Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cutler & Co V

December 11, 2014


On my birthday proper, Michael booked us a table for two at Cutler & Co. Though we've long been fans of owner-chef Andrew McConnell's vegetarian options, it's been three years since we were last at this restaurant. It's plenty of time for trends and seasons to have transformed the menu.

I started out with an old classic, anyway - gin and tonic ($9.50), to the drinker's own preferred dilution.


Like many high end restaurants the a la carte menu features a lot of meat. Nevertheless, Cutler & Co slip their vegetarian degustation to all diners and they've proven themselves capable of catering well to vegans and miscellaneous peskytarians. The wait staff remembered from Michael's reservation call that we were vegetarian and made sure to point out what altered and additional a la carte dishes were available. We didn't pay them much mind as we were pretty keen on the degustation ($110 each). The beverage options have expanded with a classic wine pairing (chosen by Michael; $85), a premium wine pairing ($125) and - yay for lightweight me - a non-alcoholic drink pairing ($49).

Beginning bread was served with beetroot chutney, as well as the usual butter and salt. Though the sourdough rolls looked light, they were very crusty. I held off on the white rye, bracing myself for the 6+ courses to come.


McConnell is clearly a pepper de Padron lover, repeatedly serving them in his restaurants for more than seven years. Fried almost to blistering skin and generously salted, this batch were sweeter than usual without a single firecracker among them.


Our first official course was a silky buttermilk mashed potato with a pine nut crumb and crisp-edged kale leaves. The potato tasted of sharp cheese, a trusty companion to green leaves. The apple and lemon juice in my drink effectively cut through the richness, and some muddled celery softened it out and lent an unusual savoury note.


These green spring vegetables were subject to nothing more than the lightest blanching before being served with goats curd and toasted sunflower seeds (sprinkled at the table after an oversight in the kitchen). My paired drink was based on an unfamiliar citrus fruit, more celery, and bay leaf.


Carrots and asparagus also received light treatment, augmented with a green lovage puree and dabs of fromage blanc. We also detected dill and the occasional little burst of sweet aniseed. I was very taken by the accompanying mocktail - grapefruit and verjuice shot through with almond syrup and garnished with sorrel.


In a nod to Japan, braised cos was served with shiitake mushrooms, ginger and sesame. My warm green tea added toasted rice flavours.


Unfortunately the staff were distracted before they could describe our final savoury course. Our plates held pressed eggplant, shanklish and pickles that I found out of place. The menu also mentions honey and elderflower, but these were overpowered by the burned flavour of the eggplant skin. The grain-based side salad, pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs were all rather Ottolenghi. (Ottolenghi is a legitimate adjective in this Plenty-loving house.)

Our sommelier was especially proud of the faux pinot he had for me here - the grape juice base is enhanced with star anise, coriander seeds, and a popular canned Chinese tea.


We declined a cheese course and moved on to the palate cleanser, a real cutie - rose cream, peach sorbet and fresh peach segments.


Dessert proper was fairly cleansing itself - a small tangy quinelle of buttermilk icecream with melon, cucumber and a little oat crumble.


My final paired beverage used more cucumber, muddled into apple juice with elderflower. Its acidity almost gave the sensation that it was carbonated.


The petit four of the night was a fruit-flavoured marshmallow, but our waiter swiftly recalled that the marshmallow would contain gelatine and served us ganache on wafers instead - we reckon it might be secretly superior to the marshmallows.


There's nothing like a parting taste of chocolate to sweeten my judgement. This degustation didn't hold any outstanding individual dishes for me, but I admired its consistent and careful use of fresh, seasonal vegetables (.... though as usual, it wouldn't hurt for a high-end chef to prioritise more plant-based proteins!). If anything the well-paired and varied non-alcoholic beverages are the  innovation that elevated my experience. Cutler & Co really does set a consistently high standard - after the incomparable Attica, it's probably my favourite fine dining in Melbourne.

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You can read one, two, three, four past posts from us about Cutler & Co.

Since that last post, it has received a rave review on easy as vegan pie and a mixed review on Nouveau Potato. Omni bloggers are largely fans - see Sweet & Sour Fork, ChiGarden, BLK's Food Blog, The Glutton's Diet, JKP, A Food Story, Eat, Drink and DIY, I came, I saw, I ate, James Ridenour, let me feed you MELBOURNE, WHAT'S NEXT ON THE LIST, foodie about town, Gourmet Chick, Prick with a Fork and Spoonfuls of Wanderlust - although the experience didn't quite match the reputation for FoodMeUpScotty or The Survival Imperative.
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Cutler & Co
55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
9419 4888
degustation menu
http://www.cutlerandco.com.au/

Accessibility: Cutler & Co has a flat entry and generous space between tables. The front bar often contains high benches and chairs, but there are some standard-height booth seats to the side. There's full table service. The toilets we encountered were quite narrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lucy Lockett II

December 5 & 11, 2014


Since belatedly catching on to the very veg-friendly Lucy Lockett, we've wasted no time in revisiting to explore more of the menu. For a late Friday lunch, Michael and I both ordered the breakfast burrito ($17) in a rare moment of simpatico. Accustomed to the densely packed parcels of Trippy Taco,  Zambrero and Smith & Daughters, the fanned-out saucy version offered here took me by surprise.  The scrambled egg and avocado didn't quite hold their own against a mass of Mexican beans, but I appreciated the side salad and smear of sour cream. An apple, strawberry and lime juice ($7) sealed this meal as a success.


Less than a week later we were back for a sneaky pre-work breakfast. Michael had the braised mushrooms, super-charged with vinegar, served with spinach and parsley on sourdough toast ($15).


I ordered the slow-to-prep French toast ($17), with strawberries, double cream and a walnut crumble on the side. The egg batter barely penetrated the surface of these towering bread chunks, which were crumbed with banana chips and oats. I only managed two of them before I ran out of strawberries and admitted defeat; I still didn't desire lunch until 3pm.

Our second and third Lucy Lockett meals didn't hit the same high notes as our first, but the friendly service has proven consistent. There are still eight more veg*n options on the menu that we've not yet tried, so there are plenty more opportunities for them to delight (or disappoint) us.

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You can read about our first visit to Lucy Lockett here.
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Lucy Lockett
140 Barkly St, Brunswick
8388 7138
menu
http://lucylockett.com.au/


Accessibility: The entry is flat and the interior is spacious. We ordered at our table and paid at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Next-gen frozen chocolate crunch

December 2-6, 2014


Clamps and I have birthdays in early December, and this year we held a joint celebration - first at the Cornish Arms to honour his love of beer and deep-frying, then back to Casa sin carne for my kind of icecream. There was vodka-spiked cherry sorbet, my best batch of Vietnamese coffee icecream yet, and a little leftover rhubarb & strawberry sorbet. The centrepiece was a next-generation frozen chocolate crunch.

This icecream cake is an old family favourite that I've written about before, but it needs stripping of dairy and gluten to suit my circle of friends. I used Leda gingernut cookies in the crumble, Orgran egg replacer in the chocolate layer, and So Good vanilla icecream for the centre - all convenience foods in the spirit of the original recipe.

This cake was different to its forebear, with a noticeably darker, denser chocolate strip and a subtle ginger accent. It was wonderful in its own right. It might even earn the storied status among my mates that the original recipe holds with my family.


Next-gen frozen chocolate crunch
(adapted from a family recipe)

85g vegan, gluten-free biscuits
85g slivered almonds
1L soy vanilla icecream
170g dark chocolate
2 teaspoons powdered egg replacer
100g margarine
2/3 cup icing sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Place the biscuits between two pieces of baking paper and crush them coarsely with a rolling pin. Spread the almonds out over a small baking tray and toast them under a grill, keeping a careful eye on them and tossing them regularly to prevent burning. When the almonds are lightly golden, retrieve them and stir through the biscuit crumbs. Set the mixture aside.

Remove the icecream from the freezer and set it at room temperature to soften.

Gently melt the chocolate in a saucepan, set over a second saucepan of boiling water. Set it aside to cool a little. In a mug, stir together the powdered egg replacer and water until smooth.

In a medium bowl, beat the margarine until fluffy. Beat in the icing sugar.  Pour the egg replacer into the bowl of margarine and follow with the vanilla and coffee liqueur, beating everything together thoroughly. Finally, beat in the melted chocolate until smooth.

Line a springform cake tin with foil or baking paper. Sprinkle half of the biscuit-almond mixture across the base. Gently pour in half of the chocolate mixture and spread it evenly over the crumble. Spoon the softened icecream over the chocolate layer and even up the top. Spread over the remaining chocolate and finally the last of the crumble. Cover the cake tin with foil and freeze the cake for at least four hours, preferably overnight. Slice into small wedges to serve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vegerama II

November 29, 2014


I found myself in Brisbane for a quick work trip and stumbled across the freshly opened Vegerama restaurant in West End. Vegerama have been running a couple of food court hotbox-style places in the Brisbane CBD for more than five years (I visited one way back in 2009), but their new location in West End is a proper sit-down restaurant aiming for a more impressive experience. It's smack bang in the middle of the Boundary St/Melbourne St shopping strip and accessible via loads of great bus lines (and probably only a 20 minute walk from the CBD). Excuse the dodgy photos - I was caught short with just my phone to capture the experience.

The space is bright and airy, with a mix of exposed brick and wood panelling and some colourful tiles behind the big front counter. There're seats for about fifty people, including a few tables out on the street. The menu is a grab-bag of cuisines and touches on all the standard vego dishes - noodles, curries, burgers, pastas and stir-fries. It's mostly vegan, but there are a few dishes that lean on cheese for flavour.

Mum went with the South Italian salad of mixed heritage tomatoes, basil, cucumber, olives, capers, toasted almonds and olive oil ($14). It's supposed to come with buffalo mozzarella as well, but they forgot to add it - they were very apologetic about it when we let them know and knocked a few bucks off our bill to make up for it.


Even without the cheese this was a success - fresh, simple and tasty with the olives and capers adding some salty bite to the sweet tomatoes.

I went for something a bit heftier - the Vegerama green stiry-fry with broccoli, capsicum, zucchini, kale and cashews with tempeh and brown rice ($15).


This was a gigantic meal - probably a whole block of tempeh and certainly more than I could finish (at least if i was going to eat my share the rice paper rolls we'd ordered). It ticked a few boxes for me - I desperately needed something loaded with veggies and I liked the relatively simple flavours. It's the kind of dish you can throw together yourself in 15 minutes at home, so it feels a bit weird to pay $15 for it, but if you're in need of something healthy and filling you won't be disappointed.

Our final dish was an entree (which was meant to come out first but had been lost in some kitchen confusion) - Vietnamese rice paper rolls with fresh veggies, Vietnamese mint, rice noodles and tofu and a sesame peanut dipping sauce ($10).


This is another simple but effective dish - all freshness and natural flavours. The peanut/soy dipping sauce was a bit weird (the two elements weren't quite combined properly), but the flavour was fine.

Vegerama is a good addition to West End - it's Brisbane's hippiest suburb and a straightforward veggie place with a wide array of options is a good bet to succeed there. It's not an overly exciting place - the dishes really feel like the kind of dishes that competent but not particularly adventurous home cooks could churn out without too much trouble. I'm glad I got a chance to visit and will probably swing by again next time I'm in town, so hopefully Vegerama thrives.
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I think we're the first bloggers to get to the West End Vegerama restaurant. You can read about our trip to their Post Office Square food court outlet here.  
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Vegerama
220 Melbourne St, West End
(07) 3255 3388
menu (it's not a great photo, sorry)
http://vegerama.com.au/ (although it's currently being updated - their facebook page might be a better option)

Accessibility: Excellent - there's a wide, flat entryway and plenty of space inside. Orders are taken at the table and you pay at a low counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

John Gorilla

November 22, 2014


We've been intending to visit John Gorilla for at least two of the two-and-a-bit years it's been open in West Brunswick. A weekend errand in the neighbourhood finally propelled us through the door last month. Though any number of Melbourne cafes feature kooky light fittings, vintage furniture and cutesy knick knacks, there was something notably sunnier about John Gorilla. It may simply have been the light streaming through the large windows, but the white walls (no exposed brick!) or the splashes of poster-paint yellow and orange might have something to do with it too.


You wouldn't have known it to read the menu. Boasting winter poached fruits, a "seasonal warm winter vegetable salad", cabbage and mushrooms aplenty, it seems the kitchen hadn't quite caught on to daylight savings time. There weren't any hints for special diets either - while there's plenty of promise for vegetarians, options look limited for vegans and the gluten-free.


Michael ordered the oven roasted thyme mushrooms on a cauliflower puree, topped with poached eggs and garlic breadcrumbs ($17). The cauliflower puree reminded him of polenta, a nice alternative to the standard toast, and the garlic breadcrumbs provided some crunch.


With some determination I ignored the Nutella French toast on the specials board and the banoffee French toast in the standard menu in favour of a bagel ($13). Too tall to tackle whole, I enjoyed the beetroot dip-slathered side with rocket and stole occasional bites from the salty slivers of haloumi. The three whole mushrooms held their own and demanded I use cutlery.


In lieu of the French toast, I lingered over the sweets display while Michael settled the bill.


We picked up a berry coconut slice ($6.50) with the odd juicy blueberry in the jam and a chewy toasted top - more than enough for two, and best enjoyed with tea.

Though the menu doesn't quite cater to all needs and seasons, I liked the atmosphere (and yes, the cake display) at John Gorilla. I'll certainly be tempted to pop in next time I've a need to go west.

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There are positive accounts of John Gorilla on MELBOURNECHAITIMES, The Tea Diaries, Vetti Live in Northcote, dear melbourne,, grazing panda, A Place A Day and Miss Muesli. Only The Quince Poacher has been notably underwhelmed.
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John Gorilla
49 Pearson St, West Brunswick
9005 8680
menu: regular, specials
http://www.johngorilla.com/

Accessibility: My memory is poor for this one, sorry! I think the entry was flat but there was a step between the two indoor areas. Tables are moderately dense but there's a clear path through the middle of each room. We ordered at our table and paid at a medium-high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.