Gasometer II: It Came From Budapest

When buzz hit the interwebs that Gasometer had changed its menu from its previous American soul food focus to one that sought inspiration from Eastern European cuisine, there was consternation from quite a few quarters. Where were we to get KFC-style fake chicken burgers from now? But one must not complain too much before ascertaining whether the replacement vittles are up to the same standard (and frankly I’m okay with any changes as long as those fabulous Gasometer chips stay on the menu). So, before a visit to the drive-in one chilly Sunday night, Muffin, Rob and I went on an investigatory visit.

Muffin ordered the goulash, a big expansive bowl of stew that looked terribly comforting on such a chilly night. But what I ended up coveting most was her pretzel. With fluffy, buttery dough and a soft crust flecked with crystals of sea salt, this generously sized pretzel was served with a brightly coloured mustard butter. While the mustard butter was delish, I was so impressed by the pretzel itself that I kept forgetting about condiments, and urged by Muffin just kept enjoying the texture and slightly sour flavours free of accompaniments.

I couldn’t turn away from the idea of a vegan schnitzel, which came served with a huge mound of creamy mashed potato and roasted baby carrots, beans and tiny beets. This was ridiculously impressive. The schnitz itself was all crumbed, herbed crispness on the outside, moist mock-chicken on the inside, pretty much my perfect vision of a schnitzel. The accompaniments were also of a high standard, the mashed potato constantly begging you to eat more of it with its creamy, buttery consistency, the beans and baby carrots sweet and permeated with that charred flavour that roasting imparts. And I’d never had roasted beetroot before, but those baby beets were irrepressibly more-ish.

I also completely ignored how large the serves normally are at the Gaso, and somehow thought that I was going to be able to fit in a serving of chips with aioli as well. While the chips here are still the height of potato-y joy, crispy and fluffy and crunchy, even with input from both Muffin and Rob I couldn’t finish them all. The SHAME!

Rob had… a burger. It was a meat burger, it came with chips, and Rob liked it, but that’s all either of us can remember about it. I mean, Rob has a terrible memory anyway, but I am now suffering from the sheer food-blogging shame of not remembering to take notes, or failing to interrogate Rob immediately after ingestion, I AM SORRY INTERNET.

The Gaso, thankfully, is still the king of vego pub meals whether their focus is on either side of the Atlantic pond. The three of us were quite comprehensively stuffed by the time we managed to totter onto our feet and head off for our drive-in adventure (which caused me to have nightmares about skeezy Matthew McConaughey for weeks, thanks Steven Soderbergh).

Gasometer

484 Smith Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9417 5538

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MIFF Eats 2012: Electric Boogaloo

Melbourne International Film Festival time! The film nerd Christmas in August! The greatest time of the year! And a perfect way for me to say fie at my bank account and treat MIFF as a period for good films and good food. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get the chance for any overseas traveling jaunts this year, I said to myself “bugger it”, took leave from work for the entirety of MIFF and basically went on holiday, attempting to eat myself decadently silly where I could in between the 45 films I saw. What follows is the most illustrious of the vittles I sampled.

Hako

After watching Step Up to the Plate and consequentially becoming VERY hungry, Jen and I took a stroll down Flinders Lane and ended up at Hako. I remember way back in the days when I was first becoming aware of the Melbourne foodie scene that Hako was quite talked about around town. Things seem a touch quieter at Hako these days, and although we had a pleasant enough meal with nice service and liberal libations of plum wine, there’s only one dish out of the four or so we had that’s really worth reporting, and that’s the herb salada maki rolls. Studded on the outside with seeds and inwardly stuffed with a mix of herbs and greenery, these were deceptively full of flavour and certainly had a lot more depth to them than a lot of vegetarian sushi I’ve come across. Jen and I were tempted to order another round of them, but had already racked up a decent bill so decided to let it go. Should I return to Hako in the future though, it will be for a feast solely comprised of those rolls and plum wine.

310 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9620 1881 

www.hako.com.au

China Red

Okay, I think I’ve figured China Red out. You may remember from last year’s MIFF Eats post that I was well confused about the patchy nature of the food on offer here, with some of it being really great, and other dishes proving to be almost unforgivably lackluster. But given its convenience and the fact that the food comes out super quick (both very important when it comes to trying to fit in a filling meal between films) I hit it up a few times during MIFF, mainly for the bright green vegie dumplings. The skins are still a touch too thick but that’s the only negative I can come up with, the fillings are nice and varied and the entire concoction is properly tasty. I also partook of the spring onion pancake, which was nicely crispy and not too oily, and of course that fabulous mango, coconut cream and sago dessert that just kills me dead. With China Red do your research, figure out the dishes you like and stick to them like glue. The benefits of a fast dumpling cannot be denied.

Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9662 3688

www.china-red.com.au

Journal

Ahh, Ol’ Reliable. I went to Journal for two consecutive Sunday brunch visits during MIFF in order to prepare for an extended filmy afternoon and evening. The first contained a creamy celeriac soup, a decadent cherry danish, and a chai served with a generous pot of honey, which is my sole requirement for a good chai. The second visit yielded up a stupidly tasty tomato and basil bruschetta (another example of getting the simple things oh so right), and a flaky croissant served with the daily jam, which just happened to be rhubarb. Can we all band together and make rhubarb jam a thing, because oh man is rhubarb jam a tart-sweet bomb of sticky deliciousness! I ended up being very indelicate and used my knife to scoop up the remains that didn’t end up on my croissant and just slurped it on its own.

253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 4399

Little King

This little gem has easily become my favourite haunt in the city. Hidden behind St Paul’s Cathedral down the same cobblestone alleyway that features the Chapter House gallery space, it’s a tiny lace-curtained bolthole that has some of the tastiest treats and most gorgeous service about town. I have become fast addicted to the soft pumpkin, baby spinach and goats cheese baguette to the point that sometimes I’m blind to anything else that may be in the cabinet. The coffee’s damn nice, at least to a non-habitual coffee drinker like me (I think it the coffee may be done by Padre, take that for whatever it means to you coffee fiends). Best of all, there are always heaps of yummy vegan sweet treats to choose from, which you should totally be doing at all possible times. Especially the banana and dark chocolate muffin. Om nom nom.

Shop 4, 208 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9654 0030

littlekingcafe.com

Chin Chin

See, I wasn’t lying when I said I used this year’s MIFF as an excuse for decadent food treats! Before viewing the truly excellent I Wish, Jen, Em, Sohi and I managed to score a table at easily the most talked about joint in town (the magic time to go in order to avoid the queues, it seems, is late afternoon). Em has already blogged extensively about this visit over on her blog Enjoy Eat Watch (complete with photos!) so I’ll just do a quick rundown of what I sampled as part of the $65 per head ‘Feed Me’ option – which is OBSCENE value for money, by the way.

– vegetarian wraps with crispy tofu, that come out on a DIY platter. Piles and piles of vegies to choose from in stuffing your wraps, and the peanut satay sauce that comes with it was whizz-bang wonderful.

– crispy corn fritters served with Vietnamese mint, chilli jam, slices of fresh ginger and lettuce leaves. I have to concur with Em and agree that this was the only dish that we sampled that didn’t quite work. All these little fried babies needed was the excellently spicy chilli jam, everything else was extraneous and conflicted texturally.

– a plate of green with the lightly steamed pea and bean shoots with soy honey sauce. I’m a big fan of greens done simply with a good sauce, and this hit the spot perfectly.

– vegetarian fried rice. While nothing will ever compare to my dad’s fried rice, this was still a very satisfying version, with a good proper level of salty soy and a variety of vegie bits and bobs (you always want your fried rice to have a good amount of bits and bobs).

– extreme dessert quartet of sweet destruction: honeycomb parfait with ginger sorbet, banana roti with condensed milk sauce, corn ice cream with caramel coconut rice, and a creamy, coconutty Thai-inspired trifle. While all of these caught my interest in some way, the one that would have me going back in a second would be the honeycomb parfait. Smooth, rich, creamy parfait undercut by the sharp tang of the ginger sorbet: utter bliss.

Needless to say, I am now among the multitudes that found Chin Chin to be utterly worth the hype.

125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

chinchinrestaurant.com.au

Cumulus Inc

I hadn’t tried Cumulus before, mainly due to the fact that I had never really heard of them rated as a good dinner joint for vegos. Indeed, once I was sat at the bar and started perusing the menu, I was dismayed that it seemed to be totally dominated by listings of oysters and charcuterie items. But within the salads and comestibles section I found succour with the cauliflower, chard and taleggio gratin dotted with delicate fronds of black truffle. This is the kind of dish that was so good that I wanted to lift it above my head into the light and declare it the high god king of all that the sun touched, but you know, I would have burnt myself on the hot skillet if I’d done so, so I didn’t.

What is also good about the salad and sides selection is that all bar the gratin can be downsized into half serves. I got myself a wee bowl of the cracked wheat and freekeh salad (I was eyeing off the roasted potatoes with sage and garlic but figured it wouldn’t be advisable to then sit through two films on a tummy filled with double stodge). This was an agreeably nutty side that definitely leavened the going with my cheesy gratin, and certainly felt healthy enough that my cheese guilt lessened considerably.

It’s also worth mentioning that Cumulus was a great experience as a solo diner. Sitting up at the bar you peer directly into the kitchen and can watch the chefs at work, and they all seem more than happy to chat with you while they’re putting together desserts, or cleaning oysters with tiny paintbrushes.

45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 1445

cumulusinc.com.au

Should you be particularly interested in my filmy MIFF musings, you can head on over to 240films.com, where Jen and I are still very slowly going through our reactions to all the films we saw. By the rate we post at, we should have them all done by Christmas.

Enlightened Cuisine

Enlightened Cuisine is always an epic, decadent treat. Mountains of well crafted mock meats, get in my face. And the best way to get mountains of mock meat in your face is to go with the set banquet option, which is an experience Jen and I had been eying off for months.

Having recently benefitted from a slight renovation spruce, the space at Enlightened Cuisine is still comfortably ostentatious, and always sports an eclectic crowd comprising anyone from Chinese families, hipsters, hippies to slightly stately older couples clearly on a fancy vegie date night.

There are two banquet price point options you can opt for, and within those options you have three different menu selections to choose from. We went with one of the $35 per head banquet options, where you get eight dishes all up. We started off with the mock shark fin soup, which was highly intriguing in terms of texture and quite tasty, although like most Chinese restaurant soups it came out scorchingly hot and I of course burnt my tongue. Silly rabbit.

The vegetable spring rolls came next and these were pretty standard, but good and crunchy with a nice array in terms of filling.

The kung po prawn was a mix of vegetables and wee little mock prawns that were most intriguing (to me anyway, I don’t think Jen was too keen on them). The kung po sauce was however VERY overpowering and neither of us liked the taste of it terribly much, so I ended up just fleecing it of prawns then left it be.

The sweet & sour pork however was damn good, same deal with mock meats nestling amongst a variety of vegetables, but the texture of the mock pork protein was freakily reminiscent of actual pork (it totally got the stringy way pork pulls apart right HOW CAN SOY DO THIS IT STILL TOTALLY BOGGLES ME). The sweet and sour sauce was also agreeably well done, I think this was my favourite dish of the night all told.

We’d been looking forward to the ma po tofu, as it’s always fab to experience a vegie version. The mock mince was nutty, the tofu tender and the spice level ratcheted up to “oh my that’s getting a bit warmmmmaohmygodHOT!” Being a chilli weenie I didn’t have as much of this as I probably should have given how nice it was.

The stir-fried mixed vegetables certainly helped to cut through all the rich sauces that accompanied the mock meat dishes.

The fried rice, kind of surprisingly, ended up being the dish that was most eagerly hoovered by Jen and I. It mimics your standard suburban Chinese restaurant fried rice even down to the little cubes of mock pork, but I don’t remember any childhood fried rice tasting this good. Highly impressed when a simple dish like this really brings the goods.

We were pretty stuffed by this point and were already feeling a bit guilty that we’d left so much of some of the savoury dishes untouched that dessert was seeming like an extra challenge. We needn’t have worried though, as the small dish of lychee and longans with ice cream turned out to be an excellent, light way to finish off the meal. I actually hadn’t had longans before, and I was interested to discover how similar they are to lychees in taste but are so different in terms of texture; they almost have a tight crunch to them, and are much firmer. I now want to do a series of longan dessert experiments!

The banquet selections at Enlightened Cuisine are certainly value for money given the obscene amount of food that ends up coming your way. Given how chagrined we were at how much we couldn’t fit in with just the two of us, I would think that the ideal banqueting party number would be three or four people. Now to confirm my hypothesis by gathering together a few more mock meat appreciating people and getting stuck in for round two!

Enlightened Cuisine

113 Queensbridge Street, Southbank

Ph: 9686 9188

http://ecuisine.com.au/index.html