Shebelle: Ethiopian & Moroccan Restaurant, Café & Bar

African is the new Mexican. Well… For me, at least.

Shebelle 1
Shebelle
241 Barkly St
Footscray, VIC 3011
AUSTRALIA
Ph: (03) 9689 8188

Shebelle 2

Although they share a continent, Ethiopia and Morocco aren’t exactly close in proximity. Their cuisine, however, pairs up pretty fantastically. Shebelle is just up the street from Lentil As Anything; look for the numbers on the shops, because the signage doesn’t stand out when you’re driving past.

Shebelle 3

The restaurant was quiet when we arrived, but we were quickly greeted by a charming African man who was both the owner, chef and waiter. That’s right, guys. It was a one-man operation – and an impressive one at that. So if you sit down and aren’t served immediately, try to be patient because he’s juggling a few jobs at once. Later when more people arrived, there was also a friendly woman helping out who was very modest when we showered the food with praise.

In regards to ordering vegan, I noticed “clarified butter” listed with some of the dishes, so I asked the owner about this and he raised his arms and said “I’m the chef, I’ll cook it however you like!” (seriously, this guy has such a happy, relaxed attitude, he’s great), so I just asked for all the veg dishes to be cooked with oil instead of butter. You might want to do the same if you’re vegan/can’t have dairy.

Shebelle 4
Injera

For those of you who’ve never had injera, it’s like the amazing love child of pancakes (flapjacks) and sourdough bread – and it’s both gluten free and vegan! Traditional injera is simply teff flour, water and salt. Teff flour is made from the milled seed of teff grass (native to Ethiopia) – it’s not a grain.

Shebelle 5
Injera – close up

Check out that sexy, spongy goodness! This didn’t come with anything we ordered, so we asked for it as an extra on the side, and I’m glad we did.

Shebelle 9
Guacamole served with a basket of pita crisps (basket not pictured)

This was a Moroccan style guacamole that had tahini stirred through it. The owner gave me a big grin when I ordered it and said “you won’t like it” and asked me if I knew what tahini was. We both laughed and I insisted on trying it, because I love a bit of food-adventure. Turns out, this was so freakin’ great. Jasmine (who I’d brought to the restaurant with me for her birthday) couldn’t get enough of it – she was full and STILL TRYING TO FIND ROOM TO KEEP EATING THIS. I can’t believe I never thought to mix tahini into my guacamole; what brilliance.

Shebelle 6
Shebelle Special

The description in the menu said “combination veggies and Ethiopian salad” – I didn’t immediately identify any part of this as being “salad” but didn’t care because it was all delicious! Clockwise from the top left was: mashed split peas, beetroot, greens and an unidentified legume. The mashed split peas and beetroot were subtly spiced, the greens were fairly straight forward (which I loved, because greens are great just as they are!) and the other legume dish was a little heavier in flavour, which I think was predominantly cinnamon and chili (?). I ordered this mild for my dinner guest but I think when I go back with Mr. AA, I’ll ask for it hot!

The greens and split peas were my favourites, while the beetroot was Jasmine’s favourite.

Shebelle 8
Moroccan Eggplant

I don’t know how I can explain how much I loved this dish without sounding like a dirty food-perv. I pretty much creamed my knickers with the first bite. The eggplant had been left in tact at the top and sliced through (see photo below) which I thought was a pretty special touch and the tomato based sauce had a variety of veggies in it, including my favourite: broccoli. It was firm but not crunchy, total perfection in my opinion. Nothing makes me sadder than people over cooking broccoli.

The fresh herbs on top were a tasty, bright addition to this dish… As I write about it, I’m seriously sad that I’m not eating it again right now.

Shebelle 7

All of this plus a non-vegan dish (not pictured) cost only $50. I gave them a 20% tip and still didn’t feel like I’d paid enough for this amazing experience.

Shebelle Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

OM Vegetarian

OM Veg sign

OM Vegetarian
Level 1, 28 Elizabeth St
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Open: 11am – 9pm, 7 days a week. This place is a few doors down from Lord of the Fries, you’ll see that yellow sign hanging outside.

OM Veg Inside

OM Vegetarian is in a quiet, relaxed room above the bustling Melbourne CBD. While not a Krishna establishment, it holds the same peaceful values: meditation, spirituality, charity, simplicity. None of this is pushed into your face, however there’s some flyers on the window sills which you can help yourself to if you feel so inclined.

OM Veg meal

The offerings are fairly basic – two curries, rice, something pickled and naan bread. You can go back for as many helpings as you like for a mere $6.50! The food is earthy and comforting – definitely in the “soul food” category. When I visited, I was lucky enough that both curries on offer were vegan, though I’m not sure if this is always the case. On the up side, they knew what vegan meant when I asked about the menu – so it was nice to skip the painful step of having to explain it.

We had an aloo ghobi (potato & cauliflower) curry and a kidney & mung bean curry. Both really blew me away – they were outstanding for what they were. How is it, that no matter how tasty my home made curries are, they’re never *this great*? I’m sure India is keeping a secret ingredient from me.

The naan bread was incredible – the one on offer had butter on it, but they’ll serve you vegan naan on request. I was even offered seconds and couldn’t resist. It was the softest, fluffiest, dreamy-cloud-like naan I’ve ever eaten and I’d go back for that alone.

The pickled chili wasn’t really my thing, so I left most of it on my plate. It was far too sour for me, but Mr. AA suggested eating it with some naan, which helped mute the flavour a little.

For an extra $2, you can buy a glass of lassi (not vegan), bottled water or soft drink. There was also a couple of other items in the bain marie that I didn’t ask about simply because I was too full – samosas and gulab jaman.

OM Veg Training

The whole time I was sitting in there, I kept wondering how on earth they can afford their rent when they only charge $6.50 for all-you-can-eat meals… then on the way out, we saw this sign next to the elevator and a sign over the kitchen door that said “training kitchen”. After realising that the meals were cooked by people in training/not yet qualified, my experience felt a little more impressive.

Cindy & Michael from where’s the beef? have also been here and posted some photos and a small write up – it looks as though they were as impressed by the naan as I was!

Grumpy’s Green

Firstly: Happy international day of the nacho, y’all! Not only is it world nacho day, but Melbourne is also celebrating Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” festival – for a week. Click here for info on events.

Today I went on a mission for Mexican food. Radio Mexico wasn’t opening until 4pm (I was only in town for lunch) and Trippy Taco had crowds of people wandering in, despite there being no tables available – so Mr. AA & I went for a little wander and ended up eating at Grumpy’s Green – a vegetarian, eco-friendly lounge/bar.

Seating Area
Grumpy’s Green
125 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
AUSTRALIA
Ph: (03) 9416 1944

Don’t let the name put you off – these guys aren’t grumpy at all. In fact, they’re pretty upbeat. The main bar/lounge/band area is dimly lit – which I imagine is great in the evenings, but it’s a little hard on the eyes during the day – So Mr. AA and I walked through the naturally lit dining area (pictured above) into a small, four-table intimate court yard.

Menu
The menu isn’t big or even largely varied (from memory, about a quarter of it was dedicated to pizza options), but it was all tempting. We actually ate here quite some time ago with a few very hungover friends (in my pre-blogging days) and liked the food, but the menu has changed since then. I was very adamant about eating Mexican food today, so our order was a no-brainer.

Nachos
Nachos.

Mr. AA ordered the nachos, which were an impressive man-sized meal (this would easily feed 2 females!). Thankfully we were warned about the size of the meal and Mr. AA was discouraged from ordering a side dish to go with them. The cheese and sour cream on these are made from dairy; there isn’t a vegan subsitute, so the vegan version omits these ingredients. We were both impressed by the fresh ingredients piled onto this dish – the tomatoes and coriander were a great alternative to the sugary salsa from a jar that some restaurants try to pass off as authentic!

The guacamole was something both Mr. AA and I commented on to each other – it was delicious! Smooth, creamy and not too sour. It was strangely understated but really stood out.

Quesadillas (without the queso)
Quesadillas (without the queso!).

These were superb, even though they’re nothing like a traditional quesadilla! I was up for a lighter meal and the quesadillas with salad sounded perfect. I asked for them without dairy (vegan) because the regular option on the menu contains cheese. The filling was mainly black beans in a tomato sauce with a bit of tempeh, carrot and onion dotted through it. The flavours were fairly simple but worked well with the crispy tortillas, salsa and guacamole. The side salad was nice and had the dressing massaged into the greens, so there wasn’t a pool of it spreading across the plate. This is a huge plus – a lot of restaurants don’t do this and it’s definitely a hinderance – especially when salad dressing spreads and turns something crispy into something soggy!

There was a small hiccup during our visit that I feel I should mention in the interest of being completely honest in my review. Both mine and another person’s order had accidentally been made with dairy – however neither of the meals were served to us. Instead, the waiter offered a sincere apology and our meals were very quickly re-made. The girl behind me was clearly irritated in a strange bubbly way, however I wasn’t too worried. I’d much rather wait a little longer for a meal that’s right than be served the wrong thing.

I’d defintely eat here again and if I was local, I’d be keen to grab a beer and watch some bands in the evening – the place really has a great feel to it that I can’t describe with words. The menu is vegetarian and most (if not all) items can be made vegan. There’s some gluten free options and the venue has a great attitude both towards its customers and the environment.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Las Vegan Bakery/Café
22 Smith St
Collingwood
VIC 3066
AUSTRALIA
Ph: (03) 9415 9001

Upon entering Las Vegan, it was apparent to me that my anxiety levels were quickly rising, so Mr. AA & I opted for a table outside, even though the weather was a little questionable. The space is small and cramped with badly arranged furniture that makes you feel like an intrusion. I didn’t take any photos inside because it felt too awkward, but there’s potential for the space to feel a lot more comfortable, it just needs some attention. Thankfully, our waiter was kind and relaxed, and after looking at the menu, I could see these guys had a sense of humour.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Everything on the menu is reasonably priced, though I’m not sure much of it would appeal to a non-vegan. There was a few mock meat & fish options, lentil options and black bean options. The specials of the day were eggplant parmas and lasagne – both were tempting! However Mr. AA & I were both drawn to the same item on the menu: the mushroom mince.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

Mr. AA chose the sloppy joe burger with chips and I chose the mince on rice with salad. The mis-matched plates amused me… I’m not sure if this was an attempt at being kitschy or a symbol of their firm hippy/recycling beliefs. Either way, I didn’t have a problem with it – it made me feel like I was eating food made with love in someone’s home.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Las Vegan Sloppy Joe Burger with mushroom mince.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Mushroom mince on rice with gourmet salad.

We were both big fans of the mince – it has a really good, mild flavour and a realistic texture. Admittedly, I was expecting a higher mushroom to TVP ratio – in fact, I was hoping for no TVP at all because I don’t really dig it, but in this case, there’s no question about making an exception. It was pretty damn tasty. Also – two thumbs up for serving this with brown rice, not white.

The “gourmet salad” was fairly plain and barely dressed, but I liked the grilled eggplant and capsicum in it and I honestly prefer salad to be under dressed as opposed to over dressed and soggy. My only complaint here is that the olives weren’t pitted, so I almost broke a tooth! Watch out for those little suckers.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne

The chips were… pretty amazing. Perfectly crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – they’re exactly what Mr. AA & I look for in a chip!

We (*I*) also grabbed a slice of the raw lemon cheesecake to take home. There were Mr Nice Guy cupcakes on display and a dense looking chocolate bundt cake with icing dribbling all over the place (which looked delicious!) but I wanted to take a chance and try something that I’d only ever made at home, to see how someone else’s version compared.

Las Vegan Bakery/Café in Melbourne
Raw Lemon Cheesecake.

This was, hands down, my favourite item. I took it back to the car with the SOLE intention of sliding it out of the bag and taking photos before the agave spread out and looked ugly/messy. My stomach was full and I planned to save it for after dinner that night, but… Well, look at it, guys. I couldn’t resist having a little taste and before I knew it, I’d stuffed the entire slab of compressed nuts into my face and my hands were sticky with agave. But I didn’t care. Because it was incredible.

These guys do take-away and have gluten free options. One thing I didn’t take a photo of (and wished I had) was the glasses of juice we ordered. It wasn’t fresh juice, but I suspect it was organic and the size of the glasses was impressive. You know how most places serve a $7 juice in a slim high ball glass with lots of ice? Not these guys. They’ll give you your money’s worth!

Mr. Natural

Mr. Natural – Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza
223 Barkly St
St Kilda, VIC
AUSTRALIA
P: 03 9534 2542

*Also at 469 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Nth, VIC 3065

Mr. Natural Front

I’ve got to admit – I’ve driven past Mr. Natural’s Fitzroy North store several times but never bothered stopping in; I guess I was judging a book by its cover. It didn’t look like anything special from the outside, and how exciting can a vegetarian pizza be? VERY EXCITING, AS IT TURNS OUT. I was sorely mistaken.

Last night, Mr. AA & I headed to Melbourne to see rock ‘n’ roll legend Budy Guy in concert at The Palais. We made a last minute decision to go to Lentil as Anything for dinner, but it was tiny and packed. There was nowhere for us to sit, so we went across the road to Mr. Natural. It was a last minute decision (and a good one!); please excuse the dodgy mobile phone photos!

Mr. Natural Inside

It’s a small, intimate venue. I expected it to be buzzing, but then again, it was a Tuesday night. We were the only ones dining in, but there was a constant stream of take-away orders being made. These guys accept online orders as well as phone orders – talk about getting with the times! I was impressed.

The menu was far more exciting than I was expecting it to be – I was actually having trouble making a decision. Truth be told, I’m used to being in that annoying position of walking into a pizza shop and ordering the vegetarian pizza without cheese. Yep; I can do it with my eyes closed. And you always get the same ol’ toppings. They get very old very quickly.

As it turns out, the two pizzas I was interested in are exclusive to the St. Kilda store and not on the online menu. I asked for the dal pizza but it wasn’t available just yet (the dal was still being made and OHMYGOD it smelled amazing!); the wonderful man behind the counter recommended the Mexican pizza instead, which was my second choice anyway. It sounded a little strange, as it listed bananas and dates in the ingredients, but don’t worry – there aren’t chunks of either on the pizza. I think they may have been mashed and mixed up with the beans.

Mr. Natural Mexican

Again, please excuse the photo. It doesn’t do this pizza justice – it was Mexican, alright. I don’t think I could have been happier. Mr. AA tasted it while I was trying to take a photo and he demanded that I just stop and eat. Well, I could see why. The toppings were just so… Perfect. The Mexican spices mixed in with the beans were just right and very prominent. This pizza was REALLY filling – we struggled to finish off a large between us. These guys definitely aren’t stingy on the ingredients, they really make it worth your while.

Oh – and in case anyone is wondering, gluten free bases are available! YEAH! Also, you have the option of having your pizza topped with rennet free dairy cheese, vegan cheese or tofu. I didn’t actually notice the vegan cheese option until afterwards, so I just asked for tofu. I would have been a bit weary anyway, depending on what brand they used. Vegan cheese isn’t always a winner in my eyes – and you’d wanna know exactly what you’re getting for an extra $3.50 (on a large pizza). And finally… They stock Phoenix soft drinks!

You can’t go wrong. Go and get yourself an amazing pizza. Like, now.

BUDDY GUY

Annnnd finally… Simply because I can’t resist, here’s a photo of Buddy Guy serenading the woman behind me! He left the stage and walked through the venue playing and greeting people. Seventy five years old and still rockin’ it. Bet you wish you were that cool.

Eatery Review: Veggie Kitchen

Veggie Kitchen Front
Veggie Kitchen
159 St George’s Rd
Northcote VIC 3070
AUSTRALIA

This little gem is tucked away on St George’s Rd – a street in Melbourne with plenty of vehicle traffic but not a lot of pedestrian traffic. It’s a vegetarian, Taiwanese restaurant with vegan and gluten free options clearly marked on the menu. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to not have to ask a million questions about the ingredients in the dishes I’m considering!

Veggie Kitchen Inside

We showed up for a late lunch and the place was desserted – though I think it might have had a lot to do with the World Vegan Day festivities happening in Melbourne at the time.

This little photo book came to us with the menu. It seemed a bit silly and didn’t help me choose a dish at all, but I looked at it anyway.
Veggie Kitchen Photo Book

I was in the mood to think outside the square, so I ordered this sparkling blood orange & cardamom drink which was pretty good! It wasn’t too carbonated (fizzy drinks normally disagree with me) and the cardamom was subtle. It was nice and tangy.
Veggie Kitchen Sparkling blood Orange & Cardamom

We ordered a few things from the a la carte menu. First we had the dumplings. The wrappers tasted awesome but they tore pretty easily. I found the filling a little chewy but Mr. AA really loved these! If you’re a dumpling kind of person, you’ll dig these.
Veggie Kitchen Dumplings

Then the curry puffs… These were nice and crispy on the outside and full of veggies & spices on the inside – but not spicy at all. Two thumbs up for not being greasy!
Veggie Kitchen Curry Puffs

This was a stuffed tofu item called “ah gei”, which is a traditional Taiwanese thing. Honestly, I had no intention of eating tofu that day, but the waitress told me that they MAKE all of their tofu on site, so how could I resist? It came as a parcel – I cut it in half for the photo so you could see the inside. It’s one of the more unusual things I’ve eaten this year but it did NOT disappoint. It was actually pretty amazing – full of rich flavours and a good texture that wasn’t too chewy. I was a little apprehensive about sharing this!
Veggie Kitchen Ah Gei

And finally, the curry tofu – because I had to try more than one kind of tofu. This dish was freakishly familiar and it didn’t take me long to figure out why! This is the *exact* type of curry I was served in Japan when I was expecting to get an Indian style curry! I’ve been wanting to eat something like it ever since I came back from Japan in 2007 but I had no idea what to look for. So… I was feeling pretty happy. I finally had some answers about the mysterious curry in Japan.

The curry was mild but had lots of flavour and a good variety of veggies in it. I forced myself to finish the plate not because I was hungry but because it was too delicious to leave behind.
Veggie Kitchen Curry

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this is the BEST tofu I’ve ever had. It’s far superior to any other; it’s spongy, soft and delicate, but not like silken tofu. It doesn’t fall apart, but it breaks nicely when you dig the side of a spoon into it. I really wish this restaurant would pre-package their tofu and let you take some home to work with.

I’d like to have seen more mains and less entrees on the a la carte menu. That being said though, when I go back, chances are it will be for the banquet. I’d really love to try some other things from the menu, including some dessert which I didn’t have room for at the time. Everything is reasonably priced (entrees $5, mains $13) and the staff are SO FRIENDLY.

Eatery Reviews: Daily Grind Foodstore & Emerald Hill Café

I’ve been in Melbourne for a couple of days this week, carrying out some training for work. I had the opportunity to try out some of the local eateries for breakfast and lunch and wasn’t dissapointed!

Sorry in advance for the terrible mobile phone photos.

Daily Grind
Daily Grind Foodstore
356 Clarendon Street
South Melbourne VIC 3205
AUSTRALIA

Daily Grind Inside
My first request to black someone out of a photo… hehe.

Porridge
Day 1: “Flu Fighter” fresh juice & porridge with brown sugar & banana.

The juice was exactly what I expected, which made me happy. The fruit/veg balance was perfect and I could taste the ginger. It was like I’d made it at home myself!

I took a chance on the porridge. I’ve actually tried eating porridge a few times before and have never liked it; I always just thought it was some kind of sloppy muck and couldn’t comprehend how people eat it throughout winter for breakfast. I figured maybe I’ve just been doing something wrong?

As it turns out, what I’d been doing wrong was not covering it in brown sugar, haha! This porridge was pretty good – I loved it and ate most of it. The serve was huge, though… Man-sized, even!

Daily Grind chai

Daily Grind toast

Daily Grind smoothie

Day 2: Soy chai latté, wholegrain toast with peanut butter & a specially made banana/spinach smoothie.

I ordered a soy chai latté as a starter, because I don’t drink a lot of coffee. I love it, but my stomach doesn’t. It also gives me the shakes! My favourite thing about the chai was that it wasn’t sickly sweet, it was just right; I hate when cafés use too much powdered chai mix in my drink. That stuff contains a LOT of sugar and just ends up making me more thirsty!

I was feeling a bit home sick on this morning and just wanted something that I’d normally have for breakfast… So peanut butter on toast it was! I accompanied this with a banana & spinach smoothie – something that wasn’t on the menu, but they made it for me anyway. These guys aren’t afraid of special requests, no matter how strange they are. This really impressed me!

Breakfast both times was excellent and just what I needed/wanted. The morning menu was mostly toast & eggs every which way, which would make it pretty difficult for a vegan and/or celiac to get much variety here. Like I said, though, special requests aren’t a problem and the staff are super friendly.

Emerald Hill Cafe
Emerald Hill Café
189 Bank Street
South Melbourne VIC 3805
AUSTRALIA

Sammie
Roast carrot salad with a veggie sammie.

Salad and a sammie? Really? Yeah, it seems a little boring, but the sammie had some avocado, as well as thin slices of roast pumpkin and fried eggplant which MADE it. Thank you VERY much to the tall blonde girl behind the counter on both days I visited, who could not only tell me what was in everything but was very accommodating to my special dietary requirements!

This was a great little café with the whole menu on display in glass cabinets. The salads looked amazing; in addition, there was a cabinet of pre-made bread rolls which also had a Subway-style choose your own ingredients station, and a separate section of “home style” hot meals. Everything looked pretty tasty; there was lots of vegetarian, gluten free salads but only one vegan one, so I stuck with that. It was a simple carrot, baby spinach & sesame seed one, but it was delicious; the dressing was a nice mix of sweet and salty. If they’d had it available again on the second day, I definitely would have eaten it two days in a row.

Sorry for not snapping any photos of the food cabinets inside, but this place was seriously buzzing and getting anywhere near the counter was pretty difficult!

>>

Totally unrelated to either of these eateries, I dropped into 7 Eleven and found this iced tea – sugar free and no artifical sweeteners. It was pretty tasty, but a little too sweet for me (it’s sweetened with white grape juice concentrate). I’m keen to try the other flavours though!

Iced Tea