Monday, 28 September 2009

National Vegetarian Week

Is your diary looking a bit on the empty side this week? Well then its time to pencil in some more veges! This week is National Vegetarian Week, and the aim is to encourage Australians to lower their meat intake by making a "Pledge to Try Veg".

No need to convince me on that front - my wife is a vegetarian, so I eat 4 to 5 vegetarian meals a week. If you're interested in finding out about eating more vegetables, then have a look at the Vegetarian Week website. There's plenty of information on the website, including the benefits of a vegetarian diet, recipes and details of cooking demonstrations during the week.

When it comes to vegetarian food in Brisbane, I hate to say it, but I think we lag a bit behind the rest of the World - good vegetarian restaurants don't really seem to have caught on here. The best vegetarian restaurant I've been to is The Gate in London, which serves excellent food. We used to live just down the road in Hammersmith, so we were very lucky to be able to wander down there for dinner.

If you're looking for good places to eat vegetarian food in Brisbane, then your local Indian or Asian restaurant is usually a good start. Otherwise, these are my wife's favourite places to eat vegetarian food - restaurants that actually make an effort to plate up something a bit more exciting than "risotto of the day":

Era Bistro - South Brisbane
Songbirds - Mount Tamborine
Azafran - Annerley
Berado's - Noosa
Absynthe - Gold Coast (will prepare a vegetarian degustation with advance notice)
Tandoori King - New Farm
Urbane - City (currently closed)

National Vegetarian Week
28 September to 4 October 2009
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Celebrity MasterChef

In case you haven't seen the ads on Ten, Celebrity MasterChef kicks off this Wednesday night, 30 September 2009 at 7.30pm.

18 people have signed up for this series, including our Premier Anna Bligh, Alex Lloyd, George Negus, Peter Rowsthorn and Fuzzy Agolley from Video Hits. I expect it will be a bit less serious than the 'real' MasterChef, and hopefully there's a good enough mix of contestants to keep us all interested.

Celebrity MasterChef
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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Lefkas Taverna

Every time I go to a Greek restaurant it brings back memories of the amazing food we ate in Greece. Our most memorable meals took place during our stay on the island of Paros (see the picture below) - beautiful salads with fresh feta, cucumber & olives, and a great selection of simply cooked fresh seafood. I got particularly hooked on the delicious grilled cuttlefish. When you've got great, fresh produce, why mess with it?

Which leads me to Lefkas Taverna at West End. Lefkas is a place that I had wanted to visit for years. We went there on a Friday night and the place was pretty much full. There were tables outside on the footpath, tables inside and a private room enjoyed by a big group having a fun night.

Our table was just inside the door. The room wasn't air conditioned, so it was a bit warm, but ok. Menus were brought out pretty quickly by a friendly waitress. The menu runs the gamut of traditional Greek food - mezes, seafood, grills and a good vegetarian section.

For starters we ordered some dolmathes ($5.90), eggplant dip ($7.90), homous ($7.90) and grilled haloumi cheese ($6.90). This selection turned out to be a great way to start the night. The two dips were served with a good amount of pita bread, which had been cut into manageable pieces. Out of the two dips, I thought the eggplant was better, but only by a nose. The homous had plenty of garlic in it, and was obviously fresh.

The dolmathes (vine leaves stuffed with rice) had been covered with a generous drizzle of tzatziki (cucumber & yoghurt dip), and the combination was terrific. There was so much tatziki that it basically became a third dip for the table. As far as I'm concerned, you can never have too many Greek dips on the table. I enjoyed the dolmathes, without finding them outstanding.

The final entree was the haloumi. There were good thick slices of haloumi, served with some lettuce and lemon. The haloumi was excellent, and had been perfectly cooked without drying out the cheese. The squeaky sound of haloumi against my teeth just has to be one of the best food experiences anywhere in the world.

We didn't manage to finish all the dips, but we got close. In the gap between entrees and our mains we couldn't help to be amazed by the amount of takeaways flying out the door. Not only the volume, but the enormous servings as well. If you live near West End, next time you can't be bothered cooking, head along to Lefkas and try out their great range of yiros and souvlakis.

After a comfortable break, our mains arrived. Again we had a good selection from the pretty large menu. I ordered a plate of pork yiros ($17.90). This turned out to be a plate which on one side was a huge pile of shaved pork pieces, and the other side was a green salad. The pork also came with a good serving of tzatziki. Although it really was a mammoth pile of meat, it was so delicious that I just couldn't stop eating. I especially enjoyed the crunchier bits of pork, that had seen more of the grill.

Other meals on the table were lamb souvlaki (skewered lamb with rice or Greek salad - $17.90), spanakopita (spinach & feta pastry with salad - $16.90) and stuffed capsicum ($13.90). Again, each of the meals were very generous portions. I didn't try any, but the spanakopita looked delicious. So did the stuffed capsicum (we'd ordered the vegetarian version). It was presented as a whole red capsicum, with a little lid cut in the top of it. The capsicum was stuffed with rice, dill, garlic, onions and shallots. The rice had been cooked beautifully, and made for a lovely, aromatic stuffing for the bright red capsicum.

As all the meals were pretty reasonably priced, we also ordered a small Greek salad for the table ($9.90). That turned out to be completely unnecessary, given the amount of food that came out. As unnecessary as it was, it was a winner. Tangy olives, crunchy cucumber and tart, crumbly feta is exactly what I want to be eating in a salad on a warm Brisbane night.

Given the big servings, none of us even contemplated dessert, as good as they sounded.

I'd have to say that the food at Lefkas Taverna is the best Greek food I've eaten in Brisbane. It was all fresh & tasty and came out in huge portions. Not only was the food good, but prices are extremely reasonable.

Service during the night was very friendly. Actually, I hardly noticed the service at all, which is always a good sign of a restaurant which is smoothly run.

As I mentioned earlier, there are loads of take away options as well. The prices on the take aways are ridiculously cheap. There are also pre-made dips and desserts in the fridge in the main room in case you want to take any of this lovely food home with you.

Finally, Lefkas is byo. There's a bottle shop next door, so you'll have no excuse to go thirsty as you munch on a selection of your Greek favourites.

What does all this mean? Excellent, tasty, fresh Greek food at low prices. If only there were more restaurants like this in Brisbane.

food bling ratings
Food - Great
Service - Great
Ambience - Casual, fairly basic suburban restaurant interior
Vegetarian - Great
Wine - BYO
Value for Money - Top Shelf

Lefkas Taverna
170 Hardgrave Road
West End 4101
P - 07 3844 1163

Lefkas Taverna on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Racecourse Road Street Party

Another great event that's part of the Brisbane Festival is the Racecourse Road Street Party, taking place this Sunday 20 September 2009.

A section of Racecourse Road will close for the day, to allow us all to wander round and enjoy food from the cafes and restaurants on the street, craft & art stalls, dance workshops and plenty of music. This year there will be four stages of live music, featuring The Gin Club, Resin Dogs, Hungry Kids of Hungary and Jumbledat.

Best of all its free, so pop along if you find yourself at a loose end on Sunday.

Racecourse Road Street Party
Sunday 20 September 2009, 10am to 5pm
Racecourse Road
Ascot 4007
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Monday, 14 September 2009

Gluten Free Expo

The Coeliac Society is holding a Gluten Free Expo this weekend at the RNA Showgrounds. The expo will feature over 35 gluten free food exhibitors, including Brewer's Choice, Bonjour Patisserie, Lick Ice Cream, Melinda's Gluten Free Goodies, Sol Breads and Monster Muesli.

Coles are the major sponsor of the event, so there will be 20 $100 Coles vouchers given away as lucky door prizes. Entry is $5 if you're a member of the Coeliac Society or $8 for non-members. Children under 16 are free.

I'm planning on going along, as it's a great way to keep up with all the new gluten free products coming onto the market. Also it's pretty much the only place coeliacs like me can wander around and eat absolutely everything, which doesn't happen very often!

Gluten Free Expo
Sunday 20 September 2009, 9.30am to 4pm
Coffee Club Auditorium
RNA Showgrounds
Costin Street
Bowen Hills 4006
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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Spanish Armada Wine Dinner

The next food & wine event taking place at Wineaway is the Spanish Armada Wine Dinner on Tuesday, 22 September 2009.

As you might have guessed from the name of the event, Spanish wines will be the centre of attention, matched with tapas prepared by Brent Farrell. The wines that you'll get to sniff and slurp during the night will be:

2006 Agusti Torello Mata Reserva Brut
2007 Castro Martin Albarino
2008 Orden Tercera Verdejo
2007 Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil Mencia
2008 Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago Tempranillo
2005 Roda Tempranillo Garnacha
2005 Roda 1 Tempranillo Reserva
2006 Capcanes Lasendal Garnacha Blend
2006 Palacios Remondo La Montesa Tempranillo Garnacha
2007 Telmo Rodriguez Mr Moscatel

If you haven't been lucky enough to try many Spanish wines, here's the perfect opportunity. Tickets are $95 - contact Jody at Wineaway for bookings.

Spanish Armada Wine Dinner
Tuesday 22 September 2009, 6.30pm
Unit 3, 276 Abbotsford Road
Bowen Hills 4006
P - 07 0852 1891
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Saturday, 12 September 2009

Albert Street Dinner

The Albert Street Dinner takes place tomorrow night as part of the Brisbane Festival. A section of Albert Street will close down for tables to be rolled out, allowing diners to enjoy their dinner in the open air.

Stefano Manfredi is the director of food for the night, which will feature meals from Little Singapore, Cafe Mondial, Gilhooley's, Jeremy's and Pane e Vino.

Tickets are $128 per person, which covers a five course meal and matching Stoneleigh wines. To complete the night, there will be live jazz, and entertainment from street artists Cocoloco. Let's hope the weather behaves, as we don't often get the chance to eat dinner in the middle of a City street.

Albert Street Dinner
Sunday 13 September 2009, 5pm to 9pm
W -,92,4646,09200906.aspx

Indonesian Festival 09 Pesta Rakyat

It's the perfect time of the year for outdoor festivals and the next one coming up is the Indonesia Festival 09 - Pesta Rakyat, which is being held at Southbank on 26 September 2009.

Pesta Rakyat features Indonesian music, dance, fashion, games, food and crafts. The day part of the festival is free, but night-time tickets are $45, or $35 if you pre-buy them. I plan on wandering in during the day to try and find some delicious Indonesian food. You'll find more information on the festival website.

Indonesian Festival 09 - Pesta Rakyat
Saturday 26 September 2009, 10am to 10pm
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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Desi Dragon

After reading a couple of reviews for Desi Dragon, I was keen to give it a try. Desi Chinese is a term given to Chinese food cooked in India, adapted to Indian tastes. It's thought to have first originated from the large Chinese population in Kolkata. Desi Chinese uses spices such as cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric, together with ginger, chilli, garlic and yoghurt, to give the food a whole new range of flavours.

Anyway it all sounded very interesting to me, so we headed off to Bardon. Desi Dragon occupies a great location on MacGregor Terrace, which has fantastic views out over the suburbs. This spot has been the home of numerous restaurants over the years, but hopefully Desi Dragon will stick around.

The room itself looks great. There are a few decorations around the walls and a couple of cool light fittings, but the most impressive things were the quality tables and chairs. No cheap, crappy tables here - lovely, extremely comfortable high-backed leather chairs and solid tables means the interior of Desi Dragon is streets ahead of most suburban restaurants.

We wandered in with our 6 week old daughter in her little baby capsule. The waiter was about to take us to a table in the main part of the restaurant when the manager spotted our little bub and ushered us over to a quieter, more secluded part of the restaurant - great start to the night.

Anyway, on to the food. Entrees include paneer & pea wontons (crispy wontons filled with cottage cheese, crushed peas, ginger & coriander - $7), salt & pepper prawns (fried prawns dusted with Szechuan pepper & salt) and the creatively named lamboo tikki (lamb & bamboo rissole with secret aromatics - $10).

There were only two gluten free options in the entrees, neither of which really took my fancy (one was Szechuan potato fries - not particularly Chinese or Indian sounding) so I opted for a soup instead. The soups on the menu are sweet corn, hot & sour or Manchow (light soya soup with diced vegetables & egg). Each of the soups can be prepared with vegetables ($8) or chicken ($9).

I took a stab and ordered the hot & sour soup with chicken. I found the first few mouthfuls a bit heavy going, because it was made in a much richer style than one usually finds in a Chinese or Asian restaurant. Anyway, my tastebuds adjusted, and I really enjoyed it. It was a powerful, rich soup, with plenty of chicken, egg, mushroom & tofu. I'd ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc and it turned out to be a really good match - the acidity and zing of the young sauvignon blanc really cut through the big, heavy flavours of the soup.

My wife ordered the mixed vegetable spring rolls ($7). These were two enormous rolls, reminiscent of a couple of very serious Cuban cigars. They had been sliced in half on the diagonal, which made for good presentation. The julienned vegetable filling had obviously been freshly prepared, and wasn't overpowered by the delicate Indian spicing. The pastry was crispy, which meant overall these were excellent spring rolls. Good value too, given their size.

The menu is split into three when it comes to main courses. There are four "Desi Dragon Exclusives", which are chilli chicken ($25), goat shank Szechuan style ($25), chicken Manchurian (chicken dumplings tossed in soya garlic shallot sauce - $25) and vegetable Manchuran (vegetable croquettes tossed in soya garlic shallot sauce - $21).

The second part of the main course selections is a make your own affair. First you pick between chicken, beef, lamb, barramundi, king prawns, vegetables, paneer or tofu and then select one of the sauces. The sauces on offer are Szechuan, satay, chilli garlic, sweet & sour, Hunan black bean and ginger & lemongrass. These range between $18 and $23, depending on your choice of ingredients.

Finally, there are a few rice and noodle dishes, which didn't really appeal to me, given how interesting the rest of the menu was. After all I was here to try something new. The rice & noodle dishes are $11-$13, or extra if you add chicken, prawns or beef to them. It's worth noting that all of the main courses (other than the noodles) are gluten free, which was great for me.

As much as I liked the sound of barramundi with ginger & lemongrass, I thought that ordering one of the specialties would be the best way to get a handle on desi Chinese flavours. So it was the Szechuan goat shanks for me. This came out as a huge bowl, with two pretty large shanks, vegetables and plenty of thick sauce - it looked excellent. There were slices of fresh chilli and fresh coriander mixed through the dish. The goat shanks were extremely tender, and easily broke off the bone. The sauce again had a fairly rich flavour, although the fresh chilli and coriander helped add a good, lighter contrast. The goat didn't have the strong flavour which I was expecting (and really like) - which I assume was the result of slow cooking. I really enjoyed this dish, but be warned it's a very generous serving. Although I ate all the goat, I didn't manage to clean up the sauce and vegetables.

We also ordered the vegetarian Manchurian. Although I didn't try the croquettes, I did get a taste of the sauce, which was a lighter, more fragrant sauce than accompanied the goat. I'm told that the croquettes were very tasty, full of vegetables and had the lightness of a fritter - they weren't heavy or doughy.

There's a small wine list, which doesn't have a lot of options by the glass. I had a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc, which were very reasonably priced at $5.50 a glass. The first pour was a bit stingy, but the second one was fine. Unless you're only going to have a glass, it's probably a good idea to bring your own wine ($2 per person for corkage). There is a bottle shop in the same complex as Desi Dragon, which is very handy.

Service was very friendly throughout the meal. The restaurant wasn't particularly busy, but there were no long waits between courses. After our entree, a waitress came and asked when we would like the main course, which I always appreciate. Our drinks came out snappily, and all of the staff were very welcoming.

As far as I'm concerned, Desi Dragon is a welcome newcomer to the Brisbane restaurant scene. I think it's terrific to see new restaurants opening based on a specific cuisine. Sure, I haven't been to a real Chinese restaurant in India, so I can't say how authentic the food is, but I've certainly not had anything like this before. Desi Dragon is a bit pricier than your average suburban Chinese or Indian restaurant, but the surroundings are of a high quality, and servings are very generous - so the slightly higher prices are more than justified.

Desi Dragon has a few good deals on at the moment. On Tuesday nights if you buy one main meal, you get one free. And there's also a two course lunch offer with a glass of house wine or light beer for $12.50, which sounds like great value to me.

What does all this mean? Tasty Chinese food with subtle Indian spices and flavourings, big serves and lovely surroundings.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Great
Ambience - High backed leather chairs and a lovely view over Bardon
Value for Money - Good
Wine - Tiny list or BYO
Vegetarian - Good
Gluten Free - Great

Desi Dragon
1/60 MacGregor Terrace
Bardon 4065
P - 07 3369 9558
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Desi Dragon on Urbanspoon