Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Minor Place, Brunswick

Our weekends have been unusually full since well before Christmas making weekend breakfast a bit trickier than it used to be. Today, Prince Gobble Guts and I decided we'd have to carry the breakfast torch for the family otherwise this breakfast blog was going to wither away and die.

Today Prince Gobble Guts and I made our first foray into the weekday breakfast. It began with a long car ride in somewhat heavy traffic as we traversed greater Melbourne making our way slowly to the inner north suburb of Brunswick. This was the first difference we noticed--the traffic. It's quite relaxing sussing out a good breakfast place on a quiet Sunday morning, but in peak hour on a rainy Thursday it was not so enjoyable. Note to self: Weekday brunch might be the go.

Navigating the narrow and congested streets that form the arteries of Brunswick can be a very delicate exercise--especially in the rain. A Minor Place, the cafe that fellow breakfast lover, Kylie, had chosen, sits on Albion Street between Nicholson Street and Sydney Road--not that you'd ever know it. I'm sure I drove by it twice wondering where the bloody hell it was until I made the urgent call to Kylie to clarify the name and address. It was then that she mentioned the cafe sits in an old yellow house with a veranda out the front. No wonder I couldn't find it I thought, it just blends in with the rest of the street. That section of Albion is very residential so I kept waiting for the cafe to jump out at me, but it was well camouflaged.

Several U-turns later, Prince Gobble Guts and I found some parking on the street and hurried through the rain into the nondescript yellow house that A Minor Place calls home.

Kylie was well into her first cup of tea when we arrived and had nabbed a spot at a large square communal table in the front of the cafe overlooking the street. A quick glance around the room found three diners with laptops busily working away, plenty of understated retro decor and a clientele that looked as if they could all be stall holders at a really groovy Arts market. The feel was cozy with a bit of polish. Prince Gobble Guts was the only little person in the room. The rest of the diners looked to be somewhere in the 25-45 crowd.

As soon as we sat down, the helpful waitress stopped by to take our drink orders. I asked for a latte for myself and a babychino for Gobble Guts. The drinks arrived shortly after and the coffee was very good. Prince Gobble Guts seemed thrilled with the babychino as well and had the tell tale chocolate mustache that seems unavoidable when enjoying that warm milk treat. Kylie and I took a bit of time to look over the menu and both noted several dishes that looked worth a try. Kylie narrowed her choice down to the French Toast and I ordered a dish called The Mumbler which consisted of two poached eggs on toast with pesto, feta cheese, fresh spinach and tomato. I asked the waitress for a small side order of scrambled eggs for the Prince, but she informed me the kitchen only prepared items in one size--which meant it would be a full order of eggs for the Prince or no eggs at all. So I ordered a full order of scrambled eggs on toast with a side of bacon.

Kylie and I busied ourselves with the task of entertaining Prince Gobble Guts, but mostly he was entertaining us. The kid has a whole collection of facial expressions that he flashes indiscriminately melting the hearts of the most hardened onlookers. Oh and the eye lashes...he bats those around quite a bit too. He was really enjoying his moment in the spotlight with his usual competition, Princess Pancake, safely tucked away at Kinder.

At some point before the food arrived, an overly serious waiter who reminded me a bit of REM front man Michael Stipe, approached the table to set out our cutlery. He placed a serviette down next to Prince Gobble Guts and then said something along the lines of, "G'day there young fellow. I'm going to give you a knife and fork now." Then placed the cutlery on top of the serviette and walked away. Prince Gobble Guts was as puzzled as I was. It was becoming more and more obvious that A Minor Place wasn't accustomed to catering for minors. No small serves of menu items and now a knife for a 2 year old. Puzzling indeed.

I wouldn't say the food was slow in coming out, but I would say it was relaxed. Kylie and I weren't in a hurry so we didn't notice the wait, but I do think if you were short on time you might have been asking about your breakfast before ours arrived at the table. When the food did arrive, it looked lovely. Kylie's French Toast appeared to be quite the indulgence and had the taste and texture to back it up. She ate it all up, down to the very last bite!

My meal, The Mumbler, looked fresh and inviting with two of the most well poached eggs I've seen in a cafe in Melbourne in a long time. The pesto spread on the toast was delicious and the feta cheese was understated and not too bold. It was a unique and yummy combination.

Prince Gobble Guts' scrambled eggs were light and fresh with plenty of herbs mixed through them. He seemed to only have eyes for the bacon though and true to his name, gobbled it all down before his long suffering baconless Mum ever got a taste. I was pleased that it was Prince Gobble Guts who was faced with the herbed scrambled eggs because nothing phases this kid. My mind was shuddering at the thought of trying to sell the same meal to Princess Pancake. It would have been a disaster. Different strokes for different folks right?

Kylie and I enjoyed our meals immensely and Prince Gobble Guts had no complaints...he rarely ever does. After we sat and had a chat for a bit longer we decided more coffees were in order. Not one to have multiple coffees in one day much less in one sitting, I decided I'd order a decaf. Kylie quickly informed me that A Minor Place doesn't have decaf coffee. Bummer. So we settled for two weak lattes instead and another round of babychino for the little fella.

Several hours after we arrived in the light morning rain, it was nearly midday and the rain was coming down quite hard. We relinquished our spots at the communal table and headed to the bar to settle our bill. The kind waitress gave us our total and Kylie asked if we could pay for our meals separately. The waitress informed us that you can't split the bill at A Minor Place. So we did the maths and sorted it out, paid the bill and walked outside to say our goodbyes.

Final Verdict on A Minor Place:
While I found the cafe itself to be charming in a retro-too-cool-for-school kind of way and the food to be fantastic, I do think the service lacks a bit of hospitality. The wait staff are friendly enough, but the hard and fast rules on serving sizes and bill splitting was a bit annoying. While Prince Gobble Guts coped quite well in the environment, I don't think it is a particularly kid friendly cafe and the attitude of the staff bears that out. If you live in the area, take yourself a bit seriously and appreciate a good meal in a casual but hip environment then A Minor Place might just be the place for you. If you've got little people, leave them at home or go elsewhere--the vibe just isn't kid friendly.

A Minor Place
103 Albion Street

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mocha Jo's, Glen Waverley

Mocha Jo's, Glen Waverley

On Kingsway in the heart of Glen Waverley's shopping and entertainment precinct, we stumbled upon Mocha Jo's, and thus begun another weekend breakfast adventure. Glen Waverley, an outer suburban hub, lies approximately 19km from the CBD. Over the years, Glen Waverley has become widely known for its plethora of Chinese food outlets and entertainment venues so much so that Kingsway has a very distinct Asian feel. In that sense, Mocha Jo's seems to call your attention from it's corner perch as a standout amongst predominantly Chinese choices.

As we arrived at Mocha Jo's on a warm and sunny Sunday morning, the place was busy. There are tables both inside and outside and most were full with the few empty tables donning the dreaded "reserved" sign meaning they were being held for a booking. Luckily, the helpful staff took note of our arrival as soon as we walked through the door and escorted us to one of the few empty but still available tables. A quick look around and we noted that most of the front of the cafe is composed of the bi-folding doors that seem to have become the standard of Melbourne's cafe scene. On this particular morning, not all the doors were open as the temperatures were still climbing and there was a fresh breeze blowing every now and again. Even so, you could see the potential for a really nice open feel on a warmer summer day. The corner location also gives you a good view of the action on Kingsway which means you can people watch to your hearts content.

The friendly staff are all dressed in black Mocha Jo's t-shirts that makes it very easy for you to discern who they are. We were given menus and water for the table almost immediately after we were seated. Princess Pancake and Prince Gobbleguts were extremely hungry and their deportment was evidence of such. As a result, we scanned the menu very quickly and found they had the dish of our children's dreams on offer--"Huge Hot Pancake" served with various options: maple syrup, ice-cream, berry compote or eggs and bacon. We opted for the eggs and bacon as there is nothing Princess Pancake likes more than a bit of bacon with her pancakes.

When the waitress came to take our drink order, we asked for two lattes, two orange juices and the Huge Pancake with eggs and bacon for the kids. The Handsome Australian and I were yet to make our food selections. There were certainly plenty of options. If you like a light breakfast, Mocha Jo's seemed to have a lot to offer in that department. There were plenty of bircher muesli combinations, various toast selections with Phillipa's bread, and even a section of toasted NY Bagels. Unfortunately for our growing waist lines, the Handsome Australian and I are not light breakfast people when it comes to our weekend breakfast adventures. We figure we can eat muesli at home. We were after something a bit more substantial.

The Handsome Australian decided to go with "Billy's Breakie": fresh avocado salsa, smoked salmon and two poached eggs served on spelt wholemeal toast with tomato chili jam on the side. I have to admit, I was thinking quite hard about "Billy's Breakie" as well, but in the interest of sampling as many offerings as possible, I decided to take one for the team. I settled for MJ's Works (basically their big breakfast offering): Fried eggs with bacon, sausages, sauteed mushrooms, grilled tomato and spinach served with crusty white toast. Sounded good to me, except I decided I'd substitute poached eggs for the fried ones.

When the waitress came back to the table with our drinks, we let her know we were ready to order our breakfasts. She took note of our choices and before we could blink an eye, the pancakes we'd ordered only a little while before were heading straight for our table. The "Huge Hot Pancake" was exactly that--it was huge, the size of the entire plate. It was also hot and oozing with butter. The serve of bacon and scrambled eggs sat on top of the pancake and it was enough to send our children into fits as they both clamored to grab their share of the goods. The pancake itself was quite thick and spongy. The Handsome Australian likened it to cake, but I thought it still had a lighter pancake like quality. The little people had zero complaints. This was their breakfast dream come true. All their favourites on one plate minus the maple syrup of course. The kind waitress brought that over to the table only moments later and then it was on for young and old.

The pancake after it's been split apart--the little hands were faster than the photographer.

Princess Pancake's share of the HUGE HOT PANCAKE

While the children were busy gobbling up their pancake, bacon and eggs, the Handsome Australian and I were left alone to savour our lattes. The Handsome Australian remarked that the coffee was nice and it got me thinking. Most coffees we have in Melbourne these days are quite good. I remember a time about 5 or 10 years ago when 1 out of 3 would be really worth drinking. I told the Handsome Australian that I thought Melbourne had lifted it's coffee game to a new level where now it was almost difficult to find a bad coffee. The Handsome Australian reckons that is a fair statement and added that the coffees that stand out now aren't the bad ones, but the ones that are truly exceptional. The really, really good ones.

A good coffee at Mocha Jo's

Our philosophical musing over the state of coffee in Melbourne was interrupted by the arrival of our breakfast. The Handsome Australian's "Billy's Breakie" was served on a rectangular platter with each ingredient separate to the rest. It was up to him to make up his own breakfast combinations. He enjoyed his breakfast, but would have liked there to have been more toast with the meal. He felt as if he had quite a bit of avocado salsa, but nothing to eat it with as the pieces of toast on his plate were both quite small.

"Billy's Breakie"
I was quite impressed with the size of "MJ's Works". It was a large plate full of food. The poached eggs with black pepper freshly cracked over the top didn't disappoint. They were runny and the made a good topping for the crusty white toast. The highlight on the plate was the spinach which was very tasty. I was again defeated by the big breakfast. There was simply too much on the plate for me to finish. The Handsome Australian observed Mocha Jo's seems to be going for value for money meals as the portions were all quite large.

MJ's Works

Final Verdict on Mocha Jo's:

While the food at Mocha Jo's didn't stand out as anything extraordinary, we did enjoy our meals and felt very comfortable in the casual laid back atmosphere. The service was very good and our table was well attended to. A destination cafe it is not (you wouldn't go out of your way to go there) but it's a great little local. So if you are in the area and you don't already have your breakfast there, then give it a whirl. It's a solid little performer.

Mocha Jo's

87 Kingsway, Glen Waverley

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vanilla Cakes and Lounge, Oakleigh

Vanilla Cakes and Lounge, Oakleigh

This weekend's adventure took us around the globe to the bustling heart of the Mediterranean--Athens, Greece. Yes, we are serious about our search for a good breakfast and several long haul flights with two young children would not stand in our way. Okay, perhaps we didn't really pack the kids up and drag them all the way to Greece this weekend, instead we visited a little bit of Greece right here in Melbourne.

As you drive into the center of Oakleigh, you travel along wide streets lined with mature leafy trees. It's quite obvious from the style of the homes and mature vegetation that this is one of Melbourne's older neighbourhoods. If you didn't know better, you'd think Oakleigh was just another quiet Melbourne suburb, but in fact it's central shopping district attracts people from all over Melbourne looking for top quality meats, fruits and vegetables as well as any Greek delicacy you can think of. There are an abundance of bakeries, butchers, fruit and veg markets, and dozens of Greek themed cafes all packed neatly around Eaton Mall--the beating heart of this oasis 17km from Melbourne's CBD.

We arrived at Eaton Mall at about 10am on an overcast and muggy Sunday morning. Neither the Handsome Australian or I are very familiar with the cafes and restaurants that line this pedestrian thoroughfare so picking a place to try was our first challenge of the day. As we walked along the mall, we observed dozens upon dozens of older Greek men sitting together at the various cafes having their morning coffees. By the looks of it, this is a ritual they observe every weekend, if not every day. The only language you heard spoken was Greek and the outside tables of most of the cafes were busy as these same men also enjoyed their morning cigarettes.

The Handsome Australian (of Mediterranean background himself) loves a bit of old school tradition. His theory in these cases is go where the locals go. The more Greek a place looked and the less English spoken would certainly be the key to an authentic Greek breakfast in his mind. I was up for the adventure, but when faced with the clouds of cigarette smoke looming outside the first cafe he chose, I had to exercise my right to not smell like an ashtray for the remainder of the day. The Handsome Australian insisted though and we went indoors to look for a table. While we were looking, he spotted the menu on the wall. There really wasn't anything on offer besides your basic eggs and bacon. Disappointed, the Handsome Australian gave in and we marched on down Eaton Mall with the little people in tow hoping to find something just a little bit more exciting.

We finally settled on Vanilla Cakes and Lounge. I think it was the fact that the place looked really busy with nearly all of their outdoor tables filled with diners that initially attracted us. As we got closer, the Handsome Australian remarked, "Wow. Someone has spent a lot of money fitting this place out. It looks good."
The busy outdoor seating area

Since there were no more tables left outside, we decided to head indoors to find one. The place has a very relaxed but slick feel to it. The dining room is a mix of booths, lounge chairs set around lower tables and proper dining tables. The first thing you notice, however, is the large selection of items in the immense display case that surrounds the bar. If the number of pre-made rolls and mounds of fruit salad is any indication, this place must be pumping at lunch times.

It wasn't all savoury fare, there was a selection of cakes, biscuits and sweets that seemed endless. Even though we were there for breakfast, we were nearly seduced by the glitter and glam of all these gorgeous looking desserts. Grabbing a booth directly opposite the cake display probably didn't help matters much either.
The cake display...endless possibilities
Luckily we had the little people to bring our attention back to the table. There was some jockeying over who would get the window seat. Once that was sorted, the waiter arrived at our table to take our drink orders. The Handsome Australian inquired about the famous Greek Frappes that he's heard so much about. The waiter explained that the Frappes they make consist of Nescafe, water, milk and ice all blended together to make a frothy drink. Unimpressed by the inclusion of Nescafe (instant coffee) versus a shot of espresso or authentic Greek coffee, the Handsome Australian decided to stick with a tried and true Cafe Latte instead. I seconded his motion and ordered one for myself and two babychinos for the little people.

Upon studying the menu, we were both quite impressed with the variety of offerings. The prices were quite reasonable too. Princess Pancake and Prince Gobbleguts had already enjoyed a partial breakfast at home and weren't too hungry. Princess Pancake, much to our surprise, suggested that she and her brother share a fruit salad. While she's a clever girl, she is too young to read the menu and only knew about the fruit salad because she saw it in the display case. She knows a good thing when she sees it. According to the menu the fruit salad is served with yogurt over the top. Princess Pancake was gravely concerned about the yogurt and asked that it be put on the side if at all possible. We agreed to this request and asked the waiter to bring an extra plate so the two little people could share.

Having missed out on the opportunity of having an authentic Greek breakfast with the chain smoking crowd up the road, the Handsome Australian decided to console himself by ordering the Greek Omelet: fetta, capsicum, tomato, red onion and oregano with toast. A creature of habit, I had a hard time going past the Big Breakfast: 2 eggs poached, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, sausages and toast. I wasn't overly hungry, but with Prince Gobbleguts around I never know how much of my own food I'm actually going to have the chance to consume.

The coffees arrived soon after our food order was taken. These lattes were good, but nothing exceptional. The children greeted their babychinos and marshmallows with the usual glee. It wasn't long before both were wearing the babychino badge of honour--the chocolate mustache that runs upwards along their faces.

Just your average latte

As we waited for our food, we noticed the cakes in the neighbouring display were disappearing at an amazing rate. Who was consuming all these rich cakes this early in the morning? Upon closer inspection we noted that most of these little sweets were leaving the cafe in take away boxes--most likely to be consumed a bit later in the day. Hmm...that was an idea!

Before we could discuss the possibility of cake for afternoon tea, our breakfast arrived. The fruit salad was served in a bowl with the yogurt on the side as requested. We split it out as quickly as we could because little hands were grabbing at fresh bits of kiwi and juicy watermelon at a frenetic pace.

Fruit Salad: It looked better before the little people ripped into it

Once the portions were settled and Princess Pancake and Prince Gobbleguts were secure in their share of the fruit, they slowed down to enjoy it. Princess Pancake, in an act of selfish generosity, handed the way-too-healthy-for-her-tastes yogurt over to Prince Gobbleguts who gladly accepted and used it as a dip for his fruit.
Prince Gobbleguts' share of the fruit salad and yogurt dip
The little people quickly polished off the fruit salad and then expressed their desire for something more to eat. We decided to get an order of scones to fill them up.

As the waiter placed the Handsome Australian's omelet on the table and my Big Breakfast, both of our eyes nearly popped out of our heads. These portions were big. The plates themselves were rectangular in shape and were more like a platter than a plate. The Handsome Australian took one look at his omelet and remarked, "There must be 8 eggs in this thing. It's huge!" It certainly was very large. In the meantime, I was staring at my plate and wondering how on earth I could possibly consume all the food on it. For once, I was actually hoping Prince Gobbleguts was hungry. I was going to need help!

Thus begun the battle to finish our breakfast. The Handsome Australian began with gusto, but at the end he admitted defeat. Although he couldn't finish it, he did enjoy the Greek Omelet and commented on the nice combination of flavours. He was about a quarter of the way through it when he discovered a big slab of feta melted in the middle. The feta and the herbs were the highlight apparently.
The Greek Omelet: Bursting with flavour

The Big Breakfast was certainly true to it's name--big. The poached eggs were still runny (as they should be) and the mushrooms, tomato and spinach were all reasonable. What this Big Breakfast lacked was that little bit of something special. There was nothing to set it apart and make it memorable. I joined the Handsome Australian in putting my fork down in defeat. There was simply too much on the plate. Even with the help I received from Prince Gobbleguts, there were still entire sausages left over.
The Really Big, Big Breakfast

The scones arrived at the table part way through the meal (we did order them later) and they, too, were over sized. There were two large scones on the plate served with cream and prepacked individual serves of jam and butter. Princess Pancake didn't complain because there was enough sugar, cream and butter involved to keep her busy, but I had a taste and decided that scones are probably best not ordered in the heart of Greek Melbourne.
The Scones: Not for a purist

After struggling through our breakfast meals, we couldn't even bare to look at the cakes much less think about taking some home for later. We'll have to leave them for another time.
A few of the cakes we didn't try

Final Verdict on Vanilla Cakes and Lounge:
The atmosphere was busy and bright but the staff were nothing but calm, cool and collected. The service was good. There was always someone nearby when you needed them. The coffees and food came out quickly which is a good thing when dining with the little people. The menu was diverse enough that I think most people could find something to suit their tastes. The food was good but not memorable. The portions were immense and good value for money if you manage to eat it all.

I wouldn't go out of my way to return to Vanilla Cakes and Lounge for breakfast, but I will definitely go back to have a go at the cakes. It seems like the kind of place that would be good for an afternoon coffee and cake or perhaps an after dinner coffee and cake--sitting in the lounge seats of course.

17-21 Eaton Mall, Oakleigh

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Auction Rooms, North Melbourne

What do you get when you mix retired warehouse style auction rooms, an old fashioned coffee roaster, and tasty morsels of black pudding all 3 kms from the CBD? What you get, my friends, is a delightful weekend breakfast spot: Auction Rooms 103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne.

This weekend's adventure took us to the historically working class suburb of North Melbourne where large factories and warehouses mingle with old Victorian style terrace houses and the gentrification of the main shopping strips is nearly complete. On our way to meet our breakfast companions, Kylie* and Azza* we drove past French patisseries, funky Korean Barbecues and plenty of groovy retail shops. North Melbourne isn't a suburb we visit regularly, but judging by all that's on offer there--it probably should be.

As we drove up Errol street looking for a car park, we spotted our destination. My first observation as we drove by the front of Auction Rooms was how large and open it is. The cafe itself takes up two shop fronts so it has a very wide street frontage. There were diners sitting at tables on the footpath out the front who looked very content to be soaking up yet another beautiful Melbourne morning.

Once we found a car park, we made our way inside the bright and airy cafe. The place was busy, but because it's so large with such high ceilings, it didn't seem crowded or particularly noisy. All the windows and doors along the front of the cafe were folded open creating a flowing effect where the line between indoors and outdoors became blurred. We found Kylie and Azza sitting in a large booth like table in the back corner. We joined them in what became our own little nook for the next several hours. Kylie had gotten a head start on the rest of us and was already enjoying one of her favourite dishes--fresh mango drizzled with honey, sprinkled with fresh mint, and cashews and served with fresh yogurt. Kylie raves about the simple goodness of this dish and tells me it's the mint that makes it so special.

Not wanting to fall too far behind in the weekend breakfast stakes, we quickly grabbed a menu and began to peruse our options. The Auction Rooms cafe serves freshly roasted coffee ground to order and even have an old fashioned roaster on display.

So needless to say, there were plenty of coffee options on the menu as well as a specials board listing a "coffee of the day". Coffee seemed like a good place to start so the Handsome Australian and I both ordered a latte. Then we got down to the serious business of deciding what we'd be having for breakfast. The Auction themed menu, in keeping with the building's heritage, had wide and varied options to choose from. Most of the dishes were inspired combinations of what you might think of as normal breakfast fare with that little bit of something special. I settled upon a dish called, "Opening Bid" which came with two poached eggs, baby spinach, baked bacon, roasted cherry tomatoes, and black pudding all served atop sourdough toast. The Handsome Australian was drawn to a Spanish inspired dish called Catalan Eggs which consisted of two poached eggs on a sourdough toast topped with a tomato salsa and anchovy served on a plate with fresh salad. Our friend Azza was in the mood for eggs and anchovy (seems like quite a strong way to start your morning, but as I said the dishes on this menu were that little bit a good way)and went for the Catalan Eggs too. Kylie had her eyes set on a dish called, "Counter Bid" which consisted of sliced avocado topped with fetta cheese atop a slice of sourdough toast served with poached eggs and fresh chili.

With all the adults sorted, we had to decide what to order for the kids. Princess Pancake was keen to know if they guessed it...pancakes. The "pancakes" on offer were actually pikelets served with an orange syrup and creme fraiche. Not your run of the mill pancakes--pancakes with a difference. We decided that we'd try these on Princess Pancake who can be notoriously picky and that the serve was probably large enough to be shared with Prince Gobble Guts. Time would tell...

When we were ready, a friendly staff member came and took our order. Not long after, our coffees arrived. Kylie and Azza commented on the fact that their initial coffees had taken awhile to arrive, but ours came quite quickly. These lattes were a sight to behold--perfectly poured with a lovely design on the top. They were very hot and very smooth. It was obvious from the first sip that the people at Auction Rooms take their coffee seriously. I personally like a bit of sugar in my latte and when I looked around the table, I found the sugar in a retro Heinz Pea Soup tin. Eye catching and fun and apparently quite popular as Kylie related a story she'd been told by the staff that these little tins are so groovy that people often nick them. (Please my dear readers, leave them be. They are so gorgeous everyone should have a chance to appreciate them).While we sipped our lattes, I noticed a small courtyard out the back that provided yet another seating area. There didn't seem to be a bad table in the place, well not on such a beautiful day anyway. It wasn't long after that the festival of flavours arrived at our table:

My meal-The Opening Bid

The Handsome Australian and Azza's choice: Catalan Eggs

Kylie's pick: The Counter Bid

Princess Pancake's pikelets
The conversation came to a virtual standstill as everyone got stuck into their meals. My poached eggs were a beautiful consistency, almost cooked to perfection. The roasted cherry tomatoes were sweet and melted in your mouth. They proved to be a hit with Prince Gobble Guts who managed to beg a few off my plate (Is there anything this kid doesn't eat?). I have to admit that I asked the server to substitute chorizo sausage for the black pudding that was meant to come with my meal. I'm not a huge fan of black pudding and I absolutely adore a bit of chorizo, so this was a sensible move. It paid off too as the chorizo was probably some of the best I've had in Melbourne to date. Yes, I think I might have struck gold with my selection.

I wasn't the only one who was pleased with my meal. The Handsome Australian had his plate cleaned before I could even admire his courage for eating anchovy that early in the morning. He assured me the anchovy wasn't overpowering and the salsa had a bit of a kick--just the way he likes it. Yes, he was a happy chappy.

Kylie and Azza were sharing their meals and there was a bit of a tussle at the table when Azza indicated it was time to switch. I can't blame Kylie for her protestations, I wouldn't have given my plate away to anyone no matter the prior arrangement. After a bit of gentle persuasion Kylie relented and within no time, there were two more empty plates at the table.

Princess Pancake and Prince Gobble Guts made a bit of an inroads on the pikelets, but didn't finish them off with their usual gusto. I think they were probably a bit put off by the orange syrup--perhaps a bit too highbrow for their inexperienced taste buds. Although, Princess Pancake pointed to the creme fraiche as the reason she wasn't so keen.

Once the breakfast plates were out of the way, it was time for a few glasses of water and a breather before the next round of coffees arrived. I don't often order a second coffee, but these coffees were so good, it wasn't a case of if I'd have another, it was a case of when. Kylie changed the pace a bit with a freshly brewed soy Chai that is served with honey on the side. It looked heavenly. Princess Pancake and Prince Gobble Guts also enjoyed scraping the last bits of honey out of the little glass it's served in. That kept them busy for quite awhile.

The conversations continued and the atmosphere was relaxed-nothing beats good food with good friends. Princess Pancake and Prince Gobble Guts became a bit fidgety at one stage and Kylie set off to find them some crayons and drawing paper. Luckily the cafe had some on hand and this entertained the little ones for awhile longer.

At one point, Prince Gobble Guts decided he wanted to practice his best bar tending moves and began to pour one glass of water into another and then another. Being only two, his fine motor skills aren't superb and there were a few minor spills. One of the staff members came over to clear a few plates and glasses from the table and noticed Prince Gobble Guts' antics. He went back to the bar and brought us a wet towel to keep at the table to mop up the mess so PGG could keep playing. It was a helpful gesture that was greatly appreciated.

Two and a half hours after our adventure had begun, it was finally time to make a move. Although truth be told, I could have sat there sipping lattes all day.

Final Verdict on Auction Rooms: The menu is very diverse with unique combinations that make their meals interesting. The food came out quickly, was well presented and cooked to near perfection. While there weren't specific offerings for kids on the menu, you could order eggs any way with different sides. If I ordered the pikelets again for the kids, I'd ask for all the toppings to be served on the side. The staff were friendly, helpful and attentive. The coffee was hot, smooth and really really good. This is a place I'd come back to again and again. I loved the airy openness and the relaxed feel. If you are in the neighbourhood, you must check it out. If you live nowhere near the neighbourhood then make a point of visiting one morning--you won't regret it. We'll certainly be back. A special thanks to Kylie and Azza for introducing us to the little oasis just North of the city. You guys know all the great places!
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elle Cafe, Canterbury

Our Sunday morning search for something special took us to the busy inner city suburb of Hawthorn. There is a place there we've driven by hundreds of times and said, "We must try that place one day." It's always busy and looks like it could be something very special as far as breakfast is concerned. Upon arrival, the place was buzzing and there simply wasn't a table to be had. So instead of waiting around, we decided to continue our adventure and search elsewhere.

Our second choice of venue was Elle Cafe at 80 Canterbury Road in Canterbury. Again, this is a place that we've driven by numerous times, but have never tried. We arrived at Elle Cafe at about 10:30am. It looked as if it had been quite busy early on and there were still some tables set with reserved signs whose diners were yet to arrive. Luckily for us, there was a table for 4 available and we grabbed it.

The cafe itself isn't that large inside. The tables are relatively close together, but there are nice views of the park across the road and plenty of light. We waited patiently at our table for one of the staff to bring us a menu. After a few minutes, it became clear that the staff weren't going to bring us a menu, so the Handsome Australian took it upon himself to source a few from the counter up the front of the cafe.

A quick look at the menu, and the Handsome Australian and I knew immediately what we'd be having...The Big Breakfast. We are often Big Breakfast people. During the week, it's All Bran and Muesli for us, the same boring breakfast every day. So on the weekends, we like to lash out a bit and have something a bit indulgent. This indulgence, more often than not, comes in the form of the Big Breakfast.

Once we sorted out what we were having, it was time to decide what to feed the little people. Princess Pancake had her heart set on...yes, pancakes. Unfortunately, there weren't any pancakes to be found on the menu. Good thing her happiness can also be bought with a greasy side of bacon. Normally we'd order her some scrambled eggs so she could pretend to eat them (she always asks for scrambled eggs and bacon, but never touches the eggs) but this menu had a few surprises...for the kids there were Rice Bubbles (aka Rice Crispies in other parts). At $3, they were a good gamble since we had no idea if Princess Pancake would actually eat them or not. As we discussed whether or not to throw the dice on the Rice Bubbles, we discovered that we've never exposed Princess Pancake to Rice Bubbles before. She's not a huge cereal eater anyway, but even so, you'd think she'd have come across them at some point in her four short years.

After a bit of umming and ahhing, we settled on Rice Bubbles with a side of bacon for PP and then the kid's breakfast for Prince Gobble Guts. If memory serves, the kid's breakfast was scrambled eggs and bacon on toast for about $5.50 (I did write all this down while I was there with the idea that this sort of info would be useful for the writing of this post, but I think Princess Pancake needed more drawing paper or something...needless to say, my notes were sacrificed for a greater cause. So, sorry about the approximations).

Whew! You think choosing what to have was time consuming--you obviously haven't waited at Elle Cafe for the wait staff to come and take your order. We were sitting there for quite awhile before the Handsome Australian caught some one's eye and informed them what we'd like to have.

In addition to our food, we also ordered two lattes and an orange juice. Elle Cafe has a separate juice bar next door to it presumably run by the same people. They have a special drinks menu which includes a large selection of freshly squeezed juices. The orange juice was about $5.50 and came in a really large glass. The glass was so large, that we actually ended up splitting it up amongst the four of us in the smaller water glasses they provided on the table. The juice was indeed freshly squeezed and was absolutely divine. It was a winner all round.

The coffee lived up to the Handsome Australian's very high standard. It was smooth, creamy and arrived very hot.

It seemed to take a bit of time for our food to come out of the kitchen, but luckily, there were large plastic containers filled with crayons and some drawing paper on a nearby bookshelf. Both PP and PGG spent the time waiting for their food trying to find their inner Van Goughs--the results were mixed.

Finally, the food arrived. Princess Pancake was amused with the Rice Bubbles and the snap, crackle and pop symphony emanating from them. Prince Gobble Guts was excited by his meal, his sister's meal and my meal. He had something from every one's do you think he got his name? He eats everything!

The Handsome Australian and I were pleased with our Big Breakfasts (about $16.50) which included 2 poached eggs, bacon, grilled mushrooms and tomato, chipolata sausages all on two pieces of thick crusty toast. The poached eggs were properly cooked--nothing annoys the Handsome Australian more than a poached egg that doesn't run. The sausages were very tasty and the bacon, mushrooms and tomato rounded out a very delicious meal.

Final verdict on Elle Cafe: The food, juice and coffee were all of a high standard. We were pleased to see menu items that catered for the kids. The atmosphere is bright and busy and our kids really enjoyed the diversion of the crayons and drawing paper. Elle Cafe's downfall is the indifferent service by the staff. We had to get our own menus and get a staff member's attention each time we wanted something. When we did get their attention, they weren't particularly friendly or helpful. It was as if they really didn't care if there were customers there or not.

If you live nearby or happen to be in the neighbourhood, Elle Cafe would be a decent place to have breakfast and is good for the kids--crayons aside, the lovely park across the road is a great place to visit before or after your meal. I wouldn't, however, go out of my way to have breakfast at Elle Cafe.

The outdoor seating area at Cafe Elle as viewed from the park.