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

Circolo, Southbank

Quite often I have a destination in mind when I set off for my breakfast adventure every Saturday morning, but I can’t tell you the number of times where somewhere along the journey, I make another café discovery and end up seizing the moment and wind up eating at places I had no initial intention of visiting. I like to plan and am quite decisive but I also like the element of surprise and hint of adventure. Sometimes this can pay off big dividends, leading to wonderful food memories and then there are the few times where I wonder, “Why did I do that?”

On my way to the South Melbourne Market, I decided to take a new route to avoid all the residential apartment building works and by chance ended up walking down Clarke Street. Looking at all the buildings and office spaces in the area, my eyes caught a glimpse of gold decorative art and some beautiful copper pendant lighting through the large floor-to-ceiling windows of a new development. Then I spied some chairs and tables before realising that I was walking past a café – a brand new café with an “OPEN” sign. I threw caution to the wind and thought “Why not?” and walked on in.

It looked as though I was the first customer for the morning and I had my pick of the seating arrangements. The barista behind the counter, looking resplendent in a denim apron with leather trim, looked pleased to see me and gave me a warm morning greeting, as did the young waitress who promptly brought over the breakfast menu. On the way back to the counter, I think she was reminded to take my coffee order and I being on auto-pilot, I gave my usual coffee order for a “large hot skinny latte”. I think I knew I was in big trouble when my request was met with a blank stare and I was asked to repeat my order. One large, hot skinny latte …. please.

Circolo, Southbank
Circolo, Southbank

Another waiter came out from the kitchen into the dining area, also dressed in a tailored denim apron with soft leather trim and wished me pleasant good morning greetings. So at this point, it is just me versus three wait staff. While my coffee order was being processed, I finally had the opportunity to look at the breakfast menu which looked to be fairly stock standard, with a range of egg dishes (Egg on toast, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine, Omelette), pancakes, a Circolo version of a big breakfast, muesli, pastries and French Toast. The menu and the pricing seemed to be out of sync. The “French Toast” option was made with ciabatta and only $5.90. That sounded too good to be true. The “Croissant” was also described as a croissant ciabatta and also priced at $5.90. A croissant ciabatta … that’s a new one. The “Buttermilk Pancakes” were served with Chantilly cream and maple syrup for $12.50 … um, no thanks – that doesn’t even sound appetising. I decided to play it safe and opt for the “Eggs Benedict” – free range poached eggs on English muffins with Virginian ham and Hollandaise sauce. The third highest priced dish on the menu, at $16.50 I made the classic mistake of equating price with quality.

Ready and waiting to order, as the only customer in the café, I had to wait a full ten minutes for the barista to give the waitress a crash course on coffee as he explained all the different types available … which is fine but I am hungry and I am a customer. Once the coffee lesson had finished, the waitress went back to her cutlery-polishing duties so I needed to remind her that I did actually want to order breakfast. I casually placed my order and felt like sliding under the table when my waitress went to the kitchen window and hollered “She wants the Eggs Benedict with her eggs poached hard”. Yep thanks – you got the order right but I’m not sure if the people at the South Melbourne Market actually heard you.

My coffee arrived and to my delight it was exactly what I ordered, served beautifully in a large tumbler. A little on the strong side but quite pleasant nonetheless. The barista came over with the waitress in tow to set my table with napkin and cutlery – obviously I’m being used as a training facility.

Eggs Benedict - Circolo, Southbank
Eggs Benedict – Circolo, Southbank

And then my breakfast arrived. When I read the words “Virginian ham”, I stupidly thought it might be ham off the bone given the price of the dish but sadly it was a couple of cheap ham slices wacked onto a couple of Tip Top English muffins. Unfortunately the abundance of Hollandaise sauce against a white plate made by breakfast look a little insipid. The eggs were hard-poached as requested and the sauce was creamy and silky smooth, but the huge let down was that the English muffins hadn’t been toasted and the moisture from the cooked eggs had made the bread quite soggy. It was edible but “nothing to write home about” as my Dad would say.

I turned a blind eye to the warning signs – new café, staff training-on-the-job, ad hoc menu, only customer – and probably got what I asked for. I was full but hardly satisfied. I walked to the counter and at this point the other waiter decided to get in on the action and process the bill on his flash iPad for my less than satisfactory breakfast experience. I handed over my credit card for payment whereby the waiter then told me that my card had been declined. Yeah … I don’t think so – do it again. You should have seen this guy’s eyes light up when my payment went through. Circolo has all the pretence of a café with all the bells and whistles – fashionable uniforms, nice interiors, state-of-the-art coffee machine and high-tech payment processing equipment – but it just goes to prove that there is no substitute for great service and good food.

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