Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chin Chin @ Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD

I remember vaguely writing this piece up, only to have the window shut down on me and my draft disappear to thin air. Abandoning the thought of re-writing the same thing again at that moment, I thought I revisit this piece again instead of loading more pictures from iPhone.

Yes, the iPhone. Gone are the days I pack my camera bag along with me to every meal I eat; DSLR, a second lens and a flash to boot. Even after I downgraded to a smaller sized camera, I am still finding myself resorting to the iPhone. The biggest downfall though is the horrible pictures it takes in dim lighting and the pictures below is just that (the taste is another thing altogether). 

Back to food, shall we.

Completing the trilogy of Modern Thai cuisine (although I have just been informed Gingerboy does a similar thing too, lengthening this to a quadrilogy), we have Chin Chin for now. I think this place has been blogged to death so there's little people won't know about this place. 

Well just in case, you don't know, Chin Chin is one of those places with the no booking policy. Gosh it sounds like a broken record to my ears. Unless you don't need to work on a weekday or eat at the weirder times on a weekend, it is highly likely that you will be greeted with a waiting time instead of "this way please". Luck must have been on our side that night as we scored the last available table. The downside is dinner that night started at 5pm. 


The good and bad thing about this place, the menu. Full of mouth watering items which is a bummer when there's only two of us and the stomach isn't exactly grumbling at 5pm. It's reasonably priced as well, most dishes are in the teens or mid twenties, so there's liberty to order a few to share without giving your wallet away.


We decided to start the meal with a simple deep fried school prawns with an awesome and spicy as hell nahm prik dressing, finished off with some cooling raw cucumber and cabbage pieces.


I asked for some pork belly and this was served. Rather as the main element of the dish, it was half of it, sweet and sticky paired with deep fried barramundi pieces and a spicy and sour apple slaw. This place is definitely not stingy with the chilli. 


The memory has definitely faded but I do remember plentiful of soft shell crab (not just deep fried flour) and a dry curry paste that kept us reaching for water and then back into the dish. 


To numb our tongues further, we had slightly milder son in law eggs. Deep fried eggs with a chilli jam was meant to accompany our meal.

By the end of it, I was convinced that their South East Asian cuisine was in no way watered down to please and rather by sticking to their level of spiciness, they have gained probably much more customers. As much as the noise level, the pretentious and cool customers and dining at 5pm irritates me, I find it hard to say this but I will be back.

Address and contact details:

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. There's merit in the food that they serve but what makes them famous and at the same time irritates me is the horde of fans they have and their no booking policy. Looks like I will just have to eat at 5pm.


On another note, for my Malaysian readers, I have a friend back in KL who has recently started up his ice cream venture. Give him a little encouragement if you can by liking his Facebook page here or follow him on Twitter here. If you have calories to spare, there's no better way to spend it by trying some of his ice cream.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Izakaya Den @ Melbourne CBD

8 months into our Melbourne adventure and we are still on the hunt for a convenient place where we can eat good Japanese cuisine without busting our wallets. While Izakaya Den does not exactly fall under that category, we couldn't resist detouring from our plan and giving this place a go when we learnt of their secretive entrance and underground venue.

Some have struggled with finding the entrance but the easiest way to find this place is find the number "114" sign along Russell Street and walk down half a flight of wide stairs. The glass door on the left will lead you into a narrow open kitchen restaurant / bar. If you walk straight down to the boutique, you have walked down a little too far.


The menu is not huge, couple of entrees, couple of sashimi, couple of char grill and non char grill dishes and couple of desserts. Matter of fact, their drinks menu has way more options compared to what you can eat.


If you think that Asahi is the only Japanese beer, you haven't seen what is out there in terms of Japanese beers. One of the nicer ones I have had is Yebisu but I was kind of upset when my friend told me that the beer sells for a hundred yen (approx AUD1.50) because I paid 10 bucks for this.  


With any Japanese restaurant, izakaya style or not, ordering sashimi is a must (unless you sense that the quality is questionable). However for $16, the portion was rather miserable, with really thin slices of salmon done more like a cerviche with a yuzu dressing. Tasted good but definitely not value for money.


The corn kaki-age are legendary and it deserves the applause even though it is $8 for 3 fritters (thinking about it, I should be able to get 5 stalks of corn with spare change). However, to get them  in the form of a delicious piece of deep fried corn batter, that's priceless. Made perfect with some green tea salt.


Deep frying seems to be their speciality as their chicken karaage was just as good too. While the Wife noted the colour of the meat being a little darker than usual when she bit into one piece, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and say it was due to marination and the use of thigh meat. 


Go to the meat section and you will see a lot of premium breeds on offer. For pork, it is non other than the kurobuta, aka the berkshire or meat from the black pig. It is meant to be as marbled as the beef equivalent of wagyu. This was slow braised and grilled, eaten simply as it is with some spring onion and salt. For almost 20 dollars, it again seemed to be a little on the pricey side. 


I have always loved ox tongue, especially during a good session of Korean barbeque. This was again grilled and topped with a spring onion dressing that matched it beautifully. 

At this point, we realised that we had probably breached the 50 dollar mark per person and was nowhere full, after all it was all delicate items with no carbs to fill. Instead of ordering some carbs, we might as well go down the path of a meat eater and ordered another meat dish. 


Another premium meat on offer, the wagyu and specifically the Sher Wagyu, a breed that is reared in Victoria. Graded at 7, the Porterhouse was melt in your mouth and just simply beautiful with a little pickled cauliflower. Worthy of a price tag of $33.

Overall, some people might say the place is more of a drinking hole, some might say the preparation of food is too simple to warrant the hefty price tag but we say simple cooking is part of Japanese cuisine and we appreciated every single dish we had.

However at just under 70 dollars per pax, it is a nice to have meal opposed to a place that we can visit frequently. 

Address and contact details:

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. While value for money is not exactly their forte, this place is worth a visit for its secretive entrance and underground location, the beautiful grilled meats and of course, the corn fritters. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mamasita @ Melbourne CBD

One eating trend that doesn't seem to be dying down any time soon in Melbourne looks like all things Mexican. In fact from what I have been reading, it's going to only get bigger and better with a number of Mexican places either opened up or opening up. I first heard of the pioneer (I presume), Mamasita, two years ago and since then attempted to give the place a go for dinner 3 times, each time faced with a queue that trickles down the stairs and spills out the road. Whether it was 5.30pm right after work or 7pm when people usually eat. The standard waiting time if you actually get yourselves up the stairs and ask is around 2 hours. It's made worse (or better for them) that they don't take any reservations.

One horrible rainy weekend we decided we will brave the queue of Mamasita before catching a footie game at the MCG, of course this time appearing much earlier at 5 minutes past 5. Guess what, we were third in line (the closest we have ever been) but the place was packed to the brim. After 20 minutes and an edgy Wife in the making, we were seated. 


This was the queue after we left at half past 6. 


One thing I have done in recent trips is to order beer from the same country of the cuisine when dining out. So Mexican beer it was that night. It was not bad, light and refreshing.


The first of the two starters, a tiny pork and surf clam soup. Well it was only after all $4.50 and what was presented was a broth with clams, a tiny hit of spiciness with lots of spices through it.


The other starter on offer is the starter that the waitress will tell everyone to order because of it's signature status. Grilled corn, cheese, chipotle mayo and lime. However, I saw and tasted no signs of charring and rather it tasted very "steamed" or "baked in the oven". Yes, the idea of grating some cheese, lime and mayo is awesome but easily replicated. For $5, I fail to see why everyone would go goo gaa for this. 


Next up, the Tostaditas. We decided to go for a lighter one, the one with crab meat. No injustice was done to the seafood but on the same token, it wasn't anything spectacular. The Wife at this stage, got a little bit edgier.


Then came the soft tacos that got the Wife's eyes all lit up and suddenly it almost felt it was worth popping by this place so many times before securing a seat. They got the formula correct with the braised ox tongue, juicy and cooked to a slight bite into it and a mayo to tie it all up. The one with the grilled fish and prawns were equally as good. Special mention to the soft tortilla, never tried anything that like it before (soft without being floury and chewy). 


We finished off with the mole chicken maryland. I can't say I like this one. The meat had been slow cooked and with chicken, it becomes rather soft, so texture wise I wasn't loving it. The sauce was rather mild and there wasn't really a lot to it in terms of tasting spices and heat.

Although it appears that we experienced more negatives than positives here, we left dinner, thought about it and still decided that it was still worth trying to find a weirder time to come back (maybe 4pm on Saturday, might do the trick or 12pm when it opens) because of the tacos. 

So Mamasita, we will be back.

Address and contact details:

Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. If anything, the Wife loved it after being edgy about trying the place and despite the queues, we are still thinking of heading back. One of the few places that we had more negatives than positives and still deserves a revisit.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Two Birds One Stone @ South Yarra

Come to think about it, we haven't exactly ventured into the South Yarra / Toorak area for breakfast unless you count taking away pastries and bread from the Movida and French Fantasy bakeries. So it was rather good timing to visit the area when I read from Twitterland about the opening of Two Birds and One Stone, just off Toorak Road. 


Opened by the same guys from Three Bags Full (so I heard), the place is warm and inviting (well anywhere is at this time of the year). There's a big communal table which is similar to Three Bags Full too. If there was one difference I can spot, it is the people around us. Everyone seemed all dressed up, prim and proper (despite the fact that it was 9.30am on a Saturday morning) and I suddenly felt a little under dressed.

Get over that fact and you will be rewarded with good coffee made from a rather handsome machine and hearty filling breakfast choices. 


Now apart from being a common phrase, killing two birds in one stone, the phrases are also part of the menu. Two Birds is the one with the lot; eggs, mushrooms, spinach, bacon, sausages, tomatoes and this awesome relish. Many have wowed about their sausages but I don't recall anything wow about it (or mainly because the Wife must have given me such a small piece). I believe the One Stone is the vegetarian version.


Although the portion looks smaller compared to the big breakfast, it was just as filling. After months of looking out for, I guess "different" breakfast items, it was nice to go back to a classic and nothing is more classic than a egg benedict. The shredded ham was nothing like the ones you get in your ham and cheese sandwich, it was meaty and intense and offset by a light and acidic hollandaise sauce. 

Being 5 minutes away from home, this is a brilliant option but having to wait 10 minutes for a table at 9.30am, we might have to lose a little more sleep to arrive earlier.

Address and contact details:

two birds one stone on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. One of those breakfast places where there's nothing wrong with it except for the queue and in this case, how well dressed everyone seems to be (this is after all a posh area). 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jimmy Leung's Kitchen @ Doncaster East

This place was recommended by a friend for good Hong Kong cantonese cuisine and a decent crab dish and despite finding no more than a review or two online and none on Urbanspoon, we decided to head there one Saturday night. 

The place is small and packed by the time we arrived (so it was a good pat on the back for making a booking the night before). Now for those who can't read or speak Cantonese or Mandarin, there is a slight problem for the menu is all written in Chinese. The saving grace is that their takeaway menu is in English but feature none of the interesting dishes we had that night. If language is not a problem then this place is by far the most interesting I have seen in a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne to date. However as a first timer, I left the ordering to the person taking our order and we were presented with the below. 


On hindsight this was probably not the right order for 4 people, with each of us having to down more than 3 bowls of chicken soup laced with chinese rice wine, filling us up a fair bit. Then again when she mentioned "chicken" and "pot", I had no idea it was a soup. 



With this dish we sort of knew what we were getting into; their signature crab dish served on a hot plate and flavoured with simple spring onions, salt and pepper. I absolutely loved this dish as it allowed you to enjoy the sweetness of the crab meat. The Wife didn't enjoy as much as she's used to eating crab drenched with all kinds of sauces (the Malaysian style). Served alongside the crab was a small bowl of wanton noodles with what I understand is a crab broth. This was delicious when eaten together as a course. 


After having fun picking away on crab, we had a simple garlic beef, cubes of melt in your mouth bovine (although I suspect is due to the work of tenderiser) and paired with another simple vegetable dish and it was the end of a good simple dinner (although made luxurious by crabs).

Four dishes with rice and tea came up to less than $40 per person, much cheaper if you don't eat crabs as the crabs was close to 90 bucks. 

Well definitely going to go back soon, to try out some of their pork dishes that made me saliva when I read it out. 

Address and contact details:

Jimmy Leung's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. With a full crowd consisting of Chinese, you won't go wrong by giving this place a go if you want authentic Chinese food. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Its Truffle Season!

I am conscious that it has almost been three weeks since I shared on Twitter about how excited I was in buying my first winter truffle. Before the truffle season ends (according to the guys at Georgie's Harvest South Melbourne Market, the truffles coming out from the ground are still looking good and it should stretch to August (although I am aware that it is now August), So before it becomes September, I thought I quickly share how daunting yet exciting it is to cook with such a magical perfume of a fungus. 


Weighing at 12 grams and costing me well 36 bucks, this little bugger was put nicely in a small jar and went straight into my jacket pocket (didn't want it to get lost in my shopping trolley). 

The first thing we set out to do was to make some truffled scramble eggs but before you actually make it, store the truffle with some eggs in an air tight container. 


Ideally put it in together for 2-3 days to give the truffle some time to perfume the inside of the eggs. We couldn't wait and did it for a day and I can say the result is much milder than expected. That said, don't belittle the size of the truffle. Open up the jar after a day and take a big whiff inside the jar, the smell is intoxicating (in a bloody good way).


So for a first course, it was my rather runny scramble eggs (x4) with some shaved truffle. Like I mentioned before, the truffle "taste" is not so much for your palate but for your nose. It smells better than it tastes (or a lack of taste). 

One challenge I did have was finding a substitute truffle cutter and it was a challenge. Using the crap microplane grater, we had quite a few pieces sticking on the grater. Using a cheese slicer, we found it was hard to slice it thin enough since the truffle was so small to begin with. However, if cooking truffle is going to be a one off, live with it or invest in a truffle cutter.


The second course was a mushroom soup, recipe for another day and again the truffle works brilliantly on the nose. However if you are generous with your truffle, it can work magic into what was an ordinary soup. 


I stretched the 12 grams to the third and final course, a simple mash. We normally drizzle truffle oil into our mash but after having fresh truffle, I don't think I can reach out for my truffle oil any more.

So there you have it, if you want to take cooking to the next level, why don't you invest in some winter truffle in the next coming week or so before the season ends.