Friday, March 06, 2015

Great Aunty Three

February 20, 2015


Recent readers will have noticed my penchant for veggie banh mi. Every time we've mentioned banh mi on facebook Matt has raved about a place called Great Aunty Three in Sydney. The shop he visited was in Enmore, which wasn't really convenient for our trip, so I didn't think we'd get a chance to visit. But I handily stumbled onto a new Surry Hills branch on a quick wander around the neighbourhood and our Friday lunch plans were sorted.


It's a popular place - we turned up at 1ish and the queue was out the door. It moves pretty steadily though, so you've got to make your mind up pretty quickly. There are three kinds of veggie rice paper rolls (lemongrass tofu, vegan chicken, salad), a vegetarian noodle salad bowl and a vegan bao, plus the banh mi options.

We took one of each of the roll options - vegan chicken and vegan duck ($8 each). The rolls come with loads of coriander, big chunks of cucumber, lettuce, sprouts, carrot, a bit of chilli and, strangely, pumpkin seeds.


I ordered these mild, because I was splitting them with Cindy, so they didn't have the spicy pop of my regular Trang orders. The mock meat was good though, especially the duck (the chicken slices were a tiny bit dry). They're going for a more traditional crusty roll too, which will please the purists, but it meant that we scattered crumbs all over the hotel lobby where we scoffed these down.


At $8 a pop, these are raising the stakes a bit on Trang or Nhu Lan, but I guess you have to factor Sydney rents into the equation. They're also going for something a bit more like Roll'd in terms of aesthetics too, so it's not a ridiculous price. It's a pretty amazing world we're living in these days - mock meat banh mi are going mainstream and I couldn't be happier about it.
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Great Aunty Three
94 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills
02 9281 8882
menu
http://www.greatauntythree.com/

Accessibility: There's a small step up on entry. Things are super crowded inside, at least at lunchtime. There are a couple of tables with high stools. You order and pay at a high counter. We didn't visit the toilets.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Bills

February 20, 2015


In a single week we had the rare pleasure of sharing two meals in two cities with Another Outspoken Female, and on this second occasion with her Significant Eater too. AOF nominated bills for our Friday lunch in Sydney. Curiously we found an entire cricket team queued up ahead of us in Surry Hills, so we ducked over to the Darlinghurst branch; here we were seated within 10 minutes.

Brunch at bills is a very Sydney thing to do - though I only remember Bill Granger vaguely as that guy in the toothpaste ad he's a chef of twenty years with many restaurants, cookbooks and TV series to his name. And actually - as AOF had in mind - brunch at bills is also a fairly veg-friendly thing to do. Though there aren't any guiding markers on the menu, we were spoiled for choice with muesli, granola and fruit bowls, pastries and cakes, eggs and toast and choose-your-own sides, plus pancakes and fritters. Vegan options are a little more scarce, though there's avo on toast and a more novel brown rice and sweet miso porridge served with coconut yoghurt, mango and lime.


Michael was impressed by his plate of broken eggs, ricotta, spinach, pine nuts and chilli with grilled sourdough ($20) - it held at least as much flavour as it did colour.


I felt obliged (and, let's be honest, keen) to order the famous ricotta hotcakes ($20; turns out I do know one other thing about Bill Granger). I'm generally ambivalent about ricotta hotcakes but these fellas were great! Thick and fluffy with the flavour of fresh curds. It was the embellishments that let me down - the generous honeycomb butter discs didn't taste of much and the banana was fresh and just blandly sweet as bananas are. Amidst all that yellow I would've loved some tangy red fruit as a contrast.

While the bills restaurant prices and pull come from its long reputation and not its current innovation, they didn't come off as awfully complacent. The corn fritters and gravlax of a decade ago compete for space alongside ingredients like kale and coconut yoghurt, and everything we ate was well executed. Whether it's worth a weekend queue and the tick on your Sydney to-do list is up to you.

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bills
433 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst
(02) 9360 9631
menu
http://www.bills.com.au/

Accessibility: There are a couple of steps up on entry. Tables are moderately well spaced across two levels divided by a couple of steps. We ordered and paid at our table. Toilets were located outside and down a courtyard. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Alfio's

February 19, 2015


Cindy's been working more or less non-stop since before Christmas so when I had a work-related reason to visit Sydney for a few days, we decided to sneak in a lazy long weekend, combining some Sydney-time with a trip out to the Blue Mountains. On our first night in town together we put ourselves in the hands of some friends who know Sydney's food scene a lot better than we do. We wanted something veg-friendly, a bit special, but not ludicrously expensive. The came up with Alfio's - a restaurant in the back streets of Leichhardt, run by notorious Sydney food hipsters who specialise in inventive pop-up dining. Score one for local knowledge.


The setting for Alfio's is an old Italian restaurant that closed down a few years ago and has been reclaimed for however long Alfio's runs for. It's a classic trattoria vibe - right down to the murals on the wall. Alfio's only opens Thursday-Saturday each week and the menu changes every day - a shifting mix of 5 or so courses, based on whatever ingredients the crew have rustled up from their various local suppliers. They're happy to cater for vegos, but I think vegans or coeliacs would have a tough time of it. It's cash only, BYO (no corkage) and heaving with people - you'd be well advised to book ahead.

First up was this mixed plate of grilled veggies, olives and pickles. We picked happily at it while enjoying the excellent wine that our friends supplied.


Then came this combination of fresh figs, chives, dill, mint and parsley with goats curd and a fig balsamic vinegar.


This was probably the dish where the seasonal, fresh produce ethos of Alfio's shone through the most impressively - the figs were sublime, and were perfectly accompanied by the creamy cheese and fresh herbs. 

Next up: grilled smoky eggplant with lemon juice, garlic and herbs, served with sourdough that had been smeared with more garlic.


We all politely shared out equal portions of this, but inside I assume everyone had the same urge that I did: to just grab the plate and shovel all of this into my mouth. Somehow we all resisted.

Perhaps seeing that civilisation was about to crumble, the restaurant served up individual plates for our next dish: freshly made ravioli filled with ricotta and served with cherry tomatoes, peas, basil and olive oil. Simple, but effective.


The final savoury course was roast broccoli with white beans, hazelnuts and a generous amount of grated parmigiana cheese.


Again, this isn't an overly complicated dish, but the ingredients and execution were just spot on. There are a couple of shared plates in the background here as well - a pepper ratatouille and a sugar snap pea and almond combo, both of which hit the spot nicely.

The final course was dessert: some lightly poached peaches with a rosemary cookie crumble and ricotta panacotta.


This was a stunner - up there with the figs for best dish of the night.


Alfio's is a very impressive undertaking - for $50 a head you get an amazingly generous meal, loaded up with ingredients that burst with flavour, combined thoughtfully and prepared perfectly. There only real downside is the noise - the place is popular and not designed with acoustics in mind, so you'll find yourself yelling most of the night. That grumble aside, Alfio's promises a fun and affordable night of great food - get in before they wind it up and move on to the next project.

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the unbearable lightness of being hungry, Dear Asparagus and Does My Bomb Look Big in This? all have rave reviews for Alfio's.
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Alfio's
71 Renwick St, Leichhardt
02 9560 2447
menu changes daily - $50 for 4+ courses
http://www.alfios.com.au/

Accessibility: There's a step up on entry into a dimly lit, fairly crowded interior. It's full table service. The toilets were gendered and narrow.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Coconut samosa potato salad

February 16, 2015


Cindy had this samosa salad bookmarked for a while, and with some leftover mint to use up and tons of flaked coconut in the cupboard, we decided it was time to give it a shot. It's a pretty straightforward recipe, although it gets a bit more annoying if you don't realise you need to toast/roast your coconut and cashews until the last minute. Also: the original recipe wants you to make papadums and then crumble them up, but the lazy option of papadum chips worked fine for us and saved on deep-frying. 

We've had curry leaves in our freezer for ages, but suddenly they're cropping up in a few recipes and I'm starting to get a better sense of their role. They didn't add a lot of flavour to this dish - I'd think about doubling the amount next time - but the curry powder and herbs meant that it still packed a pretty flavoursome punch. It really did taste like the filling of a particularly fresh and well executed samosa. On its own, this might be a bit potato heavy - we served ours up with a generous base of baby spinach to mix things up a little bit - but it would make a brilliant potluck contribution or dinner party dish.


Coconut samosa potato salad
(based on this recipe from Terry Hope Romero)

salad
1kg potatoes (the recipe wanted russet potatoes, but I wound up with desiree), peeled and diced into 2cm cubes
1 cup frozen peas
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch coriander, leaves only, washed and roughly chopped (1-2 cups)
1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup unsalted cashews, roasted (we had raw cashews so I roasted them ineffectually under the grill - it's probably easier to buy them pre-roasted)

dressing
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
10 curry leaves, roughly chopped
4 teaspoons curry powder
juice of 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

garnish
1 small bag of pappadum chips, gently crushed
3/4 cup coconut flakes, lightly toasted

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and throw in the potato cubes - simmer them for about 25 minutes until they're cooked through. Throw in the peas for 2 minutes and then kill the heat, draining the veggies and leaving them to cool.

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and then throw in the curry leaves, stir-frying for a minute or so. Turn off the heat and, while the pan is still hot, stir through the curry powder. Add in the lime juice, salt and cayenne pepper when things have cooled off and stir it all together.

Put the veggies in a large bowl and stir through the chickpeas, herbs and cashews. Mix through the dressing and serve, garnishing liberally with the crushed pappadum chips and coconut flakes.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Trang Bakery

January 6, 9 & 24; February 12 & 16, 2015


A month or two back news of a place in Collingwood doing a great vegan banh mi swept Facebook. I stopped by Trang Bakery Cafe to check it out, expecting a tofu roll or something only to be confronted by this menu.


This changed everything - I couldn't do Trang justice with just a single visit, I had to commit to the full experience. So I went back 5 times and fully sampled the menu (sidenote: on my last visit they'd added a vegan prawn option to the list, but my journey was complete).

A Trang banh mi follows a pretty simple formula: some sort of roasted eggplant relish as the base, a pile of fresh vegetables and herbs, generous chunks of your choice of mock meat, fresh chilli, peanuts, and fried shallots plus a couple of mysterious sauces. They're $5 each, made on the spot and they're stuffed to the gills with goodness. The centrepiece below is the mock duck banh mi. It's surrounded by (clockwise from top-left): mock chicken, lemongrass tofu, ham and tempura eggplant.


I've given quite a lot of thought to my order of preference - I think I'm settled on: duck, tofu, eggplant, chicken, ham. They're all excellent though - truly delicious and ludicrously cheap rolls. The word has clearly got out - Trang has had a queue out the door almost every time I've visited. It's not that close to my office, but it's so spectacularly good that I've managed to sneak in five trips in five weeks (actually six trips, but I doubled down on the duck on one of them). Check it out y'all, it's probably the star of Melbourne's cheap vegan eating options.


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Trang Bakery and Cafe
382 Smith Street, Collingwood
9722 4352

Accessibility: There's a small step up into a narrow and often crowded space. There are just a handful of seats on the footpath. You order and pay at a high counter.