Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Next of Kin, Elsternwick

Really new and really well designed, this cafe is nestled amongst a stretch of shops along Glenhuntly Rd, just before the Kooyong intersection. Next door are older shop fronts which stoically remained shut on a Sunday. 

It's definitely the new kid on the block, but it is in a good location, and has already built up a following. It's strategically located in the middle of a high dense residential area, and just beyond the hectic stretch of Glenhuntly Rd, which means that there is ample street parking nearby. Otherwise, there is always the trusty tram route 67 which stops almost at its doorstep.

Inside, the cafe has been decorated in a pretty cool kind of way with plenty of white space to showcase a bold clash between black and blue, bolstered the slightly edgy copper / bronze feature pieces.

I was quite taken with the menu, and especially the drinks. So much that I ordered three different drinks to make up my 3-course liquid breakfast. The cold brew with its mild flavours was refreshing and palate cleansing. I liked the addition of ice cubes, and relished the fact that refills were free. I counted the denser acai berry smoothie as my main, with its plethora of nutritious ingredients and sweet undertones. Finally, I had to have a Mork hot chocolate as my dessert. After I first tasted them, I vowed to myself that I would always order a cup if I saw them on the menu. The rationale behind this being that it is too dangerous to stock this in my home pantry thus I should reward myself whenever I get the chance.

Next of Kin on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rochford Winery Restaurant, Yarra Valley

I was kindly invited to sample Rochford Winery’s Autumn menu, and a since a family winery day has long been in the plans, I decided to go with T and R.

Rochford is one of the larger wineries in the Yarra Valley, and having won a number of awards across a multitude of categories.

We set out from Melbourne mid-morning and arrived for an early lunch around 12:30pm. Rochford spans across several acres of picturesque landscape and offers a number of features and activities beyond the standard cellar door experience. Think hot air balloons, segway rides, nearby accommodation, a natural amphitheatre and even an observation tower.

Of course, there are dining facilities, and the restaurant is called Isabella’s. Isabella’s at Rochford incorporates the current Rochford restaurant, cafĂ© and alfresco areas into one exciting dining space, and sits just beyond the tasting area and past the retail shopping space.  

Our table was located near the impressive floor to ceiling windows, and gave us expansive views of the beautiful surrounding landscape. We were generously invited to pick whatever we wanted from the new Autumn menu, curated by Executive Chef, Ciaran Butler.

With so many delightful options on the menu it was hard to choose, so we promised each othe we would all choose something different and share amongst the group. 

With that settled and our orders taken, we started to play with the curiously designed salt and pepper shakers, and the elegantly presented swirl of butter. The black and white salt and pepper shakers had simple twist and turn mechanisms to make them open and close, thereupon revealing the pre-grinded / grounded contents within.

Whilst aesthetically pleasing, they turned out to be a bit cumbersome to use as it was hard to control the amount which poured out. I tried to resort to using my fingers to pinch an appropriate amount, however, the feel of residue pepper flakes  wasn't a sensation that I relished.

Anyway, we were distracted by the arrival of a bowl containing warm crusty hearty bread, served with another beautiful dish of butter. It definitely played to my love for beautifully 'bad' things. 

After a while, our entrees arrived. The pumpkin gnocchi captured the essence of the Autumn season very aptly with its mellow flavours and hearty ingredients. 

The corned beef was a much lighter dish, with sharper flavours such as pickles, mustard relish, and horseradish cream. The corned beef was sliced to a desirable thickness, and served to anchor the other ingredients.

But my favourite entree was definitely my own crab toast which was quite a balanced dish consisting of a dreamy mix of creamy crab meat, crunchy brioche toast and a tangy salsa.

We were quite satisfied after our entrees, and didn't mind waiting a bit for our mains. However it was a busy afternoon, and we ended up having to wait quite a while. By that time, we were starting to feel our entrees, and we weren't feeling as ravenous any more - a shame really, because the servings were quite generous, and I would have appreciated a larger appetite to tackle the epicurean task ahead of us. 

Between us, we had three different types of meats, being chicken, pork and the beef wellington. R's pork dish was my most preferred dish, with its vast amount of pork, cooked in a multitude of ways.

My chicken looked quite beautiful and the chicken was indeed expertly cooked. The jus was a nice touch, although I felt that the pate drops were a tad unnecessary, and the bitter whitloaf just wasn't to my liking. However, the scalloped potato slice was immensely commendable, and I donated the whole thing to T after tasting only one bite, knowing that he would appreciate the starch a lot more than me.

T himself valiantly decided to put his GF intolerance aside for a day and ordered the beef wellington. I was secretly envious that he declared his choice first because it's what I would have chosen as well. But I let him have the order, knowing that he wouldn't refuse me if I asked for a bite, or three. Unfortunately for us, the pastry on these beef wellingtons were too thick and thus came out under cooked and still raw, despite the beef itself achieving a superb medium rare. We could have sent it all back, but the creamy mash which lay underneath was good enough for us to hold onto the plate, tightly. Besides, we already had too much meat on the table, and we were struggling to finish it all.

Thus when it came to time for dessert, we ordered one to share between the three of us - well two really, because T is usually just a happy casual observer during such sweet proceedings. Our ice cream was definitely the highlight of the meal, with its myriad of colourful ingredients as well as complex flavours, all of which were expertly composed and beautifully presented.

Rochford Winery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

LBSS, Richmond

On a very busy part of Victoria St, in the middle of Abbotsford, there is a converted terrace house, housing a cafe so cool that it goes by a mere acronym. LBSS stands for Little Big Sugar Salt, which refers to the different food groups featured on their menu.

I ordered the LSBB’s version of a Croque Monsieur which featured, three slices of thick sourdough, as many if not more thick slices of ham, plenty of cheese and plenty of white sauce. Sir Ron Swanson OBE was golden crusty on the outside and creamy and gooey between the layers.

Other orders from the table included similarly visually dishes. That One which was a sizeable stack of  blueberry and ginger pancakes,  piled high with a good dollop of coconut vanilla cream, doused in maple syrup and seasonal fruits. Beb Loves Bircher was probably the healthiest option out of everything that landed on our table and was a creamy concoction of chia, and almond milk bircher, mixed through with crunchy bits of nuts and seeds and other cereals, and topped with stone fruits and youghurt. Lastly, we had one of the specials of the day, which was featured some plump crumpets, stacked with  greasy slices of bacon, lightly grilled fresh figs and smothered in a beautifully rich cheese sauce. Oh, and did I also mention that we shared a Bits by Fig & Salt between the four of us. Despite it’s innocuously small size, it still proved to be deeply satisfying – a true case of size not mattering an inch. 

The level of service was sufficient, but the division of the tables into different rooms made it a bit harder to facilitate extraneous requests beyond the usual routine. It made it easier for them to leave us sitting there unnoticed. We received bursts of service, usually only when the staff deigned to check in on our room. Another downside is that parking around here is extremely difficult, so if you can avoid driving here, I would recommend doing so. In my case, I had to move my car at least once, and left hastily as it was about to expire for the second time.

Little Big Sugar Salt - LBSS Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 19, 2015

27 Deakin, Mildura

Located on one of the busy shopping strips of Mildura, 27 Deakin is both a bakery, a cafe and also a gallery. It's a large space with high ceilings and minimal furnishings. The walls are lined with paintings and sketches from various artists, mostly local. The atmosphere is relaxed and customers coming and going, with a lot of them obviously locals, and the remainder, also quite obviously, visitors and / pass throughs. 

T and I had taken an early morning flight to to Mildura and were quite famished when we landed. We were glad that P and S must have thought the same as they offered to take us to brunch en route from the airport to home. It was the Saturday of the Easter weekend, and it was already mid morning so the place was bustling when we arrived. The staff were already busy themselves like well oiled cogs to ensure that everything ran smoothly. We were put on a nice table in the middle of the space, giving me plenty of opportunities to observe and wonder and contemplate and assess. 

The breakfast menu is expansive and had all the familiar classics as well as a more interesting range of items. T was feeling particularly indulgent and ordered the French Toast with GF bread. It came with a generous dollop of ricotta and drizzled with a plenty of honey. It was quite decadent and certainly made my smoked salmon on potato rosti seem a comparatively lighter option. Both were beautifully constructed dishes, exhibiting a sound appreciation for texture and taste, employing good quality ingredients. 

Brunch was ever so pleasant and certainly a wonderful way to begin our time in Mildura! 

Stefano's Cafe Bakery on Urbanspoon

JD's Burgers, Kew

This place is great! The beef burger patties are juicy and succulent and really easy to chow down. The sauces are tasty and they make sure to put plenty in each burger, and the cheese are also especially gooey. The bun has just the right density for the liquid to be held in without soaking through the bottom bun, whilst there was enough bounce in the dough to enable the top bun to curve just so in a glorious dome shape.

When I was initially invited to visit JD's, I was curious about what they meant by Asian Fusion, and how this element of differentiation would be demonstrated. To get a sense of what I was getting myself into, I did what any sensible foodie would do and checked out their social media accounts. The burgers came in a number of interesting flavours, but what really struck me was how big they seemed and there were also pictures of contestants who had participated in their Saiyan challenge involving a 2kg burger. Saiyan challenge or not, I knew that I would still need reinforcement to help me tackle JD's menu, and thus I enlisted the help of fellow food enthusiasts, A and J.

Their ungodly Saiyan challenge consists of 8 patties, 8 slices of cheese, and 8 layers of bacon, in between a large brioche bun. If anyone could devour the whole monstrosity for free, then it's would be theirs for free. At the time of our visit, there had already been five brave and incredible men who had successfully completed the challenge. We contemplated trying to get on the honor, individually, and collectively and concluded that we wouldn't be able to do in on either account. Instead we got a Level 3 Saiyan Burger which had 3 patties, 3 slices of cheese and 3 layers of bacon. I asked for an egg in their for good measure as well, just for some extra protein.

In addition, we also had some chips to share. These were golden and crunchy and very good. They usually come with a house sauce, but I asked for extra side orders of the Red Dragon and Green Dragon Sauces to test them out. Both were delicious, although not complementary, so I'd recommending picking only one, unless you also have taste ADHD like I do. In fact, even as I was eating it, I had a curious thought about a Golden Dragon sauce made up of curry powder and mayonaise...

JD's burger is up there, as one of the top 3 burger places in Melbourne. The burgers are decadent and indulgent and so full of goodness that they leaked until the very last mouthful. I also respect the fact that the venue itself has retained the no fuss, no frills set up of local takeaway joints without trying to be too cool. Instead, it focuses its efforts on serving honest burgers worth recommending and revisiting.

JD's Burgers - Asian Fusion on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Shimbashi, Melbourne CBD

I've been wanting to try this place for a while now and finally had the chance to visit when I took S there for lunch. We were treated to some really authentic food with a good dose of Japanese hospitality. 

As we sat down, they brought out water and little servings of a very simple garden salad. The salad was such an unexpected gesture, and made the best impression upon us.

It was a cold day and we both ordered warm soba noodles. I was feeling slightly unwell so I went with the vegetarian Sensai noodles consisting of various 'mountain' vegetables including mushrooms. The broth was beautifully delicate, with a distinctly fresh aroma, and very mild flavours. The noodles were quite thin, and very starchy in texture as they were a little bit softer than I would have liked.

My soba noodles came as a set, with sushi and a potato croquette. 

Shimbashi Soba & Sake Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sushigoi, Sydney

We were pretty disappointed with the unfulfilling experience at Suhsigoi, because it has the potential to be so much more than what it currently tries to be.

The location is prime, the decor is attractive, and there is a fully operational sushi train! It's the perfect setup, but sadly the food wasn't very tasty and the service was also lackluster.

First up were my gyoza which looked pretty average and tasted just as it looked. When I placed my order, I had been cautioned that they would be vegetarian, which I didn't mind at all, but I wish they had also warned me that these would be lumpy, misshapen, and under cooked.

We also had two sushi dishes that we chose from the small plates, because none of the larger premium options appealed to us. We didn't see anything on the train that piqued our curiosity for what they might taste like, nor did we spot anything which represented a good value proposition.

Part of the problem was that there seemed to be a lack of leadership on the floor. There were lots of staff, cooking and serving, and not a lot of observing and thinking and managing. In fact, I felt that there were too many staff. A lot of the sushi chefs were just making plates without looking at what was on the train and what was leaving the train. As for the service staff, there were quite a few of them milling about, some huddled together in impeding social chit chat. Whilst the meal wasn't a great one, T and I did have a thrilling conversation how we could improve the operational efficiency of this place and lift the standard.

Sushigoi on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flavour Of North India, Sydney

After a wholly unsatisfying visit to Sushigoi and a much more satisfying trip to Gelatissimo, we were still hungry and didn't relish the prospect of boarding the plane on an empty stomach.

We walked past this casually bustling Indian takeaway, tempting us with the aromas wafting out from the bain maries. 

All the familiar favourites had a spot in the  bain marie, and we chose one meat and two vegies. 

The serving was huge for the little money that we paid, and each dish was packed with flavour. The chicken was soft and tender and had retained all its juices. Even the vegetable dishes tasted really rich and wholly fulfilling.

Flavour Of North India on Urbanspoon

Artback, Wentworth

In the town of Wentworth, where the Darling River meets the Murray, there is a gallery cafe called Artback.

It's a very large space filled with various tidbits and clusters of inspirational creativity. For example, instead of table numbers, we had a flexible black man to identify our table for the service staff. 

We had chosen some seats out the front, to soak up some rays of sunshine, and observe the thoroughfare. Sure enough, it wasn't too long before we saw two horses cantering along the main road, past us and back, and then proceed to lap around the shops. 

Not too soon after this, our food and drinks started to arrive. I was still reeling from the delicious breakfast that we had eaten only 2 hours prior and ordered only a hot chocolate. It was sweetly creamy and came with a good dose of froth. The adorable polka dot cup was also a nice touch. 

Oh! Please pardon my Ed Hardy sunglasses, and T's reading materials. We often revert to our more basic instincts when we go on holidays.

As such, T had ordered a chicken and corn soup as a light snack. The soup was quite thin, but full of both chicken and corn, providing spoonfuls of good taste and nourishment, and familiar comfort. I also really likedthe slightly warmed plump Turkish bread that accompanied it. 

Other menu items that are recommended  include their rather famous sausage rolls, and the barramundi and salmon ravioli. 

After we finished our food, we visited the gallery on our way out. There is a studio that connects the cafe to the gallery, where they hold art classes for adults and fun workshops for children.

Through a doorway towards the back, we entered the light filled gallery. The works on exhibit included both sketchings, paintings and sculptures, with most of the pieces drawing influence from the surrounding landscape, and the history of nearby indigenous communities. This is a worthy stop for passing motorists or visitors to Wentworth and surrounding towns. 

Artback Australia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Vim's, Sydney

We woke up one lazy Sunday morning in Sydney, and stretched, thinking about breakfast. We were in the middle of Randwick and there were lots of good options nearby. We tried to go to Bake Bar but we got no service for a solid 15 minutes, so we thought we would take our custom next door. 

Next door is an exotic looking Malaysian restaurant called Vim's. The menu is heavily Indian influenced and although T hasn't had much exposure to Malaysian cuisine, he is a big fan of Indian food, so it was easy to convince him to give it a go. 

What a wonderful decision that was, as we thoroughly enjoyed our hearty meal of a vegetable stir fry, long grain rice, roti canai with chicken curry, and mango lassi. The food was deliciously tasty, and the flavours were fantastic. 

The service was caring yet unobtrusive, and made us feel right at home. It felt like we were eating at an old aunty's house.

Vim's Kitchen Truly Malaysian on Urbanspoon

Dex2Rose, Melbourne CBD

In my line of work, it's so rare to get a day off. Not a half day or a quarter of a day, but a full uninterrupted day, where I get a free pass to switch off and focus on living.

Such days feel even more special when they are during the week when everyone else is working. 

Thus one fine Tuesday, I found myself wandering into Dex2Rose. I had first received the invite to check them out almost two months ago. But due to the aforementioned nature of my work, I've missed out on any opportunities to take up the invite. My commitment strengthened this week when V mentioned that she had visited over the weekend and recommended me going to check it out. 

Tucked away down a lane way near the corner of Queen and Little Bourke, it makes smart use of an otherwise obscure location. 

The inside features exposed beam sand metal supports, naked bulbs, industrial design wooden tables metal chairs, as well as plushier couches which ran along one of the walls. It was a quieter afternoon and the guys were able to take us through menu, share their philosophy about the brand and tell us about their vision for this venture.

Of the delightful items that we sampled, I was really taken with the cold drip coffee which was light and refreshing. It still retained a strong aroma, without leaving a sour or bitter aftertaste. The nitro brew was also a fascinating drink to taste, as it offered a head of froth and a well rounded richness. The trade off here was a slight bitterness, which I found slightly beyond my preferences. 

The nitrogen gelato that we chose was a grape flavored sorbet which came with a dollop of coconut cream atop it. Both delicate in flavour and light in texture, this was really soothing. There were altogether approximately 10 different flavours on  the menu, and they ranged from reinvented classics to others which are just wickedly strange. It's worth visiting and revisiting to what surprises will be featured on the next turn of the menu.

Dex2rose Nitrogen Gelato on Urbanspoon

Oneness Cafe, Sydney

In between the afternoon wedding and the sunset reception, we had a bit of spare time to get ourselves organised, grab some food and start on the drinks. 

It was too early to for The Ivy, and we were in the middle of Sydney. R and T were out of their depth just as I was, but luckily, we had one of their friends, J with us. J had lived around the area and remembered some of his old haunts, including Oneness.

It looked really interesting from the outside, with its odd mix of clashing decor, eclectic tidbits and scrawled menu boards.

Oneness Cafe Restaurant on Urbanspoon