The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Dolls at the Mount (CLOSED)

54 Mount Street
Heidelberg VIC 3084
+61 3 9457 3356
http://www.dollsteahouse.com.au/about

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, what did you get up to? I am so looking forward to reading all your blogs about the scrumptious Christmas lunches and dinners you’ve all been stuffing yourselves with (plus points for mouth-watering photos and recipes). I for one enjoyed a feast at home, starring a honey-glazed ham courtesy of my sister and a baked tarator-style salmon baked by yours truly. Want recipes? Simply find them on taste.com.au and type in “Greg Malouf salmon” on google respectively. For now, here’s a treat for you: Dolls. And scones. And tea. Where to find them? Dolls at the Mount.

It all started when I was on the computer the other week. Mum barged into my room, telling me that her friend had just visited an antique shop in Heidelberg that had a coffee shop attached to it and that the food there was OMGSOGOOD. The friend had no idea what the place was called nor was she even 100% sure it was in Heidelberg. But anyway, I was told to type in “Heidelberg tea house antiques” on google … and the first three results screamed “Dolls at the Mount,” a tea house just a stone’s throw from Heidelberg station. A click on Lorraine’s review of the place, with lovely photos and all, produced plenty of squeals from the two of us but ‘no’, my mum said, ‘this ain’t the place she’s talking about.’ Nonetheless, we could not find any other antique shop-slash-tea house in the area, leading me to believe that her friend was just talking sht or probably meant a completely different suburb. In any case, that didn’t stop the two of us (plus dad) from driving to Heidelberg last Tuesday to partake in one of their last high tea sessions before they closed for the summer.

Situated on Mount Street (aaah so THAT’S why they named it so!), the place is a little bit hard to find. We were trying to find the place amongst the row of cafes and shops across the road from the station but Dolls is actually an Edwardian-style period house that parades itself as a tea house during the day.

Walking up the creaky steps and onto an old verandah, I pressed the doorbell and stood there awkwardly while waiting for someone to answer the door. After a few minutes, we were still standing there so I pressed it again.

To my relief, a friendly face opened the wooden door and I was greeted with the sights of 10 billion (okay, not quite) dolls in the foyer … and a handful of giggling nine year-old girls milling around in the dining room.

We were seated by Vivienne, the brains behind this operation, and presented with menus. From reading food blogs and glancing at what other diners were eating, it was obvious that the special occasion tea (at $24.95 p/h) was the way to go. ‘But wait!’ my parents cried, ‘$24.95 per head?! WAHHH SO EXPENSIVE!’ Despite my attempts to tell them that $24.95 was, in fact, not expensive for high tea, they were insistent on getting ONE plate of scones to share. My desperation showing, I blurted out ‘If you guys get the special occasion tea, I’ll pay for it!’ and what do you know, that did the trick. Hah.

Because the place was pretty busy (it doesn’t look like it in the photos above but trust me, it was)  and unfortunately short-staffed, we knew we were in for a long wait. Despite the fact that I was never into dolls as a girl (I had a couple of Barbie dolls but I had ripped both their heads off), I was nevertheless keen to suss out the doll museum around the corner from the dining room. Unfortunately, the room was full of nine-year old girls celebrating a birthday party so it was strictly off-limits so I had to busy myself by studying the intricate mismatched floral teacups and cutlery that adorned the table. All made in England, naturally.

I can imagine how hard it was for my mum NOT to casually drop these beauties into her handbag as they were so beautiful. Some of you readers will know that my mum’s got this fascination with antiques and old-fashioned crockery. At the moment, she’s really into teacups and saucers made by the likes of Royal Doulton et al, before they got palmed off to Indonesian manufacturers.

We all shared a teapot of English Breakfast tea (included in the special occasion tea). It was pretty inoffensive stuff, really, but the fact that they were served in cute Queen Anne teacups just made the experience a whole lot more fun.

We were then presented with a plate of half a dozen scones to share. Adorned with nothing but some icing sugar, the scones were amazing. They were soft, spongy balls of fluffy goodness that melted in your mouth when you ate a piece.

For maximum impact, eat with their delicious slightly-tangy-but-awesomely-sweet strawberry jam and whipped cream. OMFGYUM!

We were halfway into our second scones when we were presented with the pièce de résistance, two tiers of yummiliciousness. Despite the fact that we were almost full after eating the scones, we were all like ‘pffft, is THIS all?’ Sure, the tower was impressive but I couldn’t help but think, ‘This tower is as tiny as Nick Riewoldt’s wang; this is going to be EASY.’ I’m sure my parents were thinking the same thing, well, okay, using a much cleaner analogy. But either way, we were all wrong.

We started off with the sandwiches. There were three different varieties altogether: leg ham, tomato and lettuce, cranberry and turkey and egg and cucumber. They were delicious and they were the items that filled us up. Who would have thought that three measly sandwich quarters and two scones would fill us up?! Seriously, we were stuffed. As in, Australia at stumps on day two of this year’s Boxing Day test stuffed.

We did our best with the sweets but in the end, we couldn’t fit everything in and had to ask them to box the cupcakes, the yoyos  and gingerbread shapes to eat at home. What did I think of the other sweets? Although I was disappointed not to see the famous sponge cake in the tier, the delicious Christmas treats made up for it. The fruit mince pies, for starters were arguably better than Dench Baker’s fruit mince pies which always gets a nod from The Age. They were not too sweet and the main reason why they won me over was because they actually put PINEAPPLE in it so it was almost like eating a pie with pineapple jam in it (and goodness knows how much I LOVE pineapple jam). I also thought the fruit cakes were fantastic and ditto the white Christmas slices, not because they were irresistible but because they brought back innocent primary school memories. Ahhh, to be a kid in the 90s again…

An old house near the Austin hospital is the least likely place that one would find simple, delectable yet extremely filling food accompanied by bottomless pots of tea served by the friendliest of ladies. But trust me, folks, go there for one visit and you’ll be vowing to bring your mothers, girl friends and nannas there next time. Heck, even my dad was initially apprehensive when he was faced with mountains of vacant-eyed dolls in frilly dresses and crockery that only a red-blooded male would describe as “gay” but he, too, grudgingly admitted that, food-wise, this place was “alright.” I would have loved to take my girl friends here during the Christmas break but unfortunately, Dolls are closed for the summer and will resume trading in February. What’s Plan B? Why, high tea at The Windsor in a few week’s time, naturally!

Dolls at the Mount on Urbanspoon

Momotaro Rahmen

392 Bridge Rd
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9421 1661

I can honestly say that I’ve been to quite a fair few ramen eateries around Melbourne. Ramen Ya, Don Too, Ito and Ajisen Ramen to name a few. But my hunt for Melbourne’s Best Ramen was never going to stop until I finally tried Momotaro Rahmen. Named after a demon-slaying boy hero from Japanese folklore that came to earth in a giant peach, the restaurant is supposedly the king of ramen eateries. Well, in Melbourne anyway.

Situated on the quiet end of Bridge Road, Momotaro Rahmen is a tiny cafe that does not accept bookings. Although it’s a virtually spartan place, it is decorated by various Japanese trinkets and tables are adorned with local and Japanese magazines and newspapers for a homely touch.

The first time Adam and I visited this place for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon. He ordered a tonkotsu ramen ($11), which typically consists of a milky white broth, the result of boiling pork bones over high heat for several hours. It was topped with slices of roast pork, bean shoots, half a not-quite-hard-boiled egg and garnished with chopped spring onions and sesame. It looked good. And it looked MASSIVE. Like one of those L-sized pho bowls you get at those pho joints that allow you to choose your bowl sizes. To be honest, I’m not sure if I liked the broth – it was probably a bit too delicate for my liking. Adam’s reaction was more negative. He declared it ‘bland’ and in a desperate attempt to add more flavour to the dish, went on to pour half the contents of the chilli oil bottle sitting on the table which made it inedible in the end anyway. Silly kid.

Other cons? They advertised the tonkotsu as consisting of ‘mixed vegetables’ but there was NOTHING apart from the bean shoots. The pro? The noodles. Oh yeah, they were FANTASTIC. Springier than Springy the  Springfield Spring and deliciously chewy, I can honestly say that these were the best ramen noodles yet.

I ordered the gyoza combination which consisted of a bowl of shoyu (soy) ramen and three pieces of gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) with salad and rice ($16). Plonked unceremoniously on a Larissa Dubecki review (lol), my bowl was not as big as Adam’s. Thank goodness though because I would not have been able to finish it. After tasting Adam’s rather disappointing (but for the noodles) ramen, I was glad that my shoyu ramen was amazing. The broth was still delicate but more robust and more tasty. A lone, fatty piece of char shu competed with a handful of corn, bean shoots, spring onions and half a not-quite-hard-boiled egg for attention but it was the The Most Amazing Ramen Noodles and the broth that overshadowed them all. Delicious.

Momotaro’s gyoza are pretty good too and they deserve as much praise as their (non tonkotsu) ramen dishes. Presented with crispy bottoms, they were filled with a succulent pork, cabbage, garlic and chive filling. On equal footing was the refreshing cabbage salad that came with a lovely, tangy daikon and ponzu dressing, topped with a sprinkle of black sesame for prettiness. Yum.

The second time we came here was last Friday night, for a farewell dinner for Adam’s sister, Jen, as she was flying back home to the States the very next morning. While I’ve heard that the dinner rush at Momotaro is usually a  St Kilda FC-worthy nightmare, it wasn’t overly busy on the night we went – thank goodness for office Christmas party season, hey!

Our friend gyoza made an appearance along with a plate of takoyaki ($7 for six). It was served on a (rather excessive, I might add) bed of cabbage salad with a dab of wasabi on the side. The takoyaki were really nice – crunchy skins and a creamy filling that had generous bits of octopus. We liked.

Adam decided to play guinea pig for the night and choose a non-ramen dish. Given that not much has been said about the rice dishes at Momotaro, he was taking a big gamble. He ended up choosing a pork katsu curry ($13), a Japanese-style mild curry with crumbed pork cutlets and rice. Although the dish was generous in size (no surprises there) and the pork nicely cooked, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the curry. It was akin to eating a robust version of the sauce that comes in canned of baked beans. Give me Don Don, any day.

For some strange reason, Adam’s dish came with the cabbage salad that I had with my gyoza combination above. Indeed, it was a pretty generous salad too and in fact, I can bet that most people would be more than happy to pay $8 for it if it was actually a separate item on the menu but whatever, everyone on the table eagerly grabbed some salad for themselves while they were waiting for their own dishes. I really need to know how to make this for lunch, stat.

The thought of eating a ‘normal’ (read: MASSIVE) bowl of ramen made me quite queasy so I asked if it was okay to have a childrens-sized ramen ($8) which is available in three flavours: shoyu, shio and miso. For some reason, I expected them to say ‘no’ to me but my eyes lit up when they said that, yes, they were able to do it for me. I guess crouching down on my chair and being all “PAY ATTENTION TO ME, ADAM, DAMMIT!” worked like a charm, heeeh.

I chose the shio ramen, a mild salt-based ramen. It was the same size as the shoyu ramen I enjoyed during lunch and consisted of exactly the same trimmings minus the egg but PLUS the mushrooms (ooh wee!). I did notice that the roast pork slice was not as fatty though which was a shame. And while all the trimmings were fine (and the noodles ZOMG FANTASTIC), I can’t say the same about the broth. I know it is supposed to be a mild broth but it was way too mild for me and frankly, eating it was just as boring as listening to one of Adam’s ASX podcasts. The pro? Despite its smaller size, it still filled me up and for only a fraction of the price of a regular (MASSIVE) ramen.

Given all the glowing reviews about this place, I was expecting mind-blowing awesomeness but I didn’t really get it. Sure, the service was great and the food (when you ordered correctly) was fantastic but it wasn’t miles ahead of Don Too or any of the newer places in the ramen market. That said, we all know that authentic ramen is practically non-existent in Melbourne so if I were to recommend a ‘good’ ramen eatery that doesn’t completely suck, it would be this one and Don Too.  Momotaro’s ramen ain’t gonna shake the world but it’ll do for now. Next time? a children-sized miso ramen and a plate of takoyaki. Or a children-sized shoyu ramen and a plate of gyoza.

Momotaro Rahmen on Urbanspoon

Naked For Satan

285 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9416 2238
http://www.nakedforsatan.com.au/

Naked For Satan? The latest ‘Stones album? The name of a porno? A Marilyn Manson song? No, no, no. Only the name of a drinking-slash-eating barn that’s risen up the Melbourne foodie charts faster than Ke$ha’s debut single same time last year. It’s mid-December and if you’re a food blogger who has not yet been to Naked, the latest (and well, only) pintxos and vodka bar in town, then you’re pretty much a loser… oh wait… *sigh*

Driving up and down Brunswick St on the last Saturday before Christmas is not an easy feat. Grabbing a sacred German stollen from Dench Bakers halfway through the morning is harder than trying to bowl Jason Gillespie out (we tried, and failed – referring to the stollen, of course). And choosing a lunch spot in Brunswick Street? Talk about impossible! Just as well the closest spot to our parking spot for the afternoon happened to be Naked For Satan. It wasn’t the provocative name that drew us in, nor was it the quirky split-level dining space with more pipes than a plumber’s workshop. No, it was the whole “this is different” thing that drew us in. Here’s what happened:

Basically, you grab yourself a plate from the counter and, working your way from left to right, you grab whatever pintxos takes your fancy. What are pintxos? They’re a simple Basque snack that is not quite a canape, yet not quite a tapas. Basically, you have a slice of home-baked white bread with whatever topping the kitchen decides to adorn it with, and toothpick is speared through the middle to hold everything together.

At $2 a pintxos, you grab a handful to enjoy with your house-infused vodkas (they named the place after Leon Satanovich, a Russian immigrant who apparently distilled vodka in this very building more than 80 years ago, not Lucifer himself) or you can select a few more for a lunch or a dinner that will satisfy. If you happen to come here for lunch on a weekday, the pintxos are 50 cents each which means that you can fill up until your guts explode for less than $10. BARGAIN.

Once you’re done, pop all your toothpicks in the shot glass provided on your table and bring them over to the counter where they’ll charge you on a per-toothpick basis. Yes, I’m sure that some people may be able to get away with popping a couple of toothpicks in their handbags but c’mon, you’d have to be REALLY tight to want to be able to do that. Be cool, folks.

They don’t look particularly filling (photo not to scale, they’re smaller in real life) but trust me, they are. Adam and I shared 14 between us and we were satisfied.

First plate (clockwise from left): Tom Cooper smoked salmon with onion and dill, chilli peppered prawns, scallop and pea puree, seafood with carrot puree and roe, and in the middle, blue vein cheese and crumbed eggplant chip. My favourite from this lot was the ‘seafood’ one which was pretty much a lovely taramasalata smeared on a crunchy bread slice with a smudge of carrot for a flavour contrast and some roe for a textural one. The eggplant chip one wasn’t bad either – the chip may have been cold but whatever, it was perfectly fried – while the sweetness of the scallop and the pea puree on the pintxos on the right complemented each other.

Second plate (differences in photo quality due to experimentation with RAW-ing): Potato tortilla with aioli, scrambled egg with prawn (weird combination but still worked), pork rillette with gherkin and olives and one with a solitary rice ball on it. I thought the latter one was weird – seriously, a rice ball on bread? – but given that it was one of the more popular items that day, I think the dudes who run this place know what they’re doing.

Yes, we got more! The chorizo with goats cheese and green chilli and pumpkin and mushroom ones were also given the thumbs up by the two of us.

Every now and then, a bloke would come around with a tray of fresh, hot pintxos. On offer that day was a lovely, saucy meatball one (which Adam greedily devoured before I even took a photo, that bastard) and a crumbed sardine and tomato one (pictured) which became Adam’s favourite. There was also a lamb meatball one available but the guys on the table next to us (who Adam suspected were mafia dudes) took the last ones.

They even have a baby canoli one! It was crunchy, and filled with chocolate custard. Unfortunately, they were just okay.

What about the drinks? Naked have a few decent beers on tap, lovely coffees (Adam enjoyed a “pretty good” long mac), and even their own ‘twist’ on the Bulmers cider but few people would say ‘no’ to the house-infused vodkas. I, unfortunately, had to say no because 1) it was too early for vodka and 2) I just wanted a beer. Next time.

My drink for the afternoon was the Naked for Satan ale, brewed by the dudes at Matilda Bay. It was a smooth and sweet beer that had refreshing apple and citrus notes. Perfect for Summer.

Naked For Satan. Wow, what a name and what a concept. This good Christian girl has been converted.

Naked For Satan on Urbanspoon

Maha Bar & Grill

21 Bond Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9629 5900
http://www.mahabg.com.au/

This one’s been sitting in my ‘to write about’ for 2.5 months now. Not because I’m preparing to write a Mark Knopfler-like lyrical masterpiece for this post or anything like that. No, his dinner at Maha was one of the longest and most tedious weekday dinners we’ve ever sat through and it left the four of us feeling like a ball smashed into the Southern Stand for a six. Let’s face it, folks, writing about fun meals is always more fun than writing about mediocre meals (not bad meals though, it’s always fun to unleash your claws to bitch about bad meals). Battered, bruised and underwhelmed, let me tell you now that Maha’s souffra dinners are one of the most overrated things in the world besides Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and this food blog.

My first experience at Maha was a New Years Eve banquet that was innovative, yet overpriced. Still, I vowed to return to Maha to try their souffras, banquet-style dinners, and it wasn’t until a late dessert at Maha with Shirley earlier this year where we feasted on Turkish Delight donuts, burnt butter ice cream and a hunky bartender named Dorian did we decide that, once and for all, we MUST come back here for dinner. So sometime in October, I gathered three other members of The Dinner Crew for a souffra dinner at Maha.

Shirley and I, having arrived early, had pre-drinks while waiting for the others to arrive. Sitting in the front courtyard, surrounded by unused hookahs, I ordered a 1964 Indipendenza ($19), a cocktail which plays tribute to Malta’s day of independence in well, 1964. Like something from 1806 or Der Raum, this cocktail was designed to be interactive. In the background, a glass of Zeppis Bajtra prickly pear liquer and Appleton estate 12 year rum sat there ready to be drunk. I was told, however, to pour some of the Amara Montenegro kinnie mixed with pineapple juice (second glass) which I happily did as I did like my drink herby and pineapple-y. Actually, I just love pineapples in general. I then had to shove spoonfuls of pistachio praline into my mouth in between sips for a heightened experience… which I did get.

Once everyone had arrived, we assembled at a table backed against the lattice screen dividers. Once we told the waitress that we wanted the $75 p/h four-course souffra, she disappeared and then reappeared with four shot glasses of Egyptian hibiscus tea. After toasting each other accompanied by cries of “SAHA!”, we sculled down the tea which was refreshing yet slightly sour. I likened it to drinking a heavily diluted cranberry juice.

We started off our dinner with berid mezze (small cold dishes). A basket of warm Turkish bread was provided…

… and an assortment of dips. In the centre was a glass of smoked chicken jelly, tabouleh and couscous topped with avocado foam which went down alright; clockwise from left: olives rubbed in Maltese fel fel (a capsicum relish), chickpeas and fava beans in lemon, char-grilled eggplant and a smooth labne and beetroot dip. All were pretty delicious, a good way to start the meal off.

Unfortunately (apart from a couple of good dishes), things went downhill from the moment the sahen zghir (small plates) arrived. Take the Glenloth quails wrapped in vine leaves, for example. It was certainly an interesting take on quail – quartered bits of quail, roasted in vine leaves, were scattered all over the plate with zalzett Malti (Maltese sausages), figs and walnuts, also wrapped in vine leaves. I can see the dish working extremely well… had the quails not been overcooked. Me no likely stringy and dry bits of quail.

Spring Bay mussels with dry aged beef with chickpeas and pearl couscous in saffron. Again, another dish that could have been good… but wasn’t. I’m not sure what made it fail like Jenny Humphrey’s climb on Manhattan’s social echelon. There was certainly nothing wrong with the saffron broth and I did like the squishy pearl couscous. Perhaps it was the slivers of dry aged beef that stood there awkwardly like Vanessa Abrams at a black tie gala at the ballet (sorry, I’ll stop the Gossip Girl references now). Ditto the chickpeas.

Maha’s garden salad wasn’t anything to sing about. It had sliced cucumbers, sliced turnip and iceberg lettuce pieces in an unremarkable dressing.

Once the small plates were cleared, it was then onto the sahen kbeer (large plates). Served in a piping hot ceramic bowl was Shane Delia’s mother’s baked rice with pork, beef and saffron. After such mediocre dishes, I wasn’t expecting much but deary me, this was one helluva fantastic dish! A cross between a lasagne and a risotto, this was a heart-warmer that only someone’s mother was capable of making. A rich, hearty comfort dish, it really served no place in a Spring dinner banquet but whatever, we’ll take it.

Olive oil-poached lampuki and calamari, lemon and capers. Lampuki is the Maltese word for mahi-mahi, a white fish that is popular in Malta. While eating this dish, I tried to find the Maltese word for ‘meh’ before realising that they do, in fact, speak English up there for my efforts were futile. The slightly tangy olive oil-based sauce was lovely and ditto the perfectly tender pieces of calamari but the fact that the fish was remarkably overcooked pretty much spoilt the dish for me.

Finally, Maha’s famous 12-hour  roast Mt. leaura lamb shoulder. Adam and I enjoyed this dish very much last time but unfortunately, I can’t say that I enjoyed it this time. All the elements were fine – the pistachio and green olive tabouleh, labneh dill and apricot pilaf all had nothing wrong with them – and the lamb was beautifully tender. The problem? There was just way too much fat and oil-y residue coating the lamb meat that made eating the lamb a bit of a turn-off. While I’m well-aware of the fact that lamb is a fatty meat, I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t, at least, rid some of the nasty oils prior to serving the meat to us?

Our plates were then cleared for the helwayet (sweets) course. Heck, why am I being such a pretentious douche by chucking in random Maltese words? Well, because the Maha menu does the same thing. Anyway, dessert time!

First up, the famous Maha Turkish delight donuts with crushed candied almonds. I loved the donuts the first time I had them at the NYE banquet. The second time I had them with Shirley, I felt that they weren’t as good (they weren’t as crunchy on the outside, and the dough just seemed a little… tired) but nonetheless still okay. But tonight? They were limp as (insert your own analogy here), with only a thumbnail-sized squirt of Turkish delight jam. Disappointing.

When we placed our order with the waitress, we asked her if the delicious burnt butter ice cream dish was included in the souffra. We were told that no, it wasn’t but that the kitchen would be happy substitute the treacle ice cream in the super moist and super rich banana and caramel tart dessert with the burnt butter ice cream. Sadly, this did not happen. I don’t know whether the waitress was promising us things that the kitchen was never going to deliver in the first place, or whether they simply forgot. Despite the fact that it was rich, I must admit that this dish was actually pretty nice… it’s just that the disappointment of not having the burnt butter ice cream made me cranky. Heh.

Finally, we had a chocolate and burnt orange mousse which was topped with a clove foam and rum gel. Like a pot of guinness on a cold night, the chocolate mousse looked pretty damn impressive. And although I tried to push aside my I-Am-Not-A-Chocolate-Dessert-Person bias, I couldn’t help but hate this dessert and so did my chocolate-loving buddies, Linda and Shirley. We all thought that it was way too runny to be considered a ‘mousse’ for starters…

See? THIS is not what mousse is supposed to be like. Where did the lovely, airy and fluffy texture disappear to and what the eff is this?! In saying that, the texture was a rather moot point. Even if it was lovely, airy and fluffy, the chocolate flavour was just too rich, and the clove and rum just overpowered the whole thing.

Look, I tried to like Maha. I WANTED to like Maha. Unfortunately, this dinner made me not like it (reluctantly, I might add). Sure, Shane Delia has some daring ideas and sure, I really do like the space. It’s just that the food didn’t really agree with me and for $75, I expected something more. Especially from a hatted restaurant. In saying that, I can’t exactly put Maha on my ‘ban’ list. While I certainly won’t be recommending it to anyone, I will be lying if I said that I won’t be returning again just for drinks and/or dessert. I do rate their extensive drinks list, which includes fantastic cocktails, and oh man, their burnt butter ice cream is to martyr for. Plus, their service isn’t bad. But if I needed a ‘creative spin’ on Middle Eastern cuisine, I’d be happier going to Baba Levantine  … and I would only be paying half the price for it.

Maze Grill (CLOSED)

Level 1 Crown Metropol Hotel
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+ 61 3 9292 6268
http://www.gordonramsay.com/mazegrillmelbourne

Steak. Who doesn’t love a big, juicy chunk of deliciously rare steak? I’ve had steaks in many restaurants around Melbourne and although I’ve tasted some pretty good ones, I’ve yet to find one that’s made me go LIKE, OMG WOAH! BEST STEAK EVERRRR! When Jan, who has a penchant for celebrity chefs and lunch specials, suggested we go to maze Grill for their $47 three-course lunch, which included steak, I was somewhat reluctant. Earlier this year, I had dinner at maze proper (which shared the same kitchen as Maze Grill) and thought it was good, but not super fantastic. Good enough for me to revisit a maze franchise eventually, yes, but good enough for me to return less than six months down the track? Well, no. So what compelled me to make an online booking for lunch at maze Grill merely five months later? Who knows, but whatever, I’m glad I did it because it was a FREAKIN’ FANTASTIC lunch.

We arrived at the restaurant after a short walk from QV. The hostess, after seeing us stumble into the restaurant looking all sweaty and flustered, led us to a waiting area and poured us some iced water while they got our tables ready for us. With our butts planted firmly onto a cushion, we gratefully drank our water before being told that our tables were ready. We were ushered to a table right by the window where we would bask in the midday sun’s glare and stare at the riveting view of traffic streaming down Clarendon Street. Frankly, I was happier staring at the coat hanger-like light fittings, sleek wooden furniture and fake birdies perched happily on their fake tree branches plastered high on the restaurant’s walls. Knowing that we were here for the set lunch, we didn’t bother studying the menu. I did, however, steal a quick glance at the mains list and thought about ordering the pappardelle bolognaise ($24), but I didn’t.

The effects of the previous night (being surrounded by Collingwood supporters on a euphoric high after a Premiership win required a LOT of alcohol…) meant that I had to say no to a Dr Loosen riesling. Instead, I opted for a glass of iced apple juice whereas teetotaler Jan went for the orange juice.

Our bread landed in a snug, beanie-like canvas basket accompanied by some soft-as-Sorbet toilet paper butter. Okay, not the best simile but whatever. I was hoping to get some of the delicious seaweed butter that we enjoyed at Maze proper but I guess it must have been a Maze proper only thing. Never mind. One bread was just good, simple white bread while the other one was a very lovely rosemary bread which was extremely delicious with generous lashings of butter.

We were given a choice between two entrees for the set lunch. Jan had dibs on the prawn salad (damn her) so that left me with the roasted cauliflower and cumin soup with almonds and raisins, not an ideal starter on such a warm day. Any resentment towards my choice (and no, I could NOT have the same dish as my dining companion if I was ever presented with a choice) disappeared when I tasted the first spoonful of the creamy, flavoursome pool of gold. The cauliflower soup would have been tasty enough on its own, but the addition of cumin seeds to make the soup spicy elevated it to the next level. The almonds were there for a textural balance while the raisins provided a nice but not essential sweetness to the dish.

Jan’s prawn and miso salad with cucumber, edamame and shiso cress. Wow wee, what a dish! It was a refreshing and light salad, yet strangely verging on filling. Full of vivid colours, contrasting textures and jam-packed with fresh flavours, this vivacious salad was a great way to start Spring – after all, we need something bright and colourful to distract us from the drab black and whites that have plagued Melbourne since Collingwood won the big one. The prawns and greens were dressed in only the simplest of dressings that was tangy, nutty and slightly sweet. Again, our friend cumin seed made an appearance if only to add a bit of spice to the salad.

The main course was a grass-fed Savannah pure Angus rib eye from New Zealand (250g) which came with a small tin bucket of chips. Holly guacamole, will you just look at the presentation…! Although I’m a bit over the whole let’s-present-stuff-on-big-chunks-of-wood thing, I must admit that presenting our steak on chopping boards was much more visually-appealing than plonking them on massive white plates. The roasted garlic and rosemary on the top left-hand corner was not only there to make things look pretty but to provide flavour should we so need to. Mmmmm… garlic mash…

Both Jan and I had requested our steaks to be cooked rare but halfway through our lunch, we were told that the kitchen had made a mistake with our steaks and cooked it medium-rare. While we would have been okay with eating med-rare steak, the kitchen was NOT happy with serving our steaks in a manner that was not requested by us… and so they threw our almost-ready steaks out and started cooking new ones. The mistake was communicated to us with full apologies which we both thought was a ‘tick’ in the ‘good service’ category.

These little tubs of sauce (béarnaise and tomato relish) were $3.50 each but we were given these for free for apparently being so nice and understanding about the whole steak thing. And for being so patient with the ‘lazy’ service as they were short-staffed. Score.

The sauces were for the steak but we couldn’t help but dip our textbook-perfect fries into them. Yummo.

Hello, gorgeous! I may have been a maze semi-hater prior to having lunch here but this steak changed my mind. IT WAS A FREAKIN’ FANTASTIC PIECE OF MOO-COW LIKE, USHER OMG WOW! It was so tender, so juicy and so full of flavour. Heck, they could have served it on a paper plate without the roasted garlic and the condiments and I would have been just as happy. Best steak in Melbourne? Big call, but I’m going to say ‘yes.’ For now. Keep in mind that I’ve yet to try a steak from Rockpool, Vlados, France-Soir and all the usual suspects though.

We were both full after the two courses but leaving before dessert would have just been rude. And so we stayed for the chocolate sundae with vanilla ice cream. Reluctantly, of course. When I received my glass of chocolate-y goodness, I was surprised to find that it was invaded by an army of chocolate and pecan brownies. Not that I was complaining. Not being a HUGE fan of chocolate, I did find the dessert a bit on the too-decadent side but it was still delicious nonetheless and well, let’s be frank here, you can never go wrong with vanilla ice cream.

Our lunch at maze Grill received resounding nods of approvals from Jan and I (click here to see Jan’s review). We both applauded the professional and friendly service despite the fact that they were short-staffed and we both loved the food that was so effortlessly sophisticated and tasty. And it goes without saying that the $47 p/h price tag for a lunch this good was akin to finding the perfect dress at a sass & bide warehouse sale at 90% off. Or finding all seven keys in the A*Mazing maze (ahh those were the days). Or bowling a hat trick against the Poms… you get the gist. We will be back. Oh yessssss.

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Royston Hotel

12 River Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+ 61 3 9421 5000
http://www.roystonhotel.com.au

“What are the four vegetables that are in a Chiko Roll?”

All three pairs of eyes turned to me, the self-confessed foodie of the group. My face turning bright red as I tried to remember the last time I actually ate a Chiko Roll (like, never?), I spat out the four most plausible Chiko Roll vegie ingredients, “Carrot… cabbage… ummmm…potato? … onion?”

Welcome to trivia night at the Royston Hotel.

If you’re arriving by tram, the best way to get to the Royston is to hop on the 75 and get off at River Street, just shy of the Yarra River. A short walk will lead to you to a dead end, and a bar that has been sitting in the heart of Richmond for 50 odd years.

Previously a drinking hole for Richmond’s working class men who were working hard to make a living and taking shelter from the rain, it is now a favourite meeting spot for locals who are looking for a relaxing spot for a mid-week tipple, folks who, too, work hard to make a living and take shelter from the rain (it WAS bucketing down on the night we went). While most people are content to sit here to watch the cricket with a pint on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was the $15 parma and burgers, the hotel’s vast selection of microbrewery beers and a lively trivia host by the name of Joe that drove team Donald Land to make an appearance at trivia night a few Wednesdays ago. Why ‘Donald Land’, you ask? And WTF kind of a name is that? Well, it’s apparently a Japanese video game from the 80s that never made it big here (for obvious reasons) and it involves ordering stuff at the Golden Arches. Yep. That’s the sort of team name you’d come up with when you put together a foodie, a Japanophile, a fob and a yes-man together.

Having disliked the Mountain Goat Pale Ale a few years ago and swearing never to touch anything by the brewery since then, the fact that almost a third of the Royston’s beers were Mountain Goat ones. I asked for a Holgate, only because it was being pumped from an old school pump only to be told that the beer was ‘off’ and that I had to choose another one. Defeated, I ended up going with a Mountain Goat Steam Ale and not really expecting much… but was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. Apparently the steam ale has replaced the pale ale (thank EFF) and I can see why. While the pale ale was shthouse to say the least, the steam ale was clean, crisp with a slight citrus taste – in fact, it just screamed out ‘SUMMER!’ If I had to choose a song to capture the essence of this beer, it would be Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine.’

The rest of the team ordered the $15 chicken parma which came with a wild rocket salad and chips. The parma received overwhelmingly positive responses and the fact that Cathy left hers half-finished meant that it was of a decent portion. Of course, it could have also meant that she just doesn’t eat much but we’ll go with my first interpretation, okay? The chicken was tender and moist, the layer of Napolitana sauce was not too thick so that it made the crumbs soggy and the cheese/ham ratio was just right. Arguably one of the better parmas we’ve all had for quite some time.

I decided to be different and go for a $15 burger. I was given the choice between the chicken, the vegie and the wagyu beef and it goes without saying that the beef prevailed.

What caught my eye was the fact that the beef pattie was massive. And shaped like a cricket ball. It was soft and fatty and deliciously tasty. In fact, the entire burger would have been a success had it not been for the tomato and capsicum relish that was way too overpowering and way too sweet. Thank goodness, I guess, for the slice of cheddar, fresh tomato and lettuce that diffused some of the horrible sweetness though.

And the chips. Oh yes, the chips. Hand-cut, fried in tallow-y goodness, crispy on the outside and fluffy like clouds on the inside… these were some damn good chips.

We may not have did well in trivia (okay, we pretty much SUCKED) but we sure had lots of fun. And even though I wasn’t too pleased with my burger, I thought everything else food-wise was fantastic. Next time, I’ll be ordering the parma and an extra pint of steam ale.

Oh and by the way, the four vegetables that are (allegedly) in a Chiko Roll: carrot, cabbage, onion … and celery.

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Enoteca Sileno & Vino Bar

920 Lygon Street
Carlton North VIC 3054
Sileno: +61 3 9389 7000; Vino Bar: 9389 7070
http://www.enoteca.com.au/

Ahhh, the silly season is almost upon us. The work Christmas piss-ups have started, the Christmas shopping list just finished and the panettone ordered. Ah, yes, panettone. The delectable traditional Milanese fruit cake that is a ‘must have’ on any wog family’s table come Christmas time. While one can easily buy mass-produced panettone for $10 at any supermarket from as early as October, panettone purists will normally wait until the first week of December to score the proper thing from Enoteca Sileno, your one-stop shop for all your Christmas foodie needs. At Sileno, I am told that each panettone is baked in Milan at around September when the air starts to cool to give it a lovely airy texture. That, combined with the irresistible combination of fruit peels and spices along with a sourdough-like crust means that it’s worthy of being called ‘The King of Christmas Cakes.’

(At this point, I’m cussing myself for NOT taking photos of the rows of panettone to break this blog up. Oh well.)

From Italian red wines to torrone, from pastas to walls of panettone, the Sileno has it all. If you’re hardcore about your panettone, you wouldn’t bulk at spending up to $65 for a traditional Perbellini panettone, the finest of them all. Alternatively, the Gilber brand make them just as good. Plus, they offer flavours such as gianduja cream and pear and fig for those who are so over fruit peels. And to make panettone-shopping that much more difficult, there are half a dozen more brands to choose from. Sigh. Once you’ve made your choice and purchased your 1kg box of fruity, doughy and sugary goodness, head right over to the Enoteca Vino Bar for some well-deserved food and Italian wines.

It was a stormy Thursday afternoon when maitre’d Andrea Faraone found me hungry, tired and looking for a good quality meal. After seating me by the window and pouring me a glass of water, he left me with the lunch menu. Not long after I decided on a pasta with red mullet dish, I asked him to recommend me a glass of wine.

He came back with a bunch of whites for me to sample, before I settled on glass of 2009 Di Lenardio Pinot Grigio ($10), a crisp, clean wine with bold fruity notes and a long, lasting finish.

My main: trofie, red mullet, Sicilian black olives, cacciucco ($24). I’m not kidding when I say that this was one of the best pasta mains I’ve had in quite some time. For one thing, eating the trofie pasta was quite an experience. Made with flour, water and no eggs, the result is a pasta that is firm and springy to the bite; it was like a mini pogo stick married a Twistie. The sauce was a cacciucco, an Italian fish stew that’s full of tomato-y and seafood-y goodness which worked well with the pasta, the olives and the lightly pan-fried red mullet pieces. Bellissimo.

My dessert: the panettone bread and butter pudding ($8). Previously a regular star in the Vino Bar’s December menu, I was told by Andrea that they got rid of it from the menu this year. This was a shame because it was just too damn terrific. If you happen to be at Vino Bar in December though, kindly ask them if they could make it for you. If you begged hard enough, smiled wide enough and offered a 50% tip (hah), then you might be so lucky. I loved how they took a slice of Gilber panettone and effortlessly merged it with a luscious bread and butter pudding, topped it with a dollop of cream and fresh blueberries to make the most fantastic Christmas dessert. Sigh. Now if only mergers were THIS successful (Hawthorn and Melbourne, I’m looking at you…)

Fantastic service, fantastic food and best of all, the Sileno only two steps to your right for some post-lunch shopping, what more could you want?! …. hmmmm, a lifetime’s supply of panettone, for starters…

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Mexicali Rose

101-103 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 5550
http://www.mexicalirose.com.au

Good Mexican food in Melbourne, does it exist? It’s hard to say. This is the reason why I avoid most so-called Mexican restaurants like Blair Waldorf avoids rayon. To me, Mexican restaurants are synonymous with overpriced nachos (why buy when any idiot can make it just as good at home?) and one dish being a rehash of another dish (for example (and call me ignorant if you wish), there aren’t any discernible differences between a burrito, a taco and a fajita apart from the form of wrap). So when he-who-thinks-TGI-Friday’s-is-fine-dining Mark selected Mexicali Rose as our dinner venue on our Big Richmond Pub-slash-Bar Crawl night, I couldn’t help but groan. But like Libby drawn to bad CWTV shows, I couldn’t help but say no so on a hot, muggy Saturday night, I found myself stuck in a cramped table with four other guys and a bunch of flies.

Located not far from the Corner Hotel, Mexicali Rose attracts pre-show goers as much as Cancun attracts slutty college girls. At just after 7pm on a Saturday night, nearly every table was full despite a faulty air-conditioning system on the bottom floor. The boys had already ordered a large plate of nachos to share before I rocked up, which was presented at 7:20pm when we all ordered our mains and drinks.

Now, anyone can make a plate of nachos. From Tex-Mex restaurants to pubs to family restaurants, all you need are Dorito chips, some store-bought salsa, mashed avocado, sour cream and cheese. In other words, it’s hard to make it WOW standard but it’s also hard to fail it (The Elephant and Wheelbarrow on Bourke Street did, but that’s another story for another time…). For some reason, however, Mexicali Rose’s “special style” nachos ($21.95) were better than most. I’m not sure whether it was the fresh salsa or the just-ripe avocado tainted with the slightest hint of lemon or the hidden bursts of jalepenos but whatever, they were a good start to our meal.

Things were off to a decent start but unfortunately, it went downhill from here. The guys received their drinks 15 minutes after the last dregs of nachos were consumed which was bad enough, but the jug of fruit tingle margarita that Adam and I ordered ($39.95) was nowhere to be seen. The first time we asked a passing waitress where our drink was, we were told that they were “really busy at the bar” so we thought, ‘okay, we’ll wait.’ At a quarter to eight, twenty five minutes after we had ordered our drinks, we asked another waitress where our drink was and again, we were told that the bar was busy. We would have been somewhat okay with it had it not been for the fact that diners who had ordered their jugs of drinks after we did were getting their drinks before us.

In the meantime, our jug of water remained empty for a good thirty minutes, even after two attempts to ask someone to fill it up.

Finally, FINALLY after 50 minutes (!!!!), we received our fruit tingle margarita. We chose this flavour on the recommendation of a few friends who swear by the refreshing mix of lemonade, blue curacao and raspberry and although it looked like Grimace in a blender, the result was surprisingly fantastic.

As one would expect, the alcohol was heavily diluted by the lemonade which meant that it was pretty much like drinking a slushie. Additionally, the thought of having to pay $39.95 for it made me feel slightly nauseous especially after a 50 minute wait (seriously, who the fck takes this long to blend three ingredients + ice together?!?!). But whatever; at the time, I was just happy to get my drink.

Our mains arrived five minutes later (which meant that they took 55 minutes to arrive). While I understand that they were “busy”, it wasn’t like it was a full house or anything. Plus, it wasn’t like they had a shortage of waiter/esses milling around either. We guessed that the slow service was due to the lack of staff in the kitchen and while that is unfortunate, it would have been nice to have been told about it. Or received some sort of apology or something. But anyway, onto our mains.

All the guys ordered a form of burrito; Adam chose a burrito colorado ($22.95). Served wet with a “ranchero” sauce (pretty much, a tomato salsa-like sauce)” a single soft tortilla rolled around a serving of shredded skirt steak mixed with “new Mexican chile sauce”, whatever THAT was. Rice, sour cream and frijoles (refried beans) then completed the package. I agreed with Adam – the dish was terrible. For starters, the beef was as dry and leathery as Keith Richards’ face and the sauce way too salty. It was almost like they added a motherload of salt into the sauce to mask something dodgy. While Adam, a human rubbish bin, is normally happy to finish off not-overly-good food at restaurants, he left a good chunk of his burrito unfinished.

I ordered a ‘la combinacion’ (beef) meal ($22.95). I’ll be fair and say that my meal, despite its plastic-y redness, looked prettier than Adam’s. Indeed, it tasted slightly better than the burrito colorado if only because of the greens. And the variety.  And the cute edible salad bowl. Again though, I had the same stringy beef but this time, in three places: the taco, the enchilada and the taquito. Again, I tasted the same overpoweringly salty sauce and again, I was disappointed.

While Mark and the others were satisfied with their meal, Adam and I were left disappointed. We both wondered whether this was all there is to Mexican food or whether we’ve just had bad luck with Mexican places. I’d like to think the latter – I’ve had decent experiences at Trippy Taco and Mama Sita and there are still a handful of ‘authentic’ Mexican restaurants on my ‘to do’ list. One thing’s for sure, however, you know when Mexicali Rose serves crap Mexican food (0r Tex-Mex, whatever) when Salsa’s, a food court outlet, and Trippy Taco, a VEGAN cafe, serve way better tacos.

Saint Peter’s

6 Melbourne Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
http://www.stpetersrestaurantandbar.com

If you’re a busy food blogger like myself, chances are that you have a long list of restaurants that you’ve dined at over the last two or so months… but haven’t actually blogged about them due to work, school and general CBFness. I, for one, am proud (okay, not really) to say that I still have stuff from AUGUST in my “to blog about” list. While the most logical approach to churning these posts out would be to do them in chronological order, there are just some posts that need to jump the queue for whatever reason. For example, the bento box lunch special at Matteo’s that was only available in September. This very post, about perky, young freshman Saint Peter’s, fits neatly into that category. They had a special deal where everything off the a la carte menu was 50% off, but only until the end of November. I would not have visited this restaurant last night had it not been for the heads up by Allan so I’m glad I just managed to catch the discount before it disappeared for good.

So here I was, thinking that I was doing you all a huge favour by LETTING YOU KNOW THAT SAINT PETER’S WAS OFFERING A 50% DISCOUNT ON ALL A LA CARTE ITEMS and OMG QUICK, GET IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. That is, until I realised that today was the first day of December and that last night was actually the last night to score the discount. Too late, Libby. Feeling foolish, I thought about clicking ‘save draft’, shutting down my Macbook and catching up on some quality CWTV viewing but since I’m here, I may well as finish this entry off. Ahhh, food blogging over Gossip Girl… the things I do for you lot. Sorry for the long and (now) meaningless introduction. So where was I?

Right. Saint Peter’s. Maurice Esposito’s new seafood restaurant in the heart of the city. Making home at the old Canary Club site on Melbourne Place, the bold and distinctive painted murals upon first sight screams out ‘adult Barnacle Bill’ (haha remember that?) but when you go up the steps and into the dining room with its clean, white walls, linen tablecloths and sleek polished floors, you’d be forgiven into thinking that you were in a beachside restaurant. With a name that pays homage to the patron saint of fisherman and a menu which comprises mostly of fish and crustaceans, you don’t get any points for guessing that this is a seafood restaurant (though mind you, it still felt weird walking into 6 Melbourne Place and not hear pulsating Spanish tunes, see couples make out by the stairs and smell chicken and avocado pizza cooking in the kitchen).

Once we had ordered our food, we were presented with an amuse bouche, a small bundle of chuka wakame (Japanese seaweed salad) which made me LOL. For a restaurant that supposedly prides itself on promoting sustainable seafood and fresh ingredients, I thought we’d be getting something more well, substantive even for an amuse bouche. Seriously, it was like they bought the stuff in bulk at Suzuran and tried to palm it off as an amuse bouche. Not that i have anything against the stuff – I love it – but still… Shaking my head, I reluctantly dug in and what really surprised me was the addition of ginger and a squirt of lemon which gave it a lovely kick, and a slight Advantage-40 over unadorned seaweed salads squirming in food courts and sushi cafes around Melbourne. I stood corrected.

I gave a squeal of glee when I saw that a cocktail named after Piazza San Marco was on the menu (yes, I’m a bit of a history buff and an Italophile). However, I was eventually lured by the impressive list of exciting new world wines available by the glass. As a riesling nut, I chose a glass of 2008 Moorilla “Praxis” Riesling from Tasmania ($11), a super-strong and bold wine that was as fuzzy and fruity as Carson Kressley (sorry). Frankly, it was perfect on its own but at the same time, it went down beautifully with my food.

White bread + olive oil in cute little vials + Murray River sea salt = WIN.

We started off with an assortment of small ‘tastes’. First up was a venison carpaccio ($6) which was expertly divided into two plates (and hence, the portion you see above is only half a normal serving). The paper-thin slices of Bambi were only dressed with the smallest amount of EVOO and black pepper so that the subtly gamey taste of the raw flesh could still make an impact. Chopped field mushrooms and morels completed the picture to accentuate the venison’s earthy flavours.

We each had a salted cod croquette ($1 each) which looked appetitising but were way too salty – like they had forgotten to soak the cod in water before cooking it. I was expecting them to taste like Guy Grossi’s balls (oooh look at me! I made a double entendre, aren’t I clever?!) but sadly, they were were nowhere near as good. Not only did they contain as much salt as the Dead Sea, they were as dry as St Kilda’s Premiership drought.

While Shirley munched on a battered zucchini flower (I forgot to ask her how it was), I had a couple of Sydney Rock oysters ($3.50 each); one was eaten on its own while the other was dipped in the very lovely soy, red vinegar and shallot dipping sauce provided.

Shirley’s entree was a Southern Rock Lobster potato gnocchi with cherry tomato and crustacean reduction ($24). Not normally one to order gnocchi at a restaurant, I was initially unfazed when I saw the waitress plonk the colour-studded bowl of carb-y goodness in front of Shirls but the sight of those tiny pillows of lusciousness sucked me in and I allowed myself a few nibbles. The gnocchi was good but the sauce was king – I loved that the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes were so full of flavour yet were mellow enough to still let the lobster meat shine.

My entree: Northern Territory Mud Crab salad, green apples, avocado and a garlic mayonnaise ($22). Compared to Shirley’s entree, mine was so small that I could cry. One bite, however, and all traces of portion-envy disappeared.

The flavours and textures were simply amazing – the tangy apple matchsticks, the silky avocado, the creamy garlic mayonnaise and the sweet, succulent pieces of crab meat all worked in tandem to make this dish one of the better entrees I’ve had in quite a while. Conversely, the Hulk-green shiso reduction added nothing to taste but added some much needed colour to the dish.

Shirley’s main was a piece of John Dory with ‘mud crab, white asparagus, radish and a warm Cinzano Bianco mayonnaise‘  ($38). In the photo, the fish may have looked overcooked but it was actually surprisingly very moist and supple, the way a nicely-cooked piece of John Dory ought to be. A scaled-down version of my mud crab salad made an appearance with a vermouth-based mayo that complemented the sweetness of the crab and fish flesh, rather than intensify it to horrifying heights. Finally, poached white asparagus spears (not chips *cough*) provided the mandatory vegetable component to the dish.

I bypassed the rack of lamb for a fish main because, after all, we were at a seafood restaurant. Instead, I ordered the Tiger Flathead with slow-cooked calamari, parsnip puree, wild mushrooms and a Vin Santo reduction ($35). I wish I could say that it was as good as Shirley’s but unfortunately it wasn’t. Along with the John Dory and whiting, flathead is my favourite fish so I was expecting this dish to surpass Nick Riewoldt’s combined round 1 and 2 2010 Supercoach scores. Unfortunately, the dish suffered a blow just as Roo did in round 3 by consisting of a fish that was too dry, elements that stood there like awkward strangers at a dinner party rather than bonding together and the parsnip puree was almost tasteless. Lashing of pink salt helped, but in the end it didn’t mask the fact that it was a boring dish.

Finally, those of you who know Shirley will be no stranger to the fact that one cannot dine with her without having some sort of dessert. I’m no sweet tooth but even I couldn’t say no to taking a peak at the dessert menu which had a handful of sweets among local cheeses and sweet wines. Shirley was sold on the hot strawberry and almond tart with pistachio ice cream ($20) which attracted a minimum waiting time of 20 minutes and an ‘ooooh so preeeeeettty!’ from Shirley. The freshly-baked tart was beautiful – a golden, brown crust covered a sickly sweet trickle of strawberry jam and almonds while the pistachio ice cream tasted , for some reason, more like caramel than pistachio.

I’m the last person on earth to order a chocolate-based dessert so I surprised myself by telling the waitress that I wanted a chocolate semifreddo ($21). My plate consisted of an interesting study of chocolates, ranging from a solid block of creamy chocolate semifreddo with bit of chopped hazelnut mixed within to a small wedge of dark chocolate fudge, rounding off with a chocolate sorbet. While the semifreddo and fudge satisfactorily curbed my chocolate intake for the week, the sorbet was too watery – a better option would have been a hazelnut sorbet to complement the other chocolate elements, IMHO.

If we had rocked up tonight, we would have paid $200 but those in the know who mentioned the 50% discount upon asking for the bill would have had their food bill shaved by a half. We did and only paid $109, which was a steal given the quality of the food barring my main and the salted cod croquettes. In saying that, I shouldn’t be quick to be harsh on a restaurant that hasn’t been opened for even two months. The produce was fresh, the service was reasonably quick and the maitre’d engaging. Yes, there are still some little creases to iron out but give Saint Peter’s more time and it won’t be long before they win the culinary equivalent to a Premiership flag, a Good Food Guide hat.

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Al Alamy

51 Waterfield St
Coburg VIC 3058
+61 3 9355 8866
http://www.alalamy.elocal.com.au

Sydney Road. The longest continuous shopping strip in Melbourne with its myriad of shops and eateries, starting from Parkville and finishing all the way in former V-Line territory, Craigieburn. Those of us who are inclined to travel up Sydney Road by taking the no. 19 tram from the city tend to get off somewhere between Anstey and Coburg stations. Here, they are likely to do  their shopping in one of the many family-owned grocery stores on the strip before popping into A1 for some freshly baked Middle Eastern pizzas and pies and to El Fahyi for some delectable Lebanese sweets. Then before they know it, their work for the morning is done so it’s back on the no. 19 and into the city for them.

Those decide to stay on the no.19 just that little bit longer, however, will be rewarded. Getting off just before Bell Street and way past all the ‘cool’ shops might seem like a strange idea but once you enter Waterfield Street on your left and see a large Middle Eastern grocery store-slash-cafe, you will realise that you’ve made the right choice.

Forget the queues and the service with attitude at A1; the folks at Al Alamy are here seven days a week to provide a very warm and very hospitable environment for your shopping and eating needs. Neat rows of spices, dried pulses and pastry sheets sit amongst dips, sauces and sweets to make Al Alamy your one-stop shop to gather up all the ingredients you need to make a Maha-esque feast at home. And once you’re done with the shopping, treat yourself to some baked goodies at the adjoining cafe.

For starters, you might like to give the manakesh di zaatar (or zaatar pizza) a go. At only $1.50 a pop, all you need to do is gather up all your loose shrapnel for a delicious snack. With more spices than a piece of Original Recipe KFC chicken, the zaatar was mixed in with a blend of olive oil, sumac, sesame seeds and a hint of salt and loosely brushed on a large piece of thin dough before being folded in half and popped into the wood-fire oven. Oh Lordy, it was fantastic. And yes, you heard right… it was only $1.50.

One of the many pides/pies on offer would then provide a neat segue as they are similar (sort of) to the zaatar pizza but more filling. We chose one with contained spinach and cheese ($2.50) and one with creamy chicken and mushroom ($3.50). While the spinach and cheese ones were nice enough, we both couldn’t stop WOWing over the chicken and mushroom ones.

I suppose the latter pie would have won by default because let’s face it, the combination of chicken and mushroom in ANYTHING is a partnership that could rival that of Langer and Hayden’s. But no, seriously, I loved that it was only slightly creamy that you can actually taste all the spices in the filling as well as the earthy flavours of the mushrooms. Delicious.

Finally, we had a bowl of ful medames to share ($7.50), not that we really needed it due to the fact that we were both already stuffed. Still, we were told that this stuff was good so we relented (not that we put up much of a fight anyway). A popular Egyptian breakfast dish, the ful medames consisted of slow-cooked mashed fava beans mixed in with some olive oil, onions, garlic and a squeeze of lemon.  Flat pita bread and assorted pickles and sliced tomatoes completed the dish and the result was a comforting meal that filled up our tummies to the point where lunch wasn’t even necessary. After eating this, you’ll never want to touch another can of SPC baked beans. That includes you, Warnie.

We left Al Alamy cafe $14.50 poorer (oh, poor us! We are now broke!) but a thousand times more content. Despite its somewhat out-of-the-way location, Al Alamy still gets a generous crowd on a Saturday morning but that didn’t deter them from giving every single patron attentive and efficient service. We’ll definitely be back another Saturday morning to try more pies, buy half a dozen pieces of zataar pizza for the week and 2kgs of Lebanese sweets for the tram ride back into the city.

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