The Woods of Windsor

There are some days when trying to distill an amazing experience down into words is the hardest thing one can try to do. It’s not the same as detailing a negative experience, that is a practice that is all too easy as there are many, many delicious negative words that are far too fun to fling around in a tornado of pique. It is far, far harder, in my estimation, to really nail a positive, amazing experience down into concrete words that ends up satisfying you as a writer. Which is going to make this following post about The Woods of Windsor a very difficult writing task for me indeed.

I had taken note of the space where The Woods of Windsor was to take up residence as it was being constructed, as someone had told me that it was going to be run by the same outfit as Yellow Bird. That caught my interest, and once this glowing recommendation hit Broadsheet, I was in a tizzy. I messaged my work husband Nik (also known as Doctor Ethnic*) with alarming alacrity. “Faux husband and wife date, here, NOW NOW NOW.”

The space is long and dark, a cosy shadowy cavern, with many cute, slightly hipstery touches in terms of design especially focused on rabbit iconography (although if you have phobias involving taxidermy animals, yeah, you might have an episode). There’s seated dining towards the back of the room, but since we strolled in without a reservation (we are shamelessly lax diners), we were seated at the bar area up the front, at a long bench table abutting the windows which open out onto the street.

We started with cocktails, which is of course the correct way to go about things. Nik had a Dark and Stormy, which was a generous serving of rum with ginger ale and mint, cool, direct and refreshing. I like a cocktail that slaps you hard on the back and makes you gasp, and thus went with the Whisky Bang. It achieved that first essential gasp, and gently mellowed out as time wore on and the ice started melting. Very appreciative of the fact that the cocktails are served in tall glasses, it’s nice to have a sinfully alcoholic beverage that lasts throughout the meal.

Anyway, enough of libations, what of food? I had previously read about the zucchini flowers dish, and was so keen I didn’t even really look at the rest of the menu. This anticipation, however, didn’t quite prepare me for what was on the plate. Three neat zucchini flowers placed next each other alternating top to tail, loosely encrusted in a light, delicately thin coating of batter. Each flower was stuffed with a sweet, creamy goats cheese, and underneath each flower head rested an ever so thin slice of beetroot, about the width of a crisp. Sprinkled atop the flowers were some pan-roasted pine nuts, and little green crescents of what I think were pimento olives, as well as a garnish of sprouts. The presentation was so gorgeous to the eye that I hesitated slightly in starting to eat it, as it seemed such a shame to dismantle a piece of art.

But eat I did, and good golly, it was DIVINE. A perfect balance of all those diverse yet complimentary flavours. I must of had a very interesting expression on my face while eating it, because at one point two middle-aged ladies who were walking past caught sight of me and the zucchini flowers, and actually spoke to me through the open window to ask “Is that as good as it looks?” I garbled back “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten!” with a mouth full of flowers and then kept hoeing in.

Nik ordered the duck dish that was simply described on the menu as “spiced duck breast: quinoa, seeds.” It was quite a lot more than that simple description belies. About four fat medallions of duck breast had been placed on the plate; little brown piles of quinoa were alternated by pools of a bright yellow sauce, probably a hollondaise. “Now, here’s where it gets theatrical,” said the waitress, as she poured a thin jus out of a tiny jug with a flourish over the duck pieces. In the end Nik felt that perhaps the jus wasn’t quite needed, but was otherwise just as enthusiastic over it as I was about the zucchini flowers.

“If I could have got away with licking the plate, I would have,” I told the waiter ruefully when he came to collect our heartily scraped dishes. “Oh, we TOTALLY encourage plate-licking!” he said cheerfully.

We weren’t quite full, so our gazes collectively turned towards a shared dessert. The summer mille feuille was a sweet tower constructed out of discs of crisp, crunchy almond brittle, held together by white chocolate mousse, and layered with raspberries, halved blueberries and cubes of watermelon and cantaloupe, topped with a few violet pansies for an edible, decorative touch. It’s very right to describe this as a summer dessert, it was so light and fresh and felt really cleansing after the amazing, zinging “Oh my there’s tastes everywhere!” excitement of the zucchini flowers.

With middle to high food prices, it’s certainly not the sort of place that you are going to be able to afford eating at every night of the week (though the pricing of the many beverage selections are more than fair). But for a special occasion evening or for those times when you feel the need to indulgently treat yourself to something more gastronomically elegant that your usual fare, The Woods of Windsor has you sorted. And I am going to be trying to find excuses to be indulgent here as often as I can!

The Woods of Windsor

108 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ph: 9512 1900

*He’s not a real doctor, he just plays one on TV.

The Firehouse

There are some friends that are lunch friends, some that are dinner friends, some that are coffee and cake friends, and some are friends that you never want to see eat because the way they masticate foreshadows the end of worlds. My friend Kristen is a breakfast friend. Which means she is best kind of friend!

We used to do breakfast down at a place in Croydon, but the last time we went it was distinctly lackluster, complete with them serving Kristen an iced tea that was completely undrinkable (I don’t even want to know how that happens), so I was charged with finding somewhere new which, frankly, is a little hard out here in the outer east. But! I was driving down Maroondah Hwy not shortly after and was reminded of The Firehouse, which has had reasonable coverage in print media outlets, something of a small miracle considering no one goes to the outer east to eat unless you live there.

The Firehouse, as the name suggests, is in the old fire brigade station house, and is pretty much the cutest damn little place you could clap eyes on, with its red brick peeking out from between all the climbing ivy. Apparently they still have the original fire pole somewhere inside, but I couldn’t see it. So I’ll just imagine that there were firefighters whizzing down it all through our breakfast but I just couldn’t see them because they were also NINJAS.

Kristen had the hueveros ranchos: spicy baked beans, baked eggs, coriander and turkish bread in a big clay pot (with the bacon kindly omitted). This was huge! In fact everything at The Firehouse came in hefty sizes – I got a  grapefruit juice and later an earl grey tea that came in giant glasses. I am an advocate of big servings, but if you have a tinier appetite you might struggle a little; Kristen couldn’t finish her beans, despite loving them madly.

I had poached eggs with chive butter, hash brown and beautiful canary-coloured hollandaise sauce on turkish bread. This was pretty damn special. The poached eggs were perfectly done; a little ‘pop!’ with my knife tip and the yolks oozed all over everything. The hash brown had nothing in common with the flat, McDonald’s version that seems to crop up in a lot of cafe breakfasts lately, and was instead a hefty wedge of potato that when broken open was vividly fluffy. The hollandaise was divine, and the chive butter lended an extra tang to the dish that I worried was going to end up being overpowering, but actually ended up blending into the other flavours nicely.

The space is big, well plotted out and, well, friendly is the word I keep thinking. It’s like someone’s opened up their house for you. A house that used to have a firetruck in it. If the house is full there’s a nice area (vestibule! I’ve always wanted to use that word) just inside the front door with squishy couches to sit on and chat while you wait for the tables to free up. No clambering outside the door in the cold!

It turned out that Kristen had an ulterior motive in us going out to breakfast. She had a present for me! And get ready to gird yourself against the sheer awesomeness that is this gift. Girded? Good.

She knitted me… a DALEK!

He is orange and green and a fuzzy, cuddly woolen ball of DOOM! He sits on top of my telly, menacing my stuffed Totoro with his proboscis (don’t worry, Totoro’s a nature god, he doesn’t take no crap from some punk-ass robot alien). Thank you so much, Kristen, he is wonderful.

The Firehouse

253-257 Maroondah Highway, Ringwood

Ph: 9876 8100

www.thefirehouse.net.au