Review: Sabb Der Thai (Melbourne, VIC)

1/1-3 St Johns Avenue
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9546 0599

I love noodle soups. Tonkotsu ramen, beef and brisket pho, curry laksa, soto ayam – you name it, I’ll slurp it til the cows come home. Obviously, they’re an ideal meal to enjoy during the winter months but I’ve been known to enjoy a piping hot bowl of noodle soup when it’s humid and 35 degrees outside. Another type of noodle soup that I’ve recently added to my list is the Thai boat noodle.

So, what are boat noodles and why the hell are they called that? Historically, this dish was served along Bangkok’s canals. Back in the day, the street seller would paddle his this dish from his boat; today, they’re rarely sold on the water itself but rather in riverside stalls. Also known as kuaitiao ruea, this dish boasts a deep dark broth flavoured with dark soy sauce, pickled bean curd and spices as well as pork and/or beef bones. Traditionally, the cook will also add beef blood in there for extra texture and depth, though not a lot of places in Melbourne seem to do that.

I have my preferred places in Melbourne to eat boat noodles, with Jinda Thai and Soi 38 being firm favourites. I am also aware that a handful of Thai restaurants serving boat noodles existed in Springvale and when my friend Thanh told me about Sabb Der Thai being his favourite place to grab this dish, I knew I had to try it. So after a meeting with my accountant in Noble Park, I met up with Thanh for some boat noodle goodness.

We ordered a bowl of beef boat noodles and a plate of som tum (papaya salad) to share. You might be thinking: ‘Man, you guys are tight asses! Sharing a bowl of boat noodles between two?’ Hah! Well, what if we told you we had a small bowl of pho each at Pho Hung Vuong 2 and shared a banh mi before coming here? Uh huh.

Beef noodle soup ($11.50), salted crab som tum ($9) and Thai iced milk tea ($4)

I’m not normally a fan of som tum but Thanh insisted that I gave this one a go – after all, som tum is one of Sabb Der Thai’s signature dishes. I decided that their version was delicious: light, refreshing and dammit, very very spicy! Thank goodness for my glass of milk tea, even though it was a bit on the sickly sweet side. We ordered the salted crab version of the som yum but you can also choose from several other renditions, including their dried shrimp one.

Sabb Der Thai’s other go-to dish is obviously their boat noodles. You can choose from about five different noodles (we chose rice stick noodles) and go duck, beef or one of several versions of pork. We chose beef and it came topped with beef slices, braised beef pieces and beef balls.

Beef noodle soup ($11.50)

After my first spoonful of soup, I can see why Thanh goes to Sabb Der Thai pretty much every week. The broth was addictively tasty – and they added just a little bit of blood in it to create depth, but not so much that you get that metallic aftertaste (which I don’t really like). My only mistake was not coming here on an empty stomach as I would have definitely been down for smashing an entire bowl rather than half a bowl!

After this visit, I can now add Sabb Der Thai to my list of places to get boat noodles in Melbourne. Next time, I’ll give the duck version a go as well as try their tom yum pork noodle soup. The only problem I have with Sabb Der Thai is that it’s not exactly easy to get to from my (parents’) neck of the woods, let alone from Melbourne’s west. Thus, I’ll keep going to either Soi 38 or Jinda purely based on convenience alone. That said, I will definitely swing by Sabb Der Thai the next time I’m visiting my accountant – I just need to remember to save my banh mi for later.

Sabb Der Thai Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Famili Ria (Melbourne, VIC)

1115 Riversdale Road
Surrey Hills VIC 3127
+61 3 9808 6767

I’m always amazed at how quickly the Indonesian food scene is growing in Melbourne. Growing up, there were hardly any places that would be good enough for my parents to leave the house and fork out money for dishes they could cook at home. Today? There are quite a number of excellent Indonesian restaurants – even my mum will reluctantly admit that they’re ‘just as good’ as her own cooking. One such restaurant that has opened up in recent years is Famili Ria in Surrey Hills.

I’m not sure where the misspelling of ‘family’ comes from; the Indonesian word for family is ‘keluarga’ which is obviously way off the mark. Never mind, though. This place makes probably the best pempek in any Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne, at least in my opinion. So, what are pempek? They’re savoury fishcakes from Palembang in South Sumatra. They’re made by mixing Spanish mackerel and tapioca flour along with a handful of seasoning ingredients to produce a chewy pattie that’s similar-but-not-quite-the-same to the Thai fish cake.

There are about 300 different types of pempek; you can get them in different shapes, sizes, textures and fillings – my favourite is the one that is deep fried and filled with egg. Traditionally, pempek are served with a sweet and sour sauce called kuah cuka (literally ‘vinegar sauce’ in Indonesian), which is quite rich and tangy – definitely nothing like the neon red sweet and sour sauces you see slathered on ‘pork’ at faux Chinese food court stalls around Australia. They can also be served with condiments and noodles, though my family prefers them served simply with kuah cuka, pickles and some prawn crackers on the side. Although pempek is a Palembang specialty, you can find this dish everywhere around Indonesia. My mum even makes her own version at home, however it’s not exactly a 15-minute job in the kitchen so it’s always nice to enjoy it at a restaurant – and one that’s just as good as Famili Ria.

The restaurant itself is pretty Spartan (think: melamine bowls and budget tables and chairs) but that’s not an issue at all. My main gripe is that it often gets really cold, especially in winter, so my tip is to rug up accordingly with lots of layers!

Inside Famili Ria

I’ve been here a few times and I usually deviate between two dishes: the pempek sampler and the mie tekwan, both pictured below (there are two servings of pempek sampler).

Pempek sampler and mie tekwan at Famili Ria

As mentioned earlier, there are around 300 types of pempek available but Famili Ria focuses on five: telor kecil (small, with egg), panjang (long-shaped), bulat (ball-shaped), keriting (curly) and tahu (tofu stuffed with fish cake). You can choose your favourite one or enjoy them in all one neat bowl called the pempek sampler. If you’re new to this, I highly recommend the sampler as you can try a variety of fish cakes and decide which ones you like best. The sampler also comes with egg noodles, vermicelli, cucumber and dried shrimp as well as kuah cuka on the side.

Pempek sampler ($12.50)

Famili Ria also does non-pempek dishes and they’re all delicious too. My dad likes to order the bakmie ayam (chicken noodles) while I tend to deviate towards the tekwan (noodles in shrimp broth with mini fish cakes).

Mie tekwan ($10.50)

During winter, the mie tekwan is an instant heart warmer and I love how the broth is so delicate yet complex and tasty at the same time with a hint of sourness for extra flavour.

If you’re looking to expand your Indonesian food repertoire beyond chicken satays and nasi goreng, I highly recommend Famili Ria for their pempek as well as their bakmie ayam and tekwan. Just remember to wear several layers if you’re visiting during Melbourne’s winter months!

Famili Ria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: 400 Gradi Brunswick (Melbourne, VIC)

99 Lygon Street
Brunswick East VIC 3057
+61 3 9380 2320
www.400gradi.com.au

A few months ago, my other half Bean made a passing comment about how it was impossible to get amazing pizzas in Sydney. I must admit that I’m not too familiar with the Sydney pizza scene (and we’re not talking about that SBS comedy, too) so I can’t confirm either way. In saying that though, I haven’t had an excellent pizza in Sydney myself. And of the few places I’ve been to that served pizza, they were unremarkable, too doughy (a la Anglo-Italian style) or just plain sucked.

During one of our Melbourne visits, Bean wanted to try some Melbourne pizza and I wanted to try a place I hadn’t been before. Enter 400 Gradi and enter our friends Aaron and Cathy who were also keen to join us for some pizza after an afternoon at the NGV. 400 Gradi has been around for quite some time but I never got around to trying it while I was living in Melbourne. Since my departure from the southern capital, 400 Gradi has since expanded from one single restaurant in Brunswick to venues at Crown Casino and in Essendon.

Melburnians love 400 Gradi. Owner and pizzaiolo Johnny Di Francesco made a margheirta pizza at the World Pizza Championships in Parma in 2014 and won the specialita traditionale garanita (STG) prize. Naturally, his win sent Melbourne’s media delirious and so they were quick to be all ‘world’s best pizza’ and ‘hashtag Melbourne pride’ for the next few months after that. 400 Gradi’s reputation has having the world’s best pizza remains, though I don’t necessarily agree. Not that I’ve tried every single pizza in the world but I still think Emma Pizzeria in Rome lead the way. Regardless of whether or not you think 400 Gradi’s pizzas are the best in the world, they’re still pretty good. And they certainly beat any pizza I’ve had in Sydney (though I’m happy to be proven wrong, Sydneysiders).

400 gradi means ‘400 degrees’, referring to how hot a proper wood fire oven must be for the pizzas to get their thin, soft crust that’s charred in spots after being in there for a short stint (usually 60-90 seconds). We ordered two of 400 Gradi’s pizzas: their Caserta and Diavola.

Caserta ($24) and Diavola ($24)

Excuse the terrible photo – we were sitting in a very dark corner and gone are the days where I’d carry a DSLR. Both pizzas were topped with San Marzano tomato, rocket and fior di latte; the Diavola had slices of hot salami (‘hot salami very very hot!’ warned the menu) while the Caserta came with 20-month-old prosciutto di Parma. A few people have said 400 Gradi’s pizzas are expensive. Sure, they’re not massively cheap but then again, they’re definitely not Domino’s or Pizza Hut so I thought the prices weren’t too bad, though they were pushing it a bit. We all enjoyed the pizzas, especially their thin and pillowy crusts and appreciated the effortless melding of toppings that came in generous proportions.

We also ordered a serving of pappardelle with slow cooked lamb ragu to share. I may have thought the pizza prices were justified but I honestly can’t say the same about the pastas. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the pappardelle was perfectly cooked and the lamb ragu was divine but seriously, that little blob on the bottom plate was about as much as each of us could get. I dare say that even I ordered this dish for myself, I’d still be hungry.

Pappardelle al Sugo D’agnello ($32)

I haven’t been back to 400 Gradi as I’ve heard they’ve gone slightly downhill after their expansion. I don’t doubt they still do an excellent pizza though and I’d be more than happy to visit for seconds – but will most likely skip the pasta.

400 Gradi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Review: Town Mouse (Melbourne, VIC)

312 Drummond Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 3312
http://thetownmouse.com.au/

Every time I’m in Melbourne, I always inevitably end up at Embla. Situated on Russell Street just around the corner from New Armenian juggernaut Sezar, Embla is my favourite Melbourne wine bar thanks to its dynamic rotation of natural wines and an exciting grazing menu to boot. Before Embla was born, however, there was Town Mouse.

Town Mouse is a modern Australian-slash-European mid-end eatery in Carlton; its style is accessible, down-to-earth with a splash of effortless panache. It’s also versatile in that it’s a suitable venue for casual mid-week gossip sessions with your girl pals as well as an ideal place to take your better half for an anniversary dinner or some other restaurant.

Christian and Amber McCabe founded the Town Mouse along with Amber’s husband Jay Comeskey. They then grabbed Chef Dave Verheul from the other side of the Tasman and set up a restaurant that got Melbourne talking in 2013. Obviously, there’s been many staff changes here and there especially after Christian McCabe and Verheul opened Embla in the city in 2015 but Town Mouse remains one of Melbourne’s most loved restaurants.

Bean and I came here for a Saturday lunch session, straight after arriving from Sydney. It was a cold and drizzly Melbourne afternoon but Town Mouse’s warm and familial dining room more than made up for it. We started off with a glass of wine each along with some warm sourdough bread with roasted sesame butter. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t note the wine we had but it would have been a Pinot.

Red wine, housemade bread, roasted sesame butter

Our first starter was a duck liver parfait (split in two #becausetightarse). When you combine creamy parfait (with a hint of smokiness) with a crispy wafer-thin slice of potato and a pickled cucumber to even things out, your tastebuds will most definitely start wanting more. I refrained from ordering five more though – we still had more dishes to get through and quite frankly, the bread was starting to fill us up! (yes, we ordered more)

Duck liver parfait, pickled cucumber and crisp potato ($4)

Next, we had a brandade made with olive oil and smoked eel rather than the traditional salted cod. I was quite taken back by the presentation as I was expecting the brandade to be served in a little bowl or perhaps a jar a la Melbourne hipster style, but this was nice. We had some toasted sourdough crisps to scoop up the yummy brandade though the crisp/brandade ratio was slightly off and we had to use our fresh bread to mop off the remains.

Smoked eel brandade, lemon and sourdough ($11)

The beef tartare was probably my favourite starter. For the most part, I’m sceptical when chefs play around with native ingredients as it can go either way (usually the wrong way). Town Mouse, however, got it down pat. The textures and flavours all balanced out perfectly, with the beef and cream actually showcasing the naturally herby and tangy flavours of the saltbush and lemon myrtle respectively.

Beef tartare, cultured cream, saltbush and lemon myrtle ($14)

From beef to… beef. If you’re onto a good thing, why not roll with it, right? Our main dish was the beef oyster blade with was served with sautéed rainbow chard leaves and sprinkled with a walnut and rye bread crumb. Like Town Mouse’s other dishes, this one skilfully combined all the ingredient’s textures and flavours effortlessly – though I think Bean found the chard too bitter so he left most of that to me.

Beef oyster blade, rainbow chard, yoghurt, walnut, rye ($26)

We chose the potatoes for the sides. They were nice enough but probably the weakest dish we had; I didn’t think the yuzu mayonnaise did much and I wish they seasoned the potatoes a bit more. They also made us disgustingly full but this was not at all the restaurant’s fault – just keep this in mind if you’re going to order them. In hindsight, I wish I ordered one of Town Mouse’s other sides such as their roast cauliflower with almond and broad bean miso or perhaps their slow roasted red cabbage with prune, parmesan and red apple. I didn’t because Bean hates most vegetables and doesn’t eat cheese (yeah, I know).

Fried chat potatoes, yuzu mayonnaise ($10)

At this stage, we would have been happy rolling out the door and going home for a nap but when I’m dining with Bean, ordering dessert is pretty much mandated. I don’t like chocolate that much so I tend to stay away from the token chocolate dish whenever I scan dessert menus. Town Mouse’s chocolate option, however sounded so intriguing that even I couldn’t resist saying no. To be fair enough, the main ingredient was a pear poached in cider while chocolate played a secondary role. But still.

Anyway, this was probably the most interesting dessert I’d had in a long time – there were so many different flavours fighting for attention but there was no sign of overpowering. Even the liquorice remained subtle.

Cidered pear, chocolate, pumpkin seed, liquorice and brown bread ice cream ($15)

 

The sign to the bathroom made me giggle

Given how many times I’ve been to Embla, it seems a little sad that I’ve only been to Town Mouse once. But given that I’m only usually in Melbourne for a short period of time, locations that are more convenient for me will often win over those that require a little more effort to get to. My next visit to Melbourne, however, will be a little longer so I’ll definitely make sure I squeeze a Town Mouse visit there. It’s a great little place and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a city worker who loves Embla.

The Town Mouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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
http://mgwinestore.com.au/

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
https://www.leehofook.com.au/

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
http://bekendales.com/

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
https://www.entrecote.com.au/

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.