Milford Sound, Fergburger and beautiful breakfasts – our adventures in Queenstown, New Zealand

To celebrate my mum’s 50th birthday, our family recently embarked on a trip to the stunning resort town on New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown. A popular destination for adventure junkies, we were to spend 10 days in the South – with 5 of those spent relaxing with great food and wine in the lakeside town, and the remaining 5 spent conquering the famous and challenging Milford Track.

Queenstown

No matter where you look in Queenstown, you’ll be treated to stunning views – gorgeous birdlife, the breathtaking Lake Wakatipu, or the aptly named mountain range, The Remarkables. 

We were treated to gorgeous sun and amazing blue skies for much of our trip however, on our first day, it was pouring rain and the town was looking dark and dreary. Tired after our flight and very cold, we collapsed into Pub on Wharf. This pub offers good value with a range of dinner options for $20 each. Sitting near the fire, we ordered hearty comfort food – Mum had the Beef Wellington with potato mash and mushroom sauce, while my brother and I opted for the Flintstone Steak  (rib eye with rosemary potatoes, salad, onion rings and mushroom sauce). On such a cold and drizzly night these meals hit the spot, and we loved the onion rings (which, as we would go on to discover, are big in Queenstown).

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Energised after a good night’s sleep, we woke to find the sun shining and our tummies rumbling, in need of a caffeine hit and some eggs. As always, we’d marked down the cafes and restaurants we were keen to check out, so we knew exactly where we were heading that morning – Vudu Cafe in Beach Street. First things first – the coffee in Queenstown is good, pretty much everywhere. My skinny latte – or as the locals would say, “trum” (trim) latte, always served in a ceramic cup – was a beautiful start to our first breakfast in New Zealand, enjoyed while we read over the tempting and extensive menu.

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Always a sucker for salmon, I went with the fennel and vodka cured salmon with scrambled eggs, sourdough and pickled beetroot – SO GOOD. This is pretty much my idea of a perfect breakfast, the type that leaves me thinking about the dish for days; it got me searching for good pickled beetroot at local stores when I returned home, eager to recreate this dish.

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We all throughly enjoyed our breakfasts at Vudu. Mum chose the Moroccan spiced baked beans with poached eggs, harissa, spinach & toasted turkish bread, which was a huge dish with a wonderful smoky flavour from that harissa; my brother (who, like me, always loves a spicy/mexican inspired dish) went with the breakfast quesadilla, with salsa, sour cream, jalapeños, coriander & poached eggs. Vudu offered delicious, big meals at reasonable prices – our meals here ranged from $16-$18.

Vudu

Days later, strolling by the lake, we discovered there was another Vudu! Vudu Cafe & Larder was described by the NZ Sunday Star Times as the original Vudu’s “sexier sister establishment”, and while the location is arguably more beautiful (right by the lake with plenty of outdoor seating to let you take in the view), I found the service and the menu more appealing at the Beach Street venue. I wanted to order the house-cured Mt Cook salmon with potato rosti, poached egg, spinach and beetroot relish, but unfortunately the cafe was out of both the salmon and the potato rosti. After a bit of confusion and a couple of chats with the chef, our waitress arranged for the dish above to be made for me, with grilled salmon and little roast potatoes instead. The meal was good, and it came with that delicious beetroot relish I loved, but I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t experience the meal as it was written on the menu.  
 

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A good coffee, a berry smoothie (in a preserving jar, of course), and an amazing view at Vudu Cafe and Larder. 

You’ll notice throughout this blog post that we did double up on a few venues during our stay in Queenstown – there are a couple of standout eateries that we couldn’t resist going back to, and Halo was one of those places. It’s a toss up between Halo and Vudu when it comes to choosing the best brekky spot, but Halo is probably slightly ahead due to the excellent customer service, consistently good food and coffee, and the all-important free wifi – and Halo was one of the few places that didn’t limit the amount of time you could use their network for.

Coffee at Halo, Queenstown

Halo

On our first visit, I followed my brother’s lead and went with the Breakfast Burrito – a beast of a meal consisting of a tortilla stuffed with chorizo, onion, hash brown, scrambled eggs, chilli beans, topped with Halo chilli sauce & melted cheese and served with sour cream & salsa. This ridiculously awesome combination of ingredients ensured we were stuffed full for hours.

Mum, on the other hand, went with something a little lighter – the Corn & Feta Fritters, served with roasted tomato, salad greens and mango salsa, topped with a poached egg. These fritters were from the lunch menu but made for a perfect brekky; the fritters were incredibly flavoursome and paired perfectly with the fresh greens and salsa.

Of course, no visit to Queenstown would be complete without a stop at Fergburger!

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Visiting Fergburger is an interesting experience, and I suspect the whole ordering process is probably a lot more fun if you’ve had a few drinks. This joint is world famous, and busy at literally every hour of the day; the queue for these burgers spills out the door and into the street, and in the evenings it’s almost like a street party, with hungry drunk tourists waiting for a feed. The staff are young with American and European accents – travellers themselves, as with many of the staff in this town – and the focus is certainly not on delivering great customer service.

To be honest, the whole experience of ordering made us want to grab our burgers as soon as we could and get the hell out of there, and luckily (and surprisingly, given the crowds), we were never waiting for more than 15 minutes. There are a few tables inside and out the front if you did feel like dining in, but you’d be lucky to secure one.

We took our burgers down to the waterfront and found a quiet table to sit at and enjoy our meals in peace. Mum and I went with the Southern Swine: New Zealand beef teamed with American streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, aioli and tomato relish. Despite the poor customer service, it’s clear why people (including ourselves) keep going back – these burgers are awesome. They’re big buns topped with premium quality ingredients and I personally think the Southern Swine is the perfect combo of flavours. My brother loved his Mr Big Stuff burger, the ultimate in dude food with half a pound of beef, melted cheddar, American bacon, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli.

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Oh, and those onion rings and aioli! Ordering a side of these crispy rounds of onion and the creamy, deliciously pungent aioli is a must.

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The weather during our time in Queenstown was stunning, and there was no better place to be than right by the crystal clear water. There were many drink stops during our holiday and Pog Mahones was a favourite, an Irish pub we discovered after finishing our burgers. They made a great gin & tonic, offered free wifi, and the hot rock meals were a fun experience, letting us cook our own steaks, prawns and scallops at the table.

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A couple of days in to our holiday, and we needed a quick and tasty meal before we met our Milford guides for a briefing before we left for the track. We went back to the trusty old Pub on Wharf, where my brother and mum went with beer battered fish served with fries, salad greens and tartare sauce, while I chose a tasty Trio of Sliders.

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Trio of Sliders: Beef Pattie, cheese, lettuce and aioli; Corn chip crusted chicken breast, lettuce and aioli with chipotle relish; Crumbed fish, lettuce and tartare sauce, all served on a mini burger with a side of potato skins. 

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Our holiday was split between the town centre and the Milford track, with our first two days spent exploring the town, the next five days spent on the track, and then three remaining days to relax in Queenstown before we headed home. Once we’d finished the track – and took a helicopter back to our accommodation in town! – we still had quite a few things we wanted to do and see, and we were conscious that time was getting away from us. On a busy day of shopping, louge-riding and a go on the Shotover Jet, the $15 lunch special at Brazz Steakhouse hit the spot – we grabbed a quick meal of chicken burgers, chips and beers and dined outside, enjoying the sunshine.

$10 Lunch

After ten glorious days, our little holiday sadly came to an end, and we decided to farewell this beautiful town with another stop at Halo. I started my trip with a smoked salmon breakfast and finished it the same way: smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese and scrambled eggs, all on a toasted bagel with a garden salad.

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Everyone should get themselves to Queenstown; it’s an amazing place that really does have something for everyone. Whether you want to skydive or bungee jump in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, or simply relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery, Queenstown is a must – especially for Aussies who need only spare a few hours out of their day to get to this destination. The photos above show just a selection of the food we enjoyed on this trip – places like Bobs Weigh, Fergbaker, and indeed the Milford track lodges, all provided fantastic meals. The eating in this part of the world is good, and I can’t wait to go back.

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September Dining Round-Up

Excellent pepper steak with great crispy chips at Montmartre Cafe

After spending the first half of September in Queensland, mostly pigging out on steaks…

AMAZING rainbow and mint chic chip ice creams with sprinkle cones at Sea World

ice creams…

My favourite kebabs EVER in the whole world at Sahara – we went back more times than I’d like to admit…

kebabs…

We’d heard that BBQ Baron was supposed to be a pretty decent burger joint but this experience was very average.

and burgers…

French Vanilla Pancakes – stack of 3 pancakes with butter and maple syrup ($10, fruit and ice cream extra)

….I got back into the (only slightly) healthier meals once I returned home to Geelong and back to reality. This month there were some great breakfasts, starting with Biagio’s – a relaxed yet professional Italian dining room in Niddrie. Jono’s pancakes were pretty much flawless, fluffy and hot served with real maple syrup and generous portions of fruit and ice cream.

Eggs Florentine – 2 softly poached eggs with spinach and hollandaise sauce on a toasted English muffin ($10).

My eggs florentine brekky was great too, and the hollandaise – although not the best I’ve had – was laced with wholegrain mustard, making for a nice twist to the famous sauce.

 

Lemon meringue pie ($13)

 

Armageddon Cake is a cute little dessert bar that opened in late 2011 and, despite hearing rave reviews, I only managed to get myself down there a few weeks ago. We should have visited sooner – the venue is more ‘lounge’ than ‘bar’; in fact, it’s just like being in a friend’s lounge room. Jono loved it as he got to sink into one of the big, old, comfy chairs in the front corner and relax with a hot chocolate and a massive piece of cake. As well as the pie, we had an excellent sticky date pudding, and the coffees and peach nectar were delicious too. Armageddon Cake’s friendly staff serve up an ever-changing menu Thursday to Saturday from 8pm-11pm. It’s a much needed nightspot for Geelong – I love that they don’t even open until many of Geelong’s restaurants are closing their kitchens.

 

63 big brekky with scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, hash brown & kransky sausage on zeally bay sourdough toast w side of 63 baked beans ($21).

and

Sweet potato & bacon hash cakes with roasted beetroot relish, rosemary & feta scrambled egg with chive hollandaise ($16.5)

You can’t really go wrong when it comes to breakfast and brunch at 63 Degrees. Generally, both the Highton and Pakington Street stores get it right and I couldn’t help but revisit an old favourite, the sweet potato and bacon hash cakes. I love this meal; the hash cakes are beautiful little balls of carbs that go perfecctly with the fresh beetroot relish, the scrambled eggs are always creamy and the hollandaise sauce at 63 is probably my favourite in Geelong. Jono was equally happy with his big, man sized breakfast.

 

Two scrambled eggs on sourdough with smoked salmon and hollandaise ($15.50)

The new Winter’s spring menu is fantastic – it has some really interesting breakfast choices that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in Geelong, like an open crab omelette with fresh papaya salad, or vodka cured salmon gravlax on charred rye with sauce vierge, cottage cheese and micro herbs. On this occasion, however, I was craving a simple breakfast of eggs and smoked salmon, again with my old favourite, hollandaise – I reckon Winter’s takes second place in the unofficial “ravenous melbourne’s Best Hollandaise in Geelong” competition.

 

Jono and I took a trip to my old neighbourhood, Port Melbourne, for lunch before catching the VFL semi final. I’ve only been up that way a handful of times since moving back to Geelong two years ago, and it was interesting to see how many of the local cafes are no longer there or have changed hands. Port Melbourne can be a really funny place for dining out and it took us a while to settle on a venue. Creme was nothing spectacular, but it did the job – we ordered a big, carb-y lunch of pasta, Turkish bread and arancini balls. The portions were big and good value, and while this place won’t have you raving, it’s a quick, reliable option with lots of menu choice.

 

And it wouldn’t be a round up without a few dishes from my work at The Shed @ Terindah Estate – this month for staff lunches we’ve been treated to some really beautiful eye fillet served simply as is, or in a fresh salad accompanied by organic chicken, confit garlic bread and Andy Pye’s famous Russian potato salad.

Pei Modern – my new favourite

Pei Modern

45 Collins Street

Melbourne

VIC 3000

(03) 9654 8545

I’ve been far too busy lately to attend to the backlog of draft posts waiting to be published on this blog, but I have to share these images from Mark Best’s Pei Modern – my new favourite restaurant.

These photos are from Pei Modern’s mini degustation, excellent value at $50 per person.

Parmesan, anchovy shortbread

Blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho

Seared calamari, spinach puree

Pork, quince, radicchio

Vanilla bean ice cream, rhubarb


Sorrel ice cream

I’ve been to Pei Modern twice now and ordered this gazpacho both times – it’s fantastic, with each flavour component (the smooth, creamy gazpacho; the soft crab; the fresh, crisp grapes and the strong taste of the coriander) playing its part and working in harmony with all the other ingredients. I love this restaurant for the way it provides really beautiful, innovative meals at an excellent price, and I love that you can come for breakfast, lunch or dinner or just have a bite at the Pei Bar. As well as the amazing food, the venue itself is great and the team is solid – Sommelier-manager Ainslie Lubbock recently took out the Good Food Guide’s Service Excellence Award, and Pei Modern itself won Best New Restaurant. Congrats to an excellent and very worthy team.

Consistently good at Darriwill Farm Highton

Darriwill Farm

65-71 Barrabool Road

Highton

(03) 5241 2933

darriwillfarm.com.au

It was a joyous occasion when Darriwill Farm opened its Highton doors some years ago. Finally there was a place in the little Belle Vue Avenue shopping centre serving breakfasts and lunches that strayed from the usual bacon and eggs or salad rolls, and whose coffee could be depended on for its consistency. Darriwill is an innovative cafe with a shop attached, selling a range of condiments, gifts, wines and kitchenware that may not be found elsewhere. The cafe has a regularly changing menu as well as a specials board that changes daily – a highlight being the grazing plate, a platter of little goodies that lets you sample a range of delicious things from the menu in bite sized serves.

Prawn pasta (about $18)

This was a dish from the specials board, described by our waitress as “spaghetti with tiger prawns, rocket,  roasted red peppers and capers”. What came out was the spaghetti, prawns and rocket, with red onion and peas. We joked that perhaps the waitress had confused peas with capers, and thought that maybe the red sauce the pasta was in had been made from roasted red peppers. It was a good dish with big, juicy prawns and a very nice sauce, but it was a little heavy on the peas and quite different to the dish that I was expecting to come out.

Big breakfast $21.40

A good, classic big brekky – although perhaps a little pricey.

Chicken, cannellini bean and red onion quesadilla  with a Cajun prawn and avocado salsa dressed salad (about $18)

A great example of Darriwill’s innovative dishes and signature “stack” style serving method. There’s a lot going on on this plate yet it all works.

French toast with smoked salmon, roast tomato and pumpkin, rocket, honey roasted almond flakes and a lemon aioli (about $18)

The cafe seems to like to take classic dishes, like French toast or eggs Benedict, and reinvent them somewhat. This was a lovely brunch dish. The sauces and dressings at Darriwill are always delicious and this lemon aioli was a winner.

Caesar salad (about $15)

This is probably the least exciting dish I’ve seen come out of the kitchen. It’s fine for a simple Caesar but I was surprised at the average quality of that bed of lettuce.

French toast with smoked salmon, rocket, capers and basil pesto oil (about $15)

This dish came from the specials board, another take on the classic French toast. The whole dish was a triumph, with each flavour working together perfectly and the basil pesto oil leaving you wanting more without overpowering the rest of the dish.

The Highton shopping centre now has many more dining options than it had in years gone by, and there’s plenty of places to get a more traditional breakfast/brunch/lunch if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you’re after something a little different and coffee you know you can depend on Darriwill Farm is worth a visit.

Darriwill Farm on Urbanspoon

City-style cool at A spot for joe

 33 Little Ryrie Street (within the car park on the corner of Lawrence Place)

Geelong

3220

Ph: 0451 419 855

Waiting in line for a table is not at all unusual in Melbourne – some would even say it’s “the new black” – but down in Sleepy Hollow it’s not something cafe-goers have been used to in the past. Cue the arrival of laneway and carpark venues like Fuel and BoxOffice and suddenly it feels like there’s a new vibe in Geelong’s cafe and restaurant scene. A spot for joe – “spotties” or “joe’s” as my coffee companion Ella and I affectionately call it – opened late last year, turning an old school supplies shop into a cosy, cool little venue that wouldn’t look out of place in the trendiest of inner city laneways.

Today was my second visit to the cafe – on my first trip I got the map totally wrong and couldn’t figure out where it was. Today our other dining companion, Andy, called us for directions – “Ohhhh I know where you mean now. Don’t even ask me where I am!!” It’s fitting for a venue whose owners – adorable husband and wife team Jared and Talya – are very deliberately trying to bring “that Melbourne / New York feel to Geelong for everyone to enjoy”. On their Facebook page, they explain why they keep their promotions to a minimum, stating that “a little mystery is part of the adventure and we hope you understand and appreciate this in your search to join us!” They’ve got a strong vision and it’s working; at lunch today the three of us got talking about how slowly, slowly, places just like this are changing the whole feel of Geelong’s dining culture.

A spot for joe is all about the cute touches, from the name itself, to the smarties that come served on a teaspoon with every hot drink, to the service – Talya came over and chatted to us while we waited to pounce on a table, recognising us both from our activity on the cafe’s Facebook page. In the last few years there’s been a few venues really pushing to change the expectations locals have of coffee in Geelong and this cafe now joins them. Coffee is a very important part of this business, and the excellent cups come courtesy of the famous Slayer machine – a beast which sets cafe owners back tens of thousands of dollars but, in the eyes of many hardcore coffee enthusiasts, is worth travelling for to receive the finished product. They do a great chai latte too.

Ready made lunches in a range of interesting varieties – like a baguette stuffed full of porchetta, house pickled slaw and green apple, or the hangover-curing chorizo breakfast panini – keep dining options fast and easy but still exciting, and there’s substantial meals on the all day breakfast menu, like house made bircher with fresh labna, blueberries & passionfruit coulis.

‘avochoke smash’ with avocado, artichoke, barrel aged Mt Vikos feta and vine ripe tomatoes on seeded sourdough ($11)

 Part of the all day breakfast menu, this scrumptious veggo brekky comes as is or with ham or smoked chicken for an extra $2. A beautiful, creamy mix of complementing flavours, the mixture atop the single piece of seedy toast is surprisingly filling and it’s a breakfast that leaves you satisfied rather than in a food coma. It’s also very reasonably priced, as is everything here.

Geelong ham, French cheese, vine ripened tomatoes, dijonnaise and rocket ($10)

After having tried it on previous visits, Ella returned to this baguette, a simple one but a favourite.

Photo courtesy of A spot for joe

The owners have been smart with the limited space they have, choosing creative but fuss free menu items that can be pre prepared and served quickly yet still taste fresh and delicious. Seating is a mix of counter, communal and individual tables, adding to that Melbourne-esq vibe. A spot for joe has got it just right in every way, from interesting menu items, fantastic coffee (and plenty of sweet treats to go with that, like lamingtons, baci’s and Argentinian alfajores), very friendly service and an amazing fit out and location – it’s places like this that breathe new life into Geelong’s dining scene and excite coffee and food lovers who, for so long, have pined for a taste of that city-style chic in our own little town.

A spot for joe on Urbanspoon

A misleading first impression at Bendigo Street Milk Bar

Bendigo Street Milk Bar 

37 Bendigo Street 

Richmond 3121 

Ph: 03 9428 4196 

  

  

 

  

I love discovering cafes in little suburban streets, especially when they’re only a few blocks away from my little suburban street, so it was with great happiness that I stumbled across this “Milk Bar” on the way home from a walk around the Yarra. Sweaty and wearing trackies and runners, I thought I’d come back on the weekend for a relaxing breakfast instead. 

  

 

  

By the time Bf and I got organised to leave the house breakfast had turned into lunch, so we strolled over in the sunshine and opted to sit in air-conditioned comfort inside. Bendigo Street has a small section out the front for outdoor dining, and a few tables for two or four inside, but the focus is on big, communal tables. It was dead inside; Bf and I were the only patrons for our whole visit, apart from a few workers from the Channel 9 studios across the road who came  for a coffee fix. 

  

 

  

First impressions were great. The room is gorgeous; a mix of gourmet products, small shelves stocked with household basics, and a display cabinet at the counter filled with delicious, fresh-looking wraps and rolls. Even cuter is the little bowl of diced lemon slice by the cash register; Bf and I snacked on this while we waited for our meals and it is fantastic. The cashier/barista was very pleasant, and as we sat at our table facing a beautiful open view of Bendigo Street, I was so excited at the prospect of having found a gorgeous little cafe so close to home. 

  


 

 

Please excuse the reflection! 

  

 

  

Bf and I both ordered big strawberry milk shakes. I thought they were fine but Bf thought they were incredibly weak; then again he does like his milkshakes stronger than most.
 

  

 

 

 

   

Club sandwich with chips and salad, $13.90 

  

After I had talked up club sandwiches to Bf, we were both very disappointed with what arrived. First of all, where was the good old regular bread? I love a turkish, panini style roll but a sandwich was what I was after. Secondly, where were the three layers of bread, one of the key, deliciously high carb features I had told Bf about? I am a traditionalist; I like my club sandwiches stacked three layers high and cut into quarters. Instead of good old mayo, the tough bit of chicken was smothered in sweet chili sauce. It was absolutely drenched and I removed it from the sandwich. I realised, I was now left with some lettuce and bacon, and a bit of tomato. It wasn’t a club sandwich; it was a dodgy BLT. Where was the cheese? More importantly, where was the salad that was advertised as an accompaniment? When I questioned the waitress and pointed out the menu claimed it came with “chips and salad”, she mumbled “oh… it’s like… it’s in the sandwich”. If I knew from the beginning it was a club with chips that would have been fine, but I can’t stand misleading advertisements. 

  

What a shame. Such promise at first; the food and the waitress just let it down. I haven’t totally given up on this little cafe – although Bf has – I think I’ll be back to try the breakfast menu. It’s basic – all the usuals like eggs Benedict and bircher muesli – but I can’t quite give up on this little local just yet.

Not a bad word to say about Mr Tulk

Mr Tulk
State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston Street
Melbourne 3000
Ph: (03) 8660 5700

When I open a restaurant one day in the future, I want the service style to be just like what you get at Mr Tulk. The staff here are young and fun, and on the surface, they seem to be extremely relaxed – thankfully, this casual nature does not equal poor, inattentive service. Have a closer look at the movements of any of the staff here, and you’ll find they’re going fast, watching the room, talking to themselves about what needs to happen next.

My Mum, my brother and I sat in the waiting area and ordered some drinks as staff found a table for us. Table turnover here is fast, but the cafe is usually packed, so there’s a good chance you may have to wait. When you finish your meal, however, wait staff don’t hustle you out the door. Any pressure the staff feel to clear the table as soon as possible is not passed on to the customer.
My first interaction with a member of staff was as I gave my drink order to a waiter who had danced over to me. Soon, we were being shown to our table, facing the difficult decision of what to have. Mr Tulk offers breakfast and brunch, lunch, light snacks and little sweet things. There are so many things on the menu that sound fantastic, picking is tough. Last time Mum and I visited, I had breakfast and she had lunch – beautiful, creamy scrambled eggs tinted green from the basil that was mixed through, with sweet, roasted tomatoes; and a light, fresh dish of calamari frites and a rocket salad. This time, the three of us struggled to decide, at one point all wanting the same dish. It was the waiter who came to the rescue when he asked for our order.

“What are you deciding between?”, he asked me. I proceeded to list about half the menu. Mum piped up that she liked smoked salmon; my brother, James, asked about the Caesar salad. I enquired about the day’s soup special, a lamb, pea and fennel soup. “Is the soup nice?”, I asked. “No”, the waiter replied, “It’s shit.” It is this humour and relaxed nature that I love about Mr Tulk. The ordering incident came to a head when the waiter took charge of the situation: “Why don’t you have the soup, you have the smoked salmon, and you have the salad.” Easy, quick and helpful. I am a very indecisive customer and I value the opinion of wait staff. It is a big pet hate of mine when I visit a restaurant or cafe, ask for advice, and am told “I dunno… it’s really up to you”.

The view from our table: The entrance to Mr Tulk on the left, and to the State Library on the right; further down the room, guests can grab a coffee and something small to eat and sit at one of the bar stools. Note the man in the grey top with a menu in front of his face: that’s our waiter, deliberately jumping and dancing to get in my picture.


Lamb, pea and fennel soup of the day with crusty bread

This soup was fantastic. Small pieces of lamb were visible when I lightly swirled the soup, but when I plunged my spoon right to the bottom and scooped up, I found a big piece of lamb on the bone and as the dish sat there, melt-in-your-mouth chunks fell right off. Big cubes of soft potato were also present in this strong-flavoured and well balanced dish.
Caesar salad with white anchovy and poached egg

“One of the best Caesar salads going round”, claimed the waiter, and it certainly was. Beautiful creamy dressing covered good-sized pieces of bacon and parmesan, and the big, juicy white anchovies were an excellent addition. I enjoyed the bread presented, rather than as small croutons scattered throughout, as a large, lightly toasted slice sitting atop the salad.

Smoked salmon bruschetta with onions, capers and creme fraiche

A simple dish, but a delicious one, with a generous helping of fresh smoked salmon, served with a twist: creme fraiche rather than the commonly used Philadelphia cream cheese, and pickled, deliciously vinegar-y slices of red onion.

Both times I have been to Mr Tulk, service and food have been flawless – I really have nothing critical to say about the venue and highly recommend it as a great, friendly place to have a coffee or something quick to eat in between whatever it is you’re doing in the city. Mr Tulk is open till 5pm Monday-Thursday and till 4pm Saturday (closed Sundays), but on Friday nights they close at 9pm and host happy hours and fish specials – something I am keen to experience.

(Apologies for the lack of prices accompanying the dishes in this post. Dishes at Mr Tulk are around $10-$16)

I ♥ P+MJ

Porgie + Mr Jones
291 Auburn Road
Hawthorn 3122
Ph: 03 9882 2955

Synonymous recently moved out Hawthorn way and it had been a while since we’d caught up. Perfect, I thought; I could see my beautiful friend and visit a little cafe I’d been meaning to try for ages – since Matt Preston wrote it up for Epicure in 2008 – at the same time.

Tucked away between dry cleaners and newsagents on Auburn Road, P+MJ consists of three distinct “layers”: as you first walk in, the vibe is casual, fast, takeaway. Walk through to the next room and it becomes instantly more grown up, perfect for a cosy dinner (the private dining room upstairs has just been opened and provides an intimate space for 12-18 patrons). S and I kept walking out to the cute little courtyard, a quiet, pebble stone haven.

First impressions of the (quite good looking) staff were good. All young but professional, we were quickly shown to a table, their nature casual but very welcoming. When I faced my usual dilemma (two things on the menu sound particularly fabulous; I will now take half an hour to decide), and after a game of heads or tails failed to help, the waitress provided some very helpful advice.

“What are you choosing between?”

“The salmon or the risotto.”

“Are you quite hungry?”

“Yes. Ravenous. Which do you like best?”

“They’re both delicious, but the salmon is quite light, whereas the risotto is a large serve.”

“Alright”, I concluded, “the risotto it is then”.

S was having breakfast – I was tempted, especially when I saw some of the P+MJ ‘classics’ like smashed avocado with thyme buttered mushrooms, marinated feta and torn basil on wholegrain toast, poached ‘googie‘ optional – and I had a feeling this was a place that would do breakfasts well. But this blog could so easily become about nothing but breakfast with how often I crave a meal out in the morning, and that’s not the aim, so with ravenous in mind I stuck with the “Lunchy Things” menu.

Risotto of pea and pancetta, herbed marscapone ($19.90)

A bowl of creamy, quite runny rice. The flavour was nice, but it was nothing stunning. The herbed marscapone added a nice kick and would have been better spread throughout the whole dish rather than lumped in the middle. The flavour of the pancetta was good but the little pieces of pork were hard, rather than the thin, melt in your mouth slices I was expecting.

Carman’s bircher muesli with pear and cinnamon compote, honeyed yoghurt ($10.90)

S really enjoyed her Bircher; I’m not much of a muesli eater but I had a spoonful and it was creamy with a strong taste of fresh pear.

From a PR point of view, P+MJ are on fire. Their website and business cards are fabulous and continue with the cute theme that’s found throughout the restaurant – blackboards on the walls with little messages of optimism, cute quotes on the menu (“…My tongue is smiling”, claimed Mr Jones’ 5 year old brother). Presentation of the restaurant itself is fabulous and service could not be faulted – the only flaw in the entire experience was my risotto and even that wasn’t a ‘flaw’ as such, just a dish whose flavours were simply ‘nice’ and whose texture could have been improved.

Given how nice S’s breakfast was, maybe breakfast and brunch is more their thing – I will be back to investigate this further.