45 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1445
If you asked a Melburnian how they’ve been going, chances are that they’ll moan and throw their hands up in the air while whinging “Omggggg, so hot that I’m about to diiiiiie!” And while I’m not THAT dramatic (most of the time), I’d be strange not to disagree with them. After having suffered through 43+ degree heat for three consecutive days and watching the city plunge into all sorts of chaos (though to be honest, I reckon the papers are just sensationalising the whole OMG-SO-HOT-THAT-MELBOURNE-IS-GOING-DOWN saga), I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that today was ONLY going to be 37 degrees. Now, 43 degree weather is pretty damn uncomfortable especially if your house only has one measly early 90s-style rickety air conditioner that only reaches as far as the kitchen/dining room and parts of the living area while not touching any of the bedroom areas at all. These are the days where I am actually KEEN to go to work, just for the air con (though yesterday they only turned it as low as effing 26 degrees so as to not “waste energy” which is fine for people working on the second floor, but not so much us who happen to be on the eleventh floor and have to sit next to the window which, of course, faces east where the sun rises each morning). Every evening after work, I’ve been going to local shopping centres just to keep myself cool in Siberia-temperature comfort.
So yes, while today was quite “comfortable” compared to days of late, I still didn’t fancy myself staying inside the house all day so I made my way into the city at 9:30am to 1) pick up my holds from East Melbourne library and 2) meet up with Adam for some brunch. Well (1) didn’t quite happen because by the time I huffed and puffed down to East Melbourne library and realised that the building was dark, I knew something wasn’t right. Turns out, the library was closed for the day due to “extreme heat” which made me want to curse the people in charge of Melbourne libraries for spending more money on weird hippie lefty art installations than proper air conditioning units. But never mind, it was back to Borders to meet up with Adam before going to Cumulus Inc on the art gallery end of Flinders Lane.
Some of you might have already know of, or have even been to, this cafe-slash-bar owned by Andrew McConnell (he of Three, Two, One fame). It hasn’t been opened for even a year yet it has attracted a steady stream of A-listers (Melbourne A-listers, I meant. So technically W-listers to everyone else), arty-farty-non-hippy-socialist type folk, Collins St suits and oh-so-beautiful people. Everyone seemed to have good things to say about Cumulus Inc and so we decided to give the place a go on a day where the sun was beating down and there was no cloud in the sky.
Walking into the art gallery-turned-eatery, we were greeted by a smiley wait staff and a funky warehouse-looking space that beckoned you as if to say “Look at me! I’m genuine! I have nothing to hide!” And while most of the tables were taken, there were a few spare seats at the bar which we were immediately led to by a guy who looked young enough to be in high school but cool enough to be working at a place like this. Menus were promptly presented, specials were effortlessly recited and newspapers were grabbed from a pile by the door in one seamless act. I was hoping for some simple breakfast fare for brunch but because I had spent way too long reading magazines at Borders, the kitchen no longer served breakfast and so we had no choice but to order off the lunch-slash-dinner menu (valid after 12pm). The waiter, after asking if we had been here before and after seeing both of us shake our heads, suggested ordering three to five dishes which were designed to be shared tapas style (which is what every second Melbourne restaurant is doing these days). I had rolled off about four dishes before he hesitated and said that the dishes we ordered were on the light and small side and whether we would like to order one more dish to fill us up but I told him that if we were still hungry, we would order again. That was fine with him so off he went.
Sitting on the bar is something that I don’t particularly like but in this instance, I was happy to sit right in front of the kitchen to make sure that none of the chefs were doing anything dodgy like pick their nose or spit on my food just because I was Asian or something like that. While Adam was busy reading the Herald Sun, I was engrossed in watching the chefs do their magic. Very Iron Chef but without that weird crazy chairman guy and the panel of judges with the one token Japanese female celebrity who often has nothing useful to contribute.
Not long after ordering, we received a small bowl of house bread, as fluffy as cumulus clouds themselves, accompanied by a little pat of butter. Our drinks followed, a Hargreaves Hill pale ale for Adam ($7.50) and a cocktail (Belvedere vodka, apple and blood orange – $10) for me. Although I’m not a fan of vodka, my drink went down a treat on an increasingly warm day as did Adam’s beer which was light and fruity.
Cumulus Inc has about a dozen or so variety of oysters which came with little stories about their origins on the menu. The descriptions were poetic and wishy-washy rather than helpful when I tried to differentiate between each type of oyster. For example, pretty much all descriptions claimed that every single oyster was kissed by the goddess Venus and placed tenderly on a rock in the Pacific, its flavour intensifying every time a seagull shat on it. Or something to that effect. I suppose if I was an oyster connoisseur, I would have had a better idea as to what to order but because I didn’t acquire a taste for oysters until late 2006 (after spending all my life hating them), I’m still a charlatan when it comes to oysters. Anyway, I settled for half a dozen Coffin Bay oysters ($3.50 each) which came with a single wedge of lemon. Yeah, I know that I’m naughty because I ordered oysters in January where they’re not at their peak (even the waiter raised a hairy eyebrow when he heard the word “oyster”) but I just felt like fresh, raw, succulent oysters today. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the oysters. While the smell of the ocean seduced me, the fact that the oysters were a tad too salty made me recoil slightly. Kinda like when you’re opening a present, expecting Louboutins only to find a pair of Peeptoes instead. Not even a squeeze of lemon could help diminish the saltiness of them. Serves me right for ordering oysters in January eh?
It does get better from this point though, folks. The next dish we received was the slow cooked octopus with aioli and dehydrated olive ($9). The waiter wasn’t kidding when he warned us about how tiny this dish was. Don’t let the photo fool you – the dish is Kylie Minogue-tiny. The stumpy mini trunks of octopus tentacles may have caused me to wrinkle my nose and roll my eyes at Adam but after one bite, all feelings of disheartenment evaporated. Each little piece had a surprisingly soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture that was accentuated by the fruity olive oil and salty dehydrated black olives. Little dabs of tomato, sorrel, green chilli and torn basil leaves provided some exciting combustion of flavours which were reminiscent of Nobu’s dishes. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Next we have the cracked wheat and freekeh salad ($10) which was an interesting study of texture. The sweet additions of barberries, preserved lemon, toasted almonds, shredded parsley and labneh made this light yet melodic salad a perfect option for a day like this. Given that all the dishes we ordered so far erred on the size 8 side of the size continuum rather than the size 14, I was surprised that this humble little salad was responsible for just about filling me up despite it being not at all heavy. Must’ve been the wheat and freekeh (a grain made from unripe wheat that is popular in the ME).Very refreshing. Very yummy.
(God, now I have that James Brown song in my head… “She’s a superfreak… superfreak” )
Our final dish was the wagyu bresaola ($16). Five rice paper-thin slices of aged air-dried salted wagyu came presented on a plate with shaved Parmesan, a dollop of remoulade (French tartare sauce) a sprinkling of celery slices and leaves. As I predicted, this tasted awesome – each little piece of wagyu would fall apart in my mouth, the creamy remoulade making the experience that much more indulgent. While I question the use of the celery (I didn’t think it added anything to the dish), I nevertheless loved this dish.
The total bill came to $73.50, not including tips which, on paper, sounds like a very expensive lunch. Especially given the fact that we didn’t really order much food (well, not much for Ad Libs anyway). Having said that though, I do believe that the prices are quite reasonable given that Andrew McConnell is a two-hatted chef and given that all the ingredients are fresh and the food made with love. More importantly, both Adam and I were adequately full. In hindsight, I would’ve skipped the oysters and probably gone for the more popular school prawns which seemed to be churned out every five seconds. I guess the only reason why I didn’t order the prawns instead was that I could easily get a plate of them at any random Chinese plate but hey, maybe McConnell does all sorts of wonderful thing with prawns so maybe next time. I would’ve also loved to try the poached chicken salad which also seemed popular with the diners and also looked pretty filling.
In short, not mind-blowing but good. Very good. Will definitely go there next time for breakfast. Do believe the hype, it’s not all puff.
Finishing the afternoon with a lovely cup of affogato from Brother Baba Budan (Lt Bourke St, between Elizabeth and Queen). While the coffee was a little bit off compared to last time (“Fernando Verdasco with a hangover” is how I’d describe it), it was the nevertheless the perfect finish to our meal. Sweet, creamy, full-bodied and oh-so refreshing.
118 Hopkins Street
Footscray VIC 3011
+61 3 9687 8488
I find it a bit funny that I’m actually acknowledging Chinese New Year this year given that my family ain’t really all that “Chinese.” In actual fact, they think of themselves Indonesian first, Chinese second and they never really celebrate Chinese New Year for as long as I could remember. Heck, they never used to give me lucky money until they realised that their other friends were giving their children red pockets – and from then on, we got given money each year (not a lot but still money nevertheless). And even though my grandparents in Indonesia do hold dinners on Chinese New Year, they’re never as big as the dinners held on December 31st of each year. Because that’s when the Gregorian aka REAL year starts. For me, the new year always begins on January 1st. Not on random days. Yep, I like my order and stability thankyouverymuch.
Having said all that though, my parents felt like they had to do something for Chinese New Year this year and I also felt like I had to at least mention it on this blog or people will laugh at me for not being “Asian enough.”
Last night, my family celebrated the start of the lunar new year by a casual dinner at a local Malaysian restaurant down the road from my house. I didn’t take any photos mainly because I had left my camera at home but also because I’m so used to eating at this restaurant that it doesn’t feel as new and exciting anymore. If you are keen for a review (albeit a half-arsed one), click on the “Rasa Malaya” link on the right hand side of my blog. It was a simple dinner that only left us $85 lighter, which suited us fine seeing as we didn’t want to go to those Chinese places that were charging us up to $500 a table for sub-par “special Chinese New Year banquets.”
We also did the whole dinner thing again with Adam’s parents (+ grandmother) this evening at Hong Kong BBQ & Seafood restaurant in Footscray (Hopkins Street). Now Adam’s been there more than a few times and he reckons they do alright food which made me excited in the lead-up to the dinner. We arrived at 5pm for an early dinner because Adam’s grandma wanted an early one (which was fine with me anyway because I was feeling quite tired by this stage). The place looked somewhat like a cross between Hills BBQ (Box Hill) and Nam Loong (CBD), and the food offerings were quite similar too.
We ordered a banquet ($138 for the entire table) plus venison cooked in XO sauce to keep Adam happy. Naturally I took photos of each dish but because I was rather disappointed with the dinner and because I’m so tired, I can’t be bothered with uploading and resizing the photos. Not that there was anything to ooh and ahh over anyway. The venison (which, by the way, tastes and feels like tender beef) was just okay. As was the Cantonese steamed barramundi and ginger chicken. The prawn dish, on the other hand, was just wacko like Jacko. Cooked in the same style as them ginger and spring onion crab/lobster dishes with noodles, you got about eight pieces of deep-fried battered king prawns sitting on top of a mountain of noodles. And trust me, it tastes worse than it sounds. For one thing, the huge arse prawns are very awkward to sit with chopsticks or even a fork, so the only way one can eat it is by using his/her hands. Which would’ve been fine HAD THEY PROVIDED US WITH A BOWL OF WATER/WATER AND TOWELS TO CLEAN OUR HANDS WITH. Secondly, the whole thing just tasted awful. Like they couldn’t afford lobster and just stuck prawns in place of the lobster without even bothering to alter the ingredients around so that everything in the dish would all “gell” together, if you get me. And this was supposed to be a “seafood restaurant.”
The food wasn’t the worse bit of the dinner though. No siree, of course some Vietnamese grocery store next door HAD to pay some Chinese group to do a dragon dance in the shop ($180 for a 15 minute dance, apparently) which meant that we had to sit through 15 minutes of loud drumming and shouting. That would’ve been JUST tolerable… had it not been for the fact that the stupid group also decided to set off 10 billion firecrackers at the same time. Before long, Hopkins St was filled with smoke and all sorts of red confetti from the firecrackers which was bad enough to send the restaurant smoky and the fire alarm off. Naturally, all the ruckus ensured that a police car came rushing to Hopkins Street not long after to check out what on earth was going on . Yep, we had to not only sit through loud noise but also smoke which, of course, made the food even more horrible than it already was. How’s that for a Chinese New Year meal huh?
But hey, at least we didn’t have to pay ridiculously inflated prices for a crappy meal like we’ve had to in previous years!
HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR FOLKS!
4 Lightwood Rd
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9548 2232
The Monash law faculty sent me an email earlier this week to let me know that there was going to be some information session on Friday (today) which I thought was a) annoying because I had already organised my RDO for the month to be held next Thursday and b) because I would’ve felt much better receiving this so-called info session notice via mail rather than a simple email to my hotmail address. After checking the faculty website and deeming the info session to be legit though, I got the go-ahead from my team leader to take a half day off today and another half day off next Thursday (official enrolment date).
And so at 11:30am today, I said “Smell ya laters!” to everyone in the office as they wished me a happy long-weekend (though it won’t be a long weekend for me because I’ll be at Melbourne Park all weekend and then have to do the Chinese New Year thang with Adam’s family). After meeting up with Adam who was kind enough to take me to Monash, we went to Springvale to have lunch at Nam Giao, the place that I had lunch with Dave, Jen and Shirley not long ago. The main reason why I wanted to go there again was because I wanted to try their supposedly awesome bun bo hue (spicy vermicelli and beef soup) which Jen always has every time she goes there. For some reason though, I’m a person who can’t seem to order one bun bo hue for myself and the only way I can actually have it is through stealing spoonfuls from Adam’s bowl. My experience with bun bo hue has been a bit of a rocky one – some places make it too hot for me to be able to enjoy one bowl to myself, some places put all sorts of weird spices that don’t mesh well and some places just make plain awful ones. While pho is generally speaking, well, safe, bun ho hue is a bit of a risky thing for me to order which is why I can never order it myself. Which was why Adam ended up with the bun bo hue today(I might’ve made him order it, but he didn’t put up much of a fight because he loves that stuff anyway) and I ended up with the bun cha gio/thit nuong (rice vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork) which was what Dave ordered last time.
Adam’s bun bo hue ($9). Phwaaa, how awesome does this look! Fresh thick vermicelli, slices of beef and pork and all sorts of other wonderful things such as pig’s blood … and a chunk of pig’s knuckle for a bit of flavour. Jen said that she was somewhat nervous when she was about to read my first review of Nam Giao but she will be pleased to know that I EFFING LOVED THIS BUN BO HUE! Rather than stopping at five spoonfuls, I ended up coming back for more… it was so damn good! Obviously the lemongrass dominated but it did not overpower the other ingredients which are equally as important… the chilli, the shrimp paste, the fish sauce and even the little bits of chopped Vietnamese mint all played their role. I was also pleased to note that it wasn’t too hot for my liking. Spicy yes, but not hot. Even Adam said that it was one of the best bun bo hue he’s ever had (though he reckons the best one he’s had is at that place down the road from St Albans library). I don’t want to overhype this dish too much, but I think that I can now start ordering bun bo hue for myself when I’m at Nam Giao now.
My bun cha gio/thit nuong (rice vermicelli with spring rolls and grilled pork) (also $9). Again I was happy with the presentation and the taste of this dish. Although I think Tien Dat in Box Hill makes a better version, this one is still worthy of a credible mention. Generous servings of grilled pork and spring rolls along with a fresh mixture of salad and other herbs made this dish a light yet filling meal. Even tastier with a splashing of nuoc nam and an extra squirt of fish sauce. Delish.
Of course I couldn’t go without trying one of those apple custard smoothies
that Jen loves ($3.50, I think). While I will always prefer avocado smoothies over any other smoothie, the apple custard went down a treat on such a warm day. The only gripe about it, however, was that the waiteress brought it out too late… right when I was down to my last few bites
. Poor form, guys…. tsk.
Then it was time to go to Monash. A train up to Huntingdale and a quick bus trip ensured that we were at least an hour too early for the information session so Adam and I walked around in order to familiarise myself with the place that I’ll be spending a lot of time for the next 10 billion years or so. Despite being a student at Monash now, I guess I will always be a Melbourne Uni girl at heart because I couldn’t help but diss even the most minute thing every five seconds eg. “The cafes look sucky” and “The grass isn’t pretty” and “The buildings are soooo Soviet Bloc… what fugly brown concrete cubes!” The biggest shock I received, however, was walking into the law building. Monash may pride itself for boasting one of, if not THE, best law school in the country but compared to Melbourne’s sexy-looking law school, the Monash law building just looks tired and weary… then I told myself that I am here not to criticise buildings but to study. And so off to the information session I went with a positive mind.
While I was glad that I wasn’t the only “old” new student there (there was a guy my age who came with his mum ), I did still feel a bit silly wandering amongst the gaggle of 17-year old Brighton blondes and boys fresh out of Xavier College. As for the information session itself? Nothing interesting really… except that we got given our first assignment for Intro To Legal Reasoning which we’re apparently supposed to start before semester one even starts. Fantastic.
Welcome to Monash Libs… you better enjoy it because you’re stuck there for the next x years of your life!
25/8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9694 7400
As you may have guessed from my little entry last night, I was not denied a first round offer (yippee!). Although I may not have thought much about where I’ll be in 2009 since I lodged my application with VTAC in August last year, I starting to feel increasingly nervous over the weekend and was fretting all day at work. To keep my mind off things, I busied myself with work and focused solely on the hottie personal trainers Mal Walden and the channel 10 news while I was peddling away at the gym after work. At 6pm, I met up with Adam and we both walked to Fed Square where they were giving away special editions of that day’s Herald Sun along with the tertiary places list. Making our way through groups of young boys and girls men and women in predominantly surfie attire, I felt very old. Like I was someone’s mother about to collect the newspaper to stalk every other effing Asian kids’ tertiary placement results or something like that.
So I grabbed myself a paper … but instead of trying to find my name, I flipped through the front to see how many people got accepted into law at Monash. If I saw a number less than 5, then I was screwed; but to my surprise, there was at least 100 people who got in. Double last year’s amount . Then I looked to see how many people got accepted into my second preference, banking and finance/law at Monash (the course that I didn’t really want to do but only applied for it just for the law component, hoping to drop the boring finance component in second year or something). Only about 17 or so. My stomach churning, I turned to the ‘M’s and scanned for my name and there it was. I prematurely jumped up for joy and started hugging Adam in the middle of Fed Square, not knowing which course I was actually accepted into.
After double-checking, it turned out that I got into my second preference (banking and finance/law) which I couldn’t really complain about. Sure, I didn’t get my first preference and sure, I now have to study boring sht like stockmarkets and commercial banking amongst the more juicier subjects like torts and civil law. Oh, let’s not forget that a double degree is going to take me donkey years to finish – no, make that dinosaur years seeing as I’ll be studying part-time while I work. But no really, it was great. I was stoked. A cause for celebration. And with that, we both ran all the way to Crown to have a celebratory dinner at Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons, affectionately known as GAS to the local foodie population.
Located where the old Warner Bros store used to be, GAS serves rustic Roman-style food in a funky, airy toffy-industrial setting with a sexy black backdrop and the lights dimmed down to create a vibe of sophistication … and to make food photo-taking a frustration for people like me. Hot, blustered, and looking a bit worse for wear (hey, I’d just came from the gym and also had to run all the way from Fed Square in high 30 degree heat!) arrived just before 7pm and without a booking because GAS refuses to take them. Although the no-booking policy pisses off many people (including yours truly), I was glad that we were able to waltz into the place without any problems just this once because, after all, it was a spur-of-the-moment dinner decision. The restaurant may have been half-full when we arrived but we were able to nab a pretty decent table past the salumi cabinet (note: no typo, I really did mean “salumi” not “salami”), past the great wall-of-bread and just before the kitchen.
A waiter with a striking resemblance to David Bowie immediately asked us if we would like any water (“Sparkling or still? Tap or mineral?”) before placing a small bowl of bread (a mix of grissini, sourdough and foccacia) on the table and pouring some house-branded olive oil in another small bowl. The menus, merely a simple paper place mat, were already on the table in front of us so the waiter left us alone while we choose a main each and two entrees to share.
First up was a serving of one Robert Marchetti’s famous salumi (a collective term to describe Italian cured meats, including salami), in this case the cacciatore which is made from “all parts” of the black Berkshire pig ($12.00 for about nine slices). Waxy, fresh and with a mild flavour, it was particularly good paired with chunks of sourdough dipped in the oil. The perfect starter to our meal.
($17.00 for three). Hervey Bay, naturally. I scoffed at the “hand dived” bit when I saw it on the menu deeming it perhaps a bit show-offy but after one nibble, my eyes popped out. The juicy Yorker of a scallop was nothing like anything I’ve tasted. One thing that made it differentiate between other instances where I’ve had scallop was the fact that it was so delicate, verging on fragile. GAS, you may hand-dive your scallops anytime. The sweet and tender scallop flesh was tinged by the tangy dressing of lemon and dwarf peaches topped by baby rocket leaves which gave it an awesome kick but without compromising the natural taste of the scallop. The whole experience went a notch further when accompanied by a melodic glass of James Squire golden ale ($7). Sublime.
The mains took one helluva long time to come out but because I was in such a jolly mood, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I ordered the sea urchin roe spaghettini ($24) not only because everyone else harps on about it, but also because I’ve only had sea urchin once and even then, it was in pureed form (which was okay enough, but then again it was mixed with heaps of other ingredients) so I wanted to see how it tasted in pure roe form. Okay, how do I start? When the waiter came around with our two plates, there was this weird smell that came out of nowhere. I mouthed to Adam, “What the heck stinks?!” before realising that it came from MY plate. I saw pasta. I saw tomatoes. And saw fennel. And after a bit of prodding using my fork, I saw little bits of orange brain-looking mush embedded within my strands of pasta, the sea urchin roe. The smell was slightly making me not want to eat my dinner but nevertheless I decided to keep my mind open and at least have a bite.
To put it nicely, sea urchin roe is an acquired taste. It is briny and has this weird metallic aftertaste… I guess the best way to describe it is that it tastes like the sea, really. Think of Port Melbourne beach: sea urchin roe encapsulates the place in taste. It was very different to the more buttery and subtle-but-nice sea-tasting mash that I had at Shoya. While I managed to eat everything on my plate (and admittedly, forking off half of my orange guck to Adam), it’s fair to say that I won’t be ordering this dish again. Oh yes, the simple dish was technically wonderful and I can understand why food bloggers bow down to it. The blonde strands of pasta was cooked al dente and swathed in light olive oil and garlic; and the fresh tomatoes added a much-added sweet contrast to the otherwise salty roe. In short, it would’ve been a perfect a dish… had I liked sea urchin roe. (Aside: Adam, on the other hand, did like this dish so perhaps you should take his word for it and not mine ).
“La Tagliata”, a 250g Angus Rib Eye which was char-grilled and cooked medium rare ($34). It was dressed with lemon, oil, spring onion, green peppercorns and fresh chilli and garnished with a bunch of rocket leaves and a wedge of lemon. A side of potatoes would’ve gone down nicely with the steak but frankly speaking, we would’ve probably been too full to finish off all the potatoes so we said no to them. It doesn’t matter anyway, the steak was nice enough without the potatoes, juicy and so full of flavour. While not a very ambitious dish, it was nevertheless lovely.
We left at around 8:30pm to a sea of people waiting patiently at the door for a table to open up and a waitress ready to guide the next couple to our already vacant table like clockwork. Adam and I left GAS both full (but not bursting-full) with a spring in our steps. The entire meal took us back $94 which isn’t really what many would call a cheapie “impromptu” meal but given that GAS is a one-hatted restaurant and given that we were both full, I’d say that it’s definitely good value for money (except maybe the salumi which are expensive but ohhhhh so worth it). The service was generally excellent despite some minor issues. For example, I overheard David Bowie v.2 telling other tables that a few of the dishes such as the crab sandwich weren’t available that night yet had failed to tell OUR table the same thing. No biggie really, but they really should be telling that to EVERYONE. Apart from those incidents though, fantastic. Will definitely go back again…
… perhaps skipping the sea urchin roe spaghettini next time .
4 Lightwood Rd
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9548 2232
Earlier this week, Jen asked me if I was free to catch up for lunch in Springvale on the weekend with her and Shirley. And even though Springy is a bit of a hike for me (no car, you see ), I could never turn down good company and good food. The place that Jen was keen to take us to was apparently the best place for bun bo hue and they also do a lot of great dishes too. Sounded good to us. So after my morning gym session in the city, I went straight to the station, tried not to get pissy when I heard the announcement that the train was running late, finally hopped on the train, spent the entire train ride sitting next to some old codger who stank like garlic, got off at Springy and breathed a sigh of relief when I finally got some fresh air, bumped into Shirley at the station (hey if I was going to be late, at least I wouldn’t be alone!) and arrived at Nam Giao 10 minutes later than the scheduled time of 1pm.
Jen was already there and so was Dave whom we invited at the spur of the moment because he lived only around the corner from where we were having lunch. So yep, a nice casual catch-up lunch. Anyway, I thought Nam Giao was a pretty cute place. Instead of those generic brightly-lid and sometimes garish Vietnamese restaurants you find in Footscray, Richmond and okay, the rest of Spring vale, it was like stepping into a scene from Three Seasons or The Scent of Green Papaya. Rather than white tiles and laminex tables, it was wooden tables and wooden interiors. Very nice. Plus, it was also a very sunny dining room which meant decent lighting for not-so-crap food photos, yay!
I decided to be boring and order sliced beef pho ($8) which came in a massive bowl. I thought about going for Nam Giao’s supposedly awesome bun bo hues that Jen was ordering but I happen to be one of those people who, for some reason, can’t bring myself to order a bowl to myself. More often than not, I will have a few spoonfuls of Adam’s but never the whole thing to myself. Yeah, I know. I’m weird. Anyway, my pho was great in that it was huge and I knew I wasn’t going to leave feeling hungry but I felt that the broth was a little too plain for my liking. When I added a spoonful of chilli oil, however, it instantly made my meal taste 10 billion times better and I literally lapped it all up.
Dave’s rice vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls. This was what I probably would’ve ordered had I not felt like pho that day. I didn’t manage to have a bite but Dave reckons that it tastes better than what his parents could whip up at home. I’ve never tried anything that’s come out of Dave’s kitchen but from what I’ve seen and read on his blog, I can deduce that his parents are pretty well-versed in cooking so his dish must’ve been pretty damn good. It looked pretty good too and two thumbs up for the generous amount of spring rolls too.
Jen’s bun bo hue which she offered us to taste but my pho was filling me up already so I didn’t have a chance to try. It did look good though so maybe if Adam and I actually go to Springvale for lunch one Sunday, I’ll make him order the soup while I try Dave’s dish. Heh.
Shirley’s chicken pho which looks a bit like noodles + soup + drunken chicken haha. Rather interesting way of presenting pho because I’ve only ever seen it served with shredded chicken and usually without the skin on too. Again it looked nice but poor Shirley couldn’t finish all her noodles (then again, look how massive the bowl is and look how tiny she is!).
While my pho wasn’t the best pho I’ve had in my life, I can certainly see myself visiting this place again when I’m in Springy. My family and I used to go to Thanh Dat but the last time I visited, the food wasn’t as good as I could remember so we’ve been trying other places when we’re down here. With decent-tasting food at very reasonable prices (it was just under $50 for the four of us, including drinks), I can definitely add this to my list of places to have lunch in Springvale. And although the wait staff suck at English, they are efficient and polite without being rude like those fobs who work at Chinese joints. Boh!
434 Lygon St
Brunswick VIC 3055
+61 3 9381 1222
Some of you will know that I’m a HUGE fan of George Calombaris and his modern Greek restaurant The Press Club (and to a slightly lesser extent Maha, the Middle-Eastern inspired restaurant that he is a business partner of). So when I heard that he was opening up a casual Greek eatery last year, I was jumping up and down and squealing like those muzzas when the Greeks won Euro in 2004. This so-called taverna, Hellenic Republic, only opened a month ago and doesn’t even have a functioning website nor has it been reviewed by The Age yet it’s already popular with Melburnians. Despite mixed reviews, punters are still flocking up to Brunswick East to sample some simple Greek food branded with the George C brand and on Wednesday afternoon, I was told by the reservations lady that there was a waiting list for dinner on Thursday night (!!) but that she was able to squeeze me in because clearly I’m tres cool (though I’m guessing that HR and PC share the same database and the chick would’ve seen my name pop up along with the huge tip when I dined at the PC which probably worked in my favour).
With Martin and Adam in tow, I trammed a 25 min trip all the way past the cemetery and into the shabby end of Lygon Street (not that Lygon Street is really special these days anyway). The sunny restaurant was empty when we arrived except for a few diners and a huge table with George C (wearing rubber thongs, no less) and a few business partners, I presume. I was starting to think ‘pffft, what waiting list?’ () but the restaurant filled up quickly afterwards. The decor screamed out “Greek Islands”, “Aegean Sea” and “Pierce Brosnan singing” with its white walls, airy dining room and sunlit courtyard yet avoided all the tacky cliches that are often associated with suburban Greek tavernas. We were settled quickly in a table big enough for six by the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs burn dozens of pita breads before chucking them in the bin or laugh at kitchen hands getting told off for dropping classes of coke. If you’re on a blind date that going miserably, I guess watching some kitchen action would be a good enough distraction if you can’t be bothered with any more dull small talk.
Anyway, the menu items are divided up into mezedes (small dishes, not dissimilar to tapas), kyrio (large dishes), salads and glyka (sweets), all of which are designed to share with your fellow diners. Most items are between $5-20, which is very reasonable, but there is also the option of ordering one of two banquet menus which are cutely named “Alpha” and “Beta” respectively. Each banquet contains these parts: mezedes, fish course, meat off the spit and a fruit plate. The difference between Alpha and Beta is that the latter is about $10-15 dearer per head and includes a dessert sharing plate. Initially our plan was to order a bunch of dishes off the a la carte menu but none of us could really decide what to get so we went for the easy option and chose the “Alpha” banquet ($49.50 per head) plus a serving of loukoumades (Greek donuts) to share at the end ($12.50). We were instantly given some complimentary rye bread (nothing special) and instructed to dip them in some olive oil or balsamic vinegar, both of which were provided in little bottles on each table.
The first thing to come out was the grilled saganaki with figs that wasn’t actually on the banquet menu but the lovely waitress (in a god-awful uniform of jeans, sneakers and a blue BIC biro pen lid coloured police-lookalike uniform) was nice enough to add it to our repertoire in place of the dolmades at no extra charge. The only reason why I specifically asked for the saganaki was because I’ve heard good things about this supposedly awesome dish from other food bloggers and plus I’d been craving it all week (that and loukoumades). Although any type of sheep’s milk cheese can be used to make this dish, haloumi was used at HR because of George C’s Cypriot heritage which was what I would’ve preferred anyway. This dish might have been a simple one but I really enjoyed the contrasting tastes of the mildly salty cheese and the sweet figs, none of which overpowered each other at all. Highly recommended.
Then the mezzedes appeared.
- A-Horiatiki (Greek salad). No surprises there. A competent version though it’s hard for any restaurant really, to stuff up Greek salad. Put simply, if you can’t make Greek salad, then you shouldn’t be running at restaurant.
- B-Pretty pretty good tzatzkiki thanks in large to the rather liberal use of olive oil alongside the other standard ingredients of yoghurt, cucumbers, garlic, mint and dill.
- C-Pickled vegies. I have no idea what this dish is called and it certainly didn’t taste very “Greek” to me (then again, what DO I know about Greek cuisine?!), though Martin told me that his parents used to make this stuff all the time back when they were living in Serbia so it’s probably one of those inter-regional woggy dishes that each country can sort make without difficulties and claim it as their own.
- D-Kalamata olives. They’re olives, what am I supposed to say about them?!
- E-Beetroot and cumin. I’m not a fan of beetroot so suffice to say that I wasn’t heaping many beetroot cubes onto my plate. Nevertheless, they went down alright when eaten with my meat dishes (later to come).
- F-Mussels. We received 6 cooked mussels drizzled in some sort of lemon, olive oil and dill dressing. Very simple, loved it.
A very competent spanakopita which is like a Greek pie made with filo pastry. The traditional filling in spanakopita are spinach and feta cheese but HR’s version had tomatoes and loukaniko (Greek pork sausages) instead, which was a delightful change. The pork sausages, however, were shredded perhaps a bit too thinly for me to fully appreciate them and so the feta cheese overpowered any taste that the sausages had. Nevertheless, still a successful dish.
Next came the fish course, three skewers of marlin fish marinated in some sort of lemon and garlic mixture and grilled, accompanied by a prawn relish and some spinach. I found it quite funny that I had only tried marlin for the first time ever at Maha only two weeks ago so to have it yet again in such a sort period of time was a bit of a shock. Because the marlin at Maha was mixed up with other ingredients and then wrapped in vine leaves, I couldn’t really umm and ahh over it fully but I managed to get a better feel for its taste and texture in skewer form. Put simply, tastes like fish but the texture is borderline chicken, a little tough. Martin says that marlin is more of a fish that one catches for sport rather than for consumption (and it is certainly rarely farmed in Australia) so that explains the texture. While it was interesting to be able to taste it properly, I don’t think it’s a fish that I’d be in a hurry to consume again. Meanwhile, I found the spinach to be bland and bitter but thought that the prawn relish was quite pleasant.
The “meat off the spit” was shredded chicken
which was a shame because I really wanted lamb
. Never mind. Roasted with cumin and garlic with a wedge of lemon for us to squeeze over the bird, I was expecting this dish to taste nice but sadly, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. The meat was overcooked which spoilt an otherwise potentially decent dish. It was a far cry from the chicken + skordalia we had at The Press Club
last year which was pleasant to the last bite. Not even the awesome herb chips provided with the chicken could make it any better…
Remember how I was whinging about the loukanikos in the spanakopita? Well, whinge no more Libs because there they are, presented in a little dish! We all loved the pork sausages and wished that their brilliant flavours were more prominent in the spanakopita. They are very similar to chorizos except that the loukanikos seemed to be flavoured with orange peel or something as there was a slight citrus note as I bit into a piece. They had been cooked and then dressed in some sort of olive olive, capsicum and vinaigrette relish. Yum.
Although the food was not as rich nor were the portions as gigantic as the ones at Press Club, we were all pretty full and struggling to finish off all our dishes. I reckon we did well to finish pretty much everything except for a few stray olives and some of the vegie dishes. We could’ve attempted to clean up everything though had it weren’t for the loukoumades and the fruit platter coming up next…
Martin and I had a Greek beer each ($7 per bottle), Alpha and Mythos respectively (both lagers). Apparently both are readily available at woggy shops around Melbourne but this was the first time I’ve seen them around. My mythos was surprisingly pleasant to drink and very “graceful” (for lack of better word to describe it) despite its masculine name. Very good accompaniment to my meat dishes.
The loukoumades. I fell in love with them when I had them for the first time at The Press Club and having them again at Hellenic Republic last night reconfirmed my love for them. Slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, they are doused with honey … and are 10 billion times more nicer than your ordinary iced donuts and dare I say Krispy Kremes. I was especially delighted to see the addition of crushed walnuts and pistachios on top of the puffy balls. At $12.50, you got about 10 of them (four of which I ate) which I reckon is pretty good value.
Finally, the fruit plate. Nothing particularly special but it was the perfect ending to a great meal; most of the them, a light dessert is the best thing to have when you’ve had a particularly rich meal.
The bill came to $182, including drinks and Greek coffees (minus tip) which was fairy reasonable. For a restaurant that’s only been open for a month, I reckon it’s doing quite well and will be there to stay. The food, although not as nice as Press Club‘s, was pleasant and despite a few issues with taste, my overall expectations of the food were were exceeded. The service was also fantastic – very friendly, very helpful and didn’t even seem to mind when we overstayed our booking by 15 minutes (we had to make room for the next lot of people to come). Plus, they were constantly asking us how our dishes were and making sure that we were okay with everything. Obviously there is room for improvement but I’d definitely come back after at least a few months – perhaps to try their pastitsio (Greek lasagne) or relive their awesome souvlaki (which I had at the food festival last year) with Adam or to try some of the other a la carte options for lunch with a bunch of friends.
In short, hella good (so let’s just keep on dancing…)…
320 Racecourse Rd
Flemington VIC 3031
+61 3 9372 6383
Yesterday was the day when Summer finally hit Melbourne. We Melburnians had been slogging through mid 20-degree days all throughout December, like it was still Spring. We shunned our singlets and shorts for jeans and cardigans, and shoved a scarf into our handbags “just in case.” Water cooler talk in December consisted of Ben Cousins and bloody AFL rather than the cricket calendar (raow!) and bushfire preventative measures. And just as the global warming skeptics started rubbing their hands with glee, THE MERCURY HIT THE BALL WAY BEYOND THE MEMBERS STAND FOR A 38. When the weather is hot, you don’t feel like eating. Especially foods that are either rich or spicy. Something light such as a salad or a filet of steamed fish with ginger, soy and shallots usually does the trick. Or perhaps a smoothie. So when my parents, who had spent the afternoon visiting their rental property in Altona and were now on their way home via the city, suggested having dinner at Laksa King in Flemington I was amazed to find myself nodding and telling them that I’d be there at 6:30pm.
Some of you might know what I’m talking about. Laksa King, a small Chinese Malaysian cafe located in a dingy arcade on Racecourse Road. There are at least two other Asian cafes in the same strip but on any even given night, Laksa King is the one that’s packed while the other two get by with maybe 2 or 3 patrons. Ever since Adam introduced my family to this place, my parents have been going there to get their laksa fix every so often, usually when they’re coming home from Altona. Although I’ve only been there once or twice, I can safely agree with many punters in that it serves Melbourne’s most awesome laksa (though I’m waiting for someone to dispute this – perhaps Kelly the undisputed queen of Malaysian cuisine?). The extensive menu may house dozens of other dishes such as fried noodle mains the ubiquitous lemon effing chicken and sweet and bloody sour pork (and more dubious choices such as Vietnamese spring rolls – the eff?! ), but the only thing that you should order is a steaming bowl of laksa. Doesn’t matter which one, they’re all good.
My favourite dish is their seafood curry laksa which I decided to have again last night. Everyone also swears by the fish head laksa which I was about to try last night but didn’t feel like spending dinner gnawing on bones and hunting for what little meat the fish head holds, thus the seafood laksa was the most appealing choice – lots of meat (relatively speaking) and less work to do, great! At $10.80, you get a steaming bowl of aromatic broth made up of curry, coconut milk, grounded prawn shells and a hint of chilli amongst other wonderful things… that and a cornucopia of “weird things that live in the sea” (which is what my brother blatantly refers to as “seafood”): 3 plump prawns, a few fishcakes, a couple of mussels, squid combined with bean shoots, fried bean curd and an eggplant. These were tangled amidst a web of both rice vermicelli and yellow mee. Last time, they added fish fillets but I was sad to find no fish in my laksa that night. My guess is that the heavily inflated fish prices at the moment means that small restaurants such as this one will not buy fish unless it was absolutely necessary. Never mind though, the laksa was as good as Mahathir’s promise to cast an iron fist on Malaysia during his watch. A healthy amount of noodles and shellfish, the way that the bean curd puffs absorbed each little bit of exciting flavour from the soup, the rich creamy soup … all of which you could never obtain from a stodgy ready-made laksa paste from the supermarket … mmmm! My brow may have been sweating due to the lethal combination of chillies, spices and the hot weather but I was enjoying my laksa too much that it barely rated on my care factor radar. Two thumbs up.
My mum’s har mee ($9.20) was also nicely done; the soup so full of flavour thanks in large to the 10 billion prawn sht heads that were crushed to make the broth. A handful of large prawns and slice egg pieces joined the flurry of noodles to make one tasty bowl of broth, which was slightly milder than mine but no less flavoursome. In hindsight, har mee would’ve been a better choice for dinner in such hot conditions (my mum wasn’t sniffling as much as I was) but I’ll remember that for next time. Dad had the nasi goreng aka Indonesian Malaysian fried rice ($9.50) which is something that I rarely order in restaurants as 1) I’m not a big fan of nasi goreng/fried rice and 2) it’s not that hard to make at home but one bite of his meal was enough to warrant a few more spoonfuls from yours truly. Nothing out of this world but it wasn’t half bad either.
Ahhh, hot and stuffy room… muddled service… annoying fobby patrons loudly “sik sik sik sei sei sei”-ing around me… but damn good food. It’s just like being in Malaysia!*
*Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Malaysia so I can’t truthfully say that being in Laksa King is like being in Malaysia since I’ve never experienced Malaysia before. I have, however, been to Indonesia numerous times and all of the above is remiscient of the times I’ve sat in Indonesian hawker stalls so I can safely assume that the Malaysian and Indonesian dining scene are fairly similar. (Except substitute the “sik sik sik sei sei sei”-ing for “bangmamamakananananbadadadadabang bang”-ing!)
133 Were St
Brighton VIC 3186
+61 3 9592 6500
A disused milk bar sitting in one of Brighton’s quiet but beautiful tree-lined streets is a rather strange location to launch a Japanese All-You-Can-Eat restaurant. But that’s exactly what some Chinese person did when he or she launched J’s Surf & Turf (and I say Chinese because you can tell when Japanese food has been cooked by a Chinese…). Having heard favourable reviews from my workmate George and one of my mum’s annoying Malaysian friends, the whole family decided to make the trip to Were Street for dinner last night. Booking only a few days prior to Sunday meant that it was hard for them to squeeze us into the earliest session of 5:30pm so we had to settle for the 6:45pm sitting (and out by 8:30pm).
The tiny restaurant was expectantly packed by the time we rocked up at exactly 6:45pm. The first thing that came to my mind when I walked in was ‘My goodness, there are so many fobs!’ Apart from the odd Brighton blonde couple, 95% of the 30-40 diners were fobby Koreans who created such an atmosphere with their “boong boong chun mung aaaasayohhhhh!” cries and squeals every time a plate arrived on their tables. Ahhhh fobs…
Unlike most All-You-Can-Eat restaurants, J’s Surf & Turf (I still can’t get over the weird name…) do not lay their food out on buffet tables for their patrons to help themselves. Instead, there is a menu that lists a la carte options from hot entrees to mains to sushi/sashimi options. The prices are quite reasonable (mains hover at $10-15) and people are free to sit down for just a bento box or beef salad but the majority of diners opt for the $28 p/h All-You-Can-Eat option where you can order anything you want from the menu (except for the bento box). While the temptation to order every single thing right off the bat is there, the best thing to do is to order several dishes at a time and then asking for more once you’re done with the dishes in order to eliminate waste. Because if there is one thing that I can’t stand (apart from Bay 13 bogans and Louis Vuitton monogrammed bags) it is people who waste food. Throughout the course of our meal, I saw tables full of fobs order 10 billion things from the menu and realise that they couldn’t finish off everything so half-full plates of perfectly good sashimi and prawn tempura went to waste. C’mon people, don’t be greedy, order 3-4 things at a time and if need be, order 3-4 more things if you’re still hungry and so on. Far out.
So, what did we eat?
We ordered a few small dishes to start off with, including a serving of gyoza. Now I’m so used to gyoza being pan-fried so imagine my surprise when we got a flat of rather sad-looking so-called dumplings that were steamed rather than fried. They were just “okay.”
A plate of prawn and sweet potato tempura. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potato so I did not touch those but I did eat the prawn tempura (times about three). They may not be as awesome as the ones I had at Hako but each large crispy thin battered juicy prawn were good enough to eat. We ordered a second plate of tempura halfway during our meal but unfortunately the batter was not as crisp the second time around.
Mum’s futomaki (vegetarian sushi roll). I don’t particularly like futomaki so I didn’t try any of it but mum thought it was “okay” (then again, I have no idea what would constitute a “good” futomaki as it doesn’t sound very appetising nor exciting to me…)
Agadashi tofu. Obviously had been sitting around for a while as the tofu batter was starting to sog up a little but nevertheless, not too bad. I needed my tofu fix and I got it. A little less MSG would’ve been better though…
Potato croquettes. I was surprised to find that these croquettes did not have crab in it like they SHOULD but never mind, they were okay as they were – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with bits of carrots and onions in it.
Sashimi and sushi platter. I ordered enough for four people, knowing that Kenneth hated seafood. So when mum told me that she didn’t like RAW fish and when dad told me that he had never even had raw fish before, I was rather perplexed. Mum ate maybe about two pieces of raw salmon before declaring that she had enough while dad ate about one piece before deciding that he’d rather much have cooked fish. That meant that Janice and I had to finish off the rest of the platter, which is no mean feat, but alas we did it. The problem, however, was that we were starting to get full by this stage. The sashimi was definitely not as fantastic nor fresh as Shoya’s or Shira Nui’s and I was disappointed to see a lack of variety (what, only salmon and yellowtail??) but at $30 or so for such a platter, I guess it would be decent value if you’re ordering a la carte.
Chicken yakitori. Rather unmemorable. Then again, it’s not really something I love ordering at restaurants anyway…
Asparagus and beef salad. The only reason why we ordered this dish was because Ken hates any form of seafood and also didn’t like the yakitori. What we weren’t expecting, however, was the fact that this dish was probably the best one we sampled. Strips of beef fillet were marinated in soy and tossed with some vegies, including lettuce and beans (but what, no asparagus?! ). The mixture was dressed in a creamy yet tangy sesame dressing consisting of mirin, shoyu and dashi. A stand-out, despite how fug it looked.
Some decent takoyaki. I say ‘decent’ only because it’s been a while since I’ve had takoyaki which tasted above average and although I know that these weren’t the best I’ve had, I could honestly say that I found no fault in them. Even Janice, who is usually apprehensive about eating “weird” stuff like octopus, thought they were nice.
Chicken yakisoba (fried noodles). They were horrible. Ugh. Next please.
Hahaha check out some of the items on the menu! My guess was that they wanted to cater to those annoying gweilos who are too wussy to TRY NEW THINGS such as raw fish, octopus balls and oysters. Fair enough, they sound a bit strange to some but you never know until you try right? Another thing which made me giggle just a little bit was seeing that dimmies and potato cakes were being sold for 50 cents. I guess this place is still operating like it’s 1996 because that’s the last time I ever recall potato cakes being 50 cents (these days, they’re around $1 in my area).
Yeah Kenneth happens to be one of those people. He ordered a plate of fries .
And spring rolls (which are just like those ones you can buy frozen in supermarkets or bought for a rip off price of $10 for 5 at bars. Ugh.)
Dessert consisted of a choice between green tea or vanilla ice cream (I chose green tea), a fruit plate and hahaha, get this, snake lollies.
We might not have ordered as many plates as other tables (subsequently, they wasted more food and incurred the silent wrath of Ms Libby) but we were extremely full so it’s definitely good value for money. Service was well-organised and efficient with wait-times kept at a minimum. The fact that our beef salad arrived mere seconds after ordering led us to think that the chefs churn out bowls of food and leave them in the kitchen for the waiters to pick up, which we didn’t seem to mind because 1) it was cheap food, 2) the turnover of beef salad and other stuff were high anyway so we knew that it wasn’t sitting there for 2 hours and 3) it was slightly better than consuming food sitting on bain maries for hours.
Finally, it goes without saying that I enjoyed my visit and will definitely go there again. While the food isn’t the best Japanese in Melbourne, people go because it’s good value for money (it definitely beats paying $40-odd for dinner at New Quay…). The problem for most people including myself, however, is that Brighton is a bit of a hike so I would recommend going there if you have other business in the area. George, for example, goes there for dinner before catching the last rays of sunshine at the beach, which was what we could’ve done… except that South Africa was just about to commence bowling and we wanted to run home to watch it all happen.
179 Chapel St
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9525 1288
So I’m currently in the middle of my week-and-a-bit long annual leave. And I’ve been spending quite a lot of time outside the house… hanging out with mates, spending time with Adam, shopping, visiting libraries, walking around Chapel Street and of course, dining.
This was the first thing I cooked for 2009: Spiced fish with sesame-ginger noodles. Using a recipe from Donna Hay’s current book “No Time To Cook” (p.82), I made use of the bunches of coriander and mint leaves that were sitting in my fridge before they started to go off. I bought some plump ling fillets from the supermarket, marinated them with red curry paste and cooked them on a pan on low heat for just over 5 minutes on each side. The noodles were doused in the ingredients listed in the recipe (ginger, sesame oil, sesame seed, fish sauce, spring onions) but I also added a few extra ingredients to make it a little bit more tasty – soy sauce, a clove of garlic and a little bit of chilli.
Yesterday Adam and I were walking around Chapel Street when we decided to have lunch at Lucky Coqto take advantage of their $4 pizzas because we were feeling tight-arsey. Now, Lucky Coq and Bimbo Deluxe and pretty much the same – same deco, same menu, same everything but for some reason, people prefer Lucky Coq. Probably because of the name . Anyway, as much as I wanted to have the lamb pizza again I decided to try something different as part of my aim to eventually try every pizza on their menu (prior to yesterday, I have tried five) – so I went for the taleggio pizza which also came with the standard tomato base and potatoes while Adam had the poncho pizza which was basically nachos on pizza.
As much as I love taleggio cheese, I didn’t really like my pizza as it tasted a bit too plain (must be the potatoes). Adam’s pizza, although quite novel, didn’t really do it for me either. But for $4 a plate, there really isn’t anything worth complaining…
I have a few more things planned for the rest of my week before I go back to work next Monday, including fretting and worrying about university acceptance results on Monday (or Sunday night, if I suddenly decide to hoon around with a bunch of yr.12s at Fed Square). More foodie adventures, more running around, more people to see and the list goes on. But today is just going to be me, the couch and the cricketon channel nine (and the return of Gossip Girl *squeals*). Do not disturb, please .
Photo courtesy of CWTV.com
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9696 6566
As some of you may recall, my sister Janice received a commendable study score of 43 for her 3/4 subject which she was doing this year as part of her yr.11 studies. She had been dying to go to Nobu for ages so Adam and I made a deal with her whereby if she received a study score (raw) over 36, then she gets a free meal at Nobu which, as most of you know, is a famous fusion restaurant that marries Japanese and South American cuisines together. Which she got last night. A booking was made two weeks ago for the sorta-weird time of 6:45pm, provided that we are out by 8:45pm. On the phone, I had asked for a time closer to 6pm because we Indonesians love to eat early but the earliest time they had was 6:45pm because all the earlier sittings were full. Fine with us, we thought. So after Janice clocked off work for the day, we trained up to the city and arrived a good hour early. We arranged to meet Adam at Movida Next Door for some croquettes only to be told by Adam that there was going to be a one hour wait for a free table. Oh, and he reckons he saw Geoffrey Rush sipping on a glass of something there too.
Anyway, we meandered around Crown Casino for a while before we got bored so we figured that showing up at Nobu a bit earlier and sitting at the bar wouldn’t hurt. We arrived at 6:30pm and apologised to the waif half-cast Asian chick hostess for being early and whether it was okay to sit at the bar. She told us that we were free to do that but if we wanted to, she could sit us straight away. Awesome, we thought, as we followed her downstairs to the dining room. The first thing I noticed was not how cool the apparently $10 million Soho-meets-TriBeCa fit-out looked but the fact that the dining room was practically EMPTY. At 6:30pm on a Saturday night, I would not have batted an eyelid because we all know that the cool and hip don’t eat until at least 8pm (clearly I’m not cool and hip). No, the reason why I choose to mention this was because the lady on the phone had told me that THE PLACE WAS GOING TO BE PACKED. I don’t know about you, but a dining room at 5% capacity is NOT full. So, we see couples sitting in cushy booths dotted around the room but trust the hostess to seat us in a round table smack-bang in the middle of the room. Grr.
I’m sorry.. sucky photo…
Not wanting to let such minor things get to us, we got about ordering our stuff. After brushing aside the wine list and ordering some lemon squashes, we picked about seven dishes off the a la carte menu for us three to share. Knowing that the portions were going to be somewhat on the anorexic side, we asked our waiter if these seven dishes were going to be enough to feed us all. The waiter told us that seven dishes was definitely enough so we left it at that and twiddled our thumbs and tried not to get pissy every time a new lot of diners walked in, prompting all the Nobu staff to yell out “IRASSHAIMASE!” every. single. effing. time. Sure, the first time was cute but after that, it just became bloody ANNOYING and was it really necessary?!
The first dish that came out was the Yellowtail Sashimi With Jalapeno ($22), apparently one of Nobu’s signature dishes. Six slices of seamless yellowtail tuna blanketed in a tangy yuzu and soy sauce. Now Janice hasn’t really been exposed to raw fish (apart from smoked salmon) so she approached this dish with a little hesitation but she need not have worried. This dish, I reckon, is a good introduction those who aren’t familiar with eating raw fish. Somehow, the fresh taste of the tuna strikes the palate first, followed by the spicy tang of the dressing while the brash, hot spurt of the jalapenos hit you at the aftertaste. Delicious!
The weirdly-named “Spicy Miso Chips” ($12 for four) came out next. The “chips” referred to the four sliced lotus roots, two of which carried a slice of raw scallop and the other two raw tuna. The icing on the little critters was a smidgen of something that tasted like a lemony sweet chilli sauce. The fish was fresh enough (though I’ve had better sashimi at Shoya and Shira Nui), the dressing was nice enough, the lotus roots definitely made for great “chips” and the little thingies looked cute as they were but it wasn’t a terribly WOW dish.
Another raw fish dish. Just as well Janice was getting adjusted so she would’ve had a fit. The “New Style Whitefish Sashimi” ($18) was up next and although we had no idea what “new style” meant, we figured that it would be something interesting so we decided to give that a go. According to the waiter, the new style sashimi cooking method is where a sashimi is dressed with soy and citrus juice on a plate, with hot oil being poured over it so that the sashimi is effectively being seared. At this point, I decided that this dish was my favourite one so far. I liked the saltiness of the soy mashed with the sourness of the lemon juice, the slight fruitiness of the olive oil and the nuttiness of the sesame oil and seeds. I loved the way the fresh whitefish absorbed the juices very well and I loved that each bite of the whitefish induced a numbing effect in my mouth. Yum!
I’ve heard great things about the beef fillet tataki ($22) so that was what we got next. Having featured in John Lethlean’s “To Die For” feature in The Age in mid-2008, my expectations of this dish were quite high. The dish was good enough – thick slices of seared beef were slightly cooked on the outside and practically raw within, a warm fruity ponzu dressing, crispy garlic chips and sliced spring onions provided company. While the tangy sauce was nice enough, I felt that the dressing was too “citrus-y” and somewhat overpowered the already flavoursome sweet meat. Yes, it was nice but definitely not the best I’ve had. In fact, Horoki does a better version at a cheaper price.
The lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing ($36) was as big as we got tonight. Yeah, it may look big in the photo but when you realise that 95% of the salad consists of salad leaves, the fact that there were only 4 (admittedly sweet, juicy) pieces of cooked lobster might disappoint. Plus, I felt that the lemon dressing was too “sharp” that I had to wince everytime I shoveled a chopstick-full of leaves into my mouth. I think this was the point where I started to get a little frustrated with Nobu. Every dish, so far, tasted strangely similar to each other – all with lemony, citrusy notes that were starting to piss me off. I know that it was probably my fault for ordering these dishes but hey, I had no idea what they would be like! I was also starting to think that the whole “applying South American concepts to Japanese cuisine” thing was only limited to “creviche-ing” every single dish that involved raw fish. Hm. With two dishes still to go and with our tummies still rumbling like a V-line train, we all decided that we were actually ready to go. But first, the last two dishes…
Soft shell crab kara age ($20 for 20). Apparently Nobu “invented” the soft shell crab kara age so we ordered this dish, thinking that it’d be something special. We received a plate with two soft shell crabs fried in tempura battar along with a leaf of some sort and a shiitake mushroom, both fried in tempura batter (um, why?!). Pink murray river salt and a tablespoon of pepper accompanied the lemon dressing that was held in a soup spoon, used to dip the pieces of crab in. This dish did nothing for me and certainly was no better than any other soft shell crab I’ve ever had, including ones I’ve had at dingy Chinese-Vietnamese joints in Victoria St, Richmond. Clearly not the most prettiest thing we ordered, and certainly not the best tasting thing too – in fact, it would have to be the dish I liked least.
Finally, the most anticipated dish came: the black cod with miso, THE dish that apparently sends people into orbit. Apparently marinated in sweet miso for three days beforehand, a piece of cod is baked to perfection before being presented with sticks of hajikami (ginger) and dots of the same sauce used to marinate the fish. I wasn’t sure how this dish was going to taste but I was surprised to find that it was unbelievably sweet, like kecap manis sweet. After recovering from the unexpected taste, I was slowly being drawn to the sweet, delicate flesh of the mod which easily peeled away with even the slightless nudge of a chopstick and which melted within a second of putting it into your mouth. A sensation. At $42 a pop, it’s not cheap but it’s probably the one thing you should order if you’re at Nobu. (I also have to mention, however, that Adam thought it was “yuck” and Janice said that it was only just “alright”).
So that concluded our Nobu experience. And guess what folks?! We were STILL HUNGRY! Now wasn’t THAT a surprise?! The waiter promptly presented Adam us with the bill which came to $178, including drinks, which surprised me a little because I was expecting to pay well over $200 for dinner. We had the option of ordering more dishes but after consulting with the other two, we decided that we didn’t really want to stay at Nobu anymore. The allure was starting to wane, we were getting sick of the Nobu staff loudly greeting guests every 5 minutes, we were getting sick of the deafening doof doof music that vibrated around the wooden fit-out and frankly, we weren’t sure whether we could taste yet another dish that had more lemons in it than that lemon tree in that Simpsons episode. I promptly got out my PINK Mastercard to signal that we had enough, waited for the card to come back… and watched the waiter plonk the card and receipt in front of ADAM again. Yeah, what kind of effed up guy would have a name like “Libby” and carry around a pink card… Heck, even I am now ashamed of that card…So we left Nobu and went straight to… Dumplings Plus on Swanston Street for spring onion pancakes, dumplings and lamb wraps.
So yes, Nobu was definitely an experience that I don’t regret… but not one that I am happy to repeat again in the near future. Trying to figure out Nobu could give you a headache. Being there certainly can. If the dining room’s thumping doof doof house music doesn’t drown out your dinner conversation, then the waiters yelling out “IRASSHAIMASE!” every five minutes will. The food, while good, isn’t enough to lure return visits, particularly in Melbourne where you can easily find 10 billion other Japanese places that will make you twice as happy, and not as broke either. Service-wise, I was surprised to find that most of the staff (apart from the waif who greeted us) were not as pretentious and rude as I thought. Still, it took me a while to decide whether I should include a tip at the end or otherwise. Sure, none of them did anything bad but the whole experience was that it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant a tip according to Adam. In the end, I left them a tip but not a particularly big one.As some of you know, the French paradox is the food world’s best known contradiction: How can the residents of Tinsletown consume all that rich cuisine and be so frustratingly slim? Well, simply because they all go to Nobu. It is clear that while Nobu may win the hearts of the thin-is-in crowd in LA, but for Melburnians with an appetite the size of Warnie’s test wicket haul, there are way better places to go for Japanese.