The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Muso Ramen (Gold Coast, QLD)

Shop 2B/2484 Gold Coast Highway
Mermaid Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5679 3779

If there’s one thing the Gold Coast has over Melbourne, it’d be their ramen restaurants. Oh, and the sun. And the beaches. And the quality guys on Tinder (no, I wasn’t serious with the last one).

Sure, we now have our Mugen and Fukuryu-type places but the Goldie guys have been doing it a lot longer than us with Hakataya and Muso, the subject of this post. While Hakataya is located on the main tourist strip at Surfers, Muso is slightly tucked away on the more residential Mermaid Beach area. However, it’s right on the highway so it’s easily accessible by one of Gold Coast’s many highway buses should you be an interstate or overseas visitor looking for a feed going up from the airport.

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Muso is very cool. The back wall is adorned by Beatles and Hendrix posters, while classic 60s and 70s rock music blare through the speakers as the lady takes your order at the counter.

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Steamed gyoza (five pieces for $6)

With cold Kirin beers in hand, Marty and I started off with some steamed gyoza. I’m more of a fried gyoza person these days but he was always of the opinion that steamed is better than fried (true in most case but not for dumplings, in my opinion). The steamed pork gyoza were tasty enough but I found the skins a bit too soggy.

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

Fried gyoza (five pieces for $6)

The fried ones were a lot better (this is why it’s a good idea to listen to me in most cases!). The filling was just as tasty as the steamed ones, but the thin skins had just the right amount of crunch and to me, that made all the difference.

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I had the tonkotsu original ($13) while Marty had the tonkotsu spicy miso ($14), the latter being essentially the same as mine but with a spicy miso sauce drizzled through it, obvs.

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My ramen was amazing, on par with the one I enjoyed at Hakataya Ramen. If you love the milkiness of the Hakata-style broth, you’ll definitely enjoy the ramen at Muso. It was rich, yet clean. It was milky, yet packed with an assortment of flavours ranging from pork to sweet miso to pure awesomeness in one neat little bowl. And it was perfect, oh-so-perfect, from the gooey tea-soaked egg half to the fatty chashu pork to the slippery thin noodles.

It saddens to me think that there are amazing down-to-earth ramen restaurants in Gold Coast, yet Melbourne seems to struggle with producing something even half as good as this. However, I have a feeling that this will all change now that Fukuryu is in the picture. And about time too.

Muso Ramen Noodle & Gyoza Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Hellenika (Gold Coast, QLD)

2235 Gold Coast Highway
Nobby Beach QLD 4218
+61 7 5572 8009
http://www.hellenika.com.au

The other day, my half-Greek friend Yanni was complaining about the lack of good Greek restaurants up on the Gold Coast. While it’s true that there isn’t a big Greek population up there in comparison to Melbourne, it’s fair to say that Yanni had not experienced the wonder that is Simon Gloftis’ Hellenika.

After experiencing one of the best meals I’ve had on the Gold Coast at Gloftis’ second restaurant The Fish House, I knew I had to give Hellenika a spin. Luckily Marty was on the same page so we arranged to have dinner one evening. Keep in mind that this visit happened ages ago (by that, I mean last year) so things might have changed slightly since then.

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Gloftis is the George Calombaris of Gold Coast. He owns two restaurants and a few cafés including Three Beans – put simply, he knows food and he knows business. The thing that makes me like Gloftis’ restaurants a bit more, however, is the fact that they’re stylish, yet unpretentious. And while Melbourne and Sydney has its lion’s share of fancy restaurants, you’ll never be able to replicate the effortless manner in which Fish House and Hellenika combines charm, sexiness with a loads of modesty. Ah, it must be the Gold Coast beach thang.

Ten Cane: Ten Cane white rum, ginger, pineapple, chilli and lime ($16)

Ten Cane: Ten Cane white rum, ginger, pineapple, chilli and lime ($16)

Our table wasn’t ready when we rocked up just after 8pm so we perched at the bar with some drinks. Marty ordered a Scotch but I decided that it was perfect cocktail weather despite Hellenika’s very limited cocktail menu. My Ten Cane cocktail was as refreshing and zesty as the night’s cool breeze.

Taramosalata ($10)

Taramosalata ($10)

I initially thought that $10 for a dip was a bit steep but as soon as the creamy, smooth white roe dip reached my mouth, I knew it was worth every cent. Dinner had only just started but already I made two mistakes: 1) not ordering a second serving of taramosalata and 2) only ordering one serving, but eating enough bread to render myself half full before our main dish arrived.

Dolmades ($21)

Dolmades ($21)

Hellenika boasts an impressive list of starters, with fresh seafood dishes being the obvious highlights. I would have been totally happy with fried garfish or chargrilled octopus but in the end, Marty won with his choice of dolmades. Each little silverbeet parcel held a lovely warm mixture of veal and rice and with a spoonful of sour Greek yoghurt, each bite was a delight. (ooh hey, that rhymes)

Baked Junee lamb ($45)

Baked Junee lamb ($45)

There was no way we could bypass the house special, the 1kg baked lamb which is designed to serve two people. Apparently this dish sells out quickly each evening and because we arrived late on a Friday night, we didn’t like our chances. Luckily, they still had some lamb so we were right to go.

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The lamb shoulder was slow-cooked for five hours and as a result, the meat was gloriously juicy and fatty. Again, yoghurt was our friend – it broke through all the sinfully delicious greasiness. And if you wanted a bit of sweet kick, the eggplant dip was there. The potatoes on the side were also pretty amazing – they were also slow-cooked in the lamb juices, making them super soft and delicious.

Horiatiki salata ($14)

Horiatiki salata ($14)

To keep things on the slightly healthy side, we ordered a Greek salad. At $14, it didn’t come cheap nor was it remarkable. But the ingredients were super fresh, yadayadayada.

Halva ice cream ($3.50)

Halva ice cream ($3.50)

Believe it or not, we were really stuffed after the lamb (and I guess all that bread). In fact, we had to take the rest of the lamb home (it was enjoyed for breakfast the next morning – so so good). We couldn’t, however, leave without tasting something from the dessert menu. I think Marty wanted something more substantial than the measly halva ice cream scoop I suggested. In the end, I won. And just as well because after the ice cream (which was beautiful and nutty, without being too sweet), we were about to collapse.

We really enjoyed our meal at Hellenika. Sure, it’s not what you’d call a cheap eats place and given that the atmosphere was so lively and casual, it was hard to believe that you were dining at a fancy restaurant. Not that it matters anyway; it’s one of those places that would be perfect for a normal Friday night dinner or a special occasional venue. Overall, the meal was worth every cent and I can honestly say that it’s earned its place as one of my ‘must to go to’ restaurants on the Gold Coast.

Now if only to convince Yanni to take me there for a normal Tuesday night dinner this week ‘just because.’

Hellenika on Urbanspoon

Review: Brutale (NOW CLOSED)

18 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 4411

You know you need to lift your blogging game up when a place that you visited two months ago has since shut down. So when I heard the sad news that the hot Croatian guy restaurant in Melbourne has since skipped town, I was devastated. And annoyed that I didn’t get to blog about it before he left without so much as a goodbye.

But anyway. For me, tonight was a night to reminisce about good times so I may as well talk about the meal I enjoyed at Brutale with Dave, Amy and Amy’s friend, Tim who was visiting from Canada.

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Brutale is ex-Aylesbury chef Daniel Dobra’s restaurant. Okay, perhaps I should say ‘was.’ The menu celebrated all that was wonderfully Eastern European, with a few Croatian-style dishes making appearances thanks to Dobra’s Croatian heritage. The reason why we chose this place was because there aren’t many Croatian restaurants in Melbourne despite there being a sizeable Croatian population.

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If Brutale’s war-themed décor was anything to go by, Dobra has a cheeky sense of humour. We’re talking a disco ball bomb on the ceiling as well as soldier helmet lightshades. And if you didn’t notice in the previous pic, Brutale’s logo is a knuckle duster.

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

2012 Matosevic from Istra, Croatia ($12)

I was really impressed with Brutale’s extensive drinks list. They had a great selection of Eastern European wines, beers and more importantly, rajika. I would have happily gone on a tasting flight of more than a couple of shots of Serbian rajika if it weren’t for the fact that I spent a good portion of the afternoon having beers and ciders with a visiting Queensland friend. A glass of wine it was for me.

‘Svinja’ ($20)

‘Svinja’ ($20)

We started off with a plate of Eastern European cured meats, accompanied by some seasoned pickled onions. The usual suspects made appearances: salami, speck and prosciutto, though it was the dried pork belly that stole the show.

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi ($14)

Pierogi is arguably something that the Poles should take credit for, but they can be found in many Eastern European restaurants all over Melbourne regardless of whether they are Russian, Bulgarian or Hungarian. Thus, it’s no surprise that they were on Brutale’s menu. I’m a sucker for pierogi (or any dumpling dish, really) so we had to order a serving. Each potato, cheese and onion-filled dumpling was doughy and slightly and served with chopped dill, chives, bacon and bread crumbs. Such flavours, many textures.

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Slow-cooked suckling pig ($33)

Our first main dish was the slow-cooked suckling pig. We received a nice portion of free-range pork that was beautifully cooked – the meat was just so ridiculously soft. An apple Rakija sauce then completed the package, though I’m not sure if the Rakija added much to the taste.

Baby snapper ($31)

Baby snapper ($31)

Compared to other Eastern European food, Croatia is quite heavy on the seafood due to the country’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea. This fish dish, from the island of Prvic , was also beautifully cooked. It was served with caper sauce, roasted grapes, fried capers and parsley – it sounds like a heavy sauce but it wasn’t. It was easily my favourite dish of the night – Mark Viduka would have been proud.

Father’s chips ($9)

Father’s chips ($9)

We also shared some twice-cooked chips. While they were beautifully crunchy, I thought they went overboard with the seasoning. Not even the lovely Dobra spiced mayonnaise could diffuse the saltiness. Ick.

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Croatian doughnuts ($15)

Ah, donuts. I don’t like dessert that much but I’m a sucker for donuts. These babies were spicy thanks to the cinnamon and nutmeg used. They also had hints of vanilla and raisins. They were delicious on their own, though a velvety walnut and Rakija cream was on hand if you needed that extra bit of sugar hit.

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

Lavender and honey ice cake with summer berries ($14)

We ordered the ‘ice cake’ thinking that we were actually going to get a legit cake. Hence, we were kind of surprised to see a mound of ice cream. Not that I minded – I love my ice creams. The Mugaritz-style plating of the berries wowed us and so did the refreshing mix of ice cream and berries, effortlessly intertwined together with honey.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal so much that there were talks of a return visit. Thus, it really sucked to hear that Brutale has now turned into Brutale 2.0, ‘part diner, part bar and part dancehall.’ While you won’t find any main dishes on the bar menu, I’m glad that at least they’ve kept the pierogi, charcuterie platter and doughnuts on it. Oh yes.

Brutale on Urbanspoon

Review: Corica Pastries (Perth, WA)

106 Aberdeen Street
Northbridge WA 6003
+61 8 9328 8196

Man, my blogging backlog is getting worse by the day. Work, social calendar, cold weather, laziness – these are all to blame. Hopefully things settle down in June and I actually do what I promised to do, that is to churn out more posts than amusing Tinder updates on Twitter.

So this will be my last Perth post. And thank goodness for that – Perth happened about six months ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!) and my memory is certainly being tested. I’ve saved the best for last though, and those who have been playing at home will know that this entry is about the best apple strudels, like, ever. Okay, maybe not ever. I’ve never been to Europe so I can’t really make a fair comparison. But these strudels from Corica Pastries are definitely the best in Australia.

Knowing that these strudels were in high demand, I placed my order for six strudels in Melbourne. The first time I rang, I was a dill and forgot about the four-hour time difference. So when the lady picked up the phone at what would have been 6AM Perth time, she didn’t sound too impressed. Nevertheless, she took my order down for four apple strudels and two apple-blueberry strudels ($20 each) and said they’ll be ready to be picked up on Saturday morning.

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Unfortunately when I came to pick the boxes up, they got my order wrong and I got given five boxes instead. Thankfully, the ladies at Corica are super-prepared so they had a spare box to give me. And all was right in the world again.

And while I’ve had a Corica apple strudel before, I forgot just how big the boxes were. Naturally, carrying them back in 36-degree heat to my hotel was a challenge. And so was carrying them back on a flight to Melbourne the next day without being stared at.

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Anyway, this is what this baby looks like. Crispy, flaky pastry with tops covered in caramelised sugar with the most delicious apple and custard filling you’ve ever tasted. The apple-blueberry one is essentially the same, but the blueberry jam makes it that much sweeter if you prefer it that way (I don’t so pure apple for me, thanks).

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I really wanted to give a box to Marty’s family so what I did was cut one of the boxes in half, then cut the strudel in half, lay one half of the strudel on top of the other, slide the now-empty box half to cover the now-full box half.

Apologies for the bad photo – I blame my weary iPhone4.

Apologies for the bad photo – I blame my weary iPhone4.

And tie the lot with a rubber band.

I whacked the box into the largest express post envelope they had at the post office and chucked it into the nearest express post box. It was 36 degrees and because it was Saturday and because it was going to the Gold Coast, Marty’s family wasn’t going to get it until AT LEAST TUESDAY. (it was all mashed up by the time the strudel arrived and even though it would have sat in the Perth AND Gold Coast sun for quite some time, Marty still ate it – and survived)

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And what happened to the other five? Well, I had to play a bit of Tetris to get them to all fit in the mini-fridge. I guess the smartest thing for me to do would have been to ask someone at reception the strudels could go in the cool room but I’m pretty dumb at the best of times, hah. I’ll know for next time.

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Nevertheless, they still tasted amazing by the time I got around to eating them in Melbourne the following night. All I needed to do was to chuck my slice in the pie warmer and enjoy the pastry’s crispiness. I then added a dollop of cream to it and Hans Landa-ed the hell out of it.

Aah!

Corica Pastries on Urbanspoon

Review: Tak Chee House (Perth, WA)

1/364 William Street
Northbridge WA 6000
+61 8 9328 9445

Goodness me. I’ve promised more entries, more frequently – and so far I’ve failed to deliver. Perhaps I should think about being a politician (on second thoughts, maybe not – I’m too honest for my own good). It’s funny because I’ve been funemployed for almost a week now so you’d think that I’d have heaps of time on my hands – but I don’t. Regardless, let’s have another crack at churning out more entries, more frequently. Otherwise, you’ll be seeing a new face in parliament* very soon.

So yes, Perth.

On my last night there (sometime in November last year), I was dying for a feed. I was staying in Northbridge so I was blessed to be surrounded by a lot of cheap restaurants within strolling distance. Unfortunately, Perth doesn’t do late night eats very well (and by late night, I mean 8:30PM) so my choices were very limited.

Luckily, Malaysian restaurant Tak Chee House was still open by the time I mustered up the courage to brave the wild streets of Northbridge alone. Despite the heat, I was craving laksa so it must have been through divine intervention that of the very few places still open that night, a Malaysian restaurant was one of them.

Seafood curry laska ($13)

Seafood curry laska ($13)

At $13, the laksa wasn’t cheap nor was the portion massive.

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And while the broth was tasty enough, it didn’t have the depth that you find in laskas served at Laksa King et al and there wasn’t a lot of heat. Not that Laksa King is super authentic if my Malaysian friends are to be believed, but you get me. I guess the one thing that really did impress me here though was the seafood – my goodness, they were so so fresh!

In hindsight, I think I chose the wrong dish at Tak Chee House – I certainly was the only person there eating laksa. But that’s okay.

*Very unlikely. I’m not an Australian citizen anyway.

Tak Chee House on Urbanspoon

Review: The Old Crow (Perth, WA)

172 Newcastle Street
Northbridge WA 6003
+61 8 9227 9995
http://theoldcrow.com.au/

Perth sure is a city full of surprises, especially foodie ones. During my stay there, I didn’t plan to go out of my way to look for interesting or out-there eateries. After all, I was staying in Northbridge which meant that I had all the wonderfully cheap Asian eateries at my feet (or at least within several metres anyway).

But when I was texting Marty that weekend, he mentioned this cool-sounding place he came across while looking up Perth eateries for funsies. A few conference delegates had also mentioned this eatery and gave props to it. So when I needed to find a nice little place to kill time at before DP was to pick me up and take me to Scarborough Beach that Sunday afternoon, I ended up at The Old Crow.

The American food has well and truly hit saturation point in cities all over Australia – and Perth isn’t exempt. But what Perth has (and what Sydney and Melbourne don’t), however, is The Old Crow. The restaurant/bar is a well-balanced mix of sexy old world charm infused with effortlessly cool twists on American flavours. Think jerky pork belly strips with peach coleslaw, for example. Feeling like dessert? Then go for the bourbon and cola sticky pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. Hell, I would (and I’m not even a dessert person).

Doctor John’s ‘Apple a Day’ ($16)

Doctor John’s ‘Apple a Day’ ($16)

It was something like 36 degrees that day. And for a moron like me, that meant sit-outside-in-the-sun weather (hey, I’m from Melbourne – cut me some slack!). With a pitcher of ice cold water in one hand and the cocktail list on the other, I chose the most refreshing-sounding cocktail, the Apple a Day. It was a flirty mixture of Mt Gay rum, peach and apple Schnapps, apple juice and fresh lemon juice, topped with a spicy coconut and cinnamon foam. Oh boy.

House cheese Kransky, soft bun, jalapeno ($13)

House cheese Kransky, soft bun, jalapeno ($13)

As much as I would have loved to try half the dishes on the menu, I chose something relatively small to nibble on because I wasn’t terribly hungry. Also, you know, Perth heat. I was expecting something small (think Golden Fields’ lobster roll) but what I got was practically a meal in itself.

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So the homemade Kransky was filled with a lovely gooey cheese sauce and the whole thing was covered in grated cheese – because as if we couldn’t get enough cheese (I know I couldn’t). On the side there was a sour green pickle to cut through the salty cheesiness as well as a small bottle of Louisiana hot sauce for that extra bun. It was amazing.

Sadly, the cheese Kransky is no longer on the lunch menu as far as I know. However, there are a lot of dishes that I desperately want to try. In fact, The Old Crow would probably the first place I’d be having a meal at the next time I’m in Perth.

The Old Crow on Urbanspoon

Review: Tra Vinh (Perth, WA)

149A Brisbane Street
Northbridge WA 6003
+61 8 9228 2788

This week, we’ll be crossing the Nullarbor and talking about some of Perth’s food offerings. For those of you who have followed my blog for donkey years, you’ll remember that I attended the Eat Drink Blog conference last November. Perth is a long way to fly – especially just for two nights – but I was determined to stock up on Corica apple strudels, perve on FIFO workers and learn a thing or two about food blogging. And of course, sneak in a couple of restaurant visits in between.

I was also there to visit my friend, DP. He and his missus, Gem, picked me up from Perth airport at 8:30pm on a Friday evening – a bad time to arrive because it meant that most restaurants were closing. Ditto the Twilight Hawkers Market. Thankfully, there were a handful of Perth restaurants that stay open until 10pm on weekends and Tra Vinh was one of them. I love Vietnamese food more than hot FIFO workers so when DP suggested Tra Vinh, I eagerly said yes even though it was still 28 degrees outside. It was also conveniently located around the corner from my hotel which also happened to be a prostitutes’ den – something I didn’t know about until a week before I was due to fly out.

Great planning skills, Libby.

Three colour drink

Three colour drink

Having just arrived from 14-degree Melbourne, I was sweating so much that I needed a cold drink. My three colour drink did hit the spot, but it was a tad too sweet for my liking.

Steamed rice with crispy fried chicken ($9.50)

Steamed rice with crispy fried chicken ($9.50)

Dave ordered the crispy fried chicken on rice. It’s not something that I’d normally order at Vietnamese restaurants but if you all you want is chicken and rice, then this is for you.

Fried rice with diced beef ($14)

Fried rice with diced beef ($14)

Gem ordered the fried rice with diced beef. At $14, I thought it was a bit much given that she wasn’t given a big portion either. It wasn’t fantastic either; the beef was too sweet and the rice was quite bland.

Pho tai bo (raw beef noodle soup, $10.50)

Pho tai bo (raw beef noodle soup, $10.50)

Who the hell orders a steaming hot bowl of pho when it’s hot outside? Me, naturally.

I have this thing against red onions in Asian dishes so when I saw bits of red onion floating on the broth, my immediate thought was ‘Oh FFS!’

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Red onions aside though, the pho was great. Being from Melbourne, I know I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to excellent pho. If I lived in Perth, however, I’d be pretty pleased with this one. The broth was sweet and had excellent depth while the noodle-soup-beef ratio was just right.

The good thing about Northbridge is that there are at least two handfuls of other Vietnamese restaurants to choose from. Sure, Northbridge ain’t no Richmond or Footscray or any Sydney suburb ending in –atta but if the Vietnamese restaurants here are half as good as Tra Vinh (pho-wise, that is) then I’d say that Perth is in good hands. Just stick to the pho and avoid the rice dishes.

Tra Vinh Brisbane Street on Urbanspoon

Review: Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew

413 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9419 0088
http://www.brotherburger.com.au

Right. The last time I blogged, I promised at least three entries per week. As you can see, I didn’t quite get there. That’s what resigning from your day job and Easter does to you. I promise I’ll be good this time though and see if I can squeeze out four posts this week – even though I have Anzac Day shenanigans, a friend’s wedding and job hunting to do in the next six days. Phew!

Tonight, I’ll keep it simple by talking about burgers… because everyone loves burgers, right? And the place I’m going to blog about is one my GBF Hasan took me for our totes romantic Valentine’s Day date this year prior to watching Grease at the theatre. He had been going on about Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew for quite some time and was keen to try it again. And because we had heaps of time to kill between finishing work that day and the start of the show, I thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

Vanilla and bourbon milkshake ($17)

Vanilla and bourbon milkshake ($17)

Knowing that I was going to be in for an interesting night (not so much the show itself but other stuff – another story for another time), I decided some alcohol in me. Brother Burger has some decent beers as well as a list of alcoholic milkshakes. BI ordered the vanilla bourbon milkshake … and it turned out to be 100 billion shades too sweet for my liking.

BB’s own chik-o-rolls (three for $6.50)

BB’s own chik-o-rolls (three for $6.50)

I’ve never really warmed up to Chiko rolls as a kid (fried dim sims and potato cakes FTW) but I’ve heard that Brother Burger’s home-made ‘chik-o rolls’ were pretty good so we ordered a plate. They were crumbed, deep-fried and stuffed with pulled lamb and vegies.

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They weren’t bad and much better than the traditional Chiko rolls but I think I’ll stick to my fried dimmies.

Plain burger with cheese ($11.50); hot stuff (double bacon, cheese, pickles, mustard mayo and chilli jam, $13.50)

Plain burger with cheese ($11.50); hot stuff (double bacon, cheese, pickles, mustard mayo and chilli jam, $13.50)

Hasan had the plain burger with cheese while I had the hot stuff burger – because I’m clearly hot stuff (ahem). Brother Burger is all about using ‘100% full blood wagyu beef, no bull’ and they source their beef rom Mayura station down in South Australia. As a result, the patties are gloriously fat and soft.

That said, I found my burger to be overwhelmingly salty, even by my standards (and I LOVE salt more than I love to see Collingwood lose). Even the more-sweet-than-hot chilli jam did nothing to alleviate the saltiness. Hasan agreed with me, saying that his plain burger with cheese was much saltier this time around.

Onion rings ($7.50)

Onion rings ($7.50)

We also split some beer battered onion rings. They were as big enough to fit around my wrists (good), yet the batter-to-onion ratio was out of whack (bad). More onion and less batter, please.

It’s a shame our dinner here wasn’t all that great. I think these burgers would have been fantastic if they weren’t bogged down by so much salt. Even Hasan, who is normally pretty easy when it comes to assessing burgers, was a bit disappointd (only for his happiness to be restored by finding a bunch of Janet Jackson vinyls at the record store across the road).

I guess the one good thing about Brother Burger is that their burgers don’t cost the earth. Plus, they sell excellent beers. Oh, and the service was great. Fine, that’s three things. But still, if I wanted burgers when I’m in the area, I think I’ll go to Huxtaburger or Rockwell & Sons instead.

Brother Burger and the Marvellous Brew on Urbanspoon

Event: Damian D’Silva Lunch

Held at: Tonka
20 Duckboard Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 3155
http://tonkarestaurant.com.au/

Disclaimer: Libby dined as a guest of Singapore Tourism and Adhesive PR.

Despite being a food-loving Indonesian, I must admit I don’t know a great deal about Singaporean food. Why bring the whole Indonesian thing into the equation? Because Indonesians love Singapore (and why wouldn’t they? It only takes an hour to fly from Jakarta to Singapore) and because every other Indonesian I know is an SQ KrisFlyer card-toting teeny-bopper. So in theory, I should know a fair bit about Singaporean food… but I don’t.

Despite having been to Singapore a few times, I can’t say that I’ve experienced the best of what Singapore had to offer in terms of food either. The first few times I went, I was too young to appreciate it all. The last time I went, I was only there for a brief stopover and didn’t venture out of Orchard Road (or Sephora, for that matter).

So when the lovely Larissa from Adhesive PR invited me to a media lunch that was being prepared by Immigrants Gastrobar owner Damian D’Silva, I knew I had to be a part of it.

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The lunch was held at Adam D’Sylva’s fine-dining Indian fusion restaurant, Tonka. I’m not exactly sure how Indian fusion works but I guess I’ll find out next time – that day we were there to try Damian’s cooking which had been inspired by Singapore’s rich cultural diversity. That meant that we’d be sampling food that had hints of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian and Peranakan in it.

Another thing that sets Damian’s cooking apart is that he tries to recreate recipes that have been passed down from generation and generation. Think stuff that your hypothetical Singaporean grandmother used to cook. Sadly, not a lot of Singaporean chefs cook this sort of food (‘heritage food’) so I really admire Damian’s vision to showcase these dishes to the masses.

Ayam bakar

Ayam bakar

After being poured a glass of wine (Clos Clare Riesling 2013 for me, thanks), we got straight to business. The dishes were brought out at once and the idea was to spoon everything onto a plate with rice. The ayam bakar (literally ‘grilled chicken’ in Malay-slash-Indonesian) was slathered in a fragrant spicy marinade before being grilled on charcoal, giving it a lovely smoky flavour.

Otak-otak (fish cake)

Otak-otak (fish cake)

Now, I’m used to otak-otak that has not only been wrapped in banana leaves, but is firm yet squishy. However, Damian’s version was soft and airy – in fact, the waiter described this dish as ‘fish mousse’ though a ‘seafood mousse’ would have been a more accurate descriptor – each cake also had a bit of prawn and squid in the mix.

Pucuk kledek masak lemak

Pucuk kledek masak lemak

Behold the sweet potato leaves. ‘Masak lemak’ means to ‘cook in fat’ and by fat, they mean coconut milk. You don’t tend to find sweet potato leaves in grocery stores here but they’re commonplace in Southeast Asia – I, for one, enjoyed them on the side on several occasions during my stay in Jakarta over the summer. They’re like spinach, but with a slightly sweeter and more bitter taste. Mix them with said coconut milk, chillies, shallots, shrimp paste, candlenuts and prawns and you have a winner.

Pickles

Pickles

Yep, pickles.

Hah, I must have been off my A-game when it came to taking photos that day. Or perhaps I had too much wine. Oops.

Sotong masak hitam

Sotong masak hitam

The squid cooked in its own ink was a popular dish that afternoon. Unlike most of the dishes we enjoyed that day, this one was very simple and didn’t contain a helluva lot of ingredients. Just squid and ink. Delicious.

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This is how we do itttttt…! (yep, with fragrant turmeric rice)

We were pretty much unbuttoning our jeans at this point so you can imagine how horror when the waiter asked us what we thought of the starters.

‘What, there’s still more food to come?’ we cried.

‘Oh of course, you guys haven’t had your mains yet!’ he cheerfully replied.

Seriously, FML.

Singgang (fish stew), debal (Eurasian devil curry)

Singgang (fish stew), debal (Eurasian devil curry)

The singgang is a Eurasian fish stew, using sai toh (wolf herring). Damian cooked with about seven different ground spices and our friend, coconut milk. The debal was another Eurasian dish. Unlike most curries, this one wasn’t spicy at all but it was still very hearty. The potatoes probably had heaps to do with it too.

Beef rendang, sambal belimbing, sambal buah keluak

Beef rendang, sambal belimbing, sambal buah keluak

Being Indonesian, I love a good beef rendang. Damian’s version was cooked with coconut juice, giving it a sweeter flavour than what I’m used to. On the other hand, the juices made the beef cheeks oh-so-love-me-tender. Then we had the sambal belimbing, or chilli star fruit. I’m not a fan of star fruit on its own (it’s not sweet enough to be enjoyed as a fruit, imo) but it worked well as a spicy savoury dish.

Meanwhile, the sambal buah keluak was the dish that divided the table. The buah keluak refers to the nuts grown from the Kepayang mangrove tree in Malaysia and Indonesia. The dish itself was very nutty and somewhat bitter with a hint of sweetness. While most people on the table weren’t huge fans, fellow food blogger Heidi loved it. Me? I wouldn’t eat it on its own but spread over everything else, absolutely.

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My second plate of savouries.

Kueh bengkah (tapioca cakes)

Kueh bengkah (tapioca cakes)

My mum makes an Indonesian version of this at home so I was excited to see these presented to us. They were deliciously springy and warm, with a lovely coconut flavour.

Palm sugar tapioca balls

Palm sugar tapioca balls

I’m pretty sure there is an Indonesian version of this too – think little tapioca balls sweetened with palm sugar and then covered in freshly grated coconut. This would have gone down well with some coffee but unfortunately, I have an on-and-off relationship with coffee (on that day, it was definitely off).

Our amazeballs lunch definitely opened our eyes to a culinary side of Singapore that most of us had never seen before. Hell, I thought Singapore was just chilli crabs, kaya toast and bakwah but oh, how wrong I was! Mad props also go to Damian for being so hospitable and for lugging 65kgs of ingredients into Melbourne, via customs, just so he can prepare all these amazing dishes for us to enjoy.

The Singapore Tourism Board has also launched the Singapore Celebrity Concierge, a first-of-its-kind VIP travel service. Check them out here.

Review: Gyoza Douraku

147 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 5225

It feels really strange to be writing this at 7:30PM when it’s pitch black outside. It also feels strange to be recounting a dinner that happened way back in November but that’s what I get for not blogging regularly – and this is going to change. So just as I look forward to finally being able to leave the house in glorious day light each morning, I’m going to blog at least three times a week. Promise.

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So Gyoza Douraku was the place Peter and I dined at just before a John Safran talk last year. And while I love books and self-deprecating Jewish comedians like the next Melburnian, book talks do my head in sometimes so we picked a place that would have a good selection of strong alcohol.

Choya umeshu (plum liqueur)

Choya umeshu (plum liqueur)

We went halfies on a small bottle of Choya umeshu that was sweet enough to get our brains buzzing, yet lethal enough to get our heads fuzzy. If you happened to be at the talk and heard a female laughing uncontrollably during the bit where Safran uses the John Smith and Angel Moroni analogy – well, that was me and this umeshu. Sorry.

Sauces: Japanese grain vinegar, roasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, fresh crushed garlic, chilli oil, and sesame oil

Sauces: Japanese grain vinegar, roasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, fresh crushed garlic, chilli oil, and sesame oil

Look! A raccoon! Gyoza Douraku provides all your condiments and saucy (heeh) needs in one neat tray.

Salmon sashimi (five pieces for $12.90)

Salmon sashimi (five pieces for $12.90)

Pete wanted fish so we grab a small serving of salmon sashimi. At $12.90 for five little pieces, it wasn’t cheap but it was super fresh. Also, I always give props for homemade wasabi.

‘JFC’ or Japanese Fried Chicken ($7.90)

‘JFC’ or Japanese Fried Chicken ($7.90)

We then grabbed some karaage to nibble on. I don’t remember them being tremendously awesome but they were decent – tender chicken, tasty spices and reasonably crunchy batter.

Pork and cabbage gyoza (six pieces for $7.90)

Pork and cabbage gyoza (six pieces for $7.90)

Onto the main event! The pork and cabbage gyoza were definitely better than most I’ve had in Melbourne; the crunchy skins firmly held together a filling that was juicy and delicious. I still preferred the ones at Little Ramen Bar though.

Prawn gyoza (six pieces for $9.50)

Prawn gyoza (six pieces for $9.50)

I love prawn dumplings (or prawn anything for that matter) but I thought the prawn gyoza paled in comparison to the pork ones – the filling was kind of muted and verging on dry.

We would have loved to try more dishes but unfortunately we had a show to dash off to. At just under $40, Pete said that the food was okay but a bit too expensive for what it was (then again, he’s been to Japan three times and still can’t get around the fact that Japanese food will always be more expensive and not as nice in Melbourne).

I, too, thought the food was decent. However, I did have to agree with Pete – this place didn’t represent the best value for money because we weren’t completely full… in fact, we ended up having a second dinner after the talk. I’d recommend Gyoza Douraku if you fill like Japanese nibbles (don’t want to say ‘Japanese tapas’ because only morons say that) but if you’re on a budget and want to be full, well, there are cheaper options in the CBD.

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