Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sweetwater Inn

There are still a few posts to be published about my recent travels to Western Australia, for now I’m taking a break to write about a new bar/eatery in Melbourne. After returning from my month away I was sad to hear that the popular vegan soul food stall South had departed from The People’s Market in Collingwood. The good news is that head chef Shannon Martinez has moved onto a new venue and developed another vegan menu for us hungry folks.

Sweetwater Inn is located in South Yarra near the Jam Factory. The small eats side of the vegan menu includes snacks like baked bean and cheese jaffles with soup of the day, bubble and squeak croquettes, beer battered chips with gravy and strass and tomato sauce sandwiches, a lunch box item you may recall from childhood. BBQ prawn skewers with aioli, chipotle ham steaks with pineapple and a crispy chicken salad are amongst the choices in the vegan main meals.

The man and I headed straight for the bigger plates, his belly could not be swayed from the beer battered fish and chips ($16). The soy based faux fish wrapped in seaweed and battered was the closest thing he has encountered to the real deal in years. The accompanying tin of salted, crispy beer battered chips rivalled the ones we are so fond of at Gasometer. A quarter of iceberg lettuce with dressing didn’t really capture his interest but overall he loved the meal.

Apologies for the blurry picture of my meal as it doesn’t do it justice at all. The rissole sandwich ($16) contained a robust pattie bursting with fantastic smoky flavours and a Tofutti cheese slice slathered in lip smacking gravy between two slices of white bread. This also came with a tin of beer battered chips and some tastefully dressed mixed lettuce leaves. These meals were perfect for sharing, I passed over half of my sandwich in exchange for a piece of fish.

Sweetwater Inn has a country theme going on with the interior decked out to suit that vibe. A word of warning is recommended for veg*ns that may find some of the ornaments disturbing. If you can grab a table outside or avert your gaze away from the hanging cow hide, horns, stuffed hawk and skull cabinet I’m sure you will enjoy a nostalgic meal if you mosey on down.


Sweetwater Inn has also received positive reviews from The Good Hearted and where's the beef.

Sweetwater Inn
1/60 Bray Street, South Yarra
Open 7 days for dinner and on weekends for lunch

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Food shopping and sights around Perth

Before we headed off on our next stage of travelling which involved more road tripping throughout remote areas, I needed to stock up on foods. As well as general supermarket shopping we made a trip into the PAWS (People and Animal Welfare Society) vegan store and cafe which is centrally located in Beaufort Street in the city. PAWS stock a wide variety of vegan goodies - personal care and household products, pantry items, confectionery, pet care products, clothing, books, non-dairy alternatives and a freezer full of a variety of mock meats and ice-cream.

It was nearing lunchtime and the huge selection of meals at the cafe beckoned to us to give them a try. Amongst the choices were mock meat burgers and hot dogs, nachos, pies, aromatic curries from the bain marie, raw food and falafels. I choose the latter, the young man was sold on nachos and after a lot of indecision the man ordered a Cajun chicken burger.

I didn’t capture photos of the others meals and allowed their hungry bellies to tuck in straight away. The young man’s nachos didn’t look particularly appealing – corn chips topped with a salsa, sour cream and what appeared to be melted Toffuti cheese slices. The omission of guacamole didn't bother him as he isn’t a fan of avocado and he mentioned that the nachos were slightly better than the ones he used to get from his school canteen. The man loved the spicy kick in his Cajun burger although he would have enjoyed it more if it included a larger quantity of salad.

The falafel pockets (available in small and large sizes) differed from a falafel wrap you would typically find in a kebab shop as it contained a heap of additional condiments. Fresh jalapenos, olives, grated carrot, shredded cabbage, spring onions and coriander chutney were some of the items that made this unique. My photo doesn’t show the falafels hiding underneath the mass of salad but be assured that they were present and very tasty. Although it was a challenge to eat this without making a mess, it was totally worth the effort. The man had a serious case of food envy over my meal. The small size was perfect for my appetite that day, I recommend ordering the large if you are particularly hungry.

All of the staff at PAWS were extremely friendly, some went out of their way offering Ollie bowls of water while we ate at their outdoor tables. There was also plenty of indoor seating available on small tables, communal benches and lounges. The store and cafe were constantly busy throughout our visit and I noted that the curries, falafels and raw plates seemed to be rather popular with the regulars.

The Herdsman was another interesting store we visited. They stock a range of chilli sauces the man’s family have been particularly fond of for years, so anyone who visits Perth is requested to stock up on “Hogans”. When we pulled into the parking bay, The Herdsman was a familiar sight to the man and I. His first casual (under age) job had been there squeezing oranges although it was called Herdsman Market years ago. I also recognised the store's signage from one of Kari’s recent posts about her shopping experience there.

It is basically a gourmet type of supermarket reminiscent of the Thomas Dux grocers around Melbourne. They stock many expensive boutique brands in the pantry aisles you don’t see at regular supermarkets. As well as the requisite Hogans sauces, we also purchased a lovely tomato relish and some Sheese smoked cheddar. Cheezly was also available in the refrigerated section.

The majority of our time in Perth was spent catching up with people, at the beach, by the pool and taking nostalgic tours around the man’s primary and secondary schools and houses that he grew up in. It wasn’t until our last afternoon that we made it to Kings Park and we regretted not spending more time there as the beautifully laid out gardens are enormous and it boasts stunning views over the city and gorgeous Swan river.

For many years I haven’t been very enthusiastic about travelling to Perth as I’m not really much of a city person. As it's so far from Melbourne I always insisted that this trip needed to be paired with further travels throughout Western Australia. Clear blue skies and warm weather every day combined with a rental house (including a pool) being a 5 minute stroll away from a gorgeous dog beach turned out to be difficult to leave. I could have happily kept on reliving more of those lazy repetitive days for a lot longer than we did.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lunch at The Raw Kitchen Cafe with Kari

Just prior to my travels to Western Australia I mentioned to Kari from Bite Sized Thoughts that I would be spending some time in Perth and was delighted that she was eager to meet up. Kari and I started blogging around the same time and have exchanged many comments on each others blogs over the past two years. Kari suggested lunch at The Raw Kitchen Cafe due to their vegan friendly menu in addition to Fremantle being an interesting location for a tourist.

I was very keen to venture into a raw food eating experience as there is NO WAY I could ever see the man dining out for this type of food.  In fact, my eating preferences normally lean towards hot food and I rarely eat salads as a meal yet I’ve wanted to try raw food after hearing so many positive things about it. After reading a few reviews on Urbanspoon about The Raw Kitchen Cafe and a glowing blog post by Bex from Vegan Sparkles, I became infatuated by the concept of a raw vegan pizza. How on earth was a raw pizza going to compare with a standard vegan pizza?

Kari kindly met me at the rental house, drove us over to Fremantle and navigated our way through the streets to the bustling cafe. Whilst the raw pizza had been on my mind for weeks, my decision was almost swayed when we were in the queue as I watched an array of mouth watering meals being taken to the tables. Raw nachos, falafel plates and bowls of pasta made with zucchini noodles all looked amazing. The spinach, basil and avocado soup and a raw club sandwich sounded great too. Everything on the menu was appealing yet I knew I would be regretful if I didn't try the pizza so I stuck with my original plan.

The slice of raw pizza ($9.50 per slice, $17.90 with salads) was on a dehydrated buckwheat base spread with a tomato capsicum salsa. It was topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, avocado, onions, dollops of a deliciously creamy, tangy macadamia and cashew based cheese and fresh basil. This pizza was incredible, a mind blowing taste sensation which had so many different flavours and textures going on. It was unlike any pizza I have ever eaten before and I mean that in a good way. The buckwheat base was slightly difficult to cut into although this was a very minor complaint.  

I ordered the slice of pizza with salads which ended up being the same types of salads Kari had selected for her bowl. My favourite was the Thai Papaya salad which was bursting with flavours of fresh coriander, mint and basil amongst the carrots, snow peas and green papaya noodles. The Tarragon salad was largely based on beetroot and it was slightly too earthy for me. I thought it was interesting to begin with but my taste buds grew bored after a while. We both ordered coffees and I found my double espresso with home made cashew and macadamia milk ($5.50) to be the most impressive coffee that I tried anywhere in Perth.

After lunch Kari took me for a wander through Fremantle. We stopped off at The Round House, the oldest public building in Western Australia which was originally opened as a gaol (with 8 cells) in 1931, 18 months after settlement. It was a fascinating but slightly eerie place with loads of interesting historical information to take in. I kicked myself later for forgetting to take photos here. On the way home, Kari gave me a container of smoky roasted almonds which she had made for me as thoughtful snack for the rest of our travels. Half of the batch was demolished by the man in an instant before I insisted that some restraint be shown. The rest of the nuts did last a considerable while longer and given their popularity I will definitely be trying out Kari’s easy recipe soon.

Kari promptly wrote up her thoughts about The Raw Kitchen Cafe and the afternoon we spent together. As it was her first time meeting another blogger in person I wasn’t surprised to read that she felt slightly intimidated as it's a feeling I have experienced in previous meet ups. Kari certainly didn’t come across that way to me, I thought she was a lovely confident interesting person and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we engaged in.

Thanks again Kari for the wonderful afternoon, the raw food experience and the lovely smoky almonds. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you in person and I hope we cross paths again one day!

Shop 14, The Piazza Arcade
36 South Terrace, Fremantle

Friday, March 15, 2013

Eating out around Perth

After a six hour drive from Kalgoorlie, unpacking the car and driving out to the airport to pick up the young man (he spent six nights with us in Perth before heading back home to start University), a quick meal was in order. I envisaged we would be tired and hungry on our first night in Perth and had printed a menu from Sri Melaka's website so we could pick up some take away food on our way back from the airport to the rental house. Sri Melaka vegetarian restaurant was one of the recommendations Steph suggested when I mentioned my travel plans to Perth. Steph formerly lived in Perth and is now based in Melbourne, so I used her blog as one of my resources for seeking out vegan food.  

Sri Melaka’s menu is Malaysian styled Nyonya cuisine predominately based on mock meat. It was difficult to choose from a large number of dishes as they all sounded fantastic. We ordered Chicken Kapitan, Kangkong Belacan and two of our favourite dishes Mee Goreng noodles and Lamb Rendang. The Chicken Kapitan contained chunks of mock meat and potatoes in a very spicy coconut curry gravy, the Lamb Rendang was 100% mock meat in a thick spicy coconut paste. Mee Goreng had a combination of vegetables, mock prawns and possibly some other form of mock meat I couldn’t identify and the Kangkong was Asian water spinach stir fried with chillies and mock shrimp paste. Every single dish was very spicy and our noses were running by the end of the meal. No-one could pick a favourite as we thoroughly enjoyed them all. I’ve been to a few Asian mock meat restaurants around Melbourne but none of them have managed to serve up food as delicious as this! It cost a little over $50 and there were enough leftovers to provide the three of us with a light lunch so it was also very good value.   

After reading about the Thai Vegan stall located at the Fremantle markets on Happy Cow, I put it high on my must visit list. I’ve travelled to Thailand a couple of times and haven’t been able to enjoy Thai food in Melbourne restaurants since. A reviewer on Happy Cow piqued my interest by mentioning that the food was that best they had eaten outside of Thailand. The stall is open on market days (Friday to Sunday) and is managed by two lovely women who were run off their feet pounding fresh herbs and spices, stir-frying and preparing fresh salads in addition to taking many orders. There are only a couple of seats to eat at the stall but there is a park nearby as well as plenty of benches in the surrounding streets.

In addition to a few precooked deep fried snacks, the menu is largely based on Thai salads, soups and noodle dishes (priced between $7 - $11). The man had left me to organise our food while he waited outside with Ollie and the young man ventured off to eat whatever he pleased. Salads are usually not popular with the man yet I recalled that he enjoyed the ones we ate in Thailand and boldly ordered a Larb salad, two spicy tofu sticks and a Pad Se Ew noodles. Somehow I managed to order an extra noodle dish which may have been due to the noise level in the markets and my substandard hearing. The amount of heat can be varied to your personal taste so I ordered all of our meals to be spicy.

The spicy tofu sticks ($3 each) consisted of three triangular pieces of crispy tofu on skewers, they were slightly disappointing as they didn't live up to their name in the spice department yet they were tasty enough to enjoy as a starter. The Larb salad was made up of lettuce, spinach, carrot, green papaya and cucumber topped with soy mince and was bursting with fresh flavours of lemongrass, chilli, coriander, mint and lime. It reminded us of the fantastic salads we had eaten in Thailand and I was thrilled that my brave selection turned out to be a success. Pad Se Ew was full of an assortment of vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, cabbage and bean sprouts) as well as nicely seasoned tofu and lovely wide rice noodles. I think the extra noodle dish was called Rad Na, it had the same vegetables, tofu and noodles as Pad Se Ew yet it contained more sour flavours and it was spiciest dish of the lot. We loved both of the noodle dishes although the man said that the Rad Na was verging on being too spicy for him.    

Perth is fortunate to have a couple of Loving Hut restaurants which are located a suburb apart from each other. Loving Hut at Victoria Park is open for lunches (Wednesday to Sunday) and weekend breakfasts and East Victoria Park is open for dinners (Wednesday to Sunday). I had looked at both of their online menus and after mentioning to the man that there was an opportunity to eat pizza with vegan cheese he was super keen to drive across and get some take away food.

The menu begins with Asian entrees, mains are a combination of Asian meals, pasta dishes and pizza. They also offer a range of desserts and like all of the stores in the Loving Hut chain, everything on the menu is vegan. We were in the mood for pizza and pasta, the entrees also sounded great so we ordered way too much food! The spring rolls and samosas were both good but it was the crispy bites (above) that were the most popular starter. These pieces of mock meat coated in a slightly spicy batter and deep fried may not have been the healthiest choice but boy did they taste good! I've been requested to pull out the deep fryer and recreate this at home one day.

While the vegan pizza had been a draw card, it ended up to be slightly disappointing. The base wasn't great, it was thin but the edges were not rolled out evenly and it was unlike a base you would get from a pizza shop. The vegetable toppings of capsicum, mushrooms, spinach and pineapple were fine but there was a scant quantity of Notzarella cheese covering them. By the time we demolished this amount of food we were too full to tackle the pasta dishes and put them aside for next days lunch. We enjoyed ravioli with a tomato based sauce and I was less impressed with spaghetti carbonara with mushrooms as I thought the sauce had a weird flavour but the man seemed to enjoy it. Loving Hut's strengths may be in their Asian meals given the success we had with the entrees. We paid $64 for three entrees, a pizza and two pasta dishes which was pretty good value.

Beautiful dog beach at Swanbourne which had a clear blue sky every day

The Naked Fig in Swanbourne boasts a lovely view across the ocean and was on our daily walking route from our accommodation to the closest dog beach. It is one of three trendy restaurants in Perth, their other locations are in Swanbourne and Fremantle and each of them has a dedicated vego night. We ordered take away soy lattes (with extra shots of coffee) from The Naked Fig twice after early morning swims. We decided not to return as the wait times were 15 minutes one day, over 20 minutes the following day and the coffees were very weak and milky, apparently made with St Ali coffee beans from Melbourne. It was a shame as The Naked Fig had a vegan breakfast on their menu and veggie burgers with vegan options for lunch and dinner.

Ollie waiting for the ball to be thrown in the ocean (yet again)

There were several other eateries I had wanted to visit but was most disappointed that we didn't make it to Heavenly Plate in Applecross as Kari's pre-wedding high tea sounded amazing as did Steph's dining experience there. The man spent half of his childhood growing up in Perth and was astounded by the amount of vegan food that is on offer these days. Vegans who are planning a trip to Perth should check out the following blogs for heaps of food options around town: Vegan4Life, Bite Sized Thoughtsvegan about town and Vegan Sparkles as well as Happy Cow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Melbourne to Perth road trip

Hello dear readers, apologies once again for the lengthy break between posts. I’ve just returned from my longest holiday ever (as well as the biggest break I've had from full-time work) travelling around Western Australia. Previous vacations of around two weeks have always gone by too quickly so the man and I have been saving up our dollars and annual leave for a while so we could enjoy a month long holiday. After we adopted Ollie our travel plans developed into an Australian based road trip and dog friendly vacation as we didn’t feel it would be fair to leave our new family member in a boarding kennel for such a long period.

Map of our road trip including nightly stops

For those who are unfamiliar with where I live and/or with the geography of Australia, the distance from Melbourne in Victoria to Perth in Western Australia is approximately 3500 km by road. Most of the drive is through incredibly isolated terrain and includes crossing the Nullarbor Plain which runs across the Great Australian Bight. In the most remote areas, roadhouses (service stations selling fuel, snacks and souvenirs) are up to 200 km apart, often without a single residence in between.

A giant galah stands outside a shop in Kimba - "Half way across Australia"

Travelling from Melbourne to Perth with a dog meant that we were limited to camping along the way as the motel style accommodation at roadhouses don’t allow you to stay with pets. Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to find suitable food for us on the road trip, I planned ahead and prepared tofu bacon, chickpea eggs (adapted from Vegan Eats World) and delicious seitan pastrami from Vegan Diner. These items were kept cold in our Esky (Aussie brand of cooler/car fridge) along with dairy-free margarine, vegan cheeses, Fry’s chicken-style burgers, Linda McCartney sausages and salad items.

Cooking up breakfast on our little camping stove 

A portable pantry in the form of a large plastic tub accompanied us on our month long journey which was depleted and restocked several times. Its contents included tinned baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and tomatoes, olive oil, bread, rice, Vegemite (yeast extract), ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Tapatio hot sauce, curry powder, cayenne pepper, mango chutney and snacks such as BBQ shapes, potato chips, nuts and dried fruit amongst other things.

Vegemite on toast (plus avocado for me) is what the man and I eat for breakfast on a regular basis and we continued this tradition throughout our travels. It was a challenge to perfect cooking toast over a naked flame on our gas cooking stove so we did have to suffice with the odd burnt section every so often. We enjoyed a big brekky on one occasion which was simply a matter of heating up precooked tofu bacon, chickpea eggs, baked beans and frying some tomatoes.

The spectacular Bunda cliffs 

Packing up campsites, driving long distances and setting up a new campsite at the end of each day meant that we didn’t have much time to stop and look at a lot of the sights along the way. Apart from roadhouse rests for fuel and toilets the only unscheduled stop I insisted on making was to one of the Bunda Cliffs lookouts close to the SA/WA border. This breathtaking spectacle of 120m high limestone cliffs above the crashing brilliant blue ocean was definitely worth a 10 minute break. Heaps of other photos on our 5 day trip across were taken from a moving vehicle which is not ideal although it did allow me to capture the ever changing landscapes along our hasty travels.

As we were spending somewhere between 7 to 10 hours on the road every day, a pre-made sandwich was usually on the lunch menu. Seitan pastrami, Vegusto vegan cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and cucumber with the man’s favourite combination of vegan mayonnaise, American mustard and hot sauce kept us satisfied until we crossed the border from South Australia into Western Australia. There are restrictions about bringing fresh fruit and vegetables into Western Australia which meant that we had to ditch our remaining salad items, scoff down the last of our fresh fruit and rely on packaged foods until we reached Kalgoorlie.

Whilst I’m on the topic of packaged foods, our saving grace over the month eventuated from a trip to a local Indian grocer just before our departure. I had been on the lookout for easy, nutritious meals and found some heat and eat curries on their shelves. There only appeared to be 3 vegan meals out of around 15 varieties of vegetable curries as most of the others contained butter or cream. If you do come across the Pattu range, the Baignan Bharta (eggplant curry), Bhindi Masala (okra curry) and Peas Pulav (basmati rice with green peas and cashews) are all vegan. I wasn’t convinced they would be the most authentic tasting meals or spicy enough for our tastes and planned to perk them up with additional spices but it didn't turn out to be necessary. These meals were such a pleasant surprise so we continued to try out other brands of Indian convenience foods from standard supermarkets during the rest our trip.

The sachets are placed into boiling water for 5 minutes or microwaved if you happen to have one handy. Even though some of the curries are rather oily, they aren't particularly high in calories and fat and are free of any preservatives and artificial colours and flavours. The Tasty Bite range are not as flavoursome as the Pattu curries but they are available at most large Australian supermarkets with the Indian foods and are clearly labelled as vegan or vegetarian meals. We particularly enjoyed Punjab Eggplant and Mumbai Mushrooms from the Tasty Bite range. Some nights we scooped the curries up with chappatis rather than bothering to serve them with rice.

Sunrise over wetlands at Port Wakefield

So that's pretty much how we ate whilst travelling remotely for 5 days. Burgers and a few other meals were consumed along the way which I didn't remember to take photos of. There will be more posts to follow about Perth eats and the rest of the food on our trip over the the next few weeks. For now I'll leave you with a recipe which the man fondly refers to as "eggies". I've been making this since testing Ethiopian But'echa (Fluffy scrambled chickpea eggs) for Terry Hope Romero's cookbook Vegan Eats World. My adaptation omits the chillies, includes some black salt and cuts down on a couple of steps and dishes.  

Sand dunes at Port Augusta with the Flinders Ranges in the background

Scrambled chickpea eggs aka. eggies (Adapted from Vegan Eats World)

1 cup besan/chickpea flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 2/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon black salt
¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
pepper, to taste

Cook the besan in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until the flour darkens slightly and smells toasty. Transfer the besan to a bowl. Pour in the olive oil and fry the onions for about 5 minutes or until they soften. Transfer the onions to a plate or small bowl.

Pour the water, lemon juice, black salt and sea salt into the saucepan. Start adding the besan into the saucepan a few tablespoons at a time, whisking all the time. After all of the besan has been added, use a spatula and continue stirring until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to pull away from the sides. Fold through the onions, turn off the heat and allow it to cool down for 10 minutes.

Drag a fork through the mixture to break it up into small lumps resembling scrambled eggs. Season with additional salt if required and black pepper, to taste.

This may be eaten warm or cold and it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least a week. Adding curry powder and mayonnaise at the end is on my to-do list to create curried "eggs" for sandwiches.