Archive of ‘Melbourne CBD’ category
168 Russell Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 6342
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 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.
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
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
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.
25 Wills Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 3278
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).
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)
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)
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.
1 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 5465
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)
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)
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)
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
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.
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.
320 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9642 0147
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
616 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9348 2957
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?
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.
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
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)
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)
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
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.
Shop 33, Lower Ground Floor
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8609 8221
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.
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)
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.
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.
16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9090 7778
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!
Unfortunately, the DDR crew (as in Dave, Daisy, Ricky and myself) got none of that when we dined at Ruyi.
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.’
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)
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.
They were nice, but not $3 nice.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Shop 323, Level 3
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9994 9386
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.
Oh yes, all the dumplings. OURS OURS OURS!
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)
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)
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)
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.
154 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 2633
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.
We ordered pretty much everything we could get our hands on. I didn’t take photos of every single thing we ate though, sorry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)