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Wednesday, July 29, 2015


July 20-21, 2015

I had a speedy few days in Perth last week and hassled Steph for dining tips. She gave Formosa/Utopia the thumbs up, so I swung by a couple of times to suss it out. It’s tucked away in Northbridge, in a little courtyard back from the street a bit, so keep your eyes peeled to avoid walking straight past. Once you’re in, you’ve got to figure out the ordering process – the best thing to do is grab a menu, a pen and a little form for ordering and settle in at a table. The menu is humungous, with something like 200 dishes to choose from (plus seemingly millions of bubble tea and related drinks). Everything is pretty clearly labelled – I’d guess about half the dishes are vegan and spice levels are marked. It’s not cheap, but it’s not outrageous either – most mains are between $16 and $20. It’s heavy on the mock meat, although there are enough veggie and tofu based dishes if that’s not your thing.

To order, you fill out the form with the code from the menu and take it up to the counter – they double check what you’ve ordered, so there shouldn’t be any confusion even if your handwriting is as bad as mine. On my first visit I ordered the vegan version of the tom yum chicken ($16.50) with a side of the fried crispy mushrooms ($6) and rice for one ($2.50). This was way too much food, which is always the risk when you’re dining alone and trying to sample as much of the menu as possible.

On my first few mouthfuls I was mad for the mushrooms – crispy, salty and with a nice spicy dipping sauce – but I gradually tired of them as I went on. You should probably hold off on these unless you’re sharing, the mushroomy texture got a bit overwhelming as the batter cooled down and lost its crisp. Still – five stars for the first 10 or so. The tom yum chicken was a complete success, a nice mix of hot and sour flavours in the soup and a decent amount of veggies to go along with the mock chicken.

On my return trip I took Steph’s advice and ordered the fried kuay teow ($11.50) and was once again unable to resist some accompaniment, going with the salted fried chicken ($9). For some reason the chicken isn’t marked vegan, which confused me a bit – maybe there’s egg in the batter?

Either way, it’s delicious – crispy and salty and impressively chicken-y. The texture works better than the mushrooms over a whole plate too. The noodles were solid as well – a rich, smoky wok hei, dotted with sprouts, greens, tofu and a few chunks of mysterious mock meat.

You wouldn’t really go to Utopia for the ambience – it’s brightly lit, simply furnished and there’s nothing fancy about the service. Still – there’s a lot going for it: the staff are friendly, the menu ridiculously long and the food that I sampled a pretty decent version of mock-meat heavy vego Chinese food. They’re open late, they do a good line in bubble tea and they’ve got a karaoke room out the back somewhere – you can see why Utopia is a Perth vego favourite.


There are positive reviews of Utopia on vegan about town, foodieatwork and watermelon3.


109 James St, Northbridge, Western Australia
08 9227 0238
menus: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve
facebook page

Accessibility: The restaurant access is up a flight of stairs (although there may be a lift somewhere - I forgot to check). You order and pay at a low counter. The toilets are gendered and accessible.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Pear & caramel icecream

July 18-19, 2015

Last week I enthusiastically renewed our vege box order with CERES.... except that I actually ordered an all-fruit box instead of a mixed fruit & veg box. We were beset by multitudes of bananas, apples, kiwi fruits, oranges and grapefruit, more than a dozen mandarins, a couple of limes and four pears. We've been working through them - stirring the limes into creme fraiche for sweet potato wedges, packing apples into our bags for work and punctuating our days at home with mandarin peeling. I made a big batch of rice pudding to enjoy with the kiwi fruits and some apple & walnut pancakes once, too. The bananas are only just ripe now.

Three of the four pears went into this David Lebovitz icecream recipe, prepared for dessert when we had some friends over. They're cooked in caramel, blended smooth, then strained and churned into a rich, velvety scoop. The caramel procedure, which I've used for salted caramel icecreams, always gets me nervous - it teeters on burning in some spots while others wait their turn to melt. The flavour in the mixture stayed just on the right side of bitter and mellowed out a lot during churning and freezing. The pear ended up playing subtle too - sweet and fruity pre-churn, later forming flecks of texture and leaving just a whisper of flavour. It was rather upstaged by the excellent chocolate self-saucing pudding that one of our guests brought, and we've made a point of eating the leftovers without that kind of delicious distraction.

The most striking feature of this dessert was the 48% milk fat cream that I used. It made for a rich, languorous icecream that was easy to scoop and didn't melt, even after half a hour of sitting at the table, waiting for us to serve seconds.

Pear & caramel icecream
(a recipe from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

3 medium-sized ripe pears
3/4 cup castor sugar
500mL heavy cream
pinch of salt
a squeeze of lemon juice

Peel the pears and remove their cores. Dice them up finely.

Place the sugar in a medium saucepan and set it over consistent medium heat. Given enough time, the sugar will liquefy and turn brown. You can use a wooden spoon to gently shift the unmelted sugar towards the heat.

When the sugar has entirely melted to amber caramel, add the pears. A bunch of the caramel will seize up around the pears, but don't worry about it - just keep stirring the pears into the caramel and allowing the sugar to melt back down. Let it all to cook, stirring regularly, for about 10-15 minutes, until the pear is tender.

Turn off the heat and add the cream - just a couple of tablespoons to start, and then bigger and bigger portions until it's all well mixed. Stir in the salt and lemon juice. Refrigerate the mixture until it's very cold, preferably overnight.

When the mixture is very cold, use a stick blender to puree the pears until they're as smooth as possible. Strain the mixture to make sure the worst fibrous bits are out. Churn the smooth icecream mixture an icecream maker and freeze it for at least 4 hours before serving.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

David Chang's Brussels sprouts

July 19, 2015

When I got all excited over Brussels sprouts last week, there was another recipe I took a good look at. This one was developed by David Chang of Momofuku fame, and enthusiastically endorsed by The Amateur Gourmet. It's certainly not your standard sprout treatment, involving a fish sauce-based dressing and crunchy sprinkle of puffed rice and shichimi togarashi. We got ourselves organised to make this for dinner with friends on Sunday night.

While these were happily gobbled up by all at the table (including a Brussels sprout first-timer!), they were not everything I'd hoped for. Half an hour in a very hot oven rendered the sprouts near-burnt on the outside and pretty mushy within. I prefer a bit more bite, and will remember to limit their baking to a quarter hour in future. The butter tossed through the sprouts right after baking softened all the crispiness out of their outer leaves and isn't needed at all. Finally, as a shichimi togarashi lover, a quarter teaspoon is nowhere near enough!

I reckon there's something really, really good here worth pursuing, but it'll take me a couple more iterations to find my favoured version.

David Chang's Brussels sprouts
(adapted slightly from a recipe on epicurious,
found on The Amateur Gourmet)

roasted sprouts
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
900g Brussels sprouts, sliced in half lengthways
2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup vegan fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons coriander stems, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 small red chilli, sliced into circles

crunchy sprinkle
1/2 cup puffed rice
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
mint and coriander leaves, to garnish

Preheat at oven to 230°C. 

Divide the oil between two baking trays, using the flat side of a sprout to spread it out evenly. Arrange all of the sprouts cut-side-down across the two tray. Bake them for 30 minutes, until they're well browned and crispy on the outside.

While the sprouts are roasting, whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a small-medium bowl.

Spray a small frypan with oil and set it over medium-high heat. Add in the puffed rice and shichimi togarashi and stir-fry them until they start smelling good. Turn off the heat and set them aside.

When the Brussels sprouts have finished roasting, transfer them to a heat-proof serving bowl. Add the butter and 1/4 cup of the dressing and stirring them through as the butter melts, to evenly coat the sprouts. Sprinkle over the puffed rice and garnishes, and serve with the remaining dressing on the side.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vegan fish sauce

July 18, 2015

Fish sauce probably doesn't rank up there with bacon and salami as an animal product that veg*ns desperately miss the flavour of. Nevertheless, it does pop up in recipes that otherwise look delicious and veg-friendly. I came across one such recipe this week and rapidly turned up a vegan fish sauce substitute to try it out with.

The sauce recipe uses wakame (I substituted dulse flakes) and mushroom 'oyster' sauce for a taste of the sea, plus garlic and miso for extra umami. Everything's boiled down to a barely-palatable concentrate. I'm not confident that it resembles fish sauce, precisely, but it certainly has pungency in common with its namesake!

Vegan fish sauce
(adapted slightly from a recipe on The Kitchn)

1 tablespoon dulse flakes
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons peppercorns
3 cups water
1/2 cup mushroom 'oyster' sauce
2 teaspoons miso

Place the dulse flakes, garlic, peppercorns and water in a saucepan and bring them to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer them for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid, discarding the solids and returning the liquid to the saucepan. Add the 'oyster' sauce and boil it down until it's reduced by half, about 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the miso. Store the sauce in the fridge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kale & Brussels sprout salad

July 12, 2015

On our first fridge-stocking shop back home, I noticed that the Brussels sprouts were looking particularly good, each one balled up firmly with a clean green sheen. I didn't buy them on the spot but I did go home and flip through some recipes, mulling over how to use them. Of the options I came up with, Michael picked a kale and Brussels sprout Caesar slaw with pine nut "parm" from The First Mess.

Once he got past the pretty photos and actually started with the prep, Michael voiced some doubts. The kale and sprouts stay raw? I was hesitant too - these cruciferous veges (the original recipe includes cabbage too!) can be bitter and even tough. There's not a lot of sweetness to counteract them here, either. Instead, there's a thick sunflower seed-based dressing with a pungency that really did remind me of anchovies - I put it down to some combination of those seeds, the tahini and the garlic. The dressing goes some way to softening the texture of the finely shredded kale and sprouts.

The other toppings are more accessible - chickpeas stained rust-red with smoked paprika and a bright, crumbly parmesan cheese imitation. Though it's mostly made of pine nuts, it's the sesame seeds and lemon zest that brought out the best in the salty sprinkle.

This winter salad served as a light dinner one night, and we deconstructed the leftovers over a few meals more, eating the kale and sprouts with some Kentucky fried tofu and using leftover dressing to marinate some grilled tofu. It's definitely one for folks who already eat and love their greens - novices should stick to springtime snow peas and asparagus!

Kale & Brussels sprout salad
(slightly adapted from a recipe on The First Mess)

1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon tamari
2 teaspoons tahini
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
salt & pepper
1/4 cup water

smoky chickpeas
1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
salt & pepper

parmesan sprinkle
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
salt & pepper

1 large bunch kale
500g Brussels sprouts 

Cover the sunflower seeds with water and soak them for at least 2 hours.

When you're about half an hour away from wanting to eat, get to work with the rest of the salad. Preheat an oven to 200°C. In a small-medium bowl, stir together all the smoky chickpea ingredients. Line a baking tray with paper and spread the chickpeas out evenly across it. Bake the chickpeas for 20-30 minutes depending on whether you want them tender or chewy.

While the chickpeas are baking, throw the parmesan sprinkle ingredients into a spice grinder and blend them until they're well-mixed and crumbly.

Drain the sunflower seeds and place them in a spince grinder or blender. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and blend until smooth.

Shred the kale leaves and the Brussels sprouts very finely. Place them all in  a large salad bowl. Toss through half of the dressing. Sprinkle over the chickpeas and parmesan sprinkle, either in the bowl or over individual portions, and serve the remaining dressing on the side.