Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pho Dzung City Noodle Shop @ Russell Street, Melbourne

Unlike in Malaysia, where the only thing to ponder about the weather is whether it will rain or not, Melbourne springs more surprises than that. Despite entering Spring for a whole month, it has been chilly and warm weather is still a rarity. So much as i like the cold, sometimes i just want to feel the warmth and it doesn't help that my in-built heater can only go to a high of 30 degrees which takes forever to achieve.

The next best thing is to eat to fill warm and it means lots of hot soup and one place i like to go to is Pho Dzung for some warm pho.

The norm is usually to go to Mekong, the establishment that probably bought Pho to Melbourne, the place still reeks of the 80s-90s but the over the years, i think the pho has just gone down hill. So it was pretty lucky for me to find another one just a street away and this has been my firm favourite.

Huge portions, tasty and keeps you warm, what more can you ask for?

To eat list this week if it gets terribly cold again.

Small portions are like AUD 8.50 and it goes up by a dollar for every size up. Value for money.

Address and contact details:

234 Russell St
Melbourne, 3000

Tel: (03) 9663 8885

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I am not sure whether i would still be so attracted to the idea of eating Pho if it was summer but for the mean time, this is like a weekly treat if i need something warm.

Pho Dzung City Noodle Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joe can cook! Episode 9: Green Curry Chicken from a Bottle

My cooking adventures seem to have suffered a tyre puncture lately; i am running out of new things to cook. In fact i am happy eating the same things that i know how to cook without looking at online recipes. 

Trying to experiment with different sauces and cuisines; a random visit to the supermarket last week, with an eggplant at the back of my mind, i decided to buy a bottle of green curry paste; thinking of a dry green curry eggplant.
Moments later, the Wife said why not a green chicken curry instead? I went off to buy some chicken, coconut milk and basil. Cooking with a bottle of sauce couldn't have been made any easier.

Follow the instructions as stated on the bottle and voila, you really got a green curry chicken in front of your eyes!

The result of pan frying the green curry paste with garlic and oil, chicken thighs, assorted vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes and peppers then throw in a can of coconut milk and left to simmer. Finish off with dashes of fish sauce, salt and pepper and sugar according to your taste buds.Garnish with dried basil. I had vibrant green beans to throw in but at the saucepan could only hold so much and presentation wise, there wasn't enough contrasting colours.

You wouldn't have guessed this is home made? Would you?

To not eat green curry with rice is worse than committing a cardinal sin but when one does not have a rice cooker, you have to resort with microwaveable rice and despite the texture being a bit soft, this did the trick in soaking up all the sauce. 

Speaking of which the brand of the paste is "Valcom" and i must say it served its purpose for its price of AUD3, although slightly one dimensional in terms of being spicy, we could have corrected it if we had add coconut cream for a richer end and probably a bit more sugar to balance it. 

Although not a recipe per se, you can always try it out if you get hold of pre-made green curry paste!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

QuanJuDe @ 299, Queen Street, Melbourne

A piece of Beijing has recently landed in Melbourne, situated in the more quieter Queen Street, away from the bustle and hustle of the main streets of Swanston and Elizabeth. Quan Ju De is famous for one thing; their Peking Roast Duck.
It is probably the norm to order the roast duck as the first question asked was whether we would like half a duck, so that that the order goes through while we browse the menu for other dishes.

But put 2 guys who likes their roast duck in the picture and it is a nothing less than a whole roast duck please, thank you very much.

The compulsory sides to a Peking Roast Duck; sliced scallions, cucumbers and sweet sauce.

While that was being prepared (i.e. the cooking and the carving, i understand that skill belongs to the one or two residential carvers so it can take awhile before they come to you), we had the stuffed chicken wing with glutinous rice. Served like a western dish, it came with a side salad too. A good start.

Course 1: The skin and just the skin. Crispy and not too oily, well towards the end, it does feel a bit too much.

Course 2: The glorious duck meat. The meat was well cooked; tender and went so well with the skin wraps below. I am at a lost of adjectives to describe the dish.

Unlike some wrappings that uses egg crepe, this one seems to be a plain flour base.

Course 3: A duck soup that was tasteless like what i read online and not even served warm. I suspect the bones are dumped into a huge pot and individual bowls are served according to the number of people you have. Just forget about this.

Apparently, the duck we ate was the 115,205,644th duck cooked by QuanJuDe. It certainly did not die in vain and was quite good despite the hefty price tag of AUD 68.

Address and contact details:

299, Queen Street,
Melbourne, 3000

Tel: 03-96700091

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Even though the restaurant was quite grandly decorated to the verge of being tacky, you can't deny the fact that they serve a good Peking Roast Duck. Whether the other dishes are worth ordering, i need a bigger group and another visit but judging from the duck and the chicken wing, the food can't be too far off.

Quanjude Peking Duck on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Look what i got for a belated Mid-Autumn Festival!

There is nothing nicer than to receive a meaningful gift; it need not be an expensive or material item, it is after all the thought that counts (ultimately the most cliche phrase ever).

So having spent this year celebrating the months leading to the festival with ONLY 2 moon cakes which i ate up within a span of 3 days, one of my twitter followers and reader of my blog, Michelle asked me last week if i would like a moon cake from Malaysia, courtesy of her mom, who could say no?

Especially if it is not any normal moon cake on the street, it is from Shang Palace at Shangri-La (i remember last year i overdose on them after making full use of my Prestige Card). This year, the packaging looks more sophisticated, very nice box.

The design of the box to store the mooncake looked like it was recycled from last year. 

The Australian immigration doesn't allow you to carry over mooncakes with egg yolks, for whatever security reasons, or maybe it's because they want to prevent you from overdosing on high cholesterol items and becoming one of their growing obese population. I don't know, but the plain one is fine by me, smooth and velvety white lotus paste. Anyways, is it just me or has prices of moon cakes gone up tremendously? I don't remember Shang's moon cakes to be RM20++ for a no yolk moon cake.

For variation, i even got a mini mixed nuts and ham mooncake from Chynna too! Not my favourite kind but this was one of the best i have tried.

I even got some home made muffins from her too! From a pandan whiff, to a choc chip and then an intriguing date and preserved lemons, this was made dessert for dinner that very same day!
Once again thank you Michelle, for such a wonderful gift!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sensory Lab @ David Jones, Bourke Street Mall

My quest to find a good coffee continues and this time around, i visit the not so secret "Sensory Lab" which is at the back of David Jones (the Men's side), or alternatively you can enter from Lt Collins St. As the name suggests, the place tries to act as a lab just for the nose; with staff wearing lab coats and lab equipment used for water and sugar containers. Come often enough and order the same thing, i noticed the staff do remember your face and know your preferred drink too.

Apart from the usual fare of latte, flat white and cappuccino, they also serve a more interesting range of coffee that uses different methods like the syphon filter (picture below) and a cold drip which apparently takes 3-4 hours to make!

On this occasion, i had the syphon filter coffee, the blend this time around was La Candelilla, a blend that i had before at Market Lane. True to its description, its amazing how you let your tongue work out the acidic notes of orange.

True to what the words say, the texture of the coffee is tea-like. As you let it cool down, with any coffee to be honest, it allows you to taste the flavours and not serve the purpose of having a hot drink and scalding your tongue. This particular drink so, the knowledgeable staff do warn you to let it cool down before you drink. Slightly more expensive at AUD 5.50 for a cup compared to the usual fare that are AUD 3.50.

Address and contact details:

David Jones, 
297 Little Collins St
Melbourne, 3000

Tel: (03) 9643 2222      

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Another favourite place for a quick coffee in town.

Sensory Lab on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Crystal Jade @ Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

The Wife is finally down under in Melbourne with me and it looks like life will now get slightly busier as it is the duty of the Husband to take her out venturing in the city for the next few days to get accustomed to the area and transit her life here from what may appear to be a holiday to a long term stay. It doesn't help that i am still waiting for news as to whether i will get the job i interviewed for in Brisbane.

Now that means either a short post here and there if i can wake up early enough, if not read my archives to cure that hunger pang of yours.

A couple of weeks ago, i started the short concise reviews, just to cover some places that i hadn't had the opportunity to take pictures of the food.

Today is one of them, tweaked with some teaser pictures from the phone.


Now Dim Sum in Melbourne can get a bit tricky here with more than a dozen of restaurants serving "yum cha" as they call it here, with some catered to the western tastebuds while others remain slightly true to their hearts. In comparison to Adelaide, when i last left, Chinatown had no more than a handful of chinese restaurants and most of them never fail to amaze me with their good dim sum.

Having tried Shark Fin House and Shark Fin Inn, nothing too remarkable but not too shabby either, Crystal Jade was put up to the test.
Now based on some research, Crystal Jade in Melbourne is not linked to the big Crystal Jade Group who owns restaurants all over South East Asia. The only things they share are the name and the Hong Kong cuisine.

Now with a simple modern decor with some asian touches to the renovation, the dim sum that they serve is quite good and is on par with what the goodies we get from Malaysia and even Hong Kong.

Most of their seafood dumplings like the "har kao", "tai chi kao" or "hoi xin kao" (prawn, scallop or seafood dumpling) were filled with fresh ingredients. The char leung (dough fritters wrapped with rice roll) was done much better than the other two places. If you are feeling much more adventurous, try their beef tendon or tripe, the satay squid or the chicken feet (which are huge!).

The noodles also fared quite decently, having tried the classic "wat tan hor" and a braised yee mee with minced meat and eggplant. Worth re-ordering.

However, the only downside is their pricing with per pax ranging from AUD 20-35. My second visit where it was the Wife and I, our bill was AUD 40 for the two of us and it didn't exactly leave me filling too full too. My recommendation is always go in a table of 3 or 4 as most dim sum dishes come in a portion of 3-4 pieces.

Address and contact details:

Level 2
154 Little Bourke St
Melbourne 3000 VIC 

Tel: 03- 96392633

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Feeling like eating some dim sum whether on a weekday or weekend? Crystal Jade does the job but does no further if you want something to wow you away. Just a warning, it can get quite crowded too, a common sight with most chinese restaurants on Chinatown. If you really want something authentic inclusive of the atmosphere too, try driving to Boxhill.

Crystal Jade on Urbanspoon

PS: Last week i received an email from Sara from the Fresh Air Fund telling me about The Fresh Air Fund who are still looking for runners and sponsors to join their Fresh Air Fund-Racers team for the NYC Marathon on on November 7th. They have until September 30th to register our racers, so they need to fill the spots quickly. So anyone out there planning to go to NYC during the period or are in NYC, go to their website for more information. Do your bit for charity and running.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Joe can cook! Episode 8: Bak Kut Teh

 There is no denying that i love my Bak Kut Teh ever since i had a taste of the Klang version. Looking back, I suppose there might have been another motive for finding my other half in Klang. Entering the second month away from Malaysia, the craving for Bak Kut Teh went bonkers and guess what, a kind visitor from Malaysia bought me the above (upon request, of course!)

Making Bak Kut Teh cannot be made any easier, follow the back of the packet and voila! Although being such a frequent consumer of the thick herbal soup from Klang, i made sure it was as rich as possible by doubling the portion of soup packets. However at best it would match a KL version but still lacking compared to the heavenly Klang version, but hey, this is coming out from a packet.
The overdose of pork begins after you boil a pot of water, put in the soup packets, 2 bulbs of garlic, shallots, seasoning like soya sauce, dark soya sauce, oyster sauce and lots of pork; i dumped pork belly, pork ribs and even a trotter.


I even found some "foo chuk" which i tried to deep fried but they got brown too fast to cook right through. On top of the meat, i put in some cabbage, enoki mushrooms, baby corn and tauhu puffs while i all dumped into the soup (towards the last 15 minutes of cooking).

Essentially, the boiling soup and meat should be left on low heat for a good 2 hours and even more if you like it richer. If you find the water evaporating too quick, put more water in, don't worry that it will not dilute the soup as the water will boiled off, just make sure it does.

 Looks like its all good to eat.


Pork all tender and basically melt in your mouth.

One of the many "single" portions i had throughout the night.

Oh what bliss, especially with Spring still being very cold.

BUT if you are in KL or near enough to Klang, go out and eat the proper one, the packet ones still can't replicate the real thing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Curry Vault @ Little Collins, Melbourne

Someone once told me that you get the best northern indian food in the following countries in order; India, UK and Australia. 

Well i am pretty sure about the first two but i think Australia comes pretty close.

Why? Just look at the huge thriving indian population and naturally with more of them means a higher chance of getting good northern indian food.

Whether Curry Vault is the best around the city of Melbourne, who knows, but it was pretty decent when we visited last Monday. 

The Pappadam are not oily and served with a fresh mint dip. A brilliant start, complimentary basket but from the menu, i get the understanding that you are charged AUD 2.80 for the next basket of 4.

You will find that with most northern indian meals i eat, the usual suspects are always there; the Palak Paneer (AUD 16.50) and the Butter Chicken (AUD 20.90). On this occasion we also had the Madras Fish Curry (AUD 22.90). The usual garlic naan (AUD 4.40) and saffron rice completes the meal. I must say the butter chicken is quite spot on, slightly too sweet, while the palak paneer was delish. The fish curry had alot of coconut going on and it tasted more sweet than spicy. The heat was missing.

The basmatic rice (AUD 3.90) is cooked according to their standard, dry enough to see every grain of rice, allows for the sauce to soak in to.

If you noticed the kashimiri naan in the first picture, this is more of a dessert naan, filled with nuts, raisins and coconut (AUD 5.90). This also surprisingly acted as good carbohydrate to mop up all the gravy. 

Overall a good place for Northern Indian Food.

Now for all those in Melbourne, if you have the Entertainment Book / Card, you can get a 25% discount off your meal (not sure what is the limit) so the cost of the meal (after discount) was quite a reasonable AUD 61-62 for 3 pax. Otherwise, i need to ration my visits for northern indian food with my increasingly tighter budget.

Address and contact details:

18-20 Bank Place, Melbourne 3000
 One of the alleys off Little Collins Street (between William and Queen Street)

Tel: 03-9600 0144

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars, a decent place for indian food but i find the food slightly on the sweet side and the fish missing the heat that it needs. Maybe next time, we can try some spicier dishes but judging from my love for butter chicken and palak paneer, i am not too sure.

Curry Vault Indian Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

St Ali @ South Melbourne

When i mentioned how crazy my friend was about his coffee, i wasn't kidding. We woke up at 10.30am on Sunday and had 2 hours to spare before our lunch at Maze Grill and guess what? We decided to head down to St Ali, to get ourselves a dose of caffeine (while i was hoping to catch a bite too).

It is amazing how in the middle of South Melbourne where it is dominated by closed shop lots (since it was a Sunday morning), sits St Ali. Housed in what looks like a small warehouse, this place was packed to the brim and with the waiting list for a seat as long as an A4 paper, it looked like we won't be having the bite unless we wanted to miss lunch.

So we decided to pack a double ristretto flat white and walked back to Crown, I with a defeated face while my friend was happily sipping on his coffee. Just a tip for you, so you don't look too lost, to order a takeaway coffee, go inside the cafe, order and pay. With a docket, you walk to opposite shop where you will see a mobile coffee stand that will make your coffee for you.

That morning brew was on the lighter side, almost fruity and slightly acidic, although you would need to swirl the coffee in your mouth like wine to taste those light notes. Otherwise it did not help that i was used to a heavier blend with a stronger roast aftertaste.

Meanwhile, my other friend quietly gulped it all down and said "Isn't just like the other one we had that day?" So much for a non coffee drinker.

 Address and contact details:

18 Yarra Pl
Melbourne, 3205

Tel: 03- 96862990

Verdict: Not much of a verdict, can't really judge from a takeaway coffee when all i could see were plates of scrumptious breakfast escaping the grasp of my hands. Although i didn't like the blend they used in the morning, so solely on that, it was only a 3 star out of 5 star but from what i hear their reputation is far beyond that rating.

St Ali on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Birthday Cake this year

Gone are the days when you look forward to your birthday, the children days where you are bombarded with presents, gifts and big birthday gifts. Now, it is nothing but a recognition that you are a year older and this year for me, its what some people call a "quarter life crisis" although "third way life crisis" sounds more apt.
I must say though this is probably the first birthday in many years that i am celebrating it without the other half. It feels kind of funny seeing that we were on holiday for the last two birthdays too which reminds me that my grandpa has already left us for the other world for a year already as we speak. At least this time around, he has grandma to accompany him over there.

Enough of the morbid stuff.
This year even though the Wife wasn't around, they were her dear cousins Michelle and Alex who were kind enough to be around for my birthday and she even baked me a cake!

Complete with icing, decor and most importantly flavour!

A simple orange sponge cake with a chocolate icing that reminds me of a jaffa cake.

I wonder when i can taste another of her creations?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Market Lane Coffee @ Prahran Market, Chapel St

I can be considered to be quite passionate with my coffee drinking; always fighting for a lost cause in Malaysia to educate people at what temperature to drink it at. Well you haven't met this new friend of mine. 

He who drinks 4-5 cups of coffee a day, not from the packet, mind you, he knows his stuff and suddenly i am bombarded by a whole range of terminology and taste notes used similar to drinking wine. Heavily recommended by him, we ventured off to Chapel St in seek of Market Lane Coffee, said to be one of the best around town.

The coffee machine used is Syneso, said to be one of the best, most good coffee places in Melbourne have a similar machine, said to cost in the 5 figure region (AUD and not RM).

Normal coffee drinkers would usually resort to their usual mix of espresso and milk i.e. cappuccino, latte or flat white. Feeling more adventurous? There are a range of blends that you can try in their normal brew form. With a texture akin to tea, it is not consumed hot, rather it is allowed to be cool down for the flavours to develop in your mouth. 

Each blend has a note on it which includes the origin, the farmer's history and the notes that you should be able to taste. I think my tastebuds though are still novice though to be able to taste blueberry and orange in my coffee although i appreciate the acidic notes.

A flight of 3 coffees will set you back AUD 12, perfect for 2 persons.

If you shared it between three fellows, you will find yourself carrying another latte to go, this one had a very robust and strong blend served in their latte.

Another interesting thing i learnt in my coffee drinking experience over the weekend is the term "ristretto" meaning a "short shot", essentially giving you the flavour but half the caffeine. So what you do is order a double ristretto latte which gives you the usual shot of caffeine but with more flavour. Cost wise, i am not sure how much more expensive it is, will let you guys know!

Address and contact details:

Market Lane is located in Prahran Market, Melbourne. 
We are on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Market Lane.

Shop 13 Prahran Market
163 Commercial Road
(Entrance on Elizabeth Street)

Call us: +61 (0) 3 9804 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +61 (0) 3 9804      end_of_the_skype_highlighting 7434

Visit us:
Tuesday 7am – 5pm
Thursday 7am – 5pm
Friday 7am – 5pm
Saturday 7am – 5pm
Sunday 9am – 3pm

We hold free public cuppings every day from 10am - 11am.

Alternatively visit them at

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Good coffee, good ambience, what else does one need? 
Market Lane Coffee on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Maze Grill Melbourne @ Crown Metropol, Melbourne

Say what you want to say about Gordon Ramsay; his foul mouth temper on TV or spending more time on TV than cooking; he is smart enough to capitalise on his celebrity chef status to open a boon of restaurants all over the world. You still got to give credit to him.

Despite i hear that he rarely cooks in his restaurants any more, one can still taste his creations and influences cooked by all his right and left hand men/women. So having opened two restaurants, Maze and Maze Grill in Melbourne, one can't say no to a suggestion to visit, can you?

Originally the booking was for Maze, the finer of the two, the menu suggests small portions with a decent price of an average AUD 20+ and a degustation menu for AUD 110. The steak lover in our group wanted his steak so we opted for Maze Grill, which has a slightly more casual menu and ambience with their dinner menu focusing on grilled meats.

Lunch though was a simpler affair, four entrees, five mains (one choice of steak) and a couple of desserts or alternatively the 3 course set lunch (with steak). 

Freshly baked bread, the rolls were served warm and with almost melted butter, easy to spread on the bread i suppose. Good start.

With entrees limited to softshell crab, a salmon cerviche and two choice of salads, we skipped the greens and had the first two.

Being seated close to the open kitchen, we get to see some cooking and plating action but be warned, the ventilation is not fool prove and you do smell quite a bit by the time the meal ends, so opt to sit further.

The crispy softshell crab with harissa mayonnaise and a side salad (AUD 16) is a very simple deep fried coated crab dish. I suppose it sounds easy to make but to execute it perfectly, it might be a bit harder. Tasted delicious though.

The salmon cerviche, with chilli, avocado,lime and coriander with some pickled onions (AUD 16) was too mild for me. The heat was non existent but the only upside is the fresh well marbled fish. 

 For mains, the steak lovers had the "meat of the day" i presume, a 300gram sirloin from the Victoria regions (AUD 50) served with roasted garlic while i had the roasted mulloway with a chorizo and corn stew (AUD 34).

 Despite the portion looking measly, i was surprised that i was quite full by the end of the meal. The fish was perfectly cooked, the crisp skin from all that butter basting action and a moist core of flesh. The sauce was hearty with the chorizo, corn and potato.

 The steaks were polished clean, cooked as requested with the only extra comments muttered; well seasoned and lovely with the soft garlic pieces.

With the steak being served bare, a few sides made it more complete.

 The slow cooked butternut squash with parmesan and oregano (AUD 8) is said to be a special of Gordon and to be honest it is an alright dish, a simple combination. I am inspired to make this one day.

The rocket, radish, pecorino romano and olive salad (AUD 8) was served to us by mistake, we didn't ask them to take it back but it was obviously "mistakenly" billed to us, glad we almost finished it. Another simple salad, with flavours that all worked out well.

The broccoli almondine (AUD 8) which we ordered came late, probably a mistake with the kitchen. Steamed or blanched broccoli topped with the finely chopped almond topping was delicious.  

As we were running short of time and wanted to squeeze in some coffee at Chapel St, we gave dessert a miss. Not to say it wasn't a bad suggestion as despite the portions being reasonable in size, it left us full for quite some time. Overall, the food experience due to the big tag line of "Gordon Ramsay", fell slightly short of expectations.  

Expect to spend a minimum of AUD47 for the set lunch without drinks or order on the ala-carte menu and spend around AUD80 or more for a 3 course. 

Address and contact details:

maze Grill Melbourne
Level 1, Crown Metropol
Corner of Whiteman and Clarendon Streets,
Southbank, Victoria 3006  

Opening Hours
Friday-Saturday 12noon - 2.30pm
Sunday 12.15pm - 2.45pm
Monday-Sunday 6.00pm - 11.00pm
maze Bar and lounge is open from 6.30am until 1.00am
Contact details:              +61 (0)3 9292 8300      
 Or book online at: Maze

  Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. The lunch menu was on the thin side but whatever was offered was well executed except for the missing heat in the cerviche and the mishap with one of the sides. Other than that, don't expect the food to blow your mind like how Gordon Ramsay swears.

Maze Grill on Urbanspoon