Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tao's Restaurant

Location: 201 Bulleen Road, Bulleen Vic
Link: www.taosrestaurant.com.au
Cuisine: Japanese, French, Fusion

Having been searching for an excuse to go try out Tao's we finally decided to go for H's birthday. Dinner is a $50 degustation (the menu states seven courses but they threw in a couple of additional ones in between - not that we were complaining!).

Complimentary Dish 1...

Bread sticks with sweet tangy dipping sauce

This was the first additional dishes not mentioned on the menu. The bread sticks were crunchy and tasted like poppyseed/sesame. The dipping sauce was a sweet, tangy and somewhat sticky sauce which clung nicely to the bread sticks.

Course #1: Starters...

Chef's Seasonal Assorted Platter
(from left: sardines with pickled daikon radish; scallop with lemon slice and garnish; tomato soaked in alcohol, with a peanut sauce and mint)

The starter was a mix of strange and new flavours. The pickled daikon radish was very nice and crisp, the sardines tasted like, well, sardines - nothing too special there. The scallop was very fresh and tasted great with the lemon and the strange stringy garnish. The tomato was quite odd-tasting - as though it had been soaked in some kind of alcohol. If not for the peanut sauce, it probably would not have been edible.

Course #2: Entrée...

Ice Age Sashimi

Tao's Style Prawn with Tempura Oysters

This was an amazing entrée. The prawns were fresh and nicely flavoured. They were hung in a little shot glass of fish sauce and vinegar, with the flavours seeping in through the prawn heads into the flesh. The shells came off very easily, indicating that they were cooked to the right extend. The batter on the oysters was light and crunchy, no trace of oil at all! The oysters themselves were quite large, fresh and juicy. The only thing I didn't like was the smear of wasabi between inside the batter (I'm not a fan of wasabi). However, it wasn't enough to put me off devouring the second oyster! The small dollop of smashed potatoes was a little out of place, but tasted quite nice nevertheless.

Course #3: Tao's Special Chawa-mushi...

Seafood broth covered with soft egg tofu and fish roe

Having no idea what this was until it reached the table, we were pleasantly surprised. The egg tofu on top was smooth and silky, with a slightly salty taste and the fish roe popped like it should. Underneath the tofu was a light seafood broth, with shrimp, baby scallops and small pieces of other seafood as well. It was like finding a gem at the bottom of the sea!

Course #4: Soup...

Teapot Style Bonitto

Creamy Pumpkin

Ginseng Chicken Herbal

Cream of Mushroom

When I first ordered this, I thought it might be a little risky that I was ordering a soup that would end up being Continental Cup-a Soup. I was proved wrong with the arrival of this. Smooth and creamy, and completely infused with mushroom flavour as well as very finely chopped mushrooms. I just could not get enough of it!

Complimentary Dish 2...

Salty plum shots

These looked odd, but actually did not taste too bad. Not normally a fan of salty plum, I sipped at it tentatively first and was pleasantly surprised. The shaved ice inside the shot glass actually made the salty plum juice taste light and refreshing.

Course #5: Mains...

Baked Ocean Trout wtih Avocado sauce

Rockling Sugiita-yaki with Miso Cream

This dish came on fire! The bamboo wrapped around the rockling fillet was flaming at the ends, allowing the nice smokey bamboo flavour to infuse the fish. The fish itself was soft and tender, cooked perfectly and strongly flavoured. The miso cream added a creamy texture to the fish. The accompanying sides were a little odd - broad beans, tomato, a shitake mushroom and some picked daikon slices - but strangely enough added some colour and nice contrasting textures and flavours to the rest of the dish.

Confit Duck Leg with White Wine Sauce

Inside the baking paper

The duck leg was served inside the baking paper - which kept the sauce together. Also served with an assortment of sides.

Course #6: Rice of the Day...

Japanese fried rice

The 'rice of the day' turned out to be Japanese fried rice - with shrimp and the usual other suspects in fried rice. It again had a nice wok-infused aroma, but wasn't really much of an exciting dish. It was quite fitting to have the rice served at the same time as the mains as it allowed a nice balance of flavours.

Course #7: Dessert...

Fruits Sago

Whilst everyone else chose the cream brulee, I opted for the fruits sago and was quite happy with it. There was an abundance of finely diced fresh fruit (mostly apple) and plenty of sago and coconut milk. To be honest, I ordered it for the coconut milk!

Cream Brulee

The other three were very very pleased with their cream brulee, with had a crunchy topping that had to be cracked to get to the rest of it.


Fine dining at it's best. The restaurant is located in the suburbs and is generally quiet. There are large windows to let in the natural lighting as well as provide some nice view into the garden (and then the carpark beyond that). We went on a Thursday night, which would have been quiet had there not been a wedding reception on a couple of tables down. The little kids almost ruined the atmosphere especially when one mother decided to bring a crying baby back into the main part of the restaurant from the patio seating.

The service was very prompt and professional. There was very little delay between courses which we particularly liked. One thing we would have preferred would have been for the waiters to actually introduce the dish they were placing in front of us - we weren't told what the two additional dishes and the components of the starter were (hence I have made up the descriptions above).

Lunch is $38, dinner is $50. The main difference is that there are certain options available only at dinner time (including the prawn and oyster entrée, the rockling and the duck leg). Also the Chawa-mushi is only available at dinner time. Given the quality of the food, and the fairly decent sized servings, it was totally worth it!

Overall Impression: 10/10
Tao's on Urbanspoon

Kouzina - Lunchtime Mezedes

Location: Level 2, Westfield Doncaster, 619 Doncaster Road, Doncaster (also one at Southgate)
Link: www.kouzina.com.au
Cuisine: Greek

The lunchtime menu at Kouzina seems to sport more mezedes (tapas style dishes) than mains, and feeling like a variety of food, we decided to order a few to nibble on.

Mini lamb kebabs with tzatziki and onions

From the 'mezedes from the land' list, we decided on the mini lamb kebabs. I assumed (and would have preferred) that this would be kebabs of threaded with gyros (Greek spit roast lamb). I was rather disappointed when the kebabs were loaded with large chunks of lamb. The meat itself was quite well flavoured and went very nicely when smothered with tzatziki, but was a little on the overcooked side (especially given the thickness of it). The onions gave a good contrasting bite.

Mixed dips with pita bread

From top: eggplant dip, feta cheese, caviar, roasted peppers, tzatziki, olives, feta and capsicum dip

J was craving the caviar dip from our last Greek feast at Stalactites so we ordered the mixed dips as the first of our 'mezedes vegetarian'. We were very surprised at the number of dips that were on the dish - especially at the extras (roasted peppers, feta cheese and olives) that accompanied the dish. The eggplant dip was a little odd tasting, and the feta and capsicum was a little too salty (due to the feta I believe) but the caviar and tzatziki were smooth, creamy and very tasty indeed. I also particularly liked the roasted peppers which were nice and sweet.

Kalamarika - Salt and pepper calamari, ouzo aioli

From the 'mezedes from the sea' list, these were very nicely flavoured, but lacked crunch. The crumbs on the outside were a little soft and tasted like the oil hadn't been properly dripped out before they served them. The lemon and dipping sauce went very well with the salt and pepper already on the crumbs.

Spanakopita - Yufka filo pastry rolls with spinach and feta, served with walnut-pepper coulis
We needed one more dish and I saw this on the 'mezedes vegetarian' list and immediately thought 'Masterchef!' One of our best choices as it came out looking exactly like a miniature version of Alex Lloyd's version on Masterchef. Cutting into it, there was plenty of the spinach and feta inside the spiral shaped pastry. Perfectly crispy on the outside and nicely flavoured on the inside. I want some more now!

~Service and Atmosphere~
We went for lunch on a Thursday and thus it was very quiet - we nearly had the whole restaurant to ourselves. There are some very nice window seats which would look very nice at night. We had one waitress serve us for the entire meal, and she was pretty helpful when we were ordering, and was very friendly. Dishes came out as they were prepared, with most out in a reasonable time, except for the spanakopita (although that was well-worth the wait!).

A little pricier than we were expecting to spend (each mezedes was around $8 - $12) but for the experience, it was well worth it.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Kouzina - Doncaster on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wealth Garden Chinese Seafood Restaurant

Location: 862-866 Doncaster Road, Doncaster East
Cuisine: Chinese, Yum Cha

Previously called New Panda, this restaurant has recently come under new management and has since changed it's name. Apparently one of the chefs is from Taipan - a good sign!

So somewhat curious about what this new restaurant would be like, we headed there for dinner.

Snow pea sprouts stir-fried with garlic

I love snow pea sprouts - they have a texture that other greens just can't mimic. The older sprouts are very stringy and are nearly inedible, so it's very easy to differentiate between good and bad. These were quite good, very little stringiness with a slight crunch and very strong garlic and smoky wok flavour.

Crispy pork with sticky orange sauce

We ordered this dish at the waiter's recommendation without actually knowing what it was as it had a very fancy name in the menu. We were slightly surprised when the dish arrived as it just looked like sweet and sour pork with random orange slices placed around the plate. But it was amazing. The pork was perfectly cooked, the batter was crispy and the meat was tender and juicy. The sauce was heaven! It tasted like orange and honey combined, sweet, tangy and sticky. I am so ordering this dish again!

Steamed barramundi with ginger and spring onions - after de-boning

I'm generally not a fan of ordering steamed fish when eating out because it can often be overpriced for something we can make ourselves at home, but we opted to give it a go this time. I was quite pleased - the meat fell off the bone (when the waiter de-boned it in front of us) and was very soft and smooth. There was also plenty of sauce to spoon over the fish and the finely sliced ginger and spring onions added a good strong flavour to each bite.

Fried stuffed pipa tofu

Another simple dish that can go terribly wrong at a restaurant and this place did it beautifully. The fried tofu was studded with what tasted like water chestnuts and spring onions, and had a very familiar taste I still can't put my finger on. The sauce was nicely thickened to cling to the tofu and broccoli pieces.

Overall, the service was very pleasant and friendly. The dishes came out quite promptly and there were a few familiar waiters from other nearby Chinese restaurants (these waiters tend to work for any number of restaurants on different days of the week) who were clearly very good at their jobs and knew how to cater to customers.

The one negative was when we asked for the bill and someone had randomly added banana fritters (which we never ordered) to our bill and also charged us for tea (no decent Chinese restaurant will charge you for tea during dinner)! When we asked about it, the waiter immediately took it out the back and had the fritters removed, but said he could not remove the charge for tea. It wasn't until we mentioned this to the lady at the counter on paying the bill that they agreed to remove the charge.

It was one of the nicer of the Doncaster group of Chinese restaurants. Tables were well spread out and not too cluttered. There wasn't much of a noise level (we went on a Wednesday night) but given the spacing of tables, it probably wouldn't be all that loud on a Friday or Saturday night either.

Overall Impression: 9.5/10
Wealth Garden Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Location: 243 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Link: www.lounge.com.au
Cuisine: Bar

Chicken parmigiana - tender chicken breast fillet, corn-crumbed, covered in ham, lavished in napoli sauce and finished with melted cheese. Served with a fresh garden salad and cajun fries

Rich and creamy chicken and mushroom pie served with a side of cajun fries and salad

The pie was a bit of a disappointment - it certainly wasn't rich and creamy, instead, the whole pie seemed to be too dry. The pastry was flaky and crisp, but that was probably what dried up the rest of the pie. The flavour of the filling was quite nice though, would have tasted a lot nicer with a little bit more sauce.

Burger Royale - home made beef pattie with capers topped with swiss chesse, fresh lettuce, onion relish and jalepenos. Served with a side of cajun fries

You order at the bar like most pubs. The food took a little while to arrive, and seemed all the much longer as we were quite hungry after our last exam

We sat outside on the balcony and being a sunny day with a light breeze, it was quite pleasant and casual. A good place to sit back and relax.

Pretty average, mains ranging from $15 to $20. Pretty large serves so good value for money.

Overall Impression: 7/10
The Lounge on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vialetto Ristorante

Location: 75 Hardware Lane, Melbourne
Link: www.vialetto.com.au
Cuisine: Italian

Having tried booking a restaurant for 10 people on a Friday night at very short notice, we tried numerous places with no success. I mean, seriously, as if you don't make an effort to set up a table of 10? Imagine all the money!! Then I gave Vialetto a call and they were more than happy to set up a table for us.

Seafood linguini: linguini tossed with garlic prawns, mussels, calamari, pipis, complimented with fresh tomato, Tuscan olive oil and fresh herb salad

Lamb shank: braised lamb shank served with its braising vegetables on herb mashed potato

Beef lasagne: rich meat and tomato sauce layered with fresh pasta sheets, herbs, bechamel sauce topped with fresh parmesan

Atlantic salmon: pan seared salmon fillet served on a Russian potato salad with horseradish mayo and beetroot jus, finished with fresh herbs

Warm strawberry crepe splashed with Grand Marnier and served with vanilla bean ice-cream

Chocolate macadamia brownie served with dark chocolate sauce, mascarpone & coulis

We originally wanted the chocolate mousse they had on their specials menu for the day but they had run out. So we opted for the chocolate brownie instead. The brownie was nice and gooey on the inside, very cakey on the outside. The chocolate sauce was rich and thick, and went well with the mascarpone and coulis. We had asked for ice-cream on the side but it seems that the waiter forgot to mention that to the chef.

Service was pleasant as always - polite, friendly and happy to oblige with most requests. The food came out rather quickly which kept us happy.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Vialetto Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Cafe Era

Location: Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
Link: www.cafeera.com.au
Cuisine: Greek, Modern Australian

The food was generally quite good:

Smoked salmon salad with Spanish onions, cherry tomatoes, capers and aioli

Tuna linguine

Penne with chicken, sundried tomatoes and cream


The service at Era is generally quite good, but this one visit we had a particularly rude and slow waitress. We waited 10 minutes before she 'remembered' that she was getting us the bill, and she semi-snapped at us when we reminded her about the bill.

Overall Impression: 7/10
Cafe Era on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Balsamic: the best ribs ever!

Location: Level 3, Eastland Shopping Centre, Ringwood
Link: www.balsamic.com.au
Cuisine: Modern Australian

Having spent the night before one of my exams craving BBQ ribs, we ended up going to Balsamic for dinner after the exam.

First up, entrée. We ordered a garlic pizza to nibble on and curb our hunger while we waited for the mains.

Garlic pizza served with a side of olive oil, balsamic reductIon & spiced sea salt

This was a disappointment. The pizza tasted like it had been left in the over for too long and was rather dry and only a tad bit crunchy. There was also not quite enough garlic taste, and I was very glad it had come with the salt.

Next up, we ordered a chicken Caesar salad and BBQ pork ribs.

Chicken Caesar salad - grilled chicken, baby cos, shaved parmesan, candied bacon & a hard boiled egg, topped with a crouton & dressed with house made Caesar dressing

The Caesar looked somewhat incomplete. I'm used to the ingredients being cut up and tossed together, but this dish just looked like it was half-finished. The egg was halved, the chicken not cut up and instead of croutons, it had a slice of bread topped with bacon. I heard no complaints about the taste itself though.

And now for the most awesome dish...

Rack of pork ribs glazed in a honey BBQ sauce, served with wedges & salad

These ribs were perfect. The glaze was sweet and sticky and tasted good not just on the ribs, buth with the wedges and salad as well. The meat itself was soft, moist and tender, and fell off the bone very easily. There were very little stringy bits and despite it being a rack of ribs, there was plenty of meat attached. The wedges were crispy on the outside and you could hear the crunch, it was a pity that the ribs were so tasty I didn't end up finishing the wedges.

Service was pleasant although very slow. Our entrée took forever to arrive (perhaps they forgot that it was in the oven) and the mains took even longer. We also waited about 10 to 15 minutes for some water. At least the wait for the mains was worth it!!

Overall Impression: 9/10
Balsamic on Urbanspoon