HOT: Ayatana Love Prahran Market, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Spring Graze, 97 Chapel St, Windsor


September heralds the start of Spring and with it, the Spring Graze as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival‘s year-round program.

The Spring Graze (1-30 September) is all out celebrating Victorian producers (the campaign is called Put Victoria on Your Table) and all around the state this month Victorian restaurants, cafes and producers are celebrating the season with over 70 lunches, dinners, tastings and workshops.

On Tuesday 24 September Windsor restaurant Ayatana are hosting Ayatana Loves Prahran Market – a delicious 5 course Thai-inspired dinner prepared using fresh, local Victorian produce sourced from nearby Prahran Market, with each course matched by Bellarine Peninsula’s Oakdene Wines.


To give you a taste of what the dinner will be about I was invited to preview the menu.

Ayatana serves modern Thai food, meaning that the Thai chef (the owner’s wife Juthamas Vichayaporn) includes creative, fusion elements to the food as well as preparing more traditional dishes. The restaurant’s contemporary approach to Thai cuisine is matched by its decor – there are subtle elements indicating that you’re in a Thai restaurant, such as the lovely canvas prints, but you won’t be overwhelmed by loads of purple silk and bronze Buddhas.


The first course was a twist on the traditional Tom Yum soup with with portobello and flat mushrooms sourced from wild mushroom specialist Damian Pike (matched with Oakdene ‘Yvette’ Methode Traditionelle Sparkling 2010). The soup had a fantastic hit of lemongrass and chilli to kickstart the digestive system and I really enjoyed the plumpness of the various mushrooms.


Second course was my favourite dish in terms of flavour and balance. It consisted of sweet crunchy roasted tamarind bio-dynamic brown rice, bean sprouts, cashews, crispy noodles, green apple, red onion and garnished with mint and coriander and a fluttering of flying fish roe, all sourced from Ripe The Organic Grocer (matched with Oakdene ‘Jessica’ Sauvignon Blanc). A dazzlingly fresh dish enhanced by the tumble of interesting textures in every mouthful.


Surprisingly there were two meat main course sized dishes in the menu – not that I’m complaining but it did lend a bottom-heaviness to the balance of the menu. The first meat course was a caramelised crispy free range Greta Valley free range Berkshire pork belly from Gary’s Quality Meats (matched with Oakdene ‘Peta’s’ Pinot Noir 2012). Four generous cubes of melting meat sported an even, crispy shell and my only quibble was that too much rock salt had remained on the crackling so some mouthfuls were extremely salty. Otherwise the balance of sweetness, saltiness and chilli jam heat was delicious.


The second meat course was a slow cooked sher wagyu rump Massaman curry with meat sourced from Neil’s Meats (matched with Oakdene ‘William’ Shiraz 2010). It was beautifully presented with the key spices used as decorative elements (cinnamon stick and star anise) but the flavour was surprisingly mellow. Massaman curries are generally quite mild but I would have liked a bit more aromatic punch to this dish.SONY DSC

Dessert was a Fritz Gelato salted caramel ice cream sundae created with palm sugar caramel, roasted honey macadamias and a side of caramelised steamed banana for the Thai influence (matched with Oakdene Pinot Grigio 2012). You can’t go too wrong with a huge ball of good quality ice cream for dessert and I licked my plate clean.

Ayatana Love Prahran Market, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Spring Graze, 97 Chapel St, Windsor

The Ayatana Loves Prahran Market dinner is on for one night only on Tuesday 24 September. For $95 you get 5 courses and 5 wine matches and I guarantee that you will be rolling happily out the door. You can find out more info here.

Ayatana Loves Prahran Market, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Spring Graze, 97 Chapel St, Windsor +61 3 9533 8813


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HOT Chat: Carley Andrews of Ujamaa Hostel

Today’s HOT Chat is the first time I’m interviewing a Melburnian who actually no longer  lives in Melbourne. Melbourne-born Carley Andrews now lives in Tanzania with her husband, running a hostel focusing on providing volunteer work opportunities. I was inspired to interview her after reading about her new project, a childrens’ home, which she has just started with Melbourne lawyer Lucy Bradlow. Thanks Carley!

Carley, tell me a bit more about your background, how you ended up in Arusha, Tanzania and came to run the Ujamaa Hostel?

I first volunteered in Kenya in 2006 and loved the experience, but I went with large company, paid lots of money (none of which went to the project) and was disappointed with the level of support.

A year later I went to Tanzania to volunteer with an independent company, I intended to stay for about a month,  but I never left! I met my husband (who is Tanzanian) when I was volunteering in a town called Moshi, which is about an hour away from where I now live.

We decided to move to Arusha and set up the Ujamaa Hostel because we both love volunteering and helping other people. We also wanted to provide a cost-effective and safe way for others to volunteer in the local community.

What is the philosophy of Ujamaa Hostel?

“Ujamaa” is the Swahili word for “familyhood” and is based on the community working together for the good of the whole. Many of the big companies charge huge amounts of money to volunteer and none of the money goes to the projects. We wanted to change that. We believe that if you spend your money coming here and give your time to help others, then you shouldn’t have to pay to volunteer. And if you have extra money to donate, it should go directly to the projects, not to an off-shore company.

When you volunteer with us the only cost is your accommodation. We spend time sourcing reputable and worthwhile local projects where volunteers can spend their time and we provide them with a range of in-country support.

Your first project is the Ujamaa Children’s Home, which you started in conjunction with Melbourne lawyer Lucy Bradlow. What inspired you both to start this project and what is the purpose of the Ujamaa Children’s Home?

I have worked with and managed many projects over the years and have learnt a great deal from these experiences. I have always wanted to create my own project, but I felt that I needed to spend time on the ground here learning the culture and the language before I could effectively run my own project.

I met Lucy when she was working in Arusha at the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal and she volunteered with us in her spare time. Our goals and beliefs were so similar we started working together and fundraising for different projects. We decided to create our own project after seeing others being mis-managed and we felt that we have the experience, dedication and commitment to build a successful and long-lasting Home for children in need.

Our relationship works really well because I am able to manage the Ujamaa Children’s Home on the ground in Tanzania and Lucy is able deal with the fundraising and legal aspects back in Australia.

What have you found to be some of the most interesting or challenging aspects of living and working in Tanzania?

Tanzania is different from many other African countries because it is socially and politically stable. There are over 120 tribes here and they all live together in harmony. They are proud of their tribe, but they are more proud to be Tanzanian. Tribal beliefs are strong and well-maintained and while Swahili and English are the official languages you can’t go a day without hearing many other tribal dialects.

The culture here is incredibly rich and interesting, but it is very different from Australia. First and foremost, there is “Africa time”. There’s no hurry in Africa and everything happens at its own pace. You really can’t force things to happen at a normal “Western” pace and if you do, you’ll just end up frustrated and things still won’t happen any faster. This also allows for setting your own work hours and relaxing into a lifestyle that can be reasonably stress free.

There is a lot that is available here, but nothing quite works the way you’ll expect it to, so everyday is an adventure…which is sometimes a bit tiring! There are regular power and water cuts, but generally I live a fairly normal life.

The scenery is incredible and I live just an hour away from Mt Kilimanjaro and a couple of hours from the world’s greatest safari parks. There are often monkeys around town too.

For the most part I feel safe in Arusha, however you cannot walk around at night and we do have Masai Guards at the house 24/7.

The poverty level here is high and there is so much need, but you just do what you can to help and you have to understand that you can’t fix everything.

What are your next plans for Ujamaa Hostel and the Ujamaa Children’s Home?

Ujamaa Hostel continues to expand and we are working with a range of different projects including an orphanage, a Nursery School and some Vocational Training Centres for disadvantaged youths. We love having our volunteers and are so lucky to be able to provide people with this experience. It really has a profound effect on people and it’s awesome that we get to be a part of that.

With Ujamaa Children’s Home, firstly we are looking to gain steady financial support so that we can take in more children. We currently have 5 amazing kids in the house and we’d love to help more.

Our next goal is to raise money to buy land and build a proper house for the Home. We’re currently renting a house which is fine for now, but we want to build a house that is designed specifically for our needs.

You’ve live in Tanzania for nearly 3 years but many of your family and friends still live in Melbourne. What are your favourite places to visit or things to do when you return to Melbourne?

I love coming back to Melbourne and visiting friends and family. My Mum’s cooking is always top of the list and I often spend a lot of time in the Supermarket, there just isn’t the same variety in Arusha.

If I’m eating out, I always go to Rococo (87 Acland St, St Kilda +61 3 9525 3232) with my brother, they have the most amazing salads, breads and pastas. I can never get Mexican food in Arusha, so I make sure I go to Amigos (7/478 Chapel St, South Yarra, +61 3 9826 1653) as well.

The food in Australia is great, because it’s always fresh and quick, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get it.

The London (92 Beach St, Port Melbourne +61 3 9646 4644) in Port Melbourne is my parent’s “local” so we always go there for a meal and a drink. Awesome steak sandwich.

If it’s summer, we’ll go to The Local Taphouse (184 Carlisle St, St Kilda East, +61 3 9537 2633) or The Railway Hotel (29 Chapel Street, Windsor +61 3 9510 4050).

I really love just walking around town and getting a coffee with friends. There are no shops in Arusha that sell new items, so I’m always stocking up on clothes and DVDs.

I also love to get some acupuncture at Vitality in Albert Park and to stock up on organic products (282 Richardson Street, Middle Park +61 3 9682 8866).

Melbourne Neighbourhood Guides

agenda printscreenToday I’m pointing you to a guest post that I wrote for the free daily enewsletter The Agenda, which delivers the best of what’s new, unknown or inexcusably under-appreciated in and around Melbourne (they also have a Sydney version).

They recently featured a series of Neighbourhood Guides and I contributed Fitzroy. You can read all about what I had to say about my local stomping ground here.

If you can also read the neighbourhood guides for other cool suburbs of Melbourne: East St Kilda, Collingwood, Brunswick and Windsor.

HOT: Red Door Antiques and Yum Cha Cafe, 1-3 McIlwrick St, Windsor

I haven’t had dim sum in Melbourne other than at Shark Fin House for years.

However, I was sufficiently intrigued by Red Door Antiques and Yum Cha Cafe to stray from my faithful yum cha restaurant and cycle across town to check it out.

Red Door offers a small selection of dim sum in rather grand surroundings  amongst antique Chinese furniture and gifts, all of which are for sale. That means while you’re waiting for your food you can wander around inspecting the figurines, chest of drawers, gongs and Mao memorabilia on display, and when your har gao arrives you can eat it lounging on a Qing dynasty carved wooden bed.

It’s a relaxing space and far removed from the usual shoutyness and trolley jams of most yum cha restaurants.

I’m told the owner Sandra lived in China in the 60s and it’s obvious that she’s a complete Sinophile, while I’m not sure who is making the delicious dumplings inside the kitchen. For the food really is very good – we tried fluffy pork buns without the flourescent red food colouring, fat and juicy prawn dumplings with lovely translucent wrappers and delicate vegetarian bean curd wraps.

Red Door Antiques and Yum Cha Cafe, 1-3 McIlwrick St, Windsor

The only problem is that the food took ages to arrive and it comes out in dribs and drabs. The  place was pretty packed on the weekend (we had to book) and I’m not sure the kitchen or the staff are able to cope with those numbers. I also think that the prices are higher than the yum cha standard. For instance, pork buns are $3.20 each and a steamer of dumplings costs between $5-$7. After 1.5 hours I left $17 poorer and still a little hungry (though I do have an enormous appetite for dim sum).

Nevertheless, overall I give Red Door Antiques and Yum Cha Cafe a HOT. Based on the unusual setting and the excellent food, I recommend it as an experience worth trying. Just don’t go when you’re starving.

Here’s a review in The Age’s Epicure. For other yum cha options nearby, try David’s.

Red Door on Urbanspoon

HOT Alert: Week of 21 September 2009

Apparently this week there’s some sort of football grand final happening? I will be one of maybe two people in Melbourne nowhere near the MCG or a big screen TV:

This week’s photo is a shot from last week’s Don’t Ban the Can, part of the Croft Alley Project. I only got to see the alley for about 30 seconds and I couldn’t really justify a post, so here’s the pic.

Don't Ban the Can, Croft Alley Project Melbourne

HOT: Grill’d, 157 Chapel St, Windsor 3181


Grill’d don’t just produce any burgers, they pride themselves on producing large, healthy and tasty premium burgers (a la Gourmet Burger King). From what I could see their clientele seemed to be mostly single males between the ages of 20-35, so it was only natural that it was RM’s first choice for a lunch spot.

Despite not being their target market, I enjoyed my Hot Mama beef burger with salad, harissa and tzatiki ($11.50). The beef patty was a bit overcooked for my taste, thus lacking juiciness, but still the quality of the meat was evident. At the time of ordering I was given the choice of hot or burn ya face off hot….and I can confirm that the latter is really very hot in a masochistic kind of way. RM similarly enjoyed his Zen Hen chicken burger with satay sauce ($9.90), although I’m not sure whether he realised there was herb mayo in it (he has a deathly fear of mayonnaise). We also shared a small portion of chips, which were properly fried and sprinkled with herbs. Eating with our hands, letting the juices run down our fingers, basking in the Sunday sun – it was the perfect weekend carbo-loading lunch.

Update 9 May 2009: Saturday night in front of America’s Next Top Model meant it was Burger Night! So to our nearest Grill’d in QV for a Sweet Chilli Chicken ($8.90) and a highly recommended Bombay Bliss ($9.90).

Grill'd on Urbanspoon