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.

*    *    *

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)

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Pimp My Plate #30 – TRAMSHEDS, Forest Lodge, NSW

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Like so many other Sydneysiders, I ignored the inkblot sky and threat of rain to visit THE TRAMSHEDS – Sydney’s newest foodie space, housed inside the former Rozelle Tramway Depot, originally built in 1904. 

TRAMSHEDS is being touted as ‘A community of Food and Learning’ and today was their Opening Day – a palpable buzz of hungry shoppers, lots of cameras from phone size to full frame. Store vendors scrambled to keep up with demand while juggling brand new ordering and catering systems, as customers kept filling tables.

On offer is an array of artisan bread, pasta, organic produce, a butcher, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Providores share a large space full of natural light and industrial height ceilings. There are lots of hard surfaces but it’s not noisy.

My take-home bag of goodies to eat later included: a loaf of Sourdough bread ($4.95 which is unheard of in price) and several pastries from Supamart; and a jar of Tasmanian Pickled Octopus ($15) from Fish & Co.

My sit-down Lunch was a plate of Prawn Cakes from FISH & CO. ($21)

A fun day out with lots to eat.

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RATED: Urban edge  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Industrial chic  VIBE:  Eat, drink, and be merry – esp after finding parking!
TRAMSHEDS – 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney, NSW
Open 9am-10pm most days

Pimp My Plate #23 – Wollstonecraft, 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.

‘Up the garden path…’

Botanica  Garden Café

It’s easy to drive straight past Botanica Garden Café without seeing it – its leafy green exterior acts like a camouflage. But you’re more likely to find on street parking further down Bay Road anyway.

Colourful empty birdcages hang from the tree canopy at the entrance, and silver teapots hang from the ceiling above your table. There is a menagerie of bird ornaments, and a delicious scattering of design whimsy surrounds you. A small sign announces that all items are recycled, used, or vintage – and all are weather-worn.

In a suburb as affluent as Wollstonecraft, a free-spirited café with plants sprouting out of rusting Campbell Soup cans is a delightfully incongruous and welcome find.

There is an easy, organic creativity to the décor and the menu.

Today’s Specials include a Spicy Pumpkin Soup ($12.50), various homemade sandwiches, and a great selection of desserts: Apple and Rhubarb Strudel; a Lemon Myrtle, Lime and Mint tart; a Salted Caramel Popcorn and Pretzel tart; and a gluten-free Orange and Berry Teacake. I’m avoiding sugar today, so I avoid making such a challenging decision.

I see a platter of Baits & Beets ($16) – whitebait, beetroot, and corn fritters, served with pickled leek, sundried tomatoes, cress salad, and tzatziki and beetroot relish – fly past my table, but I decide it is too big a meal for one person, but perfect for a share plate. It’s delivered to the four women at the next table, prompting murmurs of delight that punctuate their stories of travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Another temptation was the Roccan’ Chicken Pie made with olives, chickpeas, carrots, raisins and Moroccan spices, topped with a flaky pastry lid, and served with grilled corn ($17.50).

But when I read the menu description of El Barra Burger ($19) – a beer battered fillet of barramundi, served with fried jalapenos, corn salsa, pickled slaw, and Swiss cheese, and served with ‘hand cut chippies’ I was sold. Forget everything I’ve said previously about burgers on menus.

I have an ongoing gripe about knives – cutlery knives. The majority of Sydney cafes and restaurants don’t offer sharp knives. I don’t know if this is for customer safety, a homeland security initiative, whether their budget just doesn’t stretch that far, or, whether they’ve just never used their own cutlery to eat with. Trying to cut through steak or toasted sourdough with the blunt equivalent of a butter knife is a chore.

But not here!

When my burger arrived it was staked to its wooden platter with a steak knife – like a culinary dartboard. The tartar sauce in the burger made it a little messy to eat, but it was full of crunch and fresh flavours, and it really hit the spot. The ‘chippies’ however, under-delivered, but that’s not a biggie.

Coffee here is good, so good that I ordered a second one and moved up to the verandah area, now bathed in winter sunlight, for some serious ‘after-nooning’.

I nestled into one of the squashy sofas and sipped my caffè latte, while admiring the three large canine ‘rapper’ portraits attached to the back fence.

BOTANICA is one of the rare breed of cafes that make you feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s lounge room, rather than a food enterprise. And that’s a nice feeling. Staff is attentive and friendly, and the food is homemade and satisfying.

Another rarity is the background music, set to the perfect volume to create atmosphere, while allowing easy conversation with your friends.

BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ turns 4 years old this week, and I think they’ve created the type of space they set out to. ‘A place where you can escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy homemade food and a great cuppa in a garden oasis …. A place that induces happiness.’

Yes you have. Nicely done.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4.5/5   VIBE:  Eat, drink, and hear yourselves talk
BOTANICA GARDEN CAFÉ – 61A Bay Road, Wollstonecraft, Sydney

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Chilli-Choc Bliss Balls

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‘Baby it’s cold out there’

For my chilli-loving friends like me, I decided to revisit my original Bliss Balls Sugar Hack recipe and add some heat.

This is my first batch. It has a lingering warm chilli flavour. It’s subtle, not rocket-heat, as I wanted to experiment with a bottle of Chilli Choc Sauce I had in the cupboard.

You can add more or less sauce, and I plan on working through my cupboard of other hot sauces and spices and moving UP the heat scale with this recipe – health AND heat. Win-win!

(makes approx. 20)

30 pitted dates (from a 250 g pack)
1 tspn vanilla extract (not essence)
1 1/2 level Tbspn very finely ground espresso coffee
3 rounded Tbspn organic cacao powder
3/4 cup walnuts (buy whole or walnut pieces)
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 Tbspn melted coconut oil
2 Tbspn Cranky Croc Choc Chilli Chocolate Sauce (made by The Chilli Factory)
3/4 cup dried dessicated coconut

Cut dates in half, and place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 mins, then drain and place the dates, vanilla, coffee, and cacao into the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the mixture starts to blend together.

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Add the walnuts and hazelnuts to the mixture, and process again until the nuts are chopped into smaller pieces and the mixture starts to form a sticky ball.

Then drizzle in the melted coconut oil and pulse until incorporated.
Use a teaspoon to scoop out mixture and use your hands to roll the mixture into 1″ (2cm) round balls. Keep them small so they are just one or two bites.

Scatter coconut across a dinner plate, and roll the balls across to coat them.
Store in a sealed container, in the fridge or freezer.

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The Chilli Factory’s Cranky Croc Chilli Chocolate Sauce

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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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 #10 – Surry Hills, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records

Tucked down an inner city laneway, Suzy Q offers a trifecta of good food, coffee, and vinyl records.

Taking a quick flick through their racks of 12” LPs brought back memories of seeing some of these bands live in concert: Earth Wind and Fire, Jimmy Smith, Smokey Robinson, Culture Club… the Cars.

Suzy Q combines their love of quality produce, with quality music. Menu sleeves are fashioned from old record covers, and menu items include LA Woman, Sex Machine, and Heartattack and Vine.

Elliot Landy’s 1969 photograph of festival goers at Woodstock covers the feature wall. It evokes another time, place, and mind space. In NSW, the AQUARIUS festival was the first equivalent counter culture festival. It was held in Nimbin in 1973, and was later described as the birthplace of Australia’s hippie movement.

Suzy Q’s owners named their café after the song ‘Suzie Q’, written by Louisiana-born singer and guitarist Dale Hawkins. Its connection with Woodstock is that it was performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Day 2 of the festival. You can find the live recording of the song from Woodstock online, but the audio quality isn’t great.

Over the years, lots of bands have recorded cover versions: the Rolling Stones, José Feliciano, and even Suzie Quatro. Why not take a listen to Ray Hawkin’s original rockabilly version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wq2f_X_6Nk

Suzy Q café is an energetic little meeting space for young mums with bubs, friends, business folks talking biz-between-bites, ad agency types with cool haircuts, and locals ordering from their take away menu.

I bypassed the brioche buns and sandwiches and ordered the Daily Special – Freekeh Salad ($17).

Freekeh is basically ‘green wheat’, young wheat that has been toasted and cracked. It’s a whole grain food, similar to bulgur wheat, high in fibre, with a delicious nutty flavour, and chewy texture. Although freekeh is a relatively ‘new’ ingredient in Western kitchens, this grain is popular in cuisines from Iraq, Egypt, North Africa, and Jordan.

My Freekeh Salad arrived – a colourful food mosaic on my plate, pimped with flavour, and quality produce.

Yum! This salad was loaded with texture, and freshness: blanched and seasoned cauliflower florets, yellow squash, roast pumpkin, pomegranate seeds, sliced red radish, pumpkin seeds, tahini, yoghurt, and feta cheese, and the addition of pickled red onion strips added some sweet-sour crunch.

I don’t have gluten intolerance, so for me this salad was one of the healthiest Pimp My Plate lunches I’ve eaten. Go to Suzy Q, you won’t leave Blue.

RATED: My salad was Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 5/5  ATMOS: 4/5  VIBE: Music for your mouth
‘Suzy Q’ coffee + records – 1/18 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, NSW (Mon-Sun)

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All images © Awia Markey

Pimp My Plate #4 – ALEXANDRIA

PIMP MY PLATE is my weekly series of reviews of cafés and restaurants in city and regional areas – I pop up all over over the place. My foodie challenge to find a good meal – lunch or brunch – with a limited budget of $18 or less for the main plate.

POTTING SHED – The Grounds of Alexandria

Sitting in a leafy ‘potting shed’ – that has wait staff – on a hot Summer’s day is an ideal setting in which to eat lunch.

I tried two items from their menu – Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($16), and their Summer Fruit Pot ($14), pictured, which won on price and spectacular presentation.

The Summer Fruit Pot is a very pretty fruit trifle served in a terracotta flower pot, with layers of yoghurt and fresh fruit, on a base of vanilla sponge.  The sponge was a bit cloyingly sweet for me, but perhaps that’s personal taste as I prefer semi-sweet.

For me the other standout was the Eucalyptus Fizz ($7) – such an unusual and innovative flavour idea that’s an oh-so-refreshing summer sip.

Staff are super friendly and professional, which is always a treat when dining in Sydney. There are other indoor bars and eating areas in the Grounds Of Alexandria space, including a bakery selling spectacular cakes and an interesting range of loaves of bread, plus an outdoor cart with cool drinks and eye-gasm cakes and pastries.

A truly creative space with good food you’ll want to revisit – even if parking is a challenge.

RATED: Pimped!    FOOD: 4/5    VALUE: 4/5 
ATMOS: Surrounded by leafy eye-candy    VIBE: Buzzing!
The Potting Shed – (inside) The Grounds of Alexandria, 2 Huntley St, Alexandria, NSW

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NRG Bliss Balls sugar hack

A yummy high energy sweet snack with no added sugar – less than 1g in the cacao powder! I’ve been experimenting with a Sarah Dueweke recipe, but I’ve substituted cacoa powder instead of cocoa, and used finely ground coffee beans instead of instant coffee powder, and renamed it.

These are quite filling despite their tiny size, so you can’t overeat them either.

There are lots of recipes for these but this knocks the socks off the others for natural sweetness. Someone suggested I add rum to the recipe – I prefer my rum in a glass, preferably with lime juice, mint, and ice.

bliss-balls
Healthy and delicious!                                                                          Image: Awia Markey

 

How to make your own NRG Bliss Balls 

(makes 20-22)

30 pitted dates (from a 250 g pack)
1 tspn vanilla extract (not essence)
1 1/2 level tbspn very finely ground espresso coffee
3 rounded tbspn organic cacao powder
3/4 cup walnuts (buy whole or walnut pieces)
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 tbspn melted coconut oil
3/4 cup dried coconut threads

Cut dates in half, and place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 10 mins, then drain and place the dates, vanilla, coffee, and cacao into the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the mixture starts to blend together.

Add the walnuts and hazelnuts to the mixture, and process again until the nuts are chopped into smaller pieces and the mixture starts to form a sticky ball.

Last, drizzle in the melted coconut oil and pulse until incorporated.
Use a teaspoon to scoop out mixture and roll mixture into 3 cm round balls.
Scatter coconut threads across a dinner plate, and roll the balls across to coat them.
Store in a sealed contained, in the fridge or freezer.