Saturday, October 12, 2013

Discovery XLIII: the SFD

At the end of August, a Special Family Discovery (SFD) was organised to celebrate two birthdays and an impro performance.

A couple of us began the evening with the traditional North Melbourne stopover for coffee and Coopers at Prudence, a very nice bar handily situated between the Peel Street tram stop and Errol Street.

Three Crowns
The Three Crowns

Continuing our journey to Errol Street, we received notice of a last minute relocation from the Town Hall to Three Crowns. The family converged from various directions at the corner of Errol and Victoria Streets, ready to cross the great divide into West Melbourne. The glow of late afternoon sunlight reassured us that we were indeed in the right suburb.

We had the spacious dining area to ourselves, with a lovely big square table just the right size to seat everybody comfortably. After gift presentations and birthday greetings to Mr 29 and Ms 83, who share the same birthday, we settled in for our meals.

Although I'd made risotto for dinner the night before, and I'm not usually a fan of ordering risotto in a restaurant as I find it can provide a rather one-dimensional dining experience, I decided to order the risotto, mainly because it was the only vegetarian option on the menu. This one wasn't bad however; it had a good variety of vegetables, albeit rather too much pumpkin, which Mr 31 was happy to finish off for me. The rest of the party seemed happy with their parmas and steaks, particularly as Wednesday is steak special night.

Steak special
Steak special

After dinner we crossed back to a lane in North Melbourne and Club Voltaire, where we crammed into the tiny upstairs space to watch the very last Impro Box performance of 'The Family', featuring (might I say starring?) Roland Lewis and a bunch of other talented young performers. This was a fun way to end our SFD.

The family
The family

The trip back to the sedate city of Boroondara was accomplished swiftly by car rather than by the usual more sedate tram/trains combo, thanks to a thoughtful and obliging cousin. She was rewarded with a large bag of kitty litter for her trouble. That's what families are for.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Discovery XLII

Our final discovery for July was once again in the newly discovered territory of Flemington - or perhaps Kensington, as the business addresses on the south side of Racecourse Road seem to fluctuate from one to the other. But first there was the traditional stop at the legendary Diksteins. As I slid open the door to the cosy bar and stepped in from the cold of a midwinter Melbourne evening, the barman greeted me with one welcoming word: "VB?" Nothing has changed after all! (other than my choice of beverage).

Once the city worker had escaped from the office and joined me at Diksteins for a quick cider, we walked up to Flagstaff Station, bound for the Crazyburn train to Newmarket. The train arrived promptly but then spoiled the effect by dawdling all the way to North Melbourne. After finally reaching Newmarket we arrived rather late at Boris's table at The Abyssinian. Mr 31 and Mr 28 were already sampling the Harar, so we lost no time in joining them.

Hara beer at The Abyssinian
Hurrah for Hara!

We decided on the easy option with one vegetarian combo and one meat and fish combo to share. While waiting for our meals, we endeared ourselves to the staff by expressing our appreciation of the pleasant selection of Ethiopian music.

Our dishes soon arrived covered with the traditional straw hats, which were removed to display an array of goodies set out on large wheels of injera. The picture below is of the vegetarian combo, some way into its demolition.

Vegetarian combination
Vegetarian combination

Although each platter looked like an enormous amount of food for two, we managed to get through most of it, helped along with some more Harar. There was a nice combination of flavours and textures in the vegetarian combo, with our favourite being the 'tumtummo' (spicy lentils). The combo also included cabbage and carrots; large cubes of pumpkin; spiced chickpeas and a green salad. The meat combo contained many of the vego favourites with added fish, goat and chicken options.

By the time we had finished our early feast, the restaurant was starting to become busy. The two musicians of our party betook themselves to the Ascot Vale Hotel for open mic night, while the remaining two jumped aboard a handy passing 57 tram, which took us on a scenic tour of North Melbourne before arriving at Melbourne Central. By the magic of Metro trains we were soon back home in the peaceful city of Boroondara, the lights and bustle of Racecourse Road just a distant memory.

The Abyssinian on Urbanspoon


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Discovery XLI

On a cold dark July evening I settled into the cosy warmth of Diksteins in Bank Place. This has long been a favourite of mine, and although naturally it has changed over the years, and I lament the loss of my friend the waiter who would hand me a Liitle Creatures as I walked in the door, it's still a pretty nice place to be. This is a view from the tiny bar, looking out into Bank Place.


Soon I was joined by the city and Docklands workers, and we set off up Little Collins to McKillop Street and Hardware Lane, dodging the restaurant spruikers on the way, to our destination near the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition Streets.

Up the wooden stairs we climbed, to Seamstress. Although we had opted to dine at the early hour of 6.30, the place was already buzzing. We met our fourth discoverer, were divested of our coats and escorted to a table at the back of the long room. We admired the ceiling swathed in swatches of cloth, which concealed the subdued but not too dim lighting, and the bent wire coat hangers from which bottles of artificial white flowers were suspended.

Although the place was so busy the service was really friendly and efficient, and we were soon enjoying our drinks and consulting the menu.


First up came a snake bean and sweet potato won ton with green pea and coriander purée, closely followed by the remarkable crispy brussels sprouts with lemon miso and chili. Having done my research I knew we simply had to have these, and we discovered that all the rave reviews were spot on. Next came a lovely dish of eggplant with miso sauce, tofu and sesame seeds. The chunks of eggplant were rich and tender and contrasted very nicely with the crispy tofu. If we had a complaint at all, it would have been that the ratio of tofu to eggplant could have been increased. But that is a small complaint for something so delicious.

Meanwhile some duck rice crêpe money bags and eye fillet with porcini and shiitake pâté and wasabi sweet potato were shared among the carnivores.

Replete after this feast, we had no room for sweets or coffee, although some of us found space for some more of the excellent beer selection. At this stage I will admit that yes, we were encouraged to try Seamstress on account of the special offers from Dimmi and Urbanspoon, but honestly it had been in the back of my mind to try it out some time anyway - it had just taken me a few years to get around to it. We really liked Seamstress and can recommend it any time, special deal or no.

With our coats skilfully retrieved from their perch high above the front window, we were soon on our way to nearby Parliament Station, in good time for the connections to both the east and the inner northwest. The Belgrave train and its attendant shuttle trundled us efficiently back to the dark and gloomy city of Boroondara, where our damp walk from the station was illuminated by this gorgeous flowering wattle.


Seamstress on Urbanspoon


Friday, July 5, 2013

Discovery XL

For our fortieth discovery the regular discoverers were again reduced by half, but we decided to team up with another two family members for a 'taking it to the people' early discovery and car pickup. Our destination: Aangan in West Footscray. Initial contact was made at the Sherlock Holmes, over a Thunder Road Collingwood draught and a cider. The next stop was the 220 bus stop on Queen Street.

While in general I highly recommend you get on the bus, in retrospect I think that taking the train to West Footscray and then walking to Barkly Street would have been more efficient, and probably more fun. But eventually the bus did clear the city snarl and was happily bowling along Footscray Road. From Footscray station it was only a few minutes to our destination.

Aangan is rather bigger than I expected but at 6.00 pm it was still fairly quiet. We had taken the precaution of booking for five in case Mr 31 was able to join us, which meant that we enjoyed a more generously sized table than the standard offering for four, and two sets of pappadums. This was a nice bonus.

Lamb saag was shared among the carnivores, with tawa paneer and dal tadka to keep me happy. Aangan has so many paneer dishes on the menu that I felt obligated to try one. It arrived sizzling on the hot metal tawa, with onion, capsicum and mushroom. The dal was a good contrast: not too rich, nice and runny and pleasantly spicy. We also shared garlic naan (which is OK but I have to say I prefer plain naan, which doesn't interfere with the other flavours) and a filled naan with potato. Quite delicious for a treat, but the crispier texture of the plain or garlic naan would be preferred by many. Next time we should try a parantha perhaps.

Paneer, dal and naan
Paneer, dal and naan

With the meal we enjoyed a Haywards 5000 or two (or three, in my case) making a grand total of 25,000. The girls were sensible and stuck to lassi. And gulab jamun.

The trip back to the sleeping city of Boroondara via the equally quiet streets of Sunshine was uneventful, and we were soon settled happily on the couch. Mr 31 was somewhat unhappy at missing out, as it was his suggestion to try Aangan after he had tasted their food at a street festival. Nevertheless he rang for an update and seemed pleased with our choices. We'll definitely go back as there is so much to choose from: Aangan has a wonderful array of vegetarian dishes. I'd recommend going with at least four people so you can sample a good range of flavours and textures. And Haywards.

Aangan on Urbanspoon


Discovery XXXIX

Discovery was reduced to two on the evening of the first match of the so-called Champions Trophy featuring Australia and New Zealand at Edgbaston. The venue? A familiar couch and comfy chair in front of the Fox sports channel.

Mr 31 arrived bearing the discovery dinner, courtesy of Tandoori Den. More an old family favourite than a new discovery, this long established Camberwell restaurant provides consistently good food and service. For my sister's surprise birthday party a 'few' years ago, we simply took the pots and pans down the road and returned with them full of steaming goodies. We haven't had Tandoori Den takeaway for a while, but back in the day we often ordered dal saag. This was always obligingly provided and we didn't discover until much later that it wasn't actually on the takeaway menu.

Tandoori Den takeaway
Tandoori Den takeaway

But back to discovery. We ate mushroom jal frazi and aloo gobi with rice and naan - plenty for two, with leftovers. We discussed why on Indian restaurant menus, spinach is palak or saag, lentils are dal, potatoes are aloo, cauliflower is gobi, peas are matar but mushrooms are mushrooms. On looking up my favourite Indian vegetarian cookery book by Jack Santa Maria, I discovered that mushrooms are khumbi. So we are no closer to explaining this phenomenon.

New Zealand (especially Daniel Vettori) were looking good, but Australia recovered with some crucial wickets towards the end of the innings. During the slow passages of play we amused ourselves with the social media reaction to Dave Warner's brain fade in 'an Aussie themed bar' in Birmingham. Mr 31 was able to advise from experience that going into a Walkabout bar in the first place was a bigger mistake than the ill-timed off cut (experience of Walkabout, that is, not of ill-timed off cuts. Mr 31 was a handy batsman in his day, as well as an excellent keeper.)

Unfortunately the match was washed out around 1.00 am. Mr 31 headed home in disgust and I went wearily to bed, happy that I would be having Tandoori Den curry for dinner again in a few hours time.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Discovery XXXVIII

"The Laurel Wednesday night for new menu, quiz night (jackpot at $240) and the state of origin on the big screen!"

Such was the suggestion posted on the discovery team's social networking site of choice. Having agreed that the new menu was sufficient qualification for a new discovery, the discoverers were off to The Laurel again. As there is no way I am ever driving across the city in peak hour again (see Discovery XXXVI), the city worker, the Docklands worker and I met in William Street at 5.55 pm, in good time to catch the 5.56 55 tram to Flemington Road. The changeover to the 59 tram was accomplished without incident and we arrived at 289 Mount Alexander Road at the appointed hour.

The Woodies @ The Laurel
The Woodies @ The Laurel

We were greeted by the other half of The Woodies, disappointed to find that there were no tables left in the quiz room. (Boris had obviously forgotten to book.) So we were delighted to discover that a table just outside the doorway, out of the crush but with a good view of the screen, had been reserved for 'Bevan' (not Boris) by pub management (thanks Steve!) for just such a bunch of disorganised discoverers. And so we happily settled in for the quiz and the $15.00 Wednesday special meal.

Our choices were spaghetti with sweet potato, char grilled capsicum and asparagus in creamy garlic sauce; warm Asian inspired beef salad with feta (this from the regular bar menu rather than the specials, but still good value); and porterhouse with salad and chips x 2. Having dined well at The Laurel before (see Discovery XXXVI) I had high expectations. The spaghetti was very good: creamy and rich and well supplied with vegetables. It went very well with a Coopers pale ale.


This is the warm beef salad, which looked quite nice and was readily devoured by one of the carnivores.

Warm beef salad
Warm beef salad

While we were eating, the quiz got underway. It took The Woodies team a while to settle into the format as none of us had ever been to an electronic quiz before. But we soon got the hang of it and were proud to be actually ahead of the bunch in the third round. We also won a prize of a bottle of bubbles when Mr 'quick fingers' 31 was first to place the correct answer to one of the music questions. We would have been happy to accept a podium finish, but were slightly chagrined to come fourth over all. As Steve behind the bar dryly remarked: "What colour medal do you get for coming fourth?".

Leaving the boys to mingle with the crowd and watch the end of the State of Origin, we jumped aboard a passing 59 tram to Melbourne Central, where we managed to just miss the Alamein connection. So our return to the leafy and dripping city of Boroondara was via a 15 minute wait and a walk down the back lanes of East Camberwell.

And yes, the Bodleian Library is in Oxford. How odd that the only team to know the answer to this question was the one containing two librarians!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Discovery XXXVII

Discovery was rather erratic over April and May, with various discoverers interstate, busy with deadlines or otherwise engaged. After the fractured Cafe Lagenda/Laurel episode (see Discovery XXXVI), it was some weeks before the discoverers (minus 1) were able to reconvene.

The venue this time was Agraba in Errol Street North Melbourne. Agraba was chosen somewhat randomly but turned out to be an extremely pleasant place with above average Middle Eastern food, so I can recommend it if you would like to give it a try. You could eat there before (or after) catching a performance of Impro Box at Club Voltaire, perhaps. It's easy to get to, with tram 57 stopping virtually at the door. This is a good thing as there is no way I am ever attempting to cross the city by car in the evening peak again, after the Anzac eve debacle (see Discovery XXXVI). And it's a relatively easy walk from North Melbourne to Flemington, as Mr 30 can attest.

Errol Street was fairly quiet early on a cool late autumn evening. We were pleased to be seated next to the cosy (imitation) wood fire, with a choice of cushioned benches or chairs. Pavement dining would be a nice option in the warmer months.

Although the menu is small it is easy to put together a varied selection and there are lots of vegetarian options. We chose a few dishes to share: haloumi; baba ghanoush (which came with a basket of both crisp and soft pita bread); lamb with rice; cauliflower and broccoli with taratour; and falafel with pickles. The falafel were excellent - nearly up to the Abbatengelo family standard, which can never be surpassed. The pickles were great, particularly the lovely bright pink turnip pickles, although the green chilies were pretty good too. Just a pity that one of us doesn't like pickles at all. Well maybe not such a pity - all the more for Mr 30 and me!

Sadly I omitted to take any photos on the night. The interior of Agraba is quite dark and mysterious and my photos would probably not have done the food justice. Perhaps you could have a look at this blog post from off the spork - it's a very fair review of the banquet menu, with lots of excellent pictures.

The trip back to the dark and sleepy city of Boroondara was achieved quite efficiently by way of the 57 tram and a train from Melbourne Central. I found myself wishing that Burke Road could somehow miraculously be transmogrified into Errol Street, but I suspect that this is not going to happen in my lifetime.

The discovery continues.

Agraba on Urbanspoon