Sunday, December 16, 2012

Discovery XXIII

Late on a hot December afternoon my train left Huntingdale station. We arrived at the mysterious platform 13 at Flinders Street about 25 minutes later. After a short tram ride and a short walk up Little Bourke Street, I was at Curry Corner. But alas there was no Fern's brinjal pickle in stock so my detour was in vain.

Sadly I walked up Russell Street, past Jane Bell Lane, the old Magistrates Court, the old Melbourne gaol and the former Emily MacPherson College. Much of this precinct is owned by RMIT University, so there is an odd mix of old bluestone, modern courtyard and 1920s elegance, with the QV apartments presiding over the whole.

QV apartments from Old Melbounne Gaol
Behind bars
Crossing Victoria Street into Carlton, I continued up Cardigan and Queensberry Streets until I finally arrived at the venue for Discovery XXIII: The Last Jar, which being situated on the corner of Elizabeth and Queensberry Streets is somehow back in the city of Melbourne.

Hot and thirsty after my travels I settled into the snug with a Coopers. My first impression was of a very pleasant and friendly hotel. As it is built on a sharp angled corner it is rather oddly shaped inside but very cosy.

Snug at The Last Jar
Little by little the other discoverers arrived - one on bicycle and two on foot - and we repaired to our laminex topped table in the dining room.

The only drawback of our meal was the noise - the dining room is small and wooden-floored and there was a large table of revellers nearby, so we found it hard to hear each other over the din. But the food was delicious and the waiting staff were very attentive and quite charming with their lovely Irish voices.

Here is a picture of the remains of the soda bread.

Soda bread
Soda bread
And here is my dish of zucchini flowers (my favourite!) with salad and goats cheese.

Zucchini flowers
Zucchini flowers
The chips (not pictured, sorry) were amazing - enormous and very crispy, rather more like roast potatoes than chips and so plentiful that we couldn't finish them all. The other discoverers enjoyed Irish stew, scotch fillet and porterhouse with green pepper sauce, served in its own dear little jug. And The Last Jar has a wonderful beer list. Between us we sampled the Coopers pale, Hawthorn pale, Mountain Goat and Hargreaves Hill.

The Last Jar is definitely worth the trip, however you decide to make your way there.

The Last Jar on Urbanspoon


Friday, December 7, 2012

Discovery XXII

Russia is definitely southeast of somewhere, so this week's discovery could claim to continue in the tradition of some of our recent excursions to Oakleigh and Carnegie.

On Tuesday evening the discovery team made their separate ways from the city, Richmond and Camberwell to meet in new territory at Nevsky in Elsternwick. They came by car, train, bicycle and on foot. For once nobody blinked an eye at the booking in the name of Boris.

Fireplace at Nevsky
Fireplace at Nevsky
On an unseasonably cold and windy evening we were very happy to be seated right next to the fireplace which effectively divides the restaurant into two self contained quiet spaces. Although there were not many people in the restaurant we had to wait a while to be served with a jug of kvass (a soft drink made of fermented rye bread) and a Nevskoe classic ale. The kvass smelt very much like stout, but tasted sweeter. Apparently it is usually consumed by peasants and monks. The Nevskoe tasted just like beer.

We decided to have a main course each rather than trying to share dishes on a rather small table. Except I decided to have three side dishes instead of one main: Euro frites (Russian for chips in beer batter), piroshki and red cabbage. The other discoverers had golubsti (stuffed cabbage leaves); veal stroganoff with buckwheat kasha; and sosiski (sausages and mashed potatoes with caramelised onions and port wine sauce).

This is how it all looked in the dimly lit room near the fire. I forgot to mention that the candles aren't real candles - they are battery operated tea light thingies. But very effective.

Russian feast at Nevsky
Russian feast
I know Euro frites are probably not authentic Russian cuisine, but I loved them. They were hot and crispy and plentiful, unlike some of the offerings we have suffered in the name of discovery. (Are you listening, Bridge Hotel?) The red cabbage was spicy and sour and delicious. The piroshki was not remarkable but very pleasant - just like I could have made at home using one of Anna Thomas's recipes.

The other discoverers were extremely enthusiastic about their meals too. I can highly recommend that you make the trip to Elsternwick for a special eastern European treat. If it is your local, I envy you.

After some coffee, sour cherry blini and more Nevskoe the end of the evening was upon us. Once again we took the traditional drive down Orrong Road (the entire span of it, this time), made the drop-off in Richmond and drove back over the river to the dark and quiet city of Boroondara. Meanwhile Mr 28 proved that a bicycle can beat a car any time.

Nevsky Russian Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Discovery XXI

In keeping with Discovery tradition of keeping it local, keeping it within the group of four, keeping it early, and keeping it to Tuesday, on Wednesday a group of three discoverers made their way out to Oakleigh to Euro Bites, with a booking at 8.00 pm.

This change to the normal routine allowed us to to sample the favourite local of two of our friends, although sadly Mr 28 was unable to join us. Two discoverers travelled by train from the city, after a short detour to Siglo. Meanwhile I drove the short distance down the Princes Highway from Caulfield, after a couple of hours distributing type at the Ancora Press. Our two friends drove from their nearby home.

I haven't really been to Oakleigh (other than passing through on the train) since I lived there for a short time while I was studying at Monash, so it was very pleasant to reacquaint myself with the lively shopping and eating precinct. I was lucky to find a parking spot just a few doors from the restaurant, so I didn't have to brave the monster car park which has mysteriously appeared near the railway station.

Soon the group of five was seated and enjoying some Mythos while we tried to make sense of the menu. It seemed easier to leave the choice up to the locals, who warned us that we only needed a couple of main dishes as the servings were massive.

Dips at Euro Bites
And so it proved to be. First we had some shared light mezze, including a platter of dips (tarama, melitzano and best of all the tyrokafteri), with feta, olives, grilled peppers and pita bread. You can see the tyrokafteri on the right of the photo. It is made with feta, ricotta and graviera cheeses and spices and is an exciting change from the more familiar dips. I do urge you to try it.

Next came kourkoti: delicate fried zucchini slices with skordalia, a lovely creamy mashed potato and garlic dip. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the kourkoti until they were nearly all gone.

No sooner had we disposed of the mezze than a dish of potatoes nicely seasoned with lemon and oregano appeared, followed by rice; a gyro piato lamb platter with tzatziki and Greek salad; and kipouro meze, a vegetarian tasting platter with probably the best spanakopita I have ever tasted, along with gigandes (big white beans in a tomato sauce with carrots and spinach), roasted peppers, more olives and feta, felafel and hommus. And a little bit of salad. And more pita bread. Trust me, you will never leave Euro Bites hungry.

Kipouro meze
Kipouro meze
Some people found room for coffee and sticky sweets. Others found room for more Mythos.

After dinner and farewells in the warm almost-summer night we took the almost-traditional trip down the Princes Highway to Orrong Road, through the dark leafy streets of Armadale and Toorak, over the river to Richmond then back over the river to the city of Boroondara.

Oakleigh and Euro Bites - go there. Discover them for yourself.

Eurobites on Urbanspoon