Monday, September 1, 2014

Blahnik Cafe, Melbourne CBD by Big Fil

I’ve walked past Blahnik Café numerous times and it always looked very popular.  It looked nice, people seemed happy, and while I didn’t know anyone who'd actually visited things looked very promising.

Long down on our list of places to go we finally got to visit somewhere which turned out to be cafeteria like in style, but not cafeteria like in quality.

What do I mean by cafeteria like in style? Well, you can choose the main dish you want from behind the glass and two sides to go with it, sort of like back in my old school days. Or you can pick one of the rolls; not something I tried on the day but appeared pretty impressive at a quick glance. So why wasn’t it cafeteria like in quality? The wide range of dishes, which included Italian rice balls (arancini), nice looking roast pork and crackling, and my choice of the sesame chicken. The fresh looking salads are also impressive, with not too many cafeterias offering you the choice of a cous cous salad.

While being premade obviously imposes some limitations, I liked my sesame chicken.  Chicken doesn’t always stand up very well to the rigours of being pre-made and sitting around for a little while.  The flavour was good but inevitably it was a touch dry, and not as hot as if it'd been freshly cooked.  I’ve certainly had worse, and it compared well with an average Melbourne suburban restaurant and was probably the same or better in quality, served faster and at a lower price.

Both of the two sides were certainly passable as well. The chips were crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.  The cous cous salad, served with rocket, chick peas and raisins, was alternatively sweet and crunchy.  Nothing outstanding about either option but again, served at a randomly chosen suburban place, I wouldn't have been unhappy with either.

It’s not all pre-prepared food though and Snooze decided to order the falafel burger off the small menu.  While others sitting around the communal table seemed to enjoy their menu burgers, the falafel burger was a little disappointing.  Nice fresh salad ingredients to go with the burger but the falafel themselves were lacking in flavour, and didn’t have that nice crunchy coating, or fluffy texture inside.

So, why is Blahnik so popular? The food is decent, the environment is nice, and it fills a gap between the quick hit takeaway and a more formal restaurant meal at a price office workers can live with as a regular indulgence.  It’s not fine dining, but if you want something more than a sandwich it provides a reasonable alternative.  Just remember to get here early, as it packs out quickly.

Food – 7
Service – 6.5
Ambience – 7.5
Price – 7.5

30 Equitable Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9642 2234

Blahnik Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thr1ve, Melbourne CBD by Bureaucrat

I’m a bit picky when it comes to paying for salad.  I baulk at the idea of paying over $10 for a mingy bowl of iceberg.  While there are a number of great salads to be had from proper cafes and online delivery gourmet saladeries(TM by Bureaucrat) sometimes convenience is the order of the day. 

Meeting up with Beaker for lunch, we heading into the food court at the Emporium.  We both wanted something quick and healthy, and we spotted Thr1ve.  Flanked by pretty young things of both genders, you front up to the counter to place your order.  You pick a salad base, what sort of leaves, protein, dressing and extras that you want.  You pay for it and wait for them to make it up. 

There are two sizes – small and large.  Basically, you get one serve of protein for the small and two serves of protein for the large.  I went for the small size and got a mix of salad leaves, brown rice and salmon ($12.90) in a takeaway bowl.  It came with some strips of char-grilled caps.  I thought this was kinda underwhelming.  There wasn’t that much salmon and it was these little nuggets and scrapings of fish.  The salad leaves and rice weren’t that special or memorable.  For less than the cost of this salad, my weekly Trout Thursday lunch that I make (using trout and salad ingredients that I buy from the Vic Market) is cheaper and more filling.

Beaker went for a small salad as well but with sweet potato mash, spinach, herbed chicken and extra avo ($14.90).  She was equally underwhelmed with it and still felt a bit hungry at the end of the meal.

Food – 6.5
Service – 7
Ambiance - 7
Price – 6.5

The quality of the individual ingredients were okay.  However, I still find the salads to be a bit pricey for what you get.  My search for a value-for-money saladerie continues…

The Emporium
287 Lonsdale St  
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 9650 9864 

Thr1ve on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Miss Frank's, Camberwell by Bureaucrat

We needed a treat.  In the past week I had uprooted myself to dog-sit two high-maintenance doggies (such is life).  Anyone who's looked after dogs will know the wracking guilt you feel when you try valiantly to eat your meal in peace but you have these cute, pleading eyes and wagging tails imploring you to share your meal with them.

Having had enough of feeling guilty each time we ate, the Lawyer and I went to a local cafe, Miss Frank's.  Miss Frank's is a slick but friendly cafe with nary a hipster in sight.  The functional, grey cement exterior belies the warmth and homely vibe inside.

The space is sort of split up in two.  The first bit is where you pay and get your takeaway items.

Polished cement floors, shiny white tiles, posters and a neat array of goods line the walls.

The dining area is in the second area, with individual tables and a large communal table.  For a mid-week, late lunch, the place had quite a few tables occupied, with more people coming in for a snack or coffee.

Feeling the need to be healthy, I ordered the berry blitz - mixed berries, apple juice and baby spinach ($7) while the Lawyer got a latte.  I quite enjoyed the berry blitz as it had no iced (but it was cold due to the frozen berries) and had no dairy.  With such a dark shade of puce, you could feel the nutrition emanating from the drink - I can practically feel the antioxidants from the berries and the vitamins from the spinach doing all manner of good things for my body.

For noms, the Lawyer got the impressive delux burger.  A juicy and proper house made beef patty w bacon, toms, gruyere, spinach, beet relish and mayo.  It came with chips and aioli ($20.50).  For the price, it certainly delivered in quality and taste.  He particularly liked how the beef was cooked medium rare that had a lovely grilled flavour to it and the fluffy, toasted brioche bun.  The chips were just perfect - a light golden, crispy outer with fluffy inner and the aioli was deliciously garlicky.

In line with the berry blitz, I got the incredibly great value grilled field mushroom, crumbed haloumi, sauteed spinach and caps relish on toasted brioche bun ($10).  I was equally impressed with the freshness of the ingredients and the flavour.  The haloumi had a light golden crumb.  I especially loved the thick field mushroom and the very generous mound of spinach.  Spot on.

Having fed ourselves, we went home and it was kibble for the doggies.

Food - 9.5
Service - 7
Ambiance - 7.5
Price - 8

We're loving Miss Frank's!  Those that live in the area are very lucky to have this as their local cafe.  Fresh ingredients, great execution and just very yummy.

I'm a bit perplexed about some of the negative reviews about Miss Frank's.  There was certainly nothing I would fault about our visit.  We're definitely coming back!

Miss Frank's
200 Through Rd
Camberwell 3124
Telephone: 9078 5351

Miss Frank on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kofi Beans, Croydon by Big Fil

Being located in a distant part of town, from me and Snooze anyway, normally means that Ms No Meat needs to travel for at least an hour to join us for a weekend catch-up.  Every now and again though we do travel out past Ringwood to join her and sample some of what's available in the outer Eastern suburbs. 

On this particular weekend we were invited to visit with her one of the better regarded cafes in the Croydon/Ringwood area, Kofi Beans.  It was somewhere I'd thought about visiting for a while and was quite happy when MNM suggested a Sunday lunch here, and overall thought it was a good local café.  The main issue (other than how long it took to gain staffs' attention), all our mains were fine without anything demanding a return visit.  Sometimes it's just tough to stand out in the Melbourne café scene.

When you enter Kofi Beans it has a bit of a buzz to it.  It's obviously very popular with the local crowd and if MNM hadn't made a booking there's no way we would have been able to walk in for our Sunday lunch, particularly with a larger than normal group of us on the day (MNM, Snooze, Ms Ruby Grapefruit, a friend of Ruby and I).

One of the reasons MNM chose Kofi Beans was because it offered her a range of vegetarian options, including the chickpea felafel with roasted cauliflower, quinoa and seed tabouleh, tahini labne and toasted Turkish bread.  Best part of this dish was the moist and flavoursome falafel, which was nicely complemented by the tabouleh salad.

Snooze went for the baked beans which she described as fine without being especially impressive, solid rather than outstanding.  The beans retained good texture when at too many places they end up overcooked into a fairly tasteless mush.  The addition of a tangy (feta?) cheese added body and strength to the dish, and the poached eggs were nicely done.

To make sure she preserved space for something sweet, Ruby ordered the Harira Soup, a spiced soup with chickpeas and lentils, yoghurt and toast.  Ms Ruby described it as very tasty, and appreciated the chilli hit that came with it.

My own choice was the lamb shoulder, served as an open gyros in style.  The lamb was slow cooked, very tender and quite flavoursome.  The accompanying salad was a little unusual, through the addition of mint.  A respectable dish although I do remember at the time expecting a little more given it was noticeably more expensive than the other dishes.

By this stage we were all fairly full, but we were still interested in trying the cakes.  Eventually we chose three to share - the lemon tart, the frangipani and the chocolate cake.  The lemon tart was generally considered the best of the three, although I prefer a more tart flavour than its soft lemony sweetness.

My favourite was the slightly gooey chocolate cake, which was actually lighter and less dense that it looked at first glance.

Not that the frangipani wasn't a good cake in its own right, slightly crumbly and the accompanying berries adding a nice sweetness.  In fact I did think the cakes overall were better than the mains.

All in all a fairly good option in a shopping strip where not much else really appealed.  The fit out is interesting and the staff were friendly but it does have a few things which could be improved.  The cakes were good and some thought had been given into designing the mains, but taste-wise they were more in the respectable camp, and felt a little pricey for what they were. 

Staff too, while friendly, seemed a little disorganised and overwhelmed dealing with a busy Sunday lunch crowd.  Although things could be improved as it stands for me would put Kofi Beans a rung or two below the top Melbourne Cafes.

Food - 7.5
Ambience - 7.5
Service - 6
Price - 6.5

137-139 Main Street
Croydon VIC
Tel: (03) 9725 3339

Kofi Beans on Urbanspoon
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