Monday, May 4, 2015

Gold Coast Weekend - Hank Dining, Elk Espresso, Cardamom Pod

In March, Brad and I snuck up to the Gold Coast for a little weekend getaway. It's a trip that has been long overdue, since we first discovered our mutual enjoyment of roller coasters at Universal Studios in Singapore in 2011. 

It had been a long time since I had last been to the Gold Coast, and coming back with fresh eyes, it’s certainly an interesting place. It kind of reminded me of Los Angeles, with sporadically placed apartment blocks, which all have a bit of a 70’s vibe to them with Spanish names…right by the beach. It’s got a bit of a reputation for being tacky, but it’s certainly got it’s charm in it’s own way, and despite what some say, there is some pretty good food around here!

So here’s what we got up to, and a couple of tips of an enjoyable weekend on the Gold Coast!

We booked a one bedroom service apartment at Meriton Broadbeach, and my suggestion? Book well in advance. It’s a steal of a room (roughly around $220 at the time we booked), with way too much room for a weekend, and a simply fantastic location, just 5 minutes from a major bus terminal, and an array of good restaurants in the area. 

For dinner on Friday, we walked over to Hank Dining and Bar, hidden unexpectedly in a pedestrian mall amongst McDonalds and other fast food outlets, but a very pleasant surprise. The menu reads well, but it is heavy, particularly on this humid night as we regret keeping our jeans on and not switching out for shorts. But despite that, I simply could not turn down the slow biased beef cheek with textures of cauliflower, pureed, grilled, steamed and crumbled on top. Sure, a bit rich for the tropical weather, but no doubt delicious. Along with great big chunks of duck fat roasted potatoes with roasted garlic and rosemary. Have mercy. 

For breakfast, you can’t go past Elk Espresso before heading to Movie World. The place is busy, bustling; it feels a little like Melbourne in attitude. There are iced chai’s on the menu which make me happy and allow me to sneak in ice-cream for breakfast (clearly just getting my calcium fix here)! 

The menu is generous, with classics, but lots of fun twists as well. I forgot exactly what I had, but it was essentially a superfood type of salad, with poached eggs, broccolini, wilted kale, peas and a generous handful of slivered almonds. Despite it’s simplicity, this was delicious, with a pinch of lemon through the kale, still crunchy broccolini and just lightly charred flavour from the almonds. And I tell you, it was the perfect thing before heading to Movie World, as I did not end up eating lunch (okay, I had one ice-cream scoop) and just powered on through the day. 

Getting to Movie World is super easy, especially if you’re staying in Broadbeach or Surfer’s Paradise, with an express bus that makes a couple of stops through  both suburbs then high tails it down the freeway to the lands of fun. 

We got to Movie World around 10:30am, which surprisingly, worked out pretty well, although it happened to be a pretty cloudy and wet day as well, which may have helped us out as well. My tip? Hit up all the big rides if there aren’t lines yet early. Superman is out of this world. I think we rode it three times. The Scooby Doo ride is also one of the most fun things ever, unexpectedly and worth the wait if there is one. 

Do skip out on the Justice League 3D ride. What a waste of time!

We left at about 3:30pm, and got off the bus at Surfer’s Paradise, hung out in Timezone (which is the biggest in Australia and stupidly fun), before enjoying the lovely beach view with guacamole and chips from Guzman y Gomez. Bliss.

That night’s dinner wasn’t anything to write about, but! The gluten free Byron Hippy Pumpkin Cheesecake from Cardamom Pod, just two minutes from out service apartment, was everything. Everything. I was fascinated to see the place absolutely pumping with little pretty young things at 9pm, in little black dresses and towering heels, fuelling up with the most delicious looking vegetarian plates I had seen. I immediately regretted not having dinner here instead…

…but that’s alright, because the next morning I made sure we went for a very satisfying breakfast before we went to Wet n’ Wild. I loved how colourful and expressive my chickpea pancake with mushrooms, scrambled tofu, cherry vine tomatoes, sautéed kale and romesco was. Sure, not all refined, but plenty of flavour, those mushrooms!

Brad’s version of a vegetarian big breakfast was also delicious, my favourite thing being that baked ricotta. So creamy!

And to finish, just because I couldn’t stop staring at it, Cardamom Pod’s raw lime and blueberry pie, with garnished lavender and pistachio. Just look at that colour! Sweet, nutty, a little bit floral, it hit all the sweet notes that I needed in the morning, without being too rich. Let me warn you though, it is very dense and filling though…I only managed to get through half after breakfast! 

No photos at Wet n’ Wild, but man, be prepared to walk! Those stairs! I almost felt like there were far more rides at Wet n’ Wild than there were at Movie World, and as such, I think I enjoyed myself more. ‘The Loop’ though is totally insane and does not need to be done more than once, you literally are put in a capsule with a plastic board buckled onto your back, which is locked, followed by a countdown and then the bottom drops from your feet and you half slide, half fall, down an almost vertical drop before doing a loop de loop. 

Hair raising!

Form Wet n’ Wild, we went straight to the airport, where after eating clean and green in the morning…we revert to burgers, cokes, and episodes of Face Off on my tablet while waiting for a flight. Hey, we're only human. 

All in all, a great weekend. Next time, I would consider hiring a car, to explore a little more south of Broadbeach, where there seems to be a lot of good food to be found as well. 

Hank Dining and Bar
12/15 Victoria Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218

Hank Dining and Bar on Urbanspoon

Elk Espresso
16 Chelsea Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218

Elk Espresso on Urbanspoon

Cardamom Pod
1/2685-2689 Gold Coast Hwy
Broadbeach QLD 4218

The Cardamom Pod on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Operator 25 - Revisit

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of Operator 25

In the two years or so that it has been open, Operator 25 has brought some style and panache to the Flagstaff end of the city, with one of the most interesting brunch menus I’ve come across and also one of the most drool worthy Instagram's! 

Recently, with the assistance of the design studio Pop & Pac (who are also responsible for Kettle Black’s branding), Operator 25’s had a little brand refresh, which refocuses on the operator/switchboard history of their heritage-listed building, which was one of Melbourne’s original telephone exchanges. This also meant a little refresh inside the cafe, with new artworks adorning the wall that are fun, with an element of pop-art style. 

One thing that hasn’t changed? The full to the brim cafe, and people waiting across the road for their name to be called up to be seated next. 

Although it had been a while since my last visit, the menu still does not fail to impress, with classic dishes and multi-cultural flavours intermingling. And when I was invited to have a sample, I was certainly not expecting a full on breakfast degustation!

Instead of the usual chai, I started with Operator 25’s house brewed iced tea, with hibiscus, chamomile and eucalyptus honey, served with mint, orange and data de coco. This, is how I like my iced teas. Not too sweet, and although fruity, the floral aromas makes it just so refreshing. This would be just beautiful on a warmer day. 

Although these Balinese pulled pork sliders were mini sized, they were totally punching with flavour, with a lovely curried flavour, a myriad of aromatic spices. Although it looked firm, the bun was airy and light and a touch of Asian slaw balanced it all out. The tastiest Asian flavoured burger I’ve come across yet! Usually, this is served with a fried egg, but I just loved these mini versions without!

Sardines are so underrated, and so delicious, so was thrilled to munch on these meaty, smoked but surprisingly sweet morsels, on a grilled rye that was just lightly crunchy with pickled cucumber, sour cherry, manchego, parsley, rocket and dill. What a texture compilation this was, with the addition of the creamy manchego, adding an element of richness. The sour cherry was, I guess unsurprisingly, the cherry on top, adding that surprise element. 

We then had the option of two dishes out of four, so Brad and I went for the spiced chickpea fritters with herb tahini, tomato and cucumber salsa, cottage cheese, chipotle sauce, crisp flatbread and thick cut streaky bacon, as well as the slow cooked lamb with a vegetable medley, parsnip puree, peptise and cranberry gel. 

Wow. I forgot how big the portions were here! The spiced chickpeas were a bit milder in flavour than I expected, but still hearty and very wholesome. I really liked that they had whole chickpeas in the fritters still as well. But really, how could not be wooed over with those thick and generous slices of kaiserkleisch? 

The lamb dish, which is usually on the menu for around $20, is a steal of meal, with a huge serving of succulent, sweet and tender lamb. The colourful  medley of vegetables lightens the meal, and I particularly loved the soft and sweet figs hidden underneath the snow crunchy peas. 

You think we would be fit to burst, but nope! Breakfast dessert was on it’s way. 

Would you ever have foam and freeze-dried fruit on your breakfast? Maybe not usually, but it’s the norm here at Operator 25, with their famous coconut sago making an appearance with some fresh new flavours. Elderflower sago with chia seeds, rhubarb and strawberry compote, with white chocolate foam and freeze-dried mango. The flavours are gentle and refreshing, the white chocolate foam adding just an extra hint of sweetness and not drowning out the other flavours. The freeze-dried mango added a nice crunch between the teeth. 

But if you’re into something a little more old school, Operator 25’s ginger and date bread with caramelised banana mascarpone, pomegranate sauce and salted milk crumb should fit the bill nicely. In the ever chilling weather at the moment? This is just the thing. Warm, moist, I loved the sweetness from the date and the heat from the ginger. Yum.

You might think that eating so much in one meal might put one off from visiting again in a hurry, but it’s quite the opposite at Operator 25. There’s just so many interesting things on the menu, that I simply can’t wait to be back! 

25 Mils Street
Melbourne 3000

Operator25 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sound of Music High Tea - Intercontinental Hotel

Disclosure: I was invited as a guest for this preview. 

How time flies by. Did you know that the Sound of Music is turning 50 this year? 

I have so many fond memories of this movie, watching it over and over again as a kid, seeing the musical live in Melbourne, and several years later, getting slightly annoyed but also bemused at my grandmother watching it on repeat day in and day out as Alzheimers unfortunately started creeping into her life. It’s a film that’s been tied to so many aspects of my life, so when I was invited to check out a Sound of Music high tea at the Intercontinental Hotel…well, how could I say no?

Held over this coming Sunday (April 26th), and the next two Sunday’s (May 3rd and 10th), the high tea ties in perfectly with Mother’s day, or a fun and nostalgic girls afternoon out. 

When I turned up at the function room with my mum (the actual high tea will be held in the Market Lane Bar), I was completely elated by our ‘brown paper bags, tied up with string’ and these super adorable limited edition Sound of Music tea cups! Too adorable. 

Mumm bubbles, coffee and tea followed suit, along with our three tiers of delicious goodies. From the savouries, I loved the savoury muffin, honey glazed ham in a seeded mustard baguette and adorable mini Burgundy wagyu pies. 

Although I found the honey and chocolate scones a little dense for me personally, I loved the traditional scone which was so light and fluffy, especially when walloped with strawberry jam and cream.

Although I didn’t polish off every savoury item, I made quick work on the sweets; blueberry cheesecakes, perfect pistachio macarons, blackberry crumble and a decadent black forest cake as well. The mango sorbet that came as a palate cleanser was so refreshing. 

We also were treated to a sneak preview of “The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to Salzburg”. Austria has always been high on my ‘want-to-visit’ list, and this documentary did not help that need and desire to be in Europe! Julie Andrews also looks simply amazing for 80, just for the record.

I'm not at all ashamed to admit, after this afternoon tea, I hurried home and popped the Sound of Music on the telly and bathed in the nostalgia all over again. So what are you waiting for? Why not spoil mum to an afternoon of Sound of Music tunes, Champagne, delightful nibbles, Crabtree and Evelyn gift packs and the chance to win a Sound of Music 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition Blu-Ray pack?

To make a booking simply call 03 8627 1400 of email Tea is $60 per person.

InterContinental Melbourne the Rialto
495 Collins Street

Thursday, April 23, 2015


You know what the sign of a good vegetarian restaurant is? 

When the menu doesn’t read vegetarian at all. 

After a glowing write up in Broadsheet, I expected Transformer, from the people of famous Vegie Bar to be absolutely packed to the brim the morning that Brad and I showed up for breakfast. 

But to our great fortune, the elegantly transformed warehouse space was relatively empty, with plenty of tables at our picking. Mildly disappointed there were no autobots hiding around, but that’s a nerdier conversation for later.

I love how the warehouse space has been divided, so that it feels private, despite being open, with interesting uses of textured concrete and plenty of lovely greenery draped on wire mesh. It’s bright, airy and such a lovely morning space. 

As I’m ogling the menu, it takes me a second to realise that there is no meat on the menu, as it reads so delectably (and maybe borderline pretentiously). 

No chai on the menu yet, so it’s a Lemonzilla tea by Storm in a Teacup, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, galangal and lemon myrtle. I’m absolutely smitten with it’s golden hue, and is a lovely warming and invigorating tonic to begin the day with. 

Brad’s coffee was looking good too. 

It took a while for me to decide, but for Brad breakfast was a relatively easy decision. Turkish fried eggs, with spelt and seed flat bread, kirmizi biber butter, spiced labneh and silver beet. Now fried eggs aren’t a common menu item, but when they’re done well…well, I’d rather them over poached eggs most days. Gooey yellow yolks, lightly charred egg whites, just the way we like them. I didn’t really try any of Brad’s dish, but despite it’s simple appearance, it’s well done and Brad lapped it all up in a heartbeat.

Now, whilst I had every intention of eating green and clean after my gym session, I could not peel my eyes from the buckwheat and wild rice hotcakes served with coffee-cacao ganache, mascarpone, date syrup and snap dried mandarins. Gluten free hot cakes? That sound totally and utterly delicious? Well hello over there. 

These were just delicious. You would not have guessed they were gluten free, fluffy and remarkably light. With the coffee, chocolate combo, a little coffee dust and mascarpone, the flavour profile reminded me very much of a tiramisu, but not in the overly sweet way. And that date syrup? Mopping up that goodness. 

Feeling pretty full, I decide to also get a digestive tonic, of fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and raw honey. It packs a wallop, especially with the cayenne pepper in there, and is both good sipped, or gulped down (if you can handle it). It certainly helped with the metabolism I reckon! Perfectly warming, especially as winter sneaks in as well.

All in all, I can’t wait to revisit Transformer again, the menu is full of goodness, the space makes me happy to exist in, the waitstaff on the floor are friendly and lovely. Plenty of ticks here for me, and I’m also fascinated to see what dinner is like sometime too. Who doesn’t love visiting somewhere that makes eating veggies so easy? 

99 Rose Street
Fitzroy 3065

Transformer Fitzroy on Urbanspoon