Launch of Bruce Leaves, Bondi Beach

K and I recently visited the newly opened Bruce Leaves in Bondi Beach, an outpost of the original branch in Alexandria. It makes a lot of sense that they’ve opened in this area as its very concept seems to fit the whole Bondi vibe – healthy salads and rolls with a multicultural twist, designed to appeal to the healthy and fit beach-loving residents of Bondi.

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Their launch night was very laid back, with some classic 90s tunes pumping through the speaker system, and staff working on pumping out bite-sized salad and banh mi servings behind the counter. Bloggers, locals, and friends of owners alike mingled through the store and flowed out onto the footpath and little courtyard in front of the store, sipping drinks and laughing and chatting into the night.

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Alcoholic versions of their smoothies were circling for all guests – some with a shot of toffee vodka which K just absolutely loved. As I’m still choosing not to drink, the staff generously offered to make a normal smoothie specifically for me. I ummed and ahhed over the different options as they all looked fantastic. The juices looked fantastic as well!

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I ended up choosing a coconut banana smoothie, which comes with scooped coconut flesh and juice, banana and soaked chia seeds. It was wonderfully refreshing, and startlingly filling as well. The chia seeds gave the smoothie an interesting texture as well. K just had a Becks beer – not on the usual menu I think, but it was available for the launch party!

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Different varieties of miniature banh mi were on the menu at the party, and the staff walked around with rows of them on boards for partygoers to help themselves.

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The Chicken Banh Mi was a study in delicious contrasts – tender chicken pieces in a crusty bread roll. Fresh coriander and carrots with a savoury spread and sauce. Exceedingly more-ish in its interpretation of a Vietnamese classic.

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I liked the vegetarian Haloumi Banh Mi – it could have done with a bit more haloumi, but what was there was chargrilled to smokey goodness, and was set off particularly well with the fried shallots.

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K and I also tasted a satay beef salad – beautifully chargrilled cubes of tender beef served with a peanutty satay sauce with little chunks of pineapple, lettuce and other fresh vegetables. It’s very Malaysian in its style, continuing Bruce Leaves modern interpretations of Asian classics.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to try any other of the salads that Bruce Leaves has on its menu as they proved to be very popular with the other guests who snapped them up before we could try them. All the more reason to return and try them on a proper visit!

Note: Gourmanda visited the launch of Bruce Leaves Bondi as a guest of Seriously Social. All photos and words are her own.

Review: La Mint Restaurant and Bar, Darlinghurst

“We’re back from our Vietnam holiday! Must tell you all about it, especially about how we met Luke Nguyen in Hoi An! Are you free for a catchup?”

K and I always enjoy catching up with my ex-colleague Sarojini and her husband Neale, so I eagerly book in a catchup as soon as I received her SMS. While we originally wanted to go to Sadhana Kitchen and try their Friday night degustation, they were booked out for the night that we were planning on going out. A new plan was needed, and I picked out La Mint in Darlinghurst, a French-Vietnamese restaurant that I hoped would evoke memories of our friends’ recent trip, and our holiday to Vietnam back in 2012!

Oriental Pearl cocktail (fresh mint & lychee muddled with absolut vokda & mao tai liqueur), $17 and Sparkling Strawberry mocktail, $6
Oriental Pearl cocktail (fresh mint & lychee muddled with absolut vokda & mao tai liqueur), $17 and Sparkling Strawberry mocktail, $6

We started with a drink each. The boys got beers, Sarojini opted for a Oriental Pearl cocktail, and I chose a mocktail – the Sparkling Strawberry which was lived up to its name, with a soft and subtle fruitiness that made it very drinkable.

Vegetarian Vietnamese Rolls (Soft rice paper rolls wrapped with Vietnamese herbs), $12
Vegetarian Vietnamese Rolls (Soft rice paper rolls wrapped with Vietnamese herbs), $12

We get some Vietnamese Rolls to share as a starter. Normally, La Mint’s rice paper rolls come with prawn but we asked for the tofu version as Sarojini is vegetarian. It did take a little bit of explaining to our waiter though as his English wasn’t the best, so be prepared to spend some time describing your food preferences if you have a particular allergy and need to avoid certain foods! The highlight here was probably the sweet and peanutty dipping sauce – the rolls themselves were a little bit bland.

Vine beef (Seasoned tenderloin wrapped in chargrilled vine leaves and topped with crushed peanuts), $18
Vine beef (Seasoned tenderloin wrapped in chargrilled vine leaves and topped with crushed peanuts), $18

The Vine Beef, shared between K, Neale and myself was much better than the rice paper rolls, so I felt sorry that Sarojini missed out on a nice entree! The beef was really well marinated and lightly spiced, so combined with the crispy vine leaf wrapping and crunchy peanuts on top, it was a real delight. The freshness of the mini lettuce leaf cups also helped to freshen what could otherwise have been a heavy morsel.

Crazy Mojito (does what it says on the tin... fresh lime & mint muddled with sugar & Bacardi), $18 and Perfect 10 martini (Tanqueray no.10 with the zest from fresh pink grapefruit), $22
Crazy Mojito (does what it says on the tin… fresh lime & mint muddled with sugar & Bacardi), $18 and Perfect 10 martini (Tanqueray no.10 with the zest from fresh pink grapefruit), $22

Unsurprisingly considering how warm that day was, the boys quickly finish their beers and order a cocktail each. K orders a Crazy Mojito, and Neale orders a Perfect 10 Martini.

“I had a martini (or two, or three) every day when I was in Vietnam,” he announces. “It was just so cheap to have a good cocktail there, but this Perfect 10 Martini definitely lives up to its name!”

Banana blossom salad (Banana blossom, roasted peanuts and herbs in lemon dressing), $22
Banana blossom salad (Banana blossom, roasted peanuts and herbs in lemon dressing), $22

Our mains arrive quickly after we finish our entrees. Sarojini’s Banana Blossom Salad is beautiful, though not quite as substantial as she was expecting. It normally comes with chicken, but as she asked for it to be made vegetarian, the chicken was omitted from the salad. That was expected – however, you would perhaps expect for another protein to be substituted into the salad (e.g. tofu), but it was left as a mix of herbs and vegetables. It’s a little disappointing, especially as the dish was still charged at the regular $22 price though it was considerably less substantial.

Coco Curry at La Mint (Corn fed Cajun chicken with La Mint's curry paste and baked in a whole young coconut), $32
Coco Curry at La Mint (Corn fed Cajun chicken with La Mint’s curry paste and baked in a whole young coconut), $32

Neale just couldn’t go past the Coco Curry as soon as he saw it on the menu. How can you go past something as stunning as a creamy chicken curry in a coconut (hey, alliteration!)? This came with a serve of coconut rice on the side, which just went perfectly, especially with the little strips of tender flesh that Neale scraped off the inside of the coconut when he finished the curry.

Duck Confit (Slow cooked on low heat creating a crispy skin, tender duck accompagnée French cherry glaze), $35
Duck Confit (Slow cooked on low heat creating a crispy skin, tender duck accompagnée French cherry glaze), $35

K opts for a dish that leans more towards French influence than Vietnamese influence. His Duck Confit with its delicious super crispy and strong tender meat is an absolute delight with the sweet cherry glaze. It comes attractively displayed in a fried web basket as well, which slowly absorbs the sweet glaze as an added bonus after you finish the duck.

Seared salmon, approx $35
Seared salmon, approx $35

My Seared Salmon came with a thick hoisin-esque sauce on top with plenty of chopped shallots. The salmon was cooked perhaps a bit longer than I would normally do myself, but at least the salmon skin remained crispy and yummy. Vegetables were scarce on the plate with just three stalks of young asparagus.

Sparkling Mint mocktail, $6
Sparkling Mint mocktail, $6

Halfway through my meal, I finished my Sparkling Strawberry mocktail and choose the second mocktail on the list – a Sparkling Mint. Unfortunately, this tastes more of fake candy mint leaves than it does of fresh mint. I’d recommend the Sparkling Strawberry over the Sparkling Mint.

Flambe ice-cream (Fried ice cream flambèe with grand marnier on your table), $18
Flambe ice-cream (Fried ice cream flambèe with grand marnier on your table), $18

Onto dessert, and Neale is the only one who opts out, claiming that his Coco Curry left him much too full to contemplate sweets. I never have the same issue – who doesn’t have room for dessert?!

My Flambe Ice-Cream is by far the most flamboyant and theatrical dessert on the menu. It comes out as a cute little battered cube of ice-cream, the waiter comes with a beaker of alcohol, drenches the ice-cream, then casually sets it alight. It’s definitely a sight to behold – and delicious to boot as I think they added a touch of cinnamon to the batter!

Caramelised sweet potatoes (Sweet potatoes crisps served with ice cream & cinnamon syrup), $13
Caramelised sweet potatoes (Sweet potatoes crisps served with ice cream & cinnamon syrup), $13

Sarojini’s Caramelised Sweet Potatoes was more disappointing in comparison, with a massive pile of sweet potato chips piled upon a scoop of plain vanilla ice-cream. She found herself wishing instead that she had ordered another dessert off the menu that she had been eyeing.

Banana fritter (Sesame banana fritters served with ice cream & coconut sago), $13
Banana fritter (Sesame banana fritters served with ice cream & coconut sago), $13

K was happy with his Banana Fritter, served interestingly with black sesame ice-cream in a pool of coconut sago. It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen banana fritters served this way, and somehow it works. The sesame seeds in the fritter batter work well with the black sesame ice-cream, and the creamy sweet banana works well with the coconut sago. A winner all around.

La Mint Restaurant and Bar is a bit hit and miss – some dishes were absolutely fantastic, while others didn’t quite hit the mark. They struggle a little bit with food intolerances as well, so be prepared to do quite a bit of instruction if you have any allergies. I probably won’t be back any time soon, especially without the 25% off voucher that I used from my Entertainment Book. It was nice food and a good experience…just not a standout.

La Mint on Urbanspoon

Review: Mama’s Buoi, Crows Nest

We had a new staff member join our Marketing team at work in the latter half of last year. She’s a bit quieter than most others in the team which can be a disadvantage as it means that while others are eagerly chatting around the staff room table about what they did on the weekend, her voice and contribution can get lost.

I was lucky enough to be able to go out on a one-on-one lunch with her in the last working week of 2014. She generously offered to treat me out to lunch to celebrate my wedding, and I jumped at the opportunity to catch up with her one-on-one without the constant interruptions of more vocal people in the office. And for good reason too – in this one lunch hour, I got to know more about her than I had in the four months that we had been working together!

We decided to go to the new Mama’s Buoi that had recently opened up the road in Crows Nest. While I’ve never been to the original Surry Hills branch, I’d heard enough good things to make me keen to try their offerings in Crows Nest!

Pho Bo Dac Biet (The 'special' pho with thin rare slices of tender beef, beef balls & tripe served in a six-hour broth), $9 small or $14 large
Pho Bo Dac Biet (The ‘special’ pho with thin rare slices of tender beef, beef balls & tripe served in a six-hour broth), $9 small or $14 large

She wasn’t very familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, so decided to try the classic dish of Pho Bo as a basic introduction to Vietnamese food. Mama’s Buoi’s Pho Bo is slightly different – it’s a ‘special’ beef pho that includes beef balls and tripe with the usual thinly sliced rare beef. It’s not something that would appeal to all – tripe can be divisive! – but the rare beef and beef balls are always a winner. My colleague enjoyed the clear, slightly sweet, broth, and I enjoyed showing her how to personalise pho with toppings of crunchy bean sprouts and fresh herbs and chillies!

"To Bun" with Roast Pork & Crackling (Vermicelli noodles served with & traditional salad mix & fresh herbs), $14
“To Bun” with Roast Pork & Crackling (Vermicelli noodles served with & traditional salad mix & fresh herbs), $14

I ordered one of my ‘go to’ dishes whenever I go to a Vietnamese restaurant and am feeling particularly virtuous – a vermicelli noodle salad. It’s a ‘salad’ so it’s healthy right? Not this salad! I chose to have mine topped with roast pork and crackling even though there were healthier toppings available on the menu (chicken, etc). Cause honestly, who can deny themselves a healthy serve of pork crackling? It was deliciously sinful – mouthfuls of fresh noodles, herbs and salad leaves mixed with a massive serving of tender roast pork and crispy crackling. I could definitely go another round!

Banh Ran (Taro doughnuts stuffed with red bean jam & coasted in sesame seeds), $10
Banh Ran (Taro doughnuts stuffed with red bean jam & coasted in sesame seeds), $10

Just for good measure, we ordered a dessert to share – the Banh Ran which we thought would come out at simple red bean doughnuts. To our surprise, it comes out served with two scoops of electric pink ice-cream! The flavour in the ice-cream was actually quite mild and I couldn’t quite tell what it was flavoured with. This just meant though, that it worked well as a simple textural backdrop to the moreish flavour-enhanced sesame coated chewy doughnuts. Simply delicious!

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Mama’s Buoi entertained a steady stream of customers on the day that we were there – with groups ranging from local office workers like us, to local ladies who lunch, to younger students making the most of the uni break. Not a table was left empty. It’s set to become a local favourite, and for good reason too!

I’ll definitely be back the next time I’m looking for a classic Vietnamese noodle salad with a little bit of a modern twist, especially if it means that I get to catch up one-on-one with a lovely new colleague!

Mama's Buoi on Urbanspoon