Meet the Melbourne food businesses born from COVID-19

Jok Club by Humble Rays is delivering Thai rice porridge with a choice of five toppings.
Jok Club by Humble Rays is delivering Thai rice porridge with a choice of five toppings. Photo: Supplied

Melbourne has swapped silver service for a silver lining: new food businesses that would never have existed without COVID-19.

Restaurants are launching delivery-only offshoots, while temporary visa holders are "ghosting" in restaurant kitchens and cooking for international communities from home.

But launching a food business isn't as simple as creating an Instagram account, cranking up the oven and selling your cakes over the fence. Aspiring home professionals must comply with the Food Act 1984, pass health and safety inspections, and pay to register home-based food premises – although many councils are reducing or waiving fees.

"Necessity is the mother of invention, and food is just one area where innovation can actually meet changing consumer demand," says Jim Carden, the City of Stonnington's manager of communications, advocacy and engagement. "We have noted a definite increase in interest in and applications for home-based food enterprises."

City of Melbourne's Susan Riley says meeting stringent health and safety standards can be a deterrent.

"It's wonderful to see Melburnians responding creatively with new business endeavours in response to the pandemic. However, it can be challenging to meet food safety standards and legal requirements in a home environment," she says. "For this reason, many people don't go ahead with their application."

But for those who do register, Instagram can function like word of mouth on steroids. There are hundreds online, but these 12 new – and registered – concepts born from COVID-19 are a reliable start.

Old restaurants, new tricks

Rainy Day Soup by Aunty Franklee

Malaysian restaurant Aunty Franklee introduced Rainy Day Soups in mid-July to coincide with stage four lockdown and soup season. Between Friday and Sunday, the team delivers $11 soups, $3 omelettes and $6 traditional sweets. Soups change and might include beef and daikon, black garlic bak kut teh herbal soup and watercress pork and chicken. Free delivery for orders $50 or more. Order via SMS (0466 396 713) and check @rainy_day_soups for suburbs and specials.

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Jok Club by Humble Rays

Sutinee Suntivatana pulled the pin on a city lease for a new Thai rice porridge concept when the pandemic hit, instead launching Jok Club from the safety of her Carlton cafe, Humble Rays. There are five congee topping options, including beef short ribs, and mushroom and tofu, priced from $15. Delivery within five kilometres of Humble Rays, 71 Bouverie Street, Carlton, @jokclubmelb. Order via the apps LINE or EASI, or call 03 8354 8459.

Umami by YOI Indonesian Fusion

The Indonesian family behind YOI in the city has expanded into Japanese donburi, offering a different rice bowl each week. So far there's been unagi don (eel), gyudon (wagyu beef) and karaage (fried chicken). Free CBD delivery when you order two or more bowls. Order through Instagram, WhatsApp (0435 591 222) or pick up from YOI, shop 1, 155 Franklin Street, Melbourne.

The Age, News, 27/08/2020 picture by Justin McManus.
 Thai Tide
Black pepper mud crab

Talay's black pepper mud crab. Photo: Justin McManus

Talay by Thai Tide

An offshoot of city restaurant Thai Tide, this delivery-only seafood concept is a study in bold flavours. It's both a way for owner Merica Charungvat to keep staff employed and the closest thing Melburnians will get to that cancelled south-east Asian beach holiday. Pre-orders ensure that dishes such as aromatic tom yum soup and whole mud crab are always fresh, plus every order comes with a handwritten thank you note. Order via @talay.thaitide on Instagram.

Sweet new talent

Good Pudd

British pastry chef Carley Scheidegger was due to start at Andrew McConnell's latest venue, Gimlet, when COVID-19 hit. Now she's ghosting from the Etta kitchen in Brunswick East, selling Basque cheesecake, spiced apple and walnut pudding, treacle tart and more. Her desserts (pictured) also cameo on Embla's at-home menu and are available from The Lincoln in Carlton. Order via Instagram for Friday and Saturday delivery to metropolitan Melbourne.

Bake Terry

Piya Maneesook borrows the kitchen at Thai Food Station in North Richmond to bake cloud-like Thai butter bread rolls, sweet loaves packed with pork floss, and purple potato biscuits that bear an uncanny resemblance to real spuds. The menu is released each Monday; pre-order for Friday and Saturday delivery. Pick-up available from 36 La Trobe Street, CBD, or Talad Thai, 1-5 Ferguson Street, Abbotsford. Order via @baketerry_au.

Savoury self-starters

Pempek si Bontet

Indonesian chef Stifany Jakub (ex 400 Gradi) took over Ettamo Italian restaurant in Dandenong last year. When Melbourne went into lockdown she began making pempek, South Sumatran fish cakes that remind her of home. She's since introduced specials such as pindang tulang (spicy, sour beef rib soup). Order by Tuesday for Saturday delivery via Instagram or WhatsApp +62 811 7129 904.

Momo Shop

Before COVID-19, Momo Shop founder Tika Maya Rai distributed sake to restaurants. When clients shut up shop, she returned to her roots and began making her mother's Nepalese dumplings. Her momos are available in pork or tofu and vegetable. Both are delivered with timur tomato achar (smoky, spicy tomato chutney made with Nepalese pepper). Order via momoshop.com.au.

Minimum Dips

What started as a thoughtful pick-me-up for fellow hospitality workers is now a blossoming business. Chef Clare Duncan (ex Epocha, Rumi and San Telmo) sells seasonal dips and pickles online, showcasing Victorian produce. That might mean classics such as smoky charred baba ghanoush, or specials such as globe artichokes and white bean. All natural, all vegan. Order online for delivery within 5km of Collingwood at minimumdips.square.site.

Sara Giraldo is cooking bunuelos (deep-fried Colombian cheese balls) during the pandemic.

La Chimosa's deep-fried Colombian cheese balls. Photo: Supplied

La Chismosa

Chef and journalist Sara Giraldo cooks bunuelos – deep-fried Colombian cheese balls – in Fitzroy's Si Senorita kitchen. Although she's catering for Colombians, anyone can appreciate the 96-year-old family recipe adapted to Aussie ingredients. Sunday only. Pick up from Si Senorita (312 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy), or delivery within 15km. Visit @lachismosa.au. Order via SMS 0452 642 314.

Argies Empanadas

Argies, short for Argentinians, is Facundo Cabrera and Wanda Rosales' ​pandemic baby. Stood down from hospitality jobs, the temporary visa holders began baking for neighbours to support themselves. Argies offers empanadas (pictured) with five different fillings, alfajores (dulce de leche sandwich cookies) and pasta frola (a tart made with guava paste). Order via SMS or WhatsApp 0432 512 946 for same-day delivery to Kew, Kew East, Balwyn, Balwyn North, Camberwell and Hawthorn.