Top ten on route 112

So my little tram route blogging project is back, with the route 112 tram. And because it’s almost Christmas, I’ve picked some of these with drinking, gift buying and beach holidays in mind. Yes, I am one of those rare grown ups (sort of) that actually adores Christmas and still loves things like wrapping gifts and sending old fashioned Christmas cards. Seriously, whoever invented e-cards is getting coal from me this Christmas. Not that they would care, since I’m assuming they must now be disgustingly rich, and not that I’m condoning the use of dirty coal…

Anyway, back to my top ten for route 112! Here they are:

1. Hopetoun Tea Rooms (282 Collins Street, Melbourne) has all the things required to make it a Melbourne institution: history, delicious but rather overpriced food and a line, always a line. It has been a tea room for well over 100 years, it’s situated just inside the lovely Block Arcade and the cakes are decadent and yet nostalgic – think strawberry sponge cakes, apple strudels and proper scones with jam and cream.

IMG_0043.JPG
Mmmmm decadent yet nostalgic cakes…

2. Lindt Chocolate Cafe (271 Collins Street, Melbourne) is a great option for a sugar hit, especially if you hate the wait for a table at Hopetoun. The ambience isn’t great but the chocolate infused menu is delicious, especially the Lindt chocolate ice cream sundaes. Plus you can pick up some stocking stuffer gifts for chocoholic family members while you’re there.

3. Naked For Satan (285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) and its rooftop bar, Naked in the Sky, are a nice choice for a drink and a catch up just out of the city. The rooftop is pretty glorious on a sunny day, but I personally prefer downstairs, where they serve a great selection of pintxos (little bites, each on a toothpick). It’s $2 a toothpick and you just hold on to your toothpicks, then hand them over and pay up at the end of the night.

4. Vegie Bar (380 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is of course a vegetarian’s mecca but it’s also super popular with anyone wanting a cheap delicious meal made with tonnes of vegetables and creativity. Plus, if you have any other dietaries (gluten, dairy, raw, only-eat-green-things-grown-in-organic-hay diet) you will be well catered for here.

5. N2 Extreme Gelato (329 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy), which I’ve written about before on this blog (here) is not really that ‘extreme’ since Heston and Masterchef made using liquid nitrogen a thing, but the ice cream is very good, with cool off-beat flavours and a busy fun vibe.

6. Swimwear Galore (430 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is a shop that’s been recommended to me many times. Given my pale skin and aversion to water, I actually haven’t ventured in yet, but it does come well recommended by friends if you’re looking for some new poolside outfits on a tight timeframe.

7. Polly Bar (401 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is where you should head after swimwear shopping if, like me, you might want to drown your sorrows and forget the beginnings of cellulite which you are pretty sure you spotted in the change room mirrors. It’s hipster and girly and the cocktails are delicious.

8. Bimbo Deluxe (376 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is where you should then head for a good cheap pizza, to soak up a few of those drinks. It’s another Melbourne institution, but for a more college/university crowd. Little Creatures Dining Hall is another good option for drinks and delicious bar food too, at 222 Brunswick Street (yes, I did just sneak in an extra place on to this list).

9. Zetta Florence (197B Brunswick Street, Fitzroy) is rather more highbrow – a gorgeous shop filled with handmade paper, cards, gift wrapping supplies, stamps, calendars, photo albums and anything else you can think of that’s pretty and paper related.

10. Edinburgh Gardens (Fitzroy North) is a lovely park with all the necessary stuff – toilets, BBQs, tennis courts, big shady established trees. It’s potentially the perfect spot to have a lazy Sunday afternoon picnic during your summer holidays. Plus you could pick up an N2 gelato on the way home…

IMG_0040-1.JPG

Along Those Lines: Route 86

Regular readers of my blog (i.e. my mum, my partner and my mum’s cats) will have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve got a new blogging project in mind, still in very early stages, but that and lots of travel have kept me away from northmelbournelife for a few months.

Given how much travel I have been doing (I wrote most of this blog on my new iPad in Ho Chi Minh City) and plan to do in the next year or two, and the fact that I may not be a North Melbournian for much longer (scary but exciting!), my new blogging project is going to focus on life outside the north side of the Yarra. There’s going to be a lot more travel reviews and probably a lot less baking. But more on that in later posts.

On a recent weekend in Sydney, I had a conversation with a Sydneysider where I bragged about the benefits of the grid layout in Melbourne. But, as they pointed out, it does get messier when you venture beyond Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe streets. How do locals like me divide up Melbourne? Of course, there’s a north side versus south side of the river thing happening, but really, when a suburb, street, restaurant or attraction is mentioned, the way I normally think about it is in terms of which tram line(s) it is located on.

Trams are pretty unique to Melbourne. Other cities, such as Vienna, New Orleans and San Fransisco do have trams, but they’re really a tourist novelty, rather than a legitimate means for locals to commute to work or get around on the weekend. According to Yarra Trams, we have the largest operating tram network in the world, consisting of 1700+ tram stops.

Since I don’t drive, I love the trams and I use them a lot. So I’ve decided to do some blogs with reviews of tram lines. First stop: the route 86 tram from Docklands, through the city, up Smith Street and north to Bundoora.

According to Yarra Trams, ‘attractions’ on this line include Melbourne Assessment Prison, Costco and the Eye and Ear Hospital. Errrrrrrr…well, to be fair, they are on the route 86 line. But for those not needing an ophthalmologist or to visit a relative in remand, here’s my top ten attractions along route 86:

1. Panama Dining Room (Level 3/231 Smith Street in Fitzroy) has a great buzzy feel most nights. There’s a delicious dinner menu (book a table) with items like lemon potato gnocchi with (optional) spanner crab or tarte tatin with Calvados ice-cream, or just go for drinks and enjoy a view through ceiling-to-floor arched windows to the hipsters in the street below.

2. Messina Gelato (237 Smith Street, Fitzroy) because I love gelato and there’s a reason there’s almost always a line at this place. Apparently their white chocolate and salted caramel gelato is their best seller, and it is excellent, but I’d recommend the banana split (caramelly banana goodness with little hits of peanut) or, if it’s on the specials list, their No. 2 gelato, which has a salted caramel base and big chewy chunks of chocolate brownie throughout.

3. Saint Crispin (300 Smith Street, Collingwood) – I had a bit of a fancy girls’ night dinner there recently and it’s very slick with beautifully presented dishes, though maybe a little overpriced (we had the $90 tasting menu) given there’s limited wow factor. The mandarine cheesecake in a jar (it is in hipster-central after all) was very special though and meat lovers will appreciate dishes like the fresh oysters, charcuterie board and Flinders Island lamb.

4. Trippy Taco (234 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) is cheap and fun and a good place to grab a quick Mexican inspired lunch. Obviously they sell tacos, but also have a fairly extensive range of quesadillas, burritos, tamales, nachos and sweets. You order at the counter and are not out of place if you want to just eat on your own at the bar stools which overlook Gertrude Street and Little Smith Street.

5. Books for Cooks (233 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) is what is says on the packet – they sell books for cooks. It’s a cute and inviting little store that looks a little jumbled but actually has an amazing array of cookbooks. They also have an online store, but the shop itself is worth a visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

6. Mud Australia (181 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) sells pretty ceramics in shades and shapes that make you go ‘ooooohh’! I’m always a little scared I’ll break something in the store, but I still love going in. It’s all handmade in Sydney, so if you’re a visitor to Australia, a few carefully wrapped pieces would make a nice gift or souvenir.

7. Builders Arms Hotel (211 Gertrude Street) is the definition of gastro-pub, with the funky, polished floor board bistro serving up sophisticated meals and plenty of beers on tap. For something a bit special, try Moon Under Water, their upstairs dining room.

8. Spring Street Grocer (157 Spring Street, City) – is another great spot for late night gelato, including vegan varieties and a few off-beat combinations. They sell cheese and select groceries there too, during the day. And yes, I’m aware there is a lot of gelato featuring in this list…

9. The Melbourne Supper Club (Level 1/ 161 Spring Street) is one of my favourite post dinner drink spots. It’s all very dignified with chesterfield type couches and wood panelling and a very long wine list. If you ask, they’ll make you almost any cocktail you like. The cheese boards, chocolate coated almonds and other snacks are definitely worth squeezing in, even after a delicious dinner.

10. Movida Aqui (Level 1, 500 Bourke Street) is upstairs, tucked away opposite Pacos Tacos (also great, but the service is sometimes rude…). It’s business-lunch style Spanish – hearty flavours with sexy plating. The potato tortilla with caramelised onion ($5.50) will leave you wishing it came in mains size and while the menu is pretty meat-heavy they can fairly happily accommodate vegetarians.

The Commonwealth Games and Sushi Pandas

Sport. It’s a topic you’ll rarely read about on my blog. People who knew me at school would know I have about as much sporting talent as a sloth…in a straightjacket. And if you’ve stumbled on this blog via some search engine algorithm that looks at the first word in a blog, well, turn back now. Seriously, I don’t know my League from my Union. I don’t know who is at the top of the AFL ladder or the top seed in tennis. I’d only watch the Tour de France for the landscapes and men’s diving for the…ahem, pool vistas?

However, I do love the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. I’m really not sure why. I’m not particularly patriotic. I haven’t even heard of most of the Aussies representing us. But I absolutely love watching the Games. When the Olympics was on I made my partner and me subscribe to Foxtel so I could have nine simultaneous channels of Olympics coverage. At the moment, with the Commonwealth Games on, I find myself up at midnight on a work night, watching something stupid like clay pigeon shooting and literally bawling when an Aussie wins, or even just does well. What the? My only explanation is that I do tend to have a bit of an obsessive personality.

And here’s where I get back to food (and those errant sports readers should click away now). Because my short lived but obsessive love for the Commonwealth Games is well and truly surpassed by my many brief but intense foodie fads. There are plenty of foods that are perennial favourites which I love to eat, always have loved and could eat every day if I allowed myself to, things like: chocolate brownies, gnocchi Napoli, almond croissants, cheese and bikkies, stewed rhubarb, pad thai, fresh mangoes, buttery mashed potato, slow cooked eggplants or apple pie. And then there are the short lived foodie infatuations, some of which I’m a little embarrassed to admit. The stupid, the silly, the over-the-top and the too trendy. They are the late night Pinterest finds, the Masterchef finale dessert challenges, the Kmart kitchen demonstrators’ dreams.

Not a passing fad: I love slow cooked eggplant, especially these heirloom ones grown by my mum.

Not a passing fad: I love slow cooked eggplant, especially these heirloom ones grown by my mum.

My top ten food obsessions which lasted about as long as a Commonwealth Games tournament are:

Truffle oil - I went nuts for this for a while and it’s an expensive habit. I still think truffle oil is great. But on a pizza or mashed potato only, maybe a soup. Not on every single savoury dish. Otherwise everything just ends up tasting the same, and oily.

Square plates - A few years ago I bought two sets of 8 square plates – 8 mains and 8 side plates. At the time, again, I thought they were the sexiest thing ever. Now they just look so 2005. On the upside they do stack very neatly in the dishwasher.

Sushi Pandas - for the uninitiated, this is a ball of sushi rice decorated with black seaweed so that the balls look like baby pandas. No, I’m not kidding. Google ‘panda sushi’ and see for yourself, seriously. I’m not sure I’m entirely over this one, they are just so ridiculously cute!

Making my own fettuccini - it’s super silky but there’s way too much kneading involved, not to mention the rolling through the machine. They never show quite how painstaking it is on Masterchef, especially when it’s for a big group of people. I’m not quite sure why I bothered when I live so close to fresh pasta on Lygon Street and at the Queen Vic markets.

Tempeh – vegetarian restaurant Shakahari does it really well, I do not. I kept buying it and trying to do it well because I’m a vegetarian, which means I should be good at tempeh right? Right? *Cricket sounds and tumbleweed*

Miniature…everything! – It started with miniature cupcakes. Then I decided all desserts should be miniature. That was stupid. No self respecting sugar addict like me should want to downsize her dessert.

Stacking food – I blame earlier series of Masterchef for this. I bought a quite extensive and heavy set of metal food stacking rings a few years ago which I carted home with me from the UK. Now it’s all about the sauce smear and plates that look like gardens and my food stacking rings sit gathering dust in my parent’s kitchen.

Savoury scones - Scones are just better with jam and cream. I got into herb scones. Miniature herb scones with beetroot jam, probably served on a square plate.

Food in jars - I may not quite be over this obessession either, but the love of hipster style food in jars is fading. I’ve done trifle in jars, cheesecake in jars, chocolate mousse in jars, breakfast in a jar…you get the idea.

Rose flavouring - There are limited things that should be flavoured like a rose. I found some beautiful French natural rose flavouring in a fairly big bottle and I purchased it. It got to the point where all my dessert started tasting like grandma deodorant. I think this obsession died when I attempted to make my own Turkish delight (which actually should be rose flavoured) and my mum said it reminded her of playdough.

The gouda, the bad and the ugly: food puns

I love puns and I love food (obviously), so I rate food related puns pretty highly. The wine shop on Errol street often has cute puns on its blackboard outside the store. They had one up a few weeks ago that I’ve heard before but always love: ‘Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to dis-a-brie?’ It’s both funny and true, since many of my sweetest food dreams are made of cheese (baked cheesecake, five cheese pizza and Vue de Monde’s famous cheese cart, I’m looking at you…) Cheese puns are actually my favourite sub-category of food puns. I mean, puns just tend to sound fetta when cheese is involved. People think I’m a bit of a quark anyway, so why not just go totally emmental with the cheese puns? But I should stop milking these terrible cheese puns and move on…

There’s also a roaring trade in Melbourne for restaurants with puns in their names. A couple of my favourite include the successful ‘Lord of the Fries’ chain and veggie heaven ‘Lentil As Anything’, plus there’s the new ‘Jimmy Grant’s’ which apparently is rhyming slang (not technically a pun) for ‘immigrants’. There’s a fairly new cafe at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne called ‘Hunger Game’, which is not a bad little use of the film title and no doubt gets a few smiles out of commuters in the morning, even if their pre-packages sandwiches and soggy croissants look about as appealing as eating spicy food during a severe bout of Bali Belly.

Jimmy Grant's menu board

Jimmy Grant’s menu board

Speaking of Bali…that’s where I’ve been for the past week! Indonesia is technically north of Melbourne, so I feel that a little bragging about my lovely resort holiday on this blog is allowed. And there is a legitimate tie-in to my blog about puns (or should I say Thai-in? No, that just sounds a bit racist and geographically challenged doesn’t it?). Anyway, while on holiday in Bail I spotted a takeaway chicken shop called ‘Chicken Run’, replete with intellectual-property-infringing giant models of the two main characters in the film Chicken Run, Ginger and Rocky. Now maybe the owners of the restaurant simply had not seen the movie. Maybe they didn’t understand it, or were rooting for the cold hearted villain Mrs Tweedy. But to me, it’s a very odd and unfortunate choice of name for a chicken shop. I mean, the film is about chickens escaping from a horrible chicken farm. The heroes are chickens, who narrowly avoid being turned into chicken pies. It is kind of like opening a cafe that served pork belly and calling it ‘Babe’. Or opening a Japanese restaurant that served whale burgers and calling it ‘Free Willy’. Or a dodgy dim sim place and calling it ‘101 Dalmations’ or ‘Aristocats’. Ok, ok you get the point. Maybe it’s just the overly sensitive vegetarian in me, but it just seems very wrong.

Anyway, back to cheesy puns and other names that stink. Deliberately pun-y restaurant names are clearly not limited to Melbourne. There’s been many articles and even books written which record and collect these silly foodie names. A couple of my international favourites which I dug up while googling include: ‘YacDonalds’ (fast food in Nepal), ‘Maquis de Salade’ (salads and more in Budapest), ‘New Cod on the Block’ (fish and chips in the UK), ‘Brew’d Awakening’ (coffee shop in the USA), ‘Amy’s Winehouse’ (a poor taste winery in the UK) and ‘ThaiRiffic’ (several Thai restaurants, including one I’ve eaten at in Sydney). And I can see why restaurants opt for funny names. Perhaps they don’t scream ‘fine dining’ but they’re memorable and worth mentioning, if only for the silly name, to friends. Plus, if the name was actually very funny or clever, I might be more inclined to go in and check out the restaurant. I love restaurants that don’t take themselves too seriously, that have a sense of fun about them or reflect the quirkiness of their owners and I’d probably be much more likely to go into a fish and chip shop called ‘A Salt & Battery’ (in New York) than one called ‘New York Fish and Chips’.

I guess, like in anything you do, you just have to be careful when you’re picking a restaurant name, whether you’re trying to be funny or not. Otherwise you might end up owning a place called ‘Phat Phuc Noodle Bar’ (to be fair it apparently means ‘Happy Buddha’ in Vietnamese) or the ‘KKK’ (chain, or should I say klan, of restaurants in the Philippines), ‘Jee’s Pot’ (in San Fransisco – you know it’s a good spot right?), ‘Butt Sweet House’ (sweet treats in Abu Dhabi) or Melbourne’s own ‘Kum Den’. Yes, I know, I am a child, but seriously, google these things people, or say them aloud a few times before buying a sign!

Fruit and vegetables: they really lettuce make a whole bunch of fruitful puns

Fruit and vegetables: they really lettuce make a whole bunch of fruitful puns

Review: Cafe Court at Emporium

So I resisted, for several weeks, the lure of a new shopping complex. I tried to protect my credit card from the harsh realities of my addiction to shoes. But eventually all that shiny-ness got to me and I just had to check out Emporium, the new deluxe shopping centre wedged between Melbourne Central and Myer in the CBD. There are still a lot of stores ‘coming soon’, but it’s definitely starting to take shape, with a mix of high quality Aussie brands (e.g. Saba, Jac+Jack and Aesop) and new and exciting overseas staples, like Uniqlo.

To go with the deluxe feel, the centre doesn’t have a ‘food court’ but rather a ‘café court’ on level 3. Honestly, it’s just spin, like real estate agents calling a tiny apartment ‘cosy’ or chefs calling a nice sauce a ‘jus’. Emporium doesn’t really have a courtyard full of cafes, but that’s not to say that the offerings there aren’t a cut above your average shopping centre food court. There’s a lot more than a McDonalds and tired looking juice bars. In fact, there’s no McDonalds at all! Yay!

Given I’m likely to be spending a fair amount of time (and money) in Emporium in the coming years, plus its central location in the city, I decided it was worth surveying the food offerings there and reporting back.

There’s quite a few what I’d call ‘traditional’ Melbourne food court staples, like Spud Bar, Guzman Y Gomez and a host of non descript but okay looking Asian noodle/sushi places. There’s also Cafenatics, which is a chain I know well since they had two outlets near my old workplace. The coffee must be decent given its popularity with the often exhausted, caffeine addicted lawyers I used to work with, but the cakes and pastries at the court’s outlet looked pretty pedestrian. It’s very much oversized muffins and over glossed danishes. Personally I’d much rather walk through to Myer (I love that you can do that again after so many years being closed!) and get a cake at the Brunetti’s instore on level 3. My current Brunetti’s favourites include the Royale cake (flourless almond cake, lots of chocolate mousse, biscuit, caramel) and the French Custard Tart (short buttery pastry, smooth custard and juicy cherries).

The new Emporium "café court"

The new Emporium “café court”

Anyway, back to Emporium’s café court – in addition to these recognisable outlets and chains, there’s a few places I’ve never seen or heard of before, like ‘Bing Boy’ which describes itself as ‘urban Asian street food’ and looks quite cool – with wraps cooked on big crepe hotplates filled with things like prawns, smoked salmon or avocado and salad. There’s also ‘Thrive’ which offers super healthy sounding gluten free meals, smoothies and tubs of trail mix. The court’s juice bar – called Top Juice – looks fun and vibrant and more dynamic than the usual juice bar. They’re super popular, with the line to order constantly 3 to 4 people deep. I had a small ‘Happy Juice’ (pear, rockmelon and strawberry) which was delicious and served really well chilled too.

Then there’s a few special places, the Diors and Chanels of the café court, including Jimmy Grants and Earl. Jimmy Grant’s is George Calombaris’ latest venture into Greek-style street food. He’s also got outlets in Fitzroy and at the pop-up site at Rue & Co on Collins Street in the city. The reviews to date for the Jimmy Grants at Emporium have been a bit mixed and underwhelming, but it was popular when I visited. Souvas aren’t really my thing and it felt a bit naughty ordering chips for lunch, so I skipped Jimmy Grants, but will definitely have to try it in future, especially given how much I like Gazi. Earl, like Jimmy Grants, now has a couple of outlets across Melbourne. I think it is a great option for a healthy and tasty lunch. They sell big salads for under $10 that you actually want to eat, including my favourite ‘superfood’ salad, which has broccoli florettes, red quinoa and cranberries in it. There’s plenty of other salads to choose from too, with ingredients like broad beans, red salmon, kipfler potatoes and sumac flavoured veggies. Finally, the last big drawcard in the court is a rather flashy looking burger place called Charlie & Co Burgers. Unsurprisingly, they’re from Sydney originally, but it got good reports from my partner, who knows his burgers!

View of the seating at Emporium

View of the seating at Emporium

Top Juice's delicious looking display cabinet

Top Juice’s delicious looking display cabinet

Earl at Emporium

Earl at Emporium

While not exactly ground-breaking, I think it’s great to see a shopping centre recognise and reflect the city it exists within. Melbournians are foodies. We don’t like eating in dark food courts that smell like grease and we’re spoiled for choice in the city when it comes to tasty lunches and snacks. By attracting higher-end eateries into the centre, shoppers are enticed to stay and shop longer, which is exactly the point, I guess! I’m certainly one such swipe-happy shopper, having splashed out on a new winter coat to go with my lunch and fresh juice.

Top Juice on Urbanspoon

Earl Canteen Emporium on Urbanspoon

Get in line, baby!

Wait free brunch - corn fritters at Garage Espresso in Balaclava

Wait free brunch – corn fritters at Garage Espresso in Balaclava

I have now, finally, emerged from my Easter sugar fuelled coma and am ready to get back to blogging. And as I emerged, eyes blinking from my choco-daze, I ran straight into a 300 people strong queue outside the newly opened H&M store at Melbourne GPO. This was well over a week after the opening and still the line was wrapped around the building and up Elizabeth street. On its opening day the store apparently had 15,000 people through the door. Barriers were erected to manage the lines, bouncers dotted the GPO’s steps and several news channels covered the opening.

I think I’m getting too old to queue. Personally I have no interest in queuing for H&M clothes that look just like Zara and Top Shop and everyone else. But I’m also losing interest in queuing at restaurants. A ten minute wait for a table to get my hashbrowns at Di Bella? Ok fine. Fifteen minutes for the staff to clear a spot at the bar at Gazi? Yeah, ok. But the two hour, stand in a long line at Mamasita or wait for a text from Chin Chin is wearing thin. Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for the latest iPhone or Beiber concert tickets only the crowd looks a little less nerdy or fourteen respectively and all you get at the end is overpriced cabbage salad or deconstructed apple pie. I know restaurants want to be able to turn over tables quickly, I get that they want you to drink at their bar first. I understand why restaurants have a no-bookings policy, but I don’t have to like it.

(Relatively) wait free brunch at Bowery to Williamsburg

(Relatively) wait free brunch at Bowery to Williamsburg

Maybe it’s because we’re spoilt for choice in Melbourne that I feel resentful waiting for a table when so many other good seats are available elsewhere. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and grumpy and don’t like standing in heels for too long. Perhaps it’s because, on my less student-like budget, I eat at nicer places and am therefore not willing to put up with the various looks of patronising sympathy or scathing dismissal you get from waitresses when you ask ‘how long for a table for two?’ on a Friday or Saturday night. I mean, seriously, they are a restaurant, seating and serving people is what they do! Sometimes I feel like Oliver Twist when he stands up and asks for more gruel. I mean, some staff look genuinely offended that you’d even ask, as if suggesting they might have a table free on a busy night is tantamount to crimes against humanity or, worse, a bad urbanspoon rating.

There’s actually queuing psychology and a lot of studies out there on how we react to queues. Humans still tend to follow the herd and, when faced with a choice of two places, one with little to no wait and one with a long queue they will often go with the long queue – choosing safety in numbers essentially. Plus there’s a sort of weird Melbourne pride in queuing for a ridiculous amount of time at a really popular place. Like some endurance athlete, you held out the two hours seventeen minutes that your friends didn’t. You’ve eaten somewhere they haven’t yet. You’re now one of the chosen, or something like that. Plus you can instagram the crap out of the long awaited meal, if you’re not too weak from hunger pains by the time it arrives, that is. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this. I’ve done my time on Mamasita’s steps, I’ve stood outside the club-like Gelato Messina, shivered in a line outside Mamak and have, on occasion, waited an hour for brunch.

Bar seat and yummy Greek dips at Gazi

Bar seat and yummy Greek dips at Gazi

I guess the point is that I think queuing at restaurants is on the demise. At least, I’m hoping so. Touché Hombre has started taking bookings this year. Philippa Sibley has opened a restaurant, Prix Fixe, that you have to buy tickets to ahead of time. The availability and increase in online restaurant review sites and foodie blogs mean you no longer need a queue outside a place to know it’s good or to get a sense of hype. So, personally, I’ll be repenting my queuing sins and only going if I can secure a seat ahead of time…at least until Heston’s restaurant opens in Melbourne next year.

Eatster…I mean Easter.

Koko Black's bunny range

Koko Black’s bunny range

So this month is chocolate month, also known by some as ‘Easter’. Those who read my blog regularly will know that if I could physically manage to eat my own weight in chocolate each day, I probably would. My occasional swearing off chocolate following a depressing bathroom scales reading tends to last hours rather than days, I just can’t go past the stuff. Food wise, therefore, Easter is a much beloved holiday for me, despite my lack of religion.

I actually get a bit spiritual/religious about chocolate, coveting it in shop windows, setting up miniature chocolate ‘shrines’ in my pantry at home or desk drawers at work, referring to it as ‘my precious’ and, well, you get the picture, I’m very into chocolate. This year I thought I’d use my blog as an excuse to do an early scouting trip of all the best chocolate shops in Melbourne, checking out what their Easter offerings are like. So with less than two weeks to go until Easter, for your gift-giving ease and eating pleasure, below is a summary of what is and is not going to make my Easter wish list this year.

Koko Black
I think Koko Black now counts as a Melbourne institution. It’s still my favourite place to go to get boxes of chocolate as gifts (including gifts for myself…) I visited the Royal Arcade store, whose display/offering is almost entirely dedicated to Easter at the moment. To be honest I’m not loving the very bright art deco inspired gift boxes they have gone with this year, but I did get excited about the gorgeous mini ‘quail’ eggs (sugar coated chocolate eggs replete with authentic speckles) and the Surprise Golden Easter egg made from milk and dark chocolate with a salted caramel ‘surprise’ inside. No idea what that surprise is, but I want to find out. It’s like a giant fancy Kinder Surprise! But for $65 I’d want a damn good surprise – it’s definitely not the most post-GFC friendly option for the Easter Bunny’s basket this year.

Koko Black quail eggs - check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black quail eggs – check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black's packaging

Koko Black’s packaging

Haigh’s
I visited Haigh’s in yet another arcade – the Block Arcade. Haigh’s gets the prize for best theming and colour scheme. The entire store was buzzing with shoppers and absolutely jammed with a huge range of Easter stock. The colour palette this year has gone a little retro/hipster – lots of calico, dark brown and blue with polka dots. Gift options include everything from single hollow eggs for under $10 to pre-made Easter hampers for well over $100. Extra points to Haigh’s for promoting the Aussie ‘Bilby’ over the bunny. Apparently a percentage of sales from bilby shaped chocolates goes to the bilby breeding program at Adelaide Zoo too! If you prefer dark chocolate there were a lot of good options, with all their top selling items available in a choice of milk or dark. I also liked the look of their chocolates in the shape of hot cross buns, but my ultimate pick would be the milk chocolate half egg filled with old fashioned freckles for $15.95. Super colourful and what I would want the Big Bunny to bring me at age six or twenty six.

Haigh's display

Haigh’s display

Spot the bilby!

Spot the bilby!

Haigh's freckle eggs

Haigh’s freckle eggs

Lindt
I love Lindt’s store windows year round and Easter is no exception. Their window on Collins Street features a giant gold bunny and big baskets of chocolate perched on top of bright red wooden crates (see – even Lindt has gone a little hipster this year…). To be honest, inside the store most of the Lindt range is a little boring. It’s predominately just gold foil wrapped bunnies of various sizes. There was a large ‘Heavenly Hazelnut’ egg that looked pretty damn good, though I wasn’t so keen on the crazy-bright yellow packaging. Kids get the best deal at Lindt – there’s a fun looking ‘Easter Hunt’ gift pack for $16.50 filled with chocolates in the shape of chickens, bunnies, bugs and bees plus your own basket and set of bunny ears to wear!

Lindt has also introduced a new coconut flavour small filled egg which is awesome. It’s like a posh Bounty Bar, but entirely creamy rather than having any rough coconut texture. I thought the flavour was going to be either sickly sweet or taste really fake, like those biscuits you get filled with coconut essence, but it was neither, it was delicious. I wouldn’t buy a whole box of them as the flavour could get a bit much, but the addition of this flavour to their small egg repertoire is a good one I think.

Lindt's coconut eggs

Lindt’s coconut eggs

Ganache
I popped into Ganache, which is almost next to Lindt on Collins Street. To be honest their large moulded bunnies looked kind of weird and I didn’t like their packaging much. Having said that, they do absolutely beautiful chocolate half eggs filled with their mixed chocolate truffles and filled chocolates. They have a range of sizes from a small egg with just 4 chocolates in it up to eggs the size of your head with 20+ chocolates in them. I know both egg and chocolates are superb because my partner got me one for Easter 2012 and it was a-maz-ing. I think I only shared like one chocolate out of it with him, and it was a coffee flavoured one (’cause I don’t like coffee flavoured anything). Prices are similar to Koko Black, with a half egg filled with six chocolates costing $19.

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Big W
Ok, sometimes I have tacky chocolate tastes, let’s be honest here. Yes, when it is Easter I normally go for quality chocolate gifts over quantity, but sometimes it’s fun to get a novelty life sized chocolate chicken nestled in 70 bright pink chocolate eggs, even if you don’t eat it. Who doesn’t want the official One Direction Easter egg and novelty mug set? Or the official Barbie Easter egg with bonus lip gloss? Both only $8! Seriously though, Big W does have a big selection of fun Easter stuff, plus, classic gold wrapped 100g Lindt bunnies are on sale for $4, which is cheaper than at Lindt itself.

Max Brenner
Max Brenner’s Easter offering was predominately 40g wrapped Easter eggs of several varieties – milk and dark, plus one with praline pieces, one with nuts and one with ‘marbles’ inside, whatever that means. At between $2.50 and $3 each they were very reasonably priced and I did like the kinda-girly bright patterned foil wrapping. However, the rest of their gift options were just pairings of these eggs with their normal stock, like chocolate drinking powder and hug mugs. I am so over hug mugs. And, by the looks of the store that I visited (Melbourne Central), the rest of Melbourne is possibly over hug mugs too? It’s hard to make a call on Max Brenner, good value and still very yummy chocolate, but I felt a definite lack of imagination and energy here.

So that’s my wrap up for Easter. If you haven’t started shopping, you better hop to it! Sorry, I know it’s a terrible pun but I could not resist, much as I can’t resist a good Easter egg…

Eggs at Max Brenner

Eggs at Max Brenner

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding...

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding…