Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Little River

Update 27/1/2019 - Little River seems to have closed down (although there's some indication on their Zomato page that this is only temporary)

December 21, 2014

A couple of months ago, one of my workmates helpfully pointed out that a new vegetarian cafe was under construction on Albion St. A walk by and an online search had us hooked in to Little River's facebook page and we kept a close eye on them. To be honest, their original menu didn't inspire much excitement - there was fruit salad, toast, corn fritters, eggs with everything savoury and a coconut yoghurt option on the muesli as the only vegan breakfast.

Melbourne's vegan community pointed out this dearth quickly and politely, and Little River responded with a new, more varied menu. Now there's scrambled tofu in a brekkie wrap, a vegan option on the veggie breakfast, and a vegan waffle on the specials menu.

Michael's vegan veggie breakfast ($16.50) was big and bursting with colour, with grainy toast, scrambled tofu, mushrooms, tomato, saffron potatoes, avocado salsa, baked beans and veggie sausages. The 'sausages' had distinct vegetable flecks and weren't attempting to mock meat; Michael reported that everything was well prepared but within the realm of what we can achieve at home thanks to Vegan Brunch.

Of course I had to have a shot at that vegan Belgian waffle ($8). I must admit some bafflement on its arrival - it was barely two inches in diameter! On digging in, bafflement begot disappointment. This waffle had the character of stale bread squished into a waffle iron. (It's again thanks to Vegan Brunch that I know fluffy, flavoursome, crispy-edges vegan waffles are possible.) Little River did get the toppings right - the coconut-based icecreams, fresh strawberry wedges and dark chocolate sauce were all excellent.

As luck would have it, I'd also ordered a 'recovery smoothie' ($7) from the specials list. It certainly restored my faith in this cafe with its filling banana base, bold chocolate flavour and chewy toasted coconut and cocoa nib accents. This passes as a great chocolate thickshake even for a superfood-skeptic.

On our way out the door I noticed some handsome rolls, wraps and pastries in the display case - all good candidates for a low-fuss lunch. 

With one major miss and a couple of solid hits, Little River is doing OK after little more than a month of trading. We're optimistic that they'll hit their stride soon.

Little River
Shop 7, 208 Albion St, Brunswick
9973 0473
menu: standard, special
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a small lip on the door and a shallow ramp as an alternative to the three steps up inside. Tables are arranged quite spaciously; we ordered there and paid at a low-medium counter. We didn't visit the toilets but noticed a unisex label down the hall. As you can see from the photos above there are a couple of high chairs and a kids' corner.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lentils, radicchio & walnuts with Manuka honey

December 13, 2014

Cindy headed off to the country for work over the weekend, leaving me at home with our newly purchased Christmas present to ourselves: Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook Plenty More. I couldn't resist a flick through, which inevitably led directly to a more attentive reading, which progressed directly to dinner plans for Saturday night. 

I started with one of the simpler dishes in the book - a lentil-y salad, typically loaded with herbs and fancy flavours, including the ludicrously expensive Manuka honey that I'd bought by mistake months ago. There are a handful of different components to put together - the lentils, the walnuts and the radicchio all get cooked separately - but nothing is very taxing and it's all simply stirred together at the end. It's the usual flavour riot - the dill and radicchio combining into something quite bitter, offset by the sweetness of the honey that's infused in the lentils and the crunchy walnuts. It's an excellent dish - even better as leftovers the day after when the flavours have had more time to soak together. Like Plenty before it, Plenty More is looking like it's going to get some serious action around here.

Lentils, radicchio & walnuts with Manuka honey
(adapted very slightly from Ottolenghi's new book Plenty More)

200g puy lentils
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
80g Manuka honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 small raddichio, roughly chopped
100g walnuts
80g pecorino cheese
20g basil, roughly chopped
20g dill, roughly chopped
20g parsley, roughly shopped
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Put the lentils and the bay leaves in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Get it on a low simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain, pick out the bay leaves and return to the saucepan.

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, half the honey, half the olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Stir this dressing into the warm lentils and leave it all to cool.

Mix together the rest of the honey, the chilli flakes, turmeric and a few shakes of salt with a teaspoon of water, creating a thick paste. Toss the walnuts through the paste, coating them.

Spread the walnuts out on a lined baking tray and roast for about 20 minutes, until crunchy.

Add the remaining olive oil into a frying pan on high heat. Quickly stir-fry the radicchio - you want to cook it for no more than a couple of minutes. Take it off the heat and stir it together with the lentil and walnut mixes, the pecorino and the herbs. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Great Canadian Ketchup Cake

December 14, 2014

I know my way around the kitchen reasonably well, but my skills are limited to the imprecise world of cooking, rather than the careful and measured art of baking. So every year when I tell Cindy to pick out a cake for me to make for her birthday, she's basically taken pity on me and 'forgotten'. This year I persisted, and she nominated this simple but strange ketchup cake that she originally spotted over at Lemonpi. It probably helped that she was going out of town for the weekend, so she didn't have to hear the cursing and see the chunks of icing flying off the beaters and across the kitchen, instead coming home to spotless counters and this slightly misshapen treat.

The actual process isn't really that difficult - at least if you're vaguely competent with electric beaters. My lack of any real skill only became evident at assembly stage, when my cake pieces sat a bit oddly on top of each other and my icing application left a few big gloopy clumps. It's not all about presentation thankfully, and this cake actually tasted alright - the tomato sauce isn't particularly obvious, but if you know it's in there you can catch a slightly odd salty flavour lurking under all the sugar. It's reasonably moist and the cream cheese icing is sweet and tangy, but otherwise it's a pretty basic cake - the novelty of the tomato sauce is really the key reason to give this recipe a shot. Still, it's a confidence builder for me - who knows what complex creation I'll bust out next December!

Great Canadian Ketchup Cake
(original recipe on 'Heinz it Up!', originally spotted on lemonpi)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup tomato sauce (yes, really!)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons red food colouring
175g softened butter 
1.5 cups brown sugar
2 eggs

icing (note: this makes nearly double what I actually managed to smear onto the cake!)
175g brick-style cream cheese
175g softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line two identical cake tins - I used a pair of loaf tins.

Combine the flour, spices, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl and stir together. 

Mix the tomato sauce, water and food colouring in another bowl (enjoy the shockingly red colour!).

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Beat in the eggs. Once combined, add in the flour and the tomato sauce mixtures, beating it all steadily and scraping down the sides to get everything combined.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and bake for about 35 minutes, until the top is springy. Leave the cakes to cool for 15 minutes and then extract them from the tins and leave them to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, stir together the icing. Start by beating together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla and then gradually add the sugar, beating the mixture as you go to combine everything.

Once the cakes have cooled, spread the icing over the sides, the top and between the two cakes to make a big messy cake tower.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


December 13, 2014

Way back in October when I was going through a slightly obsessive banh mi phase, Cookie Daux tipped us off via Facebook that the chainstore-looking Vietnamese place at Barkly Square was a creditable veg Vietnamese option. We've stopped by a couple of times since then, but finally used a lunchtime Saturday visit to blog the place properly.

Roll'd is a fast-growing franchise, with twenty-something locations listed on its website. Their focus is fast, affordable Vietnamese food, a kind of food-court version of the super cheap bakeries you find in Richmond and Footscray. The menu is pretty veg-friendly - there's a tofu option for each of the six or seven dishes they offer, including pho, noodle salads, rice dishes and more. The atmosphere is cheery, but you're still sitting in a shopping centre, so you're not really going there to soak up the good vibes. 

We started out splitting a tofu soldier (rice paper roll filled with tofu, rice noodles and fresh veggies, $3), with a serve of the chilli mayo for dunking. This was fine - a bit noodle heavy and not bursting with flavour, but cheap, fresh and a good warm up for our mains.

I couldn't resist the tofu banh mi (or, as they strangely label it: Bun Mee). It's a pretty decent rendition - crusty roll, loads of fresh chilli, coriander, carrot, mayo, cucumber and a few cubes of tofu dotted throughout ($7.90). Vegans will need to alert the staff to hold the butter and double check the mayo situation - we've also heard a few reports of pate turning up on the tofu banh mi as well, although that's never happened to us.

Cindy ordered the tofu and mushroom banh xeo - a crepe with a tofu/mushroom mix, chilli some greens and a few herbs ($6.90) served with a sweet sauce. It's a light meal (3 bits of tofu and 3 mushrooms), so it doesn't really compare with the similar dish offered at Fina's or our homemade version.

She bulked it up with a side order of sweet potato fries ($3.90), which were surprisingly crispy unlike so many sweet potato chips - probably Roll'd's most impressive achievement!

You can order Vietnamese iced coffee, iced tea and aloe vera drinks to take the heat out of the chilli. Service is brisk, friendly and effective. Roll'd are never going to measure up in either quality or value with traditional Vietnamese bakeries like Nhu Lan or N. Lee, but it's a super convenient option for us and does a decent enough job of veg-friendly Vietnamese. They're popping up all over town, so keep an eye out if you're struggling for lunch in a food court somewhere.


There's plenty of love for the various Roll'd stores, with mostly positive write-ups at Gastrology, Arrow Foodie, MEL: HOT OR NOT, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t), Peach Water, Asian Restaurants in Melbourne, Love, Adjpants, Calenex, Champagne for the Pain, Krapow, Banh Mi Maniac, Chomp and Slurp, JP & Melbs and foodie about town.

The Very, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Pigging Out Around the World, New International Students, Consider the Sauce, Gourmet Chick, PhoCity and I talk too much my mouth hurts weren't as impressed.

Barkly Square, Sydney Road, Brunswick
9380 9075

Accessibility: Roll'd has a flat entryway and a slightly cramped interior (especially during the lunch rush). There's a mix of high and low tables. You order and pay at a low counter. We haven't visited the toilets (in fact they probably rely on Barkly Square's general public toilets, which are pretty accessible).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cutler & Co V

December 11, 2014

On my birthday proper, Michael booked us a table for two at Cutler & Co. Though we've long been fans of owner-chef Andrew McConnell's vegetarian options, it's been three years since we were last at this restaurant. It's plenty of time for trends and seasons to have transformed the menu.

I started out with an old classic, anyway - gin and tonic ($9.50), to the drinker's own preferred dilution.

Like many high end restaurants the a la carte menu features a lot of meat. Nevertheless, Cutler & Co slip their vegetarian degustation to all diners and they've proven themselves capable of catering well to vegans and miscellaneous peskytarians. The wait staff remembered from Michael's reservation call that we were vegetarian and made sure to point out what altered and additional a la carte dishes were available. We didn't pay them much mind as we were pretty keen on the degustation ($110 each). The beverage options have expanded with a classic wine pairing (chosen by Michael; $85), a premium wine pairing ($125) and - yay for lightweight me - a non-alcoholic drink pairing ($49).

Beginning bread was served with beetroot chutney, as well as the usual butter and salt. Though the sourdough rolls looked light, they were very crusty. I held off on the white rye, bracing myself for the 6+ courses to come.

McConnell is clearly a pepper de Padron lover, repeatedly serving them in his restaurants for more than seven years. Fried almost to blistering skin and generously salted, this batch were sweeter than usual without a single firecracker among them.

Our first official course was a silky buttermilk mashed potato with a pine nut crumb and crisp-edged kale leaves. The potato tasted of sharp cheese, a trusty companion to green leaves. The apple and lemon juice in my drink effectively cut through the richness, and some muddled celery softened it out and lent an unusual savoury note.

These green spring vegetables were subject to nothing more than the lightest blanching before being served with goats curd and toasted sunflower seeds (sprinkled at the table after an oversight in the kitchen). My paired drink was based on an unfamiliar citrus fruit, more celery, and bay leaf.

Carrots and asparagus also received light treatment, augmented with a green lovage puree and dabs of fromage blanc. We also detected dill and the occasional little burst of sweet aniseed. I was very taken by the accompanying mocktail - grapefruit and verjuice shot through with almond syrup and garnished with sorrel.

In a nod to Japan, braised cos was served with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and sesame. My warm green tea added toasted rice flavours.

Unfortunately the staff were distracted before they could describe our final savoury course. Our plates held pressed eggplant, shanklish and pickles that I found out of place. The menu also mentions honey and elderflower, but these were overpowered by the burned flavour of the eggplant skin. The grain-based side salad, pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs were all rather Ottolenghi. (Ottolenghi is a legitimate adjective in this Plenty-loving house.)

Our sommelier was especially proud of the faux pinot he had for me here - the grape juice base is enhanced with star anise, coriander seeds, and a popular canned Chinese tea.

We declined a cheese course and moved on to the palate cleanser, a real cutie - rose cream, peach sorbet and fresh peach segments.

Dessert proper was fairly cleansing itself - a small tangy quinelle of buttermilk icecream with melon, cucumber and a little oat crumble.

My final paired beverage used more cucumber, muddled into apple juice with elderflower. Its acidity almost gave the sensation that it was carbonated.

The petit four of the night was a fruit-flavoured marshmallow, but our waiter swiftly recalled that the marshmallow would contain gelatine and served us ganache on wafers instead - we reckon it might be secretly superior to the marshmallows.

There's nothing like a parting taste of chocolate to sweeten my judgement. This degustation didn't hold any outstanding individual dishes for me, but I admired its consistent and careful use of fresh, seasonal vegetables (.... though as usual, it wouldn't hurt for a high-end chef to prioritise more plant-based proteins!). If anything the well-paired and varied non-alcoholic beverages are the  innovation that elevated my experience. Cutler & Co really does set a consistently high standard - after the incomparable Attica, it's probably my favourite fine dining in Melbourne.


You can read one, two, three, four past posts from us about Cutler & Co.

Since that last post, it has received a rave review on easy as vegan pie and a mixed review on Nouveau Potato. Omni bloggers are largely fans - see Sweet & Sour Fork, ChiGarden, BLK's Food Blog, The Glutton's Diet, JKP, A Food Story, Eat, Drink and DIY, I came, I saw, I ate, James Ridenour, let me feed you MELBOURNE, WHAT'S NEXT ON THE LIST, foodie about town, Gourmet Chick, Prick with a Fork and Spoonfuls of Wanderlust - although the experience didn't quite match the reputation for FoodMeUpScotty or The Survival Imperative.

Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 4888
degustation menu

Accessibility: Cutler & Co has a flat entry and generous space between tables. The front bar often contains high benches and chairs, but there are some standard-height booth seats to the side. There's full table service. The toilets we encountered were quite narrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lucy Lockett II

December 5 & 11, 2014

Since belatedly catching on to the very veg-friendly Lucy Lockett, we've wasted no time in revisiting to explore more of the menu. For a late Friday lunch, Michael and I both ordered the breakfast burrito ($17) in a rare moment of simpatico. Accustomed to the densely packed parcels of Trippy Taco,  Zambrero and Smith & Daughters, the fanned-out saucy version offered here took me by surprise.  The scrambled egg and avocado didn't quite hold their own against a mass of Mexican beans, but I appreciated the side salad and smear of sour cream. An apple, strawberry and lime juice ($7) sealed this meal as a success.

Less than a week later we were back for a sneaky pre-work breakfast. Michael had the braised mushrooms, super-charged with vinegar, served with spinach and parsley on sourdough toast ($15).

I ordered the slow-to-prep French toast ($17), with strawberries, double cream and a walnut crumble on the side. The egg batter barely penetrated the surface of these towering bread chunks, which were crumbed with banana chips and oats. I only managed two of them before I ran out of strawberries and admitted defeat; I still didn't desire lunch until 3pm.

Our second and third Lucy Lockett meals didn't hit the same high notes as our first, but the friendly service has proven consistent. There are still eight more veg*n options on the menu that we've not yet tried, so there are plenty more opportunities for them to delight (or disappoint) us.


You can read about our first visit to Lucy Lockett here.

Lucy Lockett
140 Barkly St, Brunswick
8388 7138

Accessibility: The entry is flat and the interior is spacious. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Next-gen frozen chocolate crunch

December 2-6, 2014

Clamps and I have birthdays in early December, and this year we held a joint celebration - first at the Cornish Arms to honour his love of beer and deep-frying, then back to Casa sin carne for my kind of icecream. There was vodka-spiked cherry sorbet, my best batch of Vietnamese coffee icecream yet, and a little leftover rhubarb & strawberry sorbet. The centrepiece was a next-generation frozen chocolate crunch.

This icecream cake is an old family favourite that I've written about before, but it needs stripping of dairy and gluten to suit my circle of friends. I used Leda gingernut cookies in the crumble, Orgran egg replacer in the chocolate layer, and So Good vanilla icecream for the centre - all convenience foods in the spirit of the original recipe.

This cake was different to its forebear, with a noticeably darker, denser chocolate strip and a subtle ginger accent. It was wonderful in its own right. It might even earn the storied status among my mates that the original recipe holds with my family.

Next-gen frozen chocolate crunch
(adapted from a family recipe)

85g vegan, gluten-free biscuits
85g slivered almonds
1L soy vanilla icecream
170g dark chocolate
2 teaspoons powdered egg replacer
100g margarine
2/3 cup icing sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Place the biscuits between two pieces of baking paper and crush them coarsely with a rolling pin. Spread the almonds out over a small baking tray and toast them under a grill, keeping a careful eye on them and tossing them regularly to prevent burning. When the almonds are lightly golden, retrieve them and stir through the biscuit crumbs. Set the mixture aside.

Remove the icecream from the freezer and set it at room temperature to soften.

Gently melt the chocolate in a saucepan, set over a second saucepan of boiling water. Set it aside to cool a little. In a mug, stir together the powdered egg replacer and water until smooth.

In a medium bowl, beat the margarine until fluffy. Beat in the icing sugar.  Pour the egg replacer into the bowl of margarine and follow with the vanilla and coffee liqueur, beating everything together thoroughly. Finally, beat in the melted chocolate until smooth.

Line a springform cake tin with foil or baking paper. Sprinkle half of the biscuit-almond mixture across the base. Gently pour in half of the chocolate mixture and spread it evenly over the crumble. Spoon the softened icecream over the chocolate layer and even up the top. Spread over the remaining chocolate and finally the last of the crumble. Cover the cake tin with foil and freeze the cake for at least four hours, preferably overnight. Slice into small wedges to serve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vegerama II

November 29, 2014

I found myself in Brisbane for a quick work trip and stumbled across the freshly opened Vegerama restaurant in West End. Vegerama have been running a couple of food court hotbox-style places in the Brisbane CBD for more than five years (I visited one way back in 2009), but their new location in West End is a proper sit-down restaurant aiming for a more impressive experience. It's smack bang in the middle of the Boundary St/Melbourne St shopping strip and accessible via loads of great bus lines (and probably only a 20 minute walk from the CBD). Excuse the dodgy photos - I was caught short with just my phone to capture the experience.

The space is bright and airy, with a mix of exposed brick and wood panelling and some colourful tiles behind the big front counter. There're seats for about fifty people, including a few tables out on the street. The menu is a grab-bag of cuisines and touches on all the standard vego dishes - noodles, curries, burgers, pastas and stir-fries. It's mostly vegan, but there are a few dishes that lean on cheese for flavour.

Mum went with the South Italian salad of mixed heritage tomatoes, basil, cucumber, olives, capers, toasted almonds and olive oil ($14). It's supposed to come with buffalo mozzarella as well, but they forgot to add it - they were very apologetic about it when we let them know and knocked a few bucks off our bill to make up for it.

Even without the cheese this was a success - fresh, simple and tasty with the olives and capers adding some salty bite to the sweet tomatoes.

I went for something a bit heftier - the Vegerama green stiry-fry with broccoli, capsicum, zucchini, kale and cashews with tempeh and brown rice ($15).

This was a gigantic meal - probably a whole block of tempeh and certainly more than I could finish (at least if i was going to eat my share the rice paper rolls we'd ordered). It ticked a few boxes for me - I desperately needed something loaded with veggies and I liked the relatively simple flavours. It's the kind of dish you can throw together yourself in 15 minutes at home, so it feels a bit weird to pay $15 for it, but if you're in need of something healthy and filling you won't be disappointed.

Our final dish was an entree (which was meant to come out first but had been lost in some kitchen confusion) - Vietnamese rice paper rolls with fresh veggies, Vietnamese mint, rice noodles and tofu and a sesame peanut dipping sauce ($10).

This is another simple but effective dish - all freshness and natural flavours. The peanut/soy dipping sauce was a bit weird (the two elements weren't quite combined properly), but the flavour was fine.

Vegerama is a good addition to West End - it's Brisbane's hippiest suburb and a straightforward veggie place with a wide array of options is a good bet to succeed there. It's not an overly exciting place - the dishes really feel like the kind of dishes that competent but not particularly adventurous home cooks could churn out without too much trouble. I'm glad I got a chance to visit and will probably swing by again next time I'm in town, so hopefully Vegerama thrives.
I think we're the first bloggers to get to the West End Vegerama restaurant. You can read about our trip to their Post Office Square food court outlet here.  
220 Melbourne St, West End
(07) 3255 3388
menu (it's not a great photo, sorry)
http://vegerama.com.au/ (although it's currently being updated - their facebook page might be a better option)

Accessibility: Excellent - there's a wide, flat entryway and plenty of space inside. Orders are taken at the table and you pay at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

John Gorilla

November 22, 2014

We've been intending to visit John Gorilla for at least two of the two-and-a-bit years it's been open in West Brunswick. A weekend errand in the neighbourhood finally propelled us through the door last month. Though any number of Melbourne cafes feature kooky light fittings, vintage furniture and cutesy knick knacks, there was something notably sunnier about John Gorilla. It may simply have been the light streaming through the large windows, but the white walls (no exposed brick!) or the splashes of poster-paint yellow and orange might have something to do with it too.

You wouldn't have known it to read the menu. Boasting winter poached fruits, a "seasonal warm winter vegetable salad", cabbage and mushrooms aplenty, it seems the kitchen hadn't quite caught on to daylight savings time. There weren't any hints for special diets either - while there's plenty of promise for vegetarians, options look limited for vegans and the gluten-free.

Michael ordered the oven roasted thyme mushrooms on a cauliflower puree, topped with poached eggs and garlic breadcrumbs ($17). The cauliflower puree reminded him of polenta, a nice alternative to the standard toast, and the garlic breadcrumbs provided some crunch.

With some determination I ignored the Nutella French toast on the specials board and the banoffee French toast in the standard menu in favour of a bagel ($13). Too tall to tackle whole, I enjoyed the beetroot dip-slathered side with rocket and stole occasional bites from the salty slivers of haloumi. The three whole mushrooms held their own and demanded I use cutlery.

In lieu of the French toast, I lingered over the sweets display while Michael settled the bill.

We picked up a berry coconut slice ($6.50) with the odd juicy blueberry in the jam and a chewy toasted top - more than enough for two, and best enjoyed with tea.

Though the menu doesn't quite cater to all needs and seasons, I liked the atmosphere (and yes, the cake display) at John Gorilla. I'll certainly be tempted to pop in next time I've a need to go west.


There are positive accounts of John Gorilla on MELBOURNECHAITIMES, The Tea Diaries, Vetti Live in Northcote, dear melbourne,, grazing panda, A Place A Day and Miss Muesli. Only The Quince Poacher has been notably underwhelmed.

John Gorilla
49 Pearson St, West Brunswick
9005 8680
menu: regular, specials

Accessibility: My memory is poor for this one, sorry! I think the entry was flat but there was a step between the two indoor areas. Tables are moderately dense but there's a clear path through the middle of each room. We ordered at our table and paid at a medium-high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Sunday, December 07, 2014


November 19, 2014

We were hitting a Wednesday night gig in North Melbourne and were on the lookout for somewhere new to eat in the neighbourhood. There doesn't seem to have been a boom in exciting veg-friendly places in the area, but Agraba turned up in a few google searches and it seemed like it was worth a visit. It's a cute little joint - they've got records playing, old photos of Turkey on the walls and a sunny area out the front. We tucked ourselves inside and perused the menu, finding loads of vego mezze dishes to choose from - they don't label things as vegan, but I think everything we wound up ordering would be dairy free. 

We somehow resisted the crumbed and fried haloumi ($9.9) and settled on a few healthier dishes. The arnabeet meklieh ($9.9) was a simple dish of fried broccoli and cauliflower with a side of tahini sauce and a squeeze of lemon. I was in the mood for some proper vegetables, so it hit the mark nicely for me.

Next to it is the baba ghanoush ($9.5), as smoky and eggplanty as you could hope for, with plenty of fresh pita bread for dipping.

Our other vegetable dish was the loubia ($9.9), sauteed green beans with olive oil, coriander and tomato. I don't remember the coriander having a strong impact, but the beans were oily and delicious anyway.

We couldn't resist trying a plate of their felafel ($10.9), with pickles and tahini sauce. These were a pretty respectable effort - crispy on the outside and loaded up with herbs and spices. They're not going to challenge Half Moon or Mankoushe, but they're not going to leave you disappointed either. A plate full of pickles always goes down well with me too.

Agraba worked out pretty well for us - it's reasonably priced and tasty food, with plenty of vegetarian (and vegan) options and a pleasant atmosphere. Throw in the delicious house made lemonade (with rosewater!) and friendly staff and you've got a solid local restaurant - it's well worth a visit if you're in the neighbourhood.


Nouveau Potato, Off The Spork and BirdseyStreet all enjoyed the food at Agraba - it's surprisingly under-blogged.

63 Errol Street, North Melbourne
9329 0058
menu: mezze, drinks, desserts

Accessibility: There's a flat entry into a pretty crowded interior. They do full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cumin-cayenne mashed potatoes
with caramelised onions

November 16, 2014

We had a relatively quiet Sunday with plenty of time for cooking, so we decided it was time to revisit Vegan Soul Kitchen several times over. Our initial attempt had been a mix of excellence (the veggies) and adequacy (the tofu), so we focussed our attention on more vegetables this time around.

Our planning was partly dictated by our veggie box leftovers, but we managed to pull together a complementary set of dishes: chilled citrus broccoli salad, rosemary salted asparagus and cumin-cayenne mashed potatoes with caramelised onions. The first two were super easy: a quick blanch of the broccoli and some dressing for the first and simple roasted asparagus with a ground up mix of salt and rosemary for the second. They were great too - I didn't chill the broccoli enough so it wound up cooking itself a bit in the dressing while it was marinating, but it was still zingy and crisp, while the rosemary-salt (pictured below) added some nice flavour to roasted asparagus (which is already pretty great).

The real star of the show though was the mash, so we're including the recipe below. It's not particularly complicated - the onion caramelises while you're boiling the spuds and then it's just a judicious mix of spices and soy milk to add flavour and creaminess. But the end result is greater than the sum of its parts - we cooked up a bit less than the 1kg in the recipe below, and we were both scraping the dregs out of our bowls wishing for more. 

We will definitely be making this recipe again and I'm excited to keep digging through this book for more great dishes.

Cumin-cayenne mashed potatoes with caramelised onions
(adapted slightly from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

1 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
2 tablespoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Place the potato chunks in a large pot covered with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the spuds are soft.

In the meantime, combine the olive oil, onion, cumin, cayenne and a few pinches of salt in a frying pan and cook over low heat, until the onions are soft and caramelised - about half an hour. Add the soy milk and thyme to the onion mix and stir through.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan, mashing them until relatively smooth.

Combine the soy milk/onion mixture with the potatoes and whip the mix together, until the mash is light and fluffy - about a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Banana-pecan cornbread muffins

November 16, 2014

I'm launching right into a second banana-based baking recipe here. This one's appeal was threefold: it'd do away with another frozen banana (of course), produce a packable snack for workday afternoons, and expand my experience with Vegan Soul Kitchen.

Bryant Terry's description of these muffins hit my snacking marks: "not quite a dessert" with "light, sugary" banana-bound cornbread offset by "earthy-sweet" maple-coated pecans. The pecans have earned a stand-alone recipe page in the book for good reason - they're a lovely little candy that might not make it into the muffin batter if you taste them first. Luckily I made a few extra because I couldn't stop at five, let alone one.

And actually, I found that their maple coating got a little lost in the muffins - I wonder if plain pecans would do the job just as well. I did go ahead and adapt the batter for convenience, using sunflower instead of corn oil, topping up my wholemeal flour with a little spelt, and replacing rice milk with almond milk. 

A bigger unknown was using polenta as the 'yellow cornmeal'. Southern USian and Central American cooking traditions use a broader range of corn products than are easily accessed here in Oz, and I've no idea whether polenta behaves as intended in this recipe. It remained sandy and crunchy in the baked muffins - consistent with Bryant Terry's description but coarser than the cakey cornbreads I've eaten in other contexts. I wonder if a little resting time for the batter would help the cornmeal soften and soak up moisture before baking.

I'm keen to learn more about all things corn. This book's affection for corn grits might finally propel me to USA Foods where candies and hot sauces have thus far failed.

Banana-pecan cornbread muffins
(adapted slightly from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

maple-coated pecans
130g pecans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons maple sugar, coconut sugar or brown sugar

muffin batter
1 1/4 cups polenta or other yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup wholemeal flour
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large ripe banana
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 cup almond milk

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a large baking tray with paper. Roughly chop the pecans and spread them over the baking tray. Toast them in the oven for around 4 mintues, stirring them at the 2 minute mark. 

When they're done, place them in a small-medium saucepan. Stir through the oil until they're evenly coated. Pour in the maple syrup and stir until evenly coated. Finally, sprinkle in the sugar and stir until evenly coated. Set the saucepan over medium heat on a stove, stirring them regularly for 2-5 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer them back to the paper-lined tray, spreading them out as quickly as you can. Allow them to cool.

Turn the oven up to 220°C. Grease a muffin tray.

In a large bowl, stir together the polenta, plain and wholemeal flours, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mash the banana. Whisk in the maple syrup, the oil and finally the almond milk. Pour this liquid mixture into the large bowl of dry ingredients and stir them together until just combined. Fold in the cooled pecans.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray and bake for around 15 minutes, until the tops are golden and the cakes are just cooked through.