Melbourne

South Of Johnston (Collingwood)

January 29, 2016

“…the avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise” — David Fairchild

South of Johnston, or “Sojo” is you’re a frequent reveller in this establishment, is tucked away off Oxford St in Collingwood. The high ceilings, the share-house-esque couches surrounding small tables – ideal for informal meetings, ooze a laid back vibe that makes one feel instantly at home when dining at South of Johnston.

The menu here is fresh and wide-ranging. Menu options range from decadent pancakes, to Vietnamese inspired chicken salads all the way through to juicy burgers. The coffees here are deeply smooth and rich and South of Johnston uses Supreme Coffee to churn out patrons coffee fixes.

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Something as basic as smashed avocado on toast arrives as a massif of velvety avocado peppered with sharp feta, and leafy greens. I opted for a generous side of smoked salmon to accompany my avocado-fest, which complimented the flavour profile perfectly. The only qualm I really had with this superb dish was my inability to pry the grainy bread apart with my dull butter knife due to the sturdiness of the bread.  Slightly hungover from the previous night’s festivities, a freshly squeezed nectar laden mango juice was the perfect accompaniment to my meal (and last night’s wine induced seediness).

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The chicken salad I enjoyed on my previous visit made for a perfect light, but flavourful lunch. Crispy chicken, serviced with a wombok and carrot slaw, with scatterings of Vietnamese mint, coriander, shallots and chilli. A zesty lime dressing created a salad collaboration that, in my opinion, is unmatched.

The service at South of Johnston is friendly and knowledgeable, though food can take some time to reach the table on occasion. This is completely understandable given the popularity and the girth of offerings.  For this reason, Sojo has established itself as one of my go-to cafes for lunch when in Collingwood. The upside to this being there are so many dishes I want to try which would warrant at least another 20 visits to get through them alone.

South of Johnston Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Palsaik Korean BBQ (CBD)

January 29, 2016

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Palsaik Korean BBQ is the sister restaurant of ChangGo. Despite the popularity of ChangGo nearby on Little LaTrobe Street whereby hopeful patrons snake out the door and down the road every evening, Palsaik is surprisingly untouched by the fanaticism. Thinking that it would be ridiculously crowded on a Saturday evening, we opted for an earlier dinner just before 6pm.

Palsaiks interior is modern; high ceilings with steampunk-esque copper exhaust fans hovering over each tables grill, a minimalist layout with black walls and floors complementing the copper titivation. Upon arrival there was only 1 other table occupied, however, soon hungry patrons filed in and every table was filled.

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We were seated in the back corner on a large booth which contained two BBQ grills. My only qualm with the tabletop set-up was that the hot plate was very temperamental and I suspect it may have electric – Sacrilege when it comes to BBQ’ing meat.

The Palsaik option for $58 is similar, if not exactly the same, as ChangGo and offers 8 flavours of pork belly, pickled sides, kimchi and a seafood stew.

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Soon our 8-piece pork belly set had arrived, alongside pickled vegetables and a spicy mystery sauce. The small pickled vegetables were perfect to cleanse the palate in preparation of the next pork flavour.  The employees expertly unravelled the rolled pork belly onto the hot plate, only to swiftly reappear again once it was time to cut the long strip into bite size chunks. After the first slice, we didn’t need much assistance and happily continues flipping pork, drinking the sweetly potent soju and devouring at our leisure.

Though the palsaik set is said to feed 2-3 we managed to wade through the pork and the seafood hot pot with finesse. The meat was marinaded to perfection, though due to the large wooden serving board being slightly worn, the types of pork were illegible. This made for a fun game whereby we discussed what flavour we were currently tasting and soon into the cutting and tossing of the pork belly, we had completely lost track of which was which. Nonetheless, each sizzled morsel was perfectly juicy and uniquely flavoured.

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The kimchi, lightly grilled in the pork fat seeping from the first placed long slab of marinated pork was no less than amazing.  The starchy vegetables that accompanies the meat managed to acquire a nice char by the end of the 5th pork belly wave.

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The seafood hotpot was robust in tomato and rich seafood flavour. It acted as the mid-centre between the different rolls of pork belly. The generous inclusion of crab legs, mussels and cabbage offered balance for the meat heavy palsaik set.

What I love about Korean BBQ is the pacing of the entire meal. Slowly, a total 8 waves of delicious pork belly was consumed. Korean BBQ is certainly best for social occasions where you have a couple of hours to drink, sample various meats and to revel in the sounds and smells of meat sizzling at every table. Both ChanGo and Palsaik deliver the goods when it comes to Korean BBQ. However, you’re more likely to score a seat at the quieter Palsaik in the CBD.

Palsaik BBQ Korean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

N Lee Bakery (Collingwood)

January 9, 2016

“I would have crawled naked across broken glass to get here.” – Anthony Bourdain 

N Lee is unmatched in providing delicious banh mi, also known as Vietnamese pork rolls. I know this because I have held regular banh mi-tings over the past year, trialing Vietnamese bakeries on their ability to deliver a juicy, buttery, pork roll.

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A crispy shelled baguette slathered in melty butter and pate is the first big tick here. I have actually ventured out of my way to N Lee specifically to buy unfilled baguettes for their fluffy white interior which balances out the thin crisped shell. This harmony of crispy and chewy could only be produced by sheer wizardry.

The slices of pink-rimmed bbq pork, crunchy carrot, crisp cucumber, fiery chilli and coriander medley is one that you find in most Vietnamese food. N Lee packs each $5.80 rolls to the brim of flavourful goodness, always asking whether or not the customer desires chilli. An enthusiastic yes usually yields in obtaining a perfectly bitey roll.

There’s a reason as to why at lunchtime, you’ll spot hordes of nearby workers lining up down Smith St, leading to N Lee. Don’t let the line deter you from grasping a piece of pork roll heaven, it moves quickly and each banh mi is expertly assembled. Watching the staff inside harmonise in stuffing the various fillings into each crusty rolls is a spectacle.

For a quick, delicious lunch, one should look no further than N Lee.

N. Lee Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Belle’s Hot Chicken (Fitzroy)

January 6, 2016

A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear. – Alan Richman

Belle’s Hot Chicken is a testimony to Southern Fried Chicken done dead-on. Situated on the increasingly gentrified Gertrude St, Belle’s does one thing and it does it right – hot chicken.  The interior is diner-esque, with large booths by the window and stools by the bar. Large red neon lights behind the bar read “Wine”, one of my favourite words.

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Belle’s is serious about their chicken and has 6 levels of spiciness to choose from for those daring enough, though we treated our first visit with trepidation and opted for Hot. Other options include, in least to most ring-of-fire inducing; Southern, Medium, Hot, Really Hot and F**king Hot. The hot was surprisingly hot and my dining partner and I am tempted to revisit to sadistically attempt the F**king Hot which I am told may have dire consequences.

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The chicken wings are reminiscent of those stripped from primordial birds – colossal. The crusty, fiery coating reveals a succulent white meat that pleasantly balances out the hot crumbing. This is a meal where you have to be devote your hands and mouth to the gnawing, sucking act to reduce the large wings to a pile of cleanly licked bones. I opted for a side of pickles, which included pickled cauliflower, tomato, jalapenos and chillies. The vinegar acidity of the pickles cleansed the mouth between the 4 large chicken wings.

The service at Belle’s is superb. Quick to be seated, despite being a very busy weekday lunch. Our chicken wings were plonked down promptly after ordering and service was continuously attentive. Belle’s is liquor licensed and the crispy wings, selection of sides definitely lends itself to being prime drinking accompaniment.  I had a lovely Tempranillo and my dining companions opted for crisp cider and a pale ale.

The price may seem sort of steep at $16 for 4 wings, however, we couldn’t finish our meals, despite being vivacious eaters. Belle’s pushes the best wings around and you’ll leave feeling brim-filled of fire and the most delicious chicken.

Belle's Hot Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Melbourne

Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam (CBD)

January 1, 2016

Mekong is where I had my first ever bowl of steamy pho ga. A friend had swiftly taken me by the hand and led me to the no-frills restaurant back in 2008. For this reason, Mekong will always have a place in my heart, having since ventured off to slurp the pho in Vietnam and most of Melbourne.

Unfortunately, the quality at Mekong is turbulent. One day I may experience the best pho and the next, it will be a seemingly flavourless MSG laden bowl. Having been both pleasantly surprised and disappointed over the course of the years, Mekong dropped off my pho radar.

What led us to revisit Mekong was a late night conference, Festival21, which left us hungry and stranded in Melbourne’s CBD.  Fast approaching the closing hour of most pho restaurants, we were like gypsies in the night in search of a big bowl of comforting rice noodles. Mekong is open later than the others so our search led us back to the brightly lit, stripped back décor of Mekong.

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We both opted for a large bowl of beef and chicken. Soon thereafter, a huge bowl of pho was plonked in front of us with the obligatory thai basil, bean sprouts, chilli and lemon. Despite our trepidation, this was a very decent bowl of herby pho. The meat was so generous and of really good quality. The thinly sliced rare beef was melt-in-the-mouth good and the thick chicken slices were of surprisingly high quality.

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Mekong is kind of like the Russian roulette of pho restaurants. When it’s good, it’s hellishly good and when it’s bad, you’ll leave thirsty with a stirring MSG headache. If it were a little more consistent, I would add Mekong to my trusted pho restaurants but unfortunately this has not yet been my experience.

Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Meatmaiden (CBD)

January 1, 2016

“You had me at meat tornado.” – Ron Swanson

Meatmaiden produces some of Melbourne’s smokiest meats. Dimly lit, underground (hence the terrible photo quality), moody and contemporary, the interior of Meatmaiden is a far cry from the Texan smoked meat menu. This juxtaposition works perfectly well as it is very rare for me to feel classy when devouring pink-rimmed meat off a bone the size of my forearm.

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To begin; A smoky Old Fashioned. The smokiness of the Old Fashioned was punctuated by the zesty hint of orange rind. This cocktail is the perfect accomplice to the smoked meat that was about to arrive.

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The lemon crusted lamb ribs were perhaps the lowlight of the evening, with there being quite a hunk of fat adjacent to the slither of smoked lamb meat falling off the bone. The lamb ribs were very inconsistent with some having a decent amount of meat and others being entirely compromised of crunchy, hot fat. I am no opponent to a healthy slathering of fat in my meals, but eating only fat is a bit too rich.

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The 20 hours smoked Rangers Valley beef brisket clung for its dear life on the large bone, giving very little resistance to the knife that was used to portion. The addition of the pepper rub gave the melty meat a wicked and welcome kick.

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The star of the meat-fest was easily the Gippsland pasture-fed beef rib. The bright pink rimmed meat simply melted on the tongue.

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Meatmaiden is a fine place to head for smoky meats and smoky cocktails.

Meatmaiden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Rolld (Brunswick)

December 18, 2015

Sometimes, a big bowl of steamy pho is exactly what the doctor ordered.  There is, however, a distinct lack of pho restaurants in the Brunswick area. Luckily, Barkley Square (or as we locals affectionately term it, Sparkly Bear) opened a Roll’d during its revitalisation project about a year ago.

Rolld Brunswick

Roll’d delivers their take on Vietnamese street food; pho, banh mi and rice paper rolls. The best offering Roll’d has is the cup of pho – a coffee sized cup of pho to rid threatening colds away. We ordered two bowls of beef and chicken pho, and a side of chicken ribs. Because who can resist cheap, crunchy chicken ribs?

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The bowls arrived quickly, with a wedge of lemon served on a spoon. The broth itself contained a few herby bits and bean sprouts but I yearned for a plate of chilli, Thai basil and mountains of beansprouts to add at will. Roll’d may be one of the only pho joints to skip out on the trimmings. Nevertheless, the broth was an herby, chicken concoction that warmed the belly and soothed the soul. The addition of sriracha added the much needed flavour punctuation, however, hoi sin sauce would have definitely been another great addition here. The noodles here were on the softer side but worked harmoniously with the shredded chicken and clusters of rare beef.

I like Roll’d for the convenience. The price point is acceptable and it’s never a gamble in that I am always served consistently the same quality. I have sampled their rice paper rolls in the past and I do feel that this is a strength of the franchise, with the pho not really hitting the mark. That said, I have slurped my way through Melbourne’s Vietnamese noodle soup scene and am probably quite discerning when it comes to the humble bowl of pho.

Roll'd Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Transformer (Fitzroy)

December 16, 2015

“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Fine dining for vegetarians? Transformer in Fitzroy is run by the Vegie Bar clan, who are heralded as the queens and kings of vegetarian and vegan dining. I had never quite understood the hype behind Vegie Bar and I always assume the popularity is partly down to catering for a specific diet. I recall admiring the frontage of Transformer one late evening, after a few stormy cocktails at the Black Pearl. The interior is impressively fitted with vine leaves swirled around corrugated iron, high ceilings and a stripped back cool. A projection of fishes lightened the walls next to our table.

We were served by the bewhiskered embodiment of Fitzroy – cool, classy and enthusiastic about the food we were contemplating. Detailing my odd allergies is analogous to throwing a rubix cube at the waiter and declaring “solve this riddle!” before throwing down a smoke bomb. Having ruled out almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, the waiter expertly suggested dishes to be served in the “Feed Me” degustation. . Unswayed by tricky dietary requirements, Transformer delivered a delicious vegetarian degustation suitable for our party of 5.

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First up was the organic popcorn sprinkled with Japanese sea salt and nori. This popcorn was clean with the umami of the nori kick starting the flavour receptors. A fine way to arouse the palette in anticipation of what was to come.

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The crispy sourdough served with a creamy pumpkin dip was surprisingly decadent. The only downfall was the ratio of dip to bread was a bit skewed towards ending up with too much dip. Even after generously slathering a thick layer, there was no way to scoop up the remaining dip, which remained on the table, teasing us.

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Oh-so crispy organic tofu with cucumber, housed in a pillowy spelt bun was absolutely moreish. The vegan gochujang mayo was beautifully creamy. For those playing at home, gochujang mayo is produced from Korean red pepper paste and is as creamy, if not more creamy, than your ol’ run of the mill egg-mayo. The tanginess of these bao was such a delightful pairing to the white wine we had selected.

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Roasted sweet potato, togarashi , coconut yoghurt and lime. The roasted sweet potato was crusty. Swirled in the zesty coconut yoghurt with a squirt of the zesty lime created a summery flavour combination.

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Soba and kelp noodles with sprinkles of nori, cashews and bursts of goji berries. The soba noodles were cooked to al dente and the flavours were refreshingly light.

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Soon after, the juiciest grilled oyster mushrooms arrived. These meaty mushrooms were seeped in confit garlic, pine nut puree, with hints of smoked shallot and porcini salt. Despite their fungi origins, these oyster mushrooms were hugely filling.

Next up was the melty cumin braised eggplant served with chemoula, smoked labneh and quinoa chips with a dash of mint (not pictured).  This dish reminded me of a similar Sicilian dish, with Moroccan influences.

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The dense, spherical, creamy burratta served with squash and courgette was a textual delight. The stringy resistance of the mild burratta married well with the accompanying squash. This dish is usually served with almond but alas, my almond was suitably omitted. The flavours still managed to intermingle perfectly despite this slight subtraction of ingredients.

I had experienced a unique vegetarian degustation at the wonderful Transformer. Being an omnivore, a vegetarian restaurant is usually not on my radar but my experience here was no less than exceptional. The “feed me” option for $45 on a weeknight is a great way to sample a myriad of interesting dishes. I was delightfully surprised that I did not have to feel sickly-full afterwards, which is usually my experience when devouring a heavy degustation menu. Transformer’s offerings are light, with thoughtful attention paid to the medley of flavours in each plate.

Transformer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Annie’s Provedore (Barwon Heads)

December 4, 2015

‘It’s hard to tell the difference between sea and sky, between voyager and sea. Between reality and the workings of the heart.’ – Haruku Murakami 

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Situated about halfway down the quaint strip of shops, frequented by locals and visiting tourists in search of gourmet delights, is Annie’s Provedore. Shelves of homemade jams, interesting condiments and dried goods encase the space which operates as both a deli and a café. Rows of cheeses, freshly made salads – notably most featuring some variant of “superfood” or quinoa) and decadent desserts are spread across the large cabinet near the back.  The ceilings are covered with hangings of reclaimed baskets and furniture, creating a comfortable environment.

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The menu is short but here the focus is on quality, not quantity. A nod to seasonal produce, cured meats and cheeses, Annie’s has something to please everyone. Nursing a slight hangover from the previous night’s festivities; we opted for the breakfast board to share.

Annies Barwon Heads Sourdough

In addition to the breakfast board, we ordered 2 slices of thick-cut sourdough bread to sample with the wonderful spread of unadultered peanut butter and an array jams laid about, did someone say fig or raspberry and cardamom? A lovingly baked sour dough bread accompanied by condiments may sound pedestrian but it is far from being the case. I enjoyed a large slice with the no additive peanut butter and raspberry cardamom jam. So simplistic yet such a comforting start to the day.

Annie's breakfast board

The breakfast board arrived with fresh avocado, large cubes of Persian feta and peppercorns, Istra bacon, hard poached eggs, buttery mushrooms and tomato, served with dense, yet soft sourdough. Everything here was perfect and being able to mountain various components onto the sourdough bread meant that every bite could potentially have a very different flavour combination. I am a massive fan of any type of spread and this breakfast board really hit the mark. The only let down of this dish may have been the egg which was slightly overdone. This let down was off-set with the mushrooms, which were so fleshy and juicy.

Annie's Barwon Heads Coffee

 My mother and sister shared some T2 chai tea which was impeccably spicy and combined like a dream with the supplementary sweet honey. Thick, creamy and slightly bitter, my coffee exceeded my high expectations.

Despite the service lacking at time, which is forgivable for the peak Saturday brunch time.  If you’re seeking a charming setting to share brunch in, Annie’s, quite literally, is the jam.

Annie's Provedore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Sushi Hotaru (CBD)

November 26, 2015

“I’m not making art, I’m making sushi.” - Masaharu Morimoto

Sushi Hotaru may be well hidden inside Bourke St’s Midcity Arcade – but it is far from unknown. This was actually my second voyage to Sushi Hotaru but the first time I had actually managed to get to the front of the endless line that is present all times of the day.

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Sushi Hotaru’s train spans an impressive length, filled with freshly made plates for a meagre $3. Such high quality sushi and low prices were something I had imagined only existed in Japan. And as with everything quintessentially Japanese, the whole ordering process bypasses human interaction with flawless efficiency. At Sushi Hotaru you are invited to order dishes from the I-Pad in front of you, with a range of udon and hot dishes on offer, as well as sashimi, nigiri and sushi hand rolls. The ability to order fresh ginger and condiments is also a welcoming touch.

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We sat adjacent to the sushi assembly cabinet, surrounded by bright, fresh slices of sashimi, crab sticks and egg rolls. Watching the staff expertly weave and slice sushi in front of you is very much part of the vibe of Sushi Hotaru.

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The chicken karaage roll was a special for the day. Deliciously crispy fried chicken protruded from the rolls and it was difficult not to grab 2 or 3 more of this moreish plate.

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Smoky, lightly flame-torched, salmon draped on tightly rolled roll containing cream cheese and crisp, refreshing cucumber.

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The bright red tuna was supple and the salty bursts of the tiny black roe made each mouthful beautifully balanced. The rice was sticky and slightly vinegar – just as it should be.

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The soft agedashi tofu gently swam in the sweet miso broth. The soft shell crab offered a crispy bite size pieces of perfectly deep fried crap. This dish was the highlight of our sushi-train commute.

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The scallop nigiri was lusciously juicy and plump, with a subtle creamy taste to follow.

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The only demise in our quest to devour all of the sushi was the mackerel which was on the rubbery side and compared to the previous nigiri, notably subdued in flavour.  This chewy texture, however, is to be expected with mackerel and is not a reflection on Sushi Hotaru.

For dessert, I was too full but J persisted and nabbed a black sesame mousse from the belt. Creamy, light and soft, the sesame mousse rounded off the meal.

Sushi Hotaru is the best, among the few remaining, sushi trains in Melbourne’s CBD. The line is well worth braving if you’re seeking a exemplary Japanese sushi train experience and is value for money. The two of us left quite full for only $38 including drinks and a single dessert. My tip is to visit early on the weekends, around 11.30am, if you wish to skip the queue.

Sushi Hotaru Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato