Eat here: Suzume no Oyado, Tokyo

Suzume no Oyado
Maruyamacho 9-3, Shibuya
Open from 5pm

 

We’ve all been there; an idea lodges itself within you, just a little side thought to start off with, and before you know it, that idea has taken on a life of its own and holds you hostage until you find a way to bring it to life, come hell or high water.

This category of ideas combined with my insurmountable stubbornness has been responsible for some of my bigger achievements in life, like self-publishing a cookbook, saving $10,000 in a year to use on travel while never missing a mortgage repayment, earning my taekwondo black belt, and having a new house built/getting engaged/getting married in the space of 12 months. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though; that same volatile mix has also been the source of tears, heart break and a lot frustration on numerous occasions.

Anyway, it happened again while I was away; I had to find some good okonomiyaki in Tokyo.

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Unbeknownst to me, okonomiyaki isn’t really a Tokyo thing; it’s a lot more popular in Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. But I love the stuff, and Tokyo is a lot closer to Kyoto than Melbourne is, so I resolved to find a place that specialised in it. Easier said than done. After much Googling, one place kept popping up – Suzume no Oyado. And, unlike a lot of other places, it wasn’t far away from my Shinjuku hotel – located in Shibuya. My Googling said it opened at 11am, and I was already planning on revisiting Shibuya the next morning, so I added the address into my nifty little Tripomatic app and went to sleep, dreaming of Japanese pancakes…

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The next day, after a good morning out, I eventually made my way in the direction of the promised land at around 12pm. For someone with no sense of direction at home, I navigated my way there like a pro, though some dicey looking back alleys and past a string of night/strip clubs. I made it to the front door, according to the blue dot, but couldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled an eatery. I was stuck between a high gate and a small, rundown apartment block. I walked to the end of the street and showed the address I had on my phone to a guy watering his garden – yup, back the way you came from, it’s right there!

On the next pass, I noticed a small, neatly typed sign in kanji (Japanese letting) with only a few numbers wedged in between – 17:00 (more kanji) 23:00. I garnered that meant Google had led me slightly astray and hoped that it would re-open at 5pm. I left disappointed by not deterred.

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After a day of solo travel, my travel buddy and I decided to catch up for dinner. “I think I found an okonomiyaki place… we have to go through some dodgy-looking alleys and strip clubs to get there, but I reckon I can find it again. Keen?” My friends are idiots, and have blind faith in me when I say I know somewhere to eat, regardless of how dicey an area it may be in – off we went!

If the are looked a bit off during the day, it was text-book “what are you doing here?!” by night. And yet, the idea of getting okonomiyaki had me by the throat and wasn’t letting go. We pushed on, me leading like I knew what I was doing, my friend following only slightly apprehensively. Much to our relief, I actually found the place again without a problem, and this time, the gate had been slid open, lights on and red flag out. Thank goodness.

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Through the giant red curtain we went, ending up in what looked like someone’s (immaculately beautiful) front yard on the other side. We made our way up the path and through the front door, into the most vibrant, red foyer. A lady rushed to meet us before we crossed the threshold; despite not sharing a common language with which to communicate, she very clearly indicated that we were to go no further until our shoes had been removed and placed into one of the lockers provided.

Once that formality was observed, we were led up a staircase into a beautiful dining room, laid out with tatami mats and floor cushions. My travel buddy, quite a tall guy by their standards, promptly smacked his head on a low roof beam, starting the evening with a light concussion. Bloody foreigners…

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After lowering ourselves onto the floor and trying to fold our long legs under ourselves in a manner that would make a caravan of camels look graceful, our patient waitress handed over our menus. In Japanese. English? Her shaking head and pointing back to the menus we already held indicated not.

With no idea what the menus said, we waited a few minutes, then pressed the little bell on our table for service. The only part of the menu in English was the wine list, so I pointed to a glass of the house white; my friend used the one word he knew in Japanese, birru. And two okonomiyaki please, pork and prawn. We thought she understood, but it was anyone’s guess what we were going to get. She fired up the grill which took up most off the table and left us again.

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A few minutes later we had a bowl each of prawns, and another bowl with everything else, including the batter and egg. Having watched the girls sitting nearby, we mixed of all up, threw it on the grill, and cooked up dinner!

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While my favourite accompaniment, mayo, was missing, we had plenty of others to choose from – a rich BBQ sauce, bonito flakes (my other favourite), chili oil.., the works. And once they were cooked up and dressed, they were some of the best okonomiyaki we’d ever had!

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After committing the embarrassing faux pas of putting our shoes back on outside of the designated area and apologising profusely on our way out, we agreed it was easily one of the best dining experiences either of us has had – the fun of DIY, the danger of essentially using a hot grill as your dinner table, the deliciousness of the food and the process of actually finding the place makes for one hell of a night!

Eat here: The Great Burger, Tokyo

The Great Burger
6-12-7 Jingumae, Shibuya
http://www.the-great-burger.com/

Hey guys! I’m in Tokyo!!! I cannot even tell you how much I already love this place, even after only two days.. It is incredible! I understand now how it’s possible that I’ve never heard anything bad about it; it is pristine clean, the people couldn’t possibly be nicer or more helpful, there is SO much to see, and the food is truly outstanding!

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While I’ve been enjoying the actual Japanese food, I couldn’t come here and not try something called The Great Buger, given what a committed burger lover I am, and especially after Googling them and seeing how perfectly Instagram-ready they are.

So, we were in the neighborhood in Harajuku yesterday and figured a burger lunch wouldn’t be a bad idea. We found The Great Burger tucked away off some side streets, and were stoked to find the line was only a few people deep (because in Tokyo, like Melbourne), people line up for ridiculous periods to get good food). This place is open from 11:30am, so our 12:15pm arrival was perfect.

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Imagine if an American diner went cute and hipster, and that’s what you’ve got here. The menu isn’t all burgers, either, they also looked to do some pretty amazing hot dogs, pastrami sandwiches and other American classics.

But we were there for a great burger – bacon cheeseburger (1350¥ + tax) with shoestring fries. I’ll go out on a limb and say probably the best shoestrings I’ve had with a burger; every single one was golden and crispy outside, soft and spudly inside. Nice.

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Burger: wow. Bacon, melty cheese, pickle relish, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and a perfectly cooked beef patty. It was juicy, a little messy, but everything was in perfect proportion, making it easy to see why it’s at the top of most Tokyo burger lists. Melbourne has a great burger culture right now, and I’d confidently say this one would comfortably stand up against most of ours! If you’re a burger head visiting Tokyo, better put this one on the list!!

Eat here: Sookie La La, Melbourne

Sookie La La
593 High St, Northcote
http://www.sookielaladiner.com.au/

In their own words, Sookie La La is a “diner style café serving sundaes, shakes, delicious Wide Open Road coffee, bagels, waffles and New York deli style sandwiches.” Sounds pretty good, huh?! This is one of those places I’ve driven past a million times, always noticed the big, simple black & white DINER sign hanging over the sidewalk, and still somehow never stopped. Until last weekend, when I decided it was finally time to get past the front window see what it was all about. I called upon one of my best friends for some girl time and delicious food, and we were not disappointed.

This cute-as-pie little eatery has everything you’d want and expect from a diner; cosy booths lining the far wall, a picture perfect little bar/counter, bright yellow and red condiment bottles on the table, and some seriously friendly but sassy staff to make you feel right at home.

They’ve made a name for themselves in the sandwich game, but the specials board was calling E’s name – she went with the cheeseburger and fries. Amazing, and she said she highly recommends trying one if it manages to stay on the specials board. She also had the most gorgeous picture perfect classic chocolate milk shake (they also have some more exotic stuff like the maple peanut butter, lemon slice, snickers and cherry ripe) complete with red & white stripey swirled straw. It even had the frothy bubbles on top. I so wish I liked milkshakes…

I heard the Cuban calling my name, because a) it seemed the most low FODMAP friendly and b) it just sounded bloody delicious, what with the ham and roast pork and swiss cheese and pickles… and fries, obviously. They were kind enough to make it with gluten free bread, too, and I think may be the first place I’ve ever been to who didn’t charge me more for my bodily intolerances! They were also more than happy to give me the honey mustard mayo on the side (on a side note, I decided to test things out and put a little on my sandwich. Didn’t end real well later on that afternoon. Fructose is definitely not my friend..), which was refreshing not to be sighed at like I was some weirdo health freak who was happy to have a meaty sandwich and fries, but didn’t want to have the fattening condiment – I swear I’m not like that!!!

The sandwich was delicious – chock full of meat, the pickles were unreal, even the GF bread was really good! And those fries… every single one was golden crunchy perfection. Not a single soggy chippy in there. Happy days.

 

I thought I was done after that, but miss E decided a sundae was in order, so we were with the most FODMAP friendly looking one – a coconut sorbet sundae with toasted coconut and chocolate sauce and some perfectly sweet and acidic berry sauce business on top. THAT’S how sundaes should be done. Big thank you to the server who suggested that we’d be total softies if we finished up  our lady date without dessert – it was the deliciously perfect end to the meal and totally worth the slight stomach ache later on!! That coconut sorbet was phenomenal!

I also caught sight of a seriously sexy dessert display on our way out, and am already pretty keen on another visit for a smoked salon bagel and some pie…

It’s no wonder the hipsters are flocking to the Northern suburbs in zombie hoards right now – with food like this in quiet little Thornbury, you’d be mental to go anywhere else! Oh, and they’re open until 9pm tonight… and back in business at 8am tomorrow… go on, you know you want to 😉

 

Sookie La La Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eat here: Lievita, Melbourne – and the importance of a strong father-daughter relationship

Lievita
298 High St, Northcote
http://lievita.com.au/

 

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It’s only been really recently that I’ve been noticing how many women have really shitty relationships with their dads. There are some women who grew up without their fathers around, others who grew up with abusive fathers, others still who grew up with their dathers around, but were completely disinterested or disconnected from them. I’ve noticed that the majority of women that I know now don’t trust their dads enough to talk to them, don’t think their dads care enough about them to warrant sharing their problems, think their dads are assholes… every time I hear another comment along that vein, it shocks me even more; I’ve realised that I’m in the very tiny minority of women who have a really great relationship with their dad! This is my dad, by the way – and this is one of my favourite photos of us, because when people see it they usually say I look so much like him, which is pretty cool 🙂

I’ve heard other people describe my dad as very hard working, but quietly so – “you’d never know just how hard he works because he’d never complain about it,” very, very generous, incredibly logical and intelligent, “the patience of a saint, especially with a wife and three daughters,” kind and compassionate almost to a fault, “the calmest person I’ve ever met,” and “such a good bloke.” They’re all right, of course; I’ve never met another person like my dad, and I doubt I’ll ever respect anyone else on earth more than I respect him. He’s been my role model and guiding light my entire life. We differ greatly in many things (I’d rather go and get tattooed while he’d prefer to attend Sunday mass), we have very different temperaments (he’s so much more together than me, so much more understanding and patient and calm, whereas I’m a bit more highly strung and prone to stress-induced freak outs). But he’s taught me some of the most important lessons in life:
– The necessity of hard work and the fact that nothing handed to you on a silver platter is really yours.
– Your family might shit you sometimes, but they are still your family. Look out for them, even if they don’t seem to appreciate it, because one day they’ll have your back, too.
– That you’re better off doing it right the first time than rushing through it and having to re-do it.
– Being angry at someone and holding a grudge is going to hurt you a lot more than it’ll hurt them.
– Work hard for what you want, but when you’ve done all you can, it’s ok to ask for help if you need it.
– You can’t always get what you want; be grateful for what you already have.
– Treat people the way you want to be treated; if you want to be respected, show respect to others first.
– Just because you’ve married someone, doesn’t mean you get to take them for granted and stop saying please, thank you or I love you.
– If you’re stressed out or worried about something, do what you need to do to change it. If you can’t change it, worrying isn’t going to help anyway, so stop stressing out so much.
– Your sisters might shit you, but you shit them (and your parents) too, sometimes.
– Money really, truly, cannot buy happiness, but more importantly, it can’t buy dignity or respect.
– It’s never too cold for ice cream.
– There’s always room for dessert, especially if it involves Nutella. And if it doesn’t, Nutella would probably improve whatever dessert is.
– There’s always time for pizza.

I love hanging out with dad; we try to make an effort to go out for dinner, just the two of us, every few weeks. He’s busy running his own business and making their new home and garden beautiful, and I’ve got a lot going on too, but no matter how busy I am, I’ll always happily cancel other plans when dad asks if I’m free for dinner! I’ve been wanting to visit Lievita for AGES, and dad said the pizza there was fantastic (the man knows good food), so like the good Italians we are, we visited for our father-daughter dinner date last night 🙂

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In Italian, “lievita” means leavened, or risen. Traditional, the street food way to serve pizza in Rome is al taglio, served by the slice, in squares. You don’t get round pizzas or triangular slices in Rome, it’s all done by the square slice and sold not as a set price per slice, but as a set price by weight. And Luca at Lievita, after having risen his dough for an impressive 72 hours, runs his business in the same way as its done in Rome; a window full of beautiful, colourful pizzas, topped with only two or three quality ingredients (it’s all about quality over quantity), from which you order al taglio, and pay according to the weight of your slice/s. Amazing. How has it taken so long for an Italian to take their street food to Melbourne like this?!

Dad’s been to visit Lievita more than a few times, so I let him order for us. First round was:
TOP: Potato, rosemary and guanciale (a cured meat that comes from the pork jowl/cheek area) – this one was my favourite, I love potato on pizza, and the guanciale was SO GOOD!! Perfectly rendered fat, heaps of flavour, just magic!
BOTTOM: Cherry tomato, mortadella and parmesan – loved the mortadella all warm and crispy, and heaps of it!

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Round two:
TOP: Eggplant, mozzarella and tomato – this is the way eggplant should be eaten.
BOTTOM: Chicory and ricotta – I had no idea something so simple could taste so good. Holy wow. Random combination, not something you’d see in your standard pizza shop, but if they have this one there when you visit, absolutely grab a slice!

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Round three:
TOP: Zucchini. Just a zucchini pizza. How the hell do they get the zucchini to taste so good?! It’s creamy and salty and got so much more flavour than you’d ever believe possible for a plain zucchini and nothing else pizza.
BOTTOM: Cherry tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil – again, so simple, but because the ingredients were of such incredible quality, this was just so beautiful… super sweet tomatoes and basil sat perfectly on a crispy bottomed, fluffy dough base.

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I’m not going to write a big, long, wordy review full of pretentious terminology about how well the elements worked together or crap like that. This is good, simple, honest food, and it doesn’t need it. Quite simply, this is the best pizza I can ever remember eating. Including the pizza al taglio I ate in Rome. Honest to God, it truly was. The ingredients, while simple, are of the best quality, and the pizzas only have two or three ingredients each – that’s the hallmark of good Italian cooking, only a few ingredients of the best quality will outshine a complex dish with a dozen mediocre ingredients. But the biggest difference, I believe, is the dough – 72 hours worth of rising time makes for the most spectacularly light and airy dough, with the perfectly crisp and crunchy base. No soggy bottoms here.

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Oh, and next to the pizza window, there’s another window with loaves of bread, panini, and dolci (sweets). Dad got excited when he spotted a lone sfogliatella left in the window; his auntie makes the best ones, he says, but given the quality of the pizza here, he was willing to give their version a chance; risk well taken, dad. A traditional southern Italian pastry filled traditionally filled with orange flavoured ricotta and often candied peel, this was the best restaurant take on the traditional home made stuff that I’ve only ever enjoyed fresh out of the kitchens of family members that I’ve had to date.

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There’s really not much else to say – Luca is doing an incredible job with Lievita, and all of the hard work he’s put into the place has more than paid off. The only way to end this post is to tell you to give your dad a call if you’re lucky enough to have him as a part of your life and let him know he’s a pretty good egg, and then, if you’re in Melbourne, take him out for pizza and beer at Lievita.

 

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Tea time: The Old Tea Shop, Warburton, Victoria

The Old Tea House
3393 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
http://www.theoldteashop.com.au/

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I got a few strange looks from people over the weekend when it was apparent that I was alone. I know that a lot of people can’t think of many things more horrifying than dining alone, but I actually really love it! I find that I’m really happy sitting in a cafe with my tea or meal, and a book or notepad or tablet to do some reading or writing in between bites of food and people watching. No, I’m not on my phone, I’m not texting or checking Facebook, I’m just enjoying MY time. My favourite places to enjoy this time alone are always tea houses, so you can imagine how excited I was when I arrived in Warburton and saw a sign hanging over The Old Tea Shop, boasting over 200 tea blends. And another sign promising not only freshly baked, but gluten free scones! Done deal!

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The Old Tea Shop was the place dreams are made of for premature nannas like me; beautiful tea sets all around, the smell of fresh scones baking, and a wall of tea that stopped me in my tracks. Not only can you take any of the teas home with you (or order online!), you can also select any of the teas on display to enjoy in store (the best way to do this is to open every jar and smell them all). After MUCH deliberation, I decided on a pot of the almond and vanilla black tea, which was incredibly good; just enough almond flavour to know what you were drinking, subtle enough nor to taste funny. I also took home packages of sticky toffee, macadamia and French Earl grey.

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So the teas are fantastic. But let’s talk about the gluten free scones for as moment; can it be done?? Can they honestly, truly be made to be soft and delicate and buttery and delicious if they’re gluten free? In a word, yes. I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t tried them for myself, but the scones here are delicious! While they’re not traditional scones (more like a scone/cupcake hybrid, they are beautiful. Lighter and fluffier than you’d ever believe possible for a gluten free item, they’re the perfect little accompaniment to your pot of tea.

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This is a place that tea lovers in Melbourne should visit; the tea is amazing, both in variety and quality, the service is the friendliest in town, and they cater exceptionally well for special diets! And if you can’t make it down to visit, do yourself a favour and check out the online store!

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