Sunday, 23 February 2014

Admirable brunch at Admiral Cheng-Ho, Abbotsford

I’ve longed to go to Monk Bodhi Dharma for ages, but somehow found the thought of getting to Balaclava too exhausting (despite it being my old bagel-sourcing stomping ground). So you can imagine my lazy delight when its North side sister cafe, Admiral Cheng-Ho, opened up. Moreover, it promised a ridiculous array of foods I can, and would want to, eat.

My dear brunching companion R expressed enthusiasm at going to the Admiral’s on what turned out to be a lovely late summer Sunday.

Cycling in from Brunswick, I wondered whether I was in the wrong end of Johnson Street, frantically checking the street numbers, since there did not appear to be any likely site for a cafe. Admiral Cheng-Ho is on a quiet intersection, in a part of Abbotsford where it is probably the most interesting thing around.

The cafe itself was not at all quiet. At 12.30pm, it was packed and though we didn’t have to wait for seats, we did have to perch at the bar. This did allow me to watch the coffee making with interest, and note the intriguing selection of blends on offer.

I have one (at least one) annoying trait when it comes to eating out. One is a tendency to be indecisive. This is obviated by some cafes where there is only one vegan GF option - usually toast. Yawn. Not so in the inner North, of course. Thankfully, the intarwebs can usually proffer a menu before I go somewhere, so I can suss out a) if it’s worth my while and b) try to narrow down what I might eat.

At Admiral Cheng-Ho, virtually everything was a possibility. If I could have stomached it, I’d have done as my dining companion did and ordered the quinoa pancakes. These looked amazing - three fat pancakes, a spoon of butterscotch sauce, soil, and some fabulous looking “cream”. R graciously let me have a taste, and the pancakes were superb, though I detected a slight bitterness to the butterscotch. This might have just been me, though, as everyone else (virtually every other customer) was happily hoovering up the lot.

On a colder day, I’d have gone for the umami mushrooms. Something to look forward to in winter. I also scratched the avocado option off the list, since it’s something doable at home.

What was not favourable for a DIY approach was the granola - which I can never quite get right when I make it myself. 

This was more impressive when it came out than I imagined, since all the elements were house made. One of my peeves is cafes offering a particular brand of muesli or granola, dolloping on some yogurt and then charging $15 for something I could do myself, thanks, for a lot less money. (The acme of this mind-bending laziness is cafes offering Kellogg’s cereals for more than a whole box of the rotten stuff would cost. Seriously - are people really so chumpy?)

I don’t typically have granola, as it is too sweet and oily, and I’d prefer not to precipitate GORD and diabetes in the one meal. The Cheng’s granola was buckwheat based, with a subtle banana flavour. There was no tooth-gritting sweetness, nor greasy coating on my mouth, and it kept a pleasing crunch even as I took a terrifically long time to make my way through the bowl. On top was grey goo, that was also apparently banana based and completely delicious, irrespective of the appearance. Plus banana, strawberry, flowers (!) and a jug of hazelnut milk which was so clean and pure in its taste it was obviously house-made.

In hindsight, hilariously unphotogenic (brown rubble and grey goo!) but utterly delicious. And just as well I overcame my antipathy towards bananas a couple of years ago.

What I really liked was having a delicious meal that didn’t leave me feeling like I was going to die from excess, but which could keep me cycling round town for the rest of the day.

My long black was also excellent, but I’d have been surprised if it wasn’t.

Anyway - I really enjoyed it and there is more than enough to tempt me back again. The lunch offerings (soups, amazing looking sandwiches) and enormous (apparently vegan) muffins etc also looked impressive.

Given all the excitement on the internet and in other media, Admiral Cheng-Ho doesn’t really need my thumbs up, but it gets it anyway.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher, Newtown

I had what could have been a very stressful micro-holiday in Sydney shortly before my end-of-year exams in November, consisting of about 19 hours in the city, a large portion of which was spent sleeping and commuting, in order to go to my cousin’s wedding. The wedding itself was fabulous - my first time at a Sikh ceremony, so it was a delight of beautiful silks and excellent vegetarian food.

I didn’t have a lot of time left before my flight back to Melbourne, so I decided that going to art galleries etc was out of the question and my best bet was to visit areas en route to the airport.

This involved walking around Surry Hills in the glorious sunshine (Melbourne having been dour and un-springy), conveniently passing Gelato Messina (before its Smith Street opening, thereby getting a slight headstart on the hype - yes, it is good) and the Bourke St Bakery.

With even less time left, I made sure that the airport navigation traversed Newtown, so I could have quick look at Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher. I was almost overcome with indecision as to what to get, though once I’d eliminated anything non-GF, that made it easier.

My borderline-pathological obsession with burning my mouth off meant that the chilli sausages were probably a shoo-in.

I realise that one can make sausages at home, and I’ve a few recipes bookmarked, but owing to my ineptitude I doubt that I can do something as good as these. I was impressed by the spookily accurate texture, taste and apparently authentic casings.

I stupidly forgot to eat these plainly - i.e. with bread/a roll, and sauce. They were, however, excellent chopped up and mixed through spaghetti and kale. For me, the chilli was relatively subtle, but I am apparently a freak who regards Sriracha as "mild".

Hopefully someone in Melbourne might be able to continue what The Radical Grocery started, and bring more of Suzy Spoon’s small goods south of the border.