Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sweet Evelyn

July 16, 2017


Sweet Evelyn is nestled among the cluster of shops on Union St in Brunswick, and it came especially recommended by our friends Dave & B. We managed to wrangle Dave and a couple other friends (but unfortunately not the jetsetting B!) for our first weekend breakfast visit. What seems to set Sweet Evelyn apart from most cafes is that they bake their counter goods in-house. Their savoury brioches - topped with mushrooms, pumpkin and various cheeses - attracted my eye even before the sweet stuff!

The menu itself appealed to us as much as it does to the wheat-avoidant Dave. Michael ummed over fancy smashed avo, smashed pumpkin, cornbread, Huevos Mexicano (with potato gems!), Shakshuka baked eggs and chilli scrambled eggs. I ahhed as all shades of my sweet-brekkie habit were covered with French toast, granola and porridge.


After an extravagant evening earlier in the weekend, we both gravitated towards the less rich-looking dishes. Michael went for the Super Food Breaky Greens ($16), a huge pile of kale, avocado, greens, radish and quinoa with nuts & seeds and a couple of explosive poached eggs on top. The yolky mess on his jeans was Michael's only regret.


I was glad to have porridge as an option, and even more delighted with this particular rendition ($16). There was plentiful fruit to lighten up the warm, comforting cereal - tender poached pear, strawberries, blueberries and a couple of tangy raspberries, plus a little crunch from some toasted hazelnuts. I couldn't quite make it through the whole portion, but I was roundly satisfied.


We're keen to come back for more of Sweet Evelyn's menu (watch out, French toast!). Other reviews (see below) especially praise the bakery's wares and the milkshakes, so I might even be better off stopping in at snack time.
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Sweet Evelyn has also scored positive reviews on TOT: HOT OR NOT and Champagne & Chips.
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Sweet Evelyn
128 Union St, Brunswick
9078 3734
menu
http://sweetevelyn.com.au/

Accessibility: There's a small lip on entry. Tables are densely packed with a clear corridor through the middle. We ordered at the table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Attica III

July 14, 2017

Cindy took me to Attica for my PhD completion five years ago for one of the most spectacular meals of my life. This year I was out of town for my birthday, and I was thrilled when she forwarded me a booking confirmation for a celebratory revisit. Attica continues to be Melbourne's most awarded restaurant, picking up three hats in the Good Food Guide every year and regularly making it onto "world's best" lists. With all the hype, it's bloody hard to get reservations, so a Friday night table for two was a pretty impressive reflection of Cindy's commitment.


The set menu is the only option at Attica these days, an eye-watering $260 a head for an extravaganza of fancy courses. They have a vegetarian menu as a standard option and will happily cater for vegans and other dietary requirements with a bit of warning. Dining at Attica is an incredible experience - there's a focus on Australian ingredients, meaning you get to taste things you don't often see at fine dining places (finger limes, wattle seed, saltbush, etc etc). There are so many dishes that it's difficult to keep track of everything we ate, but I'll try to give a quick rundown.

The meal starts off with a flurry of snack plates, designed to be eaten with your fingers - you've worked your way through about 10 different dishes before you even start with cutlery. Our meal kicked off with the cook's leaves, a mix of different greens including sorrel and broad bean with a dipping sauce of house-made sour cream and apple cider vinegar - a nice mix of creaminess and bitterness to get things underway.


Next up were a couple of slices of aged Santa Claus melon, with their sweetness offset by a beautiful sour dusting of dried Davidson plum powder.


This was followed by a couple of cute little baby onions stuffed with creamy house-made coconut yoghurt. The root were fried, crispy and delicious - there's a lot of impressive technique going on in the Attica kitchen, even for dishes that look as simple as this.


Speaking of simple, a couple of serves of 'smashed avo on toast' - these were fancied up with some micro-herbs and caviar-looking dots of finger lime. 


Next up was a small plate of golden beetroot slices, hot smoked for nine hours to tender perfection.


The next dish was the first that came with a little story - this is An Imperfect History of Ripponlea, with each tart representing a community who have called the area home: the pink tart is filled with native pepper and fruits like lilly pilly to represent the Bunurong people, the green tart with broccoli, walnut cream and English tea represents the English and the yellow tart somehow nodding to the Jewish population of the area. My note-taking didn't keep up with the description given by the staff, and the standard option seems to be chicken, so I'm not sure exactly what the last one was, but I loved the varying tastes and textures across these three little bites.


The next dish was one of my favourites of the night - a vegemite, cheese and mushroom pie. It's a pretty simple dish, but they absolutely nail it, the faint hint of vegemite adding depth and novelty.


The snacks just kept coming - these little baby corns were grilled in paperbark and topped with a macadamia and tofu butter plus some native anise. 


They were followed closely by these chewy carrots, cooked slowly on pepper leaf and served with a lovely avocado dip.


The last of our snacks was this concoction - the crispy skin of a Jerusalem artichoke, filled with mushroom shavings, washed rind cheese and lemon thyme. 


It's only after you've worked your way through these ten snack-sized courses that you get to the bread - in this case a wonderful wattleseed damper, served with both house-churned butter and a macadamia and saltbush concoction. So good! It was quickly followed by the first of the 'proper' courses - an intriguing combination of smoked eggplant, native wattle seeds, waxflower and bunya nuts, which really highlighted chef Ben Shewry's enthusiasm for native ingredients and flavours.


I love the way high end restaurants focus obsessively on particular ingredients - Attica served up 'all parts of the pumpkin', which combined crispy pumpkin skin, sweet and sour pumpkin seeds, slow-cooked pumpkin flesh and a cream infused with pumpkin juice and Tasmanian ale. This is a lovely sweet and nutty combination of flavours.


Campfire potatoes seem to have replaced previous Attica favourite 'potato cooked in the earth it was grown in'. These are cooked with crispy saltbush and finger lime and slathered in a yeasty butter and aged cheese sauce. 


After a couple of heartier dishes, we got something a bit fresher to finish off the savouries - winter peas, shallots and pepper berry ash squeezed between a couple of edible tulip leaves. 


Once we finished our drinks one of the waitstaff invited us to take us on a walk out to the kitchen garden. This felt a little forced to us, with a bit of awkward small-talk about how the staff are like family - I'd have preferred a quick rundown of the garden. Luckily the awkwardness was broken by a serve of delicious little jam doughnuts served with gumbi gumbi tea. 


We returned inside to work our way through the desserts, starting with creamy camel milk ice with dulce de leche, finger limes and native honey.


This was followed by a creamy whipped emu egg custard served with Daintree chocolate and quandong, served on a nest of native grasses.


By the end of the meal I was a bit overwhelmed by it all (the matched wines probably didn't help), so it was fantastic to end with something cute and simple like these Attica cheftales, Shewry's take on Fantales, complete with chef-related who-am-Is on the wrappers. A lovely way to wind things up.


Drinks-wise, I ordered the matched wines which, at $185 was probably wasted on me. Cindy took on the more interesting matched non-alcoholic selection ($85), getting to try fascinating drinks like carrot, pepperberry and mushroom juice and peppermint tea infused with rosellas and Davidson plums. We also had lovely gin and tonics to start with, and I finished with one of their filter coffees (which, to be honest, they should really throw in to the $260 set menu rather than charging an extra $5 for).


Eating at Attica is a heck of an experience - there are so many dishes, with so many interesting ingredients, flavours and techniques that it's hard to pick out a favourite (although I think the vegemite mushroom pie might sneak in). I had a wonderful time, but I couldn't quite shake the nagging feeling that this time didn't quite measure up to the heights of our previous trip, which remains probably my favourite ever high-end meal. The focus on native ingredients means things get a little bit repetitive - quandong, saltbush and finger limes appeared several times each - and some of the more performative parts didn't quite work for me. Service was slick and friendly without being totally relaxed, and the prices really are exorbitant - can any meal really be worth nearly $1000 for two people? If any meal ever is, it might be this one.

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Read about our two earlier visits to Attica here and here. Since we were last there, there have been two vego reviews, both of which were positive - see Nouveau Potato and The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry.

The non-vego reviews are mostly positive - see raves at Gourmet Chick, The City Lane, Ministry of Gluttony, Go Chiso, notundelicious, kT eats the world, Memories of a GourmandFood, Eat, Repeat, Finding Resonance, kit & kafoodle, Queen of bad timing, The Escort and the Thief, Ferris Wheel Flights, For Food's Sake, The Epicurist, BLK's Food Blog, Sarah Cooks, GastrologyRedheadeatsI'm Still Hungry, The Peckish Connoisseur,  The Foodie World, A Girl Has to Eat, Mab vs Food, shiitake and stuff, Le Bon Vivant, Almost Always Ravenous, off the spork, The Epicurean of Southbank, Barley Blog, I'm So Hungree, let me feed you Melbournefoodie mookiewhatimdrinkingatthetime and alifewortheating.

A few people didn't think Attica measured up to the price-tag - 15,000kms of Food, dining with simmybear, The Pursuit of Chubbyness, 1001 Dinners, 1001 NightsA to Za'atar were disappointed, and Snow Crab Nebula were utterly scathing.

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Attica
74 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea
9530 0111

Accessibility: Attica has a couple of steps on entry. It's quite spacious inside. The toilets are up another couple of small steps, although once you get there they're pretty spacious. Lighting is low with spotlights centred on the tables. There's full table service.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Seven bites of Brisbane

July 2-9, 2017


I visited Brisbane for a week this month. My trip was scheduled for work, and I stayed on campus at the University of Queensland. My accommodation was on the pretty lake side, near a bus stop and a bridge that didn't exist when I was a student there 15 years ago. I made the best of them, venturing to my old neighbourhood in West End, meeting up and eating out with friends, family and past colleagues at every available opportunity. The weather was stunning and I clocked up more steps on my phone's pedometer than I have since summer. Here are the seven meals that most delighted me during my stay.
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The Tibetan Momo Cafe is less than a month old, and located just around the corner from my first sharehouse in West End. It is a total charmer, with friendly generous hosts just bursting to share their traditional foods with new customers. There's a full vegan menu in addition to the standard meaty one, and they make both flour-based and gluten-free momo doughs on site (they recommend booking ahead for the gluten-free options). I sampled a mix of their vegetarian momos (7 for $15.90), including a gently sweet pumpkin one, a lovely savoury mushroom mix, and an ultra-comfort-carby potato. At my host's recommendation I sampled the vegan version of their Tibetan butter tea ($6) and obediently mixed in lots of salt as I was told Tibetans do. It reminded me, weirdly, of my grandmother's salted butter scones.
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Word is that the Lakeside Cafe (on the far side of the water body in that top pic) does the best lunches on campus. Its menu is short and includes just two veg options, but they are good. I loved the vegetarian noodle salad ($13) for all its fun trimmings - a spring roll, strips of mock meat, crispy fried shallots and roasted peanuts. The vegetarian rice paper rolls ($7.50) are presumably the gluten-free choice, but check with the staff before ordering.

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Suki at Southbank is leading the poke bowl craze in Brisbane, and pushing this 'sushi burrito' nonsense too. There's a lot of fish going on, but us vegos can pick tofu as our centring protein. I was pretty disappointed to note that it was uncooked, unseasoned tofu but the ponzu salad dressing I chose had plenty of zest to carry through my salad bowl (~$16). I sprang extra cash for avocado and didn't have a moment's boredom as I nibbled through my radishes, carrots and edamame. Three days into my trip I was already starved for fresh veges!
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Visiting the Pizza Caffe at UQ brings the pleasure and pain of nostalgia, as it has outlasted the Schonell Cinema that it originally served. Their menu runs through the alphabet with many pizzas named after cinematic greats; I ordered the Zurlini ($15) and picked off the onions, while enjoying the sprawling pumpkin slices, feta bursts and pine nuts. I only wish I'd noticed their new smaller, cheaper pizzettas. As it was the staff and the pigeons squabbled over who could take my leftover slices when I got up to leave.
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The Davies Park Markets are another fond favourite from my years as a local. I looked longingly at the fresh produce, skipped past the faith healers, admired some beautiful, hand-made cotton clothes, lingered over the second-hand jewellery, and tasted the grain-free seedy crackers. I could barely believe that the Ykillamoocow team still have a stall, selling vegan dagwood dogs (!), pies, and samosas. A no-bull pie ($5) was the only thing I pulled my wallet out for all morning; I ate it sitting on the edge of the sports field and spilled tomato sauce all down my dress (no regrets).

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The Burrow has been displaced by an enormous development since our last visit. It now inhabits an old Queenslander home that lends it a relaxed, sub-tropical atmosphere even mid-winter. Beyond breakfast, the menu's all pizzas, fries and burgers with a couple of token salads. Michael dug into a vegan Sausage Scandal Dawg ($18) generously stuffed with sauteed sausage chunks, capsicum, onions and mushrooms plus relish, lettuce and mustard. I was mostly just in the mood for a mojito ($18), but picked at the beer battered chips and a fattoush salad we'd ordered to share across the table.

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Lokal + Co is another eatery within an old Queenslander residence. Where the Burrow around the corner is rambling and casual, L+C is all reserved white walls and spartan Scandinavian design. We would gladly have picked three dishes each from the menu and were roundly satisfied by the ones we settled on: for Michael, De-Puy spiced lentils, roasted cauliflower, braised silverbeet, coconut sambol & taro crisps ($20) and for me, an apple pie waffle served with hung cinnamon sour cream, braised apple and toffee crunch ($19). 

It was a strange sensation to walk down that same street and check in on the first apartment Michael and I rented together - a time before food blogging, when we rented DVDs from Trash Video and relied on a meagre dial-up internet quota supplied through my UQ enrollment. In my sun-drenched week, I eagerly found both comfort in the old and plenty of positives in the new.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Yarra Hotel

June 27, 2017


Our mate Kate recently suggested The Yarra Hotel as a potential venue for our book club. The two factors in its favour are that this pub has half-price vegetarian meals every Monday and Tuesday night, and room for dogs in the beer garden. We figured we'd best test the food and pooch space before our next club meeting.

The menu has abundant veg*n and gluten-free options, all pretty well labelled; the veg dishes are often matching pairs to more traditional meaty ones. It's hearty fare: six kinds of burger (with a veg patty that can be subbed into any one), parmas (chicken or eggplant), ribs (pork or vegan mock), toad-in-the-hole (beef or veg sausages). 


Kate was excited to see Hungarian-style cabbage rolls ($11) on the menu. The vegan version is stuffed with mushrooms, then served with pickled peas, dill sour cream, and a beetroot puree that was most unexpected and most appreciated by Kate.


Michael took on the vegan hoisin ribs ($12), a thick and flavoursome wodge of mock meat served on chilli-ginger brown rice and topped with Asian slaw. It's a well-balanced, filling meal.


I steadily polished off a plate of house-made gnocchi ($11) with broccoli, almonds, zucchini ribbons and Grana Padano, picking out the slices of red chilli. The gnocchi were soft, with the odd golden-seared edge; terrific.


The beer garden is well heated and our companion dog made a few friends while we ate. Our meals were great, outrageously good value at early-week half-price, and worth their standard price too. We can see a good few cozy book club nights ahead at the Yarra Hotel.

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Fellow bloggers ParmaDaze didn't care for the parmas they ordered at the Yarra Hotel three years ago.
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The Yarra Hotel
295 Johnston St, Abbotsford
9417 0005
menus
http://www.theyarrahotel.com.au/

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry and another down to the beer garden. Tables are quite generously spaced. We ordered and paid at a high bar.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Chocolate-sesame sandwich cookies

June 24-25, 2017


I've had these chocolate & sesame yo-yos from Ottolenghi's Guardian column bookmarked for 18 months, just waiting for the seasons and our Ottolenghi club dates to align. They come under the apt heading Rich pickings, sandwiching biscuits dense with chocolate and sesame seeds with layers of chocolate ganache and tahini cheesecake spread. 

Unfortunately, the instructions weren't quite what I needed to get the job done, and I've adjusted my instructions to reflect what's more workable in my kitchen. For example, the ambient heat from the boiled cream wasn't enough to melt all of the chocolate and butter in my ganache, and I had to set up a makeshift double boiler. The rest of my butter was too firm for hand-beating, yet the biscuit dough was too soft for rolling! What is the temperature in Ottolenghi's test kitchen, I wonder?

In retrospect, I reckon it's worth refrigerating the biscuit dough before forming the cookies. They spread a lot during their brief 6-minute bake, and my irregularly-spooned ones were especially delicate and crumbly around the edges. A lot of care and a few under-the-breath curses were used as I spread them with the thick ganache and flavoured mascarpone.

The finished biscuits were generously proportioned, rich and sweet; a grand final flourish best served with a cup of tea. For future chocolate-sesame desserts, though, I'm more likely to go back to another cookie recipe I posted about a few years ago. It's a good deal less fussy to bake, and I'm sure it'd make cute sandwiches, too, with some sweetened cream cheese in the centre. 

A house-keeping note: as a result of Photobucket changing its terms of service this week, our 1500+ posts from 2006 through to August 2012 are currently lacking photos! We're looking into alternative hosts for these pictures, and we'd welcome your recommendations in the comments.



Chocolate-sesame sandwich cookies
(slightly adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe
published on The Guardian)

ganache filling
70g dark chocolate
25g butter
75mL double cream

cookies
80g sesame seeds
80g dark chocolate
60g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10g cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
70g butter, softened
60g brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

cream cheese filling
130g mascarpone
40g tahini paste
25g icing sugar


Make the ganache first. Chop the chocolate. Set up a double boiler with boiling water in the first layer (I just use two carefully stacked ordinary saucepans). Place the chocolate, butter and cream in the top pan and cook gently, stirring until everything is melted. Turn off the heat, and remove the top pan; give it a few more vigorous stirs, then let it set at room temperature. Cover the surface of the ganache with plastic wrap and set aside.

Next, start preparing the cookies. Gently toast the sesame seeds in an unoiled pan until golden and fragrant. Set them aside to cool. Gently melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and set it aside to cool. 

In a small-medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Stir in the cooled sesame seeds and salt. Set aside these dry ingredients.

In a medium-large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Beat in the cooled melted chocolate. Gently beat in the dry ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the dough until firm, at least a couple of hours.

Heat an oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with paper and spray them lightly with oil. Retrieve the cookie dough from the fridge and roll it into 2cm-diameter balls. Place the balls on the baking tray, leaving lots of space around them (perhaps 7cm each way?) for expansion. Bake the cookies for 6 minutes, until just cooked. Let them cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool down to room temperature.

In a small bowl, beat together all of the cream cheese filling ingredients until smooth.

Time for assembly! Sort through the cookies and pair them up so that their sizes and shapes match as best they can. Spread the ganache on one of each pair, and the cream cheese filling on the other of the pair; gently smush them together. Serve!