A heavily stocked bar with vodka from both Poland and the general area around its borders greets you before service tends to. Most of the time you are left to choose a table to your liking however it is a small dining room so the few choices by the window will either be already taken or dirty, which was the case when I turned up on a recent visit. A seat was happily taken in the rear of the restaurant which is a bit more calm as if you sit too close to the door you are subjected to the foot traffic entering and exiting, people paying their bill or just being a nuisance of themselves in general.
The staff ask to take drink orders quite quickly. In my case I barely had the chance to begin inspecting the 100+ entries on just the vodka menu before I was quizzed. I ended up ordering a standard shot ($6.50) of vodka whilst deliberating the short menu. Ultimately after being asked a few times if we were ready to order and placating, or should I say, buying some additional time to chat and review the menu further by ordering another vodka, we thought the vegetarian Russian Pierogi ($17) and the Potato Blintzes ($11.50) would be a good way to start. The Pierogi are potato dumplings of sorts with baked cheese, fried onions, sour cream, mint and a few minced gherkins. This was tasty and very filling and perfectly matched after taking on the cold and blustery climate outside. It wasn't an explosion of tastes as you can't really do exciting things with a potato (unless you are Ben Shewry) but it made for a good starter and lined the stomach for the never ending shots of vodka. The potato blintzes are "traditional" potato pancakes with sour cream and dill. The blintzes are not as exciting as the Pierogi, which doesn't say much really, and really reminded me of the potato cakes that you get from the Maccas in the morning and brought back memories of getting loaded with carbs first thing before hitting the slopes of Thredbo.
We both thought the Hungarian Lamb Ragout ($15) would be appropriate and fit in well with the general theme. Served with rye bread, this dish of lamb, peppers, tomatoes and sour cream is something homely that you would expect in Budapest or even the wartime era. It is very hardy and very filling however bland and I found myself adding sea salt which was provided on the table. More vodka helped take off the edge and service was happy to top up my shot glass at the table whenever it was empty.
This is a fun and vibrant restaurant where you can't take anything too seriously. Music plays from all different eras and various oddities hang on the wall that are there to amuse, such as:
First Dr(i)nk For Health
Second For Pleasure
Third For Tears
Fourth For Madness
The hefty list of vodkas and associated cocktails is impressive. My drinking partner ordered the "20 Cent Lemonade" and thought it was brilliant - so much a second was ordered however I think that he was just trying to keep up with the shots that I was enjoying.
There is outside street dining available which is draped in plastic so there is some protection from the elements and of course is an option if you are a smoker however the volume of foot traffic on Chapel Street would make for dining outside a bit annoying, but that is really just my opinion. Being seated close to the bar ensures that your glass is always filled with alcohol and that you are not left to go wanting.
After the heavy and rustic food enjoyed at Borsch, Vodka & Tears, we staggered begrudgingly two kilometers toward the river and the serenity of Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, also on Chapel Street. This is the place you want to go for chocolate, ice cream, custom cakes and assorted jams. Although I was on a mission to purchase a bottle of spicy pineapple jam ($14) I couldn't help ask for an "explosive" raspberry ice cream, milk chocolate and pop rocks ($8.00) on a stick. I needed something cold and frankly something with a very sweet taste to counter the food (and vodka) that was enjoyed earlier at Borsch, Vodka & Tears. Burch & Purchese is one part store and one part laboratory led by owner and one of the more prominent pastry chefs in Australia, Darren Purchese, where his team prepares their confectionery on-site. Despite cooling down thanks to the sublime ice cream covered in chocolate, being greeted at the door with samples of popcorn honeycomb chocolate crumble was not only nice but could easily lead to an addiction. This place puts the typical "cake shops" in neighbouring St Kilda to utter shame and your life in Melbourne will not be complete unless you visit Darren's studio.
The aforementioned are two contrasting places that can be visited on Chapel Street should you have the time and strength especially after indulging upon the demon drink but it is a rather inexpensive and worth while journey, that for me at least is always worth the effort.
Borsch, Vodka & Tears
173 Chapel Street, Windsor VIC 3182
(03) 9530 2694
(03) 9530 2694
My Rating: 12.75/20
Value For Money: 3.25/5
Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio
647 Chapel Street, South Yarra VIC 3141
(03) 9827 7060
(03) 9827 7060
My Rating: n/a
Value For Money: n/a
Note: Online ordering is now available.
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com