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Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

Is Borders Carlton closing?

March 16, 2010 4 comments

Note: This picture is not from Borders Carlton but ZOMG! Sarah Palin! Reserve today everyone...

Please note, this post is pure speculation.

Some of you may know that, despite the fact that I don’t actually live there, the suburb of Carlton is pretty much my hood. In fact, specifically the block of Lygon between Faraday and Elgin (there is little else along the rest of the street worth going to save a few choice places). Along this block, at time of writing, I’m holding down six foursquare mayorships so it’s safe to say I own the block (pay me my rent, bitches).

Recently, a rumour was brought to my attention by a friend, she had heard that Borders in Carlton was shutting up shop. Since then, I have noticed that things have been a little strange. Firstly, what is with this explosion of sale items? Now Borders often has bargain books but is it just me or are the bargain bookshelves beginning to overwhelm the store? Secondly, what’s with the coupons and the increase in discounts being sent out to people on their e-mail newsletter? Thirdly, since when do their instore catalogues have coupons inside them also? Instore advertisements over the loudspeaker also seem to be up.

Apart from these questionable things. Has anyone noticed that they haven’t refilled the soap in the bathroom for months? Yes its bloody disgusting, I now use the Lygon Court bathroom, despite it being in a general state of disrepair and uncleanliness, at least it has soap. Today they even removed the soap dispenser from the men’s room altogether. Also, a friend overheard someone making an inquiry at the information desk about placing an order for some books and apparently the shop assistant replied that Borders Carlton no longer orders books in for customers. Zomg! I’ve also noticed that they’ve run out of several prominent authors and haven’t restocked. Murakami? I mean come on, he’s a popular author. Something smells fishy.

This is pure speculation, unless anyone has further information (if so please comment) but if it is the case that Borders Carlton should close it does mean three important and interesting things:

1. It means that Readings won the Mexican standoff. Years ago when Borders opened up right across the road, every Carlton pseudo-intellectual hipster and long-time resident released a shriek of fear. Could Readings close? The dearly loved Carlton institution? Never! Everyone rallied and Readings is as busy as ever (it should be noted that many books are actually cheaper there by a few bucks). If Borders should close it will be another victory for small-town Melbourne soul over international conglomerates. WIN!

2. What will take its place? Borders occupies a huge slab of prime Carlton retail real estate right in the middle of Lygon Court. Huge! The potential is endless. Am I the only one that gets excited by potential store openings (only to be let down by the lame new stores that usually open)?

3. Two words (possibly some of the sweetest in the english language): CLEARANCE SALE!

If you have any information please comment and remember, if Borders should close, you heard it hear first. And if it should remain open… then shut up!

Shanghai Dumpling, Old Town Kopitiam & Orientalism

October 11, 2009 2 comments

One of the greatest things about Melbourne is the abundance of cheap “ethnic” food, especially of the Asian variety. Shanghai Dumpling is an old haunt of mine and I’ve been to Old Town numerous times but the presence of Lainie always somehow makes me want to take pictures of things and blog about them. Guess she has that effect on people.

David & Camy’s Shanghai Dumpling House
25 Tattersalls Lane,
Melbourne, 3000
(03) 9663 8555

Shanghai Dumpling is one of those Melbourne institutions. I have a love/hate relationship with the place. The love is mostly related to the awesomeness and cheapness of their food. We’re talking like $6.50 for a plate of 15 delicious fried pork dumplings and something similar for a big heap of awesome fried noodles. I won’t lie, when I get to know a place well I have my staple dishes which I order all the time. At Shanghai Dumpling it’s always 15 Fried Pork Dumplings and either the Dan Dan Noodle or the Shanghai Fried Noodle.

As for the hate, it largely stems from the clientele. I don’t want to sound like a hater, and I realise that I too am a white man in an Asian restaurant, but some of the Aussies that frequent the place are just so very annoying. Sample conversation: “Omg the dumplings here are so good and cheap and like the service is really shit and the weird Chinese man screams at everyone and they keep playing Celine Dion over and over… it toooootally adds to the character, hahahha, let’s all laugh at the weird Chinese man.” Umm yeah so Orientalist much? It really irks me how Melbournians like to point out odd things about other nationalities and then comment that it “adds to the character” and that it amuses them. There is nothing respectful about turning others into a circus act for your enjoyment, it doesn’t mean that you’re tolerant because you don’t hate them, it means you’re racist. Sorry.

But enough of the rant and onto the food. Shanghai Dumpling is one of those places which I’ve been going to for so long that I always order the same thing. In this case, it’s always a plate of 15 fried pork dumplings and either the dan dan noodle or the shanghai fried noodle. Below you have the aforementioned, fried pork dumplings, your humble blogger believes them to be the best fried pork dumplings in Melbourne (having tried Shanghai Noodle House, Shanghai Village and HuTong), which, for $6.50, is a mighty meal.

Next up we have the Dan-Dan Noodle, the sauce for which is a wonderfully spicy (though I remember it to be spicier somehow but perhaps my tolerance was just not as high as it is nowadays) pork mince with whole chillies and bok choy.

Overall Shanghai Dumpling is still the original and still the best when it comes to dumplings, and the selection of other Northern Chinese food on the menu is still super-delish. Because of the place’s cult favourite status, you will have to deal with annoying clientele, and because of its brusque, rude services and definite lack of hygiene, you will have to deal with a less-than-stellar “dining experience” (unless you think it’s all part of the ‘charm’ and ‘character’ and then write a romanticised book about it), I’ve also heard some horror stories about people being kicked out randomly before receiving their food on account of the kitchen closing, I’ve seen cockroaches there for sure and several of my friends have seen waitresses stealing dumplings off the plate before it’s served (count your dumplings!) So all these stories aside, the place still comes recommended due to the quality and cheapness of their food.

Old Town Kopitiam
195 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9639 6098

The second restaurant I visited with Lainie was the Old Town Kopitiam on Lt. Bourke Street. I’m a bit of a coinnoseur of Sinagporean/Malaysian food (if I do say so myself), on account of the many trips I’ve made to the countries and the amount of meals I’ve had at kopitiams, food courts, restaurants, mamaks and the whole shebang. Trawling around Melbourne looking for good Malaysian food is sort of a pastime, and a rewarding one at that since, due to the diaspora here and the abundance of Malaysian international students, it can fairly easily be found.

I’d been to Old Town before (no idea if there’s any connection to the chain in Malaysia itself) and remember being fairly impressed with their Char Kway Teow. For those not familiar with the humble CKT, it’s a Malaysian classic and the name literally translates to “Fried rice-cake strips”. The dish consists of flat, wide rice-noodles stir-fried over very high heat with light and dark soy sauce, chilli, whole prawns, deshelled cockles, bean sprouts and liberally chopped up Chinese chives. Variations abound, the Penang one, fried in the dark soy sauce, being a mainstay and favourite. It is stir-fried in pork fat, with crisp croutons of pork lard, giving it a characteristically rich taste. My favourites usually appear sans cockles and include fried egg and Chinese sausage (Lap Cheong), fishcakes are also prominent. The Old Town version included all my faves minus the cockles, awesome.

The place was trying to go for the whole old-school Ipoh-style old kopitiam vibe, complete with the cups featuring blue designs, as in Ipoh and the many copycats all over Malaysia. We had the cham, a mixture of coffee & tea, much like the more well-known yuan yang of Hong Kong.

So that’s it from me this post guys. Soon I’ll be posting about Dead Man Espresso and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In the meantime, check out the new google map I’ve created for the Melbourne Zeitgeist, it’ll include all the places I blog about and other cool places that are must-see, must-drink, must-eat, must-try in Melbourne… because you know I have impeccable taste 😛

Outpost

October 5, 2009 1 comment
Outpost
7 Yarra Ln, South Yarra
(03) 9827 8588
outpost[at]stali.com.au

Word around the traps was that St. Ali had opened a new cafe called Outpost on Yarra Lane, the small street off Toorak Road right next to South Yarra station. A friend has an apartment near there so I had noticed before that there was some construction going on, I was hoping for a good cafe, as I always do, but didn’t expect one would eventuate – yet lo & behold, it did… as Lainie and I discovered one warm spring afternoon.

Outpost is literally tiny, it looks like it seats around 10 people on it’s two tables (one inside, one outside) and around another 5-8 if crammed on the barstools around the joint. Obviously it’s going to cater more for nearby corporates who want to get a take-away cuppa (sort of like BBB does).

The decor of the place is pretty cool, at first glance it seems like the usual minimalist, shiny-surface-heavy modern cafe style, all glass and metal, but upon closer inspection, the attention to detail is quite commendable. For example, the colours chosen in this corner, pastel greens and mosaic tiles, potted plants and old wood, give the place a comfortable feel, like you’re in your neighbourhood auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s that beautiful vintage French stove you see there, that stove is just amazing.

Coffee-wise, this being a St. Ali cafe with St. Ali beans, of course it didn’t disappoint. Our coffees were served by 2009 cup tasting champion and fourth-place (I think?) barista Aaron Wood. First up, I had a strong 3/4 latte which was perfect, a nice rosetta being the icing on the cake.

Next up was an espresso which I didn’t photograph, but believe me it was delish, perfect, very well balanced, crema-dominated and loverly. And after that Aaron treated us to some of their cold drip coffee. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how the thing works, all I know is that the coffee is extracted cold and that it works well with coffee that’s a little old (like maybe 14 days since roast). It tasted very different to regular espresso coffee, or siphon even, but not all together unpleasant. Here’s a pic of the contraption.

All in all, full marks on the coffee, the service and the place. I suggest you all go down and check it out.

Victorian Barista Championships

September 29, 2009 2 comments

The final weekend in Melbourne is normally dominated by the AFL Grand Final on Saturday and parade on Sunday. Most people were thus glued to their TVs, in pubs or at the footy itself on Saturday and many turned out for the parade (I assume) on Sunday. Though I like Aussie Rules and if the Bombers had been in involved in the Grand Final (fat chance), things might have been different, but my love of coffee prevailed over any feelings I have for the Cats or Saints and I chose to spend the weekend away from all the footy at the AASCA Victorian Barista Championships held at the Melbourne Showgrounds as part of the Royal Melbourne Show.

First, a note on said Show. Normally when I hear that Australia has an obesity problem, I wonder where it lies. Walking around the leafy inner-northern suburbs, the affluent south and the CBD (the places I generally spend the most time in) you really don’t see many obese people. I discovered where they are however, they are all at the Royal Melbourne Show, jostling for Bertie Beetle showbags and dagwood dogs. Seriously, this many fat people i have never seen all in one place! Rolling along with their fat children, fat spouses, fat hands with fat fingers clutching fat sausages and donuts, dripping in sugar and fat. If this seems like a tirade, it probably is. I hear some people are genetically pre-disposed to obesity, I also am no saint when it comes to healthy eating (or living in general) but sometimes, it really is unhealthy and quite disgusting.

Rant aside, we were mostly safe at the barista champs from the onslaught of the general public at the Show. Not good for AACSA but good for me, I guess. The competition stretched over two days with latte art and cup tasting on the Saturday and the barista competition proper on the Sunday. I missed the latte art, never being a fan of early Saturday morning rises, but witnessed the cup tasting and most of the barista comp on Sunday.

At the cup tasting, each competitor had a formidable set of 24 cups of coffee in front of them (don’t worry they didn’t have to drink them all, merely a spoons-worth from each one that they could spit into a spittoon!). They were in groups of three, with each group having two coffees that are the same and one that was different. The task was to pick the odd one out and they were judged on the number correct as well as the time taken to complete the set.

A flurry of frantic slurping, spitting, raising and shuffling ensued! Pictured below is Luca Costanzo from Coffee Review Australia.

The winner on the day was Aaron Wood from St. Ali with a total of six cups correct in the heat and four in the final (out of 8 in each, yes it is harder than it sounds), with Remy and Hamish (who’s from St. Ali) coming in second and third respectively.

Now onto the main event.

While I did hear a few whispers of things here and there about the quality of the coffee on offer by the venerable baristi participating, I didn’t get to try any, as that was the domain of the judges. I do have some photos I took, having infiltrated the big-lens-equipped, DSLR-wielding photographer pack at the front with my humble point & shoot Canon Ixus.

The structure of the competition involved each barista serving up four cappuccini, four espressi and four signature drinks to the judges (of which there was an imposing panel of six for each candidate, two being dedicated technical judges).

The first competitor, and a personal favourite, was Talor Browne from Seven Seeds/BBB fame. She has got to be the rockstar candidate among baristi, with her brilliant sense of style, coffee plant tattoo and million-dollar smile. Her signature drink was served in a cupcake holder! Her presentation was themed around airplane service, her playing the air hostess and the soundtrack being soft jazz. Is she the coffee-wielding Girl from Ipanema?

The next barista I saw was Jake Sullivan from Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, with his dainty bow-tie and the green-bean-coffee-sack apron addition being a rather nice touch if I do say so. His signature drink was procured from a siphon (which you can see in the background of the pic below) and his proud boss was also in the front row, awww.

Next up we have Ryan from WA’s Five Senses with a Sumatran bean.

Followed by Kris Wood from South Melbourne stalwart St. Ali‘s cohort.

Followed by Caleb from Five Senses

Last up was Josh from Coffee Beat who’s signature drink looked amazing, though I forget what was in it.

In between, we were entertained by Will from Cafenatics in QV who won the Latte Art competition the day before and was randomly pulled from the crowd during a delay… and well his latte art was pretty awesome, including a cup with four rosetti (the one pictured below is the one with bubbles).

After Josh came time for the decision. A brief delay ensued, an issue was raised by the technical judges and they had to get the head World Barista Championships judge on the phone for it to be resolved. But we were soon to know who the top 3 would be! In 3rd we had Talor Browne from Seven Seeds, 2nd was Kris Wood from St. Ali and the winner was Caleb from Five Senses!

I enjoyed writing this blogpost over an espresso and two magics at surely the best cafe in Melbourne, Seven Seeds – how very fitting. If you guys want to see more of my pics from the event, check out the facebook gallery. 🙂

Don’t Ban The Can

September 25, 2009 2 comments

There’s a bunch of stuff I should probably blog about but I’m going to drip through it slowly (if I can be bothered at all, been terribly lazy and there’s still The Zeitgeist Politics and all that). There’s also my very late entrance into the world of Gossip Girl. Yes people, 2 and a bit seasons later, I’ve finally found the time to watch it… and get addicted. Season 1 Ep 5 right now, getting there getting there. Oh yeah and there’s that study thing…. but anyway….

Went to an interesting event the other week, Don’t Ban The Can in Croft Alley. The organisation is basically based around promoting legitimate street art and graffiti and trying to prevent it from being banned or criminalised (or reversing bans & criminalisations where they are). The event went down in Melbourne’s Croft Alley, the rubbish-strewn, smelly alley many people know as home to The Croft Institute.

The event included live painting, tutorials, a DJ, a sausage sizzle, Croft-sponsored Coopers & lots of good times. Here are some happy snaps of some of the artists in action:

The day was awesome but because of all the people milling around and all of the unfinished (partly finished, nearly finished, in the process of being finished) works of art, Lainie & I decided to head back the next day and see how it all looked without the people and the weed smoke in the air. Here’s the product of that excursion:

So the can has not yet been banned, a dark, smelly little alley has been transformed into a dark, colourful, smelly little alley, and after all that, I’m sure that smooth but dangerous surgeon, Doctor Croft is laughing even harder

3 Cool Cafes in Melbourne

April 10, 2009 5 comments

Some of you may be familiar with my previous post about 5 Cool Cafes in Europe. The fact is, I’m a coffee fiend and can think of few better ways to spend my time than lounging around in some cafe reading something interesting, having a good conversation or just chilling.

Melbourne is my home city and it’s a city with a thriving coffee culture parallelled by few cities in the world (few that I’ve been to anyway).  This means that this cafe post will be much more rigorous than the last one which was a bit random and far from exhaustive. Melbourne also has such a wealth of cool cafes that I’ll probably do a follow-up post at a later stage. So first up here goes:

1. Brother Baba Budan

359 Little Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9606 0449

Almost a hole in the wall but big enough for a few counter tops & one communal table at the front, BBB seats around 20 people max. it’s a corporate a favourite with offices nearby but people come from all over the city and surrounding suburbs to enjoy their famous locally roasted coffee. BBB is probably the best coffee in the CBD (Central Business District) if not Melbourne. It’s run by the guys who used to own St. Ali’s (though the relationship between the two is a bit murky for me) in South Melbourne (see post below). Truly an amazing cup, run by friendly and very capable baristas, try ordering the ‘Magic’… that’s an insider’s tip 😉

2. Switchboard

11 & 12 Manchester Unity Arcade
220 Collins St., Melbourne, VIC 3000

Switch really is a hole in the wall, though they do manage to provide good toasted sandwiches along with the coffee machine that takes up half the space in the aforementioned hole. Run by two great guys, Switch has a back alley outdoor area covered from the rain and a cosy little room to sit in also. It’s located in a historic building and is a bit difficult to find (as most of the best places in Melbourne) but the coffee Switch serves up compares only to BBB in terms of quality (as far as cafes in the CBD that is). Oh yeah and the guys at Switch, the bloody lucky bastards, close the place up at 3-4pm most days so get in early if you want some of that goodness!

Photo Credit: 51 Mondays

3. St. Ali

12-18 Yarra Pl
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9686 2990

Located in a small laneway that runs parallel to Clarendon St., in South Melbourne, St. Ali has had an excellent reputation for coffee for quite some years now.  St. Ali was also one of the original cafes to start the explosion of quality micro-roasting here in Melbourne. It’s a pretty big place and, as usual, attracts many of the office works from the surrounding offices (a fact of life in Melbourne is that often to survive as a cafe you need to bring out the corporates… but yet another reason why white collar work in Melbourne has its perks).

Not only is the coffee excellent but they also have a pretty decent food menu and St. Ali is therefore a great place to go to for brunch or lunch, not just for an espresso hit. The cafe also engages in some really interesting coffee-related business, including St. Ali’s customised tampers (for your machine) and a even a coffee project in Nicaragua. You can get more info on everything St. Ali related on their blog, but maybe just dropping by is also a good idea 🙂

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