Monday, December 31, 2012

where's the best, these 16 months?

It's been more than a year since we updated our where's the best? page and, in the spirit of end-of-year list-making, we decided today was the day to get caught up. In that time we've chomped our way through more than a dozen veggie restaurants in Berlin, I blitzed Toronto (ten restaurants in six days!), we continued to discover wonderful cafes and restaurants in Melbourne and, in probably the eating highlight of the past year-and-a-bit, we worked our way through the entire Cutler & Co dessert menu.

Cooking-wise, it was another year of Ottolenghi. We made at least ten more of his recipes this year - the black pepper tofu was probably my favourite - and held an Ottolenghi-themed feast with friends. Otherwise we've been heavily motivated by the contents of our fortnightly veggie box. When we get a cabbage we've been turning to okonomiyaki or white beans and cabbage, and when a pumpkin arrives we turn to miso curry pumpkin, piquant pumpkin pie or herb-crumbed pumpkin wedges

Melbourne bloggers continue to inspire us too - Steph at Vegan About Town has added Nonya chicken, dan dan mian, chocolate cheezecake and caramel slice (with a little help from Johanna GGG) to our repertoire, Carla led us to cauliflower and caramelised onion tart, black sticky rice and tempeh bacon, while Lucy's palm sugar fried tempeh has us shallow-frying regularly and the surprise mint choc-chip icecream from In the Mood for Noodles is high on our dessert list. We were inspired to make coconut bacon by local veg cafe New Day Rising, but leaned heavily on Johanna GGG for the recipe.

Spicy Peruvian 'cheese' sauce, crepas de huitlacoche con salsa de chiles poblanos and eggy quesadillas were our contribution to the Hispanic fever that's swept Melbourne's food scene, while we branched out a little further with these Brazilian carrot cakes. Cindy also tweaked a few old favourites to make them vegan friendly, inventing her own secret blend of herbs and spices for Kentucky fried tofu and taking the eggs and dairy out of French toast. The ice cream maker didn't get quite as much of a work-out as in years gone by but this date, rum and pecan ice cream was a dessert highlight. 

We've continued to explore Melbourne's cafes, adding Cafe Lua, Wide Open Road, New Day Rising, L'atelier Monsieur Truffe, Milkwood, Grace, Elceed, Small Victories and Brother Alec to our favourites. Two places we've loved for years wowed us with expanded options more recently - Mankoushe with their fantastic cafe and Monk Bodhi Dharma with their Friday dinner menu. 

A couple of classic mock-meat places disappeared (the EBC and the Mercy Seat) but were more than adequately replaced by South, Ren Dao and Madame K. For pubby kind of food, we've dived into Brother Burger & the Marvellous Brew and The Beaufort, while Shanghai Street Dumpling was probably the best value place we discovered this year. Middle Fish, Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe, Market Lane mushroom burgers and Kaprica all do okay on a dollar:deliciousness ratio as well. At the other end of the scale, we had tremendous fancy meals at Movida Next Door and Attica and loved the mid-priced wonders being served up by The Moor's Head, Mamasita, Chin Chin and Easy Tiger.

Along with the couple mentioned above, we lost Indya Bistro and Robbies Stein from our favourites list, while Circa, the Prince has been transformed completely since we visited.

Somewhat surprisingly 2012 has been our least productive blogging year - we'll end up one short of 200 posts for the year. Twitter has taken up some of the slack, and we're continually amazed by the wonderful people we've met and become friends with via the web. Here's to a big 2013!

Aunty Ral's gingernuts

December 29-31, 2012

This morning we are guests on Bhakthi's RRR segment Cook The Book, and we'll be discussing Gillian Mears' recently published novel Foal's Bread. (Here it is, archived online.) The book traces the life of Noah Nancarrow, a talented and hard-working horse show-jumper living in northern New South Wales before the Second World War. The story is romantic and tragic, told in a style that's lyrical but also calls on the Aussie vernacular.

Foal's bread isn't anything you'd want to eat. It's a piece of tissue sometimes found in the mouth of a newborn foal and that can be dried out and kept as a lucky charm. Yet among the descriptions of animal husbandry and the Australian landscape you'd expect, this book is also littered with references to the food of the time. The colour and texture and sensation of food is often interwoven with the characters' experiences. Noah's sister-in-law Ralda bakes ceaselessly - to comfort, to celebrate, and to enter into competition at the Show.

To accompany our radio interview I've baked gingernuts. Aunty Ral's gingernuts are a Nancarrow family tradition on Show day and they're said to be crunchy and crackled on top, best dipped in a cup of tea. I took my recipe from my mum's yellowed Barossa Cookery Book, which was published in the time that this novel is set. I've typed it verbatim below - recipe writers then clearly expected much prior knowledge from cooks!

One lb. 2 ozs. flour, 1/2 lb. butter, 1/2 lb. sugar, 3/4 lb. treacle, 1 oz. ground ginger. Mix all the ingredients into a stiff dough, roll out, cut into small biscuits, and bake in a moderate oven. 
- Miss J.M. Bartsch, Angaston

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chocolate cheezecake

December 24-25, 2012

While Michael made a big break from family Christmas tradition, my family has been honing some off-beat traditions of their own. My mum and her sister typically develop a TV series obsession (this year we weaned them from Mad Men with Homeland), there is abundant wine and cheese and chips and less emphasis on the main meal. In fact, this year sufficient wine and cheese and chips were had that we deferred the main meal to dinner time and skipped straight from hors d'oeuvres to dessert.

For dessert I utilised a very large tub of vegan cream cheese I recently inherited from a friend and an excellent recipe for black forest cheezecake developed by another friend. Not all of my family love black forest flavours as much as I do, so I kept the berries on the side and sprinkled extra chocolate biscuit crumbs on top. The filling was thick and buttery and needed a lot of cajoling to form a smooth flat cake and though I worried over its wobbliness during baking, it set firmly and densely overnight in the fridge.

It was every bit the (five-person) crowd-pleaser I'd hoped for. While a couple of people ate it with berries as intended, another preferred it unadorned and yet another astutely pointed out that it'd be better spiked with liqueur and proceeded to douse mouthfuls variously with Kahlua, Frangelico and red wine.

It fueled us through some intensive afternoon napping, after which we ate Michael's heaven-sent haloumi and mango coconut rice salad in a park, drove down to St Kilda pier to watch the penguins come in for the night, and warmed up with B52s before bed. It's nice to think that we can do it all again (or not!) next year.

Chocolate cheezecake
(based on Steph's black forest cheezecake)

250g packet Choc Ripple biscuits
3 tablespoons margarine (increase to 4)

300g dark chocolate
700g vegan cream cheese
250g silken tofu
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
shake of salt

Line a springform tin with paper. Crush the chocolate biscuits and set 1/2 cup of them aside for later. Melt the margarine and mix it through the main portion of crushed biscuits. Pour the crushed biscuits into the line tin and use your hands or the back of a spoon to press them into the base and a little way up the sides.

Preheat an oven to 175°C. Gently melt the chocolate and set it aside. Beat together the remaining filling ingredients in a bowl, then fold through the melted chocolate. Pour the filling over the crust, smoothing over the top with a knife or spatula. Cover the cheezecake with foil and bake it until set around the edges, about 50 minutes. Sprinkle over that 1/2 cup of biscuit crumbs you should still have lying around, and refrigerate the cheezecake overnight before slicing and serving.

Friday, December 28, 2012

St Ali North

Update 31/12/2014: St Ali North has closed and been replaced by Green Park Dining. We visited Green Park for an excellent dessert night, but have yet to check it out for brekkie. 

December 25, 2012

Every family has its own Christmas Day traditions - we were always up bright and early, just getting breakfast out of the way so we could get on to present opening. It was always time spent at home, gearing up for the big family shindig at lunch. So I felt vaguely guilty when Cindy and I headed off to have breakfast out on Christmas morning this year. It felt like I was breaking an unwritten rule, to be heeded even when not spending Christmas with my family.

Still, there was something exciting about it too, and the lure of the inner north's newest cafe was enough to have me rebelling. St Ali is something of an institution - it's been serving up fancy coffee and trendy cafe food in South Melbourne for years now. For some reason we've never dragged ourselves over there to check it out, so we were quite excited to watch as their outpost in the north popped up alongside the Park St bike path. It's a lovely place - light-filled and airy, with the coffee machines taking pride of place and a combo of communal and smaller tables. It's heavily bike-focussed, luring in riders from the bike-path or getting them to stop at the 'ride-through' coffee window. It must have been one of very few places doing brekkie on Christmas morning, yet we had no problem nabbing a table at 9am.

The menu is long and mixes together standard breakfast dishes with a range of more innovative options. It's not the most veg-friendly menu in town, with the terrific-sounding pan-fried stone-fruit spoiled by the addition of bacon icecream. Vegans will be able to eat but won't have much to choose from. I eventually decided to try the 'My Mexican Cousin' dish, despite it coming in at a whopping $21.50 (surely a where's the beef? breakfast record).

It was impossible not to order it though, with ingredients like poached eggs, haloumi, fried sweetcorn fritters and kasundi. And it didn't disappoint - the fritters were wonderful, the eggs well-cooked and the kasundi spicy and rich. One little sliver of haloumi seemed a bit pointless, and I think in an ideal world you could drop it, one of the fritters and have this as a $14 brekkie.

Cindy ordered "Grandpa Pat's brown sugar and salted butter porridge" ($12.50). It was heavy on the brown sugar and swimming in butter - not really the healthy option you imagine when you order porridge. Cindy didn't think it would be too everybody's taste but she was pretty happy with it.

As you'd expect, the coffee is excellent and there are loads of fancy-schmancy dishes if you want them. The staff were lovely and friendly, especially seeing as they were all stuck working on Christmas day. St Ali is a welcome addition to the north - it's going for a slightly fancier and more expensive version of breakfast than some of our local favourites, but it provided a great start to Christmas day and is well worth checking out.


St Ali North has been enthusiastically reviewed by Peach Water, PETIT MIAMx, Ess Jay Eats and Samson Girl.


St Ali North 
815 Nicholson Street, Carlton North (on the Park St bike path)
9686 2990
veggie breakfasts $7.50 - $21.50

Accessibility: St Ali has a flat entryway and reasonably well spaced out tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a lowish counter. We didn't check out the toilets.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Horn Please

December 23, 2012

Since opening a few months ago Horn Please has brought a bit of buzz to Indian food in Melbourne, breaking into the Broadsheet scene and popping up in The Age a bunch of times. We ducked in early on a Sunday evening to check them out. I was expecting the hype to mean queues and high demand for tables but things were pretty manageable, probably thanks to the fact that we turned up early (and possibly because half of Melbourne has headed off to the beach or something).

You can see why there's been a good response - the folk at Horn Please (who also run Dhaba Mill in Kyneton and its associated food truck) have gone for a much more stylish fit-out than your typical Indian place. There's a projector firing Bollywood clips at the wall, trendy light fittings dropping from the ceiling and a modern airy vibe. It's a step up from Gujju's or Kake di Hatti - the only remotely similar Indian place I can think of is Lakshmi in Carlton North.

Sunday night is buffet night, and we ended up sitting confused for a while, unsure whether we could still order off the menu or how the buffet worked. After eventually flagging someone down (the few waitstaff were strangely inattentive given how quiet it was), it was explained to us: you can pay $20 and hit the buffet, you can order off the menu, or you can do some combination of the two. We went for a combo, ordering the naan basket ($12, featuring plain, garlic/chive and sesame/onion seed naans) to accompany our attack on the all-you-can-eat curry pots.

There were four vego options on offer (I gather this is the norm, although the specific curries vary regularly): coconut pumpkin curry, aloo bengan, Punjabi khadi and dhal makhani, along with rice, hot sauce and a lovely mixed pickle. We sampled a bit of everything. The coconut pumpkin curry is rich and sweet, with turmeric, cinnamon and mustard seeds providing a very mild spice. Cindy found the richness a bit too much (despite making a pumpkin and blue cheese pie for dinner the night before!) but with a generous dollop of spicy pickle, I thought it was a winner. My main complaint was the sauce:pumpkin ratio, which was way too high. The dhal was a more substantial stew, heavy on the lentils and aromatic with ginger and cumin. It could have used a bit more salt, but was otherwise a nice protein-heavy mush.

The two stand-outs though, were the Punjabi khadi (yoghurt and turmeric based curry, with zucchini, eggplant and chickpea flour fritters) and the aloo bengan (spiced chunks of kipfler potato and eggplant). The fritters in the khadi were wonderful - streets ahead of the standard kofta-style veggie dumplings churned out by most Indian places. Again, I thought they were a bit drowned in the sauce (look at that lonely fritter in the top-left quadrant of the plate below!), but you could keep going back for more until you had your fill. The eggplant and potato curry had the spiciest and most flavourful sauce - where the other curries were going for subtlety and mildness, this one went for a nice hot kick.

A special mention for the naan breads which we failed to photograph - they were wonderfully light with the perfect blend of crispiness and breadiness. I'd come back for them alone. Horn Please also stands out from other Indian places in the drinks department, offering an exclusively local wine list and a stunning array of craft beers. While  I wasn't completely won over by the food, I was pretty impressed by the concept: Indian food with fresh, high quality ingredients, a great atmosphere and excellent drinks. I'm keen to go back and try the a la carte menu - especially to sample some of the street-style entrees. Hopefully Horn Please starts an Indian-inspired food craze in Melbourne to rival the Mexican madness that's taken over in the last few years - there's a lot of potential here and I'm keen to see it take off.


Horn Please has already racked up a reasonable number of blog reviews, with Fitzroyalty giving it a rave review. Other positive write-ups came from Gourmet Chick, Epicureaddict, Sharking for Chips and Drinks, Food Words Maz and Time goes by so sweetly....

Newish vego blog Ebezilla was much less impressed, noting the lack of really interesting flavours, despite all the fresh ingredients. I do wonder if they're missing the mark a bit with the vego options, as we fell closer to this view than to the completely positive views of the meatier bloggers.


Horn Please
167 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North
9497 8101
Sunday night buffet $20, a la carte veg curries $12-$15

Accessibility: Horn Please has a flat entry way, but there's a single step up from the front bar area to the main restaurant section. Things are reasonably well spaced out. Ordering and payment is at the table.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Piquant pumpkin pie

December 22, 2012

As a vegetarian, I generally enjoy the vitriol on Cooking for Assholes more than the recipes. But I liked that Cooking Asshole's take on pumpkin pie - less sugar'n'spice, more thyme and blue cheese. I should've known that his name for it, blumpkin pie, has other unsavoury connotations. (If you don't know, I don't recommend googling it - you won't be able to look at the above photo in the same way again.)

It seems better suited to autumn than mid-summer, but Aussie Farmers saw fit to deliver us a pumpkin this fortnight and we went with it. Sadly our food processor was unwilling to come along for the ride, and this took a couple of hours longer than it should have with much wrestling of sloppy pastry along the way. Feel free to substitute your own more reliable food processor or a different shortcrust recipe for what I've outlined below.

The pie was a little mushy and messy served warm and much better behaved when given some time in the fridge to cool down. Either way, the filling works: sweet working with savoury, smooth studded with crunchy.

Piquant pumpkin pie
(slightly adapted from Cooking for Assholes)

1 1/4 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
120g butter
3 tablespoons iced water

700g pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cream
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Slice the pumpkin into thick wedges and remove the seeds and stringy bits in the centre. Place the wedges an oven tray and cover them loosely with foil. Bake the pumpkin for 30 minutes, or until tender. 

Turn the oven down to 180°C and work on the crust. Place the flour and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into cubes and throw it in too. Pulse the ingredients until they clump like breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and blend until the pastry dough comes together.

Roll a large sheet of plastic wrap onto a bench and toss the dough on it, bringing it together into a ball. Cover it with a second sheet of plastic wrap, then gently roll it out to fit a pie dish. Take off one plastic sheet ease it into a pie dish pastry-first, removing the second plastic layer and trimming the edges to fit. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork and bake it for 10 minutes.

Cut the skin away from the pumpkin wedges and place them in a large bowl with the sugar, cream and eggs. Use a stick blender to puree the pumpkin filling. Fold in the cheese, pecans and thyme and sprinkle over salt, to taste. Pour the mixture into the pie crust, smooth over the top and cover the pie with foil. Bake it for about 55 minutes, until the pie has set through. Allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes, and potentially several hours, before slicing and serving.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


December 15, 2012

To celebrate my birthday this year, Michael and I visited Brooks. It's a new collaboration between the owners of Gerald's Bar and former Embrasse chef Nicolas Poelaert. Melbourne Gastronome had tweeted favourably about their vege burger and we know that Poelart knows veg*n food.

With burgers and bar owners at Brooks, we weren't quite sure what to expect. We found a fairly typical high-end restaurant with an expansive bar at one end. The menu was scattered with veg-friendly dishes and we were inevitably drawn to the $80 five course tasting menu listed at the bottom.

They started us off with cheese and crackers 'the Brooks way' - a square of Perl Las blue cheese hidden inside a thin crisp, with a dab of apple puree on top.

From the cocktail menu, I chose a Manzana Fresca ($18), a light and tangy mix of vodka, sherry, green apple, lime and grapefruit bitters.

Sadly it was a little too sour to enjoy in combination with the (otherwise lovely) sourdough bread. Michael's G&T might have been a better choice.

Our first full plate was a stunning array of more than 25 different vegetables, herbs and flowers - barely cooked or interfered with - dotted with flavoured emulsions and a dash of crumbly olive 'soil'. No two mouthfuls were the same, with a multitude of familiar and and puzzling flavours darting in and out.

This silver platter played on my weakness for potatoes. The creamy, rich riced potato nest held even richer creme fraiche and a smoked egg yolk. While the roesti foam didn't evoke much in me, the crispy potato bits felt like flaked roti and tasted like original Pringles. Dish of the night, by my reckoning.

Slow cooked leeks and cauliflower puree are fairly standard fare for vegos visiting fancy-schmancy restaurants. The novelty here is honey! Though I can usually take it or leave it, this dish's honey-wasabi sauce and sandy sprinkling of bee pollen gave me a completely new view on cauliflower. We relished our pickled cherries, picking them up by the stalk and gobbling them whole, unsure how to make them work with their neighbouring ingredients.

Our final savoury dish featured roasted beetroots sheltering under black flakes of potato, with burnt carrot puree, red wine and ginger gel, and cows' milk cheese. The sweet carrots and swoon-worthy cheese just barely saved this from the brink of burned bitterness.

A side platter of squash, zucchini and spinach in a light vinegary broth served to fill our stomachs and refresh our palates for dessert.

Here they made another Cindy-friendly gesture: while there's only one dessert course, they gave us each a different dessert so that we could taste two! *Applause* It was easy to split the summery plum sorbet, piped cheesecake, berries and beetroot dusted meringue ... though it was also tempting to scoff the lot.

However I didn't want to jeopardise my share of Poelaert's evergreen forest floor, a beautiful dessert including buttery hazelnut parfait, powdery meringue, the darkest of ganaches and sorrel ice accents.

We finished with hot drinks and our pick of the petit fours - a passionfruit-stuffed doughnut for Michael and life-threatening wedge of salted caramel for me.

High-protein ingredients like legumes are notably absent from the Brooks vegetarian menu, but on a summer night I appreciated the emphasis on fresh produce. This is high-end dining with all the usual trimmings and the service is superlative - relaxed and friendly but never obtrusive, they noticed every time we needed another drink a good minute before we would have. Now that Melbourne's veg*n degustations have skated beyond $100 per person, I think Brooks' tasting menu offers notable value. 


Brooks has received positive write-ups on PETIT MIAMx, eat.MELBOURNE, grazing panda and Gourmet Chick.

Basement of 115-117 Collins St, Melbourne
9001 8755
five course tasting menu $80

Accessibility: Brooks has a wide entry, then a railed staircase down to the split-level restaurant (we didn't notice any stair alternatives). We received full table service. Accessing the toilets involved a couple more stairs, and the cubicles were narrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Small Victories

Edit 02/01/2021: Small Victories is no longer operating.

December 9, 2012

I think I've found this summer's best breakfast! It's fresh and seasonal, and I suspect it's vegan and gluten-free. It's a plate of melon and mango wedges dotted with chewy sago and puffed brown rice, moistened with a lime and passionfruit syrup and crowned with candied coconut ($13).

This fancy fruit salad comes from Small Victories. The cafe opened last winter in a spot that was previously occupied by the Rathdowne St Food Store and I didn't notice big changes to the interior - it's still a simple, elegant split-level layout with a high bar and tempting spread of cakes and pastries.

The staff and menu are all new though. Other sweet options are fruit toast, bircher and a warm pistachio loaf served with yoghurt mousse, watermelon, sour cherries and berries ($15). Savoury breakfasts centre exclusively around eggs, baked with fancy fixings or done to your preference with toast ($9.50), plus sides at extra cost. Vegos should skim past the bacon, sausage and black pudding and order oven baked mushrooms with garlic and rye crisp ($6), a leek and cheddar croquette ($5), wilted spinach with garlic, chilli, scallions and soft herbs ($4), baked beans ($5) or avocado with broad bean butter and linseed crisp ($6). Michael's poached pair of eggs were perfectly prepared, and he praised the rich mushrooms.

Gluten-free bread is available on request; it's unclear whether vegans might get a go at the mushrooms, spinach or baked beans or whether they're buttered up.

Small Victories' breakfasts are a little extravagant, but they seem to back it up with high quality ingredients and smiling service.


Small Victories has earned positive mentions on Confessions of a Food Nazi, Brunch On, I'm So Hungree and dear melbourne,. Gagwood Blog and om nom left less impressed.

Small Victories
617 Rathdowne St, Carlton North
9347 4064
veg breakfasts $7-20+

Accessibility: Small Victories has seats on the footpath, a step up into the cafe and a couple steps more up to extra seating. Tables have average-to-crowded spacing. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets but expect that they'd require at least a couple, if not a full flight, of steps to access.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rice salad with nuts & cherries

December 8, 2012

After a couple of days eating dinner out and about, Cindy and I took advantage of a free Saturday evening to cook up something vaguely healthy at home. We headed to yet another Ottolenghi salad, this rice salad with nuts and sour cherries.

We ended up with a simpler version of the recipe (not least because pantry moths had discovered and colonised our wild rice). Typical of Ottolenghi, this is loaded up with ingredients and steps (even our simplified version used two saucepans plus a frying pan). Importantly, it's also loaded up with flavours - with the cherries in particular providing little bursts of sweetness amongst the more savoury grains and nuts. It's a lot of work - I think I spent the best part of an hour and a half in the kitchen (a lot which was just lazy waiting to be fair). And I'm not sure the results quite measure up to some of our regular Ottolenghi salads, but it was just the kind of fresh, healthy meal we were looking for.

Rice salad with nuts & cherries
(adapted from this Ottolenghi recipe)

270g basmati rice
100mL olive oil
150g quinoa
60g almonds
70g pine nuts
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
60mL sunflower oil
20g parsley
15g basil
10g tarragon
1 cup mixed green leaves
80g dried cherries
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Place the basmati rice in a medium saucepan, stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil and half a teaspoon salt. Pour 400mL boiling water over it, cover and cook on very low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, take the lid off, lay a teatowel over the saucepan and replace the lid. After 10 minutes take off the lid and teatowel and allow the rice to cool completely.

Bring water to the boil in a small saucepan and add quinoa, cook for 9 minutes and then drain.

Roughly chop the almonds. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frypan with a pinch of salt. Add the almonds and pine nuts, and cook gently until the pine nuts are golden, 3-4 minutes. Set the nuts aside.

Peel the onions and slice them into rings; crush the garlic Heat the sunflower oil in the frypan that was used for the nuts, add the onions and cook on low-medium heat until soft and browned at the edges, about 25 minutes.

Roughly chop the parsley, basil and tarragon. Grate the zest off the lemon and squeeze out the juice (you want about 60mL).

Gently toss together all the ingredients - rice, quinoa, remaining 60mL olive oil, nuts, onions, herbs, greens, cherries, lemon juice and zest. Allow it all to rest and mingle for 10 minutes or more before serving.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wide Open Road III

December 8, 2012

Cindy and I found ourselves in Brunswick on the weekend again and looking for somewhere to escape the heat and grab some lunch. We lazily decided to just revisit Wide Open Road, partly because we weren't looking for new blog material. But, as Carla noted, the menu has been rejigged a bit again, with a really wonderful sounding smashed pea and tabouli dish, a triumphant return for Henry's white beans and a new vegan sandwich, so we pulled the camera out again. Given the heat, I went for the refreshing-sounding sandwich: apple slaw with avocado, dill and beetroot relish ($12.50).

It was exactly what I wanted - fresh and light, but still packed with interesting flavours. The sweetness of the apple and beetroot meant that it only just fell into the savoury category, and the crusty bread and creamy avo made every mouthful a delight. The dill was only faintly evident, which is probably the way it should be - it could easily overwhelm everything else. The basic salad on the side was a nice but unnecessary touch.

Cindy went for something even fresher and cooler: a fruit salad of mango and watermelon, with vanilla labne, rosewater and lemon syrup. The temptation of the salt-roasted potato with grilled corn, chervil and citrus tahini dressing (vegan, $14.50) was pretty strong, but it just wasn't roast potato weather.

The fruit salad hit the spot nicely - cooling and tasty, with a decent chunk of labne and a sweet and tangy dressing. It recharged her batteries enough to get back on the bike and ride home in 35 degree heat (with the northerly at our backs at least).

Wide Open Road is really hitting its stride these days - I love the spacious interior, the staff have been consistently attentive and competent, the coffee's great and the menu is superb. Surely Brunswick's best veg-friendly cafe these days.

Read about our previous visits to Wide Open Road here and here. In the last couple of months, easy as (vegan) pie and Dreaming Out Loud have given W.OR. the thumbs up.

Wide Open Road
274 Barkly Street, Brunswick
9387 6079
veg breakfasts $7-16.50

Accessibility: Tables outside are on a sloping footpath and there are a couple of steps up on entry. There's a fair bit of space inside, although they manage to squeeze plenty of tables in there. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Commoner II

Edit 22/02/2016: Fitzroyalty reports that The Commoner is now closed.

December 7, 2012

Michael's graduation last week involved a lot of compromises, not least in choosing a post-ceremony dinner venue. After enjoying their catering at a mushrooming event this year, Michael ultimately reserved a table at The Commoner.

The Commoner prides itself on seasonal, straight-from-the-source food. At first glance the menu doesn't look veg-friendly, boasting of black pudding, ocean trout, cured meats and heritage pork. But there are a number of meat-free dishes tucked among them, and we hear good reports of their vegetarian and vegan versions of the $65-75 surprise 'Feed Me' menu. The words 'gluten-free' don't appear anywhere but the odds are good given the unprocessed foods and knowledgeable staff at hand.

Non-coeliacs all, we started out with soft, warm bread and salt-sprinkled butter.

Michael and I continued with an equally soft and salty but extra crusty leek and manchego croquette each ($4/piece).

Richard's fried and salted surprise peppers ($8) thankfully didn't ambush us with an anchovy stuffing as I feared; instead they're a lucky dip of mild and burning.

The chickpea panisse ($12) was a pair of soft, polenta-like squares countered with chewy, tangy wood smoked heirloom tomatoes and a dab of harissa.

A salad of broccolini, brown rice, almond and tahini ($9) was mercifully fry-free, though the tahini was less striking and the rice more crunchy than I might have preferred.

The sole vegetarian main was the ubiquitous gnocchi ($27). Instead of potato, these cakey dumplings were formed from ricotta and peas and seared on the side. Bittersweet nettles were a hardier accompaniment than the usual cream sauce or scattered sage.

Michael, his thesis supervisor and I finished up with a beignet each ($4/piece). Their hot airy insides reminded me more of choux pastry than a typical doughnut, though the sugar-dusted exterior was pure Dunkin' Donuts. I would have gladly skipped the sugar (which promised but didn't deliver lavender notes) and just focused on the sourer rhubarb and cream.

The Commoner has a cosy look and comfy food, though sadly it's too loud and echo-y for a really intimate meal. Our group of seven bellowed it out well enough against two neighbouring parties. (Could the function rooms upstairs be a little more sedate?) The staff were just attentive enough, and very warm. The gnocchi cost seemed a little inflated, but paying $36 each for the entire meal felt reasonable. This was really lovely food made with care but not fuss.


We had breakfast at The Commoner back in 2008. Last year their 'Feed Me' menu received a rave review on Vegan.

The Commoner has run a lot of special events, which have been praised on The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua, Kitchen Wench (comped), off the spork (comped their first time), The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar, half-eaten (comped), Gourmet Chick (probably comped), Let Me Feed You Melbourne, Anh's Food Blog (comped), The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar (comped), MEL: HOT OR NOT (comped) and I'm So Hungree (comped).

The Commoner 
122 Johnston St, Fitzroy
9415 6876
veg dishes $4-27

Accessibility: The Commoner has several steps on entry and is relatively cramped inside. There's full table service. One of our companions reported that the passage to the toilets is uneven and poorly lit, the toilets themselves are small, though they are unisex at least.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Brother Burger & the Marvellous Brew II

December 6, 2012

My mum was in town for a visit this week and for some reason was inspired by our Brother Burger post from a few months back and keen for us to take her for a meal. Being a lover of veggie burgers, chips and beer, I was happy to oblige. Not much has changed since our first visit, although the menu has been slightly expanded to include another veggie option: The Neil (kidney bean & mung sprout patty, lettuce, yoghurt dressing, spicy tomato salsa, $12).

In the interests of having a comprehensive blog, I decided to try it out. It's a perfectly cylindrical patty, barely squeezing into the soft white bun. I'm a big fan of a bean-based burger, and this didn't disappoint - the texture was firm without being dry and the seasoning meant that it wasn't just bland beaniness. The salsa is worth a mention as well - spicy and sweet in all the right places. I'm not sure that this quite beats the mushroom burger that's on offer, but it's a pretty solid second place.

Cindy went back for another chip butty, but did expand her horizons somewhat with a chocolate and marshmallow vodka milkshake ($17). The booze was pretty well cloaked by the rocky-road milkshake flavours but I'm pretty sure you'd be wobbling all over the place if you had a couple of these. Great fun. Brother Burger does a pretty well-priced veggie burger, and a good range of delicious fried sides. There's a great drinks list, friendly staff and a pretty laidback vibe (at least early on a Thursday) - it's a good option for a speedy, junky Brunswick Street bite. (For the record, Mum had the fish burger and heaps of salty, crispy fries - I think it lived up to her expectations.)

Read about our first visit to Brother Burger here. Since then, they've received more positive write-ups from Beer and I'm so hungree, while Burger Adventure and Mangiabeve were fairly unimpressed.

Brother Burger & the Marvellous Brew
413 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
9419 0088
veg burgers $9 - $14

Accessibility: There's a small step as you come into the venue, which is a little bit cramped on the inside. There are a mix of high and regular tables. The outside tables are regular height, and not too crowded. We ordered and paid at our table. We didn't check out the toilets.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria

December 4, 2012

Los Hermanos must have had the longest pre-opening hype build-up of any restaurant in Melbourne - they featured in The Age a full four months before they actually opened. They were beset by delays, with their opening day countdown extended a handful of times, to the point that I'd kind of given up on them by the time they actually got going.

Thankfully Troy remembered them, and suggested we hit them up for dinner on our way to music trivia at The Spotted Mallard (where my ridiculous inability to recognise the opening riff from Hand in Glove cost us victory). Anyway, back to Los Hermanos.

Tucked away in the backstreets of Brunswick, it's a small and stylish little place - there are seats for 25 or 30 people inside and a lovely courtyard out the back. The menu is up on the blackboard behind the beautiful wooden bar and, after staking our claim on a table out the back, we wandered in to place our orders. The menu doesn't have anything vegan by default but they're happy to adapt any of the vego dishes. I'd guess a lot (or all) of the dishes were gluten-free as well, but we didn't double check.

Cindy and I gave the veg menu a good workout, ordering both veggie tacos ($6 each), both veggie sopes ($6.50 each) and the gorditas ($6.50). The veggie tacos come in two flavours: de hongos (mushroom) and de calabazitas (zucchini). Both are complemented with corn, cheese and some coriander. The tortillas were excellent and the fillings fine, but these weren't super exciting.

In contrast, the sopes were top notch - they're cornflour-based tarts layered with a refried bean filling, salsa, cheese and your choice of mushroom or zucchini. Next time I think we'll just double down on these guys.

The final dish was the gorditas (there were two of these, but sometimes eating takes precedence over photos). They're little cornflour discs stuffed with beans and cheese. They were simple and delicious (especially once I'd got my hands on the hot sauce). 

Los Hermanos is a handy addition to Brunswick - it's fast, cheap and vegan-friendly. The staff are lovely, the atmosphere pleasant and the food pretty good - it's not Melbourne's most exciting Mexican place, but its refreshing lack of pretension and the ability to get a table without waiting two hours make it worth checking out.


Something weird is going on - this place has been open for a few weeks now and no other bloggers have swung by to review it (although Two Munch did try, only to be foiled by Los Hermanos' ever-changing opening date).

Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria
339 Victoria St, Brunswick

9939 3661
veg dishes $6-6.50

Accessibility: There's a ramped entry way to a reasonably spacious interior (although things get a bit crowded around the bar as people queue to order). I can't remember if there was a step out to the courtyard, but things are relatively flat and accessible once you're out there. We didn't visit the toilets.