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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Addict Food and Coffee

There's a new kid in town. Addict Food and Coffee (240-242 Johnston Street, Fitzroy) is so on the mark, it's almost ridiculous.

Occupying a bright site on the corner of Gore and Johnston Streets, just a block from Smith, Addict already has a strong local following, attracting custom from Fitzroy, Collingwood, and beyond. It focuses on fine coffee, great food and serious hip-hop, in a sparsely-decorated, modern venue.

Open seven days for breakfast and lunch, the cafe is currently commanding the kind of queues customary for the hippest new joint in town. It's not a huge site, but it does offer a smattering of outdoor tables, bound to be packed out as the warmer months approach. So if you're heading there for brunch, especially on a weekend -- get in early.

We didn't have to wait too long for a table, but once seated, we did have to wait a while before we were given menus. Attracting the attention of waitstaff to place our orders was also harder than it should have been. To be fair, the waitstaff did seem rushed off their feet, and this was only about six weeks after the cafe's opening in early June.

Fortunately, the coffee and food were worth the wait. Chefs Mark Boyd and Steve Hogan are ex-St Ali and have put together an appealing, confident menu of all your favourites, reinvented. I had the Potato Hash + Mushroom Duxelles with poached egg and caramelised onion. I wasn't entirely sure what the mushroom duxelles was supposed to be, but it (they?) turned out to be a kind of minced mushroom salsa at the base of the dish. The whole thing was stacked so prettily, I had to take photos from multiple angles :D

My dining partner had the Wholemeal Buttermilk Pancakes with mascarpone and poached quince - again, beautifully stacked - and a hot chocolate.

Coffee is by Padre and Wide Open Road, and is masterfully made by barista Cam Greene on a sexy matte black La Marzocco Linea, watched over by hanging potplants. (It is also available as filter.)

Owners Greg and Brooke Brassil (joined by partners and floor connoiseurs Joe and Brooke Ventura) apparently used to own GB Coffee, a micro-roasting cafe in Shepparton - so, presumably, good coffee is a high priority here in their newest venture.

The colour scene of Addict is natural and slate grey; clean and simple. Two sides are lined by large windows, and polished concrete floors, cream walls, blonde wood and dark wrought iron all feature. Unfortunately, all the hard surfaces inside meant there was a lot of white noise. However, there is the option of sitting outside, at one of the tables under the shade of a coolibah tree. (Really!)

Menus are on mini clipboards or written on the blackboard, and the concrete-topped counter also showcases sweet treats by Little Bertha. Crumpets are by Dr Marty and, according to their Facebook page, the cafe is also adopting almond milk as an alternative to soy. Trend - trend - trend... tick - tick - tick! See... on the mark. Wink - wink.

Addict is a classy newcomer in an accessible location. With the quality of its food and coffee, it is likely to continue on this wave of initial success.

Addict Food and Coffee on Urbanspoon

Friday, 26 September 2014

Bad Frankie

A refreshing departure from the current Americana food craze (is anyone else sick to death of burgers, pulled pork, po'boys and donuts?), Bad Frankie (141 Greeves Street, Fitzroy) has chosen to showcase local product instead. Rather than stocking your hospo standards (Absolut, Jim Beam, Bombay Sapphire, etc), owner Seb Costello has installed a huge selection of Australian-made spirits and liqueurs. This venue is a relative newcomer based on a very fresh idea - so I'm already a fan!

You'll find Bad Frankie just off Smith Street, buried among Collingwood's multitudes of eateries. It is actually perfectly situated for those post-dinner cocktails, when you're not quite ready to go home yet. Australiana is the theme here, shown in everything from the name and decor to the food and drinks. In fact, its Facebook page proclaims Bad Frankie to specialise in "iconic Jaffle and local Australian craft spirits". You read correctly: JAFFLE. "Home of the lamington jaffle", in fact. Oh yeaaaahhh.

Fat Pie and Classic jaffles

This is not so much a food venue, as a bar with food. But that by no means translates to bad food. Chef Michelle Boyle (formerly of Bar Ampere and Collins Quarter) has developed a simple menu of jaffles, ranging from the savoury Chook (poached chicken, house-made mayo, celery, pine nuts), a Classic cheese, or the Fat Pie (slow-braised beef with gravy and tomato chutney) to dessert jaffles, the Lamington and the Anzac Bikkie (how cool is that!). They are all very reasonably priced. What more could you want in life, I ask? Especially after a few beverages.

I tried the Chook

It was delicioso

The Australian spirits are put to the test in intricate alcoholic concoctions such as A Really Good Time (my favourite, for many reasons) (honeycomb, vanilla, vodka and egg white); Sunday Roast Old Fashioned ("lamb washed" whiskey, mint jelly reduction, rosemary); and its natural successor, Mrs French's Apple Pie (vodka, cinnamon myrtle liqueur [cool!], vanilla, cloudy apple juice), plus many more. I have said before that I am not a huge cocktail drinker (why do so many seem to taste like watered down, alcoholic fruit juice?), but I will happily partake in any or all of the cocktails here. (Please someone, hold me to that.) The drinks menu has page after page of random-sounding spirits infused with wattle or eucalyptus - pick your Australian flora of choice and it's probably in there somewhere.

Mrs French's Apple Pie

A Really Good Time (it was)

Sunday Roast Old Fashioned

Pepperberry Fizz

The name refers to a political dude in ye olde Australian times who banned something to do with alcohol, thereby delaying our drinking pleasure as a nation for many, many years. He is therefore BAD. (Nyeah, I didn't come for a history lesson. But I'm sure it's all kosher. See Bad Frankie's website for a more detailed/accurate explanation.)

The fit-out reminds me of my grandparents' home: faded sepia pictures pasted on the wall, embossed wallpaper, mustard branding, wood panelling, comfy cushions. The rope that's hanging from the ceiling to divide the two sections - yeah I'm not sure what that is, but I guess it serves its dividing purpose. It kind of adds a random fisherman vibe.

Even the glassware is cool - vintage specimens in interesting shapes or printed with gilded logos:

As the night approached, tealights in jam jars were brought out. Simple but effective.

Service was friendly and casual, which I liked.

The only downside of this joint is the slight stench of stale cheese when you walk in. It is to be expected, what with all the cheese jaffles produced there, and you do adjust pretty quickly, but it made my nose wrinkle the first time I visited. Perhaps in summer time, those big front windows will be opened and the smell would dissipate.

Nevertheless, I am keen to revisit Bad Frankie soon for a cocktail and jaffle or three. I hope it sticks around for a while.

Open every night but Monday.

Bad Frankie on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 September 2014

Ballarat and Surrounds

I realise it's a little generic to title this post so vaguely, but my visit to Ballarat a few weekends ago has been my only experience of the place. It's just a 1.5 hour drive from Melbourne and it had been a toss-up whether to go there, or to Bendigo. (They're very near each other and both start with 'B'... it seemed like much of a muchness to the uninitiated.)

It was a good decision. I was surprised at how genteel - and hilly - Ballarat is. There is some gorgeous historic architecture, which makes sense, when you consider the town's role in Australia's Gold Rush, and, with its wide streets and the central Lake Wendouree, it's quite pretty. Here are a few snaps from the weekend.

I loved how some buildings were clearly built in the Art Deco period.

There were several rotundas down the main street.

There were also lots of statues... of whom, I couldn't necessarily say. But this dude is pretty self-explanatory:

Gorgeous old industrial buildings:

Another great facade:

The accommodation we stayed at, Ballarat Premier Apartments, was beautifully decorated in its recent renovations, and featured a chandelier in our room (and many of the others, apparently):

I loved that this was even an option:

The lake on a winter's day.

Early evening at Lake Wendouree:

On the way back to Melbourne, we took the scenic route and found this great little pub in Dunnstown:

It had a picturesque pool room, complete with firewood:

There was lots of naturally occurring wattle growing alongside the road on the way back to Melbourne.

And beautiful country roads, like this one:

Who could say no to that?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Anju Restaurant + Bar

Some friends wanted to try the new Korean fusion joint Anju Restaurant + Bar (18 Little La Trobe Street, Melbourne), so I happily joined them for an early Friday dinner. Not having eaten much Korean food previously, I'm still learning about what constitutes 'traditional' Korean fare, so I was interested to see how this place did 'fusion'.

Owner Young Choi went from a retail background to opening a completely fusion restaurant (combining Spanish, Mexican and Japanese), before adapting to patrons' requests for more the more traditional foods of his native background. The result is a schmick, modern restaurant/bar down a dodgy-looking CBD street, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Let me break it down for you...

The style

Anju has a warm industrial feel with traditional accents. Wooden floorboards, tables and decorative features (like planter boxes and wooden toy trucks hanging overhead) are interspersed with hard industrial surfaces like exposed concrete, stone bricks, metal plating, clean tiles, and dark wrought iron constructed almost like lattice.

Crockery is chunky and neutral-toned, cutlery is wooden, and menus are on textured coloured paper with a twine criss-cross overlay (again, like lattice). Everyone's current favourite, exposed-filament lightbulbs, give the venue a warm amber glow.

Old black-and-white movies are projected onto sections of wall (Casablanca was playing while we were there) and are also featured in old Korean posters covering the bathroom ceilings (the bathrooms are actually pretty cool!).

Music is upbeat and contemporary, but not distracting. The whole effect is warm and comforting - reminiscent of the past, but in a carefully thought-out, modern setting.

You can sit at low communal tables, tall bar tables, or along the counter, where you can listen to orders being shouted out and directly oversee all the action of the kitchen. Such an open design - although sometimes noisy - is actually quite clever, because it draws you in and makes you feel involved.

The service

We were mainly attended by a charming gentleman who did his best to answer our queries and patiently put up with my photo-taking (he even posed for a few pics!).

All the staff seemed to pitch in wherever they were needed - there was none of that, "I'll just get your waiter" bizzo. There were always staff at hand, often checking in and refilling our water, but not constantly bombarding us with over-service [if it's not already a word, it should be!]. All were friendly, polite, and on the ball. My handbag started the evening on the floor and by the end of the meal, had magically been hung up on a hook behind me. (I didn't even notice... hmm.)

The only downside in service, I would say, was in the explanations of the food. Not being very familiar with Korean cuisine, I did need a bit of help, and explanations weren't always clear in the menu (there were lots of words, but they didn't say much, if that makes sense). To their credit, the staff did try, but they could have been better versed in succinct explanations of the dishes and drinks. One young lady did her best to explain 'makgeolli' to me, but in the end, the only way to understand it was by trying it.

The drinks

'Anju' refers to food consumed with drinks - sort of the Korean equivalent of Spanish tapas, or the Japanese izakaya. Needless to say, the drinks list at Anju is substantial and pleasingly original. I had never tried makgeolli before, and it turned out to be a cold, fermented, rice-based, non-carbonated drink, low in alcohol (8.0%), served out of a large round pot with a wooden ladle and drunk out of small cups. I would describe it as cloudy sake meets beer, meets Yakult. It was sort of sweet, and oddly moreish. At $16.00 for 1.5 litres, it was also pretty attractively priced!

Other options (that I can remember) on the drinks menu included craft beers, soju, and exotic-sounding fruit cocktails (available by the jug).

The food

We started off with grilled eggplant, cut very chunky and a bit acidic tasting, countered by a sweet sauce and accompanied by different types of mushrooms. I liked this dish, but I didn't love it, and I wondered what was to come.

Eggplant and mushrooms

Next: three raw fish - a neatly presented flight of three separately treated, different kinds of raw fish. The first one was tuna served with an apple vinegar, then kingfish cured with lemon, and finally salmon with orange - an inspired combination! I don't know how I've never come across this before, but the sweet acidity of orange perfectly cut through the oily, fleshy salmon. Amazing.

Raw tuna with apple vinegar

Kingfish with lemon and pickled radish

Salmon and orange - divine!

Popcorn shrimp - exactly what it sounds like - was fun to eat and tasty.

Popcorn shrimp

Then, a raw beef dish, not unlike steak tartare. We carefully whisked the egg yolk in using chopsticks, and the waiter kindly pointed out that we could also mix in the julienned accompaniment, which I *think* was apple (but I can't be 100% sure!). A squeeze of lime over the top and this was a surefire winner.

Raw beef

Finally, the fried chicken. I was surprised by the generous size of both the dish and the chicken pieces. The chicken was meaty (not too much bone or sinew), coated in a sweet sauce (but not too sweet!) and sprinkled with nuts. It was moreish and nicely filling.

Fried chicken

The cost

I have read reviews that pitch Anju on the pricey side. I actually found it to be the opposite. Perhaps in comparison to other Korean restaurants, it may be more expensive (I wouldn't really know), but our total bill came to just $112.00 for three people, including drinks. I'd say under $40 per person for all that delicious food and heaps of makgeolli is pretty damned good!

Overall, I really enjoyed Anju (phew, try and say that ten times fast!). I have been looking for an excuse to go back, and think I'll have to make one up soon. Maybe Korean food is my kinda thing, after all?

Anju Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon