I think I'm the only person in Melbourne who wants this heat wave to continue. Reason being, I dragged my skinny jeans out of the cupboard the other day and hoo boy - less muffin top and more mushroom cloud! As long as these days keep being sunny, I can stuff those pants at the back of the cupboard and keep swanning about in forgiving summer frocks.
As you may know, the Food Festival is upon us and it's been worth every popped button so far. I want to share with you some of the brilliant events I've been to in the western suburbs, but first it's time to clear the decks with a smattering of tasty treats. My first amnesty post was here, and I hope you enjoy another!
I'm not sure if this festive red shop, Victoria Restaurant in North Melbourne, is new but one dish on the menu piqued my interest when wandering past.
$24 (serves two)
These are do-it-yourself Nha Trang-style rice paper rolls. Lengths of grilled nem nuong or minced pork patty, smoky and juicy, are supplied along with pickled carrots, vermicelli, mints and cooling sliced apple - an interesting and delicious touch!
You twirl the round rice paper wrapper through hot water, fill it how you like, roll it up and dunk in special, curiously orange Nha Trang-style sauce. Quan Viet also make Nha Trang-style rice paper rolls with this same sauce - I know it contains pork, but that's the extent of my knowledge!
Pho bo tai, $11 (one size)
Victoria Restaurant also do pho, and are the first place I've ever seen in Melbourne that serves sawtooth coriander alongside the regulation Thai basil! In terms of our other dishes, some were perhaps a little Anglicised - spring rolls came with sweet chilli, not nuoc mam cham - and I think they were unexpectedly busy as the last of our dishes didn't arrive until about 90 minutes after ordering. I only had a sip of this pho but I'd like to go back and try it again.
Mama Bear is a new brunch spot that's popped up in this cafe blackspot, not far from Flemington Racecourse.
Their house brew is Gridlock's 7,000 blend, plus there are single origins. A latte and a single origin short black were respectable, perhaps not as sublime as Common Galaxia or Wee Jeanie but good all the same.
There are loads of enticing menu options like eggs with apple cider hollandaise and slow-cooked beef cheek sliders. I settled on this wild mushroom and taleggio tart with a pear and rocket salad, which was delish. And for you fuss pots, there is an actual menu item called "I just want some eggs". Love it!
From one mama to another... There's probably nothing Melbourne likes more than a new dumpling house, and consequently Shandong Mama is getting epic amounts of buzz. It is actually run by a mama from Shandong, and staffed by many gorgeous family members (we were served by her delightful son-in-law).
I mean, if that video doesn't make you scream and run around the room, you're not really a Melburnian. So when I visited, to quote a friend who'd been a few nights earlier, I was expecting the second coming.
And therein probably lay the problem. I think I'm the lone dissenter in all the hype in that Shandong Mama didn't blow my mind. My impression is that it is really, really authentic, but out of the entire Asian gastronomic pantheon, I find northern Chinese dishes such as these the most difficult. This "Sichuan pepper beef" was too much for me, the pieces very fatty and gelatinous.
Likewise I couldn't handle this homemade smoked fish, served cold with a thick, gooey sauce.
I did really like this lovely, sweet cabbage salad (an authentic version of Chang's!) but an accompanying black fungus and sesame oil salad, with big sheathes of swollen, slightly rubbery black vegetable, didn't go down well with me.
$13.80 for ten
The dumplings were good but they just didn't reach the dizzying heights I was expecting. We tried quite a few varieties and my favourite were probably these "Melbourne dumplings", a tasty mix of seafood, chicken, lemon zest, olive oil and parsley. I must add that they had run out of so many dishes, ordering became somewhat farcical (a friend confirmed this too on another visit). So it's back to Shanghai Street for me. But try Shandong Mama for yourself and see what you think!
But whatever you do, DO believe the hype at city lunch joint Wonderbao. Check out this great interview by Eat & Greet with funky young owner Andrew Wong - his fam had been making steamed buns in Braybrook for years before Andrew commandeered the family recipes, booted out the MSG and created an instant Melbourne classic.
These are Taiwanese-style gua bao, steamed white bread enclosed around fillings to create what could be termed Taiwanese tacos. Wonderbao do three varieties - braised pork belly, roast pork belly and crisp silken tofu, each spiked with different combinations of pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and more. Make sure you get the house-made soy milk too - cooling, sweet and beany. Wonderbao? Wonder-wow!
And finally, if you were curious about the top pic in this post, Footscray's new creative hub venue The Colour Box is hosting SELF, or Sustainable Ethical Local Fashion. It's a pop-up shop featuring duds by independent designers and cooperatives like New Model Beauty Queen (great name!), The Social Studio, Jude, and Twitch Women's Sewing Collective, a South Sudanese women's group in Dandenong.
Read more about Colour Box from its founder, the very inspiring Amie Batalibasi, who not only makes documentary films but also gorgeous bags and badges under her label Pretty WAK. So I might just leave those skinny jeans at the back of the cupboard, get fitted with new duds at Colour Box instead, and keep enjoying life!