Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Kettle Black

50 Albert Rd 
South Melbourne, VIC

Melbourne is growing up. Though grungy is definitely still very much in, the trend seems to be slowly but surely shifting towards minimalist stylishness. As much as I’m a fan of the homely and the rustic, I have to say it is nice not to run the risk of feeling like I’m sitting in someone’s garage for brunch. 

Whilst I’ve been brunch-less for the last year, the Eggs Benedict scene has been moving forward without me. One of the most recent developments is The Kettle Black, spanning across one end of a modern apartment block through to a quaint Victorian home. The result is surprisingly harmonious, making for a uniquely chic and polished spot that have people flocking to in droves. 

Drenched in sunlight and decorated with clusters of plants, The Kettle Black brought to mind Top Paddock, which only makes sense given that they are part of a string of cafes opened by the same group of blokes. Follow the lineage back further, and you’ll come across Two Birds One Stone, and eventually Three Bags Full, though it underwent a change of ownership a few years back. 

Whilst it’s the youngest, The Kettle Black is the most refined sibling of them all. There is nothing predictable about the brunch menu (though the famous Top Paddock Hotcakes makes an appearance), and each item read like a short, tantalising poem. Despite the sophistication however, brunch here is anything but stuffy, and diners are left in peace with their coffee and paper to soak up the sun. 

Flat White ($4)

Having finally convinced K to get into coffee, we had a Flat White ($4) each, and enjoyed teasing out the various aromas in the brew, guided by the page of tasting notes. 

Flat White ($4)

My cup of coffee was pleasingly strong, with overarching tones of toffee and cocoa. Once the coffee cooled a little, I could just pick out the more delicate notes of floral and stone fruit. I could definitely get used to having tasting notes with my coffee. 

Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) 

I had a game plan – K and I will each pick 3 dishes we want to try, and then pray that 2 of them overlap. That failed miserably as we had no mutual dishes on the first try, but we did agree that the Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) sounded like the bee’s knees. 

Benedict Styled Eggs with Free Range Pork Shoulder and Aerated Hollandaise ($17) 

It certainly was an elegant variation of the traditional breakfast, the moist pulled pork flavoured warmly with cumin and spices. The poached eggs were perfect, and the tangy hollandaise was indeed extra light and fluffy as promised. My only complaint was that the toast succumbed to the common pitfall of being WAY too tough, and whilst I can forgive that in light of the gooey eggs and tender pork, it does not an enjoyable experience make.

Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18)

It wasn’t too hard to convince K that he would like to try the Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18), especially after showing him a picture of it online. And it turned out to be even more beautiful than I had anticipated; the thick pancake sat at the bottom of a shallow bowl, garnished with a lush array of summer berries and flowers. The sprinkling of lavender sugar on the cream was as pretty as fairy dust. 

Hotcakes with House-Made Ricotta, Blueberries, Pure Maple, Double Cream and Seeds ($18)

The hotcakes themselves were warm and fluffy, soaked in a deluge of sticky maple syrup and topped with a smear of thick, cool cream. The rich sweetness contrasted marvellously with the tart and juicy berries, and texture came in the form of scattered nuts. Each bite was a work of art, and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I ate.

It’s really not very hard to like The Kettle Black, given its beautiful food in a beautiful surrounding at a reasonable price, and the excellent coffee topping it off. However I think Top Paddock will still stay as my favourite brunch place for the time being; when I think of brunch, I think of simple and indulgent meals, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with the more high-brow version at The Kettle Black, I guess I’m still a little old-fashioned at heart.

Rating: 14.5/20 – pot to kettle.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.  

The Kettle Black on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 February 2015


76 Bourke St 
Melbourne, VIC

As sad as I am to admit it, Friday night dates have sort of lost their shine ever since I’ve been out of a job. A nice meal out may still be enjoyable, but it just feels like I’ve done absolutely nothing to earn them. But am I going to stop having Friday night dates? NOPE.

Ombra opened quietly (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention; I probably wasn’t paying attention) three years ago at the top end of Bourke Street, right next to the Grossi empire. That would normally be a terribly foolish move for any Italian restaurant trying to make it big, but not in this case, as Ombra is also a Guy Grossi venture. 

As you’d expect of the famous Italian chef, Ombra is an Italian wine bar at heart. There is a large cellar hidden under the stairs, and plenty of meats being cured in-house. The downstairs section is pretty but it’s got nothing on the enchanting upstairs section – a provincial Italian dining room, with a balcony that opens up to the leafy Paris-end of Bourke street. 

Prosciutto ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3)

I love cheese platters but I love meat platters even more, and after a lengthy consultation with our knowledgeable waiter, we opted for a duo of Prosciutto and Tartufo ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3), which was served with a slide of crusty white bread. The prosciutto came in freshly sliced ribbons, and though delicate, the soft and pliant slices of ham were nevertheless nutty and full-bodied in flavour. 

Tartufo ($9 for 1, $12 for 2, $18 for 3)

But our hearts were taken by the Tartufo – fatty slices of salami flavoured with black truffle, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Despite being so thinly sliced, each piece of salami was indulgently rich, augmented by hints of earthy truffle. 

Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16)

Making no concessions to our arteries, we followed the cured meats with a plate of Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16), one of the signature dishes of Ombra. And you know what? The blogger who said that these smelt like KFC were entirely correct; in fact, they even looked a bit like it too!

Crisp Lamb Ribs, Salsa di Peperoni ($16)

Underneath the brittle coating, the lamb was unbelievably unctuous, dissolving off the bone at the lightest touch. The accompanying capsicum sauce was sweet and fruity, and although the lamb would've benefited from a more generous amount of seasoning, the cooking itself could not be faulted. Believe me, 4 ribs were more than enough for 2 people.

Slow Cooked Octopus, Potato, Salsa Verde ($18)

I had been eyeing the Slow Cooked Octopus, Potato, Salsa Verde ($18) all night, and you know what? It turned out to be one of the best dishes I’ve ordered for quite a while. The slow-cooked octopus had an amazing texture; instead of being overly chewy or saggy, it was satisfyingly meaty, soaking up the salsa verde, which danced with fresh parsley and good olive oil. Accompanied simply by crisp stalks of celery and slices of potato, this was an invigorating cold dish that’s perfect for summer. 

(Although, maybe avoid this dish if you’re squeamish about octopus. The tentacles were so huge that the little suction caps were falling off.)

Polpette, Tomato ($14) 

This was the deal Chris and I made: I get the octopus, and he’s allowed to have the Polpette, Tomato ($14) – a rustic serve of meatballs in a cast iron pan. As we had predicted, this was a classic dish made well, the meatballs coarse but moist, soaked in a rich tomato and vegetable stew. We gleefully soaked up the excess sauce with our remaining bread.

I may have been completely oblivious about Ombra until last week, but apparently I’m one of the last few people who are. By 7pm, not only was the entire upstairs and downstairs of the restaurant packed out, there wasn’t even any room left in the al fresco section. Ombra encompasses all of what Melbourne loves – a chic, stylish wine bar with beautifully made food and excellent wine (or so I’m told). It is a winner through and through (like Australia in the Asian cup!)

Rating: 15.5/20 – italian movida.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit. 

Ombra Salumi Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Tanked by Less Than Zero

153 Commercial Rd 
South Yarra, VIC

I’m a little heartbroken. About a year and a half ago, I was invited to NBHD Neanderthal for what was one of the better brunches, and the best steak sandwich I’ve had for a long time. When I checked back about a year later however, I found that the place had sadly closed. So it felt a bit odd to say the least when I rocked up to Tanked, only to find that it is sitting where NBHD Neanderthal used to be.

Still, as far as things go, Tanked is definitely a worthy successor to the comfortable, masculine space NBHD Neanderthal inhabited (see venue photos here; alternatively, go look at my NBHD Neanderthal post – it hasn’t changed all that much). A brainchild of the noggins behind Hammer and Tong – one of the best brunch places of all time if you ask me – Tanked is located in a bar (go figure) called Less Than Zero, serving up the quirky, internationally influenced food Hammer and Tong has become famous for. 

Organic Padron Peppers ($11)

I had shamelessly located my buttocks right next to the kitchen so that I wouldn’t miss a single bit of food, and the first platter to come a-roving was the Organic Padron Peppers ($11). I grabbed two serves of these, and they were very moreish – smoky and dusted with coarse salt – especially with the accompanying dip of Yarra Valley goats curd. 

Surf n Turf Fritters ($10, 4pcs) 

Though the Surf n Turf Fritters ($10, 4pcs) looked off-puttingly burnt, they were anything but, and absolutely delectable. Hidden behind the crisp exterior was a moist center of prawn, beef brisket, and sweet kernels of corn. It was made even more flavoursome by the addition of summery romesco sauce, and creamy Japanese mayo. It was a lovely dish of contrasts and complements. 

Avocado Briont Toast ($10)

Equally as lovely was the Avocado Briont Toast ($10). The thick, buttery slice of bread was topped with a spreadable mix of avocado and cream cheese, but it was taken beyond the ordinary with a spicy dukkah and sprigs of baby coriander. The caramelised edges of the toast were especially delicious. 

Kimchi Okonomiyaki ($9)

One of the dishes I had most looked forward to trying was the Kimchi Okonomiyaki ($9). And the fat slabs of Japanese pancake were very traditional, complete with all the trimmings of bonito flakes, spring onions, and lashings of Japanese BBQ sauce. Although the taste of kimchi wasn’t overly prominent, the refreshing tanginess and crunch it added was very welcome.  

Wardy’s Crispy Chicken Ribs ($15, 6pcs) 

I had been keeping all three eyes out for Wardy’s Crispy Chicken Ribs ($15, 6pcs) all night, so I was extra glad to spy them floating out of the kitchen. Crisp and juicy, these were given an Asian twist by the fish fang sauce, which tasted like a spicy oyster sauce, and the sprinkling of sesame and spring onion. 

BBQ Brisket Slider ($6ea)

Whilst I’ve always loved the idea of sliders, sometimes they fall awfully short of what they could’ve been. Whilst I was leery about the amount of coleslaw in the BBQ Brisket Slider ($6ea), my fears turned out to be completely unfounded. Though thin, the pink slices of beef were mouth-wateringly bold, its richness complemented by the thick slice of pickle and crunchy slaw. 

Smoked Chicken Slider ($6ea)

Equally good was the Smoked Chicken Slider ($6ea), the tender meat still wafting with smoke from the BBQ, and the Smoked Lamb Shoulder Slider ($6ea), which looked a lot like its chicken counterpart but was fuller and fattier in flavour.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to stay long enough to try any of the other dishes on the menu (though really, I had tried at least two-thirds already), I’ve seen and tasted enough to know that Tanked will be every inch as popular as its bigger brother, Hammer and Tong. Tanked has taken simple bar food and jazzed it up so that it’s worldly and exciting. Though the bar scene really isn’t for me, I’m eager to come back during quieter hours to sample the rest of the food on offer.

Rating: 14/20 – bar food 2.0
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Tanked by Less Than Zero.

Less Than Zero on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 February 2015

Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato

377 Little Bourke St (Access through Racing Club Lane)
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Who even eats ice cream these days? With Melbourne becoming more urbane by the day, Paddle Pops have long since been replaced with scoops of sticky gelato in creative flavours. After all, what’s not to like about denser, more concentrated ice cream with lower fat content? 

With the advent of nitrogen gelato however, frozen dessert enthusiasts have taken their love of gelato one step further. The gelato mix is flash-frozen by liquid nitrogen for even smaller ice crystals, resulting in an even smoother texture. And Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato is the new kid on the block – just look for the colourful chalk drawings on the pavement. 

We went down the laneway to find a cafe with smiling faces, freshly churning gelato, and – let’s be honest; this is what everyone comes to see – dangerous-looking vats of liquid nitrogen. That said though, it may be science, but it’s definitely not clinical. The whole vibe is very Melbourne, and very laid back. Instead of the hit-and-run feel of most gelaterias around town, Dex2rose is a little oasis, encouraging you to sit down, pull out the paper, and take a breather from your day. 

Cold Pressed Juice ($5.95)

I try to never let salespeople catch me in the street, because I am a sucker for coercion. Case in point: despite planning to save room for the gelato, we were quickly persuaded into trying their Cold Pressed Juice ($5.95), made in-house with seasonal fruits that change every couple of days. On the day we visited, we were treated to a mixture of watermelon, Granny Smith apples, and Royal Gala apples. Cold press may sound like a marketing gimmick but I’m telling you, it is real. The juice was astoundingly fresh and delicious, and tasted much cleaner and more vibrant than juices made in a blender. 

Cold Brew Coffee ($4.95)

Next thing I know, I’ve been sweet-talked into trying some Cold Brew Coffee ($4.95), despite it being after 3pm. This is a great alternative to sweating it out over a flat white on a hot day. Though I like it best with a splash of milk and sugar syrup, it is just as easy to drink black, the taste of it nutty and smooth with barely any acidity.

On a side note, how cool are those bottles? Like every good cafe, Dex2rose is environmentally conscious, packaging their beverages in reusable bottles. If you like them so much and want to take one home, you can always pick them up for a couple dollars each. 

Maybe it's Mapeline ($5.95, small)

Sometimes a dish is so cleverly named that you have to try it, and Maybe it’s Mapeline ($5.95, small) is definitely one of them. The creamy gelato, sweetened with grade A Canadian maple syrup, was chock-full of candied walnuts and topped with whipped cream. The mixture of sticky gelato and crispy nuts was downright addictive, and because it wasn’t overly saccharine, I could eat scoop after scoop without it being cloying.

Salty Camel ($4.95, small)

Salty Camel ($4.95, small)

Most dessert places have something salted caramel flavoured, and Dex2rose is no exception. However, in this case it’s actually a Salty Camel ($4.95, small), and like its name, it’s just a little bit different. Whilst the gelato itself is smooth and indulgent with salted caramel, it is churned through with glossy shards of crunchy home-made toffee. The result is a dentist’s nightmare that is full-on in both flavour and texture – just make sure you brush your teeth afterwards!  

Salty Camel ($4.95, small)

The Salty Camel was also the flavour that really showcased the gelato’s texture. Each spoonful pulled away in sticky, stretchy strands, and was silken and rich on the tongue. 

Fash Pash ($4.95, small)

On the lighter end of the spectrum was the Fash Pash ($4.95, small) – an upside-down passionfruit cheesecake gelato with a very Aussie name. This was an ideal summer treat, the gelato packed full of tangy, tropical passionfruit flavour, topped with a biscuit crumb.

Strawberry on a Beach ($4.95, small)

Making one last valiant effort, we tried the Strawberry on a Beach ($4.95, small), which was once again, a traditional flavour with a bold twist. The gelato itself was fruity and not overly sour, but the most striking feature is the whipped cream, which was infused with a fragrant mixture of coconut and floral rosewater. And this delicious little concoction is dairy free, gluten free, and vegan, so all you poor souls with allergies, rejoice! 

Though nitrogen gelato has been at the forefront of the dessert scene ever since N2 Extreme Gelato showed up in Melbourne, I feel that it’s stagnated somewhat as of late. The focus of some stores (not N2 – N2 is fantastic) has been more on the theatrics rather than flavour, and some of the ones I’ve tried tasted no different to fancy toppings mixed into ice cream. Thus, Dex2rose comes as a breath of fresh, innovative air, with Jesse at the back brewing up new concoctions to be released every fortnight. There’s a super exciting flavour coming up on the menu that I’m not allowed to give away but, it contains bacon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Rating: 14.5/20 – rosy.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.
Sweet and Sour Fork dined as a guest of Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato. 

Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato on Urbanspoon