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Tokyo au go go

Over the past couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to manage a bunch of overseas food discovery junkets. From Cape Town to Kyoto, Lisbon to Hobart, I’ve sniffed-out some winners. Friends and readers keep on at me about where to go in Tokyo and Hong Kong so I figured it was time for a retrospective.


I was one of those people who never thought they’d be into the big Asian city vibe and when the boyf suggested Tokyo a couple of years back I distinctly remember scrunching up my face and bleating something about crowds, expensivness and rampant consumerism not being my idea of a holiday. I think it took about an hour of arriving in the bright lights of Shibuya to turn that all on its head.

Let me tell you, Japan has just as much cheap-eating as any other Asian city so if you’re on a tight budget don’t let it put you off. It’s just that if you do have a bunch of cash to splash then this is one place that you can do the splashing in serious, world-class, luxe style.

People always ask me why it is that I love Tokyo so much. To me the thing that stands out most is the utter reverence that the Japanese hold for food, tradition, service and quality. Nowhere else in the world is there such a focused attention to detail, subtlety and nuance. Nowhere else in the world have I had my hand held by a local as they led me through a Metro station to find my exit. It’s also about the abundant lush green parks, the leafy back streets of Omotesando, eating grilled chicken gizzard skewers in back alleys under rattling train lines. Oh, and the shopping is incredible.

Here’s a little photo montage to get us going:

Fatty, porky ramen goodness at Jangara Ramen, Harajuku

Shibuya Workers Club

Set lunch at the Shibuya Workers Club

Great coffee at Natural Beat Gelato Bar, Omotesando Hills

View from suite at Shangri-La Hotel, Marunouchi

Tight bar, Shibuya

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

More pics and recommendations to come..

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Tiger Yeah

Easy Tiger

96 Smith Street, Collingwood

Tel: (03) 9417 2373

The Smith/Gertrude precinct has well and truly cemented itself as a serious foodie destination, and here’s yet another reason why. With a kitchen and front-of-house headed up by former Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander crew, Easy Tiger is delivering seriously good, mod-Thai.

Easy Tiger

In the Sydney vs Melbourne debate, it’s no mystery that Melbourne lags lamentably behind its northern cousin when it comes to good Thai food. Why that is, is a question I won’t deign to answer here though it may have something to do with the climate.

When Martin Boetz brought his jazzed up mod-Thai flavours and glam cocktail culture to Melbourne via Longrain a few years back I suspect it may have been  a serious wake-up call to many Melbournians who thought that they had been eating decent Thai food all these years. Easy Tiger appears to have taken some of Longrain’s culinary and stylistic cues but has packaged it all up in a much less brash, more Melbourne aesthetic on the very de jour southern end of Smith Street.

Easy Tiger.

Tucked in alongside neighbours Gigibaba, Boire, Monsieur Truffe and the soon-to-open Josie Bones, Easy Tiger stands out for it’s clean lines and minimal decor. The space is filled with several communal tables and a handful of other regular tables. The pared-back room is highlighted by back-lit wood-lined walls which act as clever storage nooks for brightly coloured glassware, while the large shop-front window offers good people-watching opportunities, should your date begin to bore you.

The menu is made up of around nine smaller items and half a dozen bigger, main course options as well as a small selection of sides. Sharing options include the $65 per head banquet ($60 for the vegetarian) which covers three entrees, two mains, two sides and a dessert – representing good value.

Having just returned from a virtuous week of organic yoga retreat eating, my contentment levels were such that we side-stepped the banquet in favour of a few well-chosen a la carte items.

First up, the Hideaway Bay oysters , freshly shucked (they’d wanna be) with a seaweed dressing. The right amount of chill plus briny juices still intact meant that I was happy.

Hideaway Bay oysters, seaweed dressing, Easy Tiger

Next was the wonderful betel leaves with prawn and fresh coconut. The dressing balances the whole sweet/sour/salty thing to perfection while texturally it’s all about the crunch of the leaf (as wrapping), the almost chewy coconut and the fried shallot bits –  a winner.

Betel leaves with prawn and fresh coconut, Easy Tiger

I just had to try the son-in-law eggs. Fried on the outside, gooey on the inside, slathered in aromatic, spicy love and topped with sweet, fried shallots – awesome.

Son in law egg, Easy Tiger

We followed that with the hot and sour thai beef salad, cherry tomatoes, coriander and fresh lime; chewy-in-a-good-way beef (almost like air-dried bastourma) seriously spicy, seriously addictive.

Thai beef salad, Easy Tiger

The Panaeng curry of pumpkin, baby corn and thai basil was full of earthy, sweet flavours, heady aromas and nutty crunch – delicious.

Panaeng curry, Easy Tiger

Service was attentive, friendly and accommodating and the vibe was suitably relaxed and convivial. Noise levels were a little high, especially if you get lumped on a communal table with a gaggle of middle-aged women (note to self, request a solo table next time). The spacious backyard seating area is a perfect spot for summer dining.

Despite having only been open a short few weeks they’re already doing a very healthy trade which would suggest that the area has been crying out for some inventive, fresh Asian flavours in a stylish, flat-screen- and laminex-free zone.

Opening Hours

Lunch – Fri & Sat from noon

Dinner – Wed-Sun 6pm-late

Price Guide

Entree/small dishes $4 – $15

Large dishes $24 – $30

Desserts $14
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Posted in Collingwood, Outdoor seating, Thai/mod-Thai | 1 Comment

Milking it


120 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Tel. (03) 9380 4062

A new venture by a couple of ex-Rosamond and Mixed Business ladies together with a potentially bleak location opposite the 96 tram terminus seemed like an intriguing combo worth checking out, and indeed Milkwood delivers lots of love in fine Nana-style.




The plentiful treadlies gussied up outside hint of a destination popular with the local vintage girly bike riding set at least. And once inside, Milkwood’s unassumingly cute shop front opens up to a welcoming space with loads of natural light, lofty, barn-like ceilings and more than a few touches of homely, Grandma chic.

Central to the room is a vintage wood-framed display cabinet (below) housing some gorgeously nostalgic treats like big squishy homemade lamingtons, proper strawberry cup cakes and chunky, jam-filled Monte Carlos.


The Nana theme continues with macramé pot-plant holders, vases of sweet peas and gladdies and the kind of service that makes you feel like your best friend just invited you over for lunch.


On my two recent visits I was rendered blissed-out by some lovely, simple, perfectly-realised lunch items. The warm cannellini bean, lemon and rosemary mash on sourdough toast with avocado was pure genius. The dense creaminess of the beans worked a treat with fragrant rosemary, and when lumped on a crunchy piece of good quality sourdough, with just the right amount of lemon juice and seasoning, it was a light lunch made in heaven. I didn’t want it to end. Really good.

Visit number two saw me go for the excellent tuna melt with capers, parsley and red onion. Again, good quality sourdough toast as the base for, this time, a combo of tuna, diced celery, red onion, parsley and capers all blanketed with a grilled cheese top. Lemony, salty, tangy, delicious.

Tuna Melt, Milkwood

Breakfast options include the popular porridge with baked orange blossom rhubarb and toasted macadamia and brown sugar crumble; ricotta pancakes with banana, coconut, vanilla bean syrup and honey yoghurt or the more savoury-leaning lemon thyme mushrooms on ricotta toast, while lunch/brunch offers more melts and toasted baguettes as well as a handful of daily specials like the poached egg with broad bean and pecorino smash.

Coffee comes via Coffee Supreme and is well made. As is the case with Supreme’s lighter roast though, milk-based coffees will always work better with a double-ristretto for a base (i.e. ask for a strong).


Opening Hours

Mon-Fri 7:30am-4:30pm
Sat-Sun 8am-4:30pm

Price Guide

 $4.50 – $14.50.

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Posted in Breakfast, Brunswick, East Brunswick, Casual, Lunch, No Bookings, Outdoor seating | Leave a comment

No Apology Necessary

Miss Jackson

2/19 Grey Street, St. Kilda (enter via Jackson St.)
Tel. (03) 9534 8415

Dodgy Outkast references aside, here’s one very persuasive reason to cross the river for a taste of nouveau St Kilda.

Miss Jackson

I must admit, I’ve totally neglected St Kilda for the best part of the last decade. There’s just something so patently nineties about it all. And yes, the strip-mall, bogano aesthetic also acts a fairly toxic repellent for anyone who ever enjoyed St K when it actually had a fruit shop.

However during a recent, unexpected bayside house-sitting sojourn, I’ve had a chance to reacquaint myself with the sidewalk spittle, the sea breeze and the sleaze all over again and now find myself misting-over with wistful thoughts of retreating south of the river again, thanks to some great little local cafes (and my frigteningly close proximity to Baker D. Chirico’s Fitzroy St. HQ).

Tucked away in Jackson Street, just off seedy Grey Street (nothing’s changed there folks), Miss Jackson is housed in an old red brick 40’s style building. You enter the airy café via an outdoor seating area and once inside, it’s all white walls, army green floors, timber furnishings, high ceilings and exposed bulbs. The large, light-filled space is divided into four smaller areas, all looking out large windows onto Jackson Street with window boxes of bright crimson geraniums sweetening the view.

The menu offers all day breakfast, and a super range of lunch options.

Inspired breakfast offerings include baked vanilla rice custard with earl grey fig compote; mushroom piadina with fontina and thyme; and coconut and hazelnut bread with caramelised pineapple and ricotta. Those nursing $1 pots hangovers might like to wash their breakfast down with a Bellini or the ‘Superstar DJ’ Bloody Mary.

Lunch reads well with such gems as the broad bean, feta and pea tart with fennel and grapefruit salad; warm lentil salad with roasted beetroot, carrots, yoghurt and dukkha; or the feted corned beef sandwich with caramelized cabbage, mustard and cornichons (going back for that one).

On our visit my egg-loving companion had the potato and leek hash with asparagus, smoked trout and a poached egg and I tried the corn fritters with avocado, roasted vine tomatoes and homemade chilli jam (sans bacon), both of which were heartily enjoyed.

Smoked Salmon on Potato & Leek Hash, Miss Jackson

Sweetcorn Fritters, Roasted Vine Tomatoes & Chilli Jam, Miss Jackson

On an earlier visit I tried the creamy bircher muesli with star anise rhubarb and a sprinkling of almond praline (great combo).

Coffee is handled with love here. They’re using Sydney-sourced AllPress beans (a full-bodied blend, a citrussy single origin and a decaf) through a very sexy La Marzocco machine.

Though not completely new (the cafe opened in mid 2009) Miss Jackson is the baby-fresh new face of the St Kilda local café scene. The wanky pretension of old St Kilda has been eschewed in favour of lo-fi interiors, gratis Frankie mags and affably unpretentious staff.  Throw the top-notch food and excellent coffee into the mix and Miss Jackson gets the big thumbs-up.

Opening Hours

Tue-Sun  7 am – 4 pm.

Price Guide

$6 – $15.50.

Posted in Breakfast, Casual, Lunch, Outdoor seating, St Kilda | Leave a comment

Coin Laundry – Get a Load of it

Coin Laundry

61 Armadale Street, Armadale
Tel. (03) 9500 1888

 A journey into this genteel pocket of inner-eastern suburbia uncovers an Omo-fresh new cafe worth crossing town for.

Coin Laundry

At Coin Laundry, any memories of spilt washing powder, wonky dollar coins and old ladies folding their smalls have been banished to make way a much more fitting addition to the fashion-conscious new Armadale.

Having opened in recent months, this one time laundromat located opposite the picturesque Armadale train station has been impressively overhauled to capture the cashed-up, captive local market of suited commuters, ladies with babies and dewy-skinned twenty-somethings.

The breezy, open space is bright and welcoming with loads of natural light and huge windows overlooking tree lined Cheel and Armadale Streets. High ceilings and whitewashed walls add to the feeling of space while the white and pea green tiled bar and huge sculptural wall hanging add interest to the decor. Upon inspecting the sizeable open kitchen, it’s evident that someone’s Daddy has slugged a hefty cash injection into the fit out here, which includes an impressive looking La Marzocco coffee machine.

The menu reads well, with plenty of vibrant touches to add some interest to the usual suspects. Breakfast might be: house toasted granola with spiced berry compote and rosewater labneh; baked bean and fetta cassoulet or house cured ocean trout on potato rosti with poached egg and beetroot relish.


Bircher muesli with toasted coconut and passionfruit

Strong latte at Coin Laundry


Poached egg with potato rosti & roast tomatoes

Coffee is by Allpress. My strong caffe latte was full bodied and the milk was well textured and nicely poured though a touch too hot for my liking.

Bright and confident, Coin Laundry is a refreshing newbie that is worth crossing town for (or making your local). So gather up your $2 coins and tart yourself up (it is Armadale, dahling) – but leave your smalls at home.


Opening Hours

Daily – 7 am – 4:30 pm.

Price Guide

 $6 – $16.50.
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Get a Clieu, people


De Clieu (pic courtesy of










De Clieu

187 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Tel. (03) 9416 4661

Although there has been a visible absence of post-age from the Clance in recent weeks, due to some interplanetary life-upside-down kinda botheration, thankfully this has not had too much of an impact on my eating out.

A recent trip to Sydney and an entree into the 4-day working week mean that I’ve had plenty of exploring to do (more to come on this).

This past week had me scarpering across town in a flash once I learnt of the new addition to Mark (Seven Seeds) Dundon’s quietly expanding empire, De Clieu in Gertrude Street.

Within their first few days of opening it was clear that the long reach of sites like Broadsheet and ThreeThousand know no bounds (where did all these people come from?!) and De Clieu has been afforded an instant, viral thumbs-up and a sizeable ready-made market from their readership. We laughed as Dundon retold details of the competitive blog fever that gripped De Clieu’s opening 24 hours. It was literally a race to the first post – we’re talking dudes on laptops posting live from the cafe on day one – despite Dundon and co still smoothing over opening day hiccups.

The vibe at De Clieu was pleasantly sedate the first day I visited though there was that real sense of ‘sand slipping through my hands’ as I know too well that this place is due to become a heaving frenzy within days. This rare quiet patch gave me a chance to chat with Mark and find out a bit more about his latest venture. “We certainly weren’t planning on opening another place, but we had a great opportunity to come in and to let them (landlords) do a lot of the hard yards for us. It was an enticing offer that we couldn’t refuse”.

Fitzrovians will be proud as punch to have Dundon and co weaving their magic on local turf. The space inhabits what looks to be an old pub (which in my memory was last tenanted by a real estate office), and the corner position takes in both the leafy aspect of residential George Street and the comforting rumble of the Gertrude Street trams. 

Inside it’s all very Six Degrees: polished concrete, warm woods, great lighting and a touch of signature Dundon with an army green canvas flanking the bar. Of course it goes without saying that the coffee here is super-deluxe, with a well curated list of single origins, retail goodies to take home plus a dedicated cupping space. Food is noticeably more produce-driven than at Seeds, so you might find things like locally cured ham and Victorian cheese wodged into your Dench sourdough. There are baguettes filled with duck neck sausage or poached veal and some interesting salad options too. We had the puffy muesli on our visit which was pleasant enough but lacked the satisfying weight of your trad version. One item you’ll probably struggle to source elsewhere was the ‘Let’s Get Going’ combo of Coco Pops with a glass of house-made red cordial and a coffee on side (my delicate sugar intolerant nature might leave that one for the kids, but points to them for bustin’ out something different). 

Get there now, go in ones or twos (it’s small) and avoid weekends.

Opening Hours

Mon – Sat 7am – 5pm

Sun 8am – 4pm.

Price Guide

 Breakfast and lunch items range from $5.50 – $16.50.

Posted in Breakfast, Casual, Fitzroy, Lunch, No Bookings, Top-notch coffee | 7 Comments