Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Morris Jones

163 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 2055
http://www.morrisjones.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guess of Morris Jones and Zilla & Brook.

I have a confession to make: I am not a brunch person.

I’m probably going to lose a lot of friends/fans/stalkers in saying this – but I just don’t get the whole brunch thing. Sure, I like socialising with mates over food on lazy weekends and sure, I appreciate a good poached egg. But I just can’t justify waiting more than an hour just for a bloody seat at one of Melbourne’s so-called ‘brunch hot spots’ and paying up to $20 for eggs, bacon, toast and smashed avocado when I can whip up something just as good at home.

That said, I do like breakfast/brunch places that break the mould a bit. If they can serve non-eggs/bacon/toast/smashed avocado-type dishes, then I’m sold like an overpriced three-bedroom house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on auction day.

And one such place (as in, a place that breaks said mould) is Windsor’s Morris Jones.

Now, I don’t really go down the boho end of Chapel Street that often. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been down to Chapel Street, period. So when Zilla & Brook invited me to the breakfast menu launch at Morris Jones, I was a bit ‘meh’ about it. However, curiosity got the better of me when I saw the admittedly not-too-shabby breakfast menu and read about Chef Matthew Butcher’s background (he trained at Vue de Monde AND worked with Gordon Ramsay at Maze).

Morris Jones sits in a restored 1887s warehouse that’s been done up. Although locals know Morris Jones as a night time venue, it’s also trying to bring the breakfast crowd in.

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Coffee here is by Allpress and they do a decent latte at $3.50 a pop.

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This was the menu they gave us. I’m not sure if this was a menu specifically designed for the breakfast launch or if this is their regular menu but it was confusing to read. For example, I didn’t know that the burnt butter béarnaise and the felices ham were actually two components of the eggs benedict. I mean, it seems obvious now but it didn’t click at the time – and I wasn’t the only one on the table who made that mistake.

Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne

Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne

I don’t think this is on the regular menu, a shame because I thought it was an amazing dish. This is Morris Jones’ take on the Fruit Loops, a cereal that most of us loved as children. When liquid nitrogen was poured all the dried fruits, lemonade and champagne, the mixture bubbled and fizzed, causing everyone to go, ‘aaah!’

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It was a pretty and very clever rendition of my favourite cereal as a kid. It was cleansing and light – way better than legit Fruit Loops, that’s for sure. Butcher dubbed it ‘the grown-up version of Fruit Loops.’ Such naughtiness.

Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)

Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)

We each had our own breakfast ‘main.’ Given my rants on ‘boring’ breakfast joints, it therefore seemed a bit strange that I ended up ordering the eggs benny – but hey, when you see ‘burnt butter béarnaise’ on the menu, it’s hard not to say no.

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It was a very solid eggs benny. The eggs were perfectly poached and all the trimmings tasted fantastic. I especially liked how the burnt butter gave the sauce that extra depth.

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The other people on the table ordered the zucchini slice, pea tendrils, avocado, feta, poached egg ($15.50) or the chilli corn relish, hash fritters, poached eggs ($14.50). Unfortunately, there was no swapsies happening that morning (what?! food bloggers not swapping bits of food?! THE HELL?!) so I can’t comment on those dishes. From all the positive comments I heard around the table though, I can only say that the two dishes were pretty good as well.

Breakfast at Morris Jones proved to be a pleasant affair and while I’d never be someone who’d wait a more than an hour for a breakfast/brunch table, I’d definitely wake up and cross town for Morris Jones.

Morris Jones on Urbanspoon

Review: Ishiya Stone Grill

152 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9650 9510
http://www.ishiyastonegrill.com.au

I always find it hard to review a place that has a DIY approach when it comes to food. You know, those places where you’re supposed to cook your food in front of you because it’s supposedly more fun and interactive and WOW.

For one thing, you’re not assessing the kitchen’s ability to cook and present your cook. All the hard work is left to you, the diner. So essentially if you stuff up a steak, then it’s your fault and not the restaurant. Thus, you’re then left to judge the quality of ingredients being used, the ambiance and the service. And thankfully, Ishiya Stone Grill has all three things down pat.

Pete and I decided to have dinner here one night after work. We were looking around Chinatown, trying to find a place that was 1) open for dinner on a major public holiday eve and was 2) not ridiculously expensive (but not overly cheap either because we felt like treating ourselves). After wandering around aimlessly, we eventually settled on Ishiya. After all, their $38.90 weeknight deal that included a stone grill main and entrée each was enough to draw us in – especially given that a stone grill main was $35-39 each.

Essentially, the stone grill concept involves cooking meat and seafood on a 400-degree volcanic stone plate to your liking. The high heat of the stone is supposed to sear in the meat’s juices, making it super tasty. Ishiya is not the only restaurant that does it – there are heaps of other ones, however Ishiya is the only one I know that does it in Melbourne.

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

We started off with some shochu. The Ippongi we ordered was a rice shochu and tasted very similar to sake, but with more volume.

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

The two of us ordered the Japanese fried chicken for our entrées because neither of us were keen on the beef skewers. The crispy pieces of chicken were pedestrian enough – not too remarkable, but not terrible either.

Mixed sashimi

Mixed sashimi

We also ordered the mixed sashimi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how much it was but I don’t remember it being too expensive. Either way, we were both impressed at how fresh the fish was.

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

That’s my stone grill in the foreground; it came with a nice chunk of porterhouse, two prawns, a block of tofu and zucchini. I was also given some dipping sauces: ponzu, garlic butter miso, sesame and teriyaki, all of which were delicious.

Meanwhile, Pete had the Ishiya Deluxe Stonegrill (normally $39.90), which came with a slightly smaller piece of porterhouse, but then he also struck gold with a fish fillet, some chicken, a lamb cutlet and a prawn.

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Oh yes, steak. Okay.

We had a pleasant meal at Ishiya. Despite the DIY nature of the meal, there was plenty to like. The ingredients used were top quality, the non-stone grill meals were decent enough and the service was tops. I would come back to try some of the a la carte items on the menu (duck and scallop salad, anyone? and omg, what about the mussel croquettes?) but probably won’t do stone grill again. Sure, it’s a novel concept and I have friends who love dining here but it’s just not for me – I can cook my own steak at home, thanks.

Ishiya Stone Grill on Urbanspoon

Review: Supernormal

180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8688
http://www.supernormal.net.au

Dave and I have figurative hard-ons for Melbourne wonder-chef Andrew McConnell. So when his long-awaited city eatery Supernormal opened, we knew we had to suss it out. Conveniently, it was my birthday that week so we decided to grab Daisy and Ricky to make it a Fab Asian Foodie E-Mail Group dinner (don’t ask).

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The restaurant is located on Flinders Lane, a short away from restaurant heavyweights such as Cumulus Inc, Ezard and Chin Chin. Although it was only 6pm when Dave and I rocked up, the restaurant was already starting to fill up.

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Daisy and Ricky were still on their way from the ‘burbs when Dave and I sat down so decided to have a whisky each and some little plates to graze on.

I really liked Supernormal’s cocktail menu – it was full of interesting cocktails, including one called the Jessicah Schipper (lol). I’m not sure why they decided to name a cocktail after an Aussie swimmer (and it wasn’t like she was a Susie O’Neill or Libby Trickett either) but I suppose if I was in the mood for melon, Don Julio tequila blanco and lime, then I’d be ordering a glass of JS. I was, however, in the mood for whisky (then again, since when am I not?) so I ordered a glass of Nikka Miyagikyo 12YO ($17).

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

McConnell’s Asian-inspired restaurant Golden Fields in St Kilda may no longer be around (sob) but thankfully a lot of the Golden Fields dishes migrated across to the Supernormal menu; fans of the New England lobster roll would be pleased. Another dish that made the migration was the soy roasted pumpkin seeds though technically it’s not a dish – it’s a complimentary snack that all diners receive.

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

The raw tuna and prawn dish got the party started. Both the tuna and prawn slices were ridiculously fresh and the delicate yet spicy dressing did well to bring out the natural flavours of both.

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Veering slightly away from Golden Fields (and by that, I guess I mean A-Mac azn) territory was the smoked beef with mustard leaf and clam mayonnaise. Despite its name, it was a surprisingly delicate dish yet tasty all the same.

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Daisy and Ricky then rocked up to the party and this is the bit where we went kinda nuts with ordering OMG ALL THE THINGS.

Given that we were all Cantonese (well, okay, except me), we decided to order some rice noodle rolls. There was nothing wrong with them (cooked well, sauce tasty yet delicate, blah blah blah) but at $12, they were hardly remarkable – at least compared to the stuff we’re used to seeing McConnell make. We were better off sticking to the cheapo $6-8 ones at the local legit Cantonese restaurant.

New England lobster roll ($16)

New England lobster roll ($16)

Daisy was keen to try the lobster rolls that put Golden Fields on the Melbourne foodie VIP list so she ordered one. Dave and I will probably lose a lot of friends in saying this, but we really don’t think these rolls are remarkable. Nice, yes, but worth the price tag and mass hysteria? No way.

Pig’s head bao ($5)

Pig’s head bao ($5)

The pig’s head bao was a much more interesting dish. Crumbed pork bits and spicy kim chi cucumber shared the limelight on stage of sweet, doughy bao. Would definitely date again (oh wait, sorry, this ain’t Tinder).

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

The four of us are suckers for dumplings so we couldn’t resist grabbing a plate of pot sticker dumplings. They were big and juicy and tasty enough – and bonus points for not being too greasy. However, I’d rather much have a plate of 15 dumplings for $8 a few blocks across town.

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Much better was the spicy beef bun. The beef filling had a surprisingly decent amount of heat which we all gave two thumbs up to.

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

We then moved onto the mains. There was a nice selection of pan-Asian fare such as the John Dory with spring onion and ginger. Now, that’s my kind of dish but given that they were charging $34 for it and I could get something similiar in Box Hill for much less than that, we didn’t order it.

Instead, we went for a dish that sounded like it had a national identity crisis, the sautéed mushrooms with black barley pilaf and mushroom dashi. There were elements of Japanese, Middle Eastern and Indian but the dish tasted resoundingly European – it was rich, earthy and very comforting.

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Our final main was the main to end all mains: the pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder. It was definitely big enough for the four of us, especially given that we consumed a lot of other dishes beforehand. What I liked most about this dish was the DIY element of it. You grab a bao-like piece of bread, spoon some omg-melt-in-your-mouth pork and crispy crackling onto it and garnish with whatever amount of pickled cabbage (read: a tastier version of kim chi) and saam jang sauce you want.

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Or you can be a bit weird like me by heaping everything on your plate and eat it deconstructed style.

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

The four of us then shared three desserts. I thought the fried custard was a bit too doughy and the ginger syrup that came with it a bit too sweet. I did, however, love the peanut butter parfait that was lovingly transferred over from the Golden Fields menu. My favourite dessert though was the miso and pink lady soft serve. I’m a sucker for refreshing palate-cleansing desserts and this one didn’t disappoint. It was light and crisp with a slight hint of salty nutty goodness (oh wait, I didn’t just go there…).

The four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Apart from a few ‘just aiight’ dishes, the food was pretty, pretty good and the service was both efficient and friendly. Out of all the Andrew McConnell joints that have opened up in Melbourne in the last few years, I have to say that Supernormal is my favourite. Our overall dining experience was as cool and as effortless as, well, almost everything that’s Japanese. I can’t wait for my next visit… whenever that’ll be.

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Review: Sake (Melbourne)

Hamer Hall
100 St Kilda Road
Melbourne VIC 3004
+61 3 8687 0775
http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au/melbourne

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of Sake and Thrive PR.

As a frequent visitor to Sydney, I had always wanted to check out Shaun Presland’s award-winning Saké restaurant at The Rocks. I’m a fan of Japanese food and I wanted to experience his take on ‘modern and classic Japanese dishes with distinct local flavours.’

Unfortunately, I never got the chance to visit Saké on my last couple of trips to my favourite Australian city north of Melbourne. Thankfully though, there’s now a Saké restaurant in Melbourne, right on the arts precinct by the Yarra. When Andy from Thrive PR sent me an invite to check the place out, I gladly accepted the invite and dragged my friend Matt along for a post-work dinner.

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Because it was my final week at the office, I decided to start things off with a cocktail. The Yaeyama Fling was the perfect combination of flirty and fun with a bit of spicy thanks to the chilli.

Saké also has a neat selection of Japanese whiskies and I was fortunate to sample a few that night, ranging from the fruity Amabuki Pink Lady to the more aromatic Junmai varietals. After all, they did insist…

Kingfish Jalapeño

Kingfish Jalapeño

We were given an assortment of dishes to try, starting with the kingfish Jalapeño. The fresh slices of hiramasa were drizzled with a tangy yuzu soy sauce before being garnished with jalapeño slices and coriander. We both thought it was a very Nobu-like dish – not that that was a bad thing, of course.

Tuna ceviche

Tuna ceviche

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Tuna ceviche
We then had the tuna ceviche (hello again, Nobu!). The lemon dressing, coriander and jalapeño worked well together, though I did find that having the tomato and crunchy fried onions a bit of an overkill.

Wagyu New Style

Wagyu New Style

We both thought the wagyu new style was a successful dish. Here, the thin slices of wagyu were lightly seared with hot oil and finished off with ginger, chives and yuzu soy. There was a lot of flavour but unlike the tuna ceviche, this dish was well-balanced.

Edamame

Edamame

Tonkotsu cups

Tonkotsu cups

We then got into the fried stuff. Here, bite-sized fried pork belly and spring onion bites were served in these lettuce cups before being drizzled with mustard miso and ‘Japanese BBQ sauce’ (Bulldog sauce or similar, perhaps?). Presentation-wise, I thought they looked a bit awkward. Taste-wise, they were ridiculously delicious.

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

More lettuce cups, this time with grilled miso-marinated Patagonian toothfish in them. The marinade reminded me of Nobu’s black miso cod, but a lot more fun to eat.

Good ol’ miso soup

Good ol’ miso soup

Wagyu teriyaki

Wagyu teriyaki

Our first main was the grain-fed wagyu. Cooked medium-rare, it was served on sautéed shiitake and buckwheat and tied neatly together with yakiniku sauce; a perfect combination of sweet and earthy.

Scampi tempura

Scampi tempura

Just when we thought we were done, out came the scampi tempura. The fat scampi tails were coated in a light and crunchy batter and served with sweet ponzu sauce, coriander and jalapeño. While the sauce was nice, I did think something more delicate would have complemented the beautiful tempura scampi better.

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Our final savouries were chopped up sushi rolls. I’m not big on soft-shell crab but I thought the spider maki roll was done well – loved the crispy batter combined with the lightest drizzle of mayo and chives. The tuna roll was also well done and the layer of tempura batter added an interesting element to what would have otherwise been just another bloody tuna sushi.

Dessert platter

Dessert platter

The guys obviously saved the best for last. The dessert platter was beyond amazing – possibly one of the better desserts I’ve had this year so far and that’s saying a lot! Sure, there was a lot of chocolate – and I normally don’t like chocolate desserts that much – but both the chocolate fondant and chocolate origami (dark chocolate mousse) were ticked all the right boxes.

The ice cream and Japanese yuzu tarts were also fantastic but the highlight of this platter was by far the green tea churros. Light and fluffy and oh-so-omg-cute-and-tiny, they were accompanied by a velvety milk chocolate sauce and red bean dip both of which were lovely, but the churros were insanely delicious on their own.

Our dinner at Saké was akin to a fun Shinkansen ride through the extensive menu, with heaps of corners to keep us on the edge of our seats. Sure, there were a few little elements from several dishes that I was too keen on, but it was overall a fantastic experience especially with the top service we received during the night. Definitely one to return to, if just for those green tea churros.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Mr Big Stuff

16 Meyers Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 7411
http://www.mrbigstuff.com.au

What’s this, another Melbourne restaurant serving American-style food complete with mac and cheese and sliders and all?

Well, yes, but you see, Mr Big Stuff is actually really good. And worth the two thumbs up and several return visits rather than an eye roll.

Nee, Ling and I had dinner here two Friday nights ago, back when the joint had just opened. There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Mr Big Stuff’s opening and if it weren’t for Ling’s intel (she knew one of the restaurant’s investors), I probably would not have known about it.

When we rocked up for our 6PM booking, the place was dead quiet apart from the few waitresses standing around as well as the DJ spinning some funky soul tunes. Throughout the night though, the restaurant started to fill up. By the time we left, the place was practically full house. Not bad for a joint that didn’t do a lot of advertising, imo.

Cocktails!

Cocktails!

Friday nights with ladies always involves cocktails. I’m more of a whisky, wine and beer drinker but no way I was going to resort to drinking Pabst (what am I, a hipster?) so I ordered the Mr Tea cocktail purely for the name (a bit of an inside joke between a mate and I).

I love how customers can also opt for a non-alcoholic version of each cocktail – just strip away the alcohol and $4 or thereabouts, and you’re left with a pretty impressive mocktail. Not me though, I loved my cold brew peach sencha green tea and lemonade mix with a hint of Martell VSOP Cognac. Also, we all had a little jug of sugar syrup to accompany our drinks so we can adjust the sweetness levels – a lovely touch.

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mr Big Stuff’s mac and cheese was THE bomb. Granted, there wasn’t much of it for $12 but each mouthful was delicious – the macaroni shells were coated in three different types of cheeses and the crunchy breadcrumb topping was beaut.

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

This dish was also fantastic. The waffles themselves were just that, nice. The fried chicken, however, was the German team in the Germany vs Portugal match from the other night, beyond stellar. The meat was tender and the coating was super crispy without being too heavy.

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

At first glance, $9.50 for one slider seemed a bit exxy. But when I took my first bite, I knew the price tag was worth it. The braised ox tail filling was flavoursome and comforting enough to be served into a stew (now that’s an idea). It worked beautifully against the slaw’s fresh flavour and crispy texture.

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

For some reason, we were expecting the ribs to be massive so I was a bit ‘huh!’ when I saw the tiny portion size. Not that it mattered anyway – we were slowly starting to get full. The ribs were covered in a sticky bourbon BBQ sauce that was as sweet as the words coming out of an Italian man’s mouth, with a slight hint of smoke. They didn’t have that lovely tang that the ribs at Ribs & Rumps et al have though.

Surprisingly, I liked the corn bread more than the ribs. It was dense, without being too heavy and only a little big sweet. The girls also loved it. Who would have thought. Corn bread.

Apple pie ($10)

Apple pie ($10)

Naturally, we had to take a peek at the dessert menu. We decided that sharing one dessert between the three of us was the way to go of the two on offer, the apple pie seemed like the best choice (the other choice was a cobbler).

I was surprised to see the ‘apple pie’ come in little bite-sized donuts. Not that there was anything wrong with that. The filling had hints of spiced rum and cinnamon in it, giving these little babies a hint of lovely winter spice.

We were impressed by our dinner at Mr Big Stuff. Sure, the American food trend is starting to do my head in as much as cheesy Tinder pick-up lines. Mr Big Stuff, however, doesn’t try too hard – plus, both the food and service here is excellent. The girls are already talking about going back for the mac and cheese and waffles while I have my eye on some of the other stuff on their menu such as the Spring Bay mussels with okra and bacon.

Mr Big Stuff on Urbanspoon

Review: Muso Ramen (Gold Coast, QLD)

Shop 2B/2484 Gold Coast Highway
Mermaid Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5679 3779

If there’s one thing the Gold Coast has over Melbourne, it’d be their ramen restaurants. Oh, and the sun. And the beaches. And the quality guys on Tinder (no, I wasn’t serious with the last one).

Sure, we now have our Mugen and Fukuryu-type places but the Goldie guys have been doing it a lot longer than us with Hakataya and Muso, the subject of this post. While Hakataya is located on the main tourist strip at Surfers, Muso is slightly tucked away on the more residential Mermaid Beach area. However, it’s right on the highway so it’s easily accessible by one of Gold Coast’s many highway buses should you be an interstate or overseas visitor looking for a feed going up from the airport.

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Muso is very cool. The back wall is adorned by Beatles and Hendrix posters, while classic 60s and 70s rock music blare through the speakers as the lady takes your order at the counter.

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

With cold Kirin beers in hand, Marty and I started off with some steamed gyoza. I’m more of a fried gyoza person these days but he was always of the opinion that steamed is better than fried (true in most case but not for dumplings, in my opinion). The steamed pork gyoza were tasty enough but I found the skins a bit too soggy.

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

The fried ones were a lot better (this is why it’s a good idea to listen to me in most cases!). The filling was just as tasty as the steamed ones, but the thin skins had just the right amount of crunch and to me, that made all the difference.

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I had the tonkotsu original ($13) while Marty had the tonkotsu spicy miso ($14), the latter being essentially the same as mine but with a spicy miso sauce drizzled through it, obvs.

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My ramen was amazing, on par with the one I enjoyed at Hakataya Ramen. If you love the milkiness of the Hakata-style broth, you’ll definitely enjoy the ramen at Muso. It was rich, yet clean. It was milky, yet packed with an assortment of flavours ranging from pork to sweet miso to pure awesomeness in one neat little bowl. And it was perfect, oh-so-perfect, from the gooey tea-soaked egg half to the fatty chashu pork to the slippery thin noodles.

It saddens to me think that there are amazing down-to-earth ramen restaurants in Gold Coast, yet Melbourne seems to struggle with producing something even half as good as this. However, I have a feeling that this will all change now that Fukuryu is in the picture. And about time too.

Muso Ramen Noodle & Gyoza Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Hellenika (Gold Coast, QLD)

2235 Gold Coast Highway
Nobby Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5572 8009
http://www.hellenika.com.au

The other day, my half-Greek friend Yanni was complaining about the lack of good Greek restaurants up on the Gold Coast. While it’s true that there isn’t a big Greek population up there in comparison to Melbourne, it’s fair to say that Yanni had not experienced the wonder that is Simon Gloftis’ Hellenika.

After experiencing one of the best meals I’ve had on the Gold Coast at Gloftis’ second restaurant The Fish House, I knew I had to give Hellenika a spin. Luckily Marty was on the same page so we arranged to have dinner one evening. Keep in mind that this visit happened ages ago (by that, I mean last year) so things might have changed slightly since then.

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Gloftis is the George Calombaris of Gold Coast. He owns two restaurants and a few cafés including Three Beans – put simply, he knows food and he knows business. The thing that makes me like Gloftis’ restaurants a bit more, however, is the fact that they’re stylish, yet unpretentious. And while Melbourne and Sydney has its lion’s share of fancy restaurants, you’ll never be able to replicate the effortless manner in which Fish House and Hellenika combines charm, sexiness with a loads of modesty. Ah, it must be the Gold Coast beach thang.

Ten Cane: Ten Cane white rum, ginger, pineapple, chilli and lime ($16)

Ten Cane: Ten Cane white rum, ginger, pineapple, chilli and lime ($16)

Our table wasn’t ready when we rocked up just after 8pm so we perched at the bar with some drinks. Marty ordered a Scotch but I decided that it was perfect cocktail weather despite Hellenika’s very limited cocktail menu. My Ten Cane cocktail was as refreshing and zesty as the night’s cool breeze.

Taramosalata ($10)

Taramosalata ($10)

I initially thought that $10 for a dip was a bit steep but as soon as the creamy, smooth white roe dip reached my mouth, I knew it was worth every cent. Dinner had only just started but already I made two mistakes: 1) not ordering a second serving of taramosalata and 2) only ordering one serving, but eating enough bread to render myself half full before our main dish arrived.

Dolmades ($21)

Dolmades ($21)

Hellenika boasts an impressive list of starters, with fresh seafood dishes being the obvious highlights. I would have been totally happy with fried garfish or chargrilled octopus but in the end, Marty won with his choice of dolmades. Each little silverbeet parcel held a lovely warm mixture of veal and rice and with a spoonful of sour Greek yoghurt, each bite was a delight. (ooh hey, that rhymes)

Baked Junee lamb ($45)

Baked Junee lamb ($45)

There was no way we could bypass the house special, the 1kg baked lamb which is designed to serve two people. Apparently this dish sells out quickly each evening and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we didn’t like our chances. Luckily, they still had some lamb so we were right to go.

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The lamb shoulder was slow-cooked for five hours and as a result, the meat was gloriously juicy and fatty. Again, yoghurt was our friend – it broke through all the sinfully delicious greasiness. And if you wanted a bit of sweet kick, the eggplant dip was there. The potatoes on the side were also pretty amazing – they were also slow-cooked in the lamb juices, making them super soft and delicious.

Horiatiki salata ($14)

Horiatiki salata ($14)

To keep things on the slightly healthy side, we ordered a Greek salad. At $14, it didn’t come cheap nor was it remarkable. But the ingredients were super fresh, yadayadayada.

Halva ice cream ($3.50)

Halva ice cream ($3.50)

Believe it or not, we were really stuffed after the lamb (and I guess all that bread). In fact, we had to take the rest of the lamb home (it was enjoyed for breakfast the next morning – so so good). We couldn’t, however, leave without tasting something from the dessert menu. I think Marty wanted something more substantial than the measly halva ice cream scoop I suggested. In the end, I won. And just as well because after the ice cream (which was beautiful and nutty, without being too sweet), we were about to collapse.

We really enjoyed our meal at Hellenika. Sure, it’s not what you’d call a cheap eats place and given that the atmosphere was so lively and casual, it was hard to believe that you were dining at a fancy restaurant. Not that it matters anyway; it’s one of those places that would be perfect for a normal Friday night dinner or a special occasional venue. Overall, the meal was worth every cent and I can honestly say that it’s earned its place as one of my ‘must to go to’ restaurants on the Gold Coast.

Now if only to convince Yanni to take me there for a normal Tuesday night dinner this week ‘just because.’

Hellenika on Urbanspoon

Review: Brutale (NOW CLOSED)

18 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 4411

You know you need to lift your blogging game up when a place that you visited two months ago has since shut down. So when I heard the sad news that the hot Croatian guy restaurant in Melbourne has since skipped town, I was devastated. And annoyed that I didn’t get to blog about it before he left without so much as a goodbye.

But anyway. For me, tonight was a night to reminisce about good times so I may as well talk about the meal I enjoyed at Brutale with Dave, Amy and Amy’s friend, Tim who was visiting from Canada.

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Brutale is ex-Aylesbury chef Daniel Dobra’s restaurant. Okay, perhaps I should say ‘was.’ The menu celebrated all that was wonderfully Eastern European, with a few Croatian-style dishes making appearances thanks to Dobra’s Croatian heritage. The reason why we chose this place was because there aren’t many Croatian restaurants in Melbourne despite there being a sizeable Croatian population.

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If Brutale’s war-themed décor was anything to go by, Dobra has a cheeky sense of humour. We’re talking a disco ball bomb on the ceiling as well as soldier helmet lightshades. And if you didn’t notice in the previous pic, Brutale’s logo is a knuckle duster.

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

I was really impressed with Brutale’s extensive drinks list. They had a great selection of Eastern European wines, beers and more importantly, rajika. I would have happily gone on a tasting flight of more than a couple of shots of Serbian rajika if it weren’t for the fact that I spent a good portion of the afternoon having beers and ciders with a visiting Queensland friend. A glass of wine it was for me.

‘Svinja’ ($20)

‘Svinja’ ($20)

We started off with a plate of Eastern European cured meats, accompanied by some seasoned pickled onions. The usual suspects made appearances: salami, speck and prosciutto, though it was the dried pork belly that stole the show.

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi is arguably something that the Poles should take credit for, but they can be found in many Eastern European restaurants all over Melbourne regardless of whether they are Russian, Bulgarian or Hungarian. Thus, it’s no surprise that they were on Brutale’s menu. I’m a sucker for pierogi (or any dumpling dish, really) so we had to order a serving. Each potato, cheese and onion-filled dumpling was doughy and slightly and served with chopped dill, chives, bacon and bread crumbs. Such flavours, many textures.

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Our first main dish was the slow-cooked suckling pig. We received a nice portion of free-range pork that was beautifully cooked – the meat was just so ridiculously soft. An apple Rakija sauce then completed the package, though I’m not sure if the Rakija added much to the taste.

Baby snapper ($31)

Baby snapper ($31)

Compared to other Eastern European food, Croatia is quite heavy on the seafood due to the country’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea. This fish dish, from the island of Prvic , was also beautifully cooked. It was served with caper sauce, roasted grapes, fried capers and parsley – it sounds like a heavy sauce but it wasn’t. It was easily my favourite dish of the night – Mark Viduka would have been proud.

Father’s chips ($9)

Father’s chips ($9)

We also shared some twice-cooked chips. While they were beautifully crunchy, I thought they went overboard with the seasoning. Not even the lovely Dobra spiced mayonnaise could diffuse the saltiness. Ick.

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Ah, donuts. I don’t like dessert that much but I’m a sucker for donuts. These babies were spicy thanks to the cinnamon and nutmeg used. They also had hints of vanilla and raisins. They were delicious on their own, though a velvety walnut and Rakija cream was on hand if you needed that extra bit of sugar hit.

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

We ordered the ‘ice cake’ thinking that we were actually going to get a legit cake. Hence, we were kind of surprised to see a mound of ice cream. Not that I minded – I love my ice creams. The Mugaritz-style plating of the berries wowed us and so did the refreshing mix of ice cream and berries, effortlessly intertwined together with honey.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal so much that there were talks of a return visit. Thus, it really sucked to hear that Brutale has now turned into Brutale 2.0, ‘part diner, part bar and part dancehall.’ While you won’t find any main dishes on the bar menu, I’m glad that at least they’ve kept the pierogi, charcuterie platter and doughnuts on it. Oh yes.

Brutale on Urbanspoon

Review: Corica Pastries (Perth, WA)

106 Aberdeen Street
Northbridge WA 6003
+61 8 9328 8196

Man, my blogging backlog is getting worse by the day. Work, social calendar, cold weather, laziness – these are all to blame. Hopefully things settle down in June and I actually do what I promised to do, that is to churn out more posts than amusing Tinder updates on Twitter.

So this will be my last Perth post. And thank goodness for that – Perth happened about six months ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!) and my memory is certainly being tested. I’ve saved the best for last though, and those who have been playing at home will know that this entry is about the best apple strudels, like, ever. Okay, maybe not ever. I’ve never been to Europe so I can’t really make a fair comparison. But these strudels from Corica Pastries are definitely the best in Australia.

Knowing that these strudels were in high demand, I placed my order for six strudels in Melbourne. The first time I rang, I was a dill and forgot about the four-hour time difference. So when the lady picked up the phone at what would have been 6AM Perth time, she didn’t sound too impressed. Nevertheless, she took my order down for four apple strudels and two apple-blueberry strudels ($20 each) and said they’ll be ready to be picked up on Saturday morning.

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Unfortunately when I came to pick the boxes up, they got my order wrong and I got given five boxes instead. Thankfully, the ladies at Corica are super-prepared so they had a spare box to give me. And all was right in the world again.

And while I’ve had a Corica apple strudel before, I forgot just how big the boxes were. Naturally, carrying them back in 36-degree heat to my hotel was a challenge. And so was carrying them back on a flight to Melbourne the next day without being stared at.

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Anyway, this is what this baby looks like. Crispy, flaky pastry with tops covered in caramelised sugar with the most delicious apple and custard filling you’ve ever tasted. The apple-blueberry one is essentially the same, but the blueberry jam makes it that much sweeter if you prefer it that way (I don’t so pure apple for me, thanks).

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I really wanted to give a box to Marty’s family so what I did was cut one of the boxes in half, then cut the strudel in half, lay one half of the strudel on top of the other, slide the now-empty box half to cover the now-full box half.

Apologies for the bad photo – I blame my weary iPhone4.

Apologies for the bad photo – I blame my weary iPhone4.

And tie the lot with a rubber band.

I whacked the box into the largest express post envelope they had at the post office and chucked it into the nearest express post box. It was 36 degrees and because it was Saturday and because it was going to the Gold Coast, Marty’s family wasn’t going to get it until AT LEAST TUESDAY. (it was all mashed up by the time the strudel arrived and even though it would have sat in the Perth AND Gold Coast sun for quite some time, Marty still ate it – and survived)

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And what happened to the other five? Well, I had to play a bit of Tetris to get them to all fit in the mini-fridge. I guess the smartest thing for me to do would have been to ask someone at reception the strudels could go in the cool room but I’m pretty dumb at the best of times, hah. I’ll know for next time.

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Nevertheless, they still tasted amazing by the time I got around to eating them in Melbourne the following night. All I needed to do was to chuck my slice in the pie warmer and enjoy the pastry’s crispiness. I then added a dollop of cream to it and Hans Landa-ed the hell out of it.

Aah!

Corica Pastries on Urbanspoon

Review: Tak Chee House (Perth, WA)

1/364 William Street
Northbridge WA 6000
+61 8 9328 9445

Goodness me. I’ve promised more entries, more frequently – and so far I’ve failed to deliver. Perhaps I should think about being a politician (on second thoughts, maybe not – I’m too honest for my own good). It’s funny because I’ve been funemployed for almost a week now so you’d think that I’d have heaps of time on my hands – but I don’t. Regardless, let’s have another crack at churning out more entries, more frequently. Otherwise, you’ll be seeing a new face in parliament* very soon.

So yes, Perth.

On my last night there (sometime in November last year), I was dying for a feed. I was staying in Northbridge so I was blessed to be surrounded by a lot of cheap restaurants within strolling distance. Unfortunately, Perth doesn’t do late night eats very well (and by late night, I mean 8:30PM) so my choices were very limited.

Luckily, Malaysian restaurant Tak Chee House was still open by the time I mustered up the courage to brave the wild streets of Northbridge alone. Despite the heat, I was craving laksa so it must have been through divine intervention that of the very few places still open that night, a Malaysian restaurant was one of them.

Seafood curry laska ($13)

Seafood curry laska ($13)

At $13, the laksa wasn’t cheap nor was the portion massive.

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And while the broth was tasty enough, it didn’t have the depth that you find in laskas served at Laksa King et al and there wasn’t a lot of heat. Not that Laksa King is super authentic if my Malaysian friends are to be believed, but you get me. I guess the one thing that really did impress me here though was the seafood – my goodness, they were so so fresh!

In hindsight, I think I chose the wrong dish at Tak Chee House – I certainly was the only person there eating laksa. But that’s okay.

*Very unlikely. I’m not an Australian citizen anyway.

Tak Chee House on Urbanspoon