Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mr. Miyagi

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





I was ready to meet Mr. Miyagi, and get some ‘wax on, wax off’ technique going…except for the fact that Mr. Miyagi (at least in Windsor) isn’t a person, but a funky and energetic dining spot, for Japanese food (with quite a twist might I say) and liquor. 

On a Tuesday night, with the soft glow of pink neon in the background, the beats were already pumping (but not tool loudly fortunately), people were laughing and delicious aromas were wafting out of the kitchen. 

The atmosphere was casual and fun, definitely a place to bring a group of friends, or maybe a hot date (perhaps for date 3 or 4 if you’re still new…).

I simply adore Mr. Miyagi’s branding, plenty of hot pink (not a wallflower for sure) with funny little quotes and lots of advice from Mr M himself, from your menus to the bathrooms (wear black so that soy sauce doesn’t stain). 

Speaking of the menu, although Mr. Miyagi says they serve Japanese food…although there is some sashimi on the menu, it’s otherwise not quite what you’d expect, certainly not traditional, with lots of fusion twists and unique combinations. 

We started our evening with the Wafu salad with aonori rolled tuna, that makes for a deliciously light way to get the palate and appetite going. Served cool, the sesame crust around the tuna adds a lovely nuttiness, and I enjoyed the slight crunch to the vegetables as well. 

Can I just say, in terms of fusion, Mr Miyagi’s nori taco is one of the best fusions I’ve come across. It’s like top level Super Saiyan stuff (for all you nerds out there), with grilled salmon belly, sushi rice, spicy napa cabbage, Japanese mayo and chilli oil. Oh my gosh. The nori shell is incredibly crunchy, the serve of salmon immensely generous, almost bulging out in all it’s pink goodness with each bite. I absolutely loved the texture of the salmon, and the meatiness of the pieces they put in. The rice full of vinegary flavour, kewpie mayo for days and a nice bit of heat to balance it all out. One was definitely not enough. Easily one of my favourite dishes of the night. 

Our Japanese eggplant rice paper rolls with grilled eggplant, miso glaze, cucumber and peppery leaves were much more flavoursome than I expected. The eggplant an usual, but very tasty addition. This was also quite light and refreshing, even with the rich umami-packing miso glaze (which I want on everything). 

White cut chicken with buckwheat noodles, roasted peanut chilli shiitake, bean shoots and silken tofu is another cool and refreshing dish, with the slippery noodles going down a treat. 

But I was absolutely all about the tempura broccoli with kimchi seasoning and some delicious cheesy goodness sprinkled on top. Oh my gosh. I ate like 5 of these which was a terrible (but delicious) idea because these are so filling! The broccoli is beautifully soft, but encased in just a lovely light batter. The kimchi seasoning provides a lovely kick. This, along with the nori taco, would be one of the first things to order on my list whenever I’m back next. 

The tuna tataki pizza is also not to be missed, with rare seared tuna on a spiced flat bread, yuzu caesar cream, heirloom tomatoes and shaved jalapeños. This, like the taco, is another successful venture into complete fusion, I appreciated how crunchy the spiced flat bread was, and again how generous the cuts of tuna on top were, so that you got a meaty mouthful. Although such strong chilli flavours aren’t usually so present in Japanese food, I was enjoying Mr. Miyagi’s liberal use of them through our dishes, really elevating and brightening the flavours. 

Just in case we weren’t full enough, Mr Miyagi brought out the big guns, with his Miyagi Fried Chicken, with MFC seasoning and kewpie mayo. These had been talked up all night by the people who have visited before, and they didn’t disappoint. Succulent and so juicy, the batter wasn’t super crispy, but just enough so and was absolutely bursting with flavour. Despite groans of “We’re so full…” it didn’t take too long for the majority of the box to be demolished. 

A moment’s reprieve, then it was time to activate the second stomach for dessert and since we were at it…we may as well try all three offerings…right? 

Mr. Miyagi’s doughnuts, with a choice of classic apple cinnamon jam or hot chocolate sauce, with pistachio and gingerbread ice-creams, were generously sugar dusted fluffy balls, which I personally preferred with the hot chocolate sauce…but that’s always been more my preference. 

The chocolate mess with milk chocolate wanna cotta, Valhorna chocolate ganache, lava salt, orange oil, kinder surprise ice-cream and miso chocolate fudge totally slayed me. This is almost hard to share, as you just want to try absolutely every single component with every mouthful. The chocolate is rich, and there’s a nice array of textures to keep things interesting. 

However, the surprise knock out, is the pumpkin toast, with white chocolate and pumpkin ganache, honeycomb, yoghurt sorbet and spiced pumpkin ice-cream. I wish I had the words to describe this to you, the texture of the toast is so soft, and melts in your mouth, a lovely balance of sweet with a touch of savoury mingled in. Again, a lovely range of textures, from the cool sorbet, to the smooth ganache and the crunchy honeycomb. A delicious myriad of flavours; I’d have a hard time choosing between the chocolate dessert and this one if I were to return (but then again why would I choose..?)

Asian fusion can be a bit hit and miss sometimes, but Mr Miyagi hits all his targets, nailing his flavour profiles which are vivid, bright, rich and textural as well. I immensely enjoyed my meal, and am definitely hoping to return soon to sample more, the sticky soy lamb ribs have my name all over them… 

99 Chapel Street
Windsor 3181

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's it like being a food blogger...and what's changed?

Last Thursday, I had the great pleasure of standing in front of a room of food lovers, bloggers, PR and restaurant managers and talk about one of my favourite things. 

Food blogging of course! 

It was a fabulous night, General Assembly did a great job organising everything, and having a great but also very relaxed space to share openly and honestly. I was super nervous at first, my hate rate creeping up as it got closer and closer to my turn to talk (and it doesn’t help that I was the last to talk…), but once I got up, I had a great ol’ time!

Although I was a bit sad to see on Instagram that I had clearly not advertised the event enough, with several people wishing they had come. Hopefully General Assembly will hold another food blogging event soon (or maybe a couple of us should get together and hold something anyway?) but I thought for those who missed out, I’d just do a little summary of some of the things I talked about (with less swearing). 

Why did I start blogging?

I did a fun little exercise where I asked everyone to put up their hands, as I assumed everyone was in the habit of taking photos of their food, then asked people to drop their hands depending on how long they had been doing it for. 1 year…2 years…3 years…4 years…5 years…6 years…7 years…and only a few hands remained up.

Long before this whole food blogging business, I had been taking photos of my food and general day to day activities and adventures and loading them up to Facebook. I had a friend who commented in May 2009 that I should keep a food directory of where I have been eating, and that I should blog about it…when then led to the question at the time…what’s a food blog?

Fast forward to November that year, after following Melbourne Gastronome, Mel: Hot or Not and several others, I figured it was time to start my own. No eureka story unfortunately, but that’s all there was to it!

Photo by Ewen Bell

What’s been awesome about blogging for the last 5 and a half years?

Yeah, I know, I’m getting ancient. It’s kind of scary to think about.

One of the biggest perks for me is definitely the friends I’ve made, some I like to believe are life long friends, but regardless, people who never fail to make me smile and laugh. 

The community is amazing, and immensely supportive, and like the first point, it’s always easy to meet new people and make new friends.

Blogging is a wonderful creative outlet. I’ve always loved creativity, being a drawer, into digital graphics, and comfortable with a camera long before I started shooting food. Without my blog, I probably wouldn’t use my camera as much as I do today. 

Learning, there’s so much in the world, and especially with food, there’s a lot to think about, whether it’s ethical eating, new ways of making things, new boundaries being pushed, or old traditions that need to be revitalised. 

I actually met my boss for my current job, through blogging, at a couple of launch events she had for her eateries. And I learned when I applied for an internship I saw was available, she didn’t meet with anyone else, and after meeting me (a week after I applied), I was sitting in a client meeting with her a week later. 

And of course, all the deliciousness I get to eat…duh! And the opportunities to go to more restaurants than I would otherwise, which is always a privilege, never an expectation.

What’s been a little more challenging?

Staying motivated and managing my time, for sure. Especially if you’re a one-man/woman team like me, doing all the photography, editing, writing and compiling of the post and you’ve got a full time job. I mean, between waking up at 6am for the gym, working from 8:30 or 9 until 6pm, then heading out for dinner most nights…when’s a girl able to write? 

Managing waistlines. I actually have done pretty well for many years, but I’m definitely getting a little…softer around the edges! But I work hard at staying fit (3 gym visits a week at least most weeks) and try to eat relatively reasonably. Just cause you only see cake on my Instagram, doesn’t mean I’m not eating avocados or museli most mornings! 

So what’s been changing?

So I’ve attended a couple of Eat Drink Blog conferences, which is an annual food blogging conference in Australia. I’ve been to one in 2011, 2012 and 2014. 

One thing I definitely noticed, was that in 2011, I was one of the few restaurant bloggers amongst many many recipe bloggers, but in 2014, that almost flipped on it’s head totally. 

What’s one of the main reasons I think that is driving this?

Well in 2014, at Eat Drink Blog, word for word, I got asked this question:

“Are you an Instagrammer or a Traditional Blogger?”

Talk about feeling ancient!

I think Instagram has really evolved the food blogging scene. Now anyone can take a picture of what they’re eating, or doing any second. There are so many more restaurants as well now that are affordable to visit on a frequent basis, and the huge drive in cafe culture means a lot more people going out for small meals, and obsessing over latte art. 

Whilst I think a lot of the ‘traditional bloggers’ who made names for themselves were also all about content creation, and making a lot of unique and original stuff to share, Instagram has definitely created a culture of content curation, where other people’s photos get shared and their feed might not be entirely their own.

As mentioned on the night, I’m still figuring out how this fits in to blogging for me; I guess I might be a bit old-school, but I’m not entirely comfortable with content curation. Sure pinterest and tumblr are built off it, but I feel like it’s very obviously shared work and you follow work, or art, rather than the person, where it’s the flip side of Instagram. 

Certainly nothing wrong with it, provided credit is given where it’s due, but I’m still not sure how to place my opinion on it exactly. 

Which kind of leads me to my next point, another thing that’s really grown within the blogging and Instagramming community is this idea of ‘Influence’ and the increase we’re seeing with PR and bloggers being counted in as media. It was around 1.5 to 2 years until I got my first invite. Now I’ve met Instagrammers who’ve been at it for 4 months and getting invited out to events and share their experiences. 

Again, nothing wrong with being counted as media, or getting freebies etc, but for people looking in wanting to get into blogging…why is it they want to do it? Is it purely for the love, or is there more a case of FOMO these days?

What about $$$?

The idea that eating out, taking pictures and writing about it as a job is an incredibly seductive idea, and I often get asked by people when I say that I’m a blogger, if I do it full time.


I wish guys!

It’s really a very few select people who ever will, but how I look at it, is that your blog should be a platform to show your skills that you want to be hired for. 

Awesome photographer? Show us your shots.

Awesome writer? Practice it your posts.

Social media guru? Show us how. 

Let's educate ourselves

I didn’t include this in my slides, but it came up in questions and I thought would be good to share here. 

I think bloggers generally get painted by media and restaurant venues with a bit of a negative brush. So as bloggers, I think it’s in our interest to understand what’s going on in the restaurant before we make severe criticism. 

If service is slow, is the restaurant super busy or is it quiet? If it’s quiet, fair call, if they’re super busy, have they just opened and haven’t figured out how many staff to put on yet? 

I think as well, now with social media and bloggers, we tend to jump onto new restaurants really quickly and expect amazing things from them from day one. In the old days…this was definitely not the case, and I compared it to starting a new job. You’re not going to be expected to be 150% amazing, and will need a few weeks to find your stride and comfort levels.

So why don’t restaurants and cafes get a little bit of leeway as well?

Lastly but not least

Don’t start a food blog guys. Really. 

Unless you really freaking love writing, taking photos, sharing, food or all the above. If you cannot find passion for any of them, it’ll be hard to keep it up in the long run. I know it’s cliche…but…do it because you love it guys. Simple as that. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Kettle Black

How have I only just visited Kettle Black for the first time this year in May? 

Perhaps I was hoping, just hoping, that the crowd and hype would die down a bit more once it had opened, and that I would be able to waltz by one morning and only wait 10 minutes or so for a table.

But no. No. Nathan Toleman must be Midas, as everything he touches seems to just turn into pure gold.

I finally caved in and decided to visit the Kettle Black on my birthday, because if there was any day that I could be comfortable with making Brad wait longer than 15 minutes for brunch…it would have to be on my birthday. 

It’s really located in an interesting spot, which is really kind of void of anything…but Kettle Black, so once you’re there, you may as well stick around. I found the crowd fascinating; I’m usually hanging out in Fitzroy or Collingwood for breakfast, so am used to seeing hipsters, creepers, high waisted jeans and vintage shirts at breakfast. At Kettle Black? The crowd was well dressed. Real well dressed. It was obviously the Toorak socialites, and brand-loving, selfie taking Asians. Why did I choose to wear my converse on this day of all days?

Fortunately, before I could lament too long on my choice of shoe, we were seated within 20 or 30 minutes…not too bad if you ask me. 

Despite the place being so busy, Kettle Black run a tight ship, as to be expected, and our waiter (who was also celebrating his birthday), although busy, was attentive and very friendly, making us feel very much at ease.

My soy chai made me happy, warm, not super spicy, but easy to drink and still packing flavour. I loved that the honey was the perfect temperature to just lazily pour out at will.  

Kettle Black’s menu is exquisite. Simply exquisite. With beautiful ingredients and interesting combinations, it makes it a very difficult decision…especially for the first meal of the day!

Brad opted for something a little familiar, the chilli scrambled eggs with cured flinders island wallaby, feta and leaves. You get scrambled eggs, but then you get Kettle Black’s scrambled eggs, soft, golden, creamy folds; a touch of salt from the wallaby and delectably creamy feta. Simple, but so well done. 

But wait for it guys. Wait for it.

As I had had pancakes the morning before, I decided not to get the hotcake, but ended up choosing the polenta porridge with burnt maple, textures of strawberry and basil. Oh my god guys. This dish was so beautiful, visually, a pillow of polenta, dotted with a strawberry garden on top. So pretty. It also smelt amazing, with the sweet strawberry aroma wafting off the plate and making my olfactory senses so happy. It was like birthday cake in porridge form. The polenta was smooth, and went so well with the strawberries, almost bathing in a pool of maple (you could all make it jiggle a bit if you shook it around…so what if I play with my food?) 

Highly recommended.

Sure, Kettle Black comes with lots of hype and high expectations. But there’s definitely a reason behind the long lines on the weekend and the high number of staff scheduled on. The food is executed exactly as you expect (from stalking them on Instagram) and although we sat outside, when we stepped inside to pay, the interiors were beautiful and rather soothing. You definitely want to stay a while. 

50 Albert Road
South Melbourne 3205

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sake Restaurant & Bar

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

Sake isn’t your typical Japanese restaurant. Located underneath the Arts Centre along the Yarra river, the modern Japanese restaurant is a perfect spot for post work drinks, a pre-theatre meal, or a more romantic date night. The huge space is split up into a myriad of cosy spots, making for still a rather cosy and intimate experience.

We started off mingling with cocktails in the bar area, I loved the Mr Brightside, actually concocted up by the mixologist while at another bar. It’s like a Godfather alternative, using Yamasaki single malt whiskey, Disaronna Amaretto and Ardberg Islay whiskey…when you’ve got a cold like I had that night, it’s exactly the thing you need. Strong but smooth. Definitely having a whiskey moment. 

We got to eat in the upstairs area which is really lovely and cosy, with a beautiful lit up tree which just mystified me, and reminded me of Avatar quite a bit. 

As I was saying, Sake isn’t your typical Japanese restaurant, as although there are definitely Japanese dishes on there, Wayne Brown, the executive chef, who speaks very gently but with great fondness, brings an innovative approach to some of the dishes. We were here in particular, to try some new dishes being introduced for autumn (my favourite season in the year personally!)

Our evening started with Aburi Hokkaido scallops with salted capers, tofu and lime, which included scallop jerky and scallop carpaccio served at room temperature. Wow. What a village of textures that lived here! A bit of crunch and chew from the jerky, silky and light tofu and creamy and full scallop in the mouth, that’s just been lightly torched. The citrus really came through as well, adding a nice pop of contrast. An overall great way to start the meal, especially when paired with Amabuki Junmai Daiginjo sake. Beautifully light and floral, yet relatively full bodied as well. 

The wagyu tataki with soy egg, charred onion and Korean miso had me swooning. Although it sounds rich on paper, it’s actually not overly, perhaps because the Korean miso was so strong and dominant, which I loved (but I could see it not being everyone’s kind of thing). It seemed to balance out well with the tender wagyu, and I just loved smearing the soy egg on top all over the beef like a delicious sweet paste. 

The second sake that was served, I only have Kozaemon in my notes, I’m not sure exactly which one was served, but this sake was massively different to the first, a lot dryer, and earthier with a sharper texture on the tongue, but much more length down the palate. I actually ended up liking this one more compared to the other one. 

The fragrant duck breast with red den miso, snow pea tendrils and mikan marmalade was a surprisingly generous serve. The meat was served beautifully, blushing pink, with a lovely texture. It was like a Japanese take on a French duck a l’Orange. 

The shiso granita palate cleanser was firstly adorable, in it’s gorgeous shade of pink, but secondly, surprising in flavour. It’s was very aromatic, and sweet, but yet herbaceous as well, and refreshing on the palate like mint. Very different (and I would totally be open to having a bigger serve next time, or stealing someone else’s serve…)

Last but not last, dessert was spectacular. Goma (black sesame) with salted 70% South American chocolate mousse, caramelised white chocolate and sesame ice cream. Oh my. Happy sighs. This dessert was absolutely everything. Crunchy, sweet and rich, sesame and chocolate works surprisingly well together, which was proven here! I’m honestly sitting here wishing I had better words to describe this dessert, but it’s really the kind of thing I feel like you must try on your own. This was my favourite dish of the night (I know normally dessert is, but this was really a spectacular dessert). 

And of course, since we got a serve of Kokuto umeshu as well with dessert, I couldn’t have been a happier camper. 

I’ve always been a fan of Japanese food, but particularly with Japanese food, it’s always interesting to see other people interpret it and find modern applications and new ways of doing things, which I think Sake has done in a very elegant fashion. 

I’m certainly interested in coming back and seeing more of the menu (which is huge! Have you looked at it online?). I have a feeling it might be the kind of place I need to save more for an occasion; but it would therefore be a very enjoyed meal. 

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre
100 St Kilda Road
Southbank 3004

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Denis the Menace

Over the past weekend, I heard through Jo that Denis the Menace had just opened up in Cremorne (which we all know is really just Richmond), and couldn’t resist checking out the new addition with Brad. 

I used to love the Dennis the Menace comic (the UK version which featured the black haired kid) and his dog Gnasher, and was absolutely tickled to find references to this comic throughout the menu. Talk about nostalgia!

The cafe was once a warehouse, now friendly and approachable cafe, bright and light, bringing in warmth with lots of greenery dotted around the tables, herbs growing between booth seats and mandarin trees for good measure as well. 

Like the name suggests, the space also looks pretty kid friendly, with generously spacious booths (with tabletops that look like they’re made out of doors) and wide spaces big enough for prams to make their way through. 

The menu is huge, with meals for moderate eating, hungry tums and lunch-y things. It also reads a total treat, and I seriously struggle making a decision as what to eat. There’s an obvious health slant to the menu (and a bit of an obsession with quinoa which is in the majority of dishes), but it doesn’t read like that, with lots of playful and rather cheeky little descriptions. It is a lot of text first thing in the morning though and I have to ponder if you have to list an item as meat free, if it’s already listed as vegetarian as well? 

Since it’s just their first week, they’re obviously still finding their feet and their groove, with coffee orders taking a little bit of time to come out, but the complimentary sparkling water that’s served helps keep me distracted. 

Brad’s coffee looks beautiful, and my house chai is sweet, obviously with generous amounts of honey, and a hint of spice in the back of the palate. An easy and sweet way to start the morning.

Brad’s ‘Watashi Wa Dennis’ came out looking bright and colourful. It’s an omelette with a Japanese spin with spanner crab, shichimi, mung bean shallots, alfalfa, shies, miso sauce, tobiko, fresh herbs and a seaweed salad. Wow, lots of yum. The spanner crab flavour isn’t diluted, the omelette is lovely, light and fluffy, and the miso sauce is simply all flavour. A little bit of flavour envy from my end for sure.

My ‘bowl full of yum’, with red and black rice, quinoa, adzuki beans, lentils, buckwheat, almonds, pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, fresh parsley, duke and a mizuma mustard vinaigrette isn’t quite as pretty to look at, but is still very tasty. Earthly flavours, nutty and plenty of texture to chew on, if you want something protein packed that leaves you full but feeling light as well, this is your dish. 

All in all, a great spot if you want to sneakily feed someone things that are good for them, and surprisingly, mostly meat free. I enjoyed the bright space, and the easy going vibe to the place. I look forward to them finding their stride in service, and coming back to get the muesli next time (was such a close decision between the bowl of yum and that…) 

Denis the Menace
106-108 Chestnut Street
Cremorne 3121

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