Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

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 my 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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My 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.

Review: Shang Palace (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel
Lower Level 1, 64 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2721 2111
http://www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/kowloonshangrila/dining/restaurants/shang-palace/

On my final night in Hong Kong, my siblings wanted to have McDonalds for dinner. Now, there is nothing wrong with the odd late-night Maccas run but when you’re staying in Tsim Sha Tsui and you’re surrounded by a plethora of amazing dining options, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WANT MCDONALDS?

Regardless, I went with them to have McDonalds (I didn’t eat anything though). But as soon as we got back to our hotel, I quickly went downstairs to Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel’s own chain of Chinese restaurants. The Hong Kong branch, in particular, holds two Michelin stars.

Now, I wasn’t originally planning on visiting a super-fancy restaurant in Hong Kong. But given that I still had Hong Kong dollars to burn and given that this restaurant just so happened to be at the basement of our hotel, I thought to myself, ‘Why the hell not?’

The others had no interest in accompanying me so I had to admit that I felt a bit nervous walking into the restaurant’s front desk to ask if they had a table for a loner like me. However, I didn’t have to worry about feeling self-conscious eating solo at a fine-dining establishment for they were lovely throughout the whole meal.

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Shang Palace is all about creating an experience that ‘evokes the grandeur of traditional China.’ They do so by using top quality ingredients in their dishes with a backdrop of ornate décor and attentive service – think Flower Drum. The restaurant also credits chef Mok Kit Keung for its two Michelin stars – not only has the guy won heaps of awards, he has also prepared meals for King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Vladimir Putin (booo).

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As soon as I sat down, I was given some welcome tea. I was also given an extensive menu with bling-bling teas (um hello, vintage pu er teas from 1998?) but all I wanted was a simple cup of jasmine tea – which the waitress actually gave to me on the house. Nice.

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I was also given some condiments as well as nuts to nibble on. I thought that I was getting pretty good service as it is, so imagine my surprise when they asked me if I would like a newspaper to read while I waited for my food. Now, I’m someone who likes to read at the dinner table (something my mum often chides me for) so naturally, I said yes.

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For my amuse bouche, I received some pickles and peaches served on a shiso leaf. Given how rich my food was going to be, I thought they were perfect.

Crispy lobster with oatmeal (HKD$168 per person (AUD$24.71))

Crispy lobster with oatmeal (HKD$168 per person (AUD$24.71))

One of Shang Palace’s signature dishes is the crispy lobster with oatmeal. The dish itself is basically a piece of tender lobster is fried before being covered with crushed up ‘oatmeal’ from Singapore before being arranged prettily in a rice paper net.

Only a genius like Mok would have come up with something so simple yet strange, yet the flavours and textures worked so well together. Chemistry, baby, chemistry…

Sautéed sliced fresh abalone and scallops with black truffle paste (HKD$320/AUD$47)

Sautéed sliced fresh abalone and scallops with black truffle paste (HKD$320/AUD$47)

Unfortunately, my main dish wasn’t as mind-blowing. Sure, it wasn’t bad – I mean, who can complain about abalone and scallops – but it was just one of those dishes that you got sick of eating after several mouthfuls. Plus, the vegies kind of hung in there awkwardly.

In hindsight, I should have went for the braised pumpkin cream with bird’s nest and Alaskan crab meat dish (another highlight apparently). However, I had already consumed bird’s nest soup the night before so I wanted to try something different.

By this stage, I was pretty full but I wasn’t going to leave without having dessert. Now, I’m not a huge dessert fan but Shang Palace has a pretty neat dessert menu with plenty of light fruit-based options so the least I could do was glance at the menu! I placed my order to the waiter who then said that he had a small palate cleanser for me…

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… by ‘small palate cleanser,’ he meant this beast of a dessert tower that had enough sweets to feed three people!

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Obviously I couldn’t eat everything but I did try my best. My favourite were the almond cookies – they were so light and nutty.

Chilled mango juice with pomelo and sago (HKD$48/AUD$7)

Chilled mango juice with pomelo and sago (HKD$48/AUD$7)

Given that my main was just under AUD$50, I was somewhat surprised to see that my dessert was only AUD$7. And it was a bloody fantastic dessert either. Think mango sago pudding at a Melbourne yum cha restaurant, but less sugar and more mango. It was divine.

Overall, I paid just under HKD$700 (AUD$95ish) for three courses. This included the compulsory 10% service charge too. It’s not a cheap meal but given the wonderful service I received and given the quality of ingredients and execution of the dishes, I’d say that it was worth it. And while I didn’t like my main dish so much, I’d say that it was more my fault for ordering the wrong thing rather than the kitchen’s fault. For all we know, the vegies were not awkwardly placed and I was just being a hater.

I’ll be going back to Hong Kong in seven months. I don’t see myself going to Shang Palace on this next trip, not because I don’t want to but because I won’t be staying in Kowloon. Plus, I still have a whole list of eateries to navigate. If I ever go back a third or fourth (or whatever) time though and if we happen to stay at the Shangri-La again, there is no doubt that I’ll be back for the lobster and oatmeal dish.

Review: Pierre Hermé (Central, Hong Kong)

Shop 1019C, Podium Level 1
International Finance Centre
Harbour View Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2833 5700

Even though the macaron fad has come and gone, I have to admit that I’m still a sucker for those pastel-coloured buttons of cuteness and sucrose. So when we ended up at the IFC mall one afternoon, I knew I had to make a stop at Pierre Hermé.

I wish I took photos of the little store (which took forever to find, mind you) but Pierre Hermé has a ‘no photos’ policy. I even tried to be discreet with my iPhone but the ladies were sharp as a fox and told me off before I could even access the camera app on my phone. Oh well.

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So I got a box of seven macarons (HKD$210/AUD$30.21). I had a hard time trying to choose flavours but I think I managed to get a good mix of floral and fruity flavours, though I surprisingly managed to stay away from the chocolate ones even though there were quite of a few of them on display.

These are the flavours I got (from top to bottom):
1. Infiniment vanille: vanilla varieties from Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar.
2. Infiniment caramel: salted butter caramel.
3. Envie: vanilla, violet and blackcurrant.
4. Médélice: lemon and flaky hazelnut praline.
5. Jardin merveilleux: mandarin & orange olive oil and cucumber water.
6. Ispahan: rose, litchi and raspberry.
7. Infiniment rose: rose and rose petal.

Each macaron worked out to be AUD$4.30 – that’s almost double the amount you’d pay for a decent macaron in Melbourne! So was it worth it?

Well, yes. I think.

Each macaron was intensely flavoured, yet delicately textured and best of all, there was none of that sugar overload. The salted butter caramel macaron was definitely one of the best I’ve tasted (and trust me, I’ve had HEAPS of salted caramel macarons in my lifetime) but my favourite would have to be lemon and flaky hazelnut praline one – who would have thought that those two flavours would work so well together?

The hefty price tag for a box of macarons at Pierre Hermé means that I won’t be buying a box every time I go to Hong Kong (why, when there are heaps of tea houses and yum cha restaurants to explore?). That said, I like them enough that I’ll probably end up buying a box or two at one of the Tokyo stores in November to bring back to Melbourne – not for me, but for others to enjoy (ahem).

Review: Mido Café (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

63 Temple Street
Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Hong Kong
+852 2384 6402

One can’t go very far in Hong Kong without coming across a cha chaan teng (or tea house). These eateries are famous for their inexpensive Asian-clash-Western dishes that would raise a few epicureans’ (not to mention dieticians’) eyebrows – think cheesy rice with fried chicken or condensed milk on buttered toast. And lots of cheap milk tea.

And while I’m blessed to live 10 minutes from Box Hill, home to many of Melbourne’s cha chaan teng restaurants, one of the reasons why I came to Hong Kong was to experience an authentic cha chaan teng experience. And you can’t get more legit than Mido Café, a cha chaan teng that’s been around since the 1950s.

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Forgoing an all day shopping expedition at Harbour City, my brother Ken and I decided to hit the Hong Kong History Museum before heading to Mongkok to find some Russian army surplus gear (don’t ask). And although we left the Sino Centre and markets empty-handed, we did work up an appetite so we decided to walk over to Mido Café on infamous Temple Street.

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I’ve heard that this place is popular with Hong Kong directors and actors, and I can certainly see why. Mido has that lovely 1960s retro touch and for a second, I could almost pretend I was an actress in a Wong Kar Wai movie. I guess this is where people like Edison Chen go when they want to relive their glory acting days, hah.

Milk tea (HKD$15/AUD$2.14)

Milk tea (HKD$15/AUD$2.14)

I was in the mood for some milk tea so we ordered two of those. They were starchy, though they did not come with pre-stirred sugar. I normally tend to have my caffeinated drinks without sugar but Hong Kong milk tea is one of those drinks where you absolutely need to enjoy with sugar.

Fried noodles with mixed vegies (HKD$48/AUD$6.86)

Fried noodles with mixed vegies (HKD$48/AUD$6.86)

Mido’s signature dish is the baked rice with spare ribs but Ken and I are very much noodles>rice people so we both went for fried noodle dishes. He went for the mixed vegie noodles while I went for the one topped with roast pork.

Fried noodles with roast pork (HKD$50/AUD$7.14)

Fried noodles with roast pork (HKD$50/AUD$7.14)

I didn’t get to try Ken’s noodles but I would imagine that they wouldn’t be far too different from mine. My noodles were wonderfully crispy and the pork was amazingly tender. A lovely gravy-like sauce held everything together, along with bits of kai lan. It was delicious to the last bite and let’s be honest here, I can’t imagine the baked rice tasting any better than this beautiful plate of noodles…

Cheese and tomato sandwich (HKD$18/AUD$2.57)

Cheese and tomato sandwich (HKD$18/AUD$2.57)

As far as Hong Kong portion sizes go, the noodles were pretty generous – but that didn’t stop us from ordering snacks on the side. Ken ordered the cheese and tomato sandwich which, in hindsight, was a big mistake.

For AUD$2.57, one shouldn’t expect rustic sourdough bread with heirloom tomato and organic Milawa cheese slices. We were okay with the slightly toasted white bread but the cheese was horrible – like worse than Maccas cheese horrible – and that pretty much ruined the sandwich. Folks, you’re better off sticking to the condensed milk toasts (or anything sweet) if you’re going to do bread at Mido Café.

Pineapple bun with butter (HKD$12/AUD$1.71)

Pineapple bun with butter (HKD$12/AUD$1.71)

My pineapple bun was much better. The bun itself was fluffy and buttery – and there were lashes of fresh butter in the middle if you thought you weren’t getting enough butter. Ooh yeah. I would have preferred more pineapple though.

If you had to go to only one cha chaan teng in Hong Kong, I’d recommend Mido Café. While the food isn’t any different (or better) from what you get at the newer CCT restaurant such as Tsui Wah, you’re here for the retro atmosphere that you can’t really get elsewhere in a continually modernising Hong Kong.

Review: Tim Ho Wan (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

G/F 9-11 Fuk Wing Street
Sham Shui Po
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 278 81226

Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, was always going to be on my ‘must go to or else’ list when I was in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I wasted so much precious eating time going from shopping centre to shopping centre that I couldn’t even squeeze in time for lunch at supposedly one of the best yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong, if not the world. So what did I do?

I went there for breakfast instead.

There are several Tim Ho Wan restaurants all over Hong Kong, the most famous one being the Mongkok branch which sadly had to close due to space limitations. I ended up going to the Sham Shui Po restaurant as it had the earliest opening time of 8:00am.

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I was surprised to find that I didn’t have to wait for a table. I know it was very early in the day (I rocked up just after 8) but I was expecting some sort of queue. After all, this was THE famous Tim Ho Wan restaurant! Not that I was complaining; I saw an empty seat at a table filled with several Cantonese woman so I grabbed it and started filling out the order sheet. No trolley service at this yum cha joint (or most yum cha restaurant in Hong Kong, for that matter).

Baked BBQ pork buns (HKD$18 (AUD$2.73))

Baked BBQ pork buns (HKD$18 (AUD$2.73))

My food came out as quick as my friend Nick’s rabbit, Bruno. Even though I wanted to sample as many dim sum dishes as I could, I knew I could not skip Tim Ho Wan’s famous baked BBQ pork buns even though they were going to be super filling. To me, skipping those was just rocking up to a Crowded House concert and leaving the venue just before Neil and co start playing ‘Mean To Me.’

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The buns were blow-me-away amazing. The super crunchy exteriors gave way to an incredibly soft and slightly chewy dough. The best bit of the bun, however, was the pork filling. Sweet, but not one dimensional.

Steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (har gow) (HKD$25(AUD$3.79))

Steamed fresh shrimp dumplings (har gow) (HKD$25(AUD$3.79))

I rarely visit a yum cha restaurant without sampling my favourite dim sum of them all, the har gow. These babies were covered in skins that were thicker than what I’m used to – but I love thick skins so I was happy. The filling was also pretty fantastic, it was obvious that they used super fresh prawns and that made all the difference.

I was in and out in less than 20 minutes, which meant that I was back in my hotel at Tsim Sha Tsui East even before the others had woken up. That’s how good the service was. Okay, I may not have seen a single waitress smile but who cares when the service is THAT efficient? The bill came to HKD$45(AUD$6.82) including tea, which made this meal excellent value. Hell, next time I’d be happy to line up for hours if I knew I was going to get quality Michelin-starred food like this for less than a tenner.

Review: Lei Garden Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

B-2 Houston Centre
63 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui East
Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 1636
http://www.leigarden.hk/english/

Upon our return from Macau, we weren’t actually that hungry. While my folks went wandering around town, my siblings and I went back to our hotel room to piss fart around on the internet. It was clear who the party animals in the family were.

At 10pm, however, we started to get hungry so we decided to head out for a late dinner. There just so happened to be a Michelin-stared restaurant across the road from where we were staying so of course, I wanted to check the place out – Lei Garden. Okay fine, it wasn’t the actual restaurant that got handed the lauded star but a whole bunch of restaurants in the Lei Garden franchise. In fact, the branch we went to (Tsim Sha Tsui branch) had not received a star since 2012. But whatever, I still wanted to go.

Lei Garden is a mid-to-high end Chinese restaurant that supposedly does excellent yum cha lunches. Their dinner menu is Cantonese a la carte fare – but not the sort of Cantonese you find in Box Hill. Oh sure, there were noodles on the menu (which weren’t available on the night we went) but fellow diners were happily munching on more unusual dishes such as double-boiled snow frogs and crocodile meat with sea coconut. If I wasn’t with such fussy company, I would have been keen to try those dishes too.

BBQ Peking Duck (HKD$178 (AUD$26.97) for half a duck)

BBQ Peking Duck (HKD$178 (AUD$26.97) for half a duck)

Instead we went for the much safer option of half a Peking Duck (which apparently wasn’t safe enough for my super-fussy brother). I loved how they cut up the spring onions, curled the ends and then tied them neatly in a bundle with a sliced chilli ring.

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The Peking Duck was excellent. Each piece had the right amount of fat to sate me, and also my health-conscious sister who is very much ‘ew yuck fat’ these days. The best bit, however, was the sinfully crispy skin that graced each piece of tender duck.

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The rest of the duck was chopped into pieces and sautéed with a light soy sauce – also delicious.

Braised birds nest soup with fresh crab meat and minced chicken (HKD$218 (AUD$33))

Braised birds nest soup with fresh crab meat and minced chicken (HKD$218 (AUD$33))

Birds nest soup costs a fortune in Melbourne (something like AUD$150+ for a small bowl) so when I saw that they were selling it for only AUD$33, I ordered a bowl straight away. My siblings refused to try any (how on earth are we related?!) which suited me just fine. The soup was amazing and each spoonful was a textural orgasm containing slippery strands of birds nest, fleshy crab meat and chicken. I enjoyed every bit of it.

My siblings baulked at the AUD$60 bill (it also included Chinese and a 10% service charge) but I thought it was a reasonable price to pay for good quality food. Plus, I was pretty full too. I’d like to go back to Lei Garden for yum cha if I can squeeze it in on my next trip to Hong Kong. If not, then I’d be happy to settle for a late night birds nest soup supper again.