Review: Parlour Diner (Melbourne, VIC)

64 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 2006

When I was living in Melbourne three years ago (wow, has it been that long?), the burger-isation of the food scene was at its peak. Everywhere you looked, a new burger joint was opening up. Multi-hatted celebrity chefs were opening burger kiosks, hipsters were driving burger food trucks all over town and every second restaurant seemed to have kind of burger on their menu. It got bloody insane.

Then I moved to Gold Coast where the only burger options close to where I lived (at the time) were McDonalds and Ze Pickle. Of course, burger joints are now everywhere on the Gold Coast but back then, the options were pretty dire. So whenever I visited Melbourne and friends asked me where I’d like to go for dinner, my response was no longer ‘ANYTHING BUT BLOODY BURGERS’ but rather, ‘Whatever you want, I don’t mind.’

And whenever it was my friend Aaron’s turn to decide, 90% of the time he’d choose a burger place. On this occasion, he decided that Parlour Diner was going to be our dinner venue. That was fine with me as well as his girlfriend, Cathy and our friend Yuri who was visiting us from Japan.

We visited this cool-end-of-Chapel Street restaurant on a weeknight, so the place wasn’t totally packed. During the day, no doubt Parlour Diner’s checkerboard-tile floors and pastel coloured walls would create a vibrantly retro but chilled atmosphere for diners. After dark though, the muted lighting created more of a mature vibe; it also meant that my food photos would look terrible (you have been warned).

The menu comprises the usual stuff you find in American restaurants around town: burgers, fries, barbeque ribs, buffalo wings etc etc. You’ll also find hipster/Asian infusion dishes such as Asian pulled pork sliders and something called a Miss Saigon burger with handmade fish patty, lemongrass, ginger, lettuce, tomato and pickles (how about no). In the end, we bypassed all the Asian stuff and went straight for the classics, as you can see below.

Our Parlour Diner spread

Okay, so we may have over ordered. We probably could have done with fewer sides, as delicious as they were. The onion rings boasted a light and crispy batter, while the curly fries were dusted in a tasty salted paprika seasoning. Our group definitely enjoyed them both.

Pale Ale onion rings ($7)
Parlour curly fries ($7)

Cathy ordered the fried chicken. There was a choice of four or six pieces and she chose four. Initially, I thought the price point was a bit odd. ‘Wow, $25 for four pieces of chicken,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s ridiculous.’ But when they arrived at our table, we were all surprised to discover how huge each piece was. The chicken also came with curly fries, salad and sauce; it was a dish that was probably enough to feed two people. We each had a little bit of chicken – the beer batter was absolutely tops, light and extremely crunchy with the lightest hint of spice. The chicken was also juicy inside, with no signs of dryness.

Blue Ribbon crispy fried chicken (four pieces, $25)

I ordered the Parlour burger, the venue’s default burger consisting of an 8oz beef patty, tomato, lettuce, cheese and pickles. As far as Melbourne burger standards go, it was a pretty good burger and generously portioned for the price point. People have complained about there being too much greenery but I didn’t have an issue with that. In fact, I found that the bitter lettuce leaves balanced out the well-seasoned fatty beef patty and melted cheese quite well, with the super soft sesame bun holding everything neatly.

Parlour burger ($12)

Yuri ordered the curiously named earth burger, Parlour Diner’s vegetarian option. On paper, the burger sounded like it had perhaps too much stuff in it – tofu, Portobello mushroom, avocado mash, haloumi, roast tomato, lettuce and pickles – seriously, guys?! In person though, the burger admittedly looked impressive. In fact, I could probably fool any of my vegetable-hating friends into eating it. While Yuri did agree with me in that there were too many ingredients in the burger, she did concede that it was tasty.

Earth burger ($15)

Will I return? While I’m not saying no, I can’t promise that I’ll be back any time soon. I enjoyed the food but there are also hundreds of other burger joints in Melbourne that are on my ‘to visit’ list. There are also places that I’ve been to – and loved – but are far more convenient to get to. If I do find myself on this side of Chapel Street craving a burger though, then sure. Absolutely.

Parlour Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Dukes Coffee Roasters Windsor (Melbourne, VIC)

169 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9521 4884
http://www.dukescoffee.com.au/

Disclaimer: My friend and dining companion Sam works at Dukes so this meal was on the house.

My friend Linda got married to the guy who picked her up on a Qantas flight to Sydney a few years ago. And this year, Sam and I attended her beautiful wedding at a church in Toorak on a cold, miserable Melbourne morning. We had a bit of time to kill (and hungry stomachs to feed) before the evening reception so we decided to venture down to Dukes Coffee Roasters in Windsor for a late lunch.

Latte ($4)
Latte ($4)

After the morning I had (that is, MacGyver-ing to Linda’s wedding on time), I really needed a coffee. This is where a silky smooth latte made with Dukes espresso blend beans came in super handy.

Dukes might be famous for their coffees but that’s not to say that they don’t skimp on food. No, their brunch menu is pretty quirky and well worth the trek to Windsor for. Granted, they still had the odd staples such as the free range eggs on sourdough and bircher muesli options but for the most part, you’re getting dishes that you don’t find anywhere else – think English muffins with duck egg, Tasmanian truffle, braised kale and triple cream cheese.

Dr Marty’s crumpets, caramelised banana, maple syrup and pistachio crumble ($14)
Dr Marty’s crumpets, caramelised banana, maple syrup and pistachio crumble ($14)

Sam had the crumpets; like most multi-millionaires, it was very nutty and rich. And like a few multi-millionaires, I suppose, it was also very sweet. A few forkfuls made me happy but I don’t think I could have been able to eat it all on my own and walk out feeling fine. (woe the girl who loves savoury foods)

Avocado hummus toast, poached eggs, honey candied bacon and dukkah ($18)
Avocado hummus toast, poached eggs, honey candied bacon and dukkah ($18)

I had the avocado hummus toast and while I love all of the aforementioned items on their own, it was the honey candied bacon that won me over because as if you wouldn’t.

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Despite the dish sounding incredible on paper, I just felt that the whole thing was a bit too full-on. I’m not sure whether it was the bread that made me bloaty and carb-y and grumpy, or the fact that the candied bacon was a bit too sweet (yes, it’s possible). If I thought Sam’s breakfast dish was too rich, then this was definitely in the I’m-So-Rich-I-Own-All-Of-Queensland rich. It wasn’t a nice feeling. I guess it would be a different story if they removed perhaps one of the ingredients on the dish to make it a bit more balanced.

I might not have been wooed by my dish but that doesn’t mean I won’t be going back to Dukes again. I loved the coffee and even though Sam’s dish was too much (for me, because weak), I’m really looking forward to trying the other stuff on the menu.

Dukes Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Review: Two Lost Boys (Melbourne, VIC)

20/2 Maddock Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9939 9313
http://www.twolostboys.com.au/

I like cafés with quirky names and Two Lost Boys happens to be one of them. It’s charming, it’s whimsical and aptly sums up half the men I know at any given time (the ‘lost boys’ bit, obviously – I do know more than just two who happen to be ‘lost’).

I had brunch here with fellow blogger Catherine one weekend. We met for the first time at a Vue de Monde event and made promises to catch up properly for a meal. Mind you, it took us forever to organise something being the busy bees we are but we finally got there.

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The Windsor/Prahran corridor is busy on any given day and night, so it’s refreshing to pop into a café that’s actually pretty chilled. In fact, I could be fooled into thinking I was in inner Brisbane or something like that. The room was sunny, the people were chilled – there was even a Gold Coast-like bronze Adonis wearing shorts and thongs despite the chilly Melbourne morning.

Latte ($3.80)
Latte ($3.80)

The coffee at Two Lost Boys is by local roasters Monk Bodhi Dharma. I love my milk coffees and Two Lost Boys do an excellent silky smooth latte – actually is there any place in Melbourne that DOESN’T do a good latte? (wait, don’t answer that)

Two Lost Boys’ menu focuses on organic locally farmed produce and because I’m a bit of a wanker about buying organic food and reducing food miles and all that, I was like, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’

Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)
Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)

Catherine had the sweet potato and beetroot fritters, something I wouldn’t have minded ordering myself but for the fact that I’m not a sweet potato person. That, plus the beetroot would have made the fritters super sweet and Libby very cranky (being a savoury fiend and all). Surprisingly though, the fritters were not as sweet as I thought and I loved how the horseradish and walnut cream gave a bit of creamy earthiness to the dish. If only that piece of house-cured salmon was a bit bigger…

Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)
Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)

For someone who isn’t into sweet breakfasts, it’s therefore strange that I ordered the lemon and ricotta pancakes topped with mascarpone and drizzled unceremoniously with sticky sweet molasses. But alas! For $4, I ordered a side of bacon so everything was right in the world again.

The pancakes were light and fluffy and paired well with the mascarpone. In saying that though, I found the dish a bit heavy – I couldn’t decide if it was all the heavy carbs going into my stomach or the molasses. Either way, I struggled to finish it.

Two Lost Boys is a great place to have brunch in a less hectic part of 3181. The coffee is good, the staff are friendly and the food is interesting enough for me to make the trek from the eastern suburbs. Just make sure you go easy on the pancakes.

Two Lost Boys on Urbanspoon

Review: Morris Jones (Melbourne, VIC)

163 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 2055
http://www.morrisjones.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guess of Morris Jones and Zilla & Brook.

I have a confession to make: I am not a brunch person.

I’m probably going to lose a lot of friends/fans/stalkers in saying this – but I just don’t get the whole brunch thing. Sure, I like socialising with mates over food on lazy weekends and sure, I appreciate a good poached egg. But I just can’t justify waiting more than an hour just for a bloody seat at one of Melbourne’s so-called ‘brunch hot spots’ and paying up to $20 for eggs, bacon, toast and smashed avocado when I can whip up something just as good at home.

That said, I do like breakfast/brunch places that break the mould a bit. If they can serve non-eggs/bacon/toast/smashed avocado-type dishes, then I’m sold like an overpriced three-bedroom house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on auction day.

And one such place (as in, a place that breaks said mould) is Windsor’s Morris Jones.

Now, I don’t really go down the boho end of Chapel Street that often. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been down to Chapel Street, period. So when Zilla & Brook invited me to the breakfast menu launch at Morris Jones, I was a bit ‘meh’ about it. However, curiosity got the better of me when I saw the admittedly not-too-shabby breakfast menu and read about Chef Matthew Butcher’s background (he trained at Vue de Monde AND worked with Gordon Ramsay at Maze).

Morris Jones sits in a restored 1887s warehouse that’s been done up. Although locals know Morris Jones as a night time venue, it’s also trying to bring the breakfast crowd in.

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Coffee here is by Allpress and they do a decent latte at $3.50 a pop.

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This was the menu they gave us. I’m not sure if this was a menu specifically designed for the breakfast launch or if this is their regular menu but it was confusing to read. For example, I didn’t know that the burnt butter béarnaise and the felices ham were actually two components of the eggs benedict. I mean, it seems obvious now but it didn’t click at the time – and I wasn’t the only one on the table who made that mistake.

Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne
Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne

I don’t think this is on the regular menu, a shame because I thought it was an amazing dish. This is Morris Jones’ take on the Fruit Loops, a cereal that most of us loved as children. When liquid nitrogen was poured all the dried fruits, lemonade and champagne, the mixture bubbled and fizzed, causing everyone to go, ‘aaah!’

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It was a pretty and very clever rendition of my favourite cereal as a kid. It was cleansing and light – way better than legit Fruit Loops, that’s for sure. Butcher dubbed it ‘the grown-up version of Fruit Loops.’ Such naughtiness.

Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)
Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)

We each had our own breakfast ‘main.’ Given my rants on ‘boring’ breakfast joints, it therefore seemed a bit strange that I ended up ordering the eggs benny – but hey, when you see ‘burnt butter béarnaise’ on the menu, it’s hard not to say no.

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It was a very solid eggs benny. The eggs were perfectly poached and all the trimmings tasted fantastic. I especially liked how the burnt butter gave the sauce that extra depth.

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The other people on the table ordered the zucchini slice, pea tendrils, avocado, feta, poached egg ($15.50) or the chilli corn relish, hash fritters, poached eggs ($14.50). Unfortunately, there was no swapsies happening that morning (what?! food bloggers not swapping bits of food?! THE HELL?!) so I can’t comment on those dishes. From all the positive comments I heard around the table though, I can only say that the two dishes were pretty good as well.

Breakfast at Morris Jones proved to be a pleasant affair and while I’d never be someone who’d wait a more than an hour for a breakfast/brunch table, I’d definitely wake up and cross town for Morris Jones.

Morris Jones on Urbanspoon

Hanoi Hannah

180 High Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9939 5181
www.hanoihannah.com.au

I’m kinda over overpriced hipster-ised cuisines but when the cuisine in question is Vietnamese, well, it’s hard for me to say ‘no’ to it. So when Daisy suggested that we catch up for dinner at Hanoi Hannah after work, I was there faster than the time it takes my maniac Vietnamese boyfriend to drive to work.

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I love Hanoi Hannah’s tagline, ‘sex, drugs and rice paper rolls.’ If I hadn’t read up the origin of the restaurant’s name prior to my visit, I would have also thought that it was a famous Hanoian prostitute’s name. Rather, Hanoi Hannah was the name given to an English-speaking radio broadcaster in Hanoi. Given her anti-war messages, though, I bet a lot of GIs would have muttered names not far removed from ‘prostitute’ whenever they heard her voice on the radio so my guess probably isn’t so far-fetched.

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We didn’t come with a booking so we were lucky to secure a table for four by the window, overlooking High Street. With Daisy, Dave and I having settled down quickly with the menus, we only had to wait for Ricky to rock up before starting. Unfortunately, he was stuck in traffic but gave us the go ahead to start without him.

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While Dave had a beer, Daisy and I ordered young coconut juice. At $6, I thought the coconuts were a bit of a rip-off especially given they sell them for around $2 at the supermarket. However, there was seriously no other drink that could make me happier on such a warm evening.

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We started off with some classic prawn and pork rice paper rolls. Hanoi Hannah sell them in pairs for $5 so we ordered two servings. Dipped in hoison sauce, these rolls were light yet full of fresh flavour, giving me the health kick I so desperately needed.

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We also shared a plate of Hanoi spring rolls ($8). If you’re not too familiar with them, they’re pretty much like normal Vietnamese spring rolls but instead of the flour-based wrappers used in most Vietnamese restaurants, rice paper sheets are used. As the results, the skins are airy and crispier. The spring rolls were delicious and I loved the pork and wood ear fungus filling. What did let me down was the nước chấm dipping sauce. Bland, bland, bland – it was like they forgot to add the all important fish sauce in it!

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We couldn’t resist ordering some pork belly sliders (two for $8; we ordered two lots to give us four). Slices of tender pork belly, lettuce, pickled carrots and cucumber rested between two brioche buns. A deliciously tangy sauce, which Dave reckoned tasted like McDonald’s Big Mac sauce, brought everything together. Pretty, pretty good.

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We each ordered our own mains. Daisy ordered the Vietnamese slaw with tender chicken ($11), a vibrant mix of cabbage, carrot, mint, basil and shredded chicken. It was a fresh and light dish, but by no means lacking in taste. I mentally added the dish to my list of ‘must make for lunch’ dishes.

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Dave ordered the vermicelli salad with lemongrass beef skewers ($11). While it was good, the general consensus was that the same dish from any dime-a-dozen Vietnamese restaurant in Springvale was better in that it was tastier and had more soul.

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Those of you who know me would not be surprised by my order, a bowl of beef pho ($9.50). There was also the option to go vegetarian with the mixed mushroom pho ($10.50). While I do love mushrooms, I just couldn’t fathom the idea of a mushroom pho (whatthehell, man?! Whatthehell?!) so beef, it was. Now, I couldn’t decide whether to give the pho two thumbs up. It definitely didn’t taste ‘authentic’ but it wasn’t bad. It actually tasted like the pho I once made at home using the slow cooker. Now, whether or not that is a good thing is open for interpretation. Suffice to say that I prefer a gritty bowl of no nonsense pho from Springvale or Footscray.

Ricky never ended up arriving in time for dinner – the staff kicked us out because we were hogging the table for too long and there were heaps of people waiting. Fair enough. Otherwise, they were lovely throughout our entire meal and offered to doggy-bag Ricky’s food for us. The three of us agreed that when it comes to Vietnamese food, nothing beats a meal from a ‘legit’ Vietnamese restaurant. However, Hanoi Hannah would be my first preference for Vietnamese if I wanted Hanoi spring rolls at 10pm before a clubbing session on Chapel Street.

Hanoi Hannah on Urbanspoon

Borsch Vodka & Tears

173 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9530 2694
www.borschvodkaandtears.com/

Autumn in Melbourne can be brutal. Okay, not as brutal as a Soviet winter but when you’re walking down Chapel Street juggling 10 billion shopping bags, you kinda don’t want Melbourne’s harsh elements to get in the way of all things fun. Or maybe I’m just a whiny brat. Whatever. After spending a few hours tearing down the South Yarra end of Chapel Street in the cold and somehow ending up at the Windsor end, BFF Marty and I stumbled across Borsch Vodka & Tears, a joint that has always been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time. Vodka and borsch was never on our agenda that afternoon but Marty, the Gorbachev to my Perestroika and the Vronsky to my Anna, suddenly decided that he had a craving for borsch so in we went.

 It was just after 4pm when we walked in, with a smattering of loved-up couples making their nests between empty tables with ‘RESERVED’ signs plonked on them. Luckily, our friendly hipster (plus the ‘steez’ and minus the pretentiousness) was able to locate a spare table by the bar which was lined with many, many bottles of different shapes, sizes and colours.

Mmmm vodka.With a drinks list spanning many, many pages, it was hard to narrow our choices down. I mean, we could have been courageous and opted for a set of three plum vodkas each (three for $14.50), leaving it up to the waiter to choose a selection of vodkas but we only wanted a couple to nip on. After all, it wasn’t even dark yet. Plus, we didn’t want to limit ourselves to plum vodkas.

In the end, Marty chose a rich and creamy advocaat ($6.50), an eggnog creme liqueur with brandy and vanilla; and a winter romance ($8), a spicier blend of rose petal and wild forest flower in one little shot glass. The shot glass in flames (courtesy of Marty’s cigarette lighter) is my passover Slivovitz ($11), a kosher plum vodka from Poland. Aged for 12 years and with an alcohol content of 70%, it was as strong and brutal as Simon Kołecki but was kept sweet with traces of prunes and vanilla. Not pictured was my sweet and earthy cocktail called The Cure ($11). Consisting of piołunówka absinthe and espresso, it’s not normally a cocktail I would order (I’m more into fun, citrus-y Jessica Wakefield-type cocktails) but as it says on the menu, the cocktail is “go0d for what ails you” and plus, I like Robert Smith so shut up.

Eeek! Flash! To soak up all the alcohol, we had food. Of course, we had food. This is a food blog, duh. Marty had the Russian borsch ($14.50), a rich, soulful mixture of beetroot, carrots, tomatoes and beans peppered with bits of bacon, apple and a dollops of sour cream. If we could find a Soviet equivalent of a bowl of pho, this would be it. Tasty, soothing and full of flavour, he totally lapped it up and scooped the remaining dregs with the slices of rye bread provided.

 Meanwhile, I had an entree-sized plate of cheese and potato pierogi (four for $17). I must say that I felt ripped off, receiving only four dumplings for seventeen-frucking-dollars. I mean, I know that pierogi ain’t cheap for dumplings, but at Court Jester, they charge something like $7.50 for six pieces so what the fruck, dudes? Still, I was too hungry and too tipsy to care (after all, that plum vodka was SCULLED, baby) so I eagerly dug into my crispy cocoons of cheesy, potato-ey (with a bit of fried onion-y) goodness along with the rocket salad that came with it. Not bad, but not worth the price.

Had we been a little hungrier and had our tables not been reserved for another party, we would have probably stayed for a proper meal – perhaps some Polish sausages or some salmon and steak. Sadly, it was time to leave the Eastern Bloc and time to head back to the city for more shenanigans. I can see myself coming back for more as it’s the perfect place for a drink and a light feed on a cold Winter’s night. Just stay away from the pierogi if you’re looking for value for money.

Borsch, Vodka & Tears on Urbanspoon

Lucky Coq

179 Chapel St
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9525 1288

So I’m currently in the middle of my week-and-a-bit long annual leave. And I’ve been spending quite a lot of time outside the house… hanging out with mates, spending time with Adam, shopping, visiting libraries, walking around Chapel Street and of course, dining.

This was the first thing I cooked for 2009: Spiced fish with sesame-ginger noodles. Using a recipe from Donna Hay’s current book “No Time To Cook” (p.82), I made use of the bunches of coriander and mint leaves that were sitting in my fridge before they started to go off. I bought some plump ling fillets from the supermarket, marinated them with red curry paste and cooked them on a pan on low heat for just over 5 minutes on each side. The noodles were doused in the ingredients listed in the recipe (ginger, sesame oil, sesame seed, fish sauce, spring onions) but I also added a few extra ingredients to make it a little bit more tasty – soy sauce, a clove of garlic and a little bit of chilli.

Yesterday Adam and I were walking around Chapel Street when we decided to have lunch at Lucky Coqto take advantage of their $4 pizzas because we were feeling tight-arsey. Now, Lucky Coq and Bimbo Deluxe and pretty much the same – same deco, same menu, same everything but for some reason, people prefer Lucky Coq. Probably because of the name . Anyway, as much as I wanted to have the lamb pizza again I decided to try something different as part of my aim to eventually try every pizza on their menu (prior to yesterday, I have tried five) – so I went for the taleggio pizza which also came with the standard tomato base and potatoes while Adam had the poncho pizza which was basically nachos on pizza.

As much as I love taleggio cheese, I didn’t really like my pizza as it tasted a bit too plain (must be the potatoes). Adam’s pizza, although quite novel, didn’t really do it for me either. But for $4 a plate, there really isn’t anything worth complaining…

I have a few more things planned for the rest of my week before I go back to work next Monday, including fretting and worrying about university acceptance results on Monday (or Sunday night, if I suddenly decide to hoon around with a bunch of yr.12s at Fed Square). More foodie adventures, more running around, more people to see and the list goes on. But today is just going to be me, the couch and the cricketon channel nine (and the return of Gossip Girl *squeals*). Do not disturb, please .


Photo courtesy of CWTV.com

Basque Tapas & Wine and Amici Bakery Cafe

Basque Tapas & Wine
159 Chapel St
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 7044
Amici Bakery Cafe
242 Chapel St
Prahran VIC 3181
+61 3 9529 1806

Actually, not quite.

For starters, neither Adam nor I drive a wog mobile. In fact, I don’t even drive at all.

And even though Adam and I are pretty gweilo-y for Asians, we are far from being wogs (although a few of my fobby Asian friends have often remarked on how “woggy” I sound on the phone. But that’s another story for another time).

Given the fact that we were walking up and down Chapel Street all afternoon (i.e. technically, doing “circles”), I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised if people thought that we were wog-wannabes doing laps. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Chapel Street. I remember going here all the time when I was in high school, whether it’d be looking for formal dresses or having coffees with friends before finally declaring that I will never go there again because it’s a place for “try hards.” However, there was this tapas place on the Windsor end that I was keen to try so after church this morning, we took the train from Box Hill and made it there for lunch. The place I’m talking about is Basques Tapas and Wine which has been around for some time. The main reason why it’s taken me so long to try this place is because it’s in CHAPEL STREET which takes effort commuting to (okay, not really but if you’re lazy like me and car-less like me, any trip goes beyond one bus ride is “not worth it”). Also to me, anything that comes from Chapel Street just screams out STYLE-BUT-NO-SUBSTANCE. Nevertheless, I decided to put aside my snobbiness and venture onto muzza and bimbo maria territory for the afternoon.

Because this place has been featured in several editions of The Age Good Food Guide, I figured that it’d be packed and that we needed to book ahead. Adam, however, reckoned that we would be okay without a booking as the South-of-the-Yarra crowd usually don’t get up before 3pm because they’d be nursing hangovers from a boozy night. I heeded his advice and it turned out he was right. We arrived at around 12:30 and there were only 1-2 tables filled. We were greeted by a funky Asian waitress and shown to a window table promptly.

As we were reading the menu (skipping the wine list), I surveyed our surroundings and tried to make sense of it but it was a bit of a struggle. We were in a Spanish restaurant, an oddball amidst the designer stores and all the coffee shops that made up this part of Chapel Street…

There were red lights decorating the walls and I could not help but wonder whether the lights indicated what sort of women came to this joint (not looking at me, of course. Cough.)…
… the decor looked like something from the set of that Ugly Betty episode in season.1 where they go to Mexico. and they had some sort of Catholic shrine at the back which reminded me of those Buddhist ones you see at Asian restaurants. I reckon the person who decorated this place is either a kitschy Asiaphile Catholic or was inspired by that Killer’s video clip (When You Were Young). Heh.
Looking at the menu, we decided that much of what they offered were quite similar to Movida’s offerings but steered towards the “traditional” rather than “innovative” Spanish cuisine. The food was a little bit cheaper too. They offered a set degustation menu for $49p/p (I think it comes with 9 dishes) which sounded quite good but decided to choose our own dishes, 4 tapas (small dishes) and one racion (main/shared dish). We chose some awesome-sounding dishes, but several times the waiteress ran back to tell us that we couldn’t have the scallops/cod croquettes/whatever-else-we-ordered-that-sounded-yum because the kitchen was out. It was annoying but nevertheless, we chose our substitutes and the kitchen got down to business.

Gambas al pil pil ($10.50). Four large prawns sizzled in a spicy garlic and chilli sauce which made Adam and I both jump in excitement. There was a lot of zest in this dish with just the right amount of chilli (i.e. not too little, not too much) to satisfy Adam’s love for hot food and my wussy-ness when it comes to chilli-based foods. One bite of prawn and your tastebuds feel as if some hot Spaniard dancer (choose your desired sex) has danced one heck of a paso doble on your tongue.

Jamon de Serrano ($11). This dish was the simplest out of all the dishes we ordered but I thought that it was the best (apart from the prawns above). Two hugh chucks of sourdough slices were topped with some fresh slices of jamon (cured ham) and drizzled with some awesome-tasting olive oil. Four little gherkins were there as accompaniments. It might sound boring to a lot of people, but I think that using top quality ingredients really makes all the difference in dishes such as this. Even though jamon serrano is considered the “poor man’s” jamon (If you want quality (with a price tag to match!), you’d go for Iberico), I loved the zesty flavour of the ham and if I could, I’d have it in my sandwich for lunch all the time instead of chicken loaf or shoulder ham!

Bunuelos de manchego ($6.50). Okay, this dish was probably the weirdest one we encountered. It actually wasn’t bad but nothing to harp on about. They were described as “cheese puffs” and we were expecting something filo-pastry-y but we ended up with fried croquettes filled with mashed cheese and sweet potato in it. The balls were then dusted with paprika salt. Like I said, unusual and okay-tasting but we wouldn’t order it next time we’re here.

Chuleto de Cordero ($7.50). One lamb cutlet was marinated with chilli and cooked in a porcini mushroom jus. This was a very pleasant dish, the sweetness of the sherry in the sauce bringing out the spicy flavour of the succulent lamb. Yum!

Calamari and Chorizo salad ($19). This was our sharing plate/main for the meal. The plate was actually smaller than what I expected but for $19, it’s actually decently-sized compared to the sharing plates they serve at Movida. The light tangy salad and the airy, crispy-fried calamari pieces complimented each other perfectly while the addition of two slices of chorizo made for one helluva sexy threesome. I reckoned that a bit more chorizo wouldn’t help but then again, too much sausage would, I guess, make for a more complicated menage a trois. (Oh STOP, Libby )

A bowl of Patatas Bravas and aoli ($6.50) was ordered as a side dish. We agonised betweent this and the sherry mushrooms but opted for the potatoes in the end as they are generally more filling than mushrooms. There was liberal use of paprika salt over the hand-cut potato pieces which were crunchy but like the “cheese puffs”, nothing to rave on about.


Stand-out performances were the prawns and the jamon. Sigh.

In summary, I’d definitely come back for another visit. I was very satisfied with my meal. In fact, I could honestly say that this place is the best Spanish place I’ve been to so far. It was decently priced too – $64.50 for the two of us, plus drinks (the meal we had at Movida was $30-odd dearer) . I think the differentiating factor between Basque and Movida is that Movida tries so hard to impress and but fails to deliver (okay, it doesn’t exactly FAIL per se, just that my dinner there could have been better). Movida is a bit like the Spanish soccer team – looks potentially good on paper, plays a few great games but when it comes to the crucial moment, it chokes. Basque, while the food isn’t as innovative as Movida, serves more simple food but it gets plenty of thumbs up on TASTE. The the ingredients of superb quality and the flavours were sensational. I just wished that they had some scallops in. Sigh .
We planned to have dessert at Amici Bakery Cafebut it was PACKED when we got there so we ended up wandering around Prahran market and reading books at Borders, not to mention a bit of window shopping here and there. It was 4 o’clock before we made it back to Amici again with only a few tables occupied. They had already closed the kitchen by the time we rocked up but that was okay as we were still able to have anything from the food cabinets below:

How cute are they!


*squeals*


I had an iced coffee while Adam had this third coffee for the day ().

My pistachio chocolate mousse ($5.50) and Adam’s bacon quiche in the background. This was really yum! Full of chocolate-y goodness without being too rich.

Although not the best coffee and cakes we’ve had, there was nothing to whinge about in terms of taste. The service, however, wasn’t that great. They presented my iced coffee without a straw and the waiter had no idea where to bring the food to (we had to signal to her). Most of the staff weren’t all that friendly although I won’t take marks off – I can understand, it’s the end of a busy Sunday shift and they were all keen to check out the underage clubbing event that was happening at Chasers and prey on young boys and girls go home and relax. Nevertheless, a good place to have a cuppa with some yummy snacks or a weekend gossip session with some friends. Next time, I’ll try their food when their kitchen is open.