Thursday, August 21, 2014

Big Boy BBQ

For all the dude food that's popping up around Melbourne, I'm doing a terrible job keeping up with it! 

Take Big Boy BBQ, which has been on the block for a little while now actually (with the third store having recently opened in Richmond), which I only visited a couple of weeks back! 

Brad and I had spent the afternoon running around the city, popping into the Les Miserables exhibition at the state library, before deciding that sustenance was needed. Seriously meaty sustenance.

The cosy Hardware Lane location is low key and relaxed, not overly decked out, although the pictures of all the available meals on the wall are quite drool inducing.

After doing our Asian thing and deducing what would be the best value combination (I'm training him well), Brad and I decide on the 'Wings'n Ribs' , a regular serve of chicken wings with two regular sized sides and half a rack of ribs. We opt to upgrade from lamb to pork ribs.

Woah. Check out that serve! I couldn't believe that was just for two people (or would even be suggested for one!)

The chicken wings, spice rubbed with a barbecue sauce and ranch dressing are delicious. Tender, and full of flavour. Just sumptuous! 

The ribs were quite a bit different to what I was expecting, having been brought up on the ribs from T.G.I Fridays as a kid, which you could easily pull off the bone and tended to be quite fatty and slathered in sauce. 

These were much more meaty and less fatty than most ribs I've had in the past, a gentle blushing pink inside with a serious tan going on outside. I recall smashing through a half serve of ribs no problem in the past, but Big Boy BBQ put out a challenge with it's seriously meat packed ribs! It was a touch drier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed the lovely smokey aromas and flavours. 

Oh and the BBQ sauces available? Um yum. Totally was mixing it all up together!

And let's not forget sides. Oh my goodness, I was amazed how much I enjoyed the coleslaw with vinegar dressing, which was absolutely the thing to cut through the richness of the meal. The balance in the dressing was just right, a touch of sweet, and a touch of sour, but neither overpowering. 

But really. Honestly. It was all about those onion strings…which is what kind of brought me to Big Boy BBQ in the first place, with other people instagramming pictures of these thin and oh-just-so-crispy battered goodies. I could easily just go to Big Boy BBQ for a large serve of these with some barbecue sauce. So easily! 

By the end of the meal, we had definitely needed the roll of paper towel on the table (so smart), and had a great time really getting hands on with our food. Sure, it's not great first date food, but damn it, it is good. 

Big Boy BBQ
27-31 Hardware Lane
Melbourne 3000

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lee Ho Fook

"Oh that's the expensive Chinese place that all the caucasians like."

Or that's what my mum says about Lee Ho Fook (not that she has been). However, I'm comforted when I arrive, to see a family of Asians, with adult children, sitting around a round table near the front with a lazy susan filled with plates. Asians seem to like it too!

Sitting on Smith Street, surrounded by some fantastic company (Easy Tiger, Wood Spoon Kitchen, Monsieur Truffe, etc. etc. etc.), Lee Ho Fook serves up a distinctly Chinese menu with family favourites dressed up (just a little bit) and a handful of more experimental dishes. 

I visit with Jo, and I'm quite impressed with the dark and broody space, with it's gradient coloured walls, dark finishes and almost sculptural light fixtures. 

Being a fan of a Lillet Blanc, I'm tickled by the idea of an Osmanthus-infused Lillet Blanc, which we both order. It's a delightful surprise that the infusion turns the usually very light and refreshing Lillet Blanc, into something a bit heavier and stickier, with a subtle sweet aroma creeping out. 

We get two quite contrasting dishes from the medium category of the menu, the white pepper spanner crab with taro mille feuille, and the crispy eggplant in spiced red vinegar. 

The spanner crab dish is a work of art, with the spanner crab combined with a bit of coconut (I believe), and topped with a sliver of crisp apple and the ever so thin taro crisps. It's surprisingly sweet and cool, but also refreshing, a real medley of textures. 

The eggplant on the other hand, is serious comfort food. Crisp on the outside, soft, just oily enough and absolutely packed with flavour. Sweet, spicy, a bit of zest and tang. The delectably moreish dish is small enough that you might consider ordering a second serving, but also big enough that you have to think twice about it…at least between two people anyway.

For our main, on a cold Sunday night, we turn to none other than the liquorice braised beef short rib, with turnips, enoki mushrooms and purple basil. Simply perfection. Gorgeously meaty but fatty pieces of beef, in a dark, sticky and sweet sauce, which reminded me quite a lot of a similar dish I had had in Shanghai a few years back. The radish is tender, but not mushy and not over salted either. We were both somewhat surprised how relatively clean the dish felt, not greasy or overly heavy, but instead very well balanced. 

To wrap up, because I'm a little greedy gut, we had to try two desserts (because we really wanted all four but that might have been a few too many…)

My choice was the jasmine tea infused custard burnt caramel, a modest serve, but exactly as you would expect it. A velvety and slightly dense caramel, with a layer of caramel over the top. The tea flavour was delicate, floral but definitely very present. Would most certainly return for this!

Jo's pick was the coconut pandan sorbet, with malt and ale-cream. What a combination! Refreshing, and surprisingly textural, the sorbet was more like a cloud than a sorbet in my opinion! There was a bit of crunch from the (what I think are) malt 'rocks' at the base, which was quite interesting. 

On a whole, I really enjoyed the food at Lee Ho Fook and don't really have anything I can fault. It's very hard to compare it to somewhere more traditional, such as Red Emperor, the only thing maybe being perhaps the portions at Red Emperor are a little more substantial (in my opinion), however, the quality at Lee Ho Fook really does stand out. 

92 Smith Street

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Thursday, August 14, 2014


Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of duNord

There are francophiles, but surely in this day and age, with Noma leading the charge of brining Scandinavian cuisine and culture into the mainstream conversation, there should be a term for those who love all things Scandinavian. 

Beause Melbourne sure be loving all that Northern European goodness at the moment, with many a cafe ditching the hipster warehouse, and gravitating towards the clean Scandinavian aesthetic, a love of foraging more prevalent than ever, and plenty of Melbourne restaurants that take inspiration from the restaurants and cuisine and bring a twist of it here. 

And then we have duNord, who bring the Scandinavian love in all the way, with a totally Nordic menu that has me absolutely salivating over my iPhone screen whenever I see their pictures pop up on Instagram. 

I popped in on a cool Thursday evening to join a handful of other bloggers to sample the new winter menu and was quite surprised, but also pleased, to see the place bustling away with people tucking into a cocktail or three. 

It's a cosy environment, with lots of light wood, a touch of greenery here and there and aesthetically simple details like the lamp shades. 

We're quickly greeted by Thomas Kiltorp, the owner, and a Rose Hip Collins, made with vodka, rose hip syrup (made out of a jam they make that's reduced to a syrup), ginger ale and apricot liqueur. It's pretty dangerous, light and not overly sweet, meaning it's simply much too easy to drink! There's not just a focus on seasonal food, but also seasonal cocktails at duNord, meaning that the team endeavour to use seasonal produce and fruit in their cocktails, changing up the menu with each season. The current cocktail menu had some rich and hearty looking goodies on it, which I for one am certainly keen to get back to try!

When head chef Matti Fallon pops these bouquets on our table, we're a little puzzled until he tells us that we can eat all of it! Truly reflecting the spirit of foraging, these bundles included salt and vinegar 'branches', which are a dark rye bread, cabbage, sorrel flower, saltbush and dill cream at the bottom. Although it was slightly novel to be munching on flowers, it was interesting how different each of the plants tasted, a mix of a light bitterness and freshness, with the crunchy branches giving a kick of salt. 

After our cocktail and edible plants, we moved into the 'Back Pocket', a space tucked out at the back of the restaurant, which would be ideal for hosting events, where an intimate dinner setting awaited us. 

Matti explained that at duNord, they endeavour to be as authentic as possible, using the old school Nordic techniques, to inspire new presentations and executions. Think smoking, pickling and all that good stuff. 

Ocean trout, cured in white wine and Champagne, served on top of a linseed and caraway wafer with a Chardonnay and buttermilk emulsion was simply stunning, with an interesting array of texture and flavour. I love the flavour of trout, so couldn't get enough of this, especially on the nutty and crunchy wafer. 

The applewood smoked herring with potatoes, is very classically swedish. What Matti's done with it is cover it in pork skin, and include a puree made of the wild cabbage foraged around Northcote and Fairfield. It's gorgeously aromatic, a gentle smoke mingled with the heavenly richness of pork. The crumbing was lovely and crunchy, and the herring sweet, although picking through the bones was quite a challenge (I ended up eating most of them anyway…). The foraged cabbage puree was exceptional, intensely smooth and adding a refreshing herbaceous flavour to the rich protein. 

Our next dish was comfort food, Scandinavian style. A duck and bacon pyttipanna (kind of like a Scandinavian hash with potatoes as well) with onion and rosehip emulsion came hidden underneath a couple of purple cabbage leaves and topped with an egg yolk (traditionally a fried egg) bringing a bit of sexy yolk porn action. This was definitely hearty, and delightfully simple in flavours, tasting a bit like breakfast with duck added in. Can definitely see how this might transfer to a simple family meal quite easily, but love this dressed up version too. 

We wrapped up with a beetroot pannacotta, sitting on top of a vividly coloured beetroot sherbet. I've forgotten what the powder is, but it provided a bit of a fizz in the mouth, not as strong as pop rocks, but somewhat similar. I really enjoyed this dessert, with the natural sweetness of the beetroot propelling the flavour, it was quite fresh and not overly sweet. 

Before we could leave though, Matti Fallon put us through our paces and with an array of foraged herbs and condiments, had us competing against each other to see who could plate the best! Lots of negative space and very gentle touch by Maggie had her take first place, although quietly I still quite liked how my plate looked (maybe I could be a chef….? Or not…)

It had been a most enjoyable evening, and I enjoyed exploring some Nordic tastes and textures, my only niggle being that it did take a while for the food to come out, with a few rather noticeably long waits between dishes. 

Otherwise, I'm certainly planning on popping back in, to see what's new on the cocktail menu and have more of that beetroot pannacotta...

367 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne 3000

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Bomba Downstairs

"Are you here for the party?"

The resounding silence from Wince and I clearly showed that we were not, as we stepped out of the elevator into a full crowd, merry making on Bomba's rooftop bar. 

"It's an engagement party."

"Oh wonderful! Who's the lucky groom and bride to be?"

"Well, I'm the husband to be…so come in and have a beer."

And with that, I crashed my first engagement party ever. Was far easier than I could ever expect!

Adrian and Chris soon joined us on the rooftop, and following a beverage or two, we excitedly made our way down to Bomba, the restaurant, to fuel up before seeing Les Miserables at the theatre. 

Conveniently located around the corner from the theatre, Bomba ended up being just about the perfect pre-theatre restaurant for us, as we had given them notice of our need to vacate early for the show, and so food and service ran smoothly and efficiently. 

Bomba is a little dark, quite Melbourne (exposed brick etc. etc.) with a mix of tables, bar seating and high tables requiring tall stools. It's all pretty low key and laid back, but with still a nice little buzz going on underneath the surface.

The four of us ooh and ahh over the menu, wanting everything, but at the same time knowing that's entirely impossible. Sigh! Although we were tempted to go for the set menu option, an absolute steal at $45 a head, we decided instead to construct our own menu, as there were a couple of stand out items we had to have!

Nola our waitress introduces herself, realising that we all follow each other on twitter, and gets us all settled in with a gin and tonic and Wapengo Lake organic rock oysters following shortly afterwards. Sweet and refreshing, simply exquisite.

The bread came piled high, with that slightly firmer crust that I like and everything else all fluffy. A perfect companion with the olive oil to get our appetites going. 

The tuna tartare with seaweed crackers was light and refreshing, with a bit of zest, perfect for waking up the palate. I enjoyed having the seaweed crackers there for a contrast in texture as well, although it got a bit messy as we tried to spoon or scoop the tartare onto the crackers! 

At a tapas bar, one simply does not skip out on croqueta's. At Bomba, they were leek and manchego and they were heavenly. Fresh from the fryer, hot, golden and crisp, these were exactly as I remembered having them in Barcelona (except maybe a bit bigger), with a light crumb and a sensually smooth and creamy filling, béchamel done damn well!

We skipped then from tapas to rachiones, some of the bigger dishes and were equally split between our two mains, the Pedro Ximenez braised pork jowl with turnip and the Catalan stew, filled with mussels, clams, prawns, baby calamari and bacalao.

Where do I start?

The pork jowl was probably my favourite (by a small margin), incredibly tender, the meat just fell apart and melted in the mouth, and into the puree below and the slightly sticky and sweetness of the Pedro Ximenez. Swoon, swoon, swoon. This is clearly Spanish comfort food at it's best! I'm honestly amazed to see that this dish is also on the workers lunch menu, which is just $15 at lunch time! Wished I worked on the other side of the city now…

The Catalan stew was gorgeous, so aromatic and abundantly laid with seafood. There was a rusticity to it, if the pork jowl was the Spanish comfort food of the land, the Catalan stew is obviously the oceanic version…so how to compare honestly? We all probably would have liked a little bit more of the soup that all the seafood sat in, cleaning out two bowls of bread (do make sure you ask for extra) to mop up all that was there…but certainly keen for more!

To balance out our protein intake, we got a serve of the brussels sprouts with chorizo, chestnuts and honey, as well as the Valencian salad of baby gem lettuce, honey, shallots and orange. Whilst the brussels sprouts were lovely and tender, with a nice balance of salt and fat with sweetness, the Valencian salad really surprised me. Although it looks quite modest and ordinary, the thick and sticky honey dressing combined with the orange, makes for both a decadent but refreshing salad. Definitely worth trying (and something I'm going to try and replicate in the summer!)

Whilst we gossiped and lapped up the last of our Catalan stew, Nola popped by to help keep us aware of the time and made sure we got our dessert orders in place…as it'd be simply a crime to forget order dessert (as I have done in some restaurants…)

Seeing as there were four of us, we justified that three desserts should be quite doable!

The rhubarb ice cream, with apple jelly and candied walnut, was a recommendation from Nola, that I might not have usually picked for myself. However, we all really ended up enjoying this, as it was such a light and refreshing dessert. The rhubarb ice-cream was almost like air, and so smooth, with a lovely bit of crunch and body from the candied walnuts that it sat on. Definitely the dessert option if you're still in the mood for something sweet, but feeling almost too full…

The churros with chocolate were fried beautifully, with a bit of crunch and a little bit of chew (yum).

However, my absolute favourite dessert, because I'm that chocolate dessert fiend person naturally, were the chocolate croquetas with custard and hazelnuts. Oh. Oh my. Served warm, I think I described them as warm Ferrero Rocher's, nutty, chocolatey, the filling is simply decadent, like a self saucing cake, and the custard it sits in is surprisingly quite light, but a good complement to the richness. Would easily return just for these. Easily.

We were surprised how reasonably priced our meal was, although we weren't completely about to burst, we were certainly full, having spent $50 a head (including our gin and tonic!). I had an absolutely amazing time at Bomba, with friendly staff and efficient service and simply brilliant food that's easy to share and just so moreish. The casual, but buzzing atmosphere also lends itself to a great dining experience. 

Pretty sure I'm now going to be dreaming of chocolate croquetas tonight…

P.S Keep an eye out on my Instagram today, I'm giving away a double pass to the Time Out Food Awards this year on the 18th of August and Bomba's been nominated for quite a few awards…!

103 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne 3000

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stagger Lee's

I'll admit it.

I've never been a huge fan of Proud Mary. 

One of Melbourne's crown jewels in the brunching scene, that has stood tall and strong for such a long time now (by cafe standards), and for many of my interstate friends a must-visit despite the half an hour or longer wait; it's just never grabbed my attention as being outstanding. Guess it helps I don't drink coffee, so I've never gotten to see that side of it, but for brunch? Many more options that are just as good in my opinion, and most of the time, better.

Which is why when I heard that Stagger Lee's was opening, I was massively 'meh', which was reinforced by some of the mixed reviews I was hearing. So whilst I knew it was about, it was quite low on my brunching priority list. 

However recently, one of my colleagues, who I've recommended to many places since I've been working at BrandWorks asked if I had been, and was telling me how clever and fun the menu was, as we had been discussing how Melbourne brunch menus can go a bit stale every now again.

A quick google, a menu ogle (that left me salivating) and that weekend I found myself there with Brad.

I was most pleased that there weren't half an hour waits, instead we were promptly seated on a communal table. 

Stagger Lees felt spacious, with much more light than Proud Mary, but was classically Melbourne hipster chic with distressed brick walls, coloured weatherboards down the back, cold drip contraptions on the table and naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. 

I love the comic book style art on the menus, and the hints of teal that are consistent through the cafe. There's a little bit of attitude in general, but the cool bad-ass attitude that makes you wish that you were them (or a bit more like them).

Seeing that almond milk was available, scrawled on one of the chalkboards, I couldn't resist getting my usual chai with it, and enjoyed it. Not as creamy as milk or soy milk might be, but good flavour. 

Brad's coffee looked exceptional (but I guess with Proud Mary heritage, it better be looking damn good!)

Preditable as ever, Brad ordered the Frank n' Beans, saffron baked beans with smoked ham hock, chorizo, soft poached egg, herb and garlic crumbs and topped with a long sliver of toast. Wholesome, hearty, comforting, Stagger Lee's did this very well. Loved that it was more stewy, and not too wet, the beans were lovely and meaty and it all just came together very nicely. Perfect comfort food. Especially in this weather!

However…I think I found brunch heaven with my Shrooms 'n' Truffles dish. Pan roasted local pine mushrooms, truffled polenta, a confit egg yolk, pecorino pepato and farmhouse toast. 

Wow, wow, wow. I could hardly pick my jaw off the floor as the truffle aroma hits in me in the face. The polenta is creamy and rich, the pine mushrooms buttery and beautiful and the confit egg yolk just lazily fuses itself into the polenta, a comforting orange stream of delicious. Add a couple of crunchy croutons for texture, and pecorino to just tip one over from earth to heaven. 

I just could not shut up. With each mouthful I cooed, swooned and sighed happily, audibly. The only sad thing is that the plate eventually is empty, and I was perhaps not quite as full as I could have been, however I did not eat all the bread (as I forgot to request for gluten free bread), so I suppose that might have helped! 

Despite my initial reservations, I was absolutely exhilarated to be bowled over and fall in love with Stagger Lees. I'm already considering what to have next visit, and will definitely plan to try out one of the 'Gangsta Milkshakes', the salted caramel one with chocolate chunks has my name all over it...

276 Brunswick Street

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