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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Champions Bistro at Bowls Clayton

There was a mad scramble for dinner reservations when word first got out about Champions Bistro. Occupying the dining space in an unassuming suburban bowls club in Melbourne's South, most sessions were booked out months in advance due to the limited span of the temporary restaurant. It is only now, after a few extensions due to popular demand, that Clinton and Ali are taking a short hiatus in September to rest and recharge. Without neglecting to signing in at the front counter leading to the bistro, we catch glimpses of smoke wafting up from plates and a collective of interesting looking bites which had us highly anticipating our meal.

It is said that sour foods increase the appetite and perhaps it did; the "chips", with a biting sourness and an evident "sea" flavour from the mussels, left us keen for our forthcoming courses.

Mussel and vinegar chips

The oysters impart a wonderful smoky flavour and leaves a delectable metallic flavour lingering on the tongue, long after we finish with the oysters.

Smoked oyster with apple and horseradish

Appearing more like a slices of tuna sashimi on a nutty flaxseed cracker, the acidity of the spicy home made pickles balances out the fatty neck ham.

Greenvale neck ham and pickles

Morsels of raw prawn nestled in a paper-thin wrap of swede were well suited with the mellow flavours of the nastutium and pumpkin juice. Although the serving plates weren't the most ideal serving vessel and forced the entire table to, somehow attempt in a subtly manner, tilt and manoeuvre the flavoursome liquid into our spoons to incorporate with the delicious packages, it only proved how tasty it was.

Prawn, swede, nasturtium, pumpkin juice

A surprising appearance of house made bread was warmly welcomed. Hot from the oven, we were smitten with the crusty edges and pillowy soft centre with the butter. When butter melts and disappears instantaneously into the bread like that, I can almost justify my rationalisation for more butter.

House made sourdough bread with butter

A pairing of freshwater trout with firm pink fir potatoes showed a lovely balance of flavours with a sprinkling of pine mushroom powder.

Pink fir potato, freshwater trout seasoned with pine mushroom

The next dish stirs up a bit of passionate discussion in regards to the underrated goose, which doesn't appear on menus in Australia as much as we'd love. With less fat than a duck and a slightly gamier flavour, it was tender and juicy in all the right places. The sticky plum, dehydrated berries and sorrel on the side were ideal in alleviating from the richness of the dish.

Goose, plum, last season berries and sorrel

While I'm more keen to get started on the sweets, the table readily accepts the cheese course. The flavours of this dish are punchy and salty with an array of textures from the savoury meringue and crisp shards of baguette.

Pynegana cheddar, mustard, muntries

While chocolate and beetroot isn't necessarily a new combination we've witnessed, this would be the most delicious rendition I've come across so far. A rich dark chocolate sorbet harmonised by the understated raw sweetness of the beetroot and dehydrated berries, finished with some chocolate crumbs sprinkled lightly to provide a textural counterpoint.

Native pepper berry, dark chocolate, beetroot

There is no anti-climax here at Champions Bistro - knocking the meal out of the park with a sensational final dessert. A musky sheeps yoghurt sorbet, possessing the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, and segments of poached pear and dried chestnut to add textured layers of sweetness and nuttiness to complete the dish.

Sheep’s yoghurt, chestnut, pear

Clinton manages to fine tune his previous experience in world-class kitchens and demonstrate his deft expertise through the considered and innovative dishes at Champions Bistro without the ostentation of a 3 hatted establishment. The nine course meal ($80 per person) is substantial enough for the table although, perhaps bigger eaters would need more to be completely satisfied; for that price though, quality is evident and the suggestion of a second visit isn't even debated.

Side note: A bit thank you to my besties for taking us out and completing spoiling me that night!

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 8.5/10
Will I return? Yes, a fine dining experience at affordable prices.

Champions Bistro at Bowls Clayton
37 Springs Rd
Clayton South VIC 3169
(03) 9544 9929

Lunch: Fri & Sat 12pm - 2pm
Dinner: Wed to Sat 6pm - late

Champions Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 10, 2014


You shouldn't expect anything less than a crowd of people lining up, out the doors at one of Melbourne's hottest openings on a Friday night. Andrew McConnell, of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc fame, experimented with the concept of Golden Fields at his trial canteen out in Fitzroy last year and it has resulted in the evolution of the new city outlet, Supernormal. While we felt quite smug in our decision to pop by just before the dinner crowds flocked down, I enjoyed an refreshing yuzu sake beverage while Mr A went for a rice lager.

Saito Shuzo You's time light yuzushu ($12) & 2 Brothers Kung Foo Rice Lager ($12)

A rather uplifting combination of tuna and ama ebi prawns were matched with slivers of apple and a tart dressing with a hint of spice. The raw elements in this dish were perfectly showcased, especially the ama ebi prawns which were sweet in flavour and possessed a luxurious melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

While the lobster roll should be a must order for any first-timer (even if to just try it), my priority was to try something new and I wasn't disappointed with my choice of the pig's head bao which ticked all the boxes. A soft white bun encasing a crumbed meaty and gelatinous morsel of pig's head, topped with a chunky roast chilli sauce and pickled cucumbers. Mr A's braised spicy beef bun was pan fried and filled with a shredded spicy beef although it didn't reach the heights of the pig's head bao.

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6) and the pork bao with roast chilli sauce ($6)

We happened upon another winner with the pickled spanner crab salad accompanied with shredded cabbage hearts, watercress and a savoury miso dressing. A flawless display of complementary flavours and a great contrast of textures.

Pickled spanner crab salad with cabbage hearts, watercress and miso dressing ($18)

Despite the marron arriving partially raw (perhaps that's how it was supposed to be cooked), the flesh was sweet and silky and we found the seafood to be extremely well cooked and I enjoyed the heady sea-based broth. The process of how to attack this particular dish wasn't explained to us by our waitress nor were any bowls placed in front of us so we proceeded to pour the broth into the large plate containing seafood and then dip the al dente noodles into the broth and eat the seafood individually. Delicious, but very, very awkward.

WA Marron, mussels, clams, bass grouper and spicy miso broth with ramen noodles ($34)

To finish the savoury dishes, a succulent beef dish, done two ways. The beef loin was tender and flavoursome, the ribs underneath smothered in a rich pepper sauce, fell apart. The flavours were strong and punchy; while I felt that some rice would be ideal (I was much too full though), Mr A enjoyed it as it was.

Grilled Rangers valley strip loin and rib of beef with pepper sauce ($35)

Our seams were past bursting point but I was determined to order dessert as we wouldn't be back for a while. I decided to forsake the popular peanut butter parfait for the tart pink lady and miso soft serve. Mr A didn't enjoy it at all and found the flavours too peculiar leaving the whole thing for myself; I found it quite refreshing with the white and black sesame crisps but I felt the tartness of the pink lady apple overwhelmed the subtle flavours of the miso.

Miso and pink lady ice cream ($9)

We obviously visited on a busy night but found the service to be spotty and absent even with this in mind; and found that more often tha not, our tables were left with our dirty dishes for quite a while before noticed and cleared. Overall, we really enjoyed the food and the Andrew McConnell magic that is so prevalent in his other restaurants has struck again with his new outlet. I'm not a patient person so personally, I wouldn't wait more than 15 minutes for a table considering the plethora of great restaurants in the area, but it is worth a visit for its clever and well executed food.

Food: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Value: 7.5/10
Will I return? Yes although, I wouldn't wait for a table.

180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8688

Sun to Thurs 11am - 11pm
Fri & Sat 11am - midnight

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

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

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