Mastic, Kew

There is something about beautiful sunny Saturday mornings during Spring. I don’t know whether it is the warm sunshine coupled with blue skies that spark feelings of rejuvenation or the fragrant blossoms on trees, but after working long hours during the colder months, under the constant glare of artificial lights and continually having to miss my beloved Body Pump classes, Saturday morning heralded my first non-working weekend for a month and brought with it, a commitment to get back into a healthier lifestyle. In the spirit of new beginnings, having temporarily exchanged my inner city lifestyle and relocated to the leafy surrounds of Kew for the coming month, the opportunity to explore new cafés and food destinations in the area brought an added sense of adventure. What better way to kick-off the weekend than by heading to Mastic, George Colombaris’ café venture dedicated to healthy and nutritious eating.

The café fit-out is quite unique; with plywood cabinetry and structures built overhead but has a rather confused sense of style in that I wasn’t sure if I was having breakfast at a high school cafeteria or the gymnasium. Thick coloured strips of red and clear plastic separate the café space from the neighbouring Hellenic Republic restaurant; green and white plastic-coated wire chairs are used for seating on top of a blue “raised dot” linoleum floor surface; large plywood communal tables with colourful geometric designs, blackboards and table tennis bats adorning the wall space all contributed to a decidedly “institutional” presence in the interior design. I retreated to a marble-topped table in the back corner and patiently waited five minutes or so for someone to acknowledge my arrival.

It’s not easy being green which I discovered when looking through the breakfast menu. As much as I desire to be lean and healthy, the thought of drinking a green whole fruit smoothie with kale, spinach and other leafy ingredients didn’t thrill me at all, nor did the farro salad and buckwheat porridge dishes. But what did catch my eye was the description of the French toast, blueberries, strawberries, crème fraiche and buckinis offering – I guess if George says it’s good for you, then who am I to say otherwise?

I was thoroughly looking forward to my latte which arrived in a beautiful matte black cup, only to be told by the waiter that they had to pop out back and get some more teaspoons. I usually hate having things placed in front of me and told not to touch, but I can only surmise that it was either my extreme tiredness or newly acquired zen-like attitude that enabled me to patiently watch this guy return to the front counter with a handful of clean spoons and commence his duties in the kitchen. I watched him disappear out back and several moments later he returned to the table with my breakfast. Just before he sped off, I politely asked for a teaspoon and he didn’t bat so much as an eyelid at my request.

French toast, blueberries, strawberries, creme fraiche, buckinis - Mastic, Kew
French toast, blueberries, strawberries, creme fraiche, buckinis – Mastic, Kew

Healthy food needn’t be boring or ugly, as evidenced by the colourful array of berries and presentation of the dish. There was a mixture of both fresh and freeze-dried berries scattered over the toast providing lots of added flavour and texture to the palate. I have no idea what type of bread was served (or even if it was bread) but it was soft with a cake-like consistency and quite sweet to taste, as though drizzled in a syrup. It was extremely delicious and not as dense or heavy as a traditional French toast. Buckinis, as advised by Google, are activated grains of buckwheat and added another textural element in addition to the freeze-dried fruit. The crème fraiche broke up the density and sweetness of the cake mixture with just enough served to not overwhelm the other elements on the plate.

Not surprisingly, I polished off my first coffee due to its lukewarm state and was now anxious to order another. I slowly ate my breakfast and tried in vain to catch the attention of my waiter who had set himself the task of walking around the café to monitor empty tables (which were numerous) and not make eye-contact with actual customers. After an agonising five minutes, I suddenly hit upon the novel idea of scoffing down the remainder of my breakfast and placing my empty plate in full view in a desperate bid to lure him over to my table, and guess what … it worked. Incredibly, my second latte was brought over by the barista within a minute of ordering which restored some of my misgivings regarding the level of service at Mastic. Having enjoyed a “healthy” breakfast and a great cup of coffee, I had all the energy needed to venture out and make the most of my weekend.

Mastic Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Balderdash, Port Melbourne

Drinking copious amounts of alcohol mid-afternoon has the ability to make one believe that you are capable of almost anything. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying several new release Bress wines during a long lunch at Harry & Frankie’s wine bar in Port Melbourne. At last year’s Bress seasonal lunch, I made several vows that I was going to make a trip to their cellar door in Harcourt and re-stock my cellar and yet of course that journey never eventuated. So with the order form in front of me and a few glasses under my belt, I thought nothing of ordering half a dozen bottles of wine to pick up at a later date.

Naturally when the call came to collect my wines, only then did it dawn on me that it might prove to be somewhat difficult to lug six bottles home when using public transport as the preferred mode of transportation. Being the victim of my own senseless self-talk required me to return to Port Melbourne this weekend, and so it seemed a natural choice to head directly to the nearby Balderdash for breakfast.

Several friends who live in this locality have recommended this café to me and with the promise of warmer weather starting to eventuate, I started to feel glad that my crazy notions were taking me on random food adventures as I walked towards the café. When I walked inside, all the tables were occupied which left me with a seat in the front window to enjoy the brilliant warm sunshine.

The service at Balderdash is very friendly, attentive and definitely service with a smile. At first glance, the menu seemed to be a stock-standard café menu with a handful of typical breakfast dishes but when I stopped and took another look at the descriptions of each dish, I discovered another side to what was printed on paper.

I was intrigued about the description of the Pulled Pork Benedict although I wasn’t sure if it was served with toast, and as luck would have it, at that precise moment my coffee arrived. The person who served it saw the opened menu and was ready to take my breakfast order, but also took the time to explain in quite some detail what was included within the dish once I had asked the question. I was sold as soon as they said “brioche bun” but after politely listening to the spiel, I gave them the thumbs up to go ahead and locked in my order.

Enjoying a delicious hot, creamy latte and watching the morning traffic along Bay Street go by, I was shocked out of my reverie when breakfast was served within only what seemed several minutes after ordering.

Pulled Pork Benedict, Slow cooked pork shoulder with two poached eggs, hollandaise and prosciutto crumb - Balderdash, Port Melbourne
Pulled Pork Benedict, Slow cooked pork shoulder with two poached eggs, hollandaise and prosciutto crumb – Balderdash, Port Melbourne

A feast for eyes as well as being a substantial meal, the Pulled Pork Benedict consists of slow cooked pork shoulder with two poached eggs, hollandaise and prosciutto crumb, and is served on a brioche bun with fresh spinach. Although I had been leaning towards ordering the corn fritters when I had first arrived, I was glad that my inner voice again persuaded me to give this dish a try.

The shredded pork was extremely succulent and tender and also well-matched with the silky, creamy texture of the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. The novelty factor was the smattering of dried and finely diced prosciutto over the eggs, to form a crunchy crumb and balance the abundance of soft textures throughout the dish. I have a deep and abiding love for any form of brioche at the best of times and the inclusion of the sweet and fluffy bread to this dish definitely brought a smile to my face.

While foolish talk can sometimes lead you on journeys that are unexpected, they can also be a source of fun and provide the opportunity to take the road less travelled. In the end, the belief in my own strength led me to towards a wonderful café and enjoy a fabulous meal that I might have otherwise overlooked. Ironically, I later discovered that carrying six bottles of wine home on a tram is actually an easy feat after all.

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Boundary Espresso, Preston

My desire to maintain my personal upkeep for less has led to my current obsession with the LivingSocial website and its bargain offerings. A recent purchase meant that I needed to be in Preston area to honour a commitment this past Saturday morning but more importantly it gave me a chance to explore somewhere new for breakfast. Looking at what cafés were located around the Bell Street and Plenty Road vicinity, I found Boundary Espresso on the map and planned my visit accordingly.

Walking along a somewhat bleak and desolate strip of Plenty Road, I could actually smell something delicious in the air just before Boundary Espresso came into view. My timing couldn’t have been more perfect when I pushed open the door into the tiny dining area and made my way to the last vacant table available inside.

After being warmly greeted with a menu and my coffee order taken, I sat back to take in the surrounds. Although there are only several tables available for patrons inside, the interior is homely with warm wooden furniture, a striking blue feature wall and floor to ceiling windows to flood the space with natural light.

The breakfast menu is fairly concise with a Turkish influence. In addition to the availability of pide specialties and a Turkish Breakfast, there are several variations of baked egg dishes, homemade muesli, and a pear and date crumble. I must admit that I missed noting the pear and date crumble until it was served to the table next to me, together with a serving of “Green eggs and ham”, both of which prompted a serious case of food envy on my behalf. But given the predictions of artic blasts embattling Melbourne over the coming weekend, I opted for heart-warming description of Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette – containing two free-range eggs, caramelised leeks and goats cheese topped with an olive tapenade, served with toast – to ward off the winter chills.

My large, hot skinny latte was served in an exquisite ceramic tumbler and had a rich, roasted flavour. It’s easy to understand why there is a busy take-away coffee trade in addition to the constant throng of diners. The service is extremely friendly and obliging, with many of the regulars treated like long-lost friends.

Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette - Boundary Espresso, Preston
Two-egg caramelised leek and goats cheese omelette – Boundary Espresso, Preston

It didn’t take all that long for breakfast to arrive at my table. The first order of business after taking a few obligatory photos was to take the thick wedges of butter and place them between piping hot pieces of toasted Turkish bread. While the wind and rain raged against the windows outside, there was nothing more comforting and delicious than tearing into warm bread dripping with melted butter.

I could discuss the nuances of omelettes as opposed to frittatas but whatever the outcome, the dish was extremely tasty and delicious. The salty flavours of the black olive tapenade were a perfect foil for the soft creaminess of the goats cheese found the in the centre of the egg dish. The peppery notes of the fresh rocket, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, cut through the rich textures of the egg and leek mixture. Needless to say all jealous thoughts of other dishes seemed to vanish upon consumption of my own breakfast but rather gave me something to look forward to upon my imminent return.

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