My name is Amy Collins and I am a lover of food, wine, restaurants and bars and sharing these experiences with great company. I am a freelance food and drink writer and share my everyday foodie experiences here. I would love to hear from you, so don't be shy!
I want to share a little gem with you. Don’t tell too many people though, this space is small and intimate and would be ruined by hordes of hungry Melbournians. Its charm comes from its simple food, wholesome philosophy and gorgeous staff.
I would like to preface this write up with a disclaimer. These divine folk provide me with my morning coffee every day – excellent coffee might I add. Now while I didn’t know them when I first moved into the area (I still only know them in a caffeinated capacity), it is possible that I, like Stockholm syndrome sufferers have become emotionally attached to this place. How can you not feel deeply for the person who hands you that warm cup of coffee each morning? They have also come to know my name, my order and my style of clothing – the barista/owner told me recently she found a pair of pants I just must have. She had me at pants.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted. Thomson Café and Food Store, found well and truly off the beaten track in Northcote is a local goldmine. With seating room for about 15 inside and another 6 outside, it’s one of those places where you feel you’re visiting a friend’s house for brunch.
The kitchen is almost non-existent. They cook all of the food behind the counter in tiny pots and ovens. Due to this, the menu is small and considered. In the egg department they stick to the baked variety like the #3 of caramelised onion, spinach and marinated feta ($14) or the #4 with pork sausage, white beans, béchamel sauce and a cheesy top ($14). They cover other brunch cravings with items like sticky fruit and ginger loaf with honey ricotta ($9) and the homemade bircher muesli ($10). And how can I not mention the smashed avocado? It’s delicious. Two (or one depending on how hungry you are), pieces of sourdough topped with avocado, marinated feta and toasted seeds ($13 for two slices). Each time you’ll get a different combination of the three breads available: white, rye and multigrain sourdough. All spot on.
When it comes to lunch they have a handful of sandwiches like the rare roast beef or chicken with walnuts, apple and celery. Larger meals come in the form of quesadillas and a slow cooked special which might see roast lamb with roasted potatoes.
Sweets are constantly rotating including muffins of chocolate and raspberry or spiced apple, currant, carrot and walnut, or polenta cakes with rosewater syrup. Baked savouries include egg tarts of feta and spinach and one morning I even saw a baked beetroot and blue cheese quiche. If smoothies are your thing they’ve also got you covered with five available. The clean eating, green smoothie drinking friends out there will enjoy the vegan raw cacao, a mix of home made almond milk, coconut milk, raw cacao powder, dates and maple syrup ($9) or the banana and spinach finished with coconut milk ($7).
You can also take home marinated feta, sourdough, dukkahs, curry pastes, Loving Earth pastes and homemade meals like curry and lasagne. If I’m telling the truth, sometimes it’s the only place I visit on a lazy Sunday.
So, one by one, not all at once, come spend some time in Thomson. You’ll like it.
Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2013
Fonda has opened the doors to its new Windsor restaurant, this is exciting. What is more exciting is they have also opened a new bar Atico upstairs. I don’t even know where to start. The tacos? The Tequila? The cute little frames on the wall? How about I start by sharing some of the chat I had with co-owner Tim McDonald. That might be better.
In light of the new liquor license at Fonda, I asked Tim a few questions to get to the bottom of their tequila heavy drinks list.
Amy: How does the new Fonda differ from the original? Can we expect the same things?
Tim: In substance it doesn’t! It is the same core offering of our high quality, but reasonably priced food, in an environment where we hope everyone feels at home. However, our new space has the added element of having a stand-alone bar upstairs (Called ‘Atico’), we fits in with the vibrant bar and nightlife scene in Windsor.
Amy: What do you want Fonda to be for people?
Tim: We want Fonda to be a premium quality offering in a homely setting, for a reasonable price. This encapsulates the concept of a ‘Fonda’ in Mexico, where a restaurant is run out of a family home. Our aim is for the Fonda experience to be suitable for anything from a last minute mid-week feed, to a night out with friends or family on a special occasion.
Amy: What can people expect from the drinks list at Fonda Windsor?
Tim: From our house made Aguas Frescas (non-alcoholic) to our Tequila based cocktails and imported Mexican beers, our guests are encouraged to try new drinks they may have never experienced before. We don’t serve VB, we don’t serve bourbon and we don’t serve coca cola, but there are plenty of places in the area who do.
Amy: How did you go about creating your drinks list?
Tim: We had a collaborative process with Matt Clarebrough from Tequila Tromba (ex Mamasita) and Josh Hoff (ex Der Raum). That and quite a few tasting sessions!
Amy How do you think the drinks list works with the food menu?
Tim: The wine, beer, cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks were carefully selected to compliment the food offering. For example, the ‘Agua Frescas’ a non-alcoholic drink, serves to cool the effects of a spicy dish.
Amy: What is your take on Tequila?
Tim: There is a yawning gulf between 100% Agave and Mixto Tequila. More and more Australian’s are beginning to understand and appreciate the difference.
Amy: What is your favourite thing to drink at Fonda? What is your go-to meal at Fonda?
Tim: Beef Burrito and a fish taco, washed down with a Pacifico or Lychee & Elderflower Frozen Margarita ( Tromba 100% Agave tequila, cloudy apple juice, elderflower extract, lychees).
The food at Fonda is spot on. The fish tacos have to be my favorite and this food is being taken upstairs to Atico with the new Fonda Catering.
When it comes to the drinks list at Atico, the small cocktail list is tequila heavy with guest appearances from local spirits The West Winds Gin and 666 Vodka. My drinks of choice would be the Tommy’s Margarita with Tromba Tequila or the Spanked Gin Smash with The West Winds Gin.
Working in South Melbourne, it’s easy to forget how lucky I am to have South Melbourne market a stone’s throw from the office. As you come to know the market, you realise there is a lot more to it than the rather famous dim sims – and don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t even tried said dim sim.
Let me tell you a little bit about a lunchtime trip to my favourite market. One of my must visit stops is Clement Coffee, the gorgeous little wooden stall, just big enough to order your coffee and run. They also serve up little sweet treats to take away.
When it comes to the food, the gozleme from Koy Restaurant is a pretty tasty lunchtime option. Grilled Turkish dough filled with cheese and spinach, I mean what’s wrong with that.
Among the plethora of other food stalls, Simply Spanish the Spanish pop up stall makes a mean paella out of beautiful large paella pans.
If a make your own adventure lunch takes your fancy, there are, like all markets, produce stalls for miles. Cheeses, meats, sweets, preserves, oils and the occasional clothes stall thrown in for good measure.
But to be honest, at the end of the day, it is the fresh produce that keeps me coming back every time. After a trip to the market, my favourite thing to do is go back to the office, toast up some Brasserie Bread (also in South Melbourne) Soy and Quinoa loaf and spread it thick with avocado and a squeeze of lemon juice. Sometimes simplicity really is best.
Thanks for joining me on my lunchtime trip to the market. Until next time.
When it comes to brunch, there is only one real question that ever needs to be answered. Salty or sweet? Little Big Sugar Salt (LBSS), the newest thing to hit Victoria Street in Abbotsford is making all of our lives easier when it comes to this all-important question. I give you their menu…
Broken down into salty or sweet and small or big (the name really does tell all), the menu is as easy to follow as a map. Choose your taste and decide how hungry you are. Why has no one thought of this before? Never fear, they have now.
When it comes to the coffee, LBSS is serving up fair-trade coffee from People’s Coffee in Wellington. It has a beautiful smooth finish and worked very nicely with soy milk.
On this particular morning I was feeling like something small and salty so I went for Health ‘the aspirational meal’ of avocado, tomato, green beans and leafy herbs with toast and Vegemite ($11).
If you haven’t had vegemite and avocado, you seriously need to rectify this (it has become my new obsession). LBSS’s avocado breakfast was off the charts. Salty from the vegemite, creamy from the avocado and the tomato and basil were great light touches to the dish.
My friend ordered the crumpets with lemon curd and mascarpone ($8)– small and sweet. She was a happy camper. The crumpets also come with peanut butter, blue cheese and bananas. This I want to try.
LBSS is cosy and the kind of place you want to visit. It feels a little like a house and a café coming together. Three spaces, one near the counter with window seating and two rooms out the back, the space only seats around 20 people. They are looking to introduce outdoor seating a little later in the game.
The crew behind this new café really are some of the nicest most passionate people in the business. If you get a chance to stay for a chat, you should. There is also a selfie station in the bathroom. Take a pic, put it on social media with the hashtags #lbsscafe and #selfiestation and get amongst it.
The Aylesbury Rooftop… it just makes me happy thinking about the prospect of drinking there. Somehow it takes the idea of the Melbourne rooftop bar and does something a little different with it. It manages class and sophistication with a touch of laid back and humble. They start with a sleek and unassuming decor, spot on staff and a killer drinks list. They round this off with spanish nibbles, perfect for snacking, and quite frankly, all I have to say is well done them.
Just off Lonsdale street, you slip past the door for The Aylesbury downstairs and head straight to the evelator. Hit number 5 and up you head – it all feels very penthouse and special. Once you get there you find a small bar and a little outdoor section that allows you to soak up the sun. During the day it’s relaxed and perfect for that afternoon G&T (or three lets be honest), and by night it turns into an intimate, buzzing bar serving up great cocktails and beautiful food.
I’ve been there many a time, usually during the afternoon to make the most of the summer heat, but a week or so ago was the first time I managed to eat there.
In a pre-theatre kind of mood, we opted to share a few of the smaller items between us. The Eggplant chips, the patatas bravas and some of the smoked eel croquettes.
Everything was spot on and not too heavy, even though most of what we ordered was deep fried. The eggplant chips managed to taste fresh and the flavour of the smoked eel was strong and beautiful.
Mother Collins also ordered the lamb ribs (she isn’t really the sharing type) and she informed me that these were ‘stunning’ – that’s pretty good coming from her.
We sipped many a glass of the Lonia Brut, Macabeo Xarel-lo Parellada from Spain and almost didn’t want to leave in time to make our show.
I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t have access to good coffee and good cocktails. It’s just best not to think about it. Thank goodness for Melbourne and her obsession with both. This year the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is making the most of the caffeinated skills of our lovely city and serving up coffee and coffee inspired tipples from some of the cities best, all in one spot, the sunny (or stinking hot as it has turned out) Southbank Queensbridge Square. Running until the 17th of March, there is plenty of coffee yet to be enjoyed.
You know those strange huge red steps at Southbank? Yeah them, well that is where this little pop up has well, popped up. Designed by HASSEL, the space is reimagining a real life terraced coffee farm. Think shipping containers, timber pallets and a lot of greenery.
During the day, one of Melbourne top café teams serve up lattes to the masses. This will see coffee from the likes of Top Paddock, 5 Senses, De Clieu, St Ali and Collective Espresso. The night shift is taken by one of Melbourne’s top bars. Kodiak Club, Lily Blacks, Eau de Vie and many more will shake and stir.
I made it down last Thursday night when the gents from The Lui Bar were doing their thing. They were serving up three types of alcoholic pour overs …‘Probably the most time consuming cocktail of the two weeks’ laughed James from The Lui Bar.
After ordering a chocolate pour over, a mix of Belvedere Vodka, chocolate liqueur, coffee and mint we watched as it was filtered through a coffee dripper right in front of us.
A beautiful, light and refreshing cocktail that was a little like the iced coffee you’ve always wanted.
It is a beautiful space and sipping on cocktails, outside, on the banks of the Yarra surrounded by greenery and keen coffee drinkers? Well, that is my kind of evening.
Check the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival website for the full line up and how to get there.
Sake Restaurant and Bar opened at the new look Hamer Hall late last year. After drooling over the menu of its predecessor in Sydney (there is also one in Brisbane), I was a little excited when I heard it was opening in our fine city. With the back drop of Southbank and one of the best views of the river going round, they are really onto something.
While the food menu drew me in (we will get to that a little later), the interesting Japanese inspired cocktail menu was what really sparked my interest. I chatted with Alex Watson, Bar Manager, about cocktails, his favourite drink and the beautiful lady that is Melbourne. After a meal matched with a Japanese twist on the Tom Collins, two types of sake, red wine and yuzu sake to finish, I trusted him when it came to food and drink matching.
Amy: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to work at Sake Restaurant and Bar?
Alex: Before I moved to Melbourne I was Bar Manager of the Purple Bar with the Sanderson Hotel in London. Prior to that I worked for Gordon Ramsay and Langham Hotels. I have a huge passion for Japanese culture and cuisine and the timing of Sake Hamer Hall opening couldn’t have been better.
Amy: What is the focus of the drinks list at Sake?
Alex: We try to cover most bases with the wine list and we have a very premium selection of sake we exclusively import ourselves for all three sake venues. Other than Midori and Malibu we pretty much cover all other familiars.
Amy: How did you go about creating your cocktail and wine list?
Alex: My inspiration for cocktails has come from living in London & Manhattan. These two cities really pay attention to the classics. My list pays its dues to some classics twisted in a contemporary Japanese way.
Amy: Do you think Sake the drink is becoming more prevalent in Australian restaurants?
Alex: Yes absolutely. Certainly the concept of the modern Japanese restaurant has taken off globally in the last couple of years and sake comes hand in hand with that.
Amy: What do you want the bar at Sake to be for people?
Alex: Everything. A night cap and some dessert with the family after a show. A couple of cocktails before heading to dinner in the city or a casual beer and some uber fresh sashimi after work. We cater for all.
Amy: What’s your favourite ingredient to use in cocktails?
Alex: It all depends on whom I’m making it for but right now we are playing with different types of bitters for our fall/winter cocktail list.
Amy: What is your opinion on cocktail and food matching?
Alex: I love talking to the chef about food and cocktail matching. For me a dining experience isn’t complete if you don’t have a great beverage match. Cocktails have a strong food matching ability in my book.
Amy: Where do you see the Melbourne food and drink scene in the next five years?
Alex: I would hope to think Melbourne would secure herself as one of the top food cities in the world… great chefs, great produce and amazing regional wines. Trends I think will be smaller venues opening up dedicating themselves to a much smaller spectrum of what is on offer but doing it brilliantly.
Amy: What is your go-to drink?
Alex: Negroni served straight up instead of on the rocks and a cold beer on the side.
Amy: What is your favourite cocktail on the list at Sake and why?
Utsukushi heru. It’s a twist on the French martini and perfect for summer quaffing. We use Tekkan shochu (Japanese spirit) made from sweet potato along with pomegranate and violet liqueurs and pineapple juice.
While I got to pick Alex’s brain, I also got to sample the food. Now, did I mention that the food is to die for?
While we had an array of dishes, which left us all feeling more than satisfied, there were four favourites that I would be sure to order again.
The first dish of the evening was Hiramasa kingfish with yuzu soy, jalapeno and coriander.
The kingfish was soft as butter and had the perfect amount of kick from the jalapenos. A light and delicate start to the meal.
From here we made swift moves to the grilled miso-marinated Patagonian toothfish in lettuce cups. This was the standout dish of the evening for me. Perfectly cooked toothfish was sweet and sublte in flavour from the miso and the lettuce added crunch. They were the perfect mouthful.
A more hearty dish, the shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce and yuzu dressed salad was very morish. Crisp fried shrimp were doused in a creamy Japanese mayonnaise sauce and served with salad which provided a nice fresh element.
Now, when it comes to desserts at Japanese restaurants, I’m not going to lie, I don’t usually want them or like them. But as I took the first bite of the buttermilk pannacotta with passionfruit coulis I was converted. The texture of the pannacotta was not what I expected. It was full and almost grainy, which sounds odd, but it was divine. It was perfectly sweet which was balanced by the passionfruit and the expertly matched yuzu sake which was served along side it. Yuzu sake, a Japanese version of limoncello ( if you ask me), is a little bit special.
If you like japanese food, cocktails, or bar snacks you need to get yourself down to Sake Restaurant and Bar.
Disclaimer: I dined as a guest of Hot House Media and Sake Restaurant and Bar
St Ali seems to evoke hype wherever it goes, no matter what it does. During the week, I live on their coffee while I’m at work in South Melbourne, so living in Northcote it was music to my ears when St Ali North opened its doors.
It took me over a month or so to finally get down to St Ali North for brunch, but last Saturday I did.
We secured a seat straight away, which I was slightly surprised and pleased by. I was also very pleased that they let us take up a table for four with only two of us, rather than making us wait for a spare table for two.
Sipping our beautiful St Ali coffees, we perused the menus.
With north now part of the St Ali team they have re-done their menus, using the same in both cafes. The menus are the same with two burst out bubbles demonstrating two or three dishes unique to each venue.
I couldn’t go past trying the ‘My Mexican Cousin’ ($21.50) – for the first time I might admit. This dish is a combination of their secret recipe corn fritters, poached eggs, tomato, greens and grilled haloumi.
This was just as good as I was hoping. The corn fritters were perfectly crisp on the outside while being light and fluffy and filled with corn on the inside. The eggs were cooked well, one was slightly overdone for most but as someone who likes their eggs a little more done, I wasn’t complaining. There could have been more haloumi, but then again when has anyone ever said ‘too much haloumi’.
My brunch buddy went for the Just Eggs, served on wholegrain toast with field mushrooms and the feta and avocado mash as sides ($19.50 all up).
The avocado and feta mash was beautiful and creamy and she loved the cooked field mushrooms.
The space is beautiful and light and my friend noted that she felt like we were away at the beach. It’s quite distinct from the original St Ai, giving it its own identity.
I don’t usually dine by myself, but on this particular morning I did. Lolo and Wren had just opened a few weeks earlier in Brunswick West and with it only being a short drive from my house, I thought, why not?
One of the first things I noticed here was the delightful service. Karen, co-owner and a member of the wait staff was helping people on the outside tables as I walked past and I couldn’t help but smile. They didn’t miss a beat during my entire visit and Karen was just as lovely as she first seemed.
I took a seat, ordered my soy cappuccino and sat back to take in the surroundings. I would just like to note that my coffee came with a chocolate covered coffee bean on the saucer and soy drawn into the top – cute. The coffee itself was beautiful, 5 Senses coffee – low acidity, full flavour and body – made on their Synesso machine.
The food menu isn’t huge, but it doesn’t need to be. Taking inspiration from Chile in particular, it ventures outside the typical café fare. Rumours have informed me that the crispy fried croque monsieur and the chorizo sliders are worth the trip alone. You’ll also find things like house made baked beans given a Spanish twist, herbed crepes and your more familiar bircher muesli. The Banoffee porridge is calling my name for next time, with caramalised banana, stewed dates, dulce de luche and toasted coconut crumble.
On this particular morning I was feeling the savoury options and ordered the Avocado and pebre salsa bruschetta. With its Chilean influence it was packed full of coriander and other herbs making it fresh and a great summer option.
The interior of Lolo and Wren took its inspiration from recycled materials when Franco (chef and co owner) along with his wife Karen saw someone make their bed out of old palettes. From there they were hands on every step of the way, down to Franco helping his friend and cabinetmaker paint the whole venue.
I am almost positive this will be a hit with the locals – it was already packed – but I also think this one will be a winner among the travelers as well.
Warning: this blog post may contain traces of a hangover.
Yes folks, this particular morning, or afternoon as it turned out, I was in serious recovery mode. However, delicious food was not lost on me.
In an attempt to stick a little closer to home some friends and I ventured to Northern Soul in Thornbury for brunch. After arriving and realising they were still closed for the summer we were admittedly bummed but just followed our feet down High Street and figured something else would come along. What came along my friends was Brother Alec.
Being in Brother Alec feels a little like you’re at a mates place eating at their kitchen table. The wait staff are lovely and happy to have a chat. I even engaged one waitress in a very long unnecessary conversation before I realised what was happening. We both enjoyed it so it was ok.
On this particular morning it was warm and I didn’t really feel like a hot coffee or all the heaviness that comes with an iced coffee. That’s when I saw The Alaska ($4.5) which was iced water, a double shot of coffee and cold milk. What was exciting for me is you’re given your milk and a little jug of sugar syrup on the side in a create your own iced coffee adventure. It was exactly what I wanted. Light, cold and refreshing. I had two, I wont lie.
Now to the food. Their breakfast menu is heavy on the eggs and their lunch menu is made up of a handful of sandwiches. My dining partners opted for the BLAT (with bacon and haloumi – well done) ($15).
I went for the Breakfast Roll, which was, toasted Turkish bread with homemade tomato relish, basil mayo, an omelette and bacon ($12.5).
This was fantastic and my and hangover loved it. The homemade relish and mayo really made it. The omelette could have packed more flavour, but combined with all the other ingredients, that might be a hard ask.
After making our initial orders we thought it would be a great idea to get nachos to share. I don’t know why, this was definitely the hang over talking, but hey it worked. They were damn fine nachos. They managed to be light, which is very rare for nachos and at only $10, why not?
All in all Brother Alec was warm, friendly and is serving up great food for less than most places. I’ll be back. Next time I might leave my hangover at home.