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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Snow Tree, Footscray

So someone was talking on Twitter about the new frozen yoghurt place opening in Seddon, and someone else directed them to the blog, "...and now it's a fucking froyo place".  Go check it out, but it's basically before-and-after shots of places that were "business X" and are now frozen yoghurt joints.  What rancour! I thought.  Who could get grumpy with frozen yoghurt?  So swirly, sweet and studded with delicious toppings - why, if unicorns poo, they must poo frozen yoghurt.

But seriously, as far as I can gather, the blog "[tracks] New York's downfall" by tracing the closure of diverse small businesses in favour of corporate frozen yoghurt chains.  There may be more frozen yoghurt joints around Melbourne than ever before, but I don't think we're at quite the same level of small biz displacement.

Indeed, Footscray seems to have been a particularly hostile environment for species froyus yoghurtus.  Yogurt House gave it a crack but didn't succeed.  And then came Snow Tree, who did waffles and frozen yoghurt.


I have no idea how successful the sweet offerings were, but for whatever reason, Snow Tree have decided to turn their attention to a new menu of savoury Korean food.


It's not the best location - right next to a noisy bus stop - but inside it's surprisingly quiet and peaceful.  The slightly whimsical, mismatched decor is endearing if a bit odd.


The lunch specials are total bargains.  This bibimbap was $12 and came with three side dishes, salad, miso and Korean chilli sauce.


Bibambap is kinda the equivalent of Korean meat and three - or rather, seven - veg.  The meat n' veg in question are all really simply seasoned with maybe some sesame oil, salt and pepper, and it's served on white rice in a searing-hot stone bowl, which is meant to crisp up the rice around the edges.


This was my meal, but I have such massive food envy of the bibimbap that I have forgotten what it was called.  I think it was only ten dollars, so at least I could revel in my gold coin savings!


As well as miso, side dishes and salad, mine was a "bit of everything" with tempura vegies, crumbed prawn, spring roll, coleslaw, beef stir-fry of sorts and lots of nice rice.


'Twas all good, cheap and satisfying.  A good little option to have in Footscray when you're tired of pho for lunch.  And there was no room for dessert - froyo or otherwise!


Snow Tree
12/119 Hopkins Street (entrance on Leeds St), Footscray

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Co Do

So...the other day I queued for a table at a restaurant.  Big whoop, you say.  These days, that's about as Melbourne as trams, four seasons in one day, and bagpipes at Flinders St station (if you're old enough to remember them).  But this wasn't at some hidden-entrance, underground hotspot serving Chinese-Mexican fusion (don't laugh, there actually is one in Melbourne) - this was at a Vietnamese joint in Sunshine.

And it was totally worth it.


So I'm stealing my own thunder a little - let's back up.  Co Do opened in late June with a seemingly crazy mission - to add another Vietnamese eatery to Sunshine's already well-stocked Hampshire Road.

If the name sounds familiar, that's because Co Do has also operated for many years quite happily in Victoria St, Richmond.  Their specialty is bun bo Hue, a chilli-lemongrass beef soup from the old imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam.  But it soon became apparent that's not all they do well.


The first time we stopped in, we did have to wait a not unpleasant ten minutes or so for a table.  It was chockers.

People get so intimidated by Vietnamese menus, and I get it.  But once you've eaten in a lot of Vietnamese places, you'll begin to see that each menu has a couple of unique dishes that aren't part of the usual 1000 or so.  They are the ones I always gravitate to first.


Case in point - these "pork and prawn cake in banana leaf" or banh bot loc.  These were really quite unusual - unwrapping each fat little parcel (you don't eat the outer leaf) revealed a fat, semi-opaque bundle of gummy tapioca flour, surrounding well-seasoned prawn and pork.  I'm not selling them very well, but they were pretty cool.  A very interesting and (I dare say) street food-style dish you don't see very often on restaurant menus.


Another "banh", this time banh beo.  These are mini steamed rice cakes topped with dried prawn that's been whizzed up into a crumble.  This is a Hue specialty.  These were much less peculiar than the former offering and really quite good, lovely doused in a lot of seasoned fish sauce.  Another one that's almost never seen here in Melbourne.


Do be sure to check out the specials ("Dac Biet") on the papers on the walls.  They're in Vietnamese but that doesn't preclude you from ordering them (as some people seem to feel) - I knew what most of them were but the waitress was happy to explain the couple I didn't.  And don't stress too much, because most are in the menu itself.  This is one - rare beef coleslaw, or goi bo tai chanh if I remember correctly.  The beef has been "cured" in lemon juice, similar to ceviche.  A fantastic riot of flavours and textures in this one, and perhaps not as cloyingly sweet as some other coleslaws can be.


But the number one order was this banh xeo.  Translated as "Vietnamese pancake", this is something I've had a somewhat tempestuous relationship with, as the more I eat, the more I'm reminded how much better they can be.  These filled pancakes always run the risk of being gluggy and soggy, and a sorry amount in Melbourne are.


This one was a standout winner.  The batter really tasted of coconut cream, and the filling (which we first thought was a little sparse) revealed itself to be judiciously proportioned, so that every bite had the right proportion of creamy mung beans, just-wilted bean sprouts, whole prawns (yes, you eat the shells - crunch crunch - don't be scared!) and cooked pork.  ZOMG.  (Pro tip - open up the pancake and spread the filling out a bit, so you get more even distribution.)


To eat, cut portions with your spoon, place in a piece of lettuce with an embarrassment of herbs, and spoon dipping sauce over.  HEAVEN.  Amazing banh xeo, and only 15 dollars.  And no boring iceberg in sight - all the greens were really crunchy and unusual!


I went back the following week, and it was looking like we'd have to queue again, when a friendly lady offered to let us share her table.  This turned out to be a huge score.  She used to be in the restaurant business and has been coming to Co Do weekly to try more and more goodies, so enamoured she is of the food.


Time for the signature dish - bun bo Hue.  This soup is made with a broth rich with lemongrass and chilli, and normally has an absolute butcher's bin of offal on top.  Co Do do a version with just sliced rare beef for those wimps among us.  This was delicious.  The lemongrass is really there, giving it an almost tom yum flavour - but more beefy.  The noodles were big fat rice noodles, almost like rice noodle spaghetti.


My favourite part, though, is the big pile of chopped lettuce and red cabbage for you to throw in, which you should do liberally.  (On the left above, under the basil - the basil and bean sprouts are for the pho.)  If you've done pho, if you've done hu tieu mi - it's time to try bun bo Hue.  And this is where to do it.


But - the pho!  Normally I avoid pho unless it's a pho-specific restaurant.  But this was off the hook.  The broth was so good - a great balance of salty and sweet, and with intriguing herbiness.  Fantastic.  I only got to snaffle a few bites as this was hot property of a pho-obsessed child, but I am SO going back for this.


PS:  Make sure you put some of the Vietnamese "saté sauce" in a dish to dip your meat in.  It's the sauce in the glass bottle on the table, with a spoon through the lid.  The one here is really dried prawn-y - yum.


My lucky tablemate had also raved about the Vietnamese yoghurt here.  She explained that one of the owners makes it and "you cannot find better".  I got some to take away.  Now sweet yoghurt's not really my thing, and this was very sweet.  It had a fabulously delicate texture and the slight funk that sometimes accompanies sheep or goat's milk.  Not my thing but I could tell it was good, if you like that sort of thing.

The majority of the places you read about on these fair pages are places I very much enjoy - and then promptly go on to never revisit (or only do so once in a blue moon).  It's the unfortunate reality for me, as I'm always driven to find new and exciting eats, and am bounded by both budget and expanding bum.  A small proportion, though, become regular haunts.  Sunshine's Co Do is definitely going to be one.

Co Do
207 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine
Phone 9939 0850
Open 7 days, 9am-10pm

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nami Sushi

Oh, nori roll, what did Australia ever do without you?  As grabbable as a potato cake and as pseudo-healthy as a Boost juice.  Every second toddler I see at Highpoint is clutching an avocado roll in their chubby fists.


Footscray now has a schwank sushi joint in the form of Nami Sushi, just opened on Paisley Street.  I love their groovy design!


You've got your regulars, like tempura prawn and avocado.  But then there are a few quirky characters - sundried tomato, cream cheese and avocado, anyone?  And there are cool "inside-out" rolls with the rice on the outside.


There are also some really funky layered rolls, like the one above on the left, with a nice slab of salmon on top.  The verdict?  I really enjoyed both rolls.  My only complaint is they were quite cold.  I'm not sure how Sushi Sushi et al do it, but their rolls are always at a good temperature that makes the nori not too chewy and the flavours all wide awake.  (Yes, yes, I know all about the other thing they found in one of the Highpoint stores' rolls that was also very much wide awake.)  It's probably a hard line to walk with government food safety regulations, I'd imagine.  The secret is probably fast turnover, which I think will become Nami's reality very soon.


The menu online looks very cool but at least as far as I gathered, not everything was available just yet.  They've even got a sushi pizza, which I don't even know how to describe, looking at the picture on their Facebook page.  I hope they get the brown rice sushi happening soon.  (Yes, I am a big hippy.)


At this stage there are tables and chairs but no specific eat-in trimmings.  It would be great to have plates rather than having to eat out of the takeaway boxes.  But for now, can I revert to being one of those nori roll-loving toddlers and exclaim...  Nami Sushi?  Nummy sushi!

Nami Sushi
3 Paisley St, Footscray

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Laksa King

This is a sponsored post.  See bottom of post for full disclosure.

I don't know what I've done.  I didn't blow my nose on a tablecloth.  I didn't leave a 5-cent tip.  Somehow, I've offended the restaurant gods, as my run of bad luck continues.  The curse's latest incarnation was at one of Gordon St's Indian joints, where a nothing-special entree segued to just-okay mains.  At least we enjoyed the naan - until, under the napkin lining the basket, we found an old chicken bone lurking.  I'm not making this up!!!

So I knew that when this blog post had a deadline, there was no time to go sailing into unchartered waters.  I needed something truly time tested.  Enter Laksa King.


If you don't already know the story, Laksa King used to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint in a dingy arcade.  They did a cracking laksa.  I have no idea what the rest of their food was like, and I don't think anyone else did either - you ordered the laksa and that was that.  A few years ago they moved around the corner and underwent a massive transformation, from tiny storefront to the big, glitzy shebang that it is now.


There was a lot of argy-bargy at the time about whether or not it had gone downhill, and I really can't comment, as I never went enough to perceive any noticeable difference.  Since then, though, it's become one of my favourite places for reliably delicious Malaysian food.


It is ALWAYS busy in here.  The above photo was taken on a Monday night.  I love eating in busy places - the rush, the buzz.  Laksa King have a lot of staff so service is never a problem.  (You do eventually get booted out if you sit and chat for an unreasonably long time after your meal, without buying any more food or drinks - I speak from experience!)


Loved this homemade tofu with mushrooms ($15.80).  The tofu was awesome - a big, wobbly serve, almost like a savoury pudding.  It was deliciously rich with an almost eggy taste - really not like the usual blandness folks associate with tofu.  And on top, loads of interesting mushrooms, from little clawlike clutches to nice meaty pieces of shiitake.


Well, with something so healthy, of course we had to have something OTT.  I know these wasabi prawns ($20.80) aren't very Malaysian but hoo boy, they were good!  The prawns were really big and bouncy with crunchy batter and sweet, only slightly hot wasabi mayo.  Given the quality of the crustaceans, it's good value, too.


Here's a few highlights from other Laksa King voyages.  This was a chef's special, and the second time I had it, it wasn't on the specials menu but I asked if they could make it.  It's scallops with veg and "volcanic salt" - big crystals of smoky, rich, black salt.  I love this dish.  Try asking and perhaps you shall receive!


This is what my kids usually share between three - prawn dumplings with egg noodles ($10.80).  The stock is tasty and if not MSG-free, then very low.  Lovely dumplings, few token bits of veg - perfect.


And yes, it's the old Baklover standby - salted fish and chicken fried rice ($11.20).  Don't order that stuff with peas, carrots and BBQ pork - give this a try.  You don't need anything else on the table, it's that good.

So if you feel like you're on a losing streak - restaurant-related or otherwise - head to the King.  I guarantee you'll come out feeling like a winner.

Laksa King on Urbanspoon

Laksa King
6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington
Phone: 9372 6383

This is a sponsored post for the Australian Mushroom Growers' Association "Mushroom Mania" campaign.  In their own words: "Each July Australian Mushroom Growers run a foodservice campaign called Mushroom Mania. The campaign rolls out throughout Australia and encourages the community to eat out in July, to enjoy healthy mushroom meals."   I was paid a flat sum for my writing which did not include meal expenses. I was free to choose where to eat and the restaurant was not notified before nor after about this post.  Australian Mushroom Growers and Laksa King have not sought nor been given any editorial control of this post.
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