The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Kim Chi Hut (Melbourne, VIC)

185 Coleman Parade
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9574 8383

Linda and I don’t mind a bit of Korean every now and then. It’s been a while since either of us had ventured down to Glen Waverley for a feed so we decided to find the highest ranked Korean restaurant there on Urbanspoon for our next dinner destination.

We landed on Kim Chi Hut which had a score in the low 90s, a reputable score. It was a mid-week dinner so we walked in without making reservations. That said, it was surprisingly packed for a Wednesday night so ringing up to book anyway would be a wise decision.

Mandu (8 for $12)

Mandu (8 for $12)

We split a main-sized serving of Korean dumplings. I have no idea why a random bunch of sautéed mushrooms were dumped unceremoniously on top of the dumplings but I love my mushrooms anyway so it was no biggie. What turned out to be a biggie, however, were the dumplings – they were oily and soggy. Not cool, bro.

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Obligatory free banchan

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Not-so-obligatory free miso soup (but was appreciated nonetheless)

Beef rice stone pot with sweet soy marinated beef ($16.80)

Beef rice stone pot with sweet soy marinated beef ($16.80)

We both ordered the beef rice stone pot, or bibimbap. At $16.80, it was by no means the cheapest bibimbap in town.

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While the whole shebang was nice, I found the vegetable-beef-rice ratio a bit uneven. And what’s with the way too many pieces of cucumber slices and lettuce?! It was good but not $16.80 good.

Despite the ‘just okay’ food, the service was prompt and friendly. I don’t go to Glen Waverley much these days and probably wouldn’t go back again for a return meal. Hell, I probably wouldn’t go again even if I just so HAPPENED to be lurking around the area, especially since there are so many good food options nearby. I’m not sure why Kim Chi Hut scored highly on Urbanspoon; perhaps we just ordered the wrong thing or perhaps the voters ate a whole lot of mushrooms – and not the ones we consumed with the dumplings either…

Kimchi Hut on Urbanspoon

Review: Masak Masak (Melbourne, VIC)

230 Smith Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 9417 4510
http://www.masakmasak.com.au/

I don’t normally venture out of the ‘burbs when I crave Malaysian food. After all, there’s excellent home-style Malaysian food to be found five minutes away from my house. However, one evening Pete and I were walking down Smith Street for whatever reason. It was that time of the night when we were starting to get hungry (and by that, I mean 6PM because damn, we’re geriatrics) so we decided to look for food.

We ended up at contemporary Malaysian restaurant Masak Masak because we saw that they had stingray on the menu they posted up on their window. Not one to be deterred by unusual food, we immediately walked in and asked for a table for two. Plus, a few of my friends had been to Masak Masak and loved it so I knew we wouldn’t have a terrible meal.

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Wooden floors and cute pastel-coloured metal stools created a contemporary yet playful setting, perfectly reflecting the menu that was big on traditional Malaysian fare with splashes of modern twists.

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I ordered a teh tarik (pulled tea); I found the tea a bit too sweet and not starchy (read: ‘pulled’) enough for me though.

The word ‘masak’ means cook in both Bahasa Indonesia and Malay and cooking is what they do well here (well, duh, obvs or they wouldn’t be running a restaurant). The menu is not overly extensive, yet every dish sounded amazing on paper. If we weren’t so set on the stingray, we probably would have grabbed the cola pork belly instead. Regardless, we ended up getting the $49 set dinner, which was just more than enough to feed two people – three if they didn’t have massive stomachs like the two of us.

We liked that we were able to choose what went into the set dinner: something from the ‘bites’ menu, followed by a charcoal grill satay (‘chicken or beef?’), a snack, a larger plate and then even larger plate before finishing off with some macarons from Luxbite.

If we were to order everything individually, it would have cost $55. Not that $6 is a substantial saving but hey, that amount gets me to work each morning so leave it at that, okay? So yes, I would recommended the set dinner menu if you’re planning to have a massive dinner. If you just want to order one dish or have only a couple of nibbles before venturing elsewhere on Smith Street though, I wouldn’t bother.

Century egg, pickled ginger, chilli oil

Century egg, pickled ginger, chilli oil

We started off with a century egg that was quartered and flavoured with pickled gingers and chilli oil. I don’t normally eat century egg unless it’s in congee but I appreciated the delicateness of both the egg and dressing.

Chicken satays

Chicken satays

The chicken satays with pickled onions and cucumbers were alright, but by no means fantastic. It could be my Indonesian bias speaking but I found them a bit too sweet and the accompanying peanut sauce oily.

House-made pork jerky in toasted brioche roll with omelette

House-made pork jerky in toasted brioche roll with omelette

Props, however, should be given to the pork jerky (bakwah) roll. I love a good jerky (so much so that I have my own dehydrator so I can make my own beef ones at home) so there was no way I was going to agree to let Pete order anything else BUT this from the snacks menu.

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The bakwah was glorious in all its stickiness and sweetness. I thought the buttery brioche would have made the dish overpoweringly sweet but there was none of that. What a perfect snack.

Kon Low Mee with prawn wonton

Kon Low Mee with prawn wonton

At only $8, the kon low mee with prawn wontons and bok choy represented excellent value. I’m a sucker for dried egg noodles and Masak Masak nailed it. They didn’t skimp on the prawns for the wontons too and there was a small bowl of chicken broth if we ended that bit of extra flavour (not necessary in this case).

Grilled stingray with pineapple and coriander salsa

Grilled stingray with pineapple and coriander salsa

And then came the stingray. After taking several photos of each other posing with a forkful of stingray like twats, it was time to dig in. The mammal was beautifully grilled over charcoal which resulted in a lovely smoky flavour that went well with the belachan sauce that was smeared all over it. The meat itself isn’t that remarkable though – think a slightly blander version of mackerel.

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After all that, dessert was a relatively subdued affair – a Kopiko-flavoured Luxbite macaron each. To be fair though, I do love my Luxbite macarons and we really didn’t need to eat anything else after all the food we had. You win, Masak Masak.

Our meal at Masak Masak was as exciting as seeing Hamilton win the Malaysian Grand Prix this year. I loved that each course was not only served with a smile by our friendly waiter, but also came with different twists and turns. This is definitely a Malaysian restaurant worth trekking away from the ‘burbs to.

Masak Masak on Urbanspoon

Review: Paperboy Kitchen (Melbourne, VIC)

320 Little Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9642 0147
http://paperboy.com.au/

I love my Vietnamese food more than every second person I know loves tuning into The Bachelor. But it’s getting to the point where every second person (probably the same people who love Blake, Amber et al) is opening up a Vietnamese ‘street food’ eatery in Melbourne and its surroundings. Bloody enough, already!

But like a sucker for a romantic story, I’m also a sucker for anything vaguely related to good ol’ honest Vietnamese food. Thus, you can sort of see why I was keen to check out Paperboy Kitchen. I had a day off work on the day and Sophie happened to be in town so we decided to catch up for an early lunch. It wasn’t busy when we rocked up just before 12PM so we were lucky to grab a Little Lonsdale Street-facing table where we can walk the world go by while we ate.

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The menu at Paperboy Kitchen is simple – it’s pretty much all ‘rolls and bowls’ (that is, banh mi and vermicelli salad bowls). There’s also a small selection of sweets and drinks too. We ordered our food at the counter before being given a giraffe (as opposed to a number) to take with us. Cute.

Pulled lamb and hoisin bowl ($13.50)

Pulled lamb and hoisin bowl ($13.50)

All rolls and bowls come with Asian slaw (bloody ‘Asian slaw’), pickled carrots and daikon, Sriracha mayo and coriander. Lamb isn’t commonly found in Vietnamese restaurants and under normal circumstances, Sophie wouldn’t have ordered it. However, she currently lives in the States and apparently lamb isn’t big there so you can understand why her eyes lit up as soon as she saw lamb on the menu.

The slow cooked lamb shoulder came drizzled in sticky hoisin sauce which is just as well because the meat was pretty bland. Still, Sophie got her lamb fix so she was pretty happy.

Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50)

Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.50)

One does not go to a Vietnamese place without ordering Vietnamese iced coffee and certainly not someone who needed to get a ton of editing work done later that afternoon. Paperboy Kitchen does a neat Vietnamese-style single origin filter coffee with a lovely layer of condensed milk for the same price as a coffee at a Vietnamese restaurant. The only difference here is that Paperboy Kitchen doesn’t rip you off by putting as much ice in the glass – and let’s not forget the striped straw.

Slow cooked beef bowl ($12.50)

Slow cooked beef bowl ($12.50)

I went for the beef bowl because the menu said that it came with a pho dipper – that is, a splash of pho broth on the side to dip your braised brisket pieces in. While I loved the concept, I think I’d rather much prefer to have a proper bowl of pho to slurp on as opposed to having it on the side to dunk. Like Sophie’s lamb, the beef was also bland so the pho dipper really did nothing to accentuate the dish. Not even the gooey egg (an extra dollar or two or something like that) did much to pimp up the dish, though I always appreciate gooey eggs regardless.

In a city full of Vietnamese food-loving hipsters, Paperboy Kitchen will thrive. To be honest though, I can’t see myself going back for ‘just okay’ food at those prices, even if I was desperate for Vietnamese food (I can sit through a 10-minute train ride to Footscray). For the coffee though? Yeah, why not.

Paperboy Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Review: The Last Jar (Melbourne, VIC)

616 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9348 2957
http://www.thelastjar.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby and Nick dined as guests of The Last Jar and Sattler PR.

It may be spring in Melbourne but the nights are still cold and miserable. Fine, if you like that sort of thing (I don’t) but for everyone else, it sucks. Thankfully, there is a plethora of soul-warming and stomach-soothing options around town to keep the faux winter blues at bay – at least until those 40-degree summer days hit us.

If you’re sick of pho, ramen and soup kitchens, then a good Irish pub is the key to keeping warm – apart from steamy Tinder dates, if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not [anymore]). And while Melbourne is full of Irish pubs, rarely do you come across a decent one that’s free of dull and boring food and tacky Gaelic clichés. The Last Jar, however, is not just another Irish pub.

Owned and operated by Michelin-trained chef Tim Sweeney, The Last Jar is housed in what was formerly The Arthouse, a Melbourne punk institution back when I was listening to 5ive, The Offspring and Savage Garden (oh dear). It is a traditional Irish gastropub that serves classics such as the good ol’ Irish stew as well as more contemporary stuff such as whiskey cured salmon (omg, what!). Everything is fresh and locally sourced – and yes, they do have Guinness on tap because WTF kind of Irish pub wouldn’t?

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After chilling in the front bar with pints of Guinness, Nick and I retreated to the dining room where we continued our debate on whether I would go down the M1 or M2 (FYI Nick, M1 was too narrow of a road while M2 was smooth sailing all the way through). And of course, we couldn’t say no to another round of Guinness.

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At The Last Jar, the dark soda bread is made in-house and the butter is churned by hand. Together, they made a fantastic Hayden-Langer-esque partnership – I loved tasting the rich, creamy butter against the sweet and nutty bread that was made with oats, treacle and malt. Beautiful.

Sea snails with garlic butter

Sea snails with garlic butter

The snails were on the specials menu tonight and not something I’d normally order at an Irish place. Nick, however, had never eaten snails before so he was keen to give these babies a go. He loved them, I loved them. They were beautifully cooked – tender like a good calamari dish. Meanwhile, the garlic butter sauce was delicate rather than rich like the ones I’m used to eating at French restaurants but lovely all the same.

Irish stew ($24)

Irish stew ($24)

Nick loves the Irish stew they serve at The Quiet Man so he was keen to see whether The Last Jar’s version compared. As soon as it arrived, Nick automatically deducted points because la-di-da, it wasn’t served in a hollowed out bread loaf like the stew served at The Quiet Man. Bloody hell. Nick, however, begrudgingly admitted that the stew was hearty and tasty. He did have a point though – the stew at The Quiet Man was a lot more homely, more rustic.

Roasted half Milawa chicken, buttered roasted potato and salad of ham hock, cabbage and peas ($29)

Roasted half Milawa chicken, buttered roasted potato and salad of ham hock, cabbage and peas ($29)

I think I might have been on one of my ‘I’m going to limit bread’ eating spells when I ordered the roast chicken because dammit, since when do I voluntarily order chicken at restaurants? No regrets here though, for the chicken was delicious. The skin was beautifully crispy and the meat was unbelievably succulent and juicy; the whole bird was just so full of flavour. It was easily one of the best chicken dishes I’ve had.

Sticky date and walnut pudding with butterscotch and quince

Sticky date and walnut pudding with butterscotch and quince

Nick loves his sticky date pudding and although I was too full for dessert, I agreed to share a pudding with him. As expected, The Last Jar’s version of the humble dessert had slight quirks – the pudding’s taste was accentuated by walnuts and we both loved the butterscotch sauce and blob of quince on top. What a fantastic way to cap off a fabulous meal.

The Last Jar is an Irish pub that I’ll happily frequent again; unpretentious service and beautiful food in a lovely rustic setting – what more could you want? In particular, I would like to try dishes such as the salt ling potato cake and the hot ox tongue sandwich. And a bit more of that soda bread.

The Last Jar on Urbanspoon

Review: Sezar (Melbourne, VIC)

6 Melbourne Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9663 9882
http://sezar.com.au/

Last weekend, I helped Nee celebrate her twenty-something-plus-one birthday. In due course, you’ll hear about the time we all sat at a very awkward table at B’Stilla and then attempted to dance to some very terrible music at Poof Doof before my poor old head decided that it couldn’t take it anymore and so decided to spontaneously down a couple of whiskies with a fellow Twitterer at a random bar on Commercial Road. (hi Steve)

For now though, let’s recount the first dinner I had with Nee. We decided to meet up earlier this year after exchanging a few dating stories on Twitter and snapchatting each other. Yes, this is how ridiculously large my backlog is but now that I’m voluntarily living the semi-reclusive life, I’ll be up to date very shortly. Promise. For reals.

At the time, we were both working in Melbourne city so we decided to go to Sezar, the coolest (and probably only, as far as I know) Armenian restaurant in or around the city. Housed in the former St Peter’s restaurant, Sezar is owned by the guys who look after Black Toro in Glen Waverley. I wasn’t terribly wooed by Black Toro but was keen to see what Garen Maskal had in store for Sezar. Plus, I’d never had Armenian food before…

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I ordered the cocktail named after Kim Kardashian because why not? Like the lady herself, my cocktail was fruity and probably a bit too much (i.e. sweet) for some (i.e. me)…

Spanner crab manti (3 for $15)

Spanner crab manti (3 for $15)

Nee and I love dumplings and dumplings with crab in them? Bring it on, baby. The manti is the Armenian answer to the dumpling and we loved them. I especially loved the thick skins that house a generous portion of crab meat filling – all went well with the sumac yoghurt combined with the chilli oil.

Bastourma and egg (2 for $8)

Bastourma and egg (2 for $8)

I doubt that this is something  they eat back in the village – Armenian air dried beef, quail egg, toasted brioche and garlic jam, say what?! – but it was nevertheless another stellar dish. We loved the contrast between the crunchy brioche and the creaminess of the egg.

Slow cooked lamb shoulder ($70)

Slow cooked lamb shoulder ($70)

We expected the lamb shoulder to be a lot bigger than it was – after all, the menu said that a minimum of two people was required and after all, the dish WAS $70. The lamb came with some yoghurt sauce and tabouleh as well as flat steamed buns – think of it as a DIY dish.

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The lamb dish may have looked tiny upon first glance but it did well to fill us up pretty quickly. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth-and-sizzle-like-it’s-Queensland-hot-worthy (in other words, good) and the tangy yoghurt added a lovely creamy touch to each bite.

Spiced BBQ chicken ($28)

Spiced BBQ chicken ($28)

The chicken, however, was the highlight of the night. I normally don’t go out of my way to order chicken at restaurants because it’s so boring but because we’re gym girls who like to eat protein and all that jazz, we decided to order it. And thank goodness we did. The half bird was beautifully cooked; given that the meat was a bit salty, we reckon they brined it for a bit which explained the meat’s velvety soft texture. It was then served with bulgur, corn and herbed yoghurt; it was flavoursome within being too heavy, two thumbs up.

Zucchini and dill fritters ($9)

Zucchini and dill fritters ($9)

Just when you think we couldn’t fit anymore in (oh, har-har), out came the zucchini and dill fritters. I’m not a big fan of zucchini and I think Nee loves her fritters more than I do so I wasn’t initially keen on them. However, they were surprisingly tasty and we polished off the whole lot.

Semolina cake ($14)

Semolina cake ($14)

We had room to share a dessert between us, the semolina cake with slow cooked quince, almonds and crème fraiche ice cream. I normally love semolina desserts but this one erred on the rich side. That said, I supposed it could have been because we ate a shitload beforehand so we couldn’t enjoy it as much as we would have liked. It tasted lovely though – a little nutty, a little creamy and a little fruity.

I enjoyed our meal at Sezar just as much as I enjoyed hearing Nee recount a few Tinder horror stories. Unfortunately, my lack of experience with Armenian food meant that I have nothing to compare Sezar’s food too (and the one Armenian I met recently had to move back to Canada – hi Aaron!) so I can’t say whether this is close to the real thing or not. Regardless, the dishes were good enough for us to warrant a return visit – I’d totally have the chicken again.

Sezar on Urbanspoon

Review: Pho Nom (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 33, Lower Ground Floor
Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8609 8221
http://www.emporiummelbourne.com.au/Stores/Pho-Nom/

It’s no secret that pho happens to be one of my favourite dishes in the world. There is something special about slurping a broth flavoured with beef bones, a bunch of magical roasted spices, herbs and perhaps a dash of MSG to keep the tastebuds dancing like they’re on crack. The best places to eat pho in Melbourne are Footscray, Richmond and Springvale – and these days, the city.

Given how popular Vietnamese food is with the young and cool kids these days, it’s no surprise that the once humble and limelight-shying cuisine has been shoved into the hipster spotlight. And all of a sudden, we now have several dozen pho places in the city to choose from. Some are very good while others are atrocious. Thankfully, Jerry and David Mai’s Pho Nom is one of the good ones.

Nestled on the lower ground floor of Emporium Melbourne is Pho Nom, a pho specialist that has been attracting a lot of social media attention thanks to its ‘no MSG’ pho. I’ve been to Pho Nom several times already and it’s definitely up there with one of my favourite places to have an early lunch in. I just go to the counter, order my dish and plonk myself on a table with a book to read or a manuscript to edit as I sit there enjoying my pho.

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You help yourself to all the garnishes and sauces at Pho Nom. It’s a good idea because it means that you don’t see a lot of plates of bean shoots being left to waste once the patrons leave.

Pho bo Hanoi ($11)

Pho bo Hanoi ($11)

You can’t go wrong with beef pho; on more than once occasion, I’ve ordered the sliced beef pho. The Saigon version comes with brisket and beef balls for an extra buck and if you’re feeling fancy, you can even get the wagyu version for $15.

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Given that the brother doesn’t have any MSG, it doesn’t pack a lot of punch. As a result, the broth is a lot more delicate – some even say it’s TOO delicate. However, it’s a small price to pay for not having to walk around with an annoying tickle down your throat (the result of eating a dish with too much MSG in it). On other occasions, I’ve tried the chicken and beef pho which is also quite nice. And on all occasions, I’ve had Vietnamese iced coffee because screw trying to work on zero caffeine.

Pho Nom definitely sets the bar high for excellent pho in Melbourne city – and MSG-free pho while we’re at it. Perhaps the no MSG thing will encourage other places to do the same and that can only be a good thing.

Phở Nom on Urbanspoon

Review: Ruyi (Melbourne, VIC)

16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9090 7778
http://ruyi.com.au/

I think it’s fair to say that one shouldn’t expect the best service at a cheap and easy dumpling restaurant. You go there, you order, you polish off a plate of dumplings with your mates (or if you’re a loser like me, alone) and then you exit stage left, all within the space of thirty minutes – maybe 45 minutes if you’re a slow eater like myself.

But when you go to a slightly upmarket dumpling restaurant, it’s reasonable to expect some level of good service. After all, you’re paying for the fancy fittings, a smile there and there and hospitality by forking out at least $3 for a dumpling. And when you do that, you better hope those dumplings bloody be good!

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Unfortunately, the DDR crew (as in Dave, Daisy, Ricky and myself) got none of that when we dined at Ruyi.

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On paper, Ruyi sounds amazing. The beautiful quasi-Scandinavian Hecker Guthrie-designed dining room is warm, modern and just that little bit earthy – in fact, it’s the sort of look I wouldn’t mind for my future house. Think beautiful sun-reflecting light wood infused with traditional Chinese crimson and jade tones. Throw in some upmarket Chinese food using premium ingredients and off you go.

The DDR crew brought along a guest from Hong Kong to dinner, which meant there were five of us on the table. The menu is designed for sharing so we agreed to order whatever sounded good on the menu. Once that was done, we signalled for someone to take our order – on that night, the owner happened to be in charge of the floor.

So we set about ordering a whole bunch of stuff, a mix of dumplings and mains to share. We began by reciting three dumpling dishes from the menu before the owner interrupted us: ‘Is that all the dumplings you’re going to order? Because we’re actually not like those other dumpling restaurants where $10 gives you fifteen pieces you know.’

Me: ‘I’m well aware of that.’

Owner: ‘Okay, okay, just letting you know.’

I thought that was a bit weird but I continued with the order – just three more larger dishes and two desserts to round off the innings. All up, there were eight dishes between the four of us.

Owner: ‘I’m not sure if you guys have realised but we’re actually not like all the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. Our portions aren’t big and you’re not going to be full – you’ll have to order more, I’m afraid.’

WTAF!

I may have been over-thinking things but I detected a tone of snobbery in his voice, like we were just a bunch of fobs who didn’t know that this was a slightly upmarket place. I get that he was trying to alleviate any potential disappointment that we might have when are presented with a plate that’s smaller than what we’re used to when dining at a Chinese restaurant but still, I didn’t like his tone or the way he went about saying it. He also could have done the whole ‘this menu is designed to share, we recommend you order three smalls and two large dishes’ beforehand like most restaurants that offer sharing plates tend do these days but there was none of that.

So I said to him: ‘No, this is all we’re going to order. If we’re hungry, we’ll order more food.’

But who’s to tell me how much food I’m supposed to eat?!

The owner nodded without smiling and off he went. And I’m sorry, guys, but that pretty much soured our Ruyi experience.

But let’s get on with the food.

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

Pork and crab xiaolongbao (4 pieces for $12)

At $3 each, the xiaolongbao didn’t come cheap. Oh sure, each dumpling contained crab meat and sure, the pork was probably (but probably not) free range pork but still, $3 is as steep as the Grampians.

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They were nice, but not $3 nice.

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

Handmade wonton in chilli sauce (6 pieces for $15)

The chilli sauce wontons were slightly cheaper, but $2.50 per dumpling is still not cheap in anyone’s books. Again nice, but not omg-so-gewd-foodgasms-galore nice.

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

Pan fried pork and chive dumpling (6 pieces for $15)

It was the same deal with the fried pork and chive dumplings – see a pattern here? In fact, I dare say these were slightly oily and although they don’t look it in the photo, they were a bit soggy too.

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

Salt and pepper soft shell crab ($16)

I’m not big on soft shell crab so I already knew I wasn’t going to like these. This was a very bland dish; not only that, the batter lack the requisite crunch. Those on the table who are actually into this crustacean also agreed with me – they were also disappointed.

Duck stir fry ($26)

Duck stir fry ($26)

Compared to the soft shell crab, the duck stir fry wasn’t too bad. Throw in a handful of shredded roasted duck and bean shoots into a sticky sweet sauce, how can you fail? Sure, they didn’t fail but they certainly didn’t top the class. The sauce, which I found too sweet in the first place, bogged the elements of the dish down. Not only that, there was a serious lack of wok hei in this dish. It was very dull and lifeless – kind of like me at the moment thanks to my cold but at least I taste (somewhat) delicious.

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

Summer chicken: chicken pieces, mango, vegetables ($25)

We were told that this was Ruyi’s interpretation of the ‘Aussie favourite, the lemon chicken.’ The only difference between a plate of the suburban classic and Ruyi’s summer chicken was that they used mangoes instead of lemons. Big whoop. I found the sauce very sweet and one-dimensional, thus making the whole thing boring.

After that, we had the option to order more food. We were all still hungry so I guess the owner made a good point about us not having ordered enough food. Still, I didn’t like the way we were told that. At this point, none of us were keen to order anything else from the a la carte menu so we ordered a couple of desserts to share and decided to head elsewhere to fill the remaining sad, empty cervices in our stomachs.

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Fragrant floral jelly with ice cream and pistachio nuts ($12)

Compared to the savoury dishes, Ruyi’s desserts were decent. The delicate and herby jelly paired well with the creamy vanilla ice cream, while the pistachio added a lovely crunch. It was a well-balanced and refreshing dessert.

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

Banana fritter with golden fried frozen milk and chocolate ice cream ($15)

The banana fritters would have been great if they hadn’t used chocolate ice cream – but that’s just me, I’m not a fan of chocolate ice cream. The ‘frozen milk’ was essentially milk custard blobs that were battered and then fried, something that sounded good on paper but were just okay to taste.

Given all the seemingly positive social media hype surrounding Ruyi, we were disappointed with our meal. The owner’s attitude went a long way in diminishing our experience but the mediocre food at not-so-cheap prices didn’t help Ruyi’s cause either. It’s a beautiful restaurant (probably one of the prettiest I’ve been in for a while) but what’s the point when the food and service isn’t up to scratch?

In the end, we all finished our night at a Hot Star Chicken outlet where a few pieces of (quite possibly) genetically modified chicken breast fillets coated in batter and spices and stuff made us happier than the meal we had at Ruyi.

RuYi Modern Chinese on Urbanspoon

Review: New Shanghai (Melbourne, VIC)

Shop 323, Level 3
Emporium Melbourne
287 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9994 9386
http://www.newshanghai.com.au/

After many months of delays and quasi-openings, Emporium Melbourne FINALLY opened with a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza, lots of champagne and lots of sexy Melburnians wearing black last week. I might have seen some of you on the night – I was the girl in a strapless purple Zimmermann dress who said a lot of dumb things such as ‘Did you want my last name or surname?’

Before the official opening though, a lot of the Emporium eateries had already started trading. One of them was New Shanghai, a dumpling restaurant that originated in Sydney but has since branched out to Brisbane and now Melbourne.

Being a dumpling fanatic, I had wanted to go to the Sydney restaurant for quite some time now. However, the thought of going all the way to Ashfield just for dumplings seemed tedious. Let’s face it, going to Newtown is already a task for me – but then again, I’m lazy these days. So when I heard they were opening up shop in Melbourne, I was a happy little dumpling.

I went here one lunchtime with ex-colleague Amy, her husband Brandon and their beautiful few-months-old daughter, Keira. Having rocked up just after 2PM on a Friday afternoon, there wasn’t a lot of people at the restaurant so we were seated immediately and our dumplings didn’t take too long to arrive.

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Oh yes, all the dumplings. OURS OURS OURS!

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

Xiaolongbao (8 for $7.80)

New Shanghai’s signature dumplings are the soup-filled xiaolongbaos. They weren’t the prettiest-looking xiaolongbaos but like the sassy girl you ignored in geography class, they were full of personality and tasted delicious (ooh, dirty!). The broth had the slightest hint of sweetness and the skins achieved the perfect balance of delicate yet firm.

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

Pork and chive dumplings (12 for $9.80)

The pork and chive dumplings were also well done. They were both tasty and refined – a far cry from the nasty oily masses of WTFness that you sometimes get at restaurants a few blocks down.

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

Beef and coriander dumplings (12 for $11.80)

The beef and coriander dumplings look almost the same as the pork ones so I don’t know why I bothered to post a photo of them up (for the sake of completeness, duh, Libby). Here, the filling was accentuated by five spice powder and coriander, making them more pleasing to the nose; they also gave the dumplings a lovely sweet taste. At the end of the day though, I will always prefer pork dumplings over beef, chicken or lamb ones.

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Shengjianbao (8 for $10.50)

Finally, we enjoyed some pan-fried Shanghai buns. They tied with the xiaolongbaos as the dishes of the afternoon – they were juicy and packed full of flavour. Best of all, they had firm butts. Oooh yeah. My only gripe would be that the skins were perhaps a little TOO doughy but whatever, a good shengjianbao in Melbourne is hard to find and these did hit the spot.

For a city dumpling restaurant that attempts to be quasi-upmarket (think Din Tai Fung, Hu Tong et al), New Shanghai excels in terms of quality and price. We were all very happy with our dishes and just as surprised to find that everything was inexpensive. I’m actually quite sceptical of a lot of the Emporium restaurants (food court dining? bah!) but New Shanghai is a place that I can definitely see myself returning to on a regular basis.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Review: Rockwell and Sons (Melbourne, VIC)

288 Smith Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 8415 0700
http://www.rockwellandsons.com.au/

My dear friend Hasan is the fussiest eater I know. And I don’t mean fussy in the ‘I only eat organic shit, thanks’ way but more so the ‘I like what I like so if something looks weird, I won’t eat it.’ That means nothing Asian, nothing with eggs in it and nothing that contains a lot of vegetables. (yeah, I know – if he was straight and on Tinder, I’d be swiping left)

Whenever we eat out, we usually stick to pub grub, pizza or burgers. Once, he convinced me to have Red Rooster with him and because I had not been in a year, I agreed (of course, five minutes after I finished my Rippa Roll, I felt the need to throw up). The next time we decided to go out, I made sure I chose the venue. There was going to be no fast food for us this time!

Thankfully, Hasan was open to having a late lunch at Rockwell and Sons. He was always down for some burgers and was even happy to tram out to Smith Street with me, though I suspect his willingness to perform the latter was because it meant that he could spend hours at one of Smith Street’s music stores and spend money on Janet Jackon vinyls.

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It was just after 2PM on a Saturday night when we showed up. It was busy but luckily we were able to nab one of the last few available tables with a good view of the bar – and the bartender dude who reminded me of Adam from Girls.

Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)

Strawberry and star anise drink ($5)

Being an American dude food place, Rockwell and Sons offer glasses of ‘old-fashioned’ lemonade, which is what I would have normally ordered but I decided to try the more unusual strawberry and star anise drink. I’m not a fan of strawberry-flavoured drinks (and especially not strawberry milk) but I didn’t mind this one – it was almost like drinking a strawberry cordial but with more substance thanks to the addition of star anise and a bit of lemon.

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Burgers and fries – like Maccas, but better.

Double patty smash burger ($11)

Double patty smash burger ($11)

Speaking of Maccas, Rockwell and Son’s signature double patty smash burger (which we both ordered) is a nod to the Big Mac. Like the Big Mac, it came with a seeded bun, Kraft (yes, Kraft) cheese and ‘special sauce.’ The only things missing were the pickles and lettuce – and that sick feeling you get after eating a Big Mac. The bun was seed, but not so sweet that it would be considered a dessert. The meat was juicy and tender, while the special sauce actually had depth in it. And for the Kraft cheese, hah, well.

We both loved our burger so it was fitting that it had the word ‘smash’ in its name; if it was a person, I’d be smashing it. Hasan even went as far to say that it was better than a burger from Huxtaburger, his favourite burger place until this point.

French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)

French fries with malt vinegar mayo ($6)

We shared a serving of fries. They were double-cooked so they came to us beautifully crunchy and dusted with a healthy dosage of crack chicken salt. The malt vinegar mayo was also lovely – I like vinegar but not all over my chips so this was a nice subtle way to a bit of tang to each bite.

There was only one dessert on the menu, chocolate and pretzel twist soft serve. I don’t go crazy over chocolate desserts but when I see chocolate mixed with something savoury, I’m all over it. Unfortunately, we were too full to order dessert so we promised we’d come back next time.

With happy bellies, we left Rockwell and Sons vowing to return for their fried chicken (which I’ve heard is meant to be fabulous). And off Hasan went to yet another record store with something like eight new vinyls.

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

Review: Two Lost Boys (Melbourne, VIC)

20/2 Maddock Street
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9939 9313
http://www.twolostboys.com.au/

I like cafés with quirky names and Two Lost Boys happens to be one of them. It’s charming, it’s whimsical and aptly sums up half the men I know at any given time (the ‘lost boys’ bit, obviously – I do know more than just two who happen to be ‘lost’).

I had brunch here with fellow blogger Catherine one weekend. We met for the first time at a Vue de Monde event and made promises to catch up properly for a meal. Mind you, it took us forever to organise something being the busy bees we are but we finally got there.

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The Windsor/Prahran corridor is busy on any given day and night, so it’s refreshing to pop into a café that’s actually pretty chilled. In fact, I could be fooled into thinking I was in inner Brisbane or something like that. The room was sunny, the people were chilled – there was even a Gold Coast-like bronze Adonis wearing shorts and thongs despite the chilly Melbourne morning.

Latte ($3.80)

Latte ($3.80)

The coffee at Two Lost Boys is by local roasters Monk Bodhi Dharma. I love my milk coffees and Two Lost Boys do an excellent silky smooth latte – actually is there any place in Melbourne that DOESN’T do a good latte? (wait, don’t answer that)

Two Lost Boys’ menu focuses on organic locally farmed produce and because I’m a bit of a wanker about buying organic food and reducing food miles and all that, I was like, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’

Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)

Sweet potato and beetroot fritters with salmon and poached eggs ($16)

Catherine had the sweet potato and beetroot fritters, something I wouldn’t have minded ordering myself but for the fact that I’m not a sweet potato person. That, plus the beetroot would have made the fritters super sweet and Libby very cranky (being a savoury fiend and all). Surprisingly though, the fritters were not as sweet as I thought and I loved how the horseradish and walnut cream gave a bit of creamy earthiness to the dish. If only that piece of house-cured salmon was a bit bigger…

Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)

Lemon and ricotta pancakes with mascarpone and slivered almonds ($14)

For someone who isn’t into sweet breakfasts, it’s therefore strange that I ordered the lemon and ricotta pancakes topped with mascarpone and drizzled unceremoniously with sticky sweet molasses. But alas! For $4, I ordered a side of bacon so everything was right in the world again.

The pancakes were light and fluffy and paired well with the mascarpone. In saying that though, I found the dish a bit heavy – I couldn’t decide if it was all the heavy carbs going into my stomach or the molasses. Either way, I struggled to finish it.

Two Lost Boys is a great place to have brunch in a less hectic part of 3181. The coffee is good, the staff are friendly and the food is interesting enough for me to make the trek from the eastern suburbs. Just make sure you go easy on the pancakes.

Two Lost Boys on Urbanspoon