Golden Dragon Palace & Lantern Garden

I love food. Adam loves food. Both our mothers love food. Therefore, our present to both our mothers was to take them out to eat on this so-called special day. Even though one big meal consisting of both of our families would’ve been the most economically feasible option, Adam is still sht-scared of introducing both parents to each other and so separate meals had to do. Yum cha with Adam’s parents (plus his aunty and grandma) and then dinner with my parents.

LUNCH
Golden Dragon Palace
363 Manningham Rd
Lower Templestowe VIC 3107
+61 3 9852 4087

The yum cha venue of choice was Tai Pan restaurant, just down the road from where I live. However, they were pretty much booked when I rang to make a booking so we decided to go to Golden Dragaon Palace instead which was also close by. Now, GDP serves pretty good yum cha dishes but they also charge a bit more than Tai Pan does. The only thing that bugs me about this place is that they tend to go too overboard with the whole dragon theme as is evident with all the wooden dragon statues and carvings all around the place. Of course, that has nothing to do with the food and the service but all those scary dragons gawking down at me while I eat just give me the shivers. Yes,  this is Golden Dragon Palace. We get it.


We booked a table for 6 about two weeks ago and the lady called me a few days beforehand to confirm our 12:05 session (they have 3 yum cha seatings). We all rocked up at around 12 and had to queue up behind all these people or about 20 minutes. Not happy. I understand that the 10am session might’ve still been eating or that the waiters/waiteresses were still cleaning tables and setting cutlery which is okay, but if they were not going to be done on time, why not tell us to come at a slightly later time? Knowing that we had to be out by 1:45 didn’t help either. Anyway, enough about that. Onwards to the food!
We got the usual suspects…


… including my favourite! How I will rate a yum cha restaurant will largely depend on how nice their har gows are. Luckily, GDP passes the test with flying colours. They were big. They were filled with plump juicy prawns. And the dumpling skin was not too sticky. Two thumbs up!


We also had a few unconventional yum cha dishes including salt and pepper tofu. Okay, so this dish isn’t exactly “unusual” but this was the first time I’ve seen this being served at yum cha. Anyway, this was yum – probably one of the best salt and pepper tofu dishes I’ve had so far.


Some dessert made with lotus seed. I didn’t try it because I was full by the time it came to dessert but doesn’t it look pretty?


Okay, I lied. I DID manage to squeeze in room for one strawberries and cream-filled crepe. Such a gui lao dish but it was a great end to a very nice (and expensive!) lunch!
Adam’s parents + grandma. For some reason, I love this photo. Now, if only I can master portrait shots…


Adam’s parents + grandma + aunty


The two of us!

Total cost was just over $200 which, for 6 people, Adam thought was rather expensive as he is used to paying around $150 at Tai Pan or in one of those city yum cha restaurants and even though the service could use a little help, it wasn’t too horrendous and hey, the food was nice.

DINNER

Lantern Garden
608 Station St
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9890 7696

The original plan was to take my parents and my siblings to Lantern Garden, a humble Cantonese restaurant which has been a local favourite with our family for years. Adam and I had set aside just over $200 for the dinner so that we can order some seafood dishes. The night before the dinner, mum suddenly decides to invite my cousin Jess and her parents along (the parents are visiting from Indonesia) as she thought that they’d get pissy if they find out that they weren’t invited. Now, I love their company but I panicked because Adam and I only thought to bring enough to cover the 6 of us, not 9 people! However, mum told me that if we run out of money, she would cover the rest of the bill. Of course, that defeated the whole purpose of “mother’s day” but she told us that it was important to have the others along and so I let her win.

Okay, so dinner was supposed to start at 7pm. Adam and I rocked up at 6:55pm (after all, I am not the #2 most punctual person in my facebook network for nothing!). At just after 7, my sister Janice texts me to say that the family will be running late but did not state a reason. So we wait. By 7:20, I’m starting to get a little pissy before Janice rings me to notify us that they’re just walking across the road. FINALLY. Apparently the reason why they were late was because they had to wait for my cousin Jess to get back from the city. Or something. Trust. But at least we were all here. So here’s the cast list:


The Chinese equivalent to bread and butter – those herby soups with unidentified objects floating in them. I think this one had bits of chicken feet in it or something. I just drank the soup and gave the carcasses meat to Adam, hehhhh!
We had ginger and spring onion mud crab with noodles! Okay, so we weren’t planning on having this dish when we found out that three extra people were coming. But dad insisted on it and told us that he’d pay for it as he was so desperate to have crab. So we ordered about 4.5 pounds of mud crab (I think they charged us $20.80 a pound). It was damn good mud crab – very sweet, very juicy, and very flavoursome. Yum!


Stuffed beancurd. This is one of my fave Lantern Garden dishes.


Now, my brother is a gweilo and pretty much hates all seafood so we had to order some gweilo dishes to keep him happy. Honey peppered beef was one of them.


Ditto lemon chicken (granted, it was nice lemon chicken though. Crispy. Tangy. Fat trimmed. Meat juicy.)


And sweet and sour fish.The fish pieces were surprisingly larger than normal and one would have created a meal on its own at Verge. Heh, because we already had this one fish dish, mum wouldn’t let me order steamed fish but grrrr, next time…
Snow pea leaves + garlic. Apparently, they throw this bit of the snow peas away in Asian countries but they actually work well as an side dish (a HUGE side dish in this case!) in Chinese restaurants. Much lighter and tastier than Chinese broccoli or Bok Choy.


Mung bean and seaweed soup to finish off.


Family photo! Jess and I are at the back. L-R: Jess’ mum (my aunt), Jess’ dad (my uncle), dad, Janice (what an effing moron with her stupid wacky smile), Kenneth and mum


Same people as the previous photo but minus Jess and plus Adam

The total damage was… surprisingly very minimal (well, much less than what we expected anyway!). Even with three extra people and a huge serving of mud crab, we only paid $207 for dinner! Not bad huh! So mum didn’t have to pitch in money, we were all full and Adam and I walked away feeling good about ourselves. See, everyone’s happy!

That concludes another mother’s day. Phew. Both our mums were happy and hey, for once I’m not pissy to hear my mum brag to her friends about me for once “Oh, Libby and Adam took me to dinner. We had mud crab, nyeh nyeh nyeh!”

Verge (CLOSED)

1 Flinders Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9639 9500
In Melbourne, in Autumn
A walk down to Spring St
A tentative looking Block
A feeling, a moment
A bursting of bubbles
An anger to overcome
A kingfish, a tuna
An eloquent table
Flavours that do not work
Some wagyu, some veal slices
A crispy brown spatchcock
A patron who ain’t been pleased(If you are at all familiar with “On the verge of something wonderful” by Darren Hayes, then you will sort of get the above reference… or maybe not)

Adam took me to Vergelast night for an early birthday dinner thingy. Now, this European-inspired Japanese restaurant (okay fine, fusion restaurant) has been on my to-try list for quite a while now especially since John Lethlean from The Age gave it stellar reviews. Furthermore, somewhat positive reviews from Kelly and a bunch of other bloggers made me even more keen to try this place out. So we booked a table for 6pm on a Saturday evening about 2 weeks ago and managed to get a great table by the window so we can watch theatre goers walk West and footy-goers walk East.

At Verge, they only serve degustation menus on Saturday nights for some reason which may piss many people off but we both love degustation dinners so we were okay with it. 5 courses for $80 (plus extra if you want drinks), we thought, sounded pretty reasonable and the great thing about Verge‘s degustation menu is that you can actually choose your own dishes from a list, the only catch being that everyone in the table must have the same thing. We got straight to work immediately:

They gave us complimentary lime-cured kingfish sashimi as an appetiser which was very nice of them. What was not nice was the fact that it was bland bland bland and the kingfish was stringy. I wonder why they even bothered, really.

Raw tuna ravioli, chilled tomato consomme and Aruga caviar. We were given two “raviolis” with the skin made out of raw tuna meat which was filled with diced tomatoes and onions. Both pieces were topped with sliced daikon and Aruga caviar which sounds good on paper but it was actually quite bland (bland will be the main theme of this blog, I reckon). The tuna was fresh and juicy, I’ll give them that (better than the kingfish!) but the flavours were just… dead. And for the record, Aruga caviar tastes like a vegetable that has lost its flavour.  Once again, a very plain dish.

Oh and before I go on, I just want to apologise for the photo qualities. The room was pretty dark and while the atmosphere was lovely (dim lights, romantic setting, great views etc), they didn’t transfer well on camera. Plus, I’m still trying to figure out how to work the camera.

And also, the tuna ravioli pieces might look “decently sized” on camera but they were actually not much more bigger than a 50 cent piece.

Tataki of wagyu beef, umeshu noodle, grated egg white and onion ponzu. Once again, another tiny dish. Each wagyu would have been less than 5 cm across (we got served two slices each). Okay, this dish wasn’t BAD but it wasn’t fantastic either. The wagyu was fresh and would’ve probably tasted great with less frills on it because frankly, the grated egg whites did nothing to the dish. And neither did the umeshu noodle (umeshu = a form of Japanese fruit liquer). The fact that the wagyu slices were minuscule didn’t help either.

At this stage, Adam and I were starting to hear alarm bells. Two dishes in and none of us were completely satisfied. At this point, both of us should have lowered our expectations for the next dishes to come to avoid the wave of disappointment that was to come…

Slow poached veal, beetroot, fried tuna mayonaise and nameko mushroom. THAT was veal. Two slices that looked like they came from the ham section of Safeway’s deli . I don’t know why I agreed to this dish, particularly as I don’t really like beetroot but I ate everything on my plate as I was so eff-ing hungry. It actually wasn’t very very horrible. The veal slices were fresh and juicy and I liked the little fried cube which had the tuna mayo and mushroom sauce in it but in all honesty, this dish was a mess. None of the flavours worked well together and it just left a sour taste in my mouth.

Spatchcock, confit fennel and salsify with liver parfait. That was our main (which we got with a side bowl of salad). I think this would cost around $35 on its own which is the price you’d pay at a top notch restaurant. I guess Verge could charge that much seeing as it wins so many awards and everything. While I will not pay $35 for a measly spatchcock (yep, once again TINY!), I actually thought this dish was alright. It pretty much saved the entire meal from being a complete and utter flop. Unlike the other dishes, at least all the ingredients in this dish worked well together rather than fight for attention. I liked the gravy-like sauce that accompanied the bird and although the smoked yoghurt that was supposed to go with the liver parfait tasted a bit like those smoked salmon chip dips you get in supermarkets, it went alright with the food. And I liked the little wafer cigar which was filled with some creamy mushroom sauce too.

Guava and umeshu soup, mineral water and mint jelly, rockmelon sorbet. They should really stop trying so hard with the umeshu, they’re not impressing anyone really. Yes Dave, that’s a rockmelon sorbet. I don’t know what to make of this dish honestly. It was just a mess. The sorbet tasted more lemon than rockmelon. The mint jelly overpowered all the other fruits. And let’s not start with the umeshu.

Verdict: Need I not say anymore? It was not worth paying $80 per head for.

My main gripe about Verge were the size of their dishes. Now, I’ve been to many fine-dining establishments so I’m used to seeing dishes that a lot of my friends would deem “small.” But at least with those restaurant, I was never left still feeling hungry at the end. At Verge, I was only about 50% full. And yes, I know that fine-dining is more about quality rather than quantity but if a restaurant is going to offer a degustation menu, you’d think that you’d be at least 80%, if not 100%, full by 5-10 courses, dammit! And to drive the point further, usually the degustation would showcase the best dishes that a chef can offer. Looking back, I didn’t think any of the dishes were fantastic and some of them were just bland and awful. Adam and I wondered whether we just happened to pick all the wrong dishes but seriously, what were the odds?! There are about five choices in each sub category, so according to the law of probability, the odds of picking sub-par dishes in all five category are quite slim.

Service-wise, I think they were alright. Not friendly as some of the places we’ve been to but they were definitely doing their jobs. But like the food, I think most of the staff at Verge were all style and little substance. Very good-looking young people looking smart in their black uniforms but there were times when it required so much effort to get their attention and they could probably do with a little more happy pills but apart from, I guess I can’t complain. I don’t think I’ll be back there again as I wasn’t too happy with the meal. Sure, an $80 degustation dinner might seem pretty good value given that Verge features prominently in The Age Good Food Guide (not sure if it’s been hatted before) but given that the food wasn’t up to scratch and given that we were still mighty hungry, it was a very expensive meal for us and not really worth it. I would’ve given this place a FAIL but the spatchcock almost saved them from that. ALMOST.


The black skinny tie is BACK!
I think I was eating dessert here.

We then decided to go to Cho Gao seeing as it was on the way to Adam’s carpark for some drinks and FOOD.

Hehehe yep Dave, you’re spot on here. Cho Gao snacks were not bad. Those chilli fries again and a small plate of crab croquettes. Adam didn’t really like those croquettes but I actually thought they were decent for bar food.

We stayed there for a bit before leaving as we were starting to get annoyed at all these 18 year olds filling up the place and acting … annoying. And a bunch of gay guys dressed in YMCA gear for some function. The crowd last night just freaked us out.


Post-script: Adam gave me a new camera for my birthday, a Canon Powershot SX100 IS which explains why the pictures look kinda “different” to the photos featured in previous posts. Hopefully, I can produce some better ones once I get the hang of this thing!

Old Kingdom

197 Smith St Fitzroy
FitzroyVIC 3065
+61 3 9417 2438

That’s what the previous chef of Old Kingdom, a Chinese restaurant on Smith St, used to say to the diners during their meals. He was one helluva eccentric dude and used to freak me out. But now he’s gone and Old Kingdom has a new chef. And the duck tastes better too. I mean, the first time I went there, I didn’t really like the duck. It smelt funny and when my sister took a bite of her Peking duck, all this oil and fat came oozing out and spilt all over her. Ew. But the second time we went there, there was a big improvement. I think it was our third time here – it wasn’t as good as our second visit but definitely far from the sub-average score that I gave them on my first visit. I don’t think I’ve done a proper review of this place so here goes…

So, my parents are friends with this couple who come down from Indonesia every now and then because their only son goes to school here. They’re obsessed with the duck banquet at Old Kingdom and while I think it’s good, it isn’t THE best duck in Melbourne (I stand firmly with Flower Drum‘s peking duck). Nevertheless, I can see why this place is always packed during dinner as it serves decent duck for the price you pay. In my opinion, Melbourne’s 2nd best duck.

So these friends-of-my-parents, they invited my family and my cousin Jess’ family to have dinner at Old Kingdom. They also invited Adam along but given that he’s been having early starts all week and given that he’s got another long day tomorrow, I think it was wise of him to give it a miss. Dinner was at 6pm and we had until 8pm to stuff ourselves before the next set of diners arrived. Fine with us. Except that in true Indonesian style, the friends-of-my-parents rocked up 45 minutes late citing “traffic” as an excuse. Poor form guys . It’s Friday night and it’s Melbourne. You can do better. If everyone else got here on time then I don’t see why you can’t. Anyway, even though our allocated eating time had dramatically decreased, we still managed to be out of there by 8:01pm. Let me tell you what we had. Firstly, the duck banquet. Most people come here just for the duck as everything else on the menu is just average. Because the duck banquet is so popular, you need to pre-order in advance (give 1-2 days). For $25 (I can’t remember if it’s $25 per head or $25 per duck), you get a banquet out of one whole duck.

1) Peking Duck. Our table ordered 4 ducks which was more than enough to feed the 11 of us. They give you a plate of pancakes and another plate with spring onions and cucumber. But they ration it so if you run out of pancakes or whatever, you need to pay for another plate which is a bit tight arsey of them but I suppose a cucumber does cost an arm and a leg these days .

This was an attempt at a macro shot. FAIL, Libby, FAIL. You probably can’t tell what it is but it’s two pieces of crispy duck and a cucumber on a pancake.

2) Duck Stir Fry. The bits of meat that are too stringy or too small to be used in peking duck are tossed up in a wok with bean shoots and other vegies to make a duck stir fry. It’s quite yummy without being too heavy.

3) Duck broth. And the duck bones are used to make duck broth which has tofu and spring onion in it. Sounds boring but this soup is actually rather pleasant. Similar to that herby soup that my mum makes using pork marrow.

Of course, too much duck can be a bit boring. So we ordered some other stuff too. Lemon chicken. Sweet and Sour Fish. Peppered beef. JUST BECAUSE WE CAN, OKAY? (And also because my brother is so effing gui lao. “We’re going all the way to Fitzroy for duck?!”)

Given that we had a huge party of 11 people, the total of $349 was pretty cheap (no drinks apart from tea and water because we are tight arses). I mean, that amount can buy you dinner at Flower Drum for two so if you’re feeling like some decent duck, then Old Kingdom is worth visiting. Just don’t forget to book a duck in advance or you’d be spewing in your lemon chicken or sweet and sour pork while everyone else around you (WHO REMEMBERED TO PRE-ORDER) munch on their ducks!

Kum Tong

21 Anderson Creek Road
Doncaster East VIC 3109
+61 3 9841 8688

Adam’s mum decided to take us out for dinner last night to celebrate both Adam’s and his grandma’s birthdays. Yeah, I know. Three dinners for this guy – spoilt much?! Anyway, having been to Kum Tong (a Chinese joint behind my house) the other week, Adam’s parents decided to take us there as they enjoyed the food there. I’ll keep it short and sweet. There really isn’t much to rave on about as the food wasn’t that fantastic. As my title suggests, you can probably make better food at home using them trust ol’ Kan Tong sauces… Sorry for not remembering the names of each dish. I didn’t really look at the menu and left it up to Adam’s parents to order.

Feast!

 

I think this was the only dish that was vague exciting. Jumbo-sized prawns fried in some really strange batter made out of salted duck eggs. It might look like a year.8 science experiment but I actually quite liked it.

We each got a bowl of long-life noodles to eat with our food but of course, two bites and the noodles were gone so we had to order some extra rice. The noodles were just your standard fried-in-oyster-sauce-with-beanshoots-and-Chinese-greens-added fare.

Now this was the dish that Adam’s parents kept raving on about. Steamed chicken with I-forgot-what-sauce. They kept going on about how the chicken must be organic because the meat texture was different to what you’d normally get at Chinese places and yeah, they were right but I honestly don’t know what kind of suburban Chinese restaurant would use organic chicken so I was reluctant to believe them (Flower Drum and Silks are a different story).

Fish with tofu. Too much ginger spoilt it for me.

Venison with XO sauce. This was the first time I’ve actually tried deer meat. And it tastes pretty much like beef. Except more tender. And a little bit sweeter. Not horrible but I wouldn’t go around ordering venison as it didn’t really do it for me. And heck, you can create the same effect by tenderising your beef and soaking it in sweet soy at home.

OX scallops. Yeah, Adam’s family love their OX sauce. It’s alright but I prefer my ginger and spring onion. This dish was alright though. Nothing spectactular.

There were a few other dishes but I didn’t take photos of them so you’ll just have to imagine the seafood claypot, the shark fin soup (okay fine, that was a special order just for grandma) and the fried rice but like the other dishes, they were all pretty ordinary. It’s not like the restaurant didn’t try – they DID and they provided very friendly service but the food was just bleh and certainly wasn’t worth driving from the other side of Melbourne for (Adam’s family). Heck, it was not even worth a 2 minute drive for me (from my house). Now that I think about it, the site of this restaurant has been home to many many Chinese places in the past – Yum Cha Palace, Seahorse Restaurant and lots more. But I don’t think that either of them have stuck around for more than 2 years before a new owner and new name popped up. Heck, I think this Kum Tong place has only been around for a few months and given by how dead the place was, I don’t think it’ll last much longer. God knows why this is the case. Bad feng shui maybe? Or maybe the fact that the restaurant is only a stone’s throw away from a prominent underworld figure’s house has scared all the owners away… hmmm…In short, almost a fail but the prawns were a saving grace. But you wouldn’t see Libby having a birthday party or a dinner at this joint ever!

 

Shira Nui

247 Springvale Rd
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9886 7755

Okay so my title might seem a bit harsh and would possibly offend quite a few of my friends live in Glen Waverley. But I’m still pissy about the fact that some Glen Waverley resident decided to set up a “I live in Glenny-re” group on facebook about a year ago to stir up the way-more-superior beings in the “I live in Donny-re” group. The thing that irked me (and the other Donny group members) was that donny-re is strictly a Doncaster saying and that other groups don’t have the right to use our “trademark.” And frankly, Glenny-re just sounds … wrong. But anyway, I shouldn’t dwell on these things. After all, we all know that the Donny group is clearly the more superior. So those Glenny tryhards can just revel in the fact that they are nowhere near as awesome as us *grins*

Ahem. Digress much? I was supposed to talk about my dinner at Shira Nui this evening. Except that I got sidetracked. But seriously, Glen Waverley doesn’t really offer much in terms of “fine dining” as most Melburnians would know. A lot of inexpensive Cantonese joints which are great for post-karaoke sessions and a few bars here and there but that’s about it. On the outside, Shira Nui looks like just another rinky-dinky cheap joint but on the inside, it’s all class (as far as Glen Waverley goes, anyway). The inside has a very simple decor (beige wood) and looks very clean. The tiny room ensures that noise levels aren’t too high but the downside of having such a small restaurant is that it struggles to fit many people in which, of course, makes it hard to book large groups.

I had booked a table for 8 for the evening (my family of five, Adam and my cousin Jess and her parents). The whole point of the dinner was to celebrate my uncle (Jess’ dad) selling off a post office in Melbourne that he’d half-owned for over 10 years. We had wanted to have dinner on Saturday but unfortunately it was fully booked so we had to settle for Friday. Of course, this meant having to battle through peak hour traffic which made me 10-15 minutes late but the fact that the rest of the table was also late rendered my efforts to get there on time rather fruitless. Anyway, Jess told me to say that she couldn’t make it at the very last minute because she had a class at 6pm, which seemed a bit unbelievable because since when does Melbourne Uni schedule classes at 6pm on a Friday evening? *shrugs* Oh well. Her loss. We invited Josh’s parents along at the very last minute and we were glad that the restaurant was able to accommodate the extra people.

We ordered a few dishes to share between the four of us (me, Ken, Janice and Adam) while the other people on the other side of the table did the same. While I tried my best to recall every dish and how much they cost, keep in mind that I was very tired by the time I ate (and also as I’m typing this up) and I don’t have a menu to refer to so my reviews aren’t that “accurate.” Plus, I wasn’t the one paying for the meal. But I will do my best. Here’s what we ate:

Sushi and sashimi platter ($42). It had everything from prawn sushi to slices of yummy raw salmon, kingfish and tuna. One of the freshest raw fish I’ve ever had. The highlight of this dish was the salad portion of this platter which had bits of sashimi mixed with shredded daikon and lettuce with a tangy dressing. Yum! I wish I could say that this is the most awesome-est sashimi I’ve had but sadly, it JUST loses out to Shoya’s version (the ice bowl did it, jk jk). Still, it was extremely good and I would be happy to order it again next time.

 

Seared salmon sushi. I don’t think I’ve seen salmon sushi cooked like this before (usually they leave it raw) but I liked the smokey soury flavour that these little pieces of sushi had. Each piece of grilled salmon was dusted with this spicy peppery mix and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. So good!

Prawn sushi. I love prawns like I love Adam (heh!) so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this dish. Very simple but so full of flavour. The mayonaise dressing complemented the prawns really well.

Crispy Chicken Sushi. I’m not really a big fan of chicken sushi as I think it reeks of “gweilo try-hardness” but I was pleasantly surprised by how nice this dish tasted. It’s my aunt’s fave Shira Nui dish and I can understand why. The chicken pieces were fried to perfection without leaving that awful oily residue on the rice that you get from sushi in other places. Dip the chicken bits into the Worcester and Japanese mayo on the plate and ooooohhhh… gaaaaawd!

I can’t remember what this dish was called but it was a main. And a chicken. It had mushrooms and broccoli in it too. And it was ohh soo effing delicious. The secret was in the sauce. It was a soy based sauce but it also tasted very buttery. YUM!

This was a clear broth with all sorts of random things in it, but mostly seafood. It came with a sake and sesame dipping sauce which Adam quite liked. But we both agreed that the dish wasn’t anything to rave on about.

Several people ordered udons which came in cute little pots. The udons were alright but, once again, nothing to rave on about. You can definitely get cheaper udons in the city that taste just as good I reckon. Having said that, the seafood udon that my mum had impressed me as the scallop and prawn pieces were so juicy and sweet.

But everything else in the bowl was just meh.

The reason why I took this photo is because my brother is eating RAW FISH. This is an incredible event in itself as my brother hates seafood so yes, we were all shocked when Ken decided to try a piece of raw salmon. He said it was alright. Heh.

Ad Libs. Bwahhhh. Too much overtime. Not enough fresh air and exercise. And the fact that I haven’t had a haircut in months. No wonder I look so off.

That’s my sister. But I guess you can’t really tell just by looking at this photo. Heh.

My mum and my aunt (Jess’ mum). They made me take this photo so that my aunt can “prove” to my mum how much skinnier she (aunt) is compared to my mum. Heh.

The Indonesian mafia: My uncle (Jess’ dad), my old man and Josh’s dad.

Just realised that there is no photo of Josh’s mum but heh, who cares. (jokes)

Okay, I can see why people would drive all the way from Kyneton to eat at Shira Nui. The sushi is that good. And so are a few of their other hot meals. The fish is so fresh that one could be forgiven for thinking that they were dining at a seaside restaurant in Japan rather than Glen-effing-Waverley. Ooooh… I’m still thinking about that platter. But on the other hand, best to give their soupy dishes as miss as they weren’t all that fantastic. And for around $20 for a bowl of udon or whatever, you can get better deals at one of those cheap eateries in the city. I’d definitely go back here again – after all, I’m just 25 mins away – but I’d probably order 10 billion different kinds of sushi and other small dishes to share with everyone, kinda like tapas style. BUT GIVE THOSE SOUPS A MISS! Price-wise, I’m sorry that I couldn’t remember how much everything costed (except for the platter) but I do recall the dishes being a bit more expensive than your average Japanese restaurant but I definitely think they’re worth paying for.

Bottega

74 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 2252

So me and the gang had dinner at Bottega this evening, using Adam’s birthday as an excuse to splurge on dinner. Even though we already had dinner at the Drum last weekend, we rationalised our decision to have another dinner by saying that a dinner with just us two isn’t a “proper” birthday celebration, therefore we needed a dinner with the rest of the gang for it to count as a birthday dinner. We had initially planned on inviting 7-8 people but in the end, only 4 of us could make it.

It was one helluva cold and rainy night in Melbourne as Adam and I walked up Bourke St hill where all the fancy Italian restaurants were. We were given a seat by the window and asked to look at the wine list (which even included a WATER LIST of sparkling/mineral waters at around $12 a pop!) but because me and Adam aren’t yet wine drinkers, we gave them a miss. Dinner was supposed to have started at 7pm but Aaron and Tim didn’t show up until half an hour later because they couldn’t find parking. Boohhh. Poor form guys. City. Saturday night. Do the maths. Come earlier. Once they got settled in, though, the fun began…

The best effing entree/starter I’ve had in an Italian restaurant so far! Seriously, it was nothing short of MAGNIFICENT. I ordered the peppered beef carpaccio which resembled mini strips of prosciutto but not as salty or chewy. It was topped with truffle aioli (mmmmm!), plus generous servings of capers and shaved parmesan bits made this dish a taste sensation.  ($18.50)
Adam had the homemade pappardelle pasta with oxtail ragu, which actually tastes nicer than this photo may suggest. It was Adam’s first taste of oxtail and although he seemed hesitant in ordering this, I reckon he really liked it judging by how he managed to finish this in a matter of minutes! ($24.50 for an entree-sized serving)

I decided to go with a pasta for my main. I had a homemade nettle tagliatelle with fresh spanner crab ($32) as did Tim. I don’t think I’ve had nettle before but I really liked the herby/tea-like flavour it gave to the dish although I wasn’t sure if Tim thought the same thing as he shoved his nettle to the side. I was disappointed that there wasn’t much in terms of spanner crab and the fact that this MAIN was pretty much the same size as Adam’s entree (above) but on the other hand. Such a shame because I really liked this dish. For half the price I could’ve got something twice as big as my local La Porchetta but then again, at Bottega you are not paying for generic Aussie-Italian. You’re paying for taste and quality and in that regard, Bottega DID delivers so I guess I shouldn’t really complain…

Adam’s char-grilled aged Scotch fillet with marrow, pecorino, horseradish and parsley salad ($38). I only managed to have one bite of it and I guess it tasted okay but then again, I don’t usually order steak when I’m eating out so I don’t really have anything to compare to. On the other hand, Adam seemed to like it and he did say he was pretty fully afterwards so I guess he made the right choice with his main.Dessert! While Tim and Aaron had coffees and dessert wines, Adam and I decided to splurge for dessert. Being the coffee enthusiast that he is, Adam got the affogato set which came with espresso (white mug), Gianduia ice-cream (middle) and frangelico ($14). You’re supposed to pour both liquids onto the ice-cream, the combination of which, I’m sure, would taste awesome but because Adam was driving, he had to give the frangelico a miss so I gulped it down while eating my dessert.


My vanilla panna cotta with blue berries and candied lime ($14.50). Very refreshing, yum!

 

Happy Birthday, Ad!

I think we all enjoyed eating at Bottega. The food was, generally speaking, great. Despite some of our mains being rather meager in size, I think all of us were pretty satisfied. I guess the starters made all the difference as I’m sure we would’ve all ran to Hungry Jacks or something if we just had a main each (especially me and Tim with our fist-sized mains!). Service-wise, we didn’t really have any complaints. The waiters were attentive earlier on (when we were the only few diners who were there) but it became harder to get their attention as the restaurant became packed which, I guess, is understandable. Their service, while not rude, could have been a bit more friendly but then again, having been to a lot of other top-notch restaurants and having experienced some really good service (Ezard and Flower Drum, to name a few), I guess my standards are pretty high. As for the value-for-money factor… hmmm, obviously one wouldn’t come here right after a game at the MCG (especially with your team colours!) for a casual meal and expect to pay less than $20 but given that I was expecting to pay around $400 for all of us, I was happy to have only paid $270 for everything (once again, Adam and I don’t really drink so that played a factor in the final bill too) which meant that I still have some money to burn for tomorrow, yay! Bottega = would definitely go again, if only to have their beef carpaccio 4-5 times in one sitting! Heh!

Flower Drum

17 Market Ln
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 3655
Tonight I took Adam to Flower Drum as his birthday was coming up in a few days. He’d been wanting to try the place for a long time so in January, I made the booking and they were nice enough to ring me back a few days ago to confirm and everything. Yeah, we had to book in January because we all know how crazy Melbourne’s restaurant scene is and with a place like Flower Drum, there is no way one could rock up at 7pm on a Saturday night without a booking made at least three months in advance.
Many of you would know that Flower Drum has been one of Melbourne’s top restaurants for a number of years, and possibly the best Cantonese restaurant in Australia. Aussies love it. As for Asians, well… their opinions are pretty much divided. You get those who love love love it and then you get those who sneer at the mention of the restaurant before saying how there are better (and CHEAPER) Chinese restaurants and that people who go to Flower Drum are total fools, before turning their noses up. Of course, these people have not been to Flower Drum themselves so who are they to say stuff like that. But seriously though, you might whinge about how overly-priced the food is and how you can get just as good Chinese food in Chinatown (where?) but if someone offered to pay for your meal, seriously, you would NOT refuse. Who the heck would?! Anyway.If you’re planning to go to Flower Drum soon, let me warn you about a couple of things. Firstly, it’s Cantonese food. Meaning: It’s not innovative. There are no Teage Ezard or Robin Wickens in the Australian-Cantonese restaurant scene so don’t go there expecting innovative and wtf-ish-but-awesome dishes. Basically, you will find typical dishes such as Sweet and Sour Pork or Seafood Noodles which just so happen to be much tastier than your average Chinese restaurant in Chinatown as they use the freshest and best ingredients. For example, their pineapples don’t come from a Golden Circle tin from Safeway, they come fresh from Queensland. Secondly, Flower Drum has changed hands since my last visit there (about a few years ago). Back then, it was Gilbert Lau (the master) who controlled the joint and made everything magic. But now he decided that he had enough and sold the business to one of the chefs there, Anthony Lui. Not that Mr Anthony sucks or anything – the food is still good but it does not have the same magic to it that Mr Lau brought to all the dishes back then.

There’s Adam. You can’t really see it in the photo but the decor has not changed since it opened in the 80s. Like I said, Flower Drum don’t do innovation and modern cool. They’re are all about high-quality and reliability.

All the tables were filled for the night, half Asians and half white folk. Half were your every day commoners (ie us) while the other half were the rich, A-list type folk in pretty dresses that I would KILL for (and given that I’m not really into fashion, that says something about how HOT those dresses were. Phwoar). I could’ve sworn I saw some underworld figures sitting on the tables behind the wooden screen towards the back of the room but I wasn’t so sure…

Onwards to the food. Although the specials sounded enticing (I always wanted to try pearl meat!), we decided to go for the 6 course banquet ($150 per head).

Stuffed Crab Shell. This is similar to those baked oysters that you’d see at yum cha restaurants, only nicer. Given that it was cheesy, I was worried that I’d be full after this one course (my mum certainly was when we were here last!) but the waiters were very good with their timing and allowed us to sit and relax for a bit before bringing out the next courses.

Quail San Choy Bao. I’m not really a big fan of san choy bao. This one was alright but nothing special. Moving along…Fried Salt + Pepper King George Whiting with lemon sauce and 5-spice salt (on top in separate container). Haha, way better than bloody Rex Hunt’s Fish and Chip joint! This was one of the changes they made to the banquet (last time they had steamed trout, which was fantastic) and although I was like when I saw it being presented to me, I was actually surprised at how good it tasted. Crispy batter, plump pieces of fresh fish. Dip it in lemon sauce and a very very tiny amount of 5-spice salt and …. ooooh yum!Peking Duck. One of Flower Drum‘s most popular dishes. The waiters actually bring out trolleys with gas burners and steamers on them and prepare the little morsels for you. It’s definitely the best peking duck I’ve had in Melbourne. Old Kingdom on Smith St serve great Peking duck too (probably second to Flower Drum) and while OK is great value, their Peking ducks ain’t as moist, not-fatty and delicious as the ones I’ve had at FD…

Noodles with crayfish in ginger and shallot sauce. This is a lot like the mud crab and egg noodle dish that many families like to order at Chinese places, the only difference being the crustacean used. I liked that the chefs cleared out most of the shells which made it easier for us to eat the crayfish using chopsticks. After all, I didn’t want to eat this with my hands at Flower Drum!

Grain-fed eye fillet steak with lotus fried rice (Sichuan style). You can barely see the bowl of rice which is just slightly to the left of the photo. Last time, they had Cantonese-style steak which, I thought, tasted better than the steak we had tonight but then again, it could be my Cantonese-pwns-over-all-the-other-Chinese-cuisines bias talking. I’m not a big fan of Sichuan food so I struggled with this steak (aarrghhh the spice! *sips tea frantically*). Next time I think I’ll ask them if I could have the Cantonese peppered steak instead of this one.

Dessert! We got a really nice looking fruit platter. None of this plates-of-oranges or red-bean-soup business! And they even gave us mangoes, rambutans, starfruits amongst all sorts of other goodies.Almond cookies. Damn, these are so addictive. I wasn’t sure if they actually made them in the kitchen or if they bought them elsewhere but I certainly haven’t had almond cookies as nice as these. They gave us a plate of 6 cookies to share but when they gave us the bill, they gave us another plate of 6 which I wasn’t sure we were supposed to have. Either they really did not know that we already had our cookies or they were graced by our awesome presence so they decided to reward us with extra cookies. Ain’t complaining though.

All in all, a great meal but like I said, Flower Drum isn’t as good as it used to be. Still great but stops short of being super-dooper fantastic. Nevertheless, that did not stop the masses of people who came here for the night and given by how they’re still booked for three months on weekends, you can be sure that this place still remains a Melbourne institute despite all the funky modern eateries popping up every bloody five seconds. I guess the one thing that hasn’t changed (apart from the decor) is the service. You would NOT find better service elsewhere. Seriously. And definitely NOT at another Chinese restaurant. The waiter we had actually spoke ENGLISH and was smiling the entire time, plus he cracked a few jokes here and there. They were very attentive without being annoying and obtrusive; they constantly came to pour your tea/water and re-arrange your cutlery and would wait away from your table while you were talking so as to not interupt your conversation before they came in with your food. And yes, we were quite full by the end of the meal. In fact, I struggled to finish my steak! So yes, well worth your money… hell,  my stomach still aches at present!

Horoki

19 Liverpool St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 9663 2227

Adam and I had been wanting to try Horoki for a while so we made plans to have dinner there tonight. It’s situated in one of Melbourne’s alleyways and it’s a bit of a walk from all the action at Swanston St (especially in my pink heels!) but it’s well worth it. Although Horoki is first and foremost a Japanese joint, most of their dishes have Western elements in it so yes, I guess you could say that it’s a fusion restaurant. Now, even though I know a lot of people hate fusion, I actually find fusion food rather interesting and if done well, can be delicious. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if the food is not REAL Japanese or REAL Italian or whatever, if the flavours work well together, I don’t see why they shouldn’t serve these foods. After all, cooking isn’t about sticking to rules and procedures, I think that it’s got to do with creativity and to be able to pull something special out of a few wtf ingredients is worth commending. And besides, given that Melbourne is so diverse when it comes to people and restaurants, it seems fitting that some of these restaurants should serve remarkable fusion cuisine.

We started off with a tuna carpaccio which, I think, is one of Horoki’s signature dishes. Thinly-cut slices of raw tuna marinate with soy vinaigrette, streaked with mayo and topped with shaved Parmesan cheese and cherry tomatoes. I’m sorry about the awful photo (blame my peasant Cybershot). This picture really doesn’t do this dish justice, it was that good.

This was one of the specials – creamy crab dumplings. This reminded me of those Shanghainese dumplings – Xiao Long Bao – where you have the meat and a bit of “soup” inside the dumpling. The “soup” in this dumpling was very creamy, the texture not unlike carbonara sauce. It was very nice!


Korean beef tatare. I’m not sure what made this dish Korean but it was very yum. The quail egg made for great presentation – it made the whole dish look so damn cute that I was reluctant to “ruin” it by eating it! – and also gave it a more delicate flavour than a normal chicken egg would. This dish was great but it doesn’t exactly beat Izakaya Chuji’s yukke in terms of value and taste.

I can’t remember what this dish was called – something-something prawns. If you are at Horoki and see something that looks like “peri-peri” on the menu, then this is what you will get. You get a terracotta dish with eight decent-sized prawn pieces swimming in a broth of garlic, parsley, chilli and melted butter. I’m sure I would’ve consumed my recommended weekly intake of calories just by eating my four prawns and scooping up the melted butter with my bread but damn, it was worth it.

Horoki-style pasta. We were given the choice of a tomato, cream or a Japanese-style sauce. Given that we had already ordered several things that had cream in it, we decided to go for the tomato. This dish was alright enough but I didn’t think it was worth paying $14-odd for because compared to the other stuff we had, it was bland. In fact, it was something that Adam and I could quickly whip up in 5 minutes at home. Will definitely give it a miss next time.
Garlic bread with pesto. I think this one cost $5.50. I know that you can get a soggy roll of garlic bread for about $3 at Pizza Hut or buy a bag of it from the fridge section of your supermarket but I thought Horoki‘s garlic bread was nicely done – crispy without falling apart and the garlic butter had so much flavour. My only vice about it was that they put too much pesto on it.


Soft shell crab with sour cream mayonnaise, yuzu and baby capers. The flavours of the four pieces of crab are tangy with the yuzu marinade but the mayo neutralises its sharpness by making it sweet. Very nice.

I think each dish shown here cost $13-14, apart from the garlic bread which was $5.50. Adam and I both ordered iced tea which brought the bill up to $93.80, which really isn’t too bad given how satisfied we were. I think we paid a similar price for the meal we had at Movida not too long ago, the only difference being that we were happy with our Horoki experience and not-so with Movida. Yes, the main reason why we both liked Horoki was because the food was awesome – it was daring but it delighted whereas most of Movida‘s food just stayed on the mehhh level. Another thing about Horoki is that it isn’t pretentious and doesn’t try too hard. Its settings are humble, its people are friendly and the atmosphere relaxed. Movida, on the other hand, is a bit of a show pony with waiters who are friendly enough but have that I-work-here-therefore-I’m-so-cool attitude.
And getting back to what I said about fusion food too. When you go to a Japanese place like Koko, you’d expect to eat food of very high standards. However, their food will not make you go WOW because you know what to expect and they deliver. At Horoki, on the other hand, you don’t know how the cheese and the tuna will actually taste when combined together so you don’t expect anything. But when you pop a tuna morsel into your mouth, your tongue will taste something very very different – and awesome – and that will make your eyes pop out like a character from a bad anime movie. Highly recommended.

Penang Coffee House

549 Burwood Rd
Hawthorn VIC 3122
+61 3 9819 2092

I love Hawthorn. This suburb, only 15-20 minutes from my house, holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. But due to time constraints tonight (early start tomorrow, argh!), I’ll just list two one:

My dad was an international student studying Applied Science at Swinburne University during the late 1970s. This was before the days of IT degrees and every student having a computer to themselves so I don’t exactly know what they taught him. Nevertheless, he managed to gain enough nerd skillz out of that course to become a systems analyst a few years down the track. It wasn’t all fun and games back then though – uni students these days have it much easier. There were only like, five TYPEWRITERS in his faculty that was for students, and whenever he wanted to type up an assignment, he would have to queue up to use the typewriter. I don’t want to imagine what I’d do if I was in his shoes. Ugh.

Anyway, so that was pretty much how it was back then. Apart from hanging around with uber nerds, he hung out with a bunch of Indonesians who knew some other Indonesians studying in Melbourne and that’s how he met my mum (awww!). And because Australia was a backwards nation back in the late 1970s, there wasn’t much to do in the form of entertainment except for sitting around in someone’s apartment, singing Indonesian folk songs. This was also before Melbourne became Australia’s foodie capital so there wasn’t much in terms of decent food. There was only one Malaysian restaurant back then and that was Penang Coffee House in Hawthorn, just around the corner from Swinburne.

It was one of my dad’s favourite joints as a student because well, who the heck would choose soggy chips and mutton over a steaming bowl of laksa?! Okay fine, Aussies would have back then. But not my dad. He was there fairly often; it was his favourite Malaysian joint before more and more Malaysian restaurants started mushrooming around Melbourne as more and more Malaysian immigrants came during the next few decades. Now, he says that Rasa Malaya in Doncaster East serves better food but critics still say that Penang Coffee House still serves decent Malaysian food.

Adam and I decided to see for ourselves today. We took the train to Auburn (gotta love cheap arse Sunday tickets) and walked down Burwood Road to the small, modern-looking cafe. The funny thing about this place is that despite their name, they don’t actually serve coffee on their menus – not even Malaysian cold coffee. If anyone can explain why they’d call it Penang Coffee House, then please enlighten me. The guy who served us was this tall Asian guy with an Aussie accent whose family became the second (and current) owners of the restaurant. We decided to order an entree and a main dish each and share everything. Here’s what we got:

Loh Bak (meat spring roll wrapped in beancurd) + fried tofu cubes ($5.80). My mum makes an Indonesian interpretation of this dish which tastes better than the one that was served here but it was still alright. I did express some mild wtf-ness when I saw the sauce though – it was just some sweet soya sauce with peanuts and sesame instead of the chilli/five-spice powder/egg sauce that I’m used to but oh well.

Roti Paratha (Bread with curry sauce) ($6). When I first saw the price, I almost bulked as it was more expensive than what other places charge for this dish – hell, you can get it for half the price at Goldan Fork in the city and be stuffed! But seriously, this was one of the best roti’s I’ve ever had. It was very crispy with the right amount of soft flakeyness inside. The sauce wasn’t half-bad either. I wasn’t sure if they made this from scratch or if they’d bought the roti from some supplier but I’m going to guess that they made it because I don’t think I’ve ever seen roti like this in grocery stores before (though if someone is willing to prove me wrong, then by all means do so!)

Chef’s Creation (Fried Vermicelli with seafood, garnished with dried minced shrimp, peanuts and fresh coriander) ($13). This tasted very Thai. It was alright, but it was nothing that your local Thai take-away around the corner cannot do.

Seafood Laksa Lemak ($13). Apparently people come here for their laksa so I chose this particular one because it sounded the most appetising. It had a generous mix of Hokkien and vermicelli noodles with pawns, squid, fishcake and beanshoots. At $13 a bowl, you really can afford to be generous with the servings – not that I expected any less. It was nice but I think that Laksa King on Flemington Road make a much better laksa. And I think they charge only $10 for it too (not 100% sure but it’s definitely less than $13). And plus, their servings are much bigger.

Overall Verdict: It was alright. In the late 1970s, I would’ve lavished heaps of praise over this joint but given that it’s 2008 and the fact that there are heaps of Malaysian restaurants in Melbourne that serve better food, they could do with a bit more work. Having said that though, they have been around for a while and have established themselves in the community as being the first “authentic” Malaysian restaurant in the city, which works wonders for their advertising strategy. And given by the number of people that were there at even 2pm, it looks like they won’t be going out of business for a long long time.

Cafe Vue (red box April 2008 edition)

340 Little Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9691 3899

What a bloody windy day it has been today…

As I will be working full-time on the other side of the city, I doubt that I will be able to go to Cafe Vue every month to buy these red boxes as I won’t have time during lunch to get them so this is will probably be the last one for a while. How sad. Anyway, April’s box:

Cucumber, fennel and grapefruit salad: Okay, so far I’ve said decent things about the contents of previous lunchboxes and last month’s salad was heavenly (oh god, those tomatoes!) but seriously, this salad was just bland.  The cucumbers and grapefruit I could deal with but chewing bitter raw fennel  made me not a very happy camper. I could not even taste any dressing which made me wonder whether they forgot to put some or whether the whole point of the salad was to try the wonderful flavours of these vegies/fuit in their natural form or something. Either way, Shannon Bennett gets a FAIL for this month’s salad.

Spiced lamb samosa: This was nice, too small but nice. Nothing special as I’m sure your local Indian foodcourt cafe can whip up something like that but it was good. Especially if you’ve just had one bite of raw fennel .

Chicken and caper sourdough bagel: While the bagel does not exactly reach Glicks standard, this was probably the best thing out of this month’s lunchbox thanks to the filling. It was very sweet, with only a hint of capers to give it that extra ooomph.

Rum baba with Sauternes and butter sauce: A rum baba is a small yeast cake that’s saturated in rum, this was nice but perhaps a bit too rich for me.