Saturday, 19 April 2014

Food Truck Rumble, Northbridge, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Australia)

Food trucks have come a long way. For too long relegated to being a source of overpriced meals of low quality served up at events looking to gouge money out of hapless patrons, in recent years there has been a massive global turnaround of fortunes for the humble food truck as a serious alternative to the fixed address restaurant. In Los Angeles Roy Choi and his Korean/Mexican fusion food has turned him and his food truck company Kogi into a west coast answer to David Chang, and when an operator of a food truck is being proclaimed one of the 'best new chefs' in America, you know the role of the food truck in the global landscape has changed.

Thankfully, cultural shifts in Perth over the last decade have meant that instead of dying a slow painful death trying to cross the Nullarbor, global trends are actually making it to the west coast, to the point that we're ready for our very own food truck festival as part of Eat Drink Perth - the inaugural Food Truck Rumble. In a typically Perthian, one-degree-of-separation-from-anyone-in-the-creative-sphere, I met the organiser of the festival, Ai-Ling Truong, just a few days before the Rumble and discovered that not only is she a friend of a friend, but that she is also the blogger behind Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse, a blog mostly focused on her inventive home cooking but also the blog that hipped me to how good banh mi is in Girrawheen. I told Ai-Ling that we were definitely going to be there, and that Alissa and I would be heading in for 10:45 am.
"But it doesn't start til 11...", she said quizzically.
"I know", I said, "but you've gotta have a plan."

And indeed I did. I'm not big on huge crowds and long queues, and I do anything to avoid them; hence, we skipped breakfast and got to the Cultural Centre before some of the trucks had even set up. My plans for an early arrival suited our friend Hayley, who joined us before having to head in to work. My initial plan was for the three of us to split up, go to three of the food trucks and then feast on our horde, however with some of the trucks ready to serve before 11am and the bulk of the crowd still yet to arrive, we decided to do one stall at a time. With 17 trucks and only the three of us, we were never going to be able to cover them all so after some scouting and careful selection, we started with the new truck I was most interested in.

Food Truck #1 - The Merrywell Dude Food On Wheels

The Merrywell has been high on my list of places to check out, however with Alissa and I not being gamblers and the Merrywell being located in Crown Perth, we simply have had little reason to head out that way. With  their new Dude Food On Wheels truck parked in prime position near the permanent Ben and Jerry's and the staff ready to go at 10:50, it had to be our first truck of the day.

First up, we tried their famous Mini Burgers. Opening our takeaway boxes, I have to admit they looked a little ugly and underwhelming, with cheese and sauce oozing out of the slightly misshapen buns and all over the container. As much as people hate on McDonald's, I don't think Macca's would ever serve up a Quarter Pounder with Cheese that looked as sloppy as these did. Thankfully, what they lacked in appearance they made up for in taste. The buns themselves had a lovely, soft texture (though perhaps not the best I've ever had), and the patty had a lovely, beefy unctuousness combined with the delicious caramelising touch of flame grilling. Combine it with sauce, pickles and cheese, and this was one tasty burger. That said, I think I was hoping for a bit more out of these; a kind of life-changingly good deliciousness that was so much better than McDonald's that I would want to start making beef a regular part of my diet again. I'm yet to encounter that burger, but one can always dream.

More than the burgers, I was most excited to try their Mac and Cheese Bites. This inspired fusion of the comfort food staple Macaroni and Cheese with the fried Croquette is popping up on Dude Food menus everywhere these days, and the Merrywell are quite famous for their take on this increasingly ubiquitous dish.

Thankfully, these lived up to the hype. Being fans of both Macaroni and Cheese and Croquettes, this was a dish that didn't have to work very hard to please Alissa and I, and we delighted in the stringiness of the cheese tendrils that hung from the Bites after, well, every bite. The Bites could have perhaps done with a little salt, however were perfect when dipped into the excellent, savoury barbecue dipping sauce provided. These were a dish I'd definitely want to try again, even at their $10 asking price.

Finally, the Onion Rings. These had a nice light batter I'd expect from good Onion Rings - far better than the overly thick, breaded Hungry Jacks variety. Flavour-wise they hit all the right buttons, however we all agreed that they could have been a little crunchier. Considering it was only a short walk from the truck to the steps we ate at, it either became soggy immediately (which is then a problem with the batter not being able to maintain the integrity of its crispiness) or it simply was never crispy enough (which is then a problem with the batter not achieving the desired crispiness at all). Either way, it was a decent but not mindblowing take on Onion Rings that could probably do with some rejigging in my opinion.

The Verdict: Very Good
The Merrywell's juicy and umami-rich burgers were very good, however as mentioned I'm still yet to find a burger that can convince me to return to regular beef eating. The Onion Rings were slightly underwhelming, but the sheer excellence of the Mac and Cheese Bites made up for it. The promise of the Mac and Cheese Bites are enough to convince me to actually head out to the Merrywell at Crown to see how they do go in a restaurant environment; photos of much better presentation there are quite promising. With some other really interesting burger combinations not available from the Dude Food On Wheels truck, I'd say the purpose of the truck is to pique interest in the brand and bring people down to Crown to dig into their full menu. By that measure they've been well and truly successful; I was interested in try them out before, and this has only strengthened my resolve to get down there in the near future.

The Merrywell Dude Food On Wheels on Urbanspoon

Food Truck #2 - Comida do Sul 

Last year Alissa and I saw Comida do Sul parked out at the Corner of Wray Avenue and South Terrace across the road from Who's Your Mumma. Having just eaten in Freo, we had a bit of food envy watching all the people chowing down on what looked and smelt like some seriously good Brazilian food. As such, Comida do Sul were one of the trucks that I immediately knew we had to try when I first read about the Food Truck Rumble, and was our next stop after the Merrywell.

Their menu is tight and focused - a full meal of Prato Feito (meat and vegetarian options), Brazilian hot dogs called Choripan (again with meat and vegetarian options), and a small selection of 2 snacks, 2 desserts (included La Paleta Mexican icey poles) and 3 drinks. I deemed the Prato Feito too fiddly for our sharing purposes, so we went with a Choripan filled with a chorizo sausage, chimichurri and 'vinagrete' of tomatoes, onion and herbs with a some hot sauce added (you can find their recipe here).

I've never a eaten Choripan before, but this fairly traditional dish blew us away. The bread was similar to the crusty but soft baguettes of banh mi, and the use of chorizo instead of the traditional sausage of orthodox hot dogs was a revelation; the boldness of chorizo's flavour was really pleasing to my spice-hungry palate, as was the liberal use of flavoursome herbs and hot sauce. As good as the flavours were, the thing that most impressed me was how the sausage was presented in the bun. When we visited Run Amuk two weeks ago, we felt the enjoyment of our meal was slightly lowered by the fact a mouthful of everything was impossible without taking two small bites - one bite either missed the sauce at the bottom or some of the fillings on top due to the size of the bun and sausage. At the time I couldn't think of a useful solution to this problem other than making the hot dog smaller, however the Choripan answer is so simple I can't believe its not been copied more often - cut the sausage in half to create a wider plane of meat. While for some this might be less aesthetically pleasing, it made the eating experience of the Choripan all the more enjoyable, and Alissa and I agreed this was the best hot dog we've had.

The Coxinha was the more exciting of Comida do Sul's snack items (the other option was fries), so I grabbed one of these to share as well.

These were another delicious traditional Brazilian dish, being shredded chicken and potato fried in batter/crumb coating. The potato was smooth and the shredded chicken flavoursome, reminding me of a way better version of the crumbed potato patties you can still sometimes find in shopping centre food courts. I wish I had thought to buy the dipping sauce they sell as an optional extra, however some leftover barbecue sauce from the Merrywell proved a reasonable alternative. Definitely another must-try item.

Finally, we shared a can of Guarana Antarctica, an extremely popular drink in Brazil. I found the drink pleasant enough; not as sour as most energy drinks can be, with an apple and berry flavour. Nothing I'm going to be running out to buy, but worth a try if you're interested.

The Verdict: Excellent
Needless to say, we were very impressed with the food being made by Comida do Sul - I can see why they're building up something of a following, and those Choripans were definitely the best hot dogs Alissa and I have had. The good news is that they're a very active food truck with regularly location updates on their Facebook page, so you'll definitely be able to catch them around the place next time some serious hot dog cravings set in. Definitely a strong recommendation.

Comida do Sul - Brazilian Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Food Truck #3 - Miss Tartufo 

Lil Tortilla Boi had arrived late and would have been our next choice to try, however all of us were really quite full by this stage and decided dessert was probably the better option. Alissa's loves pancakes in all their forms so my initial thoguht for dessert was the crepe-making truck called Miam Miam a bite of France, however being as full as we were, some scoops of ice cream were about as much as our stomachs could muster the space for.

Miss Tartufo is a food truck owned and operated by Azzura Gelati, a WA-based ice cream company who have risen in prominence in the last few years, having successfully become a premium ice cream brand available at independent grocery stores. Considering the commercial scale that they are working at, they make some very good ice cream; I'm quite fond of their vanilla ice cream as they make one of the few vanilla ice creams available at supermarkets that actually contains vanilla beans, and their Blossom Nougat is like a ice cold Turkish Delight.

Alissa and Hayley went with the Buttered Peanut, a flavour that probably would have been my first choice too. Alissa really enjoyed this rich ice cream, and commented that she found the flavour to be more creamy than outright nutty, with an almost butterscotch flavour combined with the expected peanutty taste.

With the Buttered Peanut already chosen, I went with the odd combination of a scoop of Mango Sorbet on top of Chocolate Truffle. The Mango Sorbet was about what I would expect from quality mango sorbet; light, sweet and tangy with a smooth texture. The Chocolate truffle was the exactly opposite; rich, dense and fudgy, with bits of chocolate throughout. While very good, it wasn't exactly surprising either; as with the Mango Sorbet, the Chocolate was about what I would expect from quality gelato.

The Verdict: Very Good
Miss Tartufo maintained the esteem Alissa and I have for Azzura, however I felt that the choice of flavours on offer was a little vanilla compared to some of their other choices. Azzura have a shop in Singapore, and seeing that the they do Lemon and Ginger Sorbets as well as Black Sesame Gelato, I think it would have been nice to see them push their more unusual products - even the aforementioned Blossom Nougat would have been nice. Still, the flavours on offer were tasty and I guess it was a case of them taking the safe route to introduce themselves to potential new clients; an understandable reason for safer choices.

Miss Tartufo on Urbanspoon

After the ice cream, Hayley had to head in to work. Looking around us, the crowds had seriously built up...

...with crowds around the Merrywell truck...

and a long queue formed at Comida do Sul. Alissa had been a bit hangry when we first arrived, but seeing the queues agreed that my plan to get there early was a sound one.  And having beaten the queue for food, it also meant we could beat the crowd over to our next stop - Cocktail Gastronomy.

'Food Truck' #4 - Cocktail Gastronomy 

Technically not a food truck, Cocktail Gastronomy were set up at the front of the State Library. Cocktail Gastronomy are confusingly listed as being the owners of the Classroom, but are said by the Classroom to 'take over' the venue when they throw cocktail degustations. Since they largely do private parties, I would say your best bet for seeing what Cocktail Gastronomy are all about is at the Classroom in North Perth.

As their name would suggest, Cocktail Gastronomy specialise in Modernist/Molecular Mixology and the cocktails they had on offer largely utilised modernist techniques made popular over the last decade: Liquid Nitrogen Espresso Martini, Torched Lemon and Meringue Pie and a CO² Lychee Mojito. To drive the scientific approach point home, the bar's mise en scene featured superfluous scientific vessels like test tubes and conical flasks filled with colourful liquids...

and the staff donned smart, white lab coats. As much as I love the use of liquid nitrogen and the 'oohs' and 'ahs' it elicits, I'm not big on Espresso Martinis so Alissa and I went with the other two cocktails on offer.

Alissa went with the Torched Lemon Meringue Pie (Citron Vodka, Lemoncello, Lemon and Vanilla, Torched Meringue). This was the easier drinking of the two; an accessible melange of sweet and sour flavours that hid the potency of its alcohol content. This is the style of cocktail I enjoyed the most when I spent the summer of my 18th year learning how to mix; it what I used to call 'Wendy's for adults'. The torched meringue floated on top of the drink drove this nostalgic dessert point home, providing the drink with its most striking visual feature while being a delicious, light meringue in its own right. 

Mojitos have a reputation for being strong drinks, and the CO² Lychee Mojito (Cuban Rum, Lychee Liqueur, Sous-Vide Lychees and Mint, Lychee Pearls) was no exception, with its potency very obvious with every sip. Lychee is a fairly common twist on the classic Mojito, and I found that Cocktail Gastronomy were able to integrate the floral, fragrant sweetness of the lychee very well in their version. While I'm a massive fan of sous-vide (right down to owning my own immersion circulator), I felt that its use here seemed a bit unnecessary, as the sous-vide lychees didn't really taste all that different to canned lychees; it just seemed like a clever, molecular technique used for cleverness' sake.

More successful was the use of spherification to create the Lychee Pearls. Spherification is one of those techniques that is seen as a little weird in mains and other savoury dishes, yet is accepted as a wonderfully surprising addition to desserts and cocktails, perhaps because of their similarity to tapioca and sago pearls - as well as the sheer artificiality of a lot of sweets and lollies. Alissa and I relished digging for these in the drink, and though I'm aware of how its done, there is still something delightful and magical about the spheres as they pop in your mouth.

The Verdict: Excellent 
Cocktail Gastronomy are the real deal; serious cocktail mixologists with the skills and the recipes to make great and inventive cocktails that never lost sight of the fact that technique should never get in the way of taste. If the sous-vide lychees in the CO² Lychee Mojito were a bit of an unnecessary complication, everything else was really on-point; I don't think I've ever had such good cocktails from a pop-up bar so this was definitely a first. With Cocktail Gastronomy running the Cocktail Degustations at the Classroom, Alissa and I will definitely have to head down sometime later this year.

The Classroom on Urbanspoon

At the end of our cocktails, Alissa and I decided we needed to go walk off the food and alcohol. Sure, there was a cupcake eating contest and swing dancing performances from Swing It! for entertainment, but with the unseasonably hot weather we decided the air conditioning of Harbourtown shops beckoned.

After a decent expedition, we headed back to see how the Rumble was going. By this stage we were able to eat again, and had our hearts set on something from Lil Tortilla Boi. Sadly, it looked like they had sold out of everything, so we checked out some of the other stalls.

My disdain for cupcakes is well known, and I think US blogger Salty Seattle said it all in an online open letter to cupcakes about how overrated and horrible they are. So I had no interest in joining the long queues at Kustom Cupcakes (my own personal view, your mileage may vary if that's your kind of thing)

Of greater interest to me was the debut of the Little Caesars Pizzeria food truck, however as we'd eaten pizza the night before and we've eaten at both the Mundaring and Leederville stores, we didn't really feel like joining the long queue.

With long queues a major problem at most of the savoury stalls that were still open, we decided instead to head to the shady dessert trucks area. Feeling pretty sweaty from the heat, Alissa suggested that we finish our Food Truck Rumble experience with a visit to Delish Ice.

Food Truck #5 - Delish Ice

We've seen Delish Ice at numerous events and festivals around Perth, as well as their pop up store along William St over summer, however this would be our first time trying their store. Alissa and I hired their rivals La Paleta for our wedding, so perhaps it was a bit of loyalty to the La Paleta cause that held us back for so long. However with the warm weather made this the perfect time to try them out.

By this stage, they'd sold out of a lot of their flavours, included the predictably popular Salted Malted Caramel. I decided to go with the refreshing-sounding Watermelon Lemonade, while Alissa decided to try their Creamy Coconut and Passionfruit. The Watermelon Lemonade was as refreshing as that combination sounds; a lovely sweet and mildly sour offering that was the perfect relief to the heat that I needed. While heavier than the Watermelon Lemonade, the Creamy Coconut and Passionfruit was another winner, with the classic tropical combination of coconut and passionfruit providing that a nice creamy/tart combination.

The Verdict: Very Good
Alissa and I enjoyed these artisan ice pops very much, and were a perfect way to end the day. In terms of a direct comparison with La Paleta, its a tough one; both are well made, tasty and refreshing however I felt that La Paleta have more interesting flavours to choose from. That said, both have seasonal, rotating menus that change frequently, and the flavours on offer on the day may have been Delish Ice putting their best foot forward rather than producing flavours that were a bit riskier. I'd definitely try them again next time I see them, hopefully with some new and wonderful flavours to sample.


  1. Sounds like you guys had an epic eating adventure! What a great day :)

    1. Indeed it was. My only regret was that I couldn't try them all!

  2. Unique and wonderful. Thanks to the curious readers who sent you the pics and thanks for the explanation!
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