Shop J, 535 Little Lonsdale Street (via Healeys Lane)
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9973 1761
Being a food wanker, I like things that are artisanal, sold in pop-up stores for a limited time and wrapped in a veneer of Duke, Franchise or Helvetica. Luckily, Melbourne’s newest doughnut store is all of those things and more.
Now, I might not go crazy over sugar and spice and all edible goodies ending in –ose (except for lactose, mmm) but I do love a good doughnut. Thankfully, Doughboy Doughnuts strongly delivers with a strong sugary punch.
Inspired by America’s long-lasting affair with doughnuts, creative duo Walter McKenzie and Brook Miller teamed up with Market Lane’s Anthony Ivey to open up Doughboy Doughnuts. With a focus on quality doughnuts that come in interesting flavours, Doughboy Doughnuts has already been a hit with those in the know.
You can find the boys at Mr Nice Guy Thai restaurant between 7:00 – 11:00 am on weekdays (though they’ve stopped trading on Tuesdays now), though it’s best to get in early. My workmate Pete and I rocked up to Doughboy Doughnuts at 10:00 am on what would have been their third day of trading – only to be told that they had already run out of doughnuts! Unperturbed, I decided to try again the following week – this time at 7:45 am.
Despite the ungodly early hour (I will never be a morning person as long as I live in Melbourne), there was still a sizeable crowd when I rocked up. I grabbed a few doughnuts to share with my workmates along with a cup of coffee – a solid latte that was slightly steep at $4 but hey, it was from Market Lane (and I think Market Lane serves some of Melbourne’s finest coffee) so all was forgiven.
From top left (clockwise): Lime coconut, pistachio and maple bacon
At $4.80 each, you may baulk at the price tag if you are used to buying Woolies cinnamon doughnuts or even Krispy Kreme doughnuts. However, they’re worth every cent. Each doughnut is big and puffy, with insides as soft as marshmallow yet beautifully dense enough for it to count as a legit breakfast item.
I enjoyed the pistachio doughnut with its vanilla icing tainted with zingy orange zest while the surprisingly sweeter lime coconut doughnut was beautifully topped with slivers of toasted coconut. My favourite one, however, was the maple bacon.
Yes, folks, maple bacon. I don’t think anything else needs to be said.
Flavours rotate regularly so you’ll never know what you’ll get when you rock up – I missed out on trying the salted caramel doughnut, for example.
You might be thinking, ‘Man, this bitch is a pig. Fancy eating all three doughnuts!’ In actual fact, I only chopped off a bite-sized piece of each doughnut before distributing the rest of the doughnuts to the hungry masses in the office. They may be amazing doughnuts, but even they’re a bit too much for me!
In all seriousness, they’re probably Melbourne’s best fancy doughnuts. I may not be an early riser but as long as Doughboy Doughnuts are occupying this space (from what I’ve heard, they’re here until the end of October), I’ll make an effort to stop by before work.
Fusion food is a topic that causes lively debate among foodies. While some embrace it like I embrace bad 80s music, self-confessed food purists abhor it – what’s the point of combining two seemingly different cuisines just for the sake of experimentation? Why fix something that simply ain’t broke?
Despite popular belief, however, fusion food is not a new phenomenon. Austrian celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, for example, has been marrying European techniques with Asian ingredients long before Teage Ezard wowed Australians with wasabi-infused oyster shooters. But even then, Puck isn’t doing anything particularly new.
Our ancestors have been enjoying fusion food for centuries now. When European powers colonised faraway countries, they unknowingly created fusion food when they had to modify their dishes according to what ingredients were available to them in their new homes. The beef-loving French colonialists in Vietnam arguably contributed to what is now a well-loved soup noodle dish called phở (from the French pot-au-feu, meaning ‘pot on the fire’). Similarly, French baking techniques combined with Vietnamese staples such as pork, coriander, daikon and fish sauce led to the bánh mì, a sandwich that boasts a colourful fusion of contrasting flavours and freshness.
As an Indonesian, it’s hard to deny the impact that the Dutch had on Indonesian food today. In 1619, the Dutch East India Company colonised the spice-rich archipelago of Indonesia for commercial purposes. When the company’s charter expired in 1799, the Dutch government governed Indonesia until independence in 1949. Today, the Dutch influence is still prevalent from beautiful Colonial-era stock architecture in cities such as Bandung and Surabaya to the food that’s still being enjoyed by millions around the country.
One such dish is the famous dessert called klappertaart, which hails from Manado, North Sulawesi. In Dutch, klappertaart means ‘coconut tart’, however its texture resembles that of a baked custard dessert. This wonderfully sweet – and indulgent – treat combines Dutch dessert-cooking techniques with cinnamon and fresh coconuts, both of which are common ingredients in Indonesian cooking.
Some klappertaart recipes contain egg whites for a crispy meringue topping, however this simplified version purely focuses on the creamy, cold custard. I’d even go so far to say that this klappertaart is fusion cuisine – it’s very hard to find canarium nuts at your local supermarket so walnuts are used here.
Enjoy your klappertaart – perhaps you might see a variation of it at your local Mod Oz restaurant one day!
Don’t be a sillyhead like me by leaving the klappertaarts in the oven for too long… oops.
500 ml milk
50 grams plain flour
30 grams tapioca
50 grams sugar (you can add a little bit more if you have a sweet tooth)
50 gram butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon condensed milk
1 tablespoon raisins or sultanas (and extras to top)
2 tablespoons walnuts, coarsely chopped (and extras to top)
3 egg yolks, whipped
Meat from two young coconuts, chopped
Cinnamon powder, for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Mix half the milk (250 ml) with flour and tapioca in a bowl, set aside.
3. Mix the rest of the milk with sugar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until it simmers.
4. Stir the milk and flour mixture from step 2 into the saucepan.
5. Bring the mixture to boil, then remove from heat (but don’t turn it off just yet).
6. Fold in the butter, vanilla essence, rum, condensed milk, raisins or sultanas, and walnuts.
7. Return the saucepan to low-medium heat and fold in the egg yolks and coconut meat.
8. Stir the mixture for a minute, or until the custard is smooth and thick. Remove from heat.
9. Pour the custard into ramekins or a big baking tray.
10. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
11. Let the klappertaart stand at room temperature to cool down, and then store in the fridge until it’s ready to be consumed.
12. Just before serving, garnish the top with raisins or sultanas, and walnuts, then dust with a bit of cinnamon powder.
1. Some recipes tell you to top the klappertaarts with raisins/sultanas and walnuts before putting it in the oven. I’d recommend topping the klappertaarts AFTER taking them out of the oven – both the custard and the raisins/sultanas contain lots of sugar and sugar burns really easily. Avoid this by topping the custard after they’re safely out of the oven – oh, and by not forgetting to take them out!
2. If you don’t like walnuts, try substituting with almonds.
3. If you can’t find fresh young coconuts (or can’t be bothered chopping them up), then store-bought shredded coconut meat will work.
What’s this? A recipe? On The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar? What the hell? How many mushrooms did I eat this morning?
No, you’re not seeing things.
For the first time ever, a recipe has been posted on this blog! When I first started blogging, my aim was to document restaurant visits and only restaurant visits. It wasn’t because I was a horrible cook (okay, so maybe that part is still true…), I just didn’t think I cooked stuff that people would actually want to make.
A bunch of friends then encouraged me to post recipes on my blog and so I figured that I’d give it a shot because hey, I’ve got nothing to lose. I mean, I write reviews on places that no one would even think of stepping foot in (a Vietnamese bakery in the middle of Rotorua, anyone?) so the same rationale ought to apply to recipes. At the end of the day, blogging is all about my journey more than anything. And if people decide to take my restaurant recommendations seriously or give my recipes a crack then hey, that’s a bonus.
My first recipe will be for a nice, comforting lasagne. Yes, I know it’s not as exciting as meat pie-infused Chantilly sorbets with fairy biscuit dust and bright pink edible flowers but baby steps, folks, baby steps… In saying that, the humble lasagne has got to be one of my favourite foods. There are so many recipes for lasagne out there and although I have my favourites (Guy Grossi and Matt Preston make a good one), they take hours to make so here’s one that cooks in half the time. My recipe might not be authentic (Maggi seasoning sauce? The hell?) but it sure is tasty. Promise.
A box of instant lasagne sheets
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped*
6 cloves garlic, chopped*
1 large carrot, chopped*
2 celery stalks, chopped
250g beef mince
250g pork mine
Salt and white pepper
1 cup white wine
A tsp of caster sugar
680ml tomato passata
400g can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
A dash of Maggi seasoning sauce
A pinch of nutmeg
1 handful of basil leaves, chopped
*Food processor is your friend. If you have one, use it.
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and black pepper
A sprinkling of nutmeg
Serves 4-6 people
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. To make the meat sauce, start by heating the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Chuck the onions in and cook until they are soft and translucent.
3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, but not brown.
4. Add the carrots and celery, cook until soft. This normally takes 2-3 minutes.
5. Crank the heat up to medium-high and chuck the beef and pork mince in, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Break the meat up – you can use a wooden spoon but I find that using a potato masher yields more effective results. Let the meat cook until it loses its raw colour.
6. Add the white wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has almost evaporated.
7. Add the sugar, passata, diced tomatoes and bay leaf and mix it all up.
8. Let the sauce cook until thickened. I usually give it about half an hour, but it may take you longer. Either way, your sauce should look like this:
9. Taste the sauce – you may find it a tad on the tangy side due to all the tomatoes in it. If that doesn’t float your boat, add a pinch of nutmeg to diffuse it. It also gives it a lovely sweet and nutty taste. At this stage, I also add a splash of Maggi seasoning sauce for an umami hit (yes, it’s weird but yes, it bloody works).
10. Once you’re pretty happy with the seasoning, add the basil. Set the meat sauce aside.
11. To make the Béchamel sauce, melt the butter in another saucepan over low-medium heat.
12. When the butter has melted, add the flour. Cook, stirring until a roux is formed.
13. Remove the pan from heat and add the milk, whisking to avoid lumps from being formed.
14. Return the pan to heat and continue to whisk, until the sauce boils and thickens. This might take a while, but the end result should look like this:
15. Remove the Béchamel sauce from heat and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.
16. To assemble the lasagne, line a lasagne tray with a very thin layer of olive oil (I used a 37.5cm x 25cm x 5cm tray).
17. Place the lasagne sheets on top, then a layer of meat sauce (about a quarter). Layer the lasagne sheets and meat sauce two more times (or until the meat sauce is finished), then pour the Béchamel sauce all over the top layer. It’s okay to lick the spoon once or twice (or in my case, x + 5000 times).
18. Sprinkle Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese all over the Béchamel sauce layer.
19. Chuck the lasagne in the oven, and cook for 40 minutes or until the cheese has browned.
20. Take the lasagne out of the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
This is what my tray looked like the next morning (hence why the sheets look drier and the cheese not as stringy). In my opinion, lasagne tastes better the next day because the flavours would have intensified. Thus, make sure you’ve got enough for lunch the following day.
So there you have it! My first recipe. Let me know how well or how badly I’ve done, or what other dishes you’d like to see featured on this blog one day.
1. I usually cook a double batch of Béchamel sauce, because a single batch is NEVER enough. Plus, I like to use the leftover sauce to make croque-monsieur later in the week.
2. Six cloves of garlic is plenty for this dish, but I tend to go all out when it comes to garlic. This is how much I ended up using for this dish:
3. Dry bay leaves are fine, but fresh ones are better (luckily for me, I have a bay leaf plant in my backyard):
4. You can also add a bit of rosemary, or any herb to your sauce. Fresh is better, obviously, but you can also use dried ones. My rosemary bush is getting a bit out of control so I try to use rosemary as much as I can when cooking.
(Yes, I’m well aware that I need to get some weeding done).
329 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
To commemorate the very last time we’ll see Walter White grace our screens, this post will feature a little bit of science. Now I didn’t do so well in high school science (yes, DESPITE being Asian and DESPITE having siblings who are actually quite alright at it) so don’t worry, you don’t see a lot of Latin words and symbols that make no sense (to me anyway). Instead, this post will be all about gelati.
More specifically, a place that creates gelati using liquid nitrogen.
Yep, this concept was introduced by two crazy Sydneysiders, Min Chai and Angee Yeoh. A while ago, celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was doing all sorts of crazy – and edible – things with liquid nitrogen. I guess Chai and Yeoh thought it was very neat and subsequently, N2 Extreme Gelato was born.
The first store opened up in Sydney not too long ago and it wasn’t long before a Melbourne store was established. Despite not having a sweet tooth, I love ice cream more than I love the fact that the AFL season has just finished. Thus, when I saw that Ashley mentioned the opening of the Melbourne store on her Facebook, I was there the following day (keen, much?).
N2’s Melbourne store looks right at home in grungy Brunswick Street with Astroturf and milk crates all over the place – they even had the whole communal dining thing happening by way of a ‘bed’ by the window for groups to sit on. They also had this massive speel on the wall, pretty much saying how awesome they are. While the wall was kind of cute, I did find that some of the stuff written on it was a bit OTT (so if I ate a gelato here, my life would be as ‘tranquil and peaceful as Milford Sound’?! I DON’T THINK SO!).
To keep things fresh, N2’s menu changes weekly. You might get deconstructed pavlova one week while Earl Grey tea with dulce de leche might be on the menu the following week. N2 had a buttered popcorn gelato a while ago but unfortunately, I was too busy (or too lazy, whatever) to get my arse into the store when they had it so I missed out. You snooze, you lose, I suppose.
All gelati here are made to order. Once you place your order, the liquid nitrogen does its thang and within minutes, you have a cup of creamy smooth gelati that’s almost elastic. $6 gets you a cup with one flavour and although the menu board tells us that you also have the option of getting two flavours, it’s not recommended because two lots of gelati would be way too much.
Me So Happy: miso caramel with peanuts served on milk gelato
The first time I went, I ordered the Me So Happy. I love salted anything on desserts so I knew I was in for a good time. The milk gelato was creamy and yes, very elastic as promised. Think of it as a teh tarik (Malaysian pulled tea) but in ice cream form. As for the taste, the sticky miso sauce was sinfully salty nutty, creating a lovely contrast between the sweeter gelato. With a sprinkle of peanuts to round the whole thing off, the whole thing certainly made me so happy.
Crème brûlée ($8)
For my second visit, I got Dave and my workmate, Peter to come along. Dave was quick to get on the crème brûlée flavour, which was slightly more expensive than the standard $6 cup. The crème brûlée was blowtorched and all, which meant that you could crack it Amelie-style but instead of custard, you got ice cream. While Dave loved his gelato, he did mention that the ice cream was runny just underneath the shell no thanks to the heat of the blowtorch.
Meanwhile, Pete got the rum and raisin gelato. He, too, thought it was delicious thanks to the ‘nice crisp chunks.’ Of what? I’m not too sure; I didn’t try any myself nor would he elaborate. He did manage to finish his off before Dave and I did though, so suffice to say that it was excellent.
Wiki-leeks: leek and honey with crunchy croutons
Ha, trust me to go for the strangest flavour. I choose the Wiki-leeks, not just because of the cute name but because it was made with a vegetable. Plus, it had croutons! On paper, leek gelati sounds odd but I’ve tried oregano ice cream before and liked it so I figured that this might actually work.
And it did. The guys at N2 captured the essence of a leek soup perfectly in gelati-form. I don’t mean to sound clichéd but if Ms Leek Soup got with a tub of vanilla ice cream, this would be the result. It wasn’t overly sweet and you could almost taste a hint of cream cheese. Weird? Yes. Good? Absolutely.
Generally speaking, we all liked our gelati. I guess my only real criticism would be the fact that $6 gets you a decent-sized tub of just the one flavour whereas you can get a combination of flavours in the one tub if you were to go elsewhere. The reason behind this is that the smallest possible amount of liquid nitrogen yields a cup that size so it’s pretty much impossible to get a little bit of one flavour and a little bit of another. Thus, if you decide that you don’t like the flavour you ordered, you’re pretty much stuck with a whole tub of it.
Although liquid nitrogen gelato seems like a fad more than anything, I reckon N2 has captured the minds and tastebuds of Sydneysiders and Melburnians. While I’d rather go to Spring St Grocer for my gelati fix (because it’s better value for money and because it’s closer), I like that N2 constantly pushes boundaries in terms of technique and flavour combinations and Melbourne definitely isn’t poorer for it.
Level 5, 188 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8078 7020
I’m wrapping up this Sydney series with a write-up of one of the highlights of our Sydney trip: our two visits to Ippudo, arguably Sydney’s most famous ramen restaurant.
In 1985, Shigemi Kawahara launched his first Ippudo restaurant in Japan to showcase what he can do with ramen, a Japanese staple – and from what I’ve tasted, those results are phenomenal. His first overseas franchise opened in New York in 2008, with the first Australian restaurant opening up late last year.
Although Kawahara tries to be all traditional when it comes to cooking ramen – using tried and true techniques to sculpt that perfect bowl of ramen, that is – I like how he also tries to cater to local tastes. For example, the Sydney restaurant serves green tea lamingtons and camembert tempura. While I love camembert, the thought of eating it in tempura form just makes me ill. Props for the idea, though… I guess.
Ippudo shrimp bun ($5)
My first visit began with a steamed bun filled with deep-fried shrimp. The bun went down a treat, with the white fluffy bao-like vessel holding a
shrimp prawn drizzled with what tasted a bit like a Thousand Island dressing. Quick and delicious.
Ippudo vegetarian noodles ($13)
For some reason, Marty went for the weener-y vegetarian noodles that could equally pass as a salad dish in most cafés in the inner suburbs. Marty normally goes for the heartier dishes but he decided that he wanted something light for dinner. He enjoyed the medley of cold sesame-coated noodles, avocadoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mandarin, nuts and greens with a blob of yoghurt on the side.
Tied together with a ribbon of balsamic vinegar, the salad was refreshing and made for a nice change from the normally heavier meat dishes he ordered. That said, he got a major case of food envy when he saw my ramen…
Miso tonkotsu ($18)
The miso tontotsu was advertised as a ‘seasonal special’ so I was lucky I rocked up when it was being offered. The menu promised all sorts of lovely things in my bowl: pork belly chashu, menma (bamboo shoots), shallots, corn kernels, bean sprouts, half nitamago (soy egg) and naruto (fish cake). Oh, and a giant’s handful of chewy ramen noodles, of course.
This was hands-down one of the best ramen dishes I’ve ever had. I still think Taro’s in Brisbane makes the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in Australia but Ippudo’s miso tonkotsu is definitely a strong contender. At present, I don’t think there is any combination in the world that can beat nutty and salty miso and creamy and sweet tonkotsu… except for Gong Cha green tea and milk foam.
And if that bowl of ramen wasn’t awesome enough on its own, there is a small rice ball and a dab of ginger that you can dunk into your soup once all the noodles have gone. Man, these people think of everything!
Kurogoma panna cotta ($7)
I’m not normally one to order dessert at Japanese restaurants but we were so impressed with our meals that we couldn’t bypass the dessert selection. Marty had the black sesame panna cotta which was amazing. I especially loved the beautiful contrast between the dessert’s silky texture and the nutty, bold taste of the black sesame.
J. Lamington ($8)
I’d have to say, though, my green tea lamington was far better. A steady layer of green tea icing covered two sponge cake pieces sandwiching a red bean filling. This was a lot nicer than your ordinary Woolworths lamingtons. I had no idea what the ‘J’ in front of lamington meant though…
So impressed was Marty that we decided to return for lunch the following day (I sensed that he was upset about not ordering a bowl of ramen the first time, thus he wanted to rectify this situation).
Ippudo gyoza (5 pieces for $6)
We began by ordering the two types of gyoza dumplings available at Ippudo. First up, we have the Ippudo gyoza, which is pan-fried in the Hakata way – in other words, the style most commonly found in Japanese restaurants around Australia. Although I loved the very delicate skins, I thought that a bit more crispness would not have gone astray.
Age gyoza (5 pieces for $6)
In contrast, the second lot of gyoza dumplings were deep-fried all over. While I love anything that’s deep-fried (except for camembert, I guess), I much preferred the Hakata-style gyozas.
Karaka men chashu ($21): Ippudo original tonkotsu broth with special spicy miso, ground pork and simmered pork belly
Marty loves anything that’s spicy and contains pork so his choice of the karaka men chashu ramen was a no-brainer.
This ramen was essentially a bowl packed with plenty of bold flavours, the bulk of which came from that handful of spicy miso and ground pork-y goodness. While I personally don’t like mince in my ramen (too busy, imo), Marty thought it was fantastic.
Shiromaru tamago ($17): Ippudo original tonkotsu broth with flavoured egg
Noodles, pork loin, cabbage, black mushroom and shallots
After the flavour explosion that was the miso tonkotsu ramen the previous night, I toned it down this time by ordering the relatively tame shiromaru tamago, a classic Hakata-style ramen dish.
Although the broth was decent, there wasn’t as much going on for it as the miso tonkotsu. I also don’t like cabbage in my ramen and naturally didn’t read the menu description properly so I was surprised to see cabbage in my broth – and hated myself (and to an extent, the dish) for it. I also found the broth a tad too salty; I’m not sure if it was supposed to be like that or whether someone in the kitchen accidentally bumped a motherload of salt into the broth. Either way, I’m going to try the other ramen dishes on the menu the next time I’m here before going back to the shiromaru.
Overall, our Ippudo experience was a very positive one. I know that Sydney has a bit of a thriving ramen scene happening and subsequently, I would like to know if there are any restaurants that churn out ramen that’s on par, if not better than the ones we enjoyed at Ippudo. On both occasions, the service had been nothing short of fantastic even though we rocked up during peak periods. Highly recommended.
Level 5, 86-100 Market Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 8072 8005
I had to admit that Westfield Sydney is a pretty cool shopping centre. Not only does it house some of the nicest designer stores in the country (Christian Louboutin flagship store, anyone?), it also boasts a decent array of eateries. From Ippudo (review soon to come) to Chat Thai, there is something for everyone. Take THAT, Doncaster Shoppingtown food court!
Marty and I had just finished dinner at Ippudo one Saturday evening and although I was quite full, Marty decided that he could squeeze in ‘something quick.’ For some strange reason, he ordered a salad-like dish instead of a ramen. Subsequently, he still had room in his stomach for something with a higher carb content.
We stumbled upon Ragu, a food court-style pasta bar. All pasta dishes here are cooked to order and with a variety of homemade pastas and sauces to choose from, there’s bound to be something that will tickle your fancy.
Orecchiette with beef ragu ($15)Orecchiette with beef ragu ($15)
The orecchiette didn’t take too long to arrive, which was a good sign. The dish itself, however, was another story altogether. While I loved the little ear-shaped pasta shells that managed to be simultaneously chewy and pillowy, I thought the sauce was a bit inconsistent. It was chunky in some areas but too runny in others, plus it didn’t have a lot of flavour.
While Marty was happy with his meal, I thought $15 was a bit too much to pay for a dish that was ruined by a crappy sauce. If I ever end up at Ragu again, I’d be down to order a plate of orecchiette but perhaps with a different sauce.
5-9 Roslyn Street
Kings Cross NSW 2010
+61 2 8068 1017
We hadn’t planned on eating at any hatted restaurant during our Sydney trip. Firstly, fine dining in Sydney can be expensive. Secondly, Marty reckons he doesn’t want to see any more foams, wooden planks and truffles. Fair enough. But when I found out that two-hatted Gastropark was holding a special Game of Thrones dinner during winter, we knew we HAD to make a booking.
I don’t think Gastropark do these dinners anymore, especially since season three of GOT finished ages ago. I can’t even remember what days they did these dinners – we came on a Wednesday night and I’m guessing that they also did them on Tuesday nights. I do remember, though, that it was $100 p/h for five courses so let’s get to it, shall we.
Gastropark, the baby of former Pier chef Grant King, is in Sydney’s infamous Kings Cross district (well Potts Point, if you want to get rid of Kings Cross’ sleazy connotation – or Darlinghurst, if you decide to trust our taxi driver’s GPS). Given that Kings Cross isn’t all that far from the CBD, we could have probably walked it or trained it into the ‘Cross but we took forever to get ready (and by we, I mean MARTY) so taxi-ing was the only option.
It was dead quiet like the Winterfell winter when we walked in – and it stayed like that for most of our meal. I found it quite surprising given that we were, after all, at a two-hatted restaurant. Then again, it was a Wednesday night – and a cold one, too. Plus, I loved that the dining room’s stillness combined with the moss and lichen draping from the branches in the middle of the room created an eerie forest-like atmosphere that made us feel like we were actually in Winterfell.
Grape Me (vodka, Pedro Ximenez, muddled grapes, vanilla); Daisy de Santiago (Appleton VX dark rum, lime, mandarin, granita), $20 each
To heat things up, we decided to grab a cocktail each. I had the decidedly summer-y Daisy de Santiago, while Marty stayed true to the whole winter theme by going for the dark yet warming cocktail.
Forrest Bark: potato, mustard and goats cheese
Our first course was served on a little tree – okay fine, branches shoved in a vase. Nevertheless, the end result looked impressive (though I had to roll my eyes when Marty asked the waiter if the branches were also edible). Each long ‘bark’, which was made with crispy dehydrated potato, contained blobs of creamy goats cheese. Although it was delicious, it felt more like a starter (or amuse bouche, even) than an actual first course so I felt almost jibbed.
Dragon bones: roast veal bone marrow
Next, we paid homage to the awesome that is Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons. Calling this dish, where the bone marrow is the star, ‘dragon bones’ seems kind of mean, especially since the dragons in this show are pretty cool. That said, calling this dish Joffrey’s bones (oh, I wish!) would probably have been in bad taste.
Air baguette with capers, parsley, shallow and chickweed salad
The bone marrow was one helluva decadent dish – it was creamy and rich, just as I expected. I just wish they roasted it a bit longer so I can taste more of the smokiness. I was also grateful for the air (read: hollowed) baguette that was filled with a refreshingly tangy blend of chopped capers, parsley, shallow and chickweed (what?) – the tight little package balanced out the marrow’s richness beautifully.
Geezy Geisha (Bombay Sapphire, Japanese morning dew tea, curry leaves)
Marty was down for another cocktail, this time the Geezey Geisha that was perfumed with chopped curry leaves in a little cube that melted as the night went by.
Beach Fire: Crispy scaled jewfish in a beach fire, wild weeds, fresh goats milk curd
And then there was fire! Lots of it! King tried to recreate season two’s Battle of the Blackwater using wood, fire, smoke… and jewfish (because the battle happened on water, geddit? geddit?). And I think he did a damn good job.
Wild weeds, fresh goats milk curd
Our main dish was accompanied by a goats milk curd sprinkled with roasted almonds and puffed barley, and wild weeds, which were pretty much green vegies and roasted hazelnuts, all tied together in a burnt butter sauce. Both were decent sides.
The jewfish fillets were beautifully tender, and the roasted scales provided a lovely textural crunch. Although the fish were well-cooked, I did find it verging towards the ‘safe’ category in terms of taste.
The Royal Fondue: cheese fondue, roast grapes and lavosh
Our course-before-the-dessert was a fondue of Vacherin cheese that was grilled until melted. I love cheese so I thoroughly enjoyed this course, though I did end up struggling just a little bit as it was so rich! Thankfully the lavosh and grapes provided a bit of relief from the richness of the cheese.
Candlelight: edible candle with mulled cherries and hibiscus ice cream
Our final course, the dessert, was just as epic in presentation as the fish course. We had an edible candle made with white chocolate and some mulled cherries served with hibiscus ice cream.
The mulled cherries were supposed to represent blood and guts, something that I normally get queasy over (you don’t see me watching a lot of violent stuff) but this dish tasted so good that all feelings of nauseousness disappeared straightaway. I loved how the bold, rich flavours of the cherries paired well with the perfume-y hibiscus ice cream.
I might dislike chocolate desserts most of the time, but I couldn’t help but fawn over this white chocolate candle that looked right at home in Littlefinger’s office. I could feel the creaminess of the chocolate when it melted in my mouth, and I also liked that it wasn’t terribly sweet too.
The white chocolate skin gave way to a beautiful berry-flavoured mousse and a creamy white chocolate liquid centre. Rounding the dessert out was a crunchy biscuit base to even out all the sweetness. If it wasn’t for the cheese in the previous course, I probably have devoured all of this myself.
Our bill came in a scroll, delivered by a metaphorical raven. I thought it was a lovely touch to what was a pretty creative meal.
Having said that though, I did find the $100 p/h price tag for five courses a little expensive. Sure, the food was lovely and everything, but the portions were perhaps a little bit tiny and for all the bells and whistles that came with each dish, some of them were tasted just nice rather than mind-blowing. While ‘nice’ is normally good enough for me, keep in mind that Gastropark has got two hats so I was expecting a little bit more bang for buck. If they gave us six courses for the same price, or five courses for $90, then that would be justified. But $100? Hmm. I guess that’s what you can get away with when you slap the Games of Thrones name on the event – people like food and people like GOT so of course, there will be a lot of interested diners making bookings.
Regardless, I wouldn’t rule out another visit to Gastropark the next time I’m in Sydney. Perhaps they will make a Breaking Bad-theme dinner (or rather, breakfast)?
Shop 11, 537-551 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9283 5525
One of my new favourite places to eat in Sydney is Menya Mappen, the Japanese noodle store that has taking the city by storm. Marty and I walked past it one Sunday on our way to Pitt Street Mall but didn’t step inside as we already had lunch plans. Being the determined foodie that I am, though, I decided that we had to stop by for some noodles before heading to the airport later that night.
Menya Mappen specialises in udon dishes, both and cold. If udon ain’t your thing, then there is soba. There is also a fully-stocked bain-marie filled with fried goodies, whether they be udon toppings such as tempura items or sundry snack items such as takoyaki (fried octopus balls). And the best thing about Menya Mappen? The food here is cheap. Really cheap. You can order a regular-sized udon in plain broth for a measly $3.90 if all you want is a nibble, or a large-sized bowl if you’re feeling particularly hungry. Prices, of course, will vary depending on how many add-ons you order (and trust me, there are a LOT you can choose from) but you can easily get a decent meal for less than a tenner.
Regular-sized beef udon ($6.60)
Marty’s beef udon was a steal at $6.60 – and delicious too. The plain broth base was flavoursome enough on its own and the udon ribbons were amazingly chewy and dense. The beef which was stewed in a sweet soy marinade, however, gave the broth a bit more substance.
Udon with prawn tempura and half-boiled egg
I started off with a regular-sized pain udon and added a half-boiled egg ($1.20) and prawn tempura from the bain-marie (can’t remember how much the prawn was but it wasn’t terribly expensive). I was blown away by how beautiful my dish was.
From the tasty broth to the slippery noodles that tasted especially delicious when coated with gooey egg yolk, my udon was DA BOMB. The broth was delicate yet tasty at the same time, and the generously-sized tempura prawn remained crispy even after I dunked it in soup. Is it the best place to find udon in Australia? I initially gave this honour to Heiroku Sushi on the Gold Coast but after eating here, I’d have to say that Menya Mappen is numero uno (but Heiroku wouldn’t be so far behind).
Even though we didn’t eat a lot between us, our dishes kept us full for the rest of the evening. Hell, I was still full even by the time I arrived at my house in Melbourne. As far as I know, there are no udon specialists in Melbourne so Menya Mappen would definitely be a place I’d be returning to time and time again when I’m in Sydney.
Level 3 Westfield Sydney
Cnr Pitt & Market Streets
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9231 0491
Marty and I spent a solid weekend afternoon at the Westfield shopping centre in the CBD, home to some pretty nice stores and of course, great eateries. When I heard that famous French macaron connoisseur Ladurée were sitting shop in Sydney, I knew I had to go.
Ladurée Sydney itself is a small kiosk in the middle of the third level of the shopping centre. In addition to macarons, they also do teas thus making it an ideal spot to have a breather for half an hour in between bouts of shopping. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of tables – and they were all occupied – so I opted to buy some macarons to take home with me. Just as well for they are $3.20 each if you take away, but $4 each (!!) if you decide to dine in. I guess that’s fair enough though – rent in the CBD is pretty expensive after all.
Nevertheless, $3.20 for one macaron is still pretty dear. Then again, if you’re getting them shipped frozen from Switzerland and having to carefully defrost them before selling them to macaron-loving Australians, I’d imagine there would be some costs involved. But was the price tag worth it?
L-R: Liquorice, pistachio, strawberry marshmallow, salted caramel, vanilla, raspberry, coffee … and another salted caramel.
I bought a box of eight macarons; I can’t remember how much they were – $23? $28? $32? I can’t remember. But they weren’t very cheap. I do remember that when I asked the lady for a box of eight, she suddenly burst out laughing. Perplexed, I asked her if everything was alright and her response was, “Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at you – I was laughing at something my colleague said.” I didn’t see her colleague say anything to her before she had laughed so the whole exchange really was puzzling. Regardless, I shrugged it off, paid for my macarons and walked away.
As you might have noticed above, I did double up on the salted caramel flavour. Not because I ADORE salted caramel anything (although yes, I do) but because there wasn’t an inspiring range of flavours to choose from so I had no choice but to double up.
Overall, the macarons were nice enough. Okay, so I would have liked a bit more ‘crunch’ when biting into the shell but I guess that’s what defrosting does to texture. I also would have liked the liquorice and strawberry marshmallow ones to taste less one-dimensional and while the pistachio one was great, it definitely wasn’t the best I’ve had. My favourite one was the vanilla, which was dotted with lovely black flecks of vanilla bean pods while the raspberry one had a lovely tang to it.
So would I go back again? Probably not as there are better macaron stores (Zumbo, La Belle Miette and Luxbite) that produce better-tasting macarons at more reasonable prices. The only reason I’d go back to Ladurée Sydney is if someone from Melbourne requests a box or if they introduce a new macaron flavour that I can’t resist trying. Having said that, I’d definitely be down to try the Paris store if I ever end up in Europe anytime soon.
60 Riley Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
+61 2 9698 4355
Marty and I love our Vietnamese food with a passion that’s unrivalled by even the most ardent of Collingwood supporters. I’d even go so far to say that I like my Vietnamese food authentic to the max – no vegan organic mushroom pho for me, thankyouvery much. That said, Marty and I love TV chef Luke Nguyen and his show Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam so a visit to his restaurant Red Lantern was definitely on the cards.
There are two Red Lanterns; the flagship restaurant is in Surry Hills while its younger sister is in Darlinghurst. We decided to go to the Darlinghurst restaurant as it was closer to where we were staying and slightly easier to nab a table.
Red Lantern on Riley represented the Toorak end of the Vietnamese food spectrum. Instead of $10 bowls of comforting noodle soups and pork rolls, we now have flashy French colonial décor and Vietnamese-inspired cocktails with pun-ny names in a Sydney suburb where you can buy a studio apartment for the same price as a three-bedroom house in Melbourne’s east. In all honesty though, I was really impressed by the restaurant – it almost felt like I was on the set of The Quiet American.
Ignoring the fact that we were the only Asians in the whole restaurant, we admired everything else around us from the lovely wooden panels to the LN-engraved chopsticks. We were even taken in by our cool waiter who actually knew what nuoc cham was.
On the Hue ($18): Purity vodka, Massenez apple liqueur and Thai basil with lemon juice shaken and served straight up
We loved the names given to the cocktails here at Red Lantern so we decided to order a few. First up, we have Marty’s One the Hue which was fruity and fun, with a hint of herby-ness.
Pham Fatale ($18): Kaffir lime leaf vodka shaken with lychee liqueur, ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice and coconut water
To make up for my lack of femme fatale, I decided to go for the Pham Fatale which had bolder flavours than Marty’s cocktail. At the moment, I’m a huge fan of coconut water so I was happy when I found out that my drink contained it (it also made me wonder more bars aren’t using it for their drinks).
Rice paper rolls ($18)
There were three rice paper roll dishes on the starters section: masterstock Burrawong chicken, prawn terrine and vegetarian. We weren’t sure whether to go with the chicken or the prawn, but the waiter kindly offered to do a half-half thing so that we can sample both.
Although I thought the chicken one tasted better, I did find the prawn terrine one a lot more innovative and therefore, more interesting to eat. What I did like about them both was that super fresh organic vegetables and herbs were used and that made a massive difference to the quality of the rolls.
Vegetarian rice paper rolls ($15)
After that, we decided that we wanted to try the vegetarian rice paper rolls. They contained a tofu, cabbage, wood ear mushroom and mung bean filling and a bowl of pineapple tamari dipping sauce was provided for a bit of zing.
So the rice paper rolls may have been fresh and the ingredients used may have been top quality but were they better than the ones you can get at Footscray? Nah. Compare $18 at Red Lantern to $5 at Footscray and you have a bit of a no-brainer situation, no matter how good the Red Lantern ones may be.
Banh Tom Chien ($19): Aunty 5’s rice cakes with tiger prawns, caramelised pork, pork floss and shallot oil
Our next dish was the Banh Tom Chien. I have no idea who this Aunty 5 person is but anyone who can make a rice cake dish as tasty as this deserves at least a proper name. I loved that exciting flavours of this dish paired well against a blanket of slightly crispy rice cakes and well, who doesn’t like pork floss?
Bun Bo La Lot ($27): Char grilled garlic and lemongrass beef wrapped in betel leaves
I’m a sucker for Bo La Lot so I was keen to see how Red Lantern’s version would fare – and whether its price tag was justified.
This dish was lovely, though I would have liked to taste a bit more smokiness in the beef. I also found the dish to be a bit exxy, especially given that you can get the same quality in Box Hill at $15, max.
Indochine ($18): Donfrontias Calvados, Kings ginger liqueur and Massenez apple liqueur, lemon juice and maple syrup
We were still swooning over the cocktail menu so we ordered another one each. Marty’s Indochine was unfortunately a tad too sweet for me so I’m glad I didn’t order it myself.
The Ha Long Shake ($18): Jose Cuevo Tradicional Tequila, Bols Pomegranate liqueur, fresh lemon juice, muddled ginger and apple juice with habanero shrub bitters
I did like my Ha Long Shake though, which was a fun and flirtatious mix of apples and pomegranate minus a god-awful internet viral sensation.
Ga Chien Don ($35): Crispy skin master stock Burrawong chicken with ginger, shallot and oyster sauce
Our final savoury for the night was a chicken dish. The meat was beautifully tender and I especially liked soaking my rice with the lovely sauce that came with it – I just wished that there was more of it for me to enjoy.
Dessert platter for two ($22)
All desserts at Red Lantern are $15 each and although I don’t scream for desserts, I must admit that I couldn’t decide which one I wanted. To make things easier, we opted for the dessert platter, which showcased three of the finest desserts on the menu. First up, we have Red Lantern’s blatant attempt to toff up the quintessential Aussie-Asian dessert, the banana fritter. Here, our organic banana fritters were crumbed in coconut rice and served with palm sugar caramel, tapioca and house-made vanilla bean ice cream. I had to admit, it was a pretty creative – and well-executed – spin on the suburban Chinese favourite. Even if the ice cream was already on its way to being half-melted by the time the platter reached our table.
I thought the Xoi Chuoi Nguong (char grilled red rice and coconut cream wrapped in banana leaf) was nice too, though I admit that it probably wouldn’t have been a dessert I’d order on its own. I appreciated the subtle bouts of saltiness that crept up in each spoonful and the coconut ice cream that provided a refreshingly sweet balance to an otherwise rich dessert.
Finally, we had a crème caramel infused with kaffir lime. I was expecting the crust to be hard like a crème brûlée so I was kind of disappointed to find that it wasn’t. That said, the texture was beautifully smooth minus the silkiness and being a pineapple lover, I loved the pineapple salad that was provided on the side.
Finally, I don’t drink coffee after dark but because I was being forced to watch Fast & Furious 6 after dinner, I needed all the caffeine I could get. Gotta love a nice cup of Vietnamese coffee!
We both went to Red Lantern, knowing full well that it was going to serve the sort of overpriced Vietnamese food that catered to gweilos. And although our food tasted fantastic, I think that deep down we both yearned for Vietnamese food in the traditional sense. You know, the kind of food that a Vietnamese mother would make.
Some people might even say that Red Lantern goes against the essential nature of Vietnamese cuisine i.e. one that is cheap and delicious. I do agree with that and plus, you’d be hard-pressed to find food like this in Vietnamese unless you’re going to a fancy hotel that caters to Western tourists (and why would you, when you are surrounded by amazing street food?). Despite all that though, we did enjoy our meal – it’s just the fact that we’ve both been spoilt for cheap and delicious Vietnamese food while growing up would have most likely clouded our opinion of what is otherwise a well-run business.