Smith & Daughters

Melbourne’s veg*n community love Smith & Daughters. They really, really, REALLY love Smith & Daughters. Even since it opened in March of this year, the overwhelming positive, rapturous, orgasmic reviews have been consistently appearing across the food blogosphere ever since. And I got so excited. Because an all vegan restaurant by the folks responsible for the vegan food at Gasometer, at the East Brunswick Club, at Sweetwater Inn, this was something to be properly keen for.

However, I was in the midst of saving for my Canada and America trip, and a quick check of the reviews revealed that Smith & Daughters was on the expensive end of the spectrum, and there was frankly no way I could have justified a proper exploration of the menu at that time. So a lot of months passed by before I managed to slip in on a quiet Saturday morning in the company of Steph to experience the weekend brunch menu.

First of all, because I want this to be the ultimate take away anyone has of Smith & Daughters, the service here is the best I have ever had in Melbourne. THE. BEST. Every person on staff we came in contact with was friendly and helpful without being obtrusive, and are clearly passionate about every aspect of the business. This is such a rare thing to feel as a customer, obvious love for a place radiating off the well-turned out staff, especially in hospo, so it is well worth noting.

The brunch menu is smaller food-wise than the standard menu, but it is a bit cheaper for those of you watching your wallets (although a few items’ price points still made my eyebrows raise in an “oh really?” fashion). The menu is heavily Spanish and Latin American influenced, meaning lots of omelettes and mock chorizo and burritos, although it did mean that due to my aversion to capsicum/peppers a lot of the savoury dishes had to be discounted, but that is the fault of my tastebuds only.

There was no capsicum in the breakfast burrito though! Instead it’s ample insides were filled with fat chunks of tofu, sauteed garlic kale and a spicy mix of black beans and mock chorizo (I couldn’t quite figure out what the chorizo was made out of, as it had been ground up, but I would imagine maybe something mushroom based?), with a mound of guacamole served on the side. There is also the option, for a few extra dollars, to have cashew cheese added to the burrito, which I chose not to have because I try not to have too much nut-based dairy analogues since I feel uncomfortable with the fact they’re not the best ecologically (don’t get me started on the deal with almond milk). This was a mistake, as even with the avocado, the burrito filling was very crumbly, and very dry. All the fixings were well flavoured, but the dry, collapsible texture definitely got to me after a while. You shouldn’t have to add on an extra (especially priced) component to make a dish come together.

Smith & Daughters clearly understand what their runaway customer favourite dish is, so even on the brunch menu you will find the mock tuna and pea croquettas. These seem to have been a feature in every review I’ve read, and people are ecstatically wild for them. You get one fat croquetta, perfectly deep-fried to a crispy orange hue, sitting in a schmear of caper aioli and with a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the top. The inside manages to be simultaneously fluffy and moist, and you can see flecks of pea in among the mock tuna. The flavour didn’t seem overtly fishy to me, which was a bit strange since I’m ordinarily oversensitive to seafood flavours and scents. It was a perfectly fine finger of fried goodness, but I didn’t experience a scene of divine revelation. Do I also think the fact that one croquetta costs $5 is a bit of a liberty? Yes, yes I kinda do.

There is a very extensive juices menu here at brunch, which always perks me up as I love my fruits whizzed up and served with a garnish. I was peering covetously at a JUG of juice that was being sipped through a straw by someone at an adjoining table (a JUG OF JUICE! For ONE person! What a joy), but decided I should be sensible (boo) and just get a glass. Like a fool I can’t remember it’s actual name, but it was one of the more simple concoctions available, consisting of grilled apple, mint and cinnamon all juiced up and topped with a fan of fresh apple slices. This was DYNAMITE. Spicy and crisp and like having a fresh apple pie in a glass, it was both comforting and refreshing. I am very much intrigued by the sound of Smith & Daughters’ cocktail menu; if they are anything like the juices on offer then I think you could have a very delicious alcoholic evening there.

I don’t like to be even mildly contrary in the face of overwhelming praise. I’m actually quite alarmingly populist at heart when it comes to food and want to be able to join in with an experience that has attracted such cheers and love with enthusiastic gusto. I certainly don’t want to downplay what Smith & Daughters are doing in setting up what is in many ways a unique dining option for the veg*n community (and by the looks of things they are winning over plenty of omnivores). I also don’t want to downplay the care and work that goes into creating this kind of vegan cuisine, which require a lot of specialty ingredients and advanced cooking skills. The chefs here obviously aren’t just cooking out of standard vegan cookbooks, this is food that is adventurous and that has clearly been carefully developed over time. It’s just a case where my particular tastes don’t seem to align with those of the kitchen. And that’s okay! Smith & Daughters has plenty of superfans who will be more than willing to regale you with it’s virtues. Next time I may just stick with the drinks menu.

Smith & Daughters

175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9939 3293

www.smithanddaughters.com

Naked For Satan

We had a very special milestone to celebrate last month when our friend Nina took the plunge and became a fully-fledged Australian citizen. We wanted to take her somewhere that would reflect her Colombian heritage taking root in Australia – I instantly suggested Sonido, but the fact they aren’t open on Sunday nights scuppered that rather poetic idea. Eventually someone suggested┬áNaked For Satan, because Spanish food is kind of related to Colombia? Look, food on sticks transcends all cultural boundaries.

Food on sticks, you say? Yes, the deal at Naked For Satan is that all the food is done in the style of pintxos, little tapas-like snacks popular in northern Spain, particularly in the Basque region. You choose your pintxos, and make sure you hold onto the toothpicks spearing each one, because the amount you eat and therefore pay for is tallied by the amount of toothpicks you present to the waiters when you are done.

Virtually all of the pintxos come on rounds of crusty bread, which works with some of the combinations, like those based on spreads with toppings, while the presence of bread with some of the other options is a little more odd.

My first pintxo was the carrot puree spread with garlic marinated mushrooms. This was the only vegan pintxos I spotted that evening, and it was one of the more delicious ones, with the marinated mushrooms having this sharp, slightly balsamic tang to them, but it would be nice if there were at least two vegan options so one does not end up having some kind of mushroom overdose (though that wouldn’t be a half-bad way of going out, honestly).

A quince paste and goats cheese pintxo had a few pistachios sprinkled on top, and unsurprising these three flavours worked very well together.

I bee-lined for the crumbed eggplant chip on blue cheese smeared bread pintxo as soon as I spotted it. The eggplant was all crispy crumbs on the outside and soft deliciousness within, just the way I like it. Kind of just made me want a heap of eggplant chips, and this was one pintxo where the bread round seemed extraneous to requirements.

A sort-of-sweet option was the poached pear with a blue cheese smear, honey and walnuts. The poached pear was gorgeously soft and sweet, contrasting with the pungent blue cheese.

Another pintxo featured an asparagus spear laid on an avocado and pea smear. This one was kind of underwhelming, which is disappointing considering I love all three green ingredients. There strangely just wasn’t much flavour going on.

Flavour was, however, totally there in spades with my favourite pintxo of the night, the potato tortilla with a stupidly tasty mayo-like sauce. The thick triangular wedge of traditional Spanish tortilla, which is quite quiche-like and is not to be confused with the Mexican flatbread of the same name, was obscenely flavoursome, I probably ate about three of them – though with the later ones I left the bread untouched as again, the bread really added nothing to the tortilla was was just texturally confusing.

I finally had some proper sweets with the cointreau-chocolate mini cannoli and the dark chocolate rum ball. These were both quite nice, the rumball in particular was strongly flavoured with a good amount of dark chocolate, although being me I would have liked a lot more sweet options to choose from.

Considering that I had been worried that I would end up terribly hungry due to the tiny portions, I was actually nicely full by the end, and had only spent my pocket change in the process (I totally recommend going on days when the pintxos are only $1 each). Although there is the distinct possibility that this fullness was probably mostly due to everything coming on bread. There also weren’t any vegetarian or vegan hot options floating around – my meat-eating friends got to sample things like piping-hot meatballs and whatnot, and it might have been nice to balance out all the room-temperature pintxos with something warming.

But the bar is plentifully stocked and has many interesting tipples to try, including ginger beer cider, which has certainly been the find of summer drinking for me! I love cider and love big heapings of ginger in everything, so it’s absolutely perfect for my tastes.

Naked For Satan is definitely worth a gander at if you like interesting wee rounds of food and an extensive drinks menu. A warning that it is very popular and doesn’t take bookings, so it’s best to rock up either very early or very late in the evening to snag a table.

Naked For Satan

285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9416 2238

www.nakedforsatan.com.au

Basque

“You know,” said The Boy as we sat down at the table at Basque. “It’s really hard to find a good place for vegetarians on Chapel Street.” I had charged him with the task of procuring a place to dine for the evening, because he is very ingenious and often comes up with places I’ve never heard of. But he does have that unfortunate fascination with Chapel Street common to many south-siders of my acquaintance. “Of course Chapel Street is rubbish for vegos!” I retorted. “Except for Veg Out Time. And Tusk. And Oriental Tea House is okay. But otherwise, rubbish!” Many decisive hand gestures accompanied this grand, sweeping statement.

Well, if you are vego and wandering lost and hungry upon that infernal strip, you could do a whole lot worse than to go to Basque. This Spanish restaurant lists an entire page of vegetarian tapas dishes in its menu, and although not all that we sampled was top notch, the ones that proved delicious were addictively so.

There was a lot to choose from, and it took a long while for us to settle definitely on what we wanted, but in the end we went for the ‘ensalada de garbanzos’: chickpea salad with green capsicum and carrot slivers and smoked paprika; the Spanish organic vegetable tortilla with aioli cream; and the ‘patatas bravas’: fried potato chunks sprinkled with smoked paprika salt, served with garlic aioli.

The chickpea salad came out first, with glistening chickpeas and strips of carrot and green capsicum liberally covered in paprika. The first mouthful took my head clean off. Dear god, it was nearly death by paprika. I downed my whole glass of water within two or three mouthfuls of the salad, and my mouth was buzzing wildly. The chickpeas were so well done, creamy and soft without being mushy, and I wanted to keep eating them, but the damn paprika was so strong I had to stop. The Boy had no such stung tastebud difficulties, however, and happily devoured the rest of the salad.

With a shocked and sulky mouth now, I was feverently praying that the next dish would be less of a taste riot. Luckily I was saved by the vegetable tortilla. The Boy was a wee bit confused at its presentation and asked “Did we order a quiche?”, but it turns out that a Spanish tortilla is markedly different to its more well known Mexican cousin, and does indeed look like a nice thin slice of quiche. This was the perfect way to refresh my mouth with subtle flavours, the potato and zucchini slices in the tortilla pleasing with gentle prods of tasty vegetable goodness. Totally cleansed my palate, which was just what I needed. The Boy nominated it his favourite dish of the night.

I was full of trepidations while awaiting the third dish, the patatas bravas, as the menu had promised that they too would be covered in paprika. I was fearful! They came out, little bite-sized cubes of fried potato glistening with the red powdery sheen of spice powder, all gathered around a pot of shining aioli. I gathered my courage, skewered one on my fork, dunked it in aioli, and popped it in my mouth.

It was… GLORIOUS!

You know I love anything to do with potatoes, but these golden little gems were a revelation. The paprika, instead of overwhelming all other components as in the chickpea salad, merged with the perfectly crisp potato to give a little kick of spice that was expertly contrasted by the cooling aioli. I could have eaten the entire (quite large!) bowl full all my myself, and once The Boy realised how much I was enjoying them, well he let me clean up the remaining pieces in the bowl, which I did so, with enthusiastic relish!

As we were anticipating that the remainder of our evening was going to feature a pair of the Astor’s decadent choc ices (infinitely superior to your local multiplex’s choc top), we opted out of dessert, although I finished off with a glass of sangria, as it seemed the correct thing to do.

Basque was a fun evening out. Although one dish wasn’t to my taste, the others certainly made up for it. Though I must admit the live Spanish guitar band that played throughout our entire meal made it a bit difficult to carry on a conversation: the lilting guitars were frequently punctuated by loud yells of “WHAT?!” by either me or The Boy, till we gave up and spent the rest of the meal conducting conservation via increasingly elaborate mimes.

Basque

159 Chapel Street, Prahran

Ph: 9533 7044

www.basque.com.au