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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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


The Town Mouse (Carlton)

November 11, 2015

The Town Mouse is a prime example of a restaurant that is both the perfect setting for special occasions and also on the local’s radars for a quick wine pit stop accompanied by delectable small morsels. This balance is no easy feat to achieve, but the Town Mouse, with an interesting menu and cool setting, is leaps and bounds in front of the herd.

Directed by Head Chef Dave Verheul, the menu invites patrons to sample small concoctions of well-composed flavour profiles; goats cheese profiteroles dipped in sweet honey and brushed with caraway and thyme, for example. The mains are rich explorations into the frontiers of flavour, think; rich meats with hints of unassuming herbs. Chef George Tomlin, who deservedly was awarded Young Chef of The Year, is also a key contributor to the Town Mouse’s success.

Town Mouse Profiteroles

The shiny black-tiled interior of the Town Mouse oozes Carlton cool. The location on unassuming Drummond St, just rear of my favourite Melbourne cinema, Cinema Nova, and the outdoor seats that usually have locals enjoying conversations and drinks makes the Town Mouse so effortlessly hip.  It is worth securing a booking before visiting or you may be turned away from this popular destination. Alternatively, there are limited seats at the bar which is where I dined upon  my first visit.


To follow; beef tartare, cultured cream, saltbush & lemon myrtle. The beef was diced finely into juicy, salty cubes, and plunged into a hint of cultured cream rounded the potent raw beef flavour. I am honestly hesitant when it comes to ingesting forms of raw meat, but the flavour profile of the Town Mouse’s beef tartare was delicious distracting and stopped me second guessing what I was gleefully devouring.


pork hock town mouse

Next arrived the main affair; Pork hock, charred carrots, shallots, yeast & yoghurt and a vegetable main of fried chat potatoes, yuzu mayonnaise. The rich pork hock was marbled with delicious juices and the meat tenderly fell apart at the hint of a fork prong. The julienned carrots were charred to perfect. I highly recommended to scoop up the caramelised shallots, pork hock and carrots, swirl in some yeast and yoghurt and enjoy layers of sweet and savoury flavours.


It was a special occasion, and a Monday evening, so we promptly ordered 2 cocktails to begin. The drink that goes by the name Vice & Stormy features a coffee-spiked rum, imparting a smoky aftertaste after a light and refreshing medley of yuzu and bitters to begin.  The wine list is worth a mention too, with a selection of organic and biodynamic wine sourced from small providers. We enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine between meals.

The Town Mouse delivers everything I seek in a dining experience; deliciously interesting food, a well curated wine list, friendly and attentive service (with a good measure of wit) and a beautiful interior. Summer is on the horizon and the Town Mouse’s courtyard would be the perfect venue for a weeknight misadventure.

The Town Mouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


University Cafe (Carlton)

November 11, 2015

In 1971 I cooked spaghetti to live, and lived to cook spaghetti.- Murakami

I found myself in a Garfield mood – in that I was craving a meaty, cheesy lasagne. It is very rare that I will eat pasta at a restaurant and I generally try to avoid ordering something I could very easily conjure up at home.

On our search for a place that serves lasagne, we stumbled upon University Café. University Cafe on Lygon st is one of the better establishments on the strip and the lack of haranguing by spruikers is always a nice touch. Note Lygon St Restaurants: harassing prospective patrons to dine at your restaurant, unsurprisingly, has the opposite effect.


The lasagne arrived in the form of layers of melty beef, cheese and soft, indulgent layers of pasta sheets. Large shavings of sharp parmesan melted into the top layer and it was exactly the decadent Italian dish my tastebuds were seeking. The dish left a very hungry me quite satisfied.


Across the table, a large serve Penne Telefono was being devoured. The penne was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce was subtle but tasty, with delicious hints of pork sausage. A sparing application of parmesan rounded the medley of these traditional Italian traditional flavours. The servings at University Café are on the larger side – my advice is to arrive ravenous.

The orange aperitif’s were delightfully refreshing on a balmy November evening. The service was attentive and friendly, with only a few other tables occupied this late in the evening on a Sunday. Having undergone a recent revamp, the interior and exterior is looking much better than the previous incarnation.

I will definitely return to University Cafe when the lasagne cravings set in again.

University Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Market Lane Coffee (Carlton)

November 11, 2015

 So give me Coffee and TV – Damon Albarn


Caffeine is my life force, my faithful friend and enabler. My favourite method of consumption is in the form of a perfectly orchestrated flat white. Market Lane supplies all the beans at my workplace (I know, lucky me!) Their respect for the bean is without match and the founders have an intense interest in knowing the families and stories behind their coffee sources.

The Faraday St store is where I sampled my first deep, creamy Market Lane flat white. A small, cosy room houses a large espresso machine that is constantly churning early Friday morning. I would usually opt for a skinny flat white but skim milk is not used at Market Lane. The reason? It is impossible to brew the creamiest of creamy lattes with watered down milk, and as a matter of principle, Market Lane offers only the best, decadent coffee experience.

Sipping a seasonal Espresso Blend, my morning flat white was thick, filling and the beans penetrated with notes of of dark chocolate, orange & caramel.

Do yourself a favour and get your morning brew from the friendly and passionate folk at Market Lane.

Market Lane Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Ramen Misoya Sake Bar (Brunswick)

November 2, 2015

“Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.” ― Haruki Murakami 

Ramen Misoya Sake Bar in Brunswick piqued my interest due to being one of the only ramen outlets in the northern suburbs. Offering flavourful chicken broth based ramen, Misoya’s menu is clearly intended for sipping sake alongside, with an emphasis on small bite-style eating.


We opted to sample their ramen. Misoya has options for single, double and triple ramen, in order of increasing toppings of cabbage and bean shoots. Misoya also offers additional toppings such as a soy egg or garlic and chilli oil, however, I personally uphold that condiments should be available on a ‘fire at will’ basis on the dining table, not for an additional $1 for an arbitrary dosage of garlic.


Nevertheless, I opted for the double ramen ($14) with a single dose of garlic oil and chilli (level 1- $1). Misoya responded by plonking a steamy bowl of unexpectedly spicy, complex broth. The noodles maintained their perfect chewy consistency throughout the slurp-fest – another massive tick.


Next to me, a big bowl of single ramen, with an extra of chicken karaage seemed to hit the spot.

Misoya is a viable ramen option when scratching that ramen itch in the North. Paired with a warm glass of sake on a cool Melbourne eve would be an ideal way to cure the cold.

Ramen Misoya Sake Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Mamasita (CBD)

October 31, 2015

I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.- Frida Kahlo

Mamasita emerged well before the Mexican-wave that washed over the Melbourne dining scene in 2011. The narrow stairway clutters with hopeful, hungry-eyed patrons every evening, however, lunchtime it is far easier to secure a spot.

Mamasita offers an array of impressive lunch specials.Upon my last visit, I opted for their “Today’s Protein” . On that particular day the protein plate arrived in the form of delicious pork meatballs served with beans, greened rice & tortillas. The balls were soft, juicy orbs of flavour and when latched onto between the soft tortillas with a cheeky splash of hot sauce, my mouth entered flavour-town.

The delicious medley of homely bonafide Mexican for a meagre $15 went down a treat. And of course, paired with Mamasita’s sublime sangria, one cannot go wrong.

Upon my return to Mamasita for lunch, my dining partner opted for the protein of the day plate – this time a white chorizo. What is a white chorizo, you may ask? Is it chicken? Is it pork? Our collective minds actually couldn’t figure it out but it was reportedly delightful.Jpeg
This time round, I opted for the Ahogada con pollo. A scrumptious jumble of barbecued chicken & blackbean sandwiched between a soft long roll. The sandwich rests in arbol tomato salsa, with dashed of pickled onions and coriander atop for a potent kick. The gooeyness of the bread drowned in the arbol salsa balanced with the faintly charred chicken perfectly. A very, very decent lunchtime meal for only $12.

Mamasita goes from strength to strength and their level of service is another of the restaurants strengths. Despite being brimming with lunch-goers, the meals came out in a timely manner and it was never difficult to get the attention of a friendly waiter.Mamasita has outlasted Melbourne’s Mexican wave and for good reason; it is genuinely the best Mexican you can gnaw on in Melbourne’s CBD.

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

Japan, Travel

Mandarin Oriental Molecular Bar

September 19, 2015

“For a long time, she held a special place in my heart. I kept this special place just for her, like a “Reserved” sign on a quiet corner table in a restaurant. Despite the fact that I was sure I’d never see her again.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

This is a bitter-sweet review in that, deep inside, I concede that no dining experience may ever come close to what I experienced during that rainy Bladerunner-esque evening in Tokyo. The evening began by sipping cocktails overlooking the never-ending Tokyo skyline, smoking long Vogue cigarettes in the grandest of grand, Grand Mandarin Oriental. Indoor water features calmed the soul with the sound of moving water, purring in my ears alongside jazz tunes. The view overlooking the seemingly endless Tokyo skyline stirred feelings of awe and helplessness at my own tiny occupied space compared to vast Tokyo. Beautiful.

10632755_10153419275820942_3545945792796076958_nThere are only a lucky 7 seats available each evening for the molecular degustation – and two seatings. As we were seated alongside one another, nervous excitement filled the room. A small black tool box lay in front of me, containing inside small implements and a measuring tape. When unraveled, the measuring tape contained the nights menu.

I am a devotee of the old adage; a photo is worth 1000 words. For this reason, I won’t be writing in detail of what occurred that evening. I truly believe this is something one can only experience. Even after 1 year, I still find myself mystified of what unravelled in front of my eyes…

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400 Gradi (East Brunswick)

September 14, 2015

“I think of dieting, then I eat pizza” – Lara Stone


As a general rule of dining, I do not get my hopes up. Or at the very least I try to avoid entering a restaurant with high expectations. Heralded as the world’s best margherita, ever-lively 400 Gradi has definitely benefited from the publicity. We entered on a Saturday, without a booking and with crossed-fingers. We soon were offered a seat at the bar area. We ordered a zucchini flower stuffed with feta to share. A crispy, delectably crunchy morsel arrived with a centre filled with dense, soft feta cheese. I could probably have devoured 30 of these tasty flowers.


400 Gradi uses Sam Marzano tomatoes for their pizza, a tomato that was labelled “the most important industrial tomato of the 20th century”. Sam Marzano tomatoes are stronger, sweeter and less acidic – making them the perfect contender for the perfect pizza.

400GRADICaserta ; San Marzano tomato, buffalo, mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, -18 months, and a foothill of rocket. The crust was an exquisitely chewy experience. The thin base, however, amassed into a soft, soggy, hot mess. This is the type of pizza that required the use of a fork and a knife. The toppings were expectedly prime quality, with the 18 month thinly sliced prosciutto having a robust, sharp taste that merely comes from being skilfully aged and the buffalo and mozzarella cheeses pleasantly adding chewiness without being overshadowing.

Capricciosa 400 gradi

Capricciosa San Marzano tomato, Fior di latte, prosciutto cotto (leg ham), mushrooms, artichokes and olives. The Capricciosa base had lost all form due to the creamy Fior di latte meddling in with the sweet San Marzano tomato base. The scattered olives and hints of zingy artichoke balanced the generous shavings of primo leg ham. The toppings were superb and the only hindrance was that they weren’t perched onto a crispier thin base, instead becoming a homogenous jumble of base and topping by the end of the meal.

As we were about to leave, multiple pizza chefs from the kitchen filed in performing physics-defying dough tricks to the apparent glee of everyone in the restaurant. For about 10 minutes there was a period of clapping, cheering and dough stunts. A surprisingly, perplexing and enjoyable bonus.


400 Gradi has an extensive drink selection, with J opting for the spritzer special of the day and myself a Prosecco. Both being very uncharacteristic choices to our usual rouge vino, we both enjoyed the lightness of the drinks. It would be worthwhile visiting 400 Gradi for a cheeky drink after work and sharing a pizza by the bar.
I did enjoy my meal at 400 Gradi. Perhaps living in Carlton has caused me to become a pizza snob, but the winner of the world’s best left a lot to be desired. For the price point and the quality, I honestly do believe there are better contenders to cure a hunger for a slice of Italy.

400 Gradi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Gami Chicken & Beer (CBD)

September 7, 2015

“In Louisiana, one of the five stages of grief is eating your weight in fried chicken.” ~ Ken Wheaton

Not many people know this, but the history of fried chicken dates back beyond antiquity into the realm of Greek mythology. The story goes that Apollo, coming down off the tail-end of an epic wine bender, accidentally invented the dish during a drunken cooking competition with Ares, who had been loudly proclaiming all weekend that he could “cook all you noobs under the goddamn table.” People were starting to leave and even Hades agreed that Ares was being “a bit more of a dick than usual”, so Apollo set about creating something unforgettably tasty for gods and humans alike.

Presiding over the competition, Athena deemed Apollo’s chicken as the victor and the party raged on. However, fearing the flawed nature of man, Zeus took the recipe and hid it in the fires of Mount Olympus where it would be safe and uncorrupted. Apollo was too high to remember the ingredients, so the recipe was lost for thousands of years until a young Colonel Sanders stole it on a dare for a mate who was “having mad cravings for something crispy and salty.”

This is also why the Spanish word for chicken is “pollo”, after Apollo.

Ok, so none of this happened, but at least we can all agree that fried chicken is really great. Right? Food of the gods, or something.

Gami Chicken & Beer has been succeeding quietly for a few years now, with its succulent piles of chicken attracting droves of enthusiastic diners to each of its four locations around Melbourne. It makes perfect sense, really, when you consider the influx of American cuisine to a local scene blossoming with a new and welcome breed of Korean restaurants. When you add in convenient takeaway and home delivery (GASP!), it’s a perfect storm for success.

This might also have something to do with the fact that I found myself eating there twice in one week.

In short, Gami fries a great chicken. The simple menu offers the choice of regular or boneless chicken, four different flavour options and a tidy selection of side dishes and alcoholic beverages.

…aaaaaand the Soy Garlic flavour option (pictured above) is the kind of thing that tastes so good you see people making that near-orgasm face when it first hits their palate. This was recommended by a friend as the best of the sauce-quartet and I have to say it’s a position I emphatically endorse; the sticky sauce coating clings to the chicken without compromising the crispness of the coating beneath, causing everything to gel into a holy harmony of salt, texture and sweetness.

If you’re in the mood for sides, there’s also the evocatively named Corn Cheese: a seductive skillet of buttery corn, mozzarella, mayo and a sprinkling of herbs that bears a passing resemblance to the classic mac and cheese. Basically the kind of dish I want to shrink myself down for, construct a rudimentary diving board and just dive into that thing like the dude from Assassin’s Creed.

Simplicity aside, it’s a dish that gives an interesting insight into the evolution of post-war Korean food and an exciting taste of a cuisine that a lot of people aren’t especially intimate with.

Of course, a trip to Gami wouldn’t be complete for me without a bottle of Maehwasu; a cheeky little plum liquor that looks cute from the outside but actually has an alcohol content to be reckoned with. It’s really heartening to see the Korean and Japanese tastes for plum popping up here at home.

Gami is well worth a visit if you’re after something that is both new and familiar at once. Maybe they’ve got a little bit of Olympus fire hidden away at the back of the kitchen, or maybe they just know how to make damn fine KFC.

Whatever the case, you should let the chicken seduce you.

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Burma Lane (CBD)

September 1, 2015

“I took the next seat at the bar and ordered a scotch on the rocks. The bartender asked me what kind of scotch I’d like, and I answered Cutty Sark. I really didn’t care which brand of scotch he served me, but Cutty Sark was the first thing that came to mind.”- Haruki Murakami

Burma Lane, situated down Little Collins St, boasts high ceilings adorned by bird cages, dim lights and a beautiful mural of Aung San Suu Kyi. At the moment Burma Lane are offering cheap date Mondays, that is, 2 for 1 banquets. Having devoured a Burma Banquet I zealously returned to do it all over again. I quickly ordered a Cutty Sark Whisky – straight for warmth and their $69 banquet to accompany my drink.

BURMA LANE Potato cake
Two betel leaves soon arrived, topped with smashed fish with chilli, lime, herbs and a certain crunchy something. These bite-sized morsels were a flavourful introduction to what was soon to come.

The Potato & Spicy Shredded Lamb Cakes, served with a mint-riddled yoghurt may have been the highlight of the evening. A crispy shell gave way to a mix of soft potato and rich, melty shredded lamb.

Burma Lane Salad
The Fish salad was unexpectedly amazing. Served with lemongrass, crispy shallots, dashes of chilli and 2 types of mint was almost overpowered by flavour. Almost. If I had any criticism of this dish, it would be that they held off on the chilli too much, a noticeable theme throughout the evening was the lack of spice. However, this is just a personal gripe.

BURMA LANE chicken
How good is fried chicken? This is merely a rhetorical question – especially when it is coated with a crunchy, spicy breading. Two massive chicken wings were plonked on a bed of Burmese slaw, with a cheeky dollop of tart sweet chilli sauce.

BURMA LANE banquet
The following three dishes arrived together, each competing for space in my stomach. The Rangoon Mohinga with it’s delicate rice noodles, wrapped around turmeric rockling. The zesty lemongrass broth smoothed the flavour profile and the addition of a yolky egg is always pleasing.
The Tea Leaf salad was the highlight of my last sojourn with Burma Lane. The tea leaves are pickled so that they have a certain piquancy, reminiscent almost of blue cheese. The wilted pickled leaves are stabilised by the generous mix of crunchy shallots, broad beans, sesame seeds and peanuts. The addition of tomato adds a subtle sweetness to this salad dish. Whilst I do not usually make friends with salad, I would happily become form a blood pact with this one.

burma lane beef curry
The beef short ribs, braised with turmeric and lemongrass, did not require the use of a knife – it easily surrendered to my fork, falling apart in that melt-in-your-mouth manner.

BURMA LANE semifreddo rhubarb

We were assured by the friendly waitress that dessert would be on the lighter side. I was unsure I could fit it in, but my second stomach decided to take on the challenge. A pretty pink rhubarb semifreddo with a tart rhubarb fondant, clotted vanilla cream and crispy puffed wild rice was plonked in front of us. The texture of the semifreddo was refreshingly creamy and the perfect way to reset the palate after the journey of Burmese flavours.

Burma Lane is an enjoyable foray into Burmese fusion, something that has not yet been overbaked in Melbourne’s dining scene.

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