The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Lu Yang Dumpling House

617 Station Street
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9899 7573

Today, Adam and I found out that the always-seems-to-be-empty Kim Thuy Vi Vietnamese restaurant on Station Street, Box Hill was no longer there and, to our delight, a spanking new dumpling restaurant now stood in its place. Called Lu Yang Dumpling House, it was about half-full when we drove past this afternoon on the way to Spotlight and so we made a spontaneous decision to have lunch there.

As soon as we walked in, a fob waitress let out a stream of Mandarin which I did not understand (yes, it was all shishishishishi to me … and please, just because I am Asian-looking, doesn’t mean that I speak the same language as you). Adam’s Mandarin is not much better than mine but he was able to make out that she was confirming that we needed a table for two. So we sat down, got menus and teas, chose three different dishes and then began a half an hour wait for the first dish to arrive – way too long a wait for a dumpling restaurant that wasn’t overly busy.

In the half hour we sat waiting, we witnessed:

-A guy sitting next to us eating with his mum. She was eating the last dregs of her wonton noodle soup while he was seething as his meal had not yet arrived. After several “Where is my food?”‘s, the guy decided that he could not wait any longer and said that he would pay for his mother’s meal but not his.

-A Chinese couple and their two kids walked in 10 minutes after we did, sat down, chose their dishes, then asked a passing waitress (in English) if they could order. The waitress looked at them blankly, like she had no idea what he just said. After repeating himself slowly three times, she was still confused so he sighed and switched to Chinese. Rudimentary English, folks, will get you somewhere.

-Five times throughout the course of our wait, I saw diners asking waitresses where their food was and there were times when diners came to the counter to pay the bill but said that they never got such-and-such a dish. An example of this was when a hippie couple paid for their spring rolls, noodles and said that they had ordered a plate of fried vegies but had never got them. For some reason, the chick at the counter seemed shocked and reluctant to take the fried vegies off the bill but when she finally did, she slammed down the bill in front of the hippies so hard that I could see the hippies jump.

-I noticed a shortage of canisters containing chilli oil, something that surprised me because I would assume that anyone running a dumpling restaurant would know to buy a canister for EVERY table in the place rather than only five of them. Halfway throughout eating our dumplings, a waitress came up to us and asked if she could take OUR canister because “another table needs it.” Adam and I gave her a hard stare for a minute before Adam went, “Uh yeah… I guess you *can*… except that there is another canister on that empty table” while pointing to the deserted table behind us *facepalm*.

Just when we were wondering whether three dishes were too hard for them to manage, our food arrived.

Our fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $8). I had to admit that they looked REALLY good. Each dumpling was neatly wrapped (probably the best job I’ve seen so far) and housed a decent sized pork and chive filling. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only positive thing I can say about them. Firstly, the dumplings weren’t crunchy at all. Secondly, they were oily as. Thirdly, there was something terribly ‘off’ with the filling – the texture didn’t feel right. Adam then said that he had bought those frozen pork dumplings from Asian grocery shops in the past and the texture of the dumplings we were eating were EXACTLY like the frozen ones. He suspected that Lu Yang had ran out of fresh ones and they were so desperate so they ran to the grocery shop to buy frozen ones. I didn’t think they would stoop THAT low though. For starters, the skins looked too good for them to be the frozen kind. Secondly, the skins were pretty fresh. Thirdly, I just thought… nahh. In the end, we both concluded that the dumplings were home made… but the meat used was frozen and they just did not thaw it out properly. I thought it was odd for them to use frozen pork meat though, especially since butchers are in abundance in Box Hill and fresh pork mince isn’t terribly expensive.
Xiao Long Baos (8 pieces for $8) were advertised as “Shanghai steamed buns filled with pork meat” which, I reckon, was not the most accurate English translation they could have used. I had to read the Chinese characters next to the name of the dish to figure out that they were, in fact, xiao long baos but had I not been able to do so, I would have assumed that this dish was referring to those steamed white buns filled with char siu.
Obviously, they were not as good as the ones Hu Tong churn out but they were better than I expected – they were plump and actually had SOUP in it. I did find the fillings a tad too fatty though. They were okay, but not something that I would rush to order again.

Shanghai noodles ($7). I give them props for the generous serving for the price we paid, but a thumbs down for the overly sweet taste and the fact that they used the bloody skinny noodles rather than the thick knobby ones that JG Dumplings (Glen Waverley) and Shanghai Gourmet (Springvale) use. Booo hiss.It was a cheap ($23) meal which filled our tummies up until the Aussies were all out at the SCG *buries head in hands* but I cannot see myself returning there again. The wait for the food was way too long and the service not so good. Plus, the dumplings were horrible and made Camy’s taste like KING in comparison. Oh, and when Adam and I were at the counter paying our bill, we had a great view of the kitchen sink which was directly behind the counter. In the sink, we could clearly see… yep, a large packet of frozen pork meat defrosting. FAIL.

Dontoo

330 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 7113

I love cold soba noodle salads on warm Summer days. Ideally, I make my own at home but Don Too on Lt Lonsdale St (the same folk who run Don Don on Swanston St) make a pretty good vegetarian one for only $7.50. Eat with a bottle of Asahi and you’re pretty much set for the rest of the afternoon.

Kitchen Workshop

Ground Floor, Clarendon Street Entrance
Crown Casino
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 7856
http://www.crowncasino.com.au/kitchen-workshop
Adam and I took our families to lunch at Kitchen Workshop, a new buffet restaurant situated in the new dining precinct of Crown just off the Clarendon Street entrance. We were originally planning to organise lunch at The Press Club but mum whinged about it costing too much and how we “shouldn’t waste so much money on food” (cough) while Adam’s parents aren’t keen on eating food that isn’t Chinese (boo). Secondly, everyone LOVES buffet restaurants (excluding Adam and I) and so Kitchen Workshop, recommended by my brother Kenneth, seemed like the most sensible option. Plus, $29.50 for Sunday lunch sounded like decent value.

A contemporary design with clean lines, overlooking Clarendon St. It wasn’t particularly busy today because people were still reeling over their Christmas lunches and/or dinners, I suppose, but there was a steady of stream of CUBs (cashed-up bogans) coming in and out during the afternoon.

I was a tad disappointed at the variety of food on offer – I’d say it would be about 50% of what Foodstar and Smorgy’s would offer. Having said that, the quality and freshness makes up for the lack of food. Obviously the food ain’t Good Food Guide-worthy but it sure beats greasy Foodstar fried fare that leaves you feeling sick and disgusting afterwards. Above: My bowl consisting of lamb sausages, pancetta and olive penne (they even had REAL shaved Parmesan!), potato and artichoke salad, roasted potatoes and rocket leaves.
My second plate: prawns, squid, stuffed mussels and scallops (with tartare sauce + coriander and tomato mayo), lemon-baked fish, a rocket salad (which, for some reason, they labelled “Greek salad”), butter rice and more sausages. There were a few other foods which I didn’t get to try but according to the others, the make-your-own dishes at the Mongolian station as well as the carvery (mint lamb, roast beef and ham) were pretty good…
Pumpkin and chickpea soup which, although a little bit on the sweet side, was lovely. I especially loved the texture and edge that the chickpeas gave to the soup. I, however, didn’t really like the tomato and basil soup – too bland and watery.

Okay, so the hot food section was somewhat lacking in variety (what, no chips?! no fresh seafood?!)… but the dessert section made up for it.

Fruits and cakes.

Mum, Kenneth (who dresses like a bloody extra from ‘This Is England’ these days… quite funny to see) and Janice.


Parents talking.


My sister, the genius, took this shot of us… with the background illuminated and our faces completely black… and our chests chopped off. I had to photoshop this shot just to see our faces…

Some of the desserts on offer: vanilla pudding with orange sauce, caramel mousse, pistachio panna cotta, coffee profiterole and a coconut and meringue pudding in the background. A popular dessert this afternoon was a coffee creme brulee which went like hotcakes – I missed out. *sniff*

The idiots at Kitchen Workshop thought it would be cool to have little shot glasses filled with jelly… which were too small for a dessert spoon to fit into.

The only way to get the jelly out was to prod it out with the end of a spoon *sigh*

Kitchen Workshop… yeah, it wasn’t bad. Definitely one of the better buffet restaurants I’ve been to and would not hesitate to go again if either set of parents asked me to go with them, but not a restaurant that I’d go voluntarily with Adam.

Taxi Dining Room

Federation Square
Corner Flinders St & Swanston Streets
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 8808
http://www.transporthotel.com.au/

I’m flying away in the morning. Six hours to go until we’re supposed to leave the house but so far, I’m only halfway through packing. I should probably get some rest, especially since my brain’s filled with sake (not a good thing) but I figured I’d blog about my last Melbourne dinner before jetting off to the land of things fried in coconut milk, chicken satays, nasi gorengs and AUD$2 KFC Twister combos. Adam and I chose Taxi Dining Room at Fed Square as the location for my last dinner date before flying off for a month as well as to commemorate our 2.5 years together. It is an award-winning restaurant headed by Michael Lambie and serves a modern cuisine with Japanese twists. As it was recommended by Jen and as it constantly receives two hats in The Good Food Guide, we were expecting big, big things. I’m half-asleep as I write this so please forgive me if none of this makes any sense. You’ll also be glad to know that I won’t bother with any Travis Bickle puns or jokes either.

I had originally made a booking for 7pm but due to circumstances (read: Adam), we had to push it back to 8:30pm, the next available time slot for us. I don’t usually eat dinner that late but given that I didn’t want to cancel dinner, I said yes and after shouting at Adam for a myriad of reasons (his fault), we tottered down to Fed Square, walked past the throngs of people at Transport Bar and up the lifts to what I thought was one of the more spectacular dining rooms in Melbourne with a view to boot.

Unfortunately, the fact that we arrived an hour and a half later than scheduled meant that the dining room was already dark by the time we arrived. And we know that means that my photos were going to suck. You have been warned. I was annoyed that I couldn’t use my 1000D and instead, had to rely on my Powershot which was better than nothing, I suppose.

Before I talk about the food, let me say right now that the service at Taxi tonight sucked. Majorly. I don’t know what the problem was as there was certainly plenty of Marc St James lookalike waiters to go around the entire floor. The waiter named ‘Paul’ was supposed to be looking after our table, we were told, but he seemed to be more interested in spending his time on the other side of the room rather than looking after the tables on our side. I think I may have only saw him twice during the 2.5 hour meal while his colleagues covered for us. Secondly, it took one waiter half an hour to actually come to our table and take our order despite our many desperate attempts to flag down a waiter during that half hour. The wait between courses was also long – I counted 35 minutes between them taking away our entree plates (which sat there empty for 15 minutes) to our mains arriving. Thirdly, this one waiter was odd. Every time he passed our section, he make some wtf gesture and sometimes a strange noise to accompany it. For example, the first time he walked past, he would wave at us and yell out “That was beewwwwdiful!” The second time, he poked faces at the couple sitting next to us. The third time, he giggled and screamed out, “Weeeehehehehehehe!” Yeah, um, I dunno…

Okay, food time! (I also apologise for a lacklustre post… I’m really tired)

A 150ml serving of ‘ranman funa orashi’ sake ($26), a spicy and crispy blend of summer fruits with a strong after taste. A little bit went a long, long way…

Our amuse bouche of Sczechuan soup, served in a tiny espresso-sized cup which tasted similar to the oxtail soup that my mum makes – very rich, aromatic and spicy. I didn’t mind it at all but Adam found it a tad weird…

We shared a plate of mixed sushi and sashimi ($23.50), one of the choices from the special sushi menu. It gave Shoya a run for its money when it came to presentation but unfortunately, was not quite there with freshness. It was a good effort though, and miles better than many versions I’ve tried. Props for their surprisingly awesome homemade wasabi which had a more subtle taste compared to the commercial kind – this is a huge deal for me as I don’t like wasabi and generally avoid it.

Adam’s entree: Hot and sour broth with crispy scallop wontons ($19.50). Lambie paid homage to the humble hot and sour soup by adding a handful of enoki mushrooms in the broth for a bit of visual aid before plonking two crispy-fried wantons with mashed scallops and salmon fillet in them. Adam thought the wantons were pretty good while I thought they were just okay. I also thought the use of cherry tomatoes in this dish alongside shiitake mushrooms seemed rather odd.

My entree: filo wrapped quail with cucumber remoulade foie gras and piquant jus ($24). What an awesome entree this was! A small pie filled with boned quail was amazing as can be expected. The accompaniment of a light cucumber and soba noodle with a dressing of remoulade (light tartare sauce) and the fruity, jus that lined the edges of the plate proved an effective partnership prettified by two quail egg halves. I do have to laugh at the use of ‘piquant’ though as it did seem borderline pretentious and out-of-place.

It then got REALLY dark and so I had no choice but to use flash…

HATE!

Adam’s main: Nolan’s 500g grain fed T-bone steak with bone marrow, sauce Bordelaise ($48). Now, THAT is a steak. Having been used to eating 200-250g steaks, we knew that 500g would be big but we didn’t think it would be THAT huge. It was a bloody good steak though, cooked EXACTLY how I would like it (PERFECT med-rare, soft, juicy, tender, all the right adjectives to describe a perfect steak) and the fact that it tasted ‘Asian-y’ made the experience even more exciting. Delicious. What I didn’t like, however, was the accompaniment of crispy bacon bits and char siu (BBQ pork) which not only seemed out of place but tasted DISGUSTING. Needless to say, much of it remained untouched.

My main: Miso kingfish with sesame spring onion and seared scallops ($42). This dish was suspiciously similar to Nobu’s famous black cod miso and while I did like elements of it, I felt that it was a bit overdone as a whole. Both the fish and the scallops were cooked for only a short period of time to give them both a smooth, velvety texture. I liked the spring onion and sesame mixture on top of the fish too, but I felt that the miso paste dots and the nam jim (sweet dipping sauce underneath each scallop) were too overpowering for the dish. Nobu does this dish successfully because his version is so simple – and that’s all a dish like this needs. By packing too much into it, Lambie just created a bit of a Manhattan peak-hour congestion on a plate that was a bit too much for me.

We would have loved to stay for dessert but unfortunately, our tummies were way too full no thanks to Adam’s maxi-cab of a steak (okay, okay, I’ll stop with the taxi jokes). We signalled for the bill which, funnily enough, arrived faster than a psycho cabbie doing 100km in a 60km zone. It was $187, but we got it down to $140.25 thanks to the Entertainment Book discount. I’d say that, apart from the service, Taxi served some of the better foods I’ve had at fine dining establishments as of late. Sure, the dishes we had weren’t all perfect (the mains more so than the entrees) but I could definitely see myself coming back for another meal – perhaps lunch this time. But only if that crazy waiter doesn’t start belting out rap tunes in front of our table all of a sudden.

Okay, so it’s almost 3am and if I was tired when I started writing this post, you can imagine how EFFED I am right now. I feel a bit sniffy as I write this as this could be my last post for a while seeing as I have no idea when and if I will have net access in Indonesia. If not, then I want to sign off by telling you guys to take care of yourselves and don’t get up to no good while I’m gone! See you all on December 18th!

Helvetica (CLOSED)

305 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9642 2501

We haven’t had a team lunch in ages so my team leaders decided to have one this week. We were originally going to go to The Radisson for their buffet lunch spread as it was a reasonable $14.95. It turned out, though, that the lunch was not $14.95 but closer to $29 which most people weren’t happy about. Hence, our lunch venue was changed to Helvetica Cafe which was practically two lunges from our office. Yeah, a cafe. For a supposedly “special” team lunch. I know. Wow. Cool name, but their food isn’t that crash hot.

My $7.90 “Asian noodle salad” is in the foreground (background: Rob’s meatloaf with mashed potatoes and salad). My cold salad, which was the best choice for a 34 degree day, drew inspiration from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines – a light nuoc mam-y tasting dressing covered a mountain of vermicelli (not clear mung bean) noodles and a sprinkling of drier-than-average chicken pieces. It was okay, but not that great and nothing that even a novice in the kitchen couldn’t whip up at home. With their eyes closed. Boo.

1. My mofo-ing Nokia E63 somehow managed to wipe out all but a few of my phone numbers. I couldn’t figure out what the eff happened but after spending a good chunk of my evening trying to figure out what happened, I conceded defeat. Sigh. I have never connected my phone to any computer nor do I download programs from Planet 3 apart from MSN so I doubt that it could be a virus *scratches head*

2. I woke up last night to the sound of heavy breathing and snores. Sht-scared, I thought that a ghost or some other supernatural being was in my room so I sat there for what seemed like an hour, not wanting to move before I looked down on my floor… and saw that one of my dogs had came into my room and was sound-asleep. Talk about giving oneself a massive heart attack…

3. Dinner at Taxi tomorrow. Two hats. This better be good.

4. So Paypal finally gave me back my money for the item that they charged twice for. The problem was that rather than depositing the money into my bank account, they dumped it into my Paypal account which means that I had to pay a $1 fee just to transfer that money into my bank account. Effing Paypal, you are so effing disgusting that it’s not funny. Charge me a $1.11 for no apparent reason when I purchase the item and then charge me $1 to claim the money that was not yours to take in the first place … YOU SUCK.

Footscray Best Kebab House

93 Nicholson St
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9689 0777

It’s been a while since I’ve had a kebab from Footscray – more than a year, in fact. I’d been hankering for one all week so Adam and I trained it to Footscray this afternoon to have a late lunch at our favourite kebab joint, Footscray Best Kebab House. Its name might not reek much of originality but it does speak the truth: they really are the best kebabs in Footscray, if not Melbourne. The constant stream of customers coming in, the fact that they usually run out of meat at 3pm, the fact that my mates from St Albans come all the way here just for the kebabs and the fact that even fobs now visit this joint are all testaments to that.

The prices might have increased since my last visit but they’re still very reasonable. While most people come here for kebabs that they could eat on the run, I love to order their ‘meal of the day’ plates which will set you back $12 for a small, and $14 for a large. I used to be able to eat a small plate (which isn’t really small at all) without any problems but today I struggled. My advice is to share a large one between two people (though if the two of you have smaller stomachs, sharing a small plate would be fine too).

My small ‘meal of the day’ – lamb + two dips (I chose hummus and eggplant) + salad + warm Turkish bread. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

The best hummus dip I’ve ever tasted too…

I received my Stuart Weitzman heels today! Thanks Jen, for shipping them off for me. I saved about $100 buying them from the states (includes sales tax and shipping) compared to what I would have spent if I bought them at David Jones. Love.

All good, except for the unexpected toe cleavage. Hate!

Mercer’s Restaurant

732 Main Rd
Eltham VIC 3095
+61 3 9431 1015
http://www.mercersrestaurant.com.au/

Adam and I had originally made a booking to try Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham for Sunday lunch but circumstances meant that we had to push it forward to Saturday evening (last night). Having driven past it countless times on the way to Aaron’s house, Mercer’s is a local favourite for celebration meals because of Stephen Mercer’s contemporary approach to fine dining and his wife, Ute’s sunny disposition which made her a perfect choice for the hostess role. Given that it’s been around for quite a long time and given its recent one-hat award in this year’s Good Food Guide, we decided that this weekend would be a great time to eat there.

Driving up Main Road from Doncaster, it’s very easy to miss the small weatherboard house that forms Mercer’s, especially since there are about half a dozen buildings on the same strip that look identical. When you do find it, however, you would be hard-pressed not to be charmed by the quaint establishment that makes you feel like you’re not in Melbourne anymore (but to be fair, I think of Eltham as “the sticks”, something that Aaron would not be happy with but mehhh, he’s used to it). The interior of the restaurant itself may seem a bit dated, having not changed since it opened more than 20 years ago, but it still retains its homely feel.
Mercer’s menu is pretty straightforward, two courses for $55, three courses for $69 or you can do the degustation for $85. Adam chose the two-course option (entree and main) while I decided that I couldn’t really leave without trying the Leawood honey souffle with lemon tart ice cream so I paid the extra $14 for the dessert. We relaxed while we waited for our food and watched as the dining room filled up with locals who had been coming here for years and couples wanting to find a discreet location for a dinner date.
An amuse bouche of cucumber and celery gazpacho, which rendered a lot of ‘wtf’ looks from the nearby diners and Adam. While he thought it tasted ‘weird’, I actually didn’t mind it at all. It was a refreshing concoction of fresh cucumbers and celery with a hint of garlic and onion to give it a nice warming flavour.

Freshly-baked sesame white bread which easily pulled apart. Probably one of the better breads I’ve had in a very long time. One piece was enough to render me half-full. Heh.

Adam’s entree: Boned quail filled with trumpet mushrooms and fried in a potato crust with a pea emulsion and salted grapes. This was probably the first time either of us has actually eaten quail that wasn’t roasted whole. Quail breast fillets were pressed into a cylinder shape before being cut into pieces to show off their lovely pink flesh alongside a mixture of crushed trumpet mushrooms. The pea emulsion added a nice cooling counterbalance to the relatively rich quail. The salted grapes, however, did not add anything to the dish.

My entree: Three hour poached egg with smoked salmon on brioche with a salmon-Pinot jus and crispy pancetta. There were better things on the entree menu such as the Hirasama Kingfish sashimi with minced prawn and green papaya salad with wasabi bubbles but I ordered this bloody dish because I was seduced by the “three hour poached egg” – yeah, I love my eggs. Big mistake. It wasn’t a terrible dish – indeed the poached egg was so effing lovely and gooey and eating the toasted brioche drenched in that egg goo was a pleasure – but I think the overly sweet salmon-Pinot jus spoilt what could have been a successful dish. The smoked salmon was a bit too fishy my liking as well.

Adam’s main: A roasted eye fillet (med-rare) accompanied by braised ox cheek, crushed chat potatoes, mushroom broth and poached asparagus. This was last’s night special and because it sounded good to Ads, he ordered that instead of the Glenloth free range chicken breast. Upon receiving his main, however, Adam was literally like “” when he saw it. “What the heck is THAT?” he whispered to me, “This doesn’t look like fine-dining food!” I had to agree with him as it looked like something that could be found in Aaron’s mum kitchen 5 minutes up the road from Mercer’s (she could take that as a compliment, I guess). It was also as bland as it looked – the beef had NO taste whatsoever, and the potato mash was dry. The beef cheek was also more stringy than gelatinous. What amused me was the fact that they did not give Adam a steak knife to cut through the beef and despite the fact that Adam asked for it med-rare, it was as tough as wood to cut.

My main: Roasted double cutlet of lamb with slow cooked lamb rump filled with a rosemary and roasted garlic farce, fine ratatouille and fried polenta. Thankfully my main was slightly better than Adam’s. The slow-cooked lamb was so tender – and actually had some sort of flavour unlike Adam’s eye fillet. The only problem was that it was a little bit cold, like it had been sitting on the kitchen bench for some time. If I ignored the meat’s temperature though, I could then say that it went down nicely with my glass of Nillumbik Estate Shiraz which, apart from it being a little too warm for my liking, was a lovely spicy blend ($7.50). As for the other things on the plate, the fried polenta strip absorbed the juices well while the ratatouille didn’t really do much.
There was a bit of a wait for the dessert which was expected as we were told that it would take the kitchen 20 minutes to make my souffle (though somehow it felt like more than 20 minutes since our plates were cleared and when the souffle actually arrived).


The Leawood honey souffle with lemon tart ice cream. The waitress pierced the souffle with a spoon and instructed us to tip the honey into it to make itsweet. The souffle was beautiful – surprisingly not too sweet – and the lemon tart ice cream was refreshingly tangy with a hint of a “doughy” taste. Overall, a competent dessert…

… except for the fact that the biscuit (which the ice cream was placed on top of) was glued stuck onto the plate. We spent ages trying to pry it out with our cutlery. Booo.

The total bill was $131.50, but we got it down to $99 thanks to my Entertainment Book discount. In hindsight, I guess Mercer’s offers better value for dining compared to most city restaurants. Plus, their degustations are only about two-thirds the price of what you’d pay at say, Ezard and Flower Drum. That said, we both felt that the food could not really be described as ‘fine-dining.’ Adam’s main, for example, is something that one could easily find at a local pub or at someone’s house (i.e. Aaron’s). While it could be simply a case of ordering the wrong things, we would find it very hard to come up with another reason why Mercer’s warrants another visit.

Overhead: Bogan-trying-to-be-informative, sitting at the next table upon receiving his KINGFISH SASHIMI as part of his degustation meal: “Hmmm, I reckon this is raw pork.”

Oh eff me dead. Raw pork!!?!?!

Yamato

28 Corrs Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 1706

Jen decided that it was time for a catch-up before the Christmas rush to celebrate well, I dunno, the end of exams for some and just an excuse to have a not-quite-the-end-of-the-week dinner for others. We initially wanted to catch up at Momotaro Ramen for supposedly the best ramen in Melbourne but after realising that they were only a very small cafe and that they didn’t take bookings, we ended up going to Yamatoinstead. This tiny restaurant has been around for as long as I could remember and given that it is constantly featured in Cheap Eats, we figured that we would be in for some decent Japanese. The fact that it’s also located in an off beaten track just off Little Bourke Street makes it harder to find than an ABC in a Masters of Professional Accounting class at RMIT which makes it even more appealing to, dare I say it, Westerners.

I made a booking for 6pm sometime last week and all was good. Earlier this week, however, I received a call on my mobile from Yamato, telling me that another group was going to come to the restaurant at 8pm and that we had to be out by 7:45pm. Yes, I assured them, that was fine. That didn’t stop them from calling me every. effing. day. afterwards. Including this morning at 11:00am. .

Anyway, our party of ten was led to the private room which was probably no larger than half the size of Schapelle Corby’s prison cell. We were all made to take off our shoes before we stepped into the room “to keep the cushions clean for the next group of diners” which made some of the boys feel uncomfortable. By this stage though, I had long abandoned my heels for a much comfier pair of thongs so I had no issues. So yes, you could imagine how uncomfortable for the ten* of us to be squished into this tiny room – not the most pleasant feeling, especially when the weather was still quite warm at this stage.

*Guest list: Me, Adam, Jen, her boyfriend Phil, Shirley, her boyfriend Bill, Dave, Dan, Jan and her friend, Joanna. It was also the first time I had actually met Jan too. I was initially nervous about meeting her but I need not have worried as she is lovely and easy to talk to .

We decided to order a number of dishes to share between the ten of us so that we would get a variety of different things to taste. In no particular order…

Gyoza, they were pretty standard stuff. I’m glad that the skin was actually soft and thin compared to other so-called Japanese places that use wonton skins for their gyozas (*cough* that horrible place near my work, the name of which I can’t remember)

Takoyaki (foreground) and kani cream koroke (background). Again, standard stuff. I also need to say that while the Takoyaki filling tasted better than the ones I’ve had at other places as of late, there was hardly any octopus in it which I thought was disappointing.

Seafood and vegetable tempura ($14.30). Meh.

Tonkatsu, fried pork cutlets + dipping sauce ($12.90). This dish never ended up making it to my end of the table so I didn’t get a chance to try it…

Katsu nabe, same as above but served in casserole with vegies and bean thread noodles ($13.50). Same with this one…

Tori tatsutaage, deep fried marinated chicken ($13.50). And this one…

Sushi sashimi combo ($16.50). I found the fish, particularly the kingfish, to be extremely fishy in taste and smell which meant that they weren’t that fresh. I did have to laugh at Dave though, for trying proper raw salmon for the first time. While he didn’t throw up, Yamato’s sushi did not exactly turn him into a raw salmon convert. I must take this guy to Shoya, stat.

Yamato seafood, assorted seafood served on a sizzling hot plate with a “special cocktail sauce” ($13.50). It was way too salty for my liking and all I could identify amongst the tangle of “assorted seafood” and beanshoots was salmon chunks and tiny scallops. Meh.

Yakiniku, sliced beef and vegetables cooked in special sauce served on a hot plate ($13.50). Just as salty as the previous dish, I could not take another bite of it for the fear that my tongue would break off like sandpaper. The onions were also too undercooked for my liking and I thought the addition of the beanshoots in this dish was a bit odd.

There was discussion as to whether it was worth ordering more dishes. Most of us were full (not full-full but satisfied) whereas Shirley was so hungry that she was dying to go to Maccas and buy a “proper” meal. In the end, we decided call it a night … but not before several people ordered dessert from a menu which consisted of unsurprising items such as green tea ice cream, red bean ice cream etc etc. Check out Bill’s deep fried ice cream though…

Waahahaha! Yep, it tasted just as weird as it looked but I suppose it’s something that one needs to try at least once in their life…

It was $183.90 for the ten of us, so just over $18 each (including drinks). That may sound cheap but given the fact that the food was mediocre at best, the service somewhat pushy and our stomaches weren’t quite full, I didn’t really think that it was good value for money. I think that we would have been happier walking down Lonsdale Street and ordering just as much food at Izakaya Chuji, which churn out tastier food. Upon leaving, Shirley practically ran to Breadtop at QV while I decided to exercise willpower and cap off my food consumption for the night.

Yamato… might have been good a long time ago but it just didn’t do it for me tonight.

Cafe Vue (revisited)

340 Little Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3899
http://www.vuedemonde.com.au

1. Wheehehehe! I’m done with uni for the year! I sat my crim law B exam this morning but it wasn’t without its dramas.

2. My original intention was to take the bus into the city and then take the train to Caulfield where my exam was to be held. Last night, though, my dad offered to drive me to Huntingdale seeing as he would be passing the area on the way to work and so I could just hop on a train there, thus saving me time. That was cool with me, so at 7:15am we left the house, arriving at Huntingdale at 7:45am. Just as I was about to hop out of the car though, the news chick on the radio informed of some accident on the Pakenham/Cranbourne line – apparently some effing moron managed to get himself tangled onto a train, either by crossing the level crossing when he was NOT SUPPOSED to or by failing to stand behind the yellow line. Because of this, all trains weren’t running from Oakleigh to Murrumbeena and so there were more than a few commuters miling around at Huntingdale waiting for the bus that goes from Rowville to Caulfield. I was lucky to manage to hop on a bus that would actually fit me in to take me to Caulfield early enough for me to grab a coffee at chill out, but apparently others weren’t – and they took about 2 hours to commute to the city. Ouch. Thank fck for my habit of rocking up to exam venues early, otherwise I would have been totally screwed.

3. Although reading time was supposed to start at 9:30am, the doors didn’t open until 9:40am. And of course, we had to wait for the exam invigilators to hand everyone their papers one-by-one. I dunno why Monash don’t follow Melbourne and La Trobe’s leads by actually placing the paper on the students’ desks BEFORE THEY OPEN THE DOORS so that the exam papers are ready for us as soon as we sit down. Seriously, it would save a lot of time and it’ll avoid anals like getting grumpy.

4. The exam itself wasn’t bad. It was worth a hefty 90% (because I didn’t submit the optional 30% assignment) and 3 hours long. While I reckon I did well in the case section (60% of final mark), I wasn’t so sure about my policy essay (30%). I don’t remember much about the essay except that I pretty much gave up writing full sentences not even a paragraph into it and ended writing messy doing dot points instead. Sigh. Let’s hope I pass though. Then I don’t have to worry about crim law for the rest of my life.

5. Lunch time! Although my last visit to Cafe Vue left me grumpy, Adam was keen on trying the burger so it was with somewhat great reluctance that I went there for lunch. It was after 2pm when we walked in and the place was half-empty, which was a good sign, and indeed today’s experience was MUCH better than the last time. Adam declared his burger to be better than Rockpool‘s one and while my chicken and porcini mushroom pie ($9) could have done with a flakier pastry, the filling consisting of chicken breast chunks and a porcini paste went down a treat with a glass of Cooper’s Light.

Hot pie, salad and beer on a hot, hot day.

Love it.

6. Cafe Vue currently hold cocktail nights every Friday from 6:30pm ($75 per person gives you 5 different cocktails with matching finger foods) and Vue de Monde offer a $55-70 lunch Tuesday to Fridays. Let me know if anyone wants to come with me after I get back from Indonesia!

7. I can’t believe I’m flying off to Indonesia Saturday week. Gotta get my suitcase filled, stat. I will only need a limited number of clothes (our clothes will get washed pretty much every day thanks to the live-in maids at my relatives’ houses) and will fill the rest of my luggage up with cameras, Macbook and lots and lots of books.

8. I was intending to organise a team for trivia night at one of the city pubs this year but sadly, I never got around to doing it. Sigh. Next year, for reals.

9. Apart from the WTF threesome in this week’s episode, I think the best Gossip Girl episodes are the ones that involve a cotillion.

Golden House

760 Toorak Rd
Hawthorn East VIC 3123
+61 3 9822 3100

Adam’s mum’s birthday. Another effing Chinese place that needed to be found, this time something different from the Cantonese and Northern Chinese sit-down restaurants that we normally frequent in the city. My workmate George told me of this all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant in Hawthorn East where $20 per head gets you all the hot pot ingredients on offer and all the hot entrees (dumplings, spring onion pancakes etc) available – plus two free drinks which you can grab from the fridge (a variety of soft drink cans, bottled teas and soy bean drinks). Then for an extra $5 per head, they throw in Peking Duck too. This sounded pretty good to us so last night after work, we drove down to Golden House on Toorak Road.

Located halfway between Coles HQ and rows of million-dollar townhouses, this is the last one that one would find a hot pot restaurant. If it weren’t for the tacky gold-painted house-cum-restaurant flashing its neon signs at motorists and the hoards of fobs surrounding the premises, we probably would have missed it.

Walking into the restaurant, it is even more obvious that it used to be the living quarters of someone. It’s very similar to Jacques Reymond in structure in that each room was a separate dining area, the main one being right in the middle of the house which also housed the fridges and buffet station where we were to get our food. Our original plan was for Adam and I to get the $25 hot pot plus Peking duck option while Adam’s parents got the $20 no duck option seeing as they’re not big fans. We were told, however, that either everyone on the table had to get it or no one gets it. In the end, we all ended up getting it so we handed over our $100 before walking to our table.

Let me tell you now that this place is NOT gweilo-friendly. All the signs are in Chinese and all the waiters speak Chinese. I lost count of how many times I was spoken to in Mandarin before telling them that “I no speak Chinese.” You’d think that they’d immediately revert to English after they heard that, but they simply looked at me confused before frantically looking around for help. Sigh. Thank goodness for Adam’s parents’ ability to speak Mandarin though.

Our hot pot stove, divided into our choices of “normal” soup and “hot” soup.

A variety of raw meats, seafood, vegetables and tofu. Most of the offerings were frozen and similar to what any hot pot place would offer.

Pork buns (they were awful – too salty) and xiao long baos (they had no soup in them).

They had doughtsticks! (sadly, they were the most bland ones I’ve ever had the misfortune of trying)

Peking Duck. I have to admit that Golden House made an alright Peking duck for the price we paid. The best thing was that we could order as much as we want which was even better. The duck was neither dry or oily, and they were good with cutting off the yucky layer of fat underneath the skins which lots of restaurants don’t bother with. Thumbs down, though, for the way they just dolloped the sauce all over the cucumber and spring onions.

There were many things that ruined what could have been a decent night for me. Firstly, the fact that no one there spoke English was appalling. One would think that anyone working in Australia, particularly in a customer-facing role, would have SOME grasp of the English language. Secondly, the place was a mess. I lost count of how many health safety breaches were present in one night alone – sticky carpets, chairs covered in a film of chilli and grease, cooked roast ducks hanging RIGHT NEXT TO uncooked ones, plus Adam and I failed to remember if the buffet station was actually refrigerated or not which, in itself, is a bit worrying. If I wanted to kill my work’s OH&S officer, Mary-Ellen, I would definitely take her here (I don’t have a reason to kill her though… she’s lovely). Thirdly, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted when I saw fobs greedily grabbing plates of meat at the buffet station – like they thought they would run out or something – only to leave the establishment without even finishing the 10 billion plates of raw meat still on their tables which, of course, went to waste. I’m one of those people who HATE the thought of wasting food, particularly meat products, so naturally I was raging inside.

Given our experience, it’s doubtful that I’d go here again. Indeed, Golden House offers pretty much the same thing as most other hot pot places but they take it a step further by introducing the buffet format which is popular among Asians. Plus, the addition of hot entrees and cold drinks also makes this place a good-value option for dinner when you can’t be bothered cooking hot pot at home. Adam and I may have hated it, but the parentals LOVED it. In fact, Adam’s mum went so far to say that it was the best restaurant we have taken her to (?!?!) *facepalms*

And if you need more convincing as to how popular this place is, you only need to look at the many mini-buses of tourists from Mainland China that arrived at this place during the evening…