Saturday 27 March 2021

Transformer: Fitzroy vegetarian restaurant

Recently I had a meal at Transformer with my parents.  It has taken a long time to finally go to this casual vegetarian fine dining restaurant that is the elegant sibling of the neighbouring Vegie Bar in Fitzroy.  I took the above photo in 2017 but from a quick web search it seems it has been open since about 2015.  Where does the time go!  My parents and I had the Feed Me set menu ($55) which was all that is available at present.  Before lockdown it seems there was an a la carte menu as well but we live in different times now.  

I loved my meal.  So much delicious and interesting food, accompanied by interesting non-alcoholic drinks.  By the end of the evening I was so full that the dessert (an extra $10) was an effort.  My parents are ominivores but were very impressed with the offerings  Let me take you through what we had.

Firstly I was happy to see a mocktails section on the menu as well as a few options with a non-alcoholic Seedlip gin.  I had the FOMO made with Seedlip 'garden 108', mint, cucumber, lemon and kaffir syrup.  I love having non-alcoholic drinks that are not overly sweet but this was not the sort of drink I am used to.  It was sour and a little salty but after that I wass happy to go for something slightly sweeter.  My dad had already had a Fresh mocktail with Viet mint, kaffir lime syrup, berries, soda.  So I decided to have one too.  My mum had a Seedlip and tonic and was very happy with it.  And my parents also followed their drinks with wine.

We started our food with some small dishes.  Firstly lemongrass compressed watermelon, toasted rice, Aleppo pepper and candied yuzu.  This was an amazing mix of sweet, savoury and spicy.  It was a nice contrast to the vegan orange cream cheese dip, 'everything bagel' topping, chives and smoked soy, served with tostadas, cucumber and radishes. 

One of my favourite dishes was the crispy chickpea panisse, truffle salt, nutritional yeast and macadamia.  A quick Google search told me that panisse is chickpea fritters.  Like polenta chips these were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  They were served warm with slightly crispy toppings that were a  delicious savoury salty flavour that I still remember fondly.  They were even better than chips!

The other favourite dish of mine was the warm fried oat cheese with figs and greens.  It was not on the menu but we were offered it and were up to try it.  I am vegetarian not vegan but I am very fond of a good vegan cheese.  And this one was excellent.  It was crisp on the outside, and smooth and creamy inside.  I loved the wonderful flavour that was umami and noochy flavour yet mild and smooth.  The fresh figs were delightful and the dressed greens were delicious.

The sides came out before the central dish of the main course.  A slight misstep in serving but more about that when the cauliflower arrives!  Firstly there was roasted beetroots, caper salsa, lemon thyme, vegan feta and hazelnut.  Really nice.  I wanted to know what the feta was made of because they got it right (having tasted some less than impressive vegan feta).  The beetroots were soft and yellow.  Actually my dad thought they were potatoes!  The other side dish was saffron basmati rice and red lentil pilaf with golden raisins and fried onions was really lovely and mild.

I mentioned that the pilaf was mild because I found the showstopper dish so intense.  We had passed over the cumin glazed eggplant with chermoula and smoked vegan yoghurt and chosen the miso glazed roasted cauliflower, spring onions, enoki and shitake with dashi.  When you get a set menu, being asked to choose a main dish is hard.  I would have loved to try the eggplant but who would not want to be served a whole glazed cauliflower with a crown of mushrooms and edible flowers.  It looked fantastic but was a bit harder to cut up and the miso is such a strong flavour.  It really had to be eaten with the beetroot dish and pilaf to be avoid being overwhelming.  The three dishes were a wonderful combination.

We chose to have the dessert - aged balsamic strawberries, gingernut crumb, coconut yoghurt sorbet and meringue, which was an extra $10.  I was really full by now but it sounded interesting.  I had a discussion with my parents about if the meringue was vegan or not.  When we asked a waiter we were told yess and I can't remember if they confirmed it was aqua faba or if that was just in my head.  Honestly, I was not that into the meringue, but it not really my sort of thing.  The ice cream was nice and I found the gingernut crumb a bit crunchy but I really loved the aged balsamic strawberries.  I could have eaten a huge bowl of them. 

While I love a hippy dippy vegetarian cafe, I was impressed that this sophisticated restaurant is more mainstream in appeal.  We had a great night.  The staff were very attentive and pleasant.  When we arrived at 6pm it was pretty quiet but filled up quickly.  I loved how the old warehouse is divided into smaller areas so it still felt quite intimate. I just hope it does not take years until I get there again but at the rate I am going out for meals at the moment, it just might be!

99 Rose Street, Fitzroy, 3065
Phone: 03 9419 2022

Monday 22 March 2021

Triennial NGV, 2021

On the weekend I finally went to visit the Triennial exhibition at NGV.  I wanted to go earlier in the year but it did not seem  safe to be in a gallery where people come from all over town and state and even interstate while Covid was at large.  It was 3 weeks without any community transmission of Covid on the weekend and felt safer.  Even so, I was surprised only about half the visitors seemed to take the NGV's strong advice to wear a mask.  Fortunately the art was worth the wait, though there was so much to see that I wish I had the opportunity to go again.  But I am not sure I have time over the next month before it closes.  Here is a taste of what I saw.

The fun starts as soon as we enter and see the huge mesmerising, constantly changing, spiraling, cascading, falling, fading and growing patterns on "Quantum memories" by Refik Anadol. The Triennial exhibits are dispersed throughout the whole gallery.  It is a lot of walking and even then, we missed some of the exhibits.

"Venus" by Jeff Koons is a play on classical statues using a shimmery shiny metal that no classical sculptor would have thought possible.

I really loved the sequinned tapestry called "House of Heroines" by Lara Schnitger with bumper sticker slogans and empowering words.

This wall of faces is called "Identification (ID) Photo Project" by Kim Sihyun.


Diamond Stingily made "In the middle but in the corner of 176th place" at first glance looks like a huge trophy exhibition of some sports star.  But upon a close read of the trophies, it seems that there is less of the celebration of sport going on.  Inscriptions like "through all the madness this all you gone get" puts sport back into perspective, and were fun to read.

The vibrant blues of Indigenous artist Dhambit Mununggurr in the "Can we all have a happy life"exhibition  are startlingly bright.  I liked this lively painting of Garma: her mother's brother started the Garma festival that brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in the outback up North each year.

"Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a disposable world" by Porky Hefer was made of many odd  imaginary sea creatures" made of detritus that is polluting the sea: cigarette buts, coffee cups, straws etc.  I could not work out what this tentacled creature was made of.  (And the security guard did not have a clue either!)

I thought this creature looked a bit like a covid virus.  The below ones hanging from the ceiling were quite amusing too.

One think I have enjoyed about a Covid world (if that does not sound odd) is mask fashion.  These prints of fax vintage outfits with matching masks  by Scotty So in this "China Masks" were quite beautiful. 

This "Walls 4 Sale: near new and supersized" by BTVV was like walking through Alice's Wonderland.  Doors were either too big or too small.  The toilet and kitchen were definitely too big.  I could see kids loving it but my daughter was too old for some fun and was outside in the garden with her friend.  Meanwhile my dad's arm can be seen in this photo to show some perspective on the huge sliding door.

We almost missed "Fallen Fruit" by David Allen Burns and Austin Young halfway up the ramp between the on the North side.  I was so glad we backtracked to look at it.  This was my favourite part of the Triennial.  I loved the old gilt framed paintings and black statues against the amazing floral wallpaper.

My dad found the lack of details about the artworks frustrating.  He likes labels.  I found this as wonderful as walking into an historic house but all the more interesting because it is in a gallery and impressed up me just how much we strip art of content in a gallery and how much more beautiful the art was with the wonderful wallpaper.  The wallpaper was an artwork in itself with Australian flora and fauna, light and dark, and colours that gradually changed as we walked around the rooms.  I wanted to go home and wallpaper my home!

This large round light show called "Extinctions" by Carnovsky was fascinating.  The colours were bright but also interesting the way they picked up on different designs on the curved wall.  My dad and I stood enthralled by the way the light altered colours on the glassware in the shelves on the other sides of the walls.

"Optical" by Stuart Haygarth was a huge crystal globe and every bit as interesting in how the light reflected on the floor.

Another favourite was the Salon et Lumièr.  Paintings were crowded onto red walls to imitate a Paris Gallery of the Nineteenth Century.  Back then people were excited for the opportunity to see artworks.  In our digital age, we have many opportunities to see artworks but not like this.  This was a light and sound show with the paintings on the wall as the canvas.  Shadows and thunderstorms and tv static and more brought the thrill of art to modern day gallery!

The beauty of Triennial is that it is an immersive experience that cannot be shared by just showing you some photos.  Some of the exhibits were hard to photograph.  Here are a few that I enjoyed without my camera:

  • Alicja Kwade's "WeltenLinie".  This set up of mirrors created an optical illusion where many of the visitors - including me - were quite flummoxed to work out what was mirror and what was real life.  I saw quite a few people reaching out to check if it was a mirror or not.
  • Tomoaki Suzuki's "Biole, Carson, Dasha, Marisa" had lots of statues of tiny people - about 30cm high.  We had a quick look from the corridor but did not have the time or patience to join the long queue of people who were going in to look more closely.
  • Liam Young's Planet City was an imagining of a futuristic city built up rather than sprawling outwards.  The video was quite mesmerising with the slow swooping down past tall building that gave the feeling of floating.

When I checked the website after the exhibition, I saw how much I had missed. I wished I had seen:

  • Faye Toogood - "Downtime: Candlelight wall scenography and Family busts and Roly-poly chair / Water"
  • Kengo Kuma and Geoff Nees - "Botanical pavilion"
  • JR - "Homily to Country"

And then at the end we were back in the forecourt, looking at another part of the Quantum Memories explosion of colour and shapes.

It was really good to get out to an exhibition after over a year of so little live art and culture in my life.  But we were never far from reminders of Covid, especially as we made our way up Swanston Street pas an Anti-Vaxxer march as we headed towards a sushi train lunch.

You can read more about the Exhibition on the NGV Triennial page.  If you are able to go ibefore it closes on 18 April 2021, I would highly recommende it.  entry is free but bookings are essential.  If you have been, I would love to hear what you thought and what was your favourite exhibit. 

You can read about previous NGV exhibitions I have visited:

Sunday 7 March 2021

In My Kitchen: March 2021

It is March and life fails to calm down.   February was an eventful month.  Sylvia was settling into high school and so am I with trying to keep up with all the parent activities.  It was nice to talk to some of her teachers at a meet the teacher session.  I bought a new computer and a new car.  I sold my old car for scrap.  We had a snap 5 day lockdown during which Sylvia got sick and had a covid test.  I got sick and had a covid test the next week.  It was not a good time for me to be sick, having just been out for a fun hotpot meal at work and then having to miss our first big Centre face to face meeting since lockdown in March last year.  Both of us are fine and there are now only a few cases of Covid in our state that came from international travellers in hotel quarantine.  But a few weeks back there was great concern about Covid as the Australian Open in tennis was held with crowds and workers were told they could go back to work.  And as if that wasn't unsettling enough, there has been a huge media storm over sexual abuse at the highest levels of power in our government.  Time to take a deep breath and have a good laugh at the Princess Bride!  And let's look into my kitchen.

There has not been much cooking in the kitchen but sometimes inspiration is still nipping at my heels.  More often than not, I am keeping it simple.  The above platter was put together when a friend and her family came for lunch.  This was indeed a simple matter of dips, cheese, rice crackers, vegetables and dolmades.  Plus some delicious bakes by Kerin.  I was so disorganised that we were just back from the shops and they arrived so I had extra help putting the lunch together.

This walnut fudge cake was made for my birthday, which was pretty lowkey this year with a Nourish bowl at The Boot Factory with a friend, mac and cheese salad rolls with this fudge cake for dinner with Sylvia, and then a fancy restaurant meal a few days later with my parents.  I have had this cake on my birthday before and am rather fond of it.  It was very good with lots of berries.  Quite a lot went into the freezer and I still have a few pieces left there.

I was sad when a crack became too great to hold one of my favourite bowls together.  This bowl was one of the first bowls I bought when I moved into my first share house in Fitzroy in the 1990s.  I still have a few let but it is a sad sight to me.

I made this stew to clean out the old vegetables in the fridge.  It had a lovely tomato tahini sauce with smoked paprika and honey.  It was served with haloumi, broccoli, corn and rice.

My mum gave me some basil for the garden.  Luckily it has been a very cool summer so my garden is doing ok, despite my neglect.  We have had very few really hot days but days in the 20s have been lovely.  But I have still managed quite a bit of swimming in the outdoor pool and some beach swimming including a chilly swim at Jan Juc beach last weekend with my visiting brother at 5pm on a cool day.  Back to the basil.  It grew like crazy and finally I pruned it and made pesto with all the trimmings.  I mixed the pesto into brown rice and at it for days.  Above is a meal made with pesto rice, chickpeas, red cabbage, spinach, red capsicum, and olives.

These yoghurts were like the Muellers corners yoghurts in the UK that we love.  The yoghurt comes with crumble, dried fruit and chocolate pieces.  It was delicious: lots of crunch and chewiness with the creamy yoghurt.

Summer is time for ice creams.  Sylvia is very partial to ice creams.  I love chocolate.  So I wanted to try the Magnum Luxe Caramel Ego.  It was very decadent with layers of chocolate and caramel around the ice cream.  Sylvia's choice was the Proud and Punch vegan chocolate and banana smoothie.  She was rather fond of it but I preferred the Magnum!


One of my sentimental weaknesses are the Golden Gaytime ice creams that I loved as a kid.  So when we saw this Golden Gaytime flavoured popcorn, I had to try it.  It was delicious though a little moreish with alternate caramel and chocolate covered popcorn.

Our supermarket had these stainless steel pegs so I bought a packet.  I have seen other brands advertised as a sustainable alternative to plastic pegs.  They seem to work quite well.  I wonder if these will become as easy to find in the shops as plastic pegs.

 I cleaned out my fridge.  Life does not leave me with long hours to do such things but I cleaned it in a few installments.  It was very satisfying and a little sad to throw out lots of my gluten free flours, which ironically had been stored with my gluten flour that also was binned.  I found a lot of the due dates were 2010-2014.  It made me feel quite old that so many years had passed since I bought them but I decided that if they hadn't been used in that time, they might as well go!

These packets are of crackers that I bought to try.  I loved the Gourmet Crackers with aged cheddar and caramelised onion.  The Natural Cracker Co Crispy Taco crackers were a little over seasoned for me.  And I am yet to try the Grainz brown rice snacks with parmesan and herbs.

I was also quite curious about this Whittakers ginger caramel filled chocolate.  It was nice but I prefer their caramel filled chocolate without the ginger.

Here are a few presents I received for my birthday from Scotland.  I really love the thistle doilies and the deer tray.  The cards will be very useful too.  

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event, that was started by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial,  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to check out her cute hand drawn banner and visit more kitchens.