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!


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.



179 Russell St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 1938

Adam’s parents kindly bought us some spicy chicken from Rose Garden when Adam and I came to visit later this afternoon. We shared a box each and decided that we were still hungry. With many restaurants in the area closing between lunch and dinner and not wanting to eat at the dodgy-but-yum Shanghai Dumpling place again, we decided to try out that Japanese cafe Teppansan on Russell Street. Although I walk past it all the time to either go to that Asian DVD place with Adam (groan) or to eat at that mainlander joint with Aaron or Ted, I’ve never been inside it. After hearing people talk about how cheap it is and how fantastic their okonomiyaki are (Japanese pancake/pizza), we decided to give it a try.

Now, I love my okonomiyaki. They’re cheap and they’re filling. For less than $3 at many places, you can get a slab of fluffy pancake that’s got all sorts of vegies in it, which is drizzled with tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mayonaise. For me, the more sauce it has, the better. Yum! Even though you can get them everywhere in Melbourne, it’s really hard to find a place that does a really nice one. The majority of them taste and look like the not-so-nice foodcourt sht. When Damairu was still standing, there used to be this little cafe on one of the top levels that served Japanese fare. It looked vaguely like Kenzan at GPO. Anyway, they served the best okonomiyaki that I’ve ever tasted. Sure, it’s a little expensive at $6 a serving (cf $2.50-$3.00 at a typical suburban foodcourt outlet) but it also had a whole egg in it as well as seafood. Yum! I was sad when that place shut down because I knew I would never have the chance to eat that again. Unless I go to Japan or something but c’mon, what are the odds of that happening anytime soon?

Anyway, I was keen on trying this magical Japanese “pizza” so here we were at Teppansan. We arrived at 4:30ish, so it would’ve been a very very late lunch or early dinner. However, they still get their lunch specials up which is valid until 5pm. I think from memory, there is a $5.80 lunch special where you get a teriyaki and some miso soup which is pretty good but Adam and I opted for the $10 lunch box thing. For $10 each, here is what we both got:

Miso soup. Which was just normal, not awful but not orgasmic either. Then again, it is kinda hard to make miso soup so extraordinary or make it taste really bad.

California rolls. We were given the option of these or takoyaki (octopus balls) but I was disappointed to learn that they weren’t available. Oh well. The sushi was decent, I think the mayo made all the difference. You can tell that a Chinese person made them but who cares about these sorts of things?! As long as the food is okay why whinge about whether a “real” Japanese person made them? (That’s another post for next time).

Spring rolls. They were vegetarian and tasted okay enough. I loved how they were pretty liberal with the mayo.

Adam ordered the beef okonomiyaki which looked… well, ugly. The dough with all the vegies were on top, teriyaki beef on the bottom and in the middle there were lots of cooked onions. It was quite nice, despite the fact that there were so many damn onions.

I ordered the seafood version. It was basically the same as the beef one, but it had prawns and octopus in it (if they had octopus to make this, why the fck could they not have used it for the takoyaki?! Grrrr). Because it was a seafood okonomiyaki and we were charged the same price for the beef, they obviously skimped out on the sauces on top. Trust .

Verdict: Yes, it was nice and for that price, our meal was good value. We were so stuffed! Adam couldn’t even finish his food so I had to help him with the last little portion of his beef (god, no wonder I’m so chubby now). The service was friendly and very prompt – we were given our miso soup almost immediately. While it was better than most other okonomiyaki I’ve had in Melbourne, the Daimaru one still pwns over everyone’s, hands down. Having said that though, I’d definitely come back here again for lunch because it’s so damn cheap. Notice how I said lunch.

Ahhh the love of my life.

I’m talking about iced tea, not Adam.

Heh, I’m joking I’m joking!

Phuong Vi

56 Alfrieda St
St Albans VIC 3021
+61 3 9366 1729

Adam’s parents took me and Adam out to dinner this evening. With a lack of decent dining facilities in the Keilor Downs/Kealba area (Souvlaki Hut anyone?) we went to St Albans for some Chinese-slash-Vietnamese fare. We were originally going to go to Quang Vinh on Alfrieda Street but it was packed so we headed a few doors down to Phuong Vi, a not-so-packed but rather decent joint from what I’ve experienced the last time I ate pho there for lunch.

Apparently the restaurant is currently under new management so everything was new. There used to be this Viet fob waitress who had this massive crush on Adam. Every time he came in, she would rush out to serve him and make chit-chat with him. And while he ate, she would sit at the counter and admire him from afar. The first time Adam brought me there, she took one look at me and said to him, “She’s your sister right?” before Adam decided to humour her by saying that yes, I was his sister while grabbing my hand/playing footsie during the meal etc etc. Yessssss, we are one fcked up very very close family indeed. Ugh.

Okay, onwards to the food! Upon opening the menu, this made me laugh:

Yeah, obviously proof-reading was never high on their list of priorities. Adam and I argued as to whether they really meant ‘crab’ or ‘carp’ but personally, I think they meant carp because there was no way they’d charge the crab soup $7.00 while charging $8.00 for the fish soup above it. And salted crab sounded, I don’t know…

And while the ‘crap’ thingy was obviously a typo, I couldn’t help but think that this was somewhat a subtle form of foreshadowing for things to come…

I ordered an avocado smoothie. At $2.50 a pop, I reckoned that this was a pretty good price given that other Viet places I’ve been to charge $3+. Although Vietnamese avocado smoothies are nowhere near as nice as the Indonesian version, I liked this one. Yum!

While I was happily sipping on my smoothie, Adam was waiting patiently for his mung bean one, but halfway into eating my meal, it had not yet arrived which prompted Adam to ask the waiter whatthefeckwasgoing on. And lo-and-behold! 30 seconds later, his mung bean smoothie was presented.

This is my vermicelli with spring rolls. I usually order pho or seafood rice noodle soup when we have Vietnamese, but having already had chicken pho for lunch (write-up coming up next) I decided to have this one instead. Now, I rarely order this dish myself and instead, steal some bites off whoever is with me and happened to order this dish but today I decided to eat my own. The first time I ordered this dish was at Tila on Swanston Street. I didn’t really like their version of it because they were stingy on the spring rolls and their vermicelli was soggy. Phuong Vi did a much better version with the vermicelli being fragrant and “al dente”, if you like. The accompanying nuoc cham was done really well – the right amount of sweetness and tangyness – but I couldn’t say the same for the spring rolls. They didn’t really taste all that fantastic and you could tell that they had been sitting around for a while because of their limp texture. And wtf was with the gado-gado vegetables (including. cos lettuce) on the side? Overall, though, it wasn’t too bad and I managed to finish it all off but it really wasn’t that fantastic.

Adam decided to go for the tomato rice with crispy chicken wings. It took forever to arrive (as with Adam’s dad’s noodles). Put this way, I’m not a fast eater. My vermicelli was quite big. And I was almost done with my meal when Adam’s dish arrived. Yes, I know I know, new owners and all but ffs, this is Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is simple and does not require a lot of time to put together. I could understand if it was a fine dining establishment but we’re talking about no frills easy-peasy Vietnamese food.

The rice was very bland but that was nothing in comparison to the chicken. By golly, they were just awful! I don’t think this photo shows it very clearly but the batter in which the chicken wings were fried in had this god-awful bright yellowy colouring to it. I’m not sure whether they used curry powder in the batter or whether it’s the overdose of MSG giving the chickens an unearthly glow. Either way, they made the chicken taste awful. Poor poor Adam.

We all shared a Cantonese steamed barramundi. I can fairly say that this was the highlight of my Phuong Vi experience tonight. The barramundi was bigger that what we usually get at Chinese restaurants and the flesh was delicate without being the least bit soggy. Although they should have put a few more coriander sprigs okay, I think I’m just getting fussy .

After that meal, I don’t think I’d hurry back there for a while. There are way better Vietnamese restaurants than this in Footscray/Richmond/Springvale/Box Hill. Come to think of it, I don’t think that any of the restaurants in St Albans are excellent (from what I’ve experienced anyway). Even the kebab shop on the same street, which used to be decent five years ago, has gone downhill and is no longer worthy of the title “Victoria’s Best Kebabs.” But then again, I haven’t really tried many of St Albans’ Vietnamese places so if anyone knows of any decent places there, let me know!

Imperial Kingdom

546-554 Waverley Rd
Glen Waverley VIC 3150
+61 3 9802 6787

After this morning’s Easter Sunday church service, I had yum cha at Imperial Kingdom with le boyfriend and la famiglia. Now even though Imperial Kingdom isn’t the best yum cha restaurant in Melbourne, it is usually where we go for yum cha after church because it’s the closest yum cha joint to the church and as soon as the service is finished, we are usually famished and can’t be bothered going all the way to say, Doncaster for yum cha. Sure, Gold Leaf on Burwood Hwy is the closest yum cha joint to my church but everyone reckons that place is crap so we don’t even bother with it.

Anyway, I had booked a table at 1:15pm under the name TAN (because 1) it’s my mother’s Chinese maiden name and 2) fobs always get my name wrong when I book it either under my first name or surname). Adam and I rock up 10 minutes earlier to find a massive line outside the door. So like civilised human beings we queued up and finally got to the end of the line. Before all these rude bitches started cutting in and yelling at the reservations chicks, “TABLE FOR FIVE.” FFS, you are not in Hong Kong anymore, if you want something, you QUEUE. And serves you right for being told that there are no more tables as the place is FULLY BOOKED, arschelarches.

So we get to our table and had to wait 15 minutes for our tea to arrive. Actually, we had to yell to a waiter to fill up our tea which was ridiculous – the first thing you’re supposed to ask the diners is what tea they would like. Had we not said anything to the waiter, I don’t think we would have gotten our tea. Anyway, our chicken pies, taro balls and sui mai’s started coming so we thought that we’d finally get the show on the road. Except that things didn’t exactly get any better. Adam ordered a zha liang (Chinese fried donut wrapped in rice noodle rolls) and it took forever to come out. Finally, we saw a waiter bring out a plate of zha liang. But instead of bringing it to us, he just left it on the counter and that’s where it sat for about 15 minutes. Adam, who is usually so calm and reserved, suddenly lashed out on the waiter and asked him why the heck that dish was sitting there for so long. That got the poor waiter to quickly scurry back with the plate and fix up some sauces, which was kinda amusing to say the least but seriously, that should never had happened at all!

And then there was the matter of the har gows and chicken feet. Now, I love my har gows. They are the benchmark in which I judge yum cha restaurants. If they don’t do it right, then I won’t be happy – even if the rest of the dishes are decent. If they do it right, then I will rave on and on about the restaurant for ages to come. So you can imagine how I was feeling when they still had not brought out the har gows when they starting bringing out the dessert trolleys. To annoy us even further, the same waitresses kept going back and forths bringing out trolleys with fried prawn toasts about seven times. I mean, what’s the point? If we tell them that we don’t want any prawn toasts, what makes them think that we’d say yes to the prawn toasts the seventh time they came around?

We were about to leave but they managed to bring them out at the very last minute which wasn’t really good enough. Mum reckoned that they had run out of prawns in the earlier sitting but to me, that does not give them an excuse to slack around. Given that the place has been in business for a number of years, you’d think that the head chef would be quite competent at forecasting and buying ingredients accordingly. Given that the har gow is probably the most popular yum cha dish, you’d think that they’d buy enough prawns and then some to ensure that they would not be left short. Ugh.

Because that lunch gave me such a headache, I’m going to tell mum to have yum cha at Tai Pan in Doncaster East next time. Even though it gets really packed and cluttered during Sunday lunches, at least they’re reliable with their service and they certainly don’t leave dishes sitting in the counter for 15 minutes! The main reason why we don’t bother with Tai Pan after church is because it’ll take us a good 20-30 minutes to drive back to Doncaster. And add on another 30 minutes on top of that to account for ample talking/gossiping with the Indonesian community time at church too. So by the time we arrive at Tai Pan, our table would’ve already gone to some family waiting in the queue. At least Tai Pan, however, does not disappoint on the har gow .

Movida Bar De Tapas Y Vino

1 Hosier Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 3038

I’ve been dying to try Movida, supposedly Melbourne’s best Spanish restaurant, for quite a while now. It wins 10 billion awards, people rave on about it and there is always a queue outside the door during the busy lunch/dinner periods. We had to wait an entire month for a free table on a Saturday night so when the time came for us to try some yummy tapas (yesterday evening), Adam and I were excited.

Movida is located in an alley between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane. There is a cobblestone path right along the alleyway so be careful if you are wearing $1,500 Manolos or you will risk getting your heels stuck!

Oh by the way, the photo is meant to look like that. I was “experimenting” with Photoshop.

Normally I hate graffiti but Hosier Lane is home to some pretty impressive graffiti art. There was a really cool one of a biker chick but unfortunately it didn’t turn out good on camera.

Okay, onwards to the Movida experience!

(PS: I apologise in advance for the shoddy photo qualities. Due to the dim lighting, I was unable to take good photos. And my camera doesn’t have manual settings so I couldn’t fiddle around with shutter speeds/aperture or any of the photography mumbo-jumbo thingys).

When we walked in, we were greeted by a line of people waiting for a table to open up. Although patrons are advised to book tables well in advance, there is still limited seating available at the bar for walk-ins. We got seated immediately by the token Asian waiter who promptly gave us drinks menus to look at while I surveyed the surroundings. Although the restaurant is Spanish, the furniture and decor looked so IKEA (i.e. simple balsa wood furniture) that it was almost hard to believe that we were in an “authentic” Spanish joint. But people don’t come here for furniture, they come here for food. After ordering a glass of sherry, Adam and I began the auderous task of choosing the dishes from the menu. Basically, the menu is divided into two sections: 1) TAPA (which are little single snacks) and 2) RACION (Small plates of food which are designed to be shared among your friends – or you can have one to yourself if you are a greedy asslarche). It was quite hard to choose only a few dishes as most of the stuff they had on offer sounded pretty damn good but in the end, we ordered these:

Okay, so we didn’t order this but they served us complimentary bread like most good restaurants SHOULD. It was a really nice ciabatta-like bread with speckles of sea salt and cheese on the crusts. Olive oil was provided in a little well and was infused with tomatoes. Yum!

Let’s start with the tapas: Much to my disappointment, the kitchen had run out of scallops so they weren’t able to enlighten me with their vieira, jamon y espuma (half-shell scallop oven-baked with jamon and potato foam). I had heard good things about this dish and being an avid seafood fan, I was keen to try it. Damn damn damn.

I substituted my scallop for a freshly shucked oyster that was accompanied with jamon vinaigrette . The aioli was very nice and went well with the oyster.

Croqueta (fried silky croquette flavoured with mushrooms). I love mushrooms so this little bugger worked a treat for me. Very creamy and tasty.

Costilla con sobrasada (roasted lamb cutlet encased in a Catalan pork and paprika pate). I reckon this was one of the nicest lamb cutlets I’ve ever had. The lamb was moist and juicy, and the pate had some mint undertones in it which complemented with the cutlet’s peri-peri-like marinate.

Pimiento de piquillo (Piquillo pepper filled with crab and potato). Adam was keen to try this one but I told him that many people found this item to taste odd. Nevertheless, we ordered it and we were both pleasantly surprised. Very very nice, especially when dipped in the potato cream. Mmmm!

Pollo escabache al Miguel (Spiced chicken escabache tapa on crisp crouton). This was okay, nothing too spectacular. If anything, a bit too spicy for me though.Now for the racion:I thought about ordering the abugo jamon but at $20 for 20 grams, I decided against it. I could get the same jamon at Casa Iberica (Spanish food store on Johnston Street) for half the price!

Chocos con garbanzons (Pan-seared marinated cuttlefish with chickpeas, mint and tomato salad). This was an alright dish. Nothing to harp on about.

Conejo (confit farmed rabbit twice cooked with piquillo peppers). It was the first time I’ve actually tasted rabbit and surprise surprise, it tasted just like chicken. Derrrrr . But anyway, this dish was yum – I hope that rabbit served at other restaurants taste as nice as this!

Cecina (Air-cured thinly sliced wagyu beef, topped with truffle foam and a poached egg). Okay, here is where I will begin my rant. From this point onwards, it will be bitchbitchbitch from my mouth. Now, there was nothing wrong with the dish. It was yummy, even though it may have been very very salty. But it was not OMGOMGWOW! Now that would have been fine if not for the fact that this dish won the “BEST DISH OF THE YEAR AWARD” in last year’s Age Good Food Guide. That I was not too pleased about.

I think that when Frank Camorra was creating this dish, he was feeling a bit jealous of all the awards that Interlude‘s Robin Wickens was winning for this weird-combinations-but-hey-these-flavours-work-so-well-together dishes. So he started making his own Interludian creations: “Okay, so we’ll chuck in a few slices of wagyu. Because everyone in Melbourne loves that overrated crap known as wagyu. And we’ll add truffle foam on top of it. Because molecular cuisine is sooo totally in at (the moment). Why truffle? Because it’s rich people food and people like to copy rich people, no duh! And hey, if it worked for Serena van der Woodsen in episode one of Gossip Girl, then it will work for the commoners of Melbourne! Okay, what else to put? Ohh, I know, an egg! Because we need to justify charging $17 for the dish and vegetable items would not do. Yes, an EGG. There, brilliant! Eat that Robin Wickens!” Dish of the year? Heck, I’ve had much better things at Sofia and La Porchetta! As Gordon Ramsay would say, Oh f*ck me! After that, we were almost satisfied but had room for a couple more tapa. So we ordered one each and not long after, my Ortiz (Cantabrian artisan anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet) arrived.

Again, Mr Camorra tried to channel Robin Wickens but I think that he got it right this time. The weird combinations of salty anchovy successfully married with the sweet and slightly tangy salsa. I don’t think Adam liked this dish though because he was expecting it to be hot but got a nasty surprise when he took a bite and the coldness made his teeth go numb. Heh.

We were waiting quite a while for Adam’s San Jacobo de Cordonice (Hunter Valley quail, boned and filled with mahon cheese and crumbed). I don’t know how long we waited but given that our other dishes arrived pretty quickly, the wait for the quail seemed to last forever in comparison even if it may have only been about 10 minutes. The table next to us consisted of a trendy young couple who seemed to be on a blind date or something. Anyway, I noticed that the waiter had given them a plate with a quail on it right after I got my anchovy crouton. What was extraordinary was that the couple had already ordered a couple of quails earlier on so it did seem kind of weird for their quails not to have come at once.I had a sneaking suspicion that the quail that was delivered to their table was ours but I didn’t want to accuse anyone just in case it HAD been theirs so I didn’t say anything. And besides, the waiter kept telling us that our quail was coming. FINALLY, it had arrived. It was yummy but at this point, I had gotten a bit cranky about that a measly quail that I didn’t take a photo and wanted to get out of there post haste. For those who are crying and wanting to know what the quail looked like, just scroll back up to the photo of the mushroom croquette and visually enlarge it by 40% and you will have it.

The bill came to just under $100 which was rather reasonable given that we were pretty satisfied (no running to Maccas!) and that this was a hatted restaurant. It probably would’ve been more expensive for other people because of the wines but because me and Adam aren’t big drinkers, we didn’t have a panic attack when we saw the bill. Verdict: The meal was a bit of a hit and miss. There were some dishes that were done really well, some of them which were just blehhh. Granted, none of them were horrible … but I don’t know, I guess I expected more because of all the hype. I think that Movida is a good place for a date (from overhearing the blind-date-couple’s conversation, it seemed like they really hitted off – they barely touched their food!) or simply for having a few drinks (and tapas to go with the drinks too). It would also be a good place for a birthday but if you’re Ms Popular and happen to have 10 billion friends, don’t go to Movida because they only accept bookings of maximum 8 people (or was it 6?). The food was innovative, yes, and in some cases it worked in Movida’s favour but when it came to the taste-test, I think that it falls short on some occasions. Heck, even the no-name tapas bars that line Johnston Street serve better and cheaper food! In short, good but perhaps a tad overrated.

Glicks Cakes and Bagels

325 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9614 0533

I went to the Calvin Klein sample sale today at their Melbourne HQ but didn’t buy anything because all the stuff they had was sht so to those who are planning to go but haven’t done so, DON’T BOTHER. For lunch, I went to Glicks Cakes and Bagels on Flinders Lane because I’ve been hearing how GOOD their challahs are by none other than my token Jewish mate, Jono. Now, Glicks is a bagelry that’s been operating in Carlisle Street for yonks and is highly respected in Melbourne’s Jewish community. I’ve heard so many good things about their baked goodies, particularly their challot (sweet braided bread)but have never had a try to give them a try. But now that they have a store in the city, I have no excuse but to try their stuff. You can get a plain bagel for 80 cents but their filled bagels aren’t that expensive either. There are different things that you can fill your bagels with (but no pork products including ham!) but I decided to get my old time favourite, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers ($7.50).

This humble bagel made me so full! The pieces of salmon were so thick and juicy and ooooh, don’t get me started on the bagels! They were soft and chewy, exactly how a bagel should be. None of this hard, stale crap that you get from coffee houses (not making names but *cough* Hudsons Coffee *cough cough*)!

Tien Dat

3 Carrington Rd
Box Hill VIC 3128
+61 3 9890 9699

It’s been one helluva hot weekend and with temperatures in their mid to high 30s, staying at home was not ideal – heck, the aircon only covers the dining and living room areas and naturally, my room is the hottest room in Summer because it’s so far from the aircon and because the sun is always facing it during the day. Anyway, Adam and I couldn’t be bothered with the whole Moomba thing so we decided to hang out at Box Hill library on Sunday. But before we did, we had to have lunch. Now, when one is at Box Hill, one would normally have Cantonese chow because the area is dominated by Chinese people. And if you’re a scaredy-cat who is scared of Chinese food or felt like something different for once, you’d go to Nandos or (if you’re desperate), La Porchetta. Even though the Asian/Caucasian population in Box Hill is 10 billion to one, there is surprisingly few Vietnamese folk. Apart from that dodgy Viet restaurant near the intersection of Station/Whitehorse (Kim Thuy Vi), the ubiquitous Pho Dzung and the not-so-fantastic Sunny Court, you wouldn’t find many Viet joints.

If you happen to be on Carrington Road, however, you might find yourself in front of a small little joint called Tien Dat. Although I’ve been going there for years, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it much so I’ll do a review.  Anyway, Tien Dat doesn’t look like your typical Vietnamese restaurant – the ones you get in Footscray, Richmond or Springvale. It’s more furnished, more “clean” and more homely. Adam and I reckoned that it’s because the owners might be from Hanoi (c.f. most Vietnamese in Australia who are from Saigon) and apparently Hanoi is the “style capital” of Vietnam, hence the attention to decor. When I go to a Vietnamese restaurant, I tend to be very boring and order a simply beef pho and sometimes when I’m feeling adventurous, I’d *gasp* order a seafood noodle soup. . But when I’m with Adam, we always share our dishes anyway so we would always have a variety of things to eat.

Vietnamese spring rolls pwn over their Chinese counterparts. I’m sorry, but it’s true. They’re much yummier and less greasy. Ever since Adam and I have been mass-producing Vietnamese spring rolls at my house, we’ve stopped ordering them at restaurants because they charge $8 for what, 6 measly pieces (?!). But when we saw that Tien Dat had Hanoi Spring Rolls in their menu, Adam urged me to give them a try. Now, I’ve been to heaps of Vietnamese joints in Melbourne but never have I seen Hanoi Spring Rolls on the menu. They taste very similar to the “normal” spring rolls but the Hanoi ones are bigger and they are wrapped in rice paper rolls then fried, instead of those spring roll wrappers made with wheat flour. You eat them with vermicelli. wrapped in lettuce leaves and dip them in nuoc cham. They are so yummy – I want to make them!

What we found weird, though, was that apparently all the spring rolls in Vietnam are made like this (i.e. using fried rice paper rolls). Everywhere Adam went, they would have stalls selling these snacks. But they didn’t call them Hanoi Spring Rolls, just “spring rolls.” In fact, we had no idea why they called it Hanoi Spring Rolls (although Martin, Adam’s BFF from high school, tells me that they were invented in a top Hanoi restaurant). God knows why they use the wheat flour wrappers in Vietnamese places in Melbourne though…. could be because they are cheaper perhaps?

But if anyone knows of any Melbourne joints that have these spring rolls, let me know!

Another popular item on the menu at Tien DatGrilled Seasoned Beef wrapped in Betel Leaf (Bo lá lốt). On the plate, they give you some vermicelli noodles which you are supposed to wrap up in lettuce leaves (also provided) with the beef. They also give you mint and coriander as well. Of course, you can’t eat this dish without a small bowl of nuoc cham too. Yum!

My seafood noodle soup. The right amount of noodles and plenty of seafood to make me happy – not like Tho Tho in Richmond, they have more vegies than seafood in their bloody seafood noodle soup! My soup was yummy but it would never beat the one that Thanh Dat in Springvale USED to make before they dipped their standards not too long ago. Granted, Tien Dat’s version beats a lot of the ones served in Footscray. And Adam, who isn’t a fan of seafood noodle soup, reckons this was the best one he’s had so far. So there.

Having said all that though, Footscray still pwns over everyone else when it comes to beef pho and banh mi thit. I go to Hung Vuong on Hopkins Street for beef pho (they come in all sizes, even baby sized!) and Nhu Lan for bánh mì(Also on Hopkins Street). Sometimes I go to Ba Le (around the corner from Nhu Lan) for their bánh mì too when I feel like it or when I am 50 cents short of a bánh mì from Nhu Lan. They are so much better than the pissy Vietnamese joints on Swanston Street (although I’ll eat there when I feel like Vietnamese and can’t be bothered trekking to Footscray or Richmond).