Seven:am, Port Melbourne

Twelve months ago to the day, I moved into the Southbank area and one of the things I was things I was really looking forward to, was discovering all the wonderful places to eat in the nearby Port Melbourne area. So fast forward 365 days and although I have got as far as asking friends who live there where I should go for breakfast, I have dismally failed to follow through on my own culinary targets and actually get there.

Thinking that it was high time that I needed to rectify the situation, I looked up the location of one of the recommendations, Seven:am café to plan my journey but with the temperature registering a mere seven degrees mid-morning, I wasn’t sure if going out for breakfast was such a great idea after all.

Rugged up with scarf, coat and gloves and happily situated on the No. 109 tram to Port Melbourne, I rediscovered both my enthusiasm and appetite again, secretly glad that I didn’t give into the temptation to stay and eat at home instead. Seven:am is located in Bay Street, not far from the corner of Graham Street so finding the café wasn’t difficult and extremely accessible by public transport, driving home the fact that I really should have taken this journey sooner. Proudly emblazoned across the front window “Winner – Best Breakfast Restaurant in the 2011 Restaurant & Catering ‘Awards for Excellence'”, Seven:am was definitely a cosy, warm and inviting place to be.

As soon as I walked in, I was greeted at the door with a beautiful, friendly smile and the ambient noise of people enjoying themselves and the clatter of cutlery. The place was busy and there was not a vacant seat to be had, for which the waitress was profusely apologising to me for (?!) but apart from thinking that it was my fault for not getting out of my warm bed sooner, I was more than happy to wait for a table to become available … and yet only two minutes later I was actually seated at my own table with a menu and raring to go.

The menu, which still had “Summer 14/15” in the header, looked a little pre-loved although full of fantastic descriptions of popular brunch options. My eyes did spy my all-time favourite dish being Ricotta Cakes (complete with boysenberry ice-cream) but needless to say, I was in the mood for something a little more heart-warming and so I chose the Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough dish instead.

There is so much going on visually with the interior of the café that my eyes were continually drawn to different sections of the walls and ceilings to absorb it all in. The most striking element is the pegboard feature wall with a myriad of glass jars all filled with artificial plants, and nicely decorated along a series of shelves. Above me were a couple of mobile cotton clouds suspended from the ceiling, where coloured wool had been used to create a simple but creative mural of sunshine rays and blue skies. Collages of black and white photos, framed pictures and other memorabilia covered the adjoining brick walls to emphasise the warm feeling of familiarity and the comforts of home.

And to keep adding to the feelings of warmth and comfort, the arrival of my super-sized skinny latte which was deliciously hot and creamy, brought my cold fingers back to life and went down like a treat.

Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough - Seven:am, Port Melbourne
Kessler Bacon with poached eggs, spinach, beans and sourdough – Seven:am, Port Melbourne

There was a little bit of a wait on breakfast but which was long forgotten once it was placed on the table as my dish was everything that I wanted it to be. With steam wafting above the eggs and beans, I knew that I was in for a nice warm, comforting dish. The thick-cut bacon was tender, juicy and just superb. While the spinach and eggs were also delicious, the real surprise in the flavour stakes was the Middle Eastern take on the homemade baked beans which had been beautifully spiced with either cumin or ras el hanout and cooked with onion and red capsicum.

With no particular place to be, I happily ordered a smaller coffee when it was suggested to me by my lovely waitress and felt content to watch the good people of North Melbourne go about their Saturday morning activities along Bay Street. Surrounded in warmth and having enjoyed my indulgence in good food and great service, I decided that seven was indeed my favourite number.

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Paco Y Lola, South Melbourne

Inspiration for my weekly breakfast adventure comes from all manner of sources. One Saturday morning, just for a bit of fun, I decided to browse the hashtag “#melbournefood” on my Instagram account while I was waiting for my breakfast to arrive. The first picture to appear on my iPhone screen was a colourful, appetizing shot of a “Breakfast Pan” by pacoylolamexican at the South Melbourne Market. I thought I had tried most of the cafés and restaurants open for breakfast at the market but obviously there were still more experiences to be enjoyed.

Instagram is my new source of inspiration ... - Paco y Lola, South Melbourne
Instagram is my new source of inspiration … – Paco y Lola, South Melbourne

After a couple of weeks and some more investigating on my behalf to find out the precise location, I walked to Paco Y Lola on Cecil Street on a beautiful, bright Autumn Saturday morning and found a quiet table in corner of the outdoor dining area, making sure the sunshine was poised to warm my shoulders and that I could enjoy a bit of people watching to help pass the time. I had actually been to Paco Y Lola for lunch with my parents six months previously and enjoyed the experience, but failed to realise that they were also serving breakfast.

The breakfast menu is clearly presented on one page and obviously has a Mexican influence with a breakfast burrito on offer and other eggcentric dishes served with either crispy jalapenos, rustic guacamole or tomato salsa. I was happy to see that the Breakfast Pan was still available on the menu, but what shocked me out of my morning stupor were the prices – most dishes were incredibly cheap and were priced at $12.00. The most expensive item on the menu, “Eggs Gremolata” was only $15.00 and indeed sounded worthy of a deluxe price tag – two poached eggs served on top of two golden corn cakes sprinkled with gremolata of finely chopped coriander, kaffir lime leaves, red onion and chilli served with a rustic guacamole, crispy bacon and salsa roja. Mmm … sounds divine but I think I had already fallen in love with the Breakfast Pan the moment I first laid eyes on the dish on Instagram, so my decision was a little bit of a foregone conclusion.

The service at Paco Y Lola is laid back and not obtrusive, although at one stage I must have looked so relaxed and noticeably enjoying my time in the sun that the wait staff thought that they didn’t need to intrude on my solitude, and seemed to avoid my table for a good length of time. But having immensely enjoyed my first cup of coffee and eagerly looking forward to my second cup, I did have to wave someone over to take down my order as the coffee at Paco Y Lola is definitely worth experiencing. Deliciously hot and creamy, with a beautiful roasted aftertaste and served on bright, colourful saucers typical associated with Mexican/Spanish culture, I honestly didn’t expect quality coffee to be served, so I admit that the joke is on me for passing unwarranted judgement because in my humble opinion, it was outstanding.

The Breakfast Pan – eggs, bacon, mushroom, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, casa iberica chorizo, baby spinach and caramelised onions served in the pan with chargrilled bread – was everything that I thought it would be when placed in front of me shortly after ordering. Presented on a large wooden board and with fresh sprigs of coriander adorning the top, the dish was like similar to a large fluffy omelette with the listed individual items hidden and dispersed throughout the shallow cast iron pan. With a slice of succulent honey bacon taking pride of place, I ate my way through the rest of the dish to discover succulent chorizo beneath, then across to the thyme roasted mushrooms, under which were the sweet caramelised onions, over to the roasted cherry tomatoes and wilted baby spinach, so it was like being taken on my own edible adventure. The toast was also delicious and actually the perfect texture and flavour to break up some of the monotony of the egg mixture. Breakfast really was worth walking a few blocks for and the kicker is that it was only $12.00 for such a substantive and fabulous feast.

Breakfast Pan - Paco y Lola, South Melbourne
Breakfast Pan – Paco y Lola, South Melbourne

If I was to think of my local neighbourhood gem, I wouldn’t hesitate to now name Paco Y Lola as mine and I’ve recommended it to a few of my friends looking for a new breakfast destination. Completely unpretentious, with high-quality, fresh and flavoursome food, where else could you get an amazing big breakfast with two coffees for only $19.00?

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Bowery to Williamsburg, Melbourne

I usually end up working on my birthday or leave the country, depending on what year I am celebrating. This year, the stars were aligned and I was able to score a day off for my birthday so I wasted no time in booking the free shuttle bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre to indulge in some retail therapy. Whilst shopping was definitely a key activity in my indulgence itinerary, the first order of the day was to head to Bowery to Williamsburg (aka B2W) for a special breakfast.

I’m probably the only person in Melbourne who hasn’t been to this extremely funky and novel café situated in Oliver Lane, but while B2W has been on my must-do list, I generally tend to avoid the CBD area (and the queues) on weekends so B2W seemed like the perfect location for a mid-week breakfast escapade … and besides, it’s only a few metres away from the Chadstone bus pick-up point.

Shining like a beacon with bright lights illuminating the cold grey alleyway, B2W looks a little out of place in the shadow of tall office buildings and trendy living areas – I liken it to stumbling upon a secluded cabin in the urban jungle. I love that feeling you get where it’s past 9.30 am and you’ve avoided the early morning breakfast rush and can saunter into a popular place and have your pick of seating location … maybe that’s what they mean by “lady of leisure”! I wandered downstairs and found a seat on the corner of the large communal table – my own little oasis in the big city.

Just looking through B2W’s menu evoked wonderful memories of long-forgotten trips to New York with descriptions of bagels, schmears, Cuban sandwiches, and salmon lox, all combined with my favourite childhood dishes of potato latkes and challah that my Baba used to make. After last week’s disastrous breakfast, I felt that it was high-time that I reverted back to ordering something sweet and soul-enriching. The Sweet Breakfast Board looked enticing but the next item on the menu, Graceland with bacon, banana, whipped peanut butter on fried challah, was definitely a breakfast worthy of The King himself. Just to top off the festival of indulgence, I also decided to throw in a serving of ice cream as well.

Bowery to Williamsburg, Melbourne
Bowery to Williamsburg, Melbourne

My coffee was a welcome arrival after ordering my breakfast and quite pleasant, although not quite hot enough for my palate. And then breakfast arrived, presented exactly how I envisaged it would look like. Two thick slices of fried challah (it’s similar to brioche) encompassing crispy bacon, fried banana and peanut butter, sitting in a pool of maple syrup and finished with a fine dusting of icing sugar.

Graceland, Bowery to Williamsburg, Melbourne
Graceland, Bowery to Williamsburg, Melbourne

The challah was perfection – thickly sliced, nicely cooked, a light and fluffy consistency and sweet to taste. The banana was soft and well cooked but the definite highlight was the crunchy peanut butter sauce underneath the banana. I didn’t think it lived up to the “whipped” description on the menu but it tasted homemade and was full of flavour. Fine bits of crunchy peanut shards provided enough texture to balance the soft banana and bread elements of the dish. The salty bacon was a perfect addition to take some of the sweetness away from the breakfast and also complemented the savoury notes in the peanut butter.

As much as I loved my breakfast experience, I needed to get a move on and be on time for my next adventure for the day. I almost had to cover my eyes as I stood in line waiting to pay my bill, to avoid the beautiful pastries and cakes on display. Bowery to Williamsburg was definitely a culinary experience worth waiting for and I’m glad that I looked for an excuse to include a visit in my own festival of indulgence. As Elvis himself sang “Now go, cat, go”.

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Fandango, North Melbourne

Flopped on the couch after a long week on wintry Friday night and slowly succumbing to a head cold, the last thing I wanted to do was plan my Saturday breakfast escapade. Feeling somewhat miserable and sorry for myself, I just wanted to hibernate away from the world and try to get better but alas, with absolutely no food in the fridge, it was becoming increasingly necessary to find a café that was homely, tranquil and hopefully not too far away from home. Dreaming of all the fresh fruit and vegetables I wanted to buy from the Queen Vic Markets, I started looking for cafés in the North Melbourne area on my Urbanspoon/Zomato app and once captivated by the numerous food photos taken at Fandango, I knew I had a destination.

I hate to admit it but it’s been at least four years since I’ve headed to North Melbourne for breakfast … absolutely shocking, I know. Looking at all the new and busy cafés as the tram rolled along Victoria Street and then into Errol Street, I realised that I really been missing out and made a mental note to come back along this route as soon as I possibly can. Thankfully it was a brisk but sunny, beautiful autumn morning which lifted my spirits considerably and made me feel glad that I felt well enough to enjoy another breakfast adventure. What surprised me the most as I reached my intended destination, was that there were no queues of people waiting (despite the close proximity to Auction Rooms) and once inside, there were only five tables, of which three were empty, so it seemed that my prayers to find somewhere quiet and peaceful had come true.

Fandango really is a step back in time. Sitting with the sunshine on my face near the open window, surrounded by mission brown walls, caramel-coloured floor tiles, macramé plant holders and plush green velour curtains with a resplendent white fringe, I was starting to trip out on childhood memories of eating out with my family in the ‘70s, without even taking any cold and flu medication. Being in such a small space means that your arrival cannot go unnoticed which is great because I had a menu and coffee on its way in less than a minute of being seated.

The menu, also brown in colour, is concise but well presented. The daily specials were leaping out at me in big, bold print from the front page when I opened the menu cover. I must admit the French toast with bacon, whipped Bulgarian feta, grilled tomato and roasted red pepper relish ($18) gave me food for thought, but I wanted something a little more restorative so I chose the other fruit-driven version – French toast with bacon, cinnamon baked apple, maple butter and maple syrup.

More shades of brown came into view as my coffee arrived on its own brown-coloured saucer and complemented by a funky, retro brown sugar dispenser. The coffee is excellent but unfortunately it only comes in one small glass size if you are opting to dine in. But the sad thing is that after I had asked for a super-sized coffee, you would think that the same person who took your coffee order and then promptly swiped away the empty coffee glass a couple of minutes later, might actually ask if you would like another. Alas, no and despite being one of only six people seated inside, they actually didn’t come near my table again. I concede that this may be because I was a little under the weather but it’s an epic fail not to attempt to offer a second cup of coffee.

French toast with bacon, cinnamon baked apple, maple butter and maple syrup - Fandango, North Melbourne
French toast with bacon, cinnamon baked apple, maple butter and maple syrup – Fandango, North Melbourne

Waves of nostalgia washed over me when my breakfast arrived at the table. The plate on which the French Toast was served is the same crockery setting that my grandmother had in her home and I clearly remember helping to collect the Coles stamps for her to buy the whole dinner set, many moons ago. Breakfast looked absolutely spectacular and appeared to represent comfort food in the extreme. Whilst the coffee isn’t super-sized, the French Toast serving actually is. Made from fresh Turkish bread, there were four large pieces on the base of the plate which I made a small dent in.

The baked apple was soft and caramelised, smothered in maple butter and soothing to the soul. The serving of bacon was also very generous and very nicely cooked as well as presented. The handful of snow pea tendrils on the side was a nice accompaniment and helped cut through the richness of the bacon flavour.

A few more people were coming into the café and then being pointed back out around the corner to another area which I think is the courtyard so Fandango is highly regarded as a neighbourhood gem. Indeed, for me Fandango was a great find and filled the brief to find a place that was relaxed with a touch of familiarity and comfort.

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White Rabbit, Brighton

When I moved to Melbourne six years ago, I had the romantic notion that on the weekends, I would jump onto a tram or train, and travel to places and suburbs that I had never been to before and discover the city. I didn’t want to say that I had lived in Melbourne, but only be familiar with a very small part of it. There have been on occasions, times where I have been able to do just that and explore an area that is unfamiliar to me and enjoy discovering somewhere new, but with weekend routines and commitments combined with the privilege of having so many wonderful places to eat within walking distance of where I live, I’ve let my adventurous spirit have a little bit of a rest.

That is, until now. The other night I realised that whilst I have friends who live in Brighton, I am not familiar with the area or have really eaten there. So with a destination in mind, I jumped on the Sandringham line and took a trip of discovery. Getting off at the Middle Brighton station, there is a café called Track Three Espresso, which is literally a metre from the train platform. The café was extremely busy and looked like it was the place to be, with a small queue of people waiting for a table, although I decided to keep walking and see what else I might find.

Across the road, I could see another busy café called “White Rabbit” with an inviting outdoor dining area, large canvas umbrellas and white wooden chairs, although once inside it seemed to be more of a bistro or restaurant than a café. The place was almost full with groups of friends catching up over coffee and young families enjoying breakfast together, however I managed to find a vacant table down the back and sat down to take in the surroundings and look at the menu.

There were lots of surprises in terms of breakfast options on the menu, with exotic savoury focussed dishes such as spiced coated sardines, fritters with goats cheese, a breakfast bruschetta and burrito on offer, and even moussaka. I have fond memories of my Mum making scotch eggs for dinner as a child, so I ordered the Walnut Eggs, which comprised of walnut spiced crumbed eggs, kataifi nest, kasundi, fresh herbs pickled cauliflower, house cured bacon and buttered fried solders.

Walnut spiced crumbed eggs, kataifi nest, kasundi, fresh herbs pickled cauliflower, house cured bacon and buttered fried soldiers - White Rabbit, Brighton
Walnut spiced crumbed eggs, kataifi nest, kasundi, fresh herbs pickled cauliflower, house cured bacon and buttered fried soldiers – White Rabbit, Brighton

When my breakfast arrived, it looked like the Easter bunny had arrived earlier than expected with two witlof leaves masquerading as rabbit ears. With a generous serving of bacon on the plate, it was cooked well and relatively lean with the fat and rind removed, so it was easy to eat and enjoy and was not too crispy. There was a lot of kasundi relish at the bottom of the plate, which was full of roasted tomato flavour. The toast was great, although in hindsight, I wish I had eaten it first before it fell victim to the sea of kasundi. The eggs had been hard boiled and coated in a thin crust of walnut, spices and flour and although they were the feature of the dish, it was hard to detect any real flavour and there wasn’t a textural element. The standout component of the dish for me, was the lightly pickled cauliflower florets, shredded red cabbage and rocket salad which formed a colourful and delicious salad within the kataifi nest. It was fresh and full of flavour and provided the crunch that the dish needed. The kataifi nest, which looked spectacular, was a clever addition however it had an overwhelming taste of vegetable oil so it remained on the plate.

While the barista may not win any awards for coffee art, my latte was delicious. The service at White Rabbit was good considering how busy it was. I was lucky enough to have been looked after by someone who was attentive and doesn’t mind engaging with the customers, although another team member dropped by my table later and silently deposited my second coffee without a sound, so it’s hard to make a definitive statement in that regard. White Rabbit is situated right next to the railway line and there is the occasional loud rumble of the train either coming into or leaving the station, so don’t sit too close to the wall if you don’t like unexpected surprises!

White Rabbit Restaurant on Urbanspoon