Weekend in Melbourne

Melbourne is such a wonderful, vibrant and beautiful city that I am very tempted to move to! I was lucky enough to get a couple of days off work to join my fellow-nurse friend from Alice Springs (Ingrid) to head to Melbourne for scoping out the best coffee haunts, taste Melbourne’s delicious food and walk endlessly through the laneways and streets to visit boutiques, op-shops and galleries along the way. Ingrid is a vegan, which did influence a lot of our cafe/restaurant choices, but Melbourne caters so well to vegans and has so many excellent vegan restaurants that it made finding somewhere excellent to eat a simple and never-disappointing task!

Day 1

Breakfast: Industry Beans (http://industrybeans.com/)
This beautiful cafe and coffee-roaster in the quaint, little streets of Fitzroy was a wonderful start to the trip. The huge industrial space with polished concrete floors, simple wooden furniture, huge beaming ceilings and sacks of fresh coffee beans piled up by the roasting machines made for a lovely atmosphere. The coffee was excellent, and served so nicely – my long black with hot milk came with the espresso, boiling water and frothed milk all separate, so that I was able to add as much or as little of the water and milk as I liked. Ingrid’s soy latte looked lovely, and she loved the flavour although said it wasn’t quite hot enough.

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Our food was excellent! The menu changes with the season, so from the winter menu I chose the Shanklish Cheese Omelette and Ingrid chose the Chia and Polenta Porridge. My omelette came with caramelised leeks, zatar, pinenuts, crispy kale and sourdough with a side of fresh avocado. I adored the flavours, but felt that the omelette could have been hotter! I think it may have cooled down too much while they were decorating it with the toppings. Ingrid couldn’t pick one negative for her porridge. It came with poached apple, raspberry coulis, almond milk and coffee praline and looked absolutely beautiful, decorated with edible flowers and the coffee praline glistening on top.

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Snack: Smith & Deli (https://www.facebook.com/SmithAndDeli)
After hearing the most wonderful things about Smith & Deli, we had to stop by, even after our huge breakfast! This plant-based, all vegan deli, grocery and takeaway shop is what dreams are made of. We shared two of the baked goods on offer – the challah sticky bun with pecans and the shortbread with pecan praline. Both were amazing!! Challah is one of my favourite foods, and never have I seen it used like this in a sticky bun. It was just divine, packed with cinnamon and maple syrup, making for such a moist and yummy treat. The shortbread had an amazing crumbly texture, and had me analysing it up close trying to work out what they use instead of butter. I couldn’t work it out, but whatever it was it was delicious, especially with the creamy chocolate coating and crunchy pecan praline. I so wanted to come back and try more, but there was no time in my short weekend trip!

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Lunch: Manchester Press (https://www.facebook.com/manchesterpress)
We had spent the morning walking the streets of Fitzroy and the CBD and then crossed the river to the National Gallery of Victoria where we went to the Legacy of Catherine the Great Exhibition. The collection was fascinating and had so many different styles of painting spread about the big, bold coloured rooms of pink and blue. Do try and get there if you can! After our busy morning we walked back into the city in search of a good coffee, but came across Manchester Press in Rankins Lane – the most inviting, warm and cosy cafe for a cold, winter day in Melbourne. They serve up specialty coffee and a great range of bagels. I ordered the Avo & Fetta Smash open bagel served with a side salad. I opted for the classic poppyseed bagel, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the fresh bagel piled high with chunky avocado, soft goats fetta, micro-herbs, chilli and lemon. I managed to finish every last mouthful, as I just love a good bagel! Ingrid ordered the Go Vegan! bagel, open-faced as well and topped with a generous helping of roasted eggplant, tomato, spinach, basil pesto and roasted capsicum. She also loved hers! Our coffees were wonderful, with such a unique flavour like all the lovely little speciality coffee places in Melbourne. Overall, the food in simple and perfect if all you want is a simple bagel. Next time in Melbourne I’ll probably try something a bit more adventurous though!

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Dinner: Smith & Daughters (https://www.facebook.com/SmithandDaughters/timeline)
Now this is vegan food done superbly well! Smith & Daughters menu is completely plant-based with a strong Latin influence, featuring flavours like chimichurri, romesco, saffron, garlic and lemon. The food is sharing plates and sides, so Ingrid and I sipped delicious Aperol Spritz’s while scanning the menu, finally deciding on the White Truffle Forrest Mushroom Pâté, the Paella Fritters and the Patatas Con Romesco Ahumado.

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The Pâté arrived first, completely resembling the meaty livery kind, served with a side of caperberries, cornichons and thinly sliced toasts. This was so delicious and light, with a really distinct truffle flavour that complemented the mushrooms so well. Next we had the Paella Fritters – the chef’s family recipe for Paella with peas, sofrito & saffron, rolled into balls and lightly fried, served with a garlic aioli. Unbelievable! After our first bite we safely agreed that this was the best dish, and wish we had ordered another serving! The paella was velvety soft and gooey on the inside, with an incredible saffron aroma. Dipped into the garlic aioli, it was an absolutely delectable dish! The potatoes then arrived, a huge board piled high with crushed & fried chat potatoes, drizzled with smokey romesco pepper sauce and chimichurri. After such a flavour punch from the Paella Fritters, these seemed a little bland in comparison. I would have preferred more sauce, but it was still yummy and we demolished over half the board!

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We finished off our glasses of Malbec, then peered over the dessert menu, shockingly ordering a dessert each! “When in Melbourne” I suppose! I ordered the Tarta de Chocolate Azteca – a layer of salted chocolate & an almond coconut crust sandwiched between ancho chilli caramel, served with fresh avocado icecream. This was ridiculous. I finished every crumb and regretted nothing, it was that good. Ingrid ordered the Sangria Crumble – pears poached in Pedro Ximénez infused with sangria, topped with almond crumble & served with saffron custard. She utterly adored it and especially enjoyed the flavour of sangria in the pears.

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Day 2

Breakfast: Transformer (http://www.transformerfitzroy.com/)
Continuing our adventures in Fitzroy, we caught up with a couple of nursing friends at Transformer, a warehouse converted restaurant with a largely vegan menu, a venture of the chef and owner of Vegie Bar around the corner. It was a Saturday morning at 9.30, but we were the first ones there! Not what I expected for weekend brunch, but to be fair enough they only just started doing breakfast & brunch, being a mostly drinks & dinner venue. Anyway, we settled into a nice window-facing table and ordered coffees while we gazed through the yummy menu. The coffees arrived and they were fantastic! No wonder, as they use Industry Beans coffee – can’t go wrong there. To eat I ordered the Baked Eggs with pumpkin, seeds, labneh and light rye sourdough, Ingrid & Gemma ordered the Indian Crumpet with toasted corn, cannelini beans, grapes, cherry tomatoes, quinoa and coconut yogurt and Leah ordered the Turkish Fried Eggs with spelt & seed flatbread, spiced labneh and silverbeet. I was so happy I ordered the baked eggs, as they were absolutely divine – spicy, oozy yolks, fresh sour labneh and the best toast I’ve ever had to dunk into it all. The girls who got the Indian crumpets enjoyed them, but were a little underwhelmed overall because the crumpets were served cold. Leah really enjoyed her Turkish eggs and they looked great, but no one seemed to be raving as much as me – I truly adored my breakfast!

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Lunch: Oriental Spoon (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Oriental-Spoon/154526097904031)
We were walking back from Queen Victoria Markets and a visit to Books for Cooks feeling very hungry! So we stopped at a Korean place on the way into the CBD because Ingrid used to live in Korea and I had never tried bibimbap before! It probably wasn’t the best of choices, but it was still enjoyable. We both ordered the mushroom stone pot, and I really enjoyed the flavour of the mushrooms and the side of kimchi, but overall it was pretty plain. I just added a bit of the side sauces and then it was quite nice.

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Dinner: Vegie Bar (http://vegiebar.com.au/)
Vegie Bar is a bit of a Melbourne institution, serving a range of healthy, vegetarian and vegan food options to locals and tourists for years. Ingrid and I caught up with my cousin Benita who lives in Melbourne for dinner. We got to Vegie Bar nice and early at 6.15 knowing that it completely out, and luckily we got one of the last tables. The menu didn’t look particularly interesting to me, but I ended up ordering the soba noodle salad, Ingrid ordered the Virtuoso pizza and Benita ordered one of the specials – a thai green curry packed with greens and mushrooms. I enjoyed my salad, but it was pretty boring and lacked flavour, Ingrid seemed to enjoy her pizza and it did look quite nice, and Benita enjoyed her curry but only ate half… So after our mains we were a little disappointed overall.

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We kept our hopes high for dessert though, I ordered the vegan fruit crumble with fresh cream and Ingrid and Benita both ordered the vegan cheesecake. I absolutely adored my crumble! Crumbles are one of my all time favourite foods and this one was one of the best. Ingrid loved the cheesecake but Benita found it far too filling and sickly. I don’t think I would come back to Vegie Bar or recommend it, I think there are much better cafes and restaurants offering healthy vegetarian & vegan options.

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