Melbourne is such a foodie haven that every time I go there I have a long list of newly researched and recommended establishments to road test. Well, someone has to do it!
I am lucky that both my daughters live in Melbourne and they love food as much as I do, so they usually supply me with a good selection of places to try.
During my latest sojourn to that vibrant city, I discovered possibly the most perfect brunch cafe I have ever been to; a moody and cosy bar in the city; and a trendy casual diner in the inner north.
So, to begin with brunch…Square & Compass, in Clarendon St, East Melbourne, an easy walk from the CBD, has been wowing the sedate, mostly medical fraternity, of this part of town since May 2015. Housed in a red-brick heritage terrace, which has been given a welcome makeover full of light, greenery and timber, the cafe, which is open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch, is just what you want from a casual brunching experience. We arrive mid morning on a Saturday and are ushered to a high table with stools in the sun-lit courtyard, which is perfect for this glorious summer’s day. The inside looks just as enticing, with its coterie of small tables surrounding a large, open kitchen. Likewise the front pavement is lively with tables of brunchers, complete with their furry companions.
Our friendly waiter brings us some much-needed Seven Seeds coffee while we peruse the menu. And I’m glad to see some innovative selections on offer. I settle for the Broccolini Bowl with avocado, spinach, activated almonds, tamari, poached eggs, dukkah and toast – it definitely hits the spot!
Daughter Number One chooses the Cacao Granola which is a delectable and insta-worthy concoction of said granola, natural yoghurt, wild figs, strawberry watermelon and rose water salad – delish!
Being somewhat of a food adventurer, Daughter Number Two goes for the item on the menu with a “trust us” disclaimer! An unusual combination of crunchy peanut butter, heirloom tomatoes, peanuts and salt and pepper on toast, she assures us it is a new taste discovery!
Once you’ve worked off brunch exploring the shops, laneways, galleries and parks of Melbourne, you will be looking for a casual bar and dining establishment, and Embla presents a great option. In Russell St, in the CBD, the team from The Town Mouse opened this wine-focused, rustic lounge-bar in late 2015, and it’s cosy and relaxed vibe, with an extensive and unusual wine list, is attracting attention. The wine heralds from all over the globe, as well as Australia, and features many names you won’t have seen anywhere else. Seeking advice from the staff is therefore recommended!
We opted for a bottle of the Beal & Co Little Red Merlot 2014 from the Adelaide Hills, which was served lightly chilled and was very drinkable. Teamed with our shared plates of Grain Bread with Mustard Butter; Heirloom Tomatoes, Ricotta and Herbs; Creamed Corn with Creme Fraiche, Oregano and Dried Citrus (creamy and delicious!); Wood Roasted Broccoli with Sunflower Seed Miso (crunchy with a delightful charred taste); Calamari with Grilled Cos, Buttermilk and Bottarga (light and tasty) and Half Roast Chicken (spicy and tender), we were well satiated!
If you want to venture away from the CBD, then Estelle Bistro is one of those neighbourhood eateries you wished was on every suburban street corner. In trendy Northcote, an easy tram ride from the city centre, it isn’t exactly new, but has grown from just six tables five years ago, to now boasting an upstairs private dining room for 28 people and an internal covered courtyard. It is relaxed, casual, vibrant, rustic, cosy and romantic all at the same time – a perfect spot for either large groups celebrating a special occasion or couples looking for a quiet night out.
Equally the food choices are multi-faceted – you can either choose from a casual menu of snacks, charcuterie and share plates; an a la carte menu; a 3 course Choice Menu; or a 5 course Chef’s Tasting Menu. We opted to select from the a la carte menu, starting with Octopus, Chorizo and Chickpea, which was an unexpected yet interesting dish of octopus tentacles, fried chickpea pieces and chorizo sauce.
We paired this with the Heirloom Tomatoes, Watermelon and Feta, which was a sweet and sour combination of tart tomatoes, creamy feta, sweet watermelon and tomato foam. I had to swap my main of Atlantic Salmon with Fennel and Squash with my husband as the fish was raw, not something which appeals to me I’m afraid, hence it should be stated on the menu. My substitution of Barramundi, Black Olive and Burnt Butter was much more to my liking, with firm and crispy-skinned fish, an unusual eggplant mouse and cubes of fried polenta.
For sides we opted for the Broccoli, Lemon and Ricotta Salata which featured crisp broccoli with a delightful salty and citrus edge. We also devoured the Sourdough and Seven Seed bread from Stoneground Bakery in Brunswick, which was moorish with the white bean puree and salted butter. Our wines by the glass, from a small Australian and International wine list, included NV-Balgownie Premium Cuvee Sparkling from the Yarra Valley, La Vuelta Malbec Rose from Mendoza in Argentina, Gerard Trembly Chablis from France and a Toolangi Pino Noir, also from the Yarra Valley, so we managed to circumnavigate a fair portion of the world in one sitting!
Well, that’s a wrap for now – I have a few more foodie finds to add to my Melbourne list, and hopefully you will enjoy these too, next time you visit!
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