The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Gerard’s Bistro (Brisbane, QLD)

14/15 James Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3852 3822
http://www.gerardsbistro.com.au/

I’m really digging Fortitude Valley’s trendy James Street precinct. Not only can I go here to get my Zimmermann and Gorman fixes while I’m in Queensland, I can also find some reliably decent restaurants, bars and cafés. So far, my favourite eatery on James Street is Gerard’s Bistro, a cool and sophisticated bar-slash-restaurant injected with a perfect amount of rusticity and charm.

I had dinner here one Saturday night with a Tinder date, a nice fellow Asian who worked as a doctor by day and rapper by night. Unlike myself, he wasn’t a foodie and had to resort to asking his mates for first date venue advice – luckily, his mates knew a thing or two about food and suggested Gerard’s.

We were there nice and early before the dining room got busy. As soon as we were seated and as soon as all the small talk got out the way (‘How often do you come to Brisbane?’, ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ and ‘Are your Asian parents as tight as mine?’), we ordered a nice selection of dishes from the menu which was all about sharing plates. Even though the restaurant’s name sounded very Francocentric, the Ben William-designed menu dabbles in southern Europe, Middle Eastern and northern African flavours.

Monkfish, confit onions

Monkfish, confit onions

The first dish to arrive was one of the specials, the seared monkfish with radish and confit onions. The flesh was very powerful fishy taste which paired well with the onions and radish – if they had gone for a more delicate fish, the trimmings would have definitely overpowered it. It was a solid start to the meal.

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Coal grilled octopus, smoked butter, almonds, chilli, green strawberry ($24)

Coal grilled octopus, smoked butter, almonds, chilli, green strawberry ($24)

Coal grilled octopus, smoked butter, almonds, chilli, green strawberry ($24)

The octopus was probably my favourite dish of the evening. The tender octopus pieces were grilled over coal so they subsequently had a lovely smoky taste, blending effortlessly with the creamy smoked butter and nutty almonds. Meanwhile, the green strawberries barely did anything to enhance the dish’s overall flavour profile.

Smoked bone marrow, salted cod and potato mousseline, burnt bread, sour herbs ($22)

Smoked bone marrow, salted cod and potato mousseline, burnt bread, sour herbs ($22)

The smoked bone marrow was another successful dish. Delicate it wasn’t and I didn’t think my dining companion was a big fan of the velvety rich marrow. I thought the addition of the salted cod would be overkill on such a rich dish but Williamson managed to get the balance down pat right to crispy bit of burnt bread that added a lovely crunch.

Smoked new potatoes, tahini yoghurt, sumac and pork floss ($14)

Smoked new potatoes, tahini yoghurt, sumac and pork floss ($14)

We ordered this dish partly because we wanted to carb load and partly because I get excited over pork floss – and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the richness of the smoky tender pieces of carby goodness against the nutty yoghurt’s creamy and cool texture.

Coal grilled goat loin with eggplant muhammara, pomegranate and walnut crumb

Coal grilled goat loin with eggplant muhammara, pomegranate and walnut crumb

Our final dish was another one from the specials menu, the super juicy grilled goat loin. The dish was Middle Eastern all over and a delicious mix of smoky, spicy and nutty flavours with the slightest hint of heat from the muhammara, a Syrian hot pepper dip.

Gerard’s Bistro was a place that I’d totally be happy ordering dessert at (and you know me, not a dessert person blah blah blah) – especially since they use fresh honey gathered from the beehive just on top of their restaurant. Unfortunately, my companion wasn’t too keen so we called it a night. Next time.

I never saw the guy again but I don’t want to say the same about Gerard’s – the food was fantastic, the ambience just right for either a date night or a gathering among friends and the service was quick, friendly and not intrusive. It’s a place I definitely want to return to, maybe for breakfast – or another dinner that does not involve Tinder.

Gerard's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Review: GOMA (Brisbane, QLD)

Gallery of Modern Art
Stanley Place
South Brisbane QLD 4101
+61 7 3842 9916
http://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/visiting-us/Places_to_Eat

As a self-confessed wanker, two of my favourite things are food and art. So when an army of fellow food bloggers descended upon Brisbane for the annual Eat Drink Blog conference a few months ago, I decided that they would be the perfect victims to accompany me for lunch at GOMA Restaurant, the award-winning restaurant tucked inside the Gallery of Modern Art. Food and art? Together? Oh hell yeah! At that point in time, I had been struggling to find people down on the Gold Coast that would be willing to stray away from dude food and chicken parma (sorry, parmi) AND trek up to Brisbane for ‘wanky food’ so I knew a group of camera-toting and quinoa-appreciating food bloggers would be the perfect people to dine with.

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It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Brisbane. Our table of eight or so bloggers sat by the window in the beautiful contemporary restaurant filled with tables draped with white linen tablecloths. Our view may not have been the best – our table overlooked the Pauls Milk trucks parked beneath Kurilpa Bridge – but given how large our group was, I suppose beggars couldn’t be choosers.

GOMA’s menu, designed by Head Chef Josue Lopez, ‘complements the contemporary artistic surroundings’ of the museum. Essentially what you get are whimsical works of edible art made with local, seasonal and sustainable produce (with a focus on native ingredients) that look like they belong in the walls of GOMA itself. For lunch, an a la carte menu is available as are set menu options of two courses (entrée and main, $50; main and dessert, $45) or three courses ($60 for the trifecta). For each course, there were three dishes to choose from with both gluten-free and vegetarian options available. Most of the table went with two courses; me? I went for three, naturally.

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To kick things off, we dug into some free-flowing warm white bread accompanying by some beautiful house-churned butter topped with a sprinkling of salt.

2013 Mt Langi Cliff Edge Riesling ($13)

2013 Mt Langi Cliff Edge Riesling ($13)

I decided that it was a white wine day so I ordered a glass of Riesling from the Grampians because Victoria represent, yo.

Seared emu loin, native spiced black pudding, smoked potato, Illawarra plums

Seared emu loin, native spiced black pudding, smoked potato, Illawarra plums

I won’t detail what everyone on the table ordered – just the people sitting around me. First up, Teresa ordered the seared emu loin for her entrée. I’ve only had emu once – in sausage form and in Cairns – and didn’t particularly like its extremely gamey taste and the smell it gave off. However, this emu loin definitely changed my mind about the bird. Sure, it was still gamey but the taste was more refined and all the trimmings worked well to complement the bird, especially the smoked potato.

Moreton Bay Bug poached in churned butter, saffron broth, seaweed and broccoli

Moreton Bay Bug poached in churned butter, saffron broth, seaweed and broccoli

I had the Moreton Bay Bug as my entrée. Seriously, I can’t think of a better polygamist marriage than fresh bug meat, butter and seaweed – except maybe Bill Hendrickson and his three or four wives (depending on what season of Big Love you’re watching). The entire dish was refined and delicate, yet still came out strong with the flavours.

Roasted Holmbrae chicken, textures of corn, sorrel, winter leaves

Roasted Holmbrae chicken, textures of corn, sorrel, winter leaves

It was time for our mains. Teresa had the beautifully roasted chicken – crispy light skin enveloped a moist and tender piece of meat with the velvety corn puree complementing it with ease. Chinese chicken and sweet corn soup, you have nothing on this.

Seared Murray cod, potato emulsion, fresh peas, salted lemon myrtle thyme, malt vinegar

Seared Murray cod, potato emulsion, fresh peas, salted lemon myrtle thyme, malt vinegar

In an all seafood affair, I went for the Murray cod for my main. I likened this dish to a modern interpretation of the classic Friday night meal in suburbia: the humble fish and chips. This was another dish where all the elements blended effortlessly while allowing the star of the show, the fish, to shine. I also appreciated the subtle flavours of both the malt vinegar and salted lemon myrtle thyme.

Wattle custard, Daintree chocolate paint, Daintree vanilla curd

Wattle custard, Daintree chocolate paint, Daintree vanilla curd

And then it was time for dessert. Teresa chose what sounded like the most pedestrian dessert of the lot. ‘What is wattle custard?’ she asked the waitress. The waitress simply smiled and gave Teresa a mysterious ‘oh, you’ll see’ response before walking away… and coming back with this.

I had taken a photo of this dessert, posted it on Twitter and had a mate tweet: ‘All I can see is a brown plate, where is the dessert?’

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It turned out the brown plate was, in fact, the dessert itself. A thin layer of Daintree chocolate mist was spray painted onto the plate, meant to represent Aussie desert sand. And when Teresa dug into the ‘sand,’ a gooey stream of wattle custard came out – it had a lovely caramel flavour with a hint of honey. As for the little white dots? They were made from Daintree vanilla curd and paid tribute to indigenous art. Seriously, how cool was this dessert?

Newstead Brewing ‘Johnny’ apple cider porridge, apple sorbet, caramelised milk foam

Newstead Brewing ‘Johnny’ apple cider porridge, apple sorbet, caramelised milk foam

My apple cider porridge did not generate as many ‘such pretty’ and ‘so wows’ around the table, but it was nevertheless delicious all the same. The porridge, a comforting bowl of apple-y goodness, may have been better suited to a Melbourne winter/spring menu but still hit the spot for me. The tangy sorbet injected a bit of refreshing lightness to the dish while the milk foam kept things as pretty as a picture.

Magnum Opus – Valrhona chocolate, violet ice cream, honey comb, cocoa nib

Magnum Opus – Valrhona chocolate, violet ice cream, honey comb, cocoa nib

Ashley had the Magnum Opus, another beautifully presented dessert. It was pretty much a toffed up Magnum ice cream bar, minus the preservatives and the nasty bloating sensation you get from eating one. A smooth layer of rock-hard Valrhona white chocolate covered a slab of violet ice cream. On top were little pieces of broken honey comb and edible flowers, making the dessert almost too beautiful to eat.

In my opinion, this lunch at GOMA was perfect from the word ‘go.’ The food was incredible, the setting was perfect and the service was impeccable – it’s not easy having to deal with a large group of foodies who asked for the bill to be split eight ways nor is it fun having to deal with me ringing the restaurant up several times to add/subtract people, but the team dealt with it with a smile and with grace. Kudos, guys.

In a country where even the best restaurants tend to mirror each other in style, presentation and food offerings, I think that GOMA offers something completely different. Sure, there are many gallery and museum restaurants up and down the eastern coast of Australia but I’ve yet to come across one that celebrates native Australian ingredients and uses both classical and modern cooking techniques to effortlessly present magnificent dishes that deserve to be showcased as art in the gallery it is housed in. Inject a bit of Queensland sunshine and boom, the scene is set for an incredible meal.

Well done, GOMA; this wanker loves you.

GOMA Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review: Chur Burger (Brisbane, QLD)

20 Constance Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 8 3319 7890
http://www.churburger.com.au/brisbane

Brisbane opened its first Chur Burger restaurant with a bit of fanfare. Having been to the Sydney Surry Hills one earlier this year, I was excited to hear all about the opening of the Brisbane branch – it was about time Queenslanders treated themselves to burgers that were not of the Grill’d, McDonalds and Hungry Jacks kind.

I’m pretty lazy these days. If I want to go to Brisbane, I’d do it on a Saturday morning or afternoon; I hardly ever go on a Friday night. After all, who wants to drive from Coolangatta all the way to Brisbane after a hard day’s work (which may or may not include a glass or two of wine after lunch)? However, the lure of Brad’s company along with tickets to see Rick Astley at The Tivoli and a shitload of drinks afterwards proved too tempting for me to say no to. And so off to Brisbane I went for the night.

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Fortitude Valley is known for being grungy and cool, so it came as a surprise to us to find that Chur Burger Brisbane was housed in a clean, modern space – very unlike the ‘Valley and very unlike the Chur Burger in Surry Hills. It was very sterile.

I could also say the same thing about the service. The chick serving us at the counter seemed to be in a grumpy mood – she didn’t smile throughout the entire transaction and did a bit of an eye-roll when I asked for a copy of the receipt. And yeah, I know that she would have probably preferred to be out partying on a Friday night but c’mon!

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That said, our food arrived really quickly. And with bottles of lusciously crisp Hillbilly cider in hand, we got to work.

Chilli salted chips ($6)

Chilli salted chips ($6)

Although the chips could have done with a bit more crisp, they still tasted delicious thanks to the chilli salt that was more addictive than watching BroScienceLife YouTube videos on repeat at work.

Crispy pork belly burger ($10)

Crispy pork belly burger ($10)

Brad loves his pork so he was torn between the pulled pork and pork belly burgers. In the end, he chose the belly burger; the buttery pork belly pieces were slathered in a sticky chilli caramel sauce before being topped with slaw and aioli. I forgot to sneak a bite of it but Brad declared it to be a fantastic burger.

Crumbed fish fillet burger ($10)

Crumbed fish fillet burger ($10)

I had Chur’s hipsterised version of the Filet O’Fish and I have to say that I was disappointed with my burger. The fish really brought the burger down – it was bland as hell and watery. And while I wasn’t expecting the best cut of fish, I did expect something that tasted more exciting than a sponge filled with water. Not even the pickled cucumber, lemon mayo and dill could make up for such a boring burger.

I’m not sure if I’d go back to Chur Brisbane as I wasn’t wooed by it (Rick Astley’s rendition of Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ on the other hand…). It could have been because I ordered the wrong thing because the chips were nice and Brad’s burger was supposedly nice. Still, the crappy service and so-not-Chur-Burger fit-out just made me not want to go back again.

Chur Burger on Urbanspoon

Review: Carolina Kitchen (Brisbane, QLD)

38 Macaulay Street
Coorparoo QLD 4151
+61 7 3847 8227

The depths of Brisbane’s suburbia is not the first place you’d think of when you’re looking for good ol’ honest American food with a whole lot of attitude and soul. Yet Coorparoo’s Carolina Kitchen delivers that and a whole lot more.

I took my friend Greg here for his 30th birthday lunch one overcast Sunday afternoon. It’s a place we’d both been wanting to try for a while – I’d heard about this place from two Melbourne friends who were in Brisbane for a wedding and this was their favourite restaurant of the trip.

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Coorparoo is an odd place to put a diner in; in a suburb full of brick units and weathered Queenslander houses, the diner almost looked out of place. And although I’m not well-versed on Brisbane’s dining scene as yet, I’m pretty sure Coorparoo is nothing like bustling West End, New Farm, Fortitude Valley and all those places people typically go for a good feed. Still, I liked the fact that we had to venture into unknown territory for lunch.

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Carolina Kitchen has pretty much everything you’d want to find in an American diner: wings, burgers, hot dogs, ribs and hoagies in addition to sweet dessert pies and American soft drinks. With Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ playing in the background (and in our head for the next 24 hours), we happily set down to enjoy an all American feast.

Aunty Lilly Mae’s BBQ ribs (regular, $17.95)

Aunty Lilly Mae’s BBQ ribs (regular, $17.95)

The BBQ ribs were finger lickin’ gewwwwd. The regular-sized ribs (so, maybe a third of a rack) were deliciously sticky and sweet with just the right amount of necessary tang. Served with a creamy Southern potato salad, they went down a treat.

New York fries ($7.95)

New York fries ($7.95)

The fries were also fantastic. Topped with cheese, sour cream and chilli sauce (and by that, I meant the hearty meaty kind), they had enough calories to form a complete meal.

Buffalo wings (six, $7.95)

Buffalo wings (six, $7.95)

Our Buffalo wings came out hot and spicy with a slight tang, just the way we Asians love it. They were fine on their own but the blue cheese dipping sauce was also great for a bit of creamy contrast.

Hot dog ($5.95)

Hot dog ($5.95)

We went halfies on a hot dog. The dog instead wasn’t anything special – just a frankfurter in boring white bread. However, all the trimmings made it something worth trying: American mustard, coleslaw, special chilli sauce and red onion. Oh yes.

We also ordered corn bread ($3.95) but unfortunately, it was the most disappointing thing we had all afternoon; it was tough and sweet – and tasted very one-dimensional. That was a shame because everything else was fantastic.

Greg was keen on sampling one of the homemade dessert pies that came in flavours such as pumpkin, cherry, key lime and more. Unfortunately, we were both too full from our feast so we walked away without a sugar fix. Not that we really needed one anyway.

Carolina Kitchen is definitely worth a detour if you feel like honest diner fare in Brisbane without having to pay exorbitant prices and put up with try-hard hipsters at American-themed eateries closer to the city. It’s honest soul food served with a friendly smile and a bit of suburban attitude that makes you wanting to come back for more.

Carolina Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Review: Bucci (Brisbane, QLD)

11/15 James Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3252 7848
http://www.buccirestaurant.com.au/

Every now and then, I’d do day/overnight trips up to Brisbane. In my opinion, Brisbane is a bit of a strange city. It’s the capital city of Australia’s second largest state, yet has this feel of a large country town that hasn’t quite reached the heights of Melbourne or Sydney. Plus, the limited city parking space and lack of sea breeze does my head in, especially during summer.

As for the food scene? Well, I still have my training wheels on but ask me about Brisbane dining in another year or so and I might be able to get you a better answer. For now though, I’ll dedicate the next few posts on my (more likely than not) ignorant thoughts on Brisbane’s cafés and restaurants from an ex-Melburnian and current-Gold Coaster point of view.

First up: Bucci. It’s located amongst the trendy boutiques of James Street in Fortitude Valley which has got to be one of my favourite streets in Brisbane. I was there one weekend to look for a dress for an event I was going to attend in Melbourne and no way I was going to find something at Gold Coast’s Pacific Fair. I wasn’t having any luck so I decided to refuel at Bucci.

Bucci does contemporary Italian using local and seasonal produce. Throw in an extensive wine list (new world Italian with a few varietals from Australia), sleek décor and you pretty much have a recipe for a Brisbane Good Food Guide hat – at least in theory anyway. Bucci gets understandably busy on weekends but because I was dining solo, I was able to walk straight in without reservations.

Oven-baked Moreton Bay bug cannelloni with truffle, lemon and tomatoes ($26)

Oven-baked Moreton Bay bug cannelloni with truffle, lemon and tomatoes ($26)

With a glass of S’Eleme Vermentino di Gallura 2012 ($12) in hand, I attacked my first dish – the entrée-sized bug cannelloni. It was one of the most decadent things I had eaten for quite some time and while it wasn’t bad, it was almost verging on try-hardness. Were truffles really necessary on an already rich dish? And I don’t know, the tomatoes just seemed out of place with all the cream, truffle and bug meat.

Cannelloni; grilled Hervey Bat scallops with garlic aioli and parsley crumbs ($22)

Cannelloni; grilled Hervey Bat scallops with garlic aioli and parsley crumbs ($22)

The waitress told me that the cannelloni alone was not going to fill me up and that I should order one more dish – lies, I was already bloody full after eating one of the cannelloni shells. Admittedly, the scallops were beautiful – even better than the cannelloni. The scallops were sweet, succulent and fresh and I loved how the crumbs added a lovely textural contrast. Next time, I’d probably order this to share with other people though because eating them all myself was a bit of an overkill.

It didn’t look like I ate that much but I walked out $60 poorer and with a food baby that rendered it almost impossible to fit into the Zimmermann dresses I ended up trying immediately after. While I know you’re paying for top ingredients, rent on James Street and better-than-average service, I felt that my meal erred on the ‘yeah nah, not the best value for money’ side. It was nice enough, but not THAT nice. Bucci has potential to be one of Brisbane’s best when it comes to modern Italian food but unfortunately it tries a bit too hard and gets maybe a couple of things right but not the whole package.

Bucci on Urbanspoon

Review: Mr Loys Puff (Melbourne, VIC)

452 City Road
South Melbourne VIC 3205
+61 3 9696 6983
http://www.mrloyspuff.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guest of Mr Loys Puff.

I was in Singapore twice this year and I’ll be back (twice, no less) again next year. Given that Singapore is not my favourite place in the world to visit (sorry lah), it seems kind of strange that I’ve spent considerable time there. One thing I do like about Singapore, however, is the food.

Oh yes, the food.

There’s not a lot of options when it comes to decent Singaporean food in Melbourne, or Australia in general. But I think things are starting to change with places like Mr Loys Puff slowly but surely providing homesick Singaporeans with traditional hawker-style dishes.

The small modest eatery was created by Russell Foo, one such homesick Singaporean. As a kid growing up in Singapore, he used to buy freshly cooked curry puffs from a man named Mr Loy – and as a nice touch, this South Melbourne store is named after him.

Signature curry puff ($2)

Signature curry puff ($2)

I started off with a curry puff; the skin was dense yet flaky while the filling was jam-packed with chicken and potato cubes and a lovely mild curry flavour. Not a bad start to the meal.

Hainan chicken rice ($7.80)

Hainan chicken rice ($7.80)

Russell gave me two dishes to sample; he wanted to give me full-sized portions for completeness sake but I hate wasting food so I insisted he give me smaller servings instead (which were still generously sized anyway). The Hainanese chicken rice took me back to muggy nights in hawker centres in Singapore – the chicken in particular was well-cooked (soft and tender, and all that jazz) but I felt that the broth was a bit on the one-dimensional side. I guess I would have preferred a more legit dish – i.e. have the chicken poached rather than roasted – but this did the trick.

Curry chicken on rice ($7.80)

Curry chicken on rice ($7.80)

I was full at this point but alas, I had a chicken curry dish to eat. I honestly didn’t know that Singapore did their own version of a chicken curry but then again, I guess it’s one of those dishes that many cultures make so it shouldn’t surprise me. Plus, Singapore is such a diverse tapestry of cultures (Indian, Malay, Chinese etc) that it makes sense for them to have a curry dish, I guess.

But anyway.

The curry was very mild – I felt no heat – but nourishing and delicious nevertheless. It would definitely hit the spot during those Melbourne winters.

Mr Loys Puff has more authentic Singaporean dishes such as nasi lemak and all that, stuff that I’d like to try the next time I’m down. It may be slightly out of the way for those working in the heart of Melbourne CBD but for those living in Southbank, it’s worth the walk down. Plus, the food is reasonably priced too. While South Melbourne ain’t no legit hawker market, Mr Loys Puff does well to satisfy those who are craving Singaporean food – at least until they can fly back to Singapore to try the real thing.

Mr Loys Puff on Urbanspoon

Review: Grand Trailer Park Taverna (Melbourne, VIC)

Upstairs, 87 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9972 3699
http://www.grandtrailerpark.com.au/

A recent trip to Melbourne saw me and a group of eight other lovely people congregate at Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Melbourne’s newest burger joint, for a Saturday lunch. I’m not one to fawn over burgers that much these days but when my workmate told me about a new burger place in Melbourne that named their dishes after Ivan Drago, Cynthia Benson and Bananarama, I knew I had to check it out #because80sgeek.

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Tucked in the space that was once occupied by Sino-hipster bar Happy Palace, Grand Trailer Park Taverna is kitsch, campy and lots of fun. A lot of the tables were housed in hollowed out faux caravans (or trailers, rather) – kind of like those old school birthday trams they used to have at McDonalds. There were also tables outside on the balcony, the perfect place to sit outside in the sun with a glass of cold beer and perve on Melbourne’s beautiful set walking around on Bourke Street below.

For some reason, the photos I took for this post turned out kinda whack so please forgive me. In hindsight, I kinda wish I made like Thanh and Winston by walking over to the sunny area to take photos where the light was a lot better than our trailer-covered table but give me some credit, I’m not THAT shameless (hah!).

Francis Underwood ($16): beef, American cheddar cheese, tomato, butter lettuce, potato mac and cheese croquette, special burger sauce and American mustard

Francis Underwood ($16): beef, American cheddar cheese, tomato, butter lettuce, potato mac and cheese croquette, special burger sauce and American mustard

All the burgers here are served on lightly toasted brioche buns. Our table enjoyed a variety of different burgers but sadly I didn’t get to try most of them. One burger I did manage to try though was Winston’s Francis Underwood burger. It was essentially like the default (basic) KSA burger but with a slab of potato mac and cheese croquette in the middle.

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I must admit, the croquette was da bomb. The sheer size of it made the burger too big to handle for my little hands (no sniggering, please). In fact, it took me two bites (one at the top of the burger, and one at the bottom) just to get all the flavours in (okay no sniggering for real, please). Aside from the fact that the bun was probably a bit more Brumby’s bread than buttery brioche, it was a pretty impressive burger.

KSA ($12.50): beef, American cheddar cheese, special burger sauce and American mustard; large hand-cut chips ($7.50); Markers Mark bourbon, salted caramel and maple bacon milkshake ($17)

KSA ($12.50): beef, American cheddar cheese, special burger sauce and American mustard; large hand-cut chips ($7.50); Markers Mark bourbon, salted caramel and maple bacon milkshake ($17)

I kept mine simple with the KSA i.e. the basic cheese burger (so, essentially the Francis Underwood minus the croquette really). I have no idea what KSA stands for – definitely not Kosher Supervision of America – but it didn’t matter for my burger was also pretty fantastic… apart from the not-so-buttery-brioche, that is. Great flavours, generously-sized and did not try too hard – at the end of the day, that’s all you want in a burger.

As for the chips? Bleh, forget about them. They were soggy, bland and lacking in flavour. I’d recommend you give them a miss and order the potato mac and cheese croquette instead if you do feel like something starchy on the side. My bourbon, caramel and bacon milkshake, however, was fantastic – then again, you can hardly go wrong with bacon. Or whisky. Even salted caramel is aiight sometimes.

We were on our way out after a very satisfying meal before the cute bar dude stopped us and made us stay for a dessert on the house. Well, if you insist, Lucas…

Return of the Mack ($18): vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sponge cake, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream

Return of the Mack ($18): vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sponge cake, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream

The dessert was meant to be shared between two – but the remaining five of us struggled with it. Because I’m not a fan of chocolate desserts, I found it a bit too rich for me (after two spoonfuls, I declared defeat). However, it got resounding thumbs up from everyone else so don’t listen to me.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna is a better place to eat, drink and perve than Happy Palace so I, for one, welcome this new tenant with open arms. While I suggest you forgo the chips, the burgers are definitely some of the best in the city. Go before it starts attracting Mamasita-like queues.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna on Urbanspoon

Review: Shortstop Coffee & Donuts (Melbourne, VIC)

12 Sutherland Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
http://www.short-stop.com.au/

I’m a sucker for a good donut so when I heard that Anthony Ivey (the cute Market Lane and Doughboy Doughnuts dude) was opening up his own permanent donut store in Melbourne CBD, you can imagine how excited I was. Located just off Little Lonsdale Street, Shortstop Coffee & Donuts was the result of six months of researching in the ‘States (read: eating donuts) and many hours of fine-tuning donut recipes to bring probably the best donuts Melbourne had seen since Krispy Kreme first opened to much fanfare in Fountain Gate roughly ten years ago. God, those were the days.

At present, Shortstop is only open on weekdays which initially made it hard for me to visit. I finally got my chance, however, one Queensland long weekend. I met up with my friend Gian for morning tea there one Monday morning for a guilt-free donut and coffee. (guilt-free because we were both going to the gym later that afternoon.)

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The store itself isn’t too big, yet the minimalist interior equipped with blond wood furnishings and circle motifs made the space look bigger than it was. There were also a few places to sit down if you don’t feel like going back to the office either. I was also glad to see no lines when I rocked up – this was about two or three weeks after opening, according to Anthony who happened to be there that morning.

Latte ($3.50)

Latte ($3.50)

The espressos here are, of course, made with Market Lane’s Seasonal Blend beans and Schulz Organic milk, my favourite brand of milk – it’s a shame I can’t get them in Queensland. *sob* Naturally, my coffee went down a treat. Filter coffees are also available for all you hipsters out there.

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Shortstop gives you the option to order donuts online so by the time you rock up, you’re good to pick them up and leave. Without knowing how busy the store was going to be by the time I rocked up, I decided to pre-order my donuts. According to the website, there is a minimum order of six donuts per online order though I could have sworn the number was a lot higher initially. In any case, I took home nine donuts – two of which I shared with Thanh over lunch later that day.

Bourbon crème brûlée ($5); cinnamon, cardamom and sugar ($4)

Bourbon crème brûlée ($5); cinnamon, cardamom and sugar ($4)

We shared the above two donuts. We found the cinnamon donut nice enough but just that, nice. Taste-wise and texture-wise, I’d rather it was only slightly better than those cinnamon donuts you get at those stodgy donut franchises you see in shopping centres.

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The bourbon crème brûlée donut, on the other hand, was heaps better. Think a fried massive ball of, well, dough injected with a velvety vanilla crème patisierre infused with Maker’s Mark bourbon. The top was then sprinkled with sugar before being torched until crispy. While it’s not something I’d be eating on a daily basis, I decided that I liked it – hell, I could have even sworn there was enough alcohol to bring my BAC over 0.05.

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I took the others back to Queensland with me where I got to share them with my very excited workmates. As you can see, each donut has been divided up into little pieces. If you’re anything like me and Gian, one donut is so rich and filling that you’re better off enjoying them in little bites.

Here are my thoughts in dot points:

Strawberry and lime ($4.50): I love that the icing wasn’t one-dimensional like a lot of strawberry iced donuts. I loved that the lime injected a bit of tang to it too. The girls in the office really loved this one but then again, I think they’re more into strawberry-flavoured things than I am.

Peanut butter and jam ($5): Texture-wise, I found this one a bit too cakey for my liking. However, I gave two thumbs up for the taste. Not that you can do much wrong with peanut butter and jam anyway.

Australian honey and sea salt crueller ($4): Surprisingly, this was my favourite of the lot (after all, my friend White Steve did warn me to ‘watch out for the one with the biggest hole’). Its texture was much softer than the other donuts, so much so that it literally melted in your mouth. I also loved the irresistible combination of salt flakes and sticky honey; it also goes to show that you don’t need complex flavours and textures to make a good donut. Simplicity is key and I’ll be buying more of these next time.

Banana and chocolate hazelnut ($4.50): This was another cakey donut so I didn’t rate it terribly high. I’m also not a fan of chocolate or banana-flavoured things so I knew this was already destined to fail in my books. That said, everyone else in the office loved it so maybe it was just me who was weird.

Earl Grey and rose ($4.50): Another cakey one, but I liked the flavours of this one. I loved that the dough was slightly spicy – think speculaas or something to that effect, but with rose water. And even better was the rose petal icing. Too pretty!

Red velvet ($4.50): As mentioned, I’m not a huge chocolate person so I didn’t rate this one. One of the girls, however, declared this as one of her favourites due to the intensity of the dark chocolate and beetroot flavour profiles.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the entire Shortstop menu – or at least the menu that was valid at that point in time. I know the guys add and minus donut flavours all the time so you might very well see a few new items by the time you visit. As for me, I’m definitely not ordering nine donuts again. For one thing, it’s a task to carry them up to Queensland along with all the other food I always bring back from Melbourne. Secondly, there are some flavours that I wouldn’t eat again. The Aussie honey and sea salt one on the other hand… hell, I’ll take half a dozen, thanks!

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Review: Hakata Gensuke (Melbourne, VIC)

168 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 6342

http://www.gensuke.com.au/

When it comes to good ramen, Melbourne is slowly but surely gaining legs. Just when I was ready to proclaim the fair southern capital as the ramen cesspool of Australia, it brings us gems like Mensousai Mugen and Fukuryu. And now, we have Hakata Gensuke.

Hakata Gensuke is that diminutive Russell Street eatery that’s got massive queues forming outside since day one. It’s a franchise created by Chef Kousuke Yoshimura and this is his first Australian restaurant. Unfortunately they don’t take bookings so if you’re craving a good honest milky Hakata-style pork bone-based broth ramen and missed the Jetstar flight sales to Japan once again, then you have to come here – and line up.

Pete and I rocked up at 11:45AM one Saturday afternoon, hoping that we’d be one of the first in line for when they did finally open at 12 – unfortunately, we weren’t. There was already a steady line of hungry customers by the time we got there. But like the Tokyo subway system, the guys at Hakata Gensuke are very efficient – a wait staff was already giving everyone in line ordering forms and pens so we could order before we were even seated. Thankfully, the turnover here is quick so we only had to wait half an hour for a table. Yes, only.

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We walked in to cries of ‘Irasshaimase!’ and sat on the counter by the wall. The restaurant’s fast-paced vibrant atmosphere and simple timber furnishings was almost enough to make Pete think he was back in Tokyo.

Signature tonkotsu ramen

Signature tonkotsu ramen

Both Pete and I ordered the tonkotsu ramen. The dish starts at $13 and comes with noodles (you can decide whether to go soft, normal, hard – or very hard if you’re down for it), one slice of cha-shu pork and wood ear mushrooms. You can also decide whether you want the ‘normal’ broth, or one that’s lighter (presumably diluted with dashi). There is the option to get spring onions too at no extra cost.

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You can also chuck in some add-ons for a couple of dollars. I requested the ‘special topping’ add-on: three slices of cha-shu, three pieces of seaweed and one egg ($8). This meant that I ended up paying $21 for my ramen; not cheap at all.

Look, the ramen was lovely – the noodles were beautifully chewy, the broth was equal parts milky, rich and flavoursome. I can certainly see why people would happily wait up to an hour just to sit down and pay more than $20 for a ramen. But would I do it again? Probably not. As good as the broth was, I just think $21 is ridiculous, especially when I can get ramen just as good, if not better, for almost half the price at Hakataya and Muso in Gold Coast. You’re all probably asking why I can’t just stick to the default $13 tonkotsu option – um sorry no, one slice of cha-shu, no seaweed and no egg ain’t going to cut it.

Chicken karaage ($5)

Chicken karaage ($5)

Conversely, the snacks are better-priced. We loved our chicken karaage, which was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, made all the more addictive with a dash of spicy salt.

Hakata gyoza (five pieces, $5)

Hakata gyoza (five pieces, $5)

The pan-fried gyoza were also done well – think crispy bottoms, delicate skin and a juicy pork filling accentuated by lots of garlic and ginger.

While I love a good ramen, I don’t love the idea of waiting in line AND paying a fortune for something that’s meant to be the Japanese version of a dish that’s supposed to be comforting, filling and down-to-earth as the Vietnamese pho. Screw that.

Hakata Gensuke on Urbanspoon

Review: Crazy Wing (Melbourne, VIC)

177 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9663 6555

Melbourne can get ridiculously cold during winter and autumn (and okay, spring) so it’s good that there are some eateries in the southern city that really turn the heat up with their food offerings.

Take the infamous Crazy Wing, for example. You know, that place that promises super-ridiculously-hot chicken wings that will slowly burn away your internal organs as well as your dignity. There’s a few of them around but the most well-known branch would have to be the one just around the corner from Chinatown. For an Asian who doesn’t mind a bit of heat, it comes as a surprise to most when I tell them that I was a newbie to the whole Crazy Wing thing until just recently. In fact, it was Nate who took me there for dinner one night – fancy that, a wog taking an Asian to an Asian restaurant that specialises in hot food. Foodie game fail.

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Service isn’t Crazy Wing’s strongest point – as soon as we were seated, a paper ordering slip was shoved at us by a snarly waitress.

Fried rice with egg ($8)

Fried rice with spicy chicken ($8.80)

However, the food came out real quick. I don’t normally order fried rice at Asian restaurants #becauseasian. That said, we knew we were going to need some respite after torturing our tongues. For $8, the portion was tiny and it didn’t really taste that fantastic – hell, the chicken wasn’t even spicy. But props for wok hei.

Chilli spicy wings ($2 each)

Chilli spicy wings ($2 each)

We ordered four ‘level three’ wings (with one being the tamest and five being more diabolical than an Asian bitch scorned) – so, two each. In hindsight, I should have ordered a level one just to compare but whatever, next time. Neither of us were game enough to try the hottest one though.

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The level three wings were hot enough for both of us. Nate does hot food quite well but he admitted to finding his wings ‘almost uncomfortable to eat.’ I thought they were just right – any hotter and I would have started sweating too.

I guess I can see why Crazy Wing is popular. The food comes out quickly even in busy periods (we were there around peak dinner time on a weekday night), the wings are a bit of a fun novelty thing and, apart from the fried rice, the menu items aren’t overly expensive. Next time, I’m game to go up a level – or two.

Crazy Wings on Urbanspoon