Mantra Lounge

If you spend any time around the area of Melbourne University, it would take special effort not to be aware of Mantra Lounge. The advertising blitz started even before they were open, with tram stop poster displays and advertising wagons being pulled behind cars and bikes alike canvassing Carlton streets, all advertising their $7.95 meal deal as the best value vegan food in town, and it’s continued in the months since they’ve been open.

Despite this hyper level of awareness, it’s taken me a bit of a bloody long time to get to Mantra Lounge. But the lure of cheap vegan food cannot be ignored for long, and I found my way there for a weekday dinner.

Mantra Lounge is kind of set up as a hippie canteen. You grab your tray, line up and choose your meal from the board and cabinet displays. There are the aforementioned meal deals, which comprise the vegie dish of the day (you can upgrade to get the hot savoury bake of the day), salad and a square of cake, and for a very economical $3 extra you can get one of the brightly coloured homemade drinks that sit in dispensers at the very end of the counter. Pretty much everything is vegan, and there’s quite a few gluten-free options to be had as well.

I went with the meal deal that included the hot stodgy main, as they had a vegan lasagne available that looked very creamy and cheesy, and I was intrigued to see how it would stack up against a dairy version. The salad was filled with green leaves, slices of cucumber, grated carrot and beetroot, and was drizzled with some kind of harissa spiced dressing. The cake, which was placed precariously on the edge of my pasta and salad plate, was banana.

The lasagne was indeed very creamy and cheesy, and most pleasingly didn’t have any kind of chemically after-tang that a lot of vegan cheeses have. It was a generous serving too, although some of the vegetable chunks within were a bit big and still had a bite to them rather than being good and mushy, but that is more of a personal lasagne preference than a real criticism. I was happy to see the variety of ingredients in the salad, and the harissa dressing certainly kicked it way above what you would expect from a side salad at this price. The square of banana cake (I am slightly worried about the fact that the cake is served on the same plate as everything else, WHAT IF IT GOT PASTA SAUCE ON IT?) was lightly crumbly yet moist, and with a nice balance between crumb and fruity bits. The mango smoothie I had to accompany my meal was smooth, lightly fragrant and very agreeable, and I was given a more than generous glass to fill from the dispenser fountain.

You definitely aren’t going to get a vegan meal this good for this price anywhere else. Really the question to ask is whether the vibe of the place will gel with you or not. The canteen process has zero frills, and you do have to tidy up after yourself and return all dishes and trays behind the counter. Given that it targets students you may, as I did, encounter large groups having some kind of extra-curricular dinner, and there is not a lot of room to queue and sound travels VERY LOUDLY in this bare-walled space. It is also, obviously, quite a hippy-dippy establishment, so if your comfort level with being surrounded by flyers for drumming circle groups and ‘mindfulness’ seminars and the kind of clientele those activities tend to attract isn’t terribly robust, you may want to give Mantra a pass. However if you are after a cheap vegan meal that is simple yet tastes pretty darn great, you really can’t go wrong.

Mantra Lounge

167 Grattan Street, Carlton

Ph: 0414 888 002


I’ve somehow wound up with a Saturday morning film reviewing gig on radio (I know, right?!) which has the pleasing bonus of causing me to be up and about way earlier that most Saturday morning foodies. All early opening breakfast spots are mine for the taking!

I’d been wanting to visit Nora since it opened – a Thai cafe serving Thai-inspired brunch meals, that’s a damn sight more exciting than plain old eggs on toast (not to disparage eggs on toast, but I consume A LOT of eggs on toast, change is good and healthy for mind and tum). It’s an extremely visually appealing space, coming across as half coffee spot, half art project, with an overall Scandi blonde wood look and the big table by the front window doesn’t appear to be for customers, instead displaying a tableau of the produce used in the menu. Very striking, although it must make things a bit crowded when there’s a full house.

The second thing you’ll notice after the space is that menu. Warning, it is LIMITED. Two options for vegetarians, out of seven dishes all up. But it’s an interesting menu, with things like smoked fish with nashi, beets and coconut ricotta, and the intriguingly named “Pig From The Ground It’s Raised From” (perhaps a nod to Ben Shewry’s renowned potato cooked in it’s own earth). Everything is just that little bit fancy, down to being served sparkling as the standard water option.

Out of the two vegie friendly options available, I decided to go with the ‘2010’ rice bircher, with longan, jackfruit, toddy palm, coconut and almonds. This was quite a visual and textural experience, being served in a heavy stone bowl, with the mass of purple-black bircher rice supporting crescents of jackfruit, ever so thinly sliced rounds of longan, roughly shaped shavings of coconut, the jelly-ish toddy palm and chopped chunks of almonds. The only component that didn’t really work for me was an unfamiliar nut or seed that had been combined in with the rice bircher and were shaped kind of like a gingko nut. These had an unpleasant texture that felt out of place, particularly in among the smooth creaminess of the bircher.

While I may not return frequently for Nora’s food given the small amount of options for vegies, I definitely will for their excellent coffee which really was gorgeous, perfectly poured with good colour, and not too strong. I’ve just started working in Carlton and Nora is within walking distance, which pleases me no end in terms of afternoon coffee breaks.

While Nora may not have enough on the menu to make regular diners out of those with specialty diets, if you are intrigued by any of their dishes I do recommend giving them a go. Perhaps you’ll even be able to snaffle one of their famous charcoal tarts, but be warned that they only make up to 100 a day, and they’re normally gone by noon!


156 Elgin Street, Carlton


Since January Kate has been insisting that I needed to get along to Pidapipó, a new gelateria in Carlton. She had quickly become obsessed with it and was encouraging everyone in our office to go down when we next hit up Cinema Nova, which for us all is multiple times a week, so really none of us had any excuse.

What I soon discovered upon entering the threshold and sampling Pidapipó’s wares was that there is no way that you can stop at just one visit. Because, and I am very confident in stating this, Pidapipó is serving up the best gelato in town. Yes, even better than Gelato Messina. COME AT ME.

Take the first combination that I sampled: salted caramel topped with Nutella swirl. Let’s not even get into the fact that the salted caramel balances sweet and salty on a perfect knife edge and that I may have subsequently sampled it at least three more times. Let’s focus on when I ordered the Nutella swirl, which as the name suggests has Nutella threaded through vanilla gelato, I was asked by the counter girl “Would you like some Nutella drizzled on top?”

Would I like Nutella drizzled on top, ahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaa OF COURSE I WOULD.

On my second visit I thought it would only be sensible in terms of further research to get a double fruit sorbet cone, but I ruined the experiment by only getting one fruit flavour due to the fact peanut butter was available and we all know I wasn’t going to say no to that. I topped the peanut butter with peach, which was bright pastel orange and liberally flecked with small pieces of fruit. Like all of Pidapipó’s flavours it was robust, just a huge burst of stone fruit goodness. But the peanut butter… ahahahahahAAAAAAAAA THE PEANUT BUTTER. Seriously I just wanted to cackle malevolently like a super villain who finally has their hands on all the plutonium.

It would take me forever to write about the rest of the flavours I’ve sampled in the proper manner I’ve established, so let’s bullet point this shit:

  • Ricotta and fig – creamy gelato with thick, luscious threads of caramelised fig. This is my three-way tie for favourite with salted caramel and peanut butter.
  • Banana – thick and flavoured like they’ve straight up frozen mashed banana with the barest of embellishments just to make sure it’s creamy as all fuck.
  • Pistachio – One of my all time favourite ice cream flavours, Pidapipó’s pistachio is a highly impressive iteration, ratcheting up the nuttiness until it threatened to become an overpowering flavour explosion. Sample at your delicious discretion.
  • Pineapple – one of the sorbetti flavours, like most of the fruit ones are, and while not as creamy as the milk based gelatos, they still pack an impressive flavour wallop. Pineapple is all sharp-sweet tropics in a cup.
  • Blood plum – Another sorbetti, and so clean, sweet and tart all at once, this one’s a great palate cleanser after a meal.
  • Banana and choc fudge – This is the only flavour that hasn’t managed to completely wow me, but that doesn’t mean that it was bad, indeed, how can any gelato threaded with thick seems of gooey chocolate fudge ever be anything but enjoyable?
  • Hazelnut – Another nutty flavour explosion, these are Italians, of course they are not going to do hazelnut by halves, it’s going to explode your face off is what it’s going to do.
  • Coconut – Such a divisive flavour, but if you don’t like coconut son I feel sorry for you, because you are MISSING OUT ON DIVINE REVELATION.

The gelato at Pidapipó is impressive enough, but I’m also so pleased with how spotlessly clean the store always is, how friendly the staff (all Italian) are, how you can always see the baskets of fresh fruit and giant jars of Nutella waiting to be turned into chilled delight, and how the phrase “so we have to go get The Ice Cream” has become so ubiquitous among my friends and I. Because it is the only ice cream now, for all of us, everyone I have introduced to Pidapipó have immediately caught evangelical zeal for it. Come join us. JOIN US.


222 Faraday Street, Carlton

Le miel et la lune

On the internal list in my head that contains all the food places that I really want to visit, Le miel et la lune has been hovering at the top for an embarrassingly long time. It’s right along my work commute, I’m in Carlton pretty much all the time, the space has always looked like a wonderfully inviting one, and the more I heard about the Asian influences that feature throughout the menu, the more intrigued I became.

I finally managed to get there along with Muffin for lunch after a morning screening of Dallas Buyers Club (which, eh… I was really squicked out by the film’s pretty limiting representation of trans* folks, it is really a film about gay issues for straight people). The space has been nicely utilised since the days of What About Food – there’s still a nice big table up front by the open windows for bigger groups, bright cabinets filled with cakes, and the whole place is so sun-filled at pretty much all times that it becomes a really pleasant place to while away time in.

The menu does indeed have an Asian influence peppered through it, with ingredients like kimchi, yuzu chicken and even a special of eggplant tempura (oooooooooo) featuring.  While I was intrigued by the 12 grain rice, and the cabbage water kimchi with konyyaku noodles (because why wouldn’t you be?) I ended up choosing something just a touch more conventional with the vegan breakfast – grilled asparagus, with crushed potato salad served on flaxseed bread. I was initially a little worried that the toppings wouldn’t be moist enough to balance out the bread, which I imagined was to be quite dense. But I was happily surprised both with the creaminess of the potato salad – must have been some kind of nut cream going on to bind it all together – and with the flaxseed bread managing to be stuffed full of all kinds of fun grains and also retaining a moist-ish texture (no dry alternative breads, excellent, excellent).

The one big flaw, however, was the fact that even though the asparagus had been liberally applied – I honestly think an entire bunch had been prepared for the plate – and although the tips were luscious and tender, the ends had clearly not been trimmed at all, because they were so darn tough that I could barely saw either knife or teeth through them. There really is nothing more hugely disappointing than woody asparagus, and it’s such a shame that one element can end up casting a pall over what was otherwise a delightful and very generously plated meal.

Muffin chose to have the 12 grain rice, which contained – take a deep breath – brown and white rice, quinoa, blackbeans, lentils, black eye beans, green and yellow peas, borlotti beans, sesame seeds, chia seeds and cannelini beans, served with fried eggs, seasonal pickles and miso sauce. While my inner pendant wants to rename this dish 12 grains and legumes, it did certainly look like an amazingly varied and hearty dish, with all the health of the grains cannily balanced out by the very breakfast addition of the fried egg. All the protein you’re gonna need for the day, clearly.

In other bits and bobs, my flat white was nice although I do recollect it was quite strong with a bit of a fierce back end. Beverages-wise, though, with the stinking hot weather when we visited I needed something cold and packed with ice cream, so I made sure to finish off with a long cold glass of iced chocolate. This turned out to be just the kind of decadent thing I required, with lots of thick, rich chocolate syrup and creamy vanilla goodness. Not the sort of thing to have if you’ve managed to be virtuous and partake of Le miel’s healthier brunch options, but it’s far too late now to pretend I’m in any way sensible when it comes to these things.

Despite the unfortunate woody asparagus, overall I was very pleased by my visit to Le miel et la lune. I don’t know yet if it will have the power to pip Cafe Lua as my favourite Carlton cafe haunt, but it certainly argued a persuasive case for further visits.

Le miel et la lune

330 Cardigan Street, Carlton


I’d been having quite a sad-trousers day as I was scrolling through Twitter, when this completely delectable photo from Where’s the Beef popped up in my feed and pulled me up out of the doldrums from sheer sight alone. I was informed that it was a haloumi and zucchini stuffed baguette, and could be procured from Carlton cafe Stovetop. I needed it in my face. I needed it in my face AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.

So the very next day, I trooped myself down to Stovetop. For whatever reason I hadn’t had this place on my radar at all, which is a massive shame, as in two visits Stovetop has put itself in contention as one of my favourite cafes about town. Imagine all the coffee and cheesy baguettes I could have had by this time if only I’d been more aware! Alas, alack.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Design wise, Stovetop is a bit of a hipster’s delight on the surface, what with all the Scandi blond wood furniture and men with cardigans and styled mustaches (okay, the latter may not have been deliberate on behalf of Stovetop, but you can’t have so many Scandi touches without mustaches attached to men appearing to create the natural and appropriate contrast). Tell you what, though, I want to find out where the particular chair and stools here are from, because they’re so darn comfy – cushy and upholstered stools, take note Melbourne cafe proprietors, your customers’ bottoms will thank you!

As I had promised myself, I bypassed reading anything else on the menu and went straight into ordering the seeded baguette filled with egg-dipped zucchini, haloumi, rocket and chutney. Jesus H Christ, people, this is just… this is the high god king of sandwiches right here. It’s the sort of combo that makes you incredulous that everyone isn’t plating up a version of it, the components are so perfect for each other. I mean, the egg-dipped zucchini ALONE. This is the kind of sandwich you should reward yourself with when you achieve a major life goal.

After this first foray I immediately sent a rambling, bordering on incoherent message to Muffin demanding that our next catch up session be held at Stovetop. She was more than happy to acquiesce, which meant that only a few days later I was facing a duck egg baked in sauteed spinach, roast pumpkin, Persian feta with za-atar and toast. DUCK EGGS, YOU GUYS! I might be particularly partial to them because I had pet ducks as a kid (ducks make the VERY BEST PETS, as long as you’re okay with your back garden becoming a de-grassed mud pit, and why wouldn’t you be okay with that if it means you have DUCKS!), and duck eggs always had these beautifully rich orange yolks that made every Sunday morning fry-up or sponge cake just that extra bit better. This particular duck egg oozed beautiful orange deliciousness over the soft, warm pumpkin pieces and through the spinach. Lovely. My one thought was that the dish might be kicked up a notch with the inclusion of some kale, but that’s only a thought, not a criticism.

Muffin had the roasted root vegetable salad with spinach and Rooftop honey lemon vinaigrette and toasted almonds. This looked like a healthy late-winter feast, I particularly liked the look of all the caramelised parsnip strips. Muffin was certainly enormously pleased with it.

The coffee is definitely the nicest I’ve come across – smooth and mellow with nary a bite to it, and not so strong that a coffee weenie like me ends up sitting up half the night staring unblinkingly into middle distance.

And a word must be said about the staff, who are lovely and friendly without a lick of pretension, are happy to answer any questions you have, and good-naturedly put up with you taking up a table for a good two hours just gas-bagging (Muffin and I had a lot to catch up on, okay).

As for the prospect of future visits, I have an eye on the cinnamon waffles with pomegranate molasses, vanilla bean custard, agave and house almond dukkah, and also the sweet potato and chia latkes with poached eggs, baba ganoush and rocket (I mean, just revel in those descriptions, UGH, AMAZING). Such is my love of Stovetop, I’ve ended up making a rule with myself that I have to make sure than at least every second foodie visit I make has to be somewhere that ISN’T Stovetop, because really, it just wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.


100 Leicester Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 2010

Blog Amnesty: The Beaufort, Baby, and ShanDong MaMa

As you may have noticed, posts have been thin on the ground here at Ballroom Blintz lately, as my life has been comprehensively taken over by my day job (speaking of my day job, EVERYONE COME SEE ALL THE FILMS AT MIFF!). Despairing slightly at my backlog of posts, I decided to take a leaf out of Claire from Melbourne Gastronome’s book and declare blog amnesty and do a few quick round ups of places I’ve recently visited before they completely slip out of my mind.


I’ve been wanting to visit The Beaufort for basically forever since hearing about it’s American-inspired pub food and the high level of friendly service from it’s staff. I popped along with a large group of friends (we were able to book a table, which is always nice these days), and we were all pretty impressed with the nautical fit out, and the fact that a place that had all the hallmarks of too-cool-for-schoolness was actually enormously welcoming.

Drinks-wise, there’s a lot of cocktails and mixes that are a bit of fun and won’t burn holes through your pockets in terms of price. I enjoyed both my Jerry ‘n’ cherry – Sailor Jerry with cherry coke and a slice of lime – and my Perfect Storm – Sailor Jerry with ginger beer and lime (honestly, name a drink after a film and I will order it every time no matter what’s in it).

For savoury I had the portobello mushroom burger, which I remember as being slightly a bit too sloppy for my liking due to the chefs going to town on the sauces, but otherwise it was enormously tasty, very American diner reminiscent. It’s also worth noting that The Beaufort do a lot of vegie and vegan dishes, so no one has to miss out on deep-fried treats.

Now here’s the really impressive part of the evening – the service. I am always interested to see what a venue’s staff do when things go wrong; I always figure it’s the best indication of a place’s real worth. So when we all initially ordered our dinners everything came out very promptly, except Schaefer’s meal (who incidentally spent the whole evening saying increasingly outrageous things in the hopes of getting quoted on this here blog. I AM NOT REPEATING ANY OF THE TERRIBLE THINGS YOU SAID, YOUNG MAN, I CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR FUTURE EMPLOYABILITY VIA GOOGLE SEARCHES!). Once staff were made aware that a meal was missing, the dish swiftly made it to the table, no dramas. Then we ordered dessert. I initially went with the ice cream sandwich. Soon enough, the same staff member who’d helped us retrieve Schaefer’s meal approached me wearing a facial expression that, as a table of seasoned hospitality workers, we all knew too well: “ohh shit something’s already gone wrong with this table and I don’t want to have to tell them something else is wrong!” They had unfortunately run out of ice cream sandwiches. I wasn’t unduly fussed, and asked if I could have the rhubarb and apple crumble instead. The enormously apologetic staff member wouldn’t even take the extra few dollars difference in price from me, and the crumble was such a deliciously comforting expanse of spicy stewed fruit and oaty topping that I was well pleased.

And then the staff brought us all a round of free tequila shots.

Yep, we’ll all be back.

The Beaufort

421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 8171


For some reason I was unduly prejudiced against Baby since it launched. Not even the connection with my beloved Chin Chin could shake from me the impression that it all sounded a bit wanky – it probably had to do with hearing about the genitalia-shaped neon signs decorating the restaurant (SERIOUSLY JUST DEAR GOD WHY).

While I still stand by the opinion that wang lights are wanky as all get out, luckily the food was amazing enough to turn my doubting Thomas frown upside down. This had a lot of to with the fact that they have a PAN-FRIED PIZZA!

Seriously, don’t even bother looking any further past the buttata pan-fried with fiore di latte and cherry tomato quarters, this needs to be the very first thing you order. As it is pan-fried the dough ends up having this smoky, charred tang to it that ticked all my tastebud fancies. Throw in tons of oozing fiore di latte and this results in a happily moaning Hayley passed out under the table with a food coma.

In non-fried goodness, I also sampled the funghi pizza, which could have used a little more funghi to be honest, it was a bit sparse for my mushroom-loving liking, but otherwise thin, crispy and cheesy. I also insisted on a side of the green beans with tomato sauce as a vegetable-leavener, and ended up reveling in the fact that they were basically delicious tomato crack. Seriously, if you can even look past pizza when you go here, order the beans. Sweet, tomato-laden goodness.


631-633 Church Street, Richmond

Ph: 9421 4599


If you are expecting a dumplings gush-fest right now, well, that’s sort of what you’re going to get. As while I really like the vegan dumplings on offer here, it’s a very different dish that has actually stolen my heart.

Everyone across town seems to adore ShangDong MaMa, and after a couple of visits now I’m certainly in the camp of having quite a bit of affection for this wee, unpretentious dumpling house hidden away down a Chinatown arcade. The vegan zucchini steamed dumplings are the only vegie dumplings on offer, but they are definitely well worth sampling, filled to bursting with shreds of zucchini and herbs. Mix your own dipping sauce from the pots of soy, vinegar and chilli on the tables and get dumpling dunking.

I’ve had a couple of other vegetarian dishes, too, with varying levels of success. The garlic broccoli, as I was warned by a waiter, does indeed come out “European style”, with little boiled florets covered in minced garlic. Nice if you like your greens with garlic (which I do), but very basic. The sesame noodles were similarly quite rustic, with soft, handmade noodles served with shredded zucchini and carrot, and topped with a sesame paste that you mix through to coat the noodles and vegetables. Quite tasty and nicely unusual, but definitely the sort of thing that is best to share, as it gets a bit samey when tackled by yourself.

But the dish that now haunts my dreams is the scallion pancake. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is less a pancake than two bulky pyramids of potato strands twisted together with splashes of spring onion rounds dotted through it. The strands are crisp on the outside, and as you pull at them (this is very much a fingers dish, good table manners be damned), you uncover the soft centre where the hot potato literally melts in your mouth. It’s a textural wonderland, and deceptively flavour-packed, and if it was a person I would marry it and be contently entranced with its simple, home-crafted charms.

ShanDong MaMa

Midcity Arcade, Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 3818

Cafe Lua

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.

Cafe Lua

Cnr Elgin & Drummond Streets, Carlton

Ph: 9348 1118

Helados Jauja

Ice cream, ice cream, nothing is better than ice cream! So was the refrain running through the brains of Jen and I on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We had just stuffed ourselves silly with the Tramway’s delicious quinoa burger in celebration of a mutual friend’s birthday, but being us we were nowhere near satisfied with just making some burgers our bitch.

This is how we found ourselves strolling down Lygon Street dodging the Italian restaurant spruikers in order to find Helados Jauja. Unlike the Italian gelaterias that pepper this length of Lygon Street, Helados Jauja is instead an Argentinean establishment. They seem to be going out of their way to use fresh and seasonal ingredients, and the flavours rotate depending on what’s available to them. Dulce de leche is the dominant flavour, with several varieties of it on offer the day of our visit, but the spectrum is widely varied, refreshingly including a lot of flavours utilising Asian fruits.

Of course I couldn’t go past something with dulce de leche in it, even when my tastes in ice cream run more towards the fruity end of the spectrum. I went with the salted caramel version, and paired it with the pandan (did you know that salted caramel and pandan flavours work AMAZINGLY well together? They totally do!). The consistency of the ice cream was softly elastic and almost unimaginably creamy, with such strongly marked flavours. I was immediately impressed.

Jen also had a variety of the dulce de leche, although hers was studded through with walnuts, and she teamed it with honey popcorn. She ended up being a little perplexed by the honey popcorn; she said that it tasted good but the texture of the soggy pieces of popcorn included in the mix just seemed weird. The walnut dulce de leche was gorgeous though, with the distinct husky taste of walnuts permeated throughout the dulce de leche was well as having noticable nutty chunks.

It was worth it to take some time out of our day to hunt this place down, because it was hella impressive (no I will not apologise for using the word “hella”, no you are destroying English). If you want to treat yourself to some really decadent ice cream, Helados Jauja is the place to be.

Helados Jauja

254 Lygon Street, Carlton

Ph: 9041 2927


I was on the search for suitable pre-comedy show eats down the Trades Hall end of Lygon Street and was in a bit of a bind, being that I’m generally not all that up on restaurants in Carlton that aren’t within walking distance of the Nova Cinema (priorities). So I threw a question out on the Twitters in order to try and narrow down to a couple of vegie-friendly suggestions, and those good folks at Where’s the Beef kindly put forward three likely candidates: Hotel Lincoln, Ying Thai 2 and Namaste.

Ultimately the dining destination was in the hands of Rob, who was joining me for dinner and comedy times. As it was Passover, or “no bread for Jews time”, Hotel Lincoln was quickly dismissed, and the thought of curry was too much to resist, so to Namaste we went.

We started with a serving of aloo to share (just cauliflower rather than cauli and potatoes, which is interesting). The spices that the cauliflower florets had been fried with turned them eye-searingly pink, they were quite a sight to see! They were also deliciously more-ish, and we probably could have devoured another plate of them quite happily.

For my main I went with a dhal makhani, a black lentil dhal. It was hearty and tasty, with a deceptive spicy kick to it, which built the more of it I ate. I was just able to manage it, but any higher and it would have been the death of me. It wasn’t even a chilli-marked dish! What a spice weenie I am. Rob is an even worse spice weenie than I am, and his lamb biryani was a lot hotter than he was expecting, though he still seemed to enjoy it, being particularly pleased that as a dish it hit quite a few food groups.

Being terrible, I was completely unfeeling to Rob’s bread exile and ordered myself a serving of garlic naan, because if it’s acceptable for me to eat a dish with bread acting as cutlery, there is no power on earth that will stop me doing so. I tend to judge Indian places on the quality of their naan, and the ones I sampled at Namaste were pretty damn good: properly crisped, with a buttery touch in the hot centre, and sprinkled with crushed garlic which proved to be enhancing rather than overpowering.

Namaste is quite simple and unpretentious, and was certainly busy on a Tuesday night, with plenty of students, couples, groups of friends and even a few comedians crowding its tables and chowing down on quick dinners of dosas and lassis. I’ll certainly be keeping it in mind next time I’m feeling hungry in that part of town.


104 Lygon Street, Carlton

Ph: 9654 0550

What About Food

For the first half of last year, I’d been curiously watching the evolution of the shopfront of 330 Cardigan Street, being that it lay between uni and where I parked my car during classes. Towards the end of its renovations, when it became obvious that an eatery was going to appear there, I thought to myself “Well, that’s nice and handy for me, I’ll have to go once it’s opened. Maybe us girls could do a uni lunch there.”

Of course, I didn’t end up there until long after uni had finished for the year! The regular uni lunching crew decided it’d be a good idea to meet for a celebratory “yay! uni’s over for the year” lunch, and were up for venue suggestions once it became apparent that some were a little fatigued with our regular choice of Seven Seeds. As Jess put it, “There’s only so many toasted sandwiches you can eat, no matter how good they are!”

Feeling confident after reading Where’s the Beef’s glowing review that What About Food would be sure to satisfy everyone, we all rolled up one Wednesday afternoon feeling excited and anticipatory. Turns out, my hunch was right! What About Food is absolutely stirling.

Emma and I had one of the blackboard specials, the portobello mushrooms poached in pomegranate and lemon vinegarette, with parmesan, spinach, a poached egg and a sprig of thyme, served on pide and a nice thick spear of asparagus laid on top. This was wonderfully put together, none of the ingredients were out of place, it all complimented each other, and how much to I love the inclusion of thyme in dishes? I love it so much. Emma and I happily nibbled away while sipping tea, and felt highly decadent.

Jess had the goat’s cheese brushetta with avocado, tomato and onion salsa, salad greens and a poached egg. She seemed to enjoy it, although spent a while extracting the salad while muttering “Ergh, too many greens.” This green-aversion seems to be pretty standard when dining with Jess though (anyone remember the Lot 6 pressed sandwich that had too much rocket?).

Kim had the corn fritters with poached eggs, bacon, avocado and salad greens. This looked so pretty!

Andy, Kim’s boyfriend, also joined us and had the baked eggs, which I snaffled a taste of. These were lovely, very tomatoey and peppery. I really want to go back and have a serving of these all to myself!

What About Food’s coffee is apparently VERY strong coffee, according to Andy, but otherwise delicious, so caffeine addicts would be quite well served.

It was good to see that there are acres of vegie options, including a batch of daily salads, although the proliference of eggs means vegans may find the terrain barren of choices.

The space is lovely to sit in, nice and open, and the big communal table we sat at was great for a big-ish group. The staff were exceedingly friendly, and combined with highly excellent food, everyone agreed with the general feeling was that we had found an equal lunching option to Seven Seeds. I can’t wait for uni to start up again so I have an excuse to organise multiple uni lunch dates there!

What About Food

330 Cardigan Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 5256

Edit 12/8/2011: As reported on Where’s the Beef, What About Food has quietly changed owners, and is now trading as 330 Briks.