Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rochford Restaurant

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant 

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Rochford Wines and I seem to have this thing about meeting on rainy days. Not that I mind, provided it ain’t storming; as the lush floor to ceiling windows just allow the soothing overcast light in, which makes me feel so comfortable and cosy in a sense. 

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The last time I was Rochford Wines, the restaurant was called Isabella’s. The restaurant has now had a bit of a facelift and to keep things simple, been renamed to ‘Rochford Restaurant’, with a new head chef, Raki Andriana, bringing a new flavour and approach to the menu.

I love the facelift. Prior, the whole restaurant was split into two, Isabella’s restaurant, which was white table cloth and a bit more upmarket, and the cafe on the other side, which was just pure tourist madness.

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Now that the space has been united as one, starchy table cloths removed for a more casual feel and approach, it’s much more relaxed. 

Raki Andriana brings French style techniques and Middle Eastern influences to the menu at Rochford Restaurant. He has previously apprenticed at De Bortoli Winery, so loves the area, knows his farmers and lets the local produce shine. 

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We start simply, a beautiful plate of charcuterie. Oh goodness. They could’ve just given me another one of these with some cheese and I would have been pretty darned content, looking out over the greenery and sunshine peeking through the clouds. Ox tongue, truffled venison, prosciutto amongst the goodness, peppered with pickles and olives. The selection is perfect, delicious, smooth and oh so moreish. 

We’re given a selection of entrees to sample, so my photos are a little bit smaller than what your actual serve will probably be like.

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Heirloom carrots with quinoa, seeds, dates, smoked almonds and orange blossom labne is delightfully sweet, and reminiscent of spring. I love all the textures through this, a touch of crunchy, smooth and tender carrot.

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Cured kingfish with avocado, threded chilli and nettles on the other hand, is much earthier and grassier than I would expect a cured kingfish dish to be. The slices of fish look delicate, but are quite meaty; the nettles and avocado are a slightly unexpected pairing, but is nice pairing of ocean and land.

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Brad gets a nibble of the confit octopus first, served cauliflower skordalia, crispy onions and spiced hazelnut, and is surprised at how tender it is (and nothing usually surprises him). I can only agree with him; I have to admit I’m probably not as crazy about octopus as other seafood, but I couldn’t stop going for more of this!

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Last of our entrees, the roasted quail, sweet corn, pickled grapes, lardo and scotched quail egg was absolutely one of my favourites (if I had to pick one). And it kind of looks like a smiley face (right?). This is a incredibly hearty dish, the quail is juicy and delicious, the scotch eggs crunchy with perfectly runny yolks; and the sweetness from the grapes just balances it all out.

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Goodness! I think we’ve almost had a meal already with that, but when mains come out, we of course find a little more tummy space. I’ve also forgotten to mention, the lovely 2015 Estate ‘Cerberus’ wine we drank. It was originally called Cerberus, because the original wine was a blend of three varieties (all French I think, but don’t keep me to my word on that). Now the wine is a blend of 6 varieties, and is a delightful drinking wine. It’s gorgeously aromatic and fruity, without being heavy on the sugar. 

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To start our mains, a leg of corn fed chicken with jerusalem artichoke, farrow and guanciale is absolutely one of my favourite things of the day. The chicken is plump, juicy, tender, and in a odd (but really good way) kind of sweet. I love the farrow it sits on, which soaks up all the chicken juices, making it immensely savoury and moreish. Just delightful.

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The slow cooked shoulder of lamb with  carrot hummus and spring slaw is a dish of presence; you can’t miss the huge block as it’s put in front of you! Although it comes all nicely compacted together, the meat just starts falling apart as you get into it with your fork. Soft and very tender meat, there’s plenty of pretty well rendered fat throughout, which makes this a very rich dish, so the slaw makes a good contrast, although I found the dressing a tad too citrusy for my tastes personally. But goodness, you better be hungry if you order this!

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I think what I love about being at Rochford, is just how dynamic the space is, and the people who come through. Two limos of older ladies having just a lovely day out in the Yarra, big family gatherings, in and out tour groups doing wine tastings that are set up in advance…and then us, and the other couples, put in a quieter corner of the room where you can have lunch over 2 or 3 hours or so. And a biscotti between main and dessert with your cup of tea.

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Believe me, you’ll need a break to fit in dessert, cause it’s not worth missing!

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I absolutely loved the baked apple with freeze dried custard, oat crumble and milk sorbet. I described it to Brad as an ‘springtime apple crumble’, all the crunch and flavour that you love, but a little lighter, less heavy handed and a bit refreshing as well. 

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The salted caramel tart with pear, ginger praline and mascarpone is a piece of art, surprisingly laid back on the sugar and also a very refreshing dessert. I loved the dollops of pear and the punch of ginger. 

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During my last visit to Rochford, I enjoyed the food, but it was a bit hit and miss on some of the dishes. I absolutely love what Andriano is bringing to the menu, which is so fresh, vibrant and currently very seasonal; will be great to see what he does when it gets a bit colder! Definitely a very strong Yarra Valley contender in my books!

870-880 Maroondah Highway
Yarra Glen VIC

Rochford Wines Yarra Valley Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Frankie Says

Currently I live at home…with no immediate intentions to move out. Perhaps it comes from being in an Asian family, where it’s quite habitual to get multiple generations under one roof. And besides, mum and dad cook so well, why would I go anywhere?

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When I eventually get around to moving though, I can only hope to have an eatery like Frankie Says at the base of my building or near my house (I feel like I would end up in an apartment though). 

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Opened by Megan Phillies and James Meehan, who you know from Hoy Pinoy and the Meatball Company, Frankie Says is bright and welcoming, with windowed views out to the riverside it’s next to. I particularly love the basket of blankets next to the counter for when winter starts creeping around again. 

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Although Frankie Says is open for breakfast and lunch, and therefore can easily be deemed a cafe, there’s an Italian slant to the menu, with antipasto plates to be shared and house-made stone oven pizzas mixed in with truffled eggs and quinoa salads. Something for everything, but overall an approachable and relaxed menu.

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I simply adore the crockery, conspiring to steal my chai cup and Brad’s hug mug (although perhaps I shouldn’t broadcast my ideas via Instagram next time, because the staff were on to me!). My chai was lovely and warming, not super spicy, but good tea flavour. 

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For brunch, I balanced a little naughty with a little nice. A tri-colour quinoa salad special with roasted veggies, crumbed feta and double roasted chickpeas was so refreshing, but delicious as well. I loved the creamy feta, the crunchy chickpeas (although I would’ve loved more of them) and the sweet vegetables. My kind of salad. 

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With this, I couldn’t resist a serve of the truffle parmesan fries, which were a seriously generous serve, for $7, I thought it was very reasonable! I couldn’t resist continuously dipping my hand in for the crunchy golden sticks, which smelt like heaven and had just enough cheesy goodness throughout. Solid.

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Brad’s Swiss brown mushroom pizza with caramelised onion, taleggio and porcini salt was again, another huge serve, with soft and pillowy crusts, soaking up that caramelised onion and taleggio goodness. In Italian style, the toppings are not over complicated, nor overwhelming, resulting in a delicious and well balanced flavour profile.  

An easy spot to spend an afternoon with a book (or Monocle magazine like I had), with friendly and attentive service. I’m hanging out to come back for the Fritto misto, calamari, fresh market fish and prawns dusted with semolina…which you’re supposed to share (minimum order is for 2 people), but I could eat for two…

Frankie Says
15 Acacia Place

Frankie Says Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tokyo - A few of my favourite things - Part 1

Some of my favourite things in Tokyo

So my trip to Tokyo with Brad was well over a month ago, but I only just got around to editing all the pictures. Life, that annoying thing! Rather than do an overly in-depth post, I thought I would just share some of my favourite places to eat, and some of my favourite things about Tokyo…

Hot green tea (with no sugar) from vending machines and onigiri from convenience stores for breakfast, or afternoon tea.

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Seriously, there’s really nothing better. And it’s so cheap! Also can tea in a bottle without sugar be more of a thing over here? It’s seriously refreshing/comforting. Substitute hot tea with a can of beer for dinner options as well. 

Kids wearing traditional garb on  the ‘Cultural Day’ holiday at the Meiji Shrine.

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Think my ovaries were seriously about to burst. Was almost stalking kids down and cooing over how cute they were. I mean, look at that little tux, seriously!

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Although I’m not in love with the branding, I love the bakery itself. Freshly torched frozen smores, with chocolatey nutty fillings, beautiful cakes, chocolate chip cookie shot glasses with vanilla milk (the best at about 9pm in the evening) and flaky Kouign Amann’s that are still amazing the next morning when you have it for breakfast. Don’t bother hitting it up on the weekend; lines are insane, plan to be in Harajuku/Omotesando mid week and you’ll be just fine. 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Viewing Deck

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This is free. It’s great. Best on a clear day and/or night!

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So it’s totally confusing when you first rock up at this little joint, as downstairs says they’re serving soba, and upstairs says they’re serving ramen. Downstairs is lying to you. Kagari in Ginza actually serves up ramen and even at 2pm there’s a good 7 people long queue to get into the tiny little eatery that seats about 10. The ramen here, is unlike many you’ll find though, the ‘tori-paitan ‘soba’’, has a very creamy and rich chicken broth which is intensely comforting, sweet and savoury. The spongy and slightly thicker than usual ramen noodles just adds to this comforting feeling. One of the best things I probably ate this trip honestly. There’s also a ‘niboshi-shoyu ‘soba’’ which in contrast is dark and much more savoury, less rich, made with dried sardines. Definitely a spot I would highly recommend. (Thanks Richie for convincing the usually impatient me to wait). 

Toraya’s traditional sweets

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My friend who happened to be in Tokyo at the same time as us, introduced us to Toraya’s cafe in Midtown, where you can get very traditional desserts and sweets. I particularly liked this dish with chestnut puree (Yes yes yes), jellies, red beans and syrup; with a cup of green tea on the side. It’s a refreshing break from the western styled cakes that I kept getting seduced by. 

Soaking in Senso-ji

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I think I talked about Senso-ji in my last visit to Tokyo, but I always love returning every time I’m in Tokyo. It’s probably one of my favourite temples anywhere, with the lively strip of shops out front where you can delicious traditional sweets; including one of my favourites, ningyo-yaki, cooked in an iron mould and filled with red bean paste. Nothing better getting them freshly made when they sit warm in your hand.

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I also just adore watching the locals go about their business, making offerings and praying; the incense always smells so good. 

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Getting my fortune always reminds me of the manga and anime I read, and I love shaking the box to see what number stick I get. This year my fortune was okay; Brad got a better one fortunately!

Asakusa Kagetsudo’s giant melon bread

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I never really god the hype with melon bread; it’s a popular snack item at many bakeries in Japan, and in anime and manga it always pops up. But then I had Kagetsudo’s melon bread on my last visit to Senso-ji, and I’ve been hooked since. It’s the size of your face, less than $3, fluffy and light and with a sweet and crispy outer layer (which is actually made of cookie dough). Seriously addictive. It looks huge, but it doesn’t take long to chomp your whole way through it!

Mont Blanc’s

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Oh my god. Can I just lose my shit over how much I love Mont Blanc’s? Chestnut puree goodness? I love the earthiness, the nuttiness, but the gentle sweetness as well; and I’ve been lucky enough to be in Tokyo recently the past two years in fall, which is chestnut season.


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I always get a Pierre Herme mont blanc, which I always, always enjoy. I also loved Henri Carpentier’s mont blanc as well!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe

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Yes. An owl cafe. More of an owl ‘house’ than an owl ‘cafe’, as they don’t serve you any drinks or food, but who really cares because you’re here to see owls after all!

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It’s really just a cuteness explosion. You can make a booking online a few days in advance, or rock up on the day and see what your chances are like. Bookings run on the hour from around 12pm, and each session lasts one hour in total. 

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Oh my god. So much freaking cuteness. After a thorough briefing, you’re greeted by over 20 different owls, of all sizes, just chilling out on their perches. Some are sleeping, some are hopping around; all are incredibly well looked after and content little creatures. You can only touch them very, very gently on their forehead, but can ask staff to carry up to two of the cuties on your hands. Simply smitten. For around $15, it’s a total bargain and such a unique (and utterly adorable) experience!

It’s super touristy, but you’ve got to do it once in your life. Similarly to the owl cafe, the Robot Restaurant is less of a ‘restaurant’ and more of a show. THere’s food, but it ain’t worth your while to order it from what I’ve heard.

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Even before you get to the show, I love the bar that they send you in to wait at, in all it’s gaudy glory. Think chandeliers with rainbow neon, floor to wall screens with ladies riding through fields of explosions on unicorns, pimped out gold seats, and what seems to be Daft Punk in an alternate universe playing lounge music. It’s just so bizarre, but so damn fabulous.

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The show itself is also quite a spectacle to behold. I probably wouldn’t rate it as the most amazing thing I’ve seen in Japan, but just due to the scale of the show and the things that show up, it’s damn impressive. I won’t spoil it too much for those who plan to see it!

Tori No Ichi Festival

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You thought the Night Noodle Market was busy? Try heading to one of the smaller local shrines around Tokyo on the night of Tori no Ichi - essentially day of the rooster, which is a festival held every 12 days through November, which are the days of the rooster. 

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We made our way to the Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku, and holy hell; it’s amazing. Easily 60 food stalls, lining the pathways of the shrine, all the way out and spilling well onto the streets. You’re sardined as you move around, but the energy and the relaxed nature of the event is just catching. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the middle of one of my favourite anime, eating takoyaki and delicious fried chicken (at only around $5 a pop), watching children try to catch goldfish, and seeing all the other favourite festival foods be made. It’s a real experience, and a delicious one too. 

Hagen Daz Crispy Sandwiches 

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Sweet potato is the best. But chestnut and green tea flavours will do too!

Alternative Absinthe Bar

Surely there can’t be anything more amazing than stumbling into a random basement bar after feasting at a temple festival, that sits just 5 people, where no one really speaks English, but they give you free shots of gin and juice and a ‘secret’ shot of absinthe. 

Our bartender Jun was all smiles, song, and laughter, curating the music with heavy pumping bass through youtube on his iPad; and before long we had our hands all over it, me surprising them with Japanese songs I knew and could sing along to, and them showing just how great Japanese hospitality is and making requests for English songs.

Throw in a gay couple from England who also stumbled down the rabbit hole like us, and 5 hours of our night disappears in a heartbeat (along with some Tina Turner, and Whitney Houston). I have not had so much fun in ages! 

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Japan is undisputedly the land of the cute; so of course I make a specific trip out to Koenji, about 20 minutes from Shinjuku by train to visit Floresta donuts. Floresta make the cutest animal shaped donuts; there’s heaps of animals to choose from, which can make it a bit tricky! 

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Other than being cute, these donuts are actually super tasty; I love that despite Japan’s great love of sweets, none of their desserts are ever too sweet or sugary. They use a gentle hand when it comes to the application of sugar. These donuts are no exception, there’s a lovely density, they’re not just full of air. It’s also great to know that Floresta uses organic and local ingredients, hence why they don’t have so many locations around I suppose (unfortunately).

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If you do decide to make a trip out to Koenji, there is also awesome vintage shopping, and the neighbourhood is just pretty adorable; there’s more than just donuts!

Brad buying canned hot coffee from vending machines

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How good is Japan? Brad’s consensus is that the coffee is not amazing, but it’s perfectly drinkable; better than some of the bottled coffees we’ve got back in Australia. He always bought Boss and although he tried different flavours, struggled to figure out the subtle variations in flavour.