Melbourne

Tiamo (Carlton)

October 28, 2016

“If I start feeling down I’ll gorge myself on pasta. That usually does the trick. It’s the Italian blood in me.” –  Natalie Imbruglia

Tiamo, Ti amo. Tiamo is considered an Italian institution on Lygon St, offering respite from the vexatious spruikers and tourist trap restaurants located on the south end. Here you know you are in good hands when the wine is poured into short tumblers and is poured in doses of 500ml.

Being one of the few restaurants on Lygon St that lures its patrons back, a pack of hungry table-waiters can usually be found out the front. Thankfully there are two Tiamo branded restaurants side-by-side which offer similar, if not the same, menu options.

We immediately scored a seat out the front just before 6pm on a Friday night, so it is worth swinging by early. We ordered a carafe of Cabernet Sauvignon which arrived in the form of a crisp red.

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Across the way, I was suffering food envy with the mountain of beef sauce proudly sitting atop several delicate layers of creamy béchamel and bolognaise sauce. With addition of copious amounts of parmesan cheese, this was the epitome of comfort food and perfect for a dreary, chilly evening.

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In front of me, there was a wonderful entanglement of pasta, eggplant and small, garlic-laden meatballs. The Maccheroni della Zia was so flavourful. I am not usually one to order pasta when I eat out because I like to think I am fairly accomplished in pasta-cooking, however, if I was going to order any pasta dish, it would have to be this. The meatballs were so moist and the large cylinders of pasta was perfectly al-dente. Using the crunchy garlic bread to mop up the remnants of Napoli sauce was exactly the Italian experience I yearned for.

Tiamo is bustling, and it is bustling for several reasons. The food here is delicious, the service quick and the people watching on this end of Lygon St is unbeatable. Pro-tip; If your wine isn’t being served in tumblers like proper nonna-style, go to Tiamos.

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

Melbourne

Rice, Paper, Scissors (CBD)

August 20, 2016

“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.” –  Mitch Hedberg

Rice, Paper, Scissors has perfected the humble approach to shared fare and invigorating cocktails.  Pull up a stool at the bar and peruse the one-page menu which is intended to be shared over conversation and  between sips of their Vietnamese inspired boozy concoctions.

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Rice, Paper, Scissors offers 5 dishes for $59 – a very cost effective way to sample the menu. First up arrived the Crying Tiger – beef wagyu, chunky relish and a tart dipping sauce. Messily enveloped in the crisp lettuce leaves and then dunked into the sauce made for maximum enjoyment of the melty wagyu beef.

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Next up were the Galloping Horses to keep in the theme of animal-named dishes. Sweet, caramelised, sticky pork and crushed peanut balls atop of bold slices of pineapple. So very sweet and oh-so moreish.

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The special offering of the day was a must; betel leaves with scallops and zesty green mango salad.  Wrapping these bite size morsels into the slightly bitter betel leaf provided a juicy mouthgasm.

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The mini banh mi bites filled with homemade pate, soft shell crab was soft, sweet and the exact right level of crunchy was imparted by the gangly limbs of the soft shell crab.

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The Filipino BBQ pork was beautiful – check out that pink ring. Served alongside lettuce to act as impromptu wraps, these bite size melt-in-the-mouth pieces of pork were the highlight of the meal.

The ever-so popular Rice Paper Scissors is a great place to stop by to share a few small bites and delicious cocktails. The service is vibrant and our server expertly taught us how to wrap and combine our dishes for a guaranteed trip to flavour-town. Pro-tip – Rice Paper Scissors offers lunchtime bookings and it is well worth booking ahead to secure a seat.

Rice Paper Scissors Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Japan, Travel

Katsukura (Kyoto, Japan)

July 2, 2016

“The Japanese say, If the flower is to be beautiful, it must be cultivated.” –  Lester Cole

Who knew that the tastiest food could be found deep inside a train station? All of Japan, apparently.  Situated on the 7th floor of the structurally beautiful Kyoto Station behemoth is Katsukura. Having spent the day walking, and walking, around Universal Studios in Osaka, fried pork cutlets were all I could think about.  I had read about Katsukura previously, but I had not expected the well-appointed, wood embellished restaurant inside.

The menu is broken up into ‘sets’ and I opted for the larger pork katsu. Each set comes with unlimited refills of cabbage, miso and rice.

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First arrived was a bowl of sesame seeds which we were instructed to grind away using the pestle, to later add to the sauces

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A number of sauces were available on the table to mix at will into small bowls – spicy katsu sauce, traditional sauce, mustard and a light sweet vinegar for the shredded cabbage

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The flaky, juicy pork katsu that arrived was love at first bite. In-between each tender bite, I couldn’t help but be incredulous as to how the breading can be so thick and flaky, yet adhere to the juicy tender cutlet.  The miso soup added a slurp of saltiness between bites and the crispy, thinly shredded cabbage was the unsung hero.

The service at Katsukura was patient and helpful – especially when we were fumbling to try and work out what each of the empty bowls was destined for. They also have an English menu and the waiter had good basic English skills.  I recommend an accompaniment of a Whisky highball for a Suntory time.

Japan, Travel

Teppan Baby (Shinjuku, Japan)

July 1, 2016

“Where I went in my travels, it’s impossible for me to recall. I remember the sights and sounds and smells clearly enough, but the names of the towns are gone, as well as any sense of the order in which I traveled from place to place.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

Teppan Baby in Shinjuku is cooler than a Japanese pickled cucumber. Located in the basement level on a busy Shinjuku street, the interior is adorned with light birch-wood tables and a huge projector screen plays videos on a loop. After hearing only good things about Teppan Baby, we managed to secure a seat just after 8pm on a Saturday with only a 10 minute wait.

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To our delight, we were settled in front of the large hot plate so that we could watch the cooks skilfully fry and flip small plates of teppanyaki delights.

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Teppan Baby offers an all you can drink + food set menu for 40,000JPY per person. We were concerned that the unlimited drinks would be restricted to beer  – not something that agrees with my stomach. However, the drinks offered in the set menu include sake, umeshu, shochu and whisky highballs – which was too difficult to pass up.

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We began with a zesty salad of bean shoots, salty edamame beans and fried beancurd served with thick, kewpie mayo. Alongside the sweetest of sweet umeshu’s, we began to roll through this set menu journey.

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Next arrived a portion of melty sukiyaki beef. The beef was cooked until it tenderly fell apart when prodded with my bamboo chopstick.

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Then a plate of fresh calamari with a reviving lemon slice. Both of these dishes were so flavoursome. In between, we demolished a vial of crisp, cold sake.

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The freshly grilled chicken morsels were decadently buttery in texture. By this point, it was difficult to keep up with all the small plates that were being paraded in front of us!

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We were presented with a menu of okonomiyaki varieties to choose from. While there were very intriguing options, we decided upon the classic okonomiyaki as we had not yet enjoyed this traditional Japanese pancake dish yet during our adventures. Watching the cook expertly sprinkle the ingredients onto the hell-fire hot plate, sweeping with her spatula to ensure the right amount of char was achieved was a show in itself.  The pancake was dense and the bbq sauce on top added a lick of sweetness. This was admittedly my least favourite of the dishes but perhaps only because the others had outstripped my expectations.

We were quizzed whether we had enough room for the garlic rice. We were satisfied following the okonomiyaki (and 4 or 5 glasses of sake) but we opted to try the rice. The garlic to rice mixture was about 50/50 which surprised me but I quote J in that it was “the best rice ever”. Quite a feat for a common staple.

To finish, a spoonful of vanilla bean ice cream was attempted. I had to pass mine to Joe as I feared my sides would well and truly split if I introduced anything else into my belly.

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Teppan Baby has a great vibe and the staff are cheery and helpful. Their command of English is also excellent and they are able to guide you through the menu. My tip is to try and get a place at the hot plate so that you can watch the action.

Melbourne

Bar Idda (Brunswick East)

May 26, 2016

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi

Frilly, embroidered tablecloths, thick orange glassware, wine served in tumblers and Sicilian food makes Bar Idda a rare find among the ordinary Italian food offerings and akin to a special feast at nonnas.

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For mother’s day, Bar Idda offered a 5-course meal for $50 per person. To begin, we sampled some Antipasti which included plump, preserved green olives with herbs. The Arancino had a beautifully crisp, light shell which exposed a creamy fontina cheese risotta with mixed seasonal mushrooms. I could have devoured a million of these crunchy suckers. On the side, thin slices of hand cut cacciatore salami, sliced capocollo and Sicilian salami were cured to perfection and certainly salivation inducers.

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In between, I sipped a fizzy limoncello spritz. I can’t seem to avoid ordering a limoncello every time I patronise Bar Idda – it’s just so damn rare to find a decent drop of limoncello in Melbourne and Idda surely delivers.  My mum enjoyed a Sicilian House Red, served in a short tumbler like Italian wine should be!

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As for Primi, we were invited to choose from 3 dishes. We decided on the Mulinciani and Spaghetti Trapaense. The mulinciani consisted of delicate, melty layers of eggplant intermingled with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil and sharp pecorino cheese. If heaven had a mouthfeel, it would be this.

For Secondi we opted to try all 3 offerings. The Pesce spada, perfectly barbecued swordfish with maccu (a traditional meshing of dried and crushed fava beans and fennel) and black olive.

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The ricotta gnocchi served with mushrooms were like popping small, delicate clouds into my mouth, with a kick of lemon.

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Agnello all’Eoliana arrived in the form of a 4 hour roasted lamb shoulder Aeolian style. The rich lamb meat fell apart at the hint of my fork and even though I was oh so full at this point, I managed to eat every last piece of this succulent dish.

 

While the greens were left somewhat untouched due to the sheer volume of the other offerings, each had such a wonderfully interesting flavour combination;

bar_idda_beansFagiolini – Anchovies, garlic and mint braised green beans

‘Nzalata di casa – House salad of chicory, celery, sultana, dijon & lemon vinaigrette (not pictured)

Capunata – Sweet and sour fried eggplant, zucchini, celery, capers, green olives

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After a pause to rub our stomachs and to sip a coffee, dessert arrived. Torta di Noci – Walnut cake, poached rhubarb and homemade yoghurt and thick, bouncy slabs of quince delight served on the side. Since I am profusely allergic to nuts, the staff were happy to cater to my allergies and offered a light dessert of poached pear, rhubarb and yoghurt.

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Bar Idda is the perfect place for a special occasion dinner and offers a charming setting. If the weather is decent, the small courtyard at the back is well worth whiling the summer months away, limoncello in hand.

Bar Idda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Vincent the Dog (Carlton)

April 26, 2016

“The world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome, dubious eggs, called possibilities.” – George Eliot

A quaint courtyard hides behind Drummond Street’s Vincent the Dog, architects of robust coffees and scrumptious brunch-like meals. Vincent The Dog’s menu is honest, like really honest. A small note about cold drip not being offered because it is, and I agree, a  ‘disappointing liquid’.

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I decided on the more traditional “Who doesn’t like poached eggs” which was served with a generous portion of “bloody good” salmon, feta and avocado, atop sourdough bread.  The avocado was fresh and aplenty – there is so much avocado that I wish I had more of the deliciously spongey sourdough. The poached eggs were poached to perfection, with the yolk tantalisingly trickling out when gently prodded with my knife (psst, check out that egg-drool).  This breakfast is one which all the harmonising components muddled up in each, blissful mouthful.

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The ever-so sweet toothed creature across from me decided upon the waffles with berry compote and a smothering of thick, creamy mascarpone. Once the waffles had seeped up the berry juices, it was a sugary treat of a dish. The only inconsequential gripe was that there were a few dry spots that could have been avoided with more topping.

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My flat white was strong, creamy and the impeccable cure for a Sunday morning.

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The service at Vincent and The Dog is swift, approachable and attentive. Our food arrived impressively soon after our coffees. The small, intimate courtyard is the perfect setting to spend a morning sipping on well-brewed coffees and agonising over what to pick on the menu– they all sounded so equally interesting and it was challenging to decide on just one. I’m already eyeing off their Chinese donut with pork floss…

Vincent the Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen (CBD)

April 16, 2016

“Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” -Mark Twain

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen is a recent, and very welcome, addition to Melbourne’s blossoming Japanese ramen scene. Post Old Fashions and Sazeracs at the wonderful 1806, we ventured down the stairs in search of the black garlic ramen.

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Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen enlists an interactive ordering system, requiring patrons to select their broth, whether they would like the free extra noodles (hard or soft), a choice of pork belly or chashu sliced pork, and any extra trimmings they desire. This large A3 sheet is quickly swooped up by the friendly waitress and the ramenfication begins. We also opted for shochu because a long weekend was on the horizon and the sake list was too good to pass-up.

A large window pane separated our bench from the guy expertly straining the noodles and preparing delicious bowels of ramen. I quickly become hypnotised by an open kitchen in ramen restaurant – it is a wonderfully harmonious process which is delivered in careful strokes. Here, I could tell from the measured steps, was a place that was well-versed in their broth preparation.

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I was not wrong. The tonkotsu broth was deep, creamy and the noodles were perfectly hard. The pork belly was pleasingly fatty. My egg was perfectly prepared with the yolky centre maintaining its form. At about $16 for a bowl with an egg, this is on the more expensive side of the Melbourne ramen scale. It is, however, completely worth it, and the ability to customise one’s bowl is a huge plus for me.

I opted for the extra noodles to be included in my dish and I was struggling to slurp my way to the bottom.

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Black garlic ramen is not something I am familiar with, despite my adoration for all things ramen. I only had my first experience with Hokkaido style corn broth a couple of weeks ago. The more adventurous of our duo opted for the black garlic so that I could steal a glug – oh my goodness this was incredible. I have had garlic-laden ramen before but the roasted black garlic gave a smokiness to the tonkotsu broth that was unmatched. The old adage “Once you go black, you never go back” could be fittingly applied here.

Ikkoryu Fukuoka has really friendly service and our bowls arrived swiftly. It was quiet when we dined here but it was also quite late on a Thursday evening so your mileage may vary. I would return, if only for the black garlic ramen.

Ikkoryu Fukuoka Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Melbourne

MoVida Bar De Tapas

March 20, 2016

“Any reasonable, sentient person who looks to Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain, they’re gonna fall in love. Otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong with you.” – Anthony Bourdain

Oh Movida, you have been on my to-nom list for years and years now. And all it took was a stroll through the NGV to heighten my hunger – and thirst, for me to visit your Next Door outlet.

We stopped by on a quiet Sunday afternoon for a snack. What surprises me is Melbourne’s apparent lack of small, portable, savoury titbits to satisfy ones hunger between meals. Hankering for a simple bite of cheese and cured meat led me to finally satiate my Movida craving.

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Due to the time of the day, only bar seats were being utilised which suited us just fine. We ordered a smooth tempranillo to accompany the small dishes about to arrive.

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Soon thereafter, the beetroot croquette, so pleasantly pink in appearance arrived. Sweet, tangy and the perfect bite-sized balance between savoury and sweet playfully tantalised the tongue.

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Today’s special croquette of blue cheese and mushroom was too difficult to refuse. It’s promise of potent fermented flavour delivered and the crunchy exterior gave way to a gooey, cheesy centre. A sip of the smooth tempranillo following this intoxicating sharp flavour was a tribute to this wonderful pairing.

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The queso with quince paste was a good mid-point.

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The cigarillo was my highlight of the tapa. Braised lamb wrapped tightly into a crisp chillindron was reminiscent of a spring roll. Melty, slow cooked lamb was secured into a crisp shell. Swirled into the accompanying “red mojo” added a most-welcome kick.

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A strong contender for the favourite was the tostada. Pressed pork between two crunchy wafer biscuits, with house made tomato jam and fried quail egg atop. The qual egg glistened in the light and the yolk was ever-so runny. This was such an interesting dish and the pressed pork flavours were subtle.

The service at Movida is professional, conversant and swift. Despite indicating that we were only seeking wine and a few tapa, we were well looked after and found it comforting that we could also order as we went. This aligns with my preferred style of dining where I prefer to wade through dishes in waves, ascertaining my hunger levels as I explore the menu.

Rounding off the meal with a sweet, thick moscato, our visit to Movida had already transgressed into a “must-visit” again. Movida, we will be returning with a more ravenous hunger so that next time we can graduate to the raciones , I chiefly have my eye on the beef cheek that was plonked down on the bar next to us.

MoVida Bar De Tapas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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