Sunday, May 31, 2015

Apple breakfast crisp

May 25, 2015


This recipe is me trying to heave myself out of another breakfast rut. Our vege boxes come with a lot of apples at this time of year, some of them mealy, and I just knew that there was a breakfast crumble out there for them. I trawled my cookbooks but came up short. Isa, Heidi and Deb had muffins and waffles and eggs 'til Tuesday, but nothing that'd get apples into my workday breakfast.

Once I hit google it turned out that Deb Perelman did actually have exactly what I needed, an oaty apple crisp especially designed for breakfast. I threw in a couple of pears with the apples, swapped honey for barley malt syrup and slivered almonds for raw cashews. It's not too distant from my ol' fruit crumble manifesto, though it taught me a couple of important tricks. First, you can melt the butter instead of blending it cold into the crumble. Second, it's worth baking apples well beyond my habitual 20 minutes to bring them to that collapsing, apple pie stage. 

These aren't startlingly innovative tricks, but I appreciated them just the same. I've been enjoying my buttery collapsed apples for days with a couple heaping spoonfuls of yoghurt and even plotting future batches. Different flour! Skip the sugar! Other fruit and nuts! And what about vegetable oil, eliminating the need for melting entirely? But always lots of oats, lots of baking and a smidge of cornflour.


Apple breakfast crisp
(slightly adapted from a recipe on smitten kitchen)

200g mixed fruit (I had 5 apples and 2 pears)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
110g butter
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
1/2 cup flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raw cashews, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Peel the fruit, remove any cores and chop the flesh into bite-size pieces, placing the fruit in a medium-large baking dish. Stir through the lemon juice as you go to prevent the fruit from browning. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, cornflour, cinnamon and salt, and stir it through to evenly coat the fruit pieces.

In a medium-large saucepan set over low-medium heat, melt the butter and the barley malt syrup together. Turn of the heat, and stir in the flour, rolled oats, cashews and coconut. Pour this granola mix evenly over the apples in the baking tray. Bake it all for 45-55 minutes, until the apples are softened and bubbly. Keep an eye on it as it bakes, and cover the dish if the top gets too brown.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gingernut hedgehog

May 23-24, 2015


Last weekend we joined in on a big party for a little girl's birthday. Much of the food was expertly catered by the Las Vegan crew, and another guest prepared a cake decorated with fairies and fondant mushrooms. I brought along a tray of hedgehog slice, a fairly common treat from my own childhood.

I don't have a family recipe, but I knew Vegan About Town posted one that I could draw from and adapt to suit my pantry. The whole hedgehog deal was really just a plot to use up two packets of LEDA gingernuts, and it served to polish off some walnuts, cashews and dried cherries too. Best of all, it's an oven-free melt'n'mix method easily accomplished in 20 minutes.

The slice has a great fudgy texture and a much darker chocolate base than the non-vegan versions I've known before. On reflection, it was probably too rich and bittersweet for the kids. In fact the little tackers barely took an interest in the savoury selection or the birthday cake once the candles were off either - they seemed to have eyes only for the bowl of Skittles! That just left us greedy grown-ups to graze on party pies, stuffed potatoes and pastry pinwheels all afternoon.



Gingernut hedgehog
(adapted from a recipe at Vegan About Town)

300g gingernuts
3/4 cup walnuts
3/4 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup dried cherries
300g margarine
300g dark chocolate
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
120g tub apple puree
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Line a large baking tray with paper.

Crush the gingernuts lightly, so that they're a mix of big chunks and powdery crumbs, and place them in a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the nuts and add them to the bowl. Stir in the dried cherries.

In a medium-sized saucepan over low heat, melt the margarine. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally as it melts, ensuring that it doesn't burn. When the chocolate is completely melted, whisk in the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, apple puree and maple syrup. 

Take the saucepan off the heat and pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl; stir it all together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Pour the slice mixture into the baking tray and spread it out as evenly as you can. Refrigerate the slice for at least a few hours before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sun Moth Canteen & Bar

May 21, 2015

We had time for a quick dinner in the city before a friend’s gig on Thursday night and took the opportunity to check out Sun Moth Canteen and Bar. I’ve been stalking them on Instagram lately and have been impressed by the steady stream of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes that pop up in their feed.


It’s a sleek, sparsely decorated space – all clean lines and polished wood, with a few big plants and a projector decorating the front wall with silent movies (surf films the night we were there). The menu is short but still has plenty to choose from: four of the seven mains are veg-friendly (three vegan friendly) and there are a handful of options on the snacks menu as well (we’ll definitely be trying the fried bread with olives, lemon, chilli and garlic next time!). They’re big on fancy beer and good coffee too, but Cindy and I were both on soft drinks, so we’ll have to go back for a second visit to explore the beverage options more thoroughly.

First up was the kale salad, served with pickled cauliflower, carrot, quinoa, toasted seeds and a thick smear of hummus ($13). This was a lovely fresh dish, with the hummus adding something substantial to the light veggies. The variety of textures was a strength too, while the acidity of the pickled cauliflower provided some sharpness.


Our other main was the white bean stew, with rosemary, leek and braised mushrooms ($17). This is perfect winter food – warm and hearty, flavourful and comforting. It really fills you up too – we struggled to make it all the way through.


We were running late so we didn’t get to check out their dessert menu, but the quality of the savoury dishes means I’ve got high hopes. I’m similarly excited to get in and try the breakfast menu one day. Sun Moth is an excellent vegan friendly CBD option – the atmosphere was relaxed, the staff were lovely and the food was top notch.

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There are a bunch of sponsored posts out there about Sun Moth, but only Exploring Beer in Melbourne seems to have checked it out on their own dime - they're very enthusiastic.
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Sun Moth Canteen & Bar
28 Niagara Lane, Melbourne
9602 4554
meals, snacks
http://www.sunmoth.com.au/

Accessibility:There are half a dozen steps at the entry to Sun Moth, but they seemed to include a mechanism for wheelchair access. Inside, things are super accessible - spacious, with unisex, ambulant and disabled toilets and full table service.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Zaatar

May 17, 2015


We've had an eye on Zaatar since it opened a couple of years ago, and we've noticed it earning seals of approval from Cate's Cates, Green Gourmet Giraffe and Veganopoulous in that time. We squeezed our first visit in before their 8pm closing last Sunday night, following an afternoon gig at the Post Office Hotel. We'd spent the duration steadfastly resisting the myriad bowls of fries floating around us, focusing on the falafel to come.

The set-up is accessible and family-friendly at Zaatar, with clear display cabinets and counter ordering, dozens of quick-wipe tables that can be rearranged by customers, and a grin on the face of every staff member. Dietary indicators weren't marked on the menu, but there's plenty for vegos to choose from. Given that they make their own bread products on site, coeliacs might be more wary.


We shared a combination meal of 3 mezza with dip and salad ($8.50), which was excellent value. The last falafel in the display was still pretty good, and the mini cheese pie sat safely between the tasteless ones at Tiba's and the A1 gold standard. The pumpkin kibbeh held a surprise filling of chickpeas and spices, and was even better dipped into the super-smooth, tahini-heavy humus. The fattoush was fresh and on the acidic side.


It was all upstaged just one bite into the vegetarian pizza ($6). I've never had a sweeter, fresher crust! The grated haloumi was springy and salty, and in between were crunchy arcs of caspicum, discs of tomato and rings of red onion. Even the olives failed to bother me, such was the perfection of this Middle Eastern-style pizza.


We hear good things about the breakfasts here too, but it'll be tough to tear me away from another bread-based order. Either way, you can expect us to report on a daylit Zaatar meal next time we're in Coburg.

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Fellow veg bloggers Green Gourmet Giraffe and Veganopoulous have already given Zaatar positive reviews. It's also won fans on Cate's Cates, Melbourne Cafes Photo Blog, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t)!, Howie's Melbourne Food Blog and grazing panda. Consider the Sauce and Food, Eat, Repeat thought it was just OK.
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Zaatar
365 Sydney Rd, Coburg
9939 9494
menu board
http://www.zaatar.com.au/

Accessibility: Zaatar seems to have put some thought into it! The entry is flat, wide and opens automatically. Tables are moderately spaced, and the staff don't seem to mind shifting them around to accommodate groups. Displayed food is at low-medium height. We ordered and paid at a low-medium height counter, and food was brought to our table. Toilets are gendered and include a third unisex fully accessible option.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vegan baked potato soup with mushroom bacon

May 16, 2015


We had a spare Saturday afternoon and thus decided we finally had the time to commit to one of the overly complicated recipes that Serious Eats put up during their recent vegan month. I'm pretty keen to have a crack at the mapo tofu or the creamy ramen, but they both required fancier ingredients than we could lay our hands on at short notice. Instead, we went for this wintery roasted potato and cauliflower soup, with the added bonus of some mushroom bacon.


This is still a time-consuming and complicated recipe - I'd guess that we spent more than two hours putting everything together and we dramatically simplified the original (no stove-top smoking, lots of stick-blending and no soup straining). The mushroom bacon could be made well ahead of time, although you've got a good hour to do the laborious mushroom slicing while the veggies are roasting, and the oven's already on so you can pop them straight in. 

I'd say the pay-off was just about worth it - the potato and cauliflower soup was rich and had a cheesy texture thanks to the blended up cashews and cauliflower. It was quite mildly flavoured - you could boost the chipotle/adobo levels if you wanted more of a kick, but otherwise just season it heavily to make sure it doesn't turn out bland.

The mushroom bacon really kicks things up a notch too. I'd probably up the liquid smoke in the marinade next time and try to find bigger mushrooms to avoid the fiddliness of chopping and flipping hundreds of little mushroom slices, but the recipe in general is a winner. Keep in mind that the mushrooms shrink an awful lot, so you might as well do a big batch - we started with three full oven trays and wound up able to squeeze everything onto a single tray for the final roast.

I was very impressed by this recipe - we'll definitely be going through the Serious Eats vegan archives again when we've got an afternoon spare.


Crispy mushroom bacon 
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

500g Swiss brown mushrooms
spray oil
salt and pepper
4 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
 
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Slice the mushrooms really finely, just a couple of millimetres thick.

Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper and grease it up with spray oil. Lay out the mushrooms (we had to do things in a couple of batches - there was too much for even two full trays). 

Generously season with salt and pepper and pop them in the oven. After 20-25 minutes, take them out and flip each mushroom piece over. Give them another light spray with oil and some more salt and pepper and put them back in for another 25 minutes. You want them to dry out and crisp up - don't be afraid to go for longer than 25 minutes if you need to.

While the mushrooms are cooking, mix together the syrup, garlic powder, paprika and liquid smoke in a big bowl. Once the mushrooms are ready, stir them all through to coat them with the marinade and lay them back out on a baking tray (they'll have shrunk such that 3 tray loads will now fit on one!). 

Give them another 5-10 minutes in the oven to caramelise the sugars in the marinade and pull them out when they're a bit crunchy and a bit chewy.


Fully loaded vegan baked potato soup
(based on this recipe from Serious Eats)

1 head of cauliflower, halved
2 large floury potatoes, scrubbed and with a few holes poked in them with a skewer
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large leek, sliced finely
2 ribs celery, sliced finely
6 green onions, sliced finely with white and green parts kept separately
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, plus a bonus teaspoon of the adobo sauce
1 cup roasted cashews
1 litre almond milk
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 small bunch chives, sliced finely
1 head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed (for serving)
water
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C and roast the potatoes and cauliflower for about an hour, until they're very soft but not burnt (the cauliflower will brown up a lot, but that's okay). Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan and add in the leek, celery, garlic and the white parts of the green onions. Cook over low-medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until everything is nice and soft but nothing is browning up. Stir through the paprika.

Combine the cashews with about 1 cup of the almond milk, and the chipotle and adobo sauce, in the spice grinder attachment of your food processor (or a blender if that's your preference). Give it a good whizz, you want it as smooth as possible.

Pour the rest of the almond milk and the liquid smoke into the saucepan and scoop in the cashew paste, stirring everything together thoroughly. Whizz the soup mix up with a stick blender - you want the leek and onion bits to blend into the soup as much as possible.

Peel and dice the potatoes and cut the cauliflower into bite-sized chunks, discarding the stem. Throw the veggies into the soup mix in batches, stick-blending as you go. Add some water along the way to keep things at the texture you want - we added about a cup. 

Once you've blended everything together as smoothly as possible, stir through the chives, season with salt and pepper and add in about a third of your mushroom bacon. 

Serve, garnishing with some more mushroom bacon, the broccoli and a sprinkling of the green parts of the green onions.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sichuan House

May 16, 2015


On Friday night we were in the city for a gig at the Forum, and keen to try something new for dinner. I pulled up a year-and-a-bit-old bookmarked post from vegawesome! and suggested we give Sichuan House a shot. I had no problem snagging a table for two at 6pm, but they steadily filled up as we ate. I've since discovered that this restaurant is a favourite of many chilli-loving Melbourne bloggers (see link list below).

The menu's generally very meaty but we were able to spot several veg options that correspond closely with the Dainty Sichuan menu: cold noodles, potato shreds, garlicky cucumber and the two dishes we ultimately ordered, stir-fried spicy dry tofu and chives ($19.80) and fish fragrant eggplant ($17.80).


The dry tofu is firm and smoky, stacked high with lots of wilted greens and a few dried chillis. It was the right counterpart to the slippery battered eggplant, as sweet as it is spicy. A bit of steamed rice on the side ($2 per person) and we were well sorted. In fact, it was far too much food for the two of us, and they would have boxed up the leftovers if we'd been able to take them.


Sichuan House is BYO, and we contented ourselves with some of their cooling non-alcholic drinks - coconut juice for Michael and aloe vera drink for me ($3.50 each).


Sichuan House didn't distinguish itself strongly from our past Dainty experiences, but it didn't suffer badly from the comparison either. Service was friendly and fast, and we enjoyed our meal. Our only regret was that we didn't arrange to eat with friends and order more from the menu. 

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A review from fellow veg blogger Vegawesome! inspired our visit to Sichuan House. It's also won many omnivorous fans, see Couture Foodie, Eat And Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die(t)!, From The Cockroach Trap, A Spotted Blog, Spoonfuls of Wanderlust (twice), DolceBunnie, Let's Get Fat Together, Foodie About Town, Sweet & Sour Fork and The City Lane. There's just one ambivalent review, on Diary of a Pampered Housewife.
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Sichuan House
22-26 Corrs Lane, Melbourne 
9650 8589
menu samples 1, 2, 3

Accessibility: Entry includes about six steps, and we didn't see a more accessible alternative. Tables are densely packed. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. Toilets were gendered, flat-floored and narrow.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bo De Trai III

May 3, 2015


We spent a lovely weekend down at Ocean Grove with a gang of friends and the drive back through Melbourne seemed like a good excuse to stop by Bo De Trai for some lunch. It's a cosy little Buddhist vego place in Footscray, and one that we visit far too infrequently. On this visit we stumbled across their special monthly full moon menu, which offers a narrower range, presumably for religious reasons.

Cindy ordered the Com Ga Sa Ot, imitation chicken in lemongrass and chilli on rice ($10). It was just what Cindy was after, tender and nutty with a mild curry powder flavour. A watery sauce tipped over the rice brought it all together well.


I ordered off the specials board - a mock duck noodle soup with greens, mushrooms, some little berries (maybe goji berries?) and a few other bits and pieces ($10). It was rich and warm, with a powerful kick from the birds-eye chilli pieces I sprinkled through.


Bo De Trai is a decent vego option in Footscray - the staff are friendly (although not always particularly efficient - the place is run by volunteers!), the food is cheap and everything we've had has been good. It's not a place for a fancy meal or somewhere that exudes ambience, but it's worth stopping in if you're after a quick, tasty meal.

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Read about our previous visits to Be De Trai here and here. Since our last visit, MEL: HOT OR NOT has given it the thumbs up, but Chef John Smith was very unimpressed.

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Bo De Trai
94 Hopkins Street, Footscray
9689 9909

Accessibility: There's a small step at the door, and fairly close-packed tables but a clear wide passage through the middle. Ordering is at the table with payment at a low counter. The toilets are out the back past the kitchen via a slightly narrow passageway. They're unisex, but not particularly designed with accessibility in mind.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dense vegan brownies

May 1, 2015


Well, of course I couldn't set off on a weekend away without taking something chocolatey. I went for another recent locally published recipe, this one for brownies on quinces and kale. I prepared it late in the evening, after the lentils had simmered and the biscuits were cooling on the bench. I ground up the flax seeds, perhaps not quite as finely as I should have, and set them to gooifying with some water. I piled up the almonds in the grinder but they weren't so keen to powderise. After a couple more attempts I powered down the grinder and discovered this....


I'd snapped the seal, and it was performing some kind of python move on the blade. I sent Michael this frustrated photo, set the grinder aside and retrieved our hand blender. It struggled to smash the almonds, and they were pretty chunky.

I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, causing a little mess but no more mishaps. I wondered if my lax grinding might make for coarse, badly textured brownies. When their prescribed 35 minutes of baking had passed, they completely failed the skewer test and I baked them longer - I really needed something that I could slice cleanly and travel with. At the 50 minute mark I gave up, cooled 'em off, and popped the tray in the fridge for the night. Had I just wasted a lot of time and chocolate?

I had not. These brownies were definitely coarser and firmer than Rosalie's, but they were nobbly and chewy and very, very chocolatey. They travelled exceedingly well. When I want another batch at home this winter, I'll try dialling down the bake time to the original 35 minutes and get to know the gooier version.

But before that can happen, I need a new seal for my spice grinder...



Dense vegan brownies
(slightly adapted from quinces and kale)

spray oil
1 1/2 tablespoons flax seeds
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups almonds
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
5 tablespoons margarine
1 cup dark chocolate pieces
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 tablespoons soy milk
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat an oven to 170°C. Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper and spray it with oil.

Grind the flax seeds to a powder in a spice grinder. Transfer them to a small bowl in stir in the water. Set the flax mixture aside.

Grind the almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor, then transfer them to a large bowl. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate of soda to the bowl and stir everything together. Set this bowl aside too.

Over medium heat, melt the margarine in a large saucepan. Add half of the chocolate, stirring it regularly to ensure that it doesn't burn as it melts. Take the chocolate off the heat when it is completely melted and thoroughly mixed. Whisk in the flax mixture, then the sugar and vanilla. Finally, stir in the soy milk until it's fully incorporated.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and stir them together until they're well incorporated. Fold in the walnuts, and then the remaining half of the chocolate pieces. Pour and spoon the brownie mixture into the cake tin, smooth over the top as best you can, and bake them for 35-45 minutes, until they have a firm crust. Don't worry if they don't pass the skewer test.

Allow the brownies to rest for an hour or two (you might even consider refrigerating them) before slicing and serving.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Macadamia & lemon myrtle biscuits

May 1, 2015


I made these cookies from Vegan About Town for late-night card games (and, it turns out, some brutal Pictionary) on a weekend away. It's a handy, pared-back recipe requiring only a small number of ingredients and minimal utensils - I bet you could even pull it off with a fork and a strong arm instead of an electric beater.

It's a while since I've used lemon myrtle and in the interim it's become much more accessible - I found my supply in the ground spice section of our local supermarket. I like its balance of bright citrus and earthy flavours, and I used a generous hand when adding it to this dough. The biscuit base is buttery like shortbread, but if you retrieve the biscuits from the oven early they stay soft and doughy instead of setting hard. On the other hand macadamias are all the tastier with toasting, so it's worth letting 'em get a little gold around the edges before cooling them off.

These biscuits are plain in presentation but a bite confirms that they've got something special to them, and that you'll want many more bites of them still.



Macadamia & lemon myrtle biscuits
(very slightly adapted from Vegan About Town)

200g margarine
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 cup macadamias, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ground lemon myrtle

Preheat an oven to 200°C. Line 1-2 baking trays with paper and lightly grease them.

In a large bowl, beat together the margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add the flour and beat until well combined. Stir in the macadamias and lemon myrtle, taste, and add more lemon myrtle if desired.

Gently roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place them on the baking trays. Flatten them slightly with a fork. Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes, until they are just starting to go golden.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Taco seasoning

April 30, 2015


We've been using this easy-prep spice mix for years, and I've decided it's finally time to stop googling Best Tofu Tacos!!!! site:inthemoodfornoodles.blogspot.com and record it here on our own blog. 

Instead of making tofu tacos, we tend to make lentil tacos with it. They're savoury and warm and a little bit smoky, comforting rather than complex. We simmer the lentils on weeknights and wrap the leftovers into lunchtime tortillas. I've packed jars of the seasoning on field trips and weekend getaways, sneaking the extra lentils into cheese toasties and onto salsa-slathered pizzas. It's a great stand-by seasoning, and I've pleased many a crowd with it.


Taco seasoning
(a recipe found on In The Mood For Noodles)

1 part garlic powder
1 part onion powder
1 part Mexican oregano
1 part smoked paprika
1 part salt
1 part pepper
1 part chilli powder
2 parts cumin

Stir together all the ingredients in a jar. Use to season tofu or lentils; we use 1-2 tablespoons of seasoning in our lentil taco recipe.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Pomegranate poached quinces

April 26, 2015


At the end of April, we hosted the fourth gathering of Ottolenghi admirers in our home. Without a bike ride constraining our cooking choice, Michael and I committed to preparing the extravagant mushroom and cheese lasagne from Plenty as the autumnal centrepiece. But of course I couldn't leave dessert alone, flicking through Plenty More and jotting down simple rhubarb and quince options on the end of the shopping list.

The quinces won out in the end. You probably already know how to poach them, and I've done it before too. The vanilla, orange and star anise in the poaching liquid here aren't anything surprising, but using pomegranate juice instead of water is a very Ottolenghi tweak. It lends a deep crimson to the dish where the quinces can't - they're poached for just 20 minutes and retain the translucent colour of a pear on the inside.

On their own, the quinces are rich, velvety, vegan and gluten-free. Ottolenghi serves them with clotted cream and pomegranate seeds, and ours were embellished further with cocoa-streaked meringues made by our guest Matt. He and I had unwittingly teamed to create some rather fancy deconstructed pavlovas.



Pomegranate poached quinces
(very slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

2 large quinces
800mL pomegranate juice
70g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
1 orange
2 star anise
120g double cream
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

Peel the quinces and slice them into quarters. Cut away the cores and keep half of them. Slice the quince flesh into wedges and place them in a very large saucepan. Wrap the reserved cores in a muslin cloth or similar (I used a clean Chux wipe) and bundle them up firmly, adding them to the pot. Pour over the pomegranate juice and sprinkle over the sugar. Slice the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the seeds into the pot and drop the pods in too. Grate the rind of the orange into the pot, then juice the orange and pour the liquid in. Drop in the star anise. Bring it all to the boil, cover the pot and reduce it to a gentle simmer for around 20 minutes, until the quince is soft. When the quince is ready, use a slotted spoon to retrieve the wedges. With the pot uncovered, simmer the syrup for a further 20 minutes to reduce and thicken it. 

When it's time to serve the quinces, remove the core bundle, vanilla pods and star anise from the pot. Place the quince wedges back in the syrup and gently warm them. Spoon the quinces into individual serving dishes, dollop on some cream and sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Transformer

April 17, 2015


Fitzroy's veg restaurant hotspot, at the northern end of Brunswick St, is approaching boiling point with the opening of Transformer. Situated off to the side on Rose St, this converted warehouse won't have any problems luring customers from the main drag with its bright lights and huddle of hopefuls out the front.

Transformer accept both reservations and walk-ins, and appear to be running two fairly strict sessions per night. At 6:40pm on their first trading Saturday there was a 2 hour wait for a table, so we planned ahead and reserved our 6:30pm spot a few weeks later. Inside it's cavernous and moody (in the evening, at least) with spotlights centred on each table. The light pine tables and decorative plants hint at lighter, brighter brunches by day.

The menu is entirely vegetarian, with vegan, gluten-free and adaptable items well signed. Your waiter will recite the inner-city restaurant mantra: The Plates Are Designed To Share.


Before we picked plates, we picked beverages. Michael's G & T ($12) was unusually garnished with pink grapefruit and fresh fennel. From their list of non-alcoholic tonics, I chose a blend of watermelon, mint, strawberries, chia seeds, lime and lavender salt ($9). It was thick, fruity and fun, though the lime and lavender didn't feature strongly.


From the small plates, we tried the still-in-season grilled figs ($14), charred and smoky, with orange-balsamic glaze, hazelnut croutons that reminded us of polenta chips, and cubes of house-made almond feta, the vegan alternative to the standard goat cheese. The 'cheese' lacked the tang and grassiness of goat curd, but was delightfully creamy.


Next up we trialled a tower of roasted sweet potato wedges ($9) topped with coconut yoghurt, togarashi, coriander leaves and a slice of lime. These reminded us of a certain Ottolenghi recipe, and the comparison didn't do them any harm.


From the Garden Plates, we ordered the compressed watermelon ($11) dressed in chilli and pistachio oil, studded with cherry tomatoes, almond feta and mint. It was light and lovely, a celebration of the summer just gone.


Our one Mid-plate was Michael's favourite of the night, a brick of polenta and wild rice ($18) with an assortment of steamed and sauteed vegetables, an almost-astringent Thai pesto and coconut reduction.


We made sure to leave room for dessert. Nostalgic for Japan, Michael set it off with a glass of delicious plum wine ($10).


We spoiled an otherwise vegan evening with an order of the chevre cheesecake ($12), served with pear sorbet, honey caramel and poached fig. While the textures and presentation were outstanding, the chevre didn't offer quite the sharpness I sought to offset its sweet counterparts.


I was more deeply impressed by the vegan and gluten-free chocolate buckwheat mousse cake ($14), which a cakey base and creamy two-tone top, sherbetty freeze-dried raspberries and sorbert, with a strip of date syrup.


At just over $50 per person including drinks and dessert, we were mightily pleased with what Transformer has to offer. Where the similarly-pitched Smith & Daughters down the street is deep-fried and meat-mocking, Transformer seems more produce-focused. We're optimistic that Fitzroy has room enough for both fancy veg*n approaches.

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There's a positive review of Transformer on the blog pineapple.
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Transformer
99 Rose St, Fitzroy
9419 2022
shared plates, desserts and drinks 1, drinks 2, drinks 3, drinks 4
http://www.transformerfitzroy.com/

Accessibility: The entry is wide and with a shallow ramp. Tables are well spaced, a mix of mid-height tables with booths and backed chairs, plus higher tables with backless bar stools. There's full table service. The toilets are highly accessible - individual unisex cubicles with marked wheelchair and ambulent options.