Melbourne

Co Do (Richmond)

November 17, 2014

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Co Do is where J and I slurped our first bowl of pho back when we were still in the early stages of gawkily trying to impress each other. Less than a year later, we were sitting on small plastic stools in the streets of Hanoi enjoying early morning breakfast pho. If there’s any culinary motif in our relationship, it’s probably pho.

A self-inflicted Sunday hangover beckoned a large, herby bowl of pho so it was off to Co Do because sub-par pho was not going to slay this dragon. By time we arrived, Co Do was packed to the brim but we managed to squeeze in next to a family.

We both ordered chicken & beef regular pho, coconut juice and a requisite side order of prawn spring rolls.
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The spring rolls arrived before the pho – hot, crunchy. Impeccable timing meant that by time our bowls arrived, the spring rolls had reached a temperature that wasn’t going to cause 3rd degree mouth-burns. The spring rolls were the perfect tool to infuse in the broth without losing their crunch.

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The broth was beautifully herby, with overtones of beef bones and marrow and undertones of star anise and toasted cumin. A mountain of fresh Thai basil, mint, and crunchy beansprouts was plonked in between us, which perfectly balanced out the deeper beef flavour of the broth. A squeeze of lemon rounded the broth. The meat was plentiful, with beautiful thin slices of rare beef and generous slices of chicken. The rice noodles were al dente before becoming slightly softer during the pho-fest.

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The coconut juice was your standard sweet young coconut juice with massive squares of coconut flesh – the perfect confidant to a salty broth.

Co Do is perhaps my favourite pho restaurant on Victoria St and not just for sentimental reasons. J actually had his first bowl of pho here about 10 years ago so it has more than stood the test of time. It is well worth the drive and enduring the nightmarish parking plight to feast upon a bowl of pho at Co Do.

Co Do on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

Melba Restaurant – The Langham (CBD)

November 16, 2014

To ring in my turning a quarter of a century old, it was only fitting to visit Melbourne’s most lavish buffet, Melba, before my metabolism decides to give up for good. Melba is housed in the luxurious Langham Hotel up the grandiose staircase. Melba is parts opulent and an equal measure of kitsch (I can never work out which it was at any given time).

Pre-gorgefest

Pre-gorgefest


As we sat down I was told that due to my allergies that instead of a complimentary cupcake I could opt for a glass of wine, which was much better option is given the amount of cakes already populating the buffet adjacent to the glistening Lindt chocolate fountain. Drool.
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First I visited the roast station – pork belly, duck pancakes and other goodies soon found their way on to the plate. The chefs are actually stationed so that they can slice off cuts of roast fresh and you can watch the duck pancakes being proficiently assembled.
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In the far corner, a woman was slicing up sashimi to order. I ordered some unagi and some tuna. The sashimi was just ok and despite being freshly cut didn’t have the freshness quality that I look for in sushi.
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The Indian station was surprisingly the highlight of the night. Naan to order, with garlic, cheese or MnM as examples of some of the additions you could choose as it’s whipped in and out of the tandoor by one of the chefs. J was brave enough to order an mnm naan, which I was convinced would be all novelty and no taste but the combination of melty chocolate in soft breading was nothing less than hedonistic pleasure. I might add that he also swung over to the icecream station for a scoop to melt slowly into the naan. I sampled two of the curries – the pork belly and the beef. The pork belly curry was sensational, with the meat almost dissolving in a sea of spice.
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The seafood, which is obviously one of the drawcards of Melba, was situated in the centre. Crab claws, king prawns galore. Whilst tasty, the deshelling of prawns and crab claws can get tiresome even with the large bucket and wash dish on each table. The seafood, alike the sushi, was not as fresh as I had hoped.
*Deep breath* So yes, I did continue to eat. I ate some desserty things and I also visited the cheese station. As a self-confessed caseophile, it was hard to prevent myself from devouring the entire station. Blue, brie and all the usual suspects could be found as well as some quince and crackers.
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The salad station was, well, it contained salad. The salads weren’t anything life-changing but there was a slab of sliced smoked salmon in olive oil and dill.
We left feeling stupidly full and like our sides were about to unravel. Melba is a good place to visit at least once. I’m not sure whether we will be returning – perhaps for a special occasion. I’m also pretty sure we got charged for the ‘complimentary’ glass of wine but I didn’t want to make a fuss so we ended up just paying the bill and waddled out.

Melba on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

Jack And Daisy (Pascoe Vale)

November 6, 2014

I hardly ever venture back to my childhood stomping ground in search of culinary delights. It’s not that the far north doesn’t have fantastic offerings – it’s just that I have too much damn good cafes to get through in my immediate area before I can even start to contemplate other ‘burbs’. The high Urbanspoon rating of Jack and Daisy combined with my best friend moving nearby meant that patronising this popular Pascoe Vale café was pure fate.

Arriving on a Saturday morning, the café was bursting with those seeking refuge post-workout and families brunching. Luckily my friend had managed to nab a table in the corner. The tables, however, are packed in tightly to cater for the popularity.

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Service was quick, friendly and to the point with my chai latte order being taken and delivered so quickly that I am convinced they have a TARDIS kitchen which defies some sort of space/time logic.

I know I’m a predictable snorefest when it comes to brunch menus, but I can’t resist fritters – so guess what I ordered? The corn fritters – with a side of trout and a perfectly gooey poached egg. Bf ordered scrambled eggs with a side of bacon. One thing became apparent as soon as the colossal dishes hit the table – we were going to need more stomach real estate. BF’s plate was overthrown by scrambled eggs and bacon (not that she was complaining).

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My teetering fritter tower and soaked up the goopey insides of the poached egg. Paired with the fresh trout and it was a marriage of flavour profiles.

Jack and Daisy is clearly ticking all the right boxes when it comes to operating a café. The staff, despite being run off their feet, still make the time to smile and deliver impeccable service. The fare is scrumptious, plentiful and just the right price. If I happen to be in the area , I will definitely be making at least a coffee pit stop.

Jack & Daisy on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

Two Birds One Stone (South Yarra)

October 22, 2014

Two Birds One Stone is one of those on-trend cafes where you feel unhip as soon as you enter the wide open space which is lit by no less than 5 different types of un-shaded light globes floating above the small tables. The space has soaring high ceilings, beautiful décor and a few booths looming on the far wall for groups.
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Once seated, the cheery waitress asked for our drink preference and within a few beats, a deep, smooth flat white was hitting my lips and Joe was gleefully sipping on his usual chai latte. The menu at Two Birds presents so many interesting interpretations on the usual brunch and lunch suspects and I struggled to make a decision – especially seeing as it was the time of day where it could either be lunch or brunch. The smashed avocado was hard to pass up but only on the premise that I would be able to steal a few bites of the rueben ordered across the way.

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Mountains of smashed avocado containing lumps of feta, sprinkles of dill, bursts of capers and shallots atop of two well-toasted pieces of bread. I added an extra poached egg -what’s breakfast without a goopey yolk escaping over my toast? The avocado and feta stack was deliciously abundant and fresh, however, the toast was hard – like really hard. My flimsy butter knife could not wield enough power to break through the impenetrable crust, and as such I was reduced to just eating forkfuls of avocado and feta. Whilst forkfuls of avocado and feta are a recipe for delicious – the texture does get a bit tediously creamy after a while. If only my toast had not been so hard to chew, the dish would have been perfectly balanced.

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The reuben was the real highlight at Two Birds, containing; sauerkraut, sweet corned beef, seeded mustard, swiss cheese wedged between two buttery pieces of rye toast. Chewy, sweet and slightly sour – the reuben at Two Birds, One Stone may have been one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten, playfully harmonising sweet and sour.

I would revisit Two Birds, One Stone again in order to sample the rest of their fascinating menu, although, it is worth the trip to the other side of the Yarra to just gnaw on the sweet,sweet reuben again.

Two Birds One Stone on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

The Village Bakery (Brunswick)

October 21, 2014

Life without pastries is a terrible thing. Fortunately, living near Carlton, I’m never short of places to acquire sugar and butter to keep myself from weeping over the Melbourne cold. Last Sunday I ventured over to West Brunswick to visit The Village Bakery, led by the mutterings on Urbanspoon which sang praises about the cakes, tarts and donuts on offer.

The Village Bakery has a frontage that you could easily just pass-by. However, to do so without purchasing some sweet treats or a freshly baked loaf of bread would be a huge mistake. The interior is charming, with cohorts of bread pouring over the counter and a constant flow of early morning patrons ooh-ing and ahh-ing and deciding what to choose from the expansive selection. Despite as pointing at each shiny sugary treat and asking “ and what is this?” the friendly girl serving me was happy to spout off the fillings of the donuts, the contents of the cakes and the types of croissant on offer. I left the bakery with a box containing four treats to share.
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First to be gorged upon was a large flakey croissant. The croissant was airy with a crisp outer crust, best served with a cheeky slice of smoked cheese and toasted momentarily under a hot filament with a freshly brewed coffee. Sunday morning bliss.

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A lemon tart had my name on it. Playful tangy lemon centre encased in a soft buttery shell – this was devoured in two enthusiastic bites. It was the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

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I also chose a custard filled donut. Thick, sweet custard injected into a soft donut doused with sugar. At a paltry $2.40, I couldn’t resist buying a jam donut to relive my primary schools day of having bright red jam and sugar smothered around my mouth in the afternoon pretending to be the Joker.

Buy a donut filled with thick, creamy custard from The Village Bakery and die happy.

The Village Bakery on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

DonToo (CBD)

October 19, 2014

While DonToo pretty much offers a carbon copy menu of it’s sister restaurant, Don Don, further down Little Lonsdale St, by night it offers a ramen-only menu. The ramen menu at DonToo has a few interesting additions;  a napoli ramen (?!) and a charshu laksa for those who are feeling a bit more adventurous in their slurping adventures. However, J and I both agreed that the charshu ramen was the one to try, with promises of succulent sliced pork and homemade noodles impossible to resist on a bone-chilling Melbourne eve.

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We quickly filled out the given order card – here you are also given the choice of 250g or 300g of noodles.  2-ticks to the 300g box and a couple of sakes and we were ready to devour yet another bowl of ramen.

Chashu Ramen ($11)

Charshu Ramen ($11)

We visited DonToo on a relatively quiet Wednesday evening, however, our ramen seemed to take some time to come out. Wait times more than a blink-of-the-eye are unheard of when dining at any of the Don’s – so perhaps we just caught them on a bad night. Our warmed sake arrived and after a small but bearable wait, two overflowing, steaming bowls of ramen were plonked down onto our narrow triangular table. The charshu ramen beamed with glistening layers of melty pork, hiding under it an arsenal of chewy homemade noodles. The ramen noodles were slightly thicker than what I’m accustomed too but were such a pleasure to chew through. Despite the noodles having the perfect hardness, 300g was a struggle for me to get through and I would advise only the super ravenous to check that box. The broth was a delicious pork based broth with loads of bouncey cabbage,spring onion and beansprouts scattered throughout it. This ramen was worth waiting for.

Charshu Ramen ($11)

Charshu Ramen ($11)

The soft-boiled eggs were gorgeously goopy in the centre. The delicate yolk escaped into the broth the moment my chopstick tipped its thinly set exterior – bliss. DonToo offers small pots of garlic, chilli and pepper at the counter.  I am certain I have made my condiment obsession appreciation no secret and a large helping of garlic and chilli really elevated the charshu ramen broth into one of the best in recent memory.

DonToo churns out some of the best, cheap ramen I have had in Melbourne. I really want to revisit again soon to try some of their other ramen offerings – especially the Tsukemen (chilled ramen) which would be perfect for a balmy summer night.
DonToo on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

Tibas (Brunswick)

October 13, 2014

The meals at Tibas are delicious and served in colossally generous portions.  The ambiance here is cheap and cheerful, perhaps more cheap than it is cheerful.  It is 100% alcohol free and halal, but do not be deterred by this fact. During peak lunch and dinner times, seating can become packed, so arrive early or be prepared to scramble for a table. The first time I ate at Tibas we made the rookie mistake of ordering a mixed grill each.  Yes each. While some persevered until their side-seams had become unravelled, we all eventually admitted defeat.

We visited Tibas as a group on a Saturday night.  Most went for the good ol’ faithful mixed grill, some of us even bold enough to opt for an entire one.  The mixed grill arrived on a plate fit for a mammoth-sized hunger  – chicken and lamb shawarma, tabouleh, hummus, yoghurt, garden salad, rice, lamb cutlet, sausage and skewer.

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The chicken was smoky, tender and juicy. The lamb, newly shaved off the impressive spit located behind the front counter, was drool-worthy – especially when enveloped in some of the generous savoury Lebanese bread with hummus, yoghurt dip and lashings tabouleh. Drool. The brightly pickled turnips added a burst of freshness to the small parcels of makeshift mini-wraps.  The tabouleh usually is right on the zesty mark, however, that night the tabouleh was seemingly drowned in vinegar. The garden salad seemed to have suffered a similar fate but we didn’t visit Tibas to dwell on salad.

The bright red sausage that is some parts sour and some parts spicy always seems to divide people. I personally love it, but a few at the table weren’t too impressed with the blood-like texture.  The cutlet was fall-off-the-bone tasty (it’s a shame you only get one in a platter) and the moist lamb skewer was dense and spicy.

J and I went for the Tibas House special – to share. “Sharing is caring” assured the friendly waiter. It may have even been too much food for us both, but at $30, it’s an extremely cheap eat for the bountiful food that was laid before us. The House Special basically contains everything in the mixed grill, plus some welcome additions.

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The freshly fried felafel was delectable hiding its soft interior by a thin layer of crunch.  Accompanying the platter were 3 tight cigars of vine leaves stuffed with rice with hints of lemon and oil. The Tibas House special also comes with a bonus dip to accompany the hummus and yoghurt – a thick and creamy eggplant dip.

The cheese pie featured a gooey, warm cheese centre under a soft, bouncy layer of bread. The meat pie was similar but contained minced lamb with a mixture of spices. These little parcels would make for great portable fare if you are in the area but not mammoth-ly hungry.

As I paid the bill, I couldn’t help but notice the honey-drenched nutty pastries, plump Turkish delights and assorted cakes all located atop of the counter. Unfortunately I was of the mindset that I could never, may never, have to eat ever again.

Tibas has been my long-time go-to for plentiful takeaway when I have arrived home from work and flipped the bird at my cupboards contents (usually a dismal collection of peanut butter, crackers and condiments).   It is also a great restaurant to share a hearty Lebanese meal between friends.  Unfortunately they don’t deliver but can takeaway orders never take long and soon enough you’re sent on your merry way with a cheap bag full of meat, dips, salads and bread.

Tiba's Lebanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Melbourne

Baker D Chirico (Carlton)

October 12, 2014

Waking up on a Sunday, sourcing sweet pastries has become somewhat of a ritual in this household. I say ritual, but what I really mean is that we have woken up two weeks in a row on a Sunday and decided to stuff ourselves to the brim with pastries, cakes and croissants. Today’s chosen bakery was Baker D Chirico in Carlton – the one with the trendy wood-honeycomb interior and the smells of freshly baked sourdough wafting under the door. We had be meaning to try this place ever since we heard they sold bombalone.

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2  charming mushroom and cheese brioche thingies and 2 danishes, one apple and one berry, were retrieved and brought back home for a easy brunch.  The mushroom and cheese brioche was a charmingly sweet and savoury. The mushrooms were juicy and the cheese was perfectly understated. The Apple danish contained slivers of sugary apple, enveloped in - fresh, light and flakey pastry. Every bite was a revelation (and probably one step closer to diabetes!)

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The cherry danish was definitely my favourite. The pastry was identical to the apple danish but the filling was a gooey,sweet cherry mess. I will definitely be returning to sample the bread that receives so many rave reviews.
Baker D Chirico Carlton on Urbanspoon

Japan, Travel

Pork Katsu in Harajuku – Tonkatsu Shotaro (Tokyo)

October 12, 2014

We were in the mood for some pork enveloped in layers of crumbly panko so we ventured down Harajuku’s famous Takeshita st to Shotaro,  a cosy restaurant that specialises in tonkatsu.

Our grasp on the Japanese language is dismal at best, but luckily we were able to point at pictorial menus. Despite not fully knowing what we ordered during our brief time in Japan (lots o’ pointing and confusion usually followed the ordering process) we are relieved to admit that we never once had a bad meal. Not once. A small victory for any traveller, certainly, but we are also convinced that we may have also ingested some form of animal penis at one point in Osaka.  The joys of mystery 300 yen meals….

I digress.  We ordered, or rather hopelessly pointed at, two dishes from the short menu, all of which mostly contained some variation of tokatsu. I had the tonkotsu with rice, and egg and Joe received a tonkotsu set with miso on the side.  The adjacent tables containing Japanese downing steins of beer and sharing portions of tonkatsu gave me good vibes.

Rice bowl Tonkatsu

Rice bowl Tonkatsu

The interior

The interior

Tonkatsu Set

Tonkatsu Set

Miso Soup

Miso Soup

Quickly, our meals arrived. The pork was perfectly tender but the real life-affirming facet of this meal was the crumbing. Thick, yet delicate panko crumbing absorbed the sweet katsu sauce we poured with glee over our meals.  In hindsight, I don’t know what type of wizardly allows for such thick, yet soft crumbing technique – but it may have been the best slab of pork to ever have entered my mouth hole.  Accompanied with a spoonful of rice and egg – it was perfect.

Do yourself a favour and marvel at the panko crumbed tonkatsu at Shotoro in Harajuku – you will not regret it!

Japan, Travel

Afuri Ramen (Harajuku – Tokyo)

September 28, 2014

Fact: Tokyo has over 20,000 ramen restaurants currently operating.  That means that if you were to sample one ramen restaurant in Tokyo, each day, it would take over 56 years to slurp your way through Tokyo’s ramen offerings.  We actually did eat ramen every single day in Tokyo – and whilst I am in avid opposition to eating the same thing twice on consecutive days – there’s just too much deliciousness on this planet to restrict oneself to a single cuisine, let alone a single dish – I feel that the ramen in Tokyo is so varied that it is almost impossible to compare any two ramen that we devoured during our trip.

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Afuri Ramen is unlike any ramen I have ever read about or tasted.  A far-cry from the hearty ramen I was frequently exposed to, Afuri offers a curiously zesty take on Tokyo’s favourite noodle dish.

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Afuri uses the vending machine ordering process – order at the vending machine whilst awkwardly trying to decipher what each button does, pay the machine and present the ticket to the guy behind the counter.  Having done this, J ended up with a cold ramen dish, with dipping noodles and a side of charcoal pork. I, drawn like a moth to the light, pressed the button declaring ‘spicy’, not knowing what I was really in for.

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Watching the Afuri staff meticulously prepare ramen is an amusing show of skill. They tweezer out bits of lemon zest , seaweed and other toppings with practiced precision. The noodles are flung expertly out of the boiling water and shaken with ruthless force to remove any remnants of water.

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Soon, a large, steamy, bowl of zesty ramen arrived. It was spicy, but nothing that really required a spicy warning label in my books, however, I have undoubtedly nuked my tongue with spice so it may be too much for some to handle. My bowl of ramen contained a delicate, well-crafted broth, with hints of lemon, spice and sprinkled with sesame.  The dish adjacent to me on the counter was a pleasingly cold, lemony ramen that would be impeccable ramen for a hot summer’s day.  The noodles were cooked to textual perfection, offering the right amount of chew.

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Passing by almost on a daily basis, I noticed that Afuri usually has quite the line congregating in front of its small frontage in Harajuku,  and for good reason. It’s an entirely fresh take on ramen that I would highly recommend visiting if you’re in search of an entirely different ramen experience that will leave you questioning what ramen actually means.