Sunday, 30 April 2017

Misoya Sake Bar, Brunswick

A year ago (!) I belatedly ate at the new-ish ramen place conveniently located close to home in Brunswick. I now belatedly present my findings.

Having had spectacular vegan ramen in Tokyo, I was aware that it was pretty unlikely I would find something up to scratch in Melbourne. Everyone says so, vegan or omni, but there was some excitement about Misoya opening up and not just because Brunswick was lacking a ramen place. They offered a specifically vegan ramen. Huzzah!

Craving something richly umami I was very happy when omni friends suggested we go there after seeing a show at the Comedy Festival. 

Alas, even though I suspected it wouldn’t measure up to  T’s in Tokyo, I was disappointed further still.

This is what the vegans get: some broth; a slice of woolly tomato; a dozen kernels of corn; two green beans; a handful of rice noodles; some sesame seeds. 

For ~$17 or $18.

Setting aside the huge and ridiculous profit margin; setting aside the very poor treatment of veg*ns by a place that has decided we can have but a whisper of what the omnis get; this broth tasted of miso and nothing more complex, the noodles were unremarkable, the vegetables were scant and bland, and overall this was a recipe for kwashiorkor. 

This could have been a lot better with the addition of some better vegetables, mushrooms, and (PLEASE) some protein. And you’d still make a healthy profit on the ingredients.

I am sick of paying the same or more for vegan options when vegan ingredients are often cheap or the expensive ingredients (egg, meat etc) have been removed. 

Restaurants and cafes of the world, you need to up your game. 

I haven't been back to Misoya, and I won't unless there is good intelligence that things have improved.  

(Note, omnivores seem pretty happy but I guess that's because they're not paying for malnutrition.)

Friday, 28 April 2017

Veg*ns rejoice - hemp will be legalised as food

A sensible decision for a change - Australia will permit low-THC hemp as a food, bringing the country in line with pretty much everywhere else.

The changes don't take effect for six months after gazettal, so until then it's still body scrubs only.

I'm surprised that the FSANZ hasn't tweeted this yet, but maybe they're looking for a suitable gif/meme to inspire them.

If you aren't aware why hemp seeds should be eaten, see the USDA Nutrient Database values and note the >30% (complete) protein content and excellent fatty acid profile.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Lûmé (April 2016)

Another year, another birthday degustation. After seeing Shaun Quade at Sweetfest and noting that he had worked at Royal Mail Hotel, I subtly suggested that Lûmé would be a good place for my mother’s birthday degustation. (I had also suggested Amaru, but she vetoed it on the basis of pictures of the “gloomy interior” - no, I don’t understand either; also Igni, but we weren’t in the mood for a drive to Geelong, which is a bit ridiculous and I know from eating at Loam that we would surely have had a worthwhile trip).

My interest was piqued by the promise of some more experimental food, but likely not too terrifying for my more conservative mother. 

Lûmé is in a 19th century building on a quiet street in South Melbourne, and this being South Melbourne though the restaurant itself is very elegant and polished, it’s also located close to some seedy brothels. As I said, South Melbourne.

Service was provided by ridiculously good-looking young staff, who did at least have enough understanding of what they were presenting to answer the odd question. 

It was also interesting to see that the front area of the restaurant is a “casual” dining area - though not that casual - where local, well-heeled baby boomers were enjoying dinner together as though this was their local Saturday night venue. Perhaps it was, fuelled by the riches of negatively geared investment properties. Such a life.

To the food! With a disclaimer that this is from many months ago. My mother had the usual omnivore menu, I requested my usual awkward vegan and gluten free combination, which they managed with remarkable aplomb. I will also preface this by saying that if you want a degustation with stand-out desserts (and there were many) this is a good option. I’m notoriously not a dessert person, but I was on this night (they were that good). 

Place setting - limed-effect tables and rose gold/copper-toned cutlery, since it was 2016. 

We had a good view of the bar and part of the kitchen which I always enjoy, since there is a definite pleasure in watching professional people at work. 

First up, some small dishes.

Omni: Eel honey butter and crumpet (a crumpet like no other - apparently all sublime). This helped to appease my mother's inner Bread Monster (she is upset by restaurants that don't provide bread; the quantity she ate at the Fat Duck is legendary).

Vegan: shaved asparagus and coconut chips (light and crunchy, almost freeze-dried in texture). Obviously not as amazing as a crumpet with butter and honey, but fine in itself. 

Omni: Emu macadamia tart (I think); taco corn crab (not pictured as similar to vegan version, see below).

Vegan: Jerusalem artichokes in quince broth (which was pleasingly sharp). 

 Vegan: taco, smoked baby corn (divine finger food). 
Omni: last of summer's fruits.
Vegan: last of summer's fruits - can't remember what the missing thing was (present in the omni version) but possibly some sort of mousse or cream. Anyway, it was pretty good without that.

On to the main dishes!
Omni: Sea urchin, abalone, native flavours (I don't seem to have a picture of this).
Vegan: shiitake, fingerlime, native flavours, fresh pistachios. A lot of my favourite things in one dish.

 Omni: getting into Fat Duck territory now. Pearl oyster, miso caramel, succulents, Meyer lemon rice sand.
Vegan: sea flavours, daikon, succulents, rice sand (felt a bit like I was eating a hipster’s terrarium, but delicious. The sand was fascinating). Always glad, too, to have something that is comparable to the omni dish at that course. It means we can both exclaim about the same elements. 
Omni: calamari noodles (i.e. noodles made from calamari, I believe).
 Vegan: celeriac noodles, young coconut (a reprise from earlier though I didn’t mind).
 Omni: sunflower seed porridge, mackerel (crispy skin).
Vegan: sunflower seed porridge with chestnuts and garlic (superb - I can never get enough chestnuts, which just aren't used enough, and I think sunflower seeds are very underrated).
Omni: happy duck fed on strawberries (my mother has qualms about eating duck because she likes them when they’re alive, but apparently this was regrettably delicious).
Vegan: carrots smoked (amazing, amazing texture and intensity).
 Omni: cheese, croissant, pear (the cheese is made from cauliflower - amazingly - and the croissant was, I am told, stupendous. A very, very clever and successful dish).
Vegan: cheese and pear (so no sub for the croissant exactly, but a “fossilised” pear, similar technique to the “fallen fruit” I had at Royal Mail years ago, and so something I would happily eat every day forever and ever; the camembert was totally outstanding).
Omni: goat’s curd and berries (ice creamy goat’s curd - I was pretty wistful not to have tried this, and it took all my willpower, as I love goat's curd, or did anyway, as well as frozen desserts).
Vegan: fig granita and berries (a lovely and fresh palate cleanser; the granita was a great success).
 Omni: I have no idea what this was. There looks to be a carrot. 

Vegan: pear, sorbet (can’t really remember much more except that the sorbet was very, very good; I was on the verge of dessert fatigue by then, but I valiantly ploughed on).

Omni: Piece de resistance - the cacao pod. This is made entirely from chocolate, presented whole on the mat with the ice cream alongside. As it’s being presented, the waiter smashes it open to reveal even more goodies. 

Vegan:  cacao pod. Yes, they managed a vegan one with poached fruits and the best non-dairy ice cream I’ve had in my life. 

We couldn’t eat all of the chocolate pod, so we took the rest home (kindly parcelled up for us). We were also given copies of the menu in stylish black envelopes sealed with bronze sealing wax and Lûmé's own seal. Smart. 

I also got to talk to the pastry chef, a lovely young French woman and told her how thrilled I was that she had accomplished several outstanding vegan desserts and that it was probably the best experience I’d had as a vegan. She was very self-effacing but glad for the feedback, especially as it was her first time trying a lot of these dishes and she was rather nervous about how they would be received.

It’s a lesson to other restaurants, who typically might just manage the savoury courses for vegans (just), but fail spectacularly when it comes to dessert. The internet and specialty vegan places prove you can do amazing desserts without eggs or dairy, so it’s time for haute cuisine to catch up. Some fruit and sorbet is not good enough. 

So in summary, top class food with an unusual intelligence, technical expertise and a laudable inclusive attitude. I would unhesitatingly recommend Lûmé for a special dinner. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Singapore 2015; Tokyo 2015

I'm not good at taking holidays. It's not something that really happened as I was growing up and I find it very hard to spend what seems like a lot of money on something so transient. On the other hand, I realise that normal people get pleasure from going to different places, and I also have enough things to sort-of justify spending on experiences.

Last year was the conclusion of my second go at university. Though I didn't really feel like celebrating, objectively it was a good excuse. My best friend lives in Singapore, and I'd been curious about going, and I'd long wanted to go to Japan ever since flying UK/AU on JAL and adoring the neatness, efficiency and aesthetics. So, Singapore and Tokyo it was.

I was warned that it might be difficult being vegan in Singapore. There are places listed on Happy Cow, and more diligent bloggers than I had found out good places to go. But I also wanted to experience Singaporean Singapore. Which meant Hawker food. Which meant potentially having to countenance a bit of egg.

Actually, I ended up doing reasonably well. My darling friend R negotiated this for my first breakfast:

I'd started eating before I took a picture. Rice, vegetables, fried peanuts; soft, fresh tofu on the side. 

Also eaten: multiple stir fries with vegetables and tofu, with preferred Hawker food being at Newton Food Centre; century eggs (not that bad!); sugarcane juice ("it's not that sweet" - yes, yes it is); lots of cheap coffee that was hardly Melbourne standard but no worse than that in most of the UK; durian (I wouldn't say addictive, but not at all repulsive. More amusing was having to go to the red light district to find it); vegan CKT; fried radish/carrot cake (which I had massive cravings for on my return and managed to find freshly-made stuff at Tokyo Hometown in the CBD); lots of fruit; vegan yum cha; vegan Hainanese chicken (which omnivore R said was actually pretty good); mad desserts with jelly and nuts and shaved ice and all sorts of textural variety; kaya toast; plus some beautiful home-cooked food. 

My biggest hugest regret was not trying Mr Bean non-dairy soya ice-cream (the normal soft serve has milk as well). I am a complete idiot for missing out on this.  (Note, I subsequently saw the Shibuya branch as well when in Tokyo, but I think I'd already had my ice-cream quotient for the day.)

So, Singapore is fine for veg*ns; it would be reasonably easy to be strictly vegan there. It helps to have someone who speaks Mandarin and Hokkien if you want to do Hawker food. Otherwise Happy Cow lists a plethora of options. 

(As for Singapore itself, I liked it a lot. I made R show me the Singapore of Singaporeans, i.e. all the residential areas and where she grew up. The botanic gardens are fantastic, and Gardens by the Bay was pretty too. It's just a bit hot...)


But of course.
I flew JAL from Singapore to Tokyo, and - I wish I'd photographed this - had a spectacular vegan airline meal. I can't remember much, other than it was everything one would dream of. 

I had a bit of a sketchy time, food-wise in Tokyo. I did well on my first evening, meeting up with friends from Melbourne and having dinner at Ain Soph in Shinjuku (where I was staying, though I was at the other end). I can't remember what I had, only that it was evening menu stuff and maybe not as exciting as all this talk on the internet of pancakes etc. My friend (vegetarian-turned-omni; TRAITOR) had the fried veggie meat, which wasn't bad.

Handily, I had a decent-sized supermarket about 100m from my hotel, where I could get tofu and vegetables to turn into dinner on all the other days when I had otherwise eaten in a fashion NOT appropriate for an adult. (Ice cream/ cakes for lunch!! Sure!!!)

I had aborted attempts to get to Pure Cafe in Aoyama and a few other places, partly because I didn't feel confident in ordering and partly because I wasn't sure I could manage the set menus that many places offered. This is the big down-side to solo travelling - your food options are limited by stomach capacity and the lack of a companion who will order something different/act as waste disposal unit. 

The weather was milder than expected, but there was one horrible wet day where I walked too far, had a ludicrous breakfast of tofu ice-cream, got soaked going through Harajuku, and by the time I got back to Shinjuku I was fed up and wanted something hot and carby. Behold, the MOS burger.  (I've since found out that the veganness of this is in question but I don't care.) 

The "bun" is griddled rice, and it's stuffed with delicious savoury vegetables. It was hot, filling and cheap. Perfect. 

I had two separate days of traipsing around Ginza, for shopping and people-watching. The first day I had a very hopeless attempt to find T's Tan Tan at Tokyo train station. Ended up having another excellent lunch of vending machine ice-cream (seriously, Japanese ice-cream is excellent and worth the guilt). On my second attempt, I ascertained that you have to actually enter the station - past the ticket barriers - to find ramen heaven:

I'd say this was actually worth it. Relievingly, everyone else around me was hoovering up their ramen rather indelicately, so for the first time in Japan I didn't feel totally gauche. 

On one of my last days I was a bit more organised and bought a bento from the supermarket near my hotel, which I think was merely vegetarian rather than vegan, but honestly just trying to find things without added fish is enough of a challenge. I can't remember how much this cost - not a lot - and I ate it in Ueno Park. It was excellent. 

 Other things:
Heirloom carrot from the supermarket.

ludicrously expensive apple in packaging

ludicrously apple partially unwrapped; disappointingly, the very expensive apples weren't noticeably better than the already-excellent ordinary ones from the supermarket. 
 Not pictured - multiple mochi that I ate.

not eaten, but seen at the airport with horror. It's a kit-kat you put in a toaster, a la PopTarts. Mm, diabeeeetus 
Bit of a vegan fail on my part in Tokyo, what with the cakes and ice-cream and all, but again it's actually possible especially with HappyCow help. I found the department store food halls amazing, and the supermarket near my hotel invaluable. I didn't rely so much on the 7-11s and Lawsons etc but they were handy for drinks and vegan jelly, amongst other things. 

After I got back from Tokyo I went through a period of a) detesting anything carbohydrate-y or sweet; b) loathing coffee. After a few months of working as a very-junior doctor, both of these  reversed. To the detriment of my skin, I think. 

Anyway, I long to go back to Japan, and do the vegan thing properly. Going to Kyoto is a must. It would also be nice to go again now that I have an income, because holidaying in the limbo period between university and work is a bloody nightmare - all the time to go places, no money to do it. Gahhhh. 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Transformer x 3

Spanning November and December, surprisingly I managed to go to Transformer no less than three times. My one experience of the Vegie Bar was a little underwhelming, probably because of bad ordering on my part (necessitated by eliminating all the more interesting dishes that wouldn’t be appropriate for takeaway), but I was hopeful that the spectacular experience of the management plus a more sophisticated menu would spell excellent food.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Visit one was for brunch with my mother. I can’t remember what she had, except it wasn’t vegan and so probably had eggs, but I had the savoury crumpets. I don’t think these were particularly crumpety - more like a hotcake - but they were superbly hearty. Topped with herbs, coconut yogurt, sweetcorn, heirloom tomatoes, avocado and some welcome crunch from red quinoa, these were so good that even the portion size didn’t defeat my enthusiasm.

Visit two (no photos) came on graduation day, accompanied by my mother, and aunt and uncle who had graciously come down from Sydney to share in the festivities. Slightly incongruously, we drank a bottle of Perrier Jouet 1996 vintage champagne, which had been saved up for 15 years, intended for various celebrations that turned out to be anticlimactic when they came. This time there was real cause for opening the bottle.

I had agonised slightly about where we would go for dinner, since I am the only vegan and was outnumbered by voracious omnivores. Fortunately the Transformer dinner menu is so good that we were all satisfied. Indeed, there were exclamations all round for some of the dishes.

From memory, we had:
  • organic popcorn (wicked)
  • padron peppers
  • roasted sweet potato, togarishi, coconut yogurt (we all agreed, this was exceptional)
  • heirloom carrots (goat’s curd on the side)
  • grilled king oyster mushrooms (consensus - even better than the sweet potato)
Visit three (again no photos) was a bigger family gathering with members from intra- and interstate, and international; diners were a mix of vegan (me), vegetarian, pescetarian and omnivore, with assorted food allergies. We went for the feed me option, and though I feel that as the GF vegan I had a slightly less sumptuous selection of dishes, everyone was very impressed with the food. Again, those sweet potatoes and the mushrooms were uniformly regarded as splendid.

So in summary. Transformer: a place you can take sophisticated omnivore guests for an excellent meal without any need to apologise for the food being vegetarian.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Cash for Comment

Fairfax, what has become of you? Granted I have been complaining about standards since 1997, and the partnership with HuffPo has resulted in a homepage wiggling with clickbait, so maybe I am expecting too much. Now the Good Food section is running advertorials. Even more irritating is that you have to get to the bottom of a rather long article to find this out.

Trying to compete with the monetised end of food blogging doesn't impress.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

February - The Glass Den

On Saturdays when lassitude and embarrassment don’t completely overcome me, I go to adult beginners’ ballet classes. Or at least, I did so intermittently last year before taking a few months off. The classes, slightly mortifyingly, don’t seem to be attended by beginners as I see them, rather, women who have done quite a bit of ballet in their past and are now keeping it up in adulthood. Whereas I have not danced, and am very much proving that not only can you not teach an old dog new tricks, you can’t teach grace to a person who has had a lifetime of clumsiness programmed into their cerebellum.

There are also two consequences of ballet that I didn’t really anticipate. One, is that it is mentally very taxing. I have a hard enough time getting my feet in the right place, let alone arms, posture, head, core, and trying to look graceful. The first class left me as drained as when I sat the GAMSAT. The other consequence is physical - I am not really aware of getting a work out, per se, when doing the class but the following day I am acutely conscious of muscles I didn’t really know I had.

This being the case, I feel that brunching is a very reasonable way of following a class. Since the school has moved from Brunswick to purpose-build studios in Coburg, this gave me an excuse to try out The Glass Den, a cafe in the old Pentridge Prison redevelopment that apparently caters well for those with awkward dietary requirements.

The cafe occupies one of the old bluestone gatehouses, renovated and with a pleasant covered area out the back which would, I imagine, be rather nice in the evening. The menu offered various temptations, including black sticky rice pudding, and some rather spectacular-sounding vegan, gluten-free pancakes. Were I not still persistently “off” sweet food, I would’ve been very tempted by the latter, as it’s unusual to get pancakes that are vegan and gluten free.

I prevaricated over the menu, seeing elements of different dishes that interested me but accompanied by others that were less interesting. I asked if I could build something out of the “sides” selection, only to be told that sides had to be ordered with the eggs-and-toast option.

Why so prescriptive? One, I was going to have several sides, equivalent in cost (to me) to one of their complete menu items. Two, it is, in fact, my lunch and if I am to eat it perhaps it should be at least slightly to my liking? Three, isn’t the whole point of the hospitality/customer service industry to serve the customer?

In general, I found the staff disengaged at best. I realise that working in a cafe might not appeal to everyone, but at least pretend that you don’t loathe or resent the customers. I repeatedly had to walk over and get more water for the table because no one was keeping an eye on this. It’s not as though the cafe was very busy.

I was semi-prepared to order the avocado dish but was quickly advised that it was now $20, on account of avocados having gone up in price. (Note, I don’t see why said cost of fruit should be equivalent to $4; and while I’m at it, paying for avocado at a cafe is a massive rip-off given the total lack of preparation and labour required to slice it and put it on a plate. This is why I usually don’t order the avocado thing.)

I turned to plan B. The confit pumpkin with beetroot relish toasted sandwich. It looked a bit small and sad, and the bread was absolutely not toasted enough (the beetroot made it unpalatably soggy - a huge crime against sandwiches) but it was pleasant. I did have the feeling that it was missing something from the filling, though, and the rocket didn’t add much. 

The plate was excellent, though.

My mother had the brioche bun burger thing, which was more like a large steak, with some spectacular piping hot chips. One of the disappointing thing with chips is that they are often rather tepid and lacking in bite, so she was impressed with these.

It was too late in the afternoon for me to risk coffee, so we paid and left.

The Glass Den should have a lot going for it, particularly with all the vegan and gluten free options, but I felt a bit let down today.

ETA: Since drafting this I have seen Johanna’s extensive review, including her account of having ordered the same vegetable sandwich that I had. I was pretty miffed to see that mine was a sad and diminished version. I don’t think this was just because I had asked for gluten-free bread.

Incidentally, cafes of Melbourne, if you are going to put a significant mark-up on GF bread at least make it decent. There are good options out there. Moreover, not substantially more expensive than a decent gluten bread - certainly not enough to justify the additional dollars. How I miss the Mule cafe in Brunswick that charged $4.50 (the normal rate!) for a very generous helping of Black Ruby's seeded toast.