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.

Review: The Gallery Cafe, Colombo, Sri Lanka

On our last day in Sri Lanka, the last members of our family tour group who were still in Colombo decided to go our separate ways for Christmas lunch. While most of the group went to Ministry of Crab for a meal, my father decided that it wouldn’t make sense for our group of four (father, brother, husband and I) to go as neither he nor my brother eat crustaceans! It would be a waste of money for them to pay $60AUD for a crab-based buffet lunch.

While I was a little bit disappointed as a crab-lover, I was also excited as it meant that we could visit somewhere that has become an icon for those who appreciate Sinhalese design, architecture and art – the Paradise Road Galleries.

The complex includes The Gallery Café where we ended up having lunch, but also includes an art gallery with rotating works, a shop with hand-crafted goods, and more.

The real highlight of the Gallery Café is the fact that it has been created out of the former offices of the great Sinhalese architect Geoffrey Bawa, arguably one of Sri Lanka’s most well-known and respected household names. The building itself then, is as much of a destination as its inspired international menu.

A sense of soul restoration begins as you step through the main doors into the first pavilion where a serene water feature somehow seems to melt away all the noises from the outside streets. Even though this area isn’t air-conditioned, it’s been designed in such a way to keep out most of Colombo’s stifling heat and humidity with a good amount of shade and consistent airflow.

Stepping into the restaurant, we were greeted with a wonderful display of cakes and sweets. It’s partly Christmas themed with some more season-appropriate cakes and puddings available, but your standard crowd pleasers of chocolate mudcakes, lemon meringue tarts and the like are still available.

We had an early lunch reservation commencing at 12pm – as we’d experienced elsewhere in Sri Lanka, it was a very early dining time for locals and so it wasn’t until about an hour later that tables started to fill up. Of course, most of the Sri Lankan population are Buddhist, so the family groups that came out for lunch were not dining out to mark Christmas as we were – they were simply there for a good meal. 

Iced Coffee (625 Sri Lankan Rupees), Virgin Frozen Strawberry Margarita (995 Sri Lankan Rupees), Virgin Colombo Sunset (525 Sri Lankan Rupees), Homemade Ginger Beer (445 Sri Lankan Rupees)

We started off with some drinks all around. Interestingly, while the menu did include alcoholic drink options, the waiter did inform us as we were being seated that they were not serving alcohol on that day. We weren’t told precisely why – perhaps it was a Poya Day? Whatever the reasoning, it didn’t affect us much as we were more than happy to go alcohol-free for our beverages. In the hot weather, having a chilled non-alcoholic beverage was actually preferable to a beer or a cocktail as it was more hydrating. 

Some soft white bread rolls to start – nothing fancy and potentially not baked in-house. The pats of butter were still very chilled, which made it particularly difficult to spread. It’s a minor problem, but does indicate a slight lack of attention to detail as leaving the butter out for just half an hour before serving it to guests would make it more spreadable.

Broccoli salad with avocado, lime and honey vinaigrette (945 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Three entrees to share – the first a Broccoli Salad with Avocado, Lime and Honey Vinaigrette. It’s an unusual salad and an unusual way of serving broccoli as a chopped, diced green mash. Though it may not look particularly appetising, the lingering crunch of the fresh broccoli and lettuce worked well with the soft avocado. The sweet yet sour honey vinaigrette simply set it all off.

Vegetarian Mediterranean Salad (995 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Another salad, as I tried to make up for ten days worth of not having enough green vegetables on our family tour around Sri Lanka! This Vegetarian Mediterranean Salad was a great combination of fresh cucumber, chickpeas, Spanish onion and raisins, with a similar honey vinaigrette dressing with a touch of mustard. What a great combination of textures – while I wouldn’t often use raisins in a savoury dish, the sweet softness worked really well with the crunchier cucumber and chickpeas. I like it, and I might use raisins in salads more often!

Batter Fried Whitebait (935 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Fried salt and pepper whitebait is a dish that you’ll often find on menus in Chinese restaurants. The trick is to keep the batter light, and to serve it when it’s still piping hot. I ordered this Batter Fried Whitebait to show Dad what fried whitebait in a non-Chinese style would taste like. The batter was a bit thicker in this fish-and-chip style fried whitebait, and was herbed for flavour. The accompanying aioli was just the right touch to give it a bit of a flavour booster. Dad’s verdict? Not bad, but not as good as Chinese-style fried whitebait! 

Beef goulash with green peas and potato mash (1675 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Beef Goulash isn’t a dish that I would normally associate with Christmas, but for some reason it was advertised on their Christmas specials menu. I won’t complain too much – I ordered this for Dad as he loves slow-cooked beef, and he was well-pleased with his dish. The buttery pea and potato mash on the side worked a treat for soaking up some of the rich goulash sauces, and the beef was cooked to the point of simply melting in one’s mouth.

Lobster, prawn and fennel lasagna (1975 Sri Lankan Rupees)

K opted for another seasonal special which again, isn’t one that I would consider a standard Christmas dish – Lobster, prawn and fennel lasagna. There’s one thing about it that does make it a remarkable Christmas dish though. The richness of both the tomato and bechamel sauce made it a particularly indulgent meal which is what Christmas is all about – overindulgence. 

Grilled lamb cutlets with potato wedges and mint sauce (3695 Sri Lankan Rupees)

My brother opted for some Grilled Lamb Cutlets with Potato Wedges and Mint Sauce. An easy and safe option, executed well with crispy crunchy seasoned wedges and well-grilled cutlets that had just the right amount of tender pinkness inside.

Grilled garlic jumbo prawns with potato wedges and green vegetables and garlic butter (2995 Sri Lankan Rupees)

I chose the Grilled Garlic Jumbo Prawns, again with potato wedges but green vegetables (bokchoy) as well. Unfortunately the garlic butter that was supposed to come out with my dish was only sent to our table ten minutes later, by which point I had already finished off half the plate. Still, it may not be a bad thing that I didn’t slather my prawns with garlic butter as they were more than tasty enough with its smoky grilled garlic flavours. 

Passionfruit and mango sorbet (865 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Onto dessert! One each naturally. K got the Passionfruit and Mango Sorbet, a seasonal special that is entirely reminiscent of the flavours of an Australian summer – or Australian Christmas. This was a wonderfully light dessert, a perfect palate cleanser for the warm weather with contrasting tart and sweet flavours.

Coffee Ice-cream (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

Dad loves coffee, so ordered the Coffee Ice-Cream, served with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Just one bite of the ice-cream had him rolling his eyes with happiness – the coffee flavour was very strong and sharp, just like a particularly aromatic espresso.

Paradise Road Banana Split with Palm Sugar and Coconut Icecream (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

I chose the house special of the Paradise Road Banana Split, which comes with the signature palm sugar ice-cream and coconut ice-cream. It was a particularly rich dessert with a strong sweet and caramel flavour base. A bit too much whipped cream for my liking though, and I would have preferred more of the chopped nuts on top for some texture. 

Strawberry Sundae (Strawberry red wine icecream with mascarpone, fresh strawberries soaked in red wine and almond praline (795 Sri Lankan Rupees)

My brother chose the Strawberry Sundae, which like the desserts that my father and I had, featured particularly strong and rich flavours. In this case, the overpowering flavour here was the alcoholic red wine which particularly permeated the strawberries making this a dessert which could leave you quite woozy by the end. 

Gallery Cafe offers something quite unique – high quality Western-style meals that are tinkered with to freshen and lighten them for a hotter and more humid climate. They use high quality produce, and cook substantial and tasty meals that satisfy all palates. Their varied ice-creams are a highlight, and I would always recommend ordering some of their refreshing and interesting salads to share.

It’s worth noting here that while the prices at Gallery Cafe are not outrageous by Australian standards, they are far beyond the average salary of local Sri Lankan. We paid more than four times the average daily minimum wage for a main meal – not even counting the cost of drinks, entrees and desserts. It’s a privilege to be dining at the Gallery Cafe, and I was hyper-conscious that we were having an experience that many locals would never get to enjoy.

So, if you’re lucky enough to visit Colombo, I do recommend the Gallery Cafe as a lovely place to have a meal – for the location and serenity of the venue as much as anything else!

The Gallery Cafe is located at 2 Alfred House Road in Colombo, Sri Lanka.