Monday, September 8, 2014

The St Kilda Amazing Race!

Disclosure: I was invited to participate in the St Kilda Amazing Race by Tyrell Publicity & Promotions

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to partake in a decadently food themed amazing race around St Kilda. Without too much knowledge or much of an itinerary, I didn't hesitate to put my hand up as I hardly ever really make it down to St Kilda as it always feels like it's such a hike from Kew and generally parking can be a bit of a pain…would be nice if we had a train down that way…!

Organised for us by the lovely Jessica from Tyrell Publicity & Promotions on behalf of the St Kilda Tourism Association, the day basically consisted of a handful of bloggers "running" around St Kilda to experience and sample the vast variety of delicious dining options on offer with mini challenges at each location where we would get points…with a fabulous prize at the end of it all.


Miss Jackson
2/19 Grey Street
St Kilda, 3182

Miss Jackson on Urbanspoon

Our first point of call was Miss Jackson; the first points of the day being handed out to whoever got there to order their coffee first. I thought for sure I had this snagged up in the bag, getting there 15 minutes ahead of our designated meeting time of 9am…but lo and behold, Sarah and Jan had me beat. Darnit!

I got third place points at least! 

One couldn't stay too upset for long though, as Miss Jackson brought out a plateful of their warm, fluffy and delightful house made scones and a mini mountain of giant croissants (classic and chocolate) by Woodfrog Bakery. Bliss. What could be better than perfectly baked chocolate croissants, crisp and flaky and warm to boot?

House made Raspberry butter. Oh lord. I don't know how Miss Jackson would have come up with this combination, but it was just brilliant. Creamy and cool, and at the perfect spreading temperature, but also sweet and surprisingly refreshing with the seeds of the raspberry providing a bit of texture. I definitely was eating extra croissants with this generously lopped on so I didn't look like a complete loser just eating the butter by itself…(or should I have actually don't that?)

As we rolled out of Miss Jackson, bellies filled with baked delights, we were greeted by three knights and their mighty steeds…or well, rickshaws actually, but they were still pretty cool! 

Sarah and I jumped into Nate's rickshaw, and discovered that the seats are not only surprisingly deep, but also very comfortable, so despite Sarah's fears of not having a seatbelt, we were very, very secure.

It was simply the most beautiful day for a ride, sunny, but breezy and we went on a little ride past the beaches and palm trees.

Nate and his team gave us a very smooth ride, navigating traffic expertly as Sarah and I gave a Queen's wave to whoever would pay attention to us, taking us down from Grey Street all the way to Acland Street, where we were dropped off in front of Monarch Cakes. What a bunch of lushs's we were!

103 Acland Street
St Kilda 3182

Monarch Cakes on Urbanspoon

Monarch Cakes is one of the gems of St Kilda, part of the landscape, never to be moved, baking cakes with 80 year old recipes, brought over in the 1930's by a polish refugee. 

"I have old things in the shop…because I wants things here that are older than me!" Gideon the owner comments, with a hearty chuckle following. 

There's definitely a personality to Monarch Cakes, more than just the trays and trays of beautiful cakes, from Polish cheesecakes and plum cakes to the famous Kugelhopf. The shop is filled with trinkets and memorabilia, with photos of famous celebrities who have visited, signs to remind us that the poppy seeds are for eating and not smoking, a mish mash of chairs and tables, aged scales and vintage posters from the seventies and eighties. 

The store has aged, but aged beautifully, with a smile and a laugh. 

And let's not forget the cakes, which are simply divine. I leave the store with one of their newer creations, a flourless hazelnut, white chocolate and orange slice, which is quite a different take on the much more common almond and orange flourless cakes. This is dense, nutty and sweet with just a hint of the orange, the white chocolate adding an extra layer of richness. Yum.

With precious cargo in hand, we jump back into Nate's rickshaw and get cycled uphill (!) to our next location…

4-6 Grey Street
St Kilda 3182

Babu Ji on Urbanspoon

In contrast to Monarch Cakes, Babu Ji is clean, crisp and a little bit shiny, with tall white ceilings and just a minimal touch of black and gold. 

We're greeted by Jessi, owner and chef, who comes from Northern India, Punjabi. His passion and enthusiasm about Indian food is infectious, and shortly after helping ourselves to the beer fridge, we're quickly inundated with food. 

Jessi's food is lively and bright, none of this murky brown curry business! The papdi chat, which Jessi dubs as the Indian version of nachos and salsa, is so fresh and so clean, with crisp 'chips', hearty chickpeas and a mint coriander and lime dressing to add some zest. Such a great way to get the palate going. 

It's difficult to not be enamoured with the absolutely stunning colour of what Jessi calls his 'Yoghurt kebab', with yoghurt that is hung overnight and stuffed with a date sauce and put into a puddle of beetroot, ginger and chilli. That pink! And not just beautiful, but absolutely delicious as well. Apparently a very muslim dish in India, it plays on savoury and sweet, with a nice little pinch of heat from the chilli and the ginger. Definitely wanted more…

Following the serve of tandoori prawns, with a green mango powder and orange marinade, and the gol gappa, which we are instructed to eat in one mouthful, as it explodes with texture and flavour, we are then brought onto our next challenge…which is to list the 13 ingredients in Babu Ji's beautifully creamy fish curry. 

I definitely did not do well on this. But let's not talk about that and look at this kulfi instead…mmhmm.

12 The Esplanade
St Kilda 3182

Ichi Ni Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Rolling out the door, our patient knights await us again to take us down to the Esplanade, to Ichi Ni Izakaya (I wonder if they noticed their loads getting heavier…) where we faced off in a sushi rolling challenge!

I was surprised how big the space was, with a colourful interior and huge open kitchen, and a lovely sunlit terrace, which could be opened up in summer, but on the cooler day that it was, the glass doors kept it nice and cosy inside.

Tun, who's been making sushi for around 7 years, showed us the ropes, supervised by his mentor, Wataru, who has been making sushi for over 20 years! We were definitely in good hands. 

The ingredients were so fresh, and Tun made the whole process look so easy, patting the rice down and slicing up all the ingredients with one of the longest (and probably sharpest) knife I had ever seen. 

I have to say, rolling an inside out roll was a lot easier than I had expected, one of the key tips we got was to keep our hands wet by dabbing them with water or keeping damp cloth nearby to wipe our hands with, and although I rolled mine very well, I definitely needed some help in the knife department and in plating…which is where Sarah had me beat and took the top points, while I settled with second…

We were also pleased to hear of a new project, Ichi Ku, opening in Fitzroy in the coming months…a little bit closer to home for me at least!

2 Acland Street
St Kilda 3182

Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon

Heaving with food, we walked over to Il Fornaio for a much needed coffee break (even I was getting into a bit of a schlump!) where Matt had a chat to us about coffee…which Il Fornaio is very serious about. Working with St. Ali to get their beans, they also use St David's Dairy for their milk, where each bottle is hand bottled, so they can actually name each cow that each bottle came from (which is kind of cool if you ask me). 

We also discussed coffee competitions, and the very particular nature of coffee art, those pretty flourishes on lattes that I reckon a lot of us take for granted. Oscar, who was just 19, came out with jugs of milk to show us how it was done. What we were aiming for was to keep our milk in the middle of the cup, and have a consistent brown border around the outside. 

My waitressing experience must have come in handy somewhat, as I managed to actually get a tiny distinct shape in my cup, which brought me top points. Hell yeah!

Although I don't drink coffee, having poured so much, I would have felt bad if it all went to waste, so I sipped at mine. I was amazed at how tasty this was, and how much I actually enjoyed it, smooth, without bitterness and intensely aromatic.

Head Chef Simon Turner popped out to say hi, with his coffee and juice bircher, an unusual mix of bircher museli with blood orange juice, St Ali coffee yoghurt, hazelnut, coffee crumb, date confit and blood orange crackers. It was full on, but worked surprisingly well. 

Simon also insisted we have a plate of his bacon, which he's actually feeding himself, bringing to an ethical butcher, and curing in-house, resulting in sheer deliciousness and is an obvious nod to Simon's passion about using as much Australian sourced produce as possible, and that his food is as ethical as possible as well. 

In case he's not doing enough, he showed us his jam range that he's developing as well, to be sold under the 'St Kilda Preservation Society' label, and including tasty combinations such as strawberry and chia seed, grapefruit and ginger and my favourite, pineapple and goji berries, tasting just like a Chinese pineapple tart. Mmhmm!

Lawn Bowls at the St Kilda Sports Club
66 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda 3182

I had never played lawn bowls before. But after this experience, it definitely won't be the last time I play! 

While some more serious games were happening on the other side of the field, we broke into two groups to play a simple, quick and fun elimination game, where basically everyone bowls their balls, and the two furthest away from the jack at the end of each round get taken out of the game. 

With a glass of cider in hand, it was much more physical than I had expected, as we ran up and down the field to change sides, count balls and suss out who was winning.

I was quite chuffed to have a ball that rolled this close to the jack!

We also had a sneak peek at the original locker room, which was built in 1876 and is hardly been changed since there. It was absolutely gorgeous, with crafted wooden lockers, golden numbers on the door, and the odd bit of sport memorabilia. The members bar was getting a facelift while we were there, and it was looking pretty good…!

157 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda 3182

Milk the Cow on Urbanspoon

After all that exercise, it was time for more food. So we strolled across the road to Milk the Cow for a matched flight of wine and cheese. The cosy spot was packed, but quite elegant and lively. I couldn't keep my eyes off the huge display of cheese in the middle!

From left to right our flight included a 6 month old manchego with a Madame Coco Blanc de Blanc, a Fourme d'Ambert, 6 month old blue milk cheese (milder than your average blue) with a Peter Lehmenn Riesling, a gouda from the Netherlands with a very elegant Chardonnay and to wrap up a Bella Vitano Merlot cheese, that's been washed in Merlot (as it might suggest) paired with a Kelly Brook Pinot Noir.

All absolutely exceptional cheeses, although the manchego was definitely a favourite and I took quite a liking to the Bella Vitano. The guys at Milk the Cow surprised us with a pop quiz after we had tried everything, but thanks to my note taking frenzy from earlier, I soared through to take top place in this challenge!

These flights are dangerous though I must say, in my eagerness to finish one pairing and move to the next, I end up drinking all the wine much too fast...

31 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda 3182

Café Di Stasio on Urbanspoon

To finish our expedition around St Kilda, we wind up at Di Stasio's bar for a couple of cocktails and some delicious nibbles. With hushed tones, marble bench top and a wall of art, the space is immensely elegant and is all class, with smartly dressed waiters complete with pressed white shirts and bow ties. 

Our last challenge for the day, was to guess what was in our cocktail, which was refreshing and a little dangerous…it was so well balanced you couldn't really taste the alcohol, which made for liberal sipping!

In the end, none of us could guess accurately, as one of the elements was 'Ramazzotti', an Italian bitters that none of us had heard of…Di Stasio was really out to test us!

With the competition over, and Jess tallying up the scores, the rest of tucked into a couple of negronis and plenty of delicious nibbles. Duck pate, eggplant chips and the most divine hybrid of potato crisps and chips…I'm really not sure what name to call it to justify it! 

Manager Mallory really made sure we were well looked after, and kept bringing out interesting Italian liqueurs for us to sample, the Zucca being quite a strong and slightly bitter herbaceous liqueur. 

Although it was a completely full on day, it was endless amounts of fun, although I'm pretty sure I was digesting the food from that day for the next 3 days straight after! Having had a slice more of St Kilda in my life now though, I definitely want more!

So after all that, a full 9 hours of delectable romping around St Kilda…who won the amazing race?

Why none other than me! I was far more surprised than anyone else and had a lovely time redeeming my prize of an overnight stay in Adina, with dinner at Fitzrovia and tickets to Luna Park just this past weekend, which I can't wait to share with all of you soon. 

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