94 Seaworld Drive
Main Beach QLD 4217
+61 7 5509 8000
The other day, Marty had his birthday. We spent our daylight hours at the gym, eating ramen at Surfers Paradise (that will be my next post) and watching Nat Geo documentaries. I think I might have tried Bikram yoga for the first time too that day but I can’t remember. What we could remember, however, was the epic dinner we shared with Marty’s parents that night at Vanitas restaurant at Palazzo Versace.
The plan was for the two of us to share a nice romantic dinner at what has to be one of the nicest-looking restaurants we’ve even been to. However, Marty felt like being a nice son for once so he invited his parents along for the ride – they don’t have a lot of experience with fine dining restaurants so he wanted to treat them while he himself got treated. And this is from a guy who called me a ‘sausage roll’ over the weekend, ugh.
Driving to the world’s first fashion-branded hotel on a rainy Friday night proved to be a bit of a task, even for the three Gold Coast locals I was with. Getting to Main Beach was easy enough but finding the actual hotel in darkness was a lot harder and we ended up at Marina Mirage before realising that we were in the wrong place. We did find ourselves in hotel’s circular driveway eventually, though. We asked the concierge where the guest parking facilities were and we were told that it was ’50 metres ahead’ and that ‘there’ll be a big sign’ to tell us where it was.
So we drove out of the premises and up Seaworld Drive for approximately 50 metres before finding ourselves at a random car park that was reserved for fishermen rather than guests of a boutique hotel. We drove around and around some more but gave up so we ended up parking at Marina Mirage again and walking to Palazzo Versace in the rain.
Palazzo Versace has got to be the most opulent hotel we’ve ever set foot on. The sight of the majestic chandelier, the illuminated lagoon and the beautifully classy young folk mingling in the foyer told us one thing: Toto, we weren’t in Surfers Paradise anymore. Gold Coast’s economy might be going to shit, but you couldn’t tell at Palazzo Versace for people were partying like it was 1999.
We also loved the Medusa mosaic on the lobby’s floor.
Once we walked into Vanitas, Palazzo Versace’s top of the line fine dining restaurant, however, we realised that perhaps we were wrong about Palazzo Versace being immune from the ‘Coast’s economic downturn. It was practically empty. Okay, so three other tables did fill up during the entire time we were there – but for the most part, it was eerily dead for a Friday night.
We were led to our table, which was located right by the window so we can admire the beautiful lagoon. We were even surprised to see a lone duck swim across the pool during our dinner!
Vanitas has to take the cake for having the best crockery I’ve seen at a fine dining establishment. Every single plate we had was embellished with the Versace logo and intricate designs ranging from mythical creatures to foliage. In fact, they were almost too pretty to eat from.
But eating was what we were here for so let’s get onto the food, shall we? What sort of food does Vanitas serve? Like most Gold Coast fine dining restaurants, it goes for the mod-Oz option, with influences from France and Japan. We knew from the start that we were going to go for the five-course degustation menu designed by head chef Martin Glutz ($125 per head). There was also the option to get matching wines for an extra $65 per head but because one of us didn’t drink (Marty’s mum) and because two of us were pussies (Marty and I), only Marty’s dad agreed to it.
The birthday boy received a birthday card, signed by Vanitas’ manager, as well as a miniature bottle of Versace Pour Homme. Although nothing will tear Marty away from his signature Armani Code, he really appreciated the token (let’s be honest, how many other restaurants give diners a bottle of perfume?!).
We started off with some delicious bread. The bread was as flaky as puff pastry and as buttery as a croissant – and tasted even better with lashings of French butter. We were also offered extra bread throughout the dinner which I gratefully accepted.
Marty and his dad started proceedings with a glass of Dom Perignon each. While a glass of Dom is certainly not cheap ($75 a glass here), it was one of those ‘try anything once’ moments which both men relished.
Our first course was the sand crab sandwich, soy marinated tuna with chilled tomato consommé and wakame salad. Marty and I found both found the raw tuna to be a too ‘stringy’ and it was certainly not the freshest slab we’ve had – but then again, we’ve been spoilt by super-fresh seafood in Sydney’s restaurants and at their fish market. That aside, I didn’t think this dish tasted too bad. If Vanitas was trying for the ‘cutting edge’ approach, they weren’t achieving it by sprinkling strands of wakame all over the place – it just looked almost ‘try-hard-y.’ Having said that, Marty’s dad liked the dish and declared the tomato broth to be similar-tasting to the Vietnamese canh (sour soup). He was probably right when said that his son just ‘didn’t know how to eat’ (i.e. appreciate) dishes like this, hah.
Our next course was the seared John Dory fillet with carrot purée, risoni and caviar vinaigrette. While the previous course divided the table, general consensus was achieved with this dish: it was great. The John Dory fillet was beautifully cooked; its silky and plump texture soaked up the sweet purée like a sponge while the risoni bits were fun to eat. Marty’s mum was especially impressed by the presentation of the dish and in particular, the edible flowers.
We then reached the ‘land animal’ part of the dinner with the ballotine of free range chicken with truffle, foie gras and pickled mushrooms, which looked as pretty as a Versace dress.
The chicken, which was beautifully cooked, held a tiny knob of foie gras. Pickled mushrooms and little specks of truffle circled the plate, delighting Marty who loves truffles as much as he loves to hate the Collingwood Magpies. It was a well-executed meal but I did feel that they were too heavy on the vinaigrette. I reckon a more subtle level of zesty-ness would have been more appropriate.
We then enjoyed a delicious palette cleanser of lime sorbet with elderflower syrup, mint and Prosecco, which rivalled a lot of desserts I’ve sampled this year.
Our final savoury dish was the slow cooked tenderloin of beef with spinach purée, gnocchi, speck and broad beans. The steak was fantastic and as for the accompaniments, I wasn’t sure if I liked the velvety spinach purée or the pillowy gnocchi squares better. I did find the addition of the slightly undercooked broad beans a bit weird though. By this stage, I was quite full so I struggled to finish my steak, as juicy and delicious as it was. The boys, however, were fast on this one, ripping into their finely cooked cow simultaneously.
By this stage, Marty decided that he needed a glass of mojito. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he was struggling with his food or struggling with his dad’s behaviour which was getting more and more, uh, animated (for example, his dad kept saying ‘BEAAUUUUTIFUL!’ in a bad Con the Fruiterer accent and kept making disparaging remarks about two shady-looking guys sitting at a table next to us).
Our dessert was a chocolate chip meringue with berries, strawberry sorbet, coulis and Chantilly cream. It’s not exactly the type of dessert I’d order but I couldn’t help but be wowed at the presentation.
To be honest, I found this dessert to be ridiculously sweet. Less sugar, please!
Marty decided to be difficult by asking the waiter if he could have a crème brûlée for dessert. I know that a lot of restaurants aren’t cool with mixing courses when it comes to set menus, the folks at Vanitas were lovely and presented Marty with a beautiful crème brûlée with salted caramel ice cream. I knew I should have also presented it was my birthday too.
We were stuffed beyond belief but coffees and petit fours were being offered so naturally, as Asians, we stayed for that. I don’t normally have coffees this late but given that I had promised Marty that I’d stay up late to watch TV with him, I knew coffee was in order. I’m not sure how many shots of espresso went into my ‘latte’ or where the barista went for his or her training, but my latte certainly didn’t do the trick (both taste-wise and keeping-Libby-up-wise).
The petit fours tasted better (and looked prettier), though).
While we all agreed that this had been a lovely birthday dinner, I’m not quite sure whether I’d be rushing back. The service was exemplary, with proper care given by our waiter Ryan who knew his stuff but also injected a bit of casual Gold Coast humour and charm throughout the meal. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the concierge dude who was not only wrong about the car park being 50 metres way (it was more like 10) but also the sign which was barely visible at night (we drove past this place in daylight a few days later and lo and behold, there was the car park!).
The food, on the other hand, received mixed reactions from the table. While Marty’s dad thought everything was BEAAAAAUTIFUL, his mum just said that everything the food tasted ‘average’ with all the trimmings there ‘just for show.’ Meanwhile, Marty and I thought that most of the dishes passed the mark but could do with a few modifications. At the end of the night, we all agreed that we enjoyed the setting as well as the company more than the food.
Yes, even Marty’s dear ol’ dad.
Shop 1/2440 Gold Coast Highway
Mermaid Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5575 6005
The Gold Coast is not commonly known as a city with diverse cuisine, so I thought it was odd when one of my readers, Kewyn, urged me to try Caribbean roti at Roti Hut in Mermaid Beach. As an Indonesian who grew among the eastside’s Malaysian and Indian restaurants, I’ve had my share of wonderful roti (South Asian flat bread) dishes. Hell, the roti also happens to be the Indonesian word for the generic term ‘bread.’ But Caribbean roti? I must admit that I had no idea there was such a thing.
Then again, it makes sense. Once upon a time ago, half a million Indians were sent to the Caribbean Islands to work on the sugar cane plantation. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Indian migrants would have influenced Caribbean cooking as well as played a bit of friendly cricket with the islanders every now and then.
Roti Hut is a Gold Coast icon but Marty didn’t know that. He drove past it many times in the last eight years, thinking it was some sort of dime-a-dozen Indian jib joint with its seemingly outdated 80s Stussy/Hang 10/Cross colours-influenced logo and decor. But after our first visit there, he realised how wrong he was.
Roti Hut is owned by a guy who I only know as ‘Calypso Col’, who was born in Trinidad. His parents owned Australia’s first Caribbean roti shop, Caribbean Kitchen in Dee Why, Sydney back in the 1970s – you can see a photo of it at Roti Hut, behind the counter. Although they sold the shop in 1985, Caribbean roti is still being kept alive through Roti Hut, Col’s pride and joy.
It wasn’t busy when we arrived just after the lunch peak but I know to stay away during the dinner rush for that’s when people come in for their takeaway roti hit. We ordered at the counter before sitting on one of the empty table. We were then able to take in the Caribbean paintings and surf paraphernalia, both of which simultaneously represent Col’s Caribbean upbringing and his Gold Coast home.
Caribbean roti is, to quote Calypso Col, ‘Indian bread made from wheat, flour, salt and water’ which is then filled with a meat curry filling before being cooked on a griddle. Think of it as a wrap, but heartier. The curry they use is Caribbean curry which I, in my opinion, is not as rich as Indian curry but by no means less tasty. At Roti Hut, most roti wraps are $10, but prawn varieties are $12.
I chose the lamb and potato roti ($10). The bread wasn’t thick but it was dense enough to hold the beautifully hearty curry that was bursting with chunks of lamb and diced potatoes. So, so good.
I also highly recommend you eat a roti wrap here with Calypso Col’s Caribbean chilli sauce. These little bottles of tangy chilli sauce are made out of home-grown yellow chillies and provide a lovely hit to the roti, cutting through all that curry. And if you’re not eating in, I’d definitely recommend you buy one for $9. Unfortunately, Southeast Queensland has been getting heaps of rain lately, which meant that a lot of Col’s chilli plants have been ruined thus limiting the supply of sauces available. Hopefully, the rain will go away so that Col can go back to making more sauces (and I can actually climb Mt Warning and go to the beach when I’m up there next month, woo!).
Meanwhile, Marty ordered the Creole pork and vegetable roti ($10). I wouldn’t say that this filling was ‘curry-like;’ while it was spicy, it was also very sweet so it’s not one that I’d be rushing to order. Still, it was a delicious way for Marty to get a fifth of his daily recommended vegetable intake, heh.
One roti wrap is definitely enough to fill you up (hell, I didn’t even finish mine so I took it home – hah!). Marty, however, is greedy at the best of times so it didn’t surprise me when he decided to try the prawn and potato roti ($12). As you can see, the lady at the counter was nice enough to cut the roti in half so we can each have one. It was delicious like all the others, but I felt that the lamb and potato was a better combo.
Roti Hut is a Gold Coast institution and embodiment of a successful mama and papa joint of those halcyon Gold Coast days. We loved their wholesome and delicious food that didn’t break our bank as well as the friendly service. Marty’s been there several times ever since our first visit and no doubt I’ll be going there when I’m up. Now can someone please set up a Caribbean curry roti wrap truck in Melbourne?!
2 West Street
Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
+61 7 5520 7907
When it comes to restaurants, Marty and I ashamedly admit that we never put vegan restaurants on the top of our list of places to try. We love meat, dairy and eggs, and lasagne is my favourite food that covers all three. So when we stumbled across a vegan restaurant in Burleigh Heads over the summer, our initial reaction was, ‘Pfft yeah nah…’ but when we actually read the menu taped on the window, we grew interested. The restaurant, called From Earth and Water, was closed that evening but we made a promise to return the very next day for lunch.
From Earth and Water is chef Nicki Fulton’s baby. Everything on the menu is vegan so you won’t see any animal products. The food is not just gluten and dairy-free, but you also won’t see refined sugars and processed ingredients in here. And although most of the food is raw, there are some ingredients that have been cooked at very low cooking temperatures to preserve enzymes. And the best bit? Everything’s in season so you don’t have to freak out about food miles and whatnot. Given that I’m trying to wean off some bad eating habits (my packet of chip habit a day, anyone?) and given that Marty was on a health and fitness streak at the time, we decided to see what From Earth and Water could come up with.
I love just how simple yet elegant this place is. Whitewashed walls and matching furniture adorn the place with little trinkets such as shells and flowers all over, making the restaurant look like something out of Marie Claire magazine. I also liked that they opened the massive windows to let the cool sea breeze from nearby Burleigh Beach in.
We started off with some juices. Marty ordered the Green Hawaiian ($8), a wonderfully green mix of pineapple, mint, spirulina, coconut water. It was just as amazing as my Pineapple crush ($8) which contained pineapple, lime, vanilla bean, coconut water. Both were some of the best mixed juices I’ve ever had and I’ve since been inspired to whip up some coconut water-based juice mixes at home.
Marty ordered the trio of mini tacos ($18). The hard taco shells were made in-house with flaxseed. They were filled with a very vibrant mix of sweet corn guacamole, cherry tomatoes, cashew sour cream and spicy Mexican vinaigrette. I loved the textural contrast between the crunchy taco shells and the guac’, though the three-month aged non-dairy cashew sour cream from Dr Cow was my favourite bit – it was so hard to believe that it didn’t actually contain real dairy!
While Marty’s tacos were great, we both agreed that my micro heirloom tomato lasagne ($18) was the winner. I love heirloom tomatoes in any form but have never had them confit-style so when I took a bite, my mind was blown. WOW. The rest of the elements were fantastic too, from the almond cheese to the basil rocket pesto and to the sundried tomato sauce. Even the zucchini sheets didn’t suck (and I don’t normally like zucchini).
If you thought our savoury dishes sounded good, your eyes would light up if you saw the dessert menu. Not being a dessert fan, even I couldn’t help but clap my hands in glee when I saw that the caramel snickers ($12) contained ingredients such as vanilla cream and cacao mousse and caramel made from lucuma, a Peruvian fruit. Marty was equally excited in trying the peaches and cream ($12) which contained compressed peaches macerated in lime coconut sugar, maple pecan crumble, edible flowers, vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately for us, the desserts had already sold out by the time we got around to ordering so we’ll have to go back next time *sad face*
If you’ve never had raw cuisine before but you’re curious, From Earth to Water is definitely a great place to start. The food was FANTASTIC. It was amazing to see just how much flavour good quality – and raw – foodstuffs can contain, especially without adding nasty chemicals in them. Also, the dishes might have looked small but they were surprisingly filling so we probably would have struggled to finish dessert if were able to order some. Although Marty and I won’t be turning our backs on cheeseburgers, we’re definitely more conscious about what goes in our bodies and I guess that’s always a good thing.
Cnr Gold Coast Highway and West Burleigh Road
Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
+61 7 5535 5988
Gold Coast may have plenty of Italian restaurants but it’s very rare to find one that’s actually good. My favourite pizzeria up there is Justin Lane in Burleigh Heads; not only do they do fantastic pizzas, their pastas and cocktails are ridiculously good. So with that in mind, Marty and I drove down the Gold Coast Highway for some pizzas at Justin Lane.
Unfortunately, Justin Lane was packed by the time we arrived (just after 8pm, on a Saturday night) and we were told that there’d be AT LEAST a 45-minute wait for a table. While we like their pizzas, we did not like waiting so we decided to find an alternative dinner destination nearby. After doing several rounds of James Street, we ended up at Vecchia Roma.
The restaurant itself is small and its alcoves create an intimate setting for those wanting a romantic Italian dinner. There was no room inside for us when we arrived so we were seated outside with a view of the highway (which I thought was odd). I initially thought the reason this place was so busy on most nights was because it was the fallback restaurant for those who couldn’t get into Justin Lane. That may hold true for some of us but apparently Vecchia Roma had been open for some 30 years. A lot of things on the Gold Coast don’t have that sort of longevity so I’d say that Vecchia Roma are doing pretty well.
Although Vecchia Roma do a roaring takeaway pizza trade, we decided to settle for the pastas. Marty ordered the penne with sausage ragu. It was an okay dish but it would have been better if the pasta was homemade and if the ragu had a bit of depth in it. It wasn’t anything either of us couldn’t make at home. This was in stark contrast to Justin Lane’s pappardelle with slow-cooked beef cheek ragu, which we both love so dearly.
I ordered the angel hair pasta with prawns, spinach and tomato at the recommendation of the waitress. To be honest, I preferred Marty’s pasta – at least it was somewhat tasty. The white wine-based sauce was on this one was a little bit weak, making my pasta slightly on the bland side if it weren’t for the parmesan cheese on top.
We weren’t particularly impressed with Vecchia Roma. Our dishes were just okay, but definitely not worth the drive down to Burleigh Heads when there are dozens of mediocre Italian restaurants in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. Furthermore, our waitress was friendly but the pastas did take quite some time to arrive. In hindsight, I probably would have been happier waiting 45 minutes for a table at Justin Lane than eat at Vecchia Roma.
10A Frank Street
Labrador QLD 4215
+61 7 5532 4831
Labrador. A suburb on the Gold Coast that’s famous for, well, nothing. Its close proximity to
Smackport Southport means that many tourists and overly sheltered locals stay away from it. But if they knew that Labrador is home to one of the nicest Japanese restaurants in Goldy, I’m sure they’d come in droves.
Heiroku Sushi is located just off the Gold Coast Highway, in a quiet court that houses a Chinese restaurant and several vacant stores with ‘FOR LEASE’ signs plastered across their stained windows. Heiroku opened during Gold Coast’s halcyon era, in 1967, where the beaches were full, the girls were less tacky and the investors were coming in droves. Thus, given Gold Coast’s crappy economy it’s surprising to see such places still standing.
I probably wouldn’t have heard of Heiroku if it weren’t for my reader, Kewyn, a Gold Coast boy. After I told him that I loved Maruya, he urged me to try Heiroku and with that, I dragged Marty over there for lunch despite his protests. ‘WAH WAH WAH, why do we always have to try new places? WAH WAH WAH, what’s wrong with eating at our favourite places? WAH WAH WAH I bet this Kewyn guy is wrong.’
He soon shut up not long after.
Heiroku is, first and foremost, a sushi train restaurant. Here, little plastic plates topped with very reasonably priced goodies ($2-$6 a plate) cruise on a conveyor belt around the dining room – kind of like the Broadbeach monorail but more useful. In addition to selecting your dishes from the ‘train,’ the option to order off the a la carte menu is also there.
We started off simple with the salmon nigiri. The salmon was surprisingly fresh and at $2, there really wasn’t any reason NOT to select it.
Then we had our obligatory ‘non-authentic’ sushi, the teriyaki chicken roll ($3). It’s not something I’d be quick to order at sushi stalls but I didn’t mind this one as it was so tasty.
Marty loves squid sushi so he was delighted to see it on the menu ($3). Although he prefers the squid sushi at Maruya (‘it’s fresher there,’ he reckons), this wasn’t bad given the price.
We also ordered a serving of assorted sashimi off the menu ($9), which featured the obligatory triumvirate of tuna, kingfish and salmon. Although I did find the kingfish fillets a bit ‘pongy’, I thought the other two were beautiful.
Our aburi salmon with onion ($4) wasn’t bad but to be honest, I only ordered it because I saw all that sauce and it reminded me of takoyaki. It was probably my least favourite dish but only because the others were so good.
Better were the crab meat croquettes (two for $3) which were beautifully crispy on the outside and packed with a luscious creamy filling. I did find the use of patty pan to hold the sauce and the lettuce a bit odd though.
My favourite dish, however, had to be the udon noodle soup with tempura prawn which is made to order and costs $9 for a standard bowl. What I really loved about Heiroku Sushi was the fact that a lot of their more substantial dishes come in half sizes so that diners can have more room in their stomach to sample the other dishes. This beautiful bowl of soup noodles, for example, was $5.
What made this the best udon noodle soup I’ve ever tasted was the sweet, sweet broth that was peppered with all manners of umami – and not the MSG type either. There was a perfect balance between the kombu and the dashi, while you couldn’t get more springy udon noodles elsewhere on the Gold Coast. As for the tempura prawn? It remarkably stayed crispy while it was in the broth. I knew I should have ordered a normal-sized bowl.
Given that we normally eat like crazy people, we were surprised that we were full after only ordering a small variety of dishes. Then again, we did consume our share of post-workout supplements that morning and those things apparently suppress appetites. In the end, we paid only a smidgen over $30 for two including soft drinks, making Heiroku one of the best value places to get Japanese food on the Gold Coast despite its faded decor and inconvenient location.
2 Gooding Drive
Merrimac QLD 4226
+61 7 5530 5236
Marty and I spent a good portion of last night checking out some photos on a Gold Coast Facebook page. The page was called ‘So Have You Seen the Old Gold Coast?’ and it was full of old photos taken by various people on the Gold Coast. While I had a bit of a giggle at the 80s fashion and Marine World photos, I had a few questions to ask. Why were Gold Coast girls so pretty and classy back in the day? Why did 1960s Surfers Paradise look so idyllic and pretty? Why was Southport so hip and happenin’ back then and why is it now full of tumbleweeds and junkies? And most importantly, who thought it was a good idea to build a castle-themed shopping centre, complete with mini Tudor-style huts and all, in the middle of Broadbeach?
Those questions may have been left unanswered – and probably for the better – but seeing those photos reminded me that I need to get my Gold Coast eatery backlog out of the way. So here is my first of not-too-many reviews of places I’ve dined at up in recently-not-so-sunny Gold Coast in the last four or five months.
The first cab off the rank at OOL is Mike’s Kitchen, a family restaurant in the greater Robina region. Their specialty is steaks and ribs but they also do pastas, seafood dishes and parmas. And judging by the names of Afrikaans-sounding dishes on the menu, I’m guessing the owners are probably more Sewt Efrikan than Daniel Craig’s character in Munich.
What’s with Tudor buildings everywhere in sunny Gold Coast? And especially in the middle of nowhere too?
We arrived just after 8pm to a dining room of rowdy families getting together for a meal on a Thursday night. Knowing that I was going to have steak, I ordered a Bibliotheque Shiraz from South Australia ($7) while Marty was quick to order a Windhoek lager ($7), a South African beer which I thought was not one for beer connoisseurs given its watery taste. Bleurgh.
After we ordered our steak and ribs, our waitress attached a bucket on our table – they were for our rib bones.
Marty ordered the 1kg full rib rack and chips combo ($48.95). And yep, those of you playing at home would be right in guessing that this is the same picture that appears as my blog header.
I ordered the half ribs and steak combo, which also came with chips. There is a list of steak cuts (and weight) you can choose from and I opted for the 200g eye fillet ($53.95).
My steak was beautifully cooked in all its medium-rare glory and while it was decent, it was not the best steak I’ve ever had. It wasn’t a particularly tasty piece of steak which is odd given that the steaks at Mike’s are grain-fed so you’d think that tastiness would not be an issue. Thank goodness, then, for the tub of mushroom sauce ($2.50) which proved to be a handy flavour aide.
The ribs, on the other hand, were FANTASTIC. Stuff Channing Tatum, this was Magic Mike right here! Marty reckoned they were just as good as, if not better than, Squire’s Loft ribs. Me? I’d say that they’re not AS good but a close second – only because the sauce they use at Mike’s was sweeter than Squire’s Loft’s and because I don’t like terribly sweet things, that gets a -1 from me. Apart from that, the ribs were melt-on-your-mouth tender and juicy. I can certainly see why they were unofficially given the title of Gold Coast’s best ribs.
We also shared some onion rings ($5.95). They weren’t horrible but I did find the batter too thick. The outside was crispy but the inside was a little bit soggy, thus spoiling the rings just a little bit.
Pretty soon, we filled the bin up with bones. We dubbed it the ‘carnage bucket.’
Our dinner certainly filled us up – but that didn’t stop Marty from insisting that we I order a melktert (South African milk tart, $5,95). Not just one melktert to share, but TWO so he can have one for himself. The greedy farkhead. I can understand why he wanted his own though. The melktert is essentially a shortcrust-like pastry bottom filled with a very creamy milk custard that’s been laced with cinnamon. I’m not usually into heavy desserts, especially after a big meal, but this was pretty good.
While I wouldn’t say that Mike’s is better than Squire’s Loft, it does come pretty close. I like its relaxed family atmosphere and their famous ribs are fantastic. Next time, I’m going to stay away from the steak and just order half a rib rack and chips with a tub of mushroom sauce to dip the chips in. Mmm. On that note, I need to book my next flight to the Gold Coast now.
Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 3818
There’s nothing else I like in life than a plate of hot fried dumplings… well, except for sharing plates of said hot fried dumplings with amazing food blogger friends. And with that, I caught up with Dave, Winston and Amy (nice to FINALLY meet you, Ames!) for a mid-week dinner at what was then Melbourne’s newest dumpling darling (since then, there’s probably been about five new dumpling restaurants that have opened in the city… who knows).
ShanDong Mama arrived in Chinatown quietly not too long ago before being caught up in a bit of a social media flurry once everyone found out about it. Instead of the northern Chinese-style dumplings that we’re used to in Melbourne, diners are treated to Shandong-style dumplings which, due to its eastern China location, is heavy on the seafood. Hmm seafood dumplings in a restaurant that will no doubt lend itself to ‘your mum’-type jokes? Count me in!
Because it was in the middle of February and bloody hot, I quickly ordered an iced lemon tea to soothe my parched throat.
I couldn’t help but laugh at Dave who ordered what was probably the most exotic thing on the drinks menu, the eight-treasure tea (or something like that). Unbeknownst to him (and well, us), the tea actually arrived hot. And because Dave was too polite to take it back to the kitchen, he diplomatically drank the whole thing while suffering in silence (haha, it’s not that the tea tasted bad – it just wasn’t the right weather for it!).
We ordered several plates of dumplings and one non-dumpling dish, the homemade noodles with shredded pork, egg and seasonal vegetable in sesame sauce ($10.80). I said that this dish reminded me of one of my favourite Korean dishes, bibimbap, and the others agreed.
Unfortunately, I’d choose a hot bowl of bibimbap over this when it comes to taste. The noodles were chewy in texture and I couldn’t fault the other ingredients. It was the sesame sauce that let everyone down – it was just too bland. And not even a dash of chilli oil could save it. A bit of fish sauce or even sesame oil in the mix would have made the dish taste a LOT better.
We ordered three different dumplings, all of them fried. And they all looked like that (above).I took photos of each plate but because I’m an idiot, forgot to note which was which – not that it mattered anyway because they all looked the same on the outside. I have to admit that the dumplings’ long bodies and open ends tripped me out a little but pretty soon, we were all silently nibbling on these beauties.
These are the mackerel dumplings (10 pieces for $13.80), recommended by many a food blogger. The filling was a lovely mousse-like mix of mackerel fillet with coriander, ginger and chives. I liked the soft texture of the filling and the coriander, ginger and chives kept things fresh.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne dumplings (also 10 pieces for $13.80) sounded epic on paper. Inspired by the ‘Australian multicultural food scene’, the filling was mad out of a seafood medley of prawn, calamari, mussel, fish before being mixed in with chicken mince, lemon rind, olive oil, parsley and garlic. I liked that the owner ‘Ma Ma’ chucked in lemon rind and olive oil as a nod to the wogs who migrated to Australia decades ago and have contributed significantly to our society. The dumplings were nice enough but given the heavy list of ingredients, I did expect them to be a lot tastier than they actually were.
Our favourite, however, had to be the good ol’ classic pork dumplings (10 pieces for $9.80). The filling was excellent – minced pork mixed with cooking wine, coriander, black fungus, cabbage and dried shrimp, all tied together with dashes of sesame oil. It was beautiful.
Apart from the mediocre noodles, we all thought that the dumplings at ShanDong Mama were great. While I still prefer my Northern-style pan-fried dumplings and Shanghai xiaolongbao, I was glad to have tasted a different style of dumplings and hope that ShanDong Mama do very well. I will definitely come back should I get tired of all the ‘standard’ dumpling offerings elsewhere in the city.
19 Lincoln Square South
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9639 6222
Happy Easter, folks!
I trust that you’ve all enjoyed yourselves this Good Friday, whether it’d be at church with the family, eating the mandatory Good Friday seafood requirements by way of a hu tieu in Richmond, in bed catching up on some much-needed sleep or tucking into fish and chips for dinner– or all of the above if you’re like me. If you’re also like me, you probably won’t be able to get through the long weekend without squeezing a couple of blog posts. So here’s the first one.
So as some of you might know, I’m currently studying. Some of you might also know that Dave is also currently studying (but lucky for him, not for much longer). The two of us also study at the same institution. We don’t often see each other on campus due to different class times (it could also be due to the fact that I attend class as little as possible) but the other week, we both happened to have classes on Tuesday afternoon. Therefore, we decided to squeeze in lunch during our break.
Winston has been waxing lyrical about Melbourne pizza king Pietro Barbagallo’s latest venture, for quite some time. Barbagallo’s the dude responsible for institutions such as I-Carusi and his eponymous CBD trattoria Barbagallo before its sudden closure. Now, Barbagallo’s focus is on the grassroots and with that, came the quiet birth of Kaprica.
Located next door to the Salmat building on Lincoln Square South (just look out for the group of smokers and tattoos out the front), Kaprica is one of those walk-and-you’ll-miss-it type places. Hell, I must have walked past it three times before realising that the brick hut-looking joint covered in weird plastic green ‘stuff’ housed, what I soon found out was, one of Melbourne’s finest pizzas.
Dave was still in class so I decided to come in a bit earlier to grab a seat just in case it got packed during the lunch rush. The waitress seated me near the doorway and when I said that I was waiting for a friend, she nodded and left me alone. Now, it was a 36 degree day and the only thing providing little relief from the elements outside was the old electric fan a few tables next to me. I saw the waitress providing glasses of water to the other patrons but I was ignored. While I get that I told her that I was waiting for someone (and thus, obviously not ready to order), it would have been good if she gave me some of that much-needed water given the heat and all. In the end, I did ask for it and everything was fine – but I really felt that she should have used a bit of initiative.
Apart from that though, my experience at Kaprica’s was fantastic. Once I had my water, my lemon granita ($5) arrived shortly after. It was literally the. best. thing. ever. on such a hot day and it was not watery like a lot of granitas I’ve had in the past.
At this point, Dave was running a bit late. Okay, maybe more than just a little bit. Apparently a couple of student presentations went on for a bit too long and so did the barrage of questions from super-inquisitive students. Ugh. But he did finally arrive (though he only had about half an hour before he had to go back to class). Thankfully, Kaprica were very nice about this – not once were we pressured to leave, even when the place got more than a little busy (and hot!) during the lunch rush.
We ordered two small pizzas to share: the salsiccia and the salmone.
The salsiccia pizza ($12) was chosen because Dave wanted something ‘meaty’ and the pork and fennel sausages certainly delivered (okay that sounded slightly dirty…). The pizza might have only been a 10-incher (okay, I’ll stop now) but it was very filling. What impressed us both was the crust – it was beautifully crispy all over. Yep, not just on the crust but all over. Not even the tomatoes could make the base the slightest bit soggy, which I thought was amazing.
I also thought the salmone ($12) was terrific. Winston said that this was his favourite flavour and I can certainly see why – I loved the wonderful textural contrast between the creamy mascarpone and the silky smoked salmon, punctured by the popping fish roe. The tomato base then added a lovely tanginess to the whole thing. Beautiful, just beautiful.
We were both pretty full by the end of lunch so we were kind of glad that we went without starters (although I wouldn’t mind trying the Caprese salad the next time I’m here!). Apart from the water thing (partly because everything else was so good and partly because I’m a whinging sook when the weather gets a bit too hot), our experience was fantastic. The pizzas were not only delicious, but cheap especially given Barbagallo’s credentials. This makes Kaprica a place to go to if you want damn good value pizza.
I might hate going to uni but knowing that an eatery like this exists only two blocks from campus makes me, well, not hate it so much. As long as I’m a student (hopefully not for long though), I will make this a regular lunch haunt.
157 Spring Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 0811
I’m not a huge fan of cakes, puddings and chocolate. In fact, I’m not a fan of most desserts (yeah, what’s wrong with me?). But I love my ice cream. Oh yes, I do love my frozen treats (oh, and bubble tea… but that’s another story for next time). While my mates love their sticky date puddings and chocolate cakes, I risk looking like a tight arse by ordering a trio of sorbets. My sniggering mates, however, wouldn’t be laughing if they tasted ice cream that tasted half as good as the ones they scoop out of those stainless steel tubs at the counter of Spring Street Grocer.
Spring Street Grocer might initially sound like an odd name to call a gelateria – ‘Where are the so-called groceries?!’ I wondered on my first visit to the joint with Daisy and Ricky. Since then, though, they’ve actually opened up a neat grocery section where you can stock up some fruit, bread and cheese with the wine you will have bought from the City Wine Shop next door (which also happens to be owned by the same dude who owns Spring Street Grocer, Con Christopoulos.
When Daisy and I rocked up on our first visit, we had actually already consumed a decent amount of dim sum so we weren’t after massive servings of gelati. Instead, we wanted a little nibble and conveniently, Spring Street Grocer was practically across the road from where the dumpling festival was held.
At any given day, there’s about ten flavours available to choose from – and you usually don’t know what you’ll get each day. While it’s safe to assume that classics such as chocolate and hazelnut will be there on most days, some days you’ll discover totally random flavours such as Redbull sorbetti or chilli-charged Ferrero Rocher, which were on offer when the Grand Prix was on. Can you guess what teams those flavours were named after? :p
While Ricky opted for a juice, us ladies went for the gelati. A medium cup costs $6.50 and you can choose between one to three flavours. Wanting to try as much as I could, I chose three flavours: fior de latte, watermelon & mint and salted caramel & chilli. I like salted caramel anything so I knew I was going to love the chilli-accented creamy and salty mother of a gelato even before I took one bite. The watermelon and mint gelato was decidedly less in-your-face but just as lovely – it had a very refreshing flavour, even though I did find the mint flavour a bit muted. As for the fior de latte, well, let me just say that if you were going to try a cheese-flavoured based ice cream once in your life, let it be this one. Absolutely marvellous, as Richie would say.
Daisy also got a medium cup but the Dessert Queen surprised me when she said that she only wanted two flavours, hazelnut and coconut. That said, the flavours of those two were probably the most vivid out of the flavours we tried. The hazelnut gelato was so beautifully intense (how many nuts did they cram into it?) and while the coconut one was essentially pandan (which made me wonder why they didn’t just call this flavour ‘pandan’ instead), it was nevertheless eye-poppingly good.
The second time I went was with Marty one rainy Saturday night. It was a miserable night to be out and the plan was just to call it a night after dinner in town. But because we were in the vicinity of Spring Street Grocer, there was no way I was going to let this dude fly back to the Gold Coast without trying what has to be Melbourne’s finest gelati.
So while we watched a middle-aged Italian guy order a $20 box of gelati before hopping into his nearby-parked car and drive off (hey, it was funny at the time – but I guess you just had to be there), we enjoyed our gelati in cups.
Marty went for a trio of white peach & basil, yoghurt, meringue & cherry and hazelnut. Predictably, he loved the hazelnut (it’s one of his all-time favourite flavours) but he was equally impressed with the other two. I liked the lovely herb-y flavour the basil lend to the slightly tangy white peach gelato while the yoghurt, meringue & cherry one just screamed out, ‘FUN!’
As for me, I decided to be boring by sticking to a small cup (holds one flavour for $4.50). Which flavour? Why, grapefruit & vanilla! It was a pair that only Hollywood celebs could dream off – the piquancy and slight bitterness of the grapefruit was beautifully complemented by the creamy, sweet vanilla before being joined together in holy matrimony in a little cup.
So Melbourne’s weather (with the exception of today) will be cooling down just like Webber’s friendship with Vettel. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t saunter down to Spring Street Grocer for a spot of what really is the finest gelati I’ve had in Melbourne. As someone who doesn’t care much for sweets and all things that Sarah Wilson hates, I say, ‘GET YOUR SPRING STREET GROCER ONNNNN!’
17 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 6727
Marty flew into town the other weekend and brought in all the crappy weather that southeast Queensland had been experiencing in February. Let’s all throw rocks at him.
The cold weather meant that we felt like something hearty but nothing too far from the city. I tried my hardest to convince him to try the Meatball & Wine Bar on Flinders Lane but for some reason, he thought that a plate of meatballs wasn’t going to be hearty enough for him. We both love Mess Hall and even though I was keen to try something new, he knew that he could count on that Bourke Street haunt for something satisfying – so to Mess Hall, it was.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t Mess Hall’s night. The service was slow even though they were barely half-full and every time we asked them where our food was, they kept saying, ‘Oh, it’s… coming.’ We were like, ‘Look, I don’t care if it’s coming or not – just TELL us the truth and we’ll go elsewhere if it’s not going to come in the next 10 minutes. No hard feelings, we’ll still come back because we love your oxtail ragu and polenta chips so much.’ 45 minutes later, our food did come but our dishes were too rushed, too unsatisfying… and we were left still hungry after 80-odd dollars.
Enter Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar, virtually just across the road from Mess Hall. It is Melbourne’s newest – and probably only – soba-specialising eatery and we’re happy that it’s here. Funnily enough, I had heard about Shimbashi sometime last year and on the Gold Coast, out of all places. I had heard about some awesome soba restaurant on Chevron Island so Marty, Dom and I set out to find it one Saturday afternoon. After walking up and down Thomas Street, we eventually discovered that the owner, Yoshinori Shibazaki, had sold the business and moved back to Japan. And that was that.
Half a year chef Taka Kumayama, who once trained under Shibazaki, opened up Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar in good ol’ Melbourne. And so us Melburnians can now rejoice…
… preferably with a couple of bottles of sake!
Shimbashi keeps things simple. The menu is predominantly soba, but Japanese classics such as sushi and sashimi make appearances. I wouldn’t have minded a nibble of those and some agedashi tofu if I hadn’t had a mediocre pizza at Mess Hall earlier on.
You know you’re at a legit soba restaurant when you can see this in a restaurant. Every morning, Kumayama makes the buckwheat noodles by hand using this stone flour mill. As a result, the soba noodles you get there have a lovely earthy taste and tastes a lot well, fresher, compared to the store-bought stuff.
Marty ordered a glass of Suntory premium malt…
… while I went all out with the umeshu (plum wine) tasting set, which came with three glasses of umeshu ($12). We chose the following flavours: original, green tea and brown sugar from a list of about five flavours. I’d have to say that the green tea one was my favourite (hey, anything green tea-flavoured gets points from me!), though I did like the fruitiness of the original one too. And while Marty liked the brown sugar one, I did find it a little bit too sweet.
We were both given complimentary seaweed salads. We had barely made a dint into them before our food arrived.
Marty ordered the seiro, aka the chilled soba with ‘tsuyu’ dipping sauce ($10). This is Marty’s favourite Japanese ‘snack’ so he attacked it with much ferocity.
Once he was done with the noodles, a waitress came around to give him a glass of warm water. He was instructed to pour the water into the remaining dipping sauce and drink the whole thing up – supposedly for good luck, although I reckon this is done to minimise wastage (something I fully endorse!). Marty was initially reluctant but after slurping the cup done, he had to concede that the mixture ‘didn’t taste bad at all.’
Meanwhile, I went ‘hot’ with my tempura soba ($18). I was given a miso-based broth with soba in it. A plate of assorted tempura was plonked on the side. My noodles were also delicious – and given how cold it was that night, I preferred mine to Marty’s. The broth was clean but full of amazing flavour that warmed my supposedly cold Taurean heart, and the earthy noodles proved to be the perfect accompaniment.
Sadly, after all that, the tempura was a bit of a letdown. The batter was soggy. Enough said. A real shame because everything else had been fantastic.
Now we were going to run off to Spring Street Grocer for dessert but Marty couldn’t resist ordering a sake pudding ($5) here. I’m a notoriously slow eater so while I was still picking at my soggy tempura prawn, Marty’s sake pudding had arrived. While I know that some people wouldn’t like the idea that one person gets served desserts while the other is still going with their main, we both appreciated the good ol’ Japanese efficiency.
As for the pudding, we both loved it. It had a silky texture all over and tasted delicate, punctuated by bits of tartness here and there. Definitely a must-try.
We were in and out in half the time it took for the chumps at Mess Hall to serve us and get our food to us. And apart from the stodgy tempura, the food was absolutely lovely too. Even though Gold Coast has better weather, it has lost yet another thing to Melbourne (lol) and for that I’m thankful. We’ll definitely be back.