Ladies who eat & blog: SCARF Community dinner @ Green Park

Hands up who’s heard of SCARF?! Not many, I’m guessing? That sucks… hopefully this will help spread the word about an awesome group who do some seriously good work for the community and also make some delicious food in the process!

So, my last attendance to a Scarf dinner was when I was in a past blogging life at Multicultural Melbourne, way back in 2011, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been back since! You can read all about the amazing work Scarf do on their website, but the Readers Digest version is basically they’re an amazingly dedicated organisation taking disadvantaged youth and mentoring/training them up in all facets of the hospitality industry. Once a week, they take over a restaurant kind enough to donate their space for a few hours and run a full service. Told you they’re amazing! They are currently taking up residence at Green Park in Carlton North, where $40 gets you a two course set menu and the opportunity support a pretty great organisation that’s making a big difference. Everyone wins!

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but I simultaneously thought that I really wanted to head back for a long overdue Scarf dinner and organise a little catch up for some fellow lady bloggers. It really frustrates me to see how competitive women can be these days; at a time where we seem to be hearing about more and more women being attacked, bullied, hurt and victimised, when maybe more than ever we need to support each other and have each others backs (isn’t there already enough pressure on us without being mean and bitchy to each other, too?!), more and more women seem to be getting more and more competitive and judgmental towards each other instead. On the flip side, I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really incredible and inspiring women through blogging and would love to get to know some of them a little better! In the spirit of Scarf and doing good deeds, I thought it might be nice to get a group of women who’s work I really admire together for a great night  : )

IMG_8413So, allow me to introduce to you the lovely ladies who joined me for dinner this week:

Cass from Hungrycookie – Cass’s blog is about “all things fashion, food and travel” who brings you the latest in both food and fashion, both very important to Melbournians!

Terri from Little Wanderings – Terri is a bit of a blogging soul sister to me with so much in common – another Melbourne girl who loves her city, her food, and travelling the big wide world 🙂

Monique from Mon’s Adventure – Mon’s a foodie and a beautiful story teller, who always seems to be on and between fabulous adventures!

Sheena from Chasing A Plate – Sheena collaborates with Thomas for a beautifully photographed and written food journal, based on the belief that life is too short for bad food (amen!).

 

With the introductions over with, allow me to introduce the food and the host restaurant…

Green Park
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, Melbourne
http://greenparkdining.com.au/

The Scarf menu, designed by Green Park’s chefs and executed by Scarf’s trainees, offered two entree and two main options (thank you very very much to Cass sitting next to me who coincidentally ordered the dishes I didn’t and let me try hers!)…

 

ENTREES:
Roast beetroot, feta, walnut and rocket salad (which I ordered, and was a really nice and light starter)…

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MAINS:
Braised beef shin with cauliflower, bacon and hazelnuts (I was stoked with my choice – the beef was delicious and sooo tender, the perfectly little pile fell apart at the first poke with my fork! Also, the hazelnuts were the perfect addition!)…

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and the gnocchi with pumpkin, burnt butter and sage (it’s a classic for a reason, and it was done very well!):

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DESSERT:
Just the one option, and being lactose intolerant and quite unwell for the last week or so, I decided to forgo the deconstructed yoghurt cheesecake, but it looked very pretty and the ladies who did order it seemed pretty happy with it!

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The food was amazing, especially considering the fact that these were restaurant quality dishes made by trainees! They did a fantastic job and both the trainees and mentors should be incredibly proud  : )

Green Park on Urbanspoon

 

Everyone did a fantastic job, from the slightly nervous waitress who must have been at least a little daunted by the five loud women talking about everything from Hodor to potatoes, the waiter who wasn’t looking after our table but still more than happily took our photo at the end of the night, the mentors floating around making sure everything was running smoothly. Yeah, the food is great, but it’s about so much more than that.

If you’d like to do more than dine and support Scarf, you can book dinner right here, and someone will get back to you with a confirmation very quickly! And I must make sure I don’t leave it another four years before dining with Scarf again! Thank you for a great night, and we’re all wishing the trainees all the very best for the bright futures they’ll no doubt have in the hospitality industry!

Roman dining – one of the best meals of my life!

 

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I can’t even tell you how much I hate myself for not remembering what this place was called. I can’t believe I didn’t bother to write the name or address down, to take a photo of the little sign out the front, nothing… what an idiot! That said, my husband maintains that if we were to go back to Rome, he’d be able to remember how to get there… we found it on the walk back from the Vatican. It was pouring, and I mean really pouring rain, we were wet and hungry and needed to stop for warmth and food. Just as we were getting desperate, as fate would have it, this place appeared like the proverbial oasis in the dessert. We ambled in, discarding drenched coats, scarves and beanies, and settled in to what felt like the living room of a family member. That could be mostly because I’m Italian, and am accustomed to big family dinners. Whatever. This place was amazing.

The service was really fantastic, very attentive and helpful. Before we’d said a word, a basket of bread arrived, for which we were very grateful. We placed our orders and didn’t wait long at all for our lunch to arrive. First up came the Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese. My favourite! The wine was pretty darn good too!

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And next came the pasta. Husband had the pesto linguine you can see at the top of the picture below. I had the pasta at the bottom of the picture, which we both agree is the best pasta either of us have ever had to this day. Rigatoni with ricotta and eggplant. It was rich and creamy, and tasted like no other pasta I’ve ever had before. This was phenomenal. Even more amazing was how much husband loved it – he usually doesn’t like eggplant or ricotta. It was really unexpected for it to have had so much flavour and punch, but it was absolutely perfect. It’s a big call for a wog to name her best ever plate of pasta, but (sorry Nonna!!!) this was hands down “the one” for me.

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If ANYONE recognises this place, please, what is it called?!?!?!? I NEED TO GO BACK!!!!!

Eat here: N. Lee Bakery, Melbourne

N. Lee Bakery, Collingwood, Melbourne
220 Smith St, Fitzroy

I fell in love with the humble banh mi after eating a few in Vietnam; when they’re done freshly and properly, they’re just about the best sandwich you could possibly ask for. Traditionally, you’re looking at a super fresh, slightly crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside roll, filled with pate, butter, grilled pork, cucumber, carrot, chilli and coriander. They’re the ultimate Vietnamese street food – super cheap (I can’t remember paying more than the equivalent of AUD $1.20 for one in Vietnam), hand held, and fresh (read: not deep fried).

Despite Melbourne’s huge Vietnamese population, I’ve been a little hesitant to start my banh mi hunt back at home, because I know what they’re meant to taste like now. What if my very high expectations are dashed? I can’t be wasting valuable calories and stomach space on crap food! But, alas, I had a craving for one, and cravings must be met. A quick fact finding mission led me to N. Lee Bakery. I was already familiar with the name, given the one on Collins St near the post office that I pass every now and then while I’m out running work errands. The one husband and I visited was the Smith St store. We rolled up just before 12pm on a sunny Saturday, and found ourselves around 8 deep in the already growing line. By the time we’d ordered and sat down to unwrap our sandwiches, we looked up and saw this line out the door. It was crazy!

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I was pretty excited to see in the window the sign advertising the day’ special – crackling pork! My favourite! Husband got the grilled pork. First up – insanely, unbelievably cheap! Mine cost $6.80, and husband’s $4.50 – I actually asked the lady to repeat herself when she asked for the total, because it sounded too cheap, especially considering how big the sandwiches actually were! No wonder the line was out the door! And check out the nice, crispy bits of pork in mine..

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The banh mi themselves – all reservations I had were instantly dashed on the first bite. It was easily as good as the stuff I ate in Vietnam, and made the same way, even down the the pate and butter smears to start the process. I had a few bites of husband’s sandwich too, and the pork in both was fantastic, really tasty and perfectly cooked. And stacked full, as you can see!

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Honestly, there’s nothing more I can say about the banh mi from N. Lee other than they’re making the best stuff I’ve had out of Vietnam, and I plan to make myself a regular visitor at the CBD one on lunch breaks!

Eat here: Mango Rooms, Hoi An

Mango Rooms
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An, Vietnam
http://www.mangorooms.com/

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After a very long morning in the very hot sun in the perfectly beautiful surrounds of the My Son Sanctuary, it was finally lunch time. The thing you have to understand about Sib and I is that we love food. Like, really love food. As in, before we went to bed the night before the My Son tour, we spent some time researching the food we could eat the following day.

After a thorough investigation of the #hoian hashtag on Instagram, we had hyped ourselves up for lunch at Mango Rooms.

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Sitting on the Hoi An riverside, Mango Rooms is a gorgeous and insanely bright establishment, with one hell of a reputation for incredible food and magnificent cocktails. The chef and grand poobah, Duc Tran, was born in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and travelled around the world, reaching Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and America. His food is beautifully presented and brightly coloured, with gorgeous flavour combinations that have been influenced by his travels and the skills he’s learnt on the road.

We (being the good food addicts we are) may have studied the menu a little the night before, so we kinda knew what we were after. Well, for cocktails anyway. Ice cold and full of fresh fruit, these were the best cocktails I have EVER had.

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After a few minutes of “can’t we order everything?!” we settled on a plate of fresh mango & prawn rice paper rolls to share to start with, and they were something special. They may be the best we’ve ever had, actually. Fresh mango is a thing of beauty, but add it to fresh herbs and prawns and wrap it up in fresh rice paper is even better. Throw in the tastiest peanut dipping sauce on the side, and you have two VERY happy young ladies.

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Next up, we got a few salads. We’d heard they were pretty amazing here, and fresh, cold salads were exactly what we felt like after the hours we’d spent in the hot sun earlier. I went with the Tropical Lush salad – fresh greens, herbs, and mustard sprouts, orange slices, watermelon, topped with seared tuna served with orange ginger soy dressing. It was perfect – cold, fresh fruit, super fresh tuna, and the dressing was remarkable.

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Sib went with the Mango Delight – fresh greens, herbs and strips of mango along with vermicelli topped with grilled chicken breast and served with zesty soy-lime sauce. SOO good – the chicken was white and tender and the dressing, again, was flawless.

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And of course, dessert. Can’t finish up without it. A plate of the Mango Tango to share, thanks – sweet sticky rice and fresh mango topped with coconut sauce and roasted peanuts. Not really much that needs to be said about this; if you followed my adventures in Thailand earlier this year here and here, you’d know that I am always prepared to eat my weight in coconut sticky rice, particularly when it’s furnished with fresh mango. The addition of peanuts made this quite distinctive from the Thai variety, and absolutely delightful.

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It should also be noted that while eating the best food with one of the most magnificent views, we also had some great service too – the staff at Mango Rooms were lovely, friendly and more than happy to help us out. It was a truly wonderful experience – to be able to just sit back with my best friend in this rainbow explosion of a restaurant, watching the river and foot traffic pass by the window we were seated at, eating perfectly balanced plates of beautifully presented food was a pretty awesome way to pass the lunch break 🙂

Eat here: Birreria Centrale, Florence

Birreria Centrale, Florence, Italy
http://www.birreriacentrale.com

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Without a doubt, one of the best meals I’ve had in Italy. We’d been travelling for a few weeks when we got to Florence last year, and I’d been fairly sick. I needed proper Italian comfort food, and this place hit the spot like no one’s business.

It was another cold, grey, rainy night in Florence, and we’d been walking around the beautiful, cobble-stoned streets for a while. We were getting pretty hungry. We found ourselves in Piazza San Martino and figured the best place to get an authentic feed would be off a side alley where there weren’t as many tourists; we were right.

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It’s beautiful. It’s old, wooden, exposed brick, antique, and just beautiful. And it’s cosy and homely, like turning up to your grandmother or auntie’s house for a family meal. The service was attentive and very helpful (they did speak a little English, although I conversed on Italian), the menu was wonderfully authentic Italian food, and the wine was fantastic!

I don’t need to talk this place up too much – trust me, it’ll prove itself if you ever visit. But here were our meals:

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Fettuccine for husband, lasagne for me, and a surprisingly delicious salad with cheese and walnuts. I’d say I wish I could remember more of the details of the food, but I don’t. I remember the feeling. It was a happy night for us. We’d found a place on the other side of the world, where husband couldn’t communicate because he didn’t speak or understand a word of Italian, but we found a place we felt completely at home. The food was absolutely unreal, that was obviously a huge bonus, but the atmosphere was just as memorable!