Search This Blog


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Đà Lạt

July 2-5, 2015

We've made an escape from wintertime Melbourne to Vietnam and Malaysia for a couple of weeks with our mate Clamps. He's eaten vegan through this part of the world several times before, so he's the ideal IRL complement to our usual Happy Cow research.

The major revelation has been seeking out cơm chay in market food courts. This translates as vegetarian rice, but you can expect much more than that. Stalls routinely offer a dozen different vegan-friendly pickings on their set plates, from pickled vegetables and braised mock meats to deep-fried fritters and tofu triangles. The ones pictured from the Đà Lạt market set us back 30-40,000VND (AU$1.80-2.50) per plate and were spectacular. With only a limited ability to interact with staff we were left to guess at how many of these dishes came together - were those crispy bits some kind of fried root vegetable, or processed soy? could those mock anchovies be battered banana blossom? what are the chances of us making our own fake shrimp meat to wrap around lemongrass stalks? We can only hope that cơm chay will be the next food trend in Melbourne.

Đà Lạt has a handful of other veg*n restaurants, all variations on the local Buddhist cuisine. Hoa Sen is one of the more expansive ones, with lacquered tables and decorative fountains. The menu included English translations, usually clear, although we wondered what the 'pies' were that featured throughout the menu. There was only one way to find out! The 'fried pies with lemongrass and hot pepper' (pictured above, centre) turned out to be some very tasty shredded mock meat, rivalled only by the chilli tofu rice (above, centre-right). Fresh spring rolls, a soft bready dumpling and a plate of braised gluten were also very good. (Main dishes were 35,000VND ~ AU$2.15 each.)  Michael and I took advantage of their cold drink repertoire too, with a condensed-milk Vietnamese iced coffee for him and a soft serve-like avocado shake for me.

For two nights we stayed at the lovely Thien An Hotel (which includes a complimentary breakfast of baguettes and tropical fruits, with a jar of Vegemite on offer!). We couldn't believe our luck when we spotted a bánh mi chay stall two doors down, and an entire vegetarian family restaurant Quán Chay Đại Lộc behind it. (Main dishes were 20-40,000VND ~ AU$1.20-2.50, banh mi 10,000VND ~ AU$0.60.) A few of the dishes we sought were unavailable, but the ones we hit on were terrific - I had mock fish with lemongrass sauce one night and a peppery tomato braise the next. Michael loved the beef noodle soup so much that Clamps was moved to order it on a subsequent night. Fried spring rolls are common place, but these ones were particularly toasty and enjoyable.  Michael and Clamps even stopped in for breakfast banh mi in between, but were mildly put off by the gelatinous fat on their mock meat filling. I thought the corn milk was a better punt, sweet and refreshing.

Of course we found plenty else to do between eats (see slideshow below for some highlights). We browsed the central markets several times, Michael went on a bird-watching tour while Clamps and I walked around the lake and visited the flower park. We took a taxi out to the Crazy House and Bao Dai's Palace before being drawn back to the central market for more cơm chay. Mostly we revelled in the cooler days up in the mountains before returning to the steamy cities below.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Chickpea sauté with Greek yoghurt

June 27, 2015

The fifth gathering of our semi-regular Ottolenghi potluck posse was booked in for Saturday night, part of a ridiculously busy weekend for Cindy and I. We scaled back our usual ambitions and found an uncharacteristically simple Ottolenghi recipe in Plenty as our contribution. By the time we'd done our grocery shopping, dinner had been called off due to illness, leaving us to enjoy this dish without having to share.

It really is surprisingly straightforward given the usual rigmarole involved in an Ottolenghi meal - you can do it all in one pot over about 25 minutes and the ingredient list is  modest dozen with only sumac falling outside our standard kitchen stocks (thankfully we'd been given a little take home stash of sumac at Maha on our previous visit, so we were good to go).

For all its simplicity, this is a lovely meal - we were generous with the garlic (just one clove, but a really ginormous one), which I'd recommend, while the lemon, herbs and caraway seeds mean every mouthful is bright and interesting. The dollop of yoghurt on top is nice, but not essential - we took leftovers with us the day after with just the sumac sprinkled on and it was still excellent. File this one away for an occasion when you want to bust out one of your Ottolenghi books but don't have the time or energy for anything complicated - its a simple, satisfying winner.

Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yoghut
(a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

1 small bunch silverbeet
1/3 cup olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper
Greek yoghurt
sumac for sprinkling

Cut the silverbeet into stalks and leaves

Blanch the stalks in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Throw in the leaves and blanch for another couple of minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Squeeze the water out and roughly chop it all up.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Throw in the carrots and caraway seeds and cook for 5 minutes. Add the silverbeet (stems and leaves) and chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the garlic, herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir through, before killing the heat.

Serve immediately, topped with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of sumac.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Smith & Deli II

June 23, 25 & 26, 2015

After the excitement of Smith & Deli's launch, Cindy and I decamped to the Sunshine Coast for a week, missing the madness of the Deli's first week of proper trading. On our return, I got busy making up for lost time.

My first visit on Tuesday morning was intended as a quick stop to grab a sandwich for lunch. On discovering that the sandwiches aren't an option first thing in the morning I decided I'd have to come back later in the day. Still, no point walking out empty-handed. I grabbed a soy flat white and an Egg McMartinez ($7) to tide me over.

The coffee (by Wide Open Road) was excellent, but the Egg McMartinez was the real star - a deliciously eggy muffin sandwich with a slice of melty cheese and some crispyish bacon. It's a snack rather than a meal, but an incredibly delicious one.

I was back at lunchtime, in the rather long sandwich queue. I'd been hanging for a Godfather (hot chilli salami, pepperonci, mozzarella, roasted peppers and fresh basil, $13).

Is this the best vegan sandwich in Melbourne? The Reuben at True North is a contender, and there are another dozen or so to sample at Smith & Deli, but it's hard to see anything topping this - it doesn't hold back on the spice levels, has a pretty convincingly melty cheese undertone and has bursts of basil to accompany the thick salami chunks. Incredible.

I couldn't walk out without some lunch-dessert, adding a maple-bacon doughnut for afters (I've forgotten the price - maybe $5).

The crispy, salty coconut flakes took a good doughnut and made it great. Vegans now have a challenger in the fancy doughnut trend sweeping Melbourne.

Amazingly, I somehow found myself without a packed lunch just a couple of days later and in need of another visit to the deli. This time I started with the Temple of Doom (turkey, jalapenos, roasted corn, pickled cabbage, cheese and chipotle aioli, $13).

This was a bit of a messier eat than the Godfather, but was similarly great - the combinations on the S & D sangas have clearly had plenty of thought put into them - in this case the pickled cabbage, jalapenos and aioli worked some pretty great flavour magic around the turkey and cheese slices.

I almost ordered another doughnut for dessert, but branched out to sample a challah sticky bun ($7), a rich bun, gooey with some sort of caramel glaze.

After such a successful run of daytime dining, we finished the week sampling some of the pre-prepared meals for sale in the fridges at Smith & Deli, splitting a pepperoni pizza ($17) and a small serve of mapo tofu ($10).

The pepperoni pizza was a simple affair - an excellent thin base, topped with tomato sauce, a few big chunks of salami (possibly the same product that featured on the Godfather sandwich), some mozzarella rectangles and fresh basil leaves. It's a classy step up from the vegan pizzas we recently had delivered from Eat Pizza. In general, pizzas suffer from a vegan premium price-wise, and $17 is a bit of a stretch for this, but mock meats and cheeses don't come cheap.

The mapo tofu was gratifyingly similar to the version that I love making, right down to the over-enthusiasm with the chilli, which left Cindy gasping. I can well imagine grabbing a serve of this next time's Cindy's out of town and I'm too lazy to cook - it's really excellent.

The Melbourne veg*n community is losing their collective mind about Smith & Deli and with good reason. It's serving up a stunning array of vegan food, from pastries, sweets and sandwiches, to spices, staples and mock meat, plus a range of pre-made meals for home. Having an office within 500m is going to be an expensive, delicious privilege.


quinces and kale, Little Vegan Bear and Veganopolous all munched their way through Smith & Deli's menu during the first week it was open, while style melbourne, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t), table to paper, Veggie Mama and MEL: HOT OR NOT were all at the same freebie launch that we were.

Smith & Deli
111 Moor St, Fitzroy
9042 4117
sandwich menu 1, 2
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a lip on the door and the interior is flat. All foods are easily visible, but some of the groceries are easier to reach than others. Ordering and payment is at a low counter.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Greenhouse Cafe

June 17, 2015

I spent my formative years living in Caloundra on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. At the time eating out for me usually meant fish and chips at the beach, Pizza Hut or, if we were feeling particularly sophisticated, a trip to the local Thai place. I was thrilled to notice last year that Caloundra's first all-vego place had opened and even happier to find it still in business nearly 12 months later when I finally managed to swing by for a visit. 

Greenhouse is more than just vegetarian - it's also fully organic. The menu seems to change semi-regularly, and on our visit there was a good mix of vegan and non-vegan stuff, including made-to-order dishes, pre-made wraps and sandwiches and an array of muffins and sweets. There's plenty of gluten-free options scattered throughout. They're also big on smoothies and juices and they have kombucha on tap. We settled in for a proper lunch with my Mum and all three of us ordered from the a la carte menu.

Mum went with the spinach, onion jam and three cheese tart, served with a beautiful looking pumpkin salad ($15.90). She was a bit overwhelmed with the size of the meal when it came out, but enjoyed it so much that there were no leftovers for me to sample.

I ordered the vegan burger off the specials board, marinated tofu with pickled veggies and satay sauce on Turkish bread ($17.90). This looked a bit sad when it came out - it was definitely not the kind of burger you could pick up and eat - but fortunately the taste easily overcame any doubts I had over the presentation. The satay sauce reminded me a bit of our favourite curry peanut sauce recipe, melding a hint of spice with nutty goodness. The pickled veggies added a nice salty kick, and the mint gave it all a fresh edge. I stole some chilli from Cindy's plate too, which I can heartily recommend.

Cindy ordered the avocado with coconut cashew cheese, pickled green chilli and mint on long-fermented sourdough ($14.90). This was a lovely fresh lunch plate - the avocado was perfectly ripe and all the trimmings were lovely, especially the fresh mint. The cashew cheese was smooth and creamy, but didn't have a particularly strong flavour - it probably would have helped smooth out the fresh chilli chunks if I hadn't stolen them all.

We couldn't resist the lure of the sweets counter on our way out, taking home a Mexican chilli choc beetroot slice and a raw vegan choc-cranberry tart (both gluten-free, total price ~ $13).

I'm not usually a big fan of raw desserts, but the choc-cranberry tart was the clear winner out of these two - sweet, tangy and nicely textured. The slice was good too, but I think it needed a bigger chilli hit to cut through all the chocolatiness.

We had a great time at Greenhouse - the staff that work there are incredibly warm and friendly, turning a decent lunch into a really lovely meal. The food is great, if a little on the expensive side (I guess getting everything organic doesn't come cheap), and it's a nice spot to sit and people watch. I'm so impressed that someone has given a vego cafe a shot in my hometown and even more impressed that they're making it work - there was a steady stream of customers while we were there and it's easy to see why the locals would keep coming back.


A handful of bloggers have checked out Greenhouse and been uniformly positive - check out sustainability in style, Vegie Head, Live Blissful and Riley xo.

Greenhouse Cafe
5/8 Ormuz Avenue (off Lamkin Lane)
07 5438 1647

Accessibility: Smooth entry with a relatively spacious interior. The outside tables are on a slightly uneven footpath area. There's table service and you pay at a low counter. Things seemed super child-friendly on our visit (toys, kids' table, high chair etc).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The B-East

June 15, 2015

We're irregular visitors to the B-East, usually stopping in when Jess McGuire is hosting trivia and grabbing a Morrissey burger for dinner. This week they've upped their veg credentials by introducing an all-vegan menu on Monday nights under the banner Mock The Casbah. I managed to nibble my way across most of the menu with the help of some friends.

The vegan fried chicken ($11.50) used the same crispy-skinned greasy wheat-meat as their excellent Morrissey burger, ditching the bun and harissa for a drizzle of smoky chipotle aioli and some dill pickles. This would tickle fanciers of the Cornish Arms' basket of wings.

The pulled pork burger ($13) was tangy, spicy and messy, served on a chewy rye bun. The snap & crackle cauliflower taco ($6.50) was a milder prospect with its avocado cream, and probably the pick of the table.

I dug into a chargrilled corn and quinoa burger ($14), jettisoning half the thick bun on sight. It centred around a thick cake of fluffy quinoa with only a few corn kernels, and was substantially boosted by a cheese slice, chilli aioli and a layer of sweet potato crisps.

We didn't have the appetite (and the little ones didn't have the patience) to stick around for dessert, on this night a double chocolate fudge tofu brownie with vegan salted coconut caramel ($7).

The B-East are promising to rotate the menu from week to week, so bear in mind that these particular dishes might not be available if you swing 'round on a future Monday. Nevertheless they're putting in a great effort to include gluten-free options (taco plus both burgers adaptable on this night) and assure the vegan status of their ingredients. I'm excited to see what they come up with next.


You can read about one of our previous visits to the B-East here.

The B-East
80 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9036 1456
first Mock The Casbah menu, dietary info

Accessibility: There's a wide entry with a ramp. Tables are a mix of standard and high, chairs a mix of stools and backed with a baby's high chair or two on hand. Furniture is pretty densely packed but there are wide corridors through the middle. It's dimly lit and noisy, with food and drinks to be ordered and paid for at a high bar. The toilets are on the same level through a narrowish corridor by the kitchen and are gendered and quite large (although I can't remember seeing a specifically accessible cubicle).