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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Scarvelli Cafe and Merchants Guild

There are some things that are harder to attain when you live in suburbia - an essential one being a dependable source of good coffee and breakfast fare. Sometimes scrounging around in the kitchen and fridge for something that passes for breakfast wins over the thought of driving 40 minutes through traffic for an inner city cafe so Scarvelli Cafe changes all that now. Scarvelli Cafe sits in a row of shops along Whitehorse road and the vibrant and striking graffiti along the side of the cafe signals that it's time to start finding parking.

Our first visit was prompted by Mr A's parents return from Europe and we were after somewhere relatively close. It was a miserable, drizzly day so we quickly sought refuge in the warm and cosy cafe, already filled with plenty of regulars and locals, and were seated after a few minutes wait. A round of coffees which were immensely enjoyed, made with Industry Bean's Winter blend which made for rich, strong coffees.

A flat white and a piccolo latte ($3.80 each)

The smoked salmon eggs benedict came laden with carbs with a combination of a crisp potato rosti and toasted sourdough; but this was highly welcomed by Mr A and his mum as they were ravenous. While the smoked salmon with the poached eggs are a reliable and tasty combination, the addition of the grilled asparagus and piquant dill hollandaise completed the dish.

Smoked salmon benedict ($18.50)

An impressive set of dukkah crumbed eggs sitting on a mound of sautéed spinach and a silky cauliflower puree demonstrates how Scarvelli don't do boring. Cutting through the spiced exterior, the eggs resist for a moment before spilling the yolk into the silky cauliflower puree; with nice acidic bursts of flavour provided by the pomegranate seeds to lift from the subtle flavours. The only thing missing would be a slice of toast to make it feel more substantial and I would recommended ordering it as an extra if your appetite is larger.

Dukkah eggs ($17.50)

A medley of mushrooms sautéed and infused with a thyme and garlic butter with hints of saltiness from Persian feta was a simple and satisfying dish for Mr A's dad who prefers lighter meals at the start of the day.

Sautéed mushrooms with Persian feta and toast ($15.50)

Our visit to Scarvelli was such a delight that when I was invited back to try more dishes a few weeks later, I couldn't help myself as a few other dishes on the menu had caught my attention.

Disclaimer: On our second visit, we were invited to dine complimentary at Scarvelli Cafe courtesy of Get Glossy Edge. All thoughts and opinions are based purely on our experience at the time of visit.

Arriving earlier in the morning the second time around, we found that the cafe was quickly filling and opted to sit in the back room, which provided a slightly airier and brighter space. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the deer head dressed appropriately for winter.

Another pair of piccolo lattes made with single origin beans from Yirgacheffe; again, rich with lingering caramel notes.

Piccolo lattes ($3.80 each)

Designed for the Goodlife gym staff who are after a high protein meal, the eye fillet steak cooked to medium-rare was possibly an excessive choice at 10am in the morning, however Mr A took on the challenge and killed it. The steak could perhaps have done with a bit more of seasoning (easily rectified by the salt and pepper provided on the tables), but accompanied well by the smashed avocado and poached eggs.

The Goodlife - eye fillet with avocado, wilted spinach, poached eggs & sourdough toast ($18.50)

When it comes to breakfast, there's nothing more detestable than dry, overcooked eggs. With a French style omelette, the surface is just slightly wet and suitably underdone which definitely suits me better. At Scarvelli, it is topped with a scrumptious wood-smoked salmon, chives and a salt-flecked creme fraiche and the flavours were impeccable. While the omelette doesn't normally come with a slice of sourdough, I needed that dose of carbs to complement the omelette.

Omelette au saumon ($16.50)

Danielle was lovely and provided some baked treats for us to take home and enjoy later. And that we certainly did. While the rich, chocolate brownie was very tasty and moreish, the highlight was the short and buttery peanut butter cookies, crumbling away with the slightly nibble, sandwiching a vibrant strawberry cream.

Peanut butter cookies with strawberry cream and a chocolate brownie

Scarvelli Cafe is a gem to those who live close by, providing the perfect spot to enjoy a great start (or late start) to the day. If you notice the peek of graffiti while driving by, just stop and park the car - you'll enjoy this relaxed and humble cafe.

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Will I return? Yes, a little suburban gem offering both great food and coffee.

Scarvelli Cafe
143 Whitehorse Road
Balwyn VIC 3103
(03) 9816 8887

Mon to Fri 7am - 4:30pm
Sat 8am - 4:30pm
Sun 8am - 3:30pm

Scarvelli Cafe on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at a cafe is not an occasion that is easy to coordinate for ten people. A family breakfast get together came about when my sister and I decided to drag our younger brother to finally have his first brunching experience, after several refusals from him as he thought breakfast out would be boring. It was exceedingly difficult to find a cafe that would not only cater and take bookings for a large table of ten, but I was after a menu that would offer some variations to the typical Melbourne breakfast menu. A few phone calls to a few cafes later, a helpful waitress at Merchants Guild advised me to call up early in the morning and inform the staff that we were heading there so they could work around our party of ten. We turned up at 10:30am and miraculously and very generously, the staff had kept the back communal table clear for us. While the entire table ordered a variety of coffees which were all consistently enjoyed, I ordered a Prana Chai latte for my mother who isn't a coffee drinker. Within the first couple of minutes, she had chugged down the aromatic and spiced mixture, proclaiming how much she enjoyed it. Not surprising, as I have always preferred Prana Chai for my chai fix and it is actually made on site at the back of the cafe.

 Magic and a strong latte ($3.80)

A simple ham, cheese and tomato toastie was ordered for the little one in our company. While she wasn't too keen on the ham and loved the rest of it, her mum confirmed that the ham was of high quality and very tasty.

  Cheese ham and tomato, crust-less toasted sandwich ($7.50)

With a slight char to the thick slab of flavoursome bacon, my dad and younger brother relished it with the fresh avocado and corn salsa and sunny side up eggs on toast.

 Short cut bacon with an avocado and charred corn salsa on sourdough with eggs and jalapeno pesto ($18)

A bagel filled with sautéed mushrooms, snow pea tendrils and crumbed feta smothered in a punchy chilli jam proved to be a filling and tasty vego option.

 Crumbed feta, chilli jam, field mushrooms and snow pea tendrils served on a seeded bagel ($14.50)

The majority of the table was swayed by my sister's declaration of how good the bubble and squeak dish was. While the potatoes were slightly too firm, the balance of flavours between the salty smoked hot trout with the potatoes with crisp edges and runny poached eggs were gratifying and hit the spot. The horseradish cream was more creamy than spicy, although we found that the small cornichons aided with cutting through the heaviness of the dish.

Roast potato bubble and squeak, hot smoked trout, horseradish cream & poached eggs ($18)

A fresh and healthy combination of smashed sweet pea and feta on dark rye was the ideal combination with the Spanish sardines. Topped with a lemon and herb crumble, my mother really enjoyed her dish and found that the elements didn't overwhelm one another.

Sweet pea and feta smash on dark rye, Spanish sardines and a lemon and herb crumb ($15)

Considering that we had rather a large group, our coffees and food didn't take long and were of high quality. The service is cheerful and extremely helpful; Merchants Guild is another gem in the suburbs that I wouldn't hesitate to return to.

Food: 7.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 7.5/10
Will I return? Yes, I'll be back for the great food and to stock up on Prana Chai.

Merchants Guild
680 Centre Rd
Bentleigh East VIC 3165
(03) 9579 0734

Daily 7am - 5pm

Merchants Guild on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cecconi's Flinders Lane

Disclaimer: I was invited by AMPR to have dinner at Cecconi's Flinders Lane. All thoughts and opinions are based purely on my experience at the time of visit.

It's admirable for a restaurant to be long-standing in the fickle and on-trend driven city of Melbourne. Cecconi's has been established on Flinders Lane for almost a decade, despite the continuous droves of restaurants opening and closing up within a few blocks. There is a sophisticated, formal atmosphere with the open kitchen acting as the main centrepiece - from the offers to take your coat away from you; crisp white table linen dressing the dining tables; and the brushing of crumbs off the table after courses. Upon our arrival for dinner, we noticed some late lunchers who seemed to enjoy their lunch so much, they had started to transition their way into some early evening drinks

After briefly settling into our seats, we started with an Italian white wine recommended by our waitress and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The duck tartletta sounded deviously uncomplicated although, acted as a brilliant starter. A rich and buttery pastry encasing flavoursome morsels of confit duck with a fresh salad on the side.

Confit duck tartelletta, Jerusalem artichoke puree with pear & hazelnut salad ($26)

While slightly overcooked resulting in a chewy exterior, the caramelised scallops were complemented beautifully with a soft, rich morcilla and carrot puree. The morcilla turned out to the be highlight of the dish; a mousse-like texture and barely holding together beneath the crisp surface.

Caramelised scallops, black pudding with carrot puree & baby herbs ($26)

Mr A was incredibly keen to finally satiate his pasta cravings at Cecconi's after sadly being outvoted by his colleagues at lunch earlier that day. The linguine was al dente, laced with hints of herbs and chilli with an array of fresh, well-cooked seafood. It goes to show how satisfied Mr A was his seafood linguine, that he couldn't even be persuaded to have more than a bite of my dish - and trust me, mine was worth bargaining a dish swap for.

Linguine seafood, garlic, chilli, herbs and extra virgin olive oil ($36)

The fragrant aroma from the medley of lemon, butter and confit garlic was especially tantalising. The roasted barramundi yielded a meaty yet flaky flesh with a flavoursome, crisp skin. The celeriac puree, creamy and indulgent, showcased the barramundi perfectly making it a little too easy to devour my main.

Roasted barramundi with celeriac mash, confit garlic & lemon ($42)

While we were absolutely full at this point, we were determined not to leave without dessert. Going with the crowd favourite, the soft centred chocolate pudding had a great ratio of cake and gooey-ness to it with a scoop of toasted milk ice cream to refresh the palate.

Warm soft centred chocolate pudding with toasted milk ice cream ($17)

We expected to have a great meal but Cecconi's turned out to be an impeccable dining experience. They are obviously doing many things right over the years to consistently remain a stalwart in Melbourne's ever-evolving dining scene and we left feeling enlightened with this gem on Flinders Lane.

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value: N/A (we didn't pay but it is on the pricier side.)
Will I return? Yes, food and service were on point on our visit. We would happily return and pay for our next meal at Cecconi's.

Cecconi's Flinders Lane
61 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 8663 0500

Lunch: Mon to Fri 12pm onwards
Dinner: Mon to Sat 5:30pm - late

Cecconi's Flinders Lane Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Luxembourg Bar & Bistro

Chris Watson, former chef at Cutler and Co, and Andrew McConnell teamed up to open the new luxurious French bistro, Luxembourg Bar & Bistro, residing where the former Golden Fields used to sit along Fitzroy Street in St Kilda. There have been a few changes to transform the space into a seductive, French bistro and service is warm and relaxed. The chef's selection menu makes for great value, coming in at $65 a pop, so we decided to let them take charge with our menu and take in the new digs.

Bread, butter and condiments

Luxembourg offer a daily happy hour for their fresh selection of oysters between 5pm - 7pm at half the price. We decided to indulge in half a dozen before starting the chef's menu as a treat; two types of Sydney rock oysters (Petite Clair and Cape Hawk) and Smoky Bay oysters from South Australia. While all equally enjoyable, the Smoky bay oysters were my favourite for their sweet, intense briny flavour.

Half a dozen oysters (happy hour $12)

The dishes seem to be reminiscent of a few of Andrew McConnell's other dishes at his other restaurants, although different flavour combinations come into play here. Beautifully tender chunks of pickled octopus made for a nice bite to commence the chef's menu. The sea bream sashimi followed soon after; the fish was incredibly fresh and we enjoyed the kick provided by the horseradish but we felt that, perhaps, the flavours were too subtle to make this dish stand out.

Pickled octopus

Sea bream sashimi, horseradish, buttermilk & dill

A selection of house-made charcuterie and foie gras looked promising when presented to us but the mild flavours left us feeling disinterested after a few bites.

Charcuterie of coppa (neck) and lonza (loin) and foie gras parfait, Madeira jelly

Dubbed as the famed lobster roll replacement; the soft shell crab, sandwiched in between a soft, sweet brioche bun, was complemented well by the shredded iceberg lettuce and tartare sauce. The ideal bite-size snack to accompany a few drinks and still leave room for other dishes.

Soft shell crab sandwich, tartare & iceberg

Our favourite dish of the night was definitely the smoked duck breast - cooked until medium-rare with walnuts, bitter radicchio and slivered grapes. The flavours were skilfully balanced and the duck, while crisp on the edges, was utterly tender and pink inside.

Radicchio, smoked duck breast, grapes & walnut

A close second was the final savoury dish of the night; a completely comforting and homely roast chicken which was executed well. Cooked two ways with a breast portion and roulade on the side, they were both succulent and tender and made even better with the accompaniment of charred Brussels sprouts and an earthy chestnut puree.

Roast chicken, bacon, Brussels sprouts & chestnut

A chef's menu is always more exciting with the prospect of finishing with two desserts, wouldn't you agree?

We started with a pleasant enough dessert and I especially enjoyed the spiced crumble, unfortunately, the combination of flavours felt a bit one-dimensional and seemed to lack something textural. The dessert has since been altered with the addition of Mille-feuille and spiced quince, which sounds immensely improved.

Brown sugar cream, spiced crumble & rhubarb granita

We finished with a clever dessert; the citrus and the raw yet sweet tasting carrot granita cutting through the sweet liquored ice cream. Wonderfully balanced and a refreshing way to finish our meal.

Sauternes ice cream, carrot granita & mandarin

Our meal acted as a big nod to Andrew McConnell's impressive restaurants, while we enjoyed the dishes (some more than others), the entire meal failed to make an impact on us. It is almost impossible to avoid comparing Luxembourg with Andrew McConnell's other restaurants, especially more so when some dishes were almost identical. Although still in its early stages when we visited, there is huge amount of potential for Luxembourg to grow. The setting is undeniably alluring and I'd revisit to take advantage of happy hour drinks and oysters and a few bites to eat.

Food: 7/10
Service: 7.5/10
Value: 7.5/10
Will I return? For the happy hour oysters and some bar snacks, yes.

Luxembourg Bar & Bistro
157 Fitzroy St
St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9525 4488

Tues to Thurs 5pm - 11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm - 12am
Sun 12pm - 11pm
Mon Closed

Luxembourg on Urbanspoon

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