Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 24-25, 2011: Lady Violet's pumpkin scones

Us Queenslanders get a little homesick at this chilly time of year. A few of my workmates are fellow banana benders, one of whom agitated for a Queensland-themed afternoon tea on the eve of State of Origin. I don't care a fig for footy but have a long history of supporting snackage, so I signed up and started wondering what Queensland food even was.  Tropical fruit, XXXX beer and Bundy and Coke were all I could think of. Twitter helped me out, with meredith_te and HerbalGill reminding me that pumpkin scones have a close link with Queenland's (corrupt) political history, which has already been covered well by Veggie Mama.  (Meanwhile Johanna GGG asserts that pumpkin scones have a history of their own pre-dating Queensland's Lady Flo.)

Pumpkin scones were certainly part of my time growing up in Queensland. I associate them less with Lady Flo and more with my grandmother, who lived on a farm in the Lockyer Valley and often baked dozens of pumpkin scones just in time for morning 'smoko'. (I've written previously about my gramdma and her recipe for 'cow pats'.) These scones are sweeter and doughier than their British counterpart, and I was always just as happy to eat them with a smear of butter as I was lathering on the jam and cream. Grandma often added plump sultanas to the mixture - a variation that I enjoyed and my brother detested. I erred on the side of caution and left them out this time. They are, of course, just gorgeous straight from the oven and I discovered that they actually go stale quite rapidly. I suppose they always disappeared so rapidly at the farm that we never noticed! Even so, half a minute in the microwave can rescue a day-old scone and I hear they freeze well too.

I'm going to name this recipe after my grandmother here; it's always been hers to me.

Lady Violet's pumpkin scones
(based on the recipe found here, sent by Google-savvy mum!)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cups mashed pumpkin, chilled
3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

Pre-heat an oven to 220°C. Line a baking tray with paper

Place the butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl and beat them together thoroughly with a fork.  Mix in the egg, then the pumpkin. Sift over the flour and baking powder and fold it through to make a dough - it will be quite sticky.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Form the dough into a large rectangle 3-5cm tall and use a glass to cut round scones from it, placing them on the baking tray. 

Bake the scones for about 20 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 22, 2011: Sporting Club Hotel

Update 31/12/2014: The Sporting Club has renamed itself The Charles Weston Hotel. Very little seems to have changed otherwise.

The opening up of Sunday night as a pub-club option has given us a few places to try out that don't open on traditional pub-club Monday nights. Towards the top of the list was Brunswick's Sporting Club Hotel, a cute backstreet pub that we visited briefly for Carla's vegan drinks. It's a bit TARDIS-like, with much more space inside than you expect - there are about 4 different rooms and a decent-sized outdoor area, which means it's pretty easy to find space for a large group.

The five of us ended up claiming a room all to ourselves and having our own private dinner party. The menu is more Spanish or Mexican restaurant than local pub, with a wide selection of tapas and a range of Hispanic-inspired mains. Cindy mixed and matched two tapas dishes: champis (marinated mushrooms stuffed with goats cheese and dill, $8) and bravas (classic double-fried potato chunks with spicy sauce, $7).

The mushrooms were a simple dish done very well - an excellent combo of tender mushies and salty cheese. The spuds were also pretty impressive, but Cindy had buyer's remorse by the end - a bowl of these is better shared than taken on solo.

I opted for the vegetarian enchiladas (soft tortillas filled with a spicy bean veg mix, onions, tomatoes with guacamole and coriander, $15).

The tortillas were toasted just to the point of crispiness and stuffed with a decent filling made up predominantly of beans and potatoes. With a good smear of guacamole and sour cream, these hit the spot nicely. I'd have liked a spicy salsa to accompany them as well, but the filling had enough flavour to ensure that the chilli kick wasn't missed too much.

The Sporting Club is a nice local pub - you probably wouldn't cross town for the food, but it's done pretty well, isn't too expensive and is served up in a pub with a nice, relaxed atmosphere. There's an open fire, friendly (if slightly hard to catch) staff, and plenty of space to spread out.


Only Fitzroyalty seems to have blogged about the food at the Sporting Club, although he visited on their special paella night.

Sporting Club Hotel

27 Weston Street, Brunswick
9380 8777
veg starters $5-$9, veg mains $15-$16

Accessibility: The Sporting Club has a flat standard-width entry and plenty of space inside. Ordering and payment takes place at the bar. The toilets were easy to get to, but were just ordinary sized cubicles for men and women.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 22, 2011: A Caterpillar's Dream

Edit 14/12/2019: A Caterpillar's Dream has been replaced by V Series.

 The Moody Noodles kindly gave us a lift out to Kew to check out A Caterpillar's Dream for lunch. This vegetarian cafe is just a couple months old and is rumoured to be run by the same family as Brisbane's Kuan Yin.  All four of us love the Brisbane eatery so we had high hopes for this new venture.

We were surprised at the vastly different ambience - A Caterpillar's Dream has a large and light space at the end of a strip mall, nothing like the dim Kuan Yin premises that's squeezed into Chinatown.  The menu bears little more than a passing resemblance either.  Though there's still much mock meat, it's just as likely to be tucked into a sandwich or stirred through pasta as it is to be served Chinese-style with rice. ACP also boasts two large display cabinets stocked with all manner of pastries, cakes and other sugary delights.

Toby, Michael and I shared a plate of fried dumplings ($7.90), and they were better than average.

K let us repeatedly sample her bowl of potato wedges ($5.90), which arrived with sweet chilli sauce and (non-vegan) sour cream. They had lovely fluffy interiors, but we couldn't taste a lot of the promised spice mix (salt flakes, black pepper, thyme and paprika).

I tried out their tuna salad sandwich ($10.80), which contained a small amount of veggie tuna, celery, dill, cucumber, cream cheese, then plenty of tomato and fresh greens.  I liked that they didn't overdo the mock meat or condiments; this was a pleasantly light sandwich.

With all our Kuan Yin expectations, Michael was hanging out for a bento box ($14.50), which comes with steamed rice, pickles, cooked vegetables, miso soup, fruit and a choice of veggie meat.  His Thai spicy duck was hot, crisp and not greasy, though perhaps lacking in Thai spices. The bigger disappointment was the vegetables, which had seemingly been cooked without any seasoning at all.

The cooks at A Caterpillar's Dream have given some thought to dietary requirements, with vegan and gluten-free options clearly marked throughout the menu and on the specials board. However both of K's dishes arrived with non-vegan condiments in spite of their vegan labelling. The wait staff were cheery and tried to be helpful but knew no more than what was printed on the menu. It's also a shame that a vegetarian cafe offering such a large variety of sweets seems to have only one vegan-friendly item.

A Catepillar's Dream is a nice spot for lunch if you find yourself hanging 'round Kew Junction. However, I'd recommend that anyone with dietary needs speak up while ordering to ensure a suitable meal.


A Caterpillar's Dream
Shop 4, 26 Princess St, Kew
9939 6133
veg lunches $8.95 - $18.90

Accessibility: Looks good - flat wide entry, plenty of space between tables, table service and payment at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 21, 2011: Cheesy spinach-stuffed crepes

I was tempting fate when I decided to cook this month's calendar recipe after a long day shopping.  This wasn't just a new recipe - it involved crepes.

I'm not sure that I've ever even attempted crepes before but frying'n'flipping is the bog-standard cooking technique that challenges me the most. Burgers, fritters, (soy bombs!), pancakes, omelettes, dosai (shudder)... cooking them through and getting them to the plate in one piece is frequently more than me and my spatula can handle.  Crepes would surely rank second behind dosai in delicacy, and perhaps deliciousness too.

Foolishly I forged ahead, and inexplicably I was rewarded with crepe after slim golden crepe.  I used just a little oil spray in a hot non-stick pan, gently spreading the batter with the back of a spoon to a conservative diameter of about 15cm.  They were beautiful.

This was just the start, though.  I blended together a filling of spinach and ricotta and rolled it into the crepes...

... then covered the lot with a white sauce, bread crumbs and cheese.

Once out of the oven, it was the perfect winter dish - warming and cheesy, a little gooey but not too sloppy (as I feared it might be with all that white sauce).  I think some ready-made cannelloni tubes would do just as well - and be far more convenient - in this dish, but I really am glad that it prodded me to try my hand at crepes.  I didn't know I had 'em in me.

Cheesy spinach-stuffed crepes

crepe batter
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup plain flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups milk
15g butter, melted
spray oil for frying

30g butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bunch spinach, chopped
250g ricotta
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

30g butter
2 tablespoons wholemeal flour
1 1/4 cups skim milk

1 cup stale wholemeal breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Start by making the crepes. Sift together the flours into a medium-large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and melted butter.  Gradually pour the liquid over the flours, whisking as you go, until it makes a smooth batter. Cover the bowl and allow the batter to stand for at least 30 minutes.

Heat up a fry-pan and give it a light spraying of oil.  Pour a 1/4 cup of crepe batter into the centre of the pan, using the back of a spoon to gently spread it out into a circle of just a couple of millimetres thickness. When the crepe's visibly dried out around the edges, carefully flip it over.  After roughly another minute it should be cooked; transfer the crepe to a plate and repeat the process with the rest of the batter.

Next, prepare the filling.  Melt the butter in the fry-pan and sauté the garlic and spinach until the spinach has wilted - this will only take a few minutes.  Take them off the heat and allow them to cool a little before placing them in a food processor.  Add the ricotta, parmesan and cumin to the processor and whiz everything together until it's nicely combined.

This is probably a good time to start preheating the oven - 180°C. Then get rolling! Place just a tablespoon or two of filling along the centre of each crepe, roll them up and place them in a baking dish.

In a small-medium saucepan (I used the same one that I melted the crepe batter butter in), make the sauce. Start by melting the butter, then mix in the flour to make a smooth paste. After it's been cooking a minute, gradually whisk in the milk, doing your best to avoid lumps (I added the milk in very small batches to begin with). Bring the sauce to the boil and, once it's thickened, take it off the heat and pour it over the crepes.

Combine the remaining breadcrumbs and parmesan, then sprinkle them over the sauce-slathered crepes.  Bake them for about 30 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 21, 2011: Loving Hut

After a couple of hours trying to shop like grown-ups, we were still in Richmond and feeling much more like over-tired children.  Only the promise of trying out a vegetarian restaurant for lunch had us suppressing tantrums and trying our best to be good.

That restaurant, Loving Hut, is part of a world-wide chain of eateries associated with the Supreme Master and they've got Supreme Master's own TV channel blaring in the background, spreading the word.  It no doubt dominates the ambience when the restaurant is anything less than fully occupied.

There's a decent range of juices, smoothies, and tea on offer although the menu cautions that "availability depends on Mother Earth's mood & changing seasons".  Mother Earth allowed Michael a coconut juice ($5) sans pulp while I sampled the zesty green lime ($5.50), an unusual not-too-sweet and lightly carbonated drink.

Michael generously urged me to order for both of us.  The menu's quite heavy on the tofu and also includes mock meats; fresher vegetables are offered more sparsely.  It took a little time to choose what I hoped might be contrasting dishes.

The lemongrass tofu ($12) was a pretty good pick - pan-fried 'til golden, slathered in a spicy lemongrass paste and served with shredded lettuce and carrot (quite similar to my Au Lac main, minus all that god-forsaken onion!).

The 5-spice flavoured Taro Delight ($18) was more of a gamble.  These enormous fritters consist of generous chunks of taro, wrapped in yuba and seaweed, battered and fried.  They're crazy-starchy and quite tasty, though I'd not be inclined to eat more than one in a sitting again.  Veg-errific capsicum strips aside, the sauce didn't really appeal to me - it contained seaweed of the rubbery kind, and the liquid had a slimey way about it.

The staff at Loving Hut were friendly and attentive, if a little reserved.  I'd eat there again - I've read good things about the entrées and the rendang - but this restaurant might struggle to lure me back so long as Thanh Nga Nine offers such great veg options in the same neighbourhood.

Loving Hut's trajectory thus far has been blogged by vegos words@random, In The Mood For Noodles, Veg in the west and Veganise This!, then unexpectedly by the high-end omni eaters at 1001 Dinners: 1001 Nights.

Loving Hut
Shop 10, 242 Victoria St, Richmond
9427 8916
veg mains $8-18, rice $1.50pp
facebook page

Accessibility: Loving Hut has a flat standard-width entry and generously spaced tables.  Ordering occurs at the table, payment at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 21, 2011: Friends of Mine

Friends of Mine opened about six months back in a burst of hype and excitement. The place was run by peeps with impressive cafe pedigrees (Porgie and Mr Jones, Snow Pony - both unreviewed by us despite vague intentions to visit since about 2008) and was on a section of Swan Street that was desperately short of good coffee options. They also used their twitter account smartly, generating enthusiasm without just being boring self-promoters. So, predictably, they've been overrun by Melbourne's buzz-conscious foodie set.

We put them on our list of places to visit once the hype (and queues) died down and this Saturday, with a trip to Richmond on the cards anyway, we decided it was time to give them a shot. We turned up at about 9:30 to find swarms of people blocking the door - luckily they were mostly in search of takeaway coffee, so we were able to grab a table without waiting around (just a month back, Nouveau Potato waited 25 minutes for a table!).

It's a pretty big place that hums with activity - staff swarming about everywhere, customers coming and going and a constant stream of takeaway coffees being served up. The fit-out is varied: we sat in the middle section - all concrete and quirkiness, while the dining area furthest from the front had a more formal white-tablecloth vibe going on.

The menu (which rather weirdly tells you, "you are beautiful") is fairly standard for a place like this: some vaguely healthy options (muesli, porridge), toasts, eggy dishes and a few other bits and pieces. There's also a whole bunch of lunchy dishes and some desserts, but we stayed focussed on the breakfast section of the menu. The breakfast style sweets weren't too abundant (no French toast, no pancakes) so Cindy went savoury: herb and cheesey toast with eggplant kusundi ($11.90).

I thought this was excellent - generous cheese, perfectly melted on delicious bread and a salty and spicy eggplant relish to cut through it all. Alas, from Cindy's point of view it was all a bit heavy on the cheese. She's a more delicate appreciator of melted cheese (we've had some long and fruitless debates about pizza before), so this ended up being a bit much for her.

I ordered the smashed avocado with thyme buttered mushrooms, marinated feta and torn basil on wholegrain toast, with a poached egg ($18.90).

This was a pretty excellent rendition of avocado on toast - no skimping on the avo (with some nice bite via a good squeeze of lemon juice), fragrant and beautifully cooked mushrooms, salty fetta, bursts of basil and parsley and a perfectly poached egg on top. It's worth mentioning that the bread they use at Friends of Mine (courtesy of Noisette) is excellent - soft and crusty in perfect proportions.

Unlike a few other bloggers we had no service issues at all - in fact our food came out remarkably quickly and multiple staff were always on hand when we wanted them. The coffee good and Cindy enjoyed her orange juice, but both of us walked away feeling a bit uninspired. I think my issues were price-related - $18.90 is getting a bit ridiculous for a breakfast which, although excellent, doesn't tower above some cheaper options closer to home.  And given its popularity, it's not currently a place to linger over the newspaper.  To be fair, I probably have higher expectations for places that take more than half an hour for us to get to so I may be holding Friends of Mine to higher standards than our local favourites. Based on our experience, you'll get great service and good food at Friends of Mine and if you're in the neighbourhood you'll not be disappointed.

Friends of Mine has been raved about all over the blogosphere: Saturdaymorningsinmelbourne, The Guilty Stomach, Once a Waitress, The Neff Kitchen, Melbourne Food Files, Addictive and Consuming, Melbourne Food Tales, ... it pleases us, Juggernaut's Foodie Thoughts, Gourmet Chick, Social Marketplace, Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eat This, The Food Designer and Pete Can Cook were all pretty impressed, while just Melbourne Culinary Journal wasn't wowed.

Vego bloggers Nouveau Potato and Ballroom Blintz were also fans (although it should be noted that vegans will struggle to find anything on the menu they can eat).


Friends of Mine
506 Swan St, Richmond
9428 7516
Breakfasts: $5.50 - $18.90
http://www.friendsofmine.com.au/ (beware of seemingly unstoppable autoplay music)

Accessibility: Friends of Mine has a fairly wide and flat entry and is fairly spacious around the communal table.  Things get more crowded and difficult around the check-out and in the dining room area. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 18, 2011: Pav cups

Last Tuesday our mate Toby became an Australian citizen, and there was a small barbecue held in his honour on the following night.  We started out with gleegan-friendly cheese and vegemite on toast then moved on to a very 'meaty' main - sausages in bread, rissoles with canned beetroot, party pies and much tomato sauce (as well as some less-obviously-Aussie but no-less-delicious marinated tofu).

For dessert there was trifle and gleegan-suitable Kingston biscuits and Tim Tams.  I tried my hand at individual vegan pavlovas with a lot of help from a couple of pre-packaged groceries - Angel Food's meringue cookie mix and Soyatoo! Soy Whip.

Vegan meringue certainly warranted hauling out the ol' KitchenAid for some serious whipping.  I'm not sure that I got quite enough air into the mixture, as this modest quantity was supposed to make 24 cookies each 5cm in diameter, but the flavour and texture were quite remarkable - very marshmallowy and a bit sticky-gooey-gluey.

I spooned the goop into eleven cupcake papers and was rather excited - they looked pretty darn impressive!

Alas, I almost certainly baked them too long.  In my enthusiasm for crunchy edges, I ended up with nothing but!  My meringues were more like hollowed-out sugar shells.

Of course, hollowed-out shells make pretty great vessels for cream, so I just filled these up with canned passionfruit pulp and Soy Whip.  In all their fragility, we needed teaspoons to eat them.  These weren't quite pavlovas but they looked the part and had most of the elements they needed - cool cream, sour fruit and a little sugary crispness... just not enough cloudy meringue.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 14, 2011: Coco Loco III

Update 31/12/2014: Coco Loco has changed its name to Papasito and its emphasis to Mexican food. It's still run by the same owner and still has a decent range of vegan options.

After dinner at Discobeans, we moved on to Coco Loco. We were lucky to score the booth against the back wall - it's a comfy spot to survey the space and a little of High St, too.

Michael and I looked no further than the evening's specials before ordering.  He went with three truffles ($10) and a coffee.  The ganache-filled one was right up his alley; the other two impressed him less.

I splashed out on a Mulata ($20) - marinated cherries under dark chocolate mousse, topped with a cherry liqueur-infused white chocolate ganache.  Funnily, the vegan adaptation ordered by one of our companions looked prettier, with the white chocolate layer replaced by an elegant curl of dark chocolate gelato.  All the accompaniments were very nice, to be sure, but nothing can take my attention away from this mousse for long - smooth and dark and a little earthy, just magnificent.

Melbourne boasts a number of excellent chocolatiers; among them Coco Loco is probably most notable for its range of vegan and gluten-free options.  And it's all proudly Fair Trade!  The fine service and quality products are certainly sufficient to keep those of us with less restrictive diets coming back for more.

You can read about a couple of our previous Coco Loco visits here and here.

Coco Loco has a very positive reception in blog-land: see words@random, fitzroyalty, The Tasty Dozen, this is weeny, Vegan About Town (who had a reservation mishap amongst the fun) and Two Flat Whites.

Coco Loco
219 High St, Northcote
9482 7033
desserts $3.50-$20

Accessibility: Coco Loco looks pretty good - wide flat entry, plenty of space and attentive table service. Not sure about the toilets.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 14, 2011: Discobeans II

Update 08/03/2020: This restaurant is now permanently closed.

Update 31/12/2014: Discobeans has moved from Northcote to 539 Plenty Rd, Preston, but is still run by the same people and still offers vegan friendly Japanese food

We spent Saturday night in Northcote with friends, revisiting a couple of the neighbourhood's most veg-friendly (& coeliac-friendly!) restaurants.  For dinner we hit Discobeans.  In contrast to our previous visit we found a table with ease, this time upstairs in their licensed gallery section.  With couches, a fireplace and drawings all over the walls, it felt more like a mate's loungeroom than a restaurant.

Michael and I were itching to try the tempeh and chive dumplings from the specials board ($9.50).  The serving was pretty and generous, though a little disappointing in the flavour stakes - these morsels had been fried too long, and didn't taste distinctly of either of the feature ingredients. They were a nice appetiser but not the amazing one we'd geared up for.

From there I just kept on snacking, eating the same marinated avocado yu-kke ($8.50, not pictured) and mock meat with soy mayo sauce ($6) that I ordered last time.  These were bang on - so fresh, with crunchy and tender and chewy textures in all the right places, hot and cold contrasting nicely, perfectly seasoned.  The mock meat got a little rich by the end - a lesson for me to be less greedy and more sharing next time.

Michael tested out the sukiyaki udon with tempeh ($11.50) and wasn't really wowed - he was looking for more vegetables and punchy condiments.

We thoroughly enjoyed the lower-key atmosphere on this non-event night at Discobeans.  Though not all dishes impressed, the ones that work really work.  And that an omni Japanese restaurant caters so well to veg*ns and coeliacs is more impressive still.

You can read about our previous visit to Discobeans here.  We haven't spotted any more blog reviews since then.

238 High St, Northcote
9077 4772
veg snacks and mains $3.50-$13.50

Accessibility: This is a terrace-style retail space with a narrow door. Stairs and narrow passages lead to the art space/bar and toilets. Upstairs, orders are taken at the table, then paid for at a high counter. Table spacing is average.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 12, 2011: Miss Chu

I always struggle to think of cheap, veg-friendly places to eat dinner in the CBD, often falling back on Indian food or dumplings. So when we were trying to arrange a quick dinner for five in town, I was pretty stumped. Luckily someone suggested Miss Chu, which I'd seen mentioned on twitter and which promised a wide variety of vegetarian dishes.

Miss Chu is a self-styled Vietnamese 'tuckshop', imported from Sydney and offering takeaway, delivery and dine-in. Like almost every vaguely trendy new place in Melbourne, you can't book ahead if you want to dine in. Which meant that, despite being assured that turnover was pretty fast, we ended up standing around on the street for half an hour before they could squeeze us in. At least it wasn't raining.

It's a pretty crowded and trendy fit-out - cute bowls as light fittings, big collages (kind of weirdly making something stylish out of what looked like photos of refugees), and lots of hip Melbourne-ites chowing down. The menu is quite long, with loads of vegetarian and vegan options - basically broken into dumplings, rice paper rolls, salads, spring rolls and a few other odds and ends. Miss Chu call themselves 'Queen of rice paper wraps' but we looked elsewhere, starting with a big pile of dumplings. They come in two vegie varieties, spinach and tofu and Asian vegetables with garlic chives ($5 per serve). I was pretty impressed with these - the skins weren't too thick or gluey and the fillings were great (particularly the tofu) . A good start.

I was tempted to try the papaya salad but someone who'd visited before told me it wasn't going to give me the chilli kick I was looking for (seriously folks, where can I get a fierce vego papaya salad?). Instead, Cindy and I both went for varieties of the Vietnamese vermicelli salads.

She got in first and ordered the vegetarian fried net spring roll salad ($12).

The spring rolls had a super crispy coating and tasted mostly of delicious deep-fried. They were piled on top of some nice rice noodles, laced with a fairly sweet chilli sauce, all piled on top of some salady bits (they're hiding in the picture above). The sauce was a bit light on, which meant that once you got through the rolls the remainder was a bit on the bland side.

I took the other salad option: a vegan salad, filled with enoki, shitake and shimeji mushrooms ($12).

I was pleasantly surprised to get a few delicious tofu chunks amongst all the mushies. Everything had been cooked over pretty high heat, so there was a nice smoky flavour to it all, which went well with the few pieces of chilli scattered throughout. I could have done with more chilli but that's just me being difficult.

There's a pretty substantial drinks list yet Cindy and I went non-boozy, opting for 'coconut young juice' ($3), which was sweet and coconutty. The beautiful chunks of coconut meat resting on the bottom filled in nicely for dessert.

I was fairly happy with Miss Chu - there were plenty of vegetarian options and the food was fresh, tasty and relatively healthy. A few people have complained about the prices - I'm sure you can find cheaper Vietnamese than this on Victoria St, but we're happy to pay a bit more for a place that serves up decent vego dishes. Having said that, I'm not sure we'll hurry back - the combination of its crowded layout, counter service and current buzz mean that the whole experience is a bit stressful. On the upside they do takeaway and delivery on cute little electric bikes and are up the same end of the city as my work, so I'll probably get to sample the food again without having to go through the whole rigmarole.

Lots of people are fans of Miss Chu, see Bellygood, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Blithely Unaware, Delicious Gathering and Bang Bang Chronicles for positive write-ups. Melbourne Gastronome and Tomato were a bit less enthused. We're not the first vegos to visit - The Big V was way ahead of us.

Miss Chu
297 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
9077 1097
rice paper wraps $6, dumplings and spring rolls $5, salads $12

Accessibility: There's no step to get in but Miss Chu is crowded and pretty narrow. Ordering and payment happens at a high counter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 8-9, 2011: Date & pecan slice

It's been a while since a seminar was held in my workplace, and even longer since I baked a treat to share around, so I made sure to step up with the latter when the former occurred last week.  For ideas I pulled out The Complete Book of Home Baking, a gift from one of my generous colleagues.  I gather that it's a second-hand copy, as the book was printed in 1993 and has very little presence online (although I found a couple of other books with the same name). The most fascinating feature of this book is that one of the people credited for recipe development is Donna Hay!  She's not listed as contributing to the styling, and certainly the look of this cookbook is light years from the work she's famous for.

The seminar was held on Monday morning so I held off on the dedicated chocolate chapter and browsed through the 'cakes and biscuits for every day'. I didn't have heaps of time to cook after our pub dinner, and thankfully the recipe for date bars didn't look too fiddly.  It's a pretty basic cake set-up - although it's eggless - with pecans and softened dates studded throughout. Expecting something a bit more dense and slice-like, I was surprised at how much it rose in the oven. It browned a lot as it baked and, un-iced, didn't look all that impressive.

Nevertheless this slice received many compliments when I shared it around.  The dates near melted into the buttery batter; the slice was moist and with a deep caramel flavour.  I'll definitely keep this recipe on hand for occasions that deserve a sweet treat but don't demand anything fancy-lookin'.

Date & pecan slice
(based on a recipe for date bars in The Complete Book of Home Baking)

300mL evaporated milk
200g pitted dried dates, chopped
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
200g butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3/4 cup castor sugar
100g pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Paper-line or grease a 22cm x 30cm baking tray.

In a small saucepan, heat the evaporated milk until it is just about to boil.  Pour it over the dates and allow them to soak and soften as the milk cools.

Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy; beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Gradually beat the milk mixture and the flour mixture into the butter in turns, until all ingredients are well incorporated.  Fold through the pecans.

Pour the batter into the baking tray, gently smooth over the top and bake the slice for 20-25 minutes, until it's browned on top and it passes the skewer test.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 8, 2011: The Tramway Hotel

A few pub-club members had been keeping their eye on the gradual transformation of the Tramway from casual and foodless local to a fancier pub with a serious food focus. In March we heard that it had opened, but that the kitchen wasn't sorted yet, so we bided our time. And then, typically, Brian at Fitzroyalty beat us to the punch. Regardless, we were keen to check it out - going so far as to shift from our usual Monday nights (when the Tramway is closed) to a Sunday evening.

Turns out the Tramway has been taken over by Chris Crouch, formerly of Candle Records and Polyester. It's all a bit upmarket in comparison to what used to be here, with lots of wood and polished concrete, but it's still a pretty cosy space - a crackling fire, lots of big windows and plenty of space to spread out in. The menu is mostly about burgers, with eight to choose from (including two vegan options!), along with a smattering of mains and appetisers (including a few more vegan and veg-friendly options). Cindy and I couldn't resist the siren song of the burger and chips, so we picked out the two vegie options.

I had the quinoa and hummus burger (quinoa, hummus and fresh basil pattie, topped with vegan friendly almondnaise, salad, tomato relish and chips, $16), which is pictured in the background above. The patty was excellent - the hummus was strong without being overpowering, and the relish and almondaise added some complementary flavours. It wasn't the sturdiest patty of all time - I ended up making quite a mess of myself - but it was definitely worth the mess.

Cindy went for the portabello mushroom (portabello mushroom, thyme and burghul pattie, topped with ‘facon’ tempeh, almondnaise, salad and tomato relish and served with chips, $16). It's a rare mushroom burger that involves anything more than a big ol' slab of mushroom filling in as burger patty, and I was impressed to see they'd come up with a more interesting approach. It's pretty dense, and tastes fairly mushroomy, but doesn't have the typical issue of excess mushroom juice soggying everything up. I really enjoyed the few bites of this that I snuck, but Cindy found it heavy going by the end - it's a thick and hefty burger filling. The mention of tempeh bacon had us both excited, and kudos for the Tramway for offering it, but it couldn't live up to the standards Cindy has set around these parts. Not to say it wasn't good, but it needed to kick the flavour up a notch (more liquid smoke maybe?) and lacked the slight crispiness I was hoping for. Still, it seems churlish to complain - its very existence on the menu is pretty amazing.

A brief word of praise for the chips - thick cut, skin on, with lots of crunch and some generous seasoning (read: salt). When it comes to pub food, chips are a key issue, and the Tramway more than measures up.

The Tramway is a pub-club winner - lots of nice beers on tap, friendly service and a pretty damn impressive menu. I'd say, "we'll be back," but it's too late - we've already been back.

Read other points of view at Fitzroyalty and Temasek.


The Tramway Hotel
165 Rae St, North Fitzroy
9489 6100 (they do take bookings, and things were pretty busy at about 8pm on a Sunday night, so it might be wise to call ahead if you're turning up on a Friday or Saturday)
veg burgers $16, other veg mains $10-$20

Accessibility: There's a small step and a fairly narrow door as you go in, but plenty of space inside. Ordering and payment occurs at the high bar. The toilets are outside through a fairly narrow courtyard, and not particularly roomy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 7, 2011: Grigons and Orr II

With a trip to the markets lined up, Cindy and I met up with Mike, Jo and Tracy for breakfast at Grigons and Orr. We'd enjoyed our first visit, although I'd inexplicably ordered something vaguely healthy. With a group of five we were forced to sit outside, which meant making use of the proffered knee rugs.

I'm not sure if we were given preferential treatment last time or if things have changed, but this time around we were forced to order everything at the counter. It's not really a big hassle, but having to duck inside whenever you want another coffee kills some of the relaxed breakfast vibe. Also: the menu has changed a bit - there are a few more veg/vegan options: a cous-cous based savoury dish and beans on toast, plus the cous-cous porridge and scrambled tofu (hidden in the lunch section of the menu).

I went for the tofu, with sauteed spinach on sourdough toast ($12).

The scramble is scrambled into a pretty smooth paste, with not a lot of tofu chunks. There was something sweet in amongst the herb and tomato-y flavours, which wasn't quite the flavour I was looking for - typically, I was hoping for something a bit spicier.

Cindy went sweet: French toast (home-made brioche, coated in creme anglais and fried and served with pan-roasted apple and maple syrup.

The brioche made for an almost cakey French toast which was drier than Cindy expected, but the excellent roasted apple and delicious maple syrup more than made up for it.

Grigons and Orr didn't quite measure up to my expectations this time around - the outdoor seating is a bit rough in winter (and the exhaust of the Queensberry St traffic is probably annoying all year 'round), and the counter service didn't rock my world. Still, the food was impressive enough and the range of vegan options is excellent.

Nobody else seems to have reviewed Grigons and Orr since we last checked it out.


Grigons & Orr
445 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
0403 515 814
veg breakfasts $6-$14.50

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, though some are on slightly sloped pavement.  Ordering and payment occurs at a low counter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

April 28-May 2, 2011: Holiday-home cooking

After Easter, Michael and I took a holiday.  We booked a self-contained unit in Bryon Bay, hoping for one last bit of warmth before tackling winter proper, determined to do as little as possible.  It rained for much of the week and we didn't spend as long at the beach as we would have liked, but we read and slept and caught up on some favourite TV series and barely thought about our jobs at all.  The latter was what we needed most.

The best thing we did was also one of the wettest - we visited the Byron Farmers' Market on our first morning, where we filled several bags with tremendous produce.  This stuff not only tasted great, it retained its fresh crunch over our entire stay.  We backed up our market shop with a visit to Santos for more SOLE-friendly groceries.  While we racked up a hefty bill, it was ultimately far cheaper and healthier than dining out daily.

Here's a sample of what we cooked up in our holiday-home kitchen.  It's a little different to how we cook at home, where we have an enormous collection of spices and condiments.  Instead we were focused on using up everything in the time we had, repurposing a smaller number of condiments and herbs over several dishes.

A curry made with 
onion, chilli, galangal, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, coconut milk, 
carrot, beans, tofu, capsicum, and bok choy on top of rice

Tofu scrambled with vegan pesto, a whole fried mushroom,
and avocado on toasted pumpkin bread with lemon, salt and pepper.

Fried egg on pumpkin toast with pesto

Local camembert and blue cheese with rosemary crackers (and sometimes red wine!)

Fritters made from mashed pumpkin, haloumi, Thai basil, egg, salt and pepper, 
served with beans, kale and chilli chutney.

Eggplant parmas with roast potatoes and garlic and kale

Eggplant parma burgers with pesto, spinach, and roast potatoes on the side.

Nasi goreng with tempeh, broccoli, carrot, capsicum, Thai basil, onion, garlic, chilli and tomato paste

Nachos with a black bean-onion topping, avocado, cheese and chilli relish