Review: Bugda Uyghur Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

19 Railway Parade North
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9886 5395

In my teenage years, Glen Waverley was a suburb full of cheap and cheerful Cantonese restaurants, a place where my friends and I would trek to when we got a tad over the Box Hill or Doncaster Shoppingtown scene. These days, I don’t go to ‘Glenny’ very often but when I do, I’m often amazed at how different the suburb looks compared to my last visit. It’s an area that seems to be exponentially growing at ridiculous rates – and with a rising population growth comes an increase in the variety of eateries this leafy eastern suburb has to offer.

These days, I’m really loving Uyghur food, the cuisine of the Turkic ethnic group in China’s Xinjiang region. When it comes to regional Chinese cuisine, Cantonese food will always be my top pick but sometimes I feel like something with a bit more heat and something more robust and down-to-earth. My friends Cathy and Aaron are also fans of Uyghur food so when they suggested we go to Bugda Uyghur in Glen Waverley, I eagerly said ‘sure!’

Bugda Uyghur was not around in my teenage years – but then again, neither was modern Hispanic eatery The Black Toro or burger joint YOMG. In fact, Bugda Uyghur is a bit out of the way; it’s more towards the railway station end than the bustling Kingsway precinct which means it doesn’t get as much foot traffic but it does attract its loyal customers each night.

One does not go to an Uyghur restaurant without ordering some sort of meat on skewer – so we ordered a handful of marinated lamb shish kebabs. The meat was juicy, with the balanced combination of chilli, cumin and the remnants of smoke from the charcoal grill making this thing the best $2 you’ll probably spend this month.

Gosh kawab, $2 each
Gosh kawab, $2 each

We then enjoyed a serving of barangga laghman, handmade noodles with stir-fried shredded potatoes and lamb. While noodles in Cantonese dishes tend to be more refined, these ones were heartier and thus would probably be more effective if you happen to be carb loading or struggling to fit in some macros for the day. I probably would have been okay without all the shredded potatoes on top, though Cathy loved them for the added crunch they brought to the dish.

Barangga laghman ($12)
Barangga laghman ($12)

If you’re still short of macros after those noodles, then the Anjan polu (pilaf rice) would definitely do it for you. I’d say that most of the dishes on an Uyghur restaurant menu are cooked with some sort of cumin/oil/chilli/lamb combination so if you want a dish that’s milder, this would be it. Yes, there’s braised lamb and yes, there’s perhaps a little bit of heat – but it’s pretty tame… and insanely delicious. I also liked the way the currants added a lovely dimension of sweetness to the dish.

Anjan polu, $15
Anjan polu, $15

I find it hard to go to any sort of Chinese restaurants without ordering a plate of dumplings. Thus, some steamed lamb dumplings were ordered – no pork because Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim so you’ll hardly ever see pork on the menu at an Uyghur restaurant. Hearty and generously sized, the dumplings were tasty though I think my preference for dumplings is still pork. This is because the other lamb dishes we ordered were seasoned with a lot of flavours, thus masking that distinctive lamb smell that many people find unpleasant including myself sometimes. With these dumplings though, there was nothing to mask the smell which somewhat affected my enjoyment of them.

Tugire, 15 pieces for $12
Tugire, 15 pieces for $12

Bugda Uyghur is definitely a most welcome addition to the Glen Waverley dining scene; I can see myself returning if I’m in the area and am craving lamb skewers or handmade Uyghur-style noodles (though I’d probably order ones without potatoes on them). Shoot me if you ever see me queuing for burgers at YOMG, though.

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Review: Kim Chi Hut (Melbourne, VIC)

185 Coleman Parade
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9574 8383

Linda and I don’t mind a bit of Korean every now and then. It’s been a while since either of us had ventured down to Glen Waverley for a feed so we decided to find the highest ranked Korean restaurant there on Urbanspoon for our next dinner destination.

We landed on Kim Chi Hut which had a score in the low 90s, a reputable score. It was a mid-week dinner so we walked in without making reservations. That said, it was surprisingly packed for a Wednesday night so ringing up to book anyway would be a wise decision.

Mandu (8 for $12)
Mandu (8 for $12)

We split a main-sized serving of Korean dumplings. I have no idea why a random bunch of sautéed mushrooms were dumped unceremoniously on top of the dumplings but I love my mushrooms anyway so it was no biggie. What turned out to be a biggie, however, were the dumplings – they were oily and soggy. Not cool, bro.

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Obligatory free banchan

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Not-so-obligatory free miso soup (but was appreciated nonetheless)

Beef rice stone pot with sweet soy marinated beef ($16.80)
Beef rice stone pot with sweet soy marinated beef ($16.80)

We both ordered the beef rice stone pot, or bibimbap. At $16.80, it was by no means the cheapest bibimbap in town.

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While the whole shebang was nice, I found the vegetable-beef-rice ratio a bit uneven. And what’s with the way too many pieces of cucumber slices and lettuce?! It was good but not $16.80 good.

Despite the ‘just okay’ food, the service was prompt and friendly. I don’t go to Glen Waverley much these days and probably wouldn’t go back again for a return meal. Hell, I probably wouldn’t go again even if I just so HAPPENED to be lurking around the area, especially since there are so many good food options nearby. I’m not sure why Kim Chi Hut scored highly on Urbanspoon; perhaps we just ordered the wrong thing or perhaps the voters ate a whole lot of mushrooms – and not the ones we consumed with the dumplings either…

Kimchi Hut on Urbanspoon

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Black Toro, The

69 Kingsway
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 9696
theblacktoro.com.au

Growing up, I always associated Glen Waverley with good cheap Cantonese food, with a bit of Malaysian thrown in, and a crappy shopping centre. And while the crappy shopping centre is still there, there is more of a variety when it comes to food options. These days, there’s Japanese, Sichuan, French and Vietnamese – there’s even a new modern Mexican restaurant that goes by the name Black Toro.

Daisy, Dave and I arranged to forgo Chinese food for Chinese New Year (how naughty of us!) by having lunch at Black Toro this earlier this year. This means that this post is long overdue and half our dishes probably don’t appear in the current menu. Oops. I am, however, going to try my best to churn reviews out as soon as possible.

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I liked the colourful bull murals that dotted the walls, almost as much as I like Moo Moo’s bull statue outside their restaurant.

Frozen apple margarita ($8.50)
Frozen apple margarita ($8.50)

The hot weather called for a frozen apple margarita. It was tangy and refreshing, the perfect to start our meal with.

Grilled corn on the cob with chipotle mayonnaise and toasted masa ($4 each)
Grilled corn on the cob with chipotle mayonnaise and toasted masa ($4 each)

We each had a grilled corn cob on a stick. I loved the creamy chipotle mayonnaise that went with it, while the toasted masa added an interesting textural element to it. 

Spicy pulled pork taco, shredded cabbage and sour cream ($12 for two pieces)
Spicy pulled pork taco, shredded cabbage and sour cream ($12 for two pieces)

Daisy and Dave each had a spicy pulled pork taco. I was impressed by how fresh and colourful they looked and I instantly kicked myself for not ordering one for myself. There were no complaints from their end so they must have tasted alright. 

Wagyu beef slider with toasted brioche, onion, tomatillo relish and jack cheese ($7)
Wagyu beef slider with toasted brioche, onion, tomatillo relish and jack cheese ($7)

Instead, I chose the wagyu beef slider. On paper it looked good and indeed, I loved how the salty cheese paired well with the sweet onions and relish. What really let the slider down was the wagyu which was extremely dry – I mean, who on earth can stuff up such a fatty meat by making it that dry?! 

Sher wagyu rump (230gm) with chimmichurri, parsley and shallot salad ($32)
Sher wagyu rump (230gm) with chimmichurri, parsley and shallot salad ($32)

The wagyu rump was the first of our mains to arrive. It was beautifully tender and juicy and the chimmichurri dressing was nice enough. While the dish didn’t completely blow me away, it was still an inoffensively pleasant dish. 

Slow cooked pork belly, summer bean salad, salsa negra and aioli (RRP $28, but we got this dish for free)
Slow cooked pork belly, summer bean salad, salsa negra and aioli (RRP $28, but we got this dish for free)

We didn’t actually order the slow cooked pork belly but the kitchen somehow mucked up our orders and in the end, decided to give this dish to us on the house. I thought it was good of them to openly admit that they were wrong but even nicer of them to offer such a kind gesture. The pork belly was beautifully cooked but I thought the ingredients didn’t quite blend well together – it was as if the kitchen chucked whatever random ingredients they can find on sale at Woolies and chucked them all over the pork belly. 

Guajilo basted baby chicken with mango, fennel and cucumber salad and toasted sesame ($32)
Guajilo basted baby chicken with mango, fennel and cucumber salad and toasted sesame ($32)

Thankfully our chicken faired a bit better. The meat was very tender – ticks of approval from everyone! However, I found the marinade a tad too sweet and while I love mangoes dearly, I thought they drew the marinade’s sweetness out more rather than complimented it. 

Dessert tasting plate ($36): deconstructed peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate ice cream and honeycomb; chocolate brownie, salted caramel popcorn and vanilla ice cream; mango custard, raspberry and chilli jam, toasted meringue; and peach sorbet, caramelised white peach and pistachio nuts.
Dessert tasting plate ($36): deconstructed peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate ice cream and honeycomb; chocolate brownie, salted caramel popcorn and vanilla ice cream; mango custard, raspberry and chilli jam, toasted meringue; and peach sorbet, caramelised white peach and pistachio nuts.

We weren’t completely enamoured with our savouries, so I wasn’t expecting a lot from our dessert tasting plate. Imagine my surprise, however, when I found out that it was actually the highlight of our meal. We were suitability impressed with the deconstructed peanut butter cheesecake (front) that was light and creamy. And while I find chocolate brownies too rich, I did not mind Black Toro’s version at all – especially given that it had a sticky salted caramel popcorn spire on top.

Given all the chocolate-y richness, I appreciated the cooling peach sorbet and the smooth mango custard with its tangy and spicy raspberry and chilli jam. Overall, there was a lovely balance between sweetness and saltiness, and richness and lightness. This made it probably one of the better dessert platters I’ve had in quite some time.

While I am unlikely to go back for the savoury dishes (why, when there’s a plethora of cheap Cantonese restaurants in the area?), I will definitely go back for the desserts and the drinks. Black Toro’s take on modern Mexican can be as confusing as an episode from The Wire but their service is great and their desserts are more exciting than anything that goes on inside The Glen.

The Black Toro on Urbanspoon

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Palms Food Court

213-215 Blackburn Road
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9803 9668
www.palmsfoodcourt.com.au

I would have posted this entry up sooner but all the excitement at work yesterday (in the form of my awesome boyfriend, Marty, sending me a pretty bouquet of roses as a ‘Happy Four Month Anniversary’ present to my work) meant that I was not able to utilise my working hours to write this entry. Not that I blog during work hours anyway. Cough. This is yet another blog entry about a meal that occurred a long, long time ago. Yes, in a galaxy far away, too (well, okay, Glen Waverley). Adam was keen for a post-church Indian feed while I was hankering for something more oriental. Neither of us were willing to compromise, however, so what was the solution? Palms Food Court.

Palms is a somewhat unique concept in that it’s not a conventional restaurant. Rather, it’s a food court setting with little kiosks scattered in the periphery. Those of you who have lived in Melbourne long enough might recall Ong’s restaurant, located in the basement of the Mercure Welcome hotel – it’s pretty much like that, but without a dessert stand that serves an amazing ice kacang. While Ong’s focuses on all things Asian, the variety at Palms is slightly greater. Along with Chinese and South-East Asian dishes (well, Malaysian and Singaporean with a bit of Indonesian thrown in), you also get a range of Indian dishes, too. Here, Adam was able to have his curry and I was able to have my noodles. It’s a win-win situation.

Adam chose a serving of madras chicken ($12.50) to sate his curry craving. The tender pieces of chicken were cooked in a lovely coconut-based curry that was enriched by the enticing combination of South Indian spices and tomatoes. To mop up the sauce, crispy slices of hot keema naan ($3.80), a tandoori-flavoured naan filled with spicy lamb mince, were on hand.

I ordered the mee goreng ($9.50). In hindsight, I probably should have gone for an Indian dish because I don’t think the Asian dishes were fantastic (judging by what I ate and glances at surrounding tables). My egg noodles were drenched in a sauce that was probably 90% tomato sauce (WTF?!) and the rest, a combination of oyster and curry. Not a great start. Shredded chicken, various vegetables and shredded fried egg completed the package that was tarnished by that ghastly sauce. I’ve definitely had better.

Not to worry, though. Hot glasses of teh tarik (pulled tea, $3) were on hand to wash the taste away. Although not the best teh tarik I’ve had (it lacked the lovely starchy texture, the ‘pull’), I liked that it was an even ratio of white tea and condensed milk whereas other places go heavy on the milk thus rendering it too sweet.

Palms Food Court is a great concept and definitely a great place for a meal if you are with indecisive company. Although I didn’t like my noodles, I would still come back as I believed I just ordered incorrectly. On Thursday nights, they have an international buffet dinner offer ($15.90 per head = bargain!) while Tuesday nights, the buffet table is purely Northern Indian. Worth sussing out.

Palms Foodcourt and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Ajisen Ramen (Glen Waverley)

85 Kingsway
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9560 9018

Kingsway, the foodie epicentre of Glen Waverley, is a bit of an odd spot. For all the patrons the tiny strip of eateries can attract, half of the restaurants at any given time seem to shut down for no apparent reason and re-open as something else a month or two later. Business not doing too well, hygiene issues and having to compete with five billion other ramen cafes within a two kilometre radius – they’re all legitimate reasons for not lasting more than a year on Kingsway. So when my dad told me about a ‘really nice’ meal he had at the new Ajisen Ramen restaurant in Glen Waverley – and given how I reckon the city branch has gone to shite – I was sceptical to say the least. Another ramen place? And one that’s not even good to begin with? For reals? ‘No,’ my dad insisted, ‘This one’s really good!’ My dad may not know much about good food (he is someone who has his steak effking well done, for Pete’s sake!) but I had to admit, I was curious so on Sunday, my sister, Janice, and I allowed my folks to take us there for lunch. And hey, as much as I don’t like Ajisen’s ramen, their sizzling chicken dish (battered pieces of chicken in a bad-but-damn-good sweet and creamy batter) is tops so I could always go with that.

Sadly, the Glen Waverley branch did not have sizzling chicken on their menu. It was pretty much all ramen, but for a smattering of rice dishes and entrees. Most ramen dishes hover around the $11 mark and are big enough to curb even the hungriest. For those wanting a bit more bang for their buck, however, the samurai combo deal is available for lunchers where an extra $5 gets you whatever entree you want (except for the ebi mayonnaise) as well as green tea (which is otherwise $2 or thereabouts). Not bad, given that most entrees are around $6-7. Dad and I chose a samurai combo deal each, because we’re cool that way.

My dad chose the tofu dengaku for his entree (normally $6.50). It was a simple dish, just five deep fried tofu cubes drizzled in a sweet miso sauce that was probably store-bought. But whatever, it was perfectly cooked and tasty. Yum.

I chose a plate of takoyaki (normally $6.50) for my entree. Eying the untidy mass of deep fried octopus balls, shredded cabbage and the most bonito flakes I’ve seen on any one dish, like, ever, my parents asked me what on earth was this. I mean, my parents aren’t at all foodies but as if be Asian and not know what takoyaki is?! *facepalm* They were alright; not the crunchiest but not the soggiest either. There was a reasonable amount of octopus in each ball which was good but on the flip-side, the amount of bonito that covered the takoyaki was not.

Janice ordered a plate of tori karaage for herself and mum to share ($6.50). I’m a sucker for fried chicken so I eagerly helped myself to several pieces. After having mad-awesome fried chicken at By Korea with Shirley the other day, I couldn’t help but think that this plate of chicken failed in comparison. Look, it wasn’t bad – tasty and crispy enough and I couldn’t really fault the probably-store-bought mayo – but after having good Korean fried chicken, let’s be honest, it’s hard to ever eat tori karaage and go “Mmmmm NOM NOM NOM” with such gusto again. Bleh, but only by default.

Trying to convince my parents that I won’t be getting up to no good when I embark on my South American adventure next year (Woo Inca Trail! Woo boating along the Amazon! Woo Colombian drug lords!) was made slightly easier over steaming bowls of ramen. I’m not sure whether it was the fragrant smell of my miso chasyu ramen ($11.50) that made my parents sigh and suggest travelling somewhere closer to home (you know like, Mongolia) before going to South America (and normally, they’d be the type to overreact and be like, “NONONO YOU CANNOT GO TO SOUTH AMERICA! ABSOLUTELY NOT! NO!”) or whether they finally realised that arguing with me was a fruitless exercise. In any case, they liked my ramen as much as I did. The broth was sweet and gentle, yet still packed a decent punch to the skull in terms of bite. The noodles, while lacking in girth, were perfectly chewy and each piece of chasyu had the right amount of meat and fat for a perfect dish that warmed our hearts.

My miso chasyu ramen was only two of twenty ramen dishes that had a miso broth; every other ramen had a tonkotsu (pork) broth including the ones my parents had. My dad ordered a bowl of tori karaage ramen ($11.50) which consisted of deep fried chicken pieces which obviously got soggier as the hour progress. The tonkotsu broth wasn’t too bad – it was tasty thanks to the assistance of good ol’ MSG (but not too much, thank goodness) but lacked the lovely milkiness that you see in ramens you can get from places like Ramen Ya. My dad isn’t a fan of pork so I don’t know what compelled him to order what he ordered but even so, my ramen was miles better so it was no wonder why he kept stealing spoonfuls of miso ramen from my bowl when I was busy assuring mum that, ‘No, I won’t be taking drugs in Peru’ and ‘Yes, I will still have money to afford that home deposit when I go on my adventure.’

Mum isn’t normally one to order WTF dishes but her curry beef ramen ($12.50), with the beef WELL DONE (OMGWTF!!! GARRRRR!!) is certainly not something that even my ex-boyfriend, who used to order dishes such as crocodile with XO sauce at Vietnamese restaurants just for the lols, would order. And for good reason too. Although the menu told us that the dish had a two-chilli (out of three) rating, it wasn’t any more spicy than these chilli cheese Twisties that my darling Marty brought over from Queensland when he was visiting a few weekends ago. I can’t quite get around the idea of a ‘curry ramen’ (if I want curry in my soup, I’d get a laksa instead) so I couldn’t really enjoy it. Mum, too, didn’t really like it and also kept trying to dip into my soup for a bit of miso action.

We were full but everyone wanted green tea ice cream so we ordered three servings to share between the four of us (for some reason, this reminded me of yum cha – you know how each steamer normally contains three dumplings? – and made me laugh). I can’t remember how much the ice cream cost but it was pretty damn good green tea ice cream – if they had charged $10 for it, I would have happily paid it. It was heavy on the earthy green tea taste with the slightest hint of sweetness coming through. One bowl had some red bean mixture drizzled over it but I didn’t get a chance to tap that (probably because I was convincing my mother that Peru is, in fact, a safe country and that no, all the reports of violent demonstrations in Lima have been exaggerated). A perfect way to end what was surprisingly a decent lunch.

Okay, so I was quick to dismiss this place without giving it a proper go. While I’m bummed that they don’t have sizzling chicken here, I’m nevertheless pleased with how lovely my miso ramen was (and yeah, okay, both my parents’ ramen dishes weren’t that good but I’m going to attribute it to the fact that they’re both dunces who chose poorly) and ditto the green tea ice cream. Another thing that surprised me was just how PACKED this place was. When we got there just before 12:30pm, we had to queue up behind three groups and by the time we left, the queue was snaking out onto Kingsway! Despite being busy, however, the service still remained efficient and our green teas were constantly replenished without us needing to request a re-fill. Awesome. Just the way the Inca Trail is going to be when I conquer it next year.

Ajisen Ramen on Urbanspoon

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The Grand Tofu 2

5/53 Kingsway
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9574 7676

There is another yong tau foo eatery in Glen Waverley. It also happens to have the same name as the one that’s been standing around the corner from the train station for years, The Grand Tofu. The Grand Tofu 2, however, is on the same strip of shops as Village Cinemas, Bob’s Kitchen and JG Dumplings so one can easily have a bowl of noodles and soup after a session at the cinemas or after a afternoon in the library. Adam and I decided to visit the restaurant in its third week of business sometime last week at around 11:30 in the morning. Although it was not yet officially lunchtime, the place was swarming with people and we were lucky just to find a table towards the back of the restaurant. Now, the only reason why we wanted to eat here was to try some yong tau foo which, some of you know, involves standing by the counter and choosing your soup base (clear, tom yum or curry), your noodles (rice, vermicelli or Hokkien) and six of the 15 or so little dumplings/stuffed beancurds/wantons/UFOs laid out on display in the glass cabinet. The protocol that we’ve been following at all other yong tau foo restaurants was to march up to the counter, choose your items, pay for them and then find a seat.

Not in this case.

So after we’re hastily seated, we get up to choose the stuff that would be going into our meals. But while we’re halfway choosing, we’re ushered back into our seats and snidely told us that “this wasn’t the way they do it here.” Apparently, we were supposed first sit on the table, wait for someone to come around with a menu, read the menu on the table and actually TELL the waiter, while seated, that we wanted to order yong tau foo. The waiter is then to write ‘yong tau foo’ on his piece of paper before he prints out a ticket from the cashier which is then handed to us. We are THEN to get up from our table, with the ticket, and then hand the ticket over to the bored-looking lady who is manning the tong yau foo cabinet who THEN proceeds to make our dish according to our specifications. This so-called “procedure” is not only confusing to first-timers but also inefficient, adding an extra 5-10 minutes to our waiting time. I’m one of those people who can get frustrated easily over little things like these but I just so happened to be sick (the potentially swiney kind of sick) that day so I was especially grumpy.

Admittedly, our yong tau foo were quite decent though not any better than other places I’ve been to. I ordered one with a clear broth and rice noodles which I then added some chilli oil to make it a bit more spicy for me. I wasn’t happy about the lack of dumplings they had in that cabinet, but I did make up for it by putting in an extra prawn and pork wanton and stuffed fried doughnuts alongside my fish cake and fried vegetarian bean curd skin. Adam’s curry soup, while tasty, didn’t seem to have the same punch as my clear broth though.

Each bowl was, from memory, $9.50 which is the standard these days but I probably wouldn’t go there if I have to deal with the cumbersome ordering procedure again!

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JG Dumplings (revisited)

78 Kings Way
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 8113
This week involved: My cousin Jess’ 24th birthday at Golden Dragon Palace, a World Cup qualifier between Australian and Japan at the ‘G (which was a bit of a pointless match anyway, seeing as Australia was already in the World Cup), oh, and food. This time at JG Dumplings again.
The fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $8.50) were as good, if not better, as I remember them. And so darn crispy too. Oh, and not AS oily as last time. Awesomeness.


Steamed prawn and chicken dumplings (10 for $8.00). They were no different to the ones they serve at Bob’s Kitchen, a few shops down but they were fine enough.

The surprise pick of the lot: Shanghai noodles ($8.00). I say surprise because I haven’t had one decent serve of Shanghai noodles for a very long time. In fact, the best one I’ve had is at Shanghai Gourmet in Springvale which is a tad too far for me to drive to if all I want is fried noodles (and when I end up in Springvale, I almost HAVE to have Vietnamese anyway…). As of late, the noodles I’ve had at other places were either too greasy, not tasty enough, the noodles too thin (some even use Hokkien (!!) or a case of too much cabbage and not enough pork. Enter JG’s version and you have a hot plate of thick noodles (the way they should be), the right ratio of vegies and pork and zomg, plenty of mushrooms and flavour. It’s a tad on the greasy side but seriously, LOVE!

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Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge

74-76 Kingsway
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 9888

Lunch in Glen Waverley followed by Angels and Demons was on the cards for Ad Lib today. We had a “buy one main, get one free” voucher for Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge on Kingsway so we decided to give it a go. It was just after 1pm when we arrived to a VERY loud jazz band doing their thang by the front door. A quick survey of the restaurant showed that it was about 70% full but we were able to find a vacant booth in the middle of the dining room (I love cushy booths!). We noticed that it was rather dark inside, even though the sun was out. I think the owners wanted to make it “cool” to the young ones which I thought was a bit dumb because after all, it was only 1pm in GLEN WAVERLEY, ffs. Needless to say, reading the menu (and taking photos!) proved to be a bit of a task.

My crumbed calamari rings ($21.90) with a “botique” salad (nothing but a few greens, onions and tomatoes and Italian dressing) and shoestring fries. There was also a smidgen of tartare sauce in a scallop shell – I couldn’t decide whether to find that cute or just plain lame. I suppose my meal was okay but for $21.90, it felt a bit steep. The same meal would have only cost about $15 in Flinders Lane, I reckon.

Adam’s “Deeelicious lamb gyros” ($24.90) – no really, it actually says “deeelicious” on the menu. I thought my meal was just “meh,” but Adam’s was of suckage standard. The “wood-fired” pita bread was stale, the feta cheese in the Greek salad smelt like it was off and the lamb was overcooked and tired.

The total bill would have been $55.90 (including a glass of sav blanc for me and a short macc for Adam) but because my main was free, Adam only paid $34. We both agreed that while $55.90 was way too much for food of this standard, $34 was still too expensive. Bleh food, instrusive jazz music, a dark dining room. I suppose the service wasn’t TOO bad except for the fact that our waters (which we asked for prior to ordering) never did arrive. Sigh. I guess it was good to go to Glen Waverley to try non-Asian food but looking back, I would have rather much have dumplings next door for less than $20!

“So that’s where Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge have been storing the feta cheese…”

Angels and Demons. Yeah, I’ve always thought that this book would make a better movie than The Da Vinci Code and after watching it today, I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, so it’s not going to win any Oscars but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I hated that one minute, they’re running around Rome and the next minute, Tom Hanks is reciting the history behind every stupid statute. While all the facts and stories sound interesting on paper, it just sounds dull and disjointed on screen.

On the other hand, I liked that the script was tighter than TDVC and I liked seeing Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra. She may not be the hottest brunette in the world but she has this earthy beauty that I admire. I was also glad that she and Tom Hanks, whom I will never EVER accept as Robert Langdon, did not have a romantic relationship in the film because clearly there was no chemistry between them. To have her kiss Tom-as-Robert would just be forced and soo ewwww (I mean, really, who in their right mind would kiss Tom Hanks?). I would probably only recommend you watch this movie if you’ve read the book because it does get confusing especially to those who have no idea what the story is about… though on second thoughts, Adam never read the book but he seemed engrossed in the movie the whole time so I guess it couldn’t have been THAT bad .

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JG Dumplings

78 Kings Way
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 8113

So I finally went to that dumpling place in Glen Waverley that Dave‘s been telling me about. It’s called JG Dumpling Restaurant and you can find it in Kings Way a short walk from that other dumpling place, Bob’s Kitchen. Adam and I were starving one afternoon and so we decided to have a quick snack there at around 5pm where the place was practically empty apart from two or three full tables. We were only after a plate of greasy fried pork dumplings ($8.50 for a plate of 15) but we were told that there was a minimum charge of $5 per head. Slightly annoying but from a business perspective, quite understandable… I mean, I wouldn’t waste my time serving a couple of snotty Asians for $8.50 and no tip, right? Anyway, we were going to go for a serving of spring onion pancake ($3.00) but in the end, we opted for a basket of steamed vegetarian buns (4 for $5.00).

It took them a good 20 minutes to arrive (empty dining room, plenty of staff on the floor and in the semi-open kitchen… so why?!) but damn, they were good! Okay, so a little bit on the “too oily” side but they were hot, they were crispy and you could actually taste all of the green stuff amidst the pork…. the ginger, the spring onion, the coriander. Each dumpling was fragrant and full of taste. Delish!

Our steamed buns arrived 10 minutes afterwards, looking very much like a batch of freshly-laid eggs (sorry, I’ve eaten way too many eggs this week, both real ones and chocolate ones).

But what’s this I see?! Those fecks gave us RED BEAN ones instead of the VEGETARIAN ones we asked for! And yes, I did state clearly that we wanted VEGETARIAN BUNS while pointing to the menu with my finger (as I do at most Asian places) *headdesk* Never mind though… the buns actually weren’t that bad, they just weren’t what I ordered!

The dumplings were good (not the best, but still yummy nevertheless), the prices were decent, but the service SUCKED! I’d definitely go here again though because it’s just down the road from church and oh boy, those dumplings… Thanks for the tip, Dave!

Steering off topic now… it’s time for a haircut. My hair’s become wild and gross and my fringe has disappeared to the side. I’m going to bring it back again and just trim an inch or so off, while going for a sleeker style. I’ve heard some great things about Rokk Ebony (possibly next Tuesday, after class), has anyone been and what did you think of the place?

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Shira Nui (revisited)

247 Springvale Rd
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9886 7755

When I ask people where one should go for good sushi, the majority of them would say “Shira Nui” (though those who enjoy slow service and can’t be bothered going to Glen Waverley would say “Shoya”). When I tell them that I have, in fact, been to Shira Nui and said that it was “great but not super-dooper-fantastic”, they usually look at me in horror and exclaim, “No, you haven’t really tried Shira Nui until you have sat on the counter and ordered the chef’s omakase!” With this in mind, I rang the place up on Wednesday afternoon and asked them if they could squeeze Adam and I in at 6pm the next evening (last night) and thankfully, a spot at the end of the counter was available on the condition that we would leave by 8pm. No problemo, we thought, we had to go to church down the road at 7:30pm for their special Easter presentation anyway. The reason for such a special dinner? No reason. I just wanted to treat Adam to some good food and c’mon, as if Ms Libby really needs a proper reason to go eating . And hey, I am following Aussie Easter traditions in that I’m scoffing myself with fish after all.

We walked into the very tiny and unassuming restaurant on Springvale Road just before 6pm and already, several diners were comfortably seated. Cries of “IRASSHAIMASE!” went up all around the dining room, from the waitresses to the sushi chefs, to say “Welcome! I’m just as sick of saying it as much as you are of hearing it but let’s just get on with this charade, okay?” Our bums on our counter stools, we were given menus but without looking at them, we simply told the waitress that we wanted the “omakase” which is where we let the sushi chefs decide what we should eat.

It’s a bit of a gamble, not knowing exactly what we would get but on the other hand, omakase customers usually get the better quality stuff over the a la carte customers. Prior to starting, they did ask us if there was anything that we wouldn’t eat though so it’s not like you would be presented with something you vehemently hate. The beauty about Shira Nui’s omakase setting is that we can sit there for as long as we want until we decide that enough is enough and you get charged accordingly. The waitress told us that people usually pay between $75-80 per person (which was what we paid) but apparently some iron stomachs have been known to spend closer to $100.

We received an amouse bouche prior to the show. Two tiny pieces of fried fish and some pickled vegetables which you could eat all at once on the spot, or in little bites throughout the course of your meal (I did the latter). We watched as the two chefs, grand master Hiro Nishikura and his two assistants danced behind the counter with knives, raw fish fillets, rice and blowtorches.

Yes, blowtorches!

Watching them prepare fresh sushi in front of your eyes was an amazing experience, a bit like Iron Chef but without the awful dubbing. No sooner than taking the first bite of my fried fish, our sushi arrived. We were also instructed by the chefs when it was okay to dip or sushi into soy sauce or otherwise (that bit becomes important later).

Each of us received a plate with two pieces of sushi and the first one was a nigirizushi of raw King Dory fillets (which look a bit like you-know-what if you think really hard). A gruff instruction of “no soy” was also given by Hiro-san as the two of us tucked into our soft-textured fish that was only flavoured by a squeeze of lemon juice to bring out the fish’s natural sweetness. Sublime. Adam, on the other hand, didn’t hear the “no soy” instructions and proceeded to dunk his fish into a bowl of soy sauce. Looking in horror, I told him that the chef told us NOT to have it with soy to which he asked me (while darting nervously to and from the sushi chefs welding their filleting knives like they were samurai swords), “What are they going to do to me now?” “Get angry at you” I replied, just so I could see the look of alarm in his eyes (haha, yeah I’m mean).

Shira Nui’s much-loved pan-grilled salmon sushi. I loved it when I had it last year but it definitely tasted better this time around (see? omakase = better food!). I was glad to witness the making of this perfectly-executed sushi, from the moment the salmon left the other kitchen (where all the hot food was being served) to the grabbing of little bundles of sweet vinegared rice thrown on the bench that was smeared with a hint of wasabi (enough to give it a kick but not too much so that my tongue would burn – because I hate wasabi, you see) to the way each piece of salmon was lovingly placed on each bundle of rice before being dusted with what looked like the Japanese seven-spice blend, shichimi. After a little squeeze of lemon juice, both pairs of sushi were signed, sealed and delivered with a neat bow of nori. Talk about a flavour explosion! It was smokey and sweet and spicy and tangy all at the same time, and yet the natural flavour of the salmon still poked through all of the layers of flavour. Too good!

Raw mackerel sushi. Mackerel is one of those fish that can’t keep fresh for very long so it is usually salt-cured when it comes to serving them in sushi form. I was initially reluctant at the thought of eating such an oily and salty fish raw, even if it was sprinkled with shichimi but matching it with a covering of kombu (a type of thick seaweed) that has been soaked in a sweet mirin reduction was nothing short of genius. Delicious!

Now this one got Adam excited (he loves his beef). A grilled wagyu beef fillet, having only spent a whisker of a second on the grill leaving it half-raw, was topped with a smidgen of onion jam and spring onions. It was so soft that it literally melted in my mouth. I know that phrase is so tired and cliched but really, it DID.

This was something new to us. When Hiro-san introduced it to us, we initially thought he said “ox tail” but upon nibbling on the chewy and almost rubbery piece of orange flesh, I realised that he was saying “ark shell.” It’s a mollusc that isn’t too disssimlar to an ordinary clam and on its own, it is pretty tasteless which was why we were instructed to dip it in soy sauce. I got a bit naughty though and decided to boldly try one without sauce and dammit, he was right. While you could taste the sea in the flesh, it isn’t very nice on its own. I think the point of Hiro-san making us try the ark shell was to convey its interesting texture which is a bit like a calamari with millions of little grooves imprinted in the flesh.

Seared tuna steak. Another beautiful one. The tuna fillet was seared on the grill for only the briefest of moments, leaving the outside crust crispy and the inside beautifully rare. It was then cut up into little slices, sprinkled with shichimi and placed on a small mound of warm rice. Then came the onion jam. And the spring onions. And the strip of nori. Bewdddiful.

So far I’ve been saying good things about the omakase, so it is with reluctance when I tell you that this next sushi didn’t really do it for me. It was a piece of okra stuffed with a minced fish and crab mix which was then lightly friend and served in tempura form. It was then wrapped with nori and dotted with a plum jam. Eaten with soy sauce, I thought that while it wasn’t a bad dish, it was simply different to what we had been experiencing so far on the night. At another random Japanese restaurant, this would have been the norm and I wouldn’t have whinged about it but omakase at Shira Nui? It would forever be known as “the thing that didn’t belong.”

Ooohboy, the raw king fish was probably my favourite one. This very firm fish was marinated only the simplest of ingredients, soy and mirin but boy, was it big on taste. Coupled with the marinade and the fact that the kingfish is a very strong-tasting fish, it was obvious that no soy was needed for this sushi. It was sweet, sublime and oh-so-wonderful. More please!

By this stage, we were almost stuffed and about to admit defeat. The thrill of the omakase was to see what surprise would land on our plates each time and we really didn’t want the fun to stop. We figured, however, that eight dishes was already a pretty fine effort and it was always time for us to make a move on and head to church anyway. But then the chef walked past us on the way to the other kitchen and told us that the oysters were coming up so we thought, “Okay, one more!”

This photo is shocking so you will have to trust me when I say that the oyster sushi was excellent. Watching the chefs construct the sushi was just as exciting as watching Big Love (it really IS an exciting show!). There were four bundles of rice in total, then came the sheets of nori being wovened vertically around each rice bundle to make a “bowl” where the rice was the bottom of that bowl. Then comes the baked oysters hot from the oven. They are carefully spooned out of their shells with a spoon and placed in each “sushi bowl” before being squirted with Japanese mayonaise and glazed with a blowtorched. By golly, it was delicious! It was so rich, so creamy, so briny, so indulgent. One bite and I was KO-ed. Mmmmmmm.

We were done with sushi for the night but I wasn’t about to leave until I sampled the green tea creme brulee that Kelly loves so much. It was $11.50 a serving and we decided to share it between the two of us. As we were waiting for our dessert, Adam and I started talking about how impressive we were with the whole show. Nine intricate dishes, and each of them arriving quickly after the other. The staff at Shira Nui clearly knew what they were doing and there was not even a minor hiccup in their production line which resembled the Just-In-Time assembly line system that quality management theorists often rave on about. The mainlanders at those bloody dumpling place that take 20 minutes to deliver a greasy plate of dumplings and then manage to stuff up the second dish could sure learn a huge deal just by sitting at Shira Nui‘s counter.

Our green tea creme brulee was served in a small espresso shot-mug which, when the tough crusty lid was cracked, revealed a light oozy green custard that was rich and delicious. I remember squealing with glee as I made 10 billion cracks on the burnt toffee top while Adam sat there rolling his eyes. I now know why Amelie gets excited over creme brulee. Accompanying the creme brulee was a black cup of vanilla ice cream cubes and fruits to refresh the palette. And to our left is a shot glass of kiwi sorbet that was given to us “compliments of the chef” which made us feel special.

All up, it $180 for the two of us including drinks and dessert. The result: two very happy campers. In spite of such a great dinner, I’m still reluctant to declare this the best sushi restaurant in Melbourne. Yes, everything was delicious. Yes, the service was warm and friendly. Yes, some of the best sushi dishes were tasted last night. But I’ve tasted nothing as fresh and sublime as Shoya‘s sushi bowl. Having said that though, Shira Nui is definitely one of those places worth driving to from the other side of town so I definitely recommend this place. Just make sure you go for the omakase though. And tell them that you are allergic to okra.

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