Birdman Eating

A week after our first visit to The Hardware Societe, Phoebe phoned me up in a gleeful tizzy. “We get paid this week, we can have a real payday lunch!”

“Payday lunch!”

“Paaaaaayday lunch!”

“Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayday lunch!” (This went on for a while)

Once we’d stopped cheerfully bellowing at each other Phoebe asked me if there was anywhere I’d had in mind to visit lately. Since we also felt like we might like to do some vintagey shopping afterward, I thought somewhere on or adjacent to Smith Street would be the ticket, and suggested Birdman Eating, and I had recently read a few reviews that were either glowing or scathing, and I was keen to find out which side I would fall on.

“Good,” said Phoebe. “Let’s brunch it. And Emma’s probably going to come too!”

“Emma! Yay!”


“YAAAAAYYYYY…” etc, etc.

The three of us marshaled ourselves to Birdman Eating on a slightly damp Friday at the appropriate brunching time. I was immediately quite enamoured of the interior, with the little feathered mannequin dolls and vases with flowers hanging from the ceiling. It helped as well that it was much warmer than outside!

I had the black rice with coconut yoghurt and mango, mainly as I’m always intrigued to try other kinds of rice rather than plain ol’ white. The black rice had this amazing silky texture, there was something about it that almost made it seem fruity, like berries had been threaded through it, who knows what they did to get it like that. If you like a textural start to your day, this is where to get it. The coconut yoghurt was a refreshing contrast of tartness, and the mango was nice, although it was probably from a can given it’s the dead of winter right now.

Emma had the corn and broccoli fritters with smoked salmon. I was surprised at her choice to start the day with fish; even when I ate meat I was very much NOT a fan of seafood and never saw the appeal of fish-based breakfasts like kippers or kedgeree. “Fish for breakfast really wakes you up and leaves you with a fresh taste all day,” Emma said brightly. She paused. “Of course, then you get the fishy burps.” The fritters were brimming with corn and greenery, and they were HUGE! Emma tried hard to finish, but was defeated at the final fritter. She really enjoyed them, though.

Phoebe had the cheese kransky with poached eggs, grilled polenta triangles, and I think some bacon. This was a mountain of heavy-duty foods, with not even the relative lightness of the poached eggs providing much relief, particularly when Phoebe’s contentious relationship with eggs came to light. She was eying her egg suspiciously. “The poached egg looks a little funny.” “Do you have egg issues?” I asked. “I do! They’re… they’re just weird! But I’m trying to be better with them by ordering them as a component in dishes.” Phoebe also made a valiant effort to finish, but was eventually defeated by meats. Yet she enjoyed her meal well enough, though gave me a saucy grin afterward and whispered “Not as good as Hardware Societe.” Well, what is? Unfair comparison! (Can you tell we’re obsessed?)

As pretty much all of the scathing reviews I’d read were particularly focused on service and waitstaff who were apparently brimming in attitude, I was full of trepidations as to what kind of service we could expect to receive at Birdman Eating. We were lucky though, as we mainly dealt with a lovely girl in a floral headscarf who was all sunshine, told us the specials and was enormously cheery, dutiful and friendly throughout. I think luck might have something to do with the service at Birdman though, as we did come in contact with another waitstaff member who was a bit ‘tudey and didn’t crack a smile the entire time. It might have something to do with it being a weekday versus a weekend – I can imagine a place as popular as this getting quite overrun on a Saturday or Sunday morning and causing staff to develop acute tetchy-itis.

As to where I sit on the glowing/scathing review scale, I’m definitely ambling towards the glowing end, though would probably have to visit a few more times to be absolutely certain. It’s a very nice space, the food I sampled was good, and if you’re lucky enough to have a cheery serviceperson it’s a very pleasing way to while away a morning. It’s not the best of the best, but it’ll do very nicely.

Birdman Eating

238 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9416 4747

The Hardware Societe

Stop the presses! I think I have discovered one of the most enjoyable cafes so far in my blogging voyages. A place that I just want to keep returning to in order to try everything I can. So much so that I and a cohort have visited it TWICE in the space of mere weeks!

First visit: fellow food obsessive Phoebe and I decided to have a pretend payday lunch (where you ignore the fact that you still don’t get paid for another week and eat like you’re rolling in the cash), and out of my obscenely long list of places I plan to visit we decided on Hardware Societe. After a brief period of confusion where the question “is Hardware Street the same as Hardware Lane?” was answered with a resounding “NO”, we found ourselves cupping cute china cups while sitting on Hardware Societe’s outside tables, cooing at the handmade woolen tea cosies keeping our teapots nice and toasty.

Hardware has a standard menu, plus a daily rotating selection of savory tarts, empanadas, and desserts. I went with the tart of the day, broccoli and blue cheese. Normally I’m not much of a blue cheese person (it’s the “Oh, someone just put something that’s DEAD under my nose” smell that generally puts me a little ill at ease), but the smell was virtually annihilated in amongst all the broccoli goodness and allowed me to enjoy the deep, rich cheesy taste without being overwhelmed by any pungent wafts.

Phoebe went with the braised beef empanada with capsicum pesto on top. It was brimming with both beefs and gravy inside, crowned with a glowing orange mound of pesto. Phoebe attacked it with gusto, and declared it fab.

But enough of the comparative meaninglessness of savoury meals, WHAT OF DESSERT? Oh, this is where it gets fun. I had a piece of flourless orange cake that, surprisingly, had a thick layer of lemony frosting  and candied orange slices on top, and came out sitting in a veritable sea of cream and orange syrup. This was just heaven, the cake was deliciously moist and made more so by being very keen to soak up the sugary orange syrup; I ended up making my spoonfuls tinier and tinier in order to make the experience last as long as possible.

Phoebe had banana pudding, which was also served in a puddle of cream, and was sprinkled with pistachios. It was a deceptive pudding (in a good way!), as it was quite small yet was very dense in flavour and had a hefty fill-you-up clout. Phoebe enjoyed it immensely, and was full of nothing but praise when the chef popped out to ask if she had enjoyed it.

The second time Phoebe and I visited I wasn’t as vigilant in taking notes as to what we ate. I know I had a risotto brimming in peas and rocquefort (I’m not sure why every time I go to Hardware I seem to partake in stinky cheese dishes, it just seems to happen. And they are DELICIOUS, so it’s okay), Phoebe had some kind of chorizo stew special that she liked well enough but felt maybe needed a touch of parmesan to really give it a kick. But what really sticks in my memory is the creme brulee.¬† We both ordered one, and they came out on long wooden boards with a collection of white ceramic pots sitting on top containing the brulee itself and a gathering of condiments such as cream and berry compote. Crack! with the spoon and you are in a world of crystallised custard delights, and I quickly became a flurried blur of flying cream, custard and berries. It’s one of those dishes that is going to stay at the forefront of my favourite food memories for quite a while.

And all this isn’t even going into breakfast! I want to experience a Hardware breakfast so badly, but I’m going to have to learn to be more co-ordinated and actually get up early as they stop serving breakfast at 11.30. They have a brioche with kumquats thing, and gingerbread with honey, and a mushroom melange on toast… I’m sorry, I think I have to go lie down, food dream overwhelming.

A couple of survival notes: Hardware Societe is only open till 3 on weekdays so if you’re a lingering luncher like I am, get in early. Also make sure to bring plenty of cash as they don’t have card facilities.

The Hardware Societe

120 Hardware Street, Melbourne

Ph: 9078 5992

The Bell Jar

If someone had informed me that The Bell Jar has a mural in it’s courtyard OF A WALRUS, I totally would have beat down the pavement to visit it ages ago. The lure of Walrus-ness would totally have outweighed my fear of the cafe’s name (look, I read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar at MUCH far too young an age, and let’s just say in no uncertain terms that it completely scarred me for life x 1000). The fact that it is also a completely adorable, unpretentious place that dishes out some damn fine food is also a feather in it’s favour.

After our less than perfect brunch staff-wise at Lawson Grove Shop, it was truly delightful to walk into Bell Jar and be given a hearty greeting by both of the staff members on duty. They were amazingly friendly and up for a chat – Jen, who is a furniture fiend, had an investigatory convo with our gentleman waiter as to the provenance of their chairs, and the lady waiter was so apologetic and seemingly genuinely devastated that she couldn’t offer us the fritters we were originally keen on as they had run out of corn that I wanted to give her a hug while saying “It’s okay! We’ll have something else!”

We got very overexcited about the menu and ended up ordering a lot considering we’d already eaten quite a bit that day already. But I regret nothing! My main plate to sample was the ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter. If you like your sweets sweet, this is the sweet apocalypse. The hotcakes, with noticable seams of ricotta, were thick and gorgeous, and the banana and honeycomb butter… dear lord, it’s giving me a sugar rush just thinking about it. It was thick and the colour of caramel, with big soft toffee-ish chunks laced through it. It was huge and sweet and glorious, and probably a good way to go out if you were told you could never have sugar again. One last voyage into that syrupy world, leaving behind a divine, sustaining memory of bliss.

Jen had the jerusalem artichoke soup, which I managed to steal quite a few full spoonfuls of. So creamy, so filling, so amazing, people should just be having jerusalem artichokes in everything. GO, PUT THEM IN EVERYTHING.

Jen also got a roast veggie sandwich with pesto to take home with her. Didn’t get to sample any of it, but it looked hearty, with a fat middle of vegies in between seedy bread slices, and it did smell ever so good.

We als0 had lots of tea, obscene amounts of tea. So much better than what we had earlier in the day at Lawson Grove Shop (I don’t think I mentioned their tea in my original review, but yeah, it was this vanilla-infused stuff that didn’t really taste vanillary at all). Though it did mean that later during our watching of Broadcast News in Jen’s apartment we were constantly running off to the bathroom. The hazards of good tea!

Can’t finish without making a mention of the design aspects of the cafe, which ride the line between arty and whimsical in a very refreshing way. Dried flowers pop up out of jars, autumn leaves litter the big communal table out back, and there are arty little framed photographs everywhere (though that one in the toilet of the boy staring at a wall made me enormously sad). And of course THE WALRUS! HE IS GLORIOUS! And Bell Jar is also glorious, and well worth you visiting. I anticipate your future sugar coma.

The Bell Jar

656 Smith Street, Clifton Hill