aren't overly exciting anyway. Teppanyaki, yum cha, high tea, and random events (does the Tramcar Restaurant count?) all come up once in a while.

So, hold on to yer hats, folks. Pour a drink, ready the lemon slice, and as my Nanna never said but I am prone to, "bottoms up."