Argos Loves Company

There’s nothing quite so unfortunate as to read a few positive pieces written about a place, feel that it’s the sort of thing that will totally be your jam, and then have a disappointing visit that falls well short of ticking all your buttons. A “it seemed so right, how could it go so wrong?” type situation.

I was really wanting Argos Loves Company to be awesome. It had a sense of  aesthetic whimsy to it that I couldn’t help but respond to. I mean, it’s themed around DOGS, for heavens sake, how could I not want to be in on that?! And as an engaging, comfortable space it works very well, all the little doggy touches and the old school chairs and desks for tables and the dainty crockery, it was all quite lovely and homey. The waitresses were attentive and welcoming, it was bursting at the seams on a Thursday afternoon with chattering folk, I was primed to enjoy myself.

But the food. Oh, if but for the food…

I wanted something light but refreshing to munch on, so decided on the herbed ricotta on sourdough. I wasn’t bargaining on being given something that was far too bland that anything tagged with the word ‘herbed’ had any right to be. Herbed amounted to a sprinkling of chives and a huge whacking amount of flat-leaf parsley. Flat-leaf parsley, you are honestly the worst thing ever, particularly when you gather in a gang in order to attack innocent tastebuds with your overwhelming noxiousness. The ricotta, which was a veritable mountain (the servings here are generous), had not been seasoned in any way apart from the herbs, and frankly did not improve even after I showered it in a tornado of salt and pepper. Bland, bland, bland. No creamy texture either, it was quite unpleasant. The only component that proved tasty was the sourdough, and I love toast, but the tastiest part of any dish should not be the bread, it just shouldn’t.

And then there was the tea. You lot know that I get particularly unforgiving about poor tea. The earl grey I ordered was well-presented in a tall, ornate silver pot, making me all excited that I was going to get a good amount of cups out of it. Less exciting was the fact that the pot had a single teabag floating inside it, which I had to jiggle around quite a bit to get it to steep properly. But never mind, let’s pour into the cute china cup set, sipping hot tea, tastes okay, things are getting better…

Hang on, what’s… what’s that?

Oh.

That’s a giant smear of red lippy across the inside lip of my cup. That I just drank half a cup out of.

EUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRGGGHHHHH.

Look, food-wise maybe I chose the wrong dish, their sweets cabinet did look more enticing than any of the savoury dishes I saw floating about, and I was very tempted to give Argos a second chance by ordering the old-school sounding waffles, but after lippy cup I just felt like my goodwill had been completely drained. If you have visited yourself and can reassure me that my experience was an unfortunate aberration I’d be pleased to hear it, but as it stands I’ll be giving Argos Love Company a wide berth, cute dogs or no.

Argos Loves Company

149 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9417 7290

http://www.argoslovescompany.com.au

Yong Green Food

So in the past year I’d gotten highly jealous every time I saw Yong Green Food pop up in write ups around the foodie-sphere. “Oh, but why is it not me that gets to write about kimchi pancakes?” I would lament from the depths of my fainting couch (every lady should have one). I made pact after pact with myself that it would be the very next next place I visited, oh yes… and then all of a sudden it’d been open for a year and I still hadn’t got there!

Then one day kicking it back in the staff room, Nadine turned to me and said “So I had this amazing dinner the other day at this place on Brunswick Street called Yong Green Food…”

I sat bolt upright. “You’ve been to Yong Green Food?”

“Yeah, it was all Korean and vegetarian, I figured you must have eaten there.”

“OH MY GOD WAS IT AMAZING WHAT DID YOU EAT DID YOU HAVE KIMCHI PANCAKE CAN WE GO THERE NOW AND JUST EAT EVERTHING?”

“Wow, I’m finding this moment right now quite confronting.”

“KIMCHI PANCAKE.”

Fortunately I was able to calm down enough to reassure Nadine that I wasn’t on the verge of having some kind of violent episode, and to organise a dinner date with her and Muffin.

The first piece of advice I can offer about Yong Green Food is to get there EARLY. I figured to myself “Hey, a Tuesday night at 6.30, going to be easy to get a table.” False. I was lucky enough to slip onto the last four-person table, and then spent the time waiting for the others to show watching a lot of people getting turned away. Yong Green is doing very, VERY well for itself.

I was about to find out why. While waiting for my compatriots to arrive, I ordered a pot of quince honey tea to mull over. A giant pot was delivered to the table, and this astounding sweet aroma engulfed me. If you like gorgeous, fruity tea that completely overwhelms any stresses that currently reside in you and renders you a happy, peaceful, nattering blob by the time your friends arrive (“This tea, guys! Wow, this tea…”) you will be well served.

To the dishes! Well, obviously I went with the kimchi pancake with soy mayo. The pancake itself is enormous, reaching the very edges of the dinner plate it was served on, yet was thin and crispy, and all in all lived up to my high expectations. The soy mayo was an utter revelation, especially as I’ve always found regular mayonnaise to be an obnoxious condiment.

Nadine also ordered the pancake (probably because I hadn’t shut up about it for days), yet was full of trepidation when informed that kimchi is fermented chilli cabbage. “Is it hot? Oh no, I don’t like things too spicy!” The pancake did have a reasonable kick of spice to it, yet once spread with the amazing soy mayo the spice was held back to a pleasant level. Soy mayo, you can be my condiment of choice anytime.

Muffin ordered some kimchi gyoza that she shared around. The skins were thin and crisp, the filling not quite as hot as the pancake but still retaining that agreeable tart kimchi tang, and the sharp dipping sauce rounded it off nicely.

For my main I went with the ‘dragon bowl’, which was essentially a fresh, light version of bibimbap, with brown rice, tofu, beansprouts, grated carrot, pickled purple cabbage, mixed salad leaves and a healthy blobbing of Korean chilli paste. This was a perfect solid main meal, with each component providing interest and contrast (I particularly liked the sweetness of the beanshoots, which seemed to have been marinated beforehand). Again, if you were afeared of heat, I would recommend asking whether they could dial back the chilli paste when you order, there was a lot of it, enough to make me slow down a bit towards the end to ingest more tea, and I’m normally okay with Korean chilli paste!

Time to finish off with a dessert three-way, with blueberry raw cheesecake, raw carrot cake, and chocolate fudge. Although we ordered these to share, the three of us managed to become partial to a different one each. For me the blueberry cheesecake was the perfect way to end the meal, with the almond and berry overtones smooth and juicy in your mouth, and having a very pleasing texture that wasn’t as grainy as some raw cakes I’ve had in the past. Nadine was a fan of the carrot cake, while Muffin took a liking to the fudge, championing it in the face of myself and Nadine’s shrugs of “It’s not BAD, it’s just… it’s not CAKE!”

Yong Green Food is a utter winner in my book. It’s vegetarian and is having what appears to be an obscene amount of fun in pushing what it can do with veggie cuisine. The staff are friendly, the fit-out gorgeous (pro-tip: Hayley will love your restaurant aesthetically if you cover a whole wall with a mural of a giant dragon), it’s the whole box and dice, people. Get along, and have a kimchi pancake for me.

Yong Green Food

421 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9417 3338

Bebida Bar and Cafe

After our Birdman Eating brunch and an afternoon of treasure hunting along Smith Street, Phoebe had to leave us in order to go to work. Did that stop Emma and I from going on? Heck no! We required nibbles and wine to finish our day with. And we chose Bebida to provide us these life-giving morsels.

Bebida is a warm, friendly place, with a long, thin front bar and a courtyard out back. The dark red walls in the bar area create a comforting space, particularly if you’re looking for a refuge from inclement weather. It really is the perfect place to sit, sip a wine and have a lazy nosh.

Speaking of nosh, oh my goodness, let me introduce you to the new love of my life, Bebida’s green pea and sage dip. I LOVE IT WITH A BURNING PASSION, I AM GOING TO MARRY IT AND HAVE PEA DIP BABIES, WHICH I WILL THEN ALSO EAT. It comes out in a little pot on a plate surrounded by six big bits of pide. I at first eyed it suspiciously and was all “Hmm, that’s a lot of bread for such a wee pot of dip”, but oh holy Hannah, does this stuff contain a taste explosion or what! A little goes a very, VERY long way. I was in such raptures over it I think Emma thought I was having an episode.

We also had one of the desserts on the specials board, the berry cheesecake. Cheesecake is kind of just cheesecake to me (ordinarily I am a cake FIEND, but cheesecake, meh. Not to say I won’t eat it if it’s there, cake is cake), but this one was a nice generous piece and loaded with berries, and I don’t say no to berries, no sir. The crust was much tastier too than I usually find with cheesecake, though it was rather thick and we did end up leaving a bit of shell behind.

Another plus to the fabulous food is that the staff are also ridiculously friendly, and contribute to the overall feeling that Bebida is really focused on creating a place that feels like your lounge room, only better decorated, where everyone is there to relax with friends and have fun, and also there’s wine. Also, kudos to whoever decided to play the entirety of Augie March’s Sunset Studies for mood music during our visit, it prompted squeals of “This album CHANGED MY LIFE!” from myself and several others, and lent a happy air of nostalgia to proceedings.

Also, if you have to go to the little girls or boys room while at Bebida, enjoy the absolutely hilario record covers that are stuck on the back of the bathroom doors. They inspired me to have a “Bongos and Pizza” party at some point in the future.

Bebida Bar and Cafe

325 Smith Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9419 5260

http://www.bebida.com.au/

Birdman Eating

A week after our first visit to The Hardware Societe, Phoebe phoned me up in a gleeful tizzy. “We get paid this week, we can have a real payday lunch!”

“Payday lunch!”

“Paaaaaayday lunch!”

“Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayday lunch!” (This went on for a while)

Once we’d stopped cheerfully bellowing at each other Phoebe asked me if there was anywhere I’d had in mind to visit lately. Since we also felt like we might like to do some vintagey shopping afterward, I thought somewhere on or adjacent to Smith Street would be the ticket, and suggested Birdman Eating, and I had recently read a few reviews that were either glowing or scathing, and I was keen to find out which side I would fall on.

“Good,” said Phoebe. “Let’s brunch it. And Emma’s probably going to come too!”

“Emma! Yay!”

“Yaaaaay!”

“YAAAAAYYYYY…” etc, etc.

The three of us marshaled ourselves to Birdman Eating on a slightly damp Friday at the appropriate brunching time. I was immediately quite enamoured of the interior, with the little feathered mannequin dolls and vases with flowers hanging from the ceiling. It helped as well that it was much warmer than outside!

I had the black rice with coconut yoghurt and mango, mainly as I’m always intrigued to try other kinds of rice rather than plain ol’ white. The black rice had this amazing silky texture, there was something about it that almost made it seem fruity, like berries had been threaded through it, who knows what they did to get it like that. If you like a textural start to your day, this is where to get it. The coconut yoghurt was a refreshing contrast of tartness, and the mango was nice, although it was probably from a can given it’s the dead of winter right now.

Emma had the corn and broccoli fritters with smoked salmon. I was surprised at her choice to start the day with fish; even when I ate meat I was very much NOT a fan of seafood and never saw the appeal of fish-based breakfasts like kippers or kedgeree. “Fish for breakfast really wakes you up and leaves you with a fresh taste all day,” Emma said brightly. She paused. “Of course, then you get the fishy burps.” The fritters were brimming with corn and greenery, and they were HUGE! Emma tried hard to finish, but was defeated at the final fritter. She really enjoyed them, though.

Phoebe had the cheese kransky with poached eggs, grilled polenta triangles, and I think some bacon. This was a mountain of heavy-duty foods, with not even the relative lightness of the poached eggs providing much relief, particularly when Phoebe’s contentious relationship with eggs came to light. She was eying her egg suspiciously. “The poached egg looks a little funny.” “Do you have egg issues?” I asked. “I do! They’re… they’re just weird! But I’m trying to be better with them by ordering them as a component in dishes.” Phoebe also made a valiant effort to finish, but was eventually defeated by meats. Yet she enjoyed her meal well enough, though gave me a saucy grin afterward and whispered “Not as good as Hardware Societe.” Well, what is? Unfair comparison! (Can you tell we’re obsessed?)

As pretty much all of the scathing reviews I’d read were particularly focused on service and waitstaff who were apparently brimming in attitude, I was full of trepidations as to what kind of service we could expect to receive at Birdman Eating. We were lucky though, as we mainly dealt with a lovely girl in a floral headscarf who was all sunshine, told us the specials and was enormously cheery, dutiful and friendly throughout. I think luck might have something to do with the service at Birdman though, as we did come in contact with another waitstaff member who was a bit ‘tudey and didn’t crack a smile the entire time. It might have something to do with it being a weekday versus a weekend – I can imagine a place as popular as this getting quite overrun on a Saturday or Sunday morning and causing staff to develop acute tetchy-itis.

As to where I sit on the glowing/scathing review scale, I’m definitely ambling towards the glowing end, though would probably have to visit a few more times to be absolutely certain. It’s a very nice space, the food I sampled was good, and if you’re lucky enough to have a cheery serviceperson it’s a very pleasing way to while away a morning. It’s not the best of the best, but it’ll do very nicely.

Birdman Eating

238 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9416 4747

http://www.birdmaneating.com.au/

Madame Sousou

Back when Muffin and I were on the way to go to Peko Peko, we got on the wrong tram and ended up on Brunswick Street instead of Smith Street (Hayley! How did this happen?! You’ve been living in Melbourne all your life and can’t even differentiate between the 112 and 86 trams? FAIL. GIANT, EMBARRASSING FAIL). Realising our mistake, we decided to walk the few blocks down to Smith Street and scrambled off the tram… right in front of Madame Sousou.

Immediately drawn to the warmly lit windows, I peered in… and was completely swept away by a haze of romanticism. It looked like someone had uplifted the most  picture perfect cosy Parisian restaurant and incongruously plopped it in Fitzroy. Or at least what I wished a Paris restaurant would look like (Paris and I had ISSUES. No, I don’t want to talk about it).

“Hayley, you’re about to get run over, get off the street!” I had been so enthralled by this dream vision that I’d stopped stock still in the middle of the street and Muffin feared I would die.

“Muffin, Muffin,” I babbled, hands flailing. “We totally have to go to that place sometime. That place there!”

“Yes, yes,” Muffin said, taking me by the elbow and guiding me away. “But first we should make sure that you live to eat anywhere.” This is why we are faux-lesbian life mates, she takes care of me.

But in the end I ended up not going to Madame Sousou with Muffin at all, but with The Boy, reneging on our epic love! I AM REVEALED TO BE FALSE AND INCONSTANT, FORGIVE ME, DEAR MUFFIN (Fun fact: Apparently Muffin’s mum reads this blog. Hello, Muffin’s mum!).

Now, Madame Sousou isn’t cheap. She’s a classy lady, and an expensive one, too. Much more expensive than me and The Boy were really expecting for our quiet Sunday dinner, but hey, we should all indulge on occasion.

(Incidentally, Madame Sousou has a terribly nice business card. Nerdy hobbies relevation: I like collecting the business cards from cafes and restaurants, they’re pleasing things. Madame Sousou’s might be my favourite, except maybe for one from The European that’s all white and EMBOSSED and reminds me of that scene in American Psycho. “Look at that subtle off-white colouring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!”)

The Boy was utterly overwhelmed by all of the deliciously described dishes. He wavered all over the menu, like a flitting hummingbird undecided as to which blossom might contain the best treat. I was similarly flighty, plotting in my head what would give me a filling meal for the best price. The waitress was enormously patient with us, and dealt marvelously with The Boy’s indecision especially. She went through each of the dishes with such enthusiasm and obvious love for the food, and won over The Boy with her recommendation of the mussels. “I don’t even like mussels ordinarily,” she said, leaning in to us conspiratorily. “But these are just so wonderful.”

As for me, I ended up going with the cep and pea risotto, teamed with a very nice German riesling. The risotto was rich and filling, the peas popping with freshness, and was just the thing I needed. The Boy wouldn’t stop talking about the amazingness of the mussels in their creamy sauce (and I wouldn’t stop stealing the potato frites that accompanied his meal).

What made the meal, though, was the dessert, tarte tatin. This, this was not a mere dish of nutrients cobbled onto a plate. This was ART. Perfectly caramelised pastry and poached pears, with a dome of ice cream on top and a drizzling of honey (there was something special about the honey, lord knows if I can remember what. Magic bees, maybe? Let’s go with that. MAGIC BEES!). Honestly, I can’t remember enjoying a dessert so much in a long while; The Boy was lucky I didn’t grab our shared dish and gobble the whole thing while hissing “Mine!”

Madame Sousou is the perfect place for that special evening where you want to be nice and cosy with your beloved and whisper sweet French nothings into their shell-like ear. Or, if you’re me, it’s the perfect place to go any time, to sit back in a corner with a glass of wine and tarte tatin… just don’t expect me to share next time!

Madame Sousou

231 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9417 0400

Peko Peko

“Where are we going?” flailed Muffin in excitement.

“I can’t tell you. It’s a SURPRISE. A food surprise!”

The food surprise was a place that I’d been longing to go since, well, since Where’s the Beef reviewed it way back in December 2008 (wow, you get to sampling things reeeeal quick, Hayley), Smith Street Japanese eatery Peko Peko.

We arrived bang on 6pm on a Friday night to an empty restaurant. But! We were promptly told that all the tables inside were completely booked out and our only option was to eat at one of the outside tables on the pavement. Shame, seeing as the space inside is cozy and gorgeously decked-out, but we acquiesced and sat outside. Funny though, by the time we left just over a hour later, there were still quite a few free tables inside. I honestly don’t mind being told by staff “You can sit inside, but have to be out by this time to make way for a booking”, this is the lot of the walk-in diner.

We started off with a wee bowl of miso soup each, which was good and refreshing, and featured a few cubes of silken tofu, I love that! We also ordered the tempura, the vegetable gyoza, and the chilli soba.

The tempura consisted of eggplant, tofu, sweet potato and zucchini, served with a light soy dipping sauce and a heavy sprinkling of shredded nori.  Goodness, I love shredded nori. Let’s have it on everything. The batter on the tempura was nice, light and not too oily, the dipping sauce was great (so much so that we kept hold of it to dip the gyoza in as well), though I seem to recall that we only got one piece of tofu? Muffin, did you get a bit of tofu or did I gobble it all up?!

The gyoza came next. Upon eagerly biting into them, Muffin and I immediately looked at each other and simultaneously said “Garlic chives!” Overwhelmingly garlic chives, in fact, neither of us felt we could taste much else. On my dissection of a gyoza I couldn’t discern much else in the filling other than said chives and some cabbage. Bit of a disappointment.

Any gyoza-related disappointment, however, was swiftly swept away by the chilli soba. Holy balls, was this dish amazing or what! I make a lot of these noodle and vegetable soups at home so am a little snobbish when ordering them out (clearly I secretly consider myself some kind of uncrowned Queen Of Soups), but this was something else: soba, chunks of more silken tofu, capsicum, beanshoots and this amazing broth that made Muffin and I swoon – I was completely guilty of filling my little bowl with just broth and drinking it down like it was your favourite delicious carbonated beverage of choice. We spent a fair amount of time discussing what exactly might comprise the broth to make it so delicious, but in the end just gave up in favour of consuming more broth.

Contented bellies all round, and a very enjoyable surprise dinner for my dining companion. Next time though I’ll be sure to book so we can eat inside, and might go for the sweet potato gyoza if I’m feeling dumpling-ish.

Peko Peko

199 Smith Street, Fitzroy

Ph: (03) 9415 9609