The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Melbourne CBD’ category

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

Review: Paperboy Kitchen (Melbourne, VIC)

320 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9642 0147
http://paperboy.com.au/

I love my Vietnamese food more than every second person I know loves tuning into The Bachelor. But it’s getting to the point where every second person (probably the same people who love Blake, Amber et al) is opening up a Vietnamese ‘street food’ eatery in Melbourne and its surroundings. Bloody enough, already!

But like a sucker for a romantic story, I’m also a sucker for anything vaguely related to good ol’ honest Vietnamese food. Thus, you can sort of see why I was keen to check out Paperboy Kitchen. I had a day off work on the day and Sophie happened to be in town so we decided to catch up for an early lunch. It wasn’t busy when we rocked up just before 12PM so we were lucky to grab a Little Lonsdale Street-facing table where we can walk the world go by while we ate.

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The menu at Paperboy Kitchen is simple – it’s pretty much all ‘rolls and bowls’ (that is, banh mi and vermicelli salad bowls). There’s also a small selection of sweets and drinks too. We ordered our food at the counter before being given a giraffe (as opposed to a number) to take with us. Cute.

Pulled lamb and hoisin bowl ($13.50)

Pulled lamb and hoisin bowl ($13.50)

All rolls and bowls come with Asian slaw (bloody ‘Asian slaw’), pickled carrots and daikon, Sriracha mayo and coriander. Lamb isn’t commonly found in Vietnamese restaurants and under normal circumstances, Sophie wouldn’t have ordered it. However, she currently lives in the States and apparently lamb isn’t big there so you can understand why her eyes lit up as soon as she saw lamb on the menu.

The slow cooked lamb shoulder came drizzled in sticky hoisin sauce which is just as well because the meat was pretty bland. Still, Sophie got her lamb fix so she was pretty happy.

Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50)

Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50)

One does not go to a Vietnamese place without ordering Vietnamese iced coffee and certainly not someone who needed to get a ton of editing work done later that afternoon. Paperboy Kitchen does a neat Vietnamese-style single origin filter coffee with a lovely layer of condensed milk for the same price as a coffee at a Vietnamese restaurant. The only difference here is that Paperboy Kitchen doesn’t rip you off by putting as much ice in the glass – and let’s not forget the striped straw.

Slow cooked beef bowl ($12.50)

Slow cooked beef bowl ($12.50)

I went for the beef bowl because the menu said that it came with a pho dipper – that is, a splash of pho broth on the side to dip your braised brisket pieces in. While I loved the concept, I think I’d rather much prefer to have a proper bowl of pho to slurp on as opposed to having it on the side to dunk. Like Sophie’s lamb, the beef was also bland so the pho dipper really did nothing to accentuate the dish. Not even the gooey egg (an extra dollar or two or something like that) did much to pimp up the dish, though I always appreciate gooey eggs regardless.

In a city full of Vietnamese food-loving hipsters, Paperboy Kitchen will thrive. To be honest though, I can’t see myself going back for ‘just okay’ food at those prices, even if I was desperate for Vietnamese food (I can sit through a 10-minute train ride to Footscray). For the coffee though? Yeah, why not.

Paperboy Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Review: The Last Jar (Melbourne, VIC)

616 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9348 2957
http://www.thelastjar.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby and Nick dined as guests of The Last Jar and Sattler PR.

It may be spring in Melbourne but the nights are still cold and miserable. Fine, if you like that sort of thing (I don’t) but for everyone else, it sucks. Thankfully, there is a plethora of soul-warming and stomach-soothing options around town to keep the faux winter blues at bay – at least until those 40-degree summer days hit us.

If you’re sick of pho, ramen and soup kitchens, then a good Irish pub is the key to keeping warm – apart from steamy Tinder dates, if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not [anymore]). And while Melbourne is full of Irish pubs, rarely do you come across a decent one that’s free of dull and boring food and tacky Gaelic clichés. The Last Jar, however, is not just another Irish pub.

Owned and operated by Michelin-trained chef Tim Sweeney, The Last Jar is housed in what was formerly The Arthouse, a Melbourne punk institution back when I was listening to 5ive, The Offspring and Savage Garden (oh dear). It is a traditional Irish gastropub that serves classics such as the good ol’ Irish stew as well as more contemporary stuff such as whiskey cured salmon (omg, what!). Everything is fresh and locally sourced – and yes, they do have Guinness on tap because WTF kind of Irish pub wouldn’t?

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After chilling in the front bar with pints of Guinness, Nick and I retreated to the dining room where we continued our debate on whether I would go down the M1 or M2 (FYI Nick, M1 was too narrow of a road while M2 was smooth sailing all the way through). And of course, we couldn’t say no to another round of Guinness.

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At The Last Jar, the dark soda bread is made in-house and the butter is churned by hand. Together, they made a fantastic Hayden-Langer-esque partnership – I loved tasting the rich, creamy butter against the sweet and nutty bread that was made with oats, treacle and malt. Beautiful.

Sea snails with garlic butter

Sea snails with garlic butter

The snails were on the specials menu tonight and not something I’d normally order at an Irish place. Nick, however, had never eaten snails before so he was keen to give these babies a go. He loved them, I loved them. They were beautifully cooked – tender like a good calamari dish. Meanwhile, the garlic butter sauce was delicate rather than rich like the ones I’m used to eating at French restaurants but lovely all the same.

Irish stew ($24)

Irish stew ($24)

Nick loves the Irish stew they serve at The Quiet Man so he was keen to see whether The Last Jar’s version compared. As soon as it arrived, Nick automatically deducted points because la-di-da, it wasn’t served in a hollowed out bread loaf like the stew served at The Quiet Man. Bloody hell. Nick, however, begrudgingly admitted that the stew was hearty and tasty. He did have a point though – the stew at The Quiet Man was a lot more homely, more rustic.

Roasted half Milawa chicken, buttered roasted potato and salad of ham hock, cabbage and peas ($29)

Roasted half Milawa chicken, buttered roasted potato and salad of ham hock, cabbage and peas ($29)

I think I might have been on one of my ‘I’m going to limit bread’ eating spells when I ordered the roast chicken because dammit, since when do I voluntarily order chicken at restaurants? No regrets here though, for the chicken was delicious. The skin was beautifully crispy and the meat was unbelievably succulent and juicy; the whole bird was just so full of flavour. It was easily one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had.

Sticky date and walnut pudding with butterscotch and quince

Sticky date and walnut pudding with butterscotch and quince

Nick loves his sticky date pudding and although I was too full for dessert, I agreed to share a pudding with him. As expected, The Last Jar’s version of the humble dessert had slight quirks – the pudding’s taste was accentuated by walnuts and we both loved the butterscotch sauce and blob of quince on top. What a fantastic way to cap off a fabulous meal.

The Last Jar is an Irish pub that I’ll happily frequent again; unpretentious service and beautiful food in a lovely rustic setting – what more could you want? In particular, I would like to try dishes such as the salt ling potato cake and the hot ox tongue sandwich. And a bit more of that soda bread.

The Last Jar on Urbanspoon

Review: Pho Nom (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 33, Lower Ground Floor
Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8609 8221
http://www.emporiummelbourne.com.au/Stores/Pho-Nom/

It’s no secret that pho happens to be one of my favourite dishes in the world. There is something special about slurping a broth flavoured with beef bones, a bunch of magical roasted spices, herbs and perhaps a dash of MSG to keep the tastebuds dancing like they’re on crack. The best places to eat pho in Melbourne are Footscray, Richmond and Springvale – and these days, the city.

Given how popular Vietnamese food is with the young and cool kids these days, it’s no surprise that the once humble and limelight-shying cuisine has been shoved into the hipster spotlight. And all of a sudden, we now have several dozen pho places in the city to choose from. Some are very good while others are atrocious. Thankfully, Jerry and David Mai’s Pho Nom is one of the good ones.

Nestled on the lower ground floor of Emporium Melbourne is Pho Nom, a pho specialist that has been attracting a lot of social media attention thanks to its ‘no MSG’ pho. I’ve been to Pho Nom several times already and it’s definitely up there with one of my favourite places to have an early lunch in. I just go to the counter, order my dish and plonk myself on a table with a book to read or a manuscript to edit as I sit there enjoying my pho.

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You help yourself to all the garnishes and sauces at Pho Nom. It’s a good idea because it means that you don’t see a lot of plates of bean shoots being left to waste once the patrons leave.

Pho bo Hanoi ($11)

Pho bo Hanoi ($11)

You can’t go wrong with beef pho; on more than once occasion, I’ve ordered the sliced beef pho. The Saigon version comes with brisket and beef balls for an extra buck and if you’re feeling fancy, you can even get the wagyu version for $15.

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Given that the brother doesn’t have any MSG, it doesn’t pack a lot of punch. As a result, the broth is a lot more delicate – some even say it’s TOO delicate. However, it’s a small price to pay for not having to walk around with an annoying tickle down your throat (the result of eating a dish with too much MSG in it). On other occasions, I’ve tried the chicken and beef pho which is also quite nice. And on all occasions, I’ve had Vietnamese iced coffee because screw trying to work on zero caffeine.

Pho Nom definitely sets the bar high for excellent pho in Melbourne city – and MSG-free pho while we’re at it. Perhaps the no MSG thing will encourage other places to do the same and that can only be a good thing.

Phở Nom on Urbanspoon

Review: Ruyi (Melbourne, VIC)

16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9090 7778
http://ruyi.com.au/

I think it’s fair to say that one shouldn’t expect the best service at a cheap and easy dumpling restaurant. You go there, you order, you polish off a plate of dumplings with your mates (or if you’re a loser like me, alone) and then you exit stage left, all within the space of thirty minutes – maybe 45 minutes if you’re a slow eater like myself.

But when you go to a slightly upmarket dumpling restaurant, it’s reasonable to expect some level of good service. After all, you’re paying for the fancy fittings, a smile there and there and hospitality by forking out at least $3 for a dumpling. And when you do that, you better hope those dumplings bloody be good!

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Unfortunately, the DDR crew (as in Dave, Daisy, Ricky and myself) got none of that when we dined at Ruyi.

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On paper, Ruyi sounds amazing. The beautiful quasi-Scandinavian Hecker Guthrie-designed dining room is warm, modern and just that little bit earthy – in fact, it’s the sort of look I wouldn’t mind for my future house. Think beautiful sun-reflecting light wood infused with traditional Chinese crimson and jade tones. Throw in some upmarket Chinese food using premium ingredients and off you go.

The DDR crew brought along a guest from Hong Kong to dinner, which meant there were five of us on the table. The menu is designed for sharing so we agreed to order whatever sounded good on the menu. Once that was done, we signalled for someone to take our order – on that night, the owner happened to be in charge of the floor.

So we set about ordering a whole bunch of stuff, a mix of dumplings and mains to share. We began by reciting three dumpling dishes from the menu before the owner interrupted us: ‘Is that all the dumplings you’re going to order? Because we’re actually not like those other dumpling restaurants where $10 gives you fifteen pieces you know.’

Me: ‘I’m well aware of that.’

Owner: ‘Okay, okay, just letting you know.’

I thought that was a bit weird but I continued with the order – just three more larger dishes and two desserts to round off the innings. All up, there were eight dishes between the four of us.

Owner: ‘I’m not sure if you guys have realised but we’re actually not like all the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Our portions aren’t big and you’re not going to be full – you’ll have to order more, I’m afraid.’

WTAF!

I may have been over-thinking things but I detected a tone of snobbery in his voice, like we were just a bunch of fobs who didn’t know that this was a slightly upmarket place. I get that he was trying to alleviate any potential disappointment that we might have when are presented with a plate that’s smaller than what we’re used to when dining at a Chinese restaurant but still, I didn’t like his tone or the way he went about saying it. He also could have done the whole ‘this menu is designed to share, we recommend you order three smalls and two large dishes’ beforehand like most restaurants that offer sharing plates tend do these days but there was none of that.

So I said to him: ‘No, this is all we’re going to order. If we’re hungry, we’ll order more food.’

But who’s to tell me how much food I’m supposed to eat?!

The owner nodded without smiling and off he went. And I’m sorry, guys, but that pretty much soured our Ruyi experience.

But let’s get on with the food.

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

At $3 each, the xiaolongbao didn’t come cheap. Oh sure, each dumpling contained crab meat and sure, the pork was probably (but probably not) free range pork but still, $3 is as steep as the Grampians.

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They were nice, but not $3 nice.

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

The chilli sauce wontons were slightly cheaper, but $2.50 per dumpling is still not cheap in anyone’s books. Again nice, but not omg-so-gewd-foodgasms-galore nice.

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

It was the same deal with the fried pork and chive dumplings – see a pattern here? In fact, I dare say these were slightly oily and although they don’t look it in the photo, they were a bit soggy too.

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

I’m not big on soft shell crab so I already knew I wasn’t going to like these. This was a very bland dish; not only that, the batter lack the requisite crunch. Those on the table who are actually into this crustacean also agreed with me – they were also disappointed.

Duck stir fry ($26)

Duck stir fry ($26)

Compared to the soft shell crab, the duck stir fry wasn’t too bad. Throw in a handful of shredded roasted duck and bean shoots into a sticky sweet sauce, how can you fail? Sure, they didn’t fail but they certainly didn’t top the class. The sauce, which I found too sweet in the first place, bogged the elements of the dish down. Not only that, there was a serious lack of wok hei in this dish. It was very dull and lifeless – kind of like me at the moment thanks to my cold but at least I taste (somewhat) delicious.

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

We were told that this was Ruyi’s interpretation of the ‘Aussie favourite, the lemon chicken.’ The only difference between a plate of the suburban classic and Ruyi’s summer chicken was that they used mangoes instead of lemons. Big whoop. I found the sauce very sweet and one-dimensional, thus making the whole thing boring.

After that, we had the option to order more food. We were all still hungry so I guess the owner made a good point about us not having ordered enough food. Still, I didn’t like the way we were told that. At this point, none of us were keen to order anything else from the a la carte menu so we ordered a couple of desserts to share and decided to head elsewhere to fill the remaining sad, empty cervices in our stomachs.

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Compared to the savoury dishes, Ruyi’s desserts were decent. The delicate and herby jelly paired well with the creamy vanilla ice cream, while the pistachio added a lovely crunch. It was a well-balanced and refreshing dessert.

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

The banana fritters would have been great if they hadn’t used chocolate ice cream – but that’s just me, I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream. The ‘frozen milk’ was essentially milk custard blobs that were battered and then fried, something that sounded good on paper but were just okay to taste.

Given all the seemingly positive social media hype surrounding Ruyi, we were disappointed with our meal. The owner’s attitude went a long way in diminishing our experience but the mediocre food at not-so-cheap prices didn’t help Ruyi’s cause either. It’s a beautiful restaurant (probably one of the prettiest I’ve been in for a while) but what’s the point when the food and service isn’t up to scratch?

In the end, we all finished our night at a Hot Star Chicken outlet where a few pieces of (quite possibly) genetically modified chicken breast fillets coated in batter and spices and stuff made us happier than the meal we had at Ruyi.

RuYi Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

Review: New Shanghai (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 323, Level 3
Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9994 9386
http://www.newshanghai.com.au/

After many months of delays and quasi-openings, Emporium Melbourne FINALLY opened with a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza, lots of champagne and lots of sexy Melburnians wearing black last week. I might have seen some of you on the night – I was the girl in a strapless purple Zimmermann dress who said a lot of dumb things such as ‘Did you want my last name or surname?’

Before the official opening though, a lot of the Emporium eateries had already started trading. One of them was New Shanghai, a dumpling restaurant that originated in Sydney but has since branched out to Brisbane and now Melbourne.

Being a dumpling fanatic, I had wanted to go to the Sydney restaurant for quite some time now. However, the thought of going all the way to Ashfield just for dumplings seemed tedious. Let’s face it, going to Newtown is already a task for me – but then again, I’m lazy these days. So when I heard they were opening up shop in Melbourne, I was a happy little dumpling.

I went here one lunchtime with ex-colleague Amy, her husband Brandon and their beautiful few-months-old daughter, Keira. Having rocked up just after 2PM on a Friday afternoon, there wasn’t a lot of people at the restaurant so we were seated immediately and our dumplings didn’t take too long to arrive.

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Oh yes, all the dumplings. OURS OURS OURS!

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

New Shanghai’s signature dumplings are the soup-filled xiaolongbaos. They weren’t the prettiest-looking xiaolongbaos but like the sassy girl you ignored in geography class, they were full of personality and tasted delicious (ooh, dirty!). The broth had the slightest hint of sweetness and the skins achieved the perfect balance of delicate yet firm.

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

The pork and chive dumplings were also well done. They were both tasty and refined – a far cry from the nasty oily masses of WTFness that you sometimes get at restaurants a few blocks down.

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

The beef and coriander dumplings look almost the same as the pork ones so I don’t know why I bothered to post a photo of them up (for the sake of completeness, duh, Libby). Here, the filling was accentuated by five spice powder and coriander, making them more pleasing to the nose; they also gave the dumplings a lovely sweet taste. At the end of the day though, I will always prefer pork dumplings over beef, chicken or lamb ones.

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Finally, we enjoyed some pan-fried Shanghai buns. They tied with the xiaolongbaos as the dishes of the afternoon – they were juicy and packed full of flavour. Best of all, they had firm butts. Oooh yeah. My only gripe would be that the skins were perhaps a little TOO doughy but whatever, a good shengjianbao in Melbourne is hard to find and these did hit the spot.

For a city dumpling restaurant that attempts to be quasi-upmarket (think Din Tai Fung, Hu Tong et al), New Shanghai excels in terms of quality and price. We were all very happy with our dishes and just as surprised to find that everything was inexpensive. I’m actually quite sceptical of a lot of the Emporium restaurants (food court dining? bah!) but New Shanghai is a place that I can definitely see myself returning to on a regular basis.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Review: Crystal Jade Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

154 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 2633
http://www.crystaljade.com.au/

It’s not often that my (old) workmates and I would catch up on weekends. Sure, we’d do trivia every other Wednesday night and sure, Friday nights are normally guaranteed post-work piss-up nights. But when it comes to organising Saturday afternoon catch-ups, the same group of people are less likely to want to come out. I don’t blame them – I think being around me five days a week is already enough. So when Amy and I decided to organise a weekday yum cha lunch, we were kinda surprised to see that almost everyone in the crew wanted to come.

I guess people do like me enough to want to spend the sixth day of the week with me. Except for Sean, that is. He decided not to come to yum cha, citing reasons ranging from being poor to having footy training to his wife not letting him leave the house – it could also be because he didn’t want to spend extra time with me but whatever.

So the six of us rocked up to Crystal Jade one Saturday afternoon. Pete and I just had coffee at the Rose Street Markets an hour or so beforehand so we were wide awake. The others were decidedly less awake but we nevertheless keen to get their yum cha on.

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We ordered pretty much everything we could get our hands on. I didn’t take photos of every single thing we ate though, sorry.

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Generally, the food at Crystal Jade is more than decent. Don’t be mistaken by the restaurant’s name though – it’s not the same Crystal Jade franchise that make those fantastic xiaolongbao in Singapore.

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I only ever order the fried calamari when I’m having yum cha with my parents. For some reason, my non-family dining companions never seem to want it. Fine with me, I guess – it’s not my favourite thing on the yum cha menu. Amy, however, insisted that we order a plate and I’m glad I listened to her. These tentacles were crispy without being too oily (a problem at a lot of yum cha restaurants) and were equal parts pleasantly spicy and salty.

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Rarely am I able to convince most people to eat tripe with me so, again, when Amy agreed to share a serving with me, I was thrilled. Crystal Jade did a more than decent version too so win-win.

I should also point out here that we also ordered chicken feet. Now chicken feet is a dish that I’m not particularly fond of – I love the sauce but not so much the texture. So when I see it on the lazy susan, I send it over the other way. Amy and her husband Brandon ate the chicken feet while I looked on. Meanwhile, our mate Pete decided to give the chicken feet a go. He was doing a good job nibbling on the joints and skin and all that before I realised that his bowl was completely empty. ‘Um, where are the bones?’ I asked him. He looked puzzled, ‘I ate them? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?’

Um NO, Pete. But you’re cute for trying.

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I love a good zhaliang, especially ones where there’s a perfect balance between greens and Chinese donut. And of course, the Chinese donut has to be crispy. Thankfully, this one ticked all boxes.

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For some reason, the steamed dim sum dishes were the last to arrive. In fact, I remember waiting quite some time for them to show up. When they did though, we attacked them hungrily. They were excellent dumplings except for maybe the xiaolongbao but then again, only sillyheads would order XLBs at a yum cha restaurant i.e. me.

Crystal Jade offers a reliable yum cha dining option for those stuck in the CBD on weekends. Understandably, there may be a long wait for some dishes (and to even get a table, period) so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to compromise a bit of time for some pretty damn good har gow. Of all the yum cha places in the city, however, this is the one I’m most likely to return to and recommend to others based on taste and price alone. ($25ish per head and we were stuffed)

Crystal Jade on Urbanspoon

Review: Rice Workshop

238 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 6663
http://riceworkshop.com.au

I’m a huge fan of Sydney’s Menya Mappen and for a while, I was bummed that Melbourne didn’t have anything like it. Sure, we have our cheap Japanese restaurants – but they were either mediocre at best, too far away or on the expensive end of the cheap spectrum.

So when Rice Workshop opened up last year, I was excited. It did take me a while to visit, however the opportunity to visit presented itself one Friday night after a boozy session with my workmates. Pete and I were looking for a place to soak up all the alcohol and Rice Workshop just happened to be on our way to our respective bus stops/train stations – so we stopped there.

For those unfamiliar with the Rice Workshop concept, it’s pretty simple. You select a meal from the counter display; they specialise in, well, rice bowls (think chicken on rice, beef on rice etc, all cooked in various forms) but they also have curries, udon and salads available.

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You can then choose from a variety of add-ons from the counter – we’re talking croquettes, okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes), spring rolls and so on. You then have the option to add whatever sauces you want onto your fried goodies and if you’re like me, you’ll go crazy with the Japanese mayo. You then pay for your rice bowl/curry/udon/salad and whatever add-ons you took and grab a seat – that is, if you can find one in the diminutive dining area.

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Pete and I decided to grab a few fried things to share. First up, the okonomiyaki. At $2.80, it’s pretty good value. More often than not, I just want a few bites of savoury pancake before I start to get sick of it so it’s good that Rice Workshop’s okonomiyaki is small. The problem with this, however, is that their okonomiyaki tastes so good that you actually WANT to order two or three of them.

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

We also grabbed a takoyaki skewer containing four balls (snigger). Unfortunately, the balls were soggy by the time they were in my mouth (oh gawd, stop it!) but they were tasty and actually contained a decent amount of octopus.

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Pete and I both had an ontama beef bowl. What I liked about Rice Workshop is that with some of the dishes, you can use what size you want. $7.70 got us a regular-sized ontama beef bowl, though those with larger appetites can get a larger bowl for $9.20. I’d suggest you stick to the regular-sized bowl though – they’re quite filling.

So what’s an ontama beef bowl? Basically, it’s Rice Workshop’s signature dish. You have a bowl of rice topped with beef cooked in soy sauce, sautéed onions and a soft-boiled egg. It’s tasty, it’s cheap and it doesn’t make you bloat like a mofo.

While I prefer Menya Mappen’s udon dishes and their add-ons, Rice Workshop fills the Melbourne void for good and cheap Japanese food. Now I’m hankering for some of them little okonoimiyaki bites…

Rice Workshop on Urbanspoon

Review: Ishiya Stone Grill

152 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9650 9510
http://www.ishiyastonegrill.com.au

I always find it hard to review a place that has a DIY approach when it comes to food. You know, those places where you’re supposed to cook your food in front of you because it’s supposedly more fun and interactive and WOW.

For one thing, you’re not assessing the kitchen’s ability to cook and present your cook. All the hard work is left to you, the diner. So essentially if you stuff up a steak, then it’s your fault and not the restaurant. Thus, you’re then left to judge the quality of ingredients being used, the ambiance and the service. And thankfully, Ishiya Stone Grill has all three things down pat.

Pete and I decided to have dinner here one night after work. We were looking around Chinatown, trying to find a place that was 1) open for dinner on a major public holiday eve and was 2) not ridiculously expensive (but not overly cheap either because we felt like treating ourselves). After wandering around aimlessly, we eventually settled on Ishiya. After all, their $38.90 weeknight deal that included a stone grill main and entrée each was enough to draw us in – especially given that a stone grill main was $35-39 each.

Essentially, the stone grill concept involves cooking meat and seafood on a 400-degree volcanic stone plate to your liking. The high heat of the stone is supposed to sear in the meat’s juices, making it super tasty. Ishiya is not the only restaurant that does it – there are heaps of other ones, however Ishiya is the only one I know that does it in Melbourne.

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

We started off with some shochu. The Ippongi we ordered was a rice shochu and tasted very similar to sake, but with more volume.

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

The two of us ordered the Japanese fried chicken for our entrées because neither of us were keen on the beef skewers. The crispy pieces of chicken were pedestrian enough – not too remarkable, but not terrible either.

Mixed sashimi

Mixed sashimi

We also ordered the mixed sashimi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how much it was but I don’t remember it being too expensive. Either way, we were both impressed at how fresh the fish was.

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

That’s my stone grill in the foreground; it came with a nice chunk of porterhouse, two prawns, a block of tofu and zucchini. I was also given some dipping sauces: ponzu, garlic butter miso, sesame and teriyaki, all of which were delicious.

Meanwhile, Pete had the Ishiya Deluxe Stonegrill (normally $39.90), which came with a slightly smaller piece of porterhouse, but then he also struck gold with a fish fillet, some chicken, a lamb cutlet and a prawn.

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Oh yes, steak. Okay.

We had a pleasant meal at Ishiya. Despite the DIY nature of the meal, there was plenty to like. The ingredients used were top quality, the non-stone grill meals were decent enough and the service was tops. I would come back to try some of the a la carte items on the menu (duck and scallop salad, anyone? and omg, what about the mussel croquettes?) but probably won’t do stone grill again. Sure, it’s a novel concept and I have friends who love dining here but it’s just not for me – I can cook my own steak at home, thanks.

Ishiya Stone Grill on Urbanspoon

Review: Supernormal

180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8688
http://www.supernormal.net.au

Dave and I have figurative hard-ons for Melbourne wonder-chef Andrew McConnell. So when his long-awaited city eatery Supernormal opened, we knew we had to suss it out. Conveniently, it was my birthday that week so we decided to grab Daisy and Ricky to make it a Fab Asian Foodie E-Mail Group dinner (don’t ask).

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The restaurant is located on Flinders Lane, a short away from restaurant heavyweights such as Cumulus Inc, Ezard and Chin Chin. Although it was only 6pm when Dave and I rocked up, the restaurant was already starting to fill up.

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Daisy and Ricky were still on their way from the ‘burbs when Dave and I sat down so decided to have a whisky each and some little plates to graze on.

I really liked Supernormal’s cocktail menu – it was full of interesting cocktails, including one called the Jessicah Schipper (lol). I’m not sure why they decided to name a cocktail after an Aussie swimmer (and it wasn’t like she was a Susie O’Neill or Libby Trickett either) but I suppose if I was in the mood for melon, Don Julio tequila blanco and lime, then I’d be ordering a glass of JS. I was, however, in the mood for whisky (then again, since when am I not?) so I ordered a glass of Nikka Miyagikyo 12YO ($17).

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

McConnell’s Asian-inspired restaurant Golden Fields in St Kilda may no longer be around (sob) but thankfully a lot of the Golden Fields dishes migrated across to the Supernormal menu; fans of the New England lobster roll would be pleased. Another dish that made the migration was the soy roasted pumpkin seeds though technically it’s not a dish – it’s a complimentary snack that all diners receive.

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

The raw tuna and prawn dish got the party started. Both the tuna and prawn slices were ridiculously fresh and the delicate yet spicy dressing did well to bring out the natural flavours of both.

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Veering slightly away from Golden Fields (and by that, I guess I mean A-Mac azn) territory was the smoked beef with mustard leaf and clam mayonnaise. Despite its name, it was a surprisingly delicate dish yet tasty all the same.

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Daisy and Ricky then rocked up to the party and this is the bit where we went kinda nuts with ordering OMG ALL THE THINGS.

Given that we were all Cantonese (well, okay, except me), we decided to order some rice noodle rolls. There was nothing wrong with them (cooked well, sauce tasty yet delicate, blah blah blah) but at $12, they were hardly remarkable – at least compared to the stuff we’re used to seeing McConnell make. We were better off sticking to the cheapo $6-8 ones at the local legit Cantonese restaurant.

New England lobster roll ($16)

New England lobster roll ($16)

Daisy was keen to try the lobster rolls that put Golden Fields on the Melbourne foodie VIP list so she ordered one. Dave and I will probably lose a lot of friends in saying this, but we really don’t think these rolls are remarkable. Nice, yes, but worth the price tag and mass hysteria? No way.

Pig’s head bao ($5)

Pig’s head bao ($5)

The pig’s head bao was a much more interesting dish. Crumbed pork bits and spicy kim chi cucumber shared the limelight on stage of sweet, doughy bao. Would definitely date again (oh wait, sorry, this ain’t Tinder).

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

The four of us are suckers for dumplings so we couldn’t resist grabbing a plate of pot sticker dumplings. They were big and juicy and tasty enough – and bonus points for not being too greasy. However, I’d rather much have a plate of 15 dumplings for $8 a few blocks across town.

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Much better was the spicy beef bun. The beef filling had a surprisingly decent amount of heat which we all gave two thumbs up to.

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

We then moved onto the mains. There was a nice selection of pan-Asian fare such as the John Dory with spring onion and ginger. Now, that’s my kind of dish but given that they were charging $34 for it and I could get something similiar in Box Hill for much less than that, we didn’t order it.

Instead, we went for a dish that sounded like it had a national identity crisis, the sautéed mushrooms with black barley pilaf and mushroom dashi. There were elements of Japanese, Middle Eastern and Indian but the dish tasted resoundingly European – it was rich, earthy and very comforting.

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Our final main was the main to end all mains: the pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder. It was definitely big enough for the four of us, especially given that we consumed a lot of other dishes beforehand. What I liked most about this dish was the DIY element of it. You grab a bao-like piece of bread, spoon some omg-melt-in-your-mouth pork and crispy crackling onto it and garnish with whatever amount of pickled cabbage (read: a tastier version of kim chi) and saam jang sauce you want.

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Or you can be a bit weird like me by heaping everything on your plate and eat it deconstructed style.

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

The four of us then shared three desserts. I thought the fried custard was a bit too doughy and the ginger syrup that came with it a bit too sweet. I did, however, love the peanut butter parfait that was lovingly transferred over from the Golden Fields menu. My favourite dessert though was the miso and pink lady soft serve. I’m a sucker for refreshing palate-cleansing desserts and this one didn’t disappoint. It was light and crisp with a slight hint of salty nutty goodness (oh wait, I didn’t just go there…).

The four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Apart from a few ‘just aiight’ dishes, the food was pretty, pretty good and the service was both efficient and friendly. Out of all the Andrew McConnell joints that have opened up in Melbourne in the last few years, I have to say that Supernormal is my favourite. Our overall dining experience was as cool and as effortless as, well, almost everything that’s Japanese. I can’t wait for my next visit… whenever that’ll be.

Supernormal on Urbanspoon