Mr Burger

It actually surprised me to realise that I’ve never profiled a food truck on this here blog, especially considering you can’t really miss them around Melbourne these days. I’m often partaking of their wares as an easy lunch or dinner – having to walk to a truck’s location from my house is a good way of convincing myself that I am working for my burger (of course no one need work for a burger, may we all have forty thousand burgers a day, burgers love you don’t forget).

Out of the two burger peddling trucks that normally haunt my suburb, I lean towards Mr Burger over Beatbox Kitchen these days – not because Beatbox Kitchen’s burgers aren’t good, oh no, you should definitely get one of their mushroom burgers into your face as soon as you can – but because while burgers are fab the real race for food supremacy is with chips, and Mr Burger’s chips are so good I have legit DREAMT about them.

I suppose I should give some concession to the burgers and at least describe them to you. While I love a good mushroom burger (as evidenced above), I’ve noticed a lot of burger joints overly lean on them, especially when they just have the one vegie option available, so unless they’re truly a top-notch construction they can get a little samey. Mr Burger goes somewhere a little different, with a felafel patty for their vegie option, complete with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, tomato sauce, mayo and mustard to make their Mr Veg burger. Now it might sound weird to have a felafel patty in a bun with all those more traditional burger accompaniments, but trust me, IT WORKS and is delicious to boot. Keep in mind, however, that these are also rather hefty burgers – I am an unrepentant glutton and put away obscene amounts of food, but I often find these particular burgers are a little too much for for me and I have to leave a bit for Mrs Manners. But that also may be because I can’t help but eat a stupid amount of chips alongside them, because THESE CHIPS, OH MAN.

Honestly I don’t think they do terribly much special to these chips beyond sprinkling some spiced salt mix on them, but they are always fat and golden, and have a very good ratio between fluffy insides and crunchy outsides, and are just ultimately SATISFYING in a very simple yet gleeful way.

The best thing about Mr Burger is apart from their trucks they also have two permanent locations, so if you can’t be bothered to chase down a truck you can head to either Fitzroy or South Yarra and have your burger longings sated. Which you should do, right now, go.

Mr Burger

300 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

364 Chapel Street, South Yarra

For daily truck locations, check Twitter

The Stables of Como

What follows actually wasn’t my first visit to The Stables of Como. Jen and I had originally visited back in January, but the day of said visit coincided with a stinking hot day that ended up abruptly turning into a violent cool change. So despite the food being great I didn’t feel like it was fair to blog about it given that first the insane heat and then the squally winds accompanied by swirls of dust greatly hampered our dining experience sitting out of doors.

But I wanted a second visit more than anything on a day with more auspicious weather, as I felt it was a place more than worthy of blogging about, and thankfully a catch up with Bennett that necessitated a venue accessible from the No. 8 tram was just the ticket.

Set in the grounds of historical Como House, the cafe is obviously in a very picturesque spot. There’s plenty of seating outside in the old stables courtyard, but indoors manages to cram in a lot of tables into a very vibrant space – and make sure you take a moment to go investigate the overloaded cakes cabinet, which is a sweet feast for the eyes. I’m still not sure how I managed to escape running off without a bag of cakes at the end, but it may be because my savoury breakfast filled all necessary holes.

That breakfast was the smashed avocado with thyme-buttered mushrooms, feta cheese, basil, flat-leaf parsley and one poached egg, served on two small slices of seedy bread. This dish looked a bit small on first glance, but its rich components, especially the salt-packed feta, gives it significant heft in terms of filling you. The mushrooms were soft with just a touch of bite, and hadn’t been over-herbed, giving a mild thyme overlay. The egg was not quite at optimum gooeyness, but still didn’t tip over into over-cooked, yielding a nice river of yellow once popped. What I actually ended up appreciating most, somewhat surprisingly, was the fresh whole basil leaves, which added just the right note of flavour that pulled all the components together. I ordinarily wouldn’t have thought to pair basil with avocado, but here it worked.

Bennett built his own eggy breakfast – folded herbed eggs with bacon and smashed avocado. This was a nicely huge dish in comparison to mine, the eggs looked smooth and creamy, the bacon fat and not overly crisped. It all disappeared with alacrity, so I assume it was great!

I also had two flat whites during our visit, they were nice and smooth texturally, not too bitter, perfectly enjoyable.

This place packs out on a weekend – it was bustling like anything all through our visit, and be warned that if you sit inside the noise levels get pretty deafening. It’s lucky that Bennett and I are fairly used to bellowing at each other, athough at one point I was on the phone to Schaefer and I know I agreed to *something* he said, but I have no idea what it was. Lord knows what I’ve been roped into.

You should also expect from the location that you’ll be paying Toorak prices – everything is a few dollars more expensive than they probably should be, but considering the Stables are attached to Como House and I presume is assisting the National Trust in keeping the site running and in tip top condition, I don’t really begrudge it. Make sure you visit when you yourself are feeling flush is my best advice. Apparently there’s also afternoon tea menus where you can take advantage of all those cakes, and picnic basket options where you can take your spread into the gardens to enjoy. Sounds delightful to me!

The Stables of Como

Como House & Garden, cnr Williams Road & Lechlade Ave, South Yarra

Ph: 9827 6886

Dainty Sichuan

Finally, a much longed for experience has been crossed off my foodie wish-list: I have finally sampled the vegetarian fish-flavoured eggplant at Dainty Sichuan! Indeed, it was my first visit to Dainty Sichuan entirely.

Jen and I were so keen to get stuck into some eggplant action that we actually showed up to their Toorak Road location before it had even officially opened for the day. Oops! Never mind, five or so minutes of loitering on their doorstep later, we were let in and sat ourselves down as the first customers of the day.

The decor at Dainty is a little rough around the edges, and the tinny orchestral arrangements of 60s pop tunes being piped through leaves a bit to be desired. I’d heard plenty of stories about the waitstaff being brusque, but ours were perfectly fine, if impersonal.

To the food! To start with we had garlic cucumber – sticks of cold cucumber graced with a very simple, slightly warm, minced garlic sauce. This is the sort of dish that I could happily gobble away at every day, the cool crispness of the cucumber contrasting beautifully with the fresh, comforting garlic sauce. This involves A LOT of garlic though, so not a dish to order if you’re on a saucy date, as you will be living in Stinktown afterwards.

Next was the mushroom threads served with a dome of white rice. This was a reasonably plain dish (I assume it’s more often ordered as a leavener against some of the more chilli-drenched dishes) but I’m such a happy mushroom fan that I was quite contented with it. If you like the sound of lightly stir-fried mushroom lengths with a light soy sauce that you can moosh around with rice, this for you.

We had to wait a bit for the fabled eggplant to reach the table (we’d nearly finished our first pot of chrysanthemum tea!). The eggplant is cut into wedges, basted in sweet, chilli-ish sauce, and fried. Fresh out of the fryer, the eggplant is molten, soft and delicious – although I’m still not sure what it is exactly that makes it “fish-flavoured”. It does seem to be the type of dish you should order and eat first, though – having already filled ourselves with cucumber and mushrooms, we were already struggling a little, and once the eggplant starts to cool the wedges start getting soggy and stick to each other. The flavour build up also gets very sweet after a few pieces, there not being as much chilli heat involved as you might expect to balance out the sweet. From reading other blog posts about the dish, it seems as if it’s best enjoyed shared among a big group, so you can devour a few pieces each when it’s still nice and hot and at optimum tastiness. Shared between two (who are already a bit stuffed) it does tend to outstay its welcome.

My first Dainty experience wasn’t awe-inspiring, but nor was it a disappointment. I’d really like to go back and explore the menu a bit further; I had my eye on a black fungus and chilli dish, and in general I’d like to find out whether there are more vegetarian dishes that employ scads of chilli so I can have more of a fiery flavour experience. There’s also their new outpost in Box Hill that is devoted to hotpot that has definitely made me keen for more Sichuan food times. It may not quite meet the hype, but Dainty Sichuan definitely deserves it’s well-known place on Melbourne’s culinary map.

Dainty Sichuan

176 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9078 1686

Thirty Eight Chairs

A few Sunday mornings ago I was lying on the couch in Jen’s apartment, clicking through Urbanspoon attempting to find us a new place in South Yarra to brunch at*. For we had started to run out of new brunches, you see, and neither of us were particularly in the mood for any of our standard haunts. The shock of the new, that is what we required!

I hadn’t heard anything about Thirty Eight Chairs before idly clicking on the Urbanspoon link to their website. As soon as I realised that these were the same folks as those behind Caffe e Cucina, my curiosity was piqued – I’ve sadly never been there myself, but Bennett has always raved about it as one of his faves.

Set in a back street way from the hustling bustle of Chapel Street (always a plus), Thirty Eight Chairs is a warm little cavern paneled in dark wood and a distinctly modern Italian feel (hugely compounded by the gently flirtatious Italian waiters, oh MY). We actually ended up on one of the wee outside tables, which is set apart enough from the pavement that you don’t have to worry about any early morning joggers whisking off with your breakfast.

The menu here is very simple. Each item’s description contains only about four ingredients, making clear that Thirty Eight Chairs is about highlighting their produce without overwhelming it with a lot of bells and whistles. Although I was intially a little concerned that our chosen dishes could run the risk of being a bit plain.

I should’t have worried. My sweet bruscetta with pear slices, ricotta and honey was very much the good kind of simple. The pears had been lightly poached in a sweet honeyed syrup, which was very agreeable against the light clouds of ricotta. The bread was thick and pillowy, and with a chewy crust – I recommend dispensing with cutlery and just cramming it in your mouth with your hands. Not terribly elegant, to be sure, but much less fuss!

To accompany brunch, I needed some of the elixir of life that is tea (mmmm, tea). On asking whether they had earl grey, the waiter cocked his head and said that they had a lavender grey blend. I love lavender ANYTHING so was immediately sold. It wasn’t overwhelmingly floral, but still might put off those for whom floral tastes tend to be too overpowering, but if you’re bored with plain ol’ earl grey, this might be your ticket.

Jen went with the omelette with pancetta in a soft roll with crispy crust. A thin, slightly herbed omelette alongside ample curls of crispy pancetta squished into more of the soft, chewy bread, this would definitely be a perfect hangover reviver!

I also decided to finish up with a mocha, because why the heck not. I’m glad I did, because Thirty Eight chairs treats the oft-maligned mocha with far more dignity than most places in this town, using very good quality dark chocolate powder that once transformed to liquid managed to be both creamy and possess a slight under-tang of bitterness. Delicious.

Thirty Eight Chairs was so nicely, quietly impressive that I’m honestly surprised that it took an Urbanspoon scrawl for me to hear about it. It’s perfect for those who want a nice hideaway from the Chapel Street hustle, and it’s pleasing to see a place so focused on letting ingredients shine with simple touches rather than a whole heap of culinary chicanery.

Thirty Eight Chairs

4A Bond Street, South Yarra

Ph: 9827 5553

*Complete and utter tangent, but does anyone else get irrationally outraged at terrible Urbanspoon reviews? Not simply bad reviews, but reviews where it’s obvious that the commenter hasn’t the first idea about food or how the hospitality industry actually works? You’ll know I’ve completely given up on human beings as a species if I ever launch a “The Terrible Reviews of Urbanspoon” Tumblr.

Jus Burger

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.

Jus Burgers

364 Chapel Street, South Yarra

Ph: 9827 1318

My Legendary Girlfriend

Continuing our series in Cafes Named After Songs By Bands That Have Profoundly Affected Hayley’s Life, Jen and I recently investigated the scruffy interloper in the shiny Domain Road strip, My Legendary Girlfriend. If you don’t know that it’s named after a Pulp song, god help you, because your life is bereft of meaning. Would this be a cafe worthy of he that is on high, our one stylish and true savior and also my future husband (I live in hope, guys, it’s totally going to happen), Jarvis Cocker? There was only one way to find out – we busted out our best giant sunglasses, elbowed the Sunday morning joggers and standard South Yarra beautiful people out of the way and sauntered down there.

It was quite busy as we arrived, and being our first visit we weren’t quite sure whether we were meant to wait to be seated, or had to grab spots ourselves. We hovered for a moment or two, as a few waitresses zoomed past us resolutely refusing to meet our expectant gazes. Eventually a waitress behind the front counter called out brusquely to us “Just grab a seat, okay?” We did so, although were side-eying each other hugely with wordless expressions of “Wow, that was rude.” Not the best start.

Luckily the waitress looking after the section we ended up seating ourselves in was a bubbly delight, seemingly in contrast to the rest of the staff. Looking at the design of the place, it definitely seems to be expressing a more shabby and laid-back cool look than most of the other super shiny and slick eateries along this particular strip of South Yarra, making it a more comforting a space for my sensibilities.

For savoury both Jen and I decided upon the smashed avocado with feta on toast with an added poached egg. Ginormous amounts of bonus points first of all for not only having the cheapest add-on poached egg in Melbourne ($2!!!), but also for serving a proper serrated knife alongside so that cutting through the crusty toast didn’t become an exercise in masochism. A giant mountain of creamy, feta-ry avocado came out, strangely crowned with slices of fresh chilli, which led to an impassioned discussion about clueless people who insist on asking for fresh chilli to accompany cuisines that don’t require it (note from Jen the industry professional: if you do this in a Korean or Japanese restaurant, you are an idiot. I would have thought something like this wouldn’t have needed clarifying, but it seems I live to be constantly disappointed by the human race).

Now I have eaten a lot of smashed avocado dishes in my time – I mean, you can’t brunch in Melbourne frequently without finding it on every other menu – but this version was easily one of the best ones I’ve encountered. It was beautifully creamy, the avocado and feta having been combined together so it was perfectly textured, there wasn’t too much bread so it was all just lovely smooth piles of green and cheese. Pop the poached egg yolk, and there you have heaven. The chilli slices are still weird, though.

We decided to balance all the avocado-egg goodness with something refreshing and sweet to share, and ordered the red fruit salad: watermelon cubes, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries drizzled with honey syrup and a big ol’ blob of tangy labne. This was just what was required, a properly refreshing, very virtuous breakfast.

I also ordered a chai latte, but it was sadly quite tasteless, basically amounting to a glass of cinnamon-flavoured hot milk. Dang.

Given that the busy frenzy calmed reasonably as we ate, we lingered by ordering some pots of tea. We were left waiting for them for a quite a bit longer than usual, with it transpiring that the order had been forgotten about, but our bubbly waitress did what one should do when such things happen in hospo – apologised profusely but good-humouredly, admitted to fault, and as quickly as possible rectified the mistake. So from one end of our visit to the other we basically went from blatant rudeness to being cosily taken care of, it was a bit of a schizophrenic experience.

My Legendary Girlfriend was a bit of an up and down experience altogether. While the food was impressive, the lackluster drinks and wildly divergent service styles we encountered were a bit off-putting. I’d like to go again when it’s a bit quieter, maybe on a weekday, to see whether that causes it to be more of a consistent experience. But it’s still the best option to be had in that part of South Yarra, and the food is worth checking out. It might just need to ratchet itself up a notch or two to be properly worthy of Jarvis.

My Legendary Girlfriend

157 Domain Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9077 4863

Miss Chu: South Yarra Edition

Despite the fact that I’ve eaten from Miss Chu’s Exhibition Street location in the city quite a few times since it opened, I’ve never felt particularly compelled to blog about it. This is for the reason that even though I’ve always really enjoyed the food, the vibe of the restaurant itself has always left me stone cold. From frequently being ignored as a solo diner by waitstaff who always seem to be more focused on prepping or talking among themselves, to being overcrowded in the furniture-stuffed small space, to that slightly paranoid feeling that everyone else around you is in the venue purely to be seen, Miss Chu as a place has always made me feel uncomfortable. Indeed, the times I’ve enjoyed Miss Chu the most has been those times when I’ve been with friends in the city and we’ve ordered Miss Chu’s to deliver: that way I was able to focus on the delicately flavoured, well put together food without feeling that I was far too uncool to be allowed to experience it.

So when I discovered that the second Melbourne Miss Chu location was to be opened around the corner from one of my workplaces, I was all kinds of conflicted. Because even though I was excited to get delicious rice paper rolls is a location convenient for me, I was worried that the same problems that I’d experienced at Exhibition Street would also be prevalent at South Yarra.

Biting the bullet, Muffin and I decided to visit for lunch after we had seen a film at the Como. I was interested to see how Muffin would react to the food and space, given that she had never had Miss Chu’s before.

The South Yarra space is still a bit furniture-crammed, but it’s much more brightly lit and cheery than Exhibition Street’s dark cavern. I particularly liked the strings of light fittings with blue and white patterned porcelain bowls that had been converted into lampshades, an idea taken from the Exhibition Street store and refined in a much more striking way.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in ordering – you order using little take out sheets where you tick the boxes next to what you want, which is simple enough, but when I took it to the counter it took quite a while for any of the numerous staff to acknowledge me, then once a waiter had noticed me there was drama with the till – it seemed like no one present was terribly familiar with how to use it – then the wrong bill was tallied up and my correct docket had to be re-found. This isn’t intended as a slight against the staff, they were very apologetic and much friendlier than any I’d encountered at Exhibition Street, it just seems that this might be a case where the many staff are trained to fulfill certain roles on the floor and in the kitchen and aren’t briefed on things that fall outside of those roles. Which probably works marvelously well when the joint is pumping but, you know, less well when there’s not much happening.

Anyway, onto food. We got the two types of vegie rice paper rolls, the vegetarian with egg omelette, avocado and balsamic caramelised onion, and the vegan option with tofu, mushrooms and spinach. I’ve always really loved the egg omelette roll, despite the fact that the caramelised onions never really make their presence known, it’s still a lovely fresh burst of a thing to bite into. The vegan option is much the same, just lacking the same touch of umami possessed by the egg ones (umami is one of those pretentious, over-used food blogger words that I should avoid using, isn’t it? I just feel like I use ‘savoury’ too much in place of it. Eh, bygones). What really makes the rice paper rolls exciting is the little bottle of, by all accounts house made, chilli sauce served with them. This stuff is liquid crack – it’s not terribly hot, but is more subtle with loads of spice and sweetness and I just want to slather it over everything.

I can’t go without dumplings, so I had to make sure some English spinach and tofu steamed dumplings hit the table. They had lovely thin and delicate wrappers that were steamed into a smooth gelatinous consistency, and come swimming in a gingery soy sauce. Gingery anything always goes down well with me, and it made up for the fact that the filling itself wasn’t amazingly flavoursome.

Next were the vegetarian net spring rolls. Or LITTLE CRISPY TUBES OF AWESOME. The net pastry means that you get a huge dose of crispy, which is just how I like my fried things. Do be aware though that you only get four in a serving, they’re not terribly big and you will be struck with the desire to want more almost immediately.

Wanting a cooling beverage, I decided to order a coconut water, which I’ve never had before. Annoying diet food trend side, it was quite refreshing, and I did like the fact that it contained softened curls of coconut flesh as well.

So my conclusion by this point was this: despite various annoyances with the set up of the place, the food is genuinely pretty good. The flavours have clearly been softened slightly for the desired clientele (so if you’re looking for a proper Vietnamese chilli punch, look elsewhere), but is still tasty enough to mostly be worth the bother. Muffin had been very pleased too with the food, and came away with a very positive first impression.

And then as we were leaving, I spotted the delivery scooters lined up out along the footpath in front of the restaurant. In particular, the large slogans emblazoned on the scooters proclaiming “You ling, we bling!”


Did I miss the memo saying that it was totally cool now to use racist caricature language in marketing?  I mean, we’re talking about a venue and a brand that has set itself up to be as cool and on-trend as humanly possible, and presents a menu of “authentic”-branded Vietnamese food that, and let’s be blunt, is deliberately designed to appeal to young white people. This smacks pretty forcefully of being straight up hipster racism.

Upon further research it appears that this is a pretty standard part of Miss Chu’s marketing strategy. For instance, on the Miss Chu website, the button to click in order to like them on Facebook says “Me likey!” GROSS. GROSS GROSS GROSS.

I sent several ranty emails to my friend Jen (who is well accustomed to receiving numerous frothing, CAPSLOCK-heavy email cries of despair from me) about this whole thing and asked her whether I was over-reacting. Her response started with “Well, considering the business is helmed by a Laotian-Vietnamese woman, maybe they’re being self-consciously ironic and re-appropriating racist phrasing?” but quickly plunged into doubt the more she researched, to finally culminate in her own rage-filled email: “Oh, it gets worse – I just tried to order Miss Chu’s delivered and the website came up with the message ‘WE NO DELIVER WHERE YOU LIVE.’ Whyyyyy, Hayley, whyyyyyy.” Why indeed.

Look, I was willing to forgive a whole avalanche of pretentiousness in order to get some good food, but tacitly endorsing horridly cutesy, ‘ironic’ racist sloganeering for the sake of a few delicious rice paper rolls? Yeah, that’s not something that I’m okay with. Adios, Miss Chu.

Miss Chu

276 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9041 5848

Update: My friend Joe alerted me via Twitter of yet another example of grossness on their website.

Mama Baba

“Be scathing to Mama Baba, I’m still missing my calamari.”

This was the text message I received from Nik, aka Doctor Ethnic, post our Friday lunch at Mama Baba. This isn’t the first time a dining companion has insisted that I lay into an establishment with outraged gusto, but in this case I certainly was feeling conflicted about it. Because on the one hand, in terms of space and service Mama Baba provided an amazing experience. But the food? Hoo boy, the food… there were some pretty glaring problems.

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Doctor Ethnic is sadly cursed with a Greek grandmother who cannot cook (let us have a moment of silence for him) and is well-versed in Greek Food Gone Wrong. I wanted his knowledge alongside me as I traversed the idea of of a Greek-Italian pasta restaurant. Because despite the fact that the whole shebang is helmed by George Calombaris, I was having qualms about the idea without having even stepped through the door (oh Hayley, you perpetual Doubting Thomas). But! I am always willing to be proven wrong with good food, and since Mama Baba is only a skip and jump away from work it seemed churlish not to investigate.

Friday afternoons are the only time Mama Baba is open for lunch, and it seemed to be a nice, low-key visiting option. We were greeted very warmly by the staff, and sat down with a bag filled with a variety of breads and ample little wrapped pats of butter. The bag idea was cute, but kind of reminiscent of Adebisi’s hat in Oz, the realisation of which took me on a train to all sorts of weird thoughts.

We started off with some polenta chips to share, served with a dipping sauce made of sour cream and chilli soffritto. The polenta was lovely and smooth inside, but the fine crumbed coating was pretty tasteless and neither of us could figure out what it was spiced with, if with anything at all. And the sour cream sauce was just all-out WEIRD. It was a big blob swimming in a clear, slightly chilli-ish sauce and covered in what seemed to be cubes of carrot. No matter how we decided to eat it, there wasn’t any way that seemed to cause the dish to make sense, and Nik and I essentially made a lot of faces at each other that translated to “This just isn’t working.”

Mains time! From off the ‘Greek’ side of the menu I ordered the pastitsio, which was described on the menu in three words: “wild greens, béchamel.” Turned out it was actually a kind of pasta bake, which I’m always totally okay with, with penne tubes entrenched in béchamel sauce and a strong, parmesan-like Greek cheese (I think kefalotyri), and threaded with long seams of greens, probably kale. It was really quite lovely, although hearty and heavy, so requires a sturdy belly.

Doctor Ethnic, however, was not so fortunate in his choice. He strayed over to the Italian side of the menu with the bucanti, which was described on the menu thusly: “carbonara, calamari, crispy maple pork, pumpkin parmesan, saffron brodo.” The presentation was certainly spiffy: it came out crowned with a raw egg yolk, and the waitress poured over a clear, hot jus, the idea being that you mix it through and it turns into a sauce once all the ingredients are combined.

But after this point, things started to really Go Wrong. The second advertised ingredient, calamari, failed to materialise. Unless it had been emulsified into its base properties to the point of not tasting like calamari anymore, it was not there. The crispy maple pork was sweet to a fault, and combined with violently orange pumpkin parmesan, made the whole dish far too sweet for my dining companion’s palate. Doctor Ethnic was not pleased, not pleased at all, and I was left with that particular feeling of guilt when you drag friends along to a food place that turns out to be not as great as you were hoping.

It really is tragic that the food was quite disappointing, because the space at Mama Baba is really something. I kept thinking that it would be a great place to take someone on a fancy date, where you could be all “Oh yes, look at the lovely place that I have taken you to, where you can see into the beautiful clean kitchen and the chefs making pasta from scratch, and see that amazing bar set up on the other side with all the bottles displayed up to the ceiling, and aren’t these waiters delightful and quirky and ever so kind, yes this is all quite special, NOW KISS ME YOU FOOL.” But then it would be ruined because your date would end up angry over weird polenta chips and over-sweet, non-calamaried pasta, and you’d start regretting getting so overexcited at the chemist earlier in the day, because clearly you’re not going to need so many condoms now, and you’re starting to traitorously think that even though your pasta bake was really nice, you probably could have made a similar dish at home for a lot less trouble.

And now that I’ve depressed myself with an imaginary date scenario THAT I MADE UP, let’s all just pretend that the date was salvaged by one of our fictional daters, who ended up placing the bread bag on their head and made some quips about shanking. Because that’s what really brings people together, violent HBO dramas about prisons. Not weird pasta.

Mama Baba

21 Daly Street, South Yarra

Ph: 9207 7421


Okay, you all got me. There I was for ages, all “I don’t really get the whole macarons thing!”, trying so desperately not to jump on the teetering bandwagon filled with every man and his gastronomic dog, all shouting “Macarons, ho!” Nibbling a macaron here and there, but never really wanting to admit how nice they were, always erring on the side of “Yeah, they’re good, but really guys?” All because I felt it was a little bit silly to get so exuberantly excited over what was essentially just a fancyarse biscuit.

Well, let me tell you, over at LuxBite they want you to get REALLY excited about their fancyarse biscuits. And you should be excited, because these are certainly the best macarons I’ve ever had. So good that I’m happy to now stand upon the teetering bandwagon and shout loudly “HEY EVERYONE! THESE MACARON THINGS? TOTALLY BOSS.”

LuxBite specialise in all that is sweet and decadent. It’s situated in a bright shop front that looks out on Toorak Road, decked out with cute white dollhouse tables and chairs, all just slightly mismatched in shape, and ending at the back of the space with giant display cabinets filled with desserts that may have populated your deepest, darkest sweet-filled fantasies. Do you perhaps feel like a giant macaron stuffed with pandan cream, passionfruit curd, caramelised banana and peanut brittle? Did your face just explode at the sheer delight of such a description? It should.

But! I was not there to sample the swoon-inducing cabinets. I was there to try the breakfast menu. Let me take you on a journey of tea and waffles.

The brand of tea on offer at LuxBite is called Tea Forte. It is, unfortunately, in the form of a teabag instead of tea leaves, but it is an enormously cute tea bag! My organic earl grey tea came in the form of a kind of a tea teepee, with the string ending in a paper leaf, and combined with the see-through glass of the cup, saucer and teapot, it all made for a very stylish design touch. I was more than willing to forgive a little less flavour in favour of such an attractive set-up.

To accompany my tea I ordered the “Sweet Bite”: waffles with plums poached in Heilala vanilla, served with whipped honey butter. The waffles are dark and liberally filled with cinnamon, so are delightfully sweet and spicy. The whipped honey butter was more the consistency of cream! So decadent. And the plums, well, I have an addiction to poached fruits and these were just perfect, riding that tricky line between the fruit holding its shape yet still soft and light on the tongue. And seeing all the vanilla bean flecks throughout the poaching sauce pushed all the right foodie buttons!

“But what of the macarons?” you are all undoubtedly wailing. “Tell us of their mouth-watering GLORY.” Well, those with long memories will remember that I first sampled a LuxBite macaron at Broadsheet Cafe, and while I highly enjoyed my creme brulee version, I was intrigued by the watermelon yoghurt one that one of my companions ordered. I was finally able to taste one with my second pot of tea, and goodness, it was a revelation. My secret thoughts that it would probably be too hard to translate the taste of watermelon into a biscuit format without it tasting artificial were completely scuppered. This macaron achieved a somewhat miraculous feat of not only tasting like proper watermelon, but also somehow being juicy, an impressive attempt to elude to the texture of watermelon. In a biscuit. That my friends, is some insanely awesome shit right there.

As LuxBite is only a short walk around the corner from my workplace, I am now making it my mission to try ALL of their macarons (verdict so far: the peanut butter and jelly macaron exists to reassure mankind that we are loved and that perfection is possible). Join me on a one-way trip to heaven (and diabetes), and get yourselves over to LuxBite.


38 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9867 5888

Oriental Tea House

DUMPLINGS! That is quite often the ravaging cry to be heard emanating from the lips of myself and a good chunk of people I know on a fairly regular basis. Though I must admit I’m struggling a little to find a really great dumpling place within walking distance from my workplace (really wish Hu Tong at The Cullen wasn’t just that little bit too far away for my stumpy, lazy gams).

The best option within walking distance is Oriental Tea House. And yes, I’ll say straight off the bat that this isn’t explode-your-face off AMAZING yum cha, but it’s easy and fun, the space is great to sit in and the staff are unfailingly friendly, and there are some dishes that happily rock me whenever I go.

Last time Muffin and I visited after work we sampled the vegetarian banquet. With drinks, from what I recall it cost about $40, and some of the dishes were quite good. The san choi bao and vegie roll made for good starters; I was intrigued by the fact the vegie roll was a lot less like a spring roll, and instead had a wrapper made out of thin tofu.

The serve of dumplings came out in a  steamer with just two dumplings, one regular with the thin, see-through glutinous wrapper, the other was a buckwheat-skinned dumpling. The buckwheat one seemed more mushroomy, and its skin did seem to impart a distinctly different flavour, but otherwise both were quite satisfactory, loaded up with a mix of vegies. Also included in the steamer was a vegetable bun, which had a slight paucity of filling, and is recalled as being a bit disappointing.

The main dish came out on a  large plate, containing stir-fried vegetables, a spring onion pancake, steamed rice and the DIVINE salt and chilli tofu. I am wholeheartedly addicted to salt and chilli tofu, and Oriental Tea House plate up a damn good version. The spring onion cake wasn’t any great shakes (I’m enormously fond of spring onion cakes and ones I have a low opinion of can sometimes bring my whole meal down), but the vegies were good  and the tofu, HOLY HANNAH, totally boss as always (though you do get a much smaller portion of tofu in the banquet compared to just ordering the standard dish, which aggrieved me quite a bit).

Dessert: an eggy combo of custard bun and custard tart, which were both beautifully well done. Such lovely flaky pastry on the tart, and the custard in both was strong on flavour (nice natural flavour, none of that slightly powery commercial custard taste here) and both were smooth and creamy.

Being a tea house, we really couldn’t order anything else to accompany our meal. I went with the raspberry lime ice tea, which is my favourite out of all their interestingly flavoured iced teas, it’s terribly sweet (just how I like, well, mostly everything!) and the lime gives it a refreshing kick. Muffin ordered a lemongrass and ginger tea, which when it arrived engulfed our table in such a gorgeously delicious smell it made us food-swoon quite enthusiastically.

Oriental Tea House is a good little place to grab yourself a quick, pleasant dinner. Must admit that I probably wouldn’t go the option of the banquet again, just because it seemed a little light on content considering the price and I did go away with a little bit of hunger still grousing away inside me. But there are some really great, satisfying dishes on the menu as a whole that means I’ll be back to construct my own banquet… probably entirely composed of that amazing salt and chilli tofu.

Oriental Tea House

455 Chapel Street, South Yarra

Ph: 9826 0168

Note: Oriental Tea House also has two other locations, one in the city at 378 Little Collins Street, and another at Chadstone Shopping Centre. I haven’t been to these other locations, but figured I’d put them up in case South Yarra is not pleasing for you geographically.