Saturday, July 30, 2005

Pearl, Richmond

I've never been a big fan of caviar. Little salty explosions just don't do it for me. I think it has something to do with early childhood memories of being dumped in the surf and coming up with a gob full of salt water. But today I took the plunge and ordered the "famous" coddled egg toasty at Pearl, 631-633 Church Street, Richmond, Tel +61 3 9421 4599. Maybe fish eggs for breakfast ain't so bad, after all?

Luckily for me, the little splodge of Yarra Valley salmon caviar was easily scraped aside, allowing me to regulate the fishiness of the overall experience. And a good experience it was. Encased in a cube of toasty bread (who knows if it was fried or baked, but it sure tasted like fried bread to me), the coddled egg was just right. Perched on top was a second, perfectly domed egg, which must have been "poached" in one of those little concave dishes. Finished off with a crown of bright orange caviar and a few artistic squirts of some beige mayo-like sauce, it was all very pretty.

If there's one thing that stands out at Pearl, it's creativity. Apart from the aforementioned toasty, there's a French toasted chocolate sandwich with runny cream, soft boiled eggs with vegemite soldiers, and roasted wild mushrooms with sage and cheese melt. All good reasons for a repeat visit. I'll also be back to try the sweet corn cakes, which looked excellent (although apparently not as good as European's corn fritters, according to the bloke next door).

In terms of service, Pearl is first rate. Never has my water glass been so assiduously refilled in the course of a meal as it was this morning. Throw in a slick, modern venue, excellent coffee, a wide range of teas, and an impressive virgin mary, and you are pretty much guaranteed a great breakfast. It's a bit more expensive than average, but well worth it.

18/20 "best coddled"

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Benito's, Melbourne

It seems reasonable to assume that Benito's, 445 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9670 5347, is named after the guy who managed to get the trains to run on time. Apart from being a fascist dictator and mate of Hitler, he was also booted out of school for stabbing a fellow student and throwing an ink pot at his teacher. We can only wonder what kind of chef he would have been. But I'm pretty sure he would not have been a fan of blogging.

Whatever the merits of its name, Benito's is a tightly run ship. The service is friendly and professional, and the food very good. Having settled into one of the cosy leather-padded booths with the morning paper and a perfect cappucino, I was soon presented with a generous serve of Eggs Benedict with some spinach on the side (the waiter's recommendation). Although the eggs had been shallow-poached, they were cooked just right, and the hollandaise was excellent. The muffins, spinach and thinly sliced grilled ham were also pretty good.

As with many city venues, the menu is short-ish, but with some interesting items like ciabatta fried in egg with ricotta and honey, semolina porridge, and sausage frittata.

After some flip-flopping, I'm going to ping them a point for price. My eggs ended up costing $17.50 which has to be called expensive, even if they were good.

16/20 "nice booths"

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Observatory Cafe, South Yarra

I've never been in prison, but I reckon Oz is about as real as prison drama gets. And I've never had a prison breakfast, but I reckon the service at the Observatory Cafe, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra, Tel +61 3 9650 5600, is about as close a match as you could hope to find. Line up. Grab a tray. Place your order. Wait over there. Prisoner number 194... grub's up.

And what presentation. Slip, slop, slap... Slip on some mushies, slop on some scrambles, and slap on a hat... or toast, in this case. Since when did toast become a garnish?

It's a pity that the Observatory went down the no-service path. It has a brilliant location right next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the food is actually quite good. With a little more effort, and a little less price gouging, it could be a contender. But $19.50 to stand in line for the "big breakfast"... who are they kidding? Strictly a tourist trap.

10/20 "take a number"

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Periapt Foods, Kensington

Apparently a periapt is some kind of amulet worn to guard against food poisoning and bad service. This was very reassuring as we settled in for breakfast at Periapt Foods, 307 Racecourse Road, Kensington, Tel +61 3 9372 3288. Nice eggs. Great service. Not even a hint of salmonella. Magic.

I had no complaints with my order of scrambled eggs on sourdough, with bacon, avocado, potato roesti and some home made tomato sauce. Apart from being very good, it was also very generous. No chance of leaving this place hungry. The eggs florentine was also good, although the spinach was unwilted and the serve of hollandaise a bit on the small side.

Coincidentally, this was the third place in a row to serve pre-cracked pepper in one of those little shaker jars. Although this is a step up from the powdered white stuff, it's no match for a real grinder.

Periapt does good Grinders coffee and great value breakfasts ($33 for two). It would also be an excellent spot to shoot a Wiggles video. Lots of bold splashes of colour and a quirky ocelot banquette. Well worth a repeat visit.

16/20 "eggs a la wiggle"

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Silo Bakery, Kingston

Kingston... Canberra's attempt at inner suburban cool. Only not that cool. And yet freezing bloody cold. But what it lacks in architectural variety, it makes up in flashes of culinary brilliance. Like Silo, 36 Giles Street, Tel +61 2 6260 6060. Kind of like Babka... only with good service. Bonus.

This morning's scrambles were creamy and excellent, with a light and crusty sourdough toast, great mushrooms, and a tasty serve of bacon. Yum.

Apart from simple classics like scrambles with smoked salmon, gruyere omelette and eggs florentine, the Silo menu boasts some interesting and original options: Welsh rarebit with sausage, egg & sauteed silverbeet; Migas con morcilla (roasted bread pieces, black pudding, parsley, vegies and a fried egg); and a "breakfast cheese selection" with bread. Being a bakery, there's also a good range of toasts and pastries. Just don't come here for porridge or muesli. Not an option, I'm afraid.

Inside, the atmosphere is typical of a busy bakery cafe, and at under $15 for brekky with good coffee, Silo isn't bad value.

15/20 "breakfast cheese, anyone?"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Q Eleven, South Melbourne

Coventry Street is fast approaching the status of breakfast precinct, with a strip of high quality venues from which to source your eggs. Today we braved the market traffic and checked out Q Eleven, 303 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9645 7311. Who'd have thought the ham steak (sans ananas) would make a come-back as a brekky dish?

Actually, the dish in question was a ham and roesti stack, consisting of some sauteed spinach, a fat quinoa & potato roesti, two slabs of grilled kassler ham, a poached egg and some onion jam. There was also a surprise serve (ie, not mentioned on the menu) of slow roasted tomato with rosemary. An original and enjoyable dish.

The "benedict style" eggs were served with thin-sliced grilled ham on white vienna toast with a bonus layer of spinach. The only disappointment here was the hollandaise (again), which had a very plain buttery flavour but absolutely no tang. If you can't taste the lemon or vinegar, you might as well be shoving a gob of butter in your mouth. Not an appealing proposition.

Apart from being a cosy and welcoming little cafe, the best thing about Q Eleven is its excellent menu: charred beef sausage patties; sesame mushrooms; bircher muesli soaked in organic OJ; creamed sago pudding with lime, coconut berries and yoghurt; and baked eggs with chorizo, fetta and tomato. The list goes on.

As I've come to expect, the Genovese coffee was very good (I've yet to receive a bad cup of Genovese), and at about $32 for two there were no complaints on price. Definitely worthy of a repeat visit.

15/20 "ham steak, anyone?"

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lever & Kowalyk, Williamstown

Here's a fail-safe formula for getting a bad review: make sure you screw up both the service and the food. This powerful combination worked a treat during today's visit to Lever & Kowalyk, 42 Ferguson Street, Williamstown, Tel +61 3 9397 6798. Lured across town by three stars and an egg cup - Cheap Eats code for a top tier breakfast - I was rewarded once again with disappointment.

Where to begin? Let me get the faint praise out of the way first. The venue has a cosy feel with soft lighting and a winter fire to warm things up. The Genovese coffee was very good and my breakfast of scrambled eggs with beans, snags and spinach was OK. I should also say that the woman in charge did an excellent job of dealing with everything that went wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that things went wrong. Very wrong.

Let me start with the big mistakes. Despite being ready to order within 5 minutes of arrival, we ended up waiting a good 45 minutes before our food eventually showed up. At that point, things took a turn for the worse. The Eggs la Mer were more like Eggs le Merde... badly under-poached eggs with a congealed lump of yellow paste melting on top. Last time I checked, hollandaise was a sauce, not a paste. And in this case, the yellow paste seemed to be transforming itself into melted butter and some other mysterious by-product, rather than anything you'd call hollandaise sauce. They even managed to cock up the hash brown... a thin cake of grated spud that was not so much fried as marinated in oil. Suffice it to say, we sent it all back and waited for a replacement serve of badly under-poached eggs... hold the "hollandaise".

It's possible they were short-staffed on the day we visited, but that doesn't excuse the performance of the air-head who did show up for work. Can we have the corner table? Yes. We head for the corner table... No, you can't sit there... But this is the corner table... OK, I suppose you can sit there. I order a coffee... it never arrives. I ask for some HP sauce... 5 minutes later, no answer. Only when I ask someone else does she reappear with a dismissive "we don't have any" before disappearing with no suggested alternative. Do you have a pepper grinder? She points at the dish and says "There's already pepper on it..." OK, we give up.

If I ever came back (which I doubt), I think I'd keep it simple and try the toasted fruit bread with orange cinnamon butter. It's hard to see how anyone could stuff that up.

10/20 "eggs le merde"

Friday, July 15, 2005

Blue Train, Melbourne

Seriously, who eats salad for breakfast? Apart from Winston Churchill, Kelly's pet guinea pig, I mean? A splash of green is one thing, but half a plate of lettuce? It looked like someone had up-ended Schapelle Corby's body bag on my eggs. Welcome to the Blue Train, Southgate, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9696 0440.

Actually, the presentation of my Eggs Benedict was pretty good. The real problem was the taste. There was a distinct cheap-and-nasty white processed pepper flavour permeating the hollandaise. Blue Train has a long history of cheap prices. But this processed pepper slip made the food taste cheap too, which is unfortunate. The eggs themselves were a little under-done, but otherwise good, and the grilled ham and muffins were fine.

As a venue, Blue Train has been variously described as "mega-cafe" and "peoples cafe" for its size and diverse clientele. I remember it as a pioneer of what I call Brady Bunch Revival - the school of interior design that likes to stick an exposed stone feature wall in every fitout. I reckon every second cafe or office foyer tarted up in the last couple of years has at least a splash of Brady Bunch rocks. Blue Train was way ahead of its time. It also has excellent views across the river to the city.

In two words, this place is cheap and cheerful. The food is generally cheap. The staff are generally cheerful. Don't be put off by the designer-sloppy dress code, tatts, nose-rings, toungue-studs, etc. That's just the Blue Train staff uniform.

12/20 "cheap and cheerful"

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Barista Espress, Melbourne

This morning I followed the trail of Vespa signage up Equitable Place to Barista Espress and settled in for some scrambled eggs. The coffee was excellent. The eggs were average.

It's not that there was anything too badly wrong with the scrambles. It's just that they were a bit too "eggy" and devoid of creaminess. The bacon was good, helped along by a slurp of HP sauce, and the fried mushrooms were pretty good too, although 3 small-medium mushroom caps is a bit light-on IMHO. The venue has a warm atmosphere, with high ceilings, dark timber and a chocolate brown paint job, but service isn't really a strong point. Nonetheless, it seems to be a very popular latte stop for the local suits, and deservedly so.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Circa, St Kilda

Foodies love to bang on about Andrew McConnell, the part chef, part wizard who currently weaves his culinary magic at Circa, the Prince, 2 Acland Street, St Kilda, Tel +61 3 9536 1122. Such are his powers that I am thinking of starting a rumour that he is also, secretly, the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, or at least one of the Senechaux. This is, after all, the man whose first restaurant was called Diningroom 211. Yes, that's right, 211... a perfect, inverted Fibonacci sequence. Think about that next time you're dining at the The Prince... and order yourself a Bloody Mary... Spooky.

Of course, after the disappointment of Mrs Jones (the Grand Master's other place of business), I arrived at Circa expecting a less-than-magical performance. The breakfast menu's have more than a passing similarity, with matching crumpet, doughnut and croque monsieur offerings, to name just three. So I was worried that my order of scrambled eggs was going to arrive in the style of an overcooked omelette, as it had during last week's visit to Mrs Jones.

Silly me. This was Circa. Holy ground. No mistakes allowed. The scrambles were flawless, and the breakfast experience up there with the very best.

Circa really gets it right at every level. The service is slick from the moment you arrive. The venue is spacious, stylish and comfortable, from the white leather banquettes to the theatrical mini-spots illuminating each table. And the food and coffee are truly excellent. Some of my extras weren't quite deserving of top marks (specifically the bacon skewers, toast and truss tomatoes, all of which were merely good), but just about everything else was. The smoked salmon croque monsieur, for example, was perfectly done, with a layer of dill-and-caper-infused cream cheese protecting the salmon from the perils of too much heat.

If you're careful, the Circa breakfast might only set you back around $20 a head. But throw in a couple of glasses of Pol Roger and you can double that. It's not cheap, but nor should it be. This is a special place.

19/20 "the grand master"

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Friday, July 08, 2005

Caffe Cortile, Melbourne

Segovia is clearly top dog in the Block Place pack. But is anyone nipping at its heels? This morning, in an effort to answer this question, I decided to check out Caffe Cortile, 30 Block Place, Melbourne, Tel +61 3 9650 1564. The presentation of my breakfast was excellent, with a particularly fine serve of thick, smokey bacon. Unfortunately, the corn fritters - the centrepiece of the dish - were dense and doughy, taking the edge off an otherwise impressive culinary effort.

I'm not a big fan of raw greens at breakfast, but the rocket combined reasonably well with the bacon and fritters. I'm also not a fan of the poached egg on the side, but there was nothing wrong with the execution in this case. The home-style tomato relish wasn't bad if you like it chunky, and once I learnt to smother each mouthful of fritter with a liberal dose of everything else, the meal was quite enjoyable. But let's face it, the part of the dish that holds naming rights should be its strong point, not the weakest link.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Marios, Fitzroy

If there's one place that deserves special status as a breakfast institution, it's Marios, 303 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Tel +61 3 9417 3343. The first to serve breakfast all day. The benchmark for high quality, smart alec service. The go to place for a Melbourne cafe experience. It's nice to know that despite all that's changed in the last 20-odd years, Marios hasn't. Good eggs and bacon. Good coffee. Excellent service.

Ask me what makes this place so special and the best I can do is quote Dennis Denuto, legendary constitutional lawyer and star of The Castle... "it's just the vibe". Mismatched, multi-coloured lights. A couple of antique black and white tellys stuck to the poster-filled walls. Waist-coated waiters. White linen tables. It's just a great place to be.

The menu covers all the breakfast classics, with eggs, omelettes, beans, bacon, sausages, spinach, mushrooms, tomato, hash browns, avocado and salmon. They also do a respectable eggs benedict or florentine, which comes with bernaise rather than hollandaise. About the only thing missing is pancakes, but you can always make do with french toast.

17/20 "best vibe"

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Mrs Jones, Carlton

Who would have thought that breakfast could arouse such strong opinions as were exchanged in this morning's post-mortem on Mrs Jones, 312 Drummond Street, Carlton, Tel +61 3 9347 3312. The issue? Do you get credit for creativity if you fall down in execution? There's no doubt that this is one of the more creative brunch menus in town. But you can't afford to stuff up the basics.

I ordered the coddled eggs with wilted spinach, Moroccan spiced tomato sauce and yoghurt. Sprinkled with spiced sesame seeds, and served with toasted Turkish bread, it made a good first impression. The flavours worked well, too. But half-way through I was faced with a small resevoir of raw egg white, and it really spoiled an otherwise impressive dish.

The other half went with the scrambled eggs on sourdough toast, served with herbed mushrooms, bacon and avocado. The best part of the dish was the bacon, with several tasty rashers rolled up and threaded onto a wooden skewer. The worst part of the dish was the eggs, which were more like an overcooked omlette than scambles. Not quite bad enough to send back (not a view universally shared, by the way) but not what you'd expect from a place that seems to take pride in its food.

Despite these disappointments, there are plenty of interesting alternatives on the menu. Maybe we chose badly. The buttermilk pancakes with banana and butterscoth sauce looked excellent, as did the cinnamon dusted hot ricotta doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce. They also had some simple things, like sourdough crumpets with clover honey, and a smoked salmon and cream cheese croque monsieur.

The venue itself is very slick, if a little noisy (lots of hard surfaces), and the staff were pretty good. They also do good grinders coffee and quaint pots of tea. At roughly 20 bucks a head it's not cheap, but I wouldn't call it expensive either.

In short, Mrs Jones would be a good place for a breakfast date with someone you're trying to impress, provided that they aren't fussy about their eggs, of course. Who wouldn't be impressed by a place that serves Lillet spritzers for brunch. Aperol is, like, soooo last year.

14/20 "raw creativity"

Friday, July 01, 2005

Decoy, Melbourne

Decoy is one of those city cafes that seems to have evolved into outsourced meeting room for nearby cubicle dwellers. This morning I dropped by to test drive their Eggs Benedict. The hollandaise was excellent, and the freshly defrosted hash browns weren't bad either. Not a bad way to kick-start the new financial year.