Monday, 20 April 2015

Abbout Falafel House - Coburg

If you live in Coburg or the surrounds, chances are you don't need me to tell you about this place. In fact, you've likely just yawned and said 'change the channel' to your nearest and dearest. But for the rest of you, don't go flicking over to Danoz Direct just yet, because I've got some love to share about this place! In case those of you from other corners of town hadn't guessed, Abbout Falafel House is somewhat of an institution round these parts to those craving a Lebanese lunchtime/dinner fix . With its house-made falafel, dips and pita served to excess, it's like taking a trip back to the Mid-East, only without the hours of invasive groping from customs officials.

'Big deal' I hear you say, you can get falafel anywhere, right? WRONG! All too often we accept dry, bland mediocrity. I've got tolerance for a lot of things, but not a bad falafel. And you won't get a bad one here. These falafels are perfectly moist, crunchy, and hold their form well. But above all, they burst with flavour.

Falafel plate times 
For a measly $5, you can sate your hunger with a typical falafel sandwich - falafels, pickles, pickled turnip, chili, salad, and ample hummus - that seems about a foot long if it's an inch. Or, if you're feeling particularly ravenous, there's the falafel meal for $10. On a massive plate, you get all the fillings from the falafel sandwich, a few additional falafel balls, a couple of extra Lebanese salads, a healthy serve of hummus and labneh, and a basket of pita to boot. In reality, this is enough to feed a small family, but if you love your hummus and falafel as much as me, you'd be wary letting anyone get between you and your source of happiness.

Small Hummus? Or large pita? I'll give you a hint, it's the pita
But it doesn't end there. Devotees of this blog will recall that on my trip to the Mid-East I wrote extensively in my post, not just about falafel, but also hummus. It's bugged me ever since that there is such a dearth in hummusias in Melbourne. Fortunately, at Abbout Falafel House they've got you covered. Aside from straight hummus, they offer foul, foul btahina, and a smattering of variations on the standard. On this visit I stuck to the basic: a bowl of tahina-heavy (in a good way) hummus with a basket of seemingly never-ending pita. It hit the spot and is more than on par with anywhere else in Melbourne - and that's no mean feat!

It really took me far too long to get around to paying this place a visit. It came highly recommended to me from a local mate, but I simply could not fathom being in the area for a falafel lunch and not going to Half Moon Cafe around the corner. And that, in a sense, says it all about Coburg. There is just too much choice, and I haven't even mentioned the various pasticcerias, Mid-East bakeries and hip coffee specialists!

If I'm honest, the Half Moon falafels just nudge the ones at Abbout for me, but I'm particularly partial to the Egyptian style falafels - substituting fava beans in for chickpeas. However, these bad boys surpass any non-Egyptian falafel you're likely to find anywhere in Melbourne, not to mention all the home-made trimmings to boot! There have been a few whinging types online who have complained about the service here, and admittedly it's not exactly silver service. But that's not what you're going here for, and as long as you bear that in mind, this is one hidden gem you'll be glad you unearthed.


Abbout's Falafel House - Sydney Rd, Coburg

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dojo Ramen Bar - Northcote

Look, let's be frank. As a vegetarian, in many ways I really don't have a right to review ramen, phở or any other East Asian noodle dish. Tradition dictates that the broth for many such dishes is made from chicken/beef/pork/fish/some-other-deceased-animal stock, and who am I to demand a divergence from tradition just to sate my self-indulgent needs? Well, in answer to your rhetorical question, I'm a Melbournian, that's who. And I have the Greek fisherman's hat to prove it! In Melbourne, fortunately there are enough like-minded individuals to force years of culinary tradition to be cast aside and bend to our whims (ah, the joys of the market economy), and with the coolness of veganism taking hold and making even roller shoes seem old hat, there are few restaurants in Melbourne's inner north that would dare to not cater to our needs!

But before I launch into a full-on manifesto and a call-to-arms to join my vegetarian militia (let's bring nightshades out of the dark!), allow me to talk to you about Dojo Ramen Bar in Northcote. Avid readers will note that this is not my first ramen write-up, previously waxing (somewhat, but not overly) lyrical about Collingwood's Shop Ramen. Oddly enough, whilst I didn't not enjoy that establishment, I left feeling in no rush to jump on the ramen train again in the near future. Don't get me wrong, the buzz surrounding Dojo had me interested, but it was more by chance that I ended up here on Cup Day evening.

First thing that struck me was that they offered three vegetarian ramen options - miso, shoyu, and a "secret" broth thickened with nut extract and soy milk - as well as one mazesoba option, and a host of starters including edamame, 'dojo pickles', and the enticingly sounding nukazuke - mixed vegetables soaked and fermented in rice bran. On this occasion we played it conservative and went for the veg gyoza option ($10 for 5). I was a little worried at first bite by excessive amounts of dark brown in the filling, but there was really no cause for concern. These heavily gingered - in a good way - parcels of minced mushroom, carrot, cabbage with a side of vinegar/soy sauce were quite tasty and not as gluggy as gyoza I have eaten elsewhere in the city. For the ramen, I opted for the Veggie miso. The murky, salty, sesame dotted broth concealed several slabs of marinated tofu, bamboo shoots, leeks. Oh, and the noodles! 

Veggie Ramen (back) , Veggie Miso (front), and Hand Model (upper right)

Let me tell you folks, this was one tasty bowl of soup! I do generally have a favourable disposition to anything made with miso, however it wasn't just that. I also had a taste of the secret veggie broth ramen - a thicker, almost creamier variation - and it too left me with a good impression. The portion size was perfect. Not too small to leave you still hungry, not too big as to leave you feeling bloated. And at $13-$13.50, pretty reasonable value to boot. Perhaps the only knock is that I wouldn't have minded a few more veggies crammed in, but that's just me nit-picking. One thing's for sure, Dojo Ramen Bar has once again put ramen back on the agenda for this guy, and I look forward to getting onto the nukazuke and the shoyu ramen on my next visit. 


Right in the heart of hip happening High St, Northcote

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The B.East - Brunswick East

The B.East on Lygon St, Brunswick East
If you've failed to notice the proliferation of Americano themed menus around Melbourne over the past couple of years, then please, for God's sake, promise me you won't volunteer to take up the investigation should I ever become the subject of a missing persons case. I want to be found! Although the trend of new venues opening appears to be slowing, the faux dive bar/diner scene is still very much in vogue, and in this current world order, the burger is king.

Personally, whilst I have found myself getting caught up in this movement, I'm still not entirely sure what our obsession with it is. As someone who has spent an extended period in the US, I can't say I have too, let me re-phrase that. I can't say I have any fond memories - purely from a culinary perspective - of any dive diners that I ate in. Even the thrill of sitting down for a meal at Tom's Restaurant - Monk's from Seinfeld - in NYC was tempered by the miserable ball of potato salad presented to me that looked as though it had been serving 25-life in its Westinghouse prison out the back. And then there was the inside knowledge I acquired from a waitress at another diner about how often most places she'd worked at changed the oil in the deep fryers. Put it this way, the owners may as well have been throwing a pool party in the vats of oil before turning up the heat and re-frying your curly fries. However, there is also the other side to the dining experience that is far more enjoyable: the old school rock n' roll playing through the stereo; the jukebox in the corner that may just volunteer a few free tracks if you give it a Fonzi-esque nudge; and, to quote Moe Szyslak, a whole bunch of crazy crap on the walls.

Fortunately in Melbourne, we're subject to much higher food-hygiene standards, not to mention the quality of the food itself. Given the sheer number of burger joints that have opened in recent memory, you best be doing something special if you want to survive. And at the B.East, they ain't just surviving. They are thriving! The menu offers a good variety without overawing, and there are some pretty seductive names given to the burgers and hero subs: 'Filthy', 'Sexy', 'Doctor J', and 'Mojo Cubano', to name but a few. You can also customise your meal with the addition of various extras (blue cheese, onion debris, pickles), and don't forget to add a side of fries with a serving of one of their home-made dipping sauces.

Okay, let's stick with what this blog is all about: the vegetarian perspective. There are two burger options: 'The Coburger' and 'The Morrisey' (both $13), as well as a roast beetroot and goats cheese slider ($7, or 2 for $13). The Morrisey is the vegan option, but given it is a mock chicken burger, I've ignored it on each visit. Personally, I just can't bring myself to eat mock meat, however I'd love to hear feedback from others about this burger. Instead I have opted for the Coburger: a sweet potato and white bean patty, served with crunchy cos lettuce, a sweet red onion relish, and kim chi sour cream. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me pause for a moment to tell you what happened the first time I tried this burger. Within the following 24 hours, I had messaged many of my nearests and dearests to tell them that I'd found quite possibly the best veggie burger - with the exception of my nonna's home-made patties - that I'd ever had in this city. Big call? You bet it was! But it seemed justified at the time. I must admit that following a return visit soon after, I've downgraded my assessment a touch, but I'd still say it is one of the better options in town. And in a city like Melbourne, that is no meant feat to achieve!
The Coburger
The patty itself is very well constructed. A crusty exterior encasing the soft, freshly cooked interior. Although perhaps a touch sweet, it makes a nice change from the 'garden vegetable' or 'mushroom' patties we are normally lumped with. The sour cream off-sets the sweet potato perfectly, and the cos provides and little extra crunch to give every bite that really satisfying sound. What makes the meal complete? You must get a side of fries and a dipping sauce, and take your time picking the right one. The difference between my first visit and my second was all in the dipping sauce. The first time I went with the dark beer hot sauce. That rich flavour with a little extra kick alongside the burger complemented the meal beautifully. The second time I tried the smoked jalapeno & lime aioli. Nice subtle tangy flavour, but didn't give that same complementary effect.

It's not just that burgers that appeal here though. Elsewhere on the menu you'll find Poutine and Death Star fries, Mac n' Cheese Bombs, Buttermilk Slaw, and for the sweet of tooth, two shakes that'll send your salivary glands into overdrive. Then there's the charm of the venue itself. It has a real rock n' roll feel to it, and follows through by hosting regular live gigs of all sorts - I previously have seen The Bennies play here, whipping the crowd into a moshing, crowd-surfing frenzy! It's a venue that oozes cool, and has the menu to back it up. So chuck on that old rhinestone jacket, and get yo ass down to the B.East pronto!


Sun shining on the B.East

Friday, 18 July 2014

All Day Donuts - Brunswick

Ever wondered where Melbourne's food trucks disappear to at the end of the day? A modern day Bat-cave perhaps? Hidden under an inner-suburban Wayne Manor? Well wonder no more! 12 Edward Street, Brunswick: that is the location. And Melbourne's Bruce Wayne? He goes by the name of Raph Rashid, the man behind Beatbox Kitchen and the Taco Truck. The food trucks take up residence out the back, whilst the front section of the warehouse has been turned into a small cafe/eatery called All Day Donuts.

Why do you care? Well, presumably you're reading this because you're heavily into Melbourne's culinary scene...either that, or you're one of my workmates who I've cajoled into reading my write-ups for my own egotistical purposes - apologies in advance to Caucasian Dr Dre, that's pretty much directed solely at you buddy. However, assuming you fit into the former category, you'll know that Melbournians - heck, Australians in general - have got a passion for donuts that puts even Homer Simpson to shame! Remember the lines around the city block when Krispy Kreme opened their first Melbourne store on Collins St nearly eight years ago? Or the lines of people camping out two days in advance for the opening of Adelaide's first Krispy Kreme just this week? No dig at South Australia intended...well, maybe a little. Krispy Kreme is sooo 2007!

Rashid was ahead of the game when his first Beatbox Kitchen truck pulled in at the top of Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, some five years ago. In my eyes, this is the guy pretty much responsible for the proliferation of food trucks in this city, and we should be thankful for that. Judging by the tremendous comings and goings at All Day Donuts last Saturday, he's backed another winner. The donut selection on the day I attended was limited to five options, but they posed more than enough challenges for the indecisive amongst us. My personal favourite was the Lime Brulee, packed with citrus custard and offset by the scorched glaze on top. I also sampled the Coffee Glaze, filled with passionfruit curd, and the Rose Cream. The options here are a little more flamboyant than at your local 7-11/Krispy Kreme, and tastier too. Care - as opposed to copious amounts have sugar - has been packed into these donuts to create an interesting array of flavours. That being said, I have one major gripe with this place. Yes, the donuts are great, and I haven't even mentioned yet the bubbly, sociable staff stationed at the counter. But here's the thing: when I order two donuts and hand over a hard-earned speckled hen, I expect either some change or a foot rub. On this occasion, I received neither. Maybe hipster chic means you can charge $5 for a donut, and truthfully, based on the business they were doing and the impending liquor license and expansion of business hours, I can't see All Day Donuts struggling for popularity any time soon. That being said, given the glut of quality cake and pastry shops in the area - Balha's, Trivelli, and Sugardough, to name a few - I feel it is a little too exorbitant for what it is. Perhaps more of a 'once in a while' place...actually, until I crack it in Hollywood and make the big bucks, better make that 'once in a loooong while'.

The selection at All Day Donuts

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Roti Road - Footscray

You know what is outrageous? Suggesting to a friend/family member/unfortunate-soul-who-happens-to-be-sitting-next-to-you-on-the-tram that you should hit up some roti canai for breakfast together, and receiving a blank stare in reply as if you are some crazy loon who licks toes and hangs out in wheelie bins in your spare time. For the record, the wheelie bin thing only happened once, purely to prove that I could...unfortunately, when it came to cleaning my clothes later on, my washing machine proved that it couldn't.

But I digress! Devotees of this blog may recall a 'Blogging on the Road' entry I made about Penang in Malaysia; the birthplace of many of our favourite dishes from the orient. There, as in many other corners of Malaysia and South-East Asia, a healthy dose of roti canai is an acceptable meal morning, noon and night. And why not! Golden, crispy, flaky, buttery perfection. The flat bread is cooked to order in a heavily oiled up skillet and served with a selection of sambal, dhal, and's enough to give the editors of one of those fad diet magazines a conniption! Of course, for myself, it is more likely to cause more salivation than even a rabid bloodhound can muster. After a recent word-up about this Malaysian establishment on Barkly Street that serves a mean roti canai, all that suppressed yearning for my fresh morning flat-bread and dose of dhal came out of hibernation and a Saturday morning breakfast sesh in Melbourne's inner West side was well and truly on the cards.

A few things to note about Roti Road. Firstly, the word I'd heard is that the chef has a tendency to break free of the kitchen and whip the roti dough into shape amongst the diners, keeping in time to the pop tunes blasting out of the sound system. Unfortunately - but not unexpectedly - this display of flair did not transpire first thing Saturday morning to a near empty restaurant. Secondly, the restaurant has more than enough options to suit the dietary needs of us vegetarian types. My compadre also noted that the prawn dumplings were of a good sort, and word is they do a pretty decent curry laksa too. However, that seemed a little too heavy for this occasion, so I stuck with the tried and true option. At the suggestion of the waitress, I opted for a double serve of the roti. In truth, one serve would have sufficed, as it can be quite a gluggy dish. For the vego option, the sambal and curry - invariably chicken - have to go out the window, meaning the only option is a triple serve of dhal to dunk your dough into. The main issue here was that the dhal was just a little too thin for my liking. The messiness of it isn't an issue for me, but it makes it a little more difficult to get a decent scoop of it onto your bread. I also found the roti a little thicker and chewier than I had hoped for. It didn't quite have the same 'melt-in-your-mouth' texture of its ancestors back in Penang. That being said, it certainly was not lacking in taste, and went some way toward sating my roti yearning. I look forward to returning to give the laksa and some of their veg. dumplings a go down the track.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Southpaw - Fitzroy

Early last year I jumped on a budget Tiger flight to Adelaide. 'Why on earth go to Adelaide?!' I hear a chorus of you exclaiming. Well slow down there Judgy McJudges, I discovered Adelaide isn't actually that bad. Particularly during festival season, and they do have some amazing festivals. Take, for instance, the aptly named Adelaide Festival. Unbelievable international performers, the likes of some of which I've rarely seen in the bigger cities, converging on this well-kept, over-sized town. Also, pints at the pub were a comfortable $6 (that was the real appeal). But I digress! On the flight, I staved off 45 mins of tactical arm-rest battles with the passenger next to me by reading the in-flight Tiger magazine. Being a Singaporean airline, I was interested to see what the 'zine had to say about holidaying in Melbourne. It listed Gertrude St, Fitzroy, as the pick of the shopping strips in Melbourne. Really? Gertrude St?! Now, I don't want to seem anti-Gertrude. Hell, I love Hamlet as much as the next Shakespearean actor, and am proud to say I have celebrated numerous of my past birthdays at Gertrude St establishments over the years, but it seemed a slightly odd selection. Since reading that article, I've taken a little more interest in this strip. I'll still dispute that it is some sort of shopping Mecca of Melbourne, but there is a pretty neat section of bars and eateries between Smith and Brunswick Streets. Thus it was, when my friend suggested we catch up for lunch at Southpaw on Gertrude, I jumped at the chance!

Southpaw oozes casual cool, from the staff to the decor. As I walked through to the courtyard out the back, the adjoining dining room/lounge looked, at a peripheral glance, almost like an old-fashioned tea room. At second glance, this view was corrected by the vacant set of decks tucked discreetly in the corner, alluding to a nightlife that I'd be very interested in checking out. The majority of the menu takes its inspiration from the deep south - not overly surprising, Yank cuisine has very much been in vogue the past couple of years.

There are a couple of veg options available. The chargrilled tofu, capsicum, broadbean and radicchio salad took my initial interest, but upon recommendation I went for the quinoa and beetroot salad. Now, before I go any further I want to outline my initial apprehension about this salad. Don't get me wrong, it looked DAMN appealing, and I get ALL over quinoa when I'm in the kitchen. That being said, I've found that whenever I've ordered a quinoa dish out and about, it inevitably is a disappointment. Often quite watery and bland, as if whoever designed the dish is purely interested in trading on the current popularity of the grain, as opposed to doing anything interesting with it. Fortunately, that is not the case at Southpaw. Mixed in along with the beetroot and quinoa are pomegranate, spinach and red cabbage, topped off with Danish feta and and orange dressing. The sweetness of the beetroot and pomegranate - a severely under-utilised ingredient, in my opinion - is balanced beautifully with the bitter crunchiness of the cabbage and the salty tones of the smooth Danish feta. There's a lot going on in this dish, and the quinoa forms the ideal base for soaking up all the colours and flavours involved. It isn't the largest serve in the world, but ideal for a light afternoon snack. My kudos to the chef, I look forward to my next visit!


Beetroot & Quinoa Salad ($12) - Southpaw

Monday, 30 December 2013

Clifton's Cafe - Fitzroy North

Happy holidays loyal readers!

In the traditional wash-up of this festive period which inevitably culminates with an array of intoxicated "ooh"s and "ahh"s at an exorbitant - albeit impressive - pyrotechnics display, we often burst forth into the new year with those same old resolutions: to shake off those extra holiday kilos; to try new things; and...some third thing. Well, it is currently December 30th 2013 and I decided I couldn't wait an extra two days! No, I don't care for shaking off any more kilos - as a vegetarian, my aspirations in that department go more in the opposite direction. However, I have ventured into some fairly uncharted territory (the "new things" resolution). Yep, I have beaten seemingly all but Rod Quantock to reviewing a cafe! Now I know how guys like Christopher Columbus, Sir Edmund Hilary, and Neil Armstrong must have felt.

But enough about me, 'where/what is Clifton's Cafe?' I hear you ask. Firstly, as there is a little confusion on google searches, it is located at 310 Queens Pde, Fitzroy North, not in downtown Los Angeles. This isn't your big-noting trendy eatery, but nor is it a drab diner. It is very much in pace with the smart eateries and shops that litter this strip. Whilst the bain-marie lasagnas and and hot dishes up the back didn't look overly inspiring, the heavily Lebanese influenced salads, slices and pastries were certainly enough to catch my attention. 

Spinach and Pinenut Omelette. A mouthful!
Food here is not for those with eyes bigger than their stomachs. I was particularly taken with a large rectangular slice that dominated the salad bar. It appeared reminiscent of the spinach slices my Nonna used to regularly make. As it turned out, this was a spinach and pinenut omelette. As avid readers will already be aware, I am not particularly enamoured of eggs or omelettes, so perhaps this was not the ideal meal selection for myself, but it certainly had its own distinctive taste. The addition of some Middle Eastern spices gave it a richer, earthy flavour. My massive omelette/slice came with three salads and the obligatory dollop of hummus - the hummus was a definite necessity, as I feel the omelette would have been a bit dry without it. I only wish I had been giving a little more.

Probably my main interest here was in the lebanese salads. The pick of the bunch for me was the bulgur salad, mixed with tomato, spring onion and parsley. Light, tasty, perfect summer lunch food. For the other two sides, I opted for the rice, lentil and onion pilaf, and the arabic salad - red cabbage, tomato, cucumber, parsley and spring onion. The latter reminded me very much of my time in the Mid-East. The pilaf was probably a little hefty given the enormous amount of food on the plate, but simple and tasty none-the-less. There was also a a green cabbage salad/slaw with a more tangy taste, and a chickpea salad which I did not get to try on this occasion. I feel on my next visit, I'd go for a plate of just the salads to keep it a bit lighter. Don't get me wrong, I certainly got through all of the food - and a large portion of my companion's! - however, I did struggle to pull myself out of the chair a little afterwards.

A very unassuming little eatery, but the friendly staff and fresh salads and pastries make it one definitely worth stopping in at.