Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Catch Up - Fall menu at Nieuw Amsterdam, Le Petite Prince & House of Crabs

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest at the following venues 

You may notice these days, that there’s quite a bit of a gap from when I have a dining experience on Instagram, versus when it’s up on the blog. 

It’s definitely hard to stay on top of everything, between flat out days at work which leave me not wanting to be in front of a computer, nights out and then making sure I’m in bed by 10:30 so I can go to the gym (prioritising fitness, whoo!) and well…blogging is a bit of work!

So here’s a little round up of a couple of places that I’ve been wanting to write about, just to help expedite the process a little!

106-112 Hardware Lane
Melbourne 3000 

Nieuw Amsterdam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

A couple months back, I popped into Nieuw Amsterdam to check out their new (and now obviously running) autumn menu, matched with cocktails. 

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I’m always amazed at how creative with cocktails the guys at Nieuw Amsterdam get. One of my favourites from the evening? Peas-go-sour. A play on a ‘pisco sour’ (see what they did there?) with pisco, applejack, lime, snow pea syrup and habanero shrub. What. It’s fresh, it’s springy, it’s almost healthy…right? 

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Highlights included the deep fried pickles we munched on prior to our meal; which are basically the perfect bar snack. How come these aren’t everywhere? Golden, crunchy, piping hot and just yum. 

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Southern fried quail with romesco sauce and pickled grapes are also pure fried perfection. I absolutely love that these meaty mouthfuls are only dedicated battered, and the kick in the seasoning. There’s a lovely heat, and each mouthful is still so juicy. Happy sighs. 

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Curry spiced lamb ribs with cauliflower, eggplant, coriander and lime are also a favourite of mine, again amazingly meaty and no-hands-barred with all the flavour. Love the charred outsides and still pink insides.

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It’s hearty, hearty food, it’s been a little bit of a warm autumn sure, but once we swing full on into the colder weather…? Oh goodness. Perfection.

1A Mercer Road

Le Petit Prince Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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Armadale and Toorak can sometimes be a bit pretentious, and hoity-toity sometimes. But I love being surprised and instead of finding overly healthy dishes, or a little bit too intricate plating, just great big hearty dishes, that still look great.

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Le Petit Prince did just that for me. Beautiful coffees, in sky blue cups, and a pumpkin dish with roast pumpkin two ways which I just want to eat all my life. I don’t think you guys fully understand just how much I love pumpkin. Also helps this dish is loaded with haloumi as well, sprinkled with a bit of dukkah. It’s wholesome but not heavy comfort food that I love eating while sitting outside in the breezy weather. 

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Brad’s mixed mushrooms, Spanish morcilla, poached eggs, smashed avocado and feta is also a surprisingly generous feed, and incorporates all my favourite things…what’s not to love?

34 Inkerman Street
St Kilda

House of Crabs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

When I hear there’s a new restaurant open beneath the slick and very cool Newmarket hotel…well…House of Crabs isn’t exactly what I expected when I walk in.

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You’re instantly transported to the quirky corner of the south, with funky lamp shades, fringe and red…lots of red. It feels a little burlesque bar, but with a band playing Cotton Eye Joe instead. It’s kind of hilarious and the atmosphere is instantly jovial and bright. 

The cocktails are hard, but delicious; yes there’s a mini bottle of tequila that’s pouring out into my glass. 

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But it’s really all about sitting down at the butcher paper lined tables, donning some blue plastic gloves…and getting intimate with some crustaceans. 

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Mussels, prawns, and a selection of crabs are available to have as a boil, with your choice of sauce. The Singapore sauce is one of my favourites, totally reminds of chilli crabs back in Singapore, and I can’t remember which, either the Cajun or the Creole has some beautiful curry-ish flavours going on. 

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It’s a bit of work, but it’s a whole lot of fun and always a great icebreaker. Good way to vet out a potential date too (if they ain’t peeling prawns or getting into crabs, they’re a party popper and a no goer I’d say).

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The stuff on the side is also really good too, lobster fries with bacon, cheese and lobster gravy are terribly moreish and I love the crunchy buttermilk chicken bits with cajun sauce. 

Also highly recommend the soft shell crab tacos with jalape├▒o mayo and apples, beautifully crisp and a nice kick of heat. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

6 Year Anniversary at Dinner by Heston

6 years ago, I never expected to get into a serious relationship. A month or two prior to meeting Brad, I had sworn to not fall into relationships so quickly (I had had a couple of bad experiences in the year prior), and that I’d pash-and-dash and have me some good ol’ single fun. 

Then came Brad. He ruined all the plans.

But I couldn’t be happier that he did. 

Although we normally do a staycation for our anniversary, this year we didn’t, and instead, 1 month in advance, I booked dinner for us at Dinner by Heston and then proceeded to be the biggest nuisance about it because I couldn’t wait for the time to pass by faster. 

Dinner was actually a belated anniversary celebration, as they were closed for ‘maintenance’ on the actual day of our anniversary. Go figure. 

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Tucked away on the upper floors of Crown, we initially weren’t sure, after entering the gap in the wall and tracking down the black and dimly lit hallway, how to actually get in to the restaurant. Fortunately another couple came up behind us and touched the wall next to us, we all jumped (half out of surprise, half out of delight) and entered the restaurant.

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The restaurant is stunning. Dimly lit, blacks, dark woods, plush finishes and impossibly high ceilings. The glass box that the spotless kitchen works in is a sight to behold, as are the perfectly groomed waitstaff, here, there and everywhere, but never looking flushed. 

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The menu is on the table already, which is actually quite a nice change to waiting for the menu to be brought to you and before long our very sweet American waiter is with us to talk us through and make his suggestions. 

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Personable, professional and so welcoming, the perfect host. Quick with gentle concern after my mention of gluten free bread, of anything that might remotely have gluten in it and laughing at my lame jokes (so kind). 

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My gluten free bread is perfection, Brad marvels at how it doesn’t even remotely look or taste anything like gluten free bread too. Only shame is that it’s not served warm.

It’s even better when toasted and served the famous meat fruit.

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This was the dish I was most looking forward to in the lead up to our dinner, chicken liver parfait wrapped in a mandarin gel skin and served with grilled bread. Oh my goodness. Beyond the novelty of it’s presentation, which delights and surprises, even if I have seen it on tv so many times before, the parfait itself is possibly one of the best I’ve had. Silky smooth, not too strong, balanced and perfectly accentuated with the zesty mandarin gel. Yum. 

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The roast marrowbone with snails, parsley, anchovy, mace and pickled vegetables had the most luscious of aromas when placed in front of us. 

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The snails were plump, buttery, with lovely crunchy breadcrumbs or something similar of the sort to provide texture and the pickled vegetables were just the right amount of pickle to be so refreshing and bright, breaking up all the richness. However, after being so enamoured with the meat fruit, this dish didn’t quite incite the same amount of love and excitement. I think I was hoping for more marrow, less snail, the flavour of the marrow was there, but not that luscious fatty mouthfeel that I love, since it was incorporated with the snails. Still a very solid dish though!

Although we initially had some ideas when it came to mains, after asking our waiter for recommendations, he sold two so well, we went with both his recommendations.

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First, Brad’s ‘Chicken cooked in Lettuces’ with grilled onion emulsion, oyster leaves and spiced parsnip sauce. Although not overly exciting in description, it’s definitely not what I expected on the plate!

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Shaped like a log, with otherwise simple plating, the chicken is nothing other than stunning. I reel in my seat with surprise and joy when I try a mouthful. So tender, but still retaining the integrity of the meat, and just so full of flavour! Spices, pepper, it’s so unassuming in it’s appearance, but it is flavour packed. The chicken skin sheets are thinner than paper, translucent, and so light and crisp. 

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I went with the roast blue eye cod in cider, with silver beet leaves, roast onions and fired mussels. Another simply gorgeously executed dish, the blue eye cod melted in the mouth, and I loved the unexpected creaminess of the cider making the dish quite lush and rich. It’s simply delicious, comforting flavours and textures but in a way I could never do at home!

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We of course, had to order the thrice cooked chips. Possibly the smallest portion for $17, but goodness, they are filling! They are also some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had. Each are shatteringly crisp outside; you can’t hide that you’re eating these as they make themselves very audibly present! Yet, they’re still fluffy, and distinctly potato on the inside. If you’re on the fence, just do it, indulge yourself (you’re at Dinner by Heston already for goodness sake).

At the beginning of the meal, when we were making our order, our lovely American waiter asked if we might want to already consider ordering dessert. Whilst I always consider the dessert course while looking at the entrees and mains, it’s very rare that I actually order it first! 

It’s then explained that if we are interested in trying the Tipsy Cake, because it takes one hour to cook, we have to plan ahead and order it at the beginning of the night. 

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Although there are so many other tempting dessert options on the menu, do it guys, just do it (as with everything else on this menu apparently). 

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Baked in cast iron ramekins, the Tipsy Cake is a generously sized fluffy brioche haven, decadently soaked in brandy sauce that tasted like butterscotch. The spit roasted pineapple on the side is the perfect addition, perfectly caramelised, the sweet acidity balancing out the rich sweetness of the tipsy cake lovingly. 

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We also got the Lamington Cake, with grilled raspberries, toasted coconut, rum and vanilla ice cream. Delicately presented, and surprisingly a lot lighter than the Tipsy Cake, the cake itself is quite lovely, with a nice coconut flavour and delicate and subtle sweet flavours. I was not crazy however, for the rum and vanilla ice-cream. I can take alcohol, definitely, but I just found that it was too strong in the ice-cream and over powered the actual flavour of rum and the sweetness of the ice-cream. 

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I was positively tickled with a ‘post-dessert-dessert’, which can basically be described as a chocolate and earl grey mousse. Oh goodness. Although anything chocolate can be rich, this was so well balanced with the bright, vibrant earl grey coming through, with a touch of citrus to accentuate the flavour further. 

Then just in case you didn’t have enough sugar yet, you can also opt-in for the liquid nitrogen ice-cream, which is made in a trolley (one of four in the world apparently) right by the table. 

It was an anniversary dinner, go big or go home right?

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Although our now British waiter seemed to be a little bit over the script he must have read over hundreds of times over, the experience itself was glorious fun as a cloud appeared in an instant surrounding him and our ice-cream is quickly whisked into existence. 

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The vanilla bean ice-cream, with a strawberry puree at the bottom of the cone, and topped with choice of toppings (freeze dried apple crumble for me and white chocolate and raspberries for Brad), I prefer this far more than the rum and vanilla ice-cream we had with the leamington course. Creamy and lush; as you would hope! 

In all, as Brad and I seem to do less fine dining dinners, or even slightly fancier dinners, Dinner by Heston is a real reminder of how it can be done so well. Professional, attentive but approachable waitstaff who put you at ease, even if you are requesting for a bottle of wine under $100 (the most expensive we found on the menu was around $9000!), a perfectly paced meal, where somehow the food comes out so quickly, but with just enough time to let you digest what you had just previously eaten. The food was beautiful, sure some nitpicks on my end, but that’s just because some of the dishes were so lovely, it’s hard not to directly compare! 

If you’re curious, our meal came to around $370 for three courses, plus a side of thrice cooked chips (happy sighs), plus liquid nitrogen ice-cream plus a bottle of wine (that was a beautiful French red for under $100), which I thought was great value for how full and satisfied we were at the end, and the quality of the meal we enjoyed.

I had expected to spend far more! 

All’s that left now? Fat Duck. One of these days. 

Crown Melbourne
Level 3
8 Whiteman Street

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

SOS Cafe

As Brad and I approached Save Our Souls Cafe (also known as SOS Cafe) in Toorak, me in my ripped jeans, ankle boots and leather jacket, I felt so out of place amongst all the lycra, puffy vests and sneakers. Can you imagine? Feeling overdressed in South Yarra? Having a Real Housewives of Melbourne moment here. 

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But that’s the crowd at SOS Cafe, a health conscious cafe, with it’s gorgeous courtyard feel; it’s rare to find a cafe with more outdoor seating (even if it is kind of covered) than indoor seating isn’t it? 

Although ‘health’ these days can be a bit trendy and a bit light on the feeling feel aspect, fortunately the menu is well balanced to keep couples considered; lots of light and fresh fruity dishes, but also heartier warm dishes for those who might’ve just run half a marathon (I wouldn’t put it past the crowd). 

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Matcha Maiden lattes are the size of your head, amazing value for $4.50. Brad’s latte is also sizeable, and looks lovely and rich. 

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I had been craving acai bowls, despite the cooler morning, and was naturally elated with the gorgeously presented dish. More of a glass beaker than a bowl, but hey, details. 

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Served with house granola, toasted coconuts flakes and fresh seasonal fruit, it’s a generous serve, that’s got plenty of texture and crunch; always something I enjoy and no shortage of fruit. 

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Brad got the beef tacos, served on organic soft gluten free corn tortillas with slow cooked organic spicy beef, Mexican beans, avocado salsa and a crispy slaw. Man, SOS Cafe may be well known for their acai bowls and Instagram friendly dishes, but I loved the flavour in these beef tacos, which definitely need more love. Beef was tender and the corn salsa on top full of spice and kick. 

Overall, I enjoyed breakfast, being outside with all the natural light first thing in the day is lovely, and the food leaves you feeling good too. Very keen to visit again with a girlfriend to give the gluten free tiramisu pancakes a go! 

5/177 Toorak Road
South Yarra

SOS Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato