It is now the end of the semester and as such, I no longer have to blog for my subject. I’m not sure if I will continue blogging, given that it turns out I can’t really afford to review restaurants weekly, giving new meaning to my blog title. For this (possibly last) post, I thought I should reflect on my blog that I have been slowly cultivating for twelve or so weeks.

I went in rather cynically, expecting my blog to simply become “white noise” like my lecturer warned. With very few page views in the beginning and little separating my blog from the many other vego food websites, it was easy to dismiss my blog as pointless. However, I missed the crucial differentiator between online blogs and a review in a magazine or newspaper: the power of internet sharing. After integrating Urban Spoon into my posts, with links to each restaurants page on the website, my blog began appearing on the popular food site, increasing my readership substantially. I also tentatively shared my link on Facebook, allowing my friends to give me feedback and also giving my blog more purpose.

In order to add value to my site and stand out, I took photos of my meals (though some of my grainy photography leaves much to be desired), tried to give quite detailed and well-rounded reviews about not just the food, but the whole dining experience, while also imbuing my posts with attempts at humour. It is hard to get noticed with a quite generic premise like cheap vegetarian food in Melbourne, and one of the only ways you can is through quality content.

It’s also difficult to avoid the trap of becoming narcissistic in your blogging. Declining into self-centred posts about personal tastes or personal views is sometimes quite hard to avoid and something a lot of bloggers do. At the end of the day, my blog is simply an opinion piece and many could argue that my opinion holds no more weight than any other but it is the delivery that is the key (or “the medium is message” as McLuhan says).

Of course, this blog has also made me appreciate the wonder of the internet. The fact that I can eat a meal, then instantly upload a review for the whole world to read is something that would make the inventor of the printing press weak at the knees. I mean, according to WordPress I’ve had readers from India and the Netherlands, despite my blog being hyperlocal in nature. But, despite the few comments I’ve received, blogging does still feel like quite a one-way communication and I don’t feel truly part of a community just by virtue of blogging. Not to mention I suspect my 500 word posts would be far too long for most people to bother reading, given our increasingly short attention spans. The quick summaries and ratings at the end of my posts are a complete necessity because of this.

Regardless of whether I continue to blog or not, this has been enlightening (not to mention delicious).

 

87 Johnston Street, Collingwood 3066
(03) 9419 5307
www.punjabicurrycafe.com

The Chana Masala with Saffron Rice and Garlic Naan Bread

Usually I don’t let my blogging influence my eating but today, rather than tucking into my millionth Grill’d burger, I decided I should review something a bit different and after seeing friends purchase from Punjabi Curry Cafe a few times for their late night snacking, I was intrigued. As any semi-knowledgeable vego knows, any sort of Asian food usually has at least some vego options and Indian is no exception. Indeed, Punjabi has sixteen vegetarian mains available and with cheap $4 delivery to Parkville (free to surrounding suburbs of Collingwood), it’s hard to say no.

After taking about an hour to decide, I figured I should try something reliable, as I was in no mood to test whether spinach and cottage cheese are wise ingredients for a curry. Thus, I bought the Chana Masala, a fairly straight-forward chickpea curry with the option to go hot or mild, as well as some plain saffron rice and the garlic naan bread. All up, it was about $17 and delivery took approximately 45 minutes. Unfortunately though, when it was eventually delivered, they had forgotten my friend’s butter chicken. We didn’t notice until after they had left but a quick call meant they returned shortly with the missing dish and a complimentary dumpling dessert. It was not a great start to the meal but forgiveable.

By the time I got my food, I was so hungry so I was keen for a good feed. And what I received was. The curry was tasty and given the chickpeas, seemed quite protein-packed. However, it was spicier than I was expecting, given that I ordered the mild version, so I was forced to chug about a litre of apple and mango juice so as to not set on fire. Most people who love their spice can probably deal but not me. To make things worse, it seemed like my garlic naan was also quite spicy so that provided little refuge for my poor fleeing taste-buds. I was a little disappointed to see that the naan was a little burnt, and it was a touch too chewy for my tastes but overall it satiated my garlic cravings. The curry was a standard takeaway serving so, as with all the other times I’ve ever ordered Indian, it’ll probably last me for days.

Overall, it was a decent meal but I feel like it’s easy to make a good curry but next to impossible to make an amazing curry. Regardless, I enjoyed the convenience of cheap delivery and free dessert is always good.

  • Taste: 5/10
  • Nutrition: 6/10
  • Atmosphere: 5/10
  • Cost: 8/10
  • Convenience: 8/10
  • Overall: 32/50

Conclusion: Tasty. Worth trying.

Punjabi Curry Cafe on Urbanspoon

Melbourne Central, Knox Lane, Melbourne 3000
www.lordofthefries.com.au

The delectable nuggets with satay sauce (Photo shamelessly borrowed from Vegan About Town)

If there’s one thing I hate about being a vegetarian, it’s the lack of fast food. Everyone seems to think that just because you don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of animals, you therefore are some sort of health freak without a soul or taste buds. Well, I love being unhealthy. It’s one of my favourite past times, right after completing The Age crossword before anyone else at college has a chance to. So the existence of Lord of the Fries is pretty much a godsend for me and one of the reasons I hate going back home to Perth.

When I first moved to Melbourne and came across Lord of the Fries, I was disappointed. The hilarious pun made me chuckle and want to try it but on first glance, it seemed like there were no vego options on the menu. How wrong I was. Lord of the Fries has in fact received awards for being a great vegetarian and vegan restaurant and all of the burgers, hot dogs and supposed chicken nuggets are made from soy protein, meaning that it’s completely meat-free, low in fat and high in protein. I was not the only one to make such a mistake: a staunch meat-eater friend of mine ate at Lords three times, teasing us about how good it was to us vegos, without realising that it was fake meat. So rather than sampling the chocolate mousse, his dessert was humble pie.

While I love Lords, she can be a harsh mistress. I’ve noticed that if I eat too much there, I don’t just feel full but sick as well. Other friends who dine here agree that there is a sweet spot when it comes to gorging on these vego delights, so take care to not over-order. This is quite easy, given that burgers and hot dogs come in two sizes: mini and big. The mini burger is perfect for a snack, while the big burger is better for a proper meal, though I tend to order a mini burger regardless and just fill up on the delicious chips. One of the main strengths of Lords is its wide range of choice and this is evident when you take a look at their sauce menu. Serving everything from tomato sauce and BBQ sauce to satay sauce and chilli salsa, there’s a sauce to appeal to everyone’s taste. But the question remains: what does the food actually taste like?

The Original Burger, with a patty, cheese, pickles, onion, lettuce, mayo, mustard and ketchup, is a classic that is pretty damn tasty. However this is not an easy burger to eat, as the patties can be quite sloppy and combined with all the sauce and the soft bun, it’s a recipe for disaster (or at least messy hands). Furthermore, despite claiming to be low fat and healthy, the burger doesn’t taste like it. It’s quite greasy and the limp lettuce and pickles hardly make you feel like a herbivore. The chips taste different to your standard fare and, with the ketchup or satay sauce, are heaven (just don’t expect too much crunch as they can be a bit soggy). The hot dogs are surprisingly convincing, which I find almost disconcerting, and the nuggets are possibly my favourite menu item, all crispy and perfect.

Lord of the Fries is pretty cheap, with a burger, chips and drink ranging around the $10 mark. The atmosphere is quite cramped and hurried as they are often hole-in-the-wall stalls with scant seating, however the new Brunswick and Swanston St. stores feel a little more comfortable with proper retro diner seating and a bit more space. Overall it’s a good place for a guilty bite while in the city but this is takeaway so don’t expect fine dining.

  • Taste: 7/10
  • Nutrition: 6/10
  • Atmosphere: 5/10
  • Cost: 9/10
  • Convenience: 9/10
  • Overall: 36/50

Conclusion: Tasty. Worth trying.

Lord of the Fries on Urbanspoon

25 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne 3000
(03) 9663 8555

Dumplings (photo courtesy of Laneway Magazine)

I have something to admit: I couldn’t even remember the name of this hidden-away Chinese eatery and I’ve never been able to. Simply referred to as “Shanghai Dumplings” or “Shanghai Village” by my compadres, I had to trawl through many generic restaurants with pretty much the same name to find the contact details. There’s a reason for that – this restaurant is pretty forgettable. Tucked away in one of the many anonymous laneways in the CBD, I always have to wander around China Town for a while to find it again – the only give-away being the bar right next to it, made out of a shipping container, and the perpetual queue outside Camy Shanghai Dumpling.

So if it’s so forgettable, then why do I, and so many others, always seek out this humble Chinese restaurant? That’s a good question, and one I cannot fully answer. For all intents and purposes, this is a pretty low-quality establishment. The staff are quite disinterested, and communicating with them can be a challenge. Asking if something is vegetarian is usually impossible, so bringing along a couple of meat-eaters to test every dish out is a must. The interior is pretty tacky, with old, worn booths and windows that have been scribbled on with inanities by other patrons. The speakers are often playing some cheesy ballad from the 1980s, usually something by Michael Bolton, and it’s a pretty bizarre experience because of this. Hot tea is self-serve in coloured plastic mugs, and the food is far from healthy, heavily doused in oil and presumably MSG.

But, Camy has it’s upsides. For one thing, it’s pretty damn cheap. A measly $15 gets you all you can eat, their one stipulation being that you must eat all that you order and waste nothing. This rarely happens. For all you can eat, you get a range of dishes, including mushroom dumplings, vegetable dumplings, anonymous meat dumplings (both fried and steamed), fried rice, noodles, spring onion cake, Chinese broccoli drenched in vinegar and soy sauce, and my all-time favourite, sweet pumpkin dumplings. I recommend that you bring along a ratio of at least 3 to 1 meat eaters to vegos to ensure all the food gets eaten, but that’s not to say a vegetarian will go hungry here.

The vegetarian dumplings are pretty run of the mill, and it’s best to dip them in a mix of vinegar and soy sauce, or they can be quite plain. Fried rice and noodles are alright but nothing amazing (is it even possible to make amazing fried rice?). The broccoli is the only semblance of healthy eating, and even that is ridiculously salty given the soy sauce it swims in. Regardless, it’s one of my weaknesses and I end up eating all of it. The reason I come here, however, are the above mentioned sweet pumpkin dumplings. They are everything that is good about dumplings, sweet but soft in their doughy pockets of deliciousness, which is the perfect counterbalance to the endless saltiness of the other dishes. I love these dumplings so much, I’m literally considering just going to the restaurant, buying up their stock of frozen pumpkin dumplings and never returning.

However, despite all the short-comings of Camy Shanghai Dumpling, I keep coming back. Not just for the pumpkin dumplings but the experience of eating suss food with a big group of friends for cheap. If you can look past the service, the unhealthiness, the venue and a lot of the food, it’s okay.

  • Taste: 5/10 (but 10/10 for the pumpkin dumplings!)
  • Nutrition: 4/10
  • Atmosphere: 2/10
  • Cost: 8/10
  • Convenience: 8/10
  • Overall: 27/50

Conclusion: Average. Alright but nothing to write home about.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling on Urbanspoon

201-203 Faraday Street, Carlton 3053
(03) 9347 3848
www.shakahari.com.au

The delectable Satay Shakahari

While I’ve since heard a bunch of raving reviews for Shakahari (the supposed apex of vegetarian food in Melbourne) I first heard about this restaurant from my parents. Apparently they loved it back in the 1970s when they were studying at La Trobe University and surprisingly, it’s still standing. My parents are the furthest things from vegetarians (my mother is always making subtle suggestions that maybe I should eat a steak) so I knew that if they loved it, I would be in heaven.

Shakahari is quite an unassuming restaurant. Appearing as if it’s been converted from a Carlton house, it’s easy to miss if you’re walking along Lygon Street. Booking doesn’t appear to be necessary, as every time I’ve been here I’ve gotten a table immediately, despite clearly being a popular vego hub. The interior is pretty stereotypical for an Indian-Asian inspired vego joint. With warm orange hues abound and Buddhist motifs subtly placed everywhere, I have to say that the atmosphere lowered my expectations. Not to mention the wooden floors that made it very loud and impossible to have a quiet conversation. How good could this hippy place be? But I found that my hesitance was unwarranted when I saw the menu. As with the Vegie Bar, everything here is completely vegetarian, with options to go vegan or gluten free. The menu isn’t as extensive as Vegie Bar’s, but each meal is packed with protein and flavour. I’ve been here twice and while I’ve heard good things about the other menu items, my go-to meal is the Satay Shakahari. This time I also ordered the Avocado Magic as an entree, which I had heard rave reviews about.

The spicy Green, Green Laksa

The Avocado Magic consists of pieces of avocado, wrapped with capsicum and eggplant, fried in a tempura batter and served with a green sauce which tasted like a sweet mint sauce. It was quite small given the price but it made for an interesting combination that I would probably try again. The Satay Shakahari is a perfect vegetarian meal. Pierced on skewers were pieces of veges as well as tofu, tempeh and seitan, providing much-needed protein. The thick peanut satay sauce which was generously smothered on the skewers was a treat, tasting deliciously salty. The brown rice on the side was soft and fluffy and the salad on the side, which included pickled ginger, provided some sweetness to balance the overwhelming saltiness of the dish. Overall, the meal was very filling although perhaps felt a bit too carbohydrate-rich. My friend tried the Green, Green Laksa which was, despite a waiter’s insistence otherwise, very spicy and contained far too many mushrooms. I finished the meal with gourmet icecream that was “like chocolate icecream but not”, according to the waiter. It was interesting, and far more subtle than actual chocolate icecream.

Perhaps the main downfall of Shakahari is the price. While it’s quite decent for a sit-down restaurant around Lygon Street, with most meals costing between $15-25, it’s quite costly on a student budget. But, if you can look past that, it’s great vegetarian food that feels genuinely healthy.

  • Taste: 9/10
  • Nutrition: 9/10
  • Atmosphere: 6/10
  • Cost: 6/10
  • Convenience: 9/10
  • Overall: 39/50

Conclusion: Tasty. Worth trying.

Shakahari Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

350 Lygon Street, Carlton 3053
(03) 9347 1666

www.grilld.com.au

The garden goodness burger

If you haven’t already noticed based on my reviews of two other burgers, I really like these over-glorified sandwiches. And while the world of vegie burgers can be a mine-field, I can always rely on my old faithful: Grill’d.

This burger chain is prolific. When I first tried it in the clean and pristine neighbourhood of Subiaco in Perth, it was the only one in WA. But now, it’s all over the place in Perth and I run into it all the time in Melbourne: in QV, on Lygon Street, on Brunswick Street, in St Kilda. The list goes on. And I’m glad. Grill’d is one of my favourite burger places and there’s good reason for that. All too often, vegetarian burgers are simply bland and uninspired. Not to mention there’s usually only one token vegetarian burger available at any one establishment, so choice is limited. But at Grill’d, there’s a whole three to choose from. I’ve never tried the Field of Dreams burger, due to my aversion to mushrooms (and a giant mushroom is literally the patty in this burger) but I’m sure it would go down a treat for mushroom enthusiasts. I’ve only sampled the Bombay Bliss once when I was exhausted, out of my mind, and close to perishing from starvation. It was almost a religious experience, but not one I’ve since repeated. And then there’s the Garden Goodness burger.

This is undoubtedly the best vegetarian burger at Grill’d. With a nutritious veggie pattie in the middle, and an amazing combination of tomato relish, herbed mayo, avocado, beetroot, cheese and salad thrown in the mix, it’s a flavourgasm. I was never a fan of beetroot before, but I’ve got to say, Grill’d converted me. It provides the perfect counterbalance of sweetness to the other savoury ingredients. Best paired with the panini bun (that traditional bun just doesn’t look appealing to me), the burger tastes fresh and healthy. My main qualm, and one that has become less of a problem as I’ve mastered eating Grill’d without spilling a single condiment on the plate, is that eating these burgers is no easy feat. An abundance of napkins are often required and you’d have to be a god to not get anything on your hands but really, it’s worth it. Not even the price of $11.50 bothers me, given that it’s so ridiculously filling. A single trip to Grill’d can leave me satisfied for the rest of the day, particularly if there’s chips involved. And their chips have really grown on me. Thick-cut, sprinkled with rosemary and other herbs, and paired with sweet chilli mayo, these chips only disappoint me when they run out.

The vibe of Grill’d is casual but cool. With the exception of the occasional middle-aged person eating a salad with a glass of wine (do you realise where you are?), Grill’d is usually frequented by young people. This is particularly true at the Carlton branch, as you’ll often find a gaggle of college kids trying to escape a bad college-cooked meal here on week nights. The walls are plastered with odd jokes about cows and pictures of hands in a burger-holding position, making me wonder whether Hungry Jacks has considered filing a lawsuit yet. It can often be a bit cramped and finding a table is sometimes a challenge but overall it’s got a good urban atmosphere. Plus, service is quick and friendly.

So my advice? If you’re supremely hungry and in a burger mood, look no further than Grill’d. Just don’t expect them to extend the vegetarian range any time soon.

  • Taste: 9/10
  • Nutrition: 9/10
  • Atmosphere: 8/10
  • Cost: 7/10
  • Convenience: 10/10
  • Overall: 43/50

Conclusion: Amazing. If you haven’t tried this yet, go right now.

 
Grill'd on Urbanspoon

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