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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Happy Kappa

When I think lunch, my first thought tends to be noodles. I'm not fussy: I'll eat basically any type of Asian cuisine, as long as it's well done. Having worked in Richmond for a couple of years now, I've sampled most of the offerings on or near Swan Street. My favourite? Happy Kappa, an unassuming-looking Japanese place (85 Swan Street, Richmond).

It's BYO, cash only, and this place won't win any prizes for decor. It's got a bunch of big wooden tables and a few longer communal ones, and there's random Japanese decorative stuff plonked all over pretty much every surface. The standard fluorescent lights have been 'cleverly' hidden by draped fabric, and you eat from plastic bowls with disposable chopsticks as you would from most Japanese takeaway joints. But, it's charming in a quaint way. Your eye always has something to rove over (not least all the spunky creative-type lunch patrons), and soft, soothing jazz music plays overhead.

The staff are disarmingly sweet, and the place is always packed. SRSLY. Always.

This is because the food is awesome.

Chicken Katsu Don

Torikara Udon (with chicken & tofu). Yummm (there are noodles underneath)

Torikara Miso Ramen

Tori Kara Don

And, it's cheap!

Happy Kappa recently changed its hours and is sadly now only open for lunch Monday to Friday, from 12pm to 2.30pm.

Go, and enjoy. You're welcome.

Happy Kappa on Urbanspoon

New York Tomato

I wanted to try this cafe just for its name! I've popped in to New York Tomato (corner New & York Streets, Richmond... well, that explains the name) a few times now, and I'm starting to really enjoy it.

Dad joke alert

From the outside, New York Tomato is hardly obvious. It's almost on top of the South Morang train line, a block or two south of North Richmond Station. The cafe venue itself is the last subdivision of a row of warehouse conversions, only recognisable by the fact that its small frontage is open to the street and often landmarked by a pretty scooter. (Can you call a motorised bike pretty? ...ahhhh fuggit.)

Once you realise you've got the right place, you're basically already in the courtyard, which is effectively the main dining area. It's cosy and covered, but still 'open air', so I'll be interested to see how the place fares during winter.

Behind the courtyard area, just indoors, is the compactly arranged kitchen, serving counter, and limited bench seating along the window, plus a stairway to another dining space upstairs.

Sitting outside

The coffee is Melba Organic and since the installation of a new machine a few months ago, it's tasting a lot better.

I wouldn't put this place top of my list for coffee though (not that its shite): the main attraction is the cool and relaxed warehouse vibe, closely followed by the funky food.

Warehouse conversion much??

One of the spunky menu covers. So hot I wanted to marry it

The food sure packs a punch - this brekkie ain't for the lighthearted. The new winter menu has just been released and everything seems to have rocket, chilli or chipolata involved: definitely STRONG flavours (but I like that).

The Winter Eggs sound pretty awsballz

Variety of foodal influences

What's a New York-related cafe without heapsa bagel options?

"Workers" Bagel with extra bacon (hangover food)

Something amazeballs from the old menu with rocket, pumpkin, corn cake

When I last went to New York Tomato, I sat upstairs for the first time. It's a light-filled space with strong colours, chunky fittings and bench seating. I had the run of the room to myself, and basically made the staff members variously trek upstairs to deliver the menu, drinks, food, etc. They didn't seem to mind though, and despite sitting directly under a speaker playing (cool) loud funk music whilst nursing a hangover, I very much enjoyed the overall experience.

Hopper-esque.  No?


Street view and buckets of natural light

"Men Are So Ardent" - really??

While every other lower Northside cafe seems to try really hard to be ultra hip(ster) and have a little bit of delicate-classy food based on whatever ingredients are cool right now, New York Tomato is just itself: kinda full-on, but spunky. I like it.

New York Tomato on Urbanspoon

Friday, 17 May 2013

South of Johnston (SoJo)

I've lived in East Melbourne for six months and I am a serial weekend bruncher. My housemate and I are fortunate to have some excellent cafes nearby, including Proud Mary, Three Bags Full, Grocery Bar, New York Tomato and recent Victoria Street addition, Little Big Sugar Salt. But one of my new favourites is South of Johnston (46 Oxford Street, Collingwood), more lovingly known as SoJo.

SoJo is actually quite a bit south of Johnston Street, not just south of it, as the name would suggest. In fact, the restaurant site is just south of Peel Street, but I guess SoPeel doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Or North of Langridge... NoLang?! Mmmmmyeahsoanyway...

Reasons I like SoJo

  • It's walking distance from my house. Extremely important when you're a caffeine addict and have no car. 
  • It's spacious, so although it gets quite busy, you never have to wait too long for a table. (Plus, my housemate has a magic touch when it comes to waiting times: never exceeding 15 minutes! I know, right! Lucky, lucky.) 
  • There are private nooks, communal tables, and (undercover) outdoor areas. 
  • The venue is a converted warehouse, so it feels airy and light, even on dark days. 

  • It has the oddest mix of design features I've ever seen. There are massive stripey beach umbrellas perched upside-down over the main counter; pastel-coloured, country-style furniture and antique knick-knacks alongside clean lines and dark, modern colours; comfy lounge chairs and tidy booths; plates as wall decorations, funky lighting, and a large Sydney Harbour Bridge replica at one end. (So clearly there's no aversion here to Sydney like the rest of Melbourne seems to have.) I wasn't sure about it all at first, but now I think it works somehow. 

  • The staff are generally friendly and smiley. 
  • It's far enough away from Smith Street that you don't get annoying customers (i.e. clueless visitors to the area, chromers loitering outside) - just local dwellers and workers, mainly. 

  • It seems to be open on most public holidays! YAY. 
  • The food is seriously tasty, there's loads of choice, and they don't try too hard to be weird and clever - still interesting, but not wanky. 

  • The coffee is good, and they use real chocolatey sprinkles on top of cappuccinos.

  • You can hang out there for ages and no one minds. 
  • The soap in the bathrooms is niiiiiiiiice.
  • I really like the music played (on the whole). 

Things SoJo could do better

  • The coffee. It ain't bad, but I personally find Supreme rather bland, and maybe it's extracted too quickly or something, but it just doesn't have enough kick for me! I usually have to ask for a strong one, or just end up getting two. Also, they serve it on the cooler side of warm here. Maybe time to step it up a bit, guys?! 
  • It's such a big space that sometimes I feel cold. Sad face. 
  • Apparently there's a doggie around, and I HAVEN'T MET HIM YET. 
  • That's all. 

Update: 4 January 2014

I have met the doggie now! He's kinda bulldog-fierce looking, but pretty chilled out. Although he didn't much like our puppy (that we were minding) encroaching on his space. He hangs out in a corner of the little courtyard which opens onto the street. I didn't take a photo of the dog, but I did take another one of the coffee. Sorry.

South of Johnston Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Sleep at the 'G

Youth homelessness is a big issue in Victoria, with over 22,000 homeless souls unsure of their next night's sleep, and roughly half of those under 25 years old. Coming from a comfortable, 'unbroken' home on Sydney's North Shore, with a healthy, happy family, access to great education, always enough to eat, and a warm, comfortable bed - plus many, many other perks - I often feel guilt about my fortunate upbringing. This translates into huge sympathy for anyone less fortunate.

I've lived in Melbourne for over four years now, and have come to realise how important a landmark the MCG is to this city. Not only is it the spiritual home of AFL to any Melburnian worth their salt, but it embodies our sporting culture, or at least what we like to think our sporting culture is: warmth, the encouragement to excel, a sense of community, pride in our history, and not least the old adage of 'a fair go' for all. So, it seemed a fitting venue for a youth homelessness fundraiser: tying in the opportunity to get a feel for sleeping without creature comforts, and a chance to partake in Melbourne's history by sleeping overnight at "the 'G" - not something your average Joe Blow gets to do.

The event was called Sleep at the 'G, held by the Melbourne City Mission on one of the first cold nights this autumn, with an overnight low of six degrees. We rugged up and, on arrival, were given a beanie, water bottle, pillow (what luxury!), and cardboard box on which to sleep. It was BYO-sleeping-bag, which every attendee laid out, one after the other, down the stadium concourse.

Bed preparation

Our quarters for the night were directly outside the ladies' toilets, and opposite an open stairwell leading to the stands. I was a little nervous about the cold air exposure, and wary of how much sleep I'd get with loos flushing behind my head all night. But - hey! - this was not anything to complain about. Imagine full air exposure, and road traffic, and no amenities... every night!

My 'bed' on the MCG concourse, just outside the girls' loos

We lined up to collect dinner: a cup of soup, bread roll, and meat pie, distributed by perky volunteers, and I took mine up into the stands to eat whilst enjoying the entertainment provided. Again - this was not a usual perk of homelessness! - but musos including Tim Rogers' band The Hillbilly Killers and the Livingstone Daisies had proffered their talents for the event.

Entertainment in one pocket of the cold, deserted 'G

As the night air grew chillier, many campers wandered around the deserted stadium, revelling in its vibe - so different to its usual commercial bustle. I found the atmosphere respectful, peaceful, friendly, and a little bit excited. I felt safe. What a contrast to the emotional experiences of someone living homeless every day.

Rows of empty

Odd structures and lighting on the field

By 11pm, the entertainment had wrapped up and everyone bunkered down. I needn't have been concerned about the noise of the toilets: participants down the concourse played up like teenagers at a slumber party, giggling and shrieking well into the wee hours. The organisers had thoughtfully provided sound effects of traffic whooshing past, as though we were sleeping under a bridge, but, due to my neighbours, I couldn't hear the sound effects very well in order to appreciate them! Either way, it was upon us to fall asleep against a backdrop of unusual and unwanted noise, so I pulled my beanie down over my ears and nestled as far into my sleeping bag as I could.

Not the culprits

The comfort factor was, surprisingly, the least difficult to deal with - or maybe I'd landed a good cardboard box. I managed to fall asleep for a few hours, until my neighbour woke me at 5:45am, warning me that we were being 'moved on'. Real-life (I think) policemen were blowing whistles and shining torches into peoples' faces, yelling at them to clear out. They tried to hide their smiles and maintain a serious fa├žade, but this was clearly a fun duty for them, almost an acting exercise.

Initially, I appreciated the drama of it, and the organisers' intention to simulate a real-life homeless experience. However, a friend later pointed out that it was actually very insensitive. We live in a society barely able to provide the resources to help combat homelessness, and yet our civil forces - chiefly employed to protect all its citizens - count it among their normal duties to forcefully relocate the homeless, who are not only citizens as much as everyone else but, by definition, have nowhere else to go! What a cock-up.

It took me a few minutes to pack up, and then, along with the masses, I collected my breakfast muffin (ignored the coffee urn, knowing full well I was only minutes from proper espresso... I know, I know), and exited the 'G. Just like that, it was over and I found myself lugging sleeping bag and pillow through an eery Yarra Park, still dark. It was too early to eat (and I very rarely don't eat), so I chucked the muffin, and tapered through East Melbourne in a homeward direction. A few early-morning runners and dog-walkers gave me strange looks (I can only assume due to my odd beanie-clad appearance and sleeping paraphernalia), reminding me of the distasteful looks many homeless folks must receive on a regular basis.

It was a night that gave me a new appreciation for the simple things. It wasn't exactly an earth-shattering experience, especially considering the comforts like shelter, toilets, food and entertainment we were provided with (and which I am so glad to have received!), but it certainly provoked thoughts and emotions I hadn't anticipated. More importantly, the event reached, and has now exceeded, its fundraising goal of $300,000. Well done and thanks to Melbourne City Mission and the MCG for putting on the event, and to all the participants and donors for wanting to make the world a better place.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Top Paddock

Top Paddock? A new cafe in Richmond? Pfft, I'm not going there. Richmond doesn't have quality cafes that actually last. Plus, Richmond is a huuuuuge suburb. I'm a PT kind-of-a-gal. Tell me EXACTLY where it is, then maybe I'll check it out.

What? 658 Church Street, near the river? Just down the road from my work?! No WAYYYYYYY! Okay. I'll probably get there one day.

A venue for a belated birthday lunch, with my weekly lunch date? ...Why the hell not!?

Geez. That was easy to find. And this place is huge.

And schmick. I don't think I've ever seen so much cool designer lighting.

Are they recycled crystal vases with lightbulbs inside, casting different geometric patterns on the wall?

White coffee machine. White marble benchtop. Bar stools. Long communal table. Small private nooks. Clean. Airy.

You have HOW MANY different coffee blends?

I'm in love.

Okay. What are you having to eat?

One steak sandwich, please, and one kingfish thingy, with all the stuff. Yep: chilli, poached egg, avocado, tomato, et cetera. That's the one.

Wow. That looks deceptively simple, and yet is quite amazing. What did you say was in it again??

Classy choice. Good meat!

Pay over here? Sure, I don't mind waiting by the fire...

Upside-down teacups for lampshades? Cute!

And CHEESECAKE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES? ...Oh. Em. Gee. Takeaway birthday cake? Don't mind if I do.

Better come back next week.

Additional notes, 16 May 2013: 

Visit no. 2 proved just as satisfactory.

We had an excellent waitress - attentive, sharp and friendly. A dirty water glass was replaced quicksmart. Coffees were amazeballs. And these two lunch dishes were consumed with great enthusiasm:

Pulled pork on rye with prunes, leaves & goats curd

Soft-shell crab with fennel, dill, lime mayonnaise on a brioche bun

The only note of slight complaint: although delicious and beautifully presented, the crab brioche roll was not immensely filling. I wouldn't mind a few heavier options on the menu.

Top Paddock on Urbanspoon