Review: The Mess Hall, Melbourne City

Review: The Mess Hall, Melbourne City

the mess hall

the mess hall

the mess hall

Breakfast in Melbourne city. I haven’t done that in awhile as I moved out of the city many years ago and driving all the way in for just breakfast really seems like a waste of time. Plus, everybody knows there’s a ton of other Melbourne brunch places that are way more exciting anyways. Right? RIGHT?

I ended up in The Mess Hall for brunch one morning, not entirely by choice. I was there because I had just been to Cumulus and was told that I had just missed their breakfast hour. Taking pity on me and my disappointed face, the helpful waiter directed us to The Mess Hall, which was how I ended up there.

The Mess Hall is an italian food restaurant that had signage that I couldn’t see. I nearly walked straight past it but the patrons sitting outside in the lazy morning sun clued me into the fact that a restaurant must be around the place somewhere.

Once inside, we were greeted with friendly smiles that lead very quickly to a table and menus.

Service however was a little slow. After what felt like forever, our food finally arrived: Hollandaise eggs with ham, spinach, hollandaise & dukkah on a sweet bun and Corn fritters served with avocado, cherry tomato, cream cheese and chilli.

The food was pleasant enough, though I wasn’t overly taken by the Hollandaise sauce. It seems nobody can beat homemade hollandaise sauce yet (made by Sefie, not me), ah well. The eggs were well poached, the corn fritters tasty.

Would I head back? I doubt it. While everything was pleasant enough, it just didn’t pack enough wow factor into the place, service and food to warrant a re-visit especially since I have moved out of Melbourne and am now one of those annoying tourists who tries to cram too much eating into one stomach. Oh wait, that’s really everybody. Never mind.

The Mess Hall on Urbanspoon

Review: Cafe Italia @ Carlton, Melbourne – Happy Birthday to me!!!~~

Review: Cafe Italia @ Carlton, Melbourne – Happy Birthday to me!!!~~

Café Italia
(03) 9347 0638
66 University St
Carlton, 3053
Cafe Italia

Yay! It’s my birthday today! I’m celebrating it… by going to school and cleaning out the music department. Very birthday-like, I know.
But it’s okay because I managed to celebrate my birthday somewhat earlier this month at Cafe Italia with a few other birthday girls!

It’s easy to miss Cafe Italia while you walk down Lygon st. Blink and it’s gone! Well, that’s actually because it’s not on Lygon street. And I’ll be the first to admit that if I’m walking down Lygon street for italian food, looking in the small alleys wouldn’t be the first thing on my mind.

But thanks to the power of social media and the certain lure of free birthday desserts for January babies, I found myself having dinner there at Cafe Italia on a very rainy evening alongside Ms I Hua and Kat, fellow January babies!

I have to admit, I’m not very fond of having Italian in the Lygon street area. I think it’s the hype – hype always kills things. For all its hype, the meals I’ve had on Lygon have leaned towards mediocre and average. Though I am quite fond of Piccolo Mondo, but that’s another story.

Cafe Italia is situated in a tiny lane off Lygon, called University Street. It looks small from the outside, but the inside was rather huge with a nice casual yet classy feel about it. I’m not sure who holds the reins to the twitter account of Cafe Italia, but that was how we made our reservation – via twitter. God bless the age of social media!

Thanks to the rain and some rather slow traffic, I was late for the dinner date despite having left the house earlier than usual. Just goes to show you can’t plan for everything! So by the time I sat down at the table in a fluster, the girls had been waiting for a little while and we were all famished. So we thought we’d start with Antipasto di Carne – prosciutto, sopressa salami, pancetta and parmesan grissini served with chilli fried olives ($20.90).

And I should note here that I had a fantastic evening. Amazing company with good food does miracles to one’s happiness level, let me tell you that. But there was one small detail that marred the night: the antipasto came together with the main courses, not before. I thought these were appetizers? We were hanging out for it like you wouldn’t believe and just about we were about to ask where the appetizer was, a waiter came up with it. Along with the rest of our orders. Well then, antipasto just became a side! (And for the record, it was so-so).

I’ve never had roast lamb on pizza before, so when I saw this on the menu I practically pounced on it : Roast lamb, cherry tomatoes & yoghurt, mozzarella and herbs pizza. How awesome does that sound? It was yummy too! I really loved the generous helping of cherry tomatoes and loved how tasty the pizza was. Definitely something I’m going to try replicating myself!

But there was without doubt that the risotto was the star of the show: Risotto con funghi: wild mushrooms, porcini flour and truffle oil – how heavenly does that sound? I was in mushroom heaven. It was so incredibly fresh, every mouthful was like having mushrooms pop up all over your tongue. Absolutely delightful! If I could have more of that right now, I would. It was the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever tried, and I eat a lot of that stuff. Mushroom fanatic, that I am.

After we finished licking the risotto plate… ahem, I mean, after we finished our mains, it was time to bring on the cakes for the birthday girls!

I don’t remember the specific names of each cakes, but they were YUM! It was a pity that we were so full; we tried our best but we didn’t quite manage to finish all three slices. But we kept it with us nibbled on it while we chatted till it was past 10, and by looks of it, they were closing up and I’m pretty sure that while the wait staff were kind enough not to give us the evil eye, they would have been happy for us to leave so they could proceed with cleaning the place up – that’s how long we stuck around from 6.30pm!!

If you are in the area, do go try it out. Especially that mushroom risotto. Maybe even mail me some. I’m dying for some!

If you are a January baby, just let them know on twitter! And you will be eligible for a free cake to celebrate your birthday with!

Café Italia on Urbanspoon

Review: Innocent Bystander, Healesville

Review: Innocent Bystander, Healesville

Giant steps / Innocent Bystander
336, Maroondah Hwy
Healesville, 3777
(03) 5962 6111

It’s been such a long time since I did a blog post! It’s been so busy around here but I think I’ve finally been able to get things sorted out. If you haven’t noticed, you might like to click through to the blog and check out the new layout. I’ve finally moved servers too, and that resulted in broken links coming in from Urbanspoon which will hopefully be resolved soon.

I have lots of posts to write and hopefully will be able to get them all organized soon but let’s start the ball rolling with a review of my visit to Innocent Bystander in Healesville.

Thanks to traffic, we were unfortunately half an hour late for our booking. When we arrived, our table had been given away (the restaurant did try to contact us, but phone was on silent, whoops). They apologized and promised us the next table available which came up in about 3 minutes. Good service, checked!

We were started off with sourdough bread and olives. Absolutely delicious sourdough bread at that. Speaking of bread, Innocent Bystander had the most amazing looking bakery which also smelled amazing. Take a look:

It looks good, hey?

The chips came along and they were sprinkled with truffle salt. And they were the yummiest, yummiest chips on earth. There’s something incredibly addictive about them! I am totally getting truffle salt and going all crazy all over them. Even now, I feel like driving back there just for those chips. Hmmm.

The mains came and we started with Duck and mushroom pie with carrot mash. This was carrot mash at its best, amazing texture and beautifully done. The pastry on the pie was really well done, crumbly and a dream to bite into. Unfortunately the inside of the pie was rather dry and not very memorable.

We also ordered the Coconut braised beef brisket with green papaya salad and & toasted peanuts. And unfortunately the beef brisket was a bit like the pie in that it was dry. But the accompanying green papaya salad was to die for. Amazingly fresh, the clean and refreshing taste that cuts right through… I was in love!

Innocent Bystander is also really famous for their pizzas. So we couldn’t let this visit go by without a Pizza on the table. We ordered Roast mushroom, ricotta salata, white truffle oil, garlic & Parsley. And I guess you can’t always order winners. K had tried their pizzas before and had been suitably impressed. But unfortunately while I normally adore mushrooms, there was just something not quite right with this pizza. The mushroom flavours overpowered anything else on the pizza and I’m not sure what mushrooms they were, but they weren’t the normal mushroomy flavour that I adore. Alright, that’s pretty vague, but all I can say for sure is that it wasn’t as great as I’d hope it’d be.

When the mains were done, it was time to pull out the desserts.

Flourless Chocolate cake with Vanilla Ice Cream – so so rich and so chocolatey! Wasn’t my dessert to gobble down so I can’t tell you too much about it, but I do know that the Vanilla Ice cream was fresh and extremely delicious.

The lemon tart was sweet and sour in just the right amount. Enough to make me gasp and pucker up but not too much that I didn’t want to eat it anymore. I don’t quite like sour things, you see. But Lemon tart is often the few exceptions I have. The pastry was so crumbly and just heavenly. A dessert that is A+++, that’s for certain!

If you are in the area, do check it out. White Rabbit Brewery is just next door together with the Beechworth Bakery. Both absolute delightful places to visit and eat and drink! (Especially the pale ale from White Rabbit – to die for).

Giant Steps / Innocent Bystander Winery on Urbanspoon

July Cookoff: Luck of the draw – Are you feeling lucky?

July Cookoff: Luck of the draw – Are you feeling lucky?

Hush, I know it’s September.

July was an interesting one with the theme being set as “Random”. We couldn’t really think of a proper term for it but this is how it works:

Instead of picking your own recipe, this month’s theme had somebody else doing the picking for you. We decided who should decide for who via lucky draw, and the lovely Sefie ended up being my recipe master while I had the pleasure of picking out a recipe for Celina. What this meant was that you’d be cooking outside your comfort zone and trying new things as there’s no doubt that we tend to lean towards recipes we know we can do, or have a higher possibility of succeeding at. So there was a fair bit of uncertainty and randomness in this month’s cookoff which resulted in some awesome successes and some not so good failures.

To start the ball rolling, here’s Sefie‘s contribution. Celina had requested for: Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Stock

(makes about 12 cups, you only need 6 for the risotto)


1 carrot, chopped
2 pounds mushrooms, chopped (I used button mushrooms)
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, sliced
2 large onions, chopped
1 large potato, sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
20 parsley stems and leaves
1/4 cup soy sauce
Pepper to taste
14 cups of water


1. Combine all ingredients in a massive pot and add the water.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the stock is a rich brown colour.
3. Cool slightly, then strain.
4. Use or freeze for up to 3 months.

Simple Risotto (4-6 servings)


2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups uncooked arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-6 cups mushroom stock
2-4 tbsp softened butter (extra)
Salt, pepper, parmesan cheese to taste


1. Heat the mushroom stock in a separate pot, keeping it at a simmer.
2. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
3. Add onion, and cook until softened (~3-5 minutes).
4. Add the rice, and stir until it is completely coated with the melted butter (~2-3 minutes).
5. Add the white wine carefully (be careful not to flambe yourself), and keep stirring the rice until almost all the liquid is evaporated.
6. Carefully add the stock to the rice, about 1/2 cup at a time. Keep stirring constantly, but not too forcefully, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add more stock. Each ladle of stock should take about 5 minutes to be absorbed.
7. Begin tasting the rice after about 20 minutes, but keep cooking until it reaches the desired consistency. This could take up to 30-40 minutes.
8. When rice is cooked, remove from the heat, and add the rest of the butter (and parmesan if you want). Adjust seasonings and serve.

Personally, I am no stranger to cooking risotto. It is our go-to dish if we are feeling lazy and don’t feel like being overly creative. Risotto is warm, easy to cook and definitely ranks high on the comfort food list.

This mushroom risotto was good. It hit the right spots and ticked all the boxes for me. Perhaps just a touch on the heavy side for me due to the mushrooms but I do tend to lean towards the lighter flavoured risottos like cauliflower risotto and lemon risotto. The tricky part to risotto is making sure that it isn’t claggy, but really the key to that is making sure that you don’t agitate the rice too much while cooking it. Over-agitating means making the rice release more starch and that’s where your problems begin.

All in all, a good risotto and definitely a success especially since it was Sefie’s first time making risotto!

Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

Remember this?

Yup, it’s the beef stroganoff from the Masterchef Finale Party

Despite being a pasta lover, I must admit to not having had stroganoff prior to the Masterchef Finale Party. In fact, I didn’t even know of it till Masterchef came along. So my very first time making Beef Stroganoff was the day of the party, and I was serving it straight up. Thanks to my guests for being such awesome guinea pigs!

The source of the recipe is obviously from Masterchef and can be found here. However I’ve made some tweaks to the recipe, mainly to the pasta recipe as the quantity given was not enough. The original recipe was supposed to serve 4, but we doubled the recipe to serve 5 and it was still inadequate. Either we are all gluttons (ahem!) or the recipe was written for people with really tiny appetites.

Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

Serve: 4


2 tbs sweet paprika
100g flour
500g piece beef eye fillet (from the tail end), sliced into strips
¼ cup olive oil
40g butter, plus extra to serve
200g Swiss brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 eschalots, finely diced
2 tbs tomato paste
½ cup brandy
1 cup beef stock
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 cup crème fraiche
2 tbs extra virgin oil, to serve
baby parsley, to garnish

Fettuccine Ingredients

400g pasta flour
4 eggs
4 tsp olive oil
4 tbs parsley leaves, chopped
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

This is where I own up that not only was I serving up Beef Stroganoff for the first time ever, but this was also the first time I made fresh fettuccine. I’ve previously tried my hand at ravioli making before, but I made an incredible rookie mistake by adding eggs to semolina flour… don’t do it. Not if you value your jaw and teeth. It makes the toughest and most chewy pasta you’ve ever eaten. Trust me, I know this from experience and my poor housemates who had to put up with that for dinner that night will vouch for its chewiness.

Lady luck was by my side (after having a rather disastrous day in the kitchen the previous day), and my pasta came out flawless. Not jaw-breaking tough and chewy but with enough bite to eat to make for a pretty satisfying mouthful. Success!!

I didn’t add enough parsley though, so my pasta didn’t turn out green. Ah well, next time.

Let’s move on to the directions:

Pasta making method:

1. Place flour, eggs, olive oil, parsley, pepper and a generous pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor. Mix until dough comes together. Turn out onto a clean work surface dusted in flour and knead for a few minutes by hand until the dough is firm and elastic. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

2. Divide the dough in half. Form each piece into a rectangular shape. Dust the pasta rollers in flour and turn to the largest setting. Feed pasta through the rollers, folding the dough into 3 after changing each setting. Roll dough out to the 2nd thinnest setting. Repeat with remaining dough. Hang to dry for 5-10 minutes.

Beef Stroganoff cooking method

1. Combine paprika, flour and 1 teaspoon of sea salt in a bowl. Toss beef in the mixture to coat.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan over high heat and sear the beef for 1-2 minutes or until browned. Remove and set aside.

3. Reduce heat to medium-high; add half the butter and remaining the olive oil. Cook the mushrooms until caramelised.

4. Reduce the heat to medium, add remaining butter, eschalots and cook for a few minutes until softened.

5. Add the tomato paste, brandy, stock, Worcestershire sauce and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium, stir in crème fraiche, reserved beef and juices, then season with salt and pepper.

6. To serve, toss cooked fettuccine with extra virgin oil and garnish with baby parsley.

I didn’t manage to present it prettily on the day of the Masterchef finale party. I was more concerned with getting the food up! So here’s a better attempt at presentation, tho it is hardly up to the likes of Donna Hay.

I’m hungry again!

What do you think? Personally, I think I’ll put this onto the menu for this weekend once more. Too yummy!