Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Archive of ‘Melbourne CBD’ category

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

Review: Mensousai Mugen

11 Bligh Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9620 3647
http://mensousaimugen.com/

Melbourne may be renowned for having the most sports fanatics per square kilometre and excellent coffee but when it comes to dishing out half-decent ramen, it sucks. I get that it’s unfair to compare Melbourne to Sapporo or Hakata. However, when our northern neighbours such as Sydney and Brisbane (and even Gold Coast) do ramen better than us, you know something is not right.

Thankfully, we’re getting better. We’ve seen places like Don Too whip up lovely (and cheap) ramen and trendsetters such as Shop Ramen put their own spin on what is arguably Japan’s national dish (cashew milk broth ramen, anyone?). And for those who love tsukemen ramen, we now have Mensousai Mugen to keep us happy.

So what is tsukemen ramen? I heard one person called it a ‘deconstructed ramen’ where you have a bowl of noodles in one bowl and your broth in another. You’re essentially dipping your noodles into the broth and once you’re done with the noodles, hot dashi stock is added to the remaining broth so you can slurp it all up like a cup of soup.

Mensousai Mugen is brought to you by Yoshi Kurosawa, the guy behind Robot Bar which is located in the same laneway as Mugen. Mugen doesn’t open until 6pm so the best way to go about doing thing is to knock back a few shots of sake at Robot before stumbling across to Mugen, which is what Pete and I did one evening after work.

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Like Robot, the atmosphere here is cool, dark and edgy. Of course, this means that it made photography very difficult but having random clips of naked Japanese guys mucking around in rivers on the projector made up for it.

Tebasaki, Japanese deep-fried chicken wings (five pieces for $10)

Tebasaki, Japanese deep-fried chicken wings (five pieces for $10)

We shared some Nagoya-style chicken wings. They were crispy and salty, with the slightest hint of sweetness – and very addictive. I’m definitely looking forward to eating my body weight in this during my one-day stopover in Nagoya later this year.

Wafu Tsukemen (300g, $15); curry tsukemen (300g, $15)

Wafu Tsukemen (300g, $15); curry tsukemen (300g, $15)

I ordered the default tsukemen ramen option, the wafu tsukemen while Pete went for the curry version. The only difference between mine and Pete’s was that his broth was infused with curry, but everything else remained the same from the dashi and soy sauce broth base to the house-made noodles to the chashu (slow-cooked pork).

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Eating ramen in a deconstructed manner was initially strange. Sure, I eat a lot of zaru soba where a lot of dipping is involved but I think it’s different with hot dishes. After a while, I did get used to it and I do like the whole novelty of it.

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For an extra $2, you can also get a soy egg with it – it was deliciously creamy and probably one of the better ones I’ve had in Melbourne.

Although there was nothing wrong with our ramen (the soup was fantastic and the noodles beautifully cooked), both Pete and I still preferred the traditional noodle-in-soup ramen. That said, the tsukemen option is good if you want to try something different. It’s also perfect for hot days where you crave ramen, but an entire bowl of it (soup and all) may be too much. I’m not sure if tsukemen will take off in Melbourne but either way, I’m glad that there’s another ramen restaurant in town.

Mensousai Mugen on Urbanspoon

Review: Cumulus Up

Upstairs, 45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1445

http://cumulusinc.com.au/up/

So I said that I’d be writing up my Indonesia posts now that I’ve managed to get Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore out of the way.

I lied.

Okay, my intention WAS to get started on Indonesia. But because we’ve been doing renovations, carpet-pulling and spring cleaning at my place for the last month or so, I’ve been misplacing everything. And by everything I mean various jewellery items, eBook chargers and the SD card that held all my Indonesia photos. So until I find that precious SD card, you’ll have to deal with a backlog of Melbourne posts.

I’m pretty sure you can handle that, right? :)

Today’s a public holiday in Melbourne and because I have a lot of writing to work on and precious sunshine to soak up, I’ll make this review of Cumulus Up relatively quick.

I came here for a pre-dinner nibble and tipple with Dave sometime last year. It would have been sometime between July and September because I do remember interning at this sporting organisation that day.

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Cumulus Up is another one of Andrew McConnell’s ventures. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the upstairs extension to the always-popular Cumulus Inc. If Cumulus Inc is the vibrant, sunny eldest sister, then Cumulus Up is the more mature and too-cool-for-school younger sibling. How? Well, Cumulus Inc is all about the light stuff like oysters, salads and charcuteries, whereas Cumulus Up is more of a wine bar with a more sophisticated menu featuring dishes like mussel escabeche and steak tartare with parmesan cream.

Duck waffle, foie gras and prune ($9)

Duck waffle, foie gras and prune ($9)

With a glass of Riesling in hand, I ordered a dish that Dave recommended: the duck waffle with foie gras and prune. My initial thought was ‘what a strange dish!’ but upon first bite, I can see why Dave liked it so much.

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The waffle wasn’t ‘duck-y’ per se. In fact, it was a normal sweet waffle with crispy edges (tick). Rather, the ‘duck’ bit was the foie gras that was smooth and creamy and although I’m not big on prunes, its sweetness and tartness really did cut through the foie gras perfectly. What a rich but flawless dish.

Due to the dish’s high fat content, unfortunately this meant that I was already  full before I made it to dinner. Oh well. I’ll know for next time.

Cumulus Up on Urbanspoon

Event: Queen Victoria Night Market

Cnr Queen and Thierry Streets
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9320 5822

Being Asian, I love markets more than I love bubble tea.

In particular, nothing gets me more excited than hearing the buzz and seeing the vibrant colours and smoke of a night market (except for maybe Bradley Cooper).

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One of my favourite things to do during the Melbourne summer is to visit the Queen Vic Night Market after work. And luckily, my office is within walking distance of the market – this means that it’s so easy for me to grab some work friends and head there for an early dinner and drink or two before heading home to the ‘burbs. The atmosphere (and prices) may not be as amazing as the night markets you get in Asia but it’s great nevertheless.

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This post will cover several visits I made during the summer of 2013/14 (just in case you happened to freak out upon seeing how much food is on this post!). And in most cases, we rocked up just after 5pm. This is why the market doesn’t look too busy in most of the photos – this is a good thing for us as most of our group are claustrophobic. If you like crowds, though, then you’ll be sweet after 5:30pm.

Filipino skewers

Filipino skewers

Porchetta (Italian roast pork)

Porchetta (Italian roast pork)

Kotthu roti

Kotthu roti

One of my favourite stalls this year has been Lankan Tucker, not just because I had only discovered Sri Lankan food a few months back but because they do Sri Lankan street food really well if my Burgher friend Pete is to be believed.

I enjoyed their kotthu roti, a dish that contains chopped up wheat roti, meat (in this case, it was chicken) and vegies. Think noodles, but with roti. Definitely a great dish to start off with if you’re a Sri Lankan food newbie.

Pan rolls

Pan rolls

These pan rolls were also delicious. Filled with mince and vegies, they reminded me of the Dutch rissoles my mother sometimes makes at home.

Burger buns at the game meat stall

Burger buns at the game meat stall

Ostrich burger

Ostrich burger

Yes, ostrich burger. The ostrich meat itself tasted like emu, but not as stinky and definitely less gamey. It was an interesting experience but at $12 a pop, I’m better off sticking to beef burgers.

Souvlaki skewers and chips

Souvlaki skewers and chips

Good ol’ Hasan food.

Gua bao

Gua bao

I was excited to see a Taiwanese snack stall but unfortunately, the gua bao there weren’t as good as the ones served at Taiwan Café, Food Republik et al.

Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)

Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)

The jerk chicken is worth a try (even if it’s just to giggle at the dish’s name). Unfortunately, I found the chicken to be very dry when I had it and the spices weren’t as vibrant as the chicken at Jamroc (one of the few things I miss about the Gold Coast).

Takoyaki seller

Takoyaki seller

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I wouldn’t recommend the okonomiyaki or takoyaki here – they were soggy and pretty bland.

Vanilla ice cream sandwich

Vanilla ice cream sandwich

Profile pic, Pete!

Profitjes

Profitjes

One does not go to a market without buying a plate of Dutch pancakes.

So there you have it. Melbourne’s Queen Vic Night Market. Obviously there’s heaps more to see but that’s just a small snippet of what you can find. There’s live music and non-food stuff for sale too. I’ll probably try and squeeze in another visit before they stop doing it; after all, I still need to try the camel burger.

Queen Victoria Night Market runs every Wednesday from 5pm until March 26th 2014.

Review: Mr Nice Guy

Shop J, 535 Little Lonsdale Street (enter via Healeys Lane)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9973 1761

When I heard that Middle Fish owners Pla Liamthong and David Holtum were opening up a Thai restaurant around the corner from my office, I was more excited than I was yesterday when Australia reclaimed The Ashes. I’ve been to and loved Middle Fish, so I knew that Mr Nice Guy, their city venture, was going to be something special.

Unfortunately, due to laziness and my propensity to bring lunch from home in order to save money it took me a while to get my arse down to Mr Nice Guy. It took not only a quiet work day (and thus, an extra 15 minutes for lunch), but also a colleague’s two thumbs up for Peter and I to give this place a go – and we were glad we did.

Like Middle Fish, Mr Nice Guy is decked out with shabby-chic fittings courtesy of Thai artist, Torlarp Larpjaroensook. Colourful Pantone-style tiles and friendly waiters completed the look, while loud hip hop music provided the score. In the ‘burbs, we’re used to seeing Thai restaurants decked in elephants, Buddha statues and lots of purple so this was a refreshing change (even though I’m not a fan of hip hop). In saying that, I have no idea why they went with a non-stereotypical name for the restaurant – who is this Mr Nice Guy anyway?

Thai iced milk tea

Thai iced milk tea

It was a reasonably warm spring day so my iced milk tea went down a treat. While it could have done with less ice, the tea itself was creamy and sweet without being overpowering.

Kha na: Stir-fried Chinese broccoli and twice-cooked pork belly served with shallow fried egg on rice ($14.90)

Kha na: Stir-fried Chinese broccoli and twice-cooked pork belly served with shallow fried egg on rice ($14.90)

Pete settled on the kha na, a rice dish. The twice-cooked pork belly was sweet with subtle hints of spiciness and saltiness. Chinese broccoli provided greenery while the shallow-fried egg was cooked beautifully – crispy on the edges, and soft in the middle.

Pad thai with tiger prawns ($14.90)

Pad thai with tiger prawns ($14.90)

I decided to be a bit of a gweilo by ordering the pad thai (please don’t judge). As far as pad thais go, this one was pretty good. I received a generous serving of chewy rice noodles and they weren’t tight with the prawns either. It may have been a little sweet but thankfully, there was enough tamarind water in the sauce to make me happy. I guess the only bad thing I have to say about it was: why so many carrots on top?

It wasn’t an expensive lunch (though to be fair, neither of us try to spend more than $10 on lunch if we were to eat out so we forked out more than what we’re normally used to) and I’d definitely come back to try their dinner menu. These days, I stay back in the office twice a week to get other work done so there is definitely no excuse for me not to pop down to Mr Nice Guy after dark for slightly out-there Thai dishes. Hurstbridge pork belly and oyster sauce foam, anyone?

Mr. Nice Guy on Urbanspoon

Event: Nespresso Crealto Dinner at Vue de Monde

Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Towers
525 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3888
http://www.vuedemonde.com.au/

Disclaimer: Peter and Libby attended this event as guests of Nespresso and Weber Shandwick.

It’s not every day you receive an email from a PR company acting on behalf of Nespresso, inviting you to an industry dinner event at one of Australia’s best restaurants. Watching your colleague eat raw meat and then seeing their reaction when you tell him that it was, in fact, wallaby is also something you don’t see every day.

Then again, Vue de Monde is not exactly your ‘every day’ restaurant.

My first visit was almost four years ago to celebrate an anniversary with an ex-boyfriend. I must admit that I cringed when I re-read the entry – was I really that twattish back then? Wait, don’t answer that. In any case, I might have been on the Jacques Reymond>Vue de Monde fence that time but things can change in four years. In that time, Vue de Monde moved from Normanby Chambers to Rialto, head chef Shannon Bennett revamped Vue’s direction (and menu) and I lost two dress sizes. All in all, it looked like things changed for the better – and we were about to find out that night.

Crealto Nespresso Martini

Crealto Nespresso Martini

Pete and I might have felt slightly out of place with our bummy office attire but we were nevertheless greeted with warm smiles and espresso martini cocktails as soon as we stepped in.

Salt-cured wallaby

Salt-cured wallaby

‘Would you like some wallaby?’ asked the waiter, shoving a tray of what looked like dabs of dark, raw meat in our faces. For some reason, Pete heard him say ‘val-la-wee’ rather than ‘wallaby’ so he eagerly swallowed a piece, thinking that it was a fancy name given to a raw beef canapé or something like that. Thus, you can imagine his surprise when I was like, ‘Have you had wallaby before?’ (‘THAT was wallaby?’)

Oyster wrap

Oyster wrap

The oyster wrap was essentially puree was wrapped in a gelatin casing, making this canapé a visually interesting one – I was thinking ‘fancy oyster dumpling’ here. Also not pictured was the smoked eel with white chocolate, which sounded WTF to begin with but actually tasted really nice. I loved the beautiful contrast between the malty white chocolate crust and the smoky eel meat.

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We were then shown to our table which was decked in some pimpin’ Christofle cutlery and beautiful people including two fellow bloggers, Catherine and Amy.

Throughout the dinner, Vue Head Chef Shannon Bennett told us why we were all congregated in this little room, 55 storeys above ground level. Bennett, along with Tetsuya Wakuda, had been appointed as a Nespresso Culinary Ambassador for Australia. I didn’t know this beforehand, but apparently Nespresso is used in over 700 Michelin-stared restaurants worldwide. This makes them a pretty big deal. Once Bennett finished talking about how fantastic Nespresso was (and about truffle farms), it was back to the food.

Echire butter

Echire butter

I love butter but ARTISAN FRENCH BUTTER?! Oh, Lordy! Needless to say, I applied this stuff liberally all over my bread.

Duck, leek, Gascony

Duck, leek, Gascony

Our entrée was the duck, which was tender and flavoursome. And while I’m normally on the anti-Chardonnay brigade, I thought the accompanying 2010 Tarrawarra ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay was smooth and peachy rather than EW GROSS OAKY. Each drop had a bit of zest which meant that it cut through the fatty duck meat beautifully.

Barramundi, Crealto, potato, squid, mustard greens

Barramundi, Crealto, potato, squid, mustard greens

We had barramundi for our main – and it had coffee in it! Well, not a lot. In fact, I couldn’t taste it. In any case, the fish was pefectly cooked and I loved how the other elements – all cooked beautifully – did not overpower the fish. And while I initially thought it was odd that we were given a glass of red to go with the fish, the very fragrant 2010 Bannockburn Pinot Noir added a bit of pizzazz to this dish.

Aussie-style petit fours

Aussie-style petit fours

We were then instructed to wander over to the dessert buffet table on the other side of the room for dessert. A very impressive Australia flora-themed ensemble greeted us, enticing us to sample the Aussie-style petit fours which were all inspired by the lollies Bennett enjoyed as a child.

Next to the dessert table, a guy was brewing cups of Nespresso Crealto Grand Cru for guests to try. I actually wanted to go to sleep that night so unfortunately, I missed out on trying the coffee (never mind that I had an espresso martini earlier that night, hah). I suppose I could have gone for the decaf version which was also available but sif anyone can be bothered with decaf coffee anyway.

Clockwise from top: chocolate mousse with jam ‘lamingtons’, salted caramel slice, musk ‘eucalyptus’ leaf, berry and cream tarts and gin penny jujubes

Clockwise from top: chocolate mousse with jam ‘lamingtons’, salted caramel slice, musk ‘eucalyptus’ leaf, berry and cream tarts and gin penny jujubes

I was really impressed with how creative the desserts were. Even the boring caramel slice got a bit of a makeover with a bit of saltiness thrown in the mix. If I had more room in my stomach, I would have also grabbed a lemon meringue tart which received lots of praise from my fellow diners but on the other hand, I was just as happy with my lamington.

If a French cuisine purist rocked up to this dinner, they may cry ‘SACREBLEU!’ on what seems like a rude Aussie assault on French food. However, I reckon Bennett nailed it. The food is cooked and presented perfectly as always but you also can tell that Bennett has applied a more confident and relaxed approach, resulting in dishes that are more enjoyable to eat. It’s amazing what four years can do.

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Review: Little Hunter (NOW CLOSED)

195 Little Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9654 0090
http://www.littlehunter.com.au/

You may have heard that Little Hunter was placed in liquidation the other week. The restaurant wasn’t paying its bills, the ATO was hunting them down and staff were walking away en masse. It was the sort of stuff that Gordon Ramsay’s producers would have been looking for – that is, if the whole thing did not happen so quickly.

It is therefore fitting (okay fine, inappropriate is probably a better word) that I make tonight’s review all about Little Hunter. Winston, Dave and I were here for dinner well before the storm approached so our experience was nothing like the papers described.

That said, the restaurant itself was a pain in the arse to find. Dave and I probably spent a good few minutes staring blankly at an empty spot on Little Collins Street where we thought the restaurant was. We then realised that we were on the wrong side of the street but even then, the restaurant wasn’t illuminated or anything – the only clue was a single red light bulb dangling above the door and ‘Little Hunter’ written in tiny serif font. Even then, we still had our reservations when we walked through that entrance, down some stairs and into some creepy basement.

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We knew we finally reached the right place though when we saw a bunch of hipsters walk into the restaurant. We also saw chickens, cute little chickens.

Little Hunter’s problem wasn’t its lack of direction, a problem that seems to touch every second new restaurant that pops up in Melbourne. No, Little Hunter knew what it was doing and it did so pretty well. There was a focus on ‘the land, the farmer, and the finest breeds in Australia.’ Everything on the predominantly meat-filled menu was cured, smoked or preserved in-house. And Little Hunter was also big on using every bit of the animal as much as possible, which explains ingredients such as beef fat butter appearing on the menu.

A Pair of 8s: Ocho Reposado Tequilla, Poire William, pear puree, lime juice, thyme ($18)A Pair of 8s: Ocho Reposado Tequilla, Poire William, pear puree, lime juice, thyme ($18)

A Pair of 8s: Ocho Reposado Tequilla, Poire William, pear puree, lime juice, thyme ($18)

Winston ordered The Pair of 8s cocktail, a very pear affair. Even though it sounded fantastic on paper, we were slightly underwhelmed by the taste. It was one-dimensional and sweet all over, with nary a hint of real ‘pear’ flavours.

Hot Buttered Rum: Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, spiced apple juice, brown butter ($16)

Hot Buttered Rum: Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, spiced apple juice, brown butter ($16)

My warm cocktail was a lot better. It was equal parts spicy and warm, strengthened by a rich layer of smoothness. I also liked that the brown butter gave what would have otherwise been a sweet cocktail a bit of a salty kick. Two thumbs up.

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We then ordered a bunch of entrées to share. Probably a bit too much in hindsight…

Cheesy bread with chicken skin butter

Cheesy bread with chicken skin butter

We knew we were onto a good thing when our complimentary cheese bread arrived with chicken skin butter on the side. Wait, chicken skin butter? Yep, that’s right. Chicken skin fat is melted into oil, and then the whole thing is mixed in it with butter. It may not be healthy but it certainly was delicious.

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And so was the soft, pull-apart bread that was just oozing with cheesy goodness and hints of garlic and rosemary. Let me say here that cheesy bread and chicken skin butter combo was better than any of the non-complimentary dishes we were served that night…

Lobster hushpuppies, softened vinegar butter ($12)

Lobster hushpuppies, softened vinegar butter ($12)

After the bread’s grant entrance, it almost seemed a bit unfair to say that the lobster hushpuppies paled in comparison. I found them rather heavy on the batter and thus, couldn’t really taste any lobster.

Pork crackling, paprika, white cheddar, apple sauce ($6)

Pork crackling, paprika, white cheddar, apple sauce ($6)

The pork crackling dish slightly lifted our spirits up, though. They were light and airy, with each little air socket peppered with small hints of paprika and white cheddar. The apple sauce was supposed to provide a sweet balance, I guess, but I found myself enjoying the pork cracklings more without the apple sauce.

The cured kingfish dish provided a refreshing interlude to what had been a fatty carb session thus far. While the kingfish pieces were super fresh, I did find the pepper on the side a bit too overpowering.

Hopkins River Rib Eye, bone marrow, beef fat butter ($54)

Hopkins River Rib Eye, bone marrow, beef fat butter ($54)

We were actually starting to get full even before the mains arrived so I couldn’t help but groan slightly when our Hopkins River rib eye landed in front of us, seemingly mocking us. At this stage, we had already consumed two types of butter so the thought of getting beef fat butter made me queasy.

Being the tenacious Taurean that I am, however, I wasn’t going to give up that easily. The steak was beautifully juicy and tender, as any good textbook steak should be. However, I found the bone marrow AND the beef fat butter a bit too much for me, despite tasting just fine on their one. If it weren’t for the decadent entrées, I think we would have been just fine. Hell, if we ordered the Cape Grim Filet Mignon with coffee and wood smoke ($43), we probably would have been okay too. Ah, hindsight.

Dry-aged lamb cooked with olives, crisped belly, parsley, orange ($36)

Dry-aged lamb cooked with olives, crisped belly, parsley, orange ($36)

Our dry-aged lamb was okay, but nothing to write home about. The lamb erred on the stringy side and the orange-based sauce added nothing remarkable to the dish.

Grilled cabbage, blue cheese, anchovies, hazelnut vinegar ($9)

Grilled cabbage, blue cheese, anchovies, hazelnut vinegar ($9)

We chose the grilled cabbage dish as a side only because our waiter recommended it. We were expecting chopped cabbage leaves drizzled with hazelnut vinegar and sprinkled with the rest of the garnishes. Thus, we were surprised to receive half a head of cabbage – this made eating the salad a little awkward.

Additionally, we thought the dressing was extremely overpowering and just did not go well with the raw cabbage. We should have gone for the safe option of the fries ($6) or even the grits with herb butter and salt ($9). Ugh, never listening to waiters again.

Frangipane, meringue, passionfruit curd, whole pear sorbet ($15)

Frangipane, meringue, passionfruit curd, whole pear sorbet ($15)

Despite the three of us being super-full, we still couldn’t leave without ordering a dessert to share. We chose the least decadent dessert, a fruity affair, which ended up being a tad rich for our delicate tastebuds anyway. We all loved the refreshing pear sorbet and the tart passionfruit curd, though we agreed that we could have gone without the other two.

Despite our lack of enthusiasm for the second half of the meal, we enjoyed our dinner. If we had chosen wisely (i.e. not go overboard with our entrées), then we probably would have enjoyed our mains a lot more (okay fine, maybe not the lamb). There were so many wonderful ideas and flavour combinations floating around on the menu but you had to be selective when ordering or you’ll end up in a fatty comatose afterwards (and if you’re anything like me, you’ll abstain from eating meat for the rest of the week).

Little Hunter held so much promise so it was a shame to hear that it shut down. Despite the restaurant’s financial problems, there have been talks of a ‘Junior Hunter’ opening up in the same space so it will be interesting to see how that goes. In the meantime, I may or may not be making my own chicken skin butter in the not too distant future.

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