Wednesday, September 19, 2018


September 10 & 15, 2018

Regular readers will be well aware that we've well and truly bought into the Ottolenghi hype. There are nearly 70 posts on here based on Yotam recipes, so we were always going to pounce on his new book when it turned up in the shops. Simple promises the best of both worlds - all the deliciousness of Ottolenghi's recipes without the overly involved processes and ingredients that make them unsuitable for a school night. We couldn't wait to try it out.

The first recipe that caught our eye was tofu and French beans with chraimeh sauce. I couldn't help but laugh when one of the first steps in the recipe was toasting and hand-grinding some caraway seeds - only in an Ottolenghi recipe would this qualify as simple. To be fair, it actually was pretty easy and probably only takes half an hour to put together. I loved this simple mix of spicy tofu and crispy beans, but any subtlety in the sauce was a bit drowned out by our hot paprika - we'll soften the edges a bit next time we make it.

We followed up with one of the many recipes in Simple that seem a bit more like a side than a standalone meal - Brussels sprouts with black garlic. Again, black garlic is a pricey, niche ingredient and wouldn't turn up in too many books pitched as easy cooking, but this is Ottolenghi after all. We loved this - black garlic has a rich, complex flavour that works brilliantly with the slightly caramelised sprouts. We served it up with fresh bread and hummus, but it would work alongside almost anything.

So far, so good with Simple - both of these dishes would be easily whipped up on a work night and both really hit the mark. Don't go in expecting these recipes to actually be simple, but they're definitely a step down from a lot of Yotam's recipes - we'll report back as we try more.

Tofu and French beans with chraimeh sauce
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

500g beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
500g firm tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
15g coriander

6 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice

Get a medium saucepan of water boiling and add the beans, cooking for five minutes until cooked but still crunchy. Drain and refresh with cold water.

Put the sunflower oil into a frying pan and fry the tofu with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Give it a good 5-10 minutes - you want to get it nice and golden on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Make the sauce by mixing together the garlic, spices and oil in a small bowl. Add this mixture to a hot frying pan and fry for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, sugar, lime juice and a teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine and then add a cup of water to thin the sauce out. Bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens.

Add the beans and cook for another minute and then kill the heat. Stir through the tofu and coriander and serve with rice.

Brussels sprouts with burnt butter and black garlic
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

450g Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthways
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
20g black garlic
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
30g unsalted butter
30g pumpkin seeds, toasted
juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon tahini

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Spread the sprouts out on a baking tray and sprinkle over a good shake of salt. Drizzle with olive oil and smush around a bit so the sprouts get nice and oily. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Crush the caraway seeds in a mortar and pestle. Add the black garlic and thyme and crush some more to make a rough paste.

Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes until melted and dark brown. Add the garlic paste, sprouts, pumpkin seeds and more salt. Stir for a minute and kill the heat. Stir through the lemon juice and drizzle the tahini over it all. Serve.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Artichoke & chickpea salad

September 9, 2018

This is a salad that we've been enjoying for several years, thanks to Smith & Daughters. It's been on a couple of versions of their dinner and brunch menu, and it's also in their cookbook. It's hearty and hardy and pickley and just a bit toasted, something that works both as a side and as a main dish on its own. 

The original version pairs artichoke hearts with Jerusalem artichokes; I've gotten lazy about the root vegetable and just use regular old potatoes instead. My two other convenient pantry swaps are dried thyme instead of fresh, and maple syrup instead of agave.

This is the second or third time I've prepared it to share at a friend's house. It's usually tough enough to travel in its final serving state, but this one had a two and a half hour train journey between prep and presentation so I got finicky and packed many of the components separately. Rocket: in its own bag. Almonds: lightly roasted then jarred. Roasted potatoes and paprika chickpeas sharing one lunchbox, charred artichoke hearts and capers in another. Lemon-cumin dressing: jarred and ready for a last emulsifying shake before pouring. It was worth the effort to preserve all those textures, and the entire salad was happily demolished in a sitting, making the train trip home all the easier.

Artichoke & chickpea salad
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1 can chickpeas
olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
small handful of slivered almonds
500g potatoes
2 teaspoons dried thyme
400g can artichoke hearts
45g capers
2 large handfuls rocket
salt and pepper

juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then spread them out in a small-medium baking tray. Drizzle over the some olive oil, sprinkle in the paprika and add a little salt. Stir well and bake for 20-30 minutes (mine never really crisp up as promised).

This is a good opportunity to toast the almonds in a separate small baking dish. There's no need for oil! Just keep an eye on them to avoid burning - they'll only take about 5 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes and slice them into cubes, skin on. Place them in a large baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil, then add the thyme, plus some salt and pepper. Toss everything together, then bake the potatoes until tender, 30-40 minutes.

After the almonds are out of the oven and cooling, There's probably enough time to make the dressing. Place all of the ingredients in a lidded glass jar and give them a thorough shake.

Drain and lightly rinse the artichoke hearts, then slice them into quarters. Lightly dress them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set a frypan on high heat and sear the artichokes on 1-2 sides. Remove the artichoke hearts. Drain the capers and pop them into the pan for just a minute, until they pop.

When it's time to serve, layer up the rocket, potatoes and chickpeas, artichokes and capers, then the almonds. Pour over the dressing and lightly toss everything together if you have the space.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Coke & peanuts sheet cake

August 30, 2018

Last month Slate pushed an article into my RSS reader pronouncing Coke and Peanut Butter Sheet Cake Is Sweet, Salty and Southern. A sweet and salty dessert with an offbeat ingredient list? I was very predictably Into It. I found the right excuse to make it soon enough: we set off on a long weekend in Forrest with a couple of friends and I resolved to take most of the cake along with us, leaving a quarter of it back home with our cat sitter.

This recipe is egg-free and pretty easy to veganise, so I went ahead and substituted Nuttelex for the original butter. This only goes a small way towards explaining the worrisome things I noticed as I proceeded. The cake batter was thick and a bit rubbery, and it barely stretched across the baking tray I'd chosen for it, even though this was smaller than the baking tray directed in the recipe. It never achieved the fluffiness of a fresh cake, and seemed to have two-day-old texture from the get-go. 

The peanut butter buttercream was incredibly rich, even by my tolerant standards, and licking the beaters was enough to have me feeling bloated. The quantity here seemed far too high: as you can see in my photo, the buttercream looms as tall as the cake itself! (I wonder if this recipe was tested well, because the photo accompanying the recipe shows very different proportions.)

Yet, somehow, these two not-quite-right components came together to make a pretty great cake. The Coca Cola didn't offer a distinct flavour, but the thick buttercream countered the dryness of the cake and it was very satisfying to eat with a spoon. While this wasn't the novelty experience I hoped for, it was a comforting treat as we lounged by the fire with a jigsaw.

Coke & peanuts sheet cake
(a veganised version of a recipe at food52)

500mL Coca-Cola
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
125g margarine, cut into tablespoon-sized pats
3 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
225g margarine, softened
3 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons soy milk
3/4 cup peanuts (roasted and salted), chopped

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a very large baking tray with paper and spray it with oil.

In a large saucepan, place together the cola, sugar, cocoa and margarine. Set it over medium heat and bring it to a high simmer, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat when the margarine has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Set the saucepan aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarb soda and salt. Pour in the still-warm cola and whisk until smooth. Pour the cake batter into the baking tray and bake until it passes the skewer test, 15-20 minutes. Allow the cake to cool before you ice it.

Use an electric mixer to beat together the peanut butter and margarine. Gradually beat in the icing sugar, then the salt and vanilla. Add a little soy milk to loosen texture of the buttercream if needed. Beat for an extra 20 seconds after everything is well combined. Spread the buttercream over the cake. Sprinkle over the peanuts, and slice the cake to serve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Northcote Fish & Chips

August 29, 2018

A few months back the veg*n telegraph pounced on the news that Northcote Fish & Chips were trialling a vegan menu, so when we were looking for a quick dinner in Northcote we headed straight there. The sign on the street promising vegan dim sims made it clear we were in the right place.

The vegan menu has mock prawns and scampi, a pumpkin burger, mushy peas, salad plus dim sims, fish, chips and potato cakes. We stuck with a a pretty classic fish and chip shop order - a couple of dim sims ($1 each from memory), a serve of the Vish ($8.5), a scoop of chips ($3.9) and a couple of potato cakes ($1.25 each). 

The dim sims were fine - I'm not hugely nostalgic for them, but they're nice fried little parcels of cabbage and other veggies, served with some soy sauce for dunking.

The fish was the star of the show - an oatmeal and soy fillet, wrapped in nori and beer-battered. It absolutely delivers the fried fishy goodness you've been missing. Throw in some excellent crispy potato cakes and good chips and you've got the perfect mock fish meal. The guy who runs the joint is super friendly and it's very well located - this place is destined to become a Melbourne vego staple.


The only other post we can find about Northcote Fish and Chip is Messy Veggies announcing the vegan range back in July.

Northcote Fish & Chips
341 High Street, Northcote
9482 9079
vegan menu

Accessibility: There's a flat but narrow entryway and a few well spaced tables inside. You order and pay at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Tidbit cakes & cafe

August 26, 2018

I first got to know Rhi through her blog Vegan in Melbourne and was very excited for her when she opened her own business, Tidbit cakes, in Richmond. Rhi's primary trade is in special occasion cakes but she also sells smaller daily treats from her brightly lit workspace. Everything is vegan.

Sadly our lunchtime visit was too late to claim any of the sausage rolls, but we were well satisfied with the toasties still available. Rhi blends two vegan cheeses to get the best combination of meltiness (Bio Cheese) and flavour (Vegusto). I liked that the pesto, tomato & cheese version ($10) was seedy and nutty, and loved the mustard and pickle piquance of the ham/cheese/tomato standard ($12.50).

There's a couple of little tables to eat in at Tidbit, but Rhi had also pointed out to me the dog park just down the street, so we had our sweets boxed up for a takeaway in the late winter sun. While we watched lots of cute canines frolicking, we split two excellent desserts. This is one of the best vegan cheesecakes ($7) I've ever eaten - super smooth and without a whiff of tofu, with a thick chocolatey biscuit base (get outta here, raw date crusts). We made a magnificent mess of the nutella brownie ($6), which was super-dooper fudgy, with just a little welcome crustiness around the edges.

Though we didn't buy any on this day, these guys make the most stunning vegan macarons! Sadly for us, Richmond's outside our regular circle of movement, but you can bet we'll stop in again (hopefully for a sausage roll) when we're within Tidbit's range.

Tidbit has also appeared on the blog messy veggies.

Tidbit cakes & cafe
255 Mary St, Richmond
0434 872 867

Accessibility: There's a ramp on entry and more floor space than furniture inside. We ordered and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Xi'an Famous

August 19, 2018

As we expounded upon our new love for youpo mian, Laura Jean McKay suggested that we give Melbourne's Xi'an Famous a go. This mini-chain has outlets in the CBD, Carlton and Caulfield, and we figured the CBD one would be a convenient dinner stop before settling in for a MIFF movie.

Online reviews warned us that this isn't a place for vegetarians, but we noticed a solid choice or two in each section of the menu: hot and cold rice or wheat noodles with chilli or sesame; a vegetable or egg burger; little fried pancakes and pies; vegetable dumplings; and cold dishes like chilli oil bean curd and shredded potato.

But we were here to test out the big bowls of noodles! Ensuring we had some variation on the youpo mian, I ordered the tomato and egg noodle ($12.80). It was enormous, with a very mild and almost milky broth, plenty of tomato and egg fragments floating through, and a large submerged mass of noodles (the same as the ones below). The overall effect was a bit bland and soupy, and yet again I was jealous of Michael's superior order!

He had, of course, the youpo mian - called spicy hot oil seared hand ripped noodles ($12.80) in English on the menu. The garlic-chilli dressing was exactly what we fondly recalled from our couple of bowls in China. I was again tentative about the chilli intensity, but it was well within my tolerance. The noodles, though, were a bit of a let-down: far from the wide flat belts we loved, these were more thick and slender and thus, much chewier.

This eatery has a casual, help-yourself style; the staff confirmed with us what was vegetarian and were quick to turn around the food. While this wasn't quite the youpo mian we're yearning for, I'd gladly return to order it (and maybe some of the other fried things!) again.


Xi'an Famous
260 Russell St, Melbourne
9663 3993
noodlesnoodles & fried thingssoups, noodles & dumplingscold dishes & drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry. Inside, furniture is a mixture of low tables with backed chairs and high tables with stools; they're densely arranged with a clear corridor through the middle (see photos above). We ordered and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Union Kiosk

August 18, 2018

Cindy and I needed a CBD lunch before hitting Alia Shawkat's MIFF event. We'd usually revisit Shandong Mama, but we decided to take a break from Chinese food and hit up Union Kiosk. It's a tiny hole-in-the-wall place on a little laneway pumping out a wide array of vegan toasties and coffee. It's kind of incredible to think that Melbourne can support a wholly vegan jaffle place - we've come a long way since this blog began in 2006. 

Anyway, the menu offers up eight savoury and two sweet jaffles, ranging from delights like veg bolognaise, garlic butter and mozzarella through to a melted hazelnut Vego bar jammed between two bits of bread. It's charmingly inventive for a place with such a narrow focus. I ordered the special - roast chicken, gravy and cheese ($8). The 'chicken' was jackfruit based (kind of reminiscent of our go-to jackfruit chicken recipe) and deliciously smothered in impressively melty cheese and a decent gravy. Cindy was even bolder, ordering the jerk jackfruit with cheese and chilli pineapple ($7 - pictured, right below). She loved it, insisting it was better than mine, with nice spices on the jackfruit jerk and a decent amount of pineapple dotted throughout (a terrible mistake, if you ask me).

We grabbed some takeaway sweets for our walk to the theatre - a berry crumble slice for me and a chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookie for Cindy. They both did the job very nicely.

Union Kiosk is a fantastic CBD option - a wholly vegan place that has really nailed down a niche. We'll be back!

There are a couple of very positive reviews of Union Kiosk on veggie blogs The Good Hearted and Messy Veggies.

Union Kiosk
3/306 Little Collins St (on Causeway Lane)
0413 402331
menu board

Accessibility: Union Kiosk is tucked in a crowded, uneven laneway. There are only a couple of tiny tables with low stools. You order and pay at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Mint slice

August 12, 2018

It's hard to believe that this blog has been running 12 years with nary a mint slice recipe! It's my favourite kind of supermarket biscuit, and a pretty common recipe for home baking too. I scanned a few popular local sources (Cadbury, Taste, Donna Hay) and cobbled together something that fit my preference: a biscuity base with coconut but not eggs; a minty layer with soft fondant texture and no food colouring; the darkest of chocolate tops. No copha! Turns out that it's pretty easy to make this version vegan too.

The intensity of the mintiness is definitely up to personal preference, and even then I find it hard to judge what quantity of essence will hit the level I like. I proceeded with caution, and ended up sneaking some extra in the chocolate layer it ramp it up. Don't be surprised if you need to experiment over a few batches too.

I'd highly recommend storing this version in the fridge - the base is a bit crumbly and the mint filling definitely has a bit of squish to it!

Mint Slice
(adapted from recipes on the Cadbury and Donna Hay websites)

3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
140g margarine

2 tablespoons margarine
3 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons vegan milk
1 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

200g dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm x 30cm baking tray with baking paper.

In a medium-large bowl, sift together the plain flour and cocoa. Stir in the coconut and sugar. Melt the margarine in a small saucepan or microwave, and pour it into a small bowl. Stir together the ingredients until well combined, then press the mixture into the base of the baking tray. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until cooked through.

Melt the margarine in a small saucepan or microwave. Sift over the icing sugar and whisk until smooth, adding just enough vegan milk to create a thick, smooth fondant. Stir in the peppermint essence. Pour the icing mixture over the base, smooth it out, and refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Melt all of the topping ingredients in a double boiler set-up and stir until smooth. Pour over the slice, smooth over, and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Store it in the fridge, and cut the slice into rectangles to serve.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


July 30-August 4, 2018

In this final post about our holiday in China, I want to pay tribute to jianbing. A completely new food to us, jianbing is typically sold from a small stall at breakfast time (the vendor near our Shanghai apartment was clearly subletting his spot and all trace of his business vanished by 10am each day).

Jianbing is the crispy golden savoury breakfast of my dreams: a thin pancake with an egg cracked over it as it cooks; sprinkled with spring onions, ginger and garlic; folded once and spread with chilli paste; topped with a fried cracker and folded twice more; sliced in half and tossed in a bag. Watch the entire process skillfully accomplished in just 60 seconds in the video below.

It costs the equivalent of one or two Aussie dollars, and there's a couple of small variations available. Our vegan mates ordered egg-free ones, which this vendor happily made, though it clearly disrupted his muscle memory! We liked to pay extra and have a doughnut stick rolled in with the cracker (see top photo), and we noticed other people getting meat in theirs.

Though jianbing is clearly an oily sometimes-food with limited nutritional value, we strategically walked the dog by this stall every couple of days, eating all the jianbing we could handle before we lost access to it. It's an experience we don't expect to replicate in Melbourne.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The noodles of China

July 29 - August 6, 2018

Noodles were a part of our meals in China at least as often as potatoes. Sometimes they were served as a single dish during a shared meal; at others we each ordered a big bowl of our own. They were always terrific.

This small bowl of noodles was the first dish to arrive at a Yunnan restaurant. The translucent noodles were based on mung beans, sliced into thick batons and served cold. Their dressing was one of the most fiery chilli oils of our holiday, and sent me into a coughing fit.

These thin, chewy Shanghai-style noodles were much more forgiving, stir-fried with salty-soy flavours, mushrooms and green vegetables.

After a hot day traipsing around town, I should not have been surprised that cold noodles with shredded cucumber would be so refreshing! They were lightly dressed in broth with dots of chilli oil.

They were a little upstaged, though, by our accompanying bowl of youpo mian (oil pulled noodles). These feature kudai (belt) noodles with a few steamed greens and an unforgettable dressing of chilli, garlic and oil. I was tentative about the chilli-intensity initially, but discovered a smoky slow-burn that I not only could handle, but absolutely loved.

We had some more cold, translucent mung bean noodles in a Dongbei restaurant. They were impossibly slippery for an inelegant chopstick-operator like me, but worth the awkwardness for their sesame dressing.

These cold Sichuan noodles were somewhat familiar from our visits to Dainty Sichuan in Melbourne - I've grown to enjoy the invigorating contrast of their cold temperature and fiery spice (and I'm especially please when they're served with peanuts).

We ordered these noodle bowls from an alley-way noodle shop that's Michelin-recommended: Ding Te Le. Slathered in peanut sauce (pictured front), they were impossibly rich - three of us barely finished the bowl between us. Submerged in broth and served with some meat-mocking mushrooms (pictured back left), these thin fresh noodles were at their best.

Here's a second bowl of youpo mian from a different restaurant, where it was served with assorted finely chopped vegetables and fresh bean sprouts (but just as much garlic, chilli and oil!).

At the same restaurant, I ordered the noodles with tomato and egg after learning that this is a very common vegetarian option throughout China. It was so mild and nourishing - I could imagine what a comforting meal this could be when you're sick. But I wasn't sick, and I was a bit jealous of Michael's second excellent bowl of youpo mian.

Of all the noodles in China, it's definitely those youpo mian that are haunting us! We'll be keenly looking out for them back in Melbourne. Maybe we can even work up to making our own....

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The potatoes of China

July 28-August 6, 2018

Our holiday in China was hosted by two lovey locals - one a fluent Chinese speaker, and the other a vegan resident of one year with a growing vocabulary. They provided us an experience we could never have arranged for ourselves! In particular, Michael and I tend to rely on Happy Cow to guide our eating while travelling, but our hosts simply led us to regular family restaurants and picked wisely from the menu. Many menus included photographs of the food, and more than I expected to added English text too, so we had our turns at ordering.

Another pleasant surprise was the wide array of potato dishes to be had! Here's a sample of the wonderful potatoes of China.

At a Hunan restaurant our thinly sliced potatoes arrived slightly undercooked, with a burner underneath ready to finish the job in front of us. It was difficult to resist picking slices from the top, while raw onion slices, whole garlic cloves and chilli bubbled in oil underneath. Waiting and stirring and waiting some more yielded richer, spicier slices.

These Sichuan-style potatoes were served fully cooked and sliced a little thicker, with a solid chilli hit but none of the numbing pepper that the province is famous for (rest assured, there was plenty Sichuan pepper in the other dishes on the table!).

We received similarly sliced Yunnan potatoes in a hot ceramic pot; they had a lovely caramelisation to them and a telltale puddle of chilli oil in the bottom of the pot.

This dish was described as a Shanghai presentation of a Dongbei dish, which we had several times over on our trip. Here the potatoes are served with eggplant and capsicum, and they're all smothered in a thick, sweet, soy-salty sauce.

Here's another version of the Dongbei potatoes, eggplant and capsicum; less caramelly and more garlicky, with the potatoes having a confit texture.

The shredded potatoes are a different experience altogether! They're so lightly cooked that they retain some raw crunchiness, and they're made even fresher and livelier with a dash of vinegar. 

Eating in a Xinjiang halal restaurant was one of the more unexpected experiences of our trip. Our disinterest in mutton meant that our order looked very different to the ones at neighbouring tables, and our waitress tried to persuade us away from ordering two plates of potatoes. They had a common seasoning that included sesame seeds and cumin and reminded me of za'atar or dukkah, and the effect was subtly different but just as good on both the potato sticks and the flat rounds.

While we always expected to be stuffing ourselves silly on rice and noodles in China, we were thrilled to have so many meals with our other favourite carbohydrate, the potato.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Zen Beans/Chán dòu

August 10, 2018

Beijing's 798 Art District is a unique neighbourhood of decommissioned military factory buildings that now hold a network of art galleries and small shops. There's plenty of public works and free exhibitions, but also a scattering a large galleries well worth the price of admission. 

On our first visit we wandered without much purpose, falling upon a noodle shop when we were hot and hungry. Then, sated, we walked some more and came upon a sign reading Vegetarian food (it's photographed below). Well, damn. When Michael and I returned to the District a few days later, we carefully retraced our steps and made sure we ate at Zen Beans/Chán dòu.

While the staff weren't fluent in English, they've made excellent accommodations. The menu includes English text and enormous colour photographs of all dishes. The young man serving us didn't hesitate to pull out his phone translator to check that we understood that the mock meat we were ordering wasn't real meat at all. Yes, we grinned back at him.

The finely chopped and steamed Chinese broccoli was served with blanched walnuts (31 yuan ~ AU$6.20), a simple start before those rich mock meats arrived.

We'd noticed a few interesting ham and bacon-based plates, and picked out the braised pork in brown sauce. The mock meat cubes had lean and fatty layers and a sweet sauce. I was surprised to see it served with mango, and saved my share of the fruit until the end of the meal.

The spicy mock chicken with mushroom (43 yuan ~ AU$8.50) was definitely more spice than mushroom, and I had only a few pieces before conceding most of the plate to Michael. There was still mango, complimentary watermelon, and my cup of tea to soothe my palate.

The 798 Art District is a must-visit for anyone in Beijing. And for veg*n eaters, we'd recommend seeking out Zen Beans for a full lunch in a comfortable, welcoming setting amidst all the walking - check our Google map to ensure you don't pass it by as we initially did.

Zen Beans/Chán dòu
Qixing East St, 798 Art District, Beijing

Ingeneous Mushroom, by Zhang Gong

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Baihe Lily Vegetarian Restaurant

August 9, 2018

We didn't give ourselves a lot of time to track down the veg*n restaurants of Beijing but I did ask Steph for her one most enthusiastic recommendation and she nominated Baihe Lily. There are three Lily restaurants across the city, and this one was a convenient couple of kilometres from our accommodation. We stopped in for an early, quiet dinner after a hot day hiking up to the Great Wall (see photo at the end of the post).

Online sources had helpfully pointed out that from the hutong entry, this restaurant simply looks like a small wholefoods shop. On entering, a series of courtyards and small rooms emerge, each decorated with plants, mismatched comfy furniture and soft lighting, with bookcases forming extra partitions between tables. These afforded us a sense of privacy and quietude even though there were plenty of other customers about.

While the staff spoke pretty good English, the menu was a bit of a mystery; stored on an ipad with haphazard English and Chinese labels, Michael and I just swiped around and picked whatever took our fancy. 

The first to arrive was a plate of very hot glazed eggplant batons with edamame - we hadn't tired of this sweet-soy style yet, even after eating it repeatedly. A heated clay dish of bamboo shoots was more novel to us, and contained a generous dose of chilli.

The asparagus was much lighter and plainer, while our saucy sweet and sour choice was a mushroom with a mock-meaty texture, served with sweet semi-dried plums.

When we ordered mock fish, we didn't realise we were committing to this enormous centrepiece! Its bubbling broth held some truly excellent mock fish (even our Chinese omni companion was impressed) and all sorts of other treasures - we plucked out black fungus, lotus roots, ginger and lightly cooked and pickled vegetables.

Our final dish took unusually long to arrive at the table, so much so that we'd assumed the meal was over. This looked like another mock meat but was actually a glazed root vegetable (I suspect burdock). With its crown of fried potato threads, it was the most delicately presented of our dishes and easily my second favourite after that fish.

We ended up paying around AU$20 each for this four-person meal - higher than our average and well worth it. The staff were a bit aloof, but helped out when we needed them, and certainly didn't detract from the comforting peaceful atmosphere of the restaurant.


Baihe Lily Vegetarian Restaurant
23 Caoyuan Hutong, Beijing, China