Westville Chelsea, New York

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down! And the people eat very, very well.

I was only in New York for a short time, so I had to capitalise on eating as much good food as possible. In among hunting down delicious junk food encompassing diner breakfasts, burgers, and cookies, I was lucky to have some New Yorker friends to point me in the direction of purveyors of excellent foodstuffs. The first memorable example of this was an excellent brunch at Westville Chelsea in the company of equally excellent human Mindy (who despite living in NYC is a frequent reader of this here blog, HI MINDY I LOVE YOU!).

We trooped in just as Westville opened at 10am (I think the staff were a little startled to see us that early and chipper), and after getting big pots of tea looked to the food menu proper.

America is VERY BIG on breakfast omelettes and scrambles that you customise from a list of fillings, which I very much like as who doesn’t love what is essentially a mini build-your-own breakfast? I chose to have scrambled eggs with mushrooms and spinach, served with two Portuguese muffins (they are basically a slightly lighter version of ye olde English muffin) and I also asked for a side of home fries because HOMES FRIES! Seriously Australia when are we going to get on board with fries for breakfast, stop behaving like we are some culinary BACKWATER.

The scramble was bright yellow and beautifully creamy, with seams of glistening baby spinach leaves and big wedges of savoury mushrooms peaking their crowns out of the egg. The Portuguese muffin had a bouncy chew to it, and with four slices provided there was no mouthful of egg that wasn’t supported by a bite of muffin. The home fries were excellently crispy with a pleasing amount of soft, fluffy insides, and did I squirt ketchup all over them? YOU BET I DID.

Mindy had a kale-based salad which came in a giant bowl (all kale salads should come in as big a receptacle as possible because they are always delicious, FACT), which had such an array of ingredients I can’t even remember them all, and was by all accounts filling and full of HEALTH, as all great kale salads should be.

Westville was a delightful spot to catch up with a dear friend and yell about books and food and Twitter and get all high on gossip and tales. Thank you for sharing it with me, Mindy, and may we have the chance to repeat this day sooner rather than later!

Westville Chelsea

246 W18th Street, Chelsea

Ph: 212 924 2223

westvillenyc.com

Other Westville locations can be found in both the West and East Villages, and in Hudson.

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Carolina

There are not too many pleasures to be had in the greater Brunswick area that are superior to sitting in the courtyard at Carolina on a sunny morning stuffing your face with something involving eggs. I’ve been doing it a lot in the past six months or so, since Carolina has become a favoured meeting spot for other Brunswick-residing friends.

The menu is the prime attraction, even beyond the pleasing surrounds – not a huge array of options, but they do tend to change seasonally which makes things fresh every few months or so. I’ve eaten a LOT of dishes here, and it would take far too long to recount them all, so what follows is three notable dishes that remain bright in remembrance.

The Okay, Carolina consists of okinomiyaki-style fritters served with pickled ginger, nori, chilli, leafy side salad with white miso dressing, and lashings of non-dairy Japanese mayo. That’s vegan, but you can also add poached eggs, which of course I did, because everything is improved by a perfectly poached egg. A lovely mess of a dish that once the egg yolk adds to the sauces results in a gloriously savoury thing to be relished.

I’m also enormously fond of the green breakfast, which changes with what seasonal greens are available. My favourite iteration so far was the one that ran over winter, using wilted greens like kale and rainbow chard, sauteed green beans, little chunks of smokey eggplant with garlic and sesame, on pomegranate drizzled sourdough, and perched on top like glowing orbs of promise YES OUR BEST FRIENDS TWO POACHED EGGS. Joy and rapture! Honestly nearly all my eating this year has come down to “is it a greens thing I can have eggs on GOOD EXCELLENT let’s do it” and I have zero regrets, may this style of dish multiply and flourish.

I’ve only very recently sampled the sweet end of the menu at Carolina, in the form of the homemade crumpets with native wildflower honey, lavender sugar and crumbled honeycomb. This was definitely¬† against the extreme end of the sweet spectrum (and according to Where’s the Beef other sweet items on Carolina’s menu are firmly in the Dessert For Breakfast camp), so if you want sweet at Carolina you better be ready to COMMIT is all I’m saying.

The staff tend towards the friendly, the coffee is delightfully invigorating whether hot or cold depending on your needs, and all together Carolina will present you with an enormously pleasing, relaxing Saturday morning brunch, which everyone deserves at the end of a frantic week.

Carolina

11 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 0425 731 315

www.facebook.com/CarolinaCafeBar

New Day Rising

There are some institutions that for what ever reason you take far too long to get to. I’ve been hearing about the small delights of New Day Rising from fellow veg*ns for years, but as I’m easily distracted by new shiny baubles I’d let it percolate away on the backburner.

Luckily for my sake Steph was rightly appalled that I’d never been and took matters into her own hands and organised an early Saturday morning brunch. I’d recommend hitting New Day Rising early if you’d like to sit about as it is A TEENY TINY SPACE. Basically a room with a few tables and bench spaces on one side and the open kitchen on the other, it’s all very informal and relaxed with the benefit of it being easy to strike up conversations with the staff as you watch them put together your coffee and breakfast.

I am always one for a bagel and there were quite a few to choose from here. I eventually settled on the ‘yolko’ (“I knew you’d go with that one as soon as I saw it,” said Steph triumphantly). Cheddar cheese, rocket, tomato relish, New Day Rising’s famous savoury smoked coconut flakes, and a runny fried egg all warmly toasted, this was a pretty supreme bagel. The smoked coconut was as fabulous as everyone had raved – don’t expect a true bacon analogue, but the interesting texture and strong caramelised smoky taste is a truly unique experience and turns a breakfast bagel into something quietly elevated.

Steph veganised the house beans, with the staff offering the replace the feta with a side of avocado (I always do like places that, when you ask for an item left out in order to veggie or veganise a dish, they offer to replace that element with something suitable, so you don’t end up with a dish that’s clearly lacking something). The hot black beans came out with toast and a fan of avocado slices and looked pretty darn inviting.

The coffee is smooth and without a bitter note, and there’s also plenty of cakes and doughnuts (some of which are vegan!) to satisfy any sweet cravings. New Day Rising is a highly satisfying laid back gem that I feel a right chump for taking so long to get wise to.

New Day Rising

221B Blyth Street, Brunswick East

New Day Rising on Facebook

Blintz on Tour: Gnome, Sydney

The second most noteworthy Sydney foodie place I got to visit with Chris and Nicole on my weekend trip was teeny Surry Hills cafe Gnome. We were on a serious mission for food, as night-before shenanigans meant that it was 3pm on a Sunday, and we hadn’t eaten. IT WAS A FOOD EMERGENCY.

It was very lucky indeed then that we chanced upon Gnome and slipped into a corner table in the tiny space. It is a tight room, but comfortable – the large windows open out so a breeze comes through to cut through the humidity, the staff are cheery and the room’s white walls are brightened up with art like colourful ceramic animal heads.

I very much needed fortifying with vitamins, so before anything solid hit the table I had a Gnome breakfast juice, which consisted of whizzed up kale, watermelon, apple and ginger. Thankfully Gnome followed the green juices rule of if you’re going to put leafy greens in a juice you need to make sure they comprise 40% or less of the total otherwise it will taste like a glass of iron-rich sludge. This juice properly woke me up with its sizable ginger kick, yet with a really pleasant undercurrent of sweetness from the watermelon and apple.

On to BUSINESS. The day clearly required hollandaise, so all three of us decided to tuck into the mini egg benny roll – poached egg, hollandaise sauce and ham (kindly omitted for me) on a brioche roll. Chris added mushrooms to his because he knows what’s what. This was just what the doctor ordered, a hot handful of recovery in a bun. I want one now, someone send a plane.

Because this was our first meal of the day at a time when we should have had two already, we had absolutely no compunction in ordering seconds, because why would you even if you’d already had five meals? While Nicole and Chris went a second round on the benny rolls, I switched to sweet with the toasted banana bread served with cinnamon butter, and honey and lime mascarpone. This was A VERY GOOD CHOICE. The banana bread was this sweet, spicy scented warm slab, which once slathered with the cinnamon butter (which melted immediately OH SO DECADENTLY) and the citric tang of the mascarpone, just erupted one’s mouth with sweet comfort.

Gnome is a little place doing a little array of things but doing them ever so right, in a way that isn’t going to empty your pockets either. If you can squeeze in, it’s well worth the time.

Gnome

536 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Ph: (02) 9332 3191

www.brewtownnewtown.com

Blintz on Tour: Fika Swedish Kitchen, Sydney

I recently popped up for a weekend in Sydney to spend time with the most excellent Chris and Nicole, passionate film lovers after my own heart. They also happen to be keen foodies, and were very open to my suggestions as to cafes and restaurants that I was was jumping to visit. While I initially did heaps of research, in the end there was only one place that I absolutely INSISTED that we make the effort to try, and that was Fika’s Swedish Kitchen in Manly.

The January I spent in Sweden five years ago is one of my most cherished memories, so any time I get the chance to tuck into some Swedish food (which is generally few and far between here in Oz) is enormously treasured. I was also interested to see how Fika’s Swedish food would translate to such a hot, beachy location as Manly. Very well, as it turns out.

After jumping a ferry at Circular Quay and letting Chris have enough time to acclimatise to Manly’s shores – despite being a native Sydneysider this was only his second visit ever to Manly (“Farken, it’s Bondi Two!”) – we crisscrossed the main drag in order to find Fika hidden up a sidestreet across from the library.

Fika is freaking ADORABLE, let me just put that out there first. Lots of Scandi blond wood (BUT OF COURSE) and blue and yellow touches, from signage to crockery. There are also proper Swedes serving you with big smiles and brandished menus, and the menu is very wide-ranging and filled with everything your little Scandinavian-longing heart could desire.

It was hard to tear my eyes away from the desserts (the Swedes take their cakes and baking VERY SERIOUSLY), but come on Hayley, being on holiday doesn’t mean avoiding vegetables. So I got the barley salad with asparagus, crispy apple, thick halves of fig heavy from having been poached in red wine, roasted almonds and Danish feta. This was a very good idea, rarely do you get a salad where all the ingredients have distinctly different flavours and textures and yet none work against each other. Everything was contributing to a complimentary circle of flavour building that resulted in DELICIOUSNESS. Coupled with an iced lingonberry drink and further on some cheeky cider, this was a very fresh and zingy lunch choice.

Both Chris and Nicole had the Gothenberg hot dog – beef and pork frankfurter with mash, roasted onion and house gherkin mayo in a bread roll, and served with a jar of some fermented prawn salad goodness. This was an impressively large hot dog (inches poking out the ends of the bun, make your wang jokes right here) and was very clever in taking a borders-crossing dish and making it firmly Swedish.

With savouries out of the way, it was finally time to attack the object of my long game: the pastries cabinet.  I fell in love quite fiercely with sweets such as semla and kanelbullar on my trip, and unless one makes them oneself, Swedish baked treats are hard to come by here. So I was so so pleased to take into my hands a kardemummabullar, or cardamom scroll, dotted with stark white sugar crystals and thick, dark seams of spices curling around in aromatic whorls. This was everything. If I could have a bun like this every day of my life and die from acute carbs arrest, I would.

Fika is very much worth the ferry ride, or indeed the plane trip, I took to get to it. If you reside in or are visiting the harbour city, make great haste there by whichever transportation means are necessary.

Fika Swedish Kitchen

5B Market Lane, Manly

Ph: (02) 9976 5099

www.fikaswedishkitchen.com.au

The Kettle Black

It is BUSY at The Kettle Black. Seemingly all the time. It makes sense – in this particular part of South Melbourne, just near the Domain Interchange, there’s not another quality cafe within cooee. Luckily Julian had got there before me on this day and had the good sense to put our name on the list, so the wait for me was under ten minutes. Always go to brunch with more punctual friends, it equals dividends!

The Kettle Black is very striking, aesthetically. It’s comprised of the ground level of a swisho new apartment block, all shiny surfaces and architectural whizz-bangery, which has managed to include an old, stark white terrace house as a part of the greater building. Inside walls are white, with potted plants and vines streaming their tendrils in the bright light of the wall to ceiling windows that face the street.

After a flat white, I got stuck into a plate of seasonal raw and cooked mushrooms on toast with mushroom powder and goat curd, plus a poached egg. The poached egg was served on the side, which was a little odd – surely the joy of the poached egg is to pop it open upon your bread and fixings and let the yolk ooze decadently over everything. Maybe The Kettle Black wants to advocate levering a poached egg directly into you mouth all at once, and if so I greatly dishonoured local practice by carefully transferring the egg onto the mushroom and curd mountain on toast. The cooked mushrooms were juicy and hot; I’m not 100% convinced that the raw mushrooms worked with the rest of the plate, mainly for textural reasons, but it certainly is an interesting idea. But hey, put creamy goats’ curd on things and it all tends to turn out right in the end.

Julian decided to feast on some native wildlife (okay maybe it was mostly the allure of the eggs) and went with the chilli scrambled eggs with air-dried Flinders Island wallaby, feta and leaves. The scramble was an eye-popping cadmium yellow – yes I just delved into Derwent pencil colours to get just the right descriptor – crowned with some red capsicum and little pink medallions of wallaby meat.

I also finally sampled a Doughboys doughnut, which were the crown jewels in a very impressively curated cake cabinet. I have been largely suspicious of the fancy doughnut craze, as for me a doughnut is a rebellious crap food indulgence. I don’t need quality ingredients when it comes to a doughnut, I want powdered sugar and artificial creme! But this morning I was beguiled by the fat, glazed rings calling at me from across the room. I asked the waiter to surprise me with the flavour, and he brought back a ‘lime toast’ with lemon and lime zest icing, sprinkled with toasted coconut. The dough was very light, puffy and airy, and the icing had been heavily zested with citrus flavours without being overwhelming. It was very pleasant, although I can’t say I’ve now been drawn into abandoning my crap doughnut ways.

I am not one to ordinarily advocate queuing for anything, no matter how good, but should you find yourself in South Melbourne and can snaffle yourself a spot at The Kettle Black in under ten minutes, I would recommend it as time well spent.

The Kettle Black

50 Albert Road, South Melbourne

Ph: 9088 0721

thekettleblack.com.au

Nora

I’ve somehow wound up with a Saturday morning film reviewing gig on radio (I know, right?!) which has the pleasing bonus of causing me to be up and about way earlier that most Saturday morning foodies. All early opening breakfast spots are mine for the taking!

I’d been wanting to visit Nora since it opened – a Thai cafe serving Thai-inspired brunch meals, that’s a damn sight more exciting than plain old eggs on toast (not to disparage eggs on toast, but I consume A LOT of eggs on toast, change is good and healthy for mind and tum). It’s an extremely visually appealing space, coming across as half coffee spot, half art project, with an overall Scandi blonde wood look and the big table by the front window doesn’t appear to be for customers, instead displaying a tableau of the produce used in the menu. Very striking, although it must make things a bit crowded when there’s a full house.

The second thing you’ll notice after the space is that menu. Warning, it is LIMITED. Two options for vegetarians, out of seven dishes all up. But it’s an interesting menu, with things like smoked fish with nashi, beets and coconut ricotta, and the intriguingly named “Pig From The Ground It’s Raised From” (perhaps a nod to Ben Shewry’s renowned potato cooked in it’s own earth). Everything is just that little bit fancy, down to being served sparkling as the standard water option.

Out of the two vegie friendly options available, I decided to go with the ‘2010’ rice bircher, with longan, jackfruit, toddy palm, coconut and almonds. This was quite a visual and textural experience, being served in a heavy stone bowl, with the mass of purple-black bircher rice supporting crescents of jackfruit, ever so thinly sliced rounds of longan, roughly shaped shavings of coconut, the jelly-ish toddy palm and chopped chunks of almonds. The only component that didn’t really work for me was an unfamiliar nut or seed that had been combined in with the rice bircher and were shaped kind of like a gingko nut. These had an unpleasant texture that felt out of place, particularly in among the smooth creaminess of the bircher.

While I may not return frequently for Nora’s food given the small amount of options for vegies, I definitely will for their excellent coffee which really was gorgeous, perfectly poured with good colour, and not too strong. I’ve just started working in Carlton and Nora is within walking distance, which pleases me no end in terms of afternoon coffee breaks.

While Nora may not have enough on the menu to make regular diners out of those with specialty diets, if you are intrigued by any of their dishes I do recommend giving them a go. Perhaps you’ll even be able to snaffle one of their famous charcoal tarts, but be warned that they only make up to 100 a day, and they’re normally gone by noon!

Nora

156 Elgin Street, Carlton

www.noramelbourne.com