Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stovetop

July 20, 2013


Stovetop is a new cafe ideally located halfway between our house and the Queen Vic Markets. We had market-related chores lined up for Saturday morning, so we wandered by and tested it out on our way in. Despite a recent mention in Three Thousand (where I learned about it), Stovetop was deserted around 9:30. I’m sure this state of affairs won’t last as it ticks a lot of boxes for a buzzy Melbourne cafe: hip coffee stylings, slightly offbeat breakfast options and a beautifully designed space. There’ll be crowds there by the time this review goes up I’m guessing.


It really is a lovely fit-out – the big windows mean the light streams in and the design is a nice balance between trendy industrial and warm wood and greenery. The particular schtick that Stovetop is offering up is... stovetop coffee. With drip filter coffee already going through about seven waves of sophistication/ludicrousness (see, for example, Assembly Curated Coffee), it was probably inevitable that someone gave it a shot.


For $6 you get a little 2-cup pot. My 5 senses blend was pleasant enough, but I think my palette is too unsophisticated to detect the plum, cherry and/or caramel notes. I’ll just stick to flat whites in future (which Stovetop do an excellent job of FYI).

Cindy fancied up her drink as well, going for a brewed chai latte ($4). It had the appropriate mix of sweetness and cinnamony spice and was all frothy and warming.


The food menu serves vegetarians reasonably well (although vegan options are limited – the most promising dish looks like the porridge of spiced quinoa and sago with almond milk, coconut flakes and toasted almonds, $9). Cindy is basically unable to say no to waffles, and Stovetop’s version (cinnamon waffles with pomegranate molasses, vanilla bean custard, agave and almond dukkah, $13) was never going to change that.


She was pretty impressed by it – the custard made them into a kind of delicious waffle sandwich, and the two syrups added a sticky layer of sweetness to it all. Inside, candied orange slivers added some marmaladey fruitiness.

I stuck to savoury - lured in by the fried goodness of the sweet potato and chia latkes, served with poached eggs, baba ganoush and rocket ($14).


This was a nice, novel way of serving poached eggs – possibly my first ever latkes. They were the star of the dish too, all crispy and oily, but the smoky eggplant was a good counterpoint to the runny eggs as well. It all worked excellently and, at $14, is one of the better value eggy breakfasts around.

Stovetop was a solid breakfast experience - very reasonable prices, a couple of tremendous dishes and reliable service. They're a great addition to Carlton's breakfast options - add in an interesting vegan savoury dish and I'd be recommending them to all and sundry.

____________

I first spotted Stovetop on Three Thousand, and I'm So Hungree has already got there a couple of times and is clearly a fan.
____________

Stovetop
100 Leicester St, Carlton
9347 2010
veggie breakfasts, $6-$14
http://www.stovetop.com.au (see if you can look at it without laughing at the (unintentionally?) hilarious photo)

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide and everything's pretty spacious inside. You order at the table and pay at a lowish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cairns to Cooktown

July 10-16, 2013


We took a short break in July, seeking some sun around Cape Tribulation. We relished the rainforest and relaxed pace a little more than the restaurants - over four days our meals included chips four times, three pizzas and two mass-produced vege burgers. The high point was easily the above wood-fired pizza from the camping ground's Sandbar, topped with artichoke hearts and goat cheese and washed down with ginger beer.


At our accommodation we were spoiled with gorgeous tropical fruits at breakfast. I fell upon the freshly cut pineapple wedges, reacquainted myself with the charms of custard apple and dragon fruit, and tasted curious new morsels we still don't know the names of.

The forests were bursting with other fruits too...


native 'dog' pepper (piper caninum)


native banana (musa banksii)

coconuts!

The vast majority of them weren't suitable for human consumption...










... but they might have been to the taste of this dame.


The sweetest stop was at the Daintree Icecream Company. They grow their own tropical fruits and whip them into a four-flavour roster - we shared a $6 cup of chocolatey black sapote, butterscotch-like yellow sapote, hazelnut-coffee-toned wattleseed and sweet, dependable coconut.

While we were a little reluctant to leave our rainforest retreat, I must admit that it was magnificent to encounter tofu and beans back in the big smoke of Cairns.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Spring

July 10, 2013


We made good use of our short stopover in Brisbane, following up our fancy schmancy dinner with breakfast at Spring, one of the trendier restaurants in the CBD. It's mostly lauded for its lunch and dinner options, but we were keen to see how they did at breakfast. At 9ish on a work day there's a steady stream of office workers grabbing takeaway coffees and a growing number of morning meetings getting underway. Still, there was no issue securing a table. The space itself is lovely - lots of light and a lovely array of flowers and plants scattered throughout - it's very stylish.


The menu is pretty straightforward - nothing too innovative, but a nice selection of sweet and savoury dishes. Vegetarians can choose from any of the sweets or go for something eggy. Vegans don't have many options - they could grab something simple like avocado on toast ($10), but that's about it.

I went for baked eggs, with tomato sauce, basil, bocconcini and toast ($14). In spite of the surprisingly big chunk of tomato floating in this dish, it hit the mark nicely - a rich and slightly sweet sauce slathered over nicely cooked eggs dotted with torn up cheese. The nuts on top were a bonus.


Cindy went for the brioche French toast with stewed rhubarb, apple and cinnamon sugar ($12).


I'll admit to having slight order envy about this - it looked amazing. The cinnamon flavour was a bit lacking, and Cindy would have enjoyed something a bit more syruppy or creamy to break up the bread, but the fruit was enough to cut through the dryness. A pretty satisfactory sweet treat.

Our whole experience at Spring was pretty solid - the service was efficient, the coffee good and both our meals were well executed. The prices were great too - we're getting used to paying $18 or something for breakfast down here these days, so it was impressive to see almost everything on the menu coming in under $15. Spring is a welcome addition to Brisbane's CBD, which has historically been very, very dull when it comes to breakfast options - we'd swing by again if we didn't have time to get out to West End or New Farm.

____________

There are loads of positive reviews out there about the meaty dinner and lunch options at Spring,  but James and Matt have had a good vegan experience there. The few bloggers who've sampled the breakfast options at Spring have been pretty positive as well - check out DolceBunnie and Gluten-Free Julia.
____________

Spring
26 Felix St, Brisbane QLD
(07) 3229 0460
veggie breakfasts, $7-$14
http://www.spring.com.au/

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide and everything's pretty spacious inside. You order at the table and pay at a low register. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Urbane

July 9, 2013


While in Brisbane we splashed out on a special meal, a sort of-kind of belated celebration of Michael's birthday. I was a student when we lived in Brisbane and thus not across the fine dining scene, so we looked to locals Jame and Matt for ideas on a venue; we were particularly drawn to the vegan dinner they had at Urbane earlier this year and the waste-minimising veg-friendly values of executive chef Alejandro Cancino. In spite of his exemplary reputation it seems there's not much demand for the formal restaurant on a Tuesday night; we were one of only two tables filled that evening.

Urbane offer a full vegetarian menu as an option to all diners (though you'd probably want to specify ahead of time for any more restrictive dietary requirements) and we sampled the full 9 course extravaganza. Actually, it extends well beyond 9 courses with several tasters before the official menu commences.


We began with a sipping bowl of sweet and silky corn soup, paired with a bite of frozen sweet corn popcorn.


Next, a pungent gulp of shitake consomme.


Our third appetiser was a meal in miniature: a chia seed chip topped with eggplant and juniper, and a teeny bowl of herbal, pickly vegetable escabeche.


This marine scene supported delicate daikon tubes filled with soy jelly, topped with a heady strip of wasabi. We ventured a small taste of the salty garnishing bone fruit too!


Only then did warm bread and salted butter arrive, a hint that the meal proper was due to begin.


And it began with a wintery yet light queue of Brussels sprouts, roasted and caramelised underneath with a fresh leaf on top, served with a cauliflower cream and nutty-crunchy quinoa crumbs.


Deeply caramelised wedges of eggplant worked well with green apple, though I didn't the hang of bringing them together with the piped avocado and the rye crumbs.


These shitake mushrooms and onion rings sat in the sweetest broth I've ever sipped.


In a course simply titled Winter we encountered another mushroomy broth; this one held finely chopped mushrooms, fluffy parmesan gnocchi and celeriac-stuffed tortellini.


More mushrooms! These were teamed with lentils, a savoury yeast cream that won Michael's favour and sorrel leaves that lent a lemony touch.


The final savoury course was quite the entree to the sweets with its candy-like carrot, served with a rich pearl barley risotto and fresh carrot curls.


One of our favourite dishes was this refreshing vegan dessert of coconut sorbet scattered with basil granita, with a side of fresh blueberries, mulled wine jelly and a hint of makrut lime.


Its richer counterpoint was a custardy cube of French toast with raspberries and cream.


I liked that a herbal tea was worked into the meal's end - this berry-ish brew featured a range of native fruits.


Our last mouthful was a peppermint cream-filled chocolate with a surprise crunch.

Mushroom was a repetitive theme, and the few foams did nothing for me at all, but this was nevertheless an impressive degustation with some gorgeous pre-dinner bites and a lovely dessert set. On such a quiet night we were bound to receive attentive service but it was never overbearing, and we enjoyed learning a little about the restaurant from the front of house. What a delight to discover such veg*n-friendly fine dining in our home town!

____________

James and Matt enjoyed a special vegan dinner at Urbane earlier this year, and the venue has earned praise on FOODMEUPSCOTTY and DolceBunnie with Cancino at the helm. Previous incarnations are also positively reviewed on OMGGIMMENOW, Gastronomy Gal, BNE: HOT OR NOT and food bling, brisbane.
____________

Urbane
179-181 Mary St, Brisbane QLD
(07) 3229 2271
9 course veg degustation $135, wine matching $100
http://www.urbanerestaurant.com/

Accessibility: The entry is wide but includes three steps. There's lots of space between tables and full service where you sit. The toilets require a trip downstairs but once you're there they're unisex and roomy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tea Master II

July 9, 2013


Michael and I had a Tea Master Tuesday while swinging through Brisbane. It's the one day that sentimental fave Kuan-Yin is closed, and we can't help but compare the two venues. With their mock meat lunches, bubble teas and Wickham St addresses, they have an awful lot in common. Tea Master's just as good at a well-marked majority-vegan menu, and probably pips Kuan-Yin for non-mock options and its list of gluten-free dishes up at the counter.

After ordering rice plates on our first visit, we thought it time to test Tea Master's bento boxes. At $12.80 they're a smidge more expensive and a little more casually presented than Kuan-Yin's version. White rice is served loosely, the mixed veges are cooked together in a salty broth with a little sesame oil and the light pickle is bean sprouts. There's fruit to finish, but there's also (1) a cup of tea, and (2) pudding! Michael and I were served green tea jelly and coconut jelly, respectively, and seemingly at random.


As for the mock meat feature, I gave roasted eel a shot. It was like a denser, flatter mock chicken with a stripe of nori and crispy skin.


Michael's roasted duck was looser, sweeter and fattier. We both loved it!


The cup of tea and coconut jelly accompanying the meal set rendered my bubble tea (kiwi green with rainbow jelly) fairly redundant. The tea was a typically sweet sugar syrup and the jelly only weakly flavoured - no match for Kuan-Yin's counterparts.

For our purposes Tea Master plays second fiddle to Kuan-Yin, but really it's just disadvantaged by that proximity. I suspect that if I had Tea Master in my neighbourhood it'd be a favourite lunchtime hangout.

____________

You can read about our first visit to Tea Master here. Since then it has received positive write-ups on Soy Bien and Live Blissful.
____________

Tea Master
Shop 18, 115 Wickham St, Cathedral Village, Fortitude Valley
(07) 3257 0038
veg dishes $1.10-16.80

Accessibility: There is a ramp available for accessing this strip of cafes. Indoor and outdoor seating are both reasonably spaced. We ordered and paid at a high counter. We didn't see toilet access, and suspect there are shared ones for this retail area outside the restaurant.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Kuan-Yin Tea House III

July 1, 2013


We went vego only in our last year or so of living in Brisbane. We'd spent almost a decade carelessly ordering the chicken at any old restaurant before seeking out all-veg venues like Squirrels, Pu Kwong and Kuan-Yin Tea House. Not discovering Kuan-Yin sooner was easily our biggest regret, and now I try to squeeze in lunch there every time I'm back in town.

Kuan-Yin has popped up in two of our highlights-of-Brisbane posts, but a good four years have passed and it really has earned a stand-alone review. It has a casual and friendly atmosphere and incredibly daggy fit-out; the fake wood-paneled walls are decorated with laminated photos of the food, and most of the chairs are flimsy fold-ups.

To their credit, the photos seem to be updated and I noticed a new menu on this visit. It's dominated by mock meats, including oddities like oyster omlette, takoyakii and calamari along with the more common sweet sour pork and spicy chicken. The mock-averse might find something to like amongst the entrees (dumplings, sweet potato wedges, phanton chips) and the soups. Vegan dishes are marked and are the clear majority; gluten-free options are unclear (although their dessert of the week was a flourless chocolate brownie!).


I really struggle to look past the bento ($10.50). My 'veg pepper salt fish rice' contained light and crispy-coated mock fish, salty miso beans, curry potatoes and carrots, a lightly dressed tomato wedge and a few shreds of pickled vegetables, steamed rice and some slightly tired fruit slices to finish up. There's just something about a variety-packed bento box! So fun, so satisfying.

Kuan-Yin is a tea house, so there are hot teas, milk teas, flavoured teas, frappes, juices and 'special drinks'. Some have fabulously special names, like the Pink Loving, Summer Hot, Black Mountain and Coconut Flirtation (I can personally recommend a Coconut Flirtation). There's a soy option for their milk teas too. The grapefruit green tea ($4.50) took me by surprise - it seemed to be made of actual juice, not flavoured sugar syrup! - and a scoop of lychee jelly ($0.50) offset its bitter pithiness perfectly.

I received quick and courteous service, and I would probably tolerate much worse before my affection and (somewhat misplaced) nostalgia for Kuan-Yin were damaged.

_____________

We've previously posted about Kuan-Yin here and here. It's been blogged more recently and just as positively on Living du jour, Leong Ming En Food Photography, Soy Bien, Vegeterranean, The Urban Princess Blog and Live Blissful; only Edesian Feast is unimpressed.
_____________

Kuan-Yin Tea House
198 Wickham St, Fortitude Valley Qld
(07) 3252 4557
veg snacks and meals $4.50-14.90
facebook page

Accessibility: Kuan-Yin has a wide, flat entrance and generally well spaced tables. I ordered at the table, helped myself to cutlery in the corner, paid at a low counter and didn't visit any toilets.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Chilli lime tamarind tofu

June 29, 2013


Our weekend plans went from wine-drinking and bird-watching in the country to doona-hiding and slackery as quickly as it took Cindy to develop flu-like symptoms. Her illness sapped her tasting powers, which meant that we needed something spicy to cut through. Luckily we had just the thing - this simple tofu recipe from the indolent cook.

The recipe had a lot going for it - it looked straightforward, it promised big flavours and it gave us another excuse to use some of the makrut lime leaves that we've got growing in the communal area of our apartment block. We stuck closely to the recipe, just doubling everything to make sure we had plenty to eat and then adding a side of sesame stir-fried green beans and some brown rice.

The tofu was everything promised, loaded up with incredible flavours. The chilli garnish gave the odd bite a really great kick but the whole thing was limey, spicy and sweet - I even got a bit of delicious charring onto the tofu (at the expense of our previously 'non-stick' fry pan). We've got so many rad tofu recipes these days, but this one has immediately jumped into our regular rotation - fantastic.


Chilli lime tamarind tofu

500g firm tofu, cubed
4 small red chillies, cut into fine rings
6 makrut lime leaves, shredded
2 heaping teaspoons of tamarind paste
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Oil, for frying

Combine the lime leaves, tamarind paste, tamari, sugar and almost all of the chilli (or all of it if you don't want any fresh chilli garnish) in a bowl and stir into a thick marinade. 

Tip in the tofu, toss it all together and leave for 15 minutes or so while your rice is cooking.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and, when it's nice and hot, throw in the tofu cubes (reserving most of the marinade). You want to get the tofu cubes fried up and a little charred - it adds a bit of smokiness to all the other flavours. 

Once the cubes are basically cooked, pour over the marinade and cook it off - it should leave a thick saucy residue. 

Serve on rice with a side of whatever easy veggie dish you can be bothered whipping up.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

East Elevation III

June 27, 2013


We've had some excellent vegan-friendly meals at East Elevation this year, so we booked in as soon as we heard they were putting on a special five-course vegan degustation night. At $60 a head, they were clearly aiming at something fancier than their semi-regular ping-pong nights. After a bit of Facebook-wrangling, we wound up as part of a very enthusiastic group of 13, all excited to see what delights East Elevation would serve up. As we've said every time we've written about this place - it's a lovely, lovely space, with beautiful high ceilings and an effortlessly stylish fit-out. Things were particularly beautiful for this dinner, with loads of candles casting a romantic glow over everything.

Things got off to a promising start - they'd prepared a special vegan drinks list (a half dozen wines plus a few beers and ciders) and they dished up a special pre-dinner course to "say hello". We got one of these little plates between two people, with the mix of artichoke hearts, dijon and dill starting things out very promisingly.


The first of the proper courses was a coconut and cauliflower soup with almond and cacao nibs.


This was superb - creamy and rich with the nibs giving a bit of crunch to break up the smoothness. I quickly ditched my spoon and drank it down like a delicious soupy cocktail.

Course #2 was a silken tofu and caramelised onion tart with shaved fennel and lemon vincotto.


Some very unscientific post-meal polling had this dish come up as the table's favourite of the night. It's easy to see why - the pastry was great, the creamy tofu filling delicious and the sweet caramelised onions like buried treasure. The whole dish was a great combination of sweetness (the vincotto and the onions), tanginess (the fennel and the lemon) and savoury (tofu, pastry). Hopefully something like this will sneak onto the East Elevation lunch menu.

Next up was my favourite dish of the night: foraged mushrooms with white polenta and NSW black truffle.


It's possible I'm just a sucker for the gimmick of this dish - it all came out sealed in a wire bail jar and, when you popped the lid, you got an intoxicating hit of earthy, truffle-y aroma bursting out into your face. Yum. The dish itself was just as good as it smelled, the soft white polenta soaking up all the fantastic mushroom juices. 

Our final savoury dish was chipotle tempeh with vanilla parsnip cream, burnt orange cavolo nero and carob syrup.



I'm such a big tempeh fan that I was always going to enjoy this, but again the East Elevation kitchen took things to brilliant new levels. The parsnip cream walked a fine line between savoury and dessert, while the smoky chipotle marinade on the tempeh was spicy with just a hint of sweetness. Throw in the citrussy greens and you've got another fantastic set of flavours.

The meal was capped off with a single dessert course: chestnut cake, quince and chocolate ganache.


This was the only slight disappointment of the night - the ganache was outstanding (chocolate is clearly going to be a strongpoint here), but the chestnut cake didn't really work for me. The texture was a bit rubbery and the flavour was overwhelmed by the quince and chocolate.

This was an exceptional, exceptional meal - $60 for five courses of vegan food seemed like a bit of a risk when we booked in, but this turned out to be among the best value degustations we've been to. Each of the savoury courses was a highlight - there were interesting ingredients (including protein, yay!), smart flavour combos and an overwhelming sense that the dishes had been devised as vegan, rather than being recreations of non-vegan dishes with things removed. We had a fantastic night, meeting some lovely new people as well as eating outstandingly well.

It's not entirely clear how often East Elevation will be repeating their supper club or whether it will consistently cater for vegans. Fingers crossed they realise how responsive vegans are to places that serve them great food and schedule a regular veg degustation. We'll keep you posted!
____________

East Elevation
351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
9380 4915
special supper club set menu: $60
facebook page

Accessibility: Excellent. A ramp on entry, lots of space and unisex toilets (including one with wheelchair access). Things are a bit dim in the evenings. On this occasion there was a set menu and full table service (with option bill-splitting at a low-ish counter).