Happy River Café, Footscray

Where: 45 Moreland St Footscray
When: Tues-Sun 8am-6pm
Contact: (03) 9689 3244
Vego :)
Vegan :)
Gluten-free :)
Pram Accessible
Kid Friendly

Parents of young children will delight in this café nestled in a surprisingly green pocket in Footscray. With a huge green lawn littered with toys of all kinds (including the occasional ride-on) Happy River Café offers a peaceful home-away-from-home vibe with a simple brunch menu and a few mainly Asian-inspired wraps and sandwiches.

Today I visited for a coffee and felt privileged to enjoy a sunny Melbourne day on one of the outdoor mats under a tree. That’s right, table service extends out onto the mats, which are dotted by coloured astro-turf-covered cubes sporting their own “table number”. There is regular old-fashioned seating outdoors too, shaded by umbrellas. For those who prefer to be out of the elements there are a few inside tables to choose from also. It is unfortunate however that smoking is allowed in the courtyard in what is predominantly a children’s area.

Latte ($3.70)

Waiters are attentive and quick to take your order, with the kitchen responding just as promptly. My latte was perfectly put together and had good flavour. Those who like it strong should specify.

For a spot of greenery and a relaxed vibe in the inner city, Happy River Café is one to visit.

Coffee: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5

Happy River Cafe on Urbanspoon

The European, Melbourne

Where: 161 Spring Street, Melbourne
When: Mon-Thurs: 7am-11pm (bar till 12am), Fr 7.30am-12am (bar till 1am), Sun 7.30am-11pm (bar till 12am)
Contact: (03) 96510811
Vego :)
Gluten Free :)
Bookings accepted (except before 12pm weekends)

Seasonal mushroom risotto with truffle oil ($28)

Glamorous Melbourne establishment The European is what many might imagine to be a typical “date restaurant”. Housed in a gorgeous old building, with possibly the loveliest front door in Melbourne, it seems to offer plenty in the way of romance with high-brow wait-staff, mood lighting and a rich decadent menu. Although claiming influences from rural France, Italy and Spain, the food felt predominantly French to me. Dining Partner and I ordered a seasonal mushroom risotto with truffle oil ($28) and a chicken, leek and heirloom carrot pie with truffle and mustard ($36.50). Both were indulgent and flavourful, the risotto being particularly strong and aromatic.
The pie balanced delicate flavours in a creamy, white sauce. Its presentation was as beautiful as you’d expect for the price tag; as pretty as a picture. It was a nice little surprise to find the almost-caramelised baby vegetables hidden beneath the pie.
We followed with coffee that was excellent, yes, even the decaffeinated one.

Chicken, leek and heirloom carrot pie with truffle and mustard

While the staff was polite and ticked all the boxes, they didn’t seem particularly passionate. That said, it is hard to be passionate when you’re working the weekend. However they seemed to reflect the tiredness of the building itself, which felt like it had seen far better days. The stunning front door had been haphazardly labelled with a roughly painted “PULL”, as if someone had written it in great haste with no time to acquire a proper sign. However, as a repeat customer, I know that it has been written there for years. The toilets were similarly disappointing; stuffy and cramped like something you’d find out the back of a cheap Chinese restaurant. There’s nothing very wrong with cheap toilets in a low-cost restaurant, but The European’s prices do set up the expectations of a certain level of ambiance.

While the quality of the food is excellent the whole experience of The European feels like it is crying out for some love. Perhaps the very extended opening hours don’t leave much room for maintenance, but it is a shame to see such a beautiful establishment fall behind its former glory.

Food: 5/5
Service: 3/5
Ambiance: 1/5

The European on Urbanspoon

Its obvious that anyone can call themselves a blogger these days and 'blog' anonymously. I have eaten at a number of the places you have criticised on your 'blog'. do you actually own a restaurant or cafe? or cook or make coffee professionally? or have a trained palate?. I'll stick to the notable food critic reviewers not 'bloggers' who have no credentials whatsoever. I'll keep trying new places just like you, however..I wont be 'blogging' all about it. I'll just enjoy them for what they are.

Asked by


It’s clear that I’ve struck a nerve here and nothing I can say will likely sway your hatred of food Bloggers.

However I will say that Blogs, by definition are completely subjective. It’s unlikely that you’ll find one which echoes your own opinions exactly. You may be right to stick with the critic reviews as they are usually positive and unlikely to cause offence.

Honestly yours,


Small Victories, Carlton North

Where: 617 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
When: Mon-Sat: 8am-5pm, Sun: 9am-5pm
Contact: (03) 9347 4064
Vego :)
CC and EFTPOS available

Korean BBQ wagyu, spring onion, house made kimchi, Korean mayo ($15)

After seeing it had featured in “The Age Good Food Under $30” list I checked out Small Victories in leafy Rathdowne Street. In the past I hadn’t found this café strip to be particularly good. As is the case in many wealthy neighbourhoods, the cafes can make money off the location alone, regardless of their quality. Small Victories impressed me with its delicious-sounding menu and the promise of “house-made pasta”. Although when I arrived I was instead won over by the rather exciting-looking “Korean BBQ” sandwich. It promised wagyu, spring onion, house-made kimchi and Korean mayo.

First up I ordered a cappuccino which showed up quickly. It certainly looked the part although disappointed with a very-weak, milky flavour. Although it was decaffeinated and not their normal single origin blend, I still expected a little more flavour than what I got.

Lunch arrived shortly after from a dead-pan waiter who was void of any enthusiasm. The Korean BBQ sandwich had quality ingredients; great beef, good ciabatta and pretty authentic kimchi (pickled vegetables). The issue was that the flavour palette was incomplete. It was all hot sauce and sour pickle and nothing else. Perhaps if the creamy flavours had been more of a feature it would’ve been okay, but the sandwich got really tedious after a couple of bites and I didn’t finish it.

Regardless of the food, Small Victories was a nice place to sit with shady footpath tables and a fairly quiet interior, complete with ambient glowing Edison bulbs and blonde wooden finishes. I fixed up the bill with the same awkward, unenthusiastic waiter who just couldn’t return a smile. Sorry Rathdowne Street, another fail.

Decaffeinated cappuccino ($4)

Food: 2/5
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 4/5

Small Victories on Urbanspoon

Code Black, Brunswick

Where: 15-17 Weston St Brunswick
When: 7am-5pm, 7 days
Contact: (03) 9381 2330
Payment: CC available
Vego :)
Vegan :)
Gluten :)
Kids :)
Prams :)

Brunswick, the birth place of the grunge-chic café brings you another renovated warehouse number with restaurant-tier food and thankfully, no milk carton seats. The beautifully designed coffee roaster/café merges industry with hospitality in a truly Brunswick fashion. While the exterior’s façade looks unfriendly and certainly not that easy to figure out how to get into, the staff is personable and lovely. Even in the busiest hours of the weekend they’ll make sure you feel looked after, plus they know all about their food and coffee, in case you have any questions.

Latte ($3.80)

I ordered a latte with their house blend (equal parts Costa Rican and Ethiopian) which had tart fruity top notes settling down to a warm, smooth finish. It wasn’t as strong as I’d like but was still very good.

For the meal I enjoyed their Moroccan Spiced Sprouted Lentil Salad with Goats’ Cheese ($15.90). Unfamiliar with sprouted lentils, I really enjoyed their juicy mung-bean-like freshness. As with any salad, great cheese changes everything and this goaty number brought the dish up to the next level for me. The lightly pickled, sweet carrot and raisins were a stunning contrast to the sharp radish and goat cheese. I was happy with the size too. It is worth mentioning however that the day after this meal I returned and ordered the breakfast couscous. It was beautiful but incredibly small, so I wasn’t impressed with handing over $13.90 for it. Inconsistencies in the size of the dishes really should be improved.

Moroccan Spiced Sprouted Lentil Salad with Goats’ Cheese ($15.90)

And the ambiance? Although Code Black gets rightly busy, the acoustics are good for such a large space and the music always has a simple beat pulsing away in the background that doesn’t crowd the aural space. Children are most welcome with highchairs available and easy pram access.

I’ve now got a soft spot for this place. The innovative menu has some very chefy options (coffee Croque Madame anyone?), but still manages to be grounded and friendly, which is refreshing. Code Black exudes inclusivity; it can feed both the adventurous and the bacon&egger, and accommodates singles, groups and children comfortably.

Food: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 4/5

Code Black Coffee on Urbanspoon

LBSS, Abbotsford

Where: 385 Victoria St, Abbotsford
When: Breakfast and Lunch, 7 Days
Contact: (03) 9427 8818
Vego :)
Vegan :)
Gluten Free :)
Pram accessible

Victoria St, Abbotsford is unusual sort of place to find a hip café, but isn’t that the point of these things anyway? Operating incognito in a building previously housing a Vietnamese Migration Agent, LBSS (Little Big Sugar Salt) has left all the old signage up, perhaps out of laziness but more likely out of artistic juxtaposition. In fact LBSS has a thing for art; not only is the menu one giant, graphic riddle, but mounted on the walls (and menus too actually) are hand-drawn sketches of meat. A little weird yes, but strangely beautiful. It is all a disorienting, artistic experience but thankfully the staff is the type to make you feel at home, not you know, all confused and stupid.

The small menu is organised on a dual axis of salt/sugar and big/little so you can learn more about your meal depending on its plot point. Take this with a grain of salt though (mind the pun) as meals don’t really differ too much in size and saltiness. If you can decipher the menu you’ll notice there are a several beverage options including regular old coffee, bottomless filter coffee, juices and soft drinks.And while they don’t do decaf, vegans and dairy-avoiders will rejoice at the house-made almond milk. But there’s always Bonsoy if you prefer.

We made ourselves comfortable in the backroom down the hallway. Freshly painted and thoughtfully decorated, it felt visiting the home of a very stylish friend, a friend who seemed to have it all together.
For my lunch I decided on the ‘Murica; cornbread, braised ham hock, apple and celeriac remoulade’($18) and Dining Partner went for the ‘Mrs. Croque; ham, cheese, friend egg, béchamel, pickled onion and mustard ($14). Both dishes arrived together without much delay. The first thing I noticed was that mine looked very casual and quite small for the $18 price tag. However the ham hock was rich and tasty and the cornbread a comforting accompaniment. The apple and celeriac remoulade was alright but a little bland. Overall; nice but it felt really steep for the price.

The Mrs. Croque or Croque Madame managed to pull itself off very well, even avoiding that over-richness which can happen when béchamel over-dominates. The balance was great, very simple but perfect. Dining Partner insisted it was a fair size but then bought some dumplings at the street party outside, mere minutes later. So both dishes could very likely leave you peckish. We finished with a coffee which I cannot fault; beautifully constructed and full-flavoured.

Murica- Cornbread, braised ham hock, apple and celeriac remoulade. ($18)

Although leaving wanting a little more to eat, we were pretty happy with the experience. The room had been a wonderful place to sit and chat and the staff had been lovely. The bathroom was fantastic and the dining furniture was generally good although the benches against the wall were a little high. They also split bills, which I find to be a good judge of café-character. LBSS is a tasty little find, do check it out.

Mrs. Croque- Ham, cheese, friend egg, béchamel, pickled onion and mustard. ($14)

Food: 3.5/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 4.5/5

Little Big Sugar Salt - LBSS Cafe on Urbanspoon

Café Di Stasio (Seasonal Lunch Menu)

Where: 31 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
When: 7 Days, Lunch and Dinner
Contact: (03) 9525 399
Vego unfriendly (For the Seasonal Lunch Menu)

When Melbourne gets Italian food right, it really gets it right. And St Kilda institution Café Di Stasio is no exception. Celebrating its 25th year in operation, the classic restaurant treats diners to an elegant, serene experience. The décor, unlike anything you’ve seen in Melbourne, takes you somewhere far away and calms you right down. While the menu is at a high price tier, Di Stasio offers a seasonal two course lunch with wine and coffee for just $35. With three options to choose from per course, and a choice between two for dessert, it’s a very diner-friendly deal. However it is a good idea to purchase a side to fill out your meal as servings are small. We opted for the Patatine Fritte; chips with lemon and rock salt ($9.50).

Baked rigatoni with Napoli sauce, mozzarella and parmesan

To start we had a Baked rigatoni with Napoli sauce, mozzarella and parmesan and the Goats cheese, caramelised prosciutto and roquette salad. The pasta was a perfectly executed, typical Napoli. Soft and gentle but not in any way bland. Its quintessential Italian flavours were delightful.
The salad, a more innovative dish, was truly exciting with smoky, charred Goat’s cheese and prosciutto; more candied than caramelised, not that we were complaining. The charcoal-licked toast was an ideal vessel to transport the decadent salad to your taste-buds.

Goats cheese, caramelised prosciutto and roquette salad

For the mains we ordered the Braised pork and apple ragout and the Yearling beef roulade with Taleggio cheese and prosciutto. The pork was very tender, falling apart in the mouth with a delicate, barely salted sauce. It seemed a shame however that the apple flavours weren’t more present.
The roulade had a surprise stalk of asparagus in its centre which resulted in a bit of crunch. The overall experience felt like biting into a sausage with the beef flavours dominating the dish; more of an exciting visual than anything.

Braised pork and apple ragout

Yearling beef roulade with Taleggio cheese and prosciutto

The Merlot (Yarra Valley Airlie Bank Cabernet Merlot 2008) was a real stand-out with mild tannins and cinnamon notes, it was very smooth and warming. Our side of chips was also good, although the lemon was undetectable. Finishing it all with a feisty Lavazza coffee; a bitter chocolate taste, was satisfying. The composition of our lattes however didn’t meet that silky, mousse-like Melbourne standard.

Patatine Fritte; chips with lemon and rock salt ($9.50)

Overall Café Di Stasio’s $35 Lunch was incredible value and felt like a really accessible treat. The wines were perfectly matched and the service five-star. The food came out almost immediately, so it is advisable to take your time so that your meal isn’t over in twenty minutes, but it would be a great working-day lunch if you had to get back in a hurry. The ambiance was that of a romantic holiday dinner, truly relaxing.

Food: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 5/5

Café Di Stasio on Urbanspoon

The Grain Store, Melbourne

The Grain Store, Melbourne
Where: 517 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
When: Weekdays: 7am-4pm, Weekends: 8am-4pm, Dinner: Thurs-Sat: 5.30pm-10pm
Contact: (03) 9972 6993
Vego friendly

House-made spirulina, pineapple, pear and mint juice” ($8)

As you might well be aware, Melbourne is going crazy for The Grain Store up the business-end of the CBD. Maybe it’s because the city’s Westside is a veritable Ghost-town for non-corporate dining. Or perhaps people are really excited to have locally-grown, organic produce in the heart of the city. Lunchosaurus visited on a Sunday to see what all the hype was about.

The first thing you notice about The Grain Store is the juxtaposition of its flashy office tower location. It’s worked hard to distinguish itself from the slick, city residence by creating a rustic, homely atmosphere. Beyond the corporate lobby entrance, it feels as if you have walked into a country larder; peer into the open kitchen and see dried chilli hanging from the walls. The cosy little touches seem to inspire, simple wholesome food.

Yet the menu is surprisingly far from simple, with plenty of chefy creations to excite the foodie or perhaps alienate the hung-over and tired. The weekend menu is restricted to Brunch with many dishes on the sweeter side. While there is the option to order regular old eggs and toast, this is not that sort of place.

House-made Fennel Sausage and Sweet Corn Blini with poached eggs, avocado and Persian feta, pear and cider relish ($18)

We started with a coffee ($3.50) and the “house-made spirulina, pineapple, pear and mint juice” ($8). The coffee was an excellent blend courtesy of St Ali and well crafted. Although if you like your coffee with bite, you’ll need to specify “strong”. The spirulina and juice was really very sweet, so much so that I didn’t finish the glass.

Off the menu we selected the House-made Fennel Sausage and Sweet Corn Blini with poached eggs, avocado and Persian feta, pear and cider relish ($18). And the Niccola Potato Gnocchi and New Season Asparagus with roasted squash, brown butter, milawa tome and juniper almonds ($21).
The Blini was anything but boring, with differing powerful flavours emerging from every layer. The soft fennel sausage was particularly enjoyable because it lacked the heavy, chewy feel of traditional sausages. However there were cold spots in the dish, likely from the feta. These unexpected cold pockets gave the impression that the meal wasn’t cooked through, which it surely was. Scattering the feta on top of the meal may have been a better way to serve.

The Gnocchi dish by comparison fell flat. In a barely-there white sauce that went gluggy and cold almost instantly on the plate, it wasn’t much fun to eat. The asparagus spears were undercooked and hard at the buds; much more crunchy than bouncy. The sweetness of the squash added a nice touch but overall the dish managed to be both bland and too rich. One cannot dispute the quality of the ingredients, particularly the cheese, but the final composition failed to impress. I left much of this dish on the plate which the waiter simply cleared without comment.

Niccola Potato Gnocchi and New Season Asparagus with roasted squash, brown butter, milawa tome and juniper almonds ($21)

Later at the registers, the Maître did ask if we had enjoyed our meals and I explained that the asparagus had been too hard. My comment was met with a patronising smile and a defence that the chef, “…likes it with plenty of bite.” Despite her promises of passing the feedback on, it was difficult to believe as it came at me through further condescending smirks. If you aren’t interested in the feedback then why ask?

While The Grain Store has plenty to offer the city’s Westside, particularly on weekends, many won’t bother making the trip across the CBD for a return visit. Along with the high price tier and long-wait times, patrons may also find the warm hospitality and casual atmosphere stop at the décor.

Food: 2.5/5
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 4/5

The Grain Store on Urbanspoon

Pocket, North Melbourne

Where: 29 Melrose Street North Melbourne (in underpass connecting shops to housing estate)
When: Tues-Fri 7.30am-3pm, Weekends: 8.30am-2pm
Contact: (03) 9040 4441
Take-away available
Vego :)

Local residents will rejoice in Pocket; a brand new micro-café sprucing up the tired Melrose Street shopping district. Tucked away in a concrete underpass adjoining local shops to a housing estate, the term “diamond in the rough” is particularly fitting. Despite its less-than-glamorous locale, Pocket’s outdoor seating actually fares quite well. The arcade’s overpass provides part shelter while the view out West shows off plenty of sky thanks to the café’s elevated position. The outdoor tables have been custom-fit to work with the sloping path so there are no awkward leans in the furniture. If you can nab a stool inside you’ll find lots of light, daily newspapers and plenty of sweet little flourishes that will make you feel right at home.

Asparagus, quinoa, Avocado and Marinated Pepper Salad ($7.50)

Pocket’s short and sweet menu is due to be expanded with some hot savouries, but there’s no need to wait for those as the bagels, salads and tarts really hold their own. Lunchosaurus tried the Salad of the Day: Asparagus, Quinoa, Avocado and Marinated peppers ($7.50) as well as the Pumpkin, Whipped feta, Pinenut and Rocket bagel ($7.50). While both looked fairly unassuming, they came up big on flavour.

The Asparagus salad was incredibly fresh and not overdressed which gave it a gentle flavour, mainly thanks to the gorgeous red peppers. The quinoa provided both hearty filler and fluffy texture.

Pumpkin, Whipped feta, Pinenut and Rocket bagel ($7.50)

The pumpkin bagel’s success was in the sweetness of the pumpkin partnered with the creamy whipped feta (seasoned with rosemary, garlic and lemon). Of course it doesn’t hurt to wrap it all up in one of Melbourne’s best carbs as well; Pocket stocks famous Glick’s bagels.

Brownie ($4)

It’s hard to stop at lunch when tasty homemade treats are baked fresh on the premises. Lunchosaurus enjoyed a chocolate brownie ($4) that tasted just as it should; paper-thin crisp on top and almost molten in the centre. A few chopped nuts added extra body too.

To wash it down Pocket serves Allpress coffee and makes it with plenty of kick. The flat white ticked all the boxes but the cappuccino; while full-flavoured didn’t achieve that silkiness of texture, its froth a bit too aerated and segregated from espresso.

Flat White ($3.50)

Pocket offers something fresh and beautiful for the local residents to enjoy which will hopefully have the local sandwich and take-away shops something to aspire too. Extremely well-priced and with really personable service from owner Jacob, Pocket is worth checking out.

Food and beverage: 4.5/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 3/5

Pocket on Urbanspoon