Conservatory, Southbank

Everyone loves a good buffet and no one more so than my mother. Last year we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the Conservatory restaurant within the Crown Casino and I know that Mum has been very much looking forward to a return visit, so the choice for breakfast on Mother’s Day was a no-brainer.

The Conservatory doesn’t take reservations for Sunday mornings. Living in very close proximity to the Casino, I assumed that we would be able to get up early enough to secure a table without queuing. Unfortunately our interpretation of being “early” failed in practice and there was a long line of people outside waiting for tables to become available when we arrived at 9.15am. And so we waited, patiently waited, until after 50 minutes Mum, Dad and I were finally escorted into the dining room.

I love the elegance of the Conservatory’s décor with large open windows looking out onto Southbank and the Yarra River, mirrored walls and high ceilings with art deco chandeliers and wall sconces contributing to the refinery.

Conservatory, Southbank
Conservatory, Southbank

In essence, the buffet breakfast is not dissimilar to that being offered by other international hotels with a selection of both cold and hot food, a bakery selection with croissants, muffins and pastries, fresh fruit and cereals. Unfortunately with the sheer volume of people inside the restaurant, naturally there was a another long queue of people waiting for their bacon, eggs and hash browns so I avoided that section and went looking for other things to try.

I struck gold underneath the bright shining lights on another counter when I happened upon a stack of fluffy pancakes and a small jug of caramel banana sauce. Filtered coffee and specialty tea is included in the $55 per head price tag for breakfast however be prepared to wait a considerable amount of time, repeat your coffee order several times to different members of staff and develop an immediate appreciation for lukewarm coffee when it finally arrives.

Timing is everything and within fifteen minutes, the crowd around the hot food section had disappeared on my return visit to the buffet with still plenty of food available. I really enjoyed the Bircher muesli served in small glass pots but while the steamed pork buns looked delicious, it had quite an unusual flavor and failed to live up to expectations.

Our breakfast experience was enjoyable because it was a special occasion and we were out together as a family. But one thing I do know is that quantity and quality are two very different things and there are some superb cafés in Melbourne offering amazing food for a lot less money.

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The Meeting Place Cafe, South Yarra

It’s a very rare occurrence when I visit a café for a second visit, however necessity sometimes dictates location. My gorgeous hair stylist is located in a small arcade in South Yarra, adjacent to The Meeting Place café, so in order to get to my early Saturday morning appointment, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and enjoy a quick breakfast there beforehand.

The courtyard area was occupied when I arrived 45 minutes before my scheduled appointment so I wandered inside and found a small table in a corner by the window with a view of the arcade. The owner was happy to see my return and promptly brought over the menu and a bottle of water, but in his excitement forgot to ask if I wanted a coffee, and at that time of the morning, I was really looking forward to one.

The menu has changed since my last visit in June; there are new dishes and the spelling mistakes are no longer the main attraction. Taking a look over the menu, I was happy to see that the Nutella and banana pancakes were still available, which was just what I felt like I needed to get me through the day. After a small wait, I ordered the pancakes and a large, hot skinny latte and settled in to read the newspaper.

My much-needed coffee arrived shortly thereafter, slightly on the strong side but very much appreciated. With the sun streaming through the large front windows, steadily sipping my coffee and reading the news of the day, I was enjoying my time out before realising that the clock was ticking and that I had an appointment that I wanted to honour. Before I knew it, half an hour had past, I had finished reading and my breakfast was yet to appear despite being due to be elsewhere in less than ten minutes. As soon as I sent a text message to warn my hairdresser that I could be late, the most perfect pancakes I have ever seen were placed in front of me.

Nutella and banana pancakes - roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard - The Meeting Place, South Yarra
Nutella and banana pancakes – roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard – The Meeting Place, South Yarra

Accompanied by a small jug of thin vanilla custard, the presentation of the dish was excellent: two perfectly formed, symmetrical pancakes stacked together, drizzled with maple syrup and chunks of hazlenuts, garnished with a strawberry that had been halved and fixed to the pancake with a dollop of nutella and a sprig of mint. Crispy on the edges, the pancakes had a moist and fluffy texture – not dry or doughy but cooked just right. The middle layer of the pancake stack consisted of nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, topped with thin slices of fresh banana and sweet strawberries. It was so delicious and obviously formed with some care, that I forgot about the length of time it took to prepare and settled in and enjoyed my breakfast with gusto.

Nutella and banana pancakes - roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard - The Meeting Place, South Yarra
Nutella and banana pancakes – roasted hazlenuts, strawberries served with vanilla custard – The Meeting Place, South Yarra

As luck would have it, my hairdresser arrived fifteen minutes after my scheduled appointment so in the end, the timing turned out to be spot on. I guess slow and steady wins the race.

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Townhouse, Toorak

Last year, I thought I would try and discover new breakfast destinations, courtesy of the Number 8 city bound tram. Whilst I was eager to visit all the cafés en route from the Domain Interchange through to Brunswick and Coburg, I also wondered what I would discover if I took a trip in the opposite direction. Its been almost a year to the day since I had walked up to Toorak village, and seeing as my days of living in the South Yarra area are almost coming to an end, I decided to catch the tram and see what new culinary adventure awaited.

A beautiful, sunny morning, it wasn’t long before I could see occupied chairs and tables outside on the footpath, and found an open and inviting café called “Townhouse”. The interior was stylish with touches of Scandinavian influence with clean wooden floors, chairs and tables, with an inviting dark grey, linen upholstered banquette seat opposite the coffee machine. I was captivated by the designer lighting over the counter area and secretly wished I had something similar in my pad.

I don’t represent myself as a coffee connoisseur, but I was in heaven upon first sip of my skinny latte. Without doubt, the best cup of coffee I have tasted in a long while, and you know that you are in the right place when you look up and see George Calombaris also enjoying breakfast there.

The menu had the usual offerings of fruit toast, muesli, porridge, various bacon and egg combinations with accompaniments, smoked salmon with avocado and eggs, omelette and pancakes. I was intrigued by the description of the pancakes which sounded slightly healthy: Rye, Chia Seed and Blueberry pancakes with vanilla mouse and maple syrup. I can recall my Mum making a buckwheat version when I was a young girl and its taken years to blot out the memory of their terrible taste. Yeuch! Whilst I was a little apprehensive about the inclusion of rye and chia seeds, I was willing to try something new.

Although I had a case of food envy when a plate of Smoked Salmon on Dark Rye with poached eggs, avocado and preserved lemon hollandaise arrived at the table next to mine. The presentation was fabulous and I almost wished that was what I had ordered, and then my breakfast arrived. Also beautifully presented, with four pikelet sized pancakes and dollops of vanilla mousse artfully arranged on the plate. The mousse was extremely fluffy with faint hints of vanilla bean, slightly sweetened by the juice from the blueberries but had more of a foam-like consistency. The pancakes were moist and generously filled with blueberries and drizzled with maple syrup. I couldn’t detect any obvious taste of rye or chia seeds but the pancakes were extremely light and delicious.

Rye, Chia Seed and Blueberry pancakes with vanilla mousse and maple syrup - Townhouse, Toorak
Rye, Chia Seed and Blueberry pancakes with vanilla mousse and maple syrup – Townhouse, Toorak

The service at Townhouse is efficient, perfunctory and unobtrusive but dare I say it, there is a lack of genuine personal interaction. My coffee order was taken within thirty seconds of being seated; my plate silently whisked away as soon as I had finished and my empty coffee glass also wordlessly taken. I really wanted another skinny latte after having enjoyed my first cup, and the usual “Would you like another coffee?” wasn’t forthcoming. Before I could request one, the waitress had sped off. As there was nothing on my table, service staff had no reason to come near me, so my only recourse was sit and stare around the café until I gained someone’s attention. My payment at the cash register was similarly conducted with robotic precision and I walked out with the feeling that I was another transaction rather than a customer.

Aside from that, Townhouse is a lovely café with delicious food and I hope that it doesn’t take another year to wander up to Toorak village and enjoy breakfast there again.

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