Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cumulus Inc - disappointing :(

Just a quick post....

Had a friend down from Brisbane over the weekend and at the last minute we decided to go out for dinner on the Saturday night.  We were limited to places that didn't accept bookings, and so the toss up was between Cumulus Inc and Mamasita.  I've been to Mamasita 3 times and have loved it, but was always keen to try Cumulus Inc after hearing so many great things.

We rocked up to Cumulus Inc at 6:15 and was told there would be an hour wait.  No problem with that, we went to a nearby bar and had a cocktail, then came back at 7:15.  We were seated at the bar which kind of sucked.  Its a fabulous space, but we had our back to the action the whole night.  I also don't enjoy perching on stools, but as a twosome we couldn't really expect anything diffferent.

From there on in the night became somewhat disappointing.  The service was really inattentive.  Once our meals came out we didn't hear from anyone until we asked for the bill.  We ordered a bottle of white wine and were dismayed when it was plonked down in front of us, with no ice bucket to keep it cool.  As a result, by the end of our meal we were drinking warm white wine... *Errrrggh*.

The thing that saddened me the most however was the limitations faced by being a vegetarian.  I notified our waiter/bar tender that I was a vegetarian and whether there was anything that could be done other than the side dishes of vegetables and salads.  I was told "no" before they moved away.  As a result, I had to assemble my meal out of the sides.  We chose the cauliflower, the potatoes, and the freekah salad.  The freekah salad was delicious, but the other 2 dishes were just average.  Nice enough, but nothing special... Its just a shame when you come to a place because you've heard rave reviews about the quality of the food, and you can't enjoy the same experience as everyone else.

I've told a few friends since that if they ate meat/seafood, they would probably really enjoy Cumulus Inc, as long as they got better service (my dining companion ordered the tuna on crushed peas and she said it was lovely).  But as a vegetarian, I just can't waste my time or money on places that don't make any effort to accommodate me.  I don't expect a huge variety of choice, but I would hope for at least one option for a main or a starter.

The experience has made me more determined to try Cutler & Co, Andrew McConnell's other restaurant, as I know from other peoples reviews that they cater well for vegetarians, even going so far as to offer a degustation menu. 

Being a vegetarian is my choice.  So this isn't a "woe is me" style post.  I know that its because of the restrictions I place on myself that means I can't get the same dining experience as everyone else, but its still a pity, especially when so many restaurants are starting to make a real effort to offer fabulous food free of meat, that doesn't equate to a bowl of vegetables or salad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Enlightened Cuisine

Enlightened Cuisine
113 Queensbridge St
Southbank VIC 3006

As my brother and his girlfriend are also vegetarian, I decided to take them to Enlightened Cuisine on the Saturday night they were here.  The fact that its BYO was also a big drawcard for us (nothing like siblings catching up over a boozy meal!).  We had to take 2 trams in order to get there, and on a cold windy and wet night it felt like a bit of a mission, but one that totally paid off.

For those who haven't been before, Enlightened Cuisine is a Chinese Vegetarian Restaurant in Southbank.  The menu offers mock meat and seafood, tofu and vegetable dishes.  They use seitan as the base for most of the mock meat dishes, and it is done in such a clever way that the first time I ate there, I actually believed I had made a mistake and was dining at a restaurant intended for omnivores.

We had a booking for 7pm, and when we arrived the restaurant was only half full.  It filled up quickly once we were seated, and while service wasn't exactly attentive, it was efficient and the meals didn't take too long to arrive.  Trying to decide what to order between the 3 of us was the biggest challenge.  We gleefully debated whether to get goose or duck for entrees, and whether we would waste our time and money on vegetable dishes, or whether we would just focus on the mock meat.  We thought about trying one of the banquets listed (a great way to sample a lot of dishes), but after spying some old favourites from our meat eating days that weren't included in the banquets, we decided to just order what we wanted.

For entrees we had the wantons (soy based) and the fried goose.  I wasn't a fan of the wantons (I never have been), but the fried goose was a delight, if a little weird to wrap our heads around.  Described on the menu as deep fried and marinated bean curd skin, these were flaky, crispy little sheets that had a really interesting texture.  The plum dipping sauce accompanying both dishes was also very tasty.  I wasn't in 'food blogger' mode at this stage of the evening though, so forgot to take photos.

For mains we ordered Sweet and Sour Pork, Lemon Chicken, Honey Prawns and Pepper Steak with Mushrooms. 

Sweet and Sour Pork
"Pork" with pineapple, cucumber, green pepper and tomatoes in a sweet and sour sauce.

Lemon Chicken
"Chicken" in a tasty and tangy lemon sauce.

Honey Prawns
"Prawns" prepared in a flavourful honey enhanced sauce.

Pepper Steak with Mushrooms
"Steak" with mushrooms and black peppers stir fried to perfection on a sizzling hot plate

I was a little dubious about the honey prawns, as I've never tried mock seafood products before (and wasn't a big fan of seafood even when I did eat animals), and the thought of the Pepper Steak scared me as I've found faux beef quite a rubbery and gross texture to eat.  Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious though, and the Pepper Steak turned out to be everyones highlight!  The bite of the pepper sauce was really potent, and the thin strips of 'steak' were delicious.  The dish came with quite a lot of vegetables as well, which made us feel like we were having somewhat of a balanced meal. 

The honey prawns were delicious, but as I mentioned, I never really ate seafood back in the day, so couldn't recall whether they were similar to the real deal.  My brothers girlfriend still eats seafood however and confirmed that they were uncannily similar - from the texture through to the colour (once the batter was pulled away, there was an orangey coloured stripe along the side of the prawn).  This dish definitely rid me of any fear of mock seafood, and I'm really keen to venture into the territory of fish sometime soon!

The Sweet and Sour Pork used to be an absolute favourite of mine, and I marvelled at the texture and flavours of this dish.  I honestly don't know whether meat eaters would have known it wasn't pork they were eating.  While this may disturb some vegetarians (those of the "why eat something that resembles and pretends to be meat?" variety), I could happily tuck into it knowing that no flesh was passing my lips.

The dish that didn't live up to my recollections (I've ordered it the last 3 times I've been to Enlightened Cuisine) was the lemon chicken.  While the tangy and sticky lemon sauce was just right, the 'chicken' was weird.  The pieces were limp and it tasted more like thick batter dipped in sauce as opposed to a mock meat.  Even though it was weird, it was still very nice, so no real complaint there!

We had a small bowl of rice each, along with the items listed above, and we were well and truly full by the end of the meal.  We were able to take about a third of the lemon chicken and honey prawns away with us in a container, to be enjoyed again the next day.  At the entrance to the restaurant there is a freezer stocked with mock meat products that you can take home with you.  I spent $9 on a packet of prawns (which I've yet to figure out what to do with), and $9 on some Buffalo wings.  There are also some instant noodle type soups available, along with bottles of various condiments, like vegetarian Oyster Sauce. 

We spent 2 hours enjoying great company, lots of wine, and amazing food, and it definitely strengthened my opinion that Enlightened Cuisine really should be frequented more often!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Berlin Bar & Glicks Bagels

My little brother and his girlfriend were down from Brisbane over the weekend, and we had a great time.  We checked out the Tim Burton exhibition (definitely worth a look!), drank a lot of alcohol, and ate lots of yummy food (a review of Enlightened Cuisine is coming soon).
The Berlin Bar - East Berlin section.  LOVE!

On Friday afternoon, after a busy day spent record shopping in the city, we went to the Berlin Bar for a cocktail.  I haven't heard much about this place, only that its a bar tucked away in a lane way, where there are 2 sections - West Berlin and East Berlin.  We managed to get there right when it was opening, so we had our pick of seats.  We decided to sit in the East Berlin section, and immediately fell in love with the place.  Our little area consisted of a bunk bed, a bath tub with a glass table top over it, some red vinyl chairs and a exposed light bulb hanging down from the ceiling.  The entrance way had barbed wire snaked along the door frame, there were silent movies playing on a projector on the wall, and propoganda everywhere.   There is a cocktail menu (cocktails all priced at $20), along with a drinks menu, printed in a passport.  The drinks aren't cheap by any means, but they are such creative cocktails, and we all loved our picks.  An exciting highlight was having a bowl of gummi bears as dish to snack on.  I definitely plan to return to this bar in the future and really make a night of it.
The West Berlin section

On Sunday morning we attempted to have breakfast at Las Chias on Carlisle St in Balaclava (their Pumpkin and Polenta Bread w/ Baked beans and Spinach is AMAZING), however the mass of people out the front waiting for  a table meant that we decided to look elsewhere for food.  We ended up going to Glicks Bakery for a simple breakfast of Bagels.  I discovered Glicks about a year ago when I read an article by Matt Preston in Epicure, questionning where the best bagels could be found in Melbourne.  Matt recommended Glicks, and until then I had never heard of it.  Situated only a short walk from Balaclava Train Station (where I used to catch a train from), I realised it would be an easy enough place to check out.  On my first visit, I purchased some delicious Cabbage rolls, along with a few "everything" bagels.  These bagels are incredible - the bagel is sprinkled with, well, everything (or just about!) - onion, garlic, linseed, poppy and sesame seeds just to name a few.  Since trying these, I've never looked back, and order them every time.  On Sunday morning we sat in the cafe section of the bakery.  Teagan had the Smoked Salmon, cream cheese and capers ($8), I had the "new yorker" (cream cheese - $4), and my bro had mashed avocado ($4).  It was such a simple breakfast but we all loved it and it was a great and inexpensive way to start the day.   If you just buy the bagels from the bakery to take away, with no fillings, they are only $1 each which is great value I think.

Aside from the Bagels (with flavours including Blueberry, Choc Chip, Garlic, Onion, Soy & Linseed), Glicks Bakery offers a large range of vegetarian pastas & pizzas, which I've yet to try.  They also have a deli section with various types of Latkes, cabbage rolls, and assorted filo parcels.  Well worth a visit if you're in the area and you don't feel like waiting for 30 mins to get into the 'trendy' cafes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kouzina, Southbank

Shop MR3, Midlevel, Southgate Arts and Leisure Precinct
3 Southgate Avenue, Southbank, Victoria 3006

Last Friday night my friend Lu and I decided to be cultured and see Bell Shakespeares' production of King Lear at the Playhouse.  The plan of attack was to meet at 5:45pm, grab a lovely dinner at Kouzina (we'd both been craving greek food, and I had a 25% off voucher to use - the Entertainment Book is a god send!), then catch the play at 7:30pm.  Unfortunately the night didn't go according to plan...

At 5:50pm Lu told me she was stuck in traffic, and to go and grab our table, which I did.  Upon my arrival at the restaurant I was delighted to find they had a "Sex And The City 2" promotion running for the month of June, where you had a choice of 4 different variations of the cosmpolitan (the Carrie was a classic, then there was a lychee version, a french martini version, and a vanilla vodka version) for $5 each.  Hello bargain!  Sitting on my own in a restaurant is never my favourite thing to do, so I eagerly ordered one to help settle myself a little.  Sadly from there on the dinner became a bit of a disaster.  Lu showed up an hour and 10 mins later, by which time I had consumed 3 of these drinks, had ordered, and had watched the table full of food get cold in front of me.  At 7:10pm Lu finally arrived, and we rushed through our meal in 10 mins in order to catch the beginning of the play.  It was a shame, as the dishes we had were really yummy.

Grilled kefalograviera cheese with green olive kebab, flambĂ©ed with ‘Metaxa’

First up was the Flaming Saganaki (not so flaming by the time Lu arrived) - I've never seen a piece of cheese on fire before, and it was pretty cool to watch ;)  By the time we got to the saganaki it was fairly cold but still delicious.  I scoffed the 3 green olives while waiting for my friend and they were really nice and juicy.

For dips, we ordered (well I took charge of the ordering while Lu was on her way...) the Melitzanosalata which was a fairly standard Eggplant dip.  The warmed pieces of Pita were a great accompaniment and very moreish, although they were slightly oily.  The serving was on the small size, but as our meal was rushed anyway, this wasn't really noticed.

We ordered 3 more dishes -

(from L - R)

Tiropita 9.50
‘Cretan’ style filo pastry rolls filled with fresh mizithra cheese, topped with thyme honey, toasted sesame and poppy seeds

Gigandes 8.50
Lima beans baked with roma tomatoes, shallots and fresh dill

Harissa & feta green beans 8.50

I ordered the Tiropita as I knew Lu wasn't the biggest fan of the Spankapoitas we had at Hellenic Republic a few months ago.  This was a mix between a sweet and a savoury dish, which was lovely.  The slightly salty cheese contrasted nicely with the honey and seeds, and it was a good pick.  Highlights of the meal were definitely the Gigandes and the green beans though.  I didn't know what Harissa was when I ordered the beans, and was slightly surprised to find the beans had a massive chilli kick.  My friend Mr. Google informed me later that Harissa is a hot chilli paste commonly used in North African cuisine, and it was an incredible addition to the green beans, which I usually find quite dull.  The creaminess of the feta contrasted nicely and it is definitely a dish that I will be seeking out in the future.  The Gigandes were also incredibly moreish.  I love beans of any kind, and the mixture of tomatoes and dill really complimented them.  The dill was quite overpowering, but its a flavour I can never get enough of, so I had no complaints.

Kouzina is definitely a place I plan to return to.  Although I felt quite pitiful sitting at the table on my own for all that time, the staff were so friendly and sympathetic, and continually asked if there was anything they could get me to make the wait a little more bearable.  The 5 small dishes were enough for us as a main meal, but due to the rushed nature of our eating, I could imagine that 1 or 2 more wouldn't go astray if we could have taken our time.  Kouzina's location at Southgate is fantastic, and even though I was seated inside in the warmth, I can imagine that the balcony would be perfect for dinner on a balmy summer evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tofu Noodle Soup, how I love thee

Reading the Stone Soup blog, I came across a recipe for a Simple Soba Noodle Soup which immediately appealed to me, as it was a cold gloomy day, and this type of meal is my favourite come this winter weather.  There is a Japanese cafe near my work called Ohayo Sushi Bar, and they make the most incredible Vegie Spicy Noodle Soup.  For $8.50 you get a steaming bowl of noodles, tofu, broccoli, bok choy, zuchinni, mushroom, and cauliflower, swimming in a super spicy broth.  It's the one lunch I allow myself to buy a week, and its awesome.  I've never actually made this type of thing myself though, and when I saw Jules' recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.

The Ohayo Sushi Bar noodles definitely inspired me when making this.  While I followed Jules' recipe to a tee, I did add some additional ingredients to bulk the soup up a bit and to make it more of a balanced meal (after recently seeing a dietician, I now know how important it is to add protein to a meal).  The end result, cooked and consumed after a brutal Pump class at the gym last night, was total comfort food.  It was such a hit that I'm making it again tonight, but will make a few small changes - I will add another 1/2 cup of water so its a little more 'soupy', and use only 1 tbsp of Soy Sauce - I added 2 last night, and the outcome was a bit too salty for my liking. 

What I love most about this recipe, apart from the easy preparation and nutritional value, is that you can adapt it to whatever vegetables you have in your fridge, and add whatever condiements you like (I also added a dash of garlic and chilli sauce to the mixture last night).

simple soba noodle soup

serves 1

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (I used Vegeta, but Jules' recipe extols the virtues of home made stock)
handful soba noodles (approx 50g or 2oz)
3 heads baby bok choy, leaves separated
1 sml head of Broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
120gms firm Tofu
large pinch chilli flakes
1T – 2T soy sauce

Bring stock to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add brocoli and tofu, and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add noodles and cook for another minute. Add bok choy, chilli, and soy sauce and simmer for another minute or until noodles are only just cooked.

Remove from the heat. Taste and add extra soy if needed. Serve hot.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trippy Taco & Vegetarian Sausage Rolls

On Saturday my friend M and I went to Trippy Taco for dinner, followed by Robin Hood at the Drive In at Coburg. While the movie left me a little underwhelmed (I just wasn't engaged with the story line), the dinner was delicious. When it comes to Mexican, I adore the use of black beans, and rarely stray from it when its offered. After hearing so many good things about the Tofu Assada Burrito however, I decided to give the beans a miss and opt for the tofu. The burrito was really nice, but I think I will be going back to the bean burrito next time. My only real complaint was that the chunks of tofu made it quite difficult to eat, and I created a bit of a mess of my plate.

I've never taken photos of my meal when out before, but when I remembered I'm now a 'food blogger' (hehe) I decided to whip out my iPhone and take a somewhat grotty looking photo of the remains of my food. In the background are the Trippy Fries. Oh. My. God. These are some of the best fries I've ever had... so moreish that I had to take a serve away with me for a movie snack. Seriously, do yourself a favour and try them as an accompaniment to your meal sometime.

On Sunday I spent the day pottering in my kitchen preparing meals for the week. I made a Carrot Soup, some Dahl, and the vegetarian sausage rolls from Where's The Beef . When I first came across this recipe, I was a little baffled at the list of ingredients, and how these were supposed to transform into a somewhat realistic take on the sausage roll, something I used to love back in my meat eating days. When I made my first batch a few months ago, I was in awe of the outcome. The look and texture of the rolls are so similar to what I remember, and I even fed some to my boyfriend at the time who thought they were the real deal. My only problem with making these is that they are so delicious that I keep eating and eating. I side stepped that issue though by portioning them out into little bags and freezing them for future lunches. Served with a simple salad of mixed lettuce leaves, cucumber, capsicum and white balsamic vinegar (my new favourite salad dressing), this was a delicious weekend lunch!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Showing my mum a good time

My mum was down in Melbourne this week for work. I love my family and welcome any opportunity to see them and hang with them. We had a busy few nights of eating and walking around the city...

La Citta

The Entertainment Book lead us to this cosy little restaurant on Degraves St. Unfortunately they were totally lacking in vegetarian options - the only meal was a Chestnut & Mushroom risotto. Whilst nice it was completely boring - risotto is always the vegetarian staple at a lot of restaurants, and quite frankly, we get sick of it! Claire at Melbourne Gastronome wrote a post about this very thing which seems to be noticeable to everyone except the Chefs of Melbourne! Please hear our hungry cries of despair!

Lord Of The Fries

Tuesday night saw us having a quiet one in, assisted with the deliciousness of French Poutine Fries from this vegetarian haven for fast food. Chunky fries smothered in cheese and gravy - does comfort food get any better than this?


Wednesday night was "date night", so we trekked over to Carlton for dinner at Shakahari followed by a movie at Cinema Nova. I've lived in Melbourne since early 2007 and I'm ashamed to admit I had never been to Shakahari until a week ago. On my first visit I went for the Puy Lentil Lasagna, which contained leeks, sweet corn and pumpkin. My dinning companion, the lovely K, had the Satay Legend - skewers of tofu, seitan, capsicum and onion, served with an addictive satay sauce and rice. Meal envy took hold of me, and I knew exactly what to order when my Mum and I went. Washed down with an organic vegan wine from New Zealand, it was a really lovely dinner. Unfortunately the movie was a dud, but 1 out of 2 ain't bad right?

The Outpost

Mum flew out this morning, and my spirits were low. A lunch out with some fabulous ladies from the Office was exactly what I needed. We work just around the corner from the Outpost, which I've been hearing so much about, so we walked the 2 mins and marvelled at the unique and warm lay out of the place. It seems that the menu changes slightly each day, and today I was debating between a Truffled Cauliflower & Gruyere Soup w/ Garlic Bread and a Penne with zucchini, rocket, Parmesan and chili. The pasta won out (they kindly made it without the pancetta as described on the menu), and it was delicious. While it was a generous portion, it wasn't as heavy as most pasta dishes, as the ribbons of zucchini was the major component. So yum, but I'll be trying the soup next time for sure!

Its been a busy few days hanging with my mum, and even though I already miss her, I am going to enjoy having a quiet night at home on the couch..