Pimp My Plate #16 – Sydney, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $18 or less.

Say ‘Yes’ to the good stuff!

About Life instore Cafés

Australian wholefoods store About Life began its life in 1996 as a juice bar “juicing up a storm” in Sydney’s Rozelle. Twenty years on, they are busily expanding and opening new stores, while some big name competitors are busy closing their doors.

About Life stores are the go-to for inner health. Their product range is extensive: dried fruits, activated nuts, meat, free range eggs, dairy, breads, fruit and vegetables, baking goods, health and beauty products and more.

They are very similar to the Wholefoods chain in North America, and both stores offer as many holistic consumables as your budget allows.

As part of their ‘food promise’ you can shop for products that have no artificial preservatives, flavours or colours; no  hydrogenated oils or parabens; and their fresh meat and proteins contain no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Each About Life store also includes a café, a self-serve food bar, and a catering service, although co-owner Jodie Stewart has said “the supermarket is still our core market.”

There are currently six About Life stores, and a new store opens in Crows Nest in June.

I visited three locations to try their café menu, which is the same in each store. It offers plenty of choice for breakfast, brunch, and lunch – you won’t go hungry. Meals are classified as Vegetarian, Vegan, Without Gluten, Without Dairy, Supercharged, or Paleo.

Only one meal item exceeded my PMP budget of $19 – the Wholefood Breakfast which included eggs and a regular organic coffee for $19.50. With most stores situated in prime retail locations, I was surprised by such reasonable pricing.

My Pink Raspberry Chia Pikelets ($10.90) were served with coconut vanilla yoghurt, raspberry chia jam, and coconut veganola (a grain-free alternative to granola, made with nuts, seeds & fruits). The pikelets were a soft spongey pink, with a tang of yoghurt, and a crunchy topping of assorted seeds.

The Edible Garden ($14.90) features a black tahini soil, with two poached free range eggs, tahini dressing, and pickled vegetables. I ordered this out of curiosity. The vegetables had texture and crunch, but the ‘soil’ was a little dry and bland.

Barra Bento ($15.90) was the star dish – a piece of barramundi glazed with miso, ginger, and sesame, served with a delicious nutty flavoured brown rice salad, with kimchi for crunch. Texture and flavour in every bite.

The Superfood Burrito ($14.90) contained cacao chilli beef with corn salsa, chia seeds, avocado, and coriander (cilantro). This could have been a hit if the burrito had been heated through.

I ordered Ginger Turmeric Latte ($4) made with hot coconut milk and cinnamon. I find these a pleasant alternative to chai or caffè latte. And I must go back and try their Raw Caramel Latte ($4.50) with raw tahini caramel sauce.

My Flat white coffee ($3.70 small, sit-down) is made from certified organic and fair trade coffee, and has body and flavour.

Other drinks include Smoothies – Superfood, High Protein, Raw Green, Rainbow, or Anti-Inflammatory. Or choose from Wellness Tonics, Herbal Tinctures, Vegetable Juices, or Fruit Juices. Sweets include a variety of raw cakes and vegan desserts.

The About Life café menu is imaginative and offers plenty of choice – perhaps too much.

Each store I visited utilized Pay as You Order counter staff as wait staff. Understandable and practical if you are not offering full restaurant – or dedicated café – service.

But multitasking means that the delivery of food to the table can be slow, which is not ideal if you’re on your lunch break.

At some locations the coffees arrived lukewarm (never acceptable) and so did the food. Or in the case of the meat-filled burrito, not heated at all.

It’s also tricky to manage multiple plates on those tiny fixed-to-the-ground football shaped tables – whose idea were those? – forcing diners to sprawl across multiple tables.

But let’s not miss out on the good stuff because of the annoying stuff…

The smart move is to order take-away if you’re on a deadline. Grab-and-go is faster. Reheat your food back at the office and enjoy eating it at a larger table or desk!

If you eat in, simply ask for your meal to be served hot, if that’s the optimum way to eat it.

About Life cafés offer high-grade fast food using organic ingredients, at very reasonable prices.

Stores tick all the boxes trying to provide healthy products for everyone – from apples to veganola.

A tip? Don’t leave the store without buying some bulbs of Australian-grown garlic.

RATED: Pimp my health!  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 5/5   ATMOS: 3/5   VIBE: We really care about your health – and I believe them!
ABOUT LIFE – Store locations: (NSW) Surry Hills, Bondi Junction, Double Bay, Rozelle, Lane Cove, Cammeray, and Crows Nest. (VIC) Port Melbourne. (7 days)

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Sydney Writers Festival – 2016

The sun splashed down onto crowds today, at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival – May 16 – May 22. A great line up of free and ticked events and talks. Check the website: swf.org.au for the program.

I’ll be attending the two food talks: Our Food History: In Black and White – John Newton and Jacqui Newling dig into the recipe books of colonial and Indigenous cooks.
And, The Politics of Food, Disease and Wellness – How do we sort food fact from fiction and make informed choices?

I hope you can attend any of the topics including fiction, politics, food, sociology.

 

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No-brainer Basil Pesto

Enjoy the last of end-of-season basil with this simple recipe that puts the taste of Summer on your plate. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, think about planting basil to add to Summer salads.

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BASIL PESTO with spaghettini
(makes 1 1/2 – 2 cups of pesto, serves 4)
3 cups of fresh basil leaves
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup of raw pine nuts, plus extra to garnish
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Put all ingredients into a food processor and process until pine nuts and basil leaves have been minced into a smooth paste.

Simmer spaghettini in plenty of water, and drain when cooked al dente.
Mix pesto through the spaghettini, and garnish with finely grated parmesan cheese and pinenuts. Season with salt, to taste.

 

Pimp My Plate #15 – Willoughby, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $18 or less.

‘Industrial chic, with a street beat’

The Mowbray Café

Instead of using carbon fibre café chairs The Mowbray café flips convention and uses carbon in its food. But more on that later…

Wedged between the busy rumble of traffic along its namesake, Mowbray Road, and a large residential building site The Mowbray is an urban-suburban oasis.

A newcomer, the café sits in a compact retail strip that continues to reinvent itself, as if looking for its mojo. It’s a challenging location because local traffic speeds by after exiting the Warringah Freeway. Blink and you could miss them, but word of mouth is making it popular with locals and drive-bys.

The café interior is scrubbed brick, black tiles, and earthy wooden table tops with a pineapple plopped on each one.

Over time, pineapples have become symbolic of hospitality and a warm welcome. Hosts would often place a pineapple in the middle of their table to welcome guests to their home.

What a nice alternative to flowers, but is a pineapple a flower or a fruit? One pineapple is made up of dozens of individual flowerets that together form the entire fruit. So each scale is a separate flower. I guess it’s both.

The first time I ate at this café their BAYO – a bacon and egg roll on a black bun – had sold out. I was disappointed as I was eager to compare their black burger buns with the ones KFC had been advertising. Yes, I admit to driving to KFC just to ‘check out their buns’. Their buns were still the consistency of cotton wool, only black. But kudos on just how jet black they were! Black is not an easy colour to achieve in food, unless of course it’s burnt.

On today’s visit THE BAYO ($10) was back. Yey! And it was seriously good – filled with sweet flavoured bacon, a ‘sunny side up’ fried egg, greens, and cheese.

The bun itself was a hybrid of bread roll and brioche, with nice texture and chew. It was partly black. Toasted? Charred? Food dye? Whaaat?

I was told that carbon is mixed through the brioche dough to give it colour. O-K. ‘So it cleans your teeth while you eat it?’ I mused to the staff, who replied with a laugh, ‘That’s it!’

The AVOCADO + SMOKED SALMON ($19) was sprinkled with feta and sesame seeds, and sat on good quality sourdough bread. Clean eating at It’s best. But …. what are those black blobs … carbon?

These blobs were once capers that had been ‘crisped up’ in a frying pan … so much so they had turned into activated charcoal or carbon, and were no longer identifiable as food, to me, at least. Although it’s not known to be toxic, I have reservations about ingesting activated charcoal or carbon. So, no more crispy capers or black burger buns for me!

My dining companion ordered SCRAMBLED EGGS with MUSHROOMS ($20) served with greens, sprouts and feta, which he scored a 10/10. After sampling his plate, I had to agree.

While at the counter I noticed a tray of almond and rhubarb tarts ($5 to take away). Without shame, I asked for the largest one. My piggishness was met with a kind smile and, ‘Of course!’.

The food at The Mowbray is good value. While they currently only cater for breakfast and brunch, I see potential for this café to grow and innovate, especially when they become a licensed café and their menu evolves to accommodate that.

Until then the café is keeping their menu simple, fresh, and consistent.

If you have any time on your hands after eating at The Mowbray take a walk around the corner, and down Willoughby Road, where you’ll find French Accent, which is a choc-full of hand picked authentic French pieces, from bedheads to old linen, lampshades, and coffee pots. Walk a little further and you’ll find Love Vintage Books, a very browsable second hand bookshop.

RATED: Industrial chic but give charcoal the flick   FOOD: 3.9/5
VALUE: 4/5    ATMOS: 3/5   VIBE: Eat with a beat
The Mowbray Café – 130 Mowbray Road, Willoughby, NSW
‪#‎themowbraycafe

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Pimp My Plate #14 – Bondi, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas. My food challenge to have my lunch-or-brunch plate pimped for $18 or less.

‘The good, the bad, the OMG that’s good!’

Sādhanā Kitchen 

Sādhanā Kitchen is an organic, raw, vegan café dedicated to vegan, plant-based meals that offer health and wellness.

After relocating from inner city Enmore to Bondi in March, Sādhanā’s new space is lighter, brighter, and larger. The vibe feels healthy as you walk in, or sit outdoors. As you walk by the cakes displayed on the counter, you can quickly reassure yourself that these desserts are actually good for you.

Maz Valcorza’s philosophy is to share how eating ethical, healthy, and delicious food can help us connect with our personal wisdom. Sādhanā is a Sanskrit term that translates to ‘one’s conscious spiritual practice’.

Valcorza’s café and new cookbook, Naked Vegan, evolved from her own transition from a career as a pharmaceutical sales manager, to yoga teacher, and her lifestyle change from chain-smoking party girl to eating a plant-based raw diet. She says that since starting her yoga practice, her attitude towards how she consumed food, has completely changed.

‘By using delicious and beautiful raw vegan food – as our sādhanā – we nudge our lives in a happier, more purposeful direction.’ Her meals and recipes have been mindfully researched and translated to offer diners an ethical, healthy food experience, using raw foods, and introducing us to new ingredients and flavour combinations.

Sādhanā’s menu is evolving, and includes fruit and vegetables, warm and cold elixirs, smoothies, cold pressed juices, nut and seed mylks (plant or nut-based milks), and fermented foods – no eggs, dairy, or honey. Raw foods are unprocessed and as fresh or wild as possible, and are organic, with no irradiation, preservatives, pesticides or GMO.

Where required, the ‘cooking process’ for raw food menu items is either by dehydration, or by using an oven at its lowest temperature setting – never heated above 45°C (115°F) – very low and very slow, to maximize the amount of enzyme and vitamin content in the food you eat.

So how did the menu taste? Up, down, up again.

I ate the Lasagne, the Cheezeburger, a dairy-free coffee, and a Tim Tam for dessert.

The Lasagne ($19) uses zucchini strips as ‘pasta’, layered with baby spinach leaves, walnut mince bolognaise, a slice of cultured cashew Cheeze, and tomato pieces.  The verdant green squeezed over the top is basil pesto.

It’s fresh, and alive with flavour and mouth feel, and you can almost feel the pop of vitamins and enzymes with every mouthful.

Presentation and plating here is mindful, and you can almost see the enzymes dancing on each plate in a colourful burst. Raw, natural food colour is big here, yey!

I guess with the whole of Sydney’s café society in the grip of burger-mania putting a Cheezeburger on the menu seemed like a good idea. It isn’t. A lot of foods translate well, and become more innovative when recreated with difference ingredients. Not this. The basic elements of a burger are: a bun, a meat or vegetarian patty, sauce, and lettuce or slaw, and a slice of cheese are an optional extra.

Burger buns vary from cotton wool burger chains, to sesame buns, to brioche, the salad can vary wildly from a crisp slaw to soggy lettuce, and the cheese is usually the consistency of salty melted plastic, and somehow some of them still taste ok.

Cheezeburger ($20). There is no such thing as an unhealthy burger here – there is no meat, no gluten, and no dairy cheese either. Sādhanā substitute ‘Neatloaf’ a nut-free raw vegan filling for meat, and that’s fine. The cheese substitute – ‘cheeze’ – in their cheeseburger is made from cashew nuts, miso, and yeast, (a cultured cashew cheese) but unfortunately it doesn’t have much flavour. It’s disappointing, but it’s no biggie.

The problem is the bun. With ‘deconstructed’ dishes still being a big ‘thing’, this is a moment to decide to discard the bun altogether, rather than try to replicate it. Bread of any type has to have texture. This had no flavour, no texture, no mouth-feel, just the consistency of stiff cardboard, and while I admire the attempt, I suggest they take it off the menu – now.

But thankfully, the burger is their only fail.

I’m someone who takes their coffee seriously – aka it’s an investment in my happiness – but this being a non-dairy space, I chose the Coco Coffee ($4.50) a flat white made with coconut milk. I’ll admit to being a little sceptical about the taste, texture, and body of the coffee, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Arriving in a beaker, the Earth Elixir ($8) contains the herbs South American Cat’s Claw Bark, Horsetail, Pau D’Arco, and Himalayan Goji Berries. Healthy, if not very flavoursome.

Time for dessert…

Tim Tams are an iconic Australian chocolate biscuit, and I was intrigued to taste Sādhanā’s version.

Boom! A decadent, pretty rectangle of chocolate Tim Tam ($6) arrived sprinkled with cacao nibs, and a what looked like crumbled dried purple açaí berries. On the plate beside it, Sādhanā’s logo ‘S’ written in a swirl of chocolate sauce was an edible, and elegant touch.

Spoon at the ready, I couldn’t wait to dive into this raw version of a Tim Tam. The thin chocolate coating cracked as I cut through the rich, fudge-like deliciousness, the nibs adding texture and crunch. S has managed to work their magic to create a refined sugar free dessert with crunch and texture and ‘I want more” mouthfeel. When I went to pay, I was tempted to add another Tim Tam to the bill to take home.

This is feel good food because it’s fresh and healthy, not comfort food, but it’s very comforting know this food is actually doing you good.

A raw diet doesn’t have to be a 100% commitment to eating raw foods, a ratio of 75% raw is widely recommended. To be able to enjoy access to raw food that has been created by mindful and committed ‘cooks’, even if only occasionally, makes a healthful addition to all our diets.

RATED: Good on the lips, hips, and conscious!  FOOD: 4.9/5
VALUE: 4.5/5  ATMOS: 3.5/5  VIBE: Fresh buzz
HINT: Pay cash (coins and notes) to avoid paying a surcharge
Sādhanā Kitchen – 132 Warners Avenue, Bondi, NSW (Mon-Sun)

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