Hellenic Republic

Do you know how long I have waited to eat at Hellenic Republic? ALL OF MY LIFE. Or at least it seems that way. For years I’ve been trying to lock it in as my preferred birthday blow-out treat venue, but as I share these outings with my mother as our birthdays are mere days apart, and she has the shocking temerity to not like Greek food (WHAT), it was not to be. Thankfully when catching up with Jen and Zoe for a long overdue dinner of awesome, Jen had the good sense to book at table at Hellenic, throwing me into an excited/nervous maelstrom of “oh yes FINALLY but will it be good oh god I hope it’s good.”

Zoe had thankfully been to Hellenic many a time, and had the good oil on what we should order. As long as we finished on the loukoumathes, the Greek doughnuts that have become chef George Columbaris’ specialty and have long been haunting my most covetous dreams, I was very happy to accept whatever showed up. And very happy I ended up indeed.

To start we went with a pair of dips with grilled pita bread, because I can’t pass up the chance to slather bread in things. The tzatziki of cucumber, dill and olive oil drizzled yoghurt was agreeably tart, but my heart was immediately taken by the fava Santorini – yellow split pea dip with white truffle oil, capers, and shallots. THIS DIP WAS BROUGHT DOWN FROM OLYMPUS BY SOME WILY HERO THIEF OF ANTIQUITY, THIS IS MY FIRM BELIEF. Because how else could it have been so outrageously, surprisingly good? I don’t ordinarily expect dips to rate among the best part part of a meal (who does) but this was extraordinary and a must order.

Our other starter was the tyri saganaki kefalograviera with peppered figs. I’m always happy to eat up hot salty cheese like it is manna, but felt slight trepidation about the idea of a peppered fig. I should not have been so silly and trusted in George, as it turns out peppered figs are quite delightful, the sharp burr of peppery heat mellowing out against the fig’s sweetness so that with the salty cheese it was a fantastic hot-savoury-sweet taste melange.

The Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts and yoghurt was our concession towards vaguely healthy eating, and it was a very good choice indeed, being very nutty, lightly dressed with olive oil yet allowing the simple grains to pop against the tart yoghurt.

And immediately directing spite at any sense of healthy eating was the next dish, the Tiganites Patates – potatoes fried in olive oil, and flaked with oregano and salt. You probably don’t need yet another description from me about crispy fried potato, so I will spare you, but it was good, ever so good.

As my vegie main I got for myself a spanakopita, which as we all know is a Greek cheese and spinach pie in flaky filo pastry. A nice round of a pie, it was light and flaky, not at all greasy or oily, a nice salty golden pillow threaded with green.

I was growing dangerously full by this point, and was worried at the fact I still had two desserts to sample! The much longed for loukoumathes were first – Hellenic doughnuts generously drizzled with honey, dusted with cinnamon and then topped with scattered walnuts. These were as divinely sweet as the description implies, puffed balls of dough liberally coated in thick, oozy, sweet sweet sweet honey. They were in all honestly probably a bit too rich for their own good, we actually couldn’t finish the bowl between the three of us! But they were still very worth trying, I would just recommend either eating less before they are scheduled to hit the table (a very difficult proposition), or having more people to share them with.

Our second dessert was the Bougatsa me Frouta tou pathous – semolina and passionfruit custard pie, encased in filo pastry and topped with vanilla ice-cream. This was the secret stealth winner of the whole meal. Akin to a round roll version of vanilla slice, it was a gorgeous rich custard delight, bright yellow and decadent yet not at all heavy once settled in your stomach, it was somewhat a feat of wizardry. Zoe informed us that this is a dish commonly served for breakfast in Greece, which seems enormously unfair in comparison to cereal and means we should all probably pack up and go to Greece tomorrow.

So did Hellenic Republic live up to my wild expectations? Yes, and then some. The staff were a delight and enormously professional while still being friendly, the space although large manages to make you and your table of diners feel they have an intimate cocoon, and the food, as gushingly detailed above, was well worth the wait. I hope I don’t have to wait as long for a second helping.

Hellenic Republic

434 Lygon Street, East Brunswick

Ph: 9381 1222

hellenicrepublic.com.au

Huxtaburger

In continuing ‘Hayley is finally visiting places that the blogosphere was losing their minds about three years ago’ news, I finally made a visit to Huxtaburger.

There was a time, young readers, when you couldn’t move for folks posting rave reviews about Huxtable’s various endeavours, especially their burger offshoot Huxtaburger. The first one, situated across the road from Huxtable base camp on Smith Street in Collingwood, always had an enormous line spilling out the front of it. Everyone, it seemed, was rapacious for American diner style burgers that were simple, filling, and provided avenues for a lot of Bill Cosby sweater jokes while you were waiting for them.

I, and many other vegetarians, were silent on the Huxtaburger score, however, as for a long time (I think two years? More careful foodie historians will be able to correct me) Huxtaburger simply did not have a vegetarian burger option. Which seemed slightly mad in veg*n-obsessed Melbourne, but the official line given forth was that the burger boffins simply didn’t want to offer a vegetarian burger that wasn’t as good as the meaty ones that were sending Melbourne collectively mad, and were going to keep quietly developing until one cut the mustard. Fair enough, I suppose, although in that time waiting my interest in visiting Huxtaburger waned into non-existence.

Indeed, it took Mel and I coming into possession of some Huxtaburger vouchers for me to remember that indeed they actually had vegie options now. To the CBD outpost we went!

The shop itself is very clean and a fusion between a diner and a slicker version of your standard chain burger restaurant. The staff were ENORMOUSLY friendly, and certainly made the customer service level of things far more enjoyable than I’m used to expecting in similar establishments.

The vegie burger is called the Sondra (all the burgers are named after Cosby Show characters) and consists of a slab of grilled tofu, tomato slices, lettuce, and sesame-soy mayo sandwiched in a brioche-style bun. The bun wasn’t too sweet, thankfully, which I often find is the standard fault of the brioche burger bun, but instead was very well balanced in flavour while also being structurally sound in keeping the burger together. The Sondra was actually the least messy burger I’ve encountered in a long time, a pleasing antidote to the types of burgers that stuff far too many toppings in that collapse out all over you as soon as you take a bite.

The tofu itself, being a cohesive slab, also stayed together nicely, but the one big problem with the burger as a whole is that the tofu itself just isn’t that flavourful. It had possibly been marinated in some kind of soy concoction before being put on the grill, but contrasted with the mild mayo it didn’t pack any kind of punch and was rather dull. Like eating a geography teacher.

What did pack punch, however, was the side order of chipotle fries. A colourful cup of crinkly chips that had been liberally sprinkled with chipotle seasoning, I actually needed to go a little mad in squirting tomato sauce on them so that my mouth didn’t end up on fire. They were a needed dose of fun!

The real question here is, would I go back to Huxtaburger without the dangled carrot of a voucher, and would I encourage you all to do the same? Honestly, I am not sure that I would. The pros that it is cheap and quick is overshadowed by the reality that the vegetarian option is simply not that exciting. The fact that within walking distance of the CBD Huxtaburger I could go to three different Lord of the Fries outlets and gorge myself on plentiful vegetarian burger options is probably damning enough.

There was a time, young readers, when if a food place didn’t have terribly good vegie options, veg*n diners would just sadly shrug and muddle through. But considering that Melbourne now boasts such an extremely veg*n-friendly food scene, whenever I now come across seemingly tokenistic vegetarian options my reaction tends to be “why did you even bother?” Because there are so many options now that we don’t have to put up with it. So while Huxtaburger may be one of the grand burger poobahs for meat eaters, vegetarians might want to seek out other alternatives. And that’s okay, because now we can.

Huxtaburger

Rear 357 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD (also locations in Collingwood and Prahran)

www.huxtaburger.com.au

Proud Mary

I had never been to Proud Mary before. I know, I should have handed in my hipster card as a result long ago. I’m not sure if Proud Mary is even a part of the hipster zeitgeist anymore, so out of the loop am I. Bennett, who was responsible for orchestrating this long overdue visit, is adamant that the hipsters have given over Proud Mary to the growing contingent of Collingwood yuppies, but although I spotted plenty of sartorially coordinated families complete with strollers picking up coffees, there were still far too many ugly sweaters and ironic moustaches in attendance for me to believe that the hipsters had abandoned it entirely.

I was a little concerned that perhaps the full brunt of Proud Mary would be completely lost on me given their specialty is coffee, and I’ve only got to the point where I have a flat white maybe one every couple of weeks, and I certainly don’t go in for cold drips or anything fancy like that. I managed to risk severe caffeine overstimulation by having two flat whites bookend my brunch, and they were quite lovely as anticipated, strong but not fierce, smooth with a good head of crema. And I found the bright blue duck egg cups they were served in to be darling.

Since I couldn’t experience the height of coffee orientated decadence offered by Proud Mary, I decided that I clearly had to go for the most excessive vegetarian friendly brunch item available. There are few things less fancy when it comes to vegetables than the words ‘foraged mushrooms’ so I was very easily swayed into the idea of pine mushrooms on sourdough with housemade cheese curd and a poached egg.

I understand that high levels of pine mushroom use is probably out of the reach of most cafes, but that is a shame because they are such a treat. Two giant disks of lightly sauteed mushroom sat atop a giant slice of sourdough, liberally dotted with light, enormously rich dollops of bright white curd, and once the perfectly poached egg was popped and the yellow yolk oozed all over everything I was in some class of heaven.

Bennett went with the avocado dish of charred corn, green onion tabbouleh, harissa, roasted baby tomatoes and avocado on seedy bread, minus the ricotta because he has a vendetta against cheese. This was an equally piled plate that looked very filling, and quite virtuously so too.

Proud Mary isn’t cheap, you’ll have to battle through the weekend crowds regardless of how early you arrive, and there is the aforementioned hipster factor that is off-putting for some. But even though I was braced to be disappointed in the face of years of overwhelming praise, I was inevitably won over by the food. I’d like to go back in order to have a go at the sweets end of the menu, which apart from such exciting sounding brunch items like the ricotta hot cakes with mandarin caramel, honeycomb and ice cream (!!! how does that even qualify as BREAKFAST) is also augmented by a giant cabinet that was inundated with sweet baked treats – I gave such a saucy eye to a collection of jam doughnuts that they are probably pregnant now.

Proud Mary

172 Oxford Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9417 5930

www.proudmarycoffee.com.au

Beetroot and Feta Fritters

Fritters are secretly one of my favourite staple recipes to have hanging around, as I tend to collect vegetables and often the only way to get rid of them is to grate them up and fry the beejesus out them (what, you don’t just think to fry everything?).

These beetroot fritters are particularly good because 1). They are bright pink; 2). You don’t have to wait forever to roast the beets, it’s a grate, fry and eat prospect; and  3). The inclusion of Danish feta makes them quite a bit richer than the standard vegie fritter, so once you team them with a nice side salad they make a proper filling dinner. Bingo bango.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium beetroot, peeled and grated
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 125g Danish feta
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour, plus extra
  • cracked black pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • olive oil, for frying

Method

1. Combine the grated vegetables in a bowl with the sliced spring onions and the egg. Mix to combine, then once the egg is fully incorporated, add the flour, and mix further until the mixture is sticking together nicely. If your mixture is still too wet, just keep adding flour until it reaches an agreeable consistency.

2. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Using a tablespoon, take spoonfuls of the mixture, plop into the pan and flatten down into discs with the back of the spoon. Each side should take around 2-4 minutes to brown sufficiently, and obviously remember to turn them over so both sides cook. Let cooked fritters drain on a plate covered with paper towel, and repeat until you run out of mixture.

Grigons & Orr II: Attack of the Avocado Egg

I normally don’t do a lot of repeat visit posts here. Mainly because I mostly figure that if I’ve already written a rave about a place, that’s really enough of an incentive to readers, no one wants to hear me gabbering on about the same places over and over again. I only ever feel inclined to write about a place multiple times if I visit a long time after the first post and feel inspired enough to do a kind of ‘so here’s what they’re up to now’ update, or if I experience a particular dish that makes me sit up and take proper notice and feel the need to make a community awareness announcement. This particular post is most definitely of the latter variety.

Jen and I ended up at Grigons & Orr during the now distant Anzac Day weekend when our first choice of Elceed was closed. Physically not much appears to have changed since my first visit – the resemblance to an old school corner shop is still very charming, and I even spotted the box of crocheted blankets by the front door, although the autumn sun was strong enough that we didn’t need to borrow any.

I knew that I was after a big plate of assorted breakfast goods, and was pleased to see that there was a vegan and gluten free option that looked like it would be of good service to my craving. “The Ghandi” promised potato rosti, spinach, BBQ tofu, tomato, and an “avocado egg” consisting of half an avocado with a pumpkin puree yolk. I was immediately taken by the thought of this avocado egg – how on earth do you make pumpkin taste like egg? Would it taste like egg? Or would it just be a very savoury ball of pumpkin, which probably shouldn’t be sniffed at and might be a nicely novel edition to breakfast? Clearly I HAD to find out.

Well, I have no idea how the cooks at Grigons & Orr did it, but the bright yellow orb of pumpkin sitting in the middle of my avocado half in place of the stone did, unaccountably, magically, taste like like creamy egg yolk. WIZARDRY! Really I shouldn’t be surprised that pumpkin can be induced into tasting like rich delicious anything, but as a child who stupidly eschewed anything pumpkin related I am still catching up with the full extent of this miracle. As to the other components of my plate, the rosti were crispy and provided a good starchy sponge to soak up all the excess sauce from the BBQ tofu, which was VERY saucy indeed and a welcome brunch plate edition, I’d love to see more places play around with tofu that aren’t specially veg*n places, it can be done guys, tofu isn’t scary. The spinach was properly buttery (or margariney in this case), and the tomato was, well, warm breakfast tomato. I am not that fussed with warm breakfast tomato, it was just there, getting the way of tofu and avocado egg. While I was initially worried that the moderate serving size wasn’t going to be enough to soothe my rapacious tum, it was actually the perfect amount to fill you but not stuff you.

Jen went with the salmon version of the corn fritters, which was an impressive looking pile crowned with salmon and a fan of sliced avocado. They didn’t look to be too dense, and seemed to contain a decent array of vegetable matter.

Grigons & Orr was well worth a repeat visit food-wise – the thought of the pumpkin egg still keeps coming back to me weeks later. The service is friendly but remains slightly idiosyncratic – as with my first visit if you want dairy and sugary accoutrements with your tea you have to get up and go source them yourself – but honestly it’s always reassuring when in this brunch fad mad town an establishment that’s been around for more than a year or two can still front up with a good spread.

Grigons & Orr

445 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne

Ph: 0487 608 489

www.grigonsorr.net.au

 

Tempeh Shepherd’s Pie with Mushroom Gravy

Ordinarily I am the sort of cook where if I see a recipe with a hugely long ingredients list and a method that involves more than using maybe two pots, I go “tell him he’s dreaming” and then make ramen for dinner for the forty thousandth time. It’s not just laziness (although a decent percentage of it is laziness) – huge recipes are generally a signal that not only are you going to have to whip out some very clever kitchen skills in order to pull it off, but there’s generally also specialty ingredients lurking within that list that are going to be a bugger to source, are probably expensive and will then sit in your cupboard forever never to be useful for anything else and you’ll end up throwing them away four years past expiry in a fit of annoyed guilt. And of course, there is nothing worse than throwing all your soul and effort into a big complicated recipe, only for it all to explode in your face and end up tasting terrible.

This Frankenstein’s monster of a shepherd’s pie recipe, which I cobbled together in order to use up a packet of tempeh, is however well worth its long ingredients list and slightly fiddly assemblage. I was inspired by Michael’s version of the Viva Vegan creamy corn-crusted tempeh pot pie and used that recipe as a jumping point, although I already knew that I’d be changing several elements – subbing out the corn crust for a more traditional mashed potato, replacing the potato with pumpkin, adding green beans and leaving out entirely the currants and olives (because HONESTLY), and using a mix of spices more easily found in my cupboard and garden. It also didn’t look saucy enough for my purposes, so I started googling around for a suitable vegetarian gravy to add, and came across this version of tempeh pie to further jump off. The mashed potato formula comes courtesy of my mother, as all the best things do.

The only thing that I’ve amended in writing this recipe down is that in my original version I used half dried shiitake mushrooms and half a mix of other dried mushroom varieties, as that’s what I had in my cupboard. But as the shiitake was clearly the best part of the whole endeavour, and lent an awesome richness to the pie filling as a whole while the other mushrooms were merely taking up standing room, I must forcefully insist that you go Full Shiitake.

Ingredients

Tempeh Filling

  • 1/2 medium sized pumpkin, deseeded, skin removed, and diced
  • 230g packet tempeh
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 brown onions, finely sliced
  • handful green beans, top and tailed and cut into short rounds
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (substitute with dried if you don’t have fresh)
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • olive oil

Mushroom Gravy

  • 1 small packet whole dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • lots of ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mushroom water (this will be what’s left from re-hydrating your shiitake!)
  • 2 tbsp corn flour, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • olive oil

Mashed Potato Topping

  • 4 floury potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 50g butter
  • milk
  • ground black pepper and sea salt

Method

Grab your shiitake and set them to soak in a big bowl of boiling hot water. The longer the mushrooms have to soak the better, so always make sure this is your first step.

Steam your tempeh and boil your taters! I have one of those stovetop steamer sets where you boil water in the saucepan then whack the steamer pot on top, so if you have one of those you can be a SUPER MULTITASKER and do both at the same time. WONDERS! (You can also just bung on a separate saucepan for the potatoes if you don’t have a stovetop steamer set.) The potatoes will take about 20 minutes to properly soften up, and you should make sure you boil them in water that has had a good generous shake of salt added. The tempeh will take 10 minutes or so, so lay a little round of baking paper on the bottom of the steamer before putting in the tempeh, and then place over the boiling potatoes with a lid on – make sure there is a few inches gap between the top of the boiling water and the steamer pot, otherwise you’ll end up with very soggy tempeh indeed. Once the tempeh is ready, take it out carefully – it will be hot – cut it into cubes and put aside.

Since we’ve been multitasking wonders and boiled our potatoes, we may as well make the mash topping now. Drain the water from the pot, add the butter, and use a masher or the back of a fork to mash the potatoes. Add in a splash or two of milk to bring it to your preferred level of creaminess, add generous amounts of black pepper and sea salt, and mash it all up good. You can set aside the mash with a lid on it and it will keep warm while you make the filling and gravy.

Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 200C.

Heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a big deep frying pan. Fry the onions and the carrots over medium heat for about 10 minutes – you want the onions to be completely soft. Add the tablespoons of wine, which will cook off nice and quickly, then add the cumin, thyme, pumpkin, beans, tempeh, soy sauce and water. Add the powered vegie stock, combine, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, with some occasional stirring, before taking off the heat and setting aside.

Now to the gravy. Drain the mushrooms (but keep that mushroom water, we need it!), and cut the shiitake in half. Put them in a small frying pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil and start to saute away. Crack over a good generous amount of black pepper. Add in 1 cup of the leftover mushroom water and bring to a gentle boil. Slowly pour in the corn flour and water mixture, and let it all simmer, while stirring, until it thickens nicely (your kitchen will be smelling like THE MOST DELICIOUS THING IN THE WORLD at this point, by the way).

Let us assemble the pie. Get the biggest, deepest casserole dish you can find. Layer first with the filling mixture, then with the gravy, and finish with the mashed potato. Put the casserole dish on a baking tray that has been lined with foil (just in case there is any spillover during the pie’s time in the oven) and bake for 45 minutes, or until the potato has nicely browned.

photo (3)

If you are vegan you can make this pie – just replace the milk and butter in the mashed potato with your preferred non-daily equivalent. If you are coeliac you can make this pie – just replace the soy sauce with tamari. If you are an omnivore who ordinarily goes “ugh tempeh”, get your childish arse in hand, stop being so fucking boring and make this goddamn pie. This is my greatest life achievement, creating this delicious monument to saucy starch, and if this is the only tangible thing that I leave to the world, well then my existence has been worthwhile. Make the goddamn pie.

photo (4)

Warm Radicchio and White Bean Salad

In order to prevent myself from constantly eating solely surplus packets of Caramello Koalas from my local bargain supermarket for every meal, I’ve started ordering a fortnightly vegie box delivery. Apart from taking me one step further to achieving my greatest dream of being able to have everything I need delivered and consequently never having to leave my house ever again, it’s also contributed to expanding my recipe repetoire due to being sent all kinds of fun things I’ve never cooked with before.

In my most recent box, the good folks at Kelly Brothers included a radicchio. I sent a panicked photo to my mother going “WHAT IS THIS, IS THIS AN ENDIVE, WHY IS IT PURPLE?” before she set me straight, and further recommended that I use it in a recipe where it required wilting, as raw radicchio has a tendency towards being quite bitter. Being of the school of ‘always listen to your mother’, I did some googling, and ended up cobbling together this from smushing a couple of recipes together and substituting various ingredients from what I had available in my fridge.

I’d recommend serving this as a side-dish rather than the entire meal that I scarfed down, it would be damn perfect going alongside some rich and starchy winter stew deliciousness.

Ingredients

  •  2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  •  1 bunch radicchio, leaves separated (cut the bigger outer leaves in half horizontally to make them a bit easier to deal with)
  •  2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  •  2 spring onions, sliced into rounds
  •  240g can white beans, drained and rinsed
  •  olive oil

1. Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir about until it starts to become fragrant.

2. Add the beans and the radicchio leaves. Toss them about until the radicchio just starts to wilt.

3. Drizzle over the vinegar and an extra fat glug of olive oil, and toss in the spring onions. Mix it all around until the beans are nicely warmed through. Give it a nice sprinkle of sea salt at the death. Serve on a pink salmon plate so the purple of the radicchio really pops (optional, but you would be losing serious style points not to).

radicchio noms