Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Melbourne CBD’ category

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

Review: Sake (Melbourne)

Hamer Hall
100 St Kilda Road
Melbourne VIC 3004
+61 3 8687 0775
http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au/melbourne

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of Sake and Thrive PR.

As a frequent visitor to Sydney, I had always wanted to check out Shaun Presland’s award-winning Saké restaurant at The Rocks. I’m a fan of Japanese food and I wanted to experience his take on ‘modern and classic Japanese dishes with distinct local flavours.’

Unfortunately, I never got the chance to visit Saké on my last couple of trips to my favourite Australian city north of Melbourne. Thankfully though, there’s now a Saké restaurant in Melbourne, right on the arts precinct by the Yarra. When Andy from Thrive PR sent me an invite to check the place out, I gladly accepted the invite and dragged my friend Matt along for a post-work dinner.

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Because it was my final week at the office, I decided to start things off with a cocktail. The Yaeyama Fling was the perfect combination of flirty and fun with a bit of spicy thanks to the chilli.

Saké also has a neat selection of Japanese whiskies and I was fortunate to sample a few that night, ranging from the fruity Amabuki Pink Lady to the more aromatic Junmai varietals. After all, they did insist…

Kingfish Jalapeño

Kingfish Jalapeño

We were given an assortment of dishes to try, starting with the kingfish Jalapeño. The fresh slices of hiramasa were drizzled with a tangy yuzu soy sauce before being garnished with jalapeño slices and coriander. We both thought it was a very Nobu-like dish – not that that was a bad thing, of course.

Tuna ceviche

Tuna ceviche

(WP 3 SOME FISH TOWER THING)
Tuna ceviche
We then had the tuna ceviche (hello again, Nobu!). The lemon dressing, coriander and jalapeño worked well together, though I did find that having the tomato and crunchy fried onions a bit of an overkill.

Wagyu New Style

Wagyu New Style

We both thought the wagyu new style was a successful dish. Here, the thin slices of wagyu were lightly seared with hot oil and finished off with ginger, chives and yuzu soy. There was a lot of flavour but unlike the tuna ceviche, this dish was well-balanced.

Edamame

Edamame

Tonkotsu cups

Tonkotsu cups

We then got into the fried stuff. Here, bite-sized fried pork belly and spring onion bites were served in these lettuce cups before being drizzled with mustard miso and ‘Japanese BBQ sauce’ (Bulldog sauce or similar, perhaps?). Presentation-wise, I thought they looked a bit awkward. Taste-wise, they were ridiculously delicious.

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

More lettuce cups, this time with grilled miso-marinated Patagonian toothfish in them. The marinade reminded me of Nobu’s black miso cod, but a lot more fun to eat.

Good ol’ miso soup

Good ol’ miso soup

Wagyu teriyaki

Wagyu teriyaki

Our first main was the grain-fed wagyu. Cooked medium-rare, it was served on sautéed shiitake and buckwheat and tied neatly together with yakiniku sauce; a perfect combination of sweet and earthy.

Scampi tempura

Scampi tempura

Just when we thought we were done, out came the scampi tempura. The fat scampi tails were coated in a light and crunchy batter and served with sweet ponzu sauce, coriander and jalapeño. While the sauce was nice, I did think something more delicate would have complemented the beautiful tempura scampi better.

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Our final savouries were chopped up sushi rolls. I’m not big on soft-shell crab but I thought the spider maki roll was done well – loved the crispy batter combined with the lightest drizzle of mayo and chives. The tuna roll was also well done and the layer of tempura batter added an interesting element to what would have otherwise been just another bloody tuna sushi.

Dessert platter

Dessert platter

The guys obviously saved the best for last. The dessert platter was beyond amazing – possibly one of the better desserts I’ve had this year so far and that’s saying a lot! Sure, there was a lot of chocolate – and I normally don’t like chocolate desserts that much – but both the chocolate fondant and chocolate origami (dark chocolate mousse) were ticked all the right boxes.

The ice cream and Japanese yuzu tarts were also fantastic but the highlight of this platter was by far the green tea churros. Light and fluffy and oh-so-omg-cute-and-tiny, they were accompanied by a velvety milk chocolate sauce and red bean dip both of which were lovely, but the churros were insanely delicious on their own.

Our dinner at Saké was akin to a fun Shinkansen ride through the extensive menu, with heaps of corners to keep us on the edge of our seats. Sure, there were a few little elements from several dishes that I was too keen on, but it was overall a fantastic experience especially with the top service we received during the night. Definitely one to return to, if just for those green tea churros.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Mr Big Stuff

16 Meyers Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 7411
http://www.mrbigstuff.com.au

What’s this, another Melbourne restaurant serving American-style food complete with mac and cheese and sliders and all?

Well, yes, but you see, Mr Big Stuff is actually really good. And worth the two thumbs up and several return visits rather than an eye roll.

Nee, Ling and I had dinner here two Friday nights ago, back when the joint had just opened. There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Mr Big Stuff’s opening and if it weren’t for Ling’s intel (she knew one of the restaurant’s investors), I probably would not have known about it.

When we rocked up for our 6PM booking, the place was dead quiet apart from the few waitresses standing around as well as the DJ spinning some funky soul tunes. Throughout the night though, the restaurant started to fill up. By the time we left, the place was practically full house. Not bad for a joint that didn’t do a lot of advertising, imo.

Cocktails!

Cocktails!

Friday nights with ladies always involves cocktails. I’m more of a whisky, wine and beer drinker but no way I was going to resort to drinking Pabst (what am I, a hipster?) so I ordered the Mr Tea cocktail purely for the name (a bit of an inside joke between a mate and I).

I love how customers can also opt for a non-alcoholic version of each cocktail – just strip away the alcohol and $4 or thereabouts, and you’re left with a pretty impressive mocktail. Not me though, I loved my cold brew peach sencha green tea and lemonade mix with a hint of Martell VSOP Cognac. Also, we all had a little jug of sugar syrup to accompany our drinks so we can adjust the sweetness levels – a lovely touch.

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mr Big Stuff’s mac and cheese was THE bomb. Granted, there wasn’t much of it for $12 but each mouthful was delicious – the macaroni shells were coated in three different types of cheeses and the crunchy breadcrumb topping was beaut.

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

This dish was also fantastic. The waffles themselves were just that, nice. The fried chicken, however, was the German team in the Germany vs Portugal match from the other night, beyond stellar. The meat was tender and the coating was super crispy without being too heavy.

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

At first glance, $9.50 for one slider seemed a bit exxy. But when I took my first bite, I knew the price tag was worth it. The braised ox tail filling was flavoursome and comforting enough to be served into a stew (now that’s an idea). It worked beautifully against the slaw’s fresh flavour and crispy texture.

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

For some reason, we were expecting the ribs to be massive so I was a bit ‘huh!’ when I saw the tiny portion size. Not that it mattered anyway – we were slowly starting to get full. The ribs were covered in a sticky bourbon BBQ sauce that was as sweet as the words coming out of an Italian man’s mouth, with a slight hint of smoke. They didn’t have that lovely tang that the ribs at Ribs & Rumps et al have though.

Surprisingly, I liked the corn bread more than the ribs. It was dense, without being too heavy and only a little big sweet. The girls also loved it. Who would have thought. Corn bread.

Apple pie ($10)

Apple pie ($10)

Naturally, we had to take a peek at the dessert menu. We decided that sharing one dessert between the three of us was the way to go of the two on offer, the apple pie seemed like the best choice (the other choice was a cobbler).

I was surprised to see the ‘apple pie’ come in little bite-sized donuts. Not that there was anything wrong with that. The filling had hints of spiced rum and cinnamon in it, giving these little babies a hint of lovely winter spice.

We were impressed by our dinner at Mr Big Stuff. Sure, the American food trend is starting to do my head in as much as cheesy Tinder pick-up lines. Mr Big Stuff, however, doesn’t try too hard – plus, both the food and service here is excellent. The girls are already talking about going back for the mac and cheese and waffles while I have my eye on some of the other stuff on their menu such as the Spring Bay mussels with okra and bacon.

Mr Big Stuff on Urbanspoon

Review: Brutale (NOW CLOSED)

18 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 4411

You know you need to lift your blogging game up when a place that you visited two months ago has since shut down. So when I heard the sad news that the hot Croatian guy restaurant in Melbourne has since skipped town, I was devastated. And annoyed that I didn’t get to blog about it before he left without so much as a goodbye.

But anyway. For me, tonight was a night to reminisce about good times so I may as well talk about the meal I enjoyed at Brutale with Dave, Amy and Amy’s friend, Tim who was visiting from Canada.

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Brutale is ex-Aylesbury chef Daniel Dobra’s restaurant. Okay, perhaps I should say ‘was.’ The menu celebrated all that was wonderfully Eastern European, with a few Croatian-style dishes making appearances thanks to Dobra’s Croatian heritage. The reason why we chose this place was because there aren’t many Croatian restaurants in Melbourne despite there being a sizeable Croatian population.

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If Brutale’s war-themed décor was anything to go by, Dobra has a cheeky sense of humour. We’re talking a disco ball bomb on the ceiling as well as soldier helmet lightshades. And if you didn’t notice in the previous pic, Brutale’s logo is a knuckle duster.

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

I was really impressed with Brutale’s extensive drinks list. They had a great selection of Eastern European wines, beers and more importantly, rajika. I would have happily gone on a tasting flight of more than a couple of shots of Serbian rajika if it weren’t for the fact that I spent a good portion of the afternoon having beers and ciders with a visiting Queensland friend. A glass of wine it was for me.

‘Svinja’ ($20)

‘Svinja’ ($20)

We started off with a plate of Eastern European cured meats, accompanied by some seasoned pickled onions. The usual suspects made appearances: salami, speck and prosciutto, though it was the dried pork belly that stole the show.

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi is arguably something that the Poles should take credit for, but they can be found in many Eastern European restaurants all over Melbourne regardless of whether they are Russian, Bulgarian or Hungarian. Thus, it’s no surprise that they were on Brutale’s menu. I’m a sucker for pierogi (or any dumpling dish, really) so we had to order a serving. Each potato, cheese and onion-filled dumpling was doughy and slightly and served with chopped dill, chives, bacon and bread crumbs. Such flavours, many textures.

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Our first main dish was the slow-cooked suckling pig. We received a nice portion of free-range pork that was beautifully cooked – the meat was just so ridiculously soft. An apple Rakija sauce then completed the package, though I’m not sure if the Rakija added much to the taste.

Baby snapper ($31)

Baby snapper ($31)

Compared to other Eastern European food, Croatia is quite heavy on the seafood due to the country’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea. This fish dish, from the island of Prvic , was also beautifully cooked. It was served with caper sauce, roasted grapes, fried capers and parsley – it sounds like a heavy sauce but it wasn’t. It was easily my favourite dish of the night – Mark Viduka would have been proud.

Father’s chips ($9)

Father’s chips ($9)

We also shared some twice-cooked chips. While they were beautifully crunchy, I thought they went overboard with the seasoning. Not even the lovely Dobra spiced mayonnaise could diffuse the saltiness. Ick.

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Ah, donuts. I don’t like dessert that much but I’m a sucker for donuts. These babies were spicy thanks to the cinnamon and nutmeg used. They also had hints of vanilla and raisins. They were delicious on their own, though a velvety walnut and Rakija cream was on hand if you needed that extra bit of sugar hit.

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

We ordered the ‘ice cake’ thinking that we were actually going to get a legit cake. Hence, we were kind of surprised to see a mound of ice cream. Not that I minded – I love my ice creams. The Mugaritz-style plating of the berries wowed us and so did the refreshing mix of ice cream and berries, effortlessly intertwined together with honey.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal so much that there were talks of a return visit. Thus, it really sucked to hear that Brutale has now turned into Brutale 2.0, ‘part diner, part bar and part dancehall.’ While you won’t find any main dishes on the bar menu, I’m glad that at least they’ve kept the pierogi, charcuterie platter and doughnuts on it. Oh yes.

Brutale on Urbanspoon

Review: La Cassolette

26 Rebecca Walk (off Flinders Street)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9614 3606
http://www.lacassolette.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of La Cassolette.

French restaurants are usually synonymous with hefty price tags and chefs that sound like Manu with smears of snootiness, at least in Melbourne. So when I heard that the Roule Galette bloke had opened up a decently-priced French bistro on the banks of the Yarra, I knew I had to check it out.

The restaurant is called La Cassolette and the man behind it is Michel Dubois, a former IT professional. Wanting to recreate the Parisian casual bistro experience in Melbourne, Michel got to work with creating a limited menu that changes daily and a repertoire full of dishes that French people normally cook at home.

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I have to say that the most annoying thing about La Cassolette was its location. To put it bluntly, it sucked. Matt and I are usually pretty good with directions, but we spent a quite some time wandering around aimlessly. In the end, we did find La Cassolette – the restaurant happened to be in one of those colourful demountable-like buildings along Rebecca Walk (the red ones). The best way to get there is to get to the corner of Spencer and Flinders Streets, head towards the direction of Crown Casino along Spencer Street and then turn towards the grassy bit.

In the end, we got there. But I can’t help but wonder whether La Cassolette’s very isolated location will put it as a disadvantage – it certainly doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. I also can’t help but wonder if people who are worse at directions than we are would keep looking for the restaurant until they found it or just give up altogether.

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

Anyway, we were greeted warmly by Michel himself. He poured us both a glass of Cape Grim sparkling water (possibly one of the best sparkling water brands I’ve ever tried – it’s not too fizzy) before cracking open the Chablis.

Tomato marinated olives

Tomato marinated olives

We were given some olives to nibble on. I love my olives but I know many people find them salty. Luckily, the tangy tomato sauce diffused a lot of the saltiness.

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

We then shared a crab salad and quinoa taboule, Michel’s spin on the classic Middle Eastern salad (tabouleh/tabouli). The bottom layer was all quinoa, thus representing the taboule while the top layer was solid crab; I was pretty impressed at how generous they were with the crab meat. The best way to eat it was to smear the quinoa and crab onto some bread like a dip. It was delicious.

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Matt had the chicken breast for his main. We were impressed at how much protein we received for less than a $20 note – it was almost like getting two mains!

The chicken was well-cooked; very tender and no dry stringy bits while the Cajun sauce had a lovely kick. The chicken went really well with the coconut-infused rice but given the generous serving sizes, both would have been able to feed two people comfortably.

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

At Michel’s insistence, I ordered one of La Cassolette’s signature dishes, the scallop flambée. Michel brought the portable stove over to the table so we can see him in action.

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And by action, I mean seeing action movie-like fire as soon as the cognac was poured onto the scallops.

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The scallops were served with a creamy bed of mashed potatoes and salad (below). Just like the chicken dish, the scallop flambée was well-portioned and the scallops were big, plump and juicy – none of that shrivelled up frozen rubbish! They went beautifully with the buttery, salty mashed potatoes. Another deliciously filling dish.

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Maki roll sorbet ($14)

Maki roll sorbet ($14)

While Matt ordered a long macchiato for the long drive home, I ordered the maki roll sorbet ($14) because it had an intriguing name. The dessert is one of Michel’s creations; ‘maki’ means ‘roll’ in Japanese which makes sense because you see that word all the time when you go to sushi stores. Here, fruit sorbet is rolled up before being wrapped in a thin layer of crêpe and chopped up.

I love light fruity desserts so the little pieces of sorbet squares did the trick for me. I also loved the little jam dot in the middle of each piece – too cute!

La Cassolette offers something that a lot of French restaurants in Melbourne don’t: simple delicious home-style meals at affordable prices. The service that night was also very attentive and speedy. Since our initial visit, Matt has gone back with his missus and I’ll be planning a return soon. I would also recommend La Cassolette to those wanting French food yet don’t want to spend big bucks on it – but to be prepared to walk a bit because there are no car spaces nearby.

La Cassolette on Urbanspoon

Review: Fukuryu Ramen

22-26 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9090 7149
http://www.fukuryuramen.com

Melburnians, we now have a ramen restaurant worth talking about!

Yep, you’ve heard me. Not more soggy noodles. No more dodgy restaurants passing chicken stock-based broths as ‘tonkotsu.’ And no more MSG overload.

And it’s all thanks to Fukuryu Ramen, barely in its first fortnight of trading.

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Located in the same building as Sichuan House, Fukuryu Ramen requires several flights of stairs to get to. If you’re unfit like me, you’ll be huffing and puffing just as you saunter into the door to the loud shouts of ‘irrashaimase!’ by the waiters and the ladies at the counter.

The word ‘fukuryu’ means ‘lucky dragon’ in Japanese; the restaurant itself is owned by Hakata Ikkousha, a restaurant group surprisingly based in Indonesia (REPRESENT!), not Japan. Hakata Ikkousha owns a bunch of Ikkousha restaurants in Indonesia as well as the original Ikkousha restaurant in Fukuoka, home of the tonkotsu ramen. And Fukuryu Ramen is the restaurant group’s first foray out of Asia.

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Although there were heaps of tables and chairs in the spacious dining room, Dave and I decided to sit at the counter to watch the chefs do their thang.

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

And although I spent most of my weekend with a BAC of, let’s just say definitely more than 0.05, I could not resist ordering a bottle of Kirin apple and mandarin cider. I actually had no idea Kirin made ciders and I’m guessing these are the Japanese equivalent of the Rekorderlig, only not as sickly sweet.

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

We started off with a plate of tebasaki. I enjoyed them thoroughly at Mensousai Mugan but not so much here. They tasted okay, but they were too heavy on the pepper. They were also a little bit dry.

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

The pièce de résistance, however, was the tonkotsu ramen. Fukuryu Ramen had an opening special where you can get a bowl of ramen for only $6 – bargain! Still, we thought $9.90 was pretty cheap given that most places in Melbourne charge a few extra dollars more for ramen that’s not as good as this. And boy, it was GOOD.

The noodles were perfectly springy while the milky tonkotsu broth had more depth than Christina Aguilera’s vocal range. I also liked that we didn’t have to pay an extra couple of dollars for the soy egg, which is the norm at most places. Finally, the chashu (pork) slices were gorgeously fatty and delicious.

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I am rarely able to polish off the soup in soup noodles when I go out so when you see something like this, you know I REALLY liked it.

I guess if I had to be a whinger, I’d say that there was a strong garlic aftertaste – and if you’re not a fan of garlic, you may find it overpowering. Also, the portion sizes are smaller than what you’d find at other ramen restaurants in Melbourne – given the quality and the price, however, this is no biggie. Plus, I was still able to get full on one bowl.

Having said all of that, I still think Queensland reigns supreme in the Australian ramen scene with places such as Taro’s, Muso and Hakataya. And even Sydney has Ippudo and Gumshara, plus a whole bunch of apparently wonderful ramen places I haven’t even set foot in.

But if our meal at Fukuryu is anything to go by, Melbourne is about to get its ramen on. LOVE.

Fukuryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Review: Hot Star Taiwanese Fried Chicken

429 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Also: 233 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 481 134 291

Melbourne is crazy about fried chicken at the moment. So when Taiwanese franchise Hot Star Taiwanese Fried Chicken opened up its first Australian store on Swanston Street last year, I was not surprised to find ridiculously long queues snaking all the way back to Little Bourke Street.

I love fried chicken but because I don’t have the patience to wait in line for cooked-to-order crumbed chicken breasts, I decided to hold off until the queues were less crazy. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for a very long time. However, an unexpected blessing came in the form of a second store on Elizabeth Street a few months later. And lo and behold, it happened to be right next door to the Gong Cha store. Fried chicken and green tea with pearls and milk foam? Um hello, winning!

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The first Hot Star store was founded by Wang Qing Long back in 1992. It soon became popular with Taipei’s Shilin Night Market crowd and before long, Hot Star stores exploded all over Asia. The price of a single piece of chicken in Melbourne costs $8; that sounds reasonable if you take into account that Melbourne is, after all, an expensive place to live in and the chicken they use is locally sourced. In Hong Kong, the chicken may be a lot cheaper (approximately AUD$3) but I’ve heard that the meat isn’t as nice.

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So each chicken breast piece is 30 centimetres long and weigh 250 grams. Due to its size, I can understand why a few people would be worried about the thought of using genetically modified birds. However, I later found out that all they do is take one chicken breast, cut it in half lengthwise (but not all the way through), before laying it flat to make one big chicken breast. They also leave the breastbone hanging in there to ensure that the meat retains its flavour.

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Hot Star tagline is that their chicken is ‘as big as your head’ and if this photo of Pete holding a Hot Star chicken is anything to go by, they’re spot-on.

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In fact, Pete, Hasan and I had to split a chicken between the three of us – that’s how huge it was. And trust me, us three are big eaters.

Mr Bean, what a fool.

Mr Bean. What a fool.

Okay, fine, the three of us did end up grabbing other stuff to eat that night (the chicken was just a starter) so it’s not like one chicken could feed three people.

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That said, Michael and Tara were able to share a chicken and be full enough to not want proper food afterwards.

So how did they taste? The one I managed to try was the original flavoured chicken; it was coated in a lovely salt and pepper mix that was, I dare say, almost as addictive as crack. It was also flavoursome enough to not warrant extra sauces or seasonings, and the meat was beautifully juicy.

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I was back the following night with Dave. We had just finished an unsatisfying meal elsewhere so we needed to grab some chicken to fill the rest of the empty space in our stomach. We split a spicy chicken which, as its name suggests, was spicy thanks to the liberal dose of chilly seasoning. While it was nice and peppery (and obviously HOT), I have to say I preferred the original one.

My opinion might change once I try the tangy plum salt one though.

Hot Star/Gong Cha on Urbanspoon

Review: Happy Palace

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

As a Chinese lass, I normally frown upon the stuff that a lot of suburban Chinese restaurants pass off as ‘Chinese’ – you know what I’m talking about: lemon chicken, special fried rice and Mongolian beef.

That being said, I’m also a sucker for restaurants and bars that try to be different and that’s what Jerome Borazio (he of 1000£ Bend and Workers Club) did when he took the old and very dated Happy Palace Chinese restaurant on the corner of Bourke and Exhibition and turned it to a hipster haven brimming with Chinese kitsch (we’re talking beckoning cats, chandeliers and crass dragon paintings here), cheap drinks and more irony than Alanis could poke ten thousand spoons at.

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My work crew and I have been to Happy Palace on several occasions – once for trivia night and the other times just for Friday night drinks. If you’re a bona fide hipster, it’s actually not a bad place to linger for an hour or two – they’ve got cheap $2 pots and $2 plates of dumplings on Friday nights; they even have bicycle seats for you to sit on!

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That said, I wouldn’t say the food is fantastic. It’s good if you just want something to nibble on with your beer. But if you want a proper meal, you’re better off walking half a block to Chinatown.

Dumplings $2 a plate on Friday nights

Dumplings $2 a plate (four pieces) on Friday nights

The dumplings were kind of bland but when you’re paying $2 for a plate of those, you can’t complain. I definitely wouldn’t pay the normal price of $5 though (why, when you can get 12 pieces of GOOD ones for a few dollars more across the road).

Deep fried chicken ribs

Deep fried chicken ribs

The boys loved the chicken ribs, which were accompanied with a sweet and tangy soy-based sauce. While I thought they were just okay, one of the boys (probably Sean) loved them so much that he even went so far to eat the bones.

French fries

French fries

They’re just fries – what do you want me to say about them?!

Mini spring rolls

Mini spring rolls

Ah, sometimes you can’t beat fried spring rolls. Always a crowd-pleaser.

Prawn toasts

Prawn toasts

Okay, I must confess that I’m guilty of liking the odd Aussie-Chinese dish such as the prawn toast. These ones were actually alright, despite the fact that it was more bread than prawn.

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To conclude, if you’re looking for a decent feed, you won’t be satisfied at Happy Palace. As for trivia, I wouldn’t say we’d be in a hurry to go back again. There was something about the way-too-geeky-and-hipster crowd that didn’t appeal to us – this was despite the fact that we actually did have a token hipster in our group. But if you are just after drinks and nibbles in a fun environment before heading off to somewhere better, then Happy Palace will give you many happy, er, pre-endings.

Happy Palace on Urbanspoon