Sunday, December 11, 2011

Izakaya Den

Location: 114 Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9654 2977
Cuisine: Japanese

Another blast from the past. We went to Izakaya Den over Easter this year, still mentally salivating over the sweet corn kaki-age we had tried at the Taste of Melbourne 2010.

The place itself is pretty hard to find, tucked away inside an office building of sorts. Inside, there is a long bar with seats, and table seating running parallel to that. 

Japanese izakaya is like a Japanese pub. Drinks and small plates of shared food form the basis of the menu. I see it as a cross between tapas and yum cha, with a Japanese twist. And why not? The Japanese are famous for their bite sized snacks, which are perfect for sharing. Surprisingly, no sushi on this menu, possibly not quite pub-food like enough.

Sakata coated prawns, citrus mayonnaise
The prawns were nicely cooked, and the sakata crumbs formed a nice light crispy coating. The citrus mayonnaise provided a nice counterbalance to the deep fried goodness. 

Crispy cocktail potato, anchovy butter
A pretty average potato, jazzed up with an amazing anchovy butter. Forget all that salt-reduced or unsalted butter. This is the god of all butters. Even if you don't like anchovies, this simply tastes like a intense saltiness immersed in the butter - nothing offensive, but definitely brought an otherwise boring (not even that crispy) potato to life.

sweet corn 'kaki-age'
After Taste of Melbourne 2010, there was no hesitation when it came to ordering this dish. Sounds really simple and possibly boring. But reality was nothing as expected. Crispy handfuls of sweet corn kernels coated in a light and seasoned tempura battered, then deep fried just a medley of flavours and textures. The popping juiciness of the corn against the crispy light batter, paired with green tea salt, was just a party in the mouth. I could eat an entire meal of these.

Steamed snapper with rice in bamboo leaf
 Pretty small serve, with delicate pieces of snapper and some rice. Nothing special.

Wagyu tataki, wasabi cream
At the time of this feasting episode, I wasn't the hugest fan of raw beef. The tataki tasted fresh, but lacked seasoning. And when you don't like wasabi, there wasn't much of a choice.

Grilled squid with sea urchin sauce
From memory, this was one of the specials for the night. Curious about sea urchin sauce, we thought we'd give it a go. I wasn't impressed. The squid was chewy, and coated in a strange tasting sauce (whether it was the sea urchin or not, I couldn't really tell).

Special daikon salad
A simple salad to cleanse the palate. The daikon was refreshingly crunchy. But again, nothing special.

lamb ribs, red miso
The lamb ribs were nicely grilled, but could have had a little more meat on them (or the serving could have contained more than six skinny pieces of bone). We had been curious about the 'red miso' sauce, but it ended up tasting like a saltier version of hoisin sauce.

Den fried chicken
This was the second best dish of the night. Fried chicken? This was no ordinary fried chicken. We couldn't work out what exactly made this chicken taste so good, but it was just brilliant. Light tempura batter, soft pieces well marinated (or seasoned?) chicken. Nothing fancy, but it just worked.

Service was slow, and aside from the two or three keynote dishes of the night, there was nothing to cry home about. I would gladly go again for the corn and the fried chicken, but I'd probably be looking at trying the other dishes on the menu. From discussions with other friends, it seems we may have ordered the wrong dishes.

Overall Impression: 8/10
Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

Red Spice Road

Location: 27 McKillop Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9603 1601
Cuisine: Asian, Thai, Fusion

Every time I see or hear the words 'pork belly', I immediately think of Red Spice Road. Which is why it is a bit surprising that it's taken me this long to get around to putting up this review. Unfortunately this feasting episode took place well over a year ago (Easter 2010), but the memories of the pork belly still set the standard for pork belly everywhere I go.

Red Spice Road is hidden away in another CBD laneway, off the corner of Bourke and Queen Streets. The atmosphere inside is sophisticated but casual at the same time - particularly since the seating is mostly communal. Get in early or book to snap up a collection of seats if you have a large group.

I'll start with the pork belly, but the rest are all a distant memory, and I won't be doing them justice if I try to comment.

pork belly with chilli caramel, black vinegar, cabbage, mint

Hands down the best pork belly ever. Nice crisp crackling, soft tender pork meat, and an amazing concoction of sticky caramel, spicy chilli and sour black vinegar just topped it all off. The cabbage and mint  worked well with the vinegar and provided a nice refreshing contrast to the heat and stickiness of the meat.

betel leaf with salmon, lemongrass, chilli and Kaffir lime
prawns filled with spicy pork
wild barramundi, sugar peas, baby corn, spicy coconut, lemongrass

minced wagyu beef stir fried with thick rice noodles in black pepper sauce

Service was pleasant, our waiter in particular was friendly and helpful. What was disappointing at the end of the meal was the fact that the waiters didn't bring back the change and simply assumed that it was an automatic tip. We waited 10 minutes to see if they would bring back the change, and in the end, gave up and asked for it on the way out. Rather than apologizing, they begrudgingly handed back the $3.

Ironically, we had enjoyed the meal and the service had been really good and would have tipped the change - had they brought it back. The fact that they were annoyed at having to hand back their assumed tip was a bit of a spoiler for an otherwise wonderful night.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Papa Goose

Location: 91-93 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9663 2800
Cuisine: Modern Australian

My latest Melbourne trip didn't involve much more than eating and sleeping. My feasting for the weekend began on a Friday evening after getting up at a ridiculously early hour to fly interstate for an all day meeting. Had drinks after work, then headed to Papa Goose for dinner. 

Another gem tucked away in Flinders Lane, Papa Goose has a similar style of food to the Aylesbury

Palate cleanser - minted pea puree
First up was the complimentary palate cleanser - a shot of minted pea puree. Surprisingly appetising, the pea puree was smooth and the mint was subtle and refreshingly. A great start to the meal.

Aylesbury duck, roasted carrot puree, fennel, fig, mandarin marmalade
Having had an amazing duck experience at the Aylesbury, I couldn't go past the Aylesbury duck here. The duck was well cooked, still moist and tender. The carrot puree was sweet and smooth, but there wasn't too much of it. And then there was the mandarin - a modern and very clever take on duck a l'orange!

Toasted coconut pannacotta, rum & pineapple sorbet, caramelized pineapple, coconut foam
This dessert reminded me a fair bit of 'citrus' at the Aylesbury. The pannacotta was nicely infused with coconut and had a smooth consistency. The sorbet was refreshing, and provided a nice contrast against the caramelized pineapple. The coconut foam was a little confusing, as it tasted more like whipped cream than foam. But all round, a great dessert.

Eskimo's pie, 'hot chocolate'

Service was good. Atmosphere was nice, and not too noisy so it's definitely a place for conversation.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Papa Goose on Urbanspoon


Location: Basement 141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9650 3155
Cuisine: Spanish, Tapas

It's been quite a long time since V and I went to Coda, but in keeping with the tapas theme of late, I thought I'd finally post up the photos, and add what commentary I can remember.

Coda is one of a number of tapas places slowly popping up along Flinders Lane, alongside Cumulus and Movida.

Syrahmi salami by Adam Foster
Not your ordinary salami, which generally taste mostly of salt and chilli, this one was delicate and had a hint of smokiness. Went very nicely with the bread sticks.

Hervey Bay scallop, pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon caviar
My top dish of the night - fresh scallops cooked perfectly, sitting on a smooth pearl tapioca sauce and topped with salmon caviar that just popped in the mouth. Absolutely delicious and a nice balance of flavours and textures.

Crispy prawn and tapioca betel leaf
Another flavoursome dish, combining the crispy outer of the prawns, the juicy prawn meat inside a betel leaf.

Fremantle octopus, green mango & kaffir lime salad, roasted chilli & shallot dressing
V's favourite dish of the night - in fact, every time we go for tapas she constantly reminds me of how good the 'octopus at Coda' was. The octopus was grilled until tender, and sat on a bed of pounded chilli and shallots. sour green mango and kaffir lime provided a contrast to the fiery spice of the chilli and shallots.

Quail lettuce delight, lup cheong, shitake mushroom, coriander and water chestnuts
Probably the least stand out dish for me. The quail was cooked very well, but the construction was nothing special - a couple of Asian flavours stir fried together and poured into a lettuce leaf. After getting hit with all the wonderful flavours and aromas of the earlier dishes, this was a bit of a let down. There wasn't anything wrong with it, it just lacked the 'punch' that the other dishes had carried with them.

Unfortunately I don't really remember much about this dish.

What impressed me most with the service at Coda was the thought that our waiter put into designing our meal. After leaving us to peruse the menu for a few minutes, the waiter we through the dishes we had selected, then designed an order in which they would arrive, so as to break up flavours and also to build into the whole experience that degustation feeling.

Overall Impression: 9/10
Coda on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Aylesbury Restaurant & Rooftop

Location: 103 Lonsdale Street Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9077 0451
Cuisine: Spanish

Another Melbourne trip, another foodie adventure with V. This time, we were headed to the newly opened Aylesbury, before the foodie crowds got wind of the place.

The menu (not available online) is a simple one. It simply lists two or three of the key ingredients, and doesn't give away how it is going to be cooked, or what else it might have. If asked, the waiters are able to give you a detailed description. Otherwise, the not-knowing makes dining tapas style that little bit more exciting.

complimentary bread and olive oil
Unlike Legends, the Aylesbury (as with all good tapas places) served complimentary bread from the start, and continued to top it up a few times during the meal.

Wagyu, bone marrow, morcilla
The Spanish definitely know their charcuterie. Thin slices of cured wagyu were served with small nuggets of bone marrow and a sprinkling of morcilla (blood sausage). The wagyu had an intense saltiness but with a delicate smokiness. The saltiness was nicely offset with the creamy bone marrow. Not the biggest fan of blood sausage, I was glad the morcilla was subtle and not overpowering. Everything was then topped with fried breadcrumbs and edible flowers, to add another dimension of flavour to the already flavour-packed dish.

Prawn, corn and coriander
A beautiful combination of flavours - the prawns were well seasoned, and deep fried to the point where the entire prawn could be eaten, shell and all. The sweet corn puree worked brilliantly as a sweet and creamy contrast tot he crunch of the prawns. The coriander added that final freshness and bound all the flavours together. 

Lamb ribs, pea & lemon
The lamb ribs were a hit. The fatty parts were well seasoned and rendered to produce a slightly crispy coating. Definitely needed the lemon to cut through the fattiness of the lamb though.

Sous vide Aylesbury duck with beetroot puree and dehydrated beetroot
Our 'large' dish for the night was the Aylesbury duck. The duck was beautifully cooked, retaining its slight gaminess and cooking juices, and appeared to have been finished off in a pan to produce a nice crispy skin. Beetroot and duck pair so well together, and the puree added a fresh sweet contrast to the duck. The dehydrated beetroot packed a punch, with an intense flavour condensed into powder form.

Pink fur potatoes, duck fat
These were no ordinary chips or wedges. Duck fat just seems to make everything taste so much better. Delicately seasoned and a sprinkling of fresh herbs just rounded out the meal.

Citrus: Montenegro pannacotta, fruit salad with tuile, grapefruit sorbet
And then who could go past dessert? Having read about this dish on MoMo & Coco's Dessert Correspondence, and then hearing our waiter's description, we couldn't go past it.

Just as well I had read that blog, because our waiter also failed to mention the order in which to eat the various components of the dessert. We followed the advice by MoMo and Coco and started with the grapefruit sorbet and worked our way through the salad and finally the pannacotta. 

Fresh and zingy, the sorbet was definitely a palate cleanser, and really enticed us to move onto the next component. The fruit salad was fresh, nothing extraordinary (it was simply pieces of fresh fruit). The tuile passed the 'snap' test and added a nice crunchy texture to the salad. And then there was the pannacotta. It was beautifully smooth and creamy, I was looking for something extra in terms of flavour - as a stronger flavour wouldn't have gone amiss. (Although, I should probably disclose that my standard for a 'good' pannacotta has gone up ridiculously since I had Sarti's pistachio pannacotta with salted caramel popcorn, so I may be a little biased.)

Service was fast and friendly. Perhaps a little too fast. One thing I've learnt from tapas style eating is that it works best when the dishes come out one after the other, degustation style. Instead, the prawns arrived before we were even halfway through the wagyu, and the lamb arrived shortly after the prawns. The unfortunate result was a choice between eating a bit of everything all at the same time, or letting the dishes cool down as we worked our way through them.

And to finish the meal, we headed upstairs to the rooftop bar for a drink. There was a nice atmosphere, which was quite pleasant. Not the biggest range of cocktails, but some pretty decent ciders and a very extensive wine list.

Overall Impression: 9.5/10
The Aylesbury on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Legends Spanish Restaurant - Livingsocial Tapas Deal

Location: Capitol Theatre Centre, Franklin St Manuka, ACT 2603
Phone: (02) 6295 3966
Cuisine: Spanish

A couple of months ago, Livingsocial had a deal for Legends. $40 for six tapas and a jug of sangria. The idea of tapas was too good to give up, and given each tapas dish on their menu was priced around the $15 mark, the deal was definitely good value for money.

So after work one Friday, four of us headed out for a drink and a light dinner.

Almejas - Pipis in olive oil, garlic and chilli
I have always loved pipis, but my experience with eating them has mostly been confined to Asian style cooking (asari sake, pipis with basil and chilli) so this was something a little different.

And it was amazing. The natural saltiness from the pipis countered the richness of the olive oil and garlic. The dish was a little light on the chilli, but it gave the requisite 'kick' when it comes to seafood.

Chorizo - Traditional pork and paprika sausage
When I think Spanish, the first things I think of are jamon and chorizo. The chorizo at Legends was beautifully cured with an aromatic smokiness. There was a little more excess oil than usual, which would have been fine had there been bread, but without the bread, the dish bordered a little on the greasy side.

Champigñones - Mushrooms cooked in olive oil, garlic and chilli
These mushrooms were simple, with only a few simple ingredients. The mushrooms were cooked until soft, then smothered in olive oil. As with most of the dishes, the garlic and chilli just added that extra 'kick'.

Falda de Cerdo - Caramelised pork belly served with apple cider sauce
Pork belly is one of those dishes that are ridiculously hard to perfect, and to date, I have yet to find one that matches, let alone beats, the pork belly at Red Spice Road in Melbourne. This one was a little disappointing, there wasn't much crackling and the fat had not been rendered down properly. That aside, apple cider sauce was sharp and fresh, providing a nice contrast to the fatty meat.

Pinchitos - Marinated chicken kebabs –grilled tenderloins
Chicken kebabs. Not exactly my idea of Spanish, but it was on the menu and we thought we would give it a shot. The chicken was a little dry and overcooked, but the marinade and the flavours were quite good.

Pulpo a la Brasa - Grilled baby octopus, marinated paprika & oregano
The baby octopus were well cooked and tender. The paprika and oregano added a nice smoky aroma in addition to the chargrill effect. A squeeze of lemon just completed the dish.

Service was decent. Some great dishes, some not so great. But for $10 each, and including a jug of sangria, it was definitely a good way to end the working week.

Overall Impression: 8.5/10
Legends on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mamak Roti House

Location: 121 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: (02) 6257 9688
Cuisine: Malaysian

Having been thoroughly impressed with Mamak in Sydney, E, Y and I decided to give this relatively new (or at least it was at the time of dining) place a shot.

roti planta - roti canai with margarine

First up, some roti. You can't go to a Malaysian restaurant without ordering roti.

This one was nothing like the one we had in Sydney, which had been served in a cone-like shape and was more flaky and crumbly than this one. But nevertheless, it was still pretty good.

The roti was crisp on the outside, and when torn into, the inside layers were soft and pillowly. The one mistake was ordering the planta instead of the canai, because there was definitely an overload of margarine by the time we finished it.

beef rendang curry
The rendang was average, nothing that special, but the beef was tender. Went well with the roti.\
Mamak mee goreng - hokkien noodles wok fried with chicken, tofu,
onions & tomatoes, in a blend of sweet & spicy sauce
The mee goreng was pretty good. A good generous serve, tender chicken, fresh vegies and noodles that were coated in a flavoursome sauce. There was even a hint of the smokiness from the wok.

Overall Impression: 7.5/10
Mamak Roti House on Urbanspoon