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tinto

555 Burwood Road, Hawthorn
(03) 9994 3978
http://www.tinto.net.au

It’s nice sometimes to have an unplanned evening out in new territory. And so it was that I found myself in Hawthorn of all places, seeking shelter from the winter’s night in Tinto, a brand new Spanish restaurant not far from the Auburn Road junction. Nestling between local Greek joints and coffee shops, this place is newly open and a great addition to the neighbourhood.

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Having owned and run the family restaurant in their ancestral home of Barcelona for many years, sisters Maria and Paola returned to Australian where they’d grown up, leaving the third sister behind to mind the shop. A careful search for the right location threw up 555 Burwood Road, a decent-sized space decorated simply. The long bar is definitely reminiscent of a good Barcelona tapas bar, and many of the staff are also Spanish.

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The wine list is a nice blend of local and Spanish wines. My companion and I chose the Marques de Tezona tempranillo, and a few dishes to be going on with. Co-owner Maria recommended the coca, a racion of goat’s cheese and onion marmalade on flatbread, and we augmented that with some croquettes de jamon and the inevitable (for an Irishwoman) tortilla.

The coca came out looking like a long pizza, and it was just divine. I could have simply had that to myself and a nice glass of red, sitting up at the counter with a book in my hand if I didn’t have company for dinner.

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The croquettes were four lightly deep-fried morsels of cheesy/hammy perfection, and the tortilla portion was generous, eggy and just warmed through.

We finished off with a racion of calamari, again very lightly fried and just perfect to end with.

I’m sorry this place is a little out of the way for me, because it could very easily become a regular haunt. Maria said she wanted to own a place where a woman could come in and dine alone in comfort, and they’ve certainly got that vibe. I’ll find a reason to return just for that coca! Thanks, Maria and Paola.

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Tinto on Urbanspoon

540 on barkly

540 Barkly Street, West Footscray
(03) 9687 2479
http://www.540onbarkly.com.au

On a cold, miserable night in WeFo, we drove down to the site of the old Palmerino’s for the opening night of 540 On Barkly.

Since we’ve lived in Footscray, Palmerino’s looked like an old boys’ bar with a badly stocked off-licence attached. It always looked like a great place to renovate as part of the rebirth of West Footscray. And suddenly here we were, quaffing Mount Gay Extra Old and a good Clare Valley shiraz in a newly decorated bar, sampling the passing trays of chorizo meatballs, arancini and bacon-wrapped mozzarella as we dodged the smokers coming in from the beer garden beyond.

The place was thronged with people: a smattering of new-style Westies and a fair number of after-work blokes in fleeces and steel toe capped boots. Was it my attention or was the average age a lot higher than I’d anticipated?

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The front restaurant area was unfortunately cordoned off for now: the new owner Simon told us that they were still awaiting the transfer of the old off-licence to an on-site liquor licence, so no alcohol was allowed in the space. There were nine or ten tables in what used to be the old bottle shop,  walls lined with framed photos. Elsewhere in the bar and upstairs in the huge function room, enormous green, red and blue abstract paintings dominated.

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A couple of nights later we wandered back down to see what things were like without the opening night crowd.  Again, we were steered away from the main restaurant area to a place in the bar. A handful of other diners had chosen the warmer tables, so we had to choose between a serious draught from the beer garden door or the main door.

Another glass of Clare Valley shiraz and a Mount Gay Extra Old. We ordered the chorizo meatballs and the calamari to share as a starter, then a porterhouse steak for Orlando and the gnocchi with lamb ragu for me. The meatballs were served with some Turkish bread and a small bowl of salad, and went down a treat.

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Sadly, the calamari never came even after some polite questioning.

Orlando’s porterhouse steak was a decent size and nicely cooked, although perhaps a tiny bit more medium-rare than medium.

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My gnocchi were lovely but – a personal preference – it would have tasted better with more finely grated parmesan rather than the larger flakes. An offer of freshly-ground black pepper would have been nice, but didn’t come.

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By 8.30pm the place was empty and we headed to the bar to pay the bill. We chatted to Simon and his sister Julie, who asked for feedback, good or bad. We gently mentioned the missing calamari but complimented the rest of the food. Then their EFTPOS wasn’t working, which the waitress had also neglected to tell us, and we only just scraped enough cash together to pay the $99 bill. Simon was most apologetic, invited us back next time for calamari on the house and assured us the EFTPOS would be up and running in a day or so.

It’s early days for 540, but hopefully it will be a welcome addition to the WeFo scene. Simon promises live music in the beer garden during the summer months, and a more casual seating area once the restaurant section is functional.  He wants to build on the reputation he had during his previous tenure at the Mona Castle, and for him it’s all about the food.

It’ll take a bit of time to bed in over winter, but I wish Simon all the best and we’ll visit again soon to hear how he’s doing.

 

misty’s diner

103-105 High Street, Prahran
http://www.mistysdiner.com.au
(03) 95101959

A work get-together brought me to Misty’s Diner, a genuine American diner right next door to a car wash at the bleaker end of Prahran High Street. IMG_0141

A happy buzz, colourful booths and a wall of American junk food greeted me as I walked in from the cold.

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Misty herself is from Phoenix, Arizona. She was tending tables that evening herself, checking on food orders, handing out birthday cakes and getting the drinks in. I asked whether her chilli had capsicum in it, and she answered stoutly. “Absolutely not. I hate capsicum. This is a capsicum-free restaurant.”

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I was immediately interested. I hate capsicum too.

The menu was long and carb-loaded. Starters are a predictable mix of potato skins, corn chips, an onion ring tower and other deep-fried goodness. My gang went straight for the main courses. Burgers were high on the list, but I went with the “Get In My Belly”: personally recommended by Misty herself, it promised the heady combination of sliced smoked pork shoulder, spicy barbecue sauce and home-made coleslaw.

When the food arrived it was certainly on the generous side, and almost impossible to pick up and eat with one’s hands. The burgers were perilously tall and looked pretty good, however there were none of the groans of delight I’d expected.

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My pork shoulder creation was indeed nice enough, but the pork shoulder looked and tasted no different to what you’d get at the supermarket deli counter. The “Po Man’s Cocaine” extra hot sauce I asked for was simply a small bowl of mild sauce with some chilli powder and chilli flakes shaken in. Hardly home-made or authentic.

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A brave soul ordered the Hangover Cure – from its description we couldn’t even tell if it was technically a burger. It was: with mac and cheese, chilli con carne, jalapeños, American bacon and red onions. It was gargantuan as opposed to just huge, and frankly it just looked like a huge mess on a plate. He ate it but he wasn’t overly impressed.

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One lone soldier dared to order a salad. It didn’t look bad, but it’s not what you come here for.

Fries come in full or half sizes which is nice, and you can order them skinny, fat, curly, waffle, with gravy, with cheese, with gravy and cheese…. you get the idea.

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I had mine with chilli, because I could. The chilli was in no way spicy or hot.

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Drinks are the predictable beer/soft drinks/wine list, however when I asked for a glass of shiraz I was told they’d run out. I was offered a glass of sweet shiraz which hardly bore thinking about. I opted for a grenache instead. When it came out it had clearly been poured from a bottle that had been open a couple of weeks. Even the non-wine-drinkers at my table could smell the musty staleness. Freshly poured from a newly-opened bottle it was drinkable enough, but then we weren’t there for the beer (so to speak).

Prices were reasonable – around $13-17 for a burger. Actually, now I’ve written that down, maybe it’s not so great. But the portions are large and the atmosphere is fun. I suppose if you head in during the day you can even get your car washed while you wait.

Will I blaze a trail back there anytime soon? Perhaps not. But it was an OK night.

Misty's Diner on Urbanspoon

chapter too

Shop 3, 110 Canterbury Road
Heathmont
(03) 9720 0544

If you are a coffee head in Heathmont, I am assured this is the place to go for your morning long black or latte.

As a tea drinker, I’m more interested in whether they are a loose-leaf or teabag establishment  than the brand of coffee they pour (loose leaf, since you ask) and whether their teapots leak when you try and pour from them (they don’t).

The thing I like about Chapter Too is that they serve breakfast right up to noon, so I can have a bowl of porridge or eggs on toast for lunch if I want (and I often do). It can feel a wee bit cavernous inside, but nab a seat by the window or outside on the pavement and it’s a more pleasant experience. The calamari salad is delicious for a light lunchtime bite, but I tend to be a bit boring and go for the poached eggs with a couple of breakfast sides.

The only thing is that it’s a bit mums-and-bubs-clubby if you get there late morning, so at times it’s not the respite from the working world I am seeking. Nonetheless, it’s a great local eatery and number one on my list when I have visiting dignitaries in the office.

Chapter Too on Urbanspoon

126 Canterbury Road, Heathmont
03 9720 3499

I work in the boondocks, in a small, faceless light industrial estate miles from anywhere interesting. Happily, in a nearby strip mall there are two respectable places for a woman to have lunch when she needs to escape the office: Chapter Too and The Village Food Store.

The Village Food Store is all blonde wood, white tiles and bi-fold windows, a tiny eatery which earnestly proclaims its local-food, fresh-cooked approach to food on its small menu. It has become a bit of a haunt for me when I need respite from spreadsheets and reports.

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The menu is as small as the premises, but everything is indeed freshly made from local ingredients as far as possible. This means you might have a tiny bit of a wait for your tangy Asian chicken salad or your sublime chorizo and bean soup. The Village Food Store has something for every season, and for the most part it’s all healthy choices. Their tea is loose leaf and their teapots large. These days I am greeted with a familiar smile every time I walk in, and I can sit in peace and solitude for forty-five minutes, eat some heavenly healthy food and head back to work feeling like I’ve had a proper lunchtime.

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Village Food Store on Urbanspoon

cargo

55a New Quay Promenade 
Docklands

03 9670 0999

Whatever happened to Docklands? NewQuay is quieter and quieter these days. A handful of restaurants are closed down and the others never seem hugely full, even on weekends. And so it was with some trepidation that I headed down there to meet a friend for dinner on a Thursday evening.

The $13 charge in the pay-and-display car park was the first unwelcome surprise, quickly followed by the gale force wind that greeted me as I turned onto the promenade. NewQuay looks fantastic on paper: a waterside eating, drinking and entertainment precinct, with well-appointed apartments, street art and one or two nice hotels, but summer or winter it almost never appeals. I forge ahead stoutly, driven more by the prospect of some intellectual stimulation and a glass of wine than by anything approaching culinary excellence.

At six o’clock in the evening, Cargo has yet to heat up, literally and figuratively. I settle into a window seat and pull my jacket closed. A glass of Barossa shiraz helps to lift the gloom, and my friend and I get down to the serious business of catching up.

It’s not an enormous menu but we are both drawn to the pizzas. We go old-school with a capriciosa and a good old mushroom pizza. No smalls and larges here – they’re all the one size. There is a wood fired pizza oven here, but they don’t make a big deal of it.

The pizzas are served in less than ten minutes, both a generous dinner-plate size with a fair (perhaps overly generous?) sprinkling of Italian herbs. I had ordered mine well cooked, and it came just so: a little charred around the edges but on the whole sturdy enough to pick up by the slice without losing all the topping.

Not the most inspiring pizza I’ve ever had, but decent enough and a fair price. The anchovies on the capriciosa were not standard topping but added beautifully to the overall saltiness.

We watch the boats come and go on the water outside, and again I am stuck with the mystery that is NewQuay: it appears to have all the elements of a great locale, but somehow it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. And with car parking charges more than even the astronomical St. Kilda, there really doesn’t seem any reason to go there above all the other great entertainment spots around Melbourne.

Cargo on Urbanspoon

the alderman

134 Lygon St, Brunswick East
+61 3 9380 9003

If you ever wondered what the touristy end of Lygon Street used to be before it got all honky-tonk, wander north past Brunswick Road to Lygon Street in East Brunswick. There, custom furniture shops sit alongside funky hairdressers and neighbourhood bars flourish next door to old school social clubs.

Just north of the vibrant Brunswick Road – Edward Street precinct sits The Alderman, a quiet, unassuming place with a handful of tables and bar stools in the front bar and a scattering of seats through the back rooms. The dark wood panelling and simple bar area are inviting on a chilly late summer’s evening, when a deep purple shiraz seems more the order of the day than a cool gin and tonic.

I sit at a barstool by the window and watch the hipsters stroll by and roll by. I’ve just come from work and I feel deeply out of place in my corporate wear. Perhaps it’s not too late to pop next door to Rhubarb and get an interesting asymmetric bob or something?

The Alderman is mostly a modest drinking hole, but they serve a small list of snack-sized plates from the Sicilian place next door. A plate of salami sprinkled with EVOO looks tame enough, but there is a bite to the sausage that goes very well with my shiraz. The chickpea chips sound interesting, and out they come in an old-fashioned wooden bowl, perfect right-angled triangles of deep-fried loveliness drizzled with a tangy lemon mayonnaise.  We order seconds. I am not a huge lover of arancini: I think it’s because they are reminiscent of a Scotch egg and no amount of perfectly sculpted rice will ever trump a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and deep-fried. However this one is the nicest I’ve had in a while, and big enough for two to share.

There is a decent list of wines by the glass and the beer list is, I am told, a good one.  A pretty good place for a quiet drink alone, a catch-up with friends or a rainy afternoon with a mulled wine and a good book.

 

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The Alderman on Urbanspoon

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