Vegie Mum

It is high irony that I didn’t find out that their was a mock meat vegetarian restaurant in Doncaster until after I’d moved away from the eastern suburbs. I assumed that the only way I would ever get to Vegie Mum would be hoodwinking my family into a dinner by ‘forgetting’ to tell them that none of the meat was real during a visit home, but that was without me counting on the ingenuity of food bloggers. So there I found myself, zooming along to Eastern Freeway in the company of Steph, The Simple Eater, Cindy and Michael for a Sunday night of serious soy eating.

Vegie Mum is situated in a strip of shops off of Doncaster’s main drag, but it seems that Vegie Mum’s presence means that it is anything but a quiet enclave. Sunday night or no, the place was heaving at the seams, with the manager helming the floor like a circus ringmaster, which culminated twice in leading rousing renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ to various patrons where EVERYONE was encouraged to sing, much to my inward glee.

The menu is huge, so I was pleased to hand over ordering duties to Steph and The Simple Eater, knowledgeable as they are after many Vegie Mum visits.

First up was a complimentary tiny bowl of tomato broth – not at all flavourful, but clearly acting as a palate cleanser.

The Simple Eater had done her research and wrangled for us an off-menu entree platter consisting of taro fritters, mock chicken drumsticks, mock jellyfish salad, and an Asian-leaning mound of scrambled egg. The mock jellyfish was an interesting melange of soy textures, and who doesn’t like a bit of scrambled egg? (Well, vegans don’t.) I, of course, gravitated naturally towards the fried starches, and devoured a few of the taro fritters, generously dunked into what was most likely a sweet plum sauce. The out and out winners of the platter were the drumsticks, which were dead-on in terms of mimicking chicken texture while also being crispy on the outside and madly flavourful.

My favourite dish of the night came out early in the form of the combination flat rice noodles. This consisted of lots of vegies (primarily broccoli, carrot and bok choy) with ample examples of a variety of mock meats, from chicken to pork and little mock prawns in the shape of actual prawns, all wok-fried together with a light, sweet sauce and flat rice noodles, which are my very favourite type of noodles yes please thank you very much.

We had to honour the Chinese take out cuisine of our childhoods by ordering a plate of the lemon chicken. The crispy soy strips were hot and juicy, and once smothered in the accompanying bowl of sweet-tart lemon sauce became enormously agreeable vegie versions of a classic.

A plate of handily pre-cut roti arrived at this point, which was handy as a lot of saucy dishes followed which required mopping up, which the thinly cut, lovely roti did very well.

I was never fussed with seafood even when I ate meat, so I wasn’t as keen on the idea of the Assam soy fish as some others were. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the battered batons of tofu wrapped with skeins of seaweed served alongside a vegie-packed tamarind stew. While I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself fully to tamarind, fishy mock meats definitely warrant more exploration.

The Sichuan eggplant hot pot was far more my bag, with great big chunks of eggplant that had been simmering in stew juices so that the eggplant flesh had become achingly soft and just melted in your mouth. Gorgeous stuff.

Clearly someone had felt a little guilty about our endless feast of soy, and leavened up proceedings by ordering some steamed greens, consisting of lightly dressed bok choy. I certainly took full advantage of a chance to cleanse the palate with some fresh greens.

The mapo tofu was the only true disappointment of the evening. This was not mapo tofu is any real recognisable form as there was no chilli factor at all, and while tofu, mock beef and vegies is nice and all, without chilli it ain’t mapo tofu.

The final dish was a plate of char kway teow, which had been delayed due to a vegan snafu where it had originally been made with egg after being requested without. While char kway teow is ordinarily one of my very favourite dishes, I actually ended up preferring the flat rice noodles from earlier, it had a greater variety of content, and this char kway teow wasn’t as smoky as I generally prefer.

There was also a chicken curry floating around, but I didn’t get a taste of it, which I wasn’t mourning terribly as I wasn’t in the mood for curry that evening.

If you had room for them (which I did because I cannot be stopped) there was also a complimentary plate of orange slices and jelly for dessert.

While there were some dishes that didn’t meet our high expectations, Vegie Mum is still a very fine purveyor of mock meat goodness that is well worth making the traveling effort to get to, for where else will you get the chance to serenade someone happy birthday over a plate of mock meats and rice noodles?

To read Cindy and Michael’s account of our visit, head to Where’s the Beef?

Vegie Mum

27 Village Avenue, Doncaster

Ph: 9816 3222

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Butter Tofu and Broccoli Curry

I’ve always been a bit massively intimidated by Indian cuisine, and very rarely make it at home for myself. Maybe it’s the long spice lists that generally accompanies most traditional-leaning recipes that gets me in a flap. However, pre-Christmas time found me needing to make something that would use up all perishable food items that wouldn’t last me being away for a week, and my already departed housemate had left half a jar of butter curry paste that she insisted I use, so I ended up throwing this tofu and broccoli curry together. And you know, it was pretty darn good. Darn good enough to come into regular quick dinner rotation, that’s for certain. Maybe with a bit more practice I’ll develop the stones to have a go at a proper traditional curry with all the spice trimmings, but for now this will do in a pinch.

Ingredients

  • 1 small head broccoli, cut into little florets
  • 1/4 cup cream (guide only – I am all for you judging how much cream you want. I want LOTS)
  • 1 350g packet firm tofu nuggets
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 75ml water
  • 1 tablespoon butter curry paste (I used mild, but obviously if you want more spice go wild you spice demon, you)
  • 60g butter
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • long grain white rice, to serve

1. Throw the butter and the grated garlic into the bottom of a large pot or saucepan and saute over medium heat until the butter completely melts.

2. Cut the tofu nuggets into quarters and toss into the pot with the broccoli florets. Add the curry paste, can of chopped tomatoes (juice and all, don’t drain them), water and cream, mix it all together and let it simmer away on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

3. Now is a good time to throw on your rice, whether you use a rice cooker or the old school pot method. I use the rice cooking time to judge when the curry is ready – when the rice cooker pings over from ‘cook’ to ‘warm’ makes it right for me. Either that, or keep an eye on the broccoli, and when it’s at your preferred consistency turn off the heat.

4. Serve with rice. Easy as!

Minimo

Since I moved to the northern suburbs, I’ve been a little bit crap in actually exploring all the new brunchy vittles that are now tantalisingly within reach of my house (official story is I’m trying to save a bit of money by not eating out as much; actual story is that if left to my own devices I can end up in a lazy spiral where my food habits turn into “exactly how many different toppings can you put on a Ryvita?”).

So the best method to actually get me exploring greater Brunswick’s food offerings is to lure people to visit me. When my sister Carly put a call out on Saturday morning for someone to take her out for hungover brunch, I jumped in with the promise of Brunswick fun times.

I’d been keen to visit Minimo since this Where’s the Beef post from the depths of time. I always like the idea of good solid little cafes that are consistent and hold forth with ALL OF THE EGG DISHES, and as such felt it would be the perfect venue to help Carly in her vale of hungover sorrow.

Such were the quantity of egg dishes that it took me a while to decide what to have, but corn fritters are always a pretty pleasing idea especially when they come with two poached eggs. A giant stack of two plump corn fritters that were absolutely bursting with kernels did indeed come topped with two poached eggs, as well as generous slatherings of lime mayo and fresh mango salsa. The eggs popped deliciously runny, hot yolk all over everything, the mayo had a sharp citrus bite to it, and since going to a party a few weeks ago where I sampled a delicious tofu, fresh mango and sweet chilli burger I am ALL ABOUT savoury mango now, so the sweet pulpy mango salsa was divine. This is one of the first times in a long while where I’ve received a $17 plate of breakfast and felt that it was actually well worth every penny.

After making the waiter dissolve into laughter about the fact that Carly required ALL THE MEATS (I think we quietly made his day with our bantery ways, clearly we need to start a comedic sibling double act pronto), Carly built her own breakfast plate of poached eggs, thick cuts of bacon, and a generous amount of thinly sliced prosciutto. The prosciutto disappeared VERY QUICKLY, which is indicative of quality, as Carly is well fussy with her smallgoods. The serving was a bit too large for her hungover tum, a fact that she lamented extensively, as she greatly enjoyed it all and felt a bit rotten having to leave some of it behind.

The coffee would probably turn up the nose of the most ardent coffee snobs – the crema on the top of my flat white was a bit thin and wobbly (…that’s a technical term), and the backend was a touch bitter, but I was pleased enough with it, considering I rarely have coffee anyway.

Minimo was just what I had always hoped it would be, a solid neighbourhood cafe with generous, hearty food and friendly staff that create a space that is clearly a haven for its legion of regular customers. I couldn’t be more pleased to be living near by.

Minimo

822 Sydney Road, Brunswick

Ph: 9383 2083

Minimo on Facebook

Touche Hombre

I’m starting to feel like if I decided to eat Mexican every night for a year, I would not run out of new places to go to each night, such is Melbourne’s love affair with everything you can put in a tortilla. I managed to tick off another major player in the Mexican scene in the company of Jen and Zoe, as we tackled the neon auspices of the very popular Touche Hombre.

To start with, a serving of guacamole is essentially mandatory. Touche’s version is rather fancy, not only being augmented by frilled coriander leaves, but also whisper-thin slices of radish and pearls of pomegranate. It certainly created a bit more excitement to ladle onto a tortilla chip that usual.

I have rhapsodised here before about my unending excitement for ‘corn-onna-stick’, which Jen also knows about only too well and backed me up in my desire to have the elotes callejeros, which consisted of entire corn cobs slathered in butter, grilled and then covered in pecorino cheese and tajin. While the sticks used are in no way structurally load-bearing, and I would recommend that Touche Hombre get in someone with engineering nous to design a more sturdy stick, the corn itself is in no way flawed, all chargrilled smoky, buttery goodness with the drifts of cheese giving a good proper salty tang to proceedings.

The serious business at Touche Hombre is centred around their $5 tacos, of which there are about ten or so varieties, two of which are vegetarian so in the name of science I ordered both of those. The taco de tofu was filled with a slab of chargrilled tofu with chimmi churri mayo, shredded carrot and radish curls and coriander. Everything was fresh, the chimmi churri does the heavy lifting of making sure that there’s a good whack of spiace and flavour involved, which is often the downfall of a tofu-based taco, so this was very satisfactory indeed.

The taco de batata contained cubes of caramelised sweet potato, creamed corn, spring onion and mint. I actually didn’t realise there was creamed corn in it until after looking up the description post-meal, so that’s interesting.  This one wasn’t quite as pleasing as the tofu one, but still interestingly put together and, most importantly, packed with complimentary flavours.

Despite initially thinking that a $5 taco ran the risk of being tiny and not terribly flavourful, Touche’s versions were, while compact, bursting with ingredients that don’t run into cliches of Mexican cooking. My one quibble is that neither the tofu or the sweet potato fillings were very hot – each taco was lukewarm at best, so if you’re looking for a warming taco you might be a bit disappointing (considering summer is here, it’s a thought to file away until autumn anyway).

Alongside the tacos I had a cool glass of horchata with 1800 coconut tequila. I’m not normally one for milky-looking alcoholic beverages, but given that horchata is made of ground almonds and sesame seeds it was delightfully nutty, and avoids the bloaty feeling you may get with boozy dairy drinks.

Despite having already tucked into an impressive array of food, it ain’t dinner unless you finish with dessert. Zoe and mine’s eyes lit up at the sight of the choc-chilli peanut ice-cream sanga that was delivered to a neighbouring table. A fat disc of vegan peanut ice cream is sandwiched between chocolate biscuits (a bit similar to the texture of yo-yo’s), and dusted in chocolate-chilli powder that actually has a reasonable kick to it, unlike many chilli-utilising desserts. The peanut ice cream was just ridiculous – rich and creamy, it was hard not to end up squawking over it like a vulture going “MINE MINE MINE” in order to snatch all of it for myself. Zoe and I managed not to come to blows over it, just.

We also ordered a coconut rice pudding with blackberry chutney. Ordinarily I love rice pudding over most other things, its such a wonderfully comforting dish for me, but everything had paled in the face of the peanut ice cream sanga. Just order the sanga. In fact, waive entree and main meal and just order three sangas. Is that going too far? But it’s SO GOOD.

I was a little worried initially that Touche Hombre might be prove to be one of those places that is all about the image without much substance beneath, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the food has some serious chops. It’s definitely taken it’s place as my preferred venue for Mexican in the CBD, so take that glowing recommendation and get there now, scoot!

Touche Hombre

233 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9663 0811

www.touchehombre.com.au

Kamel

A good vegetarian banquet that is impressive across the board is a little less hard to find in veg-obsessed Melbourne these days, but it is always nicely surprising when an old school player can hit it out of the park on a consistent basis. I had been to Albert Park stalwart Kamel once years ago for a very well-remembered brunch (in fact I’m a little surprised that I didn’t appear to blog about it at the time), so I was very much looking forward to what they would be able to dish up in terms of a dinner banquet that Kim had organised for her birthday.

There’s a lot of food to get through here, so no time for digressions about decor and whatnot except to say that the service was very lovely and efficient. Right! Time to start things off with a pitcher of white peach sangria, which is a little bit more fun than her standard sangria cousin.

Being a Middle Eastern restaurant proceedings were essentially obligated to start off with bread and things to dip bread in, so out came the garlic and oil flatbread with hummus and baba ganoush. The bread was gorgeous enough that it could have been eaten without accompaniment, but with the bright magenta baba ganoush and the hummus screaming fresh-made-that-day-ness, you had to scoop up as much a possible and not feel bad at all about filling up with bread.

The next dish hit the table and my eyes turned as wide and round as hubcaps, because saganaki with lemon will always cause such ocular trouble. Hot fried cheese with tart hits of lemon juice, how could you not love this?

The sweet potato and sesame seed felafel with honey tahini was a nice turn on a staple, with the sweet potato base yielding a much softer felafel with sweet flavours that let the sesame and tahini take the front seat.

The quinoa tabbouleh with cucumber, grapefruit, mint and a pomegranate dressing was a smartly dressed up version of your standard tabbouleh, and while others weren’t so keen on the grapefruit segments doted throughout, there I was to scoop them up into my waiting maw. Grapefruit is underrated, guys, more grapefruit always.

Next came one of the special vegetarian dishes just for me – although may I say that I was impressed that the regular banquet had included solely vegetarian dishes up to this point. The zucchini, corn, feta and chickpea flour fritters with labne and salad (comprising cucumber, capsicum and cherry tomatoes dusted with sumac) were immensely hearty, thick and doted with corn and zucchini cubes, and the fresh, crisp nature of the salad vegetables cut through any sense of stodge.

The warm Egyptian quinoa salad with pinenuts, cauliflower, chickpeas and feta was my very favourite dish of the night, unusual considering it takes a lot for a bowl of grains to rate above fried starches in my book, so TAKE NOTE. What worked so well with this particular dish was that everything was wonderfully balanced both in terms of flavours and textures. Not too much quinoa, sweet bursts from the pinenuts, delightfully soft cooked chickpeas that needed only a touch of pressure to collapse, and just enough creamy feta to add a sense of decadence without overwhelming in richness.

For those longing for some starches, though, there are the patatas bravas with roast baby onions and aioli. They weren’t as crispy as one might possibly like, but were deliciously caramelised, most likely due in part to being roasted alongside onions.

By this point everyone was enormously full and probably slightly dreading the appearance of any sweets, but the share plates of Turkish delight, baklava, Persian fairy floss, halva ice cream and Turkish delight ice cream did indeed get heavily sampled. The baklava was maybe a little too pastry-based for my liking (MOAR PISTACHIOS, MOAR HONEY says my heart with all iterations of baklava), but I happily snuck more than one piece of the generous squares of Turkish delight, flush with rosewater, and the ice creams were both richly creamy and texturally interesting.

Kamel has lasted a long time in Melbourne’s ever fluctuating food scene for a reason – their food is damn good and consistently so, with enough experimentation with Middle Eastern staples to keep your interests and your eyes constantly wider than your stomach. Their vegetarian banquet was a delight to experience, and I can’t thank Kim enough for being so clever as to introduce me to it.

Kamel

19 Victoria Street, Albert Park

Ph: 9696 1386

www.kamelrestaurant.com

Trippy Taco

Time for the airing of a dark, shameful secret. Despite being a native Melburnian, and being a Melburnian vegetarian for nearly twelve years, I had until recently… wait for it… NEVER BEEN TO TRIPPY TACO.

I’ll wait a moment for all the shocked Melburnian veg*ns to pick themselves up off the floor and have a significant moment to recover on their fainting couches.

I know I know, it’s just that Gertrude Street is SO OUT OF THE WAY of my ordinary ramblings that I’m basically never in the vicinity of it. But, on this particular day I had just finished getting my hair cut on Johnston Street (random plug: Little Buddha Hair! Saya and Mike are aces, let them style your noggin!), I felt in the mood for a walk and just happened to wind up on Gertrude Street and remembered that I was thus in the vicinity of VEGGIE MEXICAN GOODNESS.

It isn’t a terribly big place, and I have heard tell that visiting at prime meal times can become a bit of an access nightmare, but at 3 in the afternoon everything was ducky, had no problems ordering or getting a seat. It’s a pretty expansive menu, too, with all the usual corn tortilla’d suspects – burritos, quesadillas, tacos, taquitos (“Yeah I want some taquitos!”), even tamales.

I wanted to try at least two things, as this was a first visit, so I went with a snack size serving of the tofu asada tacos (so that’s one taco as apposed to the meal size’s two), comprising of house made corn tortillas with cheese, rather spicy grilled tofu cubes, shreds of iceberg lettuce, slices of oh so fresh avocado (avocados are at their absolute best right now, it’s amazing), a varied salsa and a wedge of lime to squeeze over. The tacos are served open, and are far too generous to be folded over and eaten by hand, but frankly attacking them with knife and fork is more satisfying to me than the inevitability of spilling half the contents all over myself. And you would not want to spill these tacos, they are very fine tacos indeed.

Thorough only one taco, the snack size is pretty darn filling, especially if you team it with something else. Having long been aware of the apparently god-like properties of the chilli salt-encrusted Trippy Fries, I simply had to order a basket (yes, HAD TO, it was mandatory). These came out so covered in chilli salt that mere contact with them will turn your fingertips bright orange, but they are tasty and they are spicy and I can well see why they have such a devoted following.

Trippy Taco is all that the years of effusive blog posts promised me that it would be: an efficient purveyor of vegetarian and vegan Mexican food that is generous, well flavoured and immensely satisfying. I’m just kicking myself that it took me so darn long to experience it.

Trippy Taco

234 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9415 7711

www.trippytaco.com.au