Friday, October 29, 2010

The Bell Jar

Meet Larry the Walrus. He adorns the courtyard wall of The Bell Jar, an excellent new Smith St cafe. (wall - walrus. Get it? I didn't until I just typed that previous sentence.) Hidden in the little spit of smith st between Alexandra and Queens Pde, this is the perfect example of a melbourne cafe done right. Unpretentious but well designed, run by two lovely boys, Stu and Ian, you can tell a lot of thought and love has gone into every aspect of this place.

I've been there 3 times in the past month, so you know it's something special. A great simple menu, heaps of gluten free and vego/vegan options, excellent 5 senses coffee blends, a courtyard draped in honeysuckle and a giant communal table, these all add up to make a great experience.

Firstly, the hotcakes. Oh, the hotcakes! Gluten free pancakes/fritters/hotcakes are always a treat, and these are exceptional! Made with tapioca flour, they are gooey and tasty and wonderful. The Ricotta Hotcakes came with apricot with orange blossom and marscapone.

What you can't see in this picture is the giant bite taken out of the back, being unable to control myself for long enough to take an unspoiled photo.

Black rice pudding with mango, papaya and coconut.
These hotcakes have an exceptional backstory. My dining companion had been craving these since our first visit. On this visit, we were told they were out of ricotta. You've never seen a sadder face than the look on hers at that moment. But wait! The boys asked if he had some time to spare, and as it was a beautiful spring day and we were in the courtyard and sleepy in the sunshine, we said we did. They sent as out a taster of their black rice pudding to keep us from eating our own arms, and then an hour later, viola! Ricotta Hotcakes! But how, you ask? Ian, the lovely chef, had made some ricotta from scratch! Boiled the milk, collected the curds, etc. Just so we could have these. That sort of service above and beyond the call or duty was incredible and firmly cemented them on my favourite list. They get to stuff up at least 4 times now before I even consider thinking negatively about them.

Savoury Spicy Corn Hotcakes. Sadly, I couldn't have the offered Chipolate due to my Nightshade allergy. The hotcakes themselves were great, but I have a feeling that the original topping would have bumped them over the edge into the 'Exceptional' category. The eggs were absolutely perfect.

Savoury mmmm
Secondly, they have one of the best gluten free breads in melbourne. From Fatto A Mano on gertrude st, the bread is crisp and chewy, perfect with their avo mash and Meredith fetta.

Coffee - up to any Melbourne standard. A lovely, smooth 5Senses blend, well prepared.

All in all, exceptional. Go there and give these guys your support. Delicious food for anyone to enjoy. Say Hi to Ian and Stu for me!

656 Smith St
Clifton Hill VIC 3068
(03) 9482 7980

The Bell Jar on Urbanspoon


Just a quick update on the previous 2 posts.

1. I managed to stop by Ganache today. They have a new city store on Collins st, but more importantly I got to have a look at their iced chocolate. Wow.

I started drooling involuntarily as I watched them pour the melted chocolate over the top. Also tried a macaroon, fantastic flavour wise, but the texture was a little too gooey for my liking. Shocolate macaroon still wins. Bonus point to ganache staff for their excellent gluten free knowledge. (3 cakes and all the macaroons, plus almost all the chocolates.) earl grey chocolate is still a highlight, can't wait to try the tequila and chilli that i spotted.

2. St ali update

Disappointingly, St Ali has been out of cold drip the past two times I've been there, so today I had to settle for a siphon. Man, am I glad I did! Nicaraguan Cup of excellence = delicious!

also, they've just moved to their summer menu, and there are a few wonderful gluten-free goodies on there! Not as many delicious brekky options as before, but a million bonus points for the best salad I've had in a long time. I had it as a special a few months ago, and they've added it to the menu permanently. Best use of Quinoa in a commercial setting I've had.

Salmon, quinoa, beetroot, pickled sweet potato (sounds weird, delicious!), roast almonds, mint, parsely and labne.

Mmmmmm, signing off before I drown the keyboard in drool. My first focused cafe review to come later today, keep an eye out!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Coffee Manifesto

Coffee, sweet elixir of life. I am an unabashed coffee snob. I drink it only for the taste, never for the energy hit. On average, I'll drink maybe 3 cups per week. Often on the same day if I really fall for somewhere's blend. If the coffee somewhere is disappointing, I will always take the tea option instead, being something of a tea fiend. (More of that to come in later posts.)

As a young'un I would wake up most mornings to the smell of fresh ground coffee that my dad would make. These days I drink a short mac so I can get that hint of milk without overdoing the lactose. I also love the new wanky extraction methods of the third wave, Tanzanian cold drip being my favourite. I like my coffee strong but smooth, with minimal bitterness. I prefer heavier chocolate tones to light fruity ones, so some of you won't agree with my opinions, but I'm going to let you guys in on a few of my favourite coffee places anyway. All are in Melbourne, and all are wonderful for completely different reasons.

Quick Note before I do: Siphon Coffee produces a really light, delicate blend that almost tastes more like tea. Great for separating and identifying the different flavour notes.

Cold drip produces a rich, thick coffee, served cold. Almost more like a liqueur. Be warned, both extractions are crazy potent when it comes to a caffeine hit.

1. St Ali and David Jones Sensory Lab

Both run by the same people. St Ali if you want food as well (they have Silly Yaks Gluten free and a delicious gluten free brownie!) David Jones for the coffee only. These are both an amazing experience. St Ali gives you the fully Melbourne hidden-laneway-reclaimed-warehouse-recycled-furniture experience. Indier-than-thou waiters, who are actually really lovely and helpful. David Jones goes for the coffee-as-science theme, with coffee served in beakers and waiters wearing lab coats. Both can seem really intimidating to begin with, but don't be afraid to ask questions. No-one is judging you for not knowing the difference between a Siphon Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or a Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence. These are where I discovered my favourite coffees, through many hours happily spent experimenting.

Try: A Latte, plain and simple. To see what normal coffee can be. Smooth flavour, richness, milk done to perfection. Everything from then on might be a little flat and dissapointing, but it's worth it for that perfect cup.

Siphon, for the joy of watching it bubble, and the experience of tasting coffee like you've never tasted it before. If you never thought coffee could be called a delicate drink, this will change your mind.

Cold Drip, for the richness of flavour. My favourite is Tanzanian Blackburn or Livingstone, but try a Kenyan bean if you want something a bit lighter and fruiter but still with amazing tasting notes

Synopsis: Pretentious, with damn good reason. Look past that, and it's wonderful.

No.2 Cafe Romeo

Tucked away in Balwyn, I'll admit a bias towards these guys. It was their coffee whose smell I would wake up to many mornings, so I might be a bit sentimental. But in all honesty, the coffee is excellent. Old-school Italian roasters, the blend is smooth and delicious. I've never had a bad coffee here. If you want unpretentious, but authentic, delicious coffee, look no further. 

Try: any standard coffee. Ask the barista's for the special '7 pour' machiatto, which they top up with seven pours of froth, giving an amazing texture without too much milk dilution.

Synopisis: Traditional, passionate. Don't bother going for food, the don't have any except a few biscuits. This is all about the coffee.

No.3 Eden Espresso

This used to be my local in malvern. 2 young, passionate guys run it. They only use organic fairtrade, and have recently brought in a second grinder for a rotating blend. Fantastically unpretentious and relaxing, they do a good assortment of delicious food (lots of gluten free options) to compliment the coffee. My favourite place to go for a relaxing cup that I know I can rely on. Much stronger and richer than a lot of suburban cafes, but still smooth and delicious. Go twice, and I guarantee they'll remember your elixir of choice.

Try: your usual, and notice the difference in quality.

Synopsis: extremely laid back coupled with excellent quality

Hounourable mentions:

Pretty much anywhere serving up Five Senses, St Ali or Syndacate coffee. More specifically:
Batch espresso, Carlisle - simple, smooth, delicious

Collective, Camberwell - bringing up the coffee standard of an entire suburb

Monk Bodhi Dharma, Carlisle - bringing siphon etc to the suburbs, would get an proper write up if the staff were more knowledgeable and talkative.

Journal cafe, CBD - old school lever machine, consistent delicious in an awesome atmosphere.

Anyone have other suggestions?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chocolate in Melbourne

I'm so sick of articles about chocolate in melbourne that only ever mention Koko Black, Haigh's and Max Brenner. Don't get me wrong, I love 2 out of those three, but there is so much amazing specialty chocolate around Melbourne that needs to be shared.

No 1: Shocolate, Fitzroy.

 Mindblowing. I would (and have) killed for some of their salted caramels. The staff are friendly and so proud of their product. It's so cute! I'll admit that I haven't yet tried their hot chocolate, but I look forward to it. They're apparently the only place in Australia to do a vegemite chocolate (which sadly I cant try, due to the gluten factor.) They get perfect flavour balance in all their products, from the passionfruit truffle to the french lady grey.

No 2: Xocolatl, Canterbury and Kew

Slightly overpriced, but fantastic flavours. I don't go there for the full chocolate experience, since the staff aren't quite as knowledgeable or passionate as they could be, but they do some amazing chocolates. The new summer range blends some fascinating flavours, such as goats cheese and raspberry. Old favourites are the balsamic caramel and the slightly weird but delicious Chios (tree bark) creation. Hot chocolates are always slightly disappointing though.

No 3: Ganache, Toorak

Beautiful chocolates, Drool-worthy cakes. only been here once, but was muchly impressed. That might have had to do with the fact that I'm an absolute sucker for anything tea infused, and the earl-grey chocolate here is incredible. Definitely looking forward to checking it out again sometime soon

Honourable mentions:

Koko Black. They might be run of the mill now, but they still do some truly excellent chocolates, and still try hard. One of the best chocolate mousses in melbourne. And their Amarena Cherry is an old time favourite. Still getting over the disappointment that their Dulce De Leche is not gluten free.

Sisko, Hawthorn

Almost more art then deliciousness, but well worth checking out. Their chocolate sculptures are as beautiful as they are delicious. Small range of individual chocolates, no soft centers, but some lovely flavours. Mostly involving nuts, so a heads up if you have an allergy. I remember their Sesame ginger with extreme fondness.

Dishonourable Mentions:

San Churros

Disgusting chocolate, disappointing hot chocolates. I presume the churros are the key to their appeal, but not being able to eat them, everything else is gross. And secretly laced with gluten. Sigh.

Max Brenner

Over-priced and over-rated. I appreciate that they were the first doing this sort of thing, but they have been far outstripped by their recent competitors. Mediocre everything.