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Spotlight on SO’ME… with Truffles!

When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived right on the cusp of Southbank and South Melbourne and as KP was still working in Auckland, I spent many an evening after work and many a Sunday afternoon wandering alone through the two areas.

The atmosphere and pace of life of these two adjoining neighbourhoods are vastly different – worlds apart. Southbank is one of Melbourne’s main centres of entertainment and nightlife, thanks to the massive Crown complex and the Southgate precinct, comprising a casino, cinemas, upscale shopping and countless restaurants, food courts, bars and clubs. So, by night, Southbank buzzes with excitement, and by day, it’s a haven for families – you can stroll along the river with a gelato in hand, or there is the Melbourne Aquarium. On the residential side, City Road is littered with high-rise apartments and the Southbank Boulevard area with low-rise ones.

South Melbourne, in contrast, is a much quieter neighbourhood which feels every inch more like a suburb than part of the inner city. Cute old rickety houses populate green, tree-lined streets along with unassuming but often very good cafes and bars also hiding among them.

Clarendon Street serves as its main road and “town centre”, containing everything you could need from supermarkets, pubs, Asian and pizza takeaway joints, Max Brenner, a fish and chip shop (Hunky Dory), Nandos and Grill’d, Telstra/Optus/Vodafone stores, a hardware store, even a printing shop. More recent additions include a modernised Vietnamese pho eatery cheekily called Wat Da Pho and a Malaysian restaurant.

But I believe the real linch-pin of this neighbourhood is South Melbourne Market. I’ve been to quite a few markets in Melbourne, and this is by far my favourite in terms of size, selection of vendors and most importantly, the atmosphere. I now live closer to Queen Victoria Market, but I still always to go to So’Me for all of my meat and produce needs. QVM is too messy, scattered and busy, and somehow the people who shop at So’Me just seem more well-behaved and considerate. Maybe it’s the snob and yuppie in me?

South Melbourne Market has been around since 1867, which makes it 11 years older than its more famous cousin Queen Vic Market, and is also the oldest continually running market in Victoria. Some of the highlights include The Fresh Pasta Shop (don’t let the unoriginal name fool you), Fruits on Coventry which has every herb for Asian and European cooking you could dream of, Padre Coffee for their coffee, Clement for their amazing filled donuts – a variety of flavours available every week (together these two coffee shops are bringing hipster culture south of the river), Georgie’s Harvest for their impressive selection of potatoes and root veges as well as their knowledge and enthusiasm about what they do, and of course most of the butchers and poultry shops are also of a great standard. There are a few cupcake shops and places that sell macarons, and all are fine but none have wow’d me so far.



Here, also, is the practically iconic South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – opened in the 1940s, this was one of the first places responsible for popularising the unique Melbourne-style “dim sim”, not to be confused with dim sums (Cantonese for “snacks”, usually dumplings). A Melbourne dim sim is basically a giant-ified pork siu mai but about twice the size and usually served deep-fried and somewhat adapted to the Western-dude-eats-Chinese-takeaways palate. I’m not the hugest fan – they can’t hold a candle to the delicate steamed dumplings you get at a good old traditional yum cha – but they’re great for a quick winter snack if you get hungry while grocery shopping.

Out of the restaurants attached to the market, my favourites would probably be Simply Spanish and Claypots Evening Star, although one visit to Koy convinced me that it’s not too shabby either. Aside their table service, Claypots does a roaring “street food” trade of skewered BBQ octopus and fish rolls, while Simply Spanish cooks up huge paellas outdoors that serve as a perfect gourmet takeaway dinner.


Also worth checking out nearby: Passionfoods (behind the market, on Ferrars Street, below the Tram 96 light rail) – a well-stocked whole foods grocer which has all the healthy/vegan/organic products your heart can desire, which I much prefer to the smaller organics shop within the market itself – and Chef’s Hat (just across the road from the market) – a huge kitchen supply (and appliance) store with reasonable prices.

^ Passionfoods

^ Passionfoods

^ Chef's Hat

^ Chef’s Hat


Then there’s Coventry Street, running perpendicular to the market, which, lined with its variety of charming fashion, art and homeware boutiques, independent bookshops and cute brunch spots, could be my favourite part of South Melbourne.

My personal food favourites here include Giddiup, a tiny, cute cafe with good coffee, and wood crates for seating, Chez Dré with its delicious breakfasts, French cakes and pastries and delicate macarons.

Amongst all the other wonderful finds on Coventry, I have a soft spot for OnStone – a studio where you can have your own photos and images printed on stone, framed lovingly with recycled wood and backed with recycled styrofoam, and there are also pre-printed art pieces for purchase. Their service is excellent and they once rushed a job for me in 2 days, when I needed it in time to fly back to New Zealand with a Mother’s Day gift, and even let me pick it up after hours.

Adding to the delights of Coventry – Gigi a la maison (photos above), an adorable little boutique full of French-themed household items; a design store I can’t remember the name of with funky random homeware and apparel stocks big stackable crayons, wallets made of recycled paper (many with prints that also happen to appear on Black Milk items), and scrunchable city maps that you can “crumple” up and stick in your pocket on your travels; Nest, with natural skincare and gorgeous homeware galore; and Coventry Bookstore, which has a carefully curated selection of books, a clean, appealing and modern interior and a little children’s nook at the back.

Not particularly interesting but super convenient is the stretch of Clarendon Street between Coventry and Dorcas Streets, which are filled mostly with chain establishments such as Kikki K (not that there’s anything wrong with Kiki K!) and Coles and others I mentioned earlier, like Max Brenner (again, who doesn’t need some Max Brenner hot choccie on a wintry day?)
There’s also a pretty florist and a cute cafe called the Old Paper Shop Deli that I frequented when I first moved to Melbourne as it had such an enticing window display of cakes and sweets (which in taste weren’t always as beautiful as they appeared).

Of the various joints scattered throughout the rest of the neighbourhood, I would mention Garamerica – a good Indonesian restaurant, Dead Man Espresso – they really know their coffee and have beautiful blends as well as single origin beans, Lamaro’s Dining Room and Bar – a great gastropub with a charming atmosphere and a host of devoted regulars and who once took KP and I on a wine and produce tour of the Mornington Peninsula followed by a degustation meal of wild mushrooms and duck and other delights back at the bar, Peko Peko, the Taiwanese cafe I reviewed recently, Hercules Morse, a small bar named after a dog in New Zealand children’s book with an excellent sharing plates menu and friendly, attractive bartenders… and then of course, St. Ali.


Located in a quiet, graffiti’d lane off Yarra Street (which is off Clarendon), St. Ali, along with Chez Dré, was one of my more regular brunch haunts back when I lived on the edge of South Melbourne. I believe I’ve been about seven or eight times, which for someone who likes to constantly be trying new places is quite an achievement. But why? The coffee is excellent, but I’m not a huge coffee drinker nor a connoisseur, and the food, frankly has been hit and miss and I tend to like Chez Dré dishes better. It has to be the combination of a few reasons – firstly, the buzz and atmosphere play a big part. It’s just such a happy, vibrant place to be on a Saturday morning, and the service is efficient but warm, especially if you ask them about the coffee specials. Secondly, when the food is good, it’s brilliant.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Thirdly, they have seasonal menus, so it’s always worth going to try something else to see if you’ll love it. Fourthly, well fine – it was hip and trendy and maybe we bought into that just a little. Fifthly (I think we might be getting to a number where this isn’t really a word?) they had great lamingtons at the counter and I would grab one to take with me after brunch and sixthly, well, they were just super close.


And then each winter, there’s an extra incentive to head to St. Ali. Truffles. The fungi kind, not the chocolate kind. Fresh, marbled, deliciously aromatic. There’s a sort of shed next to the cafe which played host from July 4th to August 10th to Madame Truffles, a seasonal pop up shop for fresh Australian truffles. When you went in, the helpful and knowledgeable staff would let you smell a variety of truffles and then select the one you wanted to take home. They would point out to you the beautiful marbling detail in a cross-section and explain the differences between the truffles sourced from various areas.

Truffles were priced based on origin and weight, packaged in a little glass jar, and you would take home along with it a little piece of card with the name of the dog who had found your truffle. It was a really cute touch. The first truffle we bought was from Deloraine, Tasmania, and Rex was the doggy who had sniffed it out for us. When we returned, we chose a truffle from Braidwood, NSW and it was a labrador named Sal who had discovered it.

Next door, in St. Ali itself, they were serving the seasonal special dish of truffle toasties, which were as delicious as they sound. Truffle, pecorino and truffle vinaigrette on toasted sourdough – it doesn’t get much better than that. I wish I could share a photo of it, but it was on a phone that I stupidly wiped without backing up before selling it.

Simplicity was the key here – let the truffle’s truffliness speak for itself! Inspired, I went home and experimented with a few dishes and I shall be posting those which I think made the most out of the beautiful truffles we obtained this winter.

Frolic

This is an imported/archive post.

I can no longer remember how I discovered Frolic, but it was in some random fashion over five years ago and it left such an impression on me that I returned several times that year despite it being located nowhere near where I lived.
Since moving to the city I hadn’t been back at all, but I’d never forgotten the charming café which was packed each time I visited. A few weekends ago while trying to think of somewhere nice to have brunch outside of my usual CBD haunts I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to go for a wee drive out to Royal Oak for some of the best eggs benny in Auckland.

Frolic is sort of in the middle of nowhere – there are no other places to eat in sight with just a few basic shops in the same block, residential houses occupying the rest of the street on one side and Cornwall Park covering the other. All this probably helps business, however, if there was any competition Frolic’s merits would surely stand up against the toughest.

On their website, they describe their service as being “relaxed yet attentive” and that is just the right wording to describe the friendly and amiable staff. I could just about say slightly too relaxed, however, as the food seems takes a wee bit longer than the norm to arrive – but that’s also true of some of my other favourite places (such as Café Melba on Vulcan), and it’s totally worth the wait.

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

I am a sucker for potato hash with any sort of creamy sauce (or let’s face it, just potato in general) so I ordered Frolic’s version with lemon oil, poached eggs and their house-made hollandaise. You can choose to have with it either bacon or salmon but I always find that hash goes better with salmon. I’d never actually tried this from Frolic before but I’ve always been a real fan of their hollandaise so I knew it couldn’t disappoint – and it didn’t. It’s basically salmon benedict atop potato rather than muffins and yet so much better. We all know that plain mashed potato can be a little dry on the palate and the delectable lemon oil helps with that while also making all the difference taste-wise, being subtle yet a little zesty. Without it, the potato is seasoned with herbs and flavourful by itself.

The eggs were poached to my exact preference – slightly runny if given a good poke – and the hollandaise sauce was divine as always. The presentation is also lovely, but I thought they could possibly be a little more creative with this dish so that it doesn’t resemble benedict quite so much. For example, at Café Melba they have a comparable menu item where small bits of dill and salmon run all throughout the potato hash. I still prefer Melba’s rendition but Frolic comes a close second.

On the table, my meal looked almost identical to Stuart’s actual Salmon Benedict. It tasted similar as well, with the same delightfully soft pink salmon and that rich, creamy, eggy sauce. The benny lacks the addition of the lemon oil, however, the use of toasted bagel in place of muffin, though not uncommon now, is still a nice touch. It does make an already extremely rich meal very filling indeed!

Frolic boasts of their excellent coffee (100% Arabica Beans supplied by Melba Espresso), and from memory it is pretty good. On this particular occasion, I made the mistake of ordering the iced coffee which is disappointingly not made from their espresso but from a powder – non-espresso iced coffees served by a place that specialises in coffee is really one of my pet hates! In other establishments I don’t mind this so much as long as the end result is suitably delicious.

With a casual yet trendy atmosphere, Frolic is visited by all sorts of patrons who just enjoy their good food and coffee. Away from the bustle of the city centre, this is a more relaxed, slow-paced way to spend an hour or two of your Saturday. You might see a family taking the kids out for a weekend treat, or an older couple seated quietly in the corner sipping tea or perhaps a group of chattering young ladies enjoying an alfresco vino. There are two outdoor areas with a few tables outside in front of the café and a partially covered deck at the back – it’s really a bit like a house with a back porch.

The menu is fantastic – nothing too outlandish here, just all of the brunch and lunch favourites at somewhat upmarket prices… but which are, based on all I’ve tried, done really well. There is also a well-stocked deli cabinet full of inviting savoury alternatives and tempting baked treats.

As an added bonus, you can follow up your lazy lunch with a relaxing stroll around Cornwall Park.

Address: 653 Manukau Road, Royal Oak, Auckland, New Zealand
Website: http://www.frolic.co.nz/
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 7.30am-4pm
Sat-Sun: 8am-5pm

 

The Melting Pot

This is an imported/archive post.

The Melting Pot is a little café in Takapuna that has always been popular with the locals and its many loyal patrons. The decor is unpretentious, the ambience relaxed, and young people enjoy going there for that reason. It’s probably one of the less upmarket of the establishments on Hurstmere Rd but come brunch time on the weekend, still enjoys that lazy kiwi summer atmosphere of the beach-adjacent street.

That, at least, is the Melting Pot I remember from 8 or 9 years ago. What I experienced last night was quite different.

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

When I went to high school on the North Shore, my friends and I would sometimes come here on a Saturday or Sunday morning, a little hung over, perhaps. We’d order a coffee, maybe a seafood chowder or “Thai” curry. You see, before Fusion became popular they already offered a mixed cuisine menu – dishes from all around the world. Hence the name.

Yesterday, we were “in the neighbourhood” and after checking out the beach, on the hunt for some coffee and a bite to eat. A bit of nostalgia and a lack of other casual options brought me to the Melting Pot. I remember thinking how unimpressive it looked. It was a nice, clear evening and some of the bars and restaurants further down the road were packed with people having a drink after work. Here, there were just a few tables, one of middle-aged Shore ladies with tiny dogs. (What is it with Takapuna and miniature dogs? The beach was full of them!)

The menu had as respectably varied a selection as I remembered – and the Thai green curry and the Nasi Goreng were still there. I wasn’t too hungry so I ordered an entrée – haloumi, zucchini and basil polenta fritters – which I was told would suit one person for a small meal. After confirming that they made their iced coffees with real espresso I ordered one of those too. At $14.50 and $5 respectively, these are pretty standard café prices I wouldn’t think twice about as long as the quality was decent.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Unfortunately, what I ordered did not even arrive at first. The person taking the order had written down unclearly something starting with “H” (for haloumi) and the chef had mis read this as “Hawaiian” and made me a hawaiian pizza. They apologised for the mistake and fairly promptly brought me the correct order and a bowl of complimentary fries as compensation. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Look, I’m not as anal as some are about things like that – I accept from most places the odd mistake especially at busy times, but with as few guests as there were that night and the simple nature of the error, it seemed stupid and easily avoidable.

When they did arrive the fritters seemed a little dry and overcooked. Taste-wise they were good and had potential, but there were just five small fritters and the rest was salad – bad value for money considering the average quality. The pomegranate yoghurt was a tasty addition which I appreciated given the dryness of the fritters. The salad leaves were new and fresh but the dressing was really unremarkable.

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Stuart ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken which was supposed to be served between toasted focaccia. To me it just looked like a normal burger bun. The dish looked kind of awful – the bun was blackened on the inside and the chicken was overcooked and somewhat burnt as well. I had a bite of the burger and it didn’t taste quite as bad as it looked – the chicken was spiced, although not as spicy as you’d except jerk chicken to be, and it was dry but there were decent tasting sauces to help with that. The bread tasted nothing like focaccia. The side of french fries (as well as the fries in the bowl they comp’d us) looked very dry or stale but were in fact just overly soaked in grease and were edible with the aoili, though far from good.

After coming home, I looked up their details on the internet and tried to find a website – there was none. Mistake, I think. I did find a few reviews that basically voiced how I felt – that the Melting Pot just isn’t like it used to be.

It was a somewhat disappointing night but I still didn’t regret the revisit for old times’ sake.

Address: 99 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Daily: 8am-10pm
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