Hidden away in Armadale’s backstreets lies a very small cafe which goes by the name of Sardine. I can not tell you for certain, but I do believe that the name was employed because of the size of the premises. Let me be the first to tell you not to be fooled by the size of this fine establishment, because this lil’ fish really packs quite a punch.
You can locate this little treasure by following the dated King’s Arcade walkway off High Street or alternatively via Morey Street which can be accessed via both Kooyong and High Street. If you need further directions, get a friendly local to point you in the direction of Armadale train station which is located but a stone’s throw away from Sardine.
With a mere 24 seating capacity divided equally in and out, you can decide if you would prefer to watch train commuters go back and forth to the station or discuss recipes, movies or restaurants with the likable staff running this fish. At the helm is Piers Beilby, a fine specimen that has had food and cafes running in his blood for as long as he can remember. He is the eldest son of Melly Beilby, who many locals know as the creator and owner of Prahran institution Spoonful. Sardine is the third venture from the Spoonful empire and has a strong focus on premium ingredients and fresh food.
As you enter, it is hard to miss the beautiful display of sweets, with the majority baked on board the mother ship at Spoonfull and others carefully sourced from local bakers and cake specialists. Most of the sugary delights change all the time, which is great for me as I will always have a different treat with my morning coffee. FYI the chocolate spotted brioche (top plate) are heavenly.
From left, we have a soy cappuccino ($3.80) and a skinny latte ($3.50). The highly skilled barista works her magic behind a two group Wega . Using beans sourced from Genovese’s signature house blend, the coffees here are superb. They have not gone down the trendy road of investing an arm and a leg into a Synesso, or sourcing Tahiti single origin beans (yet!). The crew here have decided they will take the traditional approach of good, consistent coffee with no fancy bells or whistles. They are doing an excellent job!
Chipotle baked beans, with Tarago fetta, and a fried egg ($15.00). This dish is one of Sardine’s most popular. From my recollection it has been on the menu since this shop opened over two years ago. Although the menu regularly changes I agree with Beilby, that the customer favourites need to stay on. This breakfast option is always beautifully presented, and that egg on top of the serving dish looks so good it almost looks fake. The beans weren’t as firey as I would like – rather they were at a mild spice level. The little bits of toast work well as dipping spoons. Mix the Meredith goat’s cheese cubes as they melt on the warm beans - a great option.
5 grain porridge with baked rhubarb ($10.00). For all the porridge fans out there you will love this. It is made to order and can be prepared with milk, water or soy – xxcellent customer service I must say. The porridge is thick and generously portioned. Add the extra grains of goodness and you have a super breakfast. The slivered almonds and the sweet rhubarb make for nice toppings. Further, ask for the maple syrup on the side and drizzle to your heart’s desire.
Breakfast set – consists of a boiled egg, toast with raspberry jam and a side of rhubarb and Meredith yoghurt in rosewater syrup ($12.50). What an interesting combination of sweet and savory for breakky. Neverthless, customers are enjoying it and we did too. We described it as being similar to a breakfast buffet plate, ” you take a little of this and a little of that and make that combo you dream of”. This option allows you to have the best of both worlds. Two pieces of toast meant one for egg and one for jam. The sweet rhubarb was a delicious top off to the meal. Highly recommended for the undecided.
Scrambled eggs ($9.50), with avocado ($3.50) and chorizo ($4.00). Sardine offers scrambled, fried and boiled eggs. Yes, you read correct, they do not offer poached eggs. You can breathe again, it is ok. You do not have to order them each time you order eggs. Scrambled are the bomb! The Sardine scrambled are light, bright and fluffy and totally scrumptious. Add half an avocado (generous) and a pile of fat-juicy-succulent pieces of freshly prepared chorizo and you’re in a very special place.
The lunch menu starts from around 12:00pm. Daily changing soups, tarts and baguettes are available along side a range of seasonally changing dishes. The green bean salad with goat’s cheese and marinated artichokes is a ridiculously good chomming choice. If you have had it before, you know what I’m talkin’ about!
We live in such a fast paced world with less and less time to stop and take in the moment and occasionally unwind. It is too often I visit some of the A-lister cafes and restaurants that we are all aware of. They are so damn crowded and loud. What was thought to be a pleasant experience can be rushed, stressful and tense. Hidden away from all that chaos is Sardine Cafe in Armadale. A spot where you can sit, chill and sip your coffee while you read the Daily Bugle in a very pleasant and relaxing location. Not to mention, you never get pushed to leave your table. The combination of years of experience and fresh premium produce blended into each dish coming out of the tiny kitchen is amazing. Sardine is one of The Chommery’s favourite cafes in Melbourne. Find this little fish and see for yourself.
The Important Details…
Cuisine: Cafe fare
Noise: Gentle background music and locals chatting
Suitable for: All – kid friendly
Dress: As you desire
Price: $15 – $20 per head
My View: An excellent cafe in the backstreets of Armadale
Address: 15 Morey Street, Armadale
Phone: (03) 9500 9444
Sozai is one of many on my restaurant repertoire list. Thankfully, I put suburbs next to names of eateries to make the decision making process even faster. A cold night in Melbourne, I can take comfort in going to one of my old favourites, ensuring I will have a good meal. It’s also not too far away from the nest either.
The electric blue neon ‘Sushi (fish) Sozai’ sign at the top of the window will be the beacon of light letting you know you have arrived at your destination. Pleasant exterior with wooden paneling, a very typical Japanese style. A few tables out front, only really used to eat in the summer. In the winter they’re just used for a quick hit of nicotine during a meal by some patrons.
As you hope for when you go out for Japanese food – a clean, sleek fit out in which you feel very comfortable to dine. This snap was taken when Sozai was emptying out. An hour back or so, around 7:00pm, take-aways run in and out continually while the place is packed with sit-in diners. I have been known from time to time to take advantage of the efficient take away service.
Stock standard bowl of miso soup ($3.50). This is a great way to start any Japanese meal (unless you burn your mouth). In the winter, there are not too many nicer pleasures than cupping your hands around a hot dish and slowly warming up the ol’ body with small gulps at a time.
I can never stop myself from ordering this appetiser. Once they arrive and I have my first heavily salted bean, I can not stop eating them. The edamame beans ($7.00) at Sozai are served warmed with large sodium crystals dispersed throughout. I recommend these as a delightful snack to share with up to 4 people before your meal. Warning – these are addictive.
The gyoza – pan fried home-made pork and vegetable dumpling (6 for $8.50). Small parcels of minced fillings in a very delicate Japanese type dumpling wrapper. These work well to share between 3 or 4. They aren’t award winning Xiao Long Bao – just tasty, lightly fried mouthfuls. Dip them in the sauce provided for extra flavour.
Nasuden – lightly fried eggplant with miso glaze ($8.00). Love it, and order it every time I see it on the menu. On this particular occasion, you may notice the closer portion was slightly overcooked. It still tasted ridiculously good. The delicious miso paste, combined with the moist warmed eggplant is heavenly. Nice to share between three people.
Ebi tempura – prawns and vegetables deep fried in Japanese batter ($12.50). I always like to think that tempura batter is a far healthier alternative to the regular bread crumb/beer batter – I think I want to go on keeping this belief. The prawns are the best on the dish by far. The vegetables are only there to say hello with no real added value. A light soy based dipping sauce is provided too. I often let the napkin soak some of the residual oil from the tempura for a good 5 second before I pick it out and chom it in two mouthfuls (max).
If you want an insider’s tip for Sozai that you may use on your own, it is ‘ask for the Nasuden nigiri’ ($3.00 per piece). They are the seaweed wrapped eggplant sushi. Using the same eggplant displayed earlier, only finely cubed sitting on a bed of Japanese rice. Need I say more – order, order, order. Two per person is perfect. The entree sushi platter – 4 pieces maki + 4 pieces nigiri ($13.00) was put on the same dish. Good use of space if I say so myself. Excellent, fresh pieces of sushi. Flawless every-time. Unfortunately, this is the extent of sushi for this meal.
Chicken thigh fillet with teriyaki sauce with steamed vegetables ($21.00). I’ll admit this photo does not look too appetising. To be honest with my loyal readers, the taste is not great either. I have a brother with a condition that does not allow him to eat fish products, thus we often order the chicken teriyaki for him. It’s very edible, but most definitely not Chommery Approved.
The unagi don – sizzling smoked eel with steamed rice and thin omelette ($20.00) is a dish that many may not see on a regular basis. Besides eating this dish time and time again at Sozai, I have only one other fond memory of eels. When my brother and I were young children visiting the Botanical Gardens in South Yarra, we would run to the edge of the lake and our caring father would hold us back while we tried to catch one of the eels in the water. We were not so lucky. This could be Mr Sozai’s source. Roughly 5 soft, sweet, succulent pieces of eel sit pretty with a Japanese egg and sliced peas. We commonly put this in the middle and share between three. No more spiel, just try some eel.
Sozai is not out of this world, heart stopping, fine dining, three chef hat winning cuisine in Melbourne. Alongside Hibari on Malvern Road, it is one of my local go-to Japanese joints. The following reasons are why I keep going back to Sozai, and why I feel you may enjoy yourself too:
- The produce is fresh
- The interior is wooden and warm, not to mention clean
- The sushi is excellent
- You can often get in if you don’t have a booking
- The prices are very competitive
- It’s open seven nights a week (very rare for Japanese restaurants)
- The overall food standard makes me smile
- Reliability, convenience and taste are all checked
The Important Details…
Noise: Fair amount of chatter floating aorund
Bookings: Yes – wise to do so
Suitable for: Young and old
Dress: Casual – smart casual
Price: $30-$35 p.p. (very reasonable)
My View: Consistently pleasing
Address: 1221 High Street, Armadale
Phone: (03) 9824 8200