Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ba Na Hill, East Melbourne

Recently open along the strip, Ba Na Hill was an easy option on a lazy Sunday night. It's a stroll away and we decided to phone for some protein as we only had vegetables left in the fridge.

The menu is long and there is a lot to choose from. GF options are clearly marked, and we didn't have to spend time deliberating over whether a particular dish was safe or not. We ordered 3x serves of the San Choi Bao, choosing 2x beef and 1x chicken and the order was ready in ~15mins.

I liked the fact that they had packed everything separately and I liked the freedom of being able to make our own San Choi Bao's. At $7 each, these were pretty good value for money and we had enough left overs for a late night snack .

Ba Na Hill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hard Pressed, East Melbourne

One day, T excitedly told me about a new juice place that had opened up near his - he said it was called Hard Pressed. What is this fantastical new juicing technique I wondered? I was only slightly disbelieving but thought it was sweet that he wanted to alert me to the fact.
As it turns out, Hard Pressed is a new café serving breakfast, brunch and lunch. It does serve juice, but none of the ‘hard’ pressed variety. The Hard Pressed refers instead to their French press coffee.
I was a bit more intrigued by their cold drip coffee and ordered one of those to accompany my caramelised banana crepes. The coffee was soothingly mild, which contrasted nicely with the smoky sweetness of the crepes. The dollop of crème de leche that accompanied my crepe was rich and I felt slightly guilty indulging so early in the morning, but I was eating breakfast by myself and there was no one around to judge me.
As I was finishing, I got some take away poached eggs on toast for Sleeping Beauty. He was clearly impressed with the way they were made because when we had to decide on a breakfast venue the next day, T suggested visiting Hard Pressed again. I would have been hard pressed to not agree.

Hard Pressed on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pole Pole, Melbourne CBD

Located upstairs on Little Collins Street, Pole Pole is a funky space playing cool beats and serving African food. Their All You Can Meat Tuesdays are an amazing deal and for $35pp, we stuffed our faces until our bellies ached with content.
The menu is pretty thoughtful and covers four different kinds of ribs, and a number of vegetable based side dishes.
It was hard to decide which was my favourite kind of meat as they were all skilfully cooked, paired with beautiful sauces and unique in their own way. 

The beef short ribs were the softest, the lamb was the strongest in flavour, the pork ribs had the most chew-factor and the chicken ribs surprised me the most. 

Of the veggies, my favourite was the crisp cabbage, fennel and apple salad, which is one that I'll definitely be copying at home. The eggplant chips are also very addictive and a smarter substitute to other traditionally starchier options.

We had a fabulous time here, and I would definitely be keen to come back, as soon as my meat hangover abates a little, to do it all over again!

Polēpolē Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Messina and Bebiba, Fitzroy

Friday nights are date night and on this Friday, we made a pact to venture out to the surburbs. Given our excruciatingly close proximity to the CBD, the somewhat leafy green streets of Fitzroy already seemed like surburbia to us.

Thus we drove out there with much excitement and a great sense of adventure. 

As luck would have it, we parked the BBC very close to Messina and we opted to live dangerously and get ice cream first. 

In T's words: this is the best ice cream that I've ever had. For someone who is quite sugar shy (i.e. not prone to fanatically worshipping an altar of desserts), this was a pretty significant call. The truth of his statement was also further belied by the fact that he is not one to commit to superlatives. 

We both agreed that the key strength of Messina's ice cream is due to the fact that they rely on flavour rather than cream or sugar. Even with a simple flavour such as coffee, we were enamoured with its complexities and subtleties.

We then kept walking along Smith Street for a little while looking for a place for dinner. We stumbled upon Bebida, and I remembered the quirkiness of the name from my earlier research. 

Their menu has a great mix of burgers and tapas plates, and the drinks list is diverse enough to feature some pretty interesting cocktails. 

For T, they did the beef burger with GF bread and he was also further appeased by the generous serving of chips which accompanied it. 

My scallops were sweetly and succulently juicy and thus also quite pleasing. The use of hazelnuts, capers and an apple purée was surprising, and exciting as each mouthful exploded delightfully!
Oh and did I mention that they have board games here! We started with a game of scrabble and finished the night with two games of chess. Nerd(s) for life!

Gelato Messina Fitzroy on Urbanspoon

Bebida Bar & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 19, 2014

Two Fat Indians, East Melbourne

This is a bit of a Melbourne Institution and those who like their Indian food will undoubtedly know of Two Fat Indians. It has a prominent location on Wellington Parade, and I’ve driven past it many times coming in and out of the Melbourne CBD. It had also been recommended to me by numerous credible sources and so it has been on my wishlist for a while.
Finally, I got my chance to visit when we needed an impromptu dinner venue after watching Intestellar at the IMAX nearby. There were three of us, and we took a table near the middle of the restaurant. I liked the leather chairs with their high backs. It conveyed a sense of formality and the restaurant can be for an occasion or an informal impromptu visit such as ours.

The menu is fairly standard and includes a number of familiar favourites. We ordered a spicy dahl, a vegetable korma and some tandoori chicken, as well as rice, pappadums, raita and mango chutney to complete the feast. For drinks, we also got some mango lassi.  
The service was friendly and attentive and the food was rich and tasty. My favourite was the vegetable korma, and the tandoori chicken came a very close second. The gigantically tall mango lassi was also very delicious.
Two Fat Indians on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hotel Windsor, Melbourne CBD

As a part of J’s Bridal Shower, we booked in High Tea at The Hotel Windsor on a Sunday.  Our booking was for 11 people at 12-2pm, as there is a 2-hour limit on each sitting.
We arrived promptly at 12, were ushered to our table, and left there. There was no welcome to the restaurant, and certainly no explanation of proceedings. For first-timers of High Tea at The Hotel Windsor, it can be a daunting, or at least confusing experience, and those who had previously attended such a session had to take it upon ourselves to explain it to the rest of the table.
Anyway, the champagne was rushed out to us and we were each poured a glass. Then began a long wait for what would happen next. It felt much longer than it probably was simply because we didn’t know whether we had to request our tiered stands or whether they were on their way. The waitress that we hailed down to direct our enquiries to was difficult to communicate with. She didn’t seem to understand our question and we certainly did not understand her attempted responses.
Our savoury foods did arrive and we got right into them. Everything was quite delicious and my favourites were the creamy chicken sandwiches and the rich bacon and sweet potato tartlets.

The scones are also worth a mention, as they were soft and fluffy, and served with strawberry jam and lemon curd. One thing however that warranted improvement were the sandwiches (excl. those delightfully creamy chicken ones) which were very scant on fillings and not very exciting to eat at all.

In fact, some of us just left our sandwiches behind as we pursued desserts from the buffet. Yes, that’s right, there is a dessert buffet, including countless types of sweet pies and pastries, cakes and slices, a chocolate fondue, a crepes station and DIY ice cream section. The things that were favourites amongst our group were the crème brulee, a peach and chocolate cake, the vanilla panna cotta, and the cookies & cream ice cream

The food was good was much as the service was not. The mishaps and blunders continued throughout our session, including a missing tea, missed champagne top ups, and having the bill served an hour and fifteen into our two-our session.
The one that takes the cake though, was when a flock of waiters approached our table midway through J’s speech, and audibly interrupted us with ‘Are you done with that?’ and ‘Can I clear that away?’, and started to disrupt the scene by clearing away plates.
We were incredulous. At first, we tried to stop their onslaught gently with a stern look, a vigorous shake of the hand and a firm hand put up to indicate ‘No’. But apparently that was not enough and they persisted with the questions, and cleared away our plates despite our protestations.
We had enough and spoke up, in very explicit terms that they should stop clearing the table as we were in the middle of speeches. One of the waiters (in fact, the one directing the others) still did not seem to understand and continued to ask why, in his annoyingly European accent. His presence was becoming too disruptive, we decided to ignore his inability to comprehend and overwhelming obtuseness.
Now, I adore accents as much as the next bleeding heart, but when they start to hinder effectiveness and efficiency, then I can’t help but doubt their overall utility. Besides, good service is about being able to read situations, read people and take non-verbal cues. I can think of many fine waiters at fine establishments like Flower Drum, Grossi Florentino who  are not native-English speakers who employ their attention, observations and intuition to provide stellar service. I was highly disappointed at the Hotel Windsor.
111 Spring Street Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Duke of Wellington, Melbourne CBD

They say that you don't go to a YumCha place for pizza, but I had recently had an amazing time eating Italian style YumCha, so my food courage is currently at an all time high. 

Thus when the team went back to the Duke for yet another team dinner, I decided to be a little bit adventurous and ordered myself the curry. 

It was surprisingly good! Tasty, rich and wholesome, it was how a curry ought to be. The rice was also fluffy and the papadums were crispy. Even the accompanying raita was well made / chosen. 
The Duke of Wellington on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2014

Safe House, Prahan

Safe House is a safe haven for those who can only eat gluten free foods. The shop / café is stocked full of delicious creations such as cake and pastries, bread rolls and loaves, and even croissants.
Just as A la Folie was my kind of candy store and had me gleefully bouncing up and down, Safe House seemed to have the same effect on T.
The lovely people at the store asked whether we wanted to sample their bread and cut T thick slice. I took one look and knew it would taste amazing! It was dense, but full of large air pockets, making it chewy yet light. The texture of the bread is one of the best that I’ve ever tasted - even better than some normal bread loaves in fact. I was genuinely impressed.
We also got half a dozen party pies and a large arancini ball as well. We took them home, baked them and they came out wonderfully golden. They also tasted pretty wonderful and T looked so happy to be tasting some of his old favourites again.
As we were enjoying all this beautifully GF food, we got talking about the very high prices commanded by GF products, significant fragmentation in the industry, and its impressively sudden growth in the last ten years. It's certainly an interesting industry for curious minds and opportunistic investors alike.
Safe House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A la Folie, South Yarra

Situated along Chapel Street, A la Folie is a fabulous French patisserie specialising in macarons and petits choux. Their window display is full of bright and colourful sweet temptations.
Inside, the space is brightly lit and the décor is very chic. In an embodiment if ultra chicness, there is even a picture of the Eiffel Tower near the back of the café which features an enamoring fire place. Inside, there is another long display cabinet filled with many more delicious offerings.
Mercedes is the name of the lady behind these beautiful creations, and she too is very French and very fabulous.
She was ever so lovely to chat to us about her inspirations and passions and I found out that they are also a wholesale business. In fact, they supply macarons to  The Little Royal, which is situated inside Royal Arcade, and one of my favourite macaron destinations. I should have known!
We got to choose two macarons and two petits choux to try. I chose one salted caramel and one peach flavour, and even T got into the spirit of things by choosing one salted caramel macaron and another blueberry macaron. We were pretty proud that we’d both chosen salted caramel + fruit pairings, because as that old age adage goes, great minds think alike.

The macarons were tasty and bursting with flavour, and I liked the intensity. The petit choux is a curious creation which reminded me a little of a profiterole, only crunchier and denser. It most resembles a doughnut in texture, with the extra excitement of an exterior similar to biscuit crumble. The middle is full of a sweet filling, partly gooey, partly creamy. It was quite divine.
We were also treated to a coffee each and T educated me on the origins of the Bonsoy. We also admired the fireplace and contemplated buying croissants to take away. A la Folie has just started to make croissant and they definitely look like they are worth a try - we will certainly be returning soon.
A La Folie Patisserie on Urbanspoon 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Longrain, Melbourne CBD

We went to Longrain to clear the air. We had joked about it previously and this impromptu visit was symbolic in many ways. 

We had both eaten, so only wanted some drinks and a few light bites. It was a Friday night but it was already well past normal dinner service time, so the staff were fairly accommodating. We could sit at the bar with a smaller bar menu or we could sit at the tables with the option to choose from the bar menu and the al carte menu. Optionality won us over. 

We sat on one of the large communal tables in the middle of the restaurant, and chose seats next to each other. The communal tables are wide, and sitting far away opposite one another would have been a terrible way to conduct the evening.

Without too much insistence, I ordered a sweet cocktail to start with. We were delighted with the fact that there was a separate GF menu with a good variety and plenty of options. We decided on some signature betel leaf starters, as well as the lightly fried silken tofu, and some Chinese broccoli. 

The food was all rather delightful and we were quite content with the food and each other. 

The staff had been really helpful in explaining the GF menu and they continued to attentively check up on us.

Then one of them came over with a plate of Longrain's famous five spices caramelised pork hock, and set it down in front of us. 

We looked at each other, shook our heads, looked across the table at the other two diners who had joined the table, they shook their heads, and we looked at the waiter and he shook his head in confusion. At that point, the manager came over and offered us the dish anyway. Of course, we had to share this wonderful windfall with the two diners sitting across from us.
They say happy wife = happy life, in this case, free food = happy food.

Longrain Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rice Paper Scars, Melbourne CBD

Now I understand why this place is always packed and they never bother to do takeaway.  The food here is amazing, and so affordable! Most of the plates for sharing are priced in the early teens and the $55 for 5 is an awesome option for two people. If you have a larger group, get a few extra dishes or get a few sets of these.
We aimed to get as many different types of animals as we could.

Of the lamb, pork, chicken, beef and prawn based dishes that we ordered, my favourite were the lamb ribs, followed closely by the Hainanese chicken. 

The portions are very generous here and we were feeling stuffed nearing the end of the meal. However we had been eyeing the desserts listed on the blackboard throughout the entire meal and we just couldn't say no. The ice cream sanga sounded especially delightful, and we found ourselves stuffing our faces with these creamy sweet buns. The use of sweet Asian bread is a very smart one, as the texture is light, and the use of coconut ice cream further added to the lightness. I suddenly felt like I could have another two or three.

Rice Paper Scissors on Urbanspoon

Madame Brussels, Melbourne CBD

One fine Friday, we came here for a team lunch. It also happened to my birthday and I was happy to get out of the office and continue celebrating. 

It was sunny, it was warm and it felt like summer. We sat outside and basked in the sunshine. Madame provides cute and colorful parasols for those who want to shy away from becoming too tanned. 

Another endearing quirk is that the uniform for the staff are tennis whites, so if crisp polos, and pleated skirts are your thing, then you should definitely come to visit.

The food selection here is small but quite appropriately uppity. We ordered a platter of sausage rolls and a platter of toasted sandwiches. Service of the food was slightly slow and we were well into our second bottle of champagne when it all finally arrived. Both came with generous bowls of sauces and relishes and I was instantly appeased. The sausage rolls were especially pleasing, as the pastry was flaky, but also buttery, and the meat filling was tasty.

Madame Brussels on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sushi Hotaru, Melbourne CBD

We were invited along as a part of their blogger campaign and I brought along M and S. 

I had visited them a few times, although not recently. So I was a tad curious as to how the business has been faring and whether it has changed much since.

The restaurant belongs to the same group as Wagaya, which is a favorite of ours in Sydney, dating from our internship days. Wagaya apparently is also now open in Melbourne, upstairs from Sushi Hotaru, in MidCity Arcade on Bourke St.
I would love to visit Wagaya soon to test whether it's as awesome as its Sydney counterpart - M assures me that it is. 

When we approached Sushi Hotaru, there was still a small crowd gathered outside waiting for tables. It was good to see that business was still boomingn! They don't take bookings but given the high quality and excellent value, it's well worth queuing up for and there are always many eager enthusiasts waiting their turn. Luckily we had a table reserved for the occasion. 

We got right into it pulling plates off the sushi train and ordering more plates from the touchscreen menus. Hungry would have been an understatement.

Some highlights for us were the scallop nigiri sushi and various sashimi platters, as the seafood were fresh and I liked their chunky thickness. I also really liked the soft shell crab and agadeshi tofu. 

After about 19 plates between the three of us, we were nice and happy and full. Although we still found room for dessert and got a few to share. The matcha green tea ice cream was a wonderfully tasty as I had remembered and I couldn't get enough!

Also check out the video made by SD Marketing for the restaurant: Thanks again for the invite!

Sushi Hotaru on Urbanspoon