“Tacos, breads and Good Times in Fitzroy North”: El Chino

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I have a soft spot for El Chino. Cute and kitsch, it’s a Mexican cafe but also a bakery! A party of two worlds, customers can indulge in a slow-cooked pulled pork taco and an almond croissant in one visit. Food envy and FOMO vibes, be gone!

Over brunch and lunch, the menu offers a range of ‘just-enough’ and ‘manly’ meals. Nachos, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tostadas are available in drooling options such as slow-cooked pork, pan-fried prawns, and even sunny-side up eggs with avo and beans … Traditional horchata, mexican hot chocolate, and granita are also on offer. Bakery items to eat in or take away include a changing selection of home-tasting dense breads, doughnuts, and pastries.

The staff are also the loveliest, in a soft and open Northcote-kind-of-way. Good times indeed, in Fitzroy North.

214 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy, VIC 3068

https://www.facebook.com/elchinomexican

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Easter: The Best Buns

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Of course my dad’s are the best, but while in Melbourne I’ve been following local Hot Cross Bun news. On Tuesday, The Age voted Tivoli Road Bakery as Melbourne’s number one hot cross bun baker for 2014. I promptly decided to make a field trip, only to find they had sold out – by 9am that morning!

I was advised to phone in advance to place a reservation. So this morning, I finally got to sample these winning buns. My verdict? Tastes quite a lot like “home” actually, dense sourdough buns, with enough fruit, orange peel, and spice.

Tivoli Road will be open over the Easter weekend for hot cross bun purchasing. (Pre-ordering, is of course advised). Their baked goods are also available at Fairfield Farmers Market, Abbotsford Convent Slowfood Market, and the Flour Market.

3 Tivoli Rd, South Yarra, VIC 3141

http://tivoliroad.com.au/

La Cigale’s French Market

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On a recent trip back home we dropped into La Cigale’s French Market. It’s been a past favourite weekend rendezvous, so I was pleased to see business was going as well as ever. Yep, Auckland sure does hold its own.

My choice of morsel for the morning was a pomegranate and lemon curd éclair. Made with fresh pomegranate seeds, lemons, and pure New Zealand dairy. Divine!

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‘Window-shopping’ for the remainder of our visit, I noticed the tarts also looked particularly appealing: apple, calvados, and cider; tamarillo and crème; and rhubarb, pistachio, and raspberry. Tempting, but we had the rest of the weekend to eat through. Save some for later Augustus!
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69 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell, Auckland

http://www.lacigale.co.nz/

Innocent Bystander

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Every now and then I need a bush or a beach fix. A tree or a sea top-up.

Recently, a kind soul introduced me to the Yarra Valley. As expected, there was mountains, there was trees, and there was food.

On that note, our tour included Healesville’s Innocent Bystander. The space is stunning and provides plenty of indoor activities to keep you busy on a rainy day: wine and cheese tasting counters, an artisan bakery, and a full restaurant menu.

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Because it was a particularly stormy day, we had already eaten well into the Yarra. So on this occasion, we were in just for dessert. I ordered the flourless chocolate cake and, portion to price, it was of Vegie Bar standards. The cake itself was an indulgence in chocolate – I am a chocolate overeater but I was completely beaten by this slice of cake. Even after sharing it around, I had to leave a few bites behind!

I loved meeting the Yarra and will be keen to stay in touch.

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336 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville, VIC 3777

http://www.innocentbystander.com.au

The Hardware Societe

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Bathing in goat’s milk, commuting to school by chopper, sailing on a yacht with an ensuite for every bedroom … I can only describe my first experience at The Hardware Societe as ‘luxury-for-breakfast.’ Perched at a marble table by the laneway, my first meal at this café was brioche with rosé-scented pear, dulce de leche, and pistachio praline. Fit for a queen.

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Recently, friends visited over an extended weekend and The Hardware Societe immediately sprang to mind. This time, we dined amidst the café’s fine white walls and beautiful teacup montage. Our orders included oatmeal with poached pears and macademia crumble and bircher with berries and macademia crumble.

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We were thoroughly satisfied with our meals, but did look on with envy at Emma’s decision: the two-in-one skillet scrambled eggs with chorizo and filled baguette, served on a wooden board.

With its restaurant decorum, The Hardware Societe is definitely a special treat. On most occasions, you’ll have to queue for a table, even on weekdays; menu items cost slightly more than similar meals in other “cafes” (but well worth the extra dollars); and most importantly, every bite of your meal will be an experience to remember.

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120 Hardware St, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Brunetti – Mini Cakes

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Brunetti is an iconic Melbourne destination for European cakes and coffee. But it’s a particular favourite of mine for a little something-something after dinner; for those times when you really “shouldn’t”, but nevertheless have a craving for something sweet. Whether you’re counting calories or just have a small ladies stomach, Brunetti has the perfect solution for you: mini cakes.

These cakes are about the quarter of the size of Brunetti’s regular slices of cake and are available in the same, if not similar, range of flavours. Options include: chocolate, orange, chocolate mousse, New York baked cheesecake, and berry cheesecake.

Gone in a few bites, these mini cakes are the perfect fix for a sweet craving – with minimal damage to your diet halo.

214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000

Also in Carlton, Camberwell, Myer, Dubai, and Singapore.

http://www.brunetti.com.au

Sonido!

I’ve never been able to walk past this Latin café without a sense of FOMO. Its brightly decorated walls always seem to beckon “Come party!”.

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This week I accepted the call to enter and discovered Sonido! truly is festive through and through. From the entrance to the bathroom, the café is busy with colourful South American objects including traditional posters, record covers, bags, hats, and percussion instruments. As the quote goes: “I AM LATINO I CANNOT KEEP CALM” – a welcome sentiment on a winter’s day!

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Although the menu is limited, the items are a treat. We ordered arepas – traditional maize cakes, available in ground yellow or white corn. I opted for arepas de queso, white corn cakes filled with melted cheese, served with avocado and tomato sides. Simple, yet also comforting and novel. Other options come with sides of scrambled eggs, beef, black beans and feta, and chorizo. Empanadas, a range of sweets, and “Friday Night Specials” are also on offer.

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Arepas de queso: white corn cakes filled with melted cheese, served with avocado and tomato sides

From “¡Hola” to “Adiós” my experience was thoroughly cheery and unpretentious. I’ll definitely be back for more soul-warming treats this winter. Sonido! is also open for dinner Thursday to Saturday and offers an array of South American drinks.

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69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, VIC 3065

http://sonido.com.au