Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill

Mexican food, Subway style

Chez Dre

Not worth the hype

Pope Joan

Breakfast in Brunswick

Merchants Guild

Putting masala chai on the map in Melbourne

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chez Dre had been on the breakfast bucket list for a while, and it was only one Saturday morning that we randomly decided to visit. We were wary of long wait time, given that we were planning to arrive there at about 9, but luckily we had no reason to worry. We walked straight in and were seated next to the window, overlooking the alley. 

A waitress promptly attended to us, to take our coffee orders, and I stuck to my usual latte. Unfortunately I hadn't perused the menu at this stage, but if I had, I would have knows that they also serve Prana Chai, and I would have definitely chosen that!

The coffee arrived promptly, but unfortunately, it was nothing spectacular, infact I think the Nespresso machine does a better job which was a little disappointing. I must however, commend Chez Dre on their fabulous service. We had spilt an almost full coffee, and the staff were immediately there to wipe everything down, and a new coffee was brought to us, free of charge. These little touches make a big difference.

I looked through the menu, and totally against the norm, decided to order a sweet breakfast. I opted for a spiced porridge, with rhubarb, cardamom, candied orange, vanilla mascarpone and pistachio. It was a tasty combination, but as is often the case with porridge, it was extremely filling and I struggled to finish it. 

All in all, Chez Dre was a pleasant experience, but nothing special. Given all the hype that surrounds this place, I must say that I was somewhat disappointed. There are many places that do much better coffee and food, and are much cheaper too.

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 29, 2014

Breakfast out on a weekday is virtually a non occurrence for me, but when I had to travel all the way to Tullamarine for work, a fellow foodie colleague and I took the opportunity to indulge in brunch at Pope Joan.

I have driven past Pope Joan many times, but the long line outside on weekends always deterred me from making the visit, but luckily there was no such issue on a Monday morning. Located on the busy Nicholson St, we were fortunate enough to find parking right in front of the shop front, and we hoped this was a sign that we were off to a good start!

We walked in to find an array or tables available to us, so we chose to sit in the left hand section of the cafe, where are waitress promptly greeted us, handed us menus and took our coffee orders. I ordered my standard latte, which arrived quickly.

Pope Joan serves All Press coffee, and the quality and flavour was evident from the first sip. A very smooth coffee with a subtle bitterness and rich aroma gave me confidence that this was going to be a good brunch, and my attention quickly turned to the menu.

At first glance I was super excited, with three quarters of the menu being vegetarian friendly! It then got even better when I realised that other than the standard toast and muesli options, all the other offerings were savoury! I scanned through the list and settled upon an Indian looking option, saag aloo (also known as spinach and potatoes), smoked yoghurt, almonds, pickled radish and grilled flat bread. I think it was here that the morning went down hill.

I should have picked up on the fact that saag aloo is obviously Indian, and pickled radish definitely has Asian connotations. The two cuisines are both delicious independent of each other, but combined, they really do not work. The saag aloo was also rather flavourless, and whilst I understand that the spice factor may need to be toned down for a western palate, I really do expect better from multicultural Melbourne.

My colleague went for a smarter option and chose the truffled polenta brick, baked eggs, green mozzarella and fried capers. This breakfast was definitely worthy of its place on the menu. I only had a small taste, and immediately regretted not choosing it. Truffle has become the new ‘it’ food on Melbourne menus, and its distinct flavour added an interesting element to the soft polenta brick. The baked egg looked perfectly oozy and the fried capers added the right balance of tang and crunch.

Overall, Pope Joan gets a two out of three. A great coffee, one below average breakfast, and another great breakfast. Would I go back? Yes. Would I order another ethnic or fusion meal? No. Stick to the creative Western options on the menu and you’re in for a good breakfast.

Pope Joan on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 08, 2014

Unplanned weekend brunch outings are always the best, and that’s exactly what happened last Saturday. Given that it was unplanned, I hadn’t thought of where to go, and so I tried to think of local cafes that I had put on my mental list. Merchant’s Guild popped up in my head and it was decided, to Bentleigh East it was!

We arrived at about 9am, and already the cafe had started filling up, and so we became the first ones to sit at the communal table at the back. I looked around and all along the wall large buckets of spices were lined up ready to be mixed into chai mixes. It was then that I decided that today was going to be a tea morning, rather than a coffee one.

A friendly waitress handed us our menus, and informed me of the excellence of Prana Chai, which is the tea that they serve. I took up her recommendation and wondered if their masala chai would live up to my Indian standards.

The tea arrived promptly, served in a little pan, so that I could strain my own. Whilst pouring it, I could smell the spicy aromas and the remnants in the strainer indicated the generous presence of cardamom and cloves. Upon tasting it, I came to the conclusion that it was certainly worthy of the masala chai title. The complexity of the spices complimented the flavour of the tea, and resulted in a perfect hot drink to start the morning with. Merchant’s Guild had already won me over!

A browse of the menu revealed a lack of fritters, which are my usual choice for breakfast. Instead I opted for the pumpkin, feta and harissa polenta biscuit with poached eggs and za’atar. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a polenta biscuit, but it turned out to be a perfect choice. The polenta was soft and creamy, but the exterior had a crunch to it, making it to be great replacement for fritters! The harissa added the required zing, and pumpkin and feta are always a welcome combination.

Of course the yolk porn test was the ultimate decider, and the Merchants Guild eggs passed with flying colours!

The other half went for completely the opposite of what I was having, which makes for good blogging. He chose coffee, and a sweet breakfast of French toast, with vanilla mascarpone, bananas, berries and pistachios. I am not usually a sweet breakfast person, but this was delicious. Cheese of any form makes everything taste better, so clearly the mascarpone was responsible for making this dish taste so good!

All in all, it was a great breakfast. The food was delicious, the atmosphere and staff were welcoming and friendly, but for me the real winner was the Prana Chai. I need to go back just for my masala chai fix.

Merchants Guild on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

As part of Nuffnang's birthday celebrations, I was lucky enough to win some vouchers for Mad Mex. We hadn't had a chance to use the vouchers, but last weekend, we finally forced ourselves to go out, and indulge in some Mexican food!

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Mad Mex. The website seemed to indicate it was a franchise, but I wasn't sure whether it was more like a restaurant or whether it was fast food. Turns out, it was something in between.

The set up is very similar to a Subway concept, but instead of choosing the bread, you choose the type of meal, from nachos, enchiladas, a burrito, a grande melt or tacos. You then choose your main filling, which in my case was obviously vegetarian, and just like subway, you then choose your salads, while they build your meal.

As we sat down at our table, we noticed the great light fittings constructed out of empty Corona bottles, an apt homage to the Mexican beer.

I unwrapped my burrito to discover a very full wrap.

Firstly the tortilla itself was great. I was expecting something dry, but instead it was soft and tasty. Inside I had rice and beans as the base, and then sautéed vegetables as my vegetarian option. As usual I had opted for all the salad on offer, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and hot sauce. Commendably, the hot sauce was hot, which impressed me. Everything combined well, and worked together, but to be honest, it was nothing spectacular.

Mad Mex is nothing fancy, and if your on Chapel St, there are definitely better options. Infact we were commenting that perhaps Grill'd would have been a better option, after all, their burgers are amazing. But nevertheless, it was an enjoyable meal, just not extraordinary.

Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Social media is brilliant at providing businesses with free advertising, and for this occasion, The Proud Peacock had definitely benefited from this. One of my friends had visited it and put photos up on Facebook, with comments to say that it was a little local place, with amazing food. I decided to look up how local it was and found that it was walking distance from my place! And so it was decided, we were going to have dinner on Friday night there. It just so happened that Friday lunch was scheduled to be our monthly team lunch, and we were without a venue, so I decided to nominate Proud Peacock, so that I could get a preview of what was to come for dinner... it proved to be a good move.

Visit 1:

We arrived at about 12:30 pm, and the lunch rush was well and truly under way. There were no seats inside, a massive crowd lined up at the counter, and a few people even sitting outside. This was a clear sign, that this place must be good. We also joined the queue, placed our orders at the counter, and then found ourselves a spot outside. Luckily it wasn't too cold!

Whilst we were waiting, the waitresses were running around, frantically trying to keep on top of things, and make sure all the patrons were looked after. We were given bottles of soft drink, Chinese tea, fruit, and tim tams, all as freebies, while we waited. After about 10 minutes (not long at all given how busy they were), our dishes arrived.

One of the things that impressed me most about Proud Peacock was the separate vegetarian menu. I was spoilt for choice, but I settled on a vegetarian pad thai, knowing that I would be back later that night to sample more of the menu.

The pad thai was delicious with all the standard inclusions, vegetables, egg, tofu, crushed nuts, and a wedge of lemon on the side. There was also chilli on the table, but it was super spicy (even for a seasoned chilli connoisseur like me!) so I used it sparingly! The waitress also bought around some take away containers, suggesting that there was a high chance that we wouldn't be able to finish our portions, but she clearly underestimated my abilities! In her defence, the portions were big, but I was just super hungry!

We left very full, but very satisfied, and I was excited to come back for dinner!

Visit 2:

We arrived at about 6:30 pm and the dinner rush was no less than the lunch rush from earlier in the day. We squeezed through the front door, and looked around for a spare couple of seats. Luckily there was a table that was just emptying, and we pounced. It was cold, and we didn't particularly want to sit outside, so we were grateful for the spot inside.

Surprisingly, given how busy it was, there was still table service, and almost as we sat down, menus were brought to us, followed by fruit, Chinese tea and chocolate biscuits, and after a few minutes our order was taken. We got greedy and decided to order three meals between two of us which was ambitious, given I knew how big the serves were. Nevertheless, we were up for the challenge. There was about a 15 minute wait, but this wasn't an issue, and completely understandable given how busy they were.

Given how cold it was, my heart was set on a vegetarian noodle soup, and whilst this wasn't on the menu, the staff were happy to oblige. A very large bowl of steaming broth, vegetables, noodles and chunks of beancurd was placed in front of me. This dish hit the spot perfectly, and unlike some other phos with are bulked up with mock meat, this one was full of fresh vegetables and soft beancurd.

Our other dish was a salt and pepper eggplant, which was on the specials board that night. Deliciously soft, succulent pieces of eggplant were coated in batter and then deep fried and the whole dish was dressed liberally with salt pepper, shallots and chilli. There must have been some secret spices in the batter because it made the eggplant taste amazing. Unfortunately we were way too full and could hardly finish half this dish, so in true Proud Peacock style, we were handed takeaway containers to pack our leftovers in for the next day!

As we headed to the counter to pay, we received countless apologies for the slow service. To be honest we didn't mind at all, infact the whole chaotic nature adds to the character of the place, but regardless a family pack of Tim Tams was forced upon us as a way of saying sorry and we were sent home!

Proud Peacock is definitely going to become one of our favourite locals. It's one of those places where you just want to give the people that run it a big hug!

The Proud Peacock on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 05, 2014

New to the neighbourhood, it was imperative that we find a local breakfast haunt for the weekends. Unfortunately Mt Waverley doesn't really have a cafe culture, and it was unlikely that we would find anything within walking distance. Hyde and Seek was a cafe in Ashburton was about a five minute drive away, so we decided to try this.

Situated on a quiet suburban street, alongside a few other random shops, most of which were closed on a Sunday morning, we really weren't sure whether we had made the right choice with Hyde and Seek. We arrived at almost exactly 9am, and they were just opening, so we were greeted with smiles and got first pick of the seats.

The Ottoman’s banquet on the menu indicated that there was a subtle Middle Eastern influence on the dishes and so we set about choosing what we would have. For me, breakfast is always a savoury meal, which was lucky because other than the porridge, there were no other sweet options.

I decided on Moroccan Eggs, which was a baked eggs dish, cooked in a rich tomato and capsicum base, flavoured with parsley, and served with a side of hummus and some Turkish bread. The eggs were delicious. They were perfectly poached, with semi solid centres, which was want you want for baked eggs. Oozy yolks do not work with saucy bases, so Hyde and Seek had this part sorted. The sauce itself tasted amazing. Most places stick to a plain tomato base, but the addition of the capsicum added another level to the flavour and gave it that Middle Eastern feel that was present on the menu. I would have definitely appreciated some more bread to mop up the sauce, two small pieces just wasn't enough! And as for the hummus, whilst it tasted great, I'm not sure how it fitted with the rest of the dish. I ended up just eating it by itself at the end, purely because I love hummus!

The other half tossed up having the Ottoman’s Banquet, but then decided that it was too big and ended up choosing the Breakky Burrito. This was quite literally a burrito wrapper, filled with scrambled egg, grilled mushrooms, avocado and rocket, all liberally dressed with aioli. The highlight of this dish was definitely the aioli. Bursting with flavour, creamy, and just bloody delicious, it definitely brought all the elements in the burrito together. And don’t be deceived by the size of the burrito – you may think it looks small, but by the time you are finished you will be full!

Obviously we ordered coffees, our standard latte and flat white, both of which were great.

By the time we left at almost 10am, the cafe was packed, which was clearly a reflection on how highly regarded it is. Good thing we got there just as it opened! We’ll definitely be back to go through the rest of the menu, I have my eye on the Mediterranean Scrambled Eggs that they offer!

Hyde n Seek on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


It was a fairly chilly night, some of us were really hungry, and we were walking down Bay St to find somewhere to eat. Corte was an interesting looking place on a corner, which had big signs up advertising Portuguese nights, and Argentinean nights, but we weren’t really sure what the general cuisine was. Nevertheless, we decided the place looked good, and so decided to give it a go.

It was a busy night, so the only table we could get was outside, but this ended up being great. The outside was set up with tables and chairs, candles, lots of patio heaters, and looked to be the perfect place to catch up with friends over drinks and a few nibbles. It was however a horrible light to take photos in, especially since I didn't have my DSLR and was relying on an iPhone and an S4.

The menu also conveyed this intent, with most of the options focused around sharing. The cuisine would best be described as tapas, with limited vegetarian options, but we had a 50% vegetarian ratio at the table, so we ordered everything vegetarian on the menu, plus a few meaty options for the others. We were informed the food would arrive in stages as it was prepared, and this worked well, given that that was all designed to be eaten in small portions rather than as a whole meal.

We started with a couple of serves of sourdough bread, which were served with Spanish olive oil and rock salt. I am a bit of a bread connoisseur and this bread definitely passed my test. It had a solid crust, and a soft bread texture which was just how I liked it. The rock salt was very strong though, so I had to be careful to have no more than just a touch on each mouthful. It was a solid start to the meal.

We then had Pimientos de Padron, which were little peppers sautéed in lemon and salt. It may sound simple but these were delicious. Apparently the heat of the peppers wasn’t consistent though, and whilst I didn’t get lucky enough to get a really hot one, others did. I suppose that can’t be avoided...

Another vegetarian option was the Gringa. This was a soft tortilla, filled with sweet corn puree, and topped with tomato salsa and sour cream. The others around the table deemed this dish to be one of their favourites, however for me, it was the dish I least liked. The corn puree didn’t seem to be seasoned enough, and so tasted a bit bland. Perhaps I’m just used to much stronger flavours.

We also ordered a quinoa salad which had quinoa (obviously!), fetta, chilli, limes and grapes scattered through it. This dish was definitely one of my favourites. The mild heat of the chilli, the tang of the lime, and the freshness of the grapes all combined to provide an amazing flavour explosion. It also tasted great with the above mentioned peppers.

This was the end of our original order, however we decided we were still a little hungry, so we decided to get another serve of the tortillas and also try the remaining vegetarian option on the menu, which was a Queso Fundido, or baked camembert. I had never had baked cheese before and boy was I in for a treat! The cheese was seasoned with cracked pepper and spring onion, and baking it resulted in a gooey, fondue like mess which was delicious. It was served with a few slices of bread, which was no where near enough, and in the end I ended up spooning the gooey cheese onto my place and eating it by itself, because it would be a sin to let it go to waste!

Corte turned out to be a pretty good place that we stumbled upon. It's definitely a place that caters to large groups, and casual dining, but the food is pretty decent, and the atmosphere is lovely.

 Corte on Urbanspoon