Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Seven bites of Brisbane

July 2-9, 2017

I visited Brisbane for a week this month. My trip was scheduled for work, and I stayed on campus at the University of Queensland. My accommodation was on the pretty lake side, near a bus stop and a bridge that didn't exist when I was a student there 15 years ago. I made the best of them, venturing to my old neighbourhood in West End, meeting up and eating out with friends, family and past colleagues at every available opportunity. The weather was stunning and I clocked up more steps on my phone's pedometer than I have since summer. Here are the seven meals that most delighted me during my stay.

The Tibetan Momo Cafe is less than a month old, and located just around the corner from my first sharehouse in West End. It is a total charmer, with friendly generous hosts just bursting to share their traditional foods with new customers. There's a full vegan menu in addition to the standard meaty one, and they make both flour-based and gluten-free momo doughs on site (they recommend booking ahead for the gluten-free options). I sampled a mix of their vegetarian momos (7 for $15.90), including a gently sweet pumpkin one, a lovely savoury mushroom mix, and an ultra-comfort-carby potato. At my host's recommendation I sampled the vegan version of their Tibetan butter tea ($6) and obediently mixed in lots of salt as I was told Tibetans do. It reminded me, weirdly, of my grandmother's salted butter scones.

Word is that the Lakeside Cafe (on the far side of the water body in that top pic) does the best lunches on campus. Its menu is short and includes just two veg options, but they are good. I loved the vegetarian noodle salad ($13) for all its fun trimmings - a spring roll, strips of mock meat, crispy fried shallots and roasted peanuts. The vegetarian rice paper rolls ($7.50) are presumably the gluten-free choice, but check with the staff before ordering.


Suki at Southbank is leading the poke bowl craze in Brisbane, and pushing this 'sushi burrito' nonsense too. There's a lot of fish going on, but us vegos can pick tofu as our centring protein. I was pretty disappointed to note that it was uncooked, unseasoned tofu but the ponzu salad dressing I chose had plenty of zest to carry through my salad bowl (~$16). I sprang extra cash for avocado and didn't have a moment's boredom as I nibbled through my radishes, carrots and edamame. Three days into my trip I was already starved for fresh veges!

Visiting the Pizza Caffe at UQ brings the pleasure and pain of nostalgia, as it has outlasted the Schonell Cinema that it originally served. Their menu runs through the alphabet with many pizzas named after cinematic greats; I ordered the Zurlini ($15) and picked off the onions, while enjoying the sprawling pumpkin slices, feta bursts and pine nuts. I only wish I'd noticed their new smaller, cheaper pizzettas. As it was the staff and the pigeons squabbled over who could take my leftover slices when I got up to leave.

The Davies Park Markets are another fond favourite from my years as a local. I looked longingly at the fresh produce, skipped past the faith healers, admired some beautiful, hand-made cotton clothes, lingered over the second-hand jewellery, and tasted the grain-free seedy crackers. I could barely believe that the Ykillamoocow team still have a stall, selling vegan dagwood dogs (!), pies, and samosas. A no-bull pie ($5) was the only thing I pulled my wallet out for all morning; I ate it sitting on the edge of the sports field and spilled tomato sauce all down my dress (no regrets).


The Burrow has been displaced by an enormous development since our last visit. It now inhabits an old Queenslander home that lends it a relaxed, sub-tropical atmosphere even mid-winter. Beyond breakfast, the menu's all pizzas, fries and burgers with a couple of token salads. Michael dug into a vegan Sausage Scandal Dawg ($18) generously stuffed with sauteed sausage chunks, capsicum, onions and mushrooms plus relish, lettuce and mustard. I was mostly just in the mood for a mojito ($18), but picked at the beer battered chips and a fattoush salad we'd ordered to share across the table.


Lokal + Co is another eatery within an old Queenslander residence. Where the Burrow around the corner is rambling and casual, L+C is all reserved white walls and spartan Scandinavian design. We would gladly have picked three dishes each from the menu and were roundly satisfied by the ones we settled on: for Michael, De-Puy spiced lentils, roasted cauliflower, braised silverbeet, coconut sambol & taro crisps ($20) and for me, an apple pie waffle served with hung cinnamon sour cream, braised apple and toffee crunch ($19). 

It was a strange sensation to walk down that same street and check in on the first apartment Michael and I rented together - a time before food blogging, when we rented DVDs from Trash Video and relied on a meagre dial-up internet quota supplied through my UQ enrollment. In my sun-drenched week, I eagerly found both comfort in the old and plenty of positives in the new.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Yarra Hotel

June 27, 2017

Our mate Kate recently suggested The Yarra Hotel as a potential venue for our book club. The two factors in its favour are that this pub has half-price vegetarian meals every Monday and Tuesday night, and room for dogs in the beer garden. We figured we'd best test the food and pooch space before our next club meeting.

The menu has abundant veg*n and gluten-free options, all pretty well labelled; the veg dishes are often matching pairs to more traditional meaty ones. It's hearty fare: six kinds of burger (with a veg patty that can be subbed into any one), parmas (chicken or eggplant), ribs (pork or vegan mock), toad-in-the-hole (beef or veg sausages). 

Kate was excited to see Hungarian-style cabbage rolls ($11) on the menu. The vegan version is stuffed with mushrooms, then served with pickled peas, dill sour cream, and a beetroot puree that was most unexpected and most appreciated by Kate.

Michael took on the vegan hoisin ribs ($12), a thick and flavoursome wodge of mock meat served on chilli-ginger brown rice and topped with Asian slaw. It's a well-balanced, filling meal.

I steadily polished off a plate of house-made gnocchi ($11) with broccoli, almonds, zucchini ribbons and Grana Padano, picking out the slices of red chilli. The gnocchi were soft, with the odd golden-seared edge; terrific.

The beer garden is well heated and our companion dog made a few friends while we ate. Our meals were great, outrageously good value at early-week half-price, and worth their standard price too. We can see a good few cozy book club nights ahead at the Yarra Hotel.


Fellow bloggers ParmaDaze didn't care for the parmas they ordered at the Yarra Hotel three years ago.

The Yarra Hotel
295 Johnston St, Abbotsford
9417 0005

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry and another down to the beer garden. Tables are quite generously spaced. We ordered and paid at a high bar.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Chocolate-sesame sandwich cookies

June 24-25, 2017

I've had these chocolate & sesame yo-yos from Ottolenghi's Guardian column bookmarked for 18 months, just waiting for the seasons and our Ottolenghi club dates to align. They come under the apt heading Rich pickings, sandwiching biscuits dense with chocolate and sesame seeds with layers of chocolate ganache and tahini cheesecake spread. 

Unfortunately, the instructions weren't quite what I needed to get the job done, and I've adjusted my instructions to reflect what's more workable in my kitchen. For example, the ambient heat from the boiled cream wasn't enough to melt all of the chocolate and butter in my ganache, and I had to set up a makeshift double boiler. The rest of my butter was too firm for hand-beating, yet the biscuit dough was too soft for rolling! What is the temperature in Ottolenghi's test kitchen, I wonder?

In retrospect, I reckon it's worth refrigerating the biscuit dough before forming the cookies. They spread a lot during their brief 6-minute bake, and my irregularly-spooned ones were especially delicate and crumbly around the edges. A lot of care and a few under-the-breath curses were used as I spread them with the thick ganache and flavoured mascarpone.

The finished biscuits were generously proportioned, rich and sweet; a grand final flourish best served with a cup of tea. For future chocolate-sesame desserts, though, I'm more likely to go back to another cookie recipe I posted about a few years ago. It's a good deal less fussy to bake, and I'm sure it'd make cute sandwiches, too, with some sweetened cream cheese in the centre. 

A house-keeping note: as a result of Photobucket changing its terms of service this week, our 1500+ posts from 2006 through to August 2012 are currently lacking photos! We're looking into alternative hosts for these pictures, and we'd welcome your recommendations in the comments.

Chocolate-sesame sandwich cookies
(slightly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe
published on The Guardian)

ganache filling
70g dark chocolate
25g butter
75mL double cream

80g sesame seeds
80g dark chocolate
60g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10g cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
70g butter, softened
60g brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

cream cheese filling
130g mascarpone
40g tahini paste
25g icing sugar

Make the ganache first. Chop the chocolate. Set up a double boiler with boiling water in the first layer (I just use two carefully stacked ordinary saucepans). Place the chocolate, butter and cream in the top pan and cook gently, stirring until everything is melted. Turn off the heat, and remove the top pan; give it a few more vigorous stirs, then let it set at room temperature. Cover the surface of the ganache with plastic wrap and set aside.

Next, start preparing the cookies. Gently toast the sesame seeds in an unoiled pan until golden and fragrant. Set them aside to cool. Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and set it aside to cool. 

In a small-medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Stir in the cooled sesame seeds and salt. Set aside these dry ingredients.

In a medium-large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the cooled melted chocolate. Gently beat in the dry ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm, at least a couple of hours.

Heat an oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with paper and spray them lightly with oil. Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and roll it into 2cm-diameter balls. Place the balls on the baking tray, leaving lots of space around them (perhaps 7cm each way?) for expansion. Bake the cookies for 6 minutes, until just cooked. Let them cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool down to room temperature.

In a small bowl, beat together all of the cream cheese filling ingredients until smooth.

Time for assembly! Sort through the cookies and pair them up so that their sizes and shapes match as best they can. Spread the ganache on one of each pair, and the cream cheese filling on the other of the pair; gently smush them together. Serve!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Iranian vegetable stew with dried lime

June 25, 2017

Ottolenghi club took May off, but we reconvened on the weekend for a real winter-lenghi experience. As always, it was a sensational meal, featuring vego scotch eggs, sweetcorn soup with chipotle and lime, roast cauliflower with green olives and Cindy's dessert, which will be posted here soon. I considered trying this amazing looking potato dish, but decided that transporting it would be too difficult, so I settled for an Ottolenghi stew.

This stew is from Plenty More and features classic Ottolenghi ingredients Iranian dried limes and barberries, both of which we sourced from Middle Eastern grocery stores on Sydney Road. It's relatively simple for an Otto recipe, although he still manages to have you both simmer and bake the stew just to add some extra steps.

The end result is gigantic - only about two-thirds of it squeezed into our casserole dish in the picture above - I'd recommend cutting in half if you're not cooking for a group. It's tasty and warming, but not a complete showstopper - the dried limes didn't shine through to me and the barberries provided the occasional burst of zinginess, but nothing too distinctive. I'd up the limes next time, or grind one or two up in our spice grinder for the full effect. Still, this is a nice option for a winter night - especially when it's part of a five course feast.

Iranian vegetable stew with dried lime
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

50g ghee
1 large onion, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 small bunch coriander
1/2 bunch tarragon
1/2 bunch dill
1 kg waxy potatoes, chopped into 4 cm chunks
1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped into 4 cm chunks
3 Iranian limes, pierced 3-4 times
1 green chilli, slit on one side
4 tomatoes, quartered
150g spinach leaves
15g barberries
yoghurt for dolloping

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Place a large saucepan on medium heat and melt the ghee, before sauteing the butter, onion, turmeric and cumin seeds for 10 minutes, until the onion is nice and soft.

Add in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes.

Bundle the herbs together and tie them up with a piece of string. Throw them in the pot, along with the potatoes, pumpkin, dried limes, chilli and 1 litre of water, plus a generous amount of salt.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the potatoes have started to soften. Stir in the spinach leaves, tomatoes and barberries, and crush the dried limes gently to release more of their flavour.

Transfer the entire mixture to a casserole dish or baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, until all the veggies are nice and soft. 

Serve with rice and a dollop of yoghurt.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Humble Rays

June 23, 2017

Humble Rays' neighbourhood is a strange mix of industrial buildings, new apartments, offices and construction work hinting at the past, present and future of Carlton. Inside the cafe the mood is much more consistent - it's a glowing, relaxed little getaway with pastel tiles and a gorman-patterned mural. The menu is just as playful and in-the-now: granola is served on panna cotta, hollandaise sauce is flavoured with yuzu, scrambled eggs are stuffed with crab meat, and salmon is served with quinoa. There's a little, but not a lot, of vegetarian savoury food.

But there's a full page of sweets! Hong Kong-style egg waffles, pancakes, rice pudding and 'skookies' - individual, skillet-baked cookies. Every one of these dishes is sprinkled with half-a-dozen ridiculous fripperies; fruit, fairy floss, crumbs and sauces and candies. My companion urged me to order the French Toast Forever ($19), and I obeyed because it was her birthday. The toast is fluffy and stuffed with cream cheese, with a little crunchy brûléed sugar on top, a scoop of lovely boysenberry icecream and a tuft of fairy floss.

I set the fairy floss aside and ignored the dish of maple syrup, picking at the riotous ring of other accompaniments; banana (yes!), passionfruit sauce (yes!), more cream cheese (just a bit), pomegranate seeds (lovely! tangy!), strawberries, kiwis and cherries (OK, but not at their best), more fairy floss and decorative flowers (pass). I felt like I'd been thrown the entire birthday party on a plate.

Since I was fighting off a cold, I justified adding a Pineapple Pop juice ($6.50) - its combination of apple, pineapple, lemon and mint was a perfectly perky way to start the day.

Birthday girl loved her (meaty) meal as well, declaring that these were the best poached eggs she'd eaten in years. Everything about our meal felt frivolous in the best possible way, a workday breakfast out garnished with cutesy trimmings and sunny smiles from the staff. I'll surely be sneaking back to indulge myself again.


Humble Rays has received plenty of praise already from other bloggers, see Tess PressoLips TemptationsCouchfoodiesA Chronicle of GastronomyHungry CookieRabbit Town ArtShort & StoutfrenchtoastandindiepopThe Penguin Eats and F.E.E.D.

Humble Rays
71 Bouverie St, Carlton
8354 8459
breakfast & lunch, ridiculous sweet stuff & drinks

Accessibility: Humble Rays has a flat entry and generously spaced tables. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Notes on a vegan cherry pie

June 18, 2017

My Twin Peaks cherry pie was so unforgettably good that only a month later I rolled up my sleeves to try making a vegan version. There's just one ingredient that needs substitution: butter. Following discussion on our facebook page, I replaced the butter with the same weight of Nuttelex and set my food processor a-whirring. It melded with the flour, forming a dough without need of any of the water listed as the final ingredient.

Then came the tough part. This vegan crust was easy to roll but impossible to pick up without extensive tearing. I rolled it twice, cursed the heavens a hundred times, and patched it up as best I could. Forming the lattice wasn't much better, with all of my pastry ribbons breaking in one, if not three, spots. For all that angst, my pie was a flawed beauty, just as sweet and juicy and sour and crumbly as the original. (If anything it was even more Twin Peaks-appropriate, with the filling gorily spilling from one side.)

So, what to do from here? Well, in the first instance we dolloped coconut yoghurt on the pie and shared it proudly with friends. A little later I pulled out my vegan pastry reference to compare recipes and reflect. It's possible that I was just rolling my small volume of dough too thin, and likely that my ratio of flour, fat and water was out of whack. Either way, I think the next iteration needs more flour (say, half-to-one cup) and whatever iced water is needed to form a dough. Hopefully this extended note to self will lead to an equally tasty but less fraught vegan cherry pie in... well, maybe one more month.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Paneer butter masala

June 12, 2017

I came back from overseas raring to get back into the kitchen and cook up a storm. Cindy and I settled on this paneer butter masala for Monday night. It's the perfect public holiday project - not super complicated, although the constant pausing/playing of Mallika Basu's video recipe slowed us down a bit. The paneer was fantastic - coated in a mix of turmeric, salt and chilli and charred up in the frying pan - but the sauce was the real star. It's rich, spicy and a gorgeous turmeric-y orange. We served it up with a side of spiced coconut spinach and some store-bought paratha and it was the best goddamn dinner I've had in ages.

The curry worked just as well for leftovers - there was a depth of flavour to it that beat just about any curry we've made before. This will definitely end up in our regular rotation.

Paneer butter masala
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Mallika Basu)

1/2 cup cashews
400g paneer, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup tomato paste
2/3 cup yoghurt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons ghee
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala

Cover the cashews with water and soak them for at least an hour. When you're ready to cook, drain them and grind them to a cream with 4 tablespoons water. Set aside.

In a small-medium bowl, toss together the paneer, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, yoghurt and 2 cups water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the ground coriander, remaining 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder and remaining 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, then whisk in 2 tablespoons water. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a large pan over low-medium heat. Add the paneer and fry it for just a minute on each side, until it's golden. Remove the paneer from the pan and set it aside.

Keep the pan on the low-medium heat and add the bay leaf. Add in the ginger and garlic, stirring them through 1 tablespoon of ghee. Pour in the small bowl of dried spices and water, cooking for no more than half a minute. Pour in the tomato-yoghurt mixture, and stir everything thoroughly. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the cashew cream. Fold in the paneer, simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and melt in the last tablespoon of ghee; serve.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Urban Projuice

June 12, 2017

Michael arrived home on the weekend, and made sure to keep active and out in the sun during the days to stave off jetlag. This was a great strategy when we crossed the river to Urban Projuice for lunch - there was a wait for indoor tables but plenty of free spots out back.

The menu is varied and vegan by default: a couple of dishes include optional eggs, but there's no meat or dairy. Gluten-free folks have abundant well-labelled options too. It's all wholefood-oriented and scattered with the trappings of our time: an acai bowl, granola that's paleo, crushed avocado served on 'toasted raw sprouted bread' (...so is it raw or not?). But those of us seeking carby comforts aren't completely left out: there are pancakes, a baked sweet potato garnished with corn chips, and a vege burger.

Beyond the espresso machine there are $10 smoothies, turmeric lattes and something called a Coconut Bomb. Michael confirmed that they do the classics well with a flat white ($4), and I approved the hot chocolate ($4.50, both Bonsoy-based).

Michael went on to order the Big Breakfast ($21), even though he was skeptical that the tofu scramble would be up to much. He was happily proven wrong with this brightly coloured and flavoured batch, shovelling it down with the plentiful baked beans, mushrooms, roasted little potatoes, avocado, kale salad and toast.

I was predictably drawn to those pancakes ($19.50). They're cakey, deceptively gluten-free, and dressed up to the nines with bananas and berries, maple syrup, three scoops of icecream, a sprinkling of seeds and edible flowers. Every component was terrific, although I found the overall effect to be excessively sweet.

Urban Projuice is aimed at the instagram-wellness-smoothie set, but I think its appeal is broader - only the ugh, no bacon?! crowd are likely to be disappointed. It's not often we're willing to queue up southside for a meal and the prices are a little steep, but it was worth making an exception once for this cafe.


Urban Projuice has received a lot of positive blog coverage, see TOT: HOT OR NOTTHATVEGANLIFEDOEdelightfully tastymessy veggiesFuture King and QueenHappy Little CoconutGoodness CollectivesimplySundayDaily WatermelonFire & TeaFrenchythe baroness of melbourne and Nourishing Adventuresfoodie about town had a more mixed experience, and lifestyle by lily was pretty unimpressed.

Urban Projuice
315 Montague St, Albert Park
9696 0048
food, drinks

Accessibility: This terrace house has several steps up on entry and densely packed tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Alley

June 3, 2017

A couple of friends alerted me to the opening of The Alley four months ago. Touted as a vegan burger spot, I imagined late Saturday nights on Brunswick St. Far from it! The Alley operates from a St Kilda Rd office block, primarily for lunch, and is closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, it's got the look - the bright yellows, millennial pinks, neon lights and line drawings remind me of Hobart's Veg Bar and just about any fro-yo bar you could name.

The menu takes the healthified, superfood-infused approach. There are chia puddings and acai bowls for breakfast, macro and taco bowls for lunch; noodles are made from seaweed and spaghetti is made from squash. Fries are actually air baked and instead of shakes there are smoothies shot through with coconut water, almond milk, pea protein, macca and (they've hit me with a new one!) camu camu.

Air-baked fries ($6.95) lack crispness but are beautifully fluffy on the inside. The almond parmesan and crispy kale crowning the potato wedges (pictured above, top right) were nifty, and we liked the herb-salted sweet potato fries even better.

The mac'n'cheese (front left is small [$6.95] and gluten-free [+$2.50], top right is large [$10.95]) is on a par with my favourite vegan recipes - smooth and savoury and very, very rich. They stretch the white-bean cashew sauce out with sweet corn, then sprinkle the tub with crispy kale and coconut bacon. 

And what of those burgers? The vegan brioche buns (pictured above, right) are perfect for those of us who like our bread soft and sweet, and my coeliac companion K rated the gluten-free ones highly too (pictured left, +$2.50). The five burger options lightly mock meat without using processed soy or gluten-based products: there's more coconut bacon, scrambled tofu, pulled jackfruit and a 'beet steak' among them. 

Toby ordered that beet steak (pictured with the mac'n'cheese above left, $12.95), K tried the eggplant-based 'mi_so hungry' (left, $12.95), and I went for the brekky burger ($9.95). They all tasted great, though in combination with the sauces and the insubstantial buns, it all got a bit squishy-mushy. Only the coconut bacon really held its own in flavour and texture.

There are the inevitable raw cakes but thank heavens, the Alley also sanction the baking of cakes, cookies and doughnuts. There's even a soft-serve machine! I've never been a cupcake fiend, but I'm glad I made an exception for this Snickers-themed one ($4.95) with its caramel drizzle and crispy sprinklings.

The Alley is infuriatingly on-trend and fitted out with all the current fad foods. But they're assembling them into some genuinely tasty meals! I could definitely see myself swinging by for more when I'm south of the river, if only they were open for more than five hours on the weekend.


The Alley has won fans in fellow veg*n food blogs Veganishmessy veggies and Vegetarian Burger Life. Omnivorous blogs Short & Stout and gastrology seem to have been drawn in by freebies, and are also positive in their comments.

The Alley
417 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
9820 8314
meals, desserts, smoothies, takeaway & beverages

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide. Furniture is spaciously distributed, a mixture of standard and high tables, with backed seats, booth seats and stools. We ordered and paid at a low counter. Toilets were located outside the cafe elsewhere in the building and I didn't visit them.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Chat For Tea

May 27, 2017

It's not so far flung as Dublin, to be sure, but I had my own little adventure in Ballarat last weekend in Michael's absence. I met up with friends for indoor neon mini-golf, an autumn stroll by Lake Wendouree, and lunch at Chat for Tea. This vegetarian cafe has been in business over a decade, but this is my first visit. Shame on me, 'cause Chat's a cutie.

Their name hints that tea is a specialty here. I noted 20 hot tea varieties, 7 iced teas and 4 intriguing 'CFT Coolers'. I took a punt on the latter, ordering a passion fruit snow ($5.80 + 50c for Bonsoy). It was a light and refreshing milk-based drink with plenty of sweet'n'sour passionfruit flavour and a cluster of real fruit seeds in the bottom. But, to be clear: it's not tea.

We shared starters. Mock pork mini-buns ($5.50 for two) were the usual brand, which is to say: they were terrific. The vegetarian drumsticks ($5.50 for two) were even better: the soy bean curd was bizarrely meaty-squishy in the centre, then wrapped in layers around a small wooden skewer and fried to form a crispy-golden shell.

For my main meal, I took on the mock duck rice ($16). This was another meat-mocking victory: the 'duck' was layered and a little fatty with a crisp 'skin'. It sat atop fancy red rice, was dripping with so-so sweet chilli sauce (just like the drumsticks), and was served with a pickley salad.

My companions ordered the Teppanyaki noodle ($19.50, pictured top) and the mock pork ($19.50, pictured bottom). They were both sizzle-plate successes, with a bit more vegetable variety than I hit on. I reckon the black pepper sauce on the mock pork was the pick of the condiments, and the mock beef-soy slice medley with the noodles was also a smart combination.

This tea house tended toward a sedate atmosphere, but it wasn't too austere. We could comfortably have a laugh and take our time, delighting over the food and picking at each other's plates. You can bet that whenever I'm anywhere near Ballarat, I'll be back in for more.

Chat For Tea has previously inspired positive blog posts on Vegan About TownIn The Mood For Noodles and Biting Travels.

Chat for Tea
25 Armstrong St N, Ballarat
5331 3898
food, drinks
facebook group

Accessibility: Chat For Tea has a small lip on entry. Tables are variously spaced, with a clear corridor through the middle, and a mix of stools and chairs with backs. We ordered and paid at a high counter. I didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


May 23-25, 2017

I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Dublin last week for work. There wasn't a lot of time for sight-seeing, but I managed to squeeze in trips to a couple of the veggie places in the city. I started off with dinner at Cornucopia, a 30 year old restaurant right in the middle of town. 

It's a pretty straightforward place - you get your choice of main and a couple of salads for €13.50 (~$20). The night I visited there were options like tagines, hot-pots and quiches - I picked the hot pot, with cauliflower, zucchini and fennel potatoes, accompanied by farro and beet salads on the side.

This is hearty, old-fashioned vego fare. The plates are massively loaded down with food and it's tasty and a bit stodgy. Nothing innovative, but a satisfying experience nonetheless. 

I was impressed enough to head back for a pre-conference breakfast one morning. You get your choice of five items plus toast and coffee for €8.95 (~$13.50). I went with beans, scrambled tofu, a hash brown, a homemade sausage and roast mushrooms.

This wasn't a complete success -  the hash brown was a bit soggy and the tofu wasn't bursting with flavour, but the mushrooms and beans hit the mark. It's another impressively large plate of food too, so you won't need to eat lunch.

Cornucopia are doing a good job of providing reasonably affordable and hearty vegetarian food in the middle of the Dublin tourist strip - it's not somewhere that will change your life, but it's a reliable place for big plates of tasty vego food. Worth a look.

19/20 Wicklow St, Dublin, Ireland
+353 1 677 7583
menus: breakfast, dinner


For my other free meal, I headed south of the city to check out Sova Vegan Butcher in Portobello. I was expecting something trashy and mock-meat heavy, but it turned out to be much classier. They call themselves a vegan butcher because they make their own seitan, but the menu has a range of non-mock options as well. The best way to try things out is to order the set menu - an entree, main and dessert of your choosing for €24.90 (~$37). 

I started out with the king scallops with beurre blanc sauce, dill potato cakes, marinated cauliflower and a black pudding crisp. The scallops are fat mushroom stalks, dotted with kelp caviar and the black pudding is seitan-based. This is a really wonderful dish for showing off the beautiful flavours of the vegetables, but the salty, smoky seitan-crisp really stole the show for me. 

For my main I decided to embrace one of the meaty options, ordering the porc medallions with mustard jus, tarragon crust, buckwheat and jerusalem artichoke risotto and steamed baby veggies. 

This was another hit - the seitan pork was really excellent (almost up with Cindy's version) and you could tell that real thought had gone into the combination of sides and sauces. Delicious!

I finished up with a jar of their lime cheesecake. This was the least exciting of the three dishes, if only because vegan cheesecake is such a ubiquitous offering these days. This version had a strong lime tang and a lovely texture, but I should have been braver and ordered the choc avocado mousse. Next time.

Sova is really wonderful - friendly staff, interesting food and a lovely atmospheric buzz (at least on a Wednesday night). This should be the #1 priority of vegos and vegans visiting Dublin - it's fabulous.

Sova: The Vegan Butcher
51 Pleasants Street, Dublin, Ireland
+353 85 727 7509
facebook page

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cherry pie that's worth a stop

May 19, 2017

I've really let cult classic Twin Peaks pass me by for the 25+ years since it first screened. I've been so oblivious that I visited Snoqualmie Falls while in Washington last year, soaking up the scenery without any awareness that it's the most iconic landmark in the show. But some friends have brought me into the TP fold in the lead-up to series' highly anticipated third season - we've been meeting up to watch each season's premiere, studiously working through subsequent episodes at home, then reconvening for each finale. Our meet-ups are the perfect opportunity for some themed food.

One of the more prominent foods in Twin Peaks is the cherry pie at the Double R Diner. Agent Dale Cooper urges every town visitor he encounters that it's "worth a stop". We're long past cherry season here, but I've always been partial to tangy jarred Morello cherries and there are plenty of recipes online that use them. I picked this one from popsugar almost at random, and was rewarded disproportionately well for my scant research.

It's a recipe with a crumbly, buttery crust you can whip together in a food processor. The filling stirs up in a bowl and doesn't need any cooking before it hits the pastry. The key effort here is assembly - rolling out and molding the crust, then looping together a lattice over the top. In the oven, the pastry browns fast but the filling needs a while to set. I usually eat pies warm, but I made sure this one had a couple of hours to cool, the all-American way. It was a good decision - the cornflour sets the filling just so, it's sweet and just a little sour, and the drop of almond essence lends it a hint of cherry-cola that's absent from Aussie desserts.

I cannot fault this pie! I'll make it again, and I won't change a thing about it. (Maybe one day, in a fit of generosity, I'll make it with something more vegan-friendly than butter, but that's it.) Regardless of how I feel about the third Twin Peaks season, I'll have it to thank for this remarkable recipe.

Cherry pie that's worth a stop
(slightly adapted from a recipe on popsugar)

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon caster or icing sugar
1 teaspoon salt
225g butter
1/2 cup very cold water, plus more as needed

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 cup pitted and jarred morello cherries (approx 2 x 680g jars)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond essence
spray oil
1 tablespoon cream plus more, to serve

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor; pulse to combine them. Slice the butter into cubes and drop them into the food processor; blend until the mixture has an uneven coarse crumb texture. With the blades running, gradually pour the water into the processor through its spout, until the dough just holds together. Turn off the processor. Turn the dough onto a bench and form it into two balls. Wrap them in plastic and refrigerate them for at least an hour.

In a large bowl, stir together the cup of sugar, cornflour and salt. Fold in the cherries, lemon juice and almond essence. Let the flavours sit and mingle for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven for 220°C. Lightly spray a pie dish with oil.

Sprinkle flour over a clean bench and retrieve one of the pastry dough balls. Roll it out to fit the pie dish, with a bit extra to overhang. Gently easy the pastry into the dish, leave the overhang and pop it in the fridge.

Retrieve the second dough ball and roll it out so that it could fit the top of the pie with some overhang. I sliced it into 1.5 cm strips to form a lattice, but you could also leave it in a big flat sheet.

Pull the pie dish from the fridge and spoon in all of the cherry filling. I was nervous about all the liquid I had, but it set up fine once this got baking. Place the top pastry onto your pie; I used the photo instructions on Simply Recipes to make my lattice. Trim any major pastry overhangs and crimp together the edges with your fingers or a fork. Brush the top of the pie with the tablespoon of cream and sprinkle it with the remaining sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 190°C, and bake for a further 50 minutes. Keep an eye on it and put foil around the edges of the crust if it looks at risk of burning.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gami Chicken & Beer

May 14, 2017

The whole Korean fried chicken explosion that swept Melbourne a few years back kind of passed us by - it didn't seem to have too much to offer us vegos. It was a surprise then when we noticed the Gami Chicken & Beer in Fitzroy proudly advertising their 'signature' vegetarian fried chicken. 

The Fitzroy restaurant is a cute little place - seats for maybe 30 people, lots of bright colours and K-Pop blaring on the speakers. Once you get past the fried chicken, the menu is surprisingly veg-friendly - more than half of the 'Gami Delights' and light meals are marked vegetarian, tempting us with kim chi pancakes ($14), potato heaven ($14) and fried rice cakes ($5.50).

I couldn't resist a lunchtime beer, while Cindy ordered a crushed pear soft drink, which turned out to be a sweet juice rather than a carbonated soda. They came out with a serve of prawn crackers (not vego) and some pickled radish.

Our choice of side dish was mushroom mania ($16), a hot pan filled with three different kinds of mushrooms, tofu puffs and stir-fried veggies in a sweet soy sauce. This was fantastic - the tofu puffs soaked up all the delicious saucy flavours and the veggies and mushrooms hit the mark. 

But the main event was the veggie chicken, which we got as part of a lunch deal - 7 pieces of veggie chicken and chips with a sweet black sauce ($15). 

The chips were great - crispy on the outside and well seasoned and the sauce was sweet and sticky. The veggie chicken though was a bit of a disappointment - it was super chewy and a bit on the dry side. It's too bad, because the seasoned coating was good (though we hear it contains egg, making these unsuitable for vegans).

We had a pretty good time lunching at Gami - the menu is surprisingly veg-friendly and I'd be tempted to come back to try the kim chi pancakes. On the downside, the main attraction - the veggie chicken - wasn't really that exciting and the menu in general isn't that vegan-friendly. I'm glad that Gami offer a vego alternative to the fried chicken, but I can't see us rushing back for another shot.

I couldn't find any other reviews of the mock chicken at Gami. There are a couple of positive meatier reviews of the Fitzroy place at Eats By Donutsam and thebrunchaddict. We're not going to round up all the meaty reviews of the city branch. 

Gami Chicken & Beer
370 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9417 5036
lunch specials, chicken, other dishes, drinks

Accessibility: There's a step up on entry, to a fairly spacious interior. The seating is all low stools. We ordered at our table and paid at the high bar. Bathrooms are gendered and not especially accessible.