Thursday, 19 April 2012

Holidays: A visit to Australia - Lee and Me in Wollongong

I've been lucky enough to be on another visit to Australia, partly work and holidays for my boyfriend and all holidays for me!  April is the tail-end of summer in Oz and we've been fortunate to get some beautiful weather and catch up with some lovely friends.  I love the cafe culture and there's plenty of  I've always loved Australian food too - there's a freshness which is similar to the west coast of the USA with unexpected colourful additions like beetroot and avocado which really make the dish.  We travelled around a little bit and I actually found something close to my perfect cafe in Wollongong, a small beach town about an hour from Sydney.  Lee and Me is part vintage/clothing shop, part cafe and just really bloody cool.  They have outdoor seating and balcony seating too which was perfect for our sunny days there.  The serving staff kinda looked like laidback hipster kids but were super friendly and really attentive to everyone there.  We were seriously impressed!  Everything on the menu sounded amazing and we had to come back again, just so I could try more of their food.  I'd have happily gone there exclusively for our whole visit if a) it would have looked a bit weird and b) eating out at cafes all the time in Australia would be blindingly expensive.  Yes, the only downside to our Aussie trip was that it can be expensive - the Aussie dollar is riding high and their boom means that prices have increased quite a lot.  But everything on the Lee and Me menu was under $20 so it was such a great find. 

I decided to get the fritters with smoked salmon and avocado, served with poached eggs on my first visit - made with sweetcorn, ricotta, asparagus and parmesan, it was a healthy hangover recovery type of meal (we had quite a few hangovers on our holiday).  These were delicious, with a pancake like texture from the ricotta and a fresh crunch from the asparagus and sweetcorn.  With the poached eggs and smoked salmon, it was the perfect brunch.  My boyfriend decided to get stuck right in there and ordered the wagyu beef burger served with chips.  As much as I loved the fritters, I had Extreme Food Jealousy - this burger was amazing.  A good sized meat patty with bacon, swiss cheese, roast tomato beetroot relish and spinach with aioli and barbecue sauce, I knew it was good as my boyfriend started making Harry Met Sally style noises in between bites - "Ohhhh this is amazing... so good... ahhh that's tasty" etc etc.  He was kind enough to let me try some and it was really one of the best burgers I've ever had.  I demolished the fritters in record time (did I mention we were hungover?) and as he predictably couldn't finish off the burger I was able to swoop in and finish off the last third of it.  Mmmmm so good! 

On our second visit, our friend Sarah Scarlett came along and after hearing me rave on so much about it, ordered the burger as well (most likely to shut me up), and lo, another Lee and Me convert was born.  I was very close to having a second go with it too but had been dreaming of another sandwich on the menu - fried buttermilk chicken with sweetcorn salsa, avocado and aioli.  It was a tough decision between this and the pumpkin, polenta and pistachio salad but I think I chose wisely (the chips the sandwich came with was probably the deciding point in its favour).  The fried chicken was made fresh with the sweetcorn salsa and was deliciously moist and crispy.  My boyfriend had the 5 spice pork belly, with caramelised pineapple, Asian slaw, lime, coriander and cabbage on soft noodles with Chinese barbecue sauce.  It was a real visual treat of colours on a large serving plate and combined big flavours with tender pieces of pork belly.  

There's a daily selection of cakes and these are served with a dollop of creme fraiche.  I had a flourless chocolate and espresso cake which was essentially a giant slab of rich coffee flavoured dark gooey chocolate and Sarah had the chocolate pot, a delicately light melty mess of chocolate.  Both of these were fabulous (see the Sarah Scarlett thumb up of approval below), and one of the great things about the cafe is you can just sit back, relax and chat away so you can work up to appreciating some cake.  I love this style of cafe and am going to start appreciating them more in Edinburgh - first stop when I get back is Stag Espresso