Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COOL JAPAN @ Nama Nama

I had walked past Nama Nama on my way to work for so long before Yalei and I decided to hit it up last week. The younger brother of Izakaya Den reaks of Japan chic, and I'd wondered about this neat little eatery, tucked away in the corner of the city, for quite some time. Nama Nama fits in with Melbourne's CBD as much as it stands out, but is made particularly noticeable by the wooden tables and seats outside the restaurant, stamped in loud red, Asahi logos. Cute.

Inside, the cafe is quite beautiful, fitted out in kind of 'scanjapan' style - that is a mix, of woody and simple Japanese design, with more westernised furnishings and affects that I associate with Scandinavia. Staff are also really great, super friendly and very attentive. When Yalei ordered her second Japanese lemonade (they have those strange click, ball openings) they asked her if she wanted to 'crack it' herself, and when she did it, three of them cheered and clapped - Adorbs. Big props to the staff.

I don't know if it was all the natural light, or the relatively quiet nature of this restaurant compared to most of the city, but Nama Nama has really good, calming vibes. It's cool, but not nauseatingly so and there isn't a particular 'crowd'. Although I'm sure it gets busy during the lunchtime rush hour, there was also enough space to feel like you had a little privacy.  

I kind of feel bad for Japanese food, because it has so many cheap imitations here in Melbourne, but there is none of this 'smoked salmon sushi' here and not a single soy sauce fish could be found.  

Enticed by the delights that are displayed on the front counter, I choose a bento box. The deal is you choose your box, and then you select its components from the little selections offered. So, you pick   a salad, a raw choice, rice piece, a house specialty and a main, with the majority of the five componants displayed at the front - hence the name, 'Nama Nama' which translates to 'fresh fresh'.

I had wanted to choose the salmon, but they were out, so choose the eggplant instead. Eggplant isn't my favourite dish texture-wise, I find it kind of sludgy, so I wasn't quite taken with this one, although the sauce was appropriately zany with the rice, and they did pop the last little piece of salmon in too, which was tasty. I also had the Kingfish sushimi, which was leaf-wrapped and tasted fresh and easy. One salad, with fried noodles was light and fitting with the rest of the bento. My favourite part however, was a little mix of cold vegetables, a mix of raw snow peas, capsicum and corn in a kind of fried pastry, wonton style cup.

However, Yalei did enjoy her Udon. Apparently Nama Nama is one of the only places in Melbourne that makes their Udon by hand - or rather, by foot. This sounds kind of nasty, but kind of neat at the same time, because they wear a sock-type covering and roll the Udon into noodles with the bottom of their soles. I'd like to see this. Yalei reported that you can feel the imperfections in the 'grain' of the noodles, but couldn't taste much of a difference, but the tempura prawns were well cooked and the soup flavoursome.

Nama Nama's udon is it's own shining star. From my research, 6 months on from opening, Nama Nama remains the only place in Melbourne 'handcrafting' their own udon, which is pretty amazing. Also, Nama Nama is open for breakfast which also provides a pretty serious point of difference to the usual brunch spots in the CBD. It also has a bar upstairs that broadsheet has called 'moody' which is cool, i guess.

Although, I did like Nama Nama and considered it a positive dining experience, I do think it is over priced. $18 for a bento box is kind of crazy; although the options were certainly more interesting in comparison to your 'sushi sushi' shopping centre kind of bentos, and felt considerably more authentic. $15 for the udon is not too painful, but isn't exactly cheap at the same time. Generally though, for me, the portions just aren't big enough to justify the price, especially with the bentos, when the majority of the fillings had been prepared earlier and were cold, and it's really due to the rice that one feels 'full' after.



31 Spring Street

Mon - Fri 7am - 5pm
Sat - Sun 8am - 5pm

Good for: Interesting and quirky Japanese food, and an uplifting lunch. I really enjoyed all-round simplicity of the venue, and the presentation of food. They also serve market lane coffee which is a bonus, and Japanese style breakfast.
Vegetarians: Are well catered for.
Seats: Customers should have plenty of seating options. Inside, outside, on the bench, on tables and even on more traditional Japanese seating arrangements. We sat at the bar, near the front window and that was fine.
Wait time: There was not seating wait.
Food waiting time: Around 10 minutes.
Cost: I spent $21.00 all up, including my Japanese lemonade and bento. Yalei's came to about $18 for her udon and drink. I didn't think the bento was amazing value, although I was glad I tried it. However, I would return to try the udon.

Nama Nama on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 14, 2012



From the look of this blog, you probably don't believe that I've lost 95% of my precious mornings to work, but unfortunately they are now disappointing rare, and thus brunch is a very special treat. However, there was this one time a last week that Anties and I went to Collective Espresso for breakfast, and what a delight that was.

Collective Espresso is located in Camberwell, just up from the station, and was one of the first neat little cafes to pop up in the area. I have to say, as I grew up around here, a year or so ago there was quite a drought for a place that was still affordable, had really good coffee and the clincher, wasn't pram, or walking-frame ridden. But recently, more people have cottoned on to the fact that this was (and still kind of is) yummy mummy central, and now their kids have grown into young adults. So I'm going to start by thanking Collective Espresso for doing their bit to fill this void.

Good coffee. I was so in love with this meal

So we went to Collective Espresso on some nondescript morning to suss it out. We began with coffees, because it was 8am (ergh), and moved on to ordering (ahh!). You know how some places have a menu, and you just don't think about it, you pick and you order and it arrives and you eat? Collective Espresso is not like that. Simple dishes weren't part of the menu, which only added to that nice feeling of suspense after ordering. I didn't know how they would pull off the dishes so extensively described in the menu, but they did.   

The service was prompt without being annoying attentive, and came out about 10 minutes after. Good good. I chose the sake, orange and miso cured salmon, herb and zucchini pancakes and corn relish with poached eggs.

To begin with the obvious, the food was so wonderfully presented, it was like we were served up a section of someones freshly bloomed garden for brunch. Both dishes were wonderfully coloured, and looked fresh and vibrant. Antonia's even had flowers!! The portions were also really well done; enough fresh salmon, enough egg, enough of the amazing fritters. Do you know how rare this is? To get just the right amount of really great food from a good cafe?

Normally, I'm not such a big fan of corn relish, but the one with this salmon dish one was subtle enough (on the corn front) to be complementary to the fritters. I couldn't make out the 'cured sake, orange, and miso' component of the salmon, but all the same, it tasted wonderful, was textually diverse and a really, creative meal. Everything was just so good, and so pretty with tiny details on each plate, like the pieces of fried salmon skin to garnish.

Anties ordered the ricotta and blueberry dumplings with poached fruit, thyme sand, labna and mapel. It was so good, you guys. We were loving it. The blueberry dumplings were also amazing, surrounded by fresh fruit, with a smear of labna and a sprinkling of icing sugar. Apparently, they were like doughnuts but without the heavy, oily feeling.
Cost-wise, EC exceeded my budget. But this was brunch, and brunch is my favourite meal, so I will forgive it for the $1.50 that capped off the usual $20. And also, because I don't know if you noticed, but I really liked this place. 

I'm a bit hesitant to say this, but Collective Espresso may be my favourite brunch place in Melbourne. There is always another place to try, but I can tell this will remain in the back of my head when someone brings up early morning eating.


3 Cookson Street, Camberwell

Mon - Fri 7 - 4

Sat - Sun 8 - 4

Good for: Monday-Friday Breakfasts and super coffee. I haven't been here on Saturday but I would assume it gets crazy, and I don't think you'd even get through the door without a wait on market days.
Vegetarians: Have a good share of decent, creative options. I liked the sound of the 'Spiced vegan ratatouille cannelloni beans'.
Seats: I'm not a big fan of communal tables (is anyone?) especially in a smaller cafe like this one, so for us, sitting outside is fine, providing the people you're seated between aren't too loud.
Wait time: None. We found a table out the front right away. It was about 8am though.
Food waiting time: Around 10 minutes.
Cost: I spent $21.50 all up, so it's a little over budget but totes worth it.


Collective Espresso on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

FAST FEWD @ Miss Chu

Yalei and I braved the 9 to 5ers when we popped into Miss Chu for lunch a couple of weeks ago. The competition for table space, counter space, seats, lunch bags and attention from wait staff come 1pm is pretty damn fierce. For this reason, if you’re the more on timid the side, maybe hold back a couple of hours and try for dinner. This place is on high rotation, so you have to be quick.

But I’m not saying it’s not worth it. It is. I’ve been to Miss Chu’s a few times now, and it’s always in the back of my head when I want a simple meal in the CBD with minimal fuss. Sure, it’s always chaotic, and you’ve got to be quick on your feet to grab a table, but I am, so I feel like this restaurant and I are a good match.

Always a fan of house-special drinks, Yalei ordered the frozen coconut-mint drink, which is an icy concoction that you can also order with vokda. She got a virgin one, as above ($6). She also ordered the duck pancake ($3) which was a bit smaller then anticipated, but apparently tasted amazing. We shared the prawn and crab net spring rolls ($6) which are incredibly light and so easy to eat quickly. Instead of using thicker Chinese style pastry, Miss Chu’s thing is to use rice paper, so the skin is crispy and light with a fresh filling, without that really greasy feeling you get with most spring rolls. There is none of that miscellaneous green, "vegetable" stuff in there either. I ordered the seared atlantic salmon, which came with rice ($13) and light greens on the side. I always come back to this dish, because they hit you with a decent amount of salmon, and the vegetables are always fresh and cooked well. I also got a raspberry and apple juice ($3.5)

Prawn & Crab Net Spring Rolls 

I really like Miss Chu, and it’s the general vibe and the affordable, satisfying food that keeps me going back. There are a lot of good things about this place. To begin with, it’s all about fair trade and organic ingredients, and no MSG. I think it’s great the the owner tributes her Vietnamese-Laotian heritage by using her Australian visa photo from her childhood as the icon of the restaurant. They also have free WiFi (should you have enough table space to open a laptop) and deliver take-away orders within 1 km of the restaurant, which I should totally jump on now that I spend three quatres of my life in the CBD.

It's interesting to note that this place is pretty white-washed, despite the owner being of the same origin, and each time I’ve visited, is providing non-offensive Vietnamese fair to a large majority of white, young profs in a contemporary setting.

The only downside is that the service is a bit iffy, and the waitstaff have a tenancy to throw your meal across your table at you, Shanghai-Dumpling-style. Rush times are kind of a bun fight where you have to look out for yourself, because the wait staff are too busy to be escorting you anywhere. But you can tell that this is more under staffing and a lack of space and even perhaps a lack of commitment to customer interaction that makes the service a bit dicey.

The Seared Atlantic Salmon with rice and greens


297 Exhibition Street, Melbourne

11am- 10pm daily 

Good for: Easy, fast and informal dining with groups of up to about 4 people. Would be perfect to visit before a gig or a show, but probably get in before peak hour to avoid a wait.
Vegetarians: Have lots of options, as do the health conscious.
Seats: Try to get a table, although you may have to share with another group. The counters are a good idea to save space on the restaurant floor, but sitting there isn't ideal, especially if you're there to eat with other people.
Wait time: It was about 5 minutes before we spotted a table and nabbed it.
Food waiting time: Around 7 minutes- very quick.
Cost: Good value, and one of the cheaper lunch or dinner options I've encountered in Melbourne. My share of the spring rolls, the salmon and the drink clocked in just under budget at $19.50.


Miss Chu on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 7, 2012

OMG YUM @ Tree of Us

Last week I got an email from Christian, of the new Richmond cafe 'Tree of us' inviting me to come and visit. Tree of Us stands out from the formally industrial, now residential area of Richmond, thanks to a great tree and rooster artwork painted on one side of the corner cafe.

Inside, with two walls of the cafe windows, Tree of Us is a  lightfilled and cheery with potted plants hanging from the ceiling, and a church pew lining the solid wall. We were lucky enough to arrive on a quiet Monday morning, and the cafe had a easy vibe, welcoming us to the start of a busy week.

Cost wise, Tree of Us sits perfectly in the Poor Student Eats budget. My omelette sat well at around $14, and you can’t really beat a sit-down sammich for $8.

Although I debated between the smoked salmon and beetroot salad, I thought I'd live on the edge and ended up ordering the omelette with mushrooms, spinach, goat's cheese, and thyme. Omg yum. Textually, the omelette was spot on - soft and light without being firm or rubbery. I hadn't had mushrooms for ages, but this omelette has convinced me to return. Each component in the dish was well and truly present, complementary and flavourful without being too rich. I also enjoyed a substantial amount of goat's cheese hidden beneath the omelette's folds and there was just enough thyme to give a pleasant aroma to the meal. Top notch.

Antonia went for the less conventional pick of the 'chef's choice' sandwich, filled with peanut butter, honey and banana. A passionate banana detester for a long time, I never would have made this call, but a difference in preference is what friends of food bloggers are for. She really enjoyed the sandwich and its kooky combination of fillings, but said it would be nice to have another sweet element there as well, like strawberries for that added punch.

What I really liked about Tree of us is that it kind of bucks the trends most Melbourne cafes are following with vigor. The chairs have backs! The inside is warm and green, instead of cold and industrial! But the basic ingredients of a great cafe remain through their menu of quirky little dishes, great coffee and service that is informed and friendly, but allows for conversational-space too.

The Chef's choice sandwich

Both my friend and I agreed that it was great to see some new things on the menu. After a while, the brunch options from cafes begin to mimic each other - even with the quality ingredients they may contain. Sure, there are breakfast favourites that remain universally popular, but, to quote Antonia when everyone is serving 'smashed avocado with Meredith fetta' you can feel like you've read a menu once, twice, or three times before - but not so here. The simple dishes aren’t too foreign and you should be familiar with most of the offerings, but each is done so in a way that will bring new light to a old favourite.

Still in its first month, I look forward to seeing how Tree of Us grows in the future. They have strong the potential as a young cafe all ready to grow up. Pricewise, it’s spot on for a easy, hassle free breakfast, and I am looking forward to trying their dinner menu soon, and making a visiting their little courtyard for a Sunday session in the coming months. So if you ever find yourself in that strange divide between Bridge Road and Victoria Street, take a short walk down to Tree of Us for some good and wholesome brunchy fair. 

The hanging pot plants were super cute 






Good for: Easy and informal dining with groups of any size, a solid cup of coffee, cruisy breakfasts, dinners and for doses of sunshine, when the courtyard opens. 
Vegetarians: Will be happy with the selection on the menu as it caters for most eating preferences, with lots of healthy breakfast foods like eggs, mushrooms, lentils, beans and a couple of meaty options.
Wait time: Nil- we walked right on in.
Food waiting time: The perfect amount of time- about 10 minutes. Just enough to time to settle in before eating.
Cost: Good value, and one of the cheaper breakfast options I've encountered in Melbourne. You could easily come home with change from a 20 dollar note. 
Tree of us on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 1, 2012


I have the original meat and three veg father. While I will always turn to the most foreign thing on the menu, my dad will without-fail, order a steak with chips and vegetables. But last week, I made a stand and dragged him kicking and screaming (you know, in a grumbly father kind of way) to Ocha2go, on Burwood Road in Hawthorn, meters away from Hawthorn Station.

I really dig this weird Japanese restaurant, with it's strange purple and orange, semi-galactic interior, and from the amount of people popping in to pick up take-away, I'm far from being the only one. I've been coming here with friends for a few years now, and on the rare occasion that we hang out at home, it's been our standby for a solid Japanese meal.

Service at Ocha2go is a bit unusual. First timers to the restaurant don't quite know where to stand when they walk in, and debate if they should just pick a table and sit. At the same time, lines quickly grow around the single cash register as everyone orders from the front desk. I think they could probably do well with a few more staff, or begin taking orders from sit-in patron tables to help cut down the queing situation.

 Spicy Fish Karage

I ordered the Spicy Fish Karage, made up of floured, lightly fried pieces of fish in a green salad, which is then covered in cripsy fried noodles, with light chilli and garlic seasoning. This is one of my favourite options on the menu and I've never been disapointed. It's the perfect light meal, and provides more substance then eating a regular salad, with a slight citrus kick at the end.

My dad ordered the Sukiyaki Don - a beef dish with sukiyaki sauce, carrots, zucchini and tofu, sitting atop a mound of sticky rice. I am happy to report that he liked his meal and its serving size, even though it lacked the grilled hunk of steak I'm sure he would have envisioned for dinner that night - a pleasant surprise for all.   

The food came out quite fast, probably within 10 minutes of ordering which was great considering the amount of food that was being prepared for take-away and the other sit-in customers. What Ocha2go lacks in table service, they make up for in food quality and speed. I would recommend it if you find yourself looking for casual dining around the Hawthorn area.

The Sukiyaki was a hit 


 64 Burwood Road


Tues - Sunday 11.30am- 2.30pm, 5.30- 9.30 (Not open for lunch on weekends)

Good for: Easy and informal dining with groups of any size. While not the trendiest cafe, there is certainly something great in this place and I've never seen it empty. 
Vegetarians: Will be happy with the selection on the menu as it caters for most eating preferences, with lots of tofu, vegetable-based and seafood dishes.
Wait time: I would have stood in line to order for about 5 minutes.
Food waiting time: Not long as all; it is the type of place where your drink arrives only a few seconds before your meal does.
Cost: Really good value. The spicy fish was $13.50 and the sukiyaki don was $16.50. All up, including drinks, we paid around $35.

 Ocha2go on Urbanspoon