Max Bar & Restaurant

Does anyone else get slightly suspicious/worried when they walk into a restaurant and there’s football paraphernalia hanging on the walls? Framed jerseys and the like? Not that I don’t enjoy sports (I do! Watching them at least. Not playing them because that involves moving), but there’s something about a sporty presence in a restaurant that makes me assume that the menu’s going to be filled with steaks the size of your head and burgers containing whole cows. And that the only concession to vegos tends to be a veggie pizza, or maybe if you’re lucky a pasta dish. It’s a little uninspiring is what I’m saying.

The first thing I noticed about Max Bar & Restaurant was the football jerseys on one wall. Of course, I was lucky to have noticed anything at all, as on this particular day I was enormously sleep deprived from having pulled an all-nighter in order to finish an essay for uni (REMEMBER THOSE? Yeah, they’re just as horrible as you recollect them. I am too old for such chicanery). I barreled into the place where The Boy Dan and his friend Jan were waiting for me, having walked around in circles for a good half hour trying to find Hardware Lane in my exhausted fuzz, and hazily explained my lateness away on sleep-depravity, bad directions from The Boy, and something unmentionable that caused Jan to be completely open-mouthed and silent for a whole minute. Hello, I am Hayley and I ruin dinners before they even start.

The Boy, having once ascertained that I was “SLEEPY”, asked as to the state of my tum. “HUNGRY” was the reply. A menu was thrust hurriedly in my direction.

On viewing the menu my prejudices caused me to be metaphorically swatted upside the head. Yes, there is a focus on steaks and pub-style meaty offerings such as chicken parmagiana  and lamb shanks, and though the veggie options do include the obligatory pizza and risotto, there are also dips, bruschetta, baked field mushrooms, and a few pasta dishes. Nothing mindblowingly out of the ordinary for the more adventurous vegetarian, but there are plentiful options, which is nice to see.

I ended up going with the vegetarian pizza with grilled zucchini, slow-roasted pumpkin, Spanish red onion, Persian feta and pesto oil. I am normally Not A Fan of pumpkin on pizza, but it seemed like a seriously heavy-duty pizza, and remember, I was HUNGRY! The Boy chose the pumpkin risotto (which I was this close to choosing myself), while Jan went with the Max Burger, going with beef rather chicken.

The pizza looked great, with a nice even spread of toppings, and the pumpkin wasn’t overwhelming. Yet the crust was quite thick, which is a very big foodie turn-off for me, and frankly there was little flavour going on at all despite the taste-explosion menu description. I ate it all because I was deathly starving, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it.

The boys fared better, with Jan saying his burger was great (he even chose to finish it off while leaving behind chips, unfathomable reasoning to me, the potato fiend). Dan was the winner with his pumpkin risotto. I was offered a spoonful, and it was delightful, with plump rice dotted with melting chunks of pumpkin and baby spinach leaves threaded throughout. I immediately developed a distinct case of meal envy, and watched longingly as The Boy scraped his plate clean.

The staff at Max are friendly and efficient (apologies to our waitress who had to deal with my wan smiles and monosyllabic replies. I am normally gregarious, I promise!). The space is very large, and the predominant type of customer while we were there was evenly split between older couples and parents with young children. Not a haven for foodie hipsters, clearly, but I have to admit it was nice to sit and schlub in a place where no one was there purely to be seen eating somewhere dangerously fashionable.

The food at Max was hit and miss, but the hits were good enough to maybe entice me back one day. Sometimes you just need a dose of pub-like food stylings in a nice brasserie setting. Though I could probably still do without the football decorations (some prejudices die hard).

Max Bar & Restaurant

54-58 Hardware Lane, Melbourne

http://www.maxbarrestaurant.com.au

Trotters

I have already had to learn an important lesson in food blogging: WRITE STUFF DOWN! Particularly what is in dishes. I made this visit back last Monday and am now blearily attempting to remember exactly what occurred and what I ate. HAYLEY YOU ARE USELESS HOW IS THIS GOING TO INFORM ANYONE? (disclaimer: probably not best to rely on me to ever inform you on anything ever)

Anyways, mea cupla, try better next time, moving on. Easter Monday found Hayley on a ladydate with the most wonderous Natalie (aka Muffin). I had with me a bulging notebook scrawled with addresses of foodie places I have yet to try, but of course having thus prepared myself for newness, we ended up eating at an old favourite that I hadn’t been to in quite a while: Trotters.

I have ridiculous amounts of love for Trotters, I won’t lie. I’ve never had anything less than a completely enjoyable meal here, and this visit was no different, complete with THE BEST SPINACH MUFFIN AND I HAVE EACH EVER HAD!

Oh, good spinach, you are so hard to find. So often you are substituted with one of your ragtag cousins, like limp ‘n’ soggy spinach, dry spinach, under-seasoned spinach or, worst of all, oily flavourless spinach (I hate them all! So much!). It makes me giddy to find you included in a dish.

So, what did we order that we were gifted with such green goodness? Well, seeing as the breakfast menu at Trotters runs till 3pm, and I cannot in good conscious turn away from a second (or third) breakfast, I went with the ricotta cake with poached eggs and spinach. Ordinarily this dish comes with smoked salmon, but when I asked the waitress whether I could have it without she cheerfully replied “I don’t see why not!” (yay for being allowed to make changes without being evil-eyed by the staff and treated like you just offered to stab their children with a spork). Muffin, being of my own ken in regards to breakfast, ordered the homemade baked beans on toast, with an extra side of spinach.

I also ordered a pot of tea with the intriguing blend name of ‘Melbourne Breakfast’. The menu description emphasised its vanilla flavour – boy howdy, they weren’t kidding! A lovely brew, though would probably be best served by having it accompanied by something sweet rather than savoury, which is exactly what Muffin did, as you will soon see.

The plates arrived! And we were pleased with the eye-bounty. But what of taste, Hayley, what of it? Well, the ricotta cake was gorgeous both in looks and taste, flavoursome without being too salty, and flecked through with dill, which I assume was originally to compliment the salmon, but was not out of place at all without it. I was a wee bit worried about the poached eggs – I ordinarily don’t order poached eggs when eating out, even though they are my favourite style of egg, as too many places seem to use vinegar in the water in order to set the eggs. There’s little worse, in my book, than having to eat an vinegary-tasting poached egg. But! not a trace of vinegar to be found in these eggy morsels, which were perfectly poached and once popped with my fork dribbled decadently all over the ricotta and toast.

Muffin’s beans equally looked fab, with a multitude of fat cannellini beans and sauce that definitely looked homemade. I was offered a fork-full to taste test, and mmm, they were damn nice (with all my dining companions ordering beans lately, I really should capitulate and order some for myself one of these days).

And let’s not forget the spinach. Oh, THE SPINACH! Such faces of glee Muffin and I made, we must have been hilarious to watch. “What have they DONE to this?” I moaned at one point. “Something with butter, probably.” Muffin replied. It can’t just have been butter, there was something peppery going on as well, and the spinach itself was still bright green having only just been wilted enough to keep it warm… ahhh, bliss!

I was far too full and content to even contemplate dessert, but Muffin had herself a pot of Melbourne Breakfast and a chocolate and almond muffin (fitting!). It looked decadent, and watching Muffin eat it was better than watching Matt Preston eat on Masterchef, so happy did she look.

We whiled our afternoon away gossiping over Muffin’s tea, soaking in the space, and feeling extraordinarily contented. A fine end to the Easter weekend.

Trotters

400 Lygon Street, Carlton

http://www.trotters.com.au/ (oh goodness, that is one of the most adorable restaurant websites I’ve seen in a while!)