Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 23, 2011: Seitan roast

A friend of ours organised Christmas in July this year and I volunteered to make a vego alternative to the meaty centrepiece. I thought about revisiting our old nut roast or the tofurkey but ultimately wanted to expand my repertoire by trying a seitan roast. This one comes from Veggie Num Num - it's a gluten-flour dough wrapped around a sage, date and walnut stuffing. Ours ended up with a parsley, rosemary, date and walnut stuffing as a result of what the shops lacked and our kitchen already held.

I wasn't sure what to think of my raw seitan dough. It was a dull grey colour, didn't smell all that appetising and had a lumpy look (even though the wet and dry ingredients were well combined). Impossible to spread out evenly, I did not hold out much hope for a smooth cylindrical roll like Trudy's. I wondered whether I should spend more time kneading it, but this wasn't mentioned in the instructions. Thankfully it settled into a more even shape as it baked, tightly wrapped in several layers of foil.

This was a nice first effort and as I ate it I thought of all the things I'd like to experiment with. The seitan was very dense and a bit dry, while the stuffing was sweet and date-heavy. The slightly vinegary pickled red cabbage supplied by our host made an excellent contrasting accompaniment; some instant veg-friendly gravy did the job for our leftovers. I'd really like to incorporate that sour contrast into the roast itself, most likely via a glaze. This worked nicely on our tofurkey, and I'm still hung up on the promise of Léna's approach - soaking bean curd skin in basting liquid and wrapping it round the roast like a skin. Of course any number of stuffing combinations could be substituted, and there's all sorts of seitan experiments, roasted and otherwise, to be done. If you've got any tips please share them!

Seitan roast
(very slightly adapted from the baked seitan roll with sage, date and walnut stuffing
at Veggie Num Num)

stuffing1 tablespoon olive oil
4 shallot bulbs, finely diced
1 cup sourdough, roughly chopped into bread crumbs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons apple juice

450g gluten flour
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

extra olive oil and apple juice to glaze

Start with the stuffing. Heat the oil in a frypan and add the shallots, cooking them until softened and translucent. Transfer the shallots to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Set the stuffing aside while you work on the seitan.

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and dried herbs. Whisk in the oil and stock, stirring it all together to form a dough. Once the wet and dry ingredients are mostly incorporated, get your hands in there to finish the job. It may or may not be useful to knead the dough a bit at this stage.

Spread out a sheet of foil and plonk the dough onto it. Flatten the dough out as best you can, aiming for a large rectangle of even thickness. Spoon the stuffing along the centre of the rectangle, parallel with the longest edge. Roll the seitan around the filling into a log shape, using the foil to guide the dough. Fold the foil firmly and tightly around the roll, closing off the ends. Wrap the seitan roll again with another layer of foil and transfer it to a baking tray.

Bake the roll for 80-90 minutes, until it is firm to touch. Unwrap the roll (try not to burn yourself - use an oven mitt!) and place it back on the baking tray. Drizzle over some extra olive oil and apple juice and return the roast to the oven for a few minutes. When it's a little golden retrieve the roast, rest it a minute then slice and serve.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 23, 2011: 330 Briks

Update 12/1/12: Another one bites the dust. As reported by fitzroyalty below, 330 Briks has closed. It's the third place to run out of steam at this location in the last five years.

What About Food has recently changed hands and become 330 Briks. Even walk-by traffic could be forgiven for not noticing as the signage and fit-out haven't changed much, and the cafe appears to be keeping roughly the same hours. The menu is different though. While What About Food took a lot of inspiration from the Mediterranean and Middle East, 330 Briks looks more to Europe with breakfast including croissants, croque madame, eggs Florentine, baked eggs with feta or chorizo (and then a BLT and a roti wrap just to mess with the theme).

The breakfast list is less sweet than savoury - I was choosing amongst muesli, porridge, banana bread, croissants and toast. The banana bread ($6.90) was very homogeneous - warm and sweet and densely cakey and utterly uniform. I found the accompanying almond mascarpone disappointingly bland.

Michael was more spoilt for choice with all the egg options. He eventually went with the potato and zucchini rosti with a poached egg, avocado, tomato salsa, spinach pesto and bread ($15.20). Given the lengthy description and substantial price we were surprised at how little food there seemed to be on the plate! Once tasted, Michael had to admit that they'd done a fine job - the rosti was lovely, the egg just right, and the condiments terrific. But it's still a lot to pay for breakfast 'round these parts.

Breakfast is not currently looking too vegan- or coeliac-friendly. There's toast and oats and dairy and eggs all over the place. (Such folks might fare better at lunch.) But this could change - the new management are planning to alter and improve the menu and fit-out as they go. Since we're in the neighbourhood, we'll definitely give them another shot.

330 Briks
330 Cardigan St, Carlton
9347 6625
veg breakfasts $4.90-$16.90

Accessibility: There is a single step on entry. Tables are well spaced inside, more crowded outside. There's table service but bills are paid at a low-ish counter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 21, 2011: Lakshmi

6/8/2013 - It seems as though Lakshmi is closed. The site is being transformed into yet another burger joint - we'll keep you posted.

We got a tip from AOF recently about a new Indian place on nearby Rathdowne Street. It's called Lakshmi and has taken up the space where Cafe Bagatelles used to be on the corner of Curtain (opposite newish bakery Depot de Pain). It's a cute little place with seats for maybe 30 people and a relatively short menu - six curries including 3 vego dishes and a few sides.

We were greeted with a little bowl of mixed spicy treats (on the house) while we mulled over our choices. Drink-wise Lakshmi is strictly BYO, with just a couple of non-alcoholic options: mango and tamarind. We both chose the tamarind drink - it was sweet and non-carbonated and a decent enough accompaniment for our curries.

I couldn't resist the lure of the thali: dahl, raita, pickle, chutney, salad, pappadums and rice plus your choice of curry (chickpea masala for me!) for $18.90.

This is a lot of food - if we'd ordered it to take home, I could probably have managed to spread it across two meals. As it was, I demolished it all. The dahl was probably my highlight - a nice lentilly mix of coconut milk, chilli and deliciousness. The curry (chickpea masala with tomatoes, green beans, fenugreek and yoghurt) reminded me a bit of our semi-regular chickpea curry, with the addition of crispy fresh beans and a slightly less intense flavour. The array of accompaniments was a nice touch but I probably didn't need pickles, raita and chutney. I do love my pickles though and this one (lime) was pretty great.

Cindy took on the other vegetarian curry on the menu, the Sri Lankan pumpkin (with fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, mustard seeds and coconut milk, $13.90) with a side of roti ($4). The curry was sweet and mildly spiced, with the fenugreek and mustard seeds shining through, while the roti performed much better than Chin Chin's version.

Service was prompt and friendly, and the food was pretty damn good. It's a bit more expensive than some of Melbourne's other Indian places, shooting for the classier end of the market occupied by Roti Man and Indya Bistro. I thought that they measured up pretty well, while I think Cindy probably favours their near neighbours. The menu is limited, so how often we venture back will depend on how often we feel like repeating these dishes (or how often Lakshmi change things around). Still, it's a nice addition to the neighbourhood, and one that I think will do pretty well.

687 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
9349 5525
veg eats $14 - $19

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry and small to moderate room between tables. We didn't check out the toilets.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 17, 2011: Chocolate pecan pie

It's rare these days that we cook for a guest with absolutely no dietary requirements. Carol is one of these people ...unless you count her intense hatred of sultanas. We ate semolina gnocchi in a capsicum-tomato sauce for dinner and followed it up with soy chai and this boozy chocolate pecan pie.

I found the recipe on Amateur Gourmet, and he found it in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Though I've loved many a caramelly pecan pie in my time, this one also boasts chocolate chunks and brandy. It was originally a bourbon chocolate pecan pie but it was brandy we had on the bench. It worked and I'm sure there are plenty of other liquors that would meld with chocolate and caramel just as nicely. (If you're not one for a hard drink, try going hard with the vanilla instead.)

I went with my habit while making the crust rather than the instructions written down, and this served me well. I only wish I trusted myself further and blind-baked this crust a little before pouring in the filling (I'll add that step below). The base held together but was definitely undercooked. I also noticed that the chocolate chunks had a firm and slightly incongruous texture once this cooled down. No-one else seemed to notice, what with all the cocoa, brandy caramel, pecans and cream going around.

Chocolate pecan pie
(recipe adapted slightly from one seen on Amateur Gourmet;
he credits it to Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g cold butter
3/8 cup cold water

2 cups pecans
3 eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons castor sugar
4 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brandy
170g dark chocolate

In a food processor, whizz together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter in cubes and pulse 'til the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add in the water as it blends, processing until it forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto plastic wrap, mold it into a ball, then wrap it up and refrigerate for an hour.

When the dough is ready, place it between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll the dough out to fit a pie dish. Remove the plastic and gently fit the pastry into the pie dish. Freeze the crust until firm, about an hour. Next time, instead of freezing the crust, I'll try pricking it with a fork, weighing it with beans and blind-baking in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Roughly chop the chocolate and spread it across the base of the pie.

Coarsely chop 3/4 cup of the pecans. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the corn syrup, sugars, melted butter, salt, vanilla, and brandy. Whisk again until well combined. Stir in the chopped pecans, then slowly pour the caramel over the chocolate.

Arrange the remaining 1 1/4 cups pecan halves on top of the filling.

Bake the pie until it is set in the centre, about an hour (test it with a knife). Allow the pie to cool, serving it warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 16, 2011: Gasometer V

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

We'd had a slow start to the day, with breakfast coming around midday. This left us a little confused about the rest of the day - could we fit a lunch in before dinner? Should we skip a meal? Just make do with a single lunch-dinner combo meal? It was confusing. In the end we decided to just wander into the Gasometer and see what happened.

Of course, what happened was Cindy immediately ordered the Southern-fried 'chicken' burger again. She is obsessed. I decided to brave something new, settling on the vegan corn dog (as the Gasometer menu states, "Food on a stick = win!").

The batter on these little dawgs was softer than I was expecting - not the deep-fried crispiness of a vegan dagwood dog. I think this is how corn dogs are meant to be though, and it worked brilliantly with the awesome combo of tomato sauce and bright yellow mustard. The dog itself was basically indistinguishable from a meaty hot-dog frankfurt - you can take that as a good or bad thing depending on your tastes.

In an attempt to pretend I wasn't just poisoning myself with fried fatty food, I ordered a carrot and beetroot salad on the side. There wasn't a lot to this - slices of carrot and beetroot in a very light dressing.

We ate this at 4:30 in the afternoon, making it one of the more ridiculous afternoon teas I've been a part of. Needless to say, there was no room for dinner in the end. The Gasometer remains the pre-eminent source of vegan junk food in Melbourne - just don't go there and expect to eat healthily.

Read about our previous visits to The Gasometer here, here, here and here.

Since our last visit it's been blogged at Vegan in Australia, Black Bunny Carousel, Vegan About Town & Tales of a Vegan Food Fetishist.

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

Accessibility: The Gasometer has a small step on entry. The tables are crowded in some areas but the booths and tables closest to the entry are relatively spacious. Ordering and payment occurs at a high counter. Male and female toilets are on the same level as everything else but are not particularly spacious.

Friday, July 22, 2011

July 16, 2011: Las Vegan IV

July 3, 2015: Las Vegan have announced that they're closing the cafe and going to focus exclusively on catering from now on - we've sampled their catering before and it's great.

On Saturday morning we checked out Las Vegan's relatively new breakfast menu... though it's pretty unstructured as menus go! A small blackboard listed scrambled tofu on toast with mushrooms, tomato and tempeh available as sides, then pancakes. Our waiter went on to explain that there was more that they could do: pancakes come in maple/tempeh-con (i.e. tempeh bacon) and sour cherry varieties, and they could also whip up avocado on toast, spiced eggplant on toast or raw muesli.

Michael didn't think long before ordering the tofu scramble on toast ($7) with mushrooms ($1) and tempeh-con ($2). The scramble and mushrooms weren't bursting with flavour, though olives in the toast gave this a bit of a boost. And we have to join the chorus of other bloggers: the tempeh-con is amazing. Sliced very thinly, it's ultra-crisp and super-smoky. We were pretty smug about our home-made tempeh bacon but this will send us back to the drawing board.

Since Michael had the tempeh-con on order, I picked the sour cherry pancakes ($9). On the upside, they used the preserved sour cherries that I love. On the downside I found the pancakes too doughy, perhaps undercooked, with a baking powder tinge to the flavour. It may have just been a bad weekend for them - Zuckerbaby tried them the following day and made similar comments, while Vicki Vegan was more positive.

While the food was variable, the price was right - it's great to see Las Vegan offering hearty dishes for $10 and less. And it's certainly worth heading over for the tempeh-con alone!

Las Vegan's breakfast menu has also been blogged at Vicki Vegan, sugarspoons and Tales of a Vegan Food Fetishist.

We've written about Las Vegan at other meal times one, two, three times.

Las Vegan
22 Smith St, Collingwood
9415 9001
veg mains $9-15

Accessibility: Pretty good - reasonable entry, plenty of space around tables, order at the table and pay at a low-ish counter. We haven't visited the toilets.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

July 15, 2011: Taco Truck

Last Friday night Michael and I met for an early dinner in the park. It's not a great time of year for picnics but takeaway tacos are another matter entirely! The Taco Truck is regularly in our neighbourhood and we've been curious to give it a go.

Tacos are $6 each (with bonus corn chips if you order 2) and there's always a veg option. Although Jess tried a mushroom-based taco early on, I gather that this potato one is more frequently on the menu. It's a big pile of gluten-free deep-fried carbs, as demonstrated by the amount of yellow in this picture. Jalapeño ricotta, 'slaw and salsa verde on top break it up, but only just. I hear they'll go vegan on request and assume that just involves omitting the ricotta.

It's all good fun, and great that there are veg and gluten-free options, but on a cold dark night I think Taco Truck rates most for the novelty value. And then when the queues lengthen next summer, it might be quicker and cheaper to whip up some lentil, tofu chicharrone or tofu 'chicken' tacos at home.

Taco Truck's veg options have already been covered by The Big V and That Jess Ho

" pleases us", BOX CHALLENGE and got onto Taco Truck in its first fortnight of opening, and it's since appeared on blogs Dave Plus Food, little lady and eat, drink, stagger.

Taco Truck
Location announced via twitter and facebook
9023 0888
veg tacos $6 each

Accessibility: This will vary mostly with location, however the counter is very high.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

July 13-14, 2011: Toasty tahini granola (breakfast serial part xii)

I thought I'd done toasted muesli, that I had my best recipe and wouldn't be needing any more. Every other recipe I've ever seen before or since is full of oil and sugar and just doesn't seem right for breakfast. Then, a few months ago, Jennifer of It Ain't Meat, Babe posted a granola recipe that floored me. Instead of oil and sugar it used tahini and maple syrup. TAHINI. That is genius right there.

To be honest, the tahini isn't obvious in the end product (and I'm tempted to use a little more next time) but it is surely contributing to the unrivalled crunchy golden brown-ness of this granola. The maple syrup, pecans and coconut are just gorgeous but I'm sure I'll find myself tinkering with those too (moar coconut! different nuts! fruit juice!). But don't take these plans as any kind of slight on the original recipe - this granola has brought a smile to my face every morning I've eaten it (and for one 1am dinner besides).

Toasty tahini granola
(very slightly adapted from a recipe at It Ain't Meat, Babe)

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a large baking tray with paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the rolled oats, pecans, coconut, flax seeds and cinnamon.

In a separate small bowl, whisk the oil into the tahini until smooth and then whisk in the maple syrup. (If the tahini is lumpy, try melting the mixture on the stove or in a microwave.)

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix them together - try to get an even distribution with as little stirring as possible. You might even like to leave a few clumps.

Spread the granola out evenly onto the baking tray. Bake it for 30-40 minutes, until evenly golden, stirring the granola at 10 minute intervals for even baking.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 13, 2011: Bean burgers

We like to think that we're pretty responsive to our readers - responding to their comment queries, checking out places they recommend and generally being all 'round good bloggers. Which is why I'm embarrassed to admit that Sophie-Lee emailed us this recipe a full nine months before we finally got around to making it. At least we got there in the end.

This is a relatively simple burger recipe, loaded up with beans and nuts for protein and bound together with some flour. One of its key advantages is the option of grinding up double or triple batches of the dry ingredients and keeping them on hand for nights when you can only be bothered cooking for 10 minutes. The burger patties themselves are kind of similar in texture to those just-add-water falafel mixtures and have a nutty, garlicky flavour (depending on how much garlic you load into them!). They're healthy and filling and, as you can see above, an excellent vessel for chutney.

Bean Burgers
(via reader Sophie-Lee, who based it on a recipe in Alison Holst's 'Meals Without Meat')

1/2 cup dry chickpeas
1/2 dry haricot beans (this apparently works with any kind of dried bean bar kidney)
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds (the original recipe called for toasted)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup chickpea flour (we couldn't find pea flour easily, and subbing with chickpea flour seemed to work well)
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 tablespoons tamari
1 cup water

Mix the chickpeas, beans, peanuts and sesame seeds in a bowl and then grind in batches until it's all turned into something the texture of breadcrumbs.

Combine with the parsley, salt, oats and chickpea flour.

This will make about 2 cups of the burger mix, which is enough for 6-8 patties. You can put some aside and use it later or just make it all up at once. The quantities of the garlic, tamari and water above are for the full mixture - proportion them down if you only make up half the mix.

Stir together the dry mix, the water, the tamari and the garlic powder and leave to soak for 15 minutes.

Shape the dough into burger patties and fry until each side has browned up nicely.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 11, 2011: Royal Park Hotel

This year the Royal Park Hotel was acquired by the folks from Grigons & Orr and they've fitted the venue and the menu out in a similar nostalgic retro manner. This had us both curious and concerned - would a 70s-style pub menu have anything of interest for vegetarians? G&O's vegan-friendly menu kept us optimistic and we booked the Royal Park in for Pub Club.

Our optimism was well founded - a quarter of the entrees and mains are clearly marked as vegetarian. Sadly none of them look straight-up vegan, so I reckon it'd be wise to call ahead if that's what you need.

The early birds shared a bowl of onion rings ($8). These were whoppers, thick with batter and just a tad greasy. The accompanying thick lemony mayo was perfect for dipping. Thumbs up all round.

Once everyone had arrived and we'd migrated from couch to table, I tried the mushroom volauvent ($16.50): nice golden puff pastry, a pleasant cheesy cream sauce and plenty of mushrooms. The balsamic reduction didn't do a lot for it, and the small handful of watercress hinted that this might be intended as an entrée rather than a main.

Michael's vegetable pie ($19.50) was better - he was highly impressed with the thick lentil and pumpkin filling and the traditional pea-and-mash sides were solid.

As we finished our mains we were treated to complementary port and truffles! A cute custom, but unfortunately timed since they arrived while I was at the bar ordering dessert...

... because they had deep-fried ice cream ($12). I think this cured me of my nostalgia for the dish - I was already full of rich food, and the batter was painfully thick.

The Royal Park Hotel is a nice space with more going for it than just retro novelty. The staff were friendly but not completely on top of the food and drinks on offer. We encountered both hits and misses amongst the vego options, and may have felt more forgiving if they'd been a little cheaper. While they're comparable in price to the Fox and Gasometer, they're just not quite as numerous, interesting or consistent ...and they're certainly not as vegan.

Edit 22/11/11: Today's Age reports that these folks are no longer running the pub. The circumstances of their departure and the pub's future are shrouded in mystery.

The current incarnation of the Royal Park Hotel has been reviewed at Ale of a Time; they loved the food and atmosphere but were less impressed with the beer.

Royal Park Hotel
405 Queensberry St, North Melbourne
9329 4519
veg snacks, entrees and mains $8-19.50, desserts $12

Accessibility: There are small single steps on entry to the pub and between sections within the pub. Tables have average-to-high space between them and there are a few couches. Food and drinks are ordered at a high bar. Toilets are unisex but not particularly spacious.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 10, 2011: Tempeh Rendang

Cindy's enthusiasm for her newest cookbook spilled over into Sunday, with our afternoon plan revolving around the long, slow process of making ourselves a rendang. The original recipe in Sri Owen's book was for a beef rendang, but she provided some basic instructions on how to switch the beef out for tempeh, the traditional Indonesian veg protein. Making this dish is a commitment! We ended up simmering things for around three hours to reduce the 2 litres of coconut milk down to the dryish final product pictured above.

I made a mistake in transferring the mix to our electric wok while it was still too watery, meaning it didn't quite fry off and brown the way I was hoping it would, but it still worked out okay. The spice paste seemed like it would be super flavoursome when I whizzed it up, but the coconut milk took most of the sting out of it, making this a bit milder than I prefer. Next time I'd probably increase the various spices by 50% or so and maybe drop out a can of coconut milk - I wonder if maybe beef soaks up the liquid more than tempeh does? Still, it was pretty fun to watch this slowly turn from a big soupy mess into a wok full of chunky spice-crusted tempeh. I reckon we'll make this again, but with the few tweaks discussed above.

Tempeh Rendang
(adapted slightly from the recipe for rendang daging in Indonesian food by Sri Owen)

6 shallots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 inch piece of turmeric, peeled and chopped
6-10 fresh red chillies, seeded
1 inch piece of galangal, peeled and chopped
(I would increase the quantities of all of the above next time!)
2 litres of coconut milk
1-2 bay leaves
1 lemongrass stem
2 teaspoons salt
1.2 kg tempeh, cut into 2cm cubes

Blend the shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chillies and galangal with 4 tablespoons of the coconut milk until it all turns into a smooth paste.

Combine this paste with the rest of the coconut in a large pot, add the tempeh and the rest of the ingredients.

Stir it all together and bring to a gentle simmer, uncovered for an hour and a half or so. I gave up after 90 minutes, but probably should have kept going. You want a fairly thick coconut milk mush that has reduced down substantially.

Transfer the whole mixture to a wok and keep cooking, until the coconut milk starts to turn oily and starts to fry rather than boil. Once the frying starts, you need to stir constantly. Keep cooking until all the coconut milk has disappeared and the oil has been absorbed into the coating on the tempeh. Take out the lemongrass and bay leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 10, 2011: Cibi

Cibi has been on our list of places to visit for ages - who wouldn't be keen on the idea of Japanese style breakfast in the backstreets of Collingwood? It's not far off Smith Street but it still managed to be well hidden - the rest of Keele St is a pretty quiet mix of warehouses and homes, and all the foot traffic we saw was heading straight towards Cibi. Inside it's a cute mix of trendy Japanese design shop and slightly ramshackle cafe. We didn't spend any time wandering through the expensive kitchenware displays, instead focussing our attention straight onto the breakfast menu.

There are a mix of options, from fairly standard dishes like bircher muesli ($8.5) and avocado on toast ($7) to their more renowned Japanese-style dishes. Inspired by Jess' positive review, Cindy went for the tofu burger (Cibi home-made tofu pate with light teriyaki sauce, shiso leaves, cucumber and green leaves, $9.5)

I snuck a quick taste and was very, very impressed - the tofu patty was superb, the sauce sweet and salty and the bun (despite its imposing size) was fresh and light. Cindy found it a little challenging to eat - the patty was pretty squishy and saucy and the bun was dusted with mess-making flour.

I went for the obvious choice - the vegetarian Japanese breakfast (Pumpkin ninimo, free range egg tamagoyaki, seasonal green vegetables and potato salad, served with organic brown rice and heartful miso soup, $16.5). It's worth noting that these are only available on the weekends.

The miso soup (sneaking in the corner of the picture) was outstanding, rich with vegetables and tofu and loaded with flavour. A good warming start. The tamagoyaki (rolled omelette) was light and delicate, the pumpkin sweet and tender and the potato salad creamy and delicious. My favourite component of the dish though was the little plate of gloriously seasoned green beans - I could have eaten a whole plateful. I need more Japanese breakfasts! The only downside was the weather - Miso aside, this is a brekkie better suited to a warm summer's day.

We couldn't resist ending the meal with some sweets - a moist and tangy raspberry frangipane tart and a couple of cute little rum'n'raisin white chocolates were a great end to a fantastic meal.


Cibi is uniformly popular - check out reviews at: Happiness is a Warm Gut, Ryan on Coffee, Mel: Hot or Not, Fitzroyalty, The Jess Ho, NYC Life, Sarah Cooks, The Big V, 6lumens, Melbourne Gastronome, My Delicious Blog, Tomato and Tummy Rumbles.


45 Keele Street, Collingwood
9077 3941
Vegie meals: $6-$16.50

Accessibility: The entry is flat and the tables are spread out enough for easy manoeuvrability. Ordering happens at the table and payment happens at a low counter. There's a small step on the way to the unisex bathroom.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 9, 2011: Peanut rice chips

During our Easter holiday I picked up a heavily discounted copy of Indonesian Food by Sri Owen. It was a great buy, well timed. Our days by the beach were largely rained out so I had plenty of hours to browse the gorgeous glossy photos and read the text from front to back. Owen links the recipes and ingredients to the various phases of her life and a little of the local history and customs, from cooking with her grandmother as a child through to street snacks, the dishes of her student days, travelling all over (and eating and making ice cream!), setting up her own shop in London, writing book after book and modernising the recipes of Central Java.

There are a few vegetarian recipes scattered throughout (Indonesia is the home of tempeh after all!) and there are plenty more that I'm determined to adapt - the spice mixes are just too irresistible. (And did I mention the ice cream? Ahem.) The first recipe I've tried out is ready to go as-is: vegan and gluten free, straight up. Rempeyek kacang had me hooked the moment I read Owen's translated name: savoury peanut brittle. I wasn't even perturbed by the prospect of deep-frying.

This is essentially a thin batter made from rice flour, dotted with peanuts, and shallow-fried first into small rounds. Then the rounds get deep-fried for extra crispiness and deeper flavour. I had trouble getting the peanuts to stick within the batter (hence the free-floating ones in the picture above) - they just clumped in the centre while the batter stretched out across the pan, then fell off the dough as I transferred it to a plate. The reference picture was ruthlessly cropped and I wasn't quite sure what these were supposed to look like or if they were going to get crispy enough. There were totally crispy enough... just not containing many peanuts. Imperfect but delightful!

Next time I think I'll try spooning out the batter to fry and then spreading the peanuts on top, instead of mixing them directly into the batter. I might also try doubling the garlic. Owen notes that rempeyek kacang can have chopped chilli, garlic, chives, crushed peppercorns or shredded kaffir lime leaves stirred into the batter. The latter is going into my next batch for sure.

Peanut rice chips
(adapted slightly from the recipe for rempeyek kacang in Indonesian food by Sri Owen)

2 macadamia nuts
1 clove garlic (I'll double this next time)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra
100g rice flour
optional: chopped chilli, garlic, chives, crushed peppercorns or shredded kaffir lime leaves
100g peanuts
200ml water
peanut oil

Mush together the macadamias and garlic in a mortar and pestle to make a paste. Put them in a bowl and blend in the coriander and salt. Mix in the rice flour, then whisk in the water. Add any optional flavours you want. Sprinkle in the peanuts and stir them through the batter (or don't yet - leaving them to the dry-fry stage next time).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frypan and have a plate lined with absorbent paper at the ready. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot pan and fry them for 1-2 minutes, then rest the fried discs on the paper-lined plate. (Next time I will try sprinkling the peanuts directly onto the frying batter discs before they set.)

When all the batter is cooked, transfer any remaining oil to a saucepan or wok; add more so that you can deep-fry and heat it all up. Line another plate with absorbent paper. Deep-fry a few discs at a time until they're golden and crisp, transferring them to the new plate to cool.

When you're ready to snack, transfer the chips to a bowl and sprinkle them with a little more salt. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 8, 2011: Chin Chin

Chin Chin has been open little more than a month and attracted much blog attention, nearly all of it positive, in that time. Twitter chatter with Ed Charles and Jess Ho convinced us that they'd cater (fish sauce and shrimp paste free!) to us vegos and we checked it out on Friday night. There are no bookings permitted for groups of less than eight, and we were hardly surprised that even at 6pm Chin Chin was packed out. Jess herself was on the door and squeezed us onto the 'chef's table', a high bench overlooking the kitchen. She knew our drill and helpfully pointed out the meat-free dishes across the menu - a small proportion of the total and a bit tofu-heavy, but more than two can consume in a single evening.

We were in the mood for cocktails and there are nine originals on offer (each $15). Mine (pictured right) was a sweet, very floral and ice-heavy mix with Thai basil, pink grapefruit, rose water, vodka and lychee. Michael had a zippy mix of tamarind syrup and fresh mandarin with tequila, orange curacao and a Szechuan salt rim.

Jess had recommended the salad of organic silken tofu, Thai basil and a hot sweet bitter dressing ($16). I'm not sure that I picked up much heat or bitterness but liked it nonetheless - the fried tofu pieces soaked up the dressing, there were lots of light fresh veges and a modest portion of rice noodles.

As we finished off the salad, out came our rice ($3), roti ($6) and dry curry of stir fried vegetables, spice crusted organic tofu, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil ($13). Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to eat it five minutes later, the roti was already cold and tough. (It was still pretty great for mopping up the last of the curry sauce). The curry was lovely - thick and spicy - though I didn't pick up the kaffir lime tang that I was looking forward to.

Strangely the last of our dishes to arrive was the "little something" we ordered - spicy corn and coriander fritters with iceberg lettuce and chilli jam ($8). They were worth waiting for! Each lettuce leave held a sliver of fresh ginger, and there was mint to add to the parcel as well. Usually I'd prefer more corn and less batter, but as part of a watery lettuce wrap the soft batter-heavy fritters really worked. A brilliant bar snack.

While glancing over the dessert menu I spied the palm sugar ice cream sundae with salted honeycomb and lime syrup ($12) that so pleased Em. Thai food always has me craving ice cream for afters so I was all over this. Like Fatbooo I found it crazy-sugary-sweet. The lime syrup offered a bit of respite but not quite so much as I would've liked. I was glad to try it but'll look further down the dessert list next time.

My second favourite thing after those corn fritters was receiving the bill - the food portion was less than $60 for the two of us, including dessert, and I'd expected it would cost us a lot more. While Chin Chin was in Friday night bar mode, we received excellent service - Michael had a little panic that our curry contained stray meat and our waiter patiently checked it out and cheerfully reassured us that it was oyster mushroom. (Michael tipped more than usual given his graciousness.) I didn't enquire about vegan options but most of the veg food looks suitable including a couple of the desserts!

City bars are rarely our scene but we'll happily make an exception for Chin Chin's friendly energy, cocktails and corn fritters.


Chin Chin
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
8663 2000
veg snacks and mains $8-16, desserts $9-12

Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat; space between tables is mixed. All service is at the table and there's a 'disabled'-labelled toilet.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 8, 2011: The Mercy Seat

Edit 07/06/2012: The Mercy Seat is now closed.

The veg*n grapevine is pretty amazing - it seemed like the news of The Mercy Seat's existence had hit Facebook before it had even opened its doors. Cindy gave them a few days to sort themselves out before heading in to meet me for a quick weekday lunch. The Mercy Seat occupies the daylight hours of the space that newish bar 99 Problems uses at night. It's all vegetarian, doing a short menu of breakfast and lunch dishes - think tofu scramble, bagels and burgers.

We sampled both their burgers: Creole soul chicken burger for Cindy ($10) and a blackened tofu mushroom burger for me ($12).

My burger was burstingly full with fried mushrooms, tofu cubes, salad, avocado and a smear of vegan mayo. The success of this burger is driven mostly by the wonderful Mexican salsa that the tofu is cooked in - there's a smoky spiciness to it that takes this from good to outstanding.

Cindy's chicken burger looked a bit less exciting to me - its centrepiece was a highly processed  and perfectly round 'chicken' patty. Still, the Creole spices added a bit of spark and the house-made lime-infused vegan mayo didn't hurt either. Cindy enjoyed the sesame-seed heavy bun as well, but this couldn't live up to the spicy chicken burger standards set by The Gasometer (admittedly at a much higher price).

We were pretty impressed with The Mercy Seat - the food was tasty and affordable, the space is pleasant and the staff were friendly. There's lots of vegan options - everything on the menu bar the scrambled eggs is vegan or vegan-adaptable, as are most of the sweets, although there's nothing gluten-free at this stage. We'll be back for brekkie soon - the scrambled tofu and BLT bagel both sound worth a shot.

I was sure we'd be first to review The Mercy Seat, but Vetti and Garden of Yoga were even quicker than us.

The Mercy Seat
31 Johnston Street, Collingwood
no phone
brekkies $7.5 - $10, lunches $10-$12
Facebook page

Accessibility: Flat entryway with a small step between the front room and the room with the counter (which is where you order and pay). It's fairly spacious and easy to get around, although we didn't suss out the bathroom situation.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

July 1, 2011: Royal Mail Hotel

We've been trying for months to coordinate a trip to Dunkeld with Mike and Jo to try out the Royal Mail's degustation, but had been constantly foiled by the hotel's massive Saturday backlog and our difficulties in finding a Friday night we could all spare. Finally after rescheduling three or four times we were in the car (eating Cindy's apple pies!) and on our way to Dunkeld. We arrived in the dark, missing the classic view of the art deco building with Mt Sturgeon in the background (the photo above was taken the next morning, before a top notch continental brekkie). Still, we weren't there for the views - it was all about the food.

The Royal Mail has a vegetarian degustation as a standard option, which always gives me a good vibe about a place. And it's a big one: 10 courses, including 3 desserts for $130 or a slightly terrifying $245 if you're reckless enough to match wines (I was, while Cindy was less impulsive). I won't pretend to be a wine expert, so I'm not going to comment on each drink - on the whole, they were stunning, with only the innovative use of sake for one course disappointing any of us.

The bread came with a smoked butter, which divided opinion - I loved it, but not everyone at our table was convinced that butter needed the tweaking. The bread, as always at fancy places, was outstanding.

Things got started properly with a white bean and parmesan sandwich. This was one of the best dishes of the night - rich, crispy little parmesan toast slices with a gorgeous bean  filling. It's surprising how few of the fancy degustations we've gone too have made much use of beans as protein - they should, because this was amazing.

Next up was a course I was kind of dreading: tomato on toast with handmade sheep's ricotta.

My issues with tomato are no secret, but this won me over - it was warm, tender and tasted amazing. The 'toast' was a grainy mix that added a bit of crunch to the softness of everything else. Kudos to The Royal Mail: I'm still surprised that they managed to make something so tomato heavy that I really enjoyed.

The tomato was followed by a vegetable broth, filled with pickled vegetables and kohlrabi.

This was a fairly simple dish - crispy pickled vegetables in a mild, slightly sweet, broth. There was a weird starchy kind of jelly layered across the bottom - we couldn't figure out what it was, but it added something a bit intriguing to an otherwise straightforward veggie broth.

Next up was this cute little dish: egg yolk, rye, legumes and yeast.

The egg yolk was a perfect little globe of awesome on top of a crunchy mix of rye and legumes. The yeast underneath may well have been nooch, made into an interesting kind of paste with a creamy, salty flavour.

We were deep into the savouries by now, and I was excited to be getting some protein with tofu, potato, mustard and nashi.

I was slightly disappointed to find out that the tofu had been frozen and then grated over the potato and nashi pile - sure it's a clever and innovative trick, but I was really looking forward to something with tofu as the centrepiece. Still, the combination of the crispy sweet pear and the creamy potatoes with a creamy sauce and some seedy and slightly hot mustard. The tofu didn't really add a lot unfortunately.

Another starchy dish was next on the menu: jerusalem artichoke, triple cream and chive.

This was a weird mix of textures - the exterior was a bit woody and tough, while the inside was a velvety soft creamy puree. I'm not quite sure how it was done, but it was a very impressive trick. To be honest, the skin was a bit annoying to eat, but the mush inside was fantastic. The shallots were tender and tasty, although I think it was a bit onion-y for Cindy.

Our second-last savoury dish was simply called cool climate vegetables.

This was a fairly simple mix of beautifully cooked, locally grown vegetables - some cute carrots, a brussel sprout , a beetroot and a few other bits and pieces served up on some sort of strange faux-soil, that had a burnt-toast and coffee flavour to it (it reminded me a little of the brioche-based 'soil' we ate at Interlude some years ago). I liked the straightforwardness of this dish, which really let the quality of the vegetables shine through.

Our final savoury dish for the night was eggplant in white miso with dried grains and cured kelp.

This was a delicious chunk of eggplant, tender without being textureless, coated in some sort of miso marinade and soaked in a broth that was probably miso-derived as well. The grains were quite similar to the stuff that came with the egg yolk earlier. Neither of us have any real memory of the kelp - I can blame the booze at this point, but I'm not sure how Cindy can explain it.

Onto dessert! The transition came with the romantically named 'fallen fruit' (apple, almond, caramel, chamomile).

This was an apple cooked in its skin to be soft and smushy, smeared with a stick caramel sauce and served with a powder of almond. This dish was paired with a light chamomile tea (a break from the booze!) which cut through the sweetness of the apple.

What followed was the most impressive dish of the night: beetroot and mandarin, cocoa and walnut.

The flavours and textures of this dish were just stunning - the beetroot turned out to be a powdery beetroot-based icecream, which was a mind-blowing concoction. There was the light chocolaty crunch of the cocoa and walnut, the sweet mandarin crème brûlée and the citrussy freshness of real mandarin. Possibly the best dessert I've ever tasted.

Course #10 was a slightly more conventional dessert: pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate.

There was a dense pistachio meal cake, delicately sprinkled with fantastic dark chocolate, some chunks of honeycomb and a little egg of smooth and creamy choc-hazelnut ice-cream. Every good degustation should end with a chocolatey dessert.

Speaking of chocolates, we finished up with these cute little truffles with a surprisingly strong Earl Gray flavour to them.


The Royal Mail puts on a very impressive spread - there were a few savoury courses that didn't wow all of us, but by the time we'd worked our way through the desserts I was ready to call this the best meal of the year. The space is not as charming as I'd expected - on the upside it's spacious enough that you're not forced to listen to other people's conversations all night, but on the downside the atmosphere was a little flat. The service was impeccable though maybe a little on the formal side for us - it's nice to feel that you're at a fancy place, but the service style of the high-end restaurants sometimes makes me feel a bit awkward. Still, we had an amazing night and staggered across to our very comfy rooms, loaded up with some very fine food and wine.


The Royal Mail Hotel
98 Parker Street (Glenelg Hwy), Dunkeld
5577 2241
veg degustation $130


Accessibility: The Royal Mail seems super accessible, right down to the large flat showers in the rooms.