Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shakahari - Carlton

With the family over from Sweden we have been doing a lot of dining out while we have been out and about doing things around the city. There are a lot of blog entries just waiting for time to post them. So many photos of food and so little time to post... 

Last nights dinner at Shakahari though was so good it warranted forcing some time to write an entry.

One of my sisters in law had her birthday fall during the families visit, so we have done a couple of birthday dinners to celebrate. Last night was the second dinner where we took Agneta to Shakahari for a special birthday dinner. Lisa and John, our niece and nephew, also joined us for dinner.

We hoped our love of Shakahari would be shared by our guests. When they opened the menu and were more than a little apprehensive, but we have seen this a few times when we have taken omni guests here before. The menu at Shakahari is unusual if you are not used to veg dining, and a lot of the ingredients were things that our family had not seen before, coupled with language differences and one guest being a 17 year old boy, the menu was probably not overly inspiring to them.

So we started by ordering a few entrees for the table to get things going:

We ordered the Chia, Buckwheat, Besan trio, which was a really tasty gluten free, vegan flatbread with a delicious coriander coconut dip. This was really popular all around the table.

The Scent of a Green Papaya - a green papaya salad with a tangy dressing. I have seen this on the menu before, but this was the first time I had tried this entree. It was wonderfully crisp and refreshing.

The Avocado Magic, which is tempura avocado with capsicum and eggplant, with a coriander sauce. I've ordered this a few times before, on other occasions the batter has been undercooked in some parts of the roll but tonight it was all well cooked, and was beautifully presented. Unfortunately Kev got a little over enthusiastic about this plate arriving and moved one of the pieces from the display before I could get a picture of the presentation of the rolls.

And finally we ordered the Quinoa Gnocchi, triangles of gnocchi made from quinoa and rice flour with balsamic sauce. These also went really fast.

The entrees all went down really well and got great reviews around the table. The only issue we had was getting the plates to fit on the table - there were five of us dining and we had booked for 5, but the table we had was a 4 person table with a 5th seat tacked on the end. There was just not enough room for all the plates and glasses. I was impressed that ALL the items on the entree menu were listed as vegan and gluten free. I think this is the first time I have seen the menu like this.

We moved on to ordering mains. Kev didn't take long to order, it's a pretty safe bet he will order the Satay Legend (you can rename it Satay Shakahari if you like, but it will still always be the satay legend). Kev gave some pieces of the seitan to Agneta and Lisa, the first time they had tried it, and they said they were amazed at the meaty texture and liked the flavour of the satay sauce.

Agneta ordered the Couscous Ala Caspian, couscous served topped with a spiced baked tomato, eggplant and chickpea stew which she really enjoyed.

John and I ordered the Spaghetti. This dish was gluten free pasta with 3 kinds of mushrooms, asparagus and pine nut pesto. Lisa also wanted to try this but does not like mushrooms, so the chef made her a version without mushrooms, and put some broccoli in instead. I thought it was very cool of them to do a major substitution to a dish like this. No one noticed any difference between the wheat pasta we are used to and the gluten free pasta in this dish. John and Lisa loved their spaghetti. I enjoyed it too but did find there were more pine nuts than I would usually like, and a couple of the mushrooms were strangely chewy, almost like they were dried mushrooms that had not been soaked long enough. I just picked those out to the side. I can forgive little things like that when the asparagus is done so well. 

Again all the main menu items were vegan, and most of them gluten free. On other visits I remember there being a few dishes that had cheese in them on the mains, but on this occasion any cheese was soy cheese. I hope this is a trend that continues here. While none of us are vegan, no one even noticed that the dishes they were eating were vegan or even gluten free. It's good to see that there are more choices available for GF-Vegans nowadays.

After the entrees and mains, we were kind of full, but still managed to get some desserts to share.

We got the Thai Delight - baked cassava fudge with coconut black rice pudding and mango slices. This was not what any of us expected. I suppose when we saw fudge in the description we imagined something more like a traditional english caramel fudge, so the texture of the cassava fudge was unexpected. After the initial shock at the texture though, we all enjoyed this. Kev also liked that this dessert didn't seem to be overly sweet either.

We also tried the Soy Almond Panacotta. Agneta is a fan of the standard dairy based panacotta so was curious to see an almond based version. She was not disappointed, she said it was just as good, maybe even better than the panacotta she is used to. The combination of the smooth almond custard, tangy orange coulis and almond toffee was a perfect dessert. 

Kev chose the seasonal fruit crumble, which was mango this time. I didn't try this one myself after Kev had poured cream into the middle of it, but everyone else said it was delicious.

As usual all food was beautifully presented, everyone loved their meals and there was a lot of plate sharing and tasting going on. The service was also the best we have had there for a while. On previous visits we have had waiters forget to bring us water when we requested it, forget our wines and were just generally slow. On this occasion service was drastically improved. Our very courteous and patient waiter gave us water as soon as we sat down and the regularly came around to top our glasses up. We had very prompt with service all night, and the staff were very helpful with explaining menu items through the language barrier. I am still really impressed how easy it was to get a substitution to the spaghetti too. 

The menu changes on a fairly regular basis. Other recent reviews and blog posts off the same menu period can be found over at In the Mood for Noodles, Vegan About Town and I'm So Hungreeee.

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