Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fina's Vegetarian Cafe

February 17, 2013


It's taken us far too long to visit Fina's for the first time. Reader Ben emailed us about it more than a year ago, Jay reminded us more recently and, after we found their shopfront closed during the Christmas/New Year period, The Simple Eater stopped in and wrote a very positive post about the cafe. Hopefully having some friends living back in the Richmond neighbourhood will give us the excuse we need to sample more of their lengthy all-vegetarian, Vietnamese menu. We met our mates there between two of tomorrow's parties.

The menu is quite something to tackle - a plastic folder with a photograph of every dish plus a title and blurb in a difficult-to-read curly font. Don't dilly dally in front of the manager though! He doesn't care for time wasters. After the usual rice paper and spring rolls, the menu offers a wide range of soups, some noodle dishes, stir-fries and hot pots - many dishes are vegan, and there's a mix of mock meat and non-mock options. The enormous cakes out front look decidedly less vegan, and gluten-free choices aren't clear (though amongst all the vermicelli and rice paper I'm sure there are some).


On yet another hot morning, I was thrilled to see an extensive selection of juices, ice slushies and bubble tea. Michael fell back on a Vietnamese iced coffee ($4), served half-full as pictured above. He missed the shaved ice that it comes with it elsewhere, but most importantly it was strong and sweet.


I've long wished that iced chai was more widespread, so I had to try Fina's Ice Chai Latte ($5.50) even though I didn't really want something creamy. Oops. This was a triple-dairy-threat of milk, icecream and thick piped cream, more like a vanilla milkshake with cinnamon sprinkled on top. Fun but lacking the spiciness I want from chai.


By far the cheapest way to eat is to go with their vegetarian roll ($4.50), a mock-pork banh mi with a sweet and somewhat spicy sauce, plenty of fresh salad and peanuts. Michael slammed it in little more time than it took me to photograph my food.


On our friend Clamps' recommendation I tried the Vietnamese pancake ($10.50). It's an enormous vegan omelette imitator with a batter of rice flour and coconut milk coloured with turmeric and studded with chunks of onion, mock ham, mock prawn and mushroom folded over a mountain of bean shoots. The objective is to fold portions of it into lettuce leaves, add mint and dip - the pancake was a little greasy, and I was slow and messy at the task, but it was well worth the effort.


Fina is colourful, comfortable and casual. We encountered brisk but friendly service and didn't feel at all rushed. Meals are cheap and, for the most part, very generously portioned. Thanh Nga Nine and Loving Hut have a real rival here for our Victoria St affections.
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Fina's has previously received positive reviews from The Simple Eater and foodie about town, and an ambivalent one from Phúc Buddies.
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Fina's Vegetarian Cafe
268 Victoria St, Richmond
9428 6765
veg dishes $4.50-14.00, drinks $3.20-7.50
facebook page

Accessibility: I think there's a small step on entry, but the interior is flat with a clear passage through the middle. Tables are moderately crowded (see photo above). The venue is well lit but the menu font is difficult to read - it's got photos of all the food anyway. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Crimean

January 2016: The Crimean has closed and been replaced by Bobbie Peels.

February 10, 2013


We've been trying to arrange a meal at The Crimean for ages, but our pub-club has grown to a regular group of more than 15 people, and we weren't sure how well it would cope with such an onslaught. We weren't even really sure that it was a pub. So a small group of us headed in on a Sunday night to suss it out. The front bar area is pretty small, and the whole vibe is probably a bit more formal than we're looking for in a pub, but once we altered our expectations we were pretty impressed with the fit-out. The restaurant area is dark and moody, teetering just the casual side of fine-dining.

The menu is broadly Eastern European, and is thus not super focussed on vegetarian options - vegans will be limited to sides and the plainest of salads, although they're pretty conscientious about gluten-free diners. There are two kinds of dumplings, a couple of salads, a big filo pastry and some sides. The menu is broken into small plates and large plates and the staff are pretty insistent that you share the small plates. With our mix of vegetarian and gluten-free diners we ignored their advice and just ordered for ourselves. Before the food we ordered started coming out, we were served up some fantastic bread rolls and a complementary starter, a chilled cucumber soup.


There's an impressive drinks menu as well, providing a range of unusual European wines, imported and local beers and a massive, vodka-heavy spirits list. I was following Cindy's lead and going booze-free for the evening, partly inspired by the blackboard promising more than fifty varieties of lemon lime and bitters. It turns out that was kind of a joke, but The Crimean do have an assortment of bitters, which we happily sampled (all based on vague suggestions from staff - the non alcoholic options didn't seem to be written down anywhere). 


Onto the food! The main reason I'd been interested in visiting The Crimean was the promise of dumplings - they have two vegetarian options, the piroshki (baked red cabbage and mushroom with sour cream, $10) and the vareniki (potato and quark with roast onion puree, rye crumb and orange zest, $12).


The piroshki were a surprise - they had a crispy shell (almost like little bread rolls) rather than the pierogi-style I was expecting. The filling was okay but not particularly distinctive, and they needed a good slathering in the generous dollop of sour cream that came on the side.


The vareniki were exactly what I was after though - soft dumplings stuffed with carbs and dairy and lightly flavoured with the roast onoin and orange zest. I'd order two batches of these next time.

Our main dish of the night was the banitsa, a Balkan filo pie of zucchini, feta and dill, smoked tomato and honey sauce and lamb's lettuce ($25).


I was pretty happy with this - the pastry was great, the smoky/sweet tomato sauce pretty well done and the filling delicious. Still, though, it's a feta/spinach filo, and it's $25. It's a bit hard to get past that. 

We ordered the fried cauliflower with capers, parsley and sharena sol (a combo of salt, paprika and savoury) on the side ($12). This was probably my favourite dish - the tender fried cauli pieces had absorbed lots of the spice mix and really hit the spot.


While I'd been lured in by the dumplings, Cindy had been eying off the dessert menu on The Crimean's website. After weighing up peach and almond pudding or an excellent-sounding chocolate/apricot concoction, we eventually decided to split the Polish cheesecake with orange caramel and pink grapefruit sorbet ($13).


The grapefruit sorbet was very grapefruity - maybe a little too bitter for me - while the cheesecake was much sweeter. We had high hopes for this, but the combo didn't really do it for either of us. Should have stuck with something involving chocolate.

Our experience of The Crimean was okay - the service was friendly and reasonably efficient (although a bit weirdly pushy about things like sharing the entrees), the atmosphere lovely and the food pretty solid. It might have been a victim of my high expectations though, because I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed - none of the dishes really blew my mind, and I ended the meal more excited about a revisit to Borsh, Vodka and Tears than about returning to The Crimean.

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There are largely positive opinions of The Crimean on other blogs - check out lunchosaurus, Foodie About Town, Barley Blog, a bit of butter, The Melbourne Food Experience, Superéthique and Cork Talk.

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The Crimean
351 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
9329 3353
entrees/sides $8-$14, mains $25

Accessibility:There's a small step up as you enter the building, but things are flat and fairly well spread out inside. The lighting is moody and dim. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Almond jelly with lychees & melon

February 9, 2013


Steph invited us over to share some of her favourite customs and foods for Lunar New Year. To a heaving table of delicious things, I contributed this fruit salad. I was inspired by this recipe at taste, but with cows' milk and gelatine involved, I clearly needed to rework it for a veg*n crowd. Evaporated milk and almond essence didn't appeal to me half as much as almond milk anyway.

Agar agar was the obvious gelatine substitute, but I don't have a great history with it. I figured I'd give it a go a few days in advance, using these quantities as a guide, allowing myself time to trial a second batch and/or veganise Sarah's peanut cookies if it didn't work out. Lucky me, my agar almond jelly set perfectly, and was even firm enough to slice into cubes. Lucky twice over, our vege box contained a rockmelon that Michael and I would have struggled to eat any other week.

With the jelly set, it's just a matter of chopping everything up to match the size of the lychees, and gently tossing these bite-sized bits together with some canned lychee syrup for dressing. As the fruit salad settled, the watermelon released a lot of liquid and it was all very thoroughly dressed, indeed. It's a dessert for the height of summer - very juicy and sweet, with just a little textural contrast from the jelly. Personally, I'd enjoy it with a bit more bite and would sneak in some lime juice, Cointreau or Frangelico in future.


Almond jelly with lychees & melon
(inspired by this taste recipe and this agar jelly recipe)

1 tablespoon agar agar powder
500mL almond milk
1/4 cup castor sugar
1 x 565g can lychees in syrup
1 rockmelon
1/4 large watermelon
50mL Frangelico (optional)

In a large saucepan, stir together the agar agar, almond milk and sugar. Bring them to the boil, then allow them to simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour the jelly into square container and refrigerate it until set, ideally overnight.

Drain the lychees into a large serving bowl and reserve their syrup. Peel then dice the rockmelon and watermelon, to match the size of the lychees, and add them to the bowl. Gently slice the jelly into cubes of matching size and add them too. Pour over half the lychee syrup and the Frangelico, if using. Gently, gently toss the salad and serve cold.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Nourishing Quarter

February 5, 2013


Ah, Nourishing Quarter: Sydney's hippest vegan place, getting rave reviews in the mainstream press, feted by omni and vego bloggers alike (see link list below). We had super high hopes for it, setting aside a Tuesday evening to bus our way into town and sample its wares. We arrived at about 6:45 but had clearly underestimated its popularity - NQ was packed to the rafters.

I wandered in optimistically to suss out our chances. Cue first weird conversation of the night.

Me: "Do we have any chance of a table tonight?'
Staff member: "Ummm. We're fully booked at the moment. Did you make a booking? There's a second sitting at 8pm."
Me: "We didn't make a booking, but we'd be happy to come back at 8pm if there'd be a table then."
Staff member: "It's really better to make a booking."
Me: "So would we be able to get a table if we came back at 8?"
Staff member: "Ummm. I'm... not sure."
Me: "..."

So we left, standing outside to figure out a new plan. As I looked up Yulli's on my phone, a full table of six came steaming out the door, muttering about the ridiculous wait for service and their inability to get anyone's attention. We ignored the substantive content of their comments and decided to try our luck at snaring their table. Success! As long as we got out before that second sitting at 8.


It's a cute place - all mismatched furniture, twee crockery and strange old paintings of the queen. Foodwise, its whole schtick is couched in the ridiculous super-food and eat-yourself-fitter nonsense that so often characterises vegetarian dining. Seriously, open this photo in a new tab and try to make sense of it:


The menu, which is billed as a Vietnamese/South American fusion, is basically a series of Vietnamese dishes including quinoa and amaranth in the ingredients list (seriously, every dish had at least one of these and most had both). There are dumplings, rice paper wraps, mini pancakes in the entrees, soups, curries, noodles and tofu in the mains. It's all vegan and gluten-free. We decided to sample as much of the menu as possible, ordering two entrees and a main.

We were reassured by speedy service - our order was taken in no time at all, and we managed to make it clear that they should bring everything out whenever it was ready and we'd share it all. First to arrive was our main: the bun rieu (tomato-based broth with shitake mushroom, creme de tofu, crispy tofu strips, shredded cabbage, served with amaranth and rice noodles, $16.50).


This was excellent - tangy and spicy, with fresh and healthy fillings and long strips of delicious crispy tofu for dunking.

Next up, our sacred khot (a popular savoury mini-tart from Vietnam, made with quinoa, amaranth and rice flour bases, topped with mung bean mix and spring onions and served with lettuce, fresh herbs and a flavoursome and fruity Nuoc Cham sauce, $16.50 for 7).


These were very reminiscent of the mini pancakes from Than Nga 9, albeit without the weird mock-meats. We liked this version, bursting with minty and spicy toppings and with a crispy base, but they probably weren't quite as good as you'd want when you're paying almost twice what you'd pay in Richmond.

As our shared plates were cleared we held onto our individual plates, explaining that we'd use them for our final dish - the much hyped three sisters, a set of rice paper wraps ($14 for three) with a variety of fillings (all of which include royal quinoa!). We waited with some anticipation.

And we waited.

And we waited.

After making puzzled eye contact a couple of times but never approaching too close, our waitress finally wandered over and gave us our bill. We enquired about our missing wraps and she looked confused and headed back to the kitchen. After another decent wait, she came back with the bill, which now had the wraps crossed out. It was almost time for the second sitting you see, and we had promised to be out by 8. So with the vaguest of apologies and a dish short we were on our way. I'd chalk it all up as bad luck if I hadn't overheard the table next to us having a very similar conversation about a noodle soup that had never arrived.

I was kind of expecting that they might throw in our pancakes for free or something, but no. We didn't really care at this stage, and just laughed our way around the corner to Yulli's to fill up on dessert (and be amazed by the comparative efficiency and slickness of the service).


I dunno, it's hard to be too grumpy about honest mistakes, but it's also hard to be that understanding if a business is getting by on whimsy and mysticism rather than, y'know, providing the service that people are paying for. We probably should have booked, and maybe we struck them on a particularly off night (there's certainly not too many complaints in the blog reviews below), but a few of our twitter friends reported very similar experiences. The food that did come out was fresh and interesting and packed with flavours. It's great that the whole menu is gluten-free and vegan, but everything is really expensive ($28 for a tofu and pumpkin curry!) and the whole experience was so chaotic that it's hard to imagine we'll ever muster the energy to go back.

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I was somewhat surprised to read almost uniformly positive reviews of Nourishing Quarter from a decent number of veg and omni bloggers: urban usher, Gucci & Gyoza, Fashimi, Glutenfreewheeling, Like a Vegan, The Screaming Artichoke, Lucy in the Larder, Soul Kitchen Blog, opinioniste, Trick of Fate, Wandering Vegans, vegansydney, Fooderati, The Happiness Cocktail, beautiful food, Eternal Darkness, one hungry mami, Veg for 30 days, Does My Bomb Look Big In This?, cool sydney, Not Quite Nigella. Only 4 & Fare had any complaints, and they were food-based rather than about the service, so they mustn't struggle quite so much all the time.

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Nourishing Quarter
315 Cleveland Street, Redfern
(02) 8399 0888
entrees $10.50-$17.50, mains $16.50-$28
https://nourishingquarter.yqme.com.au/home

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway but the interior is ridiculously crowded. Everybody bumped into each others' chairs/the door on their way in and out. There's full table service (or at least, there's no alternative to table service). We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Java

February 4, 2013


After a weekend of over-indulgence in Sydney's inner-west, we packed up our things and moved eastwards, to be closer to the place I was working at in Randwick. Leaving behind Sydney's veg*n ground zero and heading into the much less promising Eastern suburbs, we were a bit unsure of our options. Still, after a bit of poking around the web, I discovered that Randwick is a bit of a hotspot for Indonesian food, with Java in particular having a reputation as an excellent and cheap source of tempeh-related good-times.

Java has been around since the 1980s, and it's clear that they haven't upgraded their signage for quite some time. It's a pretty unassuming looking place that's putting more energy into their food than into their fit-out. The staff were friendly and helpful when we turned up lugging our suitcases, quickly making space for us to squeeze in. The menu is huge, with an array of noodle and rice dishes, heaps of Balinese-style grilled goodies (including an eggplant option) and a good range of vegetarian dishes. The labeling isn't super thorough throughout the menu (so, for example, you'd need to double check the vegetable laksa), but the staff were seemed used to vegos coming in and were happy to help us out. There are some dishes that are clearly vegan, but you'll want to take a bit of care (that goes double for gluten-free diners).

There aren't loads of vegetarian entrees, with spring rolls ($6.90) or martabak sayur ($8.90). Despite not really knowing what we were in for (the description on the menu is: vegetarian ingredients in crispy pastry), we went with the martabak sayur.


This was great - a fried rectangle of crispy goodness, stuffed with a fluffy egg mix including shallots and onions. The dipping sauce was a nice mix of sweet and tangy - with a decent tamarindy kick I think.

Next up was the first of our mains: semur terong (fried battered eggplant with butter and sweet soya sauce, $11.90).


What a dish! The batter on this was stunning - somehow staying crispy for the whole meal (even taking into account Cindy's slow eating). The eggplant was tender and the sauce a great sweet/salty delight. If you add in a smear of the garlic sambal that I ordered on the side ($2) then you're in heaven.

We couldn't resist ordering the tempeh dish on the menu: tahu tempe goreng (fried bean curd and fermented soya beans, $11.90).


Mmmm fried. Crispy fried tempeh with a sweet and syrupy kecap manis/chilli sauce is pretty hard to top, and this was fantastic. Having a bit of shallow-fried tofu alongside the tempeh was a nice touch as well.

Cindy was tempted by the dessert menu (particularly the cendol, $5.80), but we were pretty chockers and the restaurant was booked up solidly - they've clearly developed a following over the years. Java was a great find - I'm going to be hanging out in Randwick quite regularly over the next little while, and I reckon I'll be stopping in again and again.

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The review on Veggie Friendly let us know that Java was a safe option for non-meaty types, while omni bloggers have uniformly enjoyed its cheap cheerfulness: Richard Elliot's Blog, Cookbookmaniac, Simon Food Favourites, Stella loves to eat out, on the roof eating cake, Big Green Dinosaur, I Can Eat A Horse.
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Java
151 Avoca St, Randwick
(02) 9398 6990
veg mains $8.90-$13.90
facebook page

Accessibility: Java has a small step on entry and the interior was pretty crowded with tables. There's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bloodwood

February 3, 2013


Bloodwood is another hip venue brought to Michael's attention via The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. Though I think he would've liked a full night of tapas, cocktails, dim lighting and pounding music, we made do with a sly dessert (and an ever slier wine for Michael) on a Sunday night.


The Bloodwood dessert selection ($25) was a suitable sampler. For now, it's composed of:
  • a sweet and sour hot mess of pavlova with berries and passionfruit chiboust,
  • a trifle of sturdy pound cake with champagne anglaise, port wine jelly, yoghurt mascarpone and not quite enough cherries, and
  • a rich wedge of crunchy-smooth chocolate, caramel and peanut torte with a fluffy banana mousse and more peanuts.
They were all eminently pleasing if not surprising.


Bloodwood was clearly in hot demand, with many people willingly waiting for a table in the restaurant section, or folding themselves around tiny bar furniture that could just barely contain their shared plates. On the strength of Bloodwood's desserts I'd take my place the queue, at least once.
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Bloodwood's vegetarian options have been explored more thoroughly on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry and Veg with Edge


The Hand that Rocks the Ladle likes the venue but not the food, and there are other mixed experiences on to taste is divine, Yewenyi and Opining, Whining & Dining.
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Bloodwood
416 King St, Newtown NSW
(02) 9557 7699
desserts $9-26
http://www.bloodwoodnewtown.com/

Accesibility: Entry requires two half-steps up and an about-turn (see photo above) and the interior is generally crowded, although the main passageway is clear. We perched at a high bar, where we received full table service and didn't see the main restaurant area. We didn't visit the toilets either, but apparently they're unisex.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vina

February 3, 2013


Vina Vegetarian Restaurant seems lesser known in Newtown than Green Gourmet but I was more interested in tasting its Vietnamese cooking, craving some fresh vegetables and herbs. We arrived early and had no trouble securing a table; the demand for eat-in and takeaway food only grew over the next hour or two.

Vina's menu runs to several pages - though it's not clearly marked, I gather that most dishes are vegan, and the introductory page says they'll try their best to accommodate any declared dietary requirements. Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable, seeming very much up to that task. There's a range of fried and fresh foods, mock meats and whole vegetables: salads, soups, noodles, rice paper wraps, stir fries, hot pots and rice.


Safe within the walls of a vegetarian restaurant, we tried an entree whose name we didn't recognise - Xui Cao ($6) - and were treated to some crunchy-fried dumplings filled with finely minced vegatables, tofu and noodles.


We find it impossible to resist sweet, pillowy steamed mock BBQ pork buns wherever we find them ($4.50).


Michael focused mainly on a bowl of vermicelli with spring rolls, some delightfully flavoured and shredded mock chicken, lettuce, mint, cucumber and dipping sauce ($12).


I was at least as impressed again by the DIY rice paper rolls ($16) - they featured a mix of tofu, mock beef and crispy-skinned mock pork rubbed with lemongrass and spices, served with the requisite vermicelli, lettuce, mint, vegetables and dipping sauce. We couldn't bear to leave a shred of this behind.


While Vina is not particularly atmospheric, it had a appealing golden light on this grey evening and the staff were welcoming. The food - particularly our main dishes - was terrific! The noodle soups, noodle bowls and fried rice plates are especially good value at just $12 each. If only I lived a little closer, I'd love to slink in for regular low-fuss feeds.

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Vina
395 King St, Newtown NSW
(02) 9557 0456
veg entrees $4-6, mains $6-18

Accessibility: Vina has a ramp on entry and moderate-to-tightly spaced tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets, but Toilography did.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Luxe Bakery

February 3, 2013


I spent a bit of time pre-Sydney trip trawling through The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry for veggie cafe tips in and around Newtown. Her post talking up the excellence of the hash browns at Luxe Bakery pushed it straight to the top of my list, and we headed in to check it out on Sunday morning.


Luxe is popular - not quite so popular that you have to queue for a table, but popular enough that there's almost never a free space. It's a pretty big room too, with a couple of large shared tables and a scattering of smaller options. Bizarrely, they had basically one person trying to manage the whole arrangement - seating people, taking orders, rearranging chairs, clearing tables etc. Luckily she was possibly the friendliest, most energetic and most ridiculously efficient waitress we've ever come across, so things just about stayed on track despite almost constantly threatening to tip into chaos.


The breakfast menu is brief - eggs with a range of sides, a couple of kinds of muesli and toast plus a special of the day (meaty, at least on the day we were there). There's a short lunch menu as well, along with a massive cabinet full of sandwiches and sweets. Given the lack of pancakes/hotcakes/French toast-style options on the menu (and the reputation of the hash browns), Cindy went savoury, ordering scrambled eggs with a hash brown and some avocado ($10.50 + $4 + $4).


I ordered a variation on my standard brekkie fare: poached eggs, beans and a hash brown ($10.50 + $4.50 + $4). 


Both of these were solid meals - well cooked eggs, nice sourdough toast (although only the one slice) and decent sides. The avocado was perfectly ripe and the beans were surprisingly richly flavoured - almost like a bolognese sauce. The hash browns came with such a lot of hype that we were both a smidgen disappointed - they were basically the same as the ones we make at home but a bit underseasoned. Sure, the texture was great (super crispy on the outside, lovely and soft inside) but they needed a good pinch of salt to really hit the mark.

We spent half our meal eyeing off the distant sweets cabinet, somewhat guiltily ordering an almond tart ($4.50) even though the demand for tables was growing.


This was top notch - sweet, light and studded with rhubarb pieces. It left me wanting to try more of the goodies in their front cabinet.

We were pretty happy with our brekkie at Luxe - the food was good, the service friendly and efficient (even if things would have been smoother if they employed two good waitstaff rather than just one excellent one) and the coffee solid. Prices are a bit high - we ended up busting through $50 for two meals, drinks and a shared sweet, which seems a bit much for the first meal of the day. It's not a relaxing place on the weekend either - you'd be a bold customer to lounge around reading the papers in the face of the steady stream of new customers. Still, it seems like a reliable source of decent brekkie food and good coffee - well worth the occasional visit.
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Luxe Bakery
195 Missenden Road, Newtown
(02) 8084 1775
veg breakfasts $5-20+

Accessibility: There a few steps up to get to Luxe, and things are pretty crowded inside (particularly around the doorway near the cash register/takeaway coffee queue). There's full table service, and the staff are incredibly helpful. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Momofuku Seiobo

February 2, 2013


Michael was pretty keen to eat somewhere fancy in Sydney, and I couldn't think of anything fancier than David Chang's Momofuku Seiobo. I was less attracted by the big name and more by praise for the venue's vegetarian options on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry - it was Lee's favourite meal of 2011. Attraction is one thing; getting a reservation is more about dedication and precision timing. Tables open up on the website at 10:00am, ten days in advance of the meal. On my first attempt I logged in, wavered a few too many seconds over the seating, and was bumped off. It was over in 40 seconds. Twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes and 20 seconds later I clicked indiscriminately, halved my time on site and secured our table. Phew.

From there I faced strict email instructions, a friendlier confirmation phone call and a slightly nervous journey to the venue, with the threat of losing my table and $350 off my credit card the potential consequence of running late. Our reward for arriving a few minutes early was extra time with the drinks list before the show began. I was delighted to discover more than one meal-matching option: in addition to the standard procession of wines ($95pp) there's a reduced pairing ($60pp) and a non-alcoholic pairing of vegetable and fruit juices ($55pp). Awfully nice of 'em to consider us cheap drunks and tee-totallers.

Food-wise, you'll take what you're given and pay $175pp for the pleasure. Momofuku do cater for special dietary requirements, just so long as they're spelled out in the initial reservation and confirmed by phone. Besides a few hints on Lee's blog, I really didn't know what to expect. That morning at Apt I'd flicked through a copy of Chang's book and found almost nothing, even amongst the desserts, that didn't include animal flesh or fat.


Food arrived promptly and frequently. We began with smoked potato piped into a buttery pastry tube, served with a sweet green apple gel and powdered, freeze-dried apple. Michael sipped sake, while I sampled an apple and fennel juice.


Steamed shiitake mushroom buns with sriracha sauce were an excellent consolation prize for those of us disqualified from Chang's famous pork buns.


With a Riesling for Michael and a red currant juice for me, we picked over tomatoes, tofu and yuzu koshu foam. Though they'd only been very subtly cooked, Michael declared these to be "the kind of tomatoes he likes".


Confit potatoes were firm but tender, and crusty on the outside; served in a small pool of buttermilk with roasted nuts and seeds.


From here things took a turn for the pink. With a rosé and watermelon juice in hand, we picked at these petal-like radishes and found tiny watermelon cubes, dirtied up with fermented black beans and burnt oil.

One of the chefs popped over to our table with an open cast-iron pot containing a huge golden orb of roasted cauliflower. "Cauliflower says hi!", he greeted us. Beats picking one's own lobster from the tank.


The zucchini done 'many ways' just barely outdid Ethos' three, thanks to black garlic (like oyster sauce!) and sesame yoghurt.


Next came Chenin blanc, carrot juice, and my favourite dish of the night - a disc of shiitake congee in a shiitake dashi topped with deep-fried doughnut dots and a thick film of preserved egg yolk. So savoury, so rich.


My orange and blackberry juice held its own against this plate of grilled onions and cucumber with red wine and pickled cherries. Though I love the way that roasting tames onions, the slippery things require quite some chasing around my plate.


Our cauliflower returned in more manageable chunks, served with deep-fried capers, mustard seeds and hazelnuts. I washed it down with beetroot juice.


The cheese bridging savoury and sweet was a loop of soft, grassy goat curd with a moat of black currant juice and mint oil in the middle.


Cucumber and raspberry were delicately balanced as sweet and sour in my juice and in this dessert - the sweetened cucumber sorbet surrounded by raspberry foam. The accompanying elderflower yoghurt passed me by.


Roasting spectacularly caramelised some white chocolate crumbs - these were served with a wedge of browned pineapple and lip-puckering sheets of lime meringue in a display that reminded me of the Opera House.


Our meal finished with the bill and copies of the menu. No tea, coffee or petit fours here (for us non-pork-eaters, anyway) - Momofuku play it their way. There's a real sense throughout that they're running the show precisely to their schedule and there's not much room for lingering or extended socialising or even for eating as slowly as I do. Our twelve courses were finished and we were out the door in two and a quarter hours; we've had lesser degustations spread across four!

Nevertheless, Momofuku was completely accommodating of our vegetarianism. The staff were uniformly young and energetic (I'm not sure any of them had seen their 30th birthday yet) and entirely capable, backed by an attention-grabbing soundtrack of dad-rock, bro-rock, alt-rock and hip hop. This meal rates in our two most expensive and most enjoyed degustations alongside Attica.

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The vegetarian dinner has already appeared with many compliments on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry and The Screaming Artichoke. There's also a lot of omni love out there, see sooks - food - notes, bitemeshowme, Buggles and Squeak, Sugarpuffi, fat man, thin wallet, Foodmiles's Blog, Thought Wad, nic cooks, Web Goddess, Yaya's Yum Yums, Timeout with Jaeminkins, heneedsfood, cosmetic cupcake, Mo' Money, Mo' Honey, Vintage Macaroon, novemberspell, The Chommery, Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs, Spatula, Spoon and Saturday, Apple in a Bun, EAT.FAMILY.LOVE., for the love of food, When the world stops spinning, Permanently Out To Lunch, Brunch, Lunch & Munch, The Ortolan's Last Meal, jeroxie, Fair Dinkum, InsideCuisine, food is our religion, PLAN-MB, Next Stop: Food, Caramel Egg Pudding, Poppet's Window, melbourne gastronome, The Food Fatties, The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua, EKougi & Food, Gourmet Chick, The Pink Leopard, From Across the Kitchen Table, thecattylife, Food Scene Investigation, The Two Taste Buds, WashedUpDonuts.com, Popcorn & Toast (in one, two, three, four parts), Angelica's Blog, Di-Licious Food, Travelling in Mary Janes, Yenface Itinerary, lefthandedchopsticks, Christine Wong Photography, Sarah Cooks, EAT.MELBOURNE, The Food Sage, Flog and Just One More Spoon.


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Momofuku Seiobo
The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Level G
reservations via website only
veg degustation $175pp, reduced matched wines $60pp, matched juices $55pp
http://momofuku.com/sydney/seiobo/

Accessibility: Entry to the restaurant is flat and the tables are widely spaced inside. Lighting is focussed at the centre of the tables and music is moderately loud. Passage to the unisex toilet is flat but fraught, requiring a trip through the kitchen (a trip bypassing the kitchen might be possible with staff assistance). The cubicle is somewhat large with a heavy door.