Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 20, 2011: Retreat Hotel

Pub-club continues to take us to every vaguely veg-friendly pub in Melbourne. This time up was the long-neglected Retreat Hotel on Sydney Road, to test drive their newly instigated Mariachi Monday Mexican Menu extravaganza. Extravaganza is probably overstating things since the special Mexican menu is pretty short: tacos, nachos, quesadillas and a few other bits and pieces. Still, we were there for Mexican so we didn't even check out the regular pub menu options. The pub itself is sprawling - there's plenty of space, with a couple of big indoor areas, a few front booths and a great beer garden. We pulled up a booth and got stuck into our free chips and dip (a bonus for anyone ordering Mexican).

I couldn't resist the quesadilla (black bean, tomato and cheese, with whipped goats cheese and avocado, $16). The filling was a rich mix of mushrooms, beans and rice, encased in a crisply fried tortilla and smeared with generous dollops of guacamole and whipped cheese on top. I'd have enjoyed some hot sauce to go along with it, but that's a trivial complaint about what was a surprisingly good Mexican meal from a pub kitchen.

In the end Cindy's mushroom and bean tacos (3 for $12) were a fairly similar proposition - the same bean and mushroom filling as my quesadilla, with a blob each of guacamole, salsa and sour cream inside.

Given the quality of the food they turned out for us, The Retreat's non-Mexican menu is one we'll be swinging by to explore in the not too distant future. It's got a friendly, grungy vibe, is nice and spacious and has plenty of good beer on tap. It's not quite in the top tier of veg-friendly Melbourne pubs, but it's still a worthy addition to our ever-expanding list.


There's surprisingly little buzz about the Retreat in the blogosphere, an old positive review from Veggie Friendly and a more recent offering from Bar Amigo.


Retreat Hotel
280 Sydney Rd, Brunswick (cnr Glenlyon)
9380 4090
Mexican meals $12-$16

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry, but otherwise this is relatively accessible - there's space between tables, decent lighting and accessible toilets.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 19, 2011: Winter vegetable tagine

This month it was my turn to tackle the calendar recipe - a task I was happy to take on given that it required only 1 tiny tweak to turn into a vegan and gluten-free delight. It's a pretty impressive meal, with a nice combo of winter root vegetables and warming spices. I probably went overboard with the stock, which meant that we ended up with something more soup than stew. Maybe if we'd used a tagine as specified rather than just a big pot things would have worked out better. Still, with a pile of quinoa on the side and some of this harissa drizzled on top, this was one of the most hearty and warming meals of the season.

Winter vegetable tagine

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
2 large carrots, cut into chunks
2 parsnips, cut into chunks
300g sweet potato, cut into small cubes
1 small butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
Veggie stock
Can chickpeas, drained
2/3 cup dried apricots, halved
10 pitted dates, halved
2 tablespoons honey (swap for maple or agave syrup to make this entirely vegan)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 flaked almonds, toasted

Heat the oil in a big saucepan and cook the onion until it softens up nicely.

Add the vegetables, the tomato paste and all the spices.

Cover the veggies with stock (don't be heavy-handed here!) and bring it to a simmer. Pop a lid on it and cook gently for 45 minutes.

Add the chickpeas, apricots, dates and honey and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Scatter with herbs and almonds and season to taste when everything is tender and delicious.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 19, 2011: Mister Nice Guy Cupcakes

After lunch we headed back downfield* to the Noise Bar, which is right on the bike path. By day it's now home to Mister Nice Guy Cupcakes, who've been making a name for themselves in the past year selling vegan confections at places like the Empire Cafe, Radical Grocery and Las Vegan. In setting up their own space Lucas and Deb have also expanded their menu to savoury Tex Mex in the evening.

Daylight doesn't show up as much gig-venue grunge as I feared. Nevertheless, the place has a punky rockabilly vibe and the music's still turned up to eleven mid-afternoon.

Michael and I ordered a cupcake each ($4 apiece) and were very pleased with the goods! Most notably, the icing-to-cake ratio is much lower than seems common these days, making for a less sickly sweet experience. We heartily approve. Michael's Lemon Booberry cake was abundant with berries and had a little tartness to the icing. My Peanut Butter Cup was lovely and moist; not too rich. Now that my baseline flavour gets the tick I'll have to be more adventurous in future - I can barely imagine what joys the rosewater pistachio and French toast varieties might hold!

*not actually a direction.


You can also read about Mister Nice Guy's sweet treats on vegan about town and Ruby's Vegan Blog, then see their Tex Mex offerings on Words @ Random.

Edit 14/08/2011: Mister Nice Guy Cupcakes are no longer trading at this shopfront. They're still taking custom orders and their delicious desserts are still on sale at a range of cafes, stores and cinemas. We certainly haven't heard the last of them yet! 

Edit 06/10/2011: Now Mister Nice Guy Cupcakes are running their own stall at the Prahran Markets! We need to get down there, try some new flavours and report back properly.

Mister Nice Guy Cupcakes
291 Albert St, Brunswick (entrance via bike path)
0405 001 442
large cupcakes $4

Accessibility: This venue has a flat wide entrance and plenty of space around the tables and chairs inside (which include couches and coffee tables, as well as casual dining sets). Orders are received and paid for at a high counter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 19, 2011: Little Deer Tracks

Coburg's bringing the cute cafe culture! ElegantGourmand kindly pinged us when he dined at newly opened Little Deer Tracks, north of Bell St. Though I didn't care for the twee name, I wasn't going to turn my nose up at an all-vegetarian cafe. Michael and I took to the Upfield bike path the following weekend to check it out.

Italian-style restaurants are rarely places to excite vegetarians (pasta in napoli sauce or risotto with suspiciously-sourced stock, anyone?) but this menu has plenty of "ooh, I want that!" options - crumbed and fried fennel with lemon aioli, a warm beetroot salad, eggplant balls, even the standard risotto looks good! (It's made with broad beans and saffron.) Impressively, all the cheese is rennet free. On the face of it there's not a lot for vegans, but the kitchen will adapt a number of items on request... and they've got vegan lamingtons in the cake display, so there's that. I think there's been a lot more vegan interest than they expected on opening so hopefully the range will only improve over time.

The other pleasant surprise was that The Quince Poacher spotted us and said hi! She's one smart cookie, posting her thorough review in advance of The Age's coverage.

I tried the gnocchi with Red Hill blue goats cheese, rocket and walnuts ($17.50) from the specials board. When it arrived, I thought it looked pretty gluggy. Happily it was not - the gnocchi pieces were quite light and held together just enough, the cheese had that bit of bite, and the walnuts provided some crunch. Even if it wasn't gluggy, it was enormously rich. I would have been a happier luncher if I'd had, say half or two-thirds the quantity of gnocchi with a big handful of peppery rocket on the side. But it's not the done thing, is it?

Michael had the less-typically-Italian black bean pie with mash and broccoli salad (aka steamed broccoli, $14.50 all up). This got two thumbs up - excellent pastry with a good meaty filling and simple sides that complemented the feature food well.

The staff were very friendly and informative, even chatty. They've got everything to be cheery about - this is a very pleasant eatery, in a neighbourhood with an increasing demand for such things, offering a vegetarian menu that will appeal to many omnivores besides. We'll certainly be back, in cycle-friendly weather.

Little Deer Tracks has already been reviewed by The Quince Poacher.

Little Deer Tracks
44 O'Hea St, Coburg
9354 3449
veg lunches $7.50-17.50

Accessibility: This cafe has a flat wide entrance. The furniture's a little crowded up front but there's more space behind the counter (and I think enough room to get, say, a wheelchair or pram through). Service is all at the table. ETA 15/01/2011: see Marilyn's further comments below regarding accessibility - looks good!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 18, 2011: Enlightened Cuisine IV

Edit 25/04/2017: Enlightened Cuisine is now rebranded as Vegie Kitchen.

On Saturday night we met up with some friends to feast on the Chinese-style mock meats at Enlightened Cuisine. The set banquets are always tempting, but we resolved to create our own Mighty Banquet of Probably Way Too Much Mock Meat.

The first plate to arrive held fried dim sims ($4.50) and they were gobbled up quickly, stuffed with a white mock meat that didn't taste of much.

Next came the highly anticipated sesame prawn ($4.50). This toast is deep deep-fried crispy and golden brown, all the way through to the mysterious white 'prawn' filling.

There were also chicken satay skewers ($5.50), which I thought were a bit undercooked in the middle. (Still it could be worse - they weren't undercooked actual chicken.)

The first main to arrive was some impressively sizzling pepper steak with mushroom ($17.90). The steak slices were homogeneous but tender and the sauce was certainly heavy on the pepper. It wasn't too strong, though, providing lots of seasoning without sticking in my throat.

I used up my ordering option on that ol' Aussie fave, lemon chicken ($16.90). I was delighted that the sauce wasn't sickenly sweet and had a proper lemon sourness to it. Alas, the battered chicken was soft and doughy again. Maybe I need to let this custom go.  

By contrast the plum sauce duck ($16.90) had an unremarkable gravy and superlative meat texture, crisp on the outside, just a little nobbly, and 'flesh' with a bit of chew but no rubberiness.

The sizzling lamb ($17.90) was another winner and arrived with a good dose of proper vegetables.

Once the steamed rice ($2.20 pp) supplies waned, some wag ordered a platter of special fried rice ($13). I could barely touch it, though I admired the charred corn kernels.

I did find room and sufficient encouragement for dessert. I shouldn't have bothered, though - the pineapple fritters were bloated and heavy with far too much batter. I ended up much the same, even though I didn't finish the bowlful. And would you believe that two of our number ordered more prawn toast for dessert? And they suffered less regret than I. Amazing.

We ordered with abandon and our bill (for four people, including drinks) came to $171. That's not cheap, but we ate well... perhaps not nutritionally well, but certainly in great quantity and with much enthusiasm! Enlightened Cuisine has been highly consistent in the four years we've been visiting - the great dishes have always been great and the few less wonderful ones disappoint for precisely the same reason each time. The wait staff are distant but never rude.

Enlightened Cuisine will not suit all moods and tastes but it's a delight when the right people, appetites and dishes collide. Especially when somebody orders prawn toast.

You can read about some of our previous visits to Enlightened Cuisine: one, two and three.

This restaurant has received many reviews, almost unanimously positive, since then from Vegan About Town (three times!), easy as vegan pie, More Cheese Please, tofu in disguise, MEL: HOT OR NOT,, apmmryyu, Vegetarian Life Australia and

Enlightened Cuisine
113 Queensbridge St, Southbank
9686 9188
veg entrées $4.50-5.50, mains $14.90-25.00, desserts unknown

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide; there's a reasonable amount of space between tables. There's table service and bills are paid at a high counter. From memory, access to the toilets is narrow and includes a step.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 18, 2011: Mister Close

Cindy and I needed to be in the city on Saturday morning, so we decided to tackle the CBD weekend breakfast challenge. Luckily, I'd recently read this review of CBD newcomer and Saturday-trader, Mister Close. The only problem was my inability to track down a breakfast menu - I didn't want to drag Cindy in only to find a whole load of bacon-y dishes with no changes available. A quick tweet-exchange later the guys from Mister Close had popped a sample menu straight into my inbox. A promising start.

The cafe itself is tucked into a CBD office block, next to a Starbucks and giving off a kind of food-court vibe. Mister Close has done a solid job of bringing trendy cafe design to a shopping centre space with a cute logo, lots of angular style and lighting that isn't as harsh as the fluoro glare coming from outside. Things were pretty quiet at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, so we tucked ourselves into a corner and sussed out the menu. Most of the big savoury options are laced with meat, while there's a good range of smaller choices and sweet treats (we weren't game to try chocolate French toast that early in the morning). The highlight of the menu though is the spiel at the bottom, promising to 'work a bit of magic' for vegans, coeliacs and the lactose intolerant.We gave our waiter the heads up that we were vego and he fired off a range of ideas and suggestions. In the end, we just took the two dishes we most liked the look of and asked them to veg them up for us. I went for the Piece of Resistance ($18.50, crispy mashed potato cake with mushrooms (instead of bacon), spinach, poached eggs, pesto & mayo).

This was a great combo of perfectly poached eggs, chunky mushies and a potato cake with crispy edges and a soft, mash-like middle. The bread got a bit lost under everything else, but the potato cake well and truly had the carbs covered.

Cindy also went savoury: sweet corn fritters with avocado salsa, spicy beans and roasted tomatoes, with the beans and tomatoes replacing bacon and tomato chutney ($17.5 - at least this is what the menu has listed for the equivalent meaty dish, I didn't double-check exactly what we got charged).

The corn cakes were a bit more pancakey than Cindy's ideal - she likes a high kernel-to-batter ratio - but their buttery flavour won her over... especially when smeared with surprisingly perfect avocado (is it in season now?) and some spicy beans.

The Campos coffee was excellent, as was the service. We suspect that they'd quickly figured out that we were bloggers but I don't think we got any special favours - the staff seemed naturally friendly and quickly and positively rectified a mistake with an order at a table nearby ours. Mister Close seems like it's destined to succeed - if only by adding a classy cafe to an area that's densely populated by office workers and poorly served by cafes.

It's worth noting that it's not a particularly cheap place - $18.50 for brekkie is probably pushing the boundaries a little, so order more modestly than we did or save it for special occasions. Or swing by for lunch (with a menu that changes daily), when you can get a sandwich, salad and sweet for $15. I reckon we'll be giving it a shot.


Blog-wise, only New International Students seems to have reviewed this place so far, although it was 3000's review that inspired us to check it out.

Mister Close
Shop 13, Midtown Plaza, 246 Bourke St, CBD
9654 7778
veg brekkies $4.5 - $18.5

Accessibility: Mister Close is step-free and there's plenty of space between tables. Ordering and payment happens at the table. We didn't make it to the bathrooms.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 16, 2011: Apple peanut butter crumble slice

I have had my eye on this recipe for a very long time. It's from Veganomicon but I saw a version of it on Get Sconed! before I had the book. With baked apples in the middle and peanut butter caramel on top, it's something that appeals greatly to both Michael and I (look, no chocolate!). Even so, I actually planned it for sharing amongst my workmates. We've a new wheat-intolerant person who's joined our team and I reckoned I could adapt this - the small amounts of plain flour are easily replaced with the Orgran equivalent and I knew I'd find some gluten-free biscuits to sub for the graham cracker crumbs that aren't widely available in Australia anyway.

Of course, one-for-one substitutions don't always work when de-glutenising recipes. The crust mixture looked really soggy and didn't spread nearly as far as it was supposed to. I transferred it to a tray half the original size, then set about halving the quantities of everything else and worrying about whether there'd be enough to go around. Nothing else was quite the texture I anticipated either. The apples had a lot of liquid running off them, which I drained through my fingers as I arranged them on the crust. The crumble topping was mushy with margarine, and the highly anticipated peanut butter caramel gave me the biggest trouble of all. It was supposed to melt to an elegant drizzling texture in minutes but mine remained thick and muddy. I whisked in some soy milk but this just rendered it lumpy, forcing me to start again. I never got those silky ribbons I sought, and dolefully spooned it onto the slice in big globs.

The globs were just an unflattering finish to what looked like a disaster slice. The crumble tasted like chalk, as gluten-free flours sometimes can, the apples were leaking liquid everywhere and the crust did not look set. I'd decided that there was no way I could share this with my colleagues, hid it under some foil and shoved it to the back of the fridge. I couldn't really blame Veganomicon for my problems given the alterations I'd made. This was just my own stupid over-confident de-glutenising fault.

Almost a day later I returned to it, hungry and headachey and craving sugar. I dug a spoon in and could barely believe the firm golden crust it unearthed! The apples had set nicely and the peanut butter caramel was damn tasty, if not glamorous. It was too late to share it with my colleagues, but just in time to present a generous slab to an eager Michael over the weekend.

This recipe needs work, but it's work well worth doing.

Apple peanut butter crumble slice
(based on a recipe from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero)

125g packet plain gluten-free biscuits/cookies
1/3 cup margarine, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons soy milk

apple filling
2 large Fuji apples
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons plain gluten-free flour
pinches of ground cinnamon, ground ginger and star anise

crumble topping
1/4 cup plain gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinches of ground cinnamon, ground ginger and star anise
1 tablespoon margarine

peanut butter caramel
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray (mine was ~22cm square) with paper.

Begin with the crust. Crush the biscuits in a bowl; I used a pestle for the job. Stir in the melted margarine, vanilla and soy milk. Pour the crust mixture into the baking tray and use the back of a spoon to flatten it out evenly across the bottom.

For the apple filling, peel and remove the cores of the apples. Slice them thinly, transfer them to a bowl, and stir through the apple cider vinegar to prevent them from browning. Next stir through the oil, sugar, flour and spices. Spread the apples over the crust - you could layer them prettily but I just piled them in and shook them around a little to even out.

To make the crumble topping, stir together the flour, sugar and spices in a small bowl. Use a fork to thoroughly mix in the margarine. Use your fingers to crumble it into chunks and sprinkle them over the slice.

Bake the slice for 40-45 minutes, until the apples are tender. I was worried about how my slice looked at this point - the apples had leaked a lot of water and the base didn't look set. This was fine after a night in the fridge.

When the slice has been in the oven for 20-30 minutes, melt together the peanut butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Whisk them until they're well combined, hot and liquidy. When the slice comes out of the oven, drizzle the peanut butter mixture over in stripes or blobs.

Allow the slice to cool (again, the fridge really helped for me!) and cut it into squares to serve.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 14, 2011: English muffins (breakfast serial part xi)

Michael shopped and made an excellent soup on Tuesday night, but he forgot to buy bread. I could have ventured back out to the supermarket or we could have done without, but instead I ferreted through the cupboard, located some dry yeast and flour, and got baking. I'd been thinking about making Wanting Kneading's English muffins for breakfast anyway and this was a good excuse to give it a go.

Since this is a yeast-based recipe, one needs a little patience for proving. Sitting my dough near the oven (which was warm and roasting onions), I was concerned that it didn't seem to be expanding much. I needn't have worried as my muffins puffed up impressively once they hit the hot frypan. After a few minutes developing that bit of crust the muffins get finished off in the oven. What comes out is pretty special - the moment you slice one open it unleashes a mighty waft of steam. The centre is quite dense, but very soft and just begging for some butter or margarine to melt right in.

Unfortunately they firmed up pretty rapidly, being a toast-only option by the next morning. (Again, maybe a microwave would help out here?) After a couple of photos I piled the remainder into our freezer.

Our other housemate, Zimbra, has turned food critic this week. After two years of absolute disinterest in hooman fud he's begun obsessively sniffing at (though never tasting) everything we ingest. He's also a huge fan of cat grass, hinting at vegetarian tendencies. Rest assured, we're a long way from inviting a sarcastic feline to guest post on where's the beef?, but there may be more photobombs.

English muffins
(found at wanting kneading, who got their recipe from

1 cup milk (soy works!)
2 tablespoons white sugar (can be reduced)
1/4 cup margarine
1 x 7g package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
~1/4 cup polenta
spray oil

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble. Take it off the heat; stir in the sugar until dissolved then the margarine until melted through. Allow the mixture to cool down to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Whisk the milk and half the flour into the yeast mixture, beating until smooth. Add the salt and gradually stir in more flour until you have a soft dough (I stopped 1/2 cup short of the recommended 6 cups). Knead the dough gently, then place it in a greased bowl, covered with a teatowel, to rise in a warm place for half an hour.

Prepare a couple of baking trays with paper and sprinkle them with polenta. Punch the dough down and roll it out to just 1cm thick. Cut circles from the dough, about 8cm in diameter, using a biscuit cutter or drinking glass, and place them on the baking trays. Dust the tops of the muffins with more polenta, cover the trays with a teatowel each and allow the muffins another half hour to rise.

Heat an oven to 130°C, and a frypan to medium-high heat.Lightly spray the frypan with oil and fry the muffins in batches, allowing both sides to crisp up a little. They'll probably puff up a bit too. Transfer the fried muffins back to their baking trays and bake them for about 15 minutes, until cooked through.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 14, 2011: Roast onion soup

Cindy and I came back from an impromptu weekend away that had been filled with snacks, wine and chocolate, so we decided to make something vaguely healthy to make us feel human again. We perused Cindy's bookmarked soup recipes and settled on this autumnal offering from Lucy at Nourish Me. We rarely have the energy to make our own stock around these parts, but Lucy's helpful integration of a speedy stock recipe to fill the onion-roasting time meant that I gave it a shot. I got a bit too rushed by the end of making this, so next time we'll probably make it on a weekend (which would have the added benefit of more stock-simmering time).

I'm not sure how much different/better it was than using pre-made stock, but it's hard to deny that this was a wonderful soup - the sweetness of the roasted onions was given some zing by the lime leaves and chilli and smoothed over by the coconut milk. The big chunks of soft onion were a nice textural treat as well. We made a few small changes to the recipe - mostly through my inattention or shopping inability - but it still worked out a treat.

Roast Onion Soup 
(shamelessly pilfered from Nourish Me)

4 brown onions
1 teaspoon olive oil
8 kaffir lime leaves
1 knob of ginger, grated
2 tiny red chillies, diced finely
2 tablespoons of tamari
165mL coconut milk
1 - 1.5L of stock
Splash of lime juice

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Halve the onions (leaving the skin on) and toss with the oil. Bake for 30-45 minutes, turning once (ours were super soft and browned up by about 30m possibly because our oven was too hot).

(Make the stock while the onions are roasting.)

Cut the lime leaves up into tiny little ribbons, discarding the stem in the middle.

Once the onions are ready, the skin should peel away easily. Chop the peeled onions into coarse pieces (you probably need to wait for them to cool before doing this - or use a fork as Lucy suggests).

Combine the chopped onion, stock, lime leaves, chillies, ginger and tamari in a big pot and bring it all to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes and then add in the coconut milk plus extra tamari and salt and pepper to taste.

Speedy vegetable stock 
(also via Nourish Me)

2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup or so of parsley, roughly chopped (stalks and all)
1/2 cup of white wine
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon of stock powder

Fry the bay leaves, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and parsley in the oil for 5-10 minutes.

Throw in the wine and cook it on high until it evaporates away.

Add the water and bring to the boil, before simmering for half an hour or so. Stir through the stock powder right before turning off the heat. Strain the stock with a sieve over a bowl, pressing the veggies to get the most liquid out of them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 9-10, 2011: Porridge pie (breakfast serial part x)

I've got another winter breakfast for you! I found it recently on Miss Adriennely and she sourced it from a blog we both love, Chocolate & Zucchini. It's another interesting take on the standard ol' oat porridge. Here rolled oats get baked in liquid, with dried fruit and nuts, until they set into a moist and dense cake. It's like something half-way between a bowl of porridge and a muesli bar.

It's also very sweet. I wouldn't put any more than a tablespoon or two of sugar into this again, as I find that dried fruit is sweet enough already. I'd like to go back to the C&Z version sometime and bake some fresh fruit onto the top of this. Clotilde also suggests serving this with yoghurt and I did get the chance to team my porridge pie with some mixed berry Coyo. This coconut milk-based yoghurt set the Melbourne vegan scene abuzz for a month or two. Though it's delicious, I hesitate to call it yoghurt. It's sweet and buttery and lacks the distinctive tang of other yoghurts, better for topping cupcakes than breakfast. I also hesitate to call it vegan, as the follow-up news is that those un-tastable cultures seem to be grown on dairy milk. Too bad for Coyo - that's one helluva loyal demographic they're missing out on.

Small consolation is that this porridge pie is totally vegan friendly! I replaced the dairy milk with soy and omitted the eggs entirely without a hitch. This recipe is highly flexible for your choice of dried fruit, nuts, seeds and ground spices. Like the rice porridge, this is at its best when freshly cooked and would probably respond well to microwaving on subsequent mornings. Instead I gently reheated slices under a low-heat grill.

Porridge pie
(recipe adapted from a chain of Miss Adriennely, Chocolate & Zucchini and Quaker Oats)

1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar (I'd bust it down to 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (try other nuts or seeds)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 shake cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (I used soy)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat an oven to 180°C and lightly oil a baking dish.

In a large bowl, stir together the rolled oats, sugar, dried fruit, seeds and/or nuts, spices and salt. Stir through the vanilla and milk until well combined. 

Pour the mixture into the baking dish and bake for about 35 minutes, until the centre is set but the pie is still moist. Allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, with yoghurt and/or fresh fruit on the side.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 6-7, 2011: Chai-spiced rice porridge (breakfast serial part ix)

The shift to winter has shifted my interest to the warmer and heavier breakfasts on my to-try list. I've had one or two porridge phases before but not pushed myself much further than the usual oats in a saucepan. When Carla posted about slow-cooked brown rice porridge I was just as interested in getting good use from my slow cooker as the rice itself. As advertised, this is as easy as vegan pie! Chuck brown rice, lots of milk and some spices into a slow-cooker overnight, drizzle over some golden syrup (maybe some dried fruit, as seen above) and you're done. 

With so much more milk than rice, this is a very creamy porridge - the grains mush together but retain a bit of chew. I can eat a much larger volume of this than I would oat porridge, and I learned this after sampling a smallish serve on my first rice porridge morning and becoming ravenously hungry by 11am. With a microwave, leftovers would no doubt be just as convenient as the first run. In a saucepan and with a drop of water it's noticeably less convenient but still doable on a workday.

Chai-spiced rice porridge
(based on a recipe found at easy as vegan pie,
which is adapted slightly from healthy slow cooking)

1 cup brown rice
5 cups milk (I used oat milk)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
sweetener and/or dried fruit to garnish (I used golden syrup and sometimes chopped dates)

Place the ingredients from brown rice through to ginger in a slow cooker and give them a quick stir. Cook the porridge on low for 7-8 hours. Ladle into bowls and top with your choice of garnishes.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

June 6, 2011: The Gasometer IV

11/11/2013: We're sad to report the closure of our beloved Gasometer.

In late May the Gasometer Hotel announced a new winter menu and Michael promptly scheduled us in for a Pub Club visit. There's a distinctive whiff of Americana about it, with items ranging from latkes and matso ball soup through to southern fried chicken, corn dogs and Buffalo wings. A reassuring constant is clear labelling of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diet-adaptable dishes.

I placed our order behind a couple of large groups and gave Gasometer's hot pear cider a go. (It's controversial - I loved it, though a few other in our group really didn't.) I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly service and prompt delivery of our dinner under the circumstances, especially after hearing many long-wait reports from others.

In an unusual twist Michael and I split our mains down the middle. I started out with the vegan bbq ribs ($18), choosing (the non-vegan version of) mac & cheese and apple slaw as our bonus sides. I couldn't fault it!  The seitan 'ribs' were tender inside, not at all rubbery, with a nicely basted exterior and a little chilli kick in the accompanying sauce. The mac & cheese was smooth and creamy without a hint of glugginess, and the coleslaw offered a nice pickley contrast. I was reluctant to pass the second half over to Michael and snuck a spoonful more mac than I was entitled to.

Little did I know that the second main was even better! The vegan southern fried chicken burger ($16.50) was phenomenal - the closest I've come to the (regretfully) beloved KFC burgers of my pre-veg days. And really, the quality of the bun and fixings here is so much better. Mostly, though, I was obsessing over the spiced crunchy and totally non-greasy crumbing on their home-made 'chicken'.

The dessert menu is distinctly pie-focused at the moment, and we shared a couple of them with friends (at roughly $10 apiece). While they were little more than a slice-and-serve proposition for the kitchen, they took a long time to arrive. The apple, raspberry and lemon one was very much to Michael's tastes, with quite a sour twang.

The Mexican choc cream meringue pie was pretty good - a touch dry, but with a lovely smooth chocolate filling and a smoky chilli finish. The meringue provided a bit more sugar than I needed, and I would almost have preferred simply to smother the pie in the cooling unsweetened cream instead.

While the desserts just barely delivered, our mains were exceptionally good. I reckon this is the best Western-style mock meat I've ever ordered. For serious. Vegos who avoid the mock might find joy in pierogi, stuffed cabbage leaves, pot pie and the range of sides, but I can't imagine deviating from that burger this winter.

You can also read about our first, second and third visits to Gasometer. Since then, Gasometer has been reviewed by whereiatelastnight, and rated mentions on crosslegged on the front lawn and easy as vegan pie.

The Gasometer
484 Smith Street, Collingwood
9417 5539
veg eats $7 - $18
facebook page

Accessibility: The Gasometer has a small step on entry and quite well-spaced tables across a flat interior. Ordering and payment occurs at a high counter.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

June 4-5, 2011: Haute breakfast

Recently I had a little breakthrough on the facon front, and I've been looking forward to sharing it with friends. The opportunity came when one of them suggested a DIY degustation to celebrate her birthday - each guest signed up to prepare a different course, and we all took it in turns to cater to the group in a sprawling afternoon banquet (which I tweeted as #diydegust).

My facon innovation is to start with these dried beancurd pieces, procured from Minh Phat. They're just the size and shape for replacing chunky-chopped bacon, they're well structured for soaking up salty-smoky-sweet marinade, and they get a little charred and chewy when fried in a modest amount of oil. No, they're not going to fool anyone who still eats bacon, but I reckon they make a damn good carbonara (especially with this sauce, just to bastardise the dish even further).

Inspired by our recent fine dining experience, I took the degustation theme more seriously than the birthday gal intended. I spent many days, on and off, pondering what fanciful dish would best showcase this facon. And I settled on breakfast; a miniature, vegan, gluten-free and garlic-less breakfast. It featured:
  • herb omelette: based on the Vegan Brunch recipe, without the garlic, adding chives and parsley, and then fried pikelet-sized
  • facon pieces: beancurd pieces marinated in my usual tempeh bacon concoction with allergy-friendly subs (soy sauce → tamari, garlic powder → onion powder) for about half an hour, then fried in a little oil until tender and slightly charred
  • hash browns: also thanks to Vegan Brunch, and baked in a muffin tray
  • tomato jam: my colleague's recipe, sans garlic
  • a miserly mimosa: served in a shot glass, with soda water in lieu of expensive vegan-friendly champagne.
It was a bit of effort to plan and prepare, but surprisingly easy to transport, reheat and plate up for a table of ten. The DIY degustation was a raging success all round - every course different, all of them delicious, and not a foam to be found.

    Monday, June 06, 2011

    June 4, 2011: Heirloom

    We've been dropping by the Queen Vic Markets quite a bit lately on the weekends and have enjoyed starting our trips with breakfasts at nearby places. This week we decided to check out Heirloom, one of the few places open in the city on the weekend. Cindy had spotted Nouveau Potato's emphatic thumbs up for Heirloom and knew that they did weekend breakfasts, so we were excited to give it a shot.

    Heirloom's schtick is French-Japanese fusion, which manifests in a breakfast menu split into East and West. West is fairly bog-standard cafe fare - poached eggs, avocado on toast, toast and spreads - you know the drill. East is a bit more intriguing, including an enoki and shitake omelette, and steamed eggs with tofu and tamari. We both ordered from this side of the menu - Cindy went with a milk rice pudding with stewed plums, vanilla and fresh lychee ($13.50).

    This rice pudding was more a rice porridge: warm and cooked 'til almost all texture disintegrated. The poached plums seem to have been seasonally replaced by pears but the lychee remained. This was a hearty and warming dish, with strong saffron and vanilla flavours adding something to the milky mush. Not a bad winter brekkie.

    I chose the most interesting-looking option on the menu: panko crumbed free-range eggs with asparagus, smoked almond, preserved lemon and burnt butter ($16).

    The crumbed poached eggs were a great idea, just a little overcooked - the yolks weren't as runny as I hoped for and the whites had gone a little rubbery. Still, the combination with the lightly cooked asparagus, lemony-butter sauce and a plentiful serve of flaked and whole nuts. Not bad at all.

    The fit-out is lovely - lots of airy space and nice big windows. The coffee was adequate, as was the service (very efficient, if a little on the curt side) and our meals were both good enough. It's great to see a place offering some interesting dishes, but there are still a few bugs to iron out.


    As we said, Nouveau Potato's rave was what put Heirloom on our radar. Veg blogger Kinder Cuisine was also inspired to visit, but didn't have such a great experience.

    In the non-veg world, Ravenous Melbourne really enjoyed their breakfast visit, while Momo and Coco focussed on desserts and were quite impressed. Others have mostly been there at dinner time, and have generally not been so thrilled: Melbourne Culinary Journal, Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, Tomato and Sharking for chips and drinks.


    131 Bourke Street, Melbourne
    9639 1296
    Breakfast: $9-$20

    Accessibility: Looks good, with a flat and wide entry and lots of space inside, then table service with payment at a low counter.

    Saturday, June 04, 2011

    May 30, 2011: Gleegan crepe bake

    After surprising myself with some bloody good crepes, I dared to experiment with a vegan, gluten-free version... on a weeknight. I figured it was worth a shot: after all, I knew that French galettes used buckwheat flour and I've plenty of experience making 'cheesy' vegan sauces.

    Actually most of the buckwheat crepe recipes that the internet turned up used at least as much plain wheat flour as buckwheat so there was still some substituting required. My strike rate wasn't quite as impressive as last time (now 2 duds of 9 crepes) but I was still satisfied - these crepes were tasty and pliable. I just found that they needed more oil than their gluteny counterparts for fail-safe flipping.

    For the ricotta filling, tofu was always going to feature - I took inspiration from Veganomicon's cashew ricotta to dress it up. It ended up just a smidge astringent; next time I'd reduce the quantity of lemon juice. We had leftover filling, and it was delish on toasted sandwiches with just a drop of agave nectar to balance the flavour.

    The white sauce was a cinch with substitutes, the parmesan-breadcrumb topping less so. I found rice and cornflake crumbs in the cupboard (be warned that Kellogg's cornflakes are not strictly gluten-free!) and they did well enough, though I'd be open to alternatives. This was finally my chance to try wanting kneading's parmesan recipe and I was left wanting more (next time: half the crumbs to this full quantity of parmesan flavour).

    All pulled together this was passable, promising. Not as pretty, with sauce overflowing and too many powdery crumbs, but with enough flavour that we forgave it. Again, cannelloni would be easier but the crepes are pretty great - I would make them again and smother them less.

    Gleegan crepe bake
    (a gluten-free, vegan adaptation of this recipe)

    crepe batter (inspired by David Lebovitz)
    1/3 cup buckwheat flour
    1/3 cup gluten-free plain flour
    1 cup soy milk
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    spray oil for frying

    crunchy topping (inspired by wanting kneading)
    2 tablespoons raw cashews
    2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
    a modest shake of garlic powder
    a shake of salt
    1 cup gluten-free crumbs - rice, polenta, gf cornflake... (I'd recommend halving this)

    filling (inspired by Veganomicon)
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1 bunch spinach, chopped
    1/2 cup raw cashews
    juice of 1 lemon (I'd recommend halving this)
    300g medium-firm tofu
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 tablespoon cornflour
    1 1/4 cups soy milk

    Start by making the crepes. Sift together the flours into a medium-large bowl. Gradually pour the milk and oil over the flours, whisking as you go, until it makes a smooth batter. Cover the bowl and allow the batter to stand for 1-2 hours.

    Heat up a fry-pan and give it a 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.

    Use a food processor for the crunchy topping. Grind the cashews to a coarse powder, then add the remaining ingredients and blend until well combined.

    Next, prepare the filling. Heat the oil 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. In a food processor, grind the raw cashews to a coarse powder. Add the spinach and remaining filling ingredients 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, make the sauce. Start by heating the oil, then mix in the cornflour 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.

    Sprinkle the crunchy topping over the sauce-slathered crepes. Bake them for about 30 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden.

    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    May 28, 2011: Jacques Reymond

    Update 31/12/2014: Jacques Reymond closed down late last year. Its replacement, Woodland House, still does vegan friendly fine dining, while Jacques himself has taken over a pub in Prahran - we've yet to visit either place.

    Since moving to Melbourne (and starting a food blog), Cindy and I have started a vague tradition of going somewhere upmarket for each of our birthdays. Along the way we've sampled some of Melbourne's fanciest degustations but until this year we'd never made it anywhere in the very top tier: the three-hatted places from the Good Food Guide. That's because in the time we've been in Melbourne, this has basically been two places: Vue de Monde and Jacques Reymond. Given the rave reviews from Carla and K this year it became pretty clear that Jacques knows how to cater for vegos, so we booked in to celebrate me making it to my early-mid-thirties.

    Jacques Reymond is something of a Melbourne institution, having been running in a grand old mansion in Prahran for nearly twenty years. The fit-out is stately and stylish, all grand mirrors and open fires rather than the industrial-chic favoured by some of the newer high-end places. Similarly, the staff are friendly but slightly formal - they're not here to be your friend, they're here to serve. The deference with which they stood aside when three of us converged on the same doorway made me feel a lot more wealthy and powerful than I actually am.

    As vegos, you basically have to order the degustation - 6 savoury courses, 2 desserts, petit fours and this free appetiser - a light and puffy choux pastry with a beautiful Gruyère filling.

    The first course on the menu was: Soymilk, corn and watercress soup, potato foam, shiitake kakiage and panko cheese.

    The soup itself was strongly flavoured, with the bitterness of the watercress dominant. The tower of goodies in the middle added the requisite saltiness and sweetness, making for an intriguing dish. Having done some googling, it seems that kakiage means some sort of tempura - I didn't think the mushroom had any kind of batter on it at all, but the little cheese fritter may have.

    Next up was K's favourite dish: new style gazpacho with pure natural tomato jelly, beignets of Australian bush tomatoes, cucumber and melon, a champagne foam.

    The little jelly tubes were filled with a concentrated tomato mush that was intense and sweet (even this tomato-sceptic was impressed!), while the beignet seemed to us to be filled with potato rather than bush tomatoes. Unless bush tomatoes are white and creamy like potato fritters. In which case, mark me down as pro-bush tomato. The accompanying foam didn't do a lot for me, while the little slivers of cucumber and melon added some lightness but were mostly there for presentation purposes I'd say.

    Next up: Flavours of Autumn: cannelloni of beetroot and red cabbage relish, Mount Buffalo hazelnuts and orange oil, saffron rouille dressing.

    The canneloni filling was a sweet beetroot-based delight, as were the candied hazelnuts and the rice. The saffron dressing and the two dots of super-concentrated coffee reduction were both delicious, but both got a bit lost if you tried to combine them with the strong sweetness of the canneloni. The cabbage leaf canneloni itself was a nice idea, but they were a bit hard to cut through, which meant I quickly ruined the gorgeous presentation.

    Lacquered marrow zucchini in masterstock, exotic mushrooms and fresh pappardelle. Tasmanian wasabi espuma and ponzu juices.

    The sauce in this dish was probably my favourite flavour of the night - citrussy and rich (we were both mopping it up with our bread). The green vegetable (I'm not sure what it is) had soaked it up and was just wonderful, as was the fresh piece of pasta. Cindy and I each had some textural issues with the rest of the dish - I'm not a big fan of zucchini, so the marrow was a bit soggy for my tastes. Meanwhile, Cindy doesn't really enjoy the gelatinous texture of the fungus pieces that were hidden at the bottom of the dish, so we both ended up with slightly mixed feelings. Still - that sauce was to die for.

    Our protein for the night: Steamed silken tofu like a waldorf salad, crispy enoki, spiced walnuts and compressed apples, oloroso sherry vinaigrette.

    This was one of my favourite dishes - wonderfully crispy little mushroom pieces, lightly sauced tofu, little pieces of sweet apple and some crunchy spiced nuts.

    Our final savoury: Eggwhite omelette of turmeric carrots and pickled chokos, grated daikon and chilli ketchup sorbet.

    The ketchup sorbet was as fun as it sounds, and actually complemented the omelette really well. The bean sprout and carrot pieces inside the omelette were very lightly cooked and quite crunchy, while the omelette was light and fluffy. The little smear of orange stuff behind the omelette (maybe the pickled choko?) didn't do a lot for me at all - I probably should have combined its saltiness with the ketchup to lighten it a bit.

    Onto dessert: Iced coffee and chocolate martini, Tahitian vanilla, caramelised nuts.

    The bottom of this was a tangy orange jelly dotted with fresh strawberry chunks, with creamy layers of vanilla and hazelnut in the middle and then a big dollop of chocolate sorbet and coffee foam on top. Frustrating moment: the spoon they give you can't fit into the very bottom of the martini glass. (Solution: you can use the handle of the spoon to dig out the last bit of jelly deliciousness!)

    Second dessert: Deconstructed cheese cake: galette of fresh Timboon fromage blanc l ‘artisan, warm fruit pudding, mountain bush pepper berries ice cream.

    This was probably the winning dish of the night - a great variety of textures and flavours that worked together perfectly. The bush pepper berry ice cream in particular won Cindy's heart with its extra complexity of flavour.

    Finally, petits fours with a flat white for me and a lemon verbena tea for Cindy. These were nice little sweet treats to wind things up, but I ended the night just wanting to grab a handful of those chocolate truffles - so rich and dark and addictive.

    We had a lovely night at Jacques Reymond - lots of great food, excellent wine and efficient service. It was great to get a few more exotic dishes (no beetroot and goat's cheese combo for starters) - it's clear that Jacques enjoys playing around with all kinds of vegies. There were a few slightly bum notes - a baffling over-use of foams (seriously, 6/8 dishes had foam!) and the marrow dish didn't really work for either of us. But the desserts here more than made up for it - probably the best set of desserts we've had.

    At $135 for 8 courses, Jacques Reymond is at the upper end of the the degustation price range. And, while it's definitely a great meal, I'm not sure it's better than the slightly cheaper options at Cutler & Co or Circa.


    For a restaurant that used to politely ask bloggers to put their cameras away, Jacques Reymond sure has been thoroughly blogged.

    It's great to see that Jacques Reymond is down with vegan food - In the mood for noodles and Easy as Vegan Pie both raved about their vegan experiences. It's also got a good vegetarian rep, with The Age featuring it as the best vegetarian fine-dining experience in Melbourne.

    The rest of the food-blogging world has gone nuts for Jacques, with raves at: Tastebuds Galore, Fat Pom Pom, The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar (twice), Gastrology, A Food Story, For the Foodie, Moving Beast, I'm Hungry, August Diners, Megalomaniac, Double-cooked, Shane on the go, Munching in Melbourne, My Gourmet Feast, Eat Cook Drink, Ms I-Hua, Bellygood, Trish eats, Slicing Almonds and Zesting Lemons, Jules Gourmond, Greedy Diva, Catty, Totally Addicted to Taste, A Cynic is Only a Frustrated Optimist, Dave plus food, Gluttony gluttony, Tummy Rumbles, Inside Cuisine, Bombolone blog and New Epicurean

    Only 1001 dinners, 1001 nights, Simon Food Favourites and Niche were a bit disappointed by the experience.


    Jacques Reymond

    78 Williams Road, Prahran
    9525 2178
    veg degustation $135 (with wines: $230)

    Accessibility: The standard entry includes stairs but there is likely a wheelchair-accessible alternative. Space between tables is very reasonable and, of course, there's full table service. Toilets are accessible enough, although I didn't notice a specific disabled toilet.