Monk Bodhi Dharma

A couple of Sunday mornings ago, I waved The Boy off on his bicypede on his way to training, and realised that I had a good two hours to fill up before having to meet my friends at the Astor to watch Doctor Zhivago. Hmm, what to do, what to do. I decided to wander over to Balaclava in order to check out whether Las Chicas was quiet (read: less than 15 people waiting out on the pavement) enough to attempt getting breakfast. Alas, the pavement was thronging with masses of hungry-looking people with apparently dire hangovers requiring eggs, stat. I have limited waiting patience, so I was stumped for where I was going to eat.

“Hang on!” said a wee voice inside my head. “Isn’t Monk Bodhi Dharma on Carlisle Street somewhere?” “It IS!” I answered it excitedly (yes yes, I have conversations with the voices in my head, do not pretend to be SURPRISED). But where exactly? The little voice hesitated, and my mind started frantically trying to recall the various blog posts I’d read about the place. The little voice finally came up with “… behind the Safeway?”

I ambled to the Safeway, and lo and behold there was a little sign leading up an alleyway to a tiny brick hut. I had made it! And it was lucky I was a lone diner, because the little place was heaving at the seams. I slipped onto the end of a bench that faced the coffee machine, the last space, and eagerly looked to the menu.

Vegetarians should be very happy here, as I was when I saw the menu was completely veg-friendly. Yay! Let’s do a dance. I was of course completely seduced by the thought of a sweet breakfast, and despite seeing some absolutely massive bowls of bircher muesli floating around, I always figure if you’re going to go sweet you may as well go decadent. Hence I went with the Madagascan French toast, which was two slices of sourdough toast slathered in caramelised banana, citrus marscapone and a smattering of chopped pistachios. The carmelised banana was sweet, sweet, SWEET! Yet luckily the marscapone proved to be quite tart so my palate didn’t end up being overwhelmed, and the dish all together was quite delicious. I was very nearly defeated by the sheer size of it (portions at Monk are very generous, just how I like them), but never fear, your intrepid correspondent won out in the end.

Monk Bodhi Dharma seems to have attracted so much attention due to its coffee, they have single-origin beans and individual grinders and siphons and a whole lot of other technical-sounding stuff that I don’t really give a jot about seeing as I think coffee tastes like death. But what really IMPRESSED me (look, capitals, that’s how much I was affected) was that they also put equal effort into their tea, the true beverage of champions. My Irish Breakfast was infused for five minutes before it reached my bench, which means it was lovely and full bodied without the need to keep the tea leaves in the pot. It also meant no gross, over-steeped second cup, which is what happens with a pot left full of leaves. To pour out a second, perfect tea was such an overwhelmingly wonderful thing I quite honestly could have wept.

I was very impressed with Monk Bodhi Dharma, and am enormously keen to go again. The space and staff were both very welcoming, especially for a lone diner. If I’m not feeling nervous while somewhere new on my own and actually end up enjoying myself and feeling comfortable, that to my mind is indicative of a good atmosphere. My only quibble would be that, considering the small space, it may not be a place to go with a big group of people on a busy weekend. Otherwise, it really is a perfect little place.

I voyaged off to the Astor with a satisfied belly and a new cafe to place up among my favourites. And as for Doctor Zhivago, oh my goodness, it was amazing, get off your butts now and watch it and develop a severe crush on Omar Sharif or Tom Courtenay, or both, it’ll do you good.

Monk Bodhi Dharma

Rear 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava

Ph: 9534 7250

www.monkbodhidharma.com.au/

The Firehouse

There are some friends that are lunch friends, some that are dinner friends, some that are coffee and cake friends, and some are friends that you never want to see eat because the way they masticate foreshadows the end of worlds. My friend Kristen is a breakfast friend. Which means she is best kind of friend!

We used to do breakfast down at a place in Croydon, but the last time we went it was distinctly lackluster, complete with them serving Kristen an iced tea that was completely undrinkable (I don’t even want to know how that happens), so I was charged with finding somewhere new which, frankly, is a little hard out here in the outer east. But! I was driving down Maroondah Hwy not shortly after and was reminded of The Firehouse, which has had reasonable coverage in print media outlets, something of a small miracle considering no one goes to the outer east to eat unless you live there.

The Firehouse, as the name suggests, is in the old fire brigade station house, and is pretty much the cutest damn little place you could clap eyes on, with its red brick peeking out from between all the climbing ivy. Apparently they still have the original fire pole somewhere inside, but I couldn’t see it. So I’ll just imagine that there were firefighters whizzing down it all through our breakfast but I just couldn’t see them because they were also NINJAS.

Kristen had the hueveros ranchos: spicy baked beans, baked eggs, coriander and turkish bread in a big clay pot (with the bacon kindly omitted). This was huge! In fact everything at The Firehouse came in hefty sizes – I got a  grapefruit juice and later an earl grey tea that came in giant glasses. I am an advocate of big servings, but if you have a tinier appetite you might struggle a little; Kristen couldn’t finish her beans, despite loving them madly.

I had poached eggs with chive butter, hash brown and beautiful canary-coloured hollandaise sauce on turkish bread. This was pretty damn special. The poached eggs were perfectly done; a little ‘pop!’ with my knife tip and the yolks oozed all over everything. The hash brown had nothing in common with the flat, McDonald’s version that seems to crop up in a lot of cafe breakfasts lately, and was instead a hefty wedge of potato that when broken open was vividly fluffy. The hollandaise was divine, and the chive butter lended an extra tang to the dish that I worried was going to end up being overpowering, but actually ended up blending into the other flavours nicely.

The space is big, well plotted out and, well, friendly is the word I keep thinking. It’s like someone’s opened up their house for you. A house that used to have a firetruck in it. If the house is full there’s a nice area (vestibule! I’ve always wanted to use that word) just inside the front door with squishy couches to sit on and chat while you wait for the tables to free up. No clambering outside the door in the cold!

It turned out that Kristen had an ulterior motive in us going out to breakfast. She had a present for me! And get ready to gird yourself against the sheer awesomeness that is this gift. Girded? Good.

She knitted me… a DALEK!

He is orange and green and a fuzzy, cuddly woolen ball of DOOM! He sits on top of my telly, menacing my stuffed Totoro with his proboscis (don’t worry, Totoro’s a nature god, he doesn’t take no crap from some punk-ass robot alien). Thank you so much, Kristen, he is wonderful.

The Firehouse

253-257 Maroondah Highway, Ringwood

Ph: 9876 8100

www.thefirehouse.net.au

Get Your Quince On

Shhh! I’m not supposed to be here! I’m supposed to be writing an essay about the architectural spaces in Rear Window and North by Northwest and thereby not failing my masters. But I had to slink away all subterfuge-like to come and tell you two things:

1. I am now on Planet VegMel! Which is the place where you can find all of Melbourne’s vegetarian and vegan blogs in the one handy place. Hooray!

http://planet.vegmel.com/

I think as contributors we all need badges and a secret handshake. Oooh, and hats!

2. I never intended to use this blog for recipes, mainly because I actually don’t get into the kitchen as much as I should, but my mother and I have been experimenting with quinces and discovered an AMAZING recipe for poaching quinces that we found on a flyer that Mum was pretty sure she’d picked up from our local orchard, so I figured I’d share it in lieu of a review.

OVEN BAKED QUINCES

  • 1.75 litres water
  • 1kg caster sugar
  • 2kg quinces (approximately 6 medium quinces)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (big ones!)
  • 1 x 3cm piece ginger, peeled and sliced (we used 2 pieces of ginger than were a damn sight bigger than 1 x 3cms, but then we are ginger fiends)

Preheat oven to 180*C.

Put the water and caster sugar in a medium sized saucepan and heat together, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved.

Peel the quinces, cut in half and discard the cores. Place them in a single layer in a large baking dish (warning, you’re going to need a big-arse baking dish with deep sides to accommodate all the sugar water. We had to upgrade in baking dishes a couple of times and still ended up not being able to fit all the water in). Scatter the cinnamon sticks and ginger on top and pour the syrup over the quinces. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake the quinces for about two hours, or until they are a deep orange-red colour and very tender.

Seriously, this is the best way I’ve found of using quinces. After they’d cooled down from their bake we just popped them in tupperwear with their syrup and stuck them in the fridge. Since then we’ve been having them on cereal, with cream or ice cream, or even just with the syrup. Mum made a cake out of them tonight!

Seriously, quinces, get on that. Nom, nom, nom… Now, back to essay. And you never saw me here!

Tusk

Disclaimer: this post totally confirms my status as a inner-north loving, hipster snob. South-siders, you’re probably about to be offended. Sorry. At least you have Balaclava.

Despite having worked on Chapel Street for over two years now, I’ve never been able to bring myself to actually like the place. I’ve tried to develop at least a vague fondness for the sake of my friends from that side of town for whom Chapel Street is a constant in their lives (I tell you, trying to convince a devoted Chapel Street-er to come and socialise in the CBD, let alone anywhere north of there, is an impossible task doomed to failure), but so far it’s been a bust. The place is tawdry, ridiculously expensive for no good reason, and is for the most part a wasteland when it comes to food.

So whenever I come across a Chapel Street venue that not only has a nice enough atmosphere that I’m not wailing inside my head “EURGH, CHAPEL STREET, EUUURGH” every five seconds, but actually has some pretty sweet nibbles to go with it, you bet I’m going to trumpet it!

Tusk is one of The Boy’s favourite places to luncheon, and he and a group of his friends are staunch regulars. So much so that they’ve built up a great rapport with their regular waiters, to the point where during my visit with them one was encouraged to recount the latest installment of the musical he’s been writing (see, if I wasn’t such a cafe flibbertigibbit and went to a place enough times to actually be a regular I could experience things like this all the time. But then again the blog would get very monotonous. And I could also be constantly terrified that all waitstaff were always just about to sing).

I was feeling in the mood for something hearty, with a side side order of something with an obscene number of carbs. The cheese and mushroom arancini with napoli sauce were three big balls of warm, gooey rice goodness sitting on a bed of greenery. Nothing mind-blowingly special, no surprising flavours, but warm and cheesy with a smooth, tasty napoli sauce on top flecked with crumbled slices of parmesan. Sometimes I think there’s nothing more comforting than arancini.

The Boy went with the chicken and scallop skewer, and we both had a bowl of wedges each (I wanted shoestring fries but they were sadly out, and I decided I’d rather have wedges NOW than wait for them to get more fries).

Now I was a little suss about the wedges because they cost $9 (NINE!!!) and I was thinking little sarcastic thoughts to myself like “They better be covered in edible gold dust or something. Who charges nine dollars for wedges?” (Well, my workplace for one charges considerably more than nine dollars, for a piss-weak amount of potato, too). I needn’t have been so untrusting, because a bowl with a MOUNTAIN of potato-y joy came out. They were crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, perfect. And so many that I couldn’t finish them all which, well, I can’t remember the last time that happened in the grand affair between me and the noble pomme de terre.

The Boy enjoyed his skewer greatly, though I questioned only getting one skewer for the price, which from what I recall was similar to the price of the wedges. “But it’s got scallops, they’re expensive,” he said. I haven’t eaten seafood in so long I have no idea the value ratio of a scallop, so let’s believe The Boy.

The menu was full of other interesting, more veg-friendly items: vegetarian dumplings (which some of the other girls had and they looked very fresh, and big!), grilled saganaki (which I was so close to ordering, is there anything so wonderfully decadent as a big slab of grilled cheese?), and old standards like dips, vegie burgers and pizza.

What is most enjoyable about Tusk, however, is the space itself. It’s all big windows trimmed in stained glass panels inside, with an expansive seating area outside under trees. But who wants to sit outside! Especially in this wintery weather, brrr. No, stay inside all cosy underneath the retro green lamps, and as it gets dark watch the stained glass glow in the light of the just-lit candles and cradle a cup of tea and think to yourself, “It’s almost as if I’m not on Chapel Street at all.”

Tusk

133 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ph: 9528 1198