Friday, October 21, 2011

To Die For: Top Eats at Melbourne's Markets (Part 1)

For those who live and breathe food.

Last year I stopped gymming and started running. This went well until winter arrived (sometime just before autumn), and voluntarily braving the Melbourne wind and chill in active wear felt like an unintended death wish. Unless of course, you're running towards something worth dying for.

Living in the CBD, my incentives take the form of the four surrounding farmers' markets: Veg Out in St Kilda, Gasworks in Albert Park, Slow Food in Abbotsford, and the Collingwood Children's Farm Market.

Because you've never really lived in Melbourne unless you've been to a Melbourne market - especially the farmers' markets. It's an experience right up there with trams, inanely hidden restaurants and countless cups of coffee in renovated warehouses.

Especially because there's little other way to get your hands on one of these:

1. Mellawha Heavenly Pastry
Where: Gasworks Albert Park; Slow Food Abbotsford

This is at the top of the list because it is at the top of my list.

My pick: the Lebanese mince.

Just before the meat is piled on.

Unreal flaky pastry (like fabulous roti) encasing Warialda beef mince, Schulz organic yoghurt (also available at these markets), tomato, tangy chilli (formerly Susan Neville chilli pickle, until she sadly retired from the city market circuit), spices like sumac, baharat, and za'atar, and a whole lot of love.

You can get it without the chilli, but not without the love.

Price tag on one of best eats I've ever had: $8.90.

And I'll pay for yours if you can guess what these ladies do in their day jobs!

Where: St Kilda Veg Out; Slow Food Abbotsford; Mt Eliza Farmers' Market

On to sweet breakfasts and desserts, and there's a smorgasbord to pick from.

Head here early, because Kath's home-made goodies have an annoying way of running out quickly. The strength of these treats are in the strength of their taste. You can be sure that if it's lemon, it'll pack a punch. And anything chocolate is darkly intense.

Her brownies are particularly infamous, but my top picks are the citrus curd slice and the chocolate and pear praline tart. The lemon tart is fabulous as well, no weak and weedy over-sweetened nonsense here. In more ways than one, you pay by weight.

Spot the empty serving stools.

When my favourites are not on offer (like on the day I took these pictures), I go for anything containing oranges or rhubarb.

Because I literally know where they come from!

Where: St Kilda Veg Out; Slow Food Abbotsford; Collingwood Children's Farm Market; Gasworks Albert Park


I'm told there's no better rhubarb in Victoria, and Frank, Food & Me certainly makes these the showcase of their desserts.


My personal pick: the rhubarb tarts with cream.

Petite pastry shells topped with stewed rhubarb compote and cream. A slightly pricey $3 a pop, but very, very good. Fresh rhubarb, jams, cakes, and chutneys also on offer.


4. Kingfisher Oranges
Where: St Kilda Veg Out; Slow Food Abbotsford; Collingwood Children's Farm Market; Gasworks Albert Park

Also a favourite Frank, Food & Me ingredient, Kingfisher oranges and mandarins are incredible. Really juicy with an intense orange sweetness and texturally excellent: none of the hard, sour, supermarket variety.

The quality control is amazing, if they don't think their oranges are perfect, they simply won't sell them.

The proof is in the eating: I replenish my fridge with 6kg of these each week. And a jar of their mulberry jam can last me two, at most.

Where: King & Godfree, Carlton

No longer strictly a market item, but I'm willing to let that technicality go. Previously mentioned in my Taste of Melbourne post, these intensely luxurious Belgian chocolate brownies from Brisbane were worth ruining my weekend gym session when they were available across the street right after at the Prahran Market on Saturdays.

They've only shown up at special events since, but have just recently arrived on the shelves of King & Godfree on Lygon St in Carlton.

You can purchase them online to be delivered, but $15 (Brisbane)/$20 (anywhere else) shipping is a bit of a deterrent unless you're purchasing a heap, or as corporate gifts. These brownies are such delicate creatures they have to be shipped in a much larger box with liquid ice packs to keep them perfect.

Seems a shame to eat them, but at $5.50 each for the experience, I don't hesitate. And I'm in good company - fans of the brand include Ashton Kutcher and Oprah.

My picks: Espresso & Walnut, Honey Caramelised Macadamia, and Rosewater & Pistachio (no, seriously).

One post certainly isn't enough to encompass all my market loves, so expect many more parts to this series in future.

As for all that running, it pays off in other ways:

Like 21.1km in 2:17:02.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


550 Lonsdale St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 03 9642 3571

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri Breakfast and Lunch

My favourite South Australian is in town and confined to the legal district for the duration of her stay. Lawyer jokes aside, this is actually a pretty terrific outcome on the feeding front. As the number of eager eagles on Masterchef would suggest (most in fact originating from this very block of bricks in Melbourne), the legal community takes its eating very seriously.

The edible (and other) delights of King St are just a block away. But it’s easy to get distracted with closer café heavyweights like Earl Canteen (luxe, lush sandwiches that have been blogged about extensively – go for the Otway pork belly), SMXL (try a ‘moave’ with your excellent cuppa), and Le Traiteur (a long lunch experience, start with the tomato consommé). If you prefer to go down the road less taken, however, you can’t go past Demi-Tasse. Which is funny, because it is very, very easy to go past Demi-Tasse. This dame’s not much to look at from the outside.

But she’s a Hepburn beauty within, with similar style. Dark wooden panellings with matching furniture, bottled beauties up top, a literally angelic mural, and lush red leather booths.

Though I question whether Hepburn could have maintained her slim physique if she’d frequented a place like this very often. The food here is hearty, homemade, and addictive. And the service is just as warm and lovely.

We make with the meatballs.

A very traditional mix of pork and veal served with tomato sugo and crusty bread ($10.50). I couldn’t think of a better dish for a cold Melbourne day, and even though it’s spring, it’s clear we won’t be in shortage of those anytime soon. The meatballs had great bite, they came apart in juicy chunks and we mopped them up with the bread and sugo.

And I never say no to a house-made pie.

Beef Bourguignon with tomato relish and green salad ($7.50)

It’s always a pleasant surprise to receive a ‘gourmet’ pie in a city café that isn’t manufactured by Boscastle. This was very sizeable, and a bargain for the price. The pastry was delicately layered, and I especially enjoyed the tomato relish, which had a very unusual sweetness and tang reminiscent of chutney. The filling itself was more than decent, though a little dry. If you like your meat meaty, i.e. not indiscernibly minced, it’s definitely the pie for you. Other pie options include vegetable or a very interesting-sounding chicken fricassée.

Or pick something else from its extensive and extensively tempting menu.

Demi-Tasse: petite with plenty of pizzazz. And particularly important if you work in this area: its coffee packs a punch as well.

Demi Tasse on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 7, 2011

Merchant (Revisited)

Rialto 495 Collins St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 03 9614 7688

A great first date with a restaurant is a tricky beast to handle. Arrange a second and risk dissipating the heady magic of that maiden moment. Stoically preserve the past and always wonder if it might have been matched, if you’d only had the mojo.

Or, like me, wait until you’re sent an innocuous article referencing one damning detail of the affair (an enticing recipe for drunken pasta swimming with clams), and against your better judgment find yourself calling at nine in the morning on a Wednesday with all the breathless desire of a Mills & Boons heroine, wailing for vongole with breakfast.

The attraction appears less mutual. I’m told dispassionately to turn up at a more appropriate noontime hour and try for a walk-in table (in a compromise with current trends, half the restaurant cannot be reserved). Ever the willing wench, I concede, and a second date with the Merchant is made.

I rope in an accomplice to provide objectivity to my assessment. He orders the gnocchi and proves suitably less convinced.

Gnocchi, ragu’ de cinghiale ($20)

A real looker but the gnocchi is a mush-mash of textures, soft but not supple. More than a little disappointing, considering we’re at a Grossi. The accompanying spiced wild boar ragu is exceptional, however, as fulsomely rich and tempestuous as its name suggests.

Meanwhile, I'm finding it difficult to empathise; my cravings are being convincingly corrupted by a genuinely charming dish of spaghetti with clams.

Spaghetti ca le caparele ($23)

It’s as generous as I remember, the clams taste fresh and clean, and the lithe, light sauce of garlic and white wine sensuously clings to every strand. My only jibe was that it was slightly under-seasoned, but this was readily remedied by a sprinkling of salt from the table.

To prolong my Merchant encounter, the dessert menu is requested, but I pick a beguiling slice of chocolate tart from the display instead.

Chocolate tart ($8.50)

The tart is neither the sleek nor shiny production I’ve come to expect from Italian pastries: coarser in texture, laced with orange, and requires forking with pressure. I ask for some accompanying vanilla ice cream and a very intense version is brought to the table, which I irresponsibly finish with a hefty chunk of tart to spare. I'm addicted, and a second scoop is speedily decimated.

Later, I’m told I can write in for a list of the ice cream ingredients if I’d like to recreate my poison at home. I suppose it’s as close as I’ll get to a night in with Merchant!

First impressions are great, but Merchant and I are in it for the long haul. And I reckon that matters more.

Merchant on Urbanspoon