Review: The Mill, Melbourne CBD

Nobody likes a good bargain more than me – have you ever heard of me extolling the virtues of the Entertainment Book? (Of course you have, I talk about it all the time!) While I don’t use it as often now that I’m not dining out all the time, by splitting the book with my brother, I still get some good discounts when I do go out to eat.

A family dinner at The Mill Restaurant in Hardware Lane earlier this year is a good example. We stopped in for a quick dinner after K and I finished work, and before we dropped my dad off at the airport before his late night flight overseas for Chinese New Year. With a 25% off offer (up to $35 value), it essentially meant that one person in our group of four dined for free – bargain!

We managed to grab a table by the window overlooking Hardware Lane. While it was a mid-week evening, there’s still always lots of people-watching to be had in one of the busier food precincts in the city.

Pan-seared salmon with fennel and Jerusalem artichoke puree and garden salad, $22AUD

First main – the Pan-seared Salmon. If there’s one complaint to be made about this main (and honestly, with all the mains we ordered), is that there’s very little focus on what goes on the side. While the salmon was cooked adequately and had a nice crispy skin, the side salad was absolutely pitiful. 

Special of the day – Bacon-wrapped steak with black pepper sauce and chips

The daily special of the Bacon-Wrapped Steak is precisely what your doctor would tell you to avoid to maintain better health. Who can turn down crispy bacon and juicy steak though, especially when served with a generous amount of crispy and crunchy golden chips on the side?

The Mill Burger with a homemade patty, prosciutto, cheddar and pickles and Chips, $21AUD

The house-made Mill Burger was served with the same crunchy chips on the side but surprisingly, it was the burger itself that was the highlight. The fat and juicy burger patty was seared to perfection with just the slightest hint of a charcoal crust, the cheese was melted and the extra hit of prosciutto really brought it all together on the soft sesame-crusted bun. Great example of a simple burger done well.

Roasted chicken breast with crushed potatoes, glazed peach, beans and broccoli, $25AUD

We finished off with the Roasted Chicken Breast, which was unfortunately a tad dry. Again, four limp green beans and half a potato do not make a great veggie side – and the glazed peach was a strange addition that didn’t add much to the dish overall. 

The Mill Restaurant offers a fairly standard modern Australian menu with the requisite steaks, burgers, chicken, fish and Italian pasta options. While you won’t find anything particularly innovative or mind-blowing on the menu, the prices are reasonable (especially if you dine with a discount) and the atmosphere can be quite cheery with the noises and laughter of Hardware Lane spilling into the restaurant. Just make sure you order some veggies on the side to share!

The Mill Restaurant is located at 71 Hardware Lane in Melbourne CBD.

Review: Marche Board Game Cafe, Melbourne CBD

While I wouldn’t call myself a board game aficionado, I do know my Pandemic from my Ticket to Ride, my Settlers of Catan from Dominion, and my Codenames from Cards Against Humanity. I have a soft spot for board and card games that align with other interests (Marrying Mr Darcy and Lords and Ladies for example), and can’t wait for my latest Kickstarter-backed card game Polite Society to arrive.

However keeping up with all the latest release board games can be an expensive habit, and one that can challenge the storage capacity of our relatively small apartment. 

That’s where Marche Board Game Cafe comes in. Located on the city fringe, it’s a Taiwanese-run cafe where you can sit and enjoy a drink or a full meal while playing one of the many board games they have in stock – all the fun without the commitment of buying the game yourself. Priced at $12 per person for three hours, you get a free drink as well.

They are relatively flexible on this pricing though. For instance, we were there with some friends for about five hours early on a Saturday afternoon when the cafe was quiet (it gets busier at night), ordering a meal and a drink each (approximately $16 each) and were able to stay for the full five hours.

Ice Matcha ($6) and a Black Bubble Tea ($5)

I opted for an Iced Matcha Latte and K chose the Black Bubble Tea as it was a steaming hot day when we visited. Both drinks were weaker than we would normally prefer with the barest hint of matcha in mine. While it does the job in quenching one’s thirst during an afternoon of gaming, it’s nothing to write home about.

Taiwanese Lurou Fan ($9)

As we got there around lunchtime, we ordered some meals as well, starting with the Taiwanese Lurou Fan – or Braised Pork Rice. Most Taiwanese will tell you that this is generally considered to be typical comfort food with each family having their own twist on the standard recipe. Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed with this dish as the pork wasn’t as juicy as I would typically like and the egg wasn’t braised and seasoned as strongly as usual. 

Taiwanese Sausage Fan ($12)

The Taiwanese Sausage Fan / Rice is self-explanatory, a bowl of rice with some pickles on top, along with a generous serving of Lurou and slices of sweet Taiwanese sausage. Very simple and deceptively filling even though it does look like a smaller serve. 

If you haven’t tried Taiwanese sausage before, it tends to be a much sweeter sausage with a higher sugar and fat content. You can sometimes find it at Cantonese-style BBQ shops – the ones with roast duck, roast pork and soy chicken hanging in the windows. 

Taiwanese Paigu Fan ($12)

Finally the Taiwanese Paigu Fan – or Spare Ribs Rice. Again topped with Lurou, the pork spare ribs were a bit on the dry side unfortunately. 

Combo A with chips, chicken nuggets, calamari rings and spring rolls ($15)

Towards the end of our gaming session, we got a bit hungry again – so I ordered a Combo A sharing plate of chips, nuggets, calamari and spring rolls. No doubt most of this is straight out of the pre-packaged freezer section of the supermarket. Suffice it to say it helps to staunch any hunger pangs sustained through intensive gaming.

Marche isn’t somewhere that you would go specifically for the food or drinks. The quality is indifferent at best, but it more than fulfills its primary mission – keeping one fed and watered during a long afternoon of playing board games. 

Marche Board Game Cafe is located at 64 A’Beckett St in Melbourne CBD.

Review: Barry, Northcote

In Melbourne, North-side is as foreign a concept to me as West-side. Raised in the East and living in the South, there’s a certain snobbish-ness about my unfamiliarity with other areas of this city. Even when friends hail from those parts of town, we’ll arrange to meet somewhere more central for catch-ups – heaven forbid I venture past the CBD!

On a rare occasion much earlier this year, we ventured North-side for brunch after dropping a friend off at the airport for an early morning flight. Barry in Northcote was our destination of choice, after good experiences with similar cafes owned and run by the Sahely family (Mammoth, Square and Compass).

Soy Cappuccino ($4.70) and Blended Drink #1 with banana, peanut butter, cacao nibs, honey, almond milk and ice ($10.50)

Drinks to start. K opted for a standard Soy Cappuccino, and I chose their Blended Drink #1 of banana, peanut butter, cacao nibs, honey and almond milk. Make no mistake, this smoothie is so rich and thick that it’s a meal in itself. It also finds the right balance of sweetness – sweet enough to be a treat, not so sweet that it’s sickly. I would recommend sharing this between two people or ordering a much smaller dish, otherwise you will end up rolling out the door.

Ricotta hotcake with grilled pineapple compote and coconut labne ($20)

K chose the Ricotta Hotcake for his meal, no doubt thinking with fondness of the small light and fluffy ricotta hotcakes that his family enjoy regularly on Sunday mornings. Barry’s ricotta hotcake is in a class of its own though – thicker and heavier, and much more sodden with sticky tropical syrup. Not quite the light melt-in-your-mouth hotcakes he was expecting, but deliciously doughy and fruity if that’s your preference.

Acai chia pudding with basil macerated strawberries and coconut, millet and quinoa granola ($15.50)

I opted for the Acai Chia Pudding with strawberries, coconut and crunchy granola. Acai bowls are dime a dozen these days with every cafe and their cousin offering an acai bowl (I’ve had my fair share), but Barry does their iteration well. It’s the millet and quinoa granola that does it, lending a textural crunch that helps to offset the stodginess of the acai.

Like its sister cafes, Barry offers Melbournians hearty brunch and lunch options with top quality drinks in a relaxed, semi-industrial setting. While we didn’t try the more innovative items on the menu (activated charcoal porridge anyone?), the standard brunch items of hotcakes and acai puddings were a hit. If we ever venture North-side to try it again, we’ll give their savoury dishes a try – perhaps the scrambled red chilli eggs?

Barry is located at 85 High Street in Northcote, Melbourne.