Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Pearl

631-633 Church Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 4599
http://www.pearlrestaurant.com.au/

In accordance with our promises to not buy each other a birthday present this year and instead, take the other one out to dinner, Adam took me to Pearllast night. After hearing our mate Matty wax lyrical about this place, we decided that it would be a nice place to celebrate my 24 years on this earth.

Located on the not-really-fashionable Church Street, the restaurant and bar is a well, pearl, amidst the drab furniture warehouses and business centres of Amcor and the like. On the outside, it doesn’t really look like much. It looks like an average bistro with a plastic-covered outdoor dining area, rather than one of Melbourne’s 2-hatted restaurants. In fact, one could easily miss the place while driving down Church St because it’s that blehhhh (note: Once you’ve gone past the river, that’s when you’ve gone too far). Once you enter the door (that opens on its own), however, you are greeted by friendly faces and a warm but effortlessly modern and uncluttered dining room.

The dining room wasn’t so busy when we rocked up at 7pm so we had the undivided attention of a pretty blonde waitress who was prompt with giving us our menus, water and home-made bread fresh from the oven that was designed to break apart accompanied by drizzle of lime-infused Cobram Estate extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of Murray River sea salt. (The photo of the dining room was supposed to give you guys a better idea of how nice the place looked but the stupid lady in orange just ruins the photo).

Although Pearl has an extensive wine list with a commendable list of wines available by the glass, I decided to grab a cocktail this time. In this case, I ordered a “Thai Me Up” ($17) which, I guess, was supposed to encapsulate the flavours of Thailand in one neat glass. It was a fiery combination of gin, limoncello and pomegranates, topped with fresh mint and basil. As a cute little touch, half a red chilli was placed on the rim of the glass which Adam cheekily took off and proceeded to down all the seeds into my drink. Not funny .

Prior to our entrees, we received an amuse bouche of a fried taro cracker topped with crab meat, red grapefuit, pomegranate and stuff you’d find on a complimentary plate of salad/herbs at a Vietnamese restaurant. The little morsel was then topped with Yarra Valley salmon roe. The result tasted like, well Vietnam. But without the nastiness associated with Springvale teenyboppers and their fake Guess bags and Supre harem pants.

My entree was called “an ever changing tasting plate of raw, cooked and cured fresh water, ocean and shell fish” ($32), which changes according to the seasons. For easy identification, I’ve labeled all the elements in the photo so you will know which little blob I’m referring to. Each element was very different from the other, which made this dish an exciting exhibit of contrasting textures and flavours. The mahi-mahi (a type of white fish) pastrami, for example, may have smelt a bit like a Connex’s passengers armpits on the 8:15am city-bound train but it tasted sweet compared to the crunchy crust around it which was spicy. Meanwhile, the scallop tartare was tangy and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the sour citrus dressing that masked the natural sweetness of the scallop fresh. The “rain forest pearls” were in fact a “caviar” made by some kind of fruit which I couldn’t identify and while they did nothing to add to the taste of the scallop, their sparkling absence would have made this dish naked.

While the soused Murray cod flesh (soused, meaning cooked in mild vinegar) was also sour, it was more successful than the previous dish in that the vinegar penetrated the flesh well yet was also able to retain its natural flavour. The fish was served with some cooling slices of cucumber, some green chilli and Yarra Valley salmon roe, the combination creating all sorts of chaos in my taste buds. Finally, after all that excitement the more demure slices of sashimi tuna acted like a bit of a cleanser. So clean and sleek was it that it barely needed the wasabi or the soy and mirin sauce that was provided.

Adam’s entree, the wok-fried pearl meat with shitake, chive buds, ginger and soy. At $42 a pop, this is not a cheap entree. In fact, when an entree is more expensive than half the mains on the menu, you know that it is going to be super special. The reason why it’s so expensive is because it comes from Broome (where else?!) and apparently, they only make 200kg of it annually with each single kg selling for $130ish. The byproduct of a South Sea Pearl (Silver Lip Pearl Oyster, if you like) whose pearl-making capabilities are beyond its use-by-date, it is carefully nurtured in the wild for that much longer before being shipped to posh restaurants on the East Coast in specially refrigerated trucks to keep it from spoiling. The taste: Well, it tasted a LOT like fishcakes and abalone and scallops, with the texture of abalone. It was certainly very good, the sauce tasting a lot like okonomiyaki topping but perhaps a bit too rich for poor Adam who was still nursing a cold. While we both loved the taste of the pearl meat, we both agreed that this was something that one would normally order once in a while rather than every time.

At this point, the place was filling up and the service was getting a little slow. Part of the reason why, I guess, was because a lot of the diners had no idea what half the stuff on the menu was and had to spend effing forever asking the waiters what this and that meant. Sigh. The great thing though was that each of the wait staff were patient and actually knew what they were talking about, even telling the diners little stories about the origins of the more obscure ingredients.

My wild baarrmundi ($41). It looked more like a dessert rather than a main and certainly tasted sweeter than a Trampoline gelato. A single crispy barramundi fillet, which was crowed with slices of orange and red onion, rested on a bed of slow-cooked chickpeas while a salad of preserved lemon, spearmint and pomegranates danced around it. In between the salad elements lay a sprinkling of pomegranate molasses to keep things a little interesting … though seriously, what the heck is up with this place and their obsession with pomegranates? I thought my dish was fine but perhaps just that. It was not as exciting as my entree and nor was it as good as anything that Adam ordered tonight.

Adam’s roast red duck curry ($42) though was definitely an experience to remember. Touted as Melbourne’s best red duck curry, this is a signature dish at Pearl. It comes in three separate bowls: 1) half a duck which has been slow-cooked and cut into pieces that easily peel away from the bone when prodded. It is covered in a rich, light-brown curry and garnished with fried shallots, 2) a deep-fried free-range poached egg that’s doused with a sauce made out of fish sauce, palm sugar, chilli, mint and half a lime so that you can adjust the taste according to your preference and finally, 3) a bowl of coconut rice. The thingie in the middle is some Chinese cabbage which is there to “refresh our palate.” My goodness, it was so good. The duck was unbelievably tender, which attributed to the success of this dish. It was so rich, so tasty and so filling too. In fact, Adam was so full after only a few spoonfuls that he signaled defeat and gave the rest of his dish to me which I ate without putting up a fight (naturally).

So full were we that we decided to omit dessert and instead, share a hot chocolate ($6). It was shame to skip dessert though, because the dessert menu actually sounded really good… and this is coming from someone who doesn’t call themselves a “dessert person.” Next time. So anyway, the hot chocolate… rather than receiving a substandard Milo lookalike, our hot chocolate came in three separate bits. You got a glass of hot chocolate (made with Valrhona chocolates) which looked a lot like a cappuccino and also a separate jug of warm milk and chocolate solids which you can add to adjust how chocolatey you liked your drink. I’m not a huge fan of overly sweet hot chocolates so in when the milk which the chocolate duds remained untouched.

I snuck a look at the bill and to my surprise, it was only $180. While it’s by no means a cheap dinner, I thought that it was going to cost well-over $200. It was definitely one of the most positive dining experiences I’ve had in a very long time, definitely ranks somewhere up there with Ezard. We walked out, mightily impressed with a promise to return again to try their summer menu or perhaps attend one of their mud crab nights that they host every month.

Pizza Espresso by Nicolini

17 Macedon Rd
Templestowe Lower VIC 3107
+61 3 9852 2333

Lower Templestowe is not really the epicentre of decent food in the Upper East Side of Melbourne (unless you count Golden Dragon Palace or Taipan, I guess) but apparently it houses one of the best pizzerias in Melbourne. Pizza Espresso, run by the brother of the dude who runs the relatively new +39 in the city, has been around for years but I had only heard that the place existed only very recently. Sad, I know. Anyway, we decided that tonight would be a good night as any to try the place out, using “my birthday” as an excuse. The table was originally booked for five (my family) but we invited my cousin, Jess and her mum (my aunt) Emy to come with us too seeing as they were in town. We also had to invite this random lady who happened to fly down to Melbourne with Aunt Emy for laughs because it would be the polite thing to do. As much as I don’t really like inviting randoms to MY dinner, it would be rude to invite my cousin and aunty while leaving the poor lady at Emy’s house with nothing to do for the night.

Anyway, a booking was made for 7:30pm and by the time we rocked up at this small restaurant in Macedon Rd, the place was BUZZING. It was night-club dark, full of fully sik wogs people and doof doof music. My mind instantly drifted back to the days of ZOS and I shuddered – hahaha, who else remembers ZOS? (or am I just too old?). The olds instantly felt uncomfortable and my mum may have muttered something about “crazy young people” but I ignored her as I told the waitress that I had a reservation. We were led to a table right near the washroom where a middle-aged Asian couple were washing dishes, a sight which I found rather weird at a place like this but hey, whatever works. I didn’t like that we were placed so close towards the washroom but given that it was a small restaurant, I’ll forgive them for that. Besides, the interior actually seemed pretty cool particularly the pizza oven that was placed smack-bang in the middle of the dining room. We chose several things off the menu to share and not long after, our focaccia arrived.

It was just a basic one ($11.50 for a large). The cheapest and simplest of a reasonable list of focaccias that sounded more and more extravagant as the list went down. Really, it was just a simple base brushed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sea salt. Very spartan, really. But boy, it was good. It was crispy and puffy while still retaining its chewiness. And it was mighty tasty too.

Lasagna al forno ($16). The way that lasagna should taste like, just like nonna makes it. The home-made tomato sugo really made all the difference.

Fettuccine al gamberoni ($19.50). Don’t be fooled, this dish was actually tinier than it looks. When it was presented to us, my parents were like “is THAT all?” but please note that although they’re experts when it comes to Indonesian and Dutch cooking, they’re actually clueless when it comes to other countries’ cuisines. Heck, they think that lemon chicken is “proper” Chinese food so it shouldn’t surprise you when I say that they think that “real” Italian food is the stuff you get at La Porchetta, you know, spaghetti marinara with seafood extender. Anyway, this dish may have been small (small for the entire table, anyway) but it did not disappoint. Again, the home-made tomato sugo was there holding the fresh ingredients together, the succulent tiger prawns (none of that “artificial” prawns you get at some of the pizza shops in the suburbs!), the sauteed rocket and the silky egg fettuccine all mingled as one.

The pizzas. The top one is a Frutti di Mare (basically, a seafood pizza $20 for a large) and the bottom one is a capriciosa ($18 for a large). Firstly, the frutti di mare looked pretty bare in comparison to other renditions of seafood pizzas which are often choked with baby clams and all sorts of weird things that live in the sea (including plastic-y prawns). Surprisingly, this version of a seafood pizza worked quite well. There were only a smattering of fresh tiger prawns, calamari, baby octopus and baby mussels but the key behind this pizza’s success was the fresh ingredients. The capriciosa, while less exciting, was definitely a step-up from the ones I’ve tried in pizza places in the area. Again, fresh ingredients made all the difference as did the ham-of-the-bone “which didn’t stink like matchstick hams” (mum’s words) and the subtle fior di latte cheese.

The third pizza we shared (foreground) was Salsiccia e funghi ($20 for large). It was pretty much the same as the capriciosa but with “Italian sausage” instead of ham. For some reason, I didn’t particularly enjoy this one probably because I felt that the sausages were a bit “dud” …. y’know when you’ve met some hot Italian stud at ZOS only to find that later on in bed, he was a bit…. ermmm, let’s drop this analogy shall we.

At this stage, none of us are actually full-full but we’re satisfied enough not to want to eat again for the rest of the night. We’re just about to order dessert when the random lady (let’s call her L, because her name starts with L) goes up to the cashier and has a word with the waitress there. Janice and I are rolling our eyes, thinking that she’s there to whinge about something (she has a penchant for whinging in restaurants, I’ve learnt) but it turns out that she wanted to order a special tiramisu cake for me which was very nice of her.

I was more embarrassed than anything. Everyone, including the waitresses and people at adjacent tables were singing “Happy Birthday” to me…
I won’t lie and say that this place is better than +39 it’s not. Despite it being much older and despite it winning successive Cheap Eats awards, I have to admit that this place did not quite meet my expectations. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the food was good, the service was friendly and everything was fine… it’s just that I was probably expecting more “artisan” pizzas like they have at +39 but I guess catering to suburban diners is a different story. Having said that, I will definitely come back here for dinner. The pizzas, while more expensive than at other pizzerias in Doncaster/Templestowe,  are worth the extra few dollars. In fact, I would barely rate it an expensive meal either, it was around $110 for all of us, not including the cake. The downside of coming here, I guess, would be that it is too noisy at times and too dark (hence, the grainy food photos). After a quick coffee, we decided to call it a night and leave. Before the hoons arrived on the strip with their wogmobiles, that is .

Fu Long Seafood Restaurant

942-946 Whitehorse Rd
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9890 7388

Last night, Adam and I took our families out to dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day. Despite the fact that our parents have met each other several times, this was actually the first time they would sit together on one table and share a meal together. Initially, Adam was a bit reluctant to have a joint-dinner and asked me why we couldn’t just do two separate meals like we’ve done in the past, i.e. one big yum cha with Adam’s parents and one big dinner with my family. My answer was that 1) two big meals cost more and would make us fatter and 2) it’s about time our folks actually conversed with one another over food.

We decided to have dinner at Fu Long in Box Hill so on Wednesday afternoon, I booked a table for eight (initially ten for my cousin, Jess and my aunt, Emy but they were still stuck in Indonesia because of German measles) for 6pm. We had been there for yum cha once and thought that it was okay so we decided to see how they were like at night. Okay, so the week went by and soon enough, it was Saturday. Now, Adam’s parents read the community Chinese newspapers whenever they come out and more often than not, these newspapers would often publish Chinese restaurant ads. It turned out that one of the ads that appeared this week was one advertising a “Mother’s Day Set Menu Dinner” at Fu Long, implying that every diner had to have the set menu. So Adam’s telling me about this so-called set menu while I’m staring at him all confused (“Set menu at a Chinese restaurant on Mother’s Day? Since when do Chinese people give a crap about Mother’s Day?”) before I said, “But the lady on the phone never told me about a set menu!” Without knowing much about what was on this so-called set menu, Adam told me not to worry about it and that his mum “probably had no idea what she was talking about.” Still, it wasn’t reassuring to me so the next day (Sunday, Mother’s Day) I made Adam ring up Fu Long to find out if this set menu thing was true and to get the details of it.

It turned out that yes, there WAS a set menu and that for a party of eight, it would cost “two hundred and something.” When I asked Adam about the details of the set menu, he just shrugged and said “it had mud crab in it.” Hmph, he may be able to speak Cantonese alright but so much for his linear questioning skills! Anyway, I was pretty annoyed that I wasn’t told that there would be a set menu when I made the booking only a few days ago and to me, that is just a sigh of unprofessionalism. Both Adam and my mum told me not to get pissy because “that’s just the way that the Chinese do it” but the way I see it, 1) Fu Long’s customers aren’t all Chinese and 2) it’s showing a lack of customer care. After thinking about whether to go to Fu Long and sitting through the set menu or whether we should go elsewhere, we eventually decided that we should stick to our original plan. And so at 6pm, we arrived.

The eight-people set menu was actually $298 and consisted for the following courses:

-16 oysters with “two colour sauce”

-Ginger and shallot mud crab with egg noodles

-Roast/Cold meat platter

-King prawns with scallops and vegies

-Deep fried spicy chicken ribs

-Steamed (or fried) barramundi

-Sauteed mushrooms, baby corn and other greens

-Steamed rice

-Fruit platter

-Red bean soup

Oh, and there was a $30 (!! ) surcharge if you were going to pay by credit card (Yeah, I’m aware that places do charge extra for credit card transactions but c’mon, 10%??).

Looking at the menu, there were only a few things that we liked – the oysters, the mud crab and the fish. The bulk of the menu consisted of seafood items which Kenneth didn’t particularly like and which Adam’s dad couldn’t really enjoy because he had a skin condition. We asked a passing waiter if we could order a la carte because we didn’t like anything on the set menu but he insisted, “everyone tonight must have the set menu.” We argued that several people on the table didn’t eat seafood to which his response was, “You can add extra dishes for an extra charge.” Well, that didn’t go down too well for us. For the most part, there would be way too much food on the table and half of it will go to waste.

The manager of the restaurant then came to our table to see if we were ready to order to which we expressed our dissatisfaction with the things on the set menu. We really wanted to substitute things because it was the only way everyone on the table could be happy. I mean, if most restaurants can substitute things because of allergies and so on, then why couldn’t Fu Long? The manager was getting a little pissy at this stage because he took out his pen and angrily circled the “Set Menu” heading on the menu and told us, “No, we cannot change anything. Our kitchen staff are going to be under so much pressure.” Adam and his dad were, at this stage, upping their psycho Cantonese talk-slash-yell and waving their arms around before the manager relented and said (rather rudely, I might add), “Fine, have the six-people banquet and then order more dishes, how’s that?”

Well, the six-people banquet was no better than the eight-people one. It was pretty much the same, minus a few dishes. But at $178, (or $208, if you’re paying by credit card) it sounded a lot better than the eight-people banquet and it would work out to be cheaper even if we added a few extra dishes to make the non-seafood eaters happy. The manager popped a sheet of paper on our table, with all the dishes we were to consume and every time our dishes would arrive, the waiter would tick the respective dish listed on the paper so that there wouldn’t be any issues with people getting the wrong dishes etc. Here are the food photos minus any commentary because, like I said, it was all very average and the focus of his entry is more on the customer service rather than the food itself.


Ginger and shallot mud crab with egg noodles

Oysters with “two colour sauce” (which was actually XO sauce). Everyone knows that Sunday is the day where one shouldn’t order seafood but the others on the table were keen. I wasn’t expecting uber-freshness but still, I didn’t think they would be THIS bad – bland, rubbery, small, disgusting.

Steamed barramundi + one of those mints that come in those rectangular tin containers

The cold meat platter (chicken feet, duck feet and octopus. I really tried to make this photo look good but I failed…)

Roadkill Spicy peppered quail

Roast meat platter (roast duck and roast pork… check out the amount of fat still left on the pork)

Honey peppered beef ribs with broccoli

Tofu and vegies in oyster sauce

Okay, I’m not going to dwell on the food because it was honestly very average. Actually, just below average I reckon because my throat was later parched thanks to the huge dosage of MSG that came with it. The cold platter (duck’s feet, chicken feet and baby octopus marinated in nothing more than vinegar and pepper or something to that effect) remained untouched because well, let’s face it, they’re not the prettiest-looking things on the menu as did most of the roast meat platter as the char siu had way too much fat on it.

We were all about 80% full (we probably would have been 100% full had we been able to stomach the clammy chicken feet still remaining on the platter) and not even five seconds after our desserts arrived did the manager came to dump the bill in front of us. $223. While that was pretty cheap for the eight of us, I couldn’t help but think that had we been allowed to order off the a la carte menu and actually CHOOSE the food we liked, we would have only paid $180. And that would have included the crab and the fish too.

So here we are, slurping our mung bean soups when a group of Westerners rock up and sat at the table next to ours. They were given the same red set menus as us and as I watched as they started whinging about how “weird” the food was and that they wanted “real Chinese food.” Then to my surprise, the waiter then gave them PINK MENUS. Yes, they got given the a la carte menus! And moments later, I saw a soup tureen filled with, yup you guessed it, chicken and corn soup land on their table. As the waitress was dishing the soup out, a plate of spring rolls landed on their table. And then some fried rice. Yep, while us folk had to deal with overpriced sub-standard set menus, the white folk got to order whatever the fck they wanted.

Oh boy, you could imagine how I was feeling right at this minute. The money thing wasn’t the problem. We got ripped off about $40, which was bad enough, but that did not compare to the fact that the table next to us got favourable treatment compared to us. Just because they were so fcking small-minded about not wanting to try mud crabs … and fair enough, some of the dishes on the set menu were wtf but if they were allowed to order from the a la carte menu, why couldn’t we? Was it because they were white and hence, the staff at Fu Long wanted to suck up to them? And what was that thing that the manager told us before? Something about the kitchen staff being under so much pressure if anyone dared to deviate from the set menu? I wanted to complain to the manager but I think that none of them would have understood me because their English effing sucks. I asked Adam to complain on my behalf but he was too much of a wuss to do that isn’t the type to cause a scene. In the end, our mums told us to leave it at that and head home. At least we now know not to come back here ever again. Just before stepping out the door though, I decided to take one peak at the piece of paper on the white folks’ table to see exactly what they ordered. Lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork, cashew chicken. Real Chinese food, my arse .

I’m not usually in the habit of persuading people not to go to a restaurant that I’ve been unhappy with because there are many factors that attribute to a less-than-satisfactory experience on my behalf (e.g. waiter PMSing, me being fussy, personal taste buds etc) but please, do yourselves a favour and DO NOT EVER GO TO FU LONG HOUSE.

North East China Family

302 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9629 9968

Dave‘s brother, Peter, recommended a dumpling restaurant on Flinders Lane a while back and so we thought that tonight would be a good time as any to visit this place.

The place is called North East China Family, which is probably one of the most fobby and can-sooo-tell-that-this-is-a-Mainlander-joint restaurant names I’ve ever come across. It is, indeed, a rather eccentric place with its flashing neon signs alluring punters wanting a bite to eat before venturing into one of Flinders Lane’s many drinking holes. A far cry from the greasy, cramped stinkholes that are usually associated with dumpling restaurants in Melbourne, this one’s virtually spotless, airy and modern. One could safely assume that this used to be a gallery before it turned into a dumpling restaurant.

Some notes before I begin: The staff, while friendly, sometimes elicited a WTF from me. For example, we had just received our menus and – I swear this is true – five second later, a waiter appeared ready to take our order. Weird. We politely told him to give us a second while we navigated our way through the menu which contained multitudes of bad grammar, spelling errors and inconsistencies between fonts. We also spotted an item called “noodle powder” and we had to ask a waitress what it was because none of us could read Chinese (menus were written in both Chinese and English). She seemed to have a little trouble explaining what the dish was but I finally gathered that it was just a fried vermicelli dish (why they couldn’t just write that on the menu was beyond me. Noodle powder? pffffffft).

Another note: The dumplings on the menu are of the steamed variety and if you wanted them fried, it’s an extra $1.

One more note: There are hardly any tables for just two people and so more likely than not, you would be asked to share a table with a bunch of random strangers (in our case, two uber-fobs in tartan). The good thing, though, was that the tables here are quite big so it’s not like you have to touch them or anything like that. Heh.

Okay, food time!

This was something called “dried noodles with pork sauce” ($9.50) which we ordered only because we wanted to try something interesting. We got a warm bowl of fresh hand-pulled wheat noodles with pork meat in a slightly sweet blackbean sauce and sliced cucumber – yep, zha jiang mien noodles. We were required to mix all the ingredients together so that each strand of noodle was covered in the brown sauce. While I enjoyed my first bite, subsequent forkfuls made me gag because it was starting to get too salty for me (either because of the blackbean overload or because of MSG (?)). I think Adam liked it better than me though, which was good because otherwise it would have gone to waste…

Fried pork and cabbage dumplings (15 pieces for $8.50). Out of all the dishes I had tonight, this was the one that came out the winner. Sure, they were a bit oily. Sure, some of them had holes in them. And sure, they could’ve been more crispy. But boy, were they good. Despite them being a bit on the more-greasy-than-what-I-would’ve-liked side, they actually tasted “cleaner” than most dumplings I’ve had. Yum.

Steamed leek, shrimp and egg dumplings (15 pieces for $9.00). Okay, upon first bite my initial reaction was “Holy sheet! Chive overload!” Indeed, the filling of each dumpling comprised of 5% egg, 10% shrimp and 85% chive. It was literally like eating a spoonful of chives which is not always a pleasant experience, even for people who DO love chives. After the second dumpling, I was beginning to wonder where the leek had gone. Was it buried in there with the shrimp? Was it being beaten up Underbelly-style by the gang of chive bad arses? If that’s the case, why didn’t they just call them chive, shrimp and egg dumplings instead? Another thought: Perhaps the people here really meant to say chive but their fobby electronic dictionaries gave them “leek” instead when they were designing their menu. Either way, they suck!

Bellies more than satisfied, we left $28.80 lighter (that included Adam’s can of Sprite) and with a renewed assurance that yes, smiley waiters/waiteresses at dumpling restaurants do exist (even if they were up with the fairies). North East China Family was indeed a refreshing change from the places that cluster around the Chinatown area and yes, the fried pork dumplings were delish but perhaps not enough to make me walk all the way from one end of the city to the other. Having said that though, if I happened to be in the City Library and suddenly had a dumpling craving (and can’t be bothered walking a few blocks into Bourke/Little Bourke), then I’d be on my way here!

Kam Fook (CLOSED)

Level 2, Shop 2003
Westfield Shoppingtown
619 Doncaster Road
Doncaster VIC 3108
+61 3 9005 1888
http://www.kamfook.com.au/

Adam was really keen on seeing the Wolverine movie this weekend. Despite me asking him to “go with someone else” (I don’t do action movies), he managed to convince me to go (he only had to say “Hugh Jackman”). Besides, he has a whole bunch of free Village cinema tickets from Jen and the owner of his shop so I thought, as long as I didn’t fork out money to see a movie that I wasn’t really into then that’s fine with me! So after church this morning, we made our way to Doncaster Shoppo for an early before the movie started. We were originally going to settle for foodcourt food but on our way into the shopping centre (from the rooftop carpark), we saw that the Kam Fook yum cha restaurant that had been “under development” for as long as I could remember was, in fact, opened. Now, when I heard the news that the Kam Fook group, famous for their award-winning yum cha restaurants in Sydney, were opening up in Doncaster I was extremely stoked. Not that Doncaster/Templestowe is suffering from a lack of yum cha restaurants or anything but I liked the fact that the group chose to open up their Melbourne restaurant in here rather than in the city.

Adam was initially reluctant to have yum cha – I mean, we had it last Sunday and about 10 billion times in the last two months – but after glancing down at the foodcourt (which was directly below us) and seeing soggy potato cakes and aracini balls laying limp in bain maries, we decided to give Kam Fook a try. The restaurant was really quiet when we walked in with only a handful of tables full but keep in mind that this was just before 11am (it then got busy just after we left). We were shown to a table by the window that overlooked Doncaster Road. Not exactly like the awesome views you get when you’re having yum cha in Hong Kong but I’ll live with it.

The restaurant itself was an impressive piece of work. It’s a sunny, open atrium that opens out towards the rest of the top floor which houses Village cinemas, the top half of Borders and a handful of other restaurants and cafes. There are dozens of ornate pretty lights dangling from above the ceiling and the chairs are wooden, a nice change from the tacky steel/polyester cushioned ones at other suburban yum cha restaurants. They also went all pretty with the teapots and the soy sauce pot too. We were impressed.

We started off with the obligatory dumplings, a basket of har gow, some prawn and chive dumplings and some funny dumpling with corn, pork and bamboo shoots.

More dumplings! This time, a basket of shark fin dumplings (with real shreds of shark fin in them too!) and another basket of har gow (yep, I love my har gows).

I need to add here that I was more than impressed with how good the har gows were here. For one thing, they came in fours rather than threes which meant that we didn’t have to fight over the last one (though I understand that in this case, fighting would have been redundant as we did order two baskets after all ). Secondly, they were HUGE. Really huge. They were literally double the size of the piss-weak Malteser-sized har gows that we’ve been having at Shark Fin House. Finally, they actually contained a decent amount of prawns in it and all the ratios of everything else right, pork fat, bamboo shoots and all the other spices and sauces that make such a good har gow.

Our made-to-order zhaliang (fried Chinese donuts wrapped in rice noodle rolls, before being soaked with soy sauce). This was the first time I’ve seen the donuts come to us crispy rather than soft. Delish.

We only ordered a total of six dishes (five dumplings and a zhaliang) before we declared ourselves full. Now this was a shock to us because we would usually order a bunch of fried stuff as well some egg tarts or maybe a pudding for dessert. Did we have a big breakfast? Well, not really. A pie each from the bakery at 8:30am, that was it. So I’m sitting there confused while the waiter prepares our bill. And when we received it, we scratched our head even more. The total came to $43.40 for only six dishes, including the $3.20 charged for two teas. After checking the itemised bill, we found that the cheaper dumplings were $6.20 each while the more expensive ones (the zhaliang was also placed in this category) were $7.20. Pretty expensive for yum cha, and we didn’t even have dessert or fried thingimibobs.

Another thing I want to say about this place is the service. My goodness, it’s in the shitznicks. I knew something was fishy when I saw that the trolleys were coming around ever so slowly before they started to “not come at all.” It was later on did we realise that most of the waiters were just walking past with trays of fried food and trolleys full of dumplings, but they weren’t actually going around to EACH table to ASK WHETHER WE WOULD LIKE THEM. I even saw a table try to get the attention of one waiter carrying a tray of fried taro balls but the waiter continued on his merry way without stopping at that table. Adam said something about “the boss hiring mainlanders as waiters and waitresses” which, I realise, is a growing trend in many yum cha restaurants around Melbourne. Jury’s out on whether yum cha should only be left to the Cantonese or whether it really doesn’t matter that your waiter can only speak Mandarin…

In short, very good yum cha but the high price tag and the bad service would make me less inclined to return again unless I’m going to Shoppo for a movie and I am dying for yum cha (and can’t be bothered with Tai Pan).

Oh, and what did I think of X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Well, I’m biased towards any movies with guns and things that blow up, so I wasn’t really in the right mindframe to see it in the first place. So I’m sitting there watching the previews, being Ms Sulky McSulk and muttering stuff like “this better be semi-decent” when the trailer for Angels and Demons popped up before the movie which made made me get excited as I really did enjoy the book for what it was worth. Suddenly all was a-okay (guess which movie I’m forcing Adam to see next?). While I thought the movie was watchable, there were some things that made me roll my eyes such as the unconvincing romance between Logan and that chick and cliched dialogue. And why the heck did they have to take a helicopter to the island when there was an effing bridge that connects it from the mainland, as we found out later on?! In saying all that, I didn’t fall asleep thanks to Liev Schreiber who kept the storyline going and the fact that I kept picturing Hugh Jackman to break out in song and dance halfway through the movie, thus keeping me semi-amused during the lull periods. I was even half-expecting that Gambit character to confess that he is The Crow because c’mon, don’t tell me he doesn’t look like Brandon Lee . I suppose if you like the X-Men series, you would enjoy it. It was a movie that I thought was okay only because we didn’t pay for it but if I had to shell out $18 of my own money, then I would probably have grumbled about it!

Ramen Ya

Shop 25G Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 5838
http://www.ramenya.com.au/

After toiling away at RMIT’s business library this afternoon, I decided to treat myself by feasting on some ramen at Ramen Ya which was recommended by Jan. Grabbing Adam straight after his shift at the war zone that is currently his workplace (sorry, can’t reveal anything here), we hopped, skipped and jumped across to GPO where the place that claims to make “the best Japanese noodle in Victoria, Melbourne” (their words) was hiding. Although it is a relative newcomer to the GPO scene, the small but cozy ramen cafe has already attracted a decent band of followers despite the fact that it never appears to be as busy as the adjacent Kenzan @ GPO.


It was just after 4pm when Adam and I walked in, which meant that we were either there for a very late lunch or a very early dinner (I dunno, you decide). While the menu isn’t overly extensive. there is definitely something for everyone including bento boxes and rice dishes for those who hate ramen with a vengeance (though I don’t know what reasonable human being could possibly hate ramen). What I found ironic for a place that supposedly specialises in ramen though was that there were only four types of ramen to choose from (charshu ramen, gyoza ramen, seafood gyoza ramen and tsukune ramen) compared to eight bento boxes. Having said that though, you do get to choose from three ramen soup bases (tonkotsu, shoyu or miso) so I suppose the total number of ramen permutations exceeds the eight bento boxes on offer.


After ordering at the counter, we grabbed a table outside purely on the basis of the pretty lanterns placed on each table. In hindsight though, a table inside would have been better for the sake of photo-taking because it was as bright as a beach compared to the outside dining area which had the atmosphere of a cave. Grainy images are no good! *kicks herself*


Adam’s chicken katsu bento box ($10). The offerings were pretty standard, two fried pork gyoza, steamed rice, seaweed salad and crispy strips of fried crumbed chicken pieces. I only managed one bite of chicken which was a little dry but otherwise just okay. Adam managed to finish this off in a matter of minutes (I kid you not) before announcing that he was still hungry and upon asking him what he thought of the bento box overall, he shrugged and said “boring.” Yeah, I think I would have said the same thing too if looks are anything to go by.


Thankfully, my gyoza (in tonkotsu soup base) ramen ($9.80) fared a bit better. A generous serving of what suspiciously looked and tasted like Chinese egg noodles was drenched in a delicate and milky pork-flavoured broth before being decorated with various ingredients, all arranged neatly in sections for contrasting visual effects. The six gyozas, filled with pork and chives, were of the home-made variety which was a refreshing change to the bought ones that many other Japanese restaurants use. What I found frustrating though was that the skins were so fragile that by the time the bowl arrived on my table, half the dumplings had already split open leaving pork mince all over the place. Not good! Real gyoza they may be, but I do like mine intact thankyouverymuch!

The other players were nothing to sing a song about – preserved greens and pickles, bamboo shoots, Japanese fishcakes, spring onions, wakame sheets and half a a tiny boiled egg (definitely of the caged kind). What I do want to whinge about are the noodles which, as mentioned, seemed a bit more “Chinese” than “Japanese.” I always thought that ramen noodles were thicker and chewier but either I have been misinformed or perhaps the folks at Ramen Ya do things differently, who knows… Despite my gripes, however, I actually did like my ramen in that it was refreshing to taste one with absolutely no trace of MSG. In most circumstances, I would be downing 10 billion glasses of water but I was fine with my single bottle of Yebishu. Adam, on the other hand, thought that the soup was very bland and boring. He did make a good point – it wasn’t as tasty as I had expected – but after having too many a bowl of overly salty servings of ramen, light and delicate hits the spot. Oh, another thing I found strange was that I was still a little bit hungry after finishing off my ramen down to the last drop. Weird, because the bowls were of a decent size and weird, because I’m usually so full when I eat ramen that I can barely finish the rest of it off.

The total was a mere $23.80 which I found weird because both our dishes all up would total $19.80 which meant that we were only charged $4 for our drinks… and given that I had a beer, it was definitely not right. Hmmmm (I only realised this just now as I’m typing this). Jury is still out on whether Ramen Ya really makes “the best Japanese noodle in Victoria, Melbourne” (funny that, I always thought that the state of Victoria was larger than the city of Melbourne!). I’m pretty sure that a better one still exists out there (Adam reckons Momotoro Ramen is way better, so I’m keen to try it out some day!) but for now, I’ll go to Ramen Ya if I feel like a ramen without MSG!

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Grossi Florentino

80 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 1811
http://www.grossiflorentino.com/

Last night, Adam and I finally completed the Guy Grossi trinity. Starting with the humble Cellar Bar last year, we stopped by The Grill a month ago before gearing ourselves up for the main event: the Grossi Florentino dining room upstairs. The occasion was Adam’s 24th birthday and with no birthday wishes other than a nice meal with his misses, he decided to be sneaky by requesting a table at a prominent Melbourne institution that is as grand as the Doge’s palace, and with price tags to boot as well. After an extremely disappointing round of drinks at Spice Market before a much better session at Becco, we made our way up the spiral staircase to a plushy dining room … and a short Asian guy in a suit who jumped in front of us to, I guess, greet us. For some reason, this made me and Adam giggle and seeing Mr-Short-Asian stumble over his words and grab the wine list (also forgetting to set my napkin on my lap) made Adam laugh even harder. That was the last I saw of him.

A waitress gave us our wine list while another guy presented a pretty lavish spread of nibbles: assorted bread rolls, olive oil, marinated olives, butter (salted and unsalted butter pats appeared on separate bowls) and some of those awesome grissini that we had at The Grill.

It was extremely quiet at this stage, with only a few tables being occupied. I felt a bit self-conscious when I brought out the camera because the sound of my lens retracting seemed like it was echoing in the opulent dining room. I could almost see both Lorenzo de Medici and Giotto raise their eyebrows in amusement from their respective murals above us. When the dining room did finally fill up, we relaxed a little bit. At least, we wouldn’t have to speak in muted whispers anymore.

Prior to our entrees, we were given an amuse bouche “with compliments from Guy Grossi.” Two strips of fresh, raw Tasmanian salmon sat comfortably between a smidgen of olive oil and a mixture of breadcrumbs and pine nuts. The thing that looks like a dollop of wasabi is actually a cucumber sorbet which tasted both weird yet refreshingly delicious at the same time.

We ordered a selection of half a dozen freshly shucked oysters from Bateman’s Bay, home to a selection of artisan finished native oysters branded “Moonlight Flat Oysters” which are apparently the best in the country. We were originally just going to have two oysters each (at $5 each) but the waitress sweet-talked us into ordering six, so that we can sample three different varieties of Moonlight Flat Oysters. The main difference between these oysters and others is that these ones go through an extra step of refinement in that they are placed in refinement baisins where they are nurtured that much longer prior to shipment. This is why they are often richer in taste (due to the plankton and algae they eat while in refinement) and why they do not taste like the ocean. The flat Angasi oyster was the most unusual oyster I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. For one thing, the shells were as flat as a scallop and the meat was very earthy, tender and subtly smokey. In contrast, the other two were much creamier and brinier though I felt that Clair de Lune Bouton, in this case, was a bit too briny and somewhat metallic-tasting for my liking. The tangy jamon and cucumber dressing and the lemon did, however, mask much of that saltiness.

My entree, the peppered scallop ravioli ($39) wasn’t the prettiest one out there but it did taste really good. Three large parcels, made with home-made pasta naturally, housed a large scallop, sweet and succulent. The trio rested upon a pea reduction which was sweet in contrast to the lemon, garlic and oil dressing that was drizzled over the ravioli. The ugly brown thing in the middle is a piece of foie gras, which absorbed much of the acidic lemon juice to bring out its wonderful rich flavour.

While my entree was good, Adam’ was better. He ordered the toasted flour fettuccine ($39), which is Grossi’s take on the ubiquitous fettuccine carbonara. Here, a freshly made batch of fettuccine was mingled with fresh ingredients such as proscuitto di parma, butter and pecorino cheese. It was then topped with a slow cooked egg which gave way and oozed out deliciously creamy egg yolk which you then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. A shaving of black truffles was then sprinkled over the top. Luxurious. Rich. Bad for my hips. Divine.

My main: Roasted Glenloth pigeon breast with a ravioli made out of pigeon leg ($52). Having only tried pigeon the Chinese way (five-spice power, salt and lemon, yo!), I was keen to see how the Italians would do it. In this case, it was served with a marsala, cardamom and liquorice powder sauce and served with white asparagus and couscous. It was intensely sweet and rich – perfect for the cold weather – but for some reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. I guess I’m just not a pigeon person…

They also gave me a bowl of water with a wedge of lemon in it because we’re supposed to use our fingers to eat the pigeon. At first, I ignored the waiter and proceeded to eat my pigeon using my knife and fork the PROPER way before realising that I really DID need to use my fingers to eat to the bits closer to the bone. I was too proud to grab my bird with my hands so I offered the rest of my mangled pigeons to Adam who proceeded to eat them with his hands like he would at a Chinese restaurant… ahhh bless that guy

In my opinion, Adam had the better main (darn him for getting better dishes!), a slowed cooked wagyu rump cap with pickled veal tongue and a shallot and potato saltate i.e. roasted rosemary potatoes ($55). The wagyu was divided into four manageable pieces, one which was given to me. The meat was cooked exactly how wagyu should be cooked, left on the grill for only a fraction of time leaving it still pink so that it would be extra tender and juicy to the touch. Delish. Unfortunately, I didn’t try any of the veal tongue but if you want to believe what Adam reckons, it tasted “very much like chicken liver.” Hmmm, right.

We didn’t need a side but at the time of ordering, we anticipated our dishes to be small so we ordered a serving of baked asparagus with fontina cheese ($12). While the dishes weren’t massive, they certainly filled us up because they were so rich. We did manage to finish the asparagus (which tasted okay, nothing special) but it was something that we could have done without.

Although we didn’t order any desserts (we were too full and none of the desserts looked appealing anyway) but we were given yet another “present” from Guy, a mini zuppa inglese which was actually quite good and made me regret not having enough room for a proper dessert but oh well…

Adam did, however, order a coffee because he “wanted to see what an $8 short macchiato would taste like.” I argued that they were probably normal Vittoria ones that probably didn’t taste any better than the ones he makes but he was insistent. Even though the coffee took forever to make, Adam had to admit that it was impressive. It was rich, iron-fisty and swirled lazily all over the mouth. Oh, and we got yet another set of goodies from Guy – some petit fours which Adam gobbled up.

Hmmm, I’m not too happy about that glare near my head but then again, perhaps it’s the waiter’s attempt to portray me as the Madonna from one of those pre-Renaissance humanism era religious paintings? Heeeeeeh…

Our meal was definitely not a cheap one, it was $279 including my glass of riesling and two bottles of water. Yep, they charged us $12 for a bottle of Aqua Panna which was fine but when we had finished our first bottle, they didn’t ask us if we would like a second bottle but just went ahead and opened one up before refilling our glasses. In hindsight, I suppose I should have asked beforehand but I really did think that Grossi Florentino worked like the Press Club in that we paid a one-off charge for unlimited Aqua Panna. I guess not. Apart from that, we thought the service was great. Indeed, the little complimentary dishes made the service experience better but it also made me wonder why we were the only ones getting the salmon in the beginning apart from a group of ostentatiously wealthy eldery folk sitting behind us who happened to be mates with Guy Grossi. Either the Asian waiter was happy to see some Asian presence in the predominantly WASP-y patronage or Guy Grossi thought we were hot or the fact that my less-than-discreet Powershot clued the waiters into the fact that I was, more than likely, a food blogger. Heh.

The food, on the other hand, was just good. Good, but not excellent. Given the fact that this was a two-hatted restaurant and given the fact that it was probably the most expensive meal we’ve had (apart from Flower Drum‘s scrumptious banquet), we felt that the food could have been better for the prices we paid. While our pastas were divine, we couldn’t say the same about our mains which didn’t have the same luxury elements. Sure, they were all good but perhaps a bit too… boring? On the other hand, I guess it is a bit hard to make Florentine food toffy because after all, the food from that region is Tuscan and is based on traditional “peasant” food than top-notch fine dining. Perhaps this explains why, out of all the Grossi restaurants, the humble Cellar Bar was the one I liked the most. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind a $14 lasagne or a $15 duck pappardelle… mmmm…

The Press Club (revisited)

72 Flinders St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9677 9677
http://www.thepressclub.com.au/

I had an assignment due today so I decided to take the day off work because I wasn’t going to make it to campus before the deadline, even if I left work early. Getting to Clayton took an hour and fifteen minutes (non-peak hour traffic). Handing my assignment in took about 30 seconds. And I was free for the rest of the day. I wasn’t going to waste my time of freedom and so I headed back into the city to meet up for lunch with Adam at The Press Club. Now, some of you might recall me writing up a review about the place seven months ago. Adam and I were there for their traditional Sunday lunch where they served a plethora of little dishes for the table to share for $55 a head. While the food was beautiful, it’s not really what The Press Club is famous for so we made it our aim to come back for lunch and try their “modern Greek” stuff.

It was 1pm when we rocked up to an almost empty dining room. This surprised me because I would’ve thought that the place would be full of Ernst and Youngers but I guess not. Our lunch menus were printed on a single sheet of card, advertising a $37 two course lunch special and a $45 one consisting of three courses. There was also a four course “kerasma” menu where the kitchen will chose four courses for you for only $48. Clearly that was the best value option but we decided to go easy this time, knowing that we would probably not finish off everything like last time (both of us hate wasting food), so we decided to go for two courses each. Okay fine, I went for three because there was no way I could pass up a bowl of loukamades!

We started off with some warm ciabatta accompanied with that awesome, fruity Cypriot olive oil and ash salt. The bread was crispier than last time, which I gave the thumbs up to. I really should find out the name of the olive oil they use at Press Club, it’s probably the best I’ve ever tasted!

My ridiculously huge (well, huge for a fine dining establishment anyway) entree: Eight large “hand-picked” mussels from Spring Bay were gently steamed in some sort of ouzo, lemon and honey reduction before being flavoured with fresh herbs and spices, anise and coriander to name a few. Hidden amongst the shells was a deep-fried crumbed cigar in the form of a “bakaliaro” (salt cod croquette, I guess) which tasted fine, but nothing mind-blowing. The mussels came with a safron aoli which was beautifully intense but I preferred eating my mussels on its own. To me, the ouzo reduction was enough to bring out the gentle flavours of the mussels. Delicious.

Adam’s entree: Shaved “Hellenic Republic” lamb ham, baked ricotta with a black bean and hazelnut salad. To me, this dish was a bit odd. The baked ricotta building block was fine, it was light, fluffy and delicate. The ham, on the other hand, just seemed a bit wtf. I think it was added as a novelty factor because seriously, where else would one eat lamb ham? It tasted a lot like that cold roast beef stuff you get from the deli, funnily enough. The “salad” was nothing to go on about and personally, I think blackbeans should just be used in Asian cooking and nothing else. The end.

We had a prolonged intermission before our mains arrived. At this point, more diners (mostly suits) were coming into the dining room in droves which kept the two waiters busy. Given that there were only two of them running around, I’d say that they still did a great job with ensuring that they got around to everyone and making sure our glasses were filled.

My main: Roasted barramundi fillet with warm potato salad (which was a skinless version of the coriander potatoes that I had last time). Both elements were fine, the barramuni skin as crisp as a cracker and the flesh so smooth went well with the potatoes that emitted a zesty and nutty zing from the coriander seeds. The highlight of the dish, however, was the taramasalata that came in a little jam jar, lid and all.

I swear, you have not tried taramasalata until you have tried THIS!

Some of you will know taramasalata as that light pink dip you see at delis, the one made with fish roe. It usually tastes pretty sour and “off.” Not this one though. Made with white fish roe, it is whipped until it’s as light as cake mix. It is then topped with sprinkles of crushed pistachios, sultanas, breadcrumbs and Yarra Valley salmon roe. This will restore your faith in taramasalata, I promise! And in case you’re wondering what the piece of paper is, it’s a Dodoni feta cheese ad which George Calombaris endorses to death. Nothing like a bit of shameless cross-promotion…

Adam’s main: “Hot off the Press” chicken spit served with white bean skordalia, lemon potatoes and marouli salad (or simply, iceberg lettuce with vinegarette salad). If you think it looks familiar, then you’re right. It came as one of our courses last time. I was asking Adam why the heck he’d choose something that we’d already tried and he cried out, “I didn’t know! I got sucked in when I saw the words “Hot off the Press” and “Spit”!!” Sigh. Oh well. It wasn’t as good as I remembered, and the chicken was a little bit dry but hey, it was filling… While it wasn’t bad, it’s not something that we’d order again next time.

We were stuffed by the end of that (Adam struggled to finish off his chicken) but we couldn’t say no to loukamades. It goes without saying that these are a must when going to Press Club (or Hellenic Republic), piping hot and crispy puffs of gold drizzled in Atiki honey and sprinkled with walnuts. Perfect with a cup of Greek coffee to end your lunch. Mmmm.

$87 for the two of us, including coffee. Obviously it wasn’t a cheap lunch but definitely good value, given that most mains hovered around the $38 mark. The lunch was a bit of a hit and miss, some dishes were done nicely (haha, mine!) while others were so-so. I would definitely come here to try more “modern Greek” stuff, particularly the crazy stuff that comes out at night such as the scallops louakamades which are apparently awesome. The service, this time around, was a little bit waffly but I guess having only two staff on the floor makes it hard to please everyone and plus, George Calombaris is out of the country so I guess everyone’s a little bit more relaxed. It’s not like we were in a rush to leave anyway. One thing that I love about George Calmobaris’ restaurants though, is that I’ve always walked out of them feeling STUFFED so I wouldn’t advise going there if you’re trying to lose weight, heh. Having said that, Adam and I did manage to walk to East Melbourne library and back into the city to burn off those calories so in the end, it all evens out .

We left The Press Club at 2:30pm. It is now 8:40pm. And I’m still full.

Oriental Spoon

254 La Trobe St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 9930

Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who offered suggestions on where to go for decent Korean food in Melbourne. Oriental Spoon, it seemed, was crowd favourite and so I made a resolution to go there for lunch over the weekend. As luck would have had it, I was in the city today (okay fine, it wasn’t really “luck”, I had no choice but to haul myself to RMIT Business Library to work on my assignment which is due on Monday). Adam had an hour long lunch break which gave us a good opportunity to walk across to La Trobe St where the extremely popular canteen-like place stood.

It was just past 12pm when we arrived, so it wasn’t very busy. While the hotpot options looked oh-so-appealing, we didn’t have time for that today (and I didn’t want to go to the library smelling like smoke and meat) so we opted for individual dishes. I wouldn’t mind coming here for some hot pot action one day though.

I had their supposedly famous bibimbap with beef for $15.90 (you can also choose between chicken and tofu). It came in a cute stone bowl which was sizzling hot to the touch (I made the mistake of brushing my right index finger against the bowl which, of course, caused a slight burn). In it was a generous serving of white rice and cooked vegies. Resting on top of everything was a single egg, cooked sunnyside up. A bottle of Korean sweet chilli pepper paste was provided to spice things up a bit as well. I was instructed to mix everything up, which I did. On its own, the sweetly marinated beef tasted really good but its flavour was drowned by the rest of the ingredients and when mixed together, each spoonful rendered a bit tasteless. Tentatively, I added a bit more pepper paste which did made it taste better but I longed for a bit more sweet and beefy flavour. I don’t know whether bibimbap is actually supposed to be like that (the beef and its marinade not being tasty enough) or whether I’m just picky but I guess I’ll have to go try it somewhere else! (by the way, this was the first time I’ve had it ever. What, don’t look at me like that! )

Adam loves eels so he went for the grilled eel ($18.90). Marinated in a sweet soya sauce, the eel was chopped into pieces and roasted roasted before being served on a sizzling plate on top of a bed of beansprouts. I’m not a fan of eel at all but one bite of his eel made me go “mmmm” as it was so sweet and rich and so buttery that it fell apart in my mouth. You may also call me weird but it tasted a bit like lollies (then again, I HAVE been eating too much chocolate the last fortnight or so). Adam said that while it wasn’t extraordinary, he did feel satisfied and saw it as a “pretty decent lunch.”

10 billion little bowls of pickled vegies were also laid out on the table for us to nibble on, most of which I didn’t touch because I’m not a huge fan of kimchi (which is a shame really, because I would really love to like it ). I did manage to nibble on some fermented tofu and some nori pieces before the waitress asked us if we would like any more sides (presumably, they were free) to which we said no because we were full anyway. With 15 minutes left til the end of Adam’s lunchbreak, we got up and paid for our meal ($38.10, including drinks) and out we went. I really liked the cleanliness of the place. I really liked the friendly and attentive wait staff (they weren’t all brutuses so I don’t know what Joe was on about!). And while I don’t think that it was THE best Korean restaurant in Melbourne, at least it restored my faith in Korean food!

Oh and if you were wondering how my assignment-ing session went, well… let’s just say that I DID manage to get work done which is always a good thing. I was hoping to finish everything off by 5pm (closing time) but alas it didn’t happen . Apparently some poor kid’s laptop got stolen at the library this afternoon while they ducked out for 30 seconds to look for a book which prompted one of the libraries to run around and tell people to watch their belongings at all times. Having to pack up Adam’s heavy Powerbook numerous times (i.e. when I wanted to go to the bathroom or when I needed to find a book) and setting everything up again definitely wasn’t fun… hmmmrph.

Seamstress

113 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 6363
http://www.seamstress.com.au/

Adam was keen on wining brownie points from his misses and his workmates in a charitable mood last night so he decided to shout his girlies dinner at Seamstress. His girlies being Phina, Wendy and me. And Seamstress being that restaurant-slash-bar on Lonsdale Street. While we’ve been there for drinks more than a few times over the last year or so, we had never eaten there so I spent all of yesterday gearing up for what would potentially be a yummy dinner.

Squeezed in between a bunch of sub-standard hotels and eateries, Seamstress is a place that’s pretty easy to miss. An undies factory/garments shop as well as a brothel back in the days, it’s no wonder then that it looks rickety on the outside, trying to look discreet. Inside, however, it’s anything BUT shabby. Its rickety wooden stairs lead can lead you all the way up to the intimate boutique cocktail bar at the very top, or down the very bottom and into the more casual bar, The Sweatshop. Both very cool drinking venues. What we came for tonight, however, was not for sculling cocktails but eating Asian-inspired food. Think Longrain, Cookie, Pearl and Gingerboy.

Our booking was for 8pm so when we rocked up 15 minutes early, we were anticipating to wait at the bar but they were able to sit us straightaway.  In the hideously* dark dining area, we were given menus to ponder over and water to sip. The menu, while not extensive, was well executed with a variety of dishes ranging from crispy barramundi to roast duck, with vegetarian options such as roasted eggplant. What I particularly liked about the menu was the way in which they categorised the items, the appetizers and entrees being labelled “Small” and “Medium” while the mains (to share) were “Large” and “Extra Large” in reference to clothing sizes. Clearly, the prices increased as the sizes went up. Additionally, dishes were called “Accessories” which I thought was cute, though I can’t exactly see Blair Waldorf wearing a headband of wok-tossed greens. We ordered about two smalls (from the specials board), two mediums and one  large.  We wanted to order the Yarra Valley rainbow trout but we were informed that they didn’t have any fish. The waitress suggested ordering something else from the menu but there wasn’t really anything that caught my fancy (I wanted fish, dammit !) so I politely told her that we’ll leave it at that and if we were still hungry, we’ll order again.

*It wasn’t really hideous, the lighting was actually quite nice and definitely very appropriate for such intimate settings… it’s just that the lack of proper lighting made my photos suffer.


Prior to our food arriving, we received a complimentary “pineapple rum tea” in little china cups. They were steaming hot… and smelt strange. I was sniffing at it, trying to figure out what it smelt like before finally realising that it smelt like five-spice powder. Then Phina commented on how it smelt a lot like Chinese roast pork, which sent us all giggling as we reluctantly sipped on our teas. While I can taste the pineapple and the burnt rum, the five-spice powder overpowered everything else which, I believed, ruined the whole tea. What made it worse, though, was the thin layer of oil (yes, OIL) floating over the tea, which made our mouths all slimy.

Our entrees didn’t all that quickly but when they did, we immediately dug in. There were raw oysters advertised on the specials board and we ordered half a dozen of natural Pipe Bay oysters with ponzu jelly ($3.50 each). Still salty from the sea, the flavours merged well with the sweet cubes of jelly and a squirt of lime. It’s a shame that Phina doesn’t like seafood so she couldn’t enjoy the little shuckers (excuse the horrible pun) but on the other hand, there’s more to share between Adam, Wendy and I!

Tailor-made dumplings ($12 for a basket of six). Seamstress’ dumplings are made fresh every day in-house, with a new one on the menu each day to keep things interesting. I was hoping for some prawn dumplings tonight but they decided to offer pork and ginger ones which I had to deal with. Perfectly executed, the skins were soft yet firm enough to hold the ball of lightly flavoured pork mince inside. While I felt that the dumplings could do with a bit more taste, I thought they were otherwise good for non-yum cha dumplings and certainly miles ahead of the crap they served at Sho Noodle Bar!

There was a bit of a wait for our mains and rice (free with the mains) – something like 35 minutes – which really wasn’t good, especially for a place that was only 60% full (keep in mind that this is Thursday night). We kept busy with animated conversations about Asian babies (don’t ask) before coming up with all sorts of theories as to why our mains were taking so long (“We’re the only Asians in the place, they’re probably making our dishes perfect because they know that we’ll be fussy with the food”, said Adam). When they finally came (all at once), we breathed a sigh of relief… before feeling a little bit perplexed at how each dish looked roughly the same size. Yep, our large beef ($38) was the same size as our $20 duck. Hmmph.

Not to worry though, our peppered black Angus beef (cut up into four pieces, $38) was actually textbook perfect. Cooked at medium-rare, it rested on a bed of steamed Shanghai bok choy and accompanied by a little dish containing some sort of mayonnaise which was a little tasteless. While the beef was good, it lacked a little something that I couldn’t put a finger to. What I liked best about this dish, though, was not the beef but the taro dumpling which was Seamstress’ take on those taro dumplings you would find at yum cha. I have no idea why the taro dumpling was there, it certainly didn’t marry well with the beef and sorta stuck out like a literary snob amongst a group of Twilight fangirls. Never mind though, the dumpling was FANTASTIC. The size of half a tennis ball, it consisted of a shredded taro filling and was golden fried to perfection. Funnily enough, I’m not a fan of those taro dumplings but I loved loved LOVED Seamstress’ taro dumpling. I swear, if they made them like this at yum cha, I would order three plates of them for myself.

Like the beef, our twice cooked duck breast ($28) was impressive to a degree but still remained lacking. About 10 slices of roasted duck breast (some still with the fat on) rested on a salad some sort of spinach, bean shoots and shiso, which, I don’t know, didn’t really go well with the duck and the hoison sauce dip. I felt that the duck was perhaps a bit too cold for my liking (probably due to the fact that it had been sitting in the kitchen for some time, while the chefs were frantically getting the other stuff ready so that they could deliver all the dishes at once) and it just left me out cold. On the other hand, I’m glad that they managed to get the duck meat-fat-skin ratio right, which is always an important thing!

Our last main was a steamed eggplant dish ($22). I’m not a fan of eggplant (unless, as I’ve told people countless times, they are in baba ghanoush form) but I was already impressed with how pretty it looked (shame that the lighting makes it look so bad in the photo though). Two perfect round orbs sat in a bowl, drenched with a spicy black bean sauce and Thai basil sauce. Cutting open the balls (which are eggplants with the flesh carved out), we discovered a filling consisting of silken tofu, wood ear mushroom and eggplant flesh. Anyway, I suppose this dish was alright and certainly the sauce would’ve gone well with the eggplant and the filling inside but again, there was something missing. The eggplant seemed resistant to the salty sauce, and so the two dominant flavours were left sorta segregated. The best way to explain this is to think of two female singers who sound good on their own, and sound great together but only a male singer to add some deep vocals in between would make them a fantastic team.

We also ordered a side of beans which were wok-tossed in a sesame and oyster sauce ($8), which, in hindsight, was a dumb idea because we already had a vegetable dish and because the beans weren’t all that great. While they tasted okay with the lightly salted sesame sauce that they were cooked in, they tasted quite strange when dipped into the plum sauce that was provided. We definitely could have done without.

We were still hungry after all that and thought about ordering another dish but we didn’t want to wait another 30 minutes for it to arrive and we didn’t think the dessert menu looked too exciting so we just asked for the bill – $129 for four. Not bad, but it was simply a case of “can eat at Gingerboy and be happy with the food quality and portions at the same price.” While I like the place with its funky settings, its cute old skool Singer sewing machines and sheets of woven material hanging from the ceiling, I felt that the food erred towards the “overpriced and trying hard to please gweilos who are too wussy to eat in a dingy Chinatown eatery” side. Now, I’m not one of those Asians who turn their nose at the thought of a white guy cooking Asian food. Good food is good food, no matter who cooks it. Indeed, Gingerboy is a bit like that in that (gweilo Asian cuisine charged at inflated prices) but the difference between Gingerboy and Seamstress is that the food at Gingerboy, at least, tastes fantastic even to Asians and is coherent rather than awkward. At least Lindsay, Ezard, Boetz et al know what they’re doing. In short, each meal at Seamstress akin to meeting an aspiring designer… so full of promise and potential on paper, but put her with a sheet of expensive silk, a ball of merino wool and lace trimmings and instead of coming up with a masterpiece, she comes up with a misshaped sack of a dress that could only be properly mended in the hands of an exceptional tailor. It is definitely a promising place and there were a few good elements but at the end of the day, some of the beads just fell off the hem. Going by our experience, I am reluctant to recommend this place for food for now but do go for drinks, it’s what they’re good at .

Post-dinner drinks @ the Seamstress Cocktail Bar


With Paul Anka in the background and a sea of cheongsams hanging above us, we decided to finish up by having a few drinks upstairs. I was still very hungry so we shared a bowl of sweet potato wedges that came with sweet chilli sauce and miso mayonnaise ($8). It was just okay.

Pink Cashmir (tequila, fresh raspberries, lemon and mint, $17). Chars!