Last week, Elemental opened up around the corner from the Frugii Dessert Laboratory in the Ori building in Braddon. Elemental is a paleo cafe and joins a handful of other paleo cafes from around Canberra which caters for our cavemen friends. To be honest, prior to visiting Elemental, I had very little knowledge of paleo diets and just assumed it was just another food fad, because learning about veganism, pescatarianism, gluten free, coeliacs and what not was difficult enough. Nevertheless, thanks to this visit and a little bit of post research, I can now actually discuss the merits or weirdness of a paleo diet without looking like a total idiot. At least my assumptions about the cavemen thing was right.
So a quick summary of my findings (thanks to Wikipedia) for those like me who can’t keep up with all the diets out there. Paleos essentially just eat whatever foods that were available to our caveman forefathers. Apparently, that means lots of proteins, no refined or processed foods, as well as no diary, grains or wheat. And for caffeine addicts and party lovers out there, no alcohol, coffee, salt or (refined) sugar for a matter of fact. Sounds a lot like Atkins to me, lots of protein, no carbs.
Regardless of whether I think paleo is amazing or just weird, a good chef can make anything tasty and the crew behind Elemental definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to food. To be honest, if I wasn’t told that Elemental was paleo, I would have just assumed that it was an awesome cafe doing its own thing and being creative.
The menu at Elemental is simple, with the food and drinks filling up just one A4. The food options aren’t broken up into breakfast or lunch, but there is definitely a pretty clear difference, with burgers and salads at the bottom of the menu and granola, bacon and eggs at the top. Elemental also offers quite a few organic soft drinks, teas, coconut water and coffee from Red Brick Espresso. (I know that doesn’t quite match up to my research and I can’t really explain it, maybe it’s special paleo friendly coffee?!). Regardless of the smallish menu, there was plenty to toss up between. Also, apparently the menu at Elemental is a work in progress, so expect ongoing changes and new dishes.
After pondering over the menu, we opted for a couple more lunchy options. Our first dish was the Naked cheese burger ($17), a beef patty, bacon, coconut cheese, tomato jam and house made pickles. So, of course, this was a naked burger, so it was assumed that there’d be no bread, but on the Elemental menu, there are two other options that sound like they might have bread on it, the Brisket Sub and the Pork Belly Burger. I didn’t really know if bread was a complete no no in paleo diets so I just assumed, hey it doesn’t explicitly say naked and thought, maybe they do have bread! Well, no they don’t. We confirmed with the crew at Elemenetal, they’re all naked. If that saves anyone out there from asking a dumb question, well, you’re welcome.
To this actual burger, one thing I need to mention is that wow, the cheese is surprisingly good! After eating at a couple vegan places, it has come to my attention that cheese is pretty easy to fake, so I guess that’ll be a boon for the vegan pizza industry. It’s pretty shocking to hear that coconut can be turned into such convincing cheese, the texture is pretty weird (it’s pretty much goo) but the flavour is definitely pretty cheesy. Surreal.
The rest of this dish was really good, and much better than I was expecting. The meat was nicely charred but not overcooked and the pickles were a particular highlight. One thing I should probably mention, it’s not the most filling thing in the world, which I suppose makes sense, since they’ve taken the two carby bits out. Unfortunate for a big eater like me, but probably good for most people since they eat standard serving sizes.
This was really cool, and I felt hip for a little bit eating a burger with a knife and fork.
Our other dish from Elemental was the Warm ocean trout salad ($19) with coconut creamed leeks, poached egg, rocket and parsley oil. I must say, this was by far the most interesting poached egg I have ever seen. It was perfectly shaped and had a strange looking texture to it. For a while, I thought, maybe they don’t eat eggs as a part of paleo diets and this was just some sort of tofurky egg! If it was a tofurky egg, it was a damn good one, it tasted like egg and felt a lot like egg when we cut it open but more about that in a second.
I must say, this dish was pretty tasty, it makes me think that I could probably give up diary if I were having things like this instead. The whole salad was super creamy thanks to the leek which were infused with coconut milk, giving it that delicious nutty coconut flavour. This was matched with some sharpness from the rocket and topped with some really tasty, soft and flavoursome trout. The only downside to this dish for me was the abundance of fish bone. I think they were probably fine enough to eat but I’ve never been very good with fish bones, I steer clear of sardines for that very reason. So word of warning for anyone else like me, it might not be the most suitable dish. Still tasty but a bit of a pain to eat if you have to constantly have to pick out fish bones from our mouth or the fish.
On a more positive note, to end this dish. Our interesting looking poached egg was pretty poached, they were slightly overcooked but they weren’t so far gone that you’d call them pwned (from our famous segment, poached or pwned). There was still enough gooey yolk which oozed all over the ocean trout and salad. The additionally creaminess from the yolk played off the creaminess from the coconut milk really well, giving this whole dish multiple different flavours, elements and textures as well. As much as I disliked all the bones in the ocean trout (and it wasn’t just one or two and I’m just being picky, it was more like ten or twenty and I’m still being picky), the great flavours and textures of dish would make me consider getting it again. Maybe, next time I’ll confirm with the crew at Elemental if the ocean trout is meant to have bones. Could have just been a mistake, it was Elemental’s first weekend after all.
We couldn’t go past the Bone broth ($4) when we saw it on the menu. Not sure how many basketball fans are out there that read this food thing, but anyone who knows of Kobe Bryant’s famous bone broth inspired injury recovery in 2013 will have been clamouring for the bone broth to find its way to Australian shores for awhile now. I was definitely one of those people, partly because the idea of magical bone goo is quite amusing to me, but also because anything made from bones has been historically proven to be freaking delicious. I don’t know about this broth in particular, but traditional bone broth is produced by simmering a variety of bones (pig, cow, fish etc.) along with other ingredients for around 8 hours, which results in an extremely nutritious and mineral rich soup.
So outside of all the healing properties, I’m sure you all really just care about the taste. Well, it’s actually pretty delicious! Even if this only had the properties of clogging my arteries, I’d probably want to get bone broth as much as possible. It’s a clear soup with nothing inside it except liquid, yet it’s dense and quite thick (for a non cream based soup). The flavours are also really deep, like a really good western pho broth, and when you drink it, it coats your mouth in a slight glaze that can only be described as similar to oil, but somehow doesn’t make you feel as gross as coating your mouth in oil would be.
All in all, I really enjoyed this bone broth, medical benefits aside, it was actually yummy, and as someone who doesn’t really “get” coffee, this is a perfect replacement.
Finally a Cappuccino with almond milk ($4, large +$1), which now doesn’t make any sense since post my research, from my understanding you can’t have coffee if you’re following the paleo diet. Plus, you can also get coffee with milk, I’m assuming when they say milk they mean cow’s milk because if you want almond, soy or coconut milk, its an extra $1. Being a non paleo, I didn’t really mind. It was actually quite interesting for me, I decided to add almond milk to my cappuccino to see how that would taste. Almond milk was really quite nice, though a little overwhelming, it just packs on the nuttiness like crazy. Personally I prefer soy milk since that’s at a nuttiness level that I enjoy, so I’ll probably stick to that in the future, or just get more cultured and learn to drink long blacks with no milk.
I enjoyed this meal at Elemental, it taught me a lot more about paleo diets than I ever thought I would bother to learn. Elemental is a pretty small store from the outside, but once you step inside there is plenty of seating, a bit cramped but hey, its a hipster cafe, if you’re not cramped, then you’re not in a ‘cool’ place. The food was tasty and I’m excited to see what the crew at Elemental come up with in the future. I really wanted to try the chicken quesadilla but they were out by the time we got there, next time.
Here is the current menu at Elemental (March 2015) if you’re interested.