The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Chu The

92 Hopkins Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 8265

So Martin’s been telling me about this super-awesome pho restaurant located in the arse end of Hopkins Street, Footscray. And although he’s been told by other Viets that this restaurant, Chu The, has ‘gone to sht’ that did not stop Adam and I from making our way down there prior to the ANZAC day AFL match.

The dinghy place was packed like a leaky Australia-bound boat when we arrived just after 1pm, bar a table right at the back… and literally about a metre away from the kitchen where I could see and smell EVERYTHING. Trying my best to ignore the stench of raw meat and exercising a bit of willful blindness by ensuring that my eyes did not linger on the overflowing bins too long, I focused my attention on the menu board which didn’t really offer much apart from its specialty: pho. And lots of it. Both Adam and I asked for a sliced rare beef pho, without knowing how much it was or whether it came in different sizes. Then the waiter simply asked, ‘medium, okay?’ before hurrying off upon our nods.

Introducing Chu The’s medium-sized sliced rare beef pho ($8.50). Now I don’t really want to talk it up but frankly, it was the best pho I’ve had in a very long time. Okay, so they might have been sloppy with the presentation (broth spills lingered around the edge of my bowl unwiped) and they might have been tight with the herbage (bean shoots, mangy stalks of basil and a wedge of lemon) but once you tasted the well-cooked rice noodles, the still-pink chunks of sliced beef fillet swimming in a rich, complex, minimal E621-induced broth which can only be described as ‘pure’ and tasty, you can’t really complain.

Who cares if this place fails to meet hygiene standards? Who cares if it smells a bit ‘funny’? If pho this delicious is considered ‘gone to sht’, then I’ll be back in no time!

Embrasse

312 Drummond Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 3312
http://www.embrasserestaurant.com.au/

Jan and I have started to do monthly lunches where we’d catch up on goss over fine-dining food. This month we decided that Embrasse in Carlton, the site of Andrew O’Connell’s now-defunct Three One Two restaurant, was the way to go. Despite its one-hat status, however, I have seen a lot of bloggers bitch about the $38 two course lunch menu being dull and lacking in panache that one would expect from a restaurant that has won this year’s Good Food Guide Young Chef Award courtesy of Nicolas Poelart’s approach to avant-garde French cuisine. Still, none of the underwhelming reviews prevented us from rocking up to our 1pm booking yesterday afternoon on a cloudy day.

For some reason I expected Embrasse to be a LOT bigger than the former terrace house-cum eatery we walked into. The furnishings may have been simple (think casual bistro-style cafes) but we knew that we were in for a treat as restaurant manager Camm Whiteoak poured me a glass of Mayer Vineyard Pinot Noir. Meanwhile Jan, who was not an experienced wine drinker, wanted something sweet and because none of the wines on offer were sweet Camm was lovely enough to go back and fetch a bottle of French muscat for her.

Bread and wine. Freshly-baked baby sourdough roll with creamy butter and salt. I love the little wooden paddle that the butter came in – too cute!

My entree: Smoked tomato, papillion roquefort, sable biscuit, oat gateau, tomato jam. I loved the tomatoes which were as sweet as Reese Witherspoon and although I can understand the roquefort being there to add a sharp contrast, I couldn’t help but wince every time I took a bite of the cheese. It was just too waxy and sharp which overpowered what I felt was a subtle dish. Having said that, I did get used to the roquefort being there and even enjoyed it with my tomatoes and sable biscuit crumbs in little doses. I don’t think this dish was for everyone though and Jan certainly did not think much of it.

My main: Poached john dory in carrot juice, lettuce, slow cooked potato, carrot. When I saw how tiny my fish was and then how large Jan’s chicken was (see below), I was immediately disappointed. Then I cut away a small piece of flesh, popped it in my mouth and disappointment was replaced with awe. It was perfectly cooked – zing! I liked the smudge of carrot puree that the fish was sitting on top of and cannot really say much about the other vegies – I mean lettuce is just lettuce, what else can I say about it?!?!

Jan’s main: Bendigo chicken, mushrooms cooked and raw, jus gras, parsley veloute. I’m not something who would order chicken at restaurants. For one thing, they’re dry by the time they reach my table. Secondly, someone once said that people who always ordered chicken were boring as a game of golf. These people, however, also have not tried this dish for it was surprisingly good. The chicken was amazingly moist, the result of it being slow-cooked in goose fat. It was served with a jus made from its own cooked juices and decorated with a variety of succulent mushrooms, porcini and morel to name a few that were there.

We also decided to fork out an extra $12 for a serving of aligot, a pot of velvety mashed potatoes mixed with melted Tomme cheese. It was spun around (like a record) by Camm himself before dishing it to each of us. The texture of the dish was nothing like your ordinary mashed potato – it was as elastic as Gumby – and it tasted sinfully delicious.

Jan’s dessert: Chocolate parfait, meringue, chocolate gateau, mint. Looking like something from Alice in Wonderland, this dessert would get my vote just on presentation alone. However, the fact that it tasted just as amazing as it looked didn’t hurt either, heh. The ‘mushroom’ was actually a meringue stalk (which was a little too hard and too sweet for me) and the top, a semi-frozen chocolate parfait which was the right amount of richness and sweetness for me. The chocolate gateau crumbs added some crunchiness to the dish and the mint granita, while it tasted herby and tangy rather than minty (which I suspect was sorrel), prevented the dessert from being too overwhelming sweet. Amazing.

We finished off with a couple of complimentary petit fours – mango marshmallows. Nothing to sing about to be honest and quite frankly, they were too sweet for my liking. Points for the cuteness factor though.

I was expecting to rock up to Embrasse and tell them to kiss my arse for serving me boring food. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the warm hospitality we encountered combined with honest, French fare which struck a harmonious balance between the traditional and the new. All of this was enough to entice me back here again for a second visit, perhaps for dinner in the future.

Embrasse Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ladro

224 Gertrude St
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9415 7575

Adam’s turning 25 in a few days and my present to him was a black Braun Buffel wallet to replace the already-dilapidated one that he’s been carrying around for years. He also requested that I do not take him to a fine-dining restaurant this year and that he would be happy with just ‘pizza and beer.’ Of course, there was no way I would sit around eating filthy Domino’s pizza while sipping cans of VB in front of the telly so I took him to Ladro on Gertrude Street, heeeeeh!

The tiny restaurant, which was like a grown-up version of Lower Templestowe’s Pizza Espresso, had only just opened their doors when we, along with three other parties, walked in to be seated in time for our 6pm booking (we had to leave by 7:30pm). Naturally, it was almost pitch-dark but thank goodness for my 1000D, I thought to myself as I attached the lens to my camera while the waitress poured us some water.

I’m very much into alcoholic ciders at the moment so I ordered a bottle of Napoleone & Co Cider from Punt Road breweries ($9.50), a dry cider which Adam liked but I thought was a little bit bland (almost veering into Pipsqueak territory but not quite).

For some strange reason, Adam chose a Martini ($15) over a beer from the list of seven local and imported varieties. He has never had a martini before (?!) and despite my pleas to ‘just be a bloke and go for a beer’ and my ‘you won’t like it, it’s gross’ arguments, he refused to relent. Anyway, it did not come in a cocktail glass which I thought was quite odd…

I did like the way they lined up the olives though.

Olive oil and sourdough bread, presumably from Fatto a Mano next door.

We started off with a serving of Bosc pear, pecorino picante and truffled honey ($7.50), a nod to the Roman forefathers. I really liked the sickly-sweet and salty contrast, diffused only very slightly with the subtle hints of truffle specks in the honey.

Our search for a tomato-based pizza led us to the ‘Badabing‘, a combination of tomatoes, provolone, pork sausage, oregano, fresh chili and basil ($20.50). I kind of expected the pizza to be all gung-ho, Tony Soprano-style, but I found the flavour combination to be very mellow, gelling together like a group of middle-aged WASPs on a Roman holiday. Nevertheless, it was lovely. Adam also gave his thumbs up. He admitted that he actually preferred the Pizza Hut-style puffy crusts to the more traditional thin base and crust so he wasn’t expecting much from Ladro. He, however, got his mind blown away by the Badabing. The crust and base may have been thin and crispy, he said, but there was still a level of chewiness and bite which prompted him to give it a tick of approval. So there.

While Adam was loving his pizza, I was professing my love for the gnocchi with brown butter, sage and ricotta salata ($20). Those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I never (like seriously, NEVER) order gnocchi at restaurants. What compelled me to order this dish is something that I’m still trying to figure out myself but damn, it was probably the best choice I made since dropping Kurt Tippett from my Supercoach team. Soft, pillowy potato cubes that melted in your mouth along with the silky burnt butter and sage sauce. Add a few shavings of ricotta salata for that extra kick and BHAM, you have one ridiculously amazing dish.

We may have only ordered two mains to share but we were both too full to order dessert. This was a shame as I was really keen on trying their famed bomboloni (Italian doughnuts with vanilla ice cream and blood orange syrup) but I guess they’ll have to wait until next time. Better than Domino’s and VB? Heck, yes!

Ladro on Urbanspoon

Sushi Monger

17/309 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 0899

Causeway Lane, Melbourne. Definitely not the coolest section in the CBD if the rows of tacky cafes are anything to go by (with the exception of Laurent, perhaps), yet it features arguably one of the better-value sushi cafes in the city: Sushi Monger.

Apparently this place is so popular that a queue forms out the door before its opening time of 12pm. It’s a  cozy cafe, with staff who are never seen without a smile. Heck, this place would melt even the the hardest of hard arses such as Obadiah Stane. Here, punters come in for sushi hand rolls to take away (the tofu hand rolls are $1.80 while most of the prawn/raw fish ones peak at $2.50) or sit inside the minuscule cafe for a hot donburi of some sort. What most people come here for, however, are the cheap sushi rolls + miso soup lunch specials: $5 gets you two sushi rolls plus a bowl of miso soup, while $6.80 will get you three rolls and a soup. Pretty good value, particularly if you go for the $2.50 rolls.

I rocked up at 2:30pm which meant that some of the more popular sushi rolls such as the spicy tuna were all gone. Instead, I opted for the salmon and avocado, the ebi (prawn) tempura and the beef teriyaki rolls which arrived with a steaming, hot bowl of miso soup on my table almost immediately.

I was surprised to find that the miso soup had no tofu cubes nor seaweed in it, yet it had a lovely gritty texture which I liked. Plus, it wasn’t overly salty either. The sushi rolls themselves, cut up into four pieces, were definitely better than the ones served by most sushi outlets in the city. They were very similar to that of Sushi Ten on Flinders Lane, but with a lovelier and creamier mayonnaise (a +1 for me). I loved that the prawn tempura was not overly oily and still retained its crunch while the salmon chunks were deliciously supple and fresh. Not so good were the beef teriyaki pieces which were way too dry and too sweet for me though.

I will definitely come back again if I happen to be in the Bourke St area for lunch on a weekday to give some of the other sushi rolls a go. Or perhaps tuck into a bowl of don buri (similar offerings to Don Don’s but slightly more expensive). Oh, I should also add here that even though it may look like I didn’t eat much, I definitely full. Like, really full.

Kuni’s

56 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 7243
http://www.kunismelbourne.com/
… I’d say that it’d be pretty similar to Footscray’s Cafe Bulldog on Nicholson Street (har-har, get it?!). And all meals would come with a side of Burger Rings. And as much as I respect the man (hey, I have him on my Supercoach team after all), I can’t see him running a pleasantly aged but mellifluous Japanese called Kuni’s. Even if the name of the restaurant and the former Brownlow medallist’s surname are pretty much phonetically identical.

Tuesday afternoon found Adam and I in the city, hoping to use our day off work and uni to… well, study. Snore. We both had a flurry of assignments to do but like dedicated foodies we are, we would never miss a chance to spend a free weekday afternoon in the city having lunch at a place we’d never been to before. Enter Kuni’s, a quiet yet established Japanese restaurant that has been around since 1978. And although their menu has not changed much in thirty years, it is clear that their strategy to retain the same ol’ stuff works if the tables full of suits is anything to go by.

The decor might still be stuck in the 80s but none of that matters as the friendly waitress, who was able to squeeze us both in at the last minute, lead us to a table and shows us a lunch menu which consisted predominantly of bento box specials ranging from $18 to $27. We decided to go all out and order a ‘Kuni’s Lunch Set’ at $27 which was still a very reasonable price to pay in my opinion.

To start off with: just your every day miso soup and a sesame spinach salad which tasted a LOT like gado-gado.

A very delicate and silky chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with slivers of shiitake mushrooms.

The main event (clockwise from left):

-A mirin and soy sauce + steamed rice on the left.

-An assortment of tempura – very delicate and crunchy, not overly soggy. One of the better ones I’ve had but nowhere near as good as Tempura Hajime’s.

-Sashimi (tuna, kingfish and salmon) – surprisingly disappointing. The fish was obviously not fresh (left in the fridge all Easter weekend, perhaps?) and the salmon imparted a funky smell. Ugh.

-Chicken and vegetable nimono – the first time I’ve had this stewed dish. I really loved the slightly sweet stewed soy, mirin and sake sauce … and strangely enough, it tasted vaguely like Original Recipe KFC skin (yeah, what the?!).

-Prawn and scallop dumpling – one big fist was covered in an interesting textured skin consisting of shredded wanton wrappings. A very interesting approach – and tasted not bad too!

Woof. Meow.

Like the Western Bulldogs’ playing style, Kuni’s are happy to stick to what they know best rather than experiment with different styles. Yet, most of it (apart from the sashimi) was done well and I can see why this place is still a significant feature in Melbourne’s Japanese dining scene. The warm and efficient service was also a plus too, and made me more likely to come back here for a quick lunch if I happened to be on the top end of Little Bourke during the week. Having said that, I probably won’t be back for dinner particularly if the food is going to be the same as what they had on the lunch menu. But to go back for lunch and go through all the other bento boxes down the list? Oh, yes.

Kuni's on Urbanspoon

Dragon Boat

203 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 2733
http://www.dragonboat.com.au/
Hu Tong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8128

An old friend from uni, Poasa, was in Melbourne for Easter so Adam and I decided to take him out for a good old fashioned yum cha lunch. The poor thing, having been back in Fiji for the last few years, has not had a ‘proper’ yum cha meal in ages (apparently in Fiji, yum cha restaurants are VERY different) so he was just as excited as I was about the lunch. Oh, and the whole seeing-each-other-for-the-first-time-in-three-years bit too! It was up to me to choose the lunch venue and after much deliberation I decided on the newly-refurbished Dragon Boat restaurant in Chinatown. Now I used to go there all the time with my parents and with friends in my earlier uni student days. That was before their food quality started slipping and then I stopped going. With all the hoo-haa surrounding the refurbishments though, I decided that a return visit would not hurt and hey, it might even be better this time around. Not so, warned Jan who went there only two weeks prior to our visit. Not only did she say that it was pricey, the food that arrived on her table was COLD. She left after only five dishes. In hindsight I should have listened to Jan but I brushed aside her warning and figured that she just came on a bad day or something.

We arrived on time for our 1:30pm booking to a much more spacious and modern-looking establishment that extended to an extra floor above the main restaurant. Gone were the deary carpeting and the old school 80s furnishings. Instead, the space was much more simple with sleek wooden tables and chairs snaked all over the floor, allowing only enough room for the trolleys to make their way to each table. We were told that there was to be a 10 minute wait which was fair enough as it WAS a Sunday.

The next half an hour was kinda like sitting in a Wong Kar Wai film – nothing made sense. Once we were seated at our table, the following things happened:

  • We were initially served by a stoned waiter; he literally threw down our chopsticks, bowls and napkins right in front of us in quick succession without blinking. Bangbangbangbangbangbangbang! WHOA!
  • It took us four tries to actually get chilli sauce and chilli oil. This was frustrating, not only because I cannot have my dumplings without chilli oil but one should also expect to see chilli sauce to be poured into a dipping dish when you are seated.
  • We asked the stoned waiter for zhaliang. He ignored us. We asked two different waitresses, both nodding their acknowledgements … but they did not bother writing the order down on our bill nor did we see them go into the kitchen to get the dish ready. Finally, we asked the roaming manager if we could order zhaliang. The first time, he PRETENDED NOT TO HEAR US. The second time, he did this irritated sigh and said something about having to “see if they’re ready yet.” And when Adam went, “huh?” the dude just snapped at him, “Wait for the kitchen to bring it out!” WTF? Wait for them to bring it out? Zhaliang is a dish that’s made to ORDER. In the end, we just gave up. I was really disappointed though because to me, yum cha isn’t yum cha without zhaliang.
  • The trolleys took way too long to circulate. We did not receive our fried dishes and we only saw one dumpling cart come around while the same cart containing fried fish cakes (!) circled our table three times.

In the end, we simply grabbed our stuff after only seven dishes and paid the bill (where a line of fellow disgruntled patrons were queuing). Okay, so the service was beyond crap. What was the food like? Well, here are some shots to start off with:

Ginger prawn dumplings
Har gow

Xiao Long Bao with no soup. Grr.

The food may have looked alright and probably would have tasted just so… had they been HOT rather than lukewarm. Sigh. The total bill was $48.10 (4 x $5.50 for the medium dishes + 3 x $6.50 for the large dishes + 3 x $2.20 for the tea). For the food quality and the appalling service – and not to mention the fact we were still hungry – it was a lot to pay for yum cha. I also had to laugh at Poasa when he said that although yum cha in Fiji is crap, it was miles ahead of what we had to experience at Dragon Boat. Dragon Boat may have changed its facade, but it was still skanky and ugly inside. Not recommended at all.

Because we were still hungry and because Poasa was still buzzing over the awesome xiaolongbaos he had at Hu Tong with his pals the other night, we decided to duck in there to continue our lunch. It was just after the lunch rush so we were able to score a table downstairs. And although Hu Tong is notorious for being inconsistent with their food quality and their service, they were brilliant this time around. Service with smiles (though the food did take a while to arrive) and the xiaolongbaos were AMAZING (we ordered two baskets).
Perfection in a bamboo steamer ($10.80 for a steamer of eight).

Eggplant with minced pork ($15.80), a random dish that we ordered. It was lovely though, the pork being not overly spicy but giving off a sizable amount of bite.

Yes, we ended up having two lunches. Sad, I know. At the end of the day, at least we all learnt never to go to Dragon Boat for yum cha again.

Okay, so that was a pretty crappy ending. But shush, contract assignment. Supercoach trades. The latest episode of (the new) 90210. Can’t blog no more for the night. Busy.

Dragon Boat on Urbanspoon

New Age Cafe

595 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 7388

After the conclusion of my church’s Easter presentation on Thursday night, Adam and I headed to Box Hill to find a place that was still open just after 9:30pm. I had been craving bibimbap from Yami Yami all day but unfortunately, they were shutting down early that night … as were many other places that would normally stay open until very late. The only places that were still open were a myriad of dumpling restaurants, any of which I was more than happy to duck into. Adam, however, was not at all keen on eating dumplings yet again and so we entered the only other option: New Age Cafe.

This joint has been around since my high school days. In fact, it was popular with the girls at my school who would often schmooze with their boys after school. Funnily enough, I never went there myself (I was too much of a ‘Shoppo Hanger’ which says a lot about me… heh). And while I am not overly fond of cha chaan teng cuisine, I wasn’t in the mood to argue with Adam and hey, I WAS kinda curious so in we went. We slipped in an empty booth, between a group of fobs who all seemed to have chosen pasta dishes. Looking at the 400+ item menu, it was obvious that one would not complain about the lack of variety nor the unoriginality of the dishes. From nasi goreng to ‘spaghetti with pan-fried lamb and pesto sauce’ to seafood udon with XO sauce, there was a dish to appeal to everyone.

Adam’s Hong Kong iced coffee ($3.30), which tasted a lot like Vietnamese iced coffee but lacked the depth and strength.

His pork chop with onion sauce  on rice ($8.80). Watching Adam attempt to eat his way through his food was pretty funny. He said that it was ‘something that [his] grandmother would cook up’, which was meant to serve as an insult. I took one bite and immediately winced. The bloody sauce was just so one-dimensional and … sickeningly salty. I would not have been surprised if they just used packeted gravy mix as the base and improvised the rest using whatever random ingredients they could grab. Horrible.

My green tea milkshake ($4.80) which tasted more like honey dew rather than green tea. Hm.

I chose the crispy fried egg noodles with seafood ($12) over all the pasta dishes which, judging by the uneaten plates of pasta on the adjacent table, seemed watery and bland. I probably would have been better off with a pasta dish though as the noodles weren’t anything to sing about. I also found it odd that New Age Cafe’s version included mussels which I had not seen elsewhere … and cooked bean shoots. Que?

Given our less than awesome meal, one must wonder what brings all the kids to the yard cafe. It’s definitely not the food, that’s for sure. And although I’d say that the prices are reasonable given the massive serving sizes, I’ve been told that the prices are pretty expensive for a cha chaan teng cafe. Perhaps it was good back then but not anymore. Who knows? Either way, I know I’ll be making Adam eat dumplings with me if we’re ever wandering around Box Hill late at night looking for something to eat!

Hako (revisited)

310 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9620 1881
http://www.hako.com.au/

Those in the Melbourne Foodie know-how would know EXACTLY what I’m referring to when I say “caterpillar prawns.”

Hako‘s famous ebi tempura (prawn tempura), arguably their signature dish.

Matt Preston once described this dish as “a pair of fat hairy caterpillars in the throes of passion; each prawn coated in a thousand golden strands of what looks like wispy kataifi pastry.” This was the dish that won me over when I had dinner at Hako a few years back and so I ordered it again the other night without missing a beat.

They were still charging $13.80 for the dish. They looked the same as they did two years ago and they certainly did taste just as good. The only difference between 2010 ebi tempura and 2008 ebi tempura was that the 2010 version was still oily, like they weren’t drained properly. In fact, the prawns were so oily that the square piece of paper was completely soaked in oil. Completely. Aside: Haha, I’ve noticed that the 2010 photo looks crappier than the 2008 photo, even though I took the 2010 photos with a much better camera. To my defence, the restaurant’s lighting has not changed (still completely dark, the only light source being a single candle on each table) and I was trying not to use the flash… I guess I still have a long way to go.

I stayed away from the sushi and sashimi dishes as I wasn’t extremely pleased with our sushi last time. I, however, could not resist ordering the ‘special’ Hiramasa kingfish carpaccio ($15.50) which happened to be the best thing I’ve ever had at Hako. Eight slices of cured kingfish + sexy ponzu, soy and sesame dressing + raw onions + tobiko, accompanied by two slices of lemon (unnecessary) = one hot momofuku. Yes, it even surpassed the legendary ebi tempura.

It goes without saying that the final dish would struggle to meet the high standards set by the carpaccio. I ordered something called a brie and mushroom croquette ($9.50) and expected, I dunno, two crunchy balls filled with goo. What I got was one single shell which enveloped crunchy crust. In it was something that tasted like that cheese mix you get when you order baked oysters at yum cha. Definitely an unusual way of presenting a ‘croquette’ but if I knew that it was going to come in a scallop shell and if I knew that it was going to taste as meh as this, I would have ordered something else.

For a meal that cost $38.80, I expected to be full but I was not. On paper, each individual dish sounded cheap but you do need to order four of them to really be full and that can add up to quite a bit. On the other hand, sharing the dishes around with a friend or two is a more cost-effective option as you’ll be paying less for trying more dishes. I’ll be back.

Half Moon Cafe

13 Victoria St
Coburg VIC 3058
+61 3 9350 2949

This ain’t a strong intro but seriously, the falafel at Half Moon Cafe in Coburg really ARE the best in town and I strongly implore you all to give them a try! Before I go on, let me just say that there is a restaurant in Brighton called Half Moon. THIS IS NOT A REVIEW OF HALF MOON, BRIGHTON but of HALF MOON CAFE, COBURG! Are we clear? Okay, then.

I very rarely venture all the way up Sydney Rd, but the fact that Adam and I were visiting our church’s Moreland branch on Sunday morning gave us an excuse to walk a few block ups from Moreland to suss out what the current edition of Cheap Eats declared as ‘some of the best falafel in town.’ An undistinguished cafe tucked between the library and several bakeries was our destination, with only the enormous number of patrons munching on falafel rolls on tables outside the cafe being the only obvious sign that we were in the right place. The wall menu reads like a typical kebab shop menu, but the focus is obviously on owner Nabil Hassan’s falafel rather than meat dishes. In fact, there were only about a handful of meat dishes that one could choose from. Adam was keen to try a meat plate so that he could make comparisons to the ‘meal of the day’ plate that we so dearly love over at Footscray Best Kebab but I stood by my decision to go all falafel.

Adam’s ‘mix of two dishes’ ($14) where you were asked what sort of meat you’d like with your salad, pita bread and dips. Adam opted for the lamb and the kofte (which were also made with lamb – clearly he chooses things poorly). We both loved the interesting array of salad items, which was a refreshing change to the usual garden salad items that we normally get elsewhere. Loved the olives, the pickles and the fetta cheese cubes in particular as well as the hummus, the babaghanoush and the cacik dips. Having said all that, I couldn’t honestly say that this was the best meat plate we’ve had. The meat was not as succulent nor tasty as the ones dished up by the bloke at Footscray Best Kebab and quite frankly, nothing beats warm Turkish bread. Not even good quality pita.

My ‘Half Moon’ ($6), probably the most popular item on the menu if the number of people ordering this roll was anything to go by. It was pretty much a vegetarian’s dream: a toasted pita roll filled with lettuce, rocket, tabouli, chick peas, hummus, yoghurt, tahini, black olives and pickles…

… and OMG, THE. BEST. FALAFEL. EVER. Three pieces, gently smashed with a fork, all in one roll. Oh, the joy! And I can’t believe how cheap it was too. Apparently the falafel here are not your usual chickpea variety but rather, made with fava (broad) beans a la Egyptian-style. This gives it a more crunchy exterior and a more subtle taste. Delicious! Something that even Shinedown’s man on the moon would reappear for.

It is plain obvious that I will be back for more falafel (a bag of three costs only $2). I’ve been told that eating too many broad beans isn’t good for one’s health but if they can be made into falafel that taste THIS good, then stuff the health warning!

Half Moon Café on Urbanspoon

Thanh Dat

Cnr Buckingham & Windsor Avenues
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9540 8389

As a Christian, Good Friday is a very important day for me and my family. Our Easter weekends are a time of rest, of cleaning and of thinking rather than boozing, partying and hooning around. Nevertheless, there were five hungry mouths to fill in our household and a half-empty fridge so when mum announced that she was heading off to Springvale for lunch and for grocery-shopping, I decided to tag along.

Lunch was at Thanh Dat, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s been a favourite of ours for many, many years. I remember countless Sunday afternoons slurping on a comforting bowl of rice noodle soup with seafood, pretty much the only thing I would order while everyone else had the tomato rice with beef. I decided that today was a good day as any to order this familiar dish. I wanted to see if it was still good after all these days. And although I am not a Roman Catholic, I always abstain from eating red meat on Good Friday so the seafood noodle soup was an extremely apt lunch choice.

The price of the no.21 has not changed much in ten years (from $8 to $9). It certainly looked inviting and the portion size, generous. The taste, unfortunately, has changed immensely. Rather than a sweet and almost peppery-tasting broth punctured with  the distinct taste of coriander seeds and the odd cashew nut, the soup was as plain as an Amish housewife. Heck, it could have been just water and salt for all I know. Thus, it’s no wonder why I did not slurp the last dregs of my noodle soup like I normally do. Instead, I just ate whatever seafood and noodles I could clumsily pick up with my chopsticks and left the soup bowl half-full with the pathetic-tasting thing they called “broth.”

I will not come back again.

Ha, I bet you were expecting me to write about hot cross buns, fish and chips or Easter eggs, right?!

On that note, have a very Happy Easter, folks! Hopefully with more time spent at home this weekend, I’ll be able to post the 3-4 reviews of places I went to this week that are just DYING to be published.