Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ratio Cocoa Roasters

February 1, 2018

We roam Sydney Rd regularly, and keenly observe which of its businesses are launching, re-configuring and closing up for good. The Friends of Couture premises stood dormant a while, but when they came renovations were too fast for us to speculate about what was to come - up popped a bright, inviting chocolate shop called Ratio!

Ratio is spacious, even allowing for the extensive glass-protected area where all the bean-to-bar business happens. Up front you can browse the chocolate blocks ready for taking away and gifting, a few steps further in there's a cabinet of little treats to enjoy on the spot, and there's also a printed menu for those who take a seat.

Michael thought he'd get the best span of the menu by ordering the brownie tasting plate ($9.50, pictured top). Each has a different cocoa source and ratio, and though he enjoyed all of them, he had his Goldilocks moment with the 70% Peru-sourced cocoa slice.

He also tried out the Ratio hot chocolate ($5) - his report is positive, though he admits that he had too much chocolate going on all round to really savour and seriously assess it.

I had my dessert in a single glass, choosing the peanut butter and chocolate milkshake ($8). I requested a vegan version made with milkadamia (+ $1), which might even be an improvement on the standard dairy-based version! Here the chocolate flavouring is real but light, leaving plenty of room for the macadamia and peanut flavours to shine through.

Of course we took home a couple of bars to try later. Both the milk and (vegan) dark varieties were very smooth and quite sweet, with the flavourings pressed decoratively into one side of the bar. The salted caramel forms crushed glassy shards (not a soft centre, like the truffles in store), and the macadamia makes small nutty bubbles with only a subtle lemon myrtle seasoning.

Ratio's arrival feels like serendipity to us, though it's the culmination of years of hard work from founder Debb Makin. I'm looking forward to further familiarising myself with its wares this year.


Ratio Cocoa Roasters
186 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
9388 8920
eats, drinks

Accessibility: There is a small step on entry to a spacious interior. Furniture is a mixture of low tables and chairs with backs, plus higher tables with backless stools (see above). We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, February 09, 2018


January 31, 2018

I’ve been vaguely meaning to visit Nostralis since reading about it in the Melbourne Veg Food Guide way back in 2008. It’s a long-running vegetarian pizza place in Caulfield that’s been in operation since 1981, surely a competitor for Melbourne’s second-longest running vego place after Shakahari. The décor betrays its age – lots of wood panels and old fashioned signage, but the vibe is welcoming and relaxed.

The menu has some odd options – a vindaloo pizza that includes banana and sultanas sounded very disturbing to me – but it also recreates some classics. There’s a margherita, mushroom and Mexicana pizzas and a whole range of other veg-heavy toppings. They’ve also added in a few mock meat pizzas for vegos who miss their pepperoni. Gluten free bases and vegan cheese (Cheezly) are available with small surcharges.

Cindy’s a sucker for ham and pineapple, so she went for a small Hawaiian pizza with dairy cheese ($11.50). I didn’t taste it, because pineapple on pizza is an abomination, but she was impressed. There was heaps of mozzarella and generous mock ham, but she would have added even more pineapple given the choice (because she's a monster). A step up from Eat Pizza's version.

I had a medium sized pepperoni with vegan cheese ($15 + $2.50), intending to take some leftovers home for lunch the next day. Instead, I smashed my way through the whole thing. These aren’t the authentic Italian pizzas served up at Gigi or Kaprica, but Nostralis really have the nostalgic '80s Pizza Hut vibe down. If we lived nearby I’d be going back a lot.

Nostralis is a steady success story in Melbourne’s veg dining scene, surviving with seemingly few changes for nearly 40 years. On a sunny Wednesday night we watched a steady stream of people grabbing takeaway or plonking down to share some pizzas – everyone seems to share an enthusiasm for this old school eatery.

There are a couple of Nostralis posts on vegan blogs Veganise This! and In the Mood for Noodles (twice), but nothing for ages that I could find.

55 Hawthorn Rd, Caulfield North
9528 4961

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry into a fairly crowded interior. We ordered and paid at a high counter and didn't visit the toilets. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Rhubarb & coconut sago

January 28, 2018

The remainder of Jane's rhubarb gift went into this simple dessert - stewed rhubarb interspersed with a coconut sago pudding. It's another recipe I've held onto for more than a decade, this time from Cook (almost) Anything, and I'm glad it's finally having its moment.

Since it was a hot weekend, I made this a couple of hours in advance and popped it into the fridge to chill. That really sets up the sago! I'm going to enjoy remaking this dessert in cooler weather, when I can serve it warm with a more custardy texture.

Both the rhubarb and the sago are cooked with generous quantities of sugar and the overall effect is very sweet. I'll consider reducing the sugar in the sago component in future batches, to create a stronger flavour contrast. The sweet sago could also work well with tangy fresh fruit, like pineapple. I've got a lot of leftover seed tapioca to figure out my favourite combinations!

Rhubarb & coconut sago
(a recipe from Cook (almost) Anything)

stewed rhubarb
500g rhubarb
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water

coconut sago
1/2 cup sago/seed tapioca
1 cup coconut cream
1 1/2 cups water (I used 2 cups)
1/2 cup caster sugar

Slice the rhubarb into 1-inch lengths. Place them in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar and water. Set them over medium heat, stirring often, until the rhubarb collapses.

In a separate, medium-large saucepan, stir together all of the coconut sago ingredients and set them over medium heat. Stir the pudding regularly as it cooks and avoid letting it boil! The sago is ready when the sago pearls are clear, and their starch has thickened the coconut cream.

Spoon the rhubarb and the sago into glasses in layers. It can be served warm or cold, though note that the sago tends to set into a gel in the fridge.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Apple walnut salad with rhubarb dressing

January 28, 2018

My colleague Jane kindly gave me some of her home-grown rhubarb after seeing this recipe here on the blog. We traded cake recipes, too, but even after reflecting on those beauties I pulled out two new recipes for this bunch! This cute little salad has been bookmarked over a decade, from the now-defunct food blog vanesscipes. (Thankfully the Wayback Machine can still dredge it up.)

Here the rhubarb is just gently sauteed with oil and balsamic vinegar to form the salad dressing. It's still quite firm and whole, a different texture to the collapsing puddles I'm accustomed to in many desserts. While I think of rhubarb as a cool weather comfort food, this salad shows how bright and refreshing it can be! That's mostly thanks to the apple matchsticks and radish rounds that make up the crisp, watery bulk of the dish. 

I was worried the apple might brown quickly, but the dressing preserves it well and it was still in good shape for packed lunches the next day. We paired this juicy, tangy salad with the simplest chickpea salad and they made a relaxed, happy summer coupling.

Apple walnut salad with rhubarb dressing
(a recipe from vanesscipes)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 long stalks rhubarb
1 teaspoon brown sugar
generous pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup walnuts
2 Granny Smith apples
6 radishes
2 handfuls green salad leaves

Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into a medium saucepan and set it over medium heat. Slice the rhubarb into inch-long segments and saute them in the oil for about 5 minutes - they should be softening a bit but still holding their shape. Add the sugar, salt, vinegar and second tablespoon of oil. Saute for a couple more minutes, then turn off the heat.

Gently toast the walnuts until fragrant. Slice the apples into matchsticks, and the radishes into thin rounds.

Time to assemble the salad! I layered up green leaves, radishes, apples, rhubarb dressing, then walnuts. We also tossed together the leftovers and the dressing helped prevent the apple from browning.