Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: La Cassolette

26 Rebecca Walk (off Flinders Street)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9614 3606
http://www.lacassolette.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of La Cassolette.

French restaurants are usually synonymous with hefty price tags and chefs that sound like Manu with smears of snootiness, at least in Melbourne. So when I heard that the Roule Galette bloke had opened up a decently-priced French bistro on the banks of the Yarra, I knew I had to check it out.

The restaurant is called La Cassolette and the man behind it is Michel Dubois, a former IT professional. Wanting to recreate the Parisian casual bistro experience in Melbourne, Michel got to work with creating a limited menu that changes daily and a repertoire full of dishes that French people normally cook at home.

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I have to say that the most annoying thing about La Cassolette was its location. To put it bluntly, it sucked. Matt and I are usually pretty good with directions, but we spent a quite some time wandering around aimlessly. In the end, we did find La Cassolette – the restaurant happened to be in one of those colourful demountable-like buildings along Rebecca Walk (the red ones). The best way to get there is to get to the corner of Spencer and Flinders Streets, head towards the direction of Crown Casino along Spencer Street and then turn towards the grassy bit.

In the end, we got there. But I can’t help but wonder whether La Cassolette’s very isolated location will put it as a disadvantage – it certainly doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. I also can’t help but wonder if people who are worse at directions than we are would keep looking for the restaurant until they found it or just give up altogether.

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

Anyway, we were greeted warmly by Michel himself. He poured us both a glass of Cape Grim sparkling water (possibly one of the best sparkling water brands I’ve ever tried – it’s not too fizzy) before cracking open the Chablis.

Tomato marinated olives

Tomato marinated olives

We were given some olives to nibble on. I love my olives but I know many people find them salty. Luckily, the tangy tomato sauce diffused a lot of the saltiness.

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

We then shared a crab salad and quinoa taboule, Michel’s spin on the classic Middle Eastern salad (tabouleh/tabouli). The bottom layer was all quinoa, thus representing the taboule while the top layer was solid crab; I was pretty impressed at how generous they were with the crab meat. The best way to eat it was to smear the quinoa and crab onto some bread like a dip. It was delicious.

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Matt had the chicken breast for his main. We were impressed at how much protein we received for less than a $20 note – it was almost like getting two mains!

The chicken was well-cooked; very tender and no dry stringy bits while the Cajun sauce had a lovely kick. The chicken went really well with the coconut-infused rice but given the generous serving sizes, both would have been able to feed two people comfortably.

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

At Michel’s insistence, I ordered one of La Cassolette’s signature dishes, the scallop flambée. Michel brought the portable stove over to the table so we can see him in action.

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And by action, I mean seeing action movie-like fire as soon as the cognac was poured onto the scallops.

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The scallops were served with a creamy bed of mashed potatoes and salad (below). Just like the chicken dish, the scallop flambée was well-portioned and the scallops were big, plump and juicy – none of that shrivelled up frozen rubbish! They went beautifully with the buttery, salty mashed potatoes. Another deliciously filling dish.

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Maki roll sorbet ($14)

Maki roll sorbet ($14)

While Matt ordered a long macchiato for the long drive home, I ordered the maki roll sorbet ($14) because it had an intriguing name. The dessert is one of Michel’s creations; ‘maki’ means ‘roll’ in Japanese which makes sense because you see that word all the time when you go to sushi stores. Here, fruit sorbet is rolled up before being wrapped in a thin layer of crêpe and chopped up.

I love light fruity desserts so the little pieces of sorbet squares did the trick for me. I also loved the little jam dot in the middle of each piece – too cute!

La Cassolette offers something that a lot of French restaurants in Melbourne don’t: simple delicious home-style meals at affordable prices. The service that night was also very attentive and speedy. Since our initial visit, Matt has gone back with his missus and I’ll be planning a return soon. I would also recommend La Cassolette to those wanting French food yet don’t want to spend big bucks on it – but to be prepared to walk a bit because there are no car spaces nearby.

La Cassolette on Urbanspoon

Review: Fukuryu Ramen

22-26 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9090 7149
http://www.fukuryuramen.com

Melburnians, we now have a ramen restaurant worth talking about!

Yep, you’ve heard me. Not more soggy noodles. No more dodgy restaurants passing chicken stock-based broths as ‘tonkotsu.’ And no more MSG overload.

And it’s all thanks to Fukuryu Ramen, barely in its first fortnight of trading.

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Located in the same building as Sichuan House, Fukuryu Ramen requires several flights of stairs to get to. If you’re unfit like me, you’ll be huffing and puffing just as you saunter into the door to the loud shouts of ‘irrashaimase!’ by the waiters and the ladies at the counter.

The word ‘fukuryu’ means ‘lucky dragon’ in Japanese; the restaurant itself is owned by Hakata Ikkousha, a restaurant group surprisingly based in Indonesia (REPRESENT!), not Japan. Hakata Ikkousha owns a bunch of Ikkousha restaurants in Indonesia as well as the original Ikkousha restaurant in Fukuoka, home of the tonkotsu ramen. And Fukuryu Ramen is the restaurant group’s first foray out of Asia.

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Although there were heaps of tables and chairs in the spacious dining room, Dave and I decided to sit at the counter to watch the chefs do their thang.

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

And although I spent most of my weekend with a BAC of, let’s just say definitely more than 0.05, I could not resist ordering a bottle of Kirin apple and mandarin cider. I actually had no idea Kirin made ciders and I’m guessing these are the Japanese equivalent of the Rekorderlig, only not as sickly sweet.

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

We started off with a plate of tebasaki. I enjoyed them thoroughly at Mensousai Mugan but not so much here. They tasted okay, but they were too heavy on the pepper. They were also a little bit dry.

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

The pièce de résistance, however, was the tonkotsu ramen. Fukuryu Ramen had an opening special where you can get a bowl of ramen for only $6 – bargain! Still, we thought $9.90 was pretty cheap given that most places in Melbourne charge a few extra dollars more for ramen that’s not as good as this. And boy, it was GOOD.

The noodles were perfectly springy while the milky tonkotsu broth had more depth than Christina Aguilera’s vocal range. I also liked that we didn’t have to pay an extra couple of dollars for the soy egg, which is the norm at most places. Finally, the chashu (pork) slices were gorgeously fatty and delicious.

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I am rarely able to polish off the soup in soup noodles when I go out so when you see something like this, you know I REALLY liked it.

I guess if I had to be a whinger, I’d say that there was a strong garlic aftertaste – and if you’re not a fan of garlic, you may find it overpowering. Also, the portion sizes are smaller than what you’d find at other ramen restaurants in Melbourne – given the quality and the price, however, this is no biggie. Plus, I was still able to get full on one bowl.

Having said all of that, I still think Queensland reigns supreme in the Australian ramen scene with places such as Taro’s, Muso and Hakataya. And even Sydney has Ippudo and Gumshara, plus a whole bunch of apparently wonderful ramen places I haven’t even set foot in.

But if our meal at Fukuryu is anything to go by, Melbourne is about to get its ramen on. LOVE.

Fukuryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Review: Hot Star Taiwanese Fried Chicken

429 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000

Also: 233 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 481 134 291

Melbourne is crazy about fried chicken at the moment. So when Taiwanese franchise Hot Star Taiwanese Fried Chicken opened up its first Australian store on Swanston Street last year, I was not surprised to find ridiculously long queues snaking all the way back to Little Bourke Street.

I love fried chicken but because I don’t have the patience to wait in line for cooked-to-order crumbed chicken breasts, I decided to hold off until the queues were less crazy. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for a very long time. However, an unexpected blessing came in the form of a second store on Elizabeth Street a few months later. And lo and behold, it happened to be right next door to the Gong Cha store. Fried chicken and green tea with pearls and milk foam? Um hello, winning!

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The first Hot Star store was founded by Wang Qing Long back in 1992. It soon became popular with Taipei’s Shilin Night Market crowd and before long, Hot Star stores exploded all over Asia. The price of a single piece of chicken in Melbourne costs $8; that sounds reasonable if you take into account that Melbourne is, after all, an expensive place to live in and the chicken they use is locally sourced. In Hong Kong, the chicken may be a lot cheaper (approximately AUD$3) but I’ve heard that the meat isn’t as nice.

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So each chicken breast piece is 30 centimetres long and weigh 250 grams. Due to its size, I can understand why a few people would be worried about the thought of using genetically modified birds. However, I later found out that all they do is take one chicken breast, cut it in half lengthwise (but not all the way through), before laying it flat to make one big chicken breast. They also leave the breastbone hanging in there to ensure that the meat retains its flavour.

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Hot Star tagline is that their chicken is ‘as big as your head’ and if this photo of Pete holding a Hot Star chicken is anything to go by, they’re spot-on.

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In fact, Pete, Hasan and I had to split a chicken between the three of us – that’s how huge it was. And trust me, us three are big eaters.

Mr Bean, what a fool.

Mr Bean. What a fool.

Okay, fine, the three of us did end up grabbing other stuff to eat that night (the chicken was just a starter) so it’s not like one chicken could feed three people.

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That said, Michael and Tara were able to share a chicken and be full enough to not want proper food afterwards.

So how did they taste? The one I managed to try was the original flavoured chicken; it was coated in a lovely salt and pepper mix that was, I dare say, almost as addictive as crack. It was also flavoursome enough to not warrant extra sauces or seasonings, and the meat was beautifully juicy.

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I was back the following night with Dave. We had just finished an unsatisfying meal elsewhere so we needed to grab some chicken to fill the rest of the empty space in our stomach. We split a spicy chicken which, as its name suggests, was spicy thanks to the liberal dose of chilly seasoning. While it was nice and peppery (and obviously HOT), I have to say I preferred the original one.

My opinion might change once I try the tangy plum salt one though.

Hot Star/Gong Cha on Urbanspoon

Review: Happy Palace

87 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9972 3699
http://www.happypalace.com.au/

As a Chinese lass, I normally frown upon the stuff that a lot of suburban Chinese restaurants pass off as ‘Chinese’ – you know what I’m talking about: lemon chicken, special fried rice and Mongolian beef.

That being said, I’m also a sucker for restaurants and bars that try to be different and that’s what Jerome Borazio (he of 1000£ Bend and Workers Club) did when he took the old and very dated Happy Palace Chinese restaurant on the corner of Bourke and Exhibition and turned it to a hipster haven brimming with Chinese kitsch (we’re talking beckoning cats, chandeliers and crass dragon paintings here), cheap drinks and more irony than Alanis could poke ten thousand spoons at.

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My work crew and I have been to Happy Palace on several occasions – once for trivia night and the other times just for Friday night drinks. If you’re a bona fide hipster, it’s actually not a bad place to linger for an hour or two – they’ve got cheap $2 pots and $2 plates of dumplings on Friday nights; they even have bicycle seats for you to sit on!

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That said, I wouldn’t say the food is fantastic. It’s good if you just want something to nibble on with your beer. But if you want a proper meal, you’re better off walking half a block to Chinatown.

Dumplings $2 a plate on Friday nights

Dumplings $2 a plate (four pieces) on Friday nights

The dumplings were kind of bland but when you’re paying $2 for a plate of those, you can’t complain. I definitely wouldn’t pay the normal price of $5 though (why, when you can get 12 pieces of GOOD ones for a few dollars more across the road).

Deep fried chicken ribs

Deep fried chicken ribs

The boys loved the chicken ribs, which were accompanied with a sweet and tangy soy-based sauce. While I thought they were just okay, one of the boys (probably Sean) loved them so much that he even went so far to eat the bones.

French fries

French fries

They’re just fries – what do you want me to say about them?!

Mini spring rolls

Mini spring rolls

Ah, sometimes you can’t beat fried spring rolls. Always a crowd-pleaser.

Prawn toasts

Prawn toasts

Okay, I must confess that I’m guilty of liking the odd Aussie-Chinese dish such as the prawn toast. These ones were actually alright, despite the fact that it was more bread than prawn.

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To conclude, if you’re looking for a decent feed, you won’t be satisfied at Happy Palace. As for trivia, I wouldn’t say we’d be in a hurry to go back again. There was something about the way-too-geeky-and-hipster crowd that didn’t appeal to us – this was despite the fact that we actually did have a token hipster in our group. But if you are just after drinks and nibbles in a fun environment before heading off to somewhere better, then Happy Palace will give you many happy, er, pre-endings.

Happy Palace on Urbanspoon

Review: Mensousai Mugen

11 Bligh Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9620 3647
http://mensousaimugen.com/

Melbourne may be renowned for having the most sports fanatics per square kilometre and excellent coffee but when it comes to dishing out half-decent ramen, it sucks. I get that it’s unfair to compare Melbourne to Sapporo or Hakata. However, when our northern neighbours such as Sydney and Brisbane (and even Gold Coast) do ramen better than us, you know something is not right.

Thankfully, we’re getting better. We’ve seen places like Don Too whip up lovely (and cheap) ramen and trendsetters such as Shop Ramen put their own spin on what is arguably Japan’s national dish (cashew milk broth ramen, anyone?). And for those who love tsukemen ramen, we now have Mensousai Mugen to keep us happy.

So what is tsukemen ramen? I heard one person called it a ‘deconstructed ramen’ where you have a bowl of noodles in one bowl and your broth in another. You’re essentially dipping your noodles into the broth and once you’re done with the noodles, hot dashi stock is added to the remaining broth so you can slurp it all up like a cup of soup.

Mensousai Mugen is brought to you by Yoshi Kurosawa, the guy behind Robot Bar which is located in the same laneway as Mugen. Mugen doesn’t open until 6pm so the best way to go about doing thing is to knock back a few shots of sake at Robot before stumbling across to Mugen, which is what Pete and I did one evening after work.

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Like Robot, the atmosphere here is cool, dark and edgy. Of course, this means that it made photography very difficult but having random clips of naked Japanese guys mucking around in rivers on the projector made up for it.

Tebasaki, Japanese deep-fried chicken wings (five pieces for $10)

Tebasaki, Japanese deep-fried chicken wings (five pieces for $10)

We shared some Nagoya-style chicken wings. They were crispy and salty, with the slightest hint of sweetness – and very addictive. I’m definitely looking forward to eating my body weight in this during my one-day stopover in Nagoya later this year.

Wafu Tsukemen (300g, $15); curry tsukemen (300g, $15)

Wafu Tsukemen (300g, $15); curry tsukemen (300g, $15)

I ordered the default tsukemen ramen option, the wafu tsukemen while Pete went for the curry version. The only difference between mine and Pete’s was that his broth was infused with curry, but everything else remained the same from the dashi and soy sauce broth base to the house-made noodles to the chashu (slow-cooked pork).

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Eating ramen in a deconstructed manner was initially strange. Sure, I eat a lot of zaru soba where a lot of dipping is involved but I think it’s different with hot dishes. After a while, I did get used to it and I do like the whole novelty of it.

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For an extra $2, you can also get a soy egg with it – it was deliciously creamy and probably one of the better ones I’ve had in Melbourne.

Although there was nothing wrong with our ramen (the soup was fantastic and the noodles beautifully cooked), both Pete and I still preferred the traditional noodle-in-soup ramen. That said, the tsukemen option is good if you want to try something different. It’s also perfect for hot days where you crave ramen, but an entire bowl of it (soup and all) may be too much. I’m not sure if tsukemen will take off in Melbourne but either way, I’m glad that there’s another ramen restaurant in town.

Mensousai Mugen on Urbanspoon

Review: Cumulus Up

Upstairs, 45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1445

http://cumulusinc.com.au/up/

So I said that I’d be writing up my Indonesia posts now that I’ve managed to get Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore out of the way.

I lied.

Okay, my intention WAS to get started on Indonesia. But because we’ve been doing renovations, carpet-pulling and spring cleaning at my place for the last month or so, I’ve been misplacing everything. And by everything I mean various jewellery items, eBook chargers and the SD card that held all my Indonesia photos. So until I find that precious SD card, you’ll have to deal with a backlog of Melbourne posts.

I’m pretty sure you can handle that, right? :)

Today’s a public holiday in Melbourne and because I have a lot of writing to work on and precious sunshine to soak up, I’ll make this review of Cumulus Up relatively quick.

I came here for a pre-dinner nibble and tipple with Dave sometime last year. It would have been sometime between July and September because I do remember interning at this sporting organisation that day.

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Cumulus Up is another one of Andrew McConnell’s ventures. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the upstairs extension to the always-popular Cumulus Inc. If Cumulus Inc is the vibrant, sunny eldest sister, then Cumulus Up is the more mature and too-cool-for-school younger sibling. How? Well, Cumulus Inc is all about the light stuff like oysters, salads and charcuteries, whereas Cumulus Up is more of a wine bar with a more sophisticated menu featuring dishes like mussel escabeche and steak tartare with parmesan cream.

Duck waffle, foie gras and prune ($9)

Duck waffle, foie gras and prune ($9)

With a glass of Riesling in hand, I ordered a dish that Dave recommended: the duck waffle with foie gras and prune. My initial thought was ‘what a strange dish!’ but upon first bite, I can see why Dave liked it so much.

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The waffle wasn’t ‘duck-y’ per se. In fact, it was a normal sweet waffle with crispy edges (tick). Rather, the ‘duck’ bit was the foie gras that was smooth and creamy and although I’m not big on prunes, its sweetness and tartness really did cut through the foie gras perfectly. What a rich but flawless dish.

Due to the dish’s high fat content, unfortunately this meant that I was already  full before I made it to dinner. Oh well. I’ll know for next time.

Cumulus Up on Urbanspoon

Event: Queen Victoria Night Market

Cnr Queen and Thierry Streets
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9320 5822

Being Asian, I love markets more than I love bubble tea.

In particular, nothing gets me more excited than hearing the buzz and seeing the vibrant colours and smoke of a night market (except for maybe Bradley Cooper).

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One of my favourite things to do during the Melbourne summer is to visit the Queen Vic Night Market after work. And luckily, my office is within walking distance of the market – this means that it’s so easy for me to grab some work friends and head there for an early dinner and drink or two before heading home to the ‘burbs. The atmosphere (and prices) may not be as amazing as the night markets you get in Asia but it’s great nevertheless.

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This post will cover several visits I made during the summer of 2013/14 (just in case you happened to freak out upon seeing how much food is on this post!). And in most cases, we rocked up just after 5pm. This is why the market doesn’t look too busy in most of the photos – this is a good thing for us as most of our group are claustrophobic. If you like crowds, though, then you’ll be sweet after 5:30pm.

Filipino skewers

Filipino skewers

Porchetta (Italian roast pork)

Porchetta (Italian roast pork)

Kotthu roti

Kotthu roti

One of my favourite stalls this year has been Lankan Tucker, not just because I had only discovered Sri Lankan food a few months back but because they do Sri Lankan street food really well if my Burgher friend Pete is to be believed.

I enjoyed their kotthu roti, a dish that contains chopped up wheat roti, meat (in this case, it was chicken) and vegies. Think noodles, but with roti. Definitely a great dish to start off with if you’re a Sri Lankan food newbie.

Pan rolls

Pan rolls

These pan rolls were also delicious. Filled with mince and vegies, they reminded me of the Dutch rissoles my mother sometimes makes at home.

Burger buns at the game meat stall

Burger buns at the game meat stall

Ostrich burger

Ostrich burger

Yes, ostrich burger. The ostrich meat itself tasted like emu, but not as stinky and definitely less gamey. It was an interesting experience but at $12 a pop, I’m better off sticking to beef burgers.

Souvlaki skewers and chips

Souvlaki skewers and chips

Good ol’ Hasan food.

Gua bao

Gua bao

I was excited to see a Taiwanese snack stall but unfortunately, the gua bao there weren’t as good as the ones served at Taiwan Café, Food Republik et al.

Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)

Jamaican jerk chicken and festivals (cassava dumplings)

The jerk chicken is worth a try (even if it’s just to giggle at the dish’s name). Unfortunately, I found the chicken to be very dry when I had it and the spices weren’t as vibrant as the chicken at Jamroc (one of the few things I miss about the Gold Coast).

Takoyaki seller

Takoyaki seller

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I wouldn’t recommend the okonomiyaki or takoyaki here – they were soggy and pretty bland.

Vanilla ice cream sandwich

Vanilla ice cream sandwich

Profile pic, Pete!

Profitjes

Profitjes

One does not go to a market without buying a plate of Dutch pancakes.

So there you have it. Melbourne’s Queen Vic Night Market. Obviously there’s heaps more to see but that’s just a small snippet of what you can find. There’s live music and non-food stuff for sale too. I’ll probably try and squeeze in another visit before they stop doing it; after all, I still need to try the camel burger.

Queen Victoria Night Market runs every Wednesday from 5pm until March 26th 2014.

Review: Crystal Jade Golden Palace (Singapore)

Shop 22, Level 5
Paragon Shopping Centre
290 Orchard Road
Singapore 238859
Singapore
+65 6738 5535
http://www.crystaljade.com/

What does one do when they have a spare five hours to kill in Singapore before they have to catch a flight back to Jakarta?

They go shopping, of course!

And would you believe it, I went shopping for clothes and for make-up. After all, I couldn’t resist the Ciate nail polish advent calendar kit box thing (and yes, I know that I could never be a beauty blogger). All that effort, though, got us hungry and so I decided to take my siblings for yum cha – once they had consumed their weight in ‘meh’ fries at some fry stand, of course.

Crystal Jade is a pretty big deal all over Asia. There are around a hundred stores all up serving predominantly Cantonese food, though Teochew and Shanghainese dishes make occasional appearances. In the heart of Singapore alone, there are no less than five Crystal Jade restaurants. And from the sounds of it, all restaurants get packed during the yum cha rush on weekends.

We were lucky to score a table for three at the Paragon Shopping Centre branch just after 12:45pm. We had to be back at the hotel by 2pm, though, so we decided to just keep things simple by ordering a handful of dishes. It wasn’t going to be hard though as Ken isn’t a fan of yum cha food (yeah, how the hell are we related?) and plus, both of them were still semi-full from the fries. The idiots.

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Like most yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong, each table has an order pad where you write down your selection before giving it to the waiter.

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We were given some roasted peanuts to nibble on while we waited for our food. Always a nice touch, I thought at the time.

Chicken wu gok (SG$4.80)

Chicken wu gok (SG$4.80)

I’ve never encountered a wu gok that came with a chicken filling rather than a pork filling so this was new to me. I think it worked just as well; it was probably slightly less sweet than the pork filling which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Xiao Long Bao (SG$5.50)

Xiao Long Bao (SG$5.50)

We ordered two portions of XLBs. They were magnificent – we loved the perfectly delicate skins while the filling struck the right balance between sweet and moorish. They were definitely some of the best XLBs I’ve had.

Har gow (SG$6)

Har gow (SG$6)

For some reason, our bamboo prawn dumplings took almost 40 minutes to arrive. This annoyed me a little bit because you’d think a yum cha restaurant would be better prepared for an onslaught of har gow orders on a Saturday afternoon.

Apparently not.

Just as I was getting the waiter to double-check on them, Ken was like, ‘Shush, Chibs, I’m sure they’re doing the best they can!’ Now, I’m a pretty understanding diner; I know how hectic it can get in the kitchen and if a dish takes longer than usual to arrive, I don’t normally make a big song and dance about it – unless, of course, the wait has been unreasonable. Such as this 40-minute wait for one steamer of har gow.

But anyway, we did end up getting our har gow. They were okay, but you could tell that they rushed it as the skins were very soggy. Not cool.

In the end, we didn’t think our meal at Crystal Jade Golden Palace was worth it. Sure, the XLBs were fantastic but we were let down by the har gow (and the wait for the har gow) and the bill. I can understand being charged a service fee (we were in a nice restaurant in Asia, after all) but I wasn’t too pleased about being charged for what I assumed were complimentary peanuts. Hell, we didn’t eat that many either – probably a couple each? This sort of begged the question: Would diners still get charged for the peanuts even if they don’t touch them? And how would the restaurant know whether the diner ate the peanuts or not? Do they count them or what?

So that concludes my very short Singapore foodie adventures. Hopefully there will be a lot more in the near future. In the meantime, let’s go back to Indonesia…

Review: Azabu Sabo Hokkaido Ice Cream (Singapore)

#B2-08-05, Takashimaya Shopping Centre
391 Orchard Road
Singapore 238872
Singapore
+65 6333 8509

Ah, Singapore. The land of chilli crabs, kaya toast and Under One Roof.

The last time I visited was 10 years ago. I was a kid back then so I didn’t remember much from that trip apart from thinking that their chewing gum ban sucked and being a sook because the folks at Singapore Airlines put too much spinach in the kid’s meals.

So when I ended up in Singapore for a paltry 24-hour stopover 1.5 months ago, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

We were staying at a hotel on Orchard Road and due to time constraints, we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to explore Clarke Quay, Marina Bay Sands et al but hey, there’s always next time.

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For now, though, we have Azabu Sabo Hokkaido Ice Cream. What, Japanese ice cream? In Singapore? Damn, right bitches!

Azabu Sabo is a dessert chain that originated from Tokyo. Using ingredients such as red beans and dairy products imported from Hokkaido, their aim is to dish out legit Japanese desserts. There are currently several stores in Singapore, with the main one being in Clarke Quay. I was recommended to go to the Clarke Quay branch by one of Twitter buddies but couldn’t make it. Luckily, there happened to be an Azabu Sabo right in the middle of Orchard Road. Granted, this one only sold ice cream as opposed to the entire dessert repertoire but still!

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The flavours here aren’t Gelato Messina-like crazy but they certainly sufficed, at least to the conservative Singaporean crowd.

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y sister Janice and I decided to get cups rather than cones, despite how pretty the cones looked (ice cream! looking like pine trees!). We figured it was cleaner that way. So anyway, Janice had a cup with chocolate and green tea ice cream. The ice cream itself was soft and creamy but without being heavy – think a gelato and a scoop of supermarket vanilla ice cream meeting halfway and making babies, that’s what you’ll get.

While I didn’t think the chocolate ice cream was anything special (not that I was ever a fan of chocolate ice cream anyway), I thought the green tea one was excellent. The matcha flavour was so intense and there was none of that sickly sugar aftertaste either.

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I got the salted caramel and milk tea combination. The salted caramel ice cream was more salty rather than sweet, which is always a plus for me. I did find it relatively one-dimensional compared to the normally intense versions I get in Melbourne but I’m not sure whether this subdued version was due to the texture or whether it was toned down to suit the Asian palate.

In contrast, the milk tea ice cream was mind-blowingly friggin’ amazeballs. My first bite was akin to the first time I heard Darren Hayes ace a high note – it sent shivers down my spine, but in a good way. It wasn’t too sweet and there was a perfect balance of milk and tea flavours (the ice cream, of course, not Mr Hayes). If it weren’t for the fact that I was due to fly to Jakarta the next day, I would have happily bought a tub to take away.

So this milk tea ice cream was one of the greatest things I got to try in Singapore and I’ll happily go again the next time I’m in town (hopefully for more than 24 hours though!).

Review: Maxim’s Jade Garden (Hong Kong International Airport)

Shop 8T010
Level 8, Terminal 1
Hong Kong International Airport
+852 2186 6068

Our final meal in Hong Kong was at the airport. What the, the airports? Don’t they suck when it comes to food offerings? To be honest, HKG actually has some decent eateries (we definitely weren’t in Coolangatta anymore!) so when my aunty suggested we have yum cha at Jade Garden in HKG, I was totes down for it.

Jade Garden is a Cantonese restaurant that belongs to the Maxim Group’s chain of restaurants. There are actually several Jade Garden restaurants all over Hong Kong but, as predicted, we didn’t get around to trying any of them. Until now.

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Hong Kong International Airport epitomises efficiency and sterility neatly in two terminals so it was strange having a proper yum cha meal there. Jade Garden is perched on level 8 of T1 which meant that we got mad views of the check-in counters and passengers entering the airport.

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A far cry from the plastic knives and forks you see at Australian airports…

I also loved that we each got our own little teapot filled with Chinese tea.

The format here is just like most yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong – there is no trolley service, you’re pretty much given a paper menu and you write down how many of each item you want before handing your order to the waitress.

Braised chicken feet in abalone sauce (HKD$48/AUD$7.27)

Braised chicken feet in abalone sauce (HKD$48/AUD$7.27)

I don’t normally eat chicken feet but I decided to give this one a go just to see how it fared to the Melbourne equivalents. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too bland and even my chicken feet-loving father agreed with me.

Deep fried wontons stuffed with shrimp (HKD$24/AUD$3.53)

Deep fried wontons stuffed with shrimp (HKD$24/AUD$3.53)

This was very much a ‘Ken order’ (i.e. my brother who doesn’t like Chinese food expect for wontons, spring rolls, beef-anything and har gow); it was okay.

Steamed rice flour rolls (HKD$38/AUD$5.76)

Steamed rice flour rolls (HKD$38/AUD$5.76)

The cheung fun dish was another one in the ‘okay’ pile; nothing terrible but also nothing fantastic.

Pan-fried buns stuffed with minced pork and pepper (four pieces for HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

Pan-fried buns stuffed with minced pork and pepper (four pieces for HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

I ordered these thinking that they were shengjianbao, only to find that they weren’t. That’d teach me not to know the Chinese characters for ‘shengjian’ and for ordering what I thought were Shanghainese breakfast staples in Hong Kong. These were alright too but I would have loved the outsides to be a bit more crunchy and more importantly, more filling inside.

Signature steamed lobster dumpling (HKD$68/AUD$10.30)

Signature steamed lobster dumpling (HKD$68/AUD$10.30)

One of Jade Garden’s signature dishes is their lobster dumpling which doesn’t come cheap. It is pretty much a giant steamed dumpling stuffed with lobster.

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On paper, it sounded good. In reality, it tasted pretty ordinary for just over AUD$10.

Steamed vegetarian dumplings (HKD$30/AUD$4.54)

Steamed vegetarian dumplings (HKD$30/AUD$4.54)

Steamed pork and shrimp dumplings (HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

Steamed pork and shrimp dumplings (HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

Har gow (HKD$40/AUD$6.06), BBQ pork buns (HKD$30/AUD$4.54)

Har gow (HKD$40/AUD$6.06), BBQ pork buns (HKD$30/AUD$4.54)

And there were more dumplings. They were thankfully better than the first couple of dishes we tried but they definitely weren’t the best. Hell, I’ve had better har gow in Melbourne and paid a lot less for them!

Steamed beef short ribs with black pepper and BBQ sauce (HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

Steamed beef short ribs with black pepper and BBQ sauce (HKD$36/AUD$5.45)

None of us ordered the ribs but we ended up eating them anyway – and we were glad for them because they were probably the best dish we had. The meat was so tender and the sauce was lip-smackingly addictive. I can’t even remember if we got charged for them but whatevs.

Tofu pudding served with syrup and brown sugar (HKD$68 per pot/AUD$10.30)

Tofu pudding served with syrup and brown sugar (HKD$68 per pot/AUD$10.30)

The dessert was also pretty good. We loved the little tub our tofu pudding was served in and there was enough for everyone to have a bit of a nibble. The syrup was, thankfully, not overbearingly sweet while the tofu was silky and smooth.

Even though our meal finished on a slight high, it didn’t make up for the fact that most of the previous dishes were just okay. And it wasn’t cheap either! I’m not sure if all Maxim restaurants are like this or whether the fact that the airport location made this particular restaurant so sterile and bleh. Either way, give me Tim Ho Wan and Lin Heung any time.

And so this wraps up my Hong Kong series. Hong Kong, you were amazing. I can’t wait to do you all over again in seven month’s time.