Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to win a voucher to dinner at 400 Gradi from Sweet Cherrie Pie. At the time, 400 Gradi had just been crowned as having the world's best margherita pizza, and as a result bookings were scarce, so it took us this long to use our prize.  Even months down the track, I had to make a reservation 3 weeks in advance for a Tuesday night, and the only slot they could give me was 8:15pm! I decided this was a good sign to indicate that the food should be good (because being deemed as having the world's best margherita is obviously not enough).

We arrived at 8:15pm on the dot, and the restaurant was packed! We hadn't anticipated this at all! We were quickly shown to our table, handed menus, offered drinks and we set out to make decisions on what we should order.

The menu offered all the standard Italian options, starting with antipasti, pizza, pasta, risotto, the more substantial meaty mains, and desserts. We settled on a couple of pizzas to share. The margherita was obviously the first choice, and for the second pizza, we decided on a pumpkin and rocket pizza.

The pizzas arrived in about 20 minutes, piping hot and with oozy cheese. We wasted no time in digging in, starting with the famous margherita.

Now I know I've already mentioned the margherita half a dozen times already, but let me assure you, it is worth every mention. I'm lucky enough to regularly have homemade woodfired pizzas which I thought were the best in the world, but the 400 Gradi pizza was even better than what I'm used to (let's hope there aren't any Russo's reading this!).

Let's start with the dough; it was bready without being too chewy, thin enough without being too crisp and it had the beautiful smokiness that the woodfired cooking process imparts. All a margherita has is sauce, basil and mozarella, so you'd think that there can't be much variation, but 400 Gradi had perfected each of these elements to create the perfect combination. The sauce was full of flavour, the basil was fresh and imparted a beautiful aroma and the fresh mozarella was soft and oozy, just the way I like it. I really can't express how delicious this pizza was, no amount of flowery language will do it justice.

After the margherita I wasn't sure if it was worth trying another pizza, after all, I had already hit the jackpot, but since when have I ever said no to food?!

The second pizza was lined with a white sauce, thinly sliced roast pumpkin, soft goats cheese, pine nuts, and dressed with rocket. I'm a big fan of fresh greens on a pizza post cooking, and the rocket worked beautifully with all the other ingredients. It made for a delicious pizza, but alas, for me, it didn't compare the the margherita.

After the pizzas we decided to indulge in some dessert. The menu was full of scrumptious options, so we did what any indecisive people would do, and ordered a tasting platter. The platter came with three different desserts, a honey pannacotta, a lemon tart and a nutella crepe.

The honey pannacotta was perfect, full of honey flavour and the right amount of wobble. The lemon curd in the lemon tart was also delicious, but the pastry was not the greatest. And the nutella crepe was great, but seemed a little less refined in comparison to the other two desserts.

The meal at 400 Gradi was definitely on the steep side, especially for pizza, but it was delicious. If you could ever imagine a fine dining pizza experience, 400 Gradi is it. And if you can't imagine it, get yourself to 400 Gradi, because it is an experience everyone should undergo.

400 Gradi on Urbanspoon
Ashamed as I am to admit it, I am a relatively new convert to Ottolenghi and his recipes. I've already bought a copy of Plenty More, his second vegetarian cookbook, as an early Christmas present to myself, but I'm still getting through recipes from Plenty, which was my first Ottolenghi purchase. I had come home from from the market with various fruits and vegetables, including eggplants, mangoes, and herbs which needed to be used up, and this soba noodle dish seemed perfect. I have never cooked with soba noodles and too be honest, I think any thin non-egg noodles would work just as well, perhaps even vermicelli.


Sunflower oil for frying

2 eggplants, diced into 2cm cubes

300g soba noodles

1 large ripe mango, cut into cubes

1 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some use Thai basil, but much less of it)
1 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime


1. First make the dressing. In a small pan, heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt, until the sugar has dissolved completely.

2. Add the garlic, chilli and sesame oil, and remove the pan from the heat.

3. Allow the dressing to cool, and once cooled, add the lime zest and juice.

4. While the dressing is cooling, shallow fry the eggplant in batches and drain on paper towels. As i try to avoid using too much oil, I lightly fried the eggplant, and then covered the pan to allow the eggplants to cook in the steam.

5. Cook the soba noodles according to the instructions. I cooked mine in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and then drained them and rinsed them well in cold water and allow the water to drain completely.

6. In a large boil, toss the noodles, eggplant, herbs, onion and dressing. Ideally you should let the salad sit for an hour or so, but I was in a rush and served it 10 minutes later. It still tasted great!

This is probably the first of quite a few Ottolenghi recipes I will be blogging, so stay tune!
Now in their second year, the Melbourne Night Noodle Markets have become an important fixture of the Good Food Month calendar in Melbourne. This year the organisers were better equipped to deal with the crowds and moved the markets to Birrarung Marr across three separate areas. It was a beautiful atmosphere, with open grassy spaces, the backdrop of the Melbourne skyline with the MCG, the Arts Centre spire and the Eureka tower in the background, and most importantly some of the best Asian food traders we have, there to showcase their food.

We started our foodie adventures with some dumplings at New Shanghai. This is the new dumpling place that has opened at the Emporium. I got the vegetarian dumplings, of which there were three in a serve. The dumplings were quite flavoursome but rather small, but still a good start to the evening.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Next up was Le Bangkok where we tried the tofu pad thai. Pad thai is one of our favourite noodle dishes, and this was a good one. There was a good amount of tofu which was contrasted by the freshness of the bean shoots and spring onion. I would definitely consider going back to the Le Bangkok restaurant to get some more.

Le Bangkok on Urbanspoon

I decided it was important to try a variety of cuisines, so after hitting up the Chinese and Thai stalls, I decided to move on to Sri Lankan. Lankan Tucker was there, and watching them use their skills to make kothu roti was enough to make me salivate. Unfortunately they only had chicken kothu roti, so I had to settle for a pan roll, but this was pretty damn good. Infact it was so good that it went down before I could get a photo.

We then moved on to our second area up on the hill of Birrarung Marr. This was definitely the premium area with both Kong and Chin Chin setting up shop here. Both had long lines, but I was adamant that we had to try at least one. Given that I still haven’t been to Kong, we decided to try their famous buns. Let me tell you, they were definitely worth the wait. I had the peanut butter salt and pepper tofu bun, with pickled mustard crushed peanuts, chilli mayonnaise and some fresh coriander to cut through it all. It was amazing and I could have eaten ten of them, but I forced myself to exercise some self control and stopped at just one.

Kong BBQ on Urbanspoon

And needless to say it would have been sacrilegious for me to walk past an Indian stall and not indulge in any Indian street food, so I made a stop at Overdosa. This was an all vego stall so I had a full menu to choose from, and I opted for the Bombay Burger. This was an aloo bonda (or spiced potato patty) in a vada pav roll (sweet milk bun), which was liberally slathered with tomato sauce and garnished with fresh green chilli. Definitely took me back to my Indian street food roots...

Overdosa on Urbanspoon 

And of course we had to finish with dessert. Whilst the majority of the crowds flocked to the Gelato Messina stall, we opted for crème brulee at the Brulee Cart. We had a Dulce de Loco crème brulee which was a cardamom spiced custard sitting on a bed of poached pears and topped with some salted caramel popcorn. Unfortunately our crème brulee standards are pretty high, and whilst the flavours worked well together, the custard seemed a little runnier than we would have liked it. Still we polished it off quite easily, so I definitely wouldn’t call it all bad.

The Brûlée Cart on Urbanspoon

All in all it was a great evening. Perhaps some tips for people going next year:

Go on a weekday, go early in the season, and get there by 6pm at the latest. The people who went at about 7pm on the last Friday almost gave up waiting in hour long queues.

Take cash. There are only a handful of Citibank ATMs and they have massive queues.

See if you can get yourself into a marquee to secure a seat. This year both the Citibank and The Age marquees were available. The Citibank marquee required you to show your card, and The Age marquee required pre registration for subscribers.

And most importantly, go with an empty stomach. There is so much food, and it would be a sin not to make the most of it!

The address says Malvern, but I’d be more inclined to say it’s in Tooronga, given that it is directly opposite Tooronga Station. But technicalities aside, let’s focus on what 30 Mill Espresso is there for, and that’s good breakfast and great coffee.

30 Mill Espresso serve Five Senses coffee which is full bodied with a rich aroma. I never used to be a coffee snob, but these days, I can definitely tell a good coffee from an average one. This coffee was on the high side of good. I was already winning, which is unusual for early on a Saturday morning.

The menu had a mixture of sweet and savoury options but as expected my eyes gravitated towards the corn fritters. The corn fritters were served with dollops of creamy labneh, confit cherry tomatoes, a delicious red onion jam, and dusted with dukkah. Unfortunately the fritters were less like the crunchy fritters that I expected and more like corn cakes. The flavour was great, and I could taste hints of coriander and cumin, but the texture was not there. The onion jam was the highlight though, and I was almost tempted to ask if it was house made, or whether I could purchase it.

The other half went for the blackboard special which was sliced chorizo on sourdough, served with avocado and feta mash, rocket salad, corn relish and a poached egg. He declared this a winner, mainly due to the avocado and feta mash which he said tasted pretty amazing.

There was also a delicious selection of fresh croissants and pastries on the counter, but unfortunately we were too full to try these. Perhaps next time...

Overall 30 Mill Espresso was a pretty good option for breakfast. Whilst I probably wouldn’t have the fritters again, I would go back and try something else. After all, they do serve some awesome coffee that’s worth making a second visit for.

30 Mill Espresso on Urbanspoon
This recipe can be found on quite a few vegetarian blogs, like here and here and here, however whenever I make it, I always get asked for the recipe, so I've decided to blog it myself! It's a definite crowd favourite, and you can make then in various sizes (small for finger food, or large for dinner).

I've fed these sausage rolls to non vegetarians many times, and most of the time they can't even pick that there's no meat!


'Sausage' mix:

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup walnuts, chopped finely in a food processor (I've used whatever nuts I have on hand, pecans, peanuts etc)
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
1 vegetable stock cube (I have often substituted this for random 2 minute noodle flavouring sachets that have been floating around)
1 clove of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
250g cottage cheese
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup breadcrumbs

Other Ingredients:

Puff pastry sheets
Milk for glazing
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds to sprinkle on top


1. Mix all the ingredients for the 'sausage' filling and put aside.

2. Thaw out some puff pastry and cut it in half, into two rectangles. Spoon a line of the non-sausage mix down the centre third of each rectangle and gently roll up. Slice the rolls into halves, thirds or quarters and cut some diagonal slits along the top. You can repeat and assemble the lot now, or just do as many as you want to eat and freeze the remaining mix for later.

3. Glaze the sausage rolls with milk, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 200 deg for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown.

4. Serve with tomato sauce!

Special occasions call for special dinners, and I was waiting for such an occasion to visit Franco Choo’s. This was again a recommendation, spotted via social media, and I was keen to try it out. Luckily a birthday was happening, which was the perfect excuse to indulge in a fancy restaurant experience.

Franco Choo’s is located on High St, in Prahran, just near the Chapel St intersection, and is a tiny ‘hole in the wall’ place that barely seats about 20 diners at a time. They have a great Prezzo Fisso deal if you book online, where you can have 2 courses for $42 or 3 courses for $52, both with a glass of wine. The only catch is that you need to be there by 6pm and vacate by 7:45pm, but this worked fine for us, because we had nothing else planned for the day.

We arrived at 5:55pm, wanting to make the most of our booking, and found that we were the first ones to arrive. We were greeted by a lovely waiter with an Italian accent, and I immediately felt that we were in for a treat. He explained the deal to us – Franco Choo’s doesn’t have a menu, instead they have seasonally changing dishes that are written up on a blackboard, meaning that they always cook with seasonal produce. It was already sounding delicious to me, especially when the menu was explained to me in an Italian accent!

We nominated our 3 dishes each, I obviously chose the vegetarian options which were a vegetable stew and a pea risotto, and the other half chose an Italian sausage and lentil entrée and a roast beef dish. For dessert we chose one of each option so we could share; a pana cotta and a ricotta crostata.
We started with some bread to prepare our palates for the meal ahead. We were served some fresh ciabatta bread, with a dipping oil of EVOO and sweet balsamic vinegar. Both of these were of the highest quality, and we could immediately tell that this was a restaurant that took pride in its ingredients.

Soon after the entrées arrived. I was expecting a traditional tomato based stew, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. I was greeted with a Roman spring vegetable stew filled with peas and broad beans in a creamy white sauce. With both peas and broad beans being in season, they were both sweet and full of flavour.

The other half received a poached cotechino sausage served with braised puy lentils, mustard fruit and amaretti. When the non vegetarian comments on how good the lentils are, rather than focus on the sausage, you know the dish must be good! He also said the amaretti tasted like something his Nonna used to make, which is probably one of the highest compliments he's given to a chef!

Mains arrived promptly after we finished the entrées and we were again served some traditional, hearty Italian fare. I received a creamy pea risotto which was filled with rich flavours of butter and parmesan. I dared not think of the cholesterol content of this dish and instead focused on how delicious it tasted.  The skill required to perfect the texture of a risotto is one that I strive for, and the chef at Franco Choo’s had mastered it to a tee.

Our carnivorous main was roasted beef short ribs, served with cauliflower purée and Borettane onions. The verdict was that the beef was cooked so well that it was falling off the bone, and the vegetables were full of flavour, making it another hearty dish.

We had also ordered a side of green beans with truffled pecorino, and these were delicious. It is a hallmark of the produce when something so simple, and made with so few ingredients, tastes so good.

With entrées and mains out of the way, it was time for dessert. We had half a dessert each, so I got to try both options. First there was the ricotta, pine nut and chocolate crostata. I had no idea what a crostata was, but it turned out to be a tart. It was served with a berry sauce and pistachios, and all the flavours combined to be a great dessert. It was not overly sweet and the variety of textures gave it the right level of complexity.

The second dessert however, was the real winner. The vanilla panna cotta, served with poached rhubarb and lemon cake crumble was amazing! I am a big fan of panna cotta, and this one was no exception. The lemon cake was also the right level of tart, and contrasted the sweetness of the panna cotta.

The entire experience at Franco Choos was very special. We received amazing service, amazing food, and went home very happy patrons.

Franco Choo's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon
It’s been almost 5 months now since I subscribed to Red Pawpaw and there have been a few recent hiccups. I felt it might be a good time to provide a bit of an update.

The May and June boxes were excellent. At $5 each, they were full of value. Packaged in a special Red Pawpaw box (which has since become my shoe box!), they contained lots of items which were useful and a few that weren't!

Special K Honey & BBQ Crisp Crackers - $4.40
Saxa Natural Sea Salt Flakes - $4.94
Mentos Fruit - $1.49
Mentos Pure Fresh Spearmint Gum Tin - $2.19
Henry and Jones Fruit and Chia spread - $4.49
Greens Buttermilk Pancake Shake - $2.49
Pine O Clean Disinfecting Wipes - $4
Taylors Minestrone and Aussie Vegetables Soup Pouch – $4.40
Finish Quantum Odour Neutralising Tablets (x4) - $3.48
Saxa Smoked Cyprus Salt Grinder - $6.05
TOTAL - $37.93

Uncle Toby’s Quick Oats Sachets (x3) - $2.20
Uncle Toby’s Crunchy Triangles Chocolate (x2) - $0.86
Nescafe Azera – 10.99
Gravox Cracked Pepper and Barossa Valley Shiraz Liquid Gravy - $2.50
Ovaltine Cold Crunch - $5.27
Goulburn Valley Peaches in Coconut Water – $2.20
Zumbo Passionfruit Macaron Baking Mix - $8.79
White Wings Cafe Creations Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Mix - $5.50
SPC Spaghetti With Sneaky Veg - $1.21
TOTAL - $39.52

As you can see, they were definitely value for money at $5 each, and most of the items were things we used, or wanted to try. There were a few things that weren’t useful for us like the dishwasher tablets (which we gave away) or the Gravox (which is still sitting there), but on the whole, they were wins.

Then in July we got an email saying that Red Pawpaw were having a few issues, and as a result we wouldn't be receiving a July box, and no money would be deducted either. Fair enough. Bit disappointed, but hey, if they aren't taking any money, you can’t really complain.

And then a few weeks later, came the big hit. Red Pawpaw told us they were back in August, but this time, the boxes were no longer $5 delivered, instead we would be charged a delivery fee based on our location. The justification for this was that may of the previous deliveries had issues, and so they had decided to switch carriers to Australia Post, which incurred additional charges. Being based in metro Melbourne, my delivery charge was $7.50 a box, bring my total cost to $12.50 a month.

There were a few issues around this. Firstly, I had never had an issue with the previous delivery company so I couldn't see where the problem was. Secondly, whereas previously the boxes were guaranteed to have a minimum of $30 worth of groceries in them, this guarantee was removed, which leaves the door open to the boxes having any content value in them, perhaps a content value less than $12.50 even?

Admittedly Red Pawpaw did the right thing, and gave their annual subscribers the opportunity to opt out of the program and receive a full refund. Needless to say many people took them up on this offer, and based on the backlash on social media, there were some pretty unhappy customers.
I on the other hand, decided to stick around. I decided that the mystery aspect of the box was what I enjoyed most, and it was worth $12.50 to me. Plus, I took a bit of a gamble and hoped that the value of the box (or more importantly the goods I would use in the box) would exceed this amount.

The August box arrived, and there were a few differences already. The box was no longer the sturdy box with a lid, instead, it switched to a much weaker cardboard box. The justification for this was to save on packaging costs and help the environment which I fully support, and luckily my box arrived intact. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky, and it seemed as though a lot of boxes were delivered damaged, with negative consequences for the contents inside. This is something that is not acceptable given the increased delivery costs.

And now for the contents:

The Little Brownie Company Brownie Mix - $6.50
Chux Magic Eraser - $4.39
Mug Shot Noodles – $1
Mount Franklin Sparkling Water - $2.75
Lipton Original Ice Tea Can - $2.75
Fountain Smart Tomato Sauce – $2.52
Pine O Clean Disinfecting Wipes - $4
Vita Wheat Lunch Slices - $4.50
Nature’s Own Crunchy Bar - $0.99
Weight Watchers Peaches In Jelly - $3.84
TOTAL - $33.24

Obviously there was a decrease in content value and it was disappointing that this kicked in so quickly. I also received a repeat item, which were the Pine O Clean wipes. Luckily, I love this product so I didn't mind, but a lot of people received repeats on the salt from the first box, and if this was me, I would be very annoyed. I still have my first packets of salt sitting there! The drinks were also a little redundant in our house but I guess they will get used when guests come over so they won't be wasted. The brownie mix is definitely the best item in the box, much like the macaron mix when we received that.  All in all, not a bad box, but definitely not as good as the first two.

And then there was the September box which arrived a few weeks ago. There was lots of promotion and preadvertising from Red Pawpaw about how this box had lots of paired items so I was looking forward to it.

Mr Muscle Touch Up Cleaner - $6
Finish Dishwashing Liquid 400 ml - $4.87
Cottees Fruit Crush Drinks (x2) - $1.36
Carte Noir Coffee 100g - $10.74
Air Wick Snowy Mountain Berries Scented Candle - $12.14
Dolmio Spaghetti Bolognaise Sauce Sachet - $2.46
Glad Bake 5mts - $1.71
Vetta High Fibre Spaghetti - $1.50
Maillie Dijon Mustard Sample Jar 25g - $0.56
Bio Attack Sample Sachets 19ml (x3) - $1.25
Sour Patch Kids 65g- $2.15
TOTAL - $44.74

So doing that maths, shows that the September box was definitely value for money, however the coffee was a pretty useless items for me and I definitely wouldn't value the candle at over $12. I have way too much instant coffee from the previous boxes, and whilst I will burn the candle, it really doesn't excite me. Other people got a Wholeberry Folk cake mix worth $5.69 but I missed out on this. This was a shame as I really enjoy the baking mixes.

All in all, both August and September were decent boxes. Will I stick around for more? Yeah I will... I appreciate that small start up businesses go through hiccups and I want to support them. Just don't let me down Red Pawpaw. It's almost time for the October box, so let see what arrives...

Located in the Otway Ranges, past Skenes Creek, the Forrest Brewing Company is a brewery with good beer and even better food. 

We arrived there at about 5pm, to be greeted by a completely empty restaurant, so I was a little skeptical of whether this place was any good. After all, which pub is empty on a Sunday afternoon?!

Luckily, we pushed on and started with a beer tasting paddle (or the equivalent of a paddle anyway). It contained their four standard beers - a pale, a red, a silvertop and a stout, and then three seasonal beers. They were great beers, and we realised why they were so much more expensive than regular beers.

It was then time for dinner which was the highlight for me. The menu revealed only one vegetarian option so this was what I chose, but it sounded pretty good and I was happy with my choice (or lack thereof!).

My dish was described as a series of components: Lebanese eggplant, goat's feta, quinoa, Israeli couscous, hazelnuts, avocado yogurt and lemon thyme.  What this list failed to describe was the deliciousness that the ingredients combined to become!

The eggplant was smoked so that it was tender with a subtly smoky aroma, the goat's feta was wonderfully creamy, the bed of quinoa, Israeli couscous and hazelnuts provided the right balance of softness and crunch and the star of the show was the avocado yogurt, which simply tasted amazing. It was one of the best meals I've had in a long time and worthy of a spot in any fancy restaurant!

The other half went for a traditional pub option, the fish and chips, which he also said were very tasty.

As we were leaving we looked around and the pub was full. The locals obviously know where to come for dinner.... Clearly this microbrewery takes its beer seriously, which you would expect, but more importantly for me, it's takes its food even more seriously!

Forrest Brewing Company on Urbanspoon
Chez Dre had been on the breakfast bucket list for a while, and it was only one Saturday morning that we randomly decided to visit. We were wary of long wait time, given that we were planning to arrive there at about 9, but luckily we had no reason to worry. We walked straight in and were seated next to the window, overlooking the alley. 

A waitress promptly attended to us, to take our coffee orders, and I stuck to my usual latte. Unfortunately I hadn't perused the menu at this stage, but if I had, I would have knows that they also serve Prana Chai, and I would have definitely chosen that!

The coffee arrived promptly, but unfortunately, it was nothing spectacular, infact I think the Nespresso machine does a better job which was a little disappointing. I must however, commend Chez Dre on their fabulous service. We had spilt an almost full coffee, and the staff were immediately there to wipe everything down, and a new coffee was brought to us, free of charge. These little touches make a big difference.

I looked through the menu, and totally against the norm, decided to order a sweet breakfast. I opted for a spiced porridge, with rhubarb, cardamom, candied orange, vanilla mascarpone and pistachio. It was a tasty combination, but as is often the case with porridge, it was extremely filling and I struggled to finish it. 

All in all, Chez Dre was a pleasant experience, but nothing special. Given all the hype that surrounds this place, I must say that I was somewhat disappointed. There are many places that do much better coffee and food, and are much cheaper too.

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon