Review: Kenzan (Melbourne, VIC)

Collins Place
45 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 8933
http://www.kenzan.com.au/

A Saturday evening family dinner saw us congregate at Kenzan, one of the finest – and first – Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. Having heard good things about their omakase sushi/sashimi dinners, I had been looking forward to this visit for quite some weeks.

Unfortunately, I am related to a weirdo (cough my brother cough cough) who doesn’t do seafood, let alone raw fish and shellfish so omakase was a bit out of the question. So table a la carte, it was. Still, that didn’t stop us from ordering several sneaky seafood dishes…

Large sushi and sashimi combination ($105)
Large sushi and sashimi combination ($105)

… like this big arse sushi and sashimi platter that came in a vessel half as big as the table. Despite the fact that it was just over $100, I don’t think any of us expected this platter to be so gigantic. ‘Should we cancel the rest of the dishes?’ asked my mum, looking a tad worried. Puh-lease, we’re a family of eaters – as if!

Each bit of fish was expertly cut and sublimely delicious and fresh. If we took my mum’s advice, I think I would have been happy; there was enough protein in there to stop my stomach from grumbling (and I had to sit through a long 3.5 hour stint at the hairdresser so I did rock up pretty damn hungry). In addition to the usual tuna, kingfish, salmon and prawn pieces, there were also some oysters drizzled in ponzu and soy which my father and I happily ate.

The rest of the food took a while to arrive – about 45 minutes. To be fair, it was a Saturday night so the place was full to the brim. It also didn’t help that the restaurant was massively understaffed that night. With that in mind, I think the place did pretty well to keep the food coming out as best as they could and the staff remained pleasantly friendly throughout.

Kenzan’s menu is predominantly the standard Japanese fare you can find at most mid-to-high end Japanese restaurants in Australia so if you’re looking for surprises, you don’t find it here. It’s all about wagyu steaks, sushi, tempura and all those sorts of things done well so don’t expect avant garde things like dried kombu pizza topped with sea urchin and bonito or anything like that.

Horenso gomaae ($12)
Horenso gomaae ($12)

A plate of blanched spinach drizzled with a light sesame seed sauce kicked off proceedings. It provided just the right amount of greens to keep the five of us tricking ourselves into thinking we were being healthy all throughout the evening.

Ebi shumai (four pieces, $16)
Ebi shumai (four pieces, $16)

The steamed prawn dumplings were impressive; the skins were delicately silky, bursting with a filling of pork fat and prawn pieces. They were also pretty generous with the prawn too, another plus in my books.

Tatsuta age ($20)
Tatsuta age ($20)

My sister loved her fried chicken so this was a ‘must order’ dish. Lightly dusted in flour, the marinated chicken thigh pieces were then deep fried. I’d say this was a ‘safe’ dish – it did everything right, but didn’t wow me enough to want to order it again. Then again, I’m not as much a fried chicken lover as she is.

We also ordered a serving of agedashi tofu ($16) but my photo of it was so bad that I had to flick it into the trash can. It was a shame because it was my favourite dish of the night and probably one of the best renditions of this classic I’ve had, not even kidding. I always love the combination of light crispy batter against cubes of silky soft tofu but the sauce here brought this humble dish to another level. Yes, there was dashi (and lots of it) but there were also mushrooms (and I love mushrooms) with a hint of vegetable stock in there somewhere too. Definitely a dish I’d order again – TWICE. In one sitting.

Gyu teriyaki ($35)
Gyu teriyaki ($35)

After the wonder that was the agedashi tofu, the grilled beef with teriyaki sauce paled in comparison. To be fair, it was well-cooked piece of steak oozing with juices and the teriyaki sauce was fine. The kitchen even threw us a bowl of rice to go with it. But ugh, I just could not stop thinking about the bloody tofu. Sorry cow, you lost by default this time.

Tempura moriawase ($35)
Tempura moriawase ($35)

They also threw in a bowl of rice with the tempura, which we found odd because we don’t normally get given rice when we order tempura. But anyway. The guys at Kenzan seem to be great at frying stuff (case in point, agedashi tofu) because the tempura was probably my second favourite dish of the night. Each piece of prawn, white fish and vegetable were lightly coated, then fried and then served on a paper doily which remained mostly untainted with residue oil for the duration of the dinner. I almost felt healthy eating it.

Mum wanted dessert after our savouries, only to be told that her first choice and then her second choice weren’t available that evening. In the end, we decided to grab the bill because the only option available by then was vanilla ice cream and like we were going to pay for vanilla ice cream at a Japanese restaurant.

To this day, I’m not still not sure how I feel about Kenzan. They do things well and I can see why they’ve won awards and hats as the years go by. I can also see myself coming back to order some dishes again (I’m looking at you, agedashi tofu). But when it comes to the other stuff, there’s a local Japanese restaurant just 5 minutes from my folks’ place that serves the same dishes, cooked just as well but 25% cheaper. Granted, I get that city rents aren’t cheap and all but if I want a good beef teriyaki, why drive into the city, wait for 45 mins and pay extra money for the privilege when you can have the same quality dish for cheaper minus the wait and drive?

Kenzan Japanese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Juicy Bao (Melbourne, VIC)

178 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9041 7009

When Melbourne’s first Din Tai Fung restaurant opened a few months ago, the queues snaking up to the Emporium restaurant were insane. You’d think this was the first ever dumpling restaurant in Melbourne or something. 45 minutes just for the privilege of sitting down in the restaurant and eating probably the world’s most famous xiaolongbao? Yeah, nah.

Sure, I love my dumplings as much as the next human being but this was a line that I’m not willing to cross, especially given how pricey my DTF experience in Sydney was some years ago. Luckily, this is Melbourne which means that there’s plenty of other dumpling options in the city – and most of them are within walking distance of DTF. Like Juicy Bao, for example. I had never even heard of this place but during my last trip to Melbourne, my friend Sam alerted me to this place and suggested we have a late lunch there. They did dumplings, they did it cheap and chances are you didn’t have to wait ages.

Sold.

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We took the liberty of ordering several shared dishes.

Shanghai fried noodles ($9.80)
Shanghai fried noodles ($9.80)

The Shanghai noodles were excellent; I couldn’t stop slurping on the slippery fat wheat noodles, gorgeously coated with soy and oil, tinted with the slightest hint of sweetness. They were also generous with the mushrooms, greens and pork whereas many other places tend to be stingy on dishing those all important ingredients out.

Pork and prawn wontons in peanut, chilli and spicy sauce (15 for $9.80)
Pork and prawn wontons in peanut, chilli and spicy sauce (15 for $9.80)

Sam insisted I try their peanut butter pork and prawn wontons. They were a lot like the ones served at Shanghai Street; I can never get enough of the odd yet delicious combination of creamy peanut butter and unctuous chilli oil. I do prefer the ones at Shanghai Street though – the wontons there just seemed to have more texture and flavour.

Pork xiao long bao (8 for $10.80)
Pork xiao long bao (8 for $10.80)

Finally, we had to order a basket of their namesake xiao long bao. The skins may not have been as delicately silky as the ones that cover Hu Tong’s coveted XLBs but I loved the more robust flavours in the filling here. Those who prefer a sweeter XLB broth will also give these a thumbs up.

Juicy Bao may not have DTF’s accolades or the polished décor (and menu) that Hu Tong has. Hell, their name is borderline dirty. But if you’re after a no-nonsense dumpling feast that won’t break the bank and disappoint your tastebuds, then go here.

Juicy Bao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Menya Sandaime (Melbourne, VIC)

225 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 0989

When I heard that a 24-hour ramen restaurant was opening in my fair hometown of Melbourne, I clapped my hands with glee. I love ramen and almost anything that’s open all around the clock so I knew this place was going to be one of the first places I planned to visit on my next trip down south.

The eatery is called Menya Sandaime and it happens to be part of a global Korean-based franchise of ramen restaurants. Melbourne is its first foray into the Australian market and given that Melbourne’s ramen scene, to date, had been lacking, we welcomed Menya Sandaime with open arms and hungry stomachs.

I walked into the restaurant just before 11:30am on a Monday; it wasn’t terribly busy so I was able to be seated immediately. The service was efficient – I only had to wait a few minutes before I received my steaming bowl of ramen.

Menya Sandaime ramen ($11.80)
Menya Sandaime ramen ($11.80)

I ordered the basic ramen, which the menu vaguely described as ‘not your typical Japanese ramen.’ I’m not exactly sure what set this particular ramen apart from the other tonkotsu ramens around except for a piece of blanched bok choy. That said, who on earth puts bok choy in ramen???

wp1I was pretty disappointed with my ramen. For starters, the bok choy was enough to destroy any claims of authenticity. Secondly, the egg was more hardboiled than gooey (a no-no if you’re a ramen purist). Thirdly, the broth was very salty and one-dimensional, with no depth and no richness even the thin layer of fatty particles floating on top of the broth. Even a bowl of instant Mi Goreng noodles had more character than this!

In a way, I can understand that it’s a bit unfair to expect food coming out of a 24-hour establishment to be top notch. In saying that, I did expect a bit more from this highly anticipated ramen haunt than this! I guess one good thing about Menya Sandaime is that Melbourne now has more options for 3am revellers on the way home from the clubs. After all, a bowl of soup noodles is a better option than a McD’s burger or greasy souvlaki from Stalactites.

Menya Sandaime Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tipo 00 (Melbourne, VIC)

361 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9942 3946
http://www.tipo00.com.au/

Whenever I’m back in Melbourne, one thing I enjoy doing is checking out restaurants that have opened up during my absence. Refined Italian casual eatery Tipo 00 was one such place I went to on my last visit, before I was to disappear from the city for a few days for a spot of wilderness, hiking and wine with old friends.

Situated on the outdoor store end of Little Bourke Street, Tipo 00 has already etched an impressive following after only a month of operation. I can see why though; it’s an intimate polished space with a seasonal menu of delicious pasta, pasta and more pasta (and a couple of meaty mains but let’s face it, you’re here for the pasta). As for the team, they’re from some of Melbourne’s best names such as St Crispin, Vue de Monde, Merchant and Scusa Mi.

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Arriving just before the lunch crowd descended onto the 40-seater restaurant, I took my post by the window and ordered my food. Once my order was taken, I was presented with my wine (a delightfully aromatic Bardolino) and a complimentary warm focaccia slice drizzled with olive oil and paired with a soft pillowy scoop of ricotta.

Pappardelle with braised rabbit, marjoram and hazelnut ($27)
Pappardelle with braised rabbit, marjoram and hazelnut ($27)

Goah, this has got to be the most awkward pasta shot ever. I could have sworn I had a better photo in my phone but I don’t. Shrugs.

Anyway, the hardest choice you’ll ever make at Tipo 00 is what pasta to order. There’s their famous squid ink taglioni with bottarga that’s currently making the rounds on Instagram, while my neighbour’s black truffle risotto seduced with its sexy aroma. In the end, I chose the braised rabbit pappardelle because hey, Queensland.

It was the most wonderful plate of pasta I’ve had in a very long time. The handmade ribbons of carby goodness were silky smooth with the perfect amount of firmness to the bite, while the sauce was rich, earthy and flavoursome.

Tipomisu ($14)
Tipomisu ($14)

The pasta itself was enough to keep my tummy full until dinnertime but I couldn’t help but order dessert. In particular, I wanted to try Tipo 00’s famous tipomisu, their spin on an Italian classic.

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I’m not normally a big tiramisu eater (too much chocolate, too much richness, bleh) but this one really took the cake (pardon the intentional pun). Hyptonised, I watched the waitress pour the chocolate sauce all over the dessert before I eagerly dug in. The tipomisu was fantastic; unlike most tiramisus, all the flavours – chocolate, coffee and mascarpone – had equal weighting and none overpowered the other. It also wasn’t terribly sweet, thank goodness.

Tipo 00 is the sort of place that makes you fall in love with Melbourne over again – that is, if the coffee and hot guys in woollen suits haven’t done so already. It’s elegant, it’s down-to-earth and there’s a lot of carb-loaded substance behind that modern Italo-Melbourne style. I’m definitely getting the black truffle risotto next winter.

Tipo 00 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Grand Trailer Park Taverna (Melbourne, VIC)

Upstairs, 87 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9972 3699
http://www.grandtrailerpark.com.au/

A recent trip to Melbourne saw me and a group of eight other lovely people congregate at Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Melbourne’s newest burger joint, for a Saturday lunch. I’m not one to fawn over burgers that much these days but when my workmate told me about a new burger place in Melbourne that named their dishes after Ivan Drago, Cynthia Benson and Bananarama, I knew I had to check it out #because80sgeek.

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Tucked in the space that was once occupied by Sino-hipster bar Happy Palace, Grand Trailer Park Taverna is kitsch, campy and lots of fun. A lot of the tables were housed in hollowed out faux caravans (or trailers, rather) – kind of like those old school birthday trams they used to have at McDonalds. There were also tables outside on the balcony, the perfect place to sit outside in the sun with a glass of cold beer and perve on Melbourne’s beautiful set walking around on Bourke Street below.

For some reason, the photos I took for this post turned out kinda whack so please forgive me. In hindsight, I kinda wish I made like Thanh and Winston by walking over to the sunny area to take photos where the light was a lot better than our trailer-covered table but give me some credit, I’m not THAT shameless (hah!).

Francis Underwood ($16): beef, American cheddar cheese, tomato, butter lettuce, potato mac and cheese croquette, special burger sauce and American mustard
Francis Underwood ($16): beef, American cheddar cheese, tomato, butter lettuce, potato mac and cheese croquette, special burger sauce and American mustard

All the burgers here are served on lightly toasted brioche buns. Our table enjoyed a variety of different burgers but sadly I didn’t get to try most of them. One burger I did manage to try though was Winston’s Francis Underwood burger. It was essentially like the default (basic) KSA burger but with a slab of potato mac and cheese croquette in the middle.

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I must admit, the croquette was da bomb. The sheer size of it made the burger too big to handle for my little hands (no sniggering, please). In fact, it took me two bites (one at the top of the burger, and one at the bottom) just to get all the flavours in (okay no sniggering for real, please). Aside from the fact that the bun was probably a bit more Brumby’s bread than buttery brioche, it was a pretty impressive burger.

KSA ($12.50): beef, American cheddar cheese, special burger sauce and American mustard; large hand-cut chips ($7.50); Markers Mark bourbon, salted caramel and maple bacon milkshake ($17)
KSA ($12.50): beef, American cheddar cheese, special burger sauce and American mustard; large hand-cut chips ($7.50); Markers Mark bourbon, salted caramel and maple bacon milkshake ($17)

I kept mine simple with the KSA i.e. the basic cheese burger (so, essentially the Francis Underwood minus the croquette really). I have no idea what KSA stands for – definitely not Kosher Supervision of America – but it didn’t matter for my burger was also pretty fantastic… apart from the not-so-buttery-brioche, that is. Great flavours, generously-sized and did not try too hard – at the end of the day, that’s all you want in a burger.

As for the chips? Bleh, forget about them. They were soggy, bland and lacking in flavour. I’d recommend you give them a miss and order the potato mac and cheese croquette instead if you do feel like something starchy on the side. My bourbon, caramel and bacon milkshake, however, was fantastic – then again, you can hardly go wrong with bacon. Or whisky. Even salted caramel is aiight sometimes.

We were on our way out after a very satisfying meal before the cute bar dude stopped us and made us stay for a dessert on the house. Well, if you insist, Lucas…

Return of the Mack ($18): vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sponge cake, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream
Return of the Mack ($18): vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sponge cake, warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream

The dessert was meant to be shared between two – but the remaining five of us struggled with it. Because I’m not a fan of chocolate desserts, I found it a bit too rich for me (after two spoonfuls, I declared defeat). However, it got resounding thumbs up from everyone else so don’t listen to me.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna is a better place to eat, drink and perve than Happy Palace so I, for one, welcome this new tenant with open arms. While I suggest you forgo the chips, the burgers are definitely some of the best in the city. Go before it starts attracting Mamasita-like queues.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna on Urbanspoon

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Review: Shortstop Coffee & Donuts (Melbourne, VIC)

12 Sutherland Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
http://www.short-stop.com.au/

I’m a sucker for a good donut so when I heard that Anthony Ivey (the cute Market Lane and Doughboy Doughnuts dude) was opening up his own permanent donut store in Melbourne CBD, you can imagine how excited I was. Located just off Little Lonsdale Street, Shortstop Coffee & Donuts was the result of six months of researching in the ‘States (read: eating donuts) and many hours of fine-tuning donut recipes to bring probably the best donuts Melbourne had seen since Krispy Kreme first opened to much fanfare in Fountain Gate roughly ten years ago. God, those were the days.

At present, Shortstop is only open on weekdays which initially made it hard for me to visit. I finally got my chance, however, one Queensland long weekend. I met up with my friend Gian for morning tea there one Monday morning for a guilt-free donut and coffee. (guilt-free because we were both going to the gym later that afternoon.)

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The store itself isn’t too big, yet the minimalist interior equipped with blond wood furnishings and circle motifs made the space look bigger than it was. There were also a few places to sit down if you don’t feel like going back to the office either. I was also glad to see no lines when I rocked up – this was about two or three weeks after opening, according to Anthony who happened to be there that morning.

Latte ($3.50)
Latte ($3.50)

The espressos here are, of course, made with Market Lane’s Seasonal Blend beans and Schulz Organic milk, my favourite brand of milk – it’s a shame I can’t get them in Queensland. *sob* Naturally, my coffee went down a treat. Filter coffees are also available for all you hipsters out there.

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Shortstop gives you the option to order donuts online so by the time you rock up, you’re good to pick them up and leave. Without knowing how busy the store was going to be by the time I rocked up, I decided to pre-order my donuts. According to the website, there is a minimum order of six donuts per online order though I could have sworn the number was a lot higher initially. In any case, I took home nine donuts – two of which I shared with Thanh over lunch later that day.

Bourbon crème brûlée ($5); cinnamon, cardamom and sugar ($4)
Bourbon crème brûlée ($5); cinnamon, cardamom and sugar ($4)

We shared the above two donuts. We found the cinnamon donut nice enough but just that, nice. Taste-wise and texture-wise, I’d rather it was only slightly better than those cinnamon donuts you get at those stodgy donut franchises you see in shopping centres.

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The bourbon crème brûlée donut, on the other hand, was heaps better. Think a fried massive ball of, well, dough injected with a velvety vanilla crème patisierre infused with Maker’s Mark bourbon. The top was then sprinkled with sugar before being torched until crispy. While it’s not something I’d be eating on a daily basis, I decided that I liked it – hell, I could have even sworn there was enough alcohol to bring my BAC over 0.05.

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I took the others back to Queensland with me where I got to share them with my very excited workmates. As you can see, each donut has been divided up into little pieces. If you’re anything like me and Gian, one donut is so rich and filling that you’re better off enjoying them in little bites.

Here are my thoughts in dot points:

Strawberry and lime ($4.50): I love that the icing wasn’t one-dimensional like a lot of strawberry iced donuts. I loved that the lime injected a bit of tang to it too. The girls in the office really loved this one but then again, I think they’re more into strawberry-flavoured things than I am.

Peanut butter and jam ($5): Texture-wise, I found this one a bit too cakey for my liking. However, I gave two thumbs up for the taste. Not that you can do much wrong with peanut butter and jam anyway.

Australian honey and sea salt crueller ($4): Surprisingly, this was my favourite of the lot (after all, my friend White Steve did warn me to ‘watch out for the one with the biggest hole’). Its texture was much softer than the other donuts, so much so that it literally melted in your mouth. I also loved the irresistible combination of salt flakes and sticky honey; it also goes to show that you don’t need complex flavours and textures to make a good donut. Simplicity is key and I’ll be buying more of these next time.

Banana and chocolate hazelnut ($4.50): This was another cakey donut so I didn’t rate it terribly high. I’m also not a fan of chocolate or banana-flavoured things so I knew this was already destined to fail in my books. That said, everyone else in the office loved it so maybe it was just me who was weird.

Earl Grey and rose ($4.50): Another cakey one, but I liked the flavours of this one. I loved that the dough was slightly spicy – think speculaas or something to that effect, but with rose water. And even better was the rose petal icing. Too pretty!

Red velvet ($4.50): As mentioned, I’m not a huge chocolate person so I didn’t rate this one. One of the girls, however, declared this as one of her favourites due to the intensity of the dark chocolate and beetroot flavour profiles.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the entire Shortstop menu – or at least the menu that was valid at that point in time. I know the guys add and minus donut flavours all the time so you might very well see a few new items by the time you visit. As for me, I’m definitely not ordering nine donuts again. For one thing, it’s a task to carry them up to Queensland along with all the other food I always bring back from Melbourne. Secondly, there are some flavours that I wouldn’t eat again. The Aussie honey and sea salt one on the other hand… hell, I’ll take half a dozen, thanks!

Shortstop Coffee & Donuts on Urbanspoon

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Review: Hakata Gensuke (Melbourne, VIC)

168 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 6342
http://www.gensuke.com.au/

When it comes to good ramen, Melbourne is slowly but surely gaining legs. Just when I was ready to proclaim the fair southern capital as the ramen cesspool of Australia, it brings us gems like Mensousai Mugen and Fukuryu. And now, we have Hakata Gensuke.

Hakata Gensuke is that diminutive Russell Street eatery that’s got massive queues forming outside since day one. It’s a franchise created by Chef Kousuke Yoshimura and this is his first Australian restaurant. Unfortunately they don’t take bookings so if you’re craving a good honest milky Hakata-style pork bone-based broth ramen and missed the Jetstar flight sales to Japan once again, then you have to come here – and line up.

Pete and I rocked up at 11:45AM one Saturday afternoon, hoping that we’d be one of the first in line for when they did finally open at 12 – unfortunately, we weren’t. There was already a steady line of hungry customers by the time we got there. But like the Tokyo subway system, the guys at Hakata Gensuke are very efficient – a wait staff was already giving everyone in line ordering forms and pens so we could order before we were even seated. Thankfully, the turnover here is quick so we only had to wait half an hour for a table. Yes, only.

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We walked in to cries of ‘Irasshaimase!’ and sat on the counter by the wall. The restaurant’s fast-paced vibrant atmosphere and simple timber furnishings was almost enough to make Pete think he was back in Tokyo.

Signature tonkotsu ramen
Signature tonkotsu ramen

Both Pete and I ordered the tonkotsu ramen. The dish starts at $13 and comes with noodles (you can decide whether to go soft, normal, hard – or very hard if you’re down for it), one slice of cha-shu pork and wood ear mushrooms. You can also decide whether you want the ‘normal’ broth, or one that’s lighter (presumably diluted with dashi). There is the option to get spring onions too at no extra cost.

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You can also chuck in some add-ons for a couple of dollars. I requested the ‘special topping’ add-on: three slices of cha-shu, three pieces of seaweed and one egg ($8). This meant that I ended up paying $21 for my ramen; not cheap at all.

Look, the ramen was lovely – the noodles were beautifully chewy, the broth was equal parts milky, rich and flavoursome. I can certainly see why people would happily wait up to an hour just to sit down and pay more than $20 for a ramen. But would I do it again? Probably not. As good as the broth was, I just think $21 is ridiculous, especially when I can get ramen just as good, if not better, for almost half the price at Hakataya and Muso in Gold Coast. You’re all probably asking why I can’t just stick to the default $13 tonkotsu option – um sorry no, one slice of cha-shu, no seaweed and no egg ain’t going to cut it.

Chicken karaage ($5)
Chicken karaage ($5)

Conversely, the snacks are better-priced. We loved our chicken karaage, which was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, made all the more addictive with a dash of spicy salt.

Hakata gyoza (five pieces, $5)
Hakata gyoza (five pieces, $5)

The pan-fried gyoza were also done well – think crispy bottoms, delicate skin and a juicy pork filling accentuated by lots of garlic and ginger.

While I love a good ramen, I don’t love the idea of waiting in line AND paying a fortune for something that’s meant to be the Japanese version of a dish that’s supposed to be comforting, filling and down-to-earth as the Vietnamese pho. Screw that.

Hakata Gensuke on Urbanspoon

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Review: Crazy Wing (Melbourne, VIC)

177 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9663 6555

Melbourne can get ridiculously cold during winter and autumn (and okay, spring) so it’s good that there are some eateries in the southern city that really turn the heat up with their food offerings.

Take the infamous Crazy Wing, for example. You know, that place that promises super-ridiculously-hot chicken wings that will slowly burn away your internal organs as well as your dignity. There’s a few of them around but the most well-known branch would have to be the one just around the corner from Chinatown. For an Asian who doesn’t mind a bit of heat, it comes as a surprise to most when I tell them that I was a newbie to the whole Crazy Wing thing until just recently. In fact, it was Nate who took me there for dinner one night – fancy that, a wog taking an Asian to an Asian restaurant that specialises in hot food. Foodie game fail.

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Service isn’t Crazy Wing’s strongest point – as soon as we were seated, a paper ordering slip was shoved at us by a snarly waitress.

Fried rice with egg ($8)
Fried rice with spicy chicken ($8.80)

However, the food came out real quick. I don’t normally order fried rice at Asian restaurants #becauseasian. That said, we knew we were going to need some respite after torturing our tongues. For $8, the portion was tiny and it didn’t really taste that fantastic – hell, the chicken wasn’t even spicy. But props for wok hei.

Chilli spicy wings ($2 each)
Chilli spicy wings ($2 each)

We ordered four ‘level three’ wings (with one being the tamest and five being more diabolical than an Asian bitch scorned) – so, two each. In hindsight, I should have ordered a level one just to compare but whatever, next time. Neither of us were game enough to try the hottest one though.

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The level three wings were hot enough for both of us. Nate does hot food quite well but he admitted to finding his wings ‘almost uncomfortable to eat.’ I thought they were just right – any hotter and I would have started sweating too.

I guess I can see why Crazy Wing is popular. The food comes out quickly even in busy periods (we were there around peak dinner time on a weekday night), the wings are a bit of a fun novelty thing and, apart from the fried rice, the menu items aren’t overly expensive. Next time, I’m game to go up a level – or two.

Crazy Wings on Urbanspoon

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Review: Operator25 (Melbourne, VIC)

25 Wills Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 3278
http://www.operator25.com.au/

Melbourne city café Operator25 had been on my breakfast and coffee radar for quite some time. And given that I (used to) work around the corner from the café, it seems kind of strange it took me so long to visit – and by that, I meant two months after I resigned from The Company after six long years.

The café’s name is a nod to its roots ; formerly a building where telephone operators would work the switchboard all day, the beautiful heritage building now serves some of Melbourne CBD’s nicest cups of coffees and an interesting breakfast and lunch menu. Great news for legal eagles, AFP officers and Flagstaff Garden loiterers who are always complaining about the lack of good cafés on this side of the city.

My dining companion this afternoon was Paix. I met my friend Paix through my cousin, Jason. He moved from Indonesia to Singapore where he met Paix. As timing would have had it though, she ended up moving to Melbourne to study so I was asked to look after her just in case she needed anything as she was settling in. Strangely enough, we became good friends and we catch up for coffees and dinners whenever we can (which isn’t too far as she lives in Berwick).

Lattes ($3.80)
Lattes ($3.80)

We both ordered lattes; hers was a soy latte and mine was meant to be a full cream milk latte though I suspected they used skinny milk for mine because like I could tell the difference, right? Regardless, Operator25’s milk-based coffees are made using freshly roasted beans from Brunswick’s Code Black Coffee. The seasonal blend changes regularly but today, our coffee was lovely and buttery with a slight fruity finish.

Balinese marinated pulled pork, coleslaw, chilli mayonnaise, coriander and fried shallots on brioche roll with sweet potato wedges ($19)
Balinese marinated pulled pork, coleslaw, chilli mayonnaise, coriander and fried shallots on brioche roll with sweet potato wedges ($19)

I was curious about the Balinese marinated pulled pork bun so I ordered it despite not being hot on the sweet potato wedges (not a sweet potato fan, you see). I’m not exactly sure what made the pork Balinese per se except for perhaps the hints of kecap manis in it; nonetheless, it was a nice and filling dish with plenty of flavours and textures that took me right from lunch to late in the evening – hell, even the sweet potato wedges were nice and crunchy.

Honey baked oats, dried cranberries, sultanas, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, almonds, poached fruit and natural yoghurt ($9)
Honey baked oats, dried cranberries, sultanas, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, almonds, poached fruit and natural yoghurt ($9)

Paix wasn’t too hungry so she chose what sounded like the lightest meal on the menu. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for her, her dish was larger than she expected and she struggled to finish it all. Everything was mixed up on the bottom before being topped with yoghurt and kiwifruit (presumably the ‘poached fruits’ change according to the season). It was a dish that I would have happily ordered for breakfast if I had been bothered enough to get up extra early for work when I was still an employee of The Company.

Operator25 brings an interesting menu and great coffee to the normally good-food-deprived legal end of Melbourne’s CBD. Our meal was fantastic and my only regret was not visiting this place sooner.

Operator25 on Urbanspoon

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Review: Hihou (Melbourne, VIC)

1 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 5465
http://www.hihou.com.au/

No one in Melbourne does cool like Simon Denton. He’s the guy who bought us Izakaya Den and Nama Nama as well as Verge before closing that restaurant and re-opening it as Hihou. It was my birthday week so Nee and I decided to celebrate over a lovely mid-week dinner and drinks just before I was due to fly to Sydney for the Writers’ Festival that weekend.

The word Hihou means ‘secret treasure’ and without wanting to turn this post until something dirty, Hihou is indeed one. You have to find a black door just off the Flinders Lane/Spring Street corner, a few steps from Nama Nama. I was given clear instructions by a couple of fellow food bloggers but despite those and despite my geographical aptitude, I still had to ask a Nama Nama staff for help. Gawd, such fail. Regardless, I got there in the end; I found the hidden door, I found the door bell I was supposed to ring and up I went.

We were seated on super low stools and at a super low table by the window, overlooking Flinders Lane. Hihou is extremely sexy and sophisticated – and no, I’m not referring to the hotties in suits who were downing Japanese whiskies on the communal table in the middle of the diminutive dining room. Rather, I’m talking about the demure dark lighting, the gorgeous garden views and the calm and serene atmosphere – it was almost like I was at the Park Hyatt and I was Bill Murray. (I’d say Scarlett but I’m afraid I’m lacking in the chest department)

‘Cuban’ spicy tuna cigar ($6); eel and tofu croquette with tonkatsu sauce ($4 each)
‘Cuban’ spicy tuna cigar ($6); eel and tofu croquette with tonkatsu sauce ($4 each)

With a glass of Yamazaki in my hand, we decided to order a few dishes to share. I’m not sure what made the tuna cigar ‘Cuban’ (jeez, not all cigars are Cuban!) but whatever, it was lovely. I loved the delicately crunchy shell and the slightly creamy tuna filling which gave a bit of heat.

Meanwhile, the eel and tofu croquettes weren’t as stellar. I just found the filling too mushy and watery. (thanks to the tofu, perhaps)

Hihou dog: sesame brioche, arabiki pork sauge ($12)
Hihou dog: sesame brioche, arabiki pork sauge ($12)

We split the Hihou dog in two (ooh-er, dirty). It was a very simple dish – just bun, sausage and ‘kraut – but because it’s a Simon Denton establishment and because Japanese coarse grind sausages are used, naturally there was a price hike. It was delicious though, and we loved that we were given an assortment of sauces to dress our sausages up in. (oh stop it…)

Buckwheat crêpes with duck breast, pickled mushrooms and leek ($21)
Buckwheat crêpes with duck breast, pickled mushrooms and leek ($21)

We also loved the duck crêpes, a DIY dish that involved chucking a sliced duck breast or two onto a thick, doughy crêpe piece and dressing it with pickled mushroom and leek. I loved how the mushrooms’ earthy flavours paired beautifully with the duck meat and the sweet, soft crêpes.

Seared tuna with spring onion puree, ginger, dashi and fried parsnip
Seared tuna with spring onion puree, ginger, dashi and fried parsnip

The seared tuna was another fantastic dish, a study in Japanese effortlessness. The tuna pieces were super fresh, making them an excellent catalyst in soaking up the zesty ginger and dashi dressing. The fried parsnip chips also added a lovely crunchy to the dish.

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We skipped dessert because none of the dessert options wowed us (too much chocolate, imo) so ended up having cocktails instead, a lovely way to cap off a sexy, sleek dinner.

Hihou on Urbanspoon

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