Breakfast in a weekday is an indulgence that I don’t often get to enjoy. But when it’s a Monday that you’ve taken off work, because you’ve run your first full marathon you definitely take the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that the cafes are empty and you can easily get a seat. Unfortunately the marathon had taken a major toll on my feet, leaving then battered and me unable to put any weight on them, so we had to go to a cafe where we could park straight outside the front door.


We settled on Son of a Pizzaiolo. I knew they had recently revamped their dinner menu, but I was keen to try them out for breakfast. As expected, the café was almost empty, and so we had our pick of the seating. There were some standard tables, but we decided to sit in a booth, American diner style!


The other half started with a flat white, but I declined and stuck with water. Given that the marathon had most likely dehydrated me, I didn’t think coffee would be a good idea. I did have a taste of the flat white though, and I was suitably impressed. Son of a Pizzaiolowas certainly doing the Italians proud. The pretty latte art was also a nice touch that put a smile on our faces.



The menu was full of creative options, that looked delicious but neither of us could go past the cheesy scrambled eggs. Set atop two polenta hash browns were scrambled eggs with aged pecorino, grilled mushrooms and crispy kale, all dressed with chives and red sea salt. The other half went for the standard version also had chorizo, but the staff were more than happy to swap that out for avocado for me. Rarely do we order the same dish, but this time we made an exception.



Our opinion of the dish was also almost identical. The cheesy scrambled eggs were a hit, lots of cheese, lovely and creamy with the right amount of seasoning. The mushrooms and the crispy kale were also important elements to the dish and when combined with the eggs created a beautiful blend of flavours. Unfortunately the polenta has was a bit of a let down. Perhaps it was the fact that in my head, I was hoping for something like a potato hash brown, but unfortunately the polenta was was rather heavy and stodgy, and lacked flavour. In retrospect, if I couldn’t have a potato hash, I think I would have preferred this dish with toast, but hindsight is a great thing indeed.

Nevertheless our experience at Son of A Pizzaiolowas lovely and we will definitely consider going back. The service was impeccable and I was very impressed at how friendly the staff were. The flavours they combined worked well, and left me keen to try their dinner menu some time in the future.

Son of a Pizzaiolo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
High St, Northcote boasts a plethora of eateries varying in cuisines, prices and styles. Regardless of what you are after, there is bound to be an option for you there. One Sunday night, when we couldn’t be bothered cooking, we decided to pop down there for a cheap and cheerful meal. To me, cheap and cheerful is that type of meal that is easy on the wallet, without any pretences of starched tablecloths or fancy folded napkins, but doesn’t compromise on taste and instead offers a hearty, home style feed. 


I had seen Tahina mentioned in a few guides, and all of them wrote about the delicious food that was offered. It seemed like exactly the place for us and so we headed there.

Tahina is an Israeli restaurant that serves vegetarian food. The vegetarian aspect is not however highlighted, and it was only when I took a close look at the menu that I realised that no meat dishes were available. The offering is simple. You either choose a pita pocket, or a shakshouka platter. Or if you are like us, you choose one of each and do a swap half way through. Both these options have a few varieties to choose from but the basis remains the same.

For the pita pocket, I chose the sabich. The highlight of the pita pocket was definitely the bread which was fresh and soft. It was filled with eggplant, hard boiled egg, potatoes, Israeli salad, pickled cabbage and brought together with hummus and tahini. The combination of flavours were amazing, in particular the eggplant which was soft and melted in the mouth.


The shakshouka came in a choice of red, green or white. The red is obviously the traditional version in a tomato based sauce, but we decided to be adventurous and have the green version, based on a slow cook of broccoli, zucchini and spinach with avocado and olives thrown in. There was a subtle hint of cumin through the dish giving it a wonderful aroma. The eggs were floating in the sauce, but there was also a vegan version available where they were substituted with eggplant. I imagine this would be equally delicious. The shakshouka was served with a green salad, pickled cabbage, hummus and pita bread. Don’t make the mistake we initially did and try the pickled cabbage by itself, it certainly has an odd flavour, but when combined with all the other elements, it added a wonderful freshness.



Tahina doesn’t bother with fancy service, elegant décor or a spacious dining area. Instead it focus on the food, and for people like me, it is just perfect. Given how busy it was on the night we visited, I would say there are a lot of people who agree with me.
Tahina Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
OK, I’m calling it. I have a new favourite vegetarian burger. I thought nothing could beat a vegetarian patty made with minced mushroom, but Kustom Burgers have taken it up a notch or seven.

It was Sunday evening. I was exhausted after having gone on a 32km training run in preparation for the Melbourne Marathon, my legs could no longer move, and all I wanted was a burger. And so it was decided, burgers for dinner. Given how tired I was, we decided to go somewhere close, and so we decided on Kustom Burgers.

I had seen Kustom Burgers on a few ‘Melbourne’s Best Burgers’ lists, so I figured they would be worth trying. Their menu showed that they had a vegetarian option, so it was all systems go, and off we went to satisfy my burger craving.

Kustom Burgers is a smallish shop on High Street in Northcote. Quite strangely, a large section of the shop is taken up by a parked pick up truck with a race track in the tray. Whilst it’s pretty cool, I’m not sure whether it’s worth sacrificing so much seating space for it, especially when tables and chairs are already at a minimum. It’s obvious that the owner has a passion for cars, with all the décor relating to the automotive theme.

We took a seat at the counter, overlooking the kitchen, so we had a clear view of the chefs at work. The speed and efficiency at which they worked was impressive. The orders were coming in at a constant rate, and the kitchen remained calm and in order. It wasn’t long before our burgers arrived, and given how starving we were, we really couldn’t wait to dig in.


Whilst there was only one vegetarian option on the menu. It was bloody amazing. Entitled the Combi Southern Fried Mushroom Burger, it was exactly as described. Firstly let’s start with the mushroom. I love mushrooms and a deep fried mushroom only makes it better, but when it is coated and crumbed with herbs and spices it takes it to a whole new level. Think southern fried chicken, but in mushroom form. This was then topped with cheese, jalapeños, chipotle mayo and a slaw, and all together, it was without doubt the best burger I’ve had. A big call I know, but definitely deserved.


The other half had the FJ Holden Aussie Burger. Like all good things Aussie, the burger had an egg, beetroot and a generous slather of tomato sauce. Unlike the Americans who cook everything to charcoal, the burger was cooked medium, and the usual suspects of cheese, onion, tomato and lettuce completed the burger. The other half was impressed.


The only slight let down was the chips. Whilst they were inoffensive (deep fried potato is rarely offensive), they were just generic McCains fries. I knew this because I could see the bags being emptied, and it was a little disappointing. I would have definitely preferred hand cut chips, with rosemary salt.

Still, you can’t have everything, and given how good the burger was, I’m willing to forgive their downfall on the chips. Will I be back? If they serve me another spicy crumbed deep fried mushroom I definitely will be!

Kustom Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Having grown up in the Greek capital of Melbourne, Oakleigh, the cafes along Eaton mall were a fixture of my childhood. Weekends meant that the patrons of the cafés spilt out into the mall, and the tables outside were full of Greeks, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves. These days, Eaton Mall has expanded further, there are many more eateries, and patronage is skyrocketing with the outdoor area full almost every night of the week.

Vanilla was one of the cafes from the old days, but they have recently expanded the premises to include a modern upstairs area, creatively (!) named Vanilla Upstairs. I was lucky enough to be invited to a media dinner there, where we were able to sample many of the foods and I was thoroughly impressed.

From the outset, what impressed me most was the friendliness of the staff. Like many immigrant cultures, family values were at their core, and this was evident in the way they ran their restaurant. Father Thanasi works the floor making sure everyone is happy, whilst his three children and their partners are responsible for the running of the restaurant. They also now have Chef Oresti at the helm of their state of the art kitchen, and is responsible for the amazing food they serve.


Our menu was designed as a sharing menu, which suited the Greek style of food perfectly, and it meant that we could taste a large range of dishes. Some of the dishes were old favourites, like the yemista, but Chef Oresti also took the opportunity to add some flair to some traditional dishes. One example was the Greek salad. Whilst typically this would involve tomatoes, cucumber, olives and fetta, our version had all of these ingredients but with a completely modern interpretation without any compromise on taste.

We were also lucky enough to taste a selection of Greek wines to match our food. I had never realised that Greece produced fine wine, so I was extremely impressed. Sommelier, Sheridan, shared with us her vast knowledge of wines, and by the end of the night, I’m sure most of us were convinced that Greek wines were comparable to their famous wine cousins in France and Italy!

Whilst Greek food may be assumed to be very focused on the meat, Vanilla Upstairs had no issues catering for me, the solo vegetarian on the table! I started with some beautiful pita bread and a trio dips. There was a tzatziki, a hommus and a baba ganoush. The hommus was a clear highlight, beautifully smooth and creamy and with the perfect amount of garlic flavour.


I also enjoyed the dolmades that were wrapped in a conical fashion and filled with a creamed rice. The creative flair on these enhanced the flavours, and despite loving the traditional dolmades, I was really impressed with these.



As a cheese lover, I had my eyes on the saganaki. In a new twist for me, the saganaki was pan fried and drizzled with honey and black sesame seeds. The honey added a lovely sweetness to compliment the heavy creaminess of the cheese, and it certainly was an unusual but very clever combination. I will be trying this one at home!



Obviously the meat eaters were also well looked after, and most of the table was busy eating all the delights presented to us.




The desserts we were offered were also quite impressive. We tasted a kazan dipi, which is a Greek take on the crème brulee. It was smooth and creamy, and served with kaimaki ice cream.


We also got to taste one of the chef's dessert experiments, a tahini mousse with sesame toffee crisps. It was very interesting to have sesame as the dominant flavour in a dessert, and for those that don't like their desserts sickly sweet, this would be perfect.


The evening was a fabulous one, mainly due to the warm hospitality, the delicious food and the lovely venue.  Vanilla Upstairs has certainly raised the bar in the Oakleigh dining precinct and there is no doubt that the patrons are flocking.


Note: I was invited to dine at Vanilla Upstairs as part of a media dinner and did not pay for my meal. I have however returned on subsequent occasions where I have paid the full price.

Vanilla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
It has been a while since I did my last monthly favourites posts, so it is about time that I caught up.

First up is a new store of which I have become a huge fan. Perhaps I am late to the party, because it seems many people are already onto it, but Terra Madre is a brilliant shop. Located on High St, in Northcote, they stock organic fruit and vegetables, healthy grocery staples, environmentally friendly cleaning products and cosmetics, bulk spices, nuts and grains, and all sorts of other grocery items.


It has recently expanded, and I’m guessing there will be the addition of a cafe or a deli to the store (the glass counters give that away), but even without it’s an excellent place to shop. I can get most of my supermarket shopping done there, and it isn’t even that much more expensive.



(Photos courtesy of Yelp and True Local)

Those following my Instagram feed will have seen that I’ve started baking my own sourdough. I got my starter from Claire, and decided that I was going to try and be a little more self sufficient. I’ve got myself into a great routine, where I get the starter ready on Thursday night, make the dough on Friday night or Saturday morning, and then I am ready to bake on the weekend. I generally make two loaves which last the week (I don’t need that much bread), and often I gift loaves to family or friends. I started with just plain sourdough, but now that I have become more confident, I have started adding flavours. One of my favourites is an olive and rosemary loaf, which is excellent with dip. Nothing beats eating warm bread, straight out of the oven.


I’m also well into marathon training now, with the Melbourne Marathon less than seven weeks away. I’m now running distances that are longer than I’ve ever run before, and as a result, I end up so hungry half way through my run! I’ve bought myself this great belt, called Fitube, that allows me to store energy gels, keys and a phone all without the hassle of them jiggling around in a pocket. The belt is made of lycra, and slips onto the body, meaning that there are no clips, or no risk of it become loose or getting caught in anything. I’m a big fan. Note that this is not a sponsored post, nor did I receive this as a gift, it's just a great product that I found and love!


 (Photo courtesy of Ratathletic)

Have you had any great finds this month? Let me know below, I'd love to hear about them!
I should start with an apology. Yes, I have been MIA on the blog, but in my defence, I have been away! If you follow me on Instagram, you may have gathered that I was in Mongolia. Yes, you read correctly, Mongolia! Completely random, I know, but so amazing.

When Mongolia was decided as the holiday destination for this year, I had no idea what to expect. I’d like to think of myself as reasonably well travelled through Asia. I’ve been to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Nepal and India. I can deal (sort of) with heat, I can deal with dust and pollution, I can deal with crowds, and I can definitely deal with Asian food. I had assumed that Mongolia would draw on my past experiences, and fit into my ideas of Asia but I couldn’t be more wrong.

Given the timeframe we were working with (I had three weeks of leave from work), and my lack of Mongolian language skills, we opted to go on a Dragoman tour. Going on tours can often be risky, you might not be able to see the things to you, you might get stuck with annoying people, and basically you don’t have full control of your holiday. But on the flip side, you have someone that organises everything for you, you don’t have to stress about anything, and if you get lucky, you can meet some pretty cool people. I have travelled with Intrepid in China and Peru with no issues, so I was comfortable going with Dragoman. I had actually booked my trip with Intrepid, but later found out that their Mongolian Overland trip was outsourced to Dragoman, but this was no issue.

Dragoman specialise in overland tours. What this means is that you get to travel the country in a huge truck, which is kitted out with all the necessities -  a fridge, some tables, charging points, speakers for music and lots of storage room.  You get to drive around, stopping where you want, and when night falls, you find a good camping spot, set up your tents and stay there for the night. It’s a great way to travel, to really experience the country, and venture off the beaten track.


Every night when we stopped, there was an allocated team that was responsible for cooking dinner. There was a lot of cooking equipment on board, including 4 gas burners, lots of pots and pans, and a well stocked spice box. The truck had previously been travelling through Kyrgyzstan, and there was an Indian on board, who had made sure that a decent selection of spices were purchased. So when a request was made for a curry night, I happily volunteered, knowing that I had ingredients aplenty at my disposal.



Mongolian cuisine is very meat heavy, and when I was travelling through the country I realised that despite the vast grassy plains, growing crops is not something that is common. Perhaps this is because of the harsh climate where it snows for a significant part of the year, but it means that most of the time vegetables are not even available, especially in the rural areas. On the night I was going to cook, the only vegetables I had access to were potatoes, onions, garlic, and some canned peas and canned tomatoes.

Based on what I had to work with, I decided to make a potato curry, or as the Bengalis would call it, alu’r dom. This is a curry I have grown up with as a child. My Sunday lunches were filled with alu’r dom, served with luchi or puri, and I would always try and outdo myself and eat more than my body could handle. The curry was always delicious, and as a result, I was apprehensive of whether my curry would even get close to the standards that came out of my mum’s kitchen. On top of that, I was to cook in a makeshift kitchen in the middle of Mongolia, for 23 people, with a significant amount of improvising. Still, I was really missing being in a kitchen and cooking, so I was eager to give it a go!


Much to my delight, the curry was a bit hit! I served it with rice, and yogurt sauce (raita) and by the end of the meal, the pot was scraped clean! Perhaps it was the fact that we were starving, but it was nice to know that my curry tasted good. Perhaps a little bit of my mum’s talent and ability to improvise in the kitchen has rubbed off onto me!


Below is the recipe of the alu’r dom that I made. I’ve included variations, which can be adapted depending on what ingredients you have on hand.

Potato and pea curry (Serves 4 - 5)

Ingredients:

1kg potatoes, scrubbed clean, and cut into 1 - 2 inch cubes (skin on)
2 tbs oil
1/4 stick cinnamon
2 cloves
2 cardomom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried chilli
2 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped, or the equivalent in canned tomatoes
1 handful of fresh or frozen peas
1 large onion, either sliced thinly, or grated (or put through a food processor)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder (or more if you like it hot!)
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 cup yogurt, coconut milk or cream
Salt to taste

Method:

1. Boil all the potatoes in water until they are cooked. Drain and allow to cool. Once cool, peel them and set aside. It is important to boil them with their skins, so that they don't fall apart.

2. Heat oil in a large pan. Once the oil is hot add the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, cumin seeds and dried chilli.

3. When the seeds start spluttering (should take less than a minute), add the onion and garlic. Fry this mixture off until the raw onion is cooked off. If you have grated the onion, this will be difficult to tell, but estimate about 5 mins. (Grating the onion will mean that the gravy will be nicer).

4. Add the tomatoes and mix well.

5. Add the boiled potato and continue to mix gently, being careful not to break the potatoes up.

6. Add the ground spices, turmeric, chilli powder and cumin and make sure they are combined through the curry.

7. Add the yogurt, salt and sugar. At this point it would be wise to taste, and make sure that the flavours are balanced. Adjust if something seems out of whack - add more tomato and cumin if it is too sweet, more sugar if the tomato taste is too predominant, etc.

8. Allow to simmer for 10 - 15 mins. If there is too much gravy remove the lid to the liquid can evaporate. If it seems to dry, add water and cover.

9. Serve with rice, roti, puri or naan bread 


And as a final note, put Mongolia on your travel wishlist. The food there isn’t very good, but the country and the landscape is seriously awesome.
A while ago I visited the original Rustica Canteen in Fitzroy with the other half, for breakfast. We were both rather impressed with the food and so, when my girlfriends wanted to organise a girls brunch sans boys and kids, I quickly suggested the Rustica branch in the CBD. Like many cafes, Rustica don’t take bookings for weekend breakfasts, but I was assured that the wait for a table on a Sunday morning wasn’t usually more than 15 minutes.

I had already checked the menu and it seemed that there were lots of common items across the two outlets, and given that I had massive food envy on my Fitzroy visit, I thought it would be a good opportunity to sample some other things.

Like most groups of more than 4 women (we were a group of about eight or nine) we ended up arriving one at a time for about half an hour until we all got there! Rustica were kind enough to not make us wait for the full group before they sat us, and instead gave us a big high table at the back of the café which we all joined as we arrived. However, they also took our order as we arrived, which meant that our food was arriving at all different times, and chaos ensued.


I chose to order the chilli scrambled eggs on their infamous Rustica sourdough but minus the bacon. I had ordered almost immediately after I sat down, and about twenty minutes past before I had received my drink or my meal. As I looked around, I realised that people who had arrived after me were having their meals served, so I flagged down a waiter and asked him if my order had been missed. I think he might have been knew, because he took my query to another waitress, there was some discussion between them, and then he came back to tell me my food was on its way. Fast forward another ten minutes and the senior waitress comes to me and tells me that my order has been mixed up and to confirm what I ordered. I tell her that I ordered the chilli scrambled eggs and she tells me she will be back. This time she returns quickly with my meal, chilli scrambled eggs, but with bacon. When I tell her that I had specifically requested for the bacon to omitted, she looked really confused. I did eventually receive my correct meal, but it was about an hour after I placed my original order. Don’t get me wrong, the food was delicious, but I could have done without the delay and confusion!







 

Luckily I was the only one on our table who had a mix up with their order. Everyone else’s food arrived on time, and correctly, and everyone loved their meals. As expected, the bread was the highlight, but equally important were quality ingredients and punchy flavours.

Rustica Canteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato