Review: Blue Chillies (Melbourne, VIC)

182 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 0071

Disclaimer: I dined as Thanh’s guest; he got invited by Blue Chillies for a complimentary meal and I tagged along.

I’ve always been sceptical of modern Asian restaurants, especially when the end result tastes like nothing even remotely resembling Asian food (and no, splashing fish sauce on everything doesn’t work). That said, there are some excellent modern Asian restaurants in Melbourne that do a great job; they’re the ones that strike the perfect (and usually difficult) balance between paying tribute to decades-old cooking methods and contemporary ingredients. Blue Chillies on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is one of them.

I liked my lunch there because the menu stays true to traditional Malaysian flavours but casually throws in some surprise twists here and there. There’s none of that contrived hipster wankery that you see all too often in this part of Melbourne – and there are no signs of wooden serving boards anywhere. It’s the sort of place you can easily bring your young work buddies before Wednesday night  trivia at the pub or your fussy Asian parents to for lunch on weekends.

Our host Ricky warmly greeted us, suggesting we start off with some booze. Thanh stuck with a glass of white wine while I said yes to an aperitif called ‘Linh’s party starter,’ a refreshing mix of ginger wine and apple juice topped with sparkling wine, served in a champagne glass.

Linh’s party starter ($14)
Linh’s party starter ($14)

We began our meal with some steamed buns filled with duck rendang. This dish itself isn’t on the a la carte menu (at least the current version of it anyway), but it appears as part of Blue Chillies’ celebration and deluxe banquet menus ($50 and $65 per head, respectively). The a la carte menu does offer duck rendang as a main, though so I’m guessing they serve it in bao form to prevent wastage.

As an Indonesian, I grew up eating lots of rendang – but only ever the beef kind. I’ve never even thought about using duck in rendang and I kind of wish I did. The gamey duck flesh paired beautifully with the aromatic spices and chillies in the curry, making it more exciting to eat than the traditional beef version (but probably costlier to make).

Duck rendang bao
Duck rendang bao

I’m not a huge fan of soft shell crab so I didn’t attack this dish as ferociously as Thanh did. Still, I ate it all, piquant black pepper sauce and all. Also, it may not look like it in the photo but the batter arrived on our table super crispy and light.

Black pepper soft shell crab ($15)
Black pepper soft shell crab ($15)

The rockling with butter egg floss was, by far, my favourite dish of the day. Fish is my favourite meat and I love duck eggs so really, this dish was a winner in my eyes before I even touched it. Take rockling pieces, lightly fry them in batter until they’re gorgeously crispy and then add some duck egg floss on top along with fried curry leaves and chilli for good measure. True, you really can’t go wrong with duck egg but the combination of textures and flavours just made this dish a ‘must order’ for when I next visit Blue Chillies.

Rockling with butter egg floss ($18)
Rockling with butter egg floss ($18)

Blue Chillies offers a range of curries and noodle dishes for lunch, but Ricky suggested we try the assam prawns instead. The prawns were gently cooked in a beautifully tangy tamarind curry that was light and piquant with the slightest hint of chilli. I like my curries heavy but sometimes it’s nice to go for a version that’s less likely to make you bloat like crazy.

Assam prawns with okra, stringless beans and tomatoes ($18)
Assam prawns with okra, stringless beans and tomatoes ($18)

We shared a serving of belachan spinach on the side. At $19, I found the price point of the spinach a bit odd given that it’s a side dish – especially also given that Blue Chillies’ medium-sized dishes were on the $18-20 mark. That said, the serving size was extremely generous – I love belachan (shrimp paste) so much that I would have happily enjoyed this one dish on my own for lunch.

Belachan spinach ($19)
Belachan spinach ($19)

I was a bit of a dill and accidentally deleted the one and only photo I had of our dessert, the pandan crepes ($10). Sorry folks, you’ll just have to rely on my flimsy description of this dish. Picture a pair of mutant-green crepes filled with wok-roasted coconut and palm sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Yup, it’s Blue Chillies’ version of kueh dadar, a sweet Nonya-style dessert that many Malaysians would have grown up eating.

Later on, I was surprised to find that Blue Chillies had been trading since my rebellious teenage years – 1999, to be exact. Yet, I had only just heard about them. I think it’s great that Blue Chillies managed to survive on such a competitive street for so long and continue to do well. Hopefully they’re still around when I’m in Melbourne and craving those butter egg floss rockling fillets.

Blue Chillies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Ricky & Pinky (Melbourne, VIC)

211 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 7700
http://buildersarmshotel.com.au/bar-bistro/

WOAH. Look what we have here: a new blog post!

It’s been a super long time since I updated this blog and this is where I give all the generic excuses about life getting in the way, being busy adult-ing (I don’t like using the word ‘adult’ as a verb but the cool kids seem to be doing it these days) and getting really stuck into the scary but exciting world of self-employment – and by that, I don’t mean selling weight loss teas on Instagram.

Actually, I didn’t think that people still read my blog so for a while, I was happy leave it unattended like an electric slow cooker filled with soon-to-be hearty beef stew. The other day, though, Nee tweeted that she missed me (I don’t live in Melbourne anymore – but most of you already know that) and subsequently started going through my old blog posts. While I’m not much of a sentimental person, that really touched me – in fact, it was enough for me to get inspired to start blogging regularly again.

The last time I saw Nee in real life was in Melbourne more than a month ago. Bean and I were visiting Melbourne – on Grand Final Day, no less. Bean isn’t a sportsball fan and having lived in Queensland for so long, I’ve been so out of touch with the AFL scene so I couldn’t really muster up the enthusiasm to watch the Grand Final. Nee was also free that day so it was a perfect time to catch up for lunch while the rest of Melbourne cheered on the doggies. We’re all fans of Andrew McConnell and I’d been wanting to check out his newest addition to the McConnell empire: Ricky & Pinky, a Cantonese-style gastropub (for lack of better word). Hence, we decided to make it our lunch venue for the day.

Out of all the Andrew McConnell joints we’ve been to, I’d say Ricky & Pinky was probably the less ‘pretty-looking’ out of the lot. It was obvious that the aim was to capture the essence of the much adored suburban Australian Chinese restaurant from the 80s and 90s, hence the green carpeting, fish tank filled with live seafood and lazy susans. But there was also a touch of the modern throw in: gold pipes, sleek white walls and a team of young hipsters. Also, you had to go through the Builders Arms Hotel (a pub) to get into Ricky & Pinky, which was a little bit weird. But anyway.

Every Asian household had/have these chopsticks
Every Asian household had/have these chopsticks

We picked a bottle of 2011 Magpie Estate ‘The Schnell’ Shiraz Grenanche, Barossa Valley ($59) to share. The wine’s name was fitting in both ways: Bean was flying back to Berlin that evening (‘schnell’ is the German word for ‘fast’ or ‘quick’) and I now have a strong hatred of magpies due to a nasty swooping incident while innocently walking through Bond University last spring. In any case, the wine was lovely – just the right amount of body to keep Bean happy but not too heavy for me (I don’t like combining Asian food with rich reds).

Amuse bouche: peanuts and cabbage
Amuse bouche: peanuts and cabbage

These days, I can’t sit through an Andrew McConnell meal without at least one serving of dumplings. I blame two years of living in Gold Coast and not having access to good and honest dumplings. These dumplings definitely hit the spot: I loved the combination of their silky smooth skins and the fiery chilli oil punctuated with gloriously numbing bursts of Sichuan peppercorns. The filling was robust and tasty, too.

Sichuan pork dumplings with garlic chive and chilli oil ($15)
Sichuan pork dumplings with garlic chive and chilli oil ($15)

I ordered the spring rolls not knowing what ‘scamorza’ meant. Well, it turned out to be a cow’s milk cheese that was similar to mozzarella but with a milder flavour. It was an odd feeling biting into the crispy spring roll skin expecting your typical filling of minced pork or even vegetables, only to be greeted by a stream of bubbling hot cheese. Bean wasn’t a fan, but I didn’t mind it – I mean, who doesn’t like anything that involves deep frying and cheese?

Scamorza spring roll, plum sauce (two for $8)
Scamorza spring roll, plum sauce (two for $8 – but you can ask for three)

Next, we had the pipis and XO sauce, a Cantonese classic and the one dish I always insist on ordering whenever I’m at Chinatown institution Supper Inn. I can’t remember how much the pipis were (damn ‘MP’) but we got half a kilo of them, a pretty generous serving. Best of all, the pipis were drowned in a lovely housemade XO sauce – plenty to soak up with the fried Chinese doughnuts provided on the side. Oh yeah.

Pipis and XO sauce, fried doughnuts (MP)
Pipis and XO sauce, fried doughnuts (MP)

These days, we find it hard to resist duck when it’s on the menu so it comes as no surprise that the dry aged duck was ordered. Beautifully juicy and tender, each duck breast piece imparted a slight smoky flavour. Serving suggestion: whacked on top of a warm steamed bun with plenty of hoisin sauce slathered all over. Two thumbs up – but not for the unflattering photo of it below (ha!).

Dry aged duck ($32)
Dry aged duck ($32)

We were pretty full at this stage but Bean was enjoying himself a bit too much so he cheekily asked for a serving of the steamed five-spiced salt chicken, one of the items from the mains (all designed to share, of course). Tender and juicy, the chicken was served with a large serving of egg fried rice along with ginger and spring onion sauce (the kind that David Chang made hipster famous). There was a beautiful balance of flavours but more importantly, it was tasty; the perfect dish to end a leisurely Saturday lunch on.

Steamed five-spiced salt chicken with egg fried rice ($44)
Steamed five-spiced salt chicken with egg fried rice ($44)

We shunned the dessert menu for coffee elsewhere; if we had more room in our collective stomachs though, we probably would have been more inclined to order more savoury dishes than peruse the dessert menu – like I’d pay $4 for a large fortune cookie. But never mind, we’ll be back next time to explore the rest of Ricky & Pinky’s menu – and maybe order more of those pipis.

Ricky & PInky Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Addict Food and Coffee (Melbourne, VIC)

240-242 Johnston Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
http://www.addictfoodandcoffee.com.au/

Hipsters, ridiculously low speed limits and vegans aside, Fitzroy is actually a pretty cool place to spend a morning in with your mates. And despite the fact that it was Easter Monday, a fistful of places were still open – an Easter miracle, even with penalty rates and all. On the corner of Gore and Johnston Streets lies Addict, yet another brunch place in Melbourne’s inner burbs. What’s slightly different about Addict, however, was the fact that we did not have to wait in line for a table nor was the menu another boring list of poached eggs/smashed avocados/$4 bacon permutations. In fact, a table for three was immediately vacant by the time we walked in (another Easter miracle, I reckon) so walked in and ordered our first coffees for the day.

Short macchiato ($4)
Short macchiato ($4)

Addict uses Market Lane’s seasonal blend for their white coffees, which included the short macchiato I ordered ($4). You can seriously never go wrong with Market Lane and the beautifully familiar blend of milk chocolate, stone fruit and caramel notes went down like a treat.

Sweet and savoury board ($18)
Sweet and savoury board ($18)

Our original plan was to just have a coffee at Addict, before venturing to lunch elsewhere. My friends already had breakfast but I was starving as I’d left the house on an empty stomach. That said, I’m not one to waste stomach space on boring breakfast fare so had Addict’s menu consist of the usual poached eggs/smashed avocado/$4 bacon rubbish, I would have held on for another hour or two. Thankfully, Addict’s menu was actually interesting enough to capture my attention – and keep it. I ordered their sweet and savoury board ($18), which came with crispy bacon, mushroom and tomato relish on toast on one side and coconut and chia pudding on the other side. The savoury bit did its job (and hey, who doesn’t like mushrooms and bacon?) but it was the coconut chia pudding that did it for me.

While one of my friends screwed his nose up when I offered him a bite (‘Sorry, you lost me at vegan and gluten-free’), my other friend enjoyed it – and so did I. I loved the smooth, silky pudding that had every mouthful accuented by crispy bits of puffed buckwheat. The fresh fruits – the last of summer’s bounty – added a refreshing touch, too.

I can definitely see myself visiting Addict again when I’m back in Melbourne. It’s got an interesting menu with lots of options to keep me entertained and the service is quick, friendly and to the point. Now, let’s hope they have the smoked snapper congee with puffed wild rice on the menu the next time I visit – with no poached eggs on the side, naturally.

Review: Rockwell and Sons (Melbourne, VIC)

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

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

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

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

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

Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)
Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)

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

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Burgers and fries – like Maccas, but better.

Double patty smash burger ($11)
Double patty smash burger ($11)

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

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

French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)
French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)

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

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

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

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

Review: Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew

413 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9419 0088
http://www.brotherburger.com.au

Right. The last time I blogged, I promised at least three entries per week. As you can see, I didn’t quite get there. That’s what resigning from your day job and Easter does to you. I promise I’ll be good this time though and see if I can squeeze out four posts this week – even though I have Anzac Day shenanigans, a friend’s wedding and job hunting to do in the next six days. Phew!

Tonight, I’ll keep it simple by talking about burgers… because everyone loves burgers, right? And the place I’m going to blog about is one my GBF Hasan took me for our totes romantic Valentine’s Day date this year prior to watching Grease at the theatre. He had been going on about Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew for quite some time and was keen to try it again. And because we had heaps of time to kill between finishing work that day and the start of the show, I thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

Vanilla and bourbon milkshake ($17)
Vanilla and bourbon milkshake ($17)

Knowing that I was going to be in for an interesting night (not so much the show itself but other stuff – another story for another time), I decided some alcohol in me. Brother Burger has some decent beers as well as a list of alcoholic milkshakes. BI ordered the vanilla bourbon milkshake … and it turned out to be 100 billion shades too sweet for my liking.

BB’s own chik-o-rolls (three for $6.50)
BB’s own chik-o-rolls (three for $6.50)

I’ve never really warmed up to Chiko rolls as a kid (fried dim sims and potato cakes FTW) but I’ve heard that Brother Burger’s home-made ‘chik-o rolls’ were pretty good so we ordered a plate. They were crumbed, deep-fried and stuffed with pulled lamb and vegies.

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They weren’t bad and much better than the traditional Chiko rolls but I think I’ll stick to my fried dimmies.

Plain burger with cheese ($11.50); hot stuff (double bacon, cheese, pickles, mustard mayo and chilli jam, $13.50)
Plain burger with cheese ($11.50); hot stuff (double bacon, cheese, pickles, mustard mayo and chilli jam, $13.50)

Hasan had the plain burger with cheese while I had the hot stuff burger – because I’m clearly hot stuff (ahem). Brother Burger is all about using ‘100% full blood wagyu beef, no bull’ and they source their beef rom Mayura station down in South Australia. As a result, the patties are gloriously fat and soft.

That said, I found my burger to be overwhelmingly salty, even by my standards (and I LOVE salt more than I love to see Collingwood lose). Even the more-sweet-than-hot chilli jam did nothing to alleviate the saltiness. Hasan agreed with me, saying that his plain burger with cheese was much saltier this time around.

Onion rings ($7.50)
Onion rings ($7.50)

We also split some beer battered onion rings. They were as big enough to fit around my wrists (good), yet the batter-to-onion ratio was out of whack (bad). More onion and less batter, please.

It’s a shame our dinner here wasn’t all that great. I think these burgers would have been fantastic if they weren’t bogged down by so much salt. Even Hasan, who is normally pretty easy when it comes to assessing burgers, was a bit disappointd (only for his happiness to be restored by finding a bunch of Janet Jackson vinyls at the record store across the road).

I guess the one good thing about Brother Burger is that their burgers don’t cost the earth. Plus, they sell excellent beers. Oh, and the service was great. Fine, that’s three things. But still, if I wanted burgers when I’m in the area, I think I’ll go to Huxtaburger or Rockwell & Sons instead.

Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew on Urbanspoon

Review: Po’ Boy Quarter

295 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 2130
http://gumbokitchen.com.au/

Now that burgers, ribs and fried chicken have had their time in the very harsh Australian sun, it’s about time that regional American dishes such as Louisiana’s gumbo grabbed the spotlight. While Melbourne’s Gumbo Kitchen food truck may have been serving up Louisiana’s state dish since 2011, the gumbo hasn’t exactly trended on social media. And because I’m a bit slow when it comes to catching onto food trends (not much of a food blogger, hey), it took me a while to try my first spoonful of gumbo.

Last year, the Gumbo Kitchen guys opened up Po’ Boy Quarter, a standalone restaurant on Smith Street with a focus on all things New Orleans minus Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Daisy and I happened to be going to an event on Smith Street that night so we decided to stop by Po’ Boy Quarter for dinner beforehand.

Homemade New Orleans lemonade ($5)
Homemade New Orleans lemonade ($5)

I’m not much of a soft drink person – in fact, I had probably my fourth serving of Coke this year on Saturday night). However, I do appreciate an honest glass of homemade lemonade so we ordered one each. They were served in those plastic red cups that you see in American college movies. And for a while, I felt like I was attending a frat boy party – because obvs I’m cool enough to be invited to one.

How did they taste though? Well, the drink itself was pink and, thankfully, tasted more lemony than sugary. However, there was a bit of salty kick at the end which Daisy and I found odd.

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We ordered a po’ boy each and gumbo to share.

Beef debris po’ boy ($11.90)
Beef debris po’ boy ($11.90)

What’s a po’ boy? They’re essentially sub-sandwiches filled with meat or fried seafood. Think roid-(well okay, carb-) injected Subway sandwiches. Daisy ordered the beef debris po’boy which contained 10-hour braised shredded beef, Cajun gravy, French mustard, mayo and a squeeze of Louisiana hot sauce. Due to the generous amount of beef and the crazy amount of sauces used, Daisy’s po’ boy was very tasty – but also insanely rich. In the end, she ended up tossing out the bread and just eating the meat.

Deep fried shrimp ($11.90)
Deep fried shrimp ($11.90)

I liked my deep fried shrimp po’ boy a little better. It wasn’t as sauce-heavy but it was still nevertheless tasty. Think ketchup, mayo and Cajun slaw with fresh tomatoes, lettuce and pickles to keep things somewhat balanced.

Chicken and smoked sausage gumbo ($7)
Chicken and smoked sausage gumbo ($7)

Given how filling our sandwiches were, we probably could have gone without the gumbo. Still, Daisy and I are pretty much must-order-everything types so there was no way we could leave without trying a bit of gumbo. Neither of us have had it before so we weren’t sure what to expect.

The stew was, like our po’ boys, jam-packed with flavour. Filled with shredded chicken and sausages, it was meat lover’s dream. The thick meat-based stew was deliciously spicy, yet very smoky – and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked the smokiness of it. Now, that’s an odd thing for me to say because I normally like stuff that’s been smoked. I’m guessing it’s because the soup just had so much going for it that it became a bit too much.

Po’ Boy Quarter provided a great introduction to Louisianan cuisine and we’re very blessed to have a place like this in Melbourne. While Daisy and I were a bit ‘hmmm I dunno…’ with gumbo, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this joint to others who want something different from the usual burgers and ribs.

Po' Boy Quarter on Urbanspoon

Review: Jimmy Grants

113 St David Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9416 0060
http://jimmygrants.com.au/

Happy Friday, everyone! And just before I head down to the gym for a weights session, I figured I’d squeeze out one more post before I leave the office. After all, it’s about time I published my write-up of Jimmy Grants, the fancy schmancy souvlaki joint that’s been taking Melbourne by storm since it opened last year to a lot of fanfare. Once the hype died down though, Dave, Daisy and I went down there for dinner one spring evening.

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By now, we should know that Jimmy Grants belongs to Masterchef judge George Calombaris who also owns an empire of restaurants that’s bigger than the Byzantine Empire in its heyday.

You’re probably wondering why the name of the place doesn’t sound, well, woggy. Put simply, Jimmy Grants rhymes with ‘immigrants’ and the whole point of this restaurant to celebrate all that is awesome about the immigrants that make up Melbourne today. And in George’s case, he does it with souvlaki.

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Oh George, you’re so cheeky!

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It didn’t take long for the food to arrive.

Chips, garlic oil, feta, oregano ($6)
Chips, garlic oil, feta, oregano ($6)

The chips were beautifully fried but I felt that the combination of strong feta AND pungent garlic oil overpowered the chips. They were also pretty salty. If they got rid of one ingredient, I think the dish would have been more balanced.

Steamed ‘Jimmy Dimmy’ (three pieces for $6)
Steamed ‘Jimmy Dimmy’ (three pieces for $6)

Jimmy Grants’ take on the good ol’ fish and chip shop dim sims are a popular dish so we had to have them. My workmates might call me the resident food snob but I actually don’t mind the odd dimmie (in fact, I snuck one in before the Alain de Botton talk last night).

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I can see why these dimmies get a lot of love – beautifully thin wonton wrappers tightly held together a lovely mixture of chicken, cabbage, capers and lemon. When dipped in soy sauce, they tasted sublime. They also didn’t make my breath stink afterwards like the fish and chip shop ones do, hah.

Grain salad ($8)
Grain salad ($8)

We only ordered a salad just to keep things balanced but little did we know that we were going to get blown away with this salad. A simple medley of pulses, nuts, grains, herbs and a dollop of Greek yoghurt completed the food equivalent of the School of Athens – it was brain food that tasted so damn good and was filling.

The Bonegilla ($8.50)
The Bonegilla ($8.50)

We each had a souvlaki of varying kinds. I ordered the Bonegilla, which was named after the migrant camp in rural Victoria that housed European migrants after WWII. My meat filling was equal parts chicken and lamb while chips, caramelised onions, parsley and mustard aioli completed the package.

It was HELLA GOOD (hah, see what I did just then?). I loved that the bread was slightly doughy rather than flat. I also liked that there was a perfect ratio between meat and trimmings. It was also ridiculously cheap for what it was, maybe even cheaper than what my local fish and chips shop charge for a souvlaki.

Greek doughnuts, walnuts and honey ($6)
Greek doughnuts, walnuts and honey ($6)

One does not leave a George Calombaris restaurant without enjoying his loukamades (Greek doughnuts). These ones did not disappoint – they were dense and oh-so-good with all the honey while the crunchy walnuts provided a bit of texture.

Jimmy’s wheel ($6)
Jimmy’s wheel ($6)

Daisy and I took home Jimmy Grant’s version of a Wagon Wheel, a store-brought snack that was popular in school grounds. I was never a fan of the original Wagon Wheel but I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s Wheel! Made by Darren Purchese of B&P fame, these babies were massive and packed to the rafters with flavour.

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Think crispy chocolate biscuit combined with fluffy raspberry marshmallow with salted peanut butter shoving its way in, and chocolate and peanuts covering the lot. Oh my! It was insanely rich but whatevs, I ate the whole lot in one go.

Greece’s economy might be gone to shit but the Calombaris Empire is most definitely not. Especially when places like Jimmy Grants are doing a roaring trade – and for good reason too: this place is amazing. Fitzroy may be a long way to get a Jimmy Grants souvie for some so it’s a good thing they’re opening up a second store at the Emporium Melbourne building very soon. OPA!

Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon

Event: Smith & Daughters First Look Feast

175 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9939 3293
http://www.smithanddaughters.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby attended this media preview dinner as guests of Smith & Daughters and Curated Control.

I haven’t been attending many foodie events in the last month or so due to work commitments, entertaining interstate and overseas visitors and general exhaustion. There’s that, plus wanting to spend more time being a recluse at home watching True Detective and eating Red Rock Deli potato chips.

But then I received a press pack in the mail – there was an invite to the launch of Smith & Daughters, a new bar-slash-restaurant in Fitzroy, printed on wood as well as a bottle of homemade apple jalapeño sauce. Apple jalapeño?! SOLD!

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Smith & Daughters is the funky, tattooed and totally hipstered Latina love child of Shannon Martinez (former head chef of The Sweetwater Inn, South and the Gasometer Hotel) and Mo Wyse (Collingwood People’s Market). I didn’t know it at the time, but I later found out that Smith & Daughters did ‘plant-based Latin cuisine.’ Vegan food? In Hipsterville? Being a city-slicker and carnivore, I had to admit that I feeling like a Collingwood supporter at half time in round one but I need not have worried – we had a fantastic meal.

Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada
Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada

While every second male had a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (hah!), I went straight for the Sailor Jerry piña colada. It was definitely the best piña colada I’ve had – the fresh coconut water really made the difference and there was none of that fake superficially sweet pineapple taste. The sangria was also delicious; it was sexy and bold with bursts of fruity fun.

Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche
Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche

Our first starter was the vegan ceviche which packed a lot of punch thanks to the awesome flavours of the tomatoes. I did feel that the oyster mushrooms disappeared in there somewhere though, disappointing given how much I love mushrooms.

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The ceviche was served with tostones (twice-fried smashed plantain chips). They were beautifully golden and crispy, thus making them an excellent alternative to potato chips.

Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon
Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon

These insanely crunchy croquettes were probably my favourite thing that night. The béchamel filling was insanely creamy and the fake tuna, well, tasted like real tuna. We honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. This is a dish that I really want to introduce my very lactose intolerant and sea creature-loving marine biologist friend to – they would seriously freak him out.

Tamales
Tamales

What are these babies? They were corn husks filled with masa, mushroom, nopales (Mexican prickly pear cactus) and grilled corn before being steamed. They were then served with fresh lime and hot sauce, making it dish that wasn’t for the faint-hearted. They were also pretty filling; I was full by this stage – and we had not had our ‘mains’ yet.

Pazole
Pazole

Pazole is a pre-Columbian soup from Mexico. It traditionally contains pork but this version had sautéed oyster mushrooms, lime and pickled purple cabbage while crispy tortilla chips provided some texture. It was very earthy and hearty – definitely a good one to order on those frosty cold nights.

Chiles rellenos
Chiles rellenos

The Mexican char-grilled peppers were also one of those ‘OMG, I can’t believe these are vegan’ dishes. They were stuffed with a cream cheese and chorizo filling (obviously both were fake), then battered and fried. A spicy tomatillo sauce then completed the well-endowed package.

Paella
Paella

Our final savoury was Shannon’s secret paella, a fourth-generation family recipe. I loved the crunchy bits of rice and the aromatic vegetable saffron stock but not so much the mock prawns, sausages and scallops. Unlike the tuna in the croquette, you could tell that these weren’t the real thing – most of us on the table didn’t like the mushy texture of the faux meats and felt that the paella would be better off without them.

Tarta de chocolate Azteca
Tarta de chocolate Azteca

I’m not normally a fan of chocolate desserts but I was impressed by the Aztec chocolate tart. The sweet date filling balanced out the chocolate’s bitterness and the small serving size was perfect, given its intensity. There was also enough caffeine in the tart to sedate my Supercoach rage after releasing that I forgot to select my emergency players for the round. Yep.

Quince-filled Spanish donut
Quince-filled Spanish donut

I love donuts as much as Homer Simpson does and these mini Spanish donuts definitely did not disappoint. They were crispy on the outside and the insides gave way to a lovely fluffy texture and a tart quince jam filling.

So there you have it: excellent vegan food and non-annoying hipster dining companions in one funky little package. While Smith & Daughters won’t have me ditching meat for the rest of my life, it has definitely got me interested in trying more vegan-only restaurants. I’m also excited about the idea of taking my sceptical meat-loving friends to this joint and ordering a few dishes off the menu without telling them that the meat is all fake – however, I may ask them to hold the ‘meat’ when I order the paella.

Smith and Daughters on Urbanspoon

Event: Gelato Messina Sweet Degustation Evening (Melbourne, VIC)

Gelato Messina (Melbourne)
237 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

Disclaimer: Daisy and Libby attended this event as guests of Gelato Messina and Kate & Co.

It may not be gelati weather in Melbourne just yet (this is the bit where I start chucking tantrums and throwing stuff all over the place), but you can’t keep ice cream lovers away tonight when Gelato Messina’s first Melbourne store finally opens.

I, for one, am pretty excited about this. Not just because we’re stealing yet another one of Sydney’s culinary icons, but because I friggin’ love Gelato Messina’s offerings so much – and this is coming from someone who’d rather starve all day then eat a motherload of sugar. Thus, I was delighted to be one of the lucky few to attend Gelato Messina’s ‘Sweet Degustation Evening’ earlier this week. Fellow blogger Daisy was there too and because she loves her desserts you can just imagine how excited she was!

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The Smith Street store is bright and spacious, thus providing a great backdrop for what was to be a night of fresh flavours, great company and lots and lots of sugar. Co-owner Nick Palumbo explained that the reason why they chose Fitzroy as the location for the Melbourne flagship store was because it reminded them of Darlinghurst in Sydney, ‘junkies and all.’ But in all seriousness, I think they got it down-pat – it’s close to the city and it’s gritty yet respectable (in most cases anyway).

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In addition to being able to entice customers with WTF flavour combinations (white chocolate potato chip, anyone?), Gelato Messina is successful largely because they use good quality ingredients in their gelati – and local ones too, where possible. Their dairy is from Warrnambool while fruits are seasonal and organic. And although their pistachios come all the way from Italy, they have the D.O.C. stamp of approval.

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There was free-flowing Prosecco all evening but I was good and stuck to one (don’t worry, I made up for it in ciders the following evening during our embarrassing ninth place performance at trivia).

G M & T: Cucumber sorbet, Gin & Tonic jelly, rose and juniper cremeux
G M & T: Cucumber sorbet, Gin & Tonic jelly, rose and juniper cremeux

Our first course was a spin on the ol’ classic Gin & Tonic drink. There were some mixed reactions all around, with a lot of people on the other side of the room saying that it was ‘a bit strange’ and ‘too bitter.’ However, I quite liked it – I almost felt like I was drinking an actual G & T, and I found the cucumber sorbet very refreshing.

Foiedlepop: Foie gras gelato, cherry sorbet
Foiedlepop: Foie gras gelato, cherry sorbet

When I saw the words ‘foie gras gelato’ on the menu, I was shocked – more shocked than yesterday’s Dutch parrot incident at work. However, that feeling turned into delight when I bit into the icy pole that was made up of a foie gras-infused vanilla body and sour cherry sorbet coating, tied together effortlessly with hints of beetroot. It was ah-mazing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same thing about Dutch parrot but that’s another story for another time (and not for this blog).

What’s Up, Doc: Carrot gelato, candied heirloom baby carrots, pickled heirloom baby carrots, mandarin jelly, orange blossom crème Chantilly, thyme honeycomb
What’s Up, Doc: Carrot gelato, candied heirloom baby carrots, pickled heirloom baby carrots, mandarin jelly, orange blossom crème Chantilly, thyme honeycomb

There were more vegies in the next course, this time the humble carrot. There were heaps of elements in this plate and the whole idea was to grab as much of it as possible into one spoon and savour all the flavour combinations, spicy, sweet and sour. Unfortunately, my spooning abilities leave a lot to be desired so I was nibbling each bit separately – I still enjoyed this dish though.

Pork Crackling: Apple & black pepper sorbet, pork floss, malt pop rock feuilletine
Pork Crackling: Apple & black pepper sorbet, pork floss, malt pop rock feuilletine

Pork and ice cream? What the hell? Gelato Messina is famous for its extreme flavours (JUST IN CASE YOU COULDN’T TELL!) and this was a pure example of a crazy idea that was executed very well. I love meat but I was glad that the pork only made up a small portion of the dish – in pork floss form – while the centrepiece was a beautiful ball of apple sorbet. The long strip on top was a malt pop rock feuilletine which, to me, tasted like a sweet rice bubble strip. And the coolest thing about it? The pop rocks represented pork crackling. Man, that’s clever…

East Meets Chock: Lychee sorbet, white balsamic gel
East Meets Chock: Lychee sorbet, white balsamic gel

We were told that the ‘chock’ thing was a nod to the gelato’s Italian origins. To be honest, I had never heard of the term ‘chock’ so I took it to mean that it was some sort of Sydney thing. Anyway, EMC was pretty much a palate cleanser course to prepare us for ‘dessert.’

I don’t like the smell of vinegar so I’d have to say that this was my least favourite course. It tasted beautiful and I was glad that the lychee flavour dominated the vinegar but the smell, as subtle as it was, just put me off a little bit.

Banana Split: Banana gelato, salted caramel Chantilly, freeze-dried raspberry crunch, peanut butter powder
Banana Split: Banana gelato, salted caramel Chantilly, freeze-dried raspberry crunch, peanut butter powder

The Banana Split was intricate in its presentation and taste. All the flavours – sweet, tangy and salty – contributed to this dish in equal parts, making it the highlight of the night so far. We also thought the peanut butter powder (which resembled pork floss in texture but definitely not taste) was a cute addition.

Donuts à l’Orange: Donuts, duck fat caramel, blood orange and fennel sorbet
Donuts à l’Orange: Donuts, duck fat caramel, blood orange and fennel sorbet

Donuts! Cooked in duck fat! Duck fat caramel! Oh my! Our last course sounded like something you’d see on the menu at Vue de Monde, yet I think it felt right at home here. I’ve had Gelato Messina’s blood orange sorbet on its own before, but it was nice to see fennel mixed in today as the sweet anise-like notes drew out the caramel flavours.

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We all received the Gelato Messina cookbook to take home, which I thought was a love touch. Given that I don’t have half the ingredients required to make one batch of ice cream, you won’t see me replicating any of the recipes any time soon (one day though…). We were also lucky enough to be treated to a tub ice cream to take home and even though I haven’t touched my tub yet, I’m pretty sure my people at home would have enjoyed the apple pie, Bounty and mango & coconut sorbet with pandan jelly ice creams.

Given Melbourne’s recent winds and rain, it’s hard to imagine that summer is less than three weeks away. It’s definitely not gelati weather at the moment, but I’m fairly confident there’ll be a queue at Gelato Messina tonight when the doors open. No doubt I’ll go there several times this year myself but for now, doona, laptop and apple pie gelati sounds good to me.

Gelato Messina Fitzroy on Urbanspoon

Event: Ciders and Sliders @ Huxtable (Taste of Melbourne Preview Dinner + GIVEAWAY!)

Huxtable
131 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 5101
http://www.huxtablerestaurant.com.au

Disclaimer: Libby attended this event as a guest of Huxtable, Hot House Media and Taste of Melbourne.

There always seems to be a food festival in Melbourne, so much so that Spring Street should pinch the ‘Festival State’ slogan from South Australian number plates. As some of you may know, Taste of Melbourne descends upon us this weekend and amidst a flurry of marketing and PR activities, there will be lots of good food from some of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants for patrons to enjoy.

One of the participating restaurants at Taste is one-hatted restaurant Huxtable, the monster that launched three burger offshoots, Huxtaburger. Huxtaburger may be big in Melbourne (by the time this post goes live, their third store in Prahran would have probably been opened) but it doesn’t mean that Huxtable doesn’t hold its own.

I recently attended Huxtable’s Ciders and Sliders event, a Taste of Melbourne preview dinner. The whole point of this event was to sample some of the dishes that Huxtable will be serving to the masses along with some of their signature dishes. Huxtable chef Daniel Wilson kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk us through the menu as well as tell us what’s in store next for the Huxta-brand.

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Accompanying our meal was a selection of Rekorderlig fruit-flavoured alcohol (sorry, I just can bring myself to call a drink that’s pumped with E preservatives and citric acid ‘cider’). Given that there were six of us on the table, there were probably about 42 glasses of Rekorderlig at one stage. Eeek.

Jalapeño and cheddar croquettes
Jalapeño and cheddar croquettes

I love croquettes more than Stevie Janowski loves Kenny Powers so I was delighted to see these jalapeño and cheddar croquettes appear first. They were creamy with just the right amount of spiciness from the chopped peppers.

Kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca
Kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca

The kataifi-wrapped lamb puttanesca were also delicious. I always associate puttanesca with pasta so I had no idea how it was going to work when I saw the description of the dish on the menu. Essentially, it was pretty much lamb cooked in puttanesca sauce and securely bundled in crispy Kataifi strings.

XO buns with spanner crab and Thai basil mayo
XO buns with spanner crab and Thai basil mayo

My favourite starter, however, was the XO buns because well, who doesn’t like XO sauce? The soft – and slightly sweet – buns sandwiched a generous dollop of spanner crab and Thai basil mayo mixture. If I was to criticise this dish, it would be that I couldn’t really taste much XO flavour – that, or I was already slightly drunk on my third glass of Rekorderlig alcopop.

Mini Huxtaburgers: beef and wallaby
Mini Huxtaburgers: beef and wallaby

The burgers – from Huxtaburger across the road – were obviously the highlight of the dinner (not including the company, of course). We indulged in their signature beef burger, the Huxtaburger, and tried their wallaby burger for the first time.

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I can’t remember whether this is the beef or the wallaby burger but I suppose they look the same anyway. Either way, both are burgers so delicious that I can eat them time and time again. On this note, the team at Huxtable are selling something called a ‘Douche Burger’ just for the Taste of Melbourne festival. I’m not sure how many Crowns (Taste of Melbourne ‘currency’) this burger will be worth as it contains wagyu steak and foie gras but I’m willing to part with my Crowns just because the name won me over.

Korean BBQ pork ribs
Korean BBQ pork ribs

These Korean BBQ pork ribs came highly recommended and I can certainly see why. The ribs were cooked dry-style, but they still remained beautifully sticky and the spicy kim chi-like flavour shone through the tender meat. Accompanying the ribs was a decent slaw and some gherkins.

Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad
Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad

The Mount Zero grain and broccoli salad was probably the only healthy thing on the menu that evening. However, healthy at Huxtable doesn’t mean boring for the salad was bursting with fresh flavours and probably contained enough nutrients to fill me up if all I had for lunch was that.

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We never got through all 42 glasses – I certainly didn’t drink all that was plonked in front of us – but we managed to plough through all the insanely delectable food while listening to stories about junkies passing out across the road.

Although Huxtaburger will always hold a place dear to my heart, Huxtable is up there with one of the better restaurants on Smith Street. I will certainly return for those ribs and that salad. Now allow me to awkwardly segue to Taste of Melbourne, which is happening this week.

GIVEAWAY TIME!
As you now know, it’s a festival that features Melbourne’s hottest restaurants all in one spot. The entrance fee is $30, or you could enter my giveaway for a chance to win a double pass to attend Taste of Melbourne this weekend (you’ll save yourself $60). I have four passes on me now, so there will be two double pass packs to give out.

To enter:

1. Follow me on Twitter (@libishski) if you haven’t already done so; and
2. Post a comment below. If you are already following me on Twitter, please mention it in your comment. You can write about anything, but no falling donkeys please.

Terms and conditions:

1. All entries must be received by Wednesday 13th November 2013 at 12pm AEDST (i.e. tomorrow!).
2. Please provide a valid e-mail address (and one that you check regularly) when you comment. I will be contacting the winners immediately to ask for their best mailing address.
3. Winners will be drawn at random.
4. If you have won and I have not received a mailing address response by Thursday 14th November at 4pm, I will ask you to collect the tickets from a mutually arranged spot in the Melbourne CBD.
5. The prize includes two (2) entry tickets to Taste of Melbourne. The prize does NOT contain Crowns, the vouchers you need to exchange for food and drink.

Taste of Melbourne details:
Where: Pelican Lawn at Albert Park Lake (off Aughtie Drive)
When: 14-17th November 2013

Session times:
Thursday 14th November: 5.30pm – 9.30pm
Friday 15th November: 12.00pm – 4.00pm and 5.30pm – 10.00pm
Saturday 16th November: 12.00pm – 4.00pm (I will be at this session, come say hi!) and 5.30pm – 10.00pm
Sunday 17th November: 12.00pm – 5.00pm

For full details and prices on all events and activities, go to http://www.tasteofmelbourne.com.au.

Huxtable on Urbanspoon