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

Eating Out: Akachochin, the best lunch deal you will find.

Eating Out: Akachochin, the best lunch deal you will find.

03 9245 9900
33 Dukes Walk
South Wharf, VIC 3006

Moving away from Melbourne has its perks. I get to explore a new city, find new treasures and learn to open my heart to more than just Melbourne. But the downfall to that would be the fact that I can no longer keep up with the amazing new places that are popping up around Melbourne like mushrooms after a heavy rainfall. I’m told that even folks living in Melbourne find it hard to keep up, such is the pace of growth in the restaurant population, but that just spells doom for the out-of-towners like me.

Still, I try my best. Which is why my last trip to Melbourne found me walking to Akachochin from Etihad Stadium as I had gotten quite lost. Perseverance is the key, my grumbling stomach and my yearn to meet my mates I-hua and Agnes saw me sticking it out and I was rewarded by my friends laughing at my misery through a glass window as I realised I had to walk around the building to get to the door. Damn.

Akachochin (so named after the red lanterns that usually adorns the doorway of Izakaya restaurants) is an Izakaya-style Japanese restaurant. That means that their menu consists of small dishes that are designed to be shared. And while this was normally not an issue (never an issue, really) I was there for lunch, and it was the lunch set menu that we had our sights on that day.

Akachochin offers lunch sets at $20 per pop between 12 – 4pm. You get: steamed rice, miso soup, yasai ohitashi (seasonal marinated vegetables in dashi stock) served with your choice of sashimi (salmon or kingfish) and a main option. I was pleased to see that if you didn’t fancy meat options, there was at least one option that catered for that. All too often you find that restaurants forget vegetarians exist…

I ordered Option 1 as option 2 just didn’t look all that exciting. For my main option, I went with butabara yakimono – grilled pork belly with spicy teriyaki sauce. And as I write this, I am salivating as I remember just how amazing the meal was. Damn being 7 hours drive away!

I could find nothing wrong about this meal. The kingfish was fresh, sweet and incredibly yummy. If I had to complain, I’d say that there just wasn’t enough of it! I could have eaten loads more of that and then some. It was so good. The rice was also well cooked. It wasn’t dry, nor was it soggy: just the right texture without being too sticky. Perfection!

As for the pork belly, if I could eat this everyday, I’d die happy! The spicy teriyaki sauce really got the appetite going and how can one ever say no to pork belly? Impossible. The skill and techniques applied were apparent and the care taken in preparing the dish was clear in every bite. The portion was generous but no portion can be quite generous enough when it comes to a hungry stomach and an amazingly prepared dish of pork belly. Ah, I’m a greedy pig, that’s what I am.

These chicken wing dumplings $15 came highly recommended by the ever-knowing tummies who shared my meal table. In them, I trust so I happily took a bite into my chicken wing. Immediately I was drawn to the fact that it had been skillfully deboned, wrapped and stuffed into a little dumpling with a wing. And somehow still preserving its shape as a chicken wing. Skill, this is what I need in my life! I-hua regretfully informed me that they weren’t quite as deep fried as they had previously tried them before, so I guess I will have to head back to Akachochin again to try them once more, hopefully with it more fried. Ah, such a tough life.

These desserts didn’t come with the set lunch (neither did the chicken wings) but we just couldn’t leave without some sweets to wrap up the already amazing lunch. I opted for the Sweet Potato Brulee $12 while the others went with Black Sesame Pannacotta with Green Tea Ice Cream $14. I should have gathered something was up when both couples ordered the same thing, as their dessert was seriously the bomb. The black sesame pannacotta was the best thing I’ve ever eaten, so silky smooth, so beautiful and so filled with black sesame. While my own sweet potato brulee was sadly lacking in the brulee department. There was no satisfying crack (it was more like a weak, half-hearted squeak), and while nice it didn’t have the wow factor that the black sesame pannacotta did. Oh well, next time!

If you are in town, you need to head to Akachochin. Without a doubt, it has one of the best lunch deals you can get for $20 in town. I know for a fact that the next time I’m in town with a bit of time to spare, that’s where I’m headed to again. Oh, Akachochin, you have stolen my heart.

View Larger MapAkachochin on Urbanspoon

Eating Out: Zedz Cafe @ Adelaide Central Market, Adelaide

After going back to Zedz Cafe for the umpteenth time for the Laksa Sorbet I decided it was high time I actually tried some food there. After all, Zedz does serve more than sorbets and smoothies. The trouble was, where to start? The menu looked absolutely scrumptious.

Do I try the breakfasts, or the lunch soups? Do I go for more sweets or try something savoury? There was obviously more to Zedz than just their Laksa Sorbet, so it was really hard making that decision. As it turns out, I had my decision made for me by pure virtue of the fact that I went at the wrong time. After much angst, I decided that I’d go try their lunch soups, but turned up at the wrong time. So take note, diners. Lunch only starts at 11.30am. I was there much too early, and that was how I ended up with breakfast.

Bacon and Eggs – $13.90 to be precise. I was alone that morning as the boy was busy learning how to make tofu at TAFE and my friends were busy. It’s relatively rare for me not to have a dining companion when dining out these days, so I busied myself watching the hustle and bustle of the Adelaide Central Market while waiting for my order.

My dish didn’t take too long to come. Not having a dining companion for me to wax lyrical about the appearance of my dish with, it didn’t take me too long to tuck in. Two snaps and I was straight into it. The bacon was well cooked, the mushrooms ($2 for it to be added on, I believe) were juicy but oddly cold. In fact, my entire dish was oddly cold. But I put that up more to the fact that I was practically sitting in a wind tunnel and the central market really isn’t the warmest place there is during winter than anything else. The temperature of the dish didn’t really bother me too much. What would be more cause for concern would be how the eggs had been poached. Time for the truth.

A sigh of relief, as the beautiful golden yolk comes gushing out. It’s a gorgeous sight to see! Happy now, I proceeded with my breakfast. And realised to my dismay that the eggs hadn’t been drained properly. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, I know that you do have to poach eggs in water, but draining eggs are such a simple act, and these had not been drained well at all.** A very small flaw, but it ruined my eggs for me. Water and eggs do not mix. Sadface Celeste.

Eggs are my everything. I adore them in any form and I would eat five a day if I could. In fact, that used to be my staple when I was doing exams during school days. And to have my eggs ruined meant that the rest of the dish just didn’t go down so well anymore. I left Zedz feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. Was Zedz a one trick pony?

**I am well aware that this could be a one-off thing.

As luck would have it, Zedz had invited me to try some of their soups. (This invite had nothing to do with my breakfast since they had no idea I had been there for breakfast.) Seeing as my initial attempt to try their soups had been thwarted by my own poor grasp of time, I accepted.

Zedz does a range of soups for their lunch hours along with other menu items. Seeing as it was winter, soups were their hot items on the menu and Franjo the owner of Zedz has been diligently coming up with new recipes and new soups to wow his diners.

There are five soups that are currently on offer: Potato & Leek, Moroccan Spinach & Lentil, Winter Vegetable, Pea & Ham, and Beef Potato Paprica. They are all priced at a very reasonable $9.90 each and comes with two slices of bread.

Pictured: Pea and Ham Hock

I won’t be putting up a photo of every soup they have there. Instead, I will give you a quick run down on them. I was fortunate enough to have been given the chance to taste test all of them, but be quick as Zedz do change their menu every so often so if you see something you like, you better get there quick.

Potato & Leek

This was oddly grainy. The texture was off-putting and the flavour didn’t come through. Definitely the most unmemorable of the lot. I wouldn’t recommend it. Plus, the boy makes a better one, if I do say so myself.

Moroccan Spinach & Lentil

I was impressed to hear that this soup had been on the menu since Day 1 of Franjo taking over Zedz Cafe. That’s a whole 8 years ago! It’s one of their popular soups and taking my very first sip, I can immediately see why. Punches of flavour, generous use of spices, the serving was generous and with the soup overflowing with lentils, it was definitely a substantial lunch. I loved how filled with spices it was which was in line with what you’d expect from a soup claiming to be Morrocan.

Winter Vegetable Soup – pictured above.

Easily my favourite soup of the lot, hands down. Brimming with flavours, you could smell it coming a mile away as it was that fragrant! It wasn’t just my favourite, this was the boy’s favourite as well. The ingredients of the soup can sometimes change according to what Franjo finds in the market. This time round, we were fortunate that he had been able to obtain Kale and the soup was chock-full of it. Yum! The carrots gave the soup its sweetness and this incredibly tasty soup found its way back home with me to be eaten that night as dinner. Highly Recommended.

Pea & Ham

A beautiful soup that was also gorgeously peppery. Very suitable for a winter dish, this soup had the boy spellbound and you could easily see why as the flavours were honest and true. It was surprisingly heavy for a pea soup though not as heavy as the Moroccan soup. Another bowl? Don’t mind if I say yes.

Beef Potato Paprica

When you taste this soup, the first word that comes to mind is hearty. The next word that comes to mind is wine. Quickly followed by open log fireplace. It’s the kind of soup that you want to curl up with on a wintery night with a glass of wine to savour. The beef is tender and the different flavour elements of the soup meld together well to form a beautiful soup that would have made anybody weak at the knees and asking for more. My second favourite from the range! Highly recommended

The ingredients that Franjo uses are clearly top notch. Through my conversations with him, his passion for food is clear to be seen and his excitement and enthusiasm is both catchy and inspiring. While there were hits and misses in his soups, I do think that the winter vegetable soup is an incredible show of skill and also displays his deep understanding for how flavours work together.

Through my numerous visits to Zedz, the service has been consistently top notch. Friendly wait staff that were quick to respond and fast thinkers on their feet, whether or not the boss was around. I know that Lucia’s and Zuma are usually at the tip of people’s tongues when it comes to eating at the Central Market, but I do think that Zedz is rather underrated and needs some love as well as they do serve good food with quality ingredients.

And if you need more proof of his attention to detail, Franjo slices up various fruits and vegetables to pop into the water jugs to flavour the water. Just water? Think again! Now that’s smart thinking right there.

Do say hi to Franjo if you pop by Zedz. Tell him Celeste sent you. And sit back and soak in his knowledge while you embrace the love in his food. There is nothing quite like it.

There are gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options available at Zedz Cafe.

View Larger MapZed'z Cafe on Urbanspoon

Eating out: Blue Moose Cafe @ St Kilda Road, Melbourne

The Blue Moose Cafe
03 9804 5605
Ground Floor, 436 St Kilda Rd
South Yarra
Melbourne, VIC 3004

When you are in a location that is surrounded by high rise buildings filled with office workers, there are just 2 things that I believe you need to fully grasp for your cafe / restaurant to stay loved.

It needs to be:

1. Good and tasty.
2. Fast.

And Blue Moose Cafe is both. I’ve been a few times now, mostly with K when I used to visit her during lunch hours. I was blown away by how busy it was, the little cafe was practically humming!

Once you taste their food, it’s not hard to see why. An array of meals is offered at the counter for those who are short on time but they do offer a fairly good menu for ala carte as well. I’ve never tried ordering from their menu – everytime I’ve been, the counter meals have suckered me in because they tasted amazing. With names such as Tandoori Risotto, how could I even begin to resist?

Their servings are not stingy either. With quite a team of wait staff available, they jump to attention when you need their service and efficiency seems to be their middle name. They understand their clientele and they answer to their customers needs by speed and more speed. Takeaway meals were flying out the doors as I sat there having my lunch and the turnover of tables would have made any Diner Dash player proud.

I’m not a regular, and it has long left my memory just how much I paid for my meals, but I remember marvelling at how reasonable the pricing was. Especially given the kind of clientele they get, they could have charged a lot more and gotten away with it. Good food, good prices, good service – what else can you ask for?

We tucked into our food eagerly, salad, pasta, risotto, pie alike were all equally tasty. I wouldn’t say that their asian-inspired risottos tasted much like what they were named after but they certainly were tasty. And when you are trying to get a bit of food into you in between meetings, tasty is more important than authenticity, in my very humble opinion!

So if you are in the area and wondering where to eat, go to Blue Moose Cafe, grab a meal and sit back and let it all flow over you. Amazing.

View Larger MapThe Blue Moose Cafe on Urbanspoon

Review: Maggie Beer’s Farmshop in the Barossa Valley

Review: Maggie Beer’s Farmshop in the Barossa Valley

If this is your first time to the Barossa, no doubt you would have been advised that Maggie Beer’s farmshop is one of the must-stop stops.

And being a huge Masterchef fan, I’ve seen her quite a number of times on telly and it was enough to make me want to visit. It was one of the first few stops I had planned into my trip. Maggie Beer’s Farmshop? Oh yes.

But if we wanted to go there, so did a million other people. Or what felt like a million. Maggie’s farm shop is not big. But it’s definitely popular, seeing as it’s such a huge South Australian icon. We walked through the door and had to stop because … well, because we really couldn’t go any further. There was just that many people in the shop.

Maggie’s farm shop has displays all over that shows the range of products she has for sale. I didn’t manage to take photos of them all seeing as it was hard to navigate through the people crowd to begin with.

Right beside the door is a pile of baskets. No, not your supermarket plastic baskets. I mean the proper rattan baskets that scream “rustic”! The idea is for you to pick up a basket and use that to carry your purchases. I watched in amazement as folks came in to buy not one, not two, but often three or more basket full of products. The lines to the payment counter was always bustling and products were flying off the shelves.

We had decided to have lunch at the farm shop. But as we looked at the amount of people, we were starting to question if this was such a good idea after all. In the end, we managed to snag a table and got lunch on its way.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I think I was expecting the Barossa Valley to be an amazing foodie heaven, where no food could go wrong. Because that’s what it sounds like from all the talk I’ve heard of the Barossa. But I was genuinely not overly impressed with our lunch here. Apart from that Chestnut soup and walnut bread. That was amazing. That was out of this world. And that was, unfortunately, also not my lunch. It was K’s, the lucky gal. Oh don’t get me wrong, the pate was nice, but you could hardly describe the freekah salad as tasty, and the wood oven bread was solid like a rock. Maybe it’s meant to be that way, but I know I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as that walnut bread.

I did however, enjoyed the panna cotta. It was a panna cotta that they were ‘flavour-testing’ so it wasn’t on the menu. I have forgotten what it is but it was pleasant. Quite the delish way to end the lunch, I must say. I just didn’t quite understand the funny indentation on the top of the panna cotta – wonder whether it was an accident or an intentional design feature?

We stayed for the Verjuice Workshop and I took a moment to admire Maggie Beer’s studio kitchen. Such beautiful bright colours! I always think that your surroundings should always be brightly coloured to help lighten up your mood, so I think I would have been very happy in this kitchen indeed.

If you’ve never cooked with Verjuice before and if you are considering trying out, this workshop was a good place to start. One lucky audience member even had the chance to go up and have a bit of a hands on go at it. We were all given the chance to taste test the dishes and they were absolutely delish! Especially the roasted fennel, and this is coming from a lady who doesn’t normally like fennel!

We ended up not buying very much from Maggie Beer. Normally, I am all over produce and preserves like this, but something about the swarm of people and the constantly having to squeeze with others put me off my buying mojo. Nevertheless, I couldn’t leave without buying something and so I left Maggie Beer’s farmshop with all six flavours of her ice cream in tow. Single serves, of course. Yum!!

I will share how they tasted at a later date. Look forward to my next #Barossa Valley post tomorrow!