Form Cafe – Suburban Treat

panda 4 rating

Menu:
Form Cafe Menu 1 Form Cafe Menu 3 Form Cafe 2

Form Café is located in the suburban streets of Essendon and has been on my list of cafes to try for a while. I found myself in and around that area on a Saturday so decided to pop by for something to eat before running more errands.

Form Café resides on Albion Street in what used to be a milk bar, then a house, then an artists’ studio and finally a café. Owned by Rob Cecchinelli and Jason Currie (both from Ray) – this café has a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere where you can see yourself spending lots of time without even realising how much time you have spent. I especially love the wheelbarrow garden located at the front of the restaurant coupled with a chalkboard sign with its name on it.

The interior is mostly white with splashes of wood throughout. I love the island bench that houses the terracotta jugs where you can self-serve your own water – it actually makes self service cool! Carrying on the self-service theme are the cutlery and serviettes that are clustered in the middle of each table held in a tomato soup tin – how vintage! Carrying on the vintage vibe is the menu that is written on brown butcher’ paper. There are three main sitting areas – one as you walk in, another as you go up the stairs (almost like a raised living area) and then outside in the courtyard.

The menu begins with the classics that you expect to find on a breakkie / brunch menu such as Fruit Toast, Pet (Poached Eggs on Toast), The Good Stuff (Bircher Muesli with Poached Fruit, Cream, Pistachios & Honey) and then moves onto the more unique dishes such as Shane’s Sardines (Tinned Sardines on Toast with Pickled Fennel and Salsa Verde), Cheese & Onion Square (Leek & Onion braised in White Wine on Toast, sat under Grilled Messy Valley Cheese) and Smash (Avo, Tomatoes, Danish Feta on Multi-Grain Toast with Grilled Corn) – just to name a few. There is also Gluten Free bread available.

I order a latte while I decide on what food I want. The Latte is perfection in a cup – strong with nutty flavours and just the right amount of milk and foam. I decide to order the Trout – Petuna Smoked Trout, Potato Cake and Lemon Scented Zucchini and Poached Eggs. I was surprised at how quickly the dish appeared at my table not long after I had ordered. A few tables down – the patrons made the same comment as well – the quick delivery of food once their orders had been placed. Efficiency at its best!

Food is served on recycled plates (they really are looking out for the environment) – which I don’t mind at all! The Potato Cake sits on the bottom with the beautifully smoked trout layered on top followed by the lemon scented zucchini and finished with rocket leaves. It looks like a Christmas tree that I can’t wait to devour. The poached egg is placed to the side surrounded by peas, pepitas and dukkah. The Potato cake is soft on the inside with a crisp and delicious tasting crunch on the outside – it is not what you would expect normally when you think potato cake – but is fantastic nonetheless. The combination of the fresh cool trout with the warm potato and hint of tang from the lemon scented zucchini is a divine combination. The egg was poached nicely and the addition of the peas and pepitas added extra texture. The dish was consumed just about as fast as it arrived.

The service is a bit varied but overall friendly – especially the barista as you leave – which makes your experience a whole lot better and makes you want to come back. Form Café is a great addition to the area and I will definitely be back to try out Shane’s Sardines!

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Refer to
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Comfortable and Casual
Service: Friendlyish…
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Form-Cafe/184897851654353
32 Albion Street, Essendon
Tel No: 9375 3232

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 6.30am – 4:00pm
Saturday & Sunday: 8:00am – 4:00pm

Form Cafe on Urbanspoon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Form-Cafe/184897851654353
Twitter: @ForMCafeMelb
Instagram: @formcafe

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Norma Loves Joe – You Will Love It Too!

panda 4.5 rating

I happened to stumble across the newly opened Norma Loves Joe on my Instagram and was happy to note that it was only a short drive from home. Norma Loves Joe is located on Whitehorse Road in Balwyn, just down from the iconic Balwyn Cinema, and is opened by Courtney Ludlow and Kristie O’Donoghue who have been friends since kindergarten.

Norma Loves Joe is named after the passionate and addictive affair between Norma Jean and Joe DiMaggio, that remained everlasting and honest – which is the formula that this newly opened café will follow. The aim of this café is to create a relaxed space with an all day brunch menu for the surrounding residents of Balwyn – and further.

I love the interior of Norma Loves Joe – a combination of wood, tiles and metal brought together in perfect harmony. The tiling on the main back wall reciprocates that of a brick wall in angular formation, with the tilling around the bench and kitchen area being a patterned contrast. Minimalist light bulbs light up one wall with lighting for the kitchen and coffee areas being provided by under beam lighting. Seating is available both inside – on low wooden tables in front of the coffee & kitchen benches as well as along the window; and outside – both at the front of the venue as well as in the courtyard out the back.

Coffee here is served by Axil Coffee Roasters – one of my favourite roasters! I ordered a latte which was crisp, nutty with caramel tones and made to perfection. Tea here is by The Slow Tea Co. with 8 different flavours to try including Booze Hound (which is meant to aid with cleansing), Spicy Vanilla Chai, Chamomile & Mint. Other drinks include Karma Cola and Lemmy Lemonade both of which are fair trade & organic, as well as drinks and smoothies from the Emma & Tom’s range.

The breakfast menu consists of all your favourites together with showcasing some flair in some different dishes – I’m talking about you Red Velvet Waffles! These aforementioned waffles are at the top of the breakfast list – and how could you not order them when you see this combination? Other savoury dishes include a Big Love Breakfast, a Brunch Salad (Kale, cauliflowers, avocado, ruby grapefruit, poached egg, bacon) as well as a Super Salad (Brown rice ,red quinoa, roasted sweet potato & beetroot, broccoli, toasted seeds & lemon hummus), a Yankee Burger (lean beef, Swiss cheese, pickled red cabbage, tomato & caramelized onion) and a toastie (Double Smoked Ham & Swiss Cheese) and pide (Pulled Chicken & Red Slaw) available too. Norma loves Joe caters for the little ones as well – with two dishes aptly named Little Joe and Little Norma – both served with chocolate milk.

There were four of us on this Saturday morning and we scored a table in the main dining area. We all couldn’t go past the waffles so decided to get that as our sweet dish at the end to share. I was deciding between the Mixed Mushrooms and the Breakfast Quesadillas and in the end ended up going with for the latter.
The Breakfast Quesadillas came with scrambled eggs, cheese, spinach and black eyed beans – however I am not a fan of black eyed beans so I asked to have the dish without these and asked for mushrooms instead. This dish coves in a very generous serving – you get four triangular pieces stuffed with the filling together with a little serving of sweet chilli sauce. I really enjoyed this dish – NLJ has taken a simple idea and turned it into something special. The scrambled eggs form the base later with the spinach, cheese and mushrooms placed above it – this is encased in a quesadilla. The flavours were simple but the overall flavouring was delicious – the juice from the succulent mushrooms worked well with the crunch of the quesadilla finished with a hint of hotness with the sweet chilli sauce. Yum!

S ordered the Mixed Mushrooms – on grilled sourdough with parsley puree and she asked for a side of salmon. This was quite a cute dish and despite looking smaller when compared to the other dishes everyone had ordered; was quite filling. The parsley puree was unique and something that I haven’t seen anywhere else and was quite tasty and really did complement the flavour of the mushrooms.

T & S (another S) both ordered the Shakshuka – two eggs baked in tomato sugo, capsicum, basil & feta served with grilled sourdough. The Shakshuka itself was served in a terracotta dish and placed on a wooden board where the grilled sourdough was also placed. The Shakshuk was perfectly made and tasted fantastic – the combination of the sweet tangy tomatos with the basil and feta together with a hint of chilli was scrumptious! If you are a fan of tomato and Shakshuka in general – NMJ does a really great version!

Once we had finished our savoury dishes – it was onto the sweet part of the day in the form of waffles! Norma’s Red Velvet Waffles – with cream cheese dressing and seasonal berries was visually stunning dish – individual red heart shaped waffles – topped with cream cheese and finished with berries and icing sugar – DIVINE! The flavour was exactly what you would expect – the rich velvety taste with the not too sweet cream cheese dressing – it really was like eating a cupcake but in a waffle version. This is one dish I would definitely recommend anyone to try!

The service here at NLJ is exceptional – staff are friendly and always with a smile and you can tell that they genuinely love everything that they do and every dish that they put out. Norma Loves Joe is the type of place that you can find yourself spending a whole day at without even realising – it is just that comfortable and chilled out. I am so glad that it is close to home – will definitely be back!

Rating : 4.5 Pandas
Price: $
Menu – Refer to pictures above or visit http://www.normalovesjoe.com/menu.html
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Comfortable, welcoming and laid back – great for a relaxed weekend catchup
Standout Dish: Norma’s Red Velvet Waffles – with cream cheese dressing and seasonal berries
Service: Fantastic – very friendly and helpful
Online Booking: No
http://www.normalovesjoe.com/
239 Whitehorse Road, Balwyn
Tel No: 9817 2576

Opening Hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 7:00am – 4:00pm
Saturday & Sunday: 8:00am – 4:00pm
Tuesday: CLOSED

Norma loves Joe on Urbanspoon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/normalovesjoe
Twitter: @NormaLovesJoe
Instagram: norma_loves_joe

South of Johnston – Relaxed and Enchanting

panda 4 rating

My first impression of South of Johnston or SoJo as it is affectionately known as was that it had a really vibrant yet relaxed country feel to it. It was a place that you could literally spend hours and hours and feel like you are away on a day trip, yet you are located in the inner city suburb of Collingwood. Stuart McKenzie (from Mart 130) spent a lot of time finding the perfect venue to open his café and wonderfully transformed the once old valve-repackaging factory into the venue that it is today with some help from Carver Design.

SoJo is quite a large venue, in Oxford Street, and is made of multiple spaces that you can pick to choose from to sit. There is an outside covered quadrangle located at the front, which looks out onto the street and lets the bright sunshine in. What is super cool as well is the “urban orchard” that is located at the front of this area – with herb and fruit trees located in planter boxes. What was also great was that there were blankets placed on each chair – perhaps if you got a bit cold – such a novel idea. There is a covered courtyard area located at the back as well as the main area where the bar / coffee bar is located that is quite large (and where bookings can be made as well). This main area also consists of a fireplace with comfortable looking lounges located around it. If you think its hard deciding on where you want to sit, wait till you get to the food menu – there is a huge variety to select from!

I love the combination of the wooden tables and chairs with the simple, modern and pastel pieces of artwork. As well as the colourful cushions that are tossed across the comfy looking couches. At the entrance there is a table with knick knacks and various elegant artifacts which adds a classy touch.

South of Johnston has an all day dining menu to offer and consists of classic breakfast dishes with a contemporary twist, and they can cater for all dietary requirements as well. There really is a little of everything on the menu and like I said you will spend even longer than you did deciding where to sit. There are egg breakfasts: scrambled and folded with goats’ cheese and truffle oil; fried eggs and kaiserfleisch; or soft-poached and saucy with sugo, black olives and spicy chorizo. The usuals such as Bircher muesli with poached seasonal fruit, crunchy granola and vanilla bean infused yogurt can also be found. Two dishes that most people seem to talk about is the French Toast served with Brioche and the Corn fritters – where the corn cobs have been oven roasted to get that smoky flavour – mm yuum!

It was quite a warm day and I felt like fresh juice and the waitress informed me that they had a special for that day which was a grapefruit juice – so I thought I would try it out. It was quite refreshing albeit a bit bitter. Towards the end I did have to add some sugar in it to cut some of the bitter taste. After much deliberation I decided to have the Pancakes served with Mixed Berries and Vanilla Infused Mascarpone with Pistachio Nuts as I felt like something sweet. The pancakes come with a maple syrup bottle that you have all to yourself – so you can put as much or as little as you want around the pancakes. There hasn’t been a place yet that I have been to that does this. The dish was quite sizeable and it seemed like there was a mountain of pancakes to get through (I couldn’t finish the whole dish) – the pancakes themselves were delicious – soft and flavoursome.  The combination of the tangy berries with the vanilla mascarpone and crunch of the nuts against the fluffy pillows was fantastic. The addition of the maple added more sweetness to the dish.

SoJo is a relaxed and inviting café (in fact they almost encourage you to sit and stay the whole day), that has a great selection of tasty dishes coupled with a variety of drinks. The menu is for All Day Dining and the multitude of options of where you can sit add to the homely feel of this space. I will definitely be back and this time I will sit in a different section of the café =)

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Refer to http://southofjohnston.com.au/spring-summer-menu-13.pdf
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Relaxed, Comfortable, Warm and Inviting. Great place to just chill and hang out and spent most of your day. (There is free WiFi as well)
Standout Dish: Didn’t try it but the French Toast Brioche and the Corn Fritters seem to be a hit
Service: Friendly, Helpful and Warm
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
southofjohnston.com.au
46 Oxford Street, Collingwood
Tel No: 9417 2741

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 7:30 am – 5:00 pm

South of Johnston on Urbanspoon

Mister Bianco – Sicilian Great

panda-4-rating1

It was a combined dinner for myself and V and the place that we decided on was Mister Bianco. Mister Bianco, which is named after a municipality in Sicily, is located on High Street in Kew and is amongst other restaurants such as Estivo and St Katherine’s in that strip. This great Sicilian restaurant is a stylish and romantic restaurant brought to you by Joseph Vargetto (Mezzo Bar & Grill) and serves food and flavours from Southern Italy.

When you walk into Mister Bianco there is warm and welcoming feel to it – there is soft lighting and classy touches. There are two adjoining dining rooms – one at the front-  where the wooden bar is housed with tables surrounding it – as well and one further behind which houses more tables. There is also extra space upstairs which includes a private dining room. It really is like a typical Italian Bistro Style restaurant, which further adds to the comfort and feel. The tables are decked out in crisp white linen, topped with monogrammed wine glasses and completed with a variety of salts and olive oil for the bread to come. There is abstract art work in bright tones that stick out on the white walled background, which is further emphasized from the soft glow of lighting.

The menu comes from Vargetto’s extensive experience coupled with his traditional Sicilian roots and brings it together to form a modern take on Sicilian food – flavours, ingredients and cooking methods. The menu is divided into different sections –  stuzzichini (little starters), entrees and mains and a separate heading for shucked shells, steaks as well as pasta and risotto, and finally sides. On the main menu there is also a box which is titled – “Save some room for dessert” which I think is quite a good idea. I mean who doesn’t have room for dessert?

There was 6 of us at dinner so we decided to share a combination of stuzzichini and entrees and then get a main meal each. Yes, we were all really hungry on this day! First we recieved the Our Meatballs ‘Messinese’, Cous Cous + Tomato Sugo. The others really enjoyed these meatballs which also had a hint of chilli and paprika which enhanced the tomato and meat flavours. The Cous Cous comes with pine nuts, sultanas and saffron and was cooked perfectly and was the great addition to the meatballs.

We also ordered the Arancini of Blue Swimmer Crab + Stinging Nettle with Romesco Sauce. The Arancini was perfectly crumbed and was crunchy and tasty with a soft gooey centre of crab. The Romesco Sauce was a strong flavour but with the addition of the lemon gave a great tang and lessened the flavour. A tasty dish all in all.

Next up was the Burrata Mozzarella (money bag style), Roasted and Raw Heirloom Beetroots, Candied Walnuts, Grissini and Balsamic Reduction. I was intrigued by this dish as the Mozzarella on the menu stated that it was money bag style and indeed when it came out it did resemble a money bag and was the centre piece of the dish. It was surrounded with the other ingredients, with the Grissini topping the dish off in criss cross style. The combination of the mozzarella, beetroot with its sweet taste coupled with the tang of balsamic reduction and the walnuts was delicious. It was a really interesting dish and a great light entree.

The last share dish we had was the Tuna Carpaccio ‘Alla Zingara’, Avocado Puree + Cucumber, Fennel Bread. This was a spectacularly presented dish – the tuna is seared on the outside and comes in the form of three mini hamburgers. There are three tuna pieces which make up the hamburger and are sandwiched between tomato, cucumber and avocado. The tuna “burgers” are topped with sesame seeds just like a real burger would be. Its little details like this that make a difference. Surrounding the “burgers” are shaved bottarga, pistachios, fried capers and greens, together with fennel bread. This is really a fantastic dish and a must try!

For mains there was a variety of dishes chosen but the clear favourite was the Hand Cut Cavalo Nero flavoured Tagliatelle, Poached Spanner Crab and Grilled Scampi, Chilli, Garlic with three of us selecting this dish. And this dish certainly didn’t disappoint – the pasta (all hand made) was fresh, tasty and green as it was flavoured with cavalo nero. The flavours were rich and full of flavour and just yum – my one comment would be that there wasn’t much poached spanner crab in the dish and there was heaps of oil around the dish. I love how the dish was topped with grilled scampi and it certainly was the highlight of the dish – it was once again cooked perfectly and flavoured nicely.

Another dish around the table was the Potato Gnocchi with Slow Braised Organic Chicken, Farmed Rabbit, Corn Ragu and Crispy Parsnips – the pasta once again was soft and fresh and literally melted in your mouth. What caught V to pick this dish was the corn ragu – it was an interesting concept to the dish. She enjoyed the dish and as gnocchi dishes usually are was quite a heavy dish – the addition of both the chicken and the rabbit intensified this. C ordered the Slow Braised Organic Beef Cheek in Red Wine, Creamed Spatzle and Pickled Raddichio – which was another impressive dish. The Beef Cheek was glossy and cooked so the point where it literally fell off the “bone” and coupled with the creamed spatzle and tanginess of the raddichio was delicious. H ordered the Slow Cooked Otway Ranges Pork Belly with Peppers, Capers + Raisins, Sauce ‘Agrodolce’ – which he enjoyed quite a lot as well.

Next up was dessert – and since there was 6 of us we decided to order 4 different desserts and share them all. This way we got to sample and try a variety of what they had to offer. Desserts are done by pastry chef Maria Lantelme. The first of the four desserts was the Sicilian Style Donuts with Chocolate Gelato + Strawberry Jam. This has to be one of my favourite dishes as of late – the most interesting part of the dish was that it came with a syringe of jam which you use to inject the jam into the donuts yourself. I love this concept – its a bit different and allows you to interact with the food in a different sense, rather than just putting it in your mouth and eating it. The donuts itself were warm, delicious and had the right amount of sweetness topped with icing sugar. My only qualm would be that more jam was needed – perhaps two jam-filled syringes? =p The next dessert we tried was the Our Pineapple “Sundae” – Pineapple Carpaccio, Prosecco Jelly, Roasted and Glazed Pineapple, Pineapple Sorbet – it was all about the Pineapple. It came out in a martini glass that was covered with pineapple pieces on the outer edge and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The different ways that the pineapple had been encapsulated was interesting and it was quite a sweet tasting dessert. The other two desserts were the Strawberries + Cream Soufflé, White Chocolate Chips + Strawberry Sorbet + Raspberry Crisps and the dessert special of Orange Almond Sponge Cake with Creme Fraiche. Both of these desserts were exceptionally tasty as well. The souffle was warm and gooey and the sorbet oozed with the tangy and sweet strawberry flavour. The Orange Almond sponge cake was moist and full of the orange flavour, with the creme fraiche helping to smooth out the strong orange flavour.

Overall, the staff are friendly and always helpful – just a pity on the night it seemed quite hard to get their attention when we wanted to order a drink or something off the menu. The place is soothing, calming and generally all round cozy and serves up great Sicilian food with a modern twist.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – Main Menu – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/images/PDF/mister_bianco_menu.pdf. Dessert Menu – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/images/PDF/mister_bianco_desserts_drinks_menu.pdf
The generic link for the menu can be found at http://www.misterbianco.com.au/index.php/menu
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Comfortable, Cosy, Romantic – great for date night or celebrating that special occasion.
Standout Dish: Roasted Marron, Tarragon Butter
Service: Friendly, Welcoming and Knowledgeable. Just a note on the night that we went – there were about 3 waitresses – but it just seemed hard to get anyone’s attention at times if we did need something – but having said that they were really great in ensuring that our glasses were always topped up.
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://www.misterbianco.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.misterbianco.com.au/
285 High Street, Kew
Tel No:  9853 6929

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Wednesday – Friday: From 12:00pm
Dinner
Monday – Saturday:  From 6:00pm

Mister Bianco on Urbanspoon

Giddiup – Jump on for the Ride

panda-3-5-rating2

Menu:
Giddiup Menu 1 Giddiup Menu 2 Giddiup Menu 3 Giddiup Menu 4

Giddiup is the latest venture from the crew behind Richmond’s Amsterdam Street cafe. It is located in hustle and bustle around South Melbourne Market, on Coventry Street. It located on the corner of Francis Street and takes up a rectangular space which has floor to ceiling windows. Inside the look is sleek, minimalistic and modern completed with black coffee bar and wooden benches. Further inside, there is the ingenious idea of tables made of two crates being piled on each other and a wooden top placed on it. There is seating available outside as well along Coventry street, where you can sit and enjoy the sunshine underneath the umbrellas and watch passers by.

Giddiup offers a selection of ready-made sandwiches and pastries which can be bought at the counter, as well as having a sit down menu.

There were four of us on this busy Saturday morning – it was around 11am and we had to wait about 5-10 mintues for a table. We were seated outside and whilst deciding on what we wanted to eat we ordered our coffees. The coffees did take some time to arrive and when they came out G actually ordered a flat white but got a latte instead. I ordered a latte as well and aside from that stuff up – the coffee was delicious and creamy and enjoyable. Coffee at Giddiup is from Single Origin Roasters in Sydney.

I ordered from the Specials menu – there were 5 different specials to choose from – and got the Mushies & Salsa Verde. G got the Baked eggs – Sausage & eggs, B got the Croque Giddiup (Monsieur) and J got Fruit Toast. The dishes all came out together, however one of the waitresses wasn’t sure what dish she had in her hand and called the Croque Monsieur the Croqumebouche which was slightly confusing. All the dishes came out and were presented nicely. My dish had butter roasted mushrooms with salsa verde, feta and two poached eggs on toasted cape seed loaf.The eggs were poached perfectly and the mushrooms were fresh and flavoursome. I would have liked a bit more salsa verde on my dish but overall it was a super yummy dish. The others enjoyed their meals as well. The Baked Eggs I must say looked the best out of all the dishes we got. The chorizo looked vibrant and seemed to be cooked just right. G did enjoy them.

As we were hanging around for a while longer, once I had topped up my parking I decided to have something sweet – I was tossing up between the Choc Macademia Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and the Diplomat Pudding (which is a sort of bread and butter pudding but better) with Vanilla Mascarpone. I settled on the Diplomat Pudding – it sounded good and I cant really go past mascarpone. Mascarpone is one of my favourite ingredients and if I see it as part of a dessert dish chances are I will order that. The pudding came out and had mixed berries amongst the soft and warm bread and butteryness and was absolutely delicious! Coupled with the vanilla bean mascarpone it was delicious and it really did complete the good foodie meal here at Giddiup.

Giddiup is great small café, and has a relaxing and chilled out atmosphere to it. Their main emphasis is on sourcing local and fresh ingredients and at the front of the menu is a spiel on where all their ingredients come from. And additionally everything is made in house in the Giddup kitchen. Service is good and the staff are friendly. Giddiup takes simple meals and makes them delicious.

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $$$$
Menu – Refer to pics above
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Comfortable, Relaxed and Chilled out. Great for a weekend brunch.
Standout Dish: Diplomat Pudding
Service: Friendly and Enthusiastic
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://giddiupcafe.com/
269 Coventry Street, South Melbourne
Tel No: 9682 8820

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 8am – 4pm
Saturday & Sunday: 8am – 3pm

Giddiup on Urbanspoon

Hihou – Great New Addition to the Melbourne Night Scene

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My friends and I headed to dinner at Hihou on a Friday night. Hihou, which means secret treasure, is a newly opened classy Japanese bar at the top end of Spring Street, which overlooks Treasury Gardens. It is located on top of Nama Nama – which is another Japanese restaurant which is known for really great Japanese dishes and especially it’s Bento Boxes.

Hihou comes to you from the owner of Izakaya Den – Simon Denton, and replaces what used to be the old split-level restaurant – Verge. Hihou is known for its variety of drinks and cocktails, as well as for its delicious Japanese dishes – the kitchen is open till midnight! In keeping with its name – there is a “secret” entrance to get into the venue. I actually had to go into Nama Nama and ask how I get into Hihou. There is heavy black door and a buzzer that you need to ring to be let in.

Hihou has a sense of elegance from the moment you walk in. The bar is dimly lit and the centrepiece is in the form of a communal black marble table, which has overhanging wooden storage (that stores some of the many drink on offer) which doubles as a lighting fixture. There are accents of light along the tables, in the form of multi coloured candles. The view from the communal tables and the other tables is beautiful – you can look into Treasury Gardens, thru the glass walls that Hihou has. The other main feature is the bar, which is lit up in accents behind the bar and houses various bottles of liquor all displayed in timber racks which add a nice effect to the entire venue. Adding to the splashes of colour at the bar are fruits that could be used in the drinks. Aside from this main dining area, Hihou has a lounge area – where guests in true Japanese style are encouraged to take their shoes up and get comfy on the large ottomans. This place is really full of surprises.

The drinks menu is exemplary – consisting of  hot shochu (a Japanese liquor similar to vodka), sake, plum wine, seasonal fruit ‘surprise’ cocktails, Japanese beers and whiskey. The drinks come with orb shaped ice – so round and big (as you can see in the picture above – which adds an essence of difference and I think is super cool. My mock-tail I got which had mango & passion fruit was delicious and was one of the surprise flavours.

We are seated on the end of the communal table (there were 5 of us on this night) and we were given the oshibori treatment – warm hot towels – followed by water, menus and utensils. Once we had time to look at the menu we selected a few dishes to share. We ordered the ‘Cuban’ Spicy Tuna Cigar, Kingfish Ceviche, Yuzu Kosho, Seaweed Crystal and Konbu Cured Snapper Sashimi, Spring onion purée, Crispy Wantan to start. The Spicy Tuna Cigars were tasty and the casing on the outside crisp and crunchy, just the kind of texture you would want when you bite into one of these. They were made perfectly and really did resemble a cuban cigar. The Spicy Tuna filling was fresh and flavoursome – a mix of Japanese flavours such as ginger together with a punchy freshness. The Kingfish Ceviche was another very fresh looking and tasting dish, and the serving size I thought was quite generous. The Cured Snapper Sashimi with the Spring Onion Puree was an interesting combination, but I must say that it worked – yum! For our “main” dishes we ordered Buckwheat Crepes –Tofu, Pickled Mushroom andLeek – for me and the Duck Breast, Pickled Mushroom and Leek for the others. They also ordered the Hihou Dog – Seasame Brioche, Arabiki Pork Sausage,Picked Cabbage (the most anticipated dish of the night).
The buckwheat pancake dish wasn’t one of my favourites but having said that I was a fan of the buckwheat pancakes. The dish came out with each separate element that you build to make your finished dish. I like this aspect of a dish. The rest of my friends loved the duck breast pancakes and I guess the duck is the clear winner out of the tofu and the duck. The Tofu was nicely sauteed and was quite tasty, but as a whole there was something more that I needed. Everyone loved the Hihou Dog and it was nicely sized as well. The sausage they said was cooked perfectly and combined with the pickled cabbage added the extra zing.

The atmosphere is fantastic here especially on this Friday night – it is comfortable, the service is friendly and attentive but not in your face. It really is a place that once you come to you don’t want to leave. The drinks are interesting and varied which will keep things interesting. This place definitely has a Japanese vibe to it and it does feel like a bit of Japan in Melbourne.

Rating : 4 Pandas
Price: $$
Menu – Dinner Menu – http://hihou.com.au/pdf/evening.pdf. There is also a Special Japanese set lunch, $35 plus specials that can be found at http://hihou.com.au/pdf/lunch.pdf
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Elegant yet relaxing and comfortable. Great for a first date night as it has a great view overlooking the Treasury Gardens.
Standout Dish: ‘Cuban’ Spicy Tuna Cigar / Hihou Dog
Service: Friendly, Polite and Attentive
Online Booking: Yes via website – http://hihou.com.au/
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://hihou.com.au/
First Floor
1 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Tel No: 9654 5465

Opening Hours:
Lunch
Monday to Friday: 11:30am-2:30pm
Evenings
Monday to Saturday: 5pm-1am

Hihou on Urbanspoon

John Gorilla – Great Summery Cafe for Catchups

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Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice at John Gorilla Toasted Bagel filled with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Spinach, Sliced Avocado, Dill, Boiled Egg & Mayonnaise
Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice and Toasted Bagel filled with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Spinach, Sliced Avocado, Dill, Boiled Egg & Mayonnaise
French Toast made with Brioche & Served with Fresh Strawberries, Kaffir Lime Leaf infused Raspberry Couli, Toasted Macadamias and Vanilla Bean Mascarpone
French Toast made with Brioche & Served with Fresh Strawberries, Kaffir Lime Leaf infused Raspberry Couli, Toasted Macadamias and Vanilla Bean Mascarpone
Braised Field Mushrooms on Sourdough toast, finished with shaved Pecorino, Chervil and Truffle Oil
 Braised Field Mushrooms on Sourdough toast, finished with shaved Pecorino, Chervil and Truffle Oil

John Gorilla is relatively new cafe in West Brunswick that was opened up by Joanna Wilson (owner of the much loved Mart 130 cafe in Middlepark).  Wilson posted on an online fund-raising platform Pozible to assist in the funding to build this solo venture. Through the website, people could sign up for vouchers for coffee and food in exchange for donations. She quickly managed to raise almost $7K and the rest as they can say is history. This place has been full of patrons from day one and after visiting this place I can see why.

As you walk towards John Gorilla – which is located on Pearson St, which just your regular neighbourhood street – you are greeted with big windows and rulers which line the bottom front wall – which is the main design feature – in all types of colourfuls. This feature runs inside the cafe as well under the main countertop. The main countertop features some of sweets on sale such as cupcakes and muffins. Along the entrance there are a few tables and as you continue inside there are two main rooms, together with an Astro-turfed back garden to enjoy more of the sunshine.

The decor is colourful vintage chic with a few modern twists in the form of colourful wall mural (which is hand painted by Melbourne artist Beci Orpin)  – to keep with the colourful ruler theme. The lightshades are a main focal point made of wire and exposed bulb filament (I LOVE!). There is also a painting of John Gorilla himself which overlooks the coffee area – such a cute feature.

My girlfriends and I got seated in the outside courtyard area which had wooden table and soft spongy chairs that reminded me of classroom days back in primary school – not to say it wasn’t comfortable. The weather was beautiful and this arrangement surrounded with some of my best friends was great. We ordered coffee (John Gorilla serves Padre coffee) and fresh juices as we chatted and looked over the menus.

Shane Beazley is the head chef of John Gorilla and has created a menu that covers all bases and is enticing and appealing. The menu is broken up into 5 parts – Cereals Fruit &Toasts, Breakfast, Eggs, Sandwiches and Lunch. Breakfast dishes consist of French Toast, to Lamb fry to breakfast combinations such as eggs with mushrooms or baked beans but with additional ingredients to make the dish pop. Sandwiches aren’t your normal sandwiches – there is a bagel with smoked salmon, a steak sandwich and vegetarian option of an open toasted sandwich with pumpkin dahl, tomato and basil. Told you the menu covers all bases =p

I ordered the Braised Field Mushrooms on Sourdough toast, finished with shaved Pecorino, Chervil and Truffle Oil which was quite a large sized dish! The mushrooms were plump, juicy and fresh and the combination of ingredients did work well. The shaved Pecorino wasn’t as “fresh” as I thought it would be and would be my only complaint. I struggled to finish my dish. I also tried some of my friends French Toast which was really delicious! I am a huge fan of vanilla bean and loved that this was the main flavour in the mascarpone. A definite must try!

My girlfriends and I continued to sit around in the courtyard chatting and sipping coffees for a good 4 hours and the staff were friendly and didn’t at any time tell us to leave – simply asked us if we needed anything else.

John Gorilla is a colourful and quirky cafe that serves great food and tasty coffee. It is a great place to come to spend a sunny afternoon or even if it is just for a quick coffee (which can be served through the front windows). This place is a definite must visit and a return to place on my list.

Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Price: $
Menu – Great Breakkie selection – refer to http://www.urbanspoon.com/u/menu/1699339
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Retro, Comfortable and great for a Summery day catchup, especially in the outside courtyard
Standout Dish: Braised Field Mushrooms on Sourdough toast, finished with shaved Pecorino, Chervil and Truffle Oil
Service: Friendly and Attentive
Online Booking: No – Cafe doesn’t take bookings
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.johngorilla.com/#
49 Pearson St, Brunswick West
Tel No: 9005 8680

Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 7:30am – 4:30pm

John Gorilla on Urbanspoon

Union Dining – True Melbourne Style

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Union Dining is a joint venture between Adam Cash (Cutler and Co) and Nicky Riemer (ex-Melbourne Wine Room) and provides an European feel similiar to that of a trattoria or bistro. It is located in the old heritage-listed Union in Richmond, which used to be a Greek Restaurant, and has been re-styled and fitted to slot perfectly into the true Melbournian style.

The restaurant has a contemporary feel to it, and is divided in two different sections – a small front bar and a larger dining room. There are lots of timber finishes from the tables to the surrounding furnishings as well as low lighting and the warm brown and caramels tones laced with green and white to create a rustic ambience, with an European bistro vibe. There is also an upstairs dining area which opens out into a terrace area – which is for casual drinks or can also be booked for private functions. Refer to their website for more details – http://www.uniondining.com.au/terrace/

My friend and I went to Union Dining for dinner, and were seated in the front part of the dining area. From the streets, you don’t expect this restaurant to be quite so big. We are seated at our table and promptly given our menus and water for the table, followed by bread. The menu is described as provincial European and features some Italian dishes with some French influences or vice versa. The menu is structured around starters, entrees, mains, cheeses and desserts  – most of these dishes can be shared. Looking at the menu, its hard to decide what you want – you want to try it all! I decided to go for all three courses (the glutton that I am =p). To start with we ordered the Oysters Rockefeller which come covered with spinach, chives, watercress and baked golden brown with breadcrumbs. My friends oysters had the addition of pancetta, mine didn’t. These oysters were simply divine and a definite must try when you come to eat here.

My first dish was the Risotto of spanner crab, asparagus & red chilli in an entree size. Eventhough, this dish was an entree size it was a very generous serving and almost looked like what would be classified as a main in other restaurants. The risotto had a generous amount of spanner crab and the flavours I found surprisingly worked well together. The hint of chilli added finished the dish perfectly. My friend had the Roasted zucchini & black quinoa salad, whipped goat curd, raisins in verjuice, red witlof in a main size serving. The added figs were a welcome addition and added that little bit of sweetness to go with the other flavours and elements. My main was a fish dish which was covered in the same golden brown breadcrumbs and surrounded by a thick green herb flavoured sauce. This dish was refreshing and the fish was delicious and once again, it was a very generous serving. For dessert I had a white chocolate cake with cream and topped with strawberries. This wasn’t my favourite dish of the night, and I was a little disappointed. The combination of white chocolate, cream and strawberries sounded fantastic and it fell a bit short of that. I think I have to come back and try out the chocolate tart or the trifle.

Overall, I enjoyed dining at Union Dining and would definitely come back to try out the rest of the tempting menu. The staff were friendly, informed and cheery and the atmosphere was vibrant yet homely. I am very interested to see what the terrace would be like on a nice summers’ day.

Rating : 3 Pandas
Price: $$$
Menu – A la Carte Menu – can be found at http://www.uniondining.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/Spring-Mains-Dessert-11.10.12.pdf and Sunday Menu – can be found at http://www.uniondining.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/Sunday-11.11.12.pdf
Fullness: 100%
Atmosphere / Ambience: Classy – a room with a view of Melbourne from 55 floors up
Standout Dish: Roasted zucchini & black quinoa salad, whipped goat curd, raisins in verjuice, red witlof
Service: Friendly, informative and cheery
Online Booking: No. Bookings are highly recommended.
Restaurant Details and Location:
http://www.uniondining.com.au/
270 Swan St, Richmond
Tel No: 9428 2988

Opening Hours:
Lunch:
Friday to Sunday: 12pm onwards
Dinner:
Tuesday to Sunday: 6pm onwards
CLOSED MONDAYS

Union Dining on Urbanspoon