Review: Blok M Express (Melbourne, VIC)

380 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9600 2534

Growing up in an Indonesian household, I’ve been ‘hashtag blessed’ to come home to delicious home cooked Indonesian meals thanks to my mother. On winter evenings, there’d be crockpots of beef rendang, sayur asam and semur waiting for me as well as a rice cooker bursting with fluffy white rice to soak up all the liquids. During the summer, I was more likely to see satays and gado gado. Every now and then, my dad would even have a crack at nasi goreng (he’s actually pretty good).

Thus, it is no little wonder that I rarely go out for Indonesian food. Growing up in Melbourne, there weren’t many Indonesian restaurants around. And out of the few that were there, none served food good enough to command my mum’s attention or my dad’s wallet. Meanwhile in Sydney, good and authentic Indonesian restaurants can be found on Anzac Parade. I remember going on family road trips to Sydney when I was a kid; my parents insisted that they wanted to take us to see all sorts of Sydney sights but in reality, the real reason why they wanted to go to Sydney was to eat Indonesian food. In hindsight, I didn’t blame them. Sydney’s Indonesian food offerings were miles better than what Melbourne could provide.

In the late 90s though, everything changed. 1998 saw a lot of Indonesians, including a female cousin of mine, flee Jakarta and move to Melbourne. When things in Indonesia calmed down, many Indonesians returned; others stayed in Melbourne and opened up restaurants. These days, I still prefer eating Indonesian food at my folks’ house, but it’s also nice to have options if I’m out and about.

Blok M Express in the city is one such Indonesian restaurant that I’m happy to recommend. This diminutive eatery is named after Blok M, a vibrant district in South Jakarta that’s famous for its boutiques, restaurants and bars. Think Chapel Street in the 1990s when it was actually quite lively and nothing like the wasteland it is now. Blok M Express is cheap and cheerful, making it a popular lunch or dinner spot for international students and professionals working in the area. Its house specialties are grilled meat dishes, particularly their ayam bakar (Javanese char-grilled chicken). This particular dish is marinated in a spicy sauce comprising kecap manis and various spices including coriander, turmeric, galangal and tamarind juice. Of course, Blok M Express offers other Indonesian dishes too if you don’t feel like grilled meats.

The last time I visited was with my friends Aaron and Cathy after an afternoon at the NGV. It was late Sunday afternoon on a long weekend so there weren’t many dining options available to us, yet Blok M Express happened to be open. We walked in, ordered at the counter (cash only FYI) and shortly after, our dishes arrived.

Cathy ordered the gule kambing, an Indonesian lamb curry. The menu described it as a ‘special lamb curry cooked with tasty appealing spices’, I guess their lazy way of saying it’s cooked in coconut milk, cloves, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, galangal and kaffir lime leaves amongst other things. The best thing about this dish is that it’s comforting and mild so if fiery hot dishes ain’t your thing, give this a try.

Gule kambing ($10.50)

Aaron ordered the ayam campur (literally ‘mixed chicken’), which came with two pieces of ayam bakar along with some mixed vegetables, rice, sambal and oxtail soup. While I won’t give props to the limp vegetables and while the oxtail soup was laced with a lot of MSG, I have to say that the ayam bakar was very close to the one my mum makes at home – there was an excellent balance of spicy, sweet, smokiness and sourness.

Nasi Campur ($11.50)

I’m a sucker for soto ayam, Indonesian’s contribution to the world of chicken soup. It may not look as pretty as a bowl of pho thanks to the yellow hue provided by lots of turmeric but it’s soothing, delicious and sure to perk you off when you’re having a bit of an off day. To be honest, I’ve had better soto ayam elsewhere; I’m not saying it was bad but it lacked that depth and flavour that I’ve come to expect from a good soto ayam. Another thing: I’m not sure why they chose to use cheap faux Asian pink prawn crackers instead of the Indonesian prawn crackers which are 100 times better. If it was a cost thing, fair enough – but why not use Indonesian onion crackers? They’re inexpensive but would work much better than the pink stuff. I guess it was my fault for choosing a dish that Blok M Express isn’t known for but I had no regrets.

Soto ayam ($10)

Even though my soto ayam wasn’t amazing, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Blok M Express to people wanting cheap and quick Indonesian food in the city. Definitely stick to menu specialities such as the bakar items and the gule though and you’ll walk out happy.

Blok M Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Parlour Diner (Melbourne, VIC)

64 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 2006

When I was living in Melbourne three years ago (wow, has it been that long?), the burger-isation of the food scene was at its peak. Everywhere you looked, a new burger joint was opening up. Multi-hatted celebrity chefs were opening burger kiosks, hipsters were driving burger food trucks all over town and every second restaurant seemed to have kind of burger on their menu. It got bloody insane.

Then I moved to Gold Coast where the only burger options close to where I lived (at the time) were McDonalds and Ze Pickle. Of course, burger joints are now everywhere on the Gold Coast but back then, the options were pretty dire. So whenever I visited Melbourne and friends asked me where I’d like to go for dinner, my response was no longer ‘ANYTHING BUT BLOODY BURGERS’ but rather, ‘Whatever you want, I don’t mind.’

And whenever it was my friend Aaron’s turn to decide, 90% of the time he’d choose a burger place. On this occasion, he decided that Parlour Diner was going to be our dinner venue. That was fine with me as well as his girlfriend, Cathy and our friend Yuri who was visiting us from Japan.

We visited this cool-end-of-Chapel Street restaurant on a weeknight, so the place wasn’t totally packed. During the day, no doubt Parlour Diner’s checkerboard-tile floors and pastel coloured walls would create a vibrantly retro but chilled atmosphere for diners. After dark though, the muted lighting created more of a mature vibe; it also meant that my food photos would look terrible (you have been warned).

The menu comprises the usual stuff you find in American restaurants around town: burgers, fries, barbeque ribs, buffalo wings etc etc. You’ll also find hipster/Asian infusion dishes such as Asian pulled pork sliders and something called a Miss Saigon burger with handmade fish patty, lemongrass, ginger, lettuce, tomato and pickles (how about no). In the end, we bypassed all the Asian stuff and went straight for the classics, as you can see below.

Our Parlour Diner spread

Okay, so we may have over ordered. We probably could have done with fewer sides, as delicious as they were. The onion rings boasted a light and crispy batter, while the curly fries were dusted in a tasty salted paprika seasoning. Our group definitely enjoyed them both.

Pale Ale onion rings ($7)
Parlour curly fries ($7)

Cathy ordered the fried chicken. There was a choice of four or six pieces and she chose four. Initially, I thought the price point was a bit odd. ‘Wow, $25 for four pieces of chicken,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s ridiculous.’ But when they arrived at our table, we were all surprised to discover how huge each piece was. The chicken also came with curly fries, salad and sauce; it was a dish that was probably enough to feed two people. We each had a little bit of chicken – the beer batter was absolutely tops, light and extremely crunchy with the lightest hint of spice. The chicken was also juicy inside, with no signs of dryness.

Blue Ribbon crispy fried chicken (four pieces, $25)

I ordered the Parlour burger, the venue’s default burger consisting of an 8oz beef patty, tomato, lettuce, cheese and pickles. As far as Melbourne burger standards go, it was a pretty good burger and generously portioned for the price point. People have complained about there being too much greenery but I didn’t have an issue with that. In fact, I found that the bitter lettuce leaves balanced out the well-seasoned fatty beef patty and melted cheese quite well, with the super soft sesame bun holding everything neatly.

Parlour burger ($12)

Yuri ordered the curiously named earth burger, Parlour Diner’s vegetarian option. On paper, the burger sounded like it had perhaps too much stuff in it – tofu, Portobello mushroom, avocado mash, haloumi, roast tomato, lettuce and pickles – seriously, guys?! In person though, the burger admittedly looked impressive. In fact, I could probably fool any of my vegetable-hating friends into eating it. While Yuri did agree with me in that there were too many ingredients in the burger, she did concede that it was tasty.

Earth burger ($15)

Will I return? While I’m not saying no, I can’t promise that I’ll be back any time soon. I enjoyed the food but there are also hundreds of other burger joints in Melbourne that are on my ‘to visit’ list. There are also places that I’ve been to – and loved – but are far more convenient to get to. If I do find myself on this side of Chapel Street craving a burger though, then sure. Absolutely.

Parlour Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Merricks General Wine Store (Merricks, VIC)

3460 Frankston-Flinders Road
Merricks VIC 3916
+61 3 5989 8088

Whenever I’m visiting my folks in Melbourne, I like to set aside a day to do a trip out of the city with my friends Aaron and Cathy. Sometimes we’ll hit the Yarra Valley wineries and other times, we’ll head west and end up in Bendigo, Ballarat or Daylesford. The last time we did a day trip, we ended up down the Mornington Peninsula to check out some markets and do a coastal walk.

For lunch, we stopped at Merricks General Wine Store. Although I’d heard so many things about this place (and it’s always getting write-ups in various food guides and what not), I’d actually never been so I was curious to see if it was really that good. The venue itself began life as a general store in the 1920s before becoming a cellar store and bistro for Baillieu and Elgee Park wines – and not to mention, a popular foodie destination.

Merricks General Wine Store: interior

Although Merricks is open all year ago, I recommend coming during the cool autumn months. They’ll crank up the fireplace so the dining room is nice and cosy. Plus, nothing beats enjoying a charcuterie board filled with the region’s freshest produce and a glass of local wine (read: expect to find lots of Pinot Noir on the menu). French inspired, the menu is full of seasonal dishes all designed to share. Of course, you can order one-plate dishes too if you dislike sharing plates or if you’re here on your own.

Aaron insisted on ordering a burger. Out of all the dishes on the menu that day, the burger was the one that least caught my eye – and quite frankly, I think $28 is steep for a burger and fries. Granted, it came with an Angus grass fed beef patty and we all know that that ain’t cheap. Everything else (caramelised onion, tomato, cheese, lettuce, pickles, mustard and mayo) was fairly pedestrian. That said, Aaron said it was nice – but in the same way manner one would describe a cheaper-but-delicious burger from any decent Melbourne burger restaurant.

Merricks burger ($28)

The grilled king prawns were Cathy’s suggestion – and we’re glad it made its way to our table. The prawns were cooked in a lovely garlicky tomato sauce that had a hint of spice. Ramping up the protein quota for the dish were some olives, chickpeas and chorizo; all played a significant role in adding some lovely flavour to the dish.

Grilled king prawns with spiced tomato, olives, chickpeas and chorizo ($25)

The charcuterie platter was my idea and in hindsight, the board was definitely enough to feed the three of us – especially when I added some yummy salted cod croquettes with aioli ($10) to the mix. The board comprised cold cuts such as Prosciutto Di Parma and salami along with some pickles, olives and crispy bread. My favourite bits, however, were the duck liver parfait with toasted brioche as well as the house made country terrine with local pickled mushrooms. Add a glass or two of Pinot if you’re not the designated driver and you have yourself a lovely meal.

Merricks charcuterie platter ($30)

There is no doubt I’ll stop by at Merricks General Wine Store the next time I do a Mornington Peninsula road trip. I’d like to see what sorts of delicious things would appear on the charcuterie platter on my next visit – and perhaps see if I can convince my dining buddies to enjoy a cheese platter with me.

Merricks General Wine Store Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Lee Ho Fook (Melbourne, VIC)

11-15 Duckboard Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9077 6261

After reading some lovely comments left on my previous post, I knew that I had to keep going with my blog – thank you so much for the vote of confidence! I definitely feel much more motivated to continue plugging along and to see what happens next.

Given that I’ve lived in four different cities in the space of three years, it was hard to figure out what sort of posts I should publish on this blog. For the first few years, I focused on Melbourne. Then when I started going interstate a lot, I threw in some Queensland and Sydney reviews in the mix. Every now and then, I’d also add a recipe blog. I didn’t know why – hell, I certainly never set out to be a recipe blogger… yet, these posts received quite a high number of hits. /shrugs

In 2014, I started to get into the whole travelling thing despite spending so many years trying to convince myself that I wasn’t much of a traveller. Who was I kidding, I LOVED travelling – especially if I was alone. Subsequently, write-ups of sushi restaurants in Tokyo would appear on my blog alongside reviews of Jakarta restaurants I frequented with relatives. Some of them would receive heaps of traffic while others not so much. Eventually, my blog would become a litter pile of random places I frequented without any real unifying theme. Then again, I guess a blog is where home is and in the last four years, I haven’t really established where ‘home’ is – Berlin? Singapore? Melbourne? Gold Coast?

Randomness is great but I knew I needed to establish more of a structure, especially if I was going to ensure this blogging thing was going to still work. Thus, my blog would be confined to these boundaries:
1) Reviews of places I visited in Australia, with a focus on Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sydney as these four cities were the ones I frequented the most.
2) One recipe per month.

‘What about overseas write-ups, Libby?’ you ask. (or maybe you didn’t because you don’t care)

They’ll go in my travel blog, the one I started up last year but haven’t really gotten around to working on. I’ll be working on that blog alongside this food blog. Two blogs, one girl. Yep, that’s the plan – let’s see how it goes.

Anyway, that was a huge arse introduction – and it had absolutely nothing with the review I’m about to write on Lee Ho Fook, possibly one of my favourite non-cheapie Asian restaurants in Melbourne CBD at the moment. For those in the know, it’s Victor Liong’s modern Asian restaurant… but it’s not modern Asian in the eye-rolling ‘oooh Asian tapas!’ and ‘ooooh put chilli jam on everything!’ sense. In fact, we’re talking dishes that push imaginative boundaries but also taste super delicious without being too wanky. I’ve been here about three times now and I have no intentions of not returning.

The first time I came here, I dragged fellow foodie friend Dave along and ordered a bunch of dishes to share. We also had a couple of glasses of wine, though they weren’t exactly cheap (we’re looking at $14 a glass on average, here).

I’ve been a huge fan of Lee Ho Fook’s tea eggs, though they are not always on the menu. Topped with avruga and dill, they’re an excellent starter during the warmer months though one of these wouldn’t go astray on top of a winter bowl of ramen…

Tea eggs ($5 each)

Being Chinese means that I would have no doubt enjoyed pork belly in many different incarnations – but never like this. The belly is rolled, cured and cut into cold thin slices and served with pickled fennel, hot mustard and chilli oil. Definitely my kind of charcuterie board!

Pork belly ($20)

As a nod to the whole Marco Polo/noodle and pasta thing, Liong added a Chinese pizza on the menu. Or ‘Chinizza’, as you like it. It was almost like a Chinese spring onion pancake had a child with a Napoli-style pizza before regurgitating lots of chopped spring onions and pillowy mozzarella. I liked it and as much as I’m all for interracial unions, I think I prefer an Italian pizza and a Chinese spring onion pancake on their own. The combination of fresh spring onions and mozzarella was just too odd for me.

‘Chinizza’ ($19)

I never used to go crazy over eggplant but when it’s done well, I’d be more than happy to eat my share as well as other peoples’ share – and Lee Ho Fook’s crispy eggplant dish just happens to be one of those awesome eggplant dishes. Think crispy skin plus soft eggplant flesh plus a delightfully sticky red vinegar sauce with just the right amount of kick and you have yourself a winning dish.

Crispy eggplant, spiced red vinegar ($20)

The first time I dined at Lee Ho Fook, the Fujian-style blue swimmer crab and scallop fried rice was a dish on the specials menu, priced at $28. Now, it’s $42. Yep, this is a fried rice dish that ain’t cheap but it’s certainly next level gangster. In fact, I dare say it’s up there on my favourite fried rice dishes list in Melbourne along with Rose Garden’s duck and mustard green fried rice dish – yes, the latter is about a quarter of the price of Lee Ho Fook’s fried rice but you can’t compare shredded roast duck with blue swimmer crab, scallop AND XO sauce, ok! What’s really interesting about this dish is that the rice sits in a tasty translucent gravy made from a chicken stock and tapioca starch base, making the whole thing almost congee-like. This dish is one that I always order every time I come here, no matter what. It’s THAT good. If you only order one dish at Lee Ho Fook, definitely get this one – and maybe the eggplant. You don’t want to be the pair in the corner table sharing one plate of fried rice.

Fujian-style blue swimmer crab and scallop fried rice with housemade XO sauce ($42)

Melbourne’s Chinatown may be full of cheap and cheerful Asian eateries as well as two handfuls of wonderful high-end ones, but there’s nothing like Lee Ho Fook. Go here for modern Asian food that’s not only unique but also tasty at the same time – and don’t leave without trying the fried rice.

Lee Ho Fook Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Bekendales (Melbourne, VIC)

Review: Bekendales (Melbourne, VIC)
1/50 Main Street
Croydon VIC 3136

It’s been three months since my last post – so much for promising to write more often, despite my best intentions.

Over the last few weeks, I have toyed with the idea of going on an indefinite hiatus. What’s the point of keeping this blog running when I can’t be sure when my next post will be published? Why bother, when there’s so much stuff I have to do in the real work?

After pondering some more, I decided to keep this blog going.

Sure, there are plenty of things that keep me busy right now (self-employment, navigating a new country – I’m currently based in Berlin – and a new language, not to mention all sorts of life admin). But they’re not big enough reasons for me to stop blogging. So what are some of the reasons why I want to keep going? Well. In the time it takes me get through an episode of Game of Thrones (a show I stopped really caring about a season ago but nevertheless continued to watch out of habit), I could have churned out a quick blog post.

Secondly, blogging helps me clear my mind – and quite frankly, it’s all over the place at the moment. Other people use different methods to clear their minds; some might run, others may do yoga while some see psychologists. (I did think about seeing one but my German health insurance doesn’t cover me for that.). I do quite a lot of writing for work and I’ve noticed that incidences of writer’s block have increased lately. While I do get the work done in the end, no doubt efficiency is something I can work on. To be a more efficient writer means I need to keep exercising my writer’s muscles so my mind stays alert. And this is where my blog will come in handy again.

Finally, I know there are quite a few of you who still read my blog – thank you so much for your support! Even if no one read my blog, I would still be doing it but the fact that I have more fans than haters does encourage me. Thank you.

I’ve set myself a goal of two blog posts a week. I’m sure I can churn out more than that when I’m on fire but let’s assume that I’ll have more busy weeks than not and leave it at two. If I end up doing more than two, great. If not, then you’ll know that it’s been one of those weeks where I’ve had to climb a mountain of work, get buried in more life admin or deal with yet another German bureaucrat.

Anyway, enough about me. It’s time to talk about FOOD!

This time, I’ll be taking you to Croydon where two of my good friends now live. Their go-to local for breakfast is now Bekendales on the Main Street which, let’s face it, may not be as hip and out there as Melbourne’s inner city cafés these days but it’s cosy, homely and the locals love it.

So let’s get started ! Cathy ordered the buttermilk pancakes, which came with ricotta as a default. The toppings change according to what’s available and in season; today, she received berry compote and fresh strawberries. It was a very tasty breakfast and great if you want your first meal of the day to be sweet and heavy (not for me).

Buttermilk pancakes with vanilla ricotta and berries ($16)
Buttermilk pancakes with vanilla ricotta and berries ($16)

Aaron kept it simple with two pieces of sourdough, butter and some preserves (you can also opt for Vegemite if preserves ain’t your thing). I don’t order toast when I’m eating out but Aaron gave it his two thumbs up.

Sourdough toast with Barney’s preserves ($6)
Sourdough toast with Barney’s preserves ($6)

I chose one of Bekendales’ specials: the breakfast kransky. While the chips were leaning towards the undercooked side, I did enjoy the kransky very much. It came with caramelised onions, Dijon mustard, Swiss cheese and salsa for a tasty breakfast that was, okay, maybe a little too heavy in hindsight but one I enjoyed.

Kransky with chips and aioli ($16)
Kransky with chips and aioli ($16)

While I wouldn’t implore you to drive all the way to Bekendales if you’re living on the other side of Melbourne, it’s nevertheless a lovely little local if you happen to be in Croydon or surrounding suburbs – or heading towards the Yarra Valley wineries and needing somewhere to fuel up before you hit the grapes.

Review: Entrecote (Melbourne, VIC)

6 Alfred Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 8184

So, I’m pretty bad at this ‘promising to blog more’ thing. One moment, I’m inspired to write and clear all my backlog; the next moment, I’m caught up in a this little thing called life and stuffing my face with honey mustard flavoured potato chips. A few of my friends suggested I shut down my blog if I’m not going to update it often – yet, I can’t. Not just yet. Let’s see if I can actually keep my promise this time around.

What’s been happening in my life?
– I’m now living in Berlin – and have been since last year but I neglected to mention it here.
– I’ll be back in Australia sometime this year. Which city? I’m keeping this one a secret…
– I’m now self-employed. The bulk of my days involve marketing and PR but I want to get back into writing, so I’m working on getting my copywriting business up and running.
– I’m working on a travel blog (details soon to come).

So now that you’re all up to date with my happenings, here’s a short review of Entrecote (city), the last place I visited in Melbourne during my last trip there.

While I was away Melbourne went crazy over Entrecote, a classic French bistro-style steak house. Melbourne may have its fair share of steak houses and French restaurants but a Parisian steak house that embraces all things fun and French? Nope. Entrecote opened its flagship restaurant on Domain Road in South Yarra before opening its second outlet in the city, which we visited for dinner on a Tuesday night.

Entrecote has a succinct menu of Hors d’Oeuvres, mains and sides – but it’s hard not to order their signature steak frites ($44.90), pictured rather badly below.

Steak frites ($44.90)
Steak frites ($44.90)

The steak frites dishes comprises of a grilled pastured fed Angus Porterhouse (mine was done medium rare) drizzled with a herb and butter sauce, and served with a soft leaves salad and bottomless frites. To be honest, I couldn’t see why this dish has been getting a lot of hype. Sure, it’s good but not that good – I’ve had much tastier steak elsewhere in Melbourne. This steak was a bit dry, kind of bland and the sauce didn’t really do much to elevate the meat’s natural flavours. Some might say that me living in Europe tarnished my opinion but I don’t think so – hell, I had a much better steak at Les Bubbles in Brisbane for only $34.95. Yes, BRISBANE. And that’s saying something.

I also sensed that our waiter wasn’t too thrilled that we didn’t order any alcohol. Now, I’m no teetotaller and I’m generally the first one to raise my hand for a glass (or two) of wine when I’m out having dinner. I was, however, T minus four hours from getting on a plane and doing a long haul trek to London; drinking wine before a long flight is definitely a no-no for me – and I told the waiter that, thinking that he’d totally get it but you can tell that he wasn’t pleased.

I’ve been told that the original Entrecote restaurant in South Yarra is a lot better but after my experience at the city restaurant, I’m reluctant to give Entrecote a second visit. After all, there are a crapload of other restaurants I want to check out in Melbourne and I’m fairly certain I won’t get the ‘look’ for saying no to the wine list.

Review: The Winey Cow (Mornington, VIC)

39A Main Street
Mornington VIC 3931
+61 3 5976 4018

Whenever I visit Melbourne, I always try my best to squeeze in a day trip outside the city somewhere. Of course, it doesn’t always happen – especially when you’re only in Melbourne for two or three days – but when it does, I always have the best time. It’s nice to get away from the big smoke – not that Melbourne is a massive city in terms of population and size by any means but you get the hint.

Earlier this year, Aaron and Cathy took me down to the Mornington Peninsula to explore some markets, go for leisurely walks along the coastline and check out some rose gardens (not my idea, btw). By the time we arrived in Mornington, the three of us were quite peckish – but it was still too early for lunch. At this point in time, Aaron had just started using Instagram and suggested we check out, The Winey Cow, a café that recently followed his account. ‘They do cheese and wine, hence the name,’ he said. ‘But they also seem to do decent coffee.’

At 10am, cheese and wine didn’t seem like the best idea – but coffee was just what we needed. We ordered some banana bread to share between the three of us too – yes, it was a bit of a tight ass move but hey.

Some much needed coffee
Some much needed coffee
Banana bread with espresso butter ($9.50)
Banana bread with espresso butter ($9.50)

I’m usually meh when it comes to ordering banana bread at cafés but this one was pretty good. The bread was buttery and dense, and we enjoyed it warm. We were given three topping options: date whip, espresso butter and berry mascarpone; all sounded great but we went for the lovely espresso butter in the end.

I would have loved to stay longer to try their interesting brunch options such as their Southern Affair (housemade cheesy cornbread with southern spiced pulled beef) or black pudding and bacon risotto croquette. Alas, we had a rose garden to visit so brunch will have to wait another time.

The Winey Cow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Mammoth (Melbourne, VIC)

736 Malvern Road
Armadale VIC 3143
+61 3 9824 5239

As much as I like to hate on brunch, there are odd instances where I do actually say ‘yes’ to the odd brunch invitation. These include the following: when an interstate or overseas friend is in town for only 24 hours and brunch is the only time they are free, when I’m too lazy to drive and there’s no non-brunch venues open that particular Saturday morning (a ludicrous notion in Melbourne but all too real in Gold Coast) and when I see a brunch menu that’s actually super interesting enough for me to muster up some enthusiasm.

Mammoth in Armadale fits the latter category.

It also didn’t help that my friend Brandon was moving back to Malaysia and this Wednesday morning was actually the only time we were both free. To his credit though, he promised that I wouldn’t yawn when I saw Mammoth’s menu. ‘Apparently they do a lobster donut burger,’ he said. Well, dammit, I was SOLD.

Although it was a Wednesday morning, we were both surprised to see this café almost full. We were lucky to snag the last table but had we rocked up even five minutes later, we would have had to wait. We were informed that the famous lobster donut burger had sold out (nooooo), so we decided to peruse the menu for a bit while enjoying some coffee made with the Tightrope blend from Five Senses.

Latte ($4.20), macchiato ($3.50)
Latte ($4.20), macchiato ($3.50)

Brandon was right: Mammoth’s brunch menu had all sorts of unusual twists. Lobster donut burgers aside, there was also a cherry lamington puffed pancake and something called the North Shore (ham hock, pineapples and all sorts of other stuff that seemed more Hawaiian pizza than Mosman chic). You can also order poached eggs on toast if you want to stay on the conservative side, but that was seriously the most ‘normal’ thing on the menu. Much to my relief, you couldn’t get smashed avocados on toast here (and I’ll refrain from making a joke about house prices because I’m sure you’ll all sick of them). You can, however, order some avocado on the side for $4. Mind you, Mammoth’s sides menu offered cooler-sounding items such as egg and bacon popcorn or backyard fried haloumi with house-made HP sauce.

Brandon had the Mammoth version of the classic eggs benedict. It came with all sorts of things that you wouldn’t normally find in your eggs benny: duck sausage, orange and corn blini, pickled onion, fried egg and smoked maple Hollandaise. If you disregard the fact that my photo of this dish isn’t very good, the presentation was actually quite cool – and the overall dish was tasty to the last mouthful, too.

The Benedict ($21.50)
The Benedict ($21.50)

I had the char spanner crab egg crepe. On paper, this dish sounded like one of those annoying ‘Asian-inspired’ dishes that could go either way – thankfully, I gave it two thumbs up. The crepe was fluffy and light, with a generous amount of crab meat in it. Throw in some water chestnut pieces for a bit of texture and a bean shoot salad on the side ‘just because’ (though tbf, it was lovely). I wasn’t sure if the lemon sorbet added anything to the dish, though.

Char spanner crab egg crepe ($24)
Char spanner crab egg crepe ($24)

We shared the only dessert that was available on the menu that day, the Golden Gaytime panna cotta. I’m not usually one to order panna cotta at restaurants (it’s such an easy dish to make but restaurants serve it because of high profit margins) but in this case it was hard to say ‘no’ to the combination of honeycomb, sable biscuit and chocolate coated popping candy. A great dish to finish off on.

Golden Gaytime panna cotta ($15)
Golden Gaytime panna cotta ($15)

Mammoth changes their menu quite a bit so I’m not even sure you can get all of the above items if you were to go today. I do, however, know that you’ll be presented with a menu full of so many interesting and unique dishes that it’ll be hard for you to choose one. Unless, of course, the lobster donut burger is available and in which case you MUST order it and tell me what you think!

Mammoth Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Blue Chillies (Melbourne, VIC)

182 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 0071

Disclaimer: I dined as Thanh’s guest; he got invited by Blue Chillies for a complimentary meal and I tagged along.

I’ve always been sceptical of modern Asian restaurants, especially when the end result tastes like nothing even remotely resembling Asian food (and no, splashing fish sauce on everything doesn’t work). That said, there are some excellent modern Asian restaurants in Melbourne that do a great job; they’re the ones that strike the perfect (and usually difficult) balance between paying tribute to decades-old cooking methods and contemporary ingredients. Blue Chillies on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is one of them.

I liked my lunch there because the menu stays true to traditional Malaysian flavours but casually throws in some surprise twists here and there. There’s none of that contrived hipster wankery that you see all too often in this part of Melbourne – and there are no signs of wooden serving boards anywhere. It’s the sort of place you can easily bring your young work buddies before Wednesday night  trivia at the pub or your fussy Asian parents to for lunch on weekends.

Our host Ricky warmly greeted us, suggesting we start off with some booze. Thanh stuck with a glass of white wine while I said yes to an aperitif called ‘Linh’s party starter,’ a refreshing mix of ginger wine and apple juice topped with sparkling wine, served in a champagne glass.

Linh’s party starter ($14)
Linh’s party starter ($14)

We began our meal with some steamed buns filled with duck rendang. This dish itself isn’t on the a la carte menu (at least the current version of it anyway), but it appears as part of Blue Chillies’ celebration and deluxe banquet menus ($50 and $65 per head, respectively). The a la carte menu does offer duck rendang as a main, though so I’m guessing they serve it in bao form to prevent wastage.

As an Indonesian, I grew up eating lots of rendang – but only ever the beef kind. I’ve never even thought about using duck in rendang and I kind of wish I did. The gamey duck flesh paired beautifully with the aromatic spices and chillies in the curry, making it more exciting to eat than the traditional beef version (but probably costlier to make).

Duck rendang bao
Duck rendang bao

I’m not a huge fan of soft shell crab so I didn’t attack this dish as ferociously as Thanh did. Still, I ate it all, piquant black pepper sauce and all. Also, it may not look like it in the photo but the batter arrived on our table super crispy and light.

Black pepper soft shell crab ($15)
Black pepper soft shell crab ($15)

The rockling with butter egg floss was, by far, my favourite dish of the day. Fish is my favourite meat and I love duck eggs so really, this dish was a winner in my eyes before I even touched it. Take rockling pieces, lightly fry them in batter until they’re gorgeously crispy and then add some duck egg floss on top along with fried curry leaves and chilli for good measure. True, you really can’t go wrong with duck egg but the combination of textures and flavours just made this dish a ‘must order’ for when I next visit Blue Chillies.

Rockling with butter egg floss ($18)
Rockling with butter egg floss ($18)

Blue Chillies offers a range of curries and noodle dishes for lunch, but Ricky suggested we try the assam prawns instead. The prawns were gently cooked in a beautifully tangy tamarind curry that was light and piquant with the slightest hint of chilli. I like my curries heavy but sometimes it’s nice to go for a version that’s less likely to make you bloat like crazy.

Assam prawns with okra, stringless beans and tomatoes ($18)
Assam prawns with okra, stringless beans and tomatoes ($18)

We shared a serving of belachan spinach on the side. At $19, I found the price point of the spinach a bit odd given that it’s a side dish – especially also given that Blue Chillies’ medium-sized dishes were on the $18-20 mark. That said, the serving size was extremely generous – I love belachan (shrimp paste) so much that I would have happily enjoyed this one dish on my own for lunch.

Belachan spinach ($19)
Belachan spinach ($19)

I was a bit of a dill and accidentally deleted the one and only photo I had of our dessert, the pandan crepes ($10). Sorry folks, you’ll just have to rely on my flimsy description of this dish. Picture a pair of mutant-green crepes filled with wok-roasted coconut and palm sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Yup, it’s Blue Chillies’ version of kueh dadar, a sweet Nonya-style dessert that many Malaysians would have grown up eating.

Later on, I was surprised to find that Blue Chillies had been trading since my rebellious teenage years – 1999, to be exact. Yet, I had only just heard about them. I think it’s great that Blue Chillies managed to survive on such a competitive street for so long and continue to do well. Hopefully they’re still around when I’m in Melbourne and craving those butter egg floss rockling fillets.

Blue Chillies Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Bugda Uyghur Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

19 Railway Parade North
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9886 5395

In my teenage years, Glen Waverley was a suburb full of cheap and cheerful Cantonese restaurants, a place where my friends and I would trek to when we got a tad over the Box Hill or Doncaster Shoppingtown scene. These days, I don’t go to ‘Glenny’ very often but when I do, I’m often amazed at how different the suburb looks compared to my last visit. It’s an area that seems to be exponentially growing at ridiculous rates – and with a rising population growth comes an increase in the variety of eateries this leafy eastern suburb has to offer.

These days, I’m really loving Uyghur food, the cuisine of the Turkic ethnic group in China’s Xinjiang region. When it comes to regional Chinese cuisine, Cantonese food will always be my top pick but sometimes I feel like something with a bit more heat and something more robust and down-to-earth. My friends Cathy and Aaron are also fans of Uyghur food so when they suggested we go to Bugda Uyghur in Glen Waverley, I eagerly said ‘sure!’

Bugda Uyghur was not around in my teenage years – but then again, neither was modern Hispanic eatery The Black Toro or burger joint YOMG. In fact, Bugda Uyghur is a bit out of the way; it’s more towards the railway station end than the bustling Kingsway precinct which means it doesn’t get as much foot traffic but it does attract its loyal customers each night.

One does not go to an Uyghur restaurant without ordering some sort of meat on skewer – so we ordered a handful of marinated lamb shish kebabs. The meat was juicy, with the balanced combination of chilli, cumin and the remnants of smoke from the charcoal grill making this thing the best $2 you’ll probably spend this month.

Gosh kawab, $2 each
Gosh kawab, $2 each

We then enjoyed a serving of barangga laghman, handmade noodles with stir-fried shredded potatoes and lamb. While noodles in Cantonese dishes tend to be more refined, these ones were heartier and thus would probably be more effective if you happen to be carb loading or struggling to fit in some macros for the day. I probably would have been okay without all the shredded potatoes on top, though Cathy loved them for the added crunch they brought to the dish.

Barangga laghman ($12)
Barangga laghman ($12)

If you’re still short of macros after those noodles, then the Anjan polu (pilaf rice) would definitely do it for you. I’d say that most of the dishes on an Uyghur restaurant menu are cooked with some sort of cumin/oil/chilli/lamb combination so if you want a dish that’s milder, this would be it. Yes, there’s braised lamb and yes, there’s perhaps a little bit of heat – but it’s pretty tame… and insanely delicious. I also liked the way the currants added a lovely dimension of sweetness to the dish.

Anjan polu, $15
Anjan polu, $15

I find it hard to go to any sort of Chinese restaurants without ordering a plate of dumplings. Thus, some steamed lamb dumplings were ordered – no pork because Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim so you’ll hardly ever see pork on the menu at an Uyghur restaurant. Hearty and generously sized, the dumplings were tasty though I think my preference for dumplings is still pork. This is because the other lamb dishes we ordered were seasoned with a lot of flavours, thus masking that distinctive lamb smell that many people find unpleasant including myself sometimes. With these dumplings though, there was nothing to mask the smell which somewhat affected my enjoyment of them.

Tugire, 15 pieces for $12
Tugire, 15 pieces for $12

Bugda Uyghur is definitely a most welcome addition to the Glen Waverley dining scene; I can see myself returning if I’m in the area and am craving lamb skewers or handmade Uyghur-style noodles (though I’d probably order ones without potatoes on them). Shoot me if you ever see me queuing for burgers at YOMG, though.