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Friday, 28 March 2014

Le Bon Ton

Collingwood's newest 'it' place is another one hidden in the guts of the suburb. No shiny Smith Street lights for this dark horse.



Le Bon Ton (51 Gipps Street, Collingwood), which takes its name from an old-time New Orleans phrase, laissez les bon temps rouler ('let the good times roll'), is a curiously appealing mixture of the moodily subtle and brightly obvious. Owned by two American brothers, Will and Mick Balleau (old hospitality hands, with their Richmond venture Chingon), and assisted in the kitchen by another two American brothers, Jeremy and Christopher Sutphin (ex-Fog), Le Bon Ton is a venture in Belle Èpoque-era romanticism. The décor is impressive: exposed brick walls, polished cement floors, a bar overlaid and finished with bright copper and wood panelling, ornate touches in upholstery and lighting, and an astro-turfed courtyard with beautifully-strung fairy lights (and she's SOLD!), with the operational smoke pit to one side.




The courtyard and indoor, more casual bar area offer table service by warm and enthusiastic staff - and I must say, I was highly impressed by the service on my first visit, only one week after opening. Water glasses were magically refilled, menu items explained, concessions made for any food not available.



Sadly, my most recent visit, on a Saturday night to the dedicated dining area, was less impressive in terms of service. A "Shortcake Fizz" cocktail ordered by my friend was sent back for its flavour - perhaps it was technically well-made, but it made my friend feel ill - and we were still charged for it. Very surprising, considering the bar is headed up by ex-Black Pearl aficionado, Evan Stanley, who so charmingly introduced himself to me on my first visit. I'm sure he knows his stuff, but this particular drink just didn't go down well. (We did have a lovely non-alcoholic drink, a "Watermelon Hi-ball", which I found pleasing and would happily order again, and apparently there are many other excellent cocktails on offer, plus a full wine list and nine beers on tap.)



Also, we were suddenly asked to pay and clear the table for the next booking, despite having not been attended to in any form for some 40 minutes. Well -- a one-off perhaps. It was a fully-booked Saturday night, after all. Only a few weeks into trading, I have been back to Le Bon Ton three times already, and this was the first inkling I had of anything less than super-impressive.

OYSTERS! This place has oysters. One of its multiple angles is as an oyster bar (the others include absinthe salon, smokehouse, cocktail bar and beer garden), and one day, I had a craving. A couple of friends and I easily smashed two dozen (coming in at a hefty-but-well-worth-it price tag of $84.00) - do try the vinaigrette on offer; it was delicious.

Southern-style buttermilk fried chicken

Texas caviar (black eyed peas) with pico de gallo and tortilla chips

Texas chili cheese fries

Smoked pulled pork shoulder sandwich on brioche 


Another angle: 24-hour licence! That's right folks, you can get your 4am-absinthe fix, or fulfil your pulled pork craving at 11pm, right here on the former Glasshouse/Hell Towers Saloon premises. Food is served til 6am on Friday and Saturdays, and til late on other nights. These Americans genuinely know their stuff: between them, they have ties with Alabama, Texas and New Mexico. Quality beef and pork cuts are smoked for hours (using Australian hard woods), and good god, they are delicious. (Sorry, vegetarians - this one's for the carnivores.) Downside: you do tend to leave this venue stinking like woodfire. Be prepared to wash your clothes the next day. (Hey, I still think it's worth it.)

Spicy fried calamari

Gulf style fried crab cakes


Kitchen sink salad with tequila marinated prawn skewers

Macaroni salad

Slow-cooked something


The house sauces are explained by staff at every sitting and add some massive kick, if that's your thing.



Sides are also punchy; nothing about the food here is half-arsed. Other than oysters and smoked meats, try the crab cakes, blackened fish salad, buttermilk fried chicken, spicy calamari, chili cheese fries, or for dessert -- PIE.

Pecan pie


Remember that scene from When Harry Met Sally, where Billy Crystal makes Meg Ryan pronounce 'pecan pie' in that weird voice? I can't help but think of it every time I eat pecan pie, and when I saw it on Le Bon Ton's menu, I had to try it. Now, I can pretty safely say, I WANT TO HAVE ITS BABIES. Little, caramelised, crumbly-sweet-pastry babies. Apparently the banana cream is awesome too, but if you've read this blog before, then you'll know how I feel about banana.

Apple pie (not banana woohoo)


There has been a crapload of American-style food trends in Melbourne recently. I was just beginning to get over all the re-jigged burgers and tacos, but I think I'll go with the trend for a while longer.

My recommendation? Take a small crowd to Le Bon Ton one weekend afternoon. Enjoy some drinks and oysters in the courtyard, and then share heaps of food, so you can try everything. (Save space for dessert.) Go home drunk and happy, then wash your clothes the next day. Rinse, repeat. Good times.





Le Bon Ton on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Jafflechutes

There are some things you hear of and immediately think, 'Only in Melbourne!'

Jafflechutes are one such thing.

...Jafflechutes, you say? What on earth are jafflechutes?!

Well. Have you heard of jaffles? The toasted sandwiches that you make using an electric sandwich maker that squashes the sandwich's edges together, sculpts it so it kinda looks like a moulded cake, makes the outside all nice and toasty and crusty, and melts the cheese inside, so you end up with a hot, gooey, salty, hand-held piece of deliciousness? Now marry that with a parachute, and you have a jafflechute.





Someone in this world not only had the amazing idea that a toasted sandwich could be thrown out a window attached to a parachute so it would float it down to its recipient, but then they actually put it into action. The someone was actually two people, Adam Grant and David McDonald, and the idea was born from Grant coming home one night having forgotten his keys. They were thrown down to him from the fifth floor, which hurt his hands and sparked a conversation between the two that more things should be delivered by parachute.

Their Facebook page describes Jafflechutes as "Melbourne's first, only and best pop-up float-down toasted sandwich delivery service". That just about sums it up. And it's AWESOME.

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With the inaugural session held on 16 August 2013 (intended as a one-off, but there have been more since), the Jafflechuters are building a small but steadily-growing, loyal following through Facebook and Twitter. It is through these forms of social media that they also let you know when a session is coming up. To my knowledge, there have only been a handful so far, and I was lucky enough to attend the latest one, tonight.

Orders opened at 3pm on Friday afternoon. You go to the Jafflechutes website, select your jaffle type, click through to PayPal where you pre-purchase the jaffle for a very reasonable price (my ham-and-cheese was $6.00), and request a time between the indicated hours. Today, on the Day of Jafflechuting, I received an email letting me know the precise CBD location - this time, Barry Lane, just near the corner of Lonsdale and Queen Streets. (Previous sessions have taken place in Flinders Lane.) I showed up at 6:55pm with some bemused friends in tow, for observation purposes. We found the spot, clearly marked by a big blue X on the ground. Jafflechutes ahoy!

Jafflechute partakers patiently wait in the specified laneway by the X.


Mine was one of the first jaffles to be chuted, and the first one with an orange parachute! (The first few had been blue.) (I know, I know... it's the small things.)

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Apparently the first Jafflechutes session went somewhat awry, with troublesome winds causing many of the 'chutes to land in trees or on awnings. Today, the weather was more amenable to Jafflechuting purposes: sunshine and a balmy 32 degrees, with nary a breeze in sight feel. Nevertheless, the exact floating direction of each Jafflechute could not be strictly enforced, so while most made it successfully to ground level, several did fall hostage to a pesky ledge partway down the side of the building.


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On catching a jaffle, most recipients read the packaging to find it was not theirs, so would shout out the name written on the paper bag to find the jaffle's rightful owner. There was a real sense of community - plus the act of watching the jaffles float down was gleeful in itself. I had such a fun time.

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Some people were lucky enough to catch their own, though.

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Whether they'd caught the jaffle themselves or not, most people were pretty chuffed when theirs arrived.

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The jaffles themselves were pretty good - just your standard home-made jaffle, nothing fancy. I very much enjoyed mine. Hadn't had one in yonks!





I will say, the packaging was very impressive. For homemade parachutes, a lot of work had gone into them! They'd been cut from orange or blue garbage bags, it looked like, or some kind of lightweight plastic sheet. They even had scalloped edges and a hole in the centre, presumably for better airflow.



Then 8 or 10 lengths of clear fishing wire had been taped evenly around the parachute, joined at the other end and attached to a mesh of colourful pipe cleaners, used to envelop the brown paper bag containing the sandwich.




On the bag was the recipient's name, time requested, and type of jaffle, handwritten. Inside the bag was the jaffle, wrapped in alfoil and, thoughtfully, accompanied by a paper napkin.



Considering the work that had gone into making each parachute and jaffle, and all the admin involved (website updates, social media posts, processing payments, filling special requests where possible, etc), I don't think the Jafflechuters would be making much of a profit, if any. It must be a labour of love!

Some of the 'chutes had two separately-wrapped jaffles within the pipe cleaners, presumably to save time or to fill double orders. The girl next to me had ordered two, one for herself and one for her man-friend who, she informed me, couldn't eat cheese - so, yes, they had requested a cheese-less jaffle for him, which the Jafflechuters had kindly provided.

In the process of filming incoming Jafflechutes on my iPhone and trying to get some half-decent footage for a blog post, I actually caught one of the Jafflechutes - well, it practically landed on me.

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No idea if Jan ended up getting their jaffle, but Hayley seemed pretty stoked to get hers.

As we left, the growing crowd was spilling out of the laneway onto Lonsdale Street - probably quite a funny sight if you didn't know what was going on.



At the lights, we bumped into two blokes on drift trikes: funny, low-to-the-ground cycling devices that I had never seen or heard of before. I asked the guys if I could take their picture, as it was the second unusual thing I'd seen that day, and then of course had to direct them back up towards the jaffles for a look-see.



So the end of my day was marked by the sight of drift-trikers buzzing up the hill towards the Jafflechutes. Ah, Melbourne - I love you!





Jafflechutes on Urbanspoon