Monday, March 25, 2013

Vue De Monde @ Melbourne, CBD

Looking back in our first year of Melbourne, it was definitely a good year in terms of eating out. Yes, there's a lot of hatted restaurants out there (with new potential hatted ones sprouting throughout the year) but we couldn't have imagined striking off two 3 hatted restaurants in a year. While pictures from the Jacques Reymond meal seem to be have vanished into my archive of pictures, the Vue De Monde pictures are fresh out from the camera, even though the meal is close to 4 months ago. 


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Located on the 55th floor of the Rialto Towers, the surroundings was deserted on a Sunday afternoon, normal since this is the business side of town. However as expected with a top restaurant, you will be greeted by someone that is stationed at the lobby before being lead up the lift and up to your dining experience. 


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They say the view here is magnificent and that's true in any place, especially when you are up on the 55th floor. Look a little closely though and you will realise this is the west side of town and apart from Etihad stadium and Docklands, there isn't really any great architecture to admire except for the bright blue sky. 

Once you reach up, we were greeted and seated at the Lui Bar, not really informed whether it was because the table wasn't ready or this was part of the experience i.e. to sit down and have a drink before a meal. At 1.30pm (the later sitting), I would have liked the option to be seated so I can eat because I was starving by then. Another thing I noticed was the state and condition of the suits that the waiters were wearing. It looked completely worned out and one of them had a little tear and hole. Compared to what we saw in NYC, this was a little poor (despite the prices being comparable).

For the uninitiated, there's really two options here, a degustation of multiple courses or 4 courses. Although we agreed to stick to 4 courses before hand, apparently my stomach decided that we should go for the full blown meal. 

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An assortment of teasers or amuse bouches if you will are laid out to get the saliva going. From simple potato crisps (but with a really refreshing dip), cured wallaby, candied eel (awesome), a rather tiny oyster to what tasted like a palate cleanser, it was creative and we particularly loved the unorthodox plating that came along with it.

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The spanner crab was sweet and fresh as it should be and paired with avocado that had been treated into a smooth mousse with a little caviar. Simple clean flavours and left us wanting more.

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Bread was next, an assortment of sorts warmed with a rock inside the basket. A tub of Echire butter (I love this butter) is bought to the table and a nice quenelle of it is served. 

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Following on the lines of simple clean flavours, the marron was served with some flavoured butter and salt. Holy cow, this was good, bite into the juicy crustacean and all you taste of is the sea (in a good way). Now if only they could have served more than a piece, like three.

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While the first couple dishes was simple to highlight the seafood, their version of onion soup was sophisticated and gosh it was good, along with a commentary about the instrument used.

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After a high, the asparagus and duck egg was alright but no one should say no to a creamy yolk, especially one of a duck.


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The palate cleanser came with a little theatrics, the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the herbs before a perfect quenelle of sorbet comes along.

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The first of the more "substantial" dishes, a crispy skin barramundi and this gorgeous low temperature bbq'ed prawn paired with a sauce that tasted like the sea. The prawn was definitely the highlight, almost rare with a hint of smokiness.

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We hear about David Blackmore all the time as the brand of all brands for wagyu beef. Grilled table side, it was good but when the size of it is that tiny square in the background, you can't really taste as clear as you would with a steak-like piece. As if David Blackmore wasn't grand enough, the small serve of cheeks/braise had black truffle shaved all over as well (not exactly prime season but had the indistinguishable smell on the nose). The sauce was a beet reduction, apparently a whole kilo yields nothing more than a tiny saucepan, sticky and sweet.

With that, the savoury dishes ended although we had the option to go one more. A few suggestions like lamb or another fish toyed with my mind before I decided that we will go ahead to desserts.

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A passion fruit beer (shot glass) and a coconut-like chocolate ball kicked it off, a teaser if you would like.

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The strawberry themed dessert was absolutely fantastic, with strawberries done in a few different ways and topped with some ice-cream / sorbet.

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The chocolate souffle was probably the most disappointing possible end, it tasted eggy but airy and the sauce a little rich.

Thinking back, what was even more disappointing is how I am now reading reviews of people having the full blown menu and everyone had the cheese course and we weren't given any! 

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Petit Fours came and that was the end of the meal. I remembered the platter not being very pleasing with one of the pieces tasting like soap. 

You know what they say, first impressions are important but the ending is equally as important and in this case, was rather anti climax. The amuse bouche were interesting and tasty, the seafood dishes were simple and highlighted the produce and the use of truffles and David Blackmore much appreciated. However, a disappointing dessert and a missing cheese course is probably not what you would expect from one of the most expensive restaurants in Melbourne.

(So disappointed, that I almost forgot about the delicious brioche loaf and jam that they packed for us for our breakfast the day after, loved the touch.)

Vue De Monde is certainly fitting for a special event, with the views from the 55th floor and some really good food. However, comparing this meal to the meal we had at Eleven Madison Park (bearing in mind that Eleven Madison Park was slightly cheaper and is a 3 michelin star restaurant in NYC), Vue De Monde certainly lagged behind, whether it was the number of courses, the "wowness" of the dishes and the service (I still can't believe the state of some of the waiters' suits). 

It may be the best in Melbourne to a lot of people but I think it can do even better.

Address and contact details:

Vue de Monde on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars (almost a little too generous). When it has the reputation of being one of the most expensive restaurants and one of the four 3 hatted restaurants in Melbourne, frankly, I expected a little more.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Petty Officer @ Albert Park, Melbourne

Any brunch place that is no more than a 10 minute drive from home and does not require me to drive through the city immediately gets a big tick from me. 

Now I might have implied that Crabapple Kitchen was our first "brunch" spot since coming back from Malaysia but I have got a funny feeling that after being deprived from my usual daily dose of good coffee (although I did have the odd good cup or two), we headed to the Petty Officer the day after got back to Melbourne. 

If you know where Jocks is (famous for their peanut butter and jelly ice cream which is named after the American president), this is further down the street. Taking up the corner lot coupled with the use of many windows means plenty of light and that's exactly what you want to start the day. 

Its getting incredibly hard to find breakfast dishes that sounds exciting enough for us to order (probably getting pickier). On this front, the Petty Officer brunch items all sounded pretty standard and off the mill, although we did spot a slightly more favourable lunch menu that had things like lamb shoulder, wagyu and pork belly (maybe we are just carnivores).   

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Carrying a few more pounds from the insane amount of carbohydrates, I decided to go healthy and went for the bircher muesli (something I would have never ordered but the one at Mart 130 changed my mind). This was just as good, tasted healthy and delicious without feeling like you were eating cardboard. 

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We couldn't be all that healthy and we balanced off with some corn fritters in a form that I have never seen before. Whether it was corn roll or corn sausages, the dense filling (not the way that some might like it) paired with the refreshing salsa and creme fraiche was a pretty good combination. Being greedy meant I threw a portion of chorizo which were really nothing to shout about. 

Wash it all down with some coffee and we have a happy customer. While it doesn't really serve the best coffee nor the best food, the place is nice and bright, not too crowded (at least when we were there that day) and also not too far from home. That in my books means it is a keeper and we should re-visit sooner than later.

Address and contact details:

The Petty Officer on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Decent food and coffee, coupled with convenience for me since I stay around the area.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wonderbao @ Melbourne CBD

I am happy to see the back logs being drafted in good time and by the time you read this, you should be glad to know I have also finally downloaded all my food pictures from the phone and camera. 

Wonderbao opened with a lot of coverage from the food blogs, Urbanspoon and even on Facebook. Specialising as the name suggests in "baos" or buns, you can have it any style as long as it is steamed (with the exception (to a certain extent) of the gua bao, the sandwich bao made famous by David Chang from Momofuku).

As with most places receiving rave reviews, there's always a crowd (I tend to stay away from crowds). Although the more troubling issue was they initially didn't open on weekends. So when they finally decided to open on Saturdays, the week before they were closing for the year, we popped in. Word of warning, it took us 5 minutes walking along A'Beckett Street before finding it rather hidden and tucked away behind some rather inconspicuous road facing shop lots.   

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As expected, there were a few "traditional" bao options and a few, well exactly 3 fillings if you wanted a gua bao. With less than 10 seats around we were lucky to get some seats, although I suspect otherwise on a busier weekday.   

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The Wife was starving and we got right into it with what essentially is a steam chinese hot dog (with a chinese sausage) and the more famous custard bun. While the fillings were pretty decent, the bun wasn't as fine or fluffy as what you will get in a good Hong Kong yum cha meal. Then again, at the cost of less then a cup of coffee, I can't really complain. 

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The Gua Bao(s) were next and we ordered the trio. The vegetarian version was surprisingly good, I suspect because the smooth silky tofu was given the deep fried treatment. The pork ones come either braised (the traditional Taiwanese way) or roasted slathered with (rather disappointingly) canned hoisin sauce (well at least that was what I spotted at the kitchen). That aside, the flavours were good; delicious fatty pork balanced with a little acidity from the pickled and preserved vegetables.

Wash it down with soya bean and hmm we had a pretty satisfying and "different" breakfast.

That said coming at about under 4 dollars a bun, you will need two to do you any good and maybe another classic bao for good measure. Alas coupled with the 4 dollar an hour parking outside the street, our meal of baos was suddenly looking a little expensive, bearing in mind these were meant to be economical, culturally and historically. 

I guess its a different story if you stay walking distance from the place or able to hop over for a take away lunch but if you have to drive down and find parking (like we did), I am not sure the baos are enticing enough to come again and re-visit (although I wouldn't mind).

Address and contact details:
      
Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. A refreshing new take on a staple that has been around for ages but would like to see it go even further with maybe some funky new flavours.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Totto Ramen @ Hells Kitchen NYC

All this talk about Ippudo (one of my favourite ramen (well at least the bowl I had in NYC) opening up in Malaysia and Sydney is making me green with envy. With Melbourne supposedly a food capital in Australia, why on earth is no worthy ramen master opening up here is beyond my understanding. 

The only consolation is going back to my archives and drool at what is one of the most talked about ramen place in NYC; Totto Ramen.


One thing that sets it apart is the use of chicken stock (what chu say??). Sceptical to say the least (I know) but it was a 10 minute walk from our hotel and it was our last meal before we flew off, we took the risk and we were greeted with a rather long queue. Despite coming 10 minutes before it officially opened, we were already 15-20 people behind and when the place can only fit 15-20 people, our supposedly 10 minute wait suddenly became almost 40 minutes long.



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It's small and its basement, fitting in Melbourne (I wish). 


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I could see a few chicken carcasses floating in the pot but I am pretty sure it can't be that simple.

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I was starving and while the noodles were cooking, I had some lightly torched sea urchin on some sushi rice, brilliant start to my lunch.

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Portionwise, this place win hands down. Ordering the ramen with "the lot", this was filled with generous portions of cha shu that were torched for some extra flavour, shredded pork and crunchy scallions. While you don't get the complexity of a pork broth, the chicken broth was refreshing although a little oily. Some might not like the overwhelming garlic oil but as a fan of garlic, I was happy to slurp the whole bowl down. Was I converted? Yes!

What is more upsetting was looking at their online menu and realising that I had paid $15 for this bowl, compared to the miserable portion of salty and flat ramen I had just the other day for $13. 

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If you want a little something spicy like our friend did, be prepared, just look at the colour.

What can I say? A place fitting for our last meal in NYC.

Address and contact details:

Totto Ramen on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Happen to be in New York City? Willing to wait for a satisfying bowl of ramen? Totto is a must try.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crabapple Kitchen @ Hawthorn, Melbourne

Having come back from Malaysia earlier in the year, it took us weeks of eating Asian before we decided we needed a good ol' Melbourne brunch to get us back in the swing of things. However having not eaten out in almost two months, my head was blank, with the usual task of choosing a place. Whether it was by chance or the randomness of reading about Crabapple Kitchen somewhere, I decided that this was the place to catch up with a friend and break that spell of eating Asian.

Small and cozy, this place was packed during Sunday lunch. It didn't help that the back end of the cafe was booked out for some function and which made noise almost an issue. Luckily despite it being full house, we got a table in 10 minutes and got served by a rather chirpy lady (almost too giggly).

We were starving at this point and quickly put our orders through. Now, if you were looking for a quick meal, you would have complained about the wait because food was coming out slow (probably the function at the back) but since we were catching up with a friend, it was a good place to be able to chat and chat without having people stare at you, waiting for you to leave. 


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Whether it was the name of the place that sparked the creation of this dish or the components of this dish that inspired the name of this place, the crab and apple slider gets a lot of mention online. While it was good, I would have prefer a little more crab so that I could get that burst of seafood instead of the apple sweetness when I bit into it. 


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Remember the rather happy lady? After she convinced the Wife to order their  mushroom soup special, out came a lunch steak sandwich. Yes, they got it wrong but at this stage, the Wife wasn't going to let them take it back and instead dug in like a carnivore. The "gribiche" sauce was amazing, a boiled egg mayonnaise according to Google and nothing can really go wrong when a steak sandwich comes with cheese and onions too. Luckily it tasted pretty good, else the Wife would have deducted a star or two for that mistake. 


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It looks like they change their menu quite often with the crab pasta already off the menu as I write this and it couldn't have been more than a month since we ate here. Well what I did want to write based on a bite from my friend's plate was it was the bomb! Full of crab flavour, just from one bite, you could clearly taste an explosion of the meaty crustacean in the mouth. Although listed under the dishes that are meant to be "more substantial", the portion was rather small and I could have easily polished off two. 


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Another item that doesn't look like its on their menu (online) anymore, a lamb and gnocchi dish. The lamb was slow cooked but had a bite, the jus was delicious and well seasoned and though the gnocchi look rather sad and were a little small, it was delicious. 

To finish it off we were meant to share but I ended up having most of the Chocolate Pot (almost like a chocolate fondue pot, minus the things you dip it in), rich, rich and rich.

With most lunch items priced in the $20s, it wasn't too expensive and the combination of food and atmosphere should likely see us return again pretty soon (hopefully the wait wouldn't be too long).

Address and contact details:

Crabapple Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Good food and vibe, hopefully the long wait for food was an one-off. Can't wait to return.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bistro Guillaume @ Crown Casino, Southbank

Just in case I publish a post and go off for another month break, I am going to pre-write some of these old meals, so by the time you read this, this could have been drafted days, weeks or months ago (you get the picture).

A visit to Bistro Guillaume was requested after the Wife decided that she wanted to have good onion soup. When the Wife wants something, she usually gets it. 

Popping in early on a Friday evening after work, the place as the name suggests has a casual bistro setting. Trying to emphasize that the place was as "french" as it can be, we were greeted and served by a few french waiters wearing 'Lacoste' polo t-shirts. The menu is pretty "french" too as you would expect.


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Bread and butter is served almost immediately after you sit down, a nice touch as you chew on some bread while making up your mind on your orders.

We knew what the Wife was going to have as a starter:

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To which she commented that it wasn't as good as the one she had in Paris and more obviously, too salty. Still, it was a good onion soup, plenty of cheese is topped on bread that sits on a full bowl of soft caramelised onions in bovine broth.

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I am not sure how french is risotto but I had what was an entree size portion topped with veal sweetbread. The soft spongy offal is cooked just right, but compared to the onion soup, the risotto was under seasoned and not helped by the jus at all. 

By being so focused, the Wife was clueless when it came to the Mains. Not one to eat fish or chicken outside (and I didn't want her to order same main as mine), she was left with the duck.

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The duck confit that night came with brussels sprouts and a mustard seed tinged sauce. The picky Wife didn't like it (although the main reason is probably the inclusion of the vegetable that she hates). The skin wasn't as crispy as it could be and the meat was on the dry side.

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I can't really complain about steak and chips, although the chips were under seasoned. As much as I tried to like the bernaise sauce, I didn't really like it as well (personal preference). I can say though that the steak was cooked the way I like it and it was well rested.

With the meal not exactly being a hit, we left without desserts (big regret, read below). 

As we appeared to have ordered before 6pm, we were entitled to the pre-theatre dinner special - $45 for 2 courses, $55 for 3 courses. When we got the bill, the accountant in me could not believe that we had just forgone a dessert for 10 bucks, oh well.

While the food was good, it wasn't great. At 55 bucks a person for 3 courses (if you order by 6pm), it won't break your wallet but I am not sure whether we will rushing to come back so soon. 

Address and contact details:

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Decent French food but surely there are better ones out there in Melbourne?