My Town According To My Tummy

The lovely autumnal month of March 2009 marked the two year anniversary of my move down south to the fair city of Melbourne. In fact, the fifth day of March this year marked the precise day that I said goodbye to my friends and family, enjoyed a last lungful of crisp Canberra air, and then sped through the sky to Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport, trying not to cry into my handbag as I left my home of twenty years for the proverbial 'big smoke'.

Two years on, and I am absolutely in love with Melbourne, and so glad to have settled here. I can wander through the rabbit-warren like laneways of the CBD without fear of getting lost, I've stopped baulking when confused looking tourists ask for directions - map in hand. I've even adapted to the claustrophobic conditions on Melbourne's train network and in fact, during winter, I quite look forward to the snuggly morning train ride from my house just outside of the city into town. I finally feel like Melbourne is my home, and in celebration of that fact I'd like to share with you my three all time favourite culinary delights from around the city.

Pellegrini's Espresso Bar
66 Bourke Street, Melbourne City

My Dad recommended Pellegrini's as a place to go for excellent espresso coffee. He used to lunch here when he lived and worked in Melbourne a few years ago. The place is somewhat of a Melbourne institution. I don't think the decor has changed since it first opened it's doors over fifty years ago. It feels to me like a family kitchen, a place to feel very much at home. Mama Pellegrini always supplies a large hunk of fresh buttered bread with any order of pasta, and sometimes the coffee is free. Just because. I make a beeline for the place when I'm hungry for some homestyle Italian food. Either that or I'm just missing my own Mama...

Shanghai Village
112 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne City

My fellow blog-mistress and I stumbled into Shanghai Village quite by accident one night, with another couple of dear friends. The menu prices were - to us at least - disarmingly cheap, so working under the assumption that the dishes would be small portions, we ordered an embarrassing amount of food.

At Shanghai Village, a plate of 18 steamed vegetarian dumplings will set you back $6.50, and these are more than enough to feed two people if enjoyed with some rice and a beer. Between four of us we ordered about fifty dumplings, fried spring onion pancakes, some sort of sweet pumpkin dish, and two plates of rice. Tara was so embarrassed at the sheer amount of food at the table that she kept piling it onto one central plate in a futile attempt to make us look a little less gluttonous. Needless to say we ate it all. The dumplings at this place are delicious. Also, the walls are bright pink, the chopsticks are orange, and the jasmine tea is free. The staff don't care if you pour from a goon bag at the table, and the food is ridiculously cheap. It is definitely one of my favourite spots to eat, particularly when I don't have much in the bank. Student heaven.

Madame Brussels

59-63 Bourke Street, Melbourne City

Madame Brussels isn't strictly a restaurant, and it's not strictly a bar. It is a self described 'Rather Fancy Terrace and Public House' named after the brothel Madam who used to run her business from the same end of town during the 1880's. Decked out in pretty pinks and greens, and featuring some very sexy bar staff attired in 1950's style tennis uniforms, Madam Brussels makes me feel like a high society lady every time I visit.

Madame Brussels is the place I seek out when in need of light meal with my booze. Cheese platters, home made paté, scones, and some damn tasty sausage rolls are on the menu. The drinks list is impressive, and the cocktails are amazing. I've frequently coloured my cheeks with the chilled pimms and blood orange punch in the summer, and the warm spiced rum that's on offer in the colder months is delicious too. The place is simply adorable, the view from the balcony out towards the Victorian Parliament is gorgeous, and lets not forget... hot bar staff in tennis uniforms. I challenge any lady to resist Madame Brussels' charms.

So there you have it. In a city that boasts an almost ludicrous number of restaurants, bars and cafes, here are my three favourites. The last two years I've spent down here in Melbourne have been punctuated by deligtful little discoveries such as these three spots. They're each worth a visit, they won't break your budget, and yout tastebuds and tummy will not be disappointed.

My Blueberry Boat (muffins)

Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day.

Morning is probably my least favourite time of day. Wake me up in the morning and I have been known to yell, throw things, tell you your mother would be disappointed in you, and later have no memory of the event. Suffice to say I am not a happy lassie before noon. So often it is with confusion and despair that I stare into the fridge of a morning, wanting something delicious but lacking the mental faculties and emotional fortitude to choose.

We once hypothesised a ‘What Should Tara Have for Breakfast’ website, where people could make these decisions for me. I still dream of it longingly.

Fresh, tasty, and easy – these are my breakfast requirements. I love eggs, but breakfast must be quick, otherwise more often than not I will choose a delicious cooked breakfast over a 9am lecture. For the weekday rush, these blueberry muffins are a real treat.

What You Will Need

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
A little bit less than 3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
80 ml milk
80 ml vegetable oil
1 - 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

For the topping:

1 tbsp butter
3 tbs white sugar
2 tbs flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon

What You Will Need to Do

  • Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Line muffin tin with...muffin liners? Patty tins? You know what I mean! I got ten muffins from this batch.
  • Sift flour and baking powder together, mix with sugar.
  • Combine egg and oil in a cup measure, top up with milk to make it one cup (roughly 80 mls).
  • Before you mix wet and dry ingredients, it's time to make your topping. Rub together butter, flour, sugar and cinnamon until crumbly. You might have to tweak the proportions slightly - I always do.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients together - gently. Fold in blueberries. Do *not* over mix - your muffins will be tough! No one likes tough muffins! Unless it's a euphemism for sassy old ladies.
  • Fill the muffin cups, and top with crumbly sugar mix.
  • Place in oven, cook for around 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Enjoy early Monday morning with a strong cup of coffee and the following tracks on the headphones:

Blueberry Boat – The Fiery Furnaces

TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
Animal Collective - The Purple Bottle (one of my favourite songs ever, and perfect for that bus/car/bike ride to work)


Recently, I volunteered my services to this motley crew of designers, and signed myself up for what I'm sure, if required, is going to be a long few days of baking, decorating, and - let's face it - eating, in preparation for a delicious little fundraiser. In an attempt to raise some money in support of the first ever issue of their new publication, the kids over at Meta have determined that perhaps the most effective way of extracting money from their fellow students is by offering them something appetising, affordable, and altogether eye-catching to snack on between lectures, which is why in the coming days, and depending on other generous offers of funding, I may be called upon to bake a helluva lot of cupcakes.

For a few days now I've been bursting with enthusiasm at the idea of spending my evenings elbow deep in chocolate chips and icing sugar, but my enthisiasm changed to concern when the boy turned to me last night and posed the question "So these cupcakes - are they going to taste any good?" I realised I hadn't even decided upon a recipe yet, and in pursuit of an answer to my boyfriend's pointed question, I set about making a trial batch of enticing, sugary little offerings. After all, If I am called upon to provide baked goods for this fundraiser, I aim to be prepared! I'm not a big fan of standard vanilla cupcakes, so I decided upon a chocolate cupcake recipe that took my fancy. It originally appeared in Delicious magazine, and a torn out page bearing the recipe has been sitting in my pantry since 2005 waiting to be tried out. I whipped up a quick dozen and the things were so damned good that I have decided to share the recipe with you all. Immediately. So, without further ado:

The Best Chocolate Cupcakes in the World, or Chocapocalypse.
(Adapted from Delicious magazine, September 2005)

What you will need:

- First and foremost, 450g of good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
- 250ml thickened cream
- 5 eggs
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Just a splash of brandy (optional)

What you will need to do:

- Take a moment to come to terms with just how bad for you this recipe actually is. These things are delicious, and I daresay you will have a hard time stopping at just one, so a quick mental preparation at the outset may save you a horrendous case of the guilts further down the track. These cupcakes are fatty, they are sugary, you are going to put them in your mouth. Ok, now for the fun part.

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius and line your muffin tin with patty pans.

- Place cream and chocolate in a saucepan, and stir over a very low heat until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

- In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar together. The recipe advises that your eggy, sugary mix should "turn pale and double in volume" but as my electric beaters are currently out of action, I just beat them together with a whisk until they went a little fluffy. Things panned out just fine, so the doubling in volume is not necessary. (However, attempting this with a whisk may burn a few calories which - let's face it - can't hurt...)

- Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder, and pour over the cooled chocolate / cream mix. At this point I added a generous splash of brandy, because I like my cupcakes to taste of alcohol fuelled debauchery. (The recipe doesn't call for this alcoholic addition, but I think it adds a richness to the flavour without upping the sweetness.) Stir to combine.

- Divide the mixture between your patty pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, during which time you should probably leave your kitchen, as the cooking smells are so overwhelmingly chocolatey you may resort to snacking on any leftover chocolate bits to quell your cravings, not leaving any room for the cupcakes themselves.

- Once your cupcakes are passing the age old skewer test, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before serving. Enjoy with a strong cup of coffee, and a burgeoning feeling that you don't give a shit how bad for you your cupcakes really are, the prospect of rapid weight gain just isn't bad enough to make you want to miss out on all that chocolate.

The original recipe actually includes a chocolate sauce for serving (100g dark chocolate and 1/3 cup of cream, melted together) but these cupcakes are rich enough as it is, I mean they are more like individual mudcakes, and I don't think smothering them with extra chocolate is really necessary. I served mine dusted with a little icing sugar, and I also iced a couple to see how they'll look, all dressed up and ready for the fundraiser. The icing makes them extremely sweet, but they look lovely, right?

I think it must be some sort of throwback to the children's birthday parties of years past, but I swear I will eat just about anything if it comes with pink icing and sprinkles. I'm already aware that this same strange compulsion applies to my two housemates, and I speculate the reach of this sprinkle-loving phenomenon extends beyond our household too. I mean how can you refuse a foodstuff that's just so damn cute?

And speaking of cute, check out these knitted delights that the boy gave to me as a part of my birthday present:

If you're interested in knitted incarnations of baked goods, and all sorts of other lovely things, check out All their stuff is made in accordance with fair trade practices, not to mention it is all absolutely adoreable.

And finally, something sweet to listen to:

Bandit Queen by Colin Meloy (Live)
Scythian Empires by Andrew Bird
Leaves that are Green by Simon and Garfunkel