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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Popol Nah

Popol Nah is another newbie sitting along the strip of Lygon Street, currently already overpopulated with Italian restaurants and loitering waiters beckoning you to enter. The interior of Popol Nah shows enough personality for many passers-by to do a double take; painted brick walls decorated with hanging deer antlers and oxen skulls. It is a bright and inviting space and the manager welcomes us in warmly with our pick of any table.

It was one of those weeks, that when we had all settled into our seats, voiced why each of us desperately needed a drink. We shared a bottle of La Vendimia tempranillo which was full of berries and left a hint of spice on the tongue.

La Vendimia garnacha tempranillo ($50)

The prawn ceviche was slightly overcooked and the chunky texture made it difficult to enjoy the components together as a whole dish. The accompanying taro chips added some much needed texture.

Caribbean style prawn ceviche ($12)

The tasty cheesy mixture was scooped up with some dense, crisp corn chips and we couldn't stop picking at it until it all disappeared.

Cheese fondue, chorizo and corn chips ($9)

The tasty empanadas were stuffed with chorizo and potato although the coriander mayonnaise was leaning more towards the creamy side rather than being herb-based.

Chorizo and potato empanada with coriander mayo ($8)

Considering that there were the four of us, the three pieces of beef on the skewer were slightly awkward. The beef was almost well-done and quite chewy, although the flavour of the meat was excellent and enhanced by the punchy chimichurri.

Argentinean style beef, capsicum and onion skewers with chimichurri ($14)

The shredded zucchini and kale salad was incredibly fresh with the meat dishes that we had ordered.

Shredded zucchini, kale, cucumber and pickled vegetable salad ($9)

Typically a slow cooked lamb shank would fall off the bone with just a prod, unfortunately the lamb was lacking some cooking time and sauce. It was interesting combination of the hearty lamb against the fresh and zesty quinoa salad.

Slow cooked lamb shank in spicy tomato, fresh and dried peppers with quinoa salad ($19)

The Caribbean style fish and chips came highly recommended by the manager. Reminiscent of the flavours in a Thai curry, with a creamy, coconut milk base, it was delicious with the tender fish and roasted vegetables. The use of plantain was certainly an interesting spin on the typical chips.

Caribbean style fish and chips - plantain chips, roasted corn and squash in a coconut broth ($14)

With a focus on sharing dishes, they were portioned on the smaller size and it had only felt like we had gone through entrees so we quickly ordered more food. The refried beans with cheese were very heavy and filling, yet strangely moreish. We much preferred the cheese fondue over the claggy texture of the refried beans.

Refried beans, cheese and corn chips ($9)

Everyone revelled in the chance to suck up all the delicious bone marrow when we were presented with the osso bucco. With slices of avocado to cut through the rich tomato sauce, the braised veal was uncomplicated and warming.

Braised veal in a wine and tomato with avocado ($19)

Sadly, the lamb and beef meatballs were dry and tough, partially redeemed by soaking up the tomato and white wine sauce, which worked well with the sweet mango salsa.

Lamb and beef meatballs in a tomato and white wine sauce with mango salsa ($10)

Lately, I've had an incessant hankering to bite into a buttery, short cookie sandwiching a thick dulce de leche filling with a coating of coconut flakes, otherwise known as an alfajore. Although the dulce de leche filling wasn't as caramelised as I would have liked, the union of the sweet cookies with the café ice cream, sourced from Helado Jauja, was delightful.

Alfajores with cafe ice cream ($8)

Altogether, it was an enjoyable meal at Popol Nah; with a select few of the dishes being more memorable than the majority. Being relatively new at the time of visit, Popol Nah had a few things to iron out but shows potential to rejuvenate that little pocket of Lygon Street.

Food: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Value: 7.5/10
Will I return? No, but they definitely have potential.

Popol Nah
171 Lygon St
Carlton VIC 3053
(03) 9347 3293

Mon to Thur 10am - 10pm
Fri 10am - 11pm
Sat 9am - 11pm
Sun 9am - 10pm

Popol Nah on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Hi, my name is Catherine and I will travel for good food. When George Biron and Diane Garrett, co-owners of Sunnybrae, decided to let go of their hatted restaurant, word eventually spread that it had transitioned into the safe hands of  Dan Hunter after his departure from Royal Mail Hotel, one of Australia's top rated restaurants. We took the opportunity to use Mr A's birthday as an excuse to visit which also happened to coincide with the blistering heatwave that Melbourne was enduring. We had the air conditioning blasting and some St ALi bottled iced lattes in hand, so we were ready to take on the long road trip.

We were the first diners to arrive for the evening and entered into the calm, serene setting of the new restaurant. The interior has since been spruced up from its former identity and lucky for us, we were seated in prime position to look through into the action of the kitchen.

The degustation menu ($180 per person) at Brae is made up of thirteen courses and we were left to peruse the menu. Heavily geared towards ultilising local, home-grown and organic produce, the dishes reflected the philosophy of Dan Hunter.

While I wouldn't recommend it, we had decided not to book accommodation for that night so we weren't able to indulge in the matched wines and settled with a glass of wine each. They do offer matched wines for an additional $120 per person.

Similar to Dan Hunter's former restaurant, we were started off with the smaller sized dishes. Crisp and utterly fluffy, the beef tendon cracker was sprinkled with ground mountain pepper and had a creamy, gelatinous texture after it melting in the mouth.

Beef tendon and mountain pepper

With the next trio of starters, my absolute favourite was the chopped prawns wrapped in nasturtium leaves - fresh and sweet against the fragrant, citrus caviar. The burnt pretzel stick had a caramelised, savoury flavour to it and while I enjoyed the wallaby tartare with the lemon myrtle, I found that the flax cracker overwhelmed the wallaby with its nutty flavour and texture.

Prawn, nasturtium and finger lime; burnt pretzel, treacle and pork; and wallaby and flax, lemon myrtle and wattle

Our waiter was appropriately passionate about their bread made in their outdoor wood-fire oven. The crusty sour dough bread went beautifully with the salty and sour, curd-like butter; the cream sourced locally and then churned in-house.

Brae's bread and butter, made in-house

A great start to the more substantial dishes was the tender calamari and the assortment of pickled cucumbers, turnip and herbs, providing a tangy zing against the silky, sweet calamari.

Calamari and pickles

The sea urchin and short fin eel were a medley of flavours from the ocean, highlighted by the thin slivers of zucchini and macadamia cream. My only gripe was the peculiar firm, sponge-like texture of the sea urchin; a stark contrast to the melting sea urchin.

Short fin eel, sea urchin, zucchini and macadamia

One of the highlights of the meal for me was the juicy lobster cooked in sea butter. The robust sea butter intensified the sweetness of the lobster and showcased the shellfish beautifully.

Southern rock lobster cooked with carrot, white onion, sea butter

If you grew up in Australia, you may recall singing "Waltzing Maltilda" which references a swagman catching a jumbuck drinking water down by the billabong. Ironically, it was only at Brae where we realised that we had been singing about a young sheep (I was that kid making up lyrics and mumbling in the background). The jumbuck was coated in a luscious herbed mayonnaise with hints of anchovy and underneath it all, char-grilled lettuce and broad bean puree made up the rest of this flavoursome dish.

Dry aged jumbuck, beans and lettuce

While the next dish may have overwhelmed some at that stage of the meal, Mr A and I were completely smitten. The charred raddichio lent a smoky, bitterness to the velvety offal, and the crumbled dehydrated mandarin zest provided some relief to the taste buds from the decadent flavours.

Charred raddichio, duck offal and native currants

The grass fed wagyu was so tender that the provided sharp steak knife was of no use. The quality of the meat shone through, complemented by raw shiitake mushrooms and salted radish.

Grass fed wagyu, rock samphire, Otway shiitake

The first of the dessert courses started with discs of watermelon with native quandong berries, rhubarb and rosewater granita and a sweet pea sauce. It was my least favourite course of the night as it just didn't seem to hit the right notes and the flavours were too tart for my taste buds.

Watermelon, quandong, rhubarb and rose

The next dessert, however thoroughly made up for my disappointment, with a delightful finale comprising of parsnip and apple. After slow roasting the parsnip, the innards were scraped out to make up the apple and parsnip custard filling, and the remaining shell was deep fried to a crisp. Alongside the dehydrated apples, Dan Hunter managed to execute an exquisite twist of the classic apple pie. To emphasize how good the dessert was, Mr A ended up demolishing his serving and then went on to finish the rest of mine (sadly, I was much too full to savour more than a bite - damn you, incompetent stomach!).

Parsnip and apple

With our meal coming to an end, we were presented with a sweet bite to enjoy with tea. The 'blood biscuit' was made by incorporating pig's blood into the whipped egg yolks, to impart a savouriness to the short biscuit, topped with beetroot paste and berries.

Berries and blood biscuit

To accompany the last bite, the Black Mitcham peppermint in my tea had been freshly picked that morning personally by our waitress. After three minutes of infusing in hot water, it made me feel a lot lighter and fresh after such a heavy meal.

Black Mitcham peppermint infused hot water

The service and detailed explanations provided from the manager were superb, although we felt that it was slightly let down when the same was not reflected by other wait staff unless we questioned them about the processes of each dish. It wasn't a major issue however, we would have appreciated understanding more about each course, rather than simply stating the elements.

Dan Hunter has brought his magic touch to Birregurra and shown a refined and restrained style in the dishes while making the most of locally sourced and native produce, picked up from his days at two Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain, Mugaritz. Not to mention, I'm quietly pleased that Dan Hunter's exquisite dining experience is so much more accessible than before. Eight hours and over 300 kms later, we were happy to say that it was emphatically worth our time and efforts.

Food: 9/10
Service: 8.5/10
Value: 7/10
Will I return? Yes, although the distance and cost will make visits reserved for very special occasions.

4285 Cape Otway Rd
Birregurra VIC 3242
(03) 5236 2276

Lunch: Fri to Mon 12pm onwards
Dinner: Thurs to Sun 6:30pm onwards

Brae on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Foxtrot Charlie & Prospect Espresso

Foxtrot Charlie are all about the food and coffee - which is their source of inspiration for the cafe's name using the NATO phonetic alphabet. With a rather apt aeroplane model floating in mid air above the communal dining table, Foxtrot Charlie seems like a modern hideaway on Sydney Road in Brunswick.

After wondering through to explore the stark white dining area down the back of the cafe, we decided to set ourselves up at the communal table as the atmosphere was much better. Our coffee orders came out soon after - my flat white was nice, albeit with more foam than I prefer, while Ms L's macchiato was steaming hot and after some time, the milk seemed to have curdled at the top so she ended up leaving it, save for her initial sip.

Flat white and long macchiato ($3.80 each)

Ms L is a sucker for all those typical brunch dishes out there - fritters of any kind, baked eggs and smashed avocado. Feeling a little under the weather, she opted for the baked eggs in tomato sugo with melted dollops of gnudi (ricotta cheese gnocchi). Technically, they were poached eggs, not baked eggs but Ms L noted that they were well-cooked and oozy in the flavoursome tomato sugo.

Baked eggs in tomato sugo and soft gnudi ($15.50)

I had actually suggested visiting Foxtrot Charlie for the sole purpose of trying their sticky gingerbread brioche but to my disappointment, it was no longer on the menu. I ended up being quite satisfied with the Saint Joseph's Day fritter which had a wonderful balance between the salty speck, sweet pea 'fondue' and the buttery sautéed mushrooms.

Saint Joseph's Day Fritter ($16.50)

Foxtrot Charlie hosted a variety of sweet treats and savoury tarts at the front counter, although our taste buds were after sweet refreshment in the form of frozen yoghurt so we departed after finishing our meals. Although it is quite the drive out for us to revisit, it seems like  Foxtrot Charlie is already a favourite for the locals.

Food: 7.5/10
Service: 7/10
Value: 8/10
Will I return? Maybe, but only if I'm in the area.

Foxtrot Charlie
359 Sydney Road
Brunswick VIC 3056
(03) 9387 3397

Daily 7am - 4pm

Foxtrot Charlie on Urbanspoon

Meanwhile, closer to home, Prospect Espresso is one of those cafes that feels like it has been on the scene for longer than it actually has. Especially so, when we put it in terms of the Melbourne cafe scene - always a new one popping up every week so 'a few months in' is already old. Prospect Espresso has garnered a solid reputation for a good reason, so despite the plethora of cafes in the Camberwell area, the cafe was heaving on a Saturday morning when Bestie and I decided to have a lazy brunch date. With our names on the waiting list and a short ten minute wait on the bench outside, we were beckoned by our waitress and led inside to a table of two. Our bodies were craving caffeine and a couple of magics quickly rectified the caffeine deficiency and boy, it was a good hit.

Magics ($3.80)

Bestie went for the truffled brioche to satiate her hollandaise craving. A combination of buttery brioche, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and truffled hollandaise made for a delicious dish and she seemed to enjoy it. I did find the brioche was a tad on the dry side, perhaps due to the thickness of the brioche, and would have been rectified with more hollandaise.

Toasted brioche with sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, poached eggs and truffled hollandaise ($17)

And who says you can't have dessert for breakfast? Prospect Espresso are certainly encouraging the trend with their buttermilk pannacotta, artfully draped in summer berries, passionfruit and amaretto biscuits. The dish consisted of all sorts of textures and flavours - the light, airy mango mousse against the creamy and luscious buttermilk pannacotta with pops of vibrant flavours from the fresh berries finished with crunchy amaretto biscuits. Despite all the individual components of this dish, it didn't overwhelm my taste buds with sweetness, which is what typically happens when I opt for a sweet breakfast dish. It was such a visual delight that I figured you'd want more photos to marvel over. Right?

Buttermilk pannacotta with mango mousse, passion fruit and amaretto biscuit ($12.50)

Maybe it's the cosy yet bright interior; the genuine and attentive wait staff; or just all of the above in union with the brilliant coffee and food which left me blissfully happy after a long weekend lunch. We lazed around, had another coffee and gossiped well past our time but were never rushed out by the staff. That's how you brunch on the weekends and Prospect Espresso have got it down pat.

Food: 8.5/10
Service: 9/10
Value: 8.5/10
Will I return? Yes, Prospect Espresso has definitely earned a place in my foodie heart.

Prospect Espresso
2A Prospect Hill Rd
Camberwell VIC 3124
(03) 9882 7359

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

Prospect Espresso on Urbanspoon

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