Sunday, August 23, 2015

Aria Chocolate Afternoon Tea

There are just some things that are done better with the right company.

For example.

I would never, ever, ever, bring Brad with me to go have high tea. He might have a tea. Might eat a sandwich. But just watch me gorge myself on everything else. We would eat, then we would leave. And that’s not the point of high tea.

However, show up with my TTVN crew (Adrian, Wince and Chris) and we live lush darling. 

We were supposed to meet up one particular Saturday, to drive down to the Mornington Peninsula and hit up wineries.

Then someone suggested that since it was cold, maybe we should get a spa treatment.

Which then evolve to, well we don’t actually have to leave Melbourne to get a spa treatment.

Which evolved to a ‘Did you know for $35 we can go hangout in Langham’s spa?’, which then evolved to ‘oh should we go have high tea too while we’re there?’

Which is how we found ourselves at 10am twirling on courtyards overlooking Flinders Street station (or maybe that was me), relaxing in a warm bubbly jacuzzi, before freshening up and heading down for our 12pm appointment at the Aria Chocolate Afternoon Tea. 

Now, I’ve done a couple of high teas, I’m not super experienced with them, but I have to say, Aria’s Chocolate Afternoon Tea is something else. 

Beautiful set up with gorgeous Wedgwood crockery, which just makes you want to lift them daintily with your pinky out and a glass of bubbly on arrival. 

And then. That dessert spread. Oh my god. What a smorgasbord. Who needs three tiers of sweets, when you have a full chocolate buffet at your fingertips? Lush cakes, mousses, churros, caramel tarts…even a station for freshly made crepes and ice-cream (the strawberry ice-cream was my favourite, so fruity!) There’s a lot to like here and you can eat as much as you want (or can). 

But before jumping into that, you have to order your tea, in which you are given a tea menu with around 20 teas on it to choose from. And once you finish one…well you can order a different tea. Adrian, Wince, Chris and I went through three teas each, each served in gorgeous silver pots. 

Do remember to start with your savouries first though, which come in the traditional three tier stack,  with sandwiches, smoked salmon and prosiuctto and cheese nibbles on the top, warm, creamy and decadent mushroom Vol Au Vent’s at the bottom and gorgeously fluffy scones in the middle. Remember that clotted cream and jam too please!

We initially took our time, savouring the items we had on our tiers…only to be surprised when a waitress came around after with another full of tray of savouries in her hand, asking if we wanted top ups of anything. We couldn’t believe it. We got two rounds of the mushroom Vol Au Vent’s. 

It’s amazing how fast our allotted two hours went by, they unfortunately do have to politely kick you out for the next round of guests, but with the right crowd, it’s certainly not surprising. I had initially thought Aria’s Chocolate High tea was a bit on the expensive side, at $79 a person, but considering everything is free flowing (apart from the bubbly), and it is more of a high tea buffet than a traditional high tea, it’s absolutely amazing value, and in a very lovely setting. 

The Langham Hotel
1 Southgate Avenue
Melbourne 3006

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Tokyo Tina

Brad would probably not be fussed if we didn’t do anything for his birthday.

But why on earth would I give up an excuse to go out to have dinner together? Really?

When I told people of my plan to take him to dinner to Tokyo Tina, I got a lot of “Good Luck”. “Go early” and I have to admit…I was a little worried initially. I certainly ain’t keen to be doing a Chin Chin style queue for 3 hours, so had a whole lot of other potential restaurants in the area lined up in my head…just in case.

Fortunately, we were in Tokyo Tina on a Thursday night and the wait wasn’t long at all. We must have gotten there around 7:30pm and sent to a waiting spot at the bar, where we ordered a round of drinks and a nibble but before that could even get to us, we were seated at the bar. Not too bad if you ask me!

It’s quite nice sitting at the bar, a touch dark, but lit atmospherically and it’s always fun watching the bartenders to their thing. 

I enjoyed a refreshing umeshu on the rocks to get me started, and got involved with some karaage chicken ribs with gochujang. For $10 the serving was generous, Brad and I getting around 3 ribs each. They weren’t super crunchy, but the batter was definitely full of flavour, and the chicken tender. Finger licking good. 

The ocean trout sashimi that we had was a bit underwhelming unfortunately, although it looked beautiful, the citrus dressing it had over it completely overwhelmed the flavour of the trout, which I had always thought was pretty bold. In this instance it was completely overshadowed, and although I normally love trout, I have never had it sashimi-ed and wasn’t in love with the texture personally. I suppose there’s a reason the Japanese have always used Tuna and sashimi, which are incredibly smooth and velvety in texture, there was a bit of coarseness to the trout texture which I wasn’t completely sold on.

The tempura eggplant, miso chawanmushi and pickled ginger put everything back on track though, pumping with umami deliciousness. I loved that the eggplant got the tempura treatment, providing lovely crunchy textures through the otherwise soft textured dish, made it very moreish indeed!

My absolute favourite thing of the night though (which I’ve just realised is no longer on the menu…why guys why?!) was the king katsu, a 300 gram pork battered and fried cutlet with shredded cabbage some damn delicious plum sauce (or something along the lines). Oh my gosh. For $20, I would have returned for this along with a bowl of rice any night of the week. It was pretty much the size of my face, insanely and delightfully crunchy, but also so tender…when all combined with the sauce that it sat on…it was just pure perfection. So sad to now learn it’s no longer on the menu. (Please bring it back!)

To finish, we opted for ramen. I was quite excited to learn that they do provide a gluten free option, so we got one small bowl with gluten free ramen and one small bowl of regular so we could compare. 

I got the classic ramen, with a tonkotsu (pork) base, pulled pork, ramen egg and spring onion and Brad got the miso ramen with miso base, shiitake, enoki and oyster mushrooms with a ramen egg. 

Unfortunately, especially after coming back from Sydney and enjoying Ippudo’s delightful and cheap ramen, Tokyo Tina’s ramen did just not live up to much. My classic ramen’s soup base just had no flavour. I couldn’t believe it, whilst Brad’s had much more flavour than mine, but was still lacking and did not impress either of us. Believe me, we’re not usually difficult judges, and try as I might, I just could not enjoy the ramen.

Regardless though, even if we did finish on a bit of an unimpressive note, there was definitely some high notes that would keep me coming back. The smaller more fusion style dishes are definitely the way to go, and if that king katsu is back on the menu…I’ll be there in a flash. So short of the long, enjoy grilled stuff, skip the ramen! 

66A Chapel Street
Windsor 3181

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Magic Mountain Saloon

Disclosure: I dined as a guest of the restaurant 

I’m usually a morning person. The type of person who’s alarm on the phone is the ‘Harp’ sound, because it takes that little to wake me up in the morning. Even at 6am in the morning.

However, I haven’t had that much experience with whiskey, and even after just a couple of nips, was definitely finding the following morning much harder to navigate. Crusty eyes, fuzzy brain, yawns the whole way into the city for my morning breakfast date.

Caryn later tagged us in with the caption: Why did we agree on such an early morning breakfast?

Because it was Magic Mountain Saloon…and it was exactly the type of food I needed that morning.

On a cold morning, the red glowing neon is an unusual beckoning symbol, you feel like you could be going to a bar instead. 

But pop yourself by the window once you’re in to soak in the day light as it gentle creeps in and face the rainbow mountain mural, which is awfully soothing…especially when you’re feeling a bit blurry in the head.

Magic Mountain Saloon encourages you to extend your night with cocktails prominently displayed on the breakfast menu, along with a variety of rather interesting cocktails as well. Being it was so cold though, and I was feeling a bit rough, it was a mint and ginger tea for me, for sure.

Breakfast at Magic Mountain Saloon is also not your usual eggs Benedict affair. During lunch and dinner, the restaurant-slash-bar-slash-dance all night spot serves up Thai influenced food (like it’s bigger siblings Cookie and Toff in Town), so why should that be different in the mornings?

Thank god it isn’t. 

Because when you’re hung over, the chicken and kaffir lime scotched egg, stacked high with pork ribs and drizzled in a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce is actually everything you need. The scotch egg itself is completely bursting with flavour, the kaffir lime a delightfully bright and aromatic start to the day, jumping into your nostrils and waking up the brain, whilst the abundance of chilli is also another delicious alarm. True to it’s influence, the flavours are not diluted in the slightest, and I love it. The pork ribs are lovely meaty morsels, not too fatty, perfect for just tearing off the bone. 

I absolutely adored this mother of a protein hit to start my day.

We also got the sticky lamb and shrimp rice, with green apple, omelette, coriander, ginger and chilli. Total Asian style breakfast, and it’s so okay. The lamb was sweet and jammy, tender too. The rice was delicious, well seasoned, kind of nutty, and with just enough oil through it to make it totally moreish, and the green apple added a beautiful freshness. Although I was full, was definitely tempting to get more mouthfuls of this going on.

We also could not resist the black sticky rice with strawberries, banana, coconut cream and dried mango granola. Pretty, and again, very tasty. I was surprised that the black rice was actually served warm, I loved it wasn’t goopy, the texture and the flavours reminded me of the traditional Thai mango sticky rice…but with bananas and strawberries instead. It all worked very well and definitely something I want to have again. 

Caryn and I had a great morning hanging out, complaining about how early it was and stuffing our gobs with good food. It’s a great spot to catch up in the morning as it’s not too busy (yet), so you can hear each other and just chill out in the space a bit. I also reckon the food is amazing value, even though I did not pay for this meal, I couldn’t believe our scotch egg with all it’s pork ribs, was only around $18…it was really, really big. All the meals were! Good spot to feed the menfolk for sure. 

Although I don’t often do breakfast in the city, Magic Mountain Saloon is definitely somewhere I would see myself coming back to, for something a little different, that’s also insanely satisfying. I’m pretty sure I did not eat until about 3 or 4pm that afternoon afterwards….

62 Little Collins Street
Melbourne 3000 

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mörk Chocolate Brew House

It’s wonderful to see little businesses blossom in Melbourne. From humble beginnings, to essentially, taking over the foodie world. 

Mörk Chocolate has been doing just that, gradually building up a name for themselves, wholesaling to cafes and popping up in many a boutique gift shop in Melbourne. Cafes no longer just served you hot chocolate…they served you Mörk hot chocolate. 

I’ll be honest, when I have had Mörk at other cafes, I’ve not always been completely wowed by it. It’s got a lovely cocoa flavour, it’s not too sweet, but I think it’s often the lack of texture that gets me. I can’t help it, I’m a rich creamy kinda girl. 

So though, now that Mörk Chocolate have their own ‘brew’ house, surely they would be the absolute best people to prepare their own hot chocolate!

Brad and I could not have picked a better day to make our way over too, completely pissing down with rain, cold and windy…it was definitely hot chocolate weather. So we hustled over from our brunch spot, careful not to slip on the angled step in front of the door (a touch dangerous in the wet weather) and stepped into the warm and minimalist haven of Mörk.

The space is clean, and just so beautiful. It’s the details here that really catch your eye. Gold taps, beautifully crafted wooden handles, matte white jugs and mugs lined up like soldiers on the slate counter. It’s a dream. Maybe not very kid friendly though (surprised there aren’t chocolate handprints everywhere!)

The menu is short and sweet. Try the house hot chocolate at different variations of darkness, or something a bit different, like a chocolate soda or more importantly…one of the signature chocolate’s. 

And just because it had been making the rounds on Instagram, I had to give the Campfire Chocolate a go. Hot chocolate, with smoke and marshmallow. 

The smoke is captured in your glass, which just fills the air with the warm, crackly, richly smokey aromas of a campfire, as suggested. I had a family with little girls next to me who wrinkled their noses and exclaimed loudly that they didn’t really like the smell. Maybe not one for the kids, but definitely one for the adults who just want to be curled up in front of the fire place. 

As for the chocolate itself? Far better here than some of the cafes I’ve had Mörk at. Lovely cocoa, and a nice texture to the chocolate as well, not super thick, like the mainstream Koko Black’s and Max Brenner’s, but restrained and elegant. 

And then the torched marshmallow. Yum.

I also asked the staff to recommend me a tart, and I can safely say, the lemon meringue tart is a zesty little treat indeed. The lemon curd almost not quite set, and so molten and soft in the mouth, with a lovely short pastry…and plenty, plenty of zest. Don’t miss out on these little goodies when you make your way up to this very, almost, Willy Wonka place of whimsy. 

150 Errol Street
North Melbourne

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Monday, August 10, 2015

RSPCA Cupcake Day

My family and I have long been advocates of adopting from animal shelters. When I lived in Hong Kong we adopted a cat from the SPCA there, and before Chai, my previous two dogs were both adopted from the RSPCA.

Chai was also adopted, from a different adoption centre, but I think what I’ve learnt, and loved, from having mutts in the house, is that you really never know what you’re going to get…but as long as you put the effort in, it pretty much always works out. 

Which is a similar experience I had with experimenting with some cupcake flavours, in support of the RSPCA Cupcake Day, one of the only days where you can fight animal cruelty with cupcakes. Not a bad deal hey?

RSPCA Cupcake Day is on the 17th of August, which falls on a Monday, so perfect for getting the office, school or family involved…who needs an excuse to bake cupcakes anyway? If you don’t really want to get your bake on though, you can just donate on the website. 

Over the weekend, mum and I thought we would try to make cupcakes, but give them a Malaysian twist, using pandan and kaya (coconut jam). 

It had obviously been a while since I had baked as I made the joyous errors of:

1. Using plain flour instead of self-raising

2. Attempting to make icing with caster sugar instead of icing sugar. 


Fortunately at the end of it all, we still ended up with something that was actually pretty tasty and perfectly edible, especially when you lobbed kaya on it like nobody’s business. 

I won’t share the ‘recipe’ we used, as I’d like to tweak them a bit more and change a few things to perfect it. We took a basic vanilla cupcake recipe, swapped out the butter for coconut cream and the milk for pandan (we blitzed a couple of leaves with a mix of water and coconut water and strained out the liquid to use). 

Really though, I think I would leave some butter in it, as the cupcakes came out nice and light, but need a little bit of fat to make it really moreish. 

Using just the pandan liquid is also not enough for colour, so we just added in a couple of drops of pandan extra to really get that lovely gentle green through. 

We attempted a couple of things with the kaya, baking it in the cupcake versus just drizzling it on and munching. If you put the kaya up near the top of the mix, it tends to bubble through, but turns into this delicious thick custard-y goodness. If you put it towards the bottom of the mix, and cover it thoroughly, it weirdly sinks to the bottom and kind of just caramelises…so it’s really better just to smear it on after the cupcakes are baked. 

If you want to make kaya at home, pop 12 eggs in a bowl. Use that same bowl to measure out the same amount of sugar and coconut cream. Get a few pandan leaves, then put all the ingredients over very, very, very low heat and stir all of the components. It's usually about 3 hours of constant and gentle stirring. Put a movie or three on.

Or just buy Luxbite's...

We also learnt that although swapping out butter for coconut cream in the icing doesn’t really work, you can instead use the resulting product for a lovely glaze, and make it pretty with some sprinkled coconut over the top. 

But really, just a bit of kaya, or whipped kaya and cream even, all smushed together in a delicious mouthful certainly does make for a happy place as well. 

As said earlier, although we didn’t really know what was going to stick and what wasn’t…we made it all work, and will certainly be eating everything regardless. The cupcakes without any icing even got Dad’s tick of approval (and that never, ever, ever happens). 

So save the date, the 17th of August, and have a cupcake party at the office.

The money you raise will support the RSPCA’s work to fight animal cruelty, and just this much can help:

  • $24 can pay for an enrichment toy for a kitten
  • $50 can cover boarding costs for animals of domestic violence victims
  • $100 can desex a cat or dog so that it can be adopted into a loving home
  • $240 can subsidise emergency surgery for an animal in pain
  • $350 can keep an inspector on the road fighting animal cruelty