During winter, whilst most Melbournians are hidden away indoors in the warmth, in their ugg boots on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, those of us willing to brave the elements are in for a treat. For the fourth year running, every Wednesday night until August 26, the Queen Victoria Market comes alive for the Winter Night Markets. While night markets in Australia are usually synonymous with summer, sangria and live music, The Queen Vic winter night markets borrow a bit of inspiration from the European Christmas night markets and then put a quintessentially Melbourne slant on them.


The weather may be cold and inclement outdoors, but once you are under the canopy of the market, a beautiful warmth embraces you. There are open pit fires lit up across the market, and everywhere people are huddled around them eating their delicious treats. The fires are cordoned off so there is no fear of falling in!


There are lots of little stalls set up with everything from tarot cards and fortune telling, ecologically friendly soaps, knitted scarves and beanies, all the way to some typically Melbourne artwork. There was also a very cool roaming silent disco which involved a big pack of people dancing around the market with headphones on! I was very tempted to join them!


My eyes were firmly on the prize though, and I quickly made my way to all the food stalls to decide what I should eat.


Food is an integral part of the markets and there is plenty of variety on offer. There is everything from soup, to skewers, to a pop up 400 Gradi stand making pizzas! I made sure to remember that my stomach had a limited capacity and carefully made my choices for the night.

The first thing we tried was a hot apple cider. This had been recommended to me earlier in the week, so I knew that I had to tick this off my list. Think of apple pie in liquid form, and you will have the flavour of this hot apple cider. It was delicious with strong overtones of those typically winter spices in cinnamon and cloves. The drink was served with a little cinnamon donut as a garnish and together they proved to be the perfect start to the night.



We then moved on to the entrees. Our initial plan was to have skewers, a vegetable skewer for me and a chicken skewer for the other half, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?!) the Poppy's Thai stall had run out of vegetable skewers. The other half had a chicken skewer, which he said was delicious, and instead I lined up and got myself some cassava chips from the Mr. Cassava van. The last time I had cassava chips was in the Amazon jungle in an eco lodge, so I held them in pretty high regard, but luckily Mr. Cassava came through with the goods. These chips were just as good as I remembered them to be, a marginally denser texture than normal potato chips and with a slight earthy taste. Unfortunately, I was too eager to eat them, and forgot to take a photo of them, so you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that the serve was very generous for a snack portion.

Next we moved to mains. Again, via another recommendation, I had heard rave reviews about The Little Mushroom Co so I decided a burger from here was necessary. With a choice of quite a few burgers, I settled on the Ultra Mexican Mushroom Burger. I’m not sure how much of the burger was Mexican, let alone ultra Mexican, but it was definitely ultra tasty. There was a big portabello mushroom, a generous slice of haloumi, some spicy chipotle mayo, balsamic, and parmesan all served in a ciabatta bun. It was a great burger and made me realise that I could easily replicate this at home! My only criticism was that it was a touch on the small side but other than that there were no complaints.



I probably could have eaten more, and there were a fair few other stalls that caught my eye, but I forced myself to exercise restraint and didn’t eat any more. At least it gives me an excuse to go back another night!
Richmond is home to many of the big names in the breakfast playground with the big boys  like Top Paddock and Pillar of Salt dominating the scene, but there is a new kid on the block, who has set up shop off the beaten track and seems to have made quite a few friends already. Denis the Menace is a new cafe, which has opened up in the back streets of Cremorne (I still think of it as Richmond, but apparently the official address is Cremorne).


From the outside, the shop front looks a bit raggedy with a few glass tables set up in the front courtyard, but once you step inside you realise you've definitely made the right decision and sat with the cool kids. The venue has a refurbished warehouse feel with a high roof and exposed rafters. There are a mixture of tables – the standard tables with chairs around them, booths, and a large communal table. There are planters everywhere (including in the middle of the communal table!) with fresh herbs growing in them, and lots of fruiting cumquat trees!


With four of us having breakfast, we chose to sit in a booth and placed our drinks orders. Whilst everyone else at the table ordered coffees, I decided to deviate from the norm and went for a chai. The menu described the chai as being full of fresh aromatics, sweetened with honey and served with milk and I just couldn't resist.

The chai arrived in a cute little teapot, which we all admired, before I poured it into my cup. There was a distinct spicy aroma and I was instantly reminded of the chai wallahs, or tea sellers, that roam the Indian train stations. Whilst this chai wasn’t as good as the traditional Indian chai, it was definitely one of the better chais I’ve had in Melbourne. The general consensus around the table was that the coffees were also very good, so it was apparent that Denis takes his beverages seriously.


We then set about trying to choose our dishes for breakfast. We had a couple of muesli enthusiasts so they chose 'The One With The Muesli' and 'A Super Start.' Us remaining were not so keen on muesli, and instead wanted a hot breakfast. My usual option of fritters wasn't on the menu, so I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and have a dish entitled 'A Big Green Food Fight' whilst the other half had 'Something Fishy Is Going On Here.' As evident by the names of the dishes, the menu definitely tries to use humour and add a bit of character to their offerings! Another bonus was how clearly the menu was labelled for dietary requirements. There were options for vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, egg free, dairy free, nut free, meat free (I couldn't work out how this was different to vegetarian), no added sugar and even soya free. Looks like Denis was intent on keeping everyone happy!

The open kitchen combined with our clear view of the pass meant that we could see our meals being prepared as we sipped on our drinks and waited patiently.We didn’t have to wait long and our dishes were soon placed in front of us. The first thing we all noticed was how pretty everything looked! The mueslis were served in quirky enamel bowls and the egg dishes all look fresh and wholesome with bright colours dominating the white plates.



'The One With The Muesli' was a gluten free muesli dish (duh) served with coconut yogurt, vanilla and fruit. It came with a cute little bottle of milk of your choice.


'A Super Start' was more focused on the super foods and contained quinoa, chia seeds, goji berries and mulberries, all of which had been marinating in pear juice and coconut yogurt.


The general consensus from Team Muesli was that the coconut yogurt was the definite winner and there was immediate discussion about where before mentioned coconut yogurt could be purchased.

The first thing that struck me about 'Something Fishy is Going On Here' was how pretty the dish looked. The pink of the smoked trout contrasted beautifully with the greens of the vegetables to create a wonderfully elegant look. Upon a bed of pea puree was asparagus, avocado, spinach and red kale and paired with this was hot smoke trout. The dish was topped with a poached egg. In terms of taste it was declared fabulous with a particular mention being given to the pea puree which was full of flavour.


My breakfast, 'The Big Green Food Fight' was very different to anything I would normally order. To start with the dish was predominantly raw, but I was keen to try something different. My first impression was that my breakfast was indeed very green, but once I tasted it, there was a delicious flavour explosion in my mouth. The green came from a variety of elements including raw shredded kale, raw broccoli, chunks of avocado and crushed pistachios. These raw elements were brought together with buckwheat kernels, a liberal amount of chopped fresh chilli, lemon dressing and then topped with a couple of poached eggs. Whilst the dish sounds way too healthy, trust me when I say I was so surprised at how good it tasted.


And then we have the yolk porn test, this time with two eggs on two dishes. Both eggs oozed perfectly and the yolk sauce provided just the right accompaniment, especially on my green dish.




Denis the Menace proved to be a great choice for our weekend brunch. It's possible that Dennis is still new to the neighbourhood and hasn't made that many friends, which is why we could still get a seat without lining up, but trust me when I say that it’s only a matter of time before Dennis is the coolest kid in town. Get in early and ensure your spot at the cool table.

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Souvlakis are usually associated with crazy nights out and satisfying 2am hunger cravings, but George Colombaris has managed to put a very different spin on things. With branches in Fitzroy and at the Emporium, Jimmy Grants now also has a branch in the usually quiet suburb of Ormond.


Set up like an American diner complete with 80's music playing in the background, Jimmy is quite the anomaly on an otherwise standard strip of shops along North Rd just before the Ormond station railway crossing. From the outside, you can see the neon lit Jimmy Grants sign and as you enter the large automatic sliding doors, you know you are in for a pretty cool experience. There are a series of booths down the left hand wall and because we had organised to have an early dinner, we were lucky enough to get one of these. There were quite a few diners who arrived later who were disappointed that they had to sit on the regular tables and chairs!


Normally you would assume that a souvlaki bar would have quite limited options for vegetarians, but Colombaris does a good job of making sure we are satisfied. There is a falafel souvlaki, a section on the menu dedicated to salads, lots of dips and pita bread, and what I must say are some of the greatest chips I have tasted.

What I have now learnt is a pretty common way for Greeks to serve chips, Jimmy Grants' chips come with garlic oil, oregano and the magic ingredient of crumbled feta. Full of flavour and the right amount of saltiness, these chips were definitely the highlight of our meal!


Obviously my souvlaki was the falafel one, called Homer. It involved a thick homestyle pita wrap which was filled with falafels, a fancy coleslaw and yogurt sauce. Whilst the souvlaki was definitely on the small side compared to many other souvlakis I've had, it was delicious, and most importantly had good structural integrity meaning that I didn't make a mess all over myself!




We decide to treat ourselves and have dessert. I had received a recommendation from a colleague to try the Greek doughnuts so we agreed to give them a go. Unfortunately these were the downfall of the night. The doughnuts were very dense and chewy and they definitely didn't have enough sweetness. They were drizzled in honey, but there was hardly enough. They were also topped with walnuts which had an odd smokey flavour that didn't work with the rest of the dish. Perhaps it would have benefited from some ice cream, because after all, ice cream makes everything taste better. The serving of the doughnuts was however generous, six big balls in the bowl, it was just a shame that it didn't taste better.




Overall it was a great night. It's nice to see that there are some cool eateries opening up in suburbs that aren't traditionally known for being foodie spots. It means that us suburbians can get good food without having to travel to far! Thanks Jimmy!

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We have introduced a food initiative at work, entitled Foodies Day. Foodies Day was pioneered by two engineers who aren't known for their creativity, hence the super creative name, but these two engineers are known for their love of food. The concept was this: once a month, everyone in the office pitches in $5 or $10 (depending on the requirements). We collate all the money and go and get food to share for lunch. Sounds simple I know, but it ended up turning into an elaborate affair.

There were lots of requests for cuisines, namely Indian, Thai, dumplings, kebabs, and so on, so we had to create a voting system. Then we decided to take it one step further, and see if we could host a build your own burrito lunch! We brought in all the fillings, including a slow cooker with chicken mince sauce and a big pot of vegetarian chilli, heated up tortillas in the microwave and set up a production line! It was a huge hit!

The Mexican foodies day made it apparent that home cooked food was even more appreciated than takeaway, so we decided to do another home cooked foodies day last week. This time the theme was baked potatoes. Once again we had the slow cooker to cook the potatoes (my colleague came in at 7am so that the potatoes could cook for 5 hours!), then we had all the usual toppings of butter, cheese, coleslaw, sour cream, caramelised onion, bacon and guacamole. I did decide however to mix it up a bit and bring in a Mexican style bean sauce. I didn’t make much of it, thinking that most people wouldn’t be interested, but it turned out to be a huge hit, so much so that the bowl was scraped clean!

I ended up making another pot of it on Saturday night for dinner, and served it up in burritos which worked just as well. Everyone was asking for the recipe, so to prevent me repeating the recipe too many times, I’ve decided to blog it!


Kidney Bean Stew/Sauce

Serves 2 (generously)

Ingredients:

1 can of kidney beans (or you can use 4 bean mix for some variety)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely
½ large capsicum, diced
1 small tomato, diced
½ jar salsa/enchilada sauce (about 100ml)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Chilli powder to taste
Salt to taste

Method:

1.  Heat some oil in a pan and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes.

2.  Add the capsicum, and fry off a little more. (At this time you can also add in fresh chilli if you like it hot!)

3.  Add in diced tomato, kidney beans, enchilada sauce Mix through thoroughly. The mixture should be a thin saucy consistency. If it is too thick, add in more tomato, salsa or water.

4.  Add in the cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder and salt. Stir through and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and leave it to simmer for as long as you can. I simmered for an hour when I made it for foodies day, but I have simmered for up to 3 hours. Just depends on how much time you have.

5.  Check on the pot occasionally and stir. If it starts to dry up and stick to the bottom, add some water.

6.  Once done, you can garnish with chives, fresh coriander or spring onion. I had none of these so I didn’t bother, but all or some of these herbs add to the flavour (fresh coriander is my favourite).

7.  Serve with burritos, tacos, rice, or baked potatoes!


If you have any other ideas for our office Foodies Day please let me know! We're always looking for ways to make it more exciting!
If you go down to Ormond today, you're sure of a big surprise. Yes, I'm singing that to the tune of the Teddy Bears' Picnic song, and although there are no teddy bears having a picnic in Ormond, there are bears of some variety climbing a mountain, at least that's what Mountain of Bears indicates to me.


Located in an arcade off North Rd, just next to the Ormond train line, this new cafe has clearly caught the attention of many. We went for brunch on Saturday and it was packed! Fitted out with timber tables, hanging plants and light pendants and arcade style prints on the wall, Mountain of Bears is clearly going for a friendly theme.

We were quickly seated by a lovely waitress, presented with our menus and had our drinks orders taken. As usual I ordered a latte, and it arrived promptly. I must make mention of the cup it was served in. The handle was large enough so that we should get our finger through and get a stable grip. A small thing I know, but small things can make a big difference, in this case making sure one doesn't spill coffee on themselves. Mountain of Bears is run by the team that used to run Manchester Press, so it was no surprise that the coffee was good.


The menu takes a New York spin, and is full of bagels of various sorts. There are sweet bagels, savoury bagels, hot bagels and cold bagels, bagels with soup, and then a few non bagel options including salad, muesli and porridge. We followed the theme of the menu and went with bagels, after all, they are clearly sending us a message when three quarters of the menu focuses on them.

I ordered a mushroom and hummus bagel which arrived on a large plate and looked very pretty. There was a bagel, cut in half and thickly smeared with hummus. On top of it was a generous serve of grilled mixed mushrooms, sauteed silverbeet and a poached egg. There was a sliced avocado on the side and the dish was garnished with some lovely sprouts.


I wasn't quite sure how to tackle the dish. I decided to cut it up and try and get a bit of everything on my fork so I could get the full flavour experience. It ended up being a fully loaded fork but boy was it tasty. The combination of silverbeet and mushrooms worked perfectly, and the creaminess of the hummus and avocado brought it all together.

Unfortunately the egg just failed the yolk porn test. When I cut into the yolk it threatened to ooze but stopped just short which was a real shame, because I'm sure some yolk sauce would have made everything taste even better. Still, I'm willing to forgive this lapse in judgement because everything else tasted so good.


The other half had a chorizo and egg bagel. This bagel was also cut in half and served in a mushroom sauce. Atop the bagel was chorizo (duh), wilted spinach, sauteed leeks, mixed mushrooms and a poached egg. Apparently the chorizo wasn't spicy enough, and the egg was again 30 seconds over done, but the flavours worked beautifully together, and it was declared a winning breakfast.


Whilst the thought of a bagel may not seem so filling, the breakfast definitely left us more than full. We were so full infact, that we had to pass up the freshly baked treats which were lined up on the counter.


All in all it was a great morning at this new Ormond cafe. If you're one of the few people left who haven't heard about it, get on board. And if you're one of the people who have heard about it but haven't made your way there, hurry up, because just like the teddy bears, you're in for a big surprise.

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Mrs. Parmas has been open for almost a decade, but it still surprises me as to how many people haven't heard of it. That's probably a good thing given that it is still so busy and it can be tough to get a booking, forget about just wandering in and assuming there is a table free.


With a month's notice, catching up with a friend from interstate, we decide to book a table for a Wednesday night for dinner. I was excited all day for my parma, and even skimped on lunch to make sure I had enough stomach space. The parmas at Mrs. Parmas are not only delicious, they are extremely generous. The parma takes up the full plate and the sides are actually served separately in communal bowls for the table.


Vegetarians need not fear here because the parmas come in three variants - eggplant, chicken and veal. Infact there is a sign above the bar that talks about the first parmigiana being made from eggplant! Us vegetarians are the ones eating the real parma! There are also about fifteen different toppings plus a special, which means there are forty eight different parmas to be tasted! Almost one for every week of the year!

I usually go for the tandoori eggplant parma, but on this occasion I decided to branch out and have the mushroom parma. Like all my choices at Mrs. Parmas, I wasn't disappointed. There was big slices of field mushrooms, lots of sauce and cheese and that soft creamy eggplant as the vehicle.


The chips were also delicious, well cooked and seasoned with oodles of chicken salt. And before you jump on my case, yes a vegetarian can eat chicken salt, its full of apparent chicken chemical goodness. The salad, however, is not great. It is dressed with what tastes like average supermarket dressing and there is way too much of it. If you were keen on salad, it might be worth asking if you could have it without the dressing.

The other bonus of Mrs. Parmas is the beer list. It is extensive to say the least. The taps rotate regularly and they always have local Victorian microbrewery beer, most of the time with stuff you haven’t tasted before. They also sell by the bottle, but when the taps are so good, there really is no need to look at the bottle list. There is wine and cider too, for those that way inclined.


You don’t go to Mrs. Parmas for the ambience, infact the venue is a cross between an RSL and a pub. And you also don’t go there for a long, drawn out meal, because for most bookings they will ask you to vacate your table after 1.5 hours (that’s how busy they are)! But you do go there for an amazing parma and some great beer. If you do want to keep going into the night then move on to another venue, it is Melbourne after all and there are no shortage of spots!

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Breakfast is usually a meal where cafes quite easily cater for vegetarians, but Red Robyn in Camberwell takes it one step further and caters for gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, FODMAP diets, fructose friendly diets, nut allergies and every other kind of dietary requirements can you can think of. However don’t let this fool you into thinking that taste is compromised. I am a firm believer that gluten makes everything taste better but the team at Red Robyn have managed to break my pattern of thinking.

I picked Red Robyn on a public holiday morning whilst browsing Zomato to find a breakfast haunt. On a side note, how cool is Zomato?! It took me a while to adjust from Urbanspoon, but I am loving it now! Anyway, Red Robyn ticked all the boxes for me, it had an interesting menu, it was reasonably close by, and it seemed to receive mostly positive reviews. It definitely looked like a good place to try.


We arrived for a late breakfast at about 10:30am, and the cafe was bustling. Clearly we aren’t the only ones who feel that public holidays are for breakfasting out. There were no individual tables free so we were seated on a communal table and handed some menus. What struck me as most thoughtful was how clearly the menu was labelled. Every dish was clearly marked with which dietary requirements it was suitable for, or could be adapted for. The entire menu was gluten free, meaning that coeliacs could eat there without any concerns, and even things like sesame allergies were marked. Whilst I don’t have any medical dietary requirements, I certainly appreciated the effort that had been made to make sure everyone was catered for.

Our coffees arrived fairly promptly. As usual I ordered a latte. The coffee was pleasant, but nothing special. I think I am spoilt for coffee these days, being the proud new owner of a coffee grinder and a machinetta, so not many cafes will be able to impress me anymore. Nevertheless, it was certainly not offensive, and I drank it happily whilst waiting for the meal and trying to complete the substandard cryptic crossword in the Herald Sun.


Our meals arrived fairly soon after, although I think the cafe staff thought we had to wait too long because they offered us multiple apologies. To be honest, we were in no rush, so really weren’t phased but it was nice that the staff cared.

I had ordered my traditional choice, the corn fritters, but to my surprise, these fritters looked like nothing I had ordered before. There were three large ball shaped fritters that were slightly larger than golf balls, and they looks crisp and crunchy from the outset. They were set on a bed of avocado puree, tomato salsa, a quinoa and capsicum salad and dressed with chilli jam and lots of snow pea tendrils. Yes, this dish was already a winner and I hadn’t even tasted it.


I cut into one of the fritters and the first thing that hit me visually was how many whole corn kernels there were! The fritters were full of real corn! I tasted a piece and was blown away! The fritters were made with smoked corn, so there was a wonderfully smoky flavour which dominated over the sweetness of the corn and together they made a deep and rich flavour explosion in my mouth! The avocado was beautifully smooth and creamy, and the tomato salsa was well seasoned and packed a punch. What surprised me was the quinoa and capsicum salad. I wasn’t sure how quinoa would work with deep fried fritters, or whether I should mix it with the tomato salsa so that it didn’t become too heavy, but surprisingly it worked perfectly. The chilli jam also had a good tang (but I still think the jam at Spilt Milk is better!).


The other half had the sweet potato rosti with pork belly. He said the crackling of the pork belly was a bit burnt, and the centre was deliciously fatty. I don’t think he was as excited by his dish as I was by mine, but he said he still enjoyed it. I was kind enough to let him taste some of my fritters and he was sure that I had definitely won dish of the day.

 

 

The menu at Red Robyn changes with the seasons, focusing on seasonal produce, so I would love to come back and see what else they offer. The staff are friendly, the atmosphere is warm, and they make everybody feel welcome, even if you are a gluten and lactose intolerant vegetarian.

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