Town & Country, Balwyn

For the past five years, I’ve had a regular housesitting gig over the Australia Day long weekend, where I decamp from my apartment in the city and take up residence in a somewhat larger dwelling in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It’s my very own version of ‘Escape to the Country’ if you will, where I can get away from the familiar and discover what it is like to live in another part of my city.

So it felt kind of apt to kick-off the long weekend with a leisurely brunch at Town & Country in Balwyn. Sitting in the open front courtyard with the morning light filtering through the canopy overhead, I could have certainly been anywhere else in the world instead of having breakfast alongside a busy metropolitan road.

With a welcome cool breeze on my face, and my coffee order on the way, I got down to the difficult task of deciding what to order for breakfast. The current seasonal menu is heavily geared towards savoury options, but any dish that includes ‘Dr Marty’s crumpets’ usually seals the deal for me.

Albeit a slightly edgier take on Eggs Florentine, two substantial stacks laden with chargrilled asparagus, baby spinach, thick slices of smoked salmon, poached eggs topped with a careful consideration of hollandaise sauce, complimented with a large sprig of fresh and deliciously pungent dill, was a visually spectacular ensemble.

Smoked salmon with Dr Marty's crumpets, grilled asparagus, baby spinach, poached eggs and tarragon hollandaise - Town & Country, Balwyn
Smoked salmon with Dr Marty’s crumpets, grilled asparagus, baby spinach, poached eggs and tarragon hollandaise – Town & Country, Balwyn

And the taste didn’t disappoint either. The asparagus was a notable addition – it was so soft and tasty from the length of time on the grill that it only took a fork to pull it apart.

However the real hero of the dish would be the thick, doughy crumpets that absorbed all the moisture from the spinach, poached eggs and thick sauce and yet still held their shape and bread-like taste. My faith in Dr Marty’s creations continues to be justified.

Town & Country, Balwyn
Town & Country, Balwyn

The coffee is also full-bodied and delicious. Service is friendly and very attentive although it would be fair to say that the staff are quite busy, so patience is required.

Apart from the cafe, Town & Country also includes a nursery and homewares store, fully stocked with designer soft furnishings and unique decorator items, so make sure you exit through the gift shop. And why not? It’s a public holiday afterall.

Town & Country Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mr Hendricks Café, Balwyn

As much as I love the art of decluttering and adhering to organising and minimalist principles, I must admit that my iPad is in complete disarray; absolutely chock full of saved bookmarks from newspaper articles and random, unfiled notes on cafés across a multitude of apps, highlighting places that I should potentially go and visit for breakfast. Somewhere in all that mess, I happened to come across something that recalled to mind that there was a café called Mr Hendricks Café located in Balwyn on my must-go list. With the added bonus of staying in Kew this week and discovering that the café is also directly located on the #109 tram route, it would seem like a wasted opportunity to be in such close proximity and not make an effort to go there for breakfast.

Finding the location was easy enough and I seemed to arrive in the nick of time to be able to secure a table, because within fifteen minutes the place was busy and a small queue had started to form. It’s so exciting to see a unique breakfast menu with a number of original signature dishes, not often seen or replicated elsewhere. I’m always a sucker for French Toast at the best of times, particularly when it’s of the brioche variety, but I had already consoled myself with a couple of images from Instagram and moved on. The Francophile in me particularly warmed to the thought of indulging in a Cassoulet with braised beans, smoked ham hock, lamb shoulder, toulouse sausage, confit duck leg, persilade and fried egg. The description of the Prawn and Corn Fritters was beyond compare and even the Avocado on Toast sounded extraordinary with the inclusion of wekame, sesame, pickled cucumber salad and lemon gel as key elements within the dish. My coffee arrived and someone was keen to take my order, but inexplicably I needed another couple of minutes to arrive at a decision. After much deliberation, I finally settled on the Crispy Eggs with sweet potato puree, ham jock, salad of fennel, radish, red onion and candied walnuts.

The café fit-out is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, almost a refined industrial décor that made the frustrated interior designer in me just sit back and admire the room’s composition in jealous admiration. Soft tan leather cushions on the banquette seating, attractive pendant lighting, glossy black Thonet chairs, elegant gold lettering on every door and window and beautiful polished wooden bench tops and tables in rich warm tones ticked all of my aesthetic boxes.

Coffee is available in a standard cup size, although after my spree of ordering larger versions, the glass seemed to have shrunk. My latte was creamy and delicious but after a couple of sips, another glass was definitely in order.

Crispy Eggs with sweet potato puree, ham hock, salad of fennel, radish, red onion and candied walnuts - Mr Hendricks Cafe, Balwyn
Crispy Eggs with sweet potato puree, ham hock, salad of fennel, radish, red onion and candied walnuts – Mr Hendricks Cafe, Balwyn

Trying to capture an appropriate image for my food chronicle was no mean feat – there were so many colours and items on the plate that trying to fit them into one frame was a frustrating task. Photographic duties aside, I went straight for the ham hock which was simply delicious, slightly crispy yet soft and salty at the same time. There was plenty of meat on the plate, yet it was something I found myself wanting more and more of. The crumb on the boiled eggs came away easily and delicious with the sweet potato puree, but made for a bit of sport trying to scoop a mouthful onto my fork. “Slippery little suckers”, one might say.

I’m not a huge advocate of salad for breakfast yet surprisingly, I loved it and would say it was absolutely my favourite part of breakfast. From the crunch of the candied walnuts to the finely shaved fennel, the entire salad was beautifully dressed with a silky, smooth and slightly sweet honey mustard dressing, with every leaf glistening with the sheen of olive oil.

Completely satisfied with my breakfast, I even ordered a third cup of coffee just so I could sit and prolong the indulgence for just a little bit longer. A way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach, and Mr Hendricks, I’d have to say that you have certainly captured mine.

Mr Hendricks Cafe 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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Square and Compass, East Melbourne

When the headline of a feature article in last Tuesday week’s Epicure Good Food section of “The Age” newspaper announces “Melbourne’s best new cafes 2015”, I didn’t hesitate to greedily devour the descriptive text and stunning photos on my iPad, excited to discover potential new destinations for my Saturday morning breakfast adventures.

The top position for best new café was awarded to Square and Compass in East Melbourne. Apart from the fabulous looking photos of delicious food grabbing my undivided attention, when I looked up the café’s location in Clarendon Street, I was pleased to see that it was readily accessible via tram from home.

Located in a residential pocket of East Melbourne that is situated nearby to several private hospitals within the area, walking the short distance from the tram stop in Victoria Parade towards my intended address, it became apparent that it made smart business sense to establish a brand new eatery in this part of the city. The square and compass is widely recognised as the symbol of the Freemasons who also operate some of those same hospitals so the name of the café is a clever reference. Arriving at Clarendon Street, my heart almost sank … unfortunately for me, I think everyone else in Melbourne read the article too with a long queue of people waiting outside for a table to become available. I guess if you print it, they will come.

Square and Compass has a beautiful red-brick heritage frontage which contrasts the very modern interior fit-out with clean lines and soft pink accents once you set foot inside the front door. I confidently walked inside and stood by the counter for a few minutes to be able to put my name down on the list, but with every conceivable dining space fully occupied, I knew I was going to be in for a little bit of a wait before being seated.

So far I have been extremely fortunate in not having to wait for lengthy periods of time at most of the venues that I have been to so I’m not an expert in what constitutes a good or bad queue. My total wait time was fifteen minutes and I think that was partially due to the fact that I was a solo diner and made it a little easier for me to move up the list. Thankfully the sun was out and sitting outside to wait wasn’t too much of a hardship however I think there were a couple of groups who had been waiting for almost an hour for a table and their displeasure was becoming noticeable.

Just when I thought that I had been forgotten, my name was called and I was able to secure a place on the communal table towards the back of the internal dining area. I had no idea that there was also an outdoor section at the rear of the building which I could spy on through the floor to ceiling windows, looking just as comfortable and cosy as the inside although probably much quieter as the cacophony in the dining area from the volume of patrons packed inside was quite loud.

Flicking through the menu, there is a lot of variety to choose from including an impressive selection of ancient grains and super foods to enhance the average breakfast dish but it’s been a while since I indulged in something sweet so I ordered the Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps.

Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps - Square and Compass, East Melbourne
Waffles, strawberry and rhubarb compote, vanilla crème, brandy snaps – Square and Compass, East Melbourne

Understandably, there was a little bit of a wait on breakfast but surprisingly the food was served just before the coffee, despite ordering it when I was seated. The coffee was beautifully presented in a porcelain mug but the only thing hot about my coffee was the vessel in which it was served in, otherwise it was cool to drink and unremarkable.

There was a sense of déjà vu when the waffles arrived as they looked very similar to what I had ordered at Touchwood six months ago and then I realised that the two cafés have common ownership interests. The dish looked spectacular and drew lots of interest from fellow diners but the waffles were cold and rubbery and quite difficult to cut into smaller portions. The compote was nice as was the vanilla crème, fresh fruit and edible flowers but the hit for me was the brandy snaps to enhance the contribution in the flavour and texture stakes.

Kudos to the person on the door who kept his cheery disposition and capably managed the throng of people trying to get in through the doors. He was the only person willing to stop and take my order after hastily setting a place at the communal table for the arrival of another customer, otherwise I might still be sitting there waiting. There seemed to be a few staff running around to deposit meals and coffees from the kitchen with German efficiency but no one else in my section of the café who wanted to engage with general public.

To be honest, my experience at Square and Compass was okay … and only just okay. There have been some fantastic places that I have discovered over the last twelve months who have evolved without the same fanfare and media publicity and which I very much look forward returning to, but as for me Square and Compass haven’t made this list.

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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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Magic Mountain Saloon, Melbourne

Saturday is always a day of anticipation. As much as I love heading off to discover great places to eat, the first order of business on the weekend is to make my own latte and crawl back into bed to read Saturday’s edition of The Age on my iPad. One of favourite segments is Kylie Northover’s write up of Melbourne’s best brekkies and what’s new on the burgeoning café scene. Lying in the comfort and warmth of my bed, I started to read about Magic Mountain Saloon and it’s “out there” breakfast menu, which is essentially a mash up of Anglo and Thai flavours. I didn’t have to read very far to be sold on the idea of experiencing my own weekend breakfast there, as the article had a very enticing picture of the Chicken and Kaffir Lime Scotched Eggs, Pork Ribs and Tamarind breakfast dish.

This end of Little Collins Street is rather quiet on a Saturday morning and I started to wonder if I had the correct address before noticing the fluorescent symbols illuminating the windows and doorway to let me know that I had reached my destination. The good thing is that there were no queues and once I walked inside, I really did have my pick of tables. The sole waiter on duty showed me to a table and banquette by the window but as luck would have it, that table was in desperate need of a clean. Once the situation had been rectified, I had a menu to peruse and my coffee was taken, although I wasn’t sure where the orders were going to as there wasn’t a lot of activity happening behind the counter where the coffee machine was located.

Magic Mountain Saloon really does feel like … well, a saloon. With dark interiors and dim lighting, the large bar area which takes centre stage, has been fashioned with a marble top and wooden decorative scrollwork overhead and obviously great pains have been taken to ensure that it looks like one of those bars featured in Hollywood’s version of the Wild West. For a breakfast venue, it felt somewhat cold and impersonal. I had the feeling as though I had walked into a bar still recovering from a big one the night before and I was sitting in the aftermath, so maybe there is no intended magic to be had in the ambience stakes – it simply is what it is – a bar that’s also open for breakfast.

The menu, aptly named “Breakfast on the Mountain” is quite comprehensive, with quite a few dishes to choose from, although helpfully categorised into distinct sections to make selections somewhat easier. It’s definitely Asian-inspired cuisine, but not as you or I would know it – picture pork belly rather than bacon or daikon as a substitute for potato in the humble hash brown and Morning Glory instead of baby spinach. Besides the eclectic morning food menu, there is also a substantial “Morning Sunshine” cocktail list and a range of non-alcoholic drinks. I prefer hot drinks in the cooler months but I was starting to mentally picture myself wandering to Magic Mountain Saloon in late Spring for breakfast and an iced beverage or two.

My Mum used to make scotched eggs when I was a little and whilst it always looked and tasted delicious, I can’t imagine it would have been easy to make. Being a dish that I would never make at home, I thought that the Chicken and Kaffir Lime Scotched Eggs, Pork Ribs and Tamarind would be a great start to the day. When I gave my breakfast order, my waiter asked me how much heat I could tolerate and at that hour of the day, I admitted that I preferred my spice intake to be on the mild side. The sage advice given to me was to choose another dish so off the cuff I went with the Ocean Trout and Ginger Scrambled Eggs and got the nod of approval from my waiter. Phew!

Ocean Trout and Ginger Scrambled Eggs - Magic Mountain Saloon, Melbourne
Ocean Trout and Ginger Scrambled Eggs – Magic Mountain Saloon, Melbourne

While breakfast was cooking, my coffee order arrived but unfortunately the café latte wasn’t that exceptional (or even hot) making me think that I really should have taken the time to digest the cocktail list. Thankfully I didn’t wait all that long for my breakfast to arrive and despite the last minute change in decision, I think I definitely made the right one. Succulent pieces of pan-seared ocean trout, mixed with a savoury interpretation of wok-tossed scrambled eggs, fresh sprigs of coriander, served on top of thickly sliced toast was just what I wanted and it was all mine. The flavour in the scrambled eggs was delicious but hard to define – I couldn’t overtly detect the presence of ginger on my palate because of the inclusion of spring onion and onion in the egg mixture – but it was silky smooth in texture and the Asian flavours were mouth-watering. I loved the chunky morsels of ocean trout which were beautifully cooked but the toast was so soft and light in texture, it was just perfect for absorbing the strong combination of flavours on the dish. It was quite an amazing breakfast and well recommended.

As the morning progressed, the dining room got a lot busier and the poor lone waiter started to be run off his feet so it was time to “get the hell out of Dodge” as they say in a famous Western. Magic Mountain Saloon offers something magical in its interpretation of breakfast fare and I know I need to come back soon to have a crack at the scotched eggs, even if I have to wash it down with a few slugs of whiskey to counteract the heat factor.

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