The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Roundhouse Roti

220 Gertrude St
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9417 4285
http://www.roundhouseroti.com.au/

Both Adam and I are huge fans of roti, the famous unleavened pan-fried flat bread that’s popular in Malaysia. Thus, it is hardly surprising that when we found out that Roundhouse Roti was just a back kick away from his work, we knew we had to make a visit. Having both finished work at the same time one Friday afternoon, we decided to visit this place that sells roti and ONLY ROTI.

The eatery’s shopfront may be nondescript but once you step inside, you can’t help but gasp at the ornate furnishings. From the sleek tabletops to the somewhat extravagrant ventilator hanging above the work open kitchen, this place was a far cry from the mamak stalls that can be found in Malaysian cities.

In keeping with my promise to eat more vegies and less meat (thanks, Michael Pollan), I decided to go for the roti dahl ($8.50). A generous-sized piece of plain roti was accompanied by a sambar lentil dahl, a mildly spicy tamarind-based stew with cooked lentils and chunks of vegetables including sweet corn. While the dahl was beautiful, I could not say the same about the roti which was not particularly nor tasty. In fact, it was probably one of the blandest roti’s I’ve ever tasted. While it was good that Roundhouse Roti aimed to cater to the Fitzroy-dweller’s penchant for healthy eating, there was no way I can consider a roti to be really good if it didn’t have ghee in it. Fail.

Adam’s ‘king of kings’ ($13.50) wasn’t exactly much better. Okay, so the chicken curry dipping sauce was relishing but the murtabak (which is basically a roti filled with spiced minced beef and egg) was not only soggy but almost tasteless. A far cry from the beautifully crispy-skinned versions a good street-seller in Jakarta could make with his eyes closed.

For a place that specialises in roti, we expected something special … or well above-average at the very least. Sadly, we both felt that Roundhouse Roti failed to deliver. While both of the condiments that came with our respective roti’s were lovely, the bread in both our meals just spoilt it for us. At the end of the day, I would have been happier munching on roti served at Chatterbox at Tivoli Arcade. I can only imagine that Chuck Norris will not approve if he were to come here for a meal.

Roundhouse Roti on Urbanspoon

Chatterbox

Shop 18, Tivoli Arcade
235 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 2588

Adam and I study at RMIT Business library quite a bit because we both work in the city… and let’s be honest, who can be effed going all the way to Caulfield and Clayton respectively when 90% of the prescribed textbooks on your reading lists can be found at RMIT? Studying at RMIT means that you are afforded the choice of many, many eateries when you are famished and need a break in between reading cases or punching numbers into your financial calculator. You can stroll over to Chinatown  for cheap and cheerful Chinese or walk several blocks up or down Bourke Street and be exposed to the city’s finer Italian and Indian restaurants. When you can’t be arsed, however, there is Chatterbox, a student-friendly budget cafe that serves hawker-style dishes … and the beauty about this place is that it’s only one elevator ride away from the library.

I ordered a steaming plate of char kway teow ($8.30), a generous serving, which failed to excite me. The noodles may have been fresh from the wok, but it lacked the mandatory ‘wok hei’ that makes a char kway teow so good. The sauce, while a little on the sweet side, along with thick slabs of fish cake may have given this dish a pass but the addition of seafood extender (!) brought it back to a fail.

Adam’s roti with lamb curry ($9.20) was surprisingly MUCH better. It was one of the dishes off the specials menu which meant that it took slightly longer to arrive but when it did, we both dug hungrily at it. The roti was thick and soft yet somehow beautifully flaky. A good dosage of aromatic lamb curry was the perfect accompaniment and could arguably rival lamb curries served at one of the better Indian eateries in the CBD. More please!

Okay, so my char kway teow pretty much sucked but Adam’s roti rocked. I’ll probably be back to try more of their noodle dishes before I will write this place off. In the mean time, just stick with the roti.

Uzu

2 Derby Rd
Caulfield East VIC 3145
+61 3 9571 6792

In the past, I may have whinged a fair bit about going to uni in Clayton. Our isolated location meant that it was far removed from civilisation and more importantly, good places to eat. Thus, I spent a good portion of my class days last year either bringing my own lunch from home or going elsewhere to eat.

Earlier this semester, I had initially enrolled in a business/finance unit at the Caulfield campus which meant that I had to spend some time at Caulfield with my lovely Adam, who started his Masters course there this year. Again, I didn’t think that Caulfield had much to offer in terms of food apart from a KFC, Gloria Jeans, the odd sandwich bar, a few gweilo Chinese eateries and a Coles supermarket if desperation prevailed. Imagine my delight, however, when I ventured towards the Derby Rd end of the train station and saw a few eateries that not only looked decent but some also had the ‘Cheap Eats 2010′ sticker on their windows. Even better, I saw that Uzu, a place that claims to have the best takoyaki in Melbourne, just so happened to be right on Derby Rd so Adam and I decided to go there for lunch one day.

We shared a plate of takoyaki (eight pieces for $6) which were cooked in an authentic takoyaki grill specially brought over from Japan. The takoyaki we had were already made and all they had to do was to pour Japanese BBQ sauce over it before drizzling it with mayo (you could also ask for wasabi mayo if you want) and bonito flakes. This meant that the balls were already going soft when they arrived at our table, which was pretty disappointing. Also disappointing was the fact that they went overboard with the sauce (Adam could only eat one ball because it was ‘too rich’) and they were skimpy with the octopus pieces too. Having said that, I was impressed at how big the balls were (no sniggering over the unintended entendre, please). I do not think that these were the best takoyaki, like, EVER but I haven’t had any better ones in Melbourne…

Adam had a bowl of unagi don ($9.50) which he reckons was one of the best he’s ever had. A lot of so-called Japanese eateries make the mistake of overcooking the eel or serving eel meat that is as thin as paper but Uzu’s version was amazingly plump and fleshy. Plus, the kabayaki sauce was not overly sweet and did not drown out the eel which was another good sign.

My oyakodon ($8) was not as successful. I felt that the sauce was way too sweet for my liking and even though I’m a huge fan of eggs, I just felt that Uzu went overboard with it. In an oyakodon, the braised chicken fillet pieces would normally be the main player but in this case, it looked liked the eggs were stealing the limelight. Additionally, the measly piece of broccoli and the stupid zucchini (which I’m not a fan of) were the only greens, apart from the spring onions, that came with the dish. Pretty much a fail.

Clearly, this is not the best Japanese eatery in Melbourne and their claim to make the best takoyaki is one that needs further investigation. Having said that, their unagi don is pretty good so I’d recommend that dish to lovers of unagi. In spite of my less-than-awesome lunch though, I reckon that I would be happy to come back here should I have the urge for Japanese food.  I mean, they seem to have a popular standing with students so I’m sure they know what they’re doing. Plus, their sushi rolls seem to fly out the door like hotcakes so perhaps I will try them next time. If anything, at least those octopus balls beats anything served at the Clayton campus.

Uzu on Urbanspoon

Circa, the Prince

2 Acland St
St Kilda VIC 3182
+61 3 9536 1122
http://www.circa.com.au/

I’ve been hoarding an $80 gift voucher from Circa, the Prince for quite some time now. It was a birthday gift from Adam’s sister, Jen, and although I received it almost 10 months ago, I was not able to use it until now because the restaurant was going through a massive renovation last year. After the pseudo-apocalyptic weather that terrorised Melbourne the previous day, we were hoping for some calmer weather on Sunday. We were scheduled to arrive at The Prince of Wales for a 12:30pm start but unfortunately could not make it until 1:30pm. We notified the restaurant over the phone about our late arrival and they were lovely about it.

Now, I’ve never been to this place before so believe Adam when he said that this place has done a complete 360. He attended Jen’s wedding here several years ago and he recalls the place being “more classy” but admits that the new Circa had a “fresher” and “cleaner” atmosphere. This could be attributed to the more open floor space as well as the wall of fresh garden herbs and vegies lining the airy dining room which looked like a toffed-up food court with its booths and erratic seating arrangements. And although Adam doesn’t remember much about the old menu, other sources suggest that chef Matt Wilkinson focuses less on theatrics and instead, playing up the fact that all their dishes use fresh produce straight from the restaurant’s garden. Settling into a cushy booth in the middle of the room (where the sun decided to settle in for better part of the afternoon, dammit!), we anticipated our first dish of the $65 Sunday four-course set lunch menu you get to pick your main and your dessert.

Our first dish came in the form of several pieces of emulsified goat’s cheese on a plate that was then covered in a sexy roasted tomato, aged balsamic and garlic puree at the table. The result was one of the most luscious and flavoursome tomato purees –dammit, I’m calling it SOUP… I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. We also received a piece of warm, round multi-grain rolls to dunk in our soups. There was also a mini pot with sour cream in it but we both rendered it pretty useless and yearned for a butter pat in place of that.

A bit of a digression here: I always giggle every time I see the restaurant’s name. To me, Circa, The Prince is one helluva weird name to call a restaurant. It’s kinda like lumping it with those royals who had names such as Henry the Eighth, Piero the Gouty and Catherine the Great. Haha Circa the Prince. I wonder what sort of person he’d be. No doubt someone who likes to beat around the bush *badum-ching!*

The second course was a sampler of starters to share but what we did not count on was the fact that the serving sizes were going to be so generous that we would bowl over before our mains arrived.

Crispy fried lime and chilli whitebait with aioli (“Look! You can even see their eyes!” exclaimed Adam). I thought it was a bit odd to see this dish make an appearance, as it would be something I’d normally associated with bars rather than fine-dining. Paired with a bottle of Trumer Pils, however, ensured that Adam (a whitebait friend) was a happy camper, at least until the mains appeared.

Heirloom tomatoes with Migas bread and prosciutto. The fresh slices of several varieties of Heirloom tomatoes were the star of the show, with the crunchy Migas (read: leftover bread) soldiers and prosciutto playing supporting roles. So sweet and lovely were the tomatoes that they probably would have made a fine dish on their own.

Roasted padron peppers, smoked salt with spiced yoghurt. Probably my least favourite dish as I’m not a fan of padron peppers. While I could eat the peppers if they were merely a supporting ingredient any other dish, a whole bowl of peppers on their own was a bit too much for me. I did, however, liked the slightly tangy spiced yoghurt which helped defuse some of sharp bitterness that I encountered when taking the peppers.

Chicken, tarragon and mushroom pot pie. It was divine with a capital D; arguably one of the better chicken pies I’ve had in my life and trust me, I’ve had more than my fair share. The crust could have done with a bit more ‘crisp’ but otherwise the filling was superb and surprisingly light.

Adam’s main: Black Angus sirloin, ox tail kromeski, runner beans and caper dressing. Adam had requested it to be cooked “medium-rare” so imagine our surprise when he cut a piece of steak to discover that it was cooked all the way though:

Boh! Only a few moments earlier, the guy sitting behind us had received the same dish only to send it back as it was “not medium-rare.” Later on, the dude received his new steak and said, to his partner, “Ah, this is more like it! Now THAT is the difference between a piece of meat and a steak!” Such profound words from the gentleman cannot be truer, we thought, as we forlornly stared at Adam’s steak. We should have probably sent the steak but I’m one of those people who hate wasting meat. Something about the animal dying in vain for nothing. Despite the fact that our meat was edging towards the “well-done” side, the dish was actually quite lovely. Teamed up with fresh baby carrots, runner beans and little parsnips, the steak piece of meat was served with a slightly sweet pan jus to bring out its flavour and a smidgen of very light béarnaise sauce for depth. The croquette-like object(s) was the ox tail kromeski which had a lovely silky cream filling flecked with shreds of ox tail meat – it rounded off proceedings quite nicely. Divine.

My pan-fried John Dory with golden beetroot, redlof and herb salad did not match up to the steak but it was still exquisite nevertheless. The three pieces of John Dory fillets may have been a smidgen too oily but thank goodness for the abundance of greens  such as baby spinach, rocket and endive which filled the rest of the plate up along with pieces of yellowish-orange beetroot from the garden. I normally stay away from beetroot (I’ve had one too many sandwiches and burgers ruined by the shocking reddish dye that the canned variety gives out) but the golden ones I had at Circa surprisingly did not make me gag – their sweetness was more subtle yet they had more bite.

And just when you thought that we were given enough vegies to last us a month, we were given a side of, yep, you guessed it, fresh salad leaves from the garden. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly advocate eating your greens – heck, I love them – but I thought the whole must-emphasis-the-fact-that-we-grow-our-own-vegies thing was a bit too much.

We were stuffed at this point but we had to soldier on for dessert. Adam’s nougat parfait and raspberry coulee and berries tasted as good as it looked and made us not regret ordering the much heavier (but also much more popular) apple crumble with crème fraiche. The parfait, being not too sweet, enabled the berries to truly shine.

Finally, my Holy Goat Black silk goat’s cheese with raisin puree and crackers was probably one of the better dessert cheese  dish I’ve had. The cheese was very soft, almost like brie but had a silky rather than creamy texture. It went well with the sweet raisin puree and the wafer-thin crackers that were almost like pappadums. It breaks my heart to tell you this but I was so full that I was not about to finish off my dessert.

On top of the food and beverage the effkers slapped a 10% “Sunday surcharge” on our bill which I wasn’t too pleased about, especially since I wasn’t told of this surcharge over the phone nor was it specified on the restaurant’s website. Apart from that and apart from the steak, I’d say that this was one of the better experiences I’ve had in a two-hatted restaurant in a very long time. Great service and wonderfully fresh, simple and delicious food in a restaurant that is only a stroll from the beach = approximately a winning formula for a prince(ss).

Circa, the Prince on Urbanspoon

Miss Marple’s Tea Room

382 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd
Sassafras VIC 3787
+61 3 9755 1610
http://www.missmarples.com.au/
Labour Day Monday was a day which saw Linda and I take a drive to the Dandenong ranges for lunch at Miss Marple’s Tea Room. Having heard that their scones were out-of-this-world, you can imagine how excited I was as we left my house at around 1:30pm for the one hour drive to Sassafras.
The tea room is pretty hard to miss. It sits grandly on Mt Dandenong-Tourist Rd amidst small, quirky shops selling antiques, clothes, jewelry and the most amazing collection of tea leaves. Heck, you’d think that you were in the English village of St Mary Mead rather than the outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne (come to think of it, I’m still amazed to think that we were even still in Melbourne).
Now this was my first time at Miss Marple’s, but I’m well-aware of its reputation of being so busy, especially on public holidays. Because we arrived at 2:30pm, we thought that we had beat the lunch rush and that we could secure a table for two. WRONG. We were told by a glum waitress (who didn’t look too pleased to be working on a public holiday) that we should come back at a quarter to four as she wrote our names down on the long list of names on the waiting list. “But don’t you guys close at 4pm?” we asked, “And will you still be serving then?” “We’ll be serving as long as there is still power,” said the lady rather dismissively while, looking at the grey clouds gathering outside. She must have saw our glum faces because the next thing she said was, “Alright then, 3:30pm. You never know, a lot of the people on the waiting list never show up at all.” Well, after we exhausted our fill of the neighbouring shops, we came back just after 3pm to try our luck only to be told by Miss Sour Face that we still had to wait. She went away and in her place was a different waitress who looked a bit more pleasant. She started calling out names of people who were on the list above us, but no one answered her calls. Finally, Linda decided to use her charms by telling her that we were “not far down the list” and whether we could be seated as it was obvious that the people above us had given up (for all we know, they were probably standing outside not able to hear their names being called hahaha). After calling a few more names out and seeing no one else come forward, the lovely waitress showed us to a table right by the window. Score!
After ordering several items off the menu, comprising of oldies such as pies, sandwiches et al, we received our drinks immediately. A luscious iced chocolate for Linda ($5) and a teapot of Taylors for my ($3.50). I would have loved to try their vanilla milkshakes or even their ipsy wipsys (which were essentially spiders) but I chose the tea because it was voted the “best cup of tea in England” by the British Tea Council. To be honest, I didn’t really find this tea overly exciting. It was a bit like drinking a sweeter and smoother version of Lipton, really. Next time, I’ll go the ipsy wipsy.
We shared a chicken cottage pie ($13.50, beef also available). Now, I had a beautiful chicken, tarragon and mushroom  pot pie at Circa, The Prince the previous afternoon (review to come) so I knew that it would take something special to top it. I will admit that Miss Marple’s pie was nowhere near as good as Circa’s pie but it was able to hold its own. As you call tell from the photo, the folks at Miss Marple’s aren’t big on innovation and instead rely on the tried-and-tested (and dare I say, dated [parsley sprigs for garnishes, anyone?]) when it comes to their offerings – but hey, it obviously works. The filling, comprising of delicate chicken breast fillets with chopped corn, peas and carrots, was beautifully flavoured with ‘Miss Marple’s Own Sauce’ which I suspect consists of gravy and hints of curry powder. This was then topped with a generous mountain of mashed potatoes. Comfort food at its best.
We also shared a serving of fresh chicken, cheese and asparagus fingers ($13) which were essential cut-up bits of open toasted sandwiches. This was something that I could easily whip up at home (it wasn’t like they used high quality bread either, just bits of wholemeal sandwich slices) but I happily devoured my beautiful fingers hungrily as they were so so good. At this stage, we were pretty much full but we had to stay for one more dish: Miss Marple’s famous Devonshire scones, which we ordered in place of desserts (which were so big anyway that we wouldn’t be able to finish one even if we shared).
For $8.50, one would receive two freshly-baked scones in a basket (either two plain or two fruit or, in our case, one of each) along with some home-made strawberry jam and freshly whipped cream. The scones, which were topped with icing sugar and looked more like sponge cakes than actual scones, might look really tiny at first glance but they really do fill you up. Both the jam and the cream were surprisingly amazing too and rather than play second fiddle to the scones, they actually made them taste even better.
I swear, folks. Best. Scones. Ever.
We left the tea room $43.50 lighter, 10 billion pounds heavier (which we managed to counteract by driving up to Sky High for a walkabout straight after) and a million times happier. This was Linda’s x+1th time at Miss Marple’s and it certainly won’t be my last. Like I said, their food might not be extraordinary but their simple, comfort food evokes all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings and are done quite well. Plus, the atmosphere is pretty out of this world too. Oh, and so are their scones.

Miss Marple's Tearoom on Urbanspoon

Grand Asia

236 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 0505

Now although I said that I would not eat a single dumpling after my visit to Auntie’s Dumplings the other week, I knew my promise would not last very long. And when Jan told me that a normally-would-have-walked-straight-past-it cafe in the Target Centre on Bourke Street served decent Beijing dumplngs, I knew that I *had* to give them a go.

Adam and I were planning to study at RMIT Business Library on Saturday so we decided to share a plate of dumplings before we went. It was just before three when we left the State Library but judging by the almost-dark sky, one could have sworn it was closer to dusk. We arrived at Grand Asia not long after, a kiosk that served unintimidating ‘Chinese’ fare that can be cooked to order or plonked on a bain marie for people to help themselves to. I will tell you now, unashamefully, that I used to frequent this place five years ago to get my fix of crispy seafood noodles for $8.00 (that was before they changed ownership and I haven’t been back until this day). Anyway, this place also offer Beijing dumplings, cooked-to-order, for very reasonable prices.

We shared a plate of fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $7.50) which looked suspiciously like they were more ‘boiled’ rather than ‘fried’ at first glance. Upon eating them, we found that they were fried but they didn’t spend enough time in the fryer which I wasn’t happy with. My disappointment, however, turned to delight when I bit into the dumpling to taste one of the better pork fillings I’ve had in a CBD dumpling eatery in a very long time. The pork filling was surprisingly fragrant with a subtle sweetness and went down really well dipped in chilli oil.

The entire time we were having our dumplings, we witnessed people run wildly into the centre and screaming “RAIN!” Thinking that they were just being overdramatic, we shrugged as we continued to polish off our dumplings not realising that we had missed one of the worst storms this city had ever seen. Ah, well. Food > once-in-a-century weather. I know where my priorities are at. *big smile*

Event: Movie-themed cocktail night at Cafe Vue

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

Linda got promoted. I got promoted. And Dave, I’m sure, will get his moment of glory in the not-too-distant future. And while the three of us normally think nothing of spending a decent amount of money on a night filled with good food and drinks for no apparent reason, we decided that spending $75 for a three-hour, five-stage sit-down cocktail and nibbles night at Café Vue (whew, all those hyphens!) BECAUSE of our promotions made us feel just that little bit better (as opposed to having no excuse to splurge). The theme of the night (and for all of March) was “Friday Night At the Movies” and each of the food and drinks were to draw inspiration from various movies, with a focus on classics from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Café Vue is a bustling café serving office workers during the day, but at night it is transformed into a cozy, dim-lit den that could easily be mistaken for any of Melbourne’s drinking holes featured in Deck of Secrets: Melbourne. We were seated on one of the outside tables in the walkway and because we were about 15 minutes early for the 7pm start, we sat there sipping water as the sun dipped below the horizon while the smooth sounds of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra crooning from the speakers set the mood for the night.

Our first cocktail was named ‘Roundhay Garden’, a tribute to the earliest-surviving motion picture shot in 1888, Roundhay Garden Scene. This two second-long film was basically of people walking around in a garden, something that I’d probably find more interesting than anything Wong Kar-Wai has ever made (sorry Adam, it had to be said).  The mixture of cognac and champagne was a nod to the director’s French roots while the blackcurrant puree that was mixed in with the drink gave it a lovely, rough texture.

The accompanying dish was a carpaccio of ‘Bambi’ with pink peppercorns and apple, the name of which sent me into fits of giggles. Now, I’ve had venison carpaccio before so I sort of knew what to expect. What I DIDN’T expect, however, was the overly gamey taste that this carpaccio had which didn’t really go down too well with the way-too-sour-to-be-served-raw pieces of Granny Smith apple. I also thought that the carpaccio was a little too chewy and tough, it was almost like eating a piece of jerky. I did like the presentation of the dish though, so props to that.

For the next course, we were presented with Café Vue’s take on ‘hot dog and chips’ which arrived in neat little wooden box. All three of us agreed that the hot dog looked a LOT like a miniature banh mi thit roll. The bread roll was a sweet brioche that cuddled what looked like a chicken and onion ‘sausage’ which was topped with sliced red onions and a sweet coriander relish. Unusual, yes, and not that bad but probably not something I’d order if it was on offer at Café Vue during lunch. Mad props for the well-cooked and slightly salted shoe-string fries though which were amazing.

The accompanying cocktail was supposed to be something called ‘The Jazz Singer’ but the café decided to serve ‘The Charlie Chaplin’ (which was supposed to come with the next course, the flathead) with the hot dog and chips. The drink, created in honour of the great man by the same name, was invented by some dude at the Waldorf-Astoria and has been popular for 80-odd years. In addition to the sloe gin, apricot brandy and lime juice, Café Vue also added a hint of pomegranate molasses to give the drink a dimension of extra sweetness. Both Linda and Dave thought it tasted odd, like Dr Pepper, but I reckon this cocktail is a bit of an acquired taste so once I got going, I decided that I couldn’t stop even at one glass so I also got stuck into Linda’s cocktail, haha.

The next course was a confit flathead with ratatouille, which I suspect was a tribute to the more recent Pixar animated flick about a French rat.  We all agreed that this was the best dish of the night, so far. In addition to the cute and sweet dehydrated cherry tomato perched on the fish, we all loved the delicately-cooked flathead fillet itself which fell apart easily with a gentle prod of the balsa wood cutlery and the way it tasted with the surprisingly-better-than-ordinary ratatouille, something that Linda and I aren’t fans of but we did like this one.

The fish was accompanied by ‘The Jazz Singer’ cocktail, Café Vue’s take on the Bloody Mary. The café’s decision to switch the second and third cocktails around was a great one as despite the fact that this particular cocktail tasted odd, the smoky tomato flavours of the drink actually went really well with the fish and ratatouille. Instead of using the traditional vodka, gin was used in conjunction with chilli to make the drink taste more “smoky.” I did, however, feel that the effect was too sharp and so much of our drinks remained half-full.

I guess the coolest part about this drink was the reason why it was served in a teacup. The waiter explained to us that it was a tribute to the alcohol prohibitions in 1920s America where people tried to sneak past authorities by disguising their drinks, hence the serving of the cocktail in a discreet teacup – cute (and judging by Dave’s snicker, funny too). And the reason why they called this ‘The Jazz Singer’ was that the 1920s was also a period where jazz music really flourished in the States.

After the mess that was the Effing Bloody Mary cocktail, the next drink we received was a much-needed welcome. It played tribute to Citizen Kane, so fans of this movie will know why the drink is called ‘Rosebud.’ We received glasses filled with pink raspberry-flavoured Persian fairy floss and basil leaves in it. The waiter then poured some  Mr Riggs Riesling and instructed us to mix everything up with the stirrer provided. The result was a sweet, playful yet bold drink with a gritty texture.

I apologise for the degrading quality of photos. At this stage, the room was almost pitch dark and the fact that our levels of sobriety was diminishing at the rate of Telstra’s share price didn’t help either. Our ‘transition-from-savouries-to-dessert’ course was a bit of a weird one. Two pieces of fluffy Caprifeuille goat’s cheese were scattered on a rectangular glass plate with lychees poached in rosewater. While I’m normally a friend of goat’s cheese, I didn’t really like the Caprifeuille, an aged cheese that is mild in taste but effing musky in smell – something that put Linda off. If it weren’t for the toasted piece of bread and the lychees to diffuse the acidic after-taste of the cheese, I probably would have left it alone.

The final course was, on all accounts, the best one. Both the cocktail and the dessert played homage to the humble popcorn kernel. The drink, called ‘The Buttered Popcorn’, was simply a popcorn-infused bourbon with a hint of lemon, poured over ice. The glass was cleverly popped in a brown paper bag as a nod to a popcorn bag. Probably my favourite drink of the night, apart from the first one.

The dessert was a ‘Popcorn’ madeleine was salt and butter. The waiter explained to us that the dish was salty (the creamy butter sauce), sweet (the madeleine) and bitter (the burnt-on-purpose caramel popcorn pieces) and told us to eat it while taking intermittent sips of the cocktail for maximum sensory pleasure. Well, he certainly wasn’t wrong. Both the cocktail and dessert tasted great on its own, but together they formed a partnership unmatched by Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.

There may have been a few questionable items on tonight’s show but I think we could all agree that it was much more comfortable than sitting on your arse for three hours, watching Avatar. While there were some stand-out performances, I think that most of the night’s success could be owed to the well-designed and extremely creative menu as well as listening to the background behind the dishes and cocktail (I love history lessons, and they are even more fun when alcohol is involved!). The $75 price-tag might turn a few people off (even more so when I say that the food alone does NOT equal a proper dinner – I had to eat a bowl of wedges at The Lion prior to coming here) but I would say that it’s a very good price to pay for five cocktails and food from Shannon Bennett’s kitchen. This was my very first Café Vue cocktail night but I know that it definitely won’t be my last.

Yu-U

137 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 707

Lunch time in the CBD can be best summed up by the theme song of television series, Monk - “It’s a Jungle Out There” (I’m aware that the Underbelly theme song also uses that line but I do not think highly of that show hence my decision to go with Monk, OKAY?!). Thank goodness, then, for hidden gems such as Yu-U, nestled quietly off Flinders Lane. And when I say hidden, I really do mean hidden. It’s much easier to find a strand of blonde hair on Andrew McDonald’s hair than to find Yu-U.

The only clue to your destination is a tiny, square sign next to a heavily graffitied door just off Olivers Lane. From the outside, one is hardly like to guess that this was a place that got award one chef’s hat in the current Good Food Guide but once you step inside, the  sight of the oh-so Japanese minimalistic timber furnishings and a petite hostess rushing to welcome your party will assure you that you are in the right place.

Although most of the diners are seated in the very tight bar area, there are two big wooden tables at the side of the room which Adam and I were led to.

The rules for lunch at Yu-U are pretty simple: there is a set lunch box for $18. That’s it. Take it or leave it.  Every lunch box will consist of steamed rice, some form of soup, a main dish and a selection of “small dishes of the day.” You do, however, get SOME choice though and that is to choose from a list of six “main dishes” that will form the centrepiece of your lunchbox.

We started off with some rice tea ($2 per head), poured from a plunger. It was basically a green tea infused with roasted rice and it made the tea taste like rice crackers. I am normally open to all sorts of tea but I think I prefer my rice crackers in food form, thanks.

My lunchbox (I chose the sashimi for my main): The soup was in the form of a simple chicken broth with cabbage and carrot and was nothing particularly special. As for the small dishes of the day? They were just a dab of seaweed salad and pickled cabbage and cucumber, plus a slice of canteloupe for dessert. And although I knew that all boxes included rice, I still thought it odd for them to still chuck the rice in with my sashimi. All in all, it looked like a pretty drab lunchbox. I would have been okay with paying $18 for it all had all the elements tasted good… except that they DIDN’T. Heck, I could have got a much tastier bento box elsewhere in the city for maybe half the price and still come out happy.

Thank goodness, then, that my sashimi was sublime or I would have been Not Happy, Jan. The plate of freshly cut ocean trout, salmon, kingfish and tuna that was accompanied by a dab of wasahi, a slice of lemon and seaweed may have been small but it did make up for it in taste. Probably one of the better sashimi I’ve had in ages.

Adam chose the “beef and pork” dish for his main. Big mistake. We both kinda expected something more WOW but instead, we got something sloppy – something that Kristy Thomas would so totally make fun of if we were sitting in the Stoneybrook Middle School cafeteria. Hidden underneath the sauce, there were pieces of braised beef and pork hamburger mince which filled Adam up okay. What we both didn’t like, however, was the fact that eating the whole thing was akin to eating an open cottage pie. Additionally, we both thought that the tomato-based sauce tasted too much like Heinz. Gross.

We may have liked our surroundings, we may have liked the warm hospitality that the waitresses displayed the entire time, we may have even liked breathing in the smug air of exclusivity as we walked into Yu-U’s door, with a booking, and saw the “Sorry, lunch boxes sold out.” sign but frankly, our lunch simply sucked (with the exception of my sashimi). Given our experience then, you may be surprised when I say that we WILL be back for dinner another time. Yep, we reckoned that Yu-U did not earn its one hat solely on the lunch sets but also on their supposedly-amazing dinner offerings.We figured that the dinner (a la carte) menu was something worth sussing out, especially if the food is just as good as the sashimi I had. We may have been disheartened by our lunch boxes but once we started talking about Yu-U’s dinner menu, we got excited once again. And so the conversation continued even after we stepped away from the peaceful blackhole and into the jungle again.

Yu-U on Urbanspoon

Auntie’s Dumplings

68 Koornang Rd
Carnegie VIC 3163
+61 3 9568 6641

Another Sunday, another dumpling restaurant. After spending a good chunk of the morning at Monash Caulfield to sort out a few things, Adam and I hopped on the train and got off at the very next station for lunch. Although Adam’s “so over dumplings” (heck, his parents make him eat with them at 1+1 Dumplings in Footscray every Friday night for some reason), we all know that the misses has the final say in dining all matters so we ended up at Auntie’s Dumplings rather than the souvlaki take-away shop that Adam was eyeing.

According to reports, this is the yummier younger sister of the now-defunct Bob’s Kitchen in Glen Waverley – this much is obvious as soon as you see the familiar font on the sign before gazing your peepers to the tiled floors, simple furnishings and all sorts of Chinese paper paraphernalia (actually, this applies to pretty much all dumpling places so what the heck am I saying?!). It may have been just before 2pm on a Sunday morning but the place was buzzing with locals having just woke up from their Sunday sleep-ins.

Adam lambasted my decision to order Shanghai noodles ($7.80) but when I asked him what HE wanted instead, he couldn’t find anything else that sounded good in the noodle section of the menu so Shanghai noodles, it was. And although Adam isn’t going to admit it out loud, he knew that my decision to stick with the noodles was as good as Essendon’s win against Carlton in that match in June 2009. The use of thick, chunky wheat noodles instead of their bloody skinnier cousins was already a +1 on my books, but the fact that the whole package was irresistibly tasty (more so than JG Dumplings’ version) sealed it for me.

The ubiquitous staple of these restaurants: pan-fried pork dumplings (15 pieces for $8.30). As you can see in this photo, the guys in the kitchen could probably use a refresher training in ‘how to drain fried foods properly’ (come to think of it, pretty much every dumpling restaurant I’ve visited this year should attend such a course). The oil did bug me a little bit but because the fact that they were puffy, crispy and delicious made up for it. While I still think that JG Dumplings are still in front for the ‘best dumplings in Melbourne’ prize, these come quite close.

Two small steamers, one of top of the other, housed eight little pieces of xiaolongbaos (小籠包) which we paid $8.30 for. It goes without saying that these do not even match Hu Tong’s standards on a mediocre day – one of my dumplings did not even have soup in it! – but they were better than average. I was glad that they were plump rather than saggy, but no points to the filling which was a little too “porky-tasting” for me (I couldn’t see any vegetables or things that originated from a plant in it).

This was the first time I ordered these babies. Called shengjian mantou/shengjianbao (生煎馒头) which was advertised on the menu as ‘Shanghai fried pork mini buns’ (5 for $7.50), they are best described as a cross between a xiaolongbao and a pan-fried pork dumpling. They may have been a little oily, but so lovely were the fried buns that were the size of my fist that I did not bother draining the rest of the oil myself. The buns were filled with a pork filling similar to that of a normal pan-fried dumpling but slightly more sweeter. What gives the buns their flavour, however, is the soup that’s in it. Delish (if you ignore all the oil).

The $30.30 we paid for the four dishes was very reasonable and we were left feeling full from all that pork we ate (I’m sitting here shuddering as I realise just how much pork we ate that day). The food arrived pretty quickly and  the service was better than what I’ve come to expect from dumpling restaurants (I even saw one waitress smile!). I also need to add  here that  the food at Auntie’s Dumplings is not heavily doused in MSG like its older sister restaurant so there is no need to worry about slugging two litres of water after your meal. I’ve promised Adam that I wouldn’t take him to another dumpling restaurant for a while so it will be a long time before we come back here again. I do, however, promise that the first dumpling place we’ll visit after this so-called “dumpling ban” would be here.

Auntie's Dumpling on Urbanspoon

The Brasserie by Philippe Mouchel

Riverside at Crown
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 7808
http://www.thebrasserieatcrown.com.au/

I know this site needs a little Backyard Blitz-ing at the moment but if it weren’t for Jan, who helped me with CSS issues, I would not have even had it up and running over the weekend. To express my gratitude, I decided to take her out to lunch on Saturday. Because Jan has not yet visited a hatted restaurant, I decided a good starting point for her would be The Brasserie by Phillippe Mouchel at Crown. With their tasty, simple French fare at a steal for $43 for two courses (or $48 for three) at lunchtime, it’s a good place to take anyone who has yet to have a fine dining experience without intimidating them. Plus, portion sizes are reasonable given the price so your companion does not need to worry about having to rush to Maccas after lunch to get some “proper food” to fill themselves up.

Although the temperature was slightly chilly, we decided to sit outside under a gigantic Bollinger umbrella. As we nibbled our warm ciabatta rolls  – dipped in a lovely, fruity Jindi olive oil and home-made dukkah – we decided to go for the three course option.
(Yeah, we got charged $12.85 for mineral water. I should have said “tap water” rather than just “still”).

This was my Trimbach Riesling ($14). It only arrived AFTER I received my main which I wasn’t too happy about. Their excuse for not giving me the glass earlier on was because they “ran out and had to get another bottle from an outside source.” While I appreciated their efforts in going out of the way to get the drink I wanted, I thought that they could have, oh I don’t know, suggested an alternative white wine out from their extensive list? I mean, I would have been just as happy with the Dr Loosen.

Jan’s entrée: king salmon gravlax with dill and yuzu mayonnaise, egg condiment, toasted sourdough. We’ve seen this dish featured in a lot of peoples’ blogs so we figured that it would be like, WOAH. While I liked the way they presented the salmon in various forms (a cooked strip with the crispy skin on and as a “tartare” with chopped boiled egg), I just didn’t think it tasted that special.

My entrée: wagyu carpaccio with mozzarella, field mushrooms, green bean and Parmesan salad. When I gave the waitress my order, she arched one impossibly arched eyebrow and asked me, in a mildly condescending way not dissimilar to the manner in which a Greek waiter at Kouzina once asked me if I actually had Greek food before, “Do you know what a carpaccio is?” I think I must have given her a ‘bitch, please’ look as I replied, “Yes, I DO know what carpaccio is” because she immediately softened her expression before telling me that the restaurant makes her that question. It turns out that a lot of people order the dish just because it has the word ‘wagyu’ in it but they do not know what a carpaccio is. Hence, when they are presented with a plate of raw beef, they kick up a stink. Fair enough, I guess.

Anyway, my carpaccio was lovely. Probably one of the better versions I’ve had so far, and arguably on par with Bottega’s fine specimen of a carpaccio. I was worried that the Parmesan salad would overpower the delicate flavour of the wagyu but it actually complemented it quite well. A highly recommended entree.

Jan’s main: duck leg confit with potatoes salardaise, rock and endive salad and poached duck egg. I reckon Jan chose wisely as this duck was simply divine. It was so tender that each sliver of duck meat fell easily off the bone with a prod of a fork and so full of flavour. What I liked the most about this dish was the little crumbed croquette-like ball that was sitting prettily on the plate…

… Once cut open, it revealed a soft-boiled duck egg. Oh effing yum.

Compared to Jan’s main, my pan-seared scallops weren’t all that spectacular but it was nice all the same. There were a total of five succulent scallops – thankfully all of a decent size – all of which took centre stage in a puddle of heedy Argan oil broth, supported by a medley of artichokes, carrots and coriander pesto. Although we both felt that the broth was perhaps a tad too salty (though not so salty that you couldn’t taste the natural sweetness of the scallops), we both thought it was nevertheless a tasty dish.

The side dishes that came with our mains. Jan got a serving of tasty kipfler potatoes with rosemary and Parmesan (background) which were a better choice to my okay-but-nothing-exciting sauteed green beans with confit shallots.

The great finale: the dessert tasting plate, presented on a wooden board.

From L-R:

-Tonka bean creme brulee (lovely flavour and texture, but thumbs down to the skin which was soft rather than hard)

-Pistachio sorbet (it would have been good had it not been for the unnecessary usage of almond flavouring in it)

Lemon Sorbet with pineapple, passionfruit and coconut cream (my favourite dessert – it was an intricate layer of flavours and texture. Thumbs up to the lovely meringue base too)

Rum baba soaked in cointreau, mango pieces with whipped cream (I effing hate rum baba so I do not have an opinion on this one)

Dark chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce (I’m not sure what percentage of cocoa was used but it must have been around 80-90% as it was so rich and bitter. I’m glad the raspberry sauce was there to counteract all of that cocoa.

A close-up of the dark chocolate mousse.

The bill came to $122.85 but thanks to the Entertainment book discount, we got it down to $92.15. Apart from a few service issues (my chair was kicked by a waiter who did not apologise, the waitress forgot our orders and so had to recite them again and my card was dropped on the ground), we had an enjoyable meal. Food-wise, there weren’t too many surprises but sometimes all you need to make you happy is honest, reliable French fare that doesn’t involve bells and whistles.

Brasserie By Philippe Mouchel on Urbanspoon