In a Pinch: Hummus Bros, Chadstone

You’ve had a busy day shopping at Chadstone when you suddenly feel pangs of Paleo hunger gnawing at your stomach. What does one do?

Believe it or not, it is possible to find some good Paleo fare amongst the pizza, sandwiches and bain-marie Asian in the Chadstone food court.

Case in point: Hummus Bros! And no chickpeas were involved.

Kebab meat on a plate (Large – $11.50)

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This is about as simple as it gets for the hungry caveperson: meat and vegetables on a (not so Palaeolithic plastic) plate. You may notice in the above photograph that I chose to go down the mixed meat route, though choosing one of either the chicken or lamb is equally acceptable.

Some simple modifications to the standard offering a required to make this work. Firstly, skip the pita bread, hummus (despite the store name) and garlic sauce. Secondly, instead of the usual “three salad” choice, go only for the clean mushroom & capsicum salad with some tomato,  lettuce and onion thrown on top if you wish.

There is also a smaller version which costs $9.50, but the extra meat goes down nicely since there is no bread to fill you up.

Slightly high in fat, which is only a problem if you are really watching the calories, and a tad saltier than I’d like, but overall a great Paleo meal in a pinch.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 4.5/5.

Hummus Bros

tl;dr:Easy, good value paleo (and the principals here apply to any kebab place), though with a relatively high fat content.

Lower Level Food Court, Chadstone Shopping Centre, Chadstone, VIC, 3148
Open 7 days per week during Chadstone opening hours.

Becco, Melbourne

Becco has served its Melbourne faithful for almost a decade. Great for a work lunch or a formal dinner, its reputation certainly had me going in with high expectations.

Italian food can be hit or miss when it comes to paleo dining. Many restaurants are overly pizza and pasta heavy, but Becco, thankfully, provides a much more modern, intelligent and, most importantly, simply delicious approach to its dishes.

Smoked ocean trout, avocado puree, watercress, chilli salad, shallot ginger dressing ($22.00)

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The carefully cured ocean trout in this dish did not disappoint

Dish rating: 4.5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Hanger steak in red wine jus(special) ($43.00)

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I’ll say it upfront: this is up there with the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly cooked (medium rare of course), the meat was succulent and delicious. I was also assured by our friendly waitress that the jus recipe was grain and dairy free.

Well done, Becco, well done.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4.5/5.

Peppered fennel, spring onion, orange ($9.00)

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Fresh and simple salad makes the perfect accompaniment for that luscious steak.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Becco

tl;dr: Informal Italian as it should be done, with more than enough to satisfy the paleo palette .

11-25 Crossley Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Open 7 days for lunch or dinner

Mama Baba, South Yarra

The latest in the George Colombaris restaurant empire, the Mamababa story stems from George’s upbringing by both his Greek and Italian grandmothers.

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This is restaurant is almost exclusively dedicated to pasta – either strictly Italian or a re-imagination of Greek classics to suit. This knowledge left me with low expectations for the number of items that would suit the paleo lifestyle, and mistaken I was not: just two items remotely close to suitable:

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FOD: Grilled snapper fillet, horta, lemon, olive oil ($33.00)

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If the above photograph looks miserable to you, it should. A massive plate for a small piece of fish and some stewed vegetables. Teething problems, perhaps (we were there on the first weekend)?

The fish was grilled nicely and the horta was fine, but it just lacked a certain something – especially for a $33 dish. The flavours were OK, but overall down rated because of the empty feeling it left inside of me after its consumption (both emotionally and physically).

Dish rating: 2.5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Mamababa

tl;dr: Didn’t expect a pasta restaurant to be paleo friendly, but the one remotely paleo dish was disappointing.

21 Daly St, South Yarra VIC 3141
Open 7 days per week for dinner.

Colonel Tan’s, Prahran

Colonel Tans has quickly become a staple for fans of Thai food. Set amongst the bohemians and bleary-eyed patrons of Revolver, it provides a welcome escape from the average Thai joints scattered across Melbourne. With an extensive menu and good service, it is deserving of the praise that it normally receives.

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Thai food, like many Asian cuisines, is by default littered with peanuts and cashews, sugary sauces and rice. The menu here is no different, but to Colonel Tan’s credit, it is very descriptive and there are quite a few dishes which could potentially meet a caveperson’s needs. The staff were more than willing to address any concerns about menu items.

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Waterfall salad with mint, shallots, chilli & coriander ($16.50)

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This is a very clean beef salad which incorporates the standard Thai flavours of chilli and coriander. I found the beef a little bit dry for my liking but not bad overall.

Dish rating: 3.5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Stir fried chicken with gingko nuts, red pepper and basil ($15.50)

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A very, very tasty chicken stir-fry with a host of paleo-friendly ingredients. The sauce is a little bit sweet but not over the top. Gingko nuts provide the dish with a slightly unusual (but enjoyable) taste and texture.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4.5/5.

Mushroom & lotus root salad with tomato and basil ($14.50)

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You either like lotus root or you don’t; thankfully for me, I fall into the former category and enjoyed this dish immensely. The salad is light and the meaty looking mushrooms and lotus root combo taste a treat.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Yellow fish curry with green papaya and shredded omelette ($17.50)

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The yellow curry fish is specified on the menu with a side of white rice. A taste revealed why – this is a spicy little dish.

If you don’t mind a bit of heat without rice to dull it down, this is a good choice for the paleo conscious.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5 (excluding rice, of course).

Colonel Tans

tl;dr: Bringing super tasty, good value and paleo-friendly Thai food to the Chapel St masses.

Upstairs, 229 Chapel St, Prahran VIC 3181
Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner (lunch on Fridays)

Cumulus Inc, Melbourne

Cumulus Inc has been serving its acclaimed dishes since 2008. With an extensive all-day menu, Cumulus also caters for city folk with its special breakfast menu.

Unfortunately, the Paleo options on the menu are fairly limited, leaving me with the trusty bacon and eggs combination to start my morning.

“The Full English” ($18.00)

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If there was ever a breakfast for lovers of meat, this must be it: farmhouse slab bacon, blood sausage, fried eggs and a tiny bit of smoked tomato (hold the toast). What separates this from the standard American breakfast is the quality of the ingredients; grilled, wonderfully smoky, streaky bacon and the satisfying sausage.

It looks great, tastes great and delivers a great, albeit somewhat fatty, start to the day.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4/5.

Cumulus Inc

tl;dr: An interesting place for an unusual take on the meatlover’s breakfast.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Baden Powell Hotel, Collingwood

Getting a decent paleo pub meal can be all but impossible. Such places are usually known more for their great pizza or parmas than anything else (though the occasional steak may abound). It’s made even more difficult when sitting with a group which is crazy about carbohydrate-rich foods.

Nonetheless, my mission continues unabated as I set out to find the best paleo-friendly meals at the Baden Powell Hotel.

Some of my dinner companions

The Baden Powell still runs the tried and tested “order at the counter” pub method: reserve your table, hop over to the bar, put in your request and receive your number on a lovely metal stick. Not my thing, but it works.

My first scan of the menu quickly affirmed my fears: pizzas galore (some sounding really good), with heapings of grains and dairy permeating the much of the remainder of the list. Even the steak of the day would have come with an inappropriate sauce and chips. However a further look showed that I would indeed be able to find some terrific dishes which met my needs. Here is what I chose:

House cured salmon with caper & red onion salad ($12.00)

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Not a lot to say for something so simple. The salmon was nicely cured, a bit oily (which I liked) and tasty way to begin the meal. The only thing marking this down from a paleo point of view is the capers in the salad: strict paleo dictates that one avoids pickled foods. I personally am not too concerned about those little green things in my meal.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 4/5.

Snapper fillets with fennel & spinach ragout ($26.00)20110903_185306

The thing I love about most pub meals is that there are few surprises. Unlike fancier restaurants, which can often only provide a general guide as to what you will receive, pubs tend to pretty much give you exactly what you expect. This bodes very well for the paleo eater.

This dish was pretty much as expected – no funny business or unexpected ingredients, and enjoyable to boot.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Big mixed salad ($8.00)

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What can I say about this? It’s a big green salad, a nice accompaniment to any good meal. Eat your veggies, children!

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Baden Powell Hotel

tl;dr: The Baden Powell is a pretty good place for a pub meal, and there are a few things on the menu which are great for the paleo-inclined patron.

61-65 Victoria Pde, Collingwood 3066
Open 6 days per week for lunch (except Mondays), 7 days for dinner

If you like what I’m doing (or otherwise), leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Mirka at Tolarno Hotel, St Kilda

With venues like Grossi Florentino, Grossi Trattoria and Merchant to his name (literally), Guy Grossi has developed an enviable reputation throughout Australia for producing restaurants with top-notch Italian food. Today’s I look at Grossi’s Mirka at the Tolarno Hotel, on Fitzroy St in the heart of St Kilda, from a paleo perspective of course.

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Mirka has been in Grossi’s stable since the mid-2000s. Its otherwise simple decor is offset by magnificent painted walls covered in a colourful, Chagal-esque mural – all far too impressive for my simple phone camera to capture in the dim evening light. Staff in white shirts and aprons, and one female employee in a bright red dress, buzzed around the restaurant, cheerfully and physically bringing around the specials board for those on each table to peruse.

Check out this happy waiter!

Mirka has a distinct, combined Italian and French style to its food. For a paleo man, this combination usually results in lots of pasta and potatoes, butter, cheese and cream – all clear transgressions of my strict dietary requirements. The menu here brought no surprises in that respect. Thankfully, one was able to rely on the other French staple of beef steak to get through the evening.

The staff were quite helpful with my food requests, happily checking with the kitchen about ingredients and alternatives, and I was ultimately able to settle upon a few seemingly suitable dishes.

Sardines in Pancetta ($14.00)

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On this very large plate came three fried, salty sardines in wrapped equally salty (and scrumptious) pancetta, placed carefully on a line of a date preserve and topped with radish garnish.

The fish and meat blended beautifully together, with the saltiness offset by the sweetness of the date and the slight bitterness of the radish – beautifully balanced. But whilst, the salt and sugar are clearly integral to the taste, they are not great for a paleo dish.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 3/5.

Globe Artichoke Hearts ($14.00)

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I love a bit of artichoke and this one was presented and cooked beautifully. Unexpectedly from the description on the menu, joining it were some strips of a hard cheese (can’t tell you what it was because I didn’t eat it) and peas. I can at least attest to the fresh flavour of those artichokes!

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 2/5.

Eye Fillet, Truffle Mash & Salsify Bordelaise Sauce ($40.00)

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Start by chalking me down for two “oopses” on this dish: firstly, I forgot to take a photo before I hoed into the steak; secondly, I didn’t know that Bordelaise was a butter-based sauce. D’oh.

The eye fillet was one of the specials of the day on this fateful Saturday night. To try and make this dish workable, I substituted the truffle mash, which did look rather excellent, with some steamed vegetables. Despite clearly indicating to the waiter that white potatoes were a no go zone, the dish still turned up with some roasted ones, together with some steamed brocolini (good) and yellow beans (discouraged by strict paleo but I still eat them). The potatoes didn’t go to waste and were quickly disposed of amongst my companions.

The steak came perfectly medium-rare as requested and the sauce was delicious. Great flavour may have been possessed by this dish, but unfortunately it could not earn a great rating on the paleo scale.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 2/5.

Mirka at Tolarno Hotel

tl;dr: Mirka is a top notch restaurant from a flavour and quality perspective but it is difficult to find things that are truly paleo-friendly. It’s also a bit on the pricey side (no surprises there), so whilst the food tastes great, the cost may not be justified depending on your expectations.

Open 7 days per week, 7.30am-11:00pm

The Little Ox, Brighton

The Little Ox is one of those places that has been reviewed to the hilt. Its unpretentious, clean surrounds, eclectic decor and decent food make it a very popular place for a breakfast or brunch. Getting a table on the weekends can be slow, particularly if you have more than two people in your group. We were lucky to have a very short wait being a couple, leaving a few groups of three (which had arrived earlier) still waiting behind us.

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Breakfast is often the simplest meal of the day but also, in my opinion, the most dangerous for paleo eating. A perusal of most breakfast menus quickly reveals items heavily weighted towards grains, dairy and sugar. Thus eggs are normally one’s paleo breakfast saviour, and things were no different at The Little Ox.

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The service was friendly and relatively prompt given how busy it was at the time. I was a little concerned when reading the warning at the bottom of the menu – Apologies, we are unable to accommodate changes to the menu – the catch-cry of many a popular breakfast place. I did initially want scrambled eggs, but this wasn’t to be as the egg-mix was pre-prepared with cream. Nonetheless, the staff were very helpful (e.g. they knew that the tasty-sounding lamb & honey sausages weren’t gluten free) and I was able to assemble something paleo friendly for my breakfast without hassle.

Fried Eggs with Mushrooms and Bacon ($13.50)

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A simple breakfast is often the best and simple is exactly what I received. Two fried eggs, some crispy bacon and some sautéed mushrooms. What more could a man ask for? Perhaps a good cup of coffee, which was equally forthcoming.

Some important notes on this meal from a paleo perspective:

  • The eggs were fried in oil, not butter. I didn’t ask what kind of oil was used, however I believe it was olive.
  • I asked them to hold the buttered bread (of course).
  • The paleo jury is out on bacon. Some say it is not paleo because it is too fatty; others say it is fine. I choose the middle ground and just avoid eating the really fatty bits.

It would be sad to find that something this basic wasn’t up to par, but thankfully The Little Ox did not disappoint. The eggs were perfectly fried sunny-side up, the mushrooms gently sautéed such that they still had some bite, and the bacon was cooked just to the point of maximum flavour without becoming a burnt mess. Top marks.

The only fault in this dish was a little bit of extra salt on the mushrooms and bacon. It wasn’t covered by any stretch, but I try to avoid added salt where possible and if I had my time again I would have requested it to be salt-fee.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4/5.

The Little Ox

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tl;dr: The Little Ox reinforced that it is possible to go out and still have an enjoyable paleo breakfast.

452 New Street, Brighton 3186
Open 7 days, 6:30am to 5:00pm

Chin Chin, Melbourne

Welcome to the first post in my new series dedicated to practical dining out as a Paleo eater. I start with one of the hottest places in the city: Chin Chin in Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD.

Chin Chin Entrance

Chin Chin is the latest in a string of modern Asian/Thai restaurants in Melbourne, immediately reminding me of the likes of institutions such as Longrain and Cookie. This isn’t surprising as it is run by the ex chef’s from Sydney’s Jimmy Liks and Melbourne’s Ezards. It’s also another establishment which has taken on the latest “no-bookings” craze. The stories of hour-plus waits for a table have already begun to spread, no doubt adding to the venue’s allure.

Check out the wine man

Thankfully, a very late 4:30pm lunch on a cold Melbourne Sunday meant that the wife and I had to wait a total of zero minutes, the venue being only about 65% full at that time.

The service was OK at best given how relatively un-busy it was during our meal: 1) our first tea pots arrived less than half full and we had to ask for more hot water; 2) we specifically requested no rice, some was still brought out with our third dish which we sent away and then we were charged for it; and 3) attentiveness whilst we were trying to pay the bill was a tad slow. The staff were very friendly and helpful despite these complaints.

As I am reviewing from the point of view of a Paleo eater, my mission is simply to find the most Paleo-friendly dishes on the menu. Don’t expect long dissertations on the quality of the beverages; my drinks are limited to tap water, sparkling water or perhaps a cup of tea (the sencha green was very earthy, in a good way); there are plenty of other places where you can find assessments on the cocktails. And on that note, sugary desserts are quite obviously also out of the question.

What a nice pot of tea

Thai fare has quite good potential as a Paleo choice. The main flavours stem from chillies, lemongrass, lime, thai basil, coconut and curry, all of which are quite fine from a practical Paleo perspective. Things to watch out for, however, include batter on fried foods, palm sugar, peanuts and, of course, rice and noodles.

Without further ado, it’s time to get onto the selected dishes.

Kingfish Sashimi with Lime, Chilli, Coconut & Thai Basil ($14)

Kingfish Sashimi

Great quality fish combined with the tart fresh lime juice, sweet mint and creamy coconut. This sashimi was an absolutely delightful starter and just about perfect for Paleo lovers.

Dish rating: 4/5.
Paleo rating: 5/5.

Steamed Spanner Crab & Chicken Salad with Green Tomato, Chilli & Coconut Dressing ($23)

Spanner Crab & Chicken Salad

This salad had a nice overall flavour with fresh green tomatoes and chillies. The nice unmentioned surprise was a little salmon roe on top; the not-so-nice surprises were the bean sprouts and crushed peanuts – both Paleo no-nos. There was also a hint of palm sugar and fish sauce in the dressing.

This dish reminded me of a sweeter version of the kingfish sashimi, which is unsurprising given the significant ingredient overlap. There was a higher level of heat in this dish, which was greatly appreciated by my heat-seeking palette.

I was left a little disappointed with the quantity of crab and chicken in this $23 dish. The meatiness I had expected became lost in the large quantity of bean sprouts.

Dish rating: 3/5.
Paleo rating: 2/5.

Wild Barramundi Wrapped in Banana Leaf with Coconut Red Curry, Lime & Thai Basil ($22)

Wild Barramundi

Perfectly cooked, this sweet and wild (Paleo loves wild things) barbecued fish dish was very tasty. The sweetness was again due to palm sugar in the mix – I think it would have tasted great even without it.

Overall thoroughly enjoyed.

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4/5.

Twice Cooked Hopkins River Beef Short Rib with Saw Toothed Coriander & Prik Nahm Pla ($25)

Beef short ribs

Our final dish, succulent, tender beef ribs with a slight honey flavour, accompanied by  a simple sauce of lime, chillies and fish sauce. Most wouldn’t think of combining the two but the taste was surprisingly delicious. Slight loss of Paleo points for the honey (though the jury is out on honey’s acceptableness on the scale).

Dish rating: 5/5.
Paleo rating: 4.5/5.

Chin Chin Restaurant

tl;dr: Chin Chin is recommended to Paleo eaters who appreciate some good quality, modern Asian food without too much cheating.

125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
Open 7 days, 11:00am to late