Saturday 29 July 2023

Flora Indian Restaurant and Bar in Melbourne CBD

So much has changed in Melbourne since the pandemic that it is a relief to see the places like Flora don't change,  It still offers a cheap and cheerful Indian meal.  The food is good and fast, the staff are pleasant, and there are plenty of seats.  Just don't expect any mood lighting.  It has been part of the landscape opposite Flinders Street Station since 2001.

Flora Indian Restaurant was a regular place for E and I to have meals together.  If we went out to a show in the city, especially over the Flinders Street end, we would often stop there first.  Our last visit was for his birthday this year.  I think it was Sylvia's first visit and she refused to eat a think as she is not into curries.  My parents also came and they loved it. 

Going to Flora feels comfortable.  We order at the front counter.  You would think by now that I would know exactly what I want but I usually need 5 minutes to decide.  Do I have the Small Combo or the Large Combo?  Do I have rice or rotis with my curries?  Or do I go fancy with a Kashmiri Naan?  Or is today the day for the Dosa meal with the iddly and vada?  It is a tyranny of choices!

I often have one of the Small Combos which, as well as rice or roti, come with 1 non-veg curry, 1 veg curry and 1 daal.  This means walking along to the bain marie to make more decisions on which curries.  Of course for us vegetarians the non-veg curry becomes a veg curry.  It usually involves a chat with the staff about what is vegetarian and how spicy is each curry.

Our meal is served on a tray, cafeteria style, which we then take to a table.  Once our meal is sorted then we get the cutlery, serviettes and cups of water from the serve-yourself shelves.  There are soft drinks and beers and lassis to drink but water is usually all I need.

I have a few photos of meals but they are not recent and I omitted to note the details.  It shows you that I have meant to write about Flora a few times before and told myself I would do that straight away!  And yet, years later it is finally going to be published.  Phew!  (Yes this time, I will finish the post.)  The meal above is a Small Combo with rice and a Kashmiri Naan on the side.  I really love these fancy naan that has nuts and dried fruit stuffed in flat bread.  Sounds odd but tastes great.

Another time I got a Dosa Combination.  This is a masala dosa - curry potato in a thin crispy pancake made from fermented rice and lentils - which is served with an iddly (a steamed rice cake), vada (fried savoury snack) sambar and coconut chutney.  I can't remember what the scoop on top was - maybe a thick yoghurt.

This is my most recent meal a few months ago for E's birthday.  I really liked the green bean and potato curry but can't remember that others.  The roti was good.  But then we all had bread and wanted rice so I ordered a bowl of rice which they sent over quickly.  It was lovely despite some of the curries being a bit spicy for me.

I loved this poster on the hoardings outside Flora.  It has been in the midst of a building site for the last few years, as it is quite close to the new Town Hall underground station that is being built as part of our second underground loop of stations.  (When I was travelling in Europe and told people we only had 3 underground stations in Melbourne it seemed piddly but give us a few years and a lot of upheaval and we will be proud to have 5 new underground stations!)  I hope that once it is built it will bring even more people to Flora to compensate for years of pandemic and building works.  They deserve it for hanging in there for us and continuing to serve their excellent Indian food.

Flora Indian Restaurant
238A Flinders Street
Melbourne  VIC  3000
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Thursday 27 July 2023

Rotolo with ricotta and spinach

While I love going out for a nice meal or a fun event, I also need my quiet days on weekends.  I made this rotolo on one such day pottering around the house.  In the morning I baked bread, watched some political commentary on Insiders and hung out a load of laundry.  In the afternoon I watched 84 Charing Cross Road. Sylvia didn't understand how I could watch a show with such a slow moving plot.  I enjoyed the gentle beauty and wit after all the American crime drama we have been watching.

I had bought ricotta, spinach, feta and lasagna sheets because I was going to show Sylvia what cannelloni was (ie not cannoli).  Then I was reading a supermarket magazine and was reminded of past yearnings to make rotolo.  I love the look of those crispy cheesy pasta scrolls packed in together.   

I hadn't really looked at what quantities was needed for the recipe (that I had not seen before going shopping).  I didn't have enough.  But I have ways of bulking up a filling.  Though the recipe was for a ricotta and spinach filling, I added cauliflower rice, ground cashews and feta.  I liked the variety.  My only complaint was that it would have been better to cook the cauliflower rice.  The recipe called for tinned diced tomatoes but I preferred to cook a simple tomato sauce of fried onions, passata and seasoning.

The rotolo was so good when it came out of the oven, crispy and oozy cheese on top, creamy and tomatoey on the bottom.  It wasn't as quick as I had hoped but I had enough time to take it easy in the kitchen.  It reheated well over a few nights and even was good to spread on a piece of bread.  It was such a nice way to eat pasta that didn't make me feel like I was having the same old pasta again.  I look forward to making it again either for weeknight dinners or to impress a crowd.

More spinach and cheese recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:
Eccles cakes with leeks, spinach and blue cheese (v)
Palak Paneer (spinach and cheese curry) (gf)
Spinach and feta scones
Spinach and ricotta pie with filo roses
Sephardic spinach filo cigars
Stuffed cheese and spinach jumbo pasta shells
Vegan lasagne with spinach ricotta and cashew cream (v)

Cheese and Spinach Rotolo
Adapted from Woolworths Fresh Ideas magazine June 2023
Serves 4

Tomato Sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
700ml bottle of passata
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
drop of maple syrup
good pinch of salt
good grinding of black pepper

Fry onion and garlic in oil for 5-10 minutes in a smallish saucepan until soft and beginning to brown.  Pour in passata and a little water to swish out the remains of the passata from the botttom.  Add balsamic vinegar, maple syrup,  and seasonings.  Check and adjust seasonings to taste.  Bring to boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Cheese and Spinach Filling:

250 frozen spinach (I box)
250g cauliflower, riced
250g ricotta
75g roasted and salted cashew nuts, ground
75g feta cheese crumbled
2 eggs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup grated cheese

Cook cauliflower rice in microwave until soft. Add to spinach and squeeze (in a clean teatowel) as much liquid as possible from vegetables. Discard liquid (or use for soups and stews) and mix vegetables with the remaining filling ingredients.

To assemble:

4 x fresh lasagna sheets (approx 185g)
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup grated cheese

Pour about half the tomato sauce in a 24cm diameter baking dish.

Spread a lasagna sheet with 1 tbsp tomato paste.  Spoon 1/4 of the cheese and spinach mixture onto the lasagna sheet over the tomato paste.  Roll up from long side.  Cut into 6 shorter tubes and place in the casserole dish with the pasta swirl facing up.  Repeat with the rest of the lasagna sheets.  

Pour the rest of the sauce over the cracks between the pasta roll ups.  Sprinkle with about 1 cup cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes at 200 C or until cheese is melted and golden brown.

Listening to:
The tin hut that's still standing - interview with Dr John Patterson from Darwin on ABC RN Conversations 6 July 2023.

Saturday 22 July 2023

Calle Bakery, North Carlton - Bastille Day specials

I hate queues.  But I also have a daughter who follows some of the latest trends on social media and was very keen to go to Calle Bakery for a Parisian hot chocolate which was only available last weekend to celebrate Bastille Day on 14 July.  I thought it would be a quick cuppa and out of there.  So I was horrified to hear the wait in the queue was 30 minutes.  It was actually 60 minutes but the hot chocolate and croissants were amazing.

This is the crowd.  Calle Bakery is quite small inside but they must have good relationships with their neighbours as their tables outside overflowed onto the pavement outside cafes either side.  It was a sunny morning with lots of passerbys and wonderful North Carlton terrace houses opposite.  Not a bad place for a queue, if queue we must!

As we got closer to the front of the queue we watched the people finishing up their meals and leaving empty tables, trying to identify which one we would be granted.  Sylvia and I talked about our order, even though we couldn't really see exactly what the choices were inside.  We watched groups and couples being served amazing hot chocolate, loaded baguettes and impressive croissants.  Most amusing were a couple of instagrammers who spent a lot more time on photos than me.  Another queue snaked out the door in the other direction of those waiting for their takeaways.  That wasn't even a quick option.

After an hour we were seated and told to order inside with the table number.  As you can see in the above photo, there was a tyranny of choice with the croissants.  Sylvia wanted the plainest and I wanted the fanciest.  It is not every day I get to eat a croissant wheel.  I like the look of the Choc Hazelnut, the Yuzu Honey and Sea Salt, and the Banoffee croissants. 

Our croissants were served first.  Each weekend the bakery offers two different flavours of croissant wheels.  The croissant wheel I chose was a Hazelnut Praline.  (The other flavour of the day was Sticky Date pudding.)  We waited for our hot chocolate before we ate.  I was quite happy to spend a while admiring the beauty of my croissant wheel.  Even Sylvia's plain croissant was a work of art!

The hot chocolate came in a teapot for two with a fancy swirl of whipped cream in a parfait glass.  We each poured half a cup of hot chocolate which was thick and rich like melted chocolate. It was satisfying to stir in a swirl of cream.  We'd been watching others long enough to see that many were dipping croissants into the hot chocolate.  Sylvia found her plain ones were better for dipping than my fancy wheel with a shard of praline, melted chocolate and creamy custard filling. 

Both my drink and croissant were so rich that I was really full as I left, 45 minutes late to meet my friend, Kathleen, for lunch.  (I took a lot of my lunch home to eat for dinner!)  I hope we can go back when the queues are much shorter.  
One final note: I'd been confused because I remembered going to that bakery a few years back for great bread but no croissant wheels.  Then I found that it was previously Kylie's Slow Dough.   In August 2022 it reopened as Calle Bakery and their European inspired baking has garnered high praise from both the critics and tiktokers.

Calle Bakery
649 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton  VIC  3054

Thursday 20 July 2023

Tazio, CBD and Lightscape, Melbourne Botanic Gardens

On Friday night Sylvia and I went to the city where we ate dinner at Tazio and then went to the Melbourne Botanic Gardens for the ethereally charming Lightscape show of lights throughout the gardens.  This was the second year of Lightscape in Melbourne but it is 10 years since it started in the UK.

Friday night is pizza night for us so we looked for a pizza place near the gardens end of the city.  I loved that the poster on the wall outside says "nice food by nice people".  The staff were indeed very nice and so was the food.  Sylvia was impressed at how fancy it was.  Ooh, linen napkins and elegant wallpaper in the bathroom!  It was not hard to find a seat at 5.30pm but by the time we left it was getting busy.

We ordered the Italian marinated giant green olives served warm with fresh ciabatta, Cauliflower and potato croquettes with aioli, Steamed broccolini, green beans and carrots tossed in mixed herbs and extra virgin olive oi, and the Flavio, a 10 inch New York thin base pizza with mozzarella, fior di latte, kipfler potato & gorgonzola.

We were attracted to Tazio for its vegetarian pizza menu.  The menu generously says that they can make the pizza base gluten free or use vegan cheese, and that they welcome alterations, though any of these changes will cost you.  Sylvia was not keen on the gorgonzola but happy they bought us more bread.  I was happy to have a bowl of vegetables.  We agreed that best of all were the croquettes.  So crispy outside and so creamy inside.

We took a tram to the Observatory entrance to the Botanic Gardens.  We were already seeing fun lights at the food trucks before we even got to the ticket checkpoint.  There were lights everywhere as we walked the 2km circuit around the lake.  

I noticed signage at most of the light installations but in the bustle of crowds (and with a teenage daughter eager to move along) it was not always possible to stop and take these in, let alone check the QR codes for more information.  Usually I like to check this information afterwards but cannot find it online. 

Between installations were trees lit up with changing colours.   Tickets are sold at 15 minute intervals to try and stagger the crowds but at times it seems crowded with all the iphones vying for space to get a good photo.

There were Aboriginal motifs throughout the walk.  This engaging installation of artwork on poles was called Nura.  There were also some light beams on footpaths with Aboriginal artwork and some with ants but it was hard to photograph with the crowds.

This mushroom installation, named the Fungarium, and a nearby dandelion installation had music that reminded Sylvia of the Frozen soundtrack.  It felt very magical with a sense of wonder.

I was a bit unsure about this installation in the lake which could have been odd water lilies but really looked like radioactive waste to me. 

Much more pleasing to my eye were the vistas of installations across the lake with reflections in the water.

I was impressed by the Fire Garden with lots of flames along the lawn by the edge of our path.  It was, of course, roped off.  As it was hard to check, I could only assume the flames were made by light rather than fire.  It reminded me of candle lights in memory of those who have died.

In addition to the food trucks at the Observatory gate, the Terrace Cafe on the lake had been changed into a food court of cute little food carts.  Sylvia wanted a soy latte and I had a chocolate ice cream with a little salted caramel doughnut.  They also had pizza, dumplings and marshmallows.  

It was only afterwards that I saw the the marshmallows were sold on sticks to be toasted over a fire set up outside.  The other opportunity I missed was the mulled wine at a drinks bar earlier on in the walk because I was driving.  The marshmallows and mulled wine sound like fun but we could not do everything on quite an overwhelming night.  Maybe there will be another Lightscape year when we can take advantage of these opportunities.

I share this photo across the lake partly to show the city buildings lit up in the background.

I have read that although this year's Lightscape was different to last year, the Winter Cathedral returned this year because it was so popular.  An arched walk with rows and rows of little white flower shaped lights.  So pretty!  So stunning!  So otherworldly!  It was no surprise that this was selfie central and pretty busy.  But I was amazed that after a long walk around the gardens where I will confess to a little light fatigue at times, that this simple installation still had the capacity to leave me sighing at its beauty.

This canopy of lights was really cool but could not compare to the Winter Cathedral.  Like most of the lights, the colours slowly morphed into other colours but this one had the additional swooshes of light rushing along the canopy that was great fun to watch.
These were some of the last lights we saw before the exit.  I loved the patterns on the trunks, which were different to all those other tree lights we had passed on the walk.
I would recommend going to see Lightscape (and eating at Tazio in Flinders Lane beforehand).  However it was not a cheap night out.  Our dinner and soft drinks cost us $83 and the Lightscape was $40 entry for each of us.   The only concessions available were for children aged 4-12 years old at $32.  No students or senior discounts.  With the cost of living rising as steeply as it is now, these prices make it far less accessible than it should be.  So I feel lucky that I was able to see event that is filled with wonder.
Tazio Birraria Pizzeria & Cucina
91 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Mon-Fri 12pm til late, Sat 5pm til late
Lightscape Melbourne
Melbourne Botanic Gardens
Observatory Gate (Birdwood Avenue) or Bridge Gate (Alexandra Ave and Anderson)

Saturday 15 July 2023

Dumplings and vegie soup

There is nothing as satisfying as making a big pot of vegies with extras to eat over a few nights.  I found a recipe for Vegetable Dumpling Soup on One Hot Stove blog.  It sounded simple but it was also made in her instant pot.  I don't have one but the premise of cooking dumplings in a vegetable soup converted easily to a stockpot.

I added more vegetables than One Hot Stove based on colour (though the purple cabbage faded  in colour a lot once cooked!) and trying to make it appealing to Sylvia.  I would have added onion and carrot if I wasn't aiming to appeal to her.

I spent some time frying up the tofu and vegies in my cast iron frying pan and steaming the dumplings before putting everything together.  It was deliciously substantial.  I had just bought a dried seaweed, shallot and gluten swirl mix for garnishing soups.  This was perfect to use here.

It wasn't a hit with Sylvia.  She just wanted to eat dumplings and tofu.  I was happy there was a meal for her but it was not as expected.  Since then we have mostly eaten our dumplings panfried with various side dishes.  I might return to this soup at some stage but I guess I would probably amend it to what was about.  The below recipe is wide open to changes, depending on preferences and availability.

More Dumplings recipes from Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:

Dumplings and vegie soup

Serves about 4

500g tofu
Neutral oil
1/3 cup chopped dried shitake mushrooms
3 cups boiling water
2 cups cabbage
4-6 medium button mushrooms
1 capsicum
1 small brunch of broccolini
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ginger powder, crushed
1/4 tsp chilli paste
375g frozen vegetable dumplings
1 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp mirin
1 cup hot water
Dried seaweed garnish

  • Press tofu.  (I used a garlic press.)
  • Place dried mushrooms and 3 cup boiling water in a small mixing bowl.  Set aside to soak.
  • Prepare vegetables:
    • finely chop cabbage, 
    • thickly slice and roughly chop mushrooms, 
    • thickly slice capsicum into batons and halve,
    • chop broccolini into 7cm stalks, and slice any really thick ones 
  • Lightly season and then fry tofu in 1-2 tbsp oil until golden brown.  (I used a cast iron frypan.)
  • Heat a drizzle of oil in a heated stockpot and stir in garlic, then add chopped vegetables (except broccolini).  Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until wilted.
  • Pour in soaked mushrooms, soaking liquid and fried tofu into stockpot.  Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
  • Place steaming basket over stockpot.  Place frozen dumplings and then broccolini in the basket and put lid on it.
  • Simmer soup with steaming basket on it for about 10-12 minutes or until dumplings almost cooked.
  • While the soup cooks, gradually mix about half a cup of hot water into the white miso in a small mixing bowl.  Add tamari and mirin.  
  • Tip dumplings, broccolini and miso liquid into the stockpot.  Swish another half cup of hot water in the miso mixing bowl to rinse out any flavours and tip this into the stockpot.
  • Warm the soup and serve in soup bowls
  • Garnish each bowl with sprinkle of dried seaweed.

On the stereo:
"Earthquakin' " by the Porkers

Tuesday 11 July 2023

In my kitchen - July 2023

It's July and that means we are halfway through the year! Already?  June was a crazy month.  I had my first international trip in 7 years: doing some work in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  It was amazing and exhausting!   I have taken it easy after the trip.  Not much socialising.  It is the time of the year bunkering down during the cold winter weather.  And to try and catch up on some life admin: bike service, car service, teeth service (yes I mean dentist).  Sylvia and I have been out for quite a few lunches and seen No Hard Feelings at the cinema.  I was sad to see Zomato has closed in Melbourne.  Though I haven't added  my reviews there for years I still found it useful to check out cafes. 

Above is a packet of Bakpia that I brought home from Yogyakarta.  This was my favourite version - pandan sponge with chocolate filling.  What is not to love about green and chocolate!

These are the packets of crisps I brought back from Indonesia.  The aioli Brets crisps were from France and the favourite.  The grilled seaweed Pota Bee crisps were the ones I ate by mistake and found rather strong tasting.  It made sense when Sylvia saw the fish powder on the ingredients.  Oops!  The Happy Honey Butter Japota potato crisps were odd but ok.  Finally was the KuSako Grilled Cheese cassava chips.  I bought these so Sylvia could taste cassava chips because they were quite popular in Indonesia.  She was not that keen but I quite liked them.

My favourite crisps from Indonesia were far and away these Qtela tempeh crisps.  They were delicious.  I was a little wary at first but once I tasted them they were almost as good as salted pan fried tempeh, but more convenient.  I wish they sold these in Melbourne.  Actually there are a lot of Asian groceries in Melbourne so I will need to keep an eye out.

These are the sweet treats from Indonesia.  As with the crisps it was hard to work out what was Indonesian and what was not.  The Choki Choki chococashew was a lovely tube of chocolate mixed with cashew paste.  Sylvia loves Hello Panda bikkies but we have never had cheese cream flavour.  She was not keen to have it again and I ate most of them.  I quite liked them.  Take-It was a chocolate bar like a kitkat.  The Roi cokelat keju was one of those very soft and sweet Indonesia bread rolls with soft cheese and chocolate sauce in it.  I quite liked it, despite it being very unusual for a Melbournian.  The Extra is actually my chewing gum from the airport.  The only time I have chewing gum is on a planes because it helps with any air sickness on take off and set down.  The round tub was fairy floss but it seemed more like Persian fairy floss.  The herbal peppermint lozenges were because I had a bit of a cough thanks to asthma.  And the Blastoz chocolate bar was something for Sylvia. 

I brought a few little non-edible bits and pieces to bring home from Yogyakarta.  The batik sarongs there are so beautiful.  I decided I would buy more at the airport but it was slim pickings at the Yogyakarta Airport.  I seemed to see more souvenirs from Jakarta and Bali than Yogyakarta.  I did pick up a couple of fridge magnets and also a Sally Rooney novel (Beautiful world, where are you?)  I also loved my Jogja tote bag.
I bought the little paper cactus for Sylvia because it was so cute.  The stupa from the Borobudur was bought just outside the temple.  I love the way that the lid comes off so you can see the Buddah inside.  I also swithered over the wooden bowls with the chopstick holders but their patterns were lovely and the customs officer just waved them through.

After returning from Indonesia, I took a week off work to spend sleeping, tidying and catching up with Sylvia.  On a trip to Barkly Square we had our first visit to the new Asian "Lunar Mart".  I tried to go easy but it was full of temptations.  Above is a miso soup garnish of dried seaweed, shallots and cute little rolls of gluten. 
Sylvia chose the crisps.  She is quite taken by these Lays regular flavour crisps and decided she needed to taste some seaweed crisps after the ones I bought from Indonesia had fish powder.  Both were enjoyed!

Here are some other quirky sweets that we bought: Banana Caramel Kit Kats (very chemical flavour) Hello Panda chocolate and strawberry flavours (very good), 'Smores Pop Tarts (very good), and freeze-dried trolli worms (I could not see the point - even Sylvia not a big fan).

We also have a new Pokero Roll and Bowl in Barkly Square.  Sylvia loves the sushi at Sushi Sushi there but I love to try something new.  This bowl of noodles with tofu, edamame, avocado, corn, carrot and green as well as a nice dipping sauce was a good meal to take home.

Some things never change.  Sylvia still loves a home made tofu nugget.  I made some recently and for some reason it all went well.  I was in the flow.  They were so good I decided I must rewrite the recipe with some of thing things I have learnt.  Another idea to add to my drafts!

Sylvia and I are still heading out for lunch to try some new and old places.  I have taken some of the food home as I love making a meal out of leftovers.  These buffalo cauliflower 'wings' were from Brew Dog at the Pentridge Complex.  I brought some home that I chopped up and added to a vegie pizza.  I also brought home a lot of leftover teriyaki eggplant from Happy Little Dumplings and added it to rice and vegetable dishes and also pasta dinners.  And I came home the remains of a Zambrero lunch at work which was bulked up with a few bits and pieces to make dinner. 

We continue to try different pizzas.  This one is from the PostMistress in Melville Road, Brunswick and called the BW Classic.  It is a white pizza with broccoli base (what does this mean?), fior di latte, smoked scamorz, broccoli florets, liced zucchini, chilli, pecorino.  It was pretty good.

We also had Vegan Smokey Pulled Jackfruit pizza from Crust Pizza in Sydney Road Brunswick.  It had BBQ pulled jackfruit, Spanish onions, roasted capsicum and vegan cheese on a tomato base, with vegan aioli, parsley and chopped chilli.  It is hard to explain how I liked this but also found it hard to eat the jackfruit which had some sweet softness.  I wont get it again but I wish I could like it more.

We have had some cleaning up while I was on leave and took three large bags to the op shop as well as rejected cat beds; our cat prefers cardboard boxes to proper cat beds.  I let go of some of Sylvia's childhood toys including the cash register above.  It has plastic coins which dates it.  Do kids have EFTPOS machines for cards now?  Or is it like phones where analogue is more fun than digital for toys even though it is seen as outdated now?  Kids get all the fun!

We've been eating quite a few dumplings at home lately.  Mostly they are panfried but not always.  These dumplings were served in a soup of vegetables and tempeh.  It was pretty good though there was a bit of preparation.


We have been to the Pentridge complex for a few lunches lately.  The IGA there is always a temptation.  It has different groceries to our regular supermarkets.  I got tempted by the Adobo Ole Spanish Mexican Spice mix.  When I made the tofu nuggets above, I was surprised to see that I had thrown out all the spice mixes that had been in my kitchen.  It felt like time for another one!

It is that time of year when my lemon and lime trees are fruiting.  I am still struggling with citrus leaf miner so there is not much new growth.  So maybe I need to make the most of the current crop!  I wish I could.  A bagful of limes has already been taken into the office already.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event. 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 visit more kitchens and her gorgeous hand drawn header.