Warm olives, cold Cowes, but fond memories

Fig & Olive
115 Thompson Avenue Cowes, Phillip Island

(Visited August ’17)

We had trekked over to San Remo for a couple of nights during mine and baby girl’s birthday period. While café-ing out in the main strip one windy Tuesday, Hubbie asked the nice guy delivering coffees out to everyone, “can you give us a good dinner recommendation?”

The first name he rattled off was Fig & Olive.

He mentioned a few more, but his description of the place and the food it delivered won us over, and we planned to book ahead. Upon driving back to our accommodation a short while later, we looked at the area in which it was meant to be, as directed to us by kind waiter.

And suddenly, we were time lapsed to 5 years earlier.

Because we had been there before. Pre-food blogging days. Pre-baby days. Pre-Sea change days.

It felt like a long time ago, and yet the memory of that visit was strong because we had sat outside on a warm Summer’s evening, had enjoyed a delicious drink and dessert, and snapped an amazing selfie of ourselves, and let’s face it when you get one where you BOTH look great, it’s immediately one for the memory bank (and photo album – old school, yes).

It made total sense to be returning to this restaurant 5 years on.

Although things were a bit different. We were with baby girl. We absolutely HAD TO sit inside. And we absolutely had to, because we almost didn’t make the drive over from San Remo to Cowes, it was raining that much.

We burst in through the doors a bit sprinkled on from our mad dash from the car, and chose a table alongside the wall with booth to sit at, alongside another couple who were entering at the time.

I honestly can’t speculate at what had changed in the 5 years or so that passed between our visits. I couldn’t remember. All I remember was we had been seated at some kind of outdoor alfresco area, so the interior – I wouldn’t have a clue.

Now it was warm, illuminated by warm and sparkly lights, and the ample seating and ambience made the setting quite refined. However the orange-red wall brought it a playful burst of colour, taking it closer to its ‘Relaxed Casual Dining’ web site tag.

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I was happy when they brought over some pencils and colouring-in paper for baby girl, as there is never such a thing as ‘too much distraction’ when a toddler is out with you.

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We perused the menu and settled on some

Warm marinated olives with bread

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Hubbie got a VB, and I got a glass of the ‘Dance with the Devil’ Cab Sav

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Of course we had to try the appetiser of the restaurant name, didn’t we? I’ve been getting right into olives as an entry to main meal, ever since we started getting them at Manhattan. They were great and the bread was lovely to dip into the oily concoction and soak up all the goodness.

It was pretty quiet, being a midweek Winter’s night and all, but happily for us (those noise levels are preferred to be always loud in case a certain toddler decides vocal aerobics are necessary) some more groups of people soon came in, though at the most there was still only 4 or 5 groups that whole night.

Baby girl’s meal of spaghetti bolognaise immediately followed the olives

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And then soon after ours came. Mine was the pumpkin risotto with goats cheese, cherry tomatoes and rocket

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While Hubbie had the 300g scotch fillet, with potatoes, broccolini, and creamy peppercorn sauce

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So baby girl loved her spaghetti, though it may have been hard to notice since I literally had to spoon-feed it to her – as I said before, distractions. She was quiet, so it was good. Even Hubbie and I took fork stabs at it occasionally since it did look so delish. Sometimes it’s the simple things… like taste-testing from your child’s plate.

My risotto was sensational. Rich, but not too rich. It was quite liquid-y when it arrived, leaving Hubbie with a puzzled look on his face as it was brought to the table, but this is why I am the food blogger and not him. There were pumpkin pieces in there that brought it texture, the liquid made it moorish and smooth, and the complimentary tastes of goats cheese and rocket were YUM. Did I mention anything with rocket added is immediately made better? Well there it is.

ANYTHING WITH ROCKET ADDED IS IMMEDIATELY BETTER.

So I loved mine. Hubbie enjoyed his too, and that in itself is a God-send. Angels sing! The meat was cooked exactly to his liking, and it was tender too. All hail Fig and Olive.

Since it was our last night on that side of town before we were due back home the next day, and also as I already mentioned, ‘birthday month,’ I had to have dessert – whether I was full or not.

I was kinda full. But it would fit, I assured myself.

Hubbie went with our old holiday fave, the Affogato, and got himself a shot of Frangelico in addition on the side.

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He ended up pouring all the coffee over the ice cream, which he immediately regretted since he and I could not then actually taste the coffee on its own. Oh well, it still tasted good.

I went for the warm chocolate fondant – chocolate sauce, crumble and vanilla ice cream – because really, how does warm and melted chocolate NOT sound good on a cold Winter’s night?

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And baby girl was more than content with her vanilla ice cream and strawberry topping

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My dessert was oozing with thick melted chocolate, so my heart naturally followed.

I enjoyed it very much, and the chocolate crumble, was a really lovely addition to break away from the gooey-ness of it all. Vanilla ice cream to lessen the sugar-rush impact. Yes.

We had been first to arrive, and almost a couple of hours later, we were last to leave. We paid our bill, said our byes, and hurried back to the car, to drive through the rain once again.

Food: 8.5/10. The standard was there as it was years ago, and whether or not a change of ownership has occurred, I don’t care. It was wonderful. Dreaming of that risotto.

Coffee: Since it was had alongside the liqueur and ice cream, it was hard to ascertain on its own, other than to note that it was strong, so I can’t give a proper score here.

Ambience: Quiet and refined, though there was a casual element to it too.

Staff: Professional and friendly, and helpful when it came to our main orders.

People: There was only a handful that night: an older couple; a group of tourists from out-of-town; and another group of 3 that I can’t remember, other than to note they were near us… a real mixed bunch.

Price: $129 for 3 mains, an entrée, and 3 desserts alongside some drinks. On the money.

Advice: Perhaps book ahead on the weekend in warmer months/holiday season to avoid disappointment. Eat the risotto.

In a nutshell: We really enjoyed this place, and being the destination of fond memories, we will definitely be back. It has something for everyone, and next time we will be back, basking in the sunshine, or basking in its interior orange glow…

Either way, it is sure to be warm. It’s definitely a place I would love to revisit, but I won’t wait 5 years next time 😉

Fig & Olive at Cowes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Thanks be to Burgers

Thanks Albert
32 Main Street Mornington

(Visited June ’17)

Burgers. That was the request on that Wintery day in mid-June. All Hubbie wanted was a burger. It wasn’t to be a fancy restaurant, a tapas-style menu, or zujjed up Italian-American style comfort food  –

Just, Burgers.

We had already been to YOMG a while back. We had eaten it – takeaway at home – and since the experience had not been IN the restaurant, is why I didn’t write a blog post about it.

When I was done eating it, I didn’t wanna waste my time writing. I mean, I couldn’t write about the entire dining experience anyway, since I hadn’t really had it within its defined doors… but all in all, all I could say was – oily. Salty. Too much of both. The first few bites tasted good, and then I was full.

Maccas tasted better. (Woah food blogger, don’t admit to eating Maccas).

Somehow, we remembered there was a burger joint, at some point down Main street, past YOMG, and across from the Mexican joint – the location was so clear in my mind, because I had walked that strip with baby girl only that day.

So we went. In search, of THE burger.

Upon entering Thanks Albert the contrast was apparent. Where YOMGs had been loud, music thumping, full of people and inhabiting a very LONG space, this eatery was smaller. Quieter. Only two small groups of other people were there at the time, and even with slight background music playing throughout the premises, I still could hear myself think.

And I heard the friendly greeting from the guy up front as we walked in.

I immediately loved it.

The guy asked us if we had a booking – er, no. That was ok, since presently the place was pretty quiet, and honestly if he had turned us down with that many empty seats, I would have been surprised. But with the small size of the joint, I could totally see why it would be a prerequisite on busy nights.

We were seated to our liking in a corner booth, which made us feel so at home, and also especially comfortable and happy with a squirmy, jumpy, can’t-sit-still baby girl. As we perused the drinks and food menu, looked around, settled in, and Hubbie got some beer samples because for the life of him couldn’t decide what beer to try (liar! – he just wanted to taste-test) I was staring straight ahead at me at the circular frames containing quotes on the wall.

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I had already looked and observed the colour red, abundant around me, the suspended light bulbs – hanging a fair distance from the ceiling, further adding to the ‘I have an idea!’ moment – wondering why the place was thanking some dude called Albert, and reading all the signs up on the wall, one by one, in between trying to work out what I was going to order, when I read a quote, that literally had me at a lightbulb moment.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

!

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Why, that was an Albert Einstein quote…. They ALL were!

And his face was on the glasses! Everywhere! (A delayed comprehension I know).

Hence the birth of Thanks Albert.

Sheesh. Now I loved it more. Gratitude and profound thanks to a world-changing game-changer and inventor, someone who would affect the world for centuries to come, an absolute legend in his own right? A restaurant dedicated to him? (Did he like burgers? Doesn’t matter).

Wow.

Maybe he invented that, too. That’s not for us to life amateurs speculate. All we need to know about is the food that night.

After Hubbie finally decided on a pot of Mountain Goat, and I got a glass of Pinot Noir
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(Loved the wine glasses by the way) we ordered some food, and soon after received

A Thanks Albert burger –Angus beef patty, double cheese, Thanks Albert mustard, dill pickle, red onion, tomato, butter lettuce, aioli, with fries for Hubbie

A Simply the Breast burger – Southern fried buttermilk chicken, bacon, smokey BBQ sauce, caramelised onion, tomato, butter lettuce, for me

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And a Kids chicken and chips meal, with free OJ drink, for baby girl

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I had actually wanted to try the house burger like Hubbie, but in Food Review blogging style, there was no chance in hell we were going to have the same meal. So I went for the chicken one, as I eat it so much, I might one day grow wings and fly as my Dad liked to tell me growing up.

Hubbie enjoyed his burger, and yes, it was more to his liking than their competitor down the road. I also enjoyed mine, but with all burgers, was feeling overfull about half-way through.

Thank God I didn’t get any chips. I pecked on baby girl’s, as hers was a decent meal for a 3 year-old, of chicken pieces and chips. We also decided early on, that her chips were better than Hubbie’s.

His contained, and I assume maybe all adult meals, the secret seasoning, making it a tasty yet also very salty combination. With the already overload of burger, bun, salt and oil, it was a bit too over-the-top for me, and US. I guess next time, we would hold the seasoning, and go for the plain ones like baby girl had.

We were definitely full by the end of it all. I had been keeping a cheeky monkey out of trouble by controlling her inate desire to blow bubbles into her OJ glass (it overflowed at least twice and had us grabbing at bar napkins), and as the burgers were soon devoured, we slowly pecked at chips, peck peck peck, ‘til it was time to go.

Food: 7.5/10. Comforting, salty, and inventive. Really filling.

Coffee: N/A.

Ambience: Chilled, cosy yet uplifting, what with all those lightbulbs at almost eye-level.

Staff: The guy who greeted us, who was behind-the-bar and also EVERYTHING guy, was fabulous, and the one who brought out our food was super-friendly too… more on him below.

People: A few couples were floating around, and then a group of high-teens sat next to us. The burger place is definitely the flame to all the teenage moths around (or in this case, the lightbulb to all the teens), as this place showed us that night, even more so YOMG a while back, which was practically a nightclub on a weeknight.

Price: $60.50. For a dine-out, takeaway style meal on the ‘up’ side, with alcohol… that sounds about right.

Advice: If you aren’t keen on too much salt or seasoning, skip their special one and opt for the normal kind. Maybe you, like me, only need a burger to satisfy you (especially if you can peck on the nearby chips of a loved one). And thirdly, if you have a child (or husband) who makes too much mess, sit yourself near the bar for easy napkin access. You won’t be sorry.

In a nutshell: This place was far superior to me than YOMG, and the little extra attention near the end of our experience won me over…

Once we had received our meals, the guy out the back (chef/owner, both?) came out and checked on our meals as we were eating, to see if all was good. Considering by this stage there were a few groups out, and he went over to them too as well as us, in my books, he got massive brownie points for.

That’s the kind of thing I give Thanks for. 😉

Thanks Albert Burger Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Men make a Bar out of Brekkie

Eira Café and Lounge Bar
1 Pryor Street Eltham

(Visited August ’16)

It is not good when best mates get together

It is good when best mates get together.

When men get together, shit happens

When men get together, the best stuff happens.

When best mates hatch a plan, watch out…

When best mates hatch a plan… watch out…

And so it is when Hubbie and his best mate are together. It’s a manly match made in heaven: they were each other’s best men at their respective weddings; they are both so fond of their hair and appearance; and they love beer, and alcohol, and COFFEE, oh, so, much.

Oh, and they don’t mind us wives either.

But really, truly. We get along smashingly.

So on a Saturday night at a birthday party, when within 5 minutes of being in the same room as each other, they came looking for me and Best Man’s wife, exclaiming “here they are!” as they walked into the room, you just knew, something was up.

Not up in the way it was many, many, many moons ago when they decided to trespass on the grounds of a piece of Melbourne criminal history and nearly got eaten by Rottweilers. Not that kind of ‘up.’

They’re Dads now. We would actually kill them if they decided to pull shit like that again.

So, this was a more ‘let’s go out, let’s get hammered’ type of hatch plan.

“We’re going out to brekkie tomorrow!” is what they told us.

Like I said, they’re Dads… they’ve mellowed out.

I personally had not been out to brekkie with baby girl in yonks. Other than the times we’ve been on a weekend away and a café has literally been a 5 minute drive so that her morning hunger nerves aren’t extended any more than they have to be, I gave up the thought of breakfasts out a while back, only because I don’t want to torture her, just because I need to be a Melbourne hipster eating my Avocado smash with gluten free mocha/Frappuccino/Matcha blend with raw sugar from the Jungles of the Amazon. Nah. I’ll wait for her to be a little older.

However, as it is when you’re in a group of over-excited-testosterone-planning-the-beer-they’ll-drink-before-breakfast neanderthals, I thought ‘what the hell.’

It was very different the following morning as we, and they, woke up in our separate houses feeling groggy and sleep-deprived from a late night and early morning. We had to beat ourselves out of bed, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, and ringing around, decided on a place not too far from either of us, Eira Cafe and Lounge Bar in Eltham.

It is a café situated on a corner not far from the Main Street, opposite Common Place where we had previously frequented, and near a public car park, with many shops, cafes and supermarkets all around. It was a stunning Sunday for Winter, and we arrived first, sitting at our Reserved table nearby the fireplace.

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It isn’t a huge café, and most tables were taken. There was a lot of wood about, and even the long table we were on had long stools for sitting rather than individual seats, adding to the earthy aspect. As is the norm nowadays, suspended lightbulbs hung down low from the ceiling, which I love to see no matter how many Cafes showcase this trend. And the floor length windows allowed you to get a good look at the passers-by and goings on in the street outside, from wherever you were sitting.

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I FORTUNATELY ordered baby girl’s meal before our friends came. I am so grateful I did that.

We got for her the Pikelets with maple syrup and ice cream, and though she was rapt with the cold stuff, I think the maple syrup was just not to her taste.

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I forgot to take a photo because I was so concerned about baby girl getting some food into her. Here is her 2 and a half pikelets (originally 3), a decent serve for a child I think, albeit a toddler like her. However I hadn’t needed to use the standby piece of bread I had ready and waiting in my bag in case she couldn’t take the hunger no longer. She was occupied with our friends’ kids across from her and their gadgets. She ate a decent portion and seemed happy, and the presentation was nice.

We had all ordered at the same time once our friends were here – our adult meals plus their kids’ meals. Everyone watched baby girl’s pikelet plate as we waited. And waited. And waited. Not even the kids meals were coming out! Our kids plus now a content baby girl walked around, jumped over the nearby couches on the stage area, which was a step up from where we were seated. Some areas of the café appeared zoned, such as this step up area which we assumed might be for a band on a music night; and then there was another couch in front of the fireplace. It was homely and comforting, sure, and it all looked good… we just wanted our food!

The boys were drinking pre-brekkie beer as discussed, but getting hungry. Us girls were getting hungry. The poor kids were getting hungry. It was obvious it wasn’t only limited to us, as around me I could see plenty of empty tables with people looking around with curious eyes, and yet no staff came over to say anything. We withheld comment for over an hour… and then as expected, as soon as baby girl needed a nappy change, our food came out.

Great.

However, it was great, since a waitress informed me they did have a change table in the disabled toilets (take that Lygon street!) I sacrificed my warm, arrived brekkie, and went into the loo with her, only to first hear from the waitress delivering our food that a chef had gone home sick, which is why a huge backlog of dishes had occurred and been delayed.

Well, that made sense. Now we would stuff ourselves.

By the time I came back with baby girl, I pretty much passed all responsibility of keeping baby girl out of trouble (like running behind the counter and making a coffee for herself) over to Hubbie, as I proceeded to eat very quickly.

I mean, it was almost 12. It was now practically lunchtime.

I had ordered some kind of Vegetarian breakfast: mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini atop sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes on the side and 2 poached eggs, with a balsamic glaze.

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Not their fault, but because I had tended to baby girl, my meal was lukewarm. I ate it quickly, and even the sourdough had gotten a bit tougher in that time. I still enjoyed it, as a person stranded in the desert enjoys water, but I still felt I could have had more, and I don’t know if that’s because it took so long to arrive, or because the meal could have been larger.

Having waited so long for the food, I still needed something else to satisfy my Sunday morning craving…. Caffeine. We all got coffees, and both Hubbie and I enjoyed ours, though I forgot to photograph them… again, hunger and thirst pains. But they were good, strong, smooth. Ahh. When I go “ahhh” all is good.

I didn’t however, forget to photograph the best looking one:

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Baby girl’s babycino.

Kudos for creativity, bravo. And baby girl LOVES marshmallows. I found it very clever indeed 🙂

After our marathon wait and then elevator ride finish, it was now lunchtime… and time to go home and eat and catch up on some sleep.

Food: 7/10. I’m not deducting points just because someone was sick in the kitchen – shit happens. The rest of the menu looked really good, with their variety of lunch meals, tapas, main meals, and all kinds of other bits and pieces like desserts and kids meals.

Coffee: 8/10. It touched my soul on that Sunday morning. Strong and smooth.

Ambience: Comfy, with a touch of Eltham class. The wood panelling gives it that homely feel, and I really like the various areas of seating creating little zones within the small café.

People: Family types out for brekkie. Younger families, older families, Dads with kids, Mums with kids, and large groups.

Staff: They were busy. Nice, but shit was happening in the kitchen you see. They did their best and they were good with our requests.

Price: I have no clue on the final countdown because our friends shouted us on this occasion, but the prices on the menu show the $15-$19 mark on all the various ‘adult’ breakfasts, which I feel is on the money… However where my meal felt not so large, baby girl’s was generous.

Advice: Book ahead, and maybe try and go on a night where they have their live music playing… it would be a treat to experience in that homely environment.

In a nutshell: I would go back, and have no reservations despite their unfortunate bad luck that day. Perhaps they could have informed the customers of what was proceeding so that the people in the café weren’t looking around for an hour scratching their heads… but oh well.

Still a nice place to Lounge away on a Sunday. With the big kids, AND the little kids – the little kids being our Hubbies, of course.

Of course 😉

Eira Cafe Lounge Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Umpteen reasons why you should LOVE Winter

It hit me one Saturday morning during a work shift, as I left the warm confines of my place of employment to walk down the road and grab a coffee. Feeling that fresh air, that Winter chill on my face, reminded me of the time I felt it last year, and suddenly I was down memory lane, remembering the things about Winter you choose so hard to forget when it is done and dusted for the year.

So, then, I tried harder to remember. What fascinates me about this time of year, is that once it is upon us, it’s actually not that bad. It’s the anticipation of it – that is the shits, and one of the major factors of making the entire season that much more unbearable.

Hey, calm down… I’m not like, a ‘Winter ambassador’ or something! I am the first to put up my hand and forge ahead with the get-rid-of-Winter fan club. I wouldn’t say I HATE it, since that is a strong word, that I HATE to use (see what I did there?) but I do in fact, detest the coldest of seasons to a degree that once the longest day has come and gone in January, I am in slow grief over the gradual dissemination of Summer.

But like I said above: it ain’t too bad. I’ve been most surprised by my own attitude towards it, in finding that there are actually plenty of great things to enjoy, and celebrate, about the coldest time of the year! You don’t say! Let me hear it! Well ok then, here is my list of things to get your blood boiling…

(And don’t fret, this isn’t one of those bullshit ‘buy a really good coat and scarves’ nonsense post. We all know that we need more than layers to make up for the fact of Winter, duh).

1. But First, Coffee.

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And so one of my fave coffee quotes signals the beginning of this Winter Warm-up list. When else to drink, and enjoy coffee most, than in Winter? Not only does the caffeine hit give you a burst of much needed non-hibernating energy, but it is WARM, and therefore, heats you up from the inside-out. This is a super simple and accessible way to keep you happy, buzzing and hot, ALL DAY LONG. Make it at home, or buy it out and about… really, this one is a no-brainer.

 

2. To café, OR, to café…

And, how to get to your hot coffee? Why, you enter a café of course. Just picture it: you are in the freezing winds, walking briskly to your café of choice so as to remove yourself from the unnerving elements, when you finally, step inside, and –

Ahhh. That moment.

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You know that moment, when the feeling of cold is replaced by the scent of coffee beans, and you are away from the outdoors, but can still see everything including all the fools still stuck out in the real world? And you’re ‘in here?’ and about to get a coffee? Yeah that’s great. Café-ing it, not just for coffee, but for anything in Winter – be it brekkie, lunch or any other fare – is a beautiful way to while away the day. Choose a good one, a cosy spot, and watch the world go by… just see if you don’t feel better about Winter when you put yourself in this supreme predicament…

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3. Walk This Way…

On a contradictory note, on those cold and still Wintery days, sometimes it can be somewhat, what is the word, rejuvenating! to take a nice long walk.

Yes, the air can be biting. Yes, the cold will still seep through your clothes. But there’s something about a fresh, freezing-cold walk that awakens the senses, both physical and mental, as it is often when I am walking in the cold that my creative mind is switched on. I don’t know why, but a brisk walk in Winter allows me to daydream and plan for any future blog posts (how this one came about) much more efficiently than in Summer. Maybe it’s the fact that other than getting into a heated area immediately, there is no other thought trying to take up head space like it does in Summer, where I would be planning future events and social gatherings, and the things I’ll be doing for the next 3 weekends. In Winter, it’s just Winter, and my creative thoughts are allowed to fly beside the recurring thought of ‘get inside.’

I don’t like to be in the cold, and yet a walk like this brings about a whimsical dreamlike effect to my walk, where I find myself observing, being in the moment, and smiling often. I’m not wishing myself out of this hellhole, I’m just smiling. I’m not trying to prove a point… Next.

4. Stay IN

Although I absolutely love Summer, there is one thing that gets tiring by the end of the season: the constant go-go-go. Summer makes you feel like you have to be super-efficient and on top of the world, heading to every social event, enjoying every ounce of sunshine, waking at the crack of dawn, and starting a new body-building course when you’re not preparing your new gluten-free, dairy-free, animal-free, everything of any joy or texture or enjoyment-free diet. It is FULL on.

But Winter allows you to just chill. Hibernate like a bear, and in doing so, drink all the hot chocolate/tea/coffee before doing so. If there is any season where you should feel the least guilt about doing nothing, and where you should completely and utterly embrace the act of doing absolutely nothing, it is Winter. It’s okay, you will be at it again in a couple of months time…

5. Pimp up your home

But, if you absolutely HAVE to, you could always forgo sitting around and chilling on the couch, with doing something around the house. Just as our sanity and ‘me time’ gets neglected in Summer, so too does the house, and house ‘stuff.’ You know those odd jobs. The broken door handle. The 3rd light bulb that has been burnt out in the lounge room for 4 months. The pile of boxes that hasn’t been broken down into pieces. That heap of junk in your garage that you know a charity would love, but alas, Summer time.

In Winter, it is ALL possible. Case in point. We had bought new door handles from Bunnings to replace our old ones, as we wanted to spruce up the 80s-style house we had recently moved into. They remained untouched for months and months, ALL THROUGH SUMMER, and it was only when the cold hit, that Hubbie finally started replacing them.

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Winter is the best time to look outward-in. Look around you and see what needs a little TLC, and then proceed accordingly. Home improvements, up-dos, renos – whatever it is, you will feel soooo much better for it, and not at all like a lazy bear once you are done.

6. Go OCD, mofos

And for those of you like me, that love to sort and clean and organise… well, what are you waiting for? Use these cold months to file away. File to your freaking hearts content. Label and shelve and box. Store those photos in chronological order, organise your home family videos, and clean up your menu folder so that you don’t have crappy old recipes in there that you won’t even sniff at again. There is no better feeling then tackling a long, put-off job, and I swear, as Winter ends and Spring begins, the sense of accomplishment you feel in knowing everything is sorted and ready for another season/year… GOLD. GO you OCD peeps, GO!

7. Jump!

Ok, so this is kinda parent-specific. But, you don’t need to be a recently-acquired trampoline owner for a cheeky monkey princess like I have, to jump. You probably do need a child of some kind, so if you don’t have any of your own, borrow one – like you probably have a niece, or nephew, or know someone who would LOVE for you to kindly offer their brood a day out? (You will be on their Christmas card list FOREVER, I promise you).

But my point is, be childlike. Jumping is not only fun, good for you, and is healthy (hey, exercise), but it warms you up too! And if you think jumping is only for kids – 20 seconds on the thing and you will remember what a jumping extraordinaire you used to be 20 or so years ago… and then it will be the kid trying to get you off the trampoline, not you, them.

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8. A good book

So, a no-brainer. Totally. But when else is it more acceptable and necessary to snuggle up with a book and lose yourself within its pages? Never, ever, EVER. Even on holiday, you should be doing things and seeing things, but at home, in Winter? Perfect reading weather.

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Whether it’s at home, on your lunch break, or on the train, waiting for your doctors appointment (that brisk walk/jumping probably gave you a little cough, ahem*) or at the park while the kiddies play, there is really no better time to invest in a good book.

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9. SLEEP

So a totally acceptable place to read is in bed, but if you’d rather not even do that, you can just sleep. I know this is such a ‘Duh, Fred’ point, but still, it HAS TO be said. Fred.

Sleep ’til your big hearts content. Of course this is totally dependant on whether you have a paying job or go to regular schooling (most of the Western population), but in your down time, this is a perfectly acceptable hobby. Yep. Even if you have kids that don’t let you breathe, just pull them in, throw a blanket over your heads, and once the hilarities have died down, watch them fall into a slumber. You will be there too soon, don’t worry.

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Sleep on the bed, sleep on the couch… wherever you wish. Just make sure it’s comfy and inviting, there are plenty of blankets, and a real nice place to rest your head. Ahhhh.

10. Shop ’til you Drop

Let’s change tack and ramp it up a little, to my favourite past-time! Like seriously, how annoying is it in Summer, when you need some new clothes/shoes/pillows/coffee beans, and you head into the confines of a multi-level shopping centre, but it’s a stunning, and I mean STUNNING day out? You don’t want to miss out on that, and stay indoors most of the day? This is so especially true for us Melburnians, as sunshine, even in Summer of all seasons, can be soooo fleeting.

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But in Winter? Hell, bring the shopping on! You won’t miss out on ANYTHING because its so cold and miserable out! YAY. Shop to your hearts content, in fact, shop for all seasons, and stay ahead of the pack.

11. Work it out 

Ok, so I know some of you might wanna swipe me over this one, as I am known for finding gratitude in the most wide-ranging of places… but I tell you, work really IS better when it’s cold. I mean, just look at the below:

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How miserable is the above photo? Okay well it is oddly pretty in the dim light, but you know what I mean… I am not really missing out. It’s taken from my work window… do I wanna go outside? Hell no!

Work is actually not too bad, and you can almost be grateful to be in the confines of work, when it is so shit-faced outside. You will never be sad being at work during Winter, unless of course you had to get up at 5am like me, and are staring out the kitchen window at 7am thinking of Hubbie and baby girl asleep and warm in bed… damn.

TRY to be grateful for work while you can, in Winter, at the very least.

12. Let’s go to the beach

Your welcome. Ok so maybe not Summer-thumping-beach-vibes weather at the mo, but you know where I’m headed.

This may be a bit left-of-centre for some, but for me being fortunate enough to live BY the beach, not so. But either way, a trip to the beach is for most in our fair country, accessible and do-able.

Why should you do it, you cry? Cold, winds, uninviting waters…

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What do you think? I’m not telling you to jump in. No, hell no. I’m just saying that the ocean views bring about a sense of calmness, of peace, of reflection, and retrospection, and the waters don’t even have to be still and unrippled. No. They are in fact most beautiful and spectacular when they are savage, wild and unleashed, ripping against the shore or pier or rocks, and showing you the brutal nature of Mother Earth herself.

Rug up and try it. See how your mind feels afterwards.

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13. Do something NEW

While you’re out and about at the beach, how’s about you keep trying new things, and enrol in a course of some kind. (Like not literally walk down the road, just think about it). Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Like maybe, learn a new language? Try your hand at some knitting? Learn how to cook like a chef? Drive a manual car? For some creative pursuits, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home – just log in and you’re connected.

Doing something you’ve been wanting to do for a while is not just fulfilling, as you are catering to yours truly, yourself, but you are putting yourself out there in a vulnerable position. Only when you are vulnerable, can you really learn anything. Since everything is on the down-low in Winter, there is no time like the present to focus in on yourself, and give something new a go. Time to study, reflect on where you want to go in life, and centre yourself both spiritually and mentally, is the perfect cold-time creative pursuit. Just try. You won’t lose a thing.

14. Cook up a storm! 

While doing something new, you may want to try your hand at some new recipes.. or old, whatever tickles your fancy. But what I love about this coldest of seasons, is the deliciously warm dishes to match. Or should I say, warm you right up. Whether it be a vegetable curry

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a cauliflower soup

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or some yummy baked goods

there is nothing quite so inviting on a cold Winter’s night, than to indulge in warming, delicious and comforting, Winter-specific foods. Slow-cooked meals, lasagnes, roasts… the list goes on and on and on. And the upside? When you are buying Winter-y things like cauliflower for your soup, you are buying in season, so it is cheaper! Winning 🙂 Go foodie mad.

15. Catch up with some old ‘friends’

Now, I don’t mean ACTUAL friends, and boy would it be appropriate here if I actually  loved the show of the same name. Instead I’m talking of your movies and your DVD box sets. Plop yourself in a comfy place, and get ‘re-acquainted.’ I feel forever-guilty whenever I sit on the couch – I always feel like I should be doing something more worthy, more important, and being a Mum makes the feelings more so. This is an activity I rarely indulge in.

But this Winter, I am really going to take it on board… and what better way to feel better about the blowing winds outside, than to be laughing/crying/hysterically shaking, over the antics of some old faves.

You don’t even have to have the DVDs. Shows like Sex and the City are on repeat on TV, there are streaming devices, and have you heard of Netflix? People even ‘download’… I’m not condoning it, I’m just saying, ok?

It’s never been easier to catch up with, or watch a brand new series to get stuck into. Need tips? Some of my old faves:

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The above mentioned, my fave gal pals. “Abso-fucking-lutely” amazing.

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Angel. An amazing series that is 5 seasons long, and is totally worth investing your life into. Get ready to have your soul literally ripped apart, thanks Joss Whedon (no really, thank you!)

Dawson’s Creek is actually on free-to-air Go! at the moment. My face when I realised this? Bliss 🙂  I know it’s a teenage show, but it’s one of my ol’ faithfuls, and besides, the actors were probably my age when they filmed it, so….

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my current must-watch on TV, Shark Tank. This is splendid in every way. Seeing the investors rip through and tear to shreds some of the up-and-coming entrepreneurs and inventors, is just brilliant. You must watch this show.

So grab a warm drink, snuggle up on the couch (child or partner is optional) and chill-ax….

16. Bust a move.

Exercise. I know I know, it’s not bikini time, and it’s probably the only time of the year when there is no pressure to be beach-ready… but it doesn’t mean you can’t devote time to yourself to be healthy.

Still not sold? You don’t even have to leave the house. There are a world of gyms, gym classes, personal trainers, and get-fit programmes out there, and there as just as many exercise DVDs! Find what tickles your fancy, and do it in the privacy of your own home.

Do as I do, and pop on some trakkies, put on that old Zumba DVD, and get dancing! Exercise gets you going and warms you up at a time when it is so easy to be sluggish and sloth-like. And you know what I was so surprised to find? Even one session a week (baby steps) has given me increased flexibility and energy to run after a certain 3 year-old rascal. True story.

17. A ‘warming’ drink

I couldn’t bulk ‘warm drinks’ with ‘coffee,’ as coffee is just too damn important to me to be watered down like that… but I conclude with the option, that if you don’t like coffee, maybe tea is more your fancy?

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Or maybe a spicy chai latte can rub you totally up the right way

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No? Vino? There’s nothing like a good glass of red to get the fires burning

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Wanna get more creative? I give you, a combination of the last two options, Gluhwein…

https://www.chowhound.com/recipes/german-mulled-wine-gluhwein-30925

Which is German Mulled Wine. It’s a whole lot of fabulous spices and wine/alcohol, warmed up, and you will create some GREAT memories in the making and drinking of it, let me assure you.

If you can’t be happy with a glass of wine/mug of tea/brew of gluhwein, while the winds are raging outside your window, well then YOU CAN’T BE SAVED!

 

So, how did I go? Have I given you renewed (or maybe just NEW) inspiration to totally LOVE Winter? We may be about half-way through the coldest of seasons, but living in Melbourne, we ALL KNOW it’s going to totally screw us up right up ’til November, if we’re lucky.

So guys. Pick a point and get to it. If you think I’ve left anything out, drop me a line!

(I say as I finish off a warm mug of tea…)

 

 

Coffee in the land of the Docks

A work colleague quite jokingly suggested to me, after I was complaining about some coffee in our work surrounds, that I should do a review of coffee in the area…

She laughed. The wheels turned in my head. Little did she know my alter ego is SmikG.

Never one to run away from a creative coffee-inspired project, and despite all my other ongoing creative endeavours, I decided to do a full-fledged rundown on a variety of Docklands cafes, from the month of July to August of 2016. I have provided my personal experience of the cafés based primarily on the above month experiences, but also have drawn upon my earlier visits there to help paint a greater picture, where relevant. I have a ‘in a nutshell’ section at the end of each review, however with some of these I have also added in a ‘September Update,’ which mentions improvements with any cafés that previously held negatives.

And at the very end of the following 8 café reviews, lies my final say… so keep reading ’til the end!

So if you frequent the land of the Docks, and enjoy your caffeinated beverages to the point that you need to have the BEST one, read on…

 

Story Coffee & Foodstore
700 Bourke Street Docklands

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This café is positioned just on the concourse in between the shops and cafes bordering the Bourke street side of Etihad Stadium, and Southern Cross Station. It’s dimly lit with high ceilings and a touch of industrial style, providing temporary relief from the hustle and bustle of work life. And this place definitely caters to its known demographic, providing a wide range of food and coffee that you can conveniently takeaway to eat at your work desk.

Breakfast provisions like muesli, juices and yoghurts, alongside lunch items such as sliders, cream cheese and smoked salmon bagels and bacon and egg brioche buns adorn the glass display. Their food sells out quickly with much more constantly in production, and their sweet side doesn’t fail to disappoint the eyes either. Doughnut bombs, pastries and other custard-y things are on show next to the register where you order in the middle of the shop. There is no usual bench separating the cashier from the customer here, with the person taking your order standing beside you as they punch in your large cap with 1 thanks.

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The beans used are Dukes of course, since this is a relative of their Chapel Street café. A hipster-type with a long beard was making it that day, and looked seriously into the coffee making. The flavour of the coffee was very smooth, my best description being ‘gentle on the tongue.’ The only issue with their coffee is that it tends to be on the warm to lukewarm side, even if you sip it immediately after they have handed it to you. This is obviously upsetting in Winter time, since as soon as that Antarctic breeze wafts over you it loses a further 3 degrees, and then some as you walk on over back to work. And that’s the thing, if they are accommodating to the office crowd, possibly 99.9% of their clientele, supplying them with food and coffee to take and run away with, well they need to know that their coffee needs to be hotter. I’m not saying burnt. Hot doesn’t mean burnt. This applies in all seasons, but most particularly on the cold July morning that this review is based on.

The service is quick, making sure the orders keep coming in and out due to the high volumes of people and often long lines, but this is where the customer service fails, because in all of this they have forgotten ‘niceness.’ In particular the woman who served me for this review, she was brash at best, and when handing my colleagues coffee to him, hastily slid it across the bench to him. Woman, you are not Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Sliding a coffee cup like that is just a bit rude thanks. It kind of says ‘here; now get out.’

In a nutshell
Coffee: $4:30 for a large. Ordinary sized cup, I’ve seen larger given the description. Smooth taste, just slightly too lukewarm.
Food: Looks delish. Expensive, for corporate types. I mean, $8:50 for a medium sized bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon? I could eat two of those, easy.
Service: To be improved upon. Not speed, but kindness.
Last word: I hope the customer service improves because I like the place.

‘September Update’: Since my initial July review, a few things have improved… first the temperature. Coffee is hotter. Tick. Secondly, the service…though I got a few not-so-friendly greetings on one or two occasions afterwards, there are a few newbies there who are making the experience of ordering and collecting your coffee a joy (maybe there were observations and suggestions made by other slighted customers…?) so again, tick.

The cranky lady is still there, I think she’s just picked up her game.

This place also has consistently continued to produce amazingly smooth coffee, despite ALWAYS being busy, so a huge thumbs up by me 🙂

Story Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Hortus X 7 Seeds
131-141 Harbour Esplanade Docklands

Bang smack in the middle of Harbour Esplanade, across from AFL house and with views of the water, it’s hard not to miss this café reminiscent of a tented greenhouse that’s been plonked down amidst the greyness and height of the buildings surrounding it.

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And the display serves its purpose, with plans for the temporary café that was opened in March ’14 to be slated for an 18 month contract… seeing as it had surely passed that timeframe at time of writing, perhaps this means the impermanent looking space will be a regular amidst the Docklands coffee drinkers?

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It sure has gained steady traction in that time. With its large interior garden plantation growing up from the middle of the café, consisting of edible plants no less, the natural variety isn’t the only reason why people are coming far and wide to view this pleasing affront to the buildings beyond it.

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A fave with cyclists who are constantly riding past, you will also frequently see fellow work-goers using their spare time to borrow some paddles and ball for a free round of ping pong on the table outside. This independent space contains seating inside, bordering the coffee area and surrounding the large plant garden, as well as on the nifty and cute wooden stools and tables outside.

There is a lot of wood in this café, further adding to the natural glasshouse feel, which I just love.

It’s to be assured that Seven seeds is one of the coffees on offer, and with all of the above positive reviews I have just one negative.

The coffee size.

The only takeaway coffee size is a tiny cup, and I don’t even know if they consider that a regular but to me it’s a small. The coffee was incredibly strong upon first sip, evening out as I got halfway through. $4:30 is a decent price to pay for a little cup, yet the hipsters and bicyclists happily fork it out here.

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Pastries, pies and sweet treats also adorn the front counter (lycra from the bicyclists too), and from experience I can say that the sweet stuff is GOOD. I had a blueberry-something a while back, and it was incredibly moist and moorish, not at all mass-produce tasting, more like Nanna tasting.

In a nutshell
Coffee: Strong, but in too small a cup. I would go here more often if they up’d their takeaway sizes. Having said that the bean flavour is a bit too harsh for my liking.
Food: Amazing. It’s probably the food that would get me in there again rather than the coffee, and I would get it in a deal to save coin because this joint is on the $$$ end.
Service: Friendly, and sometimes hipster too. I’ll let you decipher what that means.
Last word: I like the concept, but just want an improvement on the coffee and cup size. Otherwise a great idea, and I hope they stick around.

Hortus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Banc Café
2/800 Bourke Street Docklands

Aptly named as it sits on the ground level of the NAB building on the corner of Harbour Esplanade and Bourke Street, this high-ceiling-ed, wood-abundant, amply-spaced café sees its share of customers. It has also seen its share of owners, having changed hands in its time, which may or may not be its downfall… that’s yet to be seen, as only time will determine.

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This is probably one of the best spaces for a café, with the large floor to ceiling windows allowing in brilliant sun to heat up the inhabitants within. On a cold Winter’s day as you walk through any one of the two main revolving door entrances, the heat embraces you and tucks you away under it firm café grasp. A long counter displays your everyday assortment of takeaway lunch and breakfast items, including sweet treats and of course coffee. Think egg and bacon muffins, wraps, sandwiches, yoghurts and muffins. The interior is vast with many options to sit at, with the long communal table in the middle of the room, the smaller tables and chairs bordering the café, and also the seating area under the panelled stairs going up into the workspaces on higher levels! The wood fascination continues in yet another Docklands café, with beautiful warm tones everywhere, and in particular I love their long table sitting opposite the ordering counter, it’s like something out of a workman’s shed, lovingly restored and brought back to life.

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Their coffee is fairly consistent, though it has its up and down days at times – strong, generally pleasing, potent – as is their service. Which is where I lead back to my earlier point.

The first lot of owners from a few years back were extremely friendly, which is why the new owners and their staff draw such a strong comparison against. On a good day, they are ‘working a Monday.’ Which is to say, they are only mildly interested in your business and happiness in buying there. I used to frequent this café much more, before the rudeness and arrogance of the staff took shape. When I handed back the bottle that rolled away from the staff member who was angrily loading them into the fridge, and didn’t receive at least a glance of recognition (no thanks or smile at all), and my colleague had his name TOLD to him by another staff member who thought it amusing to poke fun at, and then many more of us from our work received a major superiority complex by the male staff there… well it grows tired. This place may never fail because of the sheer volume of NAB workers and other accompanying nearby businesses which keep it going… but it sure as hell wont flourish with that attitude either. They need to wake up and smell the gratitude coffee this crew.

The food here is ok, nothing fanciful, it fulfils its purpose. It’s more affordable than other places, and this could be its other saving grace. This could be a café that really takes off if some of its lacking components were up to scratch, and simply due to its favourable location both in terms of people volume and capacity to take in the sunlight, I can see this café making itself home to many a business lunch for a long time to come.

In a nutshell
Coffee: $3:70 for a medium coffee of decent-sized cup. Strong (sometimes harsh). Interesting flavour.
Food: Your standard café fare, but it comes up alright.
Service: Minimal care, plenty of ‘tude and ‘I can do without your business’ types.
Last word: The reasonably priced coffee for these parts is not enough to outdo the attitude that comes out of here.. but the Sun in Winter is reason enough. The rays coming through the window is often enough to melt any frosty stares that may come your way… if you so dare.

Banc Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

AFL House Café 
140 Harbour Esplanade Docklands

I don’t know why it took so long to get over to this café, only a short stroll from my work… oh hang on, I know. It’s the fact that you can’t see it from the main street, that may have something to do with it. Oh, and the fact it’s within AFL House, and you know, for many people it could be quite daunting to walk into an arena of this sort expecting a café to just ‘pop up.’

But it does. You walk through the doors, and immediately to your right just in front of reception you’ll see a little cart-like stand with quaint umbrella rooftop and everything. A few rolls and sweet things displayed in the case, but we don’t care: we came here for the coffee.

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The coffee is smooth, fairly ok, made even more so by the $3 price tag, the discount we received being from a neighbouring work place. Even so their prices are good compared to some other skyrocketing coffee prices happening in Docklands at the moment.

I’m extremely jelly that AFL house should have a cute little café like this offering coffee at such close proximity to its employees. And what a great idea too. For anyone coming into work there at their regular place of employment or visiting the premises for a meeting, the necessary and convenient coffee stop as you wait to be checked in is ideal. Hell it should be a prerequisite for businesses to offer their workers. And for those on a break or with more time to spare, you can sit by the window and watch the road and footpath traffic on the Harbour pass you by… or look past that all towards the boats, amusingly behind a fellow café competitor, Hortus X 😉

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In a nutshell
Coffee: $4:00 for a large coffee. Fairly smooth and non-offending. Lavazza.
Food: Some basic fare, if you need a selection of it keep walking into the Wintry winds outside.
Service: Really friendly, and I don’t think it was only because we are work neighbours, the guys looked pretty nice.
Last word: I’d be happy to go back there for the great service, decent coffee and the proximity to work… but their proximity is also the downfall, as the walk up there and back just doesn’t give us enough gossip time 😉

AFL House Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Blended Beard
818 Bourke Street Docklands

I was excited when my coffee email prompt to my colleagues one Friday morning resulted in one such colleague telling me she had discovered a new hipster café in the area – woo hoo! We hightailed it down Bourke street, past all the other eateries and so-so places ‘doing’ coffee, and I nearly clapped with glee when I saw the shop. She didn’t have to tell me we had arrived. The hipster vibe was all over the name: Blended Beard.

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My colleague commented that it looked a bit like Story, however I felt in Beard there were more metal tones in amongst the wood panelling the place, with copper a prominent theme too. Up at the counter it was a well-oiled production line of taking orders and making coffees, with about 4-5 people going through their paces. Beside the cash register was a display unit of lunch items such as sliders and soups, with some sweet things on top of the case exposed for all to point at. The pastries looked delish, the Nutella doughnuts and bombolones were looking fresh and very mmm-worthy, however my gripe of exposed food items at the counter hasn’t changed: anyone can cough at it, and breathe their Winter germs on it, and for that reason I don’t buy anything that’s exposed. Sure it looks good… but it looks better covered up. A pretty glass dome covering them yet still allowing customers to see what’s inside isn’t going to ruin the appearance.

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Behind us were a bunch of tables and chairs, and I could see there was a further walk-through into the Ericsson building that was connected to it, so this place would definitely get some much-needed foot traffic being a new cafe. The service was pleasant, one of the girls seemed to be focused on remembering her prior customers which was refreshing to see, and as well as being promptly served our coffees, they tasted good too. All three of us agreed, smooth and creamy, though I did find one little un-ground coffee particle at the end of my cup that ended up in my mouth, and I did notice upon drinking through it that there was a ground-coffee taste at times, as if some grounds had high-jacked the coffee tamper and jumped into my cup… I’ll forgive them this one slight due to all their other positives, as long as it stays a once-off slight.

But, taking advantage of the café bearded hipster image… gold. I love it.

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In a nutshell
Coffee: Smooth and creamy. Decently priced too – they had large and regular sizes, and the regular actually looked like a regular, not an itty-bitty teeny-weeny babycino cup that my daughter drinks from… $3.80. under $4? What?!
Food: Sliders, soups and sweet things. It appears they do breakfast too judging by their blackboard out front. Not too bad prices either, for a Docklands café… why I never…
Service: Genuine, and friendly. It looks like they’re trying to show their care factor, and I hope this continues.
Last word: In Winter, I gotta pray for a mildish day so that the longer walk over from our work isn’t made too depressingly cold… yet in Summer the walk along the water would be much-enjoyed 🙂 Which way do you look at it? I like the Bearded man, that is all. Great new find goes to this venue.

‘September Update’: This place has continued its consistency in terms of very pleasing coffee and fantastic customer service. One to watch.

Blended Beard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Capri @ The Quays Café
New Quay, 28 Aquitania Way Docklands

The location of this café might make you think it is only for the use of local residents living in the apartments in the tall complex above, or accessible only to those visiting nearby… it is not. This café, positioned on a corner within viewing distance of the boats alongside New Quay, is a hidden gem worthy of discovering.

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I had originally and wrongly thought that this was a breakfast location solely for resident holiday-goers within the building to brunch at during their stay in this windy part of Melbourne. Turns out that the café sits on the ground floor of a multi-purpose architectural award-winning apartment building, and that ANYONE can come in for a bite to eat. And a takeaway coffee too.

Since discovering the place, all the times I’ve been here the service has been friendly. One of the guys there was so friendly on one occasion he was terrified (first day jitters?) but I always take softly to workplace jitters, rather than shyness clouded by affronting arrogance (Banc Café anyone?)

There is plenty on offer at this café alongside the Docks, with the large display case up the front showcasing a hefty dose of lunch fare, breakfast items (so many sit down here formally that I believe there may be a more extensive menu) and lots of sweet treats. Here is where you will find a decently-sized macaroon like nowhere else! They are fully licensed with plenty of bubbly on offer, though my visits there are always strictly caffeine-based, you know, being at work and all. I love the lighting, with the suspended lightbulbs strung throughout the café, and along the ample amount of small and big tables for you to sit at, there is a cute and cosy little nook where you can lounge at by the front door and wait for your coffee to be made, or just make yourself comfy reading some mags.

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The coffee comes in regular and large, and though the sizes aren’t really indicative of that – well the small is definitely a small, but the large I’d call a regular to be honest – the prices at least aren’t too ridiculous for coffee.

In a nutshell
Coffee: $3.70 for a small, $4:20 for a large… nice flavour, I don’t mind it, but I do realise they were generous with the sugar as my cap was also tasting quite sweet.
Food: There’s so much to choose from, from your everyday café lunch items such as rolls, sausage rolls, to more interesting kale quiches, and then there is a multitude of cakes which are really good eye-candy. The coconut cream cake looked amazing. The macaroons I will eat at some stage. There is so much quality-looking food, that I might just grab something for lunch from there tomorrow…
Service: Really friendly, part of the reason I like going there, apart from the decently priced coffee. And they’ve been consistently nice with that, despite seeing them being swept off their feet on a Sunday morning with an influx of customers checking out from their nearby accommodation, and having some brekkie right before/after they do their depart from the docks.
Last word: I am quite happy going to this café for either coffee or lunch or cake, and I haven’t even tried the food yet. The cosy corner and cute lightbulbs add a feel that remove you from the harsh unnerving elements of Docklands, and keep you cosily tucked away in a friendly atmosphere of calm and warmth.

Capri @ The Quays Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

De Gusto
766/768 Bourke Street Docklands

The reason for the / instead of the – in the address, is because there are in fact two separate De Gusto shops. One has a red sign, the other blue, both accessible only via Bourke Street, though there is the window in between the two cafes allowing fare to be passed through the eateries.

I’ve been frequenting this one for years. In fact, this is the place I first starting visiting at the beginning of my love-affair with coffee. Back then it was at the blue De Gusto, the more cas one, with a sandwich display, basic yet hearty brekkie fare, and of course coffee. A few small spaces to sit at by the window, but this was primarily a takeaway café.

Then after a while, and after trying out a few cafes in the Docklands vicinity, we went back to De Gusto – the red one now, that is. This café seemed like it catered for office folk, while the blue café (blue-collar) seemed to be aimed at the tradies building up the sky-rises in the city. The red café had sufficient seating and a wider menu. Coffee was still a main focal point, with decent cooked breakfasts, bagels, quinoa dishes and other fancy lunch sausage rolls and quiches up on offer. They were also into their smoothies, with a blackboard showcasing all their trippy-blended concoctions.

I speak in the past tense, because when this café was in its absolute prime, it was PEAKING. And the barista then, the daughter of the owner (the owner worked in the other red café, yet owned both) was absolutely brilliant, not only remembering your coffee order but your name, AND the correct spelling too! (extra points, as those with a ‘different’ name can attest to).

Sadly though, months ago it changed ownership, so the volume of people heading in has considerably dropped as they too like me and my work colleagues have noticed that the love and care, the knowledge of name and coffee preparation and just friendly atmosphere, has disappeared.

We still gave it a shot initially upon transfer, but after a few burnt coffees we left for other (coffee) grounds. We only decided to come back today, on the writing of this review, after hearing there was a new barista.

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Yes, new coffee lady. However, the café is sadly missing its vibe, both with its poppy and really old but awesome music it used to have. The coffee was ok, not burnt, but there is a flavour which I’m undecided about, so I don’t think I would go back when I have other more pleasurable cafes on offer.

There are still the smoothies, the lunch fares, and all the other things that used to inhabit the café of old. Just missing that love we used to feel, which kind of, is everything, and makes everything look and feel and taste that much more lovelier. If you are new to this café, you probably wouldn’t know the difference, and just regard it as a standard city café, nothing too spesh. And probably better it stays that way too, in your head, for their sakes anyway.

In a nutshell
Coffee: $4 bucks for a regular. And the regular is a good size too.
Food: Average city lunch fare – rolls, bagels, quiches and muffins.
Service: It’s nice. Nothing bad, no pretension, I just miss the old crew.
Last word: It’s a decent café, but I just can’t help comparing it to the old one and thinking it’s somebody that I used to know… a bit like Gotye…

‘September Update’: We have been here a few more times since, and there was yet another barista, who did not too bad of a coffee. Nothing to rave home about, but at least it was adequate. It’s still missing the vibe (and all the clientele) but this one may just come up in time…

De Gusto Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Mill & Bakery
Central Pier, Shed 9
161 Harbour Esplanade Docklands

The Mill was the first café to really excite us at work a few years back. It was only a short walk away, alongside the water’s edge looking out over the docked boats, with nearby fisherman stationed calmly on the boardwalk and waiting for a catch to excite their disposition. You cannot deny, the position of it is pretty. There is outdoor seating, and inside too there is a large communal table, a smaller round table, and chairs set up alongside the perimeter of the café with some looking out onto the waters beyond.

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This really is a beautiful little café: visually striking, a cross between French provincial and quaint Grandma’s cottage, the space is quiet and comforting, added to by the large window on one side of the café showing through to the bread-making process happening in the adjoining room. They make bread that you can buy in loaves, or in their rolls, and this authentic touch adds some further artisan class to the atmosphere.

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Alongside the coffee, they have delicious rolls, an assortment of VERY pretty almost (almost) too attractive to eat pastries and tiny cakes, and cute little bikkies or fudge sometimes abound the quarters too. It is all very pretty and fancy, and so too is the price… but it is worth it. The quality of the ingredients is apparent and very much valued. I’ve often had some of their rolls, and their pastries too, and can attest that the muffins, bombolone and danishes are amazing. You can tell the difference between a proper pastry place and a try-hard, and this is definitely the former.

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Where the food revels in its consistency, the coffee lacks. In fact, the only think consistent about the coffee is how inconsistent it is.

Back in the day there was a great manager/barista who hailed from France… her coffees were consistent and superb, however she couldn’t stay in the country due to Visa issues, and since her exit the coffee has been up and down depending on who makes it. On the day of this writing, the coffee was strong, and not bad in flavour.

But not bad doesn’t quite cut it always, does it?

The service has always been fairly straight-forward, and where others receive, how shall I call it, more personal service (?!) I’ve never really gotten more than a customer-produced smile. Yep, French lady was the best.

One of the advantages of this café is that it is open every day, even on weekends (yes! when I have to work a Sunday) and is even open, for us/those poor fools who need to work public holidays, on those sacred days too – though in case this does change in the future, best to confirm before heading down.

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In a nutshell
Coffee: A bit of a controversy amongst some of my work colleagues, when the price of a large coffee jumped from $4 to $4.50 overnight. Many were upset. (First world problems I know). The large is more a decent-sized average cup size, while the small (don’t you dare try to tell me it’s a regular) is just not cut out for my caffeine addiction. Flavour: definitely strong, not smooth.
Food: Amazing. Savoury or sweet, you won’t be disappointed.
Service: We’ll call this one ‘just enough.’ Sometimes you get a worthier smile. I think they might just be under-staffed.
Last word: This is a great place to revel in beauty, and calm yourself with watery views. If they improve on their coffee-making skills, alongside the already great food on offer, it will really be a café to be reckoned with.

Mill & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

THE FINAL SAY!
The most impressive and best-tasting coffee to date has come out of Story. If they keep their coffee temperatures just that little bit higher than what they started at, they can safely hold this top spot of superior Docklands coffee within the area.
However a very close second comes the coffee from Blended Beard, and with their friendly and caring service and delicious menu, Story should watch its heels very carefully…

Metaphors, everywhere

It was cold. I was sick. The day had been long, but now I was headed home.

Life throws obstacles at you, life is not smooth.

I walked quickly, shoulders hunched, trying to turn my body into itself to shield myself from the cold. There was not much wind, but nonetheless, it hit me on every available bit of exposed skin: face, ears, hands.

No matter how fast you try to speed things up, things will come at you. Don’t let them stop you. Keep moving on, moving on. Don’t let them stop you.

I pulled my woolly scarf over and around my ears, burying my mouth into it so as not to intake the sharp Winter air.

You will need to use all your resources and depend on your closest crew to help you get by. Have them on call for a word of support, and make sure that those that surround you will only give you that. You may find you only have one, two, if you’re lucky three people like this. You’re rich already, that’s perfect.

I shoved my hands into my coat pockets trying to temporarily shield them.

You will need to dig deep to find that ‘thing’ within you: passion? belief? truth? courage? inspiration? determination? ALL OF THE ABOVE.

It’s so cold, it’s so cold… no it’s ok, it’s ok, one step closer, one step closer, each step is bringing me closer to my destination…

You will be tired, and hungry, and maybe even cold, but you must not lose sight of the bigger picture. You must not forget why you started. Why did you start? Don’t give up. Each step, each setback, each failure, is bringing you closer to where you want to go.

I get to my car, and sink into the seat with a sigh. Ahh. Finally. I’m here.

When you get to your destination, use whatever creative release to celebrate. You have made it.

You will make it.

(These were my background thoughts to my latest post #132 over at my other blog, carcrashgratitude).

If one door opens… go through it

4 Doors
28 The Link Mill Park

Hubbie had stopped by the Mill Park restaurant while cruising cars with his work mate one Sunday, and had loved the latte he had there. He’d also loved the atmosphere, and the look of the place, so when we found reason to celebrate days later, we decided on this kind-of local to see if their dinner was up to scratch too.

He had talked up design, and I didn’t really know if it would be up to standards when I saw it, even with his super-finicky taste. So when we walked in on a Wednesday night during the school holidays, the place pumping with people and atmos, I was impressed. It felt like a restaurant that belonged in more inner-city surrounds than in the Northern Suburbs. It looked funky and modern, while its high ceilings gave it an airy, yet still cosy space. Again there were lightbulbs suspended down onto the individual tables below, an industrial touch that complemented the roominess. I immediately liked it.

We ordered fairly quickly, being very hungry, and though our drinks took a while to come out, my Treasures Merlot was amazing. I might just convert over from Cab Savs after that one.

I also noticed that the square table we were on was a decent large size, compared to the all-too familiar smallish tables we often get seated at which makes it so hard with baby girl. Imagine all our food and drink on a table, plus baby girl’s ‘things’ (colouring book for entertainment, random accessories, her water bottle, wipes) and then put a toddler in between the two of us yet at a reasonable distance so to prevent her from reaching out for any accessories to spoil/break/throw. This was a great sized table in that all our/her stuff could go on one end while we sat at the other, and there was still room for the food and drinks.

They were busy, so we had to wait for our food… but it wasn’t an awful wait. Like I said, it was busy, so it was an acceptable wait. Everything else was making us happy, and the discovery of a loud restaurant that seemed to be up to our standards had us giddy in excited anticipation, so the wait was made all the more ok.

I got the spicy penne pasta with additional buffalo mozzarella

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Hubbie got the porterhouse steak, atop mashed potato, asparagus and grilled tomatoes

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And baby girl got the kids penne napolitana

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I loved my penne. I had decided to add the extra buffalo for $4, because 1) I love cheese, 2) I might as well get the meal the way it’s obviously intended, and 3) I love cheese. It was creamy with this hint of smokiness if I remember correctly, and combined with the pancetta and the hint of chilli that lingered in the back of my throat after I had finished my bite, it was truly delicious.

Hubbie requested his steak be medium to well, and it was cooked correctly, though he doesn’t believe it was actually flame-grilled as the menu had read. Didn’t matter, as he still enjoyed it, and even I had a bite and agreed it was very tasty. His accompanying vegetables were yummy too.

Baby girl absolutely loved her pasta. She was starving by the time the food came, as we all were, and I was glad they had been able to accommodate us by replacing the linguini in the kids meal to penne, as I just felt it easier to feed her that style of pasta. The very little she left behind, we ate 🙂 I do realise that being so hungry does make you appreciate EVERYTHING, however not to diminish or downplay 4 Doors’ food, I still give them credit and concur that it was all very good.

Since I’m still in the midst of a doughnut-obsession, I discovered there were doughnuts on display up at the front counter and decided we must at least take-away. I chose three doughnuts: jam, Nutella and white chocolate, and we happily devoured them later at home. But alas, these are no Mick’s. They were alright, but I found the dough too dense, and also a tad oilier, so sorry 4 Doors, Mick’s wins in that department.

Food: 7.5/10. A great range of food on offer, simple enough for the locals yet with some great additions enough to make it exciting and fresh.

Coffee: I can’t score this having not had one, but Hubbie loved his flat white…

Ambience: Perfect for us. It was loud enough to crowd out any of baby girl’s squeals, yet not in a rambunctious fast-food restaurant kind of way. The décor made me feel as if we weren’t local, instead someplace closer to the city, and this feeling of transportation is one which I think makes the people keep coming back.

Staff: Really good. Our waitress was very friendly, yet so real, and was very good with baby girl, happily laughing when she patted her arm. Points. Also, the staff up the front who took our bill, and the guy who gave our doughnuts, were equally awesome. It’s amazing how much you can read from a brief experience, yet I can tell the doughnut guy was really eager to please, almost nervous, and I just went ‘wow.’ A young person in a restaurant role that doesn’t think he’s too cool for school? Someone who actually wants to make the customer feel welcome? Crap, this is unheard of in these parts. Well done.

People: I know it was the school holidays, but still, it was July, Winter, a COLD night, and there weren’t many kids when we arrived, yet still the place was fairly full. Only once we were there for a while did some kids follow their parents in. It was a wide mix, of families, couples, and friends, all sorts really. Including the pair next to us, the girl who kept bombarding her male friend with stories of blind dates gone wrong. Like I said, all sorts.

Price: It was over $100, and at first I went “geez,” until I counted up 3 meals, 2 alcoholic drinks, and 3 doughnuts. It was perhaps, price wise, just a tad up considering the area it’s in, but having said that, the food was definitely up to scratch and worth it, as was the restaurant and the staff, so the price matches the quality.

Advice: We ended up sitting in the outside area which was covered that night, however being up against the sides of the ‘tent’ we could still feel wafts of very cool air at times, despite the heaters that were out there. It didn’t ruin our night, but next time, we’re booking. If you’re going on the weekend/at peak times, probably best to book, because like I mentioned, this place was rocking on a Wednesday night.

In a nutshell: We’ve already said we’re going back for brekkie… I love the menu variety, the atmos, the proximity to home, and even though I wasn’t too keen on their doughnuts, it won’t stop me from trying their other pastries 😉 And most importantly, I need to have a cappuccino there. Priorities people.

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Happiness Is… #11

Cake

I have been eating so many sweets lately (blame this Melbourne cold snap’s requirement for ‘bulking-up’ foods), plus my recent doughnut obsession (blame Mick’s!) that yesterday I felt I actually had an aversion to anything sweet….

Yet today, my Mum brings over chocolate cake, and at work, I get free muffins! What?! The universe is giving me cakes, even when I don’t want it…. But they’re oh so good.

Mmmm, nom nom nom, blueberry muffin.

(Happiness Is…/A.K.A First World’s Problems ain’t that bad).

Boathouse Baked Eggs

Boathouse
2 Leggatt Street Daylesford

I saw the all-day breakfast menu conveniently placed at the front desk when I had checked in at Dayget on Day 1 of our Hepburn Springs/Daylesford getaway, so understandably I immediately approached Hubbie with “we’re breakfast-ing at the Boathouse tomorrow morning.”

Located on the cusp of Lake Daylesford, the location is amazing. The Boathouse is perched on the entry to the parkland and circular track surrounding the lake, with tall trees enclosing the perimeter of the lake. It was looming, but very pretty. Unfortunately the weather was not. It was kind of to be expected, I mean, it was June, in Victoria. It was grey and drizzly as we walked by the wet playground and passed the dedicated gardeners pruning out in the front yard of the restaurant, to escape to the warm comforts inside.

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We were led out to the main room at the back of the restaurant, with windows all around showcasing the huge trees opposite the lake. The room and décor… wow. I was impressed. Huge barrel-like light fixtures hung from overhead, exposed beams were on display on the ceiling, and the tables and chairs were modern with a great pattern on the material in the booths that ran along the side walls. It had a great lakeside/sailing vibe.

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We couldn’t wait for our coffees, so we ordered them first.

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My cappuccino, with an upside down apple design me thinks.

We both agreed, that they were great, nice and smooth. Hubbie didn’t even add a sugar to his latte, a clear indicator of the taste of the coffee bean. He was impressed.

However on arrival of our coffees, the waitress, though she seemed nice, didn’t stick around to get our breakfast orders. Maybe she was busy, maybe she wasn’t. Either way, people are hungry when they come in the morning, and they shouldn’t be left waiting too long. Even more so when they have a hungry toddler with them.

Another waitress soon came and took our orders. It became apparent very early on that she was nothing like the pleasing and warm waitress we’d had the previous night at Rubens. She was ok. Just not so happy.

Baby girl’s meal arrived earlier, and we grazed on her crusts as we hungrily awaited ours. She had Stella’s Sourdough Toast with butter, and in the rush to get her eating and keep her from running rampant around the place, I completely forgot to take a photo until half the plate was gone and there were little pieces of toddler-eating-sized bread scattered on the now half-empty plate, so I decided best not to take one. But, it was just two thick pieces of toasted bread, buttered, nothing you photo-food buffs will lose sleep over.

When our meals finally came, they looked yummo:

Farmers Skillet

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Swiss Skillet

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They both looked splendid. And they tasted as good as they looked too. Hubbie’s Farmers Skillet had chorizo, potato and herbs all combined together by cheese and egg, and though he enjoyed it he was missing out on his most important side, tomato sauce. I had to agree with him, that with his, as with mine, there should have been some tomato sauce, something wet and runny. The taste was still amazing, and Hubbie was happy after he got his little side dish, and I still ate my Swiss Skillet happily. Consisting also of potato, with the additions of swiss, feta, mint, and egg, there was a strong salty flavour from the cheese, which the potatoes and egg then balanced out. I enjoyed mine, but couldn’t help taking a leaf from Hubbie’s book, as I kept thinking back to the baked eggs I had back at Little Henri’s. They were saucy goodness. You know a dish is worth going back to when you keep thinking of it, again and again.

We had our meals, finished our coffees and quickly left. We had wonderful surroundings though it was a very grey day, but baby girl had decided our Hepburn/Daylesford getaway was the place she was going to turn up the cheek factor… so off we went to run amuck in another establishment.

Food: 8/10, even without any saucy additions. The rest of the menu looked really interesting, and I nearly swooned when I saw a lady buttering scones on a nearby table.

Coffee: 8.5/10. Smooth, pleasing.

Ambience: Casual and laid back dining by the water. On the quiet side being brekkie time, which made us a tad anxious with baby girl. Refined air brought on by the locals and the staff, though on second thought I revoke the word ‘refined’ for the staff and exchange it with ‘indifferent.’

Staff: See above. Lacking in warmth, which is a shame as a little bit of extra love makes a restaurant that much more revered when the service is brought to you with a smile. One of the waitress’ did smile upon our exit… because baby girl was blowing kisses at her. When you’re paying, you kind of expect them to be the first to blow kisses, if we’re gonna be blowing kisses, right? 😉

People: A few locals on that Tuesday morning. 3 women catching up over gossip, a Mother and her son, an older couple, 2 young girls, and a group of older crew were our other diners that morning. A real mix and meeting ground for all sorts, everyone loves to be by the water.

Price: Our total was $50.50. I think, even with baby girl’s $7-ish meal price, that this was a bit on the steep side for breakfast. We’re talking two meals, one kids meal and two coffees. Still enjoyed it though.

Advice: Try to make it there on a sunny day and sit by the window if opportunity allows. The views are so peaceful. Follow that with a nice walk around the lake and you have yourself a beautiful afternoon. Even if you go on a not-so-nice day, you’ll revel in being in the warmth and beautiful surroundings and away from the cold.
Second tip: If you call out for the ducks out front, they will come for you. Watch out.

In a nutshell: I would go back, and I would hope the staff had improved their attitudes by then. Fortunately for them, the menu options, surroundings and location will keep locals and tourists coming back again and again.

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Rubens stays warm

Rubens
70 Main Road Hepburn Springs

On the first day of our Hepburn Springs/Daylesford Wintry getaway, the name Rubens came recommended twice. This was both impressive, and yet not so. In a more area secluded area such as this, it can be expected that there may be not so many places to dine out at, making the same restaurant options pop up more than once. However on the flipside, we soon discovered that the countryside location actually had a decent abundance of eateries to accommodate for the constant influx of tourists wanting to spa away.

The man at the Dayget office mentioned the above when I first went to check in, and then the mobile masseuse lady who came for my massage also recommended it. Still, we drove into Daylesford town, and after finding not much open on a Monday night, decided to then Ruben it.

We were able to be seated near the front entrance door, with a high chair for baby girl in the passageway, or outside in the alfresco area. At first we opted for inside fearing the freezing temperatures that had all of a sudden appeared on the first day of Winter (even Melbourne usually waits a couple of weeks before really freezing us), but after Hubbie checked it out he discovered that the alfresco area was completely enclosed, and had some of those outdoor heaters warming the area. Deciding on the extra space, we went out. The staff were very accommodating with our change of mind considering we hadn’t booked on a night they already had a few functions and they had already arranged our table.

Ruben’s had been flagged as an Italian-style restaurant, and like the Dayget man had said there were several pages of menu to leaf through. The interior was fairly standard, and in the alfresco there were probably about a dozen or so tables.

I decided I wanted a bottle of red. So I got this:

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Sandy Farm 2013 Cabernet Merlot

And was very happy indeed. 🙂

Perusing the kid’s menu, I was very pleased to see this option

Vegetables with chips

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So I got it for baby girl. It was refreshing to see something other than your usual chips and nuggets, or spaghetti bolognaise options that you see in so many other places. I wanted something fairly healthy for her, and despite the vegies being drizzled with a olive oil dressing and some other flavour, it was still pretty healthy and had baby girl eating a fair decent portion of it all. I was rapt. We taste-tested too and it was yummy indeed. She got her meal earlier as requested, which helped our cause once again. Tick.

We had the same style of vegies that baby girl had had aside our mains that we ordered.

Tasmanian Salmon Steak- oven baked, with fried Kipfler, sweet potato, and seasoned vegetables for me

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Eye Fillet Steak- char grilled and served with a pepper sauce for Hubbie

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Both were very healthy, comforting and satisfying meals. Hubbie had requested medium for his steak, and it was a deep to light pink all the way through. The way it was cooked, for him was a pass. As he ate it he grew more approving. It would have taken longer for it to be cooked medium to well, yet his steak was still to his liking. I even tasted it and thought it was great, until the pepper sauce hit the back of my throat and sent me on a coughing fit en route to the end. My God, this Winter cough won’t give up. Anyway, it was great.

My salmon was lovely, healthy, and fried all the way through how I like it. We had all had healthy and satisfying meals, which were tasty but simple.

To end it I decided on this:

Affogato

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Which we all ended up sharing. Baby girl had some ice cream, Hubbie had some coffee and I had a bit of both mixed together. 🙂 It was good, but the coffee was very strong. At least if it was going to keep me up, it was going to keep Hubbie up with me 😉

Food: 7.5/10. Simple but hearty. A fairly standard menu, options wise, yet there were a lot of them, so that was good.

Coffee: 7/10. Strong. I wonder how their cappuccinos are like?

Ambience: On the quiet side, especially outside. This made us slightly nervous, with a hungry girl needing to eat beside us, but thank goodness she behaved. This once. Inside it was more rambunctious with a few big groups, and as the night wore on it the volume also increased inside the alfresco. It was warm and inviting, made additionally so by the heaters against the wall!

Staff: The staff were really good, in particular our waitress was amazing and very accommodating to our needs. She was attentive, warm, helpful and genuine. Her service was impeccable, we were very impressed. She also helped me out with the wine. 😉

People: Couples, and groups of people. 25+ up? We were concerned with an older couple beside us who were especially quiet over their meal, hoping baby girl’s possible antics wouldn’t totally piss them off, however she didn’t get vocal while they were there, and then when they left another couple of the same age bracket came in their place who actually acknowledged baby girl with a few smiles, so we breathed a sigh of relief.

Price: It was $130.50 all up, but that also included a bottle of red that came in at $38, so our grand total was a bit more than usual. With our mains averaging at about the $30 mark, baby girl’s meal at $12 (all kids meals are $12) and a couple of drinks, and the affogato, it was about on the mark.

Advice: If going over the weekend, perhaps book. Yes there were a few functions surprisingly on the Monday night we went, but you should be safe just rocking up during the week. If it’s cold out, don’t worry about seating in the alfresco, as it’s still warm.

In a nutshell: A cosy and inviting place that we would be happy to return to on a trip back to the Hepburn area. Happy staff and a vast menu make this an enjoyable place to dine at, and with the healthier kids option, I can see why this was recommended to me not once, but twice.

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