Gasometer

As you will have noticed from my previous post, if one thing is guaranteed when film festival time rolls around, it is that Melbourne eateries will receive my heavily increased patronage. While my tendency to eat out is ordinarily at a reasonably high level, during this time it skyrockets, due to increased time spent in the city sitting in cinemas for hours on end, combined with my extreme laziness in actually attempting to make my own lunches and dinners to sustain me through screenings.

And if these pre- or post-film eating sessions include fine company, well, that’s all to the better! After an afternoon session of Werner Herzog’s latest doco Cave of Forgotten Dreams at MIFF, Muffin and I could be found strolling down Smith Street gleefully recalling some of the more ridiculous lines of Herzog’s narration (“Are we just albino crocodiles overwhelmed in a river of history?” Oh, Werner).

The only way that we were feeling like crocodiles was in that we were starving, and required a good solid meal so that we could spend the evening floating bloated in a river somewhere, as I am led to believe crocodiles are wont to do. Little were we to expect that the dinner we ended up ordering at Gasometer would leave us as stuffed and satisfied as a plump antelope must do for a Nile crocodile (this post is turning into a National Geographic special).

Gasometer serves fabulous pub grub with a difference – it is extremely vegie and vegan friendly, and the kitchen goes to a real effort to make their v-dishes exciting and varied. This isn’t your standard we’re-going-to-slap-you-with-a-standard-vegie-burger pub meal. This is v-junk food in its finest incarnation.

After much dithering and being quite overwhelmed by the choice on offer, I ended up going with the southern fried “chicken” burger with chips, and a side of vegan mac and cheese. The burger is probably the closest vegies are ever going to get to experiencing KFC again, and it tastes a hell of a lot better than KFC ever did! The protein patty is deliciously seasoned, nice and crispy without and juicy within, and complimented with tomato, lettuce and a kicky sauce filled with spice.

The chips deserve a paragraph all to themselves, as they are, without a doubt, the best chips in Melbourne. You heard me. Think of a light yet intensely crispy chip with a fluffy interior and then multiply its deliciousness ten-fold. Muffin and I descended into a fierce discussion attempting to figure out their cooking method to achieve such potato finery… perhaps an adaptation of the Blumenthal method? We are continuing our research.

The vegan mac and cheese I was most curious about. How would you recreate such a rich dish without any cheese? Would it go chalky, like some cheese-replacements I’ve sampled have had a tendency to do? I shouldn’t have worried, I was clearly in safe hands. It was the richest mac and cheese, let alone ‘cheeze’, that I’ve probably ever had, and definitely one of the nicest. A more satisfying bowl of rich, stodgy goo you will never find!

Muffin bucked the vegan-trending menu by ordering the item with probably the most meat in it, the Reuben sandwich. A mountain of pastrami wedged between some mighty fine-looking slices of dark rye bread, the sandwich was accompanied by two sides, a bowl of sauerkraut and a carrot and beetroot salad. I snuck in quite a few tastes of the sauerkraut (I think Muffin and I are both quietly developing twin sauerkraut dependency syndromes) and it was gorgeously sweet and tart, a very nice kraut indeed. Muffin very wisely finished with the carrot and beetroot salad, which was a light way to finish while I struggled through the remains of my mac and cheese (so cheezy!).

The fact that we had mown through meals ample enough for a family of crocodiles was not going to stop us from ordering dessert! We’d been eying off the pumpkin pie since arriving, and after giving ourselves a moment to rest, it arrived at our table with an accompanying globe of gingerbread ice cream.

The waitress had told us that the gingerbread ice cream was the greatest thing ever, and she wasn’t wrong. I want to know how they make this, too! It’s light ginger yet biscuity touch was a perfect foil for the dense, creamy pie, which was everything I’d hoped it would be. God, I love pie.

Gasometer is highly impressive. The fact that I am desperately searching for ways to replicate both the chips and the gingerbread ice cream at home should go some way to proving how affecting I found their food to be. So make like an albino crocodile, and ponder the meanings of history, art and the human soul over a gut-busting meal of vegan decadence at Gasometer. Although I can’t imagine that Herzog would approve, considering how much he’d probably prefer you to help him in his quest to rid the world of chickens.

Gasometer

484 Smith Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9417 5538

Advertisements

MIFF Eats

Oh Melbourne International Film Festival time, you are my absolutely favourite time of year! And in order to soothe my soul that it is once again all over for another year (*sniff*), this post is dedicated to relieving some of the food adventures I had while scuttling around the city attempting to enjoy as many filmy delights as possible over 17 days (although my Werner Herzog/Gasometer adventure is to be saved for it’s own post, it was that epic).

Wagamama

When I was on holiday in the UK a few years ago I found it ridiculously hard to find any kind of East Asian food that wasn’t crap, or served with chips (ABOMINATION). When I discovered a Wagamama in Cardiff and had a bowl of vegie ramen that didn’t make want me to write a letter of apology to Japan, I was so happy I could have cried. But I hadn’t yet tried the Melbourne outlet until I discovered that it was a perfect halfway point between the Forum and Kino.

On my first visit I ordered a vegetarian bento box for $15 (only available at lunch) and it was pretty decent. The yasai katsu curry was delicious, with panko-crumbed pieces of eggplant, zucchini and sweet potato all slathered in this great not-too-spicy sauce, which I had great fun mopping up with my ball of rice. The vegie gyoza were not as successful, the filling was nice but the wrappers were a bit stiff and probably not steamed for long enough. The edamame were a little tough too, but still tasty. And I really enjoyed the fresh green salad augmented with red dashes of rubbery pickles, it was a good way to finish off the meal. It also came with miso soup, which is always a plus for me.

Unfortunately I had a dinner there later on in the festival which was frankly a bit nasty. I ordered a vegetarian soup which was basically just a giant bowl of soba noodles and bean shoots in a very average broth. There were a few token bits of zucchini and snow pea floating around, but all in all it was uninspiring and an outrage at around $18 for the bowl. I might return for another bento, but count me out for dinner.

83 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9671 4303

http://www.wagamama.com.au/

Hoboken

The blogsphere seems to have been suspiciously quiet about this place (or at least the blogs I follow have been, apart from Carla over at Easy as Vegan Pie who mentioned it in her one of her own MIFF posts). I hadn’t heard anything about it before stumbling over it when taking a short cut to the Forum via Hosiers Lane.

First thing that Hoboken taught me is that I can totally be won over by cafes that have pots of ornamental cabbages sitting outside their front doors. I LOVE cute pots of cabbages, it turns out. I also love cute barista boys who are all “Not sure what to eat? Here, have this giant roll filled with an omelette and coriander and peri-peri sauce, it is DELICIOUS,” to which I reply “You are correct, young sir, and also congratulations on your face” (okay, I only thought that last bit, I didn’t say it. But I thought it REALLY HARD, in the hopes that he might have had telekinetic powers). They also do a very hearty mocha, which I resorted to quite frequently during the festival. To have relied so heavily on caffeine as a crutch, how shameful for an avowed coffee dissenter like myself! But sometimes nothing else will see you through five films a day.

I am deeply intrigued by Hoboken, and hope to return for several more visits.

3 Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9078 2869

Journal

Ahh Journal, such an old stand by. Sure, sometimes the staff  hide behind that wall of a bar like it’s a medieval fortification designed to keep back the ravaging hordes of Genghis Khan, but the food is deceptively simple and oh so good. Where else could something as basic as avocado on toast be such a satisfying nibble? And they craft a good mocha as well, though enticing the staff out so you can get a second one sometimes proves difficult.

253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 4399

Chocolate Buddha

I first discovered Chocolate Buddha during last year’s MIFF, so it seemed appropriate to visit again this year. And I was hungering for some sushi, as earlier in the day I had watched the divine documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (watch that trailer and weep), so nothing was going to stop me from chowing down on sushi dreams after that. Chocolate Buddha had a chargrilled tofu nigiri special on offer, so I figured that would suit my longings perfectly!

They sadly ended up just a tad bland (chargrilling clearly doesn’t do much for the flavour of tofu if you haven’t let it soak in the flavour of something else first), but there was enough tasty interest in the form of the accompanying pickled ginger and wasabi to jazz them up.

My main of the tofu ankake don was a much more complete prospect, with greens like choy sum, bok choy and wombok mingling with shiitake, silken tofu, ginger, carrot, bamboo shoots and shredded up nori sheets over white rice. If there’s anything more satisfying than a big fresh bowl of vegies and grains, I don’t want to know what it is.

Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 5688

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

ACMI Lounge

Did you know that ACMI Lounge does bang-up amazing soup for $11? I bet you didn’t! It’s damn huge, making it a really filling quick meal, especially when you’re a little pressed for time and have to do the film buff’s sprint to Greater Union. I ordered the potato and cauliflower soup one night, and while it was definitely stacked more on the starchy potato side of things in terms of overall flavour, it was delightfully creamy and warmingly pleasant. Best of all, it came with a piece of parmesan encrusted bread that was longer than the bowl itself. That’s how you win me over, with giant chunks of cheesy bread!

ACMI, Federation Square, Cnr Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 8663 2537

http://www.acmi.net.au/acmi_lounge.htm

China Red

I honestly don’t know how I feel about China Red. It’s in a terribly convenient location, especially during MIFF when it was just around the corner from Greater Union and made a perfect pre or post film dining spot with friends. It also retains its novelty value with the touchscreens that you use for ordering; my friends and I still haven’t lost that sense of glee in pressing buttons and then having food magically appear. I just wish the quality of the food wasn’t so damn inconsistent.

I mean, how can you go from the sublime example of one of the most deliciously perfect desserts I’ve ever encountered, which pairs coconut cream, mango puree and delicate white pearls of tapioca like they’ve been plucked from the very gardens of the gods themselves (I don’t know why the gods are growing tapioca in their gardens, just follow me for the sake of the metaphor), to charging $6 for a ‘vegetable soup’ that essentially was a few green strands and some tofu puffs floating in practically straight-up water? I have no idea.

It seems like it’s the sort of place where you have to search out for the good items and then stick with them. The brilliantly green vegetable dumplings are pretty good (although their skins are probably just a touch too thick for my tastes, although it is a reassuring sign that they are handmade), and on our last visit during MIFF Joe and I shared this incredible pumpkin dish where sticks of it had been somehow crumbed in egg yolk and fried. The riot this caused on our tastebuds was too glorious to be described.

But then for every great dish there’s one that’s just disappointingly average (vegie spring rolls, I’m looking at your generic curry tasting arses) or outrageously bad (I can’t get over that soup, I just can’t). Oh, China Red, you are confusing and I am honestly not certain how I feel about you at all.

Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3688

http://www.china-red.com.au/

Oh food and film, will there ever be a more perfect combination? No, no there isn’t, that was a rhetorical question. And as for the festival itself, what made me catch my breathe, cheered me, or utterly changed my life the most out of the 41 films I ended up seeing? Well, including the above-mentioned Jiro, let’s just say that if you were loitering in a cinema foyer and caught sight that they were playing Submarine, Attenberg, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Melancholia, Tiny Furniture, or Bobby Fischer Against the World, you’d be doing yourself a great service to immediately purchase a ticket and a choc top, settle down in the dark, and prepared to be entranced.

Grigons & Orr

I love winter. That always seems to be an unpopular statement to make, particularly here in Australia where it sometimes seems as if the very life-blood of the nation survives on sunburn and budgie-smugglers alone. You certainly don’t get anyone lamenting in the middle of summer that they miss rugging up in twenty scarves and going out into a hailing maelstrom. Unless you’re a super weirdo like me, who thinks it’s a good idea to go to places like the Swedish Arctic in the middle of January (I still stand by the awesomeness of that decision!), winter gets a bad rap.

There are some places, however, that know how to deal with winter to make it as pleasant as possible, or at least more bearable for those pining away for warmth.

Grigons & Orr models itself after an old school milk bar, and radiates a twee cuteness which sent me off into fits of aesthetic delight. There’s not many tables inside, but plenty out on the footpath. Which proved to be a bit of a difficulty on the Sunday afternoon I showed up for a solo brunch, as the weather was admittedly vile: rain intermittently sleeting from the sky more horizontally than vertically, and a cruelly frigid wind. Even a winter lover like me was keen on this particular day to admire it from inside rather than out. But all the few tables inside were full! What was I to do, as I looked uneasily outside as a passing woman’s umbrella turned itself inside out?

Grigons & Orr have you covered against wintery calamity in the most grandmotherly way possible, in the form of big, thick crocheted blankets! Wrap yourself in layers of colourful woolen squares and you are more than ready to face sitting outside (which is generally kept dry by the overhanging roof over the footpath). I turned myself into a wooly Michelin man and joined other similarly rugged up punters on the outside tables and looked forward to my meal.

I chose to go with the French toast made of home made brioche, with creme Anglaise and a whole sliced apple poached in a maple-syrup sauce. The brioche was intensely dense, almost to a cake-like consistency, particularly in the way it crumbled when cut through with a knife. The lightly poached and nicely sweet apple slices were absolutely dripping with thick sauce with a toffee-like consistency. The sauce was sweet but not sickly, and combined with the cloud of heaven that was the creme Anglaise, they proved perfect condiments to the thick, not terribly absorbent brioche. Not the best French toast itself I’ve ever had, but definitely some of the most impressive accompaniments.

I also had a delightfully fragrant pot of French earl grey tea. No milk was brought out with it, and there was no sugar pot provided on the outdoor tables, which leads me to believe you must need to collect these things from the counter when you order, but I was far too happily cocooned in my blankets to be bothered with moving. Turns out that I did not need my usual beverage crutches of milk and sugar anyway, it was such a flavoursome brew that I enjoyed it on its own.

As I sat warming my hands with my tea cup, a commotion was heard coming down the street… in the form of a tiny pug puppy! Seriously, this was the most excited tiny pug puppy in the world. She was most particularly excited to discover a human being entirely made of squishy warm blankets, such an experience! An experience that required her to SNUGGLE THE BLANKET PERSON TO DEATH.

Hee hee, tiny pug snuggles! Hmm, what, you need a final pronouncement on Grigons & Orr? Well, I’m certainly keen to go back. It’s cute, the menu is wide-ranging and contained some items I’m very curious to try (including a tofu scramble which very nearly won out over the French toast), and all in all it was a very pleasant, friendly place to hang out in, especially as a lone diner. And if your meal is interrupted by tiny puppies, well, what else do you need in life, you curmugeon, you?

Grigons & Orr

445 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne

Ph: 0403 515 814

http://www.grigonsorr.com.au/