Mukka

I pay close attention when Steph gets excited about a new restaurant, and she was as excited as all get out when Mukka opened up in her neighbourhood in November. Freshly made dosas are evidently worth getting excited about, especially when the set up is as friendly and delicious as what Mukka are doing down on Brunswick Street.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be expanding beyond the menu items already covered in both Steph’s and Where’s the Beef’s review (how unoriginal and unhelpful of me!). But as Steph gets excited for dosas, I get VERY excited for momos, and discovering that Mukka do a neat plate of six freshly steamed Tibetan momos filled with a spiced cabbage and potato filling, I was frothing to stuff them into my face. They proved to be well worth the enthusiasm, with elasticised skins made of rice flour and excellently favoured fillings, all with a nice little bowl of chilli sauce that was more an edition of savoury warm rather than hot-as-all-get-out, a very enjoyable dish and honestly worth coming for alone if you are as keen on momos as I am.

Given that I came in the company of Steph, and it was her discovery that brought me to Mukka, I totally had to honour her in trying a dosa. We both had The Classic, which is filled with chunks of curried potato mixed with spices, all wrapped in paper thin crispy dosa wrapper, and served with both sambar dal and a coconut chutney that REALLY hits a nutty sweet spot. Delightful!

I’m blown away that not only are these excellent vittles vegan (and there’s a great variety of vegan items on the menu so you don’t have to eat the same thing all the time, although don’t tell Steph that because she’s not letting go of that dosa), but that Mukka is such a friendly, bright, welcoming place in a way that is sometimes lacking in a too-cool-for-school suburb like Fitzroy. Seriously, go there, eat, pay attention – Mukka is something pretty special.

Mukka

356 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9917 2224

www.mukka.com.au

Carolina

There are not too many pleasures to be had in the greater Brunswick area that are superior to sitting in the courtyard at Carolina on a sunny morning stuffing your face with something involving eggs. I’ve been doing it a lot in the past six months or so, since Carolina has become a favoured meeting spot for other Brunswick-residing friends.

The menu is the prime attraction, even beyond the pleasing surrounds – not a huge array of options, but they do tend to change seasonally which makes things fresh every few months or so. I’ve eaten a LOT of dishes here, and it would take far too long to recount them all, so what follows is three notable dishes that remain bright in remembrance.

The Okay, Carolina consists of okinomiyaki-style fritters served with pickled ginger, nori, chilli, leafy side salad with white miso dressing, and lashings of non-dairy Japanese mayo. That’s vegan, but you can also add poached eggs, which of course I did, because everything is improved by a perfectly poached egg. A lovely mess of a dish that once the egg yolk adds to the sauces results in a gloriously savoury thing to be relished.

I’m also enormously fond of the green breakfast, which changes with what seasonal greens are available. My favourite iteration so far was the one that ran over winter, using wilted greens like kale and rainbow chard, sauteed green beans, little chunks of smokey eggplant with garlic and sesame, on pomegranate drizzled sourdough, and perched on top like glowing orbs of promise YES OUR BEST FRIENDS TWO POACHED EGGS. Joy and rapture! Honestly nearly all my eating this year has come down to “is it a greens thing I can have eggs on GOOD EXCELLENT let’s do it” and I have zero regrets, may this style of dish multiply and flourish.

I’ve only very recently sampled the sweet end of the menu at Carolina, in the form of the homemade crumpets with native wildflower honey, lavender sugar and crumbled honeycomb. This was definitely¬† against the extreme end of the sweet spectrum (and according to Where’s the Beef other sweet items on Carolina’s menu are firmly in the Dessert For Breakfast camp), so if you want sweet at Carolina you better be ready to COMMIT is all I’m saying.

The staff tend towards the friendly, the coffee is delightfully invigorating whether hot or cold depending on your needs, and all together Carolina will present you with an enormously pleasing, relaxing Saturday morning brunch, which everyone deserves at the end of a frantic week.

Carolina

11 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Ph: 0425 731 315

www.facebook.com/CarolinaCafeBar

Mesa Verde

There are FAR TOO MANY STAIRS to get up to Mesa Verde. It’s right at the top of Curtain House, basically hovering just next to Rooftop Bar, and I was very pooped and very thirsty by the time I reached the seventh dang floor. “Why didn’t you just take the lift Hayley.” DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE TRYING TO GET INTO THE LIFT?! Impatience won out over laziness, at least I slightly worked for my tacos.

Yes, tacos! Mesa Verde is, like basically everywhere in Melbourne, devoted to Mexican food. Now, I’m at a point where I’m pretty suspicious of the Mex-food bandwagon, a lot of it is very samey from venue to venue, and the feeling I often have is that there’s not a lot of thought gone into it and most of the time it just tastes like variations of Chipotle. But Mesa Verde’s iteration seems thoughtful, and enthusiastic, and most importantly everything tastes pretty darn great.

Tacos! There’s two vegetarian options, firstly the grilled house-made queso with pumpkin and zucchini, and second the black beans with toasted pepita salsa and cotija cheese. Firstly, they feel properly filling and decadent enough to warrant their $7-8 price tags (which very few Melb tacos do), and are fancy enough in terms of ingredients to not come across as basic, but also don’t feel like they’re reinventing the wheel for the sake of it.

Chilaquiles, which the menu describes as “just like nachos”, are comprise of salsa verde, beans and mozzarella on top of corn chips. They pretty much are nachos! I’m not quite certain why they need the name change particularly since traditional chilaquiles, after a google, appear to be far more about having your tortilla chips or fried strips swim in a big pool of salsas or mole with egg, pulled chicken or refried beans. This seems a smidge like being a little pretentious for the sake of it. They’re great nachos, call them nachos!

I was also witness to seeing one of the varieties of queso fundido brought to the table, which was a LITERAL dish of melted, gooey cheese, served with little rounds of warm tortillas. It was stretchy cheesey glory that was a wonder to witness. Sadly, it was not vegetarian-friendly (although everyone got VERY EXCITED about the fact it also contained chorizo and tequila, very “what a time to be alive” for meat-eaters I imagine), but the other two options available are apparently vegetarian! I am intrigued by the one that involves nopales (cactus) and pickled mushrooms, because GOODNESS. Enough for a return visit alone food-wise, clearly.

Yet while the food at Mesa Verde is pretty solidly delicious, it takes a firm backseat to the cocktail menu. This is a place worthy of going to just to DRINK.

I knew I was going to order the Cheat Bureau as soon as I clocked its ingredients – Lapsang tea-infused bourbon, pear Calvados, with date and maple syrup – because SERIOUSLY look at that combination, like I wasn’t going to want to discover what that tasted like. And it all, somewhat surprisingly, works extraordinarily well – the honeyed fruit of the Calvados holds most sway, but the Lapsang adds a smoky tenor to things, while the sweetness of the date and maple floats along the top of your mouthful. Very complimentary, very very clever.

The Costa is one of four negronis available at Mesa Verde, and is composed of Le Venenosa Raicilla, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange twist, served in a heavy whisky glass with one round ice block keeping everything chill. Like all good negronis the alcohol hits you like an aromatic truck – it’s a hefty drink, all swirling with citric notes, and is enough to get heady and lost in. A proper lingering beverage to savour.

Lastly, I had a Neill’s Julep – Whitley Neil gin, rhubarb bitters, mint with a plum pisco float – because I do get this strange rush of nostalgia when it comes to mint juleps as their crushed ice base makes me think of slushies. This one wasn’t as hedonistically overwhelming a drink as the other two, which arrested all senses, but was an enjoyable one nevertheless – I particularly enjoyed the tartness of the rhubarb rubbing up against the gin.

Sure, the cocktail menu at Mesa Verde may take the slight overenthusiastic pretension present in their food menu and ramp it up to the nth degree, and you may pay handsomely for it, but for me it mostly worked to provide an extremely happy time. I honestly can’t wait for the next chance to drag friends who haven’t been there before – I need to see the looks on their faces upon first sip of a Costa.

Mesa Verde

Level 6, Curtain House

252 Swanston Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 4417

www.mesaverde.net.au

Tandoori Den

Given how lackadaisical am I about this here food blog lately (you’d think one post a month wouldn’t be a hard bar to clear, yet here I am every last day of the month madly trying to bash out a post by midnight), I am ENORMOUSLY appreciative of my friends who take initiative and take me to try new-to-me food places. It feels more exciting these days to write about meals and restaurants that I’ve really enjoyed regardless of whether they’re new or top of the trendies must-visit lists; it feels even more spesh when it’s a friend recommendation.

Tandoori Den is somewhat of a Camberwell institution, I’ve discovered, having been around since 1981 and I’ve since heard stories from many of my friends who grew up in the inner-east eagerly enthusing about their fond memories of family dinners there, with their great service, and seriously good renderings of Indian classics. I’m certainly not going to contradict them – Tandoori Den served up one of the best Indian meals I’ve had in a loooooooooong time.

I try to keep it simple when I order Indian – a saucy dish with some kind of bread product to mop it up with keeps me very happy. Palak paneer tends to be my standard when trying out a new place and dang it was a good idea here at Tandoori Den because it was an exemplary version of the dish. The consistency was creamy without being too rich, and the spinach flavour was allowed to stand alongside the spices without being smothered beneath them. The paneer chunks were also clearly freshly made, softly creamy yet they held their shape in the curry goodness.

We ordered a variety of helpful sauce-absorbing breads, including plain and garlic naans, and roti. I sampled the plain, which was hot, slightly charred, and with little pools of butter brushed across the dimples along the bread’s surface and holy CRAP it was good.

There are plenty of vegetarian options to be had across Tandoori Den’s menu (the vegie rogan josh ordered by one of my companions looked particularly good and she said it carried a nice hefty level of heat), although vegans may want to inquire about butter and cream when it involves anything saucy. The wait staff were enormously professional, and the white tableclothes and napkins and slightly rarified decor may strike some as being dated, but for me just highlighted that what we were experiencing was a cut above the average. If you’re out Camberwell way, I can’t recommend a cheeky curry here more.

Tandoori Den

261 Camberwell Road, Camberwell

Ph: 9813 2598

tandooriden.com.au

Shu II: Christmas in August

I was lucky enough to get invited to a special pay-what-you-feel degustation dinner at Shu back at the start of August. Shu’s chef, also handily named Shu, apparently throws a Christmas in July-themed dinner every year for his friends, and this year decided to make it entirely vegan and invite some vegan-friendly food writers and bloggers too. WHAT A TREAT, especially as since my first visit I had very much been hanging out for the chance to visit Shu again, because there really is nothing else like it in town.

After starting off with a palate waker-upper in the form of a zesty cocktail involving vodka, lychee syrup, lime, Vietnamese mint, and cheeky whack of chilli, we got stuck into the menu which had been split into four sections.

For the chilled and raw portion, we had Shu’s signature dish of a daikon roll filled with enoki mushrooms, Asian herbs and lettuce with a Sichuan spicy soy sauce. These remain beautiful to look at, unwieldy to eat, but crunchy and flavour-packed and dang you can see why this stays on the menu. The silken tofu with beans and sprouts with pickled chilli relish was a gelatinous square of white topped with really just straight-up minced chilli, which made for a fiery mouthful. I particularly liked the cucumber and seaweed with soybean skin, spicy tahini and roasted pumpkin seeds which was this saucy, crunchy mouthful with a lot of complimentary flavours flying around.

On to the hot dian xin section: I was raving over the crispy beetroot and wood ear roll with green chilli dip, which was really a well-fancy spring roll, all violently magenta inside and crunchy and earthy and OH MY. The pan fried shiitake and cabbage wonton with pickled chilli jam and Chinese vinegar was a perfectly cromulent dumpling, with a nice amount of pan-fried charredness. I was also very much into the steamed tofu pocket stuffed with preserved mustard greens and peanuts, which was basically like a triangle of sandwich with the tofu acting as bread, and I do like some well-judged bitter greens.

Onto a selection of bigger shared plates! If you remember my first review of Shu, you would not be at all surprised that I was all over the home town noodles. These are still an absolute menu star and if you have the chance to have them I FIERCELY insist upon it. The pan roasted eggplant rolls, pickled vegetables and roasted cashews were good, although I didn’t find them as rave-worthy as a lot of other dishes, although they’re worth trying if you love your eggplant. The crunchy coleslaw tossed with seeds, nuts, and Sichuan pepper infused soy sauce was more my level, lots of greens and textural components to keep things exciting. I was also a fan of the assorted Asian mushroom ginger and fennel stir fry in sweet soy sauce because stir fry! Mushrooms! Ginger! All good rich stuff combined well together. The wok fried seasonal vegetables with dried chilli and Sichuan pepper required me to eat around the whole dried chillis, but was otherwise very pleasant, although by this point I was getting full! I had enough room to have a few tastes of the crispy tofu and grilled beanshoots in preserved Pixian bean paste, which had some interesting flavours but didn’t really connect lastingly with me. Fair given all the food I’d already absorbed!

I can go fifty-fifty on raw desserts, so I had a little trepidation about the raw avocado cheese cake with blackberry syrup and toasted coconut chips that finished the menu. But really, I should have have had a lot more confidence in proceedings by this point, because it was a DAMN FINE dessert, raw or not. The filling had that wonderful avocado creaminess while not having the taste dominating (avocado in desserts is another thing that often doesn’t work for me, but this hit just the right notes), with the bulk of the flavour being carried by the berry-packed blackberry syrup and surprisingly – and I say surprisingly because this is ordinarily my least favourite part of any cheesecake – the base, which was filled with so many flavours that I struggled to identify them all. Luckily Catherine is a desserts whisperer and identified them all by taste alone before we confirmed with Shu.

Shu remains unique, experimental and a proper experience. Vegan degustations happen every Wednesday night, with all-you-can-eat dumplings on Thursdays. WELL. What are you waiting for?

For more perspectives on this dinner, you can read Catherine’s take at Cate’s Cates, and also over at Veganopoulous which comes with a lot of fabulous photos.

Shu

147 Johnston Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9090 7878

www.shurestaurant.com

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

I know what you’re thinking. “Hayley this does NOT sound like a place where I am going to be able to get a meal suitable for my vegematarian needs.” I get it, I do, in fact I had my own suspicions that I was in for an evening of slim pickings as I made my way through the newly renovated and gussied up Rochester Hotel, where the bright red neon sign in the shape of a crab out on the street hints at the American-style seafood party within.

But you can rest easy, fellow vegetable munchers, we are actually quite well catered to at Miss Katie’s emporium of sea scuttlers, with the menu I saw offering several veg options. The overall menu vibe is one that takes inspiration from the cuisine of predominantly America’s south, with a few New England notes particularly in terms of the seafood on offer.

But we want VEGETABLES. And the first came in the form of a basket of fries because I am an unrepentant potato monster. These were distinguished by being served with a lot of Old Bay seasoning (always a big plus in my book) was well as a pot of blue cheese dipping sauce, which between here and The Beaufort is fast becoming my favourite saucy potato accompaniment. There is also a variety of hot sauces provided on the tables if you require spicy fries. In between four pairs of grabby hands the basket emptied very quickly!

For my main, I was excited to try Katie’s version of succotash. The waitress was at pains to explain that this was not technically a traditional rendering of succotash, in that it used farro as its base instead of shelled beans. It may have been a twist dish but I was more than happy to receive a bowl filled with grains, lengths of green beans, corn kernels, tiny florets of green cauliflower, tiny cubes of zucchini and eggplant all cooked down so they were soft and melty with barely any textural bite, topped with a dusting of grated cheese and the tiniest rounds of chopped chives. A lot of elements, yet they were all taste and texture-complimentary. Very clever, and an interesting and exciting vegetarian option.

If meat is your jam, alongside many crabby delectables you can also eat TEN TON OF FRIED CHICKEN. One of my dining companions ordered the chicken and waffles and nearly cried with overwhelmed fear when a giant plate came out with five huge pieces of spiced battered bird, a fat waffle nearly the same circumference of the plate, parfait butter and maple syrup (it’s okay, if you’re intimidated by the size of the meals they’ll let you take home whatever you can’t stuff in your face).

We also shared the dessert special of the evening, which were chocolate-filled doughnuts, sugar dusted balls of sweetness. Probably a touch too sweet, to be honest; this was the only dish we weren’t raving about on the way home. Not bad, per say, but definitely not of the same calibre as the amazing savoury dishes.

As a vegie I was very happily surprised by Miss Katie’s Crab Shack; evidently one shouldn’t judge a crustacean by it’s shell.

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

The Rochester Hotel, 202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9419 0166

www.misskatiescrabshack.com

New Day Rising

There are some institutions that for what ever reason you take far too long to get to. I’ve been hearing about the small delights of New Day Rising from fellow veg*ns for years, but as I’m easily distracted by new shiny baubles I’d let it percolate away on the backburner.

Luckily for my sake Steph was rightly appalled that I’d never been and took matters into her own hands and organised an early Saturday morning brunch. I’d recommend hitting New Day Rising early if you’d like to sit about as it is A TEENY TINY SPACE. Basically a room with a few tables and bench spaces on one side and the open kitchen on the other, it’s all very informal and relaxed with the benefit of it being easy to strike up conversations with the staff as you watch them put together your coffee and breakfast.

I am always one for a bagel and there were quite a few to choose from here. I eventually settled on the ‘yolko’ (“I knew you’d go with that one as soon as I saw it,” said Steph triumphantly). Cheddar cheese, rocket, tomato relish, New Day Rising’s famous savoury smoked coconut flakes, and a runny fried egg all warmly toasted, this was a pretty supreme bagel. The smoked coconut was as fabulous as everyone had raved – don’t expect a true bacon analogue, but the interesting texture and strong caramelised smoky taste is a truly unique experience and turns a breakfast bagel into something quietly elevated.

Steph veganised the house beans, with the staff offering the replace the feta with a side of avocado (I always do like places that, when you ask for an item left out in order to veggie or veganise a dish, they offer to replace that element with something suitable, so you don’t end up with a dish that’s clearly lacking something). The hot black beans came out with toast and a fan of avocado slices and looked pretty darn inviting.

The coffee is smooth and without a bitter note, and there’s also plenty of cakes and doughnuts (some of which are vegan!) to satisfy any sweet cravings. New Day Rising is a highly satisfying laid back gem that I feel a right chump for taking so long to get wise to.

New Day Rising

221B Blyth Street, Brunswick East

New Day Rising on Facebook