Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ray VI

March 22, 2018

We had such a great time at the Ray vegan feast a couple of years ago that we were super keen to go back when our friend suggested a dinner there. You turn up, sit down and they just bring you food - there are no choices to be made and you wind up tasting about 15 dishes across five courses.

Cindy enjoyed her spritz enz - a mocktail based on cold pressed strawberry juice, soda water and lemon ($6).

Foodwise, we started out with a trio of entrees: smoked almonds, kale chips dusted with sumac and steamed edamame with thyme salt. The kale was the pick of the bunch from my point of view, but every dish had its fans.

Next up was another trio of dishes: raw and pickled veggies with black tahini and beetroot, a plate of bread and lavosh with smoked pumpkin hummus and smoked eggplant tahini and one of the stand-outs of the night: corn chips, miso cheese, refried beans and thousand island dressing. We talked about the miso-cheese all night - spectacular.

Things got a bit heftier for the next round - corn jacks with romesco and jalapeno, mushroom tagine with chickpea panisse and cauliflower puree and a grain salad with pepitas, pomegranate and orange dressing. Cindy loved the corn jacks, which were crispy fried little parcels of corn, while I was a big fan of the mushroom/chickpea dish. 

We were filling up, so the size of the final round was a bit overwhelming. The banh mi toasts were the stand-out - little crisp breads filled with pickled slaw, cucumber, black lentil pate and a chewy seitan mock. The veggie side-dishes were good, but we were really struggling to keep eating. I was especially sad not to eat more of the kipfler potatoes with wild rocket pesto, but I had to leave room for dessert.

Dessert was mercifully modest - a cute little glass filled with a mix of fresh figs, jaffa mousse, hazelnuts and coconut yoghurt. It's hard to go too far wrong with fresh figs, but this combo in particular really worked. 

Things wound down with a bonus course of choc-chip cookies.

We were reeeally full by the end of this meal. It was a huge amount of food, with a fantastic variety of dishes coming out across the five courses. The price has gone up to $45 (from $30 a couple of years ago), but it's still exceptionally good value. The fact that they only do the vegan feasts once a month means that they really deliver on the night. Keep an eye on their facebook page for the next one - you definitely need to book ahead.

Read about our previous visits to Ray here, here, here, here and here. Since last time, there have been positive reviews on vego blogs Green Gourmet Giraffe and Veganopolous and enthusiastic write-ups at Lips Temptations and Real Forking Diet.

332 Victoria St, Brunswick
9380 8593
menu (from this visit), drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: There is a shallow and slightly narrow ramp on entry. Tables are quite densely packed, but there is a clear corridor through the cafe. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. Toilets are unisex, fully accessible individual cubicles.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Green Man's Arms II

March 19, 2018

New-ish vegetarian pub Green Man's Arms proved a great spot for a quick, early dinner before we hit the cheap movies at Nova this week. The menu's changed since our last visit! It's more clearly divided into sharing dishes, meals for one, sides and sweets... even with this guidance Michael couldn't help over-ordering.

Importantly, the pommes frites ($8.50) are still present and still fantastic.

The falafel now form part of a mezze plate ($19.50), along with three dips (hummus, beetroot, and spicy capsicum), flat bread and pickles.

A new offering is mac & cheese ($17.50) - it's plenty cheesy yet not too heavy, spliced with zucchini ribbons topped with lots of fresh green herbs.

We didn't make it through all of this food, but I've got my eye on plenty more besides: Yemeni luhuh stuffed with tempura sweet potato, pate, a mushroom burger with those killer pommes frites and a watermelon 'tuna' salad. I hope this menu sticks around long enough to allow me the opportunity.

You can read about our first visit to Green Man's Arms here. Since then a positive review has also appeared on Olive Sundays.

Green Man's Arms
418 Lygon St, Carlton
9347 7419
menu: 1, 2, 3, 4

Accessibility: The entry has a small lip from the street and there's a step up between the front bar and the dining room. We ordered and paid at the high bar on this occasion (there's full table service in the dining room). Toilets are gendered and located a couple steps up near the dining area.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wombat Cafe

March 2 & 4, 2018

We recently spent a lovely weekend in a holiday house down at Safety Beach with the Moody Noodles and some other vegan mates. We went to the beach, explored the markets, watched glorious sunsets and ate; boy, did we eat. The main agenda in terms of eating out was Wombat - an all-vegan cafe and store that's been open in Dromana for the past year or so.

We stopped in for lunch on the first day of the weekend and found a beautiful space, filled with light and with a relaxed atmosphere. The staff cheerfully and patiently dealt with our slightly chaotic group.

I went straight for the Wombat big breakfast - scrambled tofu, avocado, hash browns, stuffed mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes on a couple of slices of sourdough ($26). It's an expensive breakfast, but you really get your money's worth - this is enough food for two people (full disclosure: I ate it all). The eggplant bacon didn't really work for me - drying out thin slices of eggplant and giving them a good smokey flavour sounds like it should work, but they were a bit stringy for my tastes. Everything else was phenomenal though, the scrambled tofu in particular really hit the heights. This is definitely worth ordering if you're hungry.

Cindy showed a bit more restraint and ordered the nachos ($16): beans, rice, lemony avo, salsa and a creamy mock cheese on a big plate of corn chips. This didn't resemble a typical plate of nachos - it wasn't nearly messy enough for starters and was bulked up mostly with a big rice salad in the middle. The vegan cheese sauce and avo toppings were a hit and Cindy was pretty happy with her lunch (aside from all the raw onion she picked out).

Everybody had such a good time at lunch on Friday that we headed back for brunch on Sunday before the drive back to Melbourne - the smiley drink on the left is a delicious iced coffee ($6.50). My regular flat-white ($4.50) came with a unique Wombat-blend milk, that tasted mostly like coconut milk to me.

I wanted another hit of the scrambled tofu, so I ordered a side of it ($4) to go with the avo smash ($16). The avo came with balsamic roasted tomatoes, mock feta and basil and was fantastic - especially in combo with the tofu, which reminds me a lot of the wonderful Smith and Daughters version (which we've made a bunch of times but never blogged!).

Cindy took on something sweet: French toast with strawberries, maple syrup and whipped cream ($15). The toast bits were coated in chia seeds, which was a bit of an odd choice and the toast itself was super-soft under the seedy layer. It wasn't Cindy's favourite style of French toast, but it got the job done.

We had two fantastic meals at Wombat. The food is great, with a good mix of sweet and savoury dishes to choose from and a whole heap of fancy drinks if you want them (we didn't try out the smoothie menu, but it was comprehensive). 

The staff were super friendly and managed the busy space pretty efficiently. It's a must-visit for your next trip down to the Peninsula.

Messy Veggies loved Wombat - hers is the only other blog review we could find.

230 Boundary Rd, Dromana
5987 1193
food, drinks
Accessibility: There's a flat entry way and a reasonably spacious interior. We ordered and paid at a low counter. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Savanna African Restaurant

February 27, 2018

We've had Savanna on our to-eat list since its Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine was recommended on Fitzroyalty more than four years ago, but we only just stopped in recently on the way to a weeknight gig at the Tote. It's been too long since we last sat down to a huge platter of injera!

There's a cursory salad, but the major attraction here is the ten veg*n wots and other vegetable dishes. One person can choose four of them with injera for $17.90, but bring companions you're willing to share with and the entire set is yours for just under $20 per person (e.g. $39.90 for our Ideal Feast for Two). In unfortunate news for some, the injera here include wheat flour, but there's rice on offer as an alternative.

We thoroughly enjoyed every stew - one or two pushed my spice limits and a lentil dish, rather than the more predictable potatoes, emerged as my favourite. The injera were tender and spongy, not as sour as we've eaten elsewhere; we were offered fresh ones whenever it looked like we might run out.

A bubbling little pot of shiro - made from ground chickpeas, spices and a slick of oil - was as dangerous as it was delicious. The staff gave us fair warning that it was high-temperature, and I still managed to burn my mouth terribly with it! Next time I'll remember that this deceptive dish needs time sitting on the injera before I greedily gobble it down.

Service was slow but friendly and informative at this family restaurant; we felt welcome to settle in a while and enjoy the experience.

In past years, Savanna has received positive reviews on Fitzroyalty and Gracious Expedition.

Savanna African Restaurant
7 Johnston St, Collingwood
9416 1462

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps on entry, and a couple more splitting two levels of seating inside. There's a reasonable corridor through the middle but the tables are quite crowded. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Shop 225

February 5, 2018

We were catching up with a couple of old friends for dinner and decided it was finally time that we tried out the vegan options at Shop 225. Tucked away on Melville Rd, 225 is a traditional Italian pizzeria that has for some reason decided to provide a full vegan menu alongside its regular offerings. We sat out in the courtyard at the back and sampled widely from the menu.

We were somehow talked into ordering the vegan calzone ($20), stuffed with tomato sauce, mock ham, fake cheese and real basil. I was sceptical, but this was an absolute delight - dense and delicious. I'm coming around to Ben Wyatt's point of view.

We also ordered a cappricciosa ($19), topped with tomato sauce, fake cheese, mushroom, olives and mock ham. I loved this one - they use a variety of mock meats, so when you get 'ham' you get something different to the salami or pancetta. It's a nice touch.

Our other two pizzas were a zio pino (mushroom, parsley, multiple mock cheeses and truffle oil ($20, left) and the il dottore (mock sausage, mushrooms, tomato sauce and mock fior di latte, $25, right).

These were both pretty successful as well - the toppings are generous without being overwhelming and there's a good mix of mock products and veggies to go around. Obviously the cheeses don't have quite the depth of flavours as the non-vegan alternatives, but they're surprisingly good and the rest of the toppings are diverse enough to keep things interesting.  

We had a really great meal at Shop 225 - there's so many vegan dishes to try out and they promise good gluten free pizza bases and pasta as well. The staff were super friendly (even talking us into buying some of their magnificent vegan nutella) and the courtyard was gorgeous on a sunny evening. Is it the best vegan pizza on offer in Melbourne? Red Sparrow is good, but our consensus was that 225 is better. Without travelling to Sydney you're not going to find a better vegan pizza option - check it out.

Veganopolous and THATVEGANLIFEDOE loved the early incarnation of this place, while Fitzroyalty loved the food but was annoyed by the dominance of Uber Eats orders.. There are a bunch of freebie reviews since the new owners took over that are unsurprisingly positive (see Penguineats, Lips Temptations and Fire & Tea).

Shop 225
225 Melville Rd, Pascoe Vale South
9077 4094
pizza, everything else

Accessibility: There's a flat entry into a pretty crowded interior. We sat in the back courtyard which is accessible only via a crowded and narrow pathway. The toilets are unisex, but up a few steps.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Small Axe Kitchen II

February 4, 2018

This summer we managed to schedule a Small Axe Kitchen brunch in sunnier weather, and nabbed a spot outdoors at their shared table. These guys always have a couple of good sweet options on the menu and on past visits, I've always picked the fruitier, more sensible looking ones. 

Not this time! I went all out with the miniature loaf of Sicilian orange cake ($19.50), served on a swirl of burnt honey mascarpone with a scoop of dark chocolate custard, cubes of blood orange jelly and a sprinkling of milk crumbs. I can't really convince you at all that this is breakfast, but it is a lot of fun to eat - the cake and custard make a splendid jaffa pairing, the mascarpone is firmer than it looks and lightly bitter, the milk crumbs add a salty pebbly texture and the jelly some bright sourness.

Michael's vegan zucchini fritters ($19.50) were less showy but (he reckons!) just as enjoyable - salty with a crisp crust, served with tahini mayo, artichoke heart, broad beans, peas, mint and lemon.

We noticed posters announcing that Small Axe is now open for dinner, too. Since then we've heard good reports from vegetarian friends who've tried it out. When we make it in ourselves, you'll be the first to know.


You can read about our first couple of visits to Small Axe Kitchen here. Since then it's received unanimous support from blogs A Chronicle of GastronomyHungry CookieMelbourne VitaSweet and Sour Fork, and Ferris Wheel Flights.

Small Axe Kitchen
281 Victoria St, Brunswick
9939 6061
food, drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry (and perhaps a flatter entry through the garden side). Tables are densely packed with a clear corridor through the middle. Tables outside have small backless stools, high benches in the front room have tall backless stools, and tables in the back room have ordinary backed chairs. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.