Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Colmao Flamenco - Spanish Cooking Class

Voucher for: Learn to Make Paella, Tapas and Churros - Three-Course Spanish Cooking and Dining Experience with a Glass of Sangria
Bought through: Living Social

Colmao Flamenco

Data entry can do your head in sometimes, and my current temp assignment had me driving with the peak hour pack, further adding to the general itchy tension.

I decided against going home today and went straight after work to a cooking class located in Johnston St, Fitzroy, entertaining myself ahead of time with a peppy mocha and the chatty owner of Mauritz's Café, a little opposite Colmao Flamenco (He waved me off with, "Come back soon! Pizza's going to be on the menu!")

Walking in a little ahead of 7pm through the relatively nondescript exterior of this Spanish restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome within - dark woods and retro classic tourist posters, leading to a small stage set up centrally for regular flamenco music nights hosted most Fridays and Saturdays.

A long table was awaiting this evening's cooking class participants and groups flowed in chatting casually in dribs and drabs.

After we had all found a seat, what proceeded next, as suspected, was not exactly the hands-on cooking class I'd imagined (or the voucher had described). This evening was going to be more akin to an instructional viewing for us, the participants, with expert step by step demonstrations that we could taste test as the event went along.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for the inside scoop on how to make a delicious meal, but I think a lot of the people (myself included), were actually hoping to do some actual cooking.

Our chef, Miryam, was very knowledgeable in demonstrating the staples of Spanish cuisine, and we had a student's eye view on the creation of one of our tapas dishes (delicious garlic prawns with baby spinach, pine nuts and raisins); our main (seafood paella); and an accompanying dessert (berry soup - not quite an appetising name, is it?)

My fellow diners happily enjoyed the dishes, and made studied opinions and referential photos on how we could approach cooking these meals in the future. However, I think all of us would have liked to have had a turn of the wooden spoon personally, just to feel as if we had participated in an actual cooking class.

So in full disclosure I really can't say that this voucher satisfied their advertised premise. Nonetheless, it was a fun night and a return visit for a flamenco dinner with show will probably be on the agenda in the future.

Pros: ease to finding the location, though with limited parking options in the area; delicious Spanish food; warm, welcoming atmosphere

Cons: not really a hands on cooking class

Colmao Flamenco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Fritz Gelato - St Kilda

Voucher for: One complimentary GELATO CUP or CONE when another GELATO CUP or CONE of equal or greater value is purchased
Bought through: The Entertainment Book

Fritz Gelato - St Kilda

A summer's night in St Kilda means ice-cream for dessert! After a dinner at Mirka at Torlano, Alister and I headed over the road to the Fritz Gelato storefront I had spotted through our dining window.

Easy casual bench seating out the front, with other fast foodie options either side, you could guess it would be well trafficked during the day and on weekends, though a little quiet when we popped by mid-week.

No matter, the ice-creams we chose (double scoops at half the price!) were delicious, with Alister opting for a lip-puckering Blood Orange and Lemon Lime Bitter combo (which he said could have been a little more tart!); and my own creamy option of Honeycomb with White Chocolate and Raspberry. So yummy!
The honeycomb especially was well mixed throughout the milk chocolate and the two scoops were almost a meal by themselves (though of course, we shared). I don't know how people get through three scoops!

Pros: Impressive milk based, creamy gelato; lots of intriguing taste and flavours
Cons: Citrusy sorbets could have been more tart (according to Alister)

Fritz Gelato on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Joe's Organic Markets

Voucher for: $40 to Spend On Organic Fruit and Vegetables ($19)
Bought through: Living Social

Joe's Organic Market

Organic seems to be the holy grail of the whole foods movement and while I understand the argument for it, many dietitians and nutritionists have been quick to emphasise that Australia overall has some of the best produce in the world. You can be assured of a very good diet without paying a premium price for the "organic" label. 

Still, I was curious as to the difference often touted by gurus on the taste and much mentioned superior quality, so I snapped up this voucher for Joe's Organic Market located not too far from me.

A close drive to Northcote's main shopping drag, Joe's is a delicatessen style store which offers loose dry produce, alternative health foods and a reasonable selection of organic fruit and vegetables.

My voucher was limited to the latter, which was a little disappointing as there were tempting teas displayed, but well within the vendor's proviso. As for the produce on offer... well, let's just say I stuck mainly to the vegetables and various fresh herbs - the fruit looked rather bruised and the bananas especially, quite mottled, with noticeable fruit flies hovering. I know this is probably an indication of their "unspoiled and untreated" ripeness, but it did make me hesitate and decide against them. 

From a taste perspective, there was no epiphany on the superiority of organic versus conventional from this sample.

I was a little impressed that I could eyeball a decent range of items to within my $40 budget, but to be honest, I don't think I'll be returning to this store anytime soon.

Pros: Alternative foods and organic options close to the railway end of Northcote; easy parking
Cons: Overripe fruits, store overall a bit tired looking

Friday, 14 November 2014

Rescape Gardening & Landscaping

Bought through: Living Social
Voucher for: Two hours of professional garden maintenance (Value $100)

Rescape Gardening & Landscaping

I'm lucky enough to live in a home which has lovely front and backyards and I enjoy seeing them on a daily basis - it really is positively soothing and pretty much this side of paradise on a lovely warm day in Melbourne. Unfortunately, no one in my house is that great at gardening or clearing, and apart from the occasional run by Alister with his lawnmower, the grasses just grow and grow and grow... 
Before: Front Yard

This voucher popped up just when Spring was whispering she'd be here soon, and I snapped it up as I knew I would never get around to moving the lawns while the weather was being so changeable (and all that rain just promoted the continued growth!)

After: Back Yard
Booking Mark from Rescape Gardening was a little tricky, after initially answering my call and saying he'd get back to me, I
After: Front Yard
didn't hear a peep for almost two weeks even though I had left a couple of messages and even a detailed text with my voucher code and contact details. I patiently assumed that he would be pretty busy at this time of the year, as a lot of local councils have a big push for their green waste pick up ahead of the start of summer. He finally got back to me and we sorted out a weekday he would pop by and work on the gardens. 

Mimi the mouser
By this stage the grasses were out of control and almost up to my knees - I didn't envy his job - and my housemates and I decided that if he needed the extra time we would pay it. We also requested that he clear a disused compost bin from the backyard - we had recently stopped using it as it seemed to draw mice and rats like flies to honey and while my cat is a decent mouser, I don't think you can expect your pet to play full-time pest control advocate.
Before: Sidewalk
After: Sidewalk

Mark turned up at the time he stated - between 11.00 - 11.30am and had a quick chat to Alister, further clarifying from my texts about what we'd like worked on. Alister mentioned clearing the compost bin and Mark said he could do that and also put weed killer down the side walk pathways for about $35 for both - a reasonable price. 

Alister left to do his own work errands for the day and after a couple of hours, Mark contacted me to see if I would approve an extra hour as there was easily enough work. For an additional $27.50 per hour including GST, I happily gave him the go ahead, and monies were transferred via direct debit.

I was pretty excited to see how the place looked after all that, and was impressed by what Mark had achieved in three hours - I know it would have taken me far longer and made me much grumpier if I had to do it all. The local council provides a red topped green waste bin that is picked up fortnightly and we should be able to get rid of all the excess rubbish within the month. 

Bin removed, but not the compost...
Unfortunately, while Mark did take away the compost bin, I think we were hoping for too much to expect him to take away the compost too! As you can see from the photo, it's looking rather embedded with the shrubbery and I guess this is more of a waste management job. 
Alister suggested we wait till it gets completely dried out from exposure and then break it down into the soil. I guess all those eggshells could encourage earthworms to come stay!

Pros: Turned up at a good time; reasonable prices; good cutback on lawns, shrubbery, and weeds

Cons: Initially hard to contact

Monday, 27 October 2014

Yo-Zen Self Serve Frozen Yogurt - Camberwell

Bought through: Groupon
Voucher for: $20 to Spend on Frozen Yoghurt (bought for $10)

Yo-Zen Self Serve Frozen Yogurt

Such a hot, hot, hot day! Alister had been at a workshop for most of the weekend and with the promise of frozen yogurt, managed to muster just enough energy to join me at Yo-Zen (in fact, I think the mere thought of a frozen treat what what kept him going towards the end of that afternoon!)

With an expansive space that would probably easily accommodate a couple of primary school classes, and gorgeously streamlined design, we were well impressed with the interiors - and that was before we even got to sample the food.

Like sugar crystals falling from the sky, frozen yogurt parlours are threatening to run traditional ice-creameries and gelaterias out of Melbourne town. And while I love them all, there is no doubting yogurt's boast of probiotic goodness seems to be swaying our health-conscious angels into thinking these treats are all good. Well, maybe before you add all those tempting toppings...

But life is all about choices - healthy nuts and fruit + filling muesli and maybe just a touch of cacao nibs = a delicious occasional treat; everything else from the confectionery section... well, that's dessert!

The staffer behind the counter was helpful in explaining my voucher options and relayed a story about why he founded his shop. He has seen the bustling trade at Yo-Chi in St Kilda (yes, that place is standing room only after school pickup) and thought it would be a great idea to bring to Camberwell. If you build it, the sweet-toothed swarms will come.

Can you tell which was mine and which was Alister's? Hint: I'm a chocoholic

Pros: Easy to get to location; lots of space to accommodate large parties; a good variety of topping choices

Cons: None on this visit

Yo-Zen Self Serve Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

Monday, 20 October 2014

Cocco Latte

Bought through: Living Social
Voucher for: High Tea for Two with a Selection of Sweet and Savoury Treats plus Pink Lemonade (Value $79.90)

Cocco Latte

Oh dear, this was definitely not a special occasion high tea. Compared to the wonderful spread I had at The Spot Tea Room in Caulfield, this was a very pale imitation, and one that would give you a red cordial headache to boot.

The location is nice enough, a reasonably expansive cafe located close to the Surrey Hills train station, and the proprietors have made a savvy decision in kitting out a good sized kids play area on site - it's not an IKEA ball park, but it should keep your little ones reasonably happy and occupied while the grown ups enjoy a cafe meal or coffee.

Alister and I were here to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea and were lucky enough to get a quiet interlude when we popped by on the weekend. 

Having booked in advance as requested by the voucher, we had a reserved table waiting by a well lit windowed corner of the cafe. The cafe seemed to unfortunately only have one type of tea (?), an ordinary black, so I decided to ask (and agreed to pay) for a skinny mocha instead as I confess a preference for Earl or Lady Grey tea. I had hoped to have a hot beverage included with this deal, but I understand that this is high tea not high coffee. 

The three-tiered platter arrived and I have to say, we were distinctly underwhelmed. Really, this was worth close to $80? I've seen better serves for less cost in the CBD!

The sandwiches were dull, other savoury appetizers looked to be from a box and not the Cocco Latte kitchens, and the sweet items on offer were so sugary they practically gave me a cavity just looking at them. And I have a sweet tooth - ask anybody! The rainbow sprinkled cake-pop brandishing a musk stick was pretty much inedible (though I can understand little ones might go nuts over its festive colours).

Our pink lemonade was not even store bought - just clear lemonade with food colouring that left a line of red on the inside of the glass - ick. 

What I was probably most disappointed about though, was the scones. 
I LOVE a good scone and it's one of my favourite indulgences for afternoon tea when I catch up with friends. My favourite is currently made to order at The Cup and Mug in Kew, and I love it with lashings of jam and cream (and extra strawberries if they're going!) 
This hard biscuit served up with a rubbery scoop of jam and cream so evaporative I suspect it came from a can is the sorriest scone I've seen in a good while. 
I have eaten better at MacCafe. All in all, the entire high tea was very dissatisfying.

Pros: A bustling location; a decent play area for children; nice interiors; and they let me have my coffee (which was quite nice) as part of the package when I went to pay for it 

Cons: I cannot recommend in any way this very disappointing high tea

Cocco Latte on Urbanspoon

Spatha Fencing

Bought through: Living Social
Voucher for: One ($12) or Five ($49) Fencing Classes - North Melbourne or Albert Park

Spatha Fencing

I've been known to dabble martial arts, but what I really love is the romance of using cool weaponry - the short sticks in Eskrima, a Philippines based fighting style; the clever staff work in Bojutsu; and the thrilling explosiveness of Kendo, an awesome Japanese sword fighting technique. I've also really enjoyed fencing and have been taking classes on and off since university. 

I saw this voucher pop up on Living Social recently and thought, fantastic! I was quite excited about getting a refresher in my foil technique and secretly, just having lots of fun in combat bouts.

I booked in for my first lesson at Spatha's Melbourne location, an expansive training arena at the North Melbourne Football Club where they held practise on Monday nights from 5.30pm onwards. (My class started at 6.30pm). 

The location was open and airy with what looked to be an Olympic grade Laurent-Pagan electrical scoring apparatus. Impressive, most impressive, and just a touch intimidating as I'd never been wired up before.

And it looked like that wasn't going to be happening anytime soon either. 

Truth be told, I'm drawn to fencing from the great cinematic sword fights and am a fan of the renowned Bob Anderson, an English Olympic fencer and beyond par fight choreographer, who had trained everyone from Errol Flynn onwards to Johnny Depp, even working on The Hobbit until his death in 2012. 

I prefer being free of the electrics, but the classes I received on this intro pass still felt a little basic - we were given plastic foils for the first couple - and then the lessons eventually got bogged down into board-written formulae of attack, feint, lunge, parry... 

This may be what the sport on an Olympic level is made up of, but for me it was way too written-technical for this early stage of training.

I've had many classes before, one term was even with a pupil of Bob Anderson's when I lived in London, and I found you best learnt to fight and utilise demonstrated techniques by physically engaging with different combatants, round robin style. Fencing is essentially chess with swords.

The beginners section of this school weren't part of a dedicated class on their own, but more of an adjunct to the main action on the floor. As such, I found we didn't have a consistent instructor who could recognise how we as students individually needed to learn, and best tailor the lessons to our varying skills and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, my excitement with each additional class was a lesson in diminishing returns and I don't think I'll be back anytime soon.

Pros: Some of the techniques were a useful refresher to earlier lessons at previous schools; a good space at North Melbourne for more established fencers

Cons: No discussion on protective clothing (gloves for your sword hand); inconsistency in instructors, who were more other senior fencers than trained teachers; technical homework introduced discouraging to casual learners