Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vegan saag 'paneer'

April 25, 2017

I like the Serious Eats approach to vegan cookery. Other comparable food websites have a tendency to roll out one post a year about how 'it's not all tofu and mung beans anymore!', then go back to their barbecued briskets. Serious Eats does barbecued briskets, too, but they explore vegan cookery more often and with more curiosity, figuring out plant-based ways to capture popular omni flavours. I liked their treatment of vegan icecreams, and they've also tried their hand at veganising ramen, chorizo, and carbonara. Their joyous, experimental style even convinced me to try stuffing tofu and rice into my waffle iron.

So when their twitter account teased us with pics of a vegan saag paneer a couple of months ago, I was excited. We waited weeks for the big reveal: it's a recipe where tofu cubes are baked in a miso-lemon marinade to form 'paneer', and the saag base gets its creaminess from cauliflower that's simmered and blended into plant milk. Our twitter buddy Eliza gave her trial a thumbs-up last weekend and we had our shot on the public holiday.

It differs from our staple palak paneer recipes in other ways, too. Where they use the sweetness of tomatoes and garam masala, this one has a more piquant blend of coriander, cumin and turmeric. The green leaves are chopped and wilted but not blended, so the final dish has a lot more substance to it. (I actually like the blending, and reckon I might try it on this recipe in future - it usually means you can sneak the vegetable stems in, too.) The flavour is just as complex and just as pleasurable.

This saag 'paneer' is a bit less labour-intensive than most Serious Eats projects we've tackled, especially with two pairs of hands at work. I prepped the tofu and cauliflower cream, and let Michael take the lead on the big pot of saag. We could even imagine achieving it on a weeknight, though this might change if we started blending the green leaves as well as the cauliflower. Weekend or weeknight, I reckon we will make the time for this recipe again. It's a smart, nutritious adaptation of one of my favourite Indian dishes.

Vegan saag 'paneer'
(slightly adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats)

500g firm, dry tofu
1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper

2/3 cup almond milk
170g cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 large red chillis, finely diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 green cardamom pod, smashed
1 bunch English spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 bunch silverbeet, stems removed and roughty chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with foil.

Slice the tofu into 2cm cubes. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 'paneer' ingredients. Add the tofu to the bowl and toss them in the dressing to thoroughly coat the cubes. Spread the tofu cubes out across the baking tray, spooning a little more dressing on top of them. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the tofu cubes over. If you have more leftover marinade, spoon it onto the tofu. Bake for a further 15 minutes, until the marinade has dried and the tofu is golden brown. Set the tofu aside to cool.

While the tofu is baking, place the almond milk and cauliflower in a small saucepan. Place a lid on the saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Simmer the cauliflower until its tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cauliflower to cool down a bit. When it's safe to do so, use a stick or jug blender to puree the cauliflower mixture. I added about 1/4 cup of water to facilitate the blending - you want the cauliflower to be as smooth and creamy as possible. Set the cauliflower aside.

Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set it over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chillies; saute them for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and cardamom and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the spinach and silverbeet a handful at a time, stirring to wilt the leaves. Give them around 5 minutes to completely wilt. Stir in the cauliflower puree and cook for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the tofu cubes, then the lemon juice and salt to taste. Add a little water if you need to.

Serve over steamed rice.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Vegie Kitchen

April 18, 2017

We were saddened late last year when the news broke that Enlightened Cuisine was closing down. We'd been visiting there on and off for a decade, enjoying their mock-meaty Chinese food. Their closure, hot on the heels of White Lotus' shut-down, left a big hole in Melbourne's veg restaurant scene. Luckily 2017 brought good news: Enlightened has reopened under a new name, Vegie Kitchen. We checked it out for a quick meal before heading off to see the amazing Patti Smith at the Arts Centre.

Aside from the new name, almost nothing has changed. The menu appears to be exactly the same, with more than 100 mostly mock-meaty dishes to choose from. We started off with an old favourite, a serve of the delicious prawn toast ($5), which remains a deep, deep fried delight.

We followed up with a couple of mock mains: kung po fish ($19.90) and ginger duck ($19.90).

These were both great - the fish had a really great chilli kick and the ginger duck was tangy and delicious. Both dishes broke up the mock meat with a generous serve of veggies. They're big meals too - we ran out of steam before quite finishing everything off. 

It's great that Vegie Kitchen has picked up where Enlightened Cuisine left off. There's no sign of innovation here and the ambiance isn't anything special, but it's a reliable veggie restaurant to satisfy your old school Chinese-food cravings. Long may it continue.


You can read our old reviews of Enlightened Cuisine here, here, here and here. Nobody else seems to have blogged about Vegie Kitchen just yet.

Vegie Kitchen
113 Queensbridge St, Southbank
9686 9188
drinks, food: one, two, three, four, five

Accessibility: The entry is flat and wide; there's a reasonable amount of space between tables. There's table service and bills are paid at a high counter. From memory, access to the toilets is narrow and includes a step.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Corn & jalapeño pancakes

April 17, 2017

A long weekend is a good time to make brunch at home. This one comes from the Smith & Daughters cookbook and it's been on my to-do list for months! We've enjoyed the Panqueques Piquantes at the restaurant several times, and they looked pretty achievable for the home kitchen. (By comparison, my all-time S & D fave is the mock tuna & pea croquetta, and I've no intention of ever deep-frying my own batch.)

Indeed, these pancakes are a breeze once you've gathered the right ingredients. Although there's corn involved, these are batter-heavy pancakes rather than fritters. (Incidentally, there is a ripper recipe for jalapeño & corn fritters in the book too!) The pancake batter is filled out with a little polenta and studded with corn kernels and jalapeños. They might sound savoury but once garnished with maple syrup and coconut bacon, they're firmly on the sweet side. 

I've had some fraught times frying pancakes in the past, but we've recently invested in a proper cast iron pan and it worked a treat with just a little spray oil. The first pancake was the mandatory mistake one, but after that I was flipping neat lightly-browned rounds with ease! More importantly, they tasted terrific with a slurp of maple syrup and sprinkling of coconut bacon. The coconut's sweet-salty chewiness makes the perfect contrasting garnish and I'm upgrading its status from optional (in the book) to definitely worth the effort of marinating and grilling your own.

Corn & jalapeño pancakes
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez
& Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups soy milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup polenta
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons egg replacer powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2-1 jalapeño, finely chopped plus extra round slices to garnish
olive oil spray
a couple knobs of vegan butter or margarine to garnish
maple syrup, to serve
coconut bacon, to serve

In a small-medium bowl, mix together the soy milk, lemon juice and vegetable oil. Set them aside for a minute or two to curdle and thicken.

In a medium-large bowl, stir together the flour, polenta, sugar, egg replacer, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk in the curdled milk mixture to form a smooth batter. Fold in the corn and chopped jalapeño. If you have the time, let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

Set a frypan over medium-high heat and spray it with oil. When it's hot, pour in ~1/3 cup pancake batter; allow it to cook until bubbles form around the edge and it's starting to set on the surface. Flip the pancake and cook for a further minute on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. I placed cooked pancakes on a baking tray in a low-heat oven while I continued to cook the rest of the pancakes.

Serve the pancakes garnished with a knob of vegan butter, a few jalapeño rounds, a sprinkling of coconut bacon and a generous drizzle of maple syrup.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fig & goat's cheese tart

April 8, 2017

Well, I think we squeezed every last possible picnic out of this summer! I'm sure of it because little more than an hour after we finished up our outdoor Ottolenghi Club last Saturday, the wind changed and it poured with rain. But while the breeze was still blowing from the north and the sun was shining, we shared kuku, salads, and florets of fried cauliflower. We saw out the summer with this fig tart.

It's one of the most eye-catching pictures in Plenty More, I reckon - several dozen glistening crimson fig geodes stacked across a golden square of pastry, drizzled with lemon glaze, with teeny herb leaves tucked in. Read the ingredient list and it goes one better - there's some kind of goat's cheese frangipane in between the figs and the pastry! It seems like one of those clever dishes that straddles sweet and savoury, a tantalising hybrid of cheese platter and Danish pastry.

The original recipe includes instructions for a yeasted pastry dough, but Ottolenghi graciously grants us permission to purchase puff pastry instead. I found a small frozen block that I could roll myself to fit the base of my baking dish, and I gave it a little blind-bake to help ensure it cooked through. I thought it still ended up a bit tough, and I'd try something different on a second attempt.

The other layers didn't quite meet my high expectations either. The goat's cheese, once diluted with eggs and almond meal, lacked pungency; the tanginess of the lemon glaze didn't quite carry either. But the fresh figs, lightly dusted with caster sugar and baked until sparkling, were spectacular. I reckon they carried the whole dish. So I could change up the cheese or double the lemon juice glaze, but maybe I'm just better off grilling my figs next autumn.

Fig & goat's cheese tart
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty More)

375g puff pastry, thawed
150g soft goat's cheese
85g icing sugar
grated zest of 1/2 orange
1-2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 eggs, beaten
100g almonds
600g figs
1 tablespoon castor sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a large high-walled baking tray with paper.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit the base of the baking tray and gently ease it in. Poke the pastry with a fork and bake it for about 10 minutes. Set the tray aside to cool a little.

In the meantime, put the cheese in a small bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of the icing sugar, the orange zest, a tablespoon of thyme leaves and three-quarters of the beaten eggs. Beat everything together until smooth. Grind the almonds to a meal and stir them into the goat's cheese mixture.

Spoon the goat's cheese mixture over the cooling pastry, leaving an inch-wide border around the edge. Brush the remaining egg on the exposed pastry. Slice the figs in half and arrange them, cut side up, over the goat's cheese mixture. Place the figs close together, even overlapping. Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the figs are bubbling with juice.

Let the tart cool down a bit. Whisk together the remaining icing sugar and lemon juice into a smooth glaze and drizzle it over the tart.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fig & walnut friands

March 25, 2017

I made these little fancies because it's fig season, and because I had a few egg whites in the freezer. It's a friand recipe that makes just six serves, and it was a nice spontaneous weekend project. Enough to eat warm, just the two of us on the couch that day, and to pack into our lunchboxes a day or two after, and then be happily done before the cakes turned mushy or stale.

I expect friands to be based on almond meal, but these ones use ground walnuts instead. It makes for a darker, toastier cake that I think complements the figs very well; a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg pushes the effect even further. The original recipe uses fewer, thinly sliced figs but I set a bulbous half into each of my friands. Baking concentrates the figs' sweetness, but they stay quite fresh and juicy. That's probably why the friands deteriorate after just a few days - they're a fleeting pleasure, like fig season itself.

Fig & walnut friands
(slightly adapted from a recipe on A Splash Of Vanilla)

75g butter
60g walnuts
3 egg whites
1/3 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup icing sugar
3 figs

Preheat an oven to 190°C. Lightly grease 6 spots in a muffin tray.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat and allow it to cool a little.

Grind the walnuts to a coarse meal in a spice grinder or food processor.

Drop the egg whites into a medium-large bowl and beat them with an electric mixer for up to a minute, until they're very foamy. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and icing sugar over the whites; add the walnut meal and fold everything together until just combined. Spoon the batter evenly into the 6 muffin cups.

Slice the figs in half and place one half, cut side up, gently onto the top of each friand. Bake until the batter is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Allow the friands to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then slide a knife around their edges and transfer them to a rack to cool further.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


March 18, 2017

Franklin (not to be confused with Frank!) has ranked highly on Hobart fine dining lists for years. However, reviewers have always tended to recommend the seafood and other meats so we figured it wasn't really for us. Then in the past year a couple of vegetarian friends added their voices to the pro-Franklin crowd - that had us more interested, and we secured an early reservation at the bar on our Saturday night in town.

Franklin inhabits an ex-Ford car showroom and they've maintained an industrial look with lots of polished concrete and a scattering of leather and animal hide mats. Somehow they've managed the acoustics well so that guests can enjoy a positive buzz across the room without echoing music or competing conversations. The kitchen is completely open and visible; those of us at the bar had front-row seats to its workings. The centrepiece is an enormous Scotch oven (pictured above).

We'd mentioned that we were vegetarian in our online booking, and our waiter was well prepared with separately printed vegetarian menus to take to our table. We couldn't quite deduce from the descriptions how much we should order, but decided to request four of the six available dishes and hope for some dessert room. As is often the case at fancy restaurants, Michael ordering a G&T just in time to enjoy some fancy bread and butter.

The grilled eggplant ($16) was little more than a taster, a savoury finger-length each garnished with salted turnip and lovage seeds.

The just-barely-warmed tomatoes ($16) were more abundant, tossed with what I think was a buttermilk dressing (not listed in the name), cloaked in red basil leaves and seasoned with native pepper. I was glad I'd saved some of my bread for sopping up the juices from the bowl.

The toasted Chinese cabbage agrodolce ($19) also looked a little meagre on the plate. Nevertheless, the sweet and sour sauce dressed the leaves well.

Our most anticipated dish was the wood-roasted pink eye potato galette ($21; see the making-of in the top photo!). Thinly sliced potato rounds are layered to form the galette, and once they emerge from that formidable oven they're scattered with fresh green herbs, walnuts and finely grated cheese. It was a worthy finale to our main meal.

We had plenty of room for dessert! For me the night's highlight was the monochromatic malted barley parfait with toasted rye and plums ($14). As the kitchen manager described to us, the malted barley gave a chocolatey, coffee-ish flavour to the icecream wedge. The crunchy rye sprinklings were a complementary flavour and great contrast in texture.

The baked tarragon cream ($14) was no slouch either, with a herbal flavour that's rarely tasted at dessert and some gorgeous berries keeping it all summery-sweet.

We had a really nice evening at Franklin. As at many high-end restaurants, we got the sense that the menu's not really meant for us vegetarians, while still enjoying the options on offer. I thought the servings were small for the prices charged, but ultimately we left feeling satisfied and not stuffed. The capable service likely smoothed over my misgivings and I especially appreciated that, since we were sitting right beside the pass, the kitchen manager directly served and described many of the dishes for us directly.

All the other online reviews we've seen of Franklin are very meat-focused and almost unanimously positive! See Living Loving Hobart (twice), Fork + FootJacqui's Food FetishGet Forked and Fly and FINEEATING. There's a more mixed account on foodie mookie.

28-30 Argyle St, Hobart
(03) 6234 3375
vegetarian menu, full menu

Accessibility: Entry includes a shallow, wide ramp. Interior furniture is generously spaced, a mixture of low tables with mini-stools, standard tables with backed chairs and a high bar with stools. We received full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Hamlet & Veg Bar, Hobart

March 18, 2017

We skipped MOFO this year, but Hobart still called us down for a visit - a quick long weekend to see the excellent On the Origin of Art exhibition at MONA and to spend some time in one of our favourite cities. We did a day tour out to Bruny Island on the Friday, but had more time on Saturday to get into the local food. We started out with a visit to Hamlet, a cafe that's popped up in the year since our last visit to Hobart. It's a community enterprise, that provides employment and training opportunities for people who face barriers to employment. It's tucked away off the beaten track a bit, behind Molle Street near the start of the Hobart Rivulet track - on a Saturday morning it's a serene escape from the hectic bustle of Salamanca and surrounds.

The menu is super veg-friendly, with just a couple of meaty dishes. The options range from simple toasts and smashed avos through to more interesting options like the Buddha bowl (brown rice, shiitake, kimchi, pickled white beans, sweet corn, toasted nori, $17). Cindy wanted to save some room for our trip to the Salamanca Markets, so she just ordered one of their fancy scones (corn, spring onion and sage, $6) and an apricot and honey smoothie ($8). The scone arrived huge, flat, cheesy and warm, with a dab of butter on the side. The smoothie had a light, milky consistency and its fresh feature ingredients shone through.

I was a bit more adventurous, ordering the autumn veg curry with fried eggs from the specials board ($17). This came topped with crispy fried onions and fresh herbs and was an excellent start to the day - fried eggs and curry is a brilliant combination. The curry itself was mild but richly flavoured with a few different kinds of potatoes making up the autumn veggies. I'm a big fan of curry for breakfast - more places should offer it.

Service was friendly and efficient on our visit and the coffee was great. Hamlet is a welcome addition to Hobart's brekkie scene - good food and a good cause.


There are a couple of positive reviews of Hamlet at Living Loving Hobart and Yippee Pie Yay.

40 Molle St, Hobart
0407 169 352
food, specials, drinks

Accessibility: Hamlet is super accessible, with table service, accessible bathrooms and an accessible entry.

After a stroll around the markets and a few op shops, we headed up to North Hobart to meet a friend and check out the brand new Veg Bar on Elizabeth Street. It's very on trend, with neon highlights, indoor plants and bench seating. The menu has the same well-researched vibe, a mix of 'clean eating' alongside burgers, nachos and the like. There are fancy cocktails sit alongside kale and acai smoothies, cold pressed juices and tricked-up lattes. It's all vegan.

Cindy and S both braved fancy drinks - a turmeric latte ($5.50) and a 'Sugar High' smoothie ($10). This was the first time any of us had tried a turmeric latte, and nobody was entirely won over - I was expecting at least some coffee in there somewhere. Cindy's smoothie was more successful, overflowing with garnishes and combining coconut water, mango, raspberries and passionfruit to good effect.

I was weirdly compelled by the promise of a vegan egg, so I ordered the kim chi fried rice ($24), which came with tofu, spring onion, burnt pickled onion, nori slivers, sesame and a big ol' vegan egg dropped right in the middle. The egg doesn't really taste anything like actual egg - the white is made out of coconut somehow, while the yolk is a sweet potato paste that's been jellied up somehow. It looks great though, and there was something spicy in the 'yolk' that added to the solid kim chi kick in the rest of the fried rice. I was really happy with the whole dish - a extra few bits of tofu would have made me feel better about the price, but that's just being grumpy.

Cindy decided to try one of the burgers, intrigued by the promise of a southern-fried cauliflower pattie ($15.50). The pattie came on a weird-looking matcha bun, along with house made slaw and agave mustard. 

The bun was basically a novelty, with the matcha adding nothing exciting to the mix beyond colour. The filling got a thumbs up though. While the cauliflower-based burger wasn't fooling anyone for chicken, but it a neat spiced crumbing that held together the soft interior (although I really think they should throw a few mock meat products on the menu even if it doesn't quite fit their health-oriented vibe). 

S ordered off the specials board, trying the tofu pad Thai. It looked great, and her only complaint was that they hadn't used the proper thick noodles - otherwise it did the job nicely.

Veg Bar is a fantastic new option in Hobart. It's run by people who have a handful of other (non-veg) restaurants around the place, and it's clear that they know what they're doing. It's a lovely setup, with a menu that's sure to please vegans, vegetarians and omnis. Fingers crossed it's a success so we can revisit next year.


Living Loving Hobart have already written up their visit to Veg Bar.


Veg Bar
346 Elizabeth St, North Hobart
0498 708 561
food, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: Veg Bar has a flat entryway and a pretty spacious interior. Seating is a mix of regular tables, high bar stools and more restrictive benches. The toilets are a mix of gendered and unisex with some fully accessible options. We ordered and pay at a high bar.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Buffalo cauliflower-stuffed potatoes

March 12, 2017

We don't eat them a lot, but I have a soft spot for baked potatoes. This is an unusually glamorous and slightly labour-intensive version from The First Mess. Laura Wright's photos capture waxy white potatoes piled high with bright-orange cauliflower and chickpeas, spattered with spicy hot sauce. Mine don't have quite the same show-stopping qualities, but they're quite the comfort food nonetheless.

We correctly deduced that this recipe is a weekend project, so we set about it on a Sunday and doubled the filling recipe to ensure some leftovers (I've just left it at a single quantity in the recipe below). My pot-full of cauliflower and chickpeas never quite took on the saucy consistency of Wright's, most likely due to the combination of constrained hot sauce and chopped roasted tomatoes I used, and I added some extra tomato paste to try to thicken it all up. It helped a bit.

We loved these hearty carb-boats of spiced stew, but I'm not sure in what context we might make them again. It's all far too effortful for a snack, and yet doesn't quite feel like a balanced main meal. Maybe a big handful of green leaves on the side is enough to call it so.

Buffalo cauliflower-stuffed potatoes
(slightly adapted from a recipe on The First Mess)

6 large potatoes
vegetable oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 large cauliflower, broken into florets
400g can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
   (I used finely-chopped roasted tomatoes, plus 3 tablespoons tomato past and a splash of extra water)
2 tablespoons hot sauce
small handful parsley, roughly chopped

Preheat an oven to 180°C.

Wash and dry the potatoes, trim off any weird bits and poke a few holes in them with a fork. Rub a little oil over them and place them in a large baking dish; sprinkle them with salt. Bake the potatoes for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until they're tender in the middle.

While the potatoes are baking, set your largest pot over medium heat. Pour in just enough oil to thinly cover its base, then saute the shallots until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and saute for a further couple of minutes; stir in the paprika and garlic.

Add the cauliflower and chickpeas to the pot; pour over the stock and stir to combine. Add whatever tomato ingredients you're using, plus the hot sauce, and stir some more. Add pepper to taste. Cover with a lid, first bringing it all to the boil, then turning it down to a simmer and cooking until the cauliflower is tender, up to 10 minutes.

When the potatoes are ready and cooled just a bit, slice them in half longways. Arrange them cut-side-up on one or two baking trays. Use a spoon to scoop out a shallow bowl shape in each one (just a tablespoon volume!), and eat the scooped bits. Scratch up the remaining potato a little with a fork. Pile up cauliflower filling into each potato, then bake them until they're just starting to brown on top, about 15 minutes. Scatter with parsley and serve.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New School Canteen

March 12, 2017

We've noticed that the inner north's cafes are less busy on Golden Plains weekend, and we try to take advantage of it. This year we ventured out to Fitzroy's New School Canteen, which Steph & Hayley had been urging us to visit. They were impressed by the array of vegan and eggy breakfasts, respectively, and knew I'd be all over the 'dessert breakfast' section of the menu.

Sadly, by the time we gave New School Canteen a shot the menu had changed and 'dessert breakfasts' were no longer a feature. For us sweet lovers, the solitary option was a chia pudding - no thanks! Rather, there's an abundance of rich savoury eggs, breakfast burgers and toasties (including vegan cheese!) with a superfood-styled rice bowl and grain salad as exceptions.

Michael was, of course, spoiled for choice. He was impressed by the panko-crumbed poached eggs ($17.50) served with green papaya slaw, chilli jam, and tofu so deeply braised that it was nearly black. He missed his toast, though, just a little.

I sipped on an orange, mango and passionfruit juice ($5.50) and sought out something that wouldn't be too greasy, settling on the vegan smashed avo & feta ($8.50). Welp, I was served this. Can you spot the avocado? Nope, that green there is herbs.... and those other dabs are vegan feta. The avocado turned up as just a few smooth green splodges in amongst layers of fresh tomato slices and a big scoop of fresh tomato-based salsa - it didn't have much flavour and no texture, and if it hadn't been marked vegan, I'd've wondered if it was that commercial dip that's padded out with cream cheese.

The almond-based feta was beautiful (possibly the Vegan Dairy one?) and the price was very reasonable, but this was not as advertised.

So I'm not so keen to return to New School Canteen for breakfast, although over our meal I told Michael I'd be curious to come back in the evening for one of the 5 vege burgers. Having looked at their facebook page, I'm less sure - they seem to be revelling in the over-the-top double-dripping-cheese triple-patty trend that repels me.

The venue is spacious, lets in lots of natural light and they're training some plants across frames. Yet it still comes across a little sterile, and the acoustics are terrible - on a quarter-full morning, it took a single well-behaved table of six nearby to render a one-on-one conversation between Michael and I difficult.

New School Canteen's attention to veg options is commendable, but for me they're falling short on too many other criteria right now. I'll read others' ongoing accounts with interest while keeping to Fitzroy's countless other more winning eateries.

New School Canteen has received positive accounts on Tess PressoFerris Wheel FlightsBarley Restaurant Reviews and Gourmet Chick; the diners on Whatever Floats Your Bloat had a more mixed experience. 

New School Canteen
379-381 George St, Fitzroy
9417 1199

Accessibility: Entry is flat and tables are reasonably spaced. We found the acoustics to be quite echo-y even when quarter-full. We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. From memory, male and female ambulant and unisex fully accessible cubicle toilets were available.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Snug Public House II

March 10, 2017

When we're feeling lazy on a Friday evening, we're lucky to have the Snug close by. (South-siders can no longer say the same, with their St Kilda sister closing this month.) We've been pleasantly surprised to find that even as folks clock off for the week, the back garden is not necessarily packed with drinkers and smokers.

Their vegan menu has stabilised somewhat since our first visit. Michael went back to the bangers'n'mash (now $26) - it's a filling but not over-the-top serve with a lovely red onion gravy. Little else on the menu looks familiar but plenty looks appetising, from cauliflower poppers to shepherd's pie, spaghetti alfredo and three mock burgers.

I took on the fillet-no-fish burger ($20) - it's a really nice rendition based around the excellent Gardein fillets, with a soft-but-not-too-sweet bun, tartare sauce and salad. Chips were abundant, cut thick with the skin left on. (I should've hunted down some sauce for them.)

Super Salad aside, this vegan pub menu is very heavy on the mock meat and won't suit all tastes. But for those of us already enamoured with the Cornish Arms down the street, the Snug is a neat and perhaps cosier alternative.


You can read about our first visit to the Snug here. Since then Veganopoulous has posted a thorough review of their vegan menu.

The Snug Public House
68 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
9388 8756

Accessibility: The interior is crowded, with a mix of tables and high seats at the bar. The courtyard has bench seats and stools. We ordered and paid at the high bar.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Peanut butter & jelly squares

March 5, 2017

I made this slice specifically for slouching on the couch and sharing with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, and I can't imagine a better setting for it. It's got a biscuity almond & oat base, jammy berry filling, and messy swirls of peanut butter and peanut polka dots on top. Even for those of us who didn't grow up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it's a charmingly childish and comforting snack.

I suspect a lot of ingredients here could get swapped for convenience: rolled oats and almonds could sub out for flours and other nuts, any frozen or fresh berries would do, and what about other nut butters? There is one component that's a bit sensitive, though! I thought keeping my base almonds chunky would be fun, but it just rendered the base greasy with oil and too crumbly to support the slice in our hands. I'll blend all those base ingredients much more thoroughly in future.

No matter - little spoons and plates just enhanced the cocoon we created, a snack-lined safe-haven of pickle-flavoured chips (!), iced tea, craft projects and a few sly episodes of The Good Place.

Peanut butter & jelly squares
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Minimalist Baker)

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
generous pinch salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted

3/4 cup berry jam
1/2 cup berries (I used raspberries), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 22cm-square baking tray with paper.

For the base, place the rolled oats, almonds, salt and sugar into a food processor and blend thoroughly to a meal (I left mine chunky and it was far too crumbly in the finished dish!). Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir through the coconut oil. Press the mixture into the base of the baking tray, using the back of a spoon to even it out. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn up the oven to 190°C and bake for a further 5 minutes, until the edges have begun to brown.

While the base is baking, place the jam and berries into a saucepan and set them over medium heat. Stir them regularly while they cook for 5-7 minutes, until they're well combined and pourable. Take the saucepan off the heat.

Turn the oven back down to 180°C. Once the base is cooked, pour over the berry mixture and spread it out evenly. Dab the peanut butter in little teaspoons spotted across the surface. Send the slice into the oven for 5 minutes, then pull it out and drag a skewer or toothpick through the melted peanut butter to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle over the peanuts. Return the slice to the oven for another 10 minutes, until the jam is starting to bubble. Let the slice cool to room temperature over the course of 1-2 hours before cutting it into squares and serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Red Sparrow Pizza

March 3, 2017

Late in 2016, the Melbourne veg*n grapevine was buzzing with rumours about a new vegan pizza place in Collingwood. The opening got postponed a few times and the excitement steadily grew. So when they finally threw their doors open, it didn't take long for us to join a gang of Melbourne veg*ns to go and check them out. Part of the delay in their opening was related to the transportation of their fancy pizza oven - they're going for a similar thin-crust wood-fired vibe to the much loved Gigi in Sydney and they've got the setup to match.

The menu has something for everyone - classics like margherita, mock-meat extravaganzas like pepperoni and healthier options like the supergreen (spinach and kale pesto with broccoli and zucchini). We ordered eight pizzas between the eight of us, and the staff were kind enough to cut things into (uneven) eighths to make the whole sharing experience easier. 

The first four, clockwise from top-left were: the classic sausage (bbq base topped with beer brat, jalapenos, red onions, mozzarella and aioli, $18), the eggplant (tomato base, smoked eggplant, pear, rocket and balsamic reduction, $18), the Italian sausage (a special, $18) and the pepperoni (tomato base, roasted capsicum, pepperoni, mozzarella, oregano, $17).

First to the bases: I thought they were excellent, a little bit crispy, but still with a lovely softness to them. The toppings were a bit more of a mixed bag - the classic sausage was universally praised, with a great mix of spiciness, sauciness and chunky mock-meat goodness. The others drew divergent reviews: some people loved the pepperoni, but there were complaints that it lacked spice, while the cheeselessness of the eggplant made it a touch on the dry side for some. The Italian sausage hit the mark pretty well, but didn't quite measure up to the classic. 

The next four were the puttanesca (tomato base with cherry tomatoes, garlic, capers, olives, parsley, chilli flakes and mozzarella, $18), the mushroom (white base with porcini and Swiss brown mushrooms, caramelised onions, thyme, parmesan, rocket, oregano and truffle oil, $19), the controversial Jóhannesson (tomato base with ham, pineapple and mozzarella, $17) and the bianca (white base with potato, leek, rosemary, garlic confit, mozzarella and paremsan, $16).

The mushroom and putanesca were both excellent - even if some at our table complained about the amount of rocket on the mushroom - while the bianca was sadly let down by some undercooked potatoes and leeks (it didn't seem like they were pre-cooked, and the pizza cooking time didn't get them as soft as we wanted them). The Jóhannesson, a topical special) was as divisive as pineapple on a pizza usually is - people who like Hawaiian pizzas had no complaints, while the rest of us steered clear. It's other surprise was a scattering of shredded coconut, which was less offensive than it sounds, sprinkled amongst the vegan cheese.

We'd gone too hard on the pizza to try and of their salads or desserts, so there's still more for us to explore on the menu. I was mostly impressed - they're making upmarket vegan pizzas, meaning they're working a very different vibe to the junky Eat Pizza or the over-the-top Cornish. A few people at our table were a bit underwhelmed, but struggled to name a better option for vegan pizza in Melbourne. I reckon they'll work the few kinks out as they go along - there's clearly a huge demand for a vegan pizzeria based on the full house and steady stream of takeaway pick-ups we saw on our visit. We'll definitely return.

Future King and Queen plus Rose & Bean have already reviewed Red Sparrow, and both were very positive.

Red Sparrow Pizza
406 Smith Street, Collingwood
9417 1454
drinks, food, specials

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway into a fairly crowded interior, plus some tables on the street. Seating is a mix of high stools and regular tables and payment happens at a high counter. The toilets are unisex, but in a pretty inaccessible courtyard out the back.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dosa Plaza

February 28, 2017

Dosa Plaza is an unassuming eatery holding up the corner of an apartment complex in Preston, where High St and Plenty Rd fork off. We'd paid only passing attention to it, until a couple of friends invited us to try it out with them after work. Opening and discussing the menu was an excursion in itself - it's all vegetarian and stretches to over two hundred items. Vegan, gluten-free and onion-garlic-free dishes are clearly marked, and there's even a 3-page summary sheet of vegan foods available on request.

This was a journey that started briefly with pasta before focusing on Mumbai chaat, the Punjabi foods found at most Indian restaurants across Australia, and then south Indian delicacies - idlies, vadas, dosas and uttappas. Chinese fusion dosas, Mexican fusion dosas, Indo-Chinese dishes, desserts and drinks. Phew! We tried our best to sample across the board.

A dozen mini-idlies ($8, pictured above left) were an auspicious start, freshly steamed and a little sweet, with plenty of sambar and coconut chutney for seasoning. I delighted in introducing my companions to pani puri ($9, pictured above right): tapping the crispy shells open and carefully stuffing them with spiced potatoes, tamarind chutney and chilli-mint water, then stuffing it all in your mouth at once.

It was after these appetisers that most of our drinks arrived. We heard the tell-tale sounds of Soda Stream carbonation between deliveries of ginger mint lemonade ($5), lemon berry punch ($5) and the Cool Sky mocktail soda ($4.50). They were all as silly and sweet as they were colourful.

We also enjoyed the hyper-coloured paneer tikka kebab ($10.50), a mild and tender treat with a light, minty dipping sauce.

Next we got deep into dosa territory. The spring roll dosa ($13, pictured above left) was not, as Michael had hoped, literally stuffed with deep-fried spring rolls. Rather, the dosa played the role of the pastry, wrapping itself around a very tasty medley of spring onion, cabbage and carrot in sweet soy sauce. It's a ridiculous novelty that actually really works!

Now completely sold on their fusion fancies, we embraced the tomato mushroom uttappa ($11.50) as some kind of pizza, carefully slicing off segments of the pancake and triple-checking that there wasn't any cheese to spoil it for our vegan companion (there wasn't, and she loved it).

If the meal had a pièce de résistance, it was the Schezwan Sizzler ($16.50). It fittingly arrived last, sizzling and steaming and bursting with foods we never dreamed of combining. Vegetables and mini-idlies were stir-fried in a hot and sweet sauce, paired with a mountain of orange noodles fried with green vegetables, and all topped with French fries. It was monstrous, it was magnificent, it is surely a worthy successor to the halal snack pack.

Giddy with the spectacle of it all, we couldn't walk out without dessert. The sweet coconut dosa ($7.50) was stuffed with shredded coconut and jaggary, reminding me of a chewy, caramelised ANZAC biscuit in the best possible way.

I think the showpony of the sweets is surely the brownie sizzler ($9.50). The cake is a mild one that wouldn't impress on its own. Yet its mild flavour was perfect for dressing up on a hotplate with icecream, fudge sauce, sultanas and nuts. (I only ever knew about cakey-fudgy brownie profiles, who knew that sizzling was even an option?!)

We left Dosa Plaza near-delirious. Its flouro-lit fit-out is nothing special, but it's the home of some preposterous fusion foods, many of which we really enjoyed and would order again. With everything from $6 snacks to $16 sizzlers it caters to a variety of appetites, if only you can figure out which part of the enormous menu to order from.


Dosa Plaza Preston has previously received a positive review on quinces and kale.

Dosa Plaza
4 Plenty Rd, Preston
9484 8444
menu cover, pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; vegan menu A, B, Ccold drinks, ice cream

Accessibility: Dosa Plaza has a flat entry and well-spaced tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.