Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lucky Chan Seafood Restaurant, Melbourne

I stumbled across this restaurant accidentally.  It happened a while back on my way to South Melbourne market one Sunday lunch time.  It was extremely busy and they advertised Sunday 'Yum Cha'.  Yum Cha, being two words which never fails to grab my attention.  I had made a mental note to visit this place in the future.

Tonight my long overdue visit had finally come.  It was raining hard and seeing as this place is close to where I live, Lucky Chan's seemed like the obvious choice.

My companion and I made our way through the Crown complex and then quickly dashed the short distance to the restaurant.  We had made a six-thirty reservation since it was a Saturday night.  Having only opened about half an hour earlier, the place wasn't full.

The interior is tastefully decorated with the traditional dark wood with red and gold accents. Tables are covered in crisp white linen which always gives a place a more upmarket feel in my opinion.

We were seated by the window and made our usual order of a pot of Chinese tea.  It arrived promptly in a blue floral patterned porcelain teapot with two Chinese tea cups.  Each table gets a complimentary plate of crispy pink prawn crackers to delve into whilst deciding on what to order.

The food menu is broken up into entrées, soups, seafood, poultry, pork, beef, noodles, rice and vegetable dishes.

The seafood selection also includes 'fresh from the tank' options which come with a selection of delicious Chinese sauces to choose from.  However, for those with an aversion to eating seafood 'fresh from the tank', this won't be an option.

We ordered 'Fried Stuffed Scallops with Minced Prawn in Spicy Chilli Salt', 'Honey Glazed bbq Pork' and 'Chinese Broccoli with Garlic'.  The latter wasn't on the menu, so it was something that I personally ordered. 

The Chinese broccoli with garlic was the first dish to arrive.  These gorgeous greens looked deliciously green with tiny golden shreds of garlic on top.  The plate consisted of just the sweet crunchy stalks and tasted perfectly 'al dente'.

The bbq pork was the next to arrive.  It didn't look too fatty at all (which in my book, earned this place brownie points) as I loathe getting fatty pieces of bbq pork - definitely not good as I hate spending most of my time trimming off the fat.  It was sweet, tender and mmm, mmm, mmm...

The fried stuffed scallops looked like deep fried fish cakes.  They reminded me of them too.  As I bit into one, there was the most tender, juicy piece of scallop wrapped inside a deep fried minced prawn dumpling cake.  It tasted wonderful, or at least we both thought so as we murmered with delight in unison.  They weren't greasy at all and there were plenty for the both of us.

Sharing just one bowl of rice as we normally do, we didn't even manage to eat all the rice.  The protein and vegetables were just so good on their own. 

We wanted dessert and we didn't want to go anywhere else in the rain.  So on viewing the dessert menu, my companion chose the banana fritters with vanilla ice-cream.  Whilst I went for the 'Mashed taro with Sago in sweet Coconut milk'.

Sago is a starch (like tapioca) extracted from the pith of the sago palm.  Like tapioca 'pearls', sago also comes in 'pearls' - small round pearl-like balls. 

My mashed taro with Sago dessert came in a bowl.  The Sago pearls were tiny and taste pretty much like tapioca pearls.  They both have a jelly-like consistency.  The sweet coconut milk had been heated through which made for a delicious warm dessert.  It wasn't too sweet and I could taste little bits of the mashed taro in spoonfuls.  It doesn't look particularly appetizing, but it was really delicious! 

The banana fritters with ice-cream came with two halves of a strawberry which gave it a colourful display.   The fritters were hot and again, not greasy at all considering they had been deep fried.  The syrup was warm and sweet, and the ice-cream tasted like vanilla - unlike some cheap versions that you can get in the lower end Chinese restaurants.

Service here was quick and attentive.  The staff were seemingly polite for a Chinese restaurant. In fact, I would go so far as to say, they were one of the most polite Chinese restaurant staff that I have ever encountered in all my thirty odd years of dining in Chinese restaurants.  If you get a polite and smiling Chinese waiter, then you are really quite lucky...

Onto value for money.  With our seafood dish costing $40 and the bbq pork at $27, this place isn't exactly cheap.  It may be a little on the steep side, but for the occasional treat, it seems worth it. 

In terms of taste, I really enjoyed our dishes.  I would love to eat here more often and be able to sample everything on their menu in order to make a more in-depth evaluation.  Unfortunately, my pockets won't stretch that far. 

Lucky Chan Seafood Restaurant
Crown Entertainment Complex, Level Ground, Shop 42, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, VIC 3006
Tel: +61 (0)3 9696 3966

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar, CBD, Melbourne

I'm not a huge chocolate fan, never have been, and I doubt I ever will be.  But my friend (who is a self-confessed chocoholic and also a bit of a chocolate conoisseur) was having a craving for some after our meal at HuTong's. 

Having never been to a Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar before, I decided that it was a good option being fairly close by.  I have seen this place packed to the rafters on many occasions and I have to admit, the fact that it was always so busy did make me rather curious.  I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about - this Israeli chocolate chain. 

This particular Max Brenner's is on Level 2 of the QV centre and has outside as well as inside seating.  It was fairly busy and with enough chocolate to satisfy all die-hard chocoholics, I can understand why they flock here.  However, it was probably a bit too much chocolate overload for me.  Even the chocolate drinks sounded rather sickly I thought.

I like my chocolate, don't get me wrong.  But I prefer chocolate of the gourmet dark chocolate kind.  All the sickly sweet mass produced stuff, I really could live without.  I guess you could call me a chocolate snob, or just plain fussy, whichever way you want to look at it that is.

Anyhow, on entering this place, there is a glass topped table with little bite size chocolates.  Then there is the counter with a huge wall menu filled with sweet sounding treats such as fondue, soufflé, chocolate lick (a petite pot of melted chocolate) and other sugar filled frenzies. 

Patrons simply go up to the counter to order and pay.  You then get given a table number and go find a table to sit at and wait.  I conservatively ordered a Belgian waffle with drizzled chocolate sauce.  My friend on the other hand wanted a real chocolate fix.  So on suggestion from the waitress, she ordered the chocolate soufflé, chocolate lick and ice-cream.

My chocolate drizzled belgian waffle looked the part, but was in fact rather dry and brittle.  The chocolate sauce was sweet and milk chocolatey.  The verdict:  the waffle itself was pretty disappointing, but the sauce was nice enough.  I've had much better waffles elsewhere. 

My friend's trio looked great though.  The plate had the same chocolate drizzle as the waffles.  The soufflé smelt and certainly looked divine.  Hot chocolate oozed out of it, just like it does with my home-made Nigella chocolate lava puddings.  I think I was having chocolate envy at this point...does such an affliction even exist?!

From the look on her face, it tasted bliss.  At $15.50, it was a pretty decent dessert and it only confirmed what bad a choice I had made.  If I ever come here again, I think I will be going for the soufflé with ice-cream. 

As I looked around, I saw a few others having the chocolate pizza with marshmallows.  For some this may be heaven, but for me it looked utter hell.  All that dough with sickly chocolate sauce and sweet sweet marshmallows, not to mention all the calories.  And the girls that were eating it were stick thin and drinking milkshakes as well.  Now I was really green with envy! 

Before I end, I must add that the staff here are super polite and friendly.  From how young they looked, I guessed that they must have been students and they really were the most courteous. 

This place seems to be a popular place for students and chocoholics alike.  It's not a place that I will make a special effort to come back to though.  But I can see the attraction for Gen Y's.  It's a nice place to come hang with friends whilst getting a chocolate fix. 

Max Brenner Chocolate Bar
25-27 Red Cape Lane, Level 2, QV Square, 21 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel:  +61 (0)3 9663 6000 

HuTong Dumpling Bar, Melbourne

I have read many great things about this place and the last time I came here, admittedly a busy Friday lunch time, I couldn't even get a table!

Tonight, I wasn't taking any chances; I had arranged for my friend and I to arrive at five-thirty on the dot.  This being their opening time for the evening.  We weren't the only ones thinking along these lines either, as there was already a couple eagerly waiting by the entrance.  

Since the doors had not yet opened, we decided to wait patiently under the protection of our umbrella.  In the next few minutes, three more groups of people arrived and I felt impulsed to move closer to the entrance behind the first couple.  I felt them cautiously eye me up as I did this, but I didn't care.  I wanted a table tonight, no matter what.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait too long for the doors to open.  As we entered, I proceeded to ask for a table for two, a little nervously when I saw the huge list of 'reservations'.  We were given a table on their ground floor by the window.  It looked a little cramped, so I very nicely asked for a table upstairs.  The waitress muttered something to the waiter in their mother tongue and the waiter nodded before they ushered us upstairs - without a smile I might add. 

Upstairs on the first floor, there are a few four person booths with strategically scattered wooden tables for four and two around the rest of the room.  A technicolour stained glass window formation sits alongside the booths.  The bare red brick walls, with wooden beams running across the ceiling gave this room an almost barn conversion feel.  I was impressed by how tastefully decorated and upmarket this place was compared to some of the other dumpling houses in Chinatown, Melbourne.

We grabbed a two person table and were promptly presented with menus.  The menu had a few pages displaying photo images of the dishes.  Always helpful when you are trying to picture what a dish looks like when you have absolutely no idea...

The first picture on the first page was that of HuTong's infamous 'Shao Long Baos' or more precisely Xiao Long Bao ($10.80 for 8).  I decided that we had to have them.  My friend duly agreed.  We also decided to try the 'Szechuan Chilli Wontons'.  Being careful not to order too much, we decided to go for just one main dish - the 'Prawn and Eggplant Szechuan Chilli' Claypot' and one steamed rice to share.

A pot of Chinese tea was ordered to refresh our palates.  I personally don't like to drink anything other than this with a Chinese meal;  I really don't find beer or wine complimentary.

Our chilli wontons were the first of the trio of dishes to arrive.  They were steamed wontons in Szechuan chilli sauce with a sprinkling of spring onions (scallions).  You get eight of these little wontons and they were really rather tasty.  Although they weren't as steaming hot as we had expected them to be.  Instead they were just on the warm side of tepid.

Furthermore, not being a big fan of aniseed, I did at one point get a pretty strong taste of it which annoyingly wouldn't go away.  Nevertheless, this did not stop me from devouring them and I can confidently say that I would quite happily eat these again. 

The steaming Xiao Long Baos arrived as a set of octuplets in a bamboo steamer.  These are a Shanghai speciality and are simply known as soup dumplings.  That's right, they contain soup! 

The unleavened flour dumpling skins were soft and a little translucent.  They were steaming hot and tasted oh so deliciously good.  Using your chopsticks, simply pick them up by pinching the tops.  With your other hand, hold your spoon or bowl close by so that you can swiftly transfer the dumpling into your spoon or bowl so as to avoid them falling onto the table, which God forbid if that were to happen. 

Be careful when biting into these babies as the soup inside will naturally squirt out.  We both concluded that these were really good soup dumplings.  The meat inside was well minced and seasoned, and the soup was deliciously subtle.  Excuse the slightly out of focus photo...

The last dish to arrive was the Szechuan chilli prawn and eggplant claypot.  It was certainly a substantial size.  The aubergine didn't taste bitter and the prawns had been floured before they were cooked. 

However, there were only about seven or eight prawns in the claypot.  Considering that this is a $20.80 dish, we expected there to be more prawns.  So it was a little disappointing to find so little amongst the layers of aubergine slices.  Altogether though, a well rounded and robust dish which wasn't too spicy, but perhaps a touch stingy with the prawns.

We polished off the wontons and the dumplings, but we really couldn't manage all the eggplant.  And that is only, because we were full and pretty eggplanted out. 

I would give these soup dumplings gold stars and they really were the highlight of my meal.  It is certainly worth a trip to HuTong's for their Shao Long Baos.  I wonder if they do take out...

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9650 8128 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ragueneau, CBD, Melbourne

Cafe Ragueneau can be found amongst the short line of cafes along Menzies Alley in Melbourne Central.  It's decked out with french wicker style garden chairs and small round topped tables.  It is eclectically decorated, with country style bread shelves, a retro style 'Coca Cola' refridgerator, open wooden bookshelves (housing books), whimsical food posters on the wall - such as 'Sorelle Nurzia' (renowned for making the best torrone in Italy - nougat confection to you and me).  Ambient beats play in the background and there is even a table full of books for sale, newspapers and magazines for patrons to read and even a mini chess board for those who are after something a bit more engaging.

We ordered a pot of tea, which did indeed come in a nice white pot and a skinny flat white. 

My skinny flat white came in a cutesy daisy patterned cup and saucer, such a homely touch!

No afternoon tea and coffee is complete without something sweet.  So we ordered a Portugese custart tart and a Passionfruit tart to go with our hot beverages.  Both of which came on matching daisy patterned saucers.

The passionfruit tart was sharp and tasted nice enough.  It didn't blow me away, but it was nice and light.

The Portuguese egg custart tart (or pastel de nata) came on a matching daisy patterned saucer.  The pastry was a little chewy and having only ever eaten a Portuguese egg custart tart many moons ago, I'm afraid as a novice taster, I can't make a valid judgement.  

However, I will say that I thought the pastry should have been more 'flaky' puff than 'chewy' puff.  The custard filling itself was tasty, although nothing out of the ordinary.  I think I need to go eat more of these 'Pasteis de Natas.'

I think I would have liked to have tried the waffles or the crepes.  They certainly sounded terribly good on the menu.  And of the few that went out to the other tables, they definitely looked pretty nice too. 

This is a cute, quiet cafe hidden slightly behind the main thoroughfare along Menzies Alley.  It is the perfect place to while away an afternoon to catch up on the papers or as a place to relax with friends.

Cafe Ragueneau
Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9654 3789

Young & Jackson's Cafe, CBD, Melbourne

Young & Jackson's cafe sits on the ground floor of this huge Young & Jackson corner location.  Upstairs there is 'Chloe's Lounge & Restaurant' and there is even a rooftop bar above that.  Next door is the long bar which leads into the main bar.

The cafe wasn't too busy when we arrived and we managed to get a table for two by the window.  With comfy red leather dining chairs, we slumped into our seats, out of the wet rain.  A waitress came with a couple of menus.  The menu is fronted with an image of the infamous 'Chloe' herself, laid bare in a slightly sultry pose.

There is the usual pub fare of fish and chips, steak and Guinness pie alongside salads, lamb cutlets, Australian dahl and more. 

Having not eaten any breakfast this morning (very bad I know!), I was after something more substantial than a salad from the 'Something Light' section of the menu.  So, it was a toss up between the fish and chips, and the steak and Guiness pie from the 'Not So Light' section.

Since I concluded that both dishes probably contain equal amounts of calories, I decided against the deep fried fare and went for the steak and Guiness pie served with creamy mash and buttered winter veg.  My companion ordered the fish and chips.  Hoorah, I would get to try them both!

The steak and Guiness pie was an individually cooked pie with a lovely puff pastry crust on top.  As I cut into the gorgeously flaky pastry, I was presented with succulent pieces of beef that had started to break up due to it being so tender.  As I spooned out the filling, there were also pieces of celery and carrot.  The Guiness gravy was so delicious, that I felt it a sin not to tip over the dish in order to pour it all over my mash.

The creamy mash was indeed, exceedingly creamy - it was, heaven!  The vegetables were steamed just right, still crunchy and beautifully mixed with slightly wilted fresh spinach leaves.  They tasted buttery, but not too much so.

The fish and chips came with a side of fresh salad lightly dressed with olive oil.  The fish was moist pieces of whiting covered in crispy beer batter.  The chips were like chips that you get back in England.  With the tartare sauce and wedge of lemon, it took me back to being in Brighton (England) eating fish and chips by the sea.  

The fish was fresh and the batter was crispy without being greasy.  My companion certainly enjoyed it as well.    

Having meticulously polished off our mains, we decided against dessert.  Even though the sticky date pudding with ice-cream that I saw looked utterly inviting.  It would have to be sampled at a later date. 

The setting in one of Melbourne's oldest pubs is that of relaxed, informal and unpretentious, pub stroke cafe style dining.  With a good selection of staple pub grub as well as light snacks and even hot breakfasts available at the weekends, Young & Jackson's cafe downstairs is certainly a good place to eat.

Young & Jackson's Cafe
Corner of Swanston Street & Flinders Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9650 3884

The Noodle House, CBD, Melbourne

Having watched this place being constructed over the past few months, I was very excited to discover that it had finally opened.

The Noodle House is a new addition to the Southbank row of restaurants on the East side of Queensbridge Street. Being less than a five minute walk from home, I was eager to try it out.

Since it was raining for most of the evening yesterday, I decided that I didn't want to go too far. The Noodle House seemed the perfect destination for an easy supper option.

My companion and I arrived for an early six o'clock sitting. There were a couple of outside tables already taken. Since it was warm enough to sit out, we also opted to take a table under the rain proof awning. The whole terrace is under cover, which makes it fully versatile for the variable Melbourne weather conditions.

On the terrace are glass topped wicker tables with cushion seated wicker dining chairs.  The logistical placing of the chairs was well thought out since they don't squash tables so close to one another. 

Inside, there are a couple high tables with stools which are great fun for groups of up to eight friends, wooden benched tables and a few booth-like tables around the edges.  There's also an open kitchen which always makes for great viewing.

The food menu is like a notebook whereby all the options are neatly laid out on just one page.  There are two pencils in the pencil holder at the top and diners just tick off what they want. The waitress then comes along, tears the top one off (yours) and takes it to the kitchen.

The menu is clearly separated into sections - Appetizers, Dim Sum, Wet Noodles & Soups, Wok Fried Noodles, House Favourites, Specialities, Wok Side Dishes & Vegetables and Desserts. 

For certain dishes, there are clear symbols indicating levels of spicyness, vegetarian, healthy options and those that contain nuts


We decided to share a couple of mains.  My choice of 'Lamb Redang Curry' and 'Singaporean Black Pepper Beef' with a side of plain steamed rice to share. 

The serving dishes themselves are large rimmed, crisp white china plates.  It must be said that they do take up a lot of room on the table.  Considering the food itself actually only fits into about half the diameter of the full size of each serving plate, if there were four of us, it might have turned into a juggling act.  This isn't a criticism as such, more an observation. 

Still, the Singaporean black pepper beef was well presented.  Made with fresh ingredients and the most tender beef, it was absolutely delightful.  Being a healthy option, we felt rather smug about devouring a 'healthy' stir fry.  It had no film of grease on the top which made a nice change from the usual Cantonese stir fry.  However on a spicy note, with two chilli peppers indicating 'very spicy' next to this dish on the menu, neither of us thought it spicy at all. 

The Lamb redang curry was also good.  The lamb was beautifully tender and, the curry sauce was delicious.  However, in terms of chilli hot, it was in my book, mild rather than the 'very spicy' that is indicated on the menu.  Everyone is different though and some people may find these dishes quite spicy.  As mentioned before, I do have an inherited South East asian palate... 

Service here is polite, friendly and attentive.  The food is fresh, tasty and well presented.  The décor is modern and light, with lots of clean lines.  There isn't anything on the menu that I wouldn't eat.  So with solid conviction, I can safely say that "I will definitely be visiting The Noodle House again." 

The Noodle House
1 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank, VIC 3006
Tel: +61 (0)3 9682 1200

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cafe Notturno, Carlton, Melbourne

"Where Friends Meet."

'Where friends meet,' the motto of Cafe Notturno.  It sits in the middle of a busy strip of cafes and restaurants on Lygon Street.  Known as the Little Italy of Melbourne, this bustling part of town was buzzing last night (Saturday).  By buzzing, I mean that it was heaving.  We were lucky to have found a table...

After circling the block a couple of times, we spotted a free parking space a couple of streets away.  As we wandered up Lygon street, we suddenly came across the most deliciously scrummy looking cakes on display.  From tiramisu to chocolate mud cake to strawberry cheesecake; even the most hardened of cake eaters would find it hard to refuse a dessert here at Cafe Notturno.

We sat by the side of the central open bar and looking around us, I saw that there were all sorts here; from students to working professionals, to families with young children.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying a slice of Cafe Notturno cake. 

We took turns to go look at the desserts.  After having made a somewhat difficult, but decidedly chocolate decision, I ordered the Velvet Chocolate cake with ice cream and requested for the cake to be warmed.  I really love the warm/cold contrast.  My companions both orded the Orange Mud Cake - my second choice. 

The Velvet chocolate cake was deliciously light and lip smackingly good.  I think I 'mmm'd' and 'arhh'd' my way through most of it.  It wasn't too sweet which was just right for me.  Although it was so, SO good, I couldn't actually finish it all.  And I promise you it was not for want of trying.  I was truly chocolate cake stuffed!  I think I can say, with sturdy conviction that I have had my fill of cake for the rest of the month and boy, was it worth it...

My companions had the Orange Mud cake with ice cream, which was darker in colour and denser in consistency.  The chocolate filling had melted nicely.  It tasted gorgeously chocolatey orange, but it was contrastingly heavy compared to the Chocolate Velvet cake.  I we all agreed that I had the better of the two cakes, but only just. 

We all enjoyed our dessert here, although none of us could actually polish off our plates.  Cafe Notturno is definitely a great place for cake.  Would I recommend it?  I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Cafe Notturno
179 Lygon Street, Carlton, VIC 3053
Tel  +61 (0)3 9347 8286 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Little Cupcakes, CBD, Melbourne

This place is only about a five minute walk from where I live, unfortunately.  I say unfortunately because this place does the best cupcakes, and I simply have to stop myself from going in everytime I walk past.  Yes, they are that good.

My love affair with cupcakes started as a small child.  Probably not unlike most people really.  I grew out of them when I started to mature a bit - in my teens.  But like all good things in life, I went back to them as a grown adult.  These days though, they are a little more fancy to what I was used to. 

Little cupcakes is the cutest little bakery with a pastel pink wooden glass fronted door; what looks like hand painted signage on the window and girls in signature Little Cupcake aprons.  It all harps back to the good old 1950s where women took pride of place in the home.

Their cupcakes are freshly baked on the premises and are so moist, they really do just melt in your mouth.  They are lovingly arranged in a glass fronted cabinet and customers form an orderly queue. 

There are a few stools by the window and a central wooden table with a few high chairs, all in this one little space.  Outside are a couple of round garden tables and chairs.  If you're lucky, you'll get a seat here.  Otherwise, a takeout in one of their white cardboard boxes with a cute little sticker on top will have to suffice.  And indeed they do!

Today, I was lucky enough to get a table outside.  I ordered a pot of tea and a Belgian chocolate mini cupcake.  The mini cupcakes are $2 a pop and the larger ones are $4.  Flavours include Red Velvet (made famous by Magnolia Bakery in NYC - also delicious!), lemon, vanilla, latte, carrot, cookie and cream, and more...

I went to sit down and one of the waitresses brought me my pot of tea (in a gorgeous floral teapot), a cup and saucer (which is how tea should be served) and my little cupcake.  Doesn't it look adorable??
In case they run out, there is another branch at TG 06 Goldsbrough Lane in the CBD.  Although I have never visited this one, it is definitely on my 'To Do' list.  

Little Cupcakes
Shop 7, Degraves Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel:  +61 (0)3 9077 0413 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cafe Republic, South Yarra, Melbourne

On what I am told, is an unsually warm mid November evening (having had a scorching hot day) in Melbourne, I made my way to Cafe Republic in South Yarra.

An affluent neighbourhood where tree lined streets are home to some beautiful fronted houses and apartments.  It's got a groovy grown up feel to it and dare I say, it's like a refined version of Ladbroke Grove in London. 

Cafe Republic sits on the corner of Toorak Road and Osborne Street - almost opposite South Yarra station.  As a modern casual eatery, it's certainly relaxed.  There is also plenty of outside seating on both sides of its corner location.  It prides itself on modern Italian fare.

We started with the perfect sharing plate - a 'Trio of dips'.  The dips were olive tapenade, a green aubergine (eggplant) dip and some sort of bean dip.  I couldn't work out whether the aubergine dip was aubergine or not, but confirmation from the waitress cleared up my confused tastebuds.  I'm clearly not cut-out for a Masterchef food taste challenge. 

The bread was toasted garlic rubbed ciabatta.  It was so delicious that we asked for more bread and they proceeded to bring out a basket full.  I guess they presumed that we were all extremely ravenous or rather thoroughly enjoying it - of which we all were.   

For my main, I ordered the 'Spiced Lamb Salad'.  When it arrived, I was astounded at the sheer enormity of it.  For a moment, it looked as though I had a whole lettuce.  For $19.50, they definitely give you the dollars worth.  Portion size aside, it came with pieces of feta, slithers of red and yellow pepper (capsicum), slices of cucumber, halves of greek olives and thin slices of red onion.  It was lightly dressed and tasted absolutely divine.  The lamb was well spiced, tender and had not a trace of fat.  Just how I like it!  I ate all but a small morsel - I felt it too piggy to eat the whole lot!

The other mains ordered at our table tonight were, the delicious looking grilled chicken caeser salad with a perfect poached egg on top.

Penne vodka with prawns - doesn't it look so yummy??  Apparently it was.  I think I will have to go back to try this dish. 

And finally, the 'Vegetarian risotto', again another very generously sized portion.

Needless to say, I think we were all pretty stuffed by the end of it.  Having eyed up the cakes in the background, my 'dessert head' was telling me to try one, but my stomach was saying "enough!"  Although I normally love to finish off a good meal with something sweet, tonight I was really too full. 

The portions here are certainly very generous indeed, one could almost describe them as 'man-like.'  This is a great place to have a spot of lunch or dinner with friends; it's unpretentious; service is polite and attentive; and they certainly make sure that customers don't leave hungry.

Cafe Republic
160 Toorak Road, South Yarra, VIC 3141
Tel:  +61 (0)3 9820 0800 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar, Melbourne

The Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar is the baby of the Grossi Florentino familia.  There is the fine dining 'Restaurant' which sits upstairs on the first floor.  Then the moderately expensive 'Grill' next door. 

The Cellar Bar is long and narrow, with dark wood panelling, ornate wrought iron and glass hanging ceiling lights , black chalk board menus and, a long bar curved at the front displaying an assortment of cakes through a glass window.  

Outside, there are a few pavement tables which are perfect for warm and sunny days.  Inside are lots of high leather bound bar stools and a few small tables; perfect for a couple, a little squeeze for three, impossible for four, unless you are just here for drinks that is.

There were three of us tonight and we were there to sample some food.  Having read some good reviews about this place, I was expecting nothing less than good. 

We arrived early - around 5:30ish to be precise.  The place was already half full with ladies sipping wine and couples meeting for after work drinks.  With lively music and equally lively Italian waiters, this place was buzzing this evening. 

The wine list is nothing short of extensive.  It gives The Melbourne Supper Club a good run for its money. 

From the food menu, we ordered the Canneloni Al Forno (with minced veal) and Cotoletta Alla Valdostana (Crumbed veal, fontina cheese). Veal for all of us!

A basket of bread with olive oil for dipping was brought to the table; one piece of foccaccia and crusty bread.  Unfortunately, the focaccia was a little stale (luckily there was only one piece of it) and the crusty bread was well, crusty bread.

Two of us had the canneloni dish, one was presented better than the other.  Funnily enough, the less attractive one came out as the better picture.  The minced veal was beautifully fine, it wasn't overwhelmed by too much tomato sauce either. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't eat the end of one of my canneloni's as the pasta was rock hard.  My companion's canneloni seemed to be cooked perfectly through (the one pictured).  We agreed that although it was nice, it wasn't anything special.  For $18, I expected a bit better to be honest. 

The crumbed veal came with creamy smooth mashed potato.  As a more generous portion to our canneloni, I was rather envious.  My other companion commented on how tender and juicy the veal was and happily reported that it had no trace of gristle.  She also seemed to enjoy the mash as well.  It certainly looked the better the two dishes and was a little more pricey at $24.

We decided to try a dessert that we had seen being brought out to another table when we arrived.  A huge brandy glass of 'Zabaglione'; whisked egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar.  Not the healthiest of desserts I must admit, but then again are any desserts good for you?! 

It was served warm, just off the heat and had a frothy top.  The denser bottom layer had a powerful marsala kick.  I could feel the cockles of my heart (and toes) a warming!  As one would expect, it tasted like a light English custard with sweet wine.  We couldn't manage it all as it was just a little too much for us. 

I imagined it would be lovely served with fresh strawberries or a thick slice of dense chocolate cake, like Missippi mud pie.  OK, I know the latter would make it very un-Italian!  But I really think it would taste great.  For $10 though, I thought the Zabaglione was very reasonable and definitely for sharing.

Perhaps I didn't choose the right main, but I certainly didn't think that my dish was anything amazing.  What I did think amazing though was the cheerfully lively attitude of the waiters, the cosy surroundings of this bijoux of a place and its obvious popularity. 

We were made to feel very much at home.  I have to say that the welcoming atmosphere and typically Italian surroundings would draw me back in an instant.  A great place for drinks...just not completely sold on the food.

Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar
80 Bourke Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel:  61 (0)3 9662 1811 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thai Street Food, Bangkok

Anyone who has visited Thailand will know that Thai street food can be exciting, colourful, interesting and wonderful, as well as downright dodgy for those without an iron stomach. 

Food hawkers move around by simply pushing their four wheeled food carts from place to place on foot.

They come alive when the sun goes down with many locals getting their evening feed.  Having eaten at many stalls over the years, I can attest that some are better than others.  And I always stay away from the ones that are on a busy main street.  With all the pollution, especially in Bangkok, I'm not fond of having it in my food if you catch my drift. 

Still, it doesn't hurt to have a look and for those who are interested in food, there are some truly fascinating things on offer. 

Of course not everything will be to everyone's taste, so it is important to go with an open mind and a willing appetite for an encouraging start. Just beware if you don't have the constituency of a hardened traveller's stomach.

Since Thai street food is very inexpensive for Westerners, with prices starting at 15 Baht upwards, it is possible to get a very good feed without spending a fortune.  The beauty is in being able to try as many different things as possible. 

Below is a hawker selling deep fried potato and taro wedges (upper basket) and deep fried Thai bananas. 

Another hawker was selling deep fried whole fish, prawns, chicken legs and barbequed sticks of kidneys and chicken (see images below).

Another hawker was deep frying ready made fresh spring rolls to sell on the spot.  They looked deliciously golden and crunchy.  They are served with a little bag of sweet chilli sauce and fresh basil leaves.

Fresh curries, vegetables and stir fries.  Most of which you can see has already gone.  It was past lunch time though...

Sticks of fish balls, pork balls and sausages.  Asian fast food delights...

Thais love their sweet desserts.  Here are tapioca water chestnut balls, sweetcorn, tapioca pearls and a huge bowl of sweet coconut milk at the front, a big bag of crushed ice sits behind the table.  You choose what you want from the selection, it gets topped with a spoonful of crushed ice and sweet coconut milk on top.  Mix it up and it becomes a deliciously cool dessert - seriously!

Below are some roti style pancakes.  A typical breakfast treat is a roti style pancake with egg and sugar.  Rather sweet, but oh sooo good - definitely 'a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips' sort of a treat... Once in a while, but not every week. 

A lady grilling Thai bananas over stone coals. 

Delicious golden deep fried sesame seed balls.  These are glutinous doughy balls made with rice flour and filled with sesame paste or red bean paste.  One of my favourite snacks, they are truly delicious, but again not good for one's waistline. 

And here are some sweet coconut sticky rice parcels - wrapped in banana leaf.   Shredded coconut on the side.  Sweet, sticky and good...

And finally, a hawker selling Thai style coffee.  It's sweet, made with condensed milk and served cold - just how the locals like it.