Monday, August 31, 2015

Harry's, Melbourne CBD

Stamford Plaza Hotel is stuck in another era altogether. The hotel itself could certainly do with a fresh injection of capital and a new round of refurbishment. Harry's is the hotel bar / restaurant and spans across an entire lobby. There is a casual bar and lounge with self service, as a well as a more formal dining area featuring white table cloth. The sad looking buffet area, with its empty serving stations, extends to a set of automatic doors which lead into my office building next door.

Although right next door to my office, I only had the chance to visit it recently with T on a rare mid-week dinner date - R also made a special guest appearance. There were a few patrons but the place felt vast and empty. T commented that it reminded him of a place that mobsters would go to before a hit.
Nevertheless, we

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Chez Dre, South Melbourne

There is no doubt that the coffee and the food here is quite amazing. My coddled eggs with spinach and cheese was such a simple dish, yet so hearty. It came with a beautifully crusty and dense baguette, and a little mound of Pepe Saya butter. The butter and the baguette were perfectly enjoyable on their own, and the occasional dip into the coddled eggs made for an even more luxurious experience.

J's eggs royale was another great choice and one which I had been secretly contemplating as well. It featured poached eggs, accompanied by quite a few slices of salmon, and a rich yuzu-miso hollandaise sauce. In addition, M had ordered the quinoa and coconut porridge, but barely finished it, and felt mildly queasy afterwards - poor dear.

Good food or not, parking is highly limited, and I had to pay for the privilege of parking two blocks away. When paying for parking, make sure to pay for at least 1.5 hours, preferably 2, as the line at Chez Dre is always long on the weekends and the wait for a table can be at least 20 mins. We waited for about 30 mins, and the service inside was also slow and uneasy. We were seated on a communal bench and were often forgotten or ignored - I couldn't quite decide which was worse. To console ourselves, we bought some takeaway pastries on the way out to make the experience seem more worthwhile. For those who haven't been, please do, but I probably wouldn't revisit unless I had a social necessity to do so.

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Bimbo Deluxe, Fitzroy

There is nothing like cheap food to get me all excited! Bimbo is notorious for its ridiculously insane prices such as pizzas for less than $10 each, including dessert pizzas for $6, and $4 hot dogs loaded with toppings during happy hours. Happy hours here is a pretty liberal concept and run from 12-4pm on weekdays, and then 7-11pm from Mon - Thurs or 7-9pm from Fri - Sat, and all day on Sundays.

Lucky for us, we came on a Sunday afternoon, and without even looking at the pizza menu, I knew that I wanted a hot dog. The bargain hunter in me couldn't fathom missing out on such a low price. 

Besides, I knew that T would order a pizza so I'd be able to get a taste anyway. I had paid just enough attention to notice that yes, they did indeed offer GF pizzas. 

In fact, both T and H ended up ordering a pizza each, and I gleefully ordered myself a Mexican hot dog. We set ourselves up at a large table near the front of the restaurant, got some water and waited in anticipation.

The place was quite empty and there were probably only 4-5 tables, but even so, the food took ages to arrive. It seems like the kitchen was deliberately understaffed, but this was excusable given the happy hour pricing and the exorbitant high Sunday rates that businesses in this country have to endure. Eventually after almost 20mins, our food arrived, and oh my, was the wait worth it! The pizzas were large in size and there were a generous amount of toppings all the way to the edges. 

Similarly, my hot dog was fully loaded and did show any indications of happy hour skimpiness. The buns were soft, the sausage was juicy and the whole thing was glorious. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to finish the whole thing and had to take half in the taxi with me to the airport. Lukewarm, Bimbo still beat Qantas hands down.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Entrecôte City, Melbourne CBD

Entrecote opened up in the CBD this week, fittingly near the Paris end of Collins St. Its city abode is on Alfred Place, right opposite Stokehouse, where Prix Fixe previously resided.

The venue has been reworked and, Entrecote has announced its arrival with red signage and a bold dash of neon lighting. Neon is not something that’s often seen near this end.

Entrecote City has extended opening hours, serving breakfast from  Mon - Sat mornings, as well as lunch and dinner. To increase notoriety and revenue, there is also an outdoor kiosk area equipped with an open kitchen and a coffee machine. At $2.50 for a takeaway coffees, Entrecote certainly has their business strategy fine-tuned to the nearby office crowd. 

There are also many tasty breakfast and lunch options available from the kiosk such croissants, and tarts and baguettes. I tried this mini beef pie which was golden and puffy on top, soft and buttery at the crust and contained one of the tastiest fillings I have ever had.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Mugs Alley, East Melbourne

Since making the move to the other side of East Melbourne, we've rediscovered a few more local brunch options. Mugs Alley is one of our favorites for its warm service, freshly squeezed juices, hearty food options and the fact that it serves really good gluten free bread.

My favourites from the menu include the avocado, tomato, and feta on toast, with the addition of the tomato, a nice refreshing touch. For those feeling particularly ravenous, a side of potato rosti would be my recommendation.

Mugs Alley also serves a lunch menu and has begun dinner service from Thursday until Saturday evenings. With hearty options, like pan fried jerk chicken and braised lamb shank, it's a convenient option for nearby office buildings and apartment blocks, as well as the foot traffic into the CBD each morning and out to the MCG every weekend.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mugen Ramen, Melbourne CBD

Mugen is part of the new wave of ramen bars taking over Melbourne, in a post-dumpling era. 

There was a time when ramen meant kettle of boiling water and a sachet of msg. If you were lucky, your ramen might come with some dehydrated bit which were supposed to resemble the protein of your choice and vegetables. But with the rising popularity of ramen in the mainstream dining scene, there is enough appreciation for ramen to support new entrants purely dedicated to the craft of serving up a perfectly bowl.

We came to Mugen by accident when M tried to book us in for lunch at another ramen place, but somehow booked us into Mugen, accessed via Bligh Place. The restaurant is located over two levels, one at ground level, and one below ground. As we were led down the stairs to our table, I was overwhelmed by a sense of coolness.

Downstairs, the furnishing is darker than black and moodier than emo. There were overhead lighting which beamed down upon the tables and the only other source of lighting came from the vintage Japanese samuria films being projected onto the wall behind our table. The menus also paid homage to Japanese pop culture, featuring swatches of Japanese anime.

Less is more seems to be the philosophy here, as it's not a lengthy menu and Mugen has chosen to showcase only the most pertinent choices. There were 5 of us and we all ordered ramen. 

I ordered the miso ramen, featuring thin noodles, slow cooked pork, bean shoots, corn and pork mince with an extra side of egg. The noodles were bouncy and chewy and the egg yolk was soft and runny. The slice of pork was slightly thinner than was enough, but there was enough pork mince to offset that. However, the most crucial ingredient, the broth, was only lukewarm when it arrived and that single failing just didn't cut it for me.

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Almost French, Richmond

Operated by Vietnamese proprietors, this cosy little café serves up decadent almost-French desserts, tempered with a touch of Vietnamese delicacy. here is a well stocked display cabinet at the entrance and everything is beautifully presented. With so many temptations, we decided to try a rich and creamy vanilla slice coupled with a slightly lighter looking pear tart.
The vanilla slice was a wonderful pile of puff pastry, creamy vanilla custard and sweet icing. The pure quality of the ingredients and the master skilfulness of the craftsmanship was apparent. The custard is soft and creamy and clung to the fork as it pierced through, making for a much more improved texture to the cheaper wobbly gelatinous versions often encountered in shopping centre bakeries. 

The pear tart turned out to be pleasantly dense and although it was sweet, it was still refreshingly complementary to the vanilla slice. The pear slices were nicely poached but still retained its texture which made for a nice contrast to the smooth  custard underneath and the crumbly casing.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Eis, Albert Park

Eis is a contemporary Japanese restaurant in the idyllic suburb of Albert Park. Eis is a long and narrow space with tables lining both sides. The decor is simple, and the furniture is perhaps more comfortable than sleek. The lighting is dark and the mood is slightly romantic. It's a perfect venue for a date or an intimate dinner with close family and friends. 

The menu contains many familiar Japanese dishes as well as Japanese renditions of other popular Asian dishes. For example, my favourite dish of the night was the chicken karaage rice paper roll. The crunch of the fried chicken and the soft vermicelli were a wining multicultural combination.

For mains, we chose hearty dishes including a beef stew which was reminiscent of Korean bulgogi, but saucier and richer, as well as a curry udon which was both tasty and nourishing. The food was unexpectedly homely and both strong in flavours and generously portioned.

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Two Birds One Stone, South Yarra

Located underneath one of the newly constructed apartment blocks, close to South Yarra station, this café is in a prime location to capitalise on the brunch crowd. Surrounded by high density residential apartment buildings full of tenants with high disposable incomes, there is plenty local foot traffic to support the business.

When we came by one early Saturday morning, the place was already buzzing at 10:00am. We managed to score 3 seats at the bar and were given menus for consideration. Sadly for me, I had an aching wisdom tooth and had to contend myself with a few choice beverages and a side of relish as a meal supplement. Whilst my drinks were quite delicious in their own right, I couldn’t help but sulk as J and C’s plates arrived, piled high with enviable solid foods. Each constituent on the plate glistened and glowed, and J and C both tucked in with relish. Whilst they ate, I preoccupied myself with observing the service.

The service was generally ok. It got off to a shaky start for us, but improved throughout the course of our meal, although it started to fade again towards the end of the meal. Noteworthy staff was the owner itself, or a man who worked so hard that he appeared to be the case, was very good. He stayed behind the counter most of the time, clearing away the dishes and the plates and ensuring that chaos didn’t ensue. Also, one of the female baristas was also very good and I applauded the fact that she took it upon herself to deliver our coffee orders straight to us, as we were just sitting at the counter. Her decision to bypass the waitresses demonstrated a commendable degree of efficiency and lateral thinking that I wish the other servers had shown.

Next time that I’m in the area, I would certainly revisit to sample the food menu more properly. For those keen to visit, the surrounding roads can be a bit hectic and parking options are quite restrictive, so public transport / walking is highly advised.

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