Thursday, April 20, 2006

Blue Train Cafe - Melbourne, Australia

Blue Train Cafe,
Southgate Landing,
Southbank, Melbourne.

We popped in here for a quick bite to eat at lunchtime. Its worth a mention as there are always a few veggie options on the menu and it's very reasonable on the purse.

I had potato and vegetable samosas with rice, cucumber raita and mango chutney, and my wife had vegetable spring rolls with chilli dipping sauce. Both were very nice and fresh tasting.

Mention must also be made of the service at the Blue Train. Upon complaining about a foul-tasting wine that we were given, they happily opened another bottle (which tasted the same incidentally) and then exchanged it for another wine without any fuss. We were just charged for the one wine. Also, enquiries about the ingredients of the dishes were happily answered. They also put a bottle of water on your table, which isn't charged for. Okay, it may only be tap water, but its a nice gesture and one that doesn't happen at many places.

Bokchoy Tang - Melbourne, Australia

Bokchoy Tang
Federation Square
Melbourne, Australia

Bokchoy Tang is a Chinese restaurant on the top floor of Federation Square in Melbourne. It seats just over 200 and, depending on where you sit, looks out over the central plaza of Federation Square.

It describes its food as "contemporary Chinese cuisine."

Chinese restaurants don't usually offer that much choice for vegetarians, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a good half dozen veggie (or veggo as the say over here) dishes on the menu.

I started with Jiao Zi which were dumplings served with a salad of julienne potato & red vinegar dipping sauce on-the-side. The menu offers both a meat and a vegetarian version of the dumplings and the veggie version had what appeared to be cabbage or seaweed and shredded egg in them. It was very nice. The julienne potato was very interesting. It looked like some kind of noodle, but appeared to have been made from a single piece of potato. Again, it was very tasty.

For main course I had North Chinese Country-Style Tofu Box which constisted of three 'boxes' made from tofu filled with mushrooms, fresh soy beans, carrots & bamboo shoots. This was served with soy sauce, bokchoy and steamed rice. The little tofu boxes were quite strange, to say the least and it was shortly after trying to eat one and squirting soy-sauce down my front, that I gave up trying to eat them with chopsticks and requested a spoon. Whatever the method of eating them, however, they tasted great.

My wife chose the Spicy Szechwan Chicken and has asked me to warn anyone that reads this that they really mean it when they say spicy as she had about 30 chillies in her portion!

We were too full for dessert, as the entree and main meal portions were quite sizable and the bill (including a glass of wine each) came to around A$90 for the two of us which works out at less than £20 each, which isn't at all bad for food this good.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Morrisons Winery, Moama, Australia

Morrisons Riverview Winery & Restaurant
2 Merool Lane
Moama, NSW, Australia

Morrison's is a winery on the New South Wales bank of the River Murray. Its setting is gorgeous and the restaurant itself looks over the river. It is only open at lunchtimes for meals and winetastings.

We started with a winetasting, working our way through around eight or so wines from a selection of whites, reds, dessert and after dinner wines.

From there we were shown to our table. The restaurant had been informed in advance that I was a vegetarian and had said that it would be no problem, they would adapt their menu accordingly. The menu itself had one main dish that was meat-free, which was stuffed vine leaves. However, once I had sat down, the waiter came over and enquired as to what restrictions I had to my diet, and said that it would be no problem to tailor any of the dishes, or to mix and match dishes to my requirements. If I wanted a risotto, he told me he would enquire as to whether a meat or vegetable stock was used and whether it could be changed if possible. What more could you ask for?

We started by ordering a couple of plates of bread and dips for the whole table. One dish was sourdough bread accompanied by olive oil and a mix of hazelnut and sesame seeds, the other was bread accompanied by three dips, one of spicy lentil, one of roasted beetroot and the other of hummus. All were lovely, the spicy lentil dip especially so. It was not unlike a dhal, but it was blended to and extremely smooth texture.

For main course, I chose the spaghetti dish that was on the menu. It came with prawns, baby spinach, chilli, and zuccini. I asked if I could have it without the prawns and could they put a few mushrooms in it if possible. No problem at all, I was told and indeed it wasn't. When the dish arrived, it was a mushroom feast. It had shitake mushrooms, field mushroom and oyster mushrooms as well as all of the other ingredients and was superb. The chilli was 'just about there' which meant it left a slight burning after-taste but didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.

For dessert, I had a warm toffee pudding with caramel sauce, cream and ice cream. It tasted as good as it sounds and then we ordered a cheese board to share across the table. This consisted of three Aussie cheeses from King Island, a cheddar, a blue and a brie and all were as tasty as their European counterparts.

All in all, it was a great meal and the service was spot on. If you're down this part of the world I recommend you put aside a lunchtime to visit Morrison's Winery.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Echuca - Moama

I've now been in the Echuca-Moama region of Australia for around a week now and I'm pleased to report that it is very veggie-friendly. I've been checking menus as I've been making my way around and just about all have some kind of veggie option available. Even in the small villages, like Maldon, the cafes will have vegetable pies, or samosas available.

Ordering off-menu hasn't been a problem and everywhere that I've been have been more than happy to switch ingredients around to accomodate my diet. I'll be posting a review shortly of a meal I had at Morrisons Winery which was, quite frankly amazing. The waiter took time to go through the menu explaining which dishes could be altered and which ingredients could be substituted etc.

The shops have plenty of veggie stuff, mostly soya and vegetable based, but nothing quite on the scale that we have with Quorn and Linda McCartney back in the UK. The best thing though, is the abundance of fresh ingredients and having had the facilities to be able to cook for the last week, its been great.

Tomorrow, we're off to Melbourne for the remainder of our holiday, and I'm hoping to visit some good restaurants there, so expect some more reviews to be posted over the next few days.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Border Inn Hotel - Moama, Australia

Border Inn Hotel

The Border Inn Hotel advertises its food services as a cafe bar, but I think it underestimates itself. In the UK it would be proudly promoting itself as a gastropub or something of similar quality. The “cafe bar” occupies one half of the Border Inn Hotel in Moama on the New South Wales-Victoria border and it is neat, tidy and well laid out with polished wooden tables. It has an extensive menu including meat, pasta and fish dishes. There are a couple of options on the menu which are marked as vegetarian, which is nice to see. There was also a mushroom and red wine risotto which is made with vegetable stock and is vegetarian, despite not being marked as so, which with the salads gives a reasonable veggie selection.

We started with cheese and chive foccacia bread. This turned out to be a huge slab of foccacia, which was extremely light, soaked through with butter and then seasoned with chives. Sound good? It was, and it would be easy to munch your way through loads of it and not leave any room for a main course. However I resisted this and left room for a main course.

For the main course, I had home made pumpkin gnocci with spinach and pine nuts. It was good to have my faith in gnocci restored after the last couple of examples I've had. This was firm, fairly light and served in a cheesy sauce. I'm pleased to say that the amount of spinach in the dish didn't overwhelm it – for me at least, as I'm not a huge spinach lover – and the toasted pine nuts gave the dish the occasional crunchy interlude.

I was pretty full, but forced myself to have the golden syrup pudding. The top part was really syrupy and sweet (just the way I like it) where the golden syrup had soaked through but the bottom was a bit dry. The dish was served with ice cream and this helped to counteract it.

All the dishes were presented very nicely, the sort of presentation I would expect to see in a top UK restaurant, the service very friendly and the prices (especially when compared to the UK) are very reasonable. You ordered your own drinks at the bar, on which was a jug of iced water for you to help yourself – which I think is a great idea and one that should be universally adopted.

We made a second visit to the Border Inn a few days later. It was good to see that a vegetarian dish had made it onto the specials board, although this may well have been because I knew the chef. This time I had pumpkin, pesto, pinenut and blue cheese lasagne. It was very tasty, and the pumpkin was very sweet. The blue cheese was not overly prevalent, which was nice as it was a pleasant surprise when you came across it.

The other diners said their food was just as tasty. The only downside on this occasion was the service. After a promising start, we ended up having to clear the plates ourselves from the table and had to get up to order our desserts and find our own cutlery. At one point we even had to summon a waitress for a couple on an adjoining table who had yet to have their order taken! However, I am assured by regular visitors to this establishment that this is the exception rather than the rule and that the normal service in this restaurant is usually very good.

Emirates Airline


Flying to Australia is definitely where long haul lives up to its name. Previously I've flown with QANTAS and the food has been variable to say the least. In fact QANTAS holds the award for the worst tofu meal I have ever eaten – it was like eating a block of soap.

This time we flew with Emirates, and after seeing the large range of diets that they had available for their in-flight meals, I was eager to see what their vegetarian meals would be like.

On the first leg, from London to Dubai, I was presented with a vegan meal of tofu, rice and a mixture of peas and carrots. Accompanying this were a roll, a pack of cheese biscuits and two salads, one consisting of chick peas in a spicy dressing, the other a mixture of various lettuce leaves and a tomato. For dessert there was mixed fruit. It was okay. In fact, considering it was airline food, it wasn't bad. The tofu was marinaded in something, which gave it a bit of flavour and the salads were nice.

The main meal on the leg from Dubai to Singapore was a breakfast of mushrooms, a small jacket potato with the insides scooped out and replaced with baked beans, tomato and spinach. The mushrooms and potato were pretty much as you would expect them, and as I'm not a huge tomato or spinach fan (at least not when they are served on their own) I didn't eat them.

For the last leg of the journey, from Singapore to Melbourne, I was given spaghetti in a tomato sauce. I have to say that this was really nice. And, despite the fact it was only a small portion, it was quite filling. Accompanying this was a salad, that included a vegetarian sushi and a roll with cream cheese. Dessert was a toffee sponge with jam sauce. Again, this was quite pleasant.

There were other snacks served (a completely uninspiring asparagus roll springs to mind) throughout the journey and overall I thought the food was as good as any other airline I have been on.