Friday, March 24, 2017

The Snug Public House II

March 10, 2017

When we're feeling lazy on a Friday evening, we're lucky to have the Snug close by. (South-siders can no longer say the same, with their St Kilda sister closing this month.) We've been pleasantly surprised to find that even as folks clock off for the week, the back garden is not necessarily packed with drinkers and smokers.

Their vegan menu has stabilised somewhat since our first visit. Michael went back to the bangers'n'mash (now $26) - it's a filling but not over-the-top serve with a lovely red onion gravy. Little else on the menu looks familiar but plenty looks appetising, from cauliflower poppers to shepherd's pie, spaghetti alfredo and three mock burgers.

I took on the fillet-no-fish burger ($20) - it's a really nice rendition based around the excellent Gardein fillets, with a soft-but-not-too-sweet bun, tartare sauce and salad. Chips were abundant, cut thick with the skin left on. (I should've hunted down some sauce for them.)

Super Salad aside, this vegan pub menu is very heavy on the mock meat and won't suit all tastes. But for those of us already enamoured with the Cornish Arms down the street, the Snug is a neat and perhaps cosier alternative.


You can read about our first visit to the Snug here. Since then Veganopoulous has posted a thorough review of their vegan menu.

The Snug Public House
68 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
9388 8756

Accessibility: The interior is crowded, with a mix of tables and high seats at the bar. The courtyard has bench seats and stools. We ordered and paid at the high bar.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Peanut butter & jelly squares

March 5, 2017

I made this slice specifically for slouching on the couch and sharing with a friend on a Sunday afternoon, and I can't imagine a better setting for it. It's got a biscuity almond & oat base, jammy berry filling, and messy swirls of peanut butter and peanut polka dots on top. Even for those of us who didn't grow up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it's a charmingly childish and comforting snack.

I suspect a lot of ingredients here could get swapped for convenience: rolled oats and almonds could sub out for flours and other nuts, any frozen or fresh berries would do, and what about other nut butters? There is one component that's a bit sensitive, though! I thought keeping my base almonds chunky would be fun, but it just rendered the base greasy with oil and too crumbly to support the slice in our hands. I'll blend all those base ingredients much more thoroughly in future.

No matter - little spoons and plates just enhanced the cocoon we created, a snack-lined safe-haven of pickle-flavoured chips (!), iced tea, craft projects and a few sly episodes of The Good Place.

Peanut butter & jelly squares
(slightly adapted from a recipe on Minimalist Baker)

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds
generous pinch salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted

3/4 cup berry jam
1/2 cup berries (I used raspberries), roughly chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Line a 22cm-square baking tray with paper.

For the base, place the rolled oats, almonds, salt and sugar into a food processor and blend thoroughly to a meal (I left mine chunky and it was far too crumbly in the finished dish!). Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir through the coconut oil. Press the mixture into the base of the baking tray, using the back of a spoon to even it out. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn up the oven to 190°C and bake for a further 5 minutes, until the edges have begun to brown.

While the base is baking, place the jam and berries into a saucepan and set them over medium heat. Stir them regularly while they cook for 5-7 minutes, until they're well combined and pourable. Take the saucepan off the heat.

Turn the oven back down to 180°C. Once the base is cooked, pour over the berry mixture and spread it out evenly. Dab the peanut butter in little teaspoons spotted across the surface. Send the slice into the oven for 5 minutes, then pull it out and drag a skewer or toothpick through the melted peanut butter to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle over the peanuts. Return the slice to the oven for another 10 minutes, until the jam is starting to bubble. Let the slice cool to room temperature over the course of 1-2 hours before cutting it into squares and serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Red Sparrow Pizza

March 3, 2017

Late in 2016, the Melbourne veg*n grapevine was buzzing with rumours about a new vegan pizza place in Collingwood. The opening got postponed a few times and the excitement steadily grew. So when they finally threw their doors open, it didn't take long for us to join a gang of Melbourne veg*ns to go and check them out. Part of the delay in their opening was related to the transportation of their fancy pizza oven - they're going for a similar thin-crust wood-fired vibe to the much loved Gigi in Sydney and they've got the setup to match.

The menu has something for everyone - classics like margherita, mock-meat extravaganzas like pepperoni and healthier options like the supergreen (spinach and kale pesto with broccoli and zucchini). We ordered eight pizzas between the eight of us, and the staff were kind enough to cut things into (uneven) eighths to make the whole sharing experience easier. 

The first four, clockwise from top-left were: the classic sausage (bbq base topped with beer brat, jalapenos, red onions, mozzarella and aioli, $18), the eggplant (tomato base, smoked eggplant, pear, rocket and balsamic reduction, $18), the Italian sausage (a special, $18) and the pepperoni (tomato base, roasted capsicum, pepperoni, mozzarella, oregano, $17).

First to the bases: I thought they were excellent, a little bit crispy, but still with a lovely softness to them. The toppings were a bit more of a mixed bag - the classic sausage was universally praised, with a great mix of spiciness, sauciness and chunky mock-meat goodness. The others drew divergent reviews: some people loved the pepperoni, but there were complaints that it lacked spice, while the cheeselessness of the eggplant made it a touch on the dry side for some. The Italian sausage hit the mark pretty well, but didn't quite measure up to the classic. 

The next four were the puttanesca (tomato base with cherry tomatoes, garlic, capers, olives, parsley, chilli flakes and mozzarella, $18), the mushroom (white base with porcini and Swiss brown mushrooms, caramelised onions, thyme, parmesan, rocket, oregano and truffle oil, $19), the controversial Jóhannesson (tomato base with ham, pineapple and mozzarella, $17) and the bianca (white base with potato, leek, rosemary, garlic confit, mozzarella and paremsan, $16).

The mushroom and putanesca were both excellent - even if some at our table complained about the amount of rocket on the mushroom - while the bianca was sadly let down by some undercooked potatoes and leeks (it didn't seem like they were pre-cooked, and the pizza cooking time didn't get them as soft as we wanted them). The Jóhannesson, a topical special) was as divisive as pineapple on a pizza usually is - people who like Hawaiian pizzas had no complaints, while the rest of us steered clear. It's other surprise was a scattering of shredded coconut, which was less offensive than it sounds, sprinkled amongst the vegan cheese.

We'd gone too hard on the pizza to try and of their salads or desserts, so there's still more for us to explore on the menu. I was mostly impressed - they're making upmarket vegan pizzas, meaning they're working a very different vibe to the junky Eat Pizza or the over-the-top Cornish. A few people at our table were a bit underwhelmed, but struggled to name a better option for vegan pizza in Melbourne. I reckon they'll work the few kinks out as they go along - there's clearly a huge demand for a vegan pizzeria based on the full house and steady stream of takeaway pick-ups we saw on our visit. We'll definitely return.

Future King and Queen plus Rose & Bean have already reviewed Red Sparrow, and both were very positive.

Red Sparrow Pizza
406 Smith Street, Collingwood
9417 1454
drinks, food, specials

Accessibility: There's a flat entryway into a fairly crowded interior, plus some tables on the street. Seating is a mix of high stools and regular tables and payment happens at a high counter. The toilets are unisex, but in a pretty inaccessible courtyard out the back.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dosa Plaza

February 28, 2017

Dosa Plaza is an unassuming eatery holding up the corner of an apartment complex in Preston, where High St and Plenty Rd fork off. We'd paid only passing attention to it, until a couple of friends invited us to try it out with them after work. Opening and discussing the menu was an excursion in itself - it's all vegetarian and stretches to over two hundred items. Vegan, gluten-free and onion-garlic-free dishes are clearly marked, and there's even a 3-page summary sheet of vegan foods available on request.

This was a journey that started briefly with pasta before focusing on Mumbai chaat, the Punjabi foods found at most Indian restaurants across Australia, and then south Indian delicacies - idlies, vadas, dosas and uttappas. Chinese fusion dosas, Mexican fusion dosas, Indo-Chinese dishes, desserts and drinks. Phew! We tried our best to sample across the board.

A dozen mini-idlies ($8, pictured above left) were an auspicious start, freshly steamed and a little sweet, with plenty of sambar and coconut chutney for seasoning. I delighted in introducing my companions to pani puri ($9, pictured above right): tapping the crispy shells open and carefully stuffing them with spiced potatoes, tamarind chutney and chilli-mint water, then stuffing it all in your mouth at once.

It was after these appetisers that most of our drinks arrived. We heard the tell-tale sounds of Soda Stream carbonation between deliveries of ginger mint lemonade ($5), lemon berry punch ($5) and the Cool Sky mocktail soda ($4.50). They were all as silly and sweet as they were colourful.

We also enjoyed the hyper-coloured paneer tikka kebab ($10.50), a mild and tender treat with a light, minty dipping sauce.

Next we got deep into dosa territory. The spring roll dosa ($13, pictured above left) was not, as Michael had hoped, literally stuffed with deep-fried spring rolls. Rather, the dosa played the role of the pastry, wrapping itself around a very tasty medley of spring onion, cabbage and carrot in sweet soy sauce. It's a ridiculous novelty that actually really works!

Now completely sold on their fusion fancies, we embraced the tomato mushroom uttappa ($11.50) as some kind of pizza, carefully slicing off segments of the pancake and triple-checking that there wasn't any cheese to spoil it for our vegan companion (there wasn't, and she loved it).

If the meal had a pièce de résistance, it was the Schezwan Sizzler ($16.50). It fittingly arrived last, sizzling and steaming and bursting with foods we never dreamed of combining. Vegetables and mini-idlies were stir-fried in a hot and sweet sauce, paired with a mountain of orange noodles fried with green vegetables, and all topped with French fries. It was monstrous, it was magnificent, it is surely a worthy successor to the halal snack pack.

Giddy with the spectacle of it all, we couldn't walk out without dessert. The sweet coconut dosa ($7.50) was stuffed with shredded coconut and jaggary, reminding me of a chewy, caramelised ANZAC biscuit in the best possible way.

I think the showpony of the sweets is surely the brownie sizzler ($9.50). The cake is a mild one that wouldn't impress on its own. Yet its mild flavour was perfect for dressing up on a hotplate with icecream, fudge sauce, sultanas and nuts. (I only ever knew about cakey-fudgy brownie profiles, who knew that sizzling was even an option?!)

We left Dosa Plaza near-delirious. Its flouro-lit fit-out is nothing special, but it's the home of some preposterous fusion foods, many of which we really enjoyed and would order again. With everything from $6 snacks to $16 sizzlers it caters to a variety of appetites, if only you can figure out which part of the enormous menu to order from.


Dosa Plaza Preston has previously received a positive review on quinces and kale.

Dosa Plaza
4 Plenty Rd, Preston
9484 8444
menu cover, pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; vegan menu A, B, Ccold drinks, ice cream

Accessibility: Dosa Plaza has a flat entry and well-spaced tables. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mango-lime posset

February 25, 2017

I was travelling for my job during the week leading up February Ottolenghi club, which meant I wouldn't have time to make icecream. Instead I made posset! I've tried my hand at posset once before 5 years ago, funnily enough for the same reason; I guess a dish of refrigerated cream and sugar is the next obvious choice after a dish of freeze-churned cream and sugar.

I've since learned that curdling the cream is another essential part of posset. This allows the dessert to set to a velvety self-supporting consistency in the fridge. Ottolenghi's version uses lime zest and leaves to infuse the cream, then lime juice for the curdling. He'd have us pile it up with papaya for serving, but I preferred to use mango. The overall effect is both rich and refreshing, sweet and sour - a beauty in its own right, and not simply an icecream understudy.

Mango-lime posset
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

900mL double cream
18 fresh or frozen makrut lime leaves
6 strips lime zest + finely grated zest of 1 lime
juice of 3 limes
200g caster sugar
generous pinch of salt
2 small mangoes

Place the cream in a large saucepan. Bash the lime leaves with a mortar and pestle to release their fragrance; add them and the lime zest strips to the cream. Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the mixture just to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to infuse with the lime for 30 minutes.

Add the sugar and salt to the cream and set it back on medium-high heat. Bring it all to the boil, stirring regularly. Boil until the cream almost bubbles up to the rim of the saucepan and turn off the heat. Strain out the lime pieces.

Stir in the juice of one lime, which might curdle the cream a little. Strain the mixture again, this time pouring it equally into 8 ramekins or cups. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When it's time to serve dessert, dice up the mangoes and dress them in the remaining lime juice. Spoon the mangoes onto the posset cups and sprinkle over the fine lime zest.