Good Days

March 08, 2017
I initially resisted going to Good Days, the Vietnamese restaurant that opened on Sydney Road last year. With its elegantly designed interior, Good Days is a far cry from that Vietnamese place you love to go to along Victoria Street with sticky floors and plastic tables and cheap delicious pho. I was wary, and suspicious. How could good Vietnamese food come out of somewhere that looked like it should be featured in an interior design magazine?

It can, and it does.


Since venturing to Good Days late last year for the first time, I’ve been back many times – usually for the irresistible beef pho but also for the fresh, tasty Vermicelli noodle salad, the refreshing tap beers (Saigon Summer Ale and Secret Pale, both of which pair perfectly with the food) and, well, just because Good Days is - like its name implies - damn good.

Beef Pho 

The beef pho comes with pasture raised organic Victorian Black Angus in a rich beef broth with deliciously slippery rice noodles. Someone once told me that they think Good Days has the best pho – better than anything they had tried in Vietnam. I haven't been to Vietnam, but I do love this pho. I’ve found myself dreaming about Good Days' beef pho at inappropriate times (Monday morning work meetings, anyone?) and even contemplated heading to Good Days on a 38 degree day for pho. Yes, that’s how good it is.

Beef Pho

I certainly wouldn’t go past their noodle salad either, which is like the gift that keeps on giving. Not only is there a flavoursome mix of vegetables (generous amounts of pickled carrot, daikon and cucumber) tossed in with roasted peanuts and fresh Vermicelli rice noodles, dressed in deliciously salty-sweet nuoc cham, but there’s also crispy house made spring rolls! And what looks like a sesame seed prawn cracker! It’s like Christmas morning as a kid again when there’s so many presents everywhere you don’t know which to unwrap first (as opposed to Christmas as an adult when all you get are bath products which may or may not be someone's gentle way of telling you that they think you smell).

Noodle Salad with pork and prawn spring rolls

I have to also give a shout out to the vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. The mushroom pho isn’t the poor cousin to the beef pho; arguably it’s the star of the show. The vegetable broth, made with a shiitake and kombu stock, is rich and complex and comes with a number of different types of mushroom. The Vermicelli noodle salad also comes with a vegan option of tofu and mushroom.

The only (small) downside of Good Days is the limited seating available. There are a few tables for two along one side of the small space, and counter seats, but for groups of 3 or more there is really only the large shared table at the front (unless you want to do the awkward 3 seats along the counter thing, where the person seated in the middle spends the whole meal like a spectator at a tennis match). 

Counter seating at Good Days

Fortunately, there is pretty reasonable turnover at Good Days, and the staff are always friendly and happy to tell you how long the wait might be. I’ve been alarmed by the line going out the door before, only to pleasantly find that – as a group of two – they can find you a spot at the counter or on one of the small tables in a reasonably short time.

It’s safe to say that my initial fears about Good Days were unfounded. While it may look trendy and its floors and countertops are (alarmingly) non-sticky, at its heart it is ultimately just about good food, good times and – yes – Good Days.

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Good Days
165 Sydney Road, Brunswick


La Paloma

November 21, 2016
I like places that pick what they’re good at, and do it well. La Paloma is a great example of this: quality over quantity, and oh – what quality!


Hidden away down Albert Street, La Paloma has a modest appearance: a few chairs and tables outside and a tiny inside space with the counter area on one side. You can choose from bar stools or squeeze onto one of the small tables where sitting down is a little like a game of Tetris with the adjacent chairs. 

La Paloma, 259 Albert Street, Brunswick

There’s a larger room further inside, for those who like a little more elbow room.

Through to the larger room inside

The inside décor has character: Chilean and Turkish sports club memorabilia hanging behind the counter and framed Argentinian pictures on the walls. It has a wildly different feel to the trendy clean aesthetic that you so often see these days when you go out, and feels more like someone’s home than a café.

The menu is simple, and handwritten on the blackboard against the wall. We came in for lunch and on offer were the La Paloma roll, a tortilla with salad, and empanadas with rice and salad. Seeing the fresh powdery rolls that were being carried out to nearby tables, we couldn’t go past the La Paloma roll (despite the ambiguity of what exactly was in the eponymous roll).


I’m the kind of person who constantly second-guesses my choices: my outfits, my choice of public transport (Upfield line, I’m looking at you) and, yes, my food orders. As soon as I had ordered, I saw a plate filled with rice and salad and fried empanadas which smelt delicious, and instantly wished I’d ordered that instead.

However, this story ends happily. When our La Paloma rolls came out, they didn’t disappoint. Large pillow-like rolls dusted with flour, filled with the freshest ingredients – avocado, cheese, tomato, pastrami, lettuce and what tasted like a delicious blend of pesto and mayonnaise. It was fresh, simple ingredients, done incredibly well. A short while later, plate empty and mouth covered in flour, I certainly wasn’t regretting my order.

The La Paloma roll

...and because it was so delicious, a close-up of the La Paloma roll

La Paloma has such a nice feel to it: like its food, the café is simple and humble, but done well. It goes to show that even in today’s age when every new place is trying outdo the last with its gritty industrial chic and food is being deconstructed, reconstructed and delivered to you with a song and dance (literally, in some cases), sometimes good food and friendly service just speaks for itself – and in the case of La Paloma, speaks volumes.

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La Paloma
259 Albert Street, Brunswick

Heartattack and Vine

November 07, 2016
A friend once said to me that he loves Woody Allen movies and Hemingway for the same reason: they transport you and take you to another world where – for a couple of hours or the space of a few pages – you feel like you’re immersed in another time and place. In the same way, when you walk into Heartattack and Vine, you feel transported to another world: like you’ve wandered into a small neighbourhood bar in Granada, where the food will be bite-sized but delicious, the waitstaff will be welcoming and the wine will be rich and have unpronounceable European names.

Heartattack and Vine didn’t disappoint. It is located at the northern end of Carlton’s Lygon Street, away from the tourist traps and slow moving foot traffic, and an easy cycle from Brunswick. (Interestingly, the team behind Heartattack and Vine were also involved with Brunswick establishments A Minor Place and Wide Open Road which, I think, speaks for itself.)
Heartattack and Vine, 329 Lygon Street, Carlton

Things at Heartattack and Vine are pretty casual – you can sit anywhere there’s room, and you order and pay at the counter. We sat at the long bench at the back where you can watch the staff behind the counter assembling the cicchetti (a Venetian style of bar food, similar to tapas). There is a selection of these on offer, displayed at the front of the bar so that when you walk in you are arrested by the sight of plates filled with stuffed jalapenos, olives (regular and, wait for it, deep-fried), profiteroles filled with creamy gorgonzola, slices of crostini topped with roasted pumpkin squares, and cured tuna with quail eggs, to name a few.

The cicchetti (similar to tapas) on offer at the front of the bar

We chose 6 small dishes to try. I loved the simplicity of ordering: you point to the dishes you want, they are put on a small board, wine is poured and voilà! dinner is served.

Our selection of dishes

Our selection was delicious. Jalapenos stuffed with a tasty baccala puree, crispy rectangles of polenta chips, and roasted pumpkin-topped crostini were my favourites. Prices are a bargain, with one of these at $3.50 a serve and 3 for $10. It’s a great sharing menu, with most of the dishes easy to split between two. This, combined with the cosy, welcoming feel of the bar, makes Heartattack and Vine a great date place.

Wine, good food and low lighting ... perfect for a date

Heartattack and Vine has a nice feel about it. It’s simple and accessible, without the intimidating fanfare you can get at some restaurants; the kind of place where you can grab a quick bite before you head to Cinema Nova or linger over your wine while you relax and watch the afternoon go by. Combine this with delicious, affordable food and friendly staff, and I’d say it’s well worth the short cycle down from Brunswick to visit this particular neighbourhood bar.

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Heartattack and Vine
329 Lygon Street, Carlton

Woodstock Pizza

September 02, 2016
We were at Woodstock Pizza on a Friday night, after what felt like the longest work week (although if I’m honest, most weeks at work feel pretty damn long), and I had my comfy pants on, ready for a night of hot pizza and tasty wine.

Woodstock didn’t disappoint. I’ve read some mixed reviews of the place and the inevitable comparisons to 400 Gradi, just down the road, but to be honest I don’t feel like good pizza has to be ranked against each other. This isn’t the Olympics: no one has to get first place – we can all be winners when there’s tasty pizza involved.



Woodstock Pizza

Tasty pizza is definitely what’s on offer at Woodstock. We ordered the Porcini pizza (because there’s never such a thing as too much mushrooms), the 4 Formaggi pizza (because there’s never such a thing as too much cheese) and the house red wine which came in a ½ litre carafe (because, of course, there’s never such a thing as too much wine).


The wood fired pizzas had a crispy thin crust, just the way I like it. The kitchen must’ve gotten my mental note about mushrooms and cheese, because the Porcini came out with a generous portion of mushrooms and not one, but TWO cheeses (mozzarella and parmigiano).

The Porcini pizza

The 4 Formaggi delivered on its name, with the 4 cheeses in a delicious creamy blend on the wood fired base. Although my dinner companion ambitiously loaded a few chilli’s onto it, the spiciness actually added a nice zing to the pizza. (As a side note, I wonder if anyone has ever proposed a 5 Formaggi pizza… and if so, what the fifth cheese would be?)

The 4 Formaggi pizza

There’s something magical about a good pizza. Maybe it’s the overload of carbs hitting your system, or the visual feast of seeing all your favourite ingredients layered together with a topping of melted cheese, but when I take that first bite into a pizza, my brain enters bliss mode and I feel like somehow everything is going to be okay.

That’s what Woodstock Pizza delivered on that night. To the people who constantly compare it to 400 Gradi (or to any other pizza joint for that matter) in the age-old question of which pizza is the king of them all – all I can say is, do you really care? Great pizza is great pizza, and if it has the same magical effect on you in making you feel for that brief carb / cheese / salt-induced moment that all is right with the world, then I’d say you can call yourself content.


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Woodstock Pizza
63 Lygon Street, Brunswick



Moroccan Deli-cacy

August 05, 2016
When I travelled through Morocco, the two things that I loved most about the food were the spices – cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, paprika, saffron, others I don’t even know the name of – and the colour. The spices transform simple ingredients into rich, flavoursome meals and the food looks as good as it tastes, with the reds, yellows and oranges of the food set against colourful painted crockery.

Moroccan Deli-cacy, on Lygon Street, brought me back to Morocco. As you walk in, you find yourself surrounded by colours and smells: the bright colours of the handpainted mosaics decorating benches and tables, heaped spices in jars on the ground, overflowing plates of salads, grilled vegetables, olives and dips at the back counter. The shelves are adorned with tagines, delicate silver teapots and leather ottomans, and the plates on the countertop offer exotic-looking sweets.





Lunch at Moroccan Deli-cacy is simple but satisfying: a plate filled with a mix of dips, salads, couscous, rice, halloumi, falafel and grilled vegetables, topped with bread and potato chips. Delicious! Everything was fresh and flavoursome, with generous portions, and the punch of flavours was nicely offset by the cooling mint tea we had on the side.



When we went, the place was packed, with woollen-clad Brunswickians crammed onto share tables and bench seats lining the windows. There was a very communal feeling to it: sitting tucked in with other groups, all of us essentially sharing salads and vegetables from the same plates behind the counter.


What I like about Moroccan Deli-cacy is the simplicity. Not the food itself, which is complex and delicious, but the simplicity of what is on offer. There is no decision involved here: you will be served a plate of deliciousness and you are going to enjoy it. Sometimes when you go out for food, you don’t want to have to make a decision between all the delicious offerings on the menu. Sometimes, the answer is just: yes, yes, and yes. I’ll try it all.

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Moroccan Deli-cacy
313 Lygon Street
Brunswick East

Noisy Ritual

July 16, 2016
When someone says the words “urban winery” to you, there’s no other rational response than “where” and “when are we going”. The answer is 249 Lygon Street, Brunswick East and Fridays and Saturdays, 4.00pm sharp.

Noisy Ritual, 249 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

When I heard about Noisy Ritual, a people-powered urban winery which is cellar door and wine bar in one, I had visions of a densely overgrown vineyard jammed into a 5 metre by 5 metre square area in someone’s backyard with a makeshift bar set up in a corner, crates as seats and wine served in latte glasses. How wrong I was.



Noisy Ritual is housed in expansive digs on Lygon Street, a large industrial space with skylights overhead, wine barrels stacked along the wall on one side and the bar along the other side. In between there are tables and chairs set up, a casual affair, with people taking their glasses (or bottles) of wine to sit at shared tables next to the stacked barrels. 

The minimalist interior feels very sophisticated and yet functional too: you can imagine the wine being made here with a lot of feet-stomping and gusto after the doors close and customers leave – and in fact, they hold wine-making workshops and barrel tastings here.


The staff are comfortingly laidback – no wine pretensions or stuffiness here. They’re happy to pour you a glass of wine, tell you a bit about it if you’re interested, or recommend something if you’re unsure. 

The night we went you could order pizzas from Mankoushe which the staff called in for you and which were delivered to the door. In fact, you could order anything else you felt like and get it delivered (judging from the confused looking Deliveroo guys who kept on dropping in through the night) – reinforcing the feeling that we were just hanging out at some friendly stranger’s house where there was great wine and good music. 


Having somewhere like Noisy Ritual open up in my suburb reminds me how lucky I am to live where I do - that Brunswick, and Melbourne in general, is the kind of place where something like this can happen. Who could complain with winery-quality wine available down the road from you? No drawing straws to decide who's going to be designated driver, no paying for expensive winery food that you can't afford because you just spent next month's rent on a box of wine. 

And after you're done with wine tasting at this particular winery, rather than facing an hour plus drive back into the city squashed into a car full of intoxicated friends who seem to have expanded in size since the drive up, it's just a short walk home and to your bed. 


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Noisy Ritual
249 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
http://noisyritual.com.au/#noisy

Zero Gradi Gelato Bar

June 23, 2016
We were walking home the other day after having dinner on Lygon Street in Brunswick East when suddenly, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight: a gelato bar on Lygon Street.

What, Gelobar you say?

No: not Gelobar.

What, you say, the gelato bar – south of Weston Street, north of Barkly Street, on Lygon Street? That’s Gelobar!

Well… you’re right, there does appear to now be two gelato bars within scooping distance of each other (24 metres and a 1 minute walk according to Google Maps, or a 10 second run if you’re running Super Mario starman style and can knock trams, slow moving cars, cyclists and pedestrians out of your way), but they are different. One is Gelobar.

The other one is the newly-opened Zero Gradi Gelato Bar.

Zero Gradi Gelato Bar

Say what you will about two gelato bars being dangerously close to each other – in my view, more gelato is never a bad thing. It opens up a world of possibilities: two gelato stops on your way home from the tram stop, compare-and-contrast gelato studies, or an inaugural gelato crawl (which doesn’t leave you with a hangover and hazy memories of a regrettable pash and dash the morning after).

Zero Gradi Gelato Bar is next door to 400 Gradi and owned by the same owner. It has a good selection of gelato, with traditional flavours like chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla as well as more adventurous ones like the pizza-inspired margherita flavour and fig and mascarpone. These all sit in tubs under glass covers at the back of the shop, cleverly reflected in the mirror above so you can have images of gelato coming at you from all directions.

The ceiling mirror reflecting gelato back at you

We were a little confused at first by the ticketing system, but I understand this is the Neapolitan system where you place an order at the front counter, pay for your gelato, and then take your ticket to the gelato counter at the back where you can pick out your flavours. If my sixty year old mum can work out how to use Instagram, I can master the gelato-ticketing system.

Cone... or cup?

Gelato comes in cups or cones, and there are optional extras you can have on top: whipped cream, wafer cookies and (my favourite) drizzled dark or white chocolate. This chocolate comes out of a tap behind the counter and is drizzled onto the gelato so that it sets as a delicious chocolate layer on top. Homer Simpson might have dreams about drinking directly from the beer tap – I’ve been having dreams about guzzling chocolate directly from the chocolate tap.

Gelato drizzled with dark chocolate and with a wafer

Zero Gradi also offers pastries, cakes and coffees but the gelato is the star of the show. 

Pastries on offer

There is seating inside and outside (if you happen to be a masochist and want to eat ice cream and sit outside in the middle of winter). I also noticed the other day that Zero Gradi is now on Deliveroo! This, of course, means you can get 500ml or 1L tubs delivered straight to you, with little more effort than a couple of swipes of your thumb.

All I have to say really is: thank you Zero Gradi, thank you for bringing more gelato to Brunswick.

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Zero Gradi Gelato Bar
93-97 Lygon Street, Brunswick East