Tuesday 28 May 2024

Lucky Little Dumplings at Pentridge, Coburg

Lucky Little Dumplings is a fine Chinese restaurant in the Pentridge Shopping Centre which opened in late 2020.  As it was opened in the midst of covid restrictions, it took a while to go there.  My first experience was through Uber Eats but more recently we have enjoyed it being right next to the cinema.

Over a series of visits to Lucky Little Dumplings Sylvia and I have tried new dishes each time and getting better at knowing works for us.  What started as plates of beige food has become more colourful and interesting.  As well as the wonderful dumplings, I would highly recommend the eggplant dishes.

This was my first Lucky Little Dumplings meal.  It was an Uber Eats order in August 2021 during lockdown.  At the time any meal from a restaurant was exciting.  I was a bit indulgent in this order because I had won a voucher on a work quiz night.  I also had quite a few dishes so that Sylvia had quite  few options as I knew it would not all be to her taste at the time.

A vegan friend had told me about ordering the excellent eggplant terriyaki on a night out with her extended family.  The eggplant is the sort of dish that would feed a small village.  It doesn't look huge in the picture but it goes a long way.  I had plenty for leftovers including some on a pizza.

Other menu items we tried were spring rolls, fried dumplings, fried buns and spring onion pancake.  as you will see they came with a few sauces.  I loved the food but I would have preferred it fresh at a restaurant rather than delivered in plastic tubs.  Since then we have had all these dishes in house except the spring rolls.

It took us a while to visit the Lucky Little Dumplings restaurant at Pentridge.  They were unlucky in opening between the first and second long lockdowns in Melbourne.  Many of us were wary about going out even as the covid restrictions gradually lifted after the end of months of lockdown towards the end of 2021.  In July 2023 we first ate in at the restaurant, which is upstairs at the Pentridge Shopping Centre with doors opening into a space mainly occupied by the Pentridge Palace Cinema.

On this first restaurant visit, I had to have the Crispy Eggplant in Teriyaki Sauce..  It is so so so good with crispy batter and a tasty sauce.  As with the eggplant I had as a takeaway, I had plenty left at the end and was pleased to take home the leftovers.

The Spring Onion Pancake is a favourite with us.  This one is fried to crisp flakes and is delicious.  We have only ever ordered one to share.  It never seems enough but Lucky Little Dumplings is a place to order a few smaller dishes.  We are always satisfied, and occasionally achingly full, at the end.  It necessary to be careful not to over order just because could happily scoff down more of every dish (except the generous serves of crispy eggplant).

For years I only had steamed dumplings and it was a wonder to discover fried vegetarian dumplings.  These Fried Vegetarian Dumplings are delicious with crispy fried bottoms, soft steamed tops and nice vegetable filling.

I also love Pan Fried Vegetarian buns.  This buns again are crispy down low and have wonderful steamed soft thick dough up top.  However they have quite a lot of egg as well as greens.  I don't like egg so I am not so keen on them.

On our second visit in July, we tried more dishes and I had Jasmine tea.  Again we had the spring onion pancakes as well as some bao dumplings and a stir fry.

The Steamed Vegetable and Mushroom Bao Buns are fantastic.  The soft bread-like dumplings are filled with lots of mushrooms and greens.  I much prefer this filling to the egg one above, though I wish I could have these with a crispy fried bottom.

It often seems that Chinese food does not offer much in the way of vegetable dishes compared to the beef, chicken and seafood ones.  On this visit I think I had seen someone with a flat rice noodle dish and wanted some.  I ordered the Stir fried noodles with vegetables and requested flat right noodles.  It was nice with bok choy, broccoli, carrots and I think there was also some cabbage as well.

Our third visit was in March this year.  On this occasion, after our European travels, Sylvia was feeling more adventurous.  We had some of the dumplings we had ordered before and also had edamame, fried rice and more magnificent eggplant.

The seasoned edamame is a fine addition to any meal.  Who doesn't like a dish that is both green vegetables and legume!

When we ordered the Vegetarian Fried Rice we were given the option to have it without egg but Sylvia loves egg so we declined.  My mum used to serve me fried rice with egg so I am used to avoiding the large chunks.  We also ordered another excellent eggplant dish (below) which was so delicious and even better with the fried rice.

I took the below photo of the Crispy Eggplant Bites with Sweet and Sour Chilli Sauce on our fourth and most recent visit about a month ago.  It was so good that we ordered it again after first having it on the previous visit.  Sylvia had decided to try eggplant, which is not normally something she eats.  When we ordered we were told the sauce was made in-house and was quite spicy.  It was such a nice sauce.  Not too spicy.  Not as sweet or sour as the sweet and sour sauces I grew up with.  It was a sticky, sweet, salty spicy delight coating the crispy battered chunks of eggplant that are meltingly soft inside.  We both loved it so much and had lots to eat and still leftovers to take home.  So while it is not a cheap dish at $26.80, it goes a long way and is so amazing that it is worth trying.  No wonder they are listed under Chef's Special on the menu.

As in our previous meal, on that fourth visit we found that the Crispy Eggplant Bites go well with the fried rice.  We also ordered edamame for extra colour and protein, and as a fresh complement to the sticky rich eggplant.  

On this occasion, we didn't have much time before seeing a film at the cinema next to the restaurant so we kept our order simple and quick.  I was surprised that a couple of women near us told us they had been waiting too long and had to leave.  Every time I have been there we have been served in a reasonable time and had good service.  When we have questions or additional items to order, it never takes long to get the attention of the staff.  We have enjoyed all our meals at Lucky Little Dumplings and are looking forward to going there the next time.

Lucky Little Dumplings
T101/1 Champ St, Coburg VIC 3058
Open: 11am - 9pm, 7 days a week

Monday 20 May 2024

Bansho Bistrot, Armadale, Melbourne

It it hard to find an interesting vegetarian or vegan sushi.  After I read a glowing review of Bansho in the The Age, I decided that would be the place for a Mothers Day dinner for Sylvia and me.  It was much more upmarket restaurant than our usual places to eat out and served interesting though pricey food.

Bansho describes itself as "a French & Japanese bistrot nestled at the heart of Armadale".  It had a cool laid-back vibe.  Think the Rat Pack in the 1960s.  The music was Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra easy listening.  The lights were dimmed.  The service was fantastic and friendly.  The colours were black, warm brown and beige, with tiling features.  Towards the front were a couple of booths and a bar.  At the back were seats that looked onto the chefs at work.  I wish we had asked for one of those seats but I enjoyed sitting by the wall with a view of the general activity.  The photo above was when we arrived at 5.30pm just after Bansho opened for the evening.  It got busier as the night progressed.

The menu was divided into Starters, Entrees, Mains, Sides and Desserts, We began with two starters.  The  Edamame: grilled edamame, salt & pepper ($10) was really good.  Sylvia, despite her love of salt, would have liked a big less of those big flakes of salt.  I really liked it.  It is always a pleasure to suck the edamame beans out of the pods and these were warm, really well seasoned and had a little of the charred taste of the grill.  We were drinking sparkling water and went through it fairly quickly with this dish.  Edamame is a favourite of ours but Bansho managed to elevate it to something a little more special than usual. 

The other starter was the Seasonal Mushroom with truffle oil ($12).  These were small but quite intense with the truffle oil and flakes of what I think were dried egg on top (if I understood our waiter properly).  What impressed me most were the crunchy plates of rice on which they were served.  They offered a lovely texture contrast to the soft pile of chopped mushrooms.  I would have preferred the mushrooms warmed but they were nice at room temperature.  We shared this plate of two pieces but could have easily had two each.

I ordered the Plant Based Sushi platter ($35).  This was my treat for Mothers Day.  It wasn't cheap for 6 small mouthfuls but it was innovative, despite a bit of hit and miss. It was served on a rectangular slab of black stone with lots of colour and attention to detail.  Condiments of pickled ginger and wasabi were on the side of the plate as well as garnishes of a carrot curl, a slice of radish and a slice of what might have been cucumber.  It was more of a starter than a platter.  Let me tell you about each sushi piece, starting with my three flavourites.

The Karkalla Gunkan comprised a cluster of beach banana leaves with kombu & tomato jelly.  This was my absolute favourite if a little mysterious.  At the time I could not really taste kombu but looking back I wonder if it was part of the flavour of the tomato jelly.  I've never heard of Beach Banana before.  It is an edible succulent that is native to the coastlines of Australia.  So Sylvia was right when she said it was like eating a succulent.  It is also known as Karkalla or Pigface.  They really missed a chance to have some fun in naming it pigface sushi but I suspect I wouldn't be the only vegetarian or vegan to be freaked out by the name.  It was crunchy and juicy as you expect a succulent would be.  I wish I had had a few of these as I found it hard to get my head around what I was eating and I liked the jelly but needed to taste it again to really get the flavour. 

The Red Capsicum with Japanese mustard was elegantly presented and of all the pieces, looked most like a traditional fish sushi piece.  It was a simple strip of cooked capsicum on rice with a spot of spicy mustard.  I found the mustard a bit spicy for my liking but was nice with the mellow capsicum.

The Lotus Root with nori strip & toasted sesame was also lovely.  It was really beautifully presented.  The lotus root slices with their lace like holes looked so pretty with the sprinkle of golden sesame seeds on the strip of nori that held it all together with the ball of rice. The crunch of the lotus root and the soft rice worked well together with a little addition flavour and texture from the nori and sesame.

The Herb Bouquet: pea shoot, samphire bouquet & finger lime was a generous bundle of greens but difficult to eat as either one mouthful or two.  I was excited at having samphire.  I don't remember eating it previously.  However I found it easier to recognise the pea shoots than to know what samphire tastes like.  I liked the red tart fingerlime pearls but wished to taste it more.  I loved the greens on rice but the samphire and fingerlime were too subtle for me.

The Baby Spinach Gunkan: spinach, enoki & sesame miso was another susihi piece that I liked but found that the generosity of greens overwhelmed more interesting ingredients.  Gunkan, a pocked of sushi rice in a nori pocket, literally means war-boat.  I focused too much on fitting all the spinach into my mouth to really appreciate the enoki and miso.

The Okra with umeboshi & koji was the most challenging of the sushi pieces.  Okra gets a bad rap but I wanted to overcome my suspicions. I think a whole piece of okra, even with it being sliced in an attractive was, just too much for me.  I had to psych myself up before I ate it.  It was lightly cooked and retained a bit of crunch but I still was not so keen.

Sylvia ordered a single piece of Lotus Root sushi ($5) and Tamagoyaki: house-made rolled omelette ($7) as well as a taste of some of my sushi platter.  She loved the lotus root and the cubes of layered omelette. 

We also had a side dish of Crispy Brussels Sprout ($16) to share.  The fried brussels sprouts were wonderful with additional crunch from artichoke chips served on top of a honey soy flavoured creamy sauce.  I wanted more.  In fact, it was so good it did cross my mind that I perhaps I should have just ordered this for my meal.

At the end of our savoury food, I was still hungry.  We had plenty of room for desserts and they looked so interesting that it was hard to resist.  When they came they were so pretty but dainty and small.

Sylvia had the Bansho Pavlova with chantilly cream, rhubarb, yuzu sorbet ($18).  It was a gorgeous little swirl of meringue with the sorbet and cream inside.  The filling was rather soft and flavourful.

I really wanted the profiteroles with chocolate sauce.  But this meal was about trying something different.  So instead I ordered the Bombe Alaska: spiced pineapple rhubarb sorbet, lemon yuzu ($18).  Bombe Alaska has fascinated me since I saw it on the 1960s Batman series as a kid.  According to the web it was Baked Alaska in Batman.  Rather than being baked or torched, Bombe Alaska is made by freezing ice cream covered in a thin meringue mixture and setting fire to it with rum to cook the meringue.  As you can see inside it was a layer of biscuit crumbs, a layer of rhubarb sorbet, a lot of pineapple sorbet and a layer of lemon yuzu.  Unlike Sylvia's pavlova it was frozen to be really firm.  I really liked it though I would have preferred a higher ratio of rhubarb to pineapple.  It was definitely worth being a little adventurous in my dessert choice.

It was difficult to work out how much to order at Bansho's and with hindsight I would order more.  The special was pumpkin gnocchi with truffle oil and gruyere ($24).  I was tempted but I was really there to try something new rather than restaurant standard dishes.  Otherwise there were no vegetarian mains.  The menu is pretty light on for vegetarian meals and even slimmer choices for vegans but I was really glad we went and had such an interesting meal.

Bansho Armadale
Shop 1/ 960 High Street
Armadale, Melbourne Vic 3143
Opening: Tues-Sat: 5:30pm-10:30pm

Thursday 16 May 2024

Rice Bake with Chickpeas, Broccoli and Corn, and changes after Covid restrictions

As the days cool and the nights draw in earlier and earlier, I have found a favourite new casserole.  It is easy and warming and so satisfying with lots of vegies, chickpeas and rice.  It has been different every time I have made it in the last few weeks.  I have loved it every time!

It was so good that after two successful dinners of this Rice bake with Chickpeas, Broccoli and Corn, I made it early just so I could photograph it in daylight.  The nights are drawing in so quickly that I just got a few photos outside before darkness fell.

The photo above is my first go at the casserole.  It was in a baking dish.  I tried to place foil on top as directed but it didn't work well.  I also reduced the nutritional yeast flakes and added some cheese.  The result was great but a bit dry and under-seasoned.  I knew it could be better  So next time I used a casserole dish with a lid so I could cover it with foil and then place the lid on top (see below photo).  I used the full 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast flakes and added spring onions and corn.  It was brilliant but I had still added a handful of grated cheese.  Once I tried it again without cheese it was just right.

I have enjoyed making this casserole on days when Sylvia has been in her room reading and the house is peaceful.  But life is not usually so quiet.  There always seems to be plans, appointments and payments.  I love that this is the sort of dish I could leave baking in the oven while I ran out for an emergency purchase of cat food at five o'clock in the evening.  

I noticed the pet food shop didn't have any of the kitty litter we use and asked why.  I was afraid it could have been cancelled!  When I asked, I was told there was a shortage.  Isn't that a familiar tale these days!  As well as our kitty litter, the supermarket did not have red capsicums last week, olive oil shortages are in the news and Mae is writing about chocolate shortages on her blog.  It got me thinking about how life has changed since the end of Covid restrictions.

I do not claim we are living in a post-Covid world.  Three friends have had Covid recently.  It surprised me as I haven't heard about people I know having Covid for a while. Yet the Covid pandemic has changed our lives so much.  It is no so much the heath impacts that I have been thinking about, though I know they are very real and many.  Rather, the social changes are what are on my mind.

It surprised me to use a casserole dish with a lid rather than a roasting tin or baking tray.  Our eating has changed over the past few years.  Now we eat a lot more pasta - Sylvia loves pasta. It is easier to share it with her now she loves interesting sauces.  And I am obsessed with my cast iron frypan and cook lots on meals in it.  We both do.  There is a lot less baking and roasting.  

This casserole made me realise how long it has been since I cooked a meal in a casserole dish.  I used one at the front of the cupboard because it is my bread baking dish.  Sylvia used to hate casseroles but she is coming around to trying some.  Not only have I rarely baked casseroles lately, but I also rarely cook to entertain others in my home.  I miss it.  I was already doing less before Covid but the restrictions really got me out of any entertaining habits I had.  Now it is not so easy for a variety of reasons.

Another example of changes is the Pro-Palestine protest movement at universities.  University protests are not unusual.  But it is some time since they have been as prominent in the news as these.  It is also not so unusual to have people complaining about protesters because they are disruptive or aggressive.  What is unusual is to hear people welcoming how protests are bringing life back to university campuses in Melbourne.  

Since the Covid restrictions closed our campuses for months on end, students have been noticeably disengaged and campuses has been a lot quieter. It is such a change to see students in so many campuses being visible and vocal in their passion for social justice.  As my mum said to me when I first went to university, student life is about a lot more than just attending classes!  I just hope it does not end as badly here as some of the protests have in the USA.

And the digital world continues to change.  I applied for some volunteer work and could not find my Working with Children Check.  I was able to download it onto the governments Services Victoria app. I had not used the app for so long I had to log in again, or maybe I never did sign up to it.  I know I used it a lot right after the covid lockdowns.  I just could not remember why it had been such a big part of our life then.  Change keeps coming at us like the waves on a surf beach.  You just have to hope they are playful waves and not a riptide that could drag you under or leave you out at sea.  

The recipe that I altered to make the Rice Bake with Chickpeas, Broccoli and Corn was found by Sylvia on social media.  I have linked to the From My Bowl blog but many will see that recipe on video.  As I note all too regularly, blogging has changed so much since I started 17 years ago.  It has been interesting to have Sylvia finding a lot of recipes we make and how different they often are from the recipes I had been finding.  There are different trends with blog recipes now: prettier and a lot more recipe information than the less stories about the journeys by which a recipes was reached.  However I love so many of the recipes that Sylvia brings, including this one, that I can embrace this change!

This recipe is just great.  It actually reminds me of a lot of old school vegetarian recipes except it is called a "dump and bake" by Caitlin in From My Bowl.  Old school vegetarian recipes never seem to worry about how long things take.  They would probably just add extra time for soaking and cooking chickpeas!  I like the ease of leaving it to cook after the ingredients are in the casserole dish.  Actually I even bypassed Caitlin's directions to dry fry the nutritional yeast flakes first because it seemed too much work.  I really liked the spice mixture but had to add some lemon juice (nooch needs acid) and adjust the seasoning.  It is not cheesy but it is delicious. 

This recipe is wonderful just by itself but with simple sides such as salad and garlic bread, you would have an impressive meal for guests.  It is so adaptable that many variations are possible.  You can make it ahead, make it cheesy and indulgent or fill it with lots of vegetables.  Just look at the suggestions at the end of the recipe.  In these days of climate change and rising prices, we need to be able to adapt dinner to any change life throws us.

More rice bakes on Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:
The enchanted broccoli forest (gf)
Mediterranean rice slice (gf, v)
Rice and vegie bake
(gf, v)
Russian style rice casserole (gf)
Spinach rice gratin (gf)
Stuffed peppers with brown rice, nut roast and fennel
Vegetable nut crumble with rice

Rice bake with Chickpea, Broccoli and Corn

Adapted from From My Bowl
Serves 4

2 x 400g tins (or 3 cups) of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large head of broccoli, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 spring onion, chopped
1 cob of corn kernels
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp stock powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp paprika
2 and 1/2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 220 C and boil the water.  Mix all ingredients in a casserole dish, preferably with a lid.  Add the boiling water last for the maximum benefit of the heat.  Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir and cover tightly with aluminum foil and a lid if you have one.  Bake for 60 minutes.  The rice should be cooked through and most of the water absorbed when it is ready. 

Notes and variations:

  • Any tinned pulses can be used instead of chickpeas.  You could also use home cooked chickpeas or beans.
  • I usually microwave a cob of corn in its husk for 3.5 minutes but for this bake I microwaved it for 2.5 minutes.  I probably don't need to cook the corn first and will try that next time.
  • Other vegetables can be substituted of broccoli and corn.  I think capsicum, green peas, kale, pumpkin or silverbeet would work.  Or you could just use one vegetable such as broccoli.
  • Other grains such as quinoa or wild rice could be substituted for some of the rice.
  • If you don't have nutritional yeast flakes, you can substitute grated cheese.
  • Vinegar - such as apple cider vinegar - can be used instead of lemon juice.
  • Feel free to use other seasonings or less salt, as suits your taste. 
  • I have been stirring it halfway through but I don't think that is necessary.
  • Get creative with different themes.  For example, you could make it a tex mex bake, substitute black beans for chickpeas, cumin for turmeric, 1 cup salsa for 1 cup water. 

On the stereo:
Swamp Ophelia: Indigo Girls

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Street Art in Melbourne: Brunswick 2024

Brunswick has so much interesting street art.  This collection of photos is taken over a year or so.  Most of it is still there including the Jill Meagher memorial on Hope Street and the Bluey art on a Tinning Street park.  And the "Respect my existence" photo was taken prior to the start of the Gaza war on October 7 2023.

More Brunswick Street Art posts on Green Gourmet Giraffe: