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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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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