Stovetop

I’d been having quite a sad-trousers day as I was scrolling through Twitter, when this completely delectable photo from Where’s the Beef popped up in my feed and pulled me up out of the doldrums from sheer sight alone. I was informed that it was a haloumi and zucchini stuffed baguette, and could be procured from Carlton cafe Stovetop. I needed it in my face. I needed it in my face AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

So the very next day, I trooped myself down to Stovetop. For whatever reason I hadn’t had this place on my radar at all, which is a massive shame, as in two visits Stovetop has put itself in contention as one of my favourite cafes about town. Imagine all the coffee and cheesy baguettes I could have had by this time if only I’d been more aware! Alas, alack.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Design wise, Stovetop is a bit of a hipster’s delight on the surface, what with all the Scandi blond wood furniture and men with cardigans and styled mustaches (okay, the latter may not have been deliberate on behalf of Stovetop, but you can’t have so many Scandi touches without mustaches attached to men appearing to create the natural and appropriate contrast). Tell you what, though, I want to find out where the particular chair and stools here are from, because they’re so darn comfy – cushy and upholstered stools, take note Melbourne cafe proprietors, your customers’ bottoms will thank you!

As I had promised myself, I bypassed reading anything else on the menu and went straight into ordering the seeded baguette filled with egg-dipped zucchini, haloumi, rocket and chutney. Jesus H Christ, people, this is just… this is the high god king of sandwiches right here. It’s the sort of combo that makes you incredulous that everyone isn’t plating up a version of it, the components are so perfect for each other. I mean, the egg-dipped zucchini ALONE. This is the kind of sandwich you should reward yourself with when you achieve a major life goal.

After this first foray I immediately sent a rambling, bordering on incoherent message to Muffin demanding that our next catch up session be held at Stovetop. She was more than happy to acquiesce, which meant that only a few days later I was facing a duck egg baked in sauteed spinach, roast pumpkin, Persian feta with za-atar and toast. DUCK EGGS, YOU GUYS! I might be particularly partial to them because I had pet ducks as a kid (ducks make the VERY BEST PETS, as long as you’re okay with your back garden becoming a de-grassed mud pit, and why wouldn’t you be okay with that if it means you have DUCKS!), and duck eggs always had these beautifully rich orange yolks that made every Sunday morning fry-up or sponge cake just that extra bit better. This particular duck egg oozed beautiful orange deliciousness over the soft, warm pumpkin pieces and through the spinach. Lovely. My one thought was that the dish might be kicked up a notch with the inclusion of some kale, but that’s only a thought, not a criticism.

Muffin had the roasted root vegetable salad with spinach and Rooftop honey lemon vinaigrette and toasted almonds. This looked like a healthy late-winter feast, I particularly liked the look of all the caramelised parsnip strips. Muffin was certainly enormously pleased with it.

The coffee is definitely the nicest I’ve come across – smooth and mellow with nary a bite to it, and not so strong that a coffee weenie like me ends up sitting up half the night staring unblinkingly into middle distance.

And a word must be said about the staff, who are lovely and friendly without a lick of pretension, are happy to answer any questions you have, and good-naturedly put up with you taking up a table for a good two hours just gas-bagging (Muffin and I had a lot to catch up on, okay).

As for the prospect of future visits, I have an eye on the cinnamon waffles with pomegranate molasses, vanilla bean custard, agave and house almond dukkah, and also the sweet potato and chia latkes with poached eggs, baba ganoush and rocket (I mean, just revel in those descriptions, UGH, AMAZING). Such is my love of Stovetop, I’ve ended up making a rule with myself that I have to make sure than at least every second foodie visit I make has to be somewhere that ISN’T Stovetop, because really, it just wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.

Stovetop

100 Leicester Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 2010

www.stovetop.com.au

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Shebeen

Tucked away in Manchester Lane, Shebeen has quietly become one of my favourite city hangouts in the past few months. This has a lot to do with the fact that Speakeasy Cinema is held there, and there’s been nothing nicer than to book in to see some Xavier Dolan and munch away on dinner treats that are not only pretty delicious, but have a social conscious to them as well.

See, one hundred percent of Shebeen’s profits go to projects in the developing world. There’s tons and TONS of info on their website that goes into extreme detail as to where all the money goes, how they source their products such as beer, wine, cider, etc, from and how they’re making sure that producers receive proper payment and support that helps their businesses thrive. So that’s rather nice. I’m not quite sure how they’re managing to make such a model sustainable in the long term (where does rent money come from?), but since Shebeen recently celebrated it’s first birthday, clearly it’s working.

Anyway, my most recent visit was in the company of a posse of old uni friends for a long overdue catch up. We started on some nibbly snacks, because nibbly snacks are always a good idea. The wasabi broad beans had a good whack of heat to them, but I was especially keen on the spicy crunchy corn, which I would like to see become a standard bar snack at all my favourite watering holes, please thank you very much.

Maddie and I went with the smoked tofu bahn mi with crispy noodles, peanut-pineapple sauce and fresh coriander. It comes inna giant bun! A bun that is enormously stuffed full of sweet-sauced tofu, which with the addition of generous fronds of coriander manages to trick you into thinking the whole deal is a touch lighter than it really is. I’m meant to be avoiding eating too many yeast products at the moment, but lordy, the tofu bahn mi is going to be a wicked temptation every time I pop into Shebeen.

Cass had the Mexican organic quinoa salad with cherry tomato salsa and blue corn chips. Vegan and gluten-free! Hoorah! And damn good it looked too, all healthy and hearty and whatnot. I really want to use blue corn chips as dip scooping implements for everything now.

Ellie had the black bean noodle salad with miso lime dressing and slivered almonds. I’ve had this dish on another, aforementioned Speakeasy occasion, and texturally it’s really interesting, what with the unusual weight of the black bean noodles contrasted against the almonds. It’s a deceptively hefty dish too, so will fill you up nicely, though I did eventually find it a bit samey towards the end of my scoffing. But another vegan and gluten-free dish is not to be sniffed at!

Jacinta had the pork belly bahn mi with bulldog sauce. Equally giant bun! The bahn mi are definitely the business for those looking for a substantial dinner option.

I would be intrigued to try some of the vegan ice creams on offer – I was particularly keen on the idea of a choco-coconut icy pole – but got distracted by some of the more fruity cocktails and got a pineapple mojito for dessert instead (TOTALLY COUNTS AS DESSERT, THERE WERE PINEAPPLE SLICES AND EVERYTHING). The drinks menu is very interestingly varied, so if an evening of pure drinking was on the cards you could actually have a very entertaining time working through it.

Shebeen is a really darn nice place to hang out and get some good, reasonably healthy food on the cheap, even without the pleasing social consciousness angle. It’s low-key and, somewhat surprisingly, not at all as hipstery as the mismatched furniture and mustachio’d waitstaff implies. I’ve happily added it to my (rather small, it must be admitted) list of CBD hangouts guaranteed to be cruisey and coming forth with deliciousness. Go and see if it fits the criteria for your own list, I insist.

Shebeen

36 Manchester Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9560 6931

www.shebeen.com.au

Persimmon

I have always been traditionally a bit wary of restaurants and cafes attached to cultural museums and art galleries, but considering that this is a day and age where you can go out to Heide and have lunch at their resident Vue de Monde outpost, it’s a position that I am willing to bend at least in service of further investigation in the form of eating.

My mum and I were treating my Granma to her birthday present, a visit to the Monet’s Garden exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, and figured that having a post-exhibition lunch at the gallery’s main restaurant Persimmon would cap things off rather nicely. Well, super nicely actually, as Persimmon was quite a bit fancier than we were expecting.

It’s situated in a big square room up the back of the gallery – shuffle off to the right just before you hit the stained glass ceiling gallery and you’ll find it – where three sides are basically ceiling to floor windows looking out onto the NGV’s sculpture garden. Everything’s very neat and proper, from the waiters draping cloth napkins into your lap and the fact that the house sparkling is French.

On first glance the menu looks to be rather aggressive in reaching deep into your pockets and not letting go, but luckily there’s a $45 lunch special which means that you get a main and dessert, plus a glass of house red, white, or the aforementioned French sparkling for your trouble (of course we went with the French, do you think us barbarians?).

Granma chose the baked goats’ cheese with fig tart tatin, asparagus, olive and almond tapenade as her savoury. This was like the perfect upmarket picking plate for those who like a little nibble of everything – two little fig tarts surrounded by slivers of asparagus, regimental cubes of goats’ cheese, olives, schmears and edible flowers making for a very pretty dish. Granma, as a natural grazer, found this the perfect dish for her foodie sensibility and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I, as you know, have a distinct weakness for crumbed things, so once my eyes lit on the double crumbed egg with mushrooms, brick pastry and watercress puree I wasn’t going to be persuaded by anything else. This was a similarly open plan dish as the goats’ cheese, with the dark crumbed egg sitting among strewn mushrooms, edible flowers and puree, with two sticks of light, flaky pastry encasing yet more warm, earthy mushrooms. Popping the egg and letting it ooze all over everything put me in the very specific heaven that only a good gooey egg can. The only quibble I have is that there was A LOT of the watercress puree, which made things slightly wet, and didn’t have a particularly bold enough flavour profile to warrant having been distributed with such liberality.

Mum went with the smoked barramundi with slow cooked fennel and Avruga caviar. I didn’t quiz her on the specifics, but she seemed to be pleased with it, and like the other dishes it was presented very well.

For dessert I was very tempted to jump into line with Mum and Granma’s orders of a traditional creme brulee, but it was the lure of cassis sorbet that made me go with the giant “macaroon” with cassis sorbet and almond ice cream. Spelling mistakes aside, you do indeed get a giant purple macaron sandwiching a thick seam of cassis sorbet, accompanied by a smooth ball of almond ice cream decorated with almond slivers.

Contact with the ice cold sorbet does react in a way with the macaron halves to makes them go slightly tough and chewy, but apart from that this is a pretty faultless dessert. The cassis sorbet was this astounding burst of blackberry flavours that made me go absolutely wild, and it tasted fresh and smooth with no sneaky ice shards that indicates it had been made recently instead of stuck away in a freezer for weeks. The almond ice cream was equally smooth and noticeably nutty, and made me think that nut-based ice creams are definitely A THING that I need to investigate further.

The creme brulee enjoyed by Mum and Granma looked delish – the tops were properly toffeed-up and made satisfying ‘crack!’ noises once tapped with a spoon. The custard was nicely flecked through with vanilla bean seeds, Granma said it was nicely flavoured but not so rich that it sat heavily afterwards. The staff even put a little candle atop Granma’s for her birthday – happy 91 years indeed!

Persimmon makes a very good fist of giving your standard gallery restaurant a bit of quality polish without slipping too far into pretentious irrelevancy. Of course, being the tardy blogger that I am, in the time it’s taken me to write this post Persimmon has actually changed its menu, so no crumbed egg and cassis sorbet glory can be yours any longer. I’m sorry to be such a tease. But the spring menu looks rather intriguing, with a yellow tomato gazpacho offering as well as a poached berries dessert that features cassis in foam form. Go check it out and bring me back your findings.

Persimmon

Ground Level, NGV International

180 St Kilda Road, Southbank

Ph: 8620 2434

www.ngv.vic.gov.au/visit/places-to-eat/persimmon