Wednesday, July 30, 2014

East Elevation VI

July 6, 2014


We landed back home to a weekend with our trusted cat-sitter Carol and my visiting mum (they're sisters, you see). Mostly we hung out at home, and I cooked up a big pot of soup. The forecast was good on Sunday, so we reacquainted ourselves with Brunswick on foot. The houses and gardens and street art were familiar and comforting, and we pointed out the odd local business that had changed in our absence.


We steered Mum and Carol to East Elevation for brunch. It's deservedly popular these days and often has a waiting list, but we scored a spot at a communal table quickly. The wait for hot drinks and food was decidedly longer. Actually I'd been waiting for these crepes ($17.50) for months, maybe even a year. They've been on the menu tempting me all that time, but I've gotten distracted by the tapioca and the specials; once I went ahead and ordered them but they were sadly sold out.

They were slender and slightly elastic in the best tradition of egg-based crepes, with a seam of fresh ricotta and occasional bursts of rosewater between folds. The lemon-saffron syrup and crushed hazelnut praline were subtle accents, less important than the fresh strawberry halves.

Brunch at East Elevation isn't cheap, but it certainly isn't ordinary either.

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We've already blogged about East Elevation one, two, three, four, five times. Since that last write-up, the brunch menu has been blogged by fellow vego Green Gourmet Giraffe, as well as omni bloggers at thehangrybitch, melbourne brunch scene and grazing panda.
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East Elevation
351 Lygon St, Brunswick East
9380 4915
veg dishes $7-17.50
http://eastelevation.com.au/

Accessibility: Excellent. A ramp on entry, great light, lots of space and spacious individual unisex toilets, at least one of which has disability signage. Ordering happens at the table and payment at a reasonably low counter.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tokyo | Day 5

July 4, 2014



Our last day in Japan was a pretty lazy one, exploring Matt's local area, Kōenji. It's a lovely neighbourhood - a few mostly pedestrianised streets with lots of cute shops, bars and restaurants. We had a few plans for lunch, but were stymied by one place having closed down and one only opening for dinner. While we reassessed our options, we refuelled with a couple of the twee-est doughnuts in the world from Floresta doughnuts.



They were excellent, with dense dough and sweet, subtle flavours - a far cry from the over-the-top richness of our Portland experience. With a sugarry charge, we decided to return to Meu Nota for a jetlag-free visit.

Lunch is limited to a couple of different sets, which I found a much more fun way to explore what they have to offer. We went for the full set (1230円 ~ $12.90), with a paprika flavoured soup for Cindy and a more traditional miso for me. Alongside the soups were an amazing mix of fried goodies, pickled veggies, salad, corn bread, brown rice and a little bowl of tofu spread. Throw in your choice of coffee and tea and you've got an incredible meal - I'd definitely recommend swinging by here for lunch one day.


After a little bit more wandering around, it was time to put an end to our three week adventure and jump on the train out to the airport.


There was still time for one final bit of eating - we scraped together our last yen for a couple of umeboshi onigiri and some last mochi while we waited to board.


It was an incredible three week holiday (plus our respective earlier work jaunts), with so much wonderful food, ranging from fruit-loop garnished doughnuts to a banquet of delicate Japanese temple food. Hopefully you haven't minded our slightly self-indulgent holiday recapping - our regular, Melbourne-based programming will be resumed shortly!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tokyo | Day 4

July 3, 2014


We headed to Shimokitazawa on Thursday morning, a neighbourhood known for its vintage shops and hip eateries. In typical hip style, nothing was open until 11am and many shops didn't begin trading until 1 or 2pm. Michael wanted breakfast from Kaiso bakery (another Lee Tran Lam rec), so we wandered the blocks until the clock ticked over and we could check out their offerings. The food labels had more French than English and the savoury snacks looked suspiciously meaty, with the four cheese bialy than LTL mentioned only available later in the day. We were satisfied with the more-choc-chip-than-bread Choco (250円 ~ AU$2.60) and slice of Tarte du Mois (i.e. pie of the month, 450円 ~ AU$4.70), which worked a sturdy-to-delicate spectrum from pie crust to well-baked frangipane, fruit slices and sugared top.


With a couple more hours of strolling and second-hand shopping, we had an appetite for lunch. Michael tracked down Magic Spice, a psychedelic cafe that specialises in soup curries and allusions to tripping. From their English menus we were able to deduce that the standard process is to select a soup curry base and a spice scale from The World Of Mysterious Hotness - chilli wusses start at Awakening, while the more adventurous can work through Meditation, Ecstasy, Nirvana, Paradise, Raputa ("provokes consciousness flying in the sky") to Aum Air ("awakening of a super sense of extreme hot space") for an extra couple of dollars. Then there's a range of extra toppings to select for your soup, and sweet-hot-acid condiments at the table.

Michael started with a Vege-Bean soup at Nirvana, adding natto and Koya (freeze-dried) tofu (1030円 + 200円 + 120円 + 110円 ~ AU$15.30). I had my Vege-Mush at the tamer Meditation level, adding tempura sweet potato slices and aji-gotti, a "seasoning egg with soy taste" (1100円 + 100円 + 110円 + 140円 ~ AU$15.20); little did I know that there was already half a boiled egg at the bottom of my soup. This meal had the kind of volume and variety that had me going for hours (almost literally) - I really liked the combination of tender-cooked and fresh raw vegetables, the flavour of the clear broth and had no hope of getting through the side of rice. The drinks we ordered - a Thai iced coffee for Michael (530円 ~ AU$5.50) and an iced chai for me (510円 ~AU$5.40) - were similarly huge and very sweet, so we ended up saving them for dessert.

This was a really fun experience, albeit one that vegans would probably struggle to navigate. In fact, we left wondering if the stock base might've been chicken too.


We had no such doubts at Itosho, a vegetarian restaurant that's been running for more than forty years under the helm of chef Hiroharu Ito. Like Bon, which served the most expensive and memorable meal of our last Tokyo trip, Itosho upholds the tradition of shojin ryori, i.e. Buddhist temple cuisine. For 8400円 ~ AU$87.80 each, Michael's family all joined us for a multi-course meal at this Michelin-starred restaurant.


The restaurant's capacity is small and Chef Ito presented almost all the dishes to us personally, describing them in Japanese to Michael's more fluent siblings. Our first bowl was arranged with walnut-studded silken tofu, gluten, ginger, mushrooms, matcha jelly and tiny purple flowers - I was reluctant to mix it all together as instructed, but the delicate flavours and textures stayed intact. The sesame sauced side vegetables and surprisingly sweet black beans were also fun to pick at.

The clear cup of renkon/lotus root soup didn't charm everyone in our group but I liked it well enough, particularly the single chestnut dumpling that bobbed on the surface.


Ito's take on tempura was a resounding success by contrast - a tofu slice, shitake mushroom, cornlette, pumpkin piece, eggplant piece and pepper were each coated in crunchy mochi flour pebbles and served with seasoned salt for sprinkling.

Shitake reappeared in the following course as the subject of simple but excellent sushi.


Larger blue plates laid out samples of tiny lacquered potato spheres on toothpicks, tender marinated lotus root and gluten pieces in a green plum sauce. It took this second serve of gluten for me to really appreciate how light and almost gelatinous it was compared to the dense seitans we're accustomed to. I recalled that we'd been served something similar at Kajitsu a couple of weeks earlier.

Open-weave baskets held handmade soba noodles with shredded nori and a little wasabi. We dipped them into the cup of soy sauce, marvelling at their fresh texture.


Asparagus wrapped in yuba tasted fresher still. (One day, I hope, I will master yuba preparation at home.)

We were feeling a little overwhelmed by the time the tofu-and-burdock imitation fish sushi arrived - their brilliance was almost wasted on us bloated customers. The cloudy mushroom soup was also very, very good - I imagined what a wonderful lunch this single course could make.


Relief was at hand, with a melon wedge each served for dessert. It was a soothing finish to a marathon of a meal.

It was an evening that filled me with gratitude (as well as vegetables!) - what a privilege to be served by such an accomplished chef, to get a glimpse of an ancient vegetarian tradition, and to share it with Michael's receptive but not-at-all-vegetarian family.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tokyo | Day 3

July 2, 2014

We were left to our own devices on Wednesday, with a recommendation from Matt that we flee the heat by catching the train up the hill to the Hakone Open Air Museum. It was surprisingly great - beautiful views, tranquil parkland, a natural hot spring foot-bath and dozens of brilliant outdoor sculptures to explore. The slideshow below captures the highlights - I really recommend making the trip up if you've got some spare time, especially if the Tokyo heat is getting to you.



The food options up the mountain were pretty limited - we loaded up on chips and mochi at the supermarket and snacked our way through the trip up, before pouncing on some inari on the way down. We were lured in to the little snack shop by the plastic model of inari on the table outside and were thrilled when the owner whipped up a freshly made box for us to take away. Brilliant.



Our aim on our return to Tokyo proper was a visit to the vegetarian ramen place T's Tan Tan (one of the recommendations on this wonderfully helpful post on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry). It's buried deep in the sprawling Tokyo train station and we spent a good half an hour wandering about struggling to spot it. We actually had pretty decent directions, but it took a few stops at the train station maps for us to eventually pin it down.


It was well worth the effort - a fully vegan menu focussing heavily on ramen and ramen-related delights. I took the set menu option - your choice of ramen plus a small side bowl for between 1050円 and 1200円 (AU$11 - AU$12.60; pictured top left). I picked the shirunashi tantan for my noodle soup - it came with bean sprouts, pot-herb mustard, chilli oil, black vinegar, cashew nuts, peanuts, sesame oil and soy bean meat and was based around a complex and tasty broth (rather than the watery version that vego noodle soups can sometimes rely on). My small bowl accompaniment was the rich and creamy massaman curry, which had a few scattered veggies among the thick sauce and rice. I cooled myself down with an iced coffee, which was sweet and cold but otherwise not that memorable. Cindy went for a smaller meal - the original T's Tan Tan ramen (sesame, peanut, soybean meat and green pak choi in a noodle soup, 800円 ~ $8.40; pictured bottom right) and an accompanying cup of sweet apple lemonade tea (450円 ~ $4.70). She was just as impressed as I was. 

T's Tan Tan is definitely one to add to your Tokyo checklist - it's got a bit of a food court vibe about it, but the food is cheap, delicious and lacking any fish-related concerns. Ramen is such a Japanese classic and one that is challenging to track down in a properly vegetarian form, so we were thrilled to eat so well here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tokyo | Day 2

July 1, 2014


Tokyo has a beverage machine tucked around every corner and Michael happily made use of them, often hunting down a self-heating can of coffee first thing out the door.


We spent much of our second day with Michael's family, first strolling through Meiji Jingu. Michael and I had been there before, and in spite of our many fellow sightseers it was a pleasant, relaxing place to be - cooler in the shade of the trees and surrounded by positive prayer cards at the Shrine. Even so, we were thirsty and aching for a seat within a couple of hours.


Matt led us to Sakura-Tei for lunch, where we were seated around a hotplate to cook our own meals. We chugged down iced drinks to stave off the plate's radiant heat and ordered a bowl of okonomiyaki ingredients each. Matt helpfully ascertained with our waiter that there was one genuinely vegetarian option among them (1150円 ~ AU$12.10; there was something fishy going on last time we tried this) so we set to work gently folding together cabbage, onion, cheese and eggs into a nobbly batter and arranging it on the plate. I proudly pulled off a neat flip, though I made more of a mess of my fried egg and cheese topping. My 'yaki might've been a little overcooked but there was no faulting it once the brown sauce and mayonnaise were slathered on.


We sought out another uniquely Japanese experience for dinner that evening, gathering at an izakaya in Shinjuku, ordering our snacks and drinks directly from an ipad at the table. Honestly, the food at this one wasn't great so I won't bother naming the venue - the edamame were unruly and starchy, the avocado was brown, and Michael and I found ourselves pushing fish flakes off several dishes that had looked vego on the menu. (On the upside, I had a lovely yuzu-flavoured soft drink.) There are numerous other excellent izakaya around Tokyo, and it's well worth giving them a go.


We finished the evening timidly exploring Shinjuku Golden Gai, a cluster of tiny bars that usually only welcome friends-of-friends. Even without an in, we could feel the quiet intimacy of this neighbourhood in stark contrast to the huge intersections and looming cinema-screen adverts only a few minutes' walk away.