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

food festival aversion

I’m a food blogger: a sporadic one, I’ll grant you, but a food blogger nonetheless. So why did this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival leave me cold?

Some of the initiatives sound great, for example Lauren Wambach’s Rickshaw Run in Footscray, or the wonderful SpeakEasy Cocktail Tram (I wonder how many people dressed up this year?). But I feel many fall a bit flat, sounding great on a website but ending up a bit disappointing in their execution.

One recent case in point was the Taste of Melbourne event that took place in Albert Park last November. We headed down there late on Sunday morning, cancelling our usual breakfast plans to spend a sunny day grazing amongst the stalls. What we got were hour-long waits for tiny portions of food from a dozen or so trendy restaurants, and the rest of the food stalls banned from selling ready-to-eat food so that the named few got the revenue. Our only spoils were a couple of sticky beef buns and a soft shell crab tortilla to share from The Smith. They cost $20 and barely made up a couple of mouthfuls of food each. We left after two hours, stomachs still rumbling.

And so it was that, in the spirit of eternal optimism, we headed down to The Immersery last night, expecting to spend the evening sampling some good food and wine. Southbank was buzzing with crowds enjoying the Moomba festival, the Food and Wine festival and one of the last balmy evenings of summer. We found our way to the floating bar and settled in.

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The festival’s website painted an exciting picture:

A bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s hottest food, wine and cocktails.

Celebrate the wonder of water at the Festival’s spectacular hub anchored to the Yarra River in Queensbridge Square; a bustling riverside meeting place and home to Victoria’s most inspiring food, wine and cocktails over 17 days.

The website also promised “fine drops from Victorian wineries including Seppelt, Coldstream Hills and T’Gallant”.

What we got was a wine list that featured only the three wineries mentioned above, all of which undoubtedly offer great quality wines, but the narrow choice was disappointing. There was a couple of cocktails of the day if you were interested, and a handful of beers and ciders.

The food offerings were two tasting plates, both costing $30 and neither looking larger than a starter. We surreptitiously inspected what our fellow diners were eating, decided we were all much more hungry than that, and toddled off to find some proper food on Southbank. Pity, because the river views were perfect.

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Thankfully there are other, much more entertaining, experiences to try in this great foodie city, like the growing fleet of food trucks, or the Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce annual picnic and Westies awards, so all is not lost.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has its place in terms of tourism and industry publicity, but I have concluded that it’s often better to keep it local and personal, rather than rely too much on these huge commercial festivals to deliver on what is, after all, a passion for most and a labour of love for many.

the lakehouse

55 Cumberland Drive, Maribyrnong, VIC
03 9317 3649

Down by the riverside in Maribyrnong a beautiful glass-fronted restaurant was built and then sat empty for a few years. We cycled and strolled past there from time to time, and wondered when it would ever open. Well, now it has.

The Degani cafe empire have taken over this place, and it opened just a few days ago.  We noticed the open door on our way to Cafe Boutique, and diverted there for a late breakfast.

The restaurant is light and airy, with a full glass front overlooking the Maribyrnong River. This is going to be a great haunt for a cheeky afternoon drink in the summer, or a cosy coffee and cake on cooler days. The space is not overloaded with tables which is nice for a change. There is a stunning outside space with high stools and cafe tables – guaranteed to become a favourite spot on sunny days.

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In the centre of the restaurant are a couple of banquettes and larger tables seating up to 12 or so people, but I’m sure they would configure some of the smaller tables to accommodate larger groups right by the panoramic windows.

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The only decor points lost were for the two large TV screens, one showing the football and the other MTV. I’m not a fan of TVs in restaurants, and although I understand they will be handy to attract punters for the occasional big game I’d prefer if they were kept switched off the rest of the time.

To the food: the menu is a decent bistro mix of steak sandwiches, parmas, fish and chips, lamb shanks. You know the drill. They also have a pizza menu but I shall reserve judgement on those until I taste them. Actually, the whole menu reminded me very much of the newly-renovated Plough Hotel, another great new local eatery.

Breakfast was (mostly) generously-proportioned, tasty and good value at $41 for two.  My side of mushrooms consisted of just two mushrooms which I thought rather miserly, however O’s bacon and smoked salmon more than made up for this slip.

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Tea is served in large mugs (good) made with decent tea in bags (good) however no teapots are to be had (bad). Given the fancy-schmancy coffee machine behind the counter, I fear this cafe focuses on coffee heads and forget the tea drinkers, like so many places in Melbourne. If you are reading this, Degani’s, please buy a few decent-sized teapots for your regulars – we will thank you!

Service was friendly without being over-familiar, and the occasional hesitation was forgiven in place open only two or three days. The neighbouring Cafe Boutique is fine, and will remain on our standby list, but in just one visit I think the Lakehouse has just become our regular Sunday destination. I am looking forward to coming back of an evening to try out their dinner menu.

Lakehouse Restaurant on Urbanspoon

cafe le chien

5 Gamon St, Seddon
(03) 9362 7333

Cafe le Chien has been a regular breakfast haunt for us since arriving here in 2005. Our routine is to head down there around 1pm on Sundays when most of the families have headed off. We have the same thing every week and the staff know we won’t need menus.
The good things about Cafe le Chien are plenty: good music at weekends. Decent chilli eggs. Friendly service (although I have read a few other blogs that say you don’t get good service unless you are a known regular). The eggs were always a highlight – you simply can’t get better scrambled eggs in this town. The teapots are nice and big and the tea comes exactly the way you order it (you have no idea how rare this is in Melbourne where most places are geared to finicky coffee heads). You will almost always get a table. And the evening meals are worth a visit too.
Over the years though, I’d say the only thing we can complain about are portion sizes. Prices have gone up a very modest amount over the seven or years we’ve been coming here, but certainly over the past two years some of the portion sizes have come down. My partner’s usual breakfast involves smoked salmon, which has gone from a pretty generous portion to a really tiny amount in a small Chinese sauce bowl. It irritates now, every time we are served. Other sides that have suffered include the mushrooms and other vegetarian items.
Nonetheless, we still visit almost every Sunday when we are in town, and to us it’s still the place to beat.

Le Chien on Urbanspoon

fill up on bread – year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.