Horse Bazaar

It was a day where I was showering Muffin with a cavalcade of treats, as it was the first time I had seen her since her birthday. Earlier we had done post-birthday Brunetti’s coffee and cake, followed by post-birthday movie date (we saw Cairo Time at Nova – a heart burstingly gorgeous film, might show up on my end-of-year best of list if 2010’s movie crop doesn’t perk up considerably), and now it was time for post-birthday lunch!

I’d originally thought to take Muffin to Hardware Societe, but we arrived right in the middle of the lunch hour rush and there was not a free spot to be had. So instead we rambled around the corner to try out Horse Bazaar, on my behalf quite excitedly, as I’d read Easy As (Vegan) Pie’s effusive posts with great interest and was keen to try some super vegie noodles.

It’s quite an interesting space, I think the phrase Muffin and I came up to describe it was something akin to ‘stylishly unfinished’, and for one in the afternoon, it was criminally empty. I say criminally, because I think Horse Bazaar offers one of the most filling and fresh lunch options in the city.

We ended up ordering the noodles, the okonomiyaki and the vegetarian gyoza. I’ve been lucky to sample some pretty awesome okonomiyaki lately, what with this and Disco Beans’ examples. Horse Bazaar’s version is a much more traditional version that Disco’s Beans’ grain-filled ones, but where it really rises above the pack is the utter freshness of it. You can tell both by the vivid bright colours of the vegies and the amazing fresh smell that the vegetables had been grated up mere minutes before it appeared on the table in front of you. Absolutely lovely.

To the vegetarian gyoza. These are great and fresh as well, and absolutely loaded with ginger,which well pleased such unashamed ginger fanatics as Muffin and myself, but might be a tad too strong for those who are ginger leery. The sesame soy dipping sauce that accompanies them quite frankly drives me wild, I would probably chug it down by itself but for the fact that such behaviour tends to make one a dining pariah.

The vegie noodles is a pretty hefty and varied dish. It’s comprised of thick hokkien noodles, broccoli, carrot, beans, walnuts, a teriyaki-ish sauce, and what looked suspiciously like raisins until closer inspection revealed them to be tiny black beans. My relief at such a revelation caused this exchange:

“Thank goodness they’re beans! I can’t handle raisins in savory things, it’s too weird.”

“But what about savoury foods that traditionally have raisins in them, like Moroccan couscous?”

“I know it’s authentic, but it’s still too weird.”

Muffin responded with a raised eyebrow, which honestly I don’t blame her for it the slightest.

Like everything else we sampled, the noodles were fresh, very generously portioned, and just really damn good. All of my subsequent lunch visits have been equally as enjoyable, and I’d love to go back of an evening and see  how the venue is as an evening reveling spot. I honestly don’t know what else to say other than get on your pony and go!

Horse Bazaar

397 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9670 2329

http://horsebazaar.com.au/

Tyranny of Distance

Yet another visit to the Astor required a dining venue beforehand. Food and movies go hand in hand for me, both are such social experiences in my circle, it always seems strange to have one without the other. And the need for more places with yummo food on or adjacent to Chapel Street is always sorely needed, so Muffin and I were keen to explore this new (to us) option.

Tyranny of Distance is just off Chapel in Union Street, and is in a big ramshackle, yet stylish, converted warehouse shed. It seems like the perfect summer drinking venue, what with it’s giant slatted windows that open up to let the sun in. It’s a friendly, cool space that I can see myself spending a lot of time at over the next few hot months, particularly if their food and drinks remain as consistently good as they were during this first visit.

Beverage wise, I can’t go past a cocktail, and I ended up ordering the strongest Manhattan IN THE WORLD! Seriously, I don’t consider myself a lightweight at all, yet this put me into tipsy giggle mode quicker than anything. The barman told me it was made to a traditional recipe, which leads me to the conclusion that early Manhattan drinkers were either tremendously gifted at retaining alcohol or stumbling around paralytic and getting bowled over by horse and carts all the time.

Muffin went with the sake mojito, which the fellow serving us said was a recipe of his own devising. I hope he keeps experimenting with recipes because this mojito was seriously the goods, all sweet yet sharp, with a lovely strong tang of lemongrass to it, who knew sake would work so well in such a context!

On to the food. Firstly we had the saganaki with olive tapanade, flatbread, rocket and lemon. What most impressed me about this was the tapanade, purely because I ordinarily don’t like olives that much. A little to kind of get a vague olive taste is alright, but too much tends to overwhelm all the other flavours and makes me all flaily hands. This was actually quite olivey but at the same time didn’t overwhelm the saganaki, it was all a delicious salty, oh my goodness I must stuff more in my face NOW combination.

Muffin had some of the pork gyoza. They looked nice and crisp on the outside, and they disappeared quite quickly, so I’m sure they must have been good.

A serving of the crisp baby potato halves with spicy aioli (which were not listed as chips and therefore did not incur a serving of my new favourite rant) were crisp while being fluffy on the inside. I’ve probably got to stop ordering potato-y things, I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about them!

We accompanied everything with the green salad with cucumber, spinach, rocket and dressing. Kind of glad we got this to augment all the frying!

For dessert we shared the chai brulee with cranberry biscotti. Holy craps, this was just… UGGGHHHHHAMAZING! That was the sound of a foodgasm, pure and true. This dish ALONE is worth you schlepping out this side of town for.

The more I keep exploring in the south east, the more I discover great, interesting places that really open my eyes and smack my north-preferring prejudices upside the head. Perhaps the northside ain’t all that and a packet of crisps after all.

Tyranny of Distance

147 Union Street, Windsor

Ph: 9525 1005

http://www.tyrannyofdistance.com.au/

Namaskar India

Despite the fact that Indian is one of the world’s most vegetarian friendly cuisines, I very rarely seem to eat it. I have this thing in my head where if anyone goes to me “What can we eat that’s vegetarian?” I automatically go “Japanese!” Because besides the fact that I have a severe Japanese food addition and will probably need an intervention on that score sometime soon, I just find that vegie Japanese suits my palate more immediately than Indian does, what with its tendency towards knock-you-out curries and complex, rich sauces, it’s kind of the opposite of Japanese. Still, Indian is a gap in my foodie knowledge, and one that I am very keen to fill (goes without saying that if you have Indian foodie reccommendations, fill up the comment section with them, go nuts!).

We were gathering at Namaskar India in order to say farewell to our workmate Ray, who was moving back home to China. Seeing as there was around fifteen of us, I wasn’t able to do a round table “satisfaction survey” like I normally subject my friends to after a meal, so I’ll only be reviewing the dishes that I was able to taste.

Namaskar’s menu encompasses both South and north Indian cuisine, as well as both a Malaysian and Indo-Chinese selection. You are not short of an option here either: the menu lists over 200 dishes. The terminally indecisive diner would probably end up spontaneously combusting out of stress such is the massive variety. It is also extraordinarily cheap. The most expensive dish is $16.95, and the vast bulk of the menu is under $10.

I ended up choosing the palak paneer, a good classic dish suitable for a novice like myself. Also I was in the mood for spinach (iron, oh yeah!). The spinach puree, augmented by cream, was thick and flavoursome, with blobs of cottage cheese bobbing about like boats in a bayou. I ate it all with great fresh hot pieces of garlic naan, they were gorgeous, and I like any dish where it’s acceptable to eat it all with some kind of bread product. Nom.

I also got a taste of someone’s nizami tharkari, which was mixed vegetables in a spicy cashew gravy. It was the cashew element that really interested me, it was such a smooth sauce, yet it possessed body as well. I’d love to know how to replicate it at home.

I’ll end with a warning on heat: the Namaskar menu denotes 1 chilli as being medium hot, with 2 meaning very hot. Some of our party, who considered themselves chilli hard-arses, struggled with 1 chilli dishes, so the heat is by all accounts pretty intense. Not for Ray, though, who ordered a 2 chilli curry, decided it wasn’t hot enough, requested some fresh chopped chillis to mix through, and then happily ate the lot. He’s awesome that way. We’ll miss him.

Namaskar India

20 Glenferrie Road, Malvern

Ph: 9500 9558

http://www.namaskarindia.com.au/

Bluecorn

It was a lurvely sunny Sunday, and the Boy and I were stuck for something to do. We’d slept in, eaten toast and tea for brekky, and the long afternoon stretched before us with not a plan in sight. What to do, what to do…

Well, being us we immediately thought of filling our bellies (why neither of us are the size of houses, I’ll never know), and I was in the mood for Mexican, so we decided to mosey down to St Kilda in order to sample Bluecorn, which had been peaking at the top of my “I NEED TO EAT HERE OTHERWISE I WILL SIMPLY PERISH!” list for quite a long while.

It’s a bit of a shame seeing as I was so excited that Bluecorn turned out to be, well, not bad by any means, but slightly disappointing.

I had the goat’s cheese quesadilla with sesame eggplant, black beans, sweet corn, tomato, melted cheese on top, sour-cream and a chipotle-infused sauce, and a coriander based pesto, served in a purple tortilla and a big dollop of guacamole too. That is easily the longest ingredient description for a single meal I think I’ve ever written.

The Boy had the vegetarian burrito with black beans, sweetcorn, capsicum, jalapenos, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten, it was as jam-loaded with ingredients as my quesadilla.

We also got a side of  chilli-infused chips, which turned out to be baby potatoes cut in halves and sprinkled with spices and served with sour cream. These were quite nice, but am I the only one starting to get a little tetchy with the fact that a lot of places are advertising ‘chips’ on their menus, but what you get instead are potato halves, or cubes? They’re not chips! They’re potato bits, or potato bites, or whatever other name you can come up with, but they’re not chips! They lack chip-ness!

Anyway, back to the quesadilla. Honestly, as a dish it made me feel quite overwhelmed, and not the good overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start with the dish, it felt like there was a whole heap of different elements thrown together without any real cohesion. This is an issue I get stuck on a lot lately, I don’t like feeling that there hasn’t been any considered thought going into a dish, and a chef has kind of just thrown everything they have on a plate. And the sad thing is, when all the components were isolated they were quite lovely: the sesame eggplant was smoky and subtle, the quesadilla ingredients were all fresh and tasty, I was particularly into the black beans and the goats cheese. But as a meal, these components just didn’t connect with each other, and there was so much I probably only ended up eating half of it (and me leaving food on a plate is so rare it should be considered endangered).

The Boy felt a little similar about his burrito, that there was just so much to deal with that it was a little daunting. We came to the conclusion that although the food at Bluecorn is by no means bad (and indeed, if you like getting a giant plate of grub that is fresh and overflowing, you’re going to love it), but it’s food style is just a little too all-over-the-place for, well, mostly me. Oh well, win some, lose some.

Bluecorn

205 Barkly Street, St Kilda

Ph: 9534 5996

Von Haus

This particular entry finds us celebrating Jen’s birthday. Hoorah! This meant only one thing: time to me to gift FOOD PRESENTS. In the form of a lunch at Von Haus!

I asked Jen to meet me on the steps of the State Parliament building. I had kept secret where we were going, resulting in a Jen who was a-bubble with excitement. “Where are we going, what’s over this side of town? Are we going to the European? Or maybe…”

“Hush, do not guess, you might hit on it and then ruin the surprise!”

Luckily Jen was very happily surprised once we arrived at Von Haus. It’s a beautiful little space, lots of dark wood tables and paneling, an exquisite fireplace lined with blue and white tiles, acres of wine bottles racked up all over the place. I think there might also be a courtyard out the back, but we didn’t venture out so I’m not sure how big it is. The best spot to sit inside, however, is right by the window so you can people-watch all the suits trotting up and down Crossley Street while sipping a nice red. Which is exactly what Jen and I did, accompanied by the dishes described as follows.

I had the pumpkin, cumin and sweet corn soup. The corn kernels had been left whole, which gave the soup an exciting texture, and also allowed it to avoid being too sweet, which I feel it would have been had the corn been blended through. It was like the soup was full of presents! Corn presents. It came with some lovely sourdough bread as well, and a thick slice of creamy butter. I think that’s why I love soup so much, it’s just a crafty excuse for bread.

Jen had the confit (I think confit is the right word, I’m not great with terms that pertain to meats) of duck, which was a crispy duck leg served with kifler potatoes, apple salad and a tangy vinaigrette. The duck was apparently quite nice, but what Jen waxed lyrical about were the potatoes, which looked ever so crispy, and went well with the vinaigrette (which I think was cider-based? Jen will let me know if I’m wrong).

Good food, good wine, comfortable setting, and sterling company. If you like all those things (well, you’ll have to bring your own sterling company, Jen is mine!), then you’ll adore Von Haus. I did.

Von Haus

1 Crossley Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 2756

Chocolate Buddha

Way back in August when the Melbourne International Film Festival was in full swing, I was struck down with illness right in the middle of my festival-attending schedule. To call it ‘illness’ doesn’t really express the gravity of what befell me. I was a mess: coughing, sneezing, shaking, flushing hot then cold, bleary brain fog and muscle fatigue. A whole lot of not pretty.

But I couldn’t retire to bed and bid the world ‘fie!’ for  few days in order to recover. No, I had booked festival movies! Four movies in one day in fact, and another the day after, and I love movies even more than food, so I wasn’t going to let being near death stop me from seeing them. So I hobbled around, feeling as though my head were stuffed with the many tissues that my nose was flying through, and with such a ravaged throat that I was actually rendered mute. But hey, the films were great, so it was worth it? *health-conscious peanut gallery shakes heads grimly in unison*

On my second day of debilitating muteness, I met up with Jen and Zoe after seeing my lone scheduled film. Upon hearing me squeak and wheeze pathetically, they each grabbed an arm and frogmarched me to Federation Square. “We are getting you some soup.” said Jen grimly.

“Fortifying soup!” said Zoe.

” ‘O’p.” I croaked.

We ended up at Chocolate Buddha, which I hadn’t been to in YEARS. Bowing to my friends’ insistence that I have soup, I went with the Yasai Soba: soba noodles and deep fried silken tofu with snow peas, wakame, baby corn, spring onion, and menma in a vegetable stock with ginger, sesame and chilli oil. I had neglected to explain the fact that my illness had completely nullified my sense of taste, and was glumly anticipating not being able to actually taste my soup.

However, what actually occurred was that the soup was the first thing that succeeded in breaching the sickness blockade. A growing sensation of chilli broke through to spread over my tongue; I could have cried it made me so happy. And while I didn’t get too much taste other than the chilli seeping through, it allowed me to focus on appreciating the texture of everything in the soup instead. The silken tofu, which with its thin, crisp fried coating looked as if it had been transplanted from a bowl of agedashi tofu, was delectably smooth and melted gloriously in my mouth (the sign of truly great silken tofu!). There’s a nice balance between all the vegies and the noodles, too.

I wandered back to Chocolate Buddha a few weeks later in order to re-sample the Yasai Soba in a nose-clear, taste-reinvigorated state. The remembrance of the soup I’d had while sick had achieved near mythical levels of appreciation in my mind, and I wanted to ensure that it wasn’t just a product of being illness addled. Turns out sickly me hadn’t been far wrong – I couldn’t detect as much chilli as I had while sick, but a fully functioning palate revealed that the stock also has pleasing sesame overtones, and that tofu is just DIVINE. Truly one of the best uses of silken tofu that I’ve come across in a while.

Chocolate Buddha, as well as doing a nice soup, really is a lovely space to enjoy a meal in, and it seems that a lot of people are remembering that, it seems to be picking up again in popularity after a few years out of the spotlight. Being in Fed Square, it’s not cheap (my soba comes in at just under $20; to be fair it’s a damn big soup), but if you’re in the area and stumped for somewhere to fill you with something good and comforting, Chocolate Buddha should serve you well.

Chocolate Buddha

Federation Square (next to ACMI), Cnr Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 5688

http://www.chocolatebuddha.com.au/