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 #24 – Naremburn, 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.

‘Maca my day’

Sprout Wholefood Café

Naremburn is a small mostly residential suburb, squeezed between Crows Nest and Artarmon. It’s a pretty suburb with a small, eclectic shopping strip.

SPROUT joins a community of shopfronts that includes a local government Member’s office, a small bar, a picture framing business, a bottleshop, and a pizza restaurant that opened in 1972 and still serves great pizza.

The café occupies the space that was previously tenanted by a privately-owned hardware store of the old style that sold boxes of galvanized nails, brass screws, and cut and drilled timber for you on the spot. They were trusted and their DIY expert advice was as solid as the layer of dust carpeting the shelves.

It is fitting then, that ‘new’ tenant SPROUT also provides holistic components, in this case wholefoods.

It was lunchtime and I was in a hurry, and hurried people need to eat good, wholesome food to keep them happy as they hurry.

I saw lots of healthful bowls on the menu, and that’s great, but I prefer to only eat soup, porridge, cereal, or dessert out of a bowl, and preferably with a spoon.

I scanned hungrily past those delicious-sounding-but-not-for-me bowls of Tabouli Bowl, and Green Goddess Bowl (both $17.95), or Miso Trout Bowl, and other Protein Bowls (each $21.95).

Yumm… Sprout Fritters ($17.95), made from a mixture of feta, kale, chilli, and mint caught my imagination.

I had the option to add avocado, grilled chicken, bacon, or poached egg, for an extra charge but I wanted to see how these fritters would stand up to a taste test by themselves.

They did so splendidly. The two large fritters on my plate were springy and light, and a joy to munch through. And they were gluten free, which prompted me to ask what type of flour held this fairy-light mixture together – Brown Rice Flour.

With a long haul international flight on my horizon, I chose the Anti-inflammatory Super Smoothie – banana, turmeric, cinnamon, maca, goji berries, and coconut milk.

Like me, you might be wondering what maca is? Maca is native to the Andes Mountains and is part of the broccoli, radish, and watercress family. It’s touted as a wonder food with a long list of benefits: an energy enhancer that aids stamina, athletic performance, and memory. Whether that’s true or not, its earthy flavour is a complementary addition to the smoothie I’m sipping.

I am happy to report that any of those potential health benefits come second to flavour. The smoothie has an earthy, refreshing taste, and the coconut milk flavour didn’t overpower the other flavours. In fact the flavour combination of banana, turmeric, and cinnamon made my tastebuds dance a tango.  Maybe this concoction could be renamed Flight Fit and made available pre-flight at every airport – just a thought.

Other drinks served at SPROUT include tonics, teas, lattes and macha, hot chocolate and coffees (with nut milk and coconut milk), super smoothies including a Gut Guardian (I so love that name), wellbeing juices, and the curious sounding Reishi Coffee ($5.50), which is ‘enriched with reishi mushrooms’. As a mushroom lover I wished I’d noticed it on the menu earlier. This certainly requires me to do a return visit for a taste-test.

SPROUT have a range of pretty vegan cakes on display if you’d like to reward your healthy eating with a sweet treat, to eat in, or take out.

Just a few doors down the street is specialty coffee store Forsyth Coffee House so if you prefer your coffee with dairy milk, head there for a coffee. They also serve specialty teas.

Before you do head out, be sure to check out SPROUT’s adjacent grocery section where you can buy organic fruit and vegetables, and a number of wholesome gourmet ingredients to create healthy meals in your own kitchen.

This is a feel good space to grab a quick, healthy bite, meet up with friends, or drop in for a cup of Mt Kenya-grown Gabriel brand coffee and a pretty cake.

RATED: Wholly pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 3/5   VIBE:  Busy, buzzy, healthy
SPROUT WHOLEFOOD CAFÉ & GROCER – 272-274 Willoughby Rd, Naremburn

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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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Guilt-free ‘nutella’ recipe #2

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Here’s the follow up to my previous ‘alternative nutella’ post – Recipe #2.
And my personal favourite!

The original recipes were 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 version of Nutella hazelnut spread.

I wanted to test-drive these recipes and see how they shape up as a substitute.

This recipe uses dates and cacao instead of hazelnuts.

If like me you are tired of coconut oil being used in everything and overpowering other flavours, you might prefer my version using virgin olive instead.

I’ve halved the amount of maple syrup, making the recipes even lower in sugar. And for simplicity I’ve replaced the Almond Butter in Natasha’s original recipe, with a commercial Almond Spread.

RAW CHOC-DATE ‘nutella’ – Recipe #2

(Makes about 1.5 cups)

Taste: has a definite chocolate taste – my favourite of the two – I rate it 9/10
Texture: dense, sticky texture, like a firm paste – use a little more oil and/or maple syrup for a smoother texture.

10 dried, pitted dates (3 oz.)
1/2 cup almond spread (or almond butter)
2T maple syrup
1/3 cup cacao powder
1 tspn extra virgin olive oil

Rehydrate the dates in hot water for about 10 minutes (or 2 hours in cold water).
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure the spread is smooth.

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At the end add a little olive oil. Spread over waffles, hot-buttered toast, croissants.

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

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If you find the texture too stiff to spread, simple heat the required amount for 10 sec in the microwave before serving.

‘Have a DELiCiOUS day’

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

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 #6 – Chatswood, 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.

*Good Vibes has been renamed DUCK PHAT and offers a simplified quality organic Vietnamese menu

Good Vibes Organic Restaurant*

OK, I have to make a confession about this review.
All Good Vibes’ tasting plates are $16.50 each so they do meet my under $18 per plate criteria, but they are served as part of a degustation menu. There is no regimen, you simply choose as many plates as you like – but you will want to try everything on the menu.

The energetic and friendly staff suggested ordering a minimum of 3 plates to share, per couple. But once you taste the food, you know that’s madness, and you scan the menu for your next flavour hit.

I love surprises.

The exterior of this restaurant is low key and a peek through the window says friendly, organic, certified, and welcoming. It could be cosy Glebe, but it’s cosy Chatswood, just a few blocks down from the corporate towers and slick retail arena of Willoughby City.

A glance at Good Vibes’ website reveals quality, and the words Cordon Bleu and Organic meld together in symbiotic deliciousness. Modestly, they call their style ‘a modern European semi-fine dining experience’. Who knows what that means, and who really cares, when their plates are pretty, professional, and delicately assembled. The focus here is on beauty and flavour, not fussy.

Quality food and attention to detail often comes with attitude, but this is an attitude-free zone. The only attitude is dedication to the food. The night I visited, two of the three wait staff had called in sick. Young Chef and owner Huey, had no qualms about pitching in and helping the one waitress in a very busy restaurant. A chef cleaning a table is a rarity. So we’re talking soul as well as quality.

The food … Arrabiata Pasta w Lamb Stuffed Capsicum; Seared Scallops with Chilli Jam Lentils; Mixed Mushroom and Aubergine Tart; Slow cooked Scotched Fillet w Pomme Puree and Red Wine Jus; and to finish, an Orange Caramel Crème Brûlée.

Each plate was delicately executed, and full of flavour, and needs no further explanation, beyond an exclamation of ‘Yum’.

Good Vibes is BYO, and all produce is certified organic where possible. Seafood is wild caught, but due to the nature of seafood, it is not certified organic. The menu features gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan choices.

If you thought you knew the dining scene in the Chatswood area – or thought there wasn’t one – think again.

RATED: Pimped to the stars! FOOD: 5/5
VALUE: 5/5 ATMOS: 4/5 VIBE: friendly, multicultural
Good Vibes Organic Restaurant – 172 Victoria Ave, Chatswood, NSW

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Gluten-free Coconut flour Pancakes

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My Challenge: I’m not gluten intolerant, but I wanted to a create gluten-free pancake recipe for GF friends, using coconut flour, that compare with the pancakes I usually make with regular flour, which have a similar springy-spongy mouth feel when cooked.

The style of pancakes I like are thin but not crepe-thin. It’s best to keep the pancakes no larger than 7cm (3”) in size and around. I also recommend you eat them immediately after cooking as they dry out, and don’t keep very well.

Scroll down to see my preferred recipe below.

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How COCONUT FLOUR behaves:

Well, it doesn’t really! It’s thirsty for moisture, you use less than regular flour, replacing flour with gluten means the pancakes require more care and attention. It imparts a subtle coconut flavour, so you could tire of the flavour if you ate too many.

I experimented with three different versions of pancakes: adding a paste of ground flax-seed to the coconut flour to make the batter more elastic; and two other versions where I added tapioca flour in varying amounts.

I found using ground flax-seed and warm water to the pancake batter made no difference to either the cooking or ‘flip-ability’ of the pancakes, except to add some fibre.

TAPIOCA FLOUR seemed to help smooth out the consistency and ‘flip-ability’ of the batter. Tapioca starch and tapioca flour generally are the same product but when buying tapioca flour or tapioca starch, you should take care to stick with companies that specifically label their products as gluten-free.

I decided to maintain the coconut theme and use coconut oil and coconut sugar. You can substitute sunflower oil (or high heat tolerant oil); and caster or fine grain sugar.

Now, onto the recipe…

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COCONUT (gluten-free) mini Pancakes

yields 15 (7cm/3 inch)

You’ll need: medium size bowl; wire whisk; pastry brush; cast iron or heavy frypan; pancake turner or flipper

¼ cup coconut flour
¼ teaspoon McKenzie’s gluten-free baking powder, or make your own (see below)
1 level tablespoon tapioca flour/starch
2 rounded teaspoons of coconut sugar (to add subtle sweetness)
2 x large (700g) eggs
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup milk
2 teaspoons Coconut oil at room temperature

Make the pancake batter: Combine coconut flour, baking powder, tapioca, and sugar, and mix with a fork. Beat the eggs in a small bowl then add them to the dry ingredients, mixing in well with a fork.

Combine buttermilk and milk in a cup and slowly pour it into the dry ingredients, mixing through with a fork. Beat with the wire whisk until the mixture is smooth and runny.

Cooking: Dip your pastry brush into the coconut oil and brush a thin smear across the frying pan. Heat your frying pan to medium-heat. Wait until it is hot before adding batter. Use a tablespoon to spoon just one spoonful of batter per pancake onto the hot pan. It’s best to only cook 2 pancakes at a time. If they are larger than 3 inch they can crack. Even at this small size, these pancakes take longer to cook that regular pancakes or pikelets, so don’t flip them until the underside is cooked or they will crack. Give the edges of the pancake a gentle nudge – if the batter sticks to your flipper utensil, it’s not cooked enough to turn over – wait until the edges look cooked which takes a few minutes each side. (You won’t get the tell-tale air bubbles of regular pancakes to let you know when to flip them). Flip them once, and press lightly down onto the fryping pan. Brush the pan with more coconut oil between cooking each set of pancakes. When cooked, remove pancakes onto a plate, and cover with a saucepan lid to keep warm, or place in an oven at very low heat.

Eat pancakes straight away with fresh or stewed fruit and cream or yoghurt; and honey, or pure maple syrup.

DIY gluten-free baking powder:

2 parts Cream of Tartar
1 part baking soda
1 part cornstarch

Stir and sift all ingredients together and you’ve got baking powder. Use as normal.

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