The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Le Traiteur

552 Lonsdale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9670 0039
http://www.letraiteur.com.au

Two years ago, I was a newbie at my current workplace. What really annoyed me about having to work at this place was not the 8am starts nor the not-so-high salaries (Mr Manager, are you reading this? :p). No, what got my head spinning and my blood boiling was the fact that we were situated on the arse end of the city with NO DECENT EATERIES TO HAVE LUNCH AT. RAGE! My friends were flooding my Facebook news feeds with details of their wonderful two-course lunches at some Crown promenade restaurant or sending me text messages about the fillings of their Cafe Vue lunchbox. Meanwhile, I seethed silently as I chomped through a limp croissant bought at one of the nearby nondescript cafes and muttered ‘FML’ over and over as I opened up a packet of $3 about-to-go-off egg and lettuce sandwiches from 7-11.

Then things started to change. Last year, Frank Camorra popped out not one but two MoVida restaurants less than two blocks from my work. Then came EARL Canteen and their beautiful made-to-order sandwiches (review soon to come). But as much as I was stoked when those eateries opened, a 30 minute lunch break is hardly enough time for a proper sit-down meal (Mr Manager, are you still reading?). So when I heard that the guys who run Libertine in North Melbourne had opened up a cafe less than one block from my work… well, you can imagine how elated I was. I was happy just to be able to buy lunch at a place that did not serve old bain marie food and soggy sandwiches, but little did I know that Le Traiteur, which means ‘The Caterer’ in French, was the start of a 1pm addiction.

It’s amazing how news travels at the speed of light among Melbourne’s food blogging community. This place had only been in action for a week yet every. single. effing. table was full when I sauntered into the cafe one Friday afternoon. Wow. I spent a moment gazing hungrily at all the the plates filled with hearty daube de boeuf dotting each table before I snapped out of my reverie to do what I came to Le Traiteur to do: Buy a roast duck baguette.


Le Traiteur churns out baguettes twice daily and sells them for $9 a pop. They are approx. six inches long which doesn’t sound like much but they are more filling than a Subway roll (and to be fair, more fattening too). There is a decent range of fillings from vodka-cured ocean trout to rabbit terrine that will ensure that punters return for more. The first time I came here, they were sadly out of roast duck baguettes so I ended up choosing a baguette filled with confit Jerusalem artichoke, roast field mushrooms, fromage de meaux and sauce vert.

My disappointment quickly evaporated though when I bit into the crunchy crust which then gave way to a soft, chewy dough. The pairing of the Jerusalem artichokes and mushrooms provided a strong earthy hit and was complimented well by the nutty, runny brie-like cheese. The combination was then gingerly held together by the fresh, herby sauce vert. I did, however, feel a bit sick after eating the entire thing (which was cut in half for easier handling) – but only because I’m not used to eating such rich things for lunch on a weekday!

On Monday, I ‘accidentally’ failed to bring my lunch which gave me an excuse to pop down to Le Traiteur again. Knowing that the roast duck baguettes were selling like hot cakes, I knew I had to be quick. Once the elevator doors opened, I sprinted along William Street, ducked into Lt Lonsdale and ambushed my way past all the dawdling suits to get to the doors of the already-full Le Traiteur. And lo and behold, there was one single roast duck baguette sitting in the cabinet. For me.

There it is, folks. Thick pieces of roast duck breast with baked pear and caramelised onions. All held together with aioli and secured in that awesome baguette. MINE, ALL MINE! Seriously, it was one friggin’ awesome baguette. The rich, fatty, juicy duck meat and caramelised onions were mitigated by the bitterness of the raddichio leaves – all of which were held together by the sweet pieces of baked pear. I don’t want to be all CW TV about it but it was seriously OMFG!

Because it was just as rich as the Jerusalem artichoke baguette, I played it smart this time by only eating one half for lunch and saving the remaining half for afternoon tea. This meant that I did not feel as bloaty for the rest of the working afternoon, and also meant that my colleagues had to deal with the smell of roast duck emancipating from my desk whenever they walked past my desk. Ha!

Le Traiteur, you have made me look forward to getting up each morning to rock up to work.  Thank you, thank you, thank you. Arse end of the city? Well, it looks like this arse has now received a sexy butt lift!

Le Traiteur on Urbanspoon

Ito Japanese Noodle Cafe

122 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 2788

My exam studying routine goes like this: Make my way into the city to study at RMIT business library, the reason being that if I were to stay home and study on my desk, I would be distracted by 1) the computer, 2) all the junk food in my room and 3) my bed. So anyway, when I arrive at the business library, the first thing I do is grab a bunch of books from the shelves before finding a nice, quiet place to set up camp. Then 10 minutes later – and this ALWAYS happens – I have the case of the tummy rumbles.

On one particular ‘study day’, it was cold and dreary but I braved the conditions to walk up Bourke Street and into Ito, the diner-style Japanese restaurant that specialises in noodle dishes. It’s a place that I’ve walked past numerous times over the years but never really paid much attention to it until now. I had been craving ramen all week and the dreadful weather conditions made it an apt time to have ramen. It wasn’t terribly busy when I arrived just after 12pm and although the rain may have detracted diners from hibernating in their cozy city apartments and offices, it did not prevent the waitresses from serving me as fast as a Japanese bullet train – and with smiles on their faces too.

Despite it being freezing outside, I could not resist ordering a green tea smoothie ($4.80) which would have been awesome during the warmer months (not that it WASN’T awesome when I had it). The green tea taste was probably more subtle than expected but I was cool with that. I also loved that the green tea powder gave the smoothie a nice, gritty texture too.

I enjoyed a chashu ramen in a miso base ($9.80). I would have loved to have a tonkotsu base but apart from miso, the only other option was a shoyu base (which I probably should have chose in hindsight but oh well…). Aided by the slightest hint of MSG, the soup base was lovely and if there was a noodle equivalent to ‘al dente’, the word would definitely be used to described these noodles. All the toppings received a tick: the bamboo pieces, the bean sprouts, the roasted seaweed pieces and the piece of boiled egg that was still gooey in the middle. Yum! I did, however, feel that the chashu pork could have done with a bit more fattiness but on the other hand, I approved of their beautiful smoky flavour.

Melbourne’s ramens may be severely lacking, with Menya being fully-loaded with MSG and Ramen Ya’s offerings showing no signs of the dreaded E621 yet somewhat lacking in taste, however I think Ito’s ramen gets my approval by sitting smack-bang in the middle of the ramen spectrum. I’ve yet to try Chocolate Buddha or Momotaro Ramen so I cannot conclusively say that this is Melbourne’s best ramen. Still, it was good enough for me, I thought as I grudgingly walked past to the library where my books were waiting and well worth a return visit.

Horoki (lunch)

19 Liverpool St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 2227

Thanks to exams, I have not been watching much of the World Cup apart from the Aussie matches. Now that I’ve dusted off my last exam for the semester (and hopefully NOT for my degree, God-willing I don’t fail any!), I’m hoping to feast my eyes on some hot soccer players exciting games. Although it will not happen in 2010, a match-up that I would have loved to see would be one involving Italy and Japan, the two countries that have produced some of the world’s finest dishes. Combining the Japanese team’s structured cohesiveness with bursts of brilliant individual performances from the likes of Nakata with the Italians’ flair for theatrics (hahaha sorry, it had to be said!), a cuisine that married both cultures together would always be one that excited the tastebuds.

Enter Horoki. Adam and I went to this little laneway eatery a few years ago and loved it. And when I heard that they also did a special lunch deal, I knew I had to return. $13.90 got you a choice of three dishes from a list of ten, plus your choice of either rice or ciabatta – sounded good to me! I chose:

-Spicy prawn and avocado sushi roll: I must admit, this wasn’t the best sushi I’ve ever had. While all the ingredients were fresh, I thought the flavours were somewhat bland and the addition of capsicum pieces was just a bit too bizarre for me. You know when the sushi is lacking something when you eat all the gari (pickled ginger) on your plate.

-Tofu and tuna salad: the highlight of the meal. Seriously, this wonderfully fresh salad was so awesome that I could eat this every day and not get sick of it. Fresh silken tofu + slivers of cooked tuna + chopped cherry tomatoes + daikon + salad greens mixed by a thick sesame-miso dressing = a WIN combination.

-Horoki-style braised Hamburg steak: served with mashed potato and steamed vegies. This was advertised as being served with a ‘rich tomato sauce and cream.’ I could certainly taste the tomato but not the cream. I did like the Hamburg steak though, it was soft and pulled apart easily – reminded me of my mum’s rendition of the Hamburg steak which she cooks in a Indo-Dutch-style stew consisting of soy sauce and Maggi sauce (oi, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!).

Lunch was good for what I paid for – I wasn’t full but I wasn’t left hungry either – but I definitely prefer dinner at Horoki as they serve much more interesting food as you may have read from my other Horoki post. For a more recent write-up though, please read on…

So Shirley and I were planning to have dinner at Aka Tombo one Monday night, only to find that the place was closed when we arrived (for no apparent reason) so we decided to head right next door to Horoki. With our butts plonked on the bar stools and drinks in our hands (an apple iced tea for myself), we ordered a selection of dishes to share.

Even though Shirley hates raw things, I made her try some of the tuna carpaccio ($14.80) – haha, yeah I’m mean. It was as good as I remember, each fresh slice of raw tuna was covered with an amazing dressing of light soy and mayonnaise, sprinkled with grated parmesan and crowned with cherry tomato halves.

I’ve heard good things about the daikon and sashimi salad ($14.50) so I made sure I ordered it. Well, the punters were right about the awesomeness of this salad – it was a study of fresh flavours and contrasting textures of the slippery kingfish sashimi and scallops and crunchy shredded daikon and greens that made this refreshing dish work miracles.

On the fried end of the spectrum was the ebi mayo ($14.80), another successful dish. The deep fried prawns were drizzled in a sweet sesame mayo which was sticky to the touch and covered with almonds to balance everything out. I was surprised by how sweet the mayo was, yet it really made the dish sing. The sweetness was offset by the saltiness of the batter which remained crispy the entire time as well as the crunchy bitterness of the almonds.What I also liked about this dish wasa the crisp rice paper ‘plate’ that the prawns were served in – I was breaking bits off and popping them into my mouth between every bite of prawn.

Unfortunately, they were out of garlic octopus that night so we ended up getting the diced Scotch fillet steak ($15) instead. It was served with potatoes aas well as unexpected hints of fresh wasabi which I was initially apprehensive about. Now, I’ve only JUST gotten the hang of wasabi after disliking it for so many years and can only handle a little bit of it at a time. What I liked about the wasabi here was that it was the fresh stuff rather than the rancid packaged stuff that smelt like turps so the taste was more subtle. Nice. It went really well with the sweet onion sauce which covered the beautifully med-rare pieces of steak. Not sure about the addition of bean shoots though – they didn’t really add anything to the dish.

Our final hot dish was the roasted duck breast on eggplant in miso Sauce ($16.80). The sauce was likened to a slightly nutty version of kecap manis which cut through the gamey-ness of the tender duck breasts, the overall taste of the dish being lifted by the smoky roasted eggplant. Yum.

Finally, we decided to share a tiramisu ($7) and a scoop of green tea ice cream (an extra $2). It had a lighter texture than most tiramisu’s I’ve had which was a good thing. A great way to end the night’s proceedings.

We ended up paying around $95 for dinner which is understandably not on the cheap side to a lot of people. I came into Horoki feeling extra ravenous and given the fact that we weren’t being fed a LOT of food, I was surprisingly satisfied to the point where I did not have to go to Maccas for a cheeseburger afterwards. Unless the ten items on Horoki’s lunch menu changes, I’ll most likely seek other places to eat when I feel like fusion food for lunch but I’ll definitely be coming here more often for dinner if I’m not feeling too hungry.

Dumpling Sister

229 Exhibition St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 1888

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumpling Sisters on Urbanspoon

Doko’s Home (CLOSED)

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

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

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

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

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

Not even the ‘octups.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDIT (Saturday June 12 2010):

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

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

Vue de Monde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vue De Monde on Urbanspoon

Rama Thai

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

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

*facepalm*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rama Thai on Urbanspoon

Attica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attica on Urbanspoon

Canton Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzuran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suzuran on Urbanspoon