Monday, January 31, 2011

Joe can bake! Episode 1: Choux Pastry


I just realised that this post would have been my 800th post since i started blogging. Makes me wonder how many posts will there be before the final curtain closes in such a fun and interesting adventure.

I guessed it took me 800 posts to finally realise that food blogging doesn't have to be limited to food reviews or even cooking recipes, but baking too. Nothing can best describe this than the cliche quote; its better to be late than never.

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The first thing we set out to bake, we decided to make choux pastry, the fancy word for basically the puffs that forms your cream puffs or if you want to call it differently; profiterole. Opening your oven before it is cooked through is a cardinal sin so one has to be patient and make sure the timing is absolutely spot on.

Use the recipe from Taste

Real simple ingredients like butter, flour, water and eggs is all you need. 

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Once the choux pastry shells are cooked, the next step is up to you. Lazy? Buy some custard and fit some blueberries and you got a simple dessert. If you want, pipe the custard in. If not there is jam, cream or whatever you fancy!

Can't believe this will be the first Monday back in work in 3 weeks! Hope this week will be the first full working week for the year, provided the Cyclone doesn't hit Brisbane town.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Wife Can Cook Too? Episode 2: Breakfast; Corn cakes and Potato cakes

I did a mental calculation that day to see how long of a break i have taken due to the Queensland floods and what i got was astounding. Having been on break since Christmas and coming back into office on the 10th January, i had a 17 day break. Barely 1 and the half days into work, the catastrophic floods began and we were closed for another 13 days. This means i was on a 30 day break and the year has barely began! Not only that, excluding the days i work from home, i would have only been in office for 5.5 days in the month of January. 


With home just barely 2 months away, I wonder how i am going to ring in the will to focus and work!


So what were we up to during the 30 day break?


With the leader of our breakfast gang i.e. the driver jetting off on holiday, we had the other alternative of cooking some. As part of my craze for corn cakes, we decided to make our own, i meant the Wife decided to make some. 


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You wouldn't have guessed this was home made, would you? Almost fit to be served in a restaurant i reckon. 


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Another day, we decided to do potato cakes and crispy bacon. 

At this rate, I am finally realising why I don't have too many restaurants to write about, because we are replicating everything we see at home!

As part of a recipe post, this is a guide to a fancy looking breakfast with minimum effort.

Potato cakes

2-3 potatoes, shredded finely, squeezed dry of the liquid you will get when you shred
1.5 tablespoon of self raising flour
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 egg to bind everything together
Half an onion, shredded (optional)

Mix everything in a bowl and pan fry till fully cooked. Serve with Crispy Bacon.

Crispy Bacon

Well i don't know about you but after eating months of bacon, i find that there are usually oily, often soggy after coming out from the pan. After experimenting, i think i might have found a formula that might work.

Pan fry with no oil, on medium heat. Cook for as long as you can before it burns.
Put it on the oven at 200 degrees for 5 minutes, do keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn.

The result is crispy bacon, woo hoo!

Corn cakes

Corn nibblets from 2 fresh corn cobs
Half an onion, shredded finely
One potato, shredded finely
1 egg
1 tablespoon of self raising flour
Salt and pepper

Mix everything well and pan fry. A tip is to use the oil that you get from frying the bacon for extra flavour.

Just thinking about breakfast makes me want to eat breakfast for dinner!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bishamon @ Spring Hill, Brisbane

Having stayed right smack in the Melbourne CBD, when it comes to eating out, it doesn't come any easier. With restaurants and cafes literally a street away, you can walk or hop onto a tram and eat anything you wish for.

In Brisbane, it is that little bit harder staying at a suburb that doesn't have much soul at night. My friend warned that it is a bit of a concrete hill i.e. lots of buildings and nothing else and he really didn't exaggerate. However, we are comforted by the fact that a 10 minute walk away, there is a Japanese restaurant that serves pretty good food and is famed for their Shabu Shabu Buffet at AUD 28 per pax.

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Walking in without a reservation on an early night, we were lucky to get a table because patrons flowed in at a rather rapid pace mid way through our dinner. Their specials are written on a board and bought out for the guests when they arrive.

Without any direction as to what to order, we picked a few staple dishes to see how good the place was.

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The Deep Fried dish used beef instead of the staple pork or chicken and this was served with a ponzu sauce. Interestingly enough, i think this might have been the first time that I have eaten beef made this way.

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Tempura is usually a good way to see whether the place is worthy as a Japanese restaurant. Unfortunately, this turned out slightly soggy and I wouldn't recommend you to order this.

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The salmon sashimi is alright but I am always a fan of the chunkier slice which gives you a nice bite in your mouth versus a thinner and longer slice.

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The Nasu Dengaku i.e. the Miso Eggplant is one dish that i can never seem to replicate at home. This was done pretty well from what i can remember.


How Japanese can the drinks be? Calpis and Asahi Beer.
While the ala carte dishes are alright, I have been told that the Shabu Shabu and the Teppanyaki is a different story. Time for a re-visit!

Address and contact details:


Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. From the stories I hear, I can't wait to try the Shabu Shabu!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hutong Dumpling Bar @ Market Lane, Melbourne

Having settled down in Brisbane for a good 3 months, Melbourne seems like a memorable good night's dream. Flashing back, i can't imagine how i went through that life changing move of packing my bags to uncertainty, but really if i had to do it again, i wouldn't hesitate in choosing Melbourne to do it all over again.   


So just when i thought all was done and dusted with Melbourne, i realised i still have some pictures that reminds me of my 3 months fling. 


Hutong is like a household name for eating some xiao long bao and dumplings. The place is so famous that if you take a look at Urbanspoon, there is a ridiculously long scroll of reviews by food bloggers. If you try stepping in on a normal weekday night without a reservation, you can dream on. 


The only chance of dining in is to either pop by at 5.30pm when the restaurant opens or call and make a reservation.


With that hype surrounding a place, the expectations are usually sky rocket high and as expected it fell flat even if the food was alright.


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The "Wo Tip" was done nicely. You get the bottom crust that holds all the dumplings together on one plate. Juicy inside and with that crunchy bottom, this dish is worth ordering again. 


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The Tung Po Yuk however was a massive let down. The meat was tender soft from braising but there was absolutely no flavour. It was as if it had been boiling away in coloured water.


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Having eaten so many xiao long baos, including the famous Ding Tai Fung in Taipei, although i can't say of the ones in Shanghai; i cannot fathom what is a mind blowing xiao long bao because it is so subjective. As long as the skin is relatively thin enough (which in most cases, i find people always taking the usual route of complaining that the skin is too thick but do they really know how thick the skin must be for it to work?) and theres soup and a good tasting inside, you have a well made xiao long bao and this was a good example.


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The meal was filled with ups and downs and the fish head soup was a bit of a let down. I had this version before which is supposedly Hong Kong influenced, this is a milky broth minus the acidity and sourness you get from the Malaysia fish head noodles. Bordering on bland again, skip this if i were you. 


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The drunken chicken was obviously not drunk enough especially since Australians are known to hold their alcohol really well. Again, i had better made drunken chicken else where.

Overall, this restaurant seems to be living on hype and if it continues to be packed day and night, i wouldn't see any reason for things to improve really. So my advice is don't hope for much if you do dine here and choose wisely, the xiao long bao and the wo tip is worth ordering.

Address and contact details:

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. A case of hype more than a case of good food or either it was a case of ordering all the wrong items. Thankfully the dumplings were good as this is after all a dumpling bar.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Joe can cook! Episode 21: Party Pleaser; Baked Salmon

Before i ventured into the Asian markets at China Town, the only source for seafood was the supermarket and if i was lucky, my friend would fetch us to the Powerhouse Market and i could get some pretty good looking seafood at one of the stalls.


Now? All i have to do is take a 10-15 minute stroll to Yuen's Market at Fortitude Valley and there is a cheaper and wider range than Woolworths. One of the attractions is the whole Salmon which retails for AUD13.99 per kg. Filleted portions in the supermarket retails for AUD30 per kg. 


Rewind back to New Years Eve, I decided to do a baked salmon, easy to prepare and cook. We went off to buy a 4kg salmon which cost me AUD52. They are friendly and will help you portion as required (i think) but all they had to do was to cut the head and take out the big bone in the middle and give me 2 nice half portioned fish.


So how many people can one fish feed? With the salmon being the main meal, half a salmon will easily eat for 5-6, if not more. What do you do with the other half? I portioned out 6 slices which would have easily cost me AUD50 to buy in the supermarket, what a saving!




Now to cook this simple salmon: Wrap it with foil and put as what you can see in the picture:

Red onions
Dill (fresh, if not paste form)
Tomatoes
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Small chunks of butter here and there (if not use white wine, i didn't have any at home)

Cook it the conventional way of 180 degrees for 30-40 minutes or alternatively like what i did, i baked it at 130 degrees for 3 hours, the fish will not over cook and is cooked through perfectly. Very velvety and smooth, a brilliant party pleaser which takes absolutely no effort at all!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Joe can cook! Episode 20: Sweet and Spicy Chicken Drumsticks

Brisbane is bracing for another round of possible flooding because of the king tide but fortunately the weather has been sunny most times with the odd shower or two resulting in very hot days for me. Especially since i am stuck at home, half working and half bumming, this will result in a very expensive electricity bill from switching on the air-con or buying a plastic looking fan (I meant air circulator) with an equally dodgy name; Vornado that cost me an arm and a leg. Despite the plastic looks, it has started to work wonders in the house, actually cooling the whole place down. 


Enough of that but since the weather has been all hot and sticky, i thought i shared a recipe that was inspired from the MasterChef cookbook. 


Most of the recipes involves too many steps and ingredients, so we were pleasantly surprised that this wasn't too much of a hassle.


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The use of chicken drumsticks reminds me of the days when i first arrived in Melbourne, spending frugally and realising that chicken drumsticks were basically one of the cheapest protein you can find. 

The recipe calls for:

1. Marinate chicken drumsticks with some soya sauce, sesame oil, black pepper and mirin. A table spoon of each is sufficient.

2.  The chicken drumsticks need to be pan-fried then finished off in the oven before coating on the sauce. If you are lazy, cook the drumsticks in the oven at 200 degrees for around 30 minutes, you need to make sure it is at least 90% cooked. Drizzle some olive oil before it goes into the oven. 

3. Once you have the chicken drumsticks all cooked, the key is in the thick sweet and spicy coating. You will need in the blender; half an onion, half a pear, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 2 tablespoon of honey, 2 tablespoon of the korean spicy bean sauce ("go chu jang"), a very common item in the korean marts and some salt for seasoning.

4. Pour the sauce back to the pan and coat it the chicken with it. Let it slowly thicken up and wants you start seeing charring, you are done.

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Fantastic dish with a note of sweet and spicy all in one.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shangri-La @ Sunnybank, Brisbane

I have come to comfort myself that as far as dim sum is concerned, Brisbane doesn't cut it unless there is an unknown gem out there i have yet to stumble upon. While there are still a few restaurants to try before calling it a day, Restaurant Shangri-La didn't tickle my fancy.


Despite the Sunnybank location which is the Melbourne equivalent of Box Hill, which a lot of people will tell you that is where the best yum cha places are, Shangri-La is there simply because of the huge Chinese population.


Although that being said, the food was no where near bordering the levels of being inedible (unlike a place in the City according to the Wife), in actual fact most were actually alright and reminded me of home. I suppose being 2 months away from going home, writing this makes me crave for some good dim sum and when i think about this meal; nothing stood out among the morsels that are meant to be delightful and dancing in your mouth.


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The Beef Balls and Pork Ribs


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The Char Leung was fried to a crisp and was crunchy; not good.

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Can't say i like the cheong fun either, the soya sauce looks thick and nothing like the light silky ones we see in KL.


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The Har Gau was pretty good though. Phew.


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I like how the Hong Kong people prepare their brinjal, its different from Malaysia.


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Crab Dumpling?


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Fortunately, the xiao long bao had bursts of soup when you bite into it.

Despite the amount we ate, the meal came up to AUD 16 per pax, an amount no where achievable in Melbourne, i suppose that is plus point of having dim sum here.

Address and contact details:

Shangri-La on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3 stars out of 5 stars. Don't be picky and you will get a decent meal of dim sum with spare change in your pocket. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Wife Can Cook Too? Episode 1: Tau Yew Bak

There has been a recent rivalry between the Wife and I when it comes to the kitchen. While i will always insist that i am the better cook, the Wife is not known to just keeping quiet upon hearing that statement and continuing with just washing the dishes.


Knowing this, she had something up her sleeves when we were questioning what to do with some pork belly we had bought to keep during the long Christmas break.


Like a lightning flash, she announced that she would cook and the kitchen was out of bounds for the hour.


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After announcing that everything was in the pot, we counted down as the meat simmered in a concoction of sauces listed below:

500-600 gram of pork belly
2 cups of water
1/2 cup of soya sauce
2 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 tablespoon of dark soya sauce
1/2 tablespoon of 5 spice powder
1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
Whole bulb of garlic
Sugar, salt and pepper to season
To season (optional): Chinese wine, mirin and sesame oil

Once that comes to a boil, let it simmer under low heat. Give it a taste and adjust the proportions according to how you like it, the Wife likes it sweet whereas I like it savoury. The above is just a guideline.


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The result? A very successful first attempt by the Wife, i can almost feel her ego growing by the second now. The meat was almost melting with all the fatty layers in between, the sauce rich and thick from all the braising and eaten with rice, it was pure comfort food. 

We all knew who washed the dishes that night.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vapiano @ Cavill Avenue, Gold Coast

Vapiano has a similar concept to the Marche Movenpick that we have back in Malaysia. You are given a card to "swipe" for your food and drinks and you pay the bill at the end of your meal. The focus here is the pizza, pasta and salad, all made fresh on order.


While i have read the highlight is the home made pasta made on the premises daily, the pre-made sauces and the wok action by the unconvincingly looking line chefs finally said to me, skip it. 


However looking at the pizzas coming out from the oven, that looked like a different story.


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Another highlight of this concept restaurant is the pot of basil where you pluck off as required. In the middle of the restaurant there is a small glasshouse that probably has a good 50 pots of herbs for your consumption.

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The thin crust pizza laced with prosciutto and parmesan did its job in satisfying our late afternoon hunger. Made with an industrial oven, you don't get any smokiness from a wood fire pizza oven. The pizza was AUD18 i think.

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After sitting at home from Christmas right through to New Year because of the rain, we were happy it was hot and sunny in Gold Coast. That meant quenching your thirst with some tap beers. Your choice of a light Italian Peroni or a darker James Squire. 

Everything is self serve and that gives you a bit of flexibility to order as little as you want opposed to when you have a waiter/waitress taking your order. The whole place is relaxed, i mean its after all in Gold Coast and you are meant to be relaxed. I wonder how the outlet in the Brisbane CBD tastes like, lets see if i return.

Address and contact details:

Gold Coast
Phone:  07 5538 8967
Opening hours: From Sunday - Thursday 11 am to 11pm, Friday - Saturday 11 am to 12 midnight.
Where: In Soul Retail, Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise.
We take bookings for groups of 8 or more every day.


Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Don't expect it to wow your palate but it does its job if you happen to be in Gold Coast and do not want to resort to Hungry Jacks or McDonalds.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Joe can cook! Episode 19: Baked Eggs (In the midst of the Queensland Floods)

At the start of the week, i appealed to you all to donate for the Queensland flood. The waters had be pouring onto the outskirt suburbs from Brisbane and there was a massive flood spreading. 

On Tuesday, it was updated that the water had rushed through a town called Toowomba; many would have seen pictures of cars being moved around the flooded streets by the currents like toy cars. 

The waters flowed through and was headed towards Brisbane via the river and the whole city was evacuated.

Thankfully, the idea to stay where it involves a 10-15 minute walk up hill back home everyday paid off as the flooding has not affected us physically. 

Mentally, hours glued on the TV to see how the water has affected the state has been devastating. Imagine streets like Changkat Bukit Bintang in Malaysia being flooded with 2-3 metre deep waters, the whole Central Business District shut and in some cases, only the roofs of two story houses visible from videos taken from the helicopter. 

Panic buying at supermarkets resulted in two hour queues, thankfully as a natural glutton, i only needed to stock up a little.

For those who are still interested to know of the progress, follow #qldflood on Twitter or Queensland Flood on facebook. Donations can be made here.



Someone sent me a picture, taken from the outside of my office at 2pm yesterday, estimated that at peak of 4.5 metres (4am this morning), would have been a good metre higher than the water levels shown in this picture.

Let's hope that the peak this afternoon will be no worse from the levels taken this morning and everything will be back to normal, as quick as possible.
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Apart from the flood, i would like to end the post with a slightly different way of making eggs. 

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Butter up the ramekin then put in two eggs, a dash of cream, grated parmesan, salt and pepper and put it in the oven at 180 degrees for 6-10 minutes (depending on how runny you want it). If you like half boiled eggs like me, go for 6 minutes, if you like a more solid egg, just leave it in the oven longer.

Not much to say except if i am still stuck at home for the next couple of days, i will definitely be making this again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to travel from Brisbane to Gold Coast and is Surfers Paradise the place to go?

You would think that Gold Coast being 80km away from Brisbane, there be a comprehensive public transport system in place to get you there without using a car, well you are wrong. In fact here are two ways for you to get there if you choose not to rent a car.


Train - Hop onto any train station and it will get you to any of the Gold Coast stops; Ormeau, Coomera, Helensvale, Nerang, Robina and Varsity Lakes. However each stop is approximately 12-15km away from Surfers Paradise or Broadbeach, the typical destination for someone who is visiting Gold Coast. Your best bet is to stop at Nerang. Take the Bus 745 and that takes you right to Surfers Paradise or take the taxi. Journey time will take you approximately an hour by train and depending on the traffic; 20 minutes to an hour by taxi or bus.


Cost of the trip? This is where it gets interesting. Purchase a one way ticket from the station and it should cost you AUD 7.70. Get a Go Card ("prepaid card") and you will realise the exit at Nerang does not have a machine to tag out. When that happens, the loop hole in the system charges you AUD 5 when you tag the card the next time you use it. In your case, you will be charged AUD 5 when you enter the bus. The bus ride will cost you another AUD 2.50 if i am not mistaken. However when we went the day after New Year's, it was packed and there was heavy traffic jam, resulting in an hour ride in a rather hot and stuffy bus. 


Alternatively, try Greyhound Bus. A one way ticket will set you back AUD20 per person and it takes an hour from the Roma St station to the Bus station near Surfers Paradise. Slightly more expensive but less trouble.


Once you reach Gold Coast, you can enjoy the smooth silky sand.


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The shaded area is for the asians who are scared of the sun. This is a true story as this section of the beach were indeed occupied by asians.

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Where the sun is at, you will find the locals enjoying the sun.

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The waves look tempting enough to go for a dip too.

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Gold Coast by and large has not changed much since i first visited when i was a student in 2004. Surfers Paradise is pretty much the same; Cavill Avenue is the main street where you have a row of cafes, restaurants and shopping. Around the corner, you have the high end boutiques catered for the international tourists, i mean can you imagine girls in bikinis and guys in boardshorts going to LV to pick up a bag or Gucci to buy some loafers?

To be honest, on a whole Surfers Paradise seemed to have aged in a bad way. There are too many half naked people drinking way too much in the day, with alcohol bottles filled to the brim at the public dust bins. Buildings have aged and hotel prices are exorbitant when you look at the poor quality.

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A rather basic looking room at Vibe Hotel will still set you back AUD190 and up to AUD300 on the weekends. Crazy prices? No wonder people prefer to take a flight to Thailand for a beach trip instead of coming to Gold Coast.

Maybe the next time i come to Gold Coast, i will bring a fatter wallet, maybe that might get me better accommodation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

RockSalt Modern Dining @ Broadbeach, Gold Coast

For those who have been following the news on the Queensland floods, it is beyond my imagination how flooded certain parts of the state is. I guess we are lucky to be staying in Brisbane, most parts safe from flooding. For those who have no idea, imagine whole towns flooded with levels exceeding 8-9 metres and houses totally submerged with the roofs barely visible. Those interested in donating, please visit here

Donations are tax deductible for those working in Australia.

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On a lighter note..

Over the extremely long Christmas break, we headed out to Gold Coast to get away from town and at the same time, the Wife was going to catch up with an old friend who happen to be enjoying her break there as well. The pre-requisite to any good catch up is good food and with that i was again tasked to use my growing gut to suss out where was a good place to eat at.

You would think that Gold Coast being a tourist spot should house some pretty decent restaurants, alas, going through the reviews of restaurants around the area, i get the feeling that people coming here for a holiday seemed to be more interested in staying half naked and getting drunk.

To help guide you around like the Michelin stars in fine dining, Australia awards "hats" to reputable restaurants. So the only way i could hope for a decent place to dine was to pick a hatted restaurant and pray hard. 

If you are planning to go to the Gold Coast, forget dining at Surfers Paradise and head down to Broadbeach. 

RockSalt happened to have one of the most promising menu and backed up with the award; Chef of the Year 2009. Despite the award, I was surprised that the restaurant was very casual, with the open air dining concept and almost cafe like atmosphere. 


 Blessed with a slightly cool summer this year, it wasn't too hot but if you are dining in the usual 30 plus degrees, you might want a table as inside as possible.

For AUD 59, you can choose your own entree, main and dessert. Some entrees and mains have a supplement of AUD 5 and 10 respectively, quite a good deal.

Being dim, it is a nightmare trying to take a picture without being getting the looks from the flash.


For a supplement of AUD 5, i got the Butter Poached Bug Tails with a Scampi Croquette with a micro salad and pea puree.  When they meant butter poached, they literally mean it with the dish flavoured essentially with butter. I would have preferred the bug tails with a bite as these were kind of soft and delicate but the perfectly fried croquette had all the crustacean essence one could wish for.


As an entree, you can also have half a dozen of oysters and the Wife had it Kilpatrick style, a method that we used to eat whenever we ate half  price oysters back in our university days. Worcestershire sauce and bacon; perfect. 

Around the table, the King Prawn and Truffle Risotto got praises as well (very generous in portions too) and the Roasted Scallops with de-boned chicken wings impressed with the beautiful plating.


 The Wife absolutely loved the Eye Fillet (or also known as Tenderloin) with Potato Gnocchi and a Mushroom sauce. Having forced her to share it with me, the steak was cooked beautifully and almost converted a ribeye lover.


The Roast Saddle of Lamb & Braised Belly, Jerusalem Artichokes, Spring Garlic, Sweet Carrots, Jus (the only item that i can see from the online menu that resemble what i ordered, most of it has been changed). The lamb loin was perfectly cooked but the belly was rather gamey. The accompaniment of the garlic was a wonderful burst of flavour.  

Other mains ordered included the fresh pasta and a duck breast if i am not mistaken. Again no complaints but praises. I can almost feel a couple of kgs lift off my shoulders for choosing the place. 

All these were matched with a bottle of French wine, the Australian wines deemed not value for money since we all know the prices from the bottler.

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The Tiramisu, RockSalt style was ingenious. Almost like a deconstructed dessert, certain elements have been replaced with a granita and ice-cream, however take a bit of each component together and it tastes just like a tiramisu.


 The Orange Panna Cotta came with a lemon curd cigar, the Wife wished that they could serve a few more of those cigars instead. 


The Dark Chocolate Tart, Salted Peanut Caramel, Praline, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream was the dessert i ordered and did not regret. A heavy full on dessert, this was calories well spent. 

Service was beautiful and we had a very non intrusive waiter throughout the night that made us very comfortable. At no time, he hinted us to order another bottle of wine or thought we sat at the table too long while we caught up as old friends do. 

If you happen to be at Gold Coast, RockSalt deserves a visit.

Address and contact details:


Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. I can't really think of anything that was bad about the dinner except it did get a bit warm having sat at the outer bit of the restaurant. The food is a mix of classic and modern dishes, whether you like a hearty steak or a piece of art as a meal, RockSalt strikes a balance. With wine, the bill came to AUD80 per pax, the norm of fine dining especially in this part of town.