Friday, April 20, 2018

Glazed seitan with smoky onions

April 15-16, 2018

After a gloriously sunny autumn, Melbourne finally turned on some cold weather on the weekend and gave us a good excuse to cook up some wintery comfort food. We dug out Street Vegan and tweaked one of their sandwich recipes into something we could serve with veggie box salad. There are a heap of interesting takes on tempeh and seitan in the book, but it was this bourban-glazed seitan that caught my eye.

It's a fairly involved recipe - you've got to make seitan first (we used our new favourite recipe), marinate it and then slow-cook the onions and fry up the seitan. I was a bit over it by the end, but it was just about worth the effort - the glazed seitan in particular is outstanding, with a sweet and smoky richness that's pretty hard to top. The onions were good, but maybe not good enough to justify the effort involved - a long, low fry-up with a splash of liquid smoke would probably work almost as well. 

The original recipe has a complicated aioli as well, but we just stirred some lime juice and chipotle pepper into some mayo and dressed our salad in it.

Glazed seitan with smoky onions
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Adam Sobel's Street Vegan)

glazed seitan
~2 cups of seitan, cut into strips
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 small brown onion, sliced finely
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/3 cup raisins
2 tablespoons lemon thyme leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar
200ml bourbon
1/4 cup white miso
3 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup rice vinegar

smoky onions
1/3 cup Lapsang souchong tea leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 onions, halved

Preheat the oven to 120°C.

Bring 1.5 cups water to the boil in a small saucepan. Add the tea leaves, turn off the heat, and cover the saucepan. Let the tea steep and cool for 20 minutes.

Strain your tea into a blender and add the olive oil, tamari, oregano, paprika and mustard. Blend on high speed for a minute or so, until it's emulsified.

Place the onions cut side down onto a baking tray. Pour the marinade over the onions and bake for an hour or so, until the marinade has basically disappeared. Our oven might not have been hot enough, so the marinade didn't really disappear even after 80 minutes.

Slice the onions into thin strips. If you want them softer and have some marinade left you can do what we did and fry the onion over high heat for another 10 minutes or so, cooking the marinade off completely.

Onto the seitan! Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Throw in the sliced onion and stir-fry for five minutes or so until the onions are cooked through. Throw in the chilli flakes, raisins, thyme and brown sugar. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Stir in the bourbon, miso, rice vinegar and two cups of water. Bring to the boil and then turn off the heat, stick a lid on it and leave it to cool for 20 minutes. Once it's cooled off enough, blend the marinade into a thick liquid.

Heat the remaining olive oil over high heat in a cast iron frying pan. Throw in the seitan and fry, stirring frequently, until it browns up nicely. Pour over the marinade and cook it off - it should take another five minutes or so, caremelising nicely. 

Serve the seitan, topped with the onions and with a salad and some tangy mayo alongside.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Small Axe Kitchen III

April 14, 2018

We snuck into Small Axe Kitchen early on Friday night, keen to find out if their dinner menu's as lovely as their daytime offerings. The menu runs a lot longer than I anticipated, in traditional Italian courses of antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni, and dolci. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes are well labelled; vegos are best catered to in the antipasti and contorni, while the gluten-free stuff is concentrated in the meaty secondi and the more veg-friendly contorni.

Once we'd ordered, they set us up with some light bread and fruity olive oil. Potato croquettes ($4 each) arrived soon after, perfectly squidgy batons, with a dab of parmesan mousse and just enough rocket to counteract the richness.

Battered zucchini flowers ($22) looked almost like battered fish, stuffed with herbed ricotta - we expect they'll soon fall out of season. The accompanying salad was bright and slightly bitter, with radicchio, nectarine wedges and pickled radish rounds. Our side of braised silverbeet, black kale and chickpeas ($12) was a much heartier entree to the cold weather ahead.

Our favourite was the plate of fresh, housemade fettucine ($20), served with peas, broad beans, artichoke hearts, mint, mascarpone and ricotta. Splitting it was clumsy work but we both fought for our fair share.

For dessert, we shared a tart and tangy medley of grapefruit slices, mandarin jelly cubes and mandarin granita scattered with almond crumble ($16). It wasn't too outlandish to enjoy a hot chocolate ($4) on the side.

At dinner, Small Axe Kitchen offers almost everything we've loved there at breakfast - clear and appetising veg options that balance fresh produce with fancy touches, served by friendly and helpful staff. The only loss, for now, is that it's not so much fun to sit outside!

You can also read about one, two of our visits to Small Axe Kitchen for breakfast.

Small Axe Kitchen
281 Victoria St, Brunswick
9939 6061

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Mont Blanc tart

March 30, 2018

Late last year a friend of mine gave me a small can of sweetened chestnut spread, after they'd been travelling in France. I had little idea what to do with it, but I had a hunch that Ottolenghi would have a suitable recipe or two. Sure enough, chestnut spread turns up in the index of Sweet as an ingredient in two desserts.

The Mont Blanc tart is reinterpretation of an Italian dessert where chestnuts are sweetened and whipped into cream. Goh and Ottolenghi's version starts with a sweet shortcrust; it's lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then filled with the chestnut spread. The name then comes in with a tower of whipped cream, which is sprinkled with candied pecans.

The presentation of my version didn't fulfill that vision, though it was pretty enough. Instead of baking individual tart shells I formed a single large pie. The double cream I bought became thicker and denser with whipping, lacking the airy texture needed to form a white mountain.

On its own, the chestnut spread had the nuttiness and velvety texture of hummus, though it was a lot sweeter. In the dessert, it acted as an unassuming caramel filling - the cream was richer, the chocolate had more depth, the pecans were sweeter. Together they formed a fancy and tasty dessert, even if the chestnut centre was overshadowed. For me it was a successful one-off project that I was proud to share around Ottolenghi club - I don't foresee any more little cans of chestnut spread coming my way, and this project hasn't inspired me to order them online.

Mont Blanc tart
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh's Sweet)

200g plain flour
120g cold butter
30g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons ice water

candied pecans
1 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon glucose syrup
1 tablespoon caster sugar
120g pecan halves
pinch of salt

60g dark chocolate
250g can sweetened chestnut spread

300mL double cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla rum

Start with the pastry. Drop the flour into a large food processor, dice the butter and drop it in after the flour. Add the sugar and salt. Pulse the ingredient together until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the vinegar and water, and pulse further until the dough just starts coming together. Turn the dough onto plastic wrap, forming it into a ball the then flattening it into a disc. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.

This is plenty of time to candy the pecans. Preheat an oven to 190°C. Line a large baking tray with paper. Place the maple syrup, glucose and sugar in a small saucepan and set it over low heat. Stir them together until they're combined and smooth, then add the pecans and salt. Turn off the heat and stir the pecans until they're evenly coated in the syrup, then turn them into the baking tray, spacing them out so that they're minimally touching. Bake the nuts for 8 minutes, until the syrup is bubbling and they smell toasty. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature, then roughly chop them.

When the dough is ready, roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and fit it into a greased pie dish. The dough will contract when baked, so leave plenty of extra pastry on the edges. Refrigerate the pastry shell for 30 minutes. Preheat an oven to 180°C. Retrieve the pastry shell, prick its base with a fork, line it with paper, and pour in some pie weights (I have some old dried chickpeas for this job). Bake the pastry shell for 18 minutes, until it is golden brown around the edges. Remove the paper and pie weights, then bake for another 8 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Allow the base to cool.

Gently melt the chocolate using your preferred method, then pour it into the base of the pastry shell, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate the pastry to set the chocolate. When the chocolate is set, spoon in the chestnut spread and spread it out evenly. Return the tart to the fridge.

When you're almost ready to serve the dessert, place the three cream ingredients in a small bowl and whip them with an electric beater until medium-soft peaks form. Serve slices of the tart topped with white mountains of cream and sprinkle the candies pecans on top.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Sweet soy Brussels sprouts & tofu

March 30, 2018

Easter brought with it another meeting of our regular Ottolenghi club. It was typically indulgent, with a baked blue cheesecake, pea and mint croquettes, lentil and asparagus salad and a fancy tart that Cindy will post about soon (photos of the whole shindig are on our facebook page). My contribution was this weird-sounding recipe from Plenty. It's rare that I'll take on a dish that doesn't have a photo in a cookbook, but this seemed like a rare simple dish from ol' Yotam so I decided to give it a shot. 

Sweet chilli sauce is not the kind of ingredient I imagine Ottolenghi reaching for very often, but it works nicely in this dish with the soy and sesame oil flavours. The real stars are the sprouts though - you've really gotta get them to caramelise for the full effect. The tofu and shitakes added some nice variety and, despite the rather brown visual aspect, this got the Ottolenghi-club tick of approval.

Sweet soy Brussels sprouts & tofu
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty)

2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1.5 tablespoons tamari
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3/4 cup sunflower oil
150g firm tofu
500g Brussels sprouts
Small bunch spring onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
100g shitake mushrooms, quartered
15g coriander leaves
sesame seeds (to garnish)

Slice the tofu into flat squares, about 4cm wide. Mix together the sweet chilli sauce, tamari, 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil, rice vinegar and maple syrup in a flat container and marinate your squares for an hour or so, flipping them over halfway through.

Trim the bases off the sprouts and cut them in thirds longways so you get relatively flat pieces.

Heat 4 tablespoons of the sunflower oil in a frying pan over high heat. Throw in half the sprouts and a few shakes of salt and cook on high for a few minutes. You want to get them nice and charred - almost to the point of burning them - so don't stir too much. Repeat with the other half of the sprouts and set them aside in a bowl.

Add another couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil to the pan and stir fry the spring onions, mushrooms and chilli flakes for a few minutes. Pop them in with the sprouts once you're done.

Now fry the tofu squares - pop them flat in the pan for a couple of minutes on each side, until they're nicely caramelised (you might need to do a couple of batches and top up the oil).

Once the tofu is cooked, kill the heat and stir the sprouts, mushrooms etc in with all the tofu.. Pour in the leftover marinade and stir through half the coriander leaves and remaining sesame oil.

Serve warm, garnished with the rest of the coriander and the sesame seeds.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Sweet filo cigars

March 23-24, 2018

I've tentatively joined a new cooking club! This one aims to select a different cookbook for each potluck gathering. Yet the first feature was Ottolenghi & Tamimi's Jerusalem. It's not a stretch from my other club's driving theme, and I borrowed the book from a generous Ottolenghi clubmate.

I also stuck to my well-worn dessert-making groove. Jerusalem has a couple of fabulous-looking orange cakes that would likely travel well, but I ultimately preferred to try my hand at the sweet filo cigars. They're stuffed with sweetened ground pistachios and almonds, fried, and then dipped in honey.

I got an excellent head start the night before, preparing the nut filling as my dinner baked and wrapping it in filo in front of Netflix. Things went awry and I really started swearing at fry-time later that evening: the cigars' stubborn, asymmetric centre of mass meant that they wouldn't turn over in the oil; one or two even burst their filling. The next morning, I felt a bit calmer and the job at hand felt more feasible. All except the first three cigars were nicely browned, not too greasy, and their weirder edges softened in their honey dunking.

With an egg and lots of honey involved, this recipe is far from vegan. I reckon conversion wouldn't be too difficult, though - I'd try skipping the egg entirely, perhaps adding a dot of margarine or olive oil to the filling and sealing the cigars with water. Honey could be replaced with diluted agave nectar, or a heavy sugar syrup with a drop of orange blossom water.

These cigars were the short, sweet end that our sprawling lunch needed. They're more filo than filling yet the ground nuts, brightened with lemon zest, shine through. I used orange blossom honey, and we could also discern its floral scent. The overall effect is soft, layered and very, very sugary.

Delightful as they were, this is probably just a one-off recipe for me. I live so close to Sydney Rd, where similar Lebanese pastries are cheap, abundant, and fried by someone else. Instead I'll save my filo folding for bougatsa me krema.

Sweet filo cigars
(very slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem,
where it's credited to Rafram Hadad)

80g flaked almonds
80g pistachios
80g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 tablespoon lemon zest
180g filo pastry
peanut oil, for frying
180g honey

Blend together the flaked almonds and 60g of the pistachios in a food processor, to form a coarse powder. Tip the ground nuts into a small-medium saucepan, add the sugar and 4 tablespoons of water. Set them over low heat and cook for about 4 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Separate the egg. When the nut mixture is just lukewarm, whisk in the vanilla, egg yolk, and lemon zest.

Unravel the filo pastry and use just one sheet at a time. Drop a generous tablespoon about 2 cm away from a short side. Fold one long side up to cover it, then the closest short side, then the other long side; roll up the filling to form a cigar shape, sealing the egg with a little brush of egg white. Repeat with the rest of the filling, making a dozen or so cigars in total.

Pour the peanut oil in a medium saucepan to about 2cm depth.  Bring it to medium heat. Fry the cigars on two sides, in batches, until they're golden on both sides. (The original recipe thinks this will take 10 seconds per side, but it was double that for me.) Cool the cigars on absorbent paper.

Place the honey in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water. Set it over medium heat, stirring together the honey and water until they're well mixed. Turn off the heat and drop 2-3 of the cigars into the saucepan, turning them to coat them in the honey and letting them sit for just a minute each. Pull them out and place them on a serving dish or in an airtight container. 

To serve, roughly chop the remaining pistachios and sprinkle them over the cigars.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ray VI

March 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Green Man's Arms II

March 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wombat Cafe

March 2 & 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Savanna African Restaurant

February 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savanna African Restaurant
7 Johnston St, Collingwood
9416 1462

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

Friday, March 09, 2018

Shop 225

February 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Small Axe Kitchen II

February 4, 2018

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ratio Cocoa Roasters

February 1, 2018

We roam Sydney Rd regularly, and keenly observe which of its businesses are launching, re-configuring and closing up for good. The Friends of Couture premises stood dormant a while, but when they came renovations were too fast for us to speculate about what was to come - up popped a bright, inviting chocolate shop called Ratio!

Ratio is spacious, even allowing for the extensive glass-protected area where all the bean-to-bar business happens. Up front you can browse the chocolate blocks ready for taking away and gifting, a few steps further in there's a cabinet of little treats to enjoy on the spot, and there's also a printed menu for those who take a seat.

Michael thought he'd get the best span of the menu by ordering the brownie tasting plate ($9.50, pictured top). Each has a different cocoa source and ratio, and though he enjoyed all of them, he had his Goldilocks moment with the 70% Peru-sourced cocoa slice.

He also tried out the Ratio hot chocolate ($5) - his report is positive, though he admits that he had too much chocolate going on all round to really savour and seriously assess it.

I had my dessert in a single glass, choosing the peanut butter and chocolate milkshake ($8). I requested a vegan version made with milkadamia (+ $1), which might even be an improvement on the standard dairy-based version! Here the chocolate flavouring is real but light, leaving plenty of room for the macadamia and peanut flavours to shine through.

Of course we took home a couple of bars to try later. Both the milk and (vegan) dark varieties were very smooth and quite sweet, with the flavourings pressed decoratively into one side of the bar. The salted caramel forms crushed glassy shards (not a soft centre, like the truffles in store), and the macadamia makes small nutty bubbles with only a subtle lemon myrtle seasoning.

Ratio's arrival feels like serendipity to us, though it's the culmination of years of hard work from founder Debb Makin. I'm looking forward to further familiarising myself with its wares this year.


Ratio Cocoa Roasters
186 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
9388 8920
eats, drinks

Accessibility: There is a small step on entry to a spacious interior. Furniture is a mixture of low tables and chairs with backs, plus higher tables with backless stools (see above). We ordered at our table and paid at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Friday, February 09, 2018


January 31, 2018

I’ve been vaguely meaning to visit Nostralis since reading about it in the Melbourne Veg Food Guide way back in 2008. It’s a long-running vegetarian pizza place in Caulfield that’s been in operation since 1981, surely a competitor for Melbourne’s second-longest running vego place after Shakahari. The décor betrays its age – lots of wood panels and old fashioned signage, but the vibe is welcoming and relaxed.

The menu has some odd options – a vindaloo pizza that includes banana and sultanas sounded very disturbing to me – but it also recreates some classics. There’s a margherita, mushroom and Mexicana pizzas and a whole range of other veg-heavy toppings. They’ve also added in a few mock meat pizzas for vegos who miss their pepperoni. Gluten free bases and vegan cheese (Cheezly) are available with small surcharges.

Cindy’s a sucker for ham and pineapple, so she went for a small Hawaiian pizza with dairy cheese ($11.50). I didn’t taste it, because pineapple on pizza is an abomination, but she was impressed. There was heaps of mozzarella and generous mock ham, but she would have added even more pineapple given the choice (because she's a monster). A step up from Eat Pizza's version.

I had a medium sized pepperoni with vegan cheese ($15 + $2.50), intending to take some leftovers home for lunch the next day. Instead, I smashed my way through the whole thing. These aren’t the authentic Italian pizzas served up at Gigi or Kaprica, but Nostralis really have the nostalgic '80s Pizza Hut vibe down. If we lived nearby I’d be going back a lot.

Nostralis is a steady success story in Melbourne’s veg dining scene, surviving with seemingly few changes for nearly 40 years. On a sunny Wednesday night we watched a steady stream of people grabbing takeaway or plonking down to share some pizzas – everyone seems to share an enthusiasm for this old school eatery.

There are a couple of Nostralis posts on vegan blogs Veganise This! and In the Mood for Noodles (twice), but nothing for ages that I could find.

55 Hawthorn Rd, Caulfield North
9528 4961

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry into a fairly crowded interior. We ordered and paid at a high counter and didn't visit the toilets.