Servery and Spoon

137 Waverley Road
Malvern East, VIC 3145
03 9571 7495
www.serveryandspoon.com.au

I recently started watching Friday Night Lights – out of nowhere, really, although I am a massive One Tree Hill fan and have been told that the two are fairly similar. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show (FNL, that is), it’s about a high school football team from a small town called Dillon that deals with its fair share of ups and downs as the tight-knit Texan community rallies behind it. I had my doubts about it at first. I mean, for one thing, I’m not a sports-mad person, least of all American football, which – up until a couple of weeks ago – I had zero interest in. Secondly, it was all I could do to keep up with the Southern drawl. But four seasons in, I’m absolutely loving it. It’s such an underrated show.

Like FNL, a huge chunk of Melbourne’s culinary scene is also way, way underrated. Maybe we simply like going to the same places, but regardless, it’s a shame so many of the usual suspects get all the airtime. Servery and Spoon wasn’t even on my radar until good friend G (bless her) gave a stellar recommendation. She then proceeded to gush over the uber-cute display of cakes and desserts and the equally charming gourmet produce store next door, and well…who can say no to cake? 😉 So, in a post-gym hankering for hash browns and other cheeky treats, C and I hurtled off to the Malvern East eatery for a feed that pretty much undid all the effort that went into our morning workout.

S & S sports the industrial chic fit-out that most Melbourne cafés seem to nurse a soft spot for. We were seated in the rear dining area, a mish-mash of vibrant seat cushions, timber tables and kooky artwork. To be honest, I’m yet to find some place that breaks the usual mould, but S & S does the restored look really well and manages to inject a little warmth into the otherwise neutral palette.

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To kick things off, I ordered a chai tea, the perfect pick-me-up given the miserable weather that day. The lovely chai flavour was like a big bear hug. Me being the complete and utter airhead that I am, I forgot to note down drink prices, but whatever I paid, it was totally worth it.

Chai tea

Meanwhile, in pursuit of both a caffeine and sugar hit, C opted for a mocha that she downed with equal gusto.

Mocha

Mocha

S & S’s menu didn’t disappoint. Baklava French toast, slow-roasted tomatoes, salmon and sweet corn blinis…talk about being spoiled for choice! There’s something on there for everyone, and a handful of gluten-free options, which was good to see. After some serious deliberation, I went with my gut and settled on the crispy dukkah crusted eggs with smashed avocado, sautéed spinach and fetta on sourdough (15.5).

Crispy dukkah crusted eggs with smashed avocado, sautéed spinach and fetta on sourdough (15.5)

Crispy dukkah crusted eggs with smashed avocado, sautéed spinach and fetta on sourdough (15.5)

Apparently my gut knows what’s up. My eggs were cooked beautifully, and all the flavours and textures on the plate– from the crunchy dukkah crust to the creamy crumbled fetta – had my taste buds in a tizzy.

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C went for the fresh herb pikelets topped with caramelised beetroot, horseradish crème fraiche and snow pea tendrils (16.5). A few bites in, she noted that the overwhelming amount of horseradish wiped out any flavour the pikelets might have had, but, unpredictably, the beetroot was the hero of the dish. After sampling it myself, I came to the same conclusion – and I don’t even like beetroot!

Fresh herb pikelets with caramelised beetroot, horseradish crème fraiche and snow pea tendrils (16.5)

Fresh herb pikelets with caramelised beetroot, horseradish crème fraiche and snow pea tendrils (16.5)

And, oh my, those hash browns! There I was expecting deep-fried potato goodness of the Maccas variety – and we ended up with the super-super-sized versions (4.0 each). Crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, these bad boys were all sorts of awesome.

Hash browns (4.0 each)

Hash browns (4.0 each)

Even though we were stuffed and ready to roll out the door on our sides by this point, the salted caramel slice samples on offer next door lured us into the grocery store. And boy did we find ourselves in foodie heaven – freshly baked bread, ready-made soups, salads, frittatas, sweets galore – you name it, it was there. We also spied packets of vanilla and pistachio-flavoured Persian fairy floss that, of course, had to be taken home.

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We did make it out of there, eventually. I’m so psyched to have found a new favourite local gem – next to Huff, that is. Something tells me I’ll be back real soon.

Servery & Spoon on Urbanspoon

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two birds one stone

12 Claremont Street
South Yarra, VIC 3141
(03) 9827 1228
www.twobirdsonestonecafe.com.au/

I’m not a morning person. It takes me a good hour of snoozing my alarm (I usually have two or three set and spaced 10 minutes apart), walking into walls and a splash of ice-cold water to wake up. And even then, I’m still halfway in lala-land or trying to figure out what I was dreaming about before my alarm so rudely interrupted.

There are two things that will unmistakably have me up and at’em before my phone starts quacking at me. One is me falling out of my bed, which, admittedly, doesn’t happen often. Actually, it’s only happened once, but suffice to say, I got up. Maybe I should get someone to push me out of bed every morning. Or not. Pretty sure I bruised my butt the first time. The second – a far more pleasant and common occurrence – is the promise of brunch. /end long-winding psycho babble.

C and I decided to head over to South Yarra and kick off the 2013 brunch series at two birds one stone (every fibre of my being is fighting the urge to capitalise each of those starting letters!). We arrived just before midday and were able to score a booth between the outgoing breakfast and incoming lunch crowds. I hadn’t even ordered and I already liked what I saw – the café was bright and airy, with clean, varnished counter tops and random bursts of teal. The guys who brought us Three Bags Full are doing well – not only have they heated things up along Claremont Street with this little gem, they’ve just opened up shop in Richmond with Top Paddock.

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As always, C started off with a skinny latte (3.8), which, according to her, was nothing special. We’re yet to find a cup of Joe that really knocks her socks off. I, for one, could not stop gushing over the Tiffany blue cups and saucers – they were too cute! They definitely gave the otherwise sparse space a bit of warmth and colour.

Latte (3.8)

Latte (3.8)

My hot chocolate (4.0) was more lukewarm than hot, but nice and chocolatey. I loved the detail of the chocolate powder dusted over the top.

Hot chocolate (4.0)

Hot chocolate (4.0)

‘Breakfast served all day’ is my all-time favourite phrase next to ‘Sale on now!’. So, of course, my heart did a little flip-flop as my eyes skimmed across the same words atop the menu. C ventured down the sweet route and ordered the twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5). The bit of French toast that I was lucky enough to try practically melted in my mouth. It was the perfect balance of flavours; not too eggy, but not overly sweet. And finished off with the vanilla panna cotta (which was more like a quenelle of a really thick cream) – incredible! An absolute ripper of a dish, no question.

Twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5)

Twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5)

While C tended to her sweet tooth, I ordered off the specials menu and wolfed down the smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5). My egg was poached beautifully – the yolk oozed out like a boss as I cut into it with my knife and fork. The smashed peas were a great alternative to avocado and went nicely with the salty pancetta. The only issue was that it could have done with another slice of toast! The slice flying solo on my plate could barely hold it together, it was like the peas, pancetta and poached egg were playing stacks on.

Smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5)

Smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5)

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I couldn’t leave without taking a few of the apple and pistachio crumble muffins (4.5 each) home. There’s no photographic evidence to suggest this actually happened… because they were in my belly before I could whip out my camera. But hey, I defy anyone to resist a cupcake that good-looking. The apple filling was deliciously sweet, the vanilla bean frosting was spot on and the pistachio crumble gave it great texture. Not to mention they were fresh from the oven – the cake was so lovely and fluffy, I wanted to die. Not unlike Agnes in Despicable Me 😉

Pastry and cake selection

For a morning feed that’s sure to please, check out two birds one stone. The menu boasts variety, the space is fresh and funky, and that twice-cooked French toast… well, let’s just say I’d be more than happy to wake up and smell the marmalade any day 🙂

Two Birds One Stone on Urbanspoon

Mart 130

107 Canterbury Rd
Middle Park, VIC 3206
(03) 9690 8831

The past few months have been a blur of brunches. Waffles, bacon, mushrooms, eggs –  in each of their delicious manifestations – you name it, I’ve had it. After a while, though, the memory bank tends to haze over and that completely decent but not outstanding dish from that one time becomes exactly that – vague and nameless.

Mart 130’s corn fritters will most likely be etched into the cornices of my brain for the rest of time. Just putting it out there. 🙂

C and I rocked up to the Route 96 tram stop for a bite to eat late Tuesday morning. Why Mart 130, you ask? Mart (upon thoroughly examining the sign out front) is tram spelled backwards and 130 is the number of the tram stop. Now there’s a name you won’t forget!

We traipsed into the quirky station turned café and were welcomed by cheery greetings all round before we were seated in the corner booth of the sun deck. The Mart 130 vibe is relaxed but in amongst a flurry of activity, with the St Kilda-bound tram departing every once in a while on one side and the jovial banter at the Middle Park tennis club on the other.

Our waiter was a hoot and managed to crack a joke or two in between taking our drink orders. My chai latte was nicely spiced and dusted with cinnamon sugar – win! C went with her daily dose of caffeine; a skinny latte. Due to a complete lack of tact, I forgot to note drink prices, but if I had to hazard a guess, they were both around the $4-4.50 mark.

Chai latte, latte

Mart 130’s menu is a real beaut, with classy but unpretentious dishes to tickle everybody’s pickle. Their famed oven-roasted corn fritters with grilled bacon, tomato relish, sour cream and coriander (18.9) had my mouth watering before we had even arrived. I dug into the impressive stack and felt my tastebuds do the running man/play the air guitar/raise the roof. The fritters were fluffy, but also densely packed with sweet corn kernels that absolutely exploded with flavour. Paired with the streaky, salty bacon and zingy tomato relish, this dish was killer.

Oven-roasted corn fritters with grilled bacon, tomato relish, sour cream and coriander (18.9)

C had her eye on about three different things, but eventually succumbed to the other, equally delicious-sounding corn fritter option with smoked salmon, beetroot relish, crème fraiche and cucumber, dill and lemon salsa (18.9). The salmon was smoked beautifully and, teamed with the zesty freshness of the salsa, went down the hatch like a treat. C was happy to report that while they weren’t as good as her mum’s corn fritters (when are they ever?), they could definitely give them a run for their money.

Oven-roasted corn fritters with smoked salmon, beetroot relish, crème fraiche, topped with a cucumber, dill and lemon salsa (18.9)

We couldn’t help but ogle the three-tiered sweet stand as were paying, and being the suckers we are, we scooped up a few of their yoyos on our way out (3.0 each). Like the corn fritters, these were in a whole other league from some of the crummier versions I’ve had in the past. Absolute buttery, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Big ups to the team at Mart 130 for service, atmosphere and – most importantly – incredible food! I’m already itching to go back and blitz my way through everything else on the menu. 😀

Mart 130 on Urbanspoon

Chez Dré

287 Coventry Street (rear)
South Melbourne, VIC
(03) 9690 2688
chezdre.com.au

The only downside to throwing back a cheeky meal or two (or three) is the spasm of guilt you feel afterwards. I’ll work it off at the gym tonight, you tell yourself. And then, of course, you find some pathetic excuse not to go and instead indulge in something outrageous. Like a pint of ice cream. No? OK, maybe that’s just me.

Anyhoo, with the turn of the season and a new spring in my step (oh yes, I did just say that), brunch buddy C and I decided to make the most of yesterday’s blue skies and took a half walk/jog around Albert Park Lake. We ended up making idle chitchat with the swans and laughed our heads off watching a psycho dog jump into the lake after a defenceless seagull and…yep, I’m getting off topic.

After establishing that we were both past the tummy rumble stage and well into ‘will kill for food’ territory, we stopped by South Melbourne first for brunch. Chez Dré has been on my go to list for quite some time now. I’ve read so many glowing reviews about them and can now say that I’ve popped my Chez Dré cherry. Finally!

Like St ALi, Chez Dré is one of those cafes you can easily miss if you’re not trying to hunt it down in the first place. The cobble-stoned pathway ushers you into a bright and trendy space, with an open kitchen floor plan, green leather-upholstered booths and vibrant floral arrangements scattered throughout. There’s also an outdoor seating area, which, when we arrived, was full of hungry lunch-goers enjoying the freakishly awesome Melbourne weather.

C and I made our way to the counter and were told we could sit wherever we wanted. The waiters were super friendly. They happily gave us their brunch recommendations and checked in with us every once in a while. I can only imagine how busy they’d be on weekends because Mondays at Chez Dré are pretty happening. There was just enough activity to distract us from the sound of chewing our own food, but not so much that we had to yell at each other over the din of cutlery and conversation.

On to the menu! The hot chocolate looked pretty good on paper (single origin ‘Madagascar’, 64%), but I’m not sure the real thing lived up to its name. I’m on an unofficial hunt of sorts for Melbourne’s best hot chocolate and Huff’s and Lindt are still my top contenders by far. Unfortunately, Chez Dré didn’t make the cut. Ours were wishy-washy and underwhelming, and a little more lukewarm than hot, which I couldn’t help but make a face at. Disappointing stuff.

Hot chocolate (5.0)

Thankfully, the food was a different story. Maybe it was because we were beyond hungry by this point, but holy guacamole, these guys have brunch down. I had the Moroccan-baked eggs with spicy herb lamb sausage, minted yogurt and baguette (17.5). Google search ‘om nom nom’ and this will be the first picture up there. The eggs were soft and gooey, the sausage had just the right amount of kick and the yoghurt added a refreshing component to the dish. The crusty baguette mopped up the tomato and capsicum salsa beautifully.

Moroccan-baked eggs with spicy herb lamb sausage, minted yogurt and baguette (17.5)

C went with the sautéed mushrooms on sourdough with Yarra Valley Persian feta and a poached egg (17.5). I love anything with mushrooms, and this number ticked all the right boxes. The mushrooms and Persian feta absolutely burst with flavour, and splitting the poached egg was like watching Mount Vesuvius erupt. C and I sat there like morons; heads tilted and mouths agape as the yolk worked its magic.

Sautéed mushrooms on sourdough with Yarra Valley Persian feta and a poached egg (17.5)

Naturally, we couldn’t leave without paying a visit to the dessert bar. Each piece on the marble-top display was a marvel. And they were offering free samples! Score! We tasted bits of the caramel dome, hazelnut macarons and blackcurrant macarons, which were all amazing. I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face.

We were eager to get going and soak up some sunshine before the weather pulled a 180 (as it so often does here), so we took a few goodies home. C settled on a coconut and a caramel macaron (3.0 each). Meanwhile, I watched in horror as the waiter behind the counter took the last salted caramel éclair (8.5) to the table behind us. Noooo, I yelled in my head, but I spared C (and everyone else  in our vicinity) the theatrics and bought a chocolate éclair to give to my sister instead. Yum! I also picked up a chocolate tart (8.5); decadent layers of ganache and mousse encased in a crumbly pastry shell and topped with gold leaf. Eating it (actually, guzzling it down would be a more accurate description of how it ended up in my belly) probably rendered our earlier attempt at exercise futile, but hey, can you blame me? 😉

Chocolate tart (8.5), chocolate éclair (8.5)

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

St ALi

12/18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990
stali.com.au

Another day, another reason to grab some brunch! C and I made the trek up to South Melbourne on Tuesday for a late morning feed at St ALi. Tucked away in an industrial back street just off Clarendon lies Salvatore Malatesta’s flagship café, forerunner to Liar Liar in Hawthorn and Outpost in South Yarra.

After locating the elusive laneway, we deduced in under two seconds that we were either delirious with hunger and totally lost or we had the wrong address. All the buildings looked the same. The only thing that tipped us off was the stash of Sensory Lab coffee beans down the street.

Spirits burgeoned somewhat, we followed our noses up to the non-descript ex-warehouse, not really knowing what to expect. Behind the unpretentious, white-bricked façade was a flurry of whirring coffee grinders and apron-donning waiters flitting back and forth between tables. It was like unearthing the headquarters of a secret coffee or brunch lovers club. Perhaps the mystique is part of St ALi’s allure. It makes you wonder how people come to know about it in the first place.

In any case, St ALi appears to attract quite the diverse crowd. Business types, well-dressed yuppies, mums and prams, you name it. The converted depository sports high ceilings, exposed beams, roller doors and recycled furniture, creating a laid-back, casual space for everyone to enjoy an exceptional cup of coffee and leaf through the morning headlines.

It was freezing outside and my fingers were about to snap off, so I ordered a hot chocolate straight off the bat. The first mug that came to our table sent one of my eyebrows skyward; it was uncharacteristically bubbly on the surface and there was no froth (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much the best part). One of the waiters was observant enough to notice and replace it, which was awfully nice of her and a testament to the excellent service that St ALi extends to its patrons.

Hot chocolate (5.0)

St ALi’s menu is big on wordplay and personal touches, which I liked. The PDF version online reminds me of those ‘Which celebrity are you destined to marry?’ Cosmo quizzes except you would never get stuck with a dud because every trail leads to a delicious morsel of awesomeness. That wasn’t a euphemism, in case you were wondering.

They’re known for their coffee-roasting prowess, but St ALi had me at waffles. The Friends with Benefits waffle stack with Pedro Ximenez poached pears, vanilla mascarpone and freeze-dried mandarin (18.5) is a definite winner. The vanilla mascarpone was velvety smooth and tied the whole dish together. It balanced out the sweetness of the pears and the poaching syrup and washed those waffles down like a pro. For the record, I don’t even like mandarins, and I still thought it was the bomb diggity. You could have stuck a candle in one of the waffles and I would have felt like it was my birthday.

Friends with Benefits: Waffle stack with Pedro Ximenez poached pears, vanilla mascarpone and freeze-dried mandarin (18.5)

C ventured down the savoury path and settled on the Hermanos Rodrigues breakfast sandwich (17.0) to go with her cold drip filtered coffee (6.0, not pictured). It proved to be one of those menu items that sounded great in theory, but was impossible to eat without looking like a complete slob. C tried it with a knife and fork first, but that didn’t work. Then she tried to eat it like a regular sandwich, so of course everything fell out. First-world problems. I know, we’re terrible. Quibbles aside, the chorizo had a great tangy flavour to it and the spiced Mahon gave the sandwich some zing. In future, I’d probably order it for lunch rather than breakfast, as it was a smidge on the heavy side.

Hermanos Rodrigues breakfast sandwich: Casa Iberica fresh made chorizo, fried egg, roquette, paprika spiced Mahon cheese and lemon aioli on Dench sourdough (17.0)

I love finding great things in unexpected places, and St ALi doesn’t disappoint. I’m chomping at the bit to try their 63 Degrees Above (And Not Below) eggs and their bestseller My Mexican Cousin secret recipe corn fritters, so I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be back real soon. Probably sooner.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Three Bags Full

60 Nicholson Street
Abbotsford, VIC 3067
(03) 9421 2732
threebagsfullcafe.com.au

I can never resist the opportunity to track down a great brunch spot. Nothing beats sauntering down to your local breakfast haunt on a lazy Sunday morning (or any other day really, I don’t discriminate), perusing the paper at your own pace and revelling in the sizzle of bacon and eggs.

So the other day when my best friend, and fellow brunch-devotee, Christina mentioned that she was on an excruciatingly long break between classes and in the mood for a mid-morning pick-me-up, I couldn’t say no. We jumped into the car not knowing where we would end up. I rattled off some ideas I had in mind, but we eventually settled on Three Bags Full, which I had never been to but C was keen on revisiting. With breakfast available all day, it was on like Donkey Kong.

Even after circling the café like vultures trying to find parking (some questionable U-turns and confusing one-way streets were involved), we came up empty-handed and resorted to parking at Safeway down the road. I hate being cheated out of free parking (who pays three bucks an hour to park at Woolies?), but I kept telling myself it had to be worth the wait, given how busy it was.

The ex-industrial building turned café was abuzz with activity upon arrival. C and I were seated at a communal table, which we didn’t mind, but we would have preferred a table to ourselves. The warm timber furnishings, distressed brick walls, hanging lights and floral arrangements gave the place a contemporary but homey feel, which I loved.

I’ll admit that I’m not much of a coffee person, so I had a chai latte to start with (4.0). It was more spiced than I would have liked, but still pleasant on the palate. C forwent her usual skinny latte and decided instead on a freshly squeezed juice of carrot, beetroot, celery, lemon and ginger (6.0). The ginger hit afterwards gave it some zing, however, the flavour of the other ingredients was lost overall.

Freshly squeezed carrot, beetroot, celery, lemon and ginger juice (6.0), chai latte (4.0)

As always, I ummed and ahhed over whether to go with something sweet or savoury. The woman sitting opposite kindly offered us some of her French toast, when we not so subtly stared at it in envy. It was a spectacular mountain of crème patissiere, stewed rhubarb and almonds and looked so good, I very nearly said yes.

But my savoury taste buds ultimately got the better of me, so I settled on the Veggie Breakfast; eggs any way you like (I had mine poached), roasted tomatoes, wilted spinach, avocado, sautéed mushrooms, relish and toast (17.5). The mushrooms were earthy and flavoursome, the eggs were lovely and gooey and the relish packed a punch. I’m not too sure what was up with the slab of avocado, though; it was like whoever plated up never thought to slice it or make it more presentable. The avocado was the only issue I had. In spite of opting for the vegetarian take on the big breakfast, it was quite the hearty dish.

Veggie Breakfast: eggs, roasted tomatoes, spinach, avocado, sauteed mushrooms, relish and toast (17.5)

C ordered the smashed avocado with Persian feta, pepitas and olive oil with a poached egg on the side (16.5). It was all I could do not to sneak in a bite when she wasn’t looking.

Smashed avocado with Persian feta, pepitas and olive oil, poached egg on the side (16.5)

On the whole, we were pretty happy with the café experience Three Bags Full had to offer. The staff were friendly and attentive, the atmosphere lively and inviting and the décor a nice touch. I’d be more than happy to return and chow my way through their well-rounded menu – especially since that French toast masterpiece has played a recurring role in my dreams as of late.

Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon