Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mankoushe Cafe IV

August 9, 2014

I've only just finished singing the praises of Mankoushe Cafe, so I'm going to keep this post pretty short - Mankoushe are doing a monthly banquet and you all need to get yourselves along as soon as you can. Basically the Mankoushe guys pick a day, pick a theme (it was Syrian this month, previous buffets have been Iraqi and Lebanese food) and make a crazy amount of delicious food that you can stuff into your face for just $20.

The menu is super veg-friendly - I'd hazard half the dishes are vegan and another quarter are vegetarian. Everything is well labelled and the staff are incredibly helpful and happy to make sure you know what you're eating. And the food is just incredible - a great mix of fresh salads, stewy dishes, rices and grains, fried goodies and sweets - you'll stuff yourself silly just getting a sample of everything. Some of the highlights: kibe dumplings stuffed with tahini, chickpeas and silverbeet, silverbeet rolls stuffed with cardamom and chickpeas, grilled eggplant with tomato, capsicum and parsley and a simple but wonderful rice and noodle mix. There were loads of other dishes too, including a tasty vegan slice - it really was an incredible spread.

You get the picture by now - we're big Mankoushe fans and will recommend a trip there any day of the week. The buffets are really something special though - you can tell how much they love whipping up this food and it's a brilliant way to experience all that Mankoushe has to offer. You really should get along to one of these afternoons - the next one will be Sunday, September 7. See you there!


Read about our previous trips to Mankoushe Cafe here, here and here and our bakery visits here, here and here

Mankoushe Cafe
323 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9078 9223
monthly banquet $20

Accessibility: There's a small step up through a narrow-ish entry but everything's more generously spaced once you're in. We mostly self-served at the buffet, but the staff were happy to load plates up for us too.  We paid on the way out at a low-ish counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dessert 1st

August 3, 2014

Clamps and Bec continued our vegan Springvale tour with a stop at Dessert 1st. My subsequent googling has revealed that this Asian dessert cafe was set up by Sheryl of Cupcake Central fame, in partnership with her mum. (Its online presence rates barely a blip after its 2012 opening so I don't know if they're still running it.) 

It's a teen dream hang-out, crammed with posters, piping pop music and selling myriad permutations of cheap coloured sugar - mix'n'match drinks and bowls of dumplings, puddings, pearls and jellies, ices, beans and fruit. The walls show posters of pancakes and other fritters not mentioned in the laminated menu, so it's worth sitting and staring in bewilderment a while and working out what you're most in the mood for. There aren't any dietary labels, so double-check that your choice fits your needs at the counter.

Clamps and Bec shared a cute pastel bowl of mixed puddings and tapioca pearls ($5.50), Michael slurped a milk-based Thai iced coffee ($3), and I picked Tangyuan ($5) from the posters (pictured top). These glutinous rice balls were stuffed with sweet black sesame and served in a warm syrup of ginger and rock sugar, sprinkled with white sesame seeds - prime winter comfort food.

Service was friendly but haphazard, just fine for a casual cafe. We weren't surprised by the charting RnB tunes the staff chose until they shifted to uncensored R. Kelly - an artist with an abusive history and very explicit lyrics. It was an unsavoury accompaniment to otherwise excellent mid-afternoon desserts.


Dessert 1st
35C Buckingham Ave, Springvale
9109 2121
partial dessert menu, drinks menu
(barely updated) facebook page

Accessibility: I think Dessert 1st has a flat entry; it's very crowded inside. I ordered and paid at a low counter; drinks were picked up from a high counter and desserts were served to our table. We didn't visit the toilets.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nha Hang 5 Sao

August 3, 2014

We've been hoping to visit Nha Hang 5 Sao in Springvale ever since Brianna discovered it a year ago, so an invite from some friends to lunch with them there was eagerly accepted. The restaurant is really close to the train station, so it's not a particularly arduous journey. It's also the kind of place you could easily walk by as a vegetarian looking for food - there are ducks hanging in the windows and a general vibe of meatiness. We investigated further. The regular menu looks like it's got very few veggie dishes on offer but the second, vegetarian menu more than makes up for it, with nearly 100 dishes to choose from.

We had the benefit of Bec and Clamps' previous visits here and let them recommend some key dishes, starting with two serves of the deep fried chicken wings ($4 a serve). This was a big mistake - we should have ordered at least four serves. The 'wings' are a mix of tofu and crispy fried tofu skin and are ludicrously good.

The other mandated dish was the fried kuey teow ($10.80), a smoky wok-fried medley of rice noodles, slivers of mixed mock meat and some veggies. This was my favourite dish of the day, with the mock adding texture and flavour without completely dominating the plate.

We took Vegan Bullsh*t's advice and tried the Kung bo soy chicken ($12.80), assuming we'd have the spice tolerance to do it justice. It had a pretty decent kick, but as long as you steered your way around the dried chillies it was fine. The mix of mock chicken and veggies was great and the slight sweetness of the chicken pieces was a nice match for the hot sauce.

We branched out into some unexplored portions of the menu after that - unable to resist a taste of sizzling venison in XO sauce ($16.50). The 'venison' turned out to be some sort of mushroom-based meat, which I didn't completely love, but the spicy sauce and fresh veggies complimented it well.

We completely embraced the mock meat experience and tried to order the green beans with soy beancurd sausage ($13.80) as our 'veggie' dish, but sadly they were all out of sausage and we settled for some stir-fried Chinese broccoli ($13), which did provide some respite from all the mock.

Nha Hang 5 Sao offer a good line in non-alcoholic drinks - I enjoyed a cooling coconut juice ($3), while Cindy loved her grass jelly and coconut milk concoction ($3)

Nha Hang 5 Sao isn't a fine dining experience - the fit out is basic, the service a little haphazard and the atmosphere very suburban Chinese restaurant, but the food is excellent, cheap and plentiful. It puts the likes of Enlightened Cuisine and White Lotus to shame price-wise, and I don't think either have served up dishes to compete with the chicken wings or the kuey teow (OK, maybe the tamarind fish at White Lotus). It's a definite winner, and well worth making the trip out to Springvale for. It's probably best to visit with a group of people so you can sample widely - we're keen to return and hunt down some more menu highlights.

Brianna and Vegan Bullsh*t have enjoyed the mock meat experience at Nha Hang 5 Sao, while Gourmanda liked its meatier options.

Nha Hang 5 Sao
4 Balmoral Ave, Springvale
8555 0106
menus: one, two, drinks

Accessibility: There's a small step on entry and a fairly spacious interior, including a ramp between rooms. The toilet is unisex, although there was something wrong with the latch when we visited - it was probably too accessible.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Peach & semolina custard tart

July 27, 2014

There was an open plastic jar of peaches in our fridge for the entirety of our overseas travels. The expiry date was still many months off, and they looked and smelled just fine, but I still hesitated to dip a fork in and eat them as they were. Within a week Haalo was posting about a peach and semolina custard tart and I knew what to do.

I was completely unfamiliar with semolina custard, but the premise seems pretty simple - semolina thickens milk just like eggs do! That had me thinking that I really should just go ahead and veganise the tart. I looked up Wrapped in Pastry for tips on sweet vegan shortcrust and blended it together with my usual food processor method. The pastry didn't brown as quickly as a butter-based version, but with a little extra baking it was crisp and comforting.

This tart is not quite as elegant as an almond frangipane, but it has its own casual charm. We didn't even bother with an (ice) cream garnish.

Peach & semolina custard tart
(pastry adapted from Leigh Drew's Wrapped in Pastry,
tart adapted from Cook (Almost) Anything)

shortcrust pastry
2 cups plain flour
a generous tablespoon of icing sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice

semolina custard
2 tablespoons semolina
2 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar
3/4 cup almond milk

8 peaches sliced into eighths, or an equivalent volume of canned peaches

Place the flour, icing sugar and salt in a food processor, pulsing briefly to mix them together. Add the margarine in small spoons and blend it all together until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the almond milk and lemon juice, blending further until the pastry dough just starts coming together. Tip the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and pull it together into a ball with your hands. Wrap it up in the plastic and refrigerate the pastry for at least an hour.

Stir the custard ingredients together in a small saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat and continue stirring regularly as the custard cooks, turning off the heat when it has thickened. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature.

Retrieve the pastry from the fridge and roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap - aim for a circle that's a bit bigger than your pie dish. Ease the pastry into the dish (without the plastic attached to the bottom!).  Remove the plastic from the custard and give the custard a brisk stir; spoon it onto the pastry base and spread it out evenly. Arrange the peach wedges over the custard, and fold the pastry edges down, pinching it at intervals.

Bake the tart until the pastry begins to go golden - this took mine about 50 minutes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Curry soup

July 28, 2014

A few months after it hit the newsstands, Cindy and I finally grabbed a copy of The Saturday Paper for a lazy weekend browse. Alongside the in-depth articles on the various ways that the Abbott Government is destroying Australia and the excellent arts coverage was a nice little food section, featuring recipes from Andrew McConnell (of Cutler & Co, Cumulus Inc and elsewhere).

The theme for this wintery week was soups - we skipped the chestnut, celeriac and cabbage soup recipe and focussed on McConnell's curry soup. The recipe included a big pile of mussels, but we were assured in the text that it was just as good mussel-free, so we swapped in a can of chickpeas and garnished with a few fried mushrooms instead (we also left out the butter to keep things vegan). Once you chop up all the pumpkin it's a very straightforward recipe and the end result is loaded with spicy-sweet flavours from the array of aromatics that are simmered in. The chickpeas were an okay addition, but next time I might try to think of something a bit chunkier to take the place of the mussels - I feel like some big potato cubes or diced mock-meat would work well. This is definitely a good base for a spicy winter soup - we'll report back on any future experimenting we do.

Curry soup
(adapted from this recipe in The Saturday Paper)

1 onion, diced finely
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 red birdseye chillies, sliced finely
4cm piece of ginger, chopped finely
410g can of chopped tomatoes
600g pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
1L veggie stock + an extra 250ml or so of water
410g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6 makrut lime leaves
15 curry leaves
2cm chunk of ginger
2cm chunk of galangal
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala (we'd run out, so I made up my own with a mix of ground mace, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and nutmeg)
400ml can of coconut milk

Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan and throw in the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, cooking for 5 or 10 minutes, until everything is soft and the onion has gone a bit golden.

Add the tomatoes, pumpkin, stock, turmeric and the extra water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Attack the mix with a stick blender until you've managed to turn all the pumpkin and onion pieces into a relatively smooth paste (if you've got a real blender you can transfer the soup and do it properly)

Throw in all the aromatics and simmer again, for about 10 minutes. Fish out the ginger and galangal chunks as well as the lime and curry leaves and then stir in the chickpeas, cooking for another 5 minutes or so.