93 Therry Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Food trucks. They’ve been converging on Melbourne’s suburbs like flies at a summer BBQ – and we’ve embraced them wholeheartedly for the most part. The only thing that bugs a lot of us is that these trucks rarely come into the CBD due to council permit restrictions – and that’s a shame because I’m sure a lot of city folk would trade their boring ham and cheese toasties for something more exciting.
The closest thing to having a food truck in the CBD, though, is the Mr Burger truck which frequently parks down a laneway off Therry Street next to the Queen Vic market.
I’ve ordered a burger here several times after my Saturday market run and I’ve never been disappointed. Sure, the trucks window is perhaps a bit too high for my 5’6 frame which means that I have to tilt my head at an uncomfortable angle to give my order but that’s only a small price to pay for friendly service and reliably good food every time I visit.
Mr Burger’s motto is simple: ‘We serve burgers, chips and drinks. That’s it.’ A truck of only a few words – I like it.
Small chips ($3)
The chips here are pretty good. They’re always golden and crispy, and coated with a tasty Old Bay-like seasoning that’s slightly spicy. I swear, they’re more addictive than crack (not that I’ve ever been a crack addict before, ahem).
Mr Burger ($10)
Although the Mr Veg option with falafel sounds tempting, I can never go past Mr Burger’s standard cheese burger which they dub the ‘Mr Burger.’ Wrapped in foil like they do in the States, my burger never fails to satisfy. Beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and American cheese are held together by the holy trinity of sauces: mustard, mayonnaise and tomato sauce.
You’re less likely to pay $13 for a burger and chips in the States but I think Mr Burger represents good value for money. Sure, you can get a burger and fries for half the price a few steps down at McDonalds but why would you? Finally, I was going to end this post by saying how I wish Mr Burger parked near my work every now and then but I think they’ve now set up shop on Little Bourke Street. Amen to that.
16 Oliver Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9077 0162
Brooklyn, NYC is a long way from here so when I heard that Hardware Societe’s Will and Di Keser had opened up a New York deli-style café in the city, I was IN B4 that chick in When Harry Met Sally said that she’ll have what the other chick is having.
Blessed with one hour lunch breaks at the organisation I’m interning at, I had the opportunity to go to Bowery to Williamsburg for lunch last week. The café is named after a subway route that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn. I’m not sure how long it takes for one to get from the real Bowery to the real Williamsburg – and doing a Google search on this proved fruitless as the results were of blog pages dedicated to this dear Melbourne café (sucks if you’re a tourist in NYC). However, it only took me 5 minutes by tram during the post-lunch peak rush which I thought was pretty sweet.
Bowery to Williamsburg is located on Oliver Lane, which is a tiny cobblestoned pathway just off the Russell and Flinders Street intersection. The café itself is a wonderful mixture between Brooklyn loft and Melbourne warehouse chic, with cute little touches such as a communal table and subway signs (real or replicas, I’m not sure) for that little touch of authenticity.
Unlike most places in the States, you won’t find crappy drip filter coffee here. Padre provided the beans that made my latte so smooth with a lovely hint of hazelnut. At Hardware Societe, I often get a little donut with my coffee but here, we get a Hershey’s Kiss. It’s little touches like this that make all the difference.
Kosher salt and sugar
I don’t normally take sugar with my coffee but if I ever need to, I’m glad that there are pots of Hardware Societe-style lovely cinnamon-y brown sugar scattered all over like pigeons on the steps of The Met. And if you want salt on your food, then kosher salt is your friend.
At lunchtime, sandwiches are the way to go. From the Reuben to the schmaltz chicken to the pastrami, there is a sandwich for everyone. And for the vegetarians, the breaded eggplant with haloumi or field mushroom with pomegranate tabouli are sure to excite. Sandwiches are $12.50 on their own (expensive, yes; worth it, yes) but a better option would be to pay the extra $4 for a lunch tray which consists of a sandwich, a side, a pickle and a handful of pretzels. And that’s what I did.
Lunch set with lox bagel and mac & cheese ($16.50)
I couldn’t say no to the mac & cheese for my side and while it was nice enough, I decided that I could make a tastier version at home. On any other day, I would have happily gone a pastrami sandwich but I was craving a bagel for some reason I grabbed a lox bagel as my ‘sandwich.’ Watching the other diners much on massive sandwiches, I must admit that I had food envy – sif give me a bagel this tiny! My grumpiness went away, however, when I sunk my teeth into the boiled bagel supplied by 5 & Dime.
It was amazing.
Glicks had always been my benchmark for a good bagel in Melbourne but I have to say that I loved this one better. It was chewy like all good bagels should be, but the winning component was the beautifully golden and crunchy skin. So good, so damn good!
The filling was also amazing. There was a generous amount of lox (smoked brined salmon) and the dill cream cheese schmear was lovely. Meanwhile, the onions were cured in lime and the horseradish was flavoured and coloured with lots of beetroot for bit of an Aussie twist.
For those who love their desserts, there’s an assortment of homemade sweets available. I wasn’t in the mood for any sweets that day so I left without sampling their maple pecan pie. I will endeavour to give it a shot next time – that is, if the New York cheesecake doesn’t tempt me first.
As much as I’m a tad over all the American-style eateries popping up all over town, I think that Bowery to Williamsburg is a welcome addition amongst the sea of burgers, sliders and tacos. There is a possibility that bagels will one day invest Melbourne like rats in a New York skewer and annoy the hell out of everyone. For now though, I’m pretty happy with Bowery to Williamsburg’s lox bagels.
248 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 0085
As part of my studies, I am doing a media internship at one of my favourite sporting organisations. I may have only just started the internship but so far, so good. The people are great, I’m learning heaps and I’m surrounded by lots of colourful balls. Another good thing about working here is that Swan Street is only a tram ride away so I have a chance to explore its eateries when I feel like venturing out for lunch.
Last week, I felt like Mexican so it was off to Fonda Mexican. It might have been a grey winter day in Melbourne but Fonda’s friendly counter staff and the rows of brightly coloured stools perked me up. So did the ‘If you simply dislike avocado, onion, coriander, lime or chilli, Mexican may not be for you?’ line on the allergy disclaimer section thingy on the menu, heh. I was also wooed by the enticing drinks menu (lychee and elderflower frozen margarita, oh my!) but like I was going to return to work with a BAC greater than 0.00.
At Fonda, orders are placed at the counter and you grab a number before finding a seat. I rocked up in the middle of lunchtime, but was fortunate enough to find a seat in the adjacent dining room. I was also lucky enough to receive my food within minutes.
Charred corn ($4)
I started off with a piece of charred corn which was dressed with chipotle aioli and shredded ricotta salata. Although the corn was reasonably priced (I think places such as Mamasita et al charge a little bit more for the same dish), I did find it a little bit bland – what, they couldn’t put more aioli on it?! Not even the miniscule piece of lime could add enough zest to the corn which was otherwise beautifully fresh.
Fish burrito ($16)
According to the blogosphere, fish seems to the way to go here. I initially thought about going the beef or the kangaroo burrito after a bad experience with fish tacos on the Gold Coast. However, I decided to follow the herd (baa-baa!) by ordering the fish burrito.
The crew uses dough from Abbotsford Convent bakery to make their burritos, which are pressed to order. My 12 inch burrito, which was conveniently cut in half, was filled with fresh rockling fillets, fluffy quinoa, black beans, pickles, avocado, corn and green salsa. Our friend chipotle aioli made an appearance. Like the charred corn, the aioli here was not applied liberally but it worked well in this case because it meant that it didn’t overpower the freshness of the other ingredients. I was full after eating only one half of the burrito and ended up taking the other half home for supper.
I may be telling people how I’m ‘WAH WAH OVER THE MEXICAN CRAZE WAH’ but I was really impressed by my meal at Fonda Mexican. The food may not be authentic (c’mon, roo tacos?) and they’re doing that annoyingly wanky drinks in jar with striped straw thing. However, the food is reasonably priced, delicious and more importantly, fresh.
27-31 Hardware Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 9388
I’ve decided to continue my Great Melbourne American-slash-Mexican Foodie Road Trip by writing about Big Boy BBQ (BBB) – only because the boys at work are excited about going there tomorrow for a pre-trivia night feed. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join them for ribs because I’ll be coming in from Richmond and plus, I’m a tad over meat after having lasagne infused with Indonesian bay leaves (don’t ask) three meals in a row. So in my absence tomorrow (at least for the BBB), here are my thoughts on Melbourne’s favourite slow-cooked BBQ franchise which originated in Caulfield South.
Due to the success of the first store, a Melbourne CBD store opened up – much to the joy of those who barely go to Caulfield. BBB, as its name suggests, specialises in barbecued meat. It doesn’t matter whether you order a sandwich or a rack of ribs, the meat at BBB is always rubbed in an intoxicating mixture of spices before being smoked at a low temperature for up to 16 hours. How low? Low enough so that the meat isn’t piping hot when it arrives at your table after you had placed your order at the counter.
Marty and I found that the meat dishes here are flavoursome on their own; however an army of homemade sauces are available on each table if you want to drown your ribs or chips in them.
So what dishes are available? Ribs and sandwiches seem to be the way to go here, but you can also get brisket and wings. You can order them on their own, or upgrade to a regular combo for an extra $6 if you want a side and a bottomless self-serve soft drink, Costco-style. If you have a big appetite, then the jumbo combo (an extra $7.50) will give you a jumbo-sized side and soft drink. We were hungry but not THAT hungry so we both ordered sandwiches in a regular combo…
Kansas City-style dry rubbed pork ribs ($29 for half a rack)
… but not because ordering a serving of ribs. There are three kinds of ribs on offer, the pork, the lamb and the Kansas City-style dry rubbed pork ribs. We chose the latter as we’ve never had dry pork ribs before and plus, the flame symbol next to the item description on the menu – indicating that it was spicy – sucked me in.
The ribs were served on top of two slices of white bread (which we didn’t touch) and a side of pickles. Marty made comment about how they looked similar to St Louis-style ribs – as in, they were cut into little blocks. While the ribs themselves were hardly hot, they were extremely delicious. The first thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of meat attached to each bone. The second thing I noticed was that they were square-shaped. How cool! One would also think that dry rib meat would be tough (well I did anyway) so I was pleasantly surprised to see the meat fall off the bone so easily. That said, I did miss all the lovely stickiness and sauciness that I’m used to experiencing when it comes to eating ribs though.
The Carolina, $9.90
Marty had the Carolina sandwich combo, with a potato salad as a side. Customers ordering The Carolina have two options: the pulled pork or the pulled lamb, with the latter being slightly dearer. Marty might love his pork but in the end, he chose the lamb as he’s never had pulled lamb before.
Marty finished his burger faster than Busta Rhymes on speed, an indicator that it was very good. The lamb, which was tender, married with a handful of coleslaw and finished with a tangy BBQ sauce. Oh Carolina! Meanwhile, the potato salad was lovely – it was creamy but without being too heavy, making it a slightly healthier substitute for chips.
The ‘Zee’ Man burger ($12.90)
I ordered the Zee Man burger combo, with chips on the side because stuff being healthy. BBB’s Zee Man burger was, according to the menu, ‘inspired’ by a burger with the same name from Kansas City BBQ franchise Oklahoma Joe’s. If Oklahoma Joe’s version is anywhere near as good at BBB’s version, then I’d actually consider going to
Kansas Missouri just to eat the burger when I get around to organising my real American road trip.
I could not fault my meal. The beef brisket slices may have been a little lukewarm but it was a small price to pay for such a tantalising sandwich. The smoky and fatty meat matched perfectly with the sweet and tangy BBQ sauce, while a sliced of smoked cheese provided the mandatory element of saltiness. Meanwhile, little bits of fried onions strings provided some textural crunch inside the burger – and we were also grateful for the extra strings littered all over the waxed paper. Oh, and the chips were fab too.
We said ‘no’ to dessert because we were full, but I shall not pass up a chance to try their peanut butter cream pie the next time I’m here (yes, there will be a next time!). And although it’ll be difficult to return and NOT order the Zee Man burger again, I would really love to try their lamb ribs. I’m still not used to eating ribs that are warm rather than hot but hey, if they taste as good as they do at BBB then it’s a fair trade-off.
Question: Who has a good onion strings recipe?
320 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 5526
To celebrate the return of Breaking Bad on our plasma screens, this blog will be dedicated to all things deliciously New Mexican for the next week or so. Now I know nothing about the typical Albuquerquean diet – and surely they don’t all eat sugary cereals for breakfast – so I’ll be reviewing all the American and Mexican eateries I have sitting in my backlog folder. In other words, once I have cleared this list, you won’t see a single slider, burger or taco on this blog for a long time.
The first cab off the rank is Phat Brats, the brainwave of two local dudes. Phat Brats’ speciality is not bratty children with appalling diets, but hot dogs – or more specifically, bratwursts. Cute signage (who doesn’t love a dachshund?) and local ingredients are pretty much the eatery’s drawing cards but I guess its hip(sterish) Brunswick Street location doesn’t hurt either.
The menu is simple: hot dogs, chips and sides. From what I’ve heard, they used to also have dessert dogs but for some reason, they were not on the menu when I rocked up for a pre-footy game feed. They did, however, have a sign advertising a deal where students can get a hot dog of their choice plus a small serving of seasoned chips for only $10 on presentation of their student card. While I love cheap deals like any other Asian, my craving for cheesy fries (not part of the deal) was stronger that day so I forfeited the good value deal.
Beer-soaked bratwurst ($8.90)
My bratwurst was, as its name suggests, soaked in local beer. I’m not sure how ‘local’ the beer was but regardless, it gave the bratwurst a slight sweetness. The brat paired beautifully with the sautéed onions while the sauerkraut, which I’m normally not crazy about, was thankfully mild. Meanwhile, Bavarian mustard and a piquant green pickle relish completed the regrettably small package.
While my hot dog was delicious, I did find it a bit small. If the dogs from Snag Stand or Dognation were Dobermans, then this was a friggin’ Pomeranian. I also thought the bread was pretty one dimensional. Now I wasn’t expecting organic bread or anything, but the bread was more Coles rather than local bakery. Was it worth the $8.90? If it was a little bigger OR if the bread was better, sure.
Cheesy fries ($6)
Meanwhile, the cheesy fries were better value for money. The cheese sauce was initially off-putting because it was the exact same bright yellow shade as the Gorman knit I’ve been sporting this autumn/winter, but it was awesome. Even better were the seasoned fries that were beautifully crunchy – if you love Schnitz chips, you’ll definitely love these.
If a beer-soaked bratwurst doesn’t appeal to you, there are kransky or chorizo dogs on the menu. For the more adventurous, there is also the battered fish po’ boy dog or the superfood dog, the latter of which contains sweet potato, quinoa and tamarind (yeah, nah).
So would I visit Phat Brats again? I think so. While I thought the hot dogs are small, I would definitely take advantage of the $10 student deal to get more bang for buck.
Question: Not so much a question… but please tell me that Pomeranians are cuter than Dobermans.
252 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9043 7458
Disclaimer: Marty and Libby dined as guests of Super Bowl Pho and Bun Bo Hue.
I don’t follow American football, not even when the Super Bowl is on. However, if the States’ equivalent of our Grand Final involved massive bowls of phở rather than helmets and shoulder pads, I think I’d be more likely to tune in.
A much more palatable option (for me anyway) is a Vietnamese restaurant of the same name, famous for its, well, super bowl-sized phở that’s big enough to feed four people. I’m a sucker for creative restaurant names so when Rachana, the manager of Super Bowl invited me to sample Super Bowl’s menu, I eagerly said yes with as much enthusiasm as a teenage boy who just witnessed Nipplegate.
Super Bowl is owned by the Hoang family who made their mark in Seattle and were keen to do the same in Melbourne. The restaurant itself is situated on the arse end of the extremely competitive Victoria Street so the owners had their work cut out for them when it came to attracting patrons. Thankfully, a witty name and flashy furnishings such as chandeliers and a wheelchair ramp have done wonders to set it apart from the dime-a-dozen utilitarian phở restaurants on the same street.
Super Bowl’s menu is also another point of differentiation. It’s short and simple, unlike those 100-item menus you see at other Vietnamese restaurants that have the tendency to confuse. You then have the classics such as sliced beef phở and broken rice sitting alongside more unusual dishes such as phở with fried chicken Maryland. While the latter is not something I’d order myself, it’s apparently a popular dish with the, dare I say it, gweilo contingent. Eh, whatever works.
Hanoi-style spring rolls ($11)
While Marty happily tucked into his three colour drink ($3.50), which he thought was ‘good because it tastes organic,’ we eagerly awaited our starter dish, the Hanoi-style spring rolls. I don’t see these deep-fried rice paper rolls a lot in Melbourne, though apparently they’re more common in Vietnam. Either way, I was glad to see another place that did them in Melbourne.
These beauties were filled with a tasty pork, prawn and vegetable filling. We wrapped them neatly in lettuce leaf, vermicelli and herb envelopes, before dunking them in a very decent nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce). What a great way to start what eventuated into a massive feast.
Small bowls of sliced beef and tendon phở and bún bò Huế
Although Super Bowl’s speciality is the bún bò Huế (lemongrass and chilli beef noodle soup), phở seems to be more popular among the patrons. Both options can be enjoyed for as little as $8 for a small bowl or $17 for a super bowl-sized ($17). We weren’t game enough to try the super-bowl sized, well, bowl so we settled on two little bowls.
Sliced beef and tendon phở
Our phở was topped with tendon and a generous heap of sliced beef that was beautifully rare and tender. I couldn’t fault the broth, which was hearty and flavoursome, though I wouldn’t say that it was the best in Melbourne (Pho Chu The in Footscray FTW).
Bún bò Huế
The BBH was a lot better. Dong Ba has been my favourite BBH restaurant for quite some time, but I can easily say that Super Bowl’s BBH gives Dong Ba a run for its money. The singsong-y broth boasted a perfect balance of spicy, sweet and sour with an effortless sprinkling of umami, thanks to the beef and pork bones that were used in its production.
I was a bit surprised to see rare slices of beef floating on top of the broth, though. In the past, I have seen rare beef in phở, but never in BBH. Not that I minded though.
I was most impressed, however, by the homemade pork loaf balls that bobbled in the broth. They were essentially Super Bowl’s spin on the sliced pork loaf that you often see in BBHs and but because they were cuter in ball form and because meatballs are OMG SO COOL RIGHT NOW, I decided that I like the balls better than the slices.
Hanoi-style bún chả ($15.50)
Marty is currently going through a phase of making bun cha, a chargrilled marinated pork and meatballs served with vermicelli that originated from his family’s hometown, Hanoi. You don’t often see bún chả on the menu at Vietnamese restaurants in Australia so you can imagine how delighted he was when he saw it on the menu at Super Bowl.
Eating bún chả is a bit of a ritual. You shovel some vermicelli and pork your bowl before adding some lettuce and herbs. The final step is to then douse the whole thing with a slightly watered down nước chấm. Now Marty, being a purist Hanoian, tells me that this dish is traditionally made with pork belly. Thus, when Rachana told us that they use pork leg and meatballs in their version, I had to doubt its authenticity. Nevertheless, I thought it was delicious – even if the pork was swimming unflatteringly in oil. That said, I can’t wait to try Marty’s version when I see him next.
Rachana told us that there was a rice dish coming up but we declined it because we were happily full. We were pretty happy with what we consumed anyway so eating another dish would hardly change our mind about Super Bowl.
So what did we think? We thought our lunch was great. Authentic? Not quite. Delicious? Hell yeah. We both loved the unusual touches that were prevalent in some of the dishes (pork meatballs in the BBH, for example) and the friendly service. We also appreciated that Rachana took time out of the kitchen several times during our meal to chat to us – she is truly one of the nicest and most honest restaurant managers I’ve ever met.
Super Bowl is a great place to take your friends who want a quick intro to Vietnamese food as it offers a bit of everything in a clean and modern environment. And while I am more likely to recommend Chu The for good phở, I’d happily tell people to come here for all their BBH and Hanoi spring roll needs.
Question: do you think you can finish off a super bowl-sized serving of phở or BBH?
Ground Floor, Rialto Building
525 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9077 7937
Would you pay almost $100 for dumplings? Dave and I did a month or two ago – and I dare say that they were worth it.
Melbourne’s Rialto houses some of Melbourne’s finest restaurants, including Vue De Monde and Guy Grossi’s Merchant. So when I heard that a dumpling restaurant, Mr Huang Jin, had opened up there, I was sceptical – but delighted at the same time. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know how much I love dumplings more than Essendon FC haters are loving the drama surrounding the club I follow at the moment (heh).
Dave and I arrived at 6pm, expecting to find the restaurant full given the attention it’s been receiving lately. To our surprise, there were only two or three tables occupied. Not that we complained anyway. I sat down with my tea (which they charge $3.50 a head for).
TFC (Taiwanese Fried Chicken, $13)
We decided to share as many dishes as we could. Starting from the ‘Taiwanese tapas’ menu (snigger), we selected the Taiwanese Fried Chicken. Better than a soggy piece of water and hormone-injected KFC breast fillet, these bite-sized beauties were coated in a deliciously spicy crispy batter and served with sweet chilli mayonnaise.
Prawn and pork wontons with chilli sauce (5 pieces for $13)
Next, we had the prawn and pork wontons which were swimming in chilli sauce-slash-oil. I enjoy Hu Tong’s version of this dish (which doesn’t come with prawns) and Mr Huang Jin’s version was just as good. That said, I thought $13 for five pieces was a tad ridiculous.
Pan-fried pork dumplings (5 pieces for $11)
Dave and I didn’t really rate the pan-fried pork dumplings. While they weren’t horrible, we just couldn’t help thinking that $11 would have got us at least 12 pieces in most dumpling restaurants. Plus, we preferred the thicker and crispier skins of the cheaper dumplings anyway.
Pork XLB (5 pieces for $11)
That said, we thought the xiaolongbao dumplings were amazing. Punters are already starting to declare them the best XLBs in Melbourne and I have to agree.
In my opinion, a good XLB broth is one that’s simultaneously delicate and flavoursome, and this one was right on the money. Meanwhile, the skins were beautifully thin, yet strong enough to hold the fragrant pork and ginger filling. And yes, they may have been pricey but they were amazing.
Laksa XLB (5 pieces for $11)
Mr Huang Jin also offers random XLB flavours such as wasabi and pumpkin. I don’t like pumpkin very much and the thought of eating a dumpling filled with wasabi was just too weird so I stayed away from them. Still, we wanted to try one of the strange flavours just for funsies so we ordered a serving of laksa XLB.
Although I prefer the original pork filling, I have to say that the laksa XLBs actually tasted alright! The broth wasn’t as flavoursome as say, the broth they use at Laksa King but it still held its own.
DIY Taiwanese-style pork belly bun ($8)
Our last savoury dish was the pork belly bun (gua bao), which the kitchen happily chopped in half for us. A fluffy white bun held together a sticky pork belly, preserved vegetables, peanut dust and coriander filling and while it was nice enough, I did find the pork belly more dry than sticky. I preferred Wonderbao’s version which represented better value for money.
Dumpling restaurants aren’t well-known for their desserts but I have to say that Mr Huang Jin excels in this space with its creative spin on suburban Asian favourites such as banana fritters. Furthermore, all desserts come with suggested wine or tea pairings, which I thought was a lovely touch.
Red bean pancake with black sesame ice cream ($12)
Dave ordered the red bean pancake. Although the menu promised a ‘crispy flaked pastry’, I stupidly thought the pancake would be crêpe-like (comprehension fail). Naturally I was surprised when Dave was presented with a decently-thick and crunchy pancake filled with a smooth red bean paste. It was beautiful.
Banana fritter with green tea ice cream ($12)
I ordered what the menu claimed was ‘the most classic of all Asian desserts.’ I’m not sure whether they were referring to the banana fritter or the green tea ice cream, or both. In any case, I received one green tea ice cream and one black sesame ice cream even though there was no mention of black sesame ice cream. While I thought the black sesame ice cream was beautiful and while it was possible that they had run out of green tea ice cream, I thought that it would have been great if they had let me know beforehand. Oh well.
Regardless, my dessert was just as beautiful as Dave’s dessert. The banana fritters were awesomely crunchy and lovingly drizzled in honey, and both ice cream flavours were, to my delight, not terribly sweet.
The bill came to $92.50 which, on paper, is pretty dear for only two people. That said, we were full and I can say that Mr Huang Jin serves Melbourne’s best XLB. Whether you’re willing to pay $11 for five dumplings, though, is another story. I’m not made of money so unfortunately, I won’t be making Mr Huang Jin my regular stalking ground. But when I’m not feeling like a tight arse or when I can’t be bothered walking to Shanghai Street or Hu Tong, you’ll more than likely find me at the bottom of the Rialto, enjoying these babies.
Question: Would you pay close to $100 for really, really good dumplings?
23 Bank Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 1777
Disclaimer: Libby and Marty dined as guests of Syracuse and Dig + Fish.
“I’ll be dining at Syracuse this weekend.”
“Syracuse, isn’t that in New York or something?”
Well yes, guys, Syracuse is in New York. It also happens to be the name of a restaurant-slash-wine bar in Melbourne’s Bank Place.
I’ve walked past Syracuse several times en route trivia nights at The Mitre on the same tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare. And while I knew it was once a hatted restaurant, I must admit that I didn’t know much else about it. So when Alice from Dig + Fish invited me to dinner there, I delightedly accepted.
Syracuse opens for breakfast and wraps up pretty late at night. Marty was flying in from Queensland that evening so a 6pm dinner booking was out of the question. When I asked Alice about the latest time I can make a dinner booking, she said the kitchen closed at 11pm so a 10pm dinner booking was fine.
We may have been a little bit late for our booking (let this be a lesson to all to ensure that you have enough time to make your flight before it closes, ahem), but the waiters at Syracuse were cool about it and lead us to a table against the wall.
Syracuse is housed in a 19th century-styled building where ornate arches, high ceilings and chandeliers make themselves at home next door to one of Melbourne’s oldest pubs (go the Mitre!). The lights are dim on evenings, creating a romantic yet warm atmosphere for couples on a date and ladies catching up over desserts and wines. We just so happened to rock up at the end of the financial year, so there were also big groups of suits celebrating a draining year over food and booze that evening.
Syracuse boasts a 25-page wine list and a Hugh Sanderson-designed menu that’s fittingly European, with nuances of Australiana thrown in for good measure. Think sautéed king prawns with shellfish butter, green olives, morcilla and white anchovy. Or wallaby with oyster sauce, pepperberries and kiwifruit.
Yellow fin tuna, smoked caviar, baby artichokes, barley, toasted rice ($24)
This was the first of several starters we shared. The dish was a lovely study of textures, with the super-fresh raw tuna cubes being the highlight.
Grilled lamb cutlets, crushed peas, miso, black garlic ($24)
Next, we munched on some beautifully tender lamb cutlets. I especially loved the sweet miso marinade, which made these babies even more flavoursome.
Hungarian pork and veal meatballs, sauerkraut ($13)
‘Hungarian meatballs? What on earth are they?’ we thought, but we ordered them anyway. Turns out that all you need to do to call something Hungarian is to use lots and lots of paprika. Regardless, these meatballs were fantastic. The balls themselves were tender and full of flavour, while the paprika sauce just popped them on another level. Hell, even the sauerkraut (something that I don’t normally froth over) was fantastic in that it wasn’t overpowering.
Pheasant terrine, black cabbage, apple and quince chutney, bacon jelly ($18.50)
Syracuse is supposedly famous for its terrines, something that we didn’t know on the night. To be honest, we probably would have bypassed this dish if the words ‘ bacon jelly’ did not catch our eye. I mean, seriously, BACON JELLY. Like we’d say no to it.
The terrine itself was beautiful – I especially loved the combination of the gamey pheasant and the earthy pistachios together. Meanwhile, the apple and quince chutney did well to provide sweet relief to the dish. As for the bacon jelly, it was simply that: bacon in jelly form. But it was good. REALLY GOOD. Marty jokingly said that it was Aeroplane jelly for adults but to be honest, I think I’d take bacon jelly over orange-flavoured jelly any time.
This dish did take a while to arrive at our table but the wait was well worth it. It was simply perfect in its execution and well, bacon jelly. Nothing else needs to be said.
Despite enjoying all those beautiful sharing dishes, we were bummed to have missed out on the fried green tomatoes – we were told they were sold out. That’ll teach us to make a 10pm dinner booking on a Friday night, hey.
Pan-roasted Chatham Island blue cod, fried clams, braised king browns, avocado ($42)
But anyway, to our mains. Marty ordered the cod, on recommendation of the waitress. The cod was cooked beautifully, with the crispy skin providing a lovely textural contrast to the soft, silky flesh. I was afraid that the other ingredients would overpower the fish but was glad to see that their effects were much more subtle than I thought, hence providing a balanced supporting cast to the cod.
Risotto with broccoli, Tasmanian winter truffle, pecorino ($20)
I had the entrée-sized risotto. While it wasn’t a bad dish, the smell of the broccoli, truffles and cheese made me want to hurl. I love each of the ingredients but I now know that they don’t work well together. I did manage to finish the dish, which tasted just fine – when you block your nose – but I think a little less broccoli (or none at all) would have worked just fine.
We skipped dessert and went straight for the coffees, probably not a good idea when it’s close to midnight but whatever.
Despite my very smelly risotto, we both enjoyed our late dinner at Syracuse. We were wooed by its romantic atmosphere, elevated by a bit of live flamenco guitar music (only on Friday evenings). We were also won over by the menu that was European-influenced yet screamed out Melbourne at the same time. And we were won over by OMG BACON JELLY.
I do have to say that the restaurant was severely understaffed that night so it meant that service was slow, especially in the early stages of the evening. That said, the staff on the floor did well given all the pressure. I would have also liked to receive all our sharing dishes at the same time, rather than one after the other. I mean, we weren’t in a rush to go anywhere that night but I’m one for efficiency and whatnot.
In a city that’s full of annoying hipster dining trends, I’m glad that a place like Syracuse exists. It celebrates Melbourne’s history and its European influences, while being fun at the same time (HELLO, BACON JELLY?). Plus, its late opening hours means that you can enjoy a coffee or two in a secluded laneway without having to deal with the idiots and bright lights of Swanston Street before heading down.
Question: What unusual ingredient would you like to eat in jelly form?
Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster
619 Doncaster Road
Doncaster VIC 3108
+61 3 9840 2248
I love my yum cha like any Asian foodie but there came a time in my life when seeing a har gow (prawn dumpling) made me feel ill. Yep, it happened on what would have been my fifth visit to Doncaster’s Secret Kitchen in the space of two months.
My parents love this place and I can see why. We now go to church in Doncaster, thus making it a very convenient place to have a family lunch. Furthermore, the dishes are generally reasonably priced, given how good they generally are. However, I’m someone who likes variety when it comes to food and can barely tolerate eating the same thing over and over – which explains why I feigned ‘being busy with uni stuff’ the last time mum wanted to Secret Kitchen for lunch. Did I do uni stuff? No, I promptly went home, made myself a cheese toastie and took a three-hour nap.
Another case in point, my favourite dish is the humble lasagne. Eating it for lunch three days in a row a few months ago, however, drove me insane. And don’t get me started on having to eat dumplings for four meals over the weekend – I love dumplings and all (in case you couldn’t tell by eating this blog!) but seriously, I will scream if I have to shove another Peking pork dumpling in my mouth.
But back to Secret Kitchen.
It joins more than a dozen established yum cha restaurants in the Doncaster/Templestowe area, which meant that they were up against some stiff competition. Secret Kitchen occupies the space of what was then the unsuccessful Kam Fook restaurant, which charged a fortune for yum cha dishes – money that the folks in Doncaster weren’t willing to pay.
Given Kam Fook’s unsuccessful run, it was going to be interesting to see how Secret Kitchen would fare. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was packed to the rafters on my first visit. And on my second visit. And so on. On several occasions, we had even been unlucky enough to miss out on a table because it was that full.
I guess this place ain’t such a secret anymore.
Chicken feet (鳳爪)
Secret Kitchen delivers well on the traditional yum cha dishes such as chicken feet, har gow dumplings and egg tarts.
Ginger prawn dumplings
Their ginger prawn dumplings are also very well done.
Siu mai (燒賣)
They also like to play around with modern twists on old classics. For example, they load their siu mai dumplings up with not just pork but also lots of prawn chunks and top them with tobiko roe.
Seafood dumplings and pork puffs
I don’t think I’ve seen pork puffs at a yum cha restaurant before, but I wish more places made it. I enjoyed biting into the crispy filo-like pastry that engulfed a spicy and slightly sweet pork mince filling.
Scallop and prawn dumplings
You also can’t go wrong with scallop dumplings, especially when they also contain prawn and tobiko roe.
Deep fried taro dumplings (芋角)
Secret Kitchen also makes fantastic deep fried taro dumplings. In the past, we’ve experienced taro dumplings that were soggy and oily by the time they reached our table. We were glad that we’ve never had to experience this at Secret Kitchen. Plus, they actually inject a decent amount of taro in ‘dem balls too.
Oh, in case you’re wondering why the white balance looks inconsistent in the photos… it’s because I took these photos on different dates. Naturally, seating arrangements, time of day and lighting levels varied.
Ginger spring onion tripe
I ordered this dish every time I’ve been here so far. I can’t help it; the portions are always so generous and there is an even mix of both thick and thin pieces of tripe. Plus, the sauce is beautiful.
Zhaliang, or fried dough sticks wrapped in rice sheets (炸兩)
Our family loves ordering zhaliang, a dish that doesn’t appear on yum cha trolleys. Secret Kitchen’s version is great because the fried dough sticks are actually crunchy, despite being slathered with all that soy sauce.
I don’t go crazy over fried whitebait, but my parents do so this is a staple order whenever we have yum cha. I have to admit that Secret Kitchen’s version is great – the whitebait pieces are actually large and the batter remained crispy until the very last piece had gone. Plus, they didn’t have that nasty fishy smell that plagues the same dish at other restaurants.
Fried wasabi prawn rolls
These don’t look pretty – WTF is with the slimy fluro green sludge on top, for instance? Surprisingly, these fried wasabi prawn rolls weren’t bad. Okay, so I would have preferred normal mayo over wasabi mayo but hey, the skin was crispy and the prawn filling was tasty so we’ll call it a wash.
Salted duck egg custard bun (流沙包)
I haven’t had these prior to Secret Kitchen – and I wondered where I had been all my life.
Salted duck egg pr0n
I love salted duck egg in sweet dishes. Yes, I know it sounds weird but it works. And while these beauties normally come in steamed bun form, I liked that the crust was slightly crunchy, giving way to a soft doughy inside.
Of course, we enjoyed a number of other dishes at Secret Kitchen but I never got around to taking pics of them. It’s been a good two months since my last visit and as much as I hate to say it, I must admit that I’d be quick to say ‘yes’ if my parents decide to do yum cha at Secret Kitchen this weekend. The food is great and it isn’t overly expensive (we paid $20-30 per head for a decent number of dishes – and we were full).
I guess the one bad thing I’d have to say about Secret Kitchen is that the service can be a bit inconsistent. There were times where we sat in the section next to the kitchen, which was fine, but some lazy arse waitresses would not bother stopping their trolleys there. Then there were times when service had been quick, ensuring that we were in and out in a matter of 45 minutes.
I’ve yet to come here for dinner but I have heard that the dinner menu is pretty good, which gives me an excuse to come here for a pre-movie feed. Either way, it does not hurt to add another great yum cha restaurant in Doncaster, especially one that do excellent salted duck egg custard buns.
Question: Can you eat the same thing three times in a row or does that sort of stuff drive you insane?
150 Gertrude Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9077 0788
I’ve almost recovered from bronchitis, the royal baby has been born, my good friends FINALLY got married (to each other) over the weekend and the Aussies are performing dismally in The Ashes. What does that all mean? I now have no excuse to be blogging so infrequently… never mind that uni resumes next week.
Plus, I feel like writing about burgers today.
A few months ago, Daisy, Ricky and I went to Belle’s Diner for dinner. Our original plan was to try the newest ramen restaurant in Melbourne, Little Ramen Bar. Unfortunately, they were closed for a private evening that night (and didn’t care to mention it when I rang up the night before to make a booking) so we had to come up with a Plan B.
Plan B involved diner food and even though this trend is slowly starting to get old in Melbourne, I do love my burgers. And so off to Fitzroy we went.
Visibility wasn’t great when we were driving down Gertrude Street, thanks to the dark and the light rain. However, the diner’s illuminated ‘DINER’ sign made out of light bulbs shone like a beacon, leading hungry caterpillars like us into the safe haven that was Belle’s.
There were no tables available when we arrived, so we enjoyed a couple of drinks at a bar across the road for the next half an hour or so before we were able to sit down.
The menu at Belle’s is pretty simple. Head chef Catriona Freeman aims to bring Brooklyn to Melbourne via burgers, Southern fried chicken and sweet pies for desserts. There is none of this wooden plank bullshit and no fancy sauce ribbons and swirls on big white plates. That said, they do serve sliders which I’m getting sick of but they seem to still be popular around town.
Prawn cocktail ($17.50)
We started off with a prawn cocktail, with the prawns arranged artfully in a jar. They were combined with an avocado, tarragon, chive, shallot, cos lettuce salad and house-made Thousand Island dressing and a squeeze of lemon. The creaminess of the salad and dressing were a perfect match for the fresh and juicy prawns – loved it.
Southern fried chicken ($17)
Daisy ordered the Southern fried chicken for her main. A large stack of chicken pieces, in various cuts, graced our presence along with some slaw and BBQ sauce for dipping. While I liked the spicy KFC-like coating, I had to agree with Daisy when she said that the chicken pieces weren’t crispy enough. I also thought the slaw was bland and underseasoned and thus, barely provided a good enough distraction from the otherwise flavoursome chicken pieces.
Midnight burger ($16)
Ricky and I had a burger each. He ordered the Midnight burger which contained Wagyu beef, lettuce, cheese, bacon and fried egg. I didn’t have any of it (after all, I was also having a burger) but given by the way Ricky wolfed his burger down, it was obvious that he enjoyed it.
Dinerr burger ($17.50) and no, that wasn’t a typo –I later found out that it was a Twin Peaks reference
The Dinerr burger also came with a small handful of Old Bay spiced French fries. For some reason, Ricky’s burger didn’t come with fries so he decided to order some on the side for an extra few dollars.
I’d say my burger was decent – it came with Wagyu beef, caramelised onion, lettuce, Tasty cheese, gherkin and mayo. While the combination of ingredients was spot-on, I thought the beef pattie let the burger down slightly by being a tad too peppery and dry. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a tiny bit of pink!
Meanwhile, my Old Bay spiced French fries were coated in a beautiful paprika and celery salt seasoning which means that I give them two props for tasting so good. Like Daisy’s Southern fried chicken though, they could have done with a bit more time in the fryer as they weren’t quite crispy enough.
Dining with Daisy means that I was not leaving until we shared some desserts. Having snuck a peak at the dessert list on the menu beforehand, we sort of knew what we were going to order. We were all down for the key lime pie and there was another dessert that sounded equally good, a peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. Still, we wanted to have another look at the dessert menu to make sure there wasn’t anything else that we wanted to try.
So we asked the waitress what desserts if we can have another look at the menu. She said that she’ll tell us what desserts were on offer, rather than go all the way to the front to grab the menus. She then listed a number of desserts, including the key lime pie and a rocky road sundae but did not mention the peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake. When we asked her about the cheesecake, she said that it wasn’t on the menu. ‘Um, we’re pretty sure we saw it on the menu before,’ we insisted. She said that it wasn’t, pretty much implying that we were imaging things. We then spent a couple of minutes trying to tell her that WE KNEW WHAT WE SAW and DAMMIT, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT ALL THREE OF US IMAGINED SEEING A PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE ON THE MENU?!
In the end, she pretty much gave up and just grabbed us the menus, which was what we kindly requested in the first place. Seriously, save yourself some trouble by just grabbing the menu to begin with and secondly, avoid arguing with the customer!
Key lime pie ($12)
But anyway, we got our desserts and all was good in the world again (and thankfully, a different waitress looked after us for the rest of the evening). The key lime pie was rich and sublime (bwah, could you tell I was trying to be pun-ny just then?!), though I would have preferred more tang and less sweet. Then again, I’m no key lime pie expert and perhaps they’re meant to have more sugar and less tang.
Peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake ($12)
The overwhelming favourite, however, was the peanut butter cheesecake. You’d think that this cheesecake would be the sweeter of the two desserts but I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. There was a perfect balance between sweetness, saltiness and creaminess all held together by a lovely crunchy crust. Hell yeah, I would eat this again.
Despite the strange waitress and despite the beef in my burger being too dry, I dare say that I’d happily return. The food comes in generous portions and the prices are reasonable. I also want to try out their green tomato burger which did initially catch my eye that evening before the lure of beef and cheese got to me.
The American diner food craze may be as annoying as Tobias Funke in Arrested Development (am I the only person who does not like that show and also finds Tobias irritating?) but places such as Belle’s Diner seem to deliver better than our Ashes bowling line-up. Plus, they’re not pretentious (the diner, I meant). With a bit of tweaking and minus the attitude from a certain waitress, I pretty sure that it will eventually be the Belle of Gertrude Street.