Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar (revisited)

80 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 1811

Today was my last weekday “day off” before school starts next week (as some of you know, I only work four days a week now). I decided to celebrate this day by getting out of bed at the early hour of 11:30am before heading into the city for lunch with Adam. I had been craving some decent Italian all week and after the horror that was Trunk, I was still not happy. Hence, why we took a stroll up Bourke Street Hill for some simple homely Italian at Grossi Florentino’s Cellar Bar. We had been there just over a year ago and thought it was pretty good, but we went straight for the mains rather than what everyone orders – the pastas. After hearing more and more endless stories about the Cellar Bar‘s pastas, we decided to revisit the place for some delicious carbs.

The dark but homely restaurant was exactly how I remembered it; it still retained its old world charm and it was still busy even though it was 2pm when we stepped into the bar. Luckily for us, there was one single table in the middle of the narrow dining room which we gladly accepted.
Obligatory bread and olive oil – good fruity Mt Zero olive oil, one of my favourite brands.
We shared a starter of polpette de baccala (salted cod croquettes, $16 for five). I know I’m being cliched when I say this, but I swear they were really golden fried to perfection. Very crispy and golden on the outside with not a residue of oil and extremely smooth and creamy on the inside. The filling was salty, as you would expect, but not overly salty as I would presume the salted cod fillets would have been soaked in water for a while before being blendered with the cream and flour. Accompanied by some rocket leaves and aioli, they were the perfect starters and according to Adam, “the best thing we’ve had in a long time.”
Adam’s pasta, a serving of pappardelle with duck liver and mushroom ragu ($18). This was a beautifully executed pasta. A generous serving of fat, homemade ribbons shared the bowl with a rich and creamy sauce. Add thick chunks of duck liver and chopped field mushrooms and you have yourself a winner. I would have liked the duck livers to be cooked a bit longer as they were a little hard but that’s the only gripe I have with this dish.

My pasta, the humble lasagne ($16). It might come as a surprise to many people but the simple lasagne is probably one of my favourite things to eat, especially in Winter. Now, baking a lasagne isn’t rocket science. I believe that anyone can make a decent one – it’s generally pretty easy, it’s just that it takes time to make one. Guy Grossi’s lasagne, however, was one that I would consider to be a pretty, pretty, pretty good lasagne. As my fork touched my tongue, I could taste pork as well as veal and chicken mince in the warm tomato sugo as well as a hint of basil and nutmeg. It was hearty and rich but also very delicate at the same time.

The punters have got it right when they say that The Cellar Bar makes good pasta. Indeed, don’t come here expecting something that will blow your mind away. The Cellar Bar specialises in simple, rustic Italian with the emphasis on fresh ingredients and cooking Italian food the way it should be. Even though The Cellar Bar might be the bottom rung of the Grossi Florentino restaurant ladder (there are two “higher-end” restaurants), ironically it is the one I like the most. For only $62 (including a glass of Shiraz for me and freshly-squeezed orange juice for Adam), I would be just as happy as I would walking out of THE Grossi Florentino upstairs after a $300 meal.


275 Exhibition St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 7994

I attended my first Body Pump class this evening and despite my initial apprehension, I found it to be a pretty cool class once I got the hang of it. My only whinge is having to spend a LOT of the time setting up, switching between different weights and dismantling the bits and pieces at the end. Naturally, I was extremely hungry afterward so I met up with Adam and Martin (who is still in Melbourne after his boss in Queensland told him that he can have a longer holiday) for some Italian food at Trunk. Having been around for just under two years now, Trunk has been receiving good reviews from critics and diners ever since its inception. The site began as a synagogue in 1859 before becoming a state school and then another Italian restaurant so it clearly has a lot of history behind it. In order to acknowledge that particular bit of history, the  owners of the restaurant have cheekily put that “If I Were A Rich Man” tune from Fiddler On The Roof as the background music for their website’s intro page which I thought was cute. The winning point for us in coming here, however, was hearing everyone talk about how they served THE best pizzas in the CBD. Awesome pizzas in a former synagogue? Sounds good to us!

We originally had a booking at 6:15pm but Martin, who was still operating on Queensland time, rocked up late so we didn’t get there until 6:40ish. We rang them to tell them so and they seemed pretty cool about it. The site, which is on Exhibition Street, houses the original synagogue which is obviously the restaurant as well as pretty cute courtyard dining area decorated with flashing Christmas lights. Now, the courtyard would have been the PERFECT place to have pizza and beer on a balmy Summer evening but alas, it was Winter and so we could only sit inside and count the days until Summer arrived.

Now, the dining room itself has a warehouse-feel that still felt cozy which would have looked really great… HAD THE LIGHTS BEEN ON. For some reason, management decided that it would be cool to have the lights so dim that one could hardly see the food they were eating, let alone their dining companions. Fair enough, they want to appear young, hip and modern to the predominantly yuppie dining crowd that sat on the tables tonight but c’mon, old people with bad eyesight like need to be able to feel comfortable too!

Okay, so we sat down and received ONE wine list between the three of us which meant that it took us a long time to get our drinks organised. Then we had to ask for our waters twice before we even received the food menu. Finally, everything was settled and we were then able to order. We figured that rather than each of us having one main meal each (the mains hovered around the mid-30 mark), we could grab a few pizzas and some other little dishes to share.

My somewhat unusual drink, a “hot apple pie” ($15) which came in a teapot. It’s basically like drinking an alcoholic apple pie from a teacup which sounds a bit strange and while it’s not something I could order again and again, it was nice to try something different such as a hot alcoholic drink. From memory, it was a mixture of hot apple cider, cinnamon and tuaca (which is some sort of brandy) and according to Martin, tasted like “that syrup you get in canned apples.”

Meanwhile, both Adam and Martin ordered some drink which I can’t remember the name of, except that it had a glace cherry in it (yeah, that helps). I was amused when the waitress came bearing pink drinks in a martini glass and seeing their shocked faces when they discovered that said pink drinks belonged to them. I was even more amused later on when I glanced at the boys who happened to be sitting across each other so it looked like they were on some kind of gay date, sipping their pink drinks. Despite both boys calling their drinks “pretty gay”, they bought enjoyed it and Martin even asked for another one… “but in a less flamboyant glass.”

 We waited about 15 minutes for the first edible thing to arrive on the table, which was our bread and olive oil. While I admit that the warm sourdough bread (which was cut up into slices) was delicious, I thought that it would have been better presented to us straight after we had placed our orders so that we could have something to chew on.

Our appetizers then took another 10 minutes to arrive. We started off with some tarragon pickled cauliflower ($10) which Martin was keen on ordering just so he could, once again, mention the fact that he was born in Serbia (haha, only kidding). The first time I tried this was at Hellenic Republic which made a fine version but Trunk‘s was a little bit tastier, probably thanks to the addition of toasted mustard seeds in the dressing.

Food bloggers have been swearing by the arancini balls so we ordered a serving of them (3 for $12). I was clearly expecting them to be mindblowingly good but they were actually quite boring to eat. While I give props for the amazingly crispy skin, the rice inside was a little undercooked and the filling (taleggio and cauliflower) a little bit bland.

Okay, I would like to mention here that we had to wait half an hour for our pizzas to arrive. While we were okay with just sitting around and talking, half an hour is still way too long a wait especially seeing as the restaurant wasn’t buzzing. Plus, the longer we waited, the more full we got and so we struggled to finish off our three pizzas and our pastas which weren’t actually huge (we left about six slices of pizza).

The Number 2 (Pomodoro “Plus”, $15). Although the name of the dish literally translates to “Tomatoes Plus”, it was the chorizo that dominated the plate. Thick slices of salty-but-not-at-all-spicy chorizo dotted the crispy but airy dough which was also covered with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, olives and according to the menu, capers (though I couldn’t taste any).

The Number 6 (Prosciutto, $18). Again, a solid base with tomato, basil and buffalo mozarella … and a crowning of freshly sliced prosciutto. For some reason, the prosciutto was awesome enough to eat on its own but tasted a little flat when eaten with the rest of the pizza… hmmmm….?

The Number 7 (Funghi, $15). I think I liked this one out of all the pizzas. It was smeared with only the slightest hint of extra virgin olive oil and porcini pesto before being covered with sauteed field mushroom and mozzarella. While I would have liked the porcini pesto to have a little more flavour, it was nevertheless a decent-tasting pizza thanks to the intense earthy flavour of the field mushrooms.

We also shared a main-sized serving of pappardelle with rabbit ragu ($28) which I found a tad disappointing. While I give props for a textbook perfect pasta (chewy, al dente, yada yada yada), I found the ragu to be a little too salty for my liking and way too watery. In fact, it was so watery that I felt that it could have passed as a soup. Hence, you could imagine the three of us trying to grab some pasta only to have all the sauce and rabbit meat fall off each strand of pasta and land with a kerplunk back onto the plate it came from. Fail.

Were these the best pizzas in the CBD? Not by a long shot. Sure, they didn’t suck completely but I felt that they could have made a bit more of an effort as they all lacked that little something. Back when Trunk had only just opened, Nicky Riemer (who apparently knows how to cook mean Italian food) was the head chef but she has since left to work elsewhere so perhaps that’s why I wasn’t feeling anything tonight. We paid $156 for the three of us, including drinks which, given the satisfaction factor this evening (food, waiting time and ambience) was rather expensive. Give me +39 for artesan pizza in the CBD any day!

Charming Spice

Level 1, 276 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 9898

Aaron and Shandell were in town for their wedding preparations and a bunch of us decided to have a big dinner party before they flew back to Perth. Okay, so there were only three who made it (Adam, Cathy and Kanishk) but given that Adam bought me along (seeing as I’m pretty much part of the family anyway) and given that Cathy bought her squeeze along (MY friend Aaron … not that the other Aaron isn’t my friend. I mean, he IS. But I still think of him first and foremost as Adam’s former boss), it would be a big enough party anyway. Confused yet? Yeah, so am I. While Cathy was finishing her shift at the shop, everyone else decided to have a few drinks at Lounge on Swanston Street bar me who had to stick with boring water because I had been sick all week, boo.

So Cathy and the other Aaron arrived and for some reason, Cathy wanted us all to have bloody Szechuan food never mind that I was recovering from a severe flu and couldn’t stomach such spicy food and never mind that Adam doesn’t like Szechuan food but because we couldn’t be bothered arguing and walking around for an alternative place to eat, we decided to go around the corner to the new Szechuan restaurant on Lonsdale Street, Charming Spice, which sits on the site of the now-defunct Shun Feng Seafood Restaurant and has probably the most blatantly fobby restaurant name on this side of Chinatown. The restaurant is still in its honeymoon phase, only having been opened for around two months. The week it opened, loud fob disco music could be heard playing from the restaurant in order to attract punters but it was so bad that it made me and Adam run away from the place rather than go in. So when Cathy suggested going there, I was naturally hesitant but finally relented when she said that it was quite good and that there were a few non-spicy items on the menu.

Ok, so the first thing that hit me when we walked up the stairs and into the lantern-decorated cafeteria was the pungent smell of garlic and chilies. Given that I was not in a good state, you could imagine how much it did my head in. Ugh. We were seated in a long table in the middle of the room and presented with 10 billion page menus which contained pictures of the dishes complete with Chinese descriptions and English translations on almost all items (except a few food items which were apparently too “weird” for gweilos to stomach such as dishes containing pig’s blood stew and according to Cathy, bull penises). There were a few examples of Engrish which prompted Adam and boss Aaron to explode in fits of laughter such as “punkin cakes” and “pork mama.” I was getting my camera out and taking photos of said menu items but not before some bitchface fob waitress snatched the menu off me and snapped “no photos” before giving me the evil eye. Seriously? Like I’d come to a restaurant trying to get some ideas on menu design for when I want to set up my own mainlander cuisine restaurant… pfffft. Because I wasn’t paying for my meal, I didn’t pay much attention to what was being ordered and how much everything was so my descriptions would be sketchy at first but as always, I do try my best…

Stir-fried sliced dried tofu with chilli and szechwan pepper ($16.80). This was the first time I tried “tofu noodles” and I thought they were quite nice (haha Adam didn’t even realise that they were made out of tofu) but I wasn’t sure about the sauce. To me, it was just a messy concoction of chilli, oil and peppercorns and eating it felt like a warzone was entering my mouth which was definitely not pleasurable. The fact that there was still about 70% of this dish left on the table at the end of the meal meant that everyone else didn’t really like it too…

This was a tamer but more boring dish of minced pork, green beans, peppers and chilli. It had a sweet soy aftertaste which I didn’t particularly like. I don’t remember much about this dish (name, price etc) except that it wasn’t entirely memorable… sorry.

More mild dishes, but this time they were actually halfway decent. In front are a plate of steamed Szechuan dumplings (15 pieces for $8.00) which tasted a lot like the ones at Shanghainese restaurants but sweeter and lighter in taste. It came with a little bowl of chilli own that was mixed with malted vinegar, soy and toasted sesame which I really liked. For some reason, no one else liked the dumplings which was good because that meant that there were more for me!

Behind the dumplings are some dry stir fried beans with minced pork ($14.80) which, again, were quite good. They were by no means bland because there was so much flavour thanks to a liberal dosage of salted pickled vegetables and more peppercorns. Yummy.

The main event: I don’t know what this dish is called but it’s like Chongqing chicken, but with prawns instead of chicken (again, I don’t recall how much it was but it was the most expensive dish we ordered. $20-30, I’d say). It was served on a plate holding a mountain of refried birds eye chilies (shudders at “refried”) and basically, you had to dig your way through the mass of red to find your prawns which were coated in flour and peppercorns and then fried. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this dish. I hated how the act of finding the prawns was a task more cumbersome than prying meat out of mud crabs and I hated the thought that the chilies were probably used in several other dishes for other people before they eventually landed on our table. Despite all that chilli, however, the prawn that I managed to grab for myself wasn’t all that hot and only a little bit spicy. No one else, apart from boss Aaron, particularly liked this dish too and well, the massive pile of chilli still left on the plate after every prawn was taken just looked ridiculous…

Spicy chicken with wood ear mushrooms. To be honest, I didn’t get to try this dish as it remained on the other side of the table…haha… oh Libby, you are clearly failing this post…

Grilled pancake with spring onion (8 pieces for $3.60). Surprisingly, this wasn’t bad at all. It was even more flavoursome than most versions at dumpling restaurants too…

Aaron loves his prawns…

The food was reasonably priced, we paid around $151 for the seven of us and that included drinks and steamed rice (at $1.50 per person). Most of the mains were in the $10-25 mark, and each smaller dishes were less than $10 so sharing several dishes between a few of you would mean a pretty cheap meal for everyone. Foodwise, there were a lot of misses but also a lot of pleasant surprises. As for the service, well there are heaps of things that could be improved upon. I wasn’t happy about having my menu snatched by the fob bitch but fair enough, she had to do what management told her to do but as for the other staff, they weren’t exactly friendly either. Seriously, a smile or two wouldn’t hurt. Thirdly, there are cold drinks located in a fridge towards our table. There are signs on the fridge clearly stating that there is no self service which is fair enough because otherwise everyone would be stealing drinks left, right and centre. Adam did not see the sign (?) and so he gallantly went to get a soy bean drink for me when my mouth was tingling from that fried tofu stew. The whole table was yelling out at him to stop but he didn’t hear us. We noticed that a few fob male waiters were practically a metre away from him and clearly, they saw that Adam was helping himself to the drink but none of them did anything to stop him. Instead, they were pointing at him and whispering amongst themselves. Talk about whimp much? In the end, Cathy had to go up to one of them and tell them that Adam was from our table and to charge the drink to our bill. Sigh.

Given my predisposition to Szechuan cuisine, my review was clearly clouded so I’m probably not the best person to ask about this place but when I asked Adam about it, he gave it an even harsher rating – “shitty Mainlander crap,” he spat out whereas Aaron said that it was “fairly standard Szechuan fare.” To me and Adam, Charming Spice is a perfect example of how irritating Szechuan food can be. Rather than use chillies and Szechuan peppercorns to enhance the dishes, they are used way too liberally and so they end up overpowering the ingredients to the point of suffocation. I haven’t tried Dainty Schihuan yet (apparently one of the best Sczechuan restaurants in the city) so I don’t have anything to compare it to but for now, I’m still of the view that Cantonese cuisine reigns supreme over all other Chinese food!

Squires Loft (Melbourne CBD)

12 Goldie Pl
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 7317

Our good friend Martin was down in Melbourne for some wedding that he had to attend so Adam and I decided to catch up with him today when he was not busy with wedding preparations. After spending the afternoon wandering around the CBD (a disproportionate part of which was spent at the Chanel boutique eying THE bag which will be MINE MINE MINE once I file my tax return, heeh!), we ended up at a shady-looking laneway between Lonsdale and Lt Bourke Street for dinner. The destination was Squires Loftwhich, to many people, serve THE best steaks in Melbourne. Martin had been pestering me to go to Squires Loft for about two years now but I’ve been putting it off. He lives in Queensland and makes the trip down south several times a year, and every. single. time. he would ALWAYS go to Squires Loft without fail. I’ve also heard good things about this place from other people – funnily enough, all of them are Asian. On the other hand, I’ve never seen it reviewed in any media publication nor have I seen it mentioned in the Good Food Guide. Secondly, I found it odd that if Squires Loft was truly THE best steakhouse in Melbourne, why isn’t it up there with Rockpool and Vlados? Hmmm, only one way to find out…

Okay, so we rocked up on time for our 6pm booking and we were promptly led to a ridiculously tiny table in the middle of the dark but down-to-earth space. Three small slices of sourdough with accompanying Western Star butter pats were already placed for us to nibble  on, which were spankin’ fresh from the oven – though thumbs down for not being offering any more bread. While most of the menu items came from the cow (duh), there were a few chicken items and something like, one vegetarian dish though why anyone would take a vegetarian to a steakhouse is beyond me… (though I’d probably do it just for the lulz)

Only moments after placing our order, our entree arrived. A sizzling plate of 500g pork spare ribs ($27) was apparently a must for anyone wishing to dine here and indeed, they were damn good. They were marinated in the “special Squires Loft sauce” which they also use on their steaks (kinda like a spicy BBQ sauce) and so tender they were that the meat just fell off the bone and melted in my mouth. I think the only thing I would like to comment here though is that they probably would have been better if they were cooked a littler longer (Martin also agreed that they were “undercooked”) but apart from that, they were fantastic. Haha, we talked about asking our waitress to wrap the bones in a doggy bag for my dogs to enjoy at home – Vega would have been in doggy heaven – but in the end, we wussed out which was probably for the best anyway…

Okay, all three of us had a 200g eye fillet steak ($32.50) so there really isn’t any point taking multiple photos (some of you breathe a sigh of relief). The only difference between our mains were that I ordered mine med-rare while the boys chose rare and I had a baked potato with my steak while the boys had chips (you get an option of having chips or a baked potato with your steak). Oh, the three of us also chose to have a sauce with our steaks ($4.50 per sauce), each of us choosing different ones so that we could try a variety of them; I chose the mushroom sauce. While my steak might not look particularly filling, a 200g portion is definitely enough to keep you full (though who wouldn’t be full after devouring a bunch of ribs beforehand?). Taste-wise, I thought it was pretty good – my steak was textbook excellent in that it was juicy, tender and very tasty – but to be honest, I was expecting a mind-blowing, out of body experience and I was somewhat disappointed when it did not arrive. It was definitely a good steak and certainly miles better than what a lot of so-called “steakhouses” can make but I think the fact that Martin talked it up so much made me set my expectations a bit too high.

We also had some sides with our steaks. Fried onions ($8.50) which were just onions tossed in flour and then fried (no crumbs) and a garden salad ($10).

Here is a nice table shot from Martin’s side of the table. As you can see, he gets straight to the point and doesn’t waste time with trying to be “artistic” with food shots, hahaha. The sauce you can see in the photo is his creamy garlic sauce which wasn’t as awesome as my mushroom sauce but was nevertheless pleasant. In fact, it tasted a lot like a pasta sauce that I sometimes like to make when I’m feeling peckish in the middle of the night that involves a clove of garlic and lots and lots of butter, heeeeh! Adam’s mustard sauce, meanwhile, was way too strong for my liking and almost made me hurl (though I give it credit for clearing my nose!).

Okay, so I asked for my steak to be cooked med-rare. I think that it erred on the side of “rare” to be honest. Not that it bothered me a great deal but still…

The bill was just a tipple below $170 for the three of us, including drinks which isn’t really TOO bad but I did expect a bit more bang for my buck. Both guys also agreed with me in that the dinner wasn’t that spectacular apart from perhaps the ribs. Martin did say that the South Yarra restaurant, the original site, is the best one out of the four or so restaurants they have in Melbourne and so we should go there next time. So yes, it was good and definitely beats many other steakhouses’ offerings but from that visit alone, I cannot concur that Squires Loft serves the best steak that Melbourne has to offer. I am interested in reading what Dave has to say about Rockpool when he goes there later this month…

Pasta Rustica Ristorante

148 Lygon St
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9663 8125

Last night Mark gathered his peeps for his 25th birthday dinner on Lygon Street which could only mean that we were in for some tacky Italian-Aussie grub *shudders* Apart from Balzari, no Italian restaurant on Lygon Street is good in my opinion which is a shame because they used to serve good food back in the day. Instead of tasty home-made goodness, we’re getting spaghetti marinara, for example, which looks plastic and is overladen with a bucket of cream and frozen seafood extender *shudders again* So when Mark announced that he was having his birthday at Pasta Rustica, one of the even more tackier Italian restaurants on the Ying Thai/Safeway side of Lygon Street that’s always got spruikers out the front, I knew that I was in for an interesting time.

The table was booked for 7pm but of course when me and Adam arrived on time after walking there by foot from the city, no one was there except Mark and about two other people whom I had not met before. Anyway, we spent about 45 mins waiting for the others to come which needed no further explanation from me as to how I (and the others who bothered to come on time) felt. We finally ordered our meals and sat around talking about (what else) Michael Jackson (RIP, by the way).

As we waited for our food to come, I took in our surroundings which I felt were a bit OTT. While I commend the owners’ efforts in trying to evoke some rustic charm to the place, I felt that it was a bit overdone. Had they left it with the exposed brick walls and fireplace, all would have been okay but they decided to decorate the room with all sorts of things that were synonymous with Italy – bust figurines of Nero, Italian flags, etc. Ugh. After a 30 minute wait (!!!), we finally got our meals.

My fettuccine pesto ($19.90 for a main-sized plate, or $14.90 for entree-sized). The middle-aged waitress who looked like she couldn’t be effed with her shift tonight actually tried to talk me out of ordering a main-sized pasta. She said that because I was skinny, I would not be able to finish it because it was HUGE. I told her that I do eat a lot (as you all know, hahaha) and besides, I had barely eaten all day so BRING IT ON. She seemed a bit taken-back before she shrugged and noted my order. Well, she wasn’t joking when she said that the mains were huge. My pasta was a massive mound as huge as Mt Vesuvius itself. Sadly, it was terrible. There was no flavour in the sauce which led me to believe that they used a dud olive oil. The shavings of Parmesan on top did nothing to make it taste better and so I had to heap a spoonful of that Kraft Parmesan cheese shite that was sitting on the table. It was horrible but because I was so hungry, I ate it all which prompted the waitress to go bonkers when she saw a clean plate. HA!

Adam’s penne calabrese ($20.90, main). If I thought mine was bad, his was 10 billion rungs below uber-shite. It was simply nothing more than a sauce made with canned tomato paste and salami which tasted somewhat off. For some reason, there was a metallic aftertaste every time I took a bite. Ohhh quelle horreur!

We both shared a serving of herb bread (three slices for $4.90). Again, nothing impressive and nothing that you can’t buy in the Latina pasta section of Safeway but surprisingly, this was the best part of our meal. Ick. Never again.

JG Dumplings (revisited)

78 Kings Way
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 8113
This week involved: My cousin Jess’ 24th birthday at Golden Dragon Palace, a World Cup qualifier between Australian and Japan at the ‘G (which was a bit of a pointless match anyway, seeing as Australia was already in the World Cup), oh, and food. This time at JG Dumplings again.
The fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $8.50) were as good, if not better, as I remember them. And so darn crispy too. Oh, and not AS oily as last time. Awesomeness.

Steamed prawn and chicken dumplings (10 for $8.00). They were no different to the ones they serve at Bob’s Kitchen, a few shops down but they were fine enough.

The surprise pick of the lot: Shanghai noodles ($8.00). I say surprise because I haven’t had one decent serve of Shanghai noodles for a very long time. In fact, the best one I’ve had is at Shanghai Gourmet in Springvale which is a tad too far for me to drive to if all I want is fried noodles (and when I end up in Springvale, I almost HAVE to have Vietnamese anyway…). As of late, the noodles I’ve had at other places were either too greasy, not tasty enough, the noodles too thin (some even use Hokkien (!!) or a case of too much cabbage and not enough pork. Enter JG’s version and you have a hot plate of thick noodles (the way they should be), the right ratio of vegies and pork and zomg, plenty of mushrooms and flavour. It’s a tad on the greasy side but seriously, LOVE!

Trippy Taco

48A Smith St
Collingwood VIC 3065
+61 3 9415 7711

After my exam yesterday, I decided to run a few errands around the city before deciding to have a late lunch at 2pm. Having walked from the city to East Melbourne, I figured that another stroll to Smith St for some cheap lunch grub wouldn’t hurt. The problem was that lunch hour was just about to wrap up and so my choices were limited. Not wanting to have Maccas for lunch, I decided to walk a bit further and check out a place that Aaron recommended the other week, Trippy Taco. It is a relative newcomer on Smith Street’s left-of-centre scene but it definitely draws punters in like wildfire. Another thing is that Trippy Taco only serves vegetarian dishes, something that would normally put me off visiting a restaurant but curiosity got the better of me and so I decided to see it for myself.

The self-confessed “Fresh Mex” (har-har) cafe was very small but what it lacked in size is definitely made up for in the brightly-painted walls and the flamboyant Israeli dude who was working there at the time.

I grabbed a table and sat there for a few minutes with my book while I waited for my food to arrive. It was the first time I’ve actually sat down at a restaurant/cafe on my lonesome for quite a while and the feeling doesn’t make me comfortable for some reason. I dunno what my problem is but I never really liked dining alone. Anyway.

My taquitos (which are $8.50, but I asked for soy cheese which was an extra 50 cents on top of that for a truly vegan experience). The spring-roll looking things you see on your left (I received three of them) are crispy fried home-made corn tortillas filled with some sort of mushy black bean filling. To be honest, the filling was a bit bland for my liking but props for the fact that the tortillas remained crispy even after being bogged down with fresh guacamole. On the right was a fresh salad, dressed with nothing more than a bit of lime and salsa. You can’t really see the cheese there because there was hardly any. I also couldn’t taste anything ‘cheesy’ while eating it which proves that soy cheese tastes just as boring as it sounds. In spite of what I’ve said, however, I thought my meal was pretty good. Sure, it wasn’t terribly tasty but it was clean, it was fresh and okay, let’s face it, it was good to eat Mexican food (or tex-mex, fresh-mex, whatever) that didn’t taste like anything you could easily whip up at home (I’m looking at you Panchos Cantina and Taco Bill). It may sound somewhat ironic but the result of the juxtaposition of contrasting bland (but fresh) flavours and textures made for a pretty satisfying meal. Weird. And trippy.

I will definitely return again to try their tacos or their huevos rancheros but if anything, at least this experience is proof that I can never go on a full-on vegetarian diet for the rest of my life…

I arrived back home at around 4pm yesterday, which is pretty early for me. I heard the sound of a wok hissing in the kitchen which signified to me that mum was home, getting dinner ready. Not wanting to risk her asking me how my exam went (I hate conversations about exams/school/marks with my parents), I locked the front door slowly to minimise noise and tip-toed to my room where I fell promptly asleep.

An hour later though, I felt something nudge my feet which made me scream in fear. Then I heard someone else screamed which made ME scream even louder. After gathering my senses, I realised that it was in fact my mum in my room. It turned out that she actually HEARD the door open and for some reason, thought it was an intruder. For some reason, she freaked out silently in the kitchen for an hour before deciding to look in all our rooms to see if the intruder was still there and when she came into MY room and saw a pair of bare feet dangling over my bed, she thought the intruder was asleep on my bed . Of course, I wasn’t happy about being awoken from my slumber but I was more amused at the fact that my mum WAITED an hour before doing something and the fact that she didn’t call my dad or even one of us kids (or as I would have done, ran out of the house). And I was even more amused that she actually THOUGHT that an intruder would actually fall asleep on my bed – I mean, seriously?! As I was sitting there laughing at her, she started muttering something about me never being home this early. It was like, pffft mum, I can’t come home before a certain time? ever?

Mothers .

Ajisen Ramen (Melbourne CBD)

130 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 1100

I was *planning* to spend this weekend studying for exams but come Sunday evening and I realise that I’ve accomplished … nothing.

Things I’ve done instead of studying:
-Go on facebook
-Went on eBay
-Downloaded music
-Finished watching Educating Rita
-Watched World Cup 2006 replays, including that match against Uruguay from 2005
-Painted my nails
-Started reading a Sophie Kinsella chick-lit
-Kept up to date with the footy on (and yelled and screamed when both Carlton and Adelaide won which means that I will slip a few places down the ladder in my work tipping competition)
-Made a batch of ricotta, chive and cherry tomato tarts which I got the recipe off Kelly (who got the recipe from Not Quite Nigella). Sorry guys, no photos. They were gone just like that!
-Harassed my workmates on facebook chat
-Gone window-shopping at Shoppo (Adam bought two pairs of jeans, I bought nothing)

And of course, this list won’t be complete without a food review of some sort…

Ajisen Ramen. Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve been to this rather busy ramen restaurant on Bourke St (sometime in 2007, I think) but we figured that a return visit was needed. Now, ramen in Melbourne isn’t all that great but out of all the places in the CBD, this one’s probably the most decent. That was my opinion in 2007. Yesterday’s visit, however, just left me out cold.

My gyoza ramen ($11). Okay, firstly, who the eff puts lettuce in their ramen? Secondly, the noodles tasted and felt a lot like those white Chinese dan-dan noodles. Thirdly, THERE WAS A BUCKETLOAD OF MSG IN THE SOUP! We all know that most ramen places in the city will put varying amounts of MSG in their ramen, including Ajisen Ramen, but I don’t recall ever tasting so much MSG in one bowl of ramen. Not good. Oh well, at least the gyoza were decent – and they didn’t fall apart too.

Adam’s tonkatsudon (crumbed pork + rice) (also $11). This was not a particularly strong dish – pretty much what one would get at any Japanese eatery – but I actually enjoyed it more than my ramen. At least it didn’t leave my throat feeling like sandpaper. Hmmph.

The total meal cost $25 (including green tea, at $1.50 each) but I got it down to $18.80 thanks to my entertainment book discount. We won’t be back.

Now, back to studying I go!

Funky Curry

164 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 2299

Adam and I enjoyed an early dinner tonight at Funky Curry on Bourke Street (there is also another Funky Curry on King Street which is supposedly better but Bourke Street’s restaurant is more convenient for most of us). Now, I’ve heard a handful of people wax lyrical about this place but I think the phrases “RECESSION SPECIAL! $6.50 FOR 2 NAANS AND 2 CURRIES, MON – FRI 4:30pm – 6:00pm” written on bright fluro paper drew us in. And although we were apprehensive at the thought of having to eat bain marie food, we decided to give it a go anyway.

The restaurant itself is pretty simple but the owners did their best to brighten it up by painting all the walls in garish shades of greens, yellows and oranges. There are also random messages scrawled in black texta all over these walls, from philosophical musings about forgiveness to more raunchy ones containing sexual innuendo and pure random ones such as “there are two million gods in India.”

My $6.50 “recession deal.” Two warm naans and two curries “fresh” from the bain marie, butter chicken and chana masala (spicy chickpea gravy). I know that butter chicken is one of those “gweilo” dishes that Indians probably roll their eyes over so when I requested mine to be “mild” rather than “spicy”, I could tell that the chicks serving me were giggling in their heads . Despite that though, it was still very flavourful and the chickpea gravy had so much fire and spice for my two dishes anyway.

Adam was hungrier than me, having not yet consumed lunch. He ordered a deal where you get three naans and three curries for (I think it was) $10.50. Among the two vegetable dishes (one with potatoes and one with dumplings) was a pretty decent lamb korma.

We were both pleasantly surprised at how decent the food was, given our initial reluctance to eat from a bain marie and at such good prices too. At any other time, my meal would have cost $8.90 (or $7.90 with my student card) and that would have still been a bargain. While Funky Curry is not the best Indian in the city (Red Pepper on the top end of Bourke St wins it for me, so far), it is definitely miles ahead of many of its competitors within a km radius. And when it comes to bain marie Indian food, Funky Curry would definitely roll Flora up in a blunt and smoke it. To steal a few words from Pseudo Echo (who, in turn, stole them from Lipps Inc), the curries kept us movin’ and groovin’ with some energy all the way up to Target where I bought a few mini muffin pans and before resting our feets at Borders. An hour later, however, I wasn’t feeling quite so friendly towards Funky Curry and neither was Adam. We were both feeling a little light in the head and my stomach started to ache a little. Grrr. No good .

Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge

74-76 Kingsway
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9561 9888

Lunch in Glen Waverley followed by Angels and Demons was on the cards for Ad Lib today. We had a “buy one main, get one free” voucher for Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge on Kingsway so we decided to give it a go. It was just after 1pm when we arrived to a VERY loud jazz band doing their thang by the front door. A quick survey of the restaurant showed that it was about 70% full but we were able to find a vacant booth in the middle of the dining room (I love cushy booths!). We noticed that it was rather dark inside, even though the sun was out. I think the owners wanted to make it “cool” to the young ones which I thought was a bit dumb because after all, it was only 1pm in GLEN WAVERLEY, ffs. Needless to say, reading the menu (and taking photos!) proved to be a bit of a task.

My crumbed calamari rings ($21.90) with a “botique” salad (nothing but a few greens, onions and tomatoes and Italian dressing) and shoestring fries. There was also a smidgen of tartare sauce in a scallop shell – I couldn’t decide whether to find that cute or just plain lame. I suppose my meal was okay but for $21.90, it felt a bit steep. The same meal would have only cost about $15 in Flinders Lane, I reckon.

Adam’s “Deeelicious lamb gyros” ($24.90) – no really, it actually says “deeelicious” on the menu. I thought my meal was just “meh,” but Adam’s was of suckage standard. The “wood-fired” pita bread was stale, the feta cheese in the Greek salad smelt like it was off and the lamb was overcooked and tired.

The total bill would have been $55.90 (including a glass of sav blanc for me and a short macc for Adam) but because my main was free, Adam only paid $34. We both agreed that while $55.90 was way too much for food of this standard, $34 was still too expensive. Bleh food, instrusive jazz music, a dark dining room. I suppose the service wasn’t TOO bad except for the fact that our waters (which we asked for prior to ordering) never did arrive. Sigh. I guess it was good to go to Glen Waverley to try non-Asian food but looking back, I would have rather much have dumplings next door for less than $20!

“So that’s where Shine Cafe Bar & Lounge have been storing the feta cheese…”

Angels and Demons. Yeah, I’ve always thought that this book would make a better movie than The Da Vinci Code and after watching it today, I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, so it’s not going to win any Oscars but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I hated that one minute, they’re running around Rome and the next minute, Tom Hanks is reciting the history behind every stupid statute. While all the facts and stories sound interesting on paper, it just sounds dull and disjointed on screen.

On the other hand, I liked that the script was tighter than TDVC and I liked seeing Ayelet Zurer as Vittoria Vetra. She may not be the hottest brunette in the world but she has this earthy beauty that I admire. I was also glad that she and Tom Hanks, whom I will never EVER accept as Robert Langdon, did not have a romantic relationship in the film because clearly there was no chemistry between them. To have her kiss Tom-as-Robert would just be forced and soo ewwww (I mean, really, who in their right mind would kiss Tom Hanks?). I would probably only recommend you watch this movie if you’ve read the book because it does get confusing especially to those who have no idea what the story is about… though on second thoughts, Adam never read the book but he seemed engrossed in the movie the whole time so I guess it couldn’t have been THAT bad .