Friday, 21 November 2014

Brother Nancy - The other other side of Essex Street

Ok ... lets try and keep this one short and sharp at least! But not before waxing lyrical about the community spirit inherent in WeFo and its environs ... well thats if you have kids! Or a local business, or work in the community. More of this later on.

My first visit to Brother Nancy was brief. Quick enough to order a takeaway coffee and finish three quarters of it a table on the footpath. My initial impression was not promising. I couldn't believe I was actually drinking a Proud Mary roast! Still the main purpose that day was to go for a walk (Essex Street is delightful btw) and to instagram (please to follow me - temasek68 - do it! do it!!). So 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Second visit was for brunch with M! My first gripe was that brekkie cuts out at a certain time! Which I don't really get, considering that there is hot food options to be had for both the Morning and the Midday sections, which means that the kitchen would have had to be used regardless.

Anyhoo, moving right along, its a Melbourne cafe, so it has all the standard design touches. It has the perfect location with the bus stop being right outside. I'm sure the morning takeaway business is brisk. This side of Essex Street is decidedly residential, but seeing the renos around here, I'm sure its the right dynamic for a brunch spot! 

Going back to my take on the WeFo community spirit, the camaraderie was in full swing when we sat down, but being offsiders, service seemed to us a little perfunctory, or perhaps slightly distracted.

Still the coffee this time round was great. And our Fish and Chip burger ($14.50) was a delight. I'm a big chip sandwich fan, and this was exactly that in a brioche bun with a lovely aioli to boot.

I think along with the Sandwich at POD, this is going to be one of my goto lunch dishes when I'm craving simple and honest flavours with just a touch of gastro glam. (Gastro ... what a word!) But is it really that hard to pit olives in a salad? Or at least give your punters fair warning? We're not all spring chickens with perfect teeth round here!

We were slightly dissappointed at not being able to order from the Morning menu as the breakfast options looked really interesting on paper. But I guess there's the excuse for a repeat visit which hopefully will happen soon. So in summary, I think Brother Nancy is still finding its feet, but it certainly is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood and in an odd way it is like a little tucked away oasis in what is a surprisingly busy and hectic suburb.

Brother Nancy on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 November 2014

CBA Friday at The Hyde Street Hotel Yarraville

Ok ... so when it comes to food posts I'm not a fan of combining more than one review into a single post - I'm of the school of essay writing where each paragraph should posit a singular idea or proposition. So coming up is a series of short sharp and quick reviews of places we have eaten in over the last few months. By the way, I'm listening to Curtis Mayfield while I write this, so forgive me if I go a little vintage ghetto on your ass!!

Starting with Watermelon!! As in I've been drinking ...

I'm not a natural born beer drinker. I don't dislike the taste, but I do worry ... now don't laugh ... about the middle aged beer paunch!! The fear is real people, so don't mock me! Also, I've never been a fan of highly carbonated drinks in any form ... having said that I rarely turn down a good G &T! 

So I completely surprised myself at how much I enjoyed my glass of Moondog Brewing's "Bjorn to Boogie" beer. This is what they call a Heffeweizen (a german style wheat beer) - and yes I can't keep up with all this new fanglery ... I still go all Miranda Hart when someone orders a piccolo in my near vicinity! Its watermelon based and has a clear and slightly fruity taste ... on its way towards meady but taking a sharp detour to the tropics! Loved it!!

We were at the Hyde Street Hotel Pub for a recent CBA Friday. Yet another Gastro Reinvention popping up all over the West. You know the drill, once a dive for the locally soused denizens with $3 pots, now all shiny wood and vaguely sculptural light fittings and please to add a 100% inflationary rate to the bill at the end of the night! Not that I am completely against this tide of gentrification, just as long as it doesn't sweep away all the honest charm that was here in the first place. And lets not forget about having some form of quality control please! 

Firstly, where are the sound technicians slash acoustic engineers in the design process. If you have a large cavernous room and are expecting to seat a hefty number of punters, then spare a thought about sound absorption, especially in the bistro part of your establishment as opposed to out in the open bar area! We would like to not only enjoy our food, but have a proper conversation as well. This is a frustratingly all too common situation amongst revamped pubs. We had to shift tables at a recent visit to the Post Office Hotel in Coburg, which I will post about later, and a birthday celebration was completely ruined at Le Bon Ton for the same reason.

Lets get down to the food. First up its gastro-pub prices so don't bitch!! You know where the door is if you are not happy. Its not like you are not spoilt for choice in this area. As Gastro-pub prices go, this is on the lower end of the scale - i.e. mains are on average between $25 to $30 pp. But there are pizzas to be had and a sizeable list of entrees/shared plates - and they don't all come out of a tin and off a slicer.

Craft beers and locally sourced Artisanal wines permeate the extensive drinks list which should keep both the hop obssessed and the budding viticulturists amongst us suitably engaged. My Tar and Roses Pinot Grigio from the Strathbogie Ranges ($9.5) was a delight and very quaffable.

As the Temasek household is currently on an enforced regime of austerity, we went straight to mains. I ordered the Swordfish with potato croquettes ($26) from the Specials menu. The fish was nicely cooked and the garnish of pea shoots provided a nice textural and earthy note, but the puree of something or other underpinning the whole dish didn't do much to pull all the flavours together. Some great ideas but maybe something was lost in translation in an effort to gastrofy proceedings. Sill there was not much left on the plate at the end of it.

I think M may have fared better with his Roasted lamb rump w’crushed kiplers, green beans and sauce vierge ($30). The Lamb had a nice meaty charred flavour and the beans were simply but beautifully cooked with just the right amount of crunch. Again there wasn't much left on his plate and isn't that the ultimate testament?

By this stage me and M had slyly slipped into date mode and were finding humour in the slightest of hooks, so we decided to hang caution to the wind and have dessert!  We opted for the Pannacotta which came with some citrusy peanuty praline ($10) type garnish. The Pannacotta was well done but there was a soapy flavour amidst the preserved orange which ruined it for me slightly. Still my Bjorn to Boogie was going down nicely.

This odd little pocket of Hyde Street is rather quaint. There's plenty of street parking and I can see potential for celebratory parties here. Its not going to absolutely blow your mind. But there's certainly a steady hand at the helm here at the Hyde Street Hotel! Definitely worth checking out.

PS - woeful menu descriptions were the result of lazy and flawed note-taking and yes this wasn't quite short and sharp! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Hyde Street Hotel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Its Beginning to look a lot like Christmas - The Christmas window at PID WeFo

Ok ... its beginning to look a lot like Christmas now that the shops are festooned with aisles of twinkly baubles, sparkly confectionary, rainbow coloured streamers and led blinkers for days! Oh and the odd dose of lunacy like this giant Lindt ball!

Here at the Temasek household things remain decidedly grim, but spirits must be kept up even as they're kept down to numb the despair.

So showered and changed, I forced myself out down the road to view Jos Van Hulsen's handiwork in the window of Post Industrial Design on Barkly Street, WeFo.

And I'm so glad I did as it was a very welcome distraction! There is something about a Christmas window that brings out the childish curiosity and wonder in all of us. When I was growing up, every other year or so, Dad would put up a Nativity Scene with a Cotton wool wrapped balsa wood frame instead of a Christmas tree. I would sit there and contemplate each figurine animated by the glow of the blinking lights. I'd invent Christmas stories in my head about hidden worlds round fairy lit corners; conjuring firelit rooms peopled by shiny faced toys and festooned with brightly wrapped presents - each an evenly cornered box with ribbons and bows. I don't think I have ever been that happy since.

Over the years Christmas has lost much of its magic and charm. The passing of time has an uncanny ability of wrenching the joy and wonder out of childhood experiences once held so dear. But as with most things (and this is one of the hardest lessons to learn as an adult) in life, you are unaffectedly the only one who can change this. No one is going to do it for you.

So why not try mixing things up a little this Christmas. Focus less on the gift giving and more on the opportunities to celebrate with friends and family. Don't waste money on decking the outside of the house in what will only end up as an exercise in replicating a John Waters pisstake. Spend it on oodles of yummy champagne instead. Don't fuss too much about dustbusting every single nook and cranny of your dwelling, but throw the doors open, and let your loved ones in.

And if you are in the hood, gather kids and pets alike or maybe partner and friends, or even just your very own self and take an evening stroll down Barkly Street to PID and spend a few minutes of wonder in front of Jos and Mary's Christmas window. I hear its even more magical at night when the rest of the shop is closed.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

JPGNGV - Jean Paul Gaultier at the National Gallery of Victoria

Ok ... Jean Paul I love you ... but you're getting me down!! In the throes of somewhat debilitating depression, I look at this very slim snapshot of fashion's enfant terrible's career and think about what I've never accomplished in comparison, and its a deep and very dark hole I peer into.

However, lets look away for an instant and momentarily beguile our senses with the high costumery drama that is the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The ticket was a lovely and thoughtful present from good friends of mine so we scheduled a date for a recent Saturday afternoon. Arriving a little earlier (i.e. on time as its the done thing to be fashionably late!) than scheduled we plonked ourselves out front and watched the fashionistas go by. Some people made an effort, including a lucite-heeled rock chic glamourpuss in clear metallic sheen with her equally tousled and sequined boyfriend. And then there were a truckload of breton stripes ... please don't!

The exhibition is split into a number of sections and themes, but you are immediately confronted by the animated faces on some of the mannequins as you first walk in. I'm guessing these are projected and its a nice, unusual, and slightly creepy touch. It gives new meaning to the phrase "and the eyes follow you round the room".


The first section houses my favourite of all the tabelaus: the Virgins (or Madonnas) collection, full of intricate lacework, ribboning and bodice ripping gothic romance. The sort of haute coutre favoured by eccentrics like Helena Bonham Carter or perhaps even GaGa. And its in this room you meet the Breton stripe in all its glory. Backlit by a curious almost nightbus-UV blue.

Further rooms reveal a calvacade of garments full of intricate detail with a wealth of historical, cultural and global references stitched into fabric and non-fabric alike, reigns firmly wielded by our cheeky, irreverent but highly articulate gallic sailor boy host. 

You'll find corsetry galore in the Boudoir section ...

Anglophile obsession with an explosion of 70s and 80s era punk and new wave influences in the Punk Cancan section ...

The Paris-Glasgow-Dehli catwalk, a revolving belt of outfits paying homage to Paris and its multicultural arrondisements ... 

Bondage and body morphism in the Skin Deep section with some amazing ecorche fabrics, backlit like some seedy underground sex club ...

Take a trip around the world and immerse yourself in the colour and intricacies of traditional craft in the Urban Jungle section - take your time here and look carefully as the devil is in the details ...

And to finish off, Muses gives you antipodean celebrity overload - all the star-studded touchpoints are here, with the Souffle as worn by Nicole Kidman being my favourite.

The exhibition continues into February next year so you have plenty of time. But don't miss it!! Be prepared for the comedown though ... life seems rather colourless and unremarkable after spending time so very close to all this heightened glamour.

And here's my little slice of the JPG cake which sadly I don't fit into anymore ...

Friday, 24 October 2014

Bittersweet Beckonings at Brooks in Melbourne

Ok ... isn't it funny how people are there for you in words and intentions only, but very rarely in action?? There's nothing like a personal setback to show how much of an obligation you can be to others. And how perfunctory the response in come cases. This is the reason why I have only a small coterie of friends, because I value honesty and true compassion, traits that are very rarely found in the human race these days. Also, I am at a lost to understand how friendships can be broken over an isolated but honest emotional response that in itself is adjunct to the fundamental issue concerned. Did all the many many years past mean absolutely nothing? All the trials and tribulations, and the good and the bad times? All of that so easily come to naught without even an opportunity to apologise and obtain some closure!! People never cease to amaze me. I now appreciate the draw of a hermitic life. And I stand on that cliff edge right now staring into uncertainty but knowing very well that I have a stronger core than this, and that one day I will sit back and reflect with easy notalgia and without punity.

Right deep breaths everyone! Why this maudlin dose of literary reflection? Well its because a recent work lunch at Brooks Restaurant in Melbourne was the very last company hurrah! And I am still missing the camaraderie and the congeniality that took so very long to build and so very little to dismantle.

When we scraped the barrel that was petty cash to see how much we could spend on our mid-year function (i.e. an excuse to drink good wine and eat great food), what we came up with was certainly not on par with halcyon days gone by. Still those were our parameters so we started working our way through restaurant wishlists, concentrating on lunch specials that would leave us a little over for another 2 drinks each at least.

Settling on Brooks (from my personal wishlist) we opted for a latish lunch which meant that we ended up being the only table for that afternoon. A bit of a buzz kill but we soldiered on.

Proceedings started very well indeed with a bottle of Eminence's The Assembly Sparkling from Whitlands, Victoria ($88). This is not an easy bottle to track down as the Vineyard does not have a cellar door, and they mainly supply restaurants and a select number of wine outlets. However if you are in the vicinity of Seddon, head to Seddon Wine Store and hopefully Clare (from the Assembly family) is on shift and she can possibly assist. But grab the opportunity to taste this if you can. As it is with other artisanal champagne (terroir be damned) offerings, this tastes like a combination of cider/whisky/sparkling white! Heaven!!

We opted for the 3 course lunch special at $48 a pop. Your other choices being a 2 course for $33pp or a degustation 5 course number for $95pp. The menu consists of a triumvirate of choices - so 3 entrees, 3 mains, 3 desserts.

For whatever reason I ended up surfing the waves with my choices, starting with the Cured snapper, yoghurt, oyster cream, dill. Dramatically presented with a ring of dill jus round the plate, the snapper was cured to perfection, but the Oyster cream did overpower slightly. If you were an afficianado of the taste of the sea with all its briny metalicness on the palate, then this would have delighted. I, on the other hand, could be unguardedly critical and say that it did tend to taste a little too fishy (oh yes the irony!).

Some of my companions ordered the Nic’s souvenir of Laguiole; Meli Melo of vegetables, herbs and flowers. So many unpronounceable words; so many needing translation; so many colours on the plate; so many taste sensations ... have a look at the photo - even with my nonexisting shutter skills this looks so inviting and exciting and other sundry feels!

A dish like this is an event. All those gel blobs and purees and unguents and half of Nanna's garden border on a plate. It was fun trying to decipher the different flavours and picking combinations to savour. My final word on this though is that Daisies are simply not edible!!

For mains, I chose another seafood number - Fish, ink and verbena, cos lettuce, romanesco. Again high drama with that intense blob of ink on the plate. As with my entree the fish was cooked to perfection; lovingly browned on the outside and meaty flesh with just the right amount of give within. The romanesco looking like something from the little shop of horrors was surprisingly gentle in flavour and the cauliflower and garlic puree set everything else off nicely. I'll skip the wilted cos lettuce as its one culinary method I fail to understand.

Oh and definitely have the Aligot - cheesy mash ($16) as a side. You won't regret it! Its served rather theatrically at the table by your friendly waitstaff. Two forks go in and a portion is twirled in mid-air before being plonked on your plate. Drama!

And now we come to dessert!! Sadly the "forest floor" Brooks is famous for was not on the lunchtime menu, but something equally as intriguing and bombastic was the Artichoke ice cream, chocolate, hazelnut, candied milk skin, pork crackling.

When it comes to blending savoury with sweet I'm not the most adventorous, but curiosity got the better of me, and I was more inclined to take the risk especially since I wasn't paying. The trick with dishes like these is not to have a scientific approach and sample each component separately. You need to combine the lot to fully appreciate its synchronicity.

Still there was alot of tentative chewing going on at the table. And I'm not sure everyone was entirely sold. I think more pleasure was derived from the sense of achievement of having actually eaten the damn thing in the first place. The milk skin in itself could have gone horribly wrong. As it was, the artichoke ice cream was slightly anaemic in flavour, so it needed the chocolate sponge and the hazelnut and yes! the pork crackling to bump it up. Now that I've tried it, does it bear repeating? That is indeed the question.

Just like our little lunch group was soon to implode, rumour has it that Brooks now has new owners. What direction this underground space will take next remains to be seen. I suspect that the quality of the food may suffer a little during this transition period, but I think the lunch specials are reasonably priced and the food is exciting and different. Try and check it out soon.

Brooks on Urbanspoon
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