Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Lake House

I think a lot of my very good friends in life have really come out from the unexpected places (and often online). I don’t seem to strongly connect with work colleagues, or friends of friends and haven’t really stayed in touch with many school or uni friends over the years. You know the usual places you would expect to meet and get to know people.

Instead, from the girl who messaged me on Twitter, because I visited the cafe she works at, who I now see at least once a year when she’s back from London for a meal, to the guys who I spent much of my awkward teenage years playing video games with and travelling to New York with...I find my closest and dearest friends in the most unexpected places.

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Take these guys; Adrian, Winston and I obviously met through food blogging, but somehow found we all had a common interest (other than food) that we built a very close knit friendship around. I’ve always said if I can enjoy being in someone’s company for well over 3 hours…we’re really good friends, and these guys have ticked that requirement time and time again over all night or all afternoon tv show marathons.

So it only seemed natural that for the boy’s birthdays in February, we’d have a joint celebration at The Lake House in Daylesford, naturally karaoke-ing up the whole way and back in a mini-road trip together. 

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Nestled in a quiet corner of Daylesford, The Lake House setting is just stunning. Before going into the restaurant itself, we swanned around on the deck/patio overlooking the lake. It’s a stunning set up with lounge chairs, benches and plenty of greenery and trees. 

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Going inside the restaurant doesn’t disappoint either, with lush, but bright and comfortable furnishings; like the most beautiful holiday home you’ve ever come across. A lovely mix of this and that, but with a definite distinctive style. 

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Although I would normally always start a long lunch with a glass of wine, while perusing the cocktails and cocktails, the Lake House’s version of a non-alcoholic iced tea with Earl Grey tea and all things bright and citrus just looked to good to turn down and is the perfect way to start lunch, refreshing, fruity rather than sweet but also full bodied; particularly on this warm and humid summery day we visited on. 

Although the tasting menu is on offer for lunch at The Lake House, the boys and I opt instead to go down the ala-carte option, each choosing a dish from the entree, main and dessert sections of the menu (we skip out on the cheese course). 

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As we ponder over the beautiful ‘place-setting’ plates and whether we actually eat off them or not (we soon discover not), with artwork from the family painted on to each plate, the most gorgeous loaf of sourdough, baked fresh on site daily, with Powlett Hill biodynamic spelt flour, is popped down in front of us. 

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I can’t stop cooing over how it looks like a dumpling, and we all simply adore the warm, dense yet fluffy crusty bread. I loved the nuttiness in the flavour of the bread, and we all couldn’t resist going back for another wedge of bread each, making sure to generously slather it with butter each time of course!

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Our entrees arrived, looking like beautiful pieces of artwork - almost too pretty eat! 

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I absolutely adored how delicate and light the ‘From Local Waterways’ entree was plated, with Murray cod, trout, smoked eel, yabbies, fennel and watercress, with a bit of fish jelly and crispy fish skin. For a dish with so many proteins and flavours, it all came together beautifully - the eel is soft and light yet fattily delicious, the yabbies compact but brightly sweet, the trout even sweeter, and fresh herbs just brightening up the whole dish. So stunning. 

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The carpaccio of kingfish, spanner crab, lime, mint, fried jalapeño and green gazpacho, for being another seafood dish has a completely different palate, which I love. It’s much brighter, zestier and lighter in the mouth, whereas the ‘From Local Waterways’ although also light, has a richer, earthier feel to it. I swoon as the tender, cool and immensely sweet spanner crab finds it’s way into my mouth and the crunchy textures throughout are very welcome. 

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The Sher wagyu breasaola and tartare, with house pickles and a little quail egg takes the richness level to another level, each slice of wagyu gently edged with a sliver of fat and cut so finely it melted into the mouth. Got to love the capers to cut through the richness too.

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A bit of red wine and it was on to the mains, I opted for a single dish, whereas the boys couldn’t resist sharing a dish designed for two to share.

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My roasted ballotine of free range duck with parfait, coffee roasted carrots, black barley, almonds, carrot top pesto  and elderberry was another immaculately presented dish, proving that main dishes can be as pretty and delicate as entrees! 

The duck was simply some of the best I’ve had in a long time, so juicy and tender. I’m going to use this description a lot, but it really did just melt in the mouth. The little cigar with parfait wrapped up inside was also gorgeously aromatic and luscious. Although I shared everything on my plate with the boys…that was just the one thing I couldn’t. Hehe. 

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The boys shared the Flinder’s Islane rump of saltgrass lamb, coucous, currants, eggplant, green beans and dukkah. Although it’s said to be shared between two, you really could feed three people with it quite comfortably! It’s a real spread, with perfectly pink lamb, succulent and juicy, served up with all sorts of sides. It’s the kind of dish you’d expect that culinary whiz in the friendship group to whip up when you go over to theirs for dinner. A dish that looks effortless, but you know it definitely isn’t. I loved the generous strip of fat left on the top of the lamb as well, so much flavour. 

The veggies are definitely not an afterthought either, the beans are crunchy and so fresh and the pickles are tart but not overly so. 

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Anyone who says you never need a side of potatoes is lying (and are not your real friends). The triple cooked Royal Blue potatoes with rosemary and garlic are as promised, golden and crunchy gems. Being the perfect size to pop into your mouth, you absolutely cannot resist going back for more. I dare you to try otherwise. 

Somehow after all that, there’s still space for dessert (albeit with an extended digestion break with some lemongrass and ginger tea to help the process along). 

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We shared ‘The Summer Ramble’ with buttermilk, honey, elderflower, berries, ‘bark’ and basil, a peanut butter, black sesame, caramel and banana dessert and finally a mysterious dish just called ‘The Apple’. 

‘The Summer Ramble’ was a last hoorah to the warm summery weather Melbourne had been enjoying, a lovely harmony of textures from fluffy basil cake, creamy honey ice-cream (I think), crunchy honeycomb and juicy blueberries all coming together. It was a party with all sorts. Although a ‘summer’ dish, it was much earthier than I had expected; I particularly enjoyed the plump blueberries here!

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The peanut butter, black sesame, caramel and banana dessert was stunning as well, with crunchy sesame praline and totally lush caramelised bananas. I found the peanut butter flavour a little weak, but otherwise totally enjoyed this dish - would have liked more of the bananas though, highlight of the dish for me for sure!

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Lastly, our mysterious ‘The Apple’. A white chocolate sphere appeared on our table, sitting on a bed of green apple granita. The shell was so thin, breaking away instantly with not much force, to reveal a delightful mousse inside. I won’t give away much more, but this was my favourite dessert of the three, smooth, elegant, light and unexpected. There was definitely a fun element with this dessert for me. 

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We finally finished on a little frozen lemon curd wrapped in soft meringue, which is exactly what you want to finish your meal on. A perfectly sweet but vibrantly citrus finish. 

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The Lake House was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, with so much casual dining in the market at the moment, I had briefly forgotten what fine dining (that’s still more relaxed than pretentious) had to offer, in both creativity, flavours and atmosphere as well. We were well waited on the whole meal, despite our obnoxious photo taking and perhaps slightly too enthusiastic conversations on occasion. I do enjoy a good laugh, what can I say? 

Whether you need a restaurant for a special occasion, or even just want an excuse to get a little decked out and get out of town for an afternoon, the Lake House is a perfect destination to spend a good half a day at. 

4 King Street
Daylesford 3460

Lake House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Piccolina Gelateria

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Just when you think we can’t possibly have any more gelato stores in Melbourne (and how could our gelato really get any better anyway)…Melbourne likes to prove you wrong. 

Fortunately for me this time, the newest addition to the gelato squad, Piccolina Gelateria, is in Hawthorn - a much shorter journey for me to satisfy my gelato cravings!

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Opened Sandra Foti, the cheerfully blue gelato shop is located right next to the snazzy looking renovated Samurai (ah…those green tea milk shakes during my high school days) on Glenferrie Road and although the fitout is simple and playful, the gelato is seriously good. 

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The difference with Piccolina? The gelato is totally preservative free, and they make all the ingredients in-house. If it’s not a fruit or something (which are sourced locally too) which is already raw; it’s all made themselves. Pistachio gelato? The pistachios are roasted in-house; even the bread for the ‘bread, butter and jam’ gelato is baked in-house. For their cheekily named ‘Better than Nut-ella’ flavour, they don’t use nutella, instead they make their own hazelnut spread which is rich, nutty and full of the chocolatey goodness we love.

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As it is quite close to my place, I have popped in a few times and can definitely vouch that the gelato is damn good. In general the texture is a bit softer, which means you have to gobble it down pretty quickly (not that it’s a problem for me) but I just love how creamy and dense it is, and how intense the flavours are.

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Pistachio is easily one of my favourites, although the colour is a bit lighter, the flavour isn’t lacking; it’s got a richer slightly roasted nutty flavour, which you don’t usually get which I think is just awesome. 

I’ve also had the ‘bread, butter and chocolate’ gelato which totally blew my mind and is definitely worth trying!

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They’ve also got granitas on offer, which as promised are also full of flavour, the watermelon and mint one I’ve had once was perfect and so refreshing when the weather was still 30 degrees and higher (or just a really great palate cleanser after a big meal too I reckon). 

The only thing with Piccolina, in my opinion, is that the price is on the higher end of things, compared to what else is in the market ($5.80 for a single scoop, $6.80 for two, $8.80 for three); but considering the gelato is made with all real ingredients and no preservatives, it’s a very small extra margin for what’s essentially now a health food…(right…???) 

Piccolina Gelateria 
802 Glenferrie Road

Piccolina Gelateria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Burger Theory

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest

When Brad and I first started dating, we’d often find ourselves grabbing burgers at least once every one or two weeks. (Almost) six years later, it’s more like every couple of months. 

Just can’t get away as much as you used to when you were 21…

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So when I do have a burger now, it better be a good one. These days we’re definitely spoilt with options, so when Burger Theory came into the scene, or more specifically the Melbourne scene, they’ve been in Adelaide since 2010, I was interested to see what they had to offer.

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Walk into (or eventually stumble in, the entrance isn’t super clear) the eatery, joined next Tuxedo Cat, on Latrobe street, and you’re greeted by their spick and span prep room where all their meat (whole chuck steak muscles) and produce hangs out until it’s ground and formed into patties (which is done daily). 

This treatment isn’t just limited to their beef, the guys care about everything that goes into their burgers; chicken patties are made from free range chicken and fried to order, and for vegos the falafel patties are made in house, so it’s all good. 

The burger menu is short and sweet; the guys started from a truck originally and as such have stayed faithful to their original menu for the most part. 

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I grab the #1 Beef Burger, which is as classic as you can get; beef patty (cooked medium), American cheese, crunchy iceberg, tomato and their homemade ‘truck sauce’ a tangy mayo. The only difference is that I get mine wrapped in lettuce leaves to keep my gluten-intolerant gut a little more pleased. 

It isn’t pretty, but it is delicious; the patty is perfectly pink and I love a burger that’s generous with the mayo. It’s very, very moreish and down the hatch without much of a thought!

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My Canadian colleague Sarah got the Original Fried Chicken Burger, bun n’ all, with pickles and ‘special sauce’. Can I just say yum? The bite I had the chicken was so tender and lovely, and I just loved how zesty the pickles were. ‘Special sauce’ is also more mayo-y delicious goodness. 

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We also got the spicy loaded fries; which is way dangerously delicious. Kimchi, gochujang sauce, sour cream and bacon bits are surely what all your dreams are made of. Although I’m a crispy chip kind of person, I actually liked the soggier chips under all the kimchi as it just absorbed all the flavour; big of spicy, bit of sour, bit of kick; all yum. And moreish. You will finish these despite how big they look!

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When I was in the States, one thing that I ended up loving so much more than I was expecting was the Shake Shake….shakes (funnily enough). Not the burgers. I’m not quite sure how they do it, but I just love how thick and creamy and dense the shakes are, and also totally flavoursome without tasting artificial. 

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Yet for whatever reason; we just can’t seem to emulate it back in Australia and I’m never quite satisfied whenever I order a milkshake (there’s also a good chance I don’t have enough milkshakes either). 

But Burger Theory has now come to my rescue. The chocolate shake I had, had me on cloud nine. Thick, dense, creamy, and so, so, so chocolatey. Highly recommended if you’ve had the same ‘Shake Shack shake’ deficiency that I have had. 

Although we are kind of reaching peak ‘burger’ in Melbourne, Burger Theory actually is a great contribution to the scene, especially on the Latrobe side of town where the burger offerings are a little leaner (unless you count Grill’d these days…?)

293 Latrobe Street
Melbourne 3000

Burger Theory Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ampersand Coffee and Food

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Ampersand Coffee and Food is a gorgeous little cafe in Thornbury, on High Street. I first walked by it while in the area for a client meeting and the minimal, bright and elegant space caught my eye immediately. 

As did the gluten free waffles on the menu!

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We popped into the cafe on a quiet Sunday (Valentine’s day actually), and quickly settled into our regular routine of coffee (Padre - Daddys Girl Blend) and chai (Prana Chai). Was very tempted to order an iced chai - as so few places offer it, but it was a little cool…so maybe next time! 

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The menu is concise but reads fresh and bright, and on the healthy side (but in an unintentional way). I love the focus on local, with toast coming from just down the road at Northcote Bakeshop, and how  honest the dishes sounded on a whole.  

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Brad opts for a poached chicken bagel, with shredded poached chicken, house dill and caper mayonnaise, roquette and house pickled cucumber. It’s a modest feed, but it is delicious and just right for Brad who’s not feeling too hungry this particular day. Just the right amount of mayo, and I simply love the pickled cucumber. 

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I go for the acai berry, with acai, fruit, oats, chia seeds, threaded coconut and seasonal fruit…except that I ask for the gluten free version, which simply has the oats removed. Although the acai bowl was lovely, sweet and refreshing, a gluten free alternative (which I would have been happy to pay extra for) for the oats/granola removed would have been great, as it wasn’t as filling without a carbohydrate component for me…and I felt it also needed that crunchy contrast. 

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Overall though, the vibe at Ampersand is very pleasant, with lots of solo diners obviously feeling the same way, and despite the menu being on the shorter side, it’s still interesting enough for me to want to return to try more. I didn’t get around to having the gluten free waffles this time…so I’m obviously due for another visit! 

Ampersand Coffee and Food
863 High Street

Ampersand Coffee and Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato