Saturday, January 31, 2015

Australia Day

Every year, Uncle G and Aunty J hosts a potluck style Australia Day get together at their house. 

Everyone brings a little something or a big something and the Master Chef title is one that is highly conveted amongst the annual attendees with a penchant for cooking acclaim.

For the rest of us, we are treated to a wonderful feast of the delicious, the creative and the innovative. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pho Flinders, Melbourne CBD

I randomly stumbled across this place when I ventured across to the other side of the city looking for food. It’s one of the few casual sit down eateries near the corner of Little Collins and Elizabeth Street, that was still open for dinner. I was surprised to find it there amongst the cheap retail stores, fast food outlets and convenience stores.
The customers are a mix of passing pedestrians, nearby workers and a handful of loyal customers judging by their familiarity with the menu.
Pho Flinders has another location, *drumroll*, on Flinders Street. However the Elizabeth store must be a franchisee store or the business has been recently sold, because the man behind the counter had no idea what he was doing, although he was trying very hard.

I got two rice dishes, a few rice paper rolls and a snack to take away. The food isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The sauces were flavourful, and the dishes were tasty enough however my grilled chicken steak wasn’t crispy at all and the tofu and vegie stir fry didn’t contain the freshest ingredients.  Such things are perhaps slightly easier to overlook since the prices are more Springvale than Melbourne CBD. However, I don’t have many strong reasons to revisit.

Pho Flinders on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Espresso Extraction, East Melbourne

Having to catch the tram by myself in the morning is my least favorite part about staying out of the city, in the faraway suburb of East Melbourne.
Some days I’m late for the tram, and  I miss it. Some days the tram is too early for me, and I miss it. Other days, I’m early for the tram and I have to wait. So most days, I don’t even bother consulting the timetable before I leave the apartment and I find myself in one of the above scenarios anyway.
And that’s before I even get on one of those painfully packed boxes. On those days when I miss the tram, and see it clambering past as I’m rushing out the building, powerwalking along the footpath, impatiently punching the traffic lights, or frantically crossing the intersection, I would hang my head low in utter defeat and venture towards Espresso Extraction for a pick me up.
The coffees here are not fancy, but they are wholesome and full bodied. They also have a traditional breakfast menu as well as pies and sandwiches and cakes and pastries. In this age where cool reigns supreme, it’s nice to see that this shop of yesteryears is still surviving.
After my morning dose of caffeine and sugar, I tend to feel less frustrated when I struggle to climb aboard, struggle to step on let alone touch on, and struggle to find sense with the inefficient allocation of space inside the tram.
Even on those days when I’m not confronted with the heart wrenching trauma of seeing a tram pass me by, and I merely have to contend with the task of waiting, I can’t help but get frustrated. There is something about intrinsically wasteful about waiting which makes me think I’m later than I actually am. This morning, I had to wait 6 minutes for the tram, during which time I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. When I actually got to the office, there was hardly anyone else about and the rest of the team strolled in about a good 10-15 minutes after my ungracefully hurried stampede into the building.  
Espresso Extraction on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2015

Koko Black

I was extended an invitation to try out Koko Black’s latest summer menu and visited the Collins Street salon with J. J had confessed of her obsession with Koko Black many times, so I knew that I had a knowledgeable expert with me in tow. Her general love for desserts also armed her with extra credentials to review the new menu.
We arrived a few hours ahead of our scheduled appointment because I actually had a high tea session to attend in the afternoon.
The staff were happy enough to accommodate us and ran us through the new additions as well as some old favourites.
It was very very difficult to choose our orders as there were so many tantalising options on the menu. After much agonising analysis, debate, and contemplation, we decided on a Mango Spectacular, the Salted Caramel Delice and a Belgian Mousse. J sensibly ordered a tea so as to counteract the sweetness, and the staff generously brought me a Hot Chocolate Affogato.
The vanilla bean ice cream that featured in these desserts was an absolute standout in terms of flavour, texture and taste. Of the desserts, my favourite was the Mango Spectacular followed closely by the Salted Caramel Delice. The coconut crumble in the Mango Spectacular was addictively crunchy and I felt similarly about the gooey dollops of crunchy caramel toffee at the centre of the Salted Caramel Delice.
Thanks again to BeKnown and Koko Black for such a wonderfully indulgent experience.

Koko Black on Urbanspoon

Polperro, Red Hill

On the eve of J’s wedding, we headed to Polperro for what we hoped would be a relaxing evening and a light meal before the big day.
The restaurant is set on a beautifully picturesque property reminiscent of a NGV oil painting. There are other details such as the fairy lights in the car park, fur throws draped across the chairs, and tall candles at the tables which all were subtle hints of casual luxury.
We had the casual part of the look down pat when we turned up in our comfy flat shoes and snuggly warm tops. On any other day, I think our outfits would have fitted right in, especially amongst the T-shirt and shorts uniform donned by the staff.
However on that particular night, we entered a car park full of luxury 4WD’s contended with some rather well-heeled patrons, which we surmised to be the Portsea Polo set as the event was scheduled for the next day.
As a result, the place was packed to the rafters. It was also a wet evening and the outdoor seating area couldn’t be used. Even though we had made a booking, we were seated at a table in the middle of the restaurant that did not have a fur throw draped across any one of our chairs… I felt the onset of some feelings, of the negative variety. There was also no tall candle at our table.

For food, we decided to share a number of things as we were peckish but not quite starving. The salmon roe was a nice starter and I enjoyed the cute little pikelets that it was served with. A caviar spoon would have been useful as the slippery roe is rather awkward to scoop up with either a knife or a fork.

Next up were some king prawns which were served in spectacular style, spread open atop some pebbles. These were large and meaty and I appreciated how they were already halved for our convenience. The smokiness would have been a nice contrast to the natural sweetness of the prawns, but unfortunately, the prawn didn’t taste of good quality. They were more mushy than succulent and the meat stuck to the shells, which seemed to indicate that they weren’t very fresh and/or were frozen. At $59, these should have been better or they should have been taken off the menu for the day.

To accompany them, we had ordered the snow peas but were served a leafy salad instead. When we raised our objections, they gave us the salad and then rectified the mistake. This was quite good of them and took away some of the negative feelings that had onset when they didn’t offer us bread. The snow peas were actually quite delicious and I used some of the black bean sauce on the prawns to experiment.
As we finished our meals and our plates were cleared away, we contemplated whether to stay for dessert or go back to the cottage to drink champagne and have desserts there. But they never came back to ask whether we wanted anything so we requested the bill and promptly made our exit.
That being the case, I still really enjoyed the venue and would not decline another visit, order something different, sample some wines, and see if the service gets any better.
Polperro Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 22, 2015

FOMO Thai, Melbourne CBD

This is one of my favourite casual eateries in the CBD area. The food is tasty, the portions are generous, and the prices provide pretty good value. The décor is cutely reminiscent of restaurants seen in Thai TV dramas, and the space is airy and light. Most importantly, the place feels clean and the staff are friendly and efficient.
Our favourite pick from the menu is the meat platter for $50 which is fantastic value for three types of meat.


 The red duck was also quite strong in flavour, earning it a strong recommendation.
We all liked the salads as well. Although we weren’t quite sure what the ingredients were, the combinations tasted delicious.

FOMO Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wagaya, Melbourne CBD

I discovered an awesome place serving awesome quality Japanese food at affordable prices, via fun touchscreen when I was an intern in Sydney. E who was a local brought us to a large upstairs restaurant, almost hidden from street level except for some completely unnoticeable signage. Ever since, I have been raving about it without really knowing any of the finer details, such as, the actual name of the restaurant. 

Thus I didn't become exceptionally exuberant about the opening of Wagaya in Melbourne. It wasn't until M alerted me to the fact, that I was able to make the connection. The fact that the same group also owns one of my other favorites, Sushi Hotaru, is another reason to be a fan.

The Wagaya in Melbourne has a similar look and feel to the one in Sydney, with its large floor space, spacious private booths, dim lighting and dark furniture, which all combine to project an aura of intimacy.

The dishes were reasonably priced and generously proportioned, offering excellent value for money.

There was a tofu salad that we loved especially, and the spicy chicken karage was also a highlight.

Although the restaurant didn't seem to be very busy, the quality of their ingredients could be garnered from the salmon sashimi and their grilled beef, as both of those dishes rely on good and fresh cuts. 

Another one of my favorites was the cheesy rice cake gratin which I found utterly ingenious. It was extremely gooey, and thus slightly difficult to eat, but I would have gladly devoured the whole messy concoction straight from the hotplate. 

I do hope that more people would come and visit to keep the doors open and the restaurant operating. It's a truly fantastic addition to the Melbuurne dining scene. 

Fair Trader, Melbourne CBD

Fair Trader is one of my favourites. Serving really good coffee, many healthy food options as well as more decadent choices, it's a favourite for many who work around the top end of Collins Street. 
We also like it here because it is one of the few venues that is decently spacious. In this modern era of queues-out-the-door, hole-in-the-wall types, it's nice to not have to conduct an anxious search for an available seat or table. 

On Friday nights, they are also open later for drinks and it's a great after-work, pre-dinner meeting place.

The Fair Trader on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Raku Raku, Melbourne CBD

At 120 Collins Street, we’re so lucky to have a great place like Raku Raku in the building. Serving up a good range of sushi and sashimi, their food always tastes fresh and I’ve never disliked anything made here.
In addition to the usual favourites, there are always new interesting flavours of sushi hand rolls to try out. Some memorable ones have been potato croquette, BBQ pork, and cheesy katsu. 
The service is always very polite and they are always happy to oblige with most requests. Once, I witnessed a customer who wanted a single hand roll cut up into bite sized portions, and the chefs happily did so for the customer. Also there are no limits to the amounts that can be put on Eftpos and there are no surcharges for using credit. The thing that I appreciate the most is Raku Raku unhesitantly adding vials of soy sauce at no extra cost. That is true hospitality.
Raku Raku on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bad Boys Burgers, Melbourne CBD

I woke up and got the idea to visit Bad Boys. There has been quite a bit of hype about this place and I was excited.
My excitement was in no way diminished by the fact it was barely 11 o’clock in the morning on a cold and rainy Friday morning.
I rocked up in my dishevelled pyjamas, with my hair in disarray, and ordered a Cheesy Boy.
The bun was brioche, and the beef was wagyu, as all hipster burgers these days are. Cheesy Boy was certainly cheesy, although it wasn’t oozy enough for my liking. I would have also preferred a wetter Cheesy Boy with more sauces. There were also bits of gherkin and onion however, again I felt that there wasn’t enough! I would have liked more crunch but that’s pure preference and I can understand how some might actually prefer their burgers this way with the strong meat ratio.  
Bad Boys Melb on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Quan Ju De, Melbourne CBD

This is an experience worth trying for anyone with an appreciation for fine dining, Peking duck, Qing dynasty history. Or a combination of the trio as I do.
We came here on Mother's Day and the restaurant was busy although not completely packed. The food is quite good although the prices are on the higher end. The service is passable, but the décor was opulent and the crockery was majestic.
I found the Uighur lamb skewers addictively endearing. It was impressive that such a simple street snack could be so well made in such a different context. 
The stir fries were also both delicate yet wholesome. They were generous with the ingredients and we reminisced as we tasted some comfortingly traditional groupings.

Finally the Peking duck was crisp skinned, succulently fatty and completed by a juicy layer of meat.

Quanjude Peking Duck on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 16, 2015

Magic Mountain Saloon, Melbourne CBD

I like the intensely tasty flavours, the quirkiness of the decor, and the surperb drinks list.

All of these things are reminiscent of the team's efforts at Cookie and The Toff.

Magic Mountain feels a bit more edgier with its mystic neon lights, exposed metal beams and almost Masonic exterior.

The menu is undisputedly fusion although it's difficult to pinpoint which cuisines has been fused. 

The dishes feature a variety of Asian spices and herbs, but employ somewhat Western cooking methods. For example, our Scotch eggs were definitely English having been invented by Fortnum & Mason in the 18th century, although its coating of herbed mince tasted somewhat Thai. The onion rings scattered atop this was definitely American although the coriander and red chilli garnish hints at Asian influences.

Our salt and pepper lamb ribs were thrillingly tasty and I relished each bite. The bites were hard ones to make as the meat clung to the bones rather than falling away with graceful ease. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the flavours and appreciated that a mix of sinewy and meatier cuts had been provided.
Magic Mountain Saloon on Urbanspoon

Elements and Babbo, Melbourne CBD

Every building has that one café that is not too bad, not overtly good, but which is frequented nevertheless for convenience.
At 120 Collins, we have Elements which has its main restaurant located in the courtyard and a smaller kiosk in the lobby of the building.
The food is reasonably priced although pretty standard.
For breakfast, I always choose the bircher muesli although I was slightly miffed recently as the size has almost halved with no changes to the price.
At lunch, freshly made rolls and sandwiches are one of their more popular options although I tend to go for the premade salads in summer and warm dishes in the colder months.
The restaurant space is expansive and it’s a convenient venue for team lunches and casual meet-ups. Service is always very friendly and they don’t get many things wrong, as the business relies predominantly on return customers.
Recently, on one of my days off, I visited the Madame Brussels laneway where there are quite a few office buildings as well as a few eateries. I stumbled upon Baboo which reminded me of Elements with its many suits in attendance. The special here seems to be piadina’s, which is a thin Italian flat bread that can be used to hold a variety of fillings.

There were also pizza slices on offer which seemed reasonably cheap at $5 per slice (we’re in the CBD after all). I ordered a slice to take away, but discovered that the base was under cooked when I got home. Their coffee was much better and provided some consolation to my disappointment.

Elements on Urbanspoon
Babbo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Traveller, Melbourne CBD

Every morning as I walk past Traveller’s I enjoy inspecting the small crowd gathered outside it
I walked past this morning and there was no crowd so I went inside to inspect the goods on offer.
There were a dizzying array of cakes, pastries and sweet offerings, but unfortunately I had a bridesmaid’s dress to squeeze into. I vowed to myself and promised the barista that I would visit again to sample these delicious treats. (Especially those salted caramel cookies!)
Instead, I ordered a cold coffee to take away. The addition of ice cubes were a nice touch and an especially effective way to combat the heat on that humidly hot day. It also served to make the drink milder and I preferred the diluted taste as the coffee beans used in this version was slightly too sour in their aftertaste for my liking.

Traveller on Urbanspoon

Juicy Bao, Melbourne CBD

M and I met for lunch and we were both in the mood for a taste of home so we decided to have some Shanghainese food. I have been meaning to try the recently new Juicy Bao and M was happy enough for us to go there upon my suggestion. She had visited previously and assured me that she liked it enough to revisit.
She recommended the Shanghainese wonton soup which had me really excited. I hadn't seen it on any other menu in Australia before and it has been years since I've eaten a bowl. This version was quite authentic, with egg strips and dried shrimp and very silky wonton skin. The only improvement I would like is some additional filling to plump up the middle part of the wonton, as the size of these are slightly larger than how I remembered them.
We also ordered a serve of their juicy bao's aka xiaolongbao's. True to the name of the restaurant, these were awesome. Slightly larger and denser than the ones from Hu Tong, these tasted more like home. They weren't dainty like the ones from New Shanghai or Ding Tai Fung, but they were juicy and plump.

We also had some greens to accompany the meal and these were a refreshing and healthy way to complete the meal.
Juicy Bao on Urbanspoon