The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Dragon Boat

203 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 2733
http://www.dragonboat.com.au/
Hu Tong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 8128

An old friend from uni, Poasa, was in Melbourne for Easter so Adam and I decided to take him out for a good old fashioned yum cha lunch. The poor thing, having been back in Fiji for the last few years, has not had a ‘proper’ yum cha meal in ages (apparently in Fiji, yum cha restaurants are VERY different) so he was just as excited as I was about the lunch. Oh, and the whole seeing-each-other-for-the-first-time-in-three-years bit too! It was up to me to choose the lunch venue and after much deliberation I decided on the newly-refurbished Dragon Boat restaurant in Chinatown. Now I used to go there all the time with my parents and with friends in my earlier uni student days. That was before their food quality started slipping and then I stopped going. With all the hoo-haa surrounding the refurbishments though, I decided that a return visit would not hurt and hey, it might even be better this time around. Not so, warned Jan who went there only two weeks prior to our visit. Not only did she say that it was pricey, the food that arrived on her table was COLD. She left after only five dishes. In hindsight I should have listened to Jan but I brushed aside her warning and figured that she just came on a bad day or something.

We arrived on time for our 1:30pm booking to a much more spacious and modern-looking establishment that extended to an extra floor above the main restaurant. Gone were the deary carpeting and the old school 80s furnishings. Instead, the space was much more simple with sleek wooden tables and chairs snaked all over the floor, allowing only enough room for the trolleys to make their way to each table. We were told that there was to be a 10 minute wait which was fair enough as it WAS a Sunday.

The next half an hour was kinda like sitting in a Wong Kar Wai film – nothing made sense. Once we were seated at our table, the following things happened:

  • We were initially served by a stoned waiter; he literally threw down our chopsticks, bowls and napkins right in front of us in quick succession without blinking. Bangbangbangbangbangbangbang! WHOA!
  • It took us four tries to actually get chilli sauce and chilli oil. This was frustrating, not only because I cannot have my dumplings without chilli oil but one should also expect to see chilli sauce to be poured into a dipping dish when you are seated.
  • We asked the stoned waiter for zhaliang. He ignored us. We asked two different waitresses, both nodding their acknowledgements … but they did not bother writing the order down on our bill nor did we see them go into the kitchen to get the dish ready. Finally, we asked the roaming manager if we could order zhaliang. The first time, he PRETENDED NOT TO HEAR US. The second time, he did this irritated sigh and said something about having to “see if they’re ready yet.” And when Adam went, “huh?” the dude just snapped at him, “Wait for the kitchen to bring it out!” WTF? Wait for them to bring it out? Zhaliang is a dish that’s made to ORDER. In the end, we just gave up. I was really disappointed though because to me, yum cha isn’t yum cha without zhaliang.
  • The trolleys took way too long to circulate. We did not receive our fried dishes and we only saw one dumpling cart come around while the same cart containing fried fish cakes (!) circled our table three times.

In the end, we simply grabbed our stuff after only seven dishes and paid the bill (where a line of fellow disgruntled patrons were queuing). Okay, so the service was beyond crap. What was the food like? Well, here are some shots to start off with:

Ginger prawn dumplings
Har gow

Xiao Long Bao with no soup. Grr.

The food may have looked alright and probably would have tasted just so… had they been HOT rather than lukewarm. Sigh. The total bill was $48.10 (4 x $5.50 for the medium dishes + 3 x $6.50 for the large dishes + 3 x $2.20 for the tea). For the food quality and the appalling service – and not to mention the fact we were still hungry – it was a lot to pay for yum cha. I also had to laugh at Poasa when he said that although yum cha in Fiji is crap, it was miles ahead of what we had to experience at Dragon Boat. Dragon Boat may have changed its facade, but it was still skanky and ugly inside. Not recommended at all.

Because we were still hungry and because Poasa was still buzzing over the awesome xiaolongbaos he had at Hu Tong with his pals the other night, we decided to duck in there to continue our lunch. It was just after the lunch rush so we were able to score a table downstairs. And although Hu Tong is notorious for being inconsistent with their food quality and their service, they were brilliant this time around. Service with smiles (though the food did take a while to arrive) and the xiaolongbaos were AMAZING (we ordered two baskets).
Perfection in a bamboo steamer ($10.80 for a steamer of eight).

Eggplant with minced pork ($15.80), a random dish that we ordered. It was lovely though, the pork being not overly spicy but giving off a sizable amount of bite.

Yes, we ended up having two lunches. Sad, I know. At the end of the day, at least we all learnt never to go to Dragon Boat for yum cha again.

Okay, so that was a pretty crappy ending. But shush, contract assignment. Supercoach trades. The latest episode of (the new) 90210. Can’t blog no more for the night. Busy.

Dragon Boat on Urbanspoon

New Age Cafe

595 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9898 7388

After the conclusion of my church’s Easter presentation on Thursday night, Adam and I headed to Box Hill to find a place that was still open just after 9:30pm. I had been craving bibimbap from Yami Yami all day but unfortunately, they were shutting down early that night … as were many other places that would normally stay open until very late. The only places that were still open were a myriad of dumpling restaurants, any of which I was more than happy to duck into. Adam, however, was not at all keen on eating dumplings yet again and so we entered the only other option: New Age Cafe.

This joint has been around since my high school days. In fact, it was popular with the girls at my school who would often schmooze with their boys after school. Funnily enough, I never went there myself (I was too much of a ‘Shoppo Hanger’ which says a lot about me… heh). And while I am not overly fond of cha chaan teng cuisine, I wasn’t in the mood to argue with Adam and hey, I WAS kinda curious so in we went. We slipped in an empty booth, between a group of fobs who all seemed to have chosen pasta dishes. Looking at the 400+ item menu, it was obvious that one would not complain about the lack of variety nor the unoriginality of the dishes. From nasi goreng to ‘spaghetti with pan-fried lamb and pesto sauce’ to seafood udon with XO sauce, there was a dish to appeal to everyone.

Adam’s Hong Kong iced coffee ($3.30), which tasted a lot like Vietnamese iced coffee but lacked the depth and strength.

His pork chop with onion sauce  on rice ($8.80). Watching Adam attempt to eat his way through his food was pretty funny. He said that it was ‘something that [his] grandmother would cook up’, which was meant to serve as an insult. I took one bite and immediately winced. The bloody sauce was just so one-dimensional and … sickeningly salty. I would not have been surprised if they just used packeted gravy mix as the base and improvised the rest using whatever random ingredients they could grab. Horrible.

My green tea milkshake ($4.80) which tasted more like honey dew rather than green tea. Hm.

I chose the crispy fried egg noodles with seafood ($12) over all the pasta dishes which, judging by the uneaten plates of pasta on the adjacent table, seemed watery and bland. I probably would have been better off with a pasta dish though as the noodles weren’t anything to sing about. I also found it odd that New Age Cafe’s version included mussels which I had not seen elsewhere … and cooked bean shoots. Que?

Given our less than awesome meal, one must wonder what brings all the kids to the yard cafe. It’s definitely not the food, that’s for sure. And although I’d say that the prices are reasonable given the massive serving sizes, I’ve been told that the prices are pretty expensive for a cha chaan teng cafe. Perhaps it was good back then but not anymore. Who knows? Either way, I know I’ll be making Adam eat dumplings with me if we’re ever wandering around Box Hill late at night looking for something to eat!

Hako (revisited)

310 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9620 1881
http://www.hako.com.au/

Those in the Melbourne Foodie know-how would know EXACTLY what I’m referring to when I say “caterpillar prawns.”

Hako‘s famous ebi tempura (prawn tempura), arguably their signature dish.

Matt Preston once described this dish as “a pair of fat hairy caterpillars in the throes of passion; each prawn coated in a thousand golden strands of what looks like wispy kataifi pastry.” This was the dish that won me over when I had dinner at Hako a few years back and so I ordered it again the other night without missing a beat.

They were still charging $13.80 for the dish. They looked the same as they did two years ago and they certainly did taste just as good. The only difference between 2010 ebi tempura and 2008 ebi tempura was that the 2010 version was still oily, like they weren’t drained properly. In fact, the prawns were so oily that the square piece of paper was completely soaked in oil. Completely. Aside: Haha, I’ve noticed that the 2010 photo looks crappier than the 2008 photo, even though I took the 2010 photos with a much better camera. To my defence, the restaurant’s lighting has not changed (still completely dark, the only light source being a single candle on each table) and I was trying not to use the flash… I guess I still have a long way to go.

I stayed away from the sushi and sashimi dishes as I wasn’t extremely pleased with our sushi last time. I, however, could not resist ordering the ‘special’ Hiramasa kingfish carpaccio ($15.50) which happened to be the best thing I’ve ever had at Hako. Eight slices of cured kingfish + sexy ponzu, soy and sesame dressing + raw onions + tobiko, accompanied by two slices of lemon (unnecessary) = one hot momofuku. Yes, it even surpassed the legendary ebi tempura.

It goes without saying that the final dish would struggle to meet the high standards set by the carpaccio. I ordered something called a brie and mushroom croquette ($9.50) and expected, I dunno, two crunchy balls filled with goo. What I got was one single shell which enveloped crunchy crust. In it was something that tasted like that cheese mix you get when you order baked oysters at yum cha. Definitely an unusual way of presenting a ‘croquette’ but if I knew that it was going to come in a scallop shell and if I knew that it was going to taste as meh as this, I would have ordered something else.

For a meal that cost $38.80, I expected to be full but I was not. On paper, each individual dish sounded cheap but you do need to order four of them to really be full and that can add up to quite a bit. On the other hand, sharing the dishes around with a friend or two is a more cost-effective option as you’ll be paying less for trying more dishes. I’ll be back.

Half Moon Cafe

13 Victoria St
Coburg VIC 3058
+61 3 9350 2949

This ain’t a strong intro but seriously, the falafel at Half Moon Cafe in Coburg really ARE the best in town and I strongly implore you all to give them a try! Before I go on, let me just say that there is a restaurant in Brighton called Half Moon. THIS IS NOT A REVIEW OF HALF MOON, BRIGHTON but of HALF MOON CAFE, COBURG! Are we clear? Okay, then.

I very rarely venture all the way up Sydney Rd, but the fact that Adam and I were visiting our church’s Moreland branch on Sunday morning gave us an excuse to walk a few block ups from Moreland to suss out what the current edition of Cheap Eats declared as ‘some of the best falafel in town.’ An undistinguished cafe tucked between the library and several bakeries was our destination, with only the enormous number of patrons munching on falafel rolls on tables outside the cafe being the only obvious sign that we were in the right place. The wall menu reads like a typical kebab shop menu, but the focus is obviously on owner Nabil Hassan’s falafel rather than meat dishes. In fact, there were only about a handful of meat dishes that one could choose from. Adam was keen to try a meat plate so that he could make comparisons to the ‘meal of the day’ plate that we so dearly love over at Footscray Best Kebab but I stood by my decision to go all falafel.

Adam’s ‘mix of two dishes’ ($14) where you were asked what sort of meat you’d like with your salad, pita bread and dips. Adam opted for the lamb and the kofte (which were also made with lamb – clearly he chooses things poorly). We both loved the interesting array of salad items, which was a refreshing change to the usual garden salad items that we normally get elsewhere. Loved the olives, the pickles and the fetta cheese cubes in particular as well as the hummus, the babaghanoush and the cacik dips. Having said all that, I couldn’t honestly say that this was the best meat plate we’ve had. The meat was not as succulent nor tasty as the ones dished up by the bloke at Footscray Best Kebab and quite frankly, nothing beats warm Turkish bread. Not even good quality pita.

My ‘Half Moon’ ($6), probably the most popular item on the menu if the number of people ordering this roll was anything to go by. It was pretty much a vegetarian’s dream: a toasted pita roll filled with lettuce, rocket, tabouli, chick peas, hummus, yoghurt, tahini, black olives and pickles…

… and OMG, THE. BEST. FALAFEL. EVER. Three pieces, gently smashed with a fork, all in one roll. Oh, the joy! And I can’t believe how cheap it was too. Apparently the falafel here are not your usual chickpea variety but rather, made with fava (broad) beans a la Egyptian-style. This gives it a more crunchy exterior and a more subtle taste. Delicious! Something that even Shinedown’s man on the moon would reappear for.

It is plain obvious that I will be back for more falafel (a bag of three costs only $2). I’ve been told that eating too many broad beans isn’t good for one’s health but if they can be made into falafel that taste THIS good, then stuff the health warning!

Half Moon Café on Urbanspoon

Thanh Dat

Cnr Buckingham & Windsor Avenues
Springvale VIC 3171
+61 3 9540 8389

As a Christian, Good Friday is a very important day for me and my family. Our Easter weekends are a time of rest, of cleaning and of thinking rather than boozing, partying and hooning around. Nevertheless, there were five hungry mouths to fill in our household and a half-empty fridge so when mum announced that she was heading off to Springvale for lunch and for grocery-shopping, I decided to tag along.

Lunch was at Thanh Dat, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s been a favourite of ours for many, many years. I remember countless Sunday afternoons slurping on a comforting bowl of rice noodle soup with seafood, pretty much the only thing I would order while everyone else had the tomato rice with beef. I decided that today was a good day as any to order this familiar dish. I wanted to see if it was still good after all these days. And although I am not a Roman Catholic, I always abstain from eating red meat on Good Friday so the seafood noodle soup was an extremely apt lunch choice.

The price of the no.21 has not changed much in ten years (from $8 to $9). It certainly looked inviting and the portion size, generous. The taste, unfortunately, has changed immensely. Rather than a sweet and almost peppery-tasting broth punctured with  the distinct taste of coriander seeds and the odd cashew nut, the soup was as plain as an Amish housewife. Heck, it could have been just water and salt for all I know. Thus, it’s no wonder why I did not slurp the last dregs of my noodle soup like I normally do. Instead, I just ate whatever seafood and noodles I could clumsily pick up with my chopsticks and left the soup bowl half-full with the pathetic-tasting thing they called “broth.”

I will not come back again.

Ha, I bet you were expecting me to write about hot cross buns, fish and chips or Easter eggs, right?!

On that note, have a very Happy Easter, folks! Hopefully with more time spent at home this weekend, I’ll be able to post the 3-4 reviews of places I went to this week that are just DYING to be published.

Nobu (lunch)

Crown Casino
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9696 6566
http://www.noburestaurants.com/

My 2009/10 edition of The Entertainment Book was about to expire and the 25% off the bill offer for Nobu was just crying to be used. Despite my less-than-WOW experience at Nobu last year and despite my promise not to return again, I somehow ended up back there again over the weekend. This time, for lunch. Like most other Crown restaurants, Nobu offers a two-course set lunch for $45. Combined with a 25% discount, one can’t really go wrong even if the food quality fluctuates as much as RIO’s share price. Plus, I figured that lunch at Nobu would be a different experience to dinner.

With Jan and Jo in tow, we braved the footy, the International Flower & Garden and Grand Pricks Grohnnn Preee crowds to make it to our 1pm lunch booking. We were free to choose two courses from the extensive a la carte menu except that most of the decent-sounding mains that we wanted to try were marked with an asterisk, meaning that they were excluded from the lunch offer. Eventually, the three of us decided to forgo the lunch special and just get the $45 bento lunch box each.

Prior to the bento box arriving, we each received a bowl of miso soup. Unfortunately, I could not find any photos of the miso soup but pffft I’m sure we ALL know what miso soup tastes like, right?! It was pretty much the same as any other miso soup but, I dunno, somehow grittier-tasting in a good way?

Even though a $45 bento box is by no means cheap, I still expected one single box that was as big as the Good Food Guide. Hence, you can sort of imagine how shocked I was when two waiters came bearing two long-arse boxes for the EACH OF US! How’s THAT for a bento box… or should I say BOXES? Starting clockwise from top left, I will now discuss each compartment in turn (I promise I’ll try to make it short and painless):

Sashimi salad with Matsuhisa dressing: three slices of barely-seared salmon were snugly nestled on a bed of greens accompanied by shredded daikon and carrots. I really liked the soy-based sauce was wasn’t overly salty and had a lovely hint of nuttiness thanks to the addition of sesame oil and mustard.

Assorted sushi: From L-R – maguro (tuna), (hiramasa) yellow tail kingfish and ebi (cooked prawn), followed by three little pieces of toro toro negi sushi (tuna belly and spring onion sushi). I wasn’t expecting much from Nobu’s sushi so I was pleasantly surprised to taste how fresh they were. Okay, so nowhere near as fresh as Shoya but well above average, that’s for sure.

Baby tiger prawn tempura with ponzu: The first thing I noticed about this dish was that THEY BLOODY POURED THE PONZU DRESSING ALL OVER THE PRAWNS INSTEAD OF THE ROCKET AND ENDIVE SALAD! Of course, this made the prawns extremely soggy which would have naturally provoked a volcanic reaction from me. Luckily for Nobu, the ponzu sauce was so lovely that I restrained myself and ate my dish, soggy prawns and all.

Black cod with miso with oshitashi (spinach with roasted sesame): Nobu’s signature dish and one that every person who walks into Nobu MUST order. Not ordering it would be like ordering a Hawaiian pizza but without the ham or the pineapple (though what kind of person would order a Hawaiian to begin with… anyway…). I loved the dish the first time I went to Nobu and my love for the beautifully silky and buttery cod certainly did not wane. Love, love, LOVE IT!

Finally, we have the spicy garlic vegetables with rice. I can honestly say that after tasting such wonderful dishes, this one was a bit of a let-down. The sauce tasted vaguely like kim chi which was already a minus-one for me (not a fan of that stuff) but the fact that it was something that I could find at a suburban shopping centre food court made it a complete fail. On the other hand, I guess I could say that the rice was uh, filling.

All up it was $135 but we brought it down to just over $101, making it a very affordable $33.75 per head. We were so full that we could not fit dessert in even if we tried – a far cry from my last visit to Nobu which left me hungry still that I had to go elsewhere for a plate of dumplings. This lunch alone was enough for me to restore my faith in Nobu, perhaps as a lunch venue but the jury’s out on whether I’ll be back for dinner.

Nobu on Urbanspoon

Event: Cumulus Inc’s Oyster Masterclass

45 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 1445
http://www.cumulusinc.com.au/

March is one of my favourite time of the year, not because AFL season is about to rev up and not because I love going out of my way to find a deliciously crunchy-looking leaf to step on but because the Melbourne Food and Wine festival comes to town. I would normally be on the phone at this time, trying to score some tables for the express lunches that a lot of top restaurants are offering. Unfortunately, I was not able to squeeze in even one lunch this year due to work and uni commitments. Thankfully, I was able to fit in Cumulus Inc’s Annual Oyster Master Class night which Linda, Dave and I attended on Tuesday night. We paid $75 each for the privilege of listening to Steve Feletti from the Moonlight Flat Oysterage talk to us about all things oyster, from production trends to the art affinage (finishing), which made for an interesting evening. I would like to spend the next few hundred words or so extolling the Master Class but first, dinner.

So I met Dave at Cumulus Inc for dinner prior to the class. He, having arrived early, was already in the finishing stages of his grilled veal backstrap with green bean salad, anchovy dressing and glazed shallots so unfortunately I didn’t get to try any of it. My attempts to order the roast quail with turnips, dukkah, purslane and pomegranate backfired when I was told that they had run out of quail so I frantically chose something random from the menu … the mustard-crumbed pigs’ tail, garlic snails, pickled shallots and watercress.

Okay, so the dish may have had some “weird” ingredients but it wasn’t actually all that bad. The pig’s tails (divided into three perfect, crunchy cylinders) consisted of shreds of tender meat, which had a slightly less gelatinous texture to that of an ox tail. It was coated in a crispy, crunchy crumb coating similar to that of a schnitzel. The garlic snails, which were slightly tougher than mussels but  had a more subtle taste, added a lovely textural contrast to the dish. There were bits of congealed fat tissues in the tails which I refused to eat as I hate the texture but apart from that, it was a successful dish.

Dave ordered a plate of lemon curd madeleines ($2.50 each) for us to share. They were as good as I remember though Dave reckoned the lemon curd this time around was not as creamy as last time. On that note, I would like to once again thank Dave for shouting me dinner *big smile*

Having finished our dinner just after 6pm, the scheduled start time for the class, we hurried to the adjacent Arc One gallery where tables and chairs were set up for the guests.

We started off with a glass of Henriques & Henriques Monte Seco Extra Dry which was a crisp, light , citrus-y and very fun dry aperitif to kick off proceedings – I likened it to Jessica Wakefield in a bottle (without the whoreish tendencies).

We drank it with smoked eel and parsnip on skewers, which were marinated in some sort of smoky, miso sauce. Delicious.

We also nibbled on slices of bread and raw radishes, the latter being a bit of a WTF choice according to most of our table.

Olives were also provided to snack on while Steve did his talk.

We each got to keep a shucking knife. I will never have to buy pre-shucked oysters ever again!

After Steve’s talk, we were all given a plate of ten different oysters. Starting from the lemon and moving clockwise, we were advised to taste each oyster, try to get a feel for it and try to guess what sort of oyster they were. I was hoping that Steve would actually tell us the names of each oyster at the end of the session but he was happy to just wander around each table and give hints (but not answers to all ten of them, dammit!). So yes, the names of the oysters are the product of our eavesdropping Steve as he went around to each table combined with my own research, hence why they may/may not be 100% accurate. Please feel free to correct if you notice any obvious mistakes.

From the crispy, breezy pacific oyster from Coffin Bay to the creamy, buttery texture of the Petit Clair de Lune, we all learnt that seasonal influences, different production methods, water temperature and location can significant alter the oyster’s shape, taste and texture. I couldn’t decide which oyster I liked best: the Rusty Wire (“best of the day” oyster), which was initially salty and slightly acidic on the tongue before the fleshy scallop-like sweetness hits you, or the Moonlight Flat Angasi, a not-so-plump bivalve with a flesh that had a subtle honey taste.

Accompanying our oysters were three more drinks: a bold Domaine Bernard Defaix 1er Cru Les Les Vaillons Chablie 2008, a bone-dry Oakridge Blanc de Blanc 2006 (Chardonnay) and a toasty Coopers Extra Stout.  To me, the last drink initially sounded a bit WTF especially in the context of pairing drinks up with oysters. It was then explained to us, though, that oysters used to be eaten as tavern fare, accompanied by stout. So there you go. I’m not a fan of stout on its own but it went extremely well with the oysters. The other drinks did too as a matter of fact but I think my favourite was the Chablis. Dave made a remark on how it smelt like something he had at Hako (?!) and indeed, it smelt a LOT like mirin but I really enjoyed the sexy, spicy, intense taste which I likened it to drinking cinnamon-flavoured latte in Winter.

Giving new meaning to the term “food pr0n.”

I love Dave’s tasting notes:

LOL.

After Steve’s presentation, we were free to roam around the gallery to look at the art works on display as we finished our drinks. There was also a table where we were free to practise shucking oysters with our new knifes under the guidance of Cumulus Inc chef, Andrew McConnell and his friendly assistants. According to Steve, the secret to getting those pesky little things to open was to wiggle your knife at the opening rather than stab at it (or you risk hospitalisation). Once you hear a ‘pop’, you’re pretty much done. Much more easier said than done.

Pop a napkin over it for extra grip.

It took me a while to get the shell to open but I surprised myself by managing to shuck it successfully (and glowed when one of Andrew’s assistants called me a “pro”). Steamed oysters with ginger and soy at my place this Winter, anyone?

Linda gives shucking a go.

Hahaha oh, Dave…

The girls with Andrew McConnell.

We all agreed it was a marvellous night (though Dave and Linda did comment on how draining it was listening some of Steve’s explanations on production methods). If you’re planning to go next year, I would strongly advise you to have a nibble beforehand as the oysters will not fill you up. I highly recommend it for any oyster fiends – a very informative and entertaining session. A word of warning though: you will never go back to pre-shucked oysters ever again!

Roundhouse Roti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundhouse Roti on Urbanspoon

Chatterbox

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

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

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

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

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

Uzu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uzu on Urbanspoon