Category Archives: Restaurants

Food Fight – Dumpling Edition

Food Fight – Dumpling Edition.

IMG_5082

Tim Ho Wan

As queues for Tim Ho Wan’s Michellin starred dumplings and baked pork buns extended around the newly opened Melbourne venue, the gauntle has been thrown and Melbourne’s dumpling wars have gone up another notch. Let’s get into it …

Hu Tong. A local favourite with their Shao-Long Bao dumplings, delicately made but hiding a powerball of pork mince in steaming soup. Despite being the crowd pleaser, it’s the underrated Steamed Prawn and Crab dumplings that should be the hero, but the Bao is where the crowd’s are heading.
Verdict: a Melbourne favourite and reliable yum cha option when the crowds become too much.

Speaking of crowds, Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan achieved deserved recognition as the world’s cheapest Michellin starred restaurant in 2010, and since then has ventured towards world domination. The award in 2010 would signify the move away from fine dining and spur on the momentum of street food, the baked pork buns were hailed as revolutionary. Fluffy dough, with a sweet crust and even sweeter contents, they were made by the bakery load, but the stained glass crystal dumplings, never achieved the same recognition. A shame, as for this judge, the dumplings are the true heroes of this international superstar.
Verdict: must try, if you don’t mind the queue, and with so many other contenders, life’s too short.

The dark horse of the contenders may upset traditionalists, but the steamed wagyu dumplings, and the prawn shumai at Sake are worthy of a podium finish in this battle and I will fight anyone who disagrees. Soft, silky, and pillow-like, choosing between these, and arguably the best sushi in town (stay tuned for sushi battle) on the same menu, you are faced with the world’s most delicious dilemma. As taco girl says, why not have both?

IMG_5080

Sake

Verdict: probably the best looking dumplings in town, with the wagyu being a personal favourite. Definitely good for a couple rounds.

 

The old timer, the legend, the one that started the shanghai pork dumpling trend, Din Tai Fung. Is there even anything else on the menu? We all know it, we all love it, and we will all go back again. It may only have one weapon in its arsenal, but it’s a deadly punch. The most perfectly contructed Xios-Long Bao, with surgical expertise by the surgically attired, they deserve more time to savour, but if you’re not burning your mouth on the soupy explosion, you’re doing it wrong.
Verdict: precision, expertise, beauty … what more can you say? Its not just a dumpling, it’s art.

 

Finally, we have the street fighter. The underdog. The Rocky Balboa of Melbourne dumplings. It’s not fancy, it’s definitely not pretty, but its queues are relative to the size of its tiny tuck shop interior, and the dumplings of Shanghai Street Dumpling and Juicy Bun are the best in the Melbourne. What they lack in beauty, they doubly make up with flavour. These powder kegs of pork should be too big to eat in one go, but being so hot and so soupy the only option is to bite the bullet and go all in. Burnt mouths and soupy chins will soon be forgotten, because when they taste this good, nothing else matters.

IMG_5081

Shanghai Street Dumpling and Juicy Bun

Verdict: the best in Melbourne, and a worthy winner, where the focus is on flavour and looks be damned. Order up, and take the left-overs home. And make sure there is room for the soupy pork buns, the early favourite for pork bun battle…

 

 

HUTONG DUMPLING BAR
14-16 MARKET LANE
MELBOURNE, VIC 3000
TEL: (03) 9650 8128
visit website

TIM HO WAN
206 BOURKE STREET
MELBOURNE, VIC 3000
visit website

SAKE RESTAURANT AND BAR
HAMER HALL, ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE
100 ST KILDA ROAD, MELBOURNE, VIC 3000
TEL: (03) 8687 8128
visit website

DIN TAI FUNG
EMPORIUM MELBOURNE
LEVEL 4, 287 LONSDALE STREET
MELBOURNE, VIC 3000
PH: (03) 9654 1876
visit website

SHANGHAI STREET DUMPLING AND JUICY BUN
342 LITTLE BOURNE STREET,
MELBOURNE, VIC 3000
TEL 0402 627 832
visit website

Woodland House

Developing a sense of creativity.

Woodland House looks and feels like a teenager forced to walk their parents’ career path. The website notes ‘a playful sense of adventure and whimsy’, but walking through the austere entrance, and greeted with a somber welcoming, playful and whimsy seem as foreign as words as you could imagine. Glancing through the multiple dining rooms, the clientele are the well-dressed Armadale set, most likely bankers or, judging by the conversation at the adjoining table, data processors.

Not exactly Alice in Wonderland.

 

So we settle in, straight backs, and elbows off tables, lest we be chastised by the staff.

 

Once the ball starts rolling, you being to understand the whimsy and wonder. The dishes hit mid scores on creativity, as demonstrated by a puffed quinoa crusted flathead that tried but failed to add the texture it was likely designed for, but the balance of flavours, technique and execution of each dish was beyond fault.

Still, you feel as though they are trying to push the boundaries, but being held back, by what I’m not sure. The surroundings? The memory of Jacque Reymond? Take the pork belly, slow roasted and melting away at the touch of a fork, is pulled too left field by a sweet caramel topping that didn’t really hit the mark. You can see they wanted to take this dish to an exciting new level, but for whatever reason, it felt half-baked.

The six course degustation finishes with a crowd favourite – Bomb Alaska. Honeycomb icecream, layered with Italian meringue and dollops of caramel, it encompassed neither wonder nor playfulness, but for a classic dessert, it was pure perfection.

 

WOODLAND HOUSE

78 Williams Road, Prahran, VIC 3181

03 9525 2178

info@woodlandhouse.com.au

visit website

Lee Ho Fook

Over-indulge me

It starts with ‘is that a lot for two people?’
By the end, the answer was all too obvious.

 

Walking through the downstairs bar, you can tell you are in for a uber-cool ride. Heading up-stairs to the large, mess hall style dining area, its difficult to tell just what you are in for. I never visited the original, more street style Lee Ho Fook, but comes with good reputation. It is often a gamble, these establishments that make their reputation on the streets, serving honest and authentic cuisine. The danger being when they move to the cbd, they forget their roots – what made them so special to begin with.

It’s the culinary version of liking their old stuff better than their new stuff. But Lee Ho Fook jazz up the classic dishes to beautifully artistic plates, but load up on the flavour and complexity. It’s another level.

Its an undeniable fact that all good meals start with oysters, and these pacific oysters came with an added kick of wasabi, piquing my taste buds for what was to follow.

Chongqing style chicken crackling was hot, with extra chilli and loaded with spice. Completely antithetical to the oysters, the ying to the oysters yang.

Crispy eggplant was rich.   Sweet and rich. Coated in sticky red vinegar, the eggplant was lost in the candied coating, and the serving was too large, but still too difficult to resist.

=

The raw hiramasa kingfish with leeks was mistimed, arriving after the eggplant, indicative of the very friendly, but somewhat casual service. Delicate and fresh, it would have been better had it come immediately after the oysters. Unfortunately our taste buds had been beaten up by the egg plant and the sashimi didn’t stand a chance.

The wagyu beef sang choi bau was the best looking dish of the night. Served with beef strips and crispy carrots, a brilliant re-imagining of the classic street dish.

Finally, and most significantly, the seafood rice, which was not a side as we expected but a bowl of soupy, congee style stew. Sweet, and salty, but ultimately too rich heavy and large for the distance we had travelled. It would have been a perfect dish for a group of ten. Unfortunately the two of us barely made a dent in it. Flattered they thought our appetite was up to the challenge.

Lee Ho Fook, has their eyes on the future but their feet are firmly planted in their heritage. This is one example where a move of streets has been a move for the better. Just take some friends.
11-15 Duckboard Place Melbourne 3000
03 9077 6261
info@leehofook.com.au

 

Lamaro’s Bodega

The Pigs Head, (or Things not to Eat on Dates)

  1. Taco’s
  2. Sang choy bow
  3. A pigs head

My friend Brett says “you eat with your eyes as much as your mouth. Wiser words are rarely said.

The pigs head at Lamaro’s (oddly since taken from the menu I note) is undisputedly delicious, and somewhat traumatic to order.

Chef  Louis Naepels  know’s meat.  As the carefully selected salumi of the charcuterie plate clearly demonstrates.

lamaro 2

Charcuterie

However, as I set out to prove my ‘foodie’ credentials to my date and order the suckling pigs head, like a true gourmand, I was completely unprepared to be served exactly what I had ordered.

I once ordered pigs face from a Parisian bistro. Paper thin slices of meat, served on a heated plate that ever so gently cooked the ham so it resembled  warm prosciutto.  It was amazing.

This is not what I was served at Lamaro’s.

I was served a pigs head.

It was confronting.

lamaro

Suckling Pig’s Head

Furthermore, without any direction or advice from the waiter, who simply placed head in the centre of the table and ran off quickly to avoid the same evil eye Porky was giving me, I was left somewhat lost as to how to approach my poor Suidae friend.

“Whoa, whoa” I called the waited back. “How do I do this?”.

The waiter, poor thing, had no idea, and simply explained with a shrug that most people eat the whole thing, even the eyes. Hugely helpful.

I rotated the plate to divert Wilbur’s stare away from me, but this brought his ear canal in direct eye line with the girl, who was not coping with poor Babe’s charred, albeit beautifully seasoned, dial.

“Only one way to do this” I thought as I dove in fork first, and to no real great surprise, it was jaw-droppingly delicious. Once you got through the half inch of fat (in itself very tasty), you came across the most extraordinary flesh within the cheek.  Meltingly tender and sweet.

And thanks to the aesthetic, it was all mine as the girl picked at the left overs of charcuterie and squid.

Lamaro’s has reinvented intself, not only as a bodega, but a bloody good one at that. With a respect for the animal that encourages nose-to-tail cooking, and a courageous approach by the head chef, the South Melbourne locals will be welcoming their new local.

 

273-279 CECIL STREET

SOUTH MELBOURNE

info@lamarosbodega.com.au

03 9690 3737

visit website

Mamasita

Mamasita

Mama said knock you out.

Mexican has come a long since the pasty sloppy refried beans, cheese and sour cream many of us were brought up believing was the real deal.

What we have since learnt, is that Mexican is one of the world’s great cuisines when done well. It is fresh, and tangy, and spicy and you always leaves you wanting more. And Mamasita does it better than anyone in south of the border. Today we are sampling the forthcoming marisqueria concept due to hit the Mamasita rooftops early 2016, and Melbourne will undoubtedly love it. With a strong, although not exclusive, focus on seafood, it will pair nicely with a rooftop dining space, even if Melbourne’s weather is decidedly un-Mexican.

Starters started slowly. Corn chips with two salsas – one far to rich and dense with paprika and chilli, rendering the second oily salsa somewhat tasteless. But it’s nice to get the disappointment out of the way early.

Second course was a deadest showstopper. Seafood soup, served piping hot was an odd choice for an opening entrée, but this was a dish that was easily enjoy at any point throughout the meal. Rich, and spicy, but with bursts of prawn throughout, it was nothing more than a pure delight. Scallops, which theoretically should have preceded the soup, were sweet, delicate, and tasted like a Baja sunset. A duet of tostados, one of spanner crab, the other of tuna crudo, battled valiantly for plate honours, only for spanner crab to win out by a burst of chilli that lifted the dish to heady heights.

Seafood soup with prawn balls

Seafood soup with prawn balls

Grilled Bass Straight scallops

Grilled Bass Straight scallops

The classics soon followed … of tacos, and enchiladas, although putting common perceptions of the clichéd Mexican food to shame, were still out shone by their seafood partners, which led me to reach the conclusion that a country so well renown for its ocean / beach life, should do more to celebrate the outstanding quality of its seafood dishes. This is where Mexican food stands firmly against its Mediterranean counterparts, as demonstrated by the tender and juicy (if slightly phallic) octopus that completed the degustation. For me, I’ve not had better octopus, and my eyes are now firmly wide open to brilliance of Mexican seafood.

Lets hope we see more of it.

Seafood soup with prawn balls

Seafood soup with prawn balls

Address: 1/11 Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Phone:(03) 9650 3821

visit website

L’Hotel Gitan

L’Hotel GItan

The last place you’d look.

Dirty Commercial Road is not the first place you think of when searching for authentic French cuisine in Melbourne, but it is here that Jacques Reymond has successfully merged gastro pub and French bistro with L’Hotel Gitan.

From a gastro pub perspective, it is charmingly relaxed, but with white-papered table clothes and dark wood furniture, it feels fancy without stuffy. In terms of bistro, the dishes are simple and honest, without fancy technique, but also without the overbearing richness with which much French food is associated. Each dish is fresh, and clean, and sauces, the trademark of the French, are designed to compliment rather than outshine the principle.

The ballontine of duck starter is chunky and textured, and although not to everyone’s liking (it can be difficult managing the fatty, gelatinous sensation) left me wanting more, with my girl generously obliging. The cassolette was standout, delicately balanced with champagne and saffron foam, the perfectly cooked medley of prawns, mussels and squid was flawless, and a reminder of how amazing Australian seafood can get. The barramundi en croute shone brightly and built upon the seafood theme of the previous dish. Tender and juicy fillet of cod, layered with a salmon mousse that didn’t really add anything other than a protective layer separating the barramundi and the lusciously flaky puff pastry ceiling.

However, the dish on which all French bistros are so often (and rightly) judged, the steak and frites, was unexceptional, although pleasant enough. A well-executed dish that failed to live up to the standard that preceded it, it was the only dish that failed to leave a memorable impression.

Jacques Reymond is a true gentleman of Melbourne’s French scene, presenting dishes both classical, and classy, much like the man himself who greeted each and every diner once the kitchen and closed up. A class act all the way.

 

L’Hotel Gitan

32 Commercial Road, Prahran

+61 3 9999 0990

visit website

Jardin Tan

Jardin Tan

Jardin Tan is the sort of place where you could easily while away a perfect summers afternoon. Adjacent to the Observatory within the Tan, it has a casual, relaxed air, friendly staff, and a mellow vibe that encourages white wine by the multiples. Everything about Jardin Tan says, sit back and settle in. Except the food.

Maybe it was an off day.  I desperately wanted the food to be matched with the atmosphere, enjoy the sunshine, tune in to some DJ spun tunes and imagine I really was in French Vietnam.

IMG_4187

Lemongrass Fish Skewer

The fish skewers, tasty and well made, with lemongrass permeating through, but texturally awkward (although I have never been a fan of minced fish and these skewers left my opinion unchanged). The fried chicken was perfectly seasoned and gorgeously crispy, but the strips of chicken were a little mean in size, you’d have to question whether the chicken content justified calling them chicken. And the red duck curry was disappointingly lopsided in dimension. There was no chilli, or if there was, it was over-shadowed by the all-conquering sweetness of the dish which essentially turned it into, as the girl’s sister succinctly put it, chutney.

However, there were two outstanding highlights for me. The crispy duck pancake was simply stunning in colour and texture, a fraction meager on the duck, but that was easy to overlook. Each mouthful was a delicious reminder of the kind of dish Shannon Bennett is capable of producing. And finally, and most memorably, was the choc top ice cream for dessert. Simple, and familiar, it is has the potential to spark the city’s next nostalgia trend.

Jardin Tan is almost the perfect Sunday afternoon session, its just needs a little more flavour.

Royal Botanic Gardens/Birdwood Ave
South Yarra, Victoria
Phone: +61 3 90212111
Email: info@jardintan.com.au

Opening Hours:
Eatery:
Monday to Friday 9am until 4pm
Saturday and Sunday 8am until 4pm

visit website

IMG_4188

Jardin Tan

Lau’s Family Kitchen

Lau’s Family Kitchen

Keeping it in the family.

Some time I took my girl to The Flower Drum for a birthday lunch, and whilst difficult to fault on any level, it failed to achieve the lofty heights of my expectations, a view seemingly shared by the good people at The Age who recently de-throned The Flower Drum from the prestigious three-hatted club.

Curious I was then to try Lau’s Family Kitchen, the younger, cooler, and less formal version of the Flower Drum which Gilbert Lau headed up for near on three decades. In terms of atmosphere and aesthetic, the two are incomparable. Gone is the stuffiness of fine dining, and in is the more modern, friendlier and far, far cosier dining space of Lau’s.

Prawn and Scallop Dumplings

Prawn and Scallop Dumplings

But the food retains that deft touch that reminds you how good Cantonese food can be. Beef in black bean sauce, where you can actually taste the beef. Tender, juicy strips of beef they were too, it had so little resemblance to the chewy nuggets I had come to associate beef in black bean sauce. Dumplings were silky and bursting with flavor, and the noodles possessed a subtlety not often found in Cantonese cooking in these parts.

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Beef in Black Bean Sauce

Just as Gilbert Lau has rediscovered a new outlet for his culinary skills, so too will you discover Cantonese dishes vastly different to the norm.

visit website

Lau’s Family Kitchen

4 Acland St, St Kilda VIC 3182

(03) 8598 9880

Cicciolina

Cicciolina

Italian Underground.

Six months ago I moved to St Kilda or as my girl hastens to point out,  St Kilda West, because there is nothing in St Kilda, and St Kilda West is full of the good stuff.
St Kilda West has Luxembourg, Di Stasio, Baker di Chiroco, Fitzrovia.
There is nothing on acland street.  Or so I thought until we decided to check out a long held favourite of the St Kilda locals.  Cicciolina.
I had heard good things about Cicciolina.  It was a favourite of those in the know, but flew largely under the radar for the most part, over shadowed by its Fitzroy street cousins.
The first time we went as a group of four. There were drinks had, sure. Then a few more in the back room with some golden calamari and crisp Arancini balls. Service was Italian and non plussed.  So long as you had your name down for a table, it all goes on the tab.
Which would explain why the rest of the night was a blur, I think I had the ragu, and I think it was good, but let’s jump to the second visit just in case.
Earlier arrival time on this occasion and immediately seated at a table for three.we have foregone the oysters this time for the tuna carpaccio, laced with bursting citrus.  The perfect palette cleanser.  One wonders why it does not appear on more menus.
Our first visit centred around pasta dishes, which, had we not consumed vast quantities of Nebbiolo would be recalled as rich and satisfyingly hearty.  On this occasion however, we opted for the barramundi, crispy skinned and juicy of meat.  My girl had the lobster ravioli extra as a main.  A generous square of fresh pasta filled with sweet meat.  So generous in fact, it got passed around the table.  And finally, her sister, with potentially the meal of the night, the roast spatchcock.
Cicciolinas is the authentic Italian you have been searching for. No fuss, not fancy, but once you walk into within that darkened room from the inconspicuous alley, survey the interiors with the over sized blackboard menu, with the curtains drawn, and the lights dimmed, you really are in a piece of Italy.
It just happens to be on Acland street, where there’s nothing good.

130 Acland Street
St Kilda, Victoria 3182

T: 03 9525 3333
F: 03 9525 3397

E: enquiries@cicciolina.com.au

visit website

Estelle Bistro

Estelle Bistro.

The Sunday Roast with the Most.

Estelle Bistro is the sort of restaurant one could fall in love with on the first encounter.

Estelle Bistro

Estelle Bistro

Such restaurants are rare.   I love many restaurants, but I am not ‘in love’ with many. That requires a level of commitment that runs against my grain, yet Estelle breeds such emotion.

The minimalist, yet comforting fit-out.

The professional, yet familiar service.

And of course, the breathtaking, yet deceptively simple food.

Breath-taking indeed. I was moved to utter an involuntary “oh my God” after one mouthful of the ridiculously succulent roasted pork. Many a great love affair has started this way, and I’m not ashamed to admit this dish made me weak at the knees.

So good was this pork, my usually accommodating and generous girlfriend fought me off with knife and fork, demonstrating a ferocity that has not been witnessed in our 6 year courtship when I moved in to steal that last piece of piggy from her plate.

Roast Pork

Roast Pork

Finally coming to my senses (and realizing she would in fact inflict a serious wound if I didn’t back off), I allowed her ownership of that which was justifiably hers afterall, but we both learned a little something about each other at that table.

Anyway, I digress.

The dessert of apple tarte tatin was simple, and flawless, with accompanying cinnamon ice cream, you could not ask for a better finisher. Simple, and sweet.

Apple Tarte Tatin

Apple Tarte Tatin

And the starter of pork terrine, amongst the best I have encountered, served with micro herbs and a delicate sauce that cut through the heaviness of the terrine and lifted it to weightless heights.

Both lovely, and both worth the trip to Northcote, but that roast pork … maybe it was worth losing a finger …

243 High Street,

Northcote, Victoria _

OPEN 7 DAYS

Dinner Mon-Sun, Lunch Fri-Sun

(03) 9489 4609

eat@estellebistro.com

visit website