Friday, April 27, 2012

Terminus Hotel, North Fitzroy

492 Queens Parade
North Fitzroy
VIC 3068

We met friends for lunch in the Terminus Hotel in North Fitzroy, right on the border with Clifton Hill and Northcote at the top of Queens Parade. Poor form I know but, I'd done no research before arriving, other than a very brief over the shoulder glance at the menu online. Apparently it has a good reputation as both a local pub with a good range of beers and as a 'gastropub', which would have probably put me off. Happily it resembled more of a pub that served good food, rather than what seems to be more common in Melbourne these days of pubs that have basically been converted into restaurants...

The menu featured some pub stables (burger, parma, fish and chips) plenty of steaks some sharing/tapas style dishes and a few south American influenced dishes, in line with current Melbourne trends.

I made my selection partially based on health considerations, and settled on the chipotle spiced chickpea and spinach hotpot, with salsa verde, haloumi and shallots, covering several international influences. It certainly impressed on arrival with crunchy fried shallots sat atop the chunks of salsa covered fried cheese. The heart of the dish was more tomato based than I'd expected, bub I enjoyed the smokey spicy chipotle flavours, and eventually found the spinach hiding at the base of the bowl.

 The wagyu burger, looked good on arrival too, packed with cheddar, pickles, tomato, tomato relish it was too big for Bryn to attempt with out his knife and fork, once he got stuck in he seemed impressed.

I also tried some of the chargrilled calamari, chimmichurri from the sharing plates section of the menu. The serve was pretty big, but even half a plate seemed a fair bit to get through, despite the excellent combination of flavours and preparation, a little more greenery or vegetation of some sort would have been nice, on the other hand with some other sharing plates, it wouldn't have been a problem.

The most ordered dish at the table was the rolled chicken breast with porcini and thyme stuffing, roasted corn purée, polenta, asparagus and chicken jus which seemed to satisfy all of its recipients.

The Terminus is definitely a pub, with great food like the gastropubs I remember fondly from London, with the casual attitude, orders taken at the bar, and the option of just grabbing a drink if you like, or maybe it was just the grey damp weather outside that brought back the memories! Well I'm actually an Aussie citizen these days, so it's good I've found a pub that seems to combine the best of both worlds, and certainly one I'd happily go back to.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hu Tong Dumpling Bar

14-16 Market Lane
VIC 3000
(03) 9650 8128

After a few failed tries at getting a reservation at Hu Tong and a couple of attempts at getting a table by showing up, finally with some advanced planning, a booking and an early dinner slot on a Tuesday evening we made it!

Even though it wasn't quite open when we arrived just before 5:30pm, there were a few people waiting outside...

From the street you can see straight through to the kitchen, where the chefs were already busy.

We were directed up to the second floor by the slightly curt but efficient front of house. We ascended the stairs with staff knowing where we were going all the way. All three floor I saw were decorated in a similar style, with plenty of photo's of the Hu Tong's of Beijing. It's slightly ironic that Melbourne's 'premier' dumpling joint is named after these small and humble back streets, on the other hand Market Lane is probably about the same width as some of them. I stayed in a hostel in the Hu Tongs south of Tiananmen Square 10 years ago and the photo's took me straight back there. The fit out combined modern and traditional Chinese elements and featured plenty of wood, to raise above the average Melbourne dumpling house.

We stuck to the front section of the menu, trying a few of the varied dumplings on offer, amongst the first to arrive were the famous Xiao Long Bao listed as Shao Long Bao on the menu and abbreviated as XLB in some places. These 'soup dumplings' have broth surrounding the main pork based filling, and end up with a bulge around the base. Here they seemed to contain a varied amount of liquid, the heaviest ones being particularly juicy, and a challenge to eat! They were at least on a par as the last ones I'd had at Shanghai street dumpling, but didn't completely blow me away.

The Wontons with hot chilli sauce also came in the initial delivery, and these were perhaps the stand outs from the whole meal, the oily sauce featuring the crazily hot an mouth tingling Szechuan peppercorns as well chillis.

The boiled dumplings filled with spinach were a little bland compared with our favourite veggie dumplings from Shanghai Village Dumplings just down the road and the skins were a little on the thick side.

The spring onion pancake not quite what I was expecting, thicker and more pastry like rather than a western or peking duck style pancake. It was however satisfying.

The three of us were still a little peckish after our first four selections so we ordered more! We partly chose the boiled pork dumplings because you got a decent number (12) on the plate, and they certainly helped fill us up and were certainly strong renditions of this staple.

The crab meat dumplings with prawn, spinach, bamboo and carrot were another favourite around the table, the strong crab flavours shone through and even showed through the tightly packed translucent skins, definite winners!

The meal came to $113 for the three of us, including a couple of beers each, which seemed like pretty good value, although obviously a bit more than you'd pay for grabbing a quick bowl of noodles in one of the more basic competitors. So did Hu Tong live up to it's billing, I'd say just about yes, the combination of the decor and style, range of dumplings on offer and efficient if not super friendly service it was good. I'm glad I've tried it and would certainly head back (given the chance)!

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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Victorian

123 Beaconsfield Pde
Albert Park,
VIC 3206

Prior to our visit, we'd expected The Victorian to be one of the big old pubs/hotels that dot Beaconsfield parade, and from the outside it seemed to be, inside however it was a lot smaller. In fact it seems that the history of the building is more complex, having originally being built in the 1880's, initially probably as a Coffee Palace during the height of the temperance movement in booming Melbourne. According to the Victorian Heritage Register, "The Victoria hotel was built in 1888 for owner and licensee Mary McGregor to the design of architect Richard Speight. It is sited on the corner of Kerford Road and Beaconsfield Parade and is the most prominent nineteenth century structure along the entire length of the parade. This prominence is emphasised by the corner tower, double storey colonnade and elaborate three storey facade. The width of Kerford Road enhances the visibility of the building. The tower is angled on the corner and is crowned by an octagonal, column supported belvedere with pointed roof above."

By the early twentieth century it seems to have been 'Carlyons Hotel Victoria", Beaconsfield parade also looks quieter than today!

Later in the forties or fifties, with more cars now it must be licensed with the sign for VB painted on side.

It continued as a pub into the early 21st century, but was then converted into apartments, with the front corner of the ground floor retained as a restaurant/cafe/bar space.

So inside today is a lot smaller than we'd assumed, a reverse tardis maybe...

The white walls, wood floor, high windows, antique industrial lampshades and dramatically patterned walls allow the grand old building to feel modern. We visited on a Sunday evening and took booked via a 50% off the bill deal on YumTable, I'd booked with a bit of trepidation, as there had been reports of issues with coupon deals, but there were no problems for us.

The site seems to serve two businesses with a cafe offering breakfast and lunch and the brasserie open in the evenings. According to the website the head chef "...brings a wealth of international experience to The Victorian. Born and raised in France he studied in the wonderful culinary surrounds of Brittany. He developed his experience at Michelin star level in Switzerland at Auberge de Vouvry before moving to Canada where he enjoyed the role of Head Chef at Pullmann Wine bar and Tapas, Montreal. He has a passion for seafood and experimenting with flavour which is abundant in the menu of The Victorian".

The menu certainly had some interesting sounding options. The roasted scallops on apple puree, crispy fennel, confit lemon coulis, pork jelly and apple espuma with caviar certainly looked fascinating too, although in the end more of the beautiful scallops and less fancy foams would have impressed my fellow diner more.

The fried calamari with black aioli sauce and rocket salad was a well executed version of a dish I enjoy and the dark aioli was a nice change.

The homemade traditional gnocchi served in a mushroom ragu sauce was my choice for main and I enjoyed the oversized soft dumplings which came with plenty of mushrooms in a white sauce, topped with alittle cheese and diced tomatoes. I'd expected a more tomato based sauce but this was good.

The herbal crusted lamb rump was served with a lamb ragu croquette, crispy summer vegetable
and a tiny amount of jus, a little more sauce may have made this a perfect dish as the medium cooked lamb had my fellow diner in meat heaven.

We shared the strawberry crumble with raspberry coolie for desert, the basil and pepper flavours subtly improved the dish, and the was more of it than I managed to capture in this shot.

Overall we were really happy with four out of the five dishes we tried, and with the discount it was fantastic value for $64. The service was friendly and reasonably swift given the single server. We'd certainly thing about returning to try some of the other dishes another time, and it would also be a great spot to site out side on a nice day for breakfast or lunch.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Royal Oak Hotel

9 Bank Street
Port Fairy
VIC 3284
(03) 5568 1018

The Royal Oak has plenty of character and charm, but unmistakably a country pub.

The bistro out the back had a bit of an 80's feel but it was busy with people who mostly seemed to be having a good time! The menu combined some pub favourites with plenty of fish and seafood and all meals included a visit to the salad bar or my case the veggie bar, where I selected some roast pumpkin and zucchini.

I managed to loose the picture of the mushrooms with a trio of pesto and feta, which we shared to start. Each large field mushroom was topped with red and green pestos and some crumbled feta, the flavours combining well..

The specials included flat head with chips,our waitress mentioned it was her favourite and it was certainly well prepared and did justice to the fish.

I went for the seafood plate, which came stacked with 3 rather than the advertised two pieces of battered fish, 3 prawn twizzlers, a skewer of garlic scallops, peppered calamari and of course chips. I would have probably preferred the prawns to be prepared more simply, but everything was good, the calamari was very tender and the scallops had seen glenty of garlic. The fish was as good as it was plentiful!

The food came to around the $60 mark and the all staff we met were friendly and very relaxed. There are plenty of pubs to eat at in small area in Port Fairy, and this is certainly a good option for quality and value.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Victoria Hotel, Port Fairy

42 Bank Street
Port Fairy
3284 5568 2891

The Victoria Hotel is probably the most extensively modernised of the pubs in Port Fairy, these shots were taken before our visit on a showery autumn evening, when things were a bit darker and less condusive to outdoor photography.

With several different areas including a quiet front bar where we ended up eating, a sports bar with outdoor area and a high roofed glass walled dining area, which was packed during our visit. The front lounge bar area is in the original section of the building and was much quieter.

The casual dining menu is available all day and there is dinner menu available in the main dining area after 6pm, but we weren't able to try that as the tables were all packed.

We started with the Share plate which featured a couple of lovely natural oysters, plenty of well grilled saganaki and two arancini balls, which crunchy on the outside and creamy if a little bland inside. The house made dips veared away from the standard offerings, with a satayish offering that was a little on the sweet side and an interesting pea based purée, unfortunately the bbq'ed leader prawns hadreplaced by a fish cake, which we'd both ended up ordering for our main.

I've always been a big fan of fish cakes, I'm not sure if it's an English thing... The lemon and dill patties on offer here had plenty of salon inside but I didn't notice the herb of citrous flavours. The chips were a little too much in the shoestring style for me, but weren't bad. The salad was fine and fresh, the mayo could have happily been served on the side.

The bar staff were all friendly, and given how busy the place was out meals came quickly, I also enjoyed ny Flying Horse brewery 'Dirty Angel' beers from down the road in Warrnambool. Our food bill came to $56.8, which was pretty good value and I'd be interested to try the more extensive menu in the main dining area.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012


29 Gipps Street
Port Fairy
(03)5568 1884

We'd eaten at "Wisharts at the Wharf" a few years ago and enjoyed our meal so headed back on a recent visit to Port Fairy. As the name suggests, it is right next to the water, on the Moyne river a few hundred meters down stream from where it enters the ocean. There are a few fishing boats amongst the pleasure craft on the river and Wisharts feels like it is part of the quayside community.

It may have got its name from Captain Wishart who named the town after his cutter the 'Fairy'. On one end of the building is a classic fish and chip shop which seemed pretty popular all day, in the rest of the building there is a restaurant which we went to on a blustery showery evening.

We got a spot by the window and even though it was dark, it was nice to be able to see the ripples on the black water.Inside things are fairly basic, but certainly clean and tidy.

I went for the basic fish and chips, the bubbly batter was crisp and the fish certainly fresh and moist, the chips were good too! The salad was basic but fine.

The barramundi was grilled and finished in an oven and was flavoursome and perfectly cooked.

Wisharts certainly provides great basic fish and seafood options in a great location. The takeaway option probably offers better value, the restaurant prices are around the $25 mark for a main. The service is friendly and basic, it's somewhere we'd go back to again when we next visit.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fergies Cafe and Wine Bar

1A Cliff Street
VIC 3305

Fergies is situated on the junction of Cliff and Bentinck streets in central Portland and occupies a striking building that previously served as the post office and then council offices. 

We visited on a showery day after a visit to Cape Bridgewater and found a table in the 'back room' which had views across the harbour.

There were plenty of tables occupied in the well appointed surroundings, it felt quite smart and reasonably upmarket. The lunch menu contained classics including a steak sandwich, all day breakfast, burger, club sandwiches, fish and chips and a carbonara.

In the end we both went for the veggie panini, with a slight hope of being more healthy, besides the ubiquitous serve of hot chips. While I wasn't disappointed with what arrived, I'd expected it to be toasted and the grated tasty cheese all over the salad didn't really help with the attempt at a lower fat meal! The bread was fresh and close to Italian style and the fillings including spinach, tomato, cheese and artichoke were fine.

The two sandwiches and a good (if slow to arrive) coffee came to $27.50, and the experience as a whole was fine. I'd certainly pop in for lunch when we are next in town.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

1000 £ BEND

361 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

1000 £ BEND occupies the former Peter Stevens motorbike repair garage on Little Lonsdale street just up from Elizabeth, and certainly still has an industrial workshop look from outside, complete with a barred smoking terrace/cell, graffiti and a couple of smallish signs advertising it's presence. It reminded me a little of the illegal bars of late 90's Berlin.

We only visited the café, and didn't check out the gallery, event space or conditioned cinema. The décor is eclectic and makes the big space feel pretty cosy. It was set up in 2009 following the closure of St Jerome’s laneway bar, which begat the festival which now has its home at Footscray Arts Centre. The free wi-fi seemed to help to attract a youngish arty type crowd who filled most of the space.

Even the salt and papper containers defied the conventional design...

I'd read a range of reviews on urbanspoon which criticised the service and attitude of the staff. We went straight to the counter to order our food, were served pretty quickly by a friendly waitress and then found a spot to await its arrival. The dishes didn't appear that quickly but wasn't particularly slow given how busy it was.

Phil had the Roo burger, which I'd thought about which came stacked with cheese, tomato, rocket, relish, aioli and onion. It was too big for him to attempt to eat whole especially while in office attire, but he really enjoyed it, the burger was well cooked and he particularly liked the aioli and relish.

I went for the special of buckwheat noodle salad with asian herbs, vegetables, marinated tofu and miso mirin dressing. The big slices of tofu looked a little full on to start with, but they worked nicely with the rest of the salad and the herbs and dressing made it into a tasty dish.

As a cool cafe space, I felt 1000 £ BEND worked well, and I'd go back if I was around that part of town and fancied a lightish meal, or coffee and some internet time. Our meals were around $12.50 each.

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