Unblogged Food: October – December 2013

As 2013 draws to an end, reflection on the year past is top of mind. It’s been a personally difficult year, but in terms of my investment into this all-consuming food blogging hobby, I couldn’t be happier. I’m still enjoying writing about the food experiences that I have (though increasingly sporadically because of increased freelancing work), and it’s been, I think, reflected in the growth of readership of Gourmanda. Here’s to further growth in 2014!

Salumi selection at Ombra Bar, Melbourne
Salumi selection at Ombra Bar, Melbourne

Most of the time when I meet up with friends, it’s for a full meal – brunch, lunch or dinner. It’s very rare for me to simply drop into a wine bar for a drink – which I did recently at Ombra Bar with my friend Beth. A few carafes of wine into our leisurely weekend afternoon catch up, we ordered a small salumi selection off the menu to whet our appetite for a later dinner. The salumi selection at Ombra is exceptional, and their wine selection is excellent as well. With two levels, the narrow bar is cozy and great for either a long leisurely lunch, a few glasses of wine with a friend, or even a hearty dinner with your family.
Ombra Salumi Bar on Urbanspoon

Fried icecream at Homer's Cafe, Eastwood
Fried icecream at Homer’s Cafe, Eastwood

My family has always been quite traditional – growing up, we always dined out at Chinese restaurants as my parents were unfamiliar with any other cuisines and unwilling to try something different. It all got a bit same-ish, but there was always one highlight – fried icecream for dessert. It’s quite possibly the worst thing you could possibly eat (the calories, oh the calories!), but so delectable at the same time. I recently indulged in fried icecream again after a meal in Eastwood, at Homer’s Cafe, one of the few dessert cafes that do more than Asian-style desserts. It was like a trip back into my childhood, with a super crispy shell and deliciously creamy vanilla icecream.
Homers Cafe Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Waffles at My Sweet Memory, Sydney
Waffles at My Sweet Memory, Sydney

I’ve walked past My Sweet Memory many times and lingered as I walked past, attracted by the gorgeous displays of cutesy and kitschy stationery in the store. The combination of dessert and cute stationery in the one store is a strange concept, but very clever at the same time as one could hypothesize that it’s the same demographic that would be attracted to both indulgent desserts and lavish stationery (I’m thinking of women like myself in their twenties and thirties with access to disposable income and a penchant for the finer things in life). The waffles were very chocolatey and indulgent – definitely a dish to share rather than to have by yourself.

My Sweet Memory on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at The Grain Store, Melbourne
Breakfast at The Grain Store, Melbourne

I met up with my good friend Jake for a quick breakfast at The Grain Store in Flinders Lane in Melbourne when I was down for a week for work. On a dark and miserably cold and rainy day, entering the warmth, light and delicious smells of The Grain Store was like entering heaven. The service was prompt and attentive, and the food was quick in arriving. The cheesy croquettes on this dish was the best thing on the plate – crispy on the outside with gooey cheese inside. Fantastic. The other elements were really well done as well, and made for a surprisingly healthy, yet hearty breakfast. With lots of business people entering for a quick takeaway coffee and breakfast, it’s clearly a favourite with the workers in the area, with good reason.
The Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Coffee art at a conference
Coffee art at a conference

I spent a week in Melbourne in early December for work, manning a booth at the World Diabetes Congress. I’ve worked a few conferences in my time and it’s interesting to see how things have changed. Where once companies were lavish in giving away free pens, notepads, stress balls, and other marketing merchandise, the tide has now turned. Free coffees are now the order of the day, with marketing representatives taking the opportunity to speak to conference delegates as they queue up for their hit of caffeine. The best stalls tailor their coffees with stenciled art on top for that extra touch of brand promotion. You can believe I had my fair share of complimentary hot beverages during that week I spent at the conference!

Black sesame dessert at Passionflower, Melbourne
Black sesame dessert at Passionflower, Melbourne

I simply adore Chinese and Japanese style desserts – most of the time, it’s not as sickeningly sweet and thus is much more more-ish. I particularly liked this black sesame based dessert from Passionflower (Bourke St, Melbourne) which included some fantastic glutinous balls coated in black sesame that provided a good textural balance to the softer and creamier icecream in the dish. This was an excellent blend of flavours, textures, and colours. If you prefer fresher desserts, there are also some fruit-based options on the menu, which I’m very keen to try.
Passionflower on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at Ethos Cafe, Fitzroy
Breakfast at Ethos Cafe, Fitzroy

I met up with my friend Adastra at Ethos Cafe in Fitzroy for brunch while in Melbourne. As a relatively new cafe with very few reviews, I went with no preconceived ideas of what to expect other than a sustainable cafe that did everything with the best ethics and morals in mind. What we did find was a warm and cozy cafe with super attentive and friendly service, excellent coffees and tasty food. With the opportunity to also buy suspended coffees for those less fortunate, you can go to Ethos for a good meal and walk away knowing that you’ve given a little bit back that day.
Ethos Cafe on Urbanspoon

Souffle at Restaurant Atelier, Glebe
Souffle at Restaurant Atelier, Glebe

Since my meal at Restaurant Atelier, Chef Darren Templeman had announced the imminent closing of Restaurant Atelier after many years in its Glebe Point Road location. K and I decided that we simply had to go back once more before it closed – and we were being conservative with our decision to go back once because K’s father went back two times for a meal before it closed! While I love absolutely all the dishes that Chef Templeman creates, I have to say that I simply adore his light and fluffy souffles. With rumours of Melbourne being the location of his next restaurant, I will most definitely be one of the first in line!

Quinoa salad at Coco Cubano, Crows Nest
Quinoa salad at Coco Cubano, Crows Nest

In the last week of work before Christmas, the mood in the office was definitely one of casual festive cheer and a decided lack of concentration. There were many long leisurely lunches with a few beers, sitting out in the sun. One of these lunches was at Coco Cubano, where we waited well over twenty minutes before we even got a menu, another twenty minutes before our orders were taken, and half an hour before our meals arrived. If we weren’t in the mood for a long lunch with plenty of drinks, this inefficiency would have definitely thrown a spanner in the works. At least the meal was excellent, with the quinoa salad being a super tasty and healthy option.
Coco Cubano on Urbanspoon

Christmas Chocolates
Christmas Chocolates

Finally to round off this entry, we celebrated Christmas in the office with a few treats and goodies – think panettone, champagne and Christmas chocolates. How gorgeous are these?

With this festive note, let me end this entry by wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope Santa found you last week, and best wishes for 2014!

Review: St. Malo’s Bakery, Crows Nest

On one of my rare lunch outings on a week day, I went with my colleagues Sarojini and Kate to St Malo’s Bakery in Crows Nest, just up the street from where we work. Though it’s really the only gourmet bakery in popular Crows Nest, it’s interesting that it’s not as popular as the more generic cafes in the area. There’s definitely some potential here to increase their profile with the local workers!

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The inside is done up in wood tables and ironwork furniture. With fresh flowers on the table, fresh artisan bread loaves behind the counter, and a small sunlit courtyard out the back (only large enough for a table of eight), everything about the decor screams quaint, rustic and homely.

As it was a beautiful sunny day outside, we went in and deliberated over our order for a good ten minutes (high five to the wait staff for their patience!) before making our way outside to a table where we could watch the world go by and people-watch to our hearts content.

Mango Smoothie, $6.50
Mango Smoothie, $6.50

Sarojini ordered a mango smoothie, and reported it as being smooth, creamy and fruity, without the icy particles that can sometimes be in lesser smoothies. There were lots of other fruity smoothies on the menu as well, which I saw other diners enjoying on the hot day.

Pineapple and Mint Frappe, $6.50
Pineapple and Mint Frappe, $6.50

I ordered a pineapple and mint frappe rather than a smoothie, as I’m trying to reduce my dairy intake due to general bodily discomfort after having lactose. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m lactose-intolerant (a world without ice-cream? Nooooooo!), but I would probably do well to reduce dairy consumption where possible. Having fresh and delicious options like this frappe definitely makes this choice a lot easier!

Vegetable Frittata
Vegetable Frittata

As a vegetarian, Saroijini can find it difficult to find tasty options on a menu, without being reduced to order plain salads. This vegetable frittata hit the spot though, with vibrant colours, good flavours, and a good mix of vegetables including artistically layered spinach at the base.

Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken Salad Sandwich

Kate ordered a shredded chicken salad sandwich on one of the healthiest multi-grain loaves I’ve ever seen. Luckily, it was also apparently one of the tastiest loaves ever as well!

Quiche Lorraine with Prosciutto Side Salad, $10
Quiche Lorraine with Prosciutto Side Salad, $10

I splurged and got a quiche lorraine with a side salad. The quiche was deliciously cheesy with a great amount of bacon in a deliciously flaky and buttery pastry. Very decadent for a lunch, so I’m glad that I ordered the side salad as well which was very simply dressed with a vinaigrette, but it definitely made me feel virtuous.

Overall, I rate St Malo’s Bakery a 7 out of 10 – while their range is small, the baked goods they do are excellent and it’s certainly good to have a good quality cafe in the Crows Nest region.

St. Malo Bakery on Urbanspoon

Review: Cumulus Inc, Melbourne, and The Lab, Melbourne

Cumulus Inc

On my recent visit to Melbourne, K and I met up with some friends at Cumulus Inc for a lazy Sunday brunch. Cumulus is arguably one of the mainstays of Melbourne’s dining scene – it is regularly awarded chef’s hats from the Good Food Guide and can cater for all crowds, whether its yummy mummies out for brunch, cool hipsters out for a coffee, dressed up yuppies out for an after-work drink, or a pre-theatre crowd looking for a good meal.

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Our small group showed up at 11am without a reservation, and were shown to a table within twenty minutes. For a typical rainy Melbourne day, we really didn’t have to wait for long and the blast of warm air when we moved to our table was definitely very welcome.

House lemonade (around $6)
House lemonade (around $6)

Service is incredibly efficient, and we’re asked for our drink orders almost before most people have had the chance to peruse the menu – due in large part, to the amount of chatter and catching up being done. Unfortunately my first two choices for drinks weren’t available on the day (Fresh Berry Lemonade and Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice) which was quite disappointing. Our waitress did suggest the house lemonade as an alternative – with some fresh mint mixed in, it made for a tamer version of a mojito. Decidedly cool and refreshing, but not remarkable.

House made crumpets, whipped ricotta and rooftop honey, $11
House made crumpets, whipped ricotta and rooftop honey, $11

I ordered the crumpets with ricotta and honey – and found myself decidedly underwhelmed when the dish came out. The crumpets look unremarkable, however when I actually sliced them open and layered on the light and fluffy whipped ricotta and sweet honey, this simple dish became a truly decadent treat that wouldn’t go astray as a sweet afternoon treat with a good book and a cup of tea. This is definitely a smaller dish that might not satisfy if you’re particularly hungry though, and I would even suggest sharing this smaller dish and one other larger breakfast menu item between two people.

Smoked bacon sandwich, gentleman's relish, $15.40
Smoked bacon sandwich, gentleman’s relish, $15.40

K ordered a smoked bacon sandwich with ‘gentleman’s relish’ – I don’t even need to tell you in detail about the dirty quips that phrase created as I’m sure you can imagine for yourself! This was a super simple bacon butty like you might make at home – thick slices of sourdough and layer upon layer of crispy salty bacon to clog your arteries.

Shakshouka - baked eggs with roasted peppers and shanklish, $17.60
Shakshouka – baked eggs with roasted peppers and shanklish, $17.60

I ordered the shakshouka for a friend who was running late – served in a cast iron plate, the aromas from this dish were amazingly enticing and I admit to a severe case of food envy when this came out. It’s the first use of shanklish I’ve seen on a restaurant menu, and I’d love to go back to try this dish in full.

Grilled Lyonnaise sausage, smoked hock, braised beans and 65/65 egg, $17.60
Grilled Lyonnaise sausage, smoked hock, braised beans and 65/65 egg, $17.60

Another friend ordered the most protein-heavy dish on the menu, featuring sausage, ham hock, beans and egg. The egg was definitely the stand-out element on the plate and is one of Cumulus Inc’s trademarks – an egg cooked at 65 degrees for 65 minutes. The result is a near-translucent poached egg that simply oozes out deliciously runny yolk when you slice into it.

Overall I rate Cumulus Inc an 8 out of 10 for their breakfast menu – it’s a solid breakfast menu with some basics (crumpets and bacon sandwiches) mixed in with some original breakfast options. Prices are reasonable, and you won’t find a better atmosphere anywhere else on a Sunday morning along Flinders Lane.

Cumulus Inc. on Urbanspoon

The Lab, Nitrogen Gelato

By the time we were done with brunch, it was pushing 1pm and there were a few of us starting to develop some sweet cravings. We decided to make our way over to one of the new gelato places in town – The Lab Nitrogen Gelato on Bourke St.

thelab-01

The Lab is similar to N2 Extreme Gelato in concept – gelato made on the spot with liquid nitrogen in pretty coloured KitchenAid mixers. Unlike N2 however, The Lab has less flavour options available – definitely a downside for those who are more experimental and adventurous with their gelato consumption. We were the only customers when we went – understandable given the state of the weather that day, but it doesn’t bode well given that N2 manage to draw a crowd every day no matter what the weather.

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The showmanship with liquid nitrogen is definitely the main selling point of The Lab. It was a lot more remarkable for some of my friends who were visiting from Cairns as it wasn’t something that they had encountered yet.

thelab-03

My mango sorbet had a nice tart edge to it, however the consistency wasn’t as smooth as one would desire in gelato. It was tasty but liquid nitrogen showmanship aside, there was nothing to distinguish it from a sorbet you could purchase at a chain like Gelatissimo.

Overall, I rate The Lab Nitrogen Gelato a 6.5 out of 10. Unfortunately the concept of liquid nitrogen gelato isn’t as original as it once was, and it definitely ranks as a poorer cousin to the far superior N2.

The Lab Nitrogen Gelato on Urbanspoon