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: Marae Izakaya, Chadstone

Growing up as a teen in the Eastern suburbs, Chadstone Shopping Centre was the place to go. I have fond memories of catching the 75 tram and then the 903 bus to Chadstone on a Saturday, wiling away the hours window-shopping or catching a movie with friends in the afternoon. 

In fact, the very first movie I ever went to was at Chadstone. My poor suffering father took me to see the cartoon classic Thumbelina, and promptly fell asleep in the cinema, snoring loudly next to me as I watched the screen with rapt attention and dreamed of flying with a fairy prince.

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Given my recent residence in Sydney, I hadn’t explored Chadstone since they started renovations a few years ago. One weekend late in 2016, I decided on a role reversal and took my dad out to Chadstone, treating him to a meal at Marae Izakaya in the new dining district, just as he’d treated me to a movie as a child.

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We started with a drink each in their waiting area – a Kanpai Samurai cocktail ($14AUD) for Dad who has been enjoying his cocktails, and a more sedate House Made Iced Mint Green Tea ($6AUD) for me. Made with sake (naturally), the sweetness of the apple juice in Dad’s cocktail was offset by the slight tang of a twist of lemon. Very dangerously drinkable! My iced green tea was very strong and slightly on the bitter side – which I like, but I imagine others would find challenging.

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Before long, we were shown to two spare stools at the sushi train. There’s ample variety of dishes on the conveyor belt. Unlike other sushi trains, there’s only two prices you need to worry about at Marae Izakaya – all dishes are $4.50AUD each, except for the ‘premium’ dishes on floral plates which cost $8AUD. It’s certainly not a bargain sushi train experience unlike places like Ozeki Sushi in Sydney.

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Dad’s never really eaten much sushi, despite having spent a good six months living in Tokyo in his youth. “I was only 28,” he says, “and too busy teaching the Japanese fur workers how to make fur coats to eat fancy expensive sushi. We used to just eat a lot of ramen and donburi, and drink lots of beer. Plus I couldn’t spend that much on food when I was working there, because I had to save the money to send home for you and your mother.”

I don’t recall my father living in Tokyo – but to be fair, I was a two-year-old in Hong Kong at the time, youngest of seventeen cousins, and spoiled by the whole extended family. My father’s absence didn’t even register a blip on the radar!

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We made up for the lack of sushi during his time in Japan by eating our fill at Marae Izakaya though! Dishes like this beautifully smoky Seared Salmon Belly Nigiri were clear favourites.

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But the real highlight was this unassuming dish of Raw Chopped Octopus, marinated in lemon, sesame and wasabi. I’m quite picky about octopus, and raw octopus is even harder to do well. Both Dad and I ended up raving about this dish though, picking at every last bite and eyeing the conveyor belt hopefully waiting for a second serve which never materialised.

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At least we got this superb consolation price – eel sushi, or Unagi Nigiri with its sweet and smoky sauce.

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As you can probably tell, we don’t bother with pedestrian fare such as chicken teriyaki or California rolls when we have sushi! Instead, we opt for top quality seafood sushi like this Seared Scallop Nigiri – might as well get our money’s worth of fresh seafood right?

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The Agedashi Tofu was a winner with its crisp fried skin and soft smooth tofu inside. I think we must have taken this off the conveyor belt within minutes of the chef placing it on as it was still piping hot. Let this be a lesson to you as well – pick your seat at a sushi train carefully, and aim for proximity to the chefs! 

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As we nibbled on some crispy-skinned Gyoza, Dad mused on the possibility of visiting Japan again. “It’s nearly been thirty years,” he said. “It would be nice to see how it’s changed. Your brother seemed to enjoy going there earlier this year. Maybe we should all go next year?”

I was flabbergasted – Dad’s never really expressed much of an interest in visiting anywhere other than various destinations in China. He wasn’t even particularly enthused about our (then upcoming) trip to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore, other than the opportunity to try some of the local food. I’d best capitalise on his interest in Japan and keep my eye out for some cheap flights!

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As we finished our meal with a premium plate of fresh Tuna and Salmon Sashimi, I started to flick through Tokyo apartment listings on Airbnb on my phone. While it might be another 18 or even 24 months before we look at booking another overseas holiday (for a variety of reasons!), I do like to start doing my research early!

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Marae Izakaya serves up high-quality fresh sushi and sashimi in a flashy and sophisticated setting. The queues are long on a weekend, but at least the turnover is relatively quick – and you can always wait in the lounge with a cocktail in hand! It’s not a cheap feed, but every dish is worth it. At $80AUD for a meal for two, I wouldn’t do it every weekend, but it does make for a nice treat.

It seems that the new dining district in Chadstone is as much of a drawcard as the new retailers – gone are my teen memories of soggy focaccias in a dimly lit food court. I look forward to trying out some of the other new eateries – Fonda, Mezz, Woodstock, just to name a few.

Marae Izakaya is located in the new dining district in Chadstone Shopping Centre, 1341 Dandenong Road in Chadstone.