Category Archives: coffee hipstery

and sold!

Restorative, my arse. That was what my yoga instructor said about jumping to and from ‘down faced dog’ pose a dozen or so times. Harumph. Sure, sure, my insomnia is practically non-existent thanks to yoga but something was missing.

Brunch, that’s restorative.

Tristan gloated about his breakfast at De Clieu while I groaned and heaved into the car for a trip to my old ‘hood and Auction Rooms. The first time I went, I wasn’t really drinking coffee. This time, I was armed with a little bit of knowledge and probably more curiosity than was good for me. Something about ‘Andrew Kelly’…’third-wave’ etc.? Whatevs. Reading tantalising reviews (Melbourne Gastronome, I’m pointing an accusatory finger at you) was only going to teach me so much: you’ve got to visit and get your figurative hands dirty.

frenzy at the pass

Woah, Auction Rooms was seriously busy but efficient. Enter a cliché about well-oiled machines here. Truly, the staff made their jobs look effortless. There was one fellow in the kitchen whose sole job looked to be pumping out a constant supply of poached eggs. I know, I know – it’s their job and all but still: impressive.

so many eggs poaching

Tristan was pretty much ordered to get the pork knuckle sandwich by a couple of foodies via Twitter and being the obedient lad that he is, that was what he got. Tender meat coupled with the sourness of saffron-yellow pickled cauliflower. He said it reminded him of a similar such sandwich being served at a place I won’t mention due to conflict of interest (though I hope to secure a guest reviewer for it sometime soon).

pork knuckle sandwich

Under the pretence of ‘healthy’, I decided to avoid a meat-based dish (though I must confess to rather enjoying a diet made up of much less meat) and went with the ‘counter bid’ – a bed of parmesan polenta, with wild sauteed mushrooms and baby spinach stacked on top then finished with salsa verde and mascarpone. I chose to have poached eggs, as offered.

‘Egads, the poached egg soldier was fallible: the first one was a tad overdone. However, redeemed with the second one which was perfect! The hint-of-cheesy polenta was delicious, being perfectly cooked and not at all stodgy. It soaked up the juice of the mushrooms wonderfully. Don’t rule it out, omnivores, it’s just as delish as meat.

Judging by Melbourne Gastronome’s reviews, it looks like the ‘counter bid’ is their nickname for the vegetarian brunch option. I rather like that the name stays, but the actual dish changes. Clever!

counter bid

Of course, because coffee is a major strength of the Rooms, it’s imperative to try it out. When we visited, the Kenyan Oreti was on offer as a syphon. Both of us did try their house blend, affectionately named the Candyman. This was recommended to us by a staff member before trying out their single origins.

long black

Perhaps we did get slightly more attentive treatment after they saw the size of Tristan’s…camera, but they did forget right at the beginning to take our drinks orders as promised when they told us to wait for seats. A very minor detail. The fellow at the door was most efficient and even told us just how long we’d have to wait before we could order food. In any case, don’t be put off by how busy Auction Rooms is – definitely worth the wait. I look forward to more weekend restorative treatment when yoga has ‘failed’ me!

Auction Rooms on Urbanspoon

the french press is back, baby

happy customer

“So the creators of St Ali, Brother Baba Budan and Seven Seeds opened a new cafe, De Clieu, and they didn’t fuck it up” —  was my short-attention-span-generation review of De Clieu for Ms G.

Now while my ‘review’ above is a little short, and perhaps a tad profane, it pretty much sums up De Clieu for me. Legends of the Melbourne coffee scene have opened a new place, and as with all the previous iterations, they’ve executed it beautifully — friendly and knowledgeable wait staff, great food and of course, fantastic coffee. Tick, tick, tick.

I was at a loose end while Ms G was at yoga and it was suggested that I pop in to De Clieu. I’d grab a coffee (or two) and then G and I would hit up Auction Rooms for some mad ‘pork knucklage’ (but more on that in a later post). Perfect.

Scanning the oh-so-pretty menus for the smallest looking dish I settled upon the buckwheat and rice muesli. Damn it was good – puffy soft rice, chocolatey crunch of hazelnuts, bitey zing of dehydrated apple, strawberry and orange, creaminess of the yoghurt and the sweetness of strawberry jam.

rice and buckwheat muesli

I’d need an equally impressive coffee to go with my nom breakfast. The more I latte sip, the more I try to expand my coffee horizons, trying more exotic blends and more esoteric brewing methods. Today would be no exception, selecting the Guatemalan Cup of Excellence in the French press.

Now, I realise there is nothing fancy or new about the French press, except perhaps in an old-is-new-again kind of way. In fact, for me the French press (or plunger coffee) is distinctly unsexy — years of my father drinking plunger Lavazza gave me, quite literally, a bad taste for the French press. Fast forward to 2010, and the overlords of the lactose-intolerant-skinny-jean-wearing-coffee-sipping hipsters, Seven Seeds, have deemed the French press cool again. Well, if it’s good enough for those wacky hipsters, then it’s good enough for me. Subtle, tea-like in body, slightly fruity. Really quite delicious, and very much like a pour-over, which is unsurprising given both methods ‘steep’ the coffee in hot water. My father had it right drinking it black back then as such a light-bodied coffee shouldn’t be messed with by adding milk as it completely overpowers the subtle flavours. If only Dad hadn’t used Lavazza! On a previous excursion to De Clieu, Ms G had a similar enlightenment. From the way she describes the experience I suspect there were angels singing, trumpets blazing and soft cheeses and cured meats being distributed.

I shall forever have a soft spot for De Clieu in my heart because it is the place where upon having Ethiopian Nekisse through the French press, I was able to smell and taste the blueberry. A true coffee epiphany moment. To top it off, I gleefully shared my experience with the staff and instead of acting like they’d just been assaulted by some silly girl, they shared in my joy and enthusiasm. Much love.

french press

Following the French press I had a similarly delicious long black with an unnamed single-origin. I was buzzing.

long black

De Clieu is a beautiful venue, and like its larger brother Seven Seeds there’s whispers of design awards with a minimal and uncluttered layout. Unfortunately, as they say, strengths are sometimes weaknesses and seating is in short supply, so get there early. While you’re there grab a French press – they’re not nearly as daggy as you remember.

De Clieu on Urbanspoon

what does the bell jar mean to you?

If you’ve ever engaged in any sort of liberal arts tertiary study, then it was most likely Ferdinand de Saussure was thrown at you at some stage. Everybody knows about his ‘sign – signifier – signified’ ramble (more eloquently referred to as semiotics). By everybody, I mean the Beastie Boys.

Beastie Boys being playful and stuff

So, semiotics 101 (I apologise in advance for the ham-fisted explanation): society is full of codes. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to communicate. Naming a cafe ‘The Bell Jar’, for example is no accident: when I hear those words I think of Sylvia Plath’s largely autobiographical novel, then the actual jar used for medicinal purposes (which conjures notions of quackery I do confess). Thanks to one of my closest friends, I might even associate them with Serge Lutens fragrance (that’s even the same gorgeous fragrance I own).

some bell jars and a regular jar

When you enter a cafe and the wait staff say hello, it doesn’t mean you’re friends (duh), it means more or less “I’ve seen you, I’ll get you a menu. I’ll remember that your patronage is funding my next pair of Nudie jeans”.

You’d think.

After very unglamorously visiting one afternoon because it was round the corner from my yoga class and I’d pulled an all-nighter, I was just about ready to die. They could have put soaked cardboard in front of me and I still would have eaten it.

The Bell Jar is nice and yeah, hip. They have these cool heavy cast metal chairs and stark white walls. Also enticingly displayed was a Synesso and countless bags of their 5 Senses coffee blend – Ethiopian, PNG, Sumatran and Guatamalan.

“Oh, do you want a menu?” the waiter says. No, you idiot, I enjoy looking clueless at the specials board and frumpy as feck in my yoga clothes. Yes, I want a menu. Coincidentally, the menu is printed on fancy brown cardboard. The chef was no help either. Despite eye contact and me looking lost, he didn’t seem to give a toss. The hot bird in the gorgeous red dress who seemed to be making the coffee looked pretty disgusted by my presence.

I ordered a long black and thought the corn cakes special – spicy corn cakes with chipotle bacon, poached eggs and coriander crème fraiche sounded delish and got that. Despite my order hitting the ‘kitchen’ first (which in reality was just this one surly dude), the customer who ordered after me got her food first.

spicy corn cakes with chipotle bacon, poached eggs and coriander creme fraiche

The corn cakes were far too doughy for me (not enough corn and too much batter) but the dish was definitely spicy as advertised and did contrast nicely with the coriander crème fraiche – I’ll be pilfering that latter idea, mmm. The bacon was this limp piece of fatty meat that seemed to be added as an after-thought. Either cook it crispy if the slices are going to be that appallingly thin, or get some thicker slices so it doesn’t seem so…token.

In summary folks, when I next think of The Bell Jar, I’ll fondly remember that small but cute eatery with the disinterested staff where I once made the mistake of entering in my not-quite-expensive-enough-for-postcode-3068 yoga attire. To end the lesson on semiotics, I once was told that putting one’s used napkin on your empty plate after you’re done with the meal indicates that you didn’t enjoy the meal. You can guess what my one act of rebellion was… (don’t worry, I’d never do it if it were cloth, even if I did hate the food!).

After my most recent class, I stopped in at Big Dish for a good (Coffee Supreme) coffee fix. I love the staff there and the coffee’s good too! I took my closest girlfriend there when she was down from Sydney and she fell in love with it.

In the semblance of balance, the reader is directed to Mel: Hot or Not who had a considerably better experience at this same venue.

The Bell Jar on Urbanspoon