Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Oak Room, Ashburton by Obelix

We've been making an effort to explore the Ashburton Villlage shopping strip.  It's still low key enough to find a park without too much hassle and there's a few cafes and eateries to choose from.  In the past we've explored Two Seeds, The Resident and Chicken Central.  This time round, we thought we'll try a cafe the other end of the village strip, the Oak Room.

The Oak Room is a family friendly sort of place.  My sister and young nephew joined me for lunch and they accommodated by placing us at a table which we could park a pram.  The menu was a mix of breakfast and lunch items.

The Oak Room, chicken waffles
I've been trying in vain to stick with a minimal carb diet with little success due to my abysmal will power.  My sister's waffles and fried chicken were like kryptonite.  I caved big time and was soon stealing most of her waffles.  These were warm and fluffy with a hint of orange scent.  It came on a bed of raw waffle batter - almost as good as the cooked waffles and topped with fried chicken tenderloins and coleslaw.  Out of sheer politeness, I restrained myself from eating her fried chicken as I've consumed most of her waffles.  This was the special for $17.50.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2016 – Highlights from the Eat and Be Merry Crew

2016 has seen the Eat and Be Merry Crew enjoying itself, not just all over Melbourne, but further afield – down the Mornington Peninsula, north to Sydney, the Gold Coast and Far North Queensland, and even overseas to New Zealand and Malaysia.

We stretched our budgets to fine dining; we shared with families and friends at everyday cafés and restaurants; and we chowed down in food halls and from that latest gastronomic trend – the food truck. Amazingly, we achieved an even better “We Loved It” strike rate than last year, with just over one in every two posts being given the highest rating.

Are we getting better at choosing venues, or is the food scene around Melbourne just getting better and better? We’ll leave it to you to make that judgement.

So, which places and dishes were so good that they have been etched in our memories – the ones we will return to again and again; the ones that will be the benchmarks against which we judge future dishes?

The Crew was asked to nominate just two great memories from 2016: favourite venue, and best dish. Surprisingly, none of the Crew nominated a ‘best dish’ from their ‘favourite venue’, showing that great food is only part of a memorable dining experience. Bureaucrat’s favourite venue highlighted the use of hand-crafted timber furniture and artworks blended into the décor; Obelix’s favourite managed to be both welcoming to young families and provide a fine dining experience – a remarkable achievement.

In no particular order …

Beef and vegetable pot pie at Tolga Woodworks Cafe
Beef and vegetable pot pie at Tolga Woodworks Cafe

Bureaucrat’s idea of a perfect venue seats its diners at hand-crafted solid timber tables and chairs, surrounds them with local artworks, and then delights their taste buds with local produce simply prepared to highlight freshness. She found it last year in Queensland at the Tolga Woodworks Café.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

IKEA Restaurant, Springvale by Benny

Bilby Blue and I have wonderful memories of backpacking through Scandinavia. Despite its reputation of being expensive for both food and accommodation, we found that the secret was to stay in youth hostels, and, especially in Sweden, to eat at department store cafeterias.  Just about every Swedish department store had a cafeteria which catered for everyday Swedish families with everyday Swedish food – for a reasonable price and with generous serves. We developed quite a fondness for hearty serves of Swedish meatballs, smothered in thick gravy and accompanied by an over-abundance of boiled potatoes.

IKEA Restaurant, Swedish meatballs
Swedish meatballs

So it not unexpected that Swedish furniture giant IKEA has cafeterias in its stores (although it insists on calling them ‘restaurants’). A well organised system for customers to file past the serveries and cash registers includes specially designed trollies that snugly hold three serving trays, making it easy for families to wrangle multiple meals. The dining area is huge, but the institutional atmosphere is softened just a little by offering different styles of seating – from standard cafeteria-style tables and chairs to couches arranged around coffee tables, with a sprinkling of child-friendly play areas.

Curator 23, Mount Waverley by Bureaucrat

Son of Tucci kicked off the revival of the sleepy Mount Waverley shopping village. With its contemporary menu and faux industrial decor, suburbanites with hipster yearnings no longer have to journey into inner city suburbs to get their smashed avo and single-origin espresso fix.

Hot on the heels of Son of Tucci is Curator 23. With its crisp white surfaces, pops of bright yellow and a cute little courtyard, it's another wonderful addition to the village. We visited Curator 23 for a weekday lunch and it was filled with a mix of golden oldies, professionals and young families. here's no doubt that the nearby high school kids would wander in for a sneaky coffee between classes - certainly, I would do the same!

Curator 23, seafood pasta
The Lawyer chose the seafood pasta, which he loved.  A lovely pile of al dente pasta that had a generous amounts of meaty prawns, scallops and calamari. The dish had an added freshness with the sweet cherry tomatoes and wedge of lime.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Kilgour Street Grocer and Café, Geelong by Benny

Finding great places to eat and drink in unfamiliar towns is hard enough, and having a four-legged companion with you just adds to the difficulty. We were in Geelong around lunchtime with our dog (known as ‘the cute one’) in tow, and were keen to explore the dining options.

Kilgour Street Grocer and Café, Mexican bowl
Kilgour Mexican Bowl

Online research identified a few intriguing possibilities, but option 1 proved to be not quite as dog-friendly as web searches had suggested. Option 2 was the Kilgour Street Grocer and Café, a compact corner store only a few blocks away from Kardinia Park. The neat interior is welcoming, a striking sky-blue espresso machine prominent on the counter. Rustic timber furniture accommodates a dozen or so diners and displays a range of boutique and everyday groceries and decorator items on pastel painted shelves – with an emphasis on local and regional artisan suppliers. The serving area is tiny and easily filled with customers queuing, but service is efficient and friendly so waiting times are short. When we visited most customers were after take-away so the interior dining area was not full. But we, of course, were interested in the dog-friendly area. This is a narrow alley-like space between the shop wall and the paling fence, furnished with colourful plastic stools and brightly painted tables formed from old cable drums. Small pots of succulents add a further welcoming touch.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Shizuku Ramen, Abbotsford by Bureaucrat

As the great man, Chairman Kaga, says, if my memory serves me correctly, seven years ago, Big Fil and Snooze started a food review blog.  This all came about as most of the Eat and Be Merry Crew members worked in the city and that meant we were spoilt for choice when it came to lunch options. The purpose of the blog was to share with our friends and families the great places that we liked.  Back then, we were averaging about a blog post a day(!) and we had yet to figure out how to use all this "social media".

Never in our minds did we think that anyone besides our family and friends would read it, and when we started to get invitations from restaurants to review their food, we thought "does this actually happen?!".  The complimentary meals are definitely a nice perk and it's given us the opportunity to try out restaurants that we wouldn't necessarily would have tried.  Case in point is Shizuku Ramen.  We were invited to dine there three years ago.  Ramen didn't rate on my food radar but after a lovely bowlful of its rich, silky broth, I was impressed - this ain't just an ordinary bowl of soup and noodles.

Shizuku Ramen, ramen
With the Lawyer not quite getting his ramen fix from our recent lunch at Kenji, I decided to take him to Shizuku Ramen.  They have a pretty good value lunch time deal, where you get a bowl of ramen, entree and appetizer for $15.  The ramen is the simplest version that they have but that's not to say that it is anything less than tasty.  The broth is deep and velvety.  You can tell that it's been simmered for hours and you can just sense the nutritional properties of it (bone broth enthusiasts will be excited about this broth).  The ramen is pleasantly chewy and it comes with a range of pickled veg, a few thinly sliced pork and a lovely creamy egg.