Asian fusion food is a trend that took Melbourne by storm a few years ago and it seems there are no signs of it slowing down. The originals like Cookie and Chin Chin have become stalwarts on the scene but there are a few new players, namely Magic Mountain. Magic Mountain is actually run by the same team that run Cookie, The Toff In Town, Revolver Upstairs and Boney.


A converted Irish pub which has been turned into a tri level venue that is as much a restaurant, as it is a bar with music, Magic Mountain places equal amounts of emphasis on food, drink and atmosphere making sure that you will have a good night on all accounts.


We went as a group of six people, three vegetarians and three omnivores, and were at a loss as to how the tackle the vast menu. Luckily the staff are amazing and they suggested a banquet option. We name our price per head, and they would decide on our dishes, with the guarantee that there would be enough food. We decided to take them up on the offer with a $40 per head request, but not before we ordered a few beers from their diverse beer list. Pirate Life Ale anyone? They did ask us if we had any preferences or objections to any foods, but other than the fact that half of us were vegetarian, we were happy to trust their judgement.

It wasn’t long before the food arrived, starting with the entrée dishes.

Our first vegetarian entrée was the curried rice and mozzarella balls with coriander and avocado sauce. These were an Asian take on an arancini ball but so much better. They still had the creamy rice and the gooey cheese centre, but they were packed full of Asian flavours with lemongrass dominating. Combined with the avocado sauce, this dish was amazing. I was worried that my dinner had peaked too early!


We also tried the lotus root, peanut and pickled turnip tapioca dumplings. These were also tasty but had an odd texture. The skin was made with tapioca which made it a bit too gelatinous, and I think I would have rather had normal dumplings. Nevertheless the filling was delicious, with the peanut flavour packing a punch.


We were served a salad as part of the entrée and this dish was also one of the favourites on the table. It was a tomato, zucchini and buffalo mozzarella salad with a chilli, basil and cashew crumble dressing. The tomatoes were sweet, the zucchini was sliced paper thin and the mozzarella was so creamy. The dressing brought everything together perfectly, and we were all eyeing off the plate to scrape every last bit off!


The omnivores also received a bowl of crunchy fried chicken ribs which they unanimously agreed was super.


Four entrees later, we were already more than half full, and we were unsure about whether we would be able to make it all the way through mains. Still, when you have a table of foodies, stomach size is never a barrier, and so we ploughed on!

The mains started streaming out, and we struggled to make room for everything on the table! There were two different red curries, a vegetarian one with tofu, baby corn, beans and kaffir lime, and then a duck curry with lychee and pineapple. Both were deemed to be excellent, rich in flavour and with the right amount of spice level.



There was also a noodle dish, which I felt was an interpretation of pad thai. Rice noodles were prepares with egg, tomato, thai basil, garlic chives and garnished with peanuts. Once again, this was another dish packed with flavour which was proving to be a common theme through the night.


A salad was served with main too. This time it was a cauliflower salad with thin slices of grilled pumpkin and almonds, dressed with Asian herbs and spices. Whilst not everyone around the table was excited by this dish, I really enjoyed it, and appreciated the freshness in contrast to the creamy red curry.


The omnivores also had a big bowl of sticky beef ribs which were tender beyond belief. They were able to pull the rib bone straight out of the meat cleanly without the need for a knife!


And to share we had a huge bowl of rice for the table. To say huge would be an understatement, I don’t think we even got through a third of the bowl, which was a shame because I hate wasting food.

Overall the meal was delicious and we all left pretty much rolling out the door because we were so full. Would I go back again? Definitely. Magic Mountain also serve breakfast, so perhaps I will have to put it on the list to see what treats they dish up during the earlier hours.

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This post is brought to you by Nuffnang and Frico Cheese.

There are a few things in life that I could not live without. My friends and family, a connection to the internet, my Garmin running watch, and cheese. Yes, the Garmin watch and the cheese seem to be in conflict, but this is only until you realise that I run so that I can eat cheese (amongst other things).


Recently the lovely people at Nuffnang contacted me, asking me if I was interested in trying some Frico Dutch cheese. I don’t even think I bothered to find out what else was involved with the deal, all I read was cheese, and I was there.

Now I am a bit of a cheese snob. My childhood was filled with Homebrand processed cheese slices, if I was lucky we got Kraft Singles, and up until I was about 15 I thought this is what cheese was. Then one day, we got a block of cheese that we had to cut slices off from, and my world changed. Head blown. I still remember that block, I don’t remember what brand it was, but I remember it was Edam cheese, and Dad told me that it was made in Holland, which was apparently where all the good cheese was made. I wish he introduced me to this cheese earlier, it would have made for a better childhood. But it has also given me great perspective in the difference between average cheese (because no cheese is bad, not even processed cheese) and amazing cheese.

Anyway, turns out I had really lucked out with this Frico Cheese because it is infact made in Holland! I knew this was going to be good! Made by experienced cheese makers since 1898, Frico cheeses are made using traditional methods and original recipes.  The Dutch specialise in semi-hard cheeses, which are exactly as their name suggests – not as hard and dry as parmesan, but not as soft and gooey as a brie. They are creamy without being messy, and perfect to put on a cheese board as they can be cut without too much ooze.


The Frico range includes a wide variety of cheeses, all of which are made from fresh milk from Frisian cows. Frisian cows produce beautiful, creamy milk, which obviously results in beautiful, creamy cheese! I was lucky enough to be able to sample four different kinds of cheeses.

Three of the cheese came from the traditional Dutch Frico range:

Mild Gouda: As the name suggests, the Gouda is a mild cheese that is wonderfully creamy. It melts well so it great to cook with.

Maasdam: The Maasdam was definitely my favourite cheese. It is a holey cheese, with an almost sweet flavour. I feel it would be a great cheese in a fondue.

Mild Edam: Edam is the fancy cheese of my childhood and this Edam lived up to my expectations. It is mild in flavour, and would work great in a sandwich.

The fourth cheese was from the Frico Selections range:

Cumin Spiced Cheese: This was a Gouda style cheese that was infused with whole cumin seeds to give a wonderful spicy aroma to each mouthful. It is probably an acquired taste though, especially if you not a fan of cumin, but we loved it.


I also decided to try and make a vegetarian version of a croque monsieur with the Gouda cheese. Given that it was so creamy, it seemed like the perfect cheese to melt, and I wasn’t wrong.

Vegetarian Croque Monsieur

Ingredients:

Zucchini:
2 medium zucchini, cut into long planks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tsp Italian herbs

Bechamel Sauce:
1 tbs unsalted butter, plus extra for spreading on the bread
1 tbs plain flour
1 cup milk
1 tbs Dijon mustard
½ tsp nutmeg

Sandwich:
4 thick slices of white bread
2 cups of grated Frico Gouda cheese

Method:

Zucchini:

1.    Toss the zucchini with the olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs.

2.    Lay on a tray and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, until it is charred.

Bechamel Sauce:

1.    Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.

2.    Whisk in the flour, and allow to cook over a low heat for about a minute.

3.    Whisk in the milk and continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened to a saucy consistency. This may take a few minutes, but be patient.

4.    Set the mixture aside.

Sandwich Assembly:

1.    Butter one side of each slice of bread.

2.    Place the butter sides of the bread down on a fry pan or skillet.

3.    Top the unbuttered side of the bread with a generous handful of grated cheese.

4.    Layer on slices of the grilled zucchini.

5.    Add another layer of the grated cheese.

6.    Place the remaining slice of bread with the buttered side on the outside to complete the sandwich.

7.    Toast the sandwich on the pan on the stove for a few minutes on each side, until it is golden.

8.    Place the sandwich on a baking tray lined with foil.

9.    Spread the béchamel sauce over the top of the sandwich and then top with the remaining cheese.

10.    Grill until the cheese has melted and is toasty.


Just look at the melty cheese! How can you resist?! This was a great way to use the Frico cheese and I think I will definitely be trying a few other things too. I can also see the Gouda working in a lasagna instead of the traditional mozzarella, and I wouldn't mind seeing how the Maasdam works in a simple cheese and tomato toastie.

Frico cheeses are available in Australia at Woolworths supermarkets in the deli section. I think I might have to go and try some of their other varieties too!

Disclaimer: I received these products courtesy of Nuffnang and Frico Cheese, however I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own.
One of my closest friends lives in Singapore, and with a public holiday and a long weekend that they have just had, she decided to make a quick visit down to Melbourne! A catch up was on the cards, and when I asked her what food she felt like, she said she missed western vegetarian food. I went through my wishlist of restaurants to visit and I decided that Transformer sounded like the perfect fit for our catch up.


Transformer is a quintessentially Melbourne venue. Located in a dim Fitzroy side street, Transformer is the latest venture from the team behind Veggie Bar. It is the slightly more hipster and definitely more fine dining cousin, and based on the fact that bookings need to be made in advance, it is a very welcome addition to the family.

Our booking was for 6:15pm on a Friday night, and in a sign that a great night of food was ahead of us, the restaurant was full. The restaurant has a mixture of low tables, window seats and high bar tables. I had been forewarned of this on Zomato, so I made sure I had requested a low table. There is a semi open kitchen, which is always heartening for me as a diner. I feel like if I can see my food being prepared, the kitchen will feel more accountable!



The menu is designed with a clear focus on sharing. The dishes are split into three categories – small plates, garden plates, and mid plates. Natually there is also a section for dessert, but everyone knows that we have a separate stomach for desserts. The recommendation from the waitress was that we should order two or three plates per person, but everything looked so delicious that we ended up ordering seven plates between the two of us! I’d like to think it was all in the purpose of research for the blog! The dishes arrive at the table as they are prepared, so there is a steady stream of food being brought to you.

Our first dish, and possibly the best dish of the night, was the sweet corn fritters served with lime aioli. The fritters were moulded into rectangular prisms, which was a presentation style I hadn’t seen before, but it certainly made it easy to eat! The highlight was the aioli though. It was creamy and tangy and just plain delicious! We ended up keeping the remnants of the aioli bowl on the table when we sent the plate back, just so we could pair it with our other dishes!


The corn fritters were demolished promptly and our next dish arrived. This dish was one that I had chosen. It was a spelt and seed steamed bun with crispy tofu, pickled cucumber and an Asian chilli mayo. These normally come as one piece per serve, so we ordered two serves! I am a big fan of steamed buns, and these were no exception. The spelt and seed combination did add a slightly different flavour and texture to the bun than what I’m normally used to, but the filling was perfect. There was crunch from the tofu, freshness from the cucumber and the mayo provided a wonderful flavour that tied everything together. It was a shame there was only one bun for each of us, I could have easily downed four or five of these!


Dish number three was one that V had chosen, and I must say, she had chosen well. It was a fried brussels sprout dish with green apple, and a creamy sauce. I don’t know why people have such an aversion to brussels sprouts. I feel as though they have been given a bad reputation without much reason. Personally I am a big fan, so I was excited about this dish. The sprouts were fried beautifully, V thought they were a little charred, but I prefer to think of them as caramelised. They had a sweet, smoky flavour, and the freshness of the apple cut through it well.


Dish number four appeared at our table almost at the same time as the brussels sprouts (or perhaps our eating pace had slowed down because we were slowly getting full!). We had chosen a sweet potato dish which was roasted with a Japanese spice, togarashi. I had never had togarashi before, and I must say its flavour was fairly subtle. This was paired with a coconut yogurt and lime. Sweet potato is another vegetable that I love, so I was always going to like this dish. It was however the dish that was the most simple and easy to replicate at home, so I’m not sure if I would order it again. The focus was on the produce thought which was nice.


The next dish was a recommendation I had received so I was determined to order it. It was a ricotta and rye gnocchi served with sprouted lentils, pumpkin mousse and blueberry compote. Unfortunately this was probably my least favourite dish, although I still enjoyed it, just not as much as the others. The gnocchi was a little bit stodgy, but perhaps I had just gotten a bad batch. As quirky as it sounds, the pumpkin mousse and blueberry compote actually made a great sauce when mixed together. It is amazing how such a random combination, which I would never think of pairing, worked so well.


By this stage we were really full, but we had one more dish to go! If only we had not eaten with our eyes when order and thought about what our stomachs were capable of! Still, never one to accept defeat at the hands of food, I persevered to be rewarded with another great dish. Our final dish was an artichoke dish which was served with parsnips three ways. There were parsnip chips which sliced thinly and fried to a crisp, roast parsnip and parsnip puree. The artichokes were tender and flavoursome and together they married perfectly.


With the sixth dish, I was well and truly full and ready to declare the meal ended but V had other ideas with her mind firmly fixed on dessert. And who was I to say no? After all, it would be unfair to my dessert stomach to not give it anything to eat. I let her chose the dessert and she decided on a very interesting dish. It was a lemongrass crème served with mandarin fresh and dehydrated forms and topped with a layer of tempered white chocolate. The dessert was served in a beaker (yes the ones you find in a science lab!) and the seal of the white chocolate had to be cracked with a spoon! It was quite a theatrical dessert!



We both absolutely loved this dish. The freshness and lightness of the lemongrass and mandarin was exactly what we needed after the heavy meal and we demolished this dessert.


All through the night V couldn’t help but comment about how ‘Melbourne’ Transformer was and this was what she missed about being home. And it was true. The exposed brick walls, the converted warehouse feel, the quirky menu pairings, the mismatched crockery, this is exactly what dining in Melbourne is all about, and Transformer did it so well.

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I am rarely in the CBD for breakfast or brunch, always preferring a more local option. Last week however, we were in the city on a Saturday morning picking up our race packs for Run Melbourne (which I ran a PB for by the way!), so I decided we should take the opportunity to check out a cafe that we wouldn’t otherwise frequent.

I didn’t have anywhere particular in mind, so I actually used the Zomato app (!) and found that Bowery to Williamsburg was a short walk away. It had a pretty good rating, and I vaguely recalled reading some good reviews about it, so I thought we should give it ago.

Located in a typical Melbourne laneway, we arrived at the cafe only to find a line outside. I was starving, and really didn’t want to wait, but luckily the line was moving fairly quickly so we decided to persevere. It wasn’t long before we were seated, although unfortunately we were seated outside which wasn’t ideal for a winter day in Melbourne. Luckily the rain and wind held off so it wasn’t too unpleasant.



We had already checked out the specials board while we were waiting in the line, so when it came time to place our drinks orders the other half wasted no time in ordering a jam donut milkshake. This milkshake flavour sounded amazing, and whilst the strawberry jam flavour was definitely prevalent, it missed the mark a little bit with any donut flavour. To me it felt like they had just added some strawberry jam into the milkshake mixture. It was a welcome addition, but nothing too special. I decided to just stick to water this time, making sure I was well hydrated for the run on Sunday.


We were actually pretty late for breakfast, so instead we were handed the brunch menu to order from. The main difference between the two was that there were no bagels on the brunch menu, however there were a few crossovers with the lunch menu instead, so I guess it evened out. There was a clear New York feel to the menu, with potato latkes, grits and even a Reuben sandwich!

I decided to go for an eggy option and chose the Turkish shakshouka baked eggs which were served with pita bread. The sauce had chickpeas and was topped with onion jam and paprika yogurt. The serving was very generous with two large pieces of pita bread and three eggs! Yes, three! I don’t think I’ve ever had a breakfast with three eggs!


This dish was very delicious and there was little to fault with it. If I had to pick something, it would be the fact that I would probably prefer Turkish bread instead of pita bread, but this was a minor issue. The eggs were cooked well, and the oozy yolk mixed in with the rich tomato sauce and yogurt provided a great dipping sauce for the bread.


The other half went for a meatier option and chose the Cuban braised pork. This involved a rather large mound of pork set atop sweet potato bread, served with refried black beans, corn, guacamole and a couple of fried eggs.


Once again this was a very generous serving with no skimping on the proteins. The verdict was that the sweet potato bread was something special, and probably the highlight of the dish.

Overall Bowery to Williamsburg provided us with a great breakfast in the CBD. Whilst I don't like waiting in queues, in this case it proved that good food is worth the wait.

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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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