Eat here: Pillar of Salt, Melbourne (café/brunch)

Pillar of Salt
541 Church St, Richmond
http://www.pillarofsalt.com.au/

It’s almost weekend brunch time again!! YAYYY!!! Now that I’m feeling a bit more freedom to go out and actually enjoy my weekend brunches, I’m really enjoying ticking some cafes off my to-eat list. Last weekend, I finally got to Pillar of Salt in Richmond, husband in tow (he’s my favourite brunch buddy), even though he’d rather go to Fitzroy than Richmond.

When we arrived at Pillar of Salt and he saw Dennis Cometti sitting out the front, he had quiet fan girl moment and decided that if this hipster establishment was good enough for Dennis, it was god enough for him, too. Thanks, Dennis, I owe you one mate!

I saw immediately why Dennis and so many others chose to brunch at Pillar of Salt – gorgeous café, lovely staff, very sexy sweets cabinet on entry, it was all there. We sat out the back in the undercover courtyard area, which was perfect on a sunny morning for pale people like me who want a bit of the outdoors without getting burnt. A quick scan of the menu and orders placed, our tea and coffee came our pretty quickly considering how busy it was…

Husband, a relatively new coffee drinker, isn’t too fussy (yet). It’s generally either “shit” or “not shit,” and occasionally “yeah, good;” these guys got the high distinction of the raised eyebrows and “really good.” As was my tea. Also, love your teapots!

Food followed fairly promptly, with husband’s choice being the red chilli scrambled eggs with bacon, spring onion, parsley, parmesan and toast, plus a serve of hash browns. As per usual, his complaint was that it wasn’t spicy enough. I tend to discount that feedback because unless he’s sweating and hallucinating, nothing is ever spicy enough. Other than that, he was happy, particularly with the sweet potato hash browns that had little bits of bacon in them. So good!

I’m a sweet breakfast eater, so I couldn’t go past the American style buttermilk pancakes with mange, berries, creme fraiche, green tea jelly and Canadian maple syrup. I mean, look at it…

Big, fat, fluffy pancakes got a huge tick from both of us – they are deceptively enormous and filling, so husband happily got a bit, too. I loved the green tea jelly bits, and the maple syrup was phenomenal! The crème fraiche was a great addition to balance all the sugary goodness out, because it was a very sweet dish. I find pancakes to be the ultimate indulgence breaky; I don’t order them often, so when I do, I’m always stoked when they’re this good  : )

Couldn’t have been happier with the mornings’ proceedings, happy to have finally ticked another spot off the brunch list and found another amazing place I’d happily go back to. Any recommendations for this weekend?!

Pillar of Salt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tea time: Juno & May, Melbourne – in lieu of a Valentine’s Day post, because I’m not into it

Juno & May
662 Burke Rd, Camberwell
http://junoandmay.com/

I’m always surprised when people ask what I got up to for Valentine’s Day and if I got “spoilt.” I’m not a Valentine’s Day kinda girl. After almost 12 years, I’m still completely in love with the man I’m lucky enough to have, and I know he loves me. But we’re not the mushy, over-the-top, lovey dovey, honey-darling-sweetpea types. You’ll never hear us talking to each other like we’re in a bad soap opera (and hey, to each their own, I have no problem with people who do – it’s just not for us!) or pashing in the middle of the supermarket or writing poems to each other. You’re a lot more likely to see our love played out with one of us doing something demented like tripping over an uneven sidewalk, the other saying “you’re a dick… but you’re my dick, so I love you anyway,” and both of us laughing hysterically like teenagers. Or trying to push each other into a pile of dog poo on the side walk (it started off one day with him shoving me out of the way to avoid a pile of poo; it’s now warped into a child-like game of trying to catch each other off guard. Because we still often act like children…).

We also spend a lot of time together, because frankly, we are each others’ best friends. We spend plenty of time apart, as well, but we always make an effort to have at least one day on the weekends for just us. That’s why V-Day isn’t a big deal for us; we don’t wait until Feb 14th to go out for a nice lunch and a glass of wine and put our phones away and just talk, we do that sort of thing almost every weekend anyway! And we don’t do presents either; instead, it’s an all year round effort, because (I know how lame this sounds, don’t worry), we actually love each other all year round. I hate coffee, but am more than happy to make one for him in the mornings when he’s struggling to wake up and I know it’s gonna be a long day for him. In turn, he always puts the kettle on for me in the morning for my pre-work cuppa, and when he knows I’ve had a long day at work, I’ll often walk through the door to a pot of tea and a biscuit sitting on the kitchen table waiting for me. It’s those little things that are bigger gestures than any piece of jewellery or bunch of flowers, to me.

So anyway, Valentine’s Day this year. I love trawling through markets on sunny weekends, so he thoughtfully suggested a walk around Camberwell Market (one of my favourites in Melbourne) before lunch, which I couldn’t have been happier about! But first, sustenance. We skipped breaky so we could enjoy a nice lunch, but thought we’d grab some tea and coffee and maybe a little pastry before we got to the market; enter Juno & May.

Up on Bourke St, a few minutes walk from the market, this place is ready to caffeinate and fuel you for the day. They do breakfast and lunch (menus looked amazing!), but we were just there for a quick pit stop. Husband’s coffee was pretty as a picture, and pretty good too. My tea was hot and strong, just the way I like it. And the almond croissant was phenomenal – golden and crisp, no burnt bits, heaps of almonds on top, and absolutely huge. While I can imagine it’d get pretty busy later in the day, it was a beautiful spot to start Sunday morning off in; sitting at the bench in the window with plenty of sunlight made for great people watching and a perfect little perch to talk plans for our upcoming travels and our home and our goals and our lives.

A pot of tea and a few hours market trawling = perfect Sunday morning combination! Also, massive points to the husband for carrying this very heavy, very beautiful vintage tea pot I scored early in the trip. He, this big, strong, tattooed man, carried it around the market all morning so I’d have free hands to hunt for more bargains, and that’s the sort of stuff he does that makes me love him more every day  : )

Sunday morning in Collingwood. And, Eat here: Donut Shop Donuts & Coffee, Melbourne

Guys, I’m so excited… it’s Friday, which means it’s almost time for OKTOBERFEST!!!! If you’ve been playing along for a while, you might remember last year’s backyard Oktoberfest, complete with pretzels and mustard, cookies and beer, and most essential of all, good friends to enjoy the night with! We had so much fun, we decided to do it again over the weekend, which you’ll no doubt hear all about in a few days…

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But before the good times roll, we had to venture out last weekend for a few more supplies with which to complete the man cave’s transition to beer hall; we ended up in my favourite ‘hood, the Fitzroy/Collingwood district that I love oh so much. After leaving the car off Smith St and grabbing a quick cuppa at Harry Monty Flavour, we walked up to Gertrude St so I could pick up some of my favourite ETS English Breakfast tea from Aunt Maggie’s on Gertrude St, and, filled with nostalgia, we decided to keep walking.

See, husband and I went to university just behind Gertrude St, at ACU. That’s where we met. That’s where we studied. That’s where we earned our degrees. That’s even where we had some of our wedding photos taken! That area was our home away from home for three years, and it was nothing like it is today! We walked slowly up towards Brunswick St, thinking back to our uni days, marveling at how much nicer, fancier, cleaner it is now compared to our residency back around 2005; the broken bottles, angry homeless drunks, dirty graffiti and smashed store front windows have been replaced with detailed street art, one-off local designer scarves and shiny new hipster eateries. “Imagine if it had been like this when we were studying here,” he said to me. “Yeah… we’d have been getting fat off fried chicken and donuts instead of watching drug raids* and dodging the angry guy with the long neck in the brown paper bag!”

* Yes, there were a lot of drug raids around there when we were at uni. I personally saw two, one of which came complete with two fully armoured police squads carrying battering rams. Great excuse to miss another boring nutrition lecture.

 

Good and bad, it’s a suburb that’ll always feel like home to me…


As it usually does in a city as abundant in offerings as Melbourne, our wanderings led us to good food, this time in the form of donuts.

Donut Shop Donuts & Coffee
130 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
https://instagram.com/donutshopfitzroy/

Since Big Lou‘s left the area earlier this year, there’s been a need for a new donutery. Donut Shop stepped up to the plate, opening only a few weeks ago, and they’re doing beautiful things with dough…

Like most other donut shops I’ve visited (both here and in America, actually), it’s only a little space with a few seats inside. They do, as promised, donuts and coffee, along with a few other beverages like the PB milkshake and a matcha latte. But we were just there for the donuts, and it’s Friday morning, so let’s cut to the chase.

There are some pretty good looking donuts to choose from, but we were instantly for the pina colada brulee (pineapple + coconut = sunshiney happiness) and the matcha white chocolate (since coming home from Japan with a whole lot of matcha cookies, husband’s now just as obsessed with matcha treats as me, which, seeing as we usually share, means I can order them now when we go out!).

Pina colada brulee up first – the most amazing crackle and crunch when I cut it in half, so top marks for the brulee side, and an extra point for it not being bitter. The coconut pineapple custard inside was some of the best stuff I’ve ever eaten – it was unbelievable silky, full of flavor without tasting fake, and I’d have happily eaten a full tub of a stuff with a spoon, fructose intolerance be damned! Also, really loved the cherry and grilled pineapple on top – cute touches that only added to the taste.

The matcha white chocolate was possibly even better, if you can believe that – again, creamy smooth filling, with the most incredible matcha flavor. The crumbles on top were SO GOOD, nice to have a bit of crunchiness with the super smooth filling. I could have done with a little more white chocolate (because I’m a pig), but other than that, it was faultless.

And it wasn’t just the fillings; the dough itself was textbook light, fluffy, amazing. I’m really glad food this good wasn’t around while we were studying; with these guys, Archie’s All Day, Belle’s, De Clieu and so many more amazing places now calling Gertrude St home, we’d have possibly been the most obese exercise science graduates ever…

But right now, I’m going to let you guys plan your visit (they’re open all weekend) while I get myself to work, and then head home to bake what feels like another 5000 pretzels for this weekend’s Oktoberfest…  : D

Donut Shop Donuts & Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tea time: 8 places to enjoy a cuppa in Melbourne’s CBD this week 

Ohh Sunday arvo – that means the fun and freedom of the weekend is almost over, and we’re back to the offices tomorrow! Us Melbournians also faces an additionally fun start to the weekend when our public transport system once again went to shit and train staff went on strike; I was one of the lucky ones who got to work from home and avoid the debacle completely, but I know not everyone was quite so fortunate. What made me giggle the most, watching Sunrise on Friday morning, was the reporter who seemed a little baffled by the fact that there were hardly any people around Flinders Street Station and that the people who were around and spoken to were pretty calm. Wanna know why? We’re used to public transport being inefficient and frequently cancelled. We’re now masters of making alternate arrangements. It’s just a fact of life here – like you know not to trust the tap water in Fiji, you also know not to rely on Melbourne’s public transport. It’s just known.

Anyway, regardless of whether you were caught up in it or not, whether you had a fabulously relaxing weekend or a crappy, stressful one, Monday is still Monday. If you’re a city-working lemming like me, by the time you hit your lunch break tomorrow, chances are you really need that break. So you may as well head somewhere with a good book to read, away from all the other Monday grumps – here are my favourite eight places in the CBD where you can actually enjoy that time out with a good cup of tea. Or coffee. And by enjoy, I mean enjoy – in peace, all alone, with your book or newspaper or notebook and pen, or Instagram feed or whatever else you need to get you through those last few Monday hours!

1. Naked Espresso
390 Little Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
For: Tea Drop tea and their own blend of coffee, breakfast, jaffles, and a sexy pastry and cake cabinet

2. Manchester Press
8 Rankins Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: Coffee Cartel tea, 8oz house blend coffee, and bagels… oh my!

3.  Solarino
7 Howey Place, Melbourne CBD
For: tea and coffee and breaky in a cute undercover laneway location

4. Journal Canteen
253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: tea, coffee, simple but delicious Italian style panini in a lively atmosphere.

5. Good Ovening
200 Queen St, Melbourne CBD
For: crazy cute astro-turf and 70’s lawn furniture, kitschy decor and really good English Breakfast Tea

6.  Brunetti
214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
For: that feeling of sitting out in an Italian piazza while you’re on your break. And amazing Italian biscotti to go with your hot beverage.

7. Berto’s
180 William St, Melborune CBD
For: A proper Italian lunch in a beautiful, classy, but friendly space before your afternoon macchiato kick.

8. Little Cupcakes
Degraves St, 4/118 Queen St, and 181 William St, Melbourne CBD
For: Best till last – these are, hands down, the BEST cupcakes in the city. If the idea of a hot cup of tea and a red velvet, peanut butter cookie crumb and/or cherry ripe cupcake doesn’t appeal to you, you’re beyond help.

Eat here: Brown Bear, Melbourne (brunch)

Brown Bear
301 High St, Preston
http://www.brownbearcafe.com.au/

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Thank you guys for sticking with me for New York week last week! I’m hoping that I was able to bring back some great memories for those of you who have been, remind those of you who live there about some of the wonderful places in your city, and provide some items for the to-do lists of those who haven’t been yet 🙂 But today, we’re heading back to Melbourne, my city, and starting the day with some breakfast out in the suburbs!

Since moving into the area almost two years ago, we’ve made a habit of doing our weekly grocery shopping at the Preston Market, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring that little pocket of the suburb. I’d noticed Brown Bear a few times driving past, but we’d never stopped in; a couple of weekends ago, we’d done the shopping on the Saturday morning, realized it was 10am and we hadn’t had breaky yet, and were both famished. We head straight to Brown Bear. If you’re a local and have no idea where or what Brown Bear is, you’d be quite forgiven – it’s a tiny little hole in the wall opposite Abla’s, just away from the main market strip. It really doesn’t look like too much from the outside, but get past that and head in!

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Brown Bear was opened only a year ago by Leo, an artist (among other professions) hailing from China with a special passion for good food and saving the animals. Leo’s artwork adorns the blackboard wall of the café, mostly bear-centric work, with a row of laminated photocopies stuck on the wall below the board. These are copies of the cheques Leo donates to Free The Bears; the donations come in the form of all the tips received by the café. That alone makes it worth a visit.

If you need more of a reason, though, their 5 Senses coffee is pretty popular, with a truckload of people popping in and out while we brunched for a take away cup. Husband was a fan of the coffee, too. I was a fan of the gorgeous teal cup and saucer set.

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Anyway, breakfast. They do all day breakfast. There’s another reason to visit. Husband went with the Brown Bear Brekkie – 2 poached free range eggs, sourdough, 2 mini cheese kransky, bacon, mushroom, tomato and rocket ($16.00), which was very impressive… I got a bit of bacon and kransky in exchange for some of my smashed avo, and they were both sooo tasty! I really loved the cheesy kranskies – perfect little addition to make breaky a bit more substantial.

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I went with the smashed avocado with pan fried sourdough, scrambled free range eggs & hot chilli sauce ($11.50). Big call, but some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had at a café. Husband agreed, which is an even bigger call from him. Everything was tasty, perfectly seasoned (I usually have to use a stack of salt and/or pepper myself to get it right, but it was all pretty spot on!), and the eggs were magnificently cooked – not under and raw, but more importantly not overcooked and dry.

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They also have some gorgeous looking cakes, including their little signature cheesecakes stamped with the Brown Bear logo, but which we sadly couldn’t fit it – they may not look like much, but they are incredibly generous servings! If you’re in the area, have a craving for some really good scrambled eggs and coffee, and want to help the bears, swing by this week or weekend 🙂

 

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Eat here: Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
http://www.tartinebakery.com/

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There actually weren’t a heap of food places I had on my “to eat” list in San Francisco, but Tartine was number 1. As a sugar fiend, I’d heard all about it; it topped just about every “sweets to eat in America” list I’d seen online, it appeared in the guide books, on travel TV shows, and peppered my social media feeds.

We rolled up not too long after opening time on a very overcast and rainy weekend morning, hoping that we wouldn’t be in for much of a fight for seating – we half swam there it was raining so hard!! Anyway, much like Melbourne, the rain doesn’t put anyone off a good coffee and pastry at their favourite café; the place was packed to the rafters! I guess we got lucky – as we walked in, a small table for two vacated, and I dove on it! Once we were settled, I left husband to hold the fort while I joined the line. It was long, like out the door long, but it actually moved pretty quickly!

One of the things I noticed that really impressed me were the number of people placing large orders (I’m talking a few cakes, loaves of bread, cases of croissants) being told they’d be ready in an hour or so – “no worries, I’ve got a few other things to do, I’ll be back!” No frustration at the wait, apparently the food was good enough to warrant it!

As I edged closer to the counter, I was still a little undecided about what I wanted to try, but it seemed every second person at least was walking away with a croissant, so I took a frangipane almond cream croissant (USD$5.00), tea for me, coffee for husband.

I was pretty stoked to see that I had options of both soy AND almond milk rather than the coffee and lactose laden full cream stuff everywhere else offered, so the tea was great! Husband’s coffee came out in a “cup” the size of a small fish bowl, which had him buzzing all afternoon, but he said it was amazing – if it wasn’t, I don’t think he’d have finished it all! The croissant was worth the wait, the walk in the rain and the sardine-tin seating situation. It was perfect – golden and buttery, light and flaky, and the almond frangipane business was incredible… best croissant I’ve ever had, easily!

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If you’re in San Francisco, it’s worth the trip out to the Mission District – aim for earlier in the morning near opening time when you have the best chance of getting a seat and your pick of the fresh pastries. It’s a gorgeous café, I loved the wooden floorboards and furniture, and the staff were actually super friendly considering how under the pump they were. I’d also recommend taking something home with you – wish I’d thought of that when I’d ordered, the line was wayyyy too long (out the door and onto the sidewalk) by the time we’d finished!

 

Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon

Eat here: The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, Melbourne (brunch).. and a visit to CJ Hendry’s 50 Foods In 50 Days

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink
8 Raffa Place Carlton, Melbourne
http://vertuecoffee.com.au/

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So, rumour had it this place could do a decent muffuletta, a sandwich particularly close to my heart; it was the first thing I ate in New Orleans, at Central Grocery. Theirs are reputed to be the biggest and best not only in New Orleans, but the entire universe. Never heard of them? You’re not alone; neither had I until I started researching this trip. You’re also going to hear a bit more about them tomorrow and see what their muffuletta looks like.. But first things first. The Vertue.

It’s tucked away behind a Shell petrol station around the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets, and it’s a gorgeous space; wooden floorboards, big open space with heaps of natural light, and gorgeous little touches like the little jars of flowers set on the tables and bench tops…

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The next thing that stood out was the level of service; we were greeted as we rounded the corner off the street and into their little restaurant nook space. We were seated, handed menus, poured glasses of water, all with a real smile and a bit of a chat. I’ve said it before, but truly happy and genuine staff make the biggest difference in the highly competitive world of Melbourne’s cafes and restaurants. Top marks to the gentlemen who looked after us while we were there, you guys are awesome!

We went in assuming we’d just get a muffuletta each, but then we spotted the meatball sub on the menu and decided to get one of each and share them so we could try a bit of everything. The meatball sub ($18.00) was a little pile of delicious; pork meatballs in a brioche roll, with napoli sauce, jalapenos, provolone cheese and pancetta, with a side of golden onion rings, apple slaw and crispy sage leaves. Fantastic decision to get this one; the meatballs were perfectly cooked and had a great flavour, really well matched with the buttery brioche and the melted provolone. The onion rings were remarkable, and I loved the creamy slaw with the crispy sage leaves. Would more than happily go back for this again!

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And then, the muffuletta ($16.00). Other than a few variations in the meat/cheese department and the bread (Central Grocery’s came on a round bun rather than rectangular, roughly the size of a car tire and sprinkled with sesame seeds instead of herbs; that said, I actually really enjoyed the herbed bread and thought it complimented to fillings particularly well), it was pretty good! Piled high with salami, smoked ham, capicola, provolone, gouda and olive salad, it was the filling, delicious sandwich that it should be. The only other big difference we noticed was that the olive salad was no where near as oily as the NoLa versions – you’ll see in the photo tomorrow how much the oil soaks through the bread at Central Grocery, which makes it a bit more of a “moist”/not as dry sandwich. Not saying one way is better than the other, they were both good, just different!

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Yeah, it was a little different to the original, but as far as I know it’s also the only one in Melbourne, and a damn good sandwich. It took us right back to New Orleans, the little differences weren’t that big a deal because it still tasted right, and we both agreed we’d go back for more, especially when we feel a little nostalgic about our favourite city.

I wish I could say we were done, but we weren’t. With a few travel brochures and books we’d taken along to lunch, we decided to hunker down for a little longer, grab a coffee and tea, and start researching a new adventure. Also, the dessert window was calling to me. How could it not be?!

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One of those incredibly lovely and very helpful staff I was talking about earlier saw me standing in front of the pastries looking a little unsure, and recommended his favourite – the salted caramel donut. Husband and I also love a good almost croissant, and these looked way too good to pass up, so we got one of those too. Great decision – the croissant was buttery and soft, amazing filling. And the donut. Well. That almost burnt salted caramel was the stuff sugar dreams are made of. This is why you should listen to the guys that work there – they know what’s worth spending your money and calories on!

IMG_8381I’ll be back for more, without a doubt; the food was absolutely on point, the prices were very reasonable for the quality and serving sizes, and the staff just made it. Get off the main drags in Carlton this week and hit up The Vertue of the Coffee Drink instead – even if it’s just for a coffee and a donut!

The Vertue of the Coffee Drink on Urbanspoon
We also took a quick stop through Gertrude Street on the last day of CJ Hendry’s gorgeous 50 Foods in 50 Days exhibition; this extremely talented artist took inspiration from an article about what prison inmates requested for their final meals, and then proceeded to draw 50 foods in 50 days on 50 Hermès plates with just a felt tip pen. Seriously. The attention to detail is beyond incredible – I’d never consider myself as someone with an appreciation for art galleries, but her work really blew me away. If you weren’t able to get to the exhibition, check out her work on Instagram – she actually documented her work day by day as she drew each piece, and it’s AMAZING!

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