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First try of Hanoi Hannah

A quick run through of our lunch trip today. Hanoi Hannah on High St, Prahran. There has been a lot of hype about this tiny restaurant/bar. The Facebook page had numerous fans before it officially open a week or so ago. A friend told me they walked past on Tuesday night at 10pm and the place was pumping, with Melbourne celebrities sitting out the front. To say I was excited about good, cheap, Vietnamese food on the south side would be a massive understatement. Reading the menu increased excitement levels… Yummy, springy, spring rolls, pho, something called ‘a pork belly slider’ which I was super intrigued by and spiced quail, my favourite!

Unfortunately it was not to be. Don’t get me wrong, the rice paper rolls and spring rolls were fine and I can definitely see myself cruising by to pick some up on the way home from work. The chilli prawn salad looked great and tasted great according to my dining buddy.

Prawn & chilli salad

The other two Vietnamese salads were okay but devastatingly the pork belly sliders and quail were on the *dinner menu only* dammit! The bar area is cool and the cocktails are apparently awesome but it was the last day of Feb (THANK GOD) so no cocktails for us… Overall the meal was good but not like Quan 88, it just seemed to be missing the flavour kick, whether that means spice, or herbs, or something… it was missing…. But, we paid 15 bucks each for lunch which is pretty rare and I will def go back to try the *dinner menu only* dishes that I am now officially craving! I will keep you posted…
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Seafood delight at the Waterfront

Social Saturday part 3…

After pilates, a 3 course Eurotrash lunch at Caffe e Cucina and a stinking hot engagement party in the late afternoon sun, it was back in the car to Waterfront at Station Pier, Port Melbourne… I considered a Red Bull…. Anyway, we wouldn’t normally do family dinner at such a flashy restaurant but with a super special guest in town (my aunt from the UK), not to mention my Canberrian sister and boyfriend, it seemed a good excuse to try out my parent’s local. And flashy it was! It is a HUGE restaurant, so big that when I arrived a little late from my previous engagement, and flustered after not being able to find a car park anywhere, I was unable to find my family. Even after three laps around the restaurant I actually had to call Dad to come out to the front to find me… Loser… It feels like a very ‘Sydney’ space. Not exactly intimate, but we seemed to have a small back room to ourselves. A little private function for six. A spectacular room over the water, with never-ending horizons due to some cleverly placed mirrors. I would definitely request this room if you can!

A magnificent view from the dinner table

Waterfront is known to be pretty exy so expect to spend over $100 a head for 2-3 courses and wine. We had great service and the food looked very pretty when it arrived. The menu is seafood focused with asian influence. For my second three course meal of the day, I decided on an entree of scallops with duck breast and a light, steamed barramundi for main. I also shared a number of tastes around the table. The 14 hour cooked pork belly was pretty spesh!

Seared scallops, smoked duck breast & cauliflower puree
14 hour cooked pork belly with scallop, a beetroot crisp & apple puree
Whole Snapper with caper butter & roasted chat potatoes
Seared snapper fillets with spinach, asian mushrooms & pureed jerusalem artichoke

The standout dish of the night was the paella for two. Though, I would have thought you could easily share it between three! It was deliciously flavoured with just the right amount of heat (spice) and most importantly, the thing that commonly ruins a paella for me, just enough saffron to colour the dish, as opposed to take over the flavour.

Seafood paella for two

I can’t ever go past a Bombe Alaska on the dessert menu and this one looked beautiful… I ate most of it as nobody else actually wanted dessert… though they consented to me ordering one for the table. It maybe tasted a little artificial but that didn’t stop me dammit!

Bombe Alaska for two

We had a great night! Be prepared to pay a lot which is harder to justify these days with so much GREAT competition out there but the ambience of the back room really made it.

Perfect for a special event night if you know what I mean…

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Euro-trash at Caffe e Cucina

Saturday just gone proved to be the busiest day in my social calendar this year… probably last year too. I am still exhausted and once again there wasn’t even a drop of alcohol consumed.

It started with pilates… probably not really intensive enough for the day of eating ahead….

Next off the cards; a hens day of a very special friend at Caffe e Cucina. An absolute Melbourne classic. The high standards impeccably kept since 1988!! Famous for the delicious food, the signature dish of seafood linguine cooked in a bag, or to be correct Linguine Di Mare Al Cartoccio… also the calamari is pretty damn good and pretty damn famous… But mostly famous for the charming, and ridiculously flirtatious waiters: “Ciao Bella” anyone? Our lunch was upstairs, we had the whole space and the girls didn’t need to add much to the authentic ambience. There was a piece of biscotti at each place-setting and when the bride-to-be arrived in a SUPER GLAM gold sequined dress, huge white belt and matching huge white sunnies, the Eurotrash theme (to commemorate the place of engagement in beautiful Positano) became apparent.

We had a 3 course set menu that included Prosecco on arrival and a choice of four italian wines (two red and two white) poured for the remainder of the lunch… I abstained…. LONGEST FEBRUARY EVER! I love a set menu with choice and this one had plenty. A choice of three entrees and four mains. The mains were accompanied by mixed salad and italian potato chips AKA shoestring fries. For dessert we shared a chefs selection, which for our particular lunch included tiramisu, pannacotta, chocolate mousse & lemon filled profiterols. Here are a couple of photographic highlights:

Calamari Sant’Andrea
Carpaccio di Manzo
Linguine Di Mare Al Cartoccio

I left the lunch very, very full! The girls all headed to the Royal Saxon for no doubt a bunch more drinks and I headed to a garden party celebrating a long-time coming engagement… I thought the couple had been going out for ten years but we were corrected in the speeches (by the groom) that it was actually only nine.. riiiggghhht… It was a pleasant?! 38 degrees on this fine Melbourne day… I started to complain about the heat, as I drank my 18th water for the day in the shade, until I had a look around at my friends, and their very pregnant bellies… and shut my mouth! At least I was in good non-drinking company! After a couple of hours of chatting in the shade, watching the children jumping in and out of the pool (and no doubt all wishing we were “the children” again) and I was off to my final event for the day… a farewell family dinner for my aunt who is sadly (for us and her) heading back to the UK winter…. Dinner story will be told in the next post because I am EXHAUSTED!

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Mama Baba for a special Valentine’s dinner


It was an accident we ended up having a date for five on Valentines Day at Mama Baba but a very happy accident! A food-loving friend suggested the restaurant after some rave peer reviews. The latest for the Press Club Group, a restaurant influenced by George Colombaris’ heritage. We thought about who else might to join us and another couple popped into my head… Mainly because the husband in this particular team is not really into trying new restaurants. His idea of a romantic night out would be Kooyong Tennis Club Dining Room to use up his annual food and beverage credit… Not a bad dinner location really but not really that exciting for his wonderful wife who cooks him all manner of delicious dinners…. regularly! Therefore, I called the wife regarding dinner and we locked in Valentine’s Day to at least save the boys some thinking effort (and probably their asses as it’s fairly unlikely they would have booked anything otherwise).

We were booked for a two-hour sitting between 7pm and 9pm on a shared table. The only option available for our group of five. I don’t mind sharing tables… as long as I’m not on the end sitting next to strangers right…? It was actually fine as the guys that did end up sitting next to us didn’t arrive until 8:30 so we had mostly finished, plus our group had consumed a couple of bottles of wine (excluding me as February seems to be lasting FOREVER) and were less concerned about close contact with other humans. While it was super busy, it didn’t feel too crowded. The old nightclub space was maximised with bare, high ceilings, a tricky mirror or two and great lighting, particularly around the bar areas, making all the pretty spirit bottles into decorations in their own right. It was Valentine’s Night so the crowd was mostly couples, our little group and one big ‘girl power’ group. We suggested that the waiter might get lucky later…

Food now. The pasta menu is split into Greek influence of his mother and the Italian influence of his father. We all wanted to try everything so we decided to share starters and mains… 2 pastas from each influence…

ricotta with byzantine vinaigrette
chicken parma burgers
Bucanti carbonara with calamari, crispy maple pork, pumpkin parmesan, saffron brodo
Agnolotti with chicken, thyme, melted butter and anchovy pangrattato
Tortellini of prawns, saganaki, tomato and feta
Ravioles filled with lamb, celery and topped in sauce avgolemono

Rave reviews around the table (and in many conversations since)! Favourites were split which is always good. My favourites, though both extremely rich, were undoubtably the Bucanti; Wow! carbonara AND pork AND calamari… AMAZING!… and the Agnolotti; this wasn’t one of my choices initially but I am sooooo glad we ordered it!!

“Can I interest you in some dessert?”

Der……!

A couple of cones for the crew - crunchy peanut butter and salt
OMG... what an Italian Mess...! Delectable!

I had no idea what an Italian Mess consisted of but was pretty confident if it was anything like an Eton Mess I would be okay. Core ingredients intact – cream and meringue! Okay is an understatement! I can’t exactly tell you what else is in it, except some very alcoholic jelly chunks and super thin fruit slices, nectarine I think but it was an phenomenal finish to a fabulous night. And nice and non-romantical for the boys!

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2011 part 6 – a Manly trip down memory lane

The second day of our engagement celebration weekend in Sydney started with a ferry ride to Manly. A place very special to me. Nearly every summer Sunday morning started for me at either Queenscliff or Freshie beach. An incredible place to grow up!

We hopped off the ferry and strolled along The Corso to the ocean side, to our hotel on the beach, The Manly Pacific. Beautiful! After a long walk along the beach and a couple of ciders on the balcony we headed back harbour side for dinner reservations at Manly Pavilion, 2011 winner of best new restaurant in Sydney Good Food Guide Awards. We walked through the beautiful, restored deco bar and restaurant space to the balcony, to our table with this fabulous view

view from the dinner table

I ordered some bubbles and while Ben would normally join me in bubbles or a beer, on this occasion he was feeling a little tropical and ordered a mojito… but not just any mojito….

Pre dinner passion fruit and vanilla mojito

How masculine! We perused the delicious Italian menu for ages and once again Ben denied me degustation but we settled on a selection of small dishes to share.

Manly Pavilion Menu
kingfish with white balsamic, capers and herbs
crispy pig tails salad with button mushrooms and toast croutons

I think we got a little hungry as I don’t seem to have many pics of this meal… There is no way we only had 2 entrees. Ha! And obviously we had to have a couple of sorbets for dessert

Passionfruit and sweet tomato sorbet with black sesame meringue
Peanut butter foam, banana sorbet, honeycomb, lime and ginger

Another brilliant reason to visit Manly! This is a sensational lunch destination if you are staying near Manly, in the CBD or somewhere else on the ferry network. A long, leisurely lunch and then a gentle ferry ride back.

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2011 part 5 – a super special Sydney lunch

Without giving away too many details of this awesome weekend I will tell you about a couple of amazing meals.

This particular December Friday lunch at Quay, Australia’s number one restaurant according to San Pel’s World’s Best Restaurants. To give you just a little context, we had locked in a long weekend away at Dunkeld to celebrate both of our birthdays. The plan was to stay and have dinner at The Royal Mail. I had initially wanted to go to Quay but when I tried to book, they were full on Fri and Sat nights until January, so Ben had (said we were) booked into Royal Mail…. And then, on the Thursday night before we were meant to leave for our long, long drive…. he proposed…. with a ring… in a frozen yogurt… in the freezer (haha, don’t ask!)… He did very well to surprise me on the only day of the year he probably could… His birthday. So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that he had more up his sleeve. Like when we turned off the freeway a long way before Dunkeld… into the airport.

We arrived in Sydney and checked into our hotel, which had a fabulous view across to the Opera House and down to the Overseas Passenger Terminal, the main event location for the day. Ben had managed to book arguably the best restaurant in Sydney for a long, luxurious lunch. Eight course degustation if I got my way… which I didn’t. Ha! As usual, the thought of sitting through eight courses of me and my conversation was not completely exciting to Benny so we settled on 4 courses each and I got to choose what we were both eating to ensure I got to try as much as possible! See below for some amazing savoury dishes!

Sashimi amuse bouche
Poached native freshwater marron, young almonds, bergamot marmalade, pomelo, green mango, elder, chamomile
Salad of rhubarb, endive, beetroot, purple carrot, rosa radish, kohlrabi, goat's curd, pomegranate molasses, violet
Slow cooked coturnix quail breast, stone ground semolina enriched with Alba truffle butter, buckwheat, farro, walnuts, pumpernickel, malt
Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallop, Jerusalem artichoke, juniper, bay
Spring lamb with some pretty flowers
Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil

We sat out on the balcony with a view towards the harbour bridge and felt like we were at our own private lunch. Embarrassingly so actually, as at one point Ben had excused himself and I was checking out my beautiful ring… perhaps taking photos of it…. Seeing the light reflections at different angles… different fingers… no doubt you can imagine. So.. when I got up for a bathroom break, a couple sitting just inside the window congratulated me as I walked past with big smiles on their faces… Aaarrrggghhh! What a dick I must have looked like dammit!

And then came dessert.

Eight texture chocolate cake
The famous white nectarine snow egg

Suitable impressed?! I was certainly full…. or replete as my mother would prefer I said. Completely, repletely, absolutely, incredibly, magnificantly full!

And then came truffles and the best photo ever taken on an iPhone…

Truffles at Quay and check the photography!

The only problem with this lunch was that I had spent 6  months getting over the fact we couldn’t get into Quay and looking forward to The Royal Mail. First anniversary maybe?

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Life lessons at Pope Joan

My northside brunch challenge began today with a visit to Pope Joan. I learnt two very important things:

  1. I will never be cool enough to live Northside, no matter how hard I try (and the trying thing is probably the problem)
  2. I LOVE MELBOURNE! I really do!

The morning started early. I have recently had the pleasure (?) of meeting a couple of “breakfast bitches” (who would have thought we would be putting our names and numbers on a list for a table before noon?) and wasn’t keen to see one this morning but while the place was packed (and much bigger than I though), my clever aunt had arrived earlier than me and nabbed a small table in the side courtyard. The problem with a 9:30am brunch is that it isn’t actually brunch, it’s breakfast and therefore I cannot order pork belly. I was intrigued by the polenta waffle with scrambled eggs, avo & smoked salmon and so I ordered it. For me, the only thing it needed was a chunk of butter on top… Only because when I think of waffles, I think of greasy, fattening, delicious waffles and this was much healthier than that. MOST people would MOST likely prefer it Pope Joan’s way. Ha! Chrissie ordered the roasted heirloom tomatoes, with basil and smoked mozzarella rarebit. This is going to sound ridiculous but I always thought rarebit was meat… because it sounds like rabbit obviously… when in fact it’s actually glorified (and super tasty) cheese on toast. It was sensational!! I will definitely be ordering this one next time.

polenta waffle with scrambled eggs, avo & smoked salmon
Roasted heirloom tomatoes with basil & mozzarella rarebit

Three hours later after fabulous food, coffee and brilliant conversation, plus a quick honda civic face-off, I began the trek home. I drove past a couple of other places on my northside brunch challenge list. I drove along Johnson St past Jim’s Greek Tavern (mental note: must go back soon!). I drove over the river next to the Collingwood Children’s Farm into leafy kew, and at that point realised what an awesome city we live in and how glad I am we moved here for my formative adult years… Even though I had called it Smellbourne and laughed at the brown river when initially told of the move from beachside Sydney… Oops!

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A Northside brunch pledge

I posed a question on facey the other day:

Can I please have some brunch suggestions for NOTR (north of the river)? What are your favs?

Wow, what a response! It could have been my most popular facebook post ever! So I have compiled the list in order of votes and am now aiming to brunch my way through them in order over the next 12 months or so… First stop 9:30am tomorrow at Pope Joan. Here is the list for you:

pope joan 4
three bags full 3
apte 2
auction rooms 2
the premises 2
twenty & six 2
albert street food and wine store 1
arcadia 1
backstreet 1
birdman eating 1
de clieu 1
di bella 1
eat, drink, man, woman 1
gluttony 1
ici 1
madame sou sou 1
a minor place 1
Mixed business 1
Proud mary 1
rays 1
seven seeds 1

This makes me think I should create a tab dedicated to reader’s input for places to try… Or maybe the facebook page is fine? Mapo seems to be doing very well so far!

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Rockpool & Ecco – Another double-double

So… in the week I decide to start a food diary (and not the fun kind like this), I have bookclub (uh oh cheese platter and cupcakes) and a double dining-out Friday with a work lunch and a friend’s birthday dinner. Probably not the best start to “seeing what I eat” or, on the otherhand, maybe a required dose of reality…

Lat’s talk about Friday then… Lunch was originally planned for Golden Fields, the setting of one of my best meals of 2011, I was stoked but it was then moved to South Bank, for convenience of attendees. I was also stoked with the new destination of Rockpool as I had never been in all my time in Melbourne. I am not sure why, I have been to plenty of work lunches in Crown Casino but maybe this restaurant slightly pushes the price barriers… Except for very special peeps obviously, which I mustn’t have been in my past job. Ha!

The restaurant is very grand and we sat, a table of eight, around a square table in super comfy chairs. I have always been a fan of square dining tables and the open conversations they encourage. Our napkins were placed in our laps and at first, I thought we had an alternating colour scheme going with black & white, until we realised that the service is so attentive, that you get a black napkin if you are wearing dark clothing to avoid whatever miniscule white flecks could be left behind. WOW!

The menu choice was huge. I struggled as I always do with big menus and the thought “what if we don’t come back” but also with the fact I was heading out for dinner that night… Where? I didn’t know, so trying to balance the day’s eating was a trying task. I settled on a fish crudo (basically sashimi) with horseradish, corainder, finger limes and drizzled with lemon flavoured oil. Lovely and light. And for main I had the fillet steak with Bernaise sauce, cooked rare (I had my fingers crossed for pasta on the menu later in the evening). How could I not have a steak at Rockpool really?! Around the table I saw, some other fabulous meals. Work lunch ettiquette is such, that you can’t actually just taste everyone’s food, much to my disappointment. I did however have a good friend in attendance and happily sitting right next to me. Woot! Therefore I can comment on a few other dishes and the confit duck with apple balsamic and mango (you will see it doesn’t look that pretty) was super delish. I had been told that the sides as Rockpool are almost as famous as the steaks and we were not disspointed. The roasted sweet potato and pumpkin with burnt butter was incredible, and therefore sat right near my plate for most of lunch. The baby kipflers cooked in waygu fat?…. drooling now as I write! 

Crudo of Ocean Trout, Yellow Fin Tuna & Coorong Yellow Eyed Mullet
Duck Confit with Grilled Mango & Apple Balsamic

Dessert time and I declined… sort of… Only on the proviso I could have a little nibble of my friendly neighbour’s…. dessert that is. A devil’s food cupcake. CUTE! We also ordered some cheese and coffees for the table… but I am pretty sure there was more ‘want’ for another bottle of fabulous NZ pinot noir… And we may have followed lunch with a little drinkie at The Waiting Room, a new bar, also in the Neil Perry portfolio, also in Crown. It is still February though, and I am still not drinking, so I just had ANOTHER mineral water…

Devil's Food Cupcake with mascarpone icing
Three cheese platter - goats, brie & blue
Pimms & dry at The Waiting Room AND Stacey's hand!

Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

A quick stop back at the office to pick up my car (a definite benefit of FebFast) and I was on my way to pick up Ben and go to our next destination, which I still didn’t know and was still hoping would involve pasta. Turns out we were meant to be going to George Clombaris’ new greek/italian restaurant Mama Baba but it was booked out (I was relieved given I am booked in for a VERY romantic dinner there on Valentine’s Tuesday). We ended up at Ecco da nicolini on Toorak Rd in South Yarra. A group of six of us, and this place is a favourite of four. A good sign. And it was PACKED. For good reason. What a lovely little dinner we had. And again, I wasn’t the only non-drinker. This time we had another pregnant friend, with two weeks till pop-date, and the sober (grumpy), father-to-be, who is not enjoying the heavy beer ban in the case of sudden hospital run required. Here are some pics of the ensuing meal, minus dessert because I forgot again until it was too late! But I can tell you the sticky fig pudding and panna cotta were fab!

Antipasto platter
Capricciosa pizza
Housemade gnocchi baked in a creamy napoli sauce with bocconcini

Moral of the story, do not start a food diary (the boring kind)…… EVER!

 
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A Happy Hen at The Argo

It’s February and I am four days sober…. I feel great but had my first real challenge today with a beautiful friend’s hens day… Wow, that sounds like the start of an AA meeting… I am being overly dramatic… I can still have fun without drinking obviously… I am choosing to ignore the other non-drinker for the day (who apparently thinks being pregnant is a better excuse) who told me: “you are boring when you don’t drink! Now who am I going to laugh at?” Well, I can think of a few… Just sayin’

Anyway, anyway…. Back to The Argo. What a great lunch was had! Super value too and really good service. An example, the paid-for drinks time was about to expire and after giving us a 20 minute warning, rather than just letting if go if we hadn’t gone up to the bar to re-fill, the guys came around and filled up everyone’s glasses one last time.

We sat in the wine pod, a room with walls of wine racks filled with stock bottles (not at all tempting for one on Febfast…. Lucky I saw the cameras before anyone did anything silly) We had a three course set menu with two different pizzas and a salad for entree, a choice of three mains for lunch and churros (spanish doughnuts) with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert.

The beautiful hen with her first drink
Salmon accompanied by shoestring fries and salad... I might have eaten a sweet pea or two
asparagus, fontina & pea risotto

Key out-take for the day. Highly recommend The Argo for functions. They have a few other spaces too in case you think temptation might be too great in the wine pod. Another key out-take… I am definitely more fun when I have a champagne or two at hens days… Shame I have another one and an engagement party this month…

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