Where: Stovetop, 100 Leicester Street Carlton
What: The most sublime hash brown
Bloat score: 0 – Living the Dream
I gradually made the decision to stop ordering my much-loved brunch staples of corn fritters and baked eggs after I was diagnosed with my intolerances a few years ago. Don’t think this happened overnight – I regularly tested the boundaries and ordered them anyway. But there’s something disheartening about making yourself unwell first thing in the morning, a feeling that I ignore come nightfall because I can lie prostrate on my bed with a hot water bottle perched thankfully on my bloated tummy (Disclaimer: I ordered a breakfast pasta a few weeks ago, and it was worth every bloat).
But my predilection for mostly following my intolerances during brunch is why I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. What’s the point of going out and ordering gluten-free toast with a side of eggs, balefully stealing glimpses of your friends’ shakshouka and generously buttered jaffles?
Which thankfully I didn’t have to do (too much) at Stovetop, because I spotted at least three things that I could order that wouldn’t make me feel like a walking whoopee cushion after. I should say that I did visit after 1pm, so the more expansive lunch menu was available.
There was the organic quinoa and coconut tofu salad; the nasi goreng; and the sesame crusted blue-fin tuna brown rice salad – all of which I was sure could be prepared without onion and garlic.
Even though I was leaning towards the nasi goreng, I reasoned that the blue-fin tuna salad would make for a slightly less odd pairing with the hash brown side that I was definitely ordering.
For some reason, I was expecting the blue-fin tuna to be lightly seared, like in this dish, and was slightly disappointed when it turned out to be fully cooked tuna, and overcooked tuna at that, which made it tough and hard to eat. It was a shame because it would have been a good dish otherwise – I felt no bloat after, which is always a strange sensation for me after any meal.
My lukewarm reception to my food was tempered by the cheesy wafts that were emanating from my friend’s pan-fried gnocchi with gorgonzola, pear, walnuts and parmesan. It looked every bit as good as it smelled, and she polished it off in half the time it took me to tackle my overcooked fish dish.
I would have been rather disappointed, had it not been for this amazing hash brown. Deserving of a plate of its own, the hash brown was liberally doused with sprinkles of sea salt and had a crispy exterior that gave way to rich and velvety potato. It’s no secret that I constantly bemoan my intolerances, but my life would be an inherently bleaker one if I couldn’t eat potato.
Other friends’ opinions of their dishes were mixed; both of them chose dishes from the breakfast menu that is available until 3.30pm. The one who also ordered a side of hash brown alongside her choice of the wild mushroom ragout loved her dish, and I glanced mournfully at her a few times because mushrooms are the best, unless they give you immense flatulence after, as they do me.
My friend who ordered the fancy sounding baked duck egg with sautéed spinach, roasted pumpkin, Persian fetta and zaatar was less impressed with the proportion of ingredients in her dish. From memory, there was too much spinach.
Although it sounds like I had a bad experience, I liked the café and will be back – if only for the hash brown and one of those aforementioned two options.
And for those who don’t have to studiously pore over menus to find something they can eat, Stovetop has a plethora of interesting dishes on its menu – from the bulgogi pork tacos and Cuban sandwich with free-range slow cooked pork to the stovetop Benedict with prosciutto, parmesan, black pudding and truffle hollandaise. In fact, I’ve decided that the stovetop Benedict is what I’m getting the next time I’m there, because if there’s one thing that I like as much as hash browns, it’s black pudding. And don’t worry: I’ll get gluten-free bread in lieu of sourdough, so it’s only three bloats instead of four.
Stovetop is open from 8am to 4pm Saturday to Sunday and from 7am to 5pm Monday to Friday.