Sunday, August 31, 2014


"Happy Birthday honey! I'm going to take you to Huxtable for your birthday…because I want to go." Cue cheesy little smile. 

Honestly, Brad would probably be perfectly fine if I didn't do anything for his birthday, but it's too perfect of a reason to treat ourselves (or maybe just myself really) and go somewhere we wouldn't go regularly. 

And hey, he wasn't actually supposed to be home for his birthday this year, but decided to cut his Europe trip short, so we had to do something!

So forsaking our usual Sunday brunch, we made plans to be at Huxtable for lunch instead, where we had the whole place to ourselves at exactly 12pm. 

The last time I had visited Huxtable was when they were still doing brunch…which means yes, it was indeed that long ago. So I was quite keen to see what the rest of the lauded menu had to offer. 

After giggling over yellow bread bowls that sat awkwardly on their side and toppled about, and sipping on a pinot noir, I swooned over the generous serving of duck liver parfait, spindled with sea salt and looking a treat. Smooth, with plenty of flavour, but almost too much to get through!

We had to naturally also order a serve of the jalapeno and cheddar croquettes, which were just perfect. Thin and crisp exterior, giving way to the cheesy filling with a surprise chilli kick, cutting through the richness. Such a great combination. 

I've forgotten exactly what was in this dish, but what most interested me was the buffalo haloumi, the pristine white cheese given a healthy tan from the frying, which was quite light, compared to the usual denseness of regular haloumi. It went beautifully with the greens, and a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts, drizzle of balsamic and a spot of poached pear, the sweet and earthy flavours mingling together nicely. 

I am never one to go past boudin noir (or black pudding, no point in being too fancy about it) especially with scallops, beluga lentils and an apple and cider puree with fried leeks on top. Although Huxtable's menu is mostly pretty innovative, it's nice to see them do a classic combination and do it exceedingly well. My favourite part might have been the apple and cider puree, rich and sweet, paired with the boudin noir. Match made in heaven.

From classic to fusion, we moved on to a serve of korean barbecue pork ribs with a spicy slaw and chilli gherkin. Goodness, just so many levels of delicious, the ribs are just the right amount of meat and fat, juicy and tender, again with a nice hint of heat. The slaw is refreshing, with all that mayo, but is not quite as spicy as I expect it to be.

However, the delicious smoked mozzarella with sweetcorn, chipotle and garlic shoots immediately coats the mouth with warmth. Mingled with the smokiness of the mozzarella, and it's unctuous texture, alongside the sweetness of the corn, it's massively comforting. I'm always amazed at the vegetable dishes that many chefs are turning out, which are often designed to be sides, but often end up being one of my favourite dishes…such as this! I am immensely sad that this has been removed from the menu currently…

…along with this beauty. A dark chocolate delice with chestnut puree, cinnamon sponge and vanilla ice-cream. This is pretty much all of my favourite things in one (almost). The shiny dome of chocolate delice looked like it might be firm, but we had no fear as it just easily jumped into our spoons like mousse. I could not get enough of the chestnut puree, earthy, with a touch of sweetness, complimented by the cinnamon and the vanilla. I really enjoyed that this wasn't too sweet, which Brad obviously appreciated as well, helping himself to more than the regular two scoops he usually goes for. 

Although there were high expectations set for Huxtable, it certainly did not disappoint, as we were wowed and excited by all the dishes coming out. If you're asking why we didn't go for the $60 feed me menu…it's simply because I love putting my own menus together! 

The only thing that I did think was that it was almost eerily quiet when we were there at 12pm, the room only beginning to fill at 1pm. Once full, there was a nice vibe going, but it felt a tiny bit stiff before that happened earlier on our meal. 

Regardless, I'm sure to be back soon, with new desserts on the menu positively teasing at me that I'm not there to try them already...

131 Smith Street
Collingwood 3065

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Panama Dining Room

Panama Dining Room is so unexpected and so cute. Sitting on my wishlist for ages, but conveniently being passed over, I finally scheduled a visit with Caryn, as we had been eyeing off the $1 oyster happy hour deal, to check out this hidden little spot on Smith Street.

Well, it's not super hidden, but it's not entirely obvious as well. Caryn and I had to question ourselves as we climbed several flights of stairs to get up, barren of decor or any indication that we were going the right way, other than the slim rectangle signage above the door. 

But opening that door at the end of the corridor reveals a quirky, somewhat retro and bustling little spot. 

The patterned wallpaper, soft glowing lights, old school arched floor to ceiling windows, worn white bricks and an eclectic mix of chairs, the combination was a little funny, but I love it all together. On one side of the room beer and cocktails flowed from the bar freely, and the other side where we were, tables were neatly arranged, wine glasses all in a row. 

Our waiter was soft spoken and so attentive, chuckling at our enthusiasm for $1 oysters, which we swiftly ordered a dozen of. They were a touch warmer than I would have liked, but still plump and sweet. 

Panama Dining Room sported a delicious looking cocktail menu, so Caryn and I dove in to indulge. I think I might've had the Green Mamba, gin muddled with cucumber, elderflower and lime…but don't take my word for it…it disappeared pretty quickly…!

We started our meal with marinated wild foraged mushrooms with confit garlic and served with crunchy flat bread. I was initially surprised that these were served cold, but after getting over that (pretty quickly), I loved how sweet the mushrooms were in the marinade. A little vinegary, sweet, and oh I am a sucker for pine mushrooms. Just perfect, especially since we were in the heart of mushroom season!

I naturally could not resist the chicken liver parfait with truffle and port wine jelly, cornichons and toast. The parfait was delightfully rich, and the toast so, so crunchy. What's to dislike? The serve was pretty big though and between the two of us, we did struggle through it a bit.

Our mains were rich and hearty, perfect for the nippy and drizzly July weather we were having. 

A huge slab of beef cheek, that lazily fell apart upon touch, sat upon a creamy bed of mashed potatoes in a shallow moat of jus, and decorated with delicate little chanterelles. Do I need to say much more? Pure comfort food, at it's absolute best.

The chestnut gnocchi with pumpkin and parmesan puree, morel mushrooms, spinach and salted ricotta was also delightfully hearty. I loved the richness of flavour in the gnocchi, a subtle nuttiness and earthiness coming through. With everything on it though, it was a very, very rich and filling dish. 

And of course, Caryn and I could not resist the hand cut fries with a side of truffle, parmesan and chive aioli, which totally blew our minds. Although we couldn't finish our mains…we did do a very good number on those fries. Sure, not the usually crispy goodness that I like, but lots of flavour. Mmhmm.

Although we very much wanted dessert, by the time we got through all of our food, we basically rolled back down the flight of stairs and out onto the street. I couldn't believe how full we were! 

It's always so lovely to have a great experience, somewhere where you really don't know what to expect, which is exactly what we had at Panama Dining Room. If we weren't so lazy, Caryn and I would probably be there at least once a week, hoeing into those $1 oysters at 6pm...

Level 3/231 Smith Street

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Jerry Joy

I love op-shopping. Although it took me a while to get into it, I think I really started enjoying it once I started finding some of my favourite brands, and materials (silk, cashmere etc. etc.) and bargain prices that I just couldn't believe. 

And that feeling I got when I found something that maybe not everyone else could have, that little treasure amongst many, many other bits and pieces.

I think I kind of feel that way about Jerry Joy as well. 

You won't find it on any High street, wedged in a busy thoroughfare street in-between pharmacies and IGA's. Jerry Joy is truly a residential cafe, neatly tucked away in Thornbury down quiet little streets. 

It's so hard to gauge these days which cafes may have you lined up for an hour before you can get a seat, and which aren't (unless they're the truly obvious ones like new kid-on-the-block Kettle Black), so I was very pleasantly surprised when the bright and inviting space had plenty of seats for us to choose from.

As locals popped in and out for takeaway coffee; there was a never ending buzz and always someone floating around the counter, Brad and I tucked into our lovely drinks. Brad's coffee looked beautiful, and I was happy to be reunited with a Prana chai (it's been a while). 

The menu is modestly sized, but absolutely delicious looking; I found it quite difficult to make up my mind on what I wanted! It was quite refreshing to see almost everything on the menu was either gluten free, or could be made gluten free, and Brad commented that there were plenty of delicious looking veggie options too. 

Brad decided to go with one of the specials, the Mushroom and Hash, with a housemaid hash brown, sauteed mushrooms, celeriac puree and a poached egg topped with goats cheese, red lace and a herb salad drizzled with truffle oil.

Ah. Breakfast envy. Immediately. The mountain of mushrooms and hash brown, adorned in herb greenery smelt simply amazing as it's aromas wafted over the table to me. The bite Brad gave me was simply moreish. Loved the silky smooth celeriac puree, the hearty hash brown (very well seasoned) and of course the truffle oil. Happy sighs. Brad did comment that he found one of the elements in the dish a bit salty, but other than that, no complaints!

I decided to go with the spiced beetroot and red lentil fritters with roasted capsicum hommus, braised fennel and kale, and added an egg on the side. 

I simply adored this dish, a mix of vibrant colours, textures and flavour. And it all felt pretty clean and healthy to boot! I enjoyed that the beetroot seemed to be grated, giving the fritter some body and texture, it was generously spiced, and there was a lovely warmth that filled the mouth with each bite. The capsicum hommus complemented it nicely and on a whole, I finished my dish feeling very satisfied, but quite light and comfortable as well. 

Service was as friendly as you could get it, making me feel quite at home.

In fact, I enjoyed myself so much, that I visited again the very next day with mum for afternoon tea, since Brad was away watching his soccer team, so that I could have the pikelets I had my eye on from the previous day…can you blame me? They're gluten free!

The almond pikelets with spiced poached apple, crumble, blueberry jam and yoghurt foam were so cute, and just delightful. Not to mention absolutely delicious! So fluffy and airy, and I loved the yoghurt foam as an alternative to whipped cream, which is just as light, but brings a very subtle tartness to balance out the sweetness from the blueberry jam and poached apples, which still just have a wee bit of crunch to them. Just perfect.

My only request would be for more blueberry jam, as it's so delicious and goes so well with the pikelets that we had wiped it all up with just two!

In summary, I feel that Jerry Joy is a really little treasure with Interesting food, that's beautifully executed, and a friendly atmosphere all round (that had me visit twice in one weekend)! Oh, and they were playing "Rock Lobster" in the background on my second visit, which basically means instant cool cred too (they have it all)!

Jerry Joy
128 Mansfield Street

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Big Boy BBQ

For all the dude food that's popping up around Melbourne, I'm doing a terrible job keeping up with it! 

Take Big Boy BBQ, which has been on the block for a little while now actually (with the third store having recently opened in Richmond), which I only visited a couple of weeks back! 

Brad and I had spent the afternoon running around the city, popping into the Les Miserables exhibition at the state library, before deciding that sustenance was needed. Seriously meaty sustenance.

The cosy Hardware Lane location is low key and relaxed, not overly decked out, although the pictures of all the available meals on the wall are quite drool inducing.

After doing our Asian thing and deducing what would be the best value combination (I'm training him well), Brad and I decide on the 'Wings'n Ribs' , a regular serve of chicken wings with two regular sized sides and half a rack of ribs. We opt to upgrade from lamb to pork ribs.

Woah. Check out that serve! I couldn't believe that was just for two people (or would even be suggested for one!)

The chicken wings, spice rubbed with a barbecue sauce and ranch dressing are delicious. Tender, and full of flavour. Just sumptuous! 

The ribs were quite a bit different to what I was expecting, having been brought up on the ribs from T.G.I Fridays as a kid, which you could easily pull off the bone and tended to be quite fatty and slathered in sauce. 

These were much more meaty and less fatty than most ribs I've had in the past, a gentle blushing pink inside with a serious tan going on outside. I recall smashing through a half serve of ribs no problem in the past, but Big Boy BBQ put out a challenge with it's seriously meat packed ribs! It was a touch drier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed the lovely smokey aromas and flavours. 

Oh and the BBQ sauces available? Um yum. Totally was mixing it all up together!

And let's not forget sides. Oh my goodness, I was amazed how much I enjoyed the coleslaw with vinegar dressing, which was absolutely the thing to cut through the richness of the meal. The balance in the dressing was just right, a touch of sweet, and a touch of sour, but neither overpowering. 

But really. Honestly. It was all about those onion strings…which is what kind of brought me to Big Boy BBQ in the first place, with other people instagramming pictures of these thin and oh-just-so-crispy battered goodies. I could easily just go to Big Boy BBQ for a large serve of these with some barbecue sauce. So easily! 

By the end of the meal, we had definitely needed the roll of paper towel on the table (so smart), and had a great time really getting hands on with our food. Sure, it's not great first date food, but damn it, it is good. 

Big Boy BBQ
27-31 Hardware Lane
Melbourne 3000

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