Axil Coffee Roasters

I do like the excuse to go food exploring in suburbs that I normally rarely visit. So the decision of our brunching group to move our focus from cafes around Melbourne Uni to cafes around Swinburne (wise move, since most of us don’t even go to Melbourne anymore!) was very much welcomed by me, as Hawthorn is a bit of a dark shadow on the map of my foodie knowledge.

Axil Coffee Roasters sits solidly on busy Burwood Road. It is a big, deep space, surfaces all decked out in a palette of dark greens and blacks, with splashes of exposed wood and vertical racks filled with pot plants (some of whom seemed to be struggling in the hot weather). The clientele is eclectic, with the requisite number of students, business folk and even some of Hawthorn’s genteel older guard. Axil clearly ticks a lot of bases for people.

The main base is, obviously, coffee. There’s a crazy amount of bean choices, drip coffee, filter thingies, and probably a whole heap of other crazy coffee options that are completely wasted on me. Overwhelmed by all this coffee new-fanglery, I retreated to the tea menu to see of there was anything to spark my interest. There’s a small selection of teas by Victorian tea company Larsen and Thompson, and I decided to go with the most interesting and unusual option, the white peony tea. While it didn’t have the light orange colouring promised by the menu notes, it had been properly brewed before reaching my table, meaning there were no tea leaves left to stew in the pot and sour the second cup. It was a subtle blend, starting off very quiet yet building up flavour with each sip. It wasn’t quite as floral as I’d expected (though floral notes are definitely present, beware floral loathers), but all in all a very satisfying brew worth trying.

Food-wise, it was a bit hard to single myself down to one dish, but I ended up going with the savoury French toast with spinach, sauteed wild mushrooms and truffled pecorino cheese, plus I added a side of haloumi that came with a lemon wedge. This was a good solid meal, everything was cooked well, the bread of the toast wasn’t soggy and was liberally coated in egg, and I was pleased to see that wild mushrooms meant a variety of mushrooms. I couldn’t help feeling though that, without the inclusion of the haloumi, it was all a touch bland. My suspicions were confirmed by Alison, who had ordered the same without haloumi, and opined that the dish as a whole lacked something. Perhaps next time I’ll order the corn fritters instead, Jess and Kim both had these and they looked colourfully fabulous.

It’s sometimes interesting to see how staff in a place react when things go wrong, rather than experiencing service where everything goes right. Towards the end of our eating, and just when some of us were getting a second beverage, a harried waiter came up to us and apologetically requested whether we would mind moving to a table outside. None of us were quite sure at this stage exactly why we were being asked to move, but we are nothing if not amiable folks and all pottered out to go sit in the sun. Once we were settled the harried waiter returned and explained that someone had taken a booking and not informed the other staff. He was very sorry that we’d had to move (we weren’t! We were in the sunshine!), and insisted on striking the price for all the drinks we’d had. We protested, but he won out, and in the end he not only didn’t charge for drinks but rounded down our bill as well. Crisis well averted, young man, and very happy customers you made in us!

Axil was for the most part an enjoyable place to spend a afternoon eating and chatting happily with friends. I might need to try a few more items on the menu to be entirely sold on the food options, but the beverages are good, the service more than obliging, and it’s just a nice spot to hang out.

Axil Coffee Roasters

322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn

Ph: 9819 0091

http://www.axilcoffee.com.au/

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Ladro Greville Street

Shameful confession time: I had never been to EITHER of the Ladros before I received an invitation from Joe to join him at the Prahran location for his birthday dinner. Me, who has such a love for thin-crust pizza. Heavens! This was an oversight I was terribly keen to rectify.

Now, I am going to tackle this particular review a little differently to my normal meandering method. While I loved Ladro’s food with a mad passion, there were several aspects of service that I found problematic. So I’m going to get all my grumps out of the way first before plunging into the delight of the food.

First of all, the waitstaff that we encountered were quite cold in demeanor. The gent in charge of our table was taciturn, unsmiling, and attempted to rush through our ordering in an unpleasantly brusque manner. Other staff were not quite so bad, but there was virtually zero interaction apart from “Your pizza is now in front of you, now WHOOSH! off I go into the night.”

Then there was the wait for food. Now, I am a deeply impatient person, I do not like to wait for anything (reason why you will never see reviews here of any of those places that don’t take reservations and you have to wait for hours to get in. “Two hour wait for tables?! FUCK OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOFF!”). But often waits for food can be alleviated by the quality of your company, and in the case of this Ladro visit I was in extremely good company, so I was happily distracted for a good while. But then that silence descended upon the table – you know exactly what kind – where everyone simultaneously realised that we’d been waiting a very long time for food. In all, we waited 45 minutes before any food reached the table. The space had not even been half-full when we ordered, and we received no word from waiters on whether our orders would be reaching us soon, even when it became obvious that we were all getting restless and muttering, making me think that perhaps this kind of wait is the standard. Disappointing.

Now, here’s the final doozy. Let me detail how you really tick Hayley off in a pizza restaurant: give her a pizza she has to cut up herself. Seriously, can this insistence on giving customers whole, uncut pizzas just die in the arse already? Or at least can we be provided with cutlery that can actually manage the job without causing extreme discomfort? The pointer finger on my fork hand nearly bent over backwards with the pressure of trying to cut through the crust, and I wasn’t the only one in our party nursing very sore hands afterward. Nor was I the only one muttering darkly that the cutlery was exactly the same as what’s provided at Lucky Coq, and at the very least their uncut pizzas are only $4!

Right, I promise that is the last gripe out of the way, now here’s the delicious goodness!

The pizza bases at Ladro are thin. Ever so thin. They crisp at the edges and bubble with air pockets that shatter into slightly charred triangles of crunchy delight. They not only manage to be crispy, but they are also chewy, the kind of satisfying chew that massages your molars. These bases are so damn good that when I was starting to get full I seriously considered scraping off the topping and just hoeing down on the carbs.

But that is not to suggest that the topping was bad, oh no! My boscaiola – flor di latte, porcini, field mushrooms and thyme – was a gorgeously rich spread, with abundant mushrooms and melty, stretchy, pungent cheese.

Indeed, every pizza that reached our table was a beautiful thing to look at. Clare’s potato pizza was all overlapping potato slices with the occasional dot of green in the form of rosemary and basil. Catherine’s salami delivered on it’s promise and was covered in equally-spaced rounds of red salami swimming agreeably in tomato and mozzarella, like an edible polka-dot pillow cover. Schaefer’s puttanesca was undoubtably the prettiest, all full cherry tomatoes and whole black olives perched on top, although Jojo’s gamberi e piselli came close, with big fat prawns surrounded by a fringe of green peas and basil.

Joe and Muffin had the best idea though, in that they shared a boscaiola and a Scout’s pizza (tomato, taleggio, caramelised onion, dressed rocket and parmigiano) between them. It was the best idea because even though these are great tasting pizzas, they are BIG pizzas, and having a single one to yourself does get a little arduous. Both Muffin and Joe expressed their satisfaction in having a bit of variety. So I will definitely be following their example next time.

So even with all my service gripes, I’m keen for there to be a next time? Yep! Ladro provided pizzas that were just as delicious and well-crafted as I had hoped to imagine, and there are plenty of vegetarian options that I am keen to explore (starting with the Scout’s pizza. Food envy!). Although I must admit that I’ll probably try out the Gertrude Street original before heading back to the Prahran location, in the hope that perhaps the level of service northside is a bit more polished.

Ladro

162 Greville Street, Prahran

Ph: 9510 2233

http://www.ladro.com.au/

Fonda

I was a little bit sad to discover that Fonda isn’t named after Henry Fonda. Can you imagine a Henry Fonda cafe? I can, and it’s GLORIOUS. There’s going to be a lot of design features based on 12 Angry Men. People with capital, hook me up, I can make all your Golden Hollywood-themed restaurant ventures come true.

But we are not here to talk of actorly Fondas, we are here to talk about Mexican Fondas. Specifically new Richmond eatery Fonda, which has taken the current Melbourne-wide craze for Mexican food by the horns and is pumping out simple tacos and burritos for rampaging hoards of foodies, all of whom seem to be repeating the phrase “Authentic Mexican!” with scary fervor (anyone else starting to develop a twitch whenever the word ‘authentic’ is used in food criticism? I sure am. Apart from the problematic nature concerning the subjectiveness of a word like ‘authentic’, I’m mostly annoyed that it seems to have become a stand-in for the word ‘good’. Authentic and good aren’t synonyms! And if you use authentic in place of good you sound like a ginormous snob and cause me to want to go eat a cornucopia of homogenized processed crap just to spite you. Because I’m horrible like that).

Anyway, bygones, let us sail onward! Aimee, Lucy, Amelia and I spent a sunny lunch at Fonda sitting at one of their outside tables. We were quite lucky to get a table at all, as the place seems to be constantly packed. Interaction with staff is kept to a minimum, there is no table service and you have to order at the inside counter (meaning that you have to make sure one of your party is camped on your table at all times, lest a desperate group of hipsters snatch it away from you while you’re looking for a menu).

Lucy and I got the vegetarian tacos, all green with cubes of zucchini and squash, scads of peas and a drizzly sauce of unknown herby provenance with a very slight presence of jalapeno, dusted with a delicate frizz of grated ricotta. We were fascinated by the texture of the soft corn taco shells, all cross-hatched and rough in our hands. They were clearly comprised of fresh produce, and came very quickly out of the kitchen, which is always heartening. I would think that anyone expecting ZING! from their tacos may find these examples a touch boring. But Lucy and I both found them to be incredibly tasty!

Amelia went with a fish taco, which had little crumbed strips of battered fish in them, which was a bit of an impressive sight. Like Lucy and myself, she thought everything was fresh and tasty, but baulked at the small size, especially in consideration of the price ($5 for veggie, $6 for fish). They certainly weren’t comparable in size to, say, Mamasita’s tacos, which are larger at around the same price, although I’m of the opinion that, taste-wise, Fonda dishes up the better taco (THAT’S RIGHT, I’M JUST FULL OF UNPOPULAR OPINIONS TODAY).

Indeed, the twin issues of portion size and price were collectively our biggest quibbles with Fonda. We’re not denying the quality of what is being served up, it just seems like everything should be a touch cheaper based on the size of portions. The tacos are quite titchy in particular, and even the more expensive and, one would assume, more filling burritos have small stage presence. Aimee’s chicken burrito (around $12.50-$14 from vague memory) had clearly high quality ingredients, yet seemed dwarfed by the plate it came on. Even the chips we ordered, covered in a thick and delightfully spice-laden chipotle sauce (seriously, that sauce is a winner, Lord of the Fries should poach it), were deemed to be of too small portions by Aimee and Amelia, considering their $5 price tag.

The only thing I personally felt to be a steal price-wise was the $3.50 charred corn or, as it should be called, corn-onna-stick. I LOVE CORN-ONNA-STICK. Half a cob of corn lightly basted in a slightly chilli-ish sauce, grilled and then sprinkled in more of the fluffy shaved ricotta. I probably could have eaten about ten of these quite happily. MORE FOOD ON STICKS PLEASE.

I wandered back to Fonda for a second visit last night with Rob to experience what their take-away service is like. While the food was much slower this time to make it out of the kitchen (I think we waited around 20-25 minutes, though we were told that there was to be a 15 minute wait initially), the staff seemed measurably more cheery and personable than on my first visit, and my veggie tacos were just as good the second time round. Rob was so pleased he could get a burrito without cheese (Rob has cheese problems. I know, it’s a sad affliction) that I think he was pretty happy on that score alone. Wait aside, I think take-away is probably the best way to experience Fonda if you find the space a little too bustling.

So, in conclusion, Fonda’s portions are on the small side and you’d probably be quite right to question the price of things, and it’s too frantic a place to truly relax in, but the food is fresh, competent and, sometimes, fast. Most importantly, it tastes pretty damn fine! And I’ll forgive a hell of a lot of sins if in the end the food is delicious. It’s definitely worth trying out at least once if you’re curious, and if you end up not being too keen, well, they’ve got half of Melbourne trying to get through the doors, they’re not going to notice if you slink sheepishly away.

Fonda

248 Swan Street, Richmond

Ph: 9429 0085

The Pint of Milk

Zooming over the Westgate Bridge in Jess’s Mini Cooper, I was in a state of complete over-excitement and was prattling away, as I am wont to do. “Look at all the ships! I wonder where they’re going…”

“I think you have a disturbing fascination with modes of transportation,” opined Jess.

“You like airports far too much, for instance,” Kim added in support.

This is all far too true, I have a great interest in planes, trains and automobiles. Clearly I like things that can be used to go exploring. I was particularly excited on this day that we were going to be exploring the surrounds of Williamstown (where I had never been before! How remiss), on the behest of our friend Claire, who totally rocks that hood. Central to our explorations was to be a lunch at The Pint of Milk in Newport.

Situated in a building that clearly used to be an old milk bar, The Pint of Milk is pleasingly designed. There’s a lot of distressed wood beam surfaces and walls, tasteful and sparing floral arrangements, and well-spaced tables. The staff are all smiles and the menu is intriguingly tantalising. However, as soon as my eyes lighted on the word ‘bagel’, and the waitress cheerily told me that of course I could have it without bacon, I knew what I was having. The bagel indeed turned out to be so popular that everyone on the table bar Claire ended up ordering it.

The bagel: buttery sauteed baby spinach with two poached eggs, covered in a fat pool of hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of sprouts on a white bagel. You might have noticed that this contains some of my very favourite things! The spinach was perfectly done, the hollandaise good and buttery yellow, the poached eggs all properly gooey. The only negative was that the eggs themselves had been poached in vinegar and left a slightly unpleasant taste of vinegar on the eggs. Most long time readers will know that this is a super Hayley no-no, because I always feel that vinegary eggs off-balances the hollandaise. But really the acidic taste was only slight, so you’re only getting a tiny finger shaking admonishment, Pint of Milk!

Beverage-wise I went with a chai tea, served black in a silver tea pot, and they give you a squeezy bottle of honey as a sweetener. I have never had non-milky chai before, and I have to say I was quite pleased with it. The spices come through a lot more clearly, and it is a very serious, contemplative beverage… until you drown it in honey like I did because squeezy bottles of condiments get me childishly overexcited.

Sadly I was too full to get stuck into what looked like a very promising selection of cakes (icing two inches thick! That’s how it’s done!) but this simply gives me impetus to return. If Williamstown and its surrounds contain more cafes and eateries the caliber of The Pint of Milk, I am going to have to don my explorer’s cap and head over the bridge more often. Keep the pioneering spirit alive!

The Pint of Milk

19 North Road, Newport

Ph: 9391 6641