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Wednesday, August 26, 2015


August 19, 2015

We needed a quick dinner before a show in the city on Wednesday night and decided to try out Fonda, tucked up the Parliament end of Flinders Lane. Fonda rode Melbourne's Mamasita-inspired Mexican wave and has since grown from its beginnings in Richmond to four locations across the city. The Flinders Lane one is massive - it was easy to grab a big table at 6pm, but things filled up as we ate and it was pretty hectic by the time we left.

The menu has a decent range of vego options, including a few veganisable dishes. There's a big drinks list too - frozen margaritas, cocktails, hip beers and a short wine list. They also do an array of non-boozy options, including Cindy's choice for the night: horchata ($6). It was a very sweet version of this rice-milk based beverage, but Cindy was happy with it nonetheless.

We started things off sharing around two kinds of chips: the crispy white and blue tortilla crisps with guacamole and pico de gallo ($9)...

and the crunch-cut potato chips with chipotle aoili ($).

Both were excellent, with generous and delicious condiments. The chipotle hot chips in particular were top notch - probably the best dish we had. Cindy ordered the portabello and shitake mushroom quesadilla, served with a fonda salsa ($15).

This was a pretty disappointing dish - the quesadilla fillings were pretty bland, with the mushroom and greens combo not really packing much punch. The salsa helped a lot, but on the whole this dish didn't really inspire (one of our dining companions had the same filling on tacos and was equally bummed out).

I ordered the black bean falafel, with shaved zucchini and cabbage, salsa, pickled carrot and onion and chipotle aioli ($15, this dish would be vegan if you cancelled the aioli I think).

This was much more successful - the falafel were great, and the fillings added some freshness to the burrito and the smokey salsa was great. A few dabs of hot sauce really topped things off. 

Our Fonda experience was pretty mixed - it's a lovely space and the staff were friendly and efficient, but the food was pretty mixed. If you order wisely you could have a wonderful meal, but the prices are high and the quality is varied. It's a handy spot for a quick city dinner, but there is no shortage of those around, so it's probably only worth the trip if you're hanging for something wrapped in a tortilla.



31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
8686 7300
menu, drinks

Accessibility: Entry is up a staircase. Things are reasonably spacious inside, with a mix of low and high tables. You order and pay at a low counter, and they bring the food out to your table. One of our companions reported that the toilets are fully accessible, so perhaps there is also an alternative entry that we couldn't figure out.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pan-fried gnocchi & kale

August 17, 2015

I bought a bag of Maria's gnocchi on a whim last time we were at Piedemonte's without any plans for it at all. Our blog archives and my link list held a few recipes, but none of them really grabbed me. I had better luck browsing 101 Cookbooks, where Michael zeroed in on a recipe for pan-fried corona beans and kale containing a small note that Swanson was "confident you could do this preparation with gnocchi... in place of beans".

We bought a small bunch of kale on Monday night and went with it. This is a single pan saute of lightly browned (not boiled!) gnocchi and shredded kale layered with the piquant flavours of walnuts, garlic, lemon and parmesan. It's winter comfort food that's assembled with little fuss, exactly what I needed at the end of an unusually long workday.

Pan-fried gnocchi & kale
(slightly adapted from a recipe at 101 Cookbooks)

small bunch of kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g bag frozen potato gnocchi, just barely thawed
1/3 cup walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Wash the kale, slice off the stems and roughly chop the leaves.

Set a large frying pan over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When it's hot, add the gnocchi and spread them out evenly across the pan. Give them a couple of still minutes to brown on one side, then toss them to brown on a second side. After a further minute or two, add the kale and a shake of salt, and tossing them through the gnocchi. 

Give the kale a minute or two to wilt, then stir in the walnuts, garlic and nutmeg. Pour in the lemon juice and sprinkle over the zest. When the lemon juice has mostly evaporated, turn off the heat. Serve the gnocchi in bowls and grate the parmesan over the top.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Admiral Cheng-Ho II

August 16, 2015

We had a rare reason to be in Abbotsford on Sunday morning, so we finally returned to Admiral Cheng-Ho for a second visit. Not a great deal has changed since we stopped by in the first week they were open - it's stylish, busy and the menu is all veg (and mostly vegan).

Cheng-Ho takes coffee very seriously, with an array of bean and brew choices - I'm a philistine, and just ordered a straight-up soy flat white. Cindy branched out, with a chai latte - it was a bit disappointing, with the main flavour coming from the dusting of cinnamon on top.

The food menu has changed a little since our first visit, but the basic shtick is the same - the umami mushrooms that we first tried at sister-venue Monk Bodhi Dharma are still an option and there's dishes featuring beans, bircher muesli, avo on toast and chia pudding. The zucchini pancakes from our first visit are gone, replaced with the Crazy Jimbo ($16.50), which I ordered.

It features a couple of discs of slightly dry polenta bread, covered in kale, carrots, broccolini, almond feta and basil cashew cream, and accompanied by avocado, tomato and a tangy beetroot relish. It's a lovely combination of fresh and tasty ingredients. I'm not sure the polenta bread is really a step up from a couple of decent slices of toast, but it's really all about the toppings (and I guess using polenta bread keeps the base dish gluten-free).

Cindy couldn't resist the vegan Northside French toast, with raw vanilla cashew cream, blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb and a raw chocolate sauce ($16.50).

The vegan-ness of the French toast meant that it was a bit light on the batter, which was compensated by the slatherings of chocolate sauce across the three big toast pieces. The fruit and cashew cream were superb, but there wasn't very much of them, meaning the ratio of toast to toppings was a bit high. 

Admiral Cheng-Ho is an excellent option for Melbourne's vegan breakfast-enthusiasts, offering up a much wider array of dishes than most places (with the obvious exception). The food is solid, the coffee excellent and the staff friendly - we really should visit more than once a year.



Admiral Cheng-Ho
325 Johnston St, Abbotsford
9534 7250
menu, drinks

Accessibility: There's a single large step on entry, and a very crowded interior. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. The toilet is around the back of the building, requiring you to negotiate some cobblestones and a small step.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tahini rice puff squares

August 15, 2015

Hot on the heels of that cocoa crackles recipe, I've got another melt-and-mix rice bubble treat to share. I stirred this one up in 15 minutes to take along to a crafternoon, where I helped decorate my friend's exciting new recycling venture.

This slice comes from the indolent cook. I replaced the original honey with barley malt syrup for vegan-friendly convenience to good effect. I toasted the rice puffs and walnuts in a pan as directed, but somehow that dulled their fresh crunch, and I wouldn't repeat it.

The slice's dark and glossy finish suggests that this is will be an intensely sweet and chocolatey experience, but actually the flavour is dominated by tahini. It could be a fleeting disappointment, but ultimately it's a nutty, fudgy delight.

Tahini rice puff squares
(slightly adapted from a recipe at the indolent cook)

3 cups brown rice puffs
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped 
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
1/4 cup cocoa 

1/4 teaspoon salt

Line a small baking tray with paper.

Place the rice puffs and walnuts in a medium-large saucepan and set them over medium heat. Toss them around frequently until they start smelling toasty and good. Transfer the puffs and nuts into the baking tray to rest.

Combine the remaining ingredients in the saucepan and return the pan to medium heat. Stir the mixture regularly to thoroughly combine the ingredients and prevent burning. When the mixture is smooth, add the puffs and nuts back in and stir thoroughly to combine. Pour the mixture into the tray and smooth it out evenly. I sprayed the back of a spoon with a little oil and used that to press down the sticky, clumpy mixture.

Cover the slice and refrigerate it for at least an hour before cutting it into squares and serving.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Magic Mountain Saloon

August 12, 2015

Cindy and I had a Wednesday night free and decided to freshen up our restaurant game a bit by heading into the city to try somewhere new and buzzy. Magic Mountain Saloon fit the bill - it's run by the people who run hipster-magnets Cookie, The Toff and Revolver and is getting a lot of blog attention (see the link list below). We turned up at 6:45 without a booking and were relegated to a pretty uncomfortable corner of the bar, so the word is clearly out - it's definitely a place you should book for. The venue's split over three levels - the ground floor is restauranty, with tables and a longish bar, the mezzanine is small with a couple more tables and the top level feels more like a bar with some tables - a lot more people hanging out and drinking rather than sitting down for dinner.

It's moodily lit, with a red glow cast over everything and clubby music pumping away at a volume just below 'really annoying'. The staff are friendly and reasonably efficient, and were quick to set us up and offer us drinks. I unadventurously ordered a beer, while Cindy took on the Cuban creaming soda ($5), with vanilla syrup, lime and mint.

The food menu was Chin Chin-esque: a mix of dishes of different sizes and styles that are designed to be shared. There's a reasonable number of vego options - three appetisers, five sides and a couple of bulkier wok dishes. We somehow resisted the lotus root, peanut and pickled turnip dumplings ($14.50), instead opting for the curried rice and mozzarella balls with a coriander and avocado sauce ($12.5) to get things started.

They were a Thai twist on arancini, with a nice curry kick cutting through the rice and cheese. Next up we tried the green papaya, yard beans, tomato, avocado and peanut salad ($17.50).

I quite liked the idea of this - take the classic papaya salad and mix it up with some generous chunks of avocado. That combo really worked, but the whole dish was loaded up with so much chilli that it was hard to really enjoy it.

Finally, we ordered the tofu red curry with eggplant, yard beans and makrut lime leaves ($21.50), with a couple of rotis on the side ($5.50 each). The mix of tofu and veggies in the curry were great, as were the roti breads - the curry sauce was passable, but in contrast to the salad was overly sweet and lacking in spice. Once the chilli burn from the salad passed, this was a bit on the plain side.

We finished up with a split dessert - a coconut and lime panacotta with strawberry and mint compote ($14.50).

This was tangy, smooth and sweet, but it didn't really knock my socks off - I should always order something chocolate-based for dessert I think.

Our dinner at Magic Mountain Saloon was passable - the food was okay, the service was sharp and the vibe was pleasant enough. It's clearly trying to muscle in on the incredibly successful Chin Chin territory (although to be fair, Cookie's been working a similar space for years), but it didn't quite measure up to those standards. I'm interested in trying out their breakfast menu, but I doubt we'll hurry back for dinner.

Magic Mountain Saloon has good reviews, although the high spice factor comes up in quite a few reviews - check out Stuck in Transit, frenchtoastandindiepop, Nom's Adventure, The Baroness of Melbourne, Delightfully Tasty, foodie about town, bonjourchickie, nik-nak castle, Spoonfuls of Wanderlust, The Glutton's Diet, The Everyday Melburnian, The New Fave and kT Eats World. There are some reviews of a freebie breakfast event at Barley Blog, Gastrology, I'm So Hungree and Sweet and Sour Fork.

Magic Mountain Saloon
62 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
9078 0078
menu, soft drinks

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up on entry and the interior is pretty crowded. There's a mix of bar stools and regular tables and full table service. The gendered bathrooms are located on the third floor - I didn't see a lift anywhere.