Review: Harajuku Gyoza (Brisbane, QLD)

394 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
+61 7 3852 4624
http://harajukugyoza.com/

Sometimes, all you want is a snack of several pieces of gyoza and maybe a beer – at least that’s what I told myself one afternoon when I was shopping in Brisbane. I wasn’t hungry enough for a massive lunch but I was certainly peckish enough to want more than just a $2.50 sushi roll from a food court. And so, I ended up at Harajuku Gyoza in Fortitude Valley.

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I grabbed my seat at the bar was greeted by probably the most awesomely kitsch plate I had seen in recent memory. There’s seriously nothing like grabbing bits of food with your chopstick off a sumo wrestler’s butt, I say.

Poached pork gyoza (five pieces, $8); grilled whole prawn gyoza (three pieces, $8)
Poached pork gyoza (five pieces, $8); grilled whole prawn gyoza (three pieces, $8)

The best thing about Harajuku Gyoza is that their serving sizes are small (between three to five pieces of gyoza) so it’s perfect if you want to try more than just one variety. The only problem is that if you end up ordering a few plates, the bill will add up. I paid $32 for my meal – so much for a ‘snack.’

Frozen Kirin slushie ($7)

Oh, and I ordered a frozen beer slushie because why not? Because the beer had been frozen, the slushie was watery. In hindsight, a normal beer would have been better but hey, the slushie is great purely for the novelty factor. It also brought me back to my Tokyo trip two years ago where I tried a banana beer slushie for the first time in Shibuya. The beer was interesting, the Tinder date was (unfortunately) the complete opposite.

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So that’s what the prawn gyozas look like – I liked that they used whole prawns rather than minced ones. That said, three pieces of prawns wrapped in gyoza skin for $8 did seem like a bit of a rip. Better were the poached pork gyozas – they were plump and juicy, bursting with a tasty filling. I will definitely try the fried version next time.

Peanut butter white chocolate gyoza served with vanilla ice cream ($9)
Peanut butter white chocolate gyoza served with vanilla ice cream ($9)

In addition to more substantial savoury dishes, Harajuku Gyoza also has a dessert menu featuring sweet-filled gyoza. My peanut butter and white chocolate gyoza were surprisingly quite delicious; each dumpling contained a simple yet tasty filling of crunchy peanut butter and melted white chocolate. A quick stint on the grill resulted in a gooey, warm filling. Definitely worth a try if you have room for dessert.

In hindsight, Harajuku Gyoza was definitely not a destination for a cheap snack – then again, I admit that my eyes were bigger than my stomach that day and over-ordered. Still, I’d say it’s a good place to bond with your Tinder date over beers and a selection of shared plates before – plus, the peanut butter and white chocolate gyozas ain’t bad too!

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Review: Betty’s Burgers (Gold Coast, QLD)

Chevron Renaissance Shopping Centre
12-14/3240 Surfers Paradise Boulevard
Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
+61 7 5538 6565
http://www.bettysburgers.com.au/

Gold Coast seems to be in the midst of a burger and donut hurricane, with new establishments opening up seemingly every other fortnight. A while back, Betty’s Burgers took the Noosa cool crowd by storm before deciding to open a second outlet in Surfers Paradise. Gold Coast went NUTS when they heard that the ‘Shake Shack Rip-Off’ was opening in the 4217, despite the fact that a decent amount of new burger joints had opened shop in the space of a few months. I guess burgers are here to stay on the ‘coast…

Adam and I had the chance to check it out some weekends ago. After a leisurely (and by that, I meant boozy) Saturday afternoon session, we decided to walk over to Chevron Renaissance to suss this place out. At 6pm on a Saturday evening, the place was still dead (though it got busier as we left). Orders are placed at the counter, you’re then given one of those vibrating buzzers and asked to wait until it starts beeping.

Betty’s Classic ($10) and fries ($5)
Betty’s Classic ($10) and fries ($5)

Although there is a nice selection of burgers on the menu (including fried chicken, pork belly and mushroom), Adam and I decided to keep things simple with the Betty’s Classic and share a serving of fries which came sprinkled with ‘sea salt seasoning’ (read: just salt – and they were average). Beers at Betty’s range from pure bogan (XXXX Gold) to pure hipster (Pabst Blue Ribbon), and we both selected something in the middle – you won’t see this Victorian drinking XXXX Gold!

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The Betty’s Classic was essentially a cheeseburger: Angus beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and Betty’s special sauce completed a perfunctory package, bursting with striking block colours. As someone who thinks value for money equals generous serving sizes, Adam wasn’t wowed by his burger (‘for the same price, I can just walk down the road and get a bigger burger at Boom Boom Burger,’ he muttered). I, however, thought it was great. The closest comparison would be a Huxtaburger burger – the package came in a soft, buttery bun that was deflated rather than plump. The patty was well seasoned and while the burger itself wasn’t massive, I think it did the job for $10. I can see why Noosa and Gold Coast burger lovers adored Betty’s.

Blueberry cheesecake concrete ($8)
Blueberry cheesecake concrete ($8)

Another product that Betty’s is known for is the concrete, essentially frozen custard mixed with whatever descriptor is added to that particular concrete flavour. For example, the blueberry cheesecake concrete is a mix of vanilla custard, New York cheesecake, blueberry sauce and lemon that’s been mixed, blitzed and frozen. It’s interesting and certainly one for dessert fans – I enjoyed my concrete for what it was but it’s not really something I’d be in a rush to order again.

The burgers though are probably up there with Gold Coast’s best, despite what Adam thinks. For $10, you’re not getting the biggest burger ever but you’re getting something that’s tasty and will sufficiently satisfy your stomach even if you opt for no fries (which I strongly recommend).

Betty's Burgers and Concrete Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Shouk Café (Brisbane, QLD)

14 Collingwood Street
Paddington QLD 4064
+61 7 3172 1655
http://www.shoukcafe.com.au/

There aren’t many places I’d go to for brunch in Brisbane – heck, there aren’t many places I’d eagerly eat brunch at in Melbourne. I just don’t like brunch; I don’t like the food, the whole culture of waking up late and queuing for more than 30 minutes to pay more than $20 for a dish I can easily whip up at home and the microherbs. Oh goodness me, those damn microherbs. Sorry, not for me. Unless you can offer dishes that are more exciting than bacon and eggs or avocado on toast, you won’t see me lining up at your door.

But Shouk Café is a little different, though. Yes, it’s one of Brisbane’s most popular brunch places and yes, it serves avocado. However, the service is efficient so you generally don’t have to wait too long even on weekends and their smashed avocado comes with Persian feta, dukkah and prik grapefruit gel. In actual fact, most of their menu items have Middle Eastern influences – think eggs benedict served with toasted challah and sumac peppered hollandaise, for example.

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Paddington is one of Brisbane’s oldest suburbs, full of tree-lined streets, old Queenslander houses and hilly roads that are a pain in the ass for manual drivers to drive around in. The leafy suburb is also home to Paddington Antique Central, said to be Queensland’s oldest antique store, which is just around the bend from Shouk (itself a former corner store).

Falafel salad ($18)
Falafel salad ($18)

I had my first coffee of the day (at 2pm, no less), a short macchiato ($3.50) made with Veneziano coffee. It wasn’t the best coffee I’ve had in Brisbane (a bit too pungent for me) but it did the job. Far better was the falafel salad I hungrily devoured; there were a handful of crispy green falafels on the plate, with fresh heirloom tomatoes, Lebanese cucumber, radish and pickled kohlrabi thrown in the mix. To tie everything together, a (not really that) spicy green yoghurt sauce did the trick.

I’m not one to order vegetarian dishes at cafés, especially when there are at least half a dozen meat dishes to choose from. However, Shouk’s falafel salad was spot on and a dish that I’d happily order again. It was delicious, fresh and filling – so much so that I had to weakly ask for the reminder of my lunch to be boxed up so I can finish it at home.

Shouk Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Ramen Champion (Brisbane, QLD)

Shop 50, 342 McCullough Street
Macgregor QLD 4109
+61 7 3344 4832

Do you think you eat your way through a massive bowl of ramen, the equivalent of five standard bowls, in less than 25 minutes? I’m a slow eater and not really one for ridiculous amounts of gluttony (I’m aware that this is a food blog and all) so I quickly said ‘no’ to this challenge. My friend Peter, on the other hand, slapped $35 down the counter and was pretty much like, ‘Bring it on!’

We were at Ramen Champion, one of Brisbane’s many ramen restaurants. Being from Melbourne, the two of us never really got much of a chance to try amazing ramen down south. Our luck changed, however, when we moved up north. There was sunshine! There were geckos roaming around our houses at night! And most important of all, there was good ramen to be had!

A popular Japanese franchise that does extremely well in Singapore, Ramen Champion has been in Brisbane for several years now. It’s located in Sunnypark Plaza which is in Sunnybank (though Google says it’s in Macgregor but whatever, same thing). Sunnybank tends to get hectic on weekends and the weekend that had gone by was no exception – we made it to Ramen Champion at around 11:45 and by the time we left, the place was buzzing with young families and uni students wanting to get their ramen on.

Basically Ramen Champion’s ramen challenge involves this: you pay for their giant ramen (which is apparently the size of five normal servings) and you try to finish it, broth and all, in less than 25 minutes. If you can do it, you get your $35 back as well as a $50 voucher for your next visit. You also get your photo on the wall of fame; there are about 10 proud men on that wall, one of which happened to be an old Tinder date of mine. Ramen Champion limits their giant ramen to three servings a day though so your best bet is to get in early for a chance to get your beaming mug on that wall.

Gyoza ($4.90)
Gyoza ($4.90)

I ordered a serving of gyoza to start, with Pete helping himself to one piece to warm up. Because he had avoided eating breakfast that morning, his stomach was growling like mad. The gyozas were nice enough but I wouldn’t say they were best I’ve ever had – too much cabbage and not enough pork for my liking.

Champion ramen ($9.90); giant ramen ($35)
Champion ramen ($9.90); giant ramen ($35)

I had the champion ramen, the most ‘basic’ of the six options on offer. The broth was a classic tonkotsu-style pork bone soup and on top of the generous amount of lovely handmade noodles, there were two pieces of flame grilled chashu, nori, half an egg, spring onions and bean shoots. The menu photo also had menma (fermented bamboo shoots) so I was expecting some, only to find that there were none. To be fair, menma was not mentioned in the menu description; instead the vague descriptor ‘vegetables’ were used but I’m not sure if that was the right term to describe a pinch of spring onions and bean shoots. Regardless, I enjoyed my ramen; the broth may not have had as much depth as some of my favourite ramen places but it was rich without being too fatty. The noodles, however, was the thing that did it for me – they were flawlessly silky and chewy as handmade ramen noodles should be.

You can’t tell from this picture, but Peter’s ramen really was heaps bigger than mine – to me, it looked like a massive birdbath filled with a lake of endless noodles swimming in a rich tonkotsu broth. The waitress set the timer at 25 and off he went, determined to polish the bowl of soup noodles off like he did with Superbowl’s pho challenge years ago.

Unfortunately at the 16 minute mark, he admitted defeat. He may have been able to finish a huge bowl of pho without any problems, but he forgot that ramen was heaps more fattier than pho. Challenge aside, the giant ramen really is great value for money considering that the standard champion ramen bowl is ($9.90). It comes with a seemingly endless supply of fresh, homemade noodles, ten slices of chashu (as opposed to the standard two) and four egg halves (as opposed to one egg half). As soon as I had finished my ramen, I eagerly helped myself to some noodles and chashu. In the end, I had almost two bowls before I, too, admitted defeat.

Ramen Champion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Review: Trang Restaurant (Brisbane, QLD)

2/59 Hardgrave Road
West End QLD 4101
+61 7 3255 1610
http://trangrestaurant.com.au/

When I’m in Queensland, I don’t bother going out for Vietnamese food. I’ve eaten at a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Gold Coast and none of them serve the real deal. Disappointingly, the majority of them serve pho that’s been sweetened to the point of no recognition – and for that reason, I usually wait until I’m back in Melbourne or Sydney for my pho fix.

The night I was due to fly to Europe, though, I decided that I wanted pho. It was going to be a while until I get my fix and I wanted it right then and there. My flight was leaving from Brisbane Airport, but not until after midnight, so I decided to swing into town for my favourite Vietnamese dish. With my friend Brad agreeing to eat whatever I wanted in exchange for a lift to the airport, I thought it was a sweet deal. And so we went to his favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Trang.

Trang has been serving West End residents for a number of years now and people continue to return for its no-nonsense Vietnamese food, lively atmosphere and fast service. And given that we live in Queensland, half the menu consists of suburban Chinese dishes but hey, you’re catering to the locals after all…

 Spring rolls ($7.90)
Spring rolls ($7.90)

Speaking of which, we started off with spring rolls. They were nothing special, but adequate fillers to nibble on while we caught up on gossip and AFL talk (it’s so refreshing to meet a Queenslander who does know a thing about footy).

Special combination bun ($13.90)
Special combination bun ($13.90)

Brad was like, “I had this really, really nice dish the last time I was here – but I couldn’t remember what it was called! It had thin white noodles, chopped up spring rolls and a whole bunch of random thi-“

Bun.” I said. “And most likely the combination bun. If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you a drink.”

I was right, though (saved). Trang’s combination bun came adorned with chopped spring rolls, crispy skin chicken and grilled pork as well as fresh herbs. I didn’t get to try any of it – Brad polished it all off before I could get around to doing it.

Pho tai ($10.90)
Pho tai ($10.90)

At just over $10, Trang’s pho would be in the slightly higher end of the price spectrum in Melbourne (but not by much). However, I thought this was just about right for Queensland. There was a reasonable amount of complexity and depth in the broth and, much to my delight, none of these pour half a container of sugar on me business. I also loved that they used thicker-than-normal rice noodles – the thicker the better, I say (while trying hard not to snicker). One thing I didn’t like though was the use of red onions instead of traditional onions – is this a Queensland thing or something?

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It won’t win any awards on Victoria or Hopkins Street, but it’ll definitely do.

At least while I was in Europe.

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Review: Fat Noodle (Brisbane, QLD)

21 Queen Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
+61 7 3306 8888
https://www.treasurybrisbane.com.au/restaurants/fat-noodle

What does a $22 bowl of pho taste like?

That was the question I was asking myself as I walked into Brisbane’s Treasury Casino one Thursday afternoon after a morning meeting. When it comes to Vietnamese food, I’m a purist – well, if you consider Footscray, Springvale and Cabramatta pho houses to be legit (which I think they are). I don’t like try hard pun-ny names using the word ‘pho’ nor do I like overpriced modern interpretations of Vietnamese food – they look good but often lack the essence of the original dish they’re trying to add a spin to.

Yet, I’ve been wanting to try Luke Nguyen’s modern Asian restaurant in Brisbane (Fat Noodle) for quite some time. As a chef and an all-round nice guy, I respect him and his passion for teaching the greater population about the nuances of regional Vietnamese food. I have a few of his cookbooks at home and have attempted one of his traditional recipes with a reasonable amount of success.

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When you walk into Fat Noodle, it’s obvious that you’re not at your typical pho house in Footscray. You’re greeted with solid timber furniture, sleek black lines and teas served in ornamental teapots. Apart from the odd solo business diner, you pretty much get the place to yourself for the first half of your visit. Then as it hits 1pm, you’re surrounded by elderly casino patrons, tourists and groups of gossiping Asian aunties who have obviously spent way too long in Australia. (By that, I mean more than 30 years because that’s how long my mother has been in Australia and she still refuses to pay more than $10 for pho.)

Fat pho noodles ($22)
Fat pho noodles ($22)

So why did Fat Noodle charge double the standard price of a bowl of pho? For starters, Treasury Casino’s rents are high – that’s a given. But the ingredients? Well, you have the thin slices of sirloin and brisket coming from an Angus, so that’s that. Then you have the bone broth (groan) that’s been cooked for 20 hours. As for the bean sprouts, fresh Thai basil and chilli on the side? They may have come from farmer’s markets or they may have come from a no-name wholesaler, who knows.

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As much as I wanted to like this dish, I couldn’t. While it wasn’t terrible, I expected more flavour and more punch for a broth that’s meant to have been cooked for 20 hours. It was so plain and muted, nothing like the cheapie bowls of pho I’ve come to love over the years. While it’s true that there was no MSG used in this broth, I still felt there was something missed – depth. If this pho had been amazing, I would have happily paid a premium for it again and again. But it wasn’t. I doubt I’ll see myself coming back for a second bowl of pho – or any of the overpriced mains, for that matter. I’m better off driving across to Inala for pho – or making my own at home (still a work in progress but hey).

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Review: Monster Kitchen and Bar (Canberra, ACT)

25 Edinburgh Avenue
Canberra ACT 2601
+61 2 6287 6287
http://www.hotel-hotel.com.au/eat-and-drink/monster/

With Eightysix done and dusted, I wanted to check out another restaurant that has gotten Canberrans excited. Located in the NewActon (one word, no joke) precinct, Monster Kitchen and Bar is a favourite weekend lunch or Friday night dinner venue for a few of my Canberra friends.

You can find Monster on the ground floor of Hotel Hotel, which is possibly Canberra’s coolest venue, let alone hotel. We happened to be staying at Hotel Hotel so making our way down two flights of stairs and into the restaurant was no effort on our part. We must have walked past, through and around Monster several times during our 24-hour stay in Canberra. And while Monster was never busy, there were at least a handful of tables full so there was a constant buzz from early morning breakfast through to late night supper. Guests also had the option to sit in either the enclosed dining area or in the open plan lobby space

Our first Monster experience was a quick breakfast on a Sunday morning. All throughout this meal, I had the abomination that was Ne-Yo’s ‘Beautiful Monster’ playing in my head and it continued until we left Monster with the not-unpleasant-but-could-be-better coffee tastes in our mouths. Not unpleasant – I guess I could also say the same about the service here: it was inoffensive and safe but frustratingly slow and lacking in any real personality.

For example, there were only two or three other occupied tables when we arrived for the breakfast service. All we wanted was a plate of crumpets to share and two coffees. The coffees took more than 15 minutes to arrive, with the crumpets arriving 10 minutes after. I guess that’s not too bad but when you’re used to having coffees arrive in less than 5 minutes, 15 minutes just seems excessive. Secondly, we were seeing groups of up to five staff standing around talking instead of, you know, taking orders, serving dishes and checking to see if everything is okay. Eventually the staff did come around to take our orders – but in their own time, something that MVB thinks is a Canberra-wide issue.

But anyway, onto the food.

Crumpets with Hotel Hotel honey ($11)
Crumpets with Hotel Hotel honey ($11)

For breakfast, we had house made crumpets. Served with fresh honey obtained from the hotel’s very own bees (from hive #9, to be exact), they were warm and cakey without being too desnse. It was a perfunctory breakfast to start the day on.

Lunch was a bit more interesting. After checking out, we sauntered into the enclosed dining area at 12pm; because we had to leave for the airport by 1:15pm, we decided to go light on the food.

Unfortunately, the food did take quite some time to arrive. Look, I get that it’s Sunday; people like to take their time when eating and if you’re assigned to work on a Sunday, no doubt you’d be feeling a bit slow after a big Saturday night out. That’s all well and good. But a 35-minute wait for the first dish to arrive while there are only three other small tables occupied? I ain’t got time for that!

38-hour pork neck bao ($9)
38-hour pork neck bao ($9)

To be far, the first dish – the pork neck bao – was delicious. The pork was gorgeously soft and fatty while the spicy cucumber kimchi created a spicy crunch. Kudos to the kitchen for getting the bao on point too – it was beautifully fluffy with just the right amount of subtle denseness.

We wolfed down the bao in a matter of minutes … and then our empty plate sat there for another ten. After 45 minutes, there was no sign of our other dishes. I signalled for one of the waitresses to clear the plate and after asking if the other dishes were on their way, we were told that they would be ‘coming very soon.’ MVB then asked for the bill at this point in time just to we can quickly eat as soon as the dishes arrived and not wait around another 10 minutes for a bill to be produced. It was also his way of letting the staff know that we were in a rush, though I’m pretty sure our ‘we’re just here for a quick meal before our 2pm flight’ when we walked in would have sufficed.

Grilled WA octopus with almond cream, paprika, fennel ($29)
Grilled WA octopus with almond cream, paprika, fennel ($29)

Finally, our mains arrived and we wasted no time in demolishing them. The grilled octopus was cooked extremely well; gloriously tender with a gentle bite, the tentacles were served with almond cream as well as paprika and fennel for good measure.

Pulled lamb shoulder, pistachio, yoghurt, vine leaf, pomegranate, brik ($29)
Pulled lamb shoulder, pistachio, yoghurt, vine leaf, pomegranate, brik ($29)

I found it a bit odd that the lamb shoulder was only going for $29, especially given that the smaller octopus dish was the same price and given that mains were in the $40-something mark at Eightysix. Not that I was complaining, of course, the lamb was gorgeous and easily the highlight of our now-rushed lunch.

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The meat fell just as easily as me after several glasses of whisky, while the other elements worked in unison to add flavoursome layers to the dish. I also liked how they added brik pastry pieces for a lovely crunch. We only had about 10 minutes to devour this and the octopus – which we did.

The mains were Monster’s saving grace but would we go back? Only if we were staying at Hotel Hotel again and only if we were too lazy to go elsewhere to try something new. The food was Canberra-good but the overly relaxed service really didn’t do it for us to make a special trip back there if we were staying elsewhere next time.

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Review: Eightysix (Canberra, ACT)

Corner Elouera Street and Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
+61 2 6161 8686
http://eightysix.com.au/

When it comes to dining out in Canberra, I’m sorry but there really isn’t much that will excite the discerning tastebuds of fickle Sydneysiders and Melburnians. If Melbourne is all about third wave coffee, ice cream shaped into delicate paper-thin scrolls and ‘artisan’ burgers, then Canberra is still stuck in the 1950s meat and three veg era.

Regardless, there seems to be a gentle stir in our capital’s dining scene; there are more options to choose from, places are open much later and you can see open kitchens all over the place. One such place that has got Canberrans raving is Eightysix, a favourite haunt for foodies and Braddon’s social set. I came here with Rachi one Friday evening and the place was buzzing and packed to the brim.

Eightysix offers a contemporary menu that is all about share plates (apparently a concept that Canberrans are still getting used to, according to a friend). There are also vegan and gluten-free options, plenty to appease the Bondi Hipsters. Meanwhile, the wine list incorporates wines from all over the place, including a few from the Canberra District like the Mt Majura Riesling I had ($12 a glass).

Carrot, verjuice, honey, hummus ($26)
Carrot, verjuice, honey, hummus ($26)

We started off with a carrot salad. I initially raised an unkempt eyebrow at the price of the dish (more than twenty bucks for a salad?! What is this?!) but I must admit I enjoyed every bit of it. I love the different dimensions of sweet interspersed with the nutty hummus, and it was good to see poor ol’ verjuice making an appearance too. This salad was also vegan and gluten-free.

Spanner crab and saffron risotto ($36)
Spanner crab and saffron risotto ($36)

We passed over the lamb ragu pappardelle for the spanner crab risotto. You can’t really go wrong with the combination of sweet crab meat, creamy stock and the richness of saffron – indeed it was a tasty dish. If I had to be picky though, I’d say the risotto was hovering dangerously close to the ‘cooked for too long’ side.

Black chicken with buttermilk slaw ($42)
Black chicken with buttermilk slaw ($42)

Rachi’s favourite dish, the black chicken, formed our main event. Two pieces of Maryland appeared in front of us; cooked sous vide in a Southern barbecue-style tomato jam, then charred until blackened, the chicken was gloriously delicious – think smoky flavours, sticky skin and juicy meat. At $42, it’s not a cheap but it was beautiful dish in its simplicity.

Caramel popcorn sundae ($16)
Caramel popcorn sundae ($16)

We shared Eightysix’s famous caramel popcorn sundae for dessert. For me, I’d say this was the highlight of the meal. Topped with salted caramel popcorn and peanut brittle, the sundae was not overpoweringly sweet which, as you know, is always a plus for this savoury fiend. I also liked the way they stuck a baby cone upside-down into the dessert – almost like a one-finger salute to the conservative Canberra dining scene.

Leaving the buzzing venue, I can see why this was Canberra’s jewel in the dining scene. The menu is fresh and exciting while the staff are friendly, efficient and relaxed (though I’ve heard people argue that they’re too relaxed). While the rest of Canberra sleeps at 8pm, Eightysix dares to push boundaries and I admire them for that. In saying that, I did find the prices quite steep for what the food was – and I still can’t believe I paid $26 for a carrot salad.

If Eightysix were to compete in Melbourne or Sydney, no doubt it would get slaughtered. There are dozens of restaurants in those cities that offer the similar kind of food – and wouldn’t charge as much for the experience. Then there are restaurants that will charge more than $20 for a salad or more than $45 for a main – but you’ll get a better dish. Of course, comparing Canberra to Melbourne and Sydney is like comparing Coles apples to organic oranges so suffice to say that, for Canberra, this is as good as it gets.

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Review: Autolyse (Canberra, ACT)

21 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
+61 2 8074 9458
http://autolyse.com.au/

I ended up on Lonsdale Street on Braddon for lunch last Friday afternoon. A far cry from the bustling Melbourne thoroughfare of the same name, Canberra’s Lonsdale Street is peacefully quiet. You can jaywalk during ‘busy’ traffic periods and every few minutes, you may even see some form of human life.

This is one of Canberra’s busiest streets.

Jokes aside, it also houses some of Canberra’s nicest foodie haunts. I can’t remember how I ended up at Autolyse, a French bakery and bistro in one where ‘nothing is over $20.’ I doubt it was MVB’s ringing endorsement that got me in (‘they used to have a branch in Sydney but they shut down’) – rather, I was most likely drawn in by the promise of handmade breads all made using natural ingredients.

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It was a lovely day outside (21 degrees with plenty of clean, fresh air as an added bonus) but I chose to sit inside – as far as my hierarchy of needs go on weekdays, Wi-Fi sits on top of nice weather. In hindsight though, I probably should have just gone outside – it felt a bit sterile inside, probably due to the ‘medical surgical lights’ (quote from their website) scattered across the spacious open kitchen.

Fougasse ($9.50)
Fougasse ($9.50)

Autolyse’s fougasse sounded interesting and because I’d never had one before, I decided to order that. With the oven-baked dough shaped into a stretched-out Sherrin footy and filled with ham, tomato, basil and cheese, I likened it to the French version of a calzone.

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My first impression of it was that it was as hard as a rock. But because I’d never had a fougasse before, I wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be hard or not. Nevertheless, the butter knife they gave me to cut the bread up couldn’t even create a minor dent in the dough. Pretty soon, I gave up and just started picking the filling out of the bread. Sigh.

The fougasse left a bad impression but that (and well, gluttony) didn’t stop me from ordering a slice of chocolate, apple, walnut and cinnamon cake to take with me. I didn’t get to take a photo of the cake but it was actually really good; it had lovely well-balanced texture and the flavours blended effortlessly well together. I liked the crunchy bits of dark chocolates scattered within, too. I liked it so much that I would have gone to Autolyse the next morning if we weren’t pushed for time.

Although my visit to Autolyse was a mixed bag (‘and maybe the hard bread was the reason why they didn’t last in Sydney’ tittered MVB), I won’t rule out another visit. I’ll avoid that ghastly fougasse like the plague but if that chocolate cake is on display, I’d be sure to take two slices home.

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Review: Frugii Dessert Laboratory (Canberra, ACT)

30 Lonsdale Street
Braddon ACT 2612
+61 438 366 368
http://www.frugii.com/

Over the weekend, I found myself in Canberra.

No, I wasn’t kidnapped from my house, dragged into a beaten up Holden Commodore and driven there by a gun-welding ice addict. Rather, MVB was there on a work trip and so I decided to tag along – not just out of sheer boredom but also because it’s been ages since I last set foot in our fair nation’s capital (more than 20 years, to be exact). While many can argue that not a lot has changed in those years, there are others who claim that Canberra is now a vibrant metropolis with its own decent coffee shops, award-winning restaurants and hipster culture.

I had to go there to see for myself.

After a lovely dinner in Braddon, I found myself at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. Lauded by many locals as one of Canberra’s much-loved gems, I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about. I may not be a super big sweet tooth but I do appreciate a good gelato – which is what Frugii specialises in.

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As far as Canberra goes, Braddon is one of the most vibrant areas in in the capital so it makes sense for owner John Marshall (affectionately known as ‘Mr Frugii’ by Canberrans) to set up shop there. When Rachi and I rocked up on a Friday evening, the place was full of patrons wanting to get their ice cream on despite the fact that it was unseasonably cold for a summer night.

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This is probably not the best visual representation of Frugii’s takeaway container but hey, serves me right for not taking a photo straightaway. I ordered a trifecta of flavours including lemon myrtle, blood orange and Frugii’s famous chocolate gelato, made using house-roasted cocoa beans.

I thought the blood orange and chocolate flavours were gorgeously intense and on point, though I found the lemon myrtle one way too sweet and one-dimensional. While the other two closely resembled the flavours they were meant to take on, the lemon myrtle one was just… sugary.

One thing I did like about Frugii was its small batch approach to crafting their products as well as the friendly, familial manner they served their customers – you don’t really get that in many gelati stores in Melbourne or Sydney. Frugii is certainly a strong player in the Canberra dessert market and their product definitely stands out in comparison to what else is on offer in this food-barren city. Will it stand on its own in Melbourne or Sydney? Given the number of well-well-established gelati stores in those cities, it’s very hard to say.

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