Thursday, August 11, 2022

Rice Paper Scissors II

August 7, 2022

   

We visited Rice Paper Scissors three years ago during a bumper Melbourne International Film Festival experience. It's been a couple of quiet intervening years, and we're tentatively heading out for a few masked movies again in 2022 - this jogged my memory that Rice Paper Scissors might make for a nice lunch in a long break between sessions. I easily secured us a booking a couple days in advance, and noticed that the restaurant had moved roughly a kilometre west, from Liverpool St to Hardware Lane.

A couple of welcome constants are that the staff are very friendly, and the vegan and gluten-free options are clearly marked across the menu. We started out with fancy drinks: a lemongrass Tom Collins ($22; lemongrass gin, cucumber syrup, lemon soda) for Michael, and an alcohol-free No-long Tea Sour ($16) for me. I noticed just as the staff were taking my order away that there's also a selection of cheaper house-made sodas ($7) and felt a pang of regret... but only until I tasted my mocktail. Its refreshing tea base, sweet (most likely eggy) foam, garnishing dried herbs and dehydrated orange slice formed a rare and complex drink that I was happy to pay extra for.

   

The encouraged approach to the menu is to choose 5 dishes for two people, at a cost of $45 per person. This made for a slight saving compared to ordering one dish at a time, but it would also be possible to cobble together a smaller, still-filling vegan meal for a bit less. We started with nam prik hed, an intensely sweet and sour caramelised mushroom relish spooned onto light and crunchy soy bean crackers. We also received a complimentary bowl of roasted peanuts (... perhaps some extra consolation protein for the vegos?).

   

The yum broccoli rom khwan was my surprise favourite of the meal - here the broccoli retained a bit of crunch, and was served on an exceptional coconut-pea puree, with a smoky almond dressing.

   

The salapao pak tod had more flavour tucked away than I initially noticed - the tempura-battered eggplant was equal parts crisp and tender, with a cooling cucumber garnish, then a burst of spicy mayonnaise sitting deeper within the steamed bun.

   

The kui chai were very similar to the chive cakes we're fond of ordering at Rin Sura. Here they come with wrap-around lettuce leaves and herbs, and they're a little more difficult to bite through.

   

Though we were already full, our final dish of dau hu sot tuong was irresistible - large, spongey tofu cubes thickly battered and coated in a sweet soy glaze, with plenty of flavour to spill over onto fragrant jasmine rice.

The dessert menu was attractive - it was tempting to split a 'terrarium' (Vietnamese coffee mousse with peanut and chocolate soil), and I was glad to see a vegan option (tofu and ginger brulee with lychee and mint). But we really were very full, and had an hour to pass before our next film, so we agreed to a river walk and an icecream later on.

I'll just have to tuck that dessert menu away for another time. Without a doubt, Rice Paper Scissors is now firmly imprinted on my mind as a reliable spot for a special meal in the city.
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You can read about our first visit to Rice Paper Scissors here. Since then it's been blogged on A Chronicle of Gastronomy.
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Rice Paper Scissors
15 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
9663 9890

Accessibility: RPS is located in a cobbled laneway, and the outdoor seating is on a slightly sloping floor.  Outdoor furniture included regular-height (but wobbly) tables and chairs with backs, arranged in medium to high density. We ordered and paid at our table. Toilets are ungendered cubicles located upstairs next door.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Quince & browned butter tart

July 26-30, 2022

   

Our friend Danni gave us a single large quince. I knew I could simply poach it and eat it for breakfast, or make a cake or salad we'd made before, but I had the energy to try something new. If I don't use my Stephanie Alexander book for this, I thought, it's probably time to acknowledge that I'll never use the Stephanie Alexander book and get rid of it.

Sure enough, Stephanie Alexander had plenty of ideas for quince and at least two of them were credited to Maggie Beer. The book has a nested approach such that I settled on the quince and browned butter tart, then had to refer back to recipes for shortcrust pastry, poached quinces, and sugar syrup to sort out my full ingredient list. As I incorporated each new recipe into the fold, I adapted a bit further, borrowing from my previous experience poaching quinces, substituting apple cider vinegar for the usual lemon juice, and making my pastry by food processor instead of by hand. The original recipe earns credit for having me brown the butter - without anything added, it already smelled deliciously of caramel.

I've made dozens of shortcrust pastries and this one wasn't my best - it was undercooked on the base and shrank away from the edge of the dish, even though I tried to crimp it on, such that it was extra-thick where the base sloped up to the side. The crust was still flaky and toasty at its edges, deep enough to accommodate the filling, and sturdy enough to hold its shape - Michael even said he preferred this texture before I'd mentioned a word about my errors.

As a whole, the pie still worked. The quince was tender and floral-scented, surrounded by a small quantity of just-set custard, and the crust provided buttery but unsweetened support. There remained just enough poached quince for one breakfast, and we shared the poaching syrup as a drink with soda water.

   

Quince & browned butter tart
(adapted from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion,
borrowing a little from Cook (almost) Anything)

poached quinces
~500mL water
65g caster sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or juice of half a lemon)
1 large (450g) quince
1 cinnamon stick

shortcrust pastry
240g plain flour
pinch of salt
180g butter
1/4 cup water

filling
125g butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour


In a saucepan, stir together the water, sugar and vinegar. Work as quickly as you can to minimise browning: peel the quince, remove its core, chop its flesh into pieces, and drop the pieces into the saucepan. Top up the water if the quince pieces aren't fully submerged and add the cinnamon stick. Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it all to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the quinces until they're tender. Allow them to cool to room temperature. 

For the pastry, place the flour and salt in a food processor. Dice the butter and drop it into the processor too. Blend the mixture until it resembles coarse sand. With the motor running, add the water a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture starts binding together. Turn the dough out onto plastic wrap and bring it together into a ball. Wrap up the pastry and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry and ease it into a pie dish, trimming the edges. Line the pastry with paper, add pie weights, and blind bake the pastry for 20 minutes. (I would perhaps try 15 minutes with paper and weights, plus 10 minutes without paper and weights next time.) Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the oven heat to 180°C; allow the pastry base to cool.

Melt the butter for the filling and cook it until it turns a deep gold; turn off the heat and set aside. Drain the quinces from their syrup and reserve the syrup for another use (we drank ours with soda water). Arrange the quince pieces across the pastry base. Beat together the eggs and sugar, then stir in the flour and the butter. Gently pour the mixture over the quinces. Bake the tart until set, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

David's

28 July, 2022

   

David's has been in operation for over two decades in Prahran, and in the past couple years it has attracted attention from the veg*n community for its vegan yum cha options. We met some friends there for dinner, and were all happy to rely on the banquet menu for a tour of David's best. David's Veg Classics runs to $55 per person; though it's not explicitly stated, it all looks to be vegan-adaptable. Gluten-free veg*ns would need a more extensive conversation with staff to figure out a suitable selection.

   

David's got that first tick from me when I saw a clear menu of fun non-alcoholic drinks. The Aloe-Spritz ($9) was my perfect foil the couple of spicy dishes ahead.

   

Our meal commenced with san choi bao, made with shredded seasonal vegetables and hoisin. I feared for the potential blandness of the thick, pan fried radish and chive xian bing pockets (no dipping sauce?!), and I was proven very, very wrong. My pancake was golden-crisp on the outside, lightly doughy beneath and had a very flavourful, shredded-vege filling. A highlight for me! 

   

Michael was predictably more taken by the mapo tofu dumplings - what a fabulous fusion of two beloved comfort foods!

   

Our main course also arrived as a group of three. The braised tofu and mushrooms reminded me again of mapo tofu, with its bean paste and Szechuan pepper, and it was topped with crispy-battered enoki mushrooms. The shiitake bok choy soy fried rice looked tamer but held a surprisingly deep, savoury flavour of its own. 

   

We underestimated the eggplant based on its monochromatic look, too - with sweet vinegar and soft garlic cloves, it was yet another umami king. Mindful of the dessert still to come, we resisted eating the lot and David's staff were happy to pack up our leftover rice, tofu and eggplant to take home. 

   

Dessert was less inspiring - Michael's never keen on a banana fritter and in any case, these were soft and starchy and seemed to have been sitting around a bit too long. The accompanying vanilla icecream and drizzled chocolate were pleasant but unremarkable. Our companions were served ramekins of mandarin crème brulée with pretty edible flowers, and the fancier banquets include white chocolate dumplings, so this may be an odd one out.  

   

A lacklustre dessert couldn't dim this sweet-tooth's enthusiasm for David's! The savoury dishes were memorable, packed with flavour, and each a little different to what we're accustomed to ordering elsewhere. Lunching on our leftovers prolonged the magic. After so many years overlooking it, David's is now an instant southside fave.
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David's
4 Cecil Place, Prahran
9529 5199

Accessibility: Not good! There is a step and a very small foyer on entry, and a couple more steps between dining sections inside. Furniture is densely packed and the chairs aren't comfortable - in particular the wooden ones with arms aren't suitable for wide thighs. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Good Measure

July 28, 2022

   

I did a leisurely circuit on foot through Carlton on Thursday to tick off some errands, and I timed my tasks to include lunch. Good Measure turned up in my online browsing the night before and when I approached at 1pm, I counted myself lucky to get a table. I assumed they'd be experiencing a lunch rush, but instead there seemed to be a post-lunch coffee peak around 20 minutes later.

Lunch options at Good Measure are limited but very good, just a couple of sandwich types in a glass cabinet. I was content with the salad and miso mayo one that the staff initially outlined, but I'm sure my eyes lit up when they switched to describing their ramen egg salad special (~$13). There are no noodles here; rather, their thick, hearty bread slices are stuffed with soft-boiled soy sauce-marinated eggs, celery, spring onion, radishes and mayonnaise. It's deeply savoury, it's possible to get it toasted, and it's compact and satisfying.

   

Good Measure also trades as a bar on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. I hear their cheesecake is excellent too. That's three good reasons for me to tuck away Good Measure in my mind for whenever I'm in Carlton. 
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Good Measure has already received high praise from Passport Please.
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Good Measure
193 Lygon St, Carlton
veg sandwiches ~$13

Accessibility: There is a small lip on the door and a wide passage through to the counter. Furniture is quite densely arranged around the edges; wiry standard-height and stool height chairs, both with small backs (see photos above). I ordered and paid at a high counter, then received food at my table. I didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bienenstich

July 17, 2022

   

Last weekend I put time into winter comfort cooking, baking an inessential bienenstich before moving on to a tray of pastitsio. There's a vegan bienenstich recipe on the blog already, but this time I revisited the full butter, milk and egg-laden version that I hand-copied into my recipe binder as a teenager. I couldn't remember the original source, but my mum showed me her identical handwritten copy by text message and confirmed that we're both using her mum's version.

I'm surprised that the recipe doesn't include yeast as the rising agent, both because it's common in bienenstich and because my grandmother used it well in other German-style cakes. Baking powder makes it all the quicker to mix up. It's a cake so simple that it doesn't even include vanilla, sandwiched with a thick custard cream, and topped with almonds set into toffee. It's that toasty topping that really makes the flavour memorable, and makes the cake messy to slice too! 

My method below is an expansion on the minimalist instruction in the version I inherited, which doesn't mention a cake tin or what happens to the filling after it's beaten. I can't blame the instructions for my one error - I didn't buy copha, thinking that I'd use a little coconut oil instead, and then forgot to put that in too. My filling did just fine without.

This is a cake that I'll remake only rarely (I estimate that it's more than 15 years since I last baked it!) but I'm glad to still have access to it, to my memory of it, and to be getting it onto the blog at long last.



Bienenstich 
(slightly adapted from my grandmother's recipe)

cake
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
60g butter, melted
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

topping
60g butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 cup flaked almonds (I will double this next time)

filling
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon custard powder
1 cup milk
1/4 cup copha (or coconut oil, or skip altogether)
160g butter


Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a round springform cake tin with baking paper and lightly spray it with oil.

Beat the eggs well in a medium-large bowl. Thoroughly beat in the sugar, then the melted butter. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and fold until combined. Stir in the milk. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes.

When the cake's been in the oven for 10-15 minutes, set a small saucepan over medium heat to prepare the topping. Place the butter, sugar, flour and milk in the saucepan and stir to combine; add the almonds. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 10-15 minutes; I found that the mixture thickened and pulled away from the edges of the saucepan in a big blob. When the cake has finished its 30 minute bake, retrieve it from the oven and pour this topping evenly over it. Turn the oven up to 200°C and bake the cake until the topping is golden and crisp (I gave mine about 10 minutes). Allow the cake to cool.

For the filling, place the sugar and custard powder in a small-medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened to a custard. Turn off the heat, stir in the copha if using, and allow the custard to cool. Beat the butter in a small bowl and gradually add in the custard until everything is well mixed.

Carefully slice the cake horizontally into two layers and place the base layer on a serving plate. Spread over the custard cream filling and then gently place the almond-toffee cake layer on top. Slice and serve.