Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Atithi Restaurant

22/03/2014: Travelling past today, I noticed that this premises is now Jashan Tandoori Indian Restaurant, which is not wholly vegetarian.

April 24, 2013

Last year reader Claire recommended we check out Atithi Indian restaurant in Moonee Ponds. This week we had the mood and the means to visit and met up with four friends similarly disposed towards a curry feast. Atithi's kitchen is entirely vegetarian and egg-free. Although such things aren't visibly marked, we discovered that the menu has plenty for vegans and coeliacs to enjoy - we had both on board, so one of the staff patiently stepped through every page of the menu highlighting suitable dishes for us.

We started out with the ever-reliable pakoras (top right, $5 for 8) then tried some new entrees. The ragda petish (left, $7) was a dish of sauce-submerged potato patties piled with crunchy chickpea noodles, onion and capsicum, while the bhel puri (bottom right, $7) took crunchy a whole lot further with its nibbly mix of puffed rice, more chickpea noodles, onion, tomato, apple and spices.

Our mains began with a smoky palak corn capsicum (top left, $13), cumin-spiked jeera rice (top right, $3.50), chana masala (bottom left, $10), and veg jaipuri (bottom right, $14). For the latter dish they kindly omitted the paneer and we were treated to sweet, tender vegetables bordered by tomato and crowned with a pappadum.

We rounded out our starches with saffron rice (top left, $3.50), butter-free wholemeal roti (top right, $2.50 each) and the mixed vegatable pulav (bottom right, $8). The dal makhani (bottom left, $10), made ghee-free just for us, was probably my favourite of the night and the first bowl cleared.

For those up to eating dairy and/or wheat Atithi also offers range of Indian street food, a couple of baffling pastas (I might one day order the pineapple/veg macaroni just to gross out Michael), Indo-Chinese dishes, half-pages each devoted to paneer and kofta, naan and a few desserts. That is, there's enough here for us to order new dishes every time over many, many visits.

The atmosphere of Atithi is that of any number of neighbourhood Indian restaurants, and I'd be glad to rely on them for regular lazy-night takeaways. Everything we ate was good, and some dishes were even great; ponying up just $16 per person for the food above felt like excellent value. The strengths that will draw us out of our neighbourhood to Moonee Ponds are the diversity of the Atithi menu and their brilliant accommodation of special dietary requirements.


There's a generally positive review of Atithi on Consider The Sauce.

Atithi Restaurant
730 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds
9326 0482
veg dishes $2.50-17.00

Accessibility: I think the entry was flat (if a bit narrow); the interior is flat and tables are well-spaced (and probably movable). We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tartare sauce

April 22, 2013

The last non-vegetarian meal I ever ordered was fish and chips. It might be testament to my love of tartare sauce more than a real attachment to fish itself. Of course tartare sauce is vegetarian and I didn't need to give it up at all - there are commercial brands of tartare sauce that are even accidentally vegan - but one just doesn't come by it so much as a vego. And it can be difficult to work out what to put it on.

Solutions include: crumbed stuff, battered stuff, potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Please expand on this list in the comments! I welcome more opportunities to make and eat tartare sauce).

This tartare sauce recipe is a bit of a cheat, in that it uses ready-made mayonnaise. That was OK with me, because I really just wanted to use up some dill. It seems that most recipes don't even require dill (just dill pickles) but I think it suits tartare sauce. We dipped tofu 'fish' fingers into it, slathered it over baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and licked it off our fingers.

Tartare sauce
(adapted from Simply Recipes)

1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons finely chopped pickles
2 generous teaspoons finely chopped capers
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
salt and pepper

Stir together all the ingredients until well combined, and season to taste.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Great Northern Hotel

April 21, 2013

Pub club is running out of new pubs to sample - we're into the mid-30s now and starting to struggle for ideas. I've been a bit suspect on the Great Northern in Carlton since having a fairly average lunch their some years back, but other clubbers had enjoyed better experiences and we decided to give it a shot. 

It's a lovely pub - lots of space, a beautiful (and pretty well-heated) beer garden and a big stylish bar loaded up with an excellent range of beers. They're also pretty keen on their sport - pub-club coincided with the tail end of the A-League grand final, and we had to take shelter in the beer garden to escape the high volume telecast. Even out there you're surrounded by TVs broadcasting every code of football imaginable, but at least the sound is down.

The menu is pretty much classic pub food (steak, parmas, burgers etc), with a few vego options available. Along with the two mains, there are a handful of snacks and tapas (fried pecorino, eggplant and zucchini chips, chips, wedges, nachos, garlic bread). We couldn't really see a way of cobbling together even a vaguely nutritious meal from among them, so stuck with the mains.

I went for the pubbiest option: eggplant parma (traditional melanzane parmigiana with layers of eggplant, zucchini, tomato and mozzarella cheese topped with Napoli sauce and grana padana parmesan, $19).

First up: the chips weren't too bad. Otherwise, this really didn't work for me - a super thick layer of cheese on top of a soggy pile of eggplant and zucchini. When eggplant is done well it can be brilliant, but it really doesn't leave much room for shoddy preparation - I couldn't finish this in the end.

Cindy ordered more adventurously with the marinated tofu steak (tempura battered tofu marinated in Thai spices with Asian vegetables and pickled ginger, $18).

This was a much better dish - the tempura batter wasn't light and crispy, but it was nicely seasoned and the accompaniments were fresh and flavourful. It was nice to see the Great Northern trying something a bit adventurous for their veg customers and, based on our non-veg friends' reports, this was easily among the best dishes on the menu. It's no Fox Hotel-style tofu dish, but it was tasty, fresh and well prepared.

I'm left with pretty mixed feelings about the Great Northern - it's a lovely pub, with excellent beer and a stunning outdoor area, but the food was disappointing, the bar service a bit sluggish and the whole inside area pretty footy-focussed. For an evening eating chips, drinking beer and watching sport, you'd be hard pressed to find a better venue - for a decent dinner, it'd be a fair way down the list.


There's a mix of opinions around the internet about the Great Northern - nearly everyone's a fan of the venue, but juganaut's foodie thoughts didn't think that much of the food, Fitzroyalty hated the commercial pub trivia and Parma Daze loved everything but the parma. There were more uniformly positive opinions from Bar Amigo, little eats and Gastrology.


Great Northern Hotel
644 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
9380 9569
veggie mains $18-$19, snacks and tapas, $7-$14.50
facebook page

Accessibility: The beer garden is ramp accessible from the street, while the pub itself has just a couple of small steps on the way in. Inside is big, but things get pretty crowded with tables and chairs (ditto the beer garden actually - it's crammed with furniture). Ordering and payment is at the bar. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

East Elevation II

Edit 02/01/2021: East Elevation is no longer trading as a cafe, but is available as a function venue.

April 18, 2013

East Elevation has already impressed us with their excellent breakfast menu, so their promise of a fortnightly ping-pong night with gua bao had me very enthused. The ping-pong setup is pretty sweet, especially if you get there early. We took control of the table and got about an hour of play in before other enthusiasts turned up and wanted a piece of the action. There's a ready supply of bats and plenty of balls (which came in handy as we shanked balls into unreachable parts of the cafe as we warmed up).

In between rallies we chowed down on some food - they've got a selection of four gua bao, including two vegetarian options. They're all $6, and Cindy and I ordered one each of the mushroom and silken tofu bao. 

These are pretty great (and both are almost certainly vegan) - fresh doughy wrappers stuffed with coriander, carrot and deliciousness. There are sides of pickled greens, crispy fried shallots and a great chilli sauce. The deep-fried tofu filling was the pick (of course) but both were excellent. I was worried that $6 was going to be a bit pricy for bao, but these were a good size and two was plenty to fuel an evening of high level ping-pong.

The whole night is a bit strange - the airy lightness of the cafe atmosphere becomes a bit warehousy and clubby. The vibe they're shooting for is Berlin ping-pong bar - they're even offering Club Mate cocktails ($8). Drinks are cheap, the music's pumping and we were a bit shocked to see people dancing by 8:30. Hardcore.

The East Elevation ping-pong nights are the first and third Thursdays of each month, so you have to plan ahead. But it's worth swinging by, particularly if you're a lover of both bao and the fine art of table tennis.


East Elevation
351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
9380 4915
veg bao $6 each
facebook page

Accessibility: Excellent. A ramp on entry, lots of space and a dedicated disabled toilet. Things are a bit dim in the evenings (particularly once the DJ turns up). We ordered and paid at a low-medium counter, and food was brought to our table.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gong De Lin

April 16, 2013

If you venture inside Swanston Street's Noodle Kingdom, stop short of the host and turn left to the lift, you can check out one of Melbourne's newest vegetarian restaurants, Gong De Lin. It's another Chinese mock-meat venue, and you could be forgiven for wondering if Melbourne really needs more of those, but a flick through the menu shows that it's not just trotting out the same stuff as the nearby Enlightened Cuisine and White Lotus.

Most striking is the range of cold dishes, such as mock meats, bean jelly, mushrooms, eggplant and other vegetables. Hot dishes boast lots of 'seafood' - abalone, fish, squid, crab and shrimp - and mushroom varieties that are new to me, like hedgehog and mountain. Sweets and tea also receive careful attention: there are rice balls and buns, pancakes and durian shortbread as well as the more common icecream and fritters; hot and cold herbal teas and homemade soy milk. Unfortunately vegan and gluten-free items are not clearly marked; we suspect there's much more of the former than the latter.

We filled up on veges first, with the diced hedgehog mushrooms and macadamia nuts ($18.80). These were agreeable but not remarkable, in a gentle salty braise.

After ordering the deep-fried silver thread bun ($5), we learned why it was listed on a snack menu towards the back - it doesn't really complement the main dishes! The sweet white doughiness was fun, though we would have liked a condiment with it.

The pick of the night was certainly the sizzling pepper beef (~$20). It didn't pull off the red meat guise, but it was tender and saucy with the promised peppery warmth.

Gong De Lin is simply furnished and brightly lit; it had a calm atmosphere even as it filled up. The booths by the window look like a particularly pleasant spot to pass an evening. I reckon we'll be vying for those tables and exploring the menu further - we've both got our eye on the Shanghai-style cold noodles with seven sauces for next time.


Gong De Lin has already been thoroughly reviewed and complimented by other VegMellers - check out vegan about town, The Simple Eater, The Good Hearted and Brianna. Omnivorous blogger grazing panda is a fan too.

Gong De Lin
Level 3, 264 Swanston St Melbourne
9663 7878
veg dishes $9.80-48.00 (most mains ~$15-20)
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a ramp from the street level, then a lift up to the restaurant. Floors are almost all flat (window-side booths require a step up). Tables are packed fairly densely but passages are clear (see photo above). We received full table service. Steph reports that the toilets are accessible.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dainty Sichuan

April 14, 2013

Cindy and I have harboured vague intentions to visit Dainty Sichuan since Claire posted a glorious picture of the fish-flavoured eggplant some years back. We weren't really sure how much else on the menu would be that exciting for vegetarians, so we held off for a while and then just kind of forgot about it... at least until vegan about town and The Simple Eater both wrote great reviews of all the veggie dishes on offer. Our enthusiasm renewed, we headed across town to meet up with a small group of friends and sample as much spicy goodness as we could handle. 

Dainty Sichuan is big but popular, so making a booking is probably wise - they weren't full to bursting on the Sunday night we attended, but there are plenty of reports of people having to queue to get a table, so I wouldn't take any chances. The interior is pleasant without being very atmospheric - just lots of people and a strong scent of chilli oil (and a rather odd photo of a shirtless man slamming Sichuan food, which is sadly just out of show below).

The menu is pretty meaty, but there are easily enough vegetarian dishes to feed a big group - our group of six we didn't even order all the options available and we still ended up with uneaten leftovers. Almost all the vegetarian dishes are vegan (except for the ones that are obviously eggy) - everything we ate was suitable for vegans. We had a couple of criteria for ordering: I wanted the mapo tofu (minus the pork) and Cindy wanted at least one serve of the eggplant. Having made that clear, we left the choices to one of our group who knew the menu well and ordered for the table.

The first two dishes to arrive were the tasty cold noodle (chilli oil and sichuan pepper, $6.80) and the black fungus with wild chilli (pickled chilli, $13.80). I was a bit sceptical about both - cold noodles? Hmm. Weird fungusy things? Double hmm. My fears were misplace though - the cold noodles was one of my favourite dishes of the night, bursting with the distinctive tingly spiciness of sichuan peppers and loaded up with nuts and a few herbs. The sauce was king here - I wound up pouring the leftovers on my rice.

The fungus dish was pretty great as well (at least if you can handle the texture, which isn't Cindy's thing at all). It had a much sharper heat than the noodles, and was among the hottest dishes of the night. I probably wouldn't order a whole serve for myself, but quite enjoyed the few scoops that I chowed down.

The rest of the dishes all came out in a bit of a flurry. First up, Ma Po Tofu (chilli and sichuan pepper, minus the pork mince, $19.80)

Look at all that chilli oil! I was in heaven. Cindy found it all a bit much, so tread carefully if you're not big on spiciness, but I thought it was excellent - oily, a bit sweet and bursting with sichuan pepper goodness.

Fish flavoured eggplant (pickled chilli, sweet and sour, $19.80):

This was another massive success - the batter is sweet and a little bit crispy but with a strong kick in there somewhere. The eggplant itself is just a vessel for all the wonderful flavours wrapped around them, but that's probably eggplants best role anyway. Go there. Order this. That's the key message of this review.

And while you're there, order this: tofu threads with (Chinese) leek ($20.80).

This is a milder dish, but one that I loved - something about the way they cook the tofu makes it incredibly delicious. I think oil is involved again. Being Dainty Sechuan, it's still got a bit of a chilli kick (especially if you don't pick the actual chillies out), but the flavours are a bit more subtle.

Who could resist something called potato threads with hot capsicum ($17.80)? Not us. Oily fried strings of potato with a pretty potent sauce and lots of chillies dotted throughout. Yum. Although probably another dish it's best to share with a group.

And finally, in a vain gesture towards healthiness: stir-fried seasonal green vegetables (the menu says seasonal price, and we forgot to get an itemised receipt).

This was fine, but really a bit of a waste - we were all too focussed on the culinary fireworks going off in our mouths to spend much time on a plate of plain greens. I'd skip it and order more eggplant next time. 

In my roundup of other blog reviews (see below) I came across a pretty steady stream of complaints about the service at Dainty - while our service wouldn't win prizes, it was efficient and at least passably friendly. And even shoddy service would be worth putting up with for the food - we'll definitely be visiting again (or even checking out the city location).

vegan about town and The Simple Eater have also given Dainty Sichuan the thumbs up from a meat-free perspective.

There are loads of other positive reviews as well, although lots of them mention pretty mediocre service - check out Babameswara, melbourne gastronome, doublecooked, food.loves.my.mouth, sooks-food-notes, Let Me Feed You: Melbourne, peach-water, The Ortolan's Last Meal, tirache, Diary of a Pampered Housewife, mochii eats, Mouth to Mouth, Welcome to I-Destination, The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua, Almost Always Ravenous, Feed Me Australia, Off the spork, half-eaten, Lady Noms, Sharking for chips and drinks, Ipoh Mali Talak Sombong, I'm Hungry, the indolent cook, Melbourne Food Review, EAT AND BE MERRY FOR TOMORROW WE DIE(T), MEL: HOT OR NOT, One Fat CowLet's Get Fat Together, Addictive and consuming, JOSHUAONGYS, cookbook, bookeat, Tales of a confectionist, because I can't cook, Food for your; stomach, confessions of a little piggy, Food of the Soul, Conversation with Jenny, Gastronomical ramblings and Gastrology.

Melbourne Culinary Journal was the only blog I could find who were really not very impressed.


Dainty Sichuan
176 Toorak Road, South Yarra
9078 1686
vegetarian dishes: $6.80-$19.80

Accessibility: There's a handful of steps up to the entry. Things are relatively spread out when you enter, but the tables are jammed pretty tightly and things all feel a bit crowded. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Baked polenta & romesco sauce with a warm bean salad

April 13, 2013

We had time on the weekend for a bit of serious cooking and the swiftly approaching winter was all the prompting we needed to try out this baked polenta recipe from Veggie num num. It sounded hearty and warm and seemed like a good way to pass a Saturday afternoon so we grabbed our ingredients in the morning and I got cracking as Cindy napped through the late afternoon.

It's a multi-stage recipe - you've got to make the romesco sauce, cook the polenta, make the breadcrumb/spice mix, assemble the whole deal and make the side dish while it bakes, so you want to put aside a decent chunk of time. I reckon it was a leisurely two and a half hours or so of faffing around in the end (although you could definitely do it faster if you were a bit more organised). I'm not sure we had the right kind of polenta - ours was cooked in about 2 minutes and unstirrable by 5 minutes (which was part of the reason our recipe is basil-less. Also I just forgot to stir it in). I also found the proportions a bit out of whack - we were stuck spreading the sauce very, very thin at the end, and would up with heaps of polenta slices leftover. I'm not quite sure what went wrong, but it wouldn't be the worst idea to bulk up your sauce a little bit more than what's listed below.

It's a hefty tray of food, with some nice roasted tomatoey flavours and a crunchy top. The results were reasonably satisfying, but I'm not sure they were really worth all the time and effort that went into the dish. In contrast the 10 minutes or so that the warm bean salad took was definitely worth it - it was simple but magnificent and will definitely feature as a semi-regular side dish for us in the future.

Warm polenta with romesco sauce
(based on this recipe from Veggie num num)

Romesco sauce

350g cherry tomatoes
1 red capsicum, halved and deseeded
2 chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 slices of bread, torn
30g raw slivered almonds
30g hazelnuts
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons of olive oil

Put the tomatoes and the capsicum halves (skin side up) on a baking tray, drizzle them with a tablespoon of oil and stick them under a hot grill for five minutes or so, until their skin is nice and black. Leave to cool while you make the rest of the sauce and then peel the charred skin off.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan and add in the chillies, garlic, bread and nuts. Stir-fry on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the nuts have started to roast but before they've burned. Leave to cool while you go and peel your capsicum.

Combine the tomatoes, capsicum and the frying pan mixture with the lemon juice and some salt and pepper in a food processor and whiz it all into a saucy paste. Ours was a very thick paste, which is probably okay, but it might stretch a bit further if you upped the tomatoes by 100g or so and threw in another capsicum.

Polenta bake
2 cups polenta
5 cups of veggie stock (we just used Massel 'chicken' stock)
romesco sauce
~ 1 cup of breadcrumbs combined with 1 tablespoon of za'atar or similar spice mix and 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Bring the stock to the boil in a decent sized saucepan and gradually add the polenta, stirring. Lower the heat and cook until the polenta is thick and smooth (note that this took us about 3 minutes, while the recipe suggested ~10 minutes. Also: once you've cooked the polenta, you can stir through fresh basil leaves, which I think would be an excellent addition).

Pour the polenta into a lightly greased baking tray and smooth the top down as best you can. Pop it in the fridge to set - we gave ours about half an hour, but it could probably have done with a bit longer.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Tip the polenta out of the baking tray onto a cutting board and slice it about 1cm thick (I may have sliced ours too thinly, meaning we had more polenta surface area than we needed).

Assemble your polenta-bake in the same tray you set the polenta in. Start by spreading a layer of the romesco sauce on the bottom, cover with a layer of polenta slices. Add another layer of sauce and another of polenta before topping with the remaining sauce and the breadcrumb/spice mix.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the breadcrumbs have crisped up and everything is cooked through.

Warm bean salad
120g grean beans, halved longways
1 zucchini, julienned
30g slivered almonds
1 small brown onion, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

While your polenta bake is in the oven, quickly put together this side dish.

Fry the veggies, almonds and onion with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for about five minutes, stirring regularly. Kill the heat.

Whisk together the Dijon, vinegar and remaining oil. Stir the dressing through the veggie mixture in the frying pan and serve.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Code Black Coffee

April 13, 2013

We've had our eye on Code Black Coffee for a while. It's Brunswick's newest specialty coffee place, part roastery and coffee temple and part slick brunch place. They've turned a couple of old warehouses into a Melbourne-cafe-by-numbers space, with all minimalist industrial stylings. It's effective though - the high ceilings give everything a sense of space, while the concrete makes sure you don't forget you're basically sitting in a warehouse. It's a massive place, so even turning up at brunch peak-hour (1ish on a Saturday) didn't cause us any problems (which isn't to say that they weren't busy - there are just loads and loads of tables).

The menu looks fantastic - full of imagination and variety while still being recognisably brunchy. Even more impressively, they clearly mark vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options and cater well for everyone's dietary needs (there are three vegan dishes, plus a further ten vegetarian options). I'm tempted by the quinoa, pumpkin and fennel salad (vegan, $15.90) and the artichoke and zucchini fritters ($16.90), but eventually decide I need to try the baked tofu.

The dish (baked silken tofu with a parsley and lemon crumb, roasted cherry tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts and sourdough, $17.90) is a clever shot at giving vegans their very own version of baked eggs.

It's not a bad effort either - the crunchy top has a good strong flavour, and the steaming tofu underneath is smooth and creamy. Sadly though, tofu on its own is a bit lacking in flavour - I was imagining a bigger bowl, with tomato and spinach kind of dotted throughout, which I think would work better. As it was, I built little flavour-combo towers on the toast, getting excellent mouthfuls of the sides along with the tofu. This made the single slice of toast even more disappointing - if you're going to serve toast with breakfast, serve two pieces. It's just common sense.

Cindy weighed up her sweet options, wavering over the house made crumpets with raspberry and cinnamon poached pears and orange ricotta ($16.90) and the vegan breakfast couscous ($13.90) before completely switching things up and ordering something savoury.

It's hard to resist something dubbed 'Australia's Best Toasted Sandwich' or just its ingredient list - grilled multigrain, polenta cake with cheese centre, truffle mushrooms, fried egg and mustard cress ($19).

First up: this was in no way a toasted sandwich. It wasn't even a sandwich - for starters there was only one piece of bread. Category error aside, this seemed like a pretty good dish to me - the bread was slathered with some sort of fancy mayo, the mushrooms (which I snuck a bit of) were wonderful, and the crispy polenta square oozed a kind of molten cheesy goodness from its centre. Cindy enjoyed most of the components but found the whole thing a bit too hefty - it's hard to see the point of both toast and a giant polenta square here. Still, she chomped her way through the whole thing, so she wasn't too overwhelmed.

I decided to investigate the sweets cabinet purely in the name of blog research. Sadly, while they have a good range of gf sweets, all their cakey treats are non-vegan. I was a bit surprised they didn't offer something given the efforts they've gone to on the rest of the menu. Anyway, having had the whole conversation with the staff member, I felt compelled to order something.

We wound up with a polenta/raspberry cake (~$4) and a Persian love cake (~$4), both of which were excellent (if completely unnecessary).

Code Black Coffee are bound to be popular - they've got a stylish venue, make fantastic coffee and serve up pretty reasonable food. The service is lovely and efficient and the whole experience is pretty pleasant. The main downside is the pricing - Code Black join a few other newish places (St Ali in particular springs to mind) in pushing the expected price for a brunch meal up towards $20. There's definitely more going on here than standard poached eggs or pancakes, but one of the things we've always loved about Melbourne has been the affordability of excellent breakfasts (other locals like Hungry Birds and New Day Rising are keeping the sub-$15 breakfast dream alive, but it's slowly disappearing). On the other hand, it's lovely to see more and more cafes coming up with imaginative and interesting vegan options (see also: Wide Open Road, East Elevation) - it's not just avo on toast anymore!

There's been a steady stream of positive reviews for Code Black so far - check out Food Made With Love, Coffee Cherries, marrsinmelbourne, peach-water, Vetti: Live in Northcote and The City Lane.


Code Black Coffee
15-17 Weston Street, Brunswick
0402 532 578
Breakfast $6-$19, lunch $12.90-$15.90
http://www.codeblackcoffee.com.au/ (for all the good it will do you - how hard would it be to stick some trading hours and a menu on there?).

Accessibility: Excellent. Flat entryway, spacious interior and a fully accessible, unisex toilet in addition to standard gendered toilets. There's full table service.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seitan saltado

April 8, 2013

I thought it'd be fun to use the remaining seitan in a Viva Vegan! recipe that it was actually intended for. The seitan saltado got the job because it suited our vege stash. This is a vegan version of lomo saltado, a Chinese-Peruvian dish of stir-fried marinated beef with rice and potato wedges. I wasn't so interested in doubling down on the carbohydrates so I skipped the white rice and revisited the same book's silverbeet with raisins and capers.

Our slightly squelchy seitan stepped in for seared sirloin, and did so more convincingly than I anticipated. The rich marinade certainly helped it along. A little extra red wine and aji amarillo (chilli) paste stretched the marinade to a sauce for the seitan, onion and tomato strips, soaking into the oven-baked chips and mingling with the silverbeet. It's easy to see the recipe's dual heritage in the spices and cooking technique.

My only misjudgement was choosing this recipe for a Monday night. Even with home-made seitan ready to go, there's a lot to prepare here. Michael and I worked in shifts, he chopping most of the vegetables before bounding off to netball, followed by me marinating the seitan and taking on the active cooking. Dinner was late but highly satisfying, and we had bountiful lunchtime leftovers.

Seitan saltado
(very slightly adapted from Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero)

1 kg potatoes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
300g red seitan (half this recipe)
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
220g onions
3 tomatoes
1 cob corn
2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste
3 tablespoons red wine
salt and pepper
fresh coriander to garnish

Preheat an oven to 200°C.

Clean and peel the potatoes, then slice them into long chips. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil across to large baking dishes, and toss the potatoes through the oil, adding a pinch of salt. Spread the chips out flat, avoiding overlaps. Bake them for around 20 minutes, flipping them at the 10 minute mark - you want them to be golden and a bit crispy.

Slice the seitan into into flat, bite-sized pieces. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, garlic, cumin and oregano. Toss in the seitan pieces, getting them thoroughly coated in the flavours. Set it all aside to marinate.

Slice the onion into thin strips. Quarter the tomatoes, cut out their seeds, and slice the flesh into strips too. Shuck the kernels from the corn. In a cup, whisk together the aji amarillo paste and red wine.

Now you're ready to stir fry! Use a wok or large frypan on high heat. Heat up a tablespoon of oil and start with half of the seitan - you want to sear it but ensure that it's still juicy and tender. When they're done, take them out and repeat with more oil and the rest of the seitan. Put the last 2 tablespoons of oil into the wok and stir-fry the onions for several minutes, until they start to soften and go brown at the edges. Pour the wine mixture over the onions, plus any seitan marinade sitting in the bottom of the bowl. Add the tomato strips, continuing to cook and stir. Grind over some pepper. Return the seitan strips to the mix, gently stirring them through, then turn off the heat.

To serve, portion out the potatoes, then pile them with the saucy seitan mix, and garnish it all with some coriander leaves.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Sweetwater Inn II

January 2016: The Sweetwater Inn closed in October 2015, although there are promises that they'll reopen somewhere else in the not-too-distant future. 

April 7, 2013

We barely left it a week before revisiting the Sweetwater Inn for more vegan pub food. Arriving after dark the bar was packed, the lights were low and two scrappy musicians roved the room, stomping out tunes. Even so, staff were determined to offer table service for meals.

Michael tested out the vegan BBQ prawn skewers ($15), which come with aioli, lemon, plenty of chips and greens. While they sure looked the part, they didn't rival the pie floater for Michael's affections - real prawns and pies probably held this same ranking in his pre-veg days anyway.

Bubble and squeak croquettes ($10) were snapped up quicker than I could photograph them - thickly crusted with a near-molten mash potato centre, dotted with peas.

I took on the vegan chip butty ($12). No dry spuds'n'bread, here it comes with the lot - cheese, beetroot, bacon, avocado and tomato sauce flank the sturdy beer-battered chips, and there's pickled onions and greens on the side. It was a stunner. I couldn't quite believe that this was fake bacon, with its stripes of fat and 'flesh', and I was compelled to be That Person, asking our waiter to check with the kitchen that I'd actually received the vegan version. She was very sweet and reassuring, and I munched on.

Though it wasn't on the menu, we'd spotted some limited-time-only lamingtons on facebook and resolved to split one between four. It bettered even the butty and became the night's favourite - the cake had the airiness of a sponge but somehow a bit of extra bite, and it was slathered generously with jam, chocolate icing and coconut.

Though we've not quite covered the entire veg*n menu, we're satisfied that our meals at the Sweetwater Inn are no fluke - they've pulled off some unique vegan dishes and solid service on a slow afternoon and a slammed Sunday night.

You can read about our previous visit to the Sweetwater Inn here. Since then it's had an additional positive review on thehangrybitch.

The Sweetwater Inn
1/60 Bray Street, South Yarra
0402 532 578
starters $8-$12, mains $12-$16

Accessibility: There are three steps up as you enter. Things are reasonably well spread out, with seating a mix of high stools, low chairs and kegs. This time we bought drinks at the high bar, ordered food at our table, and returned to the bar to pay. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ricotta-stuffed figs with orange syrup

April 1, 2013

With ricotta already purchased and figs well into their brief season, I launched into April's calendar recipe on the first day of the month. This is the kind of recipe I need just once, to prove what's possible, and thenceforth I (and you!) can just go for it - adding a little something to ricotta, slathering it over fig halves, pouring over a syrup and popping it all under the grill for a few minutes. Easy.

So here it's vanilla and orange zest into the ricotta, and a syrup based on orange juice. It's easy to imagine a pinch of cinnamon or ginger or lemon or lime zest, maple syrup, herb-infused syrup, any number of fruit juices. And why stop at figs? How about ripe peach or apricot halves, a pre-poached pear perhaps.

The original recipe would have us serve these with cream, but with the right ricotta I don't think there's any need.

Ricotta-stuffed figs with orange syrup
(available online here)

200mL orange juice
50g castor sugar
30mL Cointreau
150g ricotta
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 fresh figs

In a small saucepan, stir together the orange juice, sugar and Cointreau over low-medium heat. Allow them to simmer until reduced by half - this took me about 10 minutes once I got the temperature right.

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, orange zest and vanilla.

Slice the figs in half and smear them with the ricotta, placing each one ricotta-side-up in a baking dish. Drizzle them with the orange syrup. Place them under a hot grill until the ricotta starts to brown, 2-5 minutes, and serve.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Bo De Trai II

April 1, 2013

When it comes to Melbourne's west we're basically noobs - we've made the occasional trip to Footscray but we've barely begun to sample the amazing range of goodies on offer. With the Moody Noodles now residing in that general direction, we're getting a few more opportunities to hang out over there. On the Easter weekend we made a return to Bo De Trai, Footscray's only vegetarian restaurant (which we'd managed not to visit in nearly five years).

Cindy's lemon juice, heavily laced with sugar

Bo De Trai is a Vietnamese place, providing faux-meat alternatives to the carnivorous offerings at most of the neighbourhoods other nearby places. The three of us (Cindy and I brought along Toby Noodles) decided to split food, to give us the widest range of dishes.

First up: rice paper rolls stuffed with imitation shredded pork skin and veggies, served with imitation fish sauce ($6.50).

These were pretty great - fresh fillings, light wrappings and some sort of soy-based 'pork' dust. The 'fish' sauce had a nice tang as well.

We were pretty intrigued by imitation deep-fried mud fish ($12), but it turned out to just be battered eggplant discs.

I say 'just', but I'm not really complaining - these were crispy and soft in all the right places and excellent vessels for either the 'fish' sauce or the quite delicious sambal-style chilli that's provided at every table.

We took a break from mock-meat (but not from deep frying) with the bean curd and lemon grass ($12).

These tofu cubes truly represent the magic of a deep-fryer - crispy on the outside and meltingly soft inside, they're sprinkled with a lemongrass/chill/salt seasoning and are very, very moreish.

Finally, I was swayed by the nearly ten-year-old review from The Age stuck on the wall and ordered the imitation clay pot lam ($15) (exactly as I had been on our last visit!).

You can see why it's their signature dish - it's a hearty stew of mushrooms, mock-meat and vegetables in an excellent broth. Perfect for winter.

The service at Bo De Trai is friendly but slow - we were pretty ravenous, so we lacked a bit of patience waiting for the food to come. Still, it was worth the wait - Bo De Trai is an excellent and affordable option for inner-west vegos.


Read about our first visit to Bo De Trai here. Since then it has had positive reviews from easy as (vegan) pie (three times), Footscray Food Blog, The Hungry Grub, Fat Duck, Vicki Vegan, Vegan travelling adventures, Ask Me Tomorrow, NOM and half-eaten, with just FoodsCrazy unimpressed by its mock-meat goodness.

Bo De Trai
94 Hopkins Street, Footscray
9689 9909
veg dishes $5.50-$15

Accessibility: There's a small step at the door, and fairly close-packed tables but a clear wide passage through the middle. Ordering is at the table with payment at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Snickerdoodle cake

March 31, 2013

I took this Long Weekend At Home opportunity to dig into The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook's sweetest section, the bit I've been most keen on the whole time. It was tough but fun to choose amongst the cookies and pies and syrupy fruits, and eventually I went with the gooey cinnamon squares. I just couldn't imagine this gooey butter cake layer that Perelmen was so taken with - I imagined the texture of cheesecake and the flavour of vanilla in butter. The photograph kept me guessing, revealing little more than the crackly cinnamon-sugar top.

The vanilla part seemed so important to me that I bought a jar of fancy extract from the markets. It was so intense that it turned the gooey layer grey. Actually, I didn't really get my gooey layer at all - I guess I cooked it a little too long and it was just... more cake. A sweet super-vanilla-charged cake with a crackly snickerdoodle-style topping, best enjoyed with some fruit on the side.

Snickerdoodle cake
(slightly adapted from the gooey cinnamon squares
in Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

bottom layer
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
115g butter, softened
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk

middle layer
1/4 cup light corn syrup, golden syrup or honey
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
170g butter, softened
1 cup castor sugar
1 egg

top layer
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

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

Start with the bottom layer. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the egg and milk until well combined, then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Drop big spoonfuls of the mixture across the baking dish, then use the back of a spoon to smooth it out into a single layer.

Next, the middle layer. In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup, milk and vanilla. In a medium bowl (I used the same one as above without washing), stir together the flour and salt. In a large mixing bowl (I used the previous one without washing), beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg until well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and liquid mixture in turns, beating as you go, until everything is well combined together. Drop big spoonfuls over this mixture over the bottom layer and the smooth it out into another single layer.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle it evenly across the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes, until the sugar topping has browned.