The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

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.

Gyoza Douraku on Urbanspoon

Review: Po’ Boy Quarter

295 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 2130
http://gumbokitchen.com.au/

Now that burgers, ribs and fried chicken have had their time in the very harsh Australian sun, it’s about time that regional American dishes such as Louisiana’s gumbo grabbed the spotlight. While Melbourne’s Gumbo Kitchen food truck may have been serving up Louisiana’s state dish since 2011, the gumbo hasn’t exactly trended on social media. And because I’m a bit slow when it comes to catching onto food trends (not much of a food blogger, hey), it took me a while to try my first spoonful of gumbo.

Last year, the Gumbo Kitchen guys opened up Po’ Boy Quarter, a standalone restaurant on Smith Street with a focus on all things New Orleans minus Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Daisy and I happened to be going to an event on Smith Street that night so we decided to stop by Po’ Boy Quarter for dinner beforehand.

Homemade New Orleans lemonade ($5)

Homemade New Orleans lemonade ($5)

I’m not much of a soft drink person – in fact, I had probably my fourth serving of Coke this year on Saturday night). However, I do appreciate an honest glass of homemade lemonade so we ordered one each. They were served in those plastic red cups that you see in American college movies. And for a while, I felt like I was attending a frat boy party – because obvs I’m cool enough to be invited to one.

How did they taste though? Well, the drink itself was pink and, thankfully, tasted more lemony than sugary. However, there was a bit of salty kick at the end which Daisy and I found odd.

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We ordered a po’ boy each and gumbo to share.

Beef debris po’ boy ($11.90)

Beef debris po’ boy ($11.90)

What’s a po’ boy? They’re essentially sub-sandwiches filled with meat or fried seafood. Think roid-(well okay, carb-) injected Subway sandwiches. Daisy ordered the beef debris po’boy which contained 10-hour braised shredded beef, Cajun gravy, French mustard, mayo and a squeeze of Louisiana hot sauce. Due to the generous amount of beef and the crazy amount of sauces used, Daisy’s po’ boy was very tasty – but also insanely rich. In the end, she ended up tossing out the bread and just eating the meat.

Deep fried shrimp ($11.90)

Deep fried shrimp ($11.90)

I liked my deep fried shrimp po’ boy a little better. It wasn’t as sauce-heavy but it was still nevertheless tasty. Think ketchup, mayo and Cajun slaw with fresh tomatoes, lettuce and pickles to keep things somewhat balanced.

Chicken and smoked sausage gumbo ($7)

Chicken and smoked sausage gumbo ($7)

Given how filling our sandwiches were, we probably could have gone without the gumbo. Still, Daisy and I are pretty much must-order-everything types so there was no way we could leave without trying a bit of gumbo. Neither of us have had it before so we weren’t sure what to expect.

The stew was, like our po’ boys, jam-packed with flavour. Filled with shredded chicken and sausages, it was meat lover’s dream. The thick meat-based stew was deliciously spicy, yet very smoky – and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked the smokiness of it. Now, that’s an odd thing for me to say because I normally like stuff that’s been smoked. I’m guessing it’s because the soup just had so much going for it that it became a bit too much.

Po’ Boy Quarter provided a great introduction to Louisianan cuisine and we’re very blessed to have a place like this in Melbourne. While Daisy and I were a bit ‘hmmm I dunno…’ with gumbo, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this joint to others who want something different from the usual burgers and ribs.

Po' Boy Quarter on Urbanspoon

Review: Jimmy Grants

113 St David Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9416 0060
http://jimmygrants.com.au/

Happy Friday, everyone! And just before I head down to the gym for a weights session, I figured I’d squeeze out one more post before I leave the office. After all, it’s about time I published my write-up of Jimmy Grants, the fancy schmancy souvlaki joint that’s been taking Melbourne by storm since it opened last year to a lot of fanfare. Once the hype died down though, Dave, Daisy and I went down there for dinner one spring evening.

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By now, we should know that Jimmy Grants belongs to Masterchef judge George Calombaris who also owns an empire of restaurants that’s bigger than the Byzantine Empire in its heyday.

You’re probably wondering why the name of the place doesn’t sound, well, woggy. Put simply, Jimmy Grants rhymes with ‘immigrants’ and the whole point of this restaurant to celebrate all that is awesome about the immigrants that make up Melbourne today. And in George’s case, he does it with souvlaki.

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Oh George, you’re so cheeky!

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It didn’t take long for the food to arrive.

Chips, garlic oil, feta, oregano ($6)

Chips, garlic oil, feta, oregano ($6)

The chips were beautifully fried but I felt that the combination of strong feta AND pungent garlic oil overpowered the chips. They were also pretty salty. If they got rid of one ingredient, I think the dish would have been more balanced.

Steamed ‘Jimmy Dimmy’ (three pieces for $6)

Steamed ‘Jimmy Dimmy’ (three pieces for $6)

Jimmy Grants’ take on the good ol’ fish and chip shop dim sims are a popular dish so we had to have them. My workmates might call me the resident food snob but I actually don’t mind the odd dimmie (in fact, I snuck one in before the Alain de Botton talk last night).

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I can see why these dimmies get a lot of love – beautifully thin wonton wrappers tightly held together a lovely mixture of chicken, cabbage, capers and lemon. When dipped in soy sauce, they tasted sublime. They also didn’t make my breath stink afterwards like the fish and chip shop ones do, hah.

Grain salad ($8)

Grain salad ($8)

We only ordered a salad just to keep things balanced but little did we know that we were going to get blown away with this salad. A simple medley of pulses, nuts, grains, herbs and a dollop of Greek yoghurt completed the food equivalent of the School of Athens – it was brain food that tasted so damn good and was filling.

The Bonegilla ($8.50)

The Bonegilla ($8.50)

We each had a souvlaki of varying kinds. I ordered the Bonegilla, which was named after the migrant camp in rural Victoria that housed European migrants after WWII. My meat filling was equal parts chicken and lamb while chips, caramelised onions, parsley and mustard aioli completed the package.

It was HELLA GOOD (hah, see what I did just then?). I loved that the bread was slightly doughy rather than flat. I also liked that there was a perfect ratio between meat and trimmings. It was also ridiculously cheap for what it was, maybe even cheaper than what my local fish and chips shop charge for a souvlaki.

Greek doughnuts, walnuts and honey ($6)

Greek doughnuts, walnuts and honey ($6)

One does not leave a George Calombaris restaurant without enjoying his loukamades (Greek doughnuts). These ones did not disappoint – they were dense and oh-so-good with all the honey while the crunchy walnuts provided a bit of texture.

Jimmy’s wheel ($6)

Jimmy’s wheel ($6)

Daisy and I took home Jimmy Grant’s version of a Wagon Wheel, a store-brought snack that was popular in school grounds. I was never a fan of the original Wagon Wheel but I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s Wheel! Made by Darren Purchese of B&P fame, these babies were massive and packed to the rafters with flavour.

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Think crispy chocolate biscuit combined with fluffy raspberry marshmallow with salted peanut butter shoving its way in, and chocolate and peanuts covering the lot. Oh my! It was insanely rich but whatevs, I ate the whole lot in one go.

Greece’s economy might be gone to shit but the Calombaris Empire is most definitely not. Especially when places like Jimmy Grants are doing a roaring trade – and for good reason too: this place is amazing. Fitzroy may be a long way to get a Jimmy Grants souvie for some so it’s a good thing they’re opening up a second store at the Emporium Melbourne building very soon. OPA!

Jimmy Grants on Urbanspoon

Event: Smith & Daughters First Look Feast

175 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 9939 3293
http://www.smithanddaughters.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby attended this media preview dinner as guests of Smith & Daughters and Curated Control.

I haven’t been attending many foodie events in the last month or so due to work commitments, entertaining interstate and overseas visitors and general exhaustion. There’s that, plus wanting to spend more time being a recluse at home watching True Detective and eating Red Rock Deli potato chips.

But then I received a press pack in the mail – there was an invite to the launch of Smith & Daughters, a new bar-slash-restaurant in Fitzroy, printed on wood as well as a bottle of homemade apple jalapeño sauce. Apple jalapeño?! SOLD!

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Smith & Daughters is the funky, tattooed and totally hipstered Latina love child of Shannon Martinez (former head chef of The Sweetwater Inn, South and the Gasometer Hotel) and Mo Wyse (Collingwood People’s Market). I didn’t know it at the time, but I later found out that Smith & Daughters did ‘plant-based Latin cuisine.’ Vegan food? In Hipsterville? Being a city-slicker and carnivore, I had to admit that I feeling like a Collingwood supporter at half time in round one but I need not have worried – we had a fantastic meal.

Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada

Wine Republic sangria; Sailor Jerry piña colada

While every second male had a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (hah!), I went straight for the Sailor Jerry piña colada. It was definitely the best piña colada I’ve had – the fresh coconut water really made the difference and there was none of that fake superficially sweet pineapple taste. The sangria was also delicious; it was sexy and bold with bursts of fruity fun.

Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche

Oyster mushroom and white bean ceviche

Our first starter was the vegan ceviche which packed a lot of punch thanks to the awesome flavours of the tomatoes. I did feel that the oyster mushrooms disappeared in there somewhere though, disappointing given how much I love mushrooms.

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The ceviche was served with tostones (twice-fried smashed plantain chips). They were beautifully golden and crispy, thus making them an excellent alternative to potato chips.

Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon

Tuna and green pea croquettes served with caper aioli and lemon

These insanely crunchy croquettes were probably my favourite thing that night. The béchamel filling was insanely creamy and the fake tuna, well, tasted like real tuna. We honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. This is a dish that I really want to introduce my very lactose intolerant and sea creature-loving marine biologist friend to – they would seriously freak him out.

Tamales

Tamales

What are these babies? They were corn husks filled with masa, mushroom, nopales (Mexican prickly pear cactus) and grilled corn before being steamed. They were then served with fresh lime and hot sauce, making it dish that wasn’t for the faint-hearted. They were also pretty filling; I was full by this stage – and we had not had our ‘mains’ yet.

Pazole

Pazole

Pazole is a pre-Columbian soup from Mexico. It traditionally contains pork but this version had sautéed oyster mushrooms, lime and pickled purple cabbage while crispy tortilla chips provided some texture. It was very earthy and hearty – definitely a good one to order on those frosty cold nights.

Chiles rellenos

Chiles rellenos

The Mexican char-grilled peppers were also one of those ‘OMG, I can’t believe these are vegan’ dishes. They were stuffed with a cream cheese and chorizo filling (obviously both were fake), then battered and fried. A spicy tomatillo sauce then completed the well-endowed package.

Paella

Paella

Our final savoury was Shannon’s secret paella, a fourth-generation family recipe. I loved the crunchy bits of rice and the aromatic vegetable saffron stock but not so much the mock prawns, sausages and scallops. Unlike the tuna in the croquette, you could tell that these weren’t the real thing – most of us on the table didn’t like the mushy texture of the faux meats and felt that the paella would be better off without them.

Tarta de chocolate Azteca

Tarta de chocolate Azteca

I’m not normally a fan of chocolate desserts but I was impressed by the Aztec chocolate tart. The sweet date filling balanced out the chocolate’s bitterness and the small serving size was perfect, given its intensity. There was also enough caffeine in the tart to sedate my Supercoach rage after releasing that I forgot to select my emergency players for the round. Yep.

Quince-filled Spanish donut

Quince-filled Spanish donut

I love donuts as much as Homer Simpson does and these mini Spanish donuts definitely did not disappoint. They were crispy on the outside and the insides gave way to a lovely fluffy texture and a tart quince jam filling.

So there you have it: excellent vegan food and non-annoying hipster dining companions in one funky little package. While Smith & Daughters won’t have me ditching meat for the rest of my life, it has definitely got me interested in trying more vegan-only restaurants. I’m also excited about the idea of taking my sceptical meat-loving friends to this joint and ordering a few dishes off the menu without telling them that the meat is all fake – however, I may ask them to hold the ‘meat’ when I order the paella.

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Review: La Cassolette

26 Rebecca Walk (off Flinders Street)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9614 3606
http://www.lacassolette.com/

Disclaimer: Matt and Libby dined as guests of La Cassolette.

French restaurants are usually synonymous with hefty price tags and chefs that sound like Manu with smears of snootiness, at least in Melbourne. So when I heard that the Roule Galette bloke had opened up a decently-priced French bistro on the banks of the Yarra, I knew I had to check it out.

The restaurant is called La Cassolette and the man behind it is Michel Dubois, a former IT professional. Wanting to recreate the Parisian casual bistro experience in Melbourne, Michel got to work with creating a limited menu that changes daily and a repertoire full of dishes that French people normally cook at home.

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I have to say that the most annoying thing about La Cassolette was its location. To put it bluntly, it sucked. Matt and I are usually pretty good with directions, but we spent a quite some time wandering around aimlessly. In the end, we did find La Cassolette – the restaurant happened to be in one of those colourful demountable-like buildings along Rebecca Walk (the red ones). The best way to get there is to get to the corner of Spencer and Flinders Streets, head towards the direction of Crown Casino along Spencer Street and then turn towards the grassy bit.

In the end, we got there. But I can’t help but wonder whether La Cassolette’s very isolated location will put it as a disadvantage – it certainly doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. I also can’t help but wonder if people who are worse at directions than we are would keep looking for the restaurant until they found it or just give up altogether.

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

2011 Domaine William Fevre Chablis

Anyway, we were greeted warmly by Michel himself. He poured us both a glass of Cape Grim sparkling water (possibly one of the best sparkling water brands I’ve ever tried – it’s not too fizzy) before cracking open the Chablis.

Tomato marinated olives

Tomato marinated olives

We were given some olives to nibble on. I love my olives but I know many people find them salty. Luckily, the tangy tomato sauce diffused a lot of the saltiness.

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

Crab salad and quinoa taboule ($16)

We then shared a crab salad and quinoa taboule, Michel’s spin on the classic Middle Eastern salad (tabouleh/tabouli). The bottom layer was all quinoa, thus representing the taboule while the top layer was solid crab; I was pretty impressed at how generous they were with the crab meat. The best way to eat it was to smear the quinoa and crab onto some bread like a dip. It was delicious.

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Marinated grilled chicken breast with Cajun sauce ($19); basmati rice ($6)

Matt had the chicken breast for his main. We were impressed at how much protein we received for less than a $20 note – it was almost like getting two mains!

The chicken was well-cooked; very tender and no dry stringy bits while the Cajun sauce had a lovely kick. The chicken went really well with the coconut-infused rice but given the generous serving sizes, both would have been able to feed two people comfortably.

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

Seared scallop flambée and creamy sauce ($25)

At Michel’s insistence, I ordered one of La Cassolette’s signature dishes, the scallop flambée. Michel brought the portable stove over to the table so we can see him in action.

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And by action, I mean seeing action movie-like fire as soon as the cognac was poured onto the scallops.

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The scallops were served with a creamy bed of mashed potatoes and salad (below). Just like the chicken dish, the scallop flambée was well-portioned and the scallops were big, plump and juicy – none of that shrivelled up frozen rubbish! They went beautifully with the buttery, salty mashed potatoes. Another deliciously filling dish.

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Maki roll sorbet ($14)

Maki roll sorbet ($14)

While Matt ordered a long macchiato for the long drive home, I ordered the maki roll sorbet ($14) because it had an intriguing name. The dessert is one of Michel’s creations; ‘maki’ means ‘roll’ in Japanese which makes sense because you see that word all the time when you go to sushi stores. Here, fruit sorbet is rolled up before being wrapped in a thin layer of crêpe and chopped up.

I love light fruity desserts so the little pieces of sorbet squares did the trick for me. I also loved the little jam dot in the middle of each piece – too cute!

La Cassolette offers something that a lot of French restaurants in Melbourne don’t: simple delicious home-style meals at affordable prices. The service that night was also very attentive and speedy. Since our initial visit, Matt has gone back with his missus and I’ll be planning a return soon. I would also recommend La Cassolette to those wanting French food yet don’t want to spend big bucks on it – but to be prepared to walk a bit because there are no car spaces nearby.

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Review: Fukuryu Ramen

22-26 Corrs Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9090 7149
http://www.fukuryuramen.com

Melburnians, we now have a ramen restaurant worth talking about!

Yep, you’ve heard me. Not more soggy noodles. No more dodgy restaurants passing chicken stock-based broths as ‘tonkotsu.’ And no more MSG overload.

And it’s all thanks to Fukuryu Ramen, barely in its first fortnight of trading.

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Located in the same building as Sichuan House, Fukuryu Ramen requires several flights of stairs to get to. If you’re unfit like me, you’ll be huffing and puffing just as you saunter into the door to the loud shouts of ‘irrashaimase!’ by the waiters and the ladies at the counter.

The word ‘fukuryu’ means ‘lucky dragon’ in Japanese; the restaurant itself is owned by Hakata Ikkousha, a restaurant group surprisingly based in Indonesia (REPRESENT!), not Japan. Hakata Ikkousha owns a bunch of Ikkousha restaurants in Indonesia as well as the original Ikkousha restaurant in Fukuoka, home of the tonkotsu ramen. And Fukuryu Ramen is the restaurant group’s first foray out of Asia.

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Although there were heaps of tables and chairs in the spacious dining room, Dave and I decided to sit at the counter to watch the chefs do their thang.

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

Kirin Fuji apple and mandarin cider ($8)

And although I spent most of my weekend with a BAC of, let’s just say definitely more than 0.05, I could not resist ordering a bottle of Kirin apple and mandarin cider. I actually had no idea Kirin made ciders and I’m guessing these are the Japanese equivalent of the Rekorderlig, only not as sickly sweet.

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

Tebasaki (Nagoya-style fried chicken wings, $5 for three pieces)

We started off with a plate of tebasaki. I enjoyed them thoroughly at Mensousai Mugan but not so much here. They tasted okay, but they were too heavy on the pepper. They were also a little bit dry.

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

Tonkotsu ramen ($9.90)

The pièce de résistance, however, was the tonkotsu ramen. Fukuryu Ramen had an opening special where you can get a bowl of ramen for only $6 – bargain! Still, we thought $9.90 was pretty cheap given that most places in Melbourne charge a few extra dollars more for ramen that’s not as good as this. And boy, it was GOOD.

The noodles were perfectly springy while the milky tonkotsu broth had more depth than Christina Aguilera’s vocal range. I also liked that we didn’t have to pay an extra couple of dollars for the soy egg, which is the norm at most places. Finally, the chashu (pork) slices were gorgeously fatty and delicious.

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I am rarely able to polish off the soup in soup noodles when I go out so when you see something like this, you know I REALLY liked it.

I guess if I had to be a whinger, I’d say that there was a strong garlic aftertaste – and if you’re not a fan of garlic, you may find it overpowering. Also, the portion sizes are smaller than what you’d find at other ramen restaurants in Melbourne – given the quality and the price, however, this is no biggie. Plus, I was still able to get full on one bowl.

Having said all of that, I still think Queensland reigns supreme in the Australian ramen scene with places such as Taro’s, Muso and Hakataya. And even Sydney has Ippudo and Gumshara, plus a whole bunch of apparently wonderful ramen places I haven’t even set foot in.

But if our meal at Fukuryu is anything to go by, Melbourne is about to get its ramen on. LOVE.

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