Brother Baba Budan vs. Market Lane Coffee

Where’s your favourite coffee haunt in the city? Well, as far as I know, when I ask people to name the best coffee place in the city, these 2 names tend to pop up in the conversation.

So Brother Baba Budan or Market Lane Coffee – which one would be my choice of poison in the city? Let’s find out!

Brother Baba Budan

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This cafe lies in the heart of the CBD area which makes it a central place for coffee pick-ups for the working crowd and tourists.

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You can’t really miss it with its characteristic chairs hanging from the ceiling, giving off a really artistic feel. I guess this helps to add to the hippie vibe.

When Andrew and I got there, it was absolutely packed. So we decided to order takeaway coffees.

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Blends of the day

We waited for about 10minutes for our coffees and by that time, the crowd inside the cafe has cleared a little. So we decided to have a sit down to properly enjoy our coffees.

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Latte – $4. Would have preferred some coffee art but oh well! 

Verdict? Well, the coffee was all right and had a slight nuttiness, but there was a sourish aftertaste that I wasn’t a fan of. I’ve tried the Seven Seeds blend before but so far, I’ve yet to warm up to it.

But I know of others who like the blend so I guess it’s just my personal preference. Anyway, the popularity of this cafe is undeniable so it’s best to get in early or be prepared to get takeaway!

Brother Baba Budan on Urbanspoon

Market Lane Coffee

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This cafe is situated in Queen Victoria Market, making it a good perk-me-up for those who make it down to the market for some grocery-shopping!

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The setting of the cafe is minimal and sleek, making it quite a contrast to the cluttered feel at Brother Baba Budan.

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I’ve been to this cafe a few times now and the busyness of the cafe can vary – it can be really crowded during the market hours but when I got there once at 9am, it was pretty empty. Overall, the feel here is a lot more relaxed as opposed to the more upbeat momentum in the CBD area.

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Latte – $4. Love it that they do coffee art even for takeaways!

Okay, more importantly, how was the coffee? The blends at Market Lane change quite frequently so that makes it quite an interesting place to check out. I do prefer some blends more than others but overall, I would say that you are almost guaranteed a good cup every time you are there – full-bodied and smooth.

Market Lane Cafe on Urbanspoon

So I guess Market Lane would be my favourite of the 2 as I much prefer the blends at this cafe and the texture is usually smooth. However, both places do take their coffee-making seriously and I reckon you wouldn’t lose out checking out either one of them anyway, whether you are wandering in the heart of the city or doing your grocery shopping at the market!

Red Spice Road

While I’ve expressed previously that I’m not a huge fan of Modern Asian cuisine, I’ve always counted Red Spice Road as an old favourite for a few reasons:

1. The Express Banquet is under $30 and the portions given are generous, giving you much bang for your buck.

2. The spacious setting creates a nice ambience for conversation over food.

3. That famous caramelised pork belly. Mmmm.

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So when Ms LT an old high school friend was meeting us (Ms TY, Ms YY and myself) in Melbourne, I suggested Red Spice Road as it had been awhile since I last went.

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And yes, since we were going to meet up for an early dinner, we decided to go for the Express Banquet!

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Soy & Ginger Chicken Wings

As the menu suggests, the food came out pretty quickly, like express service! The starter of chicken wings was moreish and had that slight hint of spice.

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Braised Beef Cheek, Green Beans, Bok Choy, Star Anise, Ginger, Soy

The beef was really tender and I liked the addition of greens to cut through the fattiness of the beef. However, I thought the spices didn’t come through enough and I found the gravy quite salty.

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Chicken, Gailan, Red Peppers, Ginger, Spring Onion

The chicken was stir-fried nicely as it retained its tenderness. There was a nice mixture of savouriness and sweetness in the gravy with bursts of freshness from the veggies and sprinkles of basil leaves. There was also that hint of spice.

So with that complexity of flavours of textures, I really enjoyed this dish!

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Pork Belly, Apple Slaw, Chilli Caramel, Black Vinegar

Yes my friends, this is the one and only pork belly. Just as I remembered, the pork belly was crisp on the outside and inside was this succulent goodness of the fatty rich pork.

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And of course, there was the sticky sweet sauce to cover the pork, with those fresh shreds of apple and lettuce to cut through the richness… yum!

So yup, the pork belly was and still is the star dish at Red Spice Road.

Even though, the Express Banquet is meant to be shared among the whole table, Red Spice Road does accommodate to dietary needs. As Ms YY doesn’t eat beef or pork, they kindly gave substitute dishes.

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Green Curry for Ms YY

As for a substitute to the pork belly, they gave Ms YY a piece of fish with the same dressing as the pork belly. I thought that was really good that the restaurant catered to fit the special dietary needs of the diners!

Even though we were supposed to leave the table by 7pm, we were not chased out by the waiters when it struck 7pm so we stayed for awhile till 7.30pm. So overall, although it was meant to be an express meal, we didn’t feel rushed.

It was good that we didn’t get chased out of the restaurant – we had quite a lot to catch up on!

So with quick and good service, good food at a reasonable price, Red Spice Road’s Express Banquet remains on my list of recommended dining-out experiences in Melbourne. You just have to give that pork belly a go!

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Jinda Thai

The hint of Jinda Thai’s popularity was already given when I tried to call 2 days before to book a table.

The staff who took my call said that they were ‘fully booked’ but ‘feel free to walk in’. I found that a little strange; I mean, how can you get a table if the restaurant is fully booked?

But as I’ve been wanting to go there for awhile now, I thought we would give it a go. After all, it should be easy to get a table for 3 right?

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Err… NO.

As you can see from the above, the restaurant was packed on a weekday night.  Ann got there first and she was told it would be a 30minute wait. There was a huge crowd in the waiting area as well.

So we waited, and waited.

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Finally, Ann went to check with the waitress and found that her name was dropped out of the waiting list (?!). Ann told the waitress we had been waiting for 30minutes already and we were bumped up to 2nd on the current wait list. But that meant more waiting!

Seeing how others on the waitlist were dropping like dead flies, I was also ready to give up. But Ms JQ really wanted to try out Jinda’s food so I relented.

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Matriach Jinda looking over the busy restaurant

And yes, finally, at the 50minute mark, we were told that they had a table for us – hurray!

Seriously, in my entire history of dining out in Melbourne, I’ve never waited that long to get into a restaurant. Maybe there were those times at Chin Chin and Beatrix but never up to 50minutes, never.

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Upon being seated, we immediately placed our orders – we had a long time to study the menu, duh!

And just before it made it to my blacklist, the restaurant found its way to redeem itself – our orders were served out pretty quickly, whoop!

And I must say, this first dish that was set before us looked pretty impressive…

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Som Tum Soft Shell Crab – $12.90

Wow, upon the first crunch, it was so good. No, this is not hunger talk. The flavours on this dish was impeccable – sweet, salty and fresh, brought out by the mix of fish sauce, sugar, nuts and thinly sliced radish. In fact, I found myself slurping on the dressing after the soft shell crab had been demolished!

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And lookie here – whole pieces of soft shell crab!

I found this particular dressing quite similar to the flavours in Chin Chin. But unlike Chin Chin, there was more of a spicy kick in this dish and it wasn’t as sweet. A really good appetiser to kickstart the tastebuds (not that we really needed that after all that waiting haha)!

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Boat Noodles – $9

We ordered this because I’ve heard a lot about this and personally, I’ve never seen this dish featured in any Thai restaurants.

It seems like a lot of Asian countries have their own beef noodles and I guess this would be the Thai version of it. There was that thick beefy broth and fat pieces of pork lard for that crispy texture. And for the final touch, there was shards of coriander to give it that fresh edge.

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The noodle texture was absolutely beautiful – not overcooked with abit of bounciness left. I wonder if this is made in-house!

It was such a good bowl of noodles – we absolutely lapped it up!

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Tom Sab – $15.90

I’ve heard good reviews of this dish and have never tried it before at a Thai restaurant as well.

So what does it taste like? Think of this as the Tom Yum soup with a pork broth and with a less sourish taste.

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And let me warn you, this dish is SPICY. As if the pieces of chilli AND black chilli in the soup aren’t enough, you are hit by a peppery aftertaste with each spoonful of soup – this is definitely not for the faint-hearted!

We found ourselves slurping one spoon of the Tom Sab and then quickly scooping another spoonful of the Boat Noodle broth to counter the spiciness. Soooo delicious but soooo spicy! :P

Although there were many other items on the menu that looked delicious, we decided to save our tummies for dessert…

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Pandan Crepe Cake with Coconut Ice Cream – $18.50

Yes, this is the famed crepe cake that Jinda is known for. And because they come in so many flavours (Pandan, Matcha, Taro etc.), we just had to get another one…

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Thai Milk Tea Crepe Cake with Coconut Ice Cream – $18.50

And yes, these cakes have earned their reputation well. They are like flavoured kueh lapis and the accompanying sauces totally sealed the deal.

The 3 of us were split on which cake we preferred. Ms JQ and I liked the Thai Milk one because well, we like the taste of milk tea and this flavour was really brought out in the cake. On the other hand, Ann found the Pandan one more unique and she liked the floral edge to the pandan flavour. Oh well, each to her own!

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We really could not fault the food we had that night. I daresay that Jinda has become my all-time favourite Thai restaurant, thus earning a spot in my Top Pick category!

Now I understand why Jinda is so popular and of course, my only gripe would be the wait time we had to endure. So if you’re thinking of checking out Jinda, I highly recommend making a reservation – you wouldn’t want to start off your meal on a grumpy mood!

Jinda Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Nora

If I were to describe Nora in 1 word, it would be ‘abstract’. Nora is not quite your average Melburnian cafe with poached eggs, smashed avocado, toast or usual espressos and let me show you why…

This cafe first came on my radar when Andrew chanced upon it while walking home from uni. He tried a coffee there and said the menu looked interesting. So that was the first time I caught wind of this cafe and shelved it somewhere in my memory bank.

The next time, I read this and I was intrigued. I’m a huge fan of Ottolenghi and my friends, if he is impressed by this newcomer in the Melbourne cafe scene, there’s got to be something about this place.

So from the back of memory bank, I pushed it out and to make it top on my wishlist. And that’s how we wound up here!

The very interesting menu

Nora is run by a Thai-Australian couple and the Southeast Asian influences can be seen in the menu

So what gives Nora that interesting edge?

4 reasons.

Firstly, you don’t get tap water. 

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

Surprise surprise, this is the first cafe where I’m served FREE sparkling water. I guess that makes the experience pretty novel but some of my brunch companions don’t like sparkling water and requested for tap water.

Secondly, do not expect your normal lattes/flat whites/cappuccinos etc.

On the Rocks & Saigon - $4 each

On the Rocks & Saigon – $4 each

I came in a little late and was immediately asked for my coffee order. A little flustered from the brisk walk I had just made, I instinctively asked for a magic. However, upon sitting down and studying the menu carefully, I realised that their other offerings were a lot more unusual!

So I promptly changed my order to On the Rocks – was perfect for the hot morning too!

At first taste, I found the cold brew coffee really bitter. I made that comment and the lady boss heard me. Immediately, she offered to make a sugar syrup to go with the coffee. (Wow is that good service or what??)

Trying out the sugar syrup

Trying out the sugar syrup

That sugar syrup made a world of a difference! After adding it, the coffee became really pleasant to drink. The use of sparkling water also made it quite refreshing. I would liken it to an iced kopi-O but with a bolder taste coming from the espresso. I reckon they should consider giving the sugar syrup to customers who order this particular coffee!

As for the Saigon, it had that Asian dimension with the pandan taste coming through. It also tasted really refreshing and was like an iced kopi :)

Thirdly, it’s not your typical brunchfare. 

Just look at the dish presentations... how artsy are they??

Just look at the dish presentations… how artsy are they??

We totally weren’t expecting the dishes that were set before us. I mean, we kind of knew what we were getting, but not presented like that!

Martin's place - $18

Martin’s place – $18

This was Andrew’s dish which had ox tongues. He let us try a bit and the tongues were really tender.

Dear Mitchell - $14.50

Dear Mitchell – $14.50

This was eggs with a Thai twist and I thought the flavours went well together. The flavours were sharp and fresh with the fried shrimps and spring onions. The eggs were also done in a custard-like way which I thought was quite creative.

The only thing that we found lacking in this dish was a little sauce. So overall, it was a little dry.

Pig from the ground it's raised from - $18.50

Pig from the ground it’s raised from – $18.50

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this was, why is the plate only half-filled? I can’t say I’m a big fan of this particular dish presentation as it makes the portion looks smaller.

As you can tell from the above, this comes with a side of bread pudding and raw cabbage with peanut sauce. Again, the flavours were sharp and clean that countered the fatty pork. But again, overall we found the dish quite dry.

So yes, you getting my point now about Nora having an abstract edge? Have to give them props for thinking out of the box in terms of the food and presentation!

Lastly, CHARCOAL TARTS. Enough said. 

Charcoal Tarts - $5 each

Charcoal Tarts – $5 each

Haha again, we were given a surprise when this was presented to us. I don’t know about you, but because of the tins, it reminded me of chee kueh, served upside down!

Charcoal Tarts unveiled - Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream, Lemon Grass & Ginger, Strawberry & Tamarind Cream Cheese

Charcoal Tarts unveiled – Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream, Lemon Grass & Ginger, Strawberry & Tamarind Cream Cheese

So before Nora, there were these charcoal tarts that were already making their way round other Melbourne cafes and getting famous. Ottolenghi even made special mention of them – so what’s the deal with these tarts?

Upclose with the Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream

Upclose with the Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream

As exotic-sounding as those ingredients are, all 3 Charcoal Tarts were lip-smackingly delicious. They all had great combinations of flavours and we had a hard time deciding which was our favourite tart. All 3 we tried that day were winners!

And the thing is, the offerings of the charcoal tarts are different each day so there are more flavours to try out!

We also realised that the tarts were carefully divided into 5 portions, for each of us (as you can see above) – that’s really thoughtful service :)


So yes, Nora is quite your atypical Melbourne cafe, for the reasons given above!

Although I was not particularly blown away by their brunchfare, I thought the food was still quite interesting. I was also quite impressed by their personable service, which made our experience at Nora quite pleasant.

Their cold-brewed coffees were pretty good as well, and yes, I was most excited by their charcoal tarts!

So I reckon it’s worth checking out Nora for ‘em famous tarts, and just chill over 1 of their cold-brewed coffees. With the weather warming up, it would be the perfect excuse for a cuppa cold coffee and tart for a treat!

Nora on Urbanspoon

Taste of Melbourne

I am blessed with some really good friends – when Ms JQ won a pair of tickets to the Taste of Melbourne event, she promptly asked if I wanted to go with her.

And of course I replied, ‘YES!’

YAY

YAY!

We were also blessed with good weather when we got there. Earlier in the day, it was raining and on Instagram, I saw many people still rocked up in ponchos! Whoa.

Beautiful weather when we got there

Beautiful weather when we got there

The tickets we got only gave us free admission so we still had to purchase some crowns. Basically, 1 crown is $1 and it is used to purchase food during the event. We thought we would start off with 20 crowns and see if we needed to top up later.

We decided to walk around the grounds first to scout out the stalls. As we walked, to our delight, we found that there were free samplings at some of the stalls!

Here are a couple of freebies we got…

Dish’d

Samplings of buttered scallop, roast lamb with couscous & a profiterole

Samplings of buttered scallop, roast lamb with couscous & profiterole

We have never heard of Dish’d until that day and we found out that it is a delivery food company, and it caters gourmet-quality food.

From what we sampled, the food was really of high quality! The lamb was tender and we both really liked the profiterole – the chocolate sauce was rich and dark and the pastry was light.

I was pretty impressed with the generosity of the samplings offered by Dish’d. Looking at the above, you can see that it is a mini take of a full meal – entree, main and dessert. They had an ample amount waiting to be served as well and we might have gone back for a second round. Hehe.

After Dish’d, we proceeded to sample some salsa and corn chips, really fresh sashimi (mmm), thick pieces of steak (yummos!), chutneys, Dilmah tea, bread buttered with Lurpak butter, and some wonderful ham and prosciutto from Primo.

Yes, we were too busy sampling that I forgot to take pictures! Whoops.

But this kind of forced me to whip out my camera-phone…

Cacao Fine Chocolates
Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie on Urbanspoon

It was kind of funny, because lots of people (including us) just stopped dead in their tracks right in front of the store, whipped out their phones and started snapping/typing furiously. The concentration was quite intense!

Haha the things we do for free food…

Salted Caramel and Milk Choc & Peanut Butter

Salted Caramel and Milk Choc & Peanut Butter

…But it was all worth it!! The macarons were well-made and we especially loved the salted caramel one – it had that slightly chewy texture and had the right balance of salt to cut through the caramel.

And because we loved the macarons so much, we got a tad sneaky… so we may have made 1 full round before coming back to the stall to present them another snap…

Raspberry & Pistachio - my favouritest combi ever!

Raspberry & Pistachio – my favouritest combi ever!

Haha but the stall people were really nice and generous with giving out the free macarons that I don’t think they would have minded!

Anyway, those macarons were delicious – the pistachio one had the intense nutty flavour and was slightly chewy too. The raspberry had that slightly sourish cream that brought out the refreshing flavour of the berry.  Of course, when eating the 2 together, it was a great combination!

Okay okay, enough of the free loading, we DID spend some crowns all right? Here’s what we got!

Gazi
Gazi on Urbanspoon

Yusss.. we were 1 of the last 300!

Yusss.. we were 1 of the last 300!

Out of all the stalls, Gazi seemed to be serving up a pretty decent portion and we just couldn’t go past the idea of a soft shell crab in a souvlaki (ingenious – why didn’t anyone think of that before??)

Soft shell crab souvlaki - 12 crowns

Soft shell crab souvlaki – 12 crowns

We are big fans of Jimmy Grants and I have to say that George Calombaris has done it again with this reinvention of the souvlaki.

Just like his souvlakis at Jimmy, the portion of meat was generous – I mean can’t you see the soft shell crab spilling out?? – and there was that signature addition of herbs (parsley and mint in this one) to give that clean and refreshing finish.

I wonder how much this is priced at Gazi which is a more upmarket restaurant – I was telling Ms JQ that if this was sold at Jimmy, I would make a beeline for this!

Pope Joan
Pope Joan on Urbanspoon

Having spent our 12 crowns (quite happily, I would say), we decided to spend our next few crowns on the #1 voted dish in the Taste of Melbourne event!

Smoked yoghurt with freeze-dried raspberries & pistachios - 6 crowns

Smoked yoghurt with freeze-dried raspberries & pistachios – 6 crowns

So what on earth is smoked yoghurt?! At first taste, we couldn’t detect it but after a few more bites, I could taste a slight saltiness coming through the sourish yoghurt. Having read other reviews, I realised that it was meant to taste like bacon!

Enjoying our yoghurt in the spring sunshine

Enjoying our yoghurt in the spring sunshine

I guess this is a pretty creative dish, with a good combination of the savoury and usual dessert flavours. This is taking frozen yoghurt to another level and we were again quite happy to spend our crowns on this interesting and delicious dish!

With all the free samples we had, we were actually quite full by this stage and didn’t even bother to top up our crowns. We even got our remaining crowns refunded. So in total, we only spent $9 each?? Whoop!

So besides eating our way round, we had a field day of spying celebrity chefs dotted throughout the grounds!

Chef Jacques Reymond presenting for Dilmah

Chef Jacques Reymond presenting for Dilmah

Chef Matt Wilkinson fooling around with me before giving us our fro-yo

Chef Matt Wilkinson fooling around before giving us our fro-yo :P

And it's Masterchef contestant Alice !

And it’s Masterchef contestant Alice!

With so much going on, the 2.5hours we spent there just flew by!

Yay thx Ms JQ for bringing me along :D

That’s it for our experience at Taste of Melbourne 2014!

A very nice and delicious experience indeed – tasting the best of Melbourne with the finest of spring weather, and with a good friend for company ;)

After exiting out of the grounds, we had a lovely stroll around Albert Park

After exiting the grounds, we had a lovely stroll around Albert Park

It can be quite a pricey affair to go for this if you have to spend on the admission ticket and crowns. But I guess this is 1 of the iconic events of Melbourne so if you’re in Melbourne during this time next year, you should give it a go!

And maybe leading up to it, look out for deals, offers or contests for this event! Who knows? You may just score something free like Ms JQ!

Pigging Out at Brunswick

Judging from the hits for the last post, I think a number of you enjoyed looking through Noel’s photos so here’s another collaboration post!

As the title suggests, this time round, we hit up Brunswick, a hippy suburb known for their vintage shops and cool cafes.

Two Little Pigs Charcuterie & Grind

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The main purpose of hitting up Brunswick was to PIG out at this cafe (hehe), which has created quite a wave in the Melbourne foodie scene.

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From the outset, Two Little Pigs appeared to be a more modern and refreshing addition to the grungy Brunswick, with its cool white walls and lighting.

The cafe may also seem small, but for our group of 6, we were shown to the backyard, where there was ample seating!

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Just by the name of the cafe itself, we were looking forward to some serious pork!

But of course, some coffees to perk us up first…

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Chai Latte, Latte, Long Macchiato & Magic – $3.80 each

The coffee was smooth and palatable, with hints of hazelnut and caramel finish.

I guess with a name like that, they should serve up a good charcuterie plate right? So we ordered one to share.

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A smattering of pork terrine, pate, jamon, chorizo, black pudding, olives, pickles, toast etc. – $19.50

It looks impressive right? The selection of meats was pretty wide!

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We were also told that the sausages were all made in-house which I guess gives Two Little Pigs a unique edge over the other cafes. Overall, this platter was a good portion for the 6 of us but we can’t say we enjoyed all the meats presented – I’m personally not a fan of pate and black pudding which explains why I couldn’t appreciate it that much. I also didn’t quite like the olives but others didn’t mind them. Generally, we liked the terrine, jamon and chorizo :)

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Pork Belly Salad (haha the name of the dish sounded like an oxymoron but you’d understand once you see the dish!) – $16.90

I have to say that Mr JC has a knack of ordering the right dish and causing us to get dish envy. I mean just LOOK at those pieces of deep crisp pork belly AND roast pumpkin. What a dish! I also liked how they added the side of fresh salad to lighten up the dish.

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Pea & Ham – $16.90

Andrew and I both went for the more widely-reviewed dish. When the dish was first placed on the table, I have to say that I wasn’t quite impressed by the pale-looking pork skin – it didn’t look like it had much crackle in it!

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But upon digging in, I was well-assured that the crackle was crisp enough – woo! I was quite happy with the entire dish. I thought the pea veloute was not overly creamy and was delicious enough to be mopped up with the toast.

The pork, appearances aside, was also done salty enough to my liking. Andrew, however, had a different opinion from me – I guess his standards are much higher!

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Two Little Pigs (aka The Big Breakfast) – $19.50

Ms EH, Ms JT and Noel ordered this, with the 2 girls sharing and the big boy having 1 plate to himself.

The unfortunate thing was, while the 2 girls had no issues with their dish, Noel found a strand of hair in his (yikes!). He told the wait staff and they apologetically took it away and awhile later, they brought out a new dish from the kitchen.

However, 3/4 through this ‘new’ dish, Noel found another strand of hair! That kind of ruined his appetite but because he was almost done with the dish, he decided not to notify the wait staff.

As the other dishes turned out fine, I’m pretty sure that incident was an isolated one but unfortunately, that kind of marred the entire experience and Andrew said he wasn’t sure he would return to Two Little Pigs.

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As for me, I guess Two Little Pigs just need a little more tweaking in making themselves a more top-notch cafe (Andrew did comment about the salt & pepper shakers and I guess the kitchen needs to be a little more careful to prevent Noel’s dish incident from happening again!).

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I do think Two Little Pigs has the makings of a great cafe – friendly and attentive service, good coffee and unique offerings on the menu. The menu also changes seasonally so I wouldn’t mind returning, to get more of that pork!

Two Little Pigs Charcuterie and Grind on Urbanspoon

As Ms EH goes to uni nearby, she became our pseudo tour guide for the day, pointing out the vintage shops to us and then bringing us to this neat little cafe…

Green Refectory

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Upon stepping in, you get a sense that Green Refactory is quite an established resident in Brunswick, with its red bricked walls, old-school wall decorations and antique-like furniture, fitting right into this vintage neighbourhood.

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A place to chill over coffee & cake

The rest ordered hot drinks while I decided to go for a muffin – I mean, how good do they look on display!

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The place was pretty crowded and it was a tight squeeze for us as we sat at 2 little tables but no matter, it added to the homely ambience. Heh.

And with the drizzle outside, it made things more cosy as we chatted over our drinks and muffin (I was nice and shared it!).

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Noel’s Hot Choc ($3.50) which probably soothed his palate after that unfortunate incident earlier at brunch!

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Andrew’s Long Mac ($3.50 maybe?) – he was particularly impressed by the distinct layers in his cup. It was passable by his standards!

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My Strawberry & Pear Muffin – $3

I was quite happy with my muffin – it had a good fluffy texture, was nice and buttery, and the balance of sweetness was just right. I also enjoyed the fruit inside – I might have just become a fan of baked pear!

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Cosy fellowship around the table

Ms EH has definitely introduced us to 1 very good cafe in Brunswick. The prices were reasonable, the baked goods looked delectable, drinks were all right and the ambience just makes you feel at home. A lovely cafe to chill in!

Green Refectory on Urbanspoon

And that was day out at Brunswick, where we did some pigging out, checked out some interesting shops and had some good fellowship :)


 

So what do you think of the photos this time round? Again, I thought Noel nailed it with capturing the mood and essence of the 2 places we went that day. I should just hire him as my blog photographer eh? :P

Haha anyway, I’m not sure if we’ll do another collaboration so if you want to see more of his photography, do check out his website. And feel free to contact him for some freelance photography opportunities!

How I Get Into A Baking Mood, and that Dark Choc Orange Cake

How does one get into baking?

I can’t quite explain how the inspiration for baking comes about – baking is essentially combining ingredients together to form something else quite different from what you started out with. So it involves imagination and perhaps some creativity.

Which is funny, because I don’t consider myself a very creative person, ornot even a good baker/cook.

But that doesn’t stop the inspiration from hitting me at times. It’s weird.

So the scenario goes – I would be in the middle of munching something, my tastebuds would get working, my mind would decide if I like it or not, and then decides yes, this is pretty good

And then *BAM*!

A million thoughts run through my head…

Wow great combi! What if I turn this into a cake? OR… What if I combine it with x or y? How would that taste? Ooohh that could work! 

Then a few things happen…

The heart starts pumping under the excitement of what could be conjured up.

The fingers get itchy.

The mind races as I get on the Internet to Google the key ingredients and recipe ideas.

The feet get going to the supermarket and eventually to the kitchen….

And tadah, a mad scientist is on a loose... Muahaha

And tadah, a mad scientist is on a loose… Muahaha

Moral of the story? If you want to get me baking or could bear to try 1 of my baking creations, FEED ME!

Hahaha.

Anyway, onto the main point, that Dark Chocolate Orange Cake!

It happened we were having a meal in church and someone brought Chocolate Orange Ice Cream for dessert.

Taken from Coles website

Taken from Coles website

I felt curious upon seeing that combination. I always thought chocolate went with berries, but orange?

But surprise surprise, I went through the whole mind-explosion thing. It could have been the tang of the orange that cut through the bittersweet chocolate, the fresh citrus edge of the orange with the creamy chocolate… whatever it was, I was sold.

Like the ice cream, I wanted a predominantly chocolate cake that had orange infused in it. So I found this recipe that seemingly fit the bill and got down to work…

Behold, the results of a 2hr experiment at the ‘lab’….

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And the conclusive test result?

Now, few things I like about this recipe.

The recipe involved boiling an orange, blitzing it and adding the orange puree into the chocolate cake batter and yes, that achieved the result of a chocolatey cake with that hint of orange – yay!

Adding the pureed orange made the cake moist on the inside – double yay!

I was worried that the chocolate ganache would make it overpoweringly chocolatey but that wasn’t the case – the orange taste was not lost and using the best baking chocolate ensured that it still satisfied lovers of chocolate. Yay yay yay!

Dark Chocolate Orange Cake

I’ve made the cake 4 times now and someone has requested for the recipe (thus the reason for writing this post!), so here are some other things I’ve learned along the way…

If you’re baking this cake for a large group and want to double the portions, do NOT put them all in 1 big baking tin but separate them out into 2 baking tins. I thought I was being smart by combining the double portion into 1 baking tin and the result? The cake turned out really dense and heavy. Keep the proportions and you’ll be guaranteed a moist and fluffy cake.

The only setback of this recipe is that it didn’t rise enough1 (as you can see from the above picture :( ). Maybe I should add more baking powder? Any tips from anyone on how to make the cake rise better without affecting the taste?

Perhaps use finely chopped/processed nuts (maybe walnuts) instead of candied orange for the cake decoration2. As directed in the recipe, I bought a pack of candied orange to decorate the cake. Turns out that I’m not a fan of candied orange – too artificially sweet! I reckon using nuts would taste much better and give you that natural crunch!

How soon you add the boiled orange puree into the batter affects the level of moisture in the cake3; if you add the puree while it is still warm, you will get a more moist cake. If you add the puree after it has cooled down, you will get a drier cake. It’s all up to you!

The chocolate ganache does take awhile to cool down4 so if you’re decorating with flakes of white chocolate, you should do it later or else, the white chocolate will melt into the ganache. But if you are doing away with the white choc flakes and like your ganache warm and gooey (like I do), feel free to pour unto the cake straightaway and eat almost immediately!

Okay enough yapping. Here’s the recipe!

Dark Chocolate Orange Cake – Adapted from BBCgoodfood.com

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 orange
  • 100g baking dark chocolate (feel free to mix dark choc & 70% cocoa)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  •  200ml sunflower oil + some oil for greasing the baking tin
  • 2 tsps cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder1 (see comment above)
  • chopped white choc/nuts/candied orange for decoration2 (see comment above)

Ganache

  • 100g baking dark chocolate
  • 100ml thickened cream

Method 

  • Pierce the orange with a small knife (right through). Cook in boiling water for 30 minutes until soft. Whizz the whole orange in a food processor until smooth; let cool3 (see comment above).

  • Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line the base of a 22cm round cake tin.

  • Melt the baking chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water or in the microwave for 2 minutes on High, stirring after 1 minute. Let cool.

  • In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, sugar and oil. Gradually beat in the puréed orange, discarding any pips, then stir in the cooled melted chocolate. Sift in the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Mix well and pour into the tin.

  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 55 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle. (Check after 45 minutes and cover with foil if it is browning too much.) Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • While the cake is baking, make your ganache. Melt the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Add the cream to the melted chocolate. Set aside until firm enough to spread over the cake – up to 1½ hours(see comment above)

And there you have it – the story behind my baking inspirations and the Dark Chocolate Orange Cake, enjoy!

 

Cutler & Co.

Masterchef Australia viewers are no strangers to Andrew McConnell and local foodies would be familiar with his restaurants in Melbourne. Despite the hype around him and his restaurants, I have not really considered his restaurants, after reading mixed reviews and seeing the menu prices online – it all sounded a little risky!

But then it happened that Ade finally made it down to Melbourne, and Ms TY and I were due to have dinner with her. Since Ms TY and I only recently dined at Epocha, I was kind of running out of ideas on where to bring the crowd.

And then I thought, oh well, let’s just give one of Melbourne’s top chefs a go!

So let’s see how that went…

We got an 8pm reservation and for a weekday night, the restaurant was really busy.

It took us quite awhile to get a waiter’s attention. But when someone finally attended to us, the service was still polite and attentive, despite the hustle and bustle around them.

Bread & butter, with a side of beetroot chutney which went very well on the bread

Bread & butter, with a side of beetroot chutney which went very well on the bread

We decided to share plates, mainly because Ms TY and I are used to doing that (haha we’ve our habits now) but I guess it was a good way to sample more dishes too.

So to start off, we got 2 entrees to share.

Smoked duck breast - $27

Smoked duck breast, salsify, prune & radicchio – $27

Flounder, smoked mussels, asparagus & brown butter - $27

Flounder, smoked mussels, asparagus & brown butter – $27

The duck breast was tender and I liked the pairing of it with the prune, but I much preferred the flounder – nice, clean flavours with the asparagus and butter.

We then moved on to 3 mains.

Slow cooked chicken, buttermilk potato, pancetta & crispy kale - $46

Slow cooked chicken, buttermilk potato, pancetta & crispy kale – $46

I thought the colours on this dish were really vibrant and appealing. Surprisingly, they used the chicken breast and it turned out tender. There was also sufficient jus to go round to make sure this dish wasn’t dry.

Dry aged lamb saddle, confit shoulder & spring garlic - $49

Dry aged lamb saddle, confit shoulder & spring garlic – $49

Rock flathead, seaweed, grilled octopus, shiitake & eggplant - $47

Rock flathead, seaweed, grilled octopus, shiitake & eggplant – $47

The lamb was fine but once again, I thought the fish was the best dish – the fish was juicy and the flavours were simple and clean. I actually enjoyed the Asian twist in the dish as you can taste a slight tang of soy sauce in the broth and I liked it with the shiitake.

My dining companions are pretty good at plating up!

My dining companions are pretty good at plating up!

I would have to say the portions are quite small for the prices that we were paying. Anyway, we decided to move on to dessert, and see if the sweets could fill us up.

Again, it was slightly challenging getting the attention of a waiter – by then, it was already nearing 10pm but the restaurant was showing no signs of slowing down!

Complimentary dessert given for all dessert orders

Complimentary dessert given for all dessert orders

From memory, this was supposed to be coconut sticky rice. The consensus round the table was that this was a little too sweet and some of us couldn’t finish it – very unlike the balanced flavours of the coconut dessert we got at Saint Crispin!

I’ve read some good reviews of the now-defunct Three One Two and I was excited to see that they had kept one of the old desserts on the menu…

Apple confit, burnt butter ice cream & salted caramel  (from Three, Two, One) - $19

Apple confit, burnt butter ice cream & salted caramel (from Three One Two) – $19

At first glance, the presentation wasn’t impressive. Overall, it was a very sweet dessert and I didn’t find any balance in the flavours – even the salted caramel didn’t give it a salty edge. I would have to say that I was a little disappointed in this dish!

Soft chocolate, mandarin & jasmine sorbet - $19

Soft chocolate, mandarin & jasmine sorbet – $19

We were curious to find out what ‘soft chocolate’ is and it turned out to be a chocolate mousse with a firmer texture. The main pairing of the dish was the chocolate and orange and I would have to say they went together beautifully. I very much enjoyed this dessert over the previous one!

From the dishes we had that night, it seems that McConnell’s dishes tend to focus on simple flavours and presentations, with no over-the-top combination of ingredients. I also found that the fish dishes were executed really well.

Overall, the meal was all right but I was expecting something a little more special, given the long list of accolades that McConnell and his restaurants have received. So for the mixture of hits and misses we had during our dinner, I felt that the price tag wasn’t worth it, and as such, I would be reluctant to make Cutler & Co. a top pick.

Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

Fortunately, Ade and my other dining companions are not fussy eaters and they didn’t complain about the food (phew!). I guess the food and dining experience were pretty much secondary to us – nothing can quite spoil your night when an old friend makes her way all the way down (under) to spend an evening with you!

Clayton Eats

Clayton is one lively suburb – it has its share of supermarkets, Asian grocery shops, discount shops, fresh food shops and restaurants. And that I find makes it very liveable, especially for the student community that attend the nearby Monash Uni.

Lately, we have been frequenting there and it’s not just because of the food, but because of something else… which I will reveal later!

So here I present some of our favourite eats in Clayton.

Dapur Indo 

This place serves up Indonesian food at reasonable prices, around the $10 mark for each dish.

They have ready-made food so you can choose to have Nasi Padang if you are too hungry to wait for the cooked dishes

They have ready-made food so you can have Nasi Padang if you’re too hungry to wait for the dishes that have to be cooked

But more importantly, the food here is pretty authentic! How do we know? Well, our Mr JC is Indonesian so if he says so, we’ll take his word for it!

Some dish that Mr JC got one time... the potato fries were yum! They were sweet and savoury

Some dish that Mr JC got… the potato fries were yum! They were sweet and savoury

Ayam Penyet

Ayam Penyet

This place serves up a pretty good Ayam Penyet and I get this almost every time – the chicken is fried to a good crisp and the chilli has the right amount of spice, yum! They even give a bowl of soup at the side and it usually has some veggies in it.

The restaurant is pretty small so during the peak hours, you may have trouble getting seats. A lot of people do come in to get takeaways. Anyway, if you’re looking for a good and cheap Indonesian eat around the area, this is the place to go!

(p.s. There is a pretty good bakery just next to the shop – so feel free to get your share of freshly baked bread or cakes after your meal at Dapur Indo!)

Dapur Indo on Urbanspoon

 Korchi

If you feel like having Korean, this would be our favourite Korean restaurant in this suburb.

Condiments - I don't think it's very Korean actually but I love those honeyed potatoes!

Condiments – I don’t think it’s very Korean actually but I love those honeyed potatoes! (pssst if you look carefully, there’s a bag of sesame breadcrumbs in the background – it only costs $3 from the bakery next to Dapur Indo. It’s baked to a crisp and has that beautiful crunch, delicious!)

We are fans of quite a few dishes at this place and even our pastor’s wife, who is Korean likes this place. So another stamp of approval for the authenticity of the food!

Spicy Fried Chicken (Medium plate) - $24

Spicy Fried Chicken (Medium plate) – $24

This is 1 dish that we always order to share around the table. I’m always up for Korean Fried Chicken but this version at Korchi’s wins it hands down for me. Someone mentioned that this dish reminds him of Sweet & Sour Pork and I guess you can say that, just that it’s chicken and spicy!

Champong (Korean spicy seafood noodle soup) - $12

Champong (Korean spicy seafood noodle soup) – $12

I’ve not found another place that has this so we come here whenever we have a craving for Champong. Let me tell you first, this bowl of noodles packs a spicy punch so get ready your tissues when you dig in! I can never stop myself from sweating and sniffling whenever I have this – oops.

There is a generous serving of ingredients and noodles so this bowl can easily be shared between 2 people.

Jjajangmyeon - $10

Jjajangmyeon – $10

If you want a non-spicy option, you should check out the Jjajangmyeon. It is a simple bowl of sweet black bean sauce with onions and noodles but I quite like this dish, with its simplicity and all.

We have tried some other Korean restaurants in the area but we find ourselves coming back to Korchi time and time again. If you’re looking for good Korean food in the area, you would know what I would recommend!

Korchi on Urbanspoon

Taste of Singapore

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It’s pretty obvious what cuisine this place offers and so now, here is the question – as a Singaporean, do I find the food here authentic?

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Lamb briyani

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Chicken briyani

I usually order the briyani whenever I come here. In terms of the taste, the curry is quite decent but the rice is not as flavourful as I want it to be – nothing quite beats the briyani rice at Zam Zam!

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Mee Soto

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Mee Rebus with satay

These are the dishes that my other friends tried and they were quite happy with it. Andrew gave a pretty good review of the Mee Soto and I thought the Mee Rebus looked really tantalising with the satay on the side!

So my verdict on the authenticity of the food? To be really honest, I have yet to find a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant here that is comparable to ones back home. I have previously reviewed some places that serves up decent Singaporean/Malaysian food but I guess the best cooks still remain in the homeland.

So while Taste of Singapore does bring me a little closer to home, I would say this is just a tiny taste of the huge and vibrant food scene back home!

Taste of Singapore @ Ida & Abas Kitchen on Urbanspoon

And the reason why we keep going back to Clayton (besides the food)?

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The biggest Asian grocery supermarket I have come across in Melbourne!

Haha I guess some of you all would know this by now but recently, the Officeworks at Clayton has moved out to make way for this huge Asian grocery mart, or should I say, supermarket.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside but trust me, there is a wealth of Asian grocery goods inside there and there is a fresh meats section too! The prices inside are competitive as well so we always have a whale of a time getting our Asian grocery shopping fix in there, after a good meal at Clayton.


 

So yup, that’s my take on Clayton and again, 3 different types of cuisine you can check out in the area. And do remember to check out the supermarket too!

Brunching in Balaclava

Two things – firstly, it was an overdue appointment with Daimz and Ms HH who had promised to bring me to 1 of their favourite brunch haunts, and secondly, it was a first-time collaboration with Noel whose photography skills I very much admire.

So for once, I didn’t have to put on my thinking cap of where to brunch or bring out my camera, and let the pros do their thing… certainly something that I was looking forward to!

Anyway, Daimz and Ms HH took me to Balaclava. I have not been there but they said that it was a nice suburb which is predominantly Jewish.

And of course, there was something about the food there, and we were there to discover what Balaclava had to offer…

Monk Bodhi Dharma

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The cafe was teeming with people when we got there but we were there for one thing only – coffee. So we quickly placed our orders for takeaway coffee.

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And of course, I stood back to let Noel do his thing ;)

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But I couldn’t resist playing with his camera for a couple of shots (I love his prime lens!) – my amateurish take on a portrait shot

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Latte – $4

I went for the Brazil blend and it was indeed mellow, as described on the board. It was smooth and finished off with caramel notes.

The coffee was pretty pleasant but I’m not sure if this a top pick for me for coffee. Like what I’ve said previously, I’m more for blends which has dark chocolate and that bitter kick.

Anyway, Monk is supposedly a vegetarian cafe and the menu does look interesting – the cafe also looks really popular so I guess it would be worth giving their brunch fare a go!

Monk Bodhi Dharma on Urbanspoon

Batch

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So the reason why we didn’t stay in Monk for brunch was because Ms HH wanted to try out this cafe.

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Batch gives out this cosy homely feel with its wooden furnishings and wall decorations. And from the decorations, it is pretty obvious that the cafe is Kiwi-owned!

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Ms HH’s Latte

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Andrew’s Long Mac

I had hit my coffee quota for the day already so I passed for the coffees. According to the rest, their coffees were all right.

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Corn & Zucchini fritters

I heard a lot about their corn fritters so I went for that. As you can see from the above, the fritters were practically bursting with corn and zucchini. I really enjoyed the fritters and the texture was just right, not overly-doughy.

As you can also tell, it was a very simple dish with no fancy sides. The relish and salad helped to give the dish some freshness but the main star of the dish was pretty much the fritters.

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Potato Rosti with fried egg and creme fraiche

Andrew and Noel went for this dish, while I stole a bite from them. We had good memories of potato rosti at Di Bella and Proud Mary and unfortunately, we didn’t think Batch’s version was as good.

I guess the problem was that the dish was a little dry without the generous serving of gravy that Di Bella and Proud Mary had. We also weren’t big fans of the creme fraiche at the side and we thought it made the dish heavier.

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Kedgeree with smoked trout

This was a more unusual dish and Ms HH decided to try this out. It reminded me of the healthy superfood kind of fare that we had at Merchants Guild. It was light on the oil and had slivers of fish throughout.

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Roast potatoes with ham, spinach & poached egg

This is what I call a blokey kind of dish and I wasn’t surprised that Daimz went for it. It was hearty with lots of spam and potatoes – it looked pretty filling!

The dishes at Batch are pretty down-to-earth and the prices are quite reasonable, with the dishes being priced around $15-17. While Batch doesn’t quite rank as a top Melbourne cafe for me, I can see that this would be a nice go-to place for the locals in the suburb, to have a simple laid-back brunch.

I would also say that the go-to dish would be the corn fritters – uncomplicated with lots of corn and zucchini in it, I think that would satisfy any fritters’ lover!

Batch Espresso on Urbanspoon

Dana Patisserie

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We still had some time to spare so we walked around the shops for awhile. And then we chanced upon this shop – how pretty does it look?

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If you’ve been following my blog, you would know that I had pretty fond memories of the local patisseries in France. And this little patisserie in Balaclava may just bring me down memory lane again!

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Chocolate Salted Caramel Tart – $4.50

Being a chocolate lover, Noel had this little sweet. He let me have a bite and the salted caramel that oozed out was amazing. Noel found it a little too salty but I thought the salted caramel went just well with the bittersweet chocolate – maybe he has a sweeter tooth than me!

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White Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake – $6

I thought that this would be a simple cheesecake but I was wrong – it was so much more than that. The texture of the cream cheese was really smooth, and I was surprised to find the balance of sweetness just right (I mean white chocolate AND caramel sounds abit like an overkill right?). This was really good cheesecake!

The portion was also quite filling – I could only manage half of the cake and shared the rest.

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I guess you can’t really compare with the beautiful pastries you can find in France but I was still quite pleased with our discovering of Dana Patisserie. The sweets that we got were pretty decent and they are priced quite reasonably, so I reckon any lover of French pastries would be quite satisfied with Dana’s offerings.

Dana Patisserie on Urbanspoon

And that was our day out in Balaclava, with Daimz and Ms HH taking us around. We didn’t get to try any Jewish eateries but we did get a sense of the suburb’s character as we drove through the well-kept neighbourhood and spotted quite a few Jewish families walking home from the local synagogue.

And I guess in Melbourne, no matter where you are, there is always that multicultural vibe going on, especially going by the places that we visited that day – and that is just why Melbourne is such a cool place to live in!


 

So what do you think of the photographs on this post? Pretty cool eh? I think Noel actually captured the essence of each place well – from the cool moody vibe of Monk, to the cosy mood of Batch and to the elegant-sophisticated layout of Dana.

Anyway, Noel is planning to start out on freelance photography so do check out his website to find out more. And if you like his photographs as much as I do, hold up as we have 1 more collaboration coming up soon! ;)