Friday, April 18, 2014

Food for the field

April 14-17, 2014

Last week my work took me out to the field - wandering woodlands, measuring trees and tracking their embattled offspring in the north-west of Victoria. Our mission was a little vague, but the company was good and the weather was spectacular. We drove and walked and talked and ate together, and I learned a lot along the way.

'We' were a team of seven, making the six-hour drive from Melbourne and setting up camp in an isolated but unexpectedly luxurious lodge. Unable to assist with the driving, I volunteered to manage the food. I've had a bit of practice.

Still, it's not my weekly habit to cater to so many - including meat-eaters, a coeliac and a fellow with a selective nut allergy - and I floundered estimating quantities of bread and milk. At least the meal strategy that I blogged a couple of years ago helped a lot.

I recycled many meal ideas from that last big trip. Cereal and toast, tea and coffee and juice with BYO alcohol. Fruit and muesli bars, trail mix and jelly lollies. I bought ready-made felafel for sandwiches, while others pitched in with extra fruit, allergy-friendly snacks, sliced meat and coeliac-friendly sandwich substitutes.

For dinner we ate lentil tacos (canned, for rapid cooking) with myriad trimmings, then a Thai red curry with tofu, lots of vegetables and steamed rice.

On the last night I pulled out a spice paste I'd prepared earlier and made the eternally awesome Mondo chickpea curry. Instead of serving more rice I gave Lucy's baked polenta a go, doubling the quantity and stirring in half a block of parmesan. This unlikely pairing was a roaring success eaten by an outdoor fire.

On the last morning, I was relegated to toast duty while a colleague fried up eggs, bacon, spinach and mushrooms on the barbecue. As we wolfed it down I thanked everyone for the favours they'd granted that week, hoping that I'd be able to reciprocate one day. While we all interpreted it as an offer of workplace assistance, I'd probably consider a catering role too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The B.East

April 8, 2014

The opening of B.East in 2012 smacked of the worst kind of hospitality cynicism - Baba, a fancyish Middle Eastern place that we quite enjoyed, was closed down by the owners so they could jump on the Americana/burger bandwagon with the B.East. We checked it out early and were pretty unimpressed - the whole exercise felt a bit half hearted and trendy. Still, it seemed to be a success, with crowds of people there whenever we wandered past. We even revisited at one point to try the tempeh burger they were offering up for vegans, but it was a pretty dull rendition and we'd more or less cast it aside as somewhere we'd never get around to blogging.

At least until Jess McGuire tweeted about how amazing the harissa mock chicken burger was. So we had to make one more trip. We managed to coincide our return with Jess' excellent pop culture trivia (at which we failed pretty dismally), which meant that the whole place was jammed with people and very noisy - it's as much pub as restaurant, and really not somewhere you'd go for a quiet relaxed meal.

The menu's changed a lot since we visited - there's a couple of veggie burgers, a slider, a couple of snacks and a range of fries. I really just wanted to focus on The Morrissey (mock fried chicken, sweet corn relish, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno salsa on rye - vegan, $13), but Cindy thought we should broaden our selection a bit.

We started with a roast pumpkin and blue cheese slider (pumpkin and blue cheese fritter, snowpea tendrils and horseradish aoili, $7). 

This wasn't very memorable - there wasn't the blue cheese richness I was hoping for or any real kick from the horseradish in the aoili. The fritter was fat and fried, so it wasn't a complete disappointment, but I wouldn't order it again.

Instead, I would order The Morrissey.

This was the bomb - the patty was huge and had great crispy batter around fatty mock chicken. The bun was fresh and manageable enough (although the whole thing was too big to really eat neatly) and the sauce was really hot and spicy. Four of our trivia team tried this and everyone was very enthusiastic - definitely one to check out, and not ludicrously priced at $13.

The $13 doesn't get you any fries though - you can pay $3.50 to get a side with your burger or you can do what we did and get a full serve ($6.50 plus $1 if you want a dipping sauce instead of just the table ketchup/mustard). The fries were excellent - super crunchy and salty.

Despite our initial misgivings, the B.East hits the mark pretty solidly for a boozy Tuesday trivia. There are cheap Holgate pints, fantastic fries and one of the best mock chicken burgers around. We just need to study our John Hughes movies and Beyoncé-related trivia before we return.

The B.East
80 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9036 1456

Accessibility: There's a wide entry with a ramp into a pretty crowded interior (at least on trivia nights). It's dimly lit and noisy and you order 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).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Terminus Hotel II

April 6, 2014

This week Michael managed to steer our pub club to the Terminus Hotel, which was renovated and relaunched soon after our visit last year. It's a got a spacious, contemporary look with the traditional pub trappings - a long bar with a wide selection of craft beers, high tables, low tables and a beer garden. There's a clear split between the 'gastropub' and 'bar & beer garden' sections, with different menus on offer at each.

We settled into the more casual bar area, where the menu is dominated by on-trend Asian-ish dishes like bao, banh minis, green papaya salad and duck spring rolls. There's also a few meaty classics for the old guard, with miniature analogues for the kids. Veg*n and gluten-free options aren't marked clearly, but we were heartened by the number of tofu options scattered across the menu.

The kitchen was out of banh mi rolls and served our lemongrass tofu banh minis ($13.90) on two sweet, doughy slider rolls. The lightly battered tofu had a lovely texture and there were nice pockets of fresh chilli hidden away, but I didn't catch the pickley or herbal flavours I seek in a banh mi, let alone the promised lemongrass.

The vegetarian bao option ($5.90 each) struck a better balance with squidgy salty mushrooms, a squirt of soy mayo, and the cleansing bite of pickled ginger.

The fries ($6.90) came with the unlikely pairing of rosemary flecks and chilli jam. I'm still not quite convinced by it but the chips were well cooked with abundant golden crunchy bits, which I scrounged right to the bottom of the bowl.

The Terminus bar is a very comfortable spot to hang out with friends, and their food was well received across our table. The banh minis aren't the satisfying stuff found in  Footscray or Richmond, but the menu is a welcome diversion from the stodgy burgers and burritos we've come to expect from North Fitzroy's pubs.


You can read about our pre-renovation dinner at the Terminus here. Since its transformation, the bar menu has received a very positive review on Fitzroyalty, while the 'gastropub' menu has won fans on Seeking Victory.

The Terminus Hotel
492 Queens Parade, North Fitzroy
9481 3182
bar menu

Accessibility: I think the bar has a flat entry, then inside there's a reasonably spread out mix of high and regular tables. Ordering and payment happens at the high front bar. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Warra Warra Korean Kitchen

April 1, 2014

We needed a speedy city dinner before hitting up Cherchez La Femme and finally managed to resist the lure of Shandong Mama to follow through on Hayley's gushing recommendation of Warra Warra Korean Kitchen. It took us less than a year, which I'm claiming as a win.

Warra Warra is tucked away at the back of the Tivoli Arcade off Bourke Street - it's got a few big outside tables and a stylish, exposed brick industrial-ish interior. The menu is long with plenty of vegetarian options, basically one for each menu section: a soft tofu stew, bibimbap, tofu bulgogi, a grilled tofu green bowl, spicy vegetarian hotpot, veggie tofu with kimchi, kimchi pancake, sweet potato noodles and a few others - you've got choices is what I'm saying.

I got there early and the super friendly staff plied me with free nibblies and not so free beer (the waiter helpfully pointed out that Hite beer is pronounced like 'height' not hit-ay).

When Cindy arrived we quickly negotiated our orders - I couldn't ignore the rave reviews that Hayley gave the bibimbap ($13.90), while Cindy was intrigued by the tofu bulgogi ($17.50, served with rice, salad and seasonal fruit).

The bulgogi comes out in five dishes - you get some leafy greens and a couple of bits of fruit, a seasoned rice bowl (the staff checked in with us as to whether we wanted fish flakes and/or egg on top of the rice, so it's probably worth being clear that you're vego/vegan when you order), a little pan of saucy tofu, kim chi and pickled oniony bits. The tofu was grilled and coated in a sweet sauce with a bit of soy saltiness, served on a bed of cabbage, carrot and onion. Cindy was happy to enjoy it as it was, but I'd have added a dash of hot sauce or mixed it with the kim chi to give it a bit more zing.

Thankfully, the bibimbap is designed to be self-sauced to your satisfaction, so I could happily squeeze on as much of the house made chilli sauce as I wanted (hint: a lot).

The dish itself was excellent - a good mix of tofu, veggies and rice with a squishy egg yolk on top that you mush up and stir through everything else. The stone bowl is super hot and everything keeps on cooking while you eat, so the rice gets crunchier the longer you go on. It's not heavily flavoured - just a drizzle of a sweet soy sauce on the tofu - but the staff are clear that you're meant to self season (there's a mild sauce as well as the chilli, but I was never going to make that mistake).

Warra Warra is a good CBD restaurant to have in your kit bag: fresh and delicious food, a quiet and relaxed atmosphere and plenty of vego options. The prices are reasonable (although not as cheap as the various dumpling houses we usually fall back on in the city) and the service spot on. They do cheaper set dishes at lunchtime, when I think things are a bit more chaotic. We'll definitely be back - I'm keen to try the kim chi pancake ($14.50) and the veggie tofu with kim chi ($19.50).

We were inspired to try Warra Warra by the write-up on Ballroom Blintz. There are more positive reviews on Mon's Adventures, Where Adles Eats, Blogs and Thoughts, new international students, The Food Society and Barley Blog, while The Weekly Foodie, Doughnut forget me! and Peach Water had more mixed experiences. 

Warra Warra Korean Kitchen
Shops 19 & 20, Tivoli Arcade, 235-251 Bourke St, Melbourne
9662 2077

Accessibility: The entry is flat, but things are a bit crowded inside. The toilets are up a small step, are gendered and of standard dimension. You order at the table and pay at a high counter.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Smith & Daughters III - Brunch Edition

March 30, 2014

I know, I know, this blog is in danger of needing a new name: something like 'Cindy and Michael go to Smith & Daughters' or 'Smith & Daughers R Us', but we really couldn't resist one more visit to suss out the weekend brunch options.

The space looks even slicker in the daytime - the chilli plants bursting with colour and the windows flooded with light. Through the week, Smith & Daughters have the same menu for lunch and dinner, but come the weekend they pull out the brunch options, offering up vegan versions of omelettes, French toast and more. They're really pushing their fresh juices too, with a mix of green juices, citrussy options and a tropical juice plus smoothies and a bunch of breakfast cocktails all using freshly squeezed produce for added pep. We had a juice each ($7.50 small/$12 large) - the easy green for me (kale, celery, cucumber, spinach, mint, lime, apple, lemon and ginger) and en rosa for Cindy (pink grapefruit, orange, pineapple, red grape, apple and watermelon). Both were great, although I did have some regrets about my failure to order one of the four breakfast cocktails instead. Next time.

Isn't that just the cutest salt and pepper shaker set you've ever seen? The food menu's short and punchy - shorter than the drinks.  There's two kinds of baked omelette (Spanish and Mexican), a horchata rice pudding, French toast and a scrambled tofu breakfast burrito.

I was always going to order the breakfast burrito, stuffed with scrambled tofu, chunks of house-made chorizo, black beans, garlic kale and chipotle cashew cheese, with a side of lime and guacamole ($18, or $15 without the cashew cheese).

I must confess, my first thought when this came out was, "It's a little small." It turns out that I didn't have anything to worry about - the combination of fillings was just that, incredibly filling. I worked hard to finish it and didn't need to eat again for hours. Oh, and for bonus points: it was incredibly good. The scrambled tofu was excellent, with chunks of chorizo and cashew cheese bursting through. Their house-made hot sauce is great too - tangy and spicy without overwhelming the other flavours around it. I started off pondering whether this could be $6 better than Trippytaco's tofu burrito and finished it ready to recommend it to everyone I know.

Cindy somehow resisted the lure of the French toast (served in spiced wine syrup with poached quince, $16) in favour of the horchata rice pudding (house made horchata and grilled pineapple, $15). Tasted separately, she found the pudding dense and plain and the pineapple sour, but they worked much, much better as a team.

The coffee (Wide Open Road) was excellent and can be done with soy, oat, coconut or coconut/almond milks. The service as friendly as ever (although they clearly know who we are now, so we may not be getting an objective experience) and a bit more in control without the heaving crowds of the nighttime sittings. We had a great time on our Sunday morning. Prices are getting into the higher range that we see around town, but the menu items are undoubtedly the most interesting for veg*ns in that bracket. I'm dying to try the omelettes and pretty keen for some brunch boozing, so I reckon there's at least one more Smith & Daughters post in our future.


You can read our summary of the restaurant launch here and a dinner we paid for here. There are a few more launch posts popping up - see Gastronomical ramblings and The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, while The Lentil Institution somehow snared a quick meal without a booking on a packed-out Wednesday night.  

Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
brunch and booze menu, juices, smoothies and coffees (although the facebook page is really a bit more useful)

Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior was a bit quieter and brighter during the daytime. Toilets were located up several steps, were gendered and of standard dimension. There's full table service.