Pimp My Plate #21 – Parramatta CBD, NSW

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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 $19 or less.

‘Winter consolation in a mug and a bowl…’

CIRCA ESPRESSO Café 

The busy area around Parramatta Station feels consumed by the cavernous Westfield shopping centre, so it’s easy to miss this little café tucked around the corner in Wentworth Street.

But if you walk down Wentworth Street, you can’t miss CIRCA’s trademark mural of a giant pug dog wearing gold bling and sunglasses.

In the higgledy-piggledy garden out front, foliage growing out of vintage suitcases catches your eye. And the aroma of coffee beans draws you inside.

I’ve made a quick coffee-stop at this café before, but today’s visit is to try their lunch menu.

Everyone asks to sit in the narrow, dimly lit space inside, where the walls feature a quirky design feast of mirrors, frames, and frescoes.

There’s outdoor dining on the pavement, and on the terrace balcony, but indoors is more atmospheric – and closer to the barista station.

Sydney’s cold snap just hit, and the air felt like holding a bag of frozen peas to your face. Perfect weather for hot chocolate!

The African Red Chocolate ($5.50) is rich and sweet. It has a fruity chocolate taste that comes from the robust, earthy flavours of Forastero cocoa beans, mixed with aromatic Trinatario beans. You can almost taste the photograph I posted with your eyes.

At the tables around me, the most popular lunch order was pan-fried Barramundi fillet ($20) with charred cauliflower florets, pine nuts, sesame seeds, glazed carrots, and it looked as delightful as its description.

At $19, CIRCA’s Chicken Salad with chermoula dressing did match PMP’s budget, but Lamb Shanks are a warming winter meal and I needed to pimp my body heat as well as my budget.

I ordered the Baharat Lamb Shank ($20), cooked in an ‘aromatic tomato and chickpea broth with yoghurt and zaatar crisps’.

Zaatar is a Lebanese spice mixture made with thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds.

Eating zaatar is supposed to ‘give strength and clear the mind.’ Did I mention it was cold? Seated outdoors without a coat, I felt I needed both.

My lamb shank arrived, resting in a puddle of reddish-brown broth with plump chickpeas. The zaatar crisps sat on a dollop of thick deliciously sour yoghurt.

I peeled off my woollen gloves to be able to navigate my cutlery.

The zaatar crisps have the crunch and texture of pappadums – a nice contrast to the tender fall-off-the-bone meat. A good broth is winter’s consolation in a bowl, and these flavours were an antidote to the cold.

CIRCA is really popular – people queue to eat in or takeout coffee, or seemingly just to ponder Life itself, so when a table became available indoors, I moved inside.

The drinks menu at CIRCA offers craft teas and tisanes, spiced latte, masala chai, and seriously good coffee. My coffee today was 10/10. There’s a daily selection of cakes on display, and I spied several glossy brown croissants of rubenesque proportions. Or better described as torture on a tray.

As I sipped my coffee I people-watched, and re-read the menu. Breakfast at CIRCA sounds rather good – Brown Rice Coconut Porridge; Winter bowls of pumpkin and veg; Ottoman Eggs; the decadent Croque Monsieur; or perhaps French Toast with banana brûlée and caramelized passionfruit. I’m intrigued by the caramelized passionfruit, so a return visit is a must. Or maybe I’ll order one of those croissants, or both – it’s truly a dilemma of the best possible kind.

With its quirky character and good food CIRCA offers diners a welcome alternative to eating in the busy retail arcades around the corner.

At CIRCA the baristas are serious, the food is pretty and pretty delicious. Warm up with their winter comfort food – or as I call it, winter consolation food. And on chilly days, don’t forget to ask for a blanket.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 5/5  VIBE: Quirky meets quality
CIRCA ESPRESSO – 21 Wentworth St, Parramatta,  NSW

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Guilt-free ‘nutella’ recipe #1

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This recipe was created and posted online by Natasha Longo, a certified fitness and nutritional counsellor, in response to an article: http://www.realfarmacy.com/need-know-nutella/   which outlines undesirable chemical additives, and commercial practices involved in producing the current commercial version of Nutella hazelnut spread.

I wanted to test-drive this recipe and see how it shapes up as a substitute.

Using Natasha’s recipe as a base, I’ve adjusted by either reducing the quantities of the some ingredients, or omitting them completely. ** denotes an ingredient in Natasha’s original recipe, that I’ve left out.

This recipe uses hazelnuts.

Raw Hazelnut-Choc-Coconut ‘nutella’    

(makes about 1 cup)

Taste: pleasant flavour with a definite coconut taste – I rate it 7/10
Texture: a soft paste with light-medium texture and body

1 cup hazelnuts, soaked for 10 hours
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tspn vanilla extract **  
1/4 tspn sea salt **  
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
2-4 T coconut milk

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Drain and rinse hazelnuts and place in food processor or high-powered blender. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. I didn’t want to wear out the motor on my food processor by processing for the suggested 10-15 minutes, so I just blended for 5 mins until the nut consistency was more like breadcrumbs than butter. If you have a commercial blender you could go the distance and create more of a buttery consistency.

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Add the maple syrup, vanilla, salt, and cacao powder and blend until smooth. Slowly add the coconut milk until desired consistency. I used about 2 Tablespoons of coconut milk.

Serve on crumpets, or hot-buttered toast.

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Note: Because this recipe contains no preservatives, keep in air-tight container and refridgerate. Treat as you would fresh foods, and use within a few days.

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‘Have a DELiCiOUS day’

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or Pimp My Plate   or tweet me @pimpmyplate  @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #19 – Burrawang, 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 $19 or less.

‘Come on baby, light my fire’

Burrawang General Store Cafe

Burrawang is a small village in the Southern Highlands popular with day trippers and weekenders. A city getaway, it oozes with charm – pretty cottages, large trees, and rolling hills dotted with dairy cattle.

It truly is a breath of fresh country air. Breathe deeply and you’ll recalibrate your senses.

Depending on which route you take it’s less than a 2 hr drive from Sydney, mostly by freeway. Take some of the back roads though, and you’ll drive past farmhouses with sprawling acreage dotted with dairy cattle, and the occasional slumbering grey donkey.

It’s likely you’ll drive through the town of Robertson enroute to Burrawang. With its rich volcanic soil this is potato growing country, and Robertson is still famous for its potatoes. And if you had any doubts, look out for the iconic giant potato photo stop on the main street.

On my last visit to the Southern Highlands I stopped at a roadside stall to buy paper bags full of spuds – Purple Sapphires, Dutch Crème, and Kestrels.

My friends moved to the Southern Highlands from Sydney for more space and a different pace. They suggested we eat at the Burrawang Village Hotel but the kitchen had closed early for a special event. The beer garden behind the hotel has sweeping views of the countryside, but today it was too cold to sit outdoors. A more popular spot was a bar stool next to the open fireplace. Primal and sensible!

Further up the street we noticed the green roof, and red and yellow façade of the Burrawang General Store Café, nestled inside an 1860’s heritage building. The stone steps leading up to the front door are original, and well-trodden.

It was nice to step out of the chilly air into a cosy, busy space, with a glowing fireplace.

The tables were full of food and chatter and above our heads, the vaulted wooden ceiling looked like an enormous upturned boat, varnished the colour of hot buttered toast.

It was a public holiday weekend so I decided to stretch the Pimp My Plate budget to $29.

On such a wintery day our appetites screamed ‘soul food!’ We ordered Three-way Meatloaf (a mixture of pork, beef, lamb) served with charred broccoli + potato mash; Lobster Macaroni Cheese and one of the Specials – Lamb Shank Shepherd’s Pie.  So special there were barely two plates of it left.

The Southern Highlands is dotted with boutique wineries, and the café menu includes several local selections.

We scrutinised the dessert menu before we would let the waiter leave our table …. Red Velvet Brownie, Homemade Scones with butter (without the jam, curd, and cream on offer), and the oh-so-naughty-but-who-cares-order-it-anyway Eton Mess. Yes!

The meals were hearty winter fare – warming and satisfying. It being ‘potato country’ I expected more potato on my Shepherd’s Pie – maybe even too much – but that’s a minor glitch, and more about my eyeing the potato mash on my friend’s plate of meatloaf.

The standout dessert – notice how I rushed ahead (?) – was the Red Velvet Brownie served with ice cream. There is an exponential curve in relation to increased cold weather and increased sugar consumption, at least at our table.

Now I know there are two camps when it comes to ‘team brownie’. One group likes them fudgy and gooey, the other group (me) prefers them dense and cake-like. This dark red-brown version ticked all my boxes – if only I hadn’t agreed to ‘share’.

Burrawang General Store Café has the rustic charm of an old general store, with shelves of bric-a-brac, and vintage games like Pirates Push Puppets, and dominoes, and even packs of family card games, as well as essential oils and botannicals.

On a grey rainy day I can easily imagine spending quite a few hours here, shuffling through ‘family’ card games, chatting, and sipping mugs of hot chocolate or a glass of the local vintage.

It’s June, so take a day trip up here soon before it gets really cold, and be sure visit some of the wineries and produce stalls.

I bought my potatoes at a roadside but Highland Gourmet Potatoes sells a huge variety: http://highlandgourmetpotatoes.com.au/varieties/

RATED: PIMPED!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 3.5/5   ATMOS: 5/5   VIBE: A cosy winter oasis, do we really have to leave?
BURRAWANG GENERAL STORE – 11 Hoddle St, Burrawang, NSW (02 4886 4496)

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Pimp My Plate #18 – Ashfield, Sydney

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.

‘How hungry are you …. reeeally?’

Harika 

Ashfield is in Sydney’s inner west. It’s an old suburb with working class roots, but like many Sydney suburbs its demographic is transitioning with redevelopment. The sound of building work is its heartbeat as apartment blocks emerge along busy Liverpool Road.

Most of Ashfield’s commercial hub consists of small, independently owned retail stores and restaurants.

I decided to review the busiest café along the main strip, located on the corner of the busiest intersection – Harika.

In Turkish, the word Harika means ‘wonderful, or fantastic’. The staff I met were very friendly and welcoming, and their plates of food generous.

Harika’s menu is a mix of Turkish flavours, with daily specials like Chicken Schnitzels and Burgers, and desserts including pancakes and slices.

As I ordered my lunch at the counter, I noticed a dainty silver teapot set used for serving Turkish Coffee.

I do use powdered Turkish coffee to flavour some of my cooking, but I’m not a fan of the brewed coffee itself so I ordered a more predictable flat white coffee instead.

When my coffee arrived it was a 10/10, which is never predictable. My table gave me a great vantage point of the busy pedestrian crossing outside as I sipped my caffeine and people-watched.

And then for a moment I couldn’t believe what I saw, as I watched a motorist drive into the middle of the crowded crossing. Then, still oblivious to the people around him, he performed a U-turn. Pedestrians looked on in disbelief and so did I. Thankfully you don’t see that every day. And thankfully no one was injured.

How hungry are you?

Boom!  The plate of Kafta Lamb ($15) arrived and it was enormous. This was food to fuel a marathon run. The side salad was fresh and crisp, and the lamb kafta patties were moist and flavoursome. Sauce on the side was a house-made mango-flavoured mayo with a hint of spice.

I knew I could not eat this all by myself, but I didn’t have anyone to help. Would it be sexist to call this a man-sized meal? I felt waves of Food Wastage Guilt as I apologized for leaving half the meal on the plate.

Narika delivers generous, hearty servings of food, and seriously good coffee. It offers variety – flaky French style croissants, Australian favourites as daily specials, burgers, Turkish Coffee, and hearty Turkish breakfasts.

This is the destination for a takeout coffee, or a serious feed, or both!

RATED: PIMPED!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 2/5   VIBE: Hearty and generous
HARIKA – Corner Hercules St & Liverpool Road, Ashfield, NSW (7 days)

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Pimp My Plate #17 – Broadway, Sydney

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.

‘Meet you on Broadway’

The Black Groodle – Street food. 

Autumn leaves are falling like stars along Broadway on this rainy morning.

Rain puddles dot the wet pavement like stepping stones that stretch down Mountain Street and straight to The Black Groodle.

A groodle is the name of a very cute type of curly haired dog. It’s also the name of a café offering me shelter from the storm.

The menu hints of Middle Eastern flavours as I gaze at the items scribbled in blue texta on the tiled wall behind the service counter. I can’t decide between Beirut Eggs or the Kafta Lamb Scrambled Eggs so I engage in a minor interrogation with the staff.

For me it’s brunch, or to be honest second breakfast, so I order the Kafta Lamb Scrambled Eggs and take a seat up the back. As I sip my coffee I can overhear a media marketing deal being done at the table nearby me, and I secretly wish I had the equivalent budget to toss around.

From my table I can see the inner workings of the café – cooking, cleaning, and prepping.

Large tagine bottoms without lids are being piled high with salads for lunch service – sweet potato and pearl couscous, chickpeas, and green bean salads.

The coffee is good, which why people queue each morning.

My Kafta Lamb Scrambled eggs with chutney ($13) arrive and I ask for chilli flakes, which arrive without fuss. It’s good. Although a little more spice in the chutney and I’d have added a little less chilli.

In modern times, the right plate and plating can take you on a metaphoric magic carpet ride to the home of the cuisine you are eating. On this drizzly grey Sydney morning, the pretty plate pattern – which looked Turkish to me – did just that.

As I ruminated over my scrambled Kafta Lamb, this Kafka quote come to mind: ‘So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being.’ Franz Kafka. I hear you, the food is Middle Eastern and Kafka is Czech, but Kafka is always relevant.

So by the time I finished eating brunch and ears dropping on my table-neighbours’ marketing plan, I noticed the text pen Brunch menu had been replaced by the Lunch menu. If only I could fast forward my appetite.

Lunch goodies on the menu that I didn’t get to try included: Spinach Stew ($14) served with Lebanese rise; Minestrone Soup ($10); Hummus and Beans ($10); Lamb Kafka, and Beef Shawarma.

I’ve heard The Black Groodle also serves a Ginger Turkish delight, and Kanef later in the week, so I’ll be back to try those soon.

RATED: Pimped my eggs  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 3.5/5  VIBE: Magic carpet plate
The Black Groodle – 55 Mountain Street, Broadway, Sydney NSW (7am-4pm M-F)

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Lemon Syrup and Clove mini Cakes

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The tang of fresh lemon flavour is best served with thickened cream. Serve these as a dessert or breakfast!

Delicately spiced with cloves, these lemon cakes taste best eaten straight after you cook them, but you can make these ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the fridge – they will keep up to 2 days. Remove from fridge, pour over some of the syrup then microwave for 25 seconds.

 

Tools – 12 muffin baking tray; skewer or fork; pastry brush; wooden spoon; electric mixer;

Cake ingredients
(Makes 12)

1½ cups almond flour or almond meal
½ cup semolina flour
¾ tspn baking powder
½ tspn salt
1 level tspn ground cloves
Pinch of dried turmeric
¾ cup unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1 cup caster sugar
4 heaped tspn coconut sugar (optional)
Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Syrup ingredients

Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
6 T fresh lemon juice
⅓ cup caster sugar

 

Making the cakes

Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Generously grease muffin tin with butter. Mix together almond flour, semolina flour, baking powder, salt, turmeric, and cloves, in a medium bowl.

In a separate large bowl beat together butter, sugar, and lemon zest until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If the butter isn’t really soft, start mixing the butter into the sugar with a wooden spoon.

Then, using an electric mixer on high speed, gradually add eggs and beat until glossy, about 1 minute. Then add dry ingredients and lemon juice and beat to combine for 1-2 minutes.

Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake cakes until they are golden brown – about 25 minutes. Test with a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes. If it comes out clean the cakes are ready.

Making the Lemon Syrup

Make the syrup while the cakes are baking. In a small saucepan, bring lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, constantly stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup come to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

As soon as cakes come out of the oven, use a skewer to 4 or 5 poke holes into the top of the cakes. Brush the syrup over top of the cakes using about 2/3 of the syrup.

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Set tray aside to cool down completely before removing cakes. Serve with clotted cream and drizzle a little more syrup over the cake.

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Enjoy!

 

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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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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Pimp My Plate #13 – Dee Why

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. *In November 2016 BUTTERCUP reopened as JB & SONS

BUTTERCUP*

I was on my way to review a different café in Dee Why when I drove past BUTTERCUP and spontaneously decided to find a park, and review it instead.

BUTTERCUP is a just short walk from Dee Why beach. Unlike the other cafes it doesn’t have a beach view, but it has a beachy colour scheme, and you are greeted with a sunny smile. Besides, today’s view of the beach offered a grey blur, with large clumps of seaweed marooned on the sand – a great day to be indoors.

Inside the café-bar-restaurant the vibe is friendly and welcoming and relaxing, and isn’t that what the beach experience is all about.

I scanned the menu and ordered two items from the range of Snacks: Smoked Cauliflower Nuggets, and Salt and Native Pepper Squid. Add a side of Salad Greens and you have a hearty meal.

Deep fried Cauliflower floret fritters (try saying that fast!) are a thing at the moment and for good reason.

Smoked? I must try them.

Smoked Cauliflower Nuggets with Lemon Pepper Mayo ($9) are pieces of cauliflower dipped in beer batter, using Baldwin & Simspons Lager from nearby microbrewery, Brookvale Brewery.

These ‘nuggets’ have a nice chewy mouth feel, and an intense smoky flavour.

‘Liquid smoke?’ I asked, ‘No, we smoke them ourselves’. With a smile, I’ll leave that there.

The reality is that BUTTERCUP do all their own pickling, curing, and smoking, with the aim of serving ‘hearty food inspired by country Australia’. A nice point of difference for an urban café. Yes, Dee Why is urban, and heading close to urbane.

Did someone say chilli? The little pot of vibrant red House Chilli on my plate of Salt and Native Pepper Squid ($12) is a standout. This ‘house’ chilli pickle is packed with plenty of flavour and fire – my kind of chilli condiment.

I find ordering squid is always a lottery. I’m glad to say that’s not the case here – the pieces of squid were so tender that my knife cut through them like butter, and it was a joy to eat. And their use of Native Pepper instead of black peppercorns was a nice variation. I want more of this, and I’ll be back!

Native Pepper is an Australian native shrub, also known as pepperberry, or mountain pepper. It typically grows in gullies and rainforests in Tasmania, Victoria, and some parts of NSW. The dried leaves and berries are used as a spice in food and drink recipes and it’s considered a ‘bushfood’.

I recommend pairing it with a plate of Salad Greens ($7) for a hearty and good value meal.

Another must-try-because-I-didn’t is the Charred Broccoli with Confit Salmon, Peas, Dill, and Chilli ($17), which would also make a nice lunch.

The bar is fully stocked, and some Thursday evenings the bar offers a $10 cocktail special.

There’s a lot to like about BUTTERCUP and as autumn leaves fall, and bikinis and beach towels are replaced by woolly jumpers – or wetsuits – it’s reassuring to know a place to hibernate indoors with some heart-warming food, and cocktails. Who needs a beach view in Winter?

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 4.5/5  VIBE: Talk.Eat.Drink.Relax.
BUTTERCUP – 154-158 Pacific Parade, Dee Why, NSW (7 days)

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