Bali Round up

Technology meets tradition

Well life has settled back to normal a few weeks down the track, after our brief but enjoyable visit to Indonesia. As promised, I have put together a post of the highlights (and the odd low-light) should you ever wish to venture over. Although this was our fifth visit to Bali, it was my first as a vegetarian and just like in Australia, some cafés/restaurants had excellent options for vegetarians, while others had slim pickings. Virtually all dishes would need to be modified slightly for Vegan diets. The great thing about the hospitality industry in Indonesia, is that they really love to keep their customers happy and won’t be offended if you wish to leave something out of a dish or add something else in.

One dish I could always count on being on the menu was Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice). The vegetarian version comes chock full of tasty tender-crisp vegetables and an optional fried egg on top.

Nasi Goreng

In our little party of four, I was the only vegetarian, so in Bali none of our meals were at restaurants serving purely vegetarian fare. There were some pleasant surprises along the way which I expand on below.

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Bianco Restaurant & Bar
Jl Padma, Kuta, Bali

Bianco Restaurant

On Bianco’s website they mention that they are the first known Indonesian/Italian restaurant in Bali and I guess with a name like Bianco there had to be an Italian influence somewhere! For the veggies as with most places, the Indonesian options proved the most friendly and didn’t rely solely on cheese and eggs to provide the protein source. We chose to sit out on the balcony where you can watch the world go by and enjoy the balmy breezes.

Gado Gado

For entrée I couldn’t go past the vegetarian spring rolls, which may sound a bit pedestrian, but I have to tell you, these were among the best I have EVER eaten. The rolls were filled with an abundance of veggies and great flavours and the pastry was delicately crispy without a hint of sogginess. For my mains I was served up a very delicious Gado Gado, which is pretty much a salad consisting of raw and cooked vegetables with a boiled egg and tofu, albeit with prawn crackers; these were hastily removed from my plate by my dining companions! This came with a very tasty satay sauce and another smaller bowl of chilli sauce to up the heat if required.

With great staff and located just a short walk from Kuta Beach, Bianco was a lovely escape from the heat of the day.

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Indus Restaurant
Jl Raya, Sanggingan,
Ubud, Bali

Indus Restaurant holds happy memories for Jayson and I; we spent the morning of our honeymoon 12 years ago enjoying a very decadent breakfast on the balcony of Indus while taking in the stunning views of the Tjampuhan River and lush surrounding hills. We also discovered a love of lounge music and whenever I hear this song now, it instantly transports me back to that time. Ah memories…

Indus Restaurant

So, no trip to Ubud could be complete without a breakfast at Indus. This time around we all chose the very indulgent French Toast, bursting with the flavours of banana, cinnamon, spice and all things nice, complimented by a side serve of natural yogurt and maple syrup. They unfortunately didn’t offer soy milk so I was unable to partake in my usual latte. I did however go for an Avocado Juice – if you haven’t tried this before you will be amazed (and possibly addicted)! It isn’t technically a juice as such, probably closer to a smoothie or milkshake if anything. The avocado is usually blended with milk (this would work well with rice, soy or nut milk too), a dash of sugar syrup and sometimes chocolate as well.  It wasn’t a good time of year for avocados in Bali, so while still very drinkable, the avocado juices of this trip were not quite as mind-blowing as usual.

We have only ever had breakfast at Indus, but I have heard mixed reviews about the dinner menu. The restaurant has a lovely atmosphere and is worth a visit just to check out the glorious views.

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Cinta Grill
Jl Monkey Forrest
Ubud, Bali

Cinta Grill

Cinta Grill, was quite a favourite on our last trip to Bali in particular for their daily Mojito happy hours! On this visit to Cinta I wasn’t overly hungry, just in need of a couple of snacky things to see me through the evening. There is a fairly substantial selection of vegetarian meals to choose from on the menu here, but I turned straight to the starters.

First pick was the Vegetarian Samosas with Tamarind Chutney. A fairly stock standard samosa, nicely cooked with the chutney providing a good tang to cut through the starchiness of the potato in the filling.

The Fresh Rice Paper Rolls with Thai Herb Dipping Sauce on the other hand were amazing and unlike any others I have eaten in the past. The emphasis on these was definitely the mint, and lots of leafy greens which was extremely refreshing on the palate, however if mint is not your thing I would probably give them a miss! The Mojito happy hour was still in full swing although this bar and many others in Bali have taken to using lime cordial instead of fresh lime juice in their Mojitos making them cloyingly sweet and not so refreshing. After the first round we asked if juice could be used instead of cordial and they were happy to oblige, so no complaints here. I’m guessing most of their customers prefer the cordial over the real thing hence the change in ingredients.

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Clear Café
Jl Hanoman No. 8
Padang Tegal Kaje, Ubud, Bali

Clear Cafe

Hot and bothered after walking around the streets of Ubud and very much in need of some drinks and a light meal to keep us going, we literally stumbled upon Clear Café with its impressive facade and pile of shoes at the front door.

Clear Café is a very unusual eatery in Bali both in terms of decor and cuisine. Focusing on Organic, Raw, Vegan and Seafood, it has a “shoes-off inside” policy and a very modern eco style. I’m thinking a lot of money was spent on the fit-out and the table wear (check out the glasses!). Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling too crash hot the day we visited so I didn’t take as many shots as I would have liked, but you can check out the gallery on Clear Café’s website for a closer look at the gorgeous interior.

A good ice coffee is hard to find in most places, but even more so in Bali; usually its just a tall glass of cold black coffee with a few ice-cubes thrown in for good measure! Clear Cafe have an impressive array of refreshing drinks on offer and a substantial selection made with Mylk (a cashew nut milk extracted from locally grown produce).  I wish there had been more time so I could work my way down the menu! As I was craving coffee (and something cool) I went for a Mocha Shake made with Mylk which was ice-cold and absolutely delicious!

Clear Cafe

We also ordered a plate of Majestic Mushrooms which were pleasant enough although probably a little too cheesy. The Indo Spring Rolls with tofu, would have been great if they hadn’t been covered with the very over powering tamarind “dipping” sauce. It was very sour and in need of some sweetness for balance; this would have been much better served to the side as the menu suggested. Top marks for presentation, all the same!

Although we weren’t blown away with the two dishes we ordered, Clear Café would have to be one of the most vegan friendly and innovative restaurants I have encountered in Indonesia. Take a look at their menu; it really does have the potential for some fabulous meals.

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Casa Luna
Jl Raya Ubud, Bali

Casa Luna comes in at No.3 on Lonely Planet’s 138 things to do in Ubud. Run by Australian expat Janet DeNeefe and her Balinese husband Ketut Suardana, it has topped many lists over the years and is just one part of a mini empire in Ubud which includes Indus Restaurant (of the french toast fame, above), a Cooking School, Guesthouse and Emporium.

Janet is also author of the memoir Fragrant Rice which chronicles her love affair with Bali.

Casa Luna

On previous trips to Ubud, we have frequented Casa Luna for leisurely lunches and avocado juices while on the way to someplace else. This time, we decided on a visit for dinner and unfortunately we were all a little disappointed with the meals we ordered. My pumpkin soup was under-seasoned and lack lustre, with the chickpea, beetroot and avocado salad being rather bland and weighed down by soggy croutons. My fellow diners had similar gripes with their meaty orders so this time around Casa Luna didn’t rate highly at all for me.

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Three Monkeys
Jl Monkey Forest
Ubud, Bali

Three Monkeys Cafe

Three Monkeys was recommended to us by a friend via facebook, so we were keen to try it out for breakfast one beautiful morning. From the front the cafe looks quite cosy but on walking through you enter a very inviting and substantial alfresco area along side rice paddies – just lovely!  The variety of fresh juices were abundant and delicious with suggested combinations or could be made to order.  I had my favourite blend of fresh apple juice with a good dose of ginger – just the thing to awaken the senses first thing in the morning. I also couldn’t resist ordering a latte and it turned out to be a very satisfying one. Three of us ordered the buckwheat pancakes with bananas and syrup but these were sadly not up to scratch, although they looked very appealing. The batter was very dry, powdery and tasted strangely like camphor…these were all returned to the kitchen and the staff cheerfully replaced them with something else off the menu. I went for the yogurt, muesli and fruit combo which was bursting with flavour and goodness. All in all a good experience and I would definitely give it another go on our next trip.

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Stay tuned for the Java roundup to follow soon!

Brunch at Mister Nice Guy Café

Mister Nice Guy Cafe

On a gloriously sunny Saturday  a couple of weekends ago, it was time to pay a visit to the not long opened Mister Nice Guy Café. Filled with comfy couches and the sounds of groovy retro tunes, the café is housed by day in the Noise Bar, at the Railway Hotel in Brunswick. Famous in the vegan community for their wonderful cupcakes, the cafe is quickly making a mark in its own right.

Eager to taste the delicious looking french toast I saw on another bruncher’s table and also the baked apple and walnut crepes I’d heard so much about on their Facebook page, we ordered both to share, along with hot chocolate for me and soy flat white for Jayson.

French Toast

Interestingly, this is the first time where Jayson couldn’t order cow’s milk with his coffee, yet I could order anything off the menu – it was a wonderful bizarro world for me! Jayson was curious as to how they could make crepes and french toast sans eggs. Turns out they are made with silken tofu and the eggs were definitely not missed here; while the crepes don’t look quite like conventional crepes, they are still light, fluffy and delicious.

Baked apple and walnut crepes

I was determined to try the vegan cupcakes I had heard so much about, but being full from brunch, we selected four to take home and munch on later. These were moist and delicious and every bit as good as their non-vegan counterparts. My favourite was the Cherry Bomb. So yummy!

The cupcakes are also available from Radical Grocery Store and Las Vegan Nirvana Café, plus several other cafés as listed on their website.

Mister Nice Guy vegan cupcakes

Mister Nice Guy Café is situated at:

291 Albert St, Brunswick (enter from the bike path side of the hotel near the railway line).

Mister Nice Guy Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mountain Thai: Not so “v” friendly

I had heard a lot about this restaurant before my first visit a few weeks ago. Not only was it recommended to me by fellow vegans & vegetarians, but it had a 94% like rating on Urban Spoon. I was excited about dining at a local Thai restaurant with so many “vegetarian friendly” dishes on their menu. As lovers of Thai cuisine are aware, Thai food is typically laden with all kinds of hidden animal products; oyster sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste and chicken stock, to name the usual suspects. Despite having a menu which had the friendly little “V” marked next to so many dishes, this restaurant was no exception to the usual rule. As an extra bonus, this restaurant came with a manager who was condescending, rude and clearly had no clue as to what vegetarianism actually means. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself here…

I thought I would begin with one of my favourite Thai entrees, Vegetable Tom Yum Soup. Despite seeing that friendly little “V” next to the dish, I thought it best to ask the standard questions;what kind of stock is this soup made with, does it contain fish sauce? etc. The waiter was immediately flummoxed and unsure, so headed to the nearby kitchen to query it with the chef. Turns out the soup stock was made with chicken bones and yes it did contain fish sauce (sigh)…not doing well so far. I then changed my order to the Vegetarian Spring Rolls…oh, these contain oyster sauce (louder sigh)…OK, well how about I just skip to a main and have the Pad Krapow with vegetables….sorry this contains fish sauce (getting hot under the collar now). I then decided to ask the manager who had arrived by our table by this point, why all these menu items were marked vegetarian when they all contained animal products. I was then informed that fish is NOT an animal and what I was looking for was vegan food NOT vegetarian. Last time I checked, fish had a central nervous system so I’m not sure when they suddenly shimmied over to the vegetable category.  As I was dining with a friend who I hadn’t caught up with in ages, I wasn’t going to upset the apple cart by storming out at this point and just wanted to eat something that wasn’t a shrimp dressed in carrot’s clothing!  The waiter who had delivered the bad news initially dashed over when he discovered there was one dish I could eat from the menu being the Tofu Tod and I gratefully accepted his suggestion; I was getting pretty hungry by now. The Tofu Tod was nice and crispy on the edges and the dipping sauce provided a good balance of sour and sweet. As I was not able to order any mains from the menu, the owner suggested he steam some vegetables and serve with a couple of dipping sauces. This was edible but that’s about all I can say here. I thought the days of steamed vegetables for the vegetarian had passed, but clearly not. It was a very frustrating dining experience and I have resolved to do far more research before booking a restaurant for fear of a repeat of this happening again. To add insult to injury, when the bill arrived I noticed I had been charged the price of the main I had originally ordered for a plate of steamed vegetables. Upon querying this, I was told they “weren’t able” to change it on the computer…just wanting to leave, I left it at this and needless to say, no tip was left.

I didn’t take photos of the food on this night – at the time I had no intention of blogging about it however on my arrival home I was feeling quite wired up. You can deal with a restaurant not having vegetarian friendly food but it’s the false claims and rudeness that really get me riled up.

Anyone else had a similar experience to this? If so, how did you deal with it and what was the outcome?

Mountain Thai on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Heirloom

Drunken Heirloom Tofu

After reading a very favourable review for this restaurant by Nouveau Potato, I was keen to try out Heirloom and had high hopes for its vegetarian selections. With two vegetarians in our party of six, sadly the dinner menu was very lacking in meat-free options. I had read about a vegetarian menu in the review, but was quickly informed that this was a lunchtime only option. 😦  However, I still believed that they would be able to produce something delicious and was not put off at this point. Heirloom is a fusion of French / Japanese and being a lover of both cuisines, hoped for a memorable dining experience.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was one of cool elegance and low lighting (as can be attested to by my dodgy i-phone pics) 😉 The staff were welcoming and extremely attentive, displaying a good understanding of the menu and cooking methods employed in its creation.  When the Sake menu became all a bit too intimidating, Heirloom’s resident sake expert was promptly whisked to our table in an instant to assist in our selections.

So how was the food? First up was an amuse-bouche consisting of a shot glass of Mushroom Cappuccino. Quite a nice little teaser; light and fluffy and not unlike one I had sampled 6 months earlier in Auvergne, France. For entrée I ordered the Whipped Chevre, Beetroot Tuiles served with rye crostini. The beetroot tuiles were crispy, sweet and delicious complementing the baby daikon and beets nicely. The goats cheese at the heart of the dish was pleasant but nothing to write home about. I also took the opportunity of sampling Jayson’s Drunken Heirloom Tofu bathed in a marinade of sake and chilli. Once again the flavours were pleasant but just didn’t quite hit the spot.

Whipped Chevre, Beetroot Tuiles

The one and only vegetarian option for mains consisting of a selection of assorted wild mushrooms, quinoa with a “sea foam” looked elegant and impressive when delivered to the table, however was badly lacking in seasoning and any real depth of flavour. When the waitress noticed I had only eaten a quarter of my meal I explained that I had found it very bland. She was quick to jump to the meal’s defence, saying that it was meant to be very subtle… well considering it was the only choice available it really should have been a knockout in my opinion. Interestingly, my fellow diners who were eating the non-vegetarian fare also found their meals pleasant but not earth shatteringly brilliant.

Vegetarian main

Overall, Heirloom was pleasant enough but with the enormous array of restaurants to sample in Melbourne, I doubt I will return for dinner. I could however, be convinced to return for cocktails or sake…

Heirloom is located at:
131 Bourke St
Melbourne 3000
www.heirloomonbourke.com.au

Heirloom on Urbanspoon

Dinner: Bonsai Bali

Bonsai Bali

Combination with Vegetables & Noodles

It’s been an unusually challenging time this past week so I have been pretty quiet on the blogging front…but now it’s catch up time.

Too tired to cook after a somewhat physical day at work (moving office furniture), we headed off to Bonsai Bali in Tecoma.  The menu was laid out in two sections; one featuring Indonesian dishes, the other Chinese dishes. I ordered the hot and sour soup (vegetarian) for my entrée followed by the combination with vegetables and noodles in a Mongolian sauce. The soup was quite pleasant but had a chickeny taste to it – when I queried the staff as to what the stock was made from, the owner came out and assured me that 20% of their customers are vegetarian so they set up a separate wok in the kitchen just for preparing vegetarian meals and yes, the stock is vegetable based. I accepted this but passed my soup onto Jayson who devoured it for me as my taste buds were not in agreeance. The noodles dish was very tasty and full of goodness but I was surprised to find the meat/chicken versions of the same dish were actually a few dollars cheaper than the vegetarian. I guess that separate wok in the kitchen comes with a price tag…

Overall the service, atmosphere and food quality were good but I found the choices quite limiting considering the owner’s claims. Would I return? Probably not.

Bonsai Bali on Urbanspoon

Day 25: Friday Lunch Treat

Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Friday lunchtime I decided to treat myself with a visit to a new Asian takeway in my area call Joyhut.  It opened its doors for the first time a couple of months ago and I’ve made one previous visit just for a simple stir-fried vegetable dish which was nice but very basic. I’d been eyeing off the Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu on the menu so that was my first pick and I went with the vegetarian black bean noodles to follow. The tofu was amazing! I’d always loved salt and pepper calamari in my seafood eating days so this was a very pleasant surprise. Beautifully spiced and delicately crispy without being overly greasy, it was just what I had been hoping for.

Vegetarian Noodles in Black Bean Sauce

Vegetarian Noodles in Black Bean Sauce

The vegetarian noodles were also delicious with plenty of flavour in the black bean sauce. I only managed to eat half of the serving after scoffing the tofu first. Oh well, more for later 🙂 I will definitely be returning to Joyhut – plenty of tasty options for diets of all persuasions, great value and just around the corner 🙂

JoyHut on Urbanspoon

Day 23: A quick bite in St Kilda

Roast Vegetable Paella

Roast Vegetable Paella

With the vegan challenge into it’s fourth week it’s interesting to discover what the options may be in an unknown restaurant. On Wednesday night, we had about 45 minutes to eat a quick dinner before going to see a concert at the Palais. After a quick scour of a few menus we settled on Amigos in Acland Street; Mexican is usually a safe bet for vegetarian food.

After a chat to the waitress and a visit to the kitchen on her part to consult with the chef on which menu items didn’t contain dairy, I settled on the Roast Vegetable Paella. It arrived on a sizzling plate, had an inviting aroma and did not disappoint in terms of flavour. The Paella contained a rainbow of different veggies and was quite nicely seasoned. In fact it was so filling I only managed to get through just over a third of the plate. Jayson also enjoyed his chicken burrito and was pleasantly surprised at the overall standard. The service was good too – staff were attentive and the meals arrived fairly quickly. Not bad for a fairly random pick.

Amigos on Urbanspoon