Continue reading »
After arriving home from Europe, I caught up for brunch at the Glass Den with my friend who had been housesitting while I was away.
I chose the Glass Den because I love it and it caters to both vegans and non-vegans alike.
The food is modern, delicious, beautiful to look at and a cut way above your average cafe.
I chose a vegan “chicken” burger and my friend had the porridge. Both were great. The porridge was so beautifully decorated with fruits and flowers. The burger was enormous and I foolishly fell for the “Would you like fries with that?” up sell and ordered the sweet potato fries which were excellent. The tomato relish on the burger was swoon worthy.
I’ve also included a photo of a breakfast udon noodle dish that I ate on another visit that I didn’t blog about. It gives you an idea of the range of creative food that they do. Udon noodles with kale and crumbed mushrooms. For breakfast. Delicious.
The coffee is great too.
I really cannot fault the Glass Den, it remains high on my list of favourite places. I have never had a disappointing meal.
15 Urquart St,
(03) 9354 5032
I’m now running behind terribly on the blogging of my trip. I’ve been back for two weeks, but in that time I headed to down to Hobart for 5 days for a series of workshops to sing the Bach St Matthew Passion with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Chorus as part of the Festival of Voices.
So I’m now heading back to Berlin (virtually) to review the last of my food highlights there. Having sampled and LOVED brunch at Kopps I was keen to go back there for dinner. I was also keen to compare it to my other fine dining experience at the Lucky Leek.
Kopps do a 3, 4 or 5 course menu with or without matched wines. I was on my second last night in Berlin before heading back home so I decided to splurge on the 5 courses with matched wines. It saves agonising over what courses to choose.
Here’s what I ate:
This was a lovely amuse bouche of a tiny raviolo with a leek cream.
Next up was a dish that sounded more promising in theory than it turned out in practice, coconut polenta balls with avocado and sesame crisps.
It was very pretty and pleasant enough, but lacking in real flavour. The sesame crisps were great though. Accompanied by a lovely late picked riesling from the Rhine.
The soup that followed was delicious, which is not something I’d often say about zucchini soup but they had the seasoning in this one just done perfectly. The soup was in fact zucchini and okra with tomato jam and the contrasting crunch of some raw kohlrabi spirals. The wine with this was a German white burgundy.
Next up was a pea ravioli dish with pea puree and a mint and coriander foam. Nice enough but not earth shattering and the pasta could have been more delicate. And so far there had been foam on three out of four dishes! This was accompanied by a lovely buttery French chardonnay.
Next up my definite favourite of the night. Asparagus season was in full swing in Germany while I was there and they favour big fat white asparagus. It was on the menu everywhere, including here. This dish was just perfect. Grilled asparagus, potato and wild leek cakes with broad beans and another foam. This time I could forgive it because it was black truffle foam. This came with a beautiful crisp white from Austria.
And then on to dessert. This dessert could have been great, if only the chocolate elements had been dark. I’m being picky, it was faultless in most respects, but it just needed that great bitterness that dark chocolate gives. It was accompanied by a lovely Austrian dessert muscat, not sticky like a lot of Australian dessert wines but light and floral.
And finally a post meal amuse bouche of a small bite of apple strudel. Delicious.
It was good, with a couple of slightly disappointing dishes, but I’m glad I did it. Kopps is still the hands down winner in the perfect brunch category though.
For fine dining I enjoyed my meal at the Lucky Leek more, mostly because it was more varied and just a bit more refined.
I waddled home to my hotel glad that the tram took me right to the door…
My holiday posts are a bit out of order, so here I am back in Berlin, at least on the blog page. In fact, I am at home, writing up my blog posts that were plagued by some terrible wifi and difficulty uploading photos while overseas. I was also busy doing things rather than writing blog posts about them.
While I was in Berlin for a week, I ate both junk food and did some fine dining. There are great examples of both. The fine dining meals deserve posts of their own, I’ve already reviewed the Lucky Leek and there is another post coming up about dinner at Kopps.
On the junk food front, one of the yummiest things I had was a double cheese meatball sandwich with a beer at an all vegan bar called Chaostheorie, a five minute walk from where I was staying in Prenzlauerberg. It was really tasty even though it was inexplicably served on dreadful square white sliced bread. Germany has such great bread, so it is really hard to know why. It would have been really spectacular on a crispy roll. The bar staff were friendly and there was a bonus of a dog sleeping next to my table, though she was more interested in tidbits than smooching. They have limited food and most of it isn’t going to win any awards but the sandwich I had was perfect with a beer.
Now, speaking of junk food, we need to talk about currywurst. It is an obsession in Germany, Berlin in particular, and it is really hard to know why. There are stands and shops selling them everywhere. So against my better judgement I tried a vegan one.
A currywurst, for the uninitiated, is a sausage cut into sections, sprinkled with curry powder and drowned in ketchup. If you say you like it spicy they’ll throw on some chilli flakes. It is hard to know what kind of mind dreamed it up. I can only assume it started life as a late night food for drunks.
For the record it was bad. Worse than bad. Just inexplicable. Once I’d sampled a couple of bites, for science only, I threw the rest in the bin.
I had booked in for a Turkish bath at a hammam for women that is situated in an old chocolate factory in Kreuzberg that is now a women’s centre. I’ve only had one other Turkish bath in my life and that was in Turkey. They are a wonderful experience and so I was delighted to find one in Berlin and booked immediately. I spent a few hours steaming and pouring warm and cold water, getting scrubbed and soaped and doused and emerged relaxed and sparking clean and soft. if you ever get the chance, I can highly recommend it.
Later that night I grabbed a quick dinner at Momos (not junk food at all) where they make 6 kinds of vegetarian dumplings, 4 of which are vegan. I ate 3 kinds: pumpkin and chickpea, potato and mushroom, and tofu, broccoli and shiitake with a couple of dipping sauces. I demolished 18 of them (pictured above), half steamed and half fried at the tiny shop.
Delicious. They were so good that I went back a second time later in the week.
Schliemannstraße 15, 10437 Berlin, Germany
Fehrbelliner Strasse 5, 10119, Berlin
I spent 5 days in Leipzig for the Bach festival, an annual event dedicated to the music of Bach. In that time I attended 5 major concerts, 3 church services, and 6 smaller concerts. Leipzig is a smallish, manageable town with a pretty historical centre and I walked everywhere between my lovely apartment and 4 different venues.
The only thing I did while in Leipzig, other than music, was visit the old Stasi headquarters which is now a museum run by volunteers. It absolutely demonstrates the banality of evil, some of the spying techniques would be ridiculously comical, if only they hadn’t had such a brutal impact on people’s lives. The people of Leipzig are justifiably proud that the uprising against the authoritarian East German regime started here.
I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to food, but Leipzig apparently is one of Germany’s most vegan friendly cities. They do have a Veganz supermarket with a Goodies Cafe inside, but the other handful of vegan restaurants I found are several kilometers outside the city ring. I didn’t get to them as I was too busy racing from one concert to the next.
Eventually, I worked out what they meant by vegan friendly. I’m a compulsive menu reader and almost every mainstream restaurant has a couple of vegan dishes on the menu that are clearly marked.
I had a small kitchen in my apartment so I stocked up on both breakfast and sandwich making ingredients at Veganz. Breakfast has been lots of strawberries which are in season right now. They are not like the varieties we get at home. They are quite fragile, very sweet and aromatic. I made my lunch most days.
One of my favourite spots to eat has been a salad and curry place called Dean and David just a couple of minutes walk from my apartment. They are part of a chain that is all over Germany. They have vegan curry and soup on their menu every day as well as build your own salads. My favourite was the Thai yellow curry pictured above.
dean & david
Höfe am Brühl
On the second night I was in Berlin I dined at the Lucky Leek. I had booked before I left home to make sure I could go. I had high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. The service is friendly and relaxed, I was treated well as a solo diner and given a nice table in the window. The food is refined without being so posh and minuscule that you end up hungry.
I had a choice of a 3 or 5 course chef’s menu. I chose the 5 courses. It cost 55 euros.
Here is what I ate.
Amuse Bouche of smoked tofu on a red pepper and lentil pilaf. This was accompanied by a sushi roll that had been fried in tempura batter and topped with something delicious that I couldn’t identify. Both were delicious.
The first real course was a very pretty salad with a gratin of vegan feta on pumpernickel. It came with strawberries, pickled turnip and delicious apple purée and dried apple. Really good.
It is full on asparagus season in Europe at the moment and restaurants everywhere are featuring it on their menus. Here was no exception, where it came as a creamy asparagus soup with a wonton filled with potato and garnished with parsley oil. Simple and good with the crunch of the wonton perfect with the velvety soup.
This course was probably my favourite. Ginger cooked carrot with pistachio, asparagus purée, sautéed bok choy, white asparagus, tempura green asparagus and a pea and mint dumpling. Plate licking worthy food.
This course was mixed for me. Tempeh, gratinated eggplant, sweet potato and cheese croquette and cabbage with pepper and beetroot sauces. The tempeh was a dead loss for me as I can’t bear it unless it is thin and crispy. But the eggplant and the croquette were wonderful and the cabbage delicious. The sauces were not that thrilling. But I’d have eaten this dish for that croquette alone.
Dessert was a fruit tart, with an apricot curry mousse and a lemon cheesecake icecream. All good and surprising the mousse with curry worked!
I’d go back to the Lucky Leek anytime. It is high end, delicious vegan food without being stuffy and it is good value for the quality.
I ate brunch at Kopps on Saturday and Viasko on the Sunday while I was in Berlin for a week. Many people have sung the praises of both. I had to try them. Both are good.
The range is possibly slightly less at Kopps, but who is complaining when we are talking more than 30 dishes? There’s no way you could eat them all anyway.
The ambiance of the two places is very different. Kopps is light and spacious with a modern feel, while Viasko is gritty, grungy and dark. The crowds are very different too, I don’t think I saw a single tattoo at Kopps.
I sat outside in a pleasant sunken courtyard with greenery all round at Viasko, I don’t think I’d have stayed as long as I did if I’d been indoors. It was pretty dark. Perhaps I’m just getting a bit too old for the grunge vibe.
The food was good at both places but I have to give the win to Kopps for their more refined food and atmosphere and in particular the magnificent baked layered potato and sweet potato dish. I had two serves. Pancakes were excellent at Kopps too. But Viasko had a fabulous chocolate mousse and excellent spring rolls. The bread was better at Kopps too. Neither of them do decent coffee, but nobody does in Germany, apart from a couple of specialists.
Sadly, I was so excited by the food at Kopps that I completely forgot to photograph it and took a couple of hasty snaps of my half eaten dessert plate and some of the buffet on the way out. I’ve shamelessly taken a photo of the buffet from their Facebook page to show what it looks like as my photos don’t do it justice at all.
It was too dark to photograph the buffet at Viasko, so I just snapped a couple of my plates.
I’m declaring Kopps the winner by a fair margin, both for refinement in food and the atmosphere. I’m back there for dinner soon too.
Viasko – Bar & Restaurant
I made a short stopover in Dresden on my way from Brussels to Berlin. Really, Dresden contains my two most hated styles of architecture: hideous East German Workers Paradise grimness and the vastly different but also hideous overblown Baroque. So, on paper, I shouldn’t really have gone, but my sister encouraged me. I’m glad I did.
Reminders of the two World Wars are ever present in Europe, from fields of poppies and vast war cemeteries in Belgium to bombed and bullet scarred buildings that remain today, with commemorative plaques recognising events and injustices everywhere.
For me Dresden is a triumph. The city suffered appallingly with six days of firebombing at the hands of the Allies near the end of the war for no good reason other than terror. The historical centre was reduced to rubble. At least 25,000 people died in the inferno and those that survived lived under the gaze of one of the most efficient and brutal authoritarian secret police that ever lived, the East German Stasi.
Dresden has been rebuilt and many of the original historic buildings restored. The Frauenkirche, a magnificent piece of baroque engineering was rebuilt stone by stone after the reunification of Germany. It is just astonishing that it was done.
The city is set on the banks of the Elbe and is stunning viewed from the opposite bank in a scene pained by Canaletto.
On the way to Dresden I had a long wait for a sleeper train connection in Cologne, so I grabbed dinner at the Past and Future vegan restaurant, an unassuming home style place ten minutes walk from the centre of town. For around 11 euro I had a plate full of food from a buffet which was a strange cross cultural mix of salads, sushi, lasagna, German food and Thai. Hearty home cooking and tasty, but not stellar. I went for some salads, lasagna and a German bread dumpling with a creamy mushroom sauce, all pictured at the top of the post.
There was also a vegan restaurant in Dresden (The False Hare) which I had intended to try, but I never made it. Instead, I ate some tapas outdoors, with a beer on a lovely warm night in the fading light at 10pm. Summer days are so long here! Dresden was also my first sighting of the charming East German traffic signals. After reunification East Germans were fond of very little of the old, but apparently they fought a battle to keep their traffic signals. There are now shops selling all kinds of paraphernalia depicting ‘Ampelman’.
After a day and a half in Dresden I set out for Berlin. I am wildly impressed with the public transport and the food so far.
My first day I had to do some long overdue laundry so my food choice for dinner was based on its proximity to the laundromat! Huong Sen is a vegan Vietnamese restaurant, which to be honest I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by as we have a large Vietnamese community at home and I’ve eaten some great Vietnamese food there. I was wrong. I was wowed. I had the most delicious spicy coconut curry soup with noodles, soft and crispy tofu and vegetables, washed down with a wheat beer while my clothes washed a five minute walk away.
After the war Germany needed guest workers to help rebuild so Turkish people arrived in West Germany and Vietnamese people in the East to work. So there are quite significant populations of both in Berlin. There are vegan versions of both cuisines to be found. I’m hunting down a vegan doner kebab…stay tuned.
Danziger Strasse 42
Past and Future Vegan Restaurant
Hamburger Strasse 2A
One of the many highlights of this trip was an organised bike trip, riding from Amsterdam to Bruges with a small canal barge to sleep on at night. The cycling was great even though the weather was poor some of the time. The route is dead flat which made it easy. I had the added advantage of an electric bike which gave me some assistance for my dodgy knee and helped eat up the miles. They made a decent effort with the food on the boat but it wasn’t worth blogging.
We stopped in some great places on the way, among them Antwerp and Ghent. Belgium is such a well preserved incredible chocolate box of old buildings, everywhere you look is old, gilded or sometimes both. Speaking of chocolate, it is everywhere, in all shapes and sizes as the photo at the top of the post shows.
After the fantastic week of cycling I bade farewell to the group and headed to Brussels by train. I arrived and was well prepared with directions to my accommodation. The only problem was I couldn’t find my tram! On paper it runs along the main boulevard outside the station but it was nowhere to be found. I eventually asked a woman in my dreadful French who answered me, the only part I caught was ‘en bas’. I’ve discovered that some of the trams run underground.
Brussels is lovely too. It is a manageable size for walking most places and with both French and Flemish influences. It is a riot of guided splendour in the centre as well as a treasure trove of art nouveau and deco buildings further out.
Vegan food was pretty thin on the ground, so I made my home away from home at Exki (the I in their name is a carrot) a cafeteria style sandwich/salad/soup/ready meal place with plenty of vegan options clearly marked. I pretty much lived there for breakfast and lunch.
Even the fries (that staple of a vegan when all else fails) aren’t safe in Belgium, they are cooked in beef fat. Sigh. Happily dark chocolate and the beer are vegan and Belgium excels at both.
Onwards to Germany, much more friendly vegan territory.
Exki Agora Branch
Rue du Marché aux Herbes 93,
1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
I had the good fortune to find a relatively cheap(ish) business class fare from Melbourne to Amsterdam. After vacillating a lot, I decided to splurge and paid the price. I have never slept on a plane before but this time I slept beautifully, arriving refreshed and ready to go. Oh how the other half live!
The food in business class was also a cut above usual airline food, but that isn’t a high bar. I was travelling on China Southern so I ordered a VOML which is the code for a vegan oriental meal. Sometimes Asian interpretations of western food are bad and I figured this was safer.
I was served a couple of noodle dishes, Asian flavoured salads, pickles, lots of nuts and fruit platters, great veggie dim sum for breakfast and a beautiful coconut rice pudding with mango and pistachios.
I am staying in an Airbnb near the lovely Vondelpark in a street lined with restaurants. On on my first day here I walked the 30 minutes into the centre of Amsterdam with its lovely canals and bridges and spent 4 hours at the Van Gogh museum on the way. The people here are super friendly and helpful and almost everyone speaks English, which is fortunate as my Dutch is non existent.
Brunch was a salad roll. Dutch bakeries are excellent with really good bread, and I ate a late lunch at the Food Crib stand in Museumsplein that serves a vegan burger – The famous Amsterdam Hemp Burger – made of hemp seeds as well as other seeds and beans. It was tasty enough but not thrilling.
That night I ate a pizza at a local wood fired place and it was stellar. I’ve yet to find much vegan food here, there are a few places either health food focussed or ‘lentil as anything’ style with a grittier edge. The latter are booked over the phone on the day and places are limited, selling out quickly. They are in some cases run in conjunction with squats.
So it looks like salad rolls for me for now. Lucky they are delicious.
Amsterdam is a wonderful city for walking for the same reason as it is great for cycling. It’s dead flat. If you get tired the trams run every few minutes, about the time it takes to walk another stop. As for cycling, it is astonishing here. I’ve NEVER seen so many bikes. They’re chained up everywhere by the thousands possibly millions, there are special bike lanes separate from the traffic, and people riding, young and old with not a speck of Lycra to be seen. They all ride comfortable upright posture Dutch city bikes in work clothes. In vain some fences have no bike parking signs on them, but it often gets ignored. The only drawback with all the bikes is I am still getting used to looking the other way before crossing and I’ve nearly stepped in front of a bike a few times because they’re silent! Crossing a cycle path can be harder than crossing the road! The roads have traffic signals but the bike path bit needs to negotiated first. Waiting for a break in the bicycle traffic can be lengthy, a bit like crossing the road in Vietnam if you’ve ever done that. I’ve come to the firm conclusion that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam.
The streetscapes here are lovely, they remind me of New York, not the buildings which have a style of their own, but of the village feel in a city. Long terraces of skinny houses, all with trademark hook for hoisting things to the upper floors (although I did see a more modern way of moving), they most often are duplexes with pairs of entry doors, some beautifully decorative, some surrounded by tile work. The quieter streets are full of planter boxes with flowers and seats for resting.
Today I started with a breakfast of toast and sides at Anne & Max, a good local coffee place and then spent 6 hours in the Rijksmuseum and, you guessed it, ate another salad roll for lunch.
This evening I decided to make a bit of an effort and I ate dinner at a modern Indonesian restaurant called Blauw, just a few doors down from where I am staying. I had checked out the menu in the window on the way home and they serve a vegetarian rijstafel, rice with masses of side dishes, which while not all vegan, all but two dishes were. Not having the two dishes with egg in them was not a problem, there was so much food I didn’t feel deprived. It was delicious, but pricy. At least more expensive than a salad roll! The dishes were a range of curries, satay, fiery chilli sambals, fried banana, roasted coconut, steamed and fried vegetables, all great.
I waddled home to be greeted by the two resident cats in the Airbnb where I am staying. I’d only met Kiwi before, but another cat appeared tonight draped on the stairs and showed no signs of moving, so I had to step over him on my way to lie down after all that food.
Anne & Max
1075 XS Amsterdam
1075 XN Amsterdam
I had the absolute pleasure of eating at Transformer again last night. Like last time, we opted for the ‘Feed Me’ option, which is a bargain at $45. I hadn’t really intended to blog the dinner because I just wanted to relax and enjoy the company of a couple of interstate friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I didn’t take any photos except for one – dessert.
This time I was prepared to call an earlier halt to the endless parade of dishes in order to leave room for dessert. I am so glad I did. Even though we had stopped after about 7 or 8 plates, we were still pretty full, so we opted to share one dessert between the three of us. We chose the brownie.
This brownie comes beautifully presented with chocolate ganache, soil, salted coconut icecream and cherry gel. It is rich, but not too sweet and the sour cherry gel is a fantastic foil to the richness.
I felt like the dessert deserved a post all its own, so here it is.
I’m about to head overseas for five weeks, so stay tuned for lots of travelling and eating posts from The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and China.
99 Rose St