Reading Room Café

Building P
Victoria University, Footscray Campus
Footscray Park
88 Ballarat Road
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9919 4091
readingroomcafe.com.au

Ah, it seems it’s been forever since my last entry – and given that it was a week ago, it is a long time in the land of food and caterpillars. I’ve not pissed off to Queensland again but rather, slaved away on a copy-editing assignment that I only managed to finish an hour before submission time. Phew! I’m six weeks into this subject, Editorial English, and while I might still not know the difference between an em dash and an en dash, I hope that this subject will help me write better blog posts – hah!

A few weeks ago, Aaron and I travelled across town to Footscray for breakfast. While we’re both Vietnamese foodophiles, we weren’t actually going to postcode 3011 for phở but rather, a meal with more of a Western flavour. And this time, we weren’t headed to our usual haunts on Hopkins Street but instead, to Victoria University. Now, what on EARTH would compel us to wake up early on a Saturday morning to have breakfast at a university café? And one that’s quite a distance away from our respective houses, too?

For the Pop-up for Charity initiative at Reading Room Café, that’s why. Starting this weekend, and running for eight weekends, the popular campus café will cease serving your usual sandwiches and rolls that weekday diners get. Instead, weekenders will get an Ingo Meissner-designed menu (he of St Ali, Outpost Café and Fitzrovia fame) and coffees courtesy of Sensory Lab and Small Batch Auction Rooms. And the best bit? A percentage of proceeds will go straight to charities around the area.

Before opening up to the general public though, Marz from the café invited me and a guest to dine at the café. This not only gave me a chance to get to know more about the initiative, but to also provide constructive feedback to the team prior to the official opening. Given that fellow bibliophile, Aaron, and I were going to spend that afternoon exploring second-hand bookstores, we decided that a breakfast stopover at Reading Room Café was certainly very fitting.

Our walk from Footscray Station to the university led us to develop a ferocious appetite. Despite having a printed campus map on hand and despite the two of us being reasonably good with directions, we ended up having a bit of trouble finding the café. After ending up at some sports oval (god, we’re such chumps), we did an about-face and FINALLY, found the café. It wasn’t in the most central location but then again, most cafes in Melbourne aren’t usually.

O HAI, ADRIAN!

After a very warm greeting from Marz, we sat at a table outside so that we can soak up some Vitamin D from the autumn sun. I ordered a latte (below, $3.30) made with ‘chompy’ beans courtesy of Sensory Lab. The beans, which came from Indonesia, emitted pleasant caramel and dark chocolate undertones, which worked well with the milk. Aaron, however, felt that this flat white tasted a bit ‘burnt.’

The café’s menu is evenly divided up between traditional breakfast offerings such as eggs and lunch dishes such as pasta. I liked that the entire menu was available all day long and on a normal day, I would have so ordered the broccoli and tomato orecchietti but I had spent the last three lunches eating spag bol so I decided a break from my favourite carb-based food would do me good. The dishes, which all had cute bookish names such as Bircher in the Rye and As You Like It, all sounded fantastic. Bonus points were also given for not naming any dishes Breaking Dawn or anything from the moronic Twilight franchise. When I asked Marz what she would recommend, she pointed to the Coco Bananas (toasted banana bread topped with fresh bananas, lemon curd ricotta and toasted coconut) and The BFG (brioche French toast with crispy bacon, candied walnuts and maple syrup), both of which sounded amazing. Instead, I ended up ordering the Great Expectations because I’m more of savoury kind of girl and well, Charles Dickens is pretty cool.

Meanwhile, Aaron chose the Eggs Hemingway, essentially eggs served any way (naw, cute!). The default option was to have it served on buttered toast with tomato relish but for an extra cost, you have to option to customise. I was secretly hoping that Aaron would request some slices of Tasmanian oak-smoked salmon so I could be all ‘Haha! Old Man and the Sea!’ but to my disappointment, he chose to add a side of dry-cured bacon ($13, including the eggs). Aaron loved his breakfast – he especially noted the extra generous serving of bacon, something that he rarely sees at other cafes.

I expected, well, great things from my Great Expectations ($13.50), a breakfast piadina with scrambled eggs, shaved ham, tomato and Gruyere cheese. In hindsight, I should have gone for one of Marz’s suggestions so that Aaron and I could sample a sweet and a savoury breakfast, instead of eat two savoury options, both of which had scrambled egg in it. Don’t get me wrong, my Great Expectations was fantastic but y’know, food envy. Especially since I later found out, from Adrian’s friend, that The BFG was nothing short of OMG-NEW-ORDER-LIVE-AMAZEBALLS (no, I still have NOT recovered from that gig!). Facepalmfacepalmfacepalm! But anyway.

 The first thing I noticed was that they were extremely  generous with the scrambled eggs. While this would normally be seen as a good thing, I found it a bit too much. Yeah, what is wrong with me?! Toning it down, though, would have made the already-filling piadina perfect. Apart from that, it tasted amazing. The wonderful combination of cheese, egg and ham – with bits of tomato and spinach to break things up perfectly – made for an extremely comforting meal; it automatically put my own tomato, ham and cheese toasted sandwiches to shame. In fact, both Aaron’s and my breakfasts were THAT filling – and yummy – that we did not feel the need to eat lunch during the day. This was despite the fact that we did cover a lot of kilometres (and bookstores) on foot, too.

While our plates were being cleared, a lovely young waitress asked us if we would like anything else to eat. I thought it was pretty generous of them to ask us that, especially since we were dining as guests of the café, but we had to say ‘no’ because we were that full. I did, however, oblige to a shot of Japanese cold drip coffee. Given how I fell in love with that stuff in Cairns a month ago, I was keen to taste Sensory Lab’s version. The coffee was good but I’m afraid that this cold drip coffee had the misfortune of having been tasted after Caffiend’s all-too-amazing brew, which will probably never be beaten in taste – at least in Australia, anyway. This version was slightly stronger in taste than Caffiend’s brew, and perhaps a little bit sweeter but at the same time, more acidic. This made it a little bit harder to consume on its own, though I would imagine that a bit of condensed milk and ice would make it taste fabulous.

I thought we were just about done here, but then Marz HAD to be a darl and supply us with more treats. This time, a selection of sweet baked goodies from the oven. Aaron and I shared a decadent chocolate brownie, a mini carrot and walnut cake and a passionfruit tart. Shared? Nah, man. Aaron could only manage a single brownie before resigning while I finished off his share. Now, I’m no sweet tooth but despite that and despite being full from the breakie, I still managed to finish all the sweets. They were THAT amazing. The brownie, although rich, was small enough so that I could enjoy its richness and chocolatey-ness without suffering a sugar comatose while the carrot and walnut cake was mellow. My favourite of the lot, however, was the passionfruit tart, which had a base that wasn’t overly thick, and a filling that was delightfully tangy. Loved it.

Marz encouraged me to fill out a feedback sheet while we were nibbling on our sweets. I didn’t really have much to bitch about. The service was fantastic – quick and friendly – and the food was pretty good. The only things I had to made a comment on, though, was the amount of egg in my piadina (but that was just me being difficult) and an ampersand being in the wrong place on the menu (but that was just me being a grammar nazi).

As we were leaving the campus, Aaron and I kept saying how we wished that our respective universities had decent cafes like that. Okay, so being a student at Melbourne University means that I am within walking distance of Lygon Street and whatnot but hey, what excuse does our student union have for not putting semi-decent eateries ON campus? The students of Victoria University should consider themselves lucky for they have always had access to the best phở and kebab joints in town … and now they have this for eight weeks! Now that I’ve been to Vic Uni, I will definitely make a special trip to study – oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be back to try their BFG! Heeeh-heeeh!

Disclaimer: Aaron and libishski dined as guests of Reading Room Café.

Reading Room Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pho Tam

9 Leeds Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 2680

Those of you who stalk pay attention to my blog will know that I’m in long distance relationship with a former Melburnian-turned-Queenslander, Marty, and that he visits Melbourne every now and then to see his misses. Oh, who am I kidding? We all know that he’s just here for kebabs, quality Vietnamese food and bratwurst rolls at the market! *sob* It goes without saying that with Marty, every pilgrimage to Melbourne requires a trip to Footscray, usually on a Saturday morning or afternoon. Whether it’d be for bun bo hue at Dong Ba, or kebabs at Footscray Best or pho at Chu The (in conjunction with a canolo from T. Cavallaro & Sons), this trip is usually the foodie highlight for Marty.

With a hankering for a steaming, soothing bowl of pho to nurse our Sean-and-Kate-engagement-party-induced fuzzy heads from the night before, we were originally going to go to Chu Te. But I, being the all adventurous food-blogger that I was, decided that we were going to try something different and so I suggested finding another Vietnamese restaurant. This suggestion was met with much sooking and resistance from the boyfriend who wanted nothing but a decently reliable meal from a Chu The, an old favourite that he knew and trusted. After much convincing, however, I managed to twist his arm (literally) and before we knew it, we were walking up the almost deserted end of Leeds Street where Pho Tam was situated.

We chose a seat against the wall and as we looked at the menus, I ignored Marty’s threats of, “If this place sucks, I’m going to be sooky for the rest of the day.” He attempted to order a bowl of pho in his native Vietnamese, only to be met with confusion from the waitress so much so that he ended up having to order it in English. Given that he doesn’t normally have issues with ordering in Vietnamese, we simply assumed that the waitress wasn’t Vietnamese and shrugged it off.

Look how massive Marty’s pho tai gan ($9) is! A bowl as big as Marty’s ego arrived, full of sliced beef, tendon and chewy rice noodles in all their awesome slipperiness. A mouthful of the stuff was enough to soften Marty as he grudgingly admitted that his pho tasted “pretty good.” I took a few spoonfuls myself and also liked it, but said that the broth was sweeter than what I’m normally used to before Marty pointed out that this was the result of him putting a bit of hoisin sauce into the broth. Ah, that cheeky boy.

There was a bit of a mixed up with my order. Instead of receiving the hu tieu (seafood rice noodle soup) that I had ordered (in English, while pointing to the corresponding item on the menu), I received a bun bo cha gio (rice Vermicelli salad with beef and spring rolls). While the dish certainly looked tempting enough to crab for myself, that was not what I wanted so I politely told the waitress so. She immediately went to the kitchen to find out what was happening with my order – but not before giving me a bit of attitude. Bitch, please, I wasn’t in the wrong so just suck it up, princess! In the mean time, I sipped my young coconut juice which was refreshingly delicious (though they were kinda stint with the coconut meat, effkers).

While I waited for my noodle soup, I kept stealing some of Marty’s pho. I liked that the pho was full of flavour and depth, which was achieved without the liberal use of MSG. It’s not as robust as Chu Te’s pho, but it was still delicious nevertheless and probably slightly better value for money given how generous the servings were.

Finally, my hu tieu (seafood rice noodle soup, $10) arrived. Dubbed the ‘South Vietnamese version of pho,’ the pork bone-flavoured soup was a lot milder yet sweeter than that of a traditional beef pho. That’s not to say that it was less tasty, though. My soup came with a medley of prawns, fish fillets, squid pieces, fish and prawn slices, celery, broccoli and the icing on the cake, a shrimp cracker. This is was a dish I used to order all the time at Tien Dat in Springvale before the quality of the dish went to shite, but I’m glad to have found another place to have Vietnamese seafood rice noodle soup should cravings attack.

For some odd reason, our prawn rice paper rolls ($8) arrived late. Great, just when we were just about done with our noodle soups. Not to worry, we thought, as we sunk our teeth into the fresh rice paper rolls that firmly held together cooked prawns, vermicelli and herbs. Dipped in hoisin sauce, they would have made a great starter – had they actually arrived before our mains but oh well. I wouldn’t say that they were the best-tasting rice paper rolls but they were far from the worst. Fresh, yes. Tasty, yes. Just lacked a bit of something.

When I arrived at the counter to pay, there was a bit of confusion as to what we had ordered. I think they tried to charge me for the bun bo cha gio that I never ordered and there was also a mix-up with the can of Red Bull that Marty ordered. The lady at the counter only got more confused as I tried to explain things to her and it didn’t help that her English was limited. In the end, she called up the waitress who took care of our table and after conversing to each other in Vietnamese, things were resolved. This exchange also proved that the waitress was, in fact, Vietnamese so why she failed to understand Marty when he tried to order his pho will always remain a mystery, heh.

So yes, we very much enjoyed our meal at Pho Tam and it’s definitely worth the extra few minutes of walking time from Footscray station. Sure, the service is a bit fuzzy and yeah, there are equally decent quality Vietnamese restaurants on Hopkins Street but I’m glad that I ignored Marty’s whinging by coming here for lunch. I now have another Footscray restaurant that I can add to my ‘recommend’ list.

Pho Tam on Urbanspoon

Nhu Lan

116 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 03011
+61 3 9689 7296

Working on William Street means that it’s often very difficult to find a café that sells a decent sandwich for less than $9. Hell, forget about decent sandwich – how about a sandwich, no matter how crappy, for nine friggin’ dollars?! If you’re lucky enough to be located next to EARL Canteen, you can score yourself a scrumptious pork belly sandwich for $15 (not cheap by all means, but that’s what you have to fork out for quality…). And if you’re down to your last $4 until pay day, then you may find a prepackaged ham and cheese sandwich with a “Buy me! I’m only $4” sticker in the fridge of your local 7-11 that’s about to go off. That’s only if you’re lucky. Those of you who are fortunate enough to work in a Vietnamese-centric suburb such as Richmond and Footscray, however, may be tinkering silently to yourselves. And understandably so. You’re the lucky folk who can walk into a Vietnamese bakery, grab yourself a fresh Vietnamese pork roll and still leave the premises with change for $4.

And to those of you who work within walking distance of Nhu Lan, one of the most popular Vietnamese bakeries in Footscray: Curse you, I say, CURSE. YOU. Home to what’s got to be the best Vietnamese pork roll (bánh mì) in Melbourne, Nhu Lan does a roaring trade especially on weekends when Saturday morning shoppers come by for their fix. On Saturdays, the queue snakes out of the door and onto Hopkins Street which is an indication of how popular these rolls are. Once you set your foot into the shop, however, all manners are literally left out of the door as mothers, tradies, pretty young things and bogans aggressively push and shove each other to the front of the counter in order to get served. At Nhu Lan, the ‘please wait patiently for your turn’ rule does NOT apply so if you’re not as equally aggressive as the 5’1 stiletto-ed Vietnamese lady who is wearing foundation that’s two shades lighter than her normal skin, then be prepared to wait a very, very long time.

Thankfully, the time it takes for you to place your order, watch it get prepared and pay for it is much quicker than the time it took to wait to be served. At Nhu Lan, the neat procession of ladies effortlessly – and almost seductively – cut, slather, shove, arrange and wrap with as much fluidity as a can-can dancer from Moulin Rouge, which is rather fitting given that the Vietnamese learnt how to make bread from the French. From traditional fillings such as good ol’ mixed ham to BBQ pork to a tofu roll, all bases are covered for only $3.80 (or $3.50 if you want a salad roll). They even offer baby-sized rolls for those who literally just want a small bite to eat on their way to Footscray market.

They say that the bread is what makes a good bánh mì and indeed, the bread at Nhu Lan can only be described as perfection. Delightfully crunchy on the outside and soft (and warm) as freshly-spun fairy floss on the inside, it’s the perfect vessel for a mighty fine sandwich. And although the bread at Nhu Lan is fantastic, I’d like to think that all the other elements play an equally important role in making the bánh mì taste so good. For example, my usual mixed ham roll (Bánh Mì Thịt Nguội) consists of an even spread of butter and fresh pâté which is then heaped with a proportionate ratio of three different types of hams and fresh salad ingredients. The saltiness of the ham and the fish sauce (and I love LOTS of it) is contrasted nicely with the slightly tangy pickled carrots and daikons, fresh cucumbers, one spring of spring onion and lots of lovely coriander. Red chillies optional.

Perfection for less than $4.

Although I normally stick to the mixed ham roll, I occasionally go for the salad roll when I feel like going vego for the day. This version omits the pâté, while keeping the butter, and goes slightly heavier on the vegies with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and fried shallots for a bit of texture. Fish sauce is usually offered to those who order the salad roll (which I, of course, accept) though the roll is tasty enough without it. It’s a simple and light meal that’ll get you through the afternoon despite the absence of meat in it. I still prefer the mixed ham one though, heh.

While I am a lover of decadent sandwiches from EARL and similar places, I am just as enamoured by the simple freshness of a humble Nhu Lan pork roll that only costs a fraction of a modded-up sandwich in the city. Now if only the guys at Nhu Lan would open up a branch in the city, preferably next to Flagstaff station, thanks.

Nhu Lan on Urbanspoon

Footscray Best Kebab House (Guest post by Martypants)

93 Nicholson St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 0777

Ladies and greasy spoons,

It seems like that time of year again where your revered author is off busy again with exams, work and footy training so she has me writing fodder-entry for all you devoted stalker/fans, blogger-reader-people-persons, caterpillar-ites in her absence.

So as any caterpillar regular would be aware, the last few months has seen this food rookie join Libby for some meals at some schmancy-pants, “hatted” restaurants and, most recently, events such as the disappointingly underwhelming Taste of Melbourne festival. Amidst these exciting and tantalising new dining experiences, as waistline horizon-expanding as they have been, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to my favourite old local haunts when it came to good old fashioned, no-nonsense, tasty-as-hell and satisfying comfort food. Gimmicky food stalls overcrowded with overweight and nerdy food wankers snapping away on their DSLR cameras whilst munching on overpriced, measly hors d’oeuvre-sized sample dishes at the Royal Exhibition Building based more on marketing-purposes rather than genuine food passion – is that a true representation of what would be a “Taste of Melbourne”?!

I don’t think so!

And so takes us back to, in my humble opinion, the true taste of Melbourne, the cultural hub and lifeblood of all things cheap and nasty. Where else but the 3-0-1-1? FOOTSCRAY! An understandably feared and detested place for tourists and ignorant Victorians alike, a perfect visual representation of urban decay in Melbourne’s ugly inner-west filled with junkies, fobs, crazies and Bulldogs supporters. To most, it’s a hole (which is true) but to me, it’s also 5km² of pure downmarket foodie heaven. A passion, I’m proud to say, Libby also shares.

That, and KEBABS!!!

And that will segue into what I’ll be covering in this post which is the, once again, already covered Footscray Best Kebab House, our favourite-by-a-whisker of the 3 main kebaberies (Amasya and Happy Kebab) on Nicholson St. Unfortunately, though, I won’t be covering any stupid red shoes like Libby did in her prior review of Footscray Best Kebab House (having said that I am totally digging these Vans 106 Vulcanized sneakers in Radar Green hehe). Anyway, we wasted no time in training it to Footscray that Saturday morning, with my appetite particularly ferocious since I’d quit smoking. No room for fancy-pants dining here!

We promptly ordered our small-sized ‘meal of the day’ plates ($13) generously slapped with tender melt-in-mouth lamb, salad and choice of two dips (me: cacık/carrot dip; Libby: a double serving of hummous) I insist on ordering a large sized plate but Libby, who doesn’t eat as much since she got all ‘Oh-la-la look at me I’m so hot and fit now,’ advised me not to, claiming that a small would be enough (since I don’t fit into my skinny jeans so good anymore). Hmmph! Once I finished shovelling that food into my mouth like a hyena on crack, Libby began to show signs of fatigue. What’s a gentleman to do? Help her out, of course! Okay, fine, I crabbed her meat and hummous (I wish I didn’t order the carrot!)…

But I wasn’t done yet. Next up we had a lahmacun, a pizza-like flatbread dish literally meaning “meat with dough” topped with tasty mince and tomato based sauce garnished with flat leaf parsley and a squeeze of lemon, a true Turkish lunchtime favourite since the Ottoman Empire, probably. Whilst Libby slowly ate and enjoyed a few deliciously thin slices of Lahmacun, we both knew that huge plate sitting there wasn’t going to finish itself, and so the challenge was on…

So after about 10 minutes of stuffing my face like a Takeru Kobayashi incarnate, I manage to clear the plate, washing it down with big mouthfuls of ice-cold coke from the can. Libby was a combination of shocked and impressed. And I seriously considered for one brief moment a career as a competitive eater.

15 minutes later, after allowing the food to settle in my digestive tract, we left the little shop feeling quite satisfied, not mention full as f–k. Our visit had cemented my opinion on comfort food and how nothing can really match it; that is, food to be celebrated like so many cultures do around the globe.  Maybe I’ll never be a true epicurean like so many ‘foodies’ aspire to be. But at the end of the day, who cares, right? Whether it’s a fancy risotto and truffle dish or a cheese and tuna toastie, if it tastes good and hits the spot that nothing else can, then that is what it is all about.

And there you have it, I hope you have enjoyed a little taste of, what is mine and Libby’s, Melbourne. Back to Queensland for me, now.

So, yeah, coolstorybrah.

Footscray Best Kebab House on Urbanspoon

T.Cavallaro & Sons Pasticceria

98 Hopkins Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 4638
http://www.tcavallaroandsons.com.au/

My good mate, Martin, who lives in the foodie wasteland known as Broadbeach Waters was lamenting the limited availability of REAL cannoli up on the Gold Coast. Real cannoli, he said, had a crispy shell and was filled with soft ricotta, not custard. To be honest, I wasn’t a cannoli person to begin with but all that talk of the famous Sicilian pastry dessert got me keen to find the best cannoli in Melbourne. I did a bit of research and according to Melbourne foodie royalty tummyrumbles, T.Cavallaro & Sons Pasticceria in Footscray was the way to go.

Although Adam and I walk past this humble shop frequently, we’ve never been inside because we had always assumed that it was just a store that sold coffee-making equipment. Given that the windows were always filled with little stove tops and coffee mugs, I’d say it was a valid assumption. Okay fine, so you can see chocolate eclairs and profiteroles in that photo but puh-lease, we’re both pretty tall for Asians so as if we would be bothered looking down to spot the desserts.

The store itself looks like it has not changed since it opened back in 1956. An old-school espresso machine still churns out decent-looking coffees and the recipes used to make the cakes and pastries remain untouched for over 100 years. Every time I walk into the store, there is always one or two Italian female customers ummm-ing over what size they want their god-daughter’s christening cakes to be or whether to order three or four dozen pieces of freshly baked biscotti. Me? I walk straight to the back where the cannoli are and patiently wait for my turn.

As well as the original ricotta-filled cannoli, the more ubiquitous vanilla and chocolate cream ones are available (both are $3 each take-away, or $3.50 eat-in). As soon as I place my order for a couple (and in today’s case, half a dozen), the lady who is as cheery and matronly as La Befana goes out the back to fill my cannoli from scratch. The result is a beautifully crisp shell filled with the softest ricotta or custard centre, none of them being overly sweet. Dust with a bit of icing sugar and you have the most amazing morning coffee accompaniment. They were seriously the loveliest cannoli I’ve ever tried. Even the ‘try-hard’ custard ones were miles ahead of their competitors wilting away in suburban bakeries.

Obviously if you leave them in the car for 11 hours straight, your cannolo’s shell isn’t going to remain super-crispy. The difference between these cannoli and the ones served at any random bakery, however, is that these ones do not get soggy even after  half a day in the car. Soft, yes, but not soggy. And what’s even more amazing is that they still retain a bit of crunch. Best cannoli in Melbourne? So far, YES.

T. Cavallaro & Sons on Urbanspoon

Chu The

92 Hopkins Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 8265

So Martin’s been telling me about this super-awesome pho restaurant located in the arse end of Hopkins Street, Footscray. And although he’s been told by other Viets that this restaurant, Chu The, has ‘gone to sht’ that did not stop Adam and I from making our way down there prior to the ANZAC day AFL match.

The dinghy place was packed like a leaky Australia-bound boat when we arrived just after 1pm, bar a table right at the back… and literally about a metre away from the kitchen where I could see and smell EVERYTHING. Trying my best to ignore the stench of raw meat and exercising a bit of willful blindness by ensuring that my eyes did not linger on the overflowing bins too long, I focused my attention on the menu board which didn’t really offer much apart from its specialty: pho. And lots of it. Both Adam and I asked for a sliced rare beef pho, without knowing how much it was or whether it came in different sizes. Then the waiter simply asked, ‘medium, okay?’ before hurrying off upon our nods.

Introducing Chu The’s medium-sized sliced rare beef pho ($8.50). Now I don’t really want to talk it up but frankly, it was the best pho I’ve had in a very long time. Okay, so they might have been sloppy with the presentation (broth spills lingered around the edge of my bowl unwiped) and they might have been tight with the herbage (bean shoots, mangy stalks of basil and a wedge of lemon) but once you tasted the well-cooked rice noodles, the still-pink chunks of sliced beef fillet swimming in a rich, complex, minimal E621-induced broth which can only be described as ‘pure’ and tasty, you can’t really complain.

Who cares if this place fails to meet hygiene standards? Who cares if it smells a bit ‘funny’? If pho this delicious is considered ‘gone to sht’, then I’ll be back in no time!

Little Lamb Hot Pot & Master Restaurant

Little Lamb Hot Pot
264 Russell St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3993
Master Restaurant
Shop 184/ 83 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 8796

I celebrated Chinese New Year the only way I know how to… by stuffing myself silly with lots of goodies (duh). My parents don’t usually celebrate CNY, saying that there is no point when we have no family living in Melbourne (though I suspect they just want an excuse not to hand out lucky money . Still, they usually would take us out to dinner to a local restaurant or something like that. Unfortunately, they decided that they would treat this weekend like they would any other weekend. That was okay with me though as I knew that Adam’s parents would be organising something.

1. CHINESE NEW YEAR’S EVE (last night)

He ain’t Richo, but he sure is popular with the crowd!

They wanted Mainlander-style hot pot so I suggested Little Lamb on Russell Street as it’s very popular with Melbourne’s Chinese population. Adam’s mum’s brother, Phillip, also happened to be in town for the weekend so we invited him and his partner, Sue, to come eat with us too. I’m not a huge fan of hot pot (and after that shocker that was dinner at Golden House, who WOULD be?!) but they insisted on it so all Adam and I could do was tag along.

So basically, this place charges you $23 p/h and you can pick and choose as many items on the list provided on your table which encompasses a variety of raw seafood ingredients, vegetables, sliced raw meats and noodles. A small selection of hot and cold entree dishes are also included in the price, but there are extras such as dumplings and roast meats which attract an extra charge.

After ordering what we thought was enough food for the six of us, the food came almost immediately which is to be expected because most of the food does not require cooking (they are either fresh or thawed). As you can see in the photo, we decided to go half-half with the soup: a hot soup as well as a “normal” broth for us wimpy ones.

The tables were kinda squishy so any extra food had to be placed on the carts beside each table…
I loved how each lamb slice was rolled up into little cylinders. Too cute!

The hot dishes took bloody forever to come. These were what they described as “potato dumplings.” Adam’s dad said that they were sweet so I was reluctant to try one, but after hearing choruses of “mmmm nice!” I decided to give them a try. They were pretty yummy, kinda like fritters with creamy, mushy potato goo in them.

We ordered two servings of spring onion pancakes but they never came. We had to make another order and this time they came, but they still took forever. They were alright, nothing special though.

Given that we ordered quite a bit, I was worried that we weren’t able to finish it so I was surprised when I saw that all our plates were empty as the broth level was on par with Melbourne’s dam capacity. I would have been happy to call it quits but the rest of the table were keen to keep the party going so they ordered a waiter to fill the hot pot stove up again and order more dishes. Just as the waiter left our table, though, something funny happened.

THE POWER WENT OUT.

Yep, the LCD TV screen at the back of the restaurant switched off, the room was filled with complete darkness and the hot pot stoves turned off. Immediately, a team of waiters ran to the front of the restaurant where the power box was. I figured that they were going to attempt to get the power back on so I wasn’t too concerned. Initially, everyone seemed okay about the whole thing. After 20 minutes, however, people started to get antsy and the guys who were at the front just looked like they were standing around, doing nothing. It turns out that they WEREN’T trying to fix the power, but rather trying to prevent diners from doing a runner which I thought was pretty piss-poor *sigh* It didn’t look like they would have the power back on any time soon so we chose this moment to call it a night. Most of our party were not 100% full, they were satisfied so we left in good spirits. Not so for a bunch of fobs who had only JUST tucked into their meals before the power went out. They stormed out scowling, which was fair enough – I probably would have done the same.

Oh, what did I think of Little Lamb? Well, the service wasn’t the best as our hot dishes took forever to come out and some of the stuff we ordered did not even show up at all, plus their handling of the power failure could have been more efficient. Secondly, given my predisposition to hot pot, I can’t say that I would be in a hurry to go back there again (and certainly not if black outs like this are a regular occurrence). I guess the smell of those strong herbs would always get to me. Having said that, Little Lamb is a LOT better than the other hot pot restaurant I’ve tried in that the restaurant is cleaner and the soup tastes a little bit better than most (if you ignore the fact that it’s a tad too oily). Heck, I was afraid that Sue would find the whole dinner a bit too strange for her but she said it was delicious and gave it “a 20 out of 10.”

I was ready to go straight home and catch up on The Good Wife episodes after all that. I walked into my house at the very early time of 9:30 just as my parents and my sister were ready to go out. They were on their way to the Box Hill Chinese New Year festival so I thought, ‘Oh, why not?’ even though I was not planning to go in the first place. We weren’t there for a long time. We just wandered around for a while, looked at all the food stalls (most of which were selling either skewers of meat or non-Asian foods such as churros and burgers), bummed into a bunch of mum’s annoying friends, saw Kelly on stage for like, a fraction of a second and laughed at some fob singing “Eye Of The Tiger” on one of the smaller stages (hahaha oh man…) before going home. There were just too many people and not enough exciting things to see. Can you blame me for not showing much interest in these sorts of things? Yeah, I suck at being Chinese.

2. CHINESE NEW YEAR’S DAY (today)


After church, Adam and i met up with his parents and his grandmother for yum cha at Master restaurant in Footscray. It wasn’t the best yum cha ever (I mean, this is Footscray) but it cannot compete with Dai Duong in terms of smell, skankiness and bogan patronage so I was adequately mellow.

The usual suspects. Foreground: plump shark fin dumplings.

A pretty soggy yet tasty zhaliang.

Bloody gweilo…

Why so serious, guys?
HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR, FOLKS! Hope you all had a good one!

Oh and on that note, I should wish everyone a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. You’d think that Adam and I would have a lovely day planned but nope, that wasn’t the case. None of us are particularly into this day and no way would we be swayed by restaurants luring suckers by offering their “special Valentine’s Day menu” which is pretty much the same sort of stuff they dish out all year around – but double the price. We actually did think about just having Indian food for dinner or something (we did casual Thai last year just for the sake of wanting to eat out) but at the end of the day, both of us were pooped and would rather spend the rest of Sunday the 14th watching the football and scouting players to recruit for my Supercoach team. Yeah, I fail at being Chinese AND being a romantic girlfriend . Ha.

Hung Vuong

128 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 6002

Most pho restaurants in Melbourne are pretty much on the same level, with very little to differentiate them. I do give nods to those that actually offer sizing options and at Hung Vuong, you can get anything from a large bowl ($9.50) to a baby-sized serving ($6.50).

I had a small pho bo ($7.50) and it was still quite large.

Footscray Best Kebab House

93 Nicholson St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 0777

It’s been a while since I’ve had a kebab from Footscray – more than a year, in fact. I’d been hankering for one all week so Adam and I trained it to Footscray this afternoon to have a late lunch at our favourite kebab joint, Footscray Best Kebab House. Its name might not reek much of originality but it does speak the truth: they really are the best kebabs in Footscray, if not Melbourne. The constant stream of customers coming in, the fact that they usually run out of meat at 3pm, the fact that my mates from St Albans come all the way here just for the kebabs and the fact that even fobs now visit this joint are all testaments to that.

The prices might have increased since my last visit but they’re still very reasonable. While most people come here for kebabs that they could eat on the run, I love to order their ‘meal of the day’ plates which will set you back $12 for a small, and $14 for a large. I used to be able to eat a small plate (which isn’t really small at all) without any problems but today I struggled. My advice is to share a large one between two people (though if the two of you have smaller stomachs, sharing a small plate would be fine too).

My small ‘meal of the day’ – lamb + two dips (I chose hummus and eggplant) + salad + warm Turkish bread. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

The best hummus dip I’ve ever tasted too…

I received my Stuart Weitzman heels today! Thanks Jen, for shipping them off for me. I saved about $100 buying them from the states (includes sales tax and shipping) compared to what I would have spent if I bought them at David Jones. Love.

All good, except for the unexpected toe cleavage. Hate!

Dai Duong

5/64 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 9899

Adam’s dad turned another year older over the weekend. Well, actually his REAL birthday was way back in June but for some reason, he prefers to celebrate it on his “Chinese birthday” which is determined by the lunar calendar. He wanted yum cha, so Adam and I took the train all the way to Footscray straight after church on Sunday morning. Footscray, because Adam’s grandma (his dad’s mum) lives there and is too fragile to travel such long distances. The place we went to was called Dai Duong, located around the corner from the Franco Cozzo carpark. Stepping into the large restaurant, it was clear that it was run by Viets. Heck, if the name and the atmosphere didn’t give it away, at least the disco ball, the dance floor and half a dozen plasmas dangling from the ceilings did.

With the absence of Adam’s mum (who was up in Sydney for a wedding), the five of us (me, Ads, his dad, his grandma and his aunty Vivian), we shared a pleasant meal in somewhat shabby surroundings. The food itself was on par with the offerings at Fu Long in Box Hill and the prices rather standard, but the atmosphere was, how do you say it, “less refined” no thanks to the many tables of toothless bogans who actually skipped the yum cha offerings and ordered sizzling beef and cans of VB while they looked at us weird Asians eating ham sui gok and other “strange things” and – oh forget it, I don’t want to say any more… *bangs head repeatedly on desk*

Standard food offerings for dumplings were combined with a few unusual dishes, including two variations of prawn dumplings – one topped with flying fish roe (putting them on AFTER steaming them instead of before, would have prevented the roe from discolouring) and one that had green skin, the filling of which contained prawn and chives.

More standard yum cha dishes.


My fave yum cha dish apart from the har gow: zha liang. I was impressed with this version as the ja gwai sticks actually retained their crispiness and the fact that they actually came with greens. Thumbs down for only receiving six pieces though. Tight arses!

The total cost was approximately $150 for the five of us, which was pretty standard. In hindsight, however, I probably would not come back here again if it were up to me. While it wasn’t overly bad (apart from having to sit near bogans who smelt like piss), the food itself wasn’t enough to justify a trip to Footscray especially since there are 10 billion yum cha restaurants in Doncaster/Box Hill/Templestowe/Glen Waverley. Having said that though, Dai Duong is probably good if you live in the west and given that there are hardly any yum cha restaurants on that side of town, it would be best if you dined there rather than go all the way into the city. As long as you don’t mind bogans gawking at you while you’re eating.

In other news…

1. My workmate Bek told me that Chanel was going to open a store in Chadstone soon. I was surprised when she told me the news this morning because although Chadstone is said to be “the fashion capital”, I don’t particularly throw myself at it. While there are some nice shops inside the shopping centre, I think that it’s the most overrated thing in the world since the invention of Cadbury chocolate and I always tell people that I think Chadstone is “too zone two” for my liking. Oh well, I guess it’s better than opening one at say, Highpoint.

2. I bought a “Bettina Liano” black cotton skirt on eBay and when I opened up the package, I was surprised to receive something that suspiciously looked like something that WASN’T from Bettina Liano as it was made out of that cheap polyester-blend that tracksuit manufacturers use to make their garments. Upon further inspection, I found that the inner-side tag (the one which lists washing instructions) were in Japanese and that the Bettina Liano tag itself looked like it was carelessly sewn on. I’m in the process of writing a complaint to the seller who better explain herself or she will be in BIG TROUBLE.