Dining with bloggers is always a pleasure. Especially when you know the whole table is full of bloggers. There's absolutely no shame when it comes to taking photos, everyone moving the dish this way and that to get the right angle, sometimes even moving the dish to another table to get better light! It's really a hilarious sight.
I remember reading Thanh's blog about Universal Restaurant and thinking how fun it would be to be invited to go out with a handful of like-minded people as well.
And lo and behold, shortly after I find an email in my inbox from the friendly (similarly named) Ashley from Food Pampering, inviting me to the next Bloggers Food Trail!
Of course I was extremely excited, although when I went to indicate my availability, I was floored when I discovered the next trail was to be at none other than...Chillipadi in Melbourne Central!
Let me explain, Chillipadi and I have a bit of history and are still quite closely related. Some may have noticed I have always acknowledged the owners as 'Aunty' Li and 'Uncle' Robert. Aunty Li and Uncle Robert have been family friends, long before I was born, Aunty Li actually having been my Dad's sister roommate in college! My family used to visit their original shop, which was much smaller than it is now, in Richmond before they moved to Melbourne Central quite regularly.
While I was back in high school and university, Chillipadi in Melbourne Central was actually my first part time job, one that I would end up at for about 4-5 years, waitressing and supervising new girls, and learning quite a bit about the hospitality industry.
I'm still quite involved with Chillipadi as I help out with a bit of graphic design and food photography every now and again....hence I have not actually ever reviewed the place...probably because I'm always in transit when I pop by, never there for a meal!
Anyway, back to dinner with the bloggers. Erwin and I got there a little earlier than everyone else, so we were quick to run around and take pictures. Chillipadi in Melbourne Central has two sections, downstairs, with a little outdoor area in the laneway and selective seating, and upstairs, up some hidden stairs into a long dark room, with punches of colour and personality at either end with painted murals.
Uncle Robert has always been a bit of a wine fiend, so there's also an impressive looking wine wall and a giant-sized champagne glass lovingly on display in the back (oh I remember polishing that thing back in the day....).
It didn't take us long to start ordering drinks (after a glass of wine provided by Uncle Robert). It had been a while so I was quick to order a hot teh tarik, the perfect warming drink on a cold evening. Teh Tarik is essentially 'pulled tea'. There's not a great way to describe this, you're just going to watch someone pour it from one jug to another and 'pull' the tea out as it is poured out.
Not many places do teh tarik and I think Chillipadi has found the right mix so that it's sweet, but not overly so and that there is enough tea flavour coming through.
The bright pink drink further away was the "Air Bandung", milky rose syrup with 'telur katak' (those little tadpole looking things). The drink closer is the 'Ribena Lychee' which sounds like a great mix. I remember when I used to live in Hong Kong as a kid, ribena was absolutely everywhere, but it seems to be seriously underrated here in Australia. Mixed with the lychee it sounds like a perfectly refreshing mix on a hot day...will try when it gets warmer again!
We started off with the chicken lobak, Chillipadi is a halal restaurant, so although lobak is traditionally served with pork, here they do it with chicken instead. These were quite a delicious way to start the night, lightly crispy skin and the chicken was quite tender and juicy.
Next up we had a duck salad, a little bit of refreshing after a fried dish, I enjoyed the Asian inspired dressing, the dusting of sesame seeds and the fresh looking greens. It wasn't the most memorable dish of the night, but it was quite nice all the same.
Fried Kway Teow, the heart and soul of many a Malaysian restaurant. I remember going to Penang with my dad, who took me to one hawker store that specialized only in Fried Kway Teow, so much so that the guy who cooked it wore ski googles to protect himself from the oil! Very intense!
Coming back to Chillipadi though, one thing to note straight away, was that they used the thin flat rice noodles instead of the really, really wide flat rice noodles that a lot of other places use. It tends to fry at a better consistency and in my opinion, provide a better balance of carbs to vegetables and seafood. The noodles were a bit spicy, but could have been spicier, overall, always enjoyable.
The silky tofu is made in house and has been a favourite of mine on the menu for a while. I'm assuming it must be lightly fried around the outside or something similar, so that it has a bit of a darker 'crust' around the outside, but once you bite in, it's so lovingly soft and 'silky', and the egg sauce just adds to it. Could quite easily eat a whole plate of this I think!
The bane of many a food blogger. Curries. Ugly, brown things. But, the braised beef rendang has been a staple at Chillipadi for a long time. It's got some heat to it, but not too much, and a nice mix of spices. It's incredibly comforting and warming. I remember finishing many a Friday night shift with a bowl of this with rice. And peanuts on top. I would always recommend this to friends visiting Chillipadi who enjoyed a bit of heat.
The only thing I don't like about this, is that there is star anise in it, which adds a nice flavour to the beef, but I always seem to end up with a whole piece in my bowl...and I really don't like it on it's own!
Those who have partied out late in the city and come to Chillipadi at the wee hours of the morning to eat at Chilli Malam (essentially supper) will have probably come across this at sometime.
This is now on the menu as 'Rotian' I think, but it's original name was the 'Roti Reuben', named after it's creator. A roti, wrapped around egg, chicken, mayo and chilli sauce is infamous for being terrible for your hips and absolutely delicious in your mouth. And it really still is. There's just something about eggs, sweet chilli and mayo that just works. I would certainly not recommend this everyday, but once every weekend or so...
Prawns covered in flaky, crispy oats, I was one of the lazy ones who didn't bother to peel and ate the prawns, shell, oats and all. For me, whilst interesting, it wasn't the most memorable dish for me. I did like the texture the oats created and the prawns themselves were quite juicy and sweet, but the flavours didn't really stand out for me.
I think this might have been my favourite dish of the night. Fish curry, more in the southern Indian style, the spice mix was just beautiful in it. The flavour was so complex and rich, a bit of heat, and the fish fillets were so tender within. I think maybe since Malaysian curries are generally cooked with coconut milk there's a richness to them (like the beef rendang) but this definitely doesn't have coconut milk in it, so the flavour is from the vegetables and curry spices instead. A little more wholesome in my opinion (although I do still love the rendang...)
Probably the prettiest dish of the night, the calamari salad. I can't remember exactly what seasoning and flavouring the calamari had on it, but I really enjoyed it quite a lot. Not quite spicy, but a little bit tangy. Although I was so full at this point I really couldn't eat much of it!
But even after eating a feast, Uncle Robert comes along and says 'try some of our Chilli India food!'. Do I jump for joy or groan?!
We went downstairs to the little Chilli India shop next door, and watched as our roti was made in front of of eyes. In my opinion, it's some of the best roti you might get in Melbourne. Flaky and just gorgeous.
No pretty way to shoot this, but this was a dosai, made of rice flour (hoorah for gluten intolerant people!), with a bit of fermented yeast. This is also made to order on the grill next door. I love the tang and slight sour flavour of this. The texture is also so light and fluffy, the ends of it usually also being a bit crispy, so just so much fun to break off and dip in curries or other such deliciousness...
A little spot of tandoori chicken, I loved that the chicken wasn't dry and that it wasn't really charred, as a lot of tandoori chicken I come across are.
Butter chicken. Do I need to say anymore?! I could only manage a small mouthful, but it was just so rich and delicious.
To finish our meal...finally...we were presented with a towering Roti Tisu. Another variation of roti, but this time, it was a lot thinner and crispier....and it was covered in chocolate sauce and condensed milk. And sprinkled with peanuts.
Yum. Yum. Yum.
It was a little bit hard to eat initially, as it was crispy...and big and sticky, but by the time the cone came crashing down, we each took it in turns to sneakily dip our fingers out to get a piece of crispy roti to lap up the last of the condensed milk and chocolate. Heaven on your tongue!
And to aid in digestion, a spot of green tea from Lucipia.
All in all, it was an absolute feast and I was pleased that I had a little bit of a walk back to my car to work off a little bit of the meal!
Chillipadi in Melbourne Central is quite a nice dining space, it does get noisy when there are a lot of people in there, but what Asian place doesn't really? With the introduction of the 'Kopitiam' menu, Chillipadi has started returning a little more to it's Malaysian roots, but still explores cuisines from Thailand, China and India to name just a few.
If you have the opportunity to meet Aunty Li, you may be lucky enough to get a history lesson on Malaysian food, although me and my terrible memory can't recite back to you what we were told!
For a mix of traditional dishes and some newer perspectives, Chillilpadi does a good job of providing the diner with both experiences.
I'd like to thank Ashley again from Food Pampering for inviting me to dine, Chillipadi for providing a complimentary meal and for the company of Michelle (Iron Chef Shellie), Michelle (The Bake-a-Nista), Erwin (The Learner Chef) and Allan (Almost Always Ravenous)!