Monday, June 28, 2010

A Fairtrade Coffee Complex

Yesterday, the unthinkable happened.

We ran out of coffee!

And since the food-dude's household was kindly loaned a proper barista's coffee machine we've been really enjoying the daily cup. 

So I headed down Little Collins to the venerable Quists Coffee to top up supplies.


I struck up a conversation with the friendly barista and asked if Quists had any fairtrade blends for sale.

“No, but we do source from suppliers that provide a fair return for growers”

Fair enough, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and plunked down some cash for 250 grams of their finest Miscela Italiana - delicious. But is it guilt free?


Now obviously it had a few food miles on it, but I have yet to find an Australian grown coffee I enjoy, so sometimes we have to make concessions. I do however, like to make sure the coffee is bringing at least a modicum of benefits to the growers.


Wanting to find out a bit more about how Quists provide their "fair return" I thought I'd drop them a note.


Kudos to Doris at Quists for her quick responses. It seems that Fairtrade is a complicated area and although the official label does bring a degree of credibility, there are companies out there trying to do the right thing.


What do you think? Should Quists subscribe to the Fairtrade Association or are you satisfied with their position.


You can follow the email exchanges after the jump.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

What's in a can of tuna?

I was having lunch with a long-lost friend the other day when she asked me about the sustainability of tuna.

I made some vague response, but I was floundering and didn't really know the answer. Being the geek I am, I thought I'd do some digging.

Turns out that not all tinned tuna is created equal. Find out more after the jump.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coda

In music, a Coda is a passage that brings the song to a conclusion.

My experience of Coda Bar and Resturaunt was surprising - in a good way - and very satisfying.

I ordered eco-food versions of the following items listed on the menu:
  • Spanner crab, galangal, roasted chilli and lime betel leaf $5.80
  • Soft rice paper rolled with pork, prawn, perilla and chive bud $6
I don't know enough about spanner crab and the most recent research I could find suggested that there is some uncertainty in estimation of stock status at least in Queensland. Instead, I ordered a vegetarian betel leaf which came topped with a delicious salad of glass noodle, corriander and carrot along with galangal, roasted chilli and lime betel leaf. It was superb.

The eco-food credentials of prawn and pork are questionable, so I again opted for an alternative. My vegetarian rice paper roll was excellent with the dipping sauce making my day.

I also ordered the eggplant and tofu lettuce delight with enoki mushroom, crispy garlic and black vinegar $6 which I couldn't fault. It had that melt in your mouth flavour explosion. Yum!


The surprising part was that when the bill was presented, I noticed something that I've very rarely encountered in any resturaunt. The betel leaf and rice paper roll dishes had been discounted to reflect my requested vegetarian modifications. They were only $4 and $5 respectively! A bargain in any language. Cool eh?

I was also impressed by the bar staff who served me (I sat at the bar rather than the tables). The gentleman who waited on me was extremely vegetarian savvy and accomodating. He suggested the numerous possible modifications and pointed out the several dishes on the menu that were either vegetarian, met my nebulous eco-food criteria, or could be modified as such. Very unusual and most welcome.

The nifty thing about sitting at the bar is that it gives you a prime view of Adam D'Sylva and his team as they busy themselves concocting cuisine in the kitchen. The bar is satisfyingly modern with lights picking out the colours in the bottles.

Adam - the head chef and owner of Coda has a strong pedigree having been Head Chef at Longrain. He is also a supporter of environmental issues and was appointed as an Ambassador for Earth Hour.

I reckon that in my case Coda means I need no longer continue my quest for eco-food fine dining.

But then again, there are no doubt other eco-food havens waiting to be discovered...


Coda on Urbanspoon

Trippy Taco

I really wanted to enjoy the Trip but ...

I popped into Trippy Taco for lunch yesterday and ordered two of the signature Trippy Tacos.

When I arrived there were more staff (5) than customers (4). I ordered at 12.25 PM and my tacos arrived on the table at 1.00 PM. I'm not sure if this is the usual wait time and perhaps they were busy with some unseen take-away customers. Either way, it seemed like an age when I was starving.

The tacos arrived and the filling looked interesting, but as soon as I picked up the taco, copious amounts of watery juice (from the extremely runny salsa or perhaps too much water on the lettuce?) gushed from the side. Biting into it, I discovered that the black beans did not have any sauce to accompany them and while they were slightly tasty as the main filling, they were certainly not enough to carry this dish. I dumped on some hot chilli sauce for the second bite, but even that wasn't really enough to save it for me. I want to love this place and it is great that they do heaps of vegetarian tacos, but I can't see myself going back.

I was so hoping that I'd enjoy this place and now I have that ho-hum feeling as I write this review.

Perhaps if you go in with lower expectations you might be rewarded.

Trippy Taco on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bamboo and Buns

Today I set myself an assignment. Find a satisfying two-course CBD lunch for under $6. 

A quick bit of research prior to leaving the office suggested that that Nam Loong did a vege Bun for $1.50 which sounded like a perfect start for my assignment. Primed for success I marched along Russel and into the door of Nam Loong. I was greeted by shelves and shelves of buns of all varieties and enormous bamboo steamers preparing the more on the stove. Alas, the shelf labelled Vegetarian Buns was empty! And it was only 12:44 pm - sold out! Arghh. Could this be the beginning of an assigment Epic Fail?

I whipped out the iPhone and was relieved to learn that Miss T had found Melbourne Central's Bamboo City offered something similar for $1.80. I arrive full of hope, blinking in the neon, only to run into potential failure Number Two. Alas. Perhaps the GFC or Miss T garnered fame had lead to price inflation to round numbers. I gingerly handed over my $2 gold pieces in exchange for two quite substantial looking vege buns. 

Across the road to the State Library lawn for the taste test. Not bad. Not great, but not bad. The buns were a bit hard on the outside - probably from sitting under the neon for too long, but the filling was tasty enough. The seagull certainly thought so. They were filled with glass-noodles, tofu, carrot and spring onions and were certainly filling.

Now with only $2 remaining for dessert I marched off in the direction of the delightfully named Little Cupcakes on Degraves. Sitting on the little wooden table inside I devoured the Cookies and Cream flavoured morsal. Yum.

I also felt a sense of achievement having marched more than 2600 metres in my mission to fulfill this assignment. I'm keen to try the Nam Loong buns because that would mean a two-course meal for under a fiver!



Little Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sakura Kaiten

Some days I feel like treating myself to a few tasty morsals of vegetarian goodness. If you also find yourself so inclined, can I suggest you try Sakura Kaiten Sushi.

The staff are friendly, welcoming and helpful in this stylishly decorated sushi bar. I asked for assistance in identifying vegetarian options on the sushi train and the waitress quickly pointed out several options for me to try.

I selected the vegetarian gyoza (5.80), a fried-mashed-potato sushi ($3.60), a seaweed sushi ($4.60) and the agedashi tofu (4.60). Other options on offer were vegetable tempura, seaweed salad, spinach salad, cucumber salad, edamame and several other options.

The potato sushi comes accompanied with subtly flavoured mustard and was probably my favourite of the selection.

The gyoza were topped with a savoury sauce and contained mashed vegetables including potato and were lovely and crisp.

The seaweed sushi had that straight from the ocean taste and was delicious when dipped in shoyu sauce.


I enjoyed the agedashi tofu, but I think the Wood Spoon and Peko Peko on Smith Street might have the edge for tofu goodness. Nothing wrong with Sakura Kaiten's offering, just not my favourite.


If you haven't been to a Japanese sushi train bar before, it is worth going just for entertainment value. While not featuring an actual miniture train like some places we found in Tokyo, Sakura Kaiten has a nifty conveyor-belt that whisks the beautifully presented and numerous dishes past diners for easy selecting. The dishes are colour coded to represent different priced options from black and pink as the least expensive to white and red as the (slightly) more expensive options.

The cafe soundtrack of Marvin Gaye and several other Motown and Soul balladiers contributed to an ecclectic and most enjoyable lunch.


Sakura Kaiten Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Curiosity at Kanitar


So you're in Geelong.

You're hungry.

And you're hankering for some Southeast Asian goodness?

I say, mosy on down to Kanitar on Malop St - the town's main drag.

I hadn't been there before, but I wandered in after seeing the golden statues, hoping for the best.

I was delighted to discover they do an $8 lunch special on a variety of thai staples.

The owner and chef are thai and the vegetable red curry I ordered was as authentic as any I've enjoyed in downtown Banglampoo.

The serving was generous. The service was friendly. The decor was quaint. And the flavours are all there. That perfect balance of spicy, salty, sweet and sour were married behind a little shopfront in Geelong.

A surpringly good find.




Kanitar Thai Eat-In Takeaway on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

STREAT at Fed Square

Don't you wish that eating lunch could have a positive social impact, great environmental credibility and also taste really good?

How about a meal where 100% of the money you paid for it went into a social enterprise, supporting and training youth at risk in Melbourne.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but at STREAT, founded by dynamic duo Rebecca Scott and Kate Barrell, they're realising these lofty goals.

I popped in to the Federation Square STREAT kitchen cart today and ordered the Kashmiri Chickpea Curry ($8.50). This innovative food store features a seasonal menu and there were four other dishes available on the day I visited. My curry was ready after a few minutes accompanied by rice and a papadum and came served in a nifty cardboard box. The box reminds you of the positive impact you are having "Youth homelessness is hard to swallow. 100% of the profits from this meal help it to stop." 


The curry was a tasty blend of chickpeas, potato, mushrooms and cauliflower in a tomato curry base. It went nicely with the rice and papadums. There is a hint of citrus and sweetness in it too, perhaps from tamarind? Very refreshing. I'll have to taste it again to figure out those ingredients.

While my food was being prepared, one of the senior staff was quietly training a couple of newer recruits. The original KOTO concept in action.

Concepts like STREAT are fantastic and should be supported and applauded. I'll definitely be making it a regular lunchtime spot. The staff are very friendly and you get that lovely warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy that comes from tasty food and the knowledge that you are making a difference.

Here is a quick quote from STREAT's website:
STREAT’s training curriculum and street cafĂ© menu choices also take an eco-gastronomic perspective. In this way we see our food as a fusion of the best of slow food and fast food. Food that’s fresh, tasty, healthy, fair, cultural but also served quickly, can be eaten on the run and great value.
STREAT is a hybrid organisation – or social enterprise – that brings about social change through market-focussed business activities.
In effect, STREAT is three organisations rolled into one and underpinned by sound governance structures. STREAT is a:
  • Social support provider ensuring holistic care and well‐being to trainees within its programs;
  • Training provider giving internationally recognised vocational training in hospitality;
  • Foodservice business that provides on‐the‐job training and work experience for trainees, while generating the income to finance the organisation’s activities.
STREAT's business model is designed to scale and the organisation expects to have five sites within Melbourne's CBD over the coming couple of years.
How could you not want to support this organisation? Stop reading this and go eat at STREAT!

Streat on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mamasita

Does Mamasita live up to the hype?

I enjoy trying new places and this place has Melbourne abuzz with the prospect of authentic Mexican cuisine.

Close to work at the top end of Collins Street, it seemed like a good lunch option with a couple of work mates.

We ordered our dishes from the Comida para la familia (Food for the family) section of the menu.

Bill and I ordered the $16 Chili relleno (Bullhorn chiles stuffed with wild mushrooms, pepitas, epazote ; pumpkin sauce). And Dallas couldn't curb his penchant for pork and requested the Costillas de cerdo al chipotle $18.

The Chili relleno came attractively presented but I was disappointed in the flavour. I could barely discern any mushroom in the stuffing because of the volume of rice used to fill it out. The sprig of corriander, the pumpkin seeds, and the pumpkin puree were nice addition, but I had to use generous dollops of the jalepeno sauce to make the dish more interesting.

I asked Bill and Dallas to guest blog.
From Bill - "An interesting take on classic Mexican favourites. I had the chilli rellenos which were stuffed with mushrooms, herbs and rice and served with pumpkin puree, a tasty combination but some diners may have been surprised if they were expecting the traditional cheese-filled variety. Downsides are the absence of condiments and sides served in traditional Mexican eateries and slightly stale corn tortillas and salsa that remided me of the type that come out of the jar. If you want the full Mexican 'comida', the extra cost of pre-meal tortillas/salsa and refried beans and rice side dishes pushes this restaurant out of the value-for-money range."

One of my favourite recollections of our time in Mexico was the almost instantaneous presentation of a plate of hand-made tortilla chips and delicious salsa that appeared on the table moments after you were seated. So I have to agree with Bill on the sneaky sting of pricey side dishes. If you add some fairly standard sides like Ejotes beans, Tortillas and Guacamole, you add $18 to your bill. Perhaps this is a necessity for a resturaunt renting at the pricey end of Collins? But it seemed steep to me. We ordered the Tortillas with salsa which were only $5, but as Bill says, the salsa was pretty lame.

We wouldn't normally discuss pigs on this blog, but I didn't want Dallas feeling left out. After all, he's such a retiring wallflower.
From Dallas - "Pork ribs that rock....Sazonado carne de cerdo!!! tender meat that falls away from the bone in a tangy but slightly sweet broth. Ah....why is the meat on the bone always the tastiest?"
So there you have it. If the dishes were under $10, I might be more charitable, but for the prices here, I expect something a little more.
Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grossi Florentino - Cellar Bar

I think I now understand what all the fuss is about!

I'd been hearing about Grossi Florentino and chef Guy Grossi for years. He and his resturaunt are a Melbourne institution. For some reason I'd always balked at spending more than the bare minimum on Italian food and shunned eating pasta at resturaunts. But it turns out, that like most things in life, you really do get what you pay for.

I was net surfing for lunchtime inspiration and seeking a jaunt outside the office when stumbled on the Grossi Florentino website. I hadn't intended to visit, but then an item on the menu really caught my eye - Pumpkin Tortellini with Fried Sage or Tortellini di Zucca Della Lungiana $18 as it is named on the menu.


Ever since our Solomon Island adventures, I've been a great fan of the tadka or chaunk technique of frying herbs and spices to add flavouring to a dish. This Indian method of cooking involves tipping the lightly fried and very fragrant herbs into a dahl or curry at the end of cooking to create an exciting fizzling flavour punch. I'm not sure how Guy does it with the sage over tortellini, but I wouldn't be surprised if his technique is much the same.

Anyway. The result is what matters and here it is superb.

The delicate flavours of pumpkin-filled tortellini were perfectly matched by the sage fried in olive oil. I also now understand the true meaning of 'al dente' too. The pasta had a delightful texture and even though it sounds cliche, it really did melt in my mouth. The meal comes with complementary herbed and seasoned bread and olive oil which is delicious.

As you'd expect in a place of this calibre, the waiters are fantastic. Friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. And your glass of water is never empty.

Maybe those of you who are Italian food gourmands will think me naiive to only now be just discovering these delights. And to be fair you'd probably be right given my previously irrational foodist tendencies. I've been addicted to Asian food for it's plethora of vegetarian options but was too quick to dismiss the Mediterranean for it's apparently meat, salad, gloopy pasta and otherwise bland cuisine.

How wrong I was.

Grossi Florentino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Duelling Dumplings at Hu Tong

It isn't often that a quick city lunch inspires poetry, but here goes...

After a moping morning
I crave a different dish
To dull my doldrums
And fulfill my wish
I found my saviour
And changed my mood
At Hu Tong Dumpling
Chique meets great food

My usual go-to dumpling dens are Shanghai Village and Camy Shanghai but sometimes you've gotta break the habit and try the competition.

When I arrived at 11.32 am (I told you I was craving), there were already 7 people waiting at the yet-to-be-opened door. A few minutes later the waitress let us all in and kindly gave me a table despite me being the only one without a booking.

I ordered the Vegetarian Dumplings With Spinach Flour Wrap ($5.50 for 6 pieces), the Vegetarian Spring Rolls ($4.50 for 3 pieces) and a pot of Chinese Tea ($2.50).

Are the dumplings worth the 100% price premium over their Village and Camy cousins around the corner? You betcha!

The spinach flour wrap added another very pleasing dimension to the already delicious fillings of mushroom, carrot, tofu and cabbage.

But my favourite part of the experience was the sensational chilli flakes in oil with whole corriander seeds. The chilli concotion is part of the table condiments set, along with the ginger infused vinegar. Combined with the spinach dumplings, the chilli and corriander seed surprise was a wicked delight. I normally like soy sauce, but this trumps it very nicely.

The spring rolls were tasty with a curried filling and streets ahead of other dumpling places. But you don't really go to dumpling houses to eat spring rolls!

The tea was delicious too with none of the bitterness sometimes associated with the tea elsewhere.

The other feather in Hu Tong's cap is that it is a really nice place to eat. You won't find sticky white laminex or lurid pink here. I'll still probably pop into Shanghai Village now and again for variety (or if I'm really hungry), but Hu Tong is my new favourite.

Get onto Hu Tong I say.


Hu Tong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sustainable aquaculture? Yes really.

Dan Barber is a chef who is passionate about fish and has a strong eco-food bent. His short 15 minute talk is well worth watching for sheer entertainment value alone. The guy is funny! But the fascinating story on sustainable aquaculture and his inspired views on world food were the glaze on the tofu for me. This one should almost be mandatory viewing. Enjoy.

I watched this on the train this morning. Since getting back from the Solomons, I've been really getting back into TED Talks. They are a fantastic resource and can be really inspiring.

You can also download it to your computer or iPod through iTunes. Just search for TEDTalks in Podcasts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Izakaya Hachibeh

Izakaya Hachibeh offers a refreshing change from the usual chain-store nori-ramen-noodles Japanese options elsewhere in Melbourne.

I went for lunch and selected from the excellent value $12 Hachibeh bento menu. Following the eco-creed I ordered the fried vegetables, potato salad and agedashi tofu (because I’m incapable of going to any Japanese restaurant and not ordering it). The bento menu might be confusing, but the idea is that you select one item from each of the A, B and C boxes. There are also specials options on a board and more extensive alternatives available should you wish to branch out further. A PDF dinner menu is available on their website. One of the more intriguing options is the “Hachibeh ladies lunch set” which is only available to those without a Y chromosome, so I was out of luck.

The large bento comes attractively presented with the three selected options and rice arranged in their own little compartments in the box. There is also a complimentary miso which was very good. The flavours in each dish complemented each other nicely. The tasty potato salad was cold mashed and well seasoned with spring onions and pieces of carrot. It went nicely with the flavoursome teriyaki sauce vegetable stir-fry of carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and onion topped with sesame seeds. Of course my favourite was the agedashi tofu. Deliciously crisp on the outside and exquisitely smooth within. And the texture was matched by the taste. Excellent.

The word Izakaya is a compound of the Japanese words for sit (“i) and sake shop (“sakaya”). Upon entering Izakaya Hachibeh, you’ll find it looks more like a restaurant than a bar, with black tables, maroon walls and beautiful red lanterns adorned with characters reading “izakaya”. But there is also an impressively diverse range of sake on offer including their “special-made Hachibeh sake” which I’d be keen to try for dinner.

The restaurant which markets itself as Japanese Tapas was a novel concept for me. But with more than 100 small dishes available for dinner, they certainly have variety.

Izakaya Hachibeh should also be commended for the clarity of their dinner menu. I haven’t yet been for dinner (perhaps for a future entry) but I checked the menu and was delighted to find an entire section headed Vegetarian No Fish Stock with 20 delicious-looking options to choose from. Other Japanese restaurants could do well by learning from this example.

Izakaya Hachibeh is a friendly and great value lunch spot with authentic tasty Japanese food and I’m looking forward to trying it for dinner.

Izakaya Hachibeh on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kamel

Where have you been all my life!
Just finished a fantastic brunch with Chris, Rach and Mi at Kamel.
Great company, delicious food and plenty of sustainable options.
We shared saganaki, dolmades, dips (tsatziki, hummus and beetroot) and some zucchini, corn and
chickpea flour patties. All very tasty and satisfying especially when
accompanied with a glass or two of Pinot bubbles.
Thanks guys!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kim Sing for a Song

If anyone bragged about a hearty lunch spot where you'd have change from a fiver in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, I'd have called them wishful.

Yet somehow Kim Sing manages to produce exactly that in the form of a tasty, filling, freshly cooked vegetarian fried rice for a grand total of $4.00. Yep, really!

I stumbled upon Kim Sing on a lunchtime ramble yesterday and came back again today. If you're seeking romantic fine-dining with white table cloths and starched waiters you won't find it. But you will find an armada of woks dancing on blue flames, a supersized menu with lifesize pictures of dishes on offer and exceptional value for money.

Kim Sing is tucked in Port Phillip Arcade (which embarrassingly I only discovered yesterday, despite having lived in Melbourne for 30 plus years). The cafe spans both sides of the walkway. There is a small yellow sign to identify the place, but long before you see the sign you'll probably see dozens of tables full of students, backpackers and hungry office workers all munching on delicious looking fare.

Yesterday I had the Stirfried Mixed Vegetables with Tofu and Rice for $6. Presentation might not have been superlative, but it was very tasty and came with a nice sauce. The tofu was good, the vegetables were nicely crispy and the mushrooms were really good.

I didn't notice the Vegetarian Fried Rice on the menu until after I'd eaten yesterday, so I had to come back and try it today just to see if it was possible to make a decent dish for $4. Verdict - yes! It came with carrots, beanshoots, spring onions, cabbage, brocolli and pieces of omelette. The rice was fluffy and light and there was enough on the plate to leave me feeling very satisfied. Was it the best fried rice ever - probably not, but it was infinitely better than the soggy overpriced, tasteless, reheated bain-marie gloop I've suffered through in food courts.
Kim Sing on Urbanspoon