Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A weekend in St Kilda

Disclosure:  This prize was from winning the St Kilda Amazing Race organised by Tyrell Publicity & Promotions, stay in Adina Aparment, tickets to Luna Park and dinner at Fitzrovia were covered in the prize.

Blue skies and sunshine. Could one really ask more when having a staycation in St Kilda? 

I love staycations. See? So smiley. Although normally Brad and I do staycations for our anniversary, when I won the St Kilda Amazing Race, I was so excited to have a night in St Kilda, and have a base to explore the suburb in. 

We stayed the night at the Adina Apartment Hotel in St Kilda. Although it has a small entrance, I was amazed at how big the place was and how many rooms they were able to fit in! 

It was mildly creepy walking through the hallways, you would think they could invest in light bulbs that actually lit up the place wouldn't you? 

Our room at the end of one of the hallways wasn't huge, but quite comfortable if one was staying for a couple of nights. We had a balcony, but no view unfortunately! 

But still, nice big fluffy beds make for a pretty happy Ashley.

After dropping our stuff off in the room (read throw all over the room, because I can't help but leave my stuff everywhere, even if it is for just one night), we strolled out to soak in the glorious sunshine.

And get corn chips and guacamole from the Taco Truck conveniently parked just up and across the road. 

Is this what bliss looks like?

After a detour to an op shop (where I nearly cave in and pick up yet another jumper), Brad and I eventually get eaten by a clown. Urr, I mean go into Luna Park!

For some reason, despite having lived in Melbourne for over 15 years, I had never been to Luna Park. I'm not exactly sure why, but I was more than pleased to be rectifying the situation! 

Brad and I love theme parks, and Luna Park is definitely pretty darned adorable in comparison to the huge, shiny and slick newer parks. I was amazed at how busy the place was, but it was the weekend, and the weather was just putting on a great show. 

The rides at Luna Park are definitely what you can call rustic. All of the safeguards need to be closed and opened manually, and lots of the ride sizes are quite small, meaning long-legged-Brad-man had to wiggle and squeeze to get into some of the rides, but I had a great time. I loved the rocking ship, it's always been a favourite, and I was amazed at the spinning wheel that moved from turning horizontally to vertically could actually run without seat belts (you're held in by sheer force of velocity and bars). Might've been screaming 'oh my god' the whole time on the latter one as Brad laughed from behind me. Why he takes pleasure in my fear? Who knows.

I couldn't wait to get onto the  scenic 'railway', the oldest running rollercoaster in the world. I was surprised when I actually looked at it, that it's controlled by someone who rides/drives the rollercoaster, and reminded me a lot of the cable cars in San Francisco. 

But man. As the oldest rollercoaster in the world, you can definitely feel it as it goes down the declines and rattles through the dips before climbing back up! It certainly surprised me with the first dip we got, and poor Brad, who had his knees right up against the wooden seat in front of us, got a bit of beating on the knee caps! 

We had a great time though, despite Brad's bruised knees!

What I forgot to mention earlier, one very nice thing about staying in the Adina is the location. Milk the Cow and Luxembourg and one side, and Fitzrovia on the other. Baker D. Chirico a long jump away, amongst other many delicious spots. It's really a perfect spot for a food lover to hang out for a night, or two!

We took full advantage of this and tucked into a beverage at Milk the Cow as the adrenaline started to wear off and the familiar fuzz of sleepiness started to settle in. Couldn't ask for a better spot to be in as the sun starts setting and it's still warm enough to sit outside with just a jacket. 

Dinner a couple of hours later was at Fitzrovia. I have visited previously for breakfast, but was intrigued when I learnt that they also did dinners, and spent the couple of days leading up to our staycation drooling over the menu online. It reads a treat. Go on, go google them, but just come back you hear?

Although Fitzrovia is bustling and lively through the morning and day, in the evening, it's cosy, intimate and a little bit romantic. White table cloths and napkins, gentle lighting and the sizzle and quiet clatter of pans in a very tightly run open kitchen. I'm immediately at ease, and only so eager to get started.

Crusty bread, that audibly crunches as you twist it apart and crumbles on to the table in the most delicious way possible, is also fluffy and insatiably moreish with the salted butter. 

We were surprised with an extra entree, featuring ocean trout, smoked with green tea, some gorgeous beetroot, baked chickpeas and a leaf that I can't quite recall the name of, but is from the beetroot leaf family, that one of the chefs came across from a producer recently. 

Oh my. What a treat! The ocean trout was smooth and sweet, a slight bitterness came from the greens, and the chickpeas addd a meaty and rich pop. I couldn't get over the texture of the chickpeas either, insanely crunchy at first but giving way to an amazingly creamy feel in the mouth afterwards. Loved the spice that it kicked in as well. Delicious. 

The char grilled calamari with saffron, spring ono and broad bean barley risotto also surprised me that it didn't have the usual rich and intense colour that saffron risottos usually have. But don't be mistaken, the flavour was still all there! For a seafood dish, this was delightfully earthy and comforting, a touch herbaceous, a slight chewiness from the barley pearls, freshness from the broad beans and familiar char on the calamari. 

As I've always been a sucker for luxe comfort food, I couldn't resist ordering the veal ossobucco with mascarpone polenta, savoy cabbage with polenta and onions. Ah, many happy sighs as this arrived steaming on the table, a rich and hearty stew, with meat that fell off the bone and a flavour that lingered long after. Serious comfort food. 

Brad got the special, which I've forgotten all the details of (I think the pinot noir might have kicked in nicely by then…), but just look at the gorgeous blush, and stunning sheen on the beef. I do recall the beef melted in the mouth and the mashed potatoes almost had me envious, but fortunately I hate my polenta to run back to!

Despite me ordering a dish with a moat of polenta, I somehow thought that more polenta would be a good idea. Especially when it also includes truffled parsley and parmesan. Marco, one of the owners walked me through the process of making them, which includes mixing in pecorino, parmesan and mascarpone into the polenta as it's being cooked (yes, that's three kinds of cheese!), before being cooled, cut into the thick batons and drizzled in white truffle oil and more parmesan (because why not really?)

Oh my gosh. These are heaven. And a meal unto themselves. They are rich, on the nose, in the mouth and in the tummy, but keep you wanting more!

Even though I was fit to burst by the end, I couldn't resist a sweet treat and found ourselves with a serve of the vanilla pannacotta, with  balsamic strawberries and black pepper shortbread. 

Oh heaven, just what one needs after a heavy meal (I'm serious here). The vanilla pannacotta, speckled with vanilla bean, jiggled hilariously, and was light as air in the mouth. The balsamic strawberries adding a nice depth and richness to the flavour, without weighing heavily in the stomach. Yum. Might have to try the warm blueberry, coconut and white chocolate friand next time (as Marco said he wouldn't have forgiven me if I didn't order the pannacotta or the fondant pudding…)

When we finished our meal, Marco, who had been a charming host all night, keeping us laughing and cheerful, brought us to the kitchen to meet Paul, head chef and also partner of many, many years. It was wonderful to chat and soak in their passion and enthusiasm for their spot on Fitzroy Street, and their food, discussing the finer details of the surprise entree that Paul bestowed us with. 

Fitzrovia is lovely during the day, but in the evening she is both beautiful and a little playful, from the owners to the food, which are distinctly European, but with cheeky influences from many other places. It was certainly one of the better meals I've had recently, and I have been singing praises about those polenta chips to whoever will listen to me…

After sleeping off the food coma that followed Fitzrovia, we completed the St Kilda circuit with breakfast at Il Fornaio, which thought that we looked pretty and that we smelt like flowers, and had the most delicious quinoa I have ever, ever had. Quinoa, forbidden rice puffs, cauliflower, kale, jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, pine mushrooms and artichoke vinaigrette. Oily on the lips, all my favourite vegetables and crunchy crunchy rice puffs. Heaven. 

Brad also ate Ryan Gosling, devil's artichoke, pepper hollandaise, ricotta and poached eggs…and it was hot! The pepper hollandaise that is…

And to make sure the St Kilda trip could extend even when back at home in Kew, some Baker D. Chirico treats made it home with me for afternoon tea. Yum.

157 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda

2/155 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda

Fitzrovia on Urbanspoon

2 Acland Street
St Kilda

Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon

149 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda

Baker D. Chirico on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 10, 2014

The General Food Store

I've always been a city girl, give me the option to go strolling through the streets of New York or the beaches of Phuket, and I'm all about that city, pounding the pavement and getting lost in the buzz and neon glow of the lights.

But sometimes it does get just a bit too much. Recently I've found myself easily overwhelmed, between work, trying to keep the blog going, making sure the boyfriend doesn't feel too neglected, (attempted) exercise and organising a multitude of other activities, I find myself more frequently feeling burnt out and a bit hollow.

About 4 months ago, Brad's parents moved from Glen Waverely out to Gembrook, where they bought themselves a nice bit of land, and the most gorgeous home, and now have space for his mum's horses and the variety of other animals his mum and sisters would eventually like to purchase (to the dismay of his dad).

I've been a terrible girlfriend and took quite a while to get up there, but once there, the weekend there was absolutely what I needed (and probably need to schedule in quite soon again). Especially when the sky was blue, the sun was out and the cats were being lazy on the deck. It was an incredibly restorative weekend where I didn't wake up at 7 to go to the gym, there was no agenda, and even though Brad and I were both working (okay, I was blogging), it was still much more relaxing to do it next to giant windows that overlooked rolling hills.

The one little problem with being an hour out of town, is that food selection can be slim, but a little bit of googling soon had me directed to the General Food Store in Emerald, just a 15 minute drive away. 

Emerald's not a big town, with the majority of the shops on a small little strip, a mix of cute little vintage stores and mostly generic cafes. The General Food Store stands out as being bright and cheery, with a lively buzz as you step through the doors, greeted by a young, upbeat and smiley crew. 

The space isn't big, but it's used quite practically, with plenty of seating, a tiny kitchen and an adorable display of mouthwatering sweets. We sit along a bench that looks out to customers entering the store and tuck into lattes and chai's. My chai's a bit milky and anaemic, but as my expectations weren't too high (and I was feeling a bit mellow in the crisp country air), it was good enough. The milk was very creamy and smooth. 

My warm winter salad was just perfect, with Jerusalem artichoke, lentils, olives and walnuts. Earthy and just lovely, it felt so clean and refreshing at the same time. I couldn't get over how fresh and crunchy the walnuts were, just divine.

Brad's pulled pork bun also looked awesome, pulled pork sandwiched in a sweet and shiny bun, with an explosion of bright and vivid colours from all the vegetables. Very well seasoned too. 

I ended up enjoying the General Food Store so much, that we went back the next morning for breakfast before I made the drive home (although to be honest, it's because the other breakfast options in the area looked a bit sleepy and yawn-worthy...don't mean to be a snob)! I had the granola with sheep milk yoghurt, rhubarb and pistachio. A crunchy, sweet and modest serve, which ticked all the boxes I needed on a Sunday morning.

Brad's Arabesque with poached eggs, generously lopped on haloumi, beetroot relish and hazelnut dukkah did incite some food envy with it's perfectly poached eggs…I don't think I've ever seen a cafe be so generous with the haloumi before! 

It looks like the menu at the General Food Store changes quite frequently, focussing on what's in season, so despite other potential breakfast options, I look forward to revisiting the General Food Store again with it's cheery service, simply but beautifully thought through food and very reasonable prices. I have to say I'm really quite pleased to have a reason to return on a regular basis since Brad's parents place isn't too far at all...

377 Belgrave-Gembrook Road
Emerald 3782

The General Food Store on Urbanspoon