Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Ruyi (Melbourne, VIC)

16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9090 7778
http://ruyi.com.au/

I think it’s fair to say that one shouldn’t expect the best service at a cheap and easy dumpling restaurant. You go there, you order, you polish off a plate of dumplings with your mates (or if you’re a loser like me, alone) and then you exit stage left, all within the space of thirty minutes – maybe 45 minutes if you’re a slow eater like myself.

But when you go to a slightly upmarket dumpling restaurant, it’s reasonable to expect some level of good service. After all, you’re paying for the fancy fittings, a smile there and there and hospitality by forking out at least $3 for a dumpling. And when you do that, you better hope those dumplings bloody be good!

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Unfortunately, the DDR crew (as in Dave, Daisy, Ricky and myself) got none of that when we dined at Ruyi.

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On paper, Ruyi sounds amazing. The beautiful quasi-Scandinavian Hecker Guthrie-designed dining room is warm, modern and just that little bit earthy – in fact, it’s the sort of look I wouldn’t mind for my future house. Think beautiful sun-reflecting light wood infused with traditional Chinese crimson and jade tones. Throw in some upmarket Chinese food using premium ingredients and off you go.

The DDR crew brought along a guest from Hong Kong to dinner, which meant there were five of us on the table. The menu is designed for sharing so we agreed to order whatever sounded good on the menu. Once that was done, we signalled for someone to take our order – on that night, the owner happened to be in charge of the floor.

So we set about ordering a whole bunch of stuff, a mix of dumplings and mains to share. We began by reciting three dumpling dishes from the menu before the owner interrupted us: ‘Is that all the dumplings you’re going to order? Because we’re actually not like those other dumpling restaurants where $10 gives you fifteen pieces you know.’

Me: ‘I’m well aware of that.’

Owner: ‘Okay, okay, just letting you know.’

I thought that was a bit weird but I continued with the order – just three more larger dishes and two desserts to round off the innings. All up, there were eight dishes between the four of us.

Owner: ‘I’m not sure if you guys have realised but we’re actually not like all the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Our portions aren’t big and you’re not going to be full – you’ll have to order more, I’m afraid.’

WTAF!

I may have been over-thinking things but I detected a tone of snobbery in his voice, like we were just a bunch of fobs who didn’t know that this was a slightly upmarket place. I get that he was trying to alleviate any potential disappointment that we might have when are presented with a plate that’s smaller than what we’re used to when dining at a Chinese restaurant but still, I didn’t like his tone or the way he went about saying it. He also could have done the whole ‘this menu is designed to share, we recommend you order three smalls and two large dishes’ beforehand like most restaurants that offer sharing plates tend do these days but there was none of that.

So I said to him: ‘No, this is all we’re going to order. If we’re hungry, we’ll order more food.’

But who’s to tell me how much food I’m supposed to eat?!

The owner nodded without smiling and off he went. And I’m sorry, guys, but that pretty much soured our Ruyi experience.

But let’s get on with the food.

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

At $3 each, the xiaolongbao didn’t come cheap. Oh sure, each dumpling contained crab meat and sure, the pork was probably (but probably not) free range pork but still, $3 is as steep as the Grampians.

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They were nice, but not $3 nice.

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

The chilli sauce wontons were slightly cheaper, but $2.50 per dumpling is still not cheap in anyone’s books. Again nice, but not omg-so-gewd-foodgasms-galore nice.

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

It was the same deal with the fried pork and chive dumplings – see a pattern here? In fact, I dare say these were slightly oily and although they don’t look it in the photo, they were a bit soggy too.

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

I’m not big on soft shell crab so I already knew I wasn’t going to like these. This was a very bland dish; not only that, the batter lack the requisite crunch. Those on the table who are actually into this crustacean also agreed with me – they were also disappointed.

Duck stir fry ($26)

Duck stir fry ($26)

Compared to the soft shell crab, the duck stir fry wasn’t too bad. Throw in a handful of shredded roasted duck and bean shoots into a sticky sweet sauce, how can you fail? Sure, they didn’t fail but they certainly didn’t top the class. The sauce, which I found too sweet in the first place, bogged the elements of the dish down. Not only that, there was a serious lack of wok hei in this dish. It was very dull and lifeless – kind of like me at the moment thanks to my cold but at least I taste (somewhat) delicious.

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

We were told that this was Ruyi’s interpretation of the ‘Aussie favourite, the lemon chicken.’ The only difference between a plate of the suburban classic and Ruyi’s summer chicken was that they used mangoes instead of lemons. Big whoop. I found the sauce very sweet and one-dimensional, thus making the whole thing boring.

After that, we had the option to order more food. We were all still hungry so I guess the owner made a good point about us not having ordered enough food. Still, I didn’t like the way we were told that. At this point, none of us were keen to order anything else from the a la carte menu so we ordered a couple of desserts to share and decided to head elsewhere to fill the remaining sad, empty cervices in our stomachs.

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Compared to the savoury dishes, Ruyi’s desserts were decent. The delicate and herby jelly paired well with the creamy vanilla ice cream, while the pistachio added a lovely crunch. It was a well-balanced and refreshing dessert.

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

The banana fritters would have been great if they hadn’t used chocolate ice cream – but that’s just me, I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream. The ‘frozen milk’ was essentially milk custard blobs that were battered and then fried, something that sounded good on paper but were just okay to taste.

Given all the seemingly positive social media hype surrounding Ruyi, we were disappointed with our meal. The owner’s attitude went a long way in diminishing our experience but the mediocre food at not-so-cheap prices didn’t help Ruyi’s cause either. It’s a beautiful restaurant (probably one of the prettiest I’ve been in for a while) but what’s the point when the food and service isn’t up to scratch?

In the end, we all finished our night at a Hot Star Chicken outlet where a few pieces of (quite possibly) genetically modified chicken breast fillets coated in batter and spices and stuff made us happier than the meal we had at Ruyi.

RuYi Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

Review: New Shanghai (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 323, Level 3
Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9994 9386
http://www.newshanghai.com.au/

After many months of delays and quasi-openings, Emporium Melbourne FINALLY opened with a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza, lots of champagne and lots of sexy Melburnians wearing black last week. I might have seen some of you on the night – I was the girl in a strapless purple Zimmermann dress who said a lot of dumb things such as ‘Did you want my last name or surname?’

Before the official opening though, a lot of the Emporium eateries had already started trading. One of them was New Shanghai, a dumpling restaurant that originated in Sydney but has since branched out to Brisbane and now Melbourne.

Being a dumpling fanatic, I had wanted to go to the Sydney restaurant for quite some time now. However, the thought of going all the way to Ashfield just for dumplings seemed tedious. Let’s face it, going to Newtown is already a task for me – but then again, I’m lazy these days. So when I heard they were opening up shop in Melbourne, I was a happy little dumpling.

I went here one lunchtime with ex-colleague Amy, her husband Brandon and their beautiful few-months-old daughter, Keira. Having rocked up just after 2PM on a Friday afternoon, there wasn’t a lot of people at the restaurant so we were seated immediately and our dumplings didn’t take too long to arrive.

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Oh yes, all the dumplings. OURS OURS OURS!

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

New Shanghai’s signature dumplings are the soup-filled xiaolongbaos. They weren’t the prettiest-looking xiaolongbaos but like the sassy girl you ignored in geography class, they were full of personality and tasted delicious (ooh, dirty!). The broth had the slightest hint of sweetness and the skins achieved the perfect balance of delicate yet firm.

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

The pork and chive dumplings were also well done. They were both tasty and refined – a far cry from the nasty oily masses of WTFness that you sometimes get at restaurants a few blocks down.

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

The beef and coriander dumplings look almost the same as the pork ones so I don’t know why I bothered to post a photo of them up (for the sake of completeness, duh, Libby). Here, the filling was accentuated by five spice powder and coriander, making them more pleasing to the nose; they also gave the dumplings a lovely sweet taste. At the end of the day though, I will always prefer pork dumplings over beef, chicken or lamb ones.

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Finally, we enjoyed some pan-fried Shanghai buns. They tied with the xiaolongbaos as the dishes of the afternoon – they were juicy and packed full of flavour. Best of all, they had firm butts. Oooh yeah. My only gripe would be that the skins were perhaps a little TOO doughy but whatever, a good shengjianbao in Melbourne is hard to find and these did hit the spot.

For a city dumpling restaurant that attempts to be quasi-upmarket (think Din Tai Fung, Hu Tong et al), New Shanghai excels in terms of quality and price. We were all very happy with our dishes and just as surprised to find that everything was inexpensive. I’m actually quite sceptical of a lot of the Emporium restaurants (food court dining? bah!) but New Shanghai is a place that I can definitely see myself returning to on a regular basis.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Review: Rockwell and Sons (Melbourne, VIC)

288 Smith Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 8415 0700
http://www.rockwellandsons.com.au/

My dear friend Hasan is the fussiest eater I know. And I don’t mean fussy in the ‘I only eat organic shit, thanks’ way but more so the ‘I like what I like so if something looks weird, I won’t eat it.’ That means nothing Asian, nothing with eggs in it and nothing that contains a lot of vegetables. (yeah, I know – if he was straight and on Tinder, I’d be swiping left)

Whenever we eat out, we usually stick to pub grub, pizza or burgers. Once, he convinced me to have Red Rooster with him and because I had not been in a year, I agreed (of course, five minutes after I finished my Rippa Roll, I felt the need to throw up). The next time we decided to go out, I made sure I chose the venue. There was going to be no fast food for us this time!

Thankfully, Hasan was open to having a late lunch at Rockwell and Sons. He was always down for some burgers and was even happy to tram out to Smith Street with me, though I suspect his willingness to perform the latter was because it meant that he could spend hours at one of Smith Street’s music stores and spend money on Janet Jackon vinyls.

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It was just after 2PM on a Saturday night when we showed up. It was busy but luckily we were able to nab one of the last few available tables with a good view of the bar – and the bartender dude who reminded me of Adam from Girls.

Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)

Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)

Being an American dude food place, Rockwell and Sons offer glasses of ‘old-fashioned’ lemonade, which is what I would have normally ordered but I decided to try the more unusual strawberry and star anise drink. I’m not a fan of strawberry-flavoured drinks (and especially not strawberry milk) but I didn’t mind this one – it was almost like drinking a strawberry cordial but with more substance thanks to the addition of star anise and a bit of lemon.

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Burgers and fries – like Maccas, but better.

Double patty smash burger ($11)

Double patty smash burger ($11)

Speaking of Maccas, Rockwell and Son’s signature double patty smash burger (which we both ordered) is a nod to the Big Mac. Like the Big Mac, it came with a seeded bun, Kraft (yes, Kraft) cheese and ‘special sauce.’ The only things missing were the pickles and lettuce – and that sick feeling you get after eating a Big Mac. The bun was seed, but not so sweet that it would be considered a dessert. The meat was juicy and tender, while the special sauce actually had depth in it. And for the Kraft cheese, hah, well.

We both loved our burger so it was fitting that it had the word ‘smash’ in its name; if it was a person, I’d be smashing it. Hasan even went as far to say that it was better than a burger from Huxtaburger, his favourite burger place until this point.

French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)

French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)

We shared a serving of fries. They were double-cooked so they came to us beautifully crunchy and dusted with a healthy dosage of crack chicken salt. The malt vinegar mayo was also lovely – I like vinegar but not all over my chips so this was a nice subtle way to a bit of tang to each bite.

There was only one dessert on the menu, chocolate and pretzel twist soft serve. I don’t go crazy over chocolate desserts but when I see chocolate mixed with something savoury, I’m all over it. Unfortunately, we were too full to order dessert so we promised we’d come back next time.

With happy bellies, we left Rockwell and Sons vowing to return for their fried chicken (which I’ve heard is meant to be fabulous). And off Hasan went to yet another record store with something like eight new vinyls.

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

Review: Two Lost Boys (Melbourne, VIC)

20/2 Maddock Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9939 9313
http://www.twolostboys.com.au/

I like cafés with quirky names and Two Lost Boys happens to be one of them. It’s charming, it’s whimsical and aptly sums up half the men I know at any given time (the ‘lost boys’ bit, obviously – I do know more than just two who happen to be ‘lost’).

I had brunch here with fellow blogger Catherine one weekend. We met for the first time at a Vue de Monde event and made promises to catch up properly for a meal. Mind you, it took us forever to organise something being the busy bees we are but we finally got there.

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The Windsor/Prahran corridor is busy on any given day and night, so it’s refreshing to pop into a café that’s actually pretty chilled. In fact, I could be fooled into thinking I was in inner Brisbane or something like that. The room was sunny, the people were chilled – there was even a Gold Coast-like bronze Adonis wearing shorts and thongs despite the chilly Melbourne morning.

Latte ($3.80)

Latte ($3.80)

The coffee at Two Lost Boys is by local roasters Monk Bodhi Dharma. I love my milk coffees and Two Lost Boys do an excellent silky smooth latte – actually is there any place in Melbourne that DOESN’T do a good latte? (wait, don’t answer that)

Two Lost Boys’ menu focuses on organic locally farmed produce and because I’m a bit of a wanker about buying organic food and reducing food miles and all that, I was like, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’

Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)

Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)

Catherine had the sweet potato and beetroot fritters, something I wouldn’t have minded ordering myself but for the fact that I’m not a sweet potato person. That, plus the beetroot would have made the fritters super sweet and Libby very cranky (being a savoury fiend and all). Surprisingly though, the fritters were not as sweet as I thought and I loved how the horseradish and walnut cream gave a bit of creamy earthiness to the dish. If only that piece of house-cured salmon was a bit bigger…

Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)

Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)

For someone who isn’t into sweet breakfasts, it’s therefore strange that I ordered the lemon and ricotta pancakes topped with mascarpone and drizzled unceremoniously with sticky sweet molasses. But alas! For $4, I ordered a side of bacon so everything was right in the world again.

The pancakes were light and fluffy and paired well with the mascarpone. In saying that though, I found the dish a bit heavy – I couldn’t decide if it was all the heavy carbs going into my stomach or the molasses. Either way, I struggled to finish it.

Two Lost Boys is a great place to have brunch in a less hectic part of 3181. The coffee is good, the staff are friendly and the food is interesting enough for me to make the trek from the eastern suburbs. Just make sure you go easy on the pancakes.

Two Lost Boys on Urbanspoon

Review: Barry (Melbourne, VIC)

85 High Street
Northcote VIC 3070
+61 3 9481 7623
http://barrycoffeeandfood.com/

I like the name Barry. It’s not too generic and it’s not the sort of name a creep Uncle would have (that would be Bob). It’s cute and it’s endearing. That said, I’d probably never date a guy called Barry – do you know anyone under 50 called Barry? I didn’t think so.

But I’d definitely go to a café called Barry.

The DDR crew (as in, Daisy, Dave and Ricky – and myself) decided to have brunch at Barry one afternoon. I had just hopped off a plane (probably from the Gold Coast or somewhere ridiculous) and was starving – and in dire need of caffeine. I couldn’t wait to get inside Barry.

wp1If you’re an Eastsider who relies on public transport like me, then Barry would be a bit of a pain in the arse to get to. The location itself is fine – it’s situated on High Street and it’s not too far from the train station – but having to take a bus and a train can be a hassle for some. It is, however, all worth it when you step into Barry’s warm and sunny space and catch a whiff of their house blend (by 5 Senses) brewing.

Latte ($3.80)

Latte ($3.80)

I love my milk coffees so I had a latte. The house blend is 50% Brazilian, 30% Costa Rican, 20% Ethiopian, thus making the brew big on the floral aromas with huge waves of chocolate mixed through. Although my latte wasn’t bad, this was a coffee that’s better off drunk as a black.

Bubble and squeak, fried egg, red cabbage and relish ($15)

Bubble and squeak, fried egg, red cabbage and relish ($15)

Daisy had one of their specials, their bubble and squeak with a side of bacon. I didn’t have any but she reckons it was just okay and nowhere near as good as the ones they dish out at Red Cup Café in Box Hill.

Eggs benedict with potato rosti, braised free range ham hock, apple cider hollandaise, apples ($19)

Eggs benedict with potato rosti, braised free range ham hock, apple cider hollandaise, apples ($19)

Both Dave and Ricky had the eggs benny. I don’t go out of my way to order ‘standard brunch’ offerings but even I had to admit that Barry’s version looked impressive. Each element was given a little something else – hollandaise infused with apple cider and ham hock being braised so that it was gorgeously tender – to make the whole thing really pop.

Cucumber and gin-cured ocean trout, freekah, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate, coriander, shredded kale, soft boiled egg ($17.50)

Cucumber and gin-cured ocean trout, freekah, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate, coriander, shredded kale, soft boiled egg ($17.50)

After a weekend being a glutton on the Gold Coast, I decided to have something healthy. Luckily, Barry’s menu is full of wonderful healthy options though I do think their Californian superfood salad sounds kinda wanky. (tri-coloured quinoa, shredded kale, wild organic rice, charred corn, salted ricotta, black turtle beans, heirloom tomatoes, jalapeños, goji and spicy lime vinaigrette – OH, C’MON! YOU BETTER BE TAKING THE PISS!)

wp6My dish still had bits of wank in it (not like that, you sicko) but hello, like I could ever go past gin-cured (or anything-cured) ocean trout! It was a light yet filling salad with lots of beautiful textures and flavours. I especially loved those random bursts of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds.

Banana and coconut cake

Banana and coconut cake

And of course, dining with Daisy always means not skipping dessert so we had a bit of her banana and coconut cake to share. I don’t order banana breads/cakes because it’s something that I can easily make at home but I did like this one – it wasn’t too sweet and the cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut pieces made it a bit more exciting to eat.

We all thought our brunch at Barry’s was great. Despite the busy mid-week brunch rush (damn, do these people work? Oh wait, why were we there…), the service was quick and efficient and the food was just as sunny and pleasant (except for Daisy’s bubble and squeak perhaps) as the café itself. Although I very rarely go to Northcote, Barry is a café that I can definitely see myself coming back to if I’m in the area. Or if I have a car*.

*I will have a car soon!

Barry on Urbanspoon

Café Azul

346 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 5959

I have a friend who lives just around the corner from the bustling Bridge Road precinct. I envy Nick and his fiancée Bibi – all they need to do is wake up, make themselves look semi-presentable and walk a few metres down the road before being presented by several dozen cafés, drinking holes and restaurants including a Hungarian restaurant, a Nepalese restaurant and a couple of dumpling restaurants.

Nick and Bibi may be spoilt for choice but there is one café that they return to quite a bit and that is Café Azul. The word ‘azul’ means ‘blue’ in Spanish and given that Nick had just arrived back from Cuba with a horrendous three-month old beard (after proposing to Bibi!), it seemed somewhat appropriate that he would choose this spot for our hangover brunch session. Actually, I should cross out that ‘our’ – I was the one who had a few drinks before seeing Grease! the previous night. Nick was totally fine.

Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)

Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)

I must have been on a coffee ban that week for I ordered a mixed juice instead of my usual latte. I dare say that the refreshing combination and pineapple mixed with cucumber juice was more efficient in waking me up that morning than a cup of coffee!

California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)

California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)

Nick ordered something that sounded so horrendous, the California Breakfast. From what I know about Californian food (through following the Dawn books in the Babysitters Club series and watching The Simple Life), I was expecting to see a completely healthy dish. However, my brain quickly recovered (‘Nick? Eat healthy? SINCE WHEN?’) as soon as I saw the massive plate of bacon, fried eggs, cheesy toast accompanied by some spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli. In fact, the only healthy thing on the plate was the avocado.

To be honest, it actually didn’t taste that bad. In fact, I can see why Nick orders this dish all the time. The flavours went well together and if it’s filling enough for 6’3-tall Nick not to bother with lunch or dinner, then it represents excellent value.

Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)

Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)

I went for one of their specials, the smoked trout omelette. My dish was heavier than it sounded on paper, but definitely not as rich as Nick’s. That said, I didn’t have the urge to eat dinner afterwards so this was another value-for-money-er. I especially loved the added crunch that the croutons gave to the dish.

Café Azul is a decent enough café for those who don’t live far from Bridge Road. While I couldn’t see many Spanish influences (I guess there is that California connection but still), I guess it doesn’t really matter. Café Azul offers the usual smashed avocado and poached eggs dishes that 99% of Melbourne’s brunch places have plus a few interesting dishes (as above) to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, I never got to try their coffee so I can’t say if it’s worth coming to for a cuppa. Given the steady stream of patrons coming in and out for takeaway coffees though, I dare say that they also do an okay brew.

Cafe Azul on Urbanspoon

Review: Crystal Jade Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

154 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 2633
http://www.crystaljade.com.au/

It’s not often that my (old) workmates and I would catch up on weekends. Sure, we’d do trivia every other Wednesday night and sure, Friday nights are normally guaranteed post-work piss-up nights. But when it comes to organising Saturday afternoon catch-ups, the same group of people are less likely to want to come out. I don’t blame them – I think being around me five days a week is already enough. So when Amy and I decided to organise a weekday yum cha lunch, we were kinda surprised to see that almost everyone in the crew wanted to come.

I guess people do like me enough to want to spend the sixth day of the week with me. Except for Sean, that is. He decided not to come to yum cha, citing reasons ranging from being poor to having footy training to his wife not letting him leave the house – it could also be because he didn’t want to spend extra time with me but whatever.

So the six of us rocked up to Crystal Jade one Saturday afternoon. Pete and I just had coffee at the Rose Street Markets an hour or so beforehand so we were wide awake. The others were decidedly less awake but we nevertheless keen to get their yum cha on.

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We ordered pretty much everything we could get our hands on. I didn’t take photos of every single thing we ate though, sorry.

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Generally, the food at Crystal Jade is more than decent. Don’t be mistaken by the restaurant’s name though – it’s not the same Crystal Jade franchise that make those fantastic xiaolongbao in Singapore.

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I only ever order the fried calamari when I’m having yum cha with my parents. For some reason, my non-family dining companions never seem to want it. Fine with me, I guess – it’s not my favourite thing on the yum cha menu. Amy, however, insisted that we order a plate and I’m glad I listened to her. These tentacles were crispy without being too oily (a problem at a lot of yum cha restaurants) and were equal parts pleasantly spicy and salty.

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Rarely am I able to convince most people to eat tripe with me so, again, when Amy agreed to share a serving with me, I was thrilled. Crystal Jade did a more than decent version too so win-win.

I should also point out here that we also ordered chicken feet. Now chicken feet is a dish that I’m not particularly fond of – I love the sauce but not so much the texture. So when I see it on the lazy susan, I send it over the other way. Amy and her husband Brandon ate the chicken feet while I looked on. Meanwhile, our mate Pete decided to give the chicken feet a go. He was doing a good job nibbling on the joints and skin and all that before I realised that his bowl was completely empty. ‘Um, where are the bones?’ I asked him. He looked puzzled, ‘I ate them? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?’

Um NO, Pete. But you’re cute for trying.

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I love a good zhaliang, especially ones where there’s a perfect balance between greens and Chinese donut. And of course, the Chinese donut has to be crispy. Thankfully, this one ticked all boxes.

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For some reason, the steamed dim sum dishes were the last to arrive. In fact, I remember waiting quite some time for them to show up. When they did though, we attacked them hungrily. They were excellent dumplings except for maybe the xiaolongbao but then again, only sillyheads would order XLBs at a yum cha restaurant i.e. me.

Crystal Jade offers a reliable yum cha dining option for those stuck in the CBD on weekends. Understandably, there may be a long wait for some dishes (and to even get a table, period) so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to compromise a bit of time for some pretty damn good har gow. Of all the yum cha places in the city, however, this is the one I’m most likely to return to and recommend to others based on taste and price alone. ($25ish per head and we were stuffed)

Crystal Jade on Urbanspoon

Review: Champagne CRB (Gold Coast, QLD)

2 Queensland Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5538 3877
http://www.champagnecrb.com.au

A few weeks ago, my boss shouted the office to a Bastille Day dinner at Champagne CRB  in Broadbeach. Wait, WHAT? Broadbeach? Isn’t that on the Gold Coast? What’s going on, Libby?!

Don’t worry, all will be revealed in due course.

For the time being, let’s focus on this dinner. So yes, Bastille Day. Lots of fireworks. Lots of French food. Lots of drinking. Yep, we certainly got all that. Well, maybe not the fireworks – but then again, we can’t always have everything we want in life.

So anyway, my boss who is Belgian but thinks he’s French likes to do nice things for us. In this case, he decided to treat the office to a nice six-course degustation with matching wines on Bastille Day. Not that we really needed an excuse to party. We were going to the restaurant that was formerly called Champagne Brasserie but has now rebranded itself as Champagne CRB (CRB meaning ‘café, restaurant and bar’) to shake off its rather dated image but also extend its services to include breakfast and Parisian café lunches in addition to their normal dinner service.

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Champagne CRB is located underneath the Hi Ho Beach Apartment complex, just a short walk away from the beach. Indeed, it’s a random place to house what could possibly be the ‘Coast most authentic French restaurant.

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Our degustation began with some freshly baked warm bread and a glass of Charles de Cazanove rosé.

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

‘What the hell is a testou?’ we all murmured when we read the menu. I had no idea and a Google search proved fruitless. Hence, it was kind of funny when we were later told that it was a thing that Chef Olivier Burgos made up. The hollowed out egg was filled with a warm truffled egg emulsion and topped with a piece of crouton.

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The testou was well received across the table. I loved the presentation and the fact that something so silky and so delicate can hold so much flavour. (err Libby, you idiot, it’s the TRUFFLES)

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

I wasn’t sure about this dish. On one hand, the scallops were beautifully cooked and oh-so-succulent. On the other hand, I thought the blobs of cocoa dressing were out of place and the orange tuile, which was a bit too sweet, just made the whole thing taste like an orange jaffa party. Bleh. If they served the scallops with just the rocket veloute, then it would have actually been a perfect dish.

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

The third course was rich and decadent – and enough to render half the table full. A cheese soufflé was always going to be a filling course but to also jack it up with a Jerusalem artichoke filling AND truffle shreds on top? Man, they were asking for trouble.

The whole package tasted pretty damn good (I’m a sucker for cheese), but the soufflé’s texture was a bit off. It was too dense – almost like a pudding – and having those rich ingredients and flavours certainly didn’t help. The matching wine for this course was a Gerard Bertrand 2010 Chardonnay. Now, I’m not a Chardonnay drinker but if I’m going to drink Chardonnay, it may as well be a French one and the Gerard Bertrand managed to cut through all the richness beautifully. I’d like to think of it as akin to when a dud Tinder guy matches with a hot Tinder girl and magic happens on their first date.

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

I found our fourth course a bit ‘meh.’ A boudin blanc is a white sausage (no snigger, please) that’s normally stuffed with pork and rice but in this case, Burgos used chicken mousse instead. This dish received mixed reactions from the table: some loved it, while others hated it. I just found the filling a bit bland and the mushrooms a bit sweet while the green lentils were slightly out of place.

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

I did love our final savoury course, though. Steak (yes!) cooked in bacon fat (yes!) served with crispy potatoes (omg yes!). I couldn’t really taste the truffles in the so-called truffle sauce but I didn’t care – the steak was absolutely beautiful and full of flavour and imo, you just can’t go wrong with crispy potato slices.

At this point in the evening, a group of mid-high school girls walked into the dining room in leotards. Music came on and the girls then started to do the can-can and a whole bunch of other dances! I did take photos but I feel like a creep putting photos of young under-aged girls on my blog so I’m not going to. It was a random interlude to what had been a joyous dinner – in fact, it was kind of awkward watching middle-aged men ogling these girls!

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

I was too full to fully appreciate our dessert, a frozen nougat topped with a dove-shaped meringue (though someone on the table thought it was a ghost) surrounded by lots of raspberry coulis. If I had still been hungry, I probably would have had more than the three spoonfuls I did manage to consume. The nougat was lovely but combined with all that sauce, I did find the whole thing overpowering – but that’s just me.

Our Bastille Day dinner was a bit of a hit and miss, however we all had a fun night pretending to be French. Hell, I even wore the French colours: a blue dress and red nail polish. While it’s not the best French I’ve ever had, it definitely makes the top 5 on the Gold Coast. The breakfast and lunch offerings are very different to what they offer during dinner so I will definitely revisit Champagne CRB during the daytime for a croissant or two.

Champagne Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Review: Big Mama

466 Swanston Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 2656

My friend Pete used to talk up this Japanese/Korean restaurant on the Carlton end of Swanston Street back when he was still living in Melbourne. Big Mama, it’s called. I never got the chance to visit on my own but Pete and I just happened to be in the city one early Saturday evening. He had time to kill before he was due to meet his twin sister so he suggested dinner – at Big Mama.

Now, I’d normally show some resistance to being taken to a place called Big Mama if a guy asked me to dine there with him. However, I was also hungry and not really in the mood to go home and cook something from scratch. So we went.

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Banchan. It’s always good to have banchan.

Takoyaki (six pieces for $7)

Takoyaki (six pieces for $7)

We started off with some takoyaki. They were okay, but could have done with a bit more sauce.

Korean BBQ beef ($15)

Korean BBQ beef ($15)

We then shared two main dishes. First up, the Korean BBQ beef which was, let’s face it, bulgogi but stir-fried rather than grilled. Taste-wise, it did the job – the beef was tender and the marinade was sweet without being too overpowering. At $15, it’s not the cheapest serving of sweet marinated beef in the Melbourne CBD region but the portion size was generous. I think I would have preferred to pay less for a smaller portion though because we struggle to finish the whole thing. (this was in addition to the second main we had, mind you)

Chilli chicken karaage ($14.80)

Chilli chicken karaage ($14.80)

The chilli chicken karaage was amazing. The chicken pieces were marinated in a lovely soy and garlic sauce before being deep-fried then coated in a special sweet chilli karaage sauce and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. Although the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, there was still a lovely balance of sweet, salty and nutty that kept me happy.

I can see why Pete loved the place – the food is pretty consistent and the high turnover of patrons kept the atmosphere buzzing. The service was also friendly and efficient despite the busy Saturday evening dinner rush. I did say that the portion sizes were a little big (and the prices accordingly slightly higher than normal) – that wouldn’t be a problem for big eaters or those dining in a large group. For the two of us, however, it was a big of a struggle and we ended up wasting a bit of food.

Big Mama on Urbanspoon

Review: Rice Workshop

238 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 6663
http://riceworkshop.com.au

I’m a huge fan of Sydney’s Menya Mappen and for a while, I was bummed that Melbourne didn’t have anything like it. Sure, we have our cheap Japanese restaurants – but they were either mediocre at best, too far away or on the expensive end of the cheap spectrum.

So when Rice Workshop opened up last year, I was excited. It did take me a while to visit, however the opportunity to visit presented itself one Friday night after a boozy session with my workmates. Pete and I were looking for a place to soak up all the alcohol and Rice Workshop just happened to be on our way to our respective bus stops/train stations – so we stopped there.

For those unfamiliar with the Rice Workshop concept, it’s pretty simple. You select a meal from the counter display; they specialise in, well, rice bowls (think chicken on rice, beef on rice etc, all cooked in various forms) but they also have curries, udon and salads available.

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You can then choose from a variety of add-ons from the counter – we’re talking croquettes, okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes), spring rolls and so on. You then have the option to add whatever sauces you want onto your fried goodies and if you’re like me, you’ll go crazy with the Japanese mayo. You then pay for your rice bowl/curry/udon/salad and whatever add-ons you took and grab a seat – that is, if you can find one in the diminutive dining area.

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Pete and I decided to grab a few fried things to share. First up, the okonomiyaki. At $2.80, it’s pretty good value. More often than not, I just want a few bites of savoury pancake before I start to get sick of it so it’s good that Rice Workshop’s okonomiyaki is small. The problem with this, however, is that their okonomiyaki tastes so good that you actually WANT to order two or three of them.

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

We also grabbed a takoyaki skewer containing four balls (snigger). Unfortunately, the balls were soggy by the time they were in my mouth (oh gawd, stop it!) but they were tasty and actually contained a decent amount of octopus.

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Pete and I both had an ontama beef bowl. What I liked about Rice Workshop is that with some of the dishes, you can use what size you want. $7.70 got us a regular-sized ontama beef bowl, though those with larger appetites can get a larger bowl for $9.20. I’d suggest you stick to the regular-sized bowl though – they’re quite filling.

So what’s an ontama beef bowl? Basically, it’s Rice Workshop’s signature dish. You have a bowl of rice topped with beef cooked in soy sauce, sautéed onions and a soft-boiled egg. It’s tasty, it’s cheap and it doesn’t make you bloat like a mofo.

While I prefer Menya Mappen’s udon dishes and their add-ons, Rice Workshop fills the Melbourne void for good and cheap Japanese food. Now I’m hankering for some of them little okonoimiyaki bites…

Rice Workshop on Urbanspoon