65 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9428 9730
To most Melburnians, the city end of Swan Street used to be a foodie wasteland of crappy pubs and sleazy drinking holes. Not anymore, folks. In recent times, we’ve seen places such as Meatball and Wine Bar pop up along with Fonda Mexican, Noir, Union Dining and Feast of Merit. And towards the end of last year, we also welcomed fiery Southeast Asian tiger, Botherambo to the now eclectic mix.
Botherambo’s close proximity to Richmond Station and Melbourne’s sporting complexes, including the MCG makes it perfect for a post-match drink or feed if you want something other than parmas or steaks. I, myself, just so happened to be at the cricket that day and what better way to celebrate a well-fought day by the Aussies than sussing out this feisty dragon with Thanh.
As we were walking into the restaurant, we were stopped by a bouncer at the door: he wanted to check my bag. After deciding that the contents of my Longchamp Pliage was not going to harm anyone, he ushered us in. Now, I can understand the need to check bags at sporting complexes, bars and karaoke venues but restaurants? Wow, okay, this was a first… and to be honest, it was a bit wanky.
Chaffey bros ‘dufte punkt’ Riesling blend, Eden Valley
‘Never mind,’ we thought as we got ourselves comfortable at the bar. Although there were plenty of table seating when we rocked up, we decided to sit high on the bar for perving purposes (well, I can’t speak for Thanh but me on the other hand… hee!). With a lovely Riesling blend from Eden Valley (loved the name too!), we got straight to work.
For those of you who are fans of Bangpop, you’ll probably feel a hint of deja vu when eating at Botherambo – after all, the chef is none other than Kam McManamey who is famous for introducing Melburnians to Bangpop’s bold and spicy Thai dishes that can make even the most seasoned spicy food eaters sweat.
Fried egg ($4)
To start, we split a fried egg which was still beautifully runny in the middle. Coriander, nam jim and lime gave the dish a zingy kick, while the shallots added a slight crunch.
Crispy duck leg salad ($18)
Next came the duck leg salad which contained kohlrabi, cucumber and lychee, and was drizzled in a lime, chilli and fish sauce dressing. All well and good, but I found the dressing way too sour – even the lychees did nothing to diffuse the salad with their sweetness.
Cold smoked ocean trout ($21)
This wasn’t in the salad section but it should have been. Cold pieces of trout were hidden underneath a mass of green papaya, young coconut, kaffir lime and chilli, topped with a little bit of Yarra Valley roe. Now, Thanh and I both thought the dressing was exactly the same as the one in the crispy duck leg salad so it was almost like we were eating the same dish, but with different proteins. Disappointingly, we also could not taste the young coconut and the smokiness of the trout – so strong and overpowering was that dressing.
Crispy pork belly ($16)
Next came the crispy pork belly served with sticky rice (image below), nam prik pla raa, crispy shallots and lime. Unfortunately, the pork was very dry throughout so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we would have liked. The only saving grace, really, was the fact that it didn’t have any of that same-same dressing the other two dishes had.
MS7+ wagyu beef cheek ($38)
The beef cheek was meant to be Botherambo’s signature dish. Unfortunately, it came with a green mango salad that was, yes, drizzled with that same overpowering lime, chilli and fish sauce dressing dammit! The salted prawns would have been a nice touch if they weren’t drowned out by the ridiculous amount of fish sauce that was used (and this is from someone who LOVES fish sauce) but no, we were left disappointed despite the fact that the beef was actually cooked well.
For all the social media buzz Botherambo attracted, both Thanh and I were left disappointed. True, it could have been due to the fact that we ordered the wrong dishes but seriously, what are the odds that three of the four big dishes ordered from different sections of the menu and containing different meats would taste essentially the same?
While I can see Botherambo being successful on Swan Street (it desperately needed a ‘cool’ slightly upmarket Asian joint), I myself wouldn’t bother returning.
289 Wellington Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 9419 5170
As Melbourne’s evenings get cooler, my collection of red wine and whisky bottles expand as does my appetite for hearty meaty dishes (and, let’s face it, my waistline). Our fair southern city is full of gastropubs serving all manners of pub classics with modern twists and The Gem Bar & Dining in Collingwood happens to be one of them. This place gets understandably packed on Friday nights so if you want your fix of pub classics with a touch of American soul, then you’re better off making a booking before rocking up.
So I had dinner with my friend Gian late on a Friday night. Gian had waxed lyrical about The Gem’s American BBQ menu but he decided to give this place another shot as he wanted to see what the pub fare was like.
Buttermilk fried chicken soft shell taco with sweetcorn ceviche and chipotle mayo ($7); kafalograviera saganaki ($14)
We both had a buttermilk fried chicken taco to start. I may be a bit over the whole Mexican craze but what normal person can resist the lure of crispy buttermilk fried chicken because BUTTERMILK? The tacos were decently sized and the chicken was beautifully crunchy though if I was to be picky, I wasn’t sure I liked the way they used the term ‘sweetcorn ceviche’ on the menu because isn’t ceviche supposed to equal seafood?
The dish you see in the background is a serving of saganaki. At $14 a pop, I thought it was a bit rich for what was essentially grilled cheese. It wasn’t even drizzled in that lovely sticky fig sauce as per Hellenic Republic or anything to make it worth the coin; it was a piece of rock hard cheese sprinkled with zaatar and served with lemon and Turkish bread. Nice, but not for $14.
Maltese lamb pie ($22)
Gian ordered the Maltese lamb pie, which was essentially slow-cooked lamb neck in a rich tomato stew, topped with puff pastry and served with French braised peas, mash and jus. It was a lovely dish that warmed both heart and stomach, though we both struggled to figure out what was so ‘Maltese’ about it. (we later found out from the general manager that the spices and olives made it more Maltese Falcon than Italian Stallion. Riiiiight)
Pot au feu ($28)
I ordered the pot au feu, purely because I’ve heard that the dudes who created Vietnamese beef noodle soup, pho, was inspired by the French pot au feu. My dish was a rich medley of ox cheek, pork hock, savoy cabbage, chat potatoes and smoked bone marrow; it tasted rustic and amazing but you know what? After only 10 or so spoonfuls, I conceded defeat. It was THAT rich. Fail, Libby, fail.
Gem’s a nice bar to warm up to a nice dinner to after work, preferably not on a Friday if you want to avoid crowds. I’m defs keen to go back to try their all American menu at some point.
So I’ve FINALLY finished writing about my Japan foodie adventures. It’s been an amazing and eye-opening trip – probably the best in my life so far. I learnt a lot about myself, met so many unforgettable people (and admittedly, some that I DO want to forget because ew) and of course, ate a lot of delicious food.
I’ve tried my best to recount all the important dining experiences for each post but there were some that I could not find a home for. These included the following:
Compartmentalised breakfast at the Tokyo business hotel I stayed in on my first night. This sort of stuff is probably the equivalent of a stodgy western breakfast buffet meal plate but better – rice over sugar-laden cereal any day (even if I think the amount of plastic wrapping they used is excessive).
The plethora of cheap and surprisingly decent quick snacks and meals one could find at any given Family Mart (the Japanese version of 7/11). Those AUD1 rice balls came in handy many times during my trip.
The random mamma and papa bar I stumbled across just around the corner from Yudanaka Station in the Nagano prefecture. The further out of the bigger cities you go, the less likely you are to find someone who can speak English. This was evident when I trepidatiously walked into this little inn. The lovely lady owner knew no English, my Japanese skillz were extremely poor and the menu was written entirely in Japanese (no photos, no romaji!) but I was able to (just) order my lunch using, funnily enough, my very limited Chinese reading skills.
Soba and tempura, yo.
The random donburi restaurant that my companion for the night and I came across after a drunken night out in Shibuya. You place your order using a vending machine, chuck some yen coins in and your food comes out to you at the speed of light.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite like my sliced pork with raw egg and garlic on rice (think oyakodon but with pork instead of chicken as well as a motherload of garlic). It had way too much garlic in it – and I normally love garlic.
And finally, the random alleyway restaurant I stumbled across in Asakusa.
… that served horse sashimi.
Yup, I went there. It was leaner than horse and had a much cleaner taste. But by cleaner, I also meant blander. I’m glad I tried horse but it’s not something I’d quickly order again. Beef FTW.
It’s true what they say about solo travelling. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s life-changing and liberating and Japan’s the perfect place to start if you’ve never travelled alone before. It’s safe, yet there’s plenty of things to keep you occupied no matter what your interests are. Sayonara, Japan…
… for now anyway.
Kohoku-Ku, Yokohama 222-0033
+81 45 471 0503
If you love ramen as much as everyone in the Australia loves Tim Ho Wan right now, then you’d have to be silly not to visit Yokohama’s ramen museum if you’re ever in Japan. (btw, I’m still not sure why they spell ramen with a ‘u’ in it)
Founded in 1994, it was touted as the world’s first food-themed amusement park though it’s more of a food court boasting nine different ramen stalls, a ramen stall and a small museum section for all you noodle-slurping history buffs out there – unfortunately though, the museum section is entirely in Japanese.
The ramen stalls, all offering different kinds of ramen from Japan’s many regions, are enclosed in late 1958-style Japanese streetscape replication. And why 1958? It was the year the instant ramen was invented, naturally.
The museum’s shop has some pretty cool souvenirs, perfect for those who with foodie friends. You can get all manners of bowls, utensils and chopsticks as well as 10 billion kinds of instant ramen.
Their DIY ramen kit is pretty pimpin’ too.
‘though I wasn’t keen on buying one because hmm, dehydrated vegies.
What I was down for, however, was some piping hot bowls of ramen. Or rather, half bowls. I love how you can order regular sized bowls at each stall, or half bowls if you just want a taste at approximately AUD$5 each (thus, leaving more room in your stomach for more).
My first bowl of ramen was from Zweite Ramen, a German-Japanese collaboration. I shall refrain from making WWII jokes here as some uber sensitive people on my friends list got upset after I did so when I posted this photo up on Facebook. Anyway, they’re a project from Muku Zweite, a popular Frankfurt ramen restaurant.
Tonkotsu ramen from Zweite Ramen
The Zweite Ramen stall is only at the museum temporarily so get in before you miss out. That is, if you’d like to try some soy infused tonkotsu broth with hints of sauerkraut in it and chashu that tastes and feels more like bacon. What, sauerkraut in ramen? Damn right. It’s weird but it works – the acidity cut through the rich broth beautifully. As for the ramen, they used durum flour so the noodles were denser and springier – very much like pasta. I loved this Eurasian hottie.
‘Pho ramen’ from Narumi-Ippudo
You’d have to be insane in the membrane (and also a genius) to come up with the idea of combining two of my favourite noodle soup dishes into one single dish: a pho/ramen hybrid. The broth was created by Ippudo chef Shigemi Kawahara and is a light yet flavoursome mix of French bouillon and dashi stock, kind of like a consommé. The ramen noodles were made out of baguette breadcrumbs that gave them a firm yet springy texture. Oh my word, easily one of the most interesting things I ate in Japan.
Traditional tonkotsu ramen from Najima-tei
My last bowl was a simple tonkotsu ramen from Najima-tei, a Hakata institution since 1987. I figured that if I can’t go to Kyushu on this trip, I’d do the next best thing by ordering its speciality ramen from the ramen museum. The broth was perhaps only slightly heavier than the pho-ramen one above, but it was still milky and rich enough for me to call it quits for the night.
As much as I wanted to try more ramen, my stomach gave up at this point so I had no choice but to reluctantly end my night at the ramen museum.
Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0023
+81 45 633 9199
When one goes to Japan, eating Chinese food is the last thing one is expected to do. But when one is deprived of good Chinese food on the Goldie and when one hears that Yokohama boasts the largest Chinatown in Asia, well, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. And given that Yokohama is only an hour away from Tokyo by bullet train, why the hell not?
The rain may have kept the crowds away that evening but certainly not this lass, who was keen for some Chinese dumplings. There are approximately 250 Chinese owned/themed restaurants and shops in Yokohama Chinatown so you won’t struggle to find a place that does dumplings – and the usual dishes you’d expect to find at any given Chinatown around the world. I ended up at Dalian Chukagai, a place that specialised in dumplings. Think Melbourne’s Hu Tong.
Pan-fried pork dumplings
I don’t recall how much these dumplings were – mainly because I was an idiot and deleted the photo I took of that particular page of the menu. I do know they weren’t overly expensive though and that unlimited Chinese tea was ¥600/AUD$6.10 per person.
The dumplings were beautiful – the pork filling was deliciously juicy, every bite punctuated by lots of ginger and garlic. I savoured every last bit.
Xiaolongbao (three for ¥650/AUD$6.80)
I’m not used to seeing XLBs come in threes but it was probably for the best – I ordered probably just enough dumplings for one. The skins were thicker than what I would have liked but like the pan-fried pork dumplings, the XLB filling was tasty and the broth piping hot and delicious.
I enjoyed a quick, easy and cheap meal at Dalian. Yokohama Chinatown is definitely worth a stop if you happen to be in Yokohama or if you’ve made Tokyo your base and have a couple of hours to kill one evening. You won’t struggle to find a decent restaurant but if great dumplings are what you’re after, then I’d recommend this joint.
1-1-4 Nagoya Shinkansen Street
Nagoya-shi, Aichi 450-0002
+81 52 569 1775
I was in Nagoya for only 30 minutes, not long enough for me to do some sight seeing but long enough for me to grab a nice Nagoya-style lunch to eat before sprinting back to my platform to catch my west-bound train.
Nagoya Station boasts quite a few restaurants, each offering Nagoyan specialities – we’re talking fried Cochin chicken (a special breed of chicken), miso pork and kishimen, a type of flat udon. Luckily I stumbled across Mensakedokorowa, a place that did all three.
This was the lunch set I ordered – I don’t remember how much it was exactly, but it was definitely around the AUD$10 mark thus making it a pretty cheap lunch.
So this is the famous miso pork, a bowl full of deep fried crumbed pork pieces with blobs of thick, sweet miso paste (called aka miso) on top and a handful of shredded cabbage for filler. It was a deliciously flavoursome dish, and one that I wish was more readily available in Australia.
In the background, there was a single piece of fried Cochin chicken wing. No batter, no sauce, no nothing. It was simple yet tasty; the meat was reddish and had much more flavour than the normal white chicken we’re so accustomed to eating. I wish I spent more time in Nagoya so I could give Cochin chicken sashimi (yes, raw chicken) a go but that’ll be something to aim for the next time I’m in Japan.
Then I had the kishimen, a flat udon noodle dish. I was given the option to have it hot or cold – not sure why, but I asked for cold – and the noodles came with a very pleasant dashi-like both with a hint of sweetness. Topped with shredded daikon and bonito, it was the perfect dish to end lunch on.
Mensakedokorowa might have been ‘train station’ food but it’s a good place to suss out if you’re just in Nagoya for a brief stopover and want to try some local foods without leaving the train station. I enjoyed my lunch so much that I’ve already decided I’m spending more time in Nagoya to explore more of the local food when I’m in Japan next.
+81 3 3462 0400
It’s so easy to lose yourself among the bold colours and electric vibe of Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest districts.
Fellow Melburnian Joey and I spent quite some time exploring (almost) every corner of it, from the big flashy department stores on the main drag right down to the seedy sex stores tucked in the little alleyways.
We also stumbled across a kebab store amongst all the bars and nightclubs, something that I did not expect to see in Shibuya. But hey, I guess post-clubbing kebab cravings are universal after all.
Working up an appetite (but not for kebabs), we decided to indulge in a bit of sushi train for lunch. They’re very easy to come by in Shibuya – there’s practically one every five or so minutes. We ended up going to the Shibuya branch of Gansozushi, one of the bigger sushi train franchises in Tokyo.
It wasn’t too busy when we got there, but there was a steady stream of diners coming in and out throughout our meal. We sat at the back, served ourselves some soy sauce, a shitload of ginger and fresh wasabi before getting to work.
Every now and then, some specials will appear in front of you.
Scallop, salmon roe
Salmon nigiri mk 2
Crab, ginger, salmon roe
Each plate was about ADU$3-5 each, which wasn’t too bad at all (and we did double up on a few dishes). All the dishes we tried were generously portioned – I also loved the rice to salmon ratio in the salmon nigiri (i.e. big ass pieces of fish covering little balls of rice). The dishes were also delicious, but my favourite one would have to be the scallop nigiri – I just loved the combination of sweet succulent scallop meat and creamy mayo, punctuated by bursts of salmon roe. I do have to admit though, there was quite a bit of mayo used on a lot of the dishes which led me to think that Gansozushi was the sushi train Maccas equivalent. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed my lunch – even the crab sushi at the end, which turned out to be seafood extender, found a soft spot in my stomach and heart.
The bill was around AUD$35-38 for the two of us (I can’t remember exactly), making it a reasonably priced meal given how happy we both were.
+81 3 3842 7373
One of the highlights of my Japan trip was meeting a fellow Australian (thanks Tinder), doing drunken karaoke with a bunch of random Japanese people at a karaoke bar and getting locked out of my hotel in Asakusa. Okay, the last bit wasn’t exactly a highlight but at least it made for a funny story to tell.
Prior to getting our drinking (and Britney Spears singing) on, our night started off relatively quiet. We must have walked around Asakusa for 20 minutes, looking for somewhere cheap and decent to eat before deciding to stop at Tatsumiya. I can’t remember why we chose this place – it was no more remarkable than the other establishments on the same block, not far from where Senso-Ji temple sits. I think we just couldn’t be bothered walking any further.
I wasn’t terribly hungry but I was happy to nibble on some kingfish and squid sashimi. After having super fresh raw fish at Tsukiji a few mornings back, it was hard not to be (unfairly) critical tonight. The fish was fine, but just not OMG WOW FRESH.
Tatsumiya also happened to have whale on the menu; it was the first time I had seen it being advertised on a menu in Japan. I know it’s not something that the Japanese would casually eat on a daily basis but I was expecting to see if featured on more menus – either more and more restaurants stopped serving it due to social pressure or peoples’ tastes are just changing. And I may get crucified on social media for this but I actually did consider ordering a small serving of it just to see what it tasted. In the end though, I didn’t – my companion was giving me the judgey eyes.
Beef hot pot
The beef hot pot was generously portioned, the perfect serving size for my 6’0 companion who hadn’t eaten in hours. I didn’t find the hot pot supremely delicious – the stew had too much sweetness and a shitload of soy, making it very overpowering. My companion, however, had no complaints but did say that it was something he wouldn’t order again – there were Japanese dishes he liked better.
The owner of Tatsumiya was a lovely gentleman and the service was pretty good throughout – our dishes came out within 10 minutes of ordering and when it came to serving us our drinks, he was as quick as lightning. That said, he was a bit pushy in making us leave the closer it got to 10PM which was a bit of a turn-off (but on the other hand, totally understandable so, wash).
Tatsumiya is not a place I’d happily recommend to friends or return just for the fact that the food is just okay – there are probably better restaurants in Asakusa for a casual Tinder meet-up.
Dogenzaka Kratos Building 3F
+81 3 3770 1328
As a dog person, I walked into my first cat café with a bit of trepidation.
It’s not like I hate cats – I’ve just never really been into them. When you’re away from home, however, you tend to do things that you don’t normally do. Like sleep in love hotels, buy used panties from a vending machine and willingly spend half an hour in a room full of cats.
I was spending the morning with Joey, a twenty-year-old Melburnian who I had never met until this trip. He is a cousin of a friend of mine so when she messaged me, asking me to contact him if I was ever bored, I decided take her up on the offer. We explored quite a few random places together and one of them happened to be Hapineko Cat Café in Shibuya.
When we arrived, we were given a long list of rules to read before going in; they included no picking up of cats, no feeding them with your hands and no touching collared cats. We also had to wash our hands with sanitiser, leave our shoes at the door and change into slippers. That was totally fine with us, although I wish the lady in charge smiled every once in a while – she was so grumpy, which was surprising given that this was Japan.
As for the no touching of collared cats thing, Joey said that it was because these cats scratched and bit humans when they get touched because they get distressed. This kind of begs the question: WHY THE HELL HAVE THEM IN THERE FOR?
For the most part, people were happy just to sit and chillax while taking photos and letting the cats come to them.
Sometimes the cats would wander off and climb up onto shelves, cubicles and scratching poles.
Included in our ¥1060 (AUD$11ish) fee was tea, chocolate and a mini donut biscuit, hardly the stuff that Michelin stars are made of but hey, it’s a ‘café’ after all. I think there was also the option to order extra stuff.
Being around humans can be exhausting, I know the feeling (no, I really do).
Okay, this dog person smiled when she saw this. Aw.
Hapineko was a fun place to kill half an hour and experience a quintessential Japanese tourist activity. While I’m glad I went, I don’t think I’ll go again – cats just ain’t my thing.
Shinkokusai Building 1F
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
+81 3 5293 2800
A short walk from Yurakucho Station led me to Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie, one of the best places to get macarons in Tokyo. There are currently four branches in Tokyo – I was at the Marunouchi branch – but the main boutique is in Paris, along with a few little sister branches there.
Created by Sadaharu Aoki, the eponymous patisserie franchise is famous for using traditional Japanese ingredients and flavours in French pastries, especially éclairs and macarons. I was due to leave Tokyo the next morning and needed to grab some more gifts for friends back home in Australia so I decided a few boxes of these specialty macarons would do the trick.
This photo was taken just before the lady at the counter told me off for whipping out my phone to take shots. Grr. Apart from that though, the service was pretty tops.
For example, they asked me how far I was from the hotel. I said that I was an MTR ride away from Shinjuku (which, from memory, required a change of trains at some point) – she said that it was too long a trip for me to be carrying boxes of macarons without ice. So she chucked some ice packs into the paper bag to keep my goodies cool. Although the macarons would then hop on a plane to Melbourne with me sans ice pack (thus rendering the packs useless), I really appreciated the gesture.
Matcha green tea éclair (¥460/AUD$4.40)
I ordered a matcha green tea éclair for myself to enjoy for afternoon tea. Unlike a lot of éclairs I’ve had in Melbourne, this one was soft rather than dense and doughy while the icing was perfectly balanced – it had the right balance of gentle sweetness and bitterness.
Macarons (four for ¥1100/AUD$10.80)
I bought a few boxes of macarons, all containing the same flavours: matcha, genmaicha (green tea combined with roasted brown rice), lemon and strawberry. I can’t remember how much they were individually but a box was just a smidgen under AUD$11, which doesn’t make them expensive at all given their quality. They were all perfect – crispy shells, creamy ganache centres and soft chewy biscuits. Best of all, they were overloaded with sugar like a lot of macarons you get in Australia. My favourite one was the genmaicha in all its glorious nuttiness, followed by the beautifully tangy lemon one.
My macaron boxes survived the flight from Tokyo to Melbourne – well, except for one box – I may or may not have eaten its contents during the flight. The remaining boxes were then presented to my recipients the next day, still in perfect form sans ice packs.