Friday 28 November 2014

The Great Moshimo Vegan Challenge

Last Thursday saw Brighton's Moshimo hosting an event that's always a highlight on my foodie calendar, The Great Moshimo Vegan Challenge. Once a year Moshimo go vegan for an evening and chefs from all over the city compete to create the most inventive, beautiful and delicious small dishes. The event was thought up by owners Karl and Nicholas as they pondered what would happen to Moshimo if fish socks did run out. Obviously my vegan perspective on this is that they should stop using fish altogether to help save the oceans and to cease contributing to any animal cruelty but I do appreciate that they were one of the first places to remove blue fin tuna from their menu, to add vegan options and to focus on sustainable methods of fishing. Steps in the right direction for sure and it's a great spot to eat at with non vegan friends an family who aren't so open to a vegan meal.

The opinions expressed here are a mix of mine and my dining companions as due to my chilli allergy I had to skip or eat a modified version of some of the dishes.

The first dish out of the kitchen was a sample platter of three dishes from the vegan bento box that will be appearing on the winter menu shortly. I was excited by this strong start to the evening as my only real criticism of last years event was regarding the lack of Moshimo's own regular vegan menu items. In 2011 and 2012 there were plenty of their own small plates available for sampling, from edamame to dumplings via their inventive maki, but last year there was none of that which everyone at my table thought was a shame. I'm glad they responded to feedback and sent their own dishes out again this year.

The seaweed and inari tofu salad, sweet potato croquettes with ume and steamed pumpkin were all excellent. I've never been happier to have a pumpkin hating diner sitting next to me! This actually turned out to be one of my favourite dishes and I can't wait to go and get myself a bento box as soon as it appears on the menu.

The first competition entrant was Terre à Terre with their pickled lotus and kimchee dish with bean sprouts, lychee and coriander.

This could have been great, it seemed to have a vegan creamy cheesy sauce thing going on in there (something I'd love to see appearing on Terre à Terre's own menu!) but unfortunately it wasn't great. One of my dining companions described it as "like that curry they serve on BA flights to the USA", not great praise I'm sure we can agree.

Edamame was next, not a part of the competition but always a favourite snack of mine.

Cashew Catering went next in the competition with a dish that was one of my favourites for sure. The mixed mushroom and edamame stuffed mochi scored well across the board gaining some of my highest scores for taste, innovation and presentation.

I've never had hot mochi before and deep frying it definitely changed the texture from gelatinous to soft and almost potato croquette like. It was excellent with the accompanying ume but even better dipped in soy sauce. I'm pleased to say that the other diners agreed with my high scores as Cashew Catering came third overall.

My favourite dumplings from Moshimo's menu were next, they're deep fried to perfect crispiness and they're incredibly delicious. I usually order a couple of portions every time I eat there.

Next up was a dish that could only have been made by VBites who were the overall winners of the challenge yet again. This sprouting maki was inspired by donburi one of my favourite Japanese dishes. Donburi pretty much translates to bowl and in an inventive twist VBites put the rice both inside maki and shaped into onigiri and topped them with teriyaki vegan chicken and wasabi caviar. Mine arrived sans caviar but you can see Randi's in the background and Moshimo owner Karl was lovely enough to drop a sample off at our table and later we found out that it was Caviart brand, something I'm already a fan of but I'd never have considered picking the wasabi flavour!

Whilst this scored highly for innovation and won the competition I'd have preferred a straight up teriyaki vegan chicken maki. The teriyaki chicken itself was a favourite across our whole table, it was definitely one of the best things I ate all evening and something I'd love to see added to either VBites or Moshimo's menu. If either of them added a donburi dish like this one from LOVE Pacific Cafe in Nagoya to their menus I'd be there quicker than they could say deep fry!

The next dish from Indian Summer was one I had to eat a modified version of but the consensus from everyone at my table was that it was kinda tasteless and unenjoyable texturally. In fact when Randi and I compared notes she's just written "weird, very weird" and I had written "very odd". We think that just about summed it up.

More dishes from the Moshimo menu came out next to bridge the gap between competition dishes. I love both the cucumber and avocado maki, especially on a Monday or Tuesday night when everything on the menu is half price to Moshimo Members card holders, then I super love them!

Dish numer five was a Japanese rice cracker dish with a gochujang and miso glaze and a cucumber and tigers milk salad. My table enjoyed this Korean and South American fusion twist from 64 Degrees and agreed that it had a nice level of spice. I found the texture of the rice crackers themselves really moorish. The texture was strange, chewy and almost gummy inside but I just couldn't stop eating them!

The flour tortilla used here made this one immediately stand out as La Choza's entry. It was stuffed with habanero chills, squash, avocado and it came atop a wasabi sauce. Apparently the heat overwhelmed the flavours. It also made Randi sneeze into her water glass twice which was kinda hilarious, bonus point?!

Dish seven stood out to us as a potential winner despite the excessive use of quinoa. I loved the nori cracker and we all thought that the tofu fish was really inventive. The yuzu ketchup was super tasty too. It was also fried. Yup. Always the sign of a winner! This dish came in second and could only have been better if they'd used less quinoa.

The last dish was, and I'm not going to pull any punches here, definitely the worst thing we ate that evening. It sounded promising, thinly sliced kohlrabi topped with shiitake mushrooms, mizuna, sesame dressing and toasted sesame seeds. Unfortunately this thing was swimming in oil (and you know I'm no oil phobic vegan) and topped with a truly excessive amount of sesame seeds. It was ridiculous. Blech.

Thankfully dessert was on it's way and Moshimo had veganised the chocolate mousse from their regular dessert menu. They did this once before and my feedback wasn't great (it was super bitter) so I'm super happy they listened and gave this a whirl again but this time with some sweetener in the form of agave. This was spot on and of course I suggested that they add it to their menu instead of the dairy filled version.

Overall we had an enjoyable evening but the quality of the entries was, if I'm completely honest, way down on previous years. There were still some good dishes but they were all surpassed by Moshimo's own creations and nothing stood out in the way that some of the dishes from 2011 or 2012's event did. I can't help but wonder if this is because everyone taking part is doing it out of their own pockets? This years event was for charity but if the companies involved are paying for both ingredients and covering staff costs it must be difficult to choose the pricier ingredients or more laborious prep methods year after year. Maybe a shake up of the entrants is in order?

Friday 21 November 2014

Infinity Kitchen

Infinity Foods recently rebranded and reopened what was the Infinity Foods Cafe and what is now Infinity Foods Kitchen after a month long refit and revamp and it looks gorgeous both inside and out.

They now have canteen style dining for lunch and there are rotating specials which, over the last week, have included pasta and Autumnal veggie bakes, Shepherd's pie and a Japanese platter that I'm kicking myself for missing out on because it sounded perfect. Next time!

It's so light and bright inside and I love the revamped upstairs area, instead of one large table near the window there are three small counter style tables facing out on the street. They're absolutely perfect for dog / people watching.

They've added some great new options to the breakfast menu including pancakes. Pancakes! So exciting! You can add syrup or fruit or go big and add both syrup and fruit which is clearly the best option.

These were some seriously fantastic pancakes and I love that they've gone with European style pancakes rather than American style. They were really delicious and I loved the medley of maple syrup, berry coulis and fruit. This is even a situation where banana totally worked for me! Thankfully some of the classic Infinity Foods breakfasts are present on the new Infinity Kitchen menu (I suspect it's because they knew I'd riot if they took my favourite breakfast away!) so my dining partner ordered that and we shared both dishes.

This is a seriously great breakfast, the toast's perfect, I love the fried polenta and despite thinking it could do with a touch more salt or maybe some nutritional yeast I love that they're making tofu scramble now. They do my favourite sausage in town too and they're the only place in the city that includes veggie bacon as part of their brekkie, my fave. Yum town!

Delicious breakfasts aside I'm always in the market for a sweet treat and Infinity Kitchen have decided to make all of their desserts vegan which is so rad. There are almost no un-veganisable sweets these days if you know the correct egg substitution and I love it when places make a real effort with the vegan desserts. I tried the Raw Chocolate and Almond Cake and a Magic Energy Ball a few weeks ago and a Pistachio and Orange Blossom cupcake a week after that.

These were all excellent and I was just super surprised to note that the chocolate torte was sugar free. It was really, really good and sugar free isn't my usual jam. I loved the energy ball too and it makes a great on the go snack. The pistachio orange blossom cupcake had a dense almost muffin like texture and I liked that the icing wasn't too sweet, it's a super fun flavour too and I'll definitely be picking up another one soon. I've also tried the chocolate gateaux (yum!) and Nick loved the chocolate and vanilla cheesecake he tried this afternoon.

There's also a new grab-and-go fridge full of sandwiches, soups, dips, salads and drinks which makes Infinity Kitchen a great place to grab lunch on the go.

They even have vegan panninis which include Vegusto Melty Cheese & Tomato and Sausage and Spicy Sun Dried Tomato Pesto.

You can get them heated up to go or to eat in making them a great new North Laine lunch option, I love a hot melty cheesy sandwich.

Yum indeed! Infinity Foods Kitchen is open from 10:30 - 5 Monday to Friday, 10 - 5 Saturday and 11 - 4 Sunday. They serve breakfast from 10:30 to 12 Monday - Friday, 10 - 12 on Saturday and 11 - 2 on Sunday. I've also noticed that they often discount sandwiches and things in the last hour or so of business so if you work in the area you can grab a bargain before you head home for the day. Keep an eye on their Facebook and / or Twitter accounts for the daily specials.

Disclaimer: Infinity invited me to come over for a complimentary breakfast because they're the nicest but I paid for everything else.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Round Up! Round Up!

I used to love a Wagon Wheel back in my pre-veggie days so I had high hopes for the Round Up by Ananda Foods. I first picked one up at Animal Aid's Christmas Without Cruelty Fair in London last year and quickly developed a habit. I can't believe I haven't blogged about them before but to be honest I usually tear into them so quickly that there's simply no time for photographs! You can just imagine how excited I was when Infinity Foods started selling them as it's basically my corner shop (for the next two months anyway!).

If you've never eaten one a classic Wagon Wheel is completely coated in chocolate but it's also thinner and smaller than the Round Up. The Round Up consists of two soft chocolate biscuits sandwiched either side of a layer of fluffy marshmallow with a strawberry jam centre. The sides are totally coated in thick chocolate and there's a chocolate drizzle ontop. I think this is the perfect amount of chocolate as it means you can eat it without getting your paws completely covered in melted chocolate.


To me this is the perfect treat. Marshmallow, check. Chocolate, check. Jam, check. Amazing. For my xgfx buddies these now come in a gluten free version which is available to purchase on the website.

Aside from loving how freaking delicious they are (look at that jam!) I also love that these are handcrafted by a small company using fair-trade chocolate. Something I've been increasingly more conscious of lately is the child labour / slavery used in cocoa production and I'm a bit obsessed with checking which companies chocolaty products are a-ok on the Food Empowerment Project's website and app. If you don't see a brand you're interested in purchasing from listed their volunteers are great at reaching out and since I e-mailed about them both Vego and The Co-operative supermarket have been added to the recommended list.

Friday 14 November 2014

A tour of Austin in Food Trucks.

For a whole multitude of reasons one of my favourite things about Austin is the weather. For starters I like being outside and I like being warm, I also love to swim outdoors. I can pack less stuff when I'm travelling to a warm destination too and, most importantly, I can sit outside at any time of day and eat. I love eating and I love how casual a dining experience stopping by a food cart is. Maybe I fancy Italian and my travel buddy wants Indian, when picking a restaurant this isn't usually going to work out especially if you want either meal to actually to be good, but with food carts it's totally possible to pick a spot with options for everyone or to cruise around to a few different places

My absolute favourite food truck in Austin, no, in the world, is 100% vegan taco spot The Vegan Nom. I lost count of how many times Nick and I swung by for breakfast tacos during our vacation.

My first order was a combo of the #1 and #2 breakfast tacos. #1 consists of tempeh bacon and tofu scramble and #2 is the classic tofu scram and potato combo. I added avocado because if you're somewhere where they actually have ripe delicious avocados I feel like you have to take advantage and order them at every available opportunity.

The Vegan Nom serve their full menu all day so you can pick up a Bean Diablo or some Rockin Vegan Migas any time. This made me happy as I fell in love with The Vegan Del Ray, a mock fish taco topped with cabbage, avocado, black pepper and an amazing cilantro lime crema, one afternoon and then proceeded to eat it at breakfast every day from then on. It is, in my opinion, taco perfection.

I'm hoping that The Vegan Nom get involved with Vida Vegan Con in 2015 on some level, I'd certainly love to be able to grab a taco from them on conference days. I will be in Austin for five weeks around the con though so I think they'll be seeing a lot of me!

Another new to me spot was Unity Vegan Kitchen and whilst the lasagne and the crab cakes from their regular menu came highly recommended it was the Chick'n and Waffles Plate that sucked me in.

This Labour Day weekend special is legitimately one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

The gravy had just the right amount of pepperiness, the waffle was perfectly cooked and crisped at the edges (something my crappy waffle maker just won't do) and the breaded chicken was plentiful. I'd eat this again in a heartbeat.

Biscuits and Groovy is somewhat unsurprisingly a biscuits and gravy food truck! Cool. It's also somewhere where I totally misunderstood how to order food.

I have no idea how ordering went this wrong! I mean, who would order this little food?! Nick's was even more ridiculous because as he didn't say the word biscuit when ordering he just got the tiny amount of toppings and had and no biscuits at all! Just a tiny bit of tofu scramble and one piece of vegan bacon! How could anyone have thought that was a real order? They must have thought we were super weird! I ended up sharing my single biscuit with Nick and obviously we got more food somewhere else afterwards, we would have just ordered more biscuits but we didn't fancy waiting another 20 minutes or explaining that we had failed to order properly the first time around. The tiny amount of food I did eat was pretty tasty though so if any Austinites would like to accompany us to Biscuits and Groovy during our visit next May we'd love to know how to order a sensibly sized plate of food!

Swiftly moving on from that ridiculousness and onto more ridiculousness I am the absolute worst at remembering to eat fruit and veg whilst I'm travelling. Seriously, the worst. My three favourite food groups are probably mock meat, pizza and deep fry so unless the veg comes on top of or on the side of one of those I'll probably forget to eat any for a week or more. That's why I was excited about this next place, Mister Fruit Cup. This cute colourful truck makes eating fruit easy and fun! Pro tip - it's situated behind the university co-op and is a pain to drive to if you don't have the correct address because of all of the one way streets. Put the multi story car park behind the co-op into your GPS and go from there!

Mister Fruit Cup has lots of delicious fruity combos to choose from or you can create your own. I won't lie I was pretty gutted when they said they were out of the vegan chocolate chips, the thing that convinced me to go eat some fruit in the first place, but I had coconut flakes, a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of agave on my mango, strawberry, blueberry, orange cup and it was great.

When fruit's this easy I'll happily eat it especially when it's hot outside. This bodes well for Thailand especially now that it's been confirmed that I'm properly allergic to chilli rather than just a bit intolerant. I think I'll probably be finding most meals a little challenging and relying on fruit might be a necessity. Any advice on avoiding chilli when travelling in SE Asia would be gratefully received!

One of my favourite spots from my last trip to Austin was The Vegan Yacht. It's since moved location to the back of Spiderhouse, a quirky cafe / bar in the U district, that I really enjoyed hanging out at despite them giving me a root beer with honey in even though I asked them to check and make sure it didn't have honey when I ordered it! They were super nice and switched it for something else but I'm a little sad that people are ruining root beer with their damned honey. Leave the bees alone! 

Anyway, I'd been dreaming about the mock chick'n sandwich from TVY for almost two whole years so of course that's what I ordered. I got it in a wrap this time around because I fancied a change and it was definitely the way to go. You can fit a lot more in a wrap this size than you can in a sandwich.

I loved the amount of sprouts and shredded carrot they managed to stuff in there alongside the amazing mock chicken. Perfect. I was totally tempted to order a second but I needed space for some Sweet Ritual so I resisted. Spiderhouse is extra fun after dark as they have plenty of fairy lights and neon all over the place and there was even a lively pub quiz that we started taking part in but were too focused on ice cream to finish!

This certainly isn't it for Austin food trucks though, oh no, I wrote about BBQ Revolution, Pulse VeganBananarchyArlo's and Via 313 during Vegan MoFo and there are plenty more that I didn't make it to that I'm sure you can read about on dedicated Austin blogs Lazy Smurf's Guide and Red Hot Vegans. Stuff mentioned in this post aside I will say that the mac & cheese from BBQ Revolution and Via 313's pizzas are unmissable.

Writing this post has been so much fun, often when I'm writing about a trip I've been on I get that kinda sad feeling of not knowing when I'll ever get to go back combined with the bummed out feeling of being back home when all I want to be doing is travelling the world, but not this time! This time I'm writing with the knowledge that I leave Brighton in two months to head to SE Asia and that I'll be back in Austin in May. Epic! My house is going on the market later today which means that for now DIY is over, thank goodness, I hate it and I'm terrible at it. Nick hates it but is at least good at it. Now I can devote my time to more enjoyable tasks like attempting to sell some of my stuff and researching for the trip. Yay!