I’m not someone with a very strong sense of brand loyalty. I think it’s because of my change-loving nature and a general lack of sentimentality. I like to try new things; but it’s not only about the new-ness – the more you sample, the better chance you have of discovering something amazing.
In life and everything else, I make decisions about what I buy, eat and use based on quality, value, attractiveness and convenience… and not much else.
When I love a brand or business enough to keep returning to it, it’s not due to a sense of so-called loyalty but out of genuine respect for what they do – for example, if I seem to favour certain clothing brands or online shopping sites, I only do so while their style and taste continue to align with my own. If that ceases to be the case, I drop them without a thought – and when nothing really clicks, I keep looking around without discrimination.
If I do fall in love with something I don’t hesitate to others to give it a go. Usually, this is something related to food – a surprising but delicious pairing of ingredients, an amazing new restaurant – but sometimes, it’s fashion. I don’t expect people to take my word for it; I’m not often swayed by others either – I won’t be fooled by the fact that dress looks great on you, because I can tell at a glance whether it will also look good on me or whether it’s “me” at all. People who “copy” or “channel” others’ fashion and steal their shopping finds will never come to discover their own distinctive style or identity. That said… it can never hurt to broaden your horizons and at least contemplate new things.
Let me tell you about a “New Thing“. Today, we’re going to take a little break from examining food to enter a very different world.
When it comes to beauty and haircare products, I’ve always been all over the place. I rarely wear makeup and never foundation, so obviously sticking to a particular makeup brand or product range isn’t really a “thing” for me – I haven’t had to find the perfect shade for my skin tone or type. My hair, however, needs a little bit more love.
Being a colour nerd means I can never leave alone for long the bland black locks that nature gave me. Generally speaking, my hair is healthy and soft and it doesn’t take much bleaching to lighten it enough to re-colour it. However, keeping it up does mean sustaining a bit of damage, especially to my ends; and knowing this, I’ve always been careful to avoid “supermarket brands” of haircare whenever possible. But that hasn’t stopped me from buying all sorts of different brands of nicer shampoos and conditioners over the years – I’ve never settled on one as I’ve never quite been able to tell the difference! I can see the obvious quality discrepancies between a bottle of $6 supermarket conditioner and a $25 salon quality brand conditioner, but not as clearly between all the different $20-$30 products. So I keep trying different ones, in the hopes that one day, one will stand out.
Then I started using Osmo. Hailing from the UK from humble “cult” roots, Osmo arrived in Australia only this year and my good friend Kasia (who is not one to advocate for something she doesn’t believe in whether it’s her job or not!) handles the PR for the country’s only distributor. Osmo offers a range of salon-grade products accessible to both professionals and the average home user.
When I bought my first Osmo products, my hair was purple from the ears down. Not purplish-tinted, but actual purple. Being that my locks tend to require minimal maintenance otherwise, my first priority was to keep the purple vibrant. My second priority was to continuing keeping my ends healthy, and a very close third, to add body and volume to my thin hair.
My very first order contained a 1 litre bottle of Colour Mission Colour Save shampoo and a 1 litre bottle of Extreme Volume conditioner – the big bottles were a leap of faith, but not a giant one as so many friends had already tried and loved Osmo. The Colour Save product, containing anti-fade magic and UV filters, promised to prevent colour loss when shampooing my hair as well as provide it with much wanted moisturising, and the conditioner was said to make my hair weightless, strong and full bodied.
The verdict? Bad news first, though there isn’t much of it at all – my only complaint was that I’m not at all fond of the fragrance of neither the shampoo nor conditioner; but as they’re not strong, it hasn’t been an issue.
The Extreme Volume was extremely effective, and more so than the vast majority of the expensive salon volumusing conditioners I’ve ever tried. At times it worked almost too well and I had to take care to comb and style while blow drying to ensure my hair didn’t poof up all over the place from the fantastic lift the product gave to my roots! Yup, I could definitely see a difference here, and that was using only the conditioner without the Extreme Volume shampoo!
The Colour Save shampoo had less obvious effects, though I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a lovely, pearly shampoo and leaves my hair moisture rich and the colour reasonably sharp after several washes, so yes, it does its job and does it quite well – however, I will not say that it is a big notch above other good quality colour protection shampoos I have used.
But then… with my next order came the amazing product my hair colour really couldn’t do with out. Meet Osmo’s Colour Revive range.
If you read the instructions for use on the bottle, it reads a little like a temporary hair dye like Fudge Paintbox, but it’s far from it! In fact, Colour Revive is totally natural, ammonia and peroxide free and infused with Avocado Oil, vitamin A and vitamin B and also acts as a deep moisturising hair treatment. And yet, not only does it protect and prolong colour, it adds it – by using it only once a week, it gave a very strong boost to the colour of my hair and prolonged the sharpness of the purple by at least 50%.
At the time, my hair was coloured using a combination of purple and pink shades of Manic Panic Amplified and Special Effects semi-permanent dyes, which tended to fade and lose its vibrancy every 3 weeks or so. With Colour Revive, my hair stayed shiny and purple for over 2 months, and also gradually changed a little to veer towards the deep violet tint of the Colour Revive shade I was using rather than the fuchsia-purple I originally had. This is by no means a bad thing – by the time you want to recolour your hair, the treatment easily comes out with a few shampoos and you’re all set for your next hair adventure!
^ Fresh semi-permanent colour
^ 6 weeks later, using Colour Revive
After a year and a half as a purple-haired Asian, I was ready for a change, though I didn’t realise it until I booked a last minute appointment at a salon and impulsively turned my purple dip-dye into a blonde-brown-black ombre. Here’s what my hair looked like the day after I took the plunge:
Immediately, I bought the Colour Revive in Platinum and squeezed less than a quarter of a bottle into my conditioner. By this time, I had also acquired the Colour Save conditioner and started using that on my ends for extra moisture, while still using Extreme Volume on my roots for body. As the toner the salon put into my hair washed out, the Platinum Colour Revive (silvery in appearance) kept my lightened ends pretty and blonde by neutralising the yellow tones in the bleached hair.
But I still had over half a bottle of Violet Colour Revive left – whatever was I going to do with it?! Early one morning, on a whim in the shower, I got creative. Using my previous mixing idea, I grabbed another bottle of Osmo Colour Save conditioner and oozed a whole heap of Violet into it and just squirt or two of the Platinum for good measure. I estimate that the Colour Revive to conditioner ratio was a little less than 1:3. I then shampooed and rinsed my hair as usual, squeezed out most of the excess moisture and slapped on my Conditioning Colour Concoction (say that three times fast!) almost haphazardly. I tied up my hair and went about my other showerly activities for about 4 minutes, then rinsed out the “CCC”.
Here was the result:
I was beyond pleased! I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but this was pretty much what I’d hoped for or imagined. I’m not sure what I would have done if it was a disaster, as the next thing I had to do was head in to work. To my corporate job. Now, I’ve decided to use my purple-ised conditioner once every two weeks or so to get the occasional pastel pink dip dye effect, and my silver-ised conditioner the rest of the time to maintain my blonde. It’s a perfect routine, and I thank Osmo for it!
Some of my friends are developing slightly worrying Osmo addictions, because it’s that good – I’m not quite there yet, but let me tell you about a couple more products I think are pretty cool.
Every girl with long hair needs good dry shampoo in her life. Because of its fineness, my hair becomes oily quite quickly, yet I don’t want to use shampoo everyday for various reasons (hair health, laziness, colour prolonging, though that’s no longer applicable), but cheap dry shampoos smell cheap and are only semi-effective, and others leave powdery white residue visible on my dark roots. I’ve used just a few which have been good, including some designed just for dark hair. Osmo’s Day Two Styler is not specifically for dark hair, but it brushes through remarkably evenly leaving not a trace. It is as effective at removing oil as any of the better products I’ve used, better than most at adding volume, and best of all, it actually smells amazing with notes of citrus.
Lastly, the Power Dust is potent stuff! Just a couple of dabs of this miracle powder and your hair will rule the universe! Ok, not really, but it will double in size and drama, and if you have super soft hair like me which just won’t stay put without hair spray, this will help, too. But beware about using too much – not only is it unnecessary, an excess of the stuff will also make your hands and hair sticky.
After months of trials and experimentation, I think finally found a haircare brand I can be “loyal” to… for now. Are you as convinced as I am yet? I have no doubt I’ll gradually make my way through Osmo’s entire product range and I promise to report back with my verdict on each one.
In the meantime, you can try Osmo’s products for yourself; and while you’re at it, why not follow them on Facebook for tips and tricks, and success stories from other real, happy customers? Go on. Don’t just take my word for it.
One Monday noon at the end of winter, I opened up my tupperware container at work and was greeted by the enticing aroma of truffle. Feeling super smug in the office, I drank in the smell and then savoured every spoonful of the creamy soup. Here was a beautifully “gourmet” version of a frequent weekday lunch staple for me…
As some of you might have seen on Facebook, I’ve had some dramas this week with this blog. First, I wasn’t able to log into my WordPress control panel because it decided I didn’t exist as a user (nor any of the other admin accounts I’d created). Then, when I contacted my web host, even though I told them the most recent working date was last Friday, they decided to restore the database from a backup made more than three weeks ago, hence erasing all the posts and drafts I had worked on since then.
Why, I asked them, would they do something so stupid? Because, they explained, that was the last backup they had of my database as the “daily” backups had been glitching for my account. Thanks for telling me, guys.
Through half a dozen different tricks and some pure luck, I managed to salvage all the posts I had already published, so what you see won’t have changed, but what I did lose was a fully written up yet unpublished post for this recipe. I had this whole intro about how much I love soup – it was a freaking ode to soup, and now it’s gone, and I can’t be bothered.
I think it was something along the lines of how one of my food pet peeves is when people say soup isn’t meal food or isn’t filling. Because it is, ok? If you’ve ever made soup personally, you’ll know that the ingredients were just as solid and real as ever before they transformed into soupy form – it’s not as if they can lose mass through this transformation. Science, people!
Soup is also one of the easiest and quickest ways to have a nutritionally complete meal. On the wintry weekends when I get a chance to, I whip up a big batch that can feed two of us over three weekday lunches or dinners plus fill a couple of freezer zip-lock bags for later.
I don’t often include potato or cream in these batches – I prefer lighter and healthier options to get through my week. However, I couldn’t think of anything better than to pair this more indulgent favourite of mine with the Tasmanian truffle from Madame Truffles I still had left after making lamb ragu.
Normally, I like to have my potato and leek soup with a mild and extra creamy blue cheese, however, in this case I have omitted cheese to allow the taste of the truffle to shine through.
Creamy Potato and Leek soup with Black Truffle
Things to note
Serves: 5 – 6
Time required: An hour or a bit more
What to grab from the shops
Fresh truffle (I used Tasmanian black truffle)
White truffle oil
1 ltr vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 tbsp thickened cream (can substitute with vegan alternatives such as unsweetened almond milk or cashew milk)
1 leek – pale green and white parts – (finely chopped)
4 potatoes with sweet flesh – I used decadent ‘dutch creams’ (sliced into wedges or roughly 3cm cubes)
1 small onion, preferably white, or brown (roughly diced)
2 parsnips (in 2-3cm slices)
6 garlic cloves (minced or very finely chopped)
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (roughly chopped)
Lets get soupin’
- Rinse leeks and use only the white and pale green parts – chop off and discard the roots and dark green tops. Cut leeks lengthways and slice finely across.
- Peel potatoes and cut into wedges, then cubes of around 3cm. Peel parsnips and cut into 2-3 cm slices.
- Heat butter in a large pot until it just starts to foam. Add onion and garlic and fry on medium heat until translucent.
- Add leeks and continue to sauté for 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add potatoes, parsnips and parsley to the pot, then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Blend with a hand-held stick blender until smooth. Strain through a large sieve for extra smooth lusciousness!
- Add cream and blitz with the blender again.
- Add half of the truffle shavings and the truffle oil and mix in thoroughly.
- Serve, topped with freshly chopped parsley and the remaining shaved truffle. Optionally, drizzle in a little cream. Stir in before eating.
After obtaining two little beautiful treasures from Madame Truffles this year, I don’t think I’ll ever again pass up an opportunity to cook with fresh truffles if I can get my hands on some. I’m already scheming for next season.
Last week, when I posted about South Melbourne, I promised a couple of truffle-based recipes derived from my experiments… so here I am, delivering. This amazingly aromatic, really sort of ugly little fungal delicacy really works great in so many things – I even found myself casually placing a few fresh shavings in my jaffle maker to fancy up a lazy weeknight dinner. I wish I had more recipes to share, but typical of me, I didn’t write anything down most of the time.
This is such an indulgent dish – decadent and very rich, I can’t seem to quite devour it in quite my usual gluttonous homecooking serving sizes, though my palate very much resents the fact.
Lamb ragu pappardelle with shaved black Australian truffle and pecorino
Things to note
Time needed: About 3 to 3½ hours
What you’ll need
1 kg lamb shoulder
1 ltr approx fresh chicken stock
½ ltr vegetable stock
250 mL dry white wine
10g black truffle (with truffle slicer or microplane)
Butter – about a 3cm slice from a standard stick
8 garlic cloves (minced)
1 white onion (sliced into half rings)
2 shallots (diced)
2 carrots (1 diced, 1 roughly sliced)
2 purple carrots (1 diced, 1 roughly sliced)
3 sticks of celery (chopped approx 1 cm pieces)
5 sprigs thyme (1 sprig finely chopped)
⅓ bunch parsley (finely chopped)
Black Pepper (cracked)
Homemade Napoli sauce (see recipe and ingredients below) or fresh, good quality store bought
NB: For even richer and more decadent results, replace butter in this recipe with homemade truffle butter. It’s fairly easy and Google with help with a recipe!
- Rub lamb in salt and pepper and cover for 30 min. Sear the lamb in a large lidded casserole dish or dutch oven, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- Add butter to casserole dish. Fry onions, shallots and garlic in butter until slightly translucent.
- Add sliced carrots (1 purple, 1 orange) and chopped celery and continue to saute for 10 minutes
- Add the remaining butter. Place the lamb back in the dish, then pour in the chicken stock and white wine. Add parsley and the whole sprigs of thyme (leaving the chopped thyme for later). Stir a little and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover the casserole dish and place in the oven. Roast for 1 hour.
Beginning the sauce…
- While the lamb is roasting, make the Napoli sauce (see recipe)
- After the first hour, turn down the oven temperature to 150°C and roast lamb for a further 1 hour 10 min.
- Remove casserole dish from oven and take off the lid. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- Remove lamb from dish and place on a large chopping board.
- Remove the solid vegetables in the dish (they will be quite mushy – we used them for flavour during cooking) and discard. Strain the cooking juices through a sieve and muslin into a separate bowl or container.
- Add the Napoli sauce from earlier into the now empty casserole dish, and bring to a simmer. Add the diced purple and orange carrots.
- Add the cooking juices from the lamb reserved just earlier to the casserole with the sauce and carrots. Simmer for 20 mins while completing the next step.
Pulled lamb ragu
- Start to pull the lamb meat off the bone with a fork. It should fall off quite easily. Pull meat apart further using forks, as you would for pulled pork, until quite fine.
- Add pulled lamb into casserole dish with carrots and Napoli sauce to complete the ragu. Cook for 10 minutes on low heat, stirring.
- Add chopped thyme. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Shave some truffle and pecorino using a microplane – the amount is up to you.
- Cook pappardelle in a large pot until al dente. Lift the pappardelle out of the pot with pasta server or tongs, while shaking very gently to get rid of excess moisture. It may not be necessary to drain the pot as this way the pasta will remain more starchy and able to hold sauce more easily.
- Place pasta in serving dishes and add the ragu. Drizzle with a wee bit of EVO and garnish with truffle shavings and shaved pecorino. (If you like, spoon one tablespoon of the starchy water the pasta has been cooked in into the pasta sauce while it’s still simmering. Otherwise, just add the freshly cooked sauce to the fresh cooked pasta immediately for good results.)
Simple Napoli sauce
What you’ll need
4 vine tomatoes
1 tin diced Italian tomatoes
½ large (or 1 small) brown onion (diced)
5 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp quality tomato paste
½ bunch basil (finely chopped)
5 sprigs oregano (torn/broken)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Black Pepper (cracked)
What to do
- Blanch the tomatoes and peel. Then dice roughly and place aside.
- Heat half of the olive oil in a saucepan on medium. Add onions and garlic and sautee until translucent.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, the rest of the olive oil and the brown sugar. Crush with a wooden spoon as you stir and bring to a light simmer.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, salt and pepper, and bring slowly back to a simmer.
- Turn heat down to low. Add half the oregano and half the basil.
- Simmer on low heat, partially covered for 1 hour.
- Stir in the remaining basil and oregano
^ Back to main dish
When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived right on the cusp of Southbank and South Melbourne and as KP was still working in Auckland, I spent many an evening after work and many a Sunday afternoon wandering alone through the two areas.
The atmosphere and pace of life of these two adjoining neighbourhoods are vastly different – worlds apart. Southbank is one of Melbourne’s main centres of entertainment and nightlife, thanks to the massive Crown complex and the Southgate precinct, comprising a casino, cinemas, upscale shopping and countless restaurants, food courts, bars and clubs. So, by night, Southbank buzzes with excitement, and by day, it’s a haven for families – you can stroll along the river with a gelato in hand, or there is the Melbourne Aquarium. On the residential side, City Road is littered with high-rise apartments and the Southbank Boulevard area with low-rise ones.
South Melbourne, in contrast, is a much quieter neighbourhood which feels every inch more like a suburb than part of the inner city. Cute old rickety houses populate green, tree-lined streets along with unassuming but often very good cafes and bars also hiding among them.
Clarendon Street serves as its main road and “town centre”, containing everything you could need from supermarkets, pubs, Asian and pizza takeaway joints, Max Brenner, a fish and chip shop (Hunky Dory), Nandos and Grill’d, Telstra/Optus/Vodafone stores, a hardware store, even a printing shop. More recent additions include a modernised Vietnamese pho eatery cheekily called Wat Da Pho and a Malaysian restaurant.
But I believe the real linch-pin of this neighbourhood is South Melbourne Market. I’ve been to quite a few markets in Melbourne, and this is by far my favourite in terms of size, selection of vendors and most importantly, the atmosphere. I now live closer to Queen Victoria Market, but I still always to go to So’Me for all of my meat and produce needs. QVM is too messy, scattered and busy, and somehow the people who shop at So’Me just seem more well-behaved and considerate. Maybe it’s the snob and yuppie in me?
South Melbourne Market has been around since 1867, which makes it 11 years older than its more famous cousin Queen Vic Market, and is also the oldest continually running market in Victoria. Some of the highlights include The Fresh Pasta Shop (don’t let the unoriginal name fool you), Fruits on Coventry which has every herb for Asian and European cooking you could dream of, Padre Coffee for their coffee, Clement for their amazing filled donuts – a variety of flavours available every week (together these two coffee shops are bringing hipster culture south of the river), Georgie’s Harvest for their impressive selection of potatoes and root veges as well as their knowledge and enthusiasm about what they do, and of course most of the butchers and poultry shops are also of a great standard. There are a few cupcake shops and places that sell macarons, and all are fine but none have wow’d me so far.
Here, also, is the practically iconic South Melbourne Market Dim Sims – opened in the 1940s, this was one of the first places responsible for popularising the unique Melbourne-style “dim sim”, not to be confused with dim sums (Cantonese for “snacks”, usually dumplings). A Melbourne dim sim is basically a giant-ified pork siu mai but about twice the size and usually served deep-fried and somewhat adapted to the Western-dude-eats-Chinese-takeaways palate. I’m not the hugest fan – they can’t hold a candle to the delicate steamed dumplings you get at a good old traditional yum cha – but they’re great for a quick winter snack if you get hungry while grocery shopping.
Out of the restaurants attached to the market, my favourites would probably be Simply Spanish and Claypots Evening Star, although one visit to Koy convinced me that it’s not too shabby either. Aside their table service, Claypots does a roaring “street food” trade of skewered BBQ octopus and fish rolls, while Simply Spanish cooks up huge paellas outdoors that serve as a perfect gourmet takeaway dinner.
Also worth checking out nearby: Passionfoods (behind the market, on Ferrars Street, below the Tram 96 light rail) – a well-stocked whole foods grocer which has all the healthy/vegan/organic products your heart can desire, which I much prefer to the smaller organics shop within the market itself – and Chef’s Hat (just across the road from the market) – a huge kitchen supply (and appliance) store with reasonable prices.
^ Chef’s Hat
Then there’s Coventry Street, running perpendicular to the market, which, lined with its variety of charming fashion, art and homeware boutiques, independent bookshops and cute brunch spots, could be my favourite part of South Melbourne.
My personal food favourites here include Giddiup, a tiny, cute cafe with good coffee, and wood crates for seating, Chez Dré with its delicious breakfasts, French cakes and pastries and delicate macarons.
Amongst all the other wonderful finds on Coventry, I have a soft spot for OnStone – a studio where you can have your own photos and images printed on stone, framed lovingly with recycled wood and backed with recycled styrofoam, and there are also pre-printed art pieces for purchase. Their service is excellent and they once rushed a job for me in 2 days, when I needed it in time to fly back to New Zealand with a Mother’s Day gift, and even let me pick it up after hours.
Adding to the delights of Coventry – Gigi a la maison (photos above), an adorable little boutique full of French-themed household items; a design store I can’t remember the name of with funky random homeware and apparel stocks big stackable crayons, wallets made of recycled paper (many with prints that also happen to appear on Black Milk items), and scrunchable city maps that you can “crumple” up and stick in your pocket on your travels; Nest, with natural skincare and gorgeous homeware galore; and Coventry Bookstore, which has a carefully curated selection of books, a clean, appealing and modern interior and a little children’s nook at the back.
Not particularly interesting but super convenient is the stretch of Clarendon Street between Coventry and Dorcas Streets, which are filled mostly with chain establishments such as Kikki K (not that there’s anything wrong with Kiki K!) and Coles and others I mentioned earlier, like Max Brenner (again, who doesn’t need some Max Brenner hot choccie on a wintry day?)
There’s also a pretty florist and a cute cafe called the Old Paper Shop Deli that I frequented when I first moved to Melbourne as it had such an enticing window display of cakes and sweets (which in taste weren’t always as beautiful as they appeared).
Of the various joints scattered throughout the rest of the neighbourhood, I would mention Garamerica – a good Indonesian restaurant, Dead Man Espresso – they really know their coffee and have beautiful blends as well as single origin beans, Lamaro’s Dining Room and Bar – a great gastropub with a charming atmosphere and a host of devoted regulars and who once took KP and I on a wine and produce tour of the Mornington Peninsula followed by a degustation meal of wild mushrooms and duck and other delights back at the bar, Peko Peko, the Taiwanese cafe I reviewed recently, Hercules Morse, a small bar named after a dog in New Zealand children’s book with an excellent sharing plates menu and friendly, attractive bartenders… and then of course, St. Ali.
Located in a quiet, graffiti’d lane off Yarra Street (which is off Clarendon), St. Ali, along with Chez Dré, was one of my more regular brunch haunts back when I lived on the edge of South Melbourne. I believe I’ve been about seven or eight times, which for someone who likes to constantly be trying new places is quite an achievement. But why? The coffee is excellent, but I’m not a huge coffee drinker nor a connoisseur, and the food, frankly has been hit and miss and I tend to like Chez Dré dishes better. It has to be the combination of a few reasons – firstly, the buzz and atmosphere play a big part. It’s just such a happy, vibrant place to be on a Saturday morning, and the service is efficient but warm, especially if you ask them about the coffee specials. Secondly, when the food is good, it’s brilliant.
Thirdly, they have seasonal menus, so it’s always worth going to try something else to see if you’ll love it. Fourthly, well fine – it was hip and trendy and maybe we bought into that just a little. Fifthly (I think we might be getting to a number where this isn’t really a word?) they had great lamingtons at the counter and I would grab one to take with me after brunch and sixthly, well, they were just super close.
And then each winter, there’s an extra incentive to head to St. Ali. Truffles. The fungi kind, not the chocolate kind. Fresh, marbled, deliciously aromatic. There’s a sort of shed next to the cafe which played host from July 4th to August 10th to Madame Truffles, a seasonal pop up shop for fresh Australian truffles. When you went in, the helpful and knowledgeable staff would let you smell a variety of truffles and then select the one you wanted to take home. They would point out to you the beautiful marbling detail in a cross-section and explain the differences between the truffles sourced from various areas.
Truffles were priced based on origin and weight, packaged in a little glass jar, and you would take home along with it a little piece of card with the name of the dog who had found your truffle. It was a really cute touch. The first truffle we bought was from Deloraine, Tasmania, and Rex was the doggy who had sniffed it out for us. When we returned, we chose a truffle from Braidwood, NSW and it was a labrador named Sal who had discovered it.
Next door, in St. Ali itself, they were serving the seasonal special dish of truffle toasties, which were as delicious as they sound. Truffle, pecorino and truffle vinaigrette on toasted sourdough – it doesn’t get much better than that. I wish I could share a photo of it, but it was on a phone that I stupidly wiped without backing up before selling it.
Simplicity was the key here – let the truffle’s truffliness speak for itself! Inspired, I went home and experimented with a few dishes and I shall be posting those which I think made the most out of the beautiful truffles we obtained this winter.
Good Taiwanese food hasn’t been easy to find in my adopted city of Melbourne. Granted, it’s not exactly something every Aucklander would know where to look for in their own city, either, but since I’m Taiwanese-born and Auckland-raised, I kind of had to make it my business to know.
Although I had favourite haunts in Auckland, I’m not convinced that anything ever compares to the traditional Taiwanese street food sold on the streets of Taiwan. I’m sure every Asian foodie says that about the street food of their home country, but let me tell you, I’ve been to all of your countries, and the street food is bloody good but I can find at least one or two places here in Melbourne that can do it as well or almost as well. Not so in my case.
And it has nothing to do with authenticity.
So what is it, then?
1) Outside of Taiwan, true Taiwanese eateries are few and far between, compared to everything else there is (Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian etc etc)
2) Following on from point 1, the lack of competition doesn’t exactly inspire going above and beyond in your cooking. More competitors means everyone has to raise their game! No competitors means your average home cook could run a restaurant.
3) Also because of point 1, most Melbourne Taiwanese eateries feel that they can’t specialise. They normally have a large menu that tries to give you a taste of many traditional Taiwanese dishes. Everything in one place sounds good, right? but…
3) This means they just can’t possibly get as skilled at making each of the dishes as those market street vendors in Taiwan that just churn out serving after serving of exactly the same thing for 8 hours a day to a never-ending queue of local patrons, who, by the way, are also bound to be pickier about quality.
The pertinent problem in Melbourne is that when almost anyone thinks about Taiwanese food, they think about this fairly awful place called Taiwan Cafe on Swanston Street. They serve a huge variety of my favourite Taiwanese street foods, all of them every traditional “authentic” dishes and snacks… and they do them all very badly.
Perfectly understandable that they’re well known and always packed, because the eatery is on one of the busiest streets in the CBD on a very prominent corner, and has great signage – but that only proves that location and marketing work. I’ve been to Taiwan Cafe about five times now, each time hoping that it would get better or that I remembered wrongly about how tasteless the food is, but each time being disappointed. I won’t ever return again.
You’d think that avoidance would solve the “problem” for me, but the real issue is that I’m a huge advocate for Taiwanese food and it’s hard to be convincing when such a crappy restaurant is the primary example that comes to mind for everyone when the cuisine is mentioned, purely because it’s well located and blah, blah, blah, and it’s even worse that they service supposedly authentic food.
The truth is, in inner Melbourne, there don’t seem to be any very good eateries serving traditional Taiwanese. There’s one that’s ok in the CBD – certainly a few notches above Taiwan Cafe – Taiwan Canteen on Exhibition Street. It’s not amazing by any means, but the food is decent, and doesn’t taste like cardboard; so if you’re the middle of the city and you want to try some Taiwanese food, please walk past that busy Swanston Street corner and just go up a few blocks. It’ll be worth it.
So, what about wider metropolitan Melbourne – where else can you go for actually good Taiwanese food? Well, I haven’t quite finished discovering that myself. We’ve talked about Peko Peko, but there is one more spot in Northcote that I have tried, loved and can recommend. Again, it’s not as strictly traditional as other (far inferior) eateries you’ll see around… but more on that later!
Disclaimer: This rant may or may not just have been an excuse to show you photos of Taiwanese street food from my visit back in 2011.