Pidapipó

Since January Kate has been insisting that I needed to get along to Pidapipó, a new gelateria in Carlton. She had quickly become obsessed with it and was encouraging everyone in our office to go down when we next hit up Cinema Nova, which for us all is multiple times a week, so really none of us had any excuse.

What I soon discovered upon entering the threshold and sampling Pidapipó’s wares was that there is no way that you can stop at just one visit. Because, and I am very confident in stating this, Pidapipó is serving up the best gelato in town. Yes, even better than Gelato Messina. COME AT ME.

Take the first combination that I sampled: salted caramel topped with Nutella swirl. Let’s not even get into the fact that the salted caramel balances sweet and salty on a perfect knife edge and that I may have subsequently sampled it at least three more times. Let’s focus on when I ordered the Nutella swirl, which as the name suggests has Nutella threaded through vanilla gelato, I was asked by the counter girl “Would you like some Nutella drizzled on top?”

Would I like Nutella drizzled on top, ahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaa OF COURSE I WOULD.

On my second visit I thought it would only be sensible in terms of further research to get a double fruit sorbet cone, but I ruined the experiment by only getting one fruit flavour due to the fact peanut butter was available and we all know I wasn’t going to say no to that. I topped the peanut butter with peach, which was bright pastel orange and liberally flecked with small pieces of fruit. Like all of Pidapipó’s flavours it was robust, just a huge burst of stone fruit goodness. But the peanut butter… ahahahahahAAAAAAAAA THE PEANUT BUTTER. Seriously I just wanted to cackle malevolently like a super villain who finally has their hands on all the plutonium.

It would take me forever to write about the rest of the flavours I’ve sampled in the proper manner I’ve established, so let’s bullet point this shit:

  • Ricotta and fig – creamy gelato with thick, luscious threads of caramelised fig. This is my three-way tie for favourite with salted caramel and peanut butter.
  • Banana – thick and flavoured like they’ve straight up frozen mashed banana with the barest of embellishments just to make sure it’s creamy as all fuck.
  • Pistachio – One of my all time favourite ice cream flavours, Pidapipó’s pistachio is a highly impressive iteration, ratcheting up the nuttiness until it threatened to become an overpowering flavour explosion. Sample at your delicious discretion.
  • Pineapple – one of the sorbetti flavours, like most of the fruit ones are, and while not as creamy as the milk based gelatos, they still pack an impressive flavour wallop. Pineapple is all sharp-sweet tropics in a cup.
  • Blood plum – Another sorbetti, and so clean, sweet and tart all at once, this one’s a great palate cleanser after a meal.
  • Banana and choc fudge – This is the only flavour that hasn’t managed to completely wow me, but that doesn’t mean that it was bad, indeed, how can any gelato threaded with thick seems of gooey chocolate fudge ever be anything but enjoyable?
  • Hazelnut – Another nutty flavour explosion, these are Italians, of course they are not going to do hazelnut by halves, it’s going to explode your face off is what it’s going to do.
  • Coconut – Such a divisive flavour, but if you don’t like coconut son I feel sorry for you, because you are MISSING OUT ON DIVINE REVELATION.

The gelato at Pidapipó is impressive enough, but I’m also so pleased with how spotlessly clean the store always is, how friendly the staff (all Italian) are, how you can always see the baskets of fresh fruit and giant jars of Nutella waiting to be turned into chilled delight, and how the phrase “so we have to go get The Ice Cream” has become so ubiquitous among my friends and I. Because it is the only ice cream now, for all of us, everyone I have introduced to Pidapipó have immediately caught evangelical zeal for it. Come join us. JOIN US.

Pidapipó

222 Faraday Street, Carlton

pidapipo.com.au

Stuffed Tiny Pumpkin Perfect For One

My mother is quite the vegetable grower, and alongside all the kale, rhubarb and tomatoes that I keep pilfering from her garden, she recently gave me a teeny tiny pumpkin. I initially wasn’t quite sure what to do with it (boil it? Mash it? Stick it in a stew? Hang on, wrong vegetable), it was such a pretty wee thing that chopping it up as a component in a dish seemed like it would be an insult. But then I thought “well, if you can stuff a big pumpkin then you can also stuff a mini one,” did some research, smushed a bunch of different recipes together and devised the perfect stuffed mini pumpkin for one. The best thing is that it’s that kind of recipe I love, the ‘shove in whatever you have handy’ kind, so you can mix up the ingredients list depending on what you have in your pantry.

Ingredients

  • 1 tiny pumpkin
  • 1/2 wholemeal English muffin (or whatever fresh breadcrumb is handy for you)
  • 1/4 small green capsicum
  • 1/3 small zucchini
  • 4-5 mushrooms (any kind – I used shiitake)
  • grated cheese, to taste (whatever you have – I used a mix of cheddar and parmesan)
  • thickened cream
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 4 fresh sage leaves (obvs. if you don’t have fresh herbs on hand use the dried equivalent)

1. Preheat oven to 220C. Line a tray with baking paper.

2. Take your wee pumpkin and cut a circular lid into the top around the stem (be careful! Use a sharp knife, as pumpkin skin is quite tough, and be slow and deliberate about it). Get a spoon and scoop out all the seeds and slimy membraney insides. Put the now disemboweled pumpkin on your baking tray, lid off.

3. Chop up the mushrooms, zucchini and capsicum into tiny little diced pieces. Crumble up the half of the English muffin into course breadcrumbs, and put in a bowl with the diced vegetables. Chop up the herbs, add to the bowl. Grate your cheeses, when you feel you have enough, add to the bowl (warning: what you think will be enough cheese will never enough; add some more. Yes, even more). Mix together all the things in the bowl so they’re nicely combined. You have stuffing now!

4. Take your bowl of stuffing and fill the cavity of the pumpkin. Pack it in there. Once it’s filled to about an inch or two from the top, pour over the cream. It should sink throughout the the stuffing, but if you want to give it a hand in mixing it through a little, do so. Don’t overfill, as you need to make sure you can put the pumpkin’s lid back on for baking. Crack some black pepper and salt over the filling, for good measure.

5. Pop the lid back on the pumpkin, and put it in the oven. Cook for 1 hour – 1 hour 20 minutes until you can pierce the pumpkin with a wooden skewer and it goes through easily and cleanly.

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And there you go, you made a tiny delicious pumpkin! Get a fork, get a glass of wine, pop the lid off and get a whiff of the lovely pumpkiny smell. Pull away the soft orange flesh from the walls of the pumpkin and mix it through the creamy vegetables, and feel the contentment start to sing through your bones. You’ve done good.

The Cornish Arms

There are days where all you want to do is throw caution and health to the wind and stuff your face with as much processed fried crap as you can find. When you dare to be vegetarian or vegan, however, sometimes the sweet embrace of crisp fried badness can be hard to come by.

That’s why a place like The Cornish Arms is such an ace blessing, with it’s near-endless vegetarian and vegan options that fully commit to hearty, fried, oh-so-bad-for-you-it’s-good pub grub. I somehow hadn’t been before (alors!) so Carla took me in hand to ensure that I could finally experience one of Melbourne’s best cruisey vegan places.

The Cornish Arms is an old school boozer in a lot of ways – you’ll find a lot of grizzled blokes putting back schooners alongside tattooed too-cool-for-school hipsters – but everyone seems to be happily welcomed. On the Thursday evening we visited trivia was in full swing, so we ended up sitting out in the beer garden, which was pleasant despite a tricksy wind wanting to blow menus away.

While I was definitely intrigued by the idea of the ‘meat loathers’ pizza (I mean, how couldn’t you be?), I ended up with a fever for mock chicken and ordered the vegan chicken burger. As well as a big fat herb and breadcrumb-encrusted slab of fried mock chicken, the burger also contained facon, vegan ‘cheez’, cos lettuce, tomato slices, ranch sauce and chipotle aioli. The burger is also served with some fat chips, which were nice enough, although it would have been nicer if they’d been accompanied by some kind of condiment.

I don’t know what sort of magic the chefs here sprinkle over their mock meats to make them so succulent and delicious, but it is some level 50 mage shit. I actually ended up feeling that all the other components of the burger apart from the facon were distracting from the fried mock goodness. I might keep the cos lettuce and tomato, but there was definitely too much bread involved. And I don’t think I will ever reconcile myself to vegan cheese, it never seems to achieve any sense of true cheesiness for me and always has this unpleasant, chemically aftertaste. Carla insists that Cheezly is the only way to go when it comes to vegan cheese, I trust in her judgement.

Carla wasn’t about to let bread get in the way of her mock chicken consumption so she went with the vegan double down – two pieces of crumbed mock chicken sandwiching facon, cheez, tomato and sauces, served alongside some super crispy wedges and the tokenistic inclusion of a small mound of coleslaw. While some might balk at such an extreme level of soy protein, I ended up with a serious case of food envy at the sheer amount of fried wonder that adorned Carla’s plate. Ironically, she ended up feeling that some bread actually would have improved things for her tastes, so really we probably should have gone halfsies.

I couldn’t get the image of the double down out of my mind, so a few weeks later I went on a solo jaunt by myself to experience the glory. While my mound of coleslaw was definitely bigger than Carla’s (and actually contributed nicely to leavening all the soy protein), and the wedges were indeed fluffy crisps of amazement, again I couldn’t arrest my attention away from the vibrantly spiced, crisp moist goodness of the mock chicken. It is delicious wizardry. Although again, could have done without the vegan cheese. I am sorry, vegan cheese, you are just not a thing, not yet anyway. But otherwise this is the most pure form of soy mock enjoyment I have yet discovered.

I’ve since realised that even in mentioning The Cornish Arms to folks, veg*ns and omnis alike react with worshipful glee and reverent creative swearing. This is clearly a venue of joy that I’ve been far too slow in getting around to, you didn’t need to read this at all, you’ve clearly already been there hundreds of times, TAKE ME WITH YOU.

The Cornish Arms

163A Sydney Road, Brunswick

Ph: 9380 8383

www.cornisharms.com.au

Le miel et la lune

On the internal list in my head that contains all the food places that I really want to visit, Le miel et la lune has been hovering at the top for an embarrassingly long time. It’s right along my work commute, I’m in Carlton pretty much all the time, the space has always looked like a wonderfully inviting one, and the more I heard about the Asian influences that feature throughout the menu, the more intrigued I became.

I finally managed to get there along with Muffin for lunch after a morning screening of Dallas Buyers Club (which, eh… I was really squicked out by the film’s pretty limiting representation of trans* folks, it is really a film about gay issues for straight people). The space has been nicely utilised since the days of What About Food – there’s still a nice big table up front by the open windows for bigger groups, bright cabinets filled with cakes, and the whole place is so sun-filled at pretty much all times that it becomes a really pleasant place to while away time in.

The menu does indeed have an Asian influence peppered through it, with ingredients like kimchi, yuzu chicken and even a special of eggplant tempura (oooooooooo) featuring.  While I was intrigued by the 12 grain rice, and the cabbage water kimchi with konyyaku noodles (because why wouldn’t you be?) I ended up choosing something just a touch more conventional with the vegan breakfast – grilled asparagus, with crushed potato salad served on flaxseed bread. I was initially a little worried that the toppings wouldn’t be moist enough to balance out the bread, which I imagined was to be quite dense. But I was happily surprised both with the creaminess of the potato salad – must have been some kind of nut cream going on to bind it all together – and with the flaxseed bread managing to be stuffed full of all kinds of fun grains and also retaining a moist-ish texture (no dry alternative breads, excellent, excellent).

The one big flaw, however, was the fact that even though the asparagus had been liberally applied – I honestly think an entire bunch had been prepared for the plate – and although the tips were luscious and tender, the ends had clearly not been trimmed at all, because they were so darn tough that I could barely saw either knife or teeth through them. There really is nothing more hugely disappointing than woody asparagus, and it’s such a shame that one element can end up casting a pall over what was otherwise a delightful and very generously plated meal.

Muffin chose to have the 12 grain rice, which contained – take a deep breath – brown and white rice, quinoa, blackbeans, lentils, black eye beans, green and yellow peas, borlotti beans, sesame seeds, chia seeds and cannelini beans, served with fried eggs, seasonal pickles and miso sauce. While my inner pendant wants to rename this dish 12 grains and legumes, it did certainly look like an amazingly varied and hearty dish, with all the health of the grains cannily balanced out by the very breakfast addition of the fried egg. All the protein you’re gonna need for the day, clearly.

In other bits and bobs, my flat white was nice although I do recollect it was quite strong with a bit of a fierce back end. Beverages-wise, though, with the stinking hot weather when we visited I needed something cold and packed with ice cream, so I made sure to finish off with a long cold glass of iced chocolate. This turned out to be just the kind of decadent thing I required, with lots of thick, rich chocolate syrup and creamy vanilla goodness. Not the sort of thing to have if you’ve managed to be virtuous and partake of Le miel’s healthier brunch options, but it’s far too late now to pretend I’m in any way sensible when it comes to these things.

Despite the unfortunate woody asparagus, overall I was very pleased by my visit to Le miel et la lune. I don’t know yet if it will have the power to pip Cafe Lua as my favourite Carlton cafe haunt, but it certainly argued a persuasive case for further visits.

Le miel et la lune

330 Cardigan Street, Carlton

www.facebook.com/lemiel330

The Left-Handed Chef

I am going to be completely rubbished by Julian for this, but it is always best to admit to one’s shortcomings. So at the close of our visit to South Melbourne’s The Left-Handed Chef, I ended up peering at the menu taped to the front window for an inordinately long time, until he asked me what the hell I was doing. “I’m memorising what we ate so I can write about it for the food blog.” “Are you sure you don’t want to, I don’t know, write it down?” “Oh no, I have a really good memory for these things, I’ll be fine.”

Julian looked skeptical, as it turned out he had every right to be, as since I’ve finally came around to blogging about The Left-Handed Chef nearly a month after our visit (I know I know, I’m TERRIBLE), while I can distinctly remember everything that I had eaten, in a case of sheer food narcissism I only have vague recollections of what Julian ate. I know it was called something akin to a Big Breakfast Plate, there was bacon and eggs (maybe scrambled?), maybe tomato, maybe some kind of sausage? I really don’t know. So I am sorry, internet, my hubris means I have failed you once again.

I do however remember very clearly my meal and all the other impressions gleaned from our visit to The Left-Handed Chef, a little bakery and cafe that hangs out on Park Street. I’d been keen to visit on finding out that all the bread products used are baked on premises each morning, because why wouldn’t you be excited by fresh bread? BREAD IS LIFE (even if yeast does make my insides a little sad these days).

The set up is quite endearing, and old school in that several new wave cafe trends have clearly passed the Chef by. No little bowls of fancy salt will you find on your table, no unrefined cane sugar – the sweet stuff is bleached white and still comes in sachet packets. But the food that comes out on the plate is hearty and packs quite a tasty punch.

I went with The Green Breakfast – freshly baked wholemeal bread spread with smashed peas, two perfectly poached eggs with generously gooey yolks, and grilled stalks of tender asparagus. First of all, SMASHED PEAS. Why isn’t everyone doing this? It would relieve the fatigue of far too many smashed avocados around town. And these peas were sweet and not at all mushy, it was unexpected spring on bread. And speaking of bread, ooooh it was good, fresh and crusty and not at all lacking for not being the cafe standard of sourdough. Cracking the perfectly gooey orange yolks over the bread and loading it up with a bite of asparagus, goodness, it was just what the doctor ordered.

In terms of coffee, I actually do remember Julian saying that he felt his latte was a bit weak, and not terribly to his tastes. I did however how a lovely pot of English Breakfast tea, all woolen cosy-ed up, that was remarkably strong and multi-note flavoured considering it actually came from a teabag (although I’m often not as fussy about teabags if the end result is nice and robust).

The Left-Handed Chef may not be as slick as we’ve become accustomed to in Melbourne, but on the plate it gets everything that really counts right.

The Left-Handed Chef

Shop 2, 219 Park Street, South Melbourne

Ph: 9645 5800

www.facebook.com/TheLeftHandedChef

Red Lentil, Tomato and Potato Soup

I never used to post many recipes here on the blog as I figured to myself  “oh no, no one wants to hear about all my basic home cook recipes, people want to learn how to make more exciting and complicated things.” But then talking among my friends, many of whom want to cook more but end up being overwhelmed by the proficiency level expected from a lot of cookbook and food blog recipes, I realised that there is always a place for staples, the kind of recipes you make week to week because they are easy, tasty, delicious, and yield a bunch so you can freeze it and care for your future self.

And there’s no better way to care for yourself than with a stupidly comforting bowl of this hearty lentil soup. Well, it’s probably more of a stew. Either way, it is thick and filled with vegies and warmth and goodness. Your mum will be so proud of you if you show her you can make this, because it means you’re doing better than fine, you’re doing well.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 400g can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 5 baby potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tsp all-purpose spice mix (you might recognise this as the stuff you use to coat tofu or meat cuts with before pan-frying. It also makes a damn fine soup spice mix involving anything starchy)
  • good handful baby spinach leaves
  • cracked black pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • grated parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

1. Get yourself a big pot, add the olive oil and the garlic, and heat on the stove until the garlic is sizzling. Add the potato cubes and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that you completely coat them in the oil.

2. Add the stock, the lentils, the all-purpose spice mix and the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft and have sucked up most of the liquid, and the potato cubes are at your preferred level of softness – I like them with a slight firmness to them, but if you like them softer just let the pot bubble away for a bit longer, you’ll just have to stir a bit more vigilantly. If you’re worried the lentils will suck too much liquid in this time, feel free to add a bit more stock, or even water.

3. Add the baby spinach right at the death, stir through so that it wilts, and then do a bit of seasoning with a generous sprinkle of black pepper and sea salt. Ladle out into bowls and top with a nice generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese if you are using it. Voila!

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Admiral Cheng-Ho

Originally I was sent to Admiral Cheng-ho on the second day it opened to cover it for an online guide to Melbourne that I help write for, but it turned out that the editors had accidentally put two writers on the case, so to avoid any potential argey-bargey I bowed out of the piece. But that’s okay, because it means that I get to write about it here instead! And my editors probably wouldn’t have allowed me to say things like HOLY SHITS ADMIRAL CHENG-HO IS FUCKING VEGAN SHANGRI-LA or write a review that was just transcriptions of drooling sounds, so it’s probably for the best.

Why is Admiral Cheng-Ho so amazing? Well, for one they’re run by the same folks who do Monk Bodhi Dharma, grand high poobah of quality Melburnian vegan and coffee dining. For another, it is in Abbotsford, which means northsiders don’t have to tramp all the way to Balaclava now to feast on Monk’s particular seam of foodie goodness. It’s a much bigger space than Monk too, although it still errs on the modest side of things.

But what you really want to know about is the FOOD. And the fact that everything on the menu, EVERYTHING, is either vegan or vegan-adaptable. You can’t hack gluten? Neither can half the menu here. It’s a goddamn specialty diet wonderland. You can eat ALL THE THINGS! And it’s all FREAKIN’ DELECTABLE.

As everything looks delicious, I was wracked with indecision trying to choose what to have, but in the end chose what looked like would yield me the most food – The Admiral, comprising three zucchini fritters with sauteed kale, pine nuts, seasonal vegetables (in my case roasted white carrots and tiny baby spears of asparagus) with a big mound of beetroot relish with dill sprigs, and basil cashew cream.

This was a big, generous plate of food and I dove in with gusto. All the components just complemented each other so nicely, I kept making little bitefuls, using pieces of fritter as anchors, and loading them up with tiny bites of everything. Special mention to the crispy salty kale and the teeny tiny asparagus spears that were just ever so sweet. My only quibbles were that the fritters had a higher dough to vegetable ratio, which was okay but threatened to be slightly stodgy, and the fact that the basil profile in the cashew cream wasn’t terribly noticeable, to the point that I forgot about the menu description and thought for a while it was actually some kind of emulsified avocado. But these are miniscule concerns in the face of mostly overwhelming hearty deliciousness.

For coffee nuts they have six blends on the go each day, as well as single origin and filter coffee and whatever else it is rings coffee people’s jollies. I had a flat white using the standard house blend and it was nicely strong and slightly smoky. FAR MORE IMPORTANT though is the tea menu, and the fact that like Monk, the Admiral has proper respect for appropriate brewing times and will steep your tea for you and serve it to you all ready to go. There’s a nice selection of FANCY teas too – I finished my meal off with a Korean persimmon tea that was simultaneously tart with tiny sweet, fruity notes, and had this lovely rough back up to it – sounds weird, but I assure you that it was a very comforting beverage, even on a hot afternoon.

Do you honestly need me to tell you to get your butt to Admiral Cheng-Ho right now? WHY AREN’T YOU ALREADY THERE?

Admiral Cheng-Ho

325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford

Ph: 9534 7250