“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/

Zumbo, Melbourne

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Zumbo has finally arrived in Melbourne! In South Yarra specifically. In the past, Zumbo’s gateaux, tartes, and Zumbarons have been a Sydney highlight for me: flavour-forward, stunning, and affordable.

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Arriving a few days after the grand opening, I was greeted by a queue – which snaked out the door. (Note: it was also late on a Saturday morning). Surrounded by electric pink and silver interiors and flanked by candy floss couches I waited patiently for 30 minutes for a Melbourne taste of Zumbo.

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As with the Sydney store, the stock was stunning. I did miss the individual mini displays showcasing Zumbo’s fancy fare, which always made queuing in Sydney a little more cheerful. However, I’m pleased just to have Zumbo stock in Melbourne – available seven days a week, 7am-7pm “or until sold out”.

12-14 Claremont Street, South Yarra, Melbourne, VIC 3141

http://adrianozumbo.com/

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

Noisette: Prahran Market

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Finding a good almond croissant is always a happy occasion. Recently, I discovered Noisette’s clutch at their Prahran Market stand. Never one to do things by halves, I opted for a chocolate almond croissant and was satisfied by my choice: a fresh, light croissant, enveloping a generous portion of chocolate almond filling, crowned with crispy almond flakes.

Needless to say, I’ll be back. Chez Dre is my regular source, however it’s good to have options – South Melbourne isn’t always within reach when an almond croissant craving strikes!

Prahran market, 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra, VIC 3141

84 Bay Street, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207

http://www.noisette.com.au/

South Melbourne favs

Pretty South Melbourne is known for drawing a crowd. Hearts swoon over heritage listed buildings, terrace homes, and cobble stone lanes; coffee and food geeks willingly spend mornings waiting for tables; and consultancies claim to be the king of cool. Here are a few of the jewels in South Melbourne’s crown, worth the visit – and even worth the wait.

St Ali

They had me at ‘hello’.

St Ali boasts leadership in coffee roasting, but their genuine-hipster-cool staff definitely round out the experience, and then some.

When I first arrived, a staff member showed me to my table, sat with me, and then introduced me to the menu. And when I asked what sort of chai they served – she responded “How do you want it?”.

With staff who’ll chill wit’ chu like they’re your new friends, dope tunes, great premises, and fantastic interior design, St Ali provides a party you’ll want to keep coming back to.

Fig, prosciutto, hazelnut, basil, and honey salad

Fig, prosciutto, hazelnut, basil, and honey salad

12-18 Yarra Place, 
South Melbourne, VIC 3205

http://stali.com.au/

Chez Dre

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Whether it’s a macaroon fix or an extended brunch, a trot to Chez Dre will provide you with some generous culinary lovin’. Our first visit down its cobbled path was for a sneaky peek at their patisserie range. On arrival, we discovered a treasure chest of beautifully manicured cakes, guaranteed to impress at any dinner party.

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Approaching the counter, we were welcomed with an entire board of quarter-sized macaroons and asked if we’d like to sample some. “Would we?!”. This was a step up from free cheerios at the butchery!

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With this kind of hospitality, this patisserie and boulangrie is also a delightful place for a breakfast or brunch date. There’s an array of treats to choose from: almond and chocolate almond croissants; organic hot chocolate; Moroccan-style baked eggs; croque monsieur; and much more.

Rear of 285-287 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, VIC 3205

http://chezdre.com.au/

South Melbourne markets

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If you happen to be in South Melbourne, I’d definitely recommend also stopping in at the markets. From chicory to fresh dumplings to an array of nut butters these markets are a great place to get your weekly fruit and veg.

322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, VIC 3205

http://southmelbournemarket.com.au/