Friday, October 20, 2017

Bhang

October 5, 2017


We visited the relatively new Bhang after Will recommended it and Tash suggested we all get together for dinner. Michael grabbed a booking just a day in advance and it was packed out when we arrived - it's clearly rapidly attracted fans, even though it's tucked off Sydney Rd in the north of Brunswick. It might be that early flush for a hip new opening, or the reputation of the owners (who also run Tom Phat), ... or it might just be that good.


Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are abundant and well-marked, and with five of us on board we were able to try many of them. The staff kindly adapted our small plate orders to ensure they were portioned just right to go around. Pani puri ($10) are always a blast, but surprisingly upstaged here by the spinach and paneer samosas ($12). This was without doubt my favourite samosa experience of my life! The paneer filling was so soft and rich and savoury, reminding me almost of scrambled eggs, and the pastry was buttery, crumbly and toasty-browned.


The mains didn't quite reach the same heights, but they were consistently very good too. The char-grilled eggplants (bharwan vanghi, $15; top left) arrived first and, once we gracelessly cut them with a spoon, disappeared fast. Will and Michael loved the pumpkin olan best ($16; top right), more for the black-eyed bean curry underneath. The gobhi korma ($16; centre) presented its cauliflower whole and so the spices didn't quite soak through, but I adored dredging garlic naan ($4, not pictured) through its ombre sauce. The mast biryani ($18; bottom left) was steamed with a pastry top, and not nearly as spicy as Will swore it was on his first visit. My favourite might have been the tangy tamarind-dressed salad of paneer, green mango and baby spinach (kache aam ka paneer, $11; bottom right).


Others sampled a range of fancy and unusual cocktails. I was a smidge disapointed that they were all out of dates for the date and almond lassi, but the more conventional mango version ($5) was very pretty. Unfortunately for all its colour it was bland, not even matching the plainer, tangier ones I've drunk elsewhere.


I managed to keep our ordering in check and everyone had room for dessert! The others all opted for the spiced poached pear ($12), which was too firm to handle neatly with a spoon, but made for a beautiful plate with a scoop of masala chai icecream, a ball of coconut halwa, and festive sprinklings of nuts, syrup and colour. I was well pleased with my gulab jamun ($9), a little larger and lighter than they're traditionally prepared, with a matching scoop of chai ice cream and pretty garnishes.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first Bhang meal - it was a little loud and a little flawed, but its best dishes were tremendous and even its lesser dishes were very good. The samosas alone would pull me back for more.

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Bhang has received a mixed review from Barley Restaurant Reviews, and positive reviews from Lips Temptations (freebie)FEED BLOG SPOT (freebie), and A Chronicle of Gastronomy (freebie).

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Bhang
1/2A Mitchell St, Brunswick
9383 2488
food, drinks
https://www.eatdrinkbhang.com/

Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat, but we reckon it's pretty tough from there: the interior is crowded with furniture and dimly lit; most of the dining tables are located upstairs. We received full table service and didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Annual lab culinary competition

October 2, 2017


There was concern, after a couple of key departures from the lab last year, that the annual culinary competition might be over. Far from it! All it took was a nod from the new director and a couple of emails, and entries were out in force.

Competitors drew inspiration from their gardens and other local ingredients, from famous chefs and family members, from their cultures of origin and even from their jobs. I contributed a plate of Ottolenghi's butterbean hummus, and a lattice-topped cherry pie. For the first time in all my years of competing, I won the grand prize! The judges especially praised the pie's crumbly buttery crust, and one confessed to reaching for it three times in spite of abundant alternative offerings.

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I've also written accounts of this competition in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Swedish meatballs

September 23, 2017


I brought some lingonberry jam back with me from Sweden this year and it has sat sadly in the cupboard for months waiting for inspiration to strike. Lingonberry jam isn't really used like strawberry or raspberry jam - you don't smear it on toast or have it with scones - it's more commonly used as an accompaniment to savoury food like fried herring, potato pancakes or, of course, meatballs.

While we were in Stockholm last year, friends had made us a classic Swedish meal - new potatoes, (veggie) meatballs, greens and lingonberry jam - it was one of my favourite memories of the trip and I decided to spend a quiet Saturday arvo trying to replicate it. A bit of googling around turned up this recipe on Rabbits and Wolves, which ticked all of my boxes. We paired it with the lingonberry jam, boiled potatoes and green beans. It was a wonderful meal - the meatballs were a bit squishy, but held together pretty well and got a decent char on in our hot cast iron pan. The coconut-y gravy is rich and creamy - perfectly paired with the sweet and tangy lingonberry jam. We'll definitely make this meal again, when Melbourne's winter has me dreaming of a Swedish springtime.


Swedish meatballs
(slightly adapted from Rabbits and Wolves)

300g packet of tempeh
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used a single weetbix, crushed up)
1/2 cup polenta (in place of panko crumbs)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying (we used peanut oil)

gravy
1/4 cup Nuttelex
1/4 cup flour
2 cups of veggie stock
1 tablespoon tamari
400ml can coconut milk
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ground flax seeds and water together to make a vegan egg. Combine it with all the meatball ingredients in a food processor and process them into a smooth paste. Add more water if the mix is too dry.

Shape the tempeh mixture into small balls (no bigger than a golf ball). 

Heat some oil in a cast iron pan until it's very hot and fry the meatballs on each side until they're nice and browned. We had to do ours in two batches, but it will depend on the size of your frying pan. Remove the meatballs from the frying pan and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean and start on the gravy. Turn the heat down to low and melt the Nuttelex. Whisk in the flour until it forms a roux. 

Whisk in the stock, tamari, coconut milk, mustard and vinegar - add things in slowly so you can whisk it all together well. Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a simmer. Hold it over a low simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the gravy thickens right up.

Season the sauce to taste and add the meatballs. Serve with potatoes, beans and a generous spoonful of lingonberry jam. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Smith & Daughters VIII

September 23, 2017

It's been 18 months since we last blogged about perennial favourite Smith & Daughters. The menu has been completely re-worked, which seems like a good enough reason to quickly write up a recent brunch experience. We were pleased to see freshly squeezed juices back on the menu - I ordered the juice of the day, which was a carrot, ginger and apple concoction ($10), while Cindy went for straight-up OJ ($7.50).


There's no more breakfast burrito or maple bacon pancakes, but plenty of exciting new things to try. I almost ordered the scramble, but we've made it at home so much that I decided to branch out and try the sausage and beans ($19), featuring spicy house-made sausage, white beans, peppers, smoked paprika and saffron.


I loved this - the braised beans were rich and smoky, and the chunks of sausage superb. As always, I'd have loved a second piece of toast for scooping up the goods, but that's a minor quibble.

Cindy surprisingly went past the mulled wine soaked French toast ($18) and the Almond turrón bun ($15) to order something savoury - the Spanish pressed sandwich stuffed with chorizo, peppers, mozzarella and quince paste and accompanied by a handful of crisps ($17). 


Cindy was impressed by this, with the sweetness of the quince paste really shining alongside the spicier ingredients. She also raved about the crisps, which she reckons S & D might make themselves.

Smith & Daughters continue to deliver superb vegan food, lovely service and a great vibe. After nearly three years, I wonder if Melbourne is starting to take S & D for granted a bit. The restaurant was surprisingly quiet on the Saturday morning we visited. The vegan brunch options around Melbourne have obviously improved a lot in three years, and loads of people were at the Deli, but they're changing things up enough that it's still definitely worth swinging by the original.

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You also can read about onetwothreefourfivesix, seven of our previous visits to Smith & Daughters. Since our last visit A Chronicle of Gastronomy, The Rose & Bean, Donut Sam, delightfully tasty and Future King and Queen have all enjoyed S & D, while Howie's Melbourne Food was a bit underwhelmed.
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Smith & Daughters
175 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
9939 3293
brunch menu, drinks
facebook page


Accessibility: The entry is flat and narrow and the tables are pretty crowded. The interior is dimly lit and loud at night. Toilets are located up several steps, are gendered and of standard dimension. We ordered at the table and paid at a high counter.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mantra Lounge II

September 21, 2017


I have an unfortunate habit of eating lunch at my desk; I have a more mobile friend on campus to thank for getting me back to Mantra Lounge after almost three years! It's a little different (with the neon decorations mellowing and the menu becoming 100% vegan) but mostly, reassuringly the same, offering homely veg*n food from bain maries at student-friendly prices.


Their popular lasagna is permanently on the menu, and there's a rotation of curries that you can order in various meal deals. My eyes were drawn to the pie warmer for a sausage roll ($5), and I filled out my plate with tahini-kale salad ($6). It proved to be much more than a scoop of green respectability on my plate - tender and well-dressed, with big broccoli florets, a few sun-dried tomatoes and olives. I could have settled with a glass of water, but the Mexican hibiscus tea ($3) was much more entertaining.

The upstairs seating was very relaxed, and I'm coaching myself to get out of the office and visit more often. Here's hoping I make it back for the Korean BBQ burger, and any one of the other salads!
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You can read about an early visit to Mantra Lounge here. Since then it's been positively reviewed on Veganopoulous and Wandering Mint, and there are mixed messages on Curious Charlie.

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Mantra Lounge
167 Grattan St, Carlton
0433 531 345
food, drinks & desserts
http://www.mantralounge.com.au/

Accessibility: Mantra Lounge has clearly given accessibility some thought - there's a ramp up from the footpath and plenty of space around the counter, where ordering, payment and food pick-up occurs. There's a unisex toilet with wheelchair accessibility signage on this level. There are a few moderately spaced tables downstairs; the stairs themselves are wide and sturdy with a hand rail.