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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bunny-affected caffeination

Most public holidays, the excellent publication Broadsheet kindly creates a list of venues across town that will be trading. At the time of writing, this year's list only seem to cater for Melbourne and Sydney (as per their website currently), but if you're in one of those cities and, like me, will require caffeination and at least one brunch hit while the Easter Bunny's in town, check it out.

Broadsheet 2013: Who's Open Over Easter

Monday, 25 March 2013

Adelaide: Central Market

Adelaide (or "Radelaide" as I more often hear it referred to) holds special meaning for me, because it's where my parents grew up before they relocated to Sydney in the late 1970s. As a result, I've been there a lot - particularly as a kid with the family, mainly to see the grandfolks, when they were still around. We'd stay at their place in North Plympton, on an avenue of one-storey, sand-brick houses, each and every one with a tidy lawn, neatly-pruned rose bushes, and a low fence, over which you'd chat to the neighbours. We'd hang out in the back room (because that's where the air con was), with its tiled flooring, vertical blinds, green knobbly couches, photo frames galore, and my grandfather's bar (yep, near-alcoholism goes way back in my family). Nanna would put out little bowls of Dixie Drumsticks, beer nuts and YoYo biscuits, and Grandpa would pour me a lemonade  from one of those mini blue Schweppes cans. While the grown-ups talked and Wheel Of Fortune played in the background, I'd go nuts with Nanna's Circle-A-Word books on a lap tray. Oh, those were the days.

As an adult, I've only visited Rads a handful of times. It's a city that gets bagged out a lot, and sure, it's quieter than Sydney or Melbourne. But it has great wine, parks and beaches, and is one of the most easygoing and friendly cities I've ever been to. In recent years, its Tourism Department has gotten a bit cluey and scheduled a bunch of events and festivals around February/March to boost tourism - including the Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Festival, Womadelaide, and a host of others. With grown-up cousins and new-ish friends living over there, my sister and I decided it was high time for a weekend visit.

One of my South Australian friends (whose behind is already famous from this blog, apparently) recommended the Hotel Metropolitan (46 Grote Street) for classic above-the-pub accommodation, right in the guts of the city. (This was the same awesome friend who printed out a Google map and marked out all the cool bars/cafes/restaurants/sights for us to check out! Thanks, HK! xo) The Metro is a nice old pub across the road from the Central Market, and - had we bothered checking that the rooms were air-conditioned before arriving for a weekend of 35+ degree heat - it would have been perfect for our purposes! The rooms were basic, and it was a shared-bathroom kinda deal, but it was cheap, central, friendly and relatively secure. We also shared the upstairs wrap-around balcony, which was both alarming and awesome, in equal parts.

We were in town from Saturday morning to Monday night (a long weekend for Adelaide Cup Day, and Labor Day in Vic/Tas), however, the only day the Adelaide Central Market (44-60 Gouger Street) would be open out of those was the Saturday (WHY?? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY). So we legged it over there almost as soon as we landed - to get our bearings, and hopefully some spuds*, before checking in.

We didn't get spuds, but we did get HEART-SHAPED MACARONS, YEAH

The Central Market is large and undercover (i.e. weatherproof!), mainly offering beautiful fresh foods - fruit and veg, meats, seafood, nuts, lollies, cheese and deli items, tea and coffee, bread and cakes.

Extremely large melons (oh yes I did)

Extremely large grapes (what?)

Extremely small avocadoes

It also has a few built-in cafes around its edges, including the infamous Lucia's (a traditional Italian coffee hotspot), and random stores on its outskirts spruiking new-age wares, clothes and shoes, pet supplies, and so on. It's a great place to stroll around, taking in the fantastic items on offer, the people, and the busy vibe.

Lucia's.  And people.



Grow your own wheatgrass? Sure, why not

Post-market, we had a bit more time to kill before check-in, so we went for yum cha. I didn't take photos because (a) this place didn't have trolleys, which are clearly essential for yum-cha photo-taking, (b) most yum cha foods look the same in most cities, (c) I was too busy catching up with my sister, and (d) I couldn't be arsed. But I did take this lovely photo of my sister, who is making sure we are all aware of the exact location of Chinatown in Adelaide is. (It's basically the one street, and most of it was closed... but she did purchase a very nice new iPhone cover.)

Adelaide's Chinatown

And thus was our introduction to the city of Adelaide for the gazillionth time. More Rad shenanigans to follow.

*Only the best confectionary, in the world, EVER. It is somewhat a family tradition to purchase spuds (brown, kinda marzipan-y lil ball things) from the Central Market, and it is my mother's tradition to eat them all before giving any to anyone else. So we were kinda excited that she wasn't there. (Sorry Mum... you know it's not true. xoxoxo)

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Lane's Edge, Waiter's (Club) Restaurant

Meyers Place is one of my favourite Melbourne laneways to hang out in, not least because it offers a variety of bars to choose from. Yes, there are several, but together they form a chilled-out sanctuary from the ritzy, pricey hotspots around the top end of Bourke Street (Siglo/Supper Club/City Wine Shop, Longrain, Madame Brussels, Gin Palace and 1806 all come to mind). Don't get me wrong - many of these are excellent; but when you venture out midweek on a regular basis, it's nice to know you have a cluster of affordable, more relaxed options available, as well as the schmancier, special-occasion places.

Also handy is how easy Meyers Place is to find, compared to many other Melbourne laneways. "It comes off Bourke Street, near the Parliament end," is a phrase I'm sure I've spouted multiple times to uninitiated friends. Failing that, I tell them to look for the Palace Theatre - it's almost directly across the road.

The Bourke Street entrance to Meyers Lane is marked on one side by a convenience store and by the wonderful Lane's Edge Cafe & Bar (39 Bourke Street, Melbourne) on the other. With its street seating, a dinky front lounge and an awkward thoroughfare next to the kitchen, one would be forgiven for thinking Lane's Edge is not all that flash. But its shining jewel is its courtyard: a long, red-bricked space, jam-packed with tables and decorated in a warm, kitsch and colourful style, with lampshades, palms, fake vines, fairy lights, beaded curtains, bright water jugs, a tiki-style bar, and overhead awnings and heaters for winter.

Lane's Edge courtyard, complete with palms

Funky lampshade & fake vines

It's table service, pay-as-you-go (or set up a tab), and the staff are friendly, if fleeting. The food's alright, but the main drawcard is the great vibe. It's a wonderful drinking spot, afternoon or evening, weeknight or weekend, and I have met lots of interesting people there.

Beaded curtains and vines

Tiki bar and bright water jug

As well as Loop Bar, Meyers Place Bar, Lily Black's, San Telmo, and the fabulous Bar Lourinha at its end, Meyers Place is home to one of Melbourne's better-kept secrets - The Waiter's Restaurant (20 Meyers Place, Melbourne), formerly known as the Waiter's Club. I have previously bemoaned the slipping standards of traditional, home-style Italian institution Pellegrini's, and Waiter's falls into the same category - but happily its standards remain high, and highly satisfactory.

Ugly decor #1

Ugly decor #2

It's like stepping into a 1970s Italian gentleman's club, converted into an RSL tea room. The brown wood veneer walls and tables, ugly curtains, and vinyl chairs are definitely not attractive - but it's so honest, and so durn UNLIKELY in Melbourne's dining scene these days - that's it's hard not to like!

Rave reviews from customers

High quality, personalised artworks ;) 

The staff are usually young women with model-serious faces who transform into warm, informative hostesses as soon as you ask them a question. And questions, you will need to ask. The menu is on the wall - that's it, plus a specials board above the kitchen alcove - and the items are listed in a perfunctory style: Spaghetti Carbonara, Marinara, Osso Bucco, etc. with no elaboration as to what the more unfamiliar sauce names actually translate to in the dish. But I kinda like that. It's an exclusive attitude, but one with integrity: "We trust that you'll already know what the food is, and that you'll like it."

Menu.  (Sorry for the crap pic.)

The no-nonsense approach extends to the drinks as well: all the glasses are tumblers, whether for wine or otherwise, and although licensed, the drinks menu is limited. However, I usually manage to find something to please. More often than not, it's because I've already sunk a few at Lane's Edge. =)

Tumbler city

Simple, classic garlic bread

Fortunately, the food is entirely satisfying, and really very reasonably priced. The serves are large, and there are pasta, meat and fish options galore.

Rabbit special

Mushroom risotto

Spaghetti!  Nom.

Veal schnitzel with vegies

Fettucine something or other creamy mushroom sauce ish

Simple side salad

Vegie side to the rabbit main

I love Waiter's Club so much that if I could marry a restaurant, I would be well and truly off the market. See you there in ten...

Lane's Edge on Urbanspoon

The Waiters Club / Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Easy Tiger

One of my dear friends turned 30 recently, and as part of the five-day celebration, a few of us went to dinner at Easy Tiger (96 Smith Street, Collingwood). I'd been once before and loved it - we'd had excellent waitstaff, sat out in the courtyard surrounded by funky fairy lights, and the same friend - who at that point had just discovered she was fructose-intolerant - had been impressively catered for. Considering it's an Asian restaurant (apparently highly influenced by the chef's experience in Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines), and that onion (high in fructose) features regularly in Asian foods, we were delighted that our waiter went to the lengths of marking on the menu which items were, or could be made, fructose-free.

So it was with high and gleeful expectations that we arrived for a birthday feast. My housemate and I landed first and were graciously seated street-side in ridiculously comfortable chairs, a bit low for my liking, in a rather squishy arrangement, the furniture being quite wide. We had a lovely view though, of passers-by, historic buildings along Smith Street, and the cool but quirky exterior of the restaurant.

When the others arrived, we were shown to our table indoors. It was actually a table shared with one other party, which did cause a bit of confusion later on when no one knew whose rice was whose! Otherwise it was no issue - they left us to our thing and we left them to theirs. But I wasn't a fan of the indoor part of the restaurant: it was quite echo-ey, and "didn't really flow", as my mother would say, in terms of the layout. Long tables fairly close together - obviously for maximum seating capacity - meant squishing past several other seated patrons just to get to the bathroom or front door. Hmmm.

Again, our waitress seemed lovely, and she was already aware of our fructose-related requirements since my friend had advised the restaurant at the time of booking. However, this time, no items were marked out on the menu for my friend (the waitress did run through them verbally - but rather quickly), and we were disappointed to learn that due to the fructose thing, the kitchen would be unable to prepare the banquet option for us in our 'early sitting' limited timeframe. Considering we had advised about the fructose thing in advance, that this was a special dinner for a special birthday, and that they had catered without issue for the same requirement before... I was a bit unimpressed. My friends and I often opt for the banquet option, if there is one - it requires less thinking, allows more time for chit-chat, and usually you are served a selection of the restaurant's best offerings. This time, having to choose our own dishes, we asked for advice from the waitress, which she seemed a bit unwilling to give (isn't that her job?!). Nevertheless, we eventually decided, and ordered loads of bubbles to keep our decision-making thirst quenched.

Despite all the menu hoo-ha, our entree was delicious - a soft-shell crab dish:

Unfortunately, we had to wait quite a while (I'm guessing around 40 minutes) until the mains were brought out. I would like to give the benefit of the doubt (busy night, understaffed...) but, again, in view of the fact we had arrived EARLY, given notice about the fructose thing, and were then told we wouldn't have time for the banquet option, I found the wait for the mains a bit ridiculous.

On the upside, the food was still as good as I remembered. I'm pretty sure we had the beef wagyu curry, a fish curry special, and a noodle dish (names gooooorn outta my brain, scusi):

The son-in-law eggs were fantastic, and a separate fructose-free one was also provided:

But, by far, the best bit was the desserts. We shared the amazing Chocolate and Pandanus Dumplings, Melon and Salted Coconut Cream, which made the Herald Sun's recent top 25 desserts in Melbourne, and a personal favourite of mine, the Coconut Jelly with Lychee and Fresh Mango. Both were creamy, delicate, fresh and sweet... friggin' amazeballs.

Chocolate & Pandanus Dumplings (the biggest green balls)

Coconut Jelly

I got a distant shot of the back courtyard for you - not a great one - but if you do visit Easy Tiger, try and sit out there: it's more spacious and molto pleasant.

I would definitely recommend Easy Tiger for at least one visit. I was disappointed this time compared to my first visit, but overall, the food is excellent, the service good, and on Sundays apparently the banquet option is offered cheaper than usual. Go.

Easy Tiger on Urbanspoon