List 054: Reg’s grand-esque food tour of Melbourne 2011

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When the cat is away, the mouse will play… and oh how this mouse played! With Eoin gone on holidays, I took this opportunity to dine in restaurants that would send SMF (special man friend) into one of his infamous food tantrums: the “white table cloth” tantrum, the “coffee is not hot enough” tantrum, the “I hate being called ‘Sir'” tantrum, the “yellow food” tantrum. So for 7 glorious weeks, I enjoyed hissy fit-free dining in places I’ve never been in before. Ironically though, I did end up having some restaurant tantrums of my own!

1) Brim CC, Japanese Organic Cafe
Little Collins Street, Melbourne CBD
What I ate: Pumpkin soup, Veggie Buckwheat pancake, green tea
Would I go back? Yes

The pumpkin soup performed outstandingly well: it provided me with  comfort on my first Friday alone and warmed me up on a cold, rainy  night. (I’m not being melodramatic for the sake of creative writing…  the weather was truly horrible and I was jet-lagged out of my head.) The veggie buckwheat pancake, albeit being initially served to the wrong brown Asian, also lived up to expectations. The veggies were  fresh and the pancake was mildly sweet and filling. I would definitely order again, but sans the mayonnaise.

2) Fatto a mano organic bakery
Gerturde Street, Fitzroy
What I ate: Vegan olive and herb bread, Veggie pizza
Would I go back? Yes

Bread was absolutely delicious (something in it made me mildly constipated, but hey, I’ll sacrifice that for the flavour!) The pizza was a different story however. See List 053: Really crappy food I ate on the 1st of October.

3) Merri Table and Bar

Ceres Park, Brunswick East
What I ate: Polenta pancake, beetroot salad
Would I go back? No way

The Irish hostess was entertaining and friendly enough, but the food  left more to be desired. The servings were small and my polenta pancake was nothing to write home about. The salad I could’ve easily made and over-priced for what it was. Laura and I left feeling underwhelmed and decided to check out the Ceres cafe next door. The menu was definitely more interesting, but the place was crammed with hippies, hippie-wanna-bes, and mothers with Rolls Royce prams. I ordered a soy dandy, waited for 25 minutes, got impatient and left.

4) Kinfolk
Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
What I ate: Quinoa salad with yellow peppers, baby root veggies
(carrot, beetroot), coriander, lettuce, croutons
Would I go back? No

The space was decorated according to the public’s expectations of what  an organic, “socialy-aware” cafe should be: quirky knick-knacks, hand-painted/assembled wall decor, posters of other “socially-aware” places  and events. The salad was light and healthy but didn’t really blow my mind away; again it could’ve been something that I made myself.  The  veggies were fresh and flavoursome though, so I’ll have to give them that!

5) Veggie Kitchen
St George’s Road, Northcote
What I ate: Five Elements Veggie hotpot, black rice and red bean soya  drink
Would I go back? Hell yeah!

It’s not often that you hear the words “Traditional Chinese Medicine”  and “Vegetarian” in the same breath, but this place does it. And does  it well! The dish I had was light but filling and left me feeling warm  and healthy inside. I would’ve imagined that the ingredients list for the hotpot would’ve been 2 pages long, but the unlikely combination of gingko, goji berries, various seaweed and fresh veggies in the dish was  amazing. The only thing I’d change when I go there next is not to order the red bean soya drink which was pumped full of sugar. But  other than that, I’d go the extra 10 minutes on the 112 tram to have another meal there!

6) Roller Door Cafe
In the middle of nowhere, North Melbourne
What I ate: poached eggs with avocado and spinach, soy chai latte
Would I go back? NO

The menu on their website was deceivingly creative, but when I finally found the place after hiking through the industrial wastelands of North Melbourne, I was sorely disappointed that all they had on offer was the usual crap you find anywhere else in Melbourne Cafes. They  didn’t even have gluten-free bread. And what is this trend of putting chorizo on anything and calling it “Spanish”?!

The most interesting thing about the meal was the very cute, very cuddly rotweiller puppy in the table (an oh-so-trendy milk crate conversion) next to me. Other than that, I wouldn’t go back there for anything.

7) Invita
Queen Victoria Markets, North Melbourne
What I ate: spinach and lentil soup, chai latte with rice milk
Would I go back? Over and over again

This isn’t exactly unexplored territory, but I thought I’d include this joint because they have a new menu. The reason why I love this place is that they serve food that is truly healthy and is, most importantly, delicious. I’ve been to this place dozens of times and will keep coming back for more.

8) The Post Office Hotel
Sydney Road, Coburg
What I ate: Baby king edward potato turlu turlu, eggplant stuffed with  quinoa, blood orange and carrot salad, hibiscus and sour cherry  chilled tea (palate cleanser), roasted baby butternut pumpkin stuffed  with silverbeet, feta, cashews, Iranian fig and pea tagine, blackcurrant jelly
Would I go back? Yes

I could barely breathe after I had this enormous meal, but it was worth every shortened breath at yoga practice the next day. I never thought I’d see the day when pub food would be more than just parma and chips and dodgy produce, so this Middle-eastern banquet was a discovery of greater importance than… oh say, electricity. By the time the dessert came out, I needed a respirator to breathe. And it came out in spectacular fashion (see here), with about 20 deceivingly disparate things on the plate. But they all worked together beautifully. Definitely foodie heaven.

9) Misuzu’s (the new section)
Albert Park
What I ate: Cashew and tofu stir fry bento box
Would I go back? Definitely

It’s rare that a good Japanese restaurant will have a gluten-free menu, much less a gluten-free vegetarian menu, so it came as a very pleasant surprise that this old favourite finally did! I have a thing for cashews at the moment and my “thing” for it grew exponentially when I had the cashew stir fry. I was ecstatic and relieved that I now can order fuss-free from this joint.

10) Salang Afghan Restaurant
Lonsdale Street, Dandenong
What I ate: Afghan brown rice with lentils, lemon and cardamom tea
Would I go back? Yes

After having feasted my eyes on the vast array of Polish, Indian, Russian, Greek, and Pakistani goodies at the Dandenong markets, I wandered around looking for lunch and found this place. The appeal, sadly, was not the menu (I don’t know Afghan food at all), but a photo of “thick and strong” Mat Preston and his cravat together with the owners of the restaurant plastered proudly on the window. Whoever says you can’t make your decisions based on reality TV is a liar and a snob. So I sauntered in and ate the most amazing plate of rice and lentils (I’m still trying to find the exact name of the dish in Persian) topped off with fresh lemon and cardamom tea. The only downside for me, apart from being miles away from Fitzroy, was that I could hear the distinctive beep-beep-beep of the microwave in the kitchen as they re-heated my meal. But the perfectly cooked and flavoured rice and the genuinely friendly Afghan staff (none of the typical Aussie plastic “how are you”s) gently assuaged my orthorexic fears.

11) Juddy Roller Cafe
Chapel Street, Fitzroy
What I ate: soy chai latte
Would I go back? Nope

The newest kid on the block in the cafe scene north of the Yarra. Of course it’s located in an obscure little alleyway on the back grungy streets of Fitzroy. Of course it has quirky little knick knacks and graffiti. Of course it has milk crates for seats. Of course it’s completely wanky. The staff was a bit too cool for school for my liking and like Roller Door on entry #6, it was all image and no substance. I did however enjoy sitting on the fake turf, sipping my not-so-bad chai latte while chatting to friends. But that didn’t really make up for the fact that the menu was incredibly pedestrian. This has brought me to firmly resolve never to eat in a cafe that has the word “Roller” in their name ever again.

12) Monk Bodhi Dharma
Somewhere in the Coles car park, Balaclava
What I ate: pumpkin and corn stew with avocado, chili jam, corn chips and two soy chai lattes
Would I go back? Yes

It’s amazing how genuinely good intentions show through in food… the menu was inventive and each plate was Ayurvedically prepared, a concept that I hardly ever see done commercially, even in “healthy” places. Laura had a jambalaya dish with fried bananas looked pretty spectacular too! Only downside for me was the noise level, which reached to an unbearable decibel level as the meal went on. But overall, it defied my pre-conception of it being another horrible place jumping on the whole “spiritual” bandwagon. Good vibes man, good vibes!

13) ChinChin
Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
What I ate: Coconut crush (coconut juice, kaffir lime, vietnamese mint, pineapple), son-in-law eggs, tofu par ped
Would I go back? Yes, but at a quieter hour. Like 2pm on a Tuesday.

The talk of the town in Melbourne… and rightly so! I think this is the new Cookie: hip typographic posters peppered with images of Vietnamese fighter pilots, high industrial ceilings and lighting, and a lengthy, imaginative Asian-inspired menu. The coconut granita was spectacularly refreshing and I am definitely going to make it at home. The son-in-law eggs were a bit of a disappointment as they came all chopped up, as opposed to whole like they do in Ginger Boy, but was jam-packed with flavour all the same. The par ped was yummy too, and I was pleasantly surprised to find little round eggplants and whole fresh peppercorns in the sea of delicious browns and reds. The downside? Again, the friggin noise!! I don’t give a rat’s arse if it “adds to the ambience”. I would like to enjoy a conversation with my friends without my veins popping out of my head, thanks.


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