Backyard Vietnamese and a huge flying octopus

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Weasels Garden Cafe, 8 Murray Street, Abbotsford. Phone: 9410 0214

It’s been an ordinary sort of week.

No actually catastrophes, but the senior partner of Consider The Sauce has felt harried and frazzled, and a bit down on life to boot.

All of this was exacerbated by the sudden arrival on Friday morning of explosive lower back pain.

The last occasion of such a severe episode – a few years back – saw me attempting to soldier on and ending up in an ambulance.

So this time, Bennie and I know just what to do.

Nothing.

More particularly, the cessation of all normal activity.

So … no work, no getting paid for work (such is the life of the casual employee), no driving and – hence – no school for the boy. (Mind you, Bennie’s teacher is happy for him to miss a day of schooling for some quality home/dad time …)

Happily, all that horizontal rest and sleep pays profound dividends, so the next day finds me well on the way to wellness.

Not fighting fit mind you, so not up for anything too tumultuous or strenuous – so that counts out the Ethiopian festival in the mall.

But we ARE up for a leisurely drive to Richmond/Abbotsford, especially as we have a hunch our destination will provide not just fine food but also a tranquil, beautiful setting in which to enjoy it.

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Weasel’s Garden Cafe is, well, a garden cafe set in a Victorian home on a residential street about a block from the intense Vietnamese vibe of Victoria St.

After we’ve ordered, I get talking to the other person taking photographs of the lovely garden that features chillis and lemons and much else besides.

This is Jen, who is part of the family responsible for this newish business.

She tells me it is the brainchild of her sister, Linh, a keen gardener after whose cat the cafe is named, while their mum, Phuong, does the cooking.

The cafe has been open about five weeks, with most of the customers being just plain old Australian, with only the occasional visit from those of a more Vietnamese Australian persuasion.

Jen reckons that’s down to Richmond no longer being residentially affordable for the wider Vietnamese community, even while Victoria St remains one of Melbourne’s most storied Vietnamese precincts.

I reckon it could be down to Vietnamese folks being unused to chowing down in such a setting.

Could be we’re both right.

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Jen also tells me there was only one formal objection to the opening of the cafe on a residential street.

That makes sense – after all, this is not a night-time joint and, besides, who wouldn’t want a lovely garden cafe serving coffee and Vietnamese food on their street, or even right next door?

Weasels Garden Cafe is working on several fronts – breakfast, coffee, Vietnamese food (see menu below).

But we’re definitely here for the latter, of which there are half a dozen offerings.

We drove here vaguely assuming we’d be supping on pho, but as it turns out we end up splitting a couple of very different dishes.

Bennie opines that what we’re served is very much your standard Vietnamese tucker of the kind we’d be served much closer to home.

He has a point – though the point is only so sharp.

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Grilled chicken with fried egg and rice ($12.50), for instance, IS standard issue, but all is freshness and the chicken is intense with marinade flavours and free of skin, gristle or fat. The egg is runny and perfect.

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Marinated pork with lemongrass, ginger, salad, herbs and vermicelli ($12.50) is just as fine, with the presence of celery and red capsicum making it stand out.

We enjoy our lunch very much, especially in such a grand setting. If we have any wistful desires they would be along the lines of wanting a little more chilli oomph and sharper, more robust flavours in both dishes.

By this time we are loving the joint so much we have easily abandoned the idea of stopping somewhere in Carlton for gelati, and dig in right where we are for coffee and a sweet treat.

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My cafe latte and his hot chocolate are just right.

Our gluten free rock crackle ($3) seems to be weirdly misnamed – world’s best hedgehog would probably be more accurate.

It’s both light and incredibly rich, and studded with puffed rice and (I think) dried raspberries.

It’s more substantial than it looks, too, so much so that my normally ardent sweet tooth son does not finish his portion.

By the time we’re done with Weasel’s, our only regret is that it’s on the wrong side of town.

This place has us hoping that some westie entrepreneurs might take up the challenge.

After all, we have hundreds of cool ethnic eateries in our wider neighbourhood and a growing numbers of fine cafes – but, as far as we are aware, none that combine both with quite this level of harmony and style.

As we depart, little do we know our day’s adventures are not yet completed – for we have yet to meet Tony The Kite Man.

Tooling home and driving alongside Royal Park – something we’ve done thousands of times before without finding cause to stop – Bennie spies something mysterious and thrilling in the sky.

So this time we do stop.

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In the middle of a wild paddock behind the hospital and high in the sky, what we find is a kite.

And not just any kite – this is the biggest by far either of us have ever seen.

It’s at least 50 feet long and in the form of an octopus.

Even better, instead of the tentacles being flat, plain cloth, they’re inflated by the wind.

It’s a magnificent sight!

We get talking to the kite’s flyer and owner, Tony, as the darkening sky threatens an afternoon apocalypse.

At some point, the kite shakes free of its moorings, so we all run off in pursuit.

Well actually, the other two run … I walk gently.

The kite is on its way to a gentle landing, but luckily Bennie apprehends its line spool before it becomes embedded in a tree.

As our new friend and kite expert quips: “All trees love kites and getting a kite out of tree is mostly impossible.”

The impending rain nixes out combined efforts to get the kite flying again, but somehow I’ll think we’ll be back some Saturday afternoon soon to see Tony in action.

As Bennie points out as we move on homewards, there’s something both marvellously exciting and sublimely peaceful about kites.

They’re good for the soul.

And crook backs.

Weasels Garden Cafe. on Urbanspoon

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Linh, owner of Weasel the cat and Weasel’s the cafe.

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