Review: Mary’s Milk Bar, Edinburgh Scotland

Our free walking tour guide in Edinburgh had one real suggestion for places to eat in the city – Mary’s Milk Bar. Oh he talked about haggis at one pub or another and a handful of cafes as well, but Mary’s was the only place he truly raved about. He couldn’t stop talking about the goat’s cheese and fig ice-cream he’d had there recently, as well as their hot chocolate which is made from actual melted chocolate, rather than chocolate powder.

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That was enough of a recommendation for me, and K and I promptly headed to Mary’s Milk Bar after the tour for a treat. That was our first trip to Mary’s anyway – we ended up going back two more times during our stay in Edinburgh because we enjoyed it so much! If that isn’t enough proof of how good their offerings are, I don’t know what is.

Marsala Pear Sorbet
Marsala Pear Sorbet

On our first visit, K decided to choose one of their sorbets so as not to disturb his lactose intolerance. Luckily they offer a handful of dairy-free sorbets alongside their ice-creams (the range changes every day), and they had a Marsala Pear Sorbet on offer. This was a wonderfully refreshing sorbet, with a strong, ripe pear flavour. Delicious.

Hot Chocolate Float with Hot Cross Bun ice-cream
Hot Chocolate Float with Hot Cross Bun ice-cream

I couldn’t go past the Hot Chocolate Float and I chose a scoop of seasonal Hot Cross Bun ice-cream to go with my hot chocolate. Both were perfect – rich and creamy dark hot chocolate that wasn’t too sweet, and a beautifully cinnamon-y spiced ice-cream that was just the absolute embodiment of Eastertime.

Goat's Milk and Honey ice-cream
Goat’s Cheese and Honey ice-cream

On our second visit, K chose a hot chocolate to go and I chose a scoop of the Goat’s Cheese and Honey ice-cream after our guide’s recommendation of the goat’s cheese and fig combination. While I didn’t try the fig version, I think that it would be hard to beat the plainer version of the goat’s cheese and honey. Both the cheese and honey accents were very subtle, which made each hint of it on the palate that much more noticeable and enjoyable. Sometimes, simple is best.

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On our third visit, we took the opportunity to sit down and truly linger over a hot drink each and a sweet treat to share. Everything at Mary’s screams retro – so drinks are served in coloured glass crockery and on a little tin serving tray a la the 1970s.

Peanut butter ice-cream
Peanut butter ice-cream

The sweet treat we shared was a scoop of Peanut Butter ice-cream. I think that the only thing that could have improved this ice-cream was a bit of texture – some actual peanut pieces throughout the mix would have made it far better than it was…which was of course, still extremely enjoyable.

Hot Chocolate
Hot Chocolate

K had another Hot Chocolate – he claims that Mary’s makes one of the best hot chocolates he’s ever tasted. It’s not quite on the same level as the Frederic Blondeel hot chocolate we had in Belgium, but it hits all the right notes – dark rich chocolate, incredibly creamy, and just sweet enough without being too sweet.

Hot chocolate pot (dairy-free)
Hot chocolate pot (dairy-free)

I was tempted to try their Hot Chocolate Pot, described to me by the staff as being dairy-free pure hot chocolate. Without the creamy milk to dilute the chocolate, it was intensely rich and dark – almost gritty in its chocolatey goodness. This is one for those with an intense sweet tooth!

Mary’s Milk Bar is a wonderful retro dessert stop for any visitor to Edinburgh, offering a great range of ice-creams, sorbets, and hot chocolates. One of the best hot chocolates I’ve had, and their ever-changing ice-cream range means that you could visit Mary’s every day for two weeks and still have a different ice-cream flavour with each visit. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Mary’s Milk Bar is located at 19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh Scotland.

Camden Markets and the Cereal Killer Cafe, London England

There’s a lot to love about the central areas of the city of London. Amazing skyline along the river, restaurants, cafes, theatres, shops, nightlife… there’s always something to do, something to see, and something to eat. If only London was cheaper, I could definitely see myself living there!

There’s lots to love outside of central London though, and the northern area of Camden Town is particularly well beloved by cool young millenials.

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Camden Markets are full of market stalls catering to various sub-cultures – gothic, steampunk, hippie, retro vintage, and more. There are stalls selling souvenirs for tourists, many second-hand bookstores, and food stalls as well.

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You can definitely spend hours just wandering around the markets exploring the different stalls. I loved looking at all the vintage tea sets and browsing through the shelves of the second-hand book stalls.

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I got hungry before long though and we decided to settle for getting some lunch from one of the food stalls on the north side of the market. There are other options though if you’re looking for more variety – a wealth of Asian cuisine in the centre of the market, and a million food trucks and temporary food stalls set up in an area by the Camden Lock.

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A Mexican food stall looked like the best of the options on the north side of the market – a vegetarian quesadilla for myself and a taco bowl salad for K which was actually presented in two taco shells rather than an actual taco bowl! The quesadilla and the tacos were quite flavourful and highly cheesy, but I think the real highlight were the corn chips which were so crunchy that it tasted as though they were freshly fried.

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However, forget the Mexican food. The real highlight of our visit to the Camden Markets was visiting the Cereal Killer Cafe for dessert. You’ve no doubt read various condemnatory articles about the ridiculous Gen-Y hipster-ness of this concept. A cafe that serves cereals from around the world and charges over $5AUD per bowl for the privilege? It’s an incredibly overpriced first-world concept but I’m going to be honest – it appealed to the over-privileged hipster in me!

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They’re not lying when they say that they offer a wide range of cereals – interestingly, healthier cereal options are few and far between as they cater to the nostalgic sweet dreams of millenials as they offer the most chocolatey, marshmallowy, honeyed, sugary cereals to be found. Their suggested themed cereal mixes (‘chocopottomus’, ‘double rainbow’, ‘feckin nut case’, mint choc cHipster’, ‘miss american pie’) speak for themselves.

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Beside cereal, they also offer other naughty ‘breakfast’ treats – poptarts, cereal-flavoured lip balms, and more. Their primary market is catered to throughout the cafe as well – the walls are decorated with Spice Girls wallpaper, Billie Piper and other 90s pop stars blast from the stereo, decorated cartoon lunchboxes line one wall, and old CRT TVs play 90s shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Millenials yearning for the innocence of their 90s childhood is who they’re targeting, and they’re doing it well.

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We were there for dessert, and I needed to choose one of their over-the-top hot chocolate concoctions once I saw the picture – this is a Stacked Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate. Served with overflowing whipped cream, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, puffed peanut cereal bits and rivers of chocolate sauce, I really shouldn’t have been surprised that I developed a sugar-related headache soon after I had this hot chocolate!

Structural integrity unfortunately is not a strength here – the hot chocolate quickly melts all the other elements and before long you end up with a sticky chocolate and peanut pond on the plate.

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We finished off with one bowl of sugary dessert cereal to share – a bowl of Unicorn Poop. This is made up of Ricicles, Party Rings, Marshmallow Fluff, marshmallows, hundreds and thousands and semi skimmed milk. Colourful it is and sweet too…I suppose that unicorn poop really would taste like this!

Visiting the Cereal Killer Cafe would only make sense if you’re a young person in your twenties and thirties with a healthy amount of disposable income, a yearning for the innocence of childhood, and an irrepressible sweet tooth. It’s something you might visit once to say that you’ve been there, and you’ve ticked it off your ‘food fad’ list of must-dos.

I did note with interest however that they hold parties and functions in the cafe after hours – this would be the type of place that I would want to hold a retro nostalgic 30th birthday party…which eep, is coming up in November for me!

Cereal Killer Cafe is located in Camden Markets and also in Brick Lane.

Review: Bucatini Restaurant and Bar, Mitcham

The first months of a new job are always such a learning curve. While I had some advantage over others in that I had previous exposure to the sector in which I now work, there have been some dramatic developments in the past few years that necessitate quite intensive study.

One component of this was attending an all-day seminar in Doncaster, about a month after I started my job. In this seminar, an expert from Canada presented strategies and real-life case studies demonstrating best practice in the sector. How’s that for cryptic – I still haven’t revealed the sector I’m now working in! (FWIW it’s in social services.)

I took advantage of the north-east location and met up with my friend Jake for an early dinner after the seminar in his local area of Mitcham. It’s not often I find myself in that part of town, and I decided that I might as well take advantage of my Entertainment Book voucher for a 2-for-1 main course offer at Bucatini Restaurant on Whitehorse Road.

The restaurant was particularly quiet on the Monday night we were there, but with tables enough for 100 people (and a private dining room as well), I expect that they do most of their trade catering to larger family groups later in the week. It did mean that we got quick and friendly service though, given there were only a handful of tables to wait on.

Pollo (crispy skin-on chicken breast, grilled and served with Kipfler potato, mushroom ragu, spinach and finished with a prosciutto and thyme cream sauce), $29.90
Pollo (crispy skin-on chicken breast, grilled and served with Kipfler potato, mushroom ragu, spinach and finished with a prosciutto and thyme cream sauce), $29.90

The menu is a rather generic ‘modern Australian’ menu, meaning that dishes have influences from a variety of European countries with a primarily Italian influence. Jake’s choice of the Pollo, a grilled chicken dish that’s not dissimilar to a recipe that I’d seen in Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food recipe book, was a good example of this Italian inspiration.

The prosciutto and thyme sauce seems to be a particularly Italian addition to what would otherwise have been a fairly simple grilled chicken breast served with potatoes, mushroom and spinach. The sauce was quite superb – extremely rich and more than a little decadent.

Fish of the Day (Grilled fillet served on rosemary and garlic potatoes, braised fennel and leek with avocado and citrus salsa), $33.90
Fish of the Day (Grilled fillet served on rosemary and garlic potatoes, braised fennel and leek with avocado and citrus salsa), $33.90

My Fish of the Day was a beautiful salmon fillet – while cooked quite a bit more than I would normally prefer, this did result in a super-crispy caramelised skin that went particularly well with the zesty citrus salsa. While I wasn’t a big fan of the fennel or leek (that’s personal preference, I don’t love aniseed-esque flavours), I did love the crispy roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes. I’d be quite happy to have them with all my meals!

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Vanilla Creme Brulee, $12.90

We deliberated for barely a minute over whether or not to order dessert. After all, the answer is surely always yes? Jake ordered the Vanilla Creme Brulee which came with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream on the side. The caramelised top of the brulee gives a particularly satisfying crack as you break through to vanilla custard inside, but to be honest, it paled in comparison to the rich flavours of my choice of dessert.

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Sticky Date Pudding topped with butterscotch sauce and served with vanilla ice-cream, $12.90

The Sticky Date Pudding is where it’s at when it comes to dessert. Soft, warm, buttery sticky date sponge pudding drenched in a stickily sweet butterscotch sauce was a particularly decadent choice. It was particularly rich though, and needed the refreshing vanilla ice-cream to help cleanse the palate.

I imagine Bucatini Restaurant is much like any other suburban restaurant offering modern Australian cuisine to large family groups. The food is tasty though nothing particular or out of the way, the staff are friendly and familiar. However, it lacks any particular distinctive element that makes one want to rush back for a second meal unless you happen to be part of a large family living in that area with it as your local restaurant.

Bucatini Restaurant and Bar is located at 454 Whitehorse Road in Mitcham.