Thursday, March 04, 2021

Beku Gelato

 February 11, 2021

   

Beku is a reasonable walk or bike ride from our home, and we really haven't given it the full attention it deserves over the past couple of years. I recall eating a wonderful scoop of teh tarik (i.e. Malaysian style pulled milk tea) gelato there, and their Southeast Asian flavours have only expanded in the year or two since. They consistently offer a novel range of vegan flavours amongst their dairy-based ones, too.

On one of February's hotter days, we raced to take this photo of four flavours before they dripped all over us! Michael had a vegan cone piled with scoops of chocolate and cendol decorated with the green rice jelly ($7.10). Meanwhile, I took on a cup of the dairy-based condensed milk gelato and Milo Dinosaur, with a Milo sprinkle ($7.10).

There are so many more flavours to try: common ones like dulce de leche, mango and pistachio, and Beku specialties like coconut with jackfruit pieces, Kitan Hitam, Ube, Tolak Angin, Thandai, Houjicha, Paan, and Es Campur. I fear that we've run out of summer, and will miss our chance to try them all under optimal conditions!
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Beku Gelato
171 Lygon St, Brunswick East

Accessibility: Under current COVID restrictions, we can use a shallow ramp from the street to order and pay at a low makeshift counter.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Workers Club

February 9, 2021

   

Pub trivia is back, and we signed up for a reunion round with friends at the Workers Club. They've had a bunch of different things going on in their kitchen over the years; at the moment it's a fairly standard Melbourne pub menu with four very welcome vegan mains listed at the bottom. There's tacos, a burrito, a parma and... a "Where's the beef?" burger ($24).

There's no official affiliation here. I assume the menu writer is making the same jokey pop culture reference that we are in our blog title, without any intended rivalry or endorsement. But we'll endorse this burger! The Workers Club are claiming this mock-beef patty to be house-made and it's a good 'un; gluteny without being too dense, with a salty, slightly earthy taste. There are also major flavour boosts from mock-bacon, mock-cheese, pickles and a double-down condiment mix of mustard and tomato sauce. The vegan buns are clearly different from the regular ones, but they're not a disappointment.

Happily we won the trivia night and earned a voucher for our troubles, so I reckon there'll be a couple more "Where's the Beef?" burgers in our future.

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Most past blog posts about The Workers Club cover free meals and outdated kitchen incarnations. An exception is Parma Daze, who enjoyed their parma options in 2018.
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The Workers Club
51 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9415 6558

Accessibility: There's one step up on entry and a medium-high station to check in and sanitise just inside the door. The front room, laid out for trivia bookings, had both low tables with backed chairs and high tables with backless stools. There were wide corridors through the middle of the room but tables were densely backed near each other. We ordered and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Origin Tales II

February 5, 2021

   

The Origin Tales has been in our neighbourhood for two-and-a-half years, and we've not blogged it since our first visit. This is an oversight, because I'm extremely fond of their burgers and there's precisely zero of them in that first post! So, if you haven't done so in your own time, meet the Zinger Tower ($16.90). It features a mock-chicken patty with the crunchiest of crumbs, crispy mock-bacon, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and a pleasingly tangy sauce. I consistently make a terrible mess of it: the patty slips around and the sauce drips everywhere, but I've never once regretted ordering this burger. The accompanying chips have a nice little seasoning going on too.

This is just one of five burgers on the menu. I've also enjoyed the Phish Burger (it's got bonus avocado!), and Michael likes the Double Decker, which involves two tempeh patties and a hash brown.

   

On our most recent visit, though, Michael branched out to the Laksa Fried Rice ($14.90). He appreciated the mix of mock meats and veges hidden within, and described it as flavourful and medium-spicy.

There's a lot more to love at The Origin Tales. I've bought their Hainanese 'Chicken' Rice for a smug day-later lunch, there's fried noodles, and soups, and golden-fried entrees. But on 90% of my visits (including 100% of my once-a-month locked-down 2020 pick-ups) I just keep going back to that darn Zinger Tower.

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Since our first blog post, The Origin Tales has also been blogged on messy veggies and Whatever Floats Your Bloat.
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The Origin Tales 
41 Lygon St, Brunswick East 
8383 9061 

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry, densely spaced tables and a wide corridor through the middle. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Cà-Rem Gelato

 January 24, 2021

   

We had a long overdue day of Footscray fun with friends in January. We started out with Savers and browsing an Indian grocery, hit up Huong Viet for lunch, and stocked up on treats from Pie Thief and Vincent Vegetarian Food Mart. Phil Lees recommended Cà-Rem Gelato for dessert, and it was an easy skip across the street from lunch. 

Cà-Rem is run by two friendly Vietnamese-Australians, who proudly make their gelato from fresh ingredients with a rotation of bright and imaginative flavours. We encountered abundant fruity, tropical options like avocado, durian, taro and coconut, Thai mango, and Vietnamese banana. While I almost always focus on the richer, creamier (and yes, chocolate-ier) flavours, this was exactly what our mid-day, 33-degree visit called for.

   

I was charmed by their salted kumquat sorbet, with each mouthful transforming from tangy to sweet and salty (top photo). I didn't need but certainly didn't waste my less daring insurance scoop of lychee and mint sorbet (the two scoops together came in at $6.80). Michael took one scoop ($4.80) of the remarkable Coco Black, a creamy and very high cocoa-content, vegan-friendly option. I wondered if they might use coconut charcoal to achieve its melting-tar look. 

Located on Leeds St, Cà-Rem is right in the middle of Footscray's action; it'll be easy to browse the cabinet for what's new any time we're in the neighbourhood.

   

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Cà-Rem Gelato
45 Leeds St, Footscray

Accessibility: There's a small lip on the door on entry. We ordered and paid at a high counter. There are moderately spaced tables with low stools inside.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Chotto Motto

January 21, 2021

   

In January we went to our first gig in almost a year! When they're permitted they're now typically at 50% capacity and some artists are compensating by offering early and late shows on the same evening. We happily snapped up early weeknight tickets to see Olympia at the Gasometer (open roof! new seating!), and booked a table at Chotto Motto for dinner afterwards.

Pandemic conditions are having their influence there, too. On the upside for customers, there seems to be extensive new seating outdoors and in their courtyard. On the downside, booking intervals are more restricted. The friendly staff made sure we knew that the kitchen closed at 9pm, and were packing up the furniture around us at 9:20pm. It's fair enough but also a pity - there's something about this restaurant's rosy lighting, cute clutter of knick knacks and snacky foods that would especially suit late night hang-outs.

   

OK, so what of those snacky foods? It's primarily Japanese style here, with Chotto Motto initially attracting attention for its fuzed gyoza 'pizza'. They're serving their gyoza separated and steamed now with plenty options besides (gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options helpfully labelled). The drinks list is fun, too. Beyond the beer and wine, there's plum wine, cocktails, highballs, sake and a novel array of soft drinks. Erin and I took the weeknight gently with a yuzu soda for me (above left, $6.50) and a Japanese Mystery Soda (above right, $5.50) for her; Erin reported that it tasted of bubblegum.

   

We were unsure how much to order, but with a little assistance from the staff we got it right. The edamame ($7.50) are said to be sprinkled with Magic Spicy Dust Shichimi, which just barely carries through when you're not crunching the pods.

   

The Saikyo Miso Gorgonzola Mac N Cheese with Aonori panko crunch (above right, $15.50) could've been a disastrous clash of flavours but its funky notes were actually pitch perfect. In the dim light the Mixed Veggie Age Bitashi (above left, $14.50) was a confusing medley of fresh and pickled vegetables (including large quantities of celery?!), but at least it offset the richness of the mac'n'cheese.

   

The gyoza, front and centre on the menu, were the final dishes to arrive at our table. There are three sauces and three fillings (only one filling veg*n) to mix and match. We liked their shitake and chive option (10 gyoza for $22.50), though for me the filling was less a feature than the toppings. The roast sesame sauce (pictured above), is mild, gently sweet and generously showered with sesame seeds.

   

The crispy chilli oil is so popular they sell it in jars on your way out. It's complex rather than hot, with abundant fried garlic and onion pieces, and fermented black beans (it's also vegan and gluten-free!). You bet Michael took one of those jars home.

It was a hot summer night and unluckily for us Chotto Motto's soft serve machine was out of action. We hear that they usually run fun flavours so we'll have to cycle by for another shot soon.
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There's a vegan-focused review of Chotto Motto on messy veggies. Omni blogs foodie about town and the sprinkler are fans, but Linnie Eats All The Food not so much.
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Chotto Motto
287 Wellington St, Collingwood
0466 054 911

Accessibility: There's a tiny lip on the door on entry. At the moment there's seating out on the street, inside and out in the courtyard/garage. The tables I saw were well spaced from each other, but often located in somewhat cluttered or crowded nooks. The indoor lighting is low and red-tinted. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

O.MY Restaurant

 January 17, 2021

   

Towards the end of 2020 I celebrated a milestone birthday, and a group of my friends pooled their resources to gift me a future meal for two at O.MY Restaurant. I wasn't familiar with the name, but Yung and Libby filled me in - it's a fancy restaurant accessible by train, with all food intensely focused around the business' own fresh produce, grown on a farm in Cardinia

The morning after receiving this gift I looked up O.MY's instagram, keen for a preview of their food. I was shocked to learn that they'd recently lost their restaurant to a fire... on their second day of reopening after COVID restrictions relaxed. In a stunning effort, the O.MY team secured and fitted out a new venue within about a month and we were able to secure a Sunday lunch reservation a month after that.

   

As you can see from the top photo, the decor is dominated by black, including light but closed curtains. The intention is probably to seclude diners from the highway and strip malls outside, and the result is that I was photographing food under artificial light even in the middle of the day. I've decided to share just a subset of the more presentable photos. The dishes are so closely tied to what O.MY harvest seasonally themselves, that you're unlikely to encounter the same dishes anyway!

   

The menu is so changeable that they describe their degustation ($185 per person) as including "between 12 and 25 items". Our first seven were presented without cutlery, a fun and slightly disorienting series that included "garden oysters" (in the post's second photo, dressed with buttermilk and green garlic oil), the freshest of tomatoes, hot-to-handle fried pickles, and Michael's favourite (pictured just above): puff pastry filled with labne, peas, Warrigal greens and more green garlic oil.

   

Four savoury dishes were served with more formal implements. The culmination was this plate of roasted cabbage hearts, salt-baked beetroots, plums and nasturtium, all served with a thick, deeply flavoured onion jus.

   

Desserts were also plentiful! We were most fond of the raspberry tart, filled with a little cream and caramel. Our final, memorable mouthfuls were peach halves (pictured below) with local honey and daintily piped cream.

   

Our visit to O.MY was a very special day out. The centring of produce grown in-house is remarkable, a boon for vegetarians. If there's a downside, it's that vegetarian protein comes from small touches of dairy, with nary a legume in sight. I felt satisfied and not over-full, and I wonder what an O.MY vegan menu would be like. We experienced high-end, attentive table service with an extra youthful, irreverent streak that revealed just how enthusiastic they all are for what they're doing. With two Age hats to their name, O.MY clearly excelling within their niche.

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Have a look at other bloggers' reviews to see how the menu has evolved over the years and responded to the seasons. You'll struggle to find a negative word on One Piece LeftElsewhereBriefly, Around CaseyBLK's Food BlogInbetween DessertsJacqui's Food FetishA Chronicle of GastronomyI'm So HungreeBarley BlogFoodinFocuszDining Without BordersDAMMIT JANET I LOVE FOOD, and eatmystreet (twice).
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O.MY Restaurant
70 Princes Highway, Beaconsfield
9769 9000
menu varies daily

Accessibility: To the best of my memory, the entry was flat. Tables were decently spaced, and we received full table service. There are slightly awkward, narrow areas around the entry and on the way to the bathroom that might be difficult for maneuvering a wheelchair or pram. Bathrooms are shared with other businesses in the building - I think I saw an accessible, non-gendered bathroom on the ground level, and I used a gendered, narrow bathroom up a flight of stairs.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Herby zucchini & peas with semolina porridge

 January 16, 2021

   

One of our green-thumbed pals offloaded some of her excess zucchinis on us and we went digging around for a new recipe to use them in. Of course Ottolenghi has a series of courgette-focussed columns. We picked this dish out of one of them and gave it a shot. It's a pretty simple recipe - once you've chopped up your zucchini and herbs it takes no time at all to cook. And it's wonderful! The zucchini dish is bursting with flavour from the basil and tarragon, with a hint of lemon sneaking through, while the semolina porridge is a slightly creamier base akin to polenta - hearty and delicious. It was so good that we made it again before I even got around to blogging it!


Herby zucchini & peas with semolina porridge
(from Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

50g butter
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1.2kg zucchini (about 6), sliced into half moons
200g frozen peas, defrosted
25g basil leaves, shredded
15g tarragon leaves
zest of 1 lemon
600ml milk
600ml water
180g semolina
100g parmesan, grated
50g pine nuts, lightly toasted
salt and pepper


Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Once it has melted, fry the garlic for a couple of minutes until it just starts to go golden.

Add in the zucchini with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until the zucchini starts to soften up. Reduce the heat and cover the pan and leave to cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the peas and - after a minute - kill the heat, stir through the herbs and lemon zest and set aside while you make the semolina.

Combine the milk and water in a medium saucepan with some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then add in the semolina, whisking constantly to avoid lumps forming. In 3-4 minutes, it should have thickened up into a smooth porridge. Kill the heat and stir in most of the parmesan.

Serve the porridge, topped with the zucchini mix and sprinkled with pine nuts and the leftover parmesan.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Elektra

 January 16, 2021

   

Several of our friends have been recommending Elektra to us and among them, Lisa had time for a spontaneous Saturday lunch trip. Elektra's food centres on Nepalese flavours, and well-marked vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options abound. 

   

A familiar Nepalese favourite for us is momos, and we eagerly ordered a plate of the vegan ones ($19.50) to share. They're lovely, dotted with a traditional tomato sauce and garnished with salad leaves - they'd work just as well as a meal for one.

   

Lisa ordered the green lentil-based Mandala pancake ($21), which comes with hummus, spiced chickpeas, tomato, avocado, mushrooms, and coconut yoghurt. She most appreciated the abundant greenery.

   

Michael was a fan of the Gurkhali fritters ($20) - they're filling eggplant and zucchini-based fritters, served with fried tofu (not tempeh as stated on the menu), avocado, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, pickled vegetables and coconut yoghurt-garlic sauce.

   

After my share of the momos, I was content to dispense with savoury foods and try the Chocolate Stacktacular ($19.50). The cacao chocolate pancakes were thick and gorgeous, with a satisfying texture that's made from more than just regular white flour. They were festooned with raspberry coulis, coconut cream, vegan chocolate icecream and fresh strawberries. Elektra also served me an excellent chai ($5) - their menu communicates their pride in this particular tea blend and they offer several variants on the menu.

I liked the colourful, slightly cluttered atmosphere of Elektra very much. It's cheerful and welcoming and doesn't seem designed primarily for the instagram era. Even better that there are still a dozen more veg*n menu items for us to try!
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Elektra
268 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9417 4255

Accessibility: Furniture is densely arranged! There are stools out front and mostly chairs with backs inside. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Old Palm Liquor

 January 15, 2021

   

From Lygon St, Old Palm Liquor looks like a dimly lit, fancy bar. I was baffled by the COVID-era sign out front warning that only 120 customers are permitted - where could they possibly fit? It turns out that they fit in the expansive, well-lit dining area out back. Here we shared the four course set menu ($75 per person) with a couple of friends on a cold and rainy night. 

Rather than really being set, this allowed us to choose a fixed number of dishes across Old Palm Liquor's regular menu. It's not clearly labelled for dietary requirements, but the staff know what's what. We ordered almost all the vegetarian options, and they relied primarily on dairy for protein.

   

Course 1 lined our stomachs with wood fired flat bread and sumac-dusted labne (usually marked as $10 each, with perhaps two serves pictured). I was keen that we tried the fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cashew and sticky with peri peri honey ($9 each).

   

Our second course ($17) was layered up friggitello peppers, pickled onion, heirloom cucumber and basil tahini dressing. It looked bright and cheery but its astringent flavours didn't quite work for me.   

   

The third course is intended to be one main and half a side dish per person - since only one of the four mains was vegetarian we arranged to swap a main for an extra side dish to increase our variety. It's a good time of year for local tomatoes ($12), and they were lightly dressed with soy, sesame and crispy shallots. Even more popular were the roast carrots ($12) dotted with Ossau Iraty, a sheep's-milk cheese.

   

The hand cut chips ($14) were stout, very crispy-skinned, and served with a whipped garlic mayonnaise. 

   

I didn't think I was in the mood for tamarind eggplant ($25), but it won me over with its deeply savoury flavour. It was teamed with buffalo mozzarella, pickled grilled apricot, and salted almond dressing.

   

One of our friends, who had visited before, promised excellent desserts and Old Palm Liquor definitely delivered. Michael and I carefully divided a plate of chocolate creme, lemon myrtle chiboust (a meringue-pastry cream hybrid), garnished with shards of chocolate croquant (like a brittle; $12), and a bowl of mascarpone, cherry crumble and Luxardo cherry liqueur ($12).

As a vegetarian who rarely drinks, I'm likely missing out on Old Palm Liquor's best features. The drinks list runs to 37 pages, but the only non-alcoholic beverages rating a mention are coffee and tea. The meat-free dishes were enjoyable but slightly lacking a centrepiece, and not the same value for money within the set menu ($38 pork and steak dishes were interchangeable with our $25 eggplant). Typically for me, I was most taken by the starters and desserts. I can best imagine revisiting to enjoy the setting, perhaps try a cocktail if I'm in the mood, and pick one or two highlights from the menu as a snack.  
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Old Palm Liquor
133B Lygon St, Brunswick East
9380 2132

Accessibility: There's a small lip on the door on the way in. The front bar is dark and densely packed, but if you can make it through the flat, somewhat narrow corridor, it's much more spacious and well lit at the low tables out the back. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Revisiting Ottolenghi's Simple

 January 13, 2021

   

I've been off work the past couple of weeks while Cindy's been hard at it, so I put Wednesday aside to make a big ol' Ottolenghi feast. The centrepiece was this old favourite - quinoa salad with Persian dried limes - but I wanted to fill it out with a couple of new dishes from Simple. We chose a couple of nice, easy veggie sides - the kind of dishes that need company and suit a big, fancy feast.

   

First up: roasted asparagus with almonds, capers and dill. This relies on butter-fried almond slivers and the crispy capers to punch up some straightforward roasted asparagus spears. It's an effective combo though, with the capers' acidity cutting through the buttery richness of the nuts and the earthy asparagus. It's super easy - you can get the almonds and capers ready while the asparagus is roasting.

   

Our other side was roasted beetroot with yoghurt and preserved lemon, which had the added bonus of making use of some preserved lemon a kind friend had given us. This one takes a bit longer, with our beets taking a full hour to roast to tenderness. The dill and preserved lemon give this some strong flavours, but they worked really well with the more subdued quinoa salad.

The whole meal took a while to put together and used up all of our saucepans twice over, but there's nothing tricky here - it just needs you to be a bit organised timing-wise. And the pay-off was phenomenal!


Roasted asparagus with almonds, capers and dill
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

600g asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
3 tablespoons olive oil
30g butter
20g flaked almonds
30g capers
10g dill, roughly chopped
salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200°C. 

Mix the asparagus with a tablespoon of the oil, salt and pepper and lay out on a baking tray. Roast for about 10 minutes, until it has softened and started to brown up in a few places. Set aside.

Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat and throw the almonds in once it has melted. Fry the slivers, stirring constantly, until they've gone crunchy and golden brown. Pour the almond and butter mix over the asparagus. 

Fry the capers in the rest of the olive oil over high heat for a couple of minutes - you want them to go a bit crispy if you can (it helps to pat them dry before you pop them in the hot oil). Scatter the fried capers on top of the asparagus along with the dill. 


Roasted beetroot with yoghurt & preserved lemon
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Simple)

1kg beetroot, scrubbed but skin on
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 red onion
1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
15g dill, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tahini
150g Greek yoghurt
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Wrap each of the beets in foil and roast for 30-60 minutes - you want a skewer to go through easily - ours took a full hour. Unwrap them and let them cool a bit before peeling and cutting into 1/2 cm slices. 

Heat the olive oil in a small plan and fry the red onion with the cumin seeds for 2-3 minutes, until the onion has softened and the seeds have started to pop (Ottolenghi leaves the onion raw, but fried is better I reckon). Pour the oil, onion and cumin seed mix over the beets and add the preserved lemon, lemon juice, most of the dill, salt and pepper. Mix together well and transfer to a serving platter.

Stir the tahini and yoghurt together and then dollop it on top of the beetroot in a few places, mixing gently and topping with the leftover dill.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Billy van Creamy

 January 10, 2021

   

I've been banging on about Billy van Creamy to just about anyone who will listen for a couple of years! I think they're making some of the best vegan icecream out there (in addition to their terrific dairy-based flavours). I've eaten at their Fitzroy North shop, seen cartons stocked in a few supermarkets, and during 2020's lengthy lockdown I regularly ordered litre-sized boxes to be delivered directly to my home. 

I was near-ecstatic when Michael saw signage for a new Billy van Creamy shop close by on Sydney Road. There was a month more of anticipation, telling any friend I thought might care, before I saw their soft opening announced on social media. They've got a pretty pastel shopfront all sorted out, though the options for now are more limited than in their sibling shops.

The most important things are there - roughly a dozen icecream flavours, including vegan options, served in cups and cones. There are small takeaway cartons tucked away in a freezer. The more elaborate trimmings - fudge sauce, sundaes, shakes and other beverages - aren't available at this stage. COVID seems to have done away with the reusable cups too. I'm sure there's more to come for this little shop but as long as I can order a scoop of peanut butter choc chip or peppermint fudge, I'm one happy local customer.

   
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Billy van Creamy
146 Sydney Rd, Brunswick

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Low stools and benches line the walls and windows, and there's substantial open flat space in the centre of the room. We ordered and paid at a low counter. We didn't ask about the toilets.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Castlemaine

January 7-10, 2021

Interior of the Northern Arts Hotel

We popped our bikes on the train and took a long weekend in Castlemaine early in the new year. We've previously done little more than pass through on the way to other places, and it was great to get to know this town better. We walked and cycled, browsed op shops and book shops, visited the art museum and took in some live music at a pub. Our hotel room didn't have kitchen facilities, so we also made the most of Castlemaine's restaurants and cafes. Here's a quick tour through the ones we most want to recommend.

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First, I actually want to mention the Gold Exchange Cafe in nearby Maldon. We set aside Friday to cycle the rail trail running from Castlemaine, through old Muckleford station to Maldon. We picked the Gold Exchange for second breakfast, almost at random from the three or four cafes on the main street. The menu is mostly the simple stuff you'd expect from a country cafe - eggs on toast, build-your-own-sandwich, and a display case of stout cakes - but we also noticed a vegan lasagne, and I pounced upon the iced chai. The pancakes were cheap ($9.50) and excellent, and the one staff member was everything to everyone - taking orders and payments, making coffees and cooking meals, ensuring we all felt welcome.

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After our cycle to Maldon and the two breakfasts that fuelled it, we still needed lunch. Super Hero Banh Mi to the rescue! Their vegan option ($10) is stuffed with especially good sticky tofu and a bonus sprinkling of peanuts. We sprayed crusty rolls and pickled carrot shreds all over the hotel balcony.
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Castlemaine's former Woollen Mill is a now a space for local businesses; mostly foods, beverages, arts and crafts with a huge vintage bazaar at its heart. Many were taking a summer holiday but Icecream Social was open and we made sure to support them daily. They rotate their flavours regularly - the apricot cheesecake (pictured left) and ricotta-orange-chocolate (pictured right, $5 each) were favourites across the ones we tried, and I missed my chance to try the tiramisu before it was replaced by pavlova, which had a lovely compensatory passionfruit swirl. We also overlooked their offer of split scoops, i.e. getting smaller scoops of two flavours for the price of one regular scoop. These guys also have an outlet closer to home, in Thornbury.
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Our icecream mission also led us past the Shedshaker Taproom, and we noticed that their pizzas looked alright. Indeed, they're around $15 apiece, the perfect size for one, and the veg*n options are good! We split the funghi (garlic, parsley, mozzarella, three kinds of mushrooms, thyme and stracciatella) and the patate (garlic, caramelised onion, mozzarella, goat cheese, potato) and couldn't even think about dessert afterwards (luckily we'd already ticked Icecream Social off earlier in the day). We also noticed two vegan pizza options, one including a non-dairy mozzarella.
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We made the most of both the menu and the live music at The Bridge Hotel. Veg*n options were abundant and well-labelled, from a Lebanese pearl couscous salad to mac'n'cheese croquettes ($16, pictured above left). Portions were enormous - I could have stuck with the 'small share plate' of tempura broccolini ($16, pictured above right) and called it dinner.
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Phamily Kitchen was a surprise treat! Rather than a fixed menu of familiar Vietnamese dishes, they offer seasonally shifting plates with lovely flourishes. We ate most of the vegan options on offer: bắp ngọt chiên/corn croquettes ($9.50, pictured above), equally stunning bánh khọt/mini coconut pancakes filled with pearl mushrooms ($10.50), đậu hũ rang muoi/peanut-dressed fried tofu and eggplant atop a huge salad ($24). It was all so good I couldn't leave without trying (a non-vegan) dessert, so we split the kem sữa chiên/custard fritters ($9.50) with diced mango and salted coconut cream, and didn't leave a crumb on the plate.
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We bookended our trip with food from Johnny Baker's Drive-In. At the moment, it's more like Johnny Baker's Queue At 1.5 Metre Intervals, Only Three Masked Customers In At A Time; a good system under the circumstances. We picked up some alright pasties and veg rolls for lunch when we first rolled into town, then choose some pastries for breakfast on our way out of town. My spinach and cheese croissant (~$5, pictured left) was still warm from the oven, and ranks among the best savoury pastries I've ever eaten! We saved the silky-smooth salted caramel and chocolate tart ($7, pictured right) for the train, stretching our Castlemaine fun just a few moments longer.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Tahini & halva brownies

January 5, 2021
   
   

I had one of my very occasional urges to make sweet stuff this week. We wanted something portable, and Cindy suggested these brownies from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet. We'd been lucky enough to eat them before but we'd never actually made them. They're fancy, but super easy - there's no separating egg yolks and whites, no complex techniques, just pretty basic baking.

They're incredibly rich, stuffed with halva on top of all the chocolate, butter and sugar, but they're really, really good. 


Tahini & halva brownies
(very slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet)

250g butter, cut into small cubes
250g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups of caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g halva, crumbled into 2cm pieces
4-5 tablespoons tahini


Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease a 30 x 20cm baking tin and set aside (you can line with paper too if you're cautious, but mine came out fine).

Gently melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan until you've got a thick, shiny sauce. Set aside to cool down to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs and caster sugar in a large bowl until creamy, about 3-5 minutes with electric beaters. Gently fold in the chocolate mix.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt into a small bowl and stir them together. Fold this dry mix into the chocolate mix and combine. Gently mix in the halva pieces.

Pour the mixture into your baking tin, smoothing it out with a spatula if necessary. Dollop the tahini onto the mix in 10-12 places and swirl them with a skewer to make a marbled pattern.

Bake for 20-25 minutes - it will come out looking like it needs more time, but will set as it cools. Leave for at least half an hour before cutting it into brownie sized pieces. 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

where's the best in 2020?

   
Dawn XXXIII by Sabine Marcelis, currently part of the NGV Triennial

It's a bit nonsensical to put the words best and 2020 in the same title. In January 2020 Victoria experienced catastrophic bushfires and Melbourne was engulfed in smoke; the mood was apocalyptic and I didn't have the heart to blog at all. Little more than a month later we were plunged into pandemic lockdown, and it has driven our choices ever since. 

It's meant that we've depended more than ever on home cooking. We've always lived close to the supermarket and stopped in every couple of days, rarely planning further ahead than what we felt like for our next dinner. This year we shifted to shopping just once per week, and found that we can easily carry supplies on foot between the two of us, ideally escaping the crowds and having it all packed away before working from home on a weekday. It's been safer, it's taken up less head space, and it still actually serves my eating whims well enough. I hope to keep it up.

   
A Singaporean 'fish' curry

Home cooking has been big on comfort food. We've been making lots of old favourites again and again. New favourites entering our where's the best? page include Rachel Ama's peanut stew, a roasted tomato and white bean stew, pastitsio, a Singaporean curry, and an over-the-top cornbread. A welcome distraction during Melbourne's first lockdown was working through the recipes in my Lab Farewell Cookbook, and I completed them all by the end of May. It was a bright spot in my day to send notes and photos to the recipe givers, and ask how they were coping at home. 

These recipes also got me in the habit of baking cakes, which we'd slowly ration out across the week, and I continued baking through much of the year. I've picked out the pre-COVID Brunsli chocolate cookies and mid-winter red velvet cookie sandwiches as the best of the bunch. As Melbourne has warmed up and tentatively opened up I've been revelling in picnics. They've often just involved convenience foods, but when I had the energy I was also proud to share around a blueberry and cream cheese crostata, and most recently some raspberry ripe cups.

   
A red velvet cookie sandwich

We ordered takeaway food about once a week. Old faves Mankoushe, Bhang, Origin Tales and Vegie Mum were on regular rotation. I followed through my vow to explore Brother Bon's menu via home delivery, and I'm looking forward to visiting them on site again soon. We tried and loved Green Acre Pizza and Jaen Jumah for the first (and second, and third...) time. We've been eating out a little this summer, but haven't yet figured out the extent of restaurant closures around Melbourne. East Elevation no longer seems to be running as a cafe (but remains a function venue), and Samba's Jhol Momo has been replaced by Luther's Scoops.

The world has changed in 2020. For us, food has been a comfort and a distraction, a way of showing care for each other, a way to remember people and places, and most recently a way of reconnecting with friends and family face-to-face. Though our posts are less prolific with each passing year, we still intend to check in to share the foods that bring us joy.

   
Optical (tinted) by Stuart Haygarth, currently part of the NGV Triennial