Pillar of Salt

Wednesday brunch rolled around yet again, and surprise of all surprises, Bennett actually offered up the suggestion of a venue this time. Excellent! Of course, he then ended up running late to his own brunch and turned up to find that we’d all ordered without him, because we are terrible, terrible people. Also hungry people.

Pillar of Salt sits on a corner in Church Street, and is deceptively bigger than it appears from the street. Go through the front room past the coffee machines and it turns out that there’s a big courtyard out the back that catches sunlight on a hot day like no-one’s business. It is a haven for suits, and quite a few power-brunches seemed to be occurring around us.

Conscious that it had been a good long while since I went with a sweet breakfast, I decided on the blueberry and pear bread with vanilla bean mascarpone, toasted oat crumbles and spiced poached pear slices. The bread itself was a little dry and crumbly, but luckily it was resting on a sizable pool of stewed blueberries that provided enough tasty, sweet syrup to soak up with the bread. The mascarpone was thickly whipped and sweet, the pears nicely spiced and had been poached just so they still had a whisper of a ghost of firmness to them. Best of all were the toasted oat crumbles, little crunchy nuggets of yum! Alison also went for this option, but ended up being slightly defeated by the sheer girth of the bread slices. It’s a hefty brekkie, so don’t take the challenge lightly.

I was keen on the food, but the pot of Five Senses earl grey tea I also ordered can only be classified as an unforgivable disappointment. It arrived at the table in a cute little iron pot very promptly after I ordered it… a little too promptly. One taste confirmed why – it was hideously, disgustingly over-steeped. The kind of over-steeping that can only occur over a period of at least 10 minutes. Making me think that perhaps my tea had actually been someone else’s forgotten or canceled order. Which really shouldn’t happen, ever. Tea isn’t like a slice of cake or a sandwich, once poured it won’t keep until someone else wants it. It just gets super gross.

Kim had the corn fritters with smoked salmon, avocado and coriander salsa with a poached egg. The salsa alone certainly looked impressive, and had I not been so intent on ordering sweet I probably would have gone with this, and most likely heartily enjoyed it.

Pat went with the eggs benedict with smoked ham, apple cider hollandaise and a shaving of granny smith apple pieces on brioche. It looked delightfully old school, and Pat was very pleased by the inclusion of apple and said that it lent the dish both a sense of lightness and some interest texturally.

Due to the fact that he was late, combined with a strange rule that means the kitchen at Pillar of Salt takes a rest between 11.45 and noon, Bennett received his meal quite a long time after we all received ours. His lamb salad, with an array of greens, red onion, heirloom tomatoes and paprika-sprinkled rectangles of feta looked ample and fresh, although he ended up ferrying a lot of his feta over to Kim (why do I have so many friends with cheese problems?).

As we were paying I got a close look at the cake and baguette cabinets, and all the items within looked incredibly impressive, from the fat, generously iced banana and coconut cupcakes to the handsomely overflowing baguettes. In fact, all the food I saw and sampled at Pillar of Salt was very enjoyable, and I’d be interested in trying more of it. Should there be any subsequent visits, however, I’ll probably stick to juice and avoid the tea options. I just can’t take abuse towards tea lightly.

Pillar of Salt

541 Church Street, Richmond

Ph: 9421 1550

http://www.pillarofsalt.com.au/

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T’relek

Being known as “the foodie” in amongst all your friends and acquaintances can sometimes become a bit of a chore. Most of the time it’s great fun, I love taking people to places that I enjoy and seeing how they react to them, but often times people will be expecting you to, one, always be the person to come up with suggestions for places to eat, and two, have intimate knowledge about every single restaurant, cafe and hole-in-the-wall across the city (I have a hard enough time remembering my own birthday let alone knowledge of that scope!). So it comes as a great relief to be invited out to venues that other people have chosen, and it’s an added bonus when it’s a place I know nothing about.

T’relek came as a suggestion from Lucy, who Amelia, Nik and I were taking out for a celebratory birthday dinner. It’s one of hundreds of Vietnamese places lining Victoria Street, and appears a little more upmarket and shinier than some of the others that I’ve frequented: the surfaces are all glossy and sleek, the light fittings bright and modish, and the entire windowed front of the restaurant can open out into the street, so even in hot weather it’s comfortable.

If you’re eating Vietnamese, you simply have to start with a serving of Vietnamese-style spring rolls, it is the law. I love how thin and long Vietnamese spring rolls are, and how you eat them by balancing them on a leaf of lettuce, loading it up with beanshoots and Vietnamese mint, rolling it up and then immersing it in dipping sauce. It is one of the most happily meditative food experiences that I know of.

After a bungle by the trainee waitress, who thought that we’d wanted to order rice paper rolls, we were presented with two plates of spring rolls, one vegetarian, one prawn. They were crispy and hot, with a minimally flavoured centre, although that doesn’t really matter when we were wrapping each roll up with fresh mint, beanshoots and carrot curls and then dunking them in chilli-flecked sauce. But there were a few hiccups. We did have to ask for more lettuce (we were originally only given two leaves, which for four people… yeah, not enough), and I am pretty much 99% certain that the dipping sauce contained fish sauce, which is a big fat screaming vegie no-no. I really should have asked for clarification before ordering, but I have become spoiled because this town is generally so good with vegie dishes. And really, if you list a dish as vegetarian, the ‘vege’ extends to the condiments! As for the prawn specimens, the overall verdict appeared positive, although Amelia opined that she’d had better spring rolls on Victoria Street (Amelia appears to have eaten at pretty much every restaurant of note along Victoria Street, so I’d heed her word).

For the main, I ordered the rice noodles with vegetables. The noodles were flat rice noodles (the kind used in char kway teow), with the vegetables consisting of snowpeas, carrots, beanshoots, two varieties of mushrooms, some dense yet tasty slabs of tofu and one single lonely green bean. It was an enjoyable enough dish, albeit simple, the rice noodles retaining that fabulous smoky taste from being wok fried, and the vegies were well-cooked and tasty. The one negative was that it was quite oily, which got a little unpleasant towards the very end.

As for the carnivores, they shared three dishes between them, a chicken and vegetable dish that looked slightly curry-ish, a beef and vegetables dish, and the salt and pepper squid. Amelia raved about the squid, and Nik rated both the squid and the beef as his favourite dishes. Lucy was a fan of the chicken, so all three dishes ended up striking someone’s fancy, which is a pretty boss strike-rate.

T’relek is a friendly place that seems to be doing it’s hardest to attract a more discerning clientele. It is sparkling clean and modish, and the service is very attentive; after our waitress’s initial bungle, the head waiter kept a close eye on us, made sure that everything was okay whenever something new was brought out, and was overall jovial. At the end of our meal we were given a free plate of orange slices to finish with, which is always a gesture I can’t help but feel is charming. Yet I can’t wholeheartedly recommend T’relek for the veggie folk, as I don’t feel at all confident that they are as terribly vigilant about keeping their vegetarian options as meat-free as they could be. Perhaps if you plan on visiting, prepare to be more interrogative about what’s in dishes than I was.

T’relek

166 Victoria Street, Richmond

Ph: 9427 1777

Lowlands

Attending Women of Letters is fast becoming a very good excuse for exploring the culinary options around Thornbury. And the merest attempts at research uncovers the fact that there are many interesting-looking places to choose from up around there! So with Muffin, my mother and Muffin’s sister Bec in tow, we made our way up to the farthermost reaches of High Street to have a gander at Lowlands.

It was an utterly stinking hot mess of a day, and as a result when we arrived all of the indoor seating was taken up with people inching as close as they could to the one industrial-sized electric fan. But we were blessed with fortune, as Lowlands has an outdoor seating area out the back in their picturesque kitchen garden that is under cover.

On such a hot day, it seemed only sensible to order a glass of rose lemonade. It was beautifully presented, a cheery light green fizz of bubbles with a sprinkling of red rose petals on top. Ridiculously refreshing, and it reached an agreeable balance between the tart lemon and the sweet rose syrup. Mum ended up having two glasses!

Once I’d been distracted from all the kitchen garden plants which seemed to be in full summer bloom (so many rambling nasturtiums!), I turned my attention to the food options. If I see a cooking term that I’m unfamiliar with on a menu, odds are I have to order that item in order to sate my curiosity and ignorance. So I had to make sure that I experienced the shirred eggs once I saw them. What could shirring mean?

My mother (who is a far better culinary expert than I am) explained that shirring involves cracking eggs into little, generally ceramic, containers, then putting those containers in a pan filled with water and then baking them in the oven, using basically the same method you would use with a steamed pudding. Exciting cooking revelations!

The vegetarian shirred eggs were served with two slices of bread sitting on a pool of cherry tomato relish (agreeably sweet, I’m not normally one for relish but this one I scooped up as much as I could), with three big, fat, juicy pieces of haloumi skewered with rosemary sprigs. The shirred eggs themselves had a consistency just a touch stiffer than poached eggs, but the yolks were still runny enough that I could spread them all over the bread. But of course the real winner was the haloumi skewers, because haloumi is ALWAYS the winner, these are the facts.

Muffin had other variety of shirred eggs on offer, with pea and broad bean mash, fat pieces of chorizo, and an array of greens that we hazarded could possibly have been kale. It was a good and hearty plate that was by all accounts a riot of exciting flavours; Muffin made particular comment on the pea and broad bean mash being quite delicious.

Bec had the eggplant couscous salad, which had the advantage of looking both delicious and full of health. I was particularly jealous of the big round of roti it was served with.

Mum, after much hmm-ing and haw-ing (well, we all did a bit of haw-ing, everything on the menu sounded all types of good), ended up going with the avocado toast that the menu promised it came “with 100% toast coverage.” And the menu was not lying! It did indeed come with masses of bright green avocado speckled with cracked pepper and salt crystals. I always think it’s a good sign when a cafe or restaurant does a simple dish really well, and if you can make something as simple as avocado on toast something to rave about, well, colour me impressed, Lowlands, colour me so.

The garden was still pleasant, but by this point the heat had become overwhelmingly oppressive, so we moved inside to some now-free tables to have a post-food beverage. Mum wanted to try a single-origin coffee, but sadly they’d sold out, so instead went for the ‘Candyman’ blend. Served as a short black, it had a good, thick crema on top. “Well, that’ll keep me going all afternoon,” she said once she’d knocked it back, eyes instantly dilating.

I went with a Chai latte for this second round. I was not as heavily spiced as some other chais I’ve had, but it was nice and smooth, with admirably abundant froth. Would make a very nice before bed beverage, as Bec observed.

Muffin and Bec went with an iced tea each, with a base of green tea, served with mint and stonefruit. Muffin was particularly pleased with it as it wasn’t as sickeningly sweet as some iced teas have a tendency towards, and instead the over-riding flavour was that of the green tea. Another good beverage for a hot day.

Lowlands was an all-round highly pleasant experience, and considering we visited on a extreme-weather day that had the potential to make us all terribly crotchety, the fact that we all left relaxed, cheerful and raving to each other about the food and friendly ambiance should only embolden our recommendation. The staff were lovely and approachable, the surrounds simple yet cute, and I really want to go back and have a rose lemonade in that ace garden, perhaps on a not-so hot day so I can enjoy the flowers properly. Head up to the end of High Street and go enjoy yourselves, you deserve it.

Lowlands

923 High Street, Thornbury

Ph: 9480 1635

http://lowlandsespresso.blogspot.com/

The Woods of Windsor

There are some days when trying to distill an amazing experience down into words is the hardest thing one can try to do. It’s not the same as detailing a negative experience, that is a practice that is all too easy as there are many, many delicious negative words that are far too fun to fling around in a tornado of pique. It is far, far harder, in my estimation, to really nail a positive, amazing experience down into concrete words that ends up satisfying you as a writer. Which is going to make this following post about The Woods of Windsor a very difficult writing task for me indeed.

I had taken note of the space where The Woods of Windsor was to take up residence as it was being constructed, as someone had told me that it was going to be run by the same outfit as Yellow Bird. That caught my interest, and once this glowing recommendation hit Broadsheet, I was in a tizzy. I messaged my work husband Nik (also known as Doctor Ethnic*) with alarming alacrity. “Faux husband and wife date, here, NOW NOW NOW.”

The space is long and dark, a cosy shadowy cavern, with many cute, slightly hipstery touches in terms of design especially focused on rabbit iconography (although if you have phobias involving taxidermy animals, yeah, you might have an episode). There’s seated dining towards the back of the room, but since we strolled in without a reservation (we are shamelessly lax diners), we were seated at the bar area up the front, at a long bench table abutting the windows which open out onto the street.

We started with cocktails, which is of course the correct way to go about things. Nik had a Dark and Stormy, which was a generous serving of rum with ginger ale and mint, cool, direct and refreshing. I like a cocktail that slaps you hard on the back and makes you gasp, and thus went with the Whisky Bang. It achieved that first essential gasp, and gently mellowed out as time wore on and the ice started melting. Very appreciative of the fact that the cocktails are served in tall glasses, it’s nice to have a sinfully alcoholic beverage that lasts throughout the meal.

Anyway, enough of libations, what of food? I had previously read about the zucchini flowers dish, and was so keen I didn’t even really look at the rest of the menu. This anticipation, however, didn’t quite prepare me for what was on the plate. Three neat zucchini flowers placed next each other alternating top to tail, loosely encrusted in a light, delicately thin coating of batter. Each flower was stuffed with a sweet, creamy goats cheese, and underneath each flower head rested an ever so thin slice of beetroot, about the width of a crisp. Sprinkled atop the flowers were some pan-roasted pine nuts, and little green crescents of what I think were pimento olives, as well as a garnish of sprouts. The presentation was so gorgeous to the eye that I hesitated slightly in starting to eat it, as it seemed such a shame to dismantle a piece of art.

But eat I did, and good golly, it was DIVINE. A perfect balance of all those diverse yet complimentary flavours. I must of had a very interesting expression on my face while eating it, because at one point two middle-aged ladies who were walking past caught sight of me and the zucchini flowers, and actually spoke to me through the open window to ask “Is that as good as it looks?” I garbled back “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten!” with a mouth full of flowers and then kept hoeing in.

Nik ordered the duck dish that was simply described on the menu as “spiced duck breast: quinoa, seeds.” It was quite a lot more than that simple description belies. About four fat medallions of duck breast had been placed on the plate; little brown piles of quinoa were alternated by pools of a bright yellow sauce, probably a hollondaise. “Now, here’s where it gets theatrical,” said the waitress, as she poured a thin jus out of a tiny jug with a flourish over the duck pieces. In the end Nik felt that perhaps the jus wasn’t quite needed, but was otherwise just as enthusiastic over it as I was about the zucchini flowers.

“If I could have got away with licking the plate, I would have,” I told the waiter ruefully when he came to collect our heartily scraped dishes. “Oh, we TOTALLY encourage plate-licking!” he said cheerfully.

We weren’t quite full, so our gazes collectively turned towards a shared dessert. The summer mille feuille was a sweet tower constructed out of discs of crisp, crunchy almond brittle, held together by white chocolate mousse, and layered with raspberries, halved blueberries and cubes of watermelon and cantaloupe, topped with a few violet pansies for an edible, decorative touch. It’s very right to describe this as a summer dessert, it was so light and fresh and felt really cleansing after the amazing, zinging “Oh my there’s tastes everywhere!” excitement of the zucchini flowers.

With middle to high food prices, it’s certainly not the sort of place that you are going to be able to afford eating at every night of the week (though the pricing of the many beverage selections are more than fair). But for a special occasion evening or for those times when you feel the need to indulgently treat yourself to something more gastronomically elegant that your usual fare, The Woods of Windsor has you sorted. And I am going to be trying to find excuses to be indulgent here as often as I can!

The Woods of Windsor

108 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ph: 9512 1900

*He’s not a real doctor, he just plays one on TV.

Ernest V

I love menus that cause me to go into a severe state of indecision, although waiters probably don’t feel the same, banished away constantly with my pleas of “just a few more minutes!” This was the challenge that faced Aimee and I as we poured over the pages of Ernest V’s menu on a very hot Sunday morning.

Ernest V appears like an oasis on the hazy Glenhuntly Road strip in Elsternwick. It’s a cool, relaxing cavern that provided instant relief from the oppressive heat outside, although there is a courtyard out the back if you’re a sun lover. It’s a space that’s clearly inspired by Middle Eastern aesthetics and design, with entire walls covered in beautiful Egyptian tiles, and this Middle Eastern influence permeates the menu as well.

I was so very close to ordering the ful, an Egyptian breakfast dish consisting of fava beans, vegies and hummus, because where else are you going to come across it? But after ages of humming and hahing I ended up being seduced over to the dukkah-encrusted eggs with salad (rocket, radishes, cherry tomatoes, yellow pickled vegetables that may possibly have begun life as capsicums) on a slice of thin, crusty and seedy bread.

The egg yolks were a beautiful rich orange, they would of had to have been free-range eggs, there’s no other way you can get that strength of colour. Perfectly gooey inside. The salad was lovely and crisp – there should be more radishes in things, bring on the radish renaissance! – although I found the pickles to be quite bitter and unpleasant and left most of them untouched (probably not entirely the pickles’ fault, I’m a little funny with pickled foods and am rarely into them). The bread was thinly cut, but still proved a sturdy base for the eggs, and was packed full of seeds, which is the only way to make crusty bread even more delicious! And just how good is dukkah? SO GOOD. Nutty, spicy, crunchy goodness. There were no regrets in this choice all up, it was the most satisfying brekkie I’ve had out in quite a while.

As for beverage, I fell back on my standard choice of earl grey tea, provided at Ernest V from Larsen & Thompson. These guys have started to turn up on tea menus all over town lately, and I hope it continues, they grow and mix good tea! The earl grey has a good solid body to it, and didn’t have any weird aftertastes that a lot of earl greys have a tendency towards. A very satisfying cup, so much that I ordered two pots of it.

Aimee ended up ordering off of the pizza page of the menu and went with the pumpkin and feta pizza. It was “the bomb”, and she was particularly pleased by the taste and texture of the base which was undoubtedly made from scratch.

The staff were unfailing friendly and sweet during our visit (it helps that our waiter had a completely charming smile to boot), and the enduring vibe overall was one of laid back pleasantness. Ernest V is pretty special and I am achingly jealous of Aimee being an Elsternwick local. Having such a place in your backyard is a very fortunate thing indeed.

Ernest V

432 Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick

Ph: 9523 4322