Slow Living, Piper Street, Kyneton
If you’re heading off for a day in the Victorian countryside I’d suggest a stop for a Ploughman’s Lunch at Slow Living in Piper Street, Kyneton. For $16.90 you’ll get several chunky slices of fresh sour dough olive bread, a moist serve of pumpkin and hazelnut frittata, several slices of cheddar cheese, tangy fruit chutney, fresh tomatoes, olives and cucumber. This being a ploughman’s fresh farm ham is also included, but I swapped that for another piece of frittata and all was very well. Coffee – as with most things in Slow Living – is organic, fair trade and delicious. All in all $20 well spent in a light and airy space with lots of room outdoors for paws and noisy kids.
Mrs Parma’s, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Parmas are a bit of a Melbourne staple but I hadn’t really gone there until recently. I’m pleased to report that my first experience was surprisingly delicious. It may look like an RSL but Mrs Parmas (25 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne) has a good stock of boutique beers and offers a range of parma toppings for vegies and meat eaters alike. I had a Mexican Eggplant Parma (tomato salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos - $18.90) served up with chunky chips and a refreshing but pretty basic salad. A minor grumble was the sneaky use of chicken salt on chips which had to go back, but it wasn’t enough to put me off my jalapenos.
Caph’s, Manuka Terrace, Canberra
There was little that drew me into Caph’s in Manuka on New Year’s night other than the fact it was open and my belly was hungry. The menu was a little uninspired and whilst I’m no snob, a woman who might have been the head waiter was chewing gum open-mouthed as she worked in a way that came to sum up the type of service we received. Still as someone who reluctantly worked public holidays in the past I was happy to overlook Violet Beauregarde because of the surprisingly delicious smoked salmon risotto ($16.50 entrée or $19.50 main) I eventually ate. The salmon was fall-apart tender whilst the cashews and roast pumpkin worked well in the white wine and cream sauce. The entrée size was plenty enough too when eaten with the mixed leaf lemon / olive oil salad and finished off with one of the house specials - homemade waffles with vanilla ice cream onto which I drowned in chocolate syrup. I’m sure there are better places to eat in Manuka but under the circumstances Caph’s was surprisingly good enough.
Denn’s Bar Restaurant, Northcote
For the best bruschetta I’ve ever tasted try Denn’s Bar Restaurant at 113 High Street Northcote (at the Westgarth end). Purists might suggest the round base strays away from traditional bruschetta into pizza territory but you’ll get a very generous helping of fresh tomato, Spanish onion, basil and sun-dried tomato tapenade topped with goat’s cheese and olives for a very dignified $12.50, which makes an ideal pre-cinema meal. On hungrier nights we have been known to pair it up with the Vegetarian Platter ($24) which offers vine leaves, garlic mushrooms, ripe and tangy marinated olives, haloumi and crisp bread which is more than enough for two. One of those meals that we enjoy so much we’ve never bought anything else, but the rest of the menu looks equally delicious.
Noodle Hut, 136 Station Street, Fairfield
Noodle emporia spring up in Australian cities like Fenella the witch in Chorlton and The Wheelies – anywhere, any time and with supernatural speed. The problem is less one of finding one open than finding out which are the good ones. We discovered Noodle Hut on New Year’s Day 2008 and pretty much went every fortnight until we moved out of the area. Even then we’ve been back a couple of times. There are few surprises on the menu, with most of the standard Western-defined Asian meals you’d expect, averaging between $9 and $13. What you eat will depend upon your taste. Mrs Custard swears by the vegetarian fried rice whilst I oscillate between the seafood Nasi Goreng and a hokkien noodle version of Pad Thai. It’s all served deliciously fresh - from fridge to wok to box in less than five minutes – even when there’s a queue. Also, as observed by my mum and even my dustbin of a dad when they were here on holiday, the little boxes have a TARDIS-like capacity to contain more than you’d believe possible.
Small Block, 130 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
And finally, going about this arse up as usual, let’s finish with breakfast. Not just any old breakfast mind you, but Small Block’s Summer Breakfast, my favourite egg-related belly-filler in Melbourne. I found Small Block by accident one Tuesday not long after we moved here and spent a happy afternoon with the paper, a couple of coffees and the first of many Summer Breakfasts. Built on a functional poached eggs-on-toast base, the key is in the accompanying cubes of Persian fetta and beetroot relish which each possess enough taste-bud tickling prowess to bring your eggs to life. A peeled avocado, spinach and wedge of lemon all add to the freshness and make you think that you’ve eaten something healthier than it probably is. Yum. One word of warning: pick your times well. Small Block is often busy, especially at obvious peak hours and getting the eye of a member of staff can be hard. Especially recommended for those flying solo or lucky enough to have a week day off…
If you’ve eaten in any of these places and agree or disagree, let me know. Equally, if you are the owner of one of these establishments feel free to contact me for a sponsorship deal. I’m very cheap and happy to prostitute myself in exchange for tasty snacks.