Mukka

I pay close attention when Steph gets excited about a new restaurant, and she was as excited as all get out when Mukka opened up in her neighbourhood in November. Freshly made dosas are evidently worth getting excited about, especially when the set up is as friendly and delicious as what Mukka are doing down on Brunswick Street.

Unfortunately I’m not going to be expanding beyond the menu items already covered in both Steph’s and Where’s the Beef’s review (how unoriginal and unhelpful of me!). But as Steph gets excited for dosas, I get VERY excited for momos, and discovering that Mukka do a neat plate of six freshly steamed Tibetan momos filled with a spiced cabbage and potato filling, I was frothing to stuff them into my face. They proved to be well worth the enthusiasm, with elasticised skins made of rice flour and excellently favoured fillings, all with a nice little bowl of chilli sauce that was more an edition of savoury warm rather than hot-as-all-get-out, a very enjoyable dish and honestly worth coming for alone if you are as keen on momos as I am.

Given that I came in the company of Steph, and it was her discovery that brought me to Mukka, I totally had to honour her in trying a dosa. We both had The Classic, which is filled with chunks of curried potato mixed with spices, all wrapped in paper thin crispy dosa wrapper, and served with both sambar dal and a coconut chutney that REALLY hits a nutty sweet spot. Delightful!

I’m blown away that not only are these excellent vittles vegan (and there’s a great variety of vegan items on the menu so you don’t have to eat the same thing all the time, although don’t tell Steph that because she’s not letting go of that dosa), but that Mukka is such a friendly, bright, welcoming place in a way that is sometimes lacking in a too-cool-for-school suburb like Fitzroy. Seriously, go there, eat, pay attention – Mukka is something pretty special.

Mukka

356 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9917 2224

www.mukka.com.au

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

I know what you’re thinking. “Hayley this does NOT sound like a place where I am going to be able to get a meal suitable for my vegematarian needs.” I get it, I do, in fact I had my own suspicions that I was in for an evening of slim pickings as I made my way through the newly renovated and gussied up Rochester Hotel, where the bright red neon sign in the shape of a crab out on the street hints at the American-style seafood party within.

But you can rest easy, fellow vegetable munchers, we are actually quite well catered to at Miss Katie’s emporium of sea scuttlers, with the menu I saw offering several veg options. The overall menu vibe is one that takes inspiration from the cuisine of predominantly America’s south, with a few New England notes particularly in terms of the seafood on offer.

But we want VEGETABLES. And the first came in the form of a basket of fries because I am an unrepentant potato monster. These were distinguished by being served with a lot of Old Bay seasoning (always a big plus in my book) was well as a pot of blue cheese dipping sauce, which between here and The Beaufort is fast becoming my favourite saucy potato accompaniment. There is also a variety of hot sauces provided on the tables if you require spicy fries. In between four pairs of grabby hands the basket emptied very quickly!

For my main, I was excited to try Katie’s version of succotash. The waitress was at pains to explain that this was not technically a traditional rendering of succotash, in that it used farro as its base instead of shelled beans. It may have been a twist dish but I was more than happy to receive a bowl filled with grains, lengths of green beans, corn kernels, tiny florets of green cauliflower, tiny cubes of zucchini and eggplant all cooked down so they were soft and melty with barely any textural bite, topped with a dusting of grated cheese and the tiniest rounds of chopped chives. A lot of elements, yet they were all taste and texture-complimentary. Very clever, and an interesting and exciting vegetarian option.

If meat is your jam, alongside many crabby delectables you can also eat TEN TON OF FRIED CHICKEN. One of my dining companions ordered the chicken and waffles and nearly cried with overwhelmed fear when a giant plate came out with five huge pieces of spiced battered bird, a fat waffle nearly the same circumference of the plate, parfait butter and maple syrup (it’s okay, if you’re intimidated by the size of the meals they’ll let you take home whatever you can’t stuff in your face).

We also shared the dessert special of the evening, which were chocolate-filled doughnuts, sugar dusted balls of sweetness. Probably a touch too sweet, to be honest; this was the only dish we weren’t raving about on the way home. Not bad, per say, but definitely not of the same calibre as the amazing savoury dishes.

As a vegie I was very happily surprised by Miss Katie’s Crab Shack; evidently one shouldn’t judge a crustacean by it’s shell.

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

The Rochester Hotel, 202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9419 0166

www.misskatiescrabshack.com

Mr Burger

It actually surprised me to realise that I’ve never profiled a food truck on this here blog, especially considering you can’t really miss them around Melbourne these days. I’m often partaking of their wares as an easy lunch or dinner – having to walk to a truck’s location from my house is a good way of convincing myself that I am working for my burger (of course no one need work for a burger, may we all have forty thousand burgers a day, burgers love you don’t forget).

Out of the two burger peddling trucks that normally haunt my suburb, I lean towards Mr Burger over Beatbox Kitchen these days – not because Beatbox Kitchen’s burgers aren’t good, oh no, you should definitely get one of their mushroom burgers into your face as soon as you can – but because while burgers are fab the real race for food supremacy is with chips, and Mr Burger’s chips are so good I have legit DREAMT about them.

I suppose I should give some concession to the burgers and at least describe them to you. While I love a good mushroom burger (as evidenced above), I’ve noticed a lot of burger joints overly lean on them, especially when they just have the one vegie option available, so unless they’re truly a top-notch construction they can get a little samey. Mr Burger goes somewhere a little different, with a felafel patty for their vegie option, complete with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, tomato sauce, mayo and mustard to make their Mr Veg burger. Now it might sound weird to have a felafel patty in a bun with all those more traditional burger accompaniments, but trust me, IT WORKS and is delicious to boot. Keep in mind, however, that these are also rather hefty burgers – I am an unrepentant glutton and put away obscene amounts of food, but I often find these particular burgers are a little too much for for me and I have to leave a bit for Mrs Manners. But that also may be because I can’t help but eat a stupid amount of chips alongside them, because THESE CHIPS, OH MAN.

Honestly I don’t think they do terribly much special to these chips beyond sprinkling some spiced salt mix on them, but they are always fat and golden, and have a very good ratio between fluffy insides and crunchy outsides, and are just ultimately SATISFYING in a very simple yet gleeful way.

The best thing about Mr Burger is apart from their trucks they also have two permanent locations, so if you can’t be bothered to chase down a truck you can head to either Fitzroy or South Yarra and have your burger longings sated. Which you should do, right now, go.

Mr Burger

300 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

364 Chapel Street, South Yarra

For daily truck locations, check Twitter

mrburger.com.au

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

Slowpoke

Slowpoke has maybe the tiniest, most serene courtyard in Melbourne. The thin, long cafe meanders along its length until you reach the wee outdoor pocket right up the back, where four two-seater tables are collected underneath a fig tree canopy that provides quiet respite from the bustle of Brunswick Street outside. It was certainly an oasis of calm for Mel and I, having trooped across greater Collingwood and Fitzroy in search of an alternative brunching venue when our first choice fell victim to Xmas holiday opening hours and was lamentably closed.

There is nothing lamentable about Slowpoke, however, and we felt very fortunate to have stumbled across it. It’s very aesthetically pleasing,  mainly constructed out of what appears to be recycled and re-appropriated timber, making for a rather cosy atmosphere with a few nooks and crannies to hide yourself away in. Which brings me back to that courtyard, at the time not only shaded by big leafed fig trees, but crawling with vines and spilling forth with bountiful flowering plants like nasturtiums. Just lovely on a clear, warm day.

Everything on the tightly compact menu is centred around bread (apart from a bircher muesli), so I hope you like bread. Despite the fact that I am quite adept at making my own dippy eggs, it’s always nice when someone else makes a favourite dish, so I went with the soft boiled eggs with toast, with an extra side of avocado. The toast soldiers were large slices of crusty, lightly oiled bread, and rather too large for dipping, so I had to content myself with spreading the gooey egg yolk over it. Good proper gooey egg yolks forgive too large bread sins anyway. The avocado had been sliced and simply dressed with black pepper, pink salt and a squeeze of lime, and was fresh and lovely on its own, let alone paired with the crunchy toast.

Melly had the smashed avocado, a very generous slab of crusty bread covered in bright green smushed avocado flecked with pieces of fresh chilli. Simple yet hearty, she seemed to be very well pleased with it.

The flat white I had alongside my eggs was blisteringly strong (cue bug eyes for the rest of the afternoon), but didn’t bring along bitterness with the strength and was smoothly pleasant. It would have been unwise for my already terrible sleep patterns to have had a second, though, so instead I followed it up with a rooibos tea with lots of lovely floral-noted honey.

While I could see myself eventually feeling constrained by the limited menu of ALL THE BREAD PRODUCTS, Slowpoke is so enjoyable a spot to hang out in that I can see it becoming a handy meet up place for coffee and chats. The staff are friendly, and graciously put up with Mel and I spending over two hours taking up prime courtyard space talking about impending holiday times. Speaking of Xmas, I think it is appropriate to finish this post with Mel’s most wonderful present to me, an ornament that I have christened “It’s A Very Mario Balotelli Christmas.”

itsaverymariobalotellichristmas

Slowpoke

157 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9942 7813

Slowpoke on Facebook

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

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 Naked 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