Posted by erikbigalk on December 28th, 2016

With the common burger and fast-food industry changing a long way away from the traditional, it is not surprising that we are seeing new concepts heralding the humble burger in new ways. And, this often means stepping it up in the quality of the burger, for which there was certainly room for that from the limp old wrapped up burgers sitting at the ready in their shoot for usually far too long…

Meet the Royal Stacks (fitting name for the burgers of this caliber), not only do they perfect a range of awesome burgers, but poor a good ale straight from the tap too, which makes the perfect companion not commonly found at all the usual burger venues. Making a name for themselves in the shortest time, Royal Stacks has made a splash on the Melbourne burger scene, enough that I had to go and check them out!

I went for the CBD location (they have three with more on the horizon), conveniently located in Collins street, so a stroll for many of the office workers right in the hub, and a welcomed respite from the trendy cafes and eateries too. Once you step through the heavy glass doors, you are greeted by a massive living wall of greenery, a giant jar of Nutella and the friendliest smiles behind the counter.

The menu is shorter than your usual fast-food joint and a whole lot healthier and more seductive too. A quick glance had a few of their top choices jump out at me and with a tad of assistance from the helpful staff, I soon had my lot on the way…  Ordered my pint of liquid amber to go with it and we were away.

With 8 burgers to choose from, a dozen of sides and extras to add, 8 ales to match, and the usual suspects of soft drinks, they also offer a range of wicked milkshakes and their renowned frozen custard desserts, which are not for the faint of heart. But, burgers first. I could not go past the ‘Prince Harry’, a concoction of lean Australian pasture-fed beef patty, (minced fresh on a daily basis), butter lettuce, American cheddar, Swiss cheese and a wicked horseradish, shallot and gherkin mayo - yummm!

Also, a close contender was ‘The King’ adding a home-made mac & cheese croquette to the common fillers, plus American mustard and their special burger sauce, and ‘Miss Elizabeth’ (aptly so called with Elizabeth street only a few blocks away) featuring Swiss cheese and a truffle mayo.

But the price for ‘my fav’ went to ‘The Saint’, with a double serving of the fresh and hearty patties, tomato, butter lettuce, bacon, American cheddar, raw onion, chipote mayo and pickled jalapenos set between the buns, wrapped in their bright and fresh coloured distinctive brand wrapper. A tad spicy and a good gob-stopper at that.

Add a serving of fries or their cousin, Gems, both available in a cheesy version (if that’s your thing) and you can have a pretty good burger meal with a freshly drafted beer right in the CBD that is not just ‘thrown’ together, but prepared with regal attention to detail.

The Royal Stacks concept has pretty quickly made headways with another location in Brunswick and at the Chadstone Shopping Centre giving you three ports of call for what is definitely a ‘royal’ take on the humble burger, which has suffered under the too often disappointing effort put into them at other fast-paced burger chains.

The idea behind Royal Stacks of taking good quality Australian beef and mincing it fresh daily, making their own patties and using the freshest of ingredients, clever sauces, classics like Swiss cheese and American cheddar and mustard, served in a relaxed environment with top customer service and beer on tap, as well as packaged ales and wine, has definitely paid off.

Following my first visit, I have been back three times. A couple of times for a quick bite and as a respite from the busy day in the CBD, another time to enjoy a good burger after a seminar with a colleague, topped off with a nice taste of red. Needless to say, the imperial burger concept by Dani Zeini, who was behind the Dandenong Pavilion, Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Easey’s and Truck Stop Deluxe success, has found my liking, and while I cannot speak for everyone…  you simply have to make your own judgment.

Royal Stacks also delivers via Deliveroo, find their menu and location details at www.royalstacks.com.au

Happy chompin’ on their majestic burgers! ;)

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Posted by erikbigalk on December 27th, 2016

The newest splash of culinary and coffee-culture extravagance around the office hub of Melbourne’s St Kilda Rd area is definitely Crux & Co, the latest creation by owner Kevin Li (also behind Lights in the Attic and 3 Lives) and manager James Julian, and exquisitely designed by renowned Melbourne firm Architects EAT.

Obviously, we had to go and find out for ourselves following the word on the grapevine and were more than pleasantly surprised. As soon as we stepped through the big branded glass doors it felt as though we had stepped into a time-warp place of modern yesteryear feel with a distinct touch of calm, a slower paced world than the fast moving office world outside, and it enveloped us instantly.

Here, while it was abuzz with the lunch-hour rush of office workers and folks dropping in for take-outs and coffee catch ups, we were surprised how calm the atmosphere was in what is obviously a thriving new daytime hot spot. We were immediately greeted and seated by the super friendly staff, our eyes helplessly being drawn to the colourful vitrine laden with a plethora of desserts and sweets as we tried to settle at our table. We had scored a large table with odd table corners set affront a bench seat backed against a raw Crux & Co-branded concrete wall.

Around the corner was a row of square round-cornered tables facing a plant laden decorative wall shelf with interesting indirect lighting giving it a warm glow. Right in front of the large paneled wall with openings allowing views through to the kitchen was a large high-set sharing table with stools occupied by a dozen of folks discussing passionately over coffee and croissants.

Over by the large windows, more tables and a large luggage-rack-like setup with oodles of plants draping their foliage like curtains, giving a garden-like feel to the tabletops set underneath. Separating it from the rest of the dining room is a cushioned bench seat for those awaiting to have their coffee or lunch snack wrapped for on-the-go.

Overall, a diverse and relaxed atmosphere for a place that hardly had any seat empty, it felt calm and quiet. The natural and gentle tones, light-coloured timber, copper accents, rounded edges, soft lighting and plants aplenty gave this new eatery a neo-1960’s diner set-out with a distinct Scandinavian flavour and with it a rather tasteful-relaxed ambiance. One we instantly succumbed to.

After the impressive interior, the focus went straight to the menu and with all-day breakfast of Polenta Concia with squid ink toast, mushrooms and sausage; the Crux & Co Meatlovers of corned beef, bacon, Kransky, asparagus, eggs of all sorts, grilled tomato and sautéed mushrooms laden on sourdough bread, and a lavish vegetarian breakfast or the classic smoked salmon tossed scrambled eggs, it was hard enough to choose.

So, we had a brightly coloured glass of cold pressed red and a green juice to start with, just to make up on ‘healthy’ for what we knew was to come after our brunch – the opulent sweets. But first, we had to peruse the lunch choices of green papaya salad with soft shell crab; to Teriyaki Tofu and chicken tenders or Scotch quail eggs Arancini, and Fontina fondue with roast vegetables and slices of rib eye, all leaving us feeling perplexed as to what to try first.

We went for the Humita served with quinoa arepas and the best guacamole ever, and one of the best Chorizo; plus the Bisque Benedict with tiger prawns, poached egg, lobster bisque hollandaise (yum if you like it fishy) served on squid-ink toast. We fought peacefully over both! Having had a thorough glance at the seductive world of Crux & Co’s pastry and desert offering while we waited, we knew we had to leave some space…

With Macaroons of any imaginable flavor, petit gateau, Varine (cup deserts) and Éclairs of any description, it was the colourful display that made us choose more than we needed, yet loved every bit of it… Onsite pastry-guru Louis MK Lee (formerly of Brunetti) obviously made the Crux & Co offering every sweet lover’s dreamland, and we walked away with way too much.

However, we could not resist the chocolate mousse gateau sprinkled with copper dust, cheesecake slice, caramel fudge dome, plus crunchy honeycomb balls, wasabi macaroons and a few other irresistibles like flavoured croissants that after our indulgence were even too much for afternoon tea.

Needless to say, with the sweet tastes as seductive as the visual suggested, it became instantly clear that Crux & Co is not a one-visit-only kind of place… Thoroughly nurtured, sweets in branded paper bag, with coffee in hand we tagged off out of this special new culinary heaven and back into the real world, sure to return.

And, we have been back since many a time, as will you if you dare to step through the unassuming glass doors for the first time…

Crux & Co is located at 35 Albert St, between St Kilda Rd and Kings Way, around the corner from St Kilda Towers and is open for breaky, lunch, coffee and treats from 7am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and 8am – 4pm on weekends.

Crux & Co has already marked its place on many a folk’s workday interlude ‘must do’ list, as a preferred place for meetings out of the office (or has become the perfect excuse for these), and of course on the local foodie scene. It’s a ‘must-try’. Check ‘em out at www.thecruxandco.com.au

Our vote: 4 out of 5 forks!

(a pretty high score I must add)

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Posted by erikbigalk on December 23rd, 2016

We scurry up at stop 125 bracing ourselves against the fresh evening breeze that dances around the inner city buildings, a stone’s throw from the Crown. We were assured of being at the right place by more and more eager diners arriving bubbling with excitement about the impending culinary journey around Melbourne’s tram tracks.

Soon we are met by our hosts, clipboard in hand as we were told of our designated tram cars, which arrive suddenly three in line, each with circus-like lit signage proclaiming ‘Restaurant’. For a moment we feel we are on platform 9¾ as more hosts poor out of the dark coloured trams ushering us into its cozy belly of yesteryear charm.

We are seated on red velvet cushioned seats at petite window tables dressed in white cloth, laden with table wear, rows of cutlery, assorted glasses, and featuring an array of dips and crackers to start the culinary journey with.

While our waitress, a small-framed but bubbly Pilipino-Australian named Michelle clads us with our napkins, Tim the main host outlines with thick-witted humor the beverages to be poured out aplenty and the menu choices to opt from. Sure enough, the Hunter Valley grown Rothbury Cuvee hits the spot, and instead of calming our nerves transforms them into exuberance as we appreciate the décor of gone-by times with chandeliers, mirrors, and heavy drapes contrasted by the modern city as it passes our window, meanwhile alight with its night time illumination. We are en route.

Following further theatre-restaurant-like announcements again oozing with quirky humor, an even greater Hogwarts Express feel overcomes us as seemingly by magic impeccably presented meals appear out of nowhere, as the compact diner-filled tram is not suggesting much room for a kitchen of size.

Upon delivering our choices to the attentive Michelle, the first installment arrived immediately, a tender Duck Terrine wrapped in prosciutto served with wild berry relish for my partner in crime and my pick, the Barramundi fillet on a bed of crisp letters, coriander and accompanied by mild chili jackfruit-lime sambal. Both dishes are appreciated thoroughly for their collaborating flavours, which dance well with a splash of the Nagambie born Tahbilk Sav Blanc.

Promptly, plates are cleared, more wine is poured and conversation entered into…

Next, my fellow culinary passionate willing to dare the attempt of eating-while-driving-in-the-oldest-trams-of-Melbourne, recovers well from a ‘bump in the road’ spillage of the Tahbilk Shiraz poured out generously in anticipation of our mains, with the super attentive staff ensuring the damage is minimised and the glasses are refilled quickly. Soon, the mains arrive, a combo of roasted fillet of beef and Daube of Beef raised on Victorian pastures, accompanied by confit vegetables, scallop potato, a sweet‘n tasty onion marmalade and red wine jus – yum! The meat melts on our tongues and harmonises well with the rich flavour of the Nagambie red.

Meanwhile, we have circumnavigated the city centre making it out to the St Kilda stretch, the very place I first saw the restaurant trams on a recent stay here – see the review here. Somewhere along the way we change directions a few times (or was that the wine working) and then we stop – mid-journey. No, no tram line incident nor Ned Kelly gang hold-up, just a brief stop for those aboard who smoke and for all to stretch our legs. Countless selfies with tram car and crew are crammed into the short break before the journey resumes.

Refreshed and after a wee exploration of the compact but well-designed on-board kitchen, we are ushered back into our seats for more…  We are slowly heading back toward the journey’s origin, as an elaborate cheese platter of quince paste, brie and matured cheddar lets us savor the last of our wine. With little time in between a tasting platter of pannacotta, rich choc-brownie, and thick cheesecake tempt us into submission marking the end of our more than plenty dinner.

Hard to refuse, we are handed generous helpings of Frangelico on the rocks with our brewed coffee, which we have to drink eagerly before being left behind on the tram, as lost in conversation, we completely miss that we had pulled up and most other diners had already disembarked.

Sadly, our absolutely charming, definitely memorable and uniquely Melbourne tram dining experience has come to its end. We reflect back in a state of bedazzlement as we see the trams pull away, feeling entertained, nurtured, overly filled and wishing it was not over yet. Utterly treated and still taken by our virgin experience of Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant we are left with no other thought but – a ‘must-do’ for locals and visitors alike.

I travel lots, widely, and far, and dine a lot as part of my culinary penning, but this was something apart from the rest…

The tram-ride dinner journey can be taken 365 days of the year, either as a 4-course luncheon, a 3-course early sunset dinner starting at 5.45pm or as we did, the 5-course seduction, commencing just after at 8 pm which concludes at past 11 pm. Cost ranges from $82 – $140 per person with the tramcar dining also a great concept for birthdays, groups and special occasions.

More details can be found at www.tramrestaurant.com.au or check out this short clip.

Back on non-moving ground and lacking the attention from either Tim or Michelle, we are left with no choice but to find one of the city’s night venues to dance off some of the excellent gluttony, before calling it a night…

Our vote on the dining and overall experience of the Colonial Tramcar – ‘Ab-Fab’, ‘must-do’ and worth every penny!

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 19th, 2016


Crumble Top founder Luke Stack (right)  joins me as I dig in…

I don’t know about you, but I recall my grandmother’s crumble and it was always delightful. Perhaps, because it was the icing on the cake of almost every meal we had at her place or because she just knew how to make it so extra yummy that it stuck in both, my memory and my taste buds. But, I LOVE crumble.

Well, that’s what Luke Stack suffered from too, so when he left his post of Sous Chef of many years in renowned restaurants and working under some of the bigger names in the culinary world and I am not just talking restaurants, I am talking the world’s best-known foul-mouthed chef, he was weighing up, option a) restaurant or b) crumble…

And, what can I say, the crumble won!

Taking his years of culinary training, some of the best to be had, as a basis and his own grandmother’s inspiration, he went all in on ‘crumble’.

Luke decided to open the first Crumble Top shop in Newtown Sydney instantly striking a cord with dessert addicts and crumble lovers, especially those that want to have it all their own way!

The concept is simple – Crumble. But, you get to build your crumble just the way you want it. Much like the burger or the salad, you build it your way. Here comes your very own humble crumble – choose from your preferred filling, be it the classics of Granny Smith and cinnamon, Rhubarb and Apple, Lemon and Rhubarb or White Chocolate and Raspberry, or seasonally changing fillers such Spring Fruits or Spiced Peach. You can even get Sticky Date.

Then you choose your topping, ranging from Almond and Citrus, Peanut butter and chocolate, Coconut and Ginger, Spiced Oats, Salted Caramel or White Chocolate Macadamia, with gluten free options available too.

Sorry Grandma, your crumbles were great, but now, I can make my own by following Crumble Top’s easy step-by-step protocol. Once constructed, your very own crumble design is fed through the conveyor oven coming out perfectly cooked and awaiting its accompaniment.

Next is the sauce, pick your fav from Chocolate, Lemon Curd, Raspberry, Toffee or Vanilla and the like or of course the arm twister Chocolate and Pandan. Plus, you get to pick you flavour of home –made gelato, ice cream or dairy free/vegan companion for your crumble, be it the classics of chocolate, vanilla or more exotic choice such as Orange and Cardamom or Jasmin Green Tea. Yum!

Add freshly brewed coffee, milkshakes, cold drinks or smoothies and you have a treat like no other.

Putting it to the test, I went for the classic Granny’n Cinnamon, with Almond and Citrus topping, Lemon Curd and Toasted Coconut ice cream, while my connoisseur daughter stepped it up with the Chocolate Pudding, Granola topping, with Vanilla Sauce and Orange Sorbet – Wow!

Not wanting to spoil it for you, but not only have to try it for yourself, but you have to challenge yourself with at least three different combinations to really get the hang of it…

Located at 125 King Street in Sydney’s bustling hub of Newtown, Crumble Top would have to be the coolest and yummiest dessert concept around, with their cool little shop open from noon to 9pm Tuesday – Thursday and noon – 10pm Friday to Sunday.

As the new kid on the block, Crumble Top has quickly turned into a bit of a craze…  since everyone loves crumble, you might have to push in line to create your personal crumble concoction…

Grab one on the run, stop in for a relaxing treat (they have seating out front and in the back), take a ready-to-bake tray home for the family (a definite winner) or for the lazy folk, get Uber, deliveroo, or foodora to deliver it right to your home.

‘Like’ or Order online, drop in or better yet rally up your mates and go for a munchy treat you are all likely to rave on about for days to come…  www.crumbletop.com.au

Our vote – Absolutely Yummy!!!

WARNING – Crumble Top is somewhat addictive and can lead to the condition of Crumble Craze!    Ed.   =p

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 16th, 2016

I recall the first time I went to St Kilda, Melbourne’s bohemian seaside hotspot known for its culture, art, food and shopping, and of course being host to the famed Luna Park. It was a weekend with market stalls strewn along the esplanade, followed by a walk down Acland street, and later, a sunset walk along the beach with my then newly met love. It was 1999.

I fell in love with St Kilda then.

I had been back here once since, and spent the day, ending it with a few tastes of Absinth at a quirky little bar I can’t remember quite where, nor much else about that evening, or the short visit I had paid to my beloved St Kilda that time.

On my next visit, I stayed in an apartment just off Acland street and under-dressed for the fresh summer weather I bought jeans and a dark coloured trench coat to shelter me from the multi-seasoned days St Kilda offered me. It was 2011.

I still wear that trench coat, actually, I wore it today, again to shelter me from the St Kilda wind as I stroll from my Chaucer Street corner apartment literally a spit from Acland street and Luna Park and all the many cafes, bars and eateries that have popped up since I was here last.

I decided to brace myself for the likely weather (my dark trench coat in hand), and booked my stay through St Kilda Stays. Actually, mostly the weather was sunny and blues skies with a dash of contrasting grey with spits of rain, just to appreciate the good and give purpose to my coat.

It is surreal, a place I have come to love many years ago, yet visited sparsely, it welcomes me so warmly this time around, as I am blessed with a gorgeous natural-light-flooded studio apartment above a coffee shop that greets me with the scent of freshly brewing coffee in the morning, as I gaze out over the community gardens birds in mid-air, past the roller-coaster of Luna Park and out to the bay dotted with sails.

I have lived much by the sea, here in Australia and abroad, but this outlook from my super comfy bed lulls me with a sense of different world charm. I feel like I live in St Kilda, albeit just for a few days, but it feels like home. A sense of familiarity, as I stroll past the big laughing mouth that gates Luna Park, wander past chatter-filled cafes and enticing eateries, and along the long pier out to the heritage-listed pavilion at sunset… I line up to get a glimpse of the small penguins who have made their home there, now attracting hordes of onlookers.

‘Ah, I love being here. Today, St Kilda is my home’, I proclaim.

Largely, it is home due to Anna and Tina from St Kilda Stays, who’s inspiration it was 10 years ago to find and make available the best apartments and stays in well, St Kilda, and with demand growing, their portfolio has grown to over 25 apartments now. I am lucky, I got the best of them all, so I reckon.

Prompt, friendly, quick to reply and personally greeted, I was let into my apartment and instantly knew I had chosen the right apartment. Well Tina and Anna did actually, but I chose the right place to book. Well-priced, filled with all the necessities and yet clean, light-filled and uncluttered my little studio apartment instantly claimed me as its occupant and I it as my home. So much so, that I did not want to leave at all after my 3-day stay.

What struck me about St Kilda Stays was that it did not feel like some mega operation of hyped holiday rentals, nor some sleek real estate firm’s short term letting operation, but a bespoke collection of great accommodation, hand-picked by two true locals (20 years plus) with a distinct personal touch, tangible from the moment I contacted them and booked and all the way through to my late checkout (I simply had to squeeze every last minute out of this place).

My apartment was on the 3rd floor with a great view over ‘veg out’ the local community gardens. It came with high-tech parking in a rotating lift underground, was fully secure with tag entrance and a lift that always seemed to be at the ready when I needed it.

I especially loved the enclosed all-glass veranda, which afforded me the luxury of relaxed cups of tea as day rose and I sat and wrote (I do write, right). It played host to my meals, most of which came from the ample eateries just around the corner, and it let me contemplate life and other nimble things over a good glass of Vic grown red as the night-lights threw magic upon the scene and adrenaline-fuelled squeals of fright and joy from Luna Park filled the air.

My stay was timeless and although just for a short break, it felt like forever. I loved it so much, that I pretty much lived in denial of the fact that I was borrowing the experience of living right in the heart of St Kilda… Thoroughly dosed-up on everything St Kilda has to offer, longing to stay on and in high appreciation to the girls at St Kilda Stays, I packed my bags and said my farewell to apartment 304 – my temporary home in Melbourne’s most loved seaside hub.

Now to you. Have you been to St Kilda? If not – GO! And if you have, then you already know why you need to go back. Need a place to stay? St Kilda Stays has got the best and that, at great rates…  Check your dates at www.stkildastays.com.au

Thanks again Tina and Anna, you rock! To the rest of you, see you in St Kilda, as in my heart she stays…   =)

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 8th, 2016

Melbourne is hailed as the most livable city and anyone that has spent some time here can usually relate to this. With its thriving bustling CBD and distinct culture, excellent coffee, seductive food offering and of course endless shopping, why would anyone not want to stay right amongst it all…

Well, we did, and no better place right in the action and an easy stroll literally from everything than Somerset on Elizabeth Street. You could not be more central if you tried and once you step beyond the round-the-clock pleasantly staffed foyer and make your way to your apartment, the city buzz seems but a distant memory.

A welcoming home, away from home, the apartment offers everything one could wish for. Comfy beds with city views right from your pillow, spacious bathroom, sitting and dining area, a fully equipped kitchen (not that we cooked much at all) and streaming wifi to do the necessary.

The real comfort came from the ease of it all…   With valet parking taking car of our ride, we literally just turned up and ‘lived’ carefree right in the heart of Melbourne for a few days, indulged in great eateries, explored Flinders Lane, wandered to Federation Square and made sure we made use of the diversity of eateries delivering right to us via deliveroo and foodora, just so we did not even had to step out when the renowned ‘Melbourne Weather’ set in.

We took a stroll along the Yarra, made it to a game at the MCG and ate some more…

Whether, it is for business or pleasure, pure indulgence or simply to be a ‘local’ to the CBD while you catch a show or event (don’t miss the Melbourne Gallery) – Somerset on Elizabeth is the perfect spot, be it on your own, with the whole clan or just the two of you. Being one of many properties under the brand, this one sure was the best choice for a stay in Melbourne’s CBD.

Our Vote 4 out of 5 Pillows

Somerset on Elizabeth is open around the clock, every day of the year, log onto their website to check out your dates, apartment size, price tag and availability.

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 8th, 2016

If the traditional pub meal and flair is what you are after, then this landmark pub might not be ideal for you. But, if you expect a bit more than just a standard pub menu, have an appreciation for good wine and local beers; attentive customer service and an ambience that lets you forget the bustling city outside, and like food that leaves you feeling nurtured, rather than just filled up, then the Grosvenor Hotel has got to be on your to-visit list.

Being a long standing hotel, it had lost its ageing interior when it underwent a major renovation some years ago, but it had only really evolved from the usual pub offering of yesteryear when the current management took over a couple of years ago. While the fresh look of timber laminate benches, bar top and open kitchen with wood fired oven give the whole place a non-pub-like look, the tall wine barrel holding shelving in the public bar gives you more a feel of a food and wine appreciation venue.

And, unmistakably that is what you find when you step into the eatery at the Grosvenor Hotel – a calm, comfortable and sleek ambience with super attentive waiters, dimmed lighting and a menu that poses a foodie’s nightmare – too many good choices.

Faced with just that dilemma, we opted to hand our dinner choice over to host. Needless to say, we got more than we had bargained for. Starting with a massive share platter of prosciutto, Jamon Serrano and Fuet anis salami together with olives, gherkin and oven-baked flat bred, we were also served a stack of fennel and chickpea fingers with a tasty romesco dipping sauce to accompany our meat platter served with a glass of Circe Chardonnay from the Mornington Penninsula.

What a start, which had let the flavours play well of each other and lead us toward the main – and with a cut of around 230kg of grain fed Victorian beef we could not go past one of their top-selling tenders that honours the very quality of the local meat. In our case, medium rare scotch filet, served simply and accompanied by hot English, Dijon mustard and horseradish and a squeeze of lemon, just to enhance its flavours but not drown them.

With generous sides of roast Kent pumpkin with goats curd and flaxseed, chunky house chips infused with oregano and thyme salt and Iceberg salad with shaved ricotta, dill and a perfect lemon vinaigrette, we were truly done to capacity.

Perfectly placed was the drop of Pyrenees grown Fionula Nebbiolo Plus, that danced perfectly with the meat dish and left us feeling blessed to have found this dining oasis behind the more pub-like looking façade. With attention paid to our hydration between glasses of local wines and the abundance of flavoursome well-presented food, we were facing the worst yet – being tempted by the cheese platter as much as by the deserts and not able to fit both of them as much as we would have loved to.

As such, we opted for the savories, a generous selection of Brie de Meaux, Irish Coshel Blue goats cheese and Tete de Moine, a Swiss cheese that is shaved so thinly from the block to fall in cauliflower-like layers that were exquisite and went perfectly with the house-baked fruit bread, muscatels and chutney.

The solution to our prior dilemma before we chose the platter, appeared in form of a paper bag with their top two dessert choices, the tart of the day and the Nutella Calzone neatly wrapped in windowed cardboard boxes, which delighted us the next day. And, they are definitely worth trying.

The Grosvenor is located at 10 Brighton Rd, St Kilda East, minutes from the city and offers not only a well stocked deli-like bottle shop laden with craft beers, snacked and a wide scope of wines, but a drive-through burger bar worth stopping for if not for anything else!

Booking a table at the eatery is not necessary, but recommended especially on weekends, and definitely for their private dining room with cosy fire place and for their function room upstairs. All in all, The Grosvenor is one of those long loved pub venues that has managed its evolution with the time well and if you don’t know what I mean by that, then it has to be experienced to be understood.

I don’t see any argument against experiencing the Grosvenor’s offering for yourself. I’ll see you there, as going back is non-negotiable after my virgin experience. Thanks to the team there who are all as passionate about the culinary arts as they are about their role within the tapestry that made our dining experience unforgettable. www.grosvenorhotel.com.au

P.S. if you really want to miss out on the service and ambiance, you can dial dinner in via Uber Eats and Deliveroo.

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 5th, 2016

There is so much that is positive about this new place, but despite that, it has been challenging to write this review. Its fair to say we experienced most of what the Garden State has to offer, and it was a mixed experience.
We were invited to dine in the Garden Grill however we’d visited this establishment earlier in the week, incognito if you like, so it would be incomplete if we did not comment on our overall experience.

The venue is buzzing and enticing as you enter through the large door, guarded by the friendly doorman. The public bar is an island, front and centre, serving from all 4 sides, so we navigate around it to check out the digs. I can recall how it looked in its previous life – perhaps the tiles are the same? – but what a metamorphosis it has undergone. Thumbs up!

We bob and weave and make our way downstairs, noting lots of timber, concrete and steel as we head to the Rose Garden for a cocktail. This turns out to be a mistake as we are ignored for nearly 10 minutes, despite there being very few people around. Granted, the staff were filling current cocktail orders, yet leaving sufficient opportunity for a friendly smile to acknowledge our presence, which lacked. They seem flustered and to be honest, I was a little worried about the inexperienced flame/torch use in such proximity to alcohol – that and the lack of attention persuaded us to move back to the public bar where we felt safer and happier.

This was a good move as the staff were awesome: friendly, knowledgeable and all too happy to let us taste the wines before choosing. We found a table right near the bar and stayed for quite a while, enjoying the ambiance, the attention, and conversations with the bar staff.

The bar menu is limited but cool; we chose the sliders which arrived with a decent and delicious portion of beef for 6 buns but one lettuce leaf and no salad or garnish, nor sufficient sauce to make these slide. We enjoyed more wine, Chardonnay and Sangiovese, and banter with the guys behind the bar, especially our friend from Chile. We left after our meal as it became noisier, filling up as many locals are keen to try the newest pub on the block.

We were excited to head back a few nights later to the Garden Grill, enticed by the lovely Michelle who had shared the menu with us previously. The space is open, an appropriate mix of contrast lighting – pointed at the bar, but subtle around the perimeter. Music was nice, unobtrusive, suitable. The restaurant was a tad noisy, to begin with – I would suggest asking for a booth at the side when booking which might be somewhat quieter.

We particularly enjoyed Michelle looking after us. A lively and vivacious Canadian in Australia on a holiday visa. We chatted about her travels and her desire to experience Australia.

We started with an espresso martini with a twist – the twist being, spiced rum.
Our sommelier, Reynard allowed me to taste different wines before settling on a glass of Riesling, while my dining companion was not offered the same consideration and in fact was largely ignored. Her recomended sparkling wine from the Loire region in France was disappointing and remained unfinished.

Come to the food, we chose the grass fed beef tartar with malt onions and miso which was disappointing in appearance and nondescript. The thinly sliced fennel pollen cured snapper with apple and sorrel was interesting and tasty; the apple and sorrel light and sweet. Unfortunately, the dishes didn’t seem to go together which affected our appreciation of both.

Our main dishes arrived together and filled the table with aromas and colour. Michelle offered that we move but it looked so good on the small square table.  The Wagyu skirt and the Whiting special were incredibly salty to the point of being unpleasant prompting us to quiz our waitress Michelle as to the origin of the chef. The tapenade paste was delicious and complemented the beef which was palatable with the salty rind removed! The Whiting may have benefitted from a squeeze of lemon.

The tomatoes which accompanied the fish as a side dish were a god-sent and counteracted the saltiness of both dishes, and the golden yellow beets with ricotta a delicious extra choice. Sides aside, while the intention was certainly there, perhaps being this soon since it’s opening, the kitchen team is still fine-tuning things, none the less, the mains were a tad disappointing.

Michelle chose our desserts for us but instead of ‘a taste’, we had 3 full-size desserts to share and they were exquisite.

Roasted tamarillo with vanilla Brulee topped with miso black sesame seed powder – it was amazing. The toasted coconut with raspberry and biscuit is stunning in presentation with a delicate, tangy dusted topping. The espresso sauce is hidden in the chocolate mousse, and when exposed is delicious, served with beetroot crispy – yum. The desserts are interesting with complementing textures, and are truly amazing,

We didn’t try the Beer Garden or the Kiosk, but did inspect the two function areas: one a private bar offering space for 120 guests and the other, a private dining room, seating 20 complete with AV and a terrace. Both rooms are terrific for their contrasting purposes and we have already recommended one for an upcoming event.
So, all in all, we had a fair go at most this new place has to offer. My observation is that most of the staff are inexperienced requiring tighter supervision to guide/advise, and stricter attention to different areas of the venue to ensure overall consistency. Apart from ensuring taste testing

While the venue itself is impressive and a great spot for diverse occasions, I’ll put any disappointment down to the Garden State being new and still getting it all to roll smooth. Having earned overall positive reviews, we are definitely open-minded to give it a second chance,

The Garden State is located at 101 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, and open 7 days, it pays to book ahead for dinners and lunches, while stepping in for drinks and bar meals is fine ad hoc, albeit it does get busy here for good reason. Book online @ Garden State Hotel

Our Vote: 3 out of 5 forks

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 3rd, 2016

Long renowned eatery Mister Bianco in Kew has quite the name on the foodie scene in Melbourne, naturally, I could not resist to try it for myself. Tucked into a small street front venue with big windows and the unmistakable ‘Mister Bianco’ sign, it was easy to find and worth the journey across the city – any day. To be honest, I was not coming entirely without expectations and yet, had them easily surpassed.

Being warmly greeted and welcomed to our small table it instantly gave us the feeling of a classy trattoria yet with the awe of a fine dining eatery and the culinary offering that followed, sure hit the mark. The Negroni set the scene as did the freshly shucked oysters which were delightful with a zest of lemon and a drizzle of limoncello granita, just to tease us into the next stage of our dining experience.

Next up was the Tuna Zingara with cucumber gazpacho and fresh avocado, a colourful and tasty affair that made us both stop in mid-sentence and savour it, eyes closed, for a moment. Accompanied by a neat drop of Il Civettaio Sangiovese, the tuna melting away as the flavours gently played off each other to make this one of our most appreciated Mr Bianco dishes.

Leading on from there was the black Angus carpaccio which made up in tenderness and freshness of the succulent beef (it melted on our tongues) for its presentation, which was not our favourite. It resembled a pizza-like looking dish sprinkled with too many tiny shavings of salted ricotta and a few potato crisps punctuating the look, but drowned the beef’s flavour and hid its colour visually, while the capers really worked well with it. As said the beef was delicate and earned our appreciation, in our view deserving a perhaps more honouring presentation.

Being handed a generous splash of their Primitvo di Manduria Azineda Agri red, we were curious as to what was next with the tender confit of pork belly with parsnip crema, mozzarella fritters and an apple and elderberry relish being a great looking and delightful main course to accompany it.

Next, and a step up in our view was the hand-rolled orecchiette with Swiss brown mushrooms under a rich green taleggio and parsley foam, it looked great and was hard to resist. Perfectly cooked pasta set in a symphony of flavours, it had everything going for it and we could not leave a crumb.

Still to come were the sweets, we opted for ‘Golden Gay Time’ pistachio and praline parfait served with caramelised banana, which we fought over (peacefully mind you) and in contrast the ‘Mt Edna’ volcano of chocolate with blood orange gelato, while impressive on the menu, it lacked the wow factor and was predictable in flavour with the gelato, however being ‘out of this world’. None the less, a beautiful desert most chocolate lovers would ‘ooh’ over (definitely worth a try to make your own judgement). They both left us appreciating our desert.

With an appreciable ambience, attentive and professional service and a menu that definitely validates more than one visit, taking our Mr Bianco experience to not only impress us with our overall experience but its flavours earning a 4 out of 5 forks vote from the two of us.

Mister Bianco is open Tues – Saturday from 12 – 3 and 6.30 – 10…  www.misterbianco.com.au

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Posted by erikbigalk on November 3rd, 2016

Fine dining has been taking the back seat a bit of late with the trend going more toward casual dining, yet not compromising on culinary excellence, but if you want to step it up a bit (literally) then a booking at Eureka89 will not disappoint. Set at 300 meters above the city, Eureka 89 is an experience above the rest right from the start. Be it the red carpet, or the city location, the warm welcome as we stepped up eyes peeled to the tower above, or being led to the lift and handed from one attendant to the next, but as we zoom up the core of Melbourne’s landmark Eureka Tower, we knew we were up for something special…

As soon as we step out of the lift, the lit up city lies beneath us like a sea of lights with the MCG bright like a burning cauldron as we settle into the dimly lit eatery with our seats overlooking the awe-inspiring view. Only moments pass and we are welcomed with a glass of Dominique Piron Cremant de Bourgogne NV, Burgundy France to cleanse our palate and mark the commencement of our 7-course degustation. The feel is calm and relaxed, yet has the formality of a fine dining restaurant, only that the traditional white tablecloths have been traded for black to really let the lights below take the limelight.

First up was a delicious teaser of Beetroot Puree with caramelised walnut and Goats Cheese (interesting, yet yummy) followed by the Calamari, which at first sight had me thinking of creamed corn, which disappeared quickly as soon as I tasted it. It was a concoction of delicate flavours embracing the calamari set between apple, pickled mushroom and bread crisp, a great companion for the French champagne.

While whipped butter and freshly baked bread were left with us, we were soon brought our next installment, the Jerusalem Artichoke taleggio, truffle, hazelnut, and olive crumble accompanied with a splash of the Austrian grown Domäne Krems Grüner Veltliner 2015, a well-matched pair. And, being handed it all to us with an interesting accent from Arianna from Italy, who was as passionate about her role at Eureka as the chefs obviously are about their food. The culinary journey had gotten off to a great start, and we sat in anticipation…

Up next was the King George Whiting interestingly offered with salsify, tobbikoe and wood sorrel together with a glass of Onnanon Pinot Gris 2015 from Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. And, stepping it up next we were seduced by the Squab with chestnut, congo potato, and red pepper tuille, which found a great companion in the Italian 2014 Bruno Rocca ‘’Trifole” Dolcetto dÁlba from Piedmont – delightful!

As we succumb to the culinary bedazzlement gazing at the dreamy Melbourne lights that spread from below to as far as we could see, it was time for the main, a Beef cheek served with freekah, parsnip, white radicchio and black garlic – as you can imagine, a mouth-watering and delicately tasty affair, joined by a deep-dark splash of 2015 McLaren Vale Yangarra Estate “PF” Shiraz from South Australia, which took us to new heights. And, so did the visit at the Skydeck 88 and ‘The Edge’, which is not for the faint of heart…

The Eureka Skydeck does not only offer amazing views right out over the ‘most livable’ city (spectacular during the day and at night), but for those game enough, a step into ‘The Edge’, an all glass cube that extends out from the building 300 meters above the city streets on its 88th floor literally suspending you above the city. Wow! Weak knees may be one of the side-effects (as for me), and a breath-taking world-first experience that certainly spiced up our dining experience, we called it the adrenaline course of our degustation.

Back in our comfy seats at Eureka 89, we were met by a delicate choice of Goats Cheese before (with little room to accommodate it) we were blessed with a rich Chocolate Fondant with mandarin and yuzu, plus a generous splash of a rich dessert wine, just to top it all off…

All in all, it was an elevating experience, both for the senses and from a culinary aspect – most recommended!

Our vote:  5 out of 5 forks! (which is a rare score)

Eureka 89 is open from Tuesday – Saturday from 6pm for a 5 or 7-course degustation plus Sunday lunch for tables from 2 – 24 guests, and also caters to private functions. Just imagine celebrating above the city…   www.eureka89.com.au

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