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.

Japan, Travel

Kyushujangara Harajukuten (Harajuku – Tokyo)

September 28, 2014

Pork bones and marrow, boiled until they yield a thick broth. Thickly cut slices of semi-caramelised pork belly with just the right amount of fat hanging off the tender meat as you pluck the pieces from the abundant broth with your chopsticks.  This is Kyushujangara Harajukuten.

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Kyushujangara Harajukuten, located a stones-throw from Harajuku Station or a short stroll from Shibuya, dishes out an incredibly generous tonkotsu, with ‘lots of toppings’  – salty cod roe, thick slices of pork belly, seaweed, bamboo, boiled egg and spring onions.  The ramen is on the slightly more expensive side at 1100 yen but oh-so worth it. To add to the unbelievable toppings, in front of you as you slurp is pickled spicy greens, garlic, ginger and various shakers filled with pepper, chilli and salt to add to your ramen as you please.

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This was the first ramen to touch my lips in Tokyo and it may have ruined me for all future ramen ventures. After eating ramen all over Japan, upon our return to Tokyo, we quickly returned to slurp up the tonkotsu ramen one last time. The pork is deliciously sweet, chewy and perhaps the best I have ever had. The salted cod roe added an incredibly salty kick which perfectly complimented the broth.  The noodles are not too soft, nor too hard. They are balanced perfectly textually and you can even have an unlimited refill for 150 yen.

If heaven exists and it has ramen, it would be exactly like this.

Japan, Travel

Lucky Owl Cafe – Osaka

September 24, 2014

There were few activities that were essential to my Japan bucket list. Other than devouring gratuitous amounts of food, the other two were;

  • Touch a deer in Nara
  • Bask in the presence of Owls whilst sipping on a weak iced coffee – the coffee part completely non-compulsory.

Fortunately, J puts up with my fixation with cats, foxes, deer and owls and doesn’t mind, or so he says, my dragging him around to audibly ‘awwww’ and tear up at the sight of these magnificent creatures. I should note that I am not someone who usually goes knee-weak for kawaii (check me out, ma, my Japanese is improving!) animals, objects, whatever – only the aforementioned species.

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One weekday afternoon, we visited Osaka’s Lucky Owl café, situated down a small arcade and up a rickety flight of stairs near Namba station, Osaka.

I was anxious about having to wait for my owl-time but we were ushered inside, immediately seated and explained the rules.  There is no entry fee at the Lucky Owl café, yet patrons are required to order an extortionately priced tea, coffee or juice (1000 yen) before ignoring your beverage completely in order to visit the owls around the small café space.

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The rules are pretty easy to follow; each owl has a coloured card associated with it:

  • Red – do not touch the owl
  • Yellow – it’s ok to lightly touch its beak, head and upper-back
  • Green – only gently touch the beak, preferably with the back of your hand

And absolutely no flash photography is allowed.

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Melbourne

Kong BBQ (Richmond)

September 2, 2014

Oh Melbourne, it’s becoming too hard to keep up with the awesome amount of Asian fusion restaurants popping up. Ever since our visits to Chin Chin, I have been drooling over whatever the Lucas Group does. Kong BBQ is the newest addition to the Lucas Group family. Arriving just before 12pm on a Tuesday and gloriously managing to secure seats, the small 60-seat restaurant quickly filled around us.

Kong BBQ dumplings

First to arrive were the Wagyu and Kimchi filled dumplings. While anything with both the words wagyu and dumplings in the one sentence felt like a no-brainer, these slippery suckers actually lacked complexity and perhaps went a bit soft on the kimchi.

In the background, the oriental bbq pit can be seen spluttering tall flames, filling the room with the scent of hot-coaled meaty goodness. Good things are to come.

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Melbourne

Pho Chu The (Springvale)

August 29, 2014

Oddly enough, we found ourselves on the other side of the river last weekend near Springvale. Hungry, tired and cold, pho was really a no-brainer for a cheap lunch. After securing a park after what seemed like forever, we took our grumbling bellies to the nearest pho place. Usually we would pour over urbanspoon, have a few heated discussions and then attempt to make a semi-informed lunch decision. We were far too hungry for extensive research so we settled on the first sign that hinted pho was near – Pho Chu The.

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We were promptly seated and shown menus. The menu here is quite a bit more extensive than your usual no-frills pho establishment and offers 3 tiers of pho sizes – small, medium and godzilla (aka large). I scoured the room for bowl sizes and decided that the large was probably far too much for even me to handle, however, I watched in awe as a dude meticulously devoured the entire bowl without even coming up for air.

I ordered the medium rare beef pho ($9) and Joe ordered a medium chicken and beef ($9). Joe can’t resist tacking on spring rolls to every pho meal we have so we hastily also ordered pork spring rolls and a couple of delicious, sickly-sweet, icy beverages in the form of lemon juice and coconut juice.

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Melbourne

Fukuryu Ramen (CBD)

August 21, 2014

“Slurp louder” J demanded as we slurped up our delcious tonkotsu ramen upstairs in Melbourne’s latest popular ramen establishment, Fukuryu Ramen. We are both heading to Japan very soon so we have been practicing our audible slurp technique – in Japan it’s considered rude not to slurp loudly. Cultural nuances aside, Fukuryu Ramen, located just off China town up an unassuming flight of stairs, has quickly achieved popularity.

We ordered 2 regular Tonkotsu Ramen and an obligatory side of chicken karaage (fried crumbed chicken for those playing at home) from the girl who had the genki-style service truly down-pat.

Inside Fukuryu Ramen

Inside Fukuryu Ramen

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Then the chicken karaage arrived in all of it’s crunchy, spicy glory.  These little morsels were accompanied by a healthy dose of shredded cabbage.

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