Friday, November 30, 2012

Achiote jackfruit tacos

November 24, 2012

We had a reasonably free Saturday and decided it was really time we made something new for dinner. Cindy's list of potential recipes was massive but the can of jackfruit in our cupboard, the pile of tortillas in our freezer, and the ready accessibility of Casa Iberica soon led us in the direction of these tacos - a Masterchef-inspired recipe veganised by the Wikos.

We made the lazy version - no onion salsa, no homemade tortillas - just the pulled pork filling, some grated carrot and a simple guacamole. And they were great! We've had success with the jackfruit pulled-pork in the past but this is a simpler and faster version, relying heavily on achiote paste (one side of the box says 'annatto' and the other 'achiote', which meant it took me a long time to track it down on the shelves at Casa Iberica). It comes in giant 1kg boxes that cost upwards of $30. The upside: it's tangy and tasty without being ludicrously spicy and it makes putting together vaguely authentic Mexican flavours really simple. The downside: we now have 900g of quite expensive spice paste in our fridge, so if anyone has any great suggestions, hit us up in the comments.

The tacos worked out well - the spicy 'pork' cooled by the carrot and guac and wrapped up in warm corn tortillas (also from Casa Iberica - we really should make our own but these are an excellent and lazy substitute). I'd say we'll go back to the pulled pork recipe again... we'll have to with all of the achiote paste to use up.

Achiote jackfruit tacos
(adapted from this recipe on Meet the Wikos,
which was in turn adapted from this Masterchef recipe)

1 can jackfruit (ours was 565g including the brine, 280g drained)
120g achiote paste
4 cloves garlic
100 ml orange juice
25 ml red wine vinegar

Combine the achiote paste, orange juice, garlic and vinegar in a food processor and whiz until you've got a smooth mixture.

Drain the jackfruit and marinate it in the spice paste - we just left it for half an hour or so, but the longer the better I imagine.

Pour the jackfruit and marinade mix into a lightly oiled frying pan and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir thoroughly and roughly mush up the jackfruit to turn it into a stringy pulled-pork substitute instead of a half dozen big chunks. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve on top of corn tortillas, with grated carrot and home-made guacamole.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hungry Birds

Update 31/12/204: Hungry Birds' lease expired in April of this year and the cafe closed down. Little Nina's Cafe is now trading at this location.

November 24, 2012

Michael has repeatedly and confusingly referred to Hungry Birds as 'that NBN cafe'. Indeed it's Australia's first cafe with free high-speed wi-fi. I fear that their narrow tables and fine food will be the death of Brunswick's MacBook keyboards.

Narrow tables are probably a necessity when setting up shop in little more than a driveway. Hungry Birds' small adjoining kitchen cooks up Mexico-inspired breakfasts and lunches and keeps muffins on the windowsill. There's lots of beans and eggs and toast (though coeliacs can swap the latter for tortillas). Nothing appears straight-up vegan but we reckon a couple items, such as the pinto beans and the black bean ciabatta, might be be adaptable on request.

It was hot and we needed beverages. Thankfully Hungry Birds gives them as much menu space as the food. Michael appreciated Pru's Deluxe ($5), two coffee shots frothed up with icecream and milk.

I went for the taller juicier Jamaica ($5), a sweet and slightly herbal hibiscus cordial garnished with mint, lime and lots of ice.

Michael descended upon the pinto beans ($9.50) and fried egg ($3) with hot sauce and a hearty appetite. The tortilla strips and rich crema were particularly nice touches.

My Remolacha ($12.50) redefined the salad sandwich, teaming Aussie staples beetroot, lettuce and tomato with avocado, horseradish and thick slices of Gouda.

Hungry Birds is a cute, understated addition to the inner north brunch scene. Their affection for bike space, beans and cool beverages has us feeling fond of them too.

Hungry Birds has earned positive blog posts on Art Box Diary, Oh There You Are..., Little Bits..., two Munch and MELBOURNE CAFES PHOTO BLOG.

Hungry Birds
242 Victoria St, Brunswick
0401 540 872
veg meals $6-14.50
facebook page

Accessibility: This cafe is pretty much set up in a drive-way so it's a reasonably smooth and wide entry. Tables toward the front are highly accessible (but also highly exposed to the weather); however tables are denser and the walkway is more fraught towards the back seats and the kitchen. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter towards the back. We didn't visit toilets, presumably they are located inside the adjoining art gallery.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sonido III

November 23, 2012

It's been more than two years since we last blogged about Sonido. In the meantime, it's become my favourite coffee spot on Gertrude Street and has seen me visit almost every time I need to go out for lunch (poor old Trippy Taco is getting neglected). I've given the lunch menu a good going over, enjoying the cheesy arepa with beans, the scrambled egg option or the straight out beans and feta deal - there are only so many combos you can come up with. So when I discovered they were putting a new veggie dish on the menu to celebrate the fact that they now open on Friday nights I was pretty excited.

The night-time veg option is the championes al ajillo arepa (garlic mushroom and feta arepa, $12), which I ordered with a side of guacamole ($2). It's a nice variation from the bean-heavy lunch dishes, with the little button mushrooms given a heavy dose of garlic, dolloped generously with creamy feta. I'd recommend drizzling with hot sauce but then I'd recommend that for almost everything.

Cindy went with the arepas de queso (cheesy arepas, $8.5), with a side salad ($2.5).

The true glory of these arepas is hidden in this photo - they're stuffed with oozing fresco cheese, a mild and melty filling that works well with the salsa and guacamole that come on the side.

I've never really paid attention to the drinks page of the menu before - there's a lot to get excited about.. Sonido have recently organised a liquor licence and have a range of wine, cocktails and beer on offer. They also have South-American fruit juices (lulo, guanbana and mora), which can be turned into smoothies or milkshakes, exotic soft drinks and filtered coffees. I stuck with beer ($8), which was a pretty ideal accompaniment to my hot-sauce slathered arepa. Cindy was braver with her beverage choice (although not brave enough to try the cheesy hot chocolate), going with the home-made lemonade ($6).

As the menu notes, this is more of a "lime-onade", and was an icy and refreshing way to cool down on a warm Friday evening. I'm a huge fan of Sonido, and it's just as lovely on a Friday night as it is during the day (and it's easier to get a table for now). The service was as friendly as ever and the food never disappoints.


69 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
0404 621 946
Arepas $6-$12 plus trimmings

Accessibility: Sonido has a flat entryway but is a little crowded inside. The outside tables are a mishmash of children-sized chairs. Ordering is at the table, with payment at a low counter. I've never wandered out to the toilets.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cafe Giraffe

Update 27/1/2019: Cafe Giraffe is permanently closed.

November 22, 2012

I noticed Cafe Giraffe while flicking through the Cheap Eats guide a few weeks ago and was surprised that I'd never heard of it before. It seems I have been willfully ignoring it, as I've walked past its sign several times before and there is no shortage of blog reviews online (see link list below). Unlike many of the city's lunchtime options, it's open until 11pm and on Saturdays which makes it pleasingly accessible to us employees of the northern 'burbs.

Cafe Giraffe feels almost like a nursery with adult-sized furniture - the white walls and wooden shelves hold pastel ornaments and curiosities, books and board games. G-I-R-A-F-F-E is spelled  instructively across the wall, and the menus match loopy printing with colour pictures for many dishes.

The options are unchallenging and inexpensive - nachos and dumplings, lasagne, meatballs, pasta and risotto at $8-12 per plate. There are no special markings for veg*ns and coeliacs but it's pretty easy to spot the vegetarian and gluten-free items from their descriptions; vegans might need to quiz the staff. Michael's chilli spinach risotto ($12) was simple and nothing special.

I chose the boldest and priciest meal, a cheese fondue ($8) with grilled mushrooms ($3.50) and pretzels ($3) and had a lot of fun with it. It's creamy and savoury without excessive richness... that is, until you (OK, I) dip a soup spoon in and take it all too far. Best stick with the regulation dippers.

I lacked the childish audacity to follow up with a chocolate fondue (into which you can dip fruit, cake and marshmallows) but did find room for a sticky date pudding with honey walnuts ($8.50). It was passable at best.

Many of the customers around us seemed more interested in a cup of tea and a catch-up with friends. Some extended their visits with dessert or a card game; few ordered a meal. Cafe Giraffe's primary appeal is that it's a calm and relatively spacious refuge in a gobble-it-down-and-get-out city. The staff we encountered were very sweet. Most of the menu is pretty unmemorable, but I'd go back for fondue with a friend.


Cafe Giraffe
302 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne
9640 0889
facebook page

Accessibility: There are a few steps up on entry, from memory the interior is relatively flat and tables are generously spaced. Orders and payment are made at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Peanut butter caramel slice

November 19, 2012

Strangely, I've got out of the habit of baking. Heaven knows I haven't lost my sweet tooth, there just seems to have been a steady supply of chocolate, a few tubs of ice-cream and the odd restaurant dessert keeping it busy through winter and spring. I've got to missing the heartiness and satisfaction of a homely dessert.

So I made one. I recreated Steph's caramel slice and I tested the tweak I've been plotting since I first blogged it - I replaced the margarine in the caramel layer with 1/2 cup of peanut butter.

As you might expect, this altered its consistency. The caramel rapidly thickened and I had to cut its simmer short as it began sticking to the saucepan and flicking up in dark brown blobs. In the oven it browned and set like a cheap, cheesy pizza. (I spent the rest of the night craving melted mozzarella, which seemed cruel given the effort I'd gone to to make dessert.) Unexpectedly, the base was different too. This time it was all crunchy caramelised coconut after just 15 minutes in the oven.

Perhaps it's just a sign that I need to replicate this slice further to understand its processes and variability. I think the caramel could take a stronger peanut butter flavour, but I'm unsure whether the caramel's texture will hold up to further dilution. There are one or two fun ways to find out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ren Dao

November 17, 2012

Last weekend we drew inspiration from Brianna's Southside staples article in the 2012 VeGMeL zine, trekking across town to Elsternwick for a movie at the Classic and a meal at Ren Dao Vegetarian Restaurant. Brianna observed that Ren Dao has been around for "a year or two now" and reckons "it has a fresher feel than Enlightened Cuisine".

It set a promising tone with smiling, attentive staff, padded seating and - happy sigh - gentle, non-fluorescent lighting. The length and diversity of the menu also equals (and probably betters) the Enlightened Cuisine benchmark: there are a dozen entrees and half as many soups, mock meats in myriad preparations, tofu and vegetables, noodles, roti and rice. Vegan, gluten-free and spicy-hot dishes are well-marked and abundant (and include some g-f mock meat!). The mains hover around $20 each and we wondered whether they'd earn those extra couple of bucks on their rivals.

The 5 Spice Loh-Bak Rolls ($7.50) finally showed me how bean curd wrapping is supposed to work out - light, flaky and a little sweet. Instead of pork these were stuff with dense, starchy taro.

The Kung Po Chicken ($19.50) was a mighty bowl (not done justice in this photo) of mock meat, vegetables and roasted cashews coated in a thick, hot and sweet sauce. The capsicum, zucchini and celery did have a pleasing crispness to them and the 'chicken' was actually a medley of tofu strips, more textured tofu squares and chewy fried tofu puffs.

The Nasi Lemak ($12.80) made use of the glutenous mock chicken chunks we're used to in its yellow curry, along with more tofu and some melt-in-the-mouth potatoes. The surprise imitator in this dish is the mushroom-based, specially imported mound of mock anchovies!

Ren Dao's dishes certainly lived up to their asking price in both portioning and quality. If only we'd been heading straight home, they would have boxed up the last of our Kung Po to take with us. Actually, I wish we could box up Ren Dao and take them home with us! They rate highly across all my criteria: the variety of their menu, their fresh vegetables and restrained deep-frying, extensive options for special diets, comfortable surrounds and lovely, unhurried service. On these counts they probably have more in common with Veggie Kitchen than Enlightened Cuisine or White Lotus.

Actually, I think Ren Dao is carving a niche all its own in Elsternwick. We were heartened to see it bustling and boasting a demographic different to the inner north's veg*n hang-outs.


So far Ren Dao seems only to have received a mention on Bait For Bookworms.

Ren Dao Vegetarian Restaurant
275 Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick
9523 0150
veg entrees $6.50-9.80, veg mains $12.50-23.90

Accessibility: The restaurant's entry is quite flat and wide, tables inside are moderately spaced. We received full table service. The toilets are unisex but located up a narrow, bending staircase.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Rainbow Hotel

November 14, 2012

Ah pub-club, it's taken us to just about every vaguely veg-friendly pub in the inner-north. We've been particularly thorough with the Fitzroy pub scene, so I was quite surprised to look at our pub-club map and realise that we'd never checked out the Rainbow. It's been a Fitzroy mainstay since the 1870s and survived a tumultuous period of closures and threatened development before eventually being taken over by the guys who used to run the nearby Lambs Go Bar.

Since early 2010, they've renovated it significantly and seem to have got things running pretty smoothly - there's live music some nights, a glorious courtyard, and a relaxed atmosphere (although the all-reggae playlist on the night we were there was a bit odd). The menu is built around standard pubby fare like steaks and burgers but has a pretty reasonable selection of vego dishes as well. We passed up the sweet corn croquettes ($10), the vegan black bean jambalaya ($21) and the roast pumpkin salad ($17) and both chose burgers. The Rainbow take the excellent approach of offering all three of their burgers as either meaty or vego. The veg burger is pretty simple - just a big roasted field mushroom - but it's great to be able to pick and choose a bit.

I couldn't resist the hot rod (with jalapenos, Monterey Jack cheese, pickled green tomato, lettuce and chipotle aioli, $17), while Cindy went for the Southern burger (Monterey Jack cheese, pickled green tomato and lettuce with a Jack Daniels bbq sauce, $17). The original Southern burger has double-smoked bacon as well, and I was imagining a wonderful world in which they replaced it with tempehcon or something, but that was never going to happen.

The burgers were solid - the mushrooms were cooked well enough so that they didn't just turn into a soggy mess and the trimmings were excellent. Mine was loaded up with jalapenos which gave it a spicy kick, but the aioli and cheese helped to keep things under control and the use of pickled green tomato rather than big gross slices of actual tomato was a winning move. Cindy was pretty happy as well, mainly because of the excellent barbecue sauce and fantastic chips. They're pretty pricey, but we both walked out nice and full and happy with the experience. Our pub-clubbing buddies all enjoyed their food as well, although the jambalaya was a little chilli-heavy. 

The Rainbow is another great Fitzroy pub, with a brilliant selection of beers, an excellent menu and plenty of space to spread out in (at least early on a Wednesday evening). It'll almost certainly earn itself a repeat pub-club visit before too many months go by (especially if Melbourne ever actually gets warm enough for us to sit outside in the courtyard).

There are surprisingly few reviews of The Rainbow out there. Brian enjoyed the old incarnation, the PubStars peeps give it 4/5 and Joanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe mentioned her enthusiasm in passing.

The Rainbow Hotel
27 St David Street, Fitzroy
9419 4193
veg entrees ~$10, mains $17-$2

Accessibility: The beer garden has a flat entryway from the street and on into the pub (I think). Meanwhile, while there's a very small step up from the street into the pub itself. Things are pretty spacious inside, with a mix of high and low tables, although the toilets are a bit more poky. Ordering and payment takes place at the bar.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lasagne of unprecedented extravagance

November 10, 2012

I've been revelling in our recent couple of obligation-free weekends. We've done a lot of exploratory eating, and on Saturday we scheduled my ideal combination of unhurried sunny-day cycling, eating out, browsing markets and op-shops, then lazing at home and spending a few hours in the kitchen trying something new.

We'd picked out a mushroom lasagne from Plenty for dinner. Lasagne is a bit of a project at the best of times, and Ottolenghi consistently leans towards the lengthy and the complicated. To wit: this lasagne involved four kinds of mushroom and five kinds of cheese. We committed, raiding the market delis for fresh lasagne sheets and fancy dairy, and the organic aisle for herbs and fungi. And after we spent money, we spent time; soaking and chopping mushrooms, whisking up two cheese sauces, grating yet more cheese, cursing dry lasagne sheets and carefully layering it all together, then not-quite-patiently letting it all melt and bake into the monstrosity you see pictured above.

It was a delicious monstrosity. I'm fond of mushrooms in cream sauce, and this has allowed me to eat them all week (and a whole lot of rocket besides). While the lasagne has been a pleasure, I can't help wondering if those five deli-sourced cheeses might have brought even more if we'd rationed them out and appreciated them individually. But then I'd've lost the pleasure of a weekend cooking project, I suppose.

Lasagne of unprecedented extravagance
(aka Mushroom Lasagne in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty,
recipe online here)

15g dried porcini mushrooms
400mL lukewarm water
60g butter
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
200g portobella mushrooms, 420g Swiss brown mushrooms, 240g button mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
4 tablespoons chopped parsley

60g butter
3 shallots, finely chopped
60g plain flour
550mL milk
375g ricotta
1 egg
150g feta, crumbled
170g gruyere, grated
400g lasagne sheets
150g mozzarella, grated
50g parmesan, grated
salt and white pepper

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small-medium bowl and cover them with the lukewarm water, leaving them to soak for 5 minutes. I used this time to prepare my herbs and other mushrooms. When the porcinis are soaked, drain them and reserve the liquid. Finely chop them up.

Melt the butter in a very large frypan. Add the thyme and all the mushrooms, including the soaked porcinis. Stir the mushrooms occasionally as they cook. When they've softened and are just starting to leak a bit of water, take them off the heat (Ottolenghi estimates 4 minutes, but I reckon ours took at least 10). Stir in the tarragon and parsley, plus some salt and pepper. Transfer it all to a large bowl.

Use the frypan to make a bechamel sauce. Start by melting the butter and cooking the shallots in it for a few minutes. Add the flour, stirring it all together to form a paste and cooking for another couple of minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk, trying your best to smooth out any lumps. Strain the mushroom liquid and leave aside the last bit, which probably has grit in it. Whisk the mushroom liquid into the sauce too. Whisk in a little salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and simmer it until thick (Ottolenghi reckoned 10 minutes but I reckon mine took half that!). Take the sauce off the heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta and egg until well mixed, then fold in 3 tablespoons of the bechamel and all of the crumbled feta. Add the gruyere to the remaining bechamel in the frypan, stirring it through until relatively smooth.

If you're using dry lasagne sheets, pour some boiling water over them and allow them to soak for a couple of minutes. Drain them. 

Preheat an oven to 180 C. Find a large baking dish to assemble the lasagne, ours is about 25 x 35cm and it was bursting at the seams with this recipe.

Pour one-fifth of the bechamel into the baking dish and spread it out. Cover the sauce with a layer of lasagne sheets. Spread over one-quarter of the ricotta mixture (I had to dab it around, it wasn't going to spread as a thin layer), spoon over one-quarter of the mushrooms, then one-quarter of the mozzarella. Repeat the bechamel-pasta-ricotta-mushroom-mozzarella process three more times. Pour over the last of the bechamel and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Cover the lasagne loosely with foil (so that it doesn't touch the top) and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the parmesan top is golden. Allow the lasagne to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crumbs Organic Bakehouse

November 10, 2012

Not once have we managed to drag ourselves across to Ascot Vale, where Crumbs have been baking vegan-friendly goodies for years. This is ridiculous, I know. In 2012 they've graciously met us more than half way, setting up a sister shop in North Melbourne with an irresistible window display.

While I believe their source bakery is more of a mix, the North Melbourne store's baked goods are exclusively vegan. (However they do offer dairy milk for coffee, and sell eggs and honey.) There's a few coeliac-friendly sweets in the mix too, including this dense chocolate brownie. But if you're up for some wheat flour with your white sugar, look no further than the lemon curd-centred doughnuts ($3.50 each). Omitting the eggs has simply left more room for bracing lemon and I'm all for it.

We should give their bread a go too, but we'll most likely be driven back to test whether any of the other sweets can out-do that doughnut. We're also eagerly anticipating the tofu and mushroom pies and sausage rolls that they promised are in the works.

The North Melbourne Crumbs was visited on the same day as us by Mel of Veganise This!. It has also received positive reviews from new international students, And Lashings Of Ginger Beer and The Good Hearted.

There's appreciation for Crumbs goods at other locations on Vegan About Town, Consider The Sauce and CRAP SPATULA.

Crumbs Organic Bakehouse
16 Errol St, North Melbourne
9375 4777
veg treats and bread up to ~$7 each

Accessibility: Crumbs has a flat entry and excellent views of all their goods. Seats and benches are set against the wall and are tall. Ordering and payment takes place at a low counter. There aren't any toilets.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


November 10, 2012

It's increasingly difficult to keep up with Melbourne's burgeoning cafe scene - it seems as though every week in every suburb across the city somewhere new opens up selling fancy brunches and good coffee. We made a rare foray to North Melbourne on Saturday to check out the 'new' Queensberry Street destination Elceed (note: Elceed has been open for more than year, that's just how things are for us these days).

Behind the fairly unassuming exterior, Elceed has an old-fashioned op-shoppy sort of charm: mismatched chairs, cute teacups and a couple of terrariums around the place. There's an inviting looking courtyard out the back, but Saturday morning was ludicrously cold for mid-November so we settled inside.

At 9:00am on a Saturday things are lively without being too busy - no sign of Melbourne's breakfast queues here. The menu is veg-friendly and, although there's nothing overtly vegan, Fiona reports that they're happy to put something together on request. They don't label gluten-free options but they do promise GF-toast, so coeliacs should have options.

One option they won't have is what Cindy ordered, the $13.50 breakfast fruit crumble with polenta fruit topping and vanilla bean yoghurt (the crumble has a bit of flour in it for binding)

Cindy pronounced this the best breakfast crumble she had ever eaten. Which is high praise indeed given how regularly she orders it. The fruit mix combined rhubarb and apple with little bursts of blueberry freshness, and the polenta and toasted nut-based crumble had plenty of crunch. A real winner.

I ordered off the specials list, going for the gremlin eggs: poached eggs on sourdough with baby spinach, grilled asparagus and avocado, topped with basil hollandaise (there was no price on the specials board and we forgot to pay attention, but it was probably about $15). 

This was pretty great as well - the eggs were perfectly poached, the asparagus grilled enough to not be tough but still retaining some texture, and the avo was green and ripe. The basil hollandaise was good, but didn't quite reach the heights of the sauce I imagined - it lacked that bit of tang that a good hollandaise has. Obviously they're not going for a classical hollandaise sauce here though, so it may have just been my imagination setting impossible standards. This was still an excellent brekkie - and there were heaps of other wonderful-sounding savoury dishes for me to try (grilled haloumi! corn fritters! pea and broadbean mash!). 

With great coffee and friendly staff, Elceed is another fantastic brunching place in Melbourne and given it's relatively convenient location for visiting the Queen Vic Markets, it's one we'll probably visit again soon (right after we try Wooly Bully, Twenty & Six and Beatrix of course!).



610 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
9326 8648
veg dishes $4.5-16.90

Accessibility: There's a step up on entry and things are relatively cluttered inside (although Fiona reckons pram-wielding peeps will manage okay). The bathrooms are located outside, down a small flight of stairs. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


November 5, 2012

Brian's post about Grace put it straight onto my list of must-visit places - the food looked great and the fit-out charmingly laidback. I quickly forgot about it though, as other breakfasts got in the way. A month or so later we got an email from reader Leah urging us to check it out, but still it took the best part of two months for the two of us and our camera to find our way there. Melbourne is clearly providing us with too many options.

Anyway, we finally made it and it easily lived up to the hype. The building (which has an interesting history) is brilliantly decorated on the outside and quietly stylish on the inside. The staff are friendly and helpful and at 10am on a Monday at least, things feel lovely and relaxed. The menu, hidden in the cover of an old books, promises 'kind food' and is loaded up with vego options. Vegan and gluten-free items are also marked, although the former seems restricted to just avocado on toast right now. I hovered over the beetroot, feta and alfalfa bagel ($7.50) and the chickpea and eggplant baked eggs ($15), before settling on the field mushrooms with roasted beetroot, rocket and herbs (vegan, $14).

Everyone else who's ordered this seems to have added a serve of feta, and I can see how that would work - without it, this was just the tiniest bit dry. It made up for it with flavour though - both the mushrooms and beetroot were marinated and roasted, and both were bursting with deliciousness. There was something a little citrussy going on I think, as well as garlic and saltiness. Whatever it was, it really worked - I'd recommend this, although maybe splash out and order the feta to smooth out the textures a bit. Or just ask for nuttelex/butter on the toast.

Cindy was never going to be able to ignore the quark-filled crepes ($13, although she did waver briefly over the $8 yoghurt jar), meaning her only real choice was toppings: berry coulis or lemon curd? In the end she went with lemon curd which came out alongside a generous pot of cream.

These were clearly successful as they remained untasted by me. Cindy was particularly happy with the generousness of the toppings - there was plenty to smush across the delicate crepes, leaving one very happy breakfaster.

We spent a good portion of our breakfast discussing possible takeaway sweets - the counter is set up so invitingly that it's almost impossible to walk out empty handed. We ended up grabbing a couple of goodies (a gluten-free chocolate and almond cake and a vegan blood-orange cake) to sneak home with us, both of which were very satisfactory. Grace is a lovely addition to a suburb already overflowing with excellence - they're in a great location, have a beautiful space and are providing fine breakfasts.

Despite the veg-friendly focus of Grace, no other vego bloggers have reviewed it yet (although it does make the recommendation list at the Vegan Guide to Melbourne). Other bloggers have been uniformly positive about it - check out the indolent cook, Sharking for chips and drinks, The Social Lion, melbournechaitimes, Fitzroyalty, slicing almonds and zesting lemons, Eat With Anja, Debbie Download and Royal Fuchsia Kohl.

76 Rose Street, Fitzroy
no phone
veg dishes $4.50-15

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up to a narrow door to enter, the interior is all pretty tight and the chairs are a bit unstable. You order at the table and pay at a low counter.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vegie Mum

November 5, 2012

Cindy and I decided to make the most of our lazy long-weekend in Melbourne by hitting up some of the more far-flung vego restaurants in town. Having ticked off Aum Shanti on Saturday, we made plans for an early Sunday dinner at Vegie Mum in Doncaster. Nestled in a pretty unappealing looking strip-mall, Vegie Mum isn't trying very hard to win style points. The basic tables and chairs and sparsely decorated walls gives this place an almost food-court ambience. Still, the menu looked promising - pages and pages of Chinese and Malaysian-style mock-meat dishes, covering the regular chicken and pork dishes but also incorporating a few wackier options like coconut prawns, kung-po squid and furry mushroom hotpot.

It's a pretty overwhelming menu, and it would be wonderful to come in a bigger group and just go for one of the many banquets they offer ($20-$30 per head, for groups of four or more). We ended up just ordering from the specials page, splitting two mains, a serve of rice ($2) and a roti ($4) between us.

First up was the Malaysian-style dried veggie beef rendang ($17).

The combo of mock-beef and big chunks of zucchini worked surprisingly well in this curry. The sauce was sweet, spicy and fragrant but fell a bit short of the standards set by Loving Hut. By the time we got through this, I'd decided the problem was too much sugar - it wasn't bad by any means, but didn't quite hit the heights I was hoping for.

In contrast, the Soy Fish with Nyonya Sauce ($18) was a complete winner.

The sauce was spicy and tangy, with a citrussy flavour shining through alongside a decent chilli kick. The combo of green beans, okra and excellent soy fish slices worked perfectly - this is possibly a challenger for White Lotus' famous tamarind fish

We were pretty stuffed after getting through those two dishes, so the lack of a dessert menu wasn't too upsetting. Our waitress did drop off these weird little jelly palate cleansers to wind things up, paired with a couple of slices of orange. It was as much as I could squeeze in.

Vegie Mum is an excellent mock-meat option, particularly if you find yourselves in the eastern suburbs for some reason. I'm not sure we'll board the 908 bus again in the near future - we've got a bunch of equally good (or better) options more locally - but I'm glad we checked it out. There's clearly a market for mock-meat in Doncaster though - they were doing a roaring trade at 6pm on a Sunday and have been around for nearly 10 years. Long may they continue.


Surprisingly few bloggers have made the trip out to Doncaster. There are positive reviews from RaWd's Food Diary, OISHINBO and Wandering Vegans, while The Journal of the Whills weren't really excited by the mock meat experience.


Vegie Mum
27 Village Avenue, Doncaster
9816 322
entrees $3-12, mains $9.50-25

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up at the entry, but things are flat and relatively spread out inside. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't check out the toilets.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Belle's Diner

November 4, 2012

Michael certainly has his finger on the Gertrude St pulse. He not only works in the neighbourhood; he heard about the impending opening of Belle's Diner from his hairdresser down the street. From there it was easy work convincing me to visit a diner, especially when I discovered red velvet waffles on their brunch menu (genius!). The only problem was that they open at 10am - this put paid to a cheeky weekday visit and it's taken us a while to find a brunch-friendly weekend.

We actually arrived closer to 11am in the end and there were plenty of booths available (though they were filling up as noon passed and the menu options expanded). The breakfast menu has just five dishes - granola, those tempting waffles and three egg-based dishes (two of them vegetarian). Vegetarian items are supposedly asterisked but the breakfast list is star-less and then in the lunch section the kale salad includes anchovies and a *. That's -10 points for dietary markings, Belle.

Michael's 2 (scrambled) eggs ($12.50) sprawled across toast and home fries. They made for a satisfying plate and he was even more pleased that there was hot sauce on hand. While it's definitely good value, Michael noted that he makes a better hash himself  - he's immodest, but he's probably right.

And what of those waffles ($15)? They certainly looked the part - tantalisingly crimson, offset by raspberries, strawberries and vanilla-flecked cream cheese yoghurt. The flavour was good but not great. There was little sweetness to the dish, it was begging for a hint of salt to brighten the flavour, and the topping had none of the tang of cream cheese or yoghurt. Oh, and it was served cold. The raspberries saved it, providing enough sweetness and tartness to spread across the rest.

I liked the casual and understated atmosphere at Belle's Diner, which extended from the staff to the fit-out and the menu. It wasn't pitch-perfect - I wanted the music a bit softer, then the waffles and the special-diet tips kicked up a notch. I'm willing to hear them out at least once more though, because I know several people singing the praises of the fried green tomato burger.

Belle's Diner has been positively received on BURGER HOP, Temasek, GOOD FOOD, GOOD MOOD and The Burger Adventure.

Belle's Diner
150 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9077 0788
veg breakfast

Accessibility: There's a small step in the middle of Belle's Diner, but flat entryways at either end. A corridor through the centre is moderately wide and booths are packed end-to-end for the length of the building. While the booths don't appear particularly wheelchair or pram-friendly, I noticed some fellow diners in the far booth with a(n empty) wheelchair tucked in beside them. We ordered at our table and paid at a high bar and didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Aum Shanti

January 2016: Aum Shanti has changed hands is now trading as The Dharma Hub.

November 3, 2012

We were aiming for the Mornington Peninsula on Saturday afternoon and decided to pause along the way in Frankston to check out Savers and the local vegetarian cafe, Aum Shanti. As you can see from the photo above and perhaps guess from the name, Aum Shanti is pink and batiked and new-agey, stocking homewares and jewellery and other gifts as well as offering breakfast, lunch and snacks.

The menu is entirely vegetarian, with vegan and gluten-free items well marked. For breakfast there's a simple selection of toast and toasted sandwiches, muesli and pancakes with all items costing less than $10. Lunch includes soup, pizza, curry, a burger and anything from the display case, where we noticed Funky Pies, several salads, huge arancini, quiches and a range of sandwiches and wraps. Higher up a second display case boasts cakes and chocolates; we recognised cupcakes from Mister Nice Guy and saw more helpful vegan and gluten-free labelling.

While a Funky Pie was certainly tempting, Michael thought he should branch out a bit and ordered the trio of dips ($9.50) - actually a duo of pesto and double-hommus served with a few falafel and pita bread. The falafel were unexpectedly soft and the hommus was the high point so Michael was happy to double down. Nevertheless, he felt some order envy when he saw someone else's burger served up.

I picked the spinach and potato roti wrap ($8) from the counter display - it was stuffed tightly with vegetables and thoroughly crisped up in the sandwich press. I was glad for the relish, which really kicked up the flavour.

We found time and room for a pretty good coffee and some Black Velvet Gold Chocolates ($2.50 each) - the hazelnut toffee, rum and raisin and peanut swirl all hit the mark, but the coconut ruff wasn't our style.

Aum Shanti hosted a steady stream of customers while we visited - the dreadlocked, the retired, youth and families all stopped by to eat, filling every table available and placing takeaway orders too. I can only imagine what a god-send Aum Shanti's pie and cake stocks are for any veg*ns out Frankston way!

The only other blog review about Aum Shanti that I've found is a positive one on Vegan Melbourne back in 2009.


Aum Shanti
439 Nepean Highway, Frankston
9783 2899
veg meals $4.50-14
facebook page

Accessibility: Aum Shanti has a fairly smooth, standard-width entry and flat interior; tables are well-spaced although many of them are nestled up against shelves of retail stock. The cake display is set high and the savoury display is set low. Ordering and payment take place at a standard-height counter, with food brought to the table. We didn't visit the toilets, though if they're in the cafe they're probably located up several steps.