Brunching. Chantelle Churchill, Tim Dahm and moi.
Photo Courtesy of: Natwick
IF A PERSON CAN DROP names like ‘PJ Clarke’s’ and ‘Daley’s Daffodil’ into the conversation then you know they’ve not only spent time in New York – they are inveterate weekend brunchers.
It’s been a tradition on Manhattan for decades. I remember, when I returned to Australia from The Big Apple -- and (briefly) opened a New York-style restaurant called Sardi’s in Melbourne – I tried to emulate the Sunday brunch in menu and ambience.
We served good coffee straight away, Eggs Benedict and spicy Bloody Marys and, at the front door, I had a pile of Sunday papers available free for the patrons.
It was our most successful session of the week – but not everybody was a fan.
The stylish Barbara Walker, wife of former Lord Mayor and city patriarch Ron, was not impressed. She complained:
‘I was so looking forward to a treat. Couldn’t believe it when he suggested we go out for brunch “to this new restaurant Hinch owns”. Usually Ron would sit at home hidden behind the Sunday paper.’
So they came to Sardi’s and ‘Ron sat there behind the Sunday paper. We may as well have stayed at home’. She was joking. Sort of.
Brunch is around 11.
‘Twixt breakfast and lunch.
But, at home and abroad, I think I’m a pretty good judge of what makes a brunch place work – even though my usual daily breakfast is an idiosyncratic serve of a kosher dill pickle and a slice of cheddar cheese. Very Dutch.
And I don’t even drink Bloody Marys any more, although I still line up for a Virgin Mary (or Bloody Shame) at Riva. Well made, heavy on the Tabasco and with so much Worcestershire sauce it looks brown not red.
I’ve even got into deep discussion over when you can call a pre-noon meal brunch. I argue a meal at 9a.m. is still breakfast. Brunch is around 11. ‘Twixt breakfast and lunch.
In recent times, we’ve been out brunching a bit and I thought I’d review a few for you in Melbourne and Sydney in the weeks ahead. The newest first.
And we’ve saved the best for first. This is one of the tastiest, trendiest places you’ll find. The food is so good that you can actually make an adventure out of the fact that this place is ridiculously small. It’s Lilliputian. I reckon it could seat (or stand) nearly 20 if you were all South Yarra model thin. There’s really only one table you could seat four, or squeeze six, at and the other spots are really bench tops. I reckon the enthusiastic young staff need to be Junior Einsteins just to figure out the equation of juggling seating arrangements. (If pressed, you can adjourn to a soulless lounge across the foyer.)
It doesn’t matter. Go with the flow. Just enjoy the freshest, tastiest, sourdough combinations around. And the prices aren’t uber Chapel Street either. I had the haloumi bruschetta ($14.50) which was huge. Chunks of haloumi, atop and around, a mound of cubed avocado, radish, a relishy tomato combo topped with a yogurt dressing. Really was 10 out of 10. Likewise, Natasha’s choice of smashed avocado with feta, chilli, lime and doukkah (which is everywhere here).
And the perfect Reuben sandwich. A huge New York-sized pile of pastrami with sauerkraut, pickles and traditional Russian dressing.
Gave me a chance to show off my culinary atlas by naming the worst place in the world for a Reuben sandwich. The Nairobi Hilton.
The dish I didn’t try, but will go back for, is the one they call the Nobel Prize Winner: haloumi cheese and mushrooms in a teriyaki sauce, cashews, cucumber, tomato, onion and sesame seeds. Apparently, that’s a ring-in from their other restaurant, Einstein’s 251 in Caulfield.
And if you are feeling wanton (and you’re not a skinny model) they serve a dessert cookie/biscuit/snack they call a ‘mookie’. It’s a cross between a muffin and a cookie made with muffin dough and adorned with buttons of white and dark chocolate. Pretty moreish.
Top spot. Minor irritant. Don’t take your car. Construction is going on all round that narrow street and the parking station will cost you $18 – that’s much more than a Reuben.
Fleur Depot de Pain
The Blackman Hotel
452 St Kilda Road
03 9039 1122
Another place that serves a good breakfast-brunch plate of smashed avocado is Fleur, off the foyer of the Blackman Hotel, entrance off St. Kilda Rd. It’s served with tomato, onion, and good goat’s cheese (chevre) on a brick of crisp, but light-centred, toast.
Fleur makes great use of its space and has terrific ambience. A few personal tables and communal space, strewn with the daily papers, makes it a terrific place to sip coffee or grab a light meal. You’ll always see visiting businessmen and women from the adjacent hotel armed with their iPads and holding down a table in the corner.
True to their name, they have piles of freshly baked bread, baguettes, croissants and even gluten-free macaroons. It takes a certain discipline to be able to walk past the dessert counter on the way in (or out) without ordering something sweet.