Saturday, May 28, 2005

Amici Bakery Cafe, Prahran

Having been rejected by Harvey's this morning (no booking), we hiked down Chapel Street in search of a Plan B venue. Perhaps we should be thankful. The breakfast at Amici Bakery Cafe, 242 Chapel St, Prahran, Tel +61 3 9529 7770, was excellent, and there were significantly fewer wankers to spoil the mood.

If there's one thing bakery cafes should get right it's the bread. So, it was good to see that the Eggs Benedict came with sourdough English muffins baked in-house. The texture was more course than your typical fresh-from-the-packet variety, but the crust was close to un-cut-able, which was a bit annoying. The eggs, on the other hand, were poached just right, with soft deep-yellow yolks that blended well with the hollandaise (nice consistency, but not sufficiently tart). The crispy bacon was very good, and the "cottage potatoes" had been tossed and baked in shredded parsley, which worked well.

In additon to good eggs (an excellent big breakfast, a daily omelette special, and a "flaming" variation on Benedict with a spicy ragout of onions and red capsicum) Amici also caters well to the sweet tooth. One of my fellow brunchers had the Bircher muesli which, despite looking like a single celled protein combined with synthetic aminos vitamins and minerals (ie, the grey slop that Neo and friends slurped down on the Matrix), was delicious. It was a huge serve, and the fresh stawberries and yoghurt gave the dish a visual lift.

Service at Amici was a little bit haphazard, but the place was buzzing so they probably deserve some slack. At $7.50 for the Bircher and $10.50 for the Benedict, it was a great value breakfast. Good coffee too.

15/20 "sourdough muffins"

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ludo, Melbourne

This morning, hidden beneath a rather large clump of garden cuttings (a sprig of parsley, actually), I found some fantastic scrambled eggs. I think Ludo, 118 Queen Street, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9670 9488, is destined to become a regular pre-work treat.

Served on a slice of toasted Turkish bread, the scrambles were light, creamy and delicious. And the bacon was just the way I like it... well-fried and tasty without being totally burnt to a crisp. It was a simple combination, but hard to fault. The coffee was very good too.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Orange, Windsor

As Star Wars: Episode III completes the journey that began in the 70's, this morning I had breakfast at a venue determined to show that, 30 years on, orange and brown decor is still cool. 70's revival rules at Orange, 126 Chapel Street, Windsor, Tel +61 3 9529 1644, and the in-crowd seems to love it. My brekky, on the other hand, was way short of 3 stars. Cheap Eats misses again.

To rate as good, scrambled eggs need to be at least a little bit creamy. These weren't. It didn't help that the sourdough toast (normally a winner) was dry and chewy. The home made baked beans (hidden under the eggs for some reason), were OK but nothing special, and the sausages were good, albeit slightly rubbery. No disasters. But not the kind of food you'd come back for.

One of the highlights of the menu was bread and butter pudding with roasted pear and double cream. Not sure what it was doing on the breakfast menu, but why not? I love bread and butter pudding.

I was pleasantly surprised by the service, which was efficient and friendly. It's the sort of place where attitude is normally a job requirement. Glad to see they're bucking that trend. The coffee was very good, too.

If you're killing time between big nights out, the Orange Breakfast is a likely winner... bacon and eggs on toast with chilli jam and a bloody mary. Get back on the horse...

13/20 "orange and brown is the new black"

Friday, May 20, 2005

Avenue on Chifley, Sydney

Can I be in-and-out for breakfast within 20 minutes? Sure, no problem. For fast eggs, head for Avenue on Chifley, Chifley Square, Sydney, Tel +61 2 9221 7599. But don't go for the next few months... they'll be closed for renovations.

Despite a couple of flaws, I really enjoyed my Eggs Benedict. The hollandaise had just the right lemony zing, the grilled ham was excellent, and the muffins were good. The eggs, however, were machine-poached. They had been dropped into little circular containers and steamed inside the old bain-marie on steroids "poaching" contraption. For a serious breakfast venue this would be a major flaw, but for a small city cafe it didn't seem like such a big deal. Hidden beneath the hollandaise, you hardly noticed.

I am also softening my stance on raw spinach. In this case, by sandwiching the small bonus serve of spinach leaves between the ham and the eggs, there was sufficient warmth to wilt the spinach. Wilted spinach is OK.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Green Refectory, Brunswick

Sydney Road used to be the place for cheap and cheerful Turkish, Franco Cozzo Furniture, Mediterranean Wonderland and Crystal T's. But as students push North in search of cheaper share housing, the readers of Il Globo are having to make way for the readers of Green Left Weekly. And what better place to plot your next protest than Green Refectory, 115 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Tel +61 3 9387 1150.

The breakfast crowd was an eclectic mix of young and not-so-young Brunswick types (if there is such a thing), and the venue had a relaxed and friendly vibe. Sitting inside gave you a choice of mismatched tables and chairs from the random school of furniture design. Outside gave you a strip of high or low wall-mounted bars, running down the side of the building. It's all pretty rustic, but it feels good.

But what about the food? My scrambled eggs were good, but only just... slightly wet, slightly over-done, and chunks of white were clearly visible. The bacon and mushrooms were both well-fried and tasty, but the toast was a bit thin, which meant that it went soggy under the wet eggs. It was an enjoyable meal, with no real cause for complaint. But there is room for improvement.

The staff were friendly and helpful, and at $14 for eggs and two good coffees this place is a bargain.

13/20 "bargain brekky"

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bathers' Pavilion, Balmoral Beach

If Bills is the place for "Sydney Food", then the Bathers' Pavilion, Tel +61 2 9969 5050, is the place for a "Sydney Experience". It's slick, expensive, and on the beach. Balmoral beach, to be precise. You'll struggle to find a better brekky venue.

For me, this was a step back in time. My first childhood memory of a weekend breakfast treat was the "Balmoral Schooner" of eggs, bacon, etc, etc, at this very same spot. These days the signature fry-up has the rather more boring moniker of "Balmoral Breakfast", but it was amazing how familiar the place seemed over 25 years on. Same light and airy buzz. Same outlook to North Head. Same shark nets across the beach (although they looked much bigger when I was a kid).

Today I went with the Eggs Benedict, with an excellent side of hash browns (soft cakes of grated potato, well-grilled on both sides). The poached eggs were good (but slightly underdone), the hollandaise was tart with just a hint of sweetness, and the bacon and muffins just right. All in all, a very satisfying meal.

The coffee was good, the service excellent (and swift), but at over $30 for breakfast and two coffees, this place ain't cheap.

16/20 "best venue"

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hairy Canary, Melbourne

The Hairy Canary has been a steady performer in Melbourne's faddish alley-way bar scene for many years, but I'd never been there for breakfast till this morning. Unfortunately, I ordered the Eggs Benedict, which reminded me of my favorite Charles Eames quote: "Innovate as a last resort".

The innovation in this case was to substitute jamon (Spanish prosciutto) for ham. Bad move. The strong and salty jamon totally dominated the subtle flavours of the eggs and hollandaise. It really didn't work. This is the sort of failed experiment that should never leave the lab. How it got on the menu is anyone's guess.

The eggs themselves were pretty good, as was the hollandaise, toast (some kind of herb-bread-brioche hybrid), and bonus serve of steamed spinach. Next time, however, I will be trying something else. Maybe it's time I had some muesli?

13/20 "innovate as a last resort"

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Small Block, Brunswick East

Slowly but surely the latte left has grown up, paired off, and settled in Brunswick. With a critical mass of comrades invading Melbourne's once desolate inner urban North, it was only a matter of time before the cafes sprang up to service their needs. Enter Small Block, at 130 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, Tel +61 3 9381 2244. A comrade's gotta eat.

Cheap Eats reckons this place serves up one of Melbourne's "sunniest serves of eggs benedict". What exactly is that supposed to mean? Are they the best? Or is this just a fluffy way of saying that there's Eggs Benedict on the menu and they're not too bad? I'm voting for the latter. The eggs and ham were good, the toasted bread roll was an interesting twist, but the hollandaise lacked zing. And good hollandaise needs some zing.

A better option, in my view, would have been the Small Block Summer Breakfast of eggs, beetroot relish, avocado and spinach with a potato and shallot pancake. Or maybe Jed's Bircher muesli with Rhubarb?

As a venue, Small Block is a great example of designer grunge meets industrial chic... the combination of polished concrete floors, original pressed tin ceilings, and comfy 2nd-hand furniture just seemed to work. The place was busy and buzzing, without feeling cramped.

My coffee was good (but not very good), and the service was friendly, if a little slow. Well worth a visit if you're North of the city and looking for eggs.

15/20 "designer grunge for the latte left"

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Bills, Darlinghurst

There are plenty of people who rate Bills, 433 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, Tel +61 2 9360 9631, as Sydney's best breakfast. Indeed, Bill Grainger is quite the Jamie Oliver. He has a string of cookbooks to his name (including one called "Sydney Food") and is now a fully-fledged celebrity chef (and media tart). But like Sydney, Bills is a bit of a two-trick pony. Spectacular harbour... sublime scrambled eggs. Fantastic beaches... fat and fluffy hotcakes. But then what?

In the case of my breakfast, disappointment, I'm afraid to say. The bacon was very average, the mushrooms were bland and boring, and the toast ought to have been served with safety goggles. Chipping bits off carried high risks. I almost took out an eye with a stray shard of organic spelt.

Don't get me wrong. The scrambles were light, creamy, and up there with the very best. And, although I didn't taste them, the ricotta hotcakes, served with fresh banana and honeycomb butter, looked truly rave-worthy. But you can't afford to have weak links, and Bills does.

Actually, judging by the steady stream of people waiting for tables (or waiting for a spot on the very large communal table), you can afford to have weak links. Maybe they come here to see and be seen? I spotted at least two celebrity imposters in just one sitting (one Paris-clone, one Moby-clone). Who knows who I'll be dining with next time?

15/20 "sublime scrambled"

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