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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Maha II

March 6, 2015

We first visited Maha a few years ago and had a good, but not amazing meal. Since then, seemingly every vegan we know has raved non-stop about how well they're catered for at Maha. So when friends organised a big group vegan feast there we joined in to see if it measured up. Everything was pre-arranged - we booked in for a five-course vegan degustation ($95 a head) and turned up with nothing to decide except what to drink. I sampled various wines ordered by more focussed dining companions, while Cindy dived into the cocktails with a very satisfactory Amman Sash (Ketel One Citron, cointreau, vanilla syrup, Kinnie and a red liquorice garnish). Also pictured below are our first couple of shared plates - some lightly spiced chickpea chips and a plate of young carrots simply dressed with oil and lemon.

After the table demolished the shared dishes, we moved onto a few individual plates - firstly the excellently crunchy zucchini felafel with pumpkin puree, tomatoes and a crisp of za'atar and sesame bread.

Everything kicked up a notch with the next dish: Char-grilled baby corn with enoki mushrooms, hazelnuts and a cauliflower and saffron purée. This dish got overlooked when we reflected on our favourite dishes at the end of the night, but it was exceptional - a brilliant combination of flavours and textures.

Then came probably the most well-received dish of the evening: a truffled fava puree topped with asparagus, walnut crumbs and chilli oil. Everything about this was perfect - the rich truffley puree, lightly roasted asparagus and lots of crunchy goodness from the walnuts. The chilli oil was mild but cut through the richness. This was sublime.

While everyone recovered from those two wonderful dishes, another round of share plates came out: a sumac fattoush that fell just the right side of being too salty, a brown rice pilaf with pumpkin seeds, a combination of ras-el-hanout spiced pumpkin, almonds, mint and radish that I loved and my favourite dish of the night: red lentil manti with aleppo pepper dressing and carrot puree.

We were all a bit blown away by the savoury dishes, so were happy to have a brief pause before the dessert came out. We also got to have a quick chat with Shane Delia, Maha's head chef, who seemed super enthused about putting together vegan menus (I guess he wasn't going to be too negative with a table of 16 wildly enthused veg*ns in staring adoringly up at him).

The dessert course was a vanilla vegan sponge with rose water and watermelon ice, pineapple gel, micro basil and coconut sorbet. This was sharp and refreshing, but not quite the indulgent finish we felt our incredible meal deserved.

So we ordered a bonus round of Turkish delight doughnuts (5 for $15), which were deliciously puffy little balls of fried sweetness.

Maha really exceeded our expectations on this visit - the five course meal gets you something like 10 different dishes, all of which were great and a handful of which were truly incredible. The service was superb, the booze flowed liberally and the atmosphere was buzzing without being deafening.

We staggered out happy after a night of wonderful company and superb food. Maha really deliver for vegans - it's a fine dining place where the vegan dishes feel like they've been given as much thought as the non-vegan options. Add it to your list!


Read about our first visit to Maha here. Quinces and Kale has already blogged this dinner plus an earlier visit to Maha. Carla at easy as vegan pie wasn't quite as enthusiastic with her vegan experience a few years back.


21 Bond St, Melbourne
9629 5900

Accessibility: Maha has reasonably spaced tables, is a little dim and loud, and has full table service. The toilets are highly accessible and there's a lift next to the staircase entry to the building.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

where's the best beyond 2000?

A special milestone is a good time for blog updates, and we've just performed our annual audit of our where's the best? page. It's been a good year for breakfasts, with Admiral Cheng-Ho, El Chino, True North and Twenty & Six Espresso earning adds to our list. Pub-wise, meat mockers The Cornish Arms were long overdue for inclusion, while The Sporting Club Hotel has been rebranded as the Charles Weston Hotel.

There's been more cheap mock at Loving Hut Northcote, Springvale's Nha Hang 5 Sao and Trang Bakery, where Michael has embarked on a banh mi bonanza. In the city, Supercharger has been offering a much fresher, wholefoods alternative.

The spectacular new veg*n opening of the past year, though, has undoubtedly been Smith & Daughters. It's about bloody time Melbourne got a cool vegan bar, and this one offers a lot more besides - irresistible fried snacks, 'eggy' brunches and luscious desserts. They might even have a new entry for our next best-of in 2016.

There've been surprisingly few closures to report, with the dessert category hardest hit - Berrissimo is no more, and Coco Loco has become Papasito, although I hear they're still serving the same wonderful chocolate mousse.

On the home front, we've accrued a number of new favourite recipes. We've been getting good value from Isa Does It (with repeat use of the sweet potato & red curry soup, the curried peanut sauce bowl with tofu & kale and the lemon & blueberry loaf), Veganissimo! (especially the potato waffles and the ginger cheesecake slice) and Vegan Soul Kitchen (including the cumin-cayenne mashed potatoes with caramelised onions). We've been predictably admiring of Ottolenghi's Plenty More and have been goaded on by a cookbook club with friends - I've been most charmed by the apricot, walnut & lavender cake (and, admittedly, the circumstances under which it was made) and proud of my turn at the chocolate halva sundae.

We've had new successes from older cookbooks, including kale and coconut salad, kung pao seitan with asparagus and alfajores. The internet has tossed up gems like cocoa granola and banh mi. And finally, I celebrated my end-of-2014 birthday by veganising and deglutenifying an icecream cake from my childhood. New restaurant openings and shiny books are fun, but I'm still finding that there's just as much inspiration to be taken from older sources.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Smothered seitan chops

March 1, 2015

Once back home from Sydney I was eager to have some fun in the kitchen. I pulled out Vegan Soul Kitchen and committed to some serious cooking, preparing my own seitan in the slow cooker throughout the afternoon, then trying two new Soul Kitchen  recipes for dinner.

I was a little surprised that Bryant Terry didn't include a seitan recipe in his book, but there are plenty of others around. I had a go at the moo-free seitan in Vegan Sandwiches Save The Day and it proved very successful. Once the seitan slices were dredged in arrowroot and shallow-fried by Terry's method I got pretty excited. "I think I've made chops!" I told Michael. We tested a small piece; it was very juicy inside and crisp on the outer.

The other handy thing about making my own seitan was all the gluteny stock I ended up with. Much of it was used for the mushroom gravy that these 'chops' were simmered in. Terry has an elaborate recipe for making mushroom gravy from scratch, but I reckon any vegetable stock would be A-OK.

Smothered in mushroom gravy and some wilted cabbage, I'd wager that this seitan was as hearty as any slab of meat. On the side we ate steamed rice and sweet coconut-ginger creamed corn, another neat vegan variation on a homely dish dreamed up by Bryant Terry.

Smothered seitan chops
(adapted very slightly from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen)

mushroom gravy
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons wholemeal flour
1 cup soy milk
1 cup stock
salt and white pepper

~1/2 cup olive oil
5 tablespoons arrowroot/tapioca flour
500g seitan, sliced into 1cm thick medallions
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups stock
1 cup cabbage, finely chopped
2 jalapenos, minced (I used pickled ones)
2 tablespoons parsley, minced

Prepare the mushroom gravy in a medium-sized saucepan. Set that saucepan over medium heat and warm up 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Drop in the mushrooms and saute them for 5 minutes. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil and the flour and stir them through the mushrooms; cook them, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes. Gradually stir in the milk and the stock, then salt and pepper to your preference. Simmer the gravy for around 15 minutes, continuing to stir it often. Take the gravy off the heat and set it aside.

Pour a substantial layer of oil in a large frypan and set it over medium-high heat. Place the arrowroot in a shallow bowl. Dredge each piece of seitan in the arrowroot to lightly coat both sides and drop it into the frypan, frying it until golden on both sides. Repeat with the rest of the seitan. When they're finished frying, drain the seitan chops on absorbent paper; when all the chops are done, turn off the heat and clean out the pan.

Set the frypan back on medium-high heat and pour in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to lightly coat the base. Add the onion and fry it for 3-4 minutes, then reduce the heat and continue sauteing until the onion is thoroughly softened and starting to brown, another 10 minutes. Stir through the garlic and saute for a further 2-3 minutes. Pour over the mushroom gravy and the stock and bring it all to the boil. Add the seitan chops back in and reduce the heat, cover the frypan and simmer it all for 30 minutes (plenty of time to cook some corn and rice!).

When the simmering is done, add the cabbage and the jalapenos to the pan, gently fold them into the sauce, and continue simmering everything for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle over the parsley and serve.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

2000 posts

We're celebrating another blog millennium with some alterations to our site design - hope you like the new look!

Actually, there's not much time to write as we're cooking all sorts of goodies for tomorrow's celebratory picnic. It'll be great to see some of you there.

I can't imagine what our years in Melbourne, eating habits and circle of friends would be like if we hadn't set up where's the beef?. Thanks for your readership, your recommendations and your encouragement.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Don't forget! where's the beef? picnic

In our 1999th post, we'd like to remind you that we're holding a 2000-post celebratory picnic this Sunday March 22 from noon. We'll set up at the northern end of Princes Park, near the pond. Come by and say hi, and if you want to stick around a while, please bring your own picnic gear too - blankets or chairs, plates, cups and cutlery and a plate of food to share. (The most sharing plates of food are ones that are vegan, gluten-free and otherwise diet-inclusive.) We couldn't have asked for a better weather forecast- it's likely to be 27°C and sunny!

If you're a facebooker, join the event page for last-minute updates. 

Note: this food is for illustrative purposes only, actual picnic food may vary