Wednesday 19 May 2010

Because life's too short for vegetarians to eat just mushroom risotto

Egg yolk

In my post about EARL Canteen last week I mentioned the two vegetarian sandwiches on their menu: one with ratatouille and fiore di burrata in a baguette, and the other a gluten-free wrap filled with autumnal mushrooms, wilted spinach, truffle paste and a soft cooked egg (and I mean SOFT cooked... we're talking a 65/65 egg, people!!). In response to what I said about preferring to shell out a few extra bucks for a really good quality sandwich, Ruth commented:

Wow, mind-meld: I was just thinking this EXACT thing this morning when walking past EARL -- I generally think sandwiches are shit (let alone PAYING for them) and am constantly annoying my workmates with rants about how frustrating it is that it's about all that is available in this corner of the city.

To make matters worse, I'm a vego, and all ANYONE makes for us is effing roasted vegetable foccacias (dear sandwich hands of Melbourne: WE EAT OTHER THINGS APART FROM BABY SPINACH AND EGGPLANT. MUSTARD! AVOCADO! CHUTNEY! ANYTHING ELSE!).

But I happily forked over $10 for the truffle mushroom and egg wrap at EARL without a second thought -- and how keen I was to do it again. An interesting and unique filling and seriously, seriously delicious.

A few comments further down, reader becberri chimed in:

Just had to write in support of Ruth's comment ... I'm also a frustrated vego who will kill someone if I see another roasted veggie foccacia! Pu-leez!

They got me thinking about vegetarian food - or more specifically, vegetarian options in non-vegetarian restaurants.

Kafalograviera saganaki

Even a cursory glance through this blog will tell you that I'm a girl who loves her meat and seafood, and who won't be subscribing to the vegetarian lifestyle over the omnivore lifestyle any time soon. So I can only begin to imagine how mind-meltingly frustrating it must be at times for dedicated vegetarians who are also adventurous foodies that like to eat out a lot. There's only so many plates of mushroom risotto drizzled with truffle oil (or roasted vegetable focacce) that such a person can bear, surely.

A vegetarian friend of mine is moving back to Melbourne soon. In addition to planning a revisit to the Moroccan Soup Bar with me (and avoiding Vegie Bar and Soul Food like the plague), he's emphasised that he wants to try lots of non-vegetarian restaurants "where chefs are doing really interesting, exciting things with food". So I'm trying to come up with a list of great restaurants whose menus also include meat and seafood, but who definitely go beyond the Token Vegetarian Dish to showcase some great vegetarian ingredients in dishes that are more than a salad or side serve of vegetables, but don't end up being a swamp of pulses or béchamely carbs.

Fatayar pastry filled with globe artichoke, fetta and almonds

One of the most memorable vegetarian dishes I've had recently that fits into this category was the fatayar pastry filled with globe artichoke, fetta and almonds at Cutler (see photo above). I also LOVED the dish of egg yolk, toasted rye, asparagus and yeast (top photo) at the Royal Mail Hotel.

I'm looking forward to introducing my friend to my two favourite dishes at Mamasita, the elotes callejeros and the quesadilla de huitlacoche. I'm also thinking of taking him to Bar Idda, where just the other week CD and I ate an almost entirely vegetarian meal without even noticing. Oh, and we'll have to drop in to Hellenic Republic for some of that wonderful kafalograviera saganaki. Mmmmm, peppered figs.

Which restaurants do you enjoy that go beyond the Token Vegetarian Dish?

Elotes callejerosQuesadilla de huitlacoche


Anonymous said...

Ezard's 8 course vegetarian tasting menu is just mind-blowing.

Miles said...

Pearl has a great vegan menu.

And I went to Vue de Monde with a vegetarian friend, and while nothing on the menu was vegetarian, they put together an amazing vegetarian dish for him. Same thing happened when I took a vegan mate of mine to another french restaurant, Chez Olivier (but not nearly of the same quality :))

brickski said...

The chefs at Matteo's in North Fitzroy really get vegetarian food. We hosted a completely vegetarian wedding reception there, and all our omnivorous guests couldn't stop commenting on the food. The recently re-opened Circa The Prince in St Kilda now grows their own vegies in their new rooftop garden and they taste great! Just like Hellenic Republic, that other Calombaris venture, Maha, will also happily accommodate vegetarians with lots of delicious food, even offering an unlisted vegetarian banquet.

becberri said...

Oh yes, the vegie tasting plate at Taxi is delicious but hasn't changed at all over the last few years ... and I also really enjoyed the vegie tasting plate at Maha last year and the carnovires around the table were green-eyed!

MildlyCrafty said...

I hate roasted vege foccacias too!! They're almost always oily and tasteless!!

I'm really looking forward to your forthcoming post on vegetarian friendly restaurants. I was kinda wishing you had a vegetarian category the other day when I was trawling through your previous posts. I often do that when someone asks me to find somewhere to eat out :) Thanks for all your hard work!

Johanna GGG said...

your friend needs to check out cindy and michael's recoomendations on where's the beef blog

hellenic republic is one of my fave places where vegos and carnivores, adults and kids can all enjoy the food

Anonymous said...

I recently had the 8 course vegetarian degustation at Attica, which was pretty amazing. I didn't love every course - in fact, some courses I actively didn't enjoy - but that's all part of it, right?

Momo and Maha both do delicious vegetarian menus.

And the Tofu shop in bridge road (for something much more casual) has some of Melbourne's most delicious vegetarian meals.

Emily said...

There are loads of vegetarian options at the Fox hotel in Collingwood. Food is pretty good there.

Kappaya at Abbotsford convent has a pretty small menu, but lots of vegetarian and vegan options.

Cutler also will do a vegan menu for you, just ask when you book. A friend of mine had it and was very pleased with it...

Anonymous said...

Oh dear god, yes. If it's not roasted veggies or mushroom risotto it's pumpkin anything, especially in the mid-price restaurants.

I get so bored eating out in Melbourne.

Caz said...

I'm going to be stalking the comments of this post. Because while I'm not vegetarian, I do often lean towards non-meat dishes and I'm stinking sick of terrible grilled veggie foccacias that taste only of olive oil.

Also, I'm hoping to be able to pull out a few fab restaurant ideas for my veggie/vegan friends who unfortunately lean towards Veggie bar and Soul Mama's. I can't stand to eat there again.

Cindy said...

In addition to risottos and veg foccacias, I submit vegetarian lasagne. Always bland and usually blanketed with congealed cheap cheese, it's the dish that will prevent me from revisiting a pub/restaurant ever again.

For the higher end stuff, I agree that Ezard, Circa the Prince and Attica are the meat-free business. (Also, I loved the vego degustation at the Merrijig Inn, out at Port Fairy.) I'm losing my enthusiasm for the Vue de Monde empire - I get served mushroom risotto every time I've been to the cafe cocktail nights. I've plans to visit Cutler & Co and the Fox Hotel for veg meals in the next month and am looking forward to seeing what they'll cook up. The Press Club has been known to do amazing vego and vegan spreads for the right price.

For low- and mid-priced veg eating, I'd recommend folks check out Planet VegMel - it's a collation of many of Melbourne's vegetarian and vegan food blogs.

Cindy said...

Oh, and Rumi! Their menu has a number of lovely veg options, and I hear that they'll adapt just about any dish for veg*n eaters.

Fiona said...

Livebait at Docklands only ever has minimal veg options, but they are always quality dishes.

At the moment for an entree there's a "Goats cheese strudel with pear, walnut, beetroot and air dried tomato salad" - looks great on the plate too. The main is "Crisp tofu and vegetables in a sticky sweet chili glaze over wok fired buckwheat noodles"

There's a photo of the entree dish on their gallery page -

Christine said...

Arrgh... I got stuck at La Citta on Degraves St the other night where the only vegetarian option was a Mushroom & Chestnut Risotto... GIVE ME MORE. I'm off to Shakahari tonight where I can't wait to be overwhelmed by choice. I've only just started making an effort to go "vegetarian focussed" restaurants more, but got by well enough frequenting normal places. Was impressed with Taxi's vegetarian offerings, as with Pearls. Having only been to the cocktail night at Cafe Vue once, I thought the vegetarian provisions were awesome. Mamasita is the bomb (oh sweet sweet corn), Hellenic Republic is my god, and some other noteworthy ones are Mistys (for amazing chili fries, but crap service), Borsch, Vodka & Tears, & The Afghan Gallery.

becberri said...

Thanks for the veggie blog! How special! ; )Def gonna check out that amazing dish at Cutler, and I've become a regular at the fantastic Mamasita's since reading about it on your blog a few months back - it's excellent!
Given its lunchtime thought I'd share some of my fave tips for the work-a-day lunch up the Paris end of town ...
In the chilly weather we have a dedicated contingent who head down to hard-to-beat Shennies for great sri lankan fare on the corner of Russell and Flinders Lane. A small veggie combo sets you back only $7.50 and changes daily (perfect antidote to the mundane veg offerings mentioned at some places around town!) Take away service is reminiscent of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi (but with a smile!) but the best part is crunching on the delicious papadum on the walk back to the office! It's healthy too, even my natropath once let slip that she eats their regularly!
For the more up-market lunches I can always rely Florentino's cellar door for their handmade pumpkin tortelli in a browned butter sauce topped with crispy fried sage leaves - YUM! With a cheeky glass of sangiovese you can't go wrong on a Friday (or a Thursday or even a Tuesday!) There's been a few imitations of this dish around town but the original is def the best.
For a great sanger up this end of town I'd recommend the egg and asparagus at Mamma's Boy on Little Collins St - when I discovered this about four years ago I was aghast at paying $7.50 for an egg sandwich but have never looked back - its a delicious and filling regular veggie lunch option for me!
The fabulous von Haus on Crossley St also gets a mention for its veggie plowman's plate which is super yummy alternative, but get in early as they tend to run out.

Ruth said...

Good post (and not just because I'm in it). I actually prefer to eat at omni places, too, and share your distaste for the blandness that is the Vegie Bar and Soul Food (though they serve their purpose).

I would also add gnocchi with cheese sauce to the blacklist of token vego dishes I'm fed up with eating. The ultimate sign of a lazy chef, in my opinion.

So. Recommendations:

Embrasse in Carlton is perfect - as much love and creativity goes into the vego and non-vego dishes, and the focus is always primarily on flavour -- whether there's also a hunk of animal on the plate is kind of incidental.

Both Longrain and Gingerboy offer specific vegetarian menus (though I think both are a tad over-rated).

Shoya on Market Lane does an amazing vegetarian degustation that goes well beyond the usual agadashi tofu and tempura vegetables normally on offer at Japanese resturants. On the other end of the Japanese spectrum, Izakaya Den has plenty of excellent vegetarian items (and a killer sake menu).

Spanish/tapas places are excellent and usually offer a good range of vegetarian stuff. Movida will alter their dishes, while Anada and Portello Rosso both have heaps on their menus.

Any of the fancy-pants pizza places work well, too -- DOC, Ladro, I Carusi etc.

I also second Cutler, Matteo's (though I wish they'd mix it up a little; I must've eaten that egg and mushroom thing a gazillion times), Momo and Ezard.

For less high-end but still great meals:

African (The Abyssinian or just about any place in Footscray, etc) is great -- always heaps of vegetarian on offer, lots to share, always interesting and tasty (plus eating with your hands!).

Thanh Nga 9 on Victoria St not only has some of the best Vietnamese food on the strip, they offer a really extensive menu of vego versions of authentic Vietnamese dishes (ie not just the usual stir fry vegies with tofu and black bean/ginger/satay sauce), including about four different types of pho. Thanh Tam a block away also offers veg versions of all their regional speciality dishes (including THEIR speciality, banh cuon), though I've found they're often "out" of half of them.

Most decent Thai places use fish sauce on EVERYTHING, but Yim Yam in Moonee Ponds and MamaNee on Smith St not only have some of the most authentic Thai food in Melbourne, they do lots of vego stuff.

Actually, Smith St is a pretty grand place for good veg and omni-friendly stuff in general: Peko Peko, Wood Spoon, Wabi Sabi, Gigibaba, Panama (though they occasionally stray into "gnocchi and cheese" territory), Boire, Goshen. Plus both Trippy Taco and Las Vegan are so good, I defy omnivores not to enjoy them, too.

And now it's getting chilly, and as my token gesture to the other side of the river, I'd also recommend Borsch, Vodka and Tears -- a surprising amount of vego stuff for an Eastern European place, plus a top spot to get boozy with a friend.

Daniel said...

I had a birthday celebration at Libertine a few years ago, and they did a wonderful vegetarian degustation for the non-carnivores at the table. It was so good that a couple of people wished they went with the vegetarian option.

Ruth said...

Oh yeah, definite thumbs up for Libertine: we went there with a vegan once. We called ahead and they happily put together a whole range of dishes for him. Very impressive for a French place.

And, as Christine mentioned, Shakahari is pretty much a must for any vego in Melbourne. I've never met an omnivore that didn't like it, either.

becberri said...

Thanks Ruth - great list there I plan to work through! YUM!
you've reminded me about my joy at the pizzas at Barbagallo on Lonsdale St which are fantastic and mostly veg-friendly. The veg tapas at Bar Lourinha on Little Collins st are somewhat limited but those chickpeas are to die for!
Over on the naughty chair sits Comme after offering me no veg alternatives at an impromptu dinner there last week, leaving me with no choice but to have the one veg dish in the house - an entree mushroom and celeraic dish (which was nice enough, but geez I hate being dictated to!) On a happier note, and in defence of risotto, the cauliflower risotto with crunchy lemon breadcrumbs is yummo at Breadwell on Flinders Lane, another lunchtime haunt, but the serve could feed two!

p said...

I'm guessing that the the Vego degustation at Provenence in Beechworth would be pretty special, judging by the veg dishes that appear in the omnivore version.

Katya said...

Thanks for this post. I share everyone's frustration with mushroom risotto (or pumpkin and pine nuts or just a mix of whatever vegies they have). Another frustration I have is that even places that do something different to the usual often NEVER change their vege option while the meat ones change every week/month. Once or twice is fine but it puts me off being a regular at a lot of places.
I have to say that some of teh new pizza places like +39 are really good with a range of vege options rather than just margherita or vegetarian.
I would love some recs for pubs that do good vege food, I often find that places my friend's rave over for their meat dishes are really boring for vegetarians.

Rob Meredith said...

Hey Claire,

Our favourite omnivorous place to go at the moment is The Commoner in Johnston St. Jo does some great things with Middle Eastern spices to what I guess would be traditional British dishes. Nibbling away at Harissa eggs and other goodies while knocking back a glass of white in their courtyard of a summer's evening is something everyone should do at least once.

Disclaimer, I'm no relation to Jo, nor do I have a pecuniary interest in the restaurant! Just reading back the above, it sounds like a paid ad - I swear it's not!

glamourette said...

Embrasse Restaurant definitely get my vote. Visit there a few weeks ago having the degustation and they were amazing. ALot of dishes filled with local produce and chef's own home grown herbs. Just divine!

Ruth said...

Katya: Agree on all three counts, especially the pub food. I love a good counter meal, and it frustrates me no end that so many otherwise great kitchens only ever churn out lasagne or pasta or really bland curries for vegos. We like deep fried things covered in cheese and sauce and served with a side of chips, too!

My recommendations:

As already mentioned, The Fox has a really extensive vego menu, and the food is good, to boot.

The East Brunswick Club does loads of vegetarian/vegan versions on classic pub meals, including parmas, fish and chips, Philly cheese steak, chicken Kiev and more.

I haven't been there in ages, but I recall some fairly good offerings at The Retreat in Brunswick.

Megan said...

Yeah, I couldn't live without eating meat either but sometimes I just crave pure greens and salads. Btw, that's a perfectly-formed egg there.

Thermomixer said...

Of course Royal Mail has the Vegetarian degusattion and Jacques Reymond's has had inspiring vego degustations for over 15 years.

Happy Blogaversary

claire said...

WOW, thank you so much to all of you for writing such great comments and suggestions on this post. :)

On my recent visit to Attica I was VERY tempted to order the vegetarian degustation. Here's a description:
- Textured cauliflower with horseradish
- Osmanthus and chrysanthemum broth, peas radish (I had a non-vego version of this)
- A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown (IT WAS AMAZING)
- Tofu, crispy egg, pickled cabbage, smoked sesame oil
- Wild mushrooms, black lentils, eggplant, leaves
- Artichoke, tubers, soured sheeps milk, almonds
- Terroir
- Apple, olive, warm shredded wheat

I had those two desserts. Sen-fucking-sational.

Belinda said...

I have had the degustation menu at Jacques Reymond and at Daylesford Lake-House Brilliant at both. Fab new caf in O' Hea St Coburg "little deer tracks"