Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Morning Loaf, Keith

Keith. Sounds more like an old man than a country town. But when it's 40 degrees outside and you're hungry, who cares what the place is called. Just give me an egg and bacon roll, thanks. This one hit the spot. A warm fresh multi-grain roll made all the difference. Delicious.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Blessed Cheese, McLaren Vale

When I asked the cellar door bitch at Chapel Hill about the McLaren Vale's best breakfast, she was unequivocal: "my place". Of course, I'm using cellar door bitch as a term of endearment. She wasn't the least bit bitchy. Very helpful really. Her 2nd best breakfast recommendation was right on the money: Blessed Cheese Cafe, 150 Main Street, McLaren Vale, Tel +61 8 8323 7958. A most enjoyable plate of fried eggs topped with melted cheese and dusted with paprika.


Although the mushies and tomato were a bit cold, the bacon was nice and crispy, and they served an excellent side of Spice Girlz relish (the Moroccan jam, I think).

The scrambled egg and salmon foccacia (with smoked applewood cheddar) was also good, except that the spinach was raw, not wilted.

But since this is a cheese shop, I reckon the humble cheese on toast would be the best bet. Or, maybe a ham, cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, with brie, smoked, blue or was-rinded cheese.

Even Curtis Stone and his mate paid a visit to Blessed Cheese during an episode of Surfing the Menu.

13/20 "cheesy"


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Citrus, Adelaide

"In Adelaide, you’ll find entire streets devoted to dining: each a mix of cafés, pubs and restaurants." Adelaide Tourism Marketing spills the beans. That's right. Entire streets devoted to dining. I'll bet you've never seen that before.


One of those streets is Hutt Street. And at 199 Hutt Street you will find Citrus, Tel +61 8 8224 0100, where they do breakfast with a Mediterranean twist. Just make sure you get there well before the 11.30 cut-off.

We arrived at 11.20 for an 11.15 booking. So, admittedly we were 5 minutes late. But having ignored us for a further 5 minutes, it was 11.25 by the time we were being seated. At this point, our sour-faced waitress made a song and dance about how it was almost 11.30 and our booking was 11.15, so we'd better hurry up and order if we want breakfast. Very welcoming indeed.

I couldn't resist the chili & garlic scrambled eggs, which were pretty good despite the fact that they contained onion, not garlic, and came with a half-baked tomato that I didn't order. The bacon was OK, although not sufficiently grilled for my liking. And the place was sauce-less: no HP sauce; no tomato sauce; no relish; no chutney; nothing.

The poached eggs with salmon, asparagas and hollandaise were also pretty good, except for a hard-poached egg. Ditto the poached eggs in tomato and basil.

They even do a breakfast pizza, with spinach, roast tomato, artichokes and haloumi cheese.

Citrus is a good venue, with lots of outdoor seating under a wide veranda, and stylish black linens instead of the usual white. But it had too many weak links on food and service to score high marks.

12/20 "chili scrambles"


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Scenic Hotel, Adelaide Hills

"The wine and festival capital of Australia, Adelaide is one of the most vibrant, stylish and innovative cities you'll ever visit. It's a place to experience the buzz, culture and convenience of a big city without the frustrations." So speaketh the South Australian Tourist Commission. Hmmm... The lady bloweth her own trumpet a bit hard, methinks. At least they didn't say "food capital of Australia". Such restraint.

One thing I will say about Adelaide is that the Hills are very nice indeed. And this morning I enjoyed a most satisfying plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, etc, at the Scenic Hotel, Old Norton Summit Road, Norton Summit, Tel +61 8 8390 1705. Not the most vibrant, stylish or innovative breakfast I've ever had, but the view was fantastic.

The benedict was also pretty good, mostly thanks to the excellent dijon mustard hollandaise. The eggs, however, were under-poached, and falling apart.

Service would best be described as patchy. Friendly and helpful when you arrive, but nowhere to be seen after the plates hit the table. Bad luck if you feel like an extra coffee. Then again, the coffee was pretty average, so who wants an extra cup?

The real selling point of the Scenic is the balcony seating, where you can stare into space and be thankful that you're up here in Rivendell, not down there on the plains of Mordor. Unfortunately, it was a bit blowy this particular Saturday morning, so we had to dine inside.

13/20 "mustard hollandaise"


Friday, December 23, 2005

diVine Cafe, Penola

Wagyu beef. It's the premier grand cru of red meat. The supermodel of the bovine world. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if a few of these babies have serious coke habits. But what to do with the off-cuts? Say hello to the Wagyu Sausage. The highlight of my breakfast at diVine Cafe, 39 Church Street, Penola, Tel +61 8 8737 2122.


Despite the menu's promise of Wagyu sausages, I had to make do with just one. It was a very nice sausage. But it was just a sausage. It's not like there's any marbling left to admire. My scrambled eggs were good too. Ditto the bacon, mushies, spinach and tomato. A great way to fill up before a big day sipping (and spitting) Coonawarra cabernet.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the smoked salmon eggs benedict. Hollandaise is a sauce, not a paste. And just because congealed butter solids melt when smeared on hot eggs, that does not make the resultant liquid a sauce. To their credit, diVine re-supplied the eggs without the butter dressing. But our waitress was clearly not happy that we dared to question their smear-and-melt methodology. In the end, the poached eggs and salmon turned out to be very good, with a generous splodge of roe making for quite a fishy dish.

At just under $20 a head for eggs and a very average cup of coffee, this was not a cheap breakfast. But if you avoid the Benedict, it's worth a visit. If only they served Hollicks sparkling merlot by the glass. That would be a real breakfast treat.

10/20 "wagyu snags"


Thursday, December 22, 2005

L'Espresso, Ballarat

This morning, as the first of Bracksy's "fast" trains was warming up for its maiden voyage, we motored into Ballarat for the first stop on our South Australian road trip. The Ballarat Fast Rail is an amazing feat of political, engineering and financial genius. In opposition, an $80 million promise. In government, an $800 million reality. But hey, it slashes at least a minute or two off the trip to the big smoke. It's even faster than Puffing Billy. And when you arrive, what better place to have breakfast than l'espresso, 417 Sturt Street, Tel +61 3 5333 1789. That's Italian for fast.

Having stumbled into l'espresso by accident, we were more than happy with the results. My parmesan scrambled eggs had just a hint of onion blended through the mix, and some fresh rocket on top. Together with the double smoked bacon, toasted brioche and sauteed mushrooms, it was an excellent combination of flavours. Very impressive.

The eggs benedict was equally good, although just a tad under-poached. The coffee was good too.

Other exotic-sounding menu items included Tuki lamb's fry with bacon and caramelised onions; zuchinni and sweet corn fritters; and sweet apple and pear creamed rice with toasted almond flakes.

Despite a slow start - we had a hard time getting anyone's attention at first - the service turned out to be pretty good. Not a bad venue either, with lots of street-side tables and a water bowl for the dog.

16/20 "parmesan scrambles"


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Traffic Cafe, Northcote

When it comes to eggs, perfection is a highly subjective concept. So anyone whose menu brags of "perfectly poached eggs" is asking for trouble. Proving my point is Traffic Cafe, 85 High St, Northcote, Tel +61 3 9403 3222... I'll have the perfect eggs, thanks.

Actually, my eggs were pretty close to perfect, which was a pleasant surprise. But the person behind me scored a hard one, and had to send it back.

The benedict was well above average, with good hollandaise, well-toasted muffins and a side of golden-fried hash browns (the mass-produced variety, unfortunately). Good scrambled eggs too.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hot Poppy, North Melbourne

For an inner city suburb, a critical mass of good cafes has been a long time coming to North Melbourne. Of course, I'm not counting the hidden Italian gambling dens where anyone game enough has been able to get excellent coffee for years. But judging by today's crowd at The Hot Poppy, 9 Errol Street, Tel +61 3 9326 9299, the tipping point isn't far away. North Melbourne, the new Fitzroy? Hmmm...

Apart from mooshy muffins, I was very happy with my order of "Eggs Cadillac". A mutation of the traditional Benedict, the poached eggs were served on a tasty grilled pancetta, and topped with orange hollandaise and fresh asparagas. It really was an excellent combination.

Like a true breakfast champion, Hot Poppy serves the best meal of the day, all day, till 6pm (on the weekend, at least). Options include BLT on bagel with house-made mayo (or BLAT with bonus avocado); free range eggs with the lot (meat-eater or vegetarian versions); and a potato pancake stack with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and salmon roe. Or go simple and have a croissant with Jam Lady jams, and a very good cappucino.

The venue is quaint, and just a little bit grotty, in keeping with Errol Street traditions. And although the service was a bit patchy, it was friendly enough.

14/20 "orange hollandaise"


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BearBrass, Southbank

Pushing the Eggs Benedict envelope one step further, this morning I was treated to poached eggs atop an unsplit slab of Turkish pide. Not two muffin halves. Not two slices of pide. One big slab. Innovative. Welcome to BearBrass, river level, Southgate, Tel +61 3 9682 3799.


The eggs and hollandaise were both quite good, and, to be fair, the pide was grilled. But it was all brought down by a couple of oily slices of ham, that appeared to have had a brief flirtation with a frying pan.

As a venue BearBrass is quite stylish, and brilliantly located. A great place to drag some visiting tourists for views of the city. But if the Benedict is any guide, I wouldn't come here for the food.

12/20 "nice view"


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Babble Cafe, Prahran

This morning I was feeling a teeny bit delicate. OK, I was hung over and hungry. I needed volume and I needed grease. So I scootered down the road to Babble Cafe, 4b Izett Street, Prahran, Tel +61 3 9510 6464, and feasted on a huge plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms and hash browns. Grease is the word...


Even the mushies were nice and oily, with lots of flavour. The scrambles were good, and piled high, as was the crispy bacon. I would have preferred house-made hash browns, but the fresh-frozen mail-order patties had been deep-fried a perfect golden brown, so I wasn't about to complain.

It's a curious place, Babble. Perched on a back-street corner with a magnificent outlook across the Coles-Safeway carpark, it seems to attract a crowd of buffed, preened and yet slightly grungy 20-30-something couples. The sunny, street-side bar seats are especially popular with anyone looking to supplement their fake-tan. Don't forget the bugeye sunnies.

Inside, it's quite airy, with a faux-rock feature wall that gives the place a sort-of hunting lodge feel, minus the moose heads. With some excellent jazz in the CD player, the place had a great, laid-back feel.

Food-wise, you've got more options than a slug in a veggie patch. There's Eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale; four different omelettes, including the "Baroness" with spinach, fetta, SDTs, chilli and olives, and the "House Frau" with sausage, salami, cheese, onion and mushroom; as well as the usual fried, poached or scrambled eggs plus extras. Then there's plain, fruit, blueberry or American pancakes; "Porridge Supreme" with dried fruits, fresh apple, banana and cinnamon; French fruit toast with marscapone cream, bananas, strawberries and maple syrup; and Babble's "almost" world famous low fat muffins... that I'd never heard of. I guess that's why they're almost famous.

With porridge starting at $6.50 and Benedict at $11, Babble is pretty good value. The Griffiths coffee was very good too.

15/20 "almost..."


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bistrot d'Orsay, Melbourne

For years I've assumed that a frog name means pastry for breakfast. Don't get me wrong. I like a good croissant. But it's no match for a nice plate of eggs. And so I've avoided Bistrot d'Orsay, 184 Collins Street, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9654 6498. Silly me. Their Eggs Benedict is seriously good.


Excellent poached eggs. Warm toasty muffins. Fine slivers of ham. And just the right amount of delicious hollandaise. Why is this so hard for so many others?

The venue is dark, stylish, and well-located in the heart of Collins Street. The service is friendly, professional and swift. And the Genovese coffee is excellent.

Of course, with a frog name, they also do the obligatory croissant and pain au chocolate.

18/20 "Magnifique"


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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ripe, Sassafras

Today we joined Sunday drivers aplenty and tootled our way up the windy mountain road to Sassafras. There, hidden amongst numerous vendors of tea, scones and other "country style" fare, we found Ripe, 376 Mt Dandenong Tourist Road, Tel +61 3 9755 2100. Time for a gourmet breakfast.

ripe breakfast

Or so we thought.

First impressions are good. You walk in through the food store, where fancy-looking "local" produce is bulging from the shelves. Then, as the seasonal menu arrives (mid-spring in our case), you're bowled over by a wave of exotic-sounding ingredients, including some that have you reaching for a copy of the Food-Tosser's Guide to Indecipherable Menus.

Some examples:

Spinach and ricotta pattie with sauteed mushrooms, pine nuts and saba with fresh baguette. Hmmm... pattie - check... mushrooms - check... but what the hell is saba? Apparently some sort of condiment made from the must of grapes.

Kroll fruit bread toasted with lescure butter. Hmmm... I know what butter is, but who or what is lescure? Well, it turns out that Lescure butter is some kind of fancy French stuff. Which is odd, since this place calls itself "Ripe - Australian Produce".

Fruitions granola soaked with apple and cherry juice topped with blood plum and buffalo yogurt. Mmm... cherry juice.

Fried sweet potato and roquette omelette with pomegranate molasses, creme fraiche and toast. Not your average omelette.

Eventually, I settled on the kassler (ham) with grilled pineapple disc and fried egg served on toast, topped with a lemon buerre blanc (they called it buree blanc, but I assume this was a typo). Unfortunately, it arrived smothered in hollandaise (not buerre blanc) with a side of tomato that I didn't order. They did offer to re-do my order (after I pointed out the mistake, and after they cross-checked this with the chef), but by then I was hungry and in no mood to wait. The flavours worked together very well, especially the ham and pineapple. But the toast was not toasted, and there was no way to appreciate the buerre blanc (which they hastily delivered as a side) with the whole dish drowning in hollandaise.

Sally (a psuedonym inspired by the ordering habits of a certain character in When Harry Met Sally) ordered Eggs Benedict, which wasn't on the menu. Although the hollandaise was good, the ham wasn't grilled, the toast wasn't toasted, the eggs weren't quite poached and the food wasn't quite hot. Her tea arrived late, too. Not a happy camper.

Having said all that, the Gravity coffee was excellent and the staff were very polite. Perhaps if the chef hadn't gone home with an asthma attack this would be a rave review.

14/20 "is that a pinot grigio saba?"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Coffee Darling, South Yarra

I hadn't realised till I got inside that Coffee Darling, 2 Darling Street, South Yarra, Tel +61 3 9867 2488, is the latest member of the Cafe Racer franchise. Same people. Same coffee. Same food. Same look. The only thing missing was the usual crowd of lycra-clad cyclists.

Since I was in the mood for eggs, I went with the only egg option, namely poached eggs on toasted ham, cheese and tomato (sourdough toast, of course). A tried and trusted Cafe Racer classic. As you'd expect from any well-run franchise, the Coffee Darling version was true to the original, and most enjoyable. The use of juicy, full-flavoured tomato makes all the difference.

The eggs themselves were OK, but nothing to rave about. One of mine was hard. The Genovese coffee, on the other hand, lived up to its usual raveworthy standards.

The real problem with Coffee Darling is the lack of choice. Put simply, you can have the poached egg thing, bircher muesli, toast or a few pastries. That's about it. Then again, if you suffer from menu-anxiety, this place might be just what you need.

14/20 "Cafe Racer III"


If Cafe, Melbourne

I am a firm believer that names matter. Branding matters. Not just for Coke and Pepsi. But for cafes and restaurants too. And my gratuitous branding advice for the people behind "If Cafe" is that you should (a) get a new name, and (b) sack whoever came up with the first name. It sucks. It's not memorable. It subvocalises a message of disappointment and regret. It's got bad brand-karma. "If... only we used real hollandaise."

My original plan was to have breakfast at Medusa. When I arrived, however, I found myself dining at If Cafe, 191 Queen Street, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9602 2262. Medusa was gone. I should have gone too. But I stayed, and ordered the Benedict, with double-smoked bacon.

Although the bacon was very good, there were two strange culinary decisions that dominated the dish. First, they used bottled hollandaise, not fresh stuff, which in my opinion is a sign of extreme laziness. It's the equivalent of serving canned "spaghetti" at an Italian restaurant. Sure, they're both called spaghetti. But you expect something more than can-opening when you eat out. Second, they didn't bother to split the muffin, instead serving it like a grilled bun at the base of an egg and bacon stack. Very odd. I'm still not sure if this was designer flair or complete ignorance, but it wasn't an improvement on the traditional split muffin approach. They also hard-poached one of the eggs.

Another dish with an interesting twist was the eggs florentine. For some reason, they serve it with chicken tenderloin. I guess that makes the chicken both involved and comitted.

As I was the only person eating in the whole place, I can only speculate on the quality of the other food, which includes pancake stacks, omelettes, "chunky tropical fruit" and more.

If only they split my muffin.

9/20 "muffbun"