Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Etta II

June 9, 2018


Michael's birthday fell during a work trip this year, and we made sure to book a special meal out to celebrate a couple of weeks later. In the interim, we learned that Michael's chosen restaurant hasn't been paying its staff the superannuation they're owed, so we cancelled our spot and returned to Etta instead.

This second wonderful experience at Etta has cemented it as our first preference for all foreseeable special occasions! Their vegetarian 'leave it to us' spread ($65 per person) was a delight from start to finish, and an interesting seasonal contrast to the late-spring version we enjoyed there last year.

A nice little bonus is the couple of housemade seasonal sodas ($8 each) available for those of us who aren't feeling boozy. I started with the zestier grapefruit, rosemary and juniper one (pictured above right), while Michael chose the lighter spiced apple (above left).


Thankfully, no matter the season, Etta have spongey sourdough and their incredible burnt butter ready to go. These were rapidly followed by crudité with concentric pools of chèvre and watercress emulsion.


An entree of battered chickpea fritter, globe artichokes and sorrel ranked among my favourites of the night.


We learned that there's one special dish that is always, always on the menu by popular demand - the tamari roasted buttercup pumpkin wedge. While we all liked it the first time, it made a stronger impression on me on this visit - the accompanying sauce was so deeply savoury, reminding me of white miso, and the sunflower seeds were roasted to their nuttiest. It was well accompanied by a plate of Brussel sprouts, some of their leaves holding spoonfuls of labneh, and all of them seasoned with a seaweed powder.


The mains were a little more than we could handle! Eggplant a la greque (pictured above left) was impossibly sweet, served in a puddle of tofu creme and smothered in panko. Potato gnocchi (pictured above centre) were almost glazed in butter and accompanied with hearty pine mushrooms and chestnuts. Dutch cream potatoes (pictured above right) were roasted to crusty golden perfection, deceptively garlicky, and crowned with crunchy saltbush. We could barely do those beauties justice.


We asked for 10 minutes extra mercy before dessert came out, and it proved to be a magical combination of fresh, tart and comforting in a teeny bowl. A sphere of mandarin sorbet was dropped into a cheesecake of custard consistency; it's covered with a spoon of warm ginger caramel and a few vesicles of native finger lime.

This is one of the more exciting, satisfying high end meals we've experienced in recent years (only Ubud's Locavore comes to mind as an equal), and it's a bit more accessible than most. As we ate, we tried to concoct all sorts of ways to visit Etta more often. Could we just drop in for a drink after work, maybe order that butter bread? Invite a friend and snack on the potatoes...? Just have the gnocchi and call it dinner...? Or sneak in late for dessert? Whatever the excuse, we've vowed to return when we can and keep supporting this lovely restaurant.
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You can read about our first visit to Etta here.
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Etta
60 Lygon St, Brunswick
9448 8233
menu
http://ettadining.com.au/

Accessibility: The entry is flat and there is one step up from the bar area to the dining area. Tables are moderately spaced and lighting is quite dim. We received full table service. Toilets are unisex and spacious, but we didn't notice handrails or other mobility aids.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Novel Sydney eats

June 1-3, 2018


My Sydney weekend wasn't all old faves; we planned some new activities and foods! The centrepiece was a night inside the Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall, featuring the phenomenal Solange. Her performance will go down as one of my all-time favourite live events (and I've tucked one more photo of her at the end of this post).
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A day earlier, travelling into Sydney by train, my weekend companion made the outrageous suggestion that we lunch at the all-vegan Gelato Blue. We did, and we loved it! I ordered a hot-and-cold doughnut sundae ($13): a warmed-up cinnamon-sugar doughnut and a large scoop of gelato joined together with wonderfully weird waffle cone limbs, all drizzled in Ice Magic-style chocolate sauce and crushed nuts. The chocolate hazelnut scoop I chose was lightly salted and very, very good - though the embellishments were delightful, methinks this gelato doesn't actually need dressing up.
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The Buddha Bowl Cafe was a nice low-key spot for Saturday brunch. It's vegan by default with a few vegetarian options (halloumi, eggs, dairy milk) available as add-ons. This place has a wholefood vibe, with all the hits (avocado, hummus, a rainbow of fresh produce) and misses (kombucha on tap, blue algae lattes, raw-only cakes) that entails. My plate was the biggest hit at the table: sourdough French toast made with coconut cream ($12), served with maple syrup, date caramel, dried coconut, coconut yoghurt and lots of fresh banana.


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A day later, Another Outspoken Female and her Significant Eater whisked me off to the very popular Petty Cash Cafe. I loved its homely, cluttered atmosphere; mismatched crockery, tea cosies and crocheted knee blankets for those of us sitting outside. Though Petty Cash does serve meat, it's made some special efforts for its veg*n customers, such as scrambled tofu, vake (fake bacon), and fluffy chia-based vegan pancakes. While I was initially drawn to the Vegan Big Brekkie, I ended up doubling down on French toast ($17.90), receiving excellent golden slices of sourdough with just enough maple syrup and plenty of crispy-then-chewy vake.

My one disappointment was that the seasonal fresh fruit I saw listed amounted to a single strawberry garnish (most likely my fault for misreading the menu), but AOF generously shared the bananas and raspberry sauce that accompanied her pancakes.


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These were all beaut meals, though it's the time I spent with people - a couple of Melbourne mates, a handful of Sydney-siders and, from an admiring distance, Solange Knowles - that I'll remember best from this weekend away. Nevertheless, the story of That Time We Lunched At Gelato Blue might last a couple of rounds... !

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Sydney reruns

June 1-2, 2018


I just had a whirlwind weekend in Sydney with a friend! Circular Quay was showing off its Vivid projections by night, and we followed the early nightfall with a couple of early dinners at restaurants we already knew and loved.
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On Friday we eased into Vina without a reservation, though it filled up and turned tables a couple times while we were settled with a local friend. Vina has had a complete refit since my first visit! The vegan Vietnamese menu is still a good one; we grazed on steamed dumplings and fried wontons ($6.80 per plate) and tentatively folded our own lemongrass mock-beef and tofu rice paper rolls ($16). The highlight was probably the bubbling vegan fish stew in ginger mushroom sauce ($16.80). Next time: the Chef's Special vegan duck.
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Our Saturday night visit to Bodhi with a fellow Melbournite was much more carefully planned. The restaurant's evening menu is a la carte, but includes many of the small shared dishes offered during their more famous vegan yum cha. We dived into the mocktail list ($14.50 each, the sweet-and-sour toilet-cleaner-blue Just My Imagination is pictured above) and ordered so much deliciousness to share! The BBQ buns ($9.50) were lighter than usual, and I loved the gua bao bun 'slider' ($17) stuffed with salt and pepper 'chicken', Malay peanut sauce, cucumber and herbs. The laksa ($25) was difficult to divide, but perfect comfort food on a blustery night.
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Though we would have gladly eaten at Bodhi three more times, we checked in to a few new eateries too; they're up next.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Smith & Daughters IX

May 22, 2018


Note: we booked this meal intending to pay our bill in full. Mo comped us a couple of extra dishes, meaning that we paid for the $132 of food we ordered and received two extra dishes worth $34 free of charge.


Smith & Daughters has had an amazing menu makeover for winter! They're going for all-out carby comfort food with an Italian theme, dubbing it Smith & Bellas. In surprisingly good news for coeliacs, more than half of these new dishes include a gluten-free option. We booked in with a couple of friends to share as much as we possibly could.


First up: meatballs! (Usually $12 for 3, we paid $16 for 4, above left.) They've got the right minced-meat texture, are smothered in a lovely sweet napoli, and boast some impressive parmesan. The garlic bread ($8, above right) was my must-order starter, and it was resplendent in its foil-wrapped pizza-delivery glory.


The creamed silverbeet ($10, above left) was silky soft, perked up with a little preserved lemon and chilli. Though we hadn't ordered it, Mo knew we needed the show-stopping carpaccio (complimentary on the night, usually $18, above right). They've somehow made their own flat, smoky mock-meat, which we were encouraged to roll up with a fig slice, horseradish cream, fried capers and rocket, then wrap around a crisp fennel bread stick. Wow.


These shared dishes had me excited and genuinely appetised for the mains! And here things got heavy. The gnocchi ($22, above left) were the softest little dumplings with as much broccoli rabe pesto and cream as we could possibly swirl them through. The cacio e pepe ($25, above right) looked deceptively simple but these bucatini were dressed in copious quantities of black fermented garlic, a little parmesan and two kinds of pepper. My pick, though, was the ragu and polenta ($24, main photo) - the polenta was so creamy and cheesy, and the ragu? Some of the most convincing mock meat I've ever eaten, mimicking the tenderness of a slow-cooked tough cut in a sweet gravy. Just astounding.


I was determined that we couldn't leave without dessert, and we agreed on two to share among the four of us. Mo put another beautiful spanner in the works, comping us a tiramisu (usually $16) - more vegan wizardry in neat, coffee-scented layers. Our companions were most taken with the limoncello rice pudding ($12), with a crunchy brûléed crust and dainty scoop of rosemary vanilla icecream.


I was unexpectedly besotted with the baked Vesuvius ($15). Blow-torched right at the table, I had to wait patiently to spoon through the scorched-Italian meringue crust, excavating still-firm black pepper vanilla icecream, skirting by poached quinces before hitting on a ganache-spread chocolate sable crust. I don't normally care for meringues or marshmallows much at all, but this was like a Wagon Wheel had all grown up.

Smith & Daughters have bloody well done it again! This Italian phase is so comforting it's almost familiar, yet it's also delightfully inventive and packed with surprises. You know we'll be back for more.

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You can also read about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight of our previous visits. Since that final post a fairly negative review has appeared on Lifestyle By Lily.
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Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
savoury foods, desserts (including cocktails), non-alcoholic drinks
http://www.smithanddaughters.com/


Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior is dimly lit and loud at night. Toilets are located up several steps, are gendered and of standard dimension. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Fan's Notes V

May 20, 2018


I'm not sure how many more posts about A Fan's Notes this blog needs. I've photographed the underlit, overcluttered front bar ad nauseum, and we've covered the brunches, the burgers and the unexpectedly fancy vegan degustations. But we've found one more reason to stop in - the irregular and unmistakably unfranchised trivia nights. 


It was a good excuse for another burger. This is a menu with six (six!) vegan burgers and three (LOL, three!) beef-based burgers. Four of those vegan ones share a common beetroot & quinoa patty, there's a nifty fishy alternative, and a crumbed shiitake-kim chi affair that I'm going to work up to one day. Michael ordered his beetroot & quinoa patty southern fried ($13), which comes with coriander-pineapple salsa, avocado and, for a price (+$4), fries. It was an utter mess to eat and an utter delight to taste.


I thought I'd check out the vegan parma ($20). It's got an eggplant base, but it's mashed with brown rice rather than being sliced and crumbed on its own. As you can see, the vegan cheese is more of a sauce, and the overall effect is of sweet tomato sugo comfort, with the rice providing just enough to chew on. Fries and green salad are generously portioned.

Our trivia team slumped from equal first after round one to mid-ranking by the end of the night, but we're unperturbed. The quiz is fun, the food is more vegan-friendly than any of us could rightly expect, and the venue is like no other.

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You can read about one, two, three, four of our past visits to A Fan's Notes.
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A Fan's Notes
787 Nicholson St, Carlton North
9943 8373
seasonal specials, daily specials, burgers, others
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a flat entry way to a slightly crowded interior. We ordered and paid at the high bar. There's a single, unisex toilet cubicle, which is up a step off an uneven path.