Red Cup

I absolutely love it when friends suggest to me places for brunch dates that I had no idea even existed. It’s especially wonderful when they’re places out in the east, as I’m always looking for good food places closer to home.

Bec suggested that Red Cup might be a good place for us to meet for a catch-up brunch on a sunny Sunday, as it was a halfway point between our respective suburbs. It’s easy to pick out on a residential strip of Whitehorse Road, with families with dogs setting up camp on the pavement tables, above which swings a red sign in the shape of a cup and saucer.

I was feeling like a proper Sunday breakfast dish, which meant I required a significant portion of it to be fried. The potato and pumpkin bubble and squeak fit the bill: a giant slab of cobbled potato and pumpkin served with lightly sauteed baby spinach leaves, a poached egg with a bright orange centre that was properly gooey, topped with a damn good hollandaise that was mustard yellow and delightfully creamy, with just a slight vinegary tinge. It was an enormous brekkie, and given that the potato/pumpkin ratio was heavily stacked in favour of the pumpkin, it also got a little bit overwhelming towards the end. But still, good tasty stuff.

Bec had the eggs benedict, with more of that amazingly bright and creamy hollandaise, and thick slabs of bacon that by their charred bands looked as if they’d been cooked in a grill pan, and were certainly reported as being super delicious. She wasn’t much of a fan of the pot of baked beans she ordered on the side, though, saying that the relish they’d been mixed with was far too sweet.

It seems to be the only cafe of its kind in the area, and therefore was massively busy on the Sunday morning we visited, so a little patience would definitely be a virtue. You should definitely NOT be like the gentleman with three children in tow who decided to complain about the wait in an extremely loud and rude voice that no one could ignore (honestly, anyone who purposefully complains so that the whole cafe can hear deserves a jug of burnt milk to be poured over their heads, but that may just be the embittered ex-barista in me talking). Especially as all the staff bar one were very cheery kids in their late teens who were dealing with the fuss and bubble in a professional and pleasant manner.

Red Cup is worth seeking out, especially if you live out here in the east and are longing for a nice cafe where you can get yourself a nice meal, or even just a simple coffee and cake (seriously, the sweets selection looked quite boss, I was disappointed that I was too full to fit any more in!).

Red Cup

1124 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill

Ph: 9899 1893

http://www.redcup.com.au/

Advertisements

Hanôi Hannah

It’s starting to get a little scary how quickly new food ventures in Melbourne are jumped on with enthusiastic gusto by the food-conscious populace. A while back I noticed a roller-door on High Street in Prahran emblazoned in big red spray-painted letters with the words “Hanôi Hannah”. “Hmm, that looks like it might be something interesting,” I thought. I later found out through some internet noodling that it was to be a new Vietnamese restaurant. “Oooh, south-side Vietnamese, that’s a savvy move, I hope it’s going to be good.” A few weeks later I drove past on the way to trivia and saw it was finally open. “Oh yay, I’ll have to give it a peek.”

Then on a day very shortly after, I was doing some internet doodling, and *ping!* up on Twitter popped up a new tweet from Broadsheet… reviewing Hanôi Hannah.

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. I messaged Muffin. “We have to go have dinner tonight at a new Vietnamese place in Prahran because Broadsheet’s just reviewed it and now the trendies know about it and from now on there’s going to be queues and I hate queues and waaaaaah…”*

“Alright, alright! Vietnamese it is.”

Hanôi Hannah is in a teeny tiny space, easily picked out from the street with it’s halo of red and yellow stringed lights, and my prediction of queues was bang on. Make sure you get there EARLY. Muffin and I arrived at a little past 6.30 and got some of the last seats in the place out on the pavement. A queue formed very shortly after, and existed for the remainder of our visit. In the weeks since our visit, I have never been past it without seeing a substantial number of people waiting to get in, so beware fellow folks with a dearth of patience!

We pretty much ended up ordering all the vegetarian dishes available on the menu to share, bar the spring rolls. Our waitress, who was a bubbly delight, said “That’s pretty much what I had for lunch today, you’re going to love it!”

The tofu and shiitake rice paper rolls were filled with julienned pickled cucumber and carrot slices, and Vietnamese mint. Served with them was a thick, brown dipping sauce reminiscent of hoisin. They were very fresh, there was no hardening or crusting of the rice wrappers, which is a good indication that they are made to order.

The winner dish of the evening was the steamed bok choy with ginger and sesame sauce, topped with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. Sometimes there’s no other phrase to use for one’s enjoyment of a dish other than an exaggerated and ridiculous OM NOM NOM. So simple, and yet so freaking delicious.

We also had the peppered tofu with carrot, cucumbers, mint and what I think were the sliced up fleshy parts of either bok choy or gai lan. This had a nice little kick to it, with the tofu chunks nicely charred and peppery.

The last dish was a vermicelli noodle salad with tofu, carrot, cucumber and mint, in a light dressing that was probably mostly rice vinegar based. This was quite a plain dish, although light and reasonably refreshing on the tongue. It definitely could have benefited from some chopped up fresh chilli, though, or a whack of ginger. We did notice (too late) that there are jars of that outrageously spicy Vietnamese chilli paste available to spoon over dishes, but I am a little surprised that there doesn’t seem to be much fresh chilli going on.

As you all know, I find it hard to not to finish on a sweet note, so I ordered a pineapple and lychee slushie off of the drinks menu. Freshly blitzed up in a blender at the bar, it was sweet and refreshing, and I particularly liked that there was still the occasional little chunk of juicy lychee to be found in the mix.

While the vegetarian options are admittedly very samey when it comes to ingredients and I’d love to see a bit more variety developed in the future, I really can’t sniff at the freshness of everything we sampled at Hanôi Hannah, and especially it’s cheapness. It’s a tightly run ship with some very nice and engaging staff, and seems to have hit on a market for cheap Vietnamese that the south has been missing. Although whether I’ll have the patience to brave the queues in order to sample seconds, well, we’ll just have to see.

Hanôi Hannah

180 High Street, Prahran

Ph: 9939 5181

http://www.hanoihannah.com.au/

*I am well aware of the irony of a food blogger complaining about people wanting to get into new food places first. I make no claims towards us being a logical breed!

Willim

It had been a good long while since Muffin and I had gone out for brunch with just the two of us. Such an oversight had to be amended post haste! “How about we go somewhere out your way for a change?” I suggested. She was more than happy to acquiesce, and I suggested Willim as the entry to strike off on my giant list of ‘to visit’ foodie places.

Willim straddles the suburb divide of Malvern and Armadale; indeed, while the cafe’s promotional material gives it’s address as Armadale, it is literally a few steps from the Malvern end of Glenferrie Road, giving ample ammunition for pedants to get all hung up on boundary semantics. Whatever, all this means to me is that we are now in POSH TOWN. And since we are in posh town, I expect some posh as cafe food.

Willim is quite small, but has managed to capitalise on footpath space in a clever fashion, with a long wooden pew that hugs the street edge and is covered by a thick canvas awning that keeps most of the weather away. The staff are nicely unpretentious, friendly and ready with a smile, and definitely provided the best part of our visit.

But what of the food? Muffin chose the Tasmanian smoked salmon, served with asparagus, horseradish, preserved lemon, parsley, and a slow poached egg. The asparagus was by all accounts lovely, all nicely grilled yet still bright green and springy. The egg had been poached for too long. While it was still spreadable, it wasn’t runny, which is the true pleasure of a poached egg. Muffin opined that there wasn’t enough horseradish to go around, and that the dish lacked a unifying element to bring all of the ingredients together. She thought perhaps an aioli or mayonnaise or similar could have worked wonders, but as it was the dish as a whole was lacking.

I was feeling sweet, so went with the brioche french toast with poached rhubarb, hazelnut streusel, yoghurt, smoked maple syrup. The hazelnut streusel was the dynamite element in this dish, all sugared, nutty delight. The maple syrup was indeed noticeably smoked (I hate it when items are described as smoked, then you taste it and think to yourself “This hasn’t even been near damp kindling let alone something that was actually on fire.”), and the yoghurt just a touch sweet with an underlying tart tang. What wasn’t terribly impressive was the fact that the poached rhubarb amounted to four three-inch long pieces that had been placed at cardinal points on the plate. Artistic, no doubt, but pretty disappointing considering that the rhubarb was described as being the main element of the dish and was the reason I ordered it.

We were still a bit peckish so ordered some baked sweets to share. The raspberry and white chocolate muffin was pretty damn nice, with a plentiful ratio of both chocolate and berries to dough. The banana bread was very strongly flavoured but strangely didn’t have any actual chunks of banana in it, which made me a little bit sad, I like chunks! I also ordered a mocha. A very, VERY chocolaty mocha. Enough chocolate for someone like me who generally welcomes a lower coffee ratio to comment “Wow, kind of would of liked a little more kick to this.” Coffee fiends would have definitely been disappointed.

Willim has a lot of aspects to it that work. The staff are lovely and attentive, the space is small but makes good use of what it does have (the street set-up where we sat is particularly well put together and comfortable). But Muffin and I both came away from our visit feeling that while the dishes we tried had a promising footing, neither were as good as they could have been. And a place can be as comfy and welcoming as it likes, but if the food doesn’t stack up, there’s a big question mark as to whether I’ll decide to return.

Willim

90 Union Street, Armadale

Ph: 9509 8506

http://www.willim.com.au/

The Hungarian

It is ever so lovely to experience a new national cuisine with someone who has actually had some experience living in the country in question. Kara has been wanting to take me to a Hungarian restaurant for ages now, having lived herself in Hungary for a year and feeling nostalgic for some proper Hungarian cooking. I, who had never experienced Hungarian food, was most appreciative to be in the company of someone who not only speaks decent Hungarian and could explain to me all the terms used in the menu, but also had the foresight to roll by a European bottleshop on the way to the restaurant and pick up a bottle of fine Hungarian red for us to enjoy. Kara is the best, you guys.

The fit-out of The Hungarian can only be described as SUPER CUTE. There is so much gingham. There’s gingham tablecloths, gingham curtains, it’s bursting with the stuff. If you lured a superhero whose kryptonite was gingham into this place, you’d be shooting lasers at the UN building unhindered for hours. Combine this with a very informative, funny and tongue-in-cheek menu (the vegetarian section starts with the definition “Vegetarian, adj. Means: not containing meat. Does NOT mean ‘bland'”), and I instantly felt very comfortable.

We both ordered the Veganoff for our main meal, a vegetarian version of beef stroganoff with the stew part comprised of broccoli, peas and mushrooms, served with nokedli, or fried noodles. This was proper delicious stodge food, the kind to put meat on your bones. The gravy that held everything together was good and savoury (honestly, paprika is a miracle of a thing, I’d throw it over all meals if I could), and I really enjoyed the texture of the nokedli, they were a bit softer than the al dente bite we normally expect for pasta or noodles.

We also grabbed some side dishes to accompany the Veganoff. I went with the Hungarian cucumber salad – thinly sliced continental cucumbers doused in a sweet and sour vinegar with crushed garlic and a sprinkling of paprika. It was all sour, crisp and crunchy, a good acidic counter-note to the comforting nature of the Veganoff. Kara couldn’t not experience the “No Sex After This” salad, which was made out of super pickled sauerkraut, gherkins and peppers in Magyar vinegar. It was by all accounts delicious, and just as stinky as promised!

Kara was adamant that we just had to order some of the sweet crepes for dessert. She went down the super traditional route and went for some filled with sweet cream cheese, which are known as Túrós. I had cinnamon and plum, which were filled with a paste that had been made out of stewed plums, mixed with cinnamon and probably also some granulated sugar. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this was a very simple dessert, but quite satisfying. Kara said that although the crepes were not quite the same as the ones she’d had in Hungary, they were certainly the best she’d discovered in Australia.

The Hungarian was a lot of fun to experience, and provided a great introduction to a cuisine I wasn’t previously familiar with. Make sure you go visiting between Thursday and Sunday to sample two veggie dishes that were unavailable to us on the Wednesday we went: crumbed fried cheese and mushrooms! My heart just did a backflip of pure cholesterol panic typing out those words. Someone please go sample them and tell me what they’re like.

The Hungarian

362 Bridge Road, Richmond

http://www.thehungarian.com.au/