In an attempt to test the foundations of my new relationship, I talked my boyfriend into getting in a car and driving around Victoria for a week. I had a plan – to not only familiarise myself with the state I have always lived in, but also to find out if, in fact, someone else in this extraordinary state can dish up a breakfast that rivals the best Melbourne has to offer.
First stop: Ballarat.
This was the first time I had ever had slabs of parmesan cheese served atop of an eggs Florentine. In saying that, I kind of hope it won’t be the last, although I suspect introducing it into my daily diet will gravely reduce my chances of living past 35. If you’re looking for an inspirational place to eat then this isn’t the place, but if you’re keen to feel dwarfed by enormous floor to ceiling windows and polished floorboards that stretch to infinity then head here.
The cafe: Europa
The dish: Eggs Florentine with wilted baby spinach, hollandaise and shaved parmesan on Europa muffins.
The Florentine was a solid choice – eggs were cooked perfectly and the spinach was fresh and vibrant. The hollandaise wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was decent. The Eureka muffins may change your life, although they’re not made of gold, which is what I was expecting. Disappointed.
If you’re up for something that will make you weep, then go the Pide. I didn’t because to me it sounded like it was a bird baked in a pie, but instead it’s a sandwichy thingy with egg, bacon, onion, spinach, cheese, sweet chilli sauce and hollandaise. I guarantee once you’ve tried it you’ll go home straight away and try to recreate it.
The coffee? It didn’t poison me, but I wouldn’t write home about it. Score: 3/5
Second stop: Halls Gap
Now, there are a couple of things people neglect to tell you about Halls Gap and the Grampians in general. One is that most of the cafes and restaurants aren’t open on Sunday or Monday, which was perfect seeing as we got there on a Sunday and were leaving on Tuesday morning…and I was there to do food reviews. Second is that you will eventually kill one of the thirteen million kangaroos that sit on and around the roads (have AAMI on speed dial just in case). It’s near-on impossible not to go toe-to-toe with Skippy in this part of the world. They’re also not up for love-ins, so don’t try to move in for the hug.
The cafe: Live Wire
The dish: Shakshuka
Shakshuka is this odd middle eastern style dish where eggs are poached in a sauce of tomatoes, capsicum, onion and paprika. We’d (as in Australians) would probably consider this a lunch dish, but it is traditionally breakfast food. This one also came with a sausage and a side of labneh (think Greek yoghurt strained until it makes the consistency of a soft goats cheese feta), which made me the happiest girl this side of the Grampians.
This was a beautiful, robust, comforting dish that warmed me from the inside out. The sausage could have been boiled for all I know, and since it rested across a bowlful of food there was no dainty way of eating it. It was probably one of the harder dishes to eat seeing as every element sat in a different place. The egg was overcooked, but you’re in the middle of nowhere and should just be happy there are eggs there at all.
Unfortunately, I left crying after the waitress cleared one plate while the other person was still eating. Urgh! Why? WHY?!
The coffee? Ordered a latte and it came in a mug. Yep, we’re in the country. Score: 3.5/5
Third Stop: Shepparton
Ahhh, Shepparton. Home to roadside parallel parking, SPC Ardmona and the biggest Cheap As Chips known to mankind. It’s a lovely little town which offers quite a bit of cost effective shopping, some pretty trees and a place called ‘Not Just Cupcakes’, which upon closer inspection looked like it sold just cupcakes. But I’m sure it doesn’t. Or it does and it’s a strange reverse advertising campaign.
The cafe: Friars
The dish: Cheesy scramble – scrambled eggs cooked with mozzarella served on multigrain toast, topped with Tasmanian smoked salmon and avocado.
We headed to Friars because it was named after Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood fame. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t know why it’s called Friars. That could be the reason. Or it could be because it’s on Fryers Street. Or because the chefs like to deep fry stuff. Who knows. What I do know is that the cafe is actually a converted church from the 1880s with original stained glass windows, the occasional pew and a lovely little upstairs/balcony dining area. For those of you who aren’t easily impressed, I hope you are now. That’s old. It’s almost as old as Geoffrey Edelsten.
I expected my scramble to be cheesy, but this cheese was from a different planet. It stretched like the animated cheese in a Pizza Hut ad, which was so delightful I wanted to wrap it right around myself. The salmon was beautifully fresh, which was a surprise seeing as we were in Shepparton, and…y’know…no water and all that. It was a pleasure to have avocado that wasn’t like a green rock, but overall this is an incredibly rich dish. It was beautiful, and the servings are huge, but if you’re not keen on decedent breakfasts then bypass this and go for the Breakky Wrap – if only for the relish. It comes with a mini roquette salad that you will consider trading your mum for.
The coffee? Strong but good, and you get a little cookie with it, ace! Score: 4/5
Fourth stop: Rutherglen
I’m not going to lie to you – ended up in Rutherglen after a long day of wine tasting and a complete disinterest in driving any further towards Beechworth. I wouldn’t have chosen this place to stop for a breakfast review, but my laziness got the better of me. And thank God it did.
The cafe: Cafe 140
The dish: Homemade waffle drizzled with caramel sauce and cream ($9.50)
This cafe, although offering a massive outdoor dining area, looks and feels very much like a take away shop or somewhere truck drivers stop off at to buy a pie and keep going.
The waffles came out and looked like something I would cook myself at home when no one was around. Urgh. I was here so may as well eat them. So I did. Then…oh Lord…
You will never EVER find better waffles than this, people! EVAH! I command you to ALL drive to Rutherglen and order waffles at Cafe 140. Go now. Well, finish reading this review first, then tell someone else about it and THEN go.
Unfortunately halfway though devouring the waffles my boyfriend deemed them to be ‘better than sex’, leaving me wondering where I was falling short in our ‘mummy and daddy’ time. Eventually I agreed with him and we settled on the fact that we were both rubbish in the sack.
The coffee: can’t talk, eating waffles.
Next instalment: come with me as I eat my way through Mount Beauty, Bright, Lakes Entrance and Phillip Island. Woo! Coming soon.