Sunday, April 28

Vines Cafe & Bar

Quack quack. The original destination Blue Duck Hotel was temporarily closed. So we came to Vines. What pretty and colourful autumn leaves!

Location: located on the main street of the town at 74 Barkly Street, Ararat, VIC

Website: see user reviews on urbanspoon

Price: roughly $10 for pies and sandwiches (above), $20 for mains (below), $5-10 for slices and cakes


3 Cheese double baked souffle - with "pear, hazelnut salad." What is the difference between single and double baked? Well I don't make souffles, but for double souffles you bake, and store, then bake again with cream and cheese before serving - it's supposed to be more convenient and also producing more consistent results. I liked the texture of the souffle, airy and lovely. The cheese sauce was runny and too creamy, not sure if that was the consistency that it was supposed to be. Enjoyed the slightly chewy, sweetish cooked pear - wish there was more of it. On a side note it reminded me a little of the dried fruit "production" we had happening at college, many years ago now. Salad was largely rocket leaves and sliced onion. I don't think I saw any hazelnut with the salad?

Chicken pistachio terrine - with "pate, cornichons, pear relish." It's funny how a wooden serving board can make a dish look rustic, and rather special. Terrines and pates, old-fashioned French dishes from a time where preserving meats had to happen without refrigeration. Quite pretty it was, but not much taste on its own. The gherkins (cornichons) were crisp and light in flavour. The pate is hiding underneath the herbs. I had a brief period where I fell in love with pate and would eat the whole lump of it from the supermarket, in one sitting. It's been awhile, and I don't know if it tastes less amazing because of the taste itself, or whether it's because I know what pate is made of now. The relish was very sweet, but had an interesting flavour, with the ginger, garlic and onions within. Importantly, there was several slices of thick, lovely crisp and fluffy bread to dip into each side; it was a fun dish, like dipping crackers into various dips and cheeses.

Vanilla milkshake - fortunately for the cafe this came after the meal had already been served. Fortunate for them, because it wouldn't have made a great first impression. Big lump of ice cream, and too sweet especially towards the end.

Honey and nut slice - I didn't know the slice, is typically an Australian dessert. Top layer was mostly hazelnut and walnuts. Thick, sticky, sweet filling - reminiscent of the caramel slices we used to try to get our hands on, every week at medical grand rounds at the hospital. The sauce had a surprisingly strong lemony sourness. Overall the nuts, sweet filling, whipped cream and lemon syrup worked well together. It was just too sweet, to have much of.

Other: high ceilings, various paintings, plants, swords hanging on walls. So you can have interesting, without the typical run-down warehouse feel of many Melbourne cafes.

Rating: I'm glad we stopped here, walking along the shops on the main street, this looked like the best place for lunch after a tour of J Wards. Menu was interesting, food was pleasant, and there was a lively buzz of customers. But it wasn't amazing. So Vines scores 3.5/5 - I would come again, but I wouldn't be craving to.

The Vines Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 23

North Britain Hotel

Located on a street we must have driven past almost every day, I never noticed this hotel during the year in Ballarat. Well, it does look dingy on the outside, like your typical bogan neighbourhood pub. Brick walls, an ugly neon sign, corrugated iron for roofing. Foodie pub - what on Earth is that?

Location: corner of Doveton and Macarthur, at 502 Doveton Street North, Soldier's Hill, VIC (Ballarat)

Website: an old-school but nevertheless informative website, and user reviews on urbanspoon

Price: current menu and desserts menu, with mains ranging from $25 to $35. Also has a nice selection of kis menu goodies for under $8. There were a few items we had which were on an updated menu, and they had several other things on the specials menu too.


Eye fillet of beef - "big fat and juicy from only the best steers in the district." Served with blue cheese butter, inclusive of chips and salad (cooked vegetable option available). It's hard to see from here but the eye fillet was a really large chunk of steak, more than 5cm thick! Really enjoyed the beef - meat was consistently juicy and tender throughout and the blue cheese butter gave it an interesting flavour. For the salad there was a scoop of coleslaw, and one of garden salad. Chips were crispy and there was not much to complain about there expect some sauce or gravy to go with it would have been nice. Lastly, there was the strange addition of two buttered triangular pieces of bread! Now, I don't mind bread but perhaps crusty bread, or anything besides plain white sandwich bread would have better complimented the dish.

Regional Bullboars - "for only the serious sausage connoisseur, sourced regionally, and served with creamy mash and tomato relish, rich gravy." I thought my friend wanted to order "bullballs" - what? They do offer some dishes that don't feature in your usual pub menu, such as lamb's fry, which I've never had, or even heard of. Anyway, bullboar sausage does actually have a local origin. Apparently, it was first made by Swiss-Italian migrants in the region, using roughly half beef (bull) and half pork (boar), a variety of spices, and is supposed to be leaner than other sausages. I'm no sausage connoisseur but I think these qualities were reflected in the rather sharp and dry taste, which was not great, but balanced well with the gravy and relish. Loved the tomato relish, sweet and tangy. And see the swirl of creamy mash? There is a second, equally big swirl hiding behind the sausage.

Poached pear and butterscotch sauce - served with coconut ice cream and mascapone. Especially enjoyed the poached pear, soft, melting deliciously with the creamy sweetness of the sauce and mascapone. However, the coconut ice cream was too sweet, and the big chunks of dessicated coconut wasn't something that I was fond of.

Other: the pub area looks lovely and welcoming, with old-fashioned but not op-shop quality couches. Staff were helpful and pleasant. The light drizzle and cold fog outside, together with gentle yellow lighting and interesting wooden furniture, give a really special feel to the place. As if you are in a warm old house in the mountains, or ye olde pub, somewhere in Europe. Not that I've been to Europe.

Rating: 4.5/5 what a most pleasant find in Ballarat! Will definitely be recommending North Britain Hotel. Love the atmosphere and how it whisks you to a faraway place. The mains and desserts were good, with genuine pub-size servings. For each dish the main element was done really well, but perhaps they could work on creating accompaniments that are more thoughtful, rather than bread or salad that can be bought and served from the local supermarket.

North Britain on Urbanspoon

Talk of the towns

First post of 2013. Being sick towards the end of last year put me off writing about food for awhile. With new acquaintances and colleagues replacing familiar old friendships, I'm aware too that not everyone appreciates you taking food photos before tucking in. Besides, central Melbourne seems to both create and attract the bulk of food bloggers in the country - "talk of the town" places such as Chin Chin, and Mamasita have hundreds of blog post, not to mention hundreds more in diner reviews. Whilst there are some really exciting dishes at those places, time is limited and it makes more sense to me to write about less known establishments. So here goes explorations of 2013, which so far has largely been based in country Victoria.

Oh, and I'm still adamant that there are too many who feel obliged to talk about the latest craze. Or about how great the latest craze is, without judging on merit or pausing to form their own thought-out opinions. Actually food is one of the rare areas in  life where it matters little whether you ride the waves of popular opinion or think for yourself; but mindless raving does make for rather uninteresting reads, and tedious small talk.

Lastly, looking back, it's evident that tastes change. What makes food good, what makes for good dining? I still love a cheap, authentic, and delicious meal. But perhaps, I do enjoy aesthetically pleasing food presentation, mood lighting that is not too dark, cosy furniture, interesting decor, attentive but not over the top service, and such elements, more than I once did. Though none of that does much for a restaurant if the food is unspectacular. I wouldn't call say that my tastes have become more refined (how food snobs annoy me), or that high end is better than cheap eats. Nevertheless, as with many areas of life, priorities and preferences change. Not completely, but there are differences. Yet because you write and score, you are stuck with scores and opinions from a time past.

Anyway, happy eating! Yum yum (or should I get with the times, and say, nom nom).