Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cupcake Central, Melbourne CBD

I love cupcakes and I love Cupcake Central in particular. Their story is one of passion, entrepreneurship and inspiration. 

I was expectedly gleeful when R surprised me on Sunday with a delightful family of cupcakes. 

There was a cute looking iced doughnut Mama cupcake, and a safe and reliable cookies&cream Papa cupcake. They were surrounded by a Brady Bunch brood of mini cupcakes. 

R tells me that she tried to choose cupcakes that looked like me. Oh bless her, for that must be one of the sweetest thing that anyone has said to me. 

Cupcake Central on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Noodle Markets, Melbourne CBD

We were all really excited about visiting the Noodle Markets as it opens up for another year on the grounds of Birrarung Marr, near Federation Square.
We were even more excited about visiting the Citi VIP area and using the Citi Concierge service to order from the sponsored restaurants. There are three on the Citi menu, being Burwood Teppanyaki House,  Hammer & Tong and Bokchoy Tang. I was happy with the trio because I’ve had good experiences at the first two and I was recently thinking about visiting the third.
We were a big group and ordered quite a few of the share packs from each of the vendors. Prices here aren’t cheap, but compared to the offerings at Taste of Melbourne, I found the prices to be cheaper.
The share packs offered decent value: for $35 we got 2xsoft shell crab burgers, a corn cob and a salad from Hammer & Tong. Similarly, we got 4x dumplings, 2xbuns, a skewer and a serve of Chinese sausage for $20 from Bokchoy Tang. Given that we were all suffering from extreme hunger, we also got some skewers from Burwood Teppanyaki House which were pretty fairly priced at 3x for $10.
Hammer and Tong’s soft shell crab burger was the highlight of the night and their sweet and sour corn cob came a close second! The skewers from Burwood Teppanyaki House were also really well done, as were the meats from Bokchoy Tang. However I found the dumplings to be slightly disappointing as the skin was too thick and there wasn’t enough filling. The others felt that the buns were also slightly underwhelming.


I would like to come back and try some of the other vendors, but 2 weeks is simply too short for me to work through the entire list of vendors and each of their offerings, which is what I would like to do. As it is often said, one can dream.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MaBrown (Revisited), Melbourne CBD

Sometimes the best way to accomplish something which has been on the wish list for a long time, is to do so, unexpectedly and completely out of the blue. 
Thus during one work day lunch time, I got a call from my dear brother P, and less than ten minutes later, we found ourselves ordering MaBrown's famous spicy quails with extreme glee. 

P's friend M's family owns the chain and kudos to them for such a successful business. 

We were well looked after with some coconut water to keep us content as our quails were being dished up. The drink was cold and refreshing, and there were some chunky pieces of creamy coconut at the bottom. Hipster health junkies may worship coconut water and think themselves cool for doing so, but they have nothing on Asians when it comes to this stuff.

Similarly, I haven't come across any place who would be able rival MaBrown's spicy quail. The quails are lightly fried so as to be crispy and crunchy, and then they are doused in a tasty spicy sauce! Also, they are pretty sizeable and I appreciated how meaty they were.  

Mabrown Bourke St on Urbanspoon

Supernormal, Melbourne CBD

Entrusted with the critically urgent task of finding a suitable venue for our signing dinner at 3pm in the afternoon, I started trawling for suitable venues. We needed a table at 9pm for 8 people and the clock was ticking.

Supernormal was at the top of my list because it struck the right balance between fancy v. cool and hip v. refined. 

I was also mindful of the fact that we could celebrate boisterously here and the venue was large enough that we wouldn't be causing a scene. Luckily for me, they could accommodate us and so calendar invites were promptly sent out.

A few more hours of work went by quickly and I was waiting patiently for dinner (ahem, I mean, for the signing).

At almost 8pm, I heard that there would be 4 more people joining the table. Seen those scenes in the movies where people dive for their phones, well that was me, with 10x the velocity. Because one does not simply expand dinner reservations in Melbourne 1hr before the anointed time. One begs and pleads to do so and hopes for the best. It must have been my lucky day because Supernormal accommodated this change and said they'll extend our table.
The meal was a good one, and the set menu included many of their signature offerings, including my favorite, the lobster roll. It was as creamy and soft and sweet and decadent as I remembered it, and I started to crave it as soon as I finished the last bite.
I also discovered the Sichuan lamb which was served as our main and I liked the combination of Western cooking techniques with Asian spices. The lamb was served in large cuts, which is not often seen in Asian cuisine, as traditional Asian dishes tend to employ slices or cubes of meat.
Finally, there was dessert and we were all blown away by the peanut butter parfait, served with salted caramel and soft chocolate. It was incredibly rich, and incredibly good. I think I've just found a new favorite!

Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Humble House, Brighton

Humble isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind at the mention of Brighton.
Thus Humble House isn’t the kind of name that I would have expected for a Chinese restaurant located in prime real estate on Church St.
Nearby parking was scarce on a warm and balmy Sunday night and I dropped my passenger off in front of the restaurant as our guest was already waiting for us inside. I parked the BBC a bit further up and used the walk to calm my emotions and gather my thoughts.
I walked slowly because I wanted to be sure that I was doing the right thing by taking the next step. Entering the restaurant signified an undertaking that I wanted to ensure was the right one to make.
When I looked up, I found myself inside the restaurant, already gliding towards the table. In almost a daze, I started exchanging greetings, making appropriate chatter and trying hard to make a good impression. Despite everything, I WAS trying, because I still believed there was something worth trying for.
Despite the odd circumstances which brought us together, Humble House actually turned out to be quite a suitable venue. The service was attentive, accommodating and also very perceptive. The menu here features traditional dishes, and the tastes are familiar and comforting. We shared some light and crisp san choi bao’s, some fresh greens, a nourishing fillet of steamed fish and a large bowl of fluffy fried rice.
Everything was nicely presented, although this was one of those rare instances where I didn't take any photos during the meal as it wouldn't have been appropriate to do so, given the occasion.

Humble House on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movida, Melbourne CBD

Movida has been on my wish list for quite a while now, although I had grown disheartened from being turned away on previous visits. Whilst they do accept reservations, it is notoriously difficult to secure a booking and I've suffered the most terrible luck on that front as well. 

Thus I arrived with a paradoxical kind of determined trepidation one Saturday night at 9pm hoping to get some seats. The lady warned that the wait could be at least 45mins but I was waiting for the others and sat around waiting, and staring down any new entrants who dared to step past me. The food gods must have approved of my patience and granted us a table when a prior reservation was left unfulfilled.

We had all been at other events and gatherings earlier and had been eating. However to commemorate my luck in finally getting a table at Movida, we felt obliged to order a few things in honor of the occasion. 

We chose the less conventional menu items including a refreshing and cold broadbean soup and a rich and creamy pate toastie. 

We also heeded the specials and succumbed to the outrageous sounding crumbed and deep fried, jamon wrapped, chicken parcel, with a cheese filling. It was delightful and sinful and wonderful. 
MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Benchmarking Xiao Long Bao's, Melbourne CBD

One particular Saturday, I was hell bent on being independent and took it upon myself to visit a few restaurants and eat sittings of XLB all by myself. 

It was very therapeutic and very calming to do as I pleased for a few hours without having to think about appeasing or placating another person.

I hit up New Shanghai first to avoid the lines and was kindly seated at a table near the entrance. This provided me with an ample view of the kitchen to watch the impressive show of nifty XLB making skills on display. 

The XLB's when they arrived, were steaming promisingly. They were medium sized and well proportioned to fit the ceramic spoons. Picking them up wasn't too difficult and there were no accidental spillages of precious XLB juice at all!

Next up was Shanghai Dragon, located near the corner of Russell and Bourke. I walk past it frequently and have seen its gradual growth. It reminds me a little of Ping's Dumplings out in Clayton, with it's humble interior and cheap furnishing.

Compared to New Shanghai, the XLB's here were larger, the skin, a bit thicker, but also a lot meatier and a lot juicier. I relished them because they tasted homely and comforting and reminded me of childhood breakfasts in Shanghai.

New Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Dragon Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

KFC Double Down

As a patron of the art of gastronomy, I have been known to indulge in many fine foods. However gastronomical masterpieces can be found in award winning restaurants just as it can be created at a humble hand pushed food cart parked in an alleyway. Credit must be given where credit is due and KFC's Zinger Double Down with Hashbrown is worthy of a mention on this blog.

As it is apparent from the picture, there is something incredible about its composition. Two crunchy pieces of Zinger chicken patties are used to hold in a potato hash brown, several pieces of bacon and cheese and generous dollops of  creamy hot sauce. It was an oily and fatty and dirty, but it was also a masterpiece.

At $8.95 each, it's certainly at the high end of junk food price range. For an extra $2, chips and a drink can be added. Psychologically, I just wasn't prepared to break more than a tenner, so I stingily declined the add-on's. Which was probably also a wise choice that my heart and waist thanked me for. I ended up guzzling cold pressed organic coconut water as the Double Down made me quite thirsty, and chuckled at the extremely ironic food paradox that I had propelled into.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Uncle, St Kilda

We discovered Uncle at Taste of Melbourne. There were a few interesting things on their menu. There was a pork ear bahn mi, which I wanted to try but didn't order when I saw how small they were when they came out of the kitchen, resembling more of a slider. Nevertheless, we heard they were pretty tasty from one of the wine makers that we met later in the evening.
Instead, we got the beef brisket  which had a sheen of brown glaze on the outside, and very soft strands which fell apart very delightfully. There was also a slim layer of fat which had caramelised and was slightly crisp as well as oily. It was paired with an equally delightful salad of pink grapefruit pulps, shaved scallion and sprout leaves. Again, my only qualm was about how small it was, measuring approximately half the size of an iPhone6, cut vertically.

I’d be curious to visit Uncle proper and see whether it offers better value especially as co-owner Rene Spence was quoted in a Broadsheet write up saying: “The idea was for you to look at your bill at the end and say ‘Whoah, are you kidding me? Is it that cheap?’”
Uncle on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mille & B

If food ideas could be patented and if inventors received royalties, the creator of crepe cakes would be a very wealthy individual. 

It's one of those ingenious ideas that seems both utterly original and yet oh so sensible. It redefines our thinking about food and the ways that we use food.

Having heard so much about crepe cakes, and having imagined at length about how they would taste, I didn't have the chance to sample a slice until Taste of Melbourne. 

There was a stall there called Mille and B, and they were selling them for 7 crowns (i.e. $7) per slice. This version uses 20 layers of creeps and each layer is stuck to the next with a myriad of creamy and gooey ingredients. There were so many different flavours to choose from, including salted caramel, cookies & cream, and balsamic strawberry.

I asked the girl behind the counter what her favorite was and she pointed to the matcha (i.e. Japanese green tea) and adzuki (i.e. red bean).

I had it packed to go as the rain was pouring down harder and I fancied that it would be well accompanied by a nice warm cup of tea.

The first mouthful was delightfully creamy and soft. It was much lighter than I expected, and tasted more like a chiffon cake than a pound cake. I liked the thin layer of crumble sprinkled in top to hold it altogether as this provided a crunchy textural contrast. The flavours were mild and the cake wasn't overly sweet.

Mille & B retails online and their crepe cakes are available at:

Las Chicas, St Kilda

This is a pretty funky joint with good food and cool vibes, supported by a local crowd. Places like these make me miss living in the suburbs and / or driving a car.
Our friend was down from Sydney and organised a brunch catch up. Due to his overwhelming popularity, we ended up with a group of 8+. We were squeezed onto a table on the sidewalk, and squeezed ourselves in even more as more people arrived to join the party. The staff handled this pretty well and didn’t baulk too much at people arriving and ordering at different times.
There was one item on the menu which stood out in particular as it had almost every single label listed in the legend at the top of the menu. In the day and age where we all pay too much attention to what goes into our dishes, and where the ingredients come from, these labels are like little accolades which make us feel safer, healthier and better about our food. I was curious as to the precise nature of a dish which could warrant so many accolades. However, I was slightly bemused to discover that the only label which was missing was the Las Chicas Signature label.
Upon enquiry, our waiter explained that it was because it hasn’t been on the menu for more than 10 years. I was surprised to discover that Las Chicas has been open for so long!  

Nevertheless I decided to try out the healthy mix of The Wild’s organic cacao and goji berry crumble, coconut yoghurt, blueberries and banana. I also ordered a large dose of LSD, which really stood for latte soy dandelion. Both of these were beautifully presented, packed with interesting flavours and made with healthy ingredients. There was a glass of honey on the table and I added generous dollops to both of these for some extra sweetness, although most palates probably wouldn’t have needed it.
With such a large group, I was able to gather a bit of feedback about other items as well. The Bikini Blowout Benedict is a solid choice with the Asian style Shallot Omelette being a lighter option. I would also staunchly recommend the Buttermilk Pancakes with Caramelised Banana, Pecan & Smoked Bacon Praline, topped with Whipped Maple Butter, for sharing or just to have all by your gluttonous self. I know that I will be visiting Las Chicas again, just so that I can devour one all by gluttonous self.

Las Chicas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tutto Bene, Southbank

As a part of the Good Food month, I was invited to bring a friend along to check out a restaurant at Southgate, located along the Southbank.

Tutto Bene has been around for years, serving up comforting and heartwarming Italian food.

I've always wanted to come here and was stoked to finally have te chance to visit. My excitement led me to arrive slightly ahead of the 1pm booking. As I waited for V to arrive, the waiter graciously set me up with some tasty plump olives, and crusty soft bread, and me taking in the expansive riverside view.

The olive oil came in a custom bottle and they obliged with some sticky balsamic, and good pepper and sea salt when I asked. 

Upon recommendation, we ordered an entrée of sardines to share, and the pairing with oranges was quite clever. I asked for some more bread and made my own pintxos. I had been at a house party the evening before where they had been served, and pintxos were on my mind!

Then came their spanner crab risotto which is their featured Signature Dish in the Good Food month at Southgate promotion. This was the highlight of our invite and we were looking forward to tasting it. I gingerly tasted the saucy broth and found it to be delightfully tasty. There was a sliver of spanner crab near the surface and that too was tasty and juicy.
Then I took a spoonful of the risotto, and chewed thoughtfully. I took another smaller spoonful and again chewed more thoughtfully. I shouldn't have been chewing this hard. But unfortunately, the rice grains were too hard and crumbled rather than dissolved in my mouth. V and I looked at each other in disappointment. I was also further disappointed that there were many more pieces of spanner crab amongst my risotto. I thought that around five pieces would have been appropriate.

To their credit, they did come over to ask how we were doing and apologized and offered to rectify the situation as soon as we communicated our disappointment to them. They also offered us dessert and coffee and tea.
Luckily for them, the dessert they brought out was a beautiful masterpiece both in presentation, texture and taste. It was innovative, it was inspired and was very memorable. I'm a easily please glutton and a good dessert is usually enough to salvage a less than perfect situation In this instance, a complimentary dessert was certainly more than enough to appease us.

Tutto Bene on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

MaBrown (Bourke St), Melbourne CBD

It recently started to offer dinner service and the news had me all hyped up about it again. I'd heard many good things about it from many credible sources and the good feedback had been trustworthily consistent.

So when I saw that P had put MaBrown on his birthday itinerary, I was excited. It turns out that P is familiar with the owners, and so we were in for a treat!

There was a constant stream of food to the table including noodles for longevity, various stir fries, and an addictive curry chicken which I just could not stop eating. The awesome thing was that they were serving us brown rice here so I didn't feel much guilt at all about indulging in fried chicken. You can definitely count on me as one for upholding a balanced diet!

Mabrown Bourke St on Urbanspoon

Mabrown on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2014

East End Den, Melbourne CBD

East End Den is a hip new bar that has opened up underneath The Crossley Hotel. It is currently attracting a mostly young crowd, with a mix between suits, hipsters and some passerby's.

We were here for a girl's catch up and chose a bottle of wine and a few things to share. The wines are reasonably priced and the wine list is uncomplicated. 

Similarly, the menu is compact, offering a few trusted bar menu favorites such as sliders, chips, croquettes and the like. We also ventured to try the sirloin which was very very nicely done, with the perfect ratio of meat to fat to achieve a balance of juicy tenderness and smoky crispness. 

Although it took a while to serve up, we were appreciative that the staff kept us informed and updated as to its progress. 
Another highlight were the sliders and we tried out the shark slider which were light and tasty, and I liked the use of avocado to endow it with a healthy layer of creaminess.

As with any new place, there is always room for improvement, and the key focus for East End Den should be on striking the right balance between attention and efficiency. The staff were very attentive, albeit abashedly busy at times. Throughout the evening, we were asked similar questions by two different guys. It made us feel quite loved, but with better coordination, service can become a lot more efficient. This will obviously also need to be supported by the bar and the kitchen, and the servers have a crucial role in cracking the whip on them as required.
All in all, it was a pretty positive experience and I'd be keen to come back and check up on their progress. There is a lot of potential here and it is certainly one to revisit and keep tabs on.
East End Den on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Toast, North Melbourne

North Melbourne is always where (attempted) peace offerings are made. So it was on Cup Day that we found ourselves at Toast, en route to Flemington to catch the race that stops a nation.
We were feeling a bit fragile and ordered a very light breakfast to comply with formalities. I got a juice and he got a juice and we got a fruit salad to share.

 Presentation wasn't a key focus and the food  tasted better than they looked. Even then, the fruit salad tasted a bit dreary and not very memorable. Perhaps we also didn't order the right things, given that it was Cup Day and fresh fruits would have been hard to come by. That being said, the service was friendly enough and we felt welcomed.

Toast on Urbanspoon

11 Inch Pizza, Melbourne CBD

This is another example of one of those sincere places with genuine people, serving up honestly good food. It reminded me a bit of the team at Simpson's Chips and Burger and their obvious passion for their trade.

They are open late and they do gluten free so we swung by to pick up some gluten free pizzas to take away and eat in bed. 

As far as gluten free pizzas go, these are fairly decent and I was a fan of the thin bases. The toppings are plentiful and the flavours are strong. We'll definitely be back again!

11 Inch Pizza on Urbanspoon