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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