We started things off on Saturday evening at Punjabi Palace on Melbourne Street. Ever since we came to Melbourne Cindy has been pining after their vegie korma - yet to be topped anywhere in our travels around the garden state. Prices have gone up a little since we were last there, but the surly service seems to have improved. We tried to tackle too much - a vegie korma ($16.50), palak paneer ($13.90), a garlic naan, a rose lassi, kingfisher beer and our free rice. I'd forgotten the serving sizes of this place - we usually got at least one extra meal out of the leftovers and tonight was no exception, with a take home container of goodies for any spare meals. The korma was much as Cindy remembered it, tangy, creamy and vegie rich - nothing compares. The palak paneer also hit the mark - large, soft paneer cubes in a spicy spinachy sauce, this dish hasn't developed the mythology of the korma but it's undoubtedly one of the better palak paneers we've tried. It's only since leaving Brisbane that we've realised how lucky we were to live so close to Punjabi - despite the surfeit of Indian places near our new home, we've not found anything that quite measures up.
(Update, 31/12/2014: Espressohead is now closed)
We'd planned to start Monday morning by meeting a gaggle of friends for breakfast at either The Gunshop or Atomica, both of which were closed. Luckily, Espressohead was still open - we were semi-regulars back in our Brisbane years and not much has changed: same menu, same decor, same atmosphere, same prices, all of which is pretty good news. Cindy ordered the corn, cheese and capsicum fritters with avocado salsa and spinach leaves ($10.50). They were a little too much fritter and too little corn but the salsa was tasty and the spinach provided the illusion of healthiness. Cindy also chose one of Espressohead's many juices - a love bug (strawberry and watermelon, $4.50), which she happily slurped down as Brisbane gradually turned up the heat.
I just ordered avocado and mushrooms on toast ($7.50), which is a cheap and delicious choice - especially when avocado is in season.
After a quick breather we headed in to Fortitude Valley for a return trip to Kuan-Yin Tea House, a vegan-friendly, entirely veg mock-meat cafe, with loads and loads of teas and cold drinks. We went a little nuts: Cindy opting for sweet and sour pork rice ($9.50), which came out in a cute bento box, loaded up with a range of vegie sides.
The little pork bites were delicious, crispy and sticky with a surprisingly good sweet and sour pork. Cindy has often ordered this at past trips to mock-meat places, and has been served up decent mock meat, served up with sickly (to me at least) sweet sauces.
I decided to try the veggie fish with rice ($8.50) - it was less attractively presented, but at least as enjoyable. The nori adds some nice seaweed flavours to the soft pseudo-fish, and the soy sauce smeared on the crumbing provided a dash of saltiness. The whole thing was slightly dry, but it was still pretty fine. It's a huge menu, including such mysteries as mix simmered flavour ($5.90) and delicate combo ($14.90).
Another of the joys of Kuan-Yin is the selection of drinks - a huge range of milk teas, frappes, juices and other teas. Cindy braved the coconut flirtatious ($3.90), heavy on the coconut juice and slivers of coconut flesh, with just a dash of orange juice. It was excellent and refreshing, if a little awkward - it's not easy to slurp up large chunks of coconut through a straw. Patrick was even more adventurous, following up a coconut milk tea (with pearls) with a 'pink loving' - some sort of fruity delight. I was the least inspired, opting for a green apple frappe.
The day still wasn't over - S & L gave us a call and offered up a trip to Suncorp Stadium for soccer, which I twisted Cindy's arm into agreeing to. It was well worth the trip - a last minute goal gave the Roar an exciting 3-2 victory over Wellington. We followed up with a visit to Patcharin Thai, tucked down near the end of Hargrave Road in West End. It, along with the sadly departed Thai Dream, provided us with consistently outstanding Thai food when we lived nearby. Cindy dived into a pad thai (~$13), and I went for a tofu gang panang (~$13).
Both were good, but I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure if my memory has inflated Patcharin Thai's quality, but I had very high expectations, and my curry fell just short. The main problem was the tofu - it was a little dry and overly firm, some smaller cubes of silken tofu would have made this a bigger hit. Not a bad end to an exhausting day of friends, food and football.
Monday was a quieter food day, with breakfast at home and a visit to Beth and Ryan's house for some cracking fritters. Our only trip out was to Kafe Meze, for dinner with Jack and Em. We've only visited this place a few times over the years - it's a meat heavy menu, with the veg highlights mainly popping up on the appetiser list. Cindy and I went for the vegetarian platter: fried mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, horta, huge baked beans and lemony potatoes ($29). It all comes out cold but everything is pretty tasty - the beans and potatoes are particularly good. We added in a serve of haloumi ($5.90), just because haloumi's awesome. It's all pretty good value - Cindy and I were both well stuffed for less than $20 each. A typical summer storm put an end to our evening of outdoor dining, which was another moment of Bris-talgia.
Our final day in Brisbane saw us heading our separate ways - I ducked out bright and early to check out the birds of Boondall wetlands (high tides and hot weather = a sunburned and frustrated birder, although my first sighting of rainbow bee-eaters almost made up for other disappointments), while Cindy hung out with an old school friend in the smarter climate of a movie theatre. For lunch, I ducked into West End's only entirely vego restaurant: The Forest. They have a series of burgers and wraps, along with a bain marie with around five rotating dishes and some of the best vegie pies around. I enjoyed a tofu burger - an intriguingly flavoured tofu patty, heavy with salad and smothered with aoli. Messy and delicious. Cindy couldn't leave Brisbane without at least stopping in, so we snuck out for dessert: two kinds of vegan cheesecake (strawberry and blueberry).
When we first tried these, they were a revelation: how do you get such cheesy goodness into a vegan cheesecake? They're still excellent although we've since been spoiled by the EBC's fine vegan desserts, which probably just surpass the Forest's efforts.
All in all it was a pretty good attempt at recapturing past dining glories - Punjabi, Kuan-Yin and The Forest are all up with Melbourne's best, but the trip back did highlight how spoiled for choice we are down here. So many vego places. I think we'll be in Melbourne for a good while yet.