HOT: Dr Morse, 274 Johnston St, Abbotsford

dr morse
From little things, big things grow….So the story goes with Dr Morse, a cafe/restaurant in Abbotsford that started out as a coffee window (dubbed Jr Morse) by Victoria Park station. It has now expanded into a spacious interior overlooked by an original 1930s mural advertising ‘Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills’ and a secluded beer garden.

dr morse

dr morse

The main kitchen opens for an early lunch late into night. In the daytime the one page menu is split into sandwiches, salads, meals and sweets.

dr morse

dr morse

On our lunchtime visit we ordered some fried chicken with slaw ($16) and an organic quinoa, avocado, pistachio, pomegranate, corn and egg Salad salad ($14) in an attempt at health.

dr morse

The fried chicken was generous portions of crunchy, juicy chicken with a hint of Asian influence thanks to the accompanying salad of iceberg and coriander and mango chutney. (Note that it’s been removed from the new Spring menu – a tragedy!).

dr morse

The colourful salad was really fun texturally, with lots of popping going on thanks to the corn and pomegranate seeds and crunchy quinoa.The egg was perfectly poached to just runny on the inside. A really filling dish on its own so I suggest sharing it and trying something else as well.

Deciding to throw healthiness out the window we opted for both choices on the dessert menu! The favourite was the squishy chocolate brioche pudding in a pool of salted caramel and creme fraiche ice cream ($12), a rich combination of gooey flavours heightened by the cool silkiness of the ice cream.

dr morse

The cheesecake with lemon curd and rhubarb was more of a deconstructed affair, with a hemisphere of creamy cheese with a hint of tang, a swirl of lemon curd and cubes of pink rhubarb ($11).

dr morse

Dr Morse is a great addition to Abbotsford on a part of Johnston Street where there’s not much choice in terms of good quality eating options. The food is fun and tasty and the service is friendly, making the place a great local hangout.

Dr Morse, 274 Johnston St, Abbotsford 9416 1005

Coffee/food window – Mon–Fri 7am–4pm, Sat–Sun 8am–4pm

Main kitchen/bar – Sun–Wed 11.30am–11pm, Thu-Sat 11.30am–1am

Dr Morse Bar & Eatery on Urbanspoon

HOT: Little Big Sugar Salt, 385 Victoria St, Abbotsford

little big sugar salt

Little Big Sugar Salt is a small cafe in Abbotsford, a fish out of water in amongst Vietnamese dominated Victoria Street.

little big sugar salt

It hides in a corner building and feels like someone’s house, with three small white-washed rooms with artworks, books in the fireplaces and felt cushioned shipping pallets as bench seating.

little big sugar salt

little big sugar salt

Now it stands out even more as its revamped approach delivers interesting, healthy and one could even say somewhat faddish elements into its cafe menu. The reason for their change of heart? They say ‘rather than serving you buttery, gluteny, rich meals…our new menu focuses as much on health as it does on flavour.’

Speaking of which, the pun-tastic menu is like a wheel of fortune. Basically you pick a quadrant to choose food of a small size, a big meal, something sweet or something savoury. I like the idea and I get the reason for the circular format but to be honest it was difficult to negotiate with my sleep-addled brain.

little big sugar salt

I was invited to try out their new menu and after turning that card around and around in my hands we finally landed on Freekakes ($17) and Guilt-free Hot Mess ($17) along with some spiced kombucha and house-made almond milk.
little big sugar salt

The drinks were both delicious over ice – in fact, the almond milk was almost like a peanut butter milkshake! It’s not normally on the drinks menu but ask for it if you like nutty milk.

little big sugar salt

The freekakes consisted of four freekeh, sweet potato and currant fritters with cashew cream, chilli jam, wilted kale and two fried eggs. While visually it didn’t look fantastic it was a taste sensation, particularly with the chilli jam lifting the flavours beyond the potentially bland.

In contrast, the Guilt-free Hot Mess (for your Gluten-free Girlfriend was the subtitle) looked gorgeous but did not deliver in terms of texture. The tower of mini gluten-free almond pancakes were much too dry and crumbly, almost like eating baked cottage cheese.

little big sugar salt

I had a chat to the manager about the pancakes and he explained that they were still experimenting with using gluten-free ingredients to make just-like-gluten fluffy pancakes, so I hope they advance beyond almond meal.  The accompaniments were great – coconut dairy-free ice cream, a pool of berry compote and sugar-free date syrup finished off with a pretty perimeter of fresh tropical fruit.

little big sugar salt

As a final test of their ‘sweet’ side we tried the full-of-gluten-and-dairy crumpets ($10). There’s a rotating roster of flavours and on our visit there was honey with roasted banana and a gorgeous plum marmalade that I could have eaten by the jar.

Little Big Sugar Salt is a worthwhile destination for food that’s virtuous and delicious. With a couple of tweaks in the kitchen (and please, all menu text written in one direction!) it could be a real winner, especially for those who have food intolerances.

Little Big Sugar Salt, 385 Victoria St, Abbotsford 03 9427 8818

Mon to Fri 6:30 am – 3:00 pm

Sat to Sun 8:00 am – 3:00 pm

Little Big Sugar Salt - LBSS Cafe on Urbanspoon

NOT: Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (5)

It’s been a long time between drinks on the NOT side of the scale.

So I guess the laws of probability meant that it was about time for me to a hit a NOT. I just hadn’t expected it to be Admiral Cheng-Ho.

Admiral Cheng-Ho is the new northside outpost for south-of-the-river favourite Monk Bodhi Dharma and it gets an emphatic HOT. The setting is unique (random brick building in Woolworths carpark), the food is healthful, interesting and lovingly prepared. And for my coffee-loving friends it’s one of the best places for coffee in the Balaclava area.

Unfortunately, Admiral Cheng-Ho did not meet up to my (high) expectations.

Firstly, the food was really, really slow. I can give them a bit of leeway – it was Monday 11am, the place was newly opened and obviously word had already gotten out as it was almost full. The kitchen was small and the staff looked slightly disorganised. However, we waited over 45 minutes for our lunch. Admittedly we had ordered two dishes that needed to be cooked – but still it would have been quicker if we’d whipped up a plate of zucchini fritters and mushrooms on toast ourselves. Also I noticed that others who ordered very easy to prepare dishes like muesli and avocado were waiting inordinately long periods for their food.

So, Admiral Cheng-Ho has been slammed since it opened and maybe they’re ill-prepared. But to run out of one of your menu items by lunchtime Monday? The cafe missed out on the $14.50 I was going to hand over for that sold-out banoffee pie.

Which leads me onto my second criticism – the prices. Our dishes, which sounded delicious on paper, cost $18.50 each, and a tall mug of chai cost $6. A house-made ice tea was $7.50. Coconut water, even if it did come from a fresh coconut and not from a bottle, was $7. Etc Etc. This from a menu of vegetarian food.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (6)

OK, OK. So I can swallow steep prices for vegetarian food if it is spectacular. And in this case not only were our dishes slow and expensive, they did not taste very good. The zucchini fritters were bland, gelatinous masses with a minimal amount of zucchini inside. Not a hint of fluffiness, crispiness or lightness in the stodgy patties. The best thing about this dish was the basil cashew cream, which helped make palatable, but didn’t alleviate, the gluey texture of the tasteless, stretchy fritters.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (1)

On our second dish the mix of mushrooms was quite satisfying in its earthiness and the creaminess of the goats cheese was a perfect touch, but the home made sundried tomato polenta bread turned out to be two dry, crumbly crispy cakes which left an unpleasant mealy texture in my mouth. Given that they also serve bread from Rustica Sourdough I would have much preferred that they used a couple of slices of that excellent bread instead.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (2)

What is impressive is their commitment to coffee – the counter holds six simultaneous grinders filled with different single-origin beans. To go with your $20 dish you can even buy a $20 coffee!

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (4)


And I liked the fitout, the epitome of recycled urban chic. The light fittings made from wire baskets, the glossy metal stools and the oversized Citizen wall clock.

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (3)

But is that enough to recommend Admiral Cheng-Ho to you? There’s been a bit of breathless hype about its opening and I wanted and expected to love it…but my answer is NO(T).

Admiral Cheng-Ho, 325 Johnston St, Abbotsford (03) 9534 7250

Mon to Fri 7am–4pm 
Sat & Sun 8am–5pm







HOT: Weasel’s Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

When I think of Victoria Street, I think of eating cheap and cheerful Vietnamese at restaurants with not much to commend them in terms of setting or ambience (unless you like karaoke music videos or Vietnamese pop shows).

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

But just step a few streets away in residential Abbotsford you’ll find Weasel’s Garden Cafe, where you’ll get cheap and cheerful Vietnamese AND a beautiful tranquil garden setting, complete with the resident cat who lent his name to the cafe.



The interior is contemporary and uses beautiful wood and tin building materials such that it feels like someone’s (very cool) home that contains subtle nods to Vietnamese decor. Love the upside down bamboo bird cage planter!

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

Weasel’s Garden Cafe is a family run business and the focus is on home-style cooking of the sort that you often see the Vietnamese traders of Victoria Street eating on their lunch breaks. There’s pho, spring rolls, rice paper rolls, some rice dishes and bun (vermicelli salad).

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

I order a flame grilled marinated chicken fillet, runny fried egg, rice, salad and curiously, a piece of roast pumpkin ($12.50). It is fresh and filling and the chilli dipping sauce gives a nice kick to the dish. I have heard the pho is very fragrant and light and I’m keen to try to freshly made rice paper rolls.

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

There are diversions to more usual Western cafe fare with a few breakfast dishes of the eggs/bacon variety and a choice of sandwiches, baguettes and Turkish melts – but I think you should enjoy the Vietnamese vibe while you can.

Weasel's Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford

Having said that there are no Vietnamese desserts. Instead try the large slab of chocolate crackle ($3) – a rich rocky road/hedgehog hybrid with puffed rice and cranberries smothered in a heap of milk chocolate.

If you’re after simple Vietnamese food but need some breathing space from the intensity and noise of Victoria Street then I recommend you wander over to Weasel’s Garden Cafe. On a sunny day it’s the perfect place to relax.

Weasel’s Garden Cafe, 8 Murray St, Abbotsford +61 3 9410 0214

Wednesday – Sunday 8AM – 4PM

Weasels Garden Cafe. on Urbanspoon

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HOT: A Touch Of…Afternoon tea, Bursaria Fine Foods, Rosina Function Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 Helier St, Abbotsford


Sunny Sundays are meant for enjoying tea and scones I think and the latest afternoon tea offering in Melbourne is by Bursaria Fine Foods at Abbotsford Convent.

‘A Touch Of…’ is billed as a vintage-inspired afternoon tea and I was invited to sample their first event.


On arrival guests were presented with a flute of sparkling or their special lemonade mixture made with rosewater, vanilla-infused sugar syrup and lemons. People trickled into the sunny courtyard from the 2pm start time and mingled and chatted in the sun but we weren’t allowed into Rosina Function Space space to sit down until around 3pm – by which time I was impatient and starving. I’m not sure whether this timing was intentional or not but if an event with food is slated to be 2-4pm I’d expect to be seated by 2:30pm at the latest. Luckily it was sunny as if it had been raining and cold there really wouldn’t have been enough room for everyone to take shelter under the eaves.


Once we were able to go inside it was beautiful. The tables were more pitchers of the addictive sweet lemonade with pretty dessert platters already set up. As the savoury food had to come out in waves due to the number of tables my growling hunger demanded that I attack the sweet things first. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t reverse the order and have the savoury food on the tables and then carry out the desserts – perhaps because the canapes needed to be kept heated?


Anyway, we’ll talk about the food in the traditional savoury-sweet order. On the wooden board were five different nibbles, with a separate plate of herb and citrus prawn skewers fried with vermicelli noodles. The prawns were juicy and the crunchiness of the outer coating was perfectly countered by the creamy lemon aioli. I would have happily had more of these and I think they were best savoury dish of them all.

HOT: A Touch Of...Bursaria Fine Foods, Rosina Function Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 Helier St, Abbotsford

Of the other canapes I also enjoyed the honey-cured salmon on tiny blinis and the shot of heavily scented cream of mushroom soup with truffle oil, though the other selections were equally moreish. I am very particular about the bread of crustless sandwiches so it was good to see that even though the poached chicken sandwiches had been mass produced they were obviously fresh as the white bread was still soft.


The desserts were mostly excellent and looked spectacular en masse. I particularly enjoyed the luxurious organic chocolate pots with a shard of salted caramel toffee  and second place winner being the fluffy miniature scones and jam. My only disappointment was with the custard of the creme brulee (lightly scented with lavender) and the pannacotta (vanilla and rose) as after numerous tastings I still couldn’t discern the difference in flavour between them.


The tea and coffee is served in poured from large jugs by the waiters so there be warned tea/coffee snobs there is no tea selection or individual teapots as you’d expect from other high teas.

As I’ve said before Rosina Function Space is a stunning venue and is the kind of space I’d have my wedding. And like a wedding everyone is seated in tables of ten so unless you fill up a table you will be seated with strangers. This can be slightly awkward if you don’t feel like making conversation with people you don’t know as you have to pretend that they’re invisible! On the positive side if you’re sitting with people with small appetites you get to have seconds (ask for a takeaway container and you can take home the  leftovers!).


Also towards the end more roving food was brought out from the kitchen and served by a spectacularly dressed performer from Bravo Darling, so you definitely won’t go home hungry.

Overall it was a successful launch but given it was their first go there were some uneven moments which I hope will be ironed out by their next showing.

‘A Touch Of…’ will be held on the third Sunday of every month until September (19 May,  16 June,  21 July,  18 August,  15 September). They are also holding a morning tea and afternoon tea on Mothers Day Sunday 12 May in conjunction with A Vintage Affair – a great gift for mum I think.

Bookings for all events are $55 a head and can be booked through or 9417 7771.

‘A Touch Of…’ Bursaria Fine Foods, Rosina Function Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 Helier St, Abbotsford




HOT: Opening Weekend, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013


The weather gods looked benevolently on Melbourne on the weekend as people celebrated food and wine as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Rather than bombarding you with a load of posts at once, here’s a potted summary of my HOTs and NOTs over a packed weekend of wining and dining. Some of these events I was invited to, some of them I went off my own bat. If you didn’t have a chance to get to these events some of them may be repeated at a future date and some of them are held in locations that are open year round and host a calendar of foodie events.

HOT: Market of Eden, Prahran Market

Cider, particularly as a summer drink, is starting to gain a foothold in Australia’s bars and pubs as a substitute for beer – but I c0nfess I don’t know much about it other than the fact I very much enjoyed my first plastic cup of pear cider at Glastonbury Festival eons ago.SONY DSC

So I was curious about how you could match cider with food – I guess why not given that you can match wine with food and beer with food? On the weekend at Prahran Market they set up the ‘Market of Eden’, a hay-strewn long table in the middle of the fruit and veg hall where you sat on (rather itchy) bales of hay to sip four diffreent apple and pear ciders creations from Napoleone and Co paired with four French tasting plates designed by chef Walter Trupp using market produce.

Opening Weekend, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

In terms of drink, as expected I enjoyed Napoleone’s Regular Pear Cider the most as it was probably the sweetest of all the varieties we tried. The cider is made by winemakers Punt Road Wines in the Yarra Valley and as such they apply many wine making techniques to their cider creations.

And of course you pair pear with pear! So we got a large portion of chunky pear chutney along with a hunk of oozy white mould raclette sliced onto sourdough.


In terms of food my highlights were the crispy skin Berkshire pork belly, slow-cooked for 16 hours at 68 degrees and paired with a classic green apple and tangy rocket salad and a cider vinegar dressing and the starter of creamy squash vichyssoise served with cheddar cream, cheddar and fresh hazelnut shavings and hazelnut oil. Both of the dishes were matched with apple ciders which cut through the richness and creaminess of both dishes.


HOT: Chan’s Dumpling Festival, Treasury Gardens

I think Chan’s Dumpling Festival was probably the best value paid event in this year’s program and hence it sold out very quickly. For $20 a head 771 people joined in a Guinness World Record attempt to create the World’s largest Outdoor Yum Cha, sitting down at communal tables to partake in a 5 course dumpling service in Treasury Gardens.


The gardens looked spectacular, with giant Chinese lanterns floating into the azure sky, a smattering of stalls, kids activities and traditional musicians.


During the lunch we enjoyed live performances and I particularly enjoyed the lion dancing and kung fu demonstrations. And at the end everyone got to take home goodie bags filled with a small bamboo steamer, ingredients and a dumpling recipe book.

Opening Weekend Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2013

It was lucky that the weather was so beautiful and people were generally in a happy and festive mood, as the general consensus was that the food took too long to arrive. While it’s understandable that it’s hard to pump out so much food in a short period of time, it was particularly disheartening to watch trays move past you while you sat twiddling your chopsticks. I was at the festival with kids and had to leave early as they simply couldn’t wait 30 minutes for each course to arrive.

Overall I think the event was well run for a first go and the entertainment and setup exceeded my expectations. I hope that they’ll repeat it again in future while ironing out some of the logistical kinks associated with feeding that many people at once in an outdoor space.

NOT: Events with mass produced food generally

After this weekend I think my tip for selecting food and wine festival events in the future is not to go anywhere where the food will be mass produced. The events always seem to run late while your stomach growls impatiently and the quality and consistency of dishes declines as numbers grow. Marco Pierre White would flip out! (‘How long? How long? How long? Send it back! Send it back! Send it back!)

For instance, take my experience of the Bursaria Luncheon for about 250 people. I love Abbotsford Convent, I buy Warialda Belted Galloway Beef, I support the premise Slow Food Melbourne and I’m all for showcasing fresh, locally produced, seasonal produce. But all this positivity was marred by the fact the first course of a two course lunch didn’t arrive until over an hour after we were seated and the dessert came at the event’s designated finish time. I wasn’t the only one to have to gulp down my food and make a hasty exit after dessert – a pretty vanilla and rose panna cotta with a drizzle of bright pink pomegranate syrup and pistachio and biscotti lending crunch.


I hope they sort out the timing issues for future events as the Rosina Function Space is absolutely beautiful especially with sunshine streaming through the leadlight windows onto the polished floorboards. And I loved the hanging decorations on the high trusses and table settings using plants and twigs and leaves. In fact, if I was getting married this would be my choice of wedding venue!



NOT: Rita’s Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford

Rita’s Cafeteria had all the credentials of a place which would rate a HOT.

Cool inner city venue. Artisan pizza. Funky Melbourne-esque décor. Owners with experience running successful food businesses. Smiling staff.

So what went wrong?

Gourmet Chick and I visited Rita’s on a weeknight and the place was full to the brim. The friendly waiter suggested that we pull up a bar stool and peruse the menu while other patrons finished their meals.

So we perched ourselves at the back of the room, feeling the heat from the roaring gas burners fan our faces and watching the back of house staff completely run off their feet.

There’s lots of entertainment for diners with an open kitchen. But it’s one thing to watch your food being made and appreciating the skill of chefs, it’s another thing to feel the sting of the hot pans in your eyes throughout your meal. The ventilation in the restaurant desperately needs to be improved – I actually had trouble breathing from the smokiness permeating the small room and it was pretty embarrassing for my hair and clothes to smell like pizza on the bus ride home.

While it’s unpleasant to have to get your clothes dry-cleaned after a meal, it could be forgiven and put down to a new venue’s settling-in process if only the food was fantastic. And it was only ok.

The dinner menu contains antipasto, pizza, pasta, risotto and salads. Given the wood-fired oven dominating the room the obvious choice is a pizza so we had the pork sausage ($17 for large). The pizza base had a curious texture unlike other Italian-style artisan pizzas I’ve encountered – crispy instead pliable and chewy, with a thick cakey rim and no distinctive char or bubbling from the wood-fire treatment. The random scattering of rock salt also meant that you’d be surprised at alternative bites with a kick of thirst-inducing salt (and we had to keep asking for water top ups from our friendly but frantically busy waitress).

While the toppings were delicious (how can you go wrong with sausage, tomatoes and cheese?) the pizza was best described as a sort of like pizza on a shortbread base.

To share we also ordered a pappardelle with cavolo nero, rocket and broad beans ($16). A great way to get your health kick but regrettably not a very appealing dish for the eyes or the palate.

The dish was under-seasoned, the rocket was woody and the broad beans had not been double-podded so we chewed through thick, bitter, greeny-grey bean skins at every forkful. While double-podding is not essential to the presentation of broad beans and it’s a painstaking task, I’d expect a professional kitchen to double-pod their broad beans except if the beans were very young and tender (and they’re a spring, not autumn, ingredient). It’s like not stringing beans – you may skip doing it at home but you don’t want to be fish out strings (or pods in this case) from your mouth to leave on your plate at a restaurant.

Dessert was a choice of ice cream, apple and berry crumble and chocolate calzone. The crumble was pretty good – not spectacular but not disappointing, unlike our main courses, and they didn’t charge us extra for swapping out the cream with pistachio ice cream. The ceramic ramekin is a very generous size so it’s definitely a dessert for two, a bargain at $9.

Rita’s is an all-day venue so their breakfast and lunch offerings may be better. But based on my dinner experience, I’ll be sticking with my other pizza favourites – Ladro, Supermaxi and Espressino.

Rita’s Cafeteria, 239 Johnston St, Abbotsford  +61 3 9419 8233

Daily 7.30am–late

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Rita's Cafeteria on Urbanspoon

HOT: Fringe Furniture, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

Melbourne Fringe Festival is on now until 9 October 2011 and one of the regular parts of the eclectic program is the free Fringe Furniture exhibition.

The theme for this year’s exhibition is ‘Dancing in the Dark: Small Solutions to Big Problems’. Basically, this translates to design that’s smart, green, sustainable and beautiful by designers, architects, planners and artists from all around Australia.

Here are some of my favourite pieces from this year’s Fringe Furniture. The list of this year’s award winners is here.

Winner of the Emerging Designer Award – RMIT furniture design student Elizabeth Bowtell for Tri. How nifty is this bench! It can be configured to whatever seating arrangements you need, from a long bench to a few small stools, or can be completely closed up when not in use. It’s made from sustainable bamboo board and stainless steel.

Convergence by another RMIT furniture design student Thom Lentini. I like how this outdoor bench combines straight lines with organic objects. This was highly recommended by in the Award for Sustainable and Waste-Wise Design.

Metropolis: Jardinière made of found wood by Nico Evans at Lab De Stu (Laboratory Design Studio). I liked how the plant seemed to be devouring and overtaking its urban surroundings like a giant green Godzilla.

The Tern Table (Barry Horsfall) and Atlantis sofa (Greg Lawson) made entirely from sustainable materials. They wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Mad Men.

By David Potts, chandeliers made from discarded bike parts – rims, hubs, spokes, cables and reflectors. Who knew these glittery little pieces of coloured plastic would make such a pretty piece of decorative design?

Bike wardrobe by Liam Prescott. A whimsical combination of the natural and the man-made serving a decorative and functional purpose.

Fringe Furniture, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

Wednesday to Sunday 11:00am – 5:00pm until 9 October

HOT Chat: Chanie Stock of Genki

Melbourne loves its fashion and one of the most beloved labels of the city is Genki.

I first visited Genki‘s Cathedral Arcade shop when I arrived in Melbourne way back in 2003. I immediately fell in love with the tiny colourful shop and the adorable aesthetic of their clothing and accessories, especially their ‘I love….’ range of T-shirts (I still own a limited edition tee designed to commemorate the 2006 Commonwealth Games – ‘I love the Games’).

Fast forward to 2010 and I discovered that after a hiatus from the retail world, Genki was reopening with an online store. As I browsed through their collection I realised what was missing – ‘I love cycling’! So on a whim I contacted Chanie Stock, the owner of Genki, and suggested that she launch a cycling t-shirt….and when she did I would stock them in my online store selling stylish cycling accessories, CycleStyle.

So today’s HOT Chat is with Chanie, who’s not only one of my suppliers, she’s also worked in a big law firm like me, has a love of fashion, is a mother and is a delightful bundle of energy. Thanks Chanie!

Chanie, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to start your store and label Genki?

I studied Arts/Law but my true love was always fashion. Even from a very young age I had a very clear aesthetic and dreamed of having my own label. My grandparents worked in the fashion industry so it must be in my blood, but unfortunately they sold the family business when I was just a baby. I got my first job at Portmans when I was only 14 and then continued working in retail all through school and uni and never tired of it.

I decided to leave my job as a lawyer after 2 years to pursue my dream to work in fashion and after a few years as a buyer, I decided to open Genki. Many people though I was crazy as there was nothing like it happening at the time and no one (except the first incarnation of Alice Euphemia) was in Flinders Lane. But I had such a clear vision for Genki – that it break away from traditional retail concepts and be something totally new. I wanted to create a space where it didn’t feel like you were shopping but more like visiting a friend.  When I discovered the Cathedral Arcade space I had butterflies in my belly, as I knew it was perfect and then with the amazing design by Six Degrees my dream became real.

I was inspired to sell all the things that I wanted to wear but couldn’t find locally (remember, this was 1998, well before online shopping). The original product mix was Japanese accessories, homewares and clothing, mixed with exclusive UK labels like YMC and US brands, Daryl K and Built by Wendy (which at the time were only available at Genki in Australia).   I also tested a few simple styles by the Genki home brand, which to my surprise really took off. So as time went by the Genki label developed into something very special with its own identity and great loyal following.

One of your most popular lines is the ‘I love…’ T-shirts. What’s the story behind how you came to develop that range and your collaboration with Beci Orpin?

This is a funny story which shows how even with a clear business plan things pop up along the way that you never expect.

I had a weird vintage t-shirt from when I was little that said ‘I love talking’ with the strangest illustration of a boy (like those oddball 70s tees that are NQR). At that time I had just started working with Beci, who I met through Misha Hollenbach (who designed the Genki logo and the graphics during the first year). The minute I met Beci I knew she was a kindred spirit. We instinctively understand each other’s language and working with her is effortless and always a joy.

So, back to the “I love..” t-shirts…. I went to Beci with the idea for an “I love talking” tee with a Genki character. It was an instant success. The rest just flowed from there. Soon they had a cult following and even now, 12 years later, people still love them.

Where do you turn to for design inspiration?

When I had the Genki shops, I used to get a lot of inspiration on my trips to Japan. It is a place that truly stimulates all the sense and is an aesthetic paradise. But it also gave me a break from the day to day so my mind would open up to new ideas.

Today I can’t travel as much as I did, but I find inspiration in the simplest of things. Food, nature, films, art, old magazines but mostly inspiring friends. There are some days when I wake up and feel fresh and clearheaded and I know something exciting will happen. I don’t want to get old, dull and boring so I need to keep learning and surrounding myself with innovative people.

You used to have very popular shops in the City and Windsor but now sell only online. What kind of challenges have you faced launching an online store?

Closing the city shop in 2009 was very difficult for me and while it was the right decision I still miss that part of my life. It was such a pleasure to go to work with fantastic staff and wonderful customers and do what I loved most. It wasn’t just about selling fabulous things. We laughed and chatted and built close friendships and a special community. My challenge with the online store is how to preserve some of that magic and create that warmth and familiarity in a virtual space.

It has taken some time, but since I turned the “Genki News” section into the “Genki Blog” so there has been a shift and I sense an online Genki community is forming.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start their own business?

The most important thing is really believing in what your business is about. Be it a product or a service, you must live and breathe it and know it inside out. Following on from that, it must be original and have your own fingerprint or flavour.

Assuming the passion and dedication is there the next step is good planning and discipline. A clear detailed business plan is essential and use the resources you have around you (for example if you have an accountant in the family or someone who has specialist skills). Never be afraid to ask for help.

What are your next plans for Genki?

I would like to develop the Genki Blog to touch on other aspects of life. Not just style, but food, hobbies and funny odd topics.

I will continue producing the “I love..” tees, the striped tees and the basic denim pieces as long as the demand is there. There have been many requests for our fleece hoodies and jumpers so I’m planning to bring them back for winter. My plan in the next 12-24 months is to reach new customers, especially the 18-25 year olds (the most popular age demographic back in the day).

Finally, what are your tips for HOT places you like in Melbourne?

Being a mother of three I don’t get out as much as I used to, but I do have a few special tips to share:

I adore De Clieu (187 Gertrude St, Fitzroy +61 3 9416 4661), Seven Seeds (114 Berkeley St, Carlton+61 3 9347 8664) and Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke St Melbourne). The best coffee in the world and most excellent treats.

I still love Ciccolina (130 Acland St, St Kilda +61 3 9525 3333) for lunch or dinner and the new Ilona Staller (282 Carlisle St, St Kilda +61 3 is just fabulous.

Kappaya at the Abbotsford Convent (1 St Helier St, Abbotsford +61 3 9416 0070) is a haven for me. It’s so beautiful there and the food is fresh, pure, tasty and simple.

The Beatbox Kitchen and new Taco Van. Delicious great quality food with heart and a great soundtrack-too good!

The NGV (International and Australia) and other local gallery spaces in Melbourne. What a perfect weekend outing for the whole family. My kids love it as much as the grown ups and it reminds me how lucky we are to live in this wonderful city.

HOT: The Farm Cafe, Collingwood Childrens’ Farm, 18 St Heliers St, Abbotsford

I believe that everything must taste better when it’s eaten outside. How else to explain the popularity of alfresco dining in the freezing depths of a Melbourne winter?

The Farm Cafe is the ultimate location for relaxed open air dining. The sweetly rustic eatery is located in the bucolic surrounds of the Collingwood Childrens’ Farm – a countryside hideaway for city folk where you can pretend to be milkmaids and farmhands for a day.

The cafe serves breakfast and lunch and is particularly popular with shoppers at the monthly farmers markets (held on the 2nd Saturday of every month). All that fresh produce on offer can really get you working up an appetite, or maybe the early weekend start means a bleary-eyed coffee is required to kick start the morning. Either way, there’s no better place to appreciate the top o’ the mornin’ than sitting at a rough-hewn wooden table under the dappled sunlight, gazing out on the chickens and cows in the meadow.

Everything at the Farm Cafe is made on site with fresh, quality ingredients. This attention to provenance means my fritters burst with healthful flavours of green pea and zucchini, bound together loosely with melted haloumi. It came with a handful of crisp salad leaves and halved cherry tomatoes in all hues (tomatoes aren’t all red!) and a dollop of yoghurt ($14.50). Simple yet gorgeous.

I washed down my breakfast with a frothy kid’s size banana milkshake ($3.50) which unfortunately I think might have been made with some sort of syrup rather than fresh bananas as it had that artificially sweet taste to it like you get in those banana lollies. I did notice that the adult milkshakes came in steel canisters, as a good milkshake should.

I loved the food, the ambience and setting of the Farm Cafe and given I try to make the markets most months I’ve already got my eye on the brioche or slow cooked beans for my next post-market visit.