The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Dumpling Sister

229 Exhibition St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 1888

I’ve had more than several horrible experiences at dumpling restaurants, but when another one opens up I’m usually there before anyone can say “dumplings, bitch!” And when I heard all about Dumpling Sister, the new dumpling restaurant on Exhibition Street you can imaine how elated I was. This place has been around for a few weeks, I’d say. My bus would pass the incandescent outlet each morning on the way to work and although the word ‘dumpling’ would catch the corner of one sleep-deprived eye, I always thought that my mind was playing tricks on me. After all, what normal person would be wide awake enough to absorb their surroundings fully at 7:45 in the morning? But anyway. It wasn’t when I read Half-Eaten’s review did it dawn on me that, yes, this place definitely existed, no, I was NOT seeing things and yes, yes, yes, I HAD to visit!

Adam and I rocked up in one late afternoon the other week and apart from a table of tradies, the place was virtually empty. I wouldn’t attribute the emptiness to the fact that it was after 2pm as it IS possible to step into a dumpling restaurant in the city and still be told to wait for a table to open up even at 2:30pm. I guess it was the fact that the Exhibition Street location, being not as densely populated as other CBD spaces, was a detriment.Oh, and you will have noticed that the sign says “Dumpling Sisters”, yet I’ve referred to this place as “Dumpling Sister” – I am just going by what it says on their business card and their menu.

Adam checks out the the talent while I set about ordering some dumplings. One thing that I noticed (and was also commented on by Half-Eaten) was the fact that the lighting was harsher than most dumpling restaurants which gave the place a bit of a hospital-like feel to it. The lightning certainly assisted in making the place look clean rather than dingy, but it just felt a bit too … sterile.

We ordered a plate of pan-fried pork dumplings (12 pieces for $7.80) and pan-fried lamb dumplings (also 12 pieces for $7.80) to share. They looked identical so there was no point in me taking separate shots of them, heh. These dumplings were cooked differently to what we were used to, and we both suspect that they were deep-fried rather than pan-fried as eating one of the dumplings was akin to eating an Aussie dim sim. There was no contrast of textures normally evident in REAL pan-fried dumplings and while these were certainly interesting I think I prefer my dumplings pan-fried the old school way, thanks.

A close-up of the lamb dumplings. I’d like to blame Adam, who was holding the dumpling with his chopsticks for me, for his shaky hands… but realistically-speaking, the blur is all my fault – noob camera skillz. Sigh. Skin textures aside, both dumplings’ fillings were quite tasty. Indeed, the pork ones could certainly give the better dumpling restaurants a run for their money – it was just the skin that let me down. The lamb one tasted more moorish than ‘Chinese’ which isn’t essentially a bad thing – Adam gave it two thumbs up.

Finally, we shared a serving of xiaolongbao (‘steamed Shanghai pork dumpling’ 8 pieces for $6.80). They weren’t bad (they all had soup in them, which is such a damn feat for most places these days) but they were nowhere near the standard of Hu Tong’s illustrious XLBs.

In spite of the lacklustre dumplings, I have to say that this was one of my more pleasant experiences at a dumpling restaurant. Although the dumplings did take longer to come out than other places and although we had to ask for a bowl to put our vinegar and chilli oil in, the service provided by one lone waitress was complying and sunny. Although the dumplings weren’t THAT fantastic, I’m not quite ready to write this place off. I mean, I won’t be running here in a hurry if I was on Swanston Street and had four other closer dumpling restaurants to choose from but if I happened to be catching a show at Her Maj’s or working up some hunger after several hours at the adjacent LibeRated Bookshop (haha), then I wouldn’t mind ducking into Dumpling Sister again.

Dumpling Sisters on Urbanspoon

Doko’s Home (CLOSED)

Doko’s Home
11-15 Waratah Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 6228

Writing a food blog means that one must be extremely careful when critiquing restaurants. Because cooking is such a personal thing criticism is usually taken to heart, despite all efforts to take each bit of criticism constructively. Thus, I have tried to play nice on caterpillar by not bitching about a restaurant so much but rather highlighting the positives. Of course, criticism is given when it’s due but I understand that restaurateurs and the like do come across this blog thus, I’ve thrown out lot of the  ‘this muppet should have his head chopped off for putting thickened cream in my bloody pasta sauce’ language. On the other hand, punters visit food blogs all the time as an integral part of their decision-making process when choosing restaurant venues. Because of this, I think it’s fair that I act nice … but honest.

Of course things get a little more complicated when you go to a restaurant for dinner… and fail to thing of a single good thing about the place. How do you go about reviewing a restaurant that was pretty much an epic fail to end all epic fails? How can you be nice when writing about the worst dinner you’ve had to endure? I’m sorry, guys, I couldn’t. The place I’m referring to is Doko’s Home, a newish hot pot restaurant that has barely caused a ripple in Melbourne’s dining. The fact that it’s located in secluded Waratah Place and the fact that they do not have a functioning phone line may have something to do with it but personally, I reckon it’s the almost laughable food[sic] we got dished up and the non-existent service.

To be fair, Doko’s Home did something right when they advertised themselves in a Chinese glossy magazine as a restaurant that served “hot pot with a twist.” Offering some unconventional soup flavours such as ‘cheese lobster hotpot’ and ‘tomato oxtail hotpot,’ they also boasted soup pots that were small enough so that each diner can have their own soup rather than share with the rest of the table while silently seething because they were stuck with a super-hot chilli broth. Throw in a bit in the ad where it said that meals were “$25 per head,” we were keen to see whether they were the real deal.

It was a cold Saturday evening when our party showed up at Waratah Place.  We were confronted by a touter who was flashing a sign telling us that Doko’s Home was behind her. She seemed surprised when we told her that we were on our way in though in hindsight, she had every right to be surprised. Walking into the former Crystal Jade site which was adjacent to Manchuria bar, which was decorated haphazardly in paper cut outs of fobby cartoon characters, we saw that the place was empty. Thus, why they chose to sit us next to the front door was beyond me but nothing that bothered me at the time. Looking at the menu, I noticed that it was NOT “$25 per head” which was how most hot pot restaurants operated but rather, each dish was given an individual price. The “$25 per head” thing was a “special deal” where you got one bowl of soup, one meat dish, one vegetarian and one “other” dish (i.e. dumplings) which actually didn’t sound like such a great deal at all. This apparent misleading advertisement did made me reel back a bit but as I studied the menu, I realised that none of the dishes typed (spelling errors and all) on the menu sounded even remotely enticing.

Not even the ‘octups.’

Okay, so their foblish and crappy spelling may not have been indicative of the quality of food but still…

At this stage I was literally ready to do a walkout, something that I’ve only ever done once in my life. I was ready to walk down to Supper Inn where a steaming bowl of chicken congee accompanied by pipis in XO sauce sounded much more appetising. However, the waitress then started coming around our table to pour us water (15 minutes after we had walked in) so I felt kind of obliged to stay. And so we did. It was the biggest mistake I’ve made since putting Kurt Tippett in my starting 22 in Supercoach.

After deciding that we would stay for a bit before fleeing to the familiar comfort of Supper Inn, we decided to order one soup pot each, plus one dish each which we would ultimately put in the middle of the table to share. Shortly after our orders our soups arrived, served in a portable Trangia-style stove which campers use when they’re outdoors. Although one of the stoves malfunctioned, a new one was quickly brought out to get all four soups cookin’ at once. A ‘nourishing’ soup for Jan and I ($4), an oxtail and tomato soup for Jo ($6) and a satay soup for Dave ($6) with Linda helping herself to whatever she felt like. Frankly speaking, all three of them were horrible. Apart from the satay soup, the soups we had were all devoid of any taste with the oxtail and tomato soup having no trace of oxtail flavour whatsoever. Oh, and if you were wondering what a ‘nourishing’ soup was, it was a piss-weak imitation of the  non-spicy, clear broth that one would get at any other hot pot restaurant… except that Doko’s version was blatantly watered down and you could not taste any herbs at all. The satay soup was way too sweet for it to be called a “soup” and despite dumping half a container of chilli oil in the soup, nothing could save it from failure.

Slices of raw beef ($7.50). We started off with one plate before ordering another.

Six pieces of frozen dumplings ($4.50). The fact that they were frozen was not a problem, it was the fact that they were the blandest dumplings I’ve had in my life… and they really couldn’t get any smaller.

Enoki mushrooms, called “winter mushrooms” on the menu, ($4.50).

All up, the bill was under $50 which was expensive for the quality and quantity we received. It goes without saying that the soup is what makes a hot pot restaurant good, never mind the quality of ingredients that go in it – frozen or otherwise – but Doko’s Home failed to even provide us with halfway decent soups which did not sit right with us as they specialised in hot pots.

And if you thought the food was bad, the service was much worse. I mentioned the fact that we had to wait 15 minutes for some water (and keep in mind that there were about three staff standing around, doing nothing and the fact that there were no customers when we walked in) which I would probably have forgiven. However, I don’t think I can forgive the fact that they struggled to adequately explain to us philistines what ‘ee-fu noodles’ were (the explanation we were given was that they were “yellow” and it was only when I volunteered, “egg noodles?” did she go, “yes, that’s what I meant”) and the fact that we were all given greasy chopsticks. Yes, greasy chopsticks. As in chopsticks that weren’t properly washed with detergent, left to dry and subsequently developed a film of grease over them. Disgusting! We asked them if we could have clean chopsticks, only to be told that they did not have any other chopsticks and that these were “the new chopsticks.” Not good enough. Oh, and speaking of cutlery, we were not given the standard slotted spoons and wire ladles that one would expect to get at these restaurants. We were simply left to our own devices to retrieve our own spoons – normal table spoons – from the cupboard next to us. I guess the only good thing about the service was that they DID refill our soups when it looked like we were about to run out. However, they were refilling our pots with watered-down soup poured from a ceramic Chinese teapot thus making our soups even more diluted than they already were.

It went without saying that we still famished after all that. We did not bother ordering more things so we were happy to pay the bill before heading off to Supper Inn for some REAL food. In a way, I’m disappointed to be slacking off a restaurant that had a great concept. It was just the way in which they executed it which led to its demise and subsequently spoiled half the night for us. I must also laugh at the fact that hot pot restaurants do not actually cook your food – all they have to do is to whip up a delicious broth, provide some ingredients and you do all the cooking. It’s not hard for most, but unfortunately it is for Doko’s Home. At the end of the day, if Doko’s Home are still charging exorbitant prices for crappy food and crappy service while places such as Little Lamb are charging $20 per head and telling people to pretty much order whatever they wanted off the menu to cook in their tasty hot pot soups, then clearly there is a problem that needs to be fixed. In the mean time, I urge all of you to stay away from Doko’s Home. Unless, as Linda would say, you want to break up with someone or play a cruel joke on them.

EDIT (Saturday June 12 2010):

Adam and I just so happened to be strolling down Chinatown during lunch hour today and saw that Doko’s Home was padlocked. This was odd because I was pretty sure that they were also opened for lunch. What made us have a closer look, however, was a single sheet of A4 paper stuck on the door:

I know I’ve tried my darn hardest to be nice when writing about such a horrible eatery but my restraint ends here: HAHAHAHAHA SUCK SHT, DOKO’S HOME! This is what you get for providing crappy food in conjunction with barely-there service while breaching more than one counts of health and safety rules. I am not sorry to see that your business has flopped and am only glad that no one else in Melbourne will have the opportunity to experience a meal[sic] at this joke of a restaurant.

Vue de Monde

Normanby Chambers
430 Little Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3888
http://www.vuedemonde.com.au/

It has taken me quite a while to get this entry started. I mean, how does one go about writing about their epic dinner at arguably Melbourne’s best restaurant that failed to meet their (admittedly high) expectations? How can one say that some of the dishes that was consumed did not make her quiver in her loins, the same way that it did to other bloggers without being ostracised and potentially being called a ‘philistine’? Finally, how does one go about reviewing a $250 per head 10-course degustation menu that lasted four hours without trying to make the end product as long as an Arts Masters thesis? Well lemme tell you folks, it is just as difficult as attempting to reproduce one of Shannon Bennett’s desserts but here goes nothing:

The occasion was to celebrate Adam and my third year as a couple. Actually, the verb ‘reward’ would have probably been more apt than ‘celebrate.’ I jokingly said on facebook that our relationship had been so tumultuous (using various anecdotes ranging from SuperCoach scores to the ASX) that we deserved to treat ourselves to a night at Vue de Monde. Our reservation for 6:30pm was booked months prior and my head felt like it was about to burst from excitement during the week leading to the dinner.

Come Saturday night, we were standing in the marbled foyer of the historic Normanby Chambers. We were led to a table in the middle of the room, with a clear view of the open kitchen. I loved how they attached a mirror panel directly above the plating table so that we could actually see the chefs create their masterpiece a la Masterchef but without tantrums, Matt Preston’s gravelly voice and way too many ad breaks. The dining room itself was surprisingly less opulent and smaller than I thought. The muted lighting and bronze mirrors created a sense of class while quirky additions such as bold abstract art and fennels dangling in glass lampshades provided a somewhat down-to-earth feel to the restaurant.

The waiter explained the structure of tonight’s proceedings once we were settled. Essentially, the basic offering was a five-course tasting menu at $150 p/h, with each additional course attracting an extra $15 each up to a maximum of ten courses capped at $225. For the ultimate experience, however, the Gastronome Menu at $250 per head is the way to go with an extra $25 being charged for ‘premium ingredients.’ For some reason, I had thought that we were to get a totally different menu from the people who did not order the Gastronome Menu but it turned out that we were essentially getting the same thing bar the extra little tidbits such as the amuse bouche, palate cleansers and petit fours we received at the end. Oh, and we weren’t given a menu as such nor were we given a choice as to what we can get. All that was asked was whether there were any dietary requirements and basically, it was up to the kitchen to surprise us. I must have looked a bit freaked out at the thought of not having a menu to look at, but the lovely waiter assured me that he will email me a copy of the evening’s menu within a few days so that I can have “something to read with the photos.” Aww, bless!

No sooner after the sommelier came back with my 2007 Luis Pato Beiras ‘Vinha Formal,’ a complex sweet white from Portugal with a strong acidic finish, we were presented with some hand-cooked potato crisps, olives and some remoulade.

Our first of three amuse bouche: a Kangaroo charcuterie which was essentially four minuscule roo blobs on an oversized wooden circle (like the big centre wine table, I wondered if the board, too, was constructed from wood taken from the old Ponsford stand). One was a kangaroo sausage while the other was a kangaroo tartare on a sliced nashi pear. Both were unexpected finds in a French restaurant but were refreshing at the same time.

Next, we had the compressed cucumber, tuna and wasabi roll which looked nothing like its namesake. It was merely a 10 cent coin-sized piece of fresh tuna sashimi, the compressed cucumber being those little caviar-shaped balls and the wasabi in foam-form. It was very Verge, hence it was nothing special (I’m sorry, I really don’t like that place!).

Our final amuse bouche was the Kingfish with Osetra caviar sandwiched between two small pieces of thin wafer. Probably my favourite of the three – it was delicate yet full of punch.

At this point, butter, salt and pepper were presented as well as the offer of warm bread rolls – sourdough white, linseed and whole meal, all of which were regularly brought out throughout the meal.

And so it began: Salade de legumes verts (green vegetable salad), featuring fennels and apples drizzled with an asparagus juice. I loved the presentation of this dish but its prettiness did not detract from the fact that it was blatantly BORING and uninspiring. Yes, the veggies were fresh but the raw wild garlic. which was supposed to add flavour, just left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, which I wasn’t too pleased about too. Not the best first course.

Our next course, the truite fume accompagne de caviar (Ocean trout and Osetra caviar smoked at the table) was covered by a dome which was lifted as it reached our table, the smoke wafting through the air. The ocean trout fillet flavoured with sweet beetroot, cooked overnight at 65 degrees, was a beautifully tender piece of fish which was a pleasure to eat from the word, ‘go.’

The next course was another vegetable one (“Again?!” exclaimed Adam, a Neantherdal carnivore). I do, however, have to say that the Jardin de Legumes (Heide vegetable garden) tasted as pretty as it looked. We were told that all the vegetables delivered to the restaurant are fresh from a patch up in Heidelberg and this dish was a celebration of the fresh flavours and colours of the said garden. The white stuff you see on the plate was dehydrated olive oil, which provided an interesting textural element in the form of white puffy clouds that disintegrated in your mouth… and also tasted surprisingly good with a little bit of salt.

More vegetables, this time a full-on mushroom dish. Mushrooms are my favourite veggies so I was pleased rather than pissed off. The dish, called ‘Champignons’ was a simple medley of wild mushrooms handpicked by Andrew Woof of Glenora Heritage Produce held together by a beautiful truffle jus. It was simple, yet the flavours were just so beautifully intense that I wished there was more. The waiter told us that the bit of pine was there for us to chew on afterwards which Adam did, in fact, do but he looked pretty joker-ish gnawing on a pine leaf and it really didn’t do anything so he stopped.

Our final starter was an ecrevisse rotie (roasted marron), which was presented on a hot river stone from the Yarra river bed in Heidelberg. This was another simple dish with very little garnishing apart from some celery and wood sorrel, the aim being to highlight the natural flavours of the Indigenous marron. This I found somewhat ironic because the marron does not have that much natural flavour compared to say, the yabbie and you really do need to jazz it up a bit in order to really experience its flavour. Yes, it was roasted perfectly but I did feel that it was a bit bland. Also, the presentation may have looked WOW but I had bits of celery slipping off my rock and all over the table, which wasn’t very good at all. This dish gets marks for presentation but minus points for taste and practicality.

Our next item was a trou perigourdin, a palate cleanser of grape shaven ice with frozen yoghurt which was the best thing we had all night. It was something that would not be out of place in a restaurants’ Summer dessert menu so I was surprised to see this as a palate cleanser but wow, it strangely worked. It was refreshing and tasty, and certainly got rid of the nasty raw garlic taste that had been lingering in my mouth since the first course while whetting my appetite for the two ‘main courses’ that we were about to consume.

First, the porc aux saveurs de la terre (Western Plains pork with flavours of the earth). I am not much of a pork person but this dish impressed me tremendously. Enter a pork chop, a piece of juicy pork loin and pork neck, all of which were juicy and tender, to showcase the best from the porcine world with a strip of crispy bacon to round things off. The pork flavours were then intensified by a cep mushroom powder and a sauce made from the pork juices. Delicious.

Our final ‘big’ dish was the Wagyu boeuf de Blackmore, which was just a pretentious name for David Blackmore’s famed wagyu beef. It was presented on one helluva gigantic rectangular plate to our amusement. “Pretty big plate, eh?” teased Adam as one of the chefs presented a plate each in front of us. The chef, who looked almost embarrassed to be presenting it to us (but looked like he had no choice but to follow the master’s orders), explained that the dish was a metaphor for “a cow running around the forest” and that the sorrel, dried berries and earl grey parsnip was meant to represent the greenery. While it was cute, I couldn’t help but notice that no one else had the same enormous plate, instead their wagyu was served on normal round dinner plates which I thought was strange but never mind.

Taste-wise, the dish was unbelievably good. The grade 9 sirloin was so beautifully tender, its juices so intense and wondrous. It was a shame that it had to be so damn small, but I guess that was to be expected.

Our tables were then cleared to make way for dessert. While waiting for the cheese course, a toothpick dispenser was placed on the table – the coolest thing I’ve seen in like, forever. Basically, you press down on the end of the silver man-looking thing and it bends over to pick up a toothpick from the little slot on the wooden box. Trust me, it’s cooler in real life than on paper. It’s designed by Alessi and at $229, it’s not something I’d buy for myself willy-nilly but would make a perfect wedding gift *cough cough*

Our cheese course was a Bruny Island ‘Saint’ on sherry and mushroom, a camembert-like artisan cheese made in Tasmania. This oozy cheese had a soft and delicate flavour – my kind of cheese, really *dies happy*

We then received our final palate cleanser before our final two dessert courses. Called the entremet sucre, it was a frozen raspberry lollipop that was rolled in ‘fruit snow’ and covered in popping candy – you know the ones that you bought in little packets as a kid? Yep, those. An eye-popping treat that was both refreshing and tasty, which was washed down by lemonade.

Our gateau a la carotte. How’s this for presentation?!  Dubbed this ‘the Carrot Patch dessert’, Shannon Bennett’s interpretation of the humble carrot cake was presented on top of a flattened empty wine bottle and all elements were arranged on the flat plane to resemble an actual carrot patch. It was the most amazing study of textures, flavours and detail I’ve seen on a dessert (baby heirloom carrots, spiced ice cream and carrot-cream cheese puree were only some of the elements) – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth. In addition, Adam was unusually quiet as he ate his dessert, a testament to just how good it was.

Gives new meaning to the term ‘rabbit food’, don’t you think?

Our final course was the soufflé au chocolat (chocolate soufflé, duh) with chocolate mousse and crème anglaise, which was poured on the table. For some reason, we were the only table in the restaurant to get this dessert and I wasn’t sure why. The table next to us got some kind of dessert in egg cartons which I would have actually preferred seeing as I LOVE eggs and I’m not a huge fan of chocolate desserts. That said, the diners on that same table clearly had food envy when they saw that we had chocolate soufflés. I don’t know why we got different desserts, considering that everyone seemed to have ordered the $250 menu and we weren’t actually allowed to pick and choose our dishes (I actually asked). The thought that the extra $25 we paid for having the gastronome menu (as opposed to just a standard 10-course meal, no bells or whistles) was just so we can have a chocolate soufflé and not the egg dessert did cross my mind. However, I seriously doubted that a soufflé would attract a $25 supplement over the other desserts. Anyway, it was indeed a competent soufflé that was sweet, rich and fluffy in all the right places. I guess someone who would be into chocolate desserts would enjoy it but I just didn’t like it as much as I would have and nether did Adam.

Finally, we were given a plate of petits-fours when the bill was presented. The waitress explained that all the little goodies on the plate were meant to represent an artist’s palette and inside the tube was some raspberry jam to counteract the sweetness of the absolutely gorgeous chocolate macarons (I said I didn’t like chocolate desserts but I could handle them in little doses!) and lamington cubes.

And there you have it: Melbourne’s best restaurant in just over 2,000 words. Whew. It was one helluva dinner but whether it was worth the $530-odd that we forked out is something that Adam and I debated hotly on the way home. Apart from the first course, there was really nothing horrible about the food. Some courses were amazing such as the beef and the mushrooms (and the palate cleansers in between) but others were just good without being overly brilliant. Overall, the presentation was great and the service very efficient without being overly pretentious but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the food and I’m afraid I couldn’t justify the hefty price tag and heck, I wasn’t even sure we had super premium ingredients like we were promised (I certainly didn’t get any truffles as others have received in the past).

Then there was the issue of not being able to choose what we received as well as different tables getting different desserts which certainly put a damper on the night’s proceedings. I later found out that there are in fact sixty dishes on the VDM repertoire and the dishes we consumed on the night was to be stored in the restaurant’s database. That way, the next time we’re here we will get an entirely different menu. Hence, there was a chance that I just happened to go on a night where the dishes just didn’t agree with me and that SURELY, the next time I go I’ll have a much better time.

There was also the possibility that I was being extremely fussy. On reading an article about Greg Doyle wanting to lose his Sydney restaurant’s three-hat status because of mounting pressures, my workmate Sean said that it was “people like you, Libby, who create all sorts of stress on these sorts of restaurants so don’t go crying when they fail to meet your expectations.” I guess Sean did have a point but on the other hand, I had an equally-high standard for Jacques Reymond, other three-hatted restaurant, and they wowed me completely. While it was true that Vue de Monde did have more style and more pizazz, Jacques Reymond was more humble and homely in its approach to French food and subsequently came out the better of the two. Still, I can’t say that I will not be returning to VDM because chances are that in spite of the not-worth-the-$250-price-tag dinner, I do want to come back. More specifically, I do want to try some of their other dishes, including their famed truffle risotto, before I write this place off as over-hyped.

Vue De Monde on Urbanspoon

Rama Thai

495 Burke Rd
Camberwell VIC 3124
+61 3 9822 7322
http://www.ramathai.com.au

My parents wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday on Sunday night. As sweet as they are and as good as their intentions were, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when they suggested La Porchetta in Greensborough and Supper Inn as two possible dining venues. My mum might be able to whip up some pretty decent Indonesian fare and knows a thing or two about good food but she’s utterly hopeless when it comes to restaurants. To her, ‘good’ Italian food is the Anglo-Italian crap they serve at La Porchies and although I love Supper Inn dearly, I’m so over Chinese food (at least for now). Hence, I suggested something more adventurous for my dinner. My suggestions ranged from Indian to Korean to Greek to Ethiopian until finally, my parents settled on one cuisine: Thai.

*facepalm*

Yes, good old bloody Thai food. Adventurous it is not (at least not to the suburban Aussie lexicon) but the fact that we never have Thai food (“too much like Indonesian food” reckons my mum – I disagree) means that my family were taking a walk on the wild side when we rocked up to our 8pm booking at Rama Thai, a restaurant that was recommended by some family friends. For some reason, the place was dead-quiet when we walked in – no tables were occupied. I was initially nervous upon seeing this but throughout the course of our meal, there was a steady stream of walk-ins picking up their take away orders as well as a few sit-ins which reassured me a little bit.

We ordered a whole bunch of dishes, all of which arrived very quickly. Although we had an unlimited supply of jasmine rice (@$2.50 per head), my brother insisted of ordering roti ($3.50). For some reason, we thought that it was going to come with some sort of curry or gravy but instead it came out plain. Boo.

Our only entree was a serving of por pia which are basically Thai spring rolls ($7.90). I was expecting them to taste similar to the awesome fried poh pia (Malaysian spring rolls) which are churned out effortlessly at the not-so-creatively named Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe but they tasted nothing like them. Yes, these ones also had a pork filling and yes, they also contained bean shoots, cabbage and other subsidiary vegetables but they were not at all tasty.

If the por pia were disappointing, then thank Rama for the green curry chicken ($14.90). I wasn’t expecting much from this dish but we were all stunned at how… beautiful it was. Although not as hot as most other versions I’ve tried, this one was lovely in that it had a subtle sweetness and somewhat delicate element to it. Both my mum and Janice could not help but spoon the sauce, once all the chicken and vegies had been devoured, all over their bowls of rice as it was so good.

The ubiquitous prawn pad thai ($14.90). Yes, it’s so cliched, so common and so gweilo but it’s popular for a reason: it’s damn good. And Rama Thai make a pretty, pretty good one. One par with Ghin Khao as one of the nicest ones I’ve had with all the flavours – sweet, salty and sour – being perfectly balanced even if it was more lukewarm than hot.

Yum nua yang (Thai grilled beef salad at $13.90) was another crowd pleaser. Served at room temperature, the chef was able to successfully blend both the saltiness of the fish sauce and the acidity of the lime juice into a flavour that was both harmonious yet one that was still able to create a beautiful contrast. I would have liked the beef to be less well-done but apart from that, a successful dish.

Mee krob (or ‘crispy noodles’ $17.90), basically crispy thin rice noodles with a sweet sauce that’s balanced with a touch of tamarind for some tang, garnished with prawns. Everyone seemed to like this dish and while I liked the texture, I thought it was a bit too sweet for me. I’m not sure whether this dish is supposed to be this sweet (it was sweeter than Chinese sweet and sour sauce) or whether Rama Thai’s version is sweeter than others, but I think I would have enjoyed a bit more ‘sour’ or ‘salty’ in my mee krob.

We had only ordered the above dishes but we weren’t 100% full so we ordered two more:

Again, pad thai but this time chicken ($13.90) as Ken was complaining of “prawn overload.” While the chicken version was nice, I liked the prawn one just that little bit better…

Okay, so maybe ordering two more dishes was too much because by then, we were REALLY full. Still, the ‘talay thai‘, originally a mixed seafood dish (but we specifically requested fish fillets only), ($18.90) was so good that we were just able to finish it all. The fish fillets were coated in a light crispy batter and served with a sauce made out of nam phrik (red curry) paste that was both spicy and salty – okay, maybe a bit TOO salty though.

The bill was a smidgen over $119, but we got $20 off thanks to the Entertainment Book discount which meant that we got a very good meal at a very reasonable price. Even without the discount, I’d say that the dishes were reasonably priced  though my parents did say that the servings were a bit small. Apart from the fact that the food wasn’t hot enough in most instances, we all enjoyed our meal there. While the food was not as clean and fresh as Charm Thai nor as hearty and filling as Ying Thai, it definitely stands its ground in the leafy Eastern suburbs of Melbourne and given that there was only one waitress working that night, she did a fantastic job in recommending dishes and ensuring that we were served at a reasonable pace. Given the number of Thai restaurants in the Doncaster area alone, I probably won’t go ALL the way to Camberwell just for Thai food but would definitely not rule out going there for dinner if I happen to be in the area for whatever reason.

Rama Thai on Urbanspoon

Attica

74 Glen Eira Rd
Ripponlea VIC 3185
+61 3 9530 0111
http://www.attica.com.au

I turned 25 over the weekend. Yep, no longer will I be ticking the 18-24 box when it comes to filling out surveys and no longer will I be able to honestly tell people that I’m in my early twenties. Welcome to the the Quarter Life, Miss Libby. Sigh. And so my foray into the mid-twenties started off with a long morning in bed, nursing a cold that had been plaguing me all week. Yes, the cold. While I may have used it as an excuse to put away my books for the week and to avoid doing any sort of housework, no cold was going to stop me from indulging in Attica‘s eight course degustation dinner that night, nosiree!

A birthday gift from my darling Adam, this was one dinner that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. I mean, who cannot be excited at the thought of dining at a restaurant that was given the title of Best Restaurant by The Age Good Food Guide last year as well as being ranked the 73rd Best Restaurant in the world according to the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants List? Hells no. So never mind my cold, I thought as we walked to the not-overly-flashy brick building on Glen Eira Rd at 6:30pm on Saturday night which was warm and cozy inside. I happily sat down on the cushy booth towards the back of the restaurant as I anticipated the many, wonderful things that I would get to try from Ben Shewry’s $140 per head eight course degustation (which is the only thing available on Saturday nights).

Being sick meant that I could not order a glass of wine to sip with my meal. And I had to totally restrain myself from crying as Adam devilishly sipped his Trumer Pils from a funky beer glass in front of me. Bastard.

We were presented with warm bread from Dench’s bakery (a choice between seed and sourdough), shaped like mini sharks’ fins. Along with a small tub of house-cured better and Murray River sea salt, we were also given a small container filled with an olive oil emulsion which tasted like a cross between tzatziki and deli-bought taramosalata. It wasn’t bad, but I did prefer the boring butter + salt on bread combo over this brew.

Our amuse bouche was a simple medley of heirloom carrots with a carrot juice and a sprinkling of goat’s cheese. Nothing to excite my tongue, really (I mean, it WAS only carrot).

The first course was simply called ‘snow crab,’ a strange but wonderfully intricate creation that looked like it came from a lab rather than a restaurant. At first glance, the dish looked like a pile of well, snow but take one mouthful and you will discover delicate shreds of fresh crab meat, puffed rice, barberries and salmon roe hidden underneath the ‘snow’ which is made out of frozen verjuice, egg white and horseradish. What I loved about this dish was that each forkful of ‘snow’ gave you an almost-brain freeze before the chill simply vanished, leaving the tongue to savour the crab and the salmon roe. A dish that certainly tickled my senses.

You’d think that nothing could top what had been a stunner of a first course but the second course did just that in the form of an obviously Asian-inspired osmanthus & chrysanthemum broth with abalone and cuttlefish. It was a delicate, herby broth which brought out the flavours of the abalone and confit chicken pieces. So perfect on a cold Autumn’s night and so delicious that I could eat it all day long.

The third dish was bizarrely named “a simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown.” This dish is a nod to Shewry’s New Zealand heritage and the hangi, a method of cooking that involves cooking meat or vegetables underground. Here, it kind of looked like they simply dug a potato out of the ground and plonked it on our plate which I thought was pretty cool. The waitress explained that it had been cooked for 13 hours, which explained why it was the most tender piece of potato I had ever had in my life (the most accurate way to describe it would to be call it a solid mashed potato). The smoked goats curd and fried salt-bush leaves made the potato taste more ‘earthy’ as per its name, and both the Jerusalem artichoke dust and dried tuna flakes gave the dish a not-really-needed-but-more-than-welcome level of extra tastiness.

The ‘bass gropher, almonds and rosemary‘ fish dish was just as exquisite as the first two courses. It was the epitome of a perfectly-cooked fish, beautifully tender and silky, with the insides still raw yet on the verge of being cooked with the crunchy almonds giving this dish an interest textural contrast. The lemon confit gave this dish a slight tang but was well-balanced by the aromatic garlic chips and a sprinkling of rosemary flowers.

Our next two courses were the slightly heavier meat ones which excited Adam to a great degree. And while they were good (nothing consumed at Attica that night could be considered ‘terribly bad’ in my opinion), they did not match up to the excitement that the first few courses ignited. Take the lamb, tubers, mushrooms roast over wood and smoke, for example. Like the fish, the lamb was beautifully – no, PERFECTLY – cooked. Like how it should be. It was so juicy, so tender, so flavoursome, so everything the best piece of lamb can be. The problem I felt with this dish though, was that I felt that the mushrooms and tubers seemed kind of … disjointed from the rest of the dish. I normally love mushrooms but eating these mushrooms was a bit like a chore to me as they did not really mesh well with the dish. Even more annoyingly, the fact that everything was too bloody smoky probably ruined the whole thing for me. But damn, that lamb really was very good…

The beef, seagrass and white cabbage was just as disjointed as the previous dish. It goes without saying that the beef rump squares were beautifully cooked, with the right amount of pinkness. However, the seemingly on purpose burnt ‘chips’ on the side just looked and seemed gimicky along with the sticks of wombok while the lump of dried black sea grass and black sesame added nothing to the dish as it was not only tasteless but awkward. The fact that these two dishes took forever to come to our table probably compounded our inability to enjoy the meat dishes fully. The service did start off swiftly and friendly at the start but as the restaurant got busier, the waitresses spent less time chatting with us about the food and focused on the people who were clearly willing to splurge on bottles of vintage.

Thankfully things DID perk up when the ‘bridging course’ was introduced as means to sway the tongue away from the savoury and onto the sweet. This dish, the terroir (which reminded me of Jan’s chocolate parfait at Embrasse), was mindblowingly fantastic. The ‘soil’ was a cool mixture of dehydrated beetroot crumbs and berries woven with an intricate mixture of spices, including cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. The ‘soil’ was then garnished with a sorrel and clover granita. Digging into the dish, one would then uncover a mound made of fromage frais sorbet combined with bits of kiwi fruit and avocado oil jelly. Phew!

Our final course was Attica’s take on the humble apple crumble, ‘apple, olive, warm shredded wheat,’ a fantastic way to finish off the night. It looked like a pile of, well, warmed shredded wheat but dig deeper and you will find…

… a warm filling of apples and celery held together by an olive oil emulsion. I was eww-ing over having to eat celery in a dessert course but strangely enough, it worked. Shrugs. A fantastic way to finish off a four-hour dinner and the appropriate send-off before we walked out of the restaurant and into the cold Melbourne night.

Oh wait, there’s more! Petit fours in the form of a warm chocolate fudge while Adam handed over his money! Funnily enough, Adam thought this was the best thing he ate all night (!!). Okay, I admit that these were some pretty damn good chocolate fudge but you’d have to be nuts to choose them over the snow crab. Or the broth. Or the fish. Or the terroir.

Well, what an eye-opening experience. Naturally, it didn’t come cheap and whether it was worth the $140 price-tag is something that will depend on the individual. We were both satisfied, but not 100% full. Then again, you go to Attica to be rewarded with an experience that will thrill not only your taste buds but the rest of your senses rather than be stuffed (this is what all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants are for). I thought that all of the dishes were amazing except for the two meat dishes which, while not bad, were not up to the standard as the other dishes on offer. Still, I’d say that Attica definitely deserves its two hats although I would have to hope that they had better meat dishes on the menu during Summer to warrant the place in the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants List!

Attica on Urbanspoon

Canton Lake

529 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9899 2388

A very Happy belated Mother’s Day to all you yummy mummies out there – I hope yours was a relaxing one and that your kid(s) and partners didn’t cause you too much stress. Mother’s Day this year was spent yum cha-ing with Adam’s family at Tai Pan, followed by a break before jumping in the car to eat all again at Canton Lake in Box Hill for dinner with my parents, a favourite of ours for quite a number of years. They may not serve the best Cantonese in Melbourne but I was more than happy to return after so long, it was like coming home and running into the out-stretched arms of my mother. Kind of.

We ordered four dishes to share between the five of us, starting off with a serving of mud crab cooked in ginger and spring onion with egg noodles (‘extra noodles,’ we requested). They were charging $28 per pound and I think we got a crab that was just under two pounds. The crab meat was lovely – very juicy, very sweet and very succulent. The gravy, however, could have done with a bit more flavour though.

My brother specifically requested the sizzling beef with chilli sauce ($12.80), something that he always has to order at these places as he is not a seafood person. I wasn’t expecting much from this dish but I was happily surprised to find the beef fillets so tender and dare I say it, almost wagyu-like in texture. The sweet and peppery sauce wasn’t overly hot but that was okay with me, heh.

Canton Lake’s stuffed bean curd ($23.80) was alright, but not as good as the ones I’ve had at Supper Inn or even at the now-not-so-good Lantern Gsrden further down Station Street. That said, I gobbled these up greedily as I had been craving stuffed bean curd for quite some time now…

You may have noticed that for an Asian family, we’re pretty ‘gweilo’ when it comes to eating at Cantonese restaurants. Yes, Asians might laugh at us but we’re actually partial to a good plate of lemon chicken and the sweet and sour stuff, namely the sweet and sour fish ($22.80). This rendition was more delicate than others I’ve tried which I felt didn’t work well. For this dish to work, I believe in having a still-crunchy batter covered in a tangy sauce, and the fish has to be fleshy. Instead, the fish was kind of stringy, the batter was bland and the sauce had no impact.

The bill worked out to be $140.40, including tea and steamed rice. I found this to be a decent amount for five people, for a dinner that was a bit of a hit and miss yet still managed to satisfy our hunger. Like I said before, it’s not the best Cantonese in Melbourne but you probably wouldn’t find a better Canto restaurant in Box Hill.

Suzuran

1025 Burke Rd
Camberwell VIC 3124
+61 3 9882 2349
http://www.suzuran.com.au/

When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time in Camberwell. As soon as it hit 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon, we’d rush to catch the 75 city-bound tram and embark at Camberwell Junction where we’d sip lattes and fries at Georges, perve on CGS guys and browse the many clothing outlets on Burke Road. Given the amount of time that was spent in Camberwell, you’d think that I’d know the area pretty well. WRONG. Jan and I had only found out about a neat little Japanese grocery store just off Camberwell Junction, Suzuran. As well as boasting an enviable inventory of Japanese confectionery, cooking ingredients, snacks and take-home dishes, it also houses a small sushi bar which locals order made-to-order sushi before waltzing out the door.

With Jo in tow, we made our way to Suzuran on Saturday afternoon. Jan and I were particularly transfixed as we waddled up and down the aisles, picking up random goodies such as a tub of macha powder and slabs of fresh sashimi-grade tuna before sighing and putting them back where we found them. In the end, I did limit myself to a bag of Japanese caramel corn snacks and Jan could not resist a $2.90 tub of seaweed salad.

With literally nowhere to sit and eat our food, we sadly left Suzuran and settled on a park bench in Camberwell market to enjoy our sushi. We all ordered a sushi a la carte box ($14) which contained a variety of chopped sushi rolls, nigirizushi and stuffed inari. I swear, they were some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever had on this side of Melbourne. Everything was just so fresh, so zesty and so tasty. I was delighted to find that my prawn nigiri was fresh and supple, unlike the others I’ve tried elsewhere which have been a little on the dry and stringy side. I was also glad to see Suzuran get the rice-to-filling ratio spot-on too. Deee-licious! I couldn’t decide which bit was my favourite…

Was it the big sushi filled with tamago, avocado, salmon and seafood extender…?

…or the stuffed inari filled with a salmon nori roll?

Jo may have been happy with a single sushi a la carte but Jan and I did not stop there. We both ordered a serving each of hotate (scallop) nigiri (two pieces for $5) which I enjoyed with my tako wasabi (octopus and wasabi) sushi (two pieces for $5.50). I loved the succulent and sweet scallop meat which was topped with briny salmon roe. Meanwhile, the tako wasabi would have been nicer if it was a little less, well, tasty. I know it may sound a bit weird, but I did think that the wasabi and chilli overpowered the fresh octopus meat which was marinated in an already heavy sesame and mirin marinade.

Foreground: Jan’s masago (capelin roe) sushi. I actually thought this was tobiko but the much sweeter roe of the capelin fish was used to make this sushi. It wasn’t bad, but I think I prefer the brinier tobiko.

The fact that I had just blew quite a bit of money on a new Louis Vuitton bag this week meant that I was not able to buy as many groceries from Suzuran… but that was okay. We promised that we’d be back to stock up our pantries as well as to try more of the many wonderful things that came out of that sushi bar.

Suzuran on Urbanspoon

Budapest

273 Glenhuntly Road
Elsternwick VIC 3185
+61 3 9530 0849
http://www.budapest.com.au

It was time for me to try some random cuisine and when Aaron suggested giving this random Hungarian restaurant in Elsternwick a go, I couldn’t say no. Situated on busy Glenhuntly Rd, Budapest not only serves an extensive array of Hungarian meals but also boasts a palinka (Hungarian fruit brandy) bar so big that it would make Zsa Zsa Gabor go siiick.

The restaurant opens at 5pm on Saturday evenings, which is ridiculously early for most but perfectly okay with us. I’m not sure what time Hungarians usually sit down for dinner but as an Indonesian myself, 5pm is pretty normal for us. Anyway, the restaurant offered some decent-sounding Happy Hour specials such as a plain schnitzel for $14 but we ditched the specials for the a la carte menu which had most of its mains hovering around the $20-25 mark.

I was going to order a Floris Apple to drink but quickly changed my mind when I saw the “six shots of various palinka $24″ on top of the drinks menu. We left it up to them to choose which ones to bring us, the names of which escape me. I do remember trying a sweet apricot one as well as a not-so-pleasant herby unicum one. With an alcohol content of 38% (minimum), palinkas are probably a bit too strong for me to enjoy properly but at least I can say that I’ve tried them.

Haha, I’ll see if I can get through this review without making some lame-o joke about whether Hungarians are always hungry. Har-dee-har-har.

Csirkemajjal toltott gombafejek rantva, or crumbed mushrooms filled with liver pate ($10.50). I loved the crunchy crumbed coating which had virtually no traces of oil left. Not that I’m well-versed in Hungarian cuisine or anything, but I did feel that they could have cooked the mushrooms a little bit longer and made the pate a little bit smoother.

Ta-da!

Surprisingly, the camembert sajt rantva (fried camembert, $10.50) tasted much better. I’m not sure if this is authentic Hungarian fare but I loved the crispy coating and the soft, luscious pool of creamy cheese that oozed onto my plate. Like the crumbed mushrooms, the cheese triangles were served with a csizki sauce which was made from made from mayonnaise, beetroot, apple, onion and mushroom. I’m not normally a beetroot fan but wow, that was one sauce that I was happy to eat again.

In hindsight, I should have ordered the goulash with nokedli ($21.50) but I followed Aaron by ordering a stuffed schnitzel instead. I ordered the magyaros (Hungarian Style) schnitzel ($25.50) which was basically a schnitzel filled with csabai smoked sausages and cheese and served with a choice of two side dishes – I chose the creamed spinach and chips. My schnitzel wasn’t bad – hell, it was nowhere near as dry as the chicken they served at Mrs Parma’s. Indeed, I loved the spicy sausages which gave the dish extra depth and bite but I was let down by the creamed spinach which was bland. If it were not for my food envy (I was drooling over the goulash that a nearby diner had ordered), I probably would have enjoyed this dish a bit more.

Aaron ordered the parasztosan (country style) schnitzel ($25.50) which was filled with bacon, onion and parsley. He opted for the red cabbage and the Hungarian potatoes (shown above) as his two side dishes. Both of us agreed that eating the red cabbage was almost akin to eating warm kim chi minus the spiciness while the potatoes didn’t really do much for me. I also wasn’t a fan of his schnitzel for some reason and I’m guessing it was the bacon *shivers*

I wish I could say that I loved the food. I wish I could say that the food was on par with the friendly hospitality, effective service and the warm atmosphere. Unfortunately, I just found it a little bland and at $96 (including drinks), I didn’t think it was worth it. That said, I WOULD actually go back again to perhaps try some more entrees (with that awesome csizki sauce, naturally) and listen to my gut by going for the goulash and nodelki.

maze (CLOSED)

Level 1, Crown Metropol Hotel
Corner Whiteman and Clarendon Streets
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 8300
http://www.gordonramsay.com/mazegrillmelbourne/

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened his first Australian restaurant, maze, at Crown’s new Metropol Hotel with much fanfare recently. Despite not being a fan of the muppet and his TV shows and despite the overwhelmingly bad reviews that maze had been getting, I, along with Dave and Linda, were still super-keen on navigating maze’s menu where simplistic Ramsay-esque fare with an Aussie spin was on the agenda. All that was required from our side to embark on this adventure was to simply visit Maze’s website and make an online booking. I have to admit that I was scared that my booking might not have come through but a confirmation email on Thursday night sent from maze HQ assuaged those fears.

The Metropol Hotel is not a bad-looking hotel, the only downside of it being that it faced drab Clarendon Street. While it did not look so bad at night, it would surely be a nightmare to look at from your hotel window first thing in the morning. maze, along with its sister restaurant maze Grill, occupies the first floor of this hotel with a bar area the first thing one sees when they walk in. I joined my companions at the bar and ordered a glass of Riesling ($12) as we were early. Once we were settled, we were led to a table in the middle of the surprisingly small dining room facing Clarendon Street. The nightclub-dark dining room would have been perfect for a couple on a date but not for us food bloggers who wanted light, dammit! Coats were hung, menus were given and long, drawn-out speeches about a wine that Dave ordered were listened to. While I give props for the sommelier’s knowledge, I did feel that the schpeel he gave was a bit of an overkill, especially when it was blatantly obvious that my friends didn’t really give a flying eff about the wine’s history and production methods.

Moving onto more pressing matters, the menu is divided into the a la carte section and the chef’s degustation menu. We were told that the dishes on the former section were designed to share and that four dishes per person was the way to go. Although there were some drool-worthy options in the a la carte menu such as the Queensland mud crab, pressed watermelon, pickled ginger, rock melon sorbet ($16), we decided that we could not go past the seven-course chef’s menu at $95 per head where we were actually given two choices between the second, third and fifth courses. Once we gave our orders, we were given warm slices of white bread which was accompanied by a bowl of seaweed butter and Murray River pink salt (above).

#1: Marinated beetroot with goats curd, cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts. Okay, beetroot isn’t my favourite thing in the world to eat so I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed this dish. The mellow and slightly nutty goats curd proved to be a suitable catalyst for the sweet beetroot and cab sauv vinaigrette, cutting through the saccharine flavours effortlessly with the pine nuts adding an exciting textural element to the dish.

#2: We all chose the seared yellow fin tuna, white radish, yuzu, enoki mushrooms, black garlic. This was probably one of the better dishes for the night – the two perfect rectangles of yuzu-marinated tuna did not spend too long on the heat before they were whisked away, centres still raw and all, to be joined in holy matrimony with mini mounds of white radish, black garlic and baby enoki mushrooms. The tuna might not have been the freshest I’ve ever had but damn, this dish’s simplicity and purity made it phenomenal.

My #3: Seared leg of rabbit, jicama, green olive, almond and brown butter vinaigrette. In between two mounds of rabbit leg was a football-shaped mould of what looked like the cooked bunny equivalent of steak tartare. Each bit of rabbit was topped with a thinly-sliced piece of jicama, a root that looked like a turnip (but blander), and the whole thing was drawn together by a lovely almond and brown butter vinaigrette. I’ve been disappointed with rabbit cooked too dry in the past but I was relived to find that this was not the case here.

Linda and Dave’s #3: Pan seared Canadian scallop, caramelised kelp, samphire, mussels, Champagne. One bite of Dave’s dish made me glad that I chose the rabbit for my #3. Although the scallop was deliciously sweet, I felt that the supporting cast didn’t really do much to elevate this dish.

#4: Pan roasted barramundi, butternut squash, compressed cucumber, pumpkin seeds. Although this dish was technically excellent, I could not get excited about it. Sure, the fish was beautifully cooked, the skin perfectly crispy and sure, there was nothing wrong with the butternut puree. Yet for some reason, this dish rubbed me off the wrong way. It could have been the cube which consisted solely of pumpkin flesh. It could have been the awkward mismatch between the cucumber and the red chilli skin slivers. It could even have been the fact that the fish emancipated a really nasty stench when it was presented to us. I wanted to like it – and indeed I tried – but I just couldn’t.

From then on, the photo quality deteriorates. I would like to say that it had everything to do with my level of sobriety but I had only had the one glass of Riesling so it would be pretty sad for me to admit that. I guess it was a combination of the annoyingly dark lighting, me playing with RAW settings for the first time and my cbf-ness with taking 10 billion shots until I got the money shot. Sigh.

Dave’s #5: Ox “tongue and cheek”, caper and raisin, carrots, horseradish pomme purée. Hahaha tongue in cheek, gettit?! I only managed to try a teeny bit of cheek and a sliver of tongue so my comments should be taken with a grain of Murray River pink salt. I felt that the cheek, which is supposed to be tender and gelatinous, was too dry – it was almost like eating corned beef! – but I was glad that they got it right with the ox tongue which was tender like that Elvis Presley song.

For our #5, Linda and I chose the lamb cannon and shoulder, cauliflower purée, anchovy, stinging nettles. It should be noted here that both #5s were supposed to the ‘main’ dishes so you can imagine how flabbergasted we were when we saw the eating disorder-like portion sizes that graced our plates. I did like our lamb – both cuts were juicy and tender – better than Dave’s cow as well as the succulent jus that went with it. Ditto the smooth cauliflower puree. What really irked me about this dish, however, was that little silver thingy on top of the cauliflower mound – a piece of unsalted anchovy. I did not understand what purpose it served, it was just out of place and annoyed the hell out of me.

#6: Exotic fruit vacherin, passion fruit and banana sorbet. This dessert definitely ticked all of my boxes – it was light, it was fruity and it had sorbet! The sorbet was both sweet and tangy at the same time and complemented the fruits really well (though I don’t know why they were deemed ‘exotic’ – bloody hell, it was just kiwifruit and passion fruit! What I liked most about this dessert, however were the vacherin (basically a fancy name for meringue) which were filled with a deliciously sticky passion fruit curd. Oooh yes.

#7: Our final course was Maze’s rendition of the quintessential Aussie sweet, the lamington, served with rosella jam which was probably the most interesting dish of the night. Basically, the humble lamington was deconstructed and presented in little bits – the base was a rich, dark chocolate ganache which was topped with a not-overly-sweet coconut sorbet, some sort of sponge cake and a crunchy tuille. Eat every element at the same time and you have one mind-blowing dessert.

To finish, a plate of petit fours in the form of white chocolate balls filled with strawberry ice cream. A delicious way to finish off the evening’s proceedings.

The portion sizes may have been the tiniest I’ve seen at a Melbourne restaurant but I surprised myself by declaring that I was full. I came into the restaurant not expecting much but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food wasn’t as terrible as Stephen Downes made it out to be. While most of the dishes commanded a sense of straightforwardness, some dishes lacked such precision and cohesiveness that eating them was like watching some idiot kid walk into the maze in that game show A*Mazing and wandering around in a daze that they miss two golden keys in their haste to finish the maze in time (I’m sorry, I couldn’t do this review without some sort of bad ‘maze’ analogy. Plus, I’m sure you all watched and loved James Sherry so there).

In saying that, the successful dishes reminded me of that Peter Goldsworthy book ‘Maestro’ where the protagonist’s piano playing skills were ‘technically perfect’ but lacking in fervor and creativity. Those dishes may have been simple, yet they worked because they were held together by a team of chefs who mastered their techniques down pat. Still, I felt that a little ingenuity would not have hurt because apart from the lamington, the dishes were really nothing that Melbourne had not seen before. Given the fact that I did not once drop the f-bomb during this review, you could definitely say that the food in this place did not completely suck.

Service-wise, I thought the staff did their job okay. They were attentive and the food came out pretty quickly. What annoyed Linda, however, was the fact that they were abrupt in that they interrupted our conversations to present our dishes, something that does not normally bother me but obviously bothered her which was fair enough. They did, however, refill our bread happily throughout the course of the meal and because it was pretty good bread, that negated their abruptness a little bit, hah. In the end, we all thought it was definitely Good Food Guide good but nowhere near three-hat level. In saying that, I can definitely see myself coming back to try their a la carte menu or going next door to try the steaks at maze Grill.

Maze on Urbanspoon

Chu The

92 Hopkins Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 8265

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

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

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

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