Thursday, March 12, 2015

High Street Armadale

A Guide to High Street Armadale, Melbourne

Those who live around Armadale tend not to venture too far – they have everything they need within walking distance. From quaint cafes and impressive restaurants to a thriving antiques trade, art galleries and shopping galore, it would be a shame to let the locals have all the fun.

I grew up just north of Armadale’s High Street, the Melbourne shopping precinct that dates back to the late 1800s. I used to have swimming lessons at Recreation gym before it turned into Goodlife, but I didn’t stick around long enough to reap the benefits when Pressed Juices opened next door. It doesn’t matter – all I cared about at that age was getting my hands in the glass jar of killer pythons on the front desk, a fair trade between my parents and I for my attendance. 

Since then a flurry of high fashion stores have opened on the strip, popping up next to antique warehouses and shops that have been around for decades. It’s a comfortable mix of old and new, as evident in the ornate architecture that harks back to the post-war boom. 

Things really started to happen in the area in 1879 when the first trains ran through the suburb, removing it from isolation and stimulating commercial and residential development in the process. Within a decade, High Street was home to boot makers, blacksmiths, tailors, milliners, grocers and more. The first tram came in 1910, cementing the strip as a shopping destination.

Fast forward over 100 years to last weekend when I spent a day re-discovering Armadale’s nooks and crannies thanks to Toorak Park, a luxury development on Orrong Road. I figured asking for a two-bedder with a view was a little bit cheeky, but I did manage to chat to some locals and put together this High Street and surrounds Guide to Armadale. Here are my top 10 reasons to visit the area.

1) Armadale Cafes
It’s incredible how many cafes can fit into such a small neighbourhood. Some of my favourites include Gardiner & Field, a converted corner milk bar in Armadale’s backstreets; Le Petit Prince, a French-inspired cafe that’s a poached egg’s throw away from High Street; The Lovebird, which is actually on High Street and run by a couple (their smashed avo is a cut above); Coin Laundry, a local favourite that has changed hands a few times but still serves up the goods and of course, Phillippa's, the bakery-cum-café that needs no introduction.

Gardiner and Field on Urbanspoon

Le Petit Prince on Urbanspoon

The Lovebird on Urbanspoon

Coin Laundry Cafe on Urbanspoon

Phillippa's on Urbanspoon

2) Armadale Restaurants
When coffee isn’t the most important part of your day and it’s time for an evening out, it’s hard to go past Armadale’s dining establishments. There’s Lona Pintxos Bar, the Southside’s answer to Naked for Satan; Zia Rina's Cucina for an unforgettable Italian meal cooked by a real nonna (the menu changes nightly); Barca Food & Wine, Lona Pintxos’ more refined older brother and Toorak Cellars & Wine Bar, which serves 20 wines by the glass complemented by the kind of snacky food that doesn’t require cooking (they don’t have a kitchen).

Lona Pintxos Bar on Urbanspoon 

Zia Rina's Cucina on Urbanspoon

Barca Food & Wine on Urbanspoon 

Toorak Cellars & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

3) Australian Fashion 
It's difficult to know where to begin when listing favourite fashion boutiques on High Street. Women have been shopping for dresses and men for suits since the 1800s. One thing I did notice and completely applaud is the celebration of Australian designers, from high-fashion brands such as Camilla and Marc, Carla Zampatti, Josh Goot and Scandlan & Theodore through to less exclusive brands with unique personalities.

Skin and Threads is an Aussie brand perfect for those who believe you can never have too many plain, quality wardrobe staples. RYDER is all about effortless style with lots of lace, leather, denim and flannel that will appeal to Gorman lovers (who also have a vibrant store on High Street). Megan Park is another local designer and every garment she stocks is thought up in house before being made by the same tailor from start to finish and Lorna Jane is an Australian sportswear label that celebrates health and style. It's always a bonus when shopping supports your country. Here's to patriotism.

4) Kings Arcade
It’s not just the shops that are of interest in the historic Kings Arcade, but the building itself. Mr. Frederick Philips built the Natural Trust-classified structure in 1893 before it was sold to Frederick King, a fruiterer, in 1915. It wasn’t until six years later that King turned the Arcade into a thoroughfare, linking High Street to Armadale station. Today it’s a thoroughfare worth lingering in with design, fashion and jewellery stores positioned beside a shoe repair shop under a stunning glass roof. Make sure you swing by my two favourites in the Arcade: Kakizaki (for delicate Korean and Japanese jewellery) and Mister Zimi (for clothing characterised by exotic patterns and bold colours). Head all the way through and check out the gorgeous stores out the back once you're finished inside.

5) Antiques & Treasures
Antique lovers and collectors will have an absolute field day in Armadale. It’s worth walking the length of High Street just to explore the incredible variety. Between Armadale Antique Centre, Graham Geddes and Fabrile you’ll find jewellery, Art Deco, furniture and interesting pieces from around the globe, but if you only have time for two antique stop offs, head to Capocchi and Malvern Antiques Market (technically in Armadale!). 

Capocchi is a mammoth, 400sqm space that sources 90 per cent of their stock from France. Their collection spans from the late 1700s through to the 1970s and includes the most unique furniture, impressive lights and decorative features – from stuffed rabbits and mounted animal heads to nautical décor. Malvern Antique market is more of a treasure trove that requires a keen eye and some serious sifting. It’s all part of the fun. Make sure you get to the vintage prints and posters up the back. 

6) Make your House a Home
Having just finished unpacking a stack of boxes post-move I’m finally at the decorating stage. It’s the main reason I felt like a kid in a candy store doing laps of High Street past homeware stores and galleries. Metro Gallery is an old favourite, stocking contemporary Australian and collectable Indigenous art. Their brochures always impress me when they arrive in the mail. Libby Edwards Gallery operates with a similar philosophy, while Letitia Morris Gallery and Vintage Posters Only specialise in original, vintage posters, such as Bernard Villemot’s Bally and Orangina works.

For those finishing touches, House of Orange is an Amsterdam design warehouse with pieces to give your place a Dutch feel, while Ferret & Ferret (968 High Street) will add bursts of colour to any space with vibrant vases, candlesticks, homewares and other treasures. There’s something for every style, too, from country chic (hello, Provincial Home Living) to industrial (warning: it’s easy to spend big at The Industrial Revolution).

7) Pamper Paradise 
If it’s pampering you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. High Street is lined with beauty salons from affordable to luxury and many accept walk-ins. The best bargain on the street is the $40 manicure and pedicure from Dashing Nails. I’ve had mine for a week and people are still asking if it’s shellac. In Kings Arcade you’ll find Brow Theory, a brow bar dedicated to sculpting and shaping eyebrows using threading. Look for the pink and white striped sign and matching staff aprons. For a day spa package head to Calma Medi Spa. They offer everything from couples options, chill packages, de-stress rituals and even champagne and chocolates with your massage. If you’re keen to take some pampering home with you, there’s also an Aesop and Mecca Cosmetics on High Street.

8) Artisan Grocery Shopping
Although it’s tempting to eat out every night, it’s not always realistic. If you’re basing yourself in Armadale for a few days, head to Thomas Dux, a premium grocer with products to match. For wine, visit the helpful folk at Armadale Cellars. It’s also home to the best wine short courses in Melbourne, along with dinners and special events, all of which are listed on their website. If you like to try before you buy, The Tasting Table has three Enomatic wine dispensing machines with 24 drops available to taste. There’s nothing stopping you from trying them one glass at a time (except, perhaps, an RSA) with cheese and charcuterie to match. When your sweet tooth takes over, head to family-run biscuit heaven, Il Migiore

The Tasting Table Wine Shop on Urbanspoon

9) Local Accommodation for all Budgets
Skip the local serviced apartments that are bland at best and opt to live like a local. For short stays, Espresso Apartments are immaculate and feature an open kitchen and, of course, complimentary use of an espresso machine. Ruabon on Trak is perfect for a family who wants to immerse themselves in the suburb for a week with its sun-filled interior and enclosed outdoor area complete with barbecue, while Clarendon House might look like a snug Victorian from the outside, but it’s fully equipped with modern facilities on the inside. For something larger, try Alison's in Armadale, a spacious and comfortable home with three large bedrooms and the perfect family room and outdoor area for entertaining. 

If you’re on Airbnb – which I can highly recommend having used it in Australia, Italy and France – these are my picks for Armadale (plus if you’re an Airbnb virgin and use my referral link here, you’ll get $33 off your booking): this gorgeous modern cottage and this leafy one-bedroom apartment.

10) A Neighbourhood Shopping Strip only 7km from the CBD
It’s a cinch to get to and from Armadale by train, tram, bus or taxi. Once you’re there everything is walking distance, too. For those jumping on public transport, Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner website is an easy-to-use, invaluable resource. Armadale train station is less than 25 minutes by train from Flinders Street railways station, or 15 minutes if you beat the traffic by car. It’s also worth noting that the number 6 tram will take you up and down High Street until you can’t physically carry any more shopping bags.

If you think I’ve missed any Armadale hot spots, please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below!

This post was made possible with the help of #ToorakPark and Keep Left PR. maintains complete editorial control of all published content.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Royal Croquet Club, Melbourne

Sofia in Wonderland 

“Get to your places!” shouted Broadsheet in an authoritative tone, and Melbourne began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other; however, they got settled down in a minute or two, and the game began. Sofia thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all Pimms and pendant lights; the fare was Miss Chu’s, the lobster rolls from Mr. Claws, and D.O.C and Meatmother had to work in fast-forward to keep up with demand for pizza and lamb chops. 

The chief difficulty Sofia found at first was finding a place to sit: she succeeded in skipping over the raised referee chairs, obstructed by children, leaving the shady tables to those already there, and just as she was about to give up, found a Yalumba decking up some secret stairs that gave her not just a view of the red and yellow-striped circus tent below, but of the entire, glorious, sparkling city: besides all this, there were far too many people laughing in the sunshine and listening to music, and, the desire to feast on all the food was getting in the way of her standing up and walking off to other parts of the ground. 

Sofia soon came to the conclusion that the Royal Croquet Club was a very wonderful way to spend a sunny day indeed. Sofia began to feel very uneasy: to be sure, she had managed to consume a small ocean of Pimms, savouring the fizzy cucumber slices that refused to be captured, but she knew that at any moment, the sun and food and drink might all get too much, “and then,” thought she, “what would become of me? They're dreadfully fond of people here; the great wonder is that there's any one left anywhere else in Melbourne!” 

She was looking about for some way of escape, and wondering whether she could get away without being seen, when she noticed a curious sign in the distance: it puzzled her very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, she made it out to be a menu, and she said to herself, “It's the Cheshire Can: now I shall have somebody to talk to.” 

“How do you fancy peanut gelato with Oreo custard, lashings of cream cheese mousse and pretzel crunch waiting at the bottom?” said the Can, as soon as she popped open the lid.

Sofia waited ‘til she hit the first Oreo chunk, and then nodded. “It's no use speaking to it,” she thought, “it doesn’t have any ears.” 

In another minute, the Can was empty, and then Sofia put down her spoon and began an account of the day, feeling very glad she had someone to listen to her. “I don't think they play at all fairly,” Sofia began, in rather a complaining tone, “and they all eat and drink and dance so constantly one can't hear oneself speak—and they don't seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them—and you've no idea how confusing it is all the food being so tasty; for instance, I had to go back and order beef wrapped in betel leaves after my buttermilk ranch lobster roll—and after February first, the whole thing simply goes ‘poof’ and disappears!” 

“What are you ever going to do?” said the Can in a low voice. 

“Nothing at all,” said Sofia, “I suppose I’ll just have to come back,” and she hurried off to write about it. 

Where: Birrarung Marr, by the Yarra River 
When: Until Sunday Feb 1 
Hours: Mon-Thu 4pm-11pm; Fri 4pm-1am; Sat 12pm-1am; Sun 12pm-11pm 
Jan 25-26 (Australia Day weekend) & Feb 1 (closing night): 12pm-12am

Monday, January 19, 2015

Code Black Coffee Opens in North Melbourne

“Let’s meet somewhere new.”

That was my girlfriend’s response when I told her I needed to pick her brains for an upcoming trip to Sri Lanka. I hear that same sentence all the time: when I catch up with old mates, meet my family for Sunday brunch, interview someone for an article or hit the town to console a friend post-breakup.

The beauty of it is that there is always somewhere new to eat in Melbourne, but as a result, the café regular is becoming somewhat of an endangered species. On this particular, mid-week occasion, we decided to exchange Sri Lanka itineraries at Code Black’s new café in North Melbourne. It was fantastic – ticked all the boxes, if you will – but I feel like I can't go back unless someone else suggests it; my to-eat list has been reshuffled, and Code Black Coffee is now at the bottom behind the plethora of cafes I'm yet to vist.

The coffee, roasted at Code Black in Brunswick, was immaculate, but good coffee isn’t enough to win me over. The menu, which is half car manual and half existentialist wank (“PERSPECTIVE IS UNAWARE OF INFINITY,” preaches the double spread), is more my thing. It features favourites such as ricotta and apple hotcakes spruced with salted apple caramel sauce and avocado toast pimped with pickled cucumber and sesame nori salt.

When asked what was good, the friendly-but-awkward young waiter replied, “You could get the bircher, because, like, it’s pretty cheap,” before suggesting the salmon, apparently a best seller already. We ordered the generous slab of hot smoked salmon resting on a handmade potato cake with watercress, poached eggs, a generous avocado smear and horseradish hollandaise, as well as smoky black beans with jalapeño cornbread, a fried egg and grilled lime (Yes, I added the pork belly. Yes, there was crackling). Both were a hit, but unfortunately the horseradish in the hollandaise and the jalapeño in the cornbread were barely detectable.  

Code Black looks good, too. We sat on wide, Scandinavian-style stools surrounded by blonde-wood finishes, forest-green steel beams and pastel-painted walls. Strangely, metal beams both hold up and divide the tables attached to the banquette, making it awkward for two to sit comfortably and cramped for parties of four. You’re better off at the round or raised tables, or perhaps upstairs looking down from the modern mezzanine, the latter of which makes one want to reenact Titanic's 'I'm flying' scene, or yell "I'M KING OF THE WORLD".

A lot of care has gone into Code Black. The entire experience at North Melbourne feels designer, from the lofty warehouse building with an interior worthy of Pinterest to the crowd-pleasing menu that scores points for originality, even if it is a little abstract. Just as I painstakingly extracted every travel tip I could from my friend, Code Black has scrupulously considered every detail. At the end of the day, it's a café-eat-café world. If someone were to suggest meeting at Code Black I'd be back in a heartbeat. Until then, I have other places to tick off the list. It’s a cruel place, this Melbourne cafe scene.

Code Black Coffee

119 Howard Street, North Melbourne, Victoria

Open daily from 7am until 5pm

Code Black Coffee on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Food in 2015: Restaurant Trend Predictions

A Year of Culinary Contrasts 

The year 2014 saw brunch menus soaked in almond milk and saturated with coconut everything, raw desserts battling it out with doughnuts and trendsetters drinking green smoothie breakfasts before downing fried chicken dinners. It’s been a year of juxtaposition in the food world and as we approach the end of 2014, I see Indian, urban booze and upscale comfort food on the horizon.

At this time of year the average person panics about unbought Christmas presents. In my world, people start talking food trends. What will be hot in 2015? What did we eat in 2014? What will it take to banish pulled pork to a dark cave in Middle Earth? Like fashion, technology and art, food is driven by fads.

Let’s not forget that foodies are the minority here. While we tend to eat out with like-minded people, the edible trends we subscribe to – including our appetite for free-range this and no-waste that – do not extend to the entire population. Most of Melbourne is content with Domino’s Pizza on their doorstep and coffee from 7/11. Self-proclaimed foodies are on the rise, but many would sooner defrost dinner than read this blog post.

As Jay Rayner recently wrote in The Guardian, “Food fashions are no different to any other. They aren’t a mark of increasing sophistication. The whirligig merely turns... Here then, is my prediction for 2015. There will be food. Some of it will be horrible. Some of it will be really nice.”

I agree with him. Defrosted dinners aside, people are undeniably interested in food. One of the reasons I adore eating is because humans have taken a basic survival requirement and turned it into something utterly gratifying. Freud would blame it on the ‘id’, the force that drives our pleasure-seeking instincts. It’s for this reason that I encourage discussion of food trends present and past, rather than take an eloquently sarcastic stance like Mr. Rayner.

Last week I popped into ABC Studios to record a segment on food trends with RN First Bite. It airs this Saturday at 9.30am in what will unfortunately be the last instalment of the program in response to Federal budget cuts that have affected the ABC. Jill Dupleix and I talked trends with presenter Michael Mackenzie for half an hour. When we were done, I was barely a bullet point into my notes. Thanks to the power of self-publishing, I can continue that conversation here. The remainder of this blog post is a personal, educated wrap-up of food trends in 2014, followed by 2015 food trend predictions.

If there’s one thing I learnt in 2014, it’s that there’s no such thing as too much fried chicken. At the other end of the scale, we bought into superfood smoothies and raw food concepts, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to balance the grease. Maybe George Calombaris opened Mastic, his health food café in Kew, to counter all of those souvas at Jimmy Grants? Almond milk laughed in the face of dairy while the word ‘coconut’ was written on so many brunch menus I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d single-handedly destroyed a tropical habitat somewhere offshore.

Thankfully the trend to locally source and seasonally serve looks like it’s here to stay, which means we’re increasingly eating in a way that supports nearby producers and lessens food miles. But offer me caviar and Champagne imported from France and I wouldn’t hesitate – eating is relative. In restaurant kitchens everything was made in house, by hand – gravlax, chilli sauce, protein bliss balls, bacon, sausages – and will be again in 2015. BBQ isn’t quite done with us yet, nor is smoking and fermenting.

Those with Italian roots helped Melburnians to get over the fro-yo frenzy and come to terms with the fact that nothing beats proper gelato. In fact Italian popped up all over town, from cafes such as 5 Lire and pasta bars like Tipo 00, to Gradi at Crown, Artusi in Southgate and Heartattack and Vine on Lygon Street. Aussies are taking to aperitivo more than ever (any excuse for a Negroni before dinner).

Food trucks stepped it up and refined their offerings in 2014. There’s no more room for burgers and Mexican on wheels, but the same can’t be said for jaffles and ice cream sandwiches. The transition from pop-up to permanency is also trending. Concepts such as Place Holder, Milkman Café, Pop-Up Scrolls and Mr. Claws are all testing the waters with plans to stick around if all goes well. While eateries were popping up, top chefs were toning down. Fine diners have undergone segregation –for example, The Press Club into a smaller version of itself and Gazi – and will continue to do so in 2015, starting with Scott Pickett’s Estelle.

As we leave 2014 behind, some food trends will be left behind with it. Diets such as paleo will give way to more wholesome eating with a focus on balance and pleasure (as opposed to sadness and starvation); sliders, bao and pulled pork will disappear; Mexican and Korean have had their fifteen minutes of fame; people will realise that kale isn’t actually seasonal 12 months of the year and that broccoli is more beneficial for the body; and doughnuts can’t get much tastier or OTT than those at Doughboys, so why bother?


Now for the fun bit: the predictions. First up, craft beer will reach a new level in 2015 with urban breweries (and wineries) setting up in town as young brewers and winemakers demand an urban lifestyle to complement a traditionally rural trade. Beverages will become artisan, starting with booze and seeping through to syrups. In terms of cuisines, Southern American food will make way for South American food (think Peruvian, Argentinean, Brazilian) and Indian will be the Korean of 2015.

Upscale comfort food will debut in the form of upmarket steakhouses and rotisserie chicken, while more restaurants will see the value in delivery service, and offer it accordingly. Chefs will continue to locally source and seasonally serve, but aesthetics will give way to more rustic, wholesome presentation that enables premium produce to speak for itself.

If 2014 was the year of Southern American concepts (po’boys and fried chicken) then 2015 will be the year of the deli. Expect bagels and all the glorious fillings that accompany them. Brunchers will continue to have their smashed avo and eat it too, but cafés will begin to cater for those who have learned that no one does smashed avo like Bluebird Café in Collingwood, anyway, so impress me with something unique.

Good riddance to Scandinavian and industrial décor. Spurred by oversaturation, new establishments in 2015 will strive to differentiate themselves based on appearance. Operationally, restaurants and cafes with space and funding will continue to invest in environmentally conscious waste solutions, from industrial composting machines to innovative relationships with suppliers. Restaurant staff will become savvier when it comes to the new EFTPOS system (where tips are awkwardly and electronically entered) driven by a lack of tips, while more restaurants will embrace the ticketed booking system, like Prix Fixe. 

Finally, Melburnians’ ever-insatiable appetites will see the rise of culinary tourism, where vacations are organised around dining out and food experiences as opposed to traditional sight-seeing and cultural activities. This will stem from home soil, where restaurants – through introducing people to new cuisines and hosting special events – will educate customers and inspire ‘hungerlust’ (it’s like wanderlust, but for food).

The above predictions are based on educated guesses and discussions with professionals in the food and beverage industry. It is by no means to be taken as gospel, but don’t be surprised if it comes to light. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you have an interest in food. So tell me, what do you think we’ll see in 2015, and what are you happy to leave behind?