16th December 2013

Hannibal Lebanese Restaurant

557 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW

Vegetarians are spoiled for choice at Lebanese restaurants, and on a visit to this inner-urban establishment not far from Central Station in Sydney it seemed safe to order a Vegetarian Platter. It turned out to offer a generous selection of favourites, all well prepared and presented: hummus, baba ganouj, tabouleh, pieces of fried cauliflower and aubergine, falafel and lady’s fingers of stuffed vineleaves, as well as a mysterious dish involving pumpkin. A tall pile of flat bread accompanies this platter, which you can use to scoop up the food, so saving the people in the back of the restaurant from having to wash up cutlery afterwards. We also ordered a plate of my favourite salad, fattoush, a mixture of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, shallots, radish and mint that is bursting with taste and nutrition, although the quantity of fried pieces of bread that had been added to the mix was a bit less than I’ve sometimes seen, giving the dish a less crunchy feel. We drank the homemade still lemonade, one glass with orange blossom and another with rose blossom that gave it a very bright colour. It’s impossible not to feel happy after a meal such as this.

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28th July 2013

Veggie Mama

cnr Beaufort St and Vincent St, Mt Lawley WA 6050

The  youthful and slightly counter-cultural vibe at this vegetarian cafe may raise  doubts as to the quality of the food, but how wrong these would be, for while some of the dishes may seem like vegetarian cliches they are spot on. We enjoyed chick pea patties with sweet potato, lightly curried, and subtly flavoured mushroom patties with walnuts and quinoa.  The salads are least as impressive as the hot dishes. That of red cabbage with apple and sultana has a robust, eastern European feeling; the  broccoli with sprouts and diced red capsicum comes with a dressing that gives it unexpected oomph; a mixed salad of carrot, sprouts, cranberries, walnut and parsley is attractive to the eye and the palate. The overall tone is one of lightness that has been obtained without any sacrifice of flavour. Juices and coffee, needless to say organic, are on hand to wash your meal down. After a very happy lunch there I am looking forward to returning!

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7th July 2013

Nepalese Kitchen

481 Crown St, Surry Hulls, NSW

At what I take to be a pleasing indication of familial harmony, when different generations met at this slightly funky inner-suburban restaurant we found ourselves ordering the same dish, but in different versions. Vegetable Dal Baht Takari consists of rice, dal (of the yellow split pea variety), spinach, a tomato achar relish of roasted tomatoes cooked with herbs and spices that has a real depth of flavour, and one of the curries chosen from the menu. One of our group went for mushroom and potato in tomato sauce, another for green beans, a third for eggplant, potato and tomato, and a fourth for potato with accompaniments; the weighting towards the humble spud seems typical of Nepalese cooking. It’s food of the hearty variety that goes well on a cool evening, and we all found it tasty, satisfying and filling. A serve of papads stood by, and for contrast we enjoyed a Nepalese salad of tomato, cucumber, radish and red onion in a lemon based dressing. Doubtless the excellence of the company was the main reason why this was a happy occasion, but the food is great too!

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26th April 2013

Saffron Indian Gourmet

Corner Margaret St and Gold Coast Highway, Broadbeach, Qld

Four hungry people with very different tolerances for spicy food sat down to dinner at this restaurant in a busy tourist area, and all were satisfied. The novice among curry eaters tried the Paneer Makhani, which took the form of cottage cheese in a very gentle curry sauce. The next step up in heat was the Aloo Saag, of spinach and potato in a mild sauce. The Battat Bhaji was probably the most memorable dish, consisting of dry potato and onion with curry leaves and mustard seeds; we all enjoyed it, and it is thoroughly recommended. And for lovers of spicy dishes there is the Channa Masala of soft chick peas with green chillis and coriander. The vegetarian part of the menu is extensive, and would be worth exploring further. Truly, there is no end to the possibilities of vegetarian food!

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31st March 2013

Taj Mahal

2/235 Flinders St, Townsville

Situated in a tourist strip where there is plenty of competition, this restaurant pitches itself as being both Indian and Persian. The samosas are firmly within the former tradition; they are of the kind with thin pastry, the vegetables finely chopped and a dish of tamarind sauce at the side. But the Sabzi Polou is a revelation. It’s based on rice, to which peas, broad beans, cashews and almonds have been added, with plenty of parsley and dill that give it a green tinge. While this dish is satisfying and filling, it profits from being eaten with something a little more spicy, and we enjoyed it with Navaratan, a richly flavoured Mughlai dish of vegetables that can be had without paneer. Talking with the owner we learn that a Persian couple founded the restaurant, and they are clearly sticking to the old traditions. There are always new vegetarian dishes waiting to be discovered, and this is best done in a friendly and hospitable environment such as that at the Taj Mahal.

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25th February 2013

Naked Fig Cafe

278 Marine Pde, Swanbourne WA

As you might guess from its name, this is a stylish establishment of the kind that doesn’t specialize in vegetarian and vegan food, but on the evening we were there it certainly came up with the goods.  We kicked off with beautifully served small dishes of olives and potatoes, before moving on to some serious eating. The moussaka is a richly flavoured melange of cinnamon infused tomatoes, aubergine and tofu, luscious in texture, while the bean burger is based on a serious pattie and comes with salad, corn ships, green tomato chutney and, for those who want it, Swiss cheese; it’s a nice example of a dish that it would never have occurred to vegetarian cooks to create, but nicely mimics what they do on the other side. My companions tucked into two desserts, lemon meringue pie and lime and lemon brulee, each served with both (!) cream and ice cream.

The Naked Fig has a superb location, overlooking the Indian Ocean. As we settled into our seats the sun was sinking beneath the waves; as we rose to leave the moon was setting. How wonderful to enjoy food of this quality in such a place with good friends!

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30th December 2012

Hangari Kimchi

19 Woolley St, Dickson, Canberra ACT

In a street full of Asian restaurants, why not try something a little unusual? Although Korean food hasn’t made a big splash in the West, this small restaurant makes a good case for it. The centre of our meal was the Dubu-Beosoet-Jeongo, a hot-pot of tofu, several kinds of mushrooms (large, small and floppy), vermicelli, carrots, white onions, shallots and greens in a spicy stock with plenty of pepper that is cooked on a little stove on your table. It’s a wonderfully hearty stew that would be very warming on a cold day and is welcome on a hot one. We also enjoyed the Maewun-Jabchae, a dark stir-fry of noodles made from sweet potatoes and veggies that is a bit hard to divide into shares, the only cutlery on the table being chopsticks and long spoons. The entrees include Yachae-Jjinmandu, a dish of steamed vegetables and tofu, and Ddeokkochi, fried rice cakes served like kebabs on skewers that come with sweet chilli sauce. Four condiments, ranging from extremely spicy to bland, are placed on the table: kimchi, the alleged super-food of cabbage fermented with red chilli after which the restaurant is named, flat green beans, sprouts and strands of potato, not cooked to the extent they would be in the West. This is a most interesting and enjoyable cuisine that we should all know better.

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7th October 2012

Bombay Woodlands

19 Tanglin Rd, Singapore

If you enter this restaurant at lunchtime you will be offered a menu, but my advice is to ignore it and go with the flow by asking for one of the set-meal thalis, whether north or south Indian. On the day I visited the latter comprised two papadums with a bowl of pepper soup, curries of potato, potato and onion, and dark lentils with greens,  yoghurt, rice and two puris; at the end of the meal a dessert was waiting. Such a meal gives a good feeling of what everyday food is like is a cuisine with a powerful vegetarian tradition.

This restaurant is in a tourist area far from Little India. The nearest MRT station is Orchard, but be warned that to leave this station you have to walk through a confusing shopping mall; look for the ext to Wheelock Place.

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9th September 2012

Eight Treasures Vegetarian

282A South Bridge Rd, Singapore

An elegant restaurant specializing in traditional Chinese food seems a good idea for a light meal. The ginko and bean curd soup comes with mushrooms and plenty of pepper that lies in wait at the bottom of the pot in which it is served, while a dish of beautifully fresh steamed broccoli, asparagus, carrot and mushrooms works well, although right in the middle is something reconstituted to resemble meat, which I could have done without. Both dishes make liberal use of big slices of fresh ginger, which is believed to help in overcoming wind, and there is plenty of brown rice. A tall glass of lime juice strikes just the right balance between sweet and sour.

The nearest MRT station is Chinatown, but despite its address you enter the restaurant from Sago St, opposite the temple. The little streets running between South Bridge Rd and Eu Tong St contain many shops selling the traditional herbal ingredients so adeptly used in this restaurant.

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29th July 2012

L’Emir Libanesisches Restaurant

17 Weserstrasse, Frankfurt

 A bowl of pieces of fried bread to be dipped into lemony tahini greets you as you settle in at this slightly fancy restaurant, which prides itself on serving authentic Lebanese food in the financial capital of the Eurozone. The fatousch is a mixture of salad vegetables common in Germany (tomato, cucumber, lettuce, red capsicum) with more fried bread; it is livened up by lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and plenty of mint. The hommus is as good as can be, the brown dish in which it is served and the well of olive oil in the middle being guarantors of its authenticity. Lubiet Bizzeit comprises flat green beans in a sauce that has been prepared in advance and stands at some remove from fresh tomatoes with plenty of parsley; to the side is a mound of rice with slivers of almond.  What a pleasure to stumble upon such excellent food in an unlikely environment!

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