Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Workers Club, Fitzroy

Where: Cnr Brunswick St and Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Victoria

When: 26.04.12; occasionally in 2010.


Rating: 4/5

The Workers Club is one of many fantastic live music venues in Fitzroy that also happens to serve food. It brings back fond memories for us, since it is where we first discovered Rekorderlig strawberry and lime cider, which has sustained us though many hot, sticky afternoons since. However, we have only eaten there twice, and I don't remember the first time very well. I vaguely remember having some delicious pasta dish, and we both have fond memories of their crinkle-cut chips with aioli. Last week, we decided that we were long overdue to eat at the Workers Club again.

We arrived just as it had begun to rain, and managed to secure one of the last remaining tables in the front bar. We decided to order one main and one side to share between us, given that the serving sizes of pub food are usually likely to leave you feeling somewhat bloated. We placed our order and sat down to enjoy a jug of Bulmer's pear cider - slightly more interesting than the apple variety. They normally have Dirty Granny apple cider on tap, but on this night they were unfortunately out of stock.

Our food arrived more quickly than we expected, which can sometimes indicate somewhat mediocre food quality, but in this case, we needn't have worried.

Manchego cheese quesadilla, $7
This quesadilla was a substantial size, and we ended up glad that we didn't opt for a second starter! The braised kidney beans were cooked very well, and I quickly forgot that I was eating something without any meat in it. The cheese was delicious but a little on the sparse side - a touch more and this would have been perfect. The dish did have a few jalapeño peppers dotted around, but I steered clear of these and left them to Ax, who has much more of a palate for spice than I!

Grilled saganaki burger, $16
This reasonably-priced burger certainly delivered. It was absolutely brimming with saganaki - any more and I probably would have dehydrated from the salt, but the cucumber and tzatziki balanced out the salty cheese perfectly. It was served with a generous helping of the crinkle-cut chips that we remembered so fondly, and they were just as good as we'd remembered - crispy and salty.

We were very satisfied after sharing these two dishes between us, and the burger/cheese craving we had been harbouring for the last few days was certainly quenched. For a couple of carnivores like us, we were somewhat astonished that we'd just eaten a dinner containing absolutely no meat, but with food of this quality, we really didn't miss it. I am very keen to come back and try the wagyu beef burger ($16), and of course, the free-range chicken parma ($21). Very interested to see if it lives up to its price tag.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Northcote Social Club, Northcote

Where: 301 High St, Northcote, Victoria

When: Most Mondays since June 2011; occasionally beforehand.


Rating: 4.5/5

Most of our reviews will be written individually, but for our first review, we are both going to take turns to discuss one of our most regular haunts. Normally, we will have photos, but we actually don't have any on hand from the NSC. We wanted to get the blog up and running though and there is nowhere more fitting for our first review than the NSC, so you'll have to use your imagination for this review. We'll post some pictures in May.

The Axver Version

I don't remember the first time I ate at the Northcote Social Club (NSC); the first time I ever went there was on 12 November 2009 to see Dimmer perform in the bandroom, but I didn't eat on that occasion. At any rate, we became regulars at the NSC when they began "Monday Night Mass" - three free bands, $15 chicken parmigianas, and $12 jugs of Carlton. Yes, the $12 jugs only applies to Carlton, which is a pain if you're cider drinkers like us. But the $15 parma? Yes PLEASE.

In our time going to the NSC, we've eaten our way through much of the menu and we never hesitate to take visitors there for a good feed (and hopefully a good band). So here are my thoughts on some of the menu highlights. The menu does go through small changes; they've never significantly overhauled it in our time there, and some dishes (the parma!) will never go anywhere, but they tinker at the edges regularly so don't come crying if something's gone - it's probably been replaced by something else good anyway. It sadly looks like the shaved jamon is gone, for instance.


Garlic bread ($5): Delicious, pulls apart wonderfully, and with a good but not excessive quantity of garlic.

Beer battered onion rings ($8): Love on first sight. They are large, they are REAL ONION RINGS (not some of that processed onion ring shite), and the romesco dipping sauce is delectable. They can get a bit greasy and over-bearing by the end, but they make a very good side for any main. I recommend you put them on your parma. Seriously.

Patatas bravas ($9): The NSC has a mild Spanish theme going on, and this is one of the highlights. These crispy potato cubes are similar to potato wedges, and although I would generally prefer good wedges, these are a delight too. $9 looks pricey, but if you're not a big eater, the serve is large enough to fill you up quite happily.


Chicken parmigiana ($22, or Mondays $15): The parma is a fucking star. This is our benchmark for parmas. It is not the best parma on earth, but it does everything a parma should do, and it does it well. Basically, I expect my parmas to match up to the NSC; if a place doesn't at least get within the NSC ballpark, I won't be going back there for another parma, while if they do a better parma than the NSC, then I am suitably delighted and will recommend it to anyone. So what of the NSC's benchmark, then? It's a very large chicken breast, good quality, well-crumbed, rarely any nude schitznel at all, generously topped, plenty of chips, and the salad is satisfactory. We usually split it between the two of us. When I think "god, I'd love a parma", the NSC's parma is what I think of.

Burgers - beef and 'roo ($19): Until March 2012, the burgers used to be a bit cheaper and a bit bigger. That might sound like a bad thing. It's not. They have upgraded their burgers to the most wonderfully succulent beef patties, the sort of tender beef that just falls apart in your mouth, and they've added another option - a 'roo burger. It's very well cooked 'roo too, tender and thoroughly enjoyable. I normally recommend 'roo over beef, but in this case, I actually recommend the beef burger because of the quality of the beef and the fact it comes with bacon. Both burgers are now in very tasty Turkish buns rather than bog standard buns. So although the size is slightly smaller, the quality's gone up and the price is worth it. Plus, unless you're gargantuan and need a Yank-sized serve to feel full, you can now polish off the whole burger and sides without feeling bloated.


Sticky date cake ($8): I don't normally like dates, but I love sticky date pudding, so the moment this was added to the menu, we had to have it. The moment it was placed in front of me, I was in love. This is a really, really good sticky date pudding - it's a generous slice of cake, enough to share between two if you've had a filling parma for dinner. The butterscotch sauce is rich, they give you a reasonable amount of ice cream on the side, and it's not overly sweet. It goes down extremely well after a parma or a burger ... if you have room.

The Charlotte Version

When I first moved to Melbourne, I was relatively (okay, completely) inexperienced when it came to pub grub. In New Zealand, for instance, the idea of a parma is pretty much unknown. Pub staples are more likely to be a good old steak or fish and chips. Anyway, all that aside, I only ever went to pubs when I was already much too drunk to appreciate the food. These days I eat first.

The Northcote Social Club is easily the Melbourne pub I've eaten at the most, and for good reason. The atmosphere is awesome, there's usually good music playing, and one of the bartenders sometimes gives us cheap drinks. And the food just happens to be excellent. Here are a few of my favourites:


Beer battered onion rings ($8): I am a sucker for all things greasy and salty, and these onion rings fit my criteria perfectly. The batter is light and crunchy, filled with fat slices of real onion. The romesco sauce tops things off nicely. Easily the best onion rings I've ever had.

Patatas bravas ($9): Delicious crispy potato cubes akin to wedges. The serving is large and it can get a bit overbearing by the end, so I would recommend sharing, but they are a very filling snack.


Chicken parma ($22, or $15 on Mondays): A straight-up good parma. The chicken is of good quality and the crumb is always nice and crispy without being burnt. The napoli to cheese ratio is just right, and no ingredient ever overpowers another. The salad is simple but good, much better than the token lettuce leaf you get at some pubs.

Fish and chips ($22): Northcote's fish and chips is absolutely divine. The batter on the fish is perfect, light and crispy, and the fish is always nice. The house-made tartare complements the fish very well, and the chips are crisp and salty. The serve is massive though, so make sure you're hungry!

Specials: I think the specials are definitely worth mentioning. They change from day to day, and some amazing things have popped up. A few weeks ago, I had a spaghetti dish with three different kinds of mushroom. It was absolutely delicious. The mushrooms had more flavour than I ever thought they could have, and combined with the light tomato and olive oil sauce to give the dish a wonderful subtle array of flavours. We have also had an incredible starter special, consisting of three kinds of cheese crumbed, fried and spiced with paprika. It was divine, and we think it should become a menu staple!


Churros ($8): If I can ever fit dessert in, the churros are an excellent choice. The serve is just right - any more and the sweetness would be overpowering, at least for me and my total lack of sweet tooth. The chocolate sauce is delicious, with just a touch of bitterness that complements the cinnamon sugar on the churros nicely. Perfect to share if you can't manage a sticky date cake!


Another food blog. Another food blog written by Melburnians. Yes, yes. Like every other person silly enough to start such a blog in an already over-crowded food blogosphere, we too think that we come at things from a different enough angle to make this worthwhile.  So, what is our angle? We figure that if you're going to write a food blog, you should be upfront about your attitudes towards food, and we also want to take this chance to outline our interests and approaches.

This blog has two authors - Axver ("Ax") and Charlotte. We live through our stomaches, and this blog serves to chronicle our food adventures. We kind of just got tired of many of our favourite places not getting due recognition. We'd like to be dedicated enough to start a blog focused on one particular food or drink, such as the wonderful work done over on Parma Daze to find the perfect chicken parmigiana, but we don't have the budget or time to do that, let alone a suitably rigorous exercise routine to avoid looking like a parma afterwards (or a bakery, or a pizza, or whatever).

Rather, this is meant to be a catalogue of all the wonderful - and perhaps not so wonderful - places we've been to throughout Melbourne and further afield. It will mainly focus on pubs, cafes, bakeries, wine, cider, and any other little outlet or alcohol that catches our eye. We don't tend to go to restaurants that often; when you live in a city with pub food as good as Melbourne, you can spend your entire life just trying to find the most outstanding pub meal. When we go out for lunch, we tend to go to cafes; when we go out for dinner, we tend to go to pubs (especially since we are often eating before a concert). Plus, why pay restaurant prices when Melbourne's cafes and pubs are so good and already quite expensive enough?

The blog's name deserves some attention. "This Taste Delight" is the final track on the 1988 album Hail by Straitjacket Fits. It's a truly great album by a truly great band from Dunedin, New Zealand, one of the leading lights of Flying Nun Records, the single best record label to ever grace this planet. In case this hasn't tipped you off, when we aren't living our lives through our stomaches, we're living them through our ears and our instruments.

Consequently, this blog - unlike our efforts on Mow Your Lawn! - uses as its rating scale the same system I use over on Rate Your Music. It is as follows:

5/5: New Zealand All Blacks (i.e. truly exceptional, world class on every level, and rarely beaten)
4.5/5: Great
4/5: Rather good (anywhere from here on up is worth going out of your way to try)
3.5/5: Good
3/5: Decent (anywhere from here on up is worth visiting at least once if you're in the area)
2.5/5: Mediocre (hit and miss; anywhere below this is not worth your time)
2/5: Poor
1.5/5: Bad, but there's worse
1/5: Rubbish
0.5/5: Fuckin' Wallabies (i.e. insufferable on every level and you just want to watch them squirm)

Since this blog allows us flexibility not present on RYM, we may use more precise intermediate ratings in 0.25 increments. We will not get more precise than that. Our ratings are not meant to be some sort of fixed-in-stone authority either, just an indicative figure, and we tend to be generous people. If you're the sort of hard-to-please person looking for scathing criticism, this may not be the blog for you ... though you may enjoy Mow Your Lawn's wrath against shoddy architectural eyesores!

So, a little bit about ourselves:

I grew up in a seaside town outside Wellington, New Zealand, where food in the 1990s had changed little since post-WWII restrictions. Seriously, if you are ever on the Kapiti Coast, go to Fisherman's Table in Paekakariki to see how Kiwis ate in the 1950s-70s; it remains a true historical experience. I was at least lucky enough to grow up in a family of cooks and bakers; my mother is an exceptional cake decorator. Then I lived in Queensland for a while, in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, the latter in particular being the sort of place where finding good food is a real effort. So many chain shops, so few people who can make a good hot chocolate. Brisbane, of course, has gone and developed a decent culinary culture since I left for Melbourne. Ever since I've lived in Melbourne, my stomach has led me on many of my best adventures.

I have a particular fondness for Italian food (no wonder I liked Melbourne from the moment I first saw it), baked goods, and quality pub grub. Apart from having a band room with a quality sound system, there is no higher purpose for a pub than producing an exceptional parma. I despise coffee; however, I am on a mission to find the perfect hot chocolate. I have a number of missions-to-find-the-perfect-X, actually: hot chocolates, parmas, milkshakes, berry smoothies, ciders, cheeses, and lemon tarts. I refuse to acknowledge broccoli as a source of sustinence, I am in general suspicious of any orange vegetable, and thanks to a couple of allergies, you won't find me eating anything involving fish or most nuts.

One of the things I want to do with this blog is simply say whether something tastes good and if it's value for money. I don't indulge in food or drink wank. I have a foot in both camps here; my father is a winemaker, so I can speak the wine wank lingo and it's useful amongst wine connoisseurs, but I'm also well aware of just how ridiculous and meaningless it sounds to anybody who doesn't share the same passion. I have always thought writing should be accessible, with as little jargon as possible, and since this blog is not aimed at wine connoisseurs, I will not be waxing lyrical about how the earthy, agricultural aromas and subtle tannins of the wine complemented the texture of the ... you get the idea.

I should also add that we will never eat in any pub with a TAB or other gambling facilities attached. That's not so much due to any philosophical disagreement with gambling, just that places like that always have too many creepy old men and no-hopers shuffling about. It's depressing. Plus as a music enthusiast it's profoundly annoying that band rooms throughout Melbourne have been closed and replaced with pokies. I don't think I should waste my money supporting any pub that promotes pokies instead of live music.

I was born in England, and lived there for five years in a town called Coleford, which I believe is still stuck somewhere around 1950. Coleford's one concession to fine cuisine was an exceptionally good fish and chip shop. In 1997, I moved to Auckland, New Zealand - specifically the North Shore. Although the quality of food around there was a vast improvement on Coleford, we were not quite rich enough to sample everything the Shore offered to us. As a consequence of this, I spent most of my formative years eating at home. Thankfully, my parents are quite adept at cooking. For the first six or so years of my life, my mum made a point of finding me something new to eat each time she went grocery shopping. Early on, I discovered that I despised pawpaw, but quite enjoyed passionfruit, for instance. My parents pretty made made a point of not allowing processed food in the house, and so I have no truck with the horrors of processed cheese or pasta sauce from a jar.

I have always loved going out for meals, since this was always quite a special occasion for me as a child. When I go out to eat, I challenge myself to find things that I can't easily make at home. Most of the time, I find that ordering something that I make frequently at home - lasagne, for instance - generally proves disappointing, since I usually end up just thinking "I can do this so much better". When I moved to Melbourne in 2010, a whole new culinary world was opened up to me. I mean sure, I had my local haunts in New Zealand, some of which I still can't find satisfactory equivalents of in Melbourne. But the prospect of being able to find somewhere new to eat each day that is still within walking distance of where I live really excites me. As a result of going out to each so much more, I think I have become more discerning in my tastes over the last couple of years. But this doesn't mean I'm going to wank over food - I'm dreadful at trying to sound classy. I'm not.

Unlike Ax, I most definitely do not have a sweet tooth. I am savoury all over. It is very rare that I order a dessert; normally I opt for an entrée and a main rather than a main and dessert. Of course, if I'm feeling particularly piggish, I will order all three. I will normally make an exception for a really good sticky date pudding. I'm a sucker for all things involving cheese, bacon and wine - preferably all in the same meal. I love my wines and ciders, and will sometimes even be placated with a particularly good beer. Also unlike Ax, I LOVE coffee. But my main non-alcoholic beverage always has and always will be tea. I'm sure you'll hear me go on and on about this in future.

The atmosphere of my chosen eating/drinking establishment is very important to me. I could be eating the best meal in the world, but being surrounded by sleazy old men in a gaming room really does not appeal to me. A pub with a TAB is pretty much off limits to me. All I really need is a nice beer garden, interesting décor and the anticipation of an awesome meal. The rest will flow.