Lawson Grove Shop

The most fabulous and marvelous Jen texted me the other week inviting me to join her for brunch at a little cafe in her neighbourhood. “Service can be weird,” said the message, “but food is mostly good!” Colour me intrigued!

Lawson Grove Shop is located on the ground level of a gorgeous art deco apartment block, and so hidden away that you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you were a local… or lucky enough to have a local show it to you! The space is quite amazing – it’s a big basement room full of wood floors and paneling, quite rustic in a way, and true to it’s name, it provides shelves and fridges full of foodie products  in a more gourmet update of the local shop.

The service was, well, Jen’s word for it was ‘weird’ but I would go with ‘disinterested’. No one greets you or comes to bring you menus, you have to get everything yourself, and when you do interact with staff they seem to wish for nothing more than for you to not be there. The glum-looking girl behind the counter who we gave our order to seemed to stare right through us, and since my visit I have heard tales of outright hostility from staff towards customers, which worries me. The space is so gorgeous it really deserves a staff of people who are excited by it, and are not making customers uneasy.

As for food, we both went with the poached eggs on sourdough with grilled tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms and relish, although Jen stuck with the original inclusion of bacon while I subbed it for spinach.

What was fab: the poached eggs were perfectly runny and hot, and no trace of the hated vinegar. The spinach was brill as well, only just wilted so it was still bright green and springy, with a light dusting of pepper and salt.

What was meh: all the other components didn’t leave much of an impression. The mushrooms were okay, I ate one half of the tomato but left the other as it had a big black blemish on the outside, and the avocado was as good as they’re going to be out of season.

We also shared a wee orange cupcake with passionfruit icing. Jen, who had quite an impassioned rant about the lack of taste in most cupcakes these days (we both agree the problem lies mainly with the icing – too much of it and too little flavour) was a little disappointed and decreed it not to be of the highest echelon of Lawson Grove’s baking skills. As for myself, not being the expert, I was pretty damn pleased with it – despite the very base being a tad overcooked, the cake itself was bursting with the taste of orange, being very reminiscent of flourless orange and almond cake (though I’m pretty sure this was a wheat flour cupcake, sorry gluten-freers). As for the passionfruit icing, it was very thinly spread across the top, but the flavour of it, it was so strong and vibrant it practically danced around my mouth.

When it comes down to it, I think Lawson Grove Shop could be a great little place, but it’s clear problem food-wise is inconsistency. My breakfast eggs could have been truly great if it wasn’t for those luckluster elements, yet the little cake offered a really exciting flavour punch that will easily entice me back to try more of Lawson Grove’s baked goods, if nothing else. But despite wonderful cakes and a truly beautiful space, I just can’t get over the bad vibe that emanated from the staff. So, go for baked goods, but don’t blame me if your head gets seared off by the angry gaze of someone glowering from behind the counter, you’ve had warning enough!

Stay tuned for the second food adventure Jen and I took on this day, an across town late lunch at the very impressive (and impeccably staffed) Bell Jar.

Lawson Grove Shop

1 Lawson Grove, South Yarra

Ph: 9866 3640

Basque

“You know,” said The Boy as we sat down at the table at Basque. “It’s really hard to find a good place for vegetarians on Chapel Street.” I had charged him with the task of procuring a place to dine for the evening, because he is very ingenious and often comes up with places I’ve never heard of. But he does have that unfortunate fascination with Chapel Street common to many south-siders of my acquaintance. “Of course Chapel Street is rubbish for vegos!” I retorted. “Except for Veg Out Time. And Tusk. And Oriental Tea House is okay. But otherwise, rubbish!” Many decisive hand gestures accompanied this grand, sweeping statement.

Well, if you are vego and wandering lost and hungry upon that infernal strip, you could do a whole lot worse than to go to Basque. This Spanish restaurant lists an entire page of vegetarian tapas dishes in its menu, and although not all that we sampled was top notch, the ones that proved delicious were addictively so.

There was a lot to choose from, and it took a long while for us to settle definitely on what we wanted, but in the end we went for the ‘ensalada de garbanzos’: chickpea salad with green capsicum and carrot slivers and smoked paprika; the Spanish organic vegetable tortilla with aioli cream; and the ‘patatas bravas’: fried potato chunks sprinkled with smoked paprika salt, served with garlic aioli.

The chickpea salad came out first, with glistening chickpeas and strips of carrot and green capsicum liberally covered in paprika. The first mouthful took my head clean off. Dear god, it was nearly death by paprika. I downed my whole glass of water within two or three mouthfuls of the salad, and my mouth was buzzing wildly. The chickpeas were so well done, creamy and soft without being mushy, and I wanted to keep eating them, but the damn paprika was so strong I had to stop. The Boy had no such stung tastebud difficulties, however, and happily devoured the rest of the salad.

With a shocked and sulky mouth now, I was feverently praying that the next dish would be less of a taste riot. Luckily I was saved by the vegetable tortilla. The Boy was a wee bit confused at its presentation and asked “Did we order a quiche?”, but it turns out that a Spanish tortilla is markedly different to its more well known Mexican cousin, and does indeed look like a nice thin slice of quiche. This was the perfect way to refresh my mouth with subtle flavours, the potato and zucchini slices in the tortilla pleasing with gentle prods of tasty vegetable goodness. Totally cleansed my palate, which was just what I needed. The Boy nominated it his favourite dish of the night.

I was full of trepidations while awaiting the third dish, the patatas bravas, as the menu had promised that they too would be covered in paprika. I was fearful! They came out, little bite-sized cubes of fried potato glistening with the red powdery sheen of spice powder, all gathered around a pot of shining aioli. I gathered my courage, skewered one on my fork, dunked it in aioli, and popped it in my mouth.

It was… GLORIOUS!

You know I love anything to do with potatoes, but these golden little gems were a revelation. The paprika, instead of overwhelming all other components as in the chickpea salad, merged with the perfectly crisp potato to give a little kick of spice that was expertly contrasted by the cooling aioli. I could have eaten the entire (quite large!) bowl full all my myself, and once The Boy realised how much I was enjoying them, well he let me clean up the remaining pieces in the bowl, which I did so, with enthusiastic relish!

As we were anticipating that the remainder of our evening was going to feature a pair of the Astor’s decadent choc ices (infinitely superior to your local multiplex’s choc top), we opted out of dessert, although I finished off with a glass of sangria, as it seemed the correct thing to do.

Basque was a fun evening out. Although one dish wasn’t to my taste, the others certainly made up for it. Though I must admit the live Spanish guitar band that played throughout our entire meal made it a bit difficult to carry on a conversation: the lilting guitars were frequently punctuated by loud yells of “WHAT?!” by either me or The Boy, till we gave up and spent the rest of the meal conducting conservation via increasingly elaborate mimes.

Basque

159 Chapel Street, Prahran

Ph: 9533 7044

www.basque.com.au

Wood Spoon Kitchen

No sooner had I waved Jess off to LA then I had to say cheerio to another of my friends who was heading overseas. It’s clearly the time to travel! And I am jealous as all hell! (Hayley, you got to go to Sweden last January, don’t get greedy)

Anyway, the delightful Miss Brinkman was most keen to see me before jetting off to London, and suggested that we do so by having dinner at Wood Spoon Kitchen, which she had discovered earlier in the week and became so enamoured with that she made several repeat visits in that week alone. I was excited as I had heard across the blogospheres that they do ongiri very well, so heck yes I was down for this plan.

We firstly ordered edemame, which is to be expected, you all know I can’t pass it up. And they were good, as expected (I seriously have never had bad edemame anywhere. Maybe you know different, though, are there places I should edemame-avoid?). We also got ourselves some agedashi tofu, which was vegan. Hoorah! In fact there’s a lot of vegan goodness at Wood Spoon, and all clearly marked on the menu. I was intrigued by this dish as instead of a traditional dashi-style broth it came out sitting in a puddle of soy sauce dressing. It was still delicious, the soy all soaked up into the crispy outside of the tofu resulting in that seductive contrast of saucy yet crisp outside with the melty tofu-gasm within that makes me write love letters to agedashi tofu pretty much every day.

On to the ongiri set, of which you can choose three from a rather extensive list; we ended up going with seaweed, teriyaki beef and sansai (Japanese mountain vegetables, and including bamboo shoots and mushrooms). The ongiri were served with yet  more edemame (never a bad thing) and tart pickled vegies.The seaweed one had standard seaweed salad threaded through it and was nice, and Miss Brinkman heartily tucked into the teriyaki beef, but my heart belonged to the sansai, oh my, it was wonderful. There’s something about sansai vegetables that I find so unusual and refreshing, I can’t get enough of them. The ongiri themselves held their shapes well as you bit into them, yet were not gluggy or gluey at all, very well done.

For her main Miss Brinkman went with the miso soup with ramen, sweet potato, pumpkin, vegies, tofu and chicken breast, which is her favourite dish. Needless to say, she liked it, she liked it a lot! For my main I had the vegie goma udon with sansai, egg, lotus and beancurd in homemade sesame dressing. This was the only dish that I wasn’t overly fond of, and actually left only half eaten, but I think this was more due to a misunderstanding by myself as to what the menu description actually meant. I figured that ‘sesame dressing’ meant a very light sauce, and was definitely not expecting a dish that was covered in a very thick dressing the texture and consistency of satay sauce. I am extremely un-fond of satay sauce, and found after I’d extracted the vegetables that I didn’t feel up to eating noodles covered in something so reminiscent of that sauce most unpleasant to my palate, so decided instead to focus on gobbling up the remaining edemame. I’m sure, however, people more in love with thick sauces than me would have enjoyed the dish.

I think I am starting to subsist near purely on plum wine. I may have an addiction. I have it every time I go out for Japanese, and as you may have noticed I go out for Japanese quite a bit. Maybe it’s all part of a greater Japanese food addiction. Miss Brinkman will not help me here, she is a Japanese food-eating facilitator! And once she returns to Melbourne’s fair shores expect more of our Japanese cuisine adventures.

Wood Spoon Kitchen

88 Smith Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9416 0588

http://www.woodspoonkitchen.com/

Torch

Finally, for the first time in this blog’s short history, I get to review blintzes! YAY! My blog title is no longer redundant.

So all the ladies were getting together to have a lunch for Jess who was flying away to LA the next day, and she’d nominated Demetri’s Feast as her preferred lunching location. But when we arrived there they didn’t have enough room for our big-ish group (seriously, that space is teeny! Will have to go there for a two-person food date, I think, might be easier to nab a spot), so we ended up decamping across Swan Street to Torch.

Sorry if my food descriptions are a bit vague or if I forget a few ingredients, we were sitting slap bang up against the very open kitchen and I was feeling a little too self-conscious to whip out the blog book and start jotting things down.

To the blintzes! They were cheese cream filled with stewed berries, and I must admit when they were placed in front of me I thought to myself, “Hmm, they’re a little small.” They may have been small, but they packed a punch. Little crepey pockets liberally stuffed with cream cheese that was just so very smooth, and smeared with a concoction of berries that left a blue-purple stain on everything they touched. I was very happy to make my plate into a giant smear indicating previous berry occupation, they were gorgeous.

As for my other dining companions, Rola and Jess both had the grilled sourdough with avocado, marinated fetta and lemon. Rola added poached eggs and salmon; Jess added a poached egg and mushrooms (our waiter was very happy to let us add and subtract things from the dishes, I always like a kitchen that doesn’t make a fuss over such things). There was much “Mmmm”-ing and other satisfied food noises from both parties, and each subsequently declared their dishes to be quite fab.

Kim went with ‘Tim’s breakfast sandwich’ – bacon, tomato, poached eggs… and some other stuff! Probably something green. It looked great whatever else was in it, and was so big that Kim struggled a little to finish it all. Yet she endeavoured, and gave a thumbs up afterwards.

E had the chicken foccacia – chicken, avocado, basil pesto on lovely linseedy-looking bread (I immediately had severe bread envy from clapping eyes on it). This looked AMAZING! I was unfortunately negligent in remembering to ask E if she enjoyed it and why, but considering that it all disappeared speedily I figure it must have been at least good enough to fill a hole.

I really enjoyed visiting Torch. We sat for a good three hours just chatting and nibbling. It was pretty quiet, but there was a slow dribble of what seemed to be regulars throughout the day who seemed very happy and comfortable to sit and read newspapers or chat with the staff over their latte. And I want to go back to try the savoury side of the menu, perhaps accompanied by a bottle of the pear cider that I spotted in the drinks fridge just before leaving. Mmm.

Torch

178 Swan Street, Richmond

Ph: 9428 7378