Healthy and hot: Melbourne's superfood cafes
Coconut sago pudding at Barry. Photo: Ken Irwin
When did we get so cosy with kale, quinoa and gluten-free foods? Last year it was all junk food this, deep-fried that. Now we're thinking almost clinically about food's worth: wondering whether it'll nurture bacteria in our gut, questioning its protein and mineral contents, and its alkalinity. Maybe it's no coincidence that our new-found fandom for nutrition comes on the back of a proliferation of pork belly, buttermilk fried chicken and pudgy brioche-bun burgers.
Focusing on nutrition is not niche. Show us a cafe with even a whiff of a retro/industrial/Scandi aesthetic and we'll show you a drinks menu offering a green smoothie or juice made with coconut water and kale, or a lunch of ''ancient grain'' salad and a sandwich with spelt sourdough. That's not to say there won't be waffles with peanut butter and jelly, but, they might be wholemeal waffles, and the schnitzel may be labelled ''gluten free'' and come with a farro salad. Far from ascetic, there's flavour and even fat in these healthier pitched dishes.
Our preference for foods produced the old-fashioned way, with as little intervention from additives and processing as possible, has led us to understand the physiological effects of food and, perhaps, become more sensitive to our body's intolerances, allergies or preferences. The new breed of eatery highlights health-related choices and has a dish to suit most diets: from Paleo to vego.
Shokuiku's raw pancakes, 'ultimate' smoothie (top left), and almond milk elixir. Photo: Eddie Jim
1. LIQUID FOOD
Have your vitamins and minerals delivered in the fast, efficient format of a juice or smoothie - almost as ubiquitous a beverage as coffee these days.
Most cafes juice to order, but some, like Neapoli (30 Russell Place, city, 9650 5020), also cold-press their organically grown carrots and ginger. The cold-press process retains more enzymes and nutrients than centrifugal juicers, apparently. For some serious smoothie action, Shokuiku (120 High Street, Northcote) has the $25 Ultimate, with 17 ingredients including marine phytoplankton, hemp, goji berry and ''mega hydrate''.
The definition of a superfood is any nutrient-rich food that's beneficial to health and wellbeing - the more exotic, the better. Acai berries are blueish and high in antioxidants. The fresh and energetic Gen-Y stable, Little, Big, Sugar, Salt (385 Victoria Street, Abbotsford, 9427 8818) has a bowl of acai pulp scattered with granola, chopped fruit and flower petals: pretty and perky. Lunch at ever-popular Barry (85 High Street, Northcote, 9481 7623) could be a whole salad of superfoods including quinoa and kale.
Also known as the caveman diet, Paleo dieters eat the food groups that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did back in the stone age. That's grass-fed meat and organic fruit, veg and nuts. The diet prescribes very little to no intake of processed foods, such as grains (flour), dairy and sugar.
Sink your teeth into a Gippsland grass-fed spiced short rib with Kansas-style sauce at Meatmother (167 Swan Street, Richmond, 9041 5393). The beef patties at the Burger Lounge (902 Main Road, Eltham, 9431 4500) have grunt, too: grass-fed, free-range and free from antibiotics and chemicals.
4. WHOLE GRAINS
Brown is the new black; we want brown rice, wholemeal ingredients and ''ancient grains'' (pre-GM). Get a load at breakfast at light, bright Touchwood (480 Bridge Road, Richmond, 0429 9347): quinoa, freekeh, wild rice, rocket, toasted almond, chai-soaked raisins, cumin yoghurt and a poached egg. And, Bentleigh's latest stylemeister, Merchant's Guild (680 Centre Road, Bentleigh East, 9579 0734), has wild rice, quinoa, sweet potato, beetroot, broccoli, nuts, seeds and tahini yoghurt for lunch.
The majority of Australians choose to limit their gluten intake for health rather than medical reasons (with just 0.25 per cent of Australians diagnosed coeliacs).
More than 277 eateries in this year's Good Food Under $30 are listed as having gluten-free options. They range from dishes that are inherently gluten free but flagged anyway, like rice noodle soups, and the 100 per cent stone-ground corn tortillas at La Tortilleria (72 Stubbs Street, Kensington, 9376 5577), through gluten-free pastas such as quinoa and amaranth at Etto (shop 610, 261 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, 9696 3886) and pizza at Pizza Farro (608 High Street, Thornbury, 9484 2040).
Oh how our eyes, hearts and minds have opened to the invisible world of bacteria and microbes - those tiny critters that keep our guts healthy. From kimchi that's ubiquitous at the burgeoning number of Korean restaurants, through the flavour balance that pickled peaches provide market fish ceviche at Mesa Verde (level 6, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, city, 9654 4417) through to the tang of fermented fish broth with noodles at Thai diner Bangpop (35 South Wharf Promenade, South Wharf, 9245 9800).
Everybody from the National Health and Medical Research Council through to Robert Lustig is warning people to limit their sugar intake. Many of the mostly vegan, wholefood dishes at Admiral Cheng Ho (325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford, 9417 1887) and its southern sister Monk Bodhi Dharma (Rear, 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9534 7250) are sugar-free (and gluten-free). And Red Robyn (393 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, 9077 3763) has a great menu that's sensitive to all sensitivities.
It's not hard to get a good vegetarian meal in this town. At the Grain Store (517 Flinders Lane, city, 9972 6993) a vegan cauliflower, quinoa, goji berry, pumpkin hummus and nigella seed brunch dish sits among a sparkling menu that is not averse to meat or fish. Even the local pub does vegan these days. The National Hotel (344 Victoria Street, Richmond, 9429 8811), a revamped boozer with environmental cred (worm farm, solar panels, recycled materials), offers a vegan Thai curry and a veg burger with apple and relish.