Northern Soul

I am a total sucker for owls. Most birds in general send me into paroxysms of delight (quick bird-nerd squee: there were spotted pardalotes in my garden this spring! They are normally so hard to see! Yet there they were, hopping around our maples like tiny wee brown and orange lights, peeping away. So cute! End bird squee). But owls are my favourite. So seeing a cheery brown owl emblazoned on Northern Soul’s front window as Muffin and I strolled through the door immediately raised my hopes that this little place would deliver something special.

It is a small yet very neatly designed place, with gorgeous wallpaper and cheery staff. The menu is nice and varied, with so many veggie options that my head was quite comprehensibly spun.

You don’t win friends with salad, so the adage goes, but I would counter that you would totally win friends with Northern Soul’s udon salad. Udon noodles and an array of fresh crunchy greens and seeds (pine, pumpkin and a few others I failed to identify) are complimented with wasabi mayo. The ratio of solid ingredients to mayo was a tops one, nothing was too overly drenched, although if you’re expecting a hefty wasabi kick you will be dissatisfied, this is quite mild, which was okay with me. Deliciously pleasing!

Muffin had the vegan baked beans on pumpkin bread, with a side of cute tiny sauteed button mushrooms. She felt that the bread wasn’t as pumpkiny as she’d expected, but found nothing to fault in the beans, which were both hearty and tasty. The little mushrooms were bite-sized morsels of goodness, as one would expect from vegetables happily united together in butter.

The tea is provided by Leaf Herbal Tea; apparently Northern Soul is the only cafe in Melbourne that stocks this particular tea brand. I was certainly pretty impressed by my earl grey, which featured American bergamot (which, plant-nerd time, isn’t actually botanically related to regular bergamot, but is so strongly reminiscent of the flavour and scent of bergamot that settlers gave it the same name). I also had a lovely pot of chai tea which was popping with spices. I really want to explore this tea menu, it’s so heartening when places do tea properly!

We kept peering at the desserts cabinet that was just across from us, and could not help but be tempted by all the attractive little cakes. Muffin had a ‘daisy cake’, a little vanilla cupcake with slight coffee-ish flavoured icing with marshmallows on top.  I had been eying off the impressive-looking passionfruit meringue cupcakes since I arrived. Topped with a swirl of meringue, the cupcake itself was a bright rich yellow, strongly passionfruit flavoured and hid a golden treasure inside with a centre of passionfruit curd.  It’s always a treat when food tastes as good as it looks!

Northern Soul is pleasingly fabulous, and we weren’t the only ones discovering it; the little place filled up very quickly while we were eating (apparently it’s quite the drawcard for lunch before Women of Letters!). I’m certainly very keen to go back. Everything is nice and cheap, most dishes are under $10, so you can have yourself a good filling lunch without fuss. Although make sure you bring lots of cash as there aren’t any card facilities.

Northern Soul

843 High Street, Thornbury

Ph: 9480 2333

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe

Having been thwarted on our first attempted visit to L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe, Jess, Kim and I were determined not to let it slip out of our grasp. We returned the week after our abortive effort, this time ensuring we went on a day it was actually open!

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe is quite nondescript from the outside; the only indication that there may be something interesting inside the warehouse exterior is the bright red front door. But through the red door is an enormous, airy room that is all industrial clean lines and high ceilings, dotted with well-spaced tables. One side of the space has been partitioned, and behind it you can see some serious baking machinery, giving you hope that these people clearly mean business about their sweets.

I definitely mean business about sweets, which meant that even though there were some intriguing savoury options on offer, I went straight for what would make my dentist cry. The raisin bread with coffee mascarpone was two slices of decadent bliss, with the pleasingly spiced hot bread providing a nice thick support for the mascarpone, which was very obliging in melting slightly, creating a sweet coffee, cheesy goo.

The best part about flipping through the Monsieur Truffe menu was discovering that there is a whole page devoted to tea. A WHOLE PAGE! So many options, my little tea-loving heart nearly gave out right there and then, but I pulled myself together and decided on the Russian caravan blend. Served in a very cute stackable teapot and cup set, it had that strong dank smell that I love (but tends to put most other people in mind of being drowned in a peat bog forever). Definitely an acquired taste, but I was so happy to see it and so many other more niche tea varieties available.

My companions were more sensible than me and started off savoury. Jess had the pea and mint omelette, which looked and tasted like spring on a plate. Kim had an Italian-style bread salad, with chunks of crusty bread which had been soaked in olive oil and tomato juice, slices of what looked like proper slabs of artisan bacon, dark green fronds of basil and a fat poached egg that oozed all over everything.

The sweet parade continued when we collectively shared two croissants with homemade, dribbly raspberry jam and the house chocolate sauce, which was like the version of Nutella you might taste in your dreams. We particularly wanted to try a chocolate croissant, but as I was talking to the staff up at the counter to find out about all the desserts in the cabinet, the last one was whisked away from under my nose!

Jess was particularly aggrieved by this loss, she had her heart set on a chocolate croissant, and secretly took her rage out on the gentleman sitting with his friend on the benches across from us who had ordered it. “Look at that bastard. Eating MY chocolate croissant.” Much glaring ensued. But while I grieved the loss of chocolate, I was really enormously pleased with our plain croissants, all flaky and crispy like all perfect pastries should be.

Continued sweets required more hot beverages. The 70% cocoa hot chocolate that I had with the croissant was probably, and I know you’re all used to my hyperbole but I’m saying this with the utmost sincerity, one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. If you love the bitter tang of really good dark chocolate this should be your drink of choice, it manages to be both bitter and creamy, and most importantly doesn’t leave you with a sickly over-chocolated tummy ache.

The staff are SUPER CHARMING, as you would expect staff with such delightful French accents to be. The best moment was when we had finished our croissants and were happily picking at the buttery flakes left on our plates, and the waiter said to us, “Ah yes, I will not take your plates just yet, because that is the true pleasure of the croissant, to eat all the tiny flakes.” TRUE FACTS.

Most impressively of all, my entire meal (so toast, croissant, tea and hot chocolate) came to just under $20! That is an obscene steal for the quality of produce! So go through the red door, so many sweet delights await you in the beyond.

L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe

351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9380 4915

Update 7/3/2013: As reported on Where’s the Beef, L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe has now been renamed East Elevation. While running with a similar menu, it is apparently now more vegan and gluten-free friendly.

Pope Joan

The Ladies Who Lunch recently convened together for a long awaited event – this was to be our chocolate lunch, a reward for Jess and Kim finishing uni forever, and me because, well, I just deserve chocolate in general. So the plan was to go to L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe and stuff ourselves with chocolate and delicate pastries until we couldn’t stand it any more.

But as you may have noticed, this post is not entitled L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe and for very good reason, as when we all gathered outside the red door on Lygon Street, we were sad to discover that chocolatey French delights were not to be ours on a Monday as they were closed! WOE.

“Well, what are we going to do NOW?” Jess asked. I whipped up Where’s the Beef on my phone to figure out what was nearby. “Gingerlee, New Day Rising…”

“I saw a nice looking place on the way in,” said Kim. “Pope… Pope something…”

“POPE JOAN?” Jess and I shouted in unison, both of our faces glazing over in worshipful wonder. Once the name had been floated, there was no further question of where we were going.

Inside Pope Joan is all light and airy inside with warm wood finishes everywhere, but the place to be on a sunny day is out in the courtyard, nestled on surprisingly comfortable park benches set on top of astro-turf, with garden beds and pots of herbs in reach for you to sniff at.

It was quite hard to narrow down the delicious-sounding menu to just one option. I ended up erring on the side of eggs and ordered the asparagus, mozzarella and herb omelette.This was the most impressive (and giant!) omelette I had seen in quite a while; a roulade-shaped mass of egg encasing whole spears of asparagus and ever so stretchy mozzarella. And just in case all those spears weren’t enough to satisfy your ravenous need for asparagus, there were also tiny sliced discs of asparagus layered in the omelette batter itself. It was rich, is was cheesy, it was gussy, it was the high god king of omelettes, and I did not shut up about it to anyone I came across in the week after I consumed it.

I was negligent in taking proper note of Kim’s meal (I know it was a smashed avocado something), but I do remember that Jess had the Not Quite Full English Breakfast, with scrambled eggs, a little tin of baked beans, sausage and bacon. It may not have been full but it looked filling, and I may have pined a little for my own tin of baked beans.

Are we the sort of people to stop at one dish each? No, you know we are not, so of course dessert followed. I had the ginger bread with smoked maple butter, accompanied with a pineapple sage and mint tea. The ginger bread contained my preferred ratio of ginger, awesomely strong (I have been known to happily gnaw on raw ginger, so this sort of spice ratio may not be as agreeable to you), and was served warm, so that the maple butter melted and mingled with the bread’s spices. And unlike a lot of condiments labeled ‘smoked’, the butter had a distinctly dusky, smoked flavour to it. The pineapple sage and mint tea made a good companion for the bread, all pleasantly herby with a mild fruity overtone which mellowed out the mint, which I find can sometimes overwhelm other flavours. All in all so comforting, and so damn good.

Kim’s mango and vanilla rice pudding, served in a large jam jar, was a delightfully creamy thing, punctuated with dots of vanilla seed and slivers of bright mango. I probably ended up sampling quite a bit more of this than I intended, purely because it was reasonably rich and filled Kim up quite quickly. I didn’t get a look in at Jess’ chocolate and raspberry muffin, however, it disappeared into a trace of crumbs while I wasn’t looking!

Pope Joan was, simply put, absolutely stunning. This was in no way a case of having to settle for second best. Even with only a few weeks slipping by since our visit, I can recall that sunny courtyard, the delicious things we ate and our acres of lazy chatter with a sharp clarity that I know means that that afternoon is going to become a particularly favoured memory.

As for L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe, did we end up making it there in the end? Tune in for our next episode, Ladies Who Lunch: Chocpocalypse!

Pope Joan

77-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 9388 8858