Wednesday, February 29, 2012


February 22, 2012

I had a fairly major milestone to mark on Wednesday, submitting the PhD thesis that has taken up a good chunk of my life for the past four years. It felt something like this:

To celebrate, Cindy and I decided to go somewhere fancy for lunch (having already started the day with breakfast at Seven Seeds). Thanks to Vegan Experience I had Seamstress on my list as a slightly upmarket place that did the veg thing pretty well, and when I realised it was open for lunch our decision was basically made.

Seamstress is on a fairly dead strip of Lonsdale Street, backing onto Chinatown. You come in past the kitchen on the ground floor and you head up the stairs to the restaurant area. It's a nicely laid out space, with a vaguely sewing-related them going on (a few old Singers around the place, some big bolts of cloth across the ceiling) and is surprisingly dead at 2pm on a Wednesday. There was us and one other table.

Our waitress was super helpful, running through the vegetarian options and giving us some idea of how much we should order. The Seamstress menu offers every dish in small, medium and large sizes, so you can mix and match your way through the various dishes.

After gauging our hunger, the waitress recommended we get two small dishes, one medium and a steamed rice to share. The first dish to come out was the snake bean and golden sweet potato poached won ton with green pea and coriander puree and pea foam ($14, the original dish has roe in it, which they happily excluded for us).

To be honest, this sounded a lot better than it was - the pea foam and the pea and coriander puree were pretty mild in flavour, and it was hard to really pick out the snake beans in the sweet potato dumplings. It wasn't a terrible dish, but $14 for 4 dumplings doesn't compare well to the kinds of deals on offer over in Little Bourke Street, and it didn't blow us away.

Next up was another small dish - the steamed silken tofu hot-pot in a shitake broth with julienne snow peas and Chinese mushrooms ($11).

We were kind of hoping that our rice would arrive to go along with this dish but it didn't, leaving us to slurp up the broth on its own. The tofu was lovely and the rich mushroomy broth wasn't too bad either - Cindy got a bit overwhelmed by the mushroominess of it all, but I was fairly happy. Again, not stunning, but decent enough.

The meal was capped off with our biggest dish, the medium caramelised eggplant with red miso and silken tofu sauce, crispy spice crusted firm tofu and toasted sesame seeds ($24).

This was clearly the best dish of the meal - like a high octane nasu dengaku. The miso/tofu sauce was wonderful, and the little crispy tofu pieces add some texture to the soft eggplant. We finished it feeling inspired to convert the Ottolenghi eggplant recipe into something miso-tastic.

Seamstress didn't quite measure up to my high expectations - it's challenging to fancy up Asian food and make it seem good value. It's great that Seamstress provides some interesting veg options but I'm not sure we'll be hurrying back any time soon - we might brave the queues at Chin Chin next time.

Vegan Experience brought Seamstress' veg-friendliness to our attention and were keen to go back for more. Almost all the non-veg reviews of Seamstress have been very positive - check out Dining Nirvana, Vetti Live in Northcote, Munch Brothers, Mayoress, Melbourne Gastronome, Saucy Onion, minibites, Daily Gloss, Off the spork, Ronnie's Spots, slicing almonds and zesting lemons and The World Loves Melbourne.

Joyce from MEL: HOT OR NOT was less convinced.

113 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
9663 6363
veg dishes $11-$36

Accessibility: Seamstress looks to be only accessible via a long flight of stairs. Once you're up there you've got a fair bit of space and table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gringo Vibes Mexican Cantina

February 19, 2011
Cindy and I were at a loose end in Thornbury following Women of Letters and decided we'd just wander back along High Street until we came across somewhere we felt like eating. I had a vague idea that there was a newish Mexican place up there somewhere and when we ran into Gringo Vibes and saw that they offered veggie chicken as a filling our decision was made.

Once we sat down and thought about it a bit, we realised that we'd eaten at Gringo Vibes before - both at the Queen Vic Night markets and the Hispanic Festival. I'm not quite sure when they opened their own permanent cafe space, but they've done a nice job of making it cheerful and inviting. It's all very casual, and they do a decent amount of takeaway as well. The menu is a bit more diverse than their mobile offerings - there are burritos, enchiladas, tacos and quesadillas along with a range of sides and some nacho-related options. Most of the veggie options are cheesy, but plenty are vegan-adaptable, although I'm not sure whether there's actually vegan cheese involved or if they just replace it with guacamole or something. There are also a fair number of gluten-free offerings.

Cindy had a powerful mock-meat craving, so she ordered the veggie chicken quesadillas ($14, served with rice, beans, salsa, sour cream and guacamole).

This is a nice colourful dish - the range of sides lifting it from its potentially cheese-heavy glugginess. The mock-chicken was a pretty excellent idea - I think this is the only place in town offering mock-meat Mexican, but as far as I'm concerned it's an idea well worth exploring further.

I decided to stick with something beanier though, going with a refried bean burrito (they also do a black-bean one), which came stuffed with beans, cheese, rice, lettuce, salsa and sour cream with a side of house-made corn-chips ($12). We also ordered a spare guacamole to share around ($3) - it was a bit smoother than my ideal guac, but did a nice job of soothing my mouth when I got carried away with the hot sauce.

The burrito was kind of old-school. Not for Gringo's the crisp, fresh fillings on offer elsewhere - this is heavy on the mush. Which I kind of liked - beans and rice in particular are pretty sure-fire burrito fillings, and at $12 this was a massive and filling treat.

Gringo's version of Mexican food is cheap, veg-friendly and plentiful. Throw in friendly staff, a nice casual venue (that's licensed!) and a location on a fairly dead section of High Street and it's easy to imagine them doing a roaring trade. It's probably not the kind of food you'd travel especially for but if you're in the neighbourhood, you'd be well advised to check it out.

Gringo Vibes Mexican Cantina
489 High Street, Northcote
9013 8543
veg mains $11-$15

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway and things are moderately spacious inside. Ordering and payment happens at a nice, low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dench II

February 18, 2012
Dench Bakery needs no real introduction - it's been one of Melbourne's best bread makers for years now, churning out delicious loaves that pop up on cafe menus all over town. Their own cafe is no slouch either, consistently serving up top-notch brekkies, decent coffee and wonderful baked goods. The one downside? Dench has never been particularly vegan-friendly - it's been an eggy, buttery kind of menu (although Carla did manage to cobble together a pretty decent meal). So it was with some enthusiasm that we spotted a new vegan and gluten-free option on offer - scrambled tofu with shitake, spring onion, beetroot relish, sesame and tamari ($16.50).

I was a bit surprised that it came out without toast - especially seeing as Dench now offer gluten-free (and vegan-friendly!) toast as an option. Still, that's a minor complaint - the chunky tofu complimented by three big blobs of sweet beetroot relish and a smoky, salty dressing combining sesame oil and tamari. It's great that Dench are offering up some dishes for restricted diets and even better that they're doing such a good job of it. Recommended! They're always busy but there were loads of friendly and efficient staff buzzing around - it's a consistently excellent breakfast experience.

Read about our previous visit to Dench here.


Dench Bakery
109 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy
9486 3554
veg brekkies from $5.50 - $18.50

Accessibility: One of the two doorways has a ramp entry, although the interior is fairly crowded. You can order and pay at the table but you'll need to negotiate a highish counter if you're ordering bread or other treats to takeaway.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Madame K's Vegetarian

February 15, 2012
Last month I spotted a new Brunswick St cafe under construction with a sign promising Herbivore Vegetarian. I was baffled but no less excited when Steph announced she'd visited brand new vegetarian restaurant Madame K's on Brunswick St. There was some confusion about whether this was the same business, but Michael and I resolved it by checking in for lunch the next day.

Indeed, it was the same shop front (formerly occupied by the cheap-and-cheerful enough Yume) but any hint of Herbivore had vanished. We were happy with what we saw instead: a neat cafe with a menu full of Asian vegetarian dishes, from Japanese-style eggplant to Chinese 'chicken' and corn soup, gado gado and Thai-style curries. Roughly half the dishes include mock meat.

The cafe is licensed but also offers a range of non-alcoholic drinks, from the usual soft drinks to freshly prepared juices and smoothies, tea and a mocktail. On this, their third day of business, they weren't quite prepared with the smoothies and mocktails yet but Michael got a cute apple, carrot and ginger juice all bottled up ($5.90).
Food took a little longer to arrive than we would have liked, but we figured that allowances need to be made in a business' first week. Once on the table Michael swooped on his nasi goreng ($15.90) topped with 'chicken' satay skewers.

While my Chicken Rice ($15.90) looked a little more insipid, all pale and grey-ish, it was actually the flavour-packing winner! The rice was so fragrant (infused with galangal, I think) and the salted bean sauce, just sensational.
The staff were slightly overwhelmed but extremely polite - hopefully a little more practice is all they need to generate the perfect cafe atmosphere. With the mains priced around the $16 mark Madame K's is a smidge more expensive than its obvious competitors but so far it looks like the quality of the food warrants the extra couple of dollars. I'm looking forward to a revisit!

I know we're not the only veg*ns chuckling over Tom Stanislavski's claim that ''In Fitzroy, apart from the Vegie Bar, there's nothing with a vegetarian focus.'' Tom's restaurant St Jude's may be situated within the most veg-dense couple of blocks in Melbourne! Yes, there's the long-running Vegie Bar, but also the terrific Yong, now promising Madame K and soon a gut-busting Lord of the Fries outlet, and that's not even starting on the dozens of veg-friendly restaurants spanning the rest of Fitzroy. Come on in, Tom, the water's fine - and there's no better place to start than Madame K's chicken rice.

Read the first write-up of Madame K's Vegetarian on Vegan About Town.

Madame K's Vegetarian
367 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9415 6909
snacks & mains $4.90-16.90 (currently inactive)

Accessibility: There's a small step up on entry and tables are quite densely laid out. We ordered at the table and paid at a medium-high counter at the back. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pomegranate-glazed tempeh & vegetables

February 13, 2012
This is one of the recipes that I was first drawn to when given Super Natural Every Day last year - caramelised tempeh chunks will do it for me every time! But it was a whole pumpkin arriving in our vege box that got us there. Michael meticulously chopped the pumpkin, tempeh and eggplant into 1cm cubes and took a sizable cube off his finger while he was at it, so I helped bandage him up and finished this dish off.

The vege cubes are roasted in a tangy blend of pomegranate molasses and olive oil, then served with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and feta. It's lovely on its own as a whole meal or a starter, served with couscous or quinoa or shared at a potluck. For a vegan version you could obviously just skip the feta - or make vegan feta! - but I reckon some roasted flaked almonds or roughly chopped smoked almonds would make a fine substitute.

My one cooking tip here is to arrange the roasting bits sparsely on their baking trays - this allows them to caramelise properly. I started out with the huge quantities below (roughly double Heidi's original) stuffed high in their trays and they got soggy. Taking the time to bake smaller portions in batches is well worth it.

Pomegranate-glazed tempeh & vegetables
(adapted slightly from a recipe in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day)

2 small round eggplants
600g tempeh
400g pumpkin
6 cloves garlic
2 small lemons
2/3 cup pomegranate molasses
2/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
handful of parsley, roughly chopped
100g feta, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two large baking trays with paper.

Peel the pumpkin. Chop the eggplants, tempeh and pumpkin into 1cm cubes. Finely chop the garlic. Divide the vegetables and garlic evenly across the baking trays and grate over the zest of the two lemons (set the rest of the lemons aside for whatever else you want).

In a bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, olive oil, salt and chilli. Pour three quarters of the dressing over the vegetables and toss it through to evenly coat them as best you can.

Now the veges will bake best if they're spread out with minimal overlapping. This meant I had to set aside half the vegetables and bake them in two batches. The baking totalled 60 minutes per tray, with a few pauses to toss them around for even cooking. They should be tender but still holding their shape when they're done.

Once the vegetables are cooked, spread them out on a platter. Sprinkle over the parsley and feta and serve.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Flaked coconut bacon

February 12, 2012
The whole reason we turned the weekend into bagel-fest was that we'd finally procured ourselves a packet of flaked coconut (in Hobart of all places!) with which to mimic New Day Rising's famous CLT. There are plenty of recipes floating around for turning flaked coconut into bacon - I basically combined a few of them to make ours. The key (as with all fake-bacon really) is liquid smoke and plenty of it. The coconut crisps up better than any of our other bacon substitutes, although you've got to be really careful not to burn it.

In some ways I'd rate this our most successful bacon substitute - especially where you're not counting on it to be the centrepiece of your meal (in which case you should probably stick with tempeh). Combined with some vegan mayo, greens and sliced tomato on a home-made bagel, this was a pretty wonderful way to start a Sunday.

Flaked coconut bacon
(based on recipes from Johanna and Vegan Brew)

1 cup flaked coconut (any tips on local suppliers would be appreciated!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons liquid smoke (seriously, don't skimp)
a sprinkle of garlic powder

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a tupperware container and stir through the coconut. Pop the lid on and let the coconut marinate in the fridge for as long as you can wait.

Spray a frying with a bit of oil and, when it's hot, tip the coconut and any leftover marinade in. Cook, stirring often, until the coconut pieces are just short of burnt - they should be sticky and crispy and have turned the colour of well-cooked bacon bits.


Monday, February 20, 2012


February 4 & 5, 2012
We've been plotting some bagel-making for a while, mostly inspired by the delicious CLT bagel at New Day Rising. Cindy had a pile of different recipes to choose from and I basically settled on the simplest one, courtesy of Peter Reinhart and the LA Times. It's a time commitment - the bagels need to rest overnight in the fridge, so you need to be a bit organised. It's not actually that difficult though, much less scary than I thought it was going to be. We made a double batch just so we got a decent pay-off from all the effort. And they all turned out pretty well - maybe a bit flatter and denser than we were hoping but the right combo of crispy outside and doughy middle. We'll definitely make them again, especially in conjunction with amazing flaked coconut facon (which we'll blog next!).

(adapted slightly from this recipe in the LA Times)

7 cups bread flour
6 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons maple syrup (subbed in for the suggested barley syrup)
2 cups + 4 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 teaspoons baking powder
Toppings (we used sesame seeds, fennel seeds and pre-fried shallots)

In a big bowl, mix together the flour, 4 teaspoons of the salt, the maple syrup, yeast and water. We found it easiest to do this by hand - you've got to get your hands dirty and mix it all up until all the flour is absorbed and you've got a stiff, coarse ball. You can adjust the flour or water a bit if you need to but these proportions were pretty bang on for us.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes, until it starts to stiffen up and gets a bit glossy. It should still be a bit sticky but much less than when you started.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Pop the bowl in the fridge for at least an hour - we left it about three.

Before you start shaping the bagels, prepare however many baking trays you need to cook them (we used 3!). Line them with baking paper and lightly oil them.

Then take the dough out of the fridge and divide it up into about 16 equal pieces. Now shape these pieces into bagels! You've got two options: 1) roll the dough pieces into relatively flat discs and then punch a hole in them with your thumb, or 2) roll the dough out into a long sausage, about an inch in diameter and then loop the sausage around and much the ends together. Make sure the ends are nice and tightly joined. Try to get a fairly even bagel with about a 2 inch whole in the middle - ours probably didn't have quite big enough holes in them.

Place the formed bagels onto the baking trays, cover with glad-wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, take the bagels out of the fridge about 90 minutes before you want to cook them - they should be back at room temperature when you put them in the pot. When an hour or so has past, pre-heat the oven to about 225 degrees.

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to the boil. Once it's boiling add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Gently drop in as many bagels as will fit into the pot (4 in ours) and simmer for a minute. Flip them all and let them poach for another 30 seconds and then remove, popping them back on their baking tray. Repeat until you've poached all the bagels and are ready to bake them.

Sprinkle whatever toppings you want on them and then pop them in the oven. They need about 20 minutes, with a rotation of trays about halfway through. They should be golden brown. Take them out and leave them to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


February 11, 2012
Mamasita has now been running for two years and it seems as popular as ever. Their no-bookings policy (for groups of less than eight) has had most of Melbourne at some stage lining up along their staircase, spilling out onto Collins St, retreating to a nearby bar for a few drinks or just giving up and eating elsewhere. We did our best to circumvent the wait by arriving right on their 5pm opening last Saturday and were dealt 20 minutes of queuing and one of their last tables for two - lucky.

Mamasita's menu, as you probably already know, has a modern Mexican theme. It's totally gluten free with plentiful vegetarian and vegan options marked throughout the menu - what you see here probably constitutes less than half of the meat-free dishes on offer. 

Michael tried their strong and sour Mamasita margarita (El Jimador reposado, Cointreau and fresh lime on the rocks; $17). My Pina Ahumada (Reposado mezcal, Damiana and pineapple on the rocks with a vanilla salt rim; $18) was sweeter and easy to mistake for a soft drink. The vanilla salt rim is pleasantly addling.

Our meal commenced with the near-mandatory Elotes callejeros ($4.90 each), char-grilled street-style corn topped with queso, chipotle mayo and lime. There's nothing like tasty, inelegant food on sticks to set an upbeat casual tone. A little jar of toothpicks on the table preserve some dignity.

The quesadilla de frijoles ($14) is one of the plainer looking dishes, but not lacking for flavour - toasty tortillas sandwich refried black beans and cheese, topped with fresh salsa and served with a spicy condiment for smearing all over.

To keep things fresh we elected to share the ensalada de jicama y betabel ($8), a salad of jicama, beetroot, red pepper, pepitas, sesame, orange and chipotle dressing. The white jicama cubes reminded Michael of apple in their crisp sweetness and I particularly appreciated the crunchy pepitas.

The surprise savoury highlight was the Bunuelos de garbanzos ($19): chickpea fritters with field mushrooms, sweet potato and a jalapeno herb sauce. While I'd pictured whole chickpeas deep-fried in batter, this was a seasoned chickpea flour batter, set, sliced and lightly crusted. I loved the light fluffy texture, Michael loved the mushrooms and sweet potato, we both loved mopping up the green sauce. A lovely dish all round.

While we could have happily finished up there (and I suspect our waitress would have preferred we did), I persuaded Michael that dessert was in order. I was quite desperate for a Helado de maiz ($6), sweetcorn icecream in a cone, topped with caramel popcorn. This was light and sweet and fun, and though I could see the corn I couldn't really taste it. I'm not sure whether that's Mamasita's fault; I may have been in that post-cocktail zone where the tastebuds are dulled but everything is awesome.

Michael's selection (Pastel de chocolate, $11) was nearly twice the price but looking pretty small. Once sampled, the portioning made much sense - the flourless chocolate cake was incredibly dense and rich, sitting in a pool of tequila white chocolate sauce. Michael liked the contrasting fruitiness of the PX jelly dabbled around the plate, and just barely finished the dish.

With that we sorted out the bill and made space for the evening's second sitting. I left very impressed! On a previous (unblogged) visit I didn't think the quality of the vegetarian dishes warranted the price hike over Trippy Taco but I think Mamasita have upped the ante with their diversity of ingredients, as well as some killer cocktails and desserts. Many bloggers have complained about the noise levels but we enjoyed the atmosphere and conversed comfortably. The kitchen clearly has a slick system for dealing with their near-constant full house - we weren't left waiting too long for food and received just enough attention from the floor staff.

Given the high demand for a seat at Mamasita it'll probably be a while before we're back, but any future visits will be eagerly anticipated.

Mamasita gets the thumbs up from fellow veg*ns on In The Mood For Noodles, We Eat Better Than You and Veg Food Diaries Melbourne; less impressed are Confessions of an Eco-Food Dude and Nouveau Potato.

The restaurant's been reviewed almost continuously since it opened. Most are positive (see melbourne gastronome, I'm so hungree [twice], eat, drink, stagger, adventures of the ordinary, Melbourne Dining Experiences, Food Fable, EAT AND BE MERRY, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE(T), Gluttony Gluttony, Niche, two fat buns, Food and Loving Time, What's For Tea?, a melburnian holiday, My Food Odyssey, Gastronomy Gal, spicy icecream, Melbourne Culinary Journal, GastronoMel, porktheory, Gluten Shmooten, juganaut's foodie thoughts, Charles Whyte, Dollymic, The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua, foodcautious, Finely Chopped, Asian At My Table, Kran & Nina, foodloca, doublecooked, Out of my kitchen, Fill My Belly in Melbourne, The Burnt Fig, Life is 2 Mu(n)ch, Sweet and Sour Fork, Ray is always Hungry, the MELBOURNE FOOD FILES, Ruby Bean & The Hungry Peas, the hungry duck, Foodprints,We Dare Food, Empty Fridge, Poppet's Window, Alphie in the Kitchen, Barley Blog, Dying4desserts, May Day for Food, Friday Night, Date Night, Miss Adriennely, Köstlich, Gastronomical Ramblings, 15,000kms of Food!, extra-ordinary ordinaries, Let Me Feed You, dining nirvana, byebyemythyroid, Mai Lin Talks and Lactose Free Journey) though some have felt more 'meh' (Bear Head Soup, Sarah Cooks, angelkhong, Chyn Eats, Dave Plus Food, 6lumens, The moving beast, Travelling in Mary Janes, Petit-Miamx, The Food Complex, Absolutely Famished, Popcorn & Toast, uh-oh, polyphagia, FOOD CHEE, two munch, Edible Posts) and others are outright down on it (Totally Addicted To Taste, Cooking With Goths, jeroxie, Food Lovers Society, Dangerous Duplicity).

Mamasita's street-style corn has inspired some home cooking! There's a recipe at Blithely Unaware, and another at Palace Foods that includes making your own queso. Meanwhile The misadventures of MissC include a recipe for spice rubbed pork, walnut sauce with corn and quinoa salad.

1/11 Collins St, Melbourne
9650 3821
veg items $3-21

Accessibility: Mamasita is located up a flight of stairs with no visible alternatives; the no-bookings policy means you're likely to be waiting in that staircase for some time. Tables are moderately spaced but the restaurant is frequently very crowded; there's a mixture of tall bar-style seating and lower tables. If you can comfortably negotiate the entry and restaurant space then we imagine the toilets will be fine. There is full table service.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Le Miel

February 8, 2012
In 2010 it was What About Food; in 2011, 330 Briks. Now in 2012, 330 Cardigan St is playing host to Le Miel cafe. Their signage is minimal and there's no menu on display, but we've been keeping a sly eye on renovations and dropped in for breakfast during their opening week.

This is your pretty basic breakfast menu: toast, muesli, eggs with toast and extras, hotcakes. Vegans might be able to build something up from the toast and extras, and nothing looks gluten-free. Pesky-tarians, proceed with caution!

Michael was always going to order their bigger vegetarian plate - poached eggs with feta, baked beans, avocado and tomato relish ($16.50). He liked it all a lot, only wishing for a second piece of toast to scoop up all the mushy goodness.

I tried the ricotta hotcake with poached seasonal fruits, orange syrup, candied pistachios and white chocolate mascarpone ($14.50). The mascarpone didn't make much of an impression on me - the almost-but-not-quite-burnt caramel syrup and dense hotcake dominated this dish. They really took over my stomach too: after polishing this off around 9:15am I didn't even think about lunch until 3pm.

La Miel have started out with a short-ish menu and are executing it well. I'd like to stop by again for lunch and find out what else they can do.

Le Miel
330 Cardigan St, Carlton
9043 9767
veg breakfasts $6-16.50

Accessibility: There is a single step on entry and tables are well spaced. There's table service but bills are paid at a low-ish counter.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beetroot chocolate fudge cake

February 4, 2012
Last year when I made Pip's un-beet-able chocolate cake, I shared most of the spoils around at work. In return one of my colleagues (another Michael!) was kind enough to share his favourite chocolate-beetroot cake recipe with me. I thought of it when beetroots turned up in our vege box and tried it out on a Saturday afternoon.

This cake's ingredient list is dominated by equal weights of beetroot, chocolate and sugar. There's a bunch of other stuff involved too, and those bits aren't vegan or gluten-free, but the core ingredients have me thinking this wouldn't be too difficult to adapt for special diets. As the name and feature ingredients hint at, this is a dense and fudgy cake. Having reduced the original quantities to suit the beetroots I had and baked it in a square tin, this bore a striking resemblance to a brownie - a brownie that's the perfect balance of cakey and fudgy.

I served this with a little vanilla icecream, and we had some smashing beetroot brownie sundaes.

Beetroot chocolate fudge cake
(adapted slightly from a recipe shared by my colleague Michael)

170g raw beetroot
170g dark chocolate
2 eggs
170g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 teaspoons maple syrup
2-3 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup plain flour
1/6 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/6 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
35g ground almonds
1/4 cup strong black coffee
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Preheat an oven to 160ºC. Paper-line and lightly grease a 22cm square cake tin.

Peel and finely grate the beetroot; set it aside. Gently melt the chocolate and set it aside to cool.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, maple syrup and honey until fluffy. Sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cocoa, fold in the ground almonds and stir until just combined. Stir through the beetroot, melted chocolate, coffee and oil.

When the batter is homogeneous, pour it into the cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes. If the top is starting to brown, cover it with foil and bake for another 30 minutes or more, until it just passes the skewer test. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Mercy Seat III

February 4, 2012

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

We were looking for somewhere interesting to go for brekkie with Lisa on the weekend, and I realised that it had been months since we swung by The Mercy Seat. The menu has changed a bit since our earlier visits - the cheesesteak roll has been swapped for a meatball sub, and they've added a range of toasted pides.

They've also discovered that CoYo is now vegan and are offering it up in combo with bircher muesli and cranberry poached pear ($10). Cindy couldn't resist.

And she wasn't disappointed - the muesli had a few fancy touches (goji berries!), the CoYo was tangy, sweet and fatty in equal measures and the pear slices were nicely poached. A bit more fruit wouldn't go astray, but regardless it's pretty great to have a place offering up vegan yoghurt and muesli.

I wavered for a while before deciding I was ready for a meatball sub for breakfast ($9.5 + 0.5 for the vegan cheese). The meatballs come in napoli sauce with a big pile of greens and some cheese melted on top.

And it's a pretty damn hearty breakfast. The meatballs reminded me a bit of our soy-bombs, but I think they were tvp-based rather than tofu. Either way they were delicious. The bun is a bit on the bready side, but that's minor quibbling - check it out if you've got any nostalgia for gross Subway meatballs.

It's hard to go up to the counter and order without getting your eye drawn to the Crumbs-sourced jam doughnuts (I've forgotten the price, sorry!).

We split this three ways. And it was awesome. Next time there'll be no splitting.

The Mercy Seat is great, with decent coffee, great food and friendly staff - to be honest I'm surprised it's not overrun with the folks who are jamming up the Gasometer every night (maybe they're sleeping in later than 9:30).

The Mercy Seat gets consistently good reviews. Since we visited last, Veganise This! (twice) and Mel: Hot or Not sampled the savouries, while In the Mood for Noodles enjoyed their range of vegan and GF treats.


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, February 11, 2012

Livin' Burrito Loca

December 31, 201: Livin' Burrito Loca disappeared at the end of last summer and is yet to pop up anywhere new.

February 2, 2012
Melbourne is in the grip of taco-fever - it's impossible to keep up with the flurry of hip, Mexican-inspired eateries popping up across the city, presumably inspired by Mamasita's incredible popularity. We've done a pretty poor job of keeping up with the trend, unable to go beyond Trippytaco's reliably awesome offerings.

Still, a pop-up taco place in an art space in the back-streets of Fitzroy is about the most ridiculously 'Melbourne' thing imaginable, so when we read about it, we felt duty bound to check it out. It's really a pretty rudimentary set-up: a food trailer and a makeshift bar plonked down in a garage that's been decorated with lots of coloured paper. It looks like the whole joint could be packed up and disappeared in about fifteen minutes.

The menu is similarly straightforward: there's a burrito ($10) or tacos ($6 each), with a black-bean based filling for us vegos and lots of fresh salad. There's also a couple of drinks to choose from: the milky aloe vera, lime and coconut and the fruitier lemon, mint and agave nectar ($4 each). Both come served in little plastic bags with optional slugs of booze (which presumably cost extra).

They're kind of fun and it's nice to have some interesting non-booze options, but the wacky serving style is actually a bit of a pain in the arse - simply putting them down on the table takes care and attention.

Onto the food! Both the tacos and the burrito were pretty good - made to order and filled with good quality ingredients. The salad is fresh, the black bean mix is tasty and the tortillas are delicious (particularly the blue corn ones that come with the tacos). They both come with cheese, guacamole, salsa and chipotle mayo. There's also hot sauce on the tables for people like me for whom the mayo isn't quite chipotle-enough.

The big downside? Price. At $10, this burrito is the same price as the tofu/bean option at Trippytaco and about half the size. Similary, Cindy's two tacos ($12) are about $3 more than the Trippytaco variety and considerably smaller. If this place was churning these out a bit cheaper I'd have no hesitation in recommending it, but at these prices you're not really getting great value for money. I guess you're paying for all the hipster points you're racking up. On the plus side, they do offer vegan and gluten-free options and the staff are pretty friendly.

I'm surprised by how little blog attention this place has had so far - That Jess Ho checked it out and was pretty unimpressed.

Livin' Burrito Loca
Cnr Gore & Webb Streets, Fitzroy (in the Odessa Creative Space) until the end of February
burritos $10, tacos $6

Accessibility: Ramp access and a relatively uncluttered interior make this pretty accessible. The food-cart counter is pretty high, but the staff are happy to wander down and take your order/money. I can't imagine where they hide the bathrooms.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Vegie Bar VII

January 28, 2012
We don't get to the Vegie Bar often, though I've had a couple of meals there since our last post - I remember a terrible pizza and a better pie with chips and salad. Carla can't stop blogging about the raw options they've started offering in the past six months so on a hot lazy night we were compelled to stop by for a quick meal.

One thing hasn't changed about the Vegie Bar - it is loud and crowded. We were crammed onto the communal table and while the staff attending to us were friendly, we were not inclined to linger.

Eager for some hydration, Michael ordered a Vitality juice (apple, celery, ginger, cucumber; $5.50) and I tested the raw shake (cacao, agave, almond milk; $7.50). They arrived long before our food and we struggled to nurse them through. This, despite barely enjoying my shake - it was full of blended almond bits that caught in my throat and didn't taste much of cocoa at all. I wouldn't buy it again.

Once he saw the (HOT!) warning, Michael was all about the Sambal Noodles ($15), a wok-tossed mixture of mock duck, veges and noodles in hoisin sauce and sambal. They weren't as hot as he'd've liked, though Michael did like the duck - it's the kind of meal that we're known to make at home.

I gave the raw tacos ($12) a shot. The dehydrated 'shell' is tasty but not quite pliable enough to take in hand, and it'll disintegrate the millisecond it comes into contact with water. So I awkwardly shovelled it all down with knife and fork - the 'mince' was surprisingly spicy and hearty, cooled a little by the iceberg lettuce strips and the guacamole; and the flavour-charged condiments (pine-nut sour cream and coriander and mint relish)  almost stood up to the 'mince'. Klutzy consumption aside, I liked this - it was satisfying and reasonably priced.

Settling the bill took far too long - it doesn't seem efficient have departing customers queue with the new arrivals out the front - but this gave us time to gaze at the dessert display and pick two slices to take home. They were enormous, well priced, simple and sweet.

It's cool to see the Vegie Bar adding some interesting raw options to an already diverse vegetarian menu, even as their customer base seems to broaden well beyond the veg*n community. I just find the hustle a hassle.

You can read about many of our previous visits to the Vegie Bar: one, two, three, four, five, six.

This restaurant gets a lot of blog attention. Carla's covered the raw menu as comprehensively as she can, and raw items also appear in posts on Wayfaring Chocolate, In The Mood For Noodles and The Healthy Party Girl. Other positive write-ups appear on veg*n blogs soya et chocolat, Vegematarian, Ruby's Vegan Blog, crosslegged on the front lawn, Melbourne Vegetarian Reviews, Nouveau Potato and Black Bunny Carousel (though they've sworn off the place for a while). The Vegie Bar served Steph a pretty meh pizza; it's happened to me too.


The Vegie Bar
380 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9417 6935
veg meals $5-15

Accessibility: The Vegie Bar has a flat, wide entry but pretty crowded tables. Orders are taken at the table and bills are to be paid at a high counter. We haven't visited the toilets.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Yim Yam

January 2016: Yim Yam closed their Collingwood branch in September 2015. They're still trading in Yarraville 

January 25, 2012
One my colleagues came into work recently raving about a new Thai place that had popped up on Smith Street called Yim Yam. Some quick research revealed that this is a new outlet of a small chain of Thai/Laotian restaurants with a highly regarded store in Yarraville. Once we scanned their online menu and noted all the little 'V's, Yim Yam went straight on our list of places to try.

We stopped in at about 8:30 on a Wednesday night to find it heaving with people and unreserved tables only available out in the courtyard. The menu is loaded up with vegetarian options and it was all we could do to stick to just 3 dishes. We started with the vegetarian Thai coconut pancakes filled with tofu, salad and two sweet sauces ($10.90 for two). While it was a little to heavy on the condiments, the pancakes were great and had us looking forward to what Yim Yam might bring next.

The first of our mains came with a ringing endorsement from Matt Preston - the menu boasts that the toasted rice and coconut salad ($14.90) is his favourite dish.

It's easy to see why - the combination of toasted rice chunks, shredded coconut, herbs, peanuts and lettuce gives you the a wonderful range of textures and flavours. The crispy rice in particular is wonderful - not as dry as I'd feared it would be, but still packing an impressive crunchiness. There's a bit of heat in this dish, courtesy of a sprinkling of dried chillies, as well as syrupy sweetness and a lime tang.

Our second main was one of their $9 Wednesday specials - a serve of the snakebean, basil and tao-hu stir-fry with rice.

The tao-hu is a kind of chewy tofu, and combined well with the fresh beans and bamboo shoots. The stiry-fry sauce packed a solid punch, with some Thai basil flavours peeking out from behind the chilli kick.

Yim Yam is a welcome addition to the Gertrude end of Smith Street - between it and the nearby Easy Tiger, this area has the cheap and fancy ends of the market sewn up. Yim Yam looks quite small from the front, but seems to have about four different seating areas (front room, courtyard, upstairs, downstairs). The staff have to work pretty hard, but things moved along fairly well despite the packed house. The menu states that they're happy to accommodate vegan and other dietary considerations (and it's possible that everything we ate was vegan). Given that they're open for weekday lunches as well as dinners, I'll almost certainly be back.

Nobody seems to have reviewed the Collingwood outpost of Yim Yam yet, but there are plenty of positive write-ups of the Yarraville branch: Addictive and Consuming, eat, drink, stagger, Tune into Radio Carly, Footscray Food Blog, No Spring Chicken, Temasek and half-eaten.


Yim Yam
76 Smith Street, Collingwood (also in Yarraville and Moonee Ponds)
9419 3985
veg dishes: $6.90 - $14.90

Accessibility: The front area has a flat entrance but is fairly crowded. Access to the courtyard and other rooms (plus the toilets) require you to negotiate at least a few steps. The toilets are spacious enough but not necessarily designed with accessibility issues in mind. Ordering takes place at the table, then payment is at a relatively high and crowded counter out the front.