Tomboy, Collingwood

Where: 356 Smith St, Collingwood

When: Weekdays: 7.30am-4pm, Sat: 8am-4pm, Sun: 9am-4pm

Licensed

Vego friendly

Gluten free friendly

Outdoor seating

 

Industry chic meets cosy and homey at Tomboy in Collingwood. Almost every furniture and décor item has been rescued from workshops, Milk-bars and possibly factories, yet the restrained interiors won’t make you feel as though you’re sitting in a junk shop. Everything has been spaciously and generously designed to provide an open, calm atmosphere. Unlike some establishments with blaring music or squawks of laughter from the staff, Tomboy has a peaceful ambiance which manages laid-back without being sloppy.

 

The menu offers an unpretentious, simple selection of brunch options with a star selection of suppliers including Dench Bakers and Seven Seeds coffee.

I ordered the Reuben Bagel (corned beef, cheddar, pickles and hot English mustard) and a chai latte to keep it all company. The toasted poppyseed bagel warmly housed a bitey mayo and red cabbage combo, was that horseradish I could feel in my nostrils? As well as a mellow melted cheddar and decent slopping of pickles. It would have been an extra treat to have this Reuben served with potato chips, as per tradition. Small and scrumptious, it was fun to eat but a little over-priced at $13.

Reuben Bagel with corned beef, cheddar, pickles and hot English mustard ($13.00)

The Chai latte ticked all the boxes; frothy and unsweetened with a hint of spiced sugar sprinkled over.

The waiters were really personable, like seriously, exchange a few words and before you know it you’ll be thinking of asking them to move in with you. So while the food is expensive for what you get, Tomboy’s ambiance and service will likely invite you back time and time again.

 

Food: 3/5

Service: 5/5

Ambiance: 4.5/5

Tomboy on Urbanspoon

Union Food and Wine, Ascot Vale

Where: 169 Union Road, Ascot Vale
When: Wed to Fri- lunch, dinner, Sat- breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sun- breakfast, lunch
Contact: (03) 9372 7566
Licensed
Vego :(

Ascot Vale’s rather drab Union Road shopping strip is brightened by Union Food and Wine; a light-filled café with a short, beautiful menu and a relaxed vibe. The reasonable prices and casual setting make the rather fancy menu options feel even more special. After just a few minutes you get the feeling that this is a café that offers a little more; an extensive wine list and dinner in the later half of the week. The waiters are very personable, and seem to really care a great deal about what they do.

Dining Partner and I ordered coffee, the heirloom carrot salad with sultanas, mint, oregano and parsley dressing ($10) and the warm ciabatta roll with pulled beef short rib, celeriac remoulade and onion rings ($15).
Although our coffees had all the potential in craftsmanship and beans, they were far too milky for our liking.

The salad’s generous and indulgent dressing played up the sweetness of the tender carrots without overpowering and the sultanas provided a nice accent too. It was very garlicky and oily (perhaps too oily) but still felt very fresh.

Heirloom carrot salad with sultanas, mint, oregano and parsley dressing ($10)

The pulled beef ciabatta was unapologetically stodgy; in all its shades of beige and brown. The meat had a delicate sweetness but was so incredibly oily that it soaked through the bun and took away any freshness the celeriac remoulade could have offered. The onion rings were flawless; piping hot and crispy, with a sweet, juicy flesh. If not for the excess of oil, its flavour so strong, then it would have been a delicious meal.

Warm ciabatta roll with pulled beef short rib, celeriac remoulade and onion rings ($15)

The star of our meal was the dessert; soft chocolate with spiced quince, gingerbread and honeycomb ($13). The gorgeous lick of dark chocolate cream matched the exciting gingerbread pieces and honeycomb beautifully. I was not a fan of the accompanying sultana and vanilla ice-cream but it wasn’t too bad. This felt like the sort of dessert you’d have with a nice wine and a whole lot of special-occasion.

Soft chocolate with spiced quince, gingerbread and honeycomb ($13)

Union Food and Wine is an impressive and friendly little place that ticks a number of boxes; communal dining, casual coffee, romantic meal. Apart from the standard lunch menu neglecting to cater to vegetarians, the café appears to have something for everyone.

Food: 3/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 4/5

Union Food & Wine on Urbanspoon

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

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
CC and EFTPOS

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
CC and EFTPOS
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

Manchester Press, Melbourne

Where:8 Rankins Lane,Melbourne

When: Breakfast and Lunch 7 days

Contact: (03) 9600 4054

Vego :)

 

It’s easy to presume without visiting, that Manchester Press would be merely another over-hyped, over-crowded café, pushing fashion over quality of experience. Thankfully it is not, and yes, the hype is completely justified. Melbournites might roll their eyes when I explain that Manchester Press is located down a cobblestoned CBD laneway and housed in a converted industrial space. I know that we’ve heard it all before. What’s impressive is that Manchester Press pulls it off beautifully. If you excuse the ridiculously low table housed in the back corner (I pitied the people crouched over their food) the room is pretty ergonomic for a warehouse space. The paint-splattered concrete floor and communal tables are probably as much roughing as you can expect. Good I say, nobody really wants to sit on a milk crate pretending to look comfortable. I was impressed with the warm glow of the venue on a grey, chilly morning. The lighting was soft and the music dreamy; not to mention, very up-to-the-minute.

The wait-staff are clearly hip, but not too cool to treat you nicely. I was delighted to find they were incredibly switched-on, polite and cheerful.

Coffee is the main showpiece at M.P., and the Batistas take pride in their work. The little bunny in my latte was delightful but not to the detriment of the coffee. It was excellent, strong and put together beautifully.

The food menu isn’t particularly inspiring; it’s very small and limited to various bagel-based meals. From the breakfast menu my dining partner ordered the “Baked Eggs with Cherry Toms, Feta and Chorizo ($16)” which came with a toasted bagel. I opted for the “Fruit and Nut Bagel- topped with mixed berry mascarpone, strawberries and pistachio dust.” ($12).

Let’s start with the eggs; the chorizo was an optional extra and if you’re an omnivore you’d be nutty to pass on it. Chorizo fans will know that it is very difficult to find real chorizo and not some wimpy, dull, imposter sausage.Manchester have the real deal, and there is plenty of it in the baked eggs which ensures a perfect infusion throughout. The feta is also high quality and the creamy Danish kind, which is perfect for melting into the eggs and chorizo. With a whole sesame bagel and butter on the side, this dish isn’t likely to leave anyone grumpy.

Baked Eggs with Cherry Toms, Feta and Chorizo ($16)

The Fruit and Nut bagel was toasted which enhanced the powerful cinnamon notes and the mixed berry mascarpone was gorgeous; decadently rich and heady. Although I had to scrape a few spoons of the cheese off, otherwise I would’ve likely suffered some internal organ shock; the piles of it were just insane. Unfortunately it was also ice-cold, which cut through any romanticism the toasty cinnamon had achieved. Now I’m just being fussy I know, the icy topping was probably because they’d only just taken it out of the fridge from the night before. Overall, the bagel was good, but could’ve used more fruit and less cheese.

If you’re planning on visiting Manchester Press, be aware that a few hundred people may have had the same idea. Attending outside of peak times will ensure you get to enjoy a peaceful meal on one of the good tables and no long wait times.

Fruit and Nut Bagel- topped with mixed berry mascarpone, strawberries and pistachio dust ($12)


Food: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Ambiance: 4/5

Manchester Press on Urbanspoon

Balderdash, Port Melbourne

Where:295 Bay St Port Melbourne

When: Weekdays 7am-3pm, Weekends 8am-3pm

Contact: (03) 9077 3813

Vego :)

Avocado, lime and goat’s cheese on Turkish bread, topped with a soft poached egg ($14)

Port Melbourne is a strange sort of place; Lycra-swathed cyclists, dogs, and lots of affluent white people, When I was strolling up Bay Street a mother called out, “Sienna and Beau get out of the way!” as her children rode their bikes down the footpath, their glossy Labrador in tow.

Stereotypes aside, there are some good eats to be had in Port Melbourne. Balderdash for example, might be somewhere you’ve heard of as it’s been a local favourite for some time and for good reason; it’s good. Heading in for a spot of brunch on a weekend, you might have to sit outside as we did, because it gets busy. Most impressive are their range of coffee systems; featuring cold drip and pour-over as well as espresso. Turns out I first ordered a weak Earl Grey tea which arrived in a tiny pot with enough leaves to have poisoned me. Generous; maybe, drinkable; no and weak; certainly not. I asked for some hot water to weaken my tea and it arrived in a cappuccino cup; exponentially difficult to pour from. When the tea still showed very little signs of weakening I resorted to simply scooping the leaves out, to my dining company’s horror I counted five spoonfuls of leaves. The remaining water was still too concentrated to drink. This little incident aside, the cappuccino I ordered afterwards was excellent. 

For my tummy I ordered the Avocado, lime and goat’s cheese on Turkish bread, topped with a soft poached egg ($14). I was delighted with the results. The creamy goat’s cheese was just a genius combination with the avocado and the lime was infused throughout but it did come with a wedge for you to squeeze over as well. The poached egg was perfect and the whole dish came artfully drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic. I can’t even begin to believe how fantastic things might get if you were to add the bacon (17.50).

Sitting outside on the benches was OK in the sunshine but had it been miserable, the footpath and passing traffic may well have soured the deal. I’d gladly return and wait for a seat inside next time. And of course, avoid ordering a tea.

 

Food: 4.5/5

Service 2/5

Ambiance: 2/5 (when seated outside)

Balderdash on Urbanspoon

Ici, Fitzroy

Where: 359 Napier St Fitzroy

When: Weekdays 7.30-4.30, Weekends 8-4.30

Contact: (03) 9417 2274

Licensed

Cash Only

 

Little Ici is a well loved favourite in Fitzroy, and it’s easy to see why. While undoubtedly cool, the tiny café is not so edgy as to sacrifice comfort and functionality. The chairs are old and heavy; wood with leather seating pads. Parisian little lampshades jut out from the wood-panelled walls and provide pockets of warm lighting. It’s a cosy sort of place and the menu offers a well-balanced selection ranging from the comforting to the sophisticated, with plenty of exciting vegetarian options. The music is volume-appropriate and pretty good too; I was treated to Bowie while I ate my lunch.

I ordered a latte ($3.50) and a Worker’s Bun: Fried egg, roaming bacon, tomato, vintage cheddar, spinach and tomato chilli jam ($10.50). Both arrived without too much wait which was fantastic considering the ANZAC day crowds. The latte looked a little pale but actually had enough kick, and a complex palate. It’s hard to find Fair Trade coffee this good. When the Worker’s Bun arrived I sussed out the bread first, like I always do. It passed with flying colours; fluffy, dense and fresh. Inside things were pretty good too with thick, richly flavoured bacon and lusciously smooth fresh spinach leaves. I didn’t notice the cheddar so much but there was a lot of tomato, and I kicked some of it out. The dressing was very creamy with a touch of mustard. Plenty of chilli jam too, which was heavily spiced with cumin. I’m not such a fan of cumin which dampened my bun-enthusiasm a little. Cumin sympathisers will however, not be disappointed.

I had a great time at Ici, and although service with a smile can fluctuate depending on which member of staff serves you, service was generally good and efficient. A little haven in Fitzroy with prices I can live with and quality I can get used to.

Worker’s Bun: Fried egg, roaming bacon, tomato, vintage cheddar, spinach and tomato chilli jam ($10.50)

Food: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Ambiance: 4/5

Ici on Urbanspoon

Backstreet Cafe, Fitzroy

Where: 152 Kerr St Fitzroy

When: Weekdays 7am-10:30pm, Weekends 8am-10:30pm

Contact: (03) 9417 1212

CC & EFTPOS available

 

Fitzroyers may already be savvy to Backstreet Café which opened up on Kerr Street in January. Even if you’re not a local, you’re bound to hear all about it sooner or later, primarily because of the success of its big sister, Birdman Eating just around the corner. Being a big fan of Birdman (It took first place in Lunchosaurus’ Top 5 Melbourne Eats from last year) I was eager to try out Backstreet.

Walking past on Kerr Street, Backstreet’s frontage was not very distinctive and had I not known that the café answered to the same owners as Birdman I would’ve walked right past. The décor; daggy café chairs, wine racks, chalk boards and a noodling saxophone soundtrack give Backstreet a vibe indistinguishable from so many other places. Although I personally feel the design is nothing special, it is clear that it has been made to a high standard. The bathrooms for example, are more like suites with thick doors and enough space to have a small picnic on the floor, or perhaps more practically, change a baby.

On the menu there are some brief parallels with Birdman Eating such as the Boiled eggs with soldiers and a couple of Baked egg options too. However the real draw-card is the meaty options, and there are a lot of them. Downstairs there’s a cellar where all sorts of interesting meats are cured in-house. Adventurous diners will enjoy picking out something they’ve probably never had before, while if you’re a bit of a traditionalist you’ll be safe with the Golden Muffin; Backstreet breaky sausage, fried egg, scamorza and tomato sauce for $11.50. I was pleased to find that said muffin was tre sophisticated, for a muffin. The sausage (more like a delicious salty beef patty) was nestled amongst the perfectly balanced flavours of the stretchy scamorza and delicate tomato sauce. Most importantly the muffin itself was dense, soft and doughy. Egg McMuffin I think not.

I also got my teeth into the “Egg and Bacon” Kassler, Grunkohl and toast with sous-vide egg. ($17.50) Or “Cured, smoked pork, cabbage and slow-cooked poached egg”, in Layman’s terms. The cooked cabbage or Grunkohl looked like a strange sort of seaweed and carried an unusual bitter taste. The pork was a thick pillowy cut with intense smoky, salty flavours. And egg came cold (not sure if this was intentional) in a shot glass with a dash of olive oil to slug on top of whichever part of your breakfast you desired. While the quality of the Kassler and egg was hard to deny, the competing flavours came across as too powerful for my liking.

Birdman Eating fans will be pleased to know the coffee here is good too, and so is the staff. We were lavished with attentive service and crazy water-refills, so much so that I think I inadvertently drank a litre of water all while trying to finish my single glass. A very pleasant (and hydrating) experience overall. As many reviewers have noted, Backstreet feels more like a dinner place with its unusual savoury menu and wine-stacked shelves. I know I’ll be back for an evening soon.

Food: 4/5

Service: 5/5

Ambiance: 3/5

Backstreet Cafe on Urbanspoon