Monday, June 20

Europa Cafe

On the hunt for a "delicious" meal one windy, cold, and sleepy Sunday noon. Meant to visit L'espresso again, but decided to try something new.


Location: 411 Sturt St, Ballarat - see map. It's right next to the last cafe I visited!

Website: official website (informative), urbanspoon reviews (also has opening times), tripadvisor reviews, delicious looking photos from another blogger's breakfast

Price: ~$15 for breakfast and lunch mains, ~$20 to $30 for dinner mains, full menu is available on the cafe website

Food:


Egyptian salad - "mixed salad with falafel, selection of dips, olives, pine nuts and pita bread". What a colourful and exciting looking dish! The selection of dips were mashed pumpkin, beetroot (with olive oil and vinegar), and tzaziki - an interesting range of accompaniments. Pita bread with these dips was pleasant, but not amazing. Falafels were tasty, full of spices and warm. It was fun to think of different combinations to mix the bread/salad/dips, and exciting to hunt for roasted pinenuts in the salad. In the end the pita bread was surprisingly filling, but... I would have liked to have had more falafels - there were only really two served with this dish (cut into halves)!


Puttanesca - "spaghettini served with a sauce of tomato, olives, capers, chili, garlic, and anchovies". I felt that the two slices of fresh bread was random - would have been nice if that was replaced with a larger bowl of the spaghetti (or spaghettini as they call it). Great balance of flavour - could really taste the sweet and sourness of the fresh tomatoes, the spiciness of chili, a good dose of olive flavour. I ate an olive and it was actually nice (I don't like olives). Personally though, I prefer pasta with more ingredients eg. with seafood, or meat. Having pasta and a sauce in itself doesn't feel like a complete meal.

Other: similar to L'espresso, Europa Cafe has indoor and outdoor seating. But indoors is much more comfortable on a freezing day, and the only people I saw outside were those who wanted to have a smoke with their meal. Indoors was furnitured with wooden chairs and tables, in a spacious and well lit arrangement. Whilst the atmosphere is comfortable, it feels generic and reminds me of the layout of La Porchetta down the road.

Rating: 3.5/5 we felt ~$17 was a lot to pay for each of the dishes we ordered, considering the nature of the ingredients. However, the menu does offers a large variety of meals some of which are generic, and some which are unique. I would be happy to revisit, perhaps some of these other dishes would have been more amazing, or greater value for money. Overall, good but not great - we didn't find our "delicious" lunch, but cafe outings are always lovely with lovely company!

Europa Café on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 9

What makes food "good"?

Knowing I was a food lover, a few years ago on my birthday I was presented with The Age - Good Food Guide 2009. I flipped and flipped through the pages, only to find that I would probably enter into one of those fancy restaurants once a year or less. And why, oh why, were the top rated restaurants invariably also the most expensive? Sure part of the reason is, a good restaurant with a reputation and excellent service would charge more. However, I'm quite sure many people feel that they're receiving better service, a better product, simply because it's costing them more. Well, I would probably do better using The Age Cheap Eats next time.

But what makes a good meal, a good dining experience? A brief scan through the editors of the Good Food Guide, the lead editors are in their thirties or forties, Caucasian, well known journalists, presumably with a fair amount of money to spend on their meals. Out of the reviewers, there is one Asian name out of a list of about sixty, and aside from ethnicity I'm sure the other generalisations about age, and social status would be reasonably accurate. By the way, I have nothing against these people, but am going through the general characteristics of those who are leading the public opinion on good food via newspaper articles, magazines.

Why does it matter? Well, for example, many Asian restaurants tend to focus more on authenticity, taste, and are less geared towards providing attentive service, or a quiet and romantic dining atmosphere. As students, many of us want a mmm delicious meal, in a pleasant cafe or restaurant, not overly noisy but not necessarily spacious and serene, not ugly but the interior design doesn't have to be a work of art. It's somewhere we can visit regularly and introduce our friends to. And it's at a reasonable price so that we haven't spent our food allowance for the month. We aren't simply looking for something to fill our stomach but we are hungry hungry students - oh the number of times we've been to posh restaurants and stared blankly at the tiny portion of salmon on the plate. You get the picture - what the majority of us value and consider a good dining experience, therefore, would differ dramatically from the food critics and their friends.

The internet does however, provides a good avenue for your average person with a budget to comment on food and recommend good restaurants. There are many good blogs and individual reviews out there. Haha but reading internet reviews there are always, without fail, a long string of unpleasant reviews that are basically several paragraphs complaining endlessly about the appalling, horrible service, food being thrown on the table, the revolting food, arguing with waiters, wanting to complain to management, never going back there etc. I've rarely labelled a restaurant with any of those words, in general, eating out is too fun to be unpleasant. I guess they're designed to express hate and anger rather than provide a balanced review.

Sunday, June 5

L'espresso

Lunch and coffee with an old friend. Coincidentally we met some of my classmates, who were dining there at the same time. Popular place, even when it was well past normal lunch time (we only got seats inside at about 2pm)!


Location: 417 Sturt St (the main street in CBD of Ballarat!) - see map

Website: official website - not particularly informative as it was last updated in 2001! Read urbanspoon reviews, food blog entry with lots of good pictures and a review of the coffee at L'espresso.

Price: ~$5 for drinks, $15-$20 for mains at lunch. Below is the full menu for lunch:



Food:


Caffee latte - my friend ordered this, and says the coffee was good and not burnt. I'm not going to pretend to know the subtle differences between what makes a "good" and "bad" coffee haha.

Vanilla milkshake - one of the better quality ones I've had recently. Good balance of milk and ice cream, not too sweet, not too much vanilla flavour. Served in a metal cup like everywhere else.


Soup of the day - ham hock and vegetable minestrone was the soup of the day. Generous sized bowl served with delicious slices of homemade garlic bread - wow the garlic bread was good, with just the right amount of flavour. The texture of the bread was crunchy and fresh at the same time. The soup was tasty and warm, which was nice because it was a cold day! There was a healthy mix of vegetables including celery, carrots; also, there were strands of noodles within the soup, which I felt was strange but I guess it helps you feel full after the meal.


Scrambled free range eggs with smoked salmon - "served on Irrewarra sourdough". A simple but delightful dish. Fluffy eggs, and it worked well with the smoked salmon. Only concern was that the egg had a strange smell - like the burnt plastic smell you get sometimes while cooking... mmm.


Other: the cafe is cosy, with indoor and outdoor seating. But very dark even when the sun was at its brightest - I suppose it could set the mood, but I felt it was so dark that I had trouble appreciating the visual appeal of the food. Would sit near the window if I had a choice (outside is too coooold). Also note that L'espresso seems very popular! and you may need to wait for awhile to get seats. I would suggest not going during peak times (eg. 12:30 to 1:30). Not sure how the food is for breakfasts and dinners, but from word of mouth - they have "amazing" eggs at breakfast, and not so good pancakes.

Rating: 4.5/5 really enjoyed my experience at the cafe. Liked the food, although my friend complained the lack of solid meat dishes at lunch (great variety of salads though haha). The seating would have been more pleasant if it was a tad less crowded, and dark.

L'Espresso on Urbanspoon