Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

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.

Review: Tai Lei Loi Kei (Macau)

Rua Direita Carlos Eugenio
Taipa, Macau
+853 2882 7150

I may have only spent one day in Macau, but that was enough for me to conclude that it’s one of the most interesting places in Asia. Macau isn’t a very big place so you can see beautiful centuries-old Catholic churches fight for real estate space with casinos that are oh-so-Brutalist on the outside, but opulent on the inside.

You can also see lots of brightly-painted apartments and cobblestone footpaths; they will make you think, just for a second, that you’re in Europe or South America.

And you can also see hundreds of potted bright red and orange impatiens every few metres – speaking of which, who is responsible for looking after these flowers? Why are there so many of them and why are they in such perfect condition? Is there a Ministry of Potted Plants or something?

Anyway, other things you’ll see a lot of in Macau are pork buns, egg tarts and peanut cookie stores. And tourists carrying bags of peanut cookies from said peanut cookie store (including ourselves).

By the time we were done with shopping, cathedral-hopping and fortress-climbing, it was 3pm – and we realised that we had not eaten since departing Hong Kong. This was perfect because it meant that I could go to Tai Lei Loi Kei to try their famous pork chop buns which are only available after 3pm.

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TLLK have a few branches all over the island (and some in Malaysia and Hong Kong) but we visited the one in Taipa Village, just a street away from the foot of the Ruins of St Paul. I’ve been told that TLLK is usually pretty packed so we were lucky to find that there were only a few people lining up when we rocked up.

Pork chop bun (MOP$30 (AUD$4.50))

Pork chop bun (MOP$30 (AUD$4.50))

TLLK has a few things on their menu but let’s face it, everyone’s just here for the buns. The bread is soft on the inside, and slightly crunch on the outside – think banh mi bread roll but not as crunchy and perhaps a little bit sweeter.

The star of the show, however, had to be the pork. Here, they use pork from Brazil (gotta be all Portuguese, yo!) which is apparently one of the most expensive pork in the world. I found the meat, which was marinaded in a herb-y and slightly spicy mixture, very tender despite it being very lean. Oh, and it was juicy too. Like, wow.

I’m not a big pork lover (but I go nuts over dumplings, go figure) but I’m glad that I chose to have this humble pork chop bun as my only meal in Macau. Who would have thought that such a simple thing (bread and pork, no trimmings) could bring so much joy? If my pork-hating dad wasn’t so stubborn, I dare say that even he would like it more than accompanying my mother on yet another jewellery-shopping expedition in Taipa Village.

Review: Tai Cheong Bakery (Central, Hong Kong)

35 Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2544 3475

I ate so many egg tarts during my trip that it’ll be a while before I can even think about touching another one. In fact, I’m starting to hate them as much as I hate dawdlers and shopping. However, there was a brief moment during my trip where I actually loved them. Yep, I loved them like I love an Enrique or Usher song for the first two minutes before Pitbull barges in. And Pitbull was Macau, where I ate the majority of the egg tarts in a single day. Yes, a DAY. Serves me right, hey.

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So this is Tai Cheong Bakery, home of Hong Kong’s best egg tarts. I first heard about it from Daisy, the self-proclaimed Queen of Sweets and expert on all things Hong Kong. Then a few of my other friends started talking about this place. Before I knew it, I was dodging half a dozen swerving fruit trucks in Central Hong Kong, walking up Lyndhurst Terrace and into the painted green shop.

Egg tarts (HKD$6 (AUD$0.91) each)

Egg tarts (HKD$6 (AUD$0.91) each)

Rocking up early will give you the best chance of scoring these beauties while they’re still hot – and I happen to be strange in that I’m an early riser when I’m NOT in Melbourne so I was here at 8am. While they still taste good when they’re cool, they’re 10 billion times better when they’re still fresh from the oven.

Are these really Hong Kong’s best egg tarts? Well, they’re certainly a worthy contender. While I prefer the flaky pastry of the Portuguese egg tart kind, Tai Cheong Bakery uses shortcrust pastry instead – and that’s what a lot of people didn’t like about the egg tarts here. But the filling! Oh my, the filling. It was so creamy, so buttery and so wonderfully soft. Hands down, the finest egg tart filling I’ve ever had. If only flaky pastry was used, then we’d have a winner of Seattle Seahawks-like proportion.

Review: Lin Heung Tea House (Hong Kong)

160-164 Wellington Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2544 4556

One cannot go to Hong Kong without sitting down for yum cha at least once (in my case, it was three times). In Melbourne, we are pretty spoilt when it comes to good yum cha restaurants but I wanted to taste the real thing for myself. Unfortunately, my family’s Hong Kong schedule meant shopping, shopping and more shopping so the only way I could fit yum cha in was to have it for breakfast while the others were still either asleep or slowly getting ready.

We were staying in Tsim Sha Tsui which, surprisingly enough, does not have a lot of places that open early for breakfast (and if they do, they’re not within walking distance of the Shangri-La). Consequently, I had to take the train into central for my first yum cha adventure.

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Upon my friend’s Aaron’s recommendation, I decided to go to Lin Heung Tea House because they opened bright and early (at 6am!). Lin Heung is a bit of a Hong Kong institution as it’s been around since 1926, making it older than the ancient PC I use at work. Also on a work-related note, while I’m all for keeping up with the times by changing processes and what not, I have to admit that I like the fact that Lin Heung still party it up like it’s 1926.

Unlike most yum cha restaurants in Hong Kong, Lin Heung still have trolley services. They also have bird cages hanging from the ceiling (the real birds, of course, are no longer there). And apart from some very minor renovation, the place still looks the same like it did 80 years ago.

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Additionally, this place gets packed like crazy. Yep, even at 8am in the morning. You’re expected to share a table with strangers so if you see a spare spot or two, just sit down and a waiter will come by to pour you some tea and dump an order sheet in front of you.

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No English is spoken so it’s pretty much all pointing and hand-signalling from this moment on (thankfully I managed to learn a few handy Cantonese phrases after dating a Cantonese guy for four years).

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My table mates were these bros here. Old guys reading newspapers are a common sight at Lin Heung (and Hong Kong in general).

Apparently this place gets so hectic at lunchtime that diners resort to getting up from their table as soon as they see a trolley arrive and grabbing items off the trolley while shoving order sheets at the poor trolley ladies’ faces. Thankfully, breakfast is a more dignified affair and the trolleys cruise casually through what little space there was between the tables.

Scallop and prawn dumplings

Scallop and prawn dumplings

These were the first dim sum I saw so I immediately grabbed them. Each thick-skinned parcel was filled with fresh scallops and prawns with a sprinkling of chives and lots of flavour from the pork fat. While the skins were thicker than what I was used to, I loved them nevertheless.

Lo mai gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf)

Lo mai gai (steamed sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf)

I then ordered a lo mai gai.

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Lin Heung’s version was pretty good – it had both pork and chicken in it, with bits of liver sneakily thrown in. I’m not a fan of cooked liver but I found that it added a bit of oomph to what was already a flavoursome dish. Two thumbs up.

Because of the lo mai gai, I was too full to even try some rice noodle rolls or Lin Heung’s famous steamed sponge cakes. It also didn’t help that I went on my own too. Oh well, next time. The bill came to AUD$6 or thereabouts – that would have got me one yum cha dish back in Melbourne. Not bad. In a busy modern metropolis like Hong Kong, it’s good to know that old school places like Lin Heung still exist. I’ll be back on my next trip.

Review: Yunnan (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Shop B, G/F Oriental Centre
67-71 Chatham Road South
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
+852 3525 1055

My first morning in Hong Kong involved me walking around Tsim Sha Tsui East not knowing where I was going. I knew I wanted breakfast but I didn’t know where to get it and to my surprise, most of the outlets around my hotel were still closed at 7am. Surprised, because everyone I knew who had been to Hong Kong told me that there are plenty of places that open at the crack of dawn – I later found out that those so-called places were nowhere near where I was staying and in order to get a decent feed, I had to venture out.

Never mind.

Luckily there was a place that was open on Chatham Road South, two blocks from my hotel. Simply called Yunnan, this joint specialises in Yunnan-style hot noodles for lunch and dinner. For breakfast though, they offer a small cha chaan teng menu.

Condensed milk toast and coffee (HKD$18 (AUD$2.72))

Condensed milk toast and coffee (HKD$18 (AUD$2.72))

I was craving sweet toast, something that I never have when I’m back home, so I ordered a condensed milk toast and a white coffee. Coffee here costs HKD$10 but apparently it’s free if you order food. Score.

While the coffee wasn’t fantastic (it was like a frothier cup of Nescafe), it did the job – and boy, I certainly needed it for I was to later spend 12 hours shopping around Hong Kong and Lantau Islands with the family (not as fun as you think, trust me). The bread may not have had much nutritional value but like the coffee, it hit the spot. Loved the combination of salty butter and warm condensed milk on plain ol’ white bread – yum.

This place may not specialise in CCT cuisine but surprisingly, there were a lot of occupied tables that morning. I’m sure they do alright in the Yunnan-style food as well and I guess I’ll return if I ever feel like Yunnan cuisine in Hong Kong.

Review: Tsui Wah (Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Tsim Sha Tsui East Branch
Ground Floor, no. 60-66 Harbour Crystal Centre
100 Granville Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
+852 2722 6600
http://www.tsuiwah.com/en/

The highlight of my trip has definitely been Hong Kong (that, and the time when my dad’s cousin’s little girl called my mother ‘oma’ and got my mum upset – hah!). Speed and efficiency is the norm in Hong Kong and to a Type A crazy person like myself, I definitely felt at home. As for the food… oh man, where do I start? Suffice to say that if Hong Kong was a person, I’d do all sorts of unspeakable things to it… and more.

I’m already planning my second trip there later this year to do all the things I didn’t get to do the first time around, not to mention the stuff I didn’t get to eat. For now though, the next best thing is to reminisce about all the wonderful things I was lucky enough to eat during my not-long-enough four-night stay there, starting with our late dinner at Tsui Wah.

Tsui Wah is a cha chaan teng restaurant, a common eatery found all over Hong Kong. They are famous for churning out cheap pan-Asian and Western fusion-type meals to the masses, with some of the dishes being a bit on the WTF side (instant noodle soup with spam, anyone?). Having spent many afternoons at Box Hill after school, I’ve grown up eating at CCTs regularly so I kinda knew what to expect. But how did the Box Hill CCTs fare to the original ones back in Hong Kong? There was only one way to find out.

I visited three CCTs in Hong Kong (okay fine, two – the third one doesn’t count because it was a Yunnan noodle restaurant that decided to serve CCT fare for breakfast). Tsui Wah is actually a franchise with heaps of branches all over Hong Kong. Unlike traditional CCT restaurants, Tsui Wah restaurants are brightly-lit and sparkly – they look more like American diners than old school CCT tea houses.

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There was a Tsui Wah near our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui so we decided to give it a shot. It was something like 9pm on a Monday night when we walked in but the restaurant was still quite full. We still managed to get a table for seven though.

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One can’t go to a CCT without ordering a Hong Kong-style milk tea. And even though I’m trying to limit my caffeine intake, I have a weakness for these sweet and slightly starchy teas so I had one. Delicious.

Fish ball noodle soups (between HKD$33-38 (AUD$5-$5.75))

Fish ball noodle soups (between HKD$33-38 (AUD$5-$5.75))

Tsui Wah specialises in fish ball noodle soups. You can also add stuff like wontons or fishcakes to your soups too. Both my cousin Jess and aunty Emy ordered the soups, though they were disappointed that the restaurant ran out of flat rice noodles. Never mind, they thought, we’ll get vermicelli. However, their version of vermicelli was just as thick as a strand of rice noodle anyway?

Regardless, we all thought the fish ball soups were beautiful. We loved the miky and fishy broth and the balls themselves were flavoursome. Jess did say that she did get a bit bored halfway through eating her soup though – as nice as the soup was, it started to taste a bit one dimensional to her.

Crispy fried noodles

Crispy fried noodles

My brother (Ken) and sister (Janice) both had crispy fried egg noodles – Ken had his with vegies while Janice had hers with seafood. Servings were generous (can’t remember how much they were but they wouldn’t have been more than AUD$10) and the noodles still remained beautifully crispy despite being drenched in sauce.

King prawns in XO sauce with tossed noodles (HKD$51 (AUD$7.72))

King prawns in XO sauce with tossed noodles (HKD$51 (AUD$7.72))

I had the king prawns with noodles because the words ‘XO sauce’ drew me in. While the fish ball noodles were excellent, I have to say that I liked this dish better. The noodles were springy and the prawns were super-fresh. I also liked that they had the XO sauce on the side so diners can decide how much they wanted in the dish (me? I chucked the whole lot in, of course).

None of us got to try the Western dishes that night but I’ll definitely come back to give them a go next time. The best thing about Tsui Wah is that a lot of their branches are open 24 hours a day so you can quickly duck in at 4am after a heavy karaoke sessions. And while the Tsim Sha Tsui East Branch isn’t a 24-hour branch, they still close pretty late – 2am during the week and 3am on weekends. To a bumpkin Melburnian like myself, I reckon that’s pretty damn good.

Review: Union (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Courtyard @ Ground Floor
Plaza Senayan
JL Asia Afrika No. 8
Jakarta 10270 Indonesia
+62 21 5790 5861
http://www.unionjkt.com

After a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore, I’m now back in Jakarta. It’s been great visiting those places (especially Hong Kong) though dealing with mild food poisoning this morning certainly wasn’t fun (my fault – I bought nasi lemak in Singapore and ate it while it was still cold as soon as I back to Jakarta). Now that I’m somewhat rested, I thought I’d churn out another post – this time I’ll be writing about Union, a café in Jakarta.

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My cousin Boris took us here last weekend immediately after our buffet lunch at The Café. Union claims to be a ‘brasserie, bakery and bar’ in one, though it seems more like a Parisian café to me what with its romantic foundations and pretty green trees outside.

Its logo font also screams out ‘HIPSTER!’ which kinda makes sense since, according to the website, the café supposedly aims to be a twentieth century bistro (huh?). Despite its identity crisis, it is always packed – we were unable to score a table when we rocked up that Sunday afternoon.

Pandan donut (approx. AUD$2)

Pandan donut (approx. AUD$2)

Union boasts an interesting selection on donuts at the counter, including the cheese-filled donut (Indonesians love cheese – blame the Dutch). I ordered a pandan donut, which had the slightest tinge of green.

In all honestly, I couldn’t taste any pandan flavour. Secondly, the texture was more brioche than donut – in fact, it was pretty much like eating a buttery donut-shaped brioche bun. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, but when you buy something being called a pandan donut, it’s fair to say that you’d expect to get something that would vaguely taste like one!

Hummingbird cake (approx. AUD$6)

Hummingbird cake (approx. AUD$6)

Boris loves Union’s peanut butter and jelly cake but unfortunately there was none left. He decided to get the hummingbird cake instead which was good value at approximately AUD$6 given its size.

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Yep, it was so big that we managed to get three slices out of the one big cake slice…

The cake was super moist and not horribly sweet, thus making it one of the better hummingbird cakes I’ve had. Thumbs up.

While I’m never ordering another donut from here, I can definitely see myself sitting by the window with a slice of cake and coffee on a rainy day – I just need to make sure I’m there before it gets too packed.

Review: The Café @ Hotel Mulia Senayan (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Senayan City
JL Asia Afrika Senayan
Jakarta 10270
Indonesia

Greetings from Hong Kong!

I’m currently travelling for the next two weeks but because I’m awesome, I’m going to try and blog as much as I can in between bouts of stuffing my face with street food and dodging ‘how come you’re not married yet?’ questions from nosy Indonesian aunties.

From this point on, I’ll start documenting my foodie adventures rather than wait until I get back to Melbourne. The last time I did it, I never ended up finishing my posts. Shame on me.

So anyway, yesterday the family and I got invited to lunch at Hotel Mulia, one of the pimpiest hotels in downtown Jakarta. Hotel Mulia is home to a few fancy restaurants and I visited one last year, Table8. This time we were going to The Café, an upmarket buffet restaurant. Despite the heavy rain and despite Jakarta’s horrific traffic conditions, we somehow made it only 5 minutes late.

Unfortunately for us, our table was not ready so we had to wait 10 minutes in the lobby. Once we were called up, we were told that we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the restaurant and the food. That sucked if you were a DLSR-toting food blogger – not that it stopped me from using my iPhone to take a few sneaky shots!

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There are as many buffet stations here as there are Louis Vuitton handbags. While most places have their buffet stations in the one place, the stations here were scatted all over the place. In fact, the ‘Western food’ section was so hidden that I would not have realised it was there but for my nosy brother who had a bit of a wander around the restaurant.

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Oh look! There’s my uncle! And dad!

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My first plate was a Japanese and dim sum affair, just the way I like it. We were sitting with the family of the guy who my relatives are keen to set my cousin up with (she was conveniently sick yesterday and didn’t attend this lunch, hah). The guy (let’s call him S) was there too and he telling me off for eating yum cha when I had all week to indulge in that sort of food in Hong Kong. Yeah whatever, mate. Sif tell me what to eat! Especially since the har gows were actually quite good – definitely better than most I’ve had in Jakarta!

The sashimi wasn’t the freshest I’ve had but it was good for buffet quality. The tuna tataki, however, suffered from having too much pepper on it. I’m not sure if that was the way Indonesians prefer to eat tataki, or whether the cooks were trying to mask something. Hmm.

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S then made a comment about how my siblings and I throw everything together onto our buffet plates. For example, why mix Indian food and chicken buns together? He said that it must be an Aussie thing but I’m not sure as I’ve always ‘done’ buffet restaurants like this? In contrast, his first plate was an all-Japanese affair, his second plate had chips and burgers and he saved his final savoury plate for the Indonesian dishes. I might be doing it wrong, but whatever.

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How’s this for an even more random buffet plate? I had bresaola, prosciutto and jamon along with dahl. I also had some coconut rice wrapped in banana leaf from the Indonesian food section but the line to the actual Indonesian dishes was friggin’ long so I went without, hah.

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Say what?! Angasi oysters from all the way in Australia?!

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You actually had to walk across the hallway to another room for desserts. And even though I’m not big on desserts, I couldn’t help but be impressed at the range. They had everything from gelati to eclairs to little cake, both European and Indonesian.

I grabbed a green tea ice cream from the freezer along with two Indonesian favourites, profitjets (Dutch pancakes) and spekkoek (or kue lapis/Indonesian layer cake) covered in chocolate. They were all excellent.

I may only have three had not-so-full plates (and one dessert plate) but I was pretty full – no dinner for me that night! I’m not sure how much the buffet was per person so I can’t say whether dining at The Café is good value for money. Nevertheless, The Café is better than most buffet restaurants I’ve been to and the har gow dumplings are better than most in Jakarta.

Review: Ribs & Burgers

Shop 94-96, Northcote Plaza
3 Separation Street
Northcote VIC 3070
+61 3 9482 7888
http://ribsandburgers.com.au/

When my friend Linda suggested we visit a restaurant that specialised in ribs, I couldn’t help but groan a little. Yes, I love ribs but I was starting to get sick of them given that I’ve had more than my fair share of ribs in the last two years. ‘But this place is better than Squires Loft and better than Hurricane’s,’ insisted Linda.

Okay, fine, I was sold.

Northcote Plaza is the last place I’d expect to find arguably one of Melbourne’s best rib restaurants. It wasn’t even on High Street where the cool kids now hang but instead, at the back of the plaza across a random park. Ribs & Burgers may not be generating a lot of buzz on social media but given how packed the place was getting after 6pm on a weekday night, it’s definitely gaining legs.

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Ribs & Burgers may not win any creativity awards for its name though if a hipster had opened this restaurant in an attempt to be ironic by cashing in on two of the hottest food trends of 2013, then I wouldn’t be surprised. In actual fact, Ribs & Burgers began life in Sydney before finally spreading its wings down south.

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I love how they store all their cutlery and napkins in metal watering cans – too cute.

Rump steak ($23)

Rump steak ($23)

Linda normally goes for the ribs (she’s been here a number of times) but decided to give something else a go. She opted for the steak because it was one of the specials for the night. Not that $23 for a 400g steak plus your choice of cabbage salad or chips isn’t a good enough deal!

Cabbage salad

Cabbage salad

Red and white shredded cabbage leaves combined with chopped apple, roasted pine nuts, mint and parsley made up the core of the salad, while a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing held it together. It was pleasant enough but I think it would have been better if it was an actual coleslaw – I need all that cream to break down the bitter cabbage leaves!

Pork ribs and chips ($29)

Pork ribs and chips ($29)

Prior to arriving at the restaurant, I was being a bit of a moody sook and told Linda that I ‘wasn’t in the mood to eat heaps.’ I even told her that there was a chance I wouldn’t finish all my ribs – I was wrong, much to Linda’s amusement.

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The ribs were marinated in a sticky sweet and tangy sauce, slow cooked for eight hours before being grilled. The meat easily fell off the bones, all of which I licked clean. Yes, all. I even finished the super crunchy and lightly seasoned chips too. Yep. All. Of. It. Everything was that good.

There was nothing bad I could say about Ribs & Burgers. Linda enjoyed her steak while I thought my ribs were the bee’s knees. The service was also pretty good in that we got our meals pretty quickly though to be fair, we arrived before the dinner rush. I would like to return to try the burgers; apparently their burger meat is free range, hormone-free and contains no antibiotics which is always a good sign.

In the meantime, it’ll probably be a while until I order ribs at a restaurant again – unless, of course, I happen to be at Ribs & Burgers.

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