Friday, July 27, 2012

Darac Grill & Bar @ Melbourne CBD

We used to eat a lot of Korean food when we were back in Brisbane, mainly because one of our friends was Korean and we hanged out a lot (yes, that's you Jun, if you are reading this). However since coming down to Melbourne, Korean hasn't really featured much (no apparent reason apart from the lack of influence to dine Korean) and I think I can count the number of Korean meals I had in 6 months with one hand. One item I do particularly miss is the kim chip hot pot that comes with all items unhealthy like spam, canned sausages and sliced cheese. 

So one night I decided I would need to have that hot pot (I believe it's called budae jjigae) and I rounded up my sister as well. We headed to Darac on her recommendation. 

We needed something to start off with and picked a seafood pancake. I can't understand why people are so willing to pay anywhere between up to $15 for what is a flour based pancake with bits and pieces of frozen seafood but that night I did exactly that without knowing why. I guess it's just a form of comfort food that does not have a price to it. 


The hot pot I was talking about, all things artificial and unhealthy. Although not as good as some that I have tasted before, it would still pretty comforting to dig in, to say the least. 

If I needed a theme to tonight's dinner, it would have to be comfort food; hot soup, sticky white korean rice and seafood pancake, now that's a rather good combination to battle a cold winter's night. 

Address and contact details:

Darac Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Decent Korean food in the CBD but most importantly, serves up a budae jjigae. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pope Joan @ Brunswick East, Melbourne

You learn something new everyday. Now on top of the Age Good Food Guide, I found out awhile ago that there's was also the Age Good Cafe Guide for what else but everything coffee and brunch. Being a morning person means our weekends usually start with a breakfast / brunch and this came in handy for some inspiration when we had no idea what to eat one Saturday morning.


 Going through the list of cup winners, we zoomed in on Best Food Cafe and this year it was awarded to Pope Joan, up north at Brunswick. As expected with a recent award, the place was packed but thankfully being spacious helps as we quickly got seated in. The menu is a mix of familiar items but I guess done in a different way. Case in point, seen haloumi in a pumpkin pie or smoked salmon served with deep fried parsnip croquettes? It's seasonal too with their omelettes coming in with optional winter truffles.


 After having my dose of coffee at grocery shopping, I decided to try the chai. However the chai turned out a little weak in spice and I sort of regretted for not ordering a coffee instead.


Pumpkin and Haloumi Pie, Fried Egg with Rainbow Chard and Dukkah. Instead of thick strips of grilled haloumi, there were torn into bite size pieces into a smooth pumpkin filling and when paired with pastry, a fried egg with a oozing yolk, you got a winner. That said, the Wife wasn't a fan of the chard and was glancing over my plate a number of times before we switched our plates.


NZ Smoked Salmon, Parsnip Croquettes with Slow Cooked Egg and Joan's slaw. The ingredients were good by itself but I didn't think the combination really works. I found I either ate the smoked salmon (which still had a sashimi like texture) with either the egg on toast or with the croquette. Trying to put a bit of each item on your fork before in your mouth almost seemed a little impossible. That said, it was something new and I loved it. 

Overall, a very decent breakfast / brunch place but wasn't exactly miles ahead of those places that I have tried. Then again, who knows if Pope Joan won the award by a whisker. All things said, still worth a re-visit for me and a potential place to take any visitors out for brunch. 

Address and contact details: 

Pope Joan on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. A rather interesting menu with items not normally paired together (the smoked salmon, egg, toast and croquettes is probably a good example) but was let down by the rather weak chai. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kokoro Ramen @ Melbourne CBD

If there was one good thing about Brisbane (in actual fact, there's more than one), it would be the existence of good ramen. Make that excellent ramen or out of this world ramen. For those in Brisbane, it is no other than Hakataya

In the recent cold weeks, one of the things I was looking out for was ramen steeping in bowl of incredible pork stock. One of the names suggested to me was Kokoro Ramen. Always one to try a recommendation, I went in on a weekday lunch, ordered at the counter and waited. 

I was presented with this. 


If I had to make comparisons with my favourite Brisbane joint, it would be as follow:

1. Stock - One of the things I figured out AFTER the meal was that the stock I had was a mix of chicken and seafood stock. While not a bad thing, there is a difference to the taste and texture (the one in Brisbane being slightly gelatinous). Some say that the stock can be a little on the salty side. a little research will tell you to add sweet corn to balance that out (unless you hate corn). Overall, I still prefer my favourite Brisbane joint. 

2. Pork - Hakataya serves thinly sliced melt in your mouth pork while Kokoro serves it differently. There's two different cuts, a melt in your mouth block of pork belly and a leaner and drier cut of pork roast. The winner is in the pork belly and it being in a generous thick cut means it has won over my stomach and takes the point from Hakataya. 

3. Noodles - I have read complaints about Kokoro ramen either being cooked too soft and what not. Pleased to report that there was nothing wrong with mine. However, Hakataya does give an extra free serve to anyone who is not full after their first bowl (noodles only). 

4. Condiments - Hakataya serves their rather plainly; pork, noodles, soup and sesame seeds while looking at the above picture, you can add eggs, corns and many more. On top of that, there's 4 different stocks to choose from and many more toppings as well like soft shell crab, chicken and etc. For those always wanting to try something different, Kokoro does the better job while you could say Hakataya does what is does best. Each to its own.

Overall, I still think Hakataya does it for me and how I long for a bowl of their ramen but instead of sulking I can pop into Kokoro ramen and console myself that this is quite good too.

Now the quest is to find one that tops both of them in Melbourne. Any suggestions?

Address and contact details:

Kokoro Ramen on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. One of the things I didn't compare is price and pricewise during lunch, Kokoro wins with my bowl of extra egg and corn coming in at $12. I believe Hakataya serves theirs for $13 with almost no condiments. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Truffle Dinner @ St Ali

It's winter black truffle season in the cooler parts of Australia (all very new to me, don't think I have heard about it from Brisbane) and being the self proclaimed foodie, meant going out to try some. 

There are plenty of benefits in using Twitter and one of it was discovering Fringe Food Festival. To sum up in one sentence, the people behind it organises themed one off lunch / dinner events and tickets can be bought online. In this case, a recent Truffle dinner at St Ali caught my eye and at $80 per pax for a 5 course dinner (10-12 grams of truffle per person), it wasn't exactly emptying your wallet expensive. 

As much as I would like to think I know a lot about truffles, I actually don't. Yes, I have eaten some in the past but to be honest, never really got what the fuss was all about. Truffle oil on the other hand has been a must in the pantry for mash and scramble eggs, we loved the pungent earthy aroma when it hits the plate. The idea that night was to see what the difference was. 

Back to the dinner, I guess I will make this short and sweet, after all, it was an one off event and I feel bad that you won't be able to try what we ate that night.


An interesting thing to note, such events are all about communal dining and we ended up in good conversation with half the people on the table as we discovered we were all from Malaysia (and one Singaporean)! Bread was served with olive oil but the lack of plates meant passing the basket around and eating with your hands. 


The menu describes this as "confit egg yolk, savoury granola, celeriac milk and truffle". As explained by the chef, this dish was inspired by the venue, being in St Ali and a breakfast place, he wanted to incorporate a breakfast dish with truffle. While not exactly what I would order on a menu (I have never ordered granola at brunch), it was interesting to try. There was texture from the "granola", creaminess from the egg yolk and the hint of earthy aroma from the truffles. If anything, the truffles smells more fragrant than it tastes on the palate.  A pretty good start. 


Roast Chicken and Chips, Truffled Bread Sauce. Crispy skin chicken thigh and crunchy chips, tied together in this amazing thick sauce with truffle shavings. In this course I learned how the truffle doesn't taste of much on it's own but really shines through when eaten with a conduit; the chips especially. 


"Truffle and Mushroom in its natural surrounds" - Wild Mushroom Risotto, Hazelnut, Chlorophyll was the dish I was waiting for. At first I thought wow, that is alot of truffle shaved all over, only to find out it was an ash created from eggplant being roasted over high heat. The mushrooms were the best I had, apparently freshly picked that day. Although quite heavy, I was happy to finish it all. Once again, the truffle scent is milder than it smells and if there was a lesson to learn, thats how truffles are meant to be, not the pungent (and vile to some) like truffle oil.  


Truffled D'affinois, Celery, Apple, Buerre, Noisette & Rosemary was our cheese course. So where is the truffle this time? Right in the middle of two layers of soft cheese. The only thing I wanted was a little bit more cracker to eat the generous portion of cheese with. 


Nitrogen poached Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Sponge, Carrot and Truffle was the finale of the night and the highlight was freezing the mousse with nitrogen in front of the dining area for the guests to see. Being frozen in such high (negative) temperature, you get a really hard crust but a rather smooth and soft core. The truffles were grated on the sponge and lend that earth aroma to it but was let down because it was too dry. The carrot reduction was probably there to cut through the sweetness but ended up way too sweet. 

Having bought truffle after this dinner and having a go at using it, I think some of the dishes that night were either enhanced with truffle oil or used far superior truffles from the one I got (although pricewise, it's still in the 3 dollar region per gram). A girl from the table mentioned that the truffle dinner at the Sage KL (some time last year) was way better than this (so oh rejoice to those who tried it). 

Either way it was fun to see how truffles tasted and since truffle season is going on for a little longer, I hope to fit in another truffle meal before it ends.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mama Baba @ South Yarra, Melbourne

We were heading towards Burch and Purchese on Chapel Street to get our dose of sweets when at a traffic light, we spotted the sign "Mama Baba". It took that 5-10 seconds before I realised that this was the latest place opened by the short pudgy bald guy on Master Chef (apologies to George, if you found that description rude).

Once that sank in (not the image of George but the fact that Mama Baba was just around the corner), we decided we will pop in for dinner that night. Luckily, the place was open at 4pm and we managed to get in to secure a reservation for later.

The place is rather hidden, literally at the end of the quiet and dim Daly Street (off Chapel Street). However walk into Mama Baba and it is a different story. While it is still dim, the whole place has "If you are hip and cool, we want you in" written all over it. That isn't exactly a bad thing as it was probably just the thing we needed after I was complaining to the Wife that I felt old and boring. The whole vibe and music made us "young" again during dinner.  


The black cutlery was something different although in this case, was I being cynical to think that there was some form of advertising going on with Salt&Pepper or the other way around?


I always give bonus points for complimentary bread and Mama Baba gets it with the focaccia bread. After seeing George advertising Western Star butter on TV one too many times, we weren't surprised that the bread came with what else but Western Star butter, apparently the best but I beg to differ.  

I can't seem to find pictures of our starters but we did have a serve of polenta chips and culatello. The polenta was crispy on the outside and had a soft inside but polenta naturally tasting rather bland, we would have liked more of the chilli in that chilli sour cream dip provided on the side. The culatello, a kind of prosciutto was rather meagre in portion with bits of mozarella, radish and balsamic. Subsequent to the meal, I got to learn (where else but on Master Chef) that culatello is like the king of prosciutto which probably explains why there was no more than 4-5 see through thick slices. 


Like the waiter / waitress will tell you or you can tell them you read it here first, Mama Baba is all about pasta and is split between Greek influenced (Mama) and good old Italian (Baba). Accordingly, the cheeses you get is different, I can't remember the name but the greek cheese really packed a punch.   


The tortellini came from the Greek side, filled with a prawn saganaki served with some tomatoes, feta and fragrant prawn oil. This was delicious through and through.  


From the Baba side, we ordered the agnolotti with a slow cook pork filling on a bed of artichoke and dates and finished with mortadella and guanciale on top. While the filling was nice and the artichoke cooked beautifully soft with burst of sweetness from the dates, there was something wrong. In a typical Master Chef response, we asked "where is the sauce?". The dish just needed a little sauce to tie everything together, even if it was juices from the artichokes or even burnt butter. 


The "Ferrero Rocher" sounded awesome on paper (despite having Burch and Purchese desserts sitting in the fridge) but didn't exactly deliver. Rather one dimensional in texture, the nuts in the cake were rather flat too. The gelato on offer sounded tempting so if we ever come back, let's hope it delivers. 

The meal came up to about $40 per pax and while that won't leave you stuffed, we didn't leave the place hungry. I reckon had we switched the starters for another pasta, I might have left the place even happier. 

Address and contact details:

Mama Baba on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I don't think the place deserves that low rating on Urbanspoon and even if I was to be extra critical of this place (you know, having a celebrity chef behind the whole place), it is still a decent place for a plate of pasta (maybe a plate and the half). 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

PappaRich @ Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne

Guess what? PappaRich has landed on Melbourne shores. 

For those unfamiliar, PappaRich is all over Malaysia, a place where people hang out and have a quick bite in an air conditioned environment. The concept is pretty simple, they charge more than a hawker stall but less than a western cafe would for a meal and drink. They are everywhere, in suburbs and shopping centres and they open till late. It is one of those places where you can order a variety of Malay, Chinese and Indian under one roof at any time of the day. To me, PappaRich is a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none kind of an eatery.

So when they opened up in Melbourne, I wasn't really keen to join the massive queues until one day the Wife said we had to try. The craving for Malaysian food had obviously got to her.

We took a number, waited 20 minutes and sat down to a familiar looking menu, a menu that actually got me drooling. The drooling continues when you see roti being made fresh on the spot as well.


While latte may be my norm drink on a regular weekend, I can't go past a "cham" if I see one on the menu. A concoction of coffee, tea and condensed milk, this was good or simply a Malaysian who has been deprived of his Malaysian drinks.


If you have to order one item on the menu, it has to be their roti canai, make it the roti telur bawang (or the roti with egg and onions). Freshly made and cooked on order, this was very close to what you can get in Malaysia. Although for Malaysians who convert everything to local currency, you won't be happy to know that a plate of this will set you back $6.50 or a tad under RM20. 


If you have gotten over paying RM20 for a roti telur bawang, my tip for you is to avoid paying over RM30+ for the nasi briyani with fried chicken. The chicken was pre-cooked which meant it didn't come out hot and crispy. The rice was just well rice and the sides of brinjal and prawns didn't do it for me.


The positive is the Ipoh Kuey Teow soup. It's good to know that you can get decent quality rice noodles in this part of town. Paired with chicken and prawn broth, it makes for a nice hot meal especially in the freezing winter we have been experiencing. 

Overall, a good job. Now fingers crossed, if the quality remains as it is, I am sure I will fork out the occasional 6 bucks for a roti telur bawang when the craving hits.

Address and contact details:

PappaRich on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. It's funny how I wouldn't really pop into a PappaRich in Malaysia but after the roti telur, I am willing to go back again and pay heaps more compared to the prices in Malaysia!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Red Spice Road @ Melbourne CBD

Much has been talked about Chin Chin and I will get to write about it when I upload the horrible grainy pictures I took that night but this post is all about Red Spice Road. 

Opened back in 2008, the menu is South East Asian inspired and the decor is hip and modern. If you would like, RSR is like the middle child with Longrain as the elder brother and Chin Chin as the younger brother. Essentially all of them serve similar cuisine in hip and cool settings but there are little bits and pieces that differentiate who they are.

For one, RSR does an early bird special where if you order before 6 and vacate by 7 (only valid between Monday - Friday), you can order a 3 / 5 course banquet menu for $25 / $30 per head (although the 5 course banquet requires a table of 6 and above). To put that into perspective, dinner at Longrain was 60 bucks a head and Chin Chin was 50 bucks a head. If you think well, I got to eat at 6, you should also know to eat at Chin Chin, you got to eat by 6 too (unless you patiently queue).        

Two, this is on the Bourke / Elizabeth St side of town vs. the east side of town where Longrain and Chin Chin is. 

Three, go figure yourself because I realise I can't be bothered thinking about the third. 


So on to the food. If there is one thing you should order, it is the sticky pork belly. Deep fried, sweet and a little spicy, it is worth the calories. Worthy of being a signature dish of this restaurant. However coming in a party of 6, we realised the portion was only good for 1 piece per person. In true Malaysian blood, the comment around the table was "where got enough!?"


As part of the early dinner set menu, there was a chicken and herb salad to start the meal. To those who don't like bean sprouts and chicken breast, this might not be your thing but for me, it works as a lunch salad rather than a dinner salad, furthermore one that you eat with rice. 


Battered barramundi pieces tossed with a watermelon and cucumber salad / dressing. While some on the table looked at it wondering what was so South East Asian about this dish, I appreciated it for one reason, it wasn't spicy and it was kind of refreshing to eat alongside some of the curries we had below.


With most South East Asians, dinner requires a plate of vegetables or two, especially if one is ordering dishes to share. This seemed to be that vegetable dish for us that night. I vaguely remember pumpkin (yes, that's right, you can see it in the picture) and the curry was good to have along with rice.


The Massaman Curry was good but not as good as the one we had at Longrain. That being said, who can really say no to melt in your mouth beef chunks and potatoes?

Overall, generous portions (with the exception of the pork belly because everyone wanted to have seconds) but the fixed choices and the cheaper prices in the early bird menu means no flexibility and some people not liking some dishes. I said this before but the pork belly is a somewhat must order.

 For those who have the Entertainment Card, its another 25% discount for you (one time only and subject to a cap). Another difference between RSR and Longrain and Chin Chin!

Address and contact details:

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Not many restaurants will feed you $30 per person with all these dishes in a hip and cool setting even if that means having to eat at 6 and leave at 7. Although RSR is not just all about value, delivering good flavours too. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Want to Win an Awesome Tropical Island Holiday with Cikipedia!

I just found out a dear friend blogger is 1. branching out to a health related blog and 2. in conjunction to the "grand opening", giving out a 3 day 2 night stay at YTL Pangkor Laut Resort. So if you are reading this, this is actually "my entry" to the contest. Want to find out more? Click on the link below:

I’m participating in Cikipedia’s Healthy Getaway Weekend!

Back to the contest; 50 words to describe my daily / weekly workout routine.

The definition of work-out according to the dictionary is “a session of vigorous physical exercise”.

The more obvious response is going to the driving range, playing indoor soccer, walking back home and going to the gym. However, I prefer to eat and exercise my jaw more often than not.    


There you go, fingers crossed I win this, if not I won't be participating in any more of these contests!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Peko Peko @ South Melbourne

Peko Peko to me is one of those places where we can get a fuss-free quick and cheap dinner. Well almost fuss-free. Unlike most places in my book that do belong to that category, Peko Peko requires you to call them up in advance just to make sure there's a table waiting for you because they are always packed (or close to packed). Once you are seated though, the affair is pretty straight forward. Choose one item from the bountiful list of dishes you can order from, wait a little while, eat up, pay a very reasonable $15-20 per pax and off you go.

Feeling a little peckish and want a starter on top of your main course? Try the taiwanese sausage.


Slightly sweet and spiced, this was rather lean compared to the ones we have had in Taiwan or the ones you get in the supermarket.


The beef noodles comes with a light herbal broth that anyone would be happy with especially during cold winter nights. I can't really say the same about the beef though for it was rather forgettable.



While I preferred the broth used in the beef noodle, I loved how generous the battered pork chop was in this dish. The batter and the taste reminds me of the night markets of Taipei where freshly battered chicken chops are sold by the hundreds if not thousands each night. 



Apart from noodles, Peko Peko serves a mean bento box. Alongside two small random side dishes, you get to choose the main dish from a list of 20 over items (I think). The pop corn chicken is recommended, a classic and done similarly to the battered pork chop. The only problem I had is how dry it was trying to eat fried chicken with plain white rice (then again, I love gravy / sauce with white rice).

The honey beef comes with a sweet glaze gets a little sweet as you reach the last few pieces but great to eat alongside the rice.

So if you happen to stay in the South Melbourne / St Kilda Road area, this is a small brilliant place for a weekday dinner (although I will regret saying this if I have to wait for a table the next time I visit).

Address and contact details:

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. For what it is, simple satisfying dishes for a weekday dinner, this place is a keeper.