Sunday, January 31, 2021


 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!

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.  

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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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

Friday, January 01, 2021

Raspberry Ripe cups

 December 30-31, 2020


We saw out 2020 in a low-key but pleasing way - sharing food with a few friends in a local park for as long as the light lasted and the mosquitoes held off. There was no pressure to cook anything fancy or even cook at all, but after falling back on old favourite recipes all month I was ready to try making something new.

These chocolate cups fit the lowest common dietary denominator at the picnic, being both vegan and gluten-free. They're a close cousin to the Cherry Ripe, and all the better for contrasting the sourness of fresh raspberries against the creaminess of the coconut. The original recipe on My Darling Lemon Thyme includes its own formulation for 'raw' chocolate, but I was happy to simply use regular dark chocolate. I converted the volume of ingredients, came up with about a cup of chocolate chips, and found that this fell well short of what I needed to cover the filling. The double chocolate quantity listed below was a better match for me.

I expected the chocolate cups to be too large and rich for most people at the picnic, and I made sure to offer a knife for halving them. They were actually a huge hit, with people only reluctantly sharing a couple cups to make sure there were enough to go around. They're one small burst of joy that I'll be glad to bring with me into 2021.


Raspberry Ripe cups
(slightly adapted from My Darling Lemon Thyme)

2 cups dark chocolate
1/3 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen (don't defrost)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon vegan milk
2 teaspoons coconut oil

Line a muffin tray with 10 cupcake papers.

Melt the chocolate using your preferred method. Spoon just enough into each paper to cover the base, aiming to use no more than half of the chocolate. Set the chocolate in the freezer.

Set aside five of the least-squished raspberries. Place the remaining raspberries, coconut, maple syrup, milk and coconut oil in a food processor and pulse briefly to mix the ingredients together. Retrieve the muffin tray from the freezer and drop 1-2 teaspoons of the raspberry-coconut mixture into the centre of each chocolate. Gently slice the five remaining raspberries in half and place a half on top of each chocolate cup.

Check that the remaining chocolate is still melted and smooth; reheat it if needed. Spoon the chocolate over each chocolate cup to completely cover the raspberry and coconut fillings. Return the tray to the freezer to completely set the cups and store them until serving time.