Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hawker Hall

As a Malaysian, I seem to get a lot of enquiries as to what I think about the newest addition to the Chris Lucas empire, Hawker Hall.

Rather than get overly complicated in my response, here are my main thoughts, that I tell pretty much everybody:

1. I think it’s awesome that Chris Lucas is giving Malaysian cuisine a contemporary platform; it’s always kinda been the very nice but much less cool sibling of the South East Asian cuisines. 

2. From what I’ve had, the flavours are definitely inspired, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s authentic; nor did I expect it to be. I always knew going in that I wasn’t getting mum and pop restaurant, but a well oiled entertainment machine where you’ll bring your friends for a night out when want to drink in  a great atmosphere, don’t feel like going to the club and want some tasty grub to go along with the booze. 

3. Malaysians looking for super authentic Malaysian food, don’t go here. You’re wasting your breath when you complain later.

4. Anyone looking for a good time, willing to eat off hours, or wait two to get in, it’s worth checking out. 

I myself opted for the eating ‘off hours’ when I found myself in the area for work on a Monday afternoon and head chef Damian Snell kindly reminded me that he was just down the road on Instagram when I shared a picture of another cafe I was at earlier in the day. 

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Even on a Monday lunch, the huge space is thumping, with a jovial throb of voices reverberating off the walls. The atmosphere did remind me a bit of a Malaysian hawker hall…just a lot cleaner, cooler and everyone looking a lot better dressed. 

Whilst most of the crowd were big silly season groups, the restaurant very comfortably caters for single diners like myself, with cute little tables that pop out of the wall, overlooking the huge hall and everyone else. Great people watching.

The menu is huge; with lots of hawker favourites (char kway teow hello), some lesser known dishes (such as otak otak) and some slightly more modern dishes. You really don’t need to order much if you’re on your own, a serve of satays and a salad is a nice little lunch. 

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The beef satays were a touch on the dry side of me, but the rich spices and flavours were very reminiscent for me and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

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I was surprised though how much more I enjoyed my salad, which was a five spiced shredded chicken salad with toasted coconut. It seems simple, but is so vibrant in flavour, I loved the mix of spice, sweetness of the coconut, and possibly some coconut milk through the dressing, which had a bit of a creamy texture to it. The crunchy beanshoots and a little hit of chilli. Would eat again, but might share next time, it’s quite a bit serve!

My only real complaint? No teh tarik. I mean c’mon. 

But on the flipside, I can’t wait tot come back to try the Milo Dinosaur sundae, that sucker’s got my name all over it! 

98 Chapel Street

Hawker Hall Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

400 Gradi Essendon

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

I’m always reluctant to use the word ‘best’, especially when it comes to food. Perhaps it’s partially because I don’t have the confidence to claim I have enough knowledge about any one food in particular to lay that claim; but also, food is such a subjective thing as well. 

But when other people have the claim to fame, given to them by a third party authority, I’m always keen to suss it out and see what the fuss is all about.

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Despite 400 Gradi, Johnny di Francesco’s (world pizza champion) restaurants being open for a while, I had never made my way over to see what all the fuss was about, but when I was invited to check out the new store in Essendon, I was definitely keen. Was it really the best pizza in Melbourne? 

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The new store is located under a new residential development, and using the expertise of executive chef Harry who joined the 400 Gradi group shortly before the Essendon store opened, not only has a focus on pizzas (obviously), but also slow cooked meats, pastas and even a gelati bar (called Zero Gradi appropriately enough) that will be getting it’s own stall/kiosk in the near future as well.

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Brad and I started with the calamari fritti, dusted in semolina and fried, which were lovely and light, very tender too. The caprese salad, with the addition of capers and olives, was both refreshing and delightfully savoury too. I loved the thick generous cuts of tomato; it’s definitely not a delicate little dish! 

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I loved the big, pillowy and fluffy gnocchi, exactly how you would hope it to be, with generous shavings of taleggio (I think), deliciously buttery sauce and thick balsamic glaze. 

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 Most importantly though, how was the pizza? We opted for a less traditional option with pumpkin puree, goat sausage, sausage and a variety of cheeses topping it. Absolutely delicious. The thickness of the base was lovely, thin, but strong enough to support all the toppings and had a nice flavour to it. I loved the use of the pumpkin puree as the sauce and base for the toppings, it was so sweet and so creamy; the natural earthiness of the pumpkin complimenting the richness of the sausages. As mentioned, I’m always a little hesitant to say it, but I dare say this was definitely one of the best pizzas I had come across.

Brad did not that to be fair, we really should have gotten a margherita, or something we could compare directly, but based off what I had, I was pretty impressed! 

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To wrap up, I had to make a visit to the gelato bar, where I immediately got a scoop of pistachio, as it’s my go to, if the gelato is good. Safe to say, Zero Gradi’s got the goods. 

My only uncertainty point with 400 Gradi is that it is a little on the more expensive end, as far as pizzas go, with many of the dishes and pizzas being over $20. It would certainly add up by the time you get a couple of dishes. However, I was impressed with the food, especially the pizza, so I would be able to justify it (every now and again). 

Shop 1, 110 Keilor Road

400 Gradi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

India Gate

Sometimes not getting into the first restaurant of your choice can be a blessing. One evening while Brad and I were spending the weekend in Gembrook, we decided on a whim to pop out for dinner. 

My first choice was Elevation in Emerald, but being just before Christmas…it was naturally pretty busy and I wasn’t down to wait an hour for food!

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So we headed into Belgrave, and popped into my second choice of restaurant, India Gate, which I had read pretty good reviews about. It’s a little unusual, as you enter a big ‘gate’ wedged inconspicuously between a couple other shops, descend some stairs before entering the restaurant, which very much feels like you’re going into someone’s house. 

It’s so adorable. 

Brad commented that being in the restaurant felt like being in the house of one of his Indian friends from high school, which can only really be a good thing. 

The menu is pretty big, and it’s tough to narrow our decision down, but once the food starts coming out, I’m absolutely amazed at the flavour and the quality that we’re getting. 

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 Papadums have cumin scattered throughout, adding a really lovely aromatic spice to them, and are served with a sweet and thick chutney. 

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Onion pakora are a little on the softer side for me, I love mine super crunchy, but aren’t lacking in flavour, an intense golden colour from all the spices involved inside. 

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For our curries, we went with a mild butter chicken (but is there ever such thing as a hot one really?) and a chickpea masala. I absolutely loved both. The chickpea masala was another gorgeously aromatic bowl of food, with lots of bright spices and just a touch of heat, and the butter chicken gravy was smooth and creamy and terrible moreish; I just kept going back for more!

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We also decided to get some lemon rice, just to do something a little different, and I was thrilled with how textural the rice was, not overly citrus, or neon yellow, like I have seen in some places, but a lovely golden, with spices visibly peppered throughout. 

On a whole as well, Brad and I left not feeling heavy in the stomach, and I was quite pleased how clean and not oily the food was; it felt like food coming out of family friends kitchen. 

We had a spot next to the window through the evening, and loved the cosy environment, and the warm and friendly service throughout the evening. I was quite amused by the table of Indians that sat behind us, that would chit chat amongst themselves, go out of the restaurant and disappear to street level for a bit, jackets left on the chairs, before coming back to resume eating and gas bagging. Although it felt like a family friends place for me, for some, it obviously was a family friends place!

India Gate
3/1644 Burwood Highway
Belgrave, Melbourne VIC

India Gate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Golden Child

Golden Child is located on a leafy and quiet street, right next to Burwood Station in Glen Iris, just on the border of Camberwell. Usually anything past Camberwell is considered ‘far’ from me, but I was surprised how close Golden Child actually was, and how lovely the area was. 

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Golden Child Cafe is spacious and bright, with a big ‘foyer’, where takeaway orders can hang out, while perving on the delicious looking chocolate tarts, and a spacious sitting area, which is light filled and a bit homely. 

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Although Prana Chai in itself is a well blended chai and delicious, I find it a bit hit and miss in cafe these days, just because it does depend on how the barista treats it. Fortunately at Golden Child, I was reminded how delicious Prana Chai is, with honey dripped into the glass, and a nice big jug of it to enjoy. 

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When I saw ‘BLACK PUDDING’, all up in capital letters too, I knew there was no other dish for me. It was generously laden with the rich and hearty protein, a crumbed egg, spinach, artichoke, red wine jelly and sourdough. Yum! 

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The egg was perfectly cooked, gooey and runny on the inside, and I loved the black pudding they used, not overly fatty, rich and warming. I hadn’t had black pudding with artichoke before, but I really liked the combination (helps I like the vegetable a lot too I guess!)

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Brad’s baked eggs with grilled eggplant, smoked cherry tomatoes, five bean mix, sugo, fresh basil and served with a toasted roll was also just delightful. Loved the idea of putting in eggplant and the basil was just so aromatic. A solidly delicious baked egg. 

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I always love coming onto well operated cafes and eateries, that maybe don’t get quite as much media hype as some ofter places do. Although Baba Sus was heaving down the road, I was much more content with my quiet morning sitting by the window, giggling at all the dogs that walked by. 

Golden Child
3 Bardolph Street
Glen Iris 3146

Golden Child Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Noble Experiment

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest 

I have to say that recently I’ve kind of gone off cocktails. I much prefer something neater, and a little less sweet, like a refreshing gin and tonic or a deep and mellow whiskey, or a glass of vino. 

However, a little while ago, I was reminded just how fun cocktails were though, and how well they could be done, with a visit to Noble Experiment.

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I mean, anyone who’s going to serve you a cocktail in a bathtub with a rubber duckie has got the fun factor turned up. But beyond the novelty, the guys at the Noble Experiment stay true to their name, their experimental with their cocktails, but seriously know their stuff. 

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Our rubber duckie friend here is happily floating in the ‘Bath Tub Gin’ cocktail (aptly named) with Bombay Sapphire, house made tonic water, Lillet Rose, pomegranate liquor, lemongrass syrup citrus, topped with spiced rhubarb and pink grapefruit air. There’s a lot going on in there, but it’s immensely well balanced, and very dangerous. Who can even taste the gin with the lovely sweet pomegranate, rhubarb and grapefruit in there? 

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To go with our cocktail tasting, we also had a sample of dishes come out, which, much like their drinks, are thought out and beautifully executed. The lightly cured kingfish was cut generously, topped with honey and grapefruit vinaigrette with charred mandarin which was refreshing but richly sweet as well. Sea scallops with a smear of goats curd, cauliflower and wood ear were also cooked perfectly.

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As mentioned earlier, the guys pride themselves on experimenting, and trying new things. One thing they do take pride in, are their bottle and barrel aged cocktails, which are exactly as the name might suggest! We had the absolute delight in trying out their bottle aged negroni (which I think had been bottled for 6 months), which we had with just a wee bit of orange peel, which we wiped around the rim of the glass. Oh man, what a difference it made to the flavour of the negroni! This was so delicious; the alcoholic edge of the negroni was softened, and the flavours were rich and warm. Beautiful. Also dangerous (as everything ended up being this particular evening…)

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Fried green tomatoes with fresh goat curd, buffalo mozzarella and basil makes for a delightful bar snack. Very much reminiscent of a caprese salad in flavours, but with an additional crunch; which contrasts beautifully with the juiciness of the tomatoes. Absolutely loved these!

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A sous vide duck breast with mead cooked radicchio, duck skin crumble, balsamic and beetroot gel and parsnip is warm and comforting. Also, did you read that? Duck. Skin. Crumble. Hell to the yes.

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Can I just say, barrel aged espresso martinis are the espresso martinis you never knew you needed in your life. 

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For our last cocktail, we got a little table side liquid nitrogen action for the Spiced Berry and Basil Smash. A concoction of Hendricks gin, Lillet Rose, house made spiced berry puree, nitro muddled basil, citrus, sugar and basil sherbet, this was the perfect cocktail to have with dessert. Sweet and berrylicious, but with a herbaceous and fresh note from the basil to cut through.

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With this, our dessert plate carrying a warm chocolate fudge brownie, with burnt fig and honeycomb ice-cream, chocolate soil and honeycomb, passionfruit curd with coconut meringue, Chambered berries, coconut and lime sorbet, and finally a beetroot sorbet, all went down a treat. 

The fudge brownie was as promised, melting in the mouth with a smooth and velvety texture and  the passionfruit curd punched up the palette with it’s bright and vibrant flavours.

I’m absolutely keen to bring back some of my best girlfriends with me to Noble Experiment. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxed, but still fun evening, with people who appreciate the good stuff but also know how to have a good time. The guys here push the envelope, without being pretentious, and make everything they do so accessible; you don’t even know how progressive you’re being!

Make sure you’re not driving when you visit! 

284 Smith Street
Collingwood 3066

The Noble Experiment Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Ten Minutes by Tractor

I absolutely love having overseas guests visit me in Melbourne. Especially my buddies from Asia. They love food as much as I do, but the bonus of being in Melbourne, is that we get some beautiful settings to enjoy as well. 

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Not too long ago, my crew who I usually meet up with came down to Melbourne for an extended weekend, so I trotted them out to the Mornington Peninsula, where we AirBnb’ed (is that a verb yet?) a huge house and made our way to the very charming Ten Minutes by Tractor for dinner (which had be on my wishlist for a very long time).

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The name is long (if I had a $1 for every time my friends asked me for the restaurant name…) but the restaurant itself is much more approachable that I had expected it to be. The restaurant is cosy and intimate; I feel like I’ve arrived at a friend’s house (who really knows how to be a host), rather than a two hatted restaurant, and one of Victoria’s top regional restaurants. 

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Visiting in Spring is lovely, the sun still simmering around and gently setting behind the view of lush green lawns and vineyard. 

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The wine list reads like a bible, bound in leather, thick and heavy, but is a much more interesting read. Getting overwhelmed with our choices though, we stick to the Estate pinot for much of the night, like the restaurant, it’s approachable and an easy drink. 

Although sorely tempted by the degustation, due to my friends having only recently flown in and jet lag being a big of a nuisance, we all opt for ala carte, some of us getting two courses and some of us getting three, so that we could share some of the desserts at the end of the meal. 

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Multigrain or olive rolls got our night started, along with velvety smooth and delicious butter. 

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To start, we got an amuse bouche of kingfish ceviche with a celeriac puree (or something along those lines) and a mini rosemary cracker topped with goats cheese and celery. I loved the contrast of the two, a crunchy cracker and smooth as silk ceviche; yet both with bright and very springy flavours. I’m a sucker for celeriac especially!

Crystal, the bigger sister who I never had, always knows what’s best for me, and after returning to the table prior to our ordering, insisted I order the quail entree, as it looked amazing on the pass. 

She wasn’t wrong. 

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The roasted quail breast was served with a confit leg croquette, sweet corn, peppered pancetta and macadamia nut and was by far the most hearty of the entrees that hit the table. I absolutely loved the poultry mixed with the sweetness of the sweet corn, the juiciness of the breast, and the perfect crunch to the croquette. Another dish that absolutely celebrated spring to me, but in a less cliched way. 

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A couple other entrees that my friends also had included the Koo Wee Rup asparagus with peas, Red Hill goats’ cheese, dill puree, lemon and celery jelly and the Skull Island king prawn with heritage tomato, verbena granita and prawn cremeux. Whilst I didn’t try the asparagus, my friend Kara loved the freshness of it, and I enjoyed how delicate and light the prawn dish was (especially in contrast to my quail!)

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For mains, we seemed to have a split between the girls and the boys, with most of the boys ordered the grass fed Cape Grim fillet with roasted heritage carrots, charred chipolini onions and beurre noisette gnocchi (which I didn’t get a picture of) and the girls almost all ordering the pan seared Patagoninan toothfish fillet, with a crispy quinoa crust, toasted coconut, heirloom cauliflower and badami emulsion. 

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Another hit of a dish for me, the tooth fish was so rich, yet smooth and velvety, with pops of crunchy quinoa to break through. The coconut and vegetables also added a nice freshness to the whole plate. Very moreish. 

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The cucumber sorbet palate cleanser was as you might imagine it…refreshing! How cute are the little bowls? 

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To finish, we ordered a chocolate dessert with Michel Cluizel chocolate with fresh raspberries and creme fraiche thyme snow and a rice pudding with basil, lemon verbena meringue and spiced strawberry ice-cream.

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I’ll admit the strawberry dessert wasn’t my favourite, but that’s just because I loved the richness of the chocolate, the chocolate bar in the middle was smooth and creamy, a bit like a mousse, and the raspberry sorbet dotted around the side was just so vibrant and fruity (for lack of a better word). 

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Should you also decide you want to add cheese to your meal, the tasting platter is great value, as you get all 5 cheeses that are currently on the board, thick generous cuts specifically, with an huge array of condiments lavosh. We even asked to take some away because we couldn’t finish it all!

In all, although sleepiness came over everyone quite quickly so our dinner didn’t last as long as others have in the past (which I’ve had the joy of being jet lagged through), Ten Minutes by Tractor was exactly the environment we needed. Cosy and comfortable, a place where we could actually hear each other, and just be relaxed in each other’s company…with some beautifully seasonal food, which expresses regional Victorian food perfectly. 

Am I keen to return? Definitely. Suppose we could make an anniversary trip out of it or something this year…

1333 Mornington-Flinders Road
Main Ridge 
VIC 3928

Ten Minutes by Tractor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato