The Local Taphouse

It’s always nice when friends suggest as gathering venues places that you’ve never heard of. One, because there’s no preconceptions cobbled together from reading far too many other reviews of it, and two, you get to see the places that your friends feel comfortable in, which is always a nice intimacy to share. So when Glenn suggested The Local Taphouse as the venue for his going away drinks before his relocation to New York, the intrigue of what the venue had in store distracted me slightly from the grief inherent in his leaving us all FOR(maybe)EVER! *sob*

It’s a big old pub that runs across several levels, with many a nook and secret spot. We bagsed a little balcony on the roof that we managed to all squish into, and my mind instantly turned to food.

The Local’s detailed menu runs the gamut from your standard pub meals to a few dishes that skew towards Asian influences – for instance, when was the last time you ordered pho alongside your pint? There were some interesting vegie options available; I lingered over the idea of the soba noodle salad with steamed eggplant and avocado, while later on in the night saw others order the vegie burger, which was a mighty meal indeed with a field mushroom stuffed with ricotta, surrounded by an ocean of beer-battered fries.

Jojo and I decided to share a few dishes between us from the selection of sides, which are totally big enough to easily fill you. First was the beer battered, Cajun-spiced thick cut frites. You can choose to have them without the Cajun spices, but where’s the fun in that? Especially as the Cajun spices make them even more more-ish than chips already are, we happily gobbled away at them.

The real winner, however, was the deceptively simple bowl of green beans with goats cheese and almonds. The beans were at their crisp best, the almonds had been slightly toasted so they had their natural husky flavour enhanced nicely, and… jeeze, I have goats cheese things a lot, don’t I? Well, it’s because it’s FREAKING DELICIOUS, and this was no different – very good quality nanny cheese, I was trying to surreptitiously spear as much of it onto my fork as possible, but was foiled by Jojo who was doing the same!

The Local takes it’s beer VERY seriously, which left me floundering slightly as I am definitely not a beer drinker. They did however also have Willie Smiths organic cider, a lovely, properly cloudy and most decidedly uncarbonated cider (I mean, if it’s an alternative to beer I’ll drink those bubbly ciders, but don’t pretend that they are anything close to real, traditional cider, just… no). If you do like beer, though, the beer ‘tasting platter’ was highly popular among our group – you choose five of The Local’s MANY artisan and niche beer varieties, that are then brought to you on a platter graded from lightest to heaviest. A gourmet beer experience!

The Local Taphouse is quite a nice surprise hidden away down south. Glenn mentioned that he chose the venue as the one most likely to lure his north dwelling friends across the river, and I can see why. I will definitely be keeping it in mind next time I’m thinking of a nice pubby get together on the south side.

The Local Taphouse

184 Carlisle Street, St Kilda East

Ph: 9537 2633

www.thelocal.com.au

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Kinfolk

It is not often that I find myself down the Spencer Street end of the CBD, which means I’ve been aching to check out Kinfolk for the longest time, but haven’t had the opportunity in my day to day wanderings to just happen past it on the fly. Finding myself with an unexpected morning free, I hopped on a city loop train and purposely got off at Southern Cross with the intent on finally experiencing Kinfolk.

Why is Kinfolk so interesting? It’s actually a social justice project, where all of the cafe’s profits are given to four development projects. The cafe is run by volunteers, the food supplies and outfit are all donated, and you can actually chose which project you would like your money to go towards, using the old ‘put a coffee bean in the appropriate jar’ means of funds distribution.

The cafe is a nicely cluttered, comforting space – basically think hippy chic. The volunteer staff are a cheery bunch, although it is wise to keep in mind that they are volunteers, and while the service I experienced was smooth and friendly, due to the concept they’re not going to be able move the earth just to please your whims (so remember that next time, lady seated at the table next to me who had a fit because there weren’t enough ‘lunchy’ options to her liking).

The food available is very brunch orientated and features a lot of simple, rustic dishes. I ended up going with the bean cassolet, a little ceramic dish filled with a variety of beans in a sweet tomato sauce, flecked with generous white daubs of feta, with two nice slices of crusty bread on the side brushed with oil.

My English breakfast tea, which arrived at nearly the same moment as the beans – well done on the synchronicity there, waitstaff – was served in a lovely fat, brown 70s-style teapot with a mis-matched cup and saucer set. The whole picture of the fat teapot sitting next to the beans was so striking that I actually stopped to snap a little photo before starting to eat, which as I’m sure as you’ve noticed from this wall of text blog, I’m not a habitual photographer, and for me to stop and take the time to take a snap before shoveling food in my face is a big deal.

Seriously Hayley, cropping out the bread from the beans platter, you are the worst food photographer.

Here is it, the only photo to have ever appeared on Ballroom Blintz. And now you know why I don’t take photos.

Now, as you may have noticed, the beans are not terribly large. You will not receive an acreage of food in terms of portion size here. But what was there was very nice indeed, with creamy feta slighting up against the sweet tomatoey beans that still had a touch of bite to them. And honestly loading up slices of good bread with tasty, saucey vegetables never gets old with me.

After such an anticipated wait, Kinfolk could have very easily been a disappointment, but I certainly felt very content after popping my coffee bean into the Palm Island indigenous education program jar and walking off to work. I’m sure there’s plenty like me who spend a goodly portion of their income on eating out, so it’s good to have a place where you can not only purchase a happy tum, but also a little change for the better somewhere else in the world.

Kinfolk

673 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

www.kinfolk.org.au

Chingon

Tacos, tacos, tacos! Everyone loves tacos! So much so that clearly there’s a market in setting up a restaurant that, apart from a few beverages and a salsa or two, only offers its customers tacos. This is the deal at Chingon.

Out for a family togetherness dinner, the Blintzes took our places sitting on Chignon’s rooftop dining area. I had no idea this area existed, having only eaten in the front dining room before, but yes, wind your way out the back, up the staircase over the Cadillac (um, yeah, there’s a Cadillac in the back dining room), and you emerge into quite a nice, albeit rustic space.

We started off with the only dish on the menu that isn’t tacos, the fire-roasted salsa with guacamole and corn chips. While others baulked at the charred corn kernels floating in the salsa, I absolutely loved it, with the fact that it lent both texture and intensified smokiness and sweet notes. I’m normally far more of a guac person than a salsa person, but I was steadfastly ignoring the very good guacamole here in order to load as much salsa onto chips as possible.

On to tacos. There was quite a bit of waiting time between salsas and tacos – I believe the kitchen here is quite teeny, and they do make everything to order, which gets a bit of leeway sympathy from me, though I’d be curious to see what it’s like on a bursting at the seams evening.

Now, a note that unless you specify that you’d prefer them served separately, you will end up getting your vegie tacos served on the same platter as the meat ones, so if meaty cross-contamination worries you, be vocal.

The single vegie option (out of only six options all up) comprises of charcoal roasted corn, capsicum, cubes of baby squash, guacamole, salsa and feta, wrapped in soft, light brown, handmade corn taco tortillas. With that charred smoky tang that characterises the food here dominating, they’re very tasty, very more-ish tacos, with a nice level of chilli heat that gets you buzzing but doesn’t fully overwhelm. They are also deceptively filling little beasties – you can get four for $20, and they definitely sate a hungry tum.

For drinks there’s only non-alcoholic beverages available, although you can BYO your own wine. I had a toronja, which is freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, sugar and water. This was a perfect refreshing offset to the heat of the food, and also from the warm evening sun. Mum exclaimed happily over her limonada (freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar and water), saying that it was basically a very good version of old school lemonade. They probably are a touch expensive at $7 each, though, considering what they are.

As an ex-waitress who has a whole mental binder filled with horror stories about customers constantly wanting you to do the impossible or change things that ends up throwing the whole kitchen out of whack and leaves you inwardly screaming at the sheer entitlement of some people, I can’t help but admire a place like Chingon that says up front “This is what we do. We only do this. We do it well, and if you don’t like what we offer and how we do it, there’s the door.” This reversed sense of entitlement coming from a restaurant’s end is liable to drive some customers completely up the wall at facing a bunch of rules and having any greater sense of choice taken away from them, but I actually found the simplicity of it refreshing. It is certainly nice to have the option of somewhere like Chingon around, a place where you know what you’re going to get, that may be very simple in concept, but is well done and, most importantly, satisfying. So cut the crap, and have a damn taco.

Chingon

413 Swan Street, Richmond

Ph: 9429 5695

www.chingon.com.au

My Legendary Girlfriend

Continuing our series in Cafes Named After Songs By Bands That Have Profoundly Affected Hayley’s Life, Jen and I recently investigated the scruffy interloper in the shiny Domain Road strip, My Legendary Girlfriend. If you don’t know that it’s named after a Pulp song, god help you, because your life is bereft of meaning. Would this be a cafe worthy of he that is on high, our one stylish and true savior and also my future husband (I live in hope, guys, it’s totally going to happen), Jarvis Cocker? There was only one way to find out – we busted out our best giant sunglasses, elbowed the Sunday morning joggers and standard South Yarra beautiful people out of the way and sauntered down there.

It was quite busy as we arrived, and being our first visit we weren’t quite sure whether we were meant to wait to be seated, or had to grab spots ourselves. We hovered for a moment or two, as a few waitresses zoomed past us resolutely refusing to meet our expectant gazes. Eventually a waitress behind the front counter called out brusquely to us “Just grab a seat, okay?” We did so, although were side-eying each other hugely with wordless expressions of “Wow, that was rude.” Not the best start.

Luckily the waitress looking after the section we ended up seating ourselves in was a bubbly delight, seemingly in contrast to the rest of the staff. Looking at the design of the place, it definitely seems to be expressing a more shabby and laid-back cool look than most of the other super shiny and slick eateries along this particular strip of South Yarra, making it a more comforting a space for my sensibilities.

For savoury both Jen and I decided upon the smashed avocado with feta on toast with an added poached egg. Ginormous amounts of bonus points first of all for not only having the cheapest add-on poached egg in Melbourne ($2!!!), but also for serving a proper serrated knife alongside so that cutting through the crusty toast didn’t become an exercise in masochism. A giant mountain of creamy, feta-ry avocado came out, strangely crowned with slices of fresh chilli, which led to an impassioned discussion about clueless people who insist on asking for fresh chilli to accompany cuisines that don’t require it (note from Jen the industry professional: if you do this in a Korean or Japanese restaurant, you are an idiot. I would have thought something like this wouldn’t have needed clarifying, but it seems I live to be constantly disappointed by the human race).

Now I have eaten a lot of smashed avocado dishes in my time – I mean, you can’t brunch in Melbourne frequently without finding it on every other menu – but this version was easily one of the best ones I’ve encountered. It was beautifully creamy, the avocado and feta having been combined together so it was perfectly textured, there wasn’t too much bread so it was all just lovely smooth piles of green and cheese. Pop the poached egg yolk, and there you have heaven. The chilli slices are still weird, though.

We decided to balance all the avocado-egg goodness with something refreshing and sweet to share, and ordered the red fruit salad: watermelon cubes, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries drizzled with honey syrup and a big ol’ blob of tangy labne. This was just what was required, a properly refreshing, very virtuous breakfast.

I also ordered a chai latte, but it was sadly quite tasteless, basically amounting to a glass of cinnamon-flavoured hot milk. Dang.

Given that the busy frenzy calmed reasonably as we ate, we lingered by ordering some pots of tea. We were left waiting for them for a quite a bit longer than usual, with it transpiring that the order had been forgotten about, but our bubbly waitress did what one should do when such things happen in hospo – apologised profusely but good-humouredly, admitted to fault, and as quickly as possible rectified the mistake. So from one end of our visit to the other we basically went from blatant rudeness to being cosily taken care of, it was a bit of a schizophrenic experience.

My Legendary Girlfriend was a bit of an up and down experience altogether. While the food was impressive, the lackluster drinks and wildly divergent service styles we encountered were a bit off-putting. I’d like to go again when it’s a bit quieter, maybe on a weekday, to see whether that causes it to be more of a consistent experience. But it’s still the best option to be had in that part of South Yarra, and the food is worth checking out. It might just need to ratchet itself up a notch or two to be properly worthy of Jarvis.

My Legendary Girlfriend

157 Domain Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9077 4863

www.mylegendarygirlfriend.com.au