Friday, March 02, 2007

So very St Kilda

Having been given a Melbourne Lonely Planet guide for Christmas, we had several ideas of places to start our culinary journey through the streets of St Kilda. One concept that caught our attention was Lentil as Anything, which aims to be a community eatery where the amount you pay is determined solely by your conscience. It is obviously an idea that speaks to the masses, because for the first 3 weeks we were in St Kilda, every time we went to see what it was all about it was completely packed out, or had run out of food. Having been thwarted on one such occasion, we decided to try somewhere else and ended up two doors further down Blessington St at a completely different type of restuarant, Lola Tapas Bar (pictured, right).
Lola is an interesting beast- inconsistent, sometimes illogical, but nonetheless, satisfying. Things didn't get off to the greatest start when we were seated by the waitress, and left for about 15 mins with no water or menus. When I finally got up to get some menus myself, the same waitress who had seated us stopped me from getting menus, asking "Sorry, but have you been seated?". It seemed the table behind us had the same problem, and had already been through a bottle of wine between two without having their food order taken. Still, despite the rocky start, things did improve from there. The menu is limited, but what they do, they do pretty well. We decided on patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, chorizo a la plancha, and beans served with almonds and parmesan (i've forgotten the spanish for that one *S*), and for the most part were pleasantly surprised. The patatas were beautifully crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and were topped with a deliciously piquant sauce that, thankfully, was nothing like the stodge that can be found at many other tapas bars (*cough* Legends *cough*). The chorizo was perfectly cooked, and the beans were good enough to inspire me to go home and try to make a cheesy, nutty, crumbly vegetable topping of my own. Only the prawns were disappointing- a tiny serve, drowned in oil. However, any previous disappointment was quickly forgotten with the generous and delicious serve of churros and hot chocolate, which we washed down with a glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry. My only regret is that it was so hot outside that I couldn't quite let myself drink the remaining dunking chocolate, which I'm sure in winter would be a perfect end to any meal. As with any tapas bar, prices are deceptive. The thought of sharing a selection of $10-15 plates between two people seems like a perfectly cost-efficient way of doing things, but when you need 4 of these, plus dessert and wine to complete the experience the bill can quickly add up. Nevertheless, as a way of spending a few hours on a balmy evening, Lola is a great diversion.

Not being one to give up, we again decided to try our luck with Lentil as Anything (left) earlier this week, and finally managed to get there at a time when there was a free table. The interior pretty much tells you the feel LAA is going for- with old furniture, tight spacing, indian silks, bare brick walls and locals' artworks hanging on the wall (or "gallery space", if you believe the website) it very much has that bohemian, community, hippy vibe working for it. The menu reflects this attitude as well- all items are vegetarian, with most being gluten/vegan friendly as well, and contain such favourites as malai kofta and okonomoyaki. We decided to try as much as we could and opted for the curry platter, which let us sample the pea and potato curry, beetroot curry, and Indian curry and dahl, served with red rice, yoghurt and some kofta for good measure. Alas, while the food and ambience get the best of the hippy vibe, the service seems to take "laid back" to new levels. While we were there, EVERY table had some kind of issue with their orders, whether it was getting the wrong food, waiting for over an hour for it, being completely forgotten, or some combination of the two. It was only when the cook looked up and noticed us without food, that he realised the waiter hadn't put our order in at all. So after an hour, we finally got our curry platter, which was definitely sizable, and tasty...not sure it was quite worth the wait though. When it comes to paying, its done on an honour system. The "Magic Box" sits at the front counter, and unless you specifically ask for change you can put in as much or as little as you like, and no-one is the wiser. I'm sure there are those who take advantage of it, but more often than not, I'd say feelings of guilt would overwhelm any momentary stingy impulses...or maybe thats just me. Overall, the concept is great, and the food tasty and generously served, but the execution seems to need a bit of work. Then again, that could just be me not fitting in with that mindset, considering the first thing I thought about when i got home was...I wonder how it functions for taxation purposes, given that there's not record of income?, which seems a bit at odds with the ideals of the restaurant to steer ourselves away from an imposed economic system

Lola Tapas Bar
Bottom line: $100
We tried: 4 tapas plates, 2 glasses wine, 2 desserts, 2 glasses dessert wine
Value for money: Average
Food: Traditional Spanish inspired tapas
Atmosphere: Dark, intimate, velvety inside, or open more communal outside

Lentil as Anything
Bottom line: thats between me and the Magic Box
We tried: Curry platter- red rice, 3 curries, kofti and sides
Value for Money: That ones up to you
Food: Hearty vegetarian fare, lots of curries and stews
Atmosphere: St Kilda hippy chic, laid back to the extreme

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