Sunday, April 13, 2014

Swedish Food


Discovering Swedish Delicacies at the 
Sheerwater Vodka Launch 

Poppet’s Window was invited to attend the Sheerwater Vodka Launch as a guest of Bass & Flinders Distillery by Squawk Media. Accomodation at Morning Sun Vineyard B&B was provided.


The best part about travelling overseas is the opportunity to experience local cultures, customs and culinary creations. But if you’re privileged enough to live in Victoria, sometimes diversity lands right on your doorstep. Take the Swedish, for example. They're responsible for the quadruple-distilled Sheerwater Vodka coming to life at Bass & Flinders Distillery. 


Sheerwater is made using chardonnay grapes cut with pure Cape Schanck rainwater from the Mornington Peninsula, making it the first grape-based vodka in Australia. The name pays homage to the shearwater bird, which migrates to the Bass Straight from Siberia every year. While you'll notice a trace of sweetness that’s uncommon in regular vodkas, there’s not a hint of hangover to be had with Sheerwater. 


Before the Swedes suggested Bass & Flinders Distillery try their hand at vodka, a number of products were – and still are – available from the cellar door. There’s award-winning gin, limoncello, grappa, mistelle and brandied fruits. But it’s the Swedes I want to thank for the insight into traditional Swedish food at the launch of Bass & Flinders’ Sheerwater Vodka in Red Hill. 


I was all too happy to leave the city behind for the weekend. We opted for the scenic route along the coast before navigating through vineyards whose leaves were already succumbing to autumn. Sunlight sliced through the pine forest and onto the road, warming our faces as we read road signs advertising local cheese and berries. 



Once we arrived at Bass & Flinders owner Bob Laing gave us a tour of the distillery, located in a tiny shed at Darling Park Winery. He walked us through the fastidious distilling process that sees someone sleep in a striped hammock beside the 300-litre Alembic pot each night. Alongside business partner Wayne Klintworth and with the help of a Master Distiller who was trained in Cognac and France, Bob established the artisanal distillery in 2009. Each year they put down a large percentage of production into ancient French oak cognac barrels – which Bob says are “impossible to find” – for maturation. The first batch will be available later this year. 


Back to the Swedes: Bob invited a swarm of them to the launch as a ‘thank you’ for talking him into producing vodka. Then he left it up to Darling Park chef Stan Ice to create a feast to make them feel at home. The table was set up outside, decorated with grape vines and red apples. It was as gorgeous as some of the better weddings I've attended. 


Following some potent oyster shots made with Sheerwater Vodka, the table was flooded with Swedish entrees. There was gravalax; devilled eggs; crisp bread; potatoes and generous helpings of herring served plain, pickled and with onion and mustard. 



The highlight of the evening, smörgåstårta, arrived early. Smörgåstårta is a savoury layer cake often served at Swedish celebrations such as weddings, birthdays and graduations. There’s something awfully exciting about slicing through the layers of bread iced with crème fraîche and piled with salmon, shrimp, tuna, egg, radish and cucumber. 



As we ate, the Swedes handed out booklets scribed with traditional songs, which seemed as ingrained in the culture as the pickled herring. It was impossible to keep up but we had fun trying. 


Just as we had filled up on starters, out came the mains. Köttbullar med tillbehör (Swedish meatballs in brown sauce with sweet lingonberry jam) and kärlknöl (slow cooked venison) with salad and creamy potatoes spiked with breadcrumbs and anchovies. It warmed us from the inside out as the night grew colder... or maybe that was a side effect of the vodka. 


After dinner and under the influence of Sheerwater, the Swedes started dancing among the vines to ABBA, no less. Someone had discovered how to plug their phone into the sound system. The dancing paused for prinsesstårta, a layered sponge cake in thick, green marzipan icing broken up with jam and cream. Unfortunately it was served sliced, so we were unable to see the masterpiece made by The French Lettuce in all its Swedish glory. The image from Wikipedia Commons below gives you a bit more of an idea. 


By then it was getting late, the darkness leaving the guests and table indistinguishable from the vineyard setting. The Swedes departed, singing as they went, and we weren’t far behind. Back at our accommodation we finished off the last of the Sheerwater Vodka and limoncello before calling it a night. When we woke, the only fogginess we experienced was that of the morning mist rolling over the vines. 



DETAILS

Bass & Flinders Distillery: 232 Red Hill Road, Red Hill, Victoria 

Cellar door hours: weekends and public holidays 11am-5pm

Gin masterclasses: Bass & Flinders also offers a gin masterclass, where you create a gin tailored to your taste buds, experimenting with infused botanicals, while learning about the techniques and history of the drink. It costs $120 for two hours and includes a bottle of personalised gin. Bob and Wayne keep your concoction on file should you feel the urge to reorder. Classes accept a maximum of six people, making it the perfect gift for gin lovers or the person who has everything. 
Call Bob or Wayne to book on 0404 093 247 and 0419 548 430 respectively.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Where to Eat in Fitzroy North


Eat like a Local: Fitzroy North  

A comprehensive list of the best places to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in Fitzroy North, including watering holes, vegetarian spots, bakeries and food trucks. Written by a local.

Brunch and Breakfast 

Mitte | 76 Michael St (cnr Rowe Street) | 03 9481 7097 
Watching locals crowd into this tiny café would suggest that the residents of Fitzroy North aren’t the best at maths – there simply aren’t enough chairs for all of those bums. Once visitors look around the bright little space with its timber detailing and communal table, they retreat to the footpath outside the white corner shop and wait. Perhaps it's the smooth, rich coffee that does it, or maybe it's the baked eggs. Then again, maybe the locals just know when they're onto a good thing and aren’t willing to compromise. 

Image credit: @MitteCafe's Instagram

Mitte on Urbanspoon 

North Fitzroy Social | 189 St Georges Rd | 03 9996 0868 
It’s the finer details that are most impressive in this latest addition to Fitzroy North: a chunk of exposed brick here, a cluster of rainbow-wired light bulbs there. Coffee is Five Senses and breakfast choices range from the usual suspects to a Cloud Egg soufflé. Inside the cafe a cake cabinet clings to the astro-turfed staircase; outside there’s a takeaway window for easy access to coffee, or perhaps the signature pork belly paninis. After just a couple of months trading, North Fitzroy Social has already become a favourite in the ‘hood. 

Image credit: North Fitzroy Social's Facebook page

North Fitzroy Social Cafe & Panini Bar on Urbanspoon 

Two:Bob | 270 Queens Parade | 03 9482 5444 
Two:Bob is perched on the border of Fitzroy North and Clifton Hill, but thankfully it falls into the former. The interior has a contemporary Scandinavian feel; bright, white and airy with pale timber finishes. Copper lights, arched windows and flower-adorned tables complete the package, while the menu lives up to its looks. Breakfasts such as corn and coriander fritters with avocado and feta smash are served until 3pm, but by then you'll be spoilt for choice with the addition of the lunch menu, ranging from simple sandwiches to fancy salads and gourmet burgers. 

Image credit: @aphjnr's Instagram

Two Bob on Urbanspoon 


Vegetarian 

Moroccan Soup Bar | 183 St Georges Road | 03 9482 4240 
It’s a blessing in disguise that the menu choice is limited at Moroccan Soup Bar. Pay either $20 or $25 per head depending on whether or not you want a couple of extra entrees and desserts, and be prepared for a vegetarian feast. That’s assuming you can get a table, of course. Locals know to be there just before the restaurant opens at 6pm, or to get a group of six together and make a booking. BYO Tupperware and you can take home the leftover Moroccan stews, traditional dips and the famous, garlicky chickpea bake that’s impossible to replicate (I’ve tried). 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Moroccan Soup Bar on Urbanspoon 

Munster Haus | 371 St Georges Road | 03 9489 4420 
The chef at Munster Haus hails from Tofu Shop International in Richmond and there are similarities when it comes to the food offerings. Pay for a small, medium or large plate and then and pile it high with a mountain of vegetarian goodness and enjoy surrounded by a retro interior and hungry hipsters. According to their Facebook page, “Munster Haus will both arouse and fulfill most of your dietary and personal needs.” Surely that’s an offer you can’t refuse. 

Image credit: Munsterhaus Facebook

Munsterhaus on Urbanspoon 


Around the World in Fitzroy North

Horn Please | 167 St Georges Road | 03 9497 8101 
Let’s Start in India with Horn Please. Their curries are full of flavour, minus the excess oiliness and creaminess found all too often in Indian food in Melbourne. Horn Please serves more than just curry, including the absolutely must-try papdi chaat, best likened to Indian nachos. Everything is as fresh as can be, made with local ingredients and stone-ground spices. You can even help yourself to craft beer from the fridge. The dim lighting adds a romantic air, while the decorative tiles, colourful portraits and Bollywood films projected on the wall bring a splash of fun. 

Image credit: Horn Please website

Horn Please on Urbanspoon 

El Chino | 214 St Georges Rd | 03 9078 7974 
Onwards to Mexico, where you’ll find shabby-chic El Chino bursting with colour and oozing delicious smells. Take your pick from seats out the front, in the courtyard, in the main drag or beside the kitchen and feast on Mexican street food. With a menu inspired by different Mexican regions and a chef called Alfonso, you know it’s going to be good. Swing by for breakfast and try the huevos divorciados with poached or sunny side up eggs, blue corn tortillas, organic beans, Danish feta, house salsa verde and salsa rona. 


El Chino on Urbanspoon 


Little Italy 

Pinotta | 32 Best Street | 03 9481 3393 
A little Italian local with a whole lot of heart. That's the best way to describe Pinotta. Think terrazzo floor, wooden ladder fastened to the ceiling and cosy vibe. The blackboard menu changes weekly, and could include anything from local zucchini flowers with ricotta and basil to crumbed lambs brains with tartare and watercress. Mains might feature whole baked baby snapper or goat on the bone with potatoes and peas. Food is simple, seasonal and delicious. Whatever you decide on, Pinotta has the wine list to back it up.

Image credit: Pinotta website

Pinotta on Urbanspoon 

Supermaxi | 305 St Georges Road | 03 9482 2828 
The most important thing you need to know about Italian local Supermaxi is this: whatever you do, order the deep-fried custard, a firm block of heaven encased in golden crumbs, drizzled with honey and paired with vanilla bean ice cream. It will be the highlight of your enjoyable evening. The Italian-speaking waitstaff, truffle-laden pizza, al dente pasta and specially-sourced vino won’t go astray, either. Come early with the pram like the locals or book from 7.30pm onwards and sit at the bar with someone special. 


Supermaxi on Urbanspoon 

Chianti Bistro | 376 Queens Parade | 03 9481 4628 
Chianti Bistro has been around since 1985, but it was only handed over to a team whose collective resume includes Mixed Business, MoVida and Grossi Florentio this year. The warm service and Italian slant continues, with the Chianti Classico five course menu ($70 per head) is a great way to taste a little bit of everything. Duck parfait crostini might whet your palate, followed by confit duck leg or orrichiette with pancetta, broccolini and anchovy crumbs. Dessert sticks to the theme with gelato, panna cotta and cannoli. 

Image credit: Chianti Bistro Facebook

Chianti Bistro on Urbanspoon 


Burgers 

Tramway Hotel | 165 Rae Street | 03 9489 6100 
How to sum up the Tramway Hotel? The words “award winning veggie and quinoa burgers” come to mind, as do “$12 burger Tuesdays”. There’s beer and cider galore, best enjoyed in front of the open fireplace during winter. It’s a cosy little local that packs out with regulars who can’t be bothered cooking or need a place from which they can easily stumble home. But back to those burgers: there's beef, chicken, quinoa and hummus, portobello mushroom, fish, kangaroo, pulled pork, lamb and haloumi, steak, beef and even a slow cooked BBQ beef special. If nothing else, you won’t be stuck for choice. 

Image credit: Tramway Hotel Facebook

Tramway Hotel on Urbanspoon 

Danny’s Burgers | 360 St Georges Rd | 03 9481 5847 
Danny’s or Andrew’s. Andrew’s or Danny’s. If you live north of the river, generally you’ll agree that Danny’s Burgers serves the best in Melbourne, better than their south-side rival Andrew’s Hamburgers. Danny’s is a trip back to the 1950s with its diner décor, menu board and red stool seating at the bar. It’s been open since 1955 and the cult following has only grown over the years. Assemble your own burger or steak sanga from the menu board, or take the easy option and ask for one with the lot. If you're feeling like a starved animal, the triple with the lot is the way to go. 

Image credit: @jaysoncordi's Instagram

Danny's Burgers on Urbanspoon 


Drinks 

LongPlay | 318 St Georges Road | 0400 155 891 
You'll find thirsty Fitzroy Northians at LongPlay. It’s part bar, part cinema, and has the looks to be cast as a film location. LongPlay is all linoleum, blond wood and chequered floor tiles with a European wine list, but it's the cocktails that keep people coming back. Food is of the snacky, tapas variety, but after a few espresso martinis you’ll forget the menu ever existed. There's even a tiny cinema out the back that screens classics and art house movies, but you'll have to sign up to the mailing list to be in the know. 

Image credit: LongPlay website

LongPlay on Urbanspoon 

Deco Wine Bar | 209 St Georges Road | 03 9486 6745 
“Not your average local” is Deco’s slogan, and they more than live up to it. First come the drinks: a 100-strong wine list, over 30 beers, a sprinkling of cocktails and top shelf hard stuff. Next is the food, which is matched to the booze instead of the other way around. The menu pinches bits and pieces from neighbouring restaurants and currently features Italian dishes from Pinotta across the road. It’s a chilled-out, candle lit space with the kind of couches you can sink into for the night or intimate tables especially for two. When the weather is turning it on, the beer garden is the place to be. 

Image credit: Deco Wine Bar Facebook

Deco Wine Bar on Urbanspoon 


Bakeries 

Loafer Bread | 146 Scotchmer Street | 03 9489 0766 
It may not be big, but Loafer Bakery punches well above its weight. The timber and glass display counter tempts with fresh pastries, doughnuts and sweet treats, while the organic bread is some of the best going around. For lunch there are beef pies, veggie pies and sausage rolls, as well as sourdough focaccias, soups and salads. Coffee is fairtrade and celiacs are catered for with wheat-free options. Be sure to pick up a loaf of the fruit bread on the weekend.

Image credit: Loafer Bread Facebook

Loafer Bread Organic Bakery on Urbanspoon 

Dench Bakers | 109 Scotchmer St | 03 9403 5333 
Most of Melbourne is familiar with Dench’s famous organic sourdough loaf, but it’s the locals who cop the crowds come the weekend. The breakfast and lunch menus are as much of a draw card as the bread, particularly the specials that might include baked eggs with peppers, tomato, olives, whipped goat's cheese and herbs on sourdough for breakfast, or pan-fried gnocchi with pine mushrooms, bacon, peas and Parmesan for lunch. It only takes one meal at Dench to understand why it gets so busy. 

Image credit: Dench Bakers Facebook

Dench Bakers on Urbanspoon 


Fancy 

Matteo’s | 533 Brunswick Street | 03 9481 1177 
From the moment you walk into Matteo's there’s no doubt you’re in a fine dining establishment. The room is characterised by purple chairs, chandeliers and matching decorative wallpaper. Although there’s a European feel, the menu tends towards the Orient with starters such as karaage Japanese-fried lamb sweetbreads and mains like Chinese-roasted, five-spiced duck breast. The tasting menu, made up of 10 small dishes over four courses, will set you back $110 without wine, or you could always opt for an express lunch – two courses with a glass of wine – for $44. 

Image credit: Matteo's website

Matteo's Restaurant on Urbanspoon 


Food Trucks 

It’s no secret that all the cool kids hang out at Ediburgh Gardens, which is probably why the food trucks set up shop there so often. Almost every weekend you’ll find the Let’s Do Yum Cha Truck, Mr Burger and a green coffee combi van set up on St George’s Road, just past the Fitzroy Bowls Club heading away from the city. 


Let's Do Yum Cha on Urbanspoon 


Mr Burger on Urbanspoon 


This post has been written to promote the launch of the Live North Facebook page with the help of Keep Left PR, who contributed a $70 gift card. Visit the page to find out how to win the Ultimate North Experience valued at over $4,000 (including a dining pass for two at Culter & Co. and Moon Under Water, a private cocktail masterclass for five people at Black Pearl, a 12 month membership to Yarra Leisure Centres and furniture from Great Dane).