The Left-Handed Chef

I am going to be completely rubbished by Julian for this, but it is always best to admit to one’s shortcomings. So at the close of our visit to South Melbourne’s The Left-Handed Chef, I ended up peering at the menu taped to the front window for an inordinately long time, until he asked me what the hell I was doing. “I’m memorising what we ate so I can write about it for the food blog.” “Are you sure you don’t want to, I don’t know, write it down?” “Oh no, I have a really good memory for these things, I’ll be fine.”

Julian looked skeptical, as it turned out he had every right to be, as since I’ve finally came around to blogging about The Left-Handed Chef nearly a month after our visit (I know I know, I’m TERRIBLE), while I can distinctly remember everything that I had eaten, in a case of sheer food narcissism I only have vague recollections of what Julian ate. I know it was called something akin to a Big Breakfast Plate, there was bacon and eggs (maybe scrambled?), maybe tomato, maybe some kind of sausage? I really don’t know. So I am sorry, internet, my hubris means I have failed you once again.

I do however remember very clearly my meal and all the other impressions gleaned from our visit to The Left-Handed Chef, a little bakery and cafe that hangs out on Park Street. I’d been keen to visit on finding out that all the bread products used are baked on premises each morning, because why wouldn’t you be excited by fresh bread? BREAD IS LIFE (even if yeast does make my insides a little sad these days).

The set up is quite endearing, and old school in that several new wave cafe trends have clearly passed the Chef by. No little bowls of fancy salt will you find on your table, no unrefined cane sugar – the sweet stuff is bleached white and still comes in sachet packets. But the food that comes out on the plate is hearty and packs quite a tasty punch.

I went with The Green Breakfast – freshly baked wholemeal bread spread with smashed peas, two perfectly poached eggs with generously gooey yolks, and grilled stalks of tender asparagus. First of all, SMASHED PEAS. Why isn’t everyone doing this? It would relieve the fatigue of far too many smashed avocados around town. And these peas were sweet and not at all mushy, it was unexpected spring on bread. And speaking of bread, ooooh it was good, fresh and crusty and not at all lacking for not being the cafe standard of sourdough. Cracking the perfectly gooey orange yolks over the bread and loading it up with a bite of asparagus, goodness, it was just what the doctor ordered.

In terms of coffee, I actually do remember Julian saying that he felt his latte was a bit weak, and not terribly to his tastes. I did however how a lovely pot of English Breakfast tea, all woolen cosy-ed up, that was remarkably strong and multi-note flavoured considering it actually came from a teabag (although I’m often not as fussy about teabags if the end result is nice and robust).

The Left-Handed Chef may not be as slick as we’ve become accustomed to in Melbourne, but on the plate it gets everything that really counts right.

The Left-Handed Chef

Shop 2, 219 Park Street, South Melbourne

Ph: 9645 5800

www.facebook.com/TheLeftHandedChef

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Red Lentil, Tomato and Potato Soup

I never used to post many recipes here on the blog as I figured to myself  “oh no, no one wants to hear about all my basic home cook recipes, people want to learn how to make more exciting and complicated things.” But then talking among my friends, many of whom want to cook more but end up being overwhelmed by the proficiency level expected from a lot of cookbook and food blog recipes, I realised that there is always a place for staples, the kind of recipes you make week to week because they are easy, tasty, delicious, and yield a bunch so you can freeze it and care for your future self.

And there’s no better way to care for yourself than with a stupidly comforting bowl of this hearty lentil soup. Well, it’s probably more of a stew. Either way, it is thick and filled with vegies and warmth and goodness. Your mum will be so proud of you if you show her you can make this, because it means you’re doing better than fine, you’re doing well.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 400g can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 5 baby potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tsp all-purpose spice mix (you might recognise this as the stuff you use to coat tofu or meat cuts with before pan-frying. It also makes a damn fine soup spice mix involving anything starchy)
  • good handful baby spinach leaves
  • cracked black pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • grated parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

1. Get yourself a big pot, add the olive oil and the garlic, and heat on the stove until the garlic is sizzling. Add the potato cubes and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that you completely coat them in the oil.

2. Add the stock, the lentils, the all-purpose spice mix and the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and cook, occasionally stirring, for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft and have sucked up most of the liquid, and the potato cubes are at your preferred level of softness – I like them with a slight firmness to them, but if you like them softer just let the pot bubble away for a bit longer, you’ll just have to stir a bit more vigilantly. If you’re worried the lentils will suck too much liquid in this time, feel free to add a bit more stock, or even water.

3. Add the baby spinach right at the death, stir through so that it wilts, and then do a bit of seasoning with a generous sprinkle of black pepper and sea salt. Ladle out into bowls and top with a nice generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese if you are using it. Voila!

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Admiral Cheng-Ho

Originally I was sent to Admiral Cheng-ho on the second day it opened to cover it for an online guide to Melbourne that I help write for, but it turned out that the editors had accidentally put two writers on the case, so to avoid any potential argey-bargey I bowed out of the piece. But that’s okay, because it means that I get to write about it here instead! And my editors probably wouldn’t have allowed me to say things like HOLY SHITS ADMIRAL CHENG-HO IS FUCKING VEGAN SHANGRI-LA or write a review that was just transcriptions of drooling sounds, so it’s probably for the best.

Why is Admiral Cheng-Ho so amazing? Well, for one they’re run by the same folks who do Monk Bodhi Dharma, grand high poobah of quality Melburnian vegan and coffee dining. For another, it is in Abbotsford, which means northsiders don’t have to tramp all the way to Balaclava now to feast on Monk’s particular seam of foodie goodness. It’s a much bigger space than Monk too, although it still errs on the modest side of things.

But what you really want to know about is the FOOD. And the fact that everything on the menu, EVERYTHING, is either vegan or vegan-adaptable. You can’t hack gluten? Neither can half the menu here. It’s a goddamn specialty diet wonderland. You can eat ALL THE THINGS! And it’s all FREAKIN’ DELECTABLE.

As everything looks delicious, I was wracked with indecision trying to choose what to have, but in the end chose what looked like would yield me the most food – The Admiral, comprising three zucchini fritters with sauteed kale, pine nuts, seasonal vegetables (in my case roasted white carrots and tiny baby spears of asparagus) with a big mound of beetroot relish with dill sprigs, and basil cashew cream.

This was a big, generous plate of food and I dove in with gusto. All the components just complemented each other so nicely, I kept making little bitefuls, using pieces of fritter as anchors, and loading them up with tiny bites of everything. Special mention to the crispy salty kale and the teeny tiny asparagus spears that were just ever so sweet. My only quibbles were that the fritters had a higher dough to vegetable ratio, which was okay but threatened to be slightly stodgy, and the fact that the basil profile in the cashew cream wasn’t terribly noticeable, to the point that I forgot about the menu description and thought for a while it was actually some kind of emulsified avocado. But these are miniscule concerns in the face of mostly overwhelming hearty deliciousness.

For coffee nuts they have six blends on the go each day, as well as single origin and filter coffee and whatever else it is rings coffee people’s jollies. I had a flat white using the standard house blend and it was nicely strong and slightly smoky. FAR MORE IMPORTANT though is the tea menu, and the fact that like Monk, the Admiral has proper respect for appropriate brewing times and will steep your tea for you and serve it to you all ready to go. There’s a nice selection of FANCY teas too – I finished my meal off with a Korean persimmon tea that was simultaneously tart with tiny sweet, fruity notes, and had this lovely rough back up to it – sounds weird, but I assure you that it was a very comforting beverage, even on a hot afternoon.

Do you honestly need me to tell you to get your butt to Admiral Cheng-Ho right now? WHY AREN’T YOU ALREADY THERE?

Admiral Cheng-Ho

325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford

Ph: 9534 7250