Pimp My Plate #36 – GIRDLERS, Dee Why, NSW

Breakfast, brunch, or lunch reviews where the main plate is $20 or less.

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You say heatwave? I say it’s another excuse for a beach café review…

As I sit opposite the bold blue sky meets ocean horizon of Dee Why beach, the words laid-back and lucky best describe the ambience of GIRDLERS cafe.

The mood is laid-back and no fuss – customers wear bikinis, shorts, or loose summery garments. Dee Why, located on Sydney’s northern beaches, is more a local hangout than a tourist spot like Manly or Bondi. There’s a community vibe and because it’s school summer holidays, lots of young tanned bodies are wearing as little as possible.

GIRDLERS sits on a prime corner location facing the beach, so you can watch the waves and visually crowd-surf a parade of beachgoers from your table.

Their vision is SIMPLE. HONEST. FOOD. Because it’s a heatwave outside of 38°C/100.4°F that is exactly the kind of food I feel like.

I read the menu and GIRDLERS’ vision: ‘There’s a spot at the South end of Dee Why we like to call our own. It’s a place where the people are real, where you can kick back and take your time, a place where you can always count on a great coffee, a clear view of the ocean and the smell of good things cooking.’

Every workplace should have this view – magic.

Tables are scrubbed-back distressed wood, enamelware plates, and the brick wall features a hippy-lace decal, and an interesting vintage photo I forgot to ask about. There’s an easy ambience, and a faded-summer-sun softness to the decor.

As I said it’s REALLY HOT. I claim the table directly under the furiously rotating ceiling fan because it IS THAT HOT.

I choose pancakes for lunch, but first I order a Sweet Cheeks ($9) – a mix of watermelon, apple, cucumber, lime and raspberry juice. It’s cold and super-refreshing. There’s also Kombucha on tap and Kombucha Spritz, fresh juices, super smoothies, and milkshakes.

My plate of gluten and dairy free Pancake Revolution ($19) arrives – coconut and banana pancakes with seasonal berries, homemade Goodtella (a Nutella substitute), vanilla coconut yoghurt, and a generous sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts. And organic maple syrup. Yum!

It’s incredibly filling and perfect for a not-too-heavy but satisfying lunch.

Another menu temptation is Goat On the Orchard ($16) – organic rye sourdough toast with Danish goat’s feta, fresh peaches, raspberries, and organic activated nut spread, drizzled with Hinterland Honey.

There are egg dishes, and Glow Bowls ($18) based around tofu or haloumi cheese, with kale, quinoa, roasted field mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and cauliflower sauce. Another reason to go back.

GIRDLERS is a space to kick-back and inhale beach air, smell the coffee, and ponder whether afterwards to sit in the shade of the pine trees with a book, take a long walk along the beach, swim, or wander down to the rock pools and explore. So many choices and all of them designed by Nature to kiss your spirits and extend that state of relaxation.

If you’re wondering about the name – GIRDLERS is so close to the word Grinders, isn’t it?  –  the café is named after local and ex-football player Ryan Girdler and his wife, Katja.

Once a run-down juice bar, husband and wife team Ryan and Katja and their friend Sebastian have created a café with a mindset committed to healthy deliciousness. Before or after the beach, this is the place to park your beach bum.

RATED: Pimped by pancakes!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   VENUE ATMOS: 100% Laid back
VIBE:  Beachside
GIRDLERS – 7-8 The Strand, Dee Why, NSW
7 days. M-S: 6.30am-5pm SUN: 7am-5pm

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Pimp My Plate #35 – Fika Swedish Kitchen, Manly, NSW

Breakfast, brunch, or lunch reviews where the main plate is $20 or less

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Swedish meatballs would be the obvious choice wouldn’t it?

FIKA serves breakfast and lunch, but when I arrived at 12 noon with a sizeable appetite it wasn’t me who ordered the meatballs, but the Swedish family at the next table. 

Fika is a Swedish word that translates as ‘taking a break for coffee and a bite to eat’ but FIKA SWEDISH KITCHEN offers more, both in food quality and ambience.

With the temperature pushing above 37° celcius I was very thirsty, so the first menu items to catch my eye were the drink illustrations for an ODD GLEN, a CORNELIUS, and a PAPPA JOJJE – $10 each.

I chose the CORNELIUS: gin, elderflower, and cucumber, and I was rewarded. Almost as cool and hydrating as eating a whole cucumber while standing under a cool shower, but of course it tasted far superior and I could sit down.

Other beverages include bottles of Julmust ($10). Julmust is a Swedish soft drink that’s described as tasting somewhere between a root beer and a coke.

Julmust was invented by Swede Harry Roberts as a non-alcoholic alternative to drinking beer around Christmas, which is when it’s most commonly available in stores. Its name translates to Christmas (Jul) and Juice (must) which is what you call the not yet fermented juice from fruit meant for wine or cider production.

What’s the difference between Swedish meatballs and Italian meatballs? Swedish meatballs are served with a creamy gravy sauce, graybee daybee, made from cream or sour cream. It does depend on who you ask, as to whether the inclusion of allspice in the meat mixture is essential or not.

Although both styles of meatballs can include a beef and pork mixture, Italian meatballs often contain parmesan cheese. The sauce is tomato-based, and flavoured with black pepper and garlic.

FIKA serves theirs in a creamy sauce with lingonberry jam (also known as mountain cranberries) with pickled cucumbers and potato mash. The Swedish speaking trio sitting at the next table ordered them and they seemed happy.

I quickly noticed that about a quarter of the cafe patrons were either speaking Swedish, or speaking English with Swedish accents. As did most of the staff.

I chose the pan-fried Rainbow Trout ($18) served w crunchy cauliflower florets, beetroot, cauliflower puree, green peas and dusted w fennel pollen and dill.

It would be accurate to say I’ve never heard of fennel pollen – bee pollen yes – is it a thing? It’s all about sex, because by definition, pollen are the male sex cells in plants. In flowering plants, pollen is produced in thin filaments in the flower called stamens which is then blown through the air. So there you have it.

Served in a bowl, my rainbow trout was cooked beautifully, with a thin and crispy skin, and the fish tender and moist. I could cut through both with my butter knife. Fresh, clean, flavours that were especially hydrating on such a hot day.

Just reading the word trifle makes my mouth water, so even though my meal of trout was satisfying and sufficient, I had to order the one on the menu. Whether you call it research, or call it piggish, is your call.

My Ragnar’s Trife ($9) consisted of sweet layers of custard, raspberry and rhubarb compote, and birch water and elderflower jelly, with crumbled gingerbread.

Wickedly sweet, crunchy, and delicious. I’ve tried birch water before – it comes from the birch tree and it’s a very naturally refreshing drink. As a jelly it’s even more delicious.

My flat white coffee had good body and flavour. I could have happily sat there all day, attempting to learn Swedish from the children’s books on offer, and sipping another CORNELIUS or three. FIKA seats approximately 25+ people, and there was now a queue of people waiting so I left and took a walk along Manly beachfront instead.

I’d like to go back to FIKA for breakfast and try their ÅLANDSPANNKAKA – semolina pancake, traditional recipe from our friends on the Åland islands served w cream and homemade jam.

A Swedish breakfast, then hit the beach – fantastisk!

RATED: My plate was pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5   Fresh, friendly, and attention to detail
VALUE: 5/5   VENUE ATMOS: Swedish fellow diners adds äkthet (authenticity)
VIBE:  Friendly, shelves stock Swedish produce
FIKA SWEDISH KITCHEN – Shop 5B, Market Lane, Manly, NSW
Open everyday 7am-5pm (Lunch from 12 noon-4pm)

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Pimp My Plate #31 – BAR ITALIA, Leichhardt, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

This month I’ve been posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish – Spaghetti Bolognese.  See my previous September reviews: Bravo and No Name.

A traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This week I twirl my fork at an Italian restaurant in Leichhardt. This is the third and last restaurant I’ll be reviewing in my search for that old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese.

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Bar Italia Restaurant – Ristorante #3

BAR ITALIA opened its doors in 1952. With a sunny façade and its Italian tricolour awning, it sits midway down Norton Street, Sydney’s hub of Italian restaurants and stores.  Nearby is a cake store that features an elaborate and mesmerising cake in its window – designed to celebrate a First Holy Communion – a giant cannolo tied with a blue ribbon.

If you like your coffee Italian-style –strong and full of flavour – this is one of the few places in Sydney you’ll find it.

Ordering at the counter is simple – once you can decide! The blackboard menu is extensive, and inexpensive.

Spaghetti Bolognese is my choice and I don’t even have to check the menu to see if it’s on it.

My order of Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.50), Garlic Bread ($3.50), and a Flat White coffee ($3.50) makes a satisfying and filling meal for $23.00.

Aside from Schnitzels, every option on the blackboard menu meets my usual Pimp My Plate $19 budget. There’s Focaccia and Paninis ($8.50), Pasta, Lamb Shanks ($18.50), Veal ($18.50), Soups ($12.90), Corsica Pizza ($19.50), and Sirloin Steak ($18.50). And they do Vegetarian Lasagne ($15.50).

BAR ITALIA is divided into two sections – the restaurant area, and the gelataria, where you can order a gelato and a coffee and sit at a table to eat it.

You can sit inside the restaurant near the framed Godfather LP record, or outdoors, under a canopy of flowering pink bougainvillea. I sit outside with the breeze occasionally sprinkling my table with petals.

My coffee arrives first, in a traditional red and green Vittoria Coffee porcelain cup. It’s what I call ‘industrial strength’ and that’s just how I like my coffee. And it’s coffee without compromise! There’s no Skim Milk, no Light Milk, and no Soy Milk served here.

My side of garlic bread and bowl of spaghetti arrives and I spy the now familiar powdered parmesan cheese.

The spaghetti is al dente, and the Bolognese sauce is good, if basic. There’s no parsley, no carrot, no celery, but the other two restaurants didn’t include those ingredients in their sauce either.

The garlic bread, a Kaiser roll, is better than most. Even so, I can’t finish eating it. Likewise, the quantity of spaghetti is too generous to finish eating it either.

I feel the need to apologise to the waiter when she comes to clear my table. No one likes food wastage.

In the unlikely event I was to run a marathon, this would be the fuel I’d consume. Instead, I plan a long walk along Norton Street, with a food-for-thought stopover at Berkelouw’s bookstore in lieu of dessert.

BAR ITALIA is the type of Italian café-restaurant we all want and need – in every suburb. It’s nice that the staff speaks Italian; it’s nice that the vibe is so relaxed; and it’s nice that you can eat a meal or just sit and enjoy a scoop of gelato.

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That brings my quest ‘to see how easy it would be to find Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu’ to an end – for now. I’ll leave it for you to decide which restaurant offers the best overall value.

None of the three restaurants cooked a traditional Bolognese sauce – containing carrots, celery, or bacon, and none offered the option of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

With than in mind, I’ll be posting my own recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese tomorrow, that you can cook yourself.

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RATED: Chillaxed and well-fed  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Authentic   VIBE:  Old skool Italian
BAR ITALIA – 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, NSW

(Note: cash only, no cards. There is a multi-bank ATM facility on site)

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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’

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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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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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Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or @pimpmyplate:)

Mini BREAKFAST pots

An easy DIY breakfast – add delicious Summer fruits before they disappear

If you make this the night before you have a quick, healthy, energy boost breakfast to eat in, or to go. Make 2 or more at a time, using different flavours of fruit or yoghurt.

These may look small – I use 1-cup capacity glass jars with a screw lid – but they filling and taste great.

PIMP YOUR OATS, AND MIX IT UP

Pack your screw cap jar with 50% oats, then fill up the jar to 3cm below the top with a mix of: sunflower seeds, chia seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, sliced or whole almonds. Add a tablespoon of plain Greek style yoghurt, and fill to the top with milk. Seal the lid, and let the ingredients soak overnight.

Next morning, add some chopped up some fresh fruit, and eat straight from the jar. Add more fruit to the jar as you go. Easy!

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