Chapter 4

She read the email.

It was clumsily written, not the perfect piece of prose. But it was heartfelt. When she read it, she remembered how it felt at the time writing the email. It had been sitting in her draft inbox for a year.

She came across it accidentally, in fact when trying to send a photo to her new companion of her trip to Portugal. Just couldn’t work out how to crop the photo when she saw an email to the boy headed “Positivity”.

She was scared to read it, worried it may bring back deeply buried pain, long healed but never forgotten. She remembered back to those first few months after the break up. Driving to work through the rain and tears, so dense it was hard to say what was making it more difficult to see the road.

The picture was blurry, just like her life had become. But she drove safely, slowly. Because she remembered that’s how he always drove. And somehow that made the tears fall harder.

She had been having dreams lately. The nightmares had turned into something more pensive. Her unconscious usually played out a variety of scenes that her waking mind was too scared or stifled to play out. They’d meet in a cafe, they’d meet in a laneway, a park, at his house. But it always ended the same, just as she revealed how she really felt about him and he did the same, something happened which made it impossible to get back together. Even her dream-self understood, this was not the correct path.

She would wake up with a panging sadness in her heart, unresolved tensions and feelings of yesteryear glimmering in the shadows, just beyond touch. At times, the painful sensation over her chest of wearing an immovable heavy medallion between her breasts returned.

Reading the email gave gave her a sense of peace, of closure. She had read somewhere that happiness was a choice. We can, each of us, choose to be happy. She wished fervently that she could find closure with him in real life, meet up in a cafe in the West, discuss things as adults and then become best friends, like Ross and Rachael or Jerry and Elaine.

But this was not Hollywood. She knew from experience that if they tried to talk things over they would both inevitably speak about their current partners and the uncontrollable jealousy of their passionate and lustful past would embitter even the best of intentions.

She knew there was only one way to deal with this.

Her car keys lay on the dining room table. The glass clanged as she lifted it towards the doorway.


Chapter 3

She checks her email again. But before she even clicks the “log-in” button, she knows, there is no email- he hasn’t emailed her in 6 months.

He had tried to call her regularly- every month since the break-up, almost like clockwork. Once around 6pm on a Friday night, the other late on a Thursday. He called from a blocked number- deliberate. He knew she wouldn’t pick up if she saw his number.

He was right.

Nonetheless, she always knew that he was the one who called. It was the only missed call that didn’t leave a voicemail, follow up text or apologetic email prompt. After his latest call at 2.40pn on a Thursday, he had sent her a text- just three words “How you been?”

She joked with her friends- “Even if I ignored the obvious grammatical error, I still wouldn’t have texted him back.”

Sarcastic laugh. The easiest way to cope with a painful situation.

Because although she never admitted it to her friends or her mum when they asked with sympathetic eyes, in the coldness of her one-bedroom apartment late at night, she often thought of him. In bed, just before she lost consciousness. In the car on the lonely drive to work.

She wondered where he was, what he was doing. How his job was going, whether he was financially secure yet, whether he’d finally resolved the legal dispute with his ex-fiancé, whether he’d found tenants for his West-side house. At most bitter times, she wondered how he was going with his new girl, the Vietnamese single mother with two kids. The one who he refused to call his girlfriend.

“So she speaks with an accent?”

“Yeah, she can’t always speak English properly. I think it’s cute.”

She never regretted her decision to break up. Not once since they stopped seeing each other. That wasn’t just some lie she told her loved ones. It was the truth. No bullshit. But she wondered whether she would ever find passion like that again.

She was once watching the Little Mermaid. She was 24, sitting on her floral, squashy, orange couch on the second floor of her parent’s house. The sunlight streaming in mildly through the thick yellow curtains.


She checked her phone. It was a text from him.

“I’m downstairs at the 7-Eleven.”

She grinned. As she took the remote control in her hand to switch off the TV, she thought ecstatically to herself “Here’s my Prince Charming.”

She didn’t want to be one of those people who became bitter and cynical about relationships just because her first didn’t work out. She often saw those older single women around the office. Some had children. All had the frowning acerbic wrinkles around the corners of their mouth – battle wounds of a heartache long past.

It felt like somehow she had changed. Often she felt numb. It was safe, in this numb state. Nothing got to her- not being told off by her misogynistic boss, not being rejected by the cute British boy at the sports bar, nothing.

When she had started going out with the boy, she had some walls up. He had sensed them but intuitively, with his youthful charm and reverent admiration, slowly and gently knocked them down- blow by blow. But now she feared that the wall had been doubly rebuilt, with reinforced steel topped with barbed wire and snipers in towers- just waiting to shoot down anyone with the gall to climb atop.

Her phone rings.

Om Nom NO

As regular readers will have noticed, I’d taken a short hiatus from blogging. I had no immediate plans to return to the blogosphere….but then I attended Om Nom. And I knew I had to come out of hibernation.

I should preface this post by saying that in the past 6 months I have attended a number of absolutely fabulous restaurants: the innovative Culter & Co (best roast chicken I’ve ever had), Tonka (I almost have no words for the charming service, delicious food & creative wine list) and standout favourite Heirloom where I’ve been on two occasions and intend to take every person I know and love so they can bask in its warming glory.

In blindingly stark contrast – Om Nom.

I’d like to think I’m a reasonable, person who always likes to explore both sides of the story. In fact my job almost depends entirely on being able to see both sides of the picture. So in that vein, I will try to present the most balanced review I can, which will require extreme restraint on my part.

The journey begins two weeks ago when, after seeing a favourable review of the restaurant on the Age and being intrigued by the Mango Alfonso dish presented by the celebrity chef on Masterchef, I booked a table at the restaurant and received a text confirming the details of the booking. When we turned up tonight, we were placed at a long share table and told that our booking had been for 6 people. But after a short word with the wait staff we were moved to a private two seater table. Barely a hiccup, dealt with professionally.

We then ordered the tasting menu- the menu as presented in print was incredibly confusing, despite the long & stressful day I had at work, surprisingly that menu gave me a worse headache. But no matter, it all looked very tasty and we were keen to get eating 🙂 The tasting menu afforded us the opportunity to sample not only the dessert selection, for which the establishment was well known, but also the savoury menu, which had received some praise in the above-mentioned Age review. I waited in eager anticipation.

The bread arrived with butter and olive oil. So far so good, there were three bread varieties, all warmed and the butter was creamy and delicious. Little were we to know that this would be by far the tastiest food we would eat that night.

The first course came out as beetroot salad. Nothing exciting. Small roasted pieces of beetroot nestled in rocket, with baby onions and slivers of carrot. The onion was sweet. The tuile too was sweet and although buttery and tasty, the overall balance of the dish would have been much improved with a Parmesan crisp instead. The saltiness and crispy texture would have provided a better contrast to the rest of the vegetables than the sweet crumbly taste on the plate. The rest of the plate was mediocre, not unpalatable but bland. The roast beetroot was no better than I had made at home a fortnight earlier, which I had done simply in the oven for 20 minutes. I had hoped that a dish with such a simple title that it would have blown me away with underlying technique or flavour. I had in mind the mind-altering pea and ham soup with slow cooked egg at the Argus. The pea flavour so intense within its clarifying green depths with such lovely soft pea cube jellies at the bottom that it completely revolutionised and changed the way I envisaged the humble pea.

Not so with this beetroot.

Well, onto the next course. We had chosen to have a plate of the scallop and gyoza, so as to have the best chance of sampling as much of the food as possible. As it turns out, we needn’t have bothered. Four small 10 cent piece scallops came out onto the plate sitting atop 4 anaemic slivers of asparagus with a pencil thin line of “curry sauce” on the edge of the black plate. Although the scallops were cooked well, the pink peppers corns, barely cracked studs over the top, overpowered the delicate taste of the scallops. The curry sauce tasted like store bought yellow curry powder cooked in water.

Then came the two gyoza. Yes, two pieces. On a plate with a salty acidic sauce. I’m unsure of the acidity component in the sauce, whether it was lime or similar but the taste of it interacted very badly with the soft silky mushrooms in the gyoza, create a distinctly bitter, acrid, unpleasant taste on the palate. Also, despite the outside of the gyoza skin being fried, the inside of the skin was undercooked and doughy. As someone brought up on excellent traditional Asian dumplings, this was a shock to the senses. Fried dumplings of course are traditionally paired with a sour, often black vinegar sauce. But this sauce was not only too salty but the acidity was just wrong.

Then came the pièce de résistance.  The duck dish. The dish came out as half kale (or similar dark green curly substance) and two pieces of roast duck and a duck roulade, accompanied by a squeeze of yellow sauce. The kale was completed smothered in a sweet sauce. After one bite, I could not eat more of the vegetable. But I carried on in hope. The yellow sauce and roulade were also both sweet but as the devine Ms M put the piece of roast duck in her mouth and chewed, she made a face that suggested something was terribly awry. I was unsure as to what could possibly have been that bad.

Then I put the duck in my mouth.

It only sat in my mouth for a few long seconds, before I spat it out onto the plate, without even chewing. It tasted like the duck had been sitting in ginger syrup, sickly sweet and of a sticky consistency. The fat had also not been rendered off and the skin on top was soft. Not my idea of the ideal roast duck.

That was the last straw. I understood that their reputation was built on desserts. But it was one thing to have sweet flavours in dessert and another entirely to have sweet flavours in savoury dishes which did not compliment or balance the rest of the dish.

We made our complaints to the wait staff, fully confident at that stage that our complaints would be handled adequately and professionally. After a long wait, during which we spoke to 2 wait staff about our dissatisfaction , a third wait staff brought out our next dessert course.  We were surprised that after being told that they would speak with the kitchen, the restaurant staff proceeded with the meal as if nothing had happened, rather than provide us with the feedback we desperately craved.

We made it clear that we were not interested in continuing our meal and wished to leave. One of the original wait staff came back and said that she had spoken to the kitchen but that “Everything had come out as intended and they did not understand what the problem was.” She then stated that the other diners at the restaurant had all sampled the same menu and implied that they had no complaints about the food.

Well, now my complaint was not only the food but the service, or lack thereof.

We asked for the bill and retrieved our cash and card to pay. The manager came across and to her credit apologised and said that the meal would be complimentary. She asked if she could contact me, as the person who made the booking, for feedback on tonight’s food and service.  I declined. One assault on the senses was quite enough and despite her gracious and polite request, I was not interested in continuing any relationship with an organisation that served food of that quality and treated customers in such a flippant way.

The whole experience left me madly rummaging through my handbag for my chewing gum on the train ride home in a desperate attempt to wash the taste out from my mouth.

A disappointing start to the long weekend.

Usually custom would dictate that I score the restaurant to provide an overview of my dining experience. But as our dining experience was so disastrously cut short, I would prefer not to offend either my friend or the good taste of my readers by providing a score. I think you can all surmise the outcome.
(Try) Live Long and Love eating!

Om Nom Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon

Lady Windermere’s Fan

I read this wonderful play when I was going through a very difficult break up and at the time it was easy for me to take a cynical approach to it, see all the quotes that were typical of relationship breakdown or stereotyped men (and women). But I’m glad I took some time before writing the review so I can convey a more accurate account of the play and its nuances. As I’ve grown and reflected, so too has the meaning in the text changed, one of the great qualities I love about the literary arts.

Lady Windermere’s Fan is a classic Oscar Wilde play, with very much the same ambience of the Importance of Being Earnest. The subject matter is more serious and the issues of fidelity, strength in relationships, loyalty, sacrifice and what it means to be a parent are deeper and at times darker than that of Ernest. But never fear, in quintessential Wilde style, there are plenty of quippy one liners and quaint jokes to keep the storyline light.

There is something about plays that reads very appealingly. Given it is almost all dialogue, the story moves at a fast pace and without a narrator, as such, the reader is left to piece together the puzzle, which is all part of the joy of any good creative piece.

Wilde’s humour always reminds me of that of a great stand up comedian, whose jokes though seemingly superficial and trivial actually decry much deeper, philosophical notions and societal conceptions. As I think Wil Anderson once said (though don’t quote me on this Wil and PS I love you) back in the day, only the court jester was allowed to make fun of the King and it was tolerated and a very important role in society as it was really the only legal outlet for political criticism.

The play leans heavily on what it means to act properly in society, and propriety is often held above doing what is right personally and emotionally. But sometimes in life as Lord Darlington says, it is better to go against what society demands of you and choose happiness and life. I think that’s a good lesson for us all to learn. But it’s hard and it is hard for Lady Windermere, as it is for all of us, to go against the tide and not care what other people think. It does make me wonder though what kind of world we would live in if we all did the things we really wanted to do and act how we truly felt without fear of retaliation from “Society”. I suspect, a world full of happier people. No doubt there are some that already live by their own rules but I hazard a guess that for the majority of us, conformity is the norm. Its very description demands it, rules for the masses, by the masses.

Some of the concepts portrayed in the play are quite modern. Lady Windermere is modern woman, married for love and reacts to infidelity in same way as any modern married woman would. Her primary concern is not about the scandal of the affair or loss of the family’s reputation but loss of the love of her husband.

So, for me, the play symbolised love, relationships and all the triumphs and perils that come with it. Having been through my fair share of both, I could sympathise greatly with a lot of the discussions between the characters and dissection of the roles men and women play in society and in relationships.

I see there has not been any good adaptation of this in recent times. I would love to see a BBC mini-series or perhaps cinematic interpretation of this classic play.

I encourage you all, especially those of you who enjoyed Ernest, to read this play. It’s thought-provoking stuff. Below I’ve extracted some of my favourite quotes from Lady Windermere’s Fan. Hope you guys enjoy and as always, live long and love reading!

Lord Darlington: “If I know you at all, I know that you can’t live with a man who treats you like this! What sort of life would you have with him? You would feel that he was lying to you every moment of the day. You would feel that the look in his eyes was false, his voice false, his ttouch false. He would come to you when he was weary of others you would have to comfort him. He would come to you when he was devoted to others; you would have to charm him. You would have to be to him the mask of his real life, the cloak to hide his secret.”

“….But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely- or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!…”

Lord Darlington: “And you would take him back! You are not what I thought you were. You are just the same as every other woman. You would stand anything rather than face the censure of a world, whose praise you would despise…You would ensdure anything rather than break with one blow this monstrous tie. You are right. You have no courage, none!”

Lady Windermere: “…We make gods of men and they leave us. Others make brutes of them and they fawn and are faithful…”

Cecil Graham “ …That is the worst of women. They always want one to be good. And if we are good, when they meet us, they don’t love us at all. They like to find us quite irretrievably bad, and to leave us quite unattractively good.”

Lady W: Are all men bad?

Duchess of Berwick: Oh , all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception. And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.

DB: …And mind you don’t take this little aberration of Windermere’s too much to heart. Just take him abroad, and he’ll come back to you all right.

LW: Come back to me?

DB: Yes, dear, these wicked women get our husbands away from us but they always come back, slightly damaged of course. And don’t make scenes, men hate them!

DB: My dear Margaret, you are not going to cry?

LW:  You needn’t be afraid Duchess I never cry

DB That’s quite right, dear. Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.

LW: …Oh, don’t imagine I mind about the money. As far as I am concerned, you may squander everything we have. But what I do mind is that you who have loved me, you who have taught me to love you, should pass from the love that is given to the love that is bought…And it is I who feel degraded! You don’t feel anything. I feel stained, utterly stained. You can’t realise how hideous the last six months seems to me now- every kiss you have given me is tainted in my memory.

Surfing the Third Wave Café

On Sunday, the Devine Ms M and I were invited to have lunch at this newly opened Prahran café the baby sister to the established Port Melbourne restaurant. Being the first proprietary invitation, I was duly excited (and also impressed with the great car spot right in front of the café that I’d managed to parallel-reverse into).

Thrid wave- mocha

After arrival, I ordered a mocha and Ms M a coke and latte. We both agreed the coffee was excellent. In this, I certainly trust Ms M’s opinion more than mine, as I enjoy the occasional coffee bean experience but not enough to be much of an expert. The coffee had a lovely creamy finish and a roasted aroma, without being burnt (take note Zumbo’s). The mocha arrived dotted very cutely with roasted coffee beans on top. I could have done with a bit more chocolate flavour (but then who doesn’t) The size of the mocha was considerable, as were the three espresso shots that it contained. I was concerned for a non-connoisseur like me, this would keep me up all night. But actually, it left me with a nice, contented, almost alcoholic buzz. Ms M’s latte also came with a gently cinnamon flavoured tear-drop  meringue, which was a nice touch. Beautifully froth-painted on top too.

I had a quick squiz at their website online a few days prior to luncheoning and I noticed that their menu was very varied, American BBQ, Russian and what could loosely be described as “contemporary Australian” (wraps, big breakfast, that kind of thing).

To be fair, we ordered an item from each of the main categories, pork ribs from their American BBQ, the risotto hash brown from their contemporary Aussie b’fast menu. And the Russian Sampler Plate.

All the food was beautifully presented. To start with my favourite, the breakfast dish. I hesitate to call it to risotto hash brown dish because I felt that was the weakest element on the plate. The risotto rice was a bit overcooked and slightly gluggy and although there were pieces of mushroom, there was no mushroom flavour pervading across the hash brown. Although crisp on the outside, it also didn’t really have the crunch necessary to provide the textural contrast on the plate.

Third wave- bfast

However,  the rest of the dish was spot on. The mushrooms were perfectly cooked and buttery. The chorizo had a wonderful deep smoky flavour, without being too salty or overpowering. The rocket added a lovely zing to the dish.  The home-made semi-dried tomatoes were lovely and tart. The relish was also sweet and beautifully balanced. And the poached egg cracked over the top when cut open oozed its lovely golden sauce over everything, dressing it perfectly.

So overall, I would say that the hash brown was unnecessary on the plate. It would have worked as a beautiful salad (or breakfast dish with the right carb element) without its presence. I do appreciate the novelty value of the risotto hash brown which was our main reason for ordering it.

Interestingly enough, there is a Chinese version of hash brown made with rice. But glutinous, sticky rice and it’s a thin rectangular shape, deep fried until very crispy. Very hard to come by outside China but always done beautifully and one of the first items I order when breaking my fast in the Orient. When bitten into, the outside is very crunchy and inside the rice is held together but each individual grain retains its shape and texture.

Third wave-ribs

Moving on to the ribs. The ribs were cooked beautifully and meat came away meltingly from the bone. The sauce had a lovely sweetness and tang. There was a slight lingering spice that Ms M and I couldn’t quite place but seemed to overpower the taste of the ribs somewhat. The bed of chips were cooked and seasoned beautifully. The coleslaw slightly less impressive and though authentic looking, the dressing lacked the flavour and zesty appeal needed.

Third wave- russian sampler

The syrniki on the Russian Sampler plate were thick round discs that wafted a lovely buttery smell when torn open. Similar to a buttermilk scone in taste and texture, they were rich and accompanied beautifully by a cute little jar of blueberry jam and sour cream. The boiled dumplings were less impressive. The filling was smooth and bland, with a soft creamy but against mostly flavourless sauce over the top. I appreciated the dill but would have liked either a stronger filling or a more punchy sauce. I couldn’t help but compare it to the pierogi I had tasted at the Christmas Markets in Kraków, which were fried and had a lovely slightly spiced, flavour-infused and texturally interesting filling with different vegetables and a cheese variety. The blintzes on the plate, however, were very tasty with a crispy thin wrapping around a creamy mushroom filling, and a minced meat filling.

Inside, the café is simple but elegantly decorated. Some lovely pale yellow couches at either end of the café add a splash of colour to the otherwise black, white and creamy interior. The styling seemed Cumulus Inc– inspired. Relaxed but trendy.

Third wave- menu

So, on the whole, I’m not certain about the menu. The size and cultural diversity of the menu makes it difficult to perfectly hone and balance every dish. Nonetheless, I think it’s a great place for a coffee and catch up with a friend after a tour of the Prahran markets. Or a stopover for a tasty, hearty brunch before some hardcore Chapel Street shopping.

Live long and love food!

Food                          3/5

Service                 3.5/5

Décor                    4.5/5

Location               3.8/5

Overall TB Percentage: 74%, hard worker but could aim higher!

Third Wave on Urbanspoon

Yay 1,000 views!!

I’m excited to announce that after 2 months of furious eating and typing, triedandbested has reached 1,000 views!

I’m really proud of how the blog’s turned out and want to thank all of you for making it such a success. And by success I mean, giving me something extra to look forward to after work and on weekends and injecting those eatery visits with just that little bit more purpose.

Looking back, there’s been a lot crammed into the last 9 weeks. There’s been controversy, angry email from restaurant proprietor, lovely supportive comments from readers, dismissive condescension from others, invitation for meal at new cafe, hours fretting over the correct photographic placement on posts, happy rumination on meals previously consumed and as always….plenty of platefuls eaten joyfully and with vigour!

So a massive “cheers” to all my wonderful followers, especially my fellow bloggers and those who have commented on my posts. It means a lot to me.

And in the spirit of the occasion, I thought I’d engage you all in some discussion with my own probing questions…

1) What is your favourite Melbourne restaurant and why?

2) What is your favourite type of cuisine?

3) If you could have your own TV food show what would you call it and what would it be about?

Also don’t be shy, if there’s anything you want to ask me, go for it! I’ll try answer best I can and as long as you’re not that stalker who sat next to me on the tram that one time, I’ll be as frank as I can 🙂

As always…live long and love food!

Mavi-lous fish and chips

So on our way back from the hot springs, we decided to make a stop-over at Dromana. The scenery was beautiful, quaint bucolic town shouldered by mountains on one side and spread of sun-soaked beaches on the other.

But little was I to know that I would find the best fish and chips ever. Feeling already very greedy having only just eaten lunch a few hours earlier, we were feeling peckish so Ma and I decided to head down to the local fish and chips. Very busy but I assumed that it was because of the location.

I was wrong. Or at least, it wasn’t only because their space looking over the beach. It was mainly that they had amazingly fresh seafood. I ordered the Sea Box for only $9.50 which contained a fish bite, calamari ring, scallop, prawn and 1/2 serve of chips as well as a couple of onion rings. I must say that I was a bit apprehensive ordering the combo, especially the calamari of which I’ve had too many nightmarish rubber-textured frozen seafood experiences not to feel a bit squeamish.

I needn’t have worried, I was in good hands. The fish bite, was an oblong, natural looking battered & fried piece of fish. Not at all like the processed rectangular block that I had imagined. The calamari was a highlight. As soon as I bit into the delicate ring, I knew that this was fresh seafood at its best. Soft, delicate meat met my lips, not even vageuly related to the rubber-filled rubbish I’d had at other so called “fish and chip” establishments. The scallop was also fresh, soft and had the roe in tact, which I always appreciate and gives that lovely delicate saltiness to the meat. Even the portion of chips was well thought out. Never again will we need to worry about left over chips. Perfect fresh snack box.

All the seafood arrived coated in a golden crispy batter, which was light and not too greasy. The pack came with lemon and tartare sauce and my only criticism, if any, was for a slightly larger lemon wedge, but only because there was so much tasty food I wanted to spritz it over!

We also visited the Copehagen ice-cream shop. Again, packed. Authentic little store with handwritten ad for holiday staff hanging in the window and genuine iron waffle maker on display.  As soon as you walked in, the scent of sweet waffles floats towards you. The ice-cream flavours were delicious. Ma and I opted for rum and raisin and mango tango. The former was true to its name and packed a strong punch of that rummy goodness from the first lick. The raisins also plump and sweet. The latter was wonderfully juicy and so moreish that with every mouthful I was wondering how they injected so much mango essential flavour into the icy treat.

My only let down was the waffle cone. After seeing the machine and smelling the wonderful aroma, as well as the sign that said “handmade waffle” I had expected perfection. But the cone, although crisp, lacked flavour and sweetness. Not bad for something generic but fell short of the standard for “home-made”.

As we drove off, I couldn’t help but be envious of the locals. As if beautiful surroundings weren’t enough, now they can boast the best fish and chips around.

Live long and love food!

Mavi Fish and Chips
211A Point Nepean Rd., Dromana

Post-script: Although I would love to provide a link to the Mavi website or urbanspoon link, I couldn’t find any online. But if you search for “Mavi fish and chips Dromana” you come up with plenty of glowing reviews and details about how to access this beautiful eatery. Happy travels!

Caking it up, Zumbo-style

So originally I had planned to go to Adriano Zumbo’s new store to get some samplers so as to decide which cake I wanted to order for my birthday. (I figured the only other time I’d get to do a cake tasting would be for my wedding and who knows if that’ll ever happen!)

So after being told over the phone that the new South Yarra joint doesn’t do pre-ordered cakes because they were giving themselves some time for things to “settle down”, I decided to head over there as early on a Sunday as my melatonin levels would allow.

Macca and I arrived on the cold blustery day yesterday with my head full of beautiful cake fantasies. As we headed over, I almost mistakenly entered Two Birds, One Stone, situated directly next door and so packed with revellers, it was hard to get the door closed. Mental note, must come back next Saturday.

My first impression of the Zumbo store was of the pink, bubblegum style chairs. They were regular benches, coloured pink, then with rubber material over the top of the benches so it looked like melting pink ice-cream or baubles of gooey marshmallow. Cute and quite realistic looking.

There was a considerable line within the store when we arrived (luckily not out the door) but I found the service to be quite fast and efficient. There was around 3 staff behind the counter who pushed through the orders at a good pace. However, as Macca pointed out, the problem with the snaking line of customers is that you only really got a few minutes to have a glance at the long glass counter before you reached the pay station. Not really enough time to properly assess which delicacies you wanted to take home.

Dr Dot and Apple Fields

Now onto the food. I ordered an Apple Fields and Dr Dot, as well as the salted butter caramel and popcorn macaroons.  Macca ordered the Non Che Nuda Ka and a regular latte.

Unfortunately I need to start by saying that the coffee was appalling. As soon as he drank it, Macca made a face and decried it to be burnt tasting. He was so empathic about it and insistent that I make a comment about it that I curiously asked to have a taste. Now, I will be the first to admit I’m no coffee connoisseur but the flavour was horrible. It had an unpleasant burnt, bitter, charry taste. So there’s that, don’t come for the coffee.

As there was limited space to enjoy the snacks at the venue, we bustled the chilly wind over to the warm Como Centre. I first tried the macaroons. The popcorn one was rather thick and as some of the other reviewers on Urbanspoon have mentioned, quite chewy. The overwhelming flavour I sensed was butter, very thick, rich butter taste. There was some textural contrast with the popcorn crumbs sprinkled around the casing of the macaroon. Unfortunately although the flavour was intense, the texture was not overly impressive.

In contrast, the salted butter caramel morsel had a lovely crisp shell that shattered and was gooey and lovely inside. The filling was a very rich intense, dark caramel taste that only comes of taking the caramel right to the edge without burning. Definitely high marks for this macaroon.

The contrasting texture with macaroons from the same vendor had me wondering whether the “we’re open until sold out” line applied only to the cakes or the macaroons as well. I had a suspicion that perhaps some of the macaroons were more freshly baked than others. But only a hunch, and only the proprietors would know for certain.

outer orange cake

Unfortunately for Macca when he opened his bright blue box, he discovered he’d been given the wrong cake and in fact he turned up with The Annoying Orange Cake. Cute name but poor service. He had asked quite clearly for the green cake. So sadly overall, not his day.

applie fields Orange cake

I tried my apple cake which looked an appealing light green colour, as well as the square chocolatey Dr Dot. The flavours were clear on both, one was apple and the other chocolate. But nothing too surprising. In fact the design of the cakes, including the orange cake, were very similar. They sat on a biscuit base (usually chocolate) and surrounded by a creamy outer layer, either dome shaped or rectangular. Then inside there are three or four harder layers, with some marshmallow type texture, a softer creamy filling and perhaps another biscuit type layer.

In contrast, my favourite dessert of all time was at the Sharing House and a rich moist chocolate cake with a hidden surprising layer of popping candy biscuit base. Absolutely delicious and a talking point for many dinners to come.

All the all there weren’t enough contrasting flavours or textural surprises to reach the standard I would expect of a much-hyped patisserie. Or maybe he’s just really good at marketing. And for $9 a pop for the small mouthful cakes up to a whopping $125 for the eight inch V8 cake, it really takes a good chomp out of your wallet too.

Sadly I think I will re-think my birthday cake strategy. But no matter, there’s still alcohol and karaoke planned so it’s not a complete loss!

Live life and love food

Flavour                                4/5

Texture                                3/5

Appearance                       4.8/5

Value                                    3/5

Overall TB percentage: 74%, needs to work harder!

 Adriano Zumbo Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Just as a side note, regular readers will see that I have used slightly different criteria to rate this experience. I felt that really it was a bakery, not restaurant or café, I would focus on the food rather than service, décor etc.

We’re all feeling Merrywell

I’ve been to this conveniently located Crown establishment a few times with Macca and the divine Ms M. The rainbow arches glow welcomingly from next to the Yarra, reminiscent of a high-end, grown-up Golden Arches.

And the food doesn’t disappoint. My favourite quality about their burgers is their bun. Their damper buns are soft and pillowy, just right density and consistency to catch all the amazing beef juices and sauce. Of all the hipster burger joints (Huxtaburger, Bottom End…the list goes on) the bun at the Merrywell stands out because it’s thick and sturdy and won’t disintegrate into a mush of wet cardboard underneath the sizeable beef pattie. In  comparison, though the burgers at the other bars have their own highlights (spicy toppings, brioche bun) I must say the bun at the Merrywell is hard to beat (but easy to eat!).

And did I mention that their beef pattie is thick and juicy and served slightly pink in the middle? It’s hard to find these days, with the over-commercialisation of the humble burger and concerns about food safety. It’s so juicy that the first bite will literally leave you reaching for the tissues to mop up all that deliciousness running between your fingers.

On our last excursion to the bar, Ms M and I had a burger each, cocktails, and fries and onion rings to share. The blowout? $70. Yep, that’s pretty good value for a tasty, filling meal for two at the touristy end of town. Incidentally, the fries and rings were fried crispy and golden, just enough for that great crunch but not gum-stabbingly sharp. And seasoned spot on.

Speaking of cocktails, I have to get a word in about their alcoholic milkshakes, oh seriously are they good! They’re rich and creamy but with a slight zingy after kick. It’s like being a kid at the local milk bar but with the nice light buzz that you get from tipsy-ness on a sunny Melbourne Saturday. No better feeling!

The interior also alludes to a relaxed but on trend burger bar, US style with high backed chairs and cosy wooden tables. The cute little red baskets that the burgers/fries/rings come in are also reminiscent of the States. There’s an area of couches and sofas but we’ve always opted for the semi-outside area with open windows where you can stare out into the Yarra and ponder all the passing tourists.

Ms M and I have also dined for dinner at their upstairs establishment. The food was high quality, and the warm ambience created by the gentle candlelight bouncing off the glossy interiors is represented on the menu by a slight increase in price. My only searing memory of the night was that the BBQ pork ribs came with a sizeable triangular slice of fresh watermelon. Refreshing but for my Anglo-Australian palate, somewhat bizarre.

Overall, my preference is to “slum it” with the trendy, hipster bar downstairs but for a special romantic occasion, upstairs would be the go.

Live long and love food!

Food                4/5

Service            3.5/5

Décor              4/5

Location          4/5

Overall TB percentage: 77.5%, rising star!

The Merrywell on Urbanspoon

The Accused

This was a novel that I came across purely by accident during my regular perusals of my Free Books app. Incidentally, I would have to say that this is by far my favourite app on my ipad and the most frequently used, with a trove of beloved literary classics, as well as a few new finds. This novel was in the latter category and in fact now one of my favourites.

Having no familiarity with the works of Harold R Daniels, it was not until after finishing the edible sized novella that I even wondered who the author, such was its gripping nature. The rollicking pace is partly thanks to the way it cuts between direct examination, cross-examination and re-examination of various witnesses in the hearing where the protagonist Alvin Morlock is (that’s right you guessed it) the accused and snippets of his life with his late wife.

You read descriptions of his life as a bachelor and subsequent romance with the late Mrs Molock, from his perspective. They are then interspersed with colourful outlines of her life both before and after their first liaison.

The details of the direct questioning of witnesses is very engaging, making the book almost a cross between a good Law & Order episode and a great crime novel. Aside from the frequency of objections to questioning which was slightly unrealistic, the witness evidence gave you a real sense of being inside the court room listening to the case unfold.

I must say that I sped through this book with the pace of a marooned islander through a bucket of water, so desperate was I to find out the mysteries of the subplot and how exactly his unfortunate wife met his untimely end.

I found Alvin to be a very relatable and gentle character, an “everyman”. Although I admit there were times where I wish I could tell him to grow a back bone and stand up for himself. He takes the alcoholism and infidelity of his wife with almost a dejected resignation that borders on the saintly. Instead of really trying to sort things out, he goes in himself and withdraws further into his work as a teacher and into ruminating on childhood memories.

As an introvert, I sympathise with his “flight” rather than “fight” mode of dealing with conflict but I can’t help but feel if he had been proactive in his dealings and approach with his wife rather than take the “head in the sand” ideology, he could have either tried to help her resolve her issues or (more likely) divorced her and moved on with his life in a healthier way.

In a sense, the ending gives closure and I was relatively content with it. Unfortunately, this may say more about me as a cynic with a slight disdain for juries and their allegiance to the search for “the truth” but I think it gives the novel a well rounded finish.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. With a relatively small number of pages (only 210 on my ipad though of course this will differ if you purchase a hard copy) I urge you all to read it when you have some spare time after work, on the weekend or waiting for that next flight at the airport.
Also if you’re a literary lover and are sick of scrolling through online book markets for second hand classics, be sure to download the FreeBooks app too. There literally hundreds of novels all free to download and easily accessible. There are similar apps but I’ve found this to be the most user friendly and visually appealing.

Live long and love books!