Miss Muesli in the Sticks: Wimmera Round-Up

For the last month or so I have been living the country life in Horsham, Australia’s tidiest town in 2001. Things really are pretty tidy for me here; I’m living next to my place of work and when I’m not working everything I need is a mere brisk walk away – the gym, the cinema, fried pumpkin cakes at the local fish and chip shop. The sky is tidy too, it is so refreshing to look up at night and be greeted by the Milky Way, wave hello to Orion and chuckle at the Moon. Yep, that old Moon is quite the joker; he keeps me from going stir-crazy while I’m away from Baby Chino and the rest of my life. Ahem.

Anyway, to fully experience life out on the frontier, I have endeavoured to visit some cafes and bravely order the muesli. What follows is my account of the state of Wimmera cereal in 2015.

Café Jas – 37 Robert’s Place, Horsham

 Café Jas is convenient because it is right opposite Coles, a locale that I visit almost daily due to not being disciplined enough to plan to have enough food when I need it. It is deceptively large inside, with a clean, simple dining décor and almost no pretensions. I say almost none, because there is a stock of T2 products at one end that looks suspiciously upmarket, and gives the place not quite an air of sophistication. So what I’m saying is by Horsham standards Café Jas is a bit pretentious. It is accordingly expensive, and table service is not included in that bill, which I shouldn’t complain about but it sure makes ordering stressful. Only joking, ordering is never stressful when you know you want:

The muesli, please.

Here is what that was quite literally translated into:

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Simple fare. No, there were not any fruit hiding under those oats unless you count a few tiny sultana afterthoughts. There were more oats hiding under those oats, some bran for good measure and the obligatory raw nut for crunch. The beige-ness of this meal was startling, there is something to be said for a touch of brown cinnamon, a dash of pink strawberry or green kiwi fruit. The yoghurt was a thick, creamy vanilla which suited the plain muesli well. I would recommend this muesli if you are in the days following a bout of gastroenteritis, and are starting to get sick of buttered toast.

Cafe Jas on Urbanspoon

Natimuk Café – Natimuk

I must admit the visit to this dear little shop along the main street of Natimuk, a tiny town about 20 minutes out of Horsham, was a blur as my night-shift addled brain was screaming for sleep on an impossibly bright and cheery morning. I refrained from screaming in person and was thus able to join waking society and sit for a pleasant breakfast with my colleagues, who at that time were also creatures of the night. Natimuk Café is colourful and eclectic. The computer used to take orders is embedded in a large rock, there are postcards and drawing adorning the walls, as well as corrugated iron in parts. Shelves stacked with nick-nacks are seemingly everywhere and are illuminated by light streaming in from the large front windows. It is a homely institution and the staff are warm and friendly.

Although I had been eating dinner at 5am for the past few days, I thought I’d treat myself and still give the muesli a try:

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Like the muesli of Café Jas, this was quite a plain breakfast with little in the way of garnish or spice. However the Natimuk muesli wins over by virtue of a sliced banana and natural yoghurt mixed with honey on the side. I suppose the bar wasn’t set particularly high, but it also had small slivers of desiccated coconut and prisms of dried fruit so that excited me. There wasn’t much to this muesli, but it tasted fresh and contained some actual fruit so it was the best I had had so far. If you do find yourself in Natimuk, bypass the muesli and grab a big slice of one of their cakes and use it as energy to go on to climb Mt Arapilies (or as a reward for doing so).

Natimuk Cafe on Urbanspoon

Chic Pea – Pysnet Street, Horsham 

You can take the strong, independent woman out of Melbourne but you cannot take the expectation for quaint, homely chic out of the said empowered adult. Basically, Chic Pea is as close to home as it gets; light timber furnishings, water in glass vessels of various shapes and sizes, pastel walls and even a wall papered with simulated raw bricks. There are various locally made jams, chutneys and preserves for sale, and the staff wear a uniform of jeans, casual shoes and country-cool. Like Melbourne, men with beards are frequently spotted lining up for coffee; unlike Melbourne this hair alights the ruddy faces of farmers, whose hands are large and calloused, and whose utes are muddy and filled with tools and whatever else people use to run farms – border collies?

I unashamedly love Chic Pea, and have been known to visit twice in one day, and five times one particular week. The problem is that muesli is not a fixture here! They did, for some reason, make it especially for Mother’s Day which I scoped out when I dropped in, motherless, to grab a coffee. Luckily, Lady Grey came to visit the day after and I eagerly asked after the muesli I saw on display the day before. The staff said they had some left over and, no doubt seeing the look of desperation and longing in my eyes, humoured me:

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Serving it in a jar – why, oh why? This level of impracticality, however only endeared Chic Pea to me further as really going for it in terms of trying to create a hip café vibe, in a place where no such vibe previously existed. This breakfast was packed with juice-soaked oats, bran and puffed rice which created a solid cereal vehicle for cranberries, plump sultanas and pepitas. Finally, fruit, glorious fruit! The strawberries and kiwi fruit quickly disappeared to reveal pear nestled cosily amongst the oats. Alongside this was something that Lady Grey told me was candied citrus peel. Maybe it’s a rural thing, but the peel was just too peely so after a few chews I daintily spit it aside. Apart from the inedible faux-pas, the Chic Pea Mother’s Day muesli leftovers were the best I have had in my two months away from home.

Cafe Chick Pea on Urbanspoon

Comfort Inn – Firebrace Street, Horsham

I have spent an inordinate amount of time at the Comfort Inn during my stay in Horsham. I visited there two consecutive weekends, the first with Lady Grey who I suspect booked a room with two beds to enable me to stay with her so she could hear my night-time “snuffling”. That would be cute, however she also remarked I managed to form the shape of a double-decker bus under the covers. Not a single-decker, but a double one. Thanks for the self-esteem boost, mum. The very next weekend Ms Sourdough happened by and decided to also stay at this motel. No second bed this time, so it was an evening of football, knitting and then a sleepy drive back to my own temporary accommodation with the promise of a continental breakfast to entice me to return the next day.

The Comfort Inn dining room was functional, and had an unnervingly large, well-placed mirror wall that initially succeeded in tricking me into thinking I was in a much larger space. The real space contained an array of pastries, fruits and cereal which included the:

 Home Made Bircher Muesli

Excited to see that the Comfort Inn bother to soak their oats, I bypassed the croissants and eagerly scooped some of the wet breakfast-goop into my bowl, then topped it with pear and the fruit salad that sat nearby.

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So moist! It was refreshing find a wet cereal after weeks of the dry stuff. My compliments go to the Comfort Inn for taking the concept of a continental breakfast seriously and giving their oats the Swiss treatment. Juice-soaked and mixed with yoghurt, my teeth tingled with the excitement of having to do little work to transform this mush into something swallowable. Instead I got to enjoy the soft, grainy texture with the rest of my mouth. A pleasant surprise! This did not, however, prevent me from ordering pancakes and then eating a jam crumpet. It was a buffet breakfast, after all.

Final word: There are many reasons to make a tree-change and live in the country, none of which should rationally include the expectation for better breakfast food. Come to Horsham and the surrounds for the long walks in the bush, the climbs up various large rock formations and the unadulterated (unless you count the atmosphere) view of the stars. If you want a warm cafe experience, my recommendations would be Chic Pea or the Natimuk Cafe – both have tasty coffee and cake; if only Chic Pea did regular muesli!

Room for oaty improvement, Wimmera!

-MM

Home Made Special: Carman’s Muesli

I have to open this post with an apology to Carman’s:

I’m sorry this post is a year late. Basically, after my phone met its demise (with my unwitting help) my reviews were lost and I drowned my sorrows in the many varieties of muesli that you generously sent me. This has weighed heavily on my conscience and so recently, when it was on sale at Coles, I bought your muesli to re-review. Hopefully this can smooth over the awkwardness that I imagine exists between us.

Whew. Now I know why people go to confession – conscience clear! Let’s now turn to the muesli:

Carman’s Fruit and Nut:

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Look at it all, nestling snugly within the cool embrace of my second-favourite bowl. This muesli was generously endowed with nuts (ahem, almonds and hazelnuts) which provided big crunches subtly accompanied by smaller crunches of sesame seeds. This textural fiesta was also attended by sultanas and dried fruit pieces which erupted in a satisfying squish of cinnamon and slight sweetness with each bite – flavours that I think were enhanced by the overnight soaking process. I would recommend adding banana to this muesli as the cinnamon tinged oats complement banana perfectly. A great muesli!

Carman’s Gluten Free: 

Unlike those of  an increasingly visible subset of the population, the immune cells in my small intestine have no problem with the proteins that make up gluten and so I exist mostly in a bubble of my wheat-enriched existence. Sometimes, however, I am enticed to try the offerings of the gluten free world (the little muffins they give you at the blood bank are great!), such as Carman’s gluten free muesli. The best part of this muesli were the chewy bursts of sweetness provided by the sultanas imbued with the vanilla-cinnamon flavour that I feel is a Carman’s hallmark. The rest was a little stodgy to be honest; I’m not sure that the barely or corn puffs hold up well being soaked overnight. It must be difficult making a gluten free cereal and I think there is still a little bit of work to be done here.

Carman’s Fruit Free:

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Why would anyone want to exclude fruit from muesli?! This is a strange concept, however my inquisitive mind would not let me pass this by (also it was initially free). To stay true to the theme I excluded grated apple and the berries or banana that would normally perch atop my yoghurt. The abundance of hazelnuts and sesame seeds gave this muesli an impressive crunchiness, and the cinnamon overtones added an autumnal feel to the breakfast. While I enjoyed the richness of the flavoured oats, in the end I could not get over the lack of fruit – it’s like driving without music, enjoyable but no one is singing and taking it to next-level happiness. What I would like to do instead is use this muesli to make muffins, or stuff some in an apple and bake it. Actually, being fruit-free might make this a very versatile muesli!

Carman’s Bircher:

The bircher offering was surprisingly light on the Carman’s vanilla-cinnamonness, which actually made for a refreshing breakfast. The almonds, sultanas and apricots in particular added the majority of the non-oat component of taste. I enjoyed the raw oatiness of this muesli, however, as it is nice to revel in clean simplicity once in a while. I realised that I was enjoying the fruit that I added more, which could have something to do with me daringly adding both banana and frozen blueberries. Sometimes I surprise myself with how edgy my breakfasts can get. Carman’s bircher is a basic, utility muesli to be eaten on a regular day (or perhaps after a bout of tummy-trouble, as a means to wean off dry toast).

Final word: Carman’s provides a wide range of muesli that aims to suit everyone from fruit-haters to wheat-avoiders. Do not follow my example and wait until you find yourself in a perfect storm of guilt and thriftiness to try the fruit and nut muesli (in particular) as it is a store-muesli marvel.

Good Muesli, Melbourne!

-MM

Small Block: Geometric Muesli

On a semi-recent cold Winter morning, Baby Chino and myself set out for a brisk (but shamefully short) bike ride to Small Block, an unassuming cafe-front at the cool end (my end) of Lygon Street, where we were meeting the indomitable Ms Sourdough and the ever-elusive Doctor Dessert for breakfast.

Small Block plays heavily on a simple maths theme. For those of you who quiver at the site of the quadratic equation, or simply get angry with algebra – this is a safe place. There is a number wall with single digits pleasingly arranged in a tetris-like collage; there is a giant happy-coloured abacus adorning another wall and there are games aplenty for those so inclined to play as they eat. As there would be nothing like a good board-tipping followed by a huffy walkout to spoil a morning out, I refrain from playing games in public so this feature is lost on me. The decor was very sparse and basic, with concrete floors and functional ugly-but-comfy chairs – just what you would expect from a left-brained establishment.

The menu is found on a blackboard on one of the walls, and so I was able to make full use of my updated glasses prescription to ask for:

The bircher muesli, please

The answer to this equation was worked out as follows:

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What a neat pile of muesli. I enjoyed the rays of cinnamon framing the meal like a halo, an appropriate presentation for the glory that is cereal. Speaking of wonderful things, I would have to say the best thing about Winter is rhubarb. I will never stop being pleased to see it and today was no exception – such volume of chunks! The praise, however, does not continue much beyond this superficial level. The Small Block muesli was very light on the oats and heavy on the coconut, resulting in the dish tasting very much like a rhubarb crumble. Now, I am all for breakfast-dessert, but here I was expecting a breakfast-breakfast and so was not loving this dessert-dessert masquerading as muesli. It was all very sweet and crumbly, with sultanas and possibly dates providing some enjoyable chewiness – which is all well and good except I would soon have no teeth to chew with if I continued to eat breakfast with the sort of sugar content that the Small Block muesli seemed to have.

Final Word: If you are not a diabetic (or prepared to increase your insulin dose if you are) and feeling like some yoghurty rhubarb-crumble for breakfast, try the Small Block Muesli. If you value your teeth and pancreas perhaps stick to the eggs.

(Not So) Good Muesli, Melbourne!

-MM

Small Block on Urbanspoon

Home Made Special: Launched!

Disclaimer: I should begin this cereal adventure by stating that, in what is perhaps my greatest achievement to date, the oats used in this production were not paid for. I will endeavour to review them objectively, however even the cold mistress of reason will find it difficult to temper the glow that comes from eating free food!

My aim here is to compare some of the muesli that can be  made in the comfort of the home. This is not something that I was able to do on a whim, it required careful planning and preparation as before starting this journey I had little idea of how to make muesli, with my regular breakfast involving little more than scrunching two to three weetbix into a bowl and cutting banana over them.

To appease my science brain and leave as little room for confusion on my part, I will be making each breakfast using the same method, passed down to me one cold Autumn morning by the lovely Cherry Capone (more on that in the Coles oat review):

Miss Muesli’s (Borrowed and Adapted) Method for Making Muesli:

Ingredients:

–       Rolled oats or muesli

–       Granny Smith Apple

–       Unsweetened natural yoghurt

–       Frozen berries

–       A spoonful of sugar

–       Sunflower seeds, almonds (optional, to be used if muesli does not already contain them)

Method:

1. Before Bed: Lovingly transfer a serve (your discretion) of oats or  premixed muesli into your favourite breakfast bowl. Immerse in milk until just saturated. I like skim milk as I find the wateriness refreshing.
Note: if your muesli will be based on rolled oats alone, mix with seeds and nuts before dousing with milk.
Apply your Granny Smith to a sharp grater and go to town on it. You can peel the apple beforehand however you will be missing out on the tart chewy texture, and also some vitamins. I do not recommend depriving yourself of these. Mix the slivers through your soaking muesli.
Cover with Glad Wrap (or Aldi equivalent) and put in the fridge to incubate overnight.

2. Upon waking: Take a shower. Muesli is best appreciated when both ingredients and consumer are fresh.

3. Take some frozen berries (again, your discretion but overdo at your own peril – these are a garnish and not the main event!) and mix with a sensible amount of sugar in a microwave proof vessel. Cover to avoid splatter and the cook with the awesome power of micro-waves on high for approximately 45 seconds. Mix the resultant hot, soft mush and voila! Berry compote.
Note: If you have time and are so inclined, or if you do not have a microwave (the horror), this can be done over lowish heat on the stove.

4. Reverently remove the matured muesli from the fridge and peel off the plastic (you will not be able to proceed with breakfast unless you do this). Dollop yoghurt on top and garnish with your steaming compote.

5. Take your favourite spoon (see below) and use it to enjoy your homemade muesli.

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Await now with bated breath the coming set of home grown reviews!

(Anticipating) Good Muesli, Melbourne!

MM

Wide Open Road: This Muesli is Going Places!

Sydney road and its tributaries are lush with interesting places to eat, instead of with any sort of natural foliage (interesting given the tree-lined beauty that is its continuation, Royal Parade). Traffic flows sluggishly through this Brunswick artery, hardened with concrete on all sides bar the sky – which on this particular Sunday morning was a warm Autumn blue and happily not yet the steely grey that will set the tone for the coming months. Understand that I say all of this with the wan fondness bred from a life of habitation and there is nowhere in Melbourne that I would rather live!

Anyway, this discourse on Sydney Road is slightly tangential as the place I was taken for breakfast – Wide Open Road – is on Barkly Street opposite Barkly Square (soon to proudly house a JB-HiFi!). Wide Open Road is a light-brick building that looms large over the footpath. This stark exterior belies an indoors that I did not, in one of my recent posts, quite believe existed – I had  serendipitously found myself in a cosy warehouse! What has led me to make this grand statement? One word: terrariums. Plural. Wide Open Road is decorated by terrariums large and small, of all shapes and sizes – but mostly spheres and rectangular prisms. Flourishing in the soil of these microcosmic ecosystems were reedy-looking plants, leafy-looking plants and cacti. I’m really not a green thumb, but a I am a green eye in that I like seeing other people’s healthy flora. I also found plants peeping endearingly out behind wall columns that would have otherwise been bare and uninviting. Wide Open Road has (photo)synthesised nature with the industrial feel of impressive metallic, spherical ceiling lights that hang over dark fabric booths and the fans that whir lazily overhead to create a dynamic and interesting space for dining. I did manage to stop overanalysing my surroundings for long enough to ask the harried waitress for:

Bircher muesli with stone fruit compote and oat crumble

Whenever I see the word ‘compote’ I think of mafiosos in pinstripe suits, my silly association cortex has linked it irreversibly to ‘Capone’ I suppose. Old timey gang leaders aside, the muesli looked as follows:

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What a dark and mysterious muesli this is! After some of the garish offerings I have witnessed of late I was glad to see this dusky dish appear in front of me. The thing that immediately set the Wide Open Road muesli apart from the rest was the roasted nut and oat crumble lavishly strewn over it. I was particularly pleased to find cashew nuts nestled within the mix adding their smokey creaminess to the dish and giving it the feel of a guilty pleasure rather than a wholesome breakfast – I can never resist a naughty cashew or twenty. The crunchiness of the crumble almost managed to overshadow the other accompaniment to this muesli, the compote. With the help of Ms Sourdough I was able to determine that it was most likely plum that, thanks to the internet, I can say was masterfully stewed in syrup or sugar (that is, compoted) to the point of soft fleshy semi-resistance. Furthermore, the natural yogurt was tart and dense with a smorgasbord of seeds, namely sunflower and poppy, along with oats, grated apple and an odd sneaky dried apple piece that would give the lucky mouthful a delicious leathery chewiness. The Wide Open Road muesli was packed with flavour and texture, and left me so full that I later turned down free samples of who-knows-what-but-normally-I’d-have-three being handed out in the aisles of Barkly Square Coles. That is just about the highest honour a muesli can earn.

Overall: Do not drive to Wide Open Road as this is an ironic name given its proximity to the very congested Sydney road. Rather, find any other means of transport to take yourself to this cosy warehouse and insist upon the muesli – you will not eat until lunch.

Good Muesli, Melbourne!

MM

Wide Open Road on Urbanspoon

Dr Dax: An Over-Prescriber of Oats

I was lucky enough to be having breakfast during work hours for this outing to Dr Dax Kitchen, a cafe that proudly protrudes like the frontal lobe of a higher primate from the entrance of the Melbourne Brain Centre on Royal Parade. I have (not that) often traipsed over to Dr Dax for coffee on days where I felt that I should treat myself to something nicer than a 7-Eleven $1 special or Zouki’s, but had not really ventured into their solid consumables for lack of time and opportunity. Here was my chance.

Dr Dax is, fondly, nerd central. At all hours of the day people in suits and glasses can be found doing whatever it is they do when they are not at work; which is often working on a laptop, discussing work or waiting for coffee to take back to work. It is a busy place, but I do enjoy the atmosphere. The large westward-facing windows peer over the bustle of Royal Parade to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and further add to the urgent buzz of a place in constant flux. I am yet to visit Dr Dax in weather that would allow me to take advantage of sitting at the tables outside, but I imagine that might be quite nice so long as there are not too many lit cigarettes about.

At Dr Dax you order at the counter and so I cheerfully asked for:

“Your Bircher muesli, thanks!”

Will that be with fruit?”

Ahh, yes(?)”

Oh boy. The first symptom of a muesli disorder had presented itself. I became slightly apprehensive as to what would arrive and my fears were somewhat realised when I was met with:

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Now I’m not a psychiatrist but I suspect this muesli has an identity disorder. Here we have a case of fruit salad-on-muesli, the first of which I have come across. To its credit, the fruit salad was fresh and I will never hate on watermelon except to say that it and the rest of the fruit were grossly out of place in this meal. Sorry, watermelon. Basically, there was no attempt at fruit-muesli integration and I doubt even an intense course of cognitive behavioural therapy could make this dish coherent (I’m enjoying barely working in these psychological allusions far too much).

I took a deep breath and moved past the fruit to the muesli, which might have been in the company of two types of yoghurt but I’m not discerning enough to confidently identify them. In fact now I think of it there just might have been an extra dollop of standard yoghurt on top of that which housed the oats. Anyway, another surprise occurred, this time mainly picked up by cranial nerves IX and X as my tongue and palate came to grips with the sheer density of oats that I had just delivered them. Yes, Dr Dax is guilty of handing out oats as if they were anti-depressants. My mood, however, did not improve – especially when I realised that this so-called Bircher muesli did not contain detectable grated apple or nuts! Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this breakfast was based mainly on the quality of the company I was with. And so I had a lovely meal despite the muesli being sub-par. At least it was cold.

Diagnosis: Schizoid-fruit-and-oats disorder with the main issue of it having a delusion of being Bircher muesli. My management of this poor entity would include the regrettable decision to reserve my money to be spent on cases with more hope. The coffee is good, though!

(Not So) Good Muesli, Melbourne!

MM

Dr. Dax Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Babka: Defying Expectations – Not In A Good Way

I had been meaning to try the Babka muesli for a while because I have a vague memory of going there years ago and really enjoying some muffins. It seems like an odd rationale but really if babka muffins = grains = yummy, and muesli = grains then surely babka muffins = muesli = yummy? Ho ho, how wrong my flawless logic was.

But first, the establishment. Babka is the second institution that I have had the circumstance to review. In this instance the suburb is Fitzroy and the bakery cafe is located on Brunswick Street, just North of Kerr Street. It is compact yet seemingly spacious and as such my lovely friend and I felt quite comfortable sharing all of the lascivious gossip we had for each other, without feeling too self-conscious. The wait staff were for the most part friendly and attentive, but not over-bearing – there are certainly no waitress-mothers around these parts (thank goodness as who needs one more?). I should also add that being a bakery, Babka smells very nice so if you visit with a cold, or are unfortunate enough to be anosmic, you’re missing out on an important part of the experience.

After sipping some water I considered the menu and found:

Swiss muesli – oats, sultanas, freshly grated apple, almonds, yogurt

My first exact account of the menu! And the first black mark against the Babka muesli – Swiss? What is Swiss muesli, some sort of wonderful muesli derivative that we should all try? No. It is naught but our good friend the Bircher Muesli which was developed, AND I QUOTE: “by Swiss physician Maximiilan Bircher-Benner” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muesli#Original_Bircher-Benner_muesli_recipe). I suppose I have made a bit of a meal (hehe) of the pretentiousness of this menu billing, but it is so at odds with what came out that it illustrates completely my disappointment:

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To borrow another quote: What the glob?! (LSP, Adventure Time). Instantly underwhelming. I was however, ready to look past appearances and judge this muesli based on its mouth-hole merit alone. Boy, was my mouth-hole disappointed. To begin with, it was warm. This went further than just being not-cold, it felt close to body temperature. As this is a Miss who likes to know where her tissue ends and muesli begins, instant disdain blossomed. Yes, I enjoyed the grated apple and the odd chunky almond, but these elements were lost within a sea of warm, creamy yogurt. The oats were similarly unable to compete with the dairy deluge. Safe to say, I was not amuselied.

I decided to be fair to Babka and take away a slice of the lemon tart that I have actually heard a lot about to eat over a cup if tea at work. Mind. Blown. I am not even a lemon tart fan, but I was not only given a gigantic slice (tick!), but it turned out to be a gigantic slice of amazing. Babka redemption!

Final Thoughts: If your boat floats in a lake of warm yoghurt, buy this muesli. If not, have toast, eggs or lemon tart for breakfast at Babka.

(Not-So) Good Muesli, Melbourne!

MM

Babka Bakery Café on Urbanspoon