Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Melbourne's Top 5 Desserts


I’ve always had a sweet tooth. In fact, I have a whole mouth full of sweet teeth. Inspired by Sharking for Chips and Drinks brilliant post on Melbourne’s Top 5 Dishes of 2011, I’ve decided to compile what I believe are Melbourne’s best desserts. Hand selected from both fine dining and casual eateries, these desserts vary in cuisine, flavour and levels of creativity. Without any further ado, may I introduce to you Melbourne’s Top 5 Desserts of the Year, in descending order:

5. 'Supersized Love' at LuxBite: 
The name of this dessert instantly appealed to my 18-year-old brother… or maybe he ordered it because it was the biggest, most chocolatey choice. I can tease all I want, but I had serious food envy after trying it. The description on the label in the enticing cabinet simply read, "Tastes almost like the golden ball" and is a reference to Ferrero Rocher chocolates. While it looks like a giant chocolate macaron with a rich chocolate filling (which LuxBite also do oh-so-well), this creation revealed something else entirely when cut. Be prepared for an oozing hazelnut filling surrounded by a fudgy chocolate gânache. You can practically feel it clogging your arteries.

LuxBite on Urbanspoon

4. Stick ice creams at Burch & Purchese: 
We sampled two varieties when we visited this Aladdin’s cave of sweets. Biting through the chocolate shell of the first revealed a smooth raspberry ice cream filling. But the highlight was definitely the freeze dried raspberry powder and popping candy on the outside. My personal favourite was the '647', named after the shop street number. It starred a vanilla ice cream centre peppered with specks of vanilla bean and was coated with caramelised white chocolate. Sprinkled with roasted macadamia nuts, I could have eaten the entire supply. I’m still keen to try the spicy roast pumpkin and butterscotch popcorn ice cream.

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon

3. Green Tea Mousse at Kappaya: 
Desserts here are consistently delicious, but this one was my favourite. It had the consistency of fluffy cheesecake and arrived with honey biscuit shards and sultanas on top. Drizzled with a green tea reduction and served on a blue-grey Japanese plate, it was truly a work of art.

Kappaya on Urbanspoon

2. Peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate at Golden Fields:
If you have spoken to anyone who has dined at Golden Fields, you will know that this dessert always seems to be the favourite. Served in a smooth black bowl, the flavour of the dainty cube of peanut butter parfait was not too overpowering. Salted caramel sauce draped over the edges of the parfait, punctuated with roasted, crushed peanuts. The mixture collected in a decadent pool at the bottom of the bowl and a quenelle of rich chocolate mousse crowned the heavenly dessert.

Golden Fields on Urbanspoon


1. Sour cream, pumpkin and salted caramel at The Estelle:
While it may not be as pretty as other desserts, this one gets extra points for the genius combination of flavours. It was this creativity that ultimately took it to first place in Melbourne's Top 5 Desserts. The body of the dish was a light vanilla and olive oil sponge, topped with a scoop of crème fresh ice cream. Pumpkin seeds provided crunch and a mix of spices added sweet, sour and bitter notes. Worms of salted caramel wriggled around the other ingredients and nearly resulted in plate licking. An interesting mix that was undeniably harmonious.

The Estelle on Urbanspoon

Special Mention: 
Birdman Eating's honeycomb (first pictured) gets a special mention. Covered in dark, couverture chocolate, it had an airy, melt-in-the-mouth consistency. You can actually feel the honey oozing out as it dissolves on the tongue. At $3 a pop, it's a cheap, sweet treat. Perfect with a coffee.

What are your favourite desserts in Melbourne? I need to keep my sweet teeth occupied, so please share your secrets!

*Please note the above desserts were all available at the time this was posted. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fonda Mexican, Te Amo

Fonda Mexican

Address: 248 Swan Street, Richmond, 3121

Phone: (03) 9429 0085

Open: Monday to Thursday, midday until 9.30pm

Friday, midday until midnight

Saturday, 3pm until midnight
Sunday, 3pm until 9.30pm

“If you have any allergies to avocado, onion, coriander, lime or chilli please be sure to let us know,” reads the menu at Fonda Mexican. It then clarifies cheekily, “If you simply dislike avocado, onion, coriander, lime or chilli, Mexican may not be for you?”

That just about sums up Tim McDonald and David Youl’s newest addition to Swan Street, which opened it’s bright green door in November last year. From the food to the atmosphere, it’s vibrant, fresh and fun.

Although less than four months old, you’ll be pushed to find a table at Fonda. Word has spread quickly that it’s “a casual, accessible Mamasita”, if not tastier, too. On a balmy Melbourne day you’re almost guaranteed to wait for a table, albeit not for long. A group of four were leaving just as we arrived and we managed to snag one of the five wooden bench tables on the footpath. 

Couples can sit in a spot by the window, while groups of three or more can jump on one of the raised tables opposite the open kitchen. There is also a small courtyard out the back, should you wish to escape the hustle and bustle of the place.

Fonda is so packed out that waiters barely have time to tell newcomers that one orders at the counter, although they do bring menus eventually. Tim was manning the floor and stepped the service up a notch. Warm, approachable and efficient, he was obviously in control.

The adorable brick building is painted black, which emphasises the colourful “Mi casa, su casa” sign (my house, your house) painted in bright hues on the outside wall. Beneath it a few tables for two line the laneway, leading to a back entrance to the courtyard.

The kitchen counter, a mix of white tiles and wooden boards, takes up most of the room inside. The tortilla station is on fire throughout service (not literally, duh). Balls of dough baked daily at the Abbotsford Convent bakery are flattened in a press and then flipped onto a hot plate. Meat sizzles on the other stoves while the dishwasher keeps busy in the far corner. The counter is complete with a built-in fridge for soft drinks and is dotted with Mexican knick-knacks, bright flowers and a bowl of lemons and limes.

Drinks range from vino and cerveza (there are three varieties of imported, Mexican beer) to horcharta, a creamy soft drink made from rice, water, cinnamon, vanilla and evaporated milk designed to take the edge off all that spice. Jarrito soda is available in five flavours. It wouldn’t be an accurate representation of Mexican culture without tequila, of which there are four to choose from. But once you see the slushy machine churning the lychee and elderflower frozen margarita, made with Tromba Tequila and apple juice, it’s difficult to opt for anything else. The margarita and the horcharta are served in glass jars with straws that resemble a barber’s pole.

As for the food, Chef Ravi Presser (Cumulus Inc.) and Mex-pert Lupita Manzo (Cantinero, Sydney) have created an authentic Mexican menu with an Australian touch. Food is served as soon as it’s ready; think fast food without the negative connotations.

If you’re enjoying a beverage, order some antojitos or Mexican street snacks. We skipped the tortilla crisps and fat chips and went straight for the charred corn with chipotle aioli, ricotta salata (dried, salted ricotta) and lime. The corn kernels burst in the mouth with each bite, complemented by the creamy cheese finely grated on top. 

It’s not often one is able to indulge in pork scratchings or chicharos. Crispy and dry, they tasted incredibly naughty and arrived with a bowl of salsa verde, a spicy, jalapeno dipping sauce.

Then there were the 12 inch burritos. All of Fonda's tortillas are pressed at the tortilla station as each burrito is ordered. We had the chopped beef with black beans, salsa roja (a red sauce made with tomatoes, chilli, coriander and loads of onion and garlic) and chipotle aioli. The black beans and generous amount of meat bulked up the tortilla, which was lined with guacamole and stuffed with bright purple cabbage.

As for that Australian touch, it doesn’t get much more Aussie than a kangaroo burrito. It was the highlight of the meal. Kangaroo is difficult to do well and is often rendered tough due to overcooking. Not so at Fonda, where the tender fillet showed hints of pink. The remainder of the fillings included avocado, some ever-popular quinoa, soft sweet potato, purple cabbage, a smoky relish and coriander. There are also vegetarian and a grilled chicken options.

Of course there are quesadillas on the menu, also 12 inches. You can pick the veggie quesadillas of asparagus with refried black beans, lemon and smoky relish… or you can follow our lead and go for the chorizo with queso fresco, jalapenos and salsa roja. The crisp shell of the pressed tortilla was slopped with the spicy red salsa and peeled back to reveal a liberal amount of melted cheese. The jalapenos had a decent amount of bite and cut through the oiliness of the sliced hunks of mild chorizo. It was like a Mexican pizza, just look at the cheesy strings trying to escape from the tortilla in this photo:

If you’re the taco type there are three, six inch varieties to tempt you. Try the braised pork with pineapple, lime, coriander and onion, or the vegetarian with squash and peas (or zucchini and mint) with salsa verde and lime. We fussed over the fish taco, in which golden nuggets of crumbed market fish rested on a blanket of guacamole and tumbled out with each bite. Chipotle aioli brought the spice to the table, while the taco was topped with a rainbow of pickled carrot, onion and cabbage.

For something lighter, there’s a grilled chicken ensalata (salad) with quinoa, black beans, cabbage, coriander, smoked corn, baby peas and a lemon vinaigrette. If you’re a chilli fiend and crave that extra kick, try the house-made ‘Jane Fonda’ hot sauce.

You’ll want to bring all of your señors and señoriras when you visit Fonda so you can sample the entire menu. While I will spare you the overused “I’m fonda Fonda” pun, I will say this: Mexican in Melbourne seems to be the hot thing at the moment (Mamasita, Taco Truck, Trippy Taco, Newmarket Hotel, Pacos Tacos, etc.), but Fonda wins extra points for being the best all-rounder. You won’t have to line up on a narrow staircase at 6pm to be fed (I’m looking at you, Mamasita), you don’t have to chase your meal around town, it’s dirt cheap but doesn’t taste it, there’s a lively, unfussy vibe and it boast genuine Mexican fare with a modern twist. Ñam ñam, indeed!

Fonda Mexican on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kew's coffee standards soar thanks to Percy's Aeroplane

Percy’s Aeroplane

Address: 96 Denmark St Kew, VIC 3101

Phone: (03) 9939 7642

Open: Daily, 7am until 3.30pm

There’s nothing ‘up in the air’ about four-month-old Percy’s Aeroplane, except perhaps the bright yellow model aeroplane suspended above the front door. This fresh, new café arguably does the best coffee in Kew and backs it up with a cosy atmosphere.

A stone’s throw away from Kew Junction, we visited for breakfast in the middle of the week. It was just us seated in the front room, a lady on a stool at the bench table looking out to the street, and a couple of groups of professionals having business meetings in the back room.

When you walk into Percy’s Aeroplane the first thing you see is the canary yellow Ruggero coffee machine, which churns out the café’s own roasted blend and single origin varieties. The display cabinet behind the machine reveals an array of baguettes, filled flat breads, salads and sweet treats—perfect for the herd of workers who come for take-away lunch and coffee. 

The rest of the room is an assortment of surfaces: the polished concrete floor, the raw brick feature wall that looks as if it was once above a fireplace, the rustic old draws near the door, the industrial hanging lights and the mix of wooden and stainless steel finishes. I especially loved the potted cactuses peppered randomly about the room. 

The tiny kitchen is crammed into the corner, as if its location was a punishment for misbehaviour. Glass jars and vintage tins on top of wooden blocks separate the kitchen from the rest of the room. Around the corner is a simple, white-walled dining room with small tables and a larger table further back. A fireplace, with a small silver coffee machine and some cactuses resting on the mantle is the main feature. When the weather permits, there are also some tables in the courtyard and two spots out the front on the pavement.

Our cappuccinos were to die for. We had the house blend of Brazilian, Columbian, Indian and Papua New Guinea origins. Strong and well rounded with a chocolatey finish, the guys from the automotive workshops across the road were truly blessed when Percy’s Aeroplane landed.

The breakfast and lunch menus stay true to the K.I.S.S rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Each is a page long but does the job. The Pilot’s Breakfast was ordered, “the big one” with fried eggs, bacon, chorizo, mushrooms, spinach and grilled tomato. It was enormous, as promised. The highlights of the dish were the well-cooked, crispy bacon and the tasty hunks of chorizo. 

I had the “avo toast”, freshly seasoned avocado on multigrain with baby spinach, Spanish onions, lime dressing and a poached egg. The avocado was sliced finely and the egg runny inside. The garden of green ingredients on the plate not only tasted fresh, they were visually appealing.

Our only criticism was that the toast in both dishes was stone cold and difficult to cut as a result. It was a shame, seeing as the bread is brought over fresh from the Abbotsford Convent Bakery. In Percy’s defence, the chirpy waitress did inform us that the café is currently looking for a head chef... then again, it doesn’t take a head chef to produce warm toast. Let’s hope it was a one off.

As for the rest of the menu, the BLT with homemade chipotle mayo and the tortilla de patatas (a Spanish omelette served warm with garlic aioli) sounded delicious. For the kids, there’s a poached egg with bacon on toast, a ham and cheese English muffin or cheesy scrambled eggs on toast. If you’re after lunch, check out the sandwiches and flat breads in the cabinet, or go for the chicken schnitzel, the steak and mushroom pot pie or the chunky homemade sausage roll (which looked incredible).

With a lot of hits and only one miss, this cute Kew addition will be a much-loved local as soon as it finds its feet. It would seem that for Percy’s Aeroplane, the sky’s the limit.

Percy's Aeroplane on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Taste of Tasmania, part 4/4

Eating Bruny Island

Striking. Relaxing. Organic. Scenic. Picturesque. Refreshing. Invigorating. These are just a few adjectives in an endless list that could be used to describe Bruny Island. Yet reciting the entire list, which could very well take an eternity, still would not do Bruny Island justice.

To get to Bruny Island, one must take a ferry from Kettering, which is a 30 minute drive from Hobart. The 15 minute ferry ride arrives at Roberts Point, North Bruny. According to the official website, about 620 people live on the island, which is 100 kilometres long.

From the moment our ferry docked, we started eating. 

Bruny Island Smokehouse

Our first stop was the Bruny Island Smokehouse. Affectionately known as BISH, they won seven medals in the Tasmanian Fine Food Awards last year. The gorgeous stone building is the “gateway” to the Island and boasts waterfront views of Skyes Cove and Barnes Bay from its deck. 

Inside, the seating and bar are carved from the timber on the property, but one is instantly drawn to the shelves of produce and the fridge full of smoked goods.


A polished wooden clock hangs from a post and sums up a day on Bruny Island perfectly: 

Although the Smokehouse is fully licensed, they don’t really do coffee (we had a bitter percolator brew). They are more focussed on their specialty: local wine and ale. The adorable labels of the Tasmanian Chilli Beer Co. tempted us, but we decided that 10.30am was a little too early for alcoholic beverages. 

As for tastings… it’s never too early! As evident by their name, The Smokehouse smokes all of their produce onsite. We sampled some olives, chutney, a couple of varieties of smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked wallaby, and a tangy pomegranate syrup. It only whet our appetite for what was to come.

Address: 360 Lennon Road, Bruny Island, Tasmania

Phone: (03) 6260 6344


Bruny Island Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

 Bruny Island Cheese Co.

Next stop: Bruny Island Cheese Co. Established by Nick Haddow after 10 years of working with specialist cheese makers in France, Italy, Spain and the UK, the Cheese Co. is a dairy-lovers dream. Haddow was mentored by Australian ‘cheesesperts’ Richard Thomas and Will Studd. Early in the ‘90s, he worked at Milawa Cheese Co and Meredith Dairy before being awarded a grant to work with Europe’s best cheese makers. 

Since then, he has picked up a number of grants and awards to study the art of cheese. Haddow has also been involved in London's Neal's Yard Dairy, managed Richmond Hill Café & Larder, and helped establish the first buffalo dairy and cheese factory at Shaw River, Victoria. A self-described traditionalist, Haddow observes classic cheese making and maturing practices with a constant focus on flavour. 

We tried the hard and soft cow’s and goat’s milk varieties. Whether due to the sustainable farming practices, Haddow’s methodology, or both, you could taste the passion and authenticity in the cheese. 

The Cheese Co. also offer long, lazy lunches in their corrugated iron and wooden providore/café amongst the eucalyptus trees, and outside on their timber deck. Try their wood-fired bread with a cheese platter or pop in for coffee and a sweet treat. On warmer days, the homemade ice cream with native flavours such as leatherwood honey and organic rhubarb are a wise choice. 

Bruny Island Cheese Co. is open daily from 10am until 5pm and are only too happy to cheese around and chat about their artisan produce. 

As a side note, we made the mistake of buying cheese without a place to store it for the day. We drove around until late afternoon, the cheese sweltering in the hot car. I recommend taking an Esky with freezer blocks or eating any purchases straight away.

Address: 1807 Bruny Island Main Road, Great Bay, Bruny Island, Tasmania

Phone: (03) 6260 6353


Bruny Island Cheese Co. on Urbanspoon

The View of The Neck

On the way to our next Bruny destination, we were treated to some spectacular views. As we headed further south, we came to the narrow isthmus known as The Neck. We climbed the stairs to the lookout, where the pavonine sea spread out across both sides. 

Hothouse Cafe  

By the time we arrived at the Hothouse Café, we were ready for lunch. Open from 10am for all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner, Hothouse Café is a collection of plastic garden chairs and wooden tables on gravel sheltered by a poly tunnel greenhouse.

On cooler days, sitting inside the Hothouse is a cosy, well-insulated option. When the sun is out it can become uncomfortably warm inside, but the five, large tables out the front take in a spectacular view. Set on a manicured lawn with an adjacent orchard and horses in a field, the views of Neck Beach, the Tasman Peninsula and Mount Wellington are simply stunning.

Friendly owners Michael and Fiona Morrison chat freely with guests, and whale sightings are not uncommon during the bi-annual migration. Fiona is in charge of the modern Australian menu, which features hearty, homely meals. 

We were all tempted by the damper, served with garlic butter or with smoked salmon, sour cream and capers (also available for two with the addition of Tasmanian Brie. I had one of the Hothouse lavishes. Smoked Atlantic salmon lined the radius of the flat bread wrap, which was stuffed with soft ripened Tasmanian cheese, sour cream and capers. A colourful salad of lettuce, onion, capsicum and cucumber made it all the more appealing. Heaving with fresh ingredients, it was tied together with a knot of chive. 

Another member of our Bruny bash ordered the homemade steak and Guinness pie. The buttery pastry was paper-thin and barely contained the chunks of tender meat. It was served with a vibrant garden salad and crunchy, golden chips.

The nachos were hard to resist: drowning in cheese, splashed with tomato salsa, greasy and delicious. They were meant to come with guacamole, but the kitchen had run out of avocado; a dash of sour cream would have been nice. Not the healthiest option, but decidedly moreish. 

The Hothouse smoked salmon foccacia was a winner. Without the aforementioned avocado, it contained Camembert cheese, onion, tomato, shaved carrot, and lettuce that can only be described as buoyant. The bread was divine. It arrived lightly grilled but pillow soft on the inside. 

Three of the boys ordered the Morella gourmet beef burger. No one was disappointed. Wedged between a toasted panini was a perfectly cooked, oversized patty covered in a generous blanket of melted cheese and doused in a homemade tomato relish. To the 11-year-old’s relief, the beautiful salad was served on the side on the plate, as opposed to inside the burger. The adults put the salad between the bread themselves and struggled to finish the chips.

The specials menu advertised an egg and bacon pie, a couple of quiches and a spicy sweet potato soup. The dessert menu offered homemade scones, pancakes, muffins and cakes but we decided to save dessert for our next stop. 

You won’t beat the view and laid back vibe at the Hothouse Café. It’s the perfect place to recharge before continuing your Bruny Island adventure. Take your time; you won’t be rushed along.

Address: 46 Adventure Bay Road, Bruny Island, Tasmania

Phone: (03) 6293 1131


Hothouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bruny Island Fudge Company

Our last foodie stop was the Bruny Island Fudge Factory. Unfortunately, the fudge was devoured so quickly that my photos of the actual fudge are limited (read: nonexistent). Although I can report with confidence that the tiny shop front is stocked with chocolate, truffles, boiled sweets, and — of course — fudge.

The cute little confectionery providore is open daily from 10am until 4pm. I can recommend the caramel, English toffee and dark chocolate fudge, but seeing as there are samples available, you might as well try before you buy anyway. 

Address: 53 Adventure Bay Road, Bruny Island, Tasmania

Phone: (03) 6293 1456


Bewitched by Bruny

It felt like we ate our way around Bruny Island, but realistically we skipped Get Shucked Oyster Farm (we had oysters waiting on the rocks for us at home, see the post here), Bruny Island Berry Farm (we stopped here to pick up some strawberries to snack on, but alas, they’d run out), Wayaree Estate (the most southern vineyard in Australia), Hotel Bruny, Jetty Cafe and Mermaid Cafe.

If you want to cram it all in, a weekend in Bruny would be ideal. There are endless accommodation options from cottages to caravans to camping sites. Regardless of which fork in the road you follow, one thing’s for certain: Bruny Island won’t let food lovers down.

                 Above photo strip from