Is This the Best Burger in the World?

We’ve all been asked that question: ‘What’s the best burger you’ve ever had?’

If you’ve been to the adrenaline junkie hub of New Zealand – Queenstown, then it’s more than likely Fergburger would be up there in your considerations. And what’s not to love about a burger joint that’s open to satisfy your potential 4:30am munchies?

Open 21 hours of the day, this hunger-crushing heaven seems to have gained reputation as the gold standard of burger houses not only in New Zealand, but internationally. And I’d be first to raise my hand to vote Ferg #1 (make that two hands), as even the classic  Ferg is utter mouth bliss with their genius combination of tender meat, soft buns and that sweet, sweet aioli (cue drooling).

Whatever various health-related hold-backs you have, throw caution to the wind and abandon them for one perfect night with one of these bad boys. Tucking cautiously into half of one of these guys was – albeit at doctor’s instructions – my first baby step into breaking over three years of vegetarianism, and I can say it definitely set a high standard for further reintroduction of meat. That said, I hear the vego options here would give the carnivores a run for their money.

If you’re beyond that simple life and game enough (*cough* intoxicated enough) for a feast, prep yourself for one of the Big Als. This monster isn’t even part of the main menu, and sits not-so-humbley at the bottom of the page waiting for some worthy soul to step up and attempt to consume a tower of burger bliss.

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The Big Al. Image via Google

If you time your plan of attack well enough, it’s possible to avoid the often hour-long queue from fellow burger enthusiasts. There are generally two lulls in the constant stream of hungry travellers (let’s be real – there are virtually no actual Kiwis in Queenstown): the first being around 10:30am when the breakfast burger goers are all nursing their food babies or getting out early to suss out their activity game plan. You want to get in that line before people’s early lunch hunger kicks in, so plan for a solid brunch burger. Then the dinner rush seems to extend till around 9:30, and the wise drunks who’ve decided to soak up their night’s efforts and succumb to those Ferg cravings come out around midnight, causing burger-tantrum-inducing wait times. 11pm is perfect for minimising the suspense so you can sink your teeth into one of these legends and avoid any serious burger withdrawal symptoms.

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Burger with a view?

Best burger in the world? Let’s just say my plans to go back to Queenstown in ski season aren’t just for the skiing…

My Most 007 Trip Yet

If, like me, you are an avid James Bond devotee, you may be aware of a little visit Sir Roger Moore makes to a glamorous Indian land to take on Octopussy. While my own adventures in this Rajasthani city – christened Udaipur – did not include any battles on top of planes mid-flight, classy crocodile submarine disguises, or yoyo blade throwing, it did turn out to be the most undoubtably beautiful city I experienced in India, leaving me awestruck repeatedly.

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The contrast from Mumbai was shocking. There was grass here. There was shimmery water here, space to think, room to breathe. Trailing around the winding, intimate stoned streets instantly took me back to Venice and the dreamy parallels didn’t end there. I’m talking beautiful bridges overlooking stunning historical architecture, wandering lovers, sparkly rooftop dinners, and the perhaps obvious factor that Udaipur is known as “the Venice of the East”.

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Grass > Pollution
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Hard to find a bad view
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Feeling familiar?
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That archway love

For a start, our hostel was unimaginably gorgeous. After stumbling around the cobblestones in the heat with too many bottles of sunscreen weighing down my backpack, arriving at a palace was out of this world. It was fit for a king. Bunkyard was exquisite with exceptional service and an amazing vibe, making the short time in Udaipur extra sensational.

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I was actually so obsessed with taking photos of this stunning stairwell that most of my Udaipur photos are of it…
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Unparalleled luxury

The diary entry of the day read:

“I’m sitting by our window, looking out across mirrored lights on the lake. I can see hundreds of archways. It feels baroque and Muslim and Balinese and Islamic and Arabian. Many mountains. Rooftop chai bliss as the sun sets. Amazing. Why were we in Mumbai when this exists…”

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Room with a view?
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At 6:10 every night, there was a “chai bell”. This is at 6:15.
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Night strolls around the City Palace and City Temple

So it was quite a treat. Getting lost in the streets and culture of “The City of Lakes” was a highlight of its own, but if you’re a fellow view-hunter, this place is heaven. Climb above two floors and it’s eye ecstasy. The merchants in this character-rich city have a solid, unofficial competition for the highest restaurant. As you can imagine then, there were a lot of stairs to be climbed. Though the “high” buildings only reach five or six floors, when one is expected to climb to the top before being able to assess the suitability of each menu, believe me there was much quad work. It has got to the absurd but equally brilliant point where many buildings have fashioned several somewhat dodgy extensions to their rooftops to achieve an extra few metres with which to brag. Despite this though, almost every restaurant we came across boasted “highest restaurant in Udaipur!” The other brag point, is obviously the Octopussy card. And yes even though it’s been over thirty years since the film hit screens, locals honestly milk it at every possible moment: the restaurants around us had nightly screenings of the spy movie. Nightly.

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Exhibit A
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Exhibit B
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“Best view in Udaipur” ft. more arches

When we weren’t trying to avoid being run over by rickshaws speeding around corners, or getting told by palm readers that I am emotionally weak, we were watching women dance while balancing mountains of pots on their heads, bargaining clothes vendors to their most “happy price”, getting lost in the maze of colourful streets, staring in amazement at puppeteers manipulating their dancing puppets, and learning the secrets of Indian cuisine from the Indian cooking greats themselves: the locals.

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Findings: emotionally weak, two kids, strong creative force, not ambitious enough.
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The blur of colours at the Rajasthani Cultural Show

One particular morning I woke to the normal blare of repetitive but joyful singing somewhere in the city. This was the day to visit the City Palace and cruise over the lake to Jagmandir Island for some prime Bond-location-hunting. Whilst waiting for the boats to start running, we hovered around the entrance to the majestic City Palace and decided to get some street food for breakfast. This is a big deal for me as allergy is high and Australian to Indian communication is often poor.

Once back in Sydney, I discovered that Bond has a car chase past the stall we stopped at. With that Hollywood value in mind, you’d think this street vendor would be quite civilised right? Not quite. After clarifying numerous times “no mungfally (peanuts)”, I cautiously bit into my first 30c meal – kachori. This spicy snack is basically a deep-fried pocket of flour stuffed with curry. Once the anxiety that I wasn’t going to die from it had passed, I started getting up to get the attention of the teenager who had served us initially, to ask for another one. It was at this moment that I felt a significant cultural difference. Here in the doorway of the tiny seating area, sat the teenage waiter on his phone with his back to us. The seating area was so small we could see everything on his phone with minimal effort. This young man was unashamedly invested in an unmentionable video. After several days of witnessing the different culture India had to offer, it hadn’t occurred to me that the people here might watch porn too. What was most surprising though, was his ability to switch so intermittently between serving customers, and returning to his phone. In fact, I was somewhat impressed at his diligence to return after each customer and find the spot he was up to so he could resume his absorbed and curious stare.

I was less impressed when he then served me my second kacholi with his bare hands…

 

Several “Namaste”s later, we were zooming around the majestic Lake Pichola Bond-style (it was much more of a slow chug on one of the tourist boats), till we got to Jagmandir Palace. This exquisite island is everything I imagined a romantic Indian city to be: elephant statues, breathtaking views, archways looking out to historical cities…

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007 island – check; stunning architecture – check; view over crystal waters – check

And then there was Monsoon Palace. If you too are on a quest for sights that make your eyes leap out of their sockets, this is the place. If brave enough to venture up the twisting mountain side in a rover that’s managed to squeeze upwards of 12 people in, without falling on the driver as he swings round the corners, then you’ll find yourself face to face with the glorious Aravalli Hills that envelope the city (complimentary monkeys swinging around the stunning architecture).

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Scarf about to escape
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Locals at the Monsoon Palace
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Some pretty stellar views from the highest point

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In terms of sheer beauty, cultural immersion, and “that one place on the trip you’d go back to”, Udaipur has smashed out first place 110%.

Cue Bond theme.

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Hard to deny
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I fell in love with Udaipur’s cheeky charm
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Truly spectacular

Why breaking veganism has made me a happier vegan

#vegan.

There’s still a decent amount of stigma associated with that word.

It’s a much-hyped trend, and causes substantial eye-rolling from parents, doctors, and anyone else sick of the latest restrictive diet.

I was vegan for over a year, and breaking it for a while has proved to be extremely beneficial in adapting to it again for the following reasons:

Firstly, it’s amazingly eye-opening being on the non-vegan side of things.

When you’re part of such an exclusive group, I think it’s easy to become ignorant of what else is going on: how people view you and how you should view others who have made different choices from yours. Experiencing how myself and other animal-product-consumers treat those that have chosen an animal-free way of life made me realise how much of a rift I had created in my own head. Turns out that non-vegans generally are not intolerant to our plant-based buddies or their choices, but are often quite open-minded with curious attitudes towards the lifestyle.

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The stereotype is real. And delicious. Thank you “Sexy Food” Cape Town!

On my two-month trip to Africa last year, I made sure to keep my mouth shut as much as possible about my dietary decisions so as not to come across as “ramming it down their throats” (thanks mum, does she realise the pun?), however, due to my awful stereotype-filling at the cafeteria which featured much salad, rice and potatoes on my plate, word got out and I got a lot of questions. By that stage I had existed egg and dairy-free (and nut and wheat-free, but that’s a different story) for over a year and was used to the instantly confused and very defensive responses I usually got from non-vegans, which often included unwarranted excuses for why they themselves couldn’t do that: “I just can’t because of my iron”, “protein is just too important to me” or “but cheeseburgers!” I have literally had a doctor reprimand me for my inconsiderate eradication of a potent source of calcium (before he checked my blood results to see that everything was perfectly fine and I wasn’t at death’s door).

Naturally, the second I stop, everyone I know starts turning vegan or vegetarian or “mindful” of their meat intake (nice timing universe). It’s wonderful that there is such growing acceptance of this and it makes it so much easier to feel supported in the community. So a support network makes all the difference for sure.

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Making this vegan oreo cake for a party where most where keen to ditch dairy and choose coconut (eternally grateful that oreos are vegan)
During my break, I realised how easy it is to feel intimidated and judged by someone who is making substantial effort. Somehow after living this very lifestyle for yonks, I can end up feeling defensive myself for why I am not living that way. It can definitely be challenging and I think that can be intimidating to those who have not made a similar choice. Especially in a society where our focus has swung so heavily towards environmental awareness, such a commitment is quite commendable, and I think this may be a potential threat to some egos.

So I’ve absolutely learnt how to go about discussing it, as I’ve now experienced what it feels like to be the non-vegan in the conversation. There is a lot less hate between vegans and non-vegans than I had created in my head.

I think round two will be better practically as well because I have learnt from my mistakes from last time. Making such a big change is not something that should be done instantly, and is certainly not always as easy as it seems. There is a transition period, and having watched several friends go through this period, I can now see how valuable it is to avoid an extreme or yoyo kind of attitude towards it.

The first time I went vegan, it was a snap decision after watching the film “Earthlings”. I had been vegetarian for a year and it was easy to make the switch emotionally. My choice was almost entirely ethically-focused and so was fuelled predominantly by a passionate anger. I was confused, resentful, and absolutely judgmental for many months – of others and myself- and it broke my heart that people I respected for their intellect and caring nature had not come to the same conclusion. This difference in habit affected my relationship with my mum at times. For a while all other values got put on hold and many uncalled for comments like “great, it smells like dead animal in here again” were thrown her way.

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A true cafe staple. If you don’t smother your toast in both avocado and Vegemite, are you really Australian?

Combined with my competitive nature, veganism was, in some aspects, a frustrated girl who was seeing how long she could go without touching dairy and trying not to break that perfect streak. Coming back to it a second time is based on logic and productivity. This makes sense to me, and I know it’s doable, gently. The decision is not emotionally-charged, and I’ve realised that “vegan” is not a trait that defines someone. It is simply a lifestyle choice that is easily “broken” – accidentally or otherwise- and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, that you don’t care about the environment or that you hate animals. Some of the most kind-hearted and loveable people I’ve met can tuck into a cheeseburger like there’s no tomorrow – and that’s ok! I love them for what’s inside and not what’s on their plate.

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Helloooo Zambia! That feeling when the only thing you can have is “chips and salad please”…

I also feel like I have a healthier attitude towards dairy and egg products. No they’re not “bad” or “gross”, nor do they make those who consume them “bad” or “gross”. I can put them in my body if I choose to, and it will function just fine.

Having this more rounded view of it means I’m fully able to laugh at veganism, make fun of it and accept it for what it is: a social and environmental movement, dietary fad, and Instagram hashtag. Yes I will embrace the beautifully cringey jokes and memes: “How can you tell if someone’s a vegan? Because they tell you!” Yes I still appreciate the smell of bacon and barbecues and will make sure my friends keep giving me whiffs of their steaks.

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Cape Town was MUCH more accomodating…
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How many probiotics can we fit in ONE bowl?
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If you’re vegan then you are automatically a health addict and automatically are obsessed with quinoa… right?

In round two, I’ve been reminded of how convenient it is that this pretty much cuts out all the junk… Since most overly-processed, plastic-wrapped, sugar-laden, and eight-line-ingredient-list foods are generally inclusive of milk products, it certainly makes eating “whole” unavoidable. I’m not going to say it’s easy all the time though. Not being able to snack on whatever is going can be downright annoying, and cafe-hopping can be a challenge, but being pushed to learn how to cook proper, balanced meals from scratch is never going to be a bad skill.

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Vegan ways have opened my eyes to this super easy brekkie: overnight oats. They take 20 seconds to prepare the night before and are YUM

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Experimenting with pasta (aka food of the gods) and grilled eggplant. Who says vegan is just boring salads?
That said, it is definitely not a miracle. I come across so many articles about how veganism “fixed” everything. Yes, a lot of things are going to change and hopefully improve if you replace a steady source of slow-to-digest products that are high in saturated fat with whole grains and veggies, but claiming that it makes hair grow more or that it can cure cancer just seems ridiculous. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this journey so far, it’s that you have to listen to your body. If it seriously craves yoghurt, give it yoghurt. Everyone is different. Maybe veganism will make one person’s nails weak, and another person’s eyes twinkle. Maybe several serves of bacon per day will make someone’s split ends vanish forever. I’ve met people who have quit animal products and their skin has gone crazy! I’m talking acne flare-ups having a field day all day every day…

We all respond differently and at the end of the day aren’t we all just trying to work out what works best for us?

So with a hopefully more realistic and open-minded view of this lifestyle, and more respect for other people’s choices and my health –both body and mind- I embrace round two of this vegan adventure.

Now, where’s that lettuce at…?

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What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.

I’m not hipster enough for Melbourne

A journey to find the perfect milkshake in Melbourne.

So I recently went to Melbourne.

It is widely known in Sydney that Melbourne has the elusive upper hand in coffee-making or “coffee-roasting”. As a non-coffee-drinking Sydneysider, I’ve been harassed for years about the cultural superiority of Melbourne, and more recently, the overwhelming abundance of hipster cafes, man-buns, and beards that us Sydney folk are rather behind on.

“You’re only going for the man-buns aren’t you?” What began as a joke about my motives for my Melbourne trip, quickly turned into a quest to find the ultimate hipster cafe.

Weaving in and out of the countless intimate alleys and naturally appreciating every display of graffiti that had suddenly become exhibitions of creative geniuses, I made my way around the drizzly, orthogonal city.

As I became more familiar with the cafe etiquette, I began to realise just how many people were available to soak up the coffee culture on a weekday. Do Melbournians not have jobs? Or does the idea of a deconstructed coffee take clear priority over other potential activities?

Following my phone to a pre-selected trendy spot, I came across many a hidden-away hole in the wall which opened out into cosy rooms of coffee appreciation. As tempting as it was to test the handiwork of all these bearded baristas, I followed the GPS until I found a wooden door in a surprisingly deserted alleyway. I could sense the indie vibes by the fact I had to walk up a flight of creaky wooden stairs to get to the actual cafe room.

As my ironic adventure was all somewhat in jest, I was definitely surprised when I swung open the door to the cafe and questioned my GPS skills and general life choices. Was this the cafe? It was quiet, dimly lit, and very industrial. When I had been doing my research to find the most hipster cafe, I had based degree of hipster on level of industrial influence.

This was industrial.

It was so industrial that I was unsure whether the practicality of the cafe actually outweighed the trendiness. Industrial cafes just LOOK industrial, right? If they’re actually an operating barber and gentlemen’s outfitters as well, does that authenticity make it lose its prestigious industrial Melbourne hipster cafe value? I was so unsure and felt more out of place than I had anticipated. Could they tell I was a Sydney girl coming to take advantage of the Instagram-worthy decor and draw attention to the unrealistic nature of the cafe? No. I had my beanie. I was safe and they couldn’t know.

“Hi do you have a menu?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible to the lovely social justice warrior-esque lady behind the counter. She looked at me. She knew. She pointed towards a big framed board to my right and there sat a list of hand-written lunches.

“Ah thanks, but you have a drinks menu? Teas, coffees, that sort of thing?” I wasn’t after a meal, but a perfectly crafted Melbourne drink.

“No.”

I looked at her. She looked at me. What was going on…? No drinks menu? Is that even legal? How do I dwell on all the options if they’re not presented logically?

“You just tell me what you want and I’ll make it.”

This was new. What does that even mean? How is that efficient at all? Do I go through every crazy Melbourne treat I’m hoping to find on the menu? As a non-coffee drinker (I know – why am I even in Melbourne in a hipster cafe then?), I had been craving an artistically crafted milkshake that was suitable for a 21 year old.

“Can I please have a milkshake?” She was not impressed. Was she going to kick me out of her cafe? I promise I’m cultured! I fit in! Did you note the beanie?

“We don’t make them.”

Yup, she hated me. I panicked for a moment thinking of my next question.

“I can make you an iced chocolate.” She was definitely concerned by my lack of coffee.

I nodded and pulled out my wallet.

“No.”

What!? No paying?

“You pay later.”

It was bizarre. Nevertheless, I sat in the middle of the room, in prime photo-taking, gawking position to wait for my much-hyped Melbourne iced chocolate. There was a glass annexe where a man was getting his beard trimmed. Jackpot. Vintage shoes lined the walls, and the tables were platforms for sewing machines. Jackpot.

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The culturally elite, indifferent to the trendy ambience at Captains of Industry

 

Eventually my iced chocolate arrived. After quickly taking some snapchats to express my cultural value, I put the straw between my lips and consumed the trend-infused drink I’d put so much pressure on.

 

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Sewing machine table ft. modest cup of sugar

 

It was terrible.

It was actually the worst drink I’ve had ever, which is challenging because it’s chocolate-based. It was a hot chocolate with ice cubes at the top – so much so that the bottom 2/3 were lukewarm. I instantly realised this was just a novelty to be endured for the sake of a cafe experience. I messaged my mum to tell her of the tragedy and she told me to tell the barista. Bless her. So pragmatic. So clueless to the social and cultural protocols I had just been subject to.

“I can’t mum. I’ll be deported from Melbourne. My beanie is literally my only redeeming feature right now.”

No bearded barista, no man-buns, no exquisite milkshake. After sticking it out, taking some photos, and watching the poor waitress have to carry the entire framed board to some seated customers for lack of printed menus, I paid my $4.50 for my watery, warm milk and left. It was an experience.

Later, after spending several hours in the Museum of Moving Image, I decided to give Melbourne a second chance to showcase their milkshake abilities. After all, this cafe was part of the museum. How hipster could it be?

“Hi there, do you have a menu?”

The man behind the counter was much friendlier than my previous barista encounter. He pointed towards a laminated lunch menu.

“Ah yes, do you have a drinks menu? With tea and coffee you know?”

“No, you just tell me whatever you want.”

I was beginning to sense a pattern here.

“Can I please have a milkshake?”

“No, sorry we don’t do those. I can make you an iced chocolate?”

What the hell Melbourne? Up your game! Should I make the same mistake? How much worse could it be though? Reluctantly I agreed, and paid a further $5.50.

When it arrived, it was mediocre. It thankfully had icecream, but otherwise it was another bland disappointment.

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Determined that Melbourne could do better than this, I spent the rest of the evening looking up the best freakshakes and diner-style milkshakes Melbourne had to offer.

The next day marked the start of another quest to Richmond’s Rowena Parade Corner Store to find the most decadent milkshake and restore my faith in Melbourne.

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This was the place. It was cute and cosy and colourful and youthful. Their menu was extensive and was ONLY compsosed of milkshakes, and the store didn’t have the ‘we secretly spent a fortune on the floors and walls to make it look like we didn’t spend any money on the floors and walls’ vibe going on.

Satisfaction was finally found after choosing the creative vegemite and salted caramel flavour. It was bliss. Very patriotic. Australian pride restored.

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Vegemite and salted caramel milkshake