boozy cucumber, lime and chilli paletas

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Well, it’s Friday. The first Friday in June, to be exact. By now you’d be aware that my confessed intention to post on a weekly basis has gone less-than-swimmingly over the past three weeks. My last post has taunted me proudly as my free time has dissolved into a mess of work overtime, fatigue and a frightening ocular migraine that consumed most of last Monday.

Yes, an ocular migraine. On a public holiday, when my regular General Practitioner was probably enjoying a WA Day barbecue. Who knew that migraines could be painless and cause temporary loss of vision? I thought I was having a stroke… most probably a TIA, or at the very least my retina was detaching (yes, I have a touch of hypochondria which appears to be familial; thanks Dad).

But a few hours and $135 later, I found out that I was mostly fine; just tired and moderately stressed. Sorry, body. I should take better care of you.

limes loki

Anyway, enough about the negatives of the past two weeks. There have been some gloriously shiny positives, from productive side-project coffee date meetings with Aaron (SO EXCITED) to healthy gym days and a giant Mexican feast held with this blogging crew from last year.

Oh, the feast we had. It’s probably fortuitous that it takes us between twelve and eighteen months to organise each catch-up, as we definitely don’t skimp on courses or calories (chocolate-mousse-avocado -ream-lime-curd-crumbled-brownie-candied-lime-and-chilli-chocolate-soil-layered dessert, anyone?). We did scale down slightly from our elaborate Spanish feast, but I’m still bringing takeaway boxes to the next one (which might be an Indian night; anyone have a spare tandoori oven?).

tequila

As per our previous posts, we’ve got a deliciously photo-heavy series of joint posts in the pipeline, full of recipe links and styling details. But for now? Here’s a tequila-soaked taster for you Northern Hemisphere people who are heading into summer’s warm embrace.

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Boozy Cucumber, Lime and Chilli Paletas

Makes 8

You will need: 8 x 3oz ice pop molds, 8 wooden popsicle sticks

  • 4 medium cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2.5 tbsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp Tequila
  • chilli flakes, optional

cukesprepared

Place the chopped cucumbers into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 2 minutes or until the mixture resembles a fine pulp.

Strain the pulp through a fine sieve to extract all of the liquid (push down on the cucumber flesh with the back of your hand to ensure you get all of the juice).

cucumberjuice

Add the caster sugar and cayenne, then stir until all of the sugar is dissolved (you should no longer hear sugar granules scraping at the bottom of the bowl). Add the Tequila and stir thoroughly.

juice mix

Distribute the mixture between 8 clean paleta (popsicle) molds. Sprinkle in a few whole chilli flakes for decoration (optional). Carefully transfer into the freezer, ensuring the molds remain upright. Freeze for at least 1 hour before placing a wooden popsicle stick into the centre of each paleta (if you have an ice pop maker with a lid that holds the sticks in place, feel free to place the sticks in straight away).

Allow to freeze for at least 12 hours, or preferably overnight (the alcohol in these paletas significantly slows the freezing process. Don’t be tempted to unmold these paletas before they’ve had a good amount of freezing time, or you’ll be left with a cucumber and lime slushy).

To serve, run the paleta molds briefly under hot water. Firmly pull each paleta out by the wooden stick (yeah, I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but anyway…).

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the mess guide to: margaret river

bottleThe regular readers among you would be aware that it’s been a very, very long time since my last Mess Guide was published (the Mess Guide to: Melbourne). Nine months ago, to be exact. Nine months. That’s the gestation period for a human.

So, why the long hiatus between travel posts? Well, to be honest, we haven’t really traveled anywhere. Other than work, school, the library, the organic food market… that kind of thing. Despite its awesomeness, I figured a whole Mess Guide post on Perth City Farm would be slightly pushing the ‘travel category’, so… I waited. Holidays were discussed. Nothing was booked.

It’s now three-quarters-of-a-year later and we’ve finally taken another holiday, albeit in our home state. Three weeks ago, Aaron and I enjoyed a blissful long weekend ‘down south’ with family in Western Australia’s south west wine and food region, Margaret River.

mapglassFor the uninitiated, Margaret River is a Western Australian town around 277km south of Perth, the state capital. Set among majestic forests, pristine beaches and horticultural plantations, it’s become a favourite winter holiday destination for many sandgroper foodies who want to escape to the country for the weekend.

Winters in the south west are indescribably beautiful. Lush green landscapes give way to roaring wood fires, locally produced mead (more information below) and hot bread from wood fire ovens. As the seasons change, fields become speckled with fledgling shrubs, newborn lambs, bow-legged calves and wildflowers. It’s beautiful. Art in its most organic, breathtaking state.

sheep

albest2In summer, Margaret River moves into its second phase of sunshine, salt spray and wetsuits. Surfer’s Point starts heaving with amateurs and pros alike, eagerly chasing some of the 12-foot main breaks along the coastline. Hot chips, beer and picnic blankets float with abandon around the local park areas before sunset cues the lighting of barbecues, charring of meat and consumption of boutique local wine.

Aaron and I have spent many days in Margaret River since we were small; as children, single young adults, a dating couple then husband and wife. In fact, our first official ‘road trip’ together as a couple was to a beach shack in the tiny town of Walpole in the state’s south west. Walpole lies about 250km south of Margaret River, so one sunny morning, we packed a bag and drove three hours to buy a memorable bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from a boutique vineyard. We drank it slowly, savoring each drop as the sun dipped below the horizon. That was the beginning of our combined love affair with local Western Australian wine.

rainy3Our most recent trip was at the end of a cold, wet and blustery July. The sky spattered a little during our trip down the coast, but we enjoyed blissfully good weather for the remainder of our stay: cool but sunny days followed by light rains and frosty nights by the fire. The majority of our days were spent driving from attraction to vineyard, providore to boutique producer, all the while yelling ‘Hey Cow!‘ out of the window (there are lots of cows in the south west. And sheep. But mostly lots of cows).

cowsI intended to take comprehensive food and wine tasting notes during our trip down south, but instead… well, I just had a holiday. As a result, this post is a bit of a mish-mash of notes from this trip and previous south west experiences (at all times of the year). So, settle down and have a read… then book a trip to my part of the world. You’ll be glad you did.

arlewoodmontWine:

Margaret River is the the largest wine region in the south west of Western Australia, with over 5,000 hectares under vine and around 140 established wineries. If you’re interested in a south west wine tour, I’d encourage you to start at the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre located at 9 Bussell Highway, Cowaramup WA 6284.

The Centre holds samples from every winery in the south west region (for both sale and tasting) so if you’re in a hurry, you can swill, spit and buy all of the region’s wines in one convenient location. If you’d prefer a drive, the Centre’s friendly staff can also provide maps and tips on some of the region’s best cellar doors.

wineprobMargaret River tends to enjoy a very Mediterranean climate in terms of temperature variance, humidity and rainfall. Overall, the climate is similar to that of Bordeaux (France) during a dry vintage. Although the region produces just three percent of total Australian grape production, it produces over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wine market. The principal grape varieties are fairly evenly split between red and white, with vineyards producing single origin and blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho.

Over the years, we’ve been to a fair few vineyards in Margaret River and surrounds. Here are a few of our favourites, in no particular order:

Coward & Black Vineyards: Childhood friends Patrick Coward and Martin Black began establishing their namesake vineyard in 1998, but took over five years to slowly coax their dry-grown vines into a state fit for wine production. As a boutique vineyard, Coward & Black now produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc for sale. Their first vintage won five medals at the Perth Royal Show before going on to earn national recognition. The Coward & Black cellar door is integrated with another of their businesses, the Margaret River Providore (see below) so it’s easy to stop in for a taste whilst also sampling the finest of Margaret River’s produce.

leafbarrelMcLeod Creek Wines: McLeod Creek is a family owned and run vineyard overseen by Erminio (Mario) Iannarelli, one of the most down-to-earth, generous winemakers you’ll ever meet. On the day we visited, he was out tending to his vines and vegetable patches in the midday sun. After sounding our car horn (as requested on the winery’s signage!) he emerged from the garden sporting a huge smile and a blue fisherman’s cap. Mario ushered us inside, then we drank and chatted like old friends before Aaron and I left with a dozen 2009 Cabernet Merlot cleanskins. We also bought a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon after sharing a glass before Mario left for lunch (good man, Mario. We’ll be back).

Arlewood Estate: This single origin boutique vineyard was established in 2009 by an Italian migrant named Garry Gosatti. It’s predominantly run by Stuart Pym, a seasoned winemaker, alongside Russell Oates (who oversees the vineyard) and Terry Chellappah (who works in operations and marketing). On the day we visited Arlewood, the cellar door was being overseen by Natalie, a warm and knowledgeable host who was happy to tell us all about the winery, its wines, the resident horse (Al, photo below) and the owner’s new range of farm-pressed olive oil. A beautiful experience. We left with three bottles of Arlewood red.

albestFiretail Wines: This beautiful winery is nestled amongst the lush vines of Rosa Glen. On the day of our visit, Silkie hens scuttled across the footpaths, fluffy plumage waving in the wind as they pecked seeds from the grass. Once in the cellar door, our host was Jessica, one half of the winery’s ownership. Despite a rather busy afternoon, Jessica’s enthusiasm, passion and love for her product was obvious throughout the entire tasting. This winery makes rather delicious ‘Cane Cut’ Semillion and a fruit driven oak-matured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sandalford Wines: I’ve mentioned Sandalford a few times on this blog before (such as in this post) with consistently positive praise. To reiterate, I’m a big fan of this Western Australian vineyard, which was established in the Margaret River in 1970 as a close runner up to Vasse Felix (1967). Sandalford is now owned and run by the Prendiville family, who make some of the most beautiful examples of south west Cabernet Sauvignon you can buy. Try their Prendiville Reserve series, Estate Reserve series (2009 in particular), the fresh, fruit-driven Element series and the delicious fortifieds. Fantastic value for some of the region’s best.

Wise Wines: Wise vineyard is a 60 hectare property situated near the picturesque coastline of Eagle Bay. Under the tutelage of Larry Cherubino, winemaker Jeremy Hodgson has created a wonderful catalogue of distinctive, fresh and vibrant wines such as the Sea Urchin series (bargain fresh, fruity whites), Eagle Bay varieties and one of my favourite value-for-money drops, Lot 80 Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 is currently on sale and will cellar well for the next 5-7 years). Definitely worth visiting.

leeuwintasting leeuwinmontLeeuwin Estate: Leeuwin Estate is a beautiful vineyard. It was established as one of the first wineries in Margaret River during the early 1970’s (third runner up to Vasse Felix and Sandalford). It’s now one of the most recognizable Australian producers of ‘Bordeaux blend’ Cabernet (moderately astringent during youth, with notes of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum. It mellows well with cellaring but can challenge the palate, for those more used to Californian or South Australian Cabernet). Both the cellar door and restaurant are jam-packed full of wine enthusiasts for most days of the year. For an introduction to Leeuwin wines, try the Art Series 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (my absolute favourite Leeuwin wine) and the Siblings Shiraz (a fresher, early drinking type of Shiraz that is fantastic value for money).

leeuwincorkBrown Hill Estate: This family owned and run vineyard is situated about 12km from Margaret River town centre, in the picturesque village of Rosa Brook. Winemaker Nathan Bailey creates mellow, fruit-driven reds and fresh, vibrant whites in partnership with his father, Jim Bailey, who runs the cellar door. Brown Hill Estate ‘dry harvest’ their crop. This basically means that the vineyard isn’t irrigated, resulting in smaller, intensely flavoured fruit. Try their mellow, softly oaked 2008/2009 Bill Bailey Shiraz Cabernet and the 2009 Fimiston Reserve Shiraz. Aaron and I also liked the 2008 Perseverance Cabernet Merlot; partly due to Jim Bailey’s tasting comment: “What does a great marriage need after five years? Perseverance. This wine is a tribute to that”. Ah, I love winemakers.

brownhillVasse Felix: The beautiful Vasse Felix vineyard has the honour of being the first established in the Margaret River region, planted by Dr Tom Cullity and his team in 1967. The vineyard is now owned by the Holmes à Court family, most notably Janet Holmes à Court, who manages a notable art gallery on site. The winery restaurant is headed by Executive Chef Aaron Carr and has received rave reviews for its innovative seasonal menus. Winemaking is led by chief winemaker Virginia Willcock, and some of my favourites include the 2010 Heytesbury (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend) and the dry harvested 2010 Shiraz. Deliciously fruit driven and spicy, with hints of oak.

The Berry Farm: It was a pleasant surprise to discover that The Berry Farm produces sticky fortifieds, small batch ports and fruit driven sparkling wines. Everything we sampled at the friendly cellar door was delicious, in particular the (ridiculously good) syrupy Muscat, the No.1 Dark Plum Port, No.6 Apple Vanilla Port and the Strawberry Sparkling. As expected, most of the fortified wines from The Berry Farm are rather sweet, however the oak barrel maturation process has delivered a beautiful, full flavoured complexity that surpasses many other sticky fortified wines. We left with a bottle of No.6 and some sticky hazelnut (noisette) liqueur… the latter of which knocks Frangelico for six.

carriagesmontBlackwood Meadery: This unique establishment is based in Karridale, around 40 minutes from the Margaret River town centre. As a family run business, Horst and Alex Bernhagen (apiarists and meadmakers) combine the latest wine making techniques with historical recipes to create unique mead, or wine made from fermented honey rather than fruit. Horst’s wife Martha runs the cellar door in a warm and friendly manner, conveying an honest passion for her family’s products. We sampled Honey Mead Wine 2002 (dry, medium and sweet), the Traditional Honey Mead Liqueur 2003, the syrupy Blackberry Nip and a Honey Boysenberry Liqueur. All of the Meadery’s products are beautifully unique, but rather on the sweet side (if you love syrupy caramel and fruit flavours you’d be in heaven). The Meadery also produces a beer-style Honey Mead Brew that tastes intriguingly similar to sweet bubbly champagne. Blackwood’s products have recently been uploaded for online sales via Margaret River 1st (also check out their facebook page for cellar door information). Worth the trip.

*Note: As you’re probably aware by now, both Aaron and I are both red wine, port and liqueur drinkers; in particular, spicy, woody Shiraz, aged port and mellow, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon. Consequently, these tasting notes are definitely written for red wine drinkers. For a more objective overview of Australian wines including summer whites and blends, I’d recommend that you visit the wonderful James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. He knows his stuff. 

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mecoffeeCoffee:

Aaron and I are very, very selective when it comes to coffee. In fact, I’d rather abstain altogether than drink a bad, bitter cup (Aaron is a little more tolerant but drinks with a grimace). Bear this information in mind when I say that the beanie-clad baristas at the Margaret River Bakery are pretty darn amazing. The house-ground, medium bodied, soft and aromatic coffee was consistent throughout the weekend… we drank about six huge mugs over three days and none required sugar (perfect, right down to the antique collectable spoons).

The Bakery food is also fresh and generous in terms of both quality and flavour. This is their vegetarian breakfast, piled high with balsamic field mushrooms, plenty of spinach and soft scrambled eggs atop organic seeded toast.

mushybrekkyAmazing, as was their home baked organic fruit bread: dense, chewy and flavoursome, encrusted with crunchy sesame seeds and speckled with plump vine fruit. Slathered with butter and The Berry Farm jam, it was my version of fruit toast heaven.

fruittoast

seatsEats:

Aaron and I often eat at ‘home’ during cottage holidays, and this trip wasn’t much different. We ate local bread, tender Angus beef steaks, Margaret River Dairy cheese and salad for two nights in (with some local boutique wines, of course) before splashing out on a single night at the Muster Bar & Grill (the sister restaurant to Must Wine Bar in the metropolitan suburb of Highgate, Western Australia).

Both Must and Muster are owned by Russell Blaikie, a Margaret River raised, award-winning chef who has worked under London-based Anton Mosimann and at the two-Michelin-starred Terrace Restaurant at the Dorchester Hotel. Muster has a fantastic wine list and a hearty, satisfying menu of revamped grill favourites such as pork ribs, steaks and hamburgers.

I happily grazed on sticky pork ribs with hand-cut potatoes, sour cream and a fresh rocket salad. Aaron had an Arkady lamb shank, fall-off-the-bone tender, with Moroccan pearl cous cous, preserved lemon and fresh greens. So, so good. Definitely recommended (they even have vegan options, which is rare in an Australian grill restaurant).

Back to the Bakery. Everything at this quirky little cafe is fresh, homemade and beautiful. My first breakfast at this establishment included home-baked granola packed with macadamia nuts, seeds and oats, topped off with thick organic yoghurt and a raspberry compote.

bakerymontStrangely, Aaron the carnivore actually went for a vegetarian breakfast on both of our visits to the Bakery. On the second occasion, he chose a fresh tomato salsa with free-range fried eggs, chunks of salty herbed feta, fresh avocado and sourdough bread. It was delicious (yes, I stole some); ripe, soft tomatoes dressed in red wine vinegar with sea salt, herbs, Spanish onion and a slick of extra virgin olive oil. Simple, honest goodness atop the Bakery’s divine sourdough bread.

tomsalsaeggWhilst visiting caves along the spine of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge, we also stopped at the Lake Cave Tea Rooms, 20 minutes drive from Margaret River town centre. This place was promising in its location and external facade, but the internal ambience was sadly empty, characterless and awkward.

As for the food, it was expensive, limited and average. Think hot dogs with manufactured red frankfurts, toasted cheese sandwiches, fried fish and chips and packet potato wedges. Now, don’t get me wrong… I enjoy hot chips and tomato sauce on occasion. However, in consideration of price ($8 for a frankfurt in a bun) and time (25+ minutes to arrive, with only five hungry people in the cafe) I was more than a little dissatisfied.

I’m awarding extra points for the friendly, warm and genuine service. But despite the lovely people, this cafe gets a thumbs down from me.

lakecavetuckerNow for the fun part: let’s move on to the amazing array of farm cafes, organic food stores, providores and markets in the Margaret River region. With homemade pickles, chutneys, jams, wood fired organic bread, cheeses, chocolates, organic meats and olive oils on hand, it’s a food lover’s paradise (particularly if you’re into locally grown, sustainable, pesticide-free organic produce. Locavores unite!).

tasteShops and Markets:

Margaret River Gourmet Meats: This butcher shop is staffed by some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (I think there’s something in the country air; everyone seems nicer 200+km out of the city). Every time we’ve visited the south west, we’ve visited this shop to stock up on fresh, local hormone-free meat, organic free-range chicken, Arkady lamb and locally caught fish. The butchers have always been happy to cut steaks to our exact specifications, which is great if you’re traveling with a group of insatiable carnivores like I usually do. This place dispenses traditional quality with a smile.

Margaret River Bakery: Now, I think I’ve said enough about this little bakery already but if you’re in the mood for baked delights, this is your one-stop shop. Just think pastries, cakes, muffins, croissants, macarons, organic seeded loaves… pretty much anything your stomach or heart could dream up. Eat in or take away, this place is baked and kneaded bliss.

The Berry Farm: Nestled in the beautiful Rosa Glen Valley, this wonderful farm is a treasure trove of locally made preserves, jams, dressings, vinegars, ciders, fruit wines, sparkling wines, liqueurs and fortifieds. One visit and I was in love with… well, everything. The preserves and sticky fortified wines in particular.  As abovestated, we squirreled home a bottle of smooth, luscious Apple and Vanilla Port (No.6), hazelnut liqueur and various chutneys. The Farm also has a fantastic cottage cafe on site, check out reviews here.

provmontMargaret River Providore: The Providore is hands-down my favourite food store in Margaret River. Incorporating Coward & Black vineyards, an organic olive grove, a fruit orchard and vegetable gardens, the dedicated team at Providore create a spectacular array of home made jams, preserves, olive oils sauces, dressings, spice mixes, wines, liqueurs and desserts on a daily basis. Those of you who admire Maggie Beer will be aware of the benefits of verjuice. The team at Margaret River make both verjuice and vino cotto on-site alongside tapenade and preserved mustard fruits. The team harvest and press their own estate grown olive oil and make fresh egg pasta, cheese condiments and aged vinegars. Complimentary tastings are offered on site. Heaven.

beetsauceMargaret River Dairy Company: Aaron and I have been big fans of this locally established, locally run (but sadly, no longer locally owned as Manassen Foods was acquired by a Chinese company in 2011) cheese company for many years. They make some of the most delicious, premium quality cheeses and yoghurts I’ve ever tasted. Honest. And I am a big consumer of cheese. From silky smooth soft cheeses such as Camembert and Brie to distinctive port-infused or smoked Cheddar, smooth style feta, baked ricotta and creamy pot set yoghurt, this company is a dairy-lover’s paradise.

mrcheeseThe Candy Cow: This wonderful candy store specialises in handmade gourmet fudge in what seems like a hundred different flavours, ranging from sweet lime to chilli chocolate, rum and raisin, coconut and (the most popular) bubblegum. If you take a look at the website, you’ll see a photo of the store’s owner… one of the loveliest, most generous men you’ll ever meet. Pop in and say hello.

Margaret River Chocolate Company: This south west chocolate company was established in 1999 and has since grown to incorporate two factories (in Margaret River and the Swan Valley) and a Perth city ‘concept store’. Alongside chocolate bars, chocolate coated delights (including dried plums and apricots), hand made truffles, novelty chocolates and chocolate sauces, each site also incorporates a ‘chocolate cafe’ (with cakes, sundaes, fondues and more) and the all-important free tasting.

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margsoftchocThe Farm House: David Hohnen has farmed Wiltshire sheep and Tamworth pigs in Margaret River since 2004. He opened The Farm House in 2010 as a business dedicated to traditional farming and butchery techniques. General Manager Matt Gilray has a background in both cooking and butchery. He’s readily contactable to ensure that chefs and cooks alike can purchase perfect Arkady lamb, natural grass-fed pork, smallgoods and free-range chicken, cut or smoked to specifications. The Farm House sells products cellar door at the premises of McHenry Hohnen Vitners, a wine producing business co-owned and run by David and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry (review their online wine catalogue here) in partnership with winemaker Ryan Walsh.

Margaret River Farmers Market: If you don’t have time to drive around to many of Margaret River’s independent producers, just take a Saturday morning stroll around the Margaret River Farmers Market on the Old Hospital site (corner of Tunbridge and Farrelly streets, town centre). This fantastic market hosts vendors from all around the region, selling everything from Leeuwin grass fed beef to Merri Bee organic honey, Mika muesli, Tapalinga homestead, Bahen & Co chocolate, Forest Grove olive farm and many, many more. Take a look at the market website for a full list of vendors. Definitely worth a look when you’re in the region.

rearviewSo, that’s it. We’ve reached the end of my personal foodie tour of Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River region.

I can’t speak highly enough of this beautiful town, both as a holiday destination and a weekend escape. Whatever time of year you visit, there will always be plenty to discover in terms of food, wine, entertainment, activities, nature and scenery.

This shortlist contains most of my favourite food and wine destinations in Margaret River, however I’m aware that it’s just the beginning of what’s available for visitors to experience in the south west area. If you’re a local Western Australian, please let me know if I’ve missed anything you recommend from the list above. I’d love this to be a collaborative, evolving post as time passes; both as a personal reference guide and as a resource for visitors heading to Western Australia’s south west coast. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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azniVideo Links:

Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2012

Surfaid Margaret River 2013

Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River

Bahen & Co, Margaret River

the mess guide to: melbourne

Today is Tuesday November 27th, 2012. In two days, it will be exactly one month since my last post for Mexican Corn Salad which, as you might remember, promised a follow up recipe for a Roasted Beetroot Salad within a week or two. Well… as you know, that didn’t happen. And to break with blogsphere tradition, I’m not really very sorry. Mostly due to the fact that I’ve spent the last month doing really worthwhile stuff such as managing the floristry for a friend’s wedding, traveling to Melbourne, Victoria for my own wedding anniversary (our first!) and hanging out with my brother in law and his girlfriend who are moving to the United Kingdom at the end of the year.

Oh, and I learnt to crochet. Not an easy thing for someone who has a natural aversion to craft. Thanks to the teaching of my beautiful friend Krystel, I’ve mastered basic crochet to the point that I’ve completed about half of a natural wool scarf. By next Winter, I’m hoping that it will be a speckled forest green and taupe version of Dr Who’s scarf that I can wear proudly like the closet nerd I am. Watch this space.

Anyway, despite recent distractions I have spent portions of the past month researching new ingredients and recipes in both Western Australia and Victoria. Part of this ‘research’ involved sampling lots of amazing food in the city of Melbourne whilst shopping for rich spices, organic Dutch cocoa, fresh broad beans and thyme-infused honey at local markets. Rest assured that this dedicated effort will eventually benefit you (the hypothetical reader) in the form of future recipe posts… I’ve already scribbled some notes.

By this point, you may be wondering what the rest of this post is about, since I’ve spent the past month doing lots of eating and not enough recipe testing. After some contemplation I thought I’d write a bit of a ‘guide’ to the ingredients and hole-in-the-wall cafes that we found over the past month… mostly as an interim post whilst I continue to write my next recipe, but also to inspire your own personal exploring next time you go to Melbourne or elsewhere.

So, here it is, the first Mess Guide. It’s mostly about the culinary delights of Melbourne but you might find a few snippets about other interesting things too (emphasis on ‘might’). Buckle up, salivate and enjoy… next recipe post ETA: one week. And yes, you can slap me if I lie.

Melbourne

For those of you who are yet to experience this city, Melbourne is the bustling capital of Australia’s smallest mainland state, Victoria. Located on the South East coastline of Australia, it’s unofficially referred to as the nation’s ‘cultural capital’, mostly due to the fact that it was the birthplace of Australian film and television, Australian Rules football, Vegemite, the Heidelberg School (Australia’s Impressionist art movement), the Bionic Ear and… well, pretty much everything else of Australian cultural value.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Just a little bit. But Melbourne is pretty awesome, especially if you enjoy live music, small bars, organic food and cobblestone roads that greet you with an icy kick before ushering you into the embrace of a cozy, ten-seater cafe. Not just any cafe, but one that’s decorated with ceiling-suspended chairs that swing above the barista’s head as he brews the best single-origin coffee you’ve consumed in your life. Yep, I’m talking about Brother Baba Budan, a tiny specialty coffee shop at 359 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD. It’s just one of many small establishments we visited over the course of one and a half weeks. Other awesome places to go for coffee include:

  • Dead Man Espresso – 35 Market Street, South Melbourne. This little cafe requires a tram ride from the CBD but it’s worth it for their quality single-origin coffee, local Warialda beef, Istra smallgoods and Melbourne Rooftop Honey. They also do burgers and beer on Friday nights with their very own ketchup, mayo and BBQ sauce. Delicious.
  • St Ali Coffee Roasters – 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne. Just down the road from Dead Man lies a converted warehouse that’s the enemy of uniformity. It’s a tumble of cluttered furniture, colourful murals, upturned pot-plants and mismatched chairs that somehow manages to feel both roomy and intimate. Aaron & I both tried ‘My Mexican Cousin’, their specialty dish that consists of crisp sweetcorn fritters, molten haloumi, steamed ruby chard, baby spinach and their own recipe kasundi, crowned with softly poached free-range eggs ($21.50). It was ridiculously good, especially when paired with blaring, old-school 90’s hip hop and their own blend of rich, creamy, no-sugar-needed coffee. So, so good.
  • The Breakfast Club – 206 St George’s Road, Northcote. This little cafe is a little out of the way for non-locals. In fact, you can easily get lost once you disembark the tram (we did… make sure you check your GPS!). But despite directional confusion, this place is worth the trip for their ‘Stax Toast’ ($10) alone… imagine lemony, herby homemade pesto atop creamy avocado with Danish feta and cherry tomatoes, all piled on toasted organic sourdough. Assemble as you like, crunch and gnaw, chew, then swallow. Ah… sigh with sweet content. The coffee is good too.
  • Seven:am – 155 Bay Street, Port Melbourne. This eclectic little cafe off busy Bay Street has a really ‘homey’ feel to it, right down to their mismatched crockery and recycled timber bench tops. If you’re lucky, you might even see an old Alf plush toy mounted on their wall next to a bicycle. But anyway, decor aside, seven:am is definitely worth a visit if you’re in their part of the world. A sample of the menu includes soft, creamy scrambled eggs with homemade chilli jam on seeded sourdough, a delicious home-made granola and ‘the emporer’ (sic) which is pretty much eggs benedict with bacon and beetroot relish. It’s delicious, despite the annoying spelling gremlin.

Okay, so on to my next trick: alcoholic beverages. Melbourne has some of the most interesting boutique bars you’re likely to find anywhere, usually tucked down a darkened alleyway or accessible via rambling stairs. As long as you don’t mind a little intrigue (think: dangerous skip bins, slippery stairs, graffiti murals, lack of signage and/or cobblestones with piles of vomit) the city is your alcoholic oyster. Chew or swallow? It’s up to you.

  • The Croft Institute – 21 Croft Alley, Melbourne CBD (see photo above, top and photos directly below). An interesting little bar that resembles a high school science lab, tucked down a slightly dodgy-looking alleyway in bustling Chinatown. Alongside the usual suspects, you’ll find a boutique wine list, some interesting cocktails in ‘syringes’ and a penchant for everything Chartreuse. Definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of test tubes.
  • 1806 – 169 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD (photo above, bottom). A visit to 1806 is an experience like no other. From their ridiculously comprehensive cocktail book (spanning 200 years of alcoholic beverages) to their impeccably trained staff and balanced mixes, this place runs like a perfectly oiled, top-notch machine. During our ten days we visited twice; firstly to their basement bar, the Understudy (a whimsical, experimental establishment staffed by the next generation of 1806 bartenders-in-training) before venturing into the main, street-level bar filled with historical cocktails, Chesterfield lounges and suit jackets. In a word? Love. Each cocktail was a perfectly balanced reflection of professional mixology, presented with warmth, confidence and flair. A highlight was Irvin S Cobb’s Julep. a delicious muddle of Maker’s Mark, Appleton’s VX Rum, mint and gomme. If you’re downstairs, make sure you try the Eden Milk Punch, an intriguing mix of organic soy milk, dried lavender and Beefeater gin. Strangely delicious.
  • Naked for Satan – 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Now, before you make any assumptions, let me get something straight. This place encourages neither nudity or satanism, though you will see some homage to the 1950’s pin-up on both their website and at the bar itself. Rather, it’s a quirky split-level bar with an amazing list of house-infused vodkas (see their full list here), cocktails, exclusive beers, wines and ciders that are served with a smile. This place also provides the cheapest bar snacks around (in fact, they were awarded Cheap Eats Bar of the Year in 2010). It’s just $1 per pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’… they’re basically little rounds of bread adorned with deliciousness that’s impaled on a toothpick) so you can soak up your alcohol til your heart’s content. You also pay by an honour system… keep those toothpicks to show the cashier upon exiting.
  • Brunswick Street Cider House – 386 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Just up the street from Naked is a beautiful establishment that celebrates organic and biodynamic produce. Their main focus is upon Australian and international craft ciders and beers, however they also have a limited, certified organic wine list. Their food menus are impressive, and include a range of grazing plates, soups, salads, seasoned fries, sweet cider-infused apple pies and succulent burgers sandwiched in fresh brioche. You can also try a liqueur milkshake or ‘cider spider’ (cider with a scoop of icecream) for a truly boozy experience.

Now, after all that alcohol you’re going to need some proper nourishment. Yep, food. Cue my personal tour (in text form) of some of the best little eateries around. We spent approximately ten days ‘researching’ all of the amazing food options in Melbourne, so have a little read, check a map, then wander and consume at your leisure. Then do it all again tomorrow.

  • Trunktown – 275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD (photo below). Occupying the garden corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets, Trunktown opened its doors in 2007 and has since become a firm favourite amongst local foodies and visitors alike.  It’s name was inspired by a 150 year old, heritage-listed Coral tree on the property which I’ve never actually seen, but I trust it’s there. The full service restaurant and bar offers an Italian-and-Spanish-fusion inspired menu (tip: try their beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, and the huge portion of chocolate mousse with homemade rum and raisin icecream and peanut brittle) whilst the half-day diner next door serves satisfying quesadillas, waffles, Wagyu beef burgers and sweet American-style pies. There’s also an exceptional wine list focusing on local wine producers as well as Spanish blends. So, so good.
  • Santa Ana – 138 Acland Street, St Kilda. This little tapas restaurant is an authentic, Latin American gem in the heart of St Kilda. Focusing on Argentinian, Chilean and Spanish food, you’re guaranteed to walk out the door with a satisfied smile on your face… unless, of course, you’re vegan. The Latinos aren’t very inclusive of those who dislike carne. During our visit, we ate authentic Asado BBQ meat drenched in chimichurri with a range of delicious sides. Absolutely delicious, especially when washed down with Spanish coffee, Mexican sodas and Latino hospitality.
  • Terra Rossa – 87 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. This warm, inviting restaurant is located in the heart of the historic Swiss House building on Flinders Lane. They produce stylish, fresh and inspired food that focuses on local ingredients and… well, cheese. About 70% of the dishes on their menu (possibly non-intentionally) contains some kind of cheese which is delicious, but slightly off-putting if you’re not into tasty yellow beef. Despite this, I’d definitely recommend a visit. Try their gorgeous polenta chips, slow cooked pork belly and grilled asparagus with prosciutto. Delicious.
  • The Oriental Tea House – 378 Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. I don’t like chain restaurants. In part by principle but mostly because I feel that expansion via franchise prohibits the maintenance of consistency within a restaurant chain. Think McDonalds. I’m pretty sure most of us have had one or more satisfying experiences followed by subsequent visit that produces limp, cold fries and a dry cheeseburger with a watered-down Coke. Franchising = danger to the brand, in my opinion. Anyway, why am I standing on my soap box right now? Well, The Oriental Tea House is… wait for it… a franchise chain. So far there are four restaurants and it’s open for expansion. But despite this fact, I admit that it’s darn good. We’ve only been to the Little Collins Street venue so far but each experience has offered consistent, deliciously succulent and fresh dumplings with perfect greens and house-blended tea that’s served in insulated cups. If you want to discover where it all began, you can also visit the Tea House’s founder at his own independent restaurant, David’s Country Shanghai at 4 Cecil Place in Prahran.
  • Yamato – 28 Corrs Lane, Melbourne CBD. Deep in the heart of Chinatown is a family-run Japanese restaurant that serves fresh sashimi, deep-fried eggplant and some of the best tempura I’ve had in Australia, period. We wandered into Yamato very late on a weeknight with acidic bellies and the staff were warm, welcoming and homely. Definitely try their eggplant and the seaweed salad with cups of steaming, toasty green tea. This was one of the cheaper meals we’ve had in Melbourne, but it was satisfying in every way.
  • Cumulus, Inc. – 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD. Cumulus is a Melbourne institution. It’s been listed in The Age ‘Good Food Guide’ for three years in a row (2010-2012) and it’s consistently packed with hungry Melbournites munching on charcuterie, ortiz anchovies, grass-fed beef and rum baba. We visited Cumulus for breakfast rather than dinner, but it’s open til 11pm daily for dinner or share plates. It’s definitely a place for a positive food experience, especially if you’re accompanied by beautiful friends like we were. Thanks Rach and Jordan.

This post has become significantly longer than I first intended, but I’ve finally reached my favourite bit: stockists of fresh produce. If you’re a keen cook, a keen eater (married to, friends with or dating a keen cook) or you’re just like dabbling in different flavours, this section is definitely for you. I was like a kid sipping on red cordial in a candy store at Christmas.

  • Queen Victoria Market – 513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne CBD. A visit to the QVM is a ‘must’ for anyone who loves variety, freshness and value for money. It’s divided into ten vast sections: the Deli Hall, Elizabeth Street Shops, F shed laneway, Vic Market Place Food Court, Fruit and Vegetables, The Meat Hall, Organics, General Merchandise, Victoria Street Shops and the Wine Market. Pretty much anything you need to create a recipe can be found here… and at a competitive price too. The market is also implementing a lot of ‘green friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ practices such as a recycling system and a ban on plastic bags. Gotta love a market with a conscience.
  • Prahran Market – 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra. This indoor establishment on the outskirts of the CBD is Melbourne’s oldest food-only public market. It specialises in heirloom vegetables, local Victorian produce, sustainable seafood, fair trade coffee and artisan foodstuffs… feelgood produce. There are also a few cafes around the central market square that serve fresh and delicious snacks such as gozleme, sushi rolls, vegan salads and felafel.
  • The Essential Ingredient – several locations including Prahran Market, South Yarra. In a word, this shop is… overwhelming. In a completely positive sense. I am quite sure that I spent at least half an hour just wandering around in a happy daze, inspecting copper pots, beautiful crockery, recipe books and rare ingredients to the bewildered amusement of my husband. I can honestly say that 99% of the ingredients I’ve never been able to find elsewhere were present in this shop. It’s an ingredient ‘mecca’, and I’d encourage you to make a pilgrimage if you’ve ever experienced one of those frustrated “I can’t find it anywhere” meltdowns. I’ll be back to visit as soon as the budget allows!
  • Gewürzhaus – several locations including Collins Street, Melbourne CBD (‘Cocos’ organic coconut sugar and harissa from this store are pictured below). ‘Gewürzhaus’ means ‘spice house’ in German… and that’s exactly what this little shop in The Block Arcade is. Upon entry, you’ll be enticed by beautifully packaged jars and containers in a kaleidoscope of colours ranging from smoky red harissa to deep, dark Mayan chocolate spice. You’ll be pleased to know that they mill all of their own single origin herbs and spices before mixing them into spice selections for ease of use. You can also buy whole ingredients such as nutmeg, Morel mushrooms, organic cacao beans and dried Ancho chillies onsite or via their website’s shopping function. I also bought some cute wooden teaspoons, an earthenware bowl and a glazed serving dish at this shop… the last item via a return “I have to have it” trip. It’s beautifully dangerous, I tell you. Set a budget before visiting.
  • Loving Earth – now, this brand doesn’t have a ‘store’ as such, but rather it’s a Melbourne based company that only sells certified organic, fair trade, sustainably sourced and responsible produce of a nutritious nature. By ‘nutritious’, I mean that they use produce in a raw, minimally-processed state as much as possible whilst still creating delicious, superfood-packed products suitable for everyday consumption. Click on the link and take a look at their website… they sell a lot of products online (such as their amazing raw, organic cacao and agave chocolate with crunchy mint pieces) whilst also stocking them in many a health food store around the country. Do your body good, give them a go and support sustainable farming in the process.

So that’s it… the ten day Mess Guide to the beautiful Victorian city of Melbourne. If you’re visiting, I hope you enjoy it just as much as we did.

I’ll leave you with a picture and some information about one last Melbourne icon that’s worth visiting if you’re ever in the Chapel Street precinct. It’s called the Chapel Street Bazaar and… well, it’s slightly bizarre (pun intended, picture below). Located at 217 Chapel Street, Prahran, this eclectic establishment is a reclaimed old arcade that has now been filled with 70-vendors-worth of vintage, retro and unique items ranging from televisions to original gas masks from World War II. We ended up buying an original old milk bottle whilst also testing out rusted flour mills, misaligned bicycles and old shoes. It’s slightly expensive (not at all like St Vincent De Paul or a thrift store) but worth a trip if you want to spend a quality hour frolicking down memory lane.

Thanks, as always, for reading. You are great. It is now Wednesday, 28th November 2012. I need to go to bed.

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