The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Café Azul (Melbourne, VIC)

346 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 5959

I have a friend who lives just around the corner from the bustling Bridge Road precinct. I envy Nick and his fiancée Bibi – all they need to do is wake up, make themselves look semi-presentable and walk a few metres down the road before being presented by several dozen cafés, drinking holes and restaurants including a Hungarian restaurant, a Nepalese restaurant and a couple of dumpling restaurants.

Nick and Bibi may be spoilt for choice but there is one café that they return to quite a bit and that is Café Azul. The word ‘azul’ means ‘blue’ in Spanish and given that Nick had just arrived back from Cuba with a horrendous three-month old beard (after proposing to Bibi!), it seemed somewhat appropriate that he would choose this spot for our hangover brunch session. Actually, I should cross out that ‘our’ – I was the one who had a few drinks before seeing Grease! the previous night. Nick was totally fine.

Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)

Watermelon, pineapple, orange and cucumber juice ($6.50)

I must have been on a coffee ban that week for I ordered a mixed juice instead of my usual latte. I dare say that the refreshing combination and pineapple mixed with cucumber juice was more efficient in waking me up that morning than a cup of coffee!

California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)

California Breakfast: four cheese toast, smoked bacon, fried eggs, avocado, spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli ($18)

Nick ordered something that sounded so horrendous, the California Breakfast. From what I know about Californian food (through following the Dawn books in the Babysitters Club series and watching The Simple Life), I was expecting to see a completely healthy dish. However, my brain quickly recovered (‘Nick? Eat healthy? SINCE WHEN?’) as soon as I saw the massive plate of bacon, fried eggs, cheesy toast accompanied by some spicy ranch sauce and Cajun aioli. In fact, the only healthy thing on the plate was the avocado.

To be honest, it actually didn’t taste that bad. In fact, I can see why Nick orders this dish all the time. The flavours went well together and if it’s filling enough for 6’3-tall Nick not to bother with lunch or dinner, then it represents excellent value.

Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)

Smoked trout omelette with dill and caper aioli, sweet peas, greens, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan and sourdough croutons ($19)

I went for one of their specials, the smoked trout omelette. My dish was heavier than it sounded on paper, but definitely not as rich as Nick’s. That said, I didn’t have the urge to eat dinner afterwards so this was another value-for-money-er. I especially loved the added crunch that the croutons gave to the dish.

Café Azul is a decent enough café for those who don’t live far from Bridge Road. While I couldn’t see many Spanish influences (I guess there is that California connection but still), I guess it doesn’t really matter. Café Azul offers the usual smashed avocado and poached eggs dishes that 99% of Melbourne’s brunch places have plus a few interesting dishes (as above) to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, I never got to try their coffee so I can’t say if it’s worth coming to for a cuppa. Given the steady stream of patrons coming in and out for takeaway coffees though, I dare say that they also do an okay brew.

Cafe Azul on Urbanspoon

Review: Crystal Jade Restaurant (Melbourne, VIC)

154 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 2633
http://www.crystaljade.com.au/

It’s not often that my (old) workmates and I would catch up on weekends. Sure, we’d do trivia every other Wednesday night and sure, Friday nights are normally guaranteed post-work piss-up nights. But when it comes to organising Saturday afternoon catch-ups, the same group of people are less likely to want to come out. I don’t blame them – I think being around me five days a week is already enough. So when Amy and I decided to organise a weekday yum cha lunch, we were kinda surprised to see that almost everyone in the crew wanted to come.

I guess people do like me enough to want to spend the sixth day of the week with me. Except for Sean, that is. He decided not to come to yum cha, citing reasons ranging from being poor to having footy training to his wife not letting him leave the house – it could also be because he didn’t want to spend extra time with me but whatever.

So the six of us rocked up to Crystal Jade one Saturday afternoon. Pete and I just had coffee at the Rose Street Markets an hour or so beforehand so we were wide awake. The others were decidedly less awake but we nevertheless keen to get their yum cha on.

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We ordered pretty much everything we could get our hands on. I didn’t take photos of every single thing we ate though, sorry.

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Generally, the food at Crystal Jade is more than decent. Don’t be mistaken by the restaurant’s name though – it’s not the same Crystal Jade franchise that make those fantastic xiaolongbao in Singapore.

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I only ever order the fried calamari when I’m having yum cha with my parents. For some reason, my non-family dining companions never seem to want it. Fine with me, I guess – it’s not my favourite thing on the yum cha menu. Amy, however, insisted that we order a plate and I’m glad I listened to her. These tentacles were crispy without being too oily (a problem at a lot of yum cha restaurants) and were equal parts pleasantly spicy and salty.

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Rarely am I able to convince most people to eat tripe with me so, again, when Amy agreed to share a serving with me, I was thrilled. Crystal Jade did a more than decent version too so win-win.

I should also point out here that we also ordered chicken feet. Now chicken feet is a dish that I’m not particularly fond of – I love the sauce but not so much the texture. So when I see it on the lazy susan, I send it over the other way. Amy and her husband Brandon ate the chicken feet while I looked on. Meanwhile, our mate Pete decided to give the chicken feet a go. He was doing a good job nibbling on the joints and skin and all that before I realised that his bowl was completely empty. ‘Um, where are the bones?’ I asked him. He looked puzzled, ‘I ate them? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?’

Um NO, Pete. But you’re cute for trying.

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I love a good zhaliang, especially ones where there’s a perfect balance between greens and Chinese donut. And of course, the Chinese donut has to be crispy. Thankfully, this one ticked all boxes.

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For some reason, the steamed dim sum dishes were the last to arrive. In fact, I remember waiting quite some time for them to show up. When they did though, we attacked them hungrily. They were excellent dumplings except for maybe the xiaolongbao but then again, only sillyheads would order XLBs at a yum cha restaurant i.e. me.

Crystal Jade offers a reliable yum cha dining option for those stuck in the CBD on weekends. Understandably, there may be a long wait for some dishes (and to even get a table, period) so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to compromise a bit of time for some pretty damn good har gow. Of all the yum cha places in the city, however, this is the one I’m most likely to return to and recommend to others based on taste and price alone. ($25ish per head and we were stuffed)

Crystal Jade on Urbanspoon

Review: Champagne CRB (Gold Coast, QLD)

2 Queensland Avenue
Broadbeach QLD 4218
+61 7 5538 3877
http://www.champagnecrb.com.au

A few weeks ago, my boss shouted the office to a Bastille Day dinner at Champagne CRB  in Broadbeach. Wait, WHAT? Broadbeach? Isn’t that on the Gold Coast? What’s going on, Libby?!

Don’t worry, all will be revealed in due course.

For the time being, let’s focus on this dinner. So yes, Bastille Day. Lots of fireworks. Lots of French food. Lots of drinking. Yep, we certainly got all that. Well, maybe not the fireworks – but then again, we can’t always have everything we want in life.

So anyway, my boss who is Belgian but thinks he’s French likes to do nice things for us. In this case, he decided to treat the office to a nice six-course degustation with matching wines on Bastille Day. Not that we really needed an excuse to party. We were going to the restaurant that was formerly called Champagne Brasserie but has now rebranded itself as Champagne CRB (CRB meaning ‘café, restaurant and bar’) to shake off its rather dated image but also extend its services to include breakfast and Parisian café lunches in addition to their normal dinner service.

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Champagne CRB is located underneath the Hi Ho Beach Apartment complex, just a short walk away from the beach. Indeed, it’s a random place to house what could possibly be the ‘Coast most authentic French restaurant.

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Our degustation began with some freshly baked warm bread and a glass of Charles de Cazanove rosé.

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

Truffled egg and ‘testou’

‘What the hell is a testou?’ we all murmured when we read the menu. I had no idea and a Google search proved fruitless. Hence, it was kind of funny when we were later told that it was a thing that Chef Olivier Burgos made up. The hollowed out egg was filled with a warm truffled egg emulsion and topped with a piece of crouton.

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The testou was well received across the table. I loved the presentation and the fact that something so silky and so delicate can hold so much flavour. (err Libby, you idiot, it’s the TRUFFLES)

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

Seared scallops on rocket veloute with cocoa dressing and orange tuile

I wasn’t sure about this dish. On one hand, the scallops were beautifully cooked and oh-so-succulent. On the other hand, I thought the blobs of cocoa dressing were out of place and the orange tuile, which was a bit too sweet, just made the whole thing taste like an orange jaffa party. Bleh. If they served the scallops with just the rocket veloute, then it would have actually been a perfect dish.

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

Comte cheese, Jerusalem artichoke and truffle soufflé

The third course was rich and decadent – and enough to render half the table full. A cheese soufflé was always going to be a filling course but to also jack it up with a Jerusalem artichoke filling AND truffle shreds on top? Man, they were asking for trouble.

The whole package tasted pretty damn good (I’m a sucker for cheese), but the soufflé’s texture was a bit off. It was too dense – almost like a pudding – and having those rich ingredients and flavours certainly didn’t help. The matching wine for this course was a Gerard Bertrand 2010 Chardonnay. Now, I’m not a Chardonnay drinker but if I’m going to drink Chardonnay, it may as well be a French one and the Gerard Bertrand managed to cut through all the richness beautifully. I’d like to think of it as akin to when a dud Tinder guy matches with a hot Tinder girl and magic happens on their first date.

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

Chicken boudin blanc with mushrooms and green lentils

I found our fourth course a bit ‘meh.’ A boudin blanc is a white sausage (no snigger, please) that’s normally stuffed with pork and rice but in this case, Burgos used chicken mousse instead. This dish received mixed reactions from the table: some loved it, while others hated it. I just found the filling a bit bland and the mushrooms a bit sweet while the green lentils were slightly out of place.

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

Prime Black Angus tournedos served with truffle sauce and potato galette

I did love our final savoury course, though. Steak (yes!) cooked in bacon fat (yes!) served with crispy potatoes (omg yes!). I couldn’t really taste the truffles in the so-called truffle sauce but I didn’t care – the steak was absolutely beautiful and full of flavour and imo, you just can’t go wrong with crispy potato slices.

At this point in the evening, a group of mid-high school girls walked into the dining room in leotards. Music came on and the girls then started to do the can-can and a whole bunch of other dances! I did take photos but I feel like a creep putting photos of young under-aged girls on my blog so I’m not going to. It was a random interlude to what had been a joyous dinner – in fact, it was kind of awkward watching middle-aged men ogling these girls!

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

French nougat served frozen with red fruit coulis and vanilla Chantilly cream

I was too full to fully appreciate our dessert, a frozen nougat topped with a dove-shaped meringue (though someone on the table thought it was a ghost) surrounded by lots of raspberry coulis. If I had still been hungry, I probably would have had more than the three spoonfuls I did manage to consume. The nougat was lovely but combined with all that sauce, I did find the whole thing overpowering – but that’s just me.

Our Bastille Day dinner was a bit of a hit and miss, however we all had a fun night pretending to be French. Hell, I even wore the French colours: a blue dress and red nail polish. While it’s not the best French I’ve ever had, it definitely makes the top 5 on the Gold Coast. The breakfast and lunch offerings are very different to what they offer during dinner so I will definitely revisit Champagne CRB during the daytime for a croissant or two.

Champagne Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Review: Big Mama

466 Swanston Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 2656

My friend Pete used to talk up this Japanese/Korean restaurant on the Carlton end of Swanston Street back when he was still living in Melbourne. Big Mama, it’s called. I never got the chance to visit on my own but Pete and I just happened to be in the city one early Saturday evening. He had time to kill before he was due to meet his twin sister so he suggested dinner – at Big Mama.

Now, I’d normally show some resistance to being taken to a place called Big Mama if a guy asked me to dine there with him. However, I was also hungry and not really in the mood to go home and cook something from scratch. So we went.

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Banchan. It’s always good to have banchan.

Takoyaki (six pieces for $7)

Takoyaki (six pieces for $7)

We started off with some takoyaki. They were okay, but could have done with a bit more sauce.

Korean BBQ beef ($15)

Korean BBQ beef ($15)

We then shared two main dishes. First up, the Korean BBQ beef which was, let’s face it, bulgogi but stir-fried rather than grilled. Taste-wise, it did the job – the beef was tender and the marinade was sweet without being too overpowering. At $15, it’s not the cheapest serving of sweet marinated beef in the Melbourne CBD region but the portion size was generous. I think I would have preferred to pay less for a smaller portion though because we struggle to finish the whole thing. (this was in addition to the second main we had, mind you)

Chilli chicken karaage ($14.80)

Chilli chicken karaage ($14.80)

The chilli chicken karaage was amazing. The chicken pieces were marinated in a lovely soy and garlic sauce before being deep-fried then coated in a special sweet chilli karaage sauce and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. Although the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, there was still a lovely balance of sweet, salty and nutty that kept me happy.

I can see why Pete loved the place – the food is pretty consistent and the high turnover of patrons kept the atmosphere buzzing. The service was also friendly and efficient despite the busy Saturday evening dinner rush. I did say that the portion sizes were a little big (and the prices accordingly slightly higher than normal) – that wouldn’t be a problem for big eaters or those dining in a large group. For the two of us, however, it was a big of a struggle and we ended up wasting a bit of food.

Big Mama on Urbanspoon

Review: Rice Workshop

238 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 6663
http://riceworkshop.com.au

I’m a huge fan of Sydney’s Menya Mappen and for a while, I was bummed that Melbourne didn’t have anything like it. Sure, we have our cheap Japanese restaurants – but they were either mediocre at best, too far away or on the expensive end of the cheap spectrum.

So when Rice Workshop opened up last year, I was excited. It did take me a while to visit, however the opportunity to visit presented itself one Friday night after a boozy session with my workmates. Pete and I were looking for a place to soak up all the alcohol and Rice Workshop just happened to be on our way to our respective bus stops/train stations – so we stopped there.

For those unfamiliar with the Rice Workshop concept, it’s pretty simple. You select a meal from the counter display; they specialise in, well, rice bowls (think chicken on rice, beef on rice etc, all cooked in various forms) but they also have curries, udon and salads available.

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You can then choose from a variety of add-ons from the counter – we’re talking croquettes, okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes), spring rolls and so on. You then have the option to add whatever sauces you want onto your fried goodies and if you’re like me, you’ll go crazy with the Japanese mayo. You then pay for your rice bowl/curry/udon/salad and whatever add-ons you took and grab a seat – that is, if you can find one in the diminutive dining area.

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Okonomiyaki ($2.80)

Pete and I decided to grab a few fried things to share. First up, the okonomiyaki. At $2.80, it’s pretty good value. More often than not, I just want a few bites of savoury pancake before I start to get sick of it so it’s good that Rice Workshop’s okonomiyaki is small. The problem with this, however, is that their okonomiyaki tastes so good that you actually WANT to order two or three of them.

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

Takoyaki (4 pieces for $2.80)

We also grabbed a takoyaki skewer containing four balls (snigger). Unfortunately, the balls were soggy by the time they were in my mouth (oh gawd, stop it!) but they were tasty and actually contained a decent amount of octopus.

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Ontama beef ($7.70)

Pete and I both had an ontama beef bowl. What I liked about Rice Workshop is that with some of the dishes, you can use what size you want. $7.70 got us a regular-sized ontama beef bowl, though those with larger appetites can get a larger bowl for $9.20. I’d suggest you stick to the regular-sized bowl though – they’re quite filling.

So what’s an ontama beef bowl? Basically, it’s Rice Workshop’s signature dish. You have a bowl of rice topped with beef cooked in soy sauce, sautéed onions and a soft-boiled egg. It’s tasty, it’s cheap and it doesn’t make you bloat like a mofo.

While I prefer Menya Mappen’s udon dishes and their add-ons, Rice Workshop fills the Melbourne void for good and cheap Japanese food. Now I’m hankering for some of them little okonoimiyaki bites…

Rice Workshop on Urbanspoon

Review: Morris Jones

163 Chapel Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 2055
http://www.morrisjones.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guess of Morris Jones and Zilla & Brook.

I have a confession to make: I am not a brunch person.

I’m probably going to lose a lot of friends/fans/stalkers in saying this – but I just don’t get the whole brunch thing. Sure, I like socialising with mates over food on lazy weekends and sure, I appreciate a good poached egg. But I just can’t justify waiting more than an hour just for a bloody seat at one of Melbourne’s so-called ‘brunch hot spots’ and paying up to $20 for eggs, bacon, toast and smashed avocado when I can whip up something just as good at home.

That said, I do like breakfast/brunch places that break the mould a bit. If they can serve non-eggs/bacon/toast/smashed avocado-type dishes, then I’m sold like an overpriced three-bedroom house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs on auction day.

And one such place (as in, a place that breaks said mould) is Windsor’s Morris Jones.

Now, I don’t really go down the boho end of Chapel Street that often. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been down to Chapel Street, period. So when Zilla & Brook invited me to the breakfast menu launch at Morris Jones, I was a bit ‘meh’ about it. However, curiosity got the better of me when I saw the admittedly not-too-shabby breakfast menu and read about Chef Matthew Butcher’s background (he trained at Vue de Monde AND worked with Gordon Ramsay at Maze).

Morris Jones sits in a restored 1887s warehouse that’s been done up. Although locals know Morris Jones as a night time venue, it’s also trying to bring the breakfast crowd in.

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Coffee here is by Allpress and they do a decent latte at $3.50 a pop.

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This was the menu they gave us. I’m not sure if this was a menu specifically designed for the breakfast launch or if this is their regular menu but it was confusing to read. For example, I didn’t know that the burnt butter béarnaise and the felices ham were actually two components of the eggs benedict. I mean, it seems obvious now but it didn’t click at the time – and I wasn’t the only one on the table who made that mistake.

Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne

Pomelo liquid nitrogen, dried fruits, stolen lemonade and champagne

I don’t think this is on the regular menu, a shame because I thought it was an amazing dish. This is Morris Jones’ take on the Fruit Loops, a cereal that most of us loved as children. When liquid nitrogen was poured all the dried fruits, lemonade and champagne, the mixture bubbled and fizzed, causing everyone to go, ‘aaah!’

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It was a pretty and very clever rendition of my favourite cereal as a kid. It was cleansing and light – way better than legit Fruit Loops, that’s for sure. Butcher dubbed it ‘the grown-up version of Fruit Loops.’ Such naughtiness.

Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)

Eggs benedict, felices ham, burnt butter béarnaise ($16.50)

We each had our own breakfast ‘main.’ Given my rants on ‘boring’ breakfast joints, it therefore seemed a bit strange that I ended up ordering the eggs benny – but hey, when you see ‘burnt butter béarnaise’ on the menu, it’s hard not to say no.

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It was a very solid eggs benny. The eggs were perfectly poached and all the trimmings tasted fantastic. I especially liked how the burnt butter gave the sauce that extra depth.

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The other people on the table ordered the zucchini slice, pea tendrils, avocado, feta, poached egg ($15.50) or the chilli corn relish, hash fritters, poached eggs ($14.50). Unfortunately, there was no swapsies happening that morning (what?! food bloggers not swapping bits of food?! THE HELL?!) so I can’t comment on those dishes. From all the positive comments I heard around the table though, I can only say that the two dishes were pretty good as well.

Breakfast at Morris Jones proved to be a pleasant affair and while I’d never be someone who’d wait a more than an hour for a breakfast/brunch table, I’d definitely wake up and cross town for Morris Jones.

Morris Jones on Urbanspoon

Review: Ishiya Stone Grill

152 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9650 9510
http://www.ishiyastonegrill.com.au

I always find it hard to review a place that has a DIY approach when it comes to food. You know, those places where you’re supposed to cook your food in front of you because it’s supposedly more fun and interactive and WOW.

For one thing, you’re not assessing the kitchen’s ability to cook and present your cook. All the hard work is left to you, the diner. So essentially if you stuff up a steak, then it’s your fault and not the restaurant. Thus, you’re then left to judge the quality of ingredients being used, the ambiance and the service. And thankfully, Ishiya Stone Grill has all three things down pat.

Pete and I decided to have dinner here one night after work. We were looking around Chinatown, trying to find a place that was 1) open for dinner on a major public holiday eve and was 2) not ridiculously expensive (but not overly cheap either because we felt like treating ourselves). After wandering around aimlessly, we eventually settled on Ishiya. After all, their $38.90 weeknight deal that included a stone grill main and entrée each was enough to draw us in – especially given that a stone grill main was $35-39 each.

Essentially, the stone grill concept involves cooking meat and seafood on a 400-degree volcanic stone plate to your liking. The high heat of the stone is supposed to sear in the meat’s juices, making it super tasty. Ishiya is not the only restaurant that does it – there are heaps of other ones, however Ishiya is the only one I know that does it in Melbourne.

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

Ippongi Hoyate ($8.50 for a 60ml serve)

We started off with some shochu. The Ippongi we ordered was a rice shochu and tasted very similar to sake, but with more volume.

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

Tori no tatsuta age (Japanese fried chicken)

The two of us ordered the Japanese fried chicken for our entrées because neither of us were keen on the beef skewers. The crispy pieces of chicken were pedestrian enough – not too remarkable, but not terrible either.

Mixed sashimi

Mixed sashimi

We also ordered the mixed sashimi. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how much it was but I don’t remember it being too expensive. Either way, we were both impressed at how fresh the fish was.

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

Angus porterhouse and tiger prawn stone grill (normally $35.90)

That’s my stone grill in the foreground; it came with a nice chunk of porterhouse, two prawns, a block of tofu and zucchini. I was also given some dipping sauces: ponzu, garlic butter miso, sesame and teriyaki, all of which were delicious.

Meanwhile, Pete had the Ishiya Deluxe Stonegrill (normally $39.90), which came with a slightly smaller piece of porterhouse, but then he also struck gold with a fish fillet, some chicken, a lamb cutlet and a prawn.

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Oh yes, steak. Okay.

We had a pleasant meal at Ishiya. Despite the DIY nature of the meal, there was plenty to like. The ingredients used were top quality, the non-stone grill meals were decent enough and the service was tops. I would come back to try some of the a la carte items on the menu (duck and scallop salad, anyone? and omg, what about the mussel croquettes?) but probably won’t do stone grill again. Sure, it’s a novel concept and I have friends who love dining here but it’s just not for me – I can cook my own steak at home, thanks.

Ishiya Stone Grill on Urbanspoon

Review: Supernormal

180 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8688
http://www.supernormal.net.au

Dave and I have figurative hard-ons for Melbourne wonder-chef Andrew McConnell. So when his long-awaited city eatery Supernormal opened, we knew we had to suss it out. Conveniently, it was my birthday that week so we decided to grab Daisy and Ricky to make it a Fab Asian Foodie E-Mail Group dinner (don’t ask).

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The restaurant is located on Flinders Lane, a short away from restaurant heavyweights such as Cumulus Inc, Ezard and Chin Chin. Although it was only 6pm when Dave and I rocked up, the restaurant was already starting to fill up.

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Daisy and Ricky were still on their way from the ‘burbs when Dave and I sat down so decided to have a whisky each and some little plates to graze on.

I really liked Supernormal’s cocktail menu – it was full of interesting cocktails, including one called the Jessicah Schipper (lol). I’m not sure why they decided to name a cocktail after an Aussie swimmer (and it wasn’t like she was a Susie O’Neill or Libby Trickett either) but I suppose if I was in the mood for melon, Don Julio tequila blanco and lime, then I’d be ordering a glass of JS. I was, however, in the mood for whisky (then again, since when am I not?) so I ordered a glass of Nikka Miyagikyo 12YO ($17).

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

Complimentary soy roasted pumpkin seeds

McConnell’s Asian-inspired restaurant Golden Fields in St Kilda may no longer be around (sob) but thankfully a lot of the Golden Fields dishes migrated across to the Supernormal menu; fans of the New England lobster roll would be pleased. Another dish that made the migration was the soy roasted pumpkin seeds though technically it’s not a dish – it’s a complimentary snack that all diners receive.

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

Raw tuna and ama ebi prawns with togarashi ($14)

The raw tuna and prawn dish got the party started. Both the tuna and prawn slices were ridiculously fresh and the delicate yet spicy dressing did well to bring out the natural flavours of both.

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Smoked beef, mustard leaf, clam mayonnaise ($16)

Veering slightly away from Golden Fields (and by that, I guess I mean A-Mac azn) territory was the smoked beef with mustard leaf and clam mayonnaise. Despite its name, it was a surprisingly delicate dish yet tasty all the same.

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Rolled and steamed vegetable rice noodle ($12)

Daisy and Ricky then rocked up to the party and this is the bit where we went kinda nuts with ordering OMG ALL THE THINGS.

Given that we were all Cantonese (well, okay, except me), we decided to order some rice noodle rolls. There was nothing wrong with them (cooked well, sauce tasty yet delicate, blah blah blah) but at $12, they were hardly remarkable – at least compared to the stuff we’re used to seeing McConnell make. We were better off sticking to the cheapo $6-8 ones at the local legit Cantonese restaurant.

New England lobster roll ($16)

New England lobster roll ($16)

Daisy was keen to try the lobster rolls that put Golden Fields on the Melbourne foodie VIP list so she ordered one. Dave and I will probably lose a lot of friends in saying this, but we really don’t think these rolls are remarkable. Nice, yes, but worth the price tag and mass hysteria? No way.

Pig’s head bao ($5)

Pig’s head bao ($5)

The pig’s head bao was a much more interesting dish. Crumbed pork bits and spicy kim chi cucumber shared the limelight on stage of sweet, doughy bao. Would definitely date again (oh wait, sorry, this ain’t Tinder).

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

Pan-fried pot sticker dumplings (four pieces for $10)

The four of us are suckers for dumplings so we couldn’t resist grabbing a plate of pot sticker dumplings. They were big and juicy and tasty enough – and bonus points for not being too greasy. However, I’d rather much have a plate of 15 dumplings for $8 a few blocks across town.

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Pan-fried spicy beef bun ($6)

Much better was the spicy beef bun. The beef filling had a surprisingly decent amount of heat which we all gave two thumbs up to.

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

Sautéed mushrooms, black barley pilaf, mushroom dashi ($16)

We then moved onto the mains. There was a nice selection of pan-Asian fare such as the John Dory with spring onion and ginger. Now, that’s my kind of dish but given that they were charging $34 for it and I could get something similiar in Box Hill for much less than that, we didn’t order it.

Instead, we went for a dish that sounded like it had a national identity crisis, the sautéed mushrooms with black barley pilaf and mushroom dashi. There were elements of Japanese, Middle Eastern and Indian but the dish tasted resoundingly European – it was rich, earthy and very comforting.

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder to share, served with pickled cabbage, steamed bread and saam jang sauce ($74)

Our final main was the main to end all mains: the pulled Korean BBQ pork shoulder. It was definitely big enough for the four of us, especially given that we consumed a lot of other dishes beforehand. What I liked most about this dish was the DIY element of it. You grab a bao-like piece of bread, spoon some omg-melt-in-your-mouth pork and crispy crackling onto it and garnish with whatever amount of pickled cabbage (read: a tastier version of kim chi) and saam jang sauce you want.

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Or you can be a bit weird like me by heaping everything on your plate and eat it deconstructed style.

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

Miso and pink lady soft serve ($9); peanut butter parfait, salted caramel and soft chocolate ($15); fried custard with ginger syrup ($12)

The four of us then shared three desserts. I thought the fried custard was a bit too doughy and the ginger syrup that came with it a bit too sweet. I did, however, love the peanut butter parfait that was lovingly transferred over from the Golden Fields menu. My favourite dessert though was the miso and pink lady soft serve. I’m a sucker for refreshing palate-cleansing desserts and this one didn’t disappoint. It was light and crisp with a slight hint of salty nutty goodness (oh wait, I didn’t just go there…).

The four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Apart from a few ‘just aiight’ dishes, the food was pretty, pretty good and the service was both efficient and friendly. Out of all the Andrew McConnell joints that have opened up in Melbourne in the last few years, I have to say that Supernormal is my favourite. Our overall dining experience was as cool and as effortless as, well, almost everything that’s Japanese. I can’t wait for my next visit… whenever that’ll be.

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Review: Sake (Melbourne)

Hamer Hall
100 St Kilda Road
Melbourne VIC 3004
+61 3 8687 0775
http://www.sakerestaurant.com.au/melbourne

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of Sake and Thrive PR.

As a frequent visitor to Sydney, I had always wanted to check out Shaun Presland’s award-winning Saké restaurant at The Rocks. I’m a fan of Japanese food and I wanted to experience his take on ‘modern and classic Japanese dishes with distinct local flavours.’

Unfortunately, I never got the chance to visit Saké on my last couple of trips to my favourite Australian city north of Melbourne. Thankfully though, there’s now a Saké restaurant in Melbourne, right on the arts precinct by the Yarra. When Andy from Thrive PR sent me an invite to check the place out, I gladly accepted the invite and dragged my friend Matt along for a post-work dinner.

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Yaeyama Fling: Ciroc coconut, light rum, pineapple, toffee umeshu, house-made caramel, chilli syrup, yuzu citrus and egg white

Because it was my final week at the office, I decided to start things off with a cocktail. The Yaeyama Fling was the perfect combination of flirty and fun with a bit of spicy thanks to the chilli.

Saké also has a neat selection of Japanese whiskies and I was fortunate to sample a few that night, ranging from the fruity Amabuki Pink Lady to the more aromatic Junmai varietals. After all, they did insist…

Kingfish Jalapeño

Kingfish Jalapeño

We were given an assortment of dishes to try, starting with the kingfish Jalapeño. The fresh slices of hiramasa were drizzled with a tangy yuzu soy sauce before being garnished with jalapeño slices and coriander. We both thought it was a very Nobu-like dish – not that that was a bad thing, of course.

Tuna ceviche

Tuna ceviche

(WP 3 SOME FISH TOWER THING)
Tuna ceviche
We then had the tuna ceviche (hello again, Nobu!). The lemon dressing, coriander and jalapeño worked well together, though I did find that having the tomato and crunchy fried onions a bit of an overkill.

Wagyu New Style

Wagyu New Style

We both thought the wagyu new style was a successful dish. Here, the thin slices of wagyu were lightly seared with hot oil and finished off with ginger, chives and yuzu soy. There was a lot of flavour but unlike the tuna ceviche, this dish was well-balanced.

Edamame

Edamame

Tonkotsu cups

Tonkotsu cups

We then got into the fried stuff. Here, bite-sized fried pork belly and spring onion bites were served in these lettuce cups before being drizzled with mustard miso and ‘Japanese BBQ sauce’ (Bulldog sauce or similar, perhaps?). Presentation-wise, I thought they looked a bit awkward. Taste-wise, they were ridiculously delicious.

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

‘Glacier 51’ Patagonian toothfish lettuce cups

More lettuce cups, this time with grilled miso-marinated Patagonian toothfish in them. The marinade reminded me of Nobu’s black miso cod, but a lot more fun to eat.

Good ol’ miso soup

Good ol’ miso soup

Wagyu teriyaki

Wagyu teriyaki

Our first main was the grain-fed wagyu. Cooked medium-rare, it was served on sautéed shiitake and buckwheat and tied neatly together with yakiniku sauce; a perfect combination of sweet and earthy.

Scampi tempura

Scampi tempura

Just when we thought we were done, out came the scampi tempura. The fat scampi tails were coated in a light and crunchy batter and served with sweet ponzu sauce, coriander and jalapeño. While the sauce was nice, I did think something more delicate would have complemented the beautiful tempura scampi better.

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Spider maki (soft shell crab roll); tuna avocado maki

Our final savouries were chopped up sushi rolls. I’m not big on soft-shell crab but I thought the spider maki roll was done well – loved the crispy batter combined with the lightest drizzle of mayo and chives. The tuna roll was also well done and the layer of tempura batter added an interesting element to what would have otherwise been just another bloody tuna sushi.

Dessert platter

Dessert platter

The guys obviously saved the best for last. The dessert platter was beyond amazing – possibly one of the better desserts I’ve had this year so far and that’s saying a lot! Sure, there was a lot of chocolate – and I normally don’t like chocolate desserts that much – but both the chocolate fondant and chocolate origami (dark chocolate mousse) were ticked all the right boxes.

The ice cream and Japanese yuzu tarts were also fantastic but the highlight of this platter was by far the green tea churros. Light and fluffy and oh-so-omg-cute-and-tiny, they were accompanied by a velvety milk chocolate sauce and red bean dip both of which were lovely, but the churros were insanely delicious on their own.

Our dinner at Saké was akin to a fun Shinkansen ride through the extensive menu, with heaps of corners to keep us on the edge of our seats. Sure, there were a few little elements from several dishes that I was too keen on, but it was overall a fantastic experience especially with the top service we received during the night. Definitely one to return to, if just for those green tea churros.

Sake Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Mr Big Stuff

16 Meyers Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 7411
http://www.mrbigstuff.com.au

What’s this, another Melbourne restaurant serving American-style food complete with mac and cheese and sliders and all?

Well, yes, but you see, Mr Big Stuff is actually really good. And worth the two thumbs up and several return visits rather than an eye roll.

Nee, Ling and I had dinner here two Friday nights ago, back when the joint had just opened. There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Mr Big Stuff’s opening and if it weren’t for Ling’s intel (she knew one of the restaurant’s investors), I probably would not have known about it.

When we rocked up for our 6PM booking, the place was dead quiet apart from the few waitresses standing around as well as the DJ spinning some funky soul tunes. Throughout the night though, the restaurant started to fill up. By the time we left, the place was practically full house. Not bad for a joint that didn’t do a lot of advertising, imo.

Cocktails!

Cocktails!

Friday nights with ladies always involves cocktails. I’m more of a whisky, wine and beer drinker but no way I was going to resort to drinking Pabst (what am I, a hipster?) so I ordered the Mr Tea cocktail purely for the name (a bit of an inside joke between a mate and I).

I love how customers can also opt for a non-alcoholic version of each cocktail – just strip away the alcohol and $4 or thereabouts, and you’re left with a pretty impressive mocktail. Not me though, I loved my cold brew peach sencha green tea and lemonade mix with a hint of Martell VSOP Cognac. Also, we all had a little jug of sugar syrup to accompany our drinks so we can adjust the sweetness levels – a lovely touch.

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mac and cheese ($12)

Mr Big Stuff’s mac and cheese was THE bomb. Granted, there wasn’t much of it for $12 but each mouthful was delicious – the macaroni shells were coated in three different types of cheeses and the crunchy breadcrumb topping was beaut.

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

Fried chicken and waffles with spiced maple syrup ($19)

This dish was also fantastic. The waffles themselves were just that, nice. The fried chicken, however, was the German team in the Germany vs Portugal match from the other night, beyond stellar. The meat was tender and the coating was super crispy without being too heavy.

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

Ox tail slider ($9.50 each)

At first glance, $9.50 for one slider seemed a bit exxy. But when I took my first bite, I knew the price tag was worth it. The braised ox tail filling was flavoursome and comforting enough to be served into a stew (now that’s an idea). It worked beautifully against the slaw’s fresh flavour and crispy texture.

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

Pork ribs ($28), corn bread ($6)

For some reason, we were expecting the ribs to be massive so I was a bit ‘huh!’ when I saw the tiny portion size. Not that it mattered anyway – we were slowly starting to get full. The ribs were covered in a sticky bourbon BBQ sauce that was as sweet as the words coming out of an Italian man’s mouth, with a slight hint of smoke. They didn’t have that lovely tang that the ribs at Ribs & Rumps et al have though.

Surprisingly, I liked the corn bread more than the ribs. It was dense, without being too heavy and only a little big sweet. The girls also loved it. Who would have thought. Corn bread.

Apple pie ($10)

Apple pie ($10)

Naturally, we had to take a peek at the dessert menu. We decided that sharing one dessert between the three of us was the way to go of the two on offer, the apple pie seemed like the best choice (the other choice was a cobbler).

I was surprised to see the ‘apple pie’ come in little bite-sized donuts. Not that there was anything wrong with that. The filling had hints of spiced rum and cinnamon in it, giving these little babies a hint of lovely winter spice.

We were impressed by our dinner at Mr Big Stuff. Sure, the American food trend is starting to do my head in as much as cheesy Tinder pick-up lines. Mr Big Stuff, however, doesn’t try too hard – plus, both the food and service here is excellent. The girls are already talking about going back for the mac and cheese and waffles while I have my eye on some of the other stuff on their menu such as the Spring Bay mussels with okra and bacon.

Mr Big Stuff on Urbanspoon