The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Cafe Vue (revisited)

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

1. Wheehehehe! I’m done with uni for the year! I sat my crim law B exam this morning but it wasn’t without its dramas.

2. My original intention was to take the bus into the city and then take the train to Caulfield where my exam was to be held. Last night, though, my dad offered to drive me to Huntingdale seeing as he would be passing the area on the way to work and so I could just hop on a train there, thus saving me time. That was cool with me, so at 7:15am we left the house, arriving at Huntingdale at 7:45am. Just as I was about to hop out of the car though, the news chick on the radio informed of some accident on the Pakenham/Cranbourne line – apparently some effing moron managed to get himself tangled onto a train, either by crossing the level crossing when he was NOT SUPPOSED to or by failing to stand behind the yellow line. Because of this, all trains weren’t running from Oakleigh to Murrumbeena and so there were more than a few commuters miling around at Huntingdale waiting for the bus that goes from Rowville to Caulfield. I was lucky to manage to hop on a bus that would actually fit me in to take me to Caulfield early enough for me to grab a coffee at chill out, but apparently others weren’t – and they took about 2 hours to commute to the city. Ouch. Thank fck for my habit of rocking up to exam venues early, otherwise I would have been totally screwed.

3. Although reading time was supposed to start at 9:30am, the doors didn’t open until 9:40am. And of course, we had to wait for the exam invigilators to hand everyone their papers one-by-one. I dunno why Monash don’t follow Melbourne and La Trobe’s leads by actually placing the paper on the students’ desks BEFORE THEY OPEN THE DOORS so that the exam papers are ready for us as soon as we sit down. Seriously, it would save a lot of time and it’ll avoid anals like getting grumpy.

4. The exam itself wasn’t bad. It was worth a hefty 90% (because I didn’t submit the optional 30% assignment) and 3 hours long. While I reckon I did well in the case section (60% of final mark), I wasn’t so sure about my policy essay (30%). I don’t remember much about the essay except that I pretty much gave up writing full sentences not even a paragraph into it and ended writing messy doing dot points instead. Sigh. Let’s hope I pass though. Then I don’t have to worry about crim law for the rest of my life.

5. Lunch time! Although my last visit to Cafe Vue left me grumpy, Adam was keen on trying the burger so it was with somewhat great reluctance that I went there for lunch. It was after 2pm when we walked in and the place was half-empty, which was a good sign, and indeed today’s experience was MUCH better than the last time. Adam declared his burger to be better than Rockpool‘s one and while my chicken and porcini mushroom pie ($9) could have done with a flakier pastry, the filling consisting of chicken breast chunks and a porcini paste went down a treat with a glass of Cooper’s Light.

Hot pie, salad and beer on a hot, hot day.

Love it.

6. Cafe Vue currently hold cocktail nights every Friday from 6:30pm ($75 per person gives you 5 different cocktails with matching finger foods) and Vue de Monde offer a $55-70 lunch Tuesday to Fridays. Let me know if anyone wants to come with me after I get back from Indonesia!

7. I can’t believe I’m flying off to Indonesia Saturday week. Gotta get my suitcase filled, stat. I will only need a limited number of clothes (our clothes will get washed pretty much every day thanks to the live-in maids at my relatives’ houses) and will fill the rest of my luggage up with cameras, Macbook and lots and lots of books.

8. I was intending to organise a team for trivia night at one of the city pubs this year but sadly, I never got around to doing it. Sigh. Next year, for reals.

9. Apart from the WTF threesome in this week’s episode, I think the best Gossip Girl episodes are the ones that involve a cotillion.

Golden House

760 Toorak Rd
Hawthorn East VIC 3123
+61 3 9822 3100

Adam’s mum’s birthday. Another effing Chinese place that needed to be found, this time something different from the Cantonese and Northern Chinese sit-down restaurants that we normally frequent in the city. My workmate George told me of this all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant in Hawthorn East where $20 per head gets you all the hot pot ingredients on offer and all the hot entrees (dumplings, spring onion pancakes etc) available – plus two free drinks which you can grab from the fridge (a variety of soft drink cans, bottled teas and soy bean drinks). Then for an extra $5 per head, they throw in Peking Duck too. This sounded pretty good to us so last night after work, we drove down to Golden House on Toorak Road.

Located halfway between Coles HQ and rows of million-dollar townhouses, this is the last one that one would find a hot pot restaurant. If it weren’t for the tacky gold-painted house-cum-restaurant flashing its neon signs at motorists and the hoards of fobs surrounding the premises, we probably would have missed it.

Walking into the restaurant, it is even more obvious that it used to be the living quarters of someone. It’s very similar to Jacques Reymond in structure in that each room was a separate dining area, the main one being right in the middle of the house which also housed the fridges and buffet station where we were to get our food. Our original plan was for Adam and I to get the $25 hot pot plus Peking duck option while Adam’s parents got the $20 no duck option seeing as they’re not big fans. We were told, however, that either everyone on the table had to get it or no one gets it. In the end, we all ended up getting it so we handed over our $100 before walking to our table.

Let me tell you now that this place is NOT gweilo-friendly. All the signs are in Chinese and all the waiters speak Chinese. I lost count of how many times I was spoken to in Mandarin before telling them that “I no speak Chinese.” You’d think that they’d immediately revert to English after they heard that, but they simply looked at me confused before frantically looking around for help. Sigh. Thank goodness for Adam’s parents’ ability to speak Mandarin though.

Our hot pot stove, divided into our choices of “normal” soup and “hot” soup.

A variety of raw meats, seafood, vegetables and tofu. Most of the offerings were frozen and similar to what any hot pot place would offer.

Pork buns (they were awful – too salty) and xiao long baos (they had no soup in them).

They had doughtsticks! (sadly, they were the most bland ones I’ve ever had the misfortune of trying)

Peking Duck. I have to admit that Golden House made an alright Peking duck for the price we paid. The best thing was that we could order as much as we want which was even better. The duck was neither dry or oily, and they were good with cutting off the yucky layer of fat underneath the skins which lots of restaurants don’t bother with. Thumbs down, though, for the way they just dolloped the sauce all over the cucumber and spring onions.

There were many things that ruined what could have been a decent night for me. Firstly, the fact that no one there spoke English was appalling. One would think that anyone working in Australia, particularly in a customer-facing role, would have SOME grasp of the English language. Secondly, the place was a mess. I lost count of how many health safety breaches were present in one night alone – sticky carpets, chairs covered in a film of chilli and grease, cooked roast ducks hanging RIGHT NEXT TO uncooked ones, plus Adam and I failed to remember if the buffet station was actually refrigerated or not which, in itself, is a bit worrying. If I wanted to kill my work’s OH&S officer, Mary-Ellen, I would definitely take her here (I don’t have a reason to kill her though… she’s lovely). Thirdly, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted when I saw fobs greedily grabbing plates of meat at the buffet station – like they thought they would run out or something – only to leave the establishment without even finishing the 10 billion plates of raw meat still on their tables which, of course, went to waste. I’m one of those people who HATE the thought of wasting food, particularly meat products, so naturally I was raging inside.

Given our experience, it’s doubtful that I’d go here again. Indeed, Golden House offers pretty much the same thing as most other hot pot places but they take it a step further by introducing the buffet format which is popular among Asians. Plus, the addition of hot entrees and cold drinks also makes this place a good-value option for dinner when you can’t be bothered cooking hot pot at home. Adam and I may have hated it, but the parentals LOVED it. In fact, Adam’s mum went so far to say that it was the best restaurant we have taken her to (?!?!) *facepalms*

And if you need more convincing as to how popular this place is, you only need to look at the many mini-buses of tourists from Mainland China that arrived at this place during the evening…

Bebida

325 Smith Street
Fitzroy VIC 3065
+61 3 9419 5260
http://www.bebida.com.au/

Jen‘s been waxing lyrical about Cafe Beelzebub which apparently serves not only the best coffee on Smith Street, Fitzroy but awesome food to boot. So when Adam told me that he finished work at 10am today, I decided to drag him along Smith St for a bit of a walk towards the factory outlet end to try out this place. Having checked on the net to see if they were open (yes, at 8:00am on most days according to google), we figured that a 10:30am brunch would be an ideal time to get some food into my stomach after running around Monash with nothing in my stomach. Unfortunately, Cafe Beelzebub was closed when we arrived, showing no signs of life apart from one guy mopping the floors. He saw us peering into the window before mouthing to us that he wasn’t opening for another hour or something like that. Booo. Sif not open for brunch at 10:30am. Yeah effing right!

Feeling slightly dejected, we walked back to where we came from before deciding to eat at a funky-looking cafe not too far from Beelzebub, Bebida. Now, I’ve seen the place being mentioned in Cheap Eats so I figured that this was a good alternative.

Grabbing a copy of The Age (what else?! I mean, we are in Fitzroy after all), we settled at a table right by the open window so that we could grab some sunshine while we ate. Bebida offers a tapas menu for both lunch and dinner, along with a reasonable drinks list. They also offer a separate breakfast menu, though, for the early starters. For some reason, Adam decided that he wanted the pasta dish on the specials menu. Yeah, pasta. At 10:40am. Surprisingly, though, the bar dude did not even blink when Adam ordered the pasta dish.

My cafe latte ($3.30), made from Atomica coffee beans. It was surprisingly smooth and its texture as light as a feather. It wasn’t bad tasting too.

Adam’s sweet potato gnocchi with chorizo, eggplant and spicy tomatoes ($12.50). Yep, Adam has a penchant for ordering such weird things. I never order gnocchi at restaurants. And I certainly don’t order things with sweet potato in it (not a huge fan) but I was pleasantly surprised at how good this dish was when I stole a forkful. The gnocchi was sweet as can be expected but its sweetness was counterbalanced by the spicy sauce and the saltiness of the chorizo and the fluffy ricotta clouds. The dish, strangely rustic and comforting yet vivacious at the same time, also seemed to be saying to me, “Hellloooo Summer, I’m almost ready for you but first let me revel in Winter one more time.”

My breakfast pide ($10). How’s this for an awesome breakfast? Crispy bacon streaks, melted mozzarella cheese, homemade pesto (with parmesan, cashews, basil, coriander and pinenuts, no less!) in a toasted pide roll. And to top it off, a just-poached free range egg with its yolk oozing out at the slightest prod of a fork. Exactly what I needed.

$25.80 for the two of us kept us not just happy but completely full for the rest of the day (my next meal was not until dinner time at 6:30pm). We were so happy with our breakfast that we are definitely keen to come back to try their tapas menu accompanied by a jug of Sangria when the weather gets a bit warmer. Ahhh *cue Lou Reed now* We might have been bummed about not getting to try Cafe Beelzebub but if it weren’t for the fact that they were closed, we would have never stumbled upon Bebida. And that would have been a real shame.

In other news:

-Adam, being the old man he is, decided that he was tired after brunch so he left to go home while I went to the city library to get some reading done before going to Borders to get started on the new Dan Brown book (I certainly wasn’t going to buy it in hardcover). I figured that I may as well stay in the city so that I could rock up to Body Balance at 4:30pm as it’s been a while since I’ve been to a class.

-I have 12 days to learn everything there is to know about criminal law. Okay, not everything – we did homicide last semester – but close enough. This is going to be fun – no, I’m serious… given the nightmare that has been Research And Writing, ANY OTHER SUBJECT will be a fun house compared to RAW.

-I’m going to be home pretty much all weekend. No races for me. No biggie, since I still can’t work out what’s so fun about spending $50 to go into a venue to watch a bunch of horses run around. If I did go to one race day event, I know I’ll spend the majority of my time with my nose in a book… which sorta defeats the purpose of going there in the first place.

-Gossip Girl is becoming ridiculous and sucky. While I’m liking season three Chuck, Blair is starting to piss me off.  So’s Serena. So’s Jenny’s hobo outfits. And Dan’s penchant for fugly brown clothes. I’m saddened to say that I’m only watching it now out of habit.

-It’s been a while since I stepped foot in Borders and suddenly, all these new awesome books are there. ZOMG, WANT!

Coda

141 Flinders La
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9650 3155
http://www.codarestaurant.com.au/

Coda (n): finale; the closing section of a musical composition.

When I first heard that acclaimed chef Adam D’Sylva was to open up a bar-slash-restaurant and call it ‘Coda’ I thought the term, familiar to those who studied music, was fitting. Having had stints at various locations including Longrain and Pearl, I figured that opening up his very own eatery in Flinders Lane with the aforementioned name as a big finale to his years of taking orders from restaurant owners seemed appropriate. So when I heard that the reason why D’Sylva chose the name Coda for his restaurant was due to a less profound reason – because he was a Led Zeppelin fan who liked their ninth album – I was amused to say the least.

Although it’s been barely a year since the place opened, it has managed to ensure a steady stream of patrons as well as casually picked up one chef’s hat in the latest Good Food Guide. Given that D’Sylva has also managed to recruit a power team of staff to run the restaurant (including a few from Taxi, one from Pearl and one from MoVida), it is no wonder why this place is oh-so-hot right now. Heck, I tried to make a Friday night booking in August only to be told that the next available Friday night session that they were able to sit me in was in November! Their lunch sessions, however, aren’t as busy so if you would like to have a Sunday lunch there, you may be a little bit luckier.

With its entrance just off Oliver Lane, Coda can be best described as a cross between Rufus Humphrey’s loft in Brooklyn and a Soho bar. It’s got that understated grungy, arty, warehouse thing happening which is what Melburnians LOVE at the moment… but as Larissa Dubecki said in her review in The Age, it probably cost a fortune to set up (so true). The warehouse consists of a spacious bar section with a surprisingly smaller section for the proper restaurant. And despite the fact that the place seemed dark when we walked in, a pleasant stream of sunshine shone through the glass windows overlooking our table so that I could actually take some photos. Lovely. Another thing I’d like to mention here, in this “cool” and “hip” eatery was that they were playing all of Elton John’s hits throughout lunch which I thought was a strange choice…

With a lemon-lime-bitters in hand ($3. Yep, no alcohol for me), I scanned the menu which was divided into small and big plates. Although Coda is supposed to be a French-Asian fusion restaurant according to pundits, I was perplexed to see that nothing on the menu sounded ‘fusion-y’. Instead, blatant Asian dishes dominated alongside French classics such as steak bernaise. Somewhat amused and a little bit confuzzled, I decided to go ahead with ordering a few little dishes and one big one to share with Adam.

Spanner crab, galangal, roasted chilli and lime betel leaf ($5.80 each, we ordered one each). Clearly drawing inspiration from his Longrain days, D’Sylva managed to successfully evoke balmy South East Asian nights into one little dish. So juicy, so tangy, so fresh was the crab mixture with the crunchy fried shallots creating a wonderful contrast of textures. Eating this reminded me of warm Summer nights, bring it on!
Roasted Spring Bay scallop, pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon caviar ($6 each, we ordered two each). On paper, this sounds like one helluva dish. Upon being presented this dish, I couldn’t help but go ‘wow’ over it. I mean, look how pretty it looks! When I tasted though, sparks failed to ignite. The yellow champagne-infused sabayon sauce that covered each scallop flesh was supposed to be light to draw out the natural sweetness of the scallops … but I felt that it was TOO light. Thank goodness, then, for the salmon caviar to give the dish a much needed saltiness and the tapioca pearls lurking underneath all that yellow to give it some textural excitement. They saved the dish from becoming a disaster but not enough for me to order it again. As for the scallops? They were about the size of a ten cent coin. Enough said.

Blackened quail, daikon and shiso salad ($7 each, we ordered one to share). Given that I don’t really have a wide range of comparison when it comes to eating quail (99% of them have been eaten at Chinese restaurants, roasted), the fact that I enjoyed this dish should really be taken with a grain of salt. Marinated in a stickly sweet mixture of soy, mirin and sake, the quail was plump and surprisingly tender. A pleasure to eat. But then again, I ain’t no quail connoisseur.

Coda roll: crisp parcel of bone marrow, ginger, shitake mushroom and rice paddy herb ($8.80 each, we ordered one to share). This was one of the very few ‘fusion’ items on the menu and arguably Coda’s ‘signature dish’ so I was keen to see what the fuss about. Imagine my surprise, however, when Adam had first bite of the spring roll… only to recoil in horror before giving me the rest of it. At first bite, I thought it tasted well… odd. Very similar to one of those giant spring rolls that one would buy at the local fish and chip shop but with the heady aroma of the shitake mushrooms. I also thought that the white pepper and lemon sauce that went with the roll was weird too but after about two more bites, I actually started to like it just a little bit. It was smooth and rich, yet playful and zesty at the same time. And like the current Body Combat release playing at my gym, it was a bit of an acquired taste yet nothing that I would cry over if it was taken off the play list.

Steak tartare, quail egg, mustard cress and caper melba toasts ($18). We left Asia for a while and stopped in France for a brief intermission. A very generous serving of steak tartare was next on the order of events, the marinade was much lighter than the one I had at Bistro Guillaume too but not lacking in flavour. A decent version though I do have to whinge about the tartare to melba toasts ratio though – there was not enough toast to eat the steak tartare with, even if I made a pile of meat the size of Angkor Wat on each piece of toast.

Western Plains suckling pig terrine ($18). This was probably the dish that would probably make me not want to come here again. Thinking that it sounded so cool, we decided to give it a go. I had no idea what to expect although for some reason, the ‘suckling pig’ in the dish’s name let me to think that there would be bits of crispy pork skin in this dish. I dunno. Or a terrine roll, cut into a generous number of slices. With pork skin in them. So when a black plate of three slices of ‘cha’ (coldcuts of pork served in Vietnamese pork rolls), I was like ‘.’ Fair enough, I guess it would be fair to call it a terrine but when one can easily purchase a pork roll for $3 at any odd banh mi stall in Springvale or Richmond and a place like Coda is charging $18 for EXACTLY the same thing you’d find in such pork rolls, my blood starts to boil. Granted, the terrines at Coda were a little bit lighter in taste and sweeter … but not by much. Tres disappointment.

Sizzling plate of prawns, roasted chilli, King brown mushrooms, fresh green peppercorns and Thai basil ($34), with a side of Jasmine rice ($5). Our one large dish which was enough to make us both full at the end. The sizzling plate hosted a festival of colours and flavours. There may have only been six prawns in this dish but thank goodness they were big prawns or I would have gone nuts. This dish, both fragrant and spicy, would have been a wonderful one… had it been, well, less flavourful. It had way too much flavour in it that I had to keep downing glasses of water to nurse my parching throat. Thank goodness, too, for the bowl of rice nearby to mop up all the sauce or I would have had a hard time trying to eat this thing. Whether D’Sylva was trying to pack in his entire repertoire from Pearl into one single dish or whether one of his minions accidentally put double the amount of salty soy sauce into this dish, I will never know.

Coconut and pandan tapioca pudding, seasonal fruit and ruby grapefruit and ginger sorbet ($14.80). Although their dessert menu was very limited, I had to admit that some of the offerings looked appealing so I chose to share one of the lighter-sounding ones with Adam. The pudding was not dissimilar in texture to that of a tau foo fa which was bogged down by a mass of fresh fruits including sweet pineapples, grapefruit, strawberries and blueberries. A light and tangy grapefruit and ginger sorbet capped off the performance along with a sprig of Vietnamese mint and a clear sugar snap. Probably one of the better desserts I’ve had in a long, long time.

We left the place about $144.20 lighter … and confused. As you may attest from this review, there were some low notes amongst the high ones. And while the team at Coda are certainly capable of doing special things, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. There were just some things that pissed me off during the meal which culminated to a musical fade the minute the bill arrived in a clay canister. It could have been the sloppy service (the lady who greeted us then ignored us for 15 minutes while she went to chat to a friend who had just walked into the restaurant). It could have been the fact that there were some things on the menu that were readily available at less-than-fancy eateries in Box Hill and Richmond that were being charged three-four times higher than normal at Coda (eg. ONE Hanoi spring roll was $6 at Coda, as opposed to four for $8-9 at Tien Dat in Box Hill). Or it could have been because some dishes were overly ambitious in that they sounded good on paper yet failed to deliver spectacularly when it came to the final test. What annoyed me the most, I reckon, was that the chefs at Pearl and Longrain were able to put their own spin on Asian cuisine successfully without losing much of its charm. In contrast, there were some moments where I felt that the team at Coda just tried a bit too hard to be ‘different’ from Longrain, Pearl, Gingerboy et al, that their food just appeared too overdone for my liking. Just like what Puff Daddy did to ‘Kashmir’ back in 1998.

Coda on Urbanspoon

Koko

Crown Casino
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9292 6886
http://www.kokoatcrown.com.au/

So, it may be week 13 of semester (at least I think it’s week 13. I don’t know, I’m hardly ever on campus) but my lecturers held their last classes last week so I did not have a valid reason to be in Clayton today. After picking Adam up from work (and meeting a few of his more flamboyant workmates at the East Melbourne store), we hopped on the city circle and trammed all the way from La Trobe Street to Crown. It took us effing thirty minutes – time better spent walking there, in my opinion but 1) Adam is a lazy fck and 2) Adam is a cheap fck who doesn’t want to buy another tram ticket. Anyway, the place that we were heading to, Koko, was probably the first “proper” fine dining restaurant I’ve been to. The year was 1999: I had just met Aaron and Chris Nolan for the first time, we had watched Austin Powers 2, ICQ was sooo in and despite being in yr.9 at an all-girls private school with the Blairs and Serenas of the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the thought of having to pay more than $50 per head for sushi did my head in. Little did I know, back then, that I would one day think nothing of paying double that much for awesome sushi.

Located at Crown Towers, Koko has been around since the day the casino opened. The head chef Allan Koh might be Chinese-Malaysian (which to many people, means that because he ISN’T Japanese then his food must suck), but that has not stopped Koko appearing in consecutive editions of The Good Food Guide thanks to his creative approach to Japanese cooking. A popular destination for Louis Vuitton-toting Asian tourists, it has proudly cemented its position as THE premier Japanese restaurant at the casino. That was, until Nobu opened downstairs with much fanfare. With the opening of Nobu, people have wondered whether Koko would survive but I think the fact that it’s still drawing in a decent crowd during Thursday lunches is a testament to what they can do. Mind you, I actually hated the place back in yr.9. I thought the sushi was “not bad, but not worth $50″ and I was still hungry afterward, so I happily ran off to Maccas to fill my stomach up. Curious to see if anything has changed, I picked this place for lunch today.

Stepping through the rock pool, located in the middle of the room (haha, rock pool!), we were shown to a table by the window which was a plus one for me (yay for natural lighting!). We were given the a la carte menu (teppanyaki is also available on a separate menu) and informed of the $42 two-course lunch special where you could use anything off the a la carte menu except for the ones marked with an asterisk (usually high-end dishes such as lobster, foie gras etc), plus you got a bowl of miso and steamed rice. That sounded good to us, so off we went.

Iced water to start us off. I also ordered a glass of ‘Tsunami‘ ($8.50) which was a fizzy sake-based iced drink flavoured with lychees. Exactly what I needed on a warm day like today.

An amuse bouche of pickled octopus with cumber and bonito. A light refreshing morsel to start off the proceedings (though I did find the octopus a little on the soft side…).

Adam’s entree: hotate misoyaki. Three grilled scallops rested on an, in my opinion, overly excessive bed of sea salts. They looked like they were doused in some cheese sauce (i.e. a homage to those cheesy oysters at yum cha, I thought) but the yellow sauce was actually a sweet miso mustard sauce which heightened the naturally sweet flavour of the scallops. I don’t normally go for sweet dishes, but I thought this one was pretty good.
My entree: gyuniku tataki. I received a generous serving of seared beef fillets topped with a strong yuzu kosho dressing. On one hand, I liked the wonderful peppery and tangy dressing which pwns all over the one that was used to dress Nobu’s version of the tataki but on the other hand, I did feel that it was a smidgen too strong for the delicate beef which was already flavoursome on its own.

You may be wondering why the photos are looking a bit ‘shady.’ I take back what I said about sitting by the window. At this stage, the sun was directly facing us which made photo-taking pretty much impossible. And I didn’t bring my UV filter either. Efffffff…

“Oh noes, BHP’s share price is going down! AAAAAAAAARGH!”


Adam’s main: wagyu yanagawa. Reminiscent of the popular Mongolian beef, fine slices of wagyu were cooked and presented on a clay plate and served with a delicate soy mirin sauce with shiitake, enoki and shimeji mushrooms, leeks and spring onion. What I really liked about this dish was digging into the tangles of wagyu strips and finding a runny free-range yolk sitting in the middle of the plate. Mixing the egg with the beef and the sauce, it was a pleasure to eat. I liked that the sauce did not bog down the natural flavour of the wagyu too. Good choice, Ads.

My main: assorted sushi. I don’t know why I chose this dish, particularly since I didn’t like it 10 years ago. I guess I was curious to see what my better-trained palate would think but in hindsight, it was a huge mistake. By all means, there was nothing terrible about the sushi. The presentation was fine, each little morsel (of tuna, kingfish, salmon, and prawn) would be given a credit grade at cooking school. They just didn’t do it for me like Shira Nui or Shoya did. And the fish wasn’t as fresh as Shoya’s. Wrong choice, Libs.

Oh, I do realise that getting a rice and a bowl of miso seems a little odd when one is ordering sushi as a main. I did shovel pretty much half of Adam’s dish into my rice though, which worked out well for me.


He eats.

The total bill was $92.50 but we got it down to $69.40 with the Entertainment Book discount. After today’s visit, I would be more inclined to visit Koko again to try their teppanyaki menu and maybe try their seafood mains. I won’t touch the sushi again though. As for prior concerns about having to compete with Nobu? Frankly, I don’t think Koko needs to worry. Sure, Allan Koh’s Chinese background shows in his dishes and while some might argue that Koko is not 100% ‘authentic’ in that regard, it is 10 billion times better than Nobu.

Random: They now sell Krispy Kremes at Safeway, QV. What the?!?!

Cafe Vue

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

I’m currently on a burger phase, on the hunt to find Melbourne’s best burgers. So far, the David Blackmore full-blood wagyu burger from Rockpool leads the chase, miles ahead of its nearest competitors.

Hearing Jan say that Cafe Vue‘s burger was the most decadent thing she’s tried, I decided to make a visit today. I was originally planning to rock up at 11:30am before it got really busy but circumstances made me miss my bus into the city and so I didn’t get there until just after 12pm. Every single table was full and there was a line of three people (one guy alone, and lady and a guy as a couple). Apparently this was the line to get in. Given that the bubbly waitress said that there would only be a 10-15 minute wait for a table to clear, I decided to get in line behind the couple.

As I surveyed the inside of the cafe as well as the walkway which housed about four large tables, I noticed how a few of the tables consisted of young guys in suits who were obviously finished with their meals (the check was sitting there untouched at the table). The guys had clearly noticed the growing line in front of them but they made no move to clear. And it’s not like they were talking about anything important – they were talking about Melbourne Victory, ffs. Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m at a casual restaurant and I see a growing line of people at the door, I try not to dwell over my meal for too long. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I try to eat in 30 seconds, but at least wander elsewhere once you’re done with the meal and not sit there for another 15-20 minutes!  I suppose the blokes had every right to remain seated at their table  but I just think it’s a little bit selfish. Anyway. I was getting irritated by the second but I didn’t know whether it was just me channeling Larry David or whether anyone would have felt just as pissy if they were in my shoes. Secondly, the young guys had a sense of grandeur about them which irritated me – like they thought they were top sht for eating at this establishment. It was like, bitch please, it’s just Cafe Vue.

Okay, so the first guy in line finally got a table at the walkway – a four seater all to himself. I thought that Cafe Vue would perhaps make like a casual Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant and sit the couple in front of me on the same table as the lone guy but they didn’t. I suppose Cafe Vue thought it wasn’t proper which was fair enough but I wouldn’t have minded, really.  At this stage, I was just happy to sit anywhere. Then the weather got a little chilly just as a table of suits cleared. The waitress invited me to sit at that table but because it was right by the main entrance and because it was right in full view of the now-growing queue, I politely gave that table to two chicks standing behind me. And they walked right over to the table without so much as a ‘thank you.’ Rude bitches, I hope you choke on a prawn and die.

Finally, after 25 minutes, a space at the window of the cafe opened up. A waiter immediately gave me a water jug and cup while I asked for a latte and a pistachio macaron.

My Illy latte ($3) tasted as good as it looked. It was smooth, melodic and sweet like good quality coffee should be. My pistachio macaron ($2.50) was pretty good – it was light and delicate with the yummiest creamy filling in the middle. Apparently they are no way near as good as a “real” French macaron but heyyy, it tastes good so who gives a crap, right?

My Vue burger and fries ($12). Okay, I’ve heard that this burger is notoriously small so I was surprised to see that it was, well, bigger than I thought. It was about the size of a Maccas cheeseburger but maybe a little bit taller and fluffier. The fries were of the shoestring variety that you get from Maccas. To me, this looked like a toffed up Maccas meal but just how good was it? Time for me to find out…

Except that I did NOT get a fork.

I got a single knife, which was odd, but NO EFFING FORK. I flagged down a waitress (not the bubbly one but one who looked like she wanted to go home) and asked for a fork, to which she rolled her eyes and said, ‘I’ll be there in a minute’ even though the forks were right behind her and she could have just done a 180 and handed one to me in two seconds. She then floundered off somewhere and did not appear again. I was worried that my burger was getting cold so I gingerly lifted it up with my hands and attempted to eat it without cutlery. Feeling somewhat like a barbarian from Gaul, I decided that I couldn’t eat the burger using my hands so I asked another waiter for a fork and he simply plucked it out of the canister behind him and that was that. Geez, that wasn’t so hard, wasn’t it?

Anyway, the burger came in a sweet brioche bun which was sweeter than a Maccas bun but nevertheless tasted pretty good. The wagyu pattie was leaner than most others, but I felt that it erred on the coarse side. I think a little bit of fat in the patty wouldn’t have hurt – it would have made it tastier, if anything. To top it off, there were a few fresh lettuce leaves, two slices of bacon, pickles, french mustard and melted gruyere cheese in the mix. While I thought the burger hit the right notes, I didn’t think it was as good as everyone says – it was a bit overrated. Still, it was a steal at $12 and I was able to call myself ‘full’ as I left (though this could also be because of the latte as well).

I’ve been to Cafe Vue on many occasions, but today’s poor service by the rude waitress and some of the patronage made me not want to go there for a long time. Still, the fact that Cafe Vue’s menu has extended to offer pies with yummy-sounding fillings such as chicken and porcini has not made me completely swear off this place. I will, however, make sure that I go BEFORE 11:45am or AFTER 2:00pm!

In other news:

-I have a huge research essay to write and I’m finding it difficult to get started. I need a 25/40 to get a guaranteed pass on the subject (which is all that I’m hoping for), a score that should be easy for me yet the task seems as hard as climbing Mt Everest.

-I was supposed to get a haircut at Renaissance @ Tivoli Arcade this afternoon (I finally gave in and decided to let a
n Asian cut my hair for the first time in ages) but I got a call from a guy there this morning to tell me that the hairdresser who was supposed to do my hair was sick and so I had to change my booking to Saturday afternoon. Booo. I suppose I can deal with revoltingly unkempt hair for another 48 hours.

-I could have gone to Body Balance this afternoon but after trying to do my essay at RMIT business library and not getting much done no thanks to fobs who wouldn’t SHUT UP, I got the hell out of there and went home, not wanting to bum around the city for another two hours. Just as well I did though, it started pissing down rain just as I entered the house.

-I really want a red Birkin bag now. Not an over-sized one and not one that is made out of crocodile/ostrich/unicorn/mythical beast but something simple like calfskin. I was planning to put my next few tax returns towards a share portfolio (which Adam is going to manage) but hmmm… shares or Birkin? shares or Birkin?

Pettavel Winery & Restaurant (Waurn Ponds, VIC)

65 Pettavel Rd
Waurn Ponds VIC 3216
+61 3 5266 1120
http://www.pettavel.com/

It’s been a while since I’ve actually been out of Melbourne so when I learnt that it was going to be a glorious 20 degrees on Saturday, I decided to grab the boy and take a drive down Geelong way. Of course, none of us particularly enjoy driving just for the sake of driving so we had to have a reason why we’d bother driving to Geelong and – well, you know where this is going, right?

Lunch.

Surprise, surprise.

I made a 1:30pm booking for two at Pettavel Winery and Restaurant, located in Waurn Ponds which is a suburb on the outskirts of Geelong. Pettavel, a one-hatted restaurant, was an easy one-hour’s drive from Footscray (where I was to meet Adam that morning) that offered a $75 five-course menu for lunch which sounded like a good deal to us. The fact that they were also listed in the Entertainment Book (25% off the total bill) also aided our decision to go there over all the other restaurants in the area. Although taking a shortcut through Geelong City was probably the quickest way of getting there, driving all the way along the M1 was the easiest option for the two of us who had never ventured down this end alone (yeah, you could probably tell from the first few paragraphs that we are such ignorant city-dwellers, heeh).

We arrived at the entrance of the winery at exactly 1:30pm on the dot and were instantly led to the bar where we were given a list of 20 different house wines to sample for free, starting from the light, fruity Rieslings to the richer, bloodier  Shirazes. My favourite was the Evening Star Riesling (2007), a youthful combination of fruitiness and acidity which I ordered a glass of to have with my meal ($7). I probably would have stood there for half an hour sampling all the wines on offer, but I didn’t want to get drunk before lunch even started so I asked the maitre’d to show us to our table which was located right next to the window overlooking the West-end of the winery. Lovely.

Look how green everything looks!

The restaurant’s own garden

We received an amuse bouche of braised goat meat cooked in star anise topped with an artichoke puree. At first glance, Adam told me that they looked suspiciously like char siu and indeed, they tasted exactly like the famous Cantonese pork dish albeit less sweet and less heavy. I thought it was a bit of a strange amuse bouche for a winery but I did like the creamy artichoke puree.

We were given a slice of bread to nibble on (a choice between white, wholemeal and molasses), plus some home-pressed olive oil, sea salt and a five-spice pepper mix, while the waitress explained the five-course menu. Basically there were three separate entrees, which we would eat after the other. We were then free to choose a main and a dessert from a list of about six mains and six desserts. There were some strange words on the menu such as “marron” which I did not understand but the waitress was able to cheerfully explain these terms.

By the way, a marron is a large freshwater crayfish, not dissimilar to a yabby.

Before I go on, I need to mention the fact that the waitress said that the whole point of the lunch was to relax, take in the views and give a few hours to eat all the food. While it could be said that the reasoning behind Pettavel’s take-your-time motto is because they know that most of their diners are from Melbourne and hence, should stay for a long lunch to make their trip worthwhile, the pessimist and the Type-A personality in me couldn’t help but wonder whether this was simply a license for the kitchen to be a little lax with their cooking and also avoid diners demanding where the heck their food was. Probably a bit of both.

First entrée: polenta with quail egg, nasturtium and hazelnut. My initial reaction upon seeing this presented to us was ‘WOW! How pretty does it look?’ Indeed, it was obvious that the chef paid great attention to detail but while it looked good, it tasted… weird. The texture of the polenta was hard and almost rubbery, the mint sauce added nothing to the overall taste of the dish and the quail eggs just tasted like they didn’t belong. I did think that the rocket leaves and fried garlic chips on top were a nice touch though. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what a nasturtium is … it’s those orange flowers you see on the plate – they were tasteless and only served to make the plate look pretty.

I would like to say that at this point, I was actually full. Whether this was because of the polenta or the wines we sampled earlier on … or the fact that we ate a plate of dumplings at Footscray for breakfast is uncertain. Nevertheless, I soldiered on.

Second entrée: fish broth. Our waiter came out of the kitchen carrying two bowls, both containing one lightly seared scallop, a piece of salmon gently cooked at 45 degrees for six minutes and a thick jelly-like disc made with creamed pea topped with a crispy fish skin. He then proceeded to pour the fish broth from the saucepan and into our bowls at the table for us. The result was a visually stunning pond that resembled a Renoir painting. While scallop et al were fine, I felt that the fish broth (the star of the show) lacked in taste so the whole dish was pretty boring to eat.

Third entrée: Pettavel’s interpretation of traditional roast pork - pork belly with apple and pickled onion. While I loved the little apple balls that accompanied the apple puree and the beautifully crunchy salty panko breadcrumbs mixed with crumbed pork skin, I found the pork belly a tad too try for my liking.

It was 3:45pm (!!) when we received our mains so the next few pictures are going to be over-exposed no thanks to the sun that was now directly in front of our window.

We were given a bowl of fresh salad greens with a light mustard dressing as a complimentary side, which I thought was really nice of them. The salad wasn’t bad either.

My main: kingfish with marron and avocado. I was glad to say that my main was slightly better than my entrees, despite feeling that the avocado sauce didn’t really go well with the beautifully seared kingfish that had the slightest tinge of raw flesh in the centre. And while molecular gastronomy may be passé in Melbourne, I thought the apple foam was a delightful ‘cover-up’ to the warm maron, salmon roe and baby chive salad underneath which was beautiful.

See?

Adam’s main: sher wagyu rump with tomatoes and mustard. We were told that the chefs preferred to cook the wagyu rare and that was fine with Adam. The meat was beautifully cooked and the pink flesh awesomely tender. Unlike the other dishes though, the supporting cast (i.e. the tomatoes which were pureed and shaped into balls) actually tasted really good with the wagyu rendering it the most successful dish out of all the ones we tried.

Before we go on to dessert, let me say here that there was literally a 30 minute wait between every single dish which, I thought, was pretty excessive and would be deemed unacceptable at a Melbourne restaurant but hey, perhaps this was the norm at Pettavel and besides, no one else seemed to mind. After all, it WAS a lazy Saturday and why not relax and take in the views? Plus, the lovely waitress did come around to top up our bread so I was kept reasonably happy munching on a piece of molasses bread dipped in olive oil (it was DIVINE).

My dessert: citrus with olive oil, vanilla and ice cream. Apart from the fact that the ice cream was melting underneath the sun, I liked this dessert – very light, refreshing and excellent use of olive oil combined with vanilla as a sweet dressing-slash-sauce. Props for the slightly tangy blood orange jelly cubes but I can’t help but wonder where they managed to find ridiculously fresh mandarins as I’m pretty sure they’re not in season any more (?)

Adam’s dessert: A competent cheese plate, consisting of a wedge of brie (the name of it escapes me and it’s not on Pettavel’s website) and accompanied by a poached pear, quince paste and toasted raisin bread.

Finally, a cup of not-too-bad espresso and petit fours.

Let’s be honest here: I’m not sure if I enjoyed Pettavel’s set lunch. Not only could most of the dishes be best described as a “confused grapevine of fresh produce who were awkwardly trying to mingle at a speed date function”, the entire lunch dragged on for a bit too long – three hours in fact. Sure, the scenery was nice, sure the service was genuinely warm and friendly, sure, the total bill was reasonable ($162, down to $132 with the Entertainment Book discount) and sure, we had some of the loveliest wines we’ve ever tasted but at the end of the day, the food remains the main benchmark for any restaurant. Thus, even if all the non-food elements were brilliant, they can never compensate for lacklustre food. I will, however, give Pettavel kudos for trying as there were some instances where I tasted one thing and went “WOW!” – unfortunately, these moments were very rare. Indeed, the people at Pettavel do have the potential for producing sensational dishes – they just need to do some fine-tuning before I can honestly say that their one hat is justified. In hindsight, I reckon an hour’s drive is a bit excessive for food like that. But if anything, the drive to Pettavel has at least cured Adam’s aversion to driving long distances, thus you can definitely expect more regional foodie adventures from us in the near future.

One last photo before driving back to Melbourne.

Don Don

321 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 3377
(Also Don Too, 340 Little Lonsdale St)

Whenever I feel like ridiculously cheap and hideously fast Japanese food, I always head to Don Don, opposite QV. I’ve been going there for about five years, so I was surprised when I realised that I never actually reviewed the place. Since I was there on Thursday for lunch, I figured that now would be a good time to actually review the place. Not that any of you need to read about it because every man and their dog has been to Don Don, but for the sake of completeness here goes…

It was after 2pm when Adam and I strolled into the tiny so-very-easy-to-miss cafe but check out the size of the queue! Normally, a queue that big at any other cafe would turn punters away but regulars would know that Don Don is on par with Toyota Motors’ production values – use only good quality ingredients, implement an effective assembly line with only the right number of people required and keep things running, running, running. Heck, despite the queue, I still managed to get served and get my food within the minute. How’s that for service?

Adam’s sukiyaki don, which is basically beef in sweet soy sauce and rice ($6). Not the biggest bowl on earth but for $6, who can complain? Not only was it beautifully sweet and fresh, it certainly filled him up. I probably would have wanted the beef to be less dry but like I said, it was only $6.

My sashi don ($8.30). My dish was probably the most expensive single dish on the menu which says a lot about how cheap this place really is. It came in a bigger bowl which was filled with a generous amount of white rice. The variety of vegies (sliced sweetened beancurd), pickled ginger, tamagoyaki (yellow egg omelette), pickled cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, rocket leaves (!!) were a great supporting cast to the centrepiece, the rosette of fresh salmon sashimi and tofu triangle drizzled in a peanut-soy sauce.  Although I will admit that the hotter dishes are tastier, the sashi don is a great stomach filler for those who want something lighter and healthier (that and the soba salad which, from memory, is $7.40).

I would highly recommend this place if you’re at the state library or RMIT and needing a quick 10 minute fix before you need to head back to your books. Of the 10 things on the menu, I’d probably recommend the curry dishes but hey, the other dishes are more than alright too. And the good news is that, unlike surrounding Japanese cafes/restaurants, Don Don do not down their food in excessive MSG!

Rockpool Bar & Grill (bar)

Crown Casino
8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 8648 1900
http://www.rockpool.com/

So Adam and I have been dying to try the famed David Blackmore wagyu burger at Rockpool Bar & Grill for quite some time now. To quote this year’s Good Food Guide, ‘you can feast on wagyu in hamburger form for [$22] while nearby restaurant-goers are having it unminced for $110.’ Because we were going to be in the city today for the Dali exhibition, we figured that it would be a great time to stop by Rockpool to suss out these supposedly awesome burgers before going to the gallery.

12pm on a Sunday afternoon. The place is dead quiet. The fact that Rockpool bloody charges a 10% surcharge on Sundays probably has something to do with it. I didn’t know about this surcharge and probably would not have chosen to come here today if I did so you can imagine how I felt when we were told that. Still, I figured that we may as well stick to our plan seeing as we were here anyway. Oh, and not to tip them anything beyond a few gold coins.

As you open the door, a smoky yet aromatic hits your nose. Walking through the hallway, which is covered in awards that the restaurant has won, you realise that the smell is coming from the grills of the open kitchen – a sign that this restaurant is a steakhouse. Further down the hallway, a glass cabinet that acted as a fridge filled with aged wagyu greets you.

Lovely .

When we told the waiter that we would like to eat from the bar menu, we assumed that we would actually be sitting on top of bar stools so we were impressed when we were led to a row of comfy booths. Granted, our table was not in prime position (i.e. by the window where natural lighting would have been my friend!) but this was pretty good.

Everything was so sleek, so sexy and so masculine. Leather-topped tables, leather seats, and strong mahogany panelings served as a testament to the fact that this restaurant was, after all, a steakhouse.

This photo of a cow appeared on the back of the menu to, once again, remind diners that WE WERE IN A STEAKHOUSE. Just in case we didn’t get it the first time.

Okay, I don’t know about you but unlike Jamie Oliver, I don’t really like being reminded where the food I’m about to consume is coming from. I’d rather be one of those ignorant people who like to think that our steak come from prepackaged plastic trays, churned out by robots in the coolroom of Safeway rather than a living, breathing cow. It does, after all, make me feel less guilty about eating meat … but anyway, that’s another issue for another time.

So the waiter asks us if we would like some bread and butter, to which we replied “yes, please.” I mean, isn’t it sort of a given at places like these?! We were both given one single slice of warm sourdough and a pat of unsalted butter with some Murray River sea salts to start off proceedings. Not the best bread I’ve had but nothing to whinge about.

We both decided to go for a bottle of McLaren Vale Pale Ale each ($9.50 each) which I thought was pretty sweet for a beer – almost as sweet as a wine even. I did enjoy it immensely though.

We asked for a serving of Neil Perry’s Four Raw Tastes of the Sea ($26) to share between the two of us and it was assumed that one big plate was going to be put on the middle of the table for us to share so imagine how delight when we both received our OWN plates for our convenience:

This dish comprises of four different kinds of sashimi, which you can see above, with their own little sauces and toppings, all made with an extra virgin olive oil base:
-Hiramasa kingfish with minched cos and tea smoked oyster topping
-Ocean trout with preserved lemon and harissa (my favourite one)
-Yellowfish tuna with julienned ginger and coriander
-A ceviche of swordfish belly with a citrus and jalapeno dressing

A fantastic way to explore the different textures of each individual fish and each dressing suited each individual morsel to a tee. I did, however, feel that the sashimi could have been a little bit more fresh but hey, that’s what I get for ordering fish on a Sunday…

There are two wagyu burgers offered at Rockpool: the full blood wagyu burger and the Mishima burger (both $22 each). Wanting to know what the difference between the two were, Adam decided to go the full blood while I chose the Mishima. Apparently, the Mishima cow is only found on a remote island in Japan and no one outside the country has access to them so it’s a mystery as to why David Blackmore ended up with the only Mishima cow to have ever left the country and has successfully bred it down the line to produce only 10 of its kind per annum which he ONLY supplies to Rockpool. Knowing this, I felt an air of exclusivity when our burgers finally arrived after a half an hour wait (!).

Our burgers looked exactly the same so I didn’t bother taking a photo of Adam’s one on its own. Each burger came in a bun with a slice of gruyere cheese, bacon, Zuni pickle and tomato relish. While Adam’s wagyu was extremely rich and full of taste (thanks to the high marbling content and the cow’s grain diet), mine was smokier and had a cleaner taste (perhaps thanks to its grass diet). While I preferred the full blood over the Mishima, it was nevertheless good to experience the two of them at once to see the difference. As good as both burgers were, I can’t see myself paying $22 for a burger willy-nilly in the future.

We shared a side of onion rings ($9) which came with their own home-made ketchup that looked a lot like sambal olek but tasted like ripened tomatoes on a sugar trip. I’ve never had onion rings this good and this crispy… yum!

We were both extremely happy with our meal. While Adam declared it the best burger he’s ever had, I was reluctant to say the same as I feel that there ARE better burgers in Melbourne. On its own, I probably would not have bulked at paying $22 for the burger (and I WAS quite full afterwards) but given that I promised Adam that I’d shout lunch, the grand total was a whopping $98 which was then hiked up to effing $107.80 because of the stupid “Sunday surcharge.” Quite an expensive meal when you think about it, really. And although I know that I’m paying extra money for quality and exclusivity, I think I would be just as happy eating a $5 burger with the lot from my local takeaway store. Having said that though, I would not hesitate to return to Rockpool again to try their a la carte menu … once I get over the fact that a steak would set me back $110…

Kouzina

Shop 2001, Westfield Doncaster Shoppingtown
619 Doncaster Road (Cnr Williamsons Rd)
Doncaster Vic 3108
+61 3 9840 6055
http://www.kouzina.com.au/

Sunday afternoon was spent watching “Up!” and that’s where we decided to have lunch prior to the movie. Kouzina, a Greek restaurant chain, is what I liken to La Porchetta which is a very successful Italian restaurant chain in Australia serving fairly mediocre Aussie-Italian fare. The founding restaurant is in Southgate and two more restaurants have been established in two areas with large Greek populations, Doncaster and Taylors Lakes. Like La Porchetta, Kouzina doesn’t attempt to shock nor does it really put much effort into the quality of their food. So when a lady from work recommended it to me, I was skeptical to say the least. I did, however, end up following her recommendation, and because she IS Greek I figured that she knew what she was talking about.

So we rocked up at 11am which is ridiculously early for even a Sunday lunch but the restaurant was already open so we went straight to it. In addition to an extensive a la carte menu, Kouzina‘s lunch menu consists of what I would call Greek-Aussie fare such as lamb burgers with tzatziki and souvlaki’s. There was also a $25 p/h lunch banquet which sounded like a good deal so we ended up ordering that. Upon seeing two 20-something Asians at the table, the waiter asked us if we had ever had Greek food before. I wasn’t sure what to think when he asked us that … I mean, it was probably an honest question but did he assume that Asians generally know nothing about Greek food and was there to patronise us? I told him that we’ve had Greek food many times and for some reason, he looked surprised and I guess that was that…

When the waiter asked us what we would like to drink, we said ‘just water, please.’ He didn’t ask whether we wanted mineral, still or tap but in a normal restaurant, the waiter would normally give you tap water just to be on the safe side.

He ended up bringing over Greek bottled water from the fridge . I loved how he tried to make it “fancy” by pouring it into these glasses and putting ice and lemon slices in it. We got charged $2.50 for the privilege too, heh. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it though, at least not THIS early in the meal.

Homemade dips and pita bread. From L-R: transalamata, marinated olives, tzatziki, char-grilled capsicum, carrot dip, feta cheese and eggplant dip. The usual suspects and nothing too extraordinary. +1 for the warm pieces of pita bread that was gently drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and rosemary, though.

Dolmades - they were pretty bland, to be honest.

Foreground: kalamaraki (calamari, duh). They were lightly fried and sprinkled with salt and pepper and served with ouzo aioli which, to me, just tasted like thickened cream. The calamari, although  bit soggy, weren’t TOO bad though.
Background: spanakopita. I’m used to having spanakopita in its traditional form – cheese and spinach pie, cut into slices. I did like Kouzina’s interpretation of it – cheese and spinach in a filo pastry spring roll.

Lamb and chicken souvlaki and lamb keftedes (Greek meatballs). I will give props for the meats being cooked perfectly – the lamb was beautifully grilled almost-but-not-quite medium rare and the keftedes were tender. Sadly, they were  not the best souvlaki’s I’ve ever had and would choose ones cooked at my local fish and chip shop for $7 over these ones any day.

Loukanika (Greek pork sausages). I’m not sure if they were homemade or not but either way, they were pretty nice. Slightly spicy and tender, they were too good not to leave unfinished on the plate even though I was extremely full at this stage.

Greek salad and oregano fries. The salad was identical to the 10 billion I’ve had at other places and the chips were just ‘meh.’ We didn’t finish either of these because we were too full, to be honest.

The bill came to $52.50 but with the Entertainment Book discount, it was $39.75. While the food wasn’t all THAT fantastic but we were beyond full so you could definitely say that it was great value. I’m not sure what my work colleague meant when she said that Kouzina was “good”, maybe the Southgate one is better than the Doncaster one or perhaps she ordered off the a la carte. Either way, it’ll probably be a long time before I come back again.