Saturday, June 27, 2015

Memories of Melbourne: High Standards for Cafes

We only managed to visit a few cafes in our brief stint in Melbourne. We really enjoyed all of them, though there are no doubt plenty of other excellent ones that we didn't have time for.

Hardware Société

With positive reviews and many lists recommending the Hardware Société (though admittedly, some of these are a bit older), we were not too surprised to find that we would have to wait in line for brunch at this popular cafe.

Not pictured: the queue to get in.

Situated on Hardware Street, the eatery has little references to its name, for instance with the wait staff wearing leather aprons. The meals were beautifully presented, with generous portion sizes and skilfully cooked, so it's no wonder the place rates highly. We would happily go to other good cafes without the queues though.

Huge portions for breakfast: herb roasted mushrooms ($20) and scrambled eggs ($20).


We stumbled across Frances Food & Coffee around the corner from our hotel. We loved the decor, and the fact that there were plenty of free tables, though the place was by no means empty.

Concrete and wood work together at Frances.

We also loved the food, which was not only simple and delicious, but had more manageable portions at correspondingly smaller prices. The items pictured below cost less than $10 each, and the most expensive thing on the menu was $14, unless you count their unlisted breakfast special ($17), which was a baked dish with sausages and a duck egg.

Field mushroom toastie ($9.50).

Toasted croissant with avocado, Swiss cheese and rose harissa ($8.50).

The service was attentive and it was also the first time I had a chai latte that was not pre-sweetened. Instead, I was given a little jug of honey that I could mix in to my liking. We would definitely recommend this neat little sibling-run cafe!

Original chai latte ($4).

Sir Charles

Unlike the cafes above, Sir Charles was a recent opening in Fitzroy that some friends took us to. Their breakfast menu had some unusual twists that worked surprisingly well.

Cafe interior.

Case in point: the Sir Charles Benedict that three-quarters of our table ordered came with panko-crumbed eggs, Sriracha hollandaise and bacon on roti.

Sir Charles Benedict with panko-crumbed eggs, Sriracha hollandaise and bacon on roti ($17).

The corn fritters turned out to be deep-fried balls, and some other items on the menu looked just as intriguing, with miso scrambled eggs, for instance. This place should be high on your list if you want to have playful and mouth-watering food.

Corn fritters with poached egg, charred salsa and spicy hollandaise ($15)..

Operator 25

Even though we weren't particularly hungry, we couldn't leave Melbourne without checking out Operator 25, which was not only close to our hotel, but was also highly rated.

Sign outside the cafe.

This cafe celebrates its heritage as a former telephone exchange in numerous ways, from the "Over Hear!" and "Pick Up Line" signs over the counter, to the bundle of wires hanging from the ceiling.

Telephone exchange theme inside.

We went for the most basic item on the breakfast ("Wake-Up Call") menu: toast with a spread, in our case Nutella, which came in a little glass jar with a foil-wrapped piece of handcrafted cultured butter.

Sourdough with butter and Nutella ($7).

It was a pity we weren't able to try anything else, because they had some exotic-sounding dishes too, with braised eggs served with ox tongue and corn bread, or a three rice congee with puffed buckwheat, lotus crisps and soy poached egg.

Couldn't fault the coffee either.

Bonus: Closed Signs

We will have to pay Melbourne a return visit to sample more of the city's great cafes, but we still managed to derive enjoyment from a couple of closed places we walked past.


Not open = nope.

Hopefully, it won't be long before we can come back!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Memories of Melbourne: Impressions of a Grown Up City

After hearing many people rave about Melbourne, we finally took a short break across the ditch. We had no plans in particular, other than to wander around the city, meet friends, and eat lots. But now we understand why people love the place!

A Vibrant Cityscape

Melbourne is a city with character. They've turned nasty alleys into bustling laneways.

Busker in a laneway.

In some places, they have footpaths wide enough for fruit stalls and passers-by to be there at the same time.

Fruit seller on the footpath.

They've embraced their heritage buildings, with amazing works of architecture used for retail as well as public buildings. Their library and train stations are well worth seeing!

H&M retail store.

There is street art everywhere, whether painted onto buildings...

Artwork brings a side street to life.

... or displayed on a pedestal by the waterfront.

Sculpture (and bikes for hire) on the waterfront.

Amazing Malls

Shopping is not everyone's cup of tea, but in Melbourne, some of the malls are destinations in themselves. I love the ornate arcades from centuries past, which unlike the ones in Auckland, actually seem to attract people.

Queue for the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in thev Block Arcade.

Then there are the modern shopping malls in the centre of the city. Melbourne Central was designed around a historic shot tower made of brick.

Looking up at the shot tower at Melboune Central.
Looking down to the foot of the tower sitting inside the mall.

Not far away, the spacious Emporium Melbourne (which cost $1.6 billion to build!) reminded us of the vertical shopping malls in Asia, complete with interesting eateries which are a far cry from the KFCs and Magic Woks you find here in Auckland.

Emporium has been carefully designed to make shopping enjoyable.
Eatery at a mall which actually looks attractive.

Multiple Forms of Transport

It was great to see that Melbourne is striving to give people transport choices, rather than focussing solely on the needs of cars. Case in point: tram rides became free at the beginning of this year, making it painless to get from one end of town to the other.

Horse drawn carriage on the street.

Sometimes, it's not simply about getting from A to B, but rather enjoying the journey. We were surprised to come across the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant while walking to our hotel on our first night in the city, but hey, what a novel idea!

Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

Other interesting things to know about Melbourne transport:
  1. They have hook turns, where cars turn right from the left lane
  2. Public transport routing is not available in Google Maps, though apparently that is coming soon

Colourful Markets

No visit to Melbourne is complete without visiting the historic Queen Victoria Markets. Officially opened on 20 March 1878, the massive complex is divided into different precincts, with fruit and veges in one section, meat and fish in another, deli goods in the historic Deli Hall, and general merchandise in yet another area (there were probably a few other parts to the market as well). They've also just started running the Winter Night Markets.

Quinces, courgettes and other vegetables at a produce stall at the Vic Market.

A deli stall with an amazing array of goods.

Shopping in the Vic Market Deli Hall.

Even a random little market we wandered into (held at the Fitzroy Primary School) was more interesting than the ones I am used to. There was live music, handmade craft items (such as Lovely Lady Lamps), vintage clothing, and freshly cooked food, including pierogies and meatballs.

Meatball stall at the Fitzroy Primary School Market.

Diverse Eats

In terms of eateries in Melbourne, the first thing I noticed were the international chain stores that are not in New Zealand (yet): places like Taco Bell and Krispy Kreme; and Hungry Jack's is what they call Burger King over there. (A similar situation applies with supermarkets too, with Coles and Aldi not in New Zealand, and the Woolworths brand used in place of our Countdown.)

For cheap eats, I would generally much prefer to visit little Asian restaurants. There are plenty of these in Melbourne, but they feel different from the ones here in Auckland. They seem more modern and accessible to English-only speakers, for one. There are way more Korean and Vietnamese eateries, and they provide a more complete experience too. For instance, the Korean fried chicken place we stumbled into in a back alley on our first night (we later discovered there were other branches) gave us a complimentary plate of pickled radish cubes, and a Vietnamese meal we ate came with a pile of herbs (not to mention there were gizzards, liver, tendons, and various other bits in the pho). We were surprised to walk past a Burmese restaurant too.

Modern-looking Vietnamese bakery in a hole in the wall.

Herbs and organs in a pho.

There are of course plenty of European options as well. You can taste Eastern European cuisines which we don't see much of here, like Czech and Slovak food, or eat at a high end Armenian restaurant. We came across a couple of Greek eateries, including one where people were dancing. There was a lot more variety in terms of the more familiar cafes and burger joints too.

Bars with a View

A large part of the experience when you are going out is not only what you put into your mouth, but also the people you are with, and of course the surroundings. I enjoyed the rooftop bars which give you a view with your nibbles and drinks...

Naked for Satan has a rooftop area with a great view of Fitzroy.

... as well as the place located at the foot of a pedestrian bridge in the middle of the river. What's not to love about getting fresh air while surrounded by water, at least when the weather is good?

Ponyfish bar and eatery is under a pedestrian bridge in the middle of the Yarra River.


Auckland has already improved greatly in recent years. Hopefully we can incorporate more of the great things about Melbourne into our city too!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Flooded with Feijoas: Feijoa Jelly

Feijoa paste is delicious and pretty easy to make, but it doesn't look that great. With lots more feijoas to use up, some rotting in places, I decided to try making feijoa jelly instead.

Feijoa jelly with muesli and yoghurt.

Rather than scooping out the insides of the feijoas, I chopped them up, making use of more of the fruit, including the skins. This made it easier to remove the damaged parts.

Chopped feijoa.

Basically following Allyson Gofton's recipe, I put the feijoa pieces in a saucepan, covered the fruit with water, and brought it to a boil.

Boiling feijoa pieces.

I simmered it for 50 minutes before pouring the liquid out.

Boiled feijoa pieces.

You're supposed to strain it through a "jelly bag", but I didn't know what one was, so I just put several layers of muslin over a sieve. I also put a cake rack (balanced on a couple of drinking glasses) over the top to keep the larger pieces of fruit out. Other people have reported using a pillowcase with success.

Draining feijoa liquid.

Although I tried not to press on the pulp, the liquid that I collected was very cloudy, with a muddy colour that did not look appetising at all. I wondered if I needed to try harder to find a jelly bag after all.

Grey, cloudy liquid.

As I don't like to waste things, I decided to carry on and attempt to make a jelly anyway. I boiled the 500mL feijoa liquid with slightly less than two cups of sugar, and after clearing away some surface scum, I was amazed to see it turn clear and orange in colour.

Liquid became orange and clear on heating.

Cooking it for a bit longer made it almost red. A similar colour change happens when you make quince paste too, and apparently that is because cooking destroys the tannins in the fruit, releasing the coloured anthocyanin pigments.

Bottled feijoa jelly.

The liquid set surprisingly firmly on cooling, so the jelly did not spread easily like jam. Because I included the skins, it had a slight bitterness to its floral flavour, as in marmalade. It took a bit more effort to make this, because of the draining step which wasn't needed for feijoa paste, but the end result was gorgeously smooth and clear. Sweet, delicious success!

Homemade peanut butter and feijoa jelly on toast.

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Maddie from Supper Lovin’.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Join the NZ Blogging Popularity Contest

Ever wondered how your blog is doing, compared to other New Zealand blogs? It turns out there is someone keeping a list of NZ blog rankings at the OpenParachute website. All you need to do to get your blog added is to make your stats publicly accessible, email Ken Perrott, and wait for a month or so.

May stats - hey, I'm doing better than I thought!

It took me a while to work out what to do, even after reading the FAQ, so I thought I would take you through the process step by step.

1) Set up a Site Meter

Apparently, the most popular site meter used by bloggers is, um, Site Meter. I already had misgivings from the dated look of the website, but gave up on this one after it said it was going to email me my password and no email arrived (it came after a couple of days—my issue now is trying to get off their mailing list, as the unsubscribe link doesn't work and no one responded to my email).

So I went to the next most popular site meter, StatCounter. Here's what I did to set it up.

Step 1 - Sign Up

Click on one of the "Sign Up Now!" links on the website...
Sign up button on homepage.

... then enter your details and press "Create Account".

Sign up form.
Step 2 - Add Project

Enter your blog's URL, give it a name, and tick the "Make Statistics Public" checkbox. I chose to have no link and invisible tracking, but you may wish to have a link/counter appear on your site. You can also choose whether to have your stats emailed to you, before moving on to the next step by pressing the "Add Project" button.

Add project screen.
Step 3 - Add Snippet

Depending on what blogging platform you are doing, your next step may differ. I followed the Blogger installation guide, but the Wordpress one may be more applicable to you. This is the most challenging part, at least with Blogger, because you have to add code to your blog template, but fortunately the installation guide provides plenty of screenshots.

List of installation guides.

2) Find the Link to Your Public Statistics

Once you have set up your site meter, you should have a publicly accessible link to your stats. In StatCounter, this is done by going to Home -> User & Public Access (don't worry if your stats haven't come through yet—you will probably want to wait at least a few days to confirm everything is working).

User & Public Access button on the landing page.

The link will be displayed under the "Public Access" heading.

Public link.
3) Email Open Parachute

Once you have checked that you can see some stats for your blog (here's mine for comparison), you can write to Ken Perrott and give him your blog URL and public stats link. If you don't want your numbers to be artificially low in the first month, you can wait till you have a month's worth of data first.

4) Done!

If you get an email back to say your blog has been added, you are done! All you have to do now is look for your blog in next month's blog ranking list. For instance, here is May's one.

Your results may or may not be what you expect (I think my blog ranks too highly because other food bloggers have not been added to the list, and a lot of my traffic comes from overseas), but at least you now have some idea where you are sitting in relation to some other NZ blogs. Who knows, someone browsing the blog rankings may come across your blog and start reading it too!
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