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

Hellenic Republic

Do you know how long I have waited to eat at Hellenic Republic? ALL OF MY LIFE. Or at least it seems that way. For years I’ve been trying to lock it in as my preferred birthday blow-out treat venue, but as I share these outings with my mother as our birthdays are mere days apart, and she has the shocking temerity to not like Greek food (WHAT), it was not to be. Thankfully when catching up with Jen and Zoe for a long overdue dinner of awesome, Jen had the good sense to book at table at Hellenic, throwing me into an excited/nervous maelstrom of “oh yes FINALLY but will it be good oh god I hope it’s good.”

Zoe had thankfully been to Hellenic many a time, and had the good oil on what we should order. As long as we finished on the loukoumathes, the Greek doughnuts that have become chef George Columbaris’ specialty and have long been haunting my most covetous dreams, I was very happy to accept whatever showed up. And very happy I ended up indeed.

To start we went with a pair of dips with grilled pita bread, because I can’t pass up the chance to slather bread in things. The tzatziki of cucumber, dill and olive oil drizzled yoghurt was agreeably tart, but my heart was immediately taken by the fava Santorini – yellow split pea dip with white truffle oil, capers, and shallots. THIS DIP WAS BROUGHT DOWN FROM OLYMPUS BY SOME WILY HERO THIEF OF ANTIQUITY, THIS IS MY FIRM BELIEF. Because how else could it have been so outrageously, surprisingly good? I don’t ordinarily expect dips to rate among the best part part of a meal (who does) but this was extraordinary and a must order.

Our other starter was the tyri saganaki kefalograviera with peppered figs. I’m always happy to eat up hot salty cheese like it is manna, but felt slight trepidation about the idea of a peppered fig. I should not have been so silly and trusted in George, as it turns out peppered figs are quite delightful, the sharp burr of peppery heat mellowing out against the fig’s sweetness so that with the salty cheese it was a fantastic hot-savoury-sweet taste melange.

The Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts and yoghurt was our concession towards vaguely healthy eating, and it was a very good choice indeed, being very nutty, lightly dressed with olive oil yet allowing the simple grains to pop against the tart yoghurt.

And immediately directing spite at any sense of healthy eating was the next dish, the Tiganites Patates – potatoes fried in olive oil, and flaked with oregano and salt. You probably don’t need yet another description from me about crispy fried potato, so I will spare you, but it was good, ever so good.

As my vegie main I got for myself a spanakopita, which as we all know is a Greek cheese and spinach pie in flaky filo pastry. A nice round of a pie, it was light and flaky, not at all greasy or oily, a nice salty golden pillow threaded with green.

I was growing dangerously full by this point, and was worried at the fact I still had two desserts to sample! The much longed for loukoumathes were first – Hellenic doughnuts generously drizzled with honey, dusted with cinnamon and then topped with scattered walnuts. These were as divinely sweet as the description implies, puffed balls of dough liberally coated in thick, oozy, sweet sweet sweet honey. They were in all honestly probably a bit too rich for their own good, we actually couldn’t finish the bowl between the three of us! But they were still very worth trying, I would just recommend either eating less before they are scheduled to hit the table (a very difficult proposition), or having more people to share them with.

Our second dessert was the Bougatsa me Frouta tou pathous – semolina and passionfruit custard pie, encased in filo pastry and topped with vanilla ice-cream. This was the secret stealth winner of the whole meal. Akin to a round roll version of vanilla slice, it was a gorgeous rich custard delight, bright yellow and decadent yet not at all heavy once settled in your stomach, it was somewhat a feat of wizardry. Zoe informed us that this is a dish commonly served for breakfast in Greece, which seems enormously unfair in comparison to cereal and means we should all probably pack up and go to Greece tomorrow.

So did Hellenic Republic live up to my wild expectations? Yes, and then some. The staff were a delight and enormously professional while still being friendly, the space although large manages to make you and your table of diners feel they have an intimate cocoon, and the food, as gushingly detailed above, was well worth the wait. I hope I don’t have to wait as long for a second helping.

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick

Ph: 9381 1222

hellenicrepublic.com.au

Rumi

In further birthday related adventures, I decided to mix it up a little this year in terms of the venue for my family’s dinner treat. Ordinarily we can all be relied upon to choose either Cantonese or Thai restaurants for our family birthday feasts, but I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore a cuisine I wasn’t as familiar with at a fancy purveyor of said cuisine. My knowledge of Lebanese food has basically sat at “felafel and hummus” for far too long, so it seemed like the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Rumi.

The restaurant itself is really quite beautiful, with a corner spot that is all windows, soft orange, intimate lighting and tasteful themed touches, like intricately curled metal lamps, and Middle Eastern cookbooks propping up at the bar.

Given that we are a family of greedy gutses, it seemed that going with one of the banquet options was the best route. Once knowing I was a vegetarian, the staff offered to augment the regular banquet dishes with some special vegie ones for me, which resulted in a mountain of food!

First of all was the flatbread, fluffy rounds all coiled up in silver cups and served with crudites (pieces of fresh vegetables and also some pickles), housemade labne and white bean hummus. It takes a lot for dips to be exciting, but that’s exactly what these were – the labne was tart, creamy, yet surprisingly light, while the white bean hummus was all lemony, tahini goodness, kind of reminiscent of my favourite white bean dip that I make at home all the time, but tahini-er (totes a word). And the flatbread! Pillowy and soft, yet with just the right amount of chew, ever so more-ish.

But let’s not just fill up on bread! Served alongside the flatbread were the sigara boregi, cigar shaped pastries filled with haloumi, feta and kasseri. I could have done with about ten more of these little babies instead of the one I had to be satisfied with so that everyone could try one. So tasty! Light, crunchy pastry encasing a salty, cheesy filling with the teeniest touch of spice.

My first individual vegie dish was the burnt eggplant with Persian buttermilk dressing, mint and crispy onions. The eggplant was beautifully soft and quite mildly flavoured. It was pleasant but not whizz-bang memorable.

I was most looking forward to the fried cauliflower with caramelised onions, currants and pie nuts, and boy howdy, it did not disappoint. This was the best kind of fried vegetable goodness, all sweet honeyed onions slapping up against charred cauliflower florets in a combo known as deliciousness.

A small bowl of broad beans with soft onion, almonds and bastourma was my next pointedly vegie dish. While most of the flavours involved were quite pleasing, the broad beans had tipped into slightly bitter territory, and since I tend to like broad beans when they’re early season and more sweet, this dish didn’t particularly grab me.

What did grab me was the BBQ asparagus with egg and lemon sauce and a sprinkling of nigella seeds. So simply done, but SO delicious, all caramelised, slightly burnt ‘gus undercut by tart lemon, soooo good.

The most wildly received dish by the whole table was the freekah salad with almonds, ewe’s milk feta and pomegranate dressing. It was the first time a few of us had had freekah before, and my mum in particular was very taken with it’s nutty flavour, and the tasty, clean-palated nature of the dish as a whole.

My next vegie plate was a fennel dish, with the fennel lightly braised in a creamy and slightly tomatoey sauce, tossed through with crispy pita curls. The aniseed flavour of the fennel did get a bit too much about halfway through the dish (and I’m someone who really likes aniseed! Go figure), but I loved loading up the pita curls with soft fennel and sauce.

There was also this amazing cos lettuce and herb salad with sweet and sour dressing – literally it was just greens and radish rounds, but it was so deceptively tasty!

This was so, so much food that I very nearly didn’t take up on the waitress’s offer of dessert. But it seemed a shame not to have a least a tiny sweet treat to round the meal off with, so we had a little nibble of some turkish delight and halva. The turkish delight was quite nice, though a little bit tough at the edges, like it had been left out in the fridge for a bit too long. Megan went mad for the halva, and I thought it was pretty great too, all pistachio’d deliciousness. A pot of fragrant¬†mint tea was a leavening and refreshing end to it all (although Mum and Megan, who finished with the Turkish coffee, reported back that it was kind of horrible).

Rumi provided a really varied, interesting exploration of a cuisine that I have long wanted to be more intimately knowledgeable of. There was a high proportion of truly memorable dishes experienced, and even the less memorable ones weren’t bad, just more of an acquired taste. I’m certainly keen to try Rumi’s sister restaurant now, the ‘Lebanese pizza’ purveying The Moor’s Head. I wonder if there’s a hummus pizza? Someone should get on that.

Rumi

116 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9388 8255

rumirestaurant.com.au

Milkwood

Oh north-side, I do not get to visit you as much as I would like to. Luckily for me, Phoebe insists on living in north-side, and then invites me to brunch at whatever hot little caf’ is within walking distance of her abode.

Milkwood is so hot as to be positively scalding. It was absolutely buzzing when we arrived on a pleasantly sunny Saturday morning, so much so that we were quite lucky to slip into a pavement table almost immediately. Though I do kind of wish we’d waited a little to see if we could of got a table inside, just because Nicholson Street is quite busy and the outdoor tables are placed very close to the edge of road with no kind of barrier, so I kind of felt unnerved the entire time thinking that a truck was going to sweep my brunch out from under me and take me along with it. So do try to get a cosy table inside if you can.

Being me, I was lured over to the sweet side of the menu with alacrity, and after some indecision went with the ricotta pancakes with banana, honeyed yoghurt and toasted coconut. Big fat fluffy ricotta pancakes appeared with bright yellow disks of banana piled on top, crowned with a generous mound of yoghurt and browned curls of coconut. This was a delightful, albeit heavy, brunch plate that measured the sweetness of the ricotta and banana well with the tartness of the yoghurt, and I think I’m at a point where I kind of just want toasted coconut on everything, it always sets off other flavours so well.

But there I was, all content and satisfied, unaware that I was poised for a fall. Because Phoebe ordered a dish that caused the most acute case of food envy I have suffered in a long while.

She went with the cannellini bean and rosemary mash with avocado slices served on nice crusty bread. It was a very generous serving, with three pieces of mash-topped toast, and luckily it was so big a serving Phoebe ended up donating me a slice. OH MY LORDY. It was stupidly delicious. Just this lovely, hearty, beautiful mess of sweet beans threaded through with rosemary leaves, so simple yet divine. I was so pleased I was able to share some of it, but at the same time incredibly jealous that I hadn’t thought to order it myself.

Apart from having to sit so close to marauding traffic, and being given a tea strainer with my English breakfast that hadn’t been cleaned properly and was a bit groady, I was pretty well-pleased by Milkwood. The food is top-notch brunching fare, and I’m so keen to go back and have a plate of those beautiful beans all to my greedy self.

Milkwood

120 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9380 4062

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe

Having been thwarted on our first attempted visit to L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe, Jess, Kim and I were determined not to let it slip out of our grasp. We returned the week after our abortive effort, this time ensuring we went on a day it was actually open!

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe is quite nondescript from the outside; the only indication that there may be something interesting inside the warehouse exterior is the bright red front door. But through the red door is an enormous, airy room that is all industrial clean lines and high ceilings, dotted with well-spaced tables. One side of the space has been partitioned, and behind it you can see some serious baking machinery, giving you hope that these people clearly mean business about their sweets.

I definitely mean business about sweets, which meant that even though there were some intriguing savoury options on offer, I went straight for what would make my dentist cry. The raisin bread with coffee mascarpone was two slices of decadent bliss, with the pleasingly spiced hot bread providing a nice thick support for the mascarpone, which was very obliging in melting slightly, creating a sweet coffee, cheesy goo.

The best part about flipping through the Monsieur Truffe menu was discovering that there is a whole page devoted to tea. A WHOLE PAGE! So many options, my little tea-loving heart nearly gave out right there and then, but I pulled myself together and decided on the Russian caravan blend. Served in a very cute stackable teapot and cup set, it had that strong dank smell that I love (but tends to put most other people in mind of being drowned in a peat bog forever). Definitely an acquired taste, but I was so happy to see it and so many other more niche tea varieties available.

My companions were more sensible than me and started off savoury. Jess had the pea and mint omelette, which looked and tasted like spring on a plate. Kim had an Italian-style bread salad, with chunks of crusty bread which had been soaked in olive oil and tomato juice, slices of what looked like proper slabs of artisan bacon, dark green fronds of basil and a fat poached egg that oozed all over everything.

The sweet parade continued when we collectively shared two croissants with homemade, dribbly raspberry jam and the house chocolate sauce, which was like the version of Nutella you might taste in your dreams. We particularly wanted to try a chocolate croissant, but as I was talking to the staff up at the counter to find out about all the desserts in the cabinet, the last one was whisked away from under my nose!

Jess was particularly aggrieved by this loss, she had her heart set on a chocolate croissant, and secretly took her rage out on the gentleman sitting with his friend on the benches across from us who had ordered it. “Look at that bastard. Eating MY chocolate croissant.” Much glaring ensued. But while I grieved the loss of chocolate, I was really enormously pleased with our plain croissants, all flaky and crispy like all perfect pastries should be.

Continued sweets required more hot beverages. The 70% cocoa hot chocolate that I had with the croissant was probably, and I know you’re all used to my hyperbole but I’m saying this with the utmost sincerity, one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. If you love the bitter tang of really good dark chocolate this should be your drink of choice, it manages to be both bitter and creamy, and most importantly doesn’t leave you with a sickly over-chocolated tummy ache.

The staff are SUPER CHARMING, as you would expect staff with such delightful French accents to be. The best moment was when we had finished our croissants and were happily picking at the buttery flakes left on our plates, and the waiter said to us, “Ah yes, I will not take your plates just yet, because that is the true pleasure of the croissant, to eat all the tiny flakes.” TRUE FACTS.

Most impressively of all, my entire meal (so toast, croissant, tea and hot chocolate) came to just under $20! That is an obscene steal for the quality of produce! So go through the red door, so many sweet delights await you in the beyond.

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe

351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9380 4915

http://monsieurtruffe.wordpress.com/

Update 7/3/2013: As reported on Where’s the Beef, L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe has now been renamed East Elevation. While running with a similar menu, it is apparently now more vegan and gluten-free friendly.

Pope Joan

The Ladies Who Lunch recently convened together for a long awaited event – this was to be our chocolate lunch, a reward for Jess and Kim finishing uni forever, and me because, well, I just deserve chocolate in general. So the plan was to go to L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe and stuff ourselves with chocolate and delicate pastries until we couldn’t stand it any more.

But as you may have noticed, this post is not entitled L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe and for very good reason, as when we all gathered outside the red door on Lygon Street, we were sad to discover that chocolatey French delights were not to be ours on a Monday as they were closed! WOE.

“Well, what are we going to do NOW?” Jess asked. I whipped up Where’s the Beef on my phone to figure out what was nearby. “Gingerlee, New Day Rising…”

“I saw a nice looking place on the way in,” said Kim. “Pope… Pope something…”

“POPE JOAN?” Jess and I shouted in unison, both of our faces glazing over in worshipful wonder. Once the name had been floated, there was no further question of where we were going.

Inside Pope Joan is all light and airy inside with warm wood finishes everywhere, but the place to be on a sunny day is out in the courtyard, nestled on surprisingly comfortable park benches set on top of astro-turf, with garden beds and pots of herbs in reach for you to sniff at.

It was quite hard to narrow down the delicious-sounding menu to just one option. I ended up erring on the side of eggs and ordered the asparagus, mozzarella and herb omelette.This was the most impressive (and giant!) omelette I had seen in quite a while; a roulade-shaped mass of egg encasing whole spears of asparagus and ever so stretchy mozzarella. And just in case all those spears weren’t enough to satisfy your ravenous need for asparagus, there were also tiny sliced discs of asparagus layered in the omelette batter itself. It was rich, is was cheesy, it was gussy, it was the high god king of omelettes, and I did not shut up about it to anyone I came across in the week after I consumed it.

I was negligent in taking proper note of Kim’s meal (I know it was a smashed avocado something), but I do remember that Jess had the Not Quite Full English Breakfast, with scrambled eggs, a little tin of baked beans, sausage and bacon. It may not have been full but it looked filling, and I may have pined a little for my own tin of baked beans.

Are we the sort of people to stop at one dish each? No, you know we are not, so of course dessert followed. I had the ginger bread with smoked maple butter, accompanied with a pineapple sage and mint tea. The ginger bread contained my preferred ratio of ginger, awesomely strong (I have been known to happily gnaw on raw ginger, so this sort of spice ratio may not be as agreeable to you), and was served warm, so that the maple butter melted and mingled with the bread’s spices. And unlike a lot of condiments labeled ‘smoked’, the butter had a distinctly dusky, smoked flavour to it. The pineapple sage and mint tea made a good companion for the bread, all pleasantly herby with a mild fruity overtone which mellowed out the mint, which I find can sometimes overwhelm other flavours. All in all so comforting, and so damn good.

Kim’s mango and vanilla rice pudding, served in a large jam jar, was a delightfully creamy thing, punctuated with dots of vanilla seed and slivers of bright mango. I probably ended up sampling quite a bit more of this than I intended, purely because it was reasonably rich and filled Kim up quite quickly. I didn’t get a look in at Jess’ chocolate and raspberry muffin, however, it disappeared into a trace of crumbs while I wasn’t looking!

Pope Joan was, simply put, absolutely stunning. This was in no way a case of having to settle for second best. Even with only a few weeks slipping by since our visit, I can recall that sunny courtyard, the delicious things we ate and our acres of lazy chatter with a sharp clarity that I know means that that afternoon is going to become a particularly favoured memory.

As for L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe, did we end up making it there in the end? Tune in for our next episode, Ladies Who Lunch: Chocpocalypse!

Pope Joan

77-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9388 8858

http://popejoan.com.au/