Thursday 13 June 2024

Van Loons Nursery Cafe, Wallington, Geelong

On the weekend we had lunch at Van Loons Nursery Cafe in the outer east of Geelong.  It was a delicious lunch in the glassed in verandah surrounded by plants both inside and out.  I had a good choice of meals with both vegetarian options on the specials board and a separate plant based menu.  After lunch we enjoyed perusing the plants in the the nursery.

We were glad we booked when we arrived and the person in front of us was told she had to wait for a table.  Our booking was for an indoors table but we were between inside and out in the glassed in verandah.  We were protected from sun and rain overhead and from the winds but there were it was not totally enclosed.  You can see in the above photo that there is a green blanket on the back of chair.  I appreciated placing my blanket over my knees because there were some cool drafts.  I was near one of the stand headers so I was warm up top.

The menu had a note to ask for a plant based menu, which we did.  These days, plant based menus are great, especially for me because I don't like eggs but I sometimes wish for the option of cheese without paying for extras.  The plant based menu gave options for many of the dishes on the main menu without the meat, eggs and dairy: porridge, smashed avo, nourish bowl, vegie burger and paella.  The plant based meals are slightly cheaper but had less proteins.

I ordered the Plant Based Breakfast ($26): Seeded toast, roasted tomato, hash browns, mushrooms, baby spinach, avocado, baked beans, red onion & tomato salsa, tomato relish.  It was a big and beautiful plate.  So much good food!  I feel bad to criticise such a lovely big meal but I have quibbles.  While I am not generally a fan of mock meat, I would have liked some vegie sausages (after I had so many with fry ups in the UK recently).  I found the tomatoes a little under ripe.  The seeded toast was lovely but I would prefer it served on the side so I don't feel obliged to try and cut it with a knife and fork.  (This seems a trend in cafes lately and I must be developing a lot of muscles sawing through the crusts.)  Despite all of this, it was delicious with lots of nice vegies and crisp hash browns, all brought together with the beans. 

Sylvia was pleased with her Potato and Herb Rosti ($27): with poached egg, smashed avocado and goats cheese.  Her plate looks a bit lacking, which I assume is because she asked for it without bacon.  She was pleased to add some vegies from my plate, especially the mushrooms.  There was a vegan version on the Plant Based Menu but it had baby spinach and roasted tomato instead of the bacon, poached egg, and goats cheese.  Sylvia decided that two out of three aint bad!  She raved about how good it was with a crispy unseasoned rosti, lots of avocado and the runny egg yolk all brought together by the wonderful soft salty goats cheese.  I was surprised that hers cost one dollar more than mine. 

The soup on the specials blackboard was called Bread Soup ($20): it had roasted red peppers and tomatoes with croutons, served with toasted ciabatta and herb & garlic butter.  I had a mouthful of the bowl that my parents ordered to share.  It was chunky and full of flavour.

My parents also shared a sweet waffle ($27) with fresh berries, sweet dukkah, maple syrup in a little jug, lemon curd and fresh whipped cream in pretty swirls.  It looked beautiful and was enjoyed.  I didn't taste it but Sylvia sampled the cream and says it was delicious.

We resisted the rocky road hot chocolate on the specials board.  Instead we drank apple juice, kombucha and coffees.

When it was time to pay, I had a look at the indoor space.  It seemed more crowded that the verandah but was cosy with hanging plants and vases of flowers.

Most of the sweet food is inside.  The sweets cabinet had a great variety including cheesecakes, friands, slices, banana bread, roulade, macarons and lemon meringue pie.  Many of these would be part of the high teas.  For those wanting a larger dessert, the specials blackboard offered rocky road waffles.

For those who wanted to take food home, there were local and gourmet groceries to purchase.  You can also see the pile of scones to the right of the above photo.  It would be great to return to have tea and scones because they looked huge and fluffy.

Here is a peek of the outdoors area where meals in the finer weather would be lovely among all the plants.  Despite the sun in the photo, it was not a warm day when we visited.

Once we had eaten our lunch, we had a wander around the nursery.  It is not the cheapest place to buy plants and pots but they are very beautiful to peruse.

Despite it being winter, there were colourful flowers to admire.

There were lots of large pots on sale around this fountain.

Nearby are more pots by a rather impressive wrought iron pergola.

On the other side of herb and vegetables seedlings shed are these purple pots so beautiful arranged in curved rows.

We looked at the native plants, chose a correa for our back yard and headed past the indoor displays.  Inside we found more plants and garden decorations including a bunch of wonderful large metal poppies on sticks.

We were ready to go by now and had very little time to admire the succulents in these cute pots before making out purchases and heading home.  It was quite a trip from home for us so it might be some time before we are able to visit again but I am glad to have been there.

Van Loons Nursery Cafe
405 Grubb Road, Wallington, Geelong
9am – 4:30pm Monday to Friday. 9am – 5pm weekends

Monday 10 June 2024

Old Man Drew: a garden cafe in Ascot Vale

We were delighted to find the creative garden oasis in the city at Old Man in December and last month visited again on a gloriously sunny day.  The food is lovely but all the better for the beautiful surroundings.  The above photo is of the space with umbrellas suspended above a green house.  It would have been a wonderful place to eat but there is a tyranny of choices of amazing spaces.  Each feels lush with greenery, thoughtful with details and a complete delight.

Even the walls are green and the fence is full of greenery.  The garden is so full of life that it can barely be contained by the wrought iron railings.

This ceramic pumpkin is one of the sights to greet us on our first visit.  When we later peeked inside we could see a little fairy in a tiny bed.  The garden is strewn with such adorable details with the presence of wee fairies, and clever hands have crafted something magical out of found objects and historic detritus.  On our second visit, we saw the pumpkin again but the bed had fallen down. Like all gardens, the place is constantly evolving.

In the midst of the garden is a rusty old truck.  It is like discovering a secret garden with an intriguing history.  The plants and tables are arranged around it as it if was always there.  We thought we might sit at this table on our first visit with my parents but decided to move to a more shady space.

Moving meant leaving this cute little insect hotel.  One of the signs says "fly in, fly out".  It is so clever, and thoughtful and beautifully arranged.  Moving also means more discoveries.  It seems like every time we turned a corner we would find something else to delight us.

This was our new more shady, and more distressed, table.  On a warm summer day, all the greenery makes it feel cooling and calming.

I had a Cranberry Spritz ($10.00) of fresh fruit, mint, cranberry juice, and lemonade.  It was lovely and refreshing.  I liked how this spritz was included in the cocktails with non-alcoholic next to it.  Who of us who does not want an alcoholic drink has not read the cocktail list just for fun!  Sylvia had a Soy Iced Coffee, my dad had a Cold Pressed Pink Juice of apple, strawberry, lemon, mint, and pear, and my mum went for a flat white.

I ordered the Avo Toast ($24.00): smashed avocado on toasted sourdough with grilled roma tomato,
asparagus spears, capsicum jam, crumbled feta, dukkah and fresh lemon.  I was pleased that the egg was an optional extra rather than part of the meal because when you don't like egg, it seems to be all over breakfast and lunch menus.  Sylvia loved eggs and had the poached eggs on toast with an edible flower garnish.  My mum had a chicken and brie sandwich and my dad had the Moroccan lamb salad.  We were all very pleased with our meals.

On my second visit, with Sylvia and E, we again started at a small round table and decided to move to a bigger table.  We welcomed the autumnal sunshine as we ordered drinks.  Sylvia had a Summer Peach Iced Tea, E had a Latte, and I had a Cold Pressed Green Juice ($9) with apple, kale, pineapple, cucumber, mint and spinach.  My drink was a lovely combination of sweetness and earthiness.

On my first visit I had been tempted by the OMD Green Fritters.  I didn't resist the fritters on this second visit and ordered the OMD Veggie Fritters $25.00: corn, zucchini, kale, and sweet potato fritters, with
smashed avo, tomato and herb salsa, and house made capsicum jam.  Again I was pleased that the egg was an optional extra.  These were vegetarian and gluten free.  I really loved these fritters, perhaps more than my smashed avo.  E had fried eggs on toast and we ordered a bowl of chips to share.

Sylvia had the Brioche French Toast ($24.00) with berry infused mascarpone, decadent chocolate fudge
sauce, fresh berries and Canadian Maple syrup.  It was indeed indulgent and she loved it.  It is so easy to enjoy a meal in such beautiful surroundings. 

After we finished out meal, we walked through the gardens and buildings, enjoying exploring the spaces.  I wondered at how much work goes into tending all the plants and craft.  There are succulents and flowers and ferns everywhere.  Little fairy nooks are filled with miniature lives.  Colourful toadstools vie for attention among ceramic chooks and frogs.  Brilliant orange fish swim in an old bathtub.  An old trough with a mangle is decorated with mosaic tiles.  Old floral plates are glued around mirrors.  Flowers are made out of old glass plates and cups.  There is no end to the creativity and beauty.

Not only is the garden amazing but there are many wonderful spaces inside the old brick building that was originally a 1868 grocery store servicing miners en route to the goldfields.  It took on different uses over the years and a century after being built, it was purchased by the Drew Family where they ran Vic Drew Used Trucks.  (This explains the old truck in the garden!)  The business remains elsewhere today but the Drew Family have renovated the building as a cafe that is both a memorial to the old days and a beautiful cafe that appeals to instagrammers capturing the zeitgeist.

A glass-ceilinged patio that leads from the garden to the counter.  If you head in to pay, you are most likely to be distracted by so much to see.  Mirrors, statues and draping vines adorn the old brick walls.  There is a balcony here, though we were not quite sure if there is a public space upstairs.

By the counter are displays of food.  Cakes and slices are on display in the refrigerated cabinet.  Did I mention that they also do high teas?  Beside thee fridge are plates of croissants, scones, biscuits, chocolates and more.

An abundance of choice is available around the counter.  When we were there in December, there were lots of Christmas foods, old fashioned Santas and decorations for the tree.  There is plenty of temptation when it is not the season for gifting.  Opposite the counter are shelves of teapots, cups and saucers, jewellery, hanging decorations and all manner of marvels that are all for sale.

In December, as in this photo, the inside dining area was rather full.  It is lovely with old fashioned pictures, a dresser of crockery, an ancient cash register and plants aplenty, including in an old scale.  In May, it was fairly quiet because most of the customers were making the most of the sunshine outside.

On one wall is a little history corner of the Drew family, especially Victor Drew, World War I veteran and founder of the truck business.  Victor, who ran the business with his son Bill, is the eponymous Old Man Drew.  It is worth stopping by to read about him and look over the old photos and documents.

Downstairs is the cellar that would have seen a lot of items come and go from groceries to the drinks from when it was a wine bar. It has what must be the original old stone walls which can be admired from an old couch or a long table with what looks like an old church pew.  It looks like a place for a large family or a group of old friends to gather with glasses of wine raised in a toast, big shared plates of food and much laughter.

By the main dining room is a smaller more private room with another lovely old leather couch and a stag's head over the mantelpiece.  A room for gentlemen and cigars!  Not a place for vegan gatherings!

Then it was back outside to continue exploring the garden.  We admired the upcyling of items such as old nails used as stamens of metal flowers, old purple bottles made into hanging flowers, a bird cage filled with flowers, and tea cups catching the sun on a string of pearls.  There are many places we would like to sit next time and I am sure there are yet many other delights to discover.

Old Man Drew
359-361 Mount Alexander Road
Ascot Vale, VIC, 3032
Open 7 days a week 8am-3pm

Friday 7 June 2024

My Monthly Chronicles - May 2024

I would find it hard to believe it is June if not for feeling the cold so keenly.  No doubt that is made worse with a head cold that I caught from Sylvia.  So May finished with too much time in bed and on the sofa with my cold. I am happy to report that the month was more interesting than that.  May has been busy with eating out at some amazing places and enjoying cycling around local bike tracks.  The above photo is from the Glass Den.

Glass Den, Pentridge in Coburg
When my sister Chris was visiting from Ireland we searched for a local cafe with impressive food and good coffee.  Sylvia chose the Glass Den in the former gatehouse of Pentridge Prison.  The place has changed since it first opened amid excitement about its vegan offering, but it continues to present beautiful, interesting dishes, even if there is no longer quite as much for vegans.  I was pleased Chris loved the Code Black coffee.  Dublin just does not do coffee like Melbourne!

I had the Glass Den Avocado Rose (above photo) with seasonal fruits, beetroot hummus, roasted mixed nuts, kale, lemon and a drizzle of house dressing on charcoal sourdough toast, with a side order of Persian feta.  It was so beautiful though the lychees were odd.  Sylvia upped the ante in pretty food with Bee in the Garden (top photo): little candy bees enjoyed a garden of honeycomb shaped waffles, yuzu custard, dried orange, seasonal fruits, meringue, vanilla ice cream, oreo dirt, honey and edible flowers.  She also had a beautiful blue pea latte.  My mum had a Korean Chicken Waffle Stack and Chris had a Roasted Pumpkin Salad.  We loved our lunch and it was lovely to catch up.

Historic Pentridge Prison
After lunch at the Glass Den we went for a walk around the complex that was formerly Pentridge Prison and still has many impressive bluestone buildings.  The above photo shows the old walls with the new apartment buildings behind it.  Beyond the bars of the gate is the Coburg Children's Centre.  It amuses me that the childcare centre is in a former prison but actually it is a great centre with long waiting lists (or was when Sylvia was younger).  We also had a quick look at the museum in the old Warders Residence.  It is quite small but interesting.  Finally we walked through the imposing Victorian entrance gates and went our separate ways.  

On my to-to list is a Pentridge Prison Tour.  I was looking at details online recently and got into reading about the fascinating and sad history.  One of the most interesting reads was an article on ‘Losing the Plot: Archaeological Investigations of Prisoner Burials at the Old Melbourne Gaol and Pentridge Prison’. 

Merri Cafe at CERES, Brunswick East
We are long time fans of CERES but it seems ages since our last visit.  Sylvia would point out she has been here more recently than me when she had lunch with her grandfather.  The Merri Cafe (Corner of Roberts & Stewart Streets, Brunswick East) is a lovely place to eat good food before heading off to look at the plants and organic groceries and maybe even wander around the environmentally sustainable space.  Sylvia had a kids cheese toastie plus a ginger ninja biscuit.  I had the vegan sausage roll: lentils, potato and sausage rolls.  The place has changed but the food is always delicious and on the healthy side.

Luther's Scoops, Brunswick
We finally had one of the fruit pies at Luthers Scoops on Blyth Street by the corner of Sydney Rd in Brunswick.  They don't sell them until 5pm so it was a late outing there.  We shared an apple crumble pie.  The lovely flaky puff pastry is made in-house.  The apples are locally grown.  We saw one of the growers bringing in a box of them.  Sylvia loved it.  I really liked it but I had hoped for a short crust pastry, which I really like with an apple pie.  We also shared a scoop of their amazing carrot cake ice cream.

Rays Cafe, Brunswick
I met Faye for a Japanese lunch but Ima Asa Yoru was closed.  So we walked down to Victoria Street to Rays (332 Victoria Street, Brunswick).  It was a difficult choice between pumpkin fritters on tofu cream and the mushroom special.  I chose the latter which had fried mushrooms, broccoli and other greens, tofu scramble, two generous sourdough toast.  I also had a pumpkin fritter on the side.  Faye had the burger and chips.  My meal was really filling and delicious, especially once I requested a small bowl of tomato relish.  We shared an amazingly good slice of toasted and buttered banana bread.  Rays menu with ominvore and vegan sections is great, though the names don't have the same fun of the heavy metal bands inspired names.

Torquay beach
Like last month, I had a quick walk along Whites Beach at torquay before a celebratory family meal.  This time my brother Paul came with me.  Although most of my siblings used to love the beach, now there aren't so many of us who want to go there.  But Paul always is up for a swim if he is about.

Watching: Happy Valley, season 3.  I love watching a police or law show but it is not often that you get an insight into life for the the criminal after they goes to prison.  This season of this amazing drama starring Sarah Lancashire and James Norton is as high quality and full of insights as the first two.

Mothers Day high tea
This year we celebrated Mothers Day with my mother at her house.  My sister was still visiting from Ireland and organised a high tea.  We all contributed.  There was plenty to eat that we brought along: finger sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiches, hedgehog, sponge cake, profiteroles, chocolate scones and a wonderful platter of cheese, pretzels, strawberries, grapes and lolly snakes.  Others did flower arranging or helped take photos.  It was the first time I was together with all my six siblings for a long time.

Political Satire: Sammy J farewells the 'Melbourne Airport Choo-Choo' - the project to building a much-needed trainline to the Melbourne Airport has yet again been delayed.  Sammy J's songs are always bound to give a laugh!

Pickles Milkbar, North Carlton
On my most recent In My Kitchen post I shared photos of wonderful sandwiches we ate which were brought home from Pickles Milkbar in 1008 Lygon Street, North Carlton.  The simple decor reminded me of the milkbars I often visited in my youth.  The pie warmer reminded me of having primary school lunch orders from milkbar of either meat pies or pasties.  The idea of a vegan milkbar would never have crossed our mind then.  I bought a pesto swirl from the pie warmer to snack on before riding home with the sandwiches.  It was hot and the sign warned it had cashews in it so I assume that was why the cheese was rich and delicious.

Trust Makers Market, Rippon Lea
We visited the Trust Makers Market in the splendid grounds in front of the historic Rippon Lea House.  It was busy with the Botannica festival being held alongside with plant sales and the CWA selling tea and scones.  Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time there.  We had to go before we got to explore the rest of the gardens and had no time for the queue for coffee or scones.  We did have a look at the stalls.  We were there to see my sister's peanut butter stall.  Her Frankie's peanut butter is really delicious.

Bilbo Snaggins, food truck
We had some good choices in a row of food trucks at Rippon Lea.  We chose Bilbo Snaggins with the slogan "one hotdog to rule them all" .  The name along was too fun to pass by.  We shared a Merry's Middle-Earth Meatless Dog: Meatless Sausage, diced tomato and salsa, sauerkraut and cheese (optional).  The other choices also had Tolkein names: The Fellowship (the lot), Samwise Sauerkraut, Pippin's Pepperoni Pizza Dog, the Sauron-ator Bacon-ator, Jaundolf the Mexican.  We had to wait 15 minutes but the customer service was great.  Sylvia would have liked the bun to be warmed but it was rather good.

A Community Talk: The reason we did not linger at Rippon Lea was that my dad had arranged for me to attend an Open House Melbourne talk on "Rail as civic infrastructure" at RMIT's Storey Hall.  It was quite interesting to hear about plans for Melbourne's new metro rail stations and how architecture could include pleasing community space.  Sylvia ended up joining us rather than heading into the city where the noisy Pro Palestinian marches were being held.

Miyama, Melbourne CBD
After the talk, when the noise of the Pro-Palestinian protests had moved on, we went in search of Sylvia's choice of cafe.  Miyama in on Level 2 of the Melbourne Central shopping centre near the Lonsdale Street side.  It took us a bit of walking to find it.  By that time my dad had to head home for his train (which he just made after encountering the protests again).  Sylvia and I shared a Matcha Swiss Roll.  I had a very refreshing yuzu spritz and Sylvia had a cappuccino.  Unfortunately we were there too late for their savoury menu.

Son in Law, Melbourne CBD
I really needed some savoury food after Miyama.  We were lucky to find be able to eat at Son in Law, on the ground floor of Melbourne Central, near the corner of Elizabeth and LaTrobe Streets.  It does the cutest food.  I had a crispy fried tofu slice, cucumber and tamarind sauce in a bear faced bao.  I asked for it without chopped peanuts so Sylvia could try it.  She had an uber cute Totoro bao stuffed with a nutella and banana filling.  We enjoyed them and the service.

Autumn leaves:
It is that time of the year with the deciduous trees sporting glorious oranges and russets foilage.  I took of this photo of autumn leaves glowing on one of my bike rides late in the afternoon as the setting sun turned them golden.

Reading: My Place by Sally Morgan.  This memoir from the 1980s has become a classic story of an Aboriginal woman seeking information about her family that was splintered by the cruel Stolen Generations practice of taking children from their Aboriginal mothers.

Acai Society, Coburg
We tried out the new Acai Society (605 Sydney Road, Coburg).  I am not really familiar with superfood acai so this was quite new to me.  I had acai soft serve with granola, bananas, strawberries and a nutella topping.  Sylvia's was similar with pistachio topping rather than nutella and no granola (which the staff thought might have peanuts).  It was ok in small quantities but I ended up leaving quite a lot behind.  Sylvia took her leftovers with her but they are still in the freezer.  Maybe it would be more attractive in the middle of summer.

Old Man Drew, Ascot Vale
We were lucky to go to Old Man Drew (359-361 Mount Alexander Road, Ascot Vale) on a gloriously sunny day.  It is a most beautiful cafe with an amazing garden.  We had vegetable fritters, eggs and French toast between us.  After lunch we loved exploring the garden and rooms with all their creative decorations.  I hope to write more about this place soon.

Interesting weblinks:

You're the guy from Tik Tok: Why this Melbourne train announcer is now a worldwide hit in SBS News, 7 December 2023.

Protests are firing up across our unis: as an academic it is a joy to witness: The Age, 9 May 2024.

The kids who can't: a Four Corners special on "school refusal" (video or transcript), ABC 29 April 2024.

Too Old to Run: the drug grannies - episode 1 and 2, podcast on ABC, June 2022.

In publicising Laura Tingle’s ‘counselling’, the ABC risks giving the bullies a victory by Margaret Symons in the Guardian, 1 June 2024.

‘You’re not going to believe what I’ve found’: Inside the fight to free Folbigg by Tim Elliot in The Age - Good Weekend, 18 May 2024.

My Monthly Chronicles 2024 is a companion post to In My Kitchen May 2024.  These two posts aim to catch up on meals, food and random notes both in my kitchen and outside it each month.  I do not have the time to post as much I would like on everything.  Where time permits I will write up some of these meals that deserve more attention than I can give them here.