Summer Sensations: Blog Amnesty

February 5, 2012

I got the idea of a blog amnesty post from Melbourne Gastronome’s similar post. Basically over the summer I’ve been to lots of places but haven’t had the time to write them each up individually. So pardon me for being quite lax but here they are, all bundled together and quite brief. Hopefully you can make some sense of them and I can finally move on to reviewing other places!

Aix Cafe Creperie Salon

24 Centre Place, Melbourne

Down one of my favourite lane-ways in Melbourne is a funky little creperie that also serves up some excellent baguettes (try their meatball and tomato sugo one) and good coffee.

I had just come from the intersection of Swanston and Collins St, where the Occupy Melbourne protestors had taken over the street. It was grey and drizling with rain, and after nearly being hit by a flying can of coke, I thought it best to seek some refuge and nourishment. Aix was a quiet, jazz filled haven with cosy red seats and friendly staff.

I do, however, think that the last three words in their name are interchangeable and a tad superfluous. Surely one would suffice. Aix Cafe. Aix Creperie. Aix Salon. All three, to me, seems like overkill.

But enough about the name, “What of the crepes?”, you ask. The crepes are good. Really good. On the day I went I began with a savory crepe with field mushroom, teleggio and spinach, which was brilliant, especially the tangy pungent taste of the cheese. The crepe itself is the perfect thickness: not stodgy nor flimsy.

As a sweet finish to my meal, I had the crepe with mixed berries and rosewater yoghurt. This was nice, but there was far too much yoghurt which tended to overwhelm the rest of the dish. Next time I’ll be sure to try the blood orange crepe with burnt sugar.

Aix Café Creperie Salon on Urbanspoon

Peko Peko

199 Smith Street, Collingwood
Peko Peko, along a popular strip of Smith Street, is quite similar to Otsumami in Northcote (see my review here), in both menu content and layout, so it was only inevitable that D and I compared the two. We rocked up at 9pm on a Thursday, and despite being busy, there wasn’t any wait for a table. Sweet.

One wall is decorated in this luminous wall paper, which tends to reflect the dim light coming from the restaurant’s lamps.

A small restaurant, the place has a decidedly grungy feel, though we noticed a curious hole in the back wall revealing a larger table upstairs. Quite cool, really.

I’m afraid the lighting was very poor, so my photos aren’t good quality (I was using my small digital camera). First up (if you can make out the picture below) was the Tsuke Maguro, yellowfin tuna marinated in soy, sesame oil and mirin sauce. This was lovely and fresh, a very pleasant appetiser, if a little pricy – but I suppose that reflects the quality of the fish.

We also ordered a serve of the Nasu Dengaku, eggplant pieces in a sweet miso sauce with spinach. I really enjoyed this dish, but I found the eggplant skin unusually tough. Plus I found a piece that had the end stalk of the eggplant, which I’d normally expect to be cut off.

What followed was the dish I am now using to compare all Japanese restaurants that offer it, the SASHIMI DON (see previously chronicled sashimi don on my Otsumami post). I’d read on another blog that the serving size was quite mean here – not true at all! This was a very large bowl of rice with a good portion of raw fish on top and excellent marinade. All in all a very good rendition of one of my favourite Japanese dishes.

To end, we shared a plate of the Pirikara, tiger prawns in a spicy soy, garlic, sesame and plam sugar sauce with peanuts. Though I really liked the spicy sauce, I have several issues with this dish. Firstly, the prawns were tough and over cooked. Secondly, I couldn’t see what the peanuts added to the dish. They seemed a little unnecessary, and because they were diced up, they made me think I was eating prawn shell every time I bit into one.

In all, a nice experience at Peko Peko. I said earlier I couldn’t help comparing it to Otsumami, and I can’t help but conclude that Otsumami is probably better. The dishes on the whole are executed to a more refined degree, they are slightly cheaper, and I like the decor better. However, if Northcote is a tad too far north for you, Peko Peko is a good alternative.

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

Let Me Feed You Sydney

Ok, so quite a while back (November) I was in Sydney on a business trip (It was actually more of a training week for my summer internship but I was flown up, put up, and made to wear a suit, so I’m calling that a goddamn business trip, ok?). One night a group of us ended up at some sort of beer hall (can’t quite remember the exact name), which I thought was kind of cool because they’d hung up lots of beer glasses above the bar, giving an awesome effect as they twinkled in the light.

The beer selection was, unsurprisingly, huge. Pictured below are two beers: no prizes for guessing which one was mine.

While in Sydney, we also took the opportunity to sus out The Ivy. Essentially, it’s a very swanky bar-cum-club that has “SYDNEY” written all over it. Mildly beach-side feel, lots of white marble and summery yellow accents, not a grungy piece of furniture in sight.

I was in the mood for a cocktail, and forwent my usual gin base to order the “Secret Garden” – Herradura blanco tequila with cucumber, basil and apple juice. It was sensational.

I was also tempted by one involving Belvedere vodka, creme de peche and spiced honey apple, topped with dried ginger and breakfast tea, if only to see how “topping” something with tea would work. Surely you’d just get bits of dried leaves dispersing into the liquid? I was also slightly turned off by the name of the cocktail, “The Teabag”, which unfortunately had me thinking of a rather explicit scene from Sex and the City.

The rooftop area is also rather swanky, and we enjoyed dominating the lounges in the centre of the space, on a marble platform that juts out into the pool. Quite the experience, but not really my kind of place, ultimately. Give me a dimly lit cocktail bar on Brunswick street or a back alley of the CBD any day!

The Mess Hall

51 Bourke Street, Melbourne
I have a proper blog post on the Mess Hall coming up soon. This is just to write briefly on my breakfast experience there. All thanks to a particularly speedy tram driver, I arrived in the city earlier than expected at 7:30am. Time which could have been spent getting ahead of work was instead spent getting breakfast. I see this as a good decision; a proper breakfast = greater productivity throughout the day (or some such argument).

Their bircher museli, though nothing compared to the version served up at the Hardware Societe, is yummy, if a little too dry. I especially liked the addition of pistachios, macadamias, cherries and coconut, and the crunchy apple mohawk crowning the dish.

J Cafe Restaurant
167 Exhibition St, Melbourne
If you ever find yourself in the mood for sushi, but find hand rolls and nigiri just a tad too pedestrian, you may be tempted by J Cafe’s “sushi burgers”, an inventive fusion of East and West. Without getting your hopes up too high, they are essentially the same ingredients as in a sushi hand roll, just re-ordered. Another similarity between hand rolls and sushi “burgers” is size – I’d recommend two of these for lunch.
My favourite flavour is the spicy raw tuna, which has quite a kick and a pleasing amount of raw fish. Other good choices are the Kani Croquette and the teriyaki chicken.


J Café Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Commercial Bakery

360 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Commercial Bakery, hidden just off Little Collins Street, sits adjacent (and indeed adjoining) to Gills Diner. Originally just a bakery, it expanded to offer eat-in pastries and bready things for breakfast and lunch. A few years later they opened a fully operational kitchen, serving delicious French/Spanish food for discerning diners (see my review on Gills Diner here).

I was initially drawn in by the delicious looking croissants sitting in the window, and the chocolate muffins, all crowded and snuggly in their wooden trays.

I was there on a Saturday, quite early in the morning because I had to be in the office later on. A quick chocolate croissant (pleasantly flakey) and a flat white did very well as breakfast, and I would very much like to return at some stage to try out their lunch menu.

Commercial Bakery on Urbanspoon

Rockpool Wine Bar

Crown Casino

It was upon the casual suggestion of a colleague that a small group of us hiked across the city and the river to Rockpool one Friday for lunch. You know, no biggie. I found it quite hilarious, that my work day be punctuated with such an experience, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain!
Ordering was easy: “Burgers all round please, and some chips as well”. Sweet.
Rockpool’s Wine Bar (note different menu to the restaurant) is slightly more casual, although the service is still excellent and the food delicious. This burger is almost regal, standing proudly above the plebeian Greasy-Joe style burgers from local fish and chip shops. It comes with bacon, gruyere cheese, pickled onions and zucchinis and the star of the show, David Blackmore’s Full Blood Wagyu. The meat here is just brilliant, texturally it’s like no mince patty I’ve ever had before, and I love love loved the charred taste on the outside. Simply f-ing brilliant.
Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Cumulus Inc

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
I’m ending with a goodie: sandwiches at Cumulus Inc. Over the summer, I received a tip-off that Cumulus did sandwiches to take away. Delicious sandwiches. On the day that I went they had a number of tempting choices, all around the $8 mark.

I decided on one with zucchini, mint and Meredith goats cheese. It was absolutely brilliant – one of the best lunches I’d had in weeks. A large roll filled till bursting with soft, chargrilled pieces of zucchini and LOTS of goats cheese. Lip-smackingly good – please try them out, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

And so ends my blog amnesty post – next week it’s back to proper/full reviews, starting with St Katherines, so keep your eyes peeled and your phones ready to make reservations, as you no doubt will after my next mouth-watering post!