Monday, September 29, 2014

Peanut butter & jelly icecream

September 20-21, 2014

I have temporary custody of  K's The Vegan Scoop cookbook, a nice motivator to clear some freezer space and churn some icecream. This book has all the American standards and extends itself towards the fruits and flavours of Asia and the Caribbean as well. Most of the creamy recipes start with a base of soy milk and soy creamer, which doesn't exactly appeal to me, but I'm happy to play around with other non-dairy milks.

I started out with the peanut butter and flaxseed recipe and a whole lot of curiosity, but it all went into the bin before even reaching the icecream churner. I was willing to go with the way the full cup of ground flaxseeds gelled up the texture but I couldn't countenance their bitterness.

Next I stuck with the peanut butter theme but tried a trustier pairing with American jelly (or berry and rhubarb jam, in my case). This 'custard' whipped to unprecedented heights in my churner, and my anticipation with it. This was a hint it'd freeze pillowy-soft. Strangely it ended up dense and rock-hard, and even given 40 minutes resting time on the bench it's firm and scoops flakily. (That flakiness seems to be the hallmark of coconut cream, which was not in the original recipe.)

This icecream is damn lucky that it tastes good. I'll contemplate a new, improved formulation as I hack my way through it.

Peanut butter & jelly icecream
(adapted from a recipe in Wheeler Del Torro's The Vegan Scoop)

400mL can coconut cream
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy milk
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup berry jam
generous pinch of salt

In a medium-large saucepan, mix together the coconut cream, almond milk, soy milk, peanut butter and brown sugar over low-medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally. When it's all smooth and well mixed and started boiling, take it off the heat to cool down a little. Stir in the vanilla and salt then refrigerate the mixture until very cold, at least 4 hours.

Churn the peanut butter mixture in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drop generous spatulas-full of the churned icecream into a plastic storage container and drop teaspoons-full of jam in among the icecream. Freeze the icecream for at least two hours before scooping and serving.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mighty Boy

August 29, September 16 & 19, 2014

I was quite excited when Mighty Boy opened across the road from work - it was replacing a fairly standard sandwich-and-salad place (whose salads all seemed to have chicken in them) and promised something a bit more interesting for lunch. I headed over with a gang of colleagues on the day they opened only to experience the definitive first day teething problems: most of us got the wrong dish, the salads came out minus key ingredients, everything took an age - it wasn't a great success. On the upside, the food seemed solid and the prices were reasonable, so I figured I'd give them a few weeks and then go back for a blogging trip. I'm glad I did. They've got everything working now - the food arrives corectly  and quickly, and the staff all seem to know what's going on. Most of these photos are phone pics - apologies for the quality.

It's a breakfast and lunch place - the brekkies are pretty standard Fitzroy dishes (baked eggs $14, smashed avo $11, etc), while the lunch menu is Thai inspired and a bit more interesting. On my first visit I sampled the pad thai noodles with tofu, spring onions, bean sprouts, lime, chilli, coriander and egg ($12).

This was just okay - they're generous with the tofu, and the noodles are cooked nicely, but the whole dish is a little on the bland side. Luckily they offer up a quintet of chilli-based condiments to kick things up a notch (sambal, chilli flakes, plus two kinds of pickled chillies and sriracha).

On my second visit I grabbed takeaway - a $6 serve of two rice paper wraps with crispy tofu and vermicelli noodles, cucumber, house-pickled carrot and cabbage.

These are incredibly good and incredibly good value - two fresh little tubes of goodness with flavour bursting out of them. It's a small lunch but it's just about the cheapest option on Gertrude Street.

On my final visit I settled in for a proper lunch, starting off with a freshly blended lychee, lime, mint and pineapple juice ($8). It's delicious, but it costs more than the rice paper wraps, so maybe save it up for a special occasion.

To accompany the drink, I went with the tofu roti wrap (tofu with cucumber, mint, tomatoes, onion, sweet chilli dressing and lime on a roti base, $10). When I first tried one of these it was an actual wrap (see Fitzroyalty's post for an example) but they seem to have shifted to a more open, deconstructed version. The fillings are great though - beautifully marinated and fried tofu strips, lots of fresh veggies and herbs and the same selection of condiments I enthused about earlier. And of course you get the added bonus of your wrap being made of roti.

I'm really enjoying what Mighty Boy brings to the western end of Gertrude Street - it probably won't take the place of Sonido in my heart, but almost nothing would. Still, it's an excellent addition to the neighbourhood and it's already snuck into my regular lunch rotation.


Mighty Boy has already been favourably reviewed by Fitzroyalty and A Melbournite.
Mighty Boy
59-61 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 3686
menu: food, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: Mighty Boy has a flat entryway and a reasonably spacious interior. You order at the table and pay at a high counter. I haven't visited the toilets.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Me and Art

September 15, 2014

On my Monday morning in Sydney I checked out of my hotel and set off towards the nearest Iku Wholefood for breakfast. Within little more than a block I encountered a terrace house with a painting of the Vegan Mary. Huh! The little coffee shop seemed worth a look. 

Inside I encountered a friendly barista who offered me a menu, said something about waffles, and suggested I might like to go and enjoy their back garden.

He was absolutely right - the back courtyard had a cute assemblage of tables, plants and knick knacks and was flooded with sunlight. And on a Monday morning I had it all to myself. I settled in with the menu and could barely believe what I saw - almost everything was vegan, with prices centred around a reasonable $10. There was porridge, chia seed porridge, scrambled tofu, smashed avocado four ways, waffles and pancakes (with a gluten-free option!), soup, pies, stews, quiche and salad.

And their house special was apparently a coconut chai latte ($5) - exactly my kind of beverage. In truth this was very light on the tea and spice, but the frothy warm coconut milk went down a treat anyway.

The waffle ($10) was a big 'un, and I ordered it doused in mixed red berries ($2.50). Based on buckwheat and coconut flours, it was nutty and filling yet so soft and cakey that I didn't need a knife to cut it. The berries were thawed from a frozen box, and this rendered them soft and juicy.

There are assorted benches and stools, more ornaments and a rotating selection of art throughout this cafe, which on leaving I figured out is called Me and Art. I found the staff, the menu and the setting utterly charming, not least because I'd discovered them entirely by accident.


Me & Art has had positive write-ups on Not Quite a Domestic Goddess, Fight the Craving, The 9am Mug and Khana. There's a more mixed reaction on fox and lee.

Me and Art
62 Mary St, Surry Hills Sydney NSW
0411 811 404
menu: one, two
facebook page

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up on entry. The interior is flat with a clear corridor through the centre and a hodge-podge of tables and stools; a unisex toilet is located down a flat hall. Beyond the toilet, down a stair or two, lies the garden - it's crowded with knick knacks and the furniture is even more varied. I could have ordered at the table, and I paid at a high counter on my way out.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A slice of Sydney

September 14-15, 2014

I found myself in Dubbo for work last weekend. This meant flying through Sydney, and gave me an excuse to spend sixteen sneaky hours there on my way home before getting back to my job. I arrived in time for a 9pm dinner on Sunday and had shrewdly stationed myself within walking distance of Yulli's. Though their website says they're open 'til late a waiter immediately informed me that they'd be closing at 10pm.  No biggie.

The menu at this vegetarian bar always looks good, and had me wishing for a veg*n crew to share with. As it was, I kept the beer battered haloumi skewers ($14.50) all to myself. Although typically salty, the cheese was unusually fluffy and a little sweet, like something from a fair. I liked the sourness of the accompanying pomegranate and apple salsa, but the pomegranate's dull colour hinted that it was well out of season.

I had my eye on the chocolate cheesecake for dessert, but no-one bothered to clear my plate away in the 20 minutes that I lingered. Having a vegetarian bar gave Sydney an edge for a while, but now with Smith & Daughters in Melbourne there's no more FOMO for me.

(You can read about our first visit to Yulli's here.)

On Monday I fit my art gallery visit around a sunny yum cha lunch at Bodhi in the Park. Yum cha is probably another meal better shared, but I did enjoy being beholden to no-one's tastes but my own. I made a mess of some tofu pockets stuffed with shredded vegetables, and later noticed someone sensibly tipping the curry satay sauce into the pockets, instead of clumsily dipping the pockets into the saucer.

My biggest achievement was polishing off three rolls stuffed with mock prawns and mashed potato, fried with a crackly toasted sesame top. There was no way I could take on the BBQ buns or Peking mock duck dumplings that circulated soon after. I finished up with some less than fresh pancakes filled with mango and Tofutti cream cheese, not an experience I need to repeat. With a pot of green tea, the bill came to $28 - a bit exorbitant, I thought, but a bloody gorgeous way to spend slack-off Monday.

(You can also read about one, two, three of our previous trips to Bodhi in the Park.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mantra Lounge

Edit 06/05/2021: Mantra Lounge is now closed.

September 10-11, 2014

Recently reader Natalie alerted us to a new vegetarian cafe just a few doors down from Animal Orchestra. Lucky for me I had a couple of quiet lunch breaks to check it out right away. Mantra Lounge is doing its level best to attract students from the neighbourhood, advertising its $7.95 main/salad/dessert special with pamphlet distribution and travelling trailer signs. It's going for a funky, chill-out atmosphere and doesn't hide its Eastern spiritual leanings - there's a soundtrack of chants, inspirational quotes on the wall, plus yoga and meditation events on the notice board.

The menu is on chalkboard and changes daily, with all foods clearly on display at the counter. In addition to the three course special there are a few wraps and snacks, salads, sweets and drinks. Gluten-free options are marked and almost everything is vegan - I think just a couple of the drinks contained dairy, but even their chai latte is based on rice milk.

On my first visit I tried their vegelicious chickpea wrap ($4). Though it looked small, the chickpea masala was filling. The tomato sauce I was offered on the side didn't do the subtle spices of the filling any favours. I was surprised that my lemon mint lagudi drink ($3) turned out to be pink, with fragments of dried mint - it was refreshing and sweet, but not necessarily something I'd order again.

I felt ambivalent about the 'amazing apricot slice' ($4) too - the apricot filling had a jellied texture (but also pieces of real fruit) and the coconut cream top was fatty and bland.

The $7.95 meal deal proved much more successful the following day - it was a huge plate of pasta dotted with salty soy meat, covered in a sweet saucy lentil and pumpkin tagine with a little lightly dressed salad. An unassuming square of coco-lemon cake was the surprise star, with an open coconutty crumb shot through with sweet-and-sour lemon syrup.

It seems that we should heed Mantra Lounge's advertising and make the most of their cheap meal deals - these plates are simple, filling and fresh. The staff were friendly, aren't inclined to rush you through, and the setting is cheerfully coloured. This cafe will surely become a student staple in Carlton.


Mantra Lounge
167 Grattan St, Carlton
0433 531 345
menu: visit one, visit two

Accessibility: Mantra Lounge has clearly given accessibility some thought - there's a ramp up from the footpath (see photo above) and plenty of space around the counter, where ordering, payment and food pick-up occurs. There's a unisex toilet with wheelchair accessibility signage on this level. There are a few moderately spaced tables downstairs; the stairs themselves are wide and sturdy with a new hand rail.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gnocchi pesto soup

September 8, 2014

This week I pulled out Isa Does It for weeknight dinner inspiration. I was quite taken by the pesto pasta dish that Linda made recently but we'd just had pasta ourselves; instead I transferred my pesto enthusiasm to Moskowitz's recipe for pesto soup with gnocchi, beans and greens.

The thickness of this soup comes from blended cauliflower and basil with a touch of arrowroot, so it's not excessively rich. Then it's dotted with white beans, gnocchi and chard (or in my case, spinach), providing lots to get your teeth into. Like the book's sweet potato and red curry soup, it comes off as much a stew as a soup.

I used homemade stock so I increased the amount of salt in the recipe. While I loved the textures of this soup, I thought that the flavour was lacking a bit of depth - again that might be down to my vege-scrap stock, but I reckon I'll try stirring a bit of white miso into the simmering broth in future. Otherwise, the only thing preventing me from making this all winter long will be the unseasonal basil - I guess it will be better savoured as an autumn recipe.

Gnocchi pesto soup
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Isa Does It,
which also appears on PPK)

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1L vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt (add some white miso next time?)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
250g fresh gnocchi
400g can cannellini  beans, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch spinach leaves, roughly chopped
toasted pine nuts, to garnish

Pour just enough olive oil into a large pot to cover the base; set it over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook it, stirring, for about a minute, ensuring it doesn't burn. Add the cauliflower and 3 cups of the stock. Stir in the thyme, salt and pepper (plus future miso). Place a lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, cooking for around 10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.

Place the arrowroot in a cup and gradually pour in the remaining stock to form a smooth paste. Remove the lid from the pot and pour in the arrowroot-stock, stirring it around and cooking for 5 minutes until thickened (mine never did). Turn off the heat and stir in the basil leaves. Blend the soup until smooth, preferably with a stick blender.

Return the soup in the pot to medium heat. Add the gnocchi, replace the lid and cook for 3 minutes. Pour in the beans and spinach leaves, stirring everything together gently, until the leaves are wilted. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with pine nuts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Banana oat slice

September 7, 2014

I've been valiantly snacking on all the bananas that arrive here by vege box, but the most recent cohort were a particular challenge - they numbered a dozen and were all destined to ripen at precisely the same time. This called for some serious baking. Not just subbing an egg in a vegan cake, or even a standard banana bread; no, I needed Clotilde Dusoulier's four-banana breakfast slice.

With a couple of substitutions - coconut flour instead of almond flour, peanut butter instead of almond butter - I found that I had everything I needed right at home. It all mixed together into a thick dough with little fuss and baked in precisely the directed time. It's simultaneously kind of banana-gooey in the middle and crispy-oaty on the outside, and impossible to slice neatly.

Bananas and coconut and chocolate go well together, but I found that the flavour here was lacking a little oomph. The sweetness is very understated, and I wonder if some dried fruit might do the trick. Alternatively I'd consider swapping out one of the bananas for some extra peanut butter. I'm at some risk of just converting it into this other slice recipe, but I reckon it's worth persevering. There's the foundation of a fine everyday snack, not to mention a banana-buster, here.

Banana oat slice
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Chocolate & Zucchini)

2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup coconut flour
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 medium bananas
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
120g dark chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 180°C and line a small baking tray with paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the rolled oats, coconut flour, shredded coconut and salt.

Peel the bananas and drop them into a large mixing bowl. Mash them thoroughly with a potato masher or fork. Whisk in the peanut butter and vanilla. Pour in the dry ingredients from the medium bowl and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Tip the mixture into the baking tray and use the back of a spoon to even it out. Bake the slice for around 25 minutes, until it's golden brown around the edges. Let it cool completely before slicing.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Edit 15/04/2018: Supercharger has closed in the past week.

September 5, 2014

We've been more baffled than enticed by the new Emporium shopping complex in the city, but news of a vegan eatery on facebook managed to draw us in. Supercharger lacks an online presence of its own for the moment but owner Paul Mathis helped us out on twitter, informing us that they're open until 7pm every day and through until 9pm Thursdays and Fridays. That gave us plenty of opportunity to sneak in for dinner before a movie.

Once you find it IRL (tucked behind Jimmy Grants on level 3), the Supercharger MO is clear - fresh mix'n'match vegan bowls, beverages and desserts. Though there isn't clear dietary labelling, each dish's name is pretty instructive and almost everything looked to be gluten-free. Bowls start with a grain or spinach base, and then it's time to choose 3-5 extras ($10-14) - veges served raw, smashed, fermented or simmered.

I started with a steamed quinoa base and built up green peas and avocado smashed with lime, coconut oil and mint, some gently fermented cauliflower with black sesame, and thinly sliced seitan braised with shiitake mushrooms.

Meanwhile Michael ploughed through steamed brown rice, a raw blend of beetroot, carrot, radish and ginger with Bragg's apple cider, a smash of sweet potato and broccoli with tahini and barley, a yellow parnsip khadi with coconut, turmeric, lemongrass, galangal and lime, plus lightly caramelised tempeh in tamari.

We didn't think we wanted a beverage but the jars of apple, lemon, makrut/kaffir lime and lemongrass ($8) looked too good to miss - this was blended up for us on the spot for maximum impact (... and blended makrut lime leaves do make quite the citrussy impact!).

We ordered jars of the two available desserts to takeaway - raw cocoa mousse with coconut agar and berries on top, and a blueberry cashew 'cheesecake' with a jammy top and a date-and-nut base ($5 each). They're definitely some of the smoother, tastier raw desserts around. The jars were great for packing but less easy to eat from, causing sticky fingers and struggles to reach the base (maybe shallower receptacles would work better?).

We were otherwise very impressed by Supercharger. All the food was in rude health even towards the end of their shift, with the colour and crunch of produce just picked. The prices measure up favourably against other bowl-based vego venues around town. When we want a quick meal in the city we typically call on Shandong Mama, but Supercharger will stand out as a fresher alternative.

Level 3 Emporium, 287 Lonsdale St Melbourne
menu: one, two

Accessibility: The entry from Emporium is flat and wide. All ordering options are visible from low counter height; we ordered and paid at this counter. We picked up food from a high bench, though I'm sure accommodations could be made. Toilets are elsewhere in the Emporium complex.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Potato waffles

September 1, 2014

I worked from home on Monday, and it gave me a little extra time for housekeeping around my report-writing; slow cooking a big batch of stock, picking up a few groceries, and preparing dinner in stages. It was a nice opportunity to pull out my copy of Veganissimo, mixing and matching dishes with the vestiges of our vege box.

Look, it was mostly an excuse to make the potato waffles again. I think they're terrific - crisp around the edges and fluffy inside, but not greasy like a hash brown. A lot of parsley and a little chickpea flour set the savoury tone. I'd highly recommend them to anyone with a waffle iron (and suggest that anyone without try frying this batter as pancakes and report back).

To round out the meal and use up my veges, I whipped up small batches of Veganissimo's chunky beet dip and chive and cashew creme cheese. I couldn't believe how easy it was to handle pre-baked beetroots compared to peeling and grating raw ones, and their sweetness really gets to shine here - there's no filler, just some onion and garlic sauteed with red wine vinegar and a piquant dose of white pepper to add some complexity.

The chive and cashew creme cheese took me by surprise too. I've been around the mock-cheese block a few times, and this one uses ingredients I'm familiar with, but there's something deeply right about the quantities that Leigh Drew sets out in this recipe. I'm not going to give it (or the beetroot dip recipe) away here - grab the book and try 'em for yourself.

I'll share the potato waffle recipe (very slightly adapted below) as a taster. We previously ate these waffles with the Veganissimo scrambled tofu, yet another tasty reason to acquire this cookbook for yourself.

Potato waffles
(slightly adapted from Leigh Drew's Veganissimo!)

2 medium potatoes
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
3/4 cup plain flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup soy milk

Scrub the potatoes and place them in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover them with water and boil them until they're cooked through but still reasonably firm, about 8-10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool. 

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, grate them into a large bowl. It's fine to let the skins in, though I fished out a couple of larger pieces. Stir in the parsley, chickpea flour, plain flour and baking powder. Once the potato is well coated in the dry ingredients, add the oil and milk and stir well to combine.

Heat up a waffle iron and grease it as necessary. Pour in and cook the potato batter in batches, until the waffles are golden and crispy on the outside.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Little Ramen Bar

August 30, 2014

We had a few spare hours in the CBD on a Saturday and, rather than returning to Shandong Mama for yet another round of scallion pancakes, figured it was time we got on board Melbourne’s latest food obsession: ramen. The Little Ramen Bar is one of a handful of places that have all of Melbourne reminiscing about all the good times they’ve had in Japan (see also: Shop Ramen, Fukuryu Ramen, Menya Ramen, Ramen Ya etc). It’s a tiny place, tucked down Little Bourke Street and, like its dumpling focussed neighbour, it regularly draws queues out the door.

Things were busy but not overflowing when we visited at 1ish on a Saturday. We were drawn there by the veg-friendliness of its menu, with one vegetarian ramen and four other dishes that can be rejigged to remove the pork or fish stock. Vegans have options too, but will need to be clear – most of the ramen come with egg by default. You can customise your soup a bit too, by adding various bonus ingredients (e.g. kim chi ($3), garlic bombs ($1), corn ($1) etc) and there are a few other non-soup dishes to choose from (e.g. fried rice, edamame, gyoza, all $5.90).

We stuck to the soup menu, with Cindy going for Taku’s vegetarian ramen (built on a broth with miso, spices and rice wine, topped with bean sprouts, seaweed, bamboo shoots and a seasoned egg, $10.90).

Cindy was very impressed by her soup - rich and flavoursome, with the seaweed adding a nice oceanic flavour to the base and the bamboo shoots and sprouts keeping the textures interesting.

I couldn’t resist the word ‘spicy’ and ordered the vego version of the spicy miso ramen (a miso-heavy base with cabbage, spring onions and an egg, $12.50).

This was just okay – the soup itself had a good chilli kick and a strong miso flavour and the noodles were springy and delicious, but the toppings otherwise were pretty limited. The egg was delicious, but the cabbage chunks and raw shallots didn’t really rock my world – I was craving some more variety (tofu? dumplings? I’m not sure).

I must confess to not really understanding all the excitement about ramen. It’s essentially a pretty basic noodle soup and has never excited me as much as, say, laksa. I suspect that, as with pho, part of the issue is that we’re vegetarian. Reading reviews of Melbourne’s many new ramen places the words “pork” and “fat” appear an awful lot, suggesting that perhaps the key attributes of a good ramen were unlikely to turn up in too many vego versions. Still, Little Ramen Bar was worth a visit – the food is decent, the service super efficient and the prices reasonable. I wouldn’t queue here, but dropping in for lunch on a Saturday is definitely worthwhile. 



Little Ramen Bar
346 Little Bourke St, Melbourne
9670 5558
Menus: drinks, starters and sides, ramen, ramen toppings

Accessibility: The entryway is flat, but things are super crowded inside, with a mix of low and high tables. Orders are taken at the table and we paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Thinking & Drinking
at the Melbourne Writers Festival

August 23-27, 2014

Michael and I threw ourselves whole-heartedly into the Melbourne Writers Festival these past 10 days, attending all sorts of sessions - dress memoirs, life anti-hacks, TV tapings and queer commentaries among them. I was especially drawn to the food-themed events, turning up at four of those alone.

On the first Saturday I listened to American food writer Ruth Reichl. She seemed completely at ease on stage, with a warm, playful and occasionally passionate manner. Reichl was motivated to develop a discerning taste at a very young age, as her mother was an untalented and occasionally dangerous cook. In spite of this setting, she grew to love rather than fear food and went on to strike a deal for her first cookbook at just 21 years of age. She's been writing about food for decades since, working at Gourmet magazine in its heyday of extensive recipe testing and 10 onsite cooks. Seeking anonymity in her restaurant reviewing, Reichl developed an elaborate range of disguises and characters (even impersonating her own mother!) and these ultimately led to her recent foray into fiction. A newcomer to her work, I was as enthralled with Ruth Reichl's life story as any of the more clued-up fangirls in the audience.

Just half an hour later I slipped into a session on Crowdsourced Criticism featuring Lorraine Elliott (aka Not Quite Nigella), Tresna Lee of Yelp, and freelance food writer Dani Valent. The obligatory initial discussion of defamation gave way to some more interesting reflections on the unique opportunities of social media (e.g. conversations that include business owners) and challenges of providing rigorous critique.

On Monday night it was my turn to step up, joining a panel on Australian Fine Dining with Ronnie Scott and Andrea Frost (pictured above). Estelle Tang was our friendly and funny moderator, teasing this blog's "fancy schmancy" tag one moment and rightfully schooling us all on fair working wages the next. Ronnie and Andrea were clever co-panelists and I did my best to keep up. While we all agreed that food can be art, I think the session proved that we have as much affection for everyday eating as the posh stuff - Andrea's book really cuts away the pomp around wine culture, and Ronnie confessed to eating Pizza Hut for lunch.

Two nights later I returned to the Duke for a session on Food Ethics. This time Leanne Clancey MCed a panel comprising farmer Tammi Jonas, Sustainable Table's Cassie Duncan and sustainable designer Ewan McEoin. They highlighted the Aussie demand for cheap food; McEoin astutely pointed out that if it's cheap for us to buy, the cost is probably borne elsewhere - by the environment, by the farmed animals and by our fellow humans on the supply chain. The panel also discussed solutions, from long-term overarching structures to everyday actions. Their ideal is to shorten the string of transactions between food grower and food eater and Jonas boldly challenged the audience to make a difference by immediately ceasing to eat chicken from suppliers they don't know personally.

It's been wonderful to hear from some of Victoria's more thoughtful eaters during the festival (plus a couple of out-of-town guests) - credit goes to festival director Lisa Dempster and especially the Thinking & Drinking convenor Yasmeen Richards for seeking out such diverse opinions and styles.

I received free entry into Ruth Reichl's Delicious, Crowdsourced Criticism and a number of other Melbourne Writers Festival events as a participating artist of the festival. I will likely be paid a fee for my contribution to the Australian Fine Dining panel. I paid full-price entry to the Food Ethics panel.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Radhey Kitchen & Chai Bar

August 27, 2014

Back in May I spotted an empty shopfront on Brunswick St promising "wholefoods-vegetarian-raw-organic-vegan-Hare Krishna"; by July it opened as Radhey Kitchen & Chai Bar, and Brian reported enjoying lunch there on Fitzroyalty. A couple of our friends have checked it out, too, and gave us tips on what they liked best. We had our chance to sneak in for a very early dinner last Wednesday night.

The menu follows a basic formula with the details varying from day to day. Entrees include soup and pastries at around $7 per serve, mains include a curry, a burger, pastas and bakes ($13.50), while the display cabinets show off a range of salads, sandwiches and sweets. Everything is vegetarian and the staff are very mindful of vegan and gluten-free diets, not to mention super-friendly - they'll gladly talk you through your options.

We tried out the tandoori tofu burger with chips ($13.50). Tofu slabs run a high risk of being chewy and bland, and when this arrived at our table I thought the bun looked burned around the edges too. I could not have been more wrong on all counts: the tofu was tender and spicy, with a soft gently toasted roll and plain but fresh salad fillings. The chips were good too, with two fine dipping sauces.

The vegan meatballs seemed to be a mix of TVP and vegetables with a comforting (possibly fried) crust; they were served with spaghetti and a thick dousing of sweet tomato sauce ($13.50), plus our choice of the fresh salads - I chewed my way through some creamy-dressed kale and crunchy carrots. These were both generous, home-style meals - presented simply but executed skillfully, and great value for money.

We didn't have the time or appetite for sweets, and I want to go back for their specialty chai and something from the dessert cabinet. Everything in it was vegan on the night of our visit, an unusual achievement even for a vegetarian cafe.

This section of Brunswick St is already overrun with veg*n eateries, yet Radhey Kitchen has something extra to offer - simple, comforting food that steers away from the mock meat and (for now, at least!) a quiet, personable atmosphere.

The only other blog post we can find about Radhey is the abovementioned one on Fitzroyalty.

Radhey Kitchen & Chai Bar
336 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9077 8858

Accessibility: I think there's a half-step up on entry and a flat interior. Tables are quite densely packed with a clear wide corridor through the middle. We ordered and paid and a low-ish counter, where much of the food is on display and chalkboard menus are easy to read. We didn't visit the toilets.