Sunny Vegan Feasting at Round Bird Can’t Fly in Lilydale

They say that birds of a feather flock together. Lilydale’s latest dining destination, Round Bird Can’t Fly is choosing the solo route and soaring high. This approach is already working for the local food scene in Lilydale and it helps when Round Bird Can’t Fly decides to position itself on the doorstop to much of Melbourne’s finest local produce. Round Bird Can’t Fly was conceived between Laura Webb-James and Evan James; a culinary partnership that stemmed from a love of food and a desire to fly solo from some of Melbourne’s reputable kitchens at which they've been nesting prior. From here, Round Bird Can’t Fly was born; a smart-casual dining spot that borders on the fine, accentuated by sleek timber table lines, metal seats and a local grocery corner.

Round Bird Can't Fly Lilydale vegan food local travel

The swift and sturdy team at Round Bird is no stranger to Melbourne’s outer east, creating original, hearty meals for foodies and day-trippers alike. Round Bird also spotted an opportunity to explore vegan and gluten free cooking for an ever-growing demand for such dietary requirements. Sure enough, a vegan tab was recently added to its flipbook menu so as to meet its expanding market.

Round Bird Can't Fly vegan food Lilydale local travel

When two hungry vegans show up like my husband and I, then a big order to meet big appetites is to be expected. Even our knowledgeable and cheery waitress was doubtful when we ordered three meals. ‘Would it be too much?’, while my mind was asking: ‘Would it be enough?’ After sipping lemongrass and ginger tea and soaking in the Spring sun at a curb-side timber bench, our meals arrived to resounding excitement. Doubts were quashed in a good way. Not only did Round Bird’s kitchen deliver our three meals, all showcased on bespoke crockery, each one proved to be more than ample in size and teaming with local flavours to match.

Round Bird Can't Fly local travel Lilydale vegan food local travel

Homestyle nourishment is thus key here. Take for example the vegan corn and jalepeno burger, ferried along by a decent side of thickly cut chips; enough to fill a lunch-time hole in the tummy, and easy on the spice factor. Within the burger, a thick slab of wholesome house-made vegan cheese was a welcomed surprise though did prove to be deceptive (is it vegan?). Yet, you rarely find house-made vegan cheese; a keen and innovative move by Round Bird for this already flavoursome vegan dish.

Next up was the broccolini salad on a nest of miso-marinated eggplant, freshly steamed beans and brown rice. The miso marinade – together with spongy-soft baked eggplant – gave wholesome volume to a predominantly green salad; tangy and rich. What topped the dish, aside from the marinade, were crispy and filling tempura mushrooms; delicious when dipped into the miso marinade lightly dripping from the eggplant.

Round Bird Can't Fly Lilydale vegan food local travel

Another fulfilling choice from Round Bird’s vegan menu was the corn fritters, buoyed by a black bean and tomato ragout. Two thick slices of gluten free toast anchored this dish on which the full-flavoured ragout was spooned. But, not before the fluffy corn fritters were squeezed over in lime juice and munched on before they risk being softened by the ragout.

Round Bird Can't Fly Lilydale vegan food local travel

It almost seems like over-indulgence when ordering three dishes, yet there were enough holes in our appetites to fill while sampling one of the finest vegan menus that Lilydale – even Melbourne’s east – has to offer. And, that’s the result when a round bird secretly decides it can fly. Just be sure to pack a vegan dessert like a rhubarb crumble from the dessert cabinet when you pay the bill afterwards. You’ll need to sample Round Bird’s sweet flavours well after you’ve digested your vegan feast.          

Pull up a nest and order your own vegan feast at Round Bird Can’t Fly, 170 Main Street, Lilydale, Victoria, 3140. Hours: Monday to Friday 7.00am to 4.00pm, Saturday and Sunday 8.00am to 4.00pm.

Hanging Out at the Vegan and Vegetarian Weekend at The Food Truck Park

"People who love to eat are always the best people," American chef/author Julia Child once said, which is an accurate description of vegan and vegetarian Melbourne hanging out at The Food Truck Park in Preston earlier this month. The mobile street food phenomenon has hit Melbourne in recent years and many vendors are trucking their way around the city successfully. Many of Melbourne's mobile food businesses have since attracted cult followings, and I know that I’ve personally curated my list of vegan food truck vendors that I’ve grown to love, trust and befriend. When The Food Truck Park announced its second vegan and vegetarian special event weekend in Preston for this year, I was there.

The Food Truck Park Preston vegan food

The Food Truck Park in Preston hosted vegan Melburnians in a cosy, central spot where vegan and vegetarian food trucks can pull in to feed them. It was a delicious chance to support newly discovered businesses spruiking quick and tasty vegan meals. It was even a great chance to catch up with friends, like those operating Woking Amazing who were handing out dumpling upon dumpling, not to mention their fast and tasty mock meat creations. They are, as the name confirms, amazing

The Food Truck Park Preston Melbourne vegan food
The Food Truck Park Preston food vegan Melbourne

The space outdoors held a variety of vegetarian and vegan food truck vendors, all offering a grand range of lunch-time options. Wooden tables and benches filled much of the sitting space, allowing hungry vegans to sit under the shade of a beach umbrella and enjoy their newfound favourites. Friends ran into one another and enjoyed each other's company as Melbourne's occasional winter sunshine helped for a delicious Sunday eating session. A mobile bar towards the back sold drinks such as craft beers and ciders, and non-alcoholic choices for those feeling a little thirsty.   

The Food Truck Park Preston vegan food food truck Melbourne

What's a bonus to the breezy layout of The Food Truck Park in Preston is the warehouse at the end of the site where there’s more seating and food vendors. Those businesses who don't operate from a truck or van can easily set up at their own trestle stall, such as Von's Vegan Bakehouse. So many choices were available; delectable vegan cakes like Humming Bird, Strawberry or Cookies and Cream. Von's is another vegan food business I love to support, which can also be called on to make cakes to order. Generously-cut slabs were found, perfect for a post-lunch sweet treat. Von was cooking around the clock over the vegan and vegetarian weekend just to keep up with the demand. A true sign that The Food Truck Park in Preston is on to a good thing when it decides to host niche weekends like these. And, Melbourne's vegans are celebrating as a result. 

The Food Truck Park Preston Melbourne food vegan travel
The Food Truck Park Preston Melbourne food vegan travel

While it was tempting to start with dessert, I gave in to my lunchtime hunger and tried out a couple of new meals. Like, vegan serves of Indian curries and rice topped with coconut raita found at The Vegan Collective. On the side, crispy tofu triangles with a portion of soy sauce to dip them in were gobbled up intently by my husband in tow. To finish, it was back to my favourite vegan cake vendor – Von's Vegan Bakehouse – to try her gluten free strawberry cake; thickly dressed with a sweet and gooey strawberry icing and garnished by fresh strawberries; "all for the love of [vegan] street food", of course!    

The Food Truck Park runs vegan and vegetarian weekends as special events throughout the year. Entry is free and food/drink prices are as marked by each vendor.
518 High Street, Preston Victoria, Australia 3072.

The next vegan and vegetarian weekend will be held from Friday November 4 to Sunday November 6.
Lock this into your calendar, now!

Justine de Jonge at Fire & Tea paid for all food items herself for the purpose of this review and attended the Sunday of the August vegan and vegetarian weekend.

A Quick Post-Hike Lunch at Wholefood Merchants

The 1000 Steps circuit in the Dandenong Ranges takes me about 45 minutes to complete, and it involves a lot of hill- climbing. The fire trail to the left of the 1000 Steps is my usual starting point so I can complete the first half of the circuit with enough space and breathing room without feeling crowded by the crowds of hikers. The actual 'steps' to the right tend to get very busy with hikers during peak times on any given weekend, so an early start matched with a steep high-climb is the best game-plan. Afterwards, I love to refuel at a few favourite eating spots nearby. By the time I'm back at my car, I'm ready for replenishing vegan meal that rejuvenates my energy levels quickly. One spot, with 30 years of experience in the health food industry, is Wholefood Merchants.

Wholefood Merchants Fire & Tea vegan

A five-minute drive to Wholefood Merchants has nourishing salads in their takeaway cabinet, packed with tasty, high-energy ingredients. Pulses, seeds and nuts add to the energy punch that 1000 Steps post-hike hunger can only be tamed by. Salads brimming with nuggets of almond feta, shredded red cabbage and chunks of marinated tofu are served up in generous portions at prices as marked daily. Green rocket and spinach add to the crunch factor and the fact that these instantly served salads can be munched on within minutes is the perfect hunger pleaser. You can opt for one salad or a mix of two.

Wholefood Merchants vegan Fire & Tea food

Rather than taking away, save on disposable crockery and enjoy bowls packed with energy at one of the wooden tables among Wholefood Merchants' dine-in area. Rest-time is soothed by the subtle flow of the centrepiece water fountain by the window where sun washes through the seating space on a sunny day. For extra nutrition and to give my body a boost, I choose one of the mixed, freshly squeezed juices available on request; a refreshing beverage after a high-intensity workout morning.

Wholefood Merchants food vegan Fire & Tea

A sneaky slice of raw "Turkish Delight" gives me a little sweet treat without feeling like I've undone all the good work from 1000 Steps. On previous visits, a steaming pot of peppermint tea goes well with any one of the raw slices on offer, though my quick, fruit and veggie fuelled lunch proves to be more than a pleasing meal after such an invigorating weekend hike. Just be sure to pack enough cash in your wallet if you find yourself wandering the grocery aisles afterwards.

Grab a quick vegan lunch at Wholefood Merchants for yourself. 3/794 Burwood Highway, Ferntree Gully Victoria Australia 3156. 03 9752 2772.

Justine de Jonge at Fire & Tea paid for her own food and beverages for the purpose of this review.

Book Review: Discovering Lonely Planet’s The Best Things in Life are Free

There just might be some travel truth in the age-old saying "the best things in life are free" as discovered in Lonely Planet's latest travel tome of tips. In The Best Things in Life are Free, you’ll find over 800 pages filled with free and oh-so-cheap travel recommendations from across 60 cities around the globe.

Discovering Lonely Planet's The Best Things in Life are Free while enjoying a Melbourne coffee.

Discovering Lonely Planet's The Best Things in Life are Free while enjoying a Melbourne coffee.

Right from the introduction by Lonely Planet's Editorial Director Tom Hall, we as travellers find relief knowing that an immersed local experience can be achieved when our travel budgets are stretched. Money puts our travel into motion and our budgets can set our course. On the contrary, no matter how much or how little we spend, it's the travel memories we gather along the way that are priceless.   

As usual, Lonely Planet has crossed the seas and traversed continents to publish this modestly sized, money-saving guide of thrifty travel gold. The Best Things in Life are Free covers an expanse of experiences from food, nature, urban tours, history, art and music, categorised by continent and divided by city. There are walking tours, brewery visits, markets, street art, theatre, festivals and movies, all tightly packed into this one economic guide. From the historic to the eclectic (case in point – an underwater sculpture park in the Caribbean), you can create priceless travel memories with a little help from The Best Things in Life are Free. More unique local experiences such as the Heidelberg Project in Detroit or Freemont Street Experience in Las Vegas all get the nod from Lonely Planet.

Local street art and laneway tours fair well in The Best Things in Life are Free's travel tips.

Local street art and laneway tours fair well in The Best Things in Life are Free's travel tips.

This guide is scattered with tips and tricks from locals, such as 'The Local's View', so travellers can capitalise on their freebie finds at the best times to visit and be prepared with bonus local knowledge from those on the ground. All experiences are colour-coded and plotted out in mini-maps for easy navigation.

In true Lonely Planet style, each destination featured in The Best Things in Life are Free is outlined by vital stats to leverage said knowledge, including a rough cost of a day spent in each city. From Melbourne to Rio, Boston to Bruges, Shanghai to Singapore, the seductive photography buried within The Best Things in Life are Free, will also set your wanderlust and travel envy into motion; no matter how frugal a traveller you may be. For example, you can seek out the best sunsets across the globe, or Europe's best free museums and galleries. It's these centrefold round-ups dotted throughout that can help you on your way.

Walking and hiking are among the top travel ways to explore local parks and cities.

Walking and hiking are among the top travel ways to explore local parks and cities.

Or, it might be a specific city that reels you in. For me, the likes of Marrakesh, Reykjavik and Tokyo had me wanderlust-ing; stunning spots that can be explored on nothing, or near enough. Some of the locations found in The Best Things in Life are Free even brought back priceless travel memories for me – my day-trip to the ancient town of Qibao, only a short train ride from Shanghai.

‘One Day Pass’ tips are also valuable throughout The Best Things in Life are Free, especially when you're short on time and money at a destination. Though, free travel experiences may seem like robbery, especially when you can stay in San Salvador or Bangkok for the equivalent of only AUD $30-40 a day. Then again, free activities and cheap treats are welcomed when you travel to a more expensive location like New York or the Caribbean where you could fork out up $US400 a day!

Local galleries and museums can come with little to no price-tag.

Local galleries and museums can come with little to no price-tag.

On a foodie note, it’s a shame that Asia's Best Cheap Gourmet Grub recommendations don’t feature a vegan choice or two. Even a flick through to Portland in the U.S, a burgeoning cuisine hotspot with known vegan cuisine, yields none. Sadly, not all tastes and diets are covered in this guide and it’s true that some options may be impossible to discover. Yet, all is not lost. The ultra-cheap veggo tip for Melbourne is a positive sight where vegan choices can be purchased.

Book-lovers may warm to the guide's souvenir style hardcover format and the bespoke travel recommendations within (the guide can be back-packed). Though with a hard cover, you may be compelled to leave your collector-style hard copy at home. If you search a little, you may find a Kindle edition to purchase on the web, that’s a little more travel-friendly and can complement your hard copy.

Overall, The Best Things in Life are Free underscores the invaluable importance of free or cheap travel. If travellers like us can be welcomed by a free – or very cheap – travel experience, we’re warmed by local hospitality and acceptance as a result. Thrifty travel then has an effective way to bring hearts and minds closer to history, culture and tradition. This is the overhanging beauty of Lonely Planet's latest travel guide. Who needs top-dollar experiences when free or cheap finds can coax us to a more immersed, local journey? Closer to home, we may even be inspired to travel through our own countries a little bit more closely.

Budget travel tips for festivals, free gigs and outdoor cinemas are found around the globe.

Budget travel tips for festivals, free gigs and outdoor cinemas are found around the globe.

I believe that The Best Things in Life are Free doesn't discount our ability to spend when we’re experiencing free, or dirt cheap, recommendations. Rather, this guide draws on our conscience as travellers to support local economies. We can then head home with newfound – positive – knowledge from our time on the road. Understanding and tolerance then returns home with us; the priceless gift any culture can hope for. 

Discover Lonely Planet’s money-saving guide The Best Things in Life are Free for yourself.

RRP $AUD29.99 and in bookstores now.

A review copy of The Best Things in Life are Free was supplied to Fire & Tea for review purposes by Lonely Planet.

Choosing my Vegan Options at the Chosen Bean Cafe

There was talk in my local newspaper that the Chosen Bean Cafe had revamped itself. With a larger venue and expanded menu, the Chosen Bean Cafe was also keen to embrace its passion to please its customers. Such a warm embrace can now be enjoyed at this latest and spacious site.

There was promise that the expanded menu wanted to appeal to as many tastes, and dietary requests, as possible. Sure enough, healthy and nourishing menu choices were found and abound – from the all day brunch menu of mushrooms, granolas, panini, smoothies and more, to the scrolling chalkboard of specials hanging proudly above the sun-soaked sitting area.

Chosen Bean Cafe vegan coffee food melbourne

As the earthy aroma of the Chosen Bean Cafe's rich coffee blends wafted from the grinding hum of its robust espresso machine (beans are roasted here onsite!), an almond milk latte – straight up – was ordered right away. It's one thing to order a coffee in Melbourne, yet it's a sublime experience sipping nature's nectar with a plant-based milk. For me, it's as nature had intended. Here, the Chosen Bean Cafe sees coffee as an art-form rather than a quick fix. I'd read that a cold drip coffee could also be ordered here, too. Yet, I decided it was a choice best left for the warmer months; a great excuse to return and sit back in the lazy sitting area outdoors.

Chosen Bean Cafe vegan coffee food melbourne

Even on a busy late Sunday morning as this, my order was efficient in its arrival and brimming with nourishing green goodness. Pleasing customers with various dietary requests can be a balancing act, though the Chosen Bean Cafe has tapped into it finely with wholesome flavours. One of the day's specials caught my eye early and arrived at the table exceeding expectation. Crowning two slices of seeded, gluten-free toast I found a bright and articulated bouquet of steamed veggies; sourced from the Yarra Valley that's only a stone's throw away.

Chosen Bean Cafe vegan coffee food melbourne

Broccoli flowerettes, asparagus spears, lightly wilted spinach and alfalfa shoots sat snugly near a thick smearing of avocado hummus and peppered by toasted pine nuts, sesame seeds and pepitas. A wedge of lime, anchored on the plate by the hummus, was longing to be squeezed over the meal. A dollop of almond feta peeked from underneath the spinach as I grazed on little sweet potato crisps found floating within. With a drizzle of olive oil, my flavourful brunch was eaten with care, so as not to waste a moment in enjoying these fresh and nourishing vegan flavours. Choosing the vegan option at the Chosen Bean Cafe did not disappoint!     

Choose your delicious vegan options and quality, award-winning coffee at the Chosen Bean Cafe, Mountain Gate Shopping Centre, Shop 11a, 1880 Ferntree Gully Road, Ferntree Gully Victoria 3156. Phone 03 9752 2489. Monday to Friday 7.00am to 5.00pm, Saturday 8.00am to 5.00pm, Sunday 8.30am to 3.00pm.