Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mart 130

107a Canterbury Rd, Middle Park, Tel +61 3 9690 8831.

Technically, this would have been our second visit to Mart 130, that is, if we could have found it the first time. Being from Fitzroy and having never been to Mart before, the first time we attempted to find it, we didn't even have the address. We just drove up and down Canterbury Rd, to no avail. Little did we know that the cafe in question was actually on the Albert Park side of the tram tracks.
This time, with a little added help of a in car GPS system (we definitely weren't going to leave without finding it this time, especially after driving across town for breakfast!) we managed to find the place.
In case you haven't heard already Mart 130 (TRAM spelt backwards. 130 apparently is the stop number) is a light rail tram stop, which has been converted into a cafe. The cafe itself is relatively small inside, with not much room to move. There's also a back deck, which looks out towards Albert Park and over some tennis courts. They squeeze them in here at Mart, everywhere you look there is a table of some sort and either chairs or little kiddy stools for sitting. Speaking of little kiddies, Mart appears to be very kiddy friendly, which lots of the little tykes running around, screaming and banging stuff. Joy.

We were lucky enough to get the last remaining stools left at the bar on the deck. The breakfast menu isn't huge, but with this many people in such a small space, I imagine the kitchen would be wanting to streamline everything they possibly can.
I decided to go with the Corn Cakes, with Bacon, Chilli Jam and Sour Cream. They were delivered to our table in a reasonable amount of time, considering their busyness. The Corn Cakes were placed in a nice little stack on my plate, alternating with Bacon. The Corn Cakes were very tasty, with some Coriander mixed in there, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this was Bills recipe for Corn cakes. The Cakes were a tad dry and a little cold, which led me to believe they were all premade - like I mentioned earlier, streamlined. The Chilli Jam was nice, but did lack any kick, more like sweet chilli sauce. The Bacon was perfectly cooked, however there was heaps of fat on the rashers. I really am being a little picky though. The meal was delicious and very well done.

Rach has the Pancakes with Berries and Vanilla Marscapone. These looked fantastic on the plate and tasted great too. I especially like the idea of Vanilla Marscapone for breakfast, rather than ice cream or plain cream. The pancakes themselves really were a little doughy. Not sure if they were undercooked or it was just their recipe, but these guys would do well to rectify that. But then again, these guys are doing well, the place was packed and people were waiting for tables... and this is breakfast!

Mart 130 appears to be a huge success and good on them. They have done a fantastic job at converting a Tram stop into one of Melbourne's coolest eating spots. Who comes up with ideas like that?
Mart's food is fantastic and I'll definitely be returning, hopefully next time I'll try that Bircher Muesli that looked so good sitting on the counter. My only suggestion to them would be a little more attention to detail in their food and it would be outstanding! Fitzroy could do well to have a place like Mart 130. Only problem is, our tram stops might be a little bit chilly in Winter!

Pie In The Sky

43 Olinda-Monbulk Rd, Olinda Ph 9751 2128

When I first visited the Dandenongs, quite a few years ago now, I came across a place at the end of the main shopping strip in Olinda called Pie In The Sky. The signs outside show that they have many awards and pie competitions around town. When you actually think about it, most pie shops in the country seem to actually have won some sort of award or another.
Let me tell you though, Pie In The Sky is the most deserving that I have visited.
The restaurant itself is very country inspired, with little Nanna type decorations adorning the walls and locally made jams for sale on the shelves.
You can eat in or take away at Pie In the Sky, but you'll pay a couple of dollars extra to eat in. If you eat in, you can have sides of things like Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Sausages, Peas and more, brilliantly matched to an Autumn drive through the fog in the Dandenongs.
The pies themselves though are like none I've ever eaten before. The secret to the pies, is the deliciously flaky puff pastry. It's made in house and it's so, so good - it's what makes these pies so outstanding. The fillings themselves aren't your regular country fillings either. Things like Tandoori Chicken (my fave), Spinach and Cheese with Rice for the Vegies, Lamb Korma, Thai Green Curry and of course you've got your good old chunky Beef Pie. There are many more flavours but can't remember them all off the top of my head.
I love this place and can't speak highly enough about it. When I visit I often grab a whole bunch of pies to take away, so I can freeze them and heat them up myself at home when I feel like some country goodness!
My one tip though is to make sure that if you're getting a take away pie, that they get it out of a pie warmer and not from the microwave. Unfortunately if they've run out of the flavour you want in the pie warmer, they will heat them up in the microwave. These leads to soggy pastry and you will miss out on the magic that is the Pie In The Sky puff pastry.
Check out the cakes on offer too!

Best Pies and Amazing Pastry

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fried Blue Swimmer Crabs with Red Capsicum and Yellow Bean Dressing

Crabs. I'd never had them before and apparently, that's a good thing. I agree.
Wandering around the Vic Market the other day, I was looking for something interesting to cook for Friday night dinner. I came across these amazingly Blue, Blue Swimmer Crabs. I didn't really have any idea what I could do with them, I bought them and figured I'd work that out later.
Browsing through Ezard's latest book, Lotus- Asian Flavours, I came across this recipe, which sounded quite easy, so I thought I'd give it a go. It turns out that the recipe was in fact quite easy, but I won't be giving it to you, simply because I wouldn't recommend trying it. I will give you a basic run down though.
Firstly you need to clean the crabs by pulling up the top shells and rinsing the insides out and removing the gills. Once they're clean, cut them into quarters and marinate them in fish sauce.

You then need to make your dressing, which basically consists of coconut cream, chilli, Yellow Bean Paste, Garlic, and Shallots.
You then need to dip your crab pieces in rice flour and then deep fry for a few minutes until cooked and orange in colour.

Now you're ready to serve your crab with some lemon and coriander. But seriously, don't bother. We had 4 crabs between 3 of us and we sat there for about an hour picking through the pieces and barely got any meat out of the crabs, let alone enough to dip into the dressing. If we did attempt to dip any in the dressing, it would just fall into the liquid, gone forever.
I don't think I'll ever be making any recipes with crab in it again. It's a pain in the bum and waste of money. The crabs were $13kg and I reckon we got probably 200 - 300g of meat out of them. I had to cook an extra meal afterwards just so my guests could leave without being hungry. They do look pretty cool on the plate though. I used the top shell as a garnish- there's actually no meat in that top shell.


376 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras. 9755 2100

This was our second visit to Ripe in Sasafrass. The first time we visited we were there for lunch, but this time we were there to try some of their amazing cakes. I also promised myself that I would try the hot chocolate which is made by grating Lindt chocolate and pouring hot milk over the chocolate to melt it. More on that later....
There were a huge range of cakes and desserts to choose from and it was so hard to decide. But the fresh, locally picked Raspberries in the Raspberry Mousse cake were too hard to pass up. The cake was layered with sponge slices and Raspberry Mousse. It was perfect and the tangy, slight sourness of the grapes was a perfect contrast to the sweetness of the rest of the cake.
The hot chocolate I ordered was the Lindt Dark Chocolate. I ordered this, because I thought that the milk chocolate might have been a bit full on, being too sweet. Unfortunately, this was the case with the Dark chocolate too. It was way too rich to drink, I barely drank half of it. They obviously use too much chocolate in the drink and it just pools at the bottom of the glass.
When you get down lower in the glass, you get floaty, chocolatey, jelly type lumps, which really turned me off finishing the drink.
The idea of a grated lindt hot chocolate sounds great. Stick with the meals and the cakes I think and you'll be on a winner.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Pickle Barrel

60 Ferguson Street, Williamstown

A trip across the Westgate Bridge, led us to a little place I'd heard good things about recently, in the way of breakfasts. The place is called The Pickle Barrel- a kind of little cafe / deli type place in Williamstown's main shopping strip, Ferguson St.
We grabbed a seat on the street, which was protected from the chilly wind coming from Hobson's Bay by those big plastic blinds that most cafes have these days. The tables are small, barely enough room to fit your tea making 'equipment' on, let alone a plate as well.
The service here unfortunately doesn't come with a smile, but then again, I'm not sure if I'd be smiling if I had to work on a Saturday morning!
Once we had ordered our breakfasts, we had to wait a considerably long period of time to actually get our meals brought out to us. The place wasn't that big and they didn't seem overly busy, especially for a Saturday morning.
Rach and I both ordered the Poached Eggs, with Goats Cheese, Red Peppers and Prosciutto.
Let me start of by saying that the Eggs were perfectly poached. I don't think they could have been done any better. What let the whole thing down though was the fact that the Roasted Red Peppers had been kept in the fridge and were still really cold, so was the Goats cheese 'spread' that was smeared on the toast under the eggs. This brought the temperature of the eggs down as quick as soaking them in an ice bath. So, from perfectly poached eggs, we went to a totally cold meal. I'm not sure why the chef chose Prosciutto either for a breakfast plate. It was raw, chewy and just plonked on the plate. He/she probably thought it would be cool.
So, overall, kind of disappointing really, it could have been good, but a couple of minor adjustments like keeping the peppers and cheese at room temp and my breakky would have been great!

Perfect eggs gone wrong...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cheese Dreams

I've always agreed with the old wives tale that cheese makes you have weird dreams, especially if you have it a few hours before bed. I can pretty much guarantee that if I happen to visit one of our trendy little Pizza places in Melbourne and have a pizza topped with some snazzy cheese, eg Taleggio, Provolone, etc, that night, I will have some weird dreams.
No one seems to believe me when I tell them about this, so I recently found an article on a study in England which proves that cheese can make you have strange dreams and also help you to remember them. Apparently depending on the type of cheese you eat, you can also actually influence what you dream about!

Check out the article here:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Casa Iberica's Portuguese Custard Tarts

25 Johnston Street Fitzroy 9419 4420

If you've never been to Casa Iberica, it's basically the Spanish version of the Italian Mediterranean Importers in Sydney Rd. Casa Iberica is located in Johnston St, Fitzroy, just near Nicholson St.

They sell everything from Paella Pans, Chorizo, Cheeses and the prized Spanish Jamon. As well as selling all that Spanish goodness, they also sell these delicious little goodies - Portuguese Custard Tarts. These are the best Custard Tarts available in this town. They are baked in the most delicious puff pastry which is both crispy and slightly soft at the same time. The custard isn't too sweet, has a little hint of vanilla and has a nice little skin on the top. Everyone I've introduced these tarts to has fallen in love with them and keep asking me to get them more! You must try them, you must!!

A little word of warning though, I've noticed these little goodies tend to sell out by the afternoon, so try to get in there early if you can.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Healesville Harvest

What would a beautiful Saturday afternoon be without a drive up to the hills in the Yarra Valley. Being the Easter weekend, Healesville was amazingly quiet. Everyone must have either have been at the wineries drinking up their Easter cheer, or avoiding the smoke that was covering the town due to a fuel burn off in the nearby hills.
We stopped at Healesville Harvest for a bite to eat for lunch. We tend to drop by here most times when we're in the area. The food is reasonably priced and is sourced from local producers and growers.
Rach ordered the meatballs with fresh Tomato Sugo, Rocket Salad and fresh Harvest Bread. Served in a little terracotta pot, these meatballs are brilliantly homemade, moist and perfectly seasoned. They make for a great little lunch, especially with the bread and salad.

When I spied a row of bones sticking out of some sandwiches, I was intrigued and had to try one. What I ordered turned out to be a Veal Rib Sandwich. It wasn't a sandwich you could really eat with your hands, I mean the ribs were so big that the rye bread slices barely covered the meat. The Veal meat itself, was the nicest colour pink you have ever seen, it was juicy and so, so tender. The sandwich also included the fresh Sugo, which they must have made a big batch of that day. Layered in there was also some of that delicious bacon from the butcher's across the road - trust me when I say, this is the best bacon you will ever try anywhere.

Next was dessert. Rach ordered the sticky treacle like Pecan Pie. Normally I don't like Pecan Pie, but this was delicious. Not too sweet, not too full on. When Rach couldn't eat anymore, I happily obliged to finish it off for her.

I ordered the Wild Berry Frangipane Tart, which was delicious. Soft where it should be, slightly bitter in places and perfectly sweet in the rest. Both cakes were served with some delicious double cream.

Local country produce, big city taste


Tapioca Pudding with Tropical Fruits

I'd never tried Tapioca before and since I'd seen it in most of the Asian shops I've been into recently, I thought it was time to give it a try. This is a recipe I took from Surfing The Menu Again - this is one of Ben O'Donoghue's recipes. I'd always thought this stuff looked kind of like Tadpole Eggs, but trust me if you haven't tried Tapioca before give this recipe a go, it's sweet and has a beautiful after taste of vanilla, the best thing I can liken it to is Rice Pudding.


300g Tapioca
600ml Water
500ml Pouring Cream
500ml Milk
2 Vanilla Pods, split length ways
10 Egg Yolks
200g Caster Sugar
Tropical Fruit, eg Mangoes, Passionfruit, Kiwifruit, Bananas, Lychees


Place the Tapioca in a mixing bowl, add the water and set aside in a warm place for one hour. It will swell a little. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Combine the cream, milk and vanilla pods in a saucepan over medium to high heat. Bring just to the boil and add the Tapioca. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for about 15 mins or until the Tapioca is soft and transparent and the mixture is thick.

Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until combined. Add to the Tapioca and stir for 5 mins over a low heat. Allow to cool until slightly above room temperature.

Served topped with tropical fruit.

Bills 2, Surry Hills (Sydney)

I visited Bills a little while ago and was hesitant to write up this review because I respect the man. He started the first Bills when he was in Uni and has worked hard to be what he is today. He has three cafe's in Sydney, all of which are quite successful, he has his own international TV series, a number of highly successful cook books and is now the shiny face of Macleans Toothpaste. Not bad for a kid from Melbourne who moved to Sydney to study art.

Bill's whole franchise is based on simplicity, everything from the recipes to the design is simple. Which is what I'd heard about his food at his cafe's - simple food, done well. Well the rumours are right, it's simple food, but to put it bluntly, it was over priced and basically crap.

The Bills we visited was in Surry Hills, which is apparently similar to Melbourne's Fitzroy. To be honest, I live in Fitzroy and have never seen so many dodgy people wandering the streets as I did in Surry Hills. We sat outside, which was probably a bad idea considering.

Now to the food. I ordered Scrambled eggs with Bacon and Tomato. Just this plate totalled about $20! How was the food? Well, to begin with, cold. The eggs were literally a degree away from being too cold to eat. Admittedly, they did taste good, but they were cold all the same. The bacon, as you can see in the photo below was burnt and dry, as well as being cold too. You know how bacon gets when it's over cooked and it's all brittle and breaks apart in your mouth, it was just like that. The tomato was... well a tomato, nothing different here, apart from again... cold. I was beginning to think Bill was working on a Breakfast Salad, considering how cold everything was. To top it all off, the toast was so thick! I could barely get my mouth around it! No jokes, check out the photo! (...and cold)

Rach ordered the Ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter. The hotcakes were floury and chewy and of course to go along with the theme of the morning, cold!!

The service at Bills wasn't much better than the food, very few smiles, very rushed and you could say, cold! One saving grace though, was the coffee. The coffee was outstanding, some of the best coffee we have ever tasted anywhere. Maybe the barrista should start cooking in the kitchen!

How can a chain of cafe's be so successful when they let food like this go out of the kitchen? Have they just become to complaisant with their own success that they don't care what their food tastes like anymore, or that it arrives at the table cold? I think Bill should start forgetting about getting his head on television and whitening his teeth and get back in the kitchen and start concentrating on making his simple food - good again!

Over-priced, Over-hyped and Cold

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kangaroo Steaks with Sweet Potato Mash and Red Capsicum Relish

Ok, is everyone getting sick of my Geoff Lindsay / Chow Down / Pearl obsession yet? I hope not, because here's another goodie I made on the weekend from the Chow Down book.
This one was a very easy one, which required very little effort, but the flavours were interesting and compliment each other beautifully!

Roast a Sweet Potato in it's skin for an hour. This is essentially your mash. When it's soft inside, cut it open (careful, it's hot!!) and scrape out the sweet goodness and place into a bowl, mix in some butter and salt. There you've got your mash. Keep this warm until needed.

You'll need to make a Red Capsicum Relish. This is almost identical to the Red Piperade I made a couple of weeks ago for my Ezard Challenge. The only difference is that this one has Raisins mixed in it.

All you need to do now is cook up some kangaroo steaks on a griddle pan. You only need to cook them for about a minute each side, because they are best kept rare, due to their low fat content.

Oh, and you'll need some Snow Peas. I couldn't get any, so I used Sugar Snaps. Plate up your prepared ingredients and you have a great dish, which is sweet and sour (from the vinegar in the relish) and completely delicious!!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Jungle Curry

I'd always thought that Jungle Curry was an unbelievably hot curry, I mean, even the name suggests that the curry would include ingredients only found in the deepest, darkest depths of an Asian Rain forest. I was surprised to find that this was by no means the case. It turns out that Jungle Curry is my new favourite Curry. It's quite possible that there are many hotter and spicier recipes for Jungle Curry out there, but this one which I found in Geoff Lindsay's Chow Down Book, has some of the most interesting Asian Flavours that I've tasted.

Start off by making your curry paste. Bash up some white pepper corns in a mortar and pestle

A lot of the flavour in this curry comes from the Green Peppers in the paste. There are a couple of chillies in here, just 2 long green chillies, not too spicy. Similar to a normal Green Curry Paste, there's also Shallots, Garlic, Ginger and Galangal. Books always say it's better to bash up your pastes in a mortar and pestle, but to tell you the truth I'm over that. I have quite a big Mortar and Pestle and even then it's just all too messy. It's so much easier just to put all your ingredients into the blender or a food processor and just whizz it up. It might be less traditional, but it's much easier and less messy - that's what we want, isn't it!?

Mix some of the paste with the chicken and you can marinate it for a little bit if you like, but I just fried up the chicken once it was covered in some paste. Reduce some coconut milk in a saucepan and add more paste, now you've got your sauce. Have your beans ready and blanched. Stir fry some egg plant, your beans and the chicken in some peanut oil and add your sauce, and simmer for a few minutes.

Now you can add the magic ingredient, the fresh Green Peppercorns. The Peppercorns is where this dish gets it's slight spicyness from. It's so different to the heat from chillies, which is what sets this curry apart from others. I tried a few supermarkets before I found these babies, I found them at Carlton Safeway, however, I'm sure you could find them at a good Asian grocery store.

Serve the curry in bowls with some Jasmine Rice and garnished with some Coriander. Seriously, if you've never had this type of Curry before and you're into making curries from scratch at home, give one a go - it's the best!

Babka's Egg Loaf

358 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, +61 3 9416 0091

When I've slept in on a weekend and I can't be bothered cooking breakfast, one of my favourite things to grab is a Egg Loaf from Fitzroy's Babka. This slightly sweet loaf is just so nice and even better if you manage to get them still warm and just baked. You don't need to do anything special to it, you don't even need to toast it. Just whack some jam on it, I prefer home made Apricot Jam and you've got your breakfast done. At $4, you can't go wrong for an easy way to start the day! ...and despite what that guy from 'The Breakfast Blog' says, I love the service at Babka!

Stay tuned for my review on Babka's Hot Cross Buns, which year after year, have people lined up down the street (even on weekday mornings) waiting for them!