Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Carlton’ category

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

Event: Pidapipó Gelateria Pop-Up Store Launch Party

222 Faraday Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 422 004 750
http://www.pidapipo.com/

Disclaimer: Libby and Dave attended this event as guests of Pidapipó.

Happy New Year, my dear readers!

I hope everyone had a great start to the year and if you’re like me, you would have made vague promises to ‘get hot abs’ and ‘show all them haters’ without actually determining how you’re going to achieve said goals.

Or you could visit every new gelati store that’s opened up in the eastern states of Australia.

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Like moths attracted to light, the hipsters and wannabe-hipsters rocked up to the launch of Melbourne’s newest gelataria, Pidapipó, one Thursday afternoon. I remembered it being a super hot day (does 40 degrees sound about right?) so the event could not have come at a more perfect time.

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With Carpgiani Gelato University-trained owner Lisa Valmorbida behind the wheels, it was all systems go as soon as the doors opened just after 5pm. Walking into the brightly coloured ‘gelato test lab and store’ and being confronted by stainless steel tubs (pozzetti) full of gelati and hot gelati scooper dudes was pretty much my idea of fun on a Thursday arvo!

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There was a lot of this.

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And this.

Yuzu and Vietnamese mint

Yuzu and Vietnamese mint

With fellow bloggers Daisy, Ashley and Aaron rounding up the food blogger quota, we were able to sample a decent range of flavours between the five of us. We loved that Pidapipó went wild with unusual flavours like the very refreshing yuzu and Vietnamese mint sorbet and the vibrant mango milk…

Pistachio, rockmelon and chocolate

Pistachio, rockmelon and chocolate

… but we also appreciated the fact that they also paid homage to tradition by doing flavours such as pistachio and chocolate very well.

Virgin Mojito, hazelnut and gianduja

Virgin Mojito, hazelnut and gianduja

My favourite flavour, however, was the creamy hazelnut which was packed full of nuttiness minus that nasty sugar rush at the end. Sadly, the two flavours that I was most excited about – salted caramel and pineapple – were not available that day but hey, there is always next time.

At Pidapipó, $4.50 gives you one scoop while $7 gives you three. All the flavours we had were light and not terribly heavy on the sugar, including the chocolate one, which always earns a thumbs up in my books! I guess the only thing I have to sook about was that the combination of hot weather and too many people in the one store meant that the air got so warm that the gelati melted very quickly. This meant that I wasn’t able to enjoy my gelati fully. But given that Melbourne doesn’t look to be warming up any time soon (summer? what summer?), perhaps now’s a good time to duck down to Pidapipó for some pineapple gelati.

Pidapipó on Urbanspoon

Kaprica

19 Lincoln Square South
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9639 6222

Happy Easter, folks!

I trust that you’ve all enjoyed yourselves this Good Friday, whether it’d be at church with the family, eating the mandatory Good Friday seafood requirements by way of a hu tieu in Richmond, in bed catching up on some much-needed sleep or tucking into fish and chips for dinner– or all of the above if you’re like me. If you’re also like me, you probably won’t be able to get through the long weekend without squeezing a couple of blog posts. So here’s the first one.

So as some of you might know, I’m currently studying. Some of you might also know that Dave is also currently studying (but lucky for him, not for much longer). The two of us also study at the same institution. We don’t often see each other on campus due to different class times (it could also be due to the fact that I attend class as little as possible) but the other week, we both happened to have classes on Tuesday afternoon. Therefore, we decided to squeeze in lunch during our break.

Winston has been waxing lyrical about Melbourne pizza king Pietro Barbagallo’s latest venture, for quite some time. Barbagallo’s the dude responsible for institutions such as I-Carusi and his eponymous CBD trattoria Barbagallo before its sudden closure. Now, Barbagallo’s focus is on the grassroots and with that, came the quiet birth of Kaprica.

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Located next door to the Salmat building on Lincoln Square South (just look out for the group of smokers and tattoos out the front), Kaprica is one of those walk-and-you’ll-miss-it type places. Hell, I must have walked past it three times before realising that the brick hut-looking joint covered in weird plastic green ‘stuff’ housed, what I soon found out was, one of Melbourne’s finest pizzas.

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Dave was still in class so I decided to come in a bit earlier to grab a seat just in case it got packed during the lunch rush. The waitress seated me near the doorway and when I said that I was waiting for a friend, she nodded and left me alone. Now, it was a 36 degree day and the only thing providing little relief from the elements outside was the old electric fan a few tables next to me. I saw the waitress providing glasses of water to the other patrons but I was ignored. While I get that I told her that I was waiting for someone (and thus, obviously not ready to order), it would have been good if she gave me some of that much-needed water given the heat and all. In the end, I did ask for it and everything was fine – but I really felt that she should have used a bit of initiative.

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Apart from that though, my experience at Kaprica’s was fantastic. Once I had my water, my lemon granita ($5) arrived shortly after. It was literally the. best. thing. ever. on such a hot day and it was not watery like a lot of granitas I’ve had in the past.

At this point, Dave was running a bit late. Okay, maybe more than just a little bit. Apparently a couple of student presentations went on for a bit too long and so did the barrage of questions from super-inquisitive students. Ugh. But he did finally arrive (though he only had about half an hour before he had to go back to class). Thankfully, Kaprica were very nice about this – not once were we pressured to leave, even when the place got more than a little busy (and hot!) during the lunch rush.

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We ordered two small pizzas to share: the salsiccia and the salmone.

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The salsiccia pizza ($12) was chosen because Dave wanted something ‘meaty’ and the pork and fennel sausages certainly delivered (okay that sounded slightly dirty…). The pizza might have only been a 10-incher (okay, I’ll stop now) but it was very filling. What impressed us both was the crust – it was beautifully crispy all over. Yep, not just on the crust but all over. Not even the tomatoes could make the base the slightest bit soggy, which I thought was amazing.

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I also thought the salmone ($12) was terrific. Winston said that this was his favourite flavour and I can certainly see why – I loved the wonderful textural contrast between the creamy mascarpone and the silky smoked salmon, punctured by the popping fish roe. The tomato base then added a lovely tanginess to the whole thing. Beautiful, just beautiful.

We were both pretty full by the end of lunch so we were kind of glad that we went without starters (although I wouldn’t mind trying the Caprese salad the next time I’m here!). Apart from the water thing (partly because everything else was so good and partly because I’m a whinging sook when the weather gets a bit too hot), our experience was fantastic. The pizzas were not only delicious, but cheap especially given Barbagallo’s credentials. This makes Kaprica a place to go to if you want damn good value pizza.

I might hate going to uni but knowing that an eatery like this exists only two blocks from campus makes me, well, not hate it so much. As long as I’m a student (hopefully not for long though), I will make this a regular lunch haunt.

Kaprica on Urbanspoon

University Café

257 Lygon Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 2142

I don’t usually go out of my way to eat Italian food on Lygon Street. Who pay to eat pasta from the packet doused in a sauce that’s either too bland or too salty to hide the smell and taste of meat that’s about to go off? But that’s what Sam and I ended up doing last night before we headed up the road to Cinema Nova to watch Polisse (I highly recommend this fantastic movie if you’re into The Wire or cute French-Martinique guys in general – just be prepared for some WTF scenes). Our original plan was to have dinner at Middle Fish but we weren’t prepared for the possibility that it would have been closed by the time we rocked up. Fail. And so after doing a lap around Lygon Street, we ended up going what seemed like an inoffensive Anglo-Italian café a block away from the cinema.

The place I’m talking about is called University Café, which sounds just as Italian as Willie Carne, though given its proximity to Melbourne University, its name is pretty apt. The café has been around since the 1950s and was apparently the site of Melbourne’s first imported Gaggia three-handle espresso machine. Since then, it has been a popular hang-out joint for Italian migrants, idiot muzzas and university students alike.

Like many Lygon Street restaurants, however, University Café’s food quality has since gone to shite. I may or may not have eaten there while I was an undergrad at Melbourne Uni as the restaurants on this strip are pretty homogenous. However, I DO know that the food we had last night was pretty bad. That said, I couldn’t really find fault in the service. The girl who served us was not only appropriately friendly and polite, she also managed to get us out of there within the half hour so that we could make the movie in time (we could have had a longer dinner if we had not walked past the Gewurzhaus spice store beforehand *cue Libby going slightly crazy over rubs, spices and teas*).

We were given a basket of cold bread and probably more than enough Western Star butter pats. It wouldn’t have been at all fair to bitch about the bread here (which, to be fair, wasn’t horrible), so we just appreciated the fact that we actually got some.

Sam ordered a main-sized spaghetti alla universita ($20.50). The generously-sized dish came in the form of cooked packet spaghetti drizzled with way too much olive oil and not enough garlic and chilli. There was a decent amount of mushrooms on top so you’d think that they would, at least, make the dish taste earthy but all Sam got was ‘bland.’ Not even the heaping of parmesan cheese on top could make it remotely exciting.

I wasn’t sure I fared any better with my entrée-sized penne telefono ($17). The tomato-based ragu was more tomato sauce with only little flecks of nasty processed sausages scattered here and there. I found the sauce to be pretty salty, so I regretted my decision to say ‘yes’ to parmesan cheese. That said, I did like that the portion was pretty good for an entrée-sized dish so you’re unlikely to remain hungry if you don’t have a particularly massive appetite like I do.

While the service was friendly and speedy, we both thought that the pasta should suffer the same fate as some of the scumbag characters in Polisse. Generous portions aside, they were very two-dimension and boring. We’re not frequent cooks at home but hell, I’m pretty sure we can both whip up better pasta dishes at home. That said, University Café was reasonably busy for a Wednesday night and I can’t see it struggling like a Judd-less Carlton team any time soon.

University Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saigon Pho

106 Lygon St
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9654 9653
saigonpho.com.au

I’m five weeks into a new masters course … and I’m loving it. I’m only doing one subject this semester and I only have to attend an evening class once a week. My campus is only a mere 10 minute tram ride from work, which makes it a breeze to get to. And it feels so damn good not having to read boring 100-page cases. Another good thing about going to this uni (and not the one I went to up until late last year) is that it’s surrounded by a handful of cheapie cafés and Lygon Street is only a stone’s throw away. I’m not usually one to rave about Lygon Street ‘Italian food’ but when you’ve been studying at a university in Clayton for so long, a campus that’s in the middle of nowhere, Lygon Street is a godsend.

Amongst the dime-a-dozen Anglo-Italian cafés and restaurants, gelati stores and Thai restaurants, there is Saigon Phố, probably the only Vietnamese restaurant on the strip. One might initially think that Lygon Street is a strange place to set up a Vietnamese restaurant but I think it makes sense: most people love phố, phố is cheap and uni students love cheap food. I, for one, am normally extremely hungry after my evening class and instead of waiting 45 minutes to reach home before I could eat dinner, I’d prefer to have a quick meal nearby before heading home. As such, cheap and quick options such as phố are ideal.

The restaurant is a simple, no-fuss eatery as are most Vietnamese restaurants. However, little touches such as a chandelier and timber floors make the restaurant stand out from other Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne. It was a warm evening when I rocked up so I was grateful when a waitress immediately passed some ice-cold water to me as I studied the menu. Although phố is obviously the restaurant’s specialty, other Vietnamese favourites such as Bún bò Huế make the list.

I started off with a serving of prawn spring rolls (six for $7). Although I would have preferred to see little chunks of prawn meat (as opposed to the prawn being minced beyond recognition), I thought the filling tasted great. There was a decent amount of vermicelli in the mix, too. And the best thing? They weren’t too oily.

I enjoyed a small bowl of beef and brisket phố ($8.50). Although the broth did not taste as sharp as I would have liked, it was still tasty in that flat but mellow kind of way. Yeah, okay, so it was not completely free from MSG but it was still great. There was a generous amount of rice noodles, beef and brisket given the size of the bowl so I was happy. The bowl might have been smaller than what other Vietnamese restaurants would consider ‘small’ but it still managed to fill me up (then again, I DID manage to demolish six spring rolls…). It was definitely not the best phố I’ve ever had but by no means, the worse. And hey, keep in mind that this is Lygon Street. I’ll definitely keep coming back for as long as I’m still a student (which at the rate I’m going would probably mean forever, hah).

Saigon Pho (Carlton) on Urbanspoon

Middle Fish

122-128 Berkeley St
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9348 1704

I know I’m probably a bit late in saying this, but I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a safe New Year! I hope that the lead-up to Christmas Day hasn’t been too stressful or too draining for you, and I hope that you had a wonderful day of fun, laughter and lots and lots of yummy food with your loved ones today. We normally have some sort of meal at our house but this year, we were a bit slack with organising something so we decided to take the easy route and have yum cha for lunch. No stressful trips to Queen Vic Market’s seafood hall on Christmas Eve, no slaving away in the kitchen for hours, whipping up gingerbread houses, chucking them in the oven and then forgetting about them as you go off and watch Carols By Candlelight, and no more leftover Christmas ham that will eventually form lunch for the next two weeks.

So why, oh WHY, the fudge did I decide to torture myself yesterday by going to Queen Vic Market when I had nothing that I needed to buy? Why did I think it would be a good idea to wander around the seafood hall, getting squashed by frantic mums and dads desperately stocking up on cooked prawns, Moreton Bay bugs and trout? Why didn’t I just stay home? I don’t know. I must be a masochist. Nevertheless, I ended up leaving with a bag of walnuts, a bag of sweet cherries at $10/kg (BARGAIN!), bananas at 50 cents/kg and a bag of organic salad greens at $5/kg so my trip certainly wasn’t a waste.

To reward myself for my efforts, I decided to head over to Middle Fish cafe, this Southern Thai cafe that had just opened up on Berkeley Street with very little fanfare only a couple of weeks ago. You wouldn’t think it, folks, but inside one of those warehouse-looking structures lives what I reckon is Melbourne’s coolest Thai eatery.

Stepping away from the heat of the sun and into the cool (both temperature-wise and style-wise) warehouse was a relief to my senses. I couldn’t get over how cool everything was, from the booths formed from old train carriage sleepers to the chandeliers which were made out of metal Thai rice bowls to the funky traditional Thai-inspired industrial artwork by Thai artist, Torlarp Larpjaroensook. Nope, you wouldn’t find any purple walls or skinny Buddha statues here. Just fun, eclectic and unpretentious steez. While it’s true that the warehouse thing has been done to death in Melbourne, somehow owners Thai-born Pla and her Aussie partner, David, have ensured that Middle Fish was Not Another Friggin’ Hipster-Warehouse-Bullshit-Eatery. It may be because the warm and friendly personalities of both Pla and David replace the snide attitudes of some of the staff that work in some of those places. Or because the menu consists of not paninis and free-range eggs done 10 billion ways but rather simple Southern Thai dishes, accompanied by an array of cold drinks by the bottle or coffee by Five Senses. Whatever it is, this is a place that I’d be sure to frequent quite a bit next year given that it’s so close from Melbourne University, where I’ll be doing my new Masters course.

It was almost three o’clock when I visited, and thus expected the place to be getting ready to close. ‘No,’ said Pla, cheerfully while indicating to the sign above the counter. ‘Of course, we’re still open for lunch.’ I plunked myself gratefully at a table in the corner and studied the menu, which was divided into breakfast items, specials (‘try this’, it urged on the menu), salads and soups/curries. The head chef, Pla’s aunty, is from Southern Thailand, which means the food is as well so don’t come in expecting Massaman beef curries, pad thai or even Thai fish cakes here. Instead, expect dishes such as Southern Thai dish curry soup with crab leg meat, and caramelised pork belly fried rice, or the local favourite, tom yum with Queensland banana prawns and rockling fillets. Had the weather been cold, I would have chose one of those dishes but because it was hot, my eyes darted to the salad section instead.

I ordered my food, while sipping some ice, cool water and read the latest Frankie magazine. Not long after, Pla returned with an amuse bouche of half a son-in-law egg. Although I prefer Teage Ezard’s sticky, gooey son-in-law eggs from Gingerboy, this one was still pretty good. The yolk was not quite hard, thus allowing the delicate flavours of the tamarind, palm sugar and chillies to seep through the centre. A great start.

My som tum, a Thai-style spicy fruit salad ($12.50). Pla did warn me that it was spicy and asked if I could handle the heat. ‘Pfft, of course, I’m Indonesian,’ I said, perhaps a little arrogantly but I guess Pla would have got the last laugh because although I managed to finish the salad off without begging for milk, it was still reasonably spicy! Later on, David explained that there are many variations of this dish in Thailand, and the most popular ones use green papaya and other fruits that you can only get in Thailand. They’ve had to be a little creative with the ingredients here but I reckon they did a pretty good job. Instead of green papayas, I got apples. I also got sweet pineapples, sliced cherries, carrots and salad greens. It was all held together by a sweet, tangy sauce that was oh-so-hot but at the same time, refreshing. I also loved the saltiness that the dried pieces of shrimp gave, and also the crunch of the peanuts. This dish reminded me so much of the Indonesia’s equivalent, the fruit rujak, but I prefer the som tum a little bit better, heh!

I also bought another salad dish to take home with me, a North-East Thai beef salad ($12.50), probably the only Northern Thai dish on the menu. Like the som tum, this salad was also very flavoursome and fresh, but thankfully not as spicy. The vegies – sliced red onions, chopped spring onions, coriander and salad greens – were obviously beyond fresh while the fatty minced beef proved to be excellent in mopping up the chilli, lemon and lime dressing while elsewhere, bits of roasted rice provided that extra crunch. This dish is traditionally served hot, so by the time I dug into it at home several hours later, it was starting to lose some of its shine. It was still good, but the flavours weren’t as intense so I ended up shoving half of it in the fridge for next time. Next time was supper this evening when I awoke from my long siesta, somewhat hungry. For some reason, I couldn’t be bothered heating the salad up so I ended up eating it cold. And you know what? It was magnificent. The flavours magically intensified in the cool air overnight, and made the whole thing taste so much better. I probably would have preferred this cold version over the, dare I say it, hot version.

I know I’ll be back multiple times in the new year to try their richer curry dishes for dinner, their banana roti with condensed milk for breakfast, or simply to just chill on the couches with a juice or a coffee (if I end up drinking it again) before class. I may as well enjoy Middle Fish while it’s still in its baby stages because I can only imagine that it’ll be overrun by hipsters and Melbourne Uni students when they find out about this place, the next best eatery to have been established next to the university since Seven Seeds.

Middle Fish  on Urbanspoon

Paris Go

116 Rathdowne St
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 7507
http://www.parisgo.com.au/

In a city where punters marvel over dishes such as squids cooked in red wine with fromage blanc froth and bergamo, and where high-end modern French restaurants get three-hats despite having only been on its new site for less than a month (Mr Bennett, I’m staring daggers at you), classic Gallic cafes such as Paris Go are becoming harder to find. Okay, so it doesn’t have the drawcard of a celebrity chef, a glamorous location or even a kitchen that fiddles around with modern techniques, which seems to be the way to go these days. But what Paris Go does, it does well and that is serving genuine old school French favourites in a relaxed, homely environment.

The truth was that Adam and I weren’t planning to have dinner at Paris Go. I can’t remember what our original plans were (this dinner occurred way back in February (!)) but it didn’t involve walking up to Carlton in the rain but that’s what we did. That is, once I booked a table for two using the bookarestaurant app that I had recently installed on my iphone. When we got there, however, we were told that they didn’t have our booking on file. I’m not sure whether it was because the app was faulty (in which case, I curse you, Mitch!) or whether the fact that we had only booked 15 minutes ago meant that it hadn’t quite registered with the restaurant’s booking system, though I’m inclined to say the latter. In any case, there were still a handful of free tables so we happily picked one against the inner wall of the tiny L-shaped dining room.

Pretty little butter circles!

I ordered the ‘escargots a ‘la forestiere’ ($15), not only to allay any residual feelings of apprehension that I had when it came to eating snails but because Shirley and I had been talking about snails in French restaurants in the week leading up to this dinner (for whatever reason). The snails were chewy as one would expect, probably slightly tougher than the snails and pigs’ tail dish I once enjoyed at Cumulus Inc though. The rich, earthy flavour of the roasted mushroom cups in which the snails were snuggled in went well with the molluscs and the lovely herbed garlic butter that they were infused with.

Adam had the French onion soup ($13), or the soupe a l’oignon gratinee, if pretentiousness is your kind of thing. A far cry from the tasteless and watery bowl of insipidness that he made for French class back in his school days, the soup already ticked the ‘looks’ box when it appeared dried-blood red (okay, not the most apt description but I’ve been watching The Wire so can you blame me?). It was rich, comforting and full of lovely sweet caramelised onion flavour flecked with gruyere cheese, with a bit of garlic for added depth. And on top? A crunchy piece of garlic bread.

For our mains, we both had the filet Bearnaise ($35), cooked rare. 250g of ‘prime export quality’ eye fillet arrived on the table with a knife it its eye socket, and some lovely béarnaise sauce. It was a decent steak – cooked the way we liked it and flavoursome – and we enjoyed it, but without being blown away. Think of a Squires Loft steak, but without the awesome tangy baste that they marinade their steaks (and their other meats) in before cooking them. On that note, I think I’d rather go to Squires Loft given that I do like their steaks a lot better and you’re paying the same price for the same cut anyway.

We also had a green salad (oh excuse me, salade verte, $5) and fries ($5). Because we love fries. Not so much salads, but eh.

Overall, our Paris Go experience was decent. It doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not – it’s a simple, small restaurant serving traditional French food. And they do it well, too. Go there and expect warm, French hospitality and humour (“Stop looking at your Blackberry and pay attention to the pretty lady,” a waiter scolded Adam) and bistro fare and you won’t be disappointed.

Paris Go on Urbanspoon

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Salé e Pepe

232 Lygon Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9663 2599

‘You know what we should do one night?’ asked Adam.

‘What?’

‘Walk down Lygon Street and actually walk into one of them Italian restaurants that are fronted by spruikers and actually have dinner there.’

‘Get stuffed, NO WAY!’

‘Nah seriously, I reckon the food wouldn’t be half-bad. Let’s try one!’

And so the following review is one reason why you should never take food-related advice from someone whose favourite thing to eat is a nuked frozen meat pie with tomato sauce.

From the long line of tacky ‘Italian’ restaurants on Lygon Street, we ended up choosing one that a decent amount of diners, Sale a Pepe. ‘Surely a restaurant that’s managed to get 60% of its seats filled with diners can’t be that bad?’ we thought. Unfortunately we did not take into consideration the possibility that said diners had bad taste. Like, REALLY bad taste.

 The guy formerly known as my boyfriend and I started off with a small basket of herb bread (three slices for $4). It arrived at our table faster than a Valentino Rossi lap time. Pretty harmless stuff, we thought, and what could possibly go wrong? Well, the bread was as hard as chalk and the same thing could almost be said about the taste. The only herb they used was some chopped up flat-leaf parsley and a teeny weeny bit of thyme. No garlic was used to give it more flavour.

 We thought our mains would be okay – I don’t know why though. Given that we were, after all, at a place that was not only tacky, from the cheap plastic-y décor to the slimy spruiker with the sweet words but greasy smile and given that this restaurant could not even get a simple herb bread right, I should have lowered my expectations. No, the photo above is not a plate of vomit – it’s a photo of my ‘fettucine prawns’ ($24.50). Yes, I’m aware that food photos taken on an iphone are normally of crappy quality and more often than not, make food look bad. I, however, doubt very much that an SLR could make this dish look pretty. Hell, I didn’t even use flash but look how slick and shiny the pasta is! The prawns (advertised as ‘fresh’ but weren’t) were tossed into an insipid  ’creamy sauce,’ essentially double cream with a bit of butter. There might have been a bit of salt in the mix, I don’t know. Random strands of spinach provided the iron requirement while the garlic that was advertised was nowhere to be found. It looked like a mess, it tasted like a mess, it WAS a mess. A big fat, f*cking FAIL.

Adam fared a little bit better with his main (but not by much). He ordered the spaghetti pescatora ($24.50), which was essentially a tomato-based marinara. If I had to say ONE good thing about this pasta, then it would be the fact that it had SOME taste (as opposed to none at all, above). Still, that isn’t saying much. The Napoli sauce was as boring as my constitutional law lecture notes; the negligible amount of chilli flakes and parsley did little to liven up festivities. And while I was glad to see a decent amount of seafood, the fact that they were nowhere near fresh just spoilt the dish for us.

We received 25% off the final bill thanks to an Entertainment Book voucher but I still felt ripped off. While the service was speedy, it wasn’t overly friendly and the food spoilt it for us anyway. I am never going back again and I’m never listening to a word Adam says with regards to food.

Sale and Pepe on Urbanspoon

Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe (CLOSED)

154 Rathdowne Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 1739

The above statement would be accurate if the owners of Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe proclaimed it 30-odd years ago when they established this dive. Of course, now with the influx of Asian immigrants and students, there are several dozen eateries specialising in noodles that exist in Carlton. Some have been successful while others have quietly faded away like Lance Whitnall’s AFL career. CCNC belongs to the former group. Its longevity surpasses even the heavyweights of the industry such as Supper Inn and its production line of fried siu mai is as strong and efficient as the ones you find at the Ford Motors plant, but still the smiling owners of CCNC desire no award and no hats. Instead, their sole purpose is to satisfy the hungry bellies of local residents who live in the nearby flats, and regulars such as my dad who has been going here since his Swinburne Uni days in the late 70s.

My first memory of this place consisted of wearing my Sunday best at the age of two… and vomiting all over the place. This act of vomiting was not at all reflective of the food that was served, but probably because I was feeling the heat of the 30+ degree day in stockings, laces and wool. Or something like that. But anyway, I shan’t digress no further. Yes, the cafe may have the most original cafe name known to man and okay, fine, the food may not be innovative but it’s good, home-style fare, mmmkay? Just trust me on it. And when you do make a visit, order only the following items:

Popiah (spelt ‘poppia’ at the cafe, $2.40 each), a Fujian-style spring roll. While a popiah is traditionally a fresh spring roll that isn’t fried, CCNC fry theirs to an almost burnt crisp and that’s the way I like it. Unlike Adam, I’m not at all a spring roll person unless they happen to be Vietnamese prawn ones but I do like CCNC’s version of the popiah. Filled with a sweet pork, cabbage and bean shoot filling, they are a must-order entree for everyone in my family. Eaten with chilli sauce and soy, they are filling enough on their own too.

Singapore fried noodles, indisputably the most popular dish on the menu. Okay, so it’s not actually on the menu (at least not when I was there last) but it’s what every second person seems to order when they’re at the cafe. Fresh prawns, chicken pieces and egg mingled with several handfuls of soy and curry-seasoned vermicelli noodles, before being lashed with a gorgeous peanut and chilli dressing. Simply. The. Best.

The nasi goreng special is another family favourite. We normally get the version with the chicken ($7.80, without the chicken is $7.00) which is a lovely, fragrant dish of chicken pieces, pork, egg, bean shoots and vegies all intertwined with deliciously sweet soy-seasoned rice. Those of you who know me will know that I’m not at all a fan of nasi goreng so I’m saying something when I tell you that the nasi goreng at CCNC is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Finally, the Indian mee goreng. Like the Singapore noodles, this dish wasn’t on the menu for whatever reason but it is yet another popular dish so the owners have no issues with making it for people who so wish to eat it. You may have also noticed that I didn’t put the prices for the Singapore and Indian noodles which is very unlike me. Quite simply, I just forgot. Shut up, I’m allowed to have off days, OKAY? Anyway. The Indian mee. The noodles were spicy enough for us chilli fiends to enjoy, yet also mild enough for chilli haters to comfortably eat without frantically reaching for water. An optional squeeze of the lime half heightened the dish’s beautiful flavours that were readily soaked up by the spongy fried tofu squares.

CCNC itself may be smaller than Australia’s first innings in this year’s Boxing Day test (it only had two tables that seat four each, and a squishy bar counter with like, six stools), as famous as Steve Smith prior to this Ashes series (it doesn’t even have an urbanpoon entry) and its location somewhat out of the way (insert appropriate cricket reference here). However, the friendly hospitality, the quality of the food, and the fact that most dishes are less than $10 means that the crew at CCNC are a team that will never let you down. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the Carlton Football Club. Hah.

DiMattina’s

306 Lygon St
Carlton VIC 3053
(03) 9347 5500
http://www.dimattinas.com.au/

I love Italian food. God bless the carb-loving, sugo-slurping and meatball-rolling Italians. If I had no choice but to live on pasta for the rest of my life, I would die a happy girl. Nick and I, we both love our pastas. In fact, we’re the stuff of Dr Atkins’ worst nightmares. And while Lygon Street isn’t where I’d normally go for ‘authentic’ Italian food, I usually can’t say no to any meal that involves pasta of some sort. To DiMattina‘s we went one wet Wednesday evening in July, one of Nick’s favourite restaurants and where I had a decent chicken tortellini some five years ago.

DiMattina’s, owned by Paul DiMattina’s of Western Bulldogs fame, is one of those restaurants that don’t put themselves out there but still attract a steady stream of clients – kind of like my cousin … ahaha, okay bad analogy. Unlike the other Italian restaurants on the Safeway side of Lygon Street, there are no checkered tablecloths and no spruikers outside DiMattina’s. Rather, the restaurant itself is bright and welcoming and its Roman-style mural and AFL memorabilia paying homage to both the owner’s Italian heritage and AFL career. The cynics in us may argue that the family-friendly and almost bogue-tastic decor may send Brenda and Eddie running in the opposite direction, but it would certainly make the likes of Gatto and his boys feel right at home.

Sitting in a rather clumily positioned table in the middle of the room, we ordered our drinks – a glass of Mrs Wigley moscato for myself ($7.50 – yes, I know and shut up) and a bottle of Coopers Sparkling for him ($6.50). And although my moscato was presented to me already poured, the waitress did actually come back to take my glass back to replace it with another one as the first glass was “flat.” Tick. Slices of adequate herb bread whetted our appetites for our pasta mains ($3.90 for four slices).

Both our mains arrived at the same time, ‘suspiciously quick’ I might add. I had the penne ortolana ($21.90 for a main-sized plate), a vegetarian pasta consisting of swiss brown mushrooms, snow peas and cherry tomatoes, with the opinion of having prawns mixed in there for an extra $4 (I didn’t). In all honesty, this dish is something that I could whip up at home with my eyes closed and I’m spewing over the fact that I didn’t order a lasagne ($19.90) instead. And while I liked that the olive oil prevented this dish from being heavy, it didn’t really bring all the vegies together. I still ate it all though.

Nick had the penne pollo ($21.90 for a main-sized plate), a chicken, mushroom, spring onion and cream. Again, this was a dish that I could make at home but it was miles better than my ortolana. It may have been cream-based, but it wasn’t overly heavy. It was perhaps a little bland, but with the addition of a fist-sized amount of parmesan, it was winner in Nick’s eyes.

Our pastas may have arrived ‘suspiciously quick’ but the rate at which our desserts arrived made me wonder whether the people at DiMattina’s had ESP or something. Surprisingly, the highlight of tonight’s dinner was not the shade of Nick’s purple shirt but how deliciously good my vanilla creme brulee ($12.50) was. My main may have been mediocre but my creme brulee  certainly made up for it – it had a perfect crunchy crust and a soft, silky filling with the right amount of sweetness. It was accompanied by a small tub of vanilla ice cream topped with a strawberry. Yum.

Nick’s sticky date pudding ($10.90) was just as good but not quite. Like my creme brulee, it was accompanied by vanilla ice cream and a strawberry. Unlike mine, however, his mound was moist and sticky rather than silky smooth (oh deary me, double entendre unintended). I liked that the pudding wasn’t terribly rich or sickingly sweet, and the caramel sauce created a lovely hit.

The total came to $85.10 but waving my Entertainment Book card around meant that the damage was only $64.90. Like Billy Joel’s ability to churn out the greatest hits and Brad Johnson, DiMattina’s seemed to have worn itself out with age. The menu was shorter, the mains were not as memorable as last time and our fellow diners looked as exhausted as one would feel if they had to sit through yet another rendition of ‘Piano Man’ at a karaoke lounge. Still, I can’t say that I will rule DiMattina’s out for future Lygon Street dinners. It still attracts a decent amount of regulars, their service is not only friendly but also efficient (like, ridiculously efficient) and their desserts are pretty damn good. If only I could say the same about the Western Bulldogs. Poor game this weekend, boys, poor game. Sigh.