Thursday, October 23, 2014

Brother Nancy


You know those stories about women who go turn up at the doctor's with a touch of heartburn, and the doc tells them they're nine months pregnant?  Who the bloody hell are they, I want to know.  How can you withstand forty (plus) gruelling weeks of cankles, mood swings and twelve wee breaks a night without noticing that something was cooking in the oven?  (Obviously I do not adore being pregnant!)  But I kind of feel like one of those completely oblivious (and perhaps lucky) chicks when I was told there was a new cafe opening on Essex Street.  The Essex Street I drive or walk down at least once per day.  How could I have not known?!


Of course, if you have a bath and a baby pops out, that would be somewhat of a shock.  Realising there is somewhere with a classically trained French chef and Proud Mary coffee just a hop, skip and a jump away was equally a shock - and just as equally a delightful one.  WeFolk, meet your new family member, Brother Nancy.


Firstly, I LOVE the name.  So fresh and cute!  Although there are a few Melbourne cafe tropes like succulents in jars and a communal table, the interior doesn't have a cookie-cutter Melbourne cafe feel.  There's a real freshness in the slightly unusual wooden chairs, the interesting parquet-style woodwork on the bench, and the little pops of green on the clock, the stools or the espresso cups.

Now, Melbourne.  I know you probably want to see some #yolkporn.  You probably want to see some smashed avo.  (Maybe you don't.  I know I couldn't care less if I ever ate another serve of sodding smashed avocado with effing Meredith feta.)  But - Brother Nancy have BEEF TARTARE.  That is crazy impressive for a cafe in the deep heart of West Footscray.


It is also one of my favourite things in the entire world, and this one was incredible.  It's 100% raw beef, and here it's given a little bit of an Asian spin by being ever so gently spiked with sesame and Thai basil.  I know people like to go on about food being sexy, which normally I absolutely cannot stand - what is sexy about a cake?  A bowl of pasta? - but this beef tartare was so silky, so smooth and supple, it was a seriously sexy meal.  My only complaint is such a studly dish deserves a plate mate with a bit more personality than mesclun mix (I told this to the owner - in between swoons).


The rest of the menu is really interesting.  There are some potential crowd-pleasers (like the "fish and chip burger - brioche bun, cos, aioli") but there's also a watermelon and tomato gazpacho, and the "Chapin breakfast" with fried plantains, scrambled eggs and black beans.  The chef, Jordi, is French, "has travelled the world" and has previously worked at Philippe Mouchel's PM24.  His specialty is desserts.  Ooh la la!


I had a chat with very proud dad Leigh.  He has a background in design, and lives locally.  He said he is determined to keep prices reasonable (the tartare was $14.50, which is crazy good) and also to make families feel welcome.  (There are kiddy breakfast options like a soft-boiled egg and a ham & cheese toastie.)


Coffee is Proud Mary and quite good - maybe could have been a touch less hot, just to let the sweet milk really mingle with the evidently quality coffee.  But this will still be the first of many.

Leigh, Jordi and team are open tomorrow prior to their official opening day, this Saturday at 7am.  Go easy on 'em, WeFo!

Brother Nancy (Facebook page)
182 Essex Street, West Footscray
Hours:  Wed-Mon 7am-4.30pm (closed Tues, but check this with them!)

Friday, October 17, 2014

COMING SOON - Nuevo Latino, West Footscray + Barkly Village Showcase

Remember Besito?  For newer WeFolk, this was a Colombian cafe that was open for about a year a year or so ago, and brought beautiful white corn arepas and Five Senses coffee to Barkly Street.  Sadly it closed (for family reasons, I believe).  But we are going to get another chance to bring some South American sunshine into our lives (and bellies) - Nuevo Latino is opening soon!

So, here's the goss.  Nuevo Latino will be opening soon in the old Cafe Bianco premises.  The folks behind it are the Rodriguez family, namely brothers Salvador (aka Sal) and Juan, plus their mum.  They are originally from El Salvador and have run a successful Latin American catering business in Melbourne for a number of years.  Sal tells me they are the official caterer for a number of Melbourne's central and south American consulates.  That's a pretty big endorsement!

Sal tells me they are really excited to take up residence at Bianco Cafe.  "We loved the vibe of Phil, the previous owner, who would feed the poor by giving soup," he tells me.  In the same spirit, Nuevo Latino will have a suspended coffee scheme (a voluntary system where you can pay in advance for someone in need's coffee - read more here).  "We still want to keep that community feel," says Sal.  In terms of decor, a graffiti artist is coming from Colombia to decorate the beer garden with "an Aztec or a Mayan feel".

And the menu?  It's not locked down yet, but Sal told me of inspiration from "Nuevo Latino"-style cooking from Miami, which embraces a modern spin on traditional central- and south-American recipes.  His partner is Japanese, so there might be some Japanese-El Salvadorean fusion going on!

Neuvo Latino's big launch is on November 6th, but if you can't wait till then, you should check out the Barkly Village Showcase, happening on Wednesday October 29th.  This has been put together by Col Cameron, local resident, comedian and MC.  He runs the Barkly Village Facebook page and says, "I created the page because I live close to the short strip and felt that it could be so much livelier.  My dream is to have all the restaurants regularly posting their specials for locals each week.  I also want the restaurants to work together on events to liven up the area."

Tickets are $60 and include:

*  A three-course dinner, with each course at a different Barkly Village restaurant.  It's a lucky dip, with punters learning the location of their first restaurant two days before the event, and then being guided "to their second mystery restaurant and the same for dessert".  Participating restaurants include 540 on Barkly, Thai Angels, Hyderabad Inn, Akshaya Sweets and Chat, Magic Momo Kafe, Gusto at Barkly and Nuevo Latino.

*  A donation to Soulhouse Men's Cooking Program, a cooking program run by the West Footscray Neighbourhood House which "responds to a keen interest among local rooming house men in coming together each week to develop their skills in the kitchen in order to provide nourishing meals, both for themselves and others". 


*  All restaurants will be hosting live entertainment...

*  Nuevo Latino will serve savoury and sweet tapas throughout the night to all patrons as they move between restaurants and courses...

*  Non-restaurants on the strip will be contributing prizes and gift bags to be won throughout the night...

*  Two Birds in Spotswood will bring their "mobile brewing station" !

To purchase tickets, head to TryBooking.  I have no financial association with this event - I just think it's a great idea.

Also make sure to like Barkly Village on Facebook to stay up to date with the strip.  You can also get all the news and updates from Nuevo Latino right here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

COMING SOON - Littlefoot bar, Footscray

Westies - buckle up your boots.  A bar in downtown Footscray is COMING SOON!


Il Paesano, the rather down-at-heel pizza shop, is currently being transformed into Littlefoot.  This new bar will feature acoustic live music, "high-end bar food and share plates", "boutique and craft beers", wines and cocktails!


The brains behind the 'foot are Stuart and Liana.  They are residents of the inner west, own The Idea Collective in Nicholson St (a creative co-working space) and previously ran Bebida Bar & Cafe in Smith Street (2003 to 2013, and shown above).

Stu and Liana are really passionate about the area and all the riches on offer.  Stu was one of my amazing Rickshaw Run volunteers this year, coming down three times over the weekend (including once at the last minute) and eventually running one of the rickshaw-pulling teams.

They say:  "We have a love and respect for the many cultures in the past and present of Footscray and our menu will be influenced by and pay homage to them...  We believe a hospitality venue should enrich the area it is in.  It is fed by the community but also strengthens, supports and nourishes it."

The name is inspired both by the above - "little Footscray" - but also reflects Stu and Liana's commitment to sustainability and minimising their environmental footprint - "little footprint".

But when, when, WHEN you say?  The permits are slowly chugging their way through Council but the goal is late November.

I cannot wait to see these guys put the foot in Footscray!  Bring it on!

Friday, October 10, 2014

501 Receptions, Footscray


Have you ever wondered exactly what "a touch of class" could be?


I have walked past 501 Receptions maybe 1000 times in the years I've lived here, but I've never been inside.  That is...


Would you like to join me?


Well, are you?


The occasion was one of Women of the West's regular "Ladies' Nights".  WOW is two local women who put on great evenings for local lasses, as both a way to let your hair down AND raise money for local not-for-profit organisations.  This night's dosh went to Women's Health West in Barkly St, Footscray, who work promoting women's health and offer services to those experiencing family violence.


This is very commendable.  But I can't help it - I couldn't stop nerding out about finally being inside the big 501.  It really is a working reception place!


Our $70 ticket bought us unlimited booze, entertainment and three courses of fine 501 fare.


Some antipasti (which were fine)...


...followed by some hoopla...


...and then the main event!  Sue me, but I thought this was actually pretty yummy!  I'm a sucker for a roast of the day.


Here we are mid-shimmy.  Really fun, daggy disco dancing with "Cathy's Crazed Institute of Disco".  I loved that 90% of people got up on the dance floor!


Things were a bit hazy by this point, but loved the cupcakes from Cupcakes by Paolo, and I do love a good Lindor Ball.


Well done to organisers Michelle and Sarah, who looked amazing in matching lace bodysuits and made putting on a big event look easy.  The night embodied what I love about my fellow women of the west - we're generous, gregarious, and don't take ourselves too seriously.  And as for 501 Receptions - I can honestly say that it does indeed have a touch of class!

Check out Women of the West's Facebook page to stay up to date with future events.  I have just discovered that 501 Receptions has a website, which you can check out right here!  Also, Women of the West have a new event happening soon - deets below.  I'm not associated with these guys - I just like what they're doing!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kebab Surra, Footscray

So on the last day of the school holidays, I had my friend's daughter E here.  I told everyone to pack up as we were going out for lunch.  "GOLDEN HORSE!  GOLDEN HORSE!" shrieked E with delight.  No, we can't go to Golden Horse (a local yum cha joint), I explained - we needed to go somewhere for Mummy Lauren's work.  "It is a place that does meat on sticks, rice and bread," I explained.  E looked at me for a while.  " AS GOLDEN HORSE!" she squealed with delight.  I have obviously been missing the kebab, rice and bread trolley at yum cha for years!

I do love this kid - she was the same with whom I had this exchange a while ago:

"Lauren, do you write and take pictures of food?"

"Yes, I do!"

"So does that make you a food blobber?"

"......Why, yes.  Yes, I do believe it does."


Anyway, we set off to our meat-on-sticks meal - destination, Kebab Surra.


This is a "Persian" restaurant that has just opened in Barkly Street, Footscray on the old site of Shebelle.  What was dark and moody has become bright, white and very functional.


Sure, the decor may not move you, but you will start swooning immediately when the scent of charcoal and sizzling meat hits your nostrils.


Here is Muhammad and the place where all the magic happens.  Long metal skewers threaded with meat are placed over this pit of gently glowing charcoal.


About half of the menu is varying combinations of kebabs - chicken, meat or mince - with (again) various combinations of rice, salad and bread.  The "Special Kebab Surra" meal ($14.99) seemed a sensible place to start.  The kebabs were just gorgeous - smoky, juicy, beautifully marinated.  Lovely delicate basmati rice...

P1130050 flat bread (kind of like Turkish bread, but much thinner and therefore more crisp in parts - I spied the tandoor-like oven out the back)...


...and really simple but good, crunchy salad with a thin yoghurt dressing.

Do you like dumplings?  Of course you like dumplings - you live in Melbourne!  (If you don't, I am very honoured you are reading this blog.  Hi Uncle Thom in Colorado!)  Although they're most strongly associated with Asia, many cultures around the world have dumplings and olden-days Persia (more on that later) is no exception.  Their incarnation is called mantu or mantoo, and they are something I've always had an odd relationship with.  People have raved about them, but every time I've tried them I've been a bit underwhelmed.  They've been nice but not mindblowing.


Well - Kebab Surra's mantoo ($13.99) are COMPLETELY OFF THE HOOK.  Now I see what all the fuss is about.  There's saucy lamb mince and yellow split peas, very loosely bound in a wonton-like yellow skin, drizzled with tangy tomato and yoghurt and dusted with dried mint.  These are AMAZING.  Although it doesn't say so on the menu, I think they come with bread and salad.


I had a chat to owner Ali after our meal.  When Kebab Surra say "Persian", they mean the cuisine of the border regions of modern-day Iran and Afghanistan.  He's very proud of his new business and he totally should be.  I think you can really taste the love in the food.


I was raving about the mantoo and he said that that is their specialty, and it is a particularly Afghan-style dish.  Another house specialty according to Ali is the qabuli polo.  The menu reads: "Rice steamed with lightly fried sultanas, carrot slices, oil, along with lamb qorma cooked with tomato, spices, garlic, onion, and served with naan & salad".  Ali explains that it's incorrectly described as coming with lamb qorma, but it actually comes with a lamb shank.  And vegetarians - there is a traditional vegetarian mantoo dish arriving any day now - I am really, really keen to try this!

One quick note - there is a bit of discrepancy between the printed menu (scanned below) and the one on the wall.  Plus, I think you get bread with things, even though it's not mentioned on either menu.  Don't get yourself in knots - if you're not sure what comes with what, ask!

So E, we did not get to go to Golden Horse.  But we still got to eat dumplings - AND meat on sticks.

Kebab Surra on Urbanspoon

Kebab Surra (Facebook)
241 Barkly St, Footscray
Phone: 0470 665 359 or 0470 227 824
Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-9pm, Fri-Sun 9am-10pm

Kebab Surra p2

Kebab Surra p1

Friday, September 19, 2014

HealThy Self Co., Yarraville

Do you know what a "crunchy mama" is?  In Australia, we might say "hippie mum", but it doesn't really translate.  Like GMO canola seeds drifting on the wind, crunchy mamas have taken up residence in every nook and cranny of the inner west.  You can spy them being trees at creative dance workshops, burning up Facebook in various bulk-buying food co-ops, and carrying a baby on the back while gestating one on the front.

Don't come after me with handmade pitchforks.  I speak with love because I am a crunchy mama too.  Not nearly as crunchy as when I had my first baby (no cot, no pram, made my own ring sling, made my own cloth nappies AND MADE MY OWN BABY BUTT WIPES) but I'd still consider myself somewhere on the crunchy scale.

Image by Amber Dusick from the blog Crappy Pictures. Used with thanks per FAQ terms.

Speaking of which, you HAVE to check out Crappy Pictures' "Scale of Crunchy Mamas".  It goes from level 1 ("Plans to breastfeed, owns a Baby Bjorn") to level 9 ("Can sew an entire quilt in one night by the light of handmade beeswax candles while sipping tea made from homegrown chamomile in a mug that was hand formed from clay mined from her backyard. While nursing").  Ba ha haaaa!


So I'm probably somewhere in the middle of that scale.  But I think I just got a whole lot more crunchy after discovering Heal.Thy Self Co.


This is a new cafe in Yarraville which is basically like stepping into an Instagram feed.  The menu is radiant with superfoods.  We're talking kombucha tea, kale smoothies and raw vegan cheesecake.  It's a little slice of San Fran in Ballarat Street.


I have been hearing a lot about kale (and if you haven't either, you must live under a rock) but I still don't really "get" it.  I've tried to cook with it but it tastes like horse feed.  Finally I get a crunchy gold star, though, as I tried Heal.Thy Self's kale smoothie ($9) - and loved it!


This 'un has greens, banana and a whole host of ingredients I had to google after the fact.  There's "super greens powder", raw vanilla protein powder and maca powder in the mix (maca powder is a dried, powdered form of a root from Peru, purported to have fertility, antidepressant and bone-strengthening qualities).  Actually, I just realised it doesn't actually say it has kale!  But surely I still get a gold star for drinking something that shade of emerald.  It was really nice - sweet but with an earthy, vegetal undertone.


My friend A decided to "be kind" to herself with the eponymous "be kind" smoothie ($9), with mixed berries, banana, lucuma powder (a dried powdered Peruvian "superfood" fruit), coconut, filtered H20 and "raw wild berry fermented super protein powder".  Yum - and it matched her handbag!  Instagram-approved.


Heal.Thy Self do a brunchy-lunchy menu of things like a raw choc chia parfait (chia mousse, activated buckinis and coconut yoghurt) or toasted sandwiches with roast veg and cashew cheese.  If that all sounds too Jesus sandal, there is a smashed avo option or a good old ham and cheese toastie (with grass-fed butter, of course).


We went the choc-ana bread ($12.50) which was pretty awesome.  Loved the "choc nut & seed butter", which was sweet without being cloying, and went perfectly with bananas and honey.


But we LOVED the raw vegan raspberry cheesecake.  I'm assuming it was made with silken tofu.  It had a fabulous mousse-like texture, wasn't too sweet and was bursting with real raspberry flavour.  I would have loved it if the base was more crunchy to add some contrast, but it was still delicious.


Detoxifying dandelion tea (actually a blend of dandelion, wattleseed & cinnamon, $4.50) - the staff had a timer behind the counter to register when it had brewed sufficiently before serving.


I had the same thing but in latte form ($5) with the recommended oat milk.  This was delicious - spicy, slightly (and not unpleasantly) bitter and creamy all at once.


I really like this place.  I only have one teeny grumble.  Most of the staff were lovely and sunny, but there was one who was a bit stern/business-like when we first walked in and were dithering about wondering where to sit, how to order etc.  It's probably not something I'd care about in any other cafe, but given how the concept and the menu just radiate health and happiness, I think it's really important for everyone to be on board with big welcoming smiles and attitudes.


Heal.Thy Self Co. is a great thing for Yarraville, which has been eclipsed by Seddon in the last few years as the cool place to be in the inner west.


Going back to Amber Dusick's "Scale of Crunchy Mamas", she talks about how "people attempt to self-righteously out crunch one another...  How we awkwardly fumbled around subjects like vaccinations or circumcision or extended breastfeeding and tried to fish out each other’s stance on it. Back in those early months, every decision felt like it defined us".

I first mentioned nine levels in the "Scale of Crunchy Mamas", but there are actually 10.  A level 10 crunchy mama "does most or all or some assortment of the above levels but they don’t give a crap about what anyone thinks.  They aren’t keeping track and they’ve outgrown the labels.  They certainly don’t preach to others or judge people about their choices.  They’re just doing their own thing".

Image by Amber Dusick from the blog Crappy Pictures. Used with thanks per FAQ terms.

A level 10 crunchy mama is a diamond.  To my friends A and A - and anyone out there expecting a child, or parenting little ones - may you be strong, confident diamond mamas.

Healthy Self Co on Urbanspoon

26 Ballarat St, Yarraville
Phone: 9687 3330
Hours: Mon-Fri 6.30am-4pm, Sat-Sun 7.30am-4pm
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