Friday, April 29, 2011

April 18, 2011: The Victoria Hotel

Another fortnight, another pub-club. This time we headed to the rejigged Victoria Hotel to sample the food from their newly opened kitchen. The pub itself hasn't changed too much - there's still a ping-pong table in the front room, still an odd assortment of furniture in the beer garden, and still a quiet laid-back vibe. The menu is pretty affordable and well-stocked with vegie options: a risotto, some pastas, a burger and a curry plus a few starters.

I've become pretty predictable and decided I'd sample yet another vegie burger ($12).


This was a fairly mediocre burger - a potato-y veg patty, some lettuce, onion and tomato on a lightly toasted white bun. The flavours were pretty limited; we were forced to reach for the tomato sauce to kick things up a notch. The chips were good at least.

Cindy went healthier - daal with roti, rice and raita ($12).

Cindy was hoping for a soupier daal, rather than this chunky version but this was still pretty acceptable,  he raita and roti in particular added something to a fairly straightforward curry.

Our meals, like those of our companions, were adequate without being amazing. The Vic is cheap - we haven't had many $12 meals on our pub-club wanderings - and you basically get what you pay for. Still, the pub itself has upsides: ping-pong, Gentle Ben on the stereo, and an excellent Monday night vibe.

The Victoria Hotel
380 Victoria Street, Brunswick
9388 0830
veg snacks $6-$9, mains $12-$16

Accessibility: There are small single steps scattered from entry through to the beer garden. There's lots of space around the tables.  All ordering and payment occurs at a high bar.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 11, 2011: Cheese & tomato quiche

It wasn't too long before I was making pastry again, this time with my recipe calendar as an excuse.  It's a straight-up quiche arrangement; full of tomato, lined with a little mustard and topped with extra cheese in the form of brie slices.  Actually the brie centre melted right into the quiche filling within the first few minutes that it spent in the oven, the rind sticking around in lazy stripes on top.

It was lovely fresh out of the oven and nearly as good when gently reheated for lunch later.  I reckon home-made shortcrust is the one pastry that still holds up convincingly as leftovers.



Cheese and tomato quiche
(recipe slightly adapted from Quick Vegetarian Recipes)

175g plain flour
salt and pepper
75g butter, diced
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
50g mature cheddar, grated
4 tomatoes, sliced
125g brie, thinly sliced
1 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1 clove garlic, crushed

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and pepper. Add the butter and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Pour in the cold water and blend the mixture until it comes together as a dough.  Bring it together into a balls, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and ease it into a pie dish.  Refrigerate the pie crust for another 10 minutes or so.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Blind bake the pie crust for 10 minutes, then remove any weights and paper and bake it for a further 5 minutes.  Spread the base with the mustard and sprinkle over the grated cheddar.  Layer the tomato and brie slices on top.

Whisk together the milk, egg yolks and garlic, then pour them over the tomatoes and cheese.  Bake the quiche for at least 30 minutes, until the eggs have set and the top is golden.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 5 & 9, 2011: Leftover makeovers - mushrooms & their marinade

After a weekend spent enjoying some fresh market produce, we re-purposed some of our leftovers for weeknight meals.  The mushrooms exchanged moisture and flavour with their marinade, and I used their liquid to flavour a stir-fry of mock beef strips, capsicum, carrot, bok choy and peanuts.  I gobbled this meal with gusto - the mushroom-infused marinade really added depth of flavour to what would probably otherwise have been some bland mock meat.

We were rather enjoying the mushrooms so we bought some more and baked them just like our previous batch, using our leftover grilled asparagus glaze and some garlic.  Michael baked up a dish of cornmeal crunch to partner them - this was terrific, though I found myself hankering for some chutney to add a little more moisture.

Mushrooms have so much flavour!  It was great stretching it out to last the week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 7, 2011: Las Vegan III

Las Vegan changed management a few months ago and I can happily report that it's looking good.  It's casual and unpretentious (though I suppose offering mock meat is technically pretentious!) and not as hippy-dippy as I always assume it will be.  Michael and I stopped by for dinner before a Thursday night comedy show.  The staff were incredibly friendly, although not entirely efficient; our meals arrived promptly so I was content.

Michael had the T & T salad ($10), a garden salad featuring bean shoots, chunks of tofu and tempeh and satay sauce.  He nominates the satay-slathered tempeh pieces as the highlight and was happy that it all tasted pretty healthy.

I went for the snitzel & chips ($10), which was served with more garden salad.  I really liked the proportions here - a modest and non-greasy piece of crumbed mock meat topped with chunky tomato sauce, then oodles of fresh veg and a satisfying serve of chunky skin-on chips with plenty of dipping sauce.  I hear these snitzels are a real knock-out in burger form too.

This is the kind of not-entirely-junk food I like making at home: burgers, chips, salads and sauces... there are also beans, mock mince and rice balls elsewhere on the menu.  With good execution and very reasonable prices, I may start relying on Las Vegan for those meals on my too-lazy-to-cook nights.

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We've previously blogged about Las Vegan here and here.
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Las Vegan
22 Smith St, Collingwood
9415 9001
veg mains $9-15
http://www.lasvegan.com.au/

Accessibility: Pretty good - reasonable entry, plenty of space around tables, order at the table and pay at a low-ish counter.  We haven't visited the toilets.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011: Laksa King

For years now we've been meaning to head to Flemington and try out Laksa King's much-famed laksa. One of the reasons we held back was our uncertainty about their veg-credentials - many 'veg' laksas are based on fishy sauces or shrimp pastes. Reassured by Pip's enthusiastic review and provided with transportation by Mike and Jo's new car, we finally made our way out to see what the fuss was all about.

It's a big, busy place - we're obviously late to the laksa party. The fit-out is much flasher than I was expecting and despite the crowds, things don't feel too cramped. After a bit of table-shuffling, we were settled into a nice back corner position and ready to get eating.

Cindy went with an entree-combo, starting with the vegetarian spring rolls ($5.20).

Spring rolls don't seem to vary all that much from venue to venue but the filling in these had a notable extra crunch.  Great to sense some fresh veg in the mix.

To cancel out the deep-fried, Cindy ordered the vegetarian papaya salad ($8.20).

This was a nice fresh combo of sprouts and papaya, liberally dressed in a sweet chilli-based sauce. I wanted this to have a bit more bite than it did - it was neither sour enough or spicy enough to really satisfy my tastes.

I had to try the vegie laksa ($9.20), loaded up with tender eggplant, greens, broccoli, mushrooms and tofu. Plus tonnes of noodles. The soup has drawn mixed reviews - for some it's too coconutty, while others proclaim it the best laksa in Melbourne. I'd lean more towards the second view - there's no shortage of creamy coconut milk but the curry is still richly spiced, leaving me with a light sheen of sweat and some cleared sinuses. For the price this is an amazingly hearty meal - I was stuffed to the gills and unable to even contemplate the dessert menu.


Despite its massive reputation, Laksa King has kept prices pretty reasonable - a curry for under $10 is not too shabby at all. The food lives up to the hype as well, with everyone at our table very happy with the experience. We'll be back.

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Laksa King
12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington
9372 6383
vegie dishes: $5.20-$12.50

Accessibility: OK - a low step at the most as you come in, a bit of space between tables around tables up front and less towards the back. We didn't check out the toilets.

April 7, 2011: Gertrude Street Grub - Piadina Take Away

It's been a long time between Gertrude Street Grub posts - mostly because on the rare day that we don't have any leftovers, I can't resist revisiting Sonido or Trippytaco. But Brian's post on Piadina Take Away alerted me to a new option for the days where I have neither lunch from home or time for a proper outing. Takeaway lunches around my work have been limited to some fairly rudimentary cafe options, with Fatto a Mano too far away for a speedy trip.

Which is where Piadina Takeaway comes in. It's a fairly plain looking takeaway joint (which I think used to be a fish and chip shop) - there's a couple of plastic tables, lots of bare tiles, and a general undecorated vibe. Thankfully, the food is great. They've got a small brekkie menu, some sandwiches and a selection of half a dozen piadinas.

There are a few vegetarian options, of which I've sampled two: the roasted beetroot with carrot, rocket, dukkah and tahini yoghurt ($9.50) and the mushroom with tasty cheese and thyme ($8.50). They're made fresh to order (obviously the beetroots have been pre-roasted), with the flatbread getting some nice crispy brown bits on the grill, and everything inside warming up deliciously.


The beetroot one was a roaring success - sweetness, spiciness and yoghurty tang making for one of the best sandwich-style dishes I've had in ages. The mushroom version wasn't quite as good: the combo of grilled mushroom, melted cheese and thyme is pretty fantastic, but everything had gone a bit soggy by the time I was back at my desk.

Still, they're streets ahead of the other local sandwiches - I'm not sure I'll go anywhere else for my desk-based lunches in future. So don't be fooled by the lack of a flashy fitout, this place does some of the best lunches on Gertrude Street (although our vegan and coeliac readers will struggle I'm afraid).

Kudos to Brian at Fitzroyalty for putting me onto this place. Nobody else seems to have discovered it yet.
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Piadina Takeaway

130 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 8819
veg lunches $7 - $10

Accessibility: A couple of biggish steps to get you inside but once you're in there's plenty of light and space.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 6, 2011: Sweet Basil

Cindy and I were swanning around South Yarra and took the opportunity to try out Cheap Eats' recommended vegetarian place for the inner-south: Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine. Unlike many Thai places where 'vegetarian' may well mean "includes fish sauce and shrimp powder", Sweet Basil are on top of our meat-free requirements. They've got a specific vegetarian section in their menu with more than twenty options to choose from.

The place itself is fitted out with a bit more class than the fluoro Ying Thai (or indeed many of the cheap and cheerful Thai places around Melbourne). They were very quiet by the time we turned up so the service was highly attentive - water glasses were topped up as soon as we'd sipped from them and everything arrived speedily.

We decided to just have an entree and a main between the two of us, starting with the the Tofu Tord (lightly fried tofu served with a crushed peanut and plum sauce, $8.90).

The sauce that came with this was an excellent combination of sweet, tangy and peanut flavours, but I would have liked to have it soak into the tofu a bit more somehow. Dipping didn't really work that well - the frying of the tofu chunks had given them a crispy and impermeable skin.

We went with faux-meat for our main, if only because it's rare to find a Thai place that has anything other than tofu (aside from the excellent Peace Harmony in Sydney of course). The mock-duck served in a red curry sauce with vegies and lychees ($21.90) was probably just adequate.

According to Cindy, the 'duck' looked suspiciously like Wu-Chung canned duck, and the curry itself was a little on the sweet side for my tastes. The lychees were an interesting touch but I think I'd generally prefer a slightly sharper flavour than what Sweet Basil were serving up.  To be fair, we didn't specify a spice level so they were probably going easy on us just in case.

Sweet Basil is the most veg-friendly Thai place we've been to in Melbourne and is clearly shooting for a classier Thai experience than most other local options. Still, at $20+ for a main, I was hoping for something a bit more impressive. We'll probably give it another shot, if only to sample from the wide array of choices.
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There's just one blog review of Sweet Basil out there, a positive write-up from A-Pluz.
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Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine
209 Commercial Road, South Yarra
9827 3390
licensed with BYO wine only
veg entrees $8.90, mains $15.90-$21.90
http://www.sweetbasil.com.au/index.html

Accessibility: Looks good - a flat entry, enough space and table service.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 4, 2011: The Union Club Hotel

Our ongoing quest to sample all the veg-friendly pubs of the inner-north continued with a Monday evening jaunt to the Union Club Hotel in Fitzroy's backstreets. It's a spacious place with a decent beer-garden and plenty of tables inside. We had our biggest pub club attendance for a while yet had no trouble finding a table for eight.

The menu has a handful of vegetarian options - a few entrees, a burger, a pizza, some baked mushrooms and one of the specials. Cindy couldn't resist the lure of something fried - zucchini and goat's cheese fritters with garden salad and lemon creme fraiche ($16).

The fritters themselves were a success, crispy-skinned balls of fried cheesiness, but the salad was a bit limp and over-dressed.

I went with the hearty vegan burger - a house-made five bean pattie, flavoured with special spices, with salad and chips ($16).

The patty was loaded up with beany protein and walked the fine line between dryness and sogginess. My salad didn't seem as soggy as Cindy's and the lightly toasted Turkish bread bun held everything together nicely. It's great to see a pub offering up a decent meal for vegans - so many of the pub vego options we see are pretty cheese-focussed.

The Union Club was a very successful pub club venue - gluten free options for our resident coeliac, a warm winter atmosphere, lots of good booze to choose from and pretty decent prices. It will definitely get a return visit.

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The Union Club Hotel
Cnr Gore and Webb Streets, Fitzroy
9417 2926
fully licensed
entrees: $10 - $12, mains: $16 - $18
http://www.unionclubhotel.com.au/

Accessibility: Looks good - just a small step to enter and plenty of space inside. Ordering and payment happens at a typically high pub bar.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 3, 2011: Marinated mushrooms & fettuccine alfredo

We don't eat a lot of pasta here at Casa Non Carne but the cooler weather got me in the mood.  We spotted some fabulous-looking fresh pasta at the Queen Vic Markets recently and took home half a kilo of pumpkin and poppyseed fettuccine.  I was keen for the creamy comfort of Alfredo sauce and stocked up on mushrooms for the veg component of our meal.

This alfredo sauce recipe is a popular vegan rendition from VeganYumYum - I bookmarked it when it was published a year and a half ago, and since then a few of my favourite veg blogs have given it favourable reviews.  Although the recipe simply has you throw all the ingredients into a blender or food processor at once, I took a little more care the grind the cashews first before introducing other ingredients.  I'd also recommend mixing the margarine into the ground cashews early, 'cause it created a weird fatty froth when I added it after the soy milk.  Ingredient sequencing aside, this sauce is a cinch to make and a pleasure to eat.

The mushroom dish is one that Marieke Hardy swears by, and I followed her online trail to this site for the recipe.  It's intended for shiitake mushrooms, Marieke uses oyster mushrooms, and we went for a flat/brown combo that turned out great.  We probably used a little too much marinade, but I put the leftover mushroom juices to good use later in the week.  This is one of those neat recipes where just a little effort pays off big in the taste stakes.

While I intend to make both of these recipes again, it probably won't be in the same meal.  They each derive a good portion of their savoury flavour from tamari and in combination it's a bit of a salty-soy overload.  I'll make it my mission to find these fine dishes more harmonious matches.



Marinated mushrooms
(based on Dusty's recipe, on the recommendation of Marieke Hardy)

700g mushrooms, whatever varieties you like
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
2/3 cup tamari
1/2 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Brush any dirt off the mushrooms and arrange them, gills up, in a single layer in a high-walled baking dish.

Whisk together the oils, tamari and wine and pour them over the mushrooms. Sprinkle over the garlic.  Cover the tray with foil and bake the mushrooms for 40 minutes.




Hurry Up Alfredo
(from VeganYumYum)

1/3 cup raw unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons margarine
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch of nutmeg
a few grinds of black pepper
500g fettuccine or other pasta

In a food processor, grind the cashews as finely as you can. Blend in the margarine, then the soy milk, then the remaining ingredients (excluding the pasta) until you have a smooth sauce. Taste it and adjust the seasoning to your preferences.

Cook and drain the pasta, then return it to its saucepan. Stir through the alfredo sauce and serve.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 2-3, 2011: Peaches & cream tart

After seeing my new blowtorch back in January, Johanna kindly pointed me to this recipe for a peaches and cream tart with a crispy burnt sugar topping.  April seemed the right time to try it, with peaches still available at the markets but the weather having cooled down to something a bit more oven-friendly.

With Jane crediting the recipe to Stephanie Alexander I figured I'd start my shortcrust recipe Stephanie-style too, finding this recipe over at cuisine.com.au.  Then I started cheating.  No marble pastry slab, lightly rubbed butter, wells or pastry scrapers here - I make my shortcrust in the food processor.  And I got a little creative with the fat.  When my butter ran out, I began substituting margarine.  When my margarine ran out, I substituted sour cream.  I really had no business succeeding at all yet succeed, I did.

The peaches were a bit of a risk too - rock hard, to start.  But they softened right down while baking in that custard, to the point that one pie-eater asked if I'd used canned peaches.  Even so, baking was the bit I struggled with most.  While the original recipe hinted that this would be done in 20 minutes, my pie still wasn't set after double that time.  By then I had somewhere to be so I covered it with foil, turned off the oven and hoped against hope that it'd set in the ambient heat.  It did, though it was well beyond 'beginning to brown' by then.

Of course, the most important moment of all was the blow-torching.  And that turned out pretty well first time round, when Michael and I tested the pie out 'round midnight.  Then after some time in the fridge the sugar melted and my blow-torch couldn't revive it.  That didn't diminish the pie's lure substantially - it was gone in less than 24 hours.

This recipe is clearly not vegan but I reckon you could have just as much deliciousness without the lacto-ovo.  Use whatever shortcrust recipe works for you, and set those peaches together with brandy-spiked soy custard.  I've got to admit that the sour cream didn't do anything special for me at all.



Peaches & cream tart
(adapted from recipes at cuisine.com.au and Have bamix will travel, both of which are attributed to Stephanie Alexander)

shortcrust pastry
240g plain flour
50g butter
55g margarine
75g sour cream
2 tablespoons cold water
1 egg white, lightly beaten

filling
3 large peaches
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon brandy
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons brown sugar

In a food processor, blend together the flour, butter, margarine and sour cream to damp crumbs. Gradually add the water with the blades still running, until the pastry comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least half an hour.

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Roll out the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap then gently transfer it to a pie dish, removing the plastic wrap as you go. Blind bake the pastry for 20 minutes, then remove the weight and brush the pastry case with egg white, baking it for a further 5 minutes. Allow the pastry to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 180°C.

Peel the peaches slice them into crescents.  Arrange the slices in the pastry case.

In a medium-sized bowl with an electric mixer, beat together the egg yolks and castor sugar.  Add the vanilla, brandy, cornflour and sour cream in turn until thoroughly combined.  Pour the cream mixture carefully into the pastry case.  Bake the tart until the custard is set and beginning to brown - this could take up to 40 minutes.

Sprinkle the top of the tart with brown sugar and use a blow-torch to caramelise it.  Slice up and serve.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 2-3, 2011: Asparagus by Oishinbo

When Matt visited us last month, he brought us a few cute gifts from Tokyo - most notably a copy of Oishinbo: Vegetables.  Oishinbo translates as 'the Gourmet', and it's the title of a long-running manga series following the adventures of food writers Shirō Yamaoka and Yūko Kurita.  The series has recently been repackaged into English, with each volume following a theme - things like ramen, fish, rice, and as Matt astutely picked out for us, vegetables.

The plots combine slapstick and cheesy jokes with high drama, Iron Chef-style contests and a generous dose of moralising, particularly regarding the dangers of herbicides and pesticides (go organic!).  After taking a full 10 minutes to work out the reading sequence (right to left, top to bottom), I giggled my way through the entire volume while travelling to Canberra and came home keen to make the two accompanying recipes, which are inspired by dishes served within the story.

Both use asparagus, and we found that some baby late-season stalks were still available at the markets.  In the first recipe they're lightly boiled, then topped with a rich and savoury walnut dressing - we ate these with toast for a weekend lunch.  We couldn't access any veg-friendly dashi when we needed it (though I believe Radical Grocery stocks it) so I replaced it with a broth made from dulse flakes.  I would definitely make this again, it's simple and so tasty that Michael scraped the sauce jar clean.

We prepared the grilled asparagus the following night, as an appetiser to share with our mate Mike.  It was much more difficult to skewer the baby stalks than it would be for standard-sized ones, but of course this didn't have us missing out on any of the flavour.  We replaced the sake with dry sherry for convenience and sprinkled our glazed and charred asparagus with shichimi togarashi - we enjoyed sprinkling this spice mix on our snacks at Ebi, then spotted and bought a shaker of it at the Therry St Minh Phat a few days later.

Oishinbo proved to be doubly delightful!


Asparagus with walnut dressing
(adapted slightly from Oishinbo: Vegetables)

2 bunches asparagus
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup shiro miso
1/4 cup dashi, or 1 teaspoon dulse flakes stirred into 1/4 cup boiling water

Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and cut the stalks into 5cm lengths.  Boil the asparagus until they're tender, but still firm and a vibrant green.  Drain the asparagus and spread them out to air-dry.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind the walnuts.  Thoroughly mix in the shiro miso and dashi to obtain a thick sauce.

Serve the asparagus topped with the walnut sauce.



Asparagus grilled kabayaki-style
(adapted slightly from Oishinbo: Vegetables)

2 bunches asparagus
1/2 cup tamari
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake or dry sherry
sancho pepper, Sichuan pepper or shichimi togarashi

Trim the tough ends off the asparagus.  Line the stalks up neatly in a row and secure them with bamboo skewers, piercing them at right angles.

Place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring them to the boil and allow them to simmer for 5 minutes.

Cook the asparagus skewers on a hot plate - ideally a charcoal grill, though we just used a non-stick frypan - until it's tender and a little charred.  Brush the asparagus frequently with the sauce as it cooks.

Serve the asparagus with a sprinkling of pepper.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 2, 2011: Huxtable

We finally got around to trying out Huxtable for a friend's semi-fancy birthday dinner on a Saturday night. We'd tried to walk-up a couple of times and been unable to get a table - even this time we were booked in early so that they could get two sittings through on our table. Things are clearly going well in Huxtable-land.

We had high hopes - the blogosphere is littered with rave reviews and the menu seemed to be well-stocked with interesting vegie options. Three of us decided to share a vego-feast, so we could get a good sampling of the menu. We started with the much-lauded jalapeno and cheddar croquettes ($3.5 each).

The crispy-fried outside hid a soft and cheesy filling - they were a bit light on with the jalapeno for my tastes but Cindy was fairly impressed.

We followed up with four dishes from the vego sharing section, starting with the quinoa salad with zucchini flowers, pomegranate and goat's cheese ($14).

The combination of pomegranate and goat's cheese is a sure-fire winner and the zucchini flowers were tender and tasty. We were a bit disappointed with the size - there wasn't much to share around.

Next up was the Lebanese cauliflower with harissa yoghurt and dukka ($14).

This was an unqualified success - soft and warmly spiced cauli on top of the zingy harissa yoghurt. And there was plenty of it. Highly recommended.

Cindy insisted we order the slow-roasted crushed potatoes with garlic ($9), which sounded amazing.

Unfortunately, these were disappointing - a bit dry and under-seasoned. Maybe they'd work if you were having them with a saucy meat dish, but on their own, they were a bit bland. Others have raved, so maybe we just got a dud batch.

Finally, we ordered the roasted brussel sprouts and portobello mushrooms ($12).

This was a better effort - crisply roasted sprouts and hearty mushroom chunks. Simple but effective.

On the night, we left Huxtable pretty disappointed, but looking back I think they're a victim of their own successes - we had very high expectations, and while the cauliflower lived up to them, everything else fell a tad short. The three of us spent about $20 each on food, which is pretty reasonable for what we got, but I think we just wanted to have our minds blown. The service was great and it's a lovely space - it just didn't quite live up to the hype for us.

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Only Jeroxie seems to have been underwhelmed.

I'm still keen to swing by for brekkie one day, thanks to: I'm so Hungree, Pepper, Salt, Sugar, Spice and That Jess Ho.
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Huxtable
131 Smith Street, Fitzroy
9419 5101
fully licensed
vegie bites: $3.5 - $4.5 each, sharing plates: $9 - $14
http://www.huxtablerestaurant.com.au/

Accessibility: Huxtable looks pretty accommodating, with just a tiny step at the entry and table service throughout.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 2, 2011: Grigons & Orr

Grigons & Orr has received lots of blog attention already (see the huge link list at the bottom of this post) and we're well overdue to add it to our catalogue of inner north breakfasts.  They're set up as a tribute to the old-fashioned milk bar, with shelf-upon-shelf stacked with groceries, mixed lollies and other sweets at the counter, and milkshakes on the menu.

Food-wise, there's a lot that appeals to the likes of me: French toast, pancakes, apple fritters and even more sweetness besides.  On the savoury side there's a lot of eggs but also zucchini hash browns and pan-fried tofu.  It's an extensive and slightly off-beat menu, and it caters nicely to vegans and coeliacs.

While Michael ordered his usual coffee, I tried out House Smoothie ($6), a gently sweet and slightly tangy concoction of bananas, berries, yoghurt, agave and cinnamon.

Michael's meal order, though, was far from his usual - a couscous porridge made with coconut cream and topped with goji berries, toasted almonds, shaved coconut and honey ($11).  The toppings were terrific but the couscous was a little dry.

I stopped right at the first item on the menu - home made crumpets served with butter and berry conserve ($7.50).  They struck me more as slightly puffy pikelets more than any crumpet I've eaten before and between the pikelet-like crust and the icing sugar dusting, the butter and jam were not inclined to soak into these at all.  A little disappointing but still undeniably tasty.

These were minor food flaws; Grigons & Orr offer so many interesting veg options that we're pretty keen to give them a second and third chance.  A few other bloggers spoke negatively of the service but we've no complaints - staff were proficient and generally friendly and we weren't kept waiting too long to eat.

We were lucky to score a table inside but it's worth noting that most of this cafe's seating is outdoors by the road.  There's a box of crocheted blankets available for your comfort but they're probably insufficient coverage in rainy weather.  We followed our fine-day visit with a satisfying stock-up at the Queen Vic Markets.  I'd love to make this a habit on cycle-friendly Saturdays.
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Grigons & Orr has been reviewed by veg-bloggers Vicki Vegan, Eat More Vegies, Easy as Vegan Pie, In the Mood for Noodles and Vegan About Town (twice).

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Grigons & Orr
445 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
0403 515 814
veg breakfasts $6-$14.50
http://www.grigonsorr.com.au/

Accessibility: The interior of G&O is crowded and has a step entry; we didn't visit the toilet but it would likely be less accessible still. Exterior seats are accessible, I suspect that some are on slightly sloped pavement.

Friday, April 08, 2011

March 30, 2011: Ebi Fine Foods

Some last minute work chaos had delayed the start time of our Footscray tour, so our initial plan to split a roll at Tan Truc Giang had been derailed by our ravenous 2pm lunch-hungers. So, with a roll each under our belts, even an hour or so browsing Savers, a few other op-shops and a shopping spree at Vincent Veg wasn't enough time for us to get hungry enough for our initial plan of a big meal at Aangan or Dosa Hut. Instead, we decided to check out the curious-sounding Japanese-inspired fish and chip shop that our Cheap Eats guide promised us would provide fine vegie takoyaki and other snack-sized treats.

The decor is a strange combination of neighbourhood chippy and cute sushi place, and the menu offers up a similar mix: beer-battered fish and chips, but also sushi, bento boxes and tempura options, along with a range of Japanese-inspired snacks. We were intrigued by the vegan friendly veg-bento box ($15), but could only face a couple of snacks: a vegie croquette each ($2 a pop) and some of the veg takoyaki ($5, inspired by octopus balls, which are apparently a common Kyoto street-food).

The croquettes were pretty good - a potato heavy vegie filling, crumbed with panko and drizzled with a delicious sweet Japanese bbq sauce. But the real stars were the takoyaki, which apprently started life as festival food cooked up by Ebi proprietor John Byrne. They've got a crispy outer and a gloriously squishy texture, presumably dominated by tofu (although we didn't actually ask) and are served with a splash of light soy sauce and a smothering of Japanese mayo. Amazing - and a steal at $5 a serve.

The dessert menu includes donuts, fudge and home-made ice cream, but be warned - the tofu cheesecake contains both eggs and gelatine, so it's not as vegan-friendly as it sounds. Still, I'm pretty sure vegans would be well rewarded by the bento box - we're definitely going to check it out next time we're in the west.

All in all, our afternoon in Footscray was a winner - delicious and reasonably priced food, decent coffee at the Dancing Dog Cafe, a haul of books and shirts from Savers, and a freezer-load of Vincent's mock meats. We really need to explore more widely - our previous Footscray dining has been fairly limited but with help from Footscray Food Blog and commenters on our previous post we're already building up a massive list of places to sample. Any more hot tips for wonderful veg-friendly places would be appreciated.

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Despite the Cheap Eats love and a rave in Epicure, Ebi hasn't exactly been overwhelmed by blog reviews. Still, what's there is positive - Ms Baklover at Footscray Food Blog has given it the thumbs up (twice!), Fill Up on Bread is a fan, as are Charles Whyte and I dream of a brewery.

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Ebi Fine Foods
18A Essex St, Footscray
9689 3300
Snacks: $2.5 - $5, bento box: $15


Accessibility: Ebi has a tiny step as you enter and is a little cramped (outdoor seating is more spacious). Ordering and payment happen at a high counter.