May 21, 2013
Over the weekend I was invited by Catherine to attend her Eurovision Final party, which was very kind of her and terribly exciting for a variety of reasons, least of all the chance to finally sample the glory that is a Cross-Dressing Ken Cake in person (spoiler: it was DELICIOUS).
To throw myself into the spirit of the occasion, I felt that to make something in homage to the host nation of this year’s Eurovision would be appropriate. Having had the good sense to bring back an English language Swedish cookbook from Stockholm when I visited back in 2010, upon perusal I quickly came on the side of desserts, and from there to the idea of ginger snap biscuits. These thin, crispy biscuits are made by the armful load around Christmas in Sweden and are often given as gifts. They’re perfect to have with a cup of tea!
From Simply Swedish by Margareta Schildt-Landgren.
- 150g butter
- 200ml white sugar
- 150g light syrup (light syrup is apparently a Swedish thing – upon consultation with the internet it seemed that golden syrup was the best antipodean substitute, so substitute I did)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
- 1 egg
- 800g plain flour (I know, this sounds like a lot of flour, but you will probably not end up using anywhere near this much)
1. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan until silky.
2. Pour the golden sugary buttery goodness into a bowl and add all the spices, the bicarb and the egg, and combine (you can whiz all these in a food processor if you’re time poor). Work in the flour until you have a sticky dough. If you don’t use all the flour, don’t fret – I had probably close to a third of the original 800g left once I hit the sticky dough stage, and the biscuits still turned out great.
3. Here is where the original recipe said “leave to stand cold overnight.” Do not assume what I assumed, which was “ahh, pop it in the fridge.” DON’T PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE. Lest you want to spend the first few hours of the following day with your dough bowl clasped between your thighs in a desperate attempt to bring the dough back to room temperature so it’s actually workable and not a potential murder weapon. Instead pop it in a cool spot with a teatowel over the top of the bowl.
4. Preheat oven to 200C. Roll out the dough on a floured surface as thin as you can get it, and cut out figures. Apparently the traditional Swedish shapes for these biscuits are hearts, stars and goats (…seems legit). I didn’t have a goat cookie cutter, but I did have a moose one, which I actually bought in Sweden.
5. Place the biscuits on trays lined with baking paper. Now, the recommended baking time was 5-7 minutes with a warning that they burn easily, but I found with mine any longer than 4 minutes turned them into very brown mooses indeed. You’ll have to experiment depending on the thickness of your snaps.
6. Allow to cool on a rack.
My first batch came out looking quite nice indeed. But… they just weren’t quite EUROVISION enough.
So for the rest I threw edible glitter all over them before baking.
Much more Eurovision.
If you manage to get the biscuit dough very thin, this will yield a TON of biscuits. While I don’t think I reached the original recipe’s promise of two hundred, a very sizable herd of moose was achieved indeed. Plenty to soothe the sorrows of Europe once again passing over the clearly most Eurovision of entries, in this case Romania’s dark lord of operatic madness.
May 17, 2013
Sometimes, despite the overabundance of brunch date options in this town, the question of “where should we meet up to brunch?” can more often than not be met with blank, slightly panicked stares and much hmmm-ing and ahhh-ing. It’s almost as if an overabundance of good places and near-constant openings of new places, makes choice harder rather than easier (mon dieu!). Given that I am often viewed as a walking food directory, it is always relieving when before all indecisive eyes turn to me, someone pipes up with “I know a place!”
I had only vague knowledge of Oscar Cooper when it was suggested by Aimee as being a favourite of hers, so I was keenly anticipatory. Taking up a corner spot on Greville Street and St Edmonds Road, Oscar Cooper is light-filled, slightly industrial while also managing to err more on the side of cosy rather than cool, and manages to perk you up from your early morning fug from pure looks before you even spot the menu.
Determined not to start my Sunday morning with a caffeine jolt, I instead turned to the cold drinks section and ordered a strawberry, watermelon, apple and orange juice. One of several interesting fresh juice options on offer, this was a perfect burst of fruit sweetness to start the day with.
After being temporarily beguiled by both the thought of the Red Hill bircher with autumn poached fruits, and the thyme-buttered mushroom and ricotta jaffle, I ended up ordering the roasted beetroot, asparagus and Meredith goat’s cheese omelette with cherry tomatoes and balsamic glaze. It turned out to be more of an upturned baked eggs rather than an omelette, but no matter, it was still very tasty… were it not for the balsamic glaze, which was more of a sauce, and there was an OCEAN of it. It was sickly sweet, and having been recently schooled in the gloriousness of proper 25 year old aged balsamic vinegar, and how a lot of chefs will apparently try to make their vinegar last longer by cooking it down with a heap of sugar, I couldn’t help but be suspicious of the quality. It’s a shame, because without the vinegar the omelette was actually very nice, all cut through with chunks of sweet vegetables, and really the last thing it needed was yet more sweet.
I feel like I may have just accidentally ordered one of Oscar Cooper’s rare bum dishes, as the rest of the table were raving about how good their choices were. Aimee had the thick cut French brioche toast with grilled banana, maple syrup, chocolate buds, strawberries and cream, which was quite blatantly dessert for breakfast and a move that I wholeheartedly applaud. Kim and Bennett both had the Oscar’s benedict on potato rosti, featuring poached eggs, Berkshire bacon, smashed avocado and hollandaise, which looked gorgeous and they both raved about the dish’s fresh and crispy goodness. Aimee also pointed out a lot of other dishes that she’s enjoyed on previous visits – I really should have gone with one of her suggestions, clearly!
So here I find myself in the funny position of sort-of recommending Oscar Cooper, with the caveat that I suggest you don’t order the dish I did. There’s certainly plenty to choose from, it’s a very wide-ranging menu. The menu also made a particular mention of the fact that Oscar Cooper strives to be coeliac friendly, and that the chefs are happy to accommodate for any gluten issues you may have, which is always nice to see. The staff are friendly and the space exudes a surprising amount of warmth, which is often an element sorely lacking in Prahran eateries. This may be one I’ll have to revisit in the future in order to reassess whether this visit was a true representation of the cafe’s capabilities, but for now Oscar Cooper is a cautious ‘give it a go.’
160 Greville Street, Prahran
Ph: 9529 5670
May 13, 2013
I am the first to admit that I am a fussy snob when it comes to burgers. There’s a lot of things that irk me when it comes to burger-making that makes it hard for burger joints to gain a wholehearted tick of approval from me. Everything from having overstuffed burgers that are impossible to eat, too many sauces that create a sloppy mess, and having buns that are too soft, too sweet, or, worst of all, too hard to actually bite through all contribute to turning me into a sad panda.
The positive reports that filtered through to me from friends and various blogs about Jus Burger piqued my interest. Here seemed to be a place that might be able to offer an acceptable cheap and cheerful burger option to my particular liking. Honestly, any alternative to the dreaded Grill’d is always welcome in my book, so Jen and I went investigating.
Imported from Perth, the Chapel Street Jus Burger is the first Melbourne outpost for the franchise. It’s a pretty standard hipstery burger joint in terms of outfit – bright colours, high tables with bar seats, little plastic toy animals standing in for order numbers.
We started off with a serving of the onion rings, served with aioli, as I am terribly addicted to the ones from Lord of the Fries and as a consequence basically walk around with a cartoon bubble with a picture of onion rings floating above my head at all times. While they didn’t live up to LotF’s heavenly version they were still pretty decent: fine breadcrumb that went super crispy, and soft onion within. Jen felt that the aioli was far too mild, but I didn’t mind that so much.
To what we were really here for. While being quite tempted by The Chickpea, a felafel burger with tahini and slaw, I ended up going with the tempeh burger: spiced tempeh pattie, with mayo, tomato, lettuce, on the standard Jus Turkish roll. Now, possibly I should have known better than to go with this option as my first Jus foray, as tempeh can be a very hit and miss prospect. While the texture of this one was very pleasing, avoiding being a dense brick like so many other tempeh patties, there was something about the flavour that was slightly lacking. Not bad, just needing a bit more omph.
Structurally, however, the burger was definitely in the realm of my preferences – not too big, not too saucy but also not dry, the bread was soft enough to easily bite through but didn’t end up dissolving against the wet ingredients, and best of all, they served it with a proper serrated knife so you could cut it in half for ease of scoffing!
Jen was the burger winner with her choice – the panko-encrusted pumpkin with goats cheese and basil pesto. She was kind enough to let me gnaw a portion, and it very nearly was her doom because it was so delicious that I was tempted to push her off her stool and devour it before she had a chance to reclaim it. EXTREME BURGER ENVY.
As we’d chosen the meal option, the burgers were served with either chips or salad, coleslaw and a type of green pickle. I went with chips (because I don’t know when to stop when it comes to fried things), which were good and crispy, a very nice side, particularly with a squirt of ketchup. The slaw and pickle I was less enamoured of, but then again I am very rarely enamoured of either slaw or pickles. Jen’s salad was in the Greek mold, with a lot of cucumber, tomato and olives among the standard lettuce. Good if you can resist the fried sides (BUT WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?).
So, despite not being that jazzed by the flavour of my eventual burger choice, I can see very clearly what Jus is doing right, and I like it. I’m very keen to go back and have a panko pumpkin burger to myself, and to also sample the other vegie burgers (as well as the Chickpea there is a build-your-own vegie burger). I’d love to hear if any of you are also very particular about your burgers, and where the ones that ring all of your foodie bells can be found.
364 Chapel Street, South Yarra
Ph: 9827 1318
May 7, 2013
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years reading and writing vegetarian food blogs about Melbourne, it’s this: if Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef really, really, REALLY like a place, you had best sit up and pay attention. Because they know their shit. Consequentially, Cafe Lua has held a high spot on my ‘must go’ list for an embarrassingly long time.
After a morning enormously well spent watching Jurassic Park in 3D at Imax with Michaela (turns out my whole life had been waiting for the moment where I got to see a three story tall shirtless Jeff Goldblum), the opportunity to finally visit Cafe Lua was now at hand.
The space runs wild with op shop hipster kitsch – mismatched tables and chairs, miscellaneous crockery, potted cacti and other tchotchkes crowd any flat surface, but it’s endearing rather than obstructing. The staff are friendly but not obtrusive, and the menu is a highly intriguing one, containing not only multiple dishes that are either vegan or coeliac-friendly (or both!), but also dishes that seemed to me to be quite unique in terms of Melbourne’s overall brunch dish trends.
This difference is present from the drinks menu onwards. Michaela and I were pleased to see a variety of interesting cold drinks. She went with the red orange juice, a cool glass of ruby red, while I couldn’t go past the chrysanthemum iced tea with peach nectar and mint, which was just as refreshingly, sweetly decadent as you would expect.
Food wise, I had been eying off one dish in particular through all my blog review reading envy: the pumpkin and chia seed pancakes with yoghurt, lentil and spinach salad, sprinkled with sumac and red onion. The description alone just sounded so different to what I am accustomed to expect from a brunch menu. Savoury pancakes! Savoury pancakes with LENTILS! And they were every bit as good as I was hoping, with the pancakes fat, fluffy, and noticeably pumpkin-y. The chia seeds definitely added interest texturally, while the saucy lentils were alternately tart with the yoghurt, and spicy with the sumac, and all over DELICIOUS. This is a candidate for dish of the year for me.
Michaela went with the sweet version of the Canadian French toast with rhubarb, strawberries and cream. This looked like the kind of meal you’d get in a dream American diner from a movie, all fluffy piles of cream and shiny strawberries, complete with a jug of syrup. Michaela was very well pleased with it indeed, and I also couldn’t help but think it would be the perfect sweet recovery from a hard night before.
After such a pleasing initial foray, it didn’t take me long to make a second visit to Cafe Lua in the company of Alison and Phoebe. While it was very tempting to just order the pancakes again, I diversified by going with a blackboard special of strawberry and rhubarb bread with orange ricotta and hazelnuts. While serving size-wise it was a bit smaller than expected, it was still a delightful (and rich) breakfast, with the warmed wodge of fruity-threaded bread generously drizzled with the thinned out ricotta and sprinkled with hazelnut chunks.
While I sipped on a nicely decent chai latte, Alison got stuck into the pumpkin pancakes at my suggestion, while Phoebe tackled the corn stack with bacon and a poached egg. They greatly enjoyed them, although Phoebe’s monster-sized dish ended up getting the better of her; going savoury is clearly the way to go if you have a big appetite. I also spotted a dish that sparked instant food envy, the haloumi and cherry tomatoes combo which has me itching to go back just to try it.
Seriously, get to Cafe Lua now. It’s clever, comforting food in a very unpretentious package.
Cnr Elgin & Drummond Streets, Carlton
Ph: 9348 1118
April 15, 2013
With my bird-loving mania, I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to visit Bluebird. Although this visit wasn’t even a predetermined one – I had originally asked Jen to meet me for Sunday brunch at Bayte, and spent the week prior happily imagining Middle Eastern breakfast delights. Alas, fate intervened, and Bayte was bursting at the seams and had no room for us. So, with my internal brunch venue radar scanning wildly, we made down Johnston Street towards Bluebird, praying that they would be able to squish us in.
Bluebird was equally pumping, but we arrived at just the right moment to slide into some recently vacated seats, and felt very lucky and smug as a queue started very soon afterwards. The design of the cafe does twee cuteness right, with plenty of op shop chic and bird-orientated touches. Just the sort of place I can feel at home in!
Despite the full house, this is clearly a kitchen running smoothly on all cogs, as the food came out astonishingly quickly. After much dithering over all of the many delectable-sounding options, I decided eventually to go with the mushroom melt: sourdough toast with gruyere cheese melted over thyme buttered mushrooms, with a poached egg perched on top, all hidden under a glossy mountain of dressing-drizzled rocket. I also ordered some haloumi on the side, which resulted in two giant wodges of the lovely stuff. I do love to see a generous hand when it comes to haloumi.
The rocket is clearly in place to make you feel a little more virtuous about your choices, but I very quickly mowed through it to get to the good stuff: fat mushrooms all shiny with melted butter and speckled with thyme, mingling with rivulets of popped egg yolk and thin melted strips of gruyere. I’m honestly doing a Homer-style drool just over the remembrance of it. This was all my favourite savoury breakfast things done just right. By all accounts cartoon birds should have all of a sudden descended from the rafters and started serenading me with a song about my good fortune.
Jen had the Mexican eggs with chorizo: a tomato-chilli mix of beans, corn and chorizo on top of a stack of tortillas, with two fried eggs peering out. Jen enjoyed the dish, finding the flavours of the beans and chorizo particularly compelling, but did find it slightly anti-climatic towards the end when the tortillas became just too soggy to function (in my experience this just seems standard of tortilla-based breakfast dishes as a whole). It did however serve to whet her appetite for wanting to sample the rest of Bluebird’s expansive and impressive menu, a task I would only be too happy to join her in undertaking.
We also each had a pot of Larson & Thompson’s earl grey tea. This is a nicely delicate blend that doesn’t overwhelm, and due to its mildness later cups don’t end up with that sour, over-steeped taste.
The only vaguely negative point I can think of about our entire Bluebird visit is that there appears to be no heating, and with the door to the courtyard left open, the very chilly wet weather made the whole place freezing! But temperature aside, I cannot fault Bluebird for anything else, it’s food, service and general vibe being a genuinely delightful experience. I am completely in simpatico with the song Bluebird is singing, and can’t wait for another chance to join in with its delicious chorus.
134 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9078 7047
April 6, 2013
For ages now, Michaela has been imploring me to visit Carnegie for this blog. It was grievous to her that her home suburb’s culinary delights should have thus far escaped my notice. Indeed, once I thought about it I was surprised at myself for not having gone eating there before, especially given it’s reputation as a hub for Korean restaurants.
But for my very first visit, Michaela decided that I should be treated to the most widely lauded of Carnegie’s food stops, the venerable Auntie’s Dumplings, which often features near the top of ‘Melbourne’s best dumpings’ lists. Not to be left out of a dumpling adventure, Bennett came along too, forming that oft overlooked superhero team of the Dumpling Trio. Our special powers are unlimited stomach capacity, and being able to breathe soy sauce like it’s oxygen.
Auntie’s is like many a cheap and cheerful dumpling restaurant, in that ambiance is basically non-existent. If you don’t like hustle and bustle, coming during peak meal hours is also best avoided – around 2-3pm when we visited is a good option, as the lunch rush is done with and you get to enjoy your dumplings in a calmer environment.
Our first dish was a trio of fried pumpkin cakes, as insisted upon by Michaela. These were little crisp discs of pumpkin with a very agreeable sweetness to them, a perfect starter.
While we were on fried appetisers, I insisted on a serving of one of my favourite dishes, spring onion pancake. Auntie’s version had a crisp, bubbled exterior, and were very thin, so there was not much fluffiness inside, but it was still a very good example of the dish.
We leavened all this fried goodness with the simple, healthy greenery of a plate of steamed Chinese broccoli, with oyster sauce very kindly served on the side so that Michaela and Bennett could go mad with it while I slopped my own soy/chilli sauce creation over my portion. The broccoli had been perfectly steamed, with leaves wilted but not soggy, and the stalks still retaining a firm bite to them.
Of course, what we were really here for were the dumplings. While Bennett contented himself with some pork versions, Michaela and I got stuck into some fried vegetarian dumplings. They had thick, crispy skins, with a very spinach heavy filling; you were hit with an immediate metallic smell once you cracked them open. Closer inspection of the filling turned up evidence of very finely chopped vegies in among the green, as well as tiny strands of clear noodles, but spinach was the predominant flavour. While if I’m being truly critical, I would in general prefer greater variety and nuance in terms of overall flavour, as a complete package the Auntie dumpling is very seductive.
Auntie’s delivered a pretty top notch dumpling experience. The dumplings themselves are well made, and the other non-dumpling dishes we sampled were highly accomplished in terms of simple done very well. I was also particularly happy that I was able to get an item like oyster sauce served separately in order to make the steamed Chinese broccoli truly vegetarian – by the waitress’ quick, understanding acquiescence to the request, it seems like Auntie’s is used to adjusting ingredients to suit dietary requirements. Best of all, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap! Carnegie may have plenty more culinary treats for me to discover, but it’s going to be hard not to feel the constant pull for another batch of Auntie’s dumplings.
68 Koornang Road, Carnegie
Ph: 9568 6641
April 2, 2013
I have a confession to make. I am addicted to frozen yoghurt. Like, “oh I meant to have a well-balanced meal but I walked past a Cacao Green and now I’m shoveling green tea froghurt in my face, what do you mean that’s not healthy, green tea is full of vitamins, and also mochi” level of addiction. I’ve basically got to a point where if I even see a frozen yoghurt place, I actually can’t stop myself from getting a cup.
Which means that when at our recent outing to The Local Taphouse, when Jojo mentioned that she had parked her car in front of a frozen yoghurt place, my mind started clicking over as to what one it might be. And when I figured out that it must be Yo-Chi, heralded by many a froghurt-loving hipster as the pinnacle froghurt experience, well, I just had to connive a reason to walk Jojo to her car. For her safety in the wilds of Balaclava, obviously. Nothing at all to do with us both wanting iced treats.
So Yo-Chi’s deal is that it is do-it-yourself frozen yoghurt. You line up – and boy at our visit did we have to line up, at 10pm on a hot Saturday night the line was out the door – choose your cup size, select what flavour/s you would like out of at least eight different varieties, choose your toppings, which range from fruit pieces to nuts, chocolate, candies, and even sweet sauces, and then your final creation is weighed in order to determine price.
I like my froghurt to be a simple and mainly fruity concoction, so I went with the coconut and mixed berry yoghurts topped with strawberry pop pearls. I am ridiculously addicted to pop pearls, I blame my twin bubble tea and Dessert Story dependencies. If you have not yet been fortunate enough to discover pop balls, they are essentially akin to little hollow tapioca pearls filled with fruit nectar. They are dessert crack. The ones at Yo-Chi were very syrupy and sweet, yet still had a reasonable strawberry tang to them. Not quite as nice as the more standard mango-flavoured ones you see about, but still good.
As for the froghurt itself, Yo-chi clearly like their flavours big and bombastic. This nearly made for coconut’s undoing, as it was such a strong blast of tropical goodness it very quickly overwhelmed me. One for the mad fans of coconut, not the merely curious! The mixed berry, however, was much more to my liking, with noticeable tangs of blackberry and raspberry.
Jojo went slightly mad and attempted to fill her cup with as many different flavours and toppings as she could. From what I can remember, among what she sampled included the coconut, chocolate, and honey soybean yoghurt flavours, and she topped them with a big spoonful of halva, drizzled with hot chocolate and caramel sauces. From a spoonful that I managed to pilfer, I was particularly interested in the honey soybean yoghurt, which Yo-Chi touts as their original flavour. Being mild and sweet, it would definitely be the perfect yoghurt for those that love their toppings, as it would complement anything.
Yo-Chi is the sort of ice creamery (froghurtery? Patent pending, patent pending, patent pending!) that provides endless variation and experimentation, meaning that re-visitation prospects are high. The froghurt itself is of good quality, and frankly I’m just lamenting the fact that Balaclava is well out of the way of my day to day meanderings, otherwise I’d be having their tart frozen treats every day.
292 Carlisle Street, Balaclava
Ph: 9527 7001
March 30, 2013
It’s always nice when friends suggest as gathering venues places that you’ve never heard of. One, because there’s no preconceptions cobbled together from reading far too many other reviews of it, and two, you get to see the places that your friends feel comfortable in, which is always a nice intimacy to share. So when Glenn suggested The Local Taphouse as the venue for his going away drinks before his relocation to New York, the intrigue of what the venue had in store distracted me slightly from the grief inherent in his leaving us all FOR(maybe)EVER! *sob*
It’s a big old pub that runs across several levels, with many a nook and secret spot. We bagsed a little balcony on the roof that we managed to all squish into, and my mind instantly turned to food.
The Local’s detailed menu runs the gamut from your standard pub meals to a few dishes that skew towards Asian influences – for instance, when was the last time you ordered pho alongside your pint? There were some interesting vegie options available; I lingered over the idea of the soba noodle salad with steamed eggplant and avocado, while later on in the night saw others order the vegie burger, which was a mighty meal indeed with a field mushroom stuffed with ricotta, surrounded by an ocean of beer-battered fries.
Jojo and I decided to share a few dishes between us from the selection of sides, which are totally big enough to easily fill you. First was the beer battered, Cajun-spiced thick cut frites. You can choose to have them without the Cajun spices, but where’s the fun in that? Especially as the Cajun spices make them even more more-ish than chips already are, we happily gobbled away at them.
The real winner, however, was the deceptively simple bowl of green beans with goats cheese and almonds. The beans were at their crisp best, the almonds had been slightly toasted so they had their natural husky flavour enhanced nicely, and… jeeze, I have goats cheese things a lot, don’t I? Well, it’s because it’s FREAKING DELICIOUS, and this was no different – very good quality nanny cheese, I was trying to surreptitiously spear as much of it onto my fork as possible, but was foiled by Jojo who was doing the same!
The Local takes it’s beer VERY seriously, which left me floundering slightly as I am definitely not a beer drinker. They did however also have Willie Smiths organic cider, a lovely, properly cloudy and most decidedly uncarbonated cider (I mean, if it’s an alternative to beer I’ll drink those bubbly ciders, but don’t pretend that they are anything close to real, traditional cider, just… no). If you do like beer, though, the beer ‘tasting platter’ was highly popular among our group – you choose five of The Local’s MANY artisan and niche beer varieties, that are then brought to you on a platter graded from lightest to heaviest. A gourmet beer experience!
The Local Taphouse is quite a nice surprise hidden away down south. Glenn mentioned that he chose the venue as the one most likely to lure his north dwelling friends across the river, and I can see why. I will definitely be keeping it in mind next time I’m thinking of a nice pubby get together on the south side.
The Local Taphouse
184 Carlisle Street, St Kilda East
Ph: 9537 2633
March 24, 2013
It is not often that I find myself down the Spencer Street end of the CBD, which means I’ve been aching to check out Kinfolk for the longest time, but haven’t had the opportunity in my day to day wanderings to just happen past it on the fly. Finding myself with an unexpected morning free, I hopped on a city loop train and purposely got off at Southern Cross with the intent on finally experiencing Kinfolk.
Why is Kinfolk so interesting? It’s actually a social justice project, where all of the cafe’s profits are given to four development projects. The cafe is run by volunteers, the food supplies and outfit are all donated, and you can actually chose which project you would like your money to go towards, using the old ‘put a coffee bean in the appropriate jar’ means of funds distribution.
The cafe is a nicely cluttered, comforting space – basically think hippy chic. The volunteer staff are a cheery bunch, although it is wise to keep in mind that they are volunteers, and while the service I experienced was smooth and friendly, due to the concept they’re not going to be able move the earth just to please your whims (so remember that next time, lady seated at the table next to me who had a fit because there weren’t enough ‘lunchy’ options to her liking).
The food available is very brunch orientated and features a lot of simple, rustic dishes. I ended up going with the bean cassolet, a little ceramic dish filled with a variety of beans in a sweet tomato sauce, flecked with generous white daubs of feta, with two nice slices of crusty bread on the side brushed with oil.
My English breakfast tea, which arrived at nearly the same moment as the beans – well done on the synchronicity there, waitstaff – was served in a lovely fat, brown 70s-style teapot with a mis-matched cup and saucer set. The whole picture of the fat teapot sitting next to the beans was so striking that I actually stopped to snap a little photo before starting to eat, which as I’m sure as you’ve noticed from this wall of text blog, I’m not a habitual photographer, and for me to stop and take the time to take a snap before shoveling food in my face is a big deal.
Now, as you may have noticed, the beans are not terribly large. You will not receive an acreage of food in terms of portion size here. But what was there was very nice indeed, with creamy feta slighting up against the sweet tomatoey beans that still had a touch of bite to them. And honestly loading up slices of good bread with tasty, saucey vegetables never gets old with me.
After such an anticipated wait, Kinfolk could have very easily been a disappointment, but I certainly felt very content after popping my coffee bean into the Palm Island indigenous education program jar and walking off to work. I’m sure there’s plenty like me who spend a goodly portion of their income on eating out, so it’s good to have a place where you can not only purchase a happy tum, but also a little change for the better somewhere else in the world.
673 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
March 17, 2013
Tacos, tacos, tacos! Everyone loves tacos! So much so that clearly there’s a market in setting up a restaurant that, apart from a few beverages and a salsa or two, only offers its customers tacos. This is the deal at Chingon.
Out for a family togetherness dinner, the Blintzes took our places sitting on Chignon’s rooftop dining area. I had no idea this area existed, having only eaten in the front dining room before, but yes, wind your way out the back, up the staircase over the Cadillac (um, yeah, there’s a Cadillac in the back dining room), and you emerge into quite a nice, albeit rustic space.
We started off with the only dish on the menu that isn’t tacos, the fire-roasted salsa with guacamole and corn chips. While others baulked at the charred corn kernels floating in the salsa, I absolutely loved it, with the fact that it lent both texture and intensified smokiness and sweet notes. I’m normally far more of a guac person than a salsa person, but I was steadfastly ignoring the very good guacamole here in order to load as much salsa onto chips as possible.
On to tacos. There was quite a bit of waiting time between salsas and tacos – I believe the kitchen here is quite teeny, and they do make everything to order, which gets a bit of leeway sympathy from me, though I’d be curious to see what it’s like on a bursting at the seams evening.
Now, a note that unless you specify that you’d prefer them served separately, you will end up getting your vegie tacos served on the same platter as the meat ones, so if meaty cross-contamination worries you, be vocal.
The single vegie option (out of only six options all up) comprises of charcoal roasted corn, capsicum, cubes of baby squash, guacamole, salsa and feta, wrapped in soft, light brown, handmade corn taco tortillas. With that charred smoky tang that characterises the food here dominating, they’re very tasty, very more-ish tacos, with a nice level of chilli heat that gets you buzzing but doesn’t fully overwhelm. They are also deceptively filling little beasties – you can get four for $20, and they definitely sate a hungry tum.
For drinks there’s only non-alcoholic beverages available, although you can BYO your own wine. I had a toronja, which is freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, sugar and water. This was a perfect refreshing offset to the heat of the food, and also from the warm evening sun. Mum exclaimed happily over her limonada (freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar and water), saying that it was basically a very good version of old school lemonade. They probably are a touch expensive at $7 each, though, considering what they are.
As an ex-waitress who has a whole mental binder filled with horror stories about customers constantly wanting you to do the impossible or change things that ends up throwing the whole kitchen out of whack and leaves you inwardly screaming at the sheer entitlement of some people, I can’t help but admire a place like Chingon that says up front “This is what we do. We only do this. We do it well, and if you don’t like what we offer and how we do it, there’s the door.” This reversed sense of entitlement coming from a restaurant’s end is liable to drive some customers completely up the wall at facing a bunch of rules and having any greater sense of choice taken away from them, but I actually found the simplicity of it refreshing. It is certainly nice to have the option of somewhere like Chingon around, a place where you know what you’re going to get, that may be very simple in concept, but is well done and, most importantly, satisfying. So cut the crap, and have a damn taco.
413 Swan Street, Richmond
Ph: 9429 5695