Shop here: Preston Artist Market, Melbourne

Preston Artist Market – PAM LANE
Corner Murray Rd and Cramer St, Preston
http://www.pamlane.com.au/

I said it a year ago; the hipsters are on the move. Real estate is running out in the Fitzroy/Collingwood/Brunswick areas, so the young, cool and enterprising are moving outwards, and creating some amazing spaces and opportunities in the process. Look at High St, Northcote and Thornbury to start off with, which is now home to some beautiful homes, apartments, shops and eateries now (like Sookie La La and Lievita), places that take what they do seriously and are really making big efforts to put out good food to the community, as well as big new food truck park Welcome to Thornbury.

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Move a little further out, and even Preston, the area I spent so much of my childhood in, is getting a little bit nice and fancy now. It wasn’t like that 30 years ago. Back then, it was factory after factory, run down pubs filled with bums, crappy little milk bars on street corners with piles of trash out the front. Fine dining options were McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks; now, we’ve got some seriously amazing food, places like Chew Burgers, Boundary Espresso, Cheshire, Chumanchu, hell even another food truck park.

Even little old Preston Market, the place I used to visit with my grandparents when I stayed with them on school holidays, is getting a bit of a make over with the addition of shiny new PAM Lane – the Preston Artist Market. From the crew that brought us the Rose Street Artist Market (another favourite of mine), this little corner of the Preston Market has been created as a space for makers to “create and sell their wares in the one location.”

It’s not just a space to sell; while the market is only open to the public four days a week (Wednesdays – Saturdays), stall holders have access to their spaces on Mondays and Tuesdays, too. From Pam Lane themselves,

The best part is, we’re on the lookout for all types of makers to fill the space and showcase to a huge market audience! Want to open a pop-up shop? Here’s your chance. Need more space to get creative and make your products? We have just the spot!

Each studio can be customised as you see fit and has great lighting and access to power.

What this means in effect is that you’re going to be able to find gorgeous hand crafted jewellery and one off pieces of artwork, sold by the creative souls who are actually making them. And it’s not just homewares and art; you can get yourself some fancy coffee down there now, too. And chocolate. Oh my goodness. Wawa Chocolatier has set up shop down at PAM Lane, and they probably need to be your first stop. I’m a lucky lady and was a little bit spoilt when my husband dropped in and picked me up a block of balsamic salted caramel dark chocolate, and that stuff is MAGIC!

I’m down there every Friday night to do my grocery shopping, so now that PAM Lane is officially open to the public, I think I’m gonna need to start budgeting a little more for groceries/a treat-yoself slush fund…

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Melbourne’s north side food truck parks: The Food Truck Park Preston -VS- Welcome To Thornbury

These things are popping up like… actually I can’t think of a clean, PG rated, appropriate analogy here. Suffice to say that seven years after Roy Choi and his little Korean taco truck, Kogi, started the food truck craze half way around the world, it is still well and truly going strong in Melbourne, which has fast established it’s reputation as one of the great hipster meccas of the world. And with hipsters comes good food. Sometimes pretentious crap, sure, but for the most part it’s pretty bloody good.

Before the food truck/street food thing caught fire, it was the fancy restaurants that drew the foodie crowds. The Mamasitas and Chin Chins and Fondas, which charged big money for intricate, well thought out, delicious, albeit little dishes, and played off the 2 hour wait for a table as a badge of honour. Those days are just about over, though, with the crowds no longer wanting to wait ages for tiny, elegant dishes; the tide is really turning to the out-of-a-truck street food thing. And ironically (because we all know that the basis of the hipster movement is to do “ironic things ironically” – thank you Anthony Bourdain for the clarification), the lines for this stuff (formerly pleb food) are now epic, too! The great paradox, for me, is that a lot of these people (I’m now referring to the yuppies, not the hipsters) waiting in line for their $12 “Vietnamese sandwich” whilst necking their craft beer probably wouldn’t even think about touching a $1 banh mi made with sans rubber gloves and tongs, and served off the back of a motorbike on the streets of Hanoi… but, I digress.

All of my cynicism aside, with the often excessive amount of rules and restrictions put in place by the local councils (because let’s be honest guys; they’re more about making money than keeping us safe from food poisoning!), this is as close as we’re ever going to get to a “street food culture” in Melbourne, so I’ll take it! Also, the fresh, clean astro-turf and gorgeous, modern touches like the wooden benches and seats are a little nicer than sitting on a plastic crate in a dirty gutter next to rapidly passing traffic. And I absolutely love the idea of a food truck park – it’s so nice and convenient to have it all in the one place!

We’ve been living in the heart of the Northern suburbs for just on two years now (WHAT?! TWO YEARS ALREADY?!?! Wow…), and our timing couldn’t have been better because it is well and truly becoming Melbourne’s suburban food and culture centre. Case in point – one of the main streets within walking distance to our house boasts a Japanese convenience store, a few Indian restaurants, a Halal butcher, a Lebanese bakery, a new-style hipster cafe, an Italian deli, and a good old fashioned Aussie fish and chip shop. All within no more than a kilometre of each other. So when not one, but two food truck parks opened only 3.5km away from each other, and both within a stone’s throw of our place, we were a bit excited!

 

First up in the red corner, we’ve got:
The Food Truck Park
518 High St, Preston
http://www.thefoodtruckpark.com.au/
https://www.facebook.com/thefoodtruckpark

Operated by: The Australian Mobile Food Vendors Group.
These guys are also the team behind the Coburg Drive-In Food Truck Festivals and the Richmond Food Truck Park, as well as numerous pop ups.

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday
12:00 – 2:30pm lunch session
5:30 – 9:30pm dinner session

Great to visit at:
Dinner time – it’s beautifully lit up at night, and big enough that the crowds aren’t too big a problem if you get there not long after opening time.

Vibe: Relaxed, comfortable, like hanging out in a good mate’s backyard with people sitting on the floor when table space runs out, kids running around having a good time. Very chilled out and welcoming.

Food on offer:
Ever changing rotation which you can check on their Facebook page, but some of the trucks that have made an appearance over the last few weeks include:
– Dos Diablos
– Smokin’ Barry’s BBQ
– The Dude Food Man
– Happy Camper Pizza
– Greek Street Food
– The Brulee Cart
– Nuoc Mama
Billy Van Creamy & Manny’s Donut Café, who joined powers to help me create this monster when I visited on opening weekend (a fresh, warm donutella from Manny’s with some of Billy’s peanut butter gelato… and also some of their salted caramel gelato. Because ¿por qué no los dos?)

The Food Truck Park Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Billy Van Creamy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Next up, in the blue corner:
Welcome To Thornbury
520 High St, Northcote
http://welcometothornbury.com/

Operated by: Maleik Edwards and the team behind Melbourne favourites like Mr Burger, Homeslice and Fancy Hanks.

Opening hours:
Monday – Thursday from 5pm – 9pm
Friday – Sunday from 12pm – 10pm

Great to visit at:
Mid week dinner or a sunny weekend lunch session – but arrive right on opening time because this place gets PACKED! Unless you’re arriving mid afternoon and waiting it out until dinner time, chances of getting a seat for an evening feed are not great.

Vibe: The fancier, trendier sibling of Preston’s park – younger, well dressed crowd, table or nothing (floor sitting didn’t seem to acceptable), fewer children and the ones that were there were sitting quietly at the tables. All very shiny, new and modern, little details all well thought out and beautifully presented. More similar to the friend’s house that you feel obliged to take your shoes off before entering.

Food on offer:
Again, rotating roster available on their website, including
– Mr Burger (duh)
– Mamma Van
– Dos Diablos
– Dude Food Man
– White Guy Cooks Thai
– Greek Street Food
– Gorilla Grill
– Ghost Kitchen, who make THE MOST MAGNIFICENT popcorn chicken you’ve even had the pleasure of stuffing your face with:

Ghost Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

And don’t miss the area on your way in, where Doughboys are hidden away. Because if you miss out on their doughy magic (like the Peanut Buster), your visit was close to pointless.

Doughboys Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Welcome to Thornbury Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
So, who wins the food truck park war of the Northern suburbs? YOU DO! They’re both fantastic, both very different atmospheres, and both with a lot of the same trucks rotating through. They’re both going to be popular fixtures as Melbourne starts warming up with a group of mates and a few plates of delicious food to share – and now that we’re officially a month into spring and weather is starting to get it’s act together, that’s your weekend sorted, my friends!

On that note, I’ve got a crazy busy work day ahead, after which I’m gonna load my bags into the car, and enjoy a bit of a long weekend mini road trip with the guy I’m celebrating a 5 year wedding anniversary with this weekend 🙂 See you guys back in a few days (possibly for a post-Grand Final day food truck park chill out session)!

Eat here: Boundary Espresso, Melbourne (cafe)

Boundary Espresso
107 High St, Preston
https://www.facebook.com/boundaryespresso

Happy Friday everyone! Congrats on making it through yet another week (almost)! By this stage, you should be considering brunch options for the weekend; allow me to assist. I’ve driven past this place over and over again without ever really noticing it – pretty easy to do with it’s run down,  hole-in-the-wall exterior, tucked away in Preston. But last weekend, after the final round (hopefully) of hospital tests, I made my way over there for a post-fast breaky/what’s-been-doing? dates with JV, on a recommendation she’d had from a work colleague.

It’s a teeny tiny little space a few doors down from Chew, with room inside for maybe 20 brunchers, and another 10 or so outside. The kitchen is a little matchbox stuck in behind the front counter, and they work the cramped area surprisingly well.

The menu consists of a number of baked egg items (like the baked eggs with chorizo and guacamole, and the caramelised leek and goats cheese baked omelette), as well as a nice range of pides – the Turkish influence on the menu is pretty apparent.

JV went with the spinach and cheese gözleme, which looked pretty delicious. I went with the green eggs and ham (baked eggs, rocket, pesto & Barkly Smokehouse grandmother ham) with gluten free bread from Fatto A Mano Bakery. Unfortunately,  eggs were well and truly overdone – no gooey, dripping orange yolk to be found 😦  BUT the ham was incredible – thickly cut pieces, rich, smoked flavour, and the pesto was the perfect accompaniment.

Great food and super friendly service, but for the cost (the green eggs & ham plus an English breakfast tea came to $21.00) and the fact that baked eggs are their specialty, I’d have expected to get eggs that weren’t so overcooked. That said, I’d still be keen to go back again – the pides looked great, and for under $10, really good value  if you need a cheap lunch option in the suburbs this weekend!

As for me, I’m gonna be leaving Melbourne for the weekend with the husband – we’re off to Beechworth for a special little event/challenge… if I make it through it one piece, I’ll tell you all about it when we get back on Monday 🙂

 

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Eat here: Brown Bear, Melbourne (brunch)

Brown Bear
301 High St, Preston
http://www.brownbearcafe.com.au/

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Thank you guys for sticking with me for New York week last week! I’m hoping that I was able to bring back some great memories for those of you who have been, remind those of you who live there about some of the wonderful places in your city, and provide some items for the to-do lists of those who haven’t been yet 🙂 But today, we’re heading back to Melbourne, my city, and starting the day with some breakfast out in the suburbs!

Since moving into the area almost two years ago, we’ve made a habit of doing our weekly grocery shopping at the Preston Market, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring that little pocket of the suburb. I’d noticed Brown Bear a few times driving past, but we’d never stopped in; a couple of weekends ago, we’d done the shopping on the Saturday morning, realized it was 10am and we hadn’t had breaky yet, and were both famished. We head straight to Brown Bear. If you’re a local and have no idea where or what Brown Bear is, you’d be quite forgiven – it’s a tiny little hole in the wall opposite Abla’s, just away from the main market strip. It really doesn’t look like too much from the outside, but get past that and head in!

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Brown Bear was opened only a year ago by Leo, an artist (among other professions) hailing from China with a special passion for good food and saving the animals. Leo’s artwork adorns the blackboard wall of the café, mostly bear-centric work, with a row of laminated photocopies stuck on the wall below the board. These are copies of the cheques Leo donates to Free The Bears; the donations come in the form of all the tips received by the café. That alone makes it worth a visit.

If you need more of a reason, though, their 5 Senses coffee is pretty popular, with a truckload of people popping in and out while we brunched for a take away cup. Husband was a fan of the coffee, too. I was a fan of the gorgeous teal cup and saucer set.

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Anyway, breakfast. They do all day breakfast. There’s another reason to visit. Husband went with the Brown Bear Brekkie – 2 poached free range eggs, sourdough, 2 mini cheese kransky, bacon, mushroom, tomato and rocket ($16.00), which was very impressive… I got a bit of bacon and kransky in exchange for some of my smashed avo, and they were both sooo tasty! I really loved the cheesy kranskies – perfect little addition to make breaky a bit more substantial.

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I went with the smashed avocado with pan fried sourdough, scrambled free range eggs & hot chilli sauce ($11.50). Big call, but some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had at a café. Husband agreed, which is an even bigger call from him. Everything was tasty, perfectly seasoned (I usually have to use a stack of salt and/or pepper myself to get it right, but it was all pretty spot on!), and the eggs were magnificently cooked – not under and raw, but more importantly not overcooked and dry.

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They also have some gorgeous looking cakes, including their little signature cheesecakes stamped with the Brown Bear logo, but which we sadly couldn’t fit it – they may not look like much, but they are incredibly generous servings! If you’re in the area, have a craving for some really good scrambled eggs and coffee, and want to help the bears, swing by this week or weekend 🙂

 

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Eat here: C-Culture, Melbourne (Chinese)

C-Culture – Seafood & BBQ Chinese Restaurant
Shop 1, 437 High St, Preston
https://www.facebook.com/pages/C-CULTURE/342458736114

It was one of those nights on Friday night. It had been a really long, really shitty week. I was freezing cold and starving hungry, and I was craving some sort of comfort food. Something rich and filling and warming and substantial.

Walking down High Street in Preston is a good position to be in when you’re feeling like that, because everything is there. Italian, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, I mean, pick a cuisine and chances are you’ll find it. The original plan was Noodle Kingdom – their Shanghai fried noodles are comfort food perfection. But, on the walk, the C-Culture sign caught me eye, like it has almost every other time I’ve been past it. Friday night, I just felt like I needed to get in there and try it out; I suddenly realised I was craving duck. I don’t know why, I just was. One glance through the front window to see a whole lot of golden roast duck as well as a crazy busy restaurant service in full swing, and husband agreed to go with my hunch that the food would be good.

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Nothing special outside or in – it’s like the dozen other Asian eateries on the street. We were immediately seated at basically the last empty table in the place, and handed menus written half in English, half in Chinese. After a quick scan of the menu, husband left the meat ordering to me, and he picked out a noodle dish to go with it…

The noodles we got were the fried egg noodles with BBQ pork; they were nice, but not amazing. That’s probably because we were both comparing them to those Noodle Kingdom noodles that we both love so much. These were still really nice though – crispy fried noodles which softened in the delicious oyster sauce, with a good amount of pork and veggies. A good size dish to share if you’re getting some other dishes too, which I’d highly recommend.

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Next up, to satisfy my duck craving, we got a serve of Peking duck pancakes. Amazing. The duck was delicious, with lashings of hoi sin sauce and super soft pancakes. They were more like thinner tortillas almost than other pancakes I’ve had with Peking duck before, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, they were delicious!

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Finally, the pièce de résistance. Crispy skin pork belly. Would you believe this was apparently the entree serving, which cost all of $9.00?! It was a mountain of pork, and it was perfect. Holy wow. We both agreed that we’d go back JUST for the pork, it was THAT good! Super soft and tender meat, beautifully rendered fat, golden crispy tops. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. I can’t overstate the deliciousness of this pork enough.

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This is the biggest blessing of living in such a multicultural area; the food is amazing. So much of it is family run business, and the fact that so many places on High Street have been around for SO long says a lot about the quality of the food. If you’re lucky enough to be like us and live close to Preston, venture out from your usual same old spot tonight and give C-Culture a try. And if you don’t live in the area, make the effort to visit; I promise you won’t be disappointed!

 

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Preston Market, Melbourne

I can’t believe I haven’t thought to bring my camera along before, but I thought it was about time to give some love to one of my favourite places in Melbourne; the Preston Market!

I used to visit the market pretty often as a kid with my grandparents – there are a lot of Italians in the market, both as vendors and buyers. I remember trailing Nonna and Nonno while they spoke to store owners, catching up on the latest gossip while purchasing their fresh produce. I loved it 🙂

Now, I visit every week with my husband, to do our grocery shopping. While I still have to visit supermarkets for some staples like milk, dog food, some toiletries, those sorts of things, I can’t imagine ever going back to buying all of my fruit and veggies and meat at a supermarket anymore! The quality is unbelievably better, as are the prices, not to mention the experience of the market atmosphere itself. I’m a huge market lover, and always make a point on my travels to visit as many as possible – I’m pretty lucky that I can get that same experience so close to home, too!

The fruit and veggie section is always my first stop…

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I absolutely LOVE the deli section!!! Tasty cold cuts, more cheeses than you can poke a stick at, and the incredible selection of antipasti… those are the tastes of my childhood!

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The meat section is a carnivore’s dream. You can get anything and everything there, up to and including internal organs, pigs trotters, tripe, the absolute works! I like to be organised and write up my grocery list before I get there, but sometimes the best way to go about it is to find an incredible cut of meat and plan the rest of the meal around it!

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The seafood is pretty fantastic too – my Nonno Giovanni (dad’s dad) hosts an enormous, traditional Italian seafood feast each year on Christmas eve – I’m talking lobster, calamari, prawns, the whole shebang. Anyway, he gets his seafood here every year, placing his order ahead of time, so he can roll in the morning of the feast to collect his fresh bounty.

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One of the not-so-traditional places in the market that I’m a big fan of is the health food store – I visit this place every week to stock up on the most fantastic organic oats I’ve ever eaten, as well as chia seeds and cacao nibs. They have a truly fantastic range of other supplies that can often be hard to find and/or quite expensive – quinoa, coconut sugar, dried figs, and almost every type of flour you can think of. AND the prices are top notch!

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But my favourite part of the market? The fact that it’s a place to meet and eat and relax and enjoy life. This table with the 6 old guys literally stopped me in my tracks and made me smile so much – you see it in markets around the world, the older generation sitting around and enjoying some local food together, catching up on the good old days, speaking their own languages, and completely oblivious to everything else going on around them.

It’s a genuine and truly beautiful scene, there’s not much more to be said about it… this is why I love markets. Yeah, the food is always amazing there, the prices are always great, but it’s also where you experience life, real life with all it’s flaws and imperfections that add up to a perfect scene like this 🙂

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Through my eyes: perfect old buildings of High St, Preston/Northcote

I’ve been sick with the flu for a week and a half. Second case of the flu in a month. It’s kicking my ass. I’ve also not really exercised in this time. This is ridiculous for the girl who usually works out 6 – 7 days a week, including an hour before work every morning at 5.45am. In my defense, I was also a personal trainer for 8 years, a martial artist for around 15 years, and once you get into those habits, its hard to get out of them!

Husband and I usually go for a pretty long walk (around 12km on average) most Sundays to and from a breakfast or brunch spot. Last weekend was the first time in over a week I’d had the energy to actually do anything, and also the first time it hasn’t really been raining in a while, so we decided to head out for a walk and a feed. That review is coming up soon.

In the mean time, I quite enjoyed my time being let lose for a 10km walk in the fresh air, and noticed for the first time that there are some really beautiful old buildings along High Street, spanning the Preston and Northcote suburbs. A lot of them now have shiny new signage for new businesses that have popped up, but there are still hints of the good old days to be seen. More still have that retro, vintage, gorgeously run down and dilapidated look to them. They’re all little bits of history, though. Here are some snaps I took and played around with on the VSCOcam last weekend…

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