Review: Square and Compass, East Melbourne

I’ve been practicing yoga a few times a week for the past couple of months. I wouldn’t call myself proficient by any means – I struggle to get my foot above my knee in tree pose, I faceplant in crow pose, and while most people seem to be able to jump to forward fold from downward-facing dog, I have to walk my way to the top of the mat.

Still, I turn up every week without fail. I practice my breathing. I try to clear my mind and focus on being in the moment. I’ve changed other parts of my life to match the philosophies of yoga practice. I even wake up at 7am on a Saturday morning to go to a 9am yoga class at my yoga studio in the city. As one of the teachers at the studio says, yoga practice is about dedication not proficiency, or, being true to the moment not how long you can hold a pose.

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Attending an early Saturday morning yoga class is sweetened by a brunching afterwards in the city outskirts at cafes like Square and Compass. Run by the same family who own the cafe Mammoth in Armadale, Square and Compass is cut from the same mold – light, airy interiors, a serious concentration on coffee, and a brunch menu that features classics with a modern twist.

Seven Seeds Cappuccino, $4 and Earl Grey Tea, $4.50
Seven Seeds Cappuccino, $4 and Earl Grey Tea, $4.50

We started with some drinks – a Cappuccino for K (coffee from Seven Seeds) and an Earl Grey Tea for myself. K was thankful for his cappuccino to help wake him up after an early start! Tea here is served in a Japanese-style tetsubin cast iron teapot, ensuring that the tea brews evenly and stays warm for longer. Milk is served here with Earl Grey tea (probably all teas), but I would have preferred a wedge of lemon on the side as an option over the milk.

Ayomo Garden Greens cold pressed juice (cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, apple), $8
Ayomo Garden Greens cold pressed juice (cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, apple), $8

I love green juices, though K’s not a big fan. Ayomo‘s cold-pressed juices are always a treat, and the Garden Greens is one of my favourites. It’s always cleansing on the palate, with just enough sweetness from the apple juice to make it more palatable.

Smoked pork croquettes, roast pumpkin, sweet onion puree, crispy sage, poached egg, $19 AUD
Smoked pork croquettes, roast pumpkin, sweet onion puree, crispy sage, poached egg, $19 AUD

K opted for a dish that you wouldn’t find on most cafe brunch menus – Smoked Pork Croquettes with Roast Pumpkin. It’s the type of dish that one might associate more with an evening meal than breakfast.

However once I tasted the different elements of the dish together, I understood why it seemed to work. The rich meatiness of the pork croquettes was reminiscent of salty bacon and with a mouthful of soft sweet roasted pumpkin that imitated a stack of sweet pancakes, this dish is like a reinterpretation of maple syrup and bacon pancakes. The salty, meaty and sweet flavours co-mingle to create something quite special.

Crunchy peanut butter, heirloom tomatoes, salt and pepper peanuts on toast, $15 AUD
Crunchy peanut butter, heirloom tomatoes, salt and pepper peanuts on toast, $15 AUD

I chose the Square and Compass signature dish of Crunchy Peanut Butter on Toast…with the extra special twist of an Heirloom Tomato topping. ‘What!’ I hear you exclaim? ‘Peanut butter and tomato? That’s madness!’ Reader, that was my first reaction too. It’s not until you take your first bite that you understand what a genius combination this really is – one that I actually hope to recreate at home!

The fresh tang and burst of juice from the heirloom tomatoes helps to cut through the palate-sticking residue from the liberal serving of everyone’s childhood favourite Kraft branded crunchy peanut butter. Those with arachibutyrophobia can rejoice, as peanut butter toast will no longer stick to your palate as long you combine it with a tiny heirloom tomato or two.

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The brunch offerings at cafes owned by the Sahely family continue to impress. Like our meal at Mammoth, our brunch at Square and Compass was particularly unique and innovative, looking at key ingredients through a different lens. Our meals were a nod to some favourite childhood breakfasts, but with a firm eye to ‘how can we make it better’?

We’ll continue to visit the Sahely/McBride family cafes for their excellent and innovative food. In fact, keep an eye out for an upcoming review of another of their cafes – Touchwood in Richmond!

Square and Compass is located at 222 Clarendon Street in East Melbourne.

Review: Kaowa Snack and Juice Bar, Marrakech Morocco

If I can give one piece of advice about visiting Marrakech, it’s to be aware of the orange juice racket in the central Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the Medina. There’s two elements to the OJ racket that’s designed to hurt travellers – one is that when you ask for an orange juice (4 Moroccan Dirhams), the seller will give you a blood orange juice and demand that you pay them 10 Dirhams. They won’t take no for an answer, and you’ll quickly be surrounded by their mates demanding that you pay for the more expensive juice.

The second element is that even if you manage to get a proper orange juice, it won’t be fresh. The seller would have made it earlier and diluted it with water or ice beforehand and given that this water and ice will be straight out of a Marrakech tap, it’s a one-way street to diarrhoea-town for most travellers!

To avoid all this, do yourself a favour and drop into Kaowa Snack and Juice Bar when you have a craving for a fresh juice. While it’s further away and outside the walls of the Medina, it’s also conveniently located right opposite the beautiful Jardin Majorelle. That means that after you get your freshly squeezed juice in a hygienic takeaway cup, you can take it into the beautiful gardens and sit back and relax with a cool drink in a stunning and quiet location.

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There’s outdoor seating for all those who want to soak up the winter sunshine. Marrakech enjoys fine weather throughout winter with average temps of around 18 degrees, which was positively balmy for us after having made our way over most of frozen continental Europe!

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There’s a wide range of juices, smoothies and milkshakes on the menu, categorised under headings such as “Les Tops”, “Les Orientaux” and “Les Detox”. I chose the Top Minceau known as a slimming juice – cucumber, apple, pineapple and fresh mint. While the combination looks less than appetising with its muddy brown colour, it’s the perfect refreshing mix to have in hot and sunny Morocco. K’s Palmeraie smoothie of dates, almond milk, banana and cinnamon was much more of a sweeter drink reminiscent of a meal-replacement shake rather than a refreshing juice.

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I ordered the Couscous de Lala Rachia (vegetarien aux legumes) – there are chicken, mince and mixed meat options available if desired! Served in a little individual tajine, the dish was unfortunately quite disappointing. The cous cous was drier than it should be, the vegetables weren’t cooked evenly (the turnip was still quite hard while the zucchini was much too soft) and the sauce lacked depth of flavour. Unfortunately I wouldn’t order this again.

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K ordered the dish of the day which was a Quiche aux Blettes Chevre – a goat’s cheese quiche with a small garden salad on the side. This was a much better choice – light, healthy and simple, a refreshing change when compared to the heavier cous cous and tajine meals you usually get in Marrakech. The quiche was ready-made and displayed in the cabinet (alongside a few other grab-and-go sandwiches, paninis and snacks), so it could make for the perfect light meal to take into the Jardin Majorelle for an impromptu picnic lunch!

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We finished off our meal by sharing the Crumble Aux Fruits de Saison which was a bit overly sweet with the amount of sugar syrup used in the fruit mix…which was hardly ‘seasonal’ as it just seemed to be made of apples! I don’t mind an apple crumble, but I was hoping for more variety given the way it was advertised. I wish we’d gone for a more reliable off-the-shelf dessert like carrot cake with argan oil or cheesecake with dates. A crumble really should be made fresh each day, and this crumble tasted like it had been made several days earlier and just stored in the plastic cups.

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The highlight of Kaowa Snack and Juice Bar is definitely the fresh juices and smoothies – a delicious and reliable liquid treat in Marrakech that won’t try and cheat you like the others by wilfully overcharging or mixing in tap water! The food is a bit more hit and miss – the cold ready-made foods on display seem to be a better bet than ordering off the hot menu.

I think that if I were to visit Marrakech and the Jardin Majorelle again, I wouldn’t bother sitting in Kaowa having a hot meal. I’d rather buy myself a fresh juice and a freshly made sandwich from their to-go section and take it into the gardens for a more relaxed picnic lunch! I’d suggest you do the same.

Kaowa Snack and Juice Bar is located opposite the Jardin Majorelle at 34 Rue Yves St Laurent in Marrakech, Morocco.

Half Day of Pampering and A Traditional Meal at Hammam Rosa Bonheur, Marrakech Morocco

The first half of this blog entry is completely unillustrated with photos – largely because I was clothed in only a paper g-string for most of it and that’s an entirely inappropriate image to share with anyone but my husband and middle-aged Moroccan ladies. You’ll just have to use your imagination for the next bit!

So K and I were keen to visit a few different hammams while in Marrakech. Our stay in the city was designed to be a relaxing holiday rather than a jam-packed action trip, and what better way to relax than in a Moroccan hammam with steam rooms, body scrubs and massages? We visited Hammam Rosa Bonheur first, as it was one of the hammams that offered a reasonably priced ‘couples experience’, rather than separating guests by gender from the start.

We chose their special offer, which included a 45 minute traditional hammam experience, 1 hour and 15 minute massage, a 30 minute facial, and a three-course meal for only 95 Euro per person. A bargain by most accounts, as it’s a two and a half hour pampering experience with a meal for only about $150 AUD!

So how did our morning play out?

  1. We arrived at Rosa Bonheur and sat down in their lounge with a glass of mint tea to start.
  2. We were shown to our own private massage room and undressed there, putting on provided paper G-strings (which made K somewhat uncomfortable!) and a bathrobe.
  3. We were led down to their heated hammam room with slabs of hot marble to lie on in only our paper G-strings.
  4. A Moroccan woman came in to pour water over both of us before soaping us up in the famous Moroccan black soap and leaving us to lie down and soak the soap into our skins.
  5. She returned with a colleague to scrub the soap off us with an exfoliating glove. I’m pretty sure she removed about ten layers of dead skin from me, it was quite disgusting.
  6. After that, we got wrapped in a mud wrap for further beautification before we were completely rinsed off, re-robed, and led back upstairs for our massages.
  7. Our massages were equal parts painful and relaxing – my masseuse got right into my muscles which were quite tight after months of sleeping in beds of differing qualities on our travels! They use a lot of argan oil, so make sure you wear old clothes when you go, as your clothes will get quite oily when you put them back on afterwards!
  8. We had two different face masks applied during our facial which was quite relaxing. I may have even fallen asleep during my facial!

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After these hours of pampering, we got dressed back into our street clothes and went to their rooftop terrace, where we had a private dining booth of luxurious red velvet set up for our meal. There were a few other groups dining there at the same time as us, with one particularly rowdy party of English ladies who must have been there as part of a 40th birthday celebration. Actual overheard quote: “They’re taking naked photos of each other in the massage room!”

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We started off our meal with the typical Moroccan Harira Soup, a protein-rich blend of lentils and chickpeas, seasoned with plenty of cumin and pepper. The chickpeas were kept quite hard and nutty, which made for a particularly hearty soup.

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We also got these little morsels of samosas to start – so small that you could probably fit four in the palm of your hand! There were two varieties – one with a soft white cheese filling, the other with a tomato-based vegetable filling. The cheese was my favourite – while quite rich on its own, it was particularly delicious when eaten with a single mint leaf. Mint plays such a large part in Moroccan cuisine, and I can see why – it really helps to enhance so many of their dishes!

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Our side dish was a stewed eggplant dish in a crushed tomato sauce – very simple, but particularly delicious when eaten on the Moroccan khobz bread that accompanies every meal. This is the type of vegetable side dish I’d like to make more of at home, especially when eggplants are going for cheap! While technically Moroccan in style, it could very easily be adapted to suit other cuisines – with some chilli and chives for Chinese dishes, extra garlic and basil for Italian…the options are endless!

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The star of the meal was the chicken tajine, cooked with olives and citrus peel in the classic Moroccan combination. Interestingly, this tajine didn’t seem to be properly glazed inside, which meant that all the flavours of this dish and dishes before it were baked into the base of the tajine to create a particularly tasty sauce base to be sopped up with our khobz bread.

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This was the dish – one piece of chicken maryland each, as well as some olives on the side. The chicken was unfortunately not as tender and tasty as the one we’d had the day before at Nomad Cafe, but was still quite enjoyable. We had a stray feline visitor during our meal who also enjoyed the little bit of chicken we gave her!

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We finished off our meal with our dessert – some simple orange slices with sliced almonds. Simple and refreshing, especially with the nutty toasted almonds.

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Our feline friend wasn’t impressed that we didn’t have any more food to feed her! I don’t think she actually belongs to the hammam – she just prowls the rooftops of the hammam and the adjourning buildings, hoping for some handouts!

A half-day of pampering with an included meal is a must-do while you’re in Marrakech. You really learn to let go of any personal inhibitions, especially as Moroccan women casually manoeuvre your body into various positions to make sure that they reach all nooks and crannies with the black soap. Rosa Bonheur is the place to go if you want to package up a hammam experience, massage and a facial into one experience to be shared with your loved one!

Hammam Rosa Bonheur is located at 79 Derb habib allah Quartier in Marrakech Medina, Morocco.